How were the Spiritual Gifts Transmitted [Part 2]

pentecostThe second half to Doug Kutilek’s article on the apostolic transmission of the charismata, or spiritual gifts. For introduction and background, see PART 1.



Before leaving Acts, the conversion of Paul must be addressed.  Though there are three accounts of his conversion (Acts chapters 9, 22 and 26), only two (9 and 22) record the coming of Ananias to see him while he was yet blind, and only one, chapter 9, records the imposition of Ananias’ hands on Paul.  God explains to Ananias before He sends him on his mission of contacting Saul/Paul: “and [he, i.e., Saul] hath seen a man named Ananias coming in, and laying his hands on him, that he might receive his sight,” (v. 12).  The going of Ananias is recorded in vv. 17,18:

“And Ananias departed, and entered into the house; and laying his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, who appeared unto thee in the way which thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mayest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Spirit.  And straightway there fell from his eyes as it were scales, and he received his sight; and he arose and was baptized;”

The instructions given by the Lord are clear: the imposition of Ananias’ hands on Saul was for the sake of healing his blinded eyes, which in fact occurred.  We also read that Ananias, in conveying the Lord’s message in addition mentions as an apparent purpose of the imposition of hands “and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”  These words spoken by Ananias (no more a case of “adding to God’s word” than Eve’s addition to the recorded words of God, “neither shall you touch it” in Genesis 3:3) may be appealed to by some as proof that the charismata could be conveyed by other than Apostolic hands.  To this objection, we respond, first, that no sign-gift of any kind is recorded in any of the three accounts of Paul’s conversion, and second, that being “filled with the Holy Spirit” is not synonymous with either receiving or exercising the charismata.

It is true that on one occasion in Acts, being filled with the Holy Spirit and the manifestation of the charismata are plainly mentioned together in the same verse (Acts 2:4), yet frequently being filled with the Holy Spirit is spoken of in a context where the charismata are not in evidence: Acts 4:8, 31; 6:3,5; 7:55; 11:24; 13:9 (unless some would insist that the bold preaching mentioned in Acts 4:8, 31; 7:55; and 13:9 is exercising the gift of prophecy; certainly tongues is not in view in any of these contexts.  In Acts 13:9, being filled with the Holy Spirit and the miraculous smiting of Bar-Jesus/Elymas are in admittedly close proximity).  Likewise, several times in Acts where charismata appear, no mention is made of being filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 3:7; 6:8; 8:6,7,17; 9:40; 10:44-46; 19:6; etc.).

Outside of Acts, John the Baptist and his father are both spoken of as “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Luke 1:15, 67).  John never performed any miracles (John 10:41); Zacharias is said to have “prophesied” when so filled (1:65).  Under any circumstances, these fillings were before the bestowal of the Spirit’s gifts on Pentecost.

In the rest of the New Testament, only once is being filled with the Holy Spirit mentioned–and not in I Corinthians.  Rather, in Ephesians 5:18, Paul commands, “be filled with the Spirit,” but says nothing contextually to connect this with the manifestation of the charismata.

From the evidence of the New Testament, then, there is no necessary connection between being filled with the Holy Spirit and manifesting a sign-gift.  They may be spoken of together (with one clear example, or perhaps two, in the New Testament) or gifts may appear without the Holy Spirit’s filling, and conversely, this filling may occur with no manifestation of gifts.  Therefore, there is no compelling reason to believe that Ananias conveyed to Paul any charisma, and he does not, therefore constitute an exception to the pattern of transmission of the charismata only by the laying on of Apostolic hands.  And even if it were conceded that Paul’s case formed an exception (which we do not in the least concede), his conversion and apostleship is so unique that it cannot be appealed to as a paradigm of normal or ordinary Christian experience.[9]

Romans 1:11

In Romans 1:11, Paul expresses his long-held desire to visit the believers in the city of Rome: “For I long to see you that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift [charisma]” [emphasis added].  It seems evident that Paul here claims that he personally has the power to convey to the Roman believers charismata, and that his personal presence is essential to this conveying.  Such an interpretation of Paul’s words is consistent with what we have seen elsewhere: that the Apostles but only the Apostles had the power to transmit the charismata to others, and that this was performed by the laying of the Apostles’ hands on the recipient.

Some, however, see in this reference something other than a reference to the sign-gifts or ministry-gifts of the Holy Spirit.  Gill, for example, explains: “not any extraordinary gift of the Spirit; but spiritual light, knowledge, peace, and comfort through his ministerial gift.”[10]

Alford emphatically writes,

“That the carisma here spoken of was no mere supernatural power of working in the Spirit, the whole context shows . . . . And even if charisma, barely taken, could ever. . . mean technically, a supernatural endowment of the Spirit, yet the epithet pneumatikon, and the object of imparting this charisma, confirmation in the faith, would here preclude it.”[11]

On the other hand, Adam Clarke explains the phrase of v. 11, “some spiritual gift” as,

“This probably means some of the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit, which, being given to them, might tend greatly to establish their faith in the Gospel of Christ; and it is very likely that such gifts were only conferred by means of apostles.”[12]

Some might object [13] that Paul writes to the Roman believers as if they already had and exercised charismata (12:6-8), while as yet neither he nor, apparently, any other Apostle had ever been to Rome (the Roman Catholic Church’s insistence that Peter founded the church at Rome notwithstanding)[14], and therefore the Apostles could not have conveyed these gifts personally to the believers at Rome, and therefore they must have been acquired by some other means.

The answer to this objection is patently obvious.  Romans 16:3-15 contains an extended list of names of Christians in Rome to whom Paul sends personal greeting, and who were therefore known personally to him (and also to believers with him at Corinth, from where he wrote the letter, 16:21-24).  These people, including the notable Priscilla and Aquila, had been before in the presence of Paul, in at least some cases at Corinth, and it was at that time he could have transmitted the charismata to them.  Problem resolved.


 In Paul’s two letters to Timothy, he twice mentions Timothy’s charisma (though without declaring what it was).  In I Timothy 4:14, Paul wrote, “Neglect not the gift [charismatos], which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery.”  This probably took place when Paul selected Timothy as his missionary assistant (Acts 16:1-3), though Robertson suggests at a time a number of years later.[15]

First, the bestowal of this gift involved a human intermediary; it was not a direct Divine endowment.  Second, whatever the English text may appear to say, the Greek is clear on the point that neither the prophecy, nor the laying on of the hands of the “presbytery” (a group of elders or pastors) was the effectual means by which the bestowal was accomplished.  Robertson explains:

By prophecy (dia propheteias).  Accompanied by prophecy (1:18), not bestowed by prophecy.  With the laying on of the hands of the presbytery (meta epitheseos ton cheiron tou presbuterious). . . . Here again meta does not express instrument or means, but merely accompaniment.” [16]

What then was the means or instrument by which Timothy received his charisma?  Paul’s second letter to Timothy gives us the answer: “Stir up the gift [charisma] of God which is in thee through the laying on of my hands” (II Timothy 1:6). The word “through” is the Greek word dia, here used with the genitive case, and which indicates the intermediate agency by which the gift was transmitted. [17]  The grammatical construction is identical to that in Acts 8:18.

The case of Timothy and his charisma fits the pattern discovered elsewhere in the New Testament, excluding the sovereign bestowals of the charismata at Pentecost and the house of Cornelius (and also, most probably, in the case of Paul).  In all places where the means is stated by which individuals received the charismata, the human agents were always Apostles: the deacons of Acts 6, the Samaritans in Acts 8, the twelve disciples in Acts 19, the Roman Christians potentially (Romans 1:11) and Timothy.  The writer is aware of no other examples in the New Testament.

Apostolic Successors?

Since the transmission of the charismata was exclusively an apostolic prerogative, it is pertinent to ask: did the Apostles have any duly authorized successors in this or any other distinctively Apostolic aspect of their ministry?  Two instances from the New Testament seem to exhaust the direct Biblical evidence.

First, in Acts 1, the assembled disciples took action to fill the vacancy in the number of Apostles caused by the death of Judas who betrayed Christ (vv.15-26).  Peter and the others recognized the need for replacement of Judas with one who was an eyewitness of the resurrected Christ (v. 22).  The disciples put forward two possible candidates, then after praying for God’s directive will, cast lots and selected Matthias.  Clearly, here was an appointed successor to an Apostle.  It is misguided to say that Matthias was evidently not God’s choice, since Matthias is never mentioned again by name in Acts or anywhere else in the New Testament.

Such criticism is its own refutation, since neither Nathanael, nor Matthew, nor Philip nor most of the others of the original Apostles are mentioned by name after Acts 1 either.  All the Apostles, Matthias included, were mentioned collectively in Acts 2:42-3 (teaching and performing wonders); 4:33 (testifying powerfully to the resurrection of Christ–the very purpose for which Matthias was chosen); 5:12 (performing miracles); 5:18 (being arrested); 6:2 (selecting deacons); etc.  Under any circumstances, the remaining Apostles felt compelled in Acts 1 to appoint a replacement for Judas to the office of Apostle.

The only other case of the death of an Apostle expressly mentioned in the New Testament is the death of James the son of Zebedee and brother of John in Acts 12:2 at the hands of Herod Agrippa I.  We read nothing of a conference or council convened among the remaining Apostles to appoint a replacement for James.   While this is an argument from silence, it has some force, in that the office of Apostle required that a person be an eyewitness of the resurrected Christ.  As the first century progressed, more and more of those eyewitnesses died, and were by definition irreplaceable.  Ultimately, those qualified by such experience to be Apostles would dwindle in number to zero, and the office would expire even if a series of qualified replacements had been appointed for now one, now another of the original Apostles as they died.

It seems evident from the limited evidence of the New Testament (and from early church history, which knows nothing of continuing Apostolic circle), that the office of Apostle expired as the Apostles died, John being perhaps the last to die.


What are the implications of these findings?  First, apart from the sovereign direct bestowal of the charismata by God in Acts 2 and 10 (and probably to Paul), all examples in the New Testament where information is given point to one pattern: the charismata were transmitted to Christians solely by the means or instrumentality of the Apostles laying hands on them.  None but the Apostles, not even those who possessed miraculous gifts such as Philip and Stephen, two of the original deacons, could transmit the gifts to others.

It is also important to recognize that while many or even perhaps most of those references to the bestowal of gifts which have been examined have reference to the so-call “sign-gifts” and not to the “service-gifts,” it is impossible to separate them in the matter of Apostolic bestowal, since there is no certainty which gifts were to be given to the Romans, for example (1:11), or that which Timothy possessed (I Timothy 4:14; II Timothy 1:6).  Indeed, separating sign-gifts from service-gifts is an impossible task since the exact nature of most of the gifts mentioned in I Corinthians 12 and Romans 12 is unknown.  All the gifts, of whatever nature, where conveyed by Apostolic imposition of hands.

Finally, because the Apostles evidently had no duly constituted and appointed successors, no one beyond their number was given the power or authority to continue the work of conveying the charismata.  As a result, the charismatic gifts would have expired with the death of the Apostles, or at the very latest, with the death of those who received the gifts from the Apostles, or, roughly speaking, by 150 A.D. at the very latest.

Of course, the implication of this final deduction is significant: if there have been no charismata operative in the Christian community since the middle of the second century, then of course there are none today, whether sign- or service-gifts.  As a result, all of the modern-day claims by Pentecostal and related groups of the possession of the gift or tongues or prophesy or healing (or knowledge, in the case of Pat Robertson) are illusory, if not down right fraudulent.  Further, all the energy and effort put into non-charismatic evangelical seminars and booklets and tapes to help people discover “their spiritual gift” has been so much well-intentioned but misguided effort.  The discussion has come 19 centuries too late.[18]


9. When and where Paul received his charismata is a matter of speculation.  It seems probable that they were sovereignly and directly bestowed on him by God, perhaps at conversion.  His first reported exercise of a charisma seems to have been on the island of Cyprus when he smote Bar-Jesus/Elymas blind, Acts 13:9-11.

 10. Vol. VI, p. 4.

11. Vol. II, p. 317.  See, for a similar position, Charles Hodge, A Commentary on Romans, pp. 26-7.

12. Vol. VI, p. 39.  He continues, I think erroneously, “and as the apostle had not yet been at Rome, consequently the Roman Christians had not yet received any of these miraculous gifts, . . . ”  On wherein his error lies, see below.

13. One of my students in Romania raised this very objection in a class I taught in 1992.

14. See Alford, vol. II, pp. 33-37 for some analysis of the founding and founder(s) of the church in Rome.

15. Word Pictures in the New Testament, vol. IV, pp. 581, 582.

16. p. 581

17. On this use of dia with the genitive, see Dana and Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament, p. 102.

18. Warfield in Counterfeit Miracles reports that the post-Reformation Puritan writers uniformly recognized that the charismata had all expired in the first century.


Alford, Henry, The Greek New Testament, revised by Everett F. Harrison.  4 vols.  Chicago: Moody Press, 1958.

Bruce, F. F., Commentary on the Books of Acts.  London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1954.

Clarke, Adam, The Holy Bible: A Commentary and Critical Notes.  New York: Abingdon Press, n.d.

Dana, H. E., and Julius R. Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament.  N. p.: Macmillan, 1927.

Gill, John, Gill’s Commentary.  6 vols.  Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1980 reprint.

Hodge, Charles, A Commentary on Romans.  London: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1972 reprint.

Poole, Matthew, A Commentary on the Holy Bible.  3 vols.  Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1963 reprint.

Robertson, A. T., Word Pictures in the New Testament.  6 vols.  Nashville: Broadman Press, 1931.

Warfield, B. B., Counterfeit Miracles.  Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1976 reprint.


5 thoughts on “How were the Spiritual Gifts Transmitted [Part 2]

  1. If I’m understanding this correctly, he is saying sign- and service-gifts were only transmitted directly by the apostles. It is an interesting argument. I do wonder how he handles 1 Cor 14, though, and just explaining how all these people wound up with spiritual gifts. Did the apostle lay his hands on everyone?

    v1 and v39 both say to “desire the spiritual gifts… especially prophesy.” I don’t read that with the caveat of, “you can only get it if I or another apostle lays hands on you.” It seems like something that can be received without such aid.

    I also wonder what is in view when “laying on of hands” is mentioned in 1 Tim 4:14 and 5:22. Were the “elders” (ESV) the apostles? What was Timothy “transmitting” when he laid his hands on someone, since he was not apostle?

    If spiritual gifts were only transmitted by the laying on of apostle hands, it certainly dismantles the argument for modern-day “manifestations” of the gifts, especially considering the notion of apostolic succession is a non-starter. I am just wondering if the argument is really that airtight.

    Thanks for sharing, Fred.

  2. I do wonder how he handles 1 Cor 14, though, and just explaining how all these people wound up with spiritual gifts. Did the apostle lay his hands on everyone?

    Email Doug. He’s fairly quick to respond. Nice guy, too. My guess is that when Paul was planting the church for three years, there were select individuals to whom he did impart that spiritual giftedness. It could be that group of individuals that are the primary subjects of 1 Cor. 12-14.

    I also wonder what is in view when “laying on of hands” is mentioned in 1 Tim 4:14 and 5:22. Were the “elders” (ESV) the apostles? What was Timothy “transmitting” when he laid his hands on someone, since he was not apostle?

    With 5:22, I believe Paul is using “lay hands upon” as more of a way of saying don’t approve of someone too quickly. 1 Tim. 4:4 is addressed in the text above, so re-read it and see if that answers your question.


  3. Pingback: Does Charismata Exist Today? | End Time Musings

  4. Pingback: Articles on Cessationism and Contiuationism | hipandthigh

  5. Pingback: Articles on Cessationism, Continuationism, and Spiritual Gifts | hipandthigh

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