The subject of whether miracles and divine healings still occur today has been a controversial topic among many Christians and Christian groups. Often, this disagreement has resulted in unnecessary and sometimes caustic rancor between those who advocate the continuation of the apostolic gifts of healing in the church today and those who hold to the cessation of healing gifts with the close of the apostolic era. Those who insist that the gift of healing is for today usually base their belief on the erroneous teaching that physical healing was provided for in Jesus’ atoning sacrifice.
Often, those who hold that the gifts of healing and miracles ended with the close of the apostolic age are accused of denying the supernatural. This is only rarely true. The vast majority of evangelicals, along with the leadership of this church, affirm that God still heals and performs miracles in answer to prayer. He does so to reveal His glory. However, we would draw a distinction between the act of God healing someone instantaneously and the gift of healing, that is, God healing someone through a human instrument.
The New Testament Role of Healing Gifts
While many passages on divine healing may be sighted from Scripture, the question remains as to their proper interpretation in light of their context as well as any inferences and conclusions drawn from those passages. The first question to be considered is, what was the role which miracles and divine healings played in the first century church, and is it still a viable role today? First and foremost, the gift of miracles and healing was given to confirm the validity of the apostolic messenger and his message.
This can be seen from passages such as 2 Corinthians 12:12 where the apostle Paul lists signs, wonders, and miracles as one of the distinguishing marks of a true apostle. Also, in Romans 15:18-19, Paul identified miraculous signs as validating the gospel which he had preached to the Gentiles, resulting in their obedience to Christ. The role which miracles played in confirming the gospel message is also highlighted in Hebrews 2:3-4.
As the gospel spread throughout the Roman Empire, the radical transformation that it effected in the lives of Christians became proof enough for the claims of Christianity (2 Corinthians 3:2-3), and, by the close of the apostolic era, all gifts of miracles and healing appear to have ceased. This cessation of the gift of healing is verified by the fact that Paul, who without question possessed the gift of healing at the beginning of his ministry (Acts 14:8-18; 19:11-12; 20:7-12; 28:7-9), was, toward the end of his ministry, unable to heal his friends Epaphroditus (Philippians 2:25-30), Timothy (1 Timothy 5:23), and Trophimus (2 Timothy 4:20). With the claims of Christianity no longer in need of external verification, there ceased to be any need for the miraculous gift of healing.
This is an irrefutable fact of history. In fact, many charismatics admit that the gifts of healing and miracles did cease. So, in answer to our question, is the authenticating function of miraculous gifts still a viable role today, the answer must be an unequivocal no. The burden of proof rests on the charismatic to show that Scripture is again in need of confirmation. This does not mean that God does not still heal today in answer to prayer. But as the apostolic age drew to a close, miraculous healings working through a human instrument ceased.
What Determines Truth?
The primary characteristic of charismatic teaching, in all its various forms, be it Pentecostalism, Neo-Pentecostalism, signs and wonders, power evangelism, or Four Square, is the emphasis placed on experience as the ultimate determiner of truth. The burden of proof lies with the charismatic to demonstrate that his experience is, in fact, from God. Either it is from God or it is not. There is no middle ground.
Our experiences do not sit in judgment over God’s Word. Rather, our interpretation of our experiences must be subjected to the scrutiny of Scripture, since Scripture alone is the final authority and determiner of truth. The modern charismatic must show that the miracles and gifts of healing being seen today are of the same nature as those performed by the apostles in the New Testament.
As we will see, there is little similarity between the healings in the New Testament with the “healings” claimed by the modern charismatic movement. In the New Testament, the gift of healing was given to a specific individual which enabled him to heal anyone at will. This is far different than healings performed by God in answer to prayer. The healings which were performed by these gifted men were always instantaneous, totally complete, and obvious to all who observed them. However, the “healings” claimed by charismatics are typically progressive (occurring over a period of weeks, months, or years), usually partial (“I was in a wheelchair, but now use crutches or a cane”), and unverifiable.
The healings of the New Testament included confirmable maladies such as men who had been crippled from birth (Acts 3:2-8; 14:8-10), whereas the “healings” claimed by charismatics are generally not demonstrable afflictions (lower back pain, ringing in the ears, headache, emotional healing, etc.).
The healings in the New Testament never failed and were not dependent upon the faith of the one receiving the healing (Acts 3:2-10). But today, those claiming the gift of healing self-admittedly often fail. Typically, they blame this on a lack of faith in the one seeking healing, or that the Holy Spirit, for some reason, decided not to heal the person. Either way, the afflicted person is left totally devastated and feeling as though they are a second-class Christian. There is no correspondence between the healings recorded in the New Testament with those claimed by modern healers. This does not mean that the Christian should not seek healing from God through their own fervent prayers and the prayers of the church.
As believers in Christ, our primary aim in this life is to bring glory to God. Christians should realize that often times God is glorified more by our response to suffering than by the alleviation of that suffering. After all, it is the Christian who patiently endures trials (James 1:12; 1 Peter 1:6-9) who stands out most in an unbelieving world and has the greatest opportunity to give a defense for the hope that is within them (1 Peter 3:14-15).