I read your discussion of why the gifts of the Spirit disappeared. By no means do I consider myself an expert on the Early Church Fathers (my personal library is limited to one book). However, in preparing a lesson on false doctrines for a ministry training class I’m teaching, I came across some quotes that seem to go against the idea that gifts couldn’t endure beyond the 2nd century. Here are some quotes I found in Bercot’s Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs. (I’m unfamiliar with the references afterward – but this is how they appeared in Bercot’s book). Irenaeus is quoted in 180 (referring to Paul’s speaking about tongues) "In like manner, we also hear many brethern in the church who possess prophetic gifts, and who through the spirit speak in all kinds of languages, and bring to light for the general benefit the hidden things of men." Irenaeus (c. 180 E/W), 1.531. Novatian mentions tongues, "This is He who places prophets in the church, instructs teaches, directs tongues, gives power and healing, does wonderful works….and arranges whatever other gifts there are of the charismata. Novatian (c. 235, W 5.641) About 70 years later, Origen said, "The Holy Spirit gave signs of His presence at the beginning of Christ’s 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 the action regulated by it’s influence." Origen (c. 248, E), 4.614. Not sure where this comes from, but "It is not necessary that everyone of the faithful should cast out demons, raise the dead, or speak with tongues. But only such a one who has been graciously given this gift–for the purpose that it may be advantageous to the salvation of the unbelievers…Therefore do not let anyone who works signs and wonders judge any of the faithful who is not given the same…. Apostolic Constitutions (compliled c. 390 E), 7.479-7-481; By no means do I think that these few quotes are an exhaustive study of the Early Church fathers – but from this limited resource – it appears possible that the gift of "speaking in tongues" was still around when these texts were written. Maybe this is why Paul directed in 1 Cor 14:29 "….do not forbid speaking in tongues."


The evidence you give is interesting.  It does not change my belief that the miraculous gifts had virtually ceased in the main stream church by some time in the second century AD.  The Irenaeus quote is a bit surprising to me, coming from so late in the second century.  To be honest, this quote does raise at least a question about the stand I have taken that evidence tells us that the only ones who legitimately had the miraculous gifts received them by laying on of hands by the apostles.  However, I would need to see the context of Irenaeus’ comment to know exactly how to respond.  As for Novation, he was considered a heretic, so we should take his statements with some caution.  If I am not mistaken, one of the reasons Novatian was not trusted was because of the presence of these "gifts" among his heretical followers.  The quote from Origen seems to support my contention that by the time of Origen in the third century, the miraculous gifts had already ceased or, to be more cautious, had virtually ceased in the church.  The words, "there are still traces of His presence in a few who have had their sould purified by the Gospel, and the action regulated by its infulence" are a bit vague.  They do not give any evidence at all of speaking in tongues in the orthodox church in the third century.  I assume that the quote from the Apostolic Constitutions is a quote from an earlier author.

Although the quotes you have found do not significantly change my understanding of the time frame over which the miraculous gifts faded away in the main stream Christian church, I think it is fair to say that the evidence leaves somewhat open the question of gifts in the second and even the third century.  My study has led me to conclude that these gifts were given by laying on of hands of an apostle.  However, I cannot prove this beyond a doubt and it is a good idea to not be dogmatic about this contention.  I do NOT know for a fact that the gifts were only given by laying on of hands of an apostle.  Given the evidence, it is not unreasonable to conclude that, although it is clear the use of the miraculous gifts faded in the second century, there was some remnant use of the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit even into the third century.  I am skeptical, but open-minded about this.  If you come across more evidence, please share it with me as I certainly do not want to make claims which are in contradiction with the evidence.

John Oakes, PhD

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