Debate: Matt Slick vs Dr. Sam Waldron on the Charismatic gifts

by Matt Slick

Topic:  Does the Bible teach that the charismatic gifts are for today?
Date:  January 16, 2016, 7:30 PM
Location: First Evangelical Lutheran Church in Houston, Houston, TX



Let me begin by stating that there are differing views on the charismatic gifts in the Christian church today.  Our differences of opinion on this issue reveal our lack of ability to perfectly understand God’s word and we should be humble before each other because of this.

I affirm that all of the charismatic gifts can be experienced today by the body of Christ as a whole.  However, I deny that Christians have the same authority and ability as the apostles of Christ did and I deny that such charismatic gifts affect the closing of the canon, as I hope to show.

Now, a charismatic gift is a manifestation of the Holy Spirit.  Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:4,7…

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit….7 But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”

The English word "gifts" is from the Greek word "charisma,” from where we get our term “charismatic”.  Paul tells us that the charismatic gifts are manifestations of the Holy Spirit.  He then lists these charismatic gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 as the word of wisdom, word of knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, distinguishing of spirits, various kinds of tongues, and interpretation of tongues. 

In addition, when we turn to Romans 12:6, we find more information on the charismatic gifts.  Paul says, “we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us…” The word “gifts” is again from the Greek word charisma

Paul then lists those charisma in Romans 12:6-8 as prophecy (v. 6), service, teaching (v.7), exhortation, giving, leading, showing mercy, and cheerfulness (v. 8).  

So, we could say that the list of charismatic gifts provided by Paul the apostle includes word of wisdom, word of knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, distinguishing of spirits, various kinds of tongues, interpretation of tongues, service, teaching, exhortation, giving, leading, showing mercy, and cheerfulness.  That is a total of 16 charismatic gifts listed in those two chapters.

When we look further, we find that there’s yet another charisma given to the church.

 "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23).

The word “gift” here is “charisma” the same word used by God to describe the 16 other charismatic gifts listed in 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12.  Quite simply, if the charismatic gifts are not in operation today, then all the charismatic gifts have ceased.  This would mean the charismatic gifts of faith, exhortation, giving, leading, showing mercy, cheerfulness, and eternal life are also not in operation today. But that, of course, is not true. Therefore, I must conclude that according to the biblical declaration of what the charismatic gifts are, they have not ceased.

But, some might say that there are differences among the charismatic gifts given to the church and that only the miraculous ones have ceased.  How can such a differentiation be justified?  Isn’t eternal life a miraculous gift from God? Isn’t our believing in Him also a miraculous gift?  It would seem so, especially when we consider that Philippians 1:29 says God grants that we believe, and Jesus said in John 6:28-29 that our believing is the work of God. Both of these are miraculous because they are the work of God that results in the gift of salvation.  

Eph. 2:8, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift [doron] of God.”

You see, I cannot pick and choose which of the charismatic gifts I affirm are for today such as faith and eternal life, and say that other charismatic gifts have ceased such as prophecy and tongues.  Our debate is not about a subset of charismatic gifts.  It is, instead, “charismatic gifts”.  Logically, if any of the charismatic gifts are in the church today, then the charismatic gifts have not ceased. 

Let me turn now to where Paul addresses his letter to the Corinthians and says, “to all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  He is addressing the church universal and, therefore, to us today.  He says in 1 Corinthians 1:7…

“so that you are not lacking in any gift, awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The word “gift” in verse 7 in the Greek is “charismati,” a form of the word charisma.  It is the same word used earlier when listing the charismatic gifts of word of wisdom, faith, healing, tongues, interpretation of tongues, and eternal life.  So, we, the church, are not to lack any charismatic gift while we wait for Jesus to come back.

In addition, when we turn to Acts 2:17, we find Peter quoting Joel 2…

‘And it shall be in the last days,’ God says, ‘That I will pour forth of My Spirit on all mankind; And your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, And your young men shall see visions.”

Peter goes on to say in Acts 2:33

“Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear.” 

Then when we look at Acts 2:38-39 we read,

“Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift [dorea] of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.”

So, the gift of the Holy Spirit which according to Acts 2 is for “all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself,” has with it the charismatic gift of prophecy.  

So, I must surmise that since we are in the Last Days there will be prophecy.  We, the church, are not to lack any charismatic gift while we wait for Jesus’ return, and that since eternal life, faith, helps, tongues, interpretation of tongues, are all categorized as charismatic gifts, they cannot have all ceased with the apostles.  Therefore, the charismatic gifts cannot have ceased.

Cascade Argument

Now, let me turn to Dr. Waldron’s argument for the cessation of the charismatic gifts by quoting from the debate he had with Dr. Michael Brown, Nov. 7, 2013.  At 21:14. He said…

“My argument against the continuation of the miraculous gifts is called the cascade argument.  It goes like this. There are no apostles of Christ on earth today. Because there are no apostles of Christ we may cogently argue that there are no prophets on earth today.  Because there are no prophets there are no tongue speakers and because there are no tongue speakers, prophets, or apostles of Christ, there are no miracle workers.”

Dr. Waldron starts with the issue of the apostles and their obvious cessation and says that because the apostles are not with us, then there are no more prophets, tongue speakers, or miracle workers and then concludes that the charismatic gifts have ceased.

On page 78 of his book To Be Continued, a book promoting the cessation of the charismatic gifts, he says…

“… if biblical prophecy exists today and can be verified as such, it is canonical. If it is canonical, then the canon is not closed, but open.”

I understand his point, but it simply is not true.  In Acts 19:6-7 there are twelve men who were speaking in tongues and prophesying, but there is no record of what they said being canonized.

“And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying. 7 There were in all about twelve men.”

Also, in 1 Corinthians 14:22, 24, Paul says,

“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….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.” 

In these verses tongues and prophecy were present and there is no indication that such revelations were canonized or needed to be. 

In addition, Revelation 11:3 says…

“And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for twelve hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth.”

The two witnesses in Revelation 11 are from God and they will be prophesying.  This proves that Mr. Waldron’s position that prophecy has ceased is wrong, and this seriously undermines his assertion that if biblical prophecy exists today, then it is canonical. 

Furthermore, what is interesting is that Dr. Waldron says in his book on page 47…

I was also making the point that the question before us was not whether there is prophetic revelation in the church today. We agree most heartily with every charismatic and continuationist that there is.”

I’m puzzled. How is it that Dr. Waldron affirms that prophetic revelation exists in the church today and also says there is no prophetic revelation in the church today lest it need to be canonized?  How is that not a contradiction that further undermines his Cascade Argument?

Furthermore, in his debate with Dr. Brown when he was explaining his own position, he said at 21:50, that the apostles of Christ were a gift to the church. He then referenced Ephesians 4:8-11 for support.

I agree that the apostles were a gift, but not a charismatic gift.  Paul uses a different word for the gift of the apostles in Ephesians 4:8-11. He uses doma, not charisma.

(DOMA “that which is given—‘gift.’" [Louw and Nida. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament])

Doma is not used to describe or list the charismatic gifts. This is important because to say that the gift (doma) of the apostles has ceased and then conclude that the gifts (charisma) have also ceased is like saying because there are no more red presents under the Christmas tree, then there are also no more green presents. That does not logically follow. It is a problem for his position. 

In addition, Dr. Waldrom says on page 15 of his book…

“the New Testament makes clear that apostles of Christ are not given to the church today; they lived only in the first century. We know for sure, therefore, that one gift, and that the greatest gift, has ceased to be given.”

And, on page 42 of his book he says…

“If according to the clearest teaching of the New Testament the greatest gift is not in the church today, then surely it is possible that other gifts may also have ceased. Let me restate my point. Since we know on the clearest biblical evidence that at least one miraculous gift has ceased, this knowledge provides the crucial premise for the biblical argument for the cessation of the miraculous gifts.”

Dr. Waldron has stated that if the greatest gift to the church, the apostles, is not in the church today, then other gifts “may also have ceased.”  Notice he says “may.”  He is not asserting a logical necessity, but only a possibility.  This weakens his argument even more.

Also, I disagree with him when he says the greatest gift to the church is the apostles.  I think the greatest gift given to the church is the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. 

If we were to narrow our field of examination to the time after Christ’s ascension, then the Holy Spirit would be a greater gift than the apostles since the Holy Spirit is God, and the apostles are not.  Consider Acts 10:45-46.

"All the circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift [dorea] of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. 46 For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God…”

In addition, we could use his reasoning against him.  When Dr. Waldron says that if the greatest gift to the church is not with us and this implies the charismatic gifts have ceased, then we could say that on the other hand, if the greatest gift is still with the church today, then the charismatic gifts have not ceased. If the Holy Spirit is a greater gift to the church than the apostles and He is also present with us, then the charismatic gifts are still with us and his argument fails.  After all, the charismatic gifts depend on the presence of the Holy Spirit, not the presence of the apostles.

So, let me conclude with a summary

First, the biblical classification of the charismatic gifts includes speaking in tongues, word of wisdom, prophecy, faith, and eternal life. Since faith and eternal life are still in effect today, then by logical necessity, all of the charismatic gifts have not ceased.

Second, our debate is not about specific charismatic gifts, such as the prophetic ones, but charismatic gifts as a whole.  After all, our debate is titled, “Does the Bible teach that the charismatic gifts are for today?”

Third, in 1 Corinthians 1:7, Paul tells the church universal that it will not lack any charismatic gift while waiting for the return of Christ. Therefore, we can conclude that we are not lacking any charismatic gift today.

Fourth, Acts 2:17 says that prophecy will occur in the Last Days.  It doesn’t say it will stop within the Last Days.  The Last Days did not end with the apostles, so we should expect prophecy in the church in these Last Days even as Dr. Waldron has affirmed happens, on page 47 of his book, when he said that prophetic revelation occurs in the church today.

Fifth, by not distinguishing between the different kinds of gifts that are articulated in the Greek such as doma used of the gift of the apostles and charisma used of the charismatic gifts, Dr. Waldron’s analysis and Cascade Argument is incomplete and, therefore, is undermined.

Sixth, Dr. Waldron, in numerous places in his book says that the greatest gift is the apostolate, which is not the case. The Holy Spirit is a greater gift than the apostles.

So, I conclude that the charismatic gifts are still for the church today and Dr. Waldron’s Cascade Argument has too many problems to be convincing.

Thank you.


About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.