The Mystery of When Miracles and Healing Ceased

[From Unveiling Mysteries of the Bible]

For many Christians one of the greatest mysteries is that the tremendous miracles, healings, and supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit enumerated in 1 Corinthians 12, which characterized the life and worship of the early Church, seem to have ceased by the beginning of the second century. Many theologians have dogmatically asserted that God provided for supernatural miracles and the gifts of the Holy Spirit only to attract the attention of the pagan world and provide divine authority for the introduction of the New Testament as Godís inspired revelation. They assert that within a century of Christís resurrection, all miracles and signs had ceased permanently. Many have claimed that these supernatural signs ceased when the apostles died. Some writers and denominations have asserted this theory as absolute dogmatic truth and reject even the possibility of genuine supernatural miracles occurring today.

Several writers have claimed that a search of the writings of the early Church indicates that there are no references to these "gifts" continuing beyond A.D. 100. However, during the last few years I have carefully examined the writings of the early Church writers from the time of Christ till the Council of Nicea in 325 that were collected in a set of ten volumes known as the Ante-Nicene Library and first published in 1890. After an exhaustive search of these fascinating early Christian writings, I can confirm that God continued to manifest His supernatural power including miraculous healings, resurrection from the dead, and demonstrations of charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit well beyond the age of the apostles. Further research in the writings of the medieval Church provide compelling evidence that miracles, though rare, continued to manifest from time to time in a variety of places as attested by responsible historical authorities.

There are brief references to the prophetic gifts still continuing as reported in the early Church manual known as the Didache (A.D. 110). "And every prophet teaching the truth, if he doeth not what he teacheth, is a false prophet. And every prophet approved and found true, if he doeth ought as an outward mystery typical of the Church, and yet teacheth you not to do all that he himself doeth, shall not be judged before you; he hath his judgment in the presence of God; for in like manner also did the prophets of old time.

  1. Bishop Clementís Letter to the Corinthians, written by the bishop of Rome (A.D. 100), refers to the continuing supernatural work of the Holy Spirit. "An abundant outpouring also of the Holy Spirit fell upon all.

  2. The Shepherd of Hermas (A.D. 110) also contains a reference to speaking in tongues and prophecies. "When then the man who hath the divine Spirit cometh into an assembly of righteous men, who have faith in a divine Spirit, and intercession is made to God by the gathering of those men, then the angel of the prophetic spirit, who is attached to him, filleth the man, and the man, being filled with the Holy Spirit, speaketh to the multitude, according as the Lord willeth.

  3. In addition, there are numerous significant references to these supernatural gifts continuing in the life of the early Church in the following centuries.

    The brilliant Christian teacher Irenaeus wrote a treatise against heresies called the Refutation and Overthrow of Knowledge Falsely So Called (A.D. 185) that recorded many manifestations of the gifts of the Holy Spirit and supernatural miracles that still continued in some churches, including accounts of people being raised from the dead: Some drive out demons really and truly, so that often those cleansed from evil spirits believe and become members of the Church; some have foreknowledge of the future, visions, and prophetic utterances; others, by the laying-on of hands, heal the sick and restore them to health; and before now, as I said, dead men have actually been raised and have remained with us for many years. In fact, it is impossible to enumerate the gifts which throughout the world the Church has received from God and in the name of Jesus Christ crucified under Pontius Pilate, and every day puts to effectual use for the benefit of the heathen, deceiving no one and making profit out of no one.

  4. Similarly, we hear of many members of the Church who have prophetic gifts and by the Spirit speak with all kinds of tongues, and bring menís secret thoughts to light for their own good, and expound the mysteries of God.

  5. Irenaeus also wrote about the gifts of the Holy Spirit in Against Heresies: "In like manner we do also hear many brethren in the church, who possess prophetic gifts, and who through the Spirit speak all kinds of languages, and bring to light for the general benefit the hidden things of men, and declare the mysteries of God." (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 5:6:1)

    Justin Martyr
    Justin Martyr wrote his Dialogue with Trypho in A.D. 165 and clearly referred to many supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit appearing in the daily life of the second-century Church. He wrote, "Daily some of you are becoming disciples in the name of Christ, and quitting the path of error; who are also receiving gifts, each as he is worthy, illumined through the name of this Christ. For one receives the spirit of understanding, another of counsel, another of strength, another of healing, another of foreknowledge, another of teaching, and another of the fear of God.

  6. Tertullian
    Tertullian was a major theologian and Christian writer ministering in Carthage. In A.D. 215 he described supernatural visions and prophetic gifts of the Holy Spirit as operating normally in the third-century Church. "And thus we who both acknowledge and reverence, even as we do the prophecies, modern visions as equally promised to us, and consider the other powers of the Holy Spirit as an agency of the Church for which also He was sent, administering all gifts in all, even as the Lord distributed to every one."

  7. Origen
    Origen was a Christian theologian who lived and taught in Alexandria, Egypt, from A.D. 185 to 254. In his book Against Celsus written in 250, Origen described the gifts of the Holy Spirit as still continuing in the life of the Church. "Traces of the Holy Spirit who appeared in the form of a dove are still preserved among Christians. They charmÜdemons away and perform many cures and perceived certain things about the future according to the will of the Logos.

  8. Origen noted that these charismatic gifts were gradually diminishing, although some "traces of His presence" were still evident. "Moreover, the Holy Spirit gave signs of His Presence at the beginning of Christís ministry, and after His ascension He gave still more; but since that time these signs have diminished, although there are still traces of His presence in a few who have had their souls purified by the Gospel and their actions regulated by its influence.

  9. Novatian
    The Christian theologian Novatian (A.D. 270) of Rome wrote a strong defense of the doctrine of the Trinity and died as a martyr during the second last wave of persecutions by the pagan Roman emperors. Novatian wrote about the key role of the Holy Spirit in supernaturally empowering the Church. "they were henceforth armed and strengthened by the same Spirit, having in themselves the gifts which this same Spirit distributes, and appropriates to the Church, the spouse of Christ, as her ornaments. This is He who places prophets in the Church, instructs teachers, directs tongues, gives powers and healings, does wonderful works, often discrimination of spirits, affords powers of government, suggests counsels, and orders and arranges whatever other gifts there are of charismata; and thus make the Lordís Church everywhere, and in all, perfected and completed.

  10. St. Augustine
    Augustine (354Ů430), bishop of Hippo, was the greatest theologians of the early medieval Church and systematized much of the theology that governed the teaching of the Western Church for over a thousand years. Although in his early years Augustine believed that all miracles had ceased by the end of the lives of the apostles, his view was transformed by the compelling evidence of many well-attested miracles that occurred during a powerful revival that occurred throughout the churches of North Africa that were under his supervision. In the last section of his epic work The City of God, Augustine wrote about numerous miracles that he had personally witnessed and investigated, including remarkable miraculous healings involving breast cancer, paralysis, blindness, and even people who were resurrected from the dead. He wrote, "For even now miracles are wrought in the name of Christ.

  11. Professor Peter Brown wrote in his book Augustine of Hippo that Augustine carefully collected the evidence of a variety of supernatural incidents and miracles "until they formed a single corpus, as compact and compelling as the miracles that had assisted the growth of the Early Church.

  12. For example, Augustine reported on a person healed of blindness, "The miracle which was wrought at Milan when I was there, and by which a blind man was restored to sight, could come to the knowledge of many; for not only is the city a large one, but also the emperor was there at the time, and the occurrence was witnessed by an immense concourse of people.

  13. The Venerable Bede
    The great early English Church leader known as the Venerable Bede, the father of English history, quoted a letter sent by Gregory the Great, the bishop of Rome, in A.D. 601 to Augustine of Canterbury, a missionary sent from Rome to England. Gregory acknowledges the fact that miracles were occurring and that they were very effective in drawing the English natives to faith in Christ: "I know, most loving brother, that Almighty God, by means of your affection, shows great miracles in the nation which he has chosen. Wherefore it is necessary that you rejoice with fear, and tremble whilst you rejoice, on account of the same heavenly gift; viz., that you may rejoice because the souls of the English are by outward miracles drawn to inward grace.

  14. Gregory also acknowledged in his letter that Augustine personally had "received the gift of working miracles.

  15. Continued Supernatural Miracles
    If space permitted, I could quote from a variety of Church authorities over the centuries that followed who witnessed the continued operation of supernatural miracles. These other sources include the famous Bernard of Clairvaux (A.D. 1190Ů1153) and Martin Luther (A.D. 1483Ů1546). In addition, there is overwhelming evidence of supernatural miracles that have occurred during the last few centuries during the Welsh Revival and remarkable healings and other miracles witnessed by many reliable sources in the tre mendous growth of the Church around the world in the last few decades. There are many scriptural promises of Jesus Christ regarding His continued supernatural empowering of the Church through His Holy Spirit. "For the Father loveth the Son, and showeth him all things that himself doeth: and he will show him greater works than these, that ye may marvel" (John 5:20). Jesus promised that His faithful followers would be able to do "greater works" because He was empowering the Church with His Holy Spirit. "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father" (John 14:12).

In addition, the Scripture declared, "For I am the Lord, I change not" (Malachi 3:6). Since God does not, and cannot change His nature, it is consistent and logical to believe that He would continue to manifest His supernatural power of miracles among His people from time to time to demonstrate His continued divine nature and mercy to humanity. Therefore, it is not surprising that our generation, which has witnessed the fulfillment of more remarkable prophecies than any other generation in history, should also witness extraordinary supernatural displays of Godís providence, including miracles of healing.

1. The Didache 11:10-11. Ante-Nicene Library 10 vols. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987).
2. Clement, Letter to the Corinthians 2:2. Ante-Nicene Library 10 vols. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987).
3. Shepherd of Hermas 43:9. Ante-Nicene Library 10 vols. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987).
4. Irenaeus, Refutation and Overthrow of Knowledge Falsely So Called, Ante-Nicene Library 10 vols. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987).
5. Irenaeus, Against Heresies 5:6:1, Ante-Nicene Library 10 vols. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987).
6. Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, chapter XXXIX. Ante-Nicene Library 10 vols. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987).
7. Origen, Against Celsus, Book I, Chap. XLVI, 2, 8. Post-Nicene Library 10 vols. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987).
8. Origen, Against Celsus, Book VII, Chapter. VIII. Post-Nicene Library 10 vols. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987).
9. Novatian, A Treatise of Novatian Concerning the Trinity, Chapter XXIX, section 251. Post-Nicene Library 10 vols. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987).
10. Augustine, The City of God, Book 22, Chapter 8. Post-Nicene Library 10 vols. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987).
11. Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967) 415.
12. Augustine, The City of God, Book 22, Chapter 8. Post-Nicene Library 10 vols. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987).
13. The Venerable Bede, Ecclesiastical History of England, Chapter 31, trans. J. A. Giles (London: George Bell & Sons, 1900) 57.
14. The Venerable Bede, Ecclesiastical History of England, Chapter 31, trans. J. A. Giles (London: George Bell & Sons, 1900) 57.