The command to the apostles to preach the gospel in
Mark 16. / Book Rudolf Ebertshäuser 00 page 191
The "signs of an apostle" as a special divine
authorization. / Book Rudolf Ebertshäuser 01 page 192
Table: The surnames of the twelve
In Mk 16,15-20 the risen Lord gives his apostles the task of going out into the
whole world and preaching the gospel to the whole of creation. This task is frequently understood
as applying to the entire congregation up to the time of the Rapture. If we examine the text more
closely we may be able to obtain light on this matter.
(15) And He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. (16) He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned. (17) And these signs will accompany [or follow: parakoloutheoø] those who have believed: in My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues; (18) they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it shall not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover." (19) So then, when the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. (20) And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them, and confirmed the word by the signs that followed." [Or: "that accompanied them", in the revised Elberfeld version].
In Mk 16,15-20 the Lord is specifically addressing his apostles, the eleven. He gives them (and not the whole congregation) the task of going out into the whole world (no longer just to Israel) and preaching the message of grace to the whole creation. This command of the Lord’s applies in this form only to the apostles themselves, and it was already fulfilled in the time of the apostles. This is the conclusion we must come to if we look carefully at the passage, and it is confirmed by other scriptural statements as well.
1. Verse 20 refers the fulfillment of the promise only to the apostles, and testifies that it has been concluded. In Heb 2,4 as well, the proclamation of the gospel by the apostles to the accompaniment of signs (those who heard and confirmed it were the apostles) is seen as a process that has been completed.
2. In his Epistle to the Colossians Paul makes two assertions that also confirm that this commission has been fulfilled by the first apostles. He speaks of the gospel "which has come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing..." (Col 1,5 f.), and testifies that this gospel has been "proclaimed in all creation under heaven" (Col 1,23).
The Word of God here picks up the words of the Lord in Mk 16,17, where he gives the apostles the task of preaching the gospel, and testifies that this commission had already been fulfilled in the lifetime of the apostle Paul: the gospel has been disseminated throughout the whole world, and preached to the whole of creation. It is obvious that both terms are being used in a general sense; what the Lord means here is not absolutely clear - but he tells us that the apostles have fulfilled the task they were given in the way he meant them to do.
+) This extract has been taken from the book "Die Charismatische Bewegung im Lichte der Bibel" ["The Charismatic Movement in the Light of the Bible"] by Rudolf Ebertshäuser, Christliche Literatur-Verbreitung e. V. [Registered Society for the Dissemination of Christian Literature], Bielefeld, ISBN 3-89397-333-8
As a former Charismatic, Rudolf Ebertshäuer doubtless has a deep
understanding of this form of belief, and his reports in this book are well grounded, informative
and convincing. But his far-ranging assertions on the correct biblical doctrine and its consequences
for the present day also make this an interesting book for readers without any special connection to
the Charismatic movement.
In his sincere endeavor to refute the non-scriptural views of the Charismatic movement, he also tries to make out that the signs and wonders which in that movement are supposedly brought about by the Holy Spirit do not conform with Scripture. Although there is a wide range of approaches to the actual effects of these manifestations in the Charismatic movement, Mr Ebertshäuser tries to challenge this evil at the root and advances a counterargument based on Scripture. Here, however, he runs the risk of throwing out the baby with the bathwater. As a matter of fundamental principle, he altogether denies the possibility that signs and wonders might happen in our own day, supporting his argument with the claim that the promises of the Lord in Mk 16 are only addressed to the apostles, and that since the conclusion of the apostolic period therefore no further signs and wonders can possibly occur in the true Christian faith. Here now is the scriptural text we are concerned with:
Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.
Mk 16,15 And He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach
the gospel to all creation. 16,16 "He who has believed and has been baptized shall be
saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.
16,17 "These signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues; 16,18 they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover."
16,19 So then, when the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. 16,20 And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them, and confirmed the word by the signs that followed. Mk 16,15-20;
These sayings of the Lord from Mk 16,15-20 are interpreted by Mr Ebertshäuser in
his commentary above as follows:
"In Mk 16,15-20 the Lord is specifically addressing his apostles, the
eleven. He gives them (and not the whole congregation) the task of going out into the whole world
(no longer just to Israel) and preaching the message of grace to the whole creation. This command of
the Lord’s to the apostles applies in this form only to the apostles themselves, and it was
fulfilled in their own time. This is the conclusion we must come to if we look carefully at the
passage, and it is confirmed by other scriptural statements as well."
Now if we read this passage carefully, we see that the writer here speaks of "the
eleven". This means that the author refers the command to proclaim the gospel of Mk 16,15-20 only
and exclusively to the first eleven apostles. This means that Matthias, who was chosen by the eleven
and the Holy Spirit in the place of the traitor Judas Iscariot, would have to be excluded from this
group, as indeed would Paul. But we know - and the author admits as much in what follows - that it
was actually Paul who did more than Peter and the other eleven to disseminate the gospel in the
world and among the Gentiles. And it was also Paul of whom the Lord said to Ananias in Damascus, "Go,
for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and sons of
Israel" (Acts 9,15). Moreover the authority of Paul was put to the proof, in that he too was
accompanied by those signs which the Lord had promised: he had visions, he worked notable miracles
and on one occasion even raised a dead man to life (Acts 20,9-12).
This enables us to conclude that Mr Ebertshäuser’s claim is unscriptural, at any rate in what concerns the restriction of the task of proclaiming the gospel to the eleven original disciples. The author then asserts of Mk 16,20 that this verse "refers the fulfillment of the promise only to the apostles, and testifies that it has been concluded." But if we take a look at this passage, the picture that meets us is somewhat different:
Mk 16,20 And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord
worked with them, and confirmed the word by the signs that followed. Mk 16,20;
Certainly this tells us that the apostles went out and preached everywhere, with the support of the Lord, but the passage does not give us any reason to conclude that the task the Lord gave the apostles has been fulfilled and can therefore be regarded as terminated. Our author also cites Heb 2,4 further on, as a proof that "the proclamation of the gospel by the apostles to the accompaniment of signs (those who heard and confirmed it were the apostles)" is to be seen as "a process that has been completed".
God testified both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Hbr 2,2 For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and
every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, 2,3 how will we escape if we neglect
so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by
those who heard, 2,4 God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various
miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will. Heb 2, 2- 4;
In the first two chapters the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews takes issue with
the view that the Lord Jesus was an angel (a point of view still found today among the Seventh Day
Adventists, who teach that Jesus Christ is identical with the Archangel Michael). And after he has
demonstrated in Chapter 1 how much higher than the angels Christ is, he comes now, in Heb 2,2-4, to
the logical conclusion: if disobedience to the word proclaimed by the angels in the Old Testament
brought punishment with it, how much more will contempt shown towards the grace of God, as
manifested in the salvation brought by his Son Christ Jesus, meet with its due reward. And as
witnesses to his assertion he then points to the Lord Jesus, who proclaimed this gospel himself, and
to the apostles who heard it. And then we are told here as well - as in Mk 16,20 above - that this
proclamation of the gospel has been confirmed by signs and miracles from God.
And this makes it plain, here as well - just as was the case in connection with Mk 16,15-20 - that the confirmation of the gospel message through signs and wonders is by no means the conclusion of some kind of process; on the contrary, it is to be seen as a demonstration of the fact that the Lord’s promise in Mk 16,15-17, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation... And these signs will accompany those who have believed", has been fulfilled and that the worldwide preaching of the gospel has begun.
And the author then quotes the Epistle to the Colossians, and supposes that what is stated in Col 1,5 ff and 1,23 constitutes a proof that the fulfillment of the task of evangelization was already completed by the first apostles. Let us now take a closer look at these passages in their context:
The gospel, which has come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing.
Col 1,3 We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, 1,4 since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints; 1,5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel 1,6 which has come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing, even as it has been doing in you also since the day you heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth; Col 1, 3- 6;
The gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven.
Col 1,21 And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind,
engaged in evil deeds, 1,22 yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in
order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach- 1,23 if indeed you continue
in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel
that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I,
Paul, was made a minister. Col 1,21-23;
When we examine these passages advanced by Mr Ebertshäuser in supposed proof of his
point of view, we find a significant formulation in Col 1,6:
- (the gospel) "which has come to you, just as in all the world also it
is constantly bearing fruit and increasing"
- and here too the phrase "... and increasing" by no means permits the
conclusion that we have to do here with a completed process: on the contrary, it tells us that the
gospel is continuing to increase - which means right up to the present day. But the supposed proof
offered by the author relies on Paul’s reference to "(the gospel)... having been preached
in all the world also."
Now here we must take into account the fact that Paul is speaking of the dissemination of the gospel only in the known world of the time - and not even in that completely. From Jerusalem the gospel was brought to Judea and Samaria, it came to Antioch, with Paul it reached Cyprus and Galatia, Macedonia, Corinth, Athens and Ephesus, but it was also to be found in places where Paul had not himself carried it - in Rome for instance, where Paul was imprisoned, and in Colossae.
The second passage from the Epistle to the Colossians, Col 1,23, however speaks of "all creation", and could well give the impression that Paul is here really expressing his conviction that the gospel has already been disseminated to the entire world.
- ...the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation
But this statement too is not to be understood in a geographic sense - it should
rather be seen in the light of the historic background of the time. At that time many countries -
and indeed entire continents - had not yet been discovered, let alone had the gospel preached to
them. But as we would not wish to give the impression - here, on this website - that we are
substituting a symbolic interpretation and so distorting the actual statements made by Scripture,
let us here refer to those scriptural passages and biblical arguments which necessarily compel us to
Here we have first of all Paul’s indication, in Rom 15,23.28, that he himself was well aware that in his day the gospel had not yet been proclaimed through the whole of Europe. He writes to the Romans that he would like to travel to Spain - plainly in order to proclaim the gospel - and on this occasion would like to visit the brethren in Rome.
When I have finished this, and have put my seal on this fruit of theirs, I will go on by way of you to Spain.
Rom 15,23 but now, with no further place for me in these regions,
and since I have had for many years a longing to come to you 15,24 whenever I go to Spain-for
I hope to see you in passing, and to be helped on my way there by you, when I have first enjoyed
your company for a while- 15,25 but now, I am going to Jerusalem serving the saints. 15,26 For
Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in
Jerusalem. 15,27 Yes, they were pleased to do so, and they are indebted to them. For if the Gentiles
have shared in their spiritual things, they are indebted to minister to them also in material
things.15,28 Therefore, when I have finished this, and have put my seal on this fruit of theirs,
I will go on by way of you to Spain. Rom 15,23-28;
Unfortunately this visit to Rome later came about in a way different from that which
Paul had hoped. He was arrested in Jerusalem in around 58 AD, and because in the strength of his
Roman citizenship he appealed to the emperor and to Roman justice, he was brought to Rome as a
prisoner. The brethren in Rome visited him in prison, but Paul was never released, and found death
in Rome in around 62 AD. Consequently Paul’s intended evangelization of Spain did not come about
at the time. Only later was the Word of God brought there, by other preachers.
Another scriptural statement, of which both the authority (in that it comes from the Lord himself) and the content amount to a refutation of Mr Ebertshäuser’s view that the proclamation of the gospel had come to an end at the time of the apostles, is to be found in Mt 24,14:
This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world and then the end will come.
Mt 24,14 "This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the
whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come. Mt 24,14;
This forms part of the Lord’s eschatological discourse to the apostles. And the
Lord promises here that the gospel will be preached in the whole world, as a testimony to all
nations, and then the end will come - the end, that is, of all worldly dominion, on the Second
Coming of the Lord. But if Mr Ebertshäuser’s assertion that the task of evangelization applied
only to the time of the apostles were to be correct, then this end promised by the Lord would have
had to occur immediately following that time - as long ago as around the end of the first century.
The Lord would thus have had to assume the dominion of this world 1900 years ago.
This however bears no resemblance to the reality we are faced with today, as even Mr Ebertshäuser will hardly be disposed to deny. But it follows that if, according to the Lord’s promise here, the gospel is to be preached, and actually has been preached, throughout the world up to the time of his Second Coming, the task of evangelization cannot just have been restricted to the disciples and the first century AD. Otherwise, after all, the evangelization and mission to the world which has been carried on for nearly two thousand years now would be going against Scripture.
Moreover, it is hardly a convincing claim that the gospel of Jesus Christ had been disseminated throughout the world as long ago as in apostolic times, and that the Lord’s command to the apostles was "already fulfilled in the time of the apostles", when Paul, the most widely traveled of them all, had at the time journeyed from Jerusalem to Rome just once, and the entire American continent would be discovered only some 1500 years later.
Scripture tells us, then, that there not only signs of the Messiah, there are also
"signs of a true apostle" (2Cor 12,12). These confirm the divine calling and authority of the
apostles of Jesus Christ, who revealed and proclaimed to the world the mystery of Christ. These
signs must necessarily have been restricted to the apostles themselves and their immediate
associates in the service of evangelization, otherwise they could not be a divine confirmation of
the apostolic calling. Nowhere in Acts do we find it stated that all the faithful performed signs
and wonders - on the contrary, we read: "... and many wonders and signs were taking place
through the apostles" (Acts 2,43; cf. Acts. 5,12). Paul testifies of himself that he has
proclaimed the gospel "in the power of signs and wonders" (Rom 15,19), and he writes to the
Corinthians that "the signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by
signs and wonders and miracles" (2Cor 12,12). In apostolic times, when the revelation of the
Word of God was not yet completed, God gave his gift of signs and wonders to others of His
congregation beyond the restricted group of the apostles. For example, we are told that Stephen
and Philip performed great signs and wonders - this however was in the first beginnings of the
congregation, and not among the Gentiles but among Jews and Samaritans. But even in local
congregations like Corinth we find the gifts of the Spirit evidenced in the form of the gift of
healing, acts of power, faith that is able to effect miracles and speaking in tongues (1Cor 12).
But it is nowhere stated in the Bible that these gifts were to be used across the board for the purpose of evangelization or the growth of the congregation. If signs and wonders were God’s strategy for evangelization, they would certainly have found a place in the apostolic teachings and instructions to the congregations. When the apostle Paul refers to the signs and wonders that accompany his proclamation of the gospel, they serve to confirm the divine origin of the Word he proclaims and constitute his own credentials as the messenger of God; nowhere does he encourage the congregations to proclaim the gospel in the same way. In his instructions to the evangelist Timothy, though the latter is enjoined to "preach the word" (2Tim 4,2) and "do the work of an evangelist" (2Tim 4,5), nothing at all is said about signs and wonders. These were designed to provide authority for the first introduction of the message of the gospel, not to accompany the subsequent preaching of this gospel to the nations.
So these gifts of supernatural signs were only effective in the early congregations of apostolic times, after which they came to an end. This was not the result of shortcomings in the congregation in post-apostolic times (although there certainly were shortcomings), but was rather founded on God’s wise decree. The nations were to be converted and brought to faith and obedience through the Word, the Word of the cross and the proclamation of Jesus Christ as the crucified and risen Lord - not through the constant repetition of spectacular signs and wonders.
+) This extract has been taken from the book "Die Charismatische Bewegung im Lichte der Bibel" ["The Charismatic Movement in the Light of the Bible"] by Rudolf Ebertshäuser, Christliche Literatur-Verbreitung e. V. [Registered Society for the Dissemination of Christian Literature], Bielefeld, ISBN 3-89397-333-8.
If we now take another look at the text of Mk 16,15-16, we find first of all the Lord’s command to the apostles to proclaim the gospel (Mk 16,15), which both on scriptural grounds and for reasons of simple logic (America not having been discovered at the time) cannot be exclusively referred to the apostles and to the time of the apostles. But if the command to proclaim the gospel has validity that goes beyond apostolic times, then the same must necessarily apply to the signs which accompany those who come to believe, as we are told in Mk 16,17-18.
These signs will accompany those who have believed.
Mk 16, 15 And He said to them, "Go into all the world and
preach the gospel to all creation. 16,16 "He who has believed and has been
baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.
16,17 "These signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues; 16,18 they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover." Mk 16,15-18;
And if we look closely at this passage, we can see that here a different group of
persons is being addressed - different from the apostles, that is, to whom the Lord has said in the
previous verse "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation". For we now find it
said that "these signs will accompany those who have believed". This is a completely
different criterion. Of course it includes the apostles themselves as well, seeing that they were
the first who believed. But it has a more extensive application, embracing all those who come to
have faith throughout the world as a result of the preaching of the gospel.
(See also Discourse 44: "Can faith move mountains?")
But this means, for the purpose of the present analysis, that this promise of signs given by the Lord was not restricted to apostolic times, let alone to the apostles themselves - it remains valid at all times so long as there are still people coming to the living faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. And we find the same picture in what Paul writes in his first Epistle to the Corinthians:
But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
1Cor 12,1 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want
you to be unaware. 12,2 You know that when you were pagans, you were led astray to the mute
idols, however you were led. 12,3 Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit
of God says, "Jesus is accursed"; and no one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by
the Holy Spirit. 12,4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. 12,5 And there
are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. 12,6 There are varieties of effects, but the same
God who works all things in all persons.
12,7 But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.12,8 For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; 12,9 to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 12,10 and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. 12,11 But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills. 1Cor 12, 1-11;
Here Paul instructs the Corinthians about the gifts of the Spirit, indicating in 1Cor 12,4 that "there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit". He then goes on to speak of those brethren who have the Spirit of God, and explains (in 1Cor 12,7-11 above) the various gifts of the Spirit. In doing so he gives an explicit indication that it is not just the apostles to whom the Holy Spirit grants these gifts - they are also given, specifically, to the brothers and sisters of the congregation in Corinth. In 1Cor 12,9-10 he also mentions the gift of healing and the gift of effecting miracles. At the end of this chapter Paul actually returns to the subject, and confirms that God has instituted various gifts of the Spirit in the congregation, including the gifts of healing and miracles.
But earnestly desire the greater gifts.
1Cor 12,27 Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.
12,28 And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third
teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations,
various kinds of tongues. 12,29 All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are
they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they? 12,30
All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do
they? All do not interpret, do they? 12,31 But earnestly desire the greater
gifts. And I show you a still more excellent way. 1Cor 12,27-31;
So if the Lord says in Mk 16,17, quoted above, that "these signs will accompany
those who have believed", and Paul confirms in 1Cor 12,28 that God has instituted various gifts of
the Spirit in the congregation, these promises cannot then be subject to any temporal restrictions.
This is because there will be faith, and there will be a congregation, until the Second Coming of
the Lord Jesus and the Rapture of the faithful. It follows then that Mr Ebertshäuser’s claim
quoted above, that "these gifts of supernatural signs were only effective in the early
congregations of apostolic times, after which they came to an end", may be classified as
Finally Mr Ebertshäuser writes:br>
"But it is nowhere stated in the Bible that these gifts (sc.
miracles and speaking in tongues, FH) were to be used across the board for the purpose of
evangelization or the growth of the congregation. If signs and wonders were God’s strategy for
evangelization, they would certainly have found a place in the apostolic teachings and instructions
to the congregations."
Here too Scripture seems at first to convey a different message. Paul specifically mentions speaking in tongues in his first Epistle to the Corinthians (1Cor 14,22), saying that it is a sign to unbelievers, not to those who already believe.
So then tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers.
1Cor 14, 22 So then tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe
but to unbelievers; but prophecy is for a sign, not to unbelievers but to those who believe.
14,23 Therefore if the whole church assembles together and all speak in tongues, and ungifted men
or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are mad? 14,24 But if all prophesy, and an
unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all; 13,25
the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring
that God is certainly among you. 1Cor 14,22-25;
In this we might see a proof - in contrast with Mr Ebertshäuser’s claim quoted
above - that speaking in tongues in particular is a gift of the Spirit and a tool for the
evangelization of unbelievers. But if we examine the context and read the verses following (1Cor 14,
23-25), we realize that actually the opposite is the case: if speaking in tongues is
incomprehensible to unbelievers, then how can it be a sign for them? It would rather then be a sign
for the faithful amongst themselves, or for each Christian individually, as Paul says in verse 28:
"But if there is no interpreter, let him [the person with the gift of tongues] keep silent in the
church; or let him speak to himself and to God."
But if we now also look at this in the context of the passage that precedes it, the actual background to what Paul is saying here can be made out:
By men of strange tongues and by the lips of strangers I will speak to this people, and even so they will not listen to Me.
1Cor 14,20 Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil
be infants, but in your thinking be mature. 14,21 In the Law it is written (Isa 28,11-12),
"by men of strange tongues and by the lips of strangers I will speak to this people, and
even so they will not listen to Me," says the Lord. 1Cor 14,20-21;
Here Paul quotes the prophet Isaiah, to whom of course this prophecy would have been given with reference to the people of Israel. This people, who had refused to listen to his prophets when they called on them in their own language to repent and return to their God, is now addressed by God (with a message of salvation) in a foreign language, which they are now no longer capable of understanding.
Indeed, He will speak to this people through stammering lips and a foreign tongue.
Isa 28,9 "To whom would He teach knowledge, And to whom would He
interpret the message? Those just weaned from milk? Those just taken from the breast? 28,10
"For He says, ‘: zaw la zaw, zaw la zaw, kaw la kaw, kaw la kaw, A little here, a little
there.’" 28,11 Indeed, He will speak to this people Through stammering lips and a foreign
tongue, 28,12 He who said to them, "Here is rest, give rest to the weary," And,
"Here is repose," but they would not listen. 28,13 So the word of the LORD to them will
be, : zaw la zaw, zaw la zaw, kaw la kaw, kaw la kaw, A little here, a little
there," That they may go and stumble backward, be broken, snared and taken captive.
Isa 28, 9-13;
So when Paul quotes these words in the above passage (1Cor 14,21), he is patently
referring to the unbelieving Jews in the congregation; and he is inspired to tell them that this
prophecy of Isaiah’s has been fulfilled in them. Because they have resisted their God and his
prophets for centuries, they cannot now understand the message of salvation through grace. Along
with what is stated in 1Cor 14,23, this shows on the evidence of Scripture that speaking in tongues
is indeed not meant as a tool for the evangelization of the nations.
It is quite a different picture with the gift of prophecy, which Paul goes on to speak of. Prophetic utterance, as Paul also calls it, is not meant for the faithful, but is designed to convert the godless from their unbelief and to give them a sign for their repentance and conversion. In 1Cor 14,24-25 Paul again endorses the gift of prophecy, specifically as an instrument of evangelization and for the conversion of unbelievers, when he writes:
But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all.
1Cor 14,24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man
enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all; 12,25 the secrets of his heart
are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly
among you. 1Cor 14,24-25;
Proof that this gift of the Spirit is effective in our own day is offered by many
brethren who confess and testify that they have been touched in their inmost soul by a sermon or by
something that a Christian has said to them, either by word of mouth or in writing - more often than
not without any special aim or intention, or even direct knowledge on the part of the speaker. And
this happens because they recognize that the words so clearly match their personal situation that it
could only be God speaking to them in such a way. So if we were to dispute the effectiveness of
these gifts, this would have implications not just for charismatic but also for all non-charismatic
congregations, and would entail our denial of this very special aspect of every sermon ever
Mr Ebertshäuser’s argument, cited at the start of this Discourse, that the command to proclaim the gospel applied only to the apostles and so only in the first century AD, would thus compel us to the wholly unconvincing conclusion that for almost 2000 years the Christian proclamation of the gospel throughout the world has been against the will of God. As for the second argument, that the gifts of the Spirit were effective in the early congregations only in apostolic times and came to an end thereafter, we would have to share the view - a view that the author holds by implication - that the spirit which has been working in the congregations since the time of the apostles, and continues to do so up to the present day, is a false spirit and not the Spirit of God at all.
And here we find ourselves in a very dubious situation, biblically speaking. Seeing that Mr Ebertshäuser seeks to ascribe these gifts of the Spirit, as well as the command to proclaim the gospel, only to the eleven original apostles, first of all this would mean that as Paul was not one of the eleven, the spirit which he proclaimed was a false spirit. This seems a clear demonstration of the untenability of these assertions. But the background to these assertions has further aspects as well, involving considerably more serious problems.
Although Scripture leaves us free to accuse anyone - including even Paul - of having made false statements, there is nonetheless an absolute limit which in biblical terms we cannot pass without grave consequences. The Lord tells us in Mt 12,31-32 that any sin and blasphemy, even speaking ill of the Son of God himself, can be forgiven, but if a person speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him.
But whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him.
Mt 12,31 "Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall
be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven. 12,32 "Whoever
speaks a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the
Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come. Mt
This sin against the Holy Spirit has understandably exercised many brethren, and highly divergent explanations of it have often been proposed. The authentic explanation however is to be found just a few verses before the passage quoted above. The Lord’s warning against blasphemy against the Spirit in Mt 12,31 simply follows on from the conversation which he has had with the Pharisees in the passage immediately preceding (Mt 12,22-24). He had just healed a man who was possessed, and the people were on the point of recognizing him and accepting him as the Messiah and the Son of David. When the Pharisees noticed this, they tried to blacken his character to the people by asserting that he was casting out demons with the help of Beelzebul - the devil, that is.
This man casts out demons only by Beelzebul the ruler of the demons.
Mt 12,22 Then a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute was brought
to Jesus, and He healed him, so that the mute man spoke and saw. 12,23 All the crowds were amazed,
and were saying, "This man cannot be the Son of David, can he?" 12,24 But when the
Pharisees heard this, they said, "This man casts out demons only by Beelzebul the ruler of the
demons." Mt 12,22-24;
As a reaction to this slander - a slander not just of the Son of God but also and
more importantly of the Holy Spirit - the Lord now tells them that blasphemy against the Spirit will
not be forgiven. And here we have an answer to the question what the sin against the Holy Spirit
actually is: a person who makes out that the effects of the Holy Spirit are the manifestation of a
false spirit, or conversely, that the appearance of a false spirit is the veritable Spirit of God,
becomes guilty of this blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.
(See also Discourse 64: "What is the sin against
the Holy Spirit?")
So we must here issue a solemn warning to all those charismatic denominations which
accept spiritual manifestations in their ranks, free of charge, as the working of the Holy Spirit,
without having examined them on the basis of scriptural evidence. No sin or blasphemy is so serious
that it could not be forgiven. But any congregation which gives place to a false spirit is taking
Christian brothers and sisters to eternal damnation. All brethren in such congregations need to be
aware of this risk, and all members of the governing bodies of congregations should recognize that
they will have to give account on the Day of Judgment for this unbelievably serious and
non-transferable responsibility - both to God and to all their Christian brethren - that rests on
All too frequently today we find that in the growth of the congregation quantity is confused with quality. People are inclined to see a shining example in American congregations, where thousands of worshipers attend every service. In this connection the famous theologian and Nobel Prize winner Albert Schweitzer (the "jungle doctor") remarked:
"Not everyone who goes to church is a Christian. After all, you don’t
become a car just by standing in a garage."
But this "multitudinous growth" trumpeted by the governing bodies of some
congregations brings about a mélange of the genuine believers with those pseudo-Christians who see
the Christian faith as the most recent trendy hit, and regard charismatic services as a stage for
esoteric events. The result is an enlargement of the congregation in quantitative terms, certainly;
but in the meantime the original, sincerely believing members of the congregation - who have often
endeavored to the last to bring these misguided developments to people’s attention, but have been
reprimanded by the elders of the congregation as malcontents - find themselves more and more reduced
to a minority, and may finally leave the congregation in deep mortification.
In consistency, however, we should not overlook the other aspect of this complex of problems either. Just as the presentation of a false spirit as the Spirit of God leads to eternal damnation, so conversely if we slander the Holy Spirit as a false spirit, it is a blasphemy that cannot be forgiven. And we are exposing ourselves to this risk if we assert that there are no longer any gifts of the Spirit in existence today, and condemn all the effects of the Spirit of God in congregations and among the faithful by writing them off wholesale as manifestations of the devil.
In conclusion I would like to indicate once more explicitly that Mr Ebertshäuser’s endeavor to point out the false doctrine of the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements is also something that concerns me closely. But if we are justified in urging these people to hold fast by the Word of God and not to go beyond it, then we ourselves have the still more serious duty of putting the words of Scripture in first place and allotting a subordinate role to our personal opinions. Otherwise the many sincere believers who follow these discussions might come to lose confidence and so lose their bearings - and it may well be thought that congregations today have already seen more than enough of this kind of thing.
(See also Discourse 70: "The Spread of the