Are the Sign Gifts Still Valid?
by Bob Wilkin
Recently I read a pamphlet written by Robert Bowman, Jr. The pamphlet included information about visions and claimed that they still exist today, but must point a person to Jesus as well as support the authenticity and reliability of Scripture to be authentic. His source of validation was a quote from the organization, Mission Frontiers, which said that there were a multitude of Muslims who became believers due to dreams they had about Jesus Christ. I've always believed that visions were given to specific people in the old Testament and to the New Testament apostles. In regards to visions in the New Testament, I thought that this was a sign gift that would cease as soon as it's purpose was complete. I would appreciate any clarification or a point in the right direction.
–"Dreamer" in SC
Some see in 1 Cor 13:10 a promise that the gifts of prophecy and tongues (and thus presumably all sign gifts) would cease when the NT (i.e., "the perfect") was complete. I am not convinced. Most naturally the perfect is the Lord Jesus Christ. I believe that the verse is saying that by the time Jesus returns those gifts will have been done away with. But it does not say when.
We know from Eph 2:20 that the gifts of apostleship and prophecy ceased in the foundational era of the NT Church, that is, by the death of the last apostle. This may imply that all the sign gifts have ceased.
We know from 2 Tim 4:20 that Paul, who certainly was able to heal people, "left Trophimus sick at Miletus." Why? Many suggest this shows that the gift of healing was already falling out of use during the ministry of the apostles and that it ceased altogether by the death of the last apostle.
Church history shows that the sign gifts were not operative from the time of the apostles until at least the early twentieth century when the modern Charismatic movement began. Yet studies of the modern "sign gifts" show that these do not match the sign gifts in the NT. The dead are not raised. The lame are not healed. The blind are not given sight. The deaf are not made to hear. Current examples of tongues, when recorded and analyzed, are shown not to be languages at all, but merely a small number of phrases repeated over and over.
This brings us to visions. While many have claimed visions over the past century, the evidence is very thin that any of these visions were genuine.
In my view visions could occur today. I am open, but skeptical, of such claims. I am convinced that visions and other signs will occur, however, during the Tribulation. The two witnesses will perform many signs.
Regarding Muslims coming to faith in Christ via visions, I too have heard this claim. I've heard that this happens in the tens of thousands. Yet I've not heard a single case where the Muslim who comes to "believe in Jesus" says that by faith in Jesus he has everlasting life. Instead I've heard reports of Muslims saying that they are now Muslims who are followers of Jesus. That is, they continue to practice Islam, but they claim love and devotion for Jesus.
I am open. Maybe the Lord has appeared to people like He appeared to Saul on the road to Damascus. But if so, we would expect clear statements like Paul gives in Eph 2:8-9. Absent that, I would doubt the claim was true.
I hope that helps.