In his article on John 14:12, Matt Waymeyer, who teaches hermeneutics and Greek at The Master’s Seminary, concludes that, “There is no support for continuationism in John 14:12.” A brief review of his principle arguments demonstrates that, to the contrary, John 14:12 remains an important text supporting continuationism.
Prof. Waymeyer has rightly focused on the chapter “Sola Scriptura and Therefore Charismatic” in my book Authentic Fire: A Response to John MacArthur’s Strange Fire.” In that chapter, about 3% of the discussion is devoted to John 14:12, which means that while the verse is certainly important, it represents only a tiny portion of my case for continuationism within that chapter, while the chapter itself represents only a portion of the case for continuationism put forth within Authentic Fire (which concludes several relevant appendices written by other scholars), and even Authentic Fire itself represents only a small portion of my larger exegetical case for continuationism, as seen in my 1995 monograph entitled Israel’s Divine Healer, part of Zondervan’s series Studies in Old Testament Biblical Theology.
That being said, I agree with Prof. Waymeyer that we need to focus on the meaning of the verse in context, and I do appreciate the time he spent preparing his article, which is written in a non-polemical tone and which even raises a valid pastoral concern at the end, to which we will return. In John 14:12, Jesus says to his disciples, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father.”
Professor Waymeyer’s main arguments are:
1) Although the language of John 14:12 is universal (“whoever believes in me,” as elsewhere in John, e.g., 6:35; 7:38; 11:25; 12:44, 46; see also 3:15; 3:16; 3:18; 3:36; 6:40; 6:47; 11:26), it was only meant for the apostles. This becomes clear when we look at the Lord’s miraculous works in John, which are clearly in view in John 14:12, and which included turning water into wine, feeding the multitudes with meager supplies, raising the dead (after four days), and even walking on water. If the continuationist interpretation of John 14:12 were true, then every believer would be performing the same feats.
2) Paul makes clear in 1 Corinthians 12 that gifts of healing and miracles are only given to some believers, not all believers, whereas a continuationist interpretation of John 14:12 would imply that all believers could perform miracles and healings.
3) The ability to do the same miraculous works that Jesus did was given to the apostles alone, and, “The reason the apostles were given these miraculous gifts was to authenticate them as authorized representatives of Christ who received and proclaimed divine revelation to the early church (Eph 2:20; 3:5; Acts 2:42). This is why 2 Corinthians 12:12 identifies signs, wonders, and miracles as ‘signs of a true apostle,’ and this is why Hebrews 2:3-4 speaks of God testifying to their apostleship ‘by signs and wonders and by various miracles.’”
These arguments are easily refuted and, as will see shortly, citing 1 Corinthians 12 actually undermines his entire case. Let’s treat these points seriatim.
First, Prof. Waymeyer states, “But what initially appears to be Brown’s strongest argument [speaking of the universal language of John 14:12] ultimately turns out to be the most significant problem for his view. By assuming that ‘he who believes’ is also universal in John 14:12, Brown ends up arguing that every single believer in the history of the church has performed (or will perform) the same miraculous works as Jesus, works such as healing the crippled, giving sight to the blind, and raising people from the dead.” So, he argues, because all believers throughout Church history (and to this very day) have not performed these same miracles, Jesus’ words here cannot be universal in intent but must apply only to the apostles.
Using this same logic, John 14:12 cannot even refer to the apostles, since there is no biblical record of them turning water into wine or walking on water or feeding multitudes with meager supplies or raising someone from the dead after four days, which means that if Prof. Waymeyer’s line of argumentation is true, John 14:12 applies to no one in recorded history! So, he takes the universal language of Jesus and now makes it applicable to no one, which means he is surely misreading the verse. Moreover, Prof. Waymeyer must surely believe that God accredited Jesus in certain ways that were above and beyond his accreditation of the apostles (not least being his own resurrection from the dead!), in which case his interpretation contradicts itself, since it requires all the apostles to do all the works that Jesus did (not to mention greater works).
Professor Waymeyer claims that despite the universal language of John 14:12, which he recognizes elsewhere in John always applies universally, in John 14-16, “Jesus was exclusively addressing the eleven disciples, the very ones He would soon send out as His apostles. Even though much of John 14-16 can be applied to every believer by extension, all of what Jesus says in these chapters applies directly to the apostles and some of what He says applies only to the apostles (e.g., John 14:25-26; 16:13). John 14:12 falls into this latter category.”
The problem with this interpretation is that it is entirely gratuitous. In other words, while verses like John 14:25-26 are explicitly addressed to the apostles (“These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”), John 14:12 contains a universal promise, using language elsewhere established in John as universal intent. And so, there is no exegetical basis for limiting it to the apostles. Note also that many of the other universal promises in John, such as John 6:35 (“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”) were spoken in a very specific context (for example, in John 6, Jesus is addressing the Jewish crowds that followed him), but it is the language used that indicates to us that his words were intended for all who would receive them, not just for the original hearers. The same applies to John 14:12, and, if the language used is not our guide, it becomes an exegetical nightmare to pick and choose which verses apply (or do not apply) to us today.
As illustrated graphically by my friend Pastor David Harwood, author of God’s True Love, a consistent reading of John 14:12-21, based on Prof. Waymeyer’s line of reasoning, would look like this:
Truly, truly, I say to you, (you eleven, and nobody else) who believe in Me, the works that I do, (you eleven, and nobody else) will do also; and greater works than these (you eleven, and nobody else) will do; because I go to the Father. Whatever (you eleven, and nobody else) ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If (you eleven, and nobody else) ask Me anything in My name, I will do it. If (you eleven, and nobody else) love Me, (you eleven, and nobody else) will keep My commandments. I will ask the Father, and He will give (you eleven, and nobody else) another Helper, that He may be with (you eleven, and nobody else) forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but(you eleven, and nobody else) know Him because He abides with (you eleven, and nobody else) and will be in (you eleven, and nobody else). I will not leave (you eleven, and nobody else) as orphans; I will come to (you eleven, and nobody else). After a little while the world will no longer see Me, but (you eleven, and nobody else) will see Me; because I live, (you eleven, and nobody else) will live also. In that day (you eleven, and nobody else) will know that I am in My Father, and (you eleven, and nobody else) in Me, and I in (you eleven, and nobody else). (You eleven, and nobody else) who have My commandments and keep them are the (eleven ones, and nobody else) who love Me; and (you eleven, and nobody else) who love Me will be loved by My Father (and nobody else), and I will love (you eleven, and nobody else) and will disclose Myself to (you eleven, and nobody else).
It turns out, then, that Prof. Waymeyer’s primary argument that John 14:12 cannot be taken in its plain and obvious sense is not an argument deduced from a close exegetical reading of the chapter (and/or surrounding chapters) but rather that a universal application of the verse didn’t occur 2,000 years ago and doesn’t occur today. But, since we have seen that a strict and literal application of the verse to the apostles didn’t occur either, we are thrust back on the plain, contextual and exegetical state of the verse, which remains universal in application. How then do we explain it? We will answer that question at the close of this article.
Professor Waymeyer next argues that “the apostle Paul made it clear in 1 Corinthians 12:27-30 that it was never God’s design to give every Christian the ability to perform the miraculous.” But what Paul did make clear in this passage (as well in the larger context of 1 Corinthians 12-14) is that these miraculous gifts were not for the apostles only (or even primarily) but rather “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Cor 12:7). In fact, this is one of the worst passages for a cessationist to appeal to, since: 1) in 1 Corinthians 1:7 Paul makes clear that the gifts were expected to continue until the Lord’s return; 2) it is widely recognized that 1 Corinthians 13:8-12 is a strong argument for the continuation of the gifts until the Lord’s return, when we will see him face to face and know him as he knows us; and 3) 1 Corinthians 12:27-28 makes explicit that the miraculous gifts are part of the very fabric of the Body of Christ, even if one argues (or, perhaps, especially if one argues) that apostles and prophets were only for the first century. As Paul explained, “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues.”
Simply stated, assuming that apostles and prophets were raised up by God to establish the Church, how do we explain the intertwining of teachers with miracle workers and those having gifts of healing, along with helpers and administrators and speakers of various kinds of tongues? You can no more make the argument that gifts of healing have ceased than you can make the arguments that teachers or administrators have ceased – and note once more that these gifts are not directly associated with the apostles.
Furthermore, Peter states explicitly that the outpouring of the Spirit that was taking place in Acts 2 – and which was experienced by the 120 and not limited to the apostles – was a “last days” event (meaning, from the death and resurrection of Jesus until his return), that it included the gift of prophecy, and that it was ultimately to include a multitude of believers worldwide (Acts 2:14-21, and see the relevantn discussion in Authentic Fire). Not only so, but James (Jacob) 5:14-15 makes clear that the local elders, not the apostles, were (and are) expected to pray for the seriously ill and that the “prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well.” (For further discussion, the commentary of Peter H. Davids in the New International Commentary on the New Testament series is especially recommended, along with the references cited in Authentic Fire.)
What this means is that the gifts of healing and miracles and prophecy, which were all given to non-apostles in the New Testament, were expected to continue until the eschaton, while healing of the sick in response to faith – something apart from the gift of healing, which apparently spoke of a particular gift that saw specific results, perhaps even associated with specific diseases – was to be the norm in the local assembly. In sum, there is not a syllable in the New Testament that says that these practices or gifts were expected to cease before the Lord’s return.
Professor Waymeyer argues that signs, wonders, and miracles were the exclusive domain of the apostles, asking, “If the promise of John 14:12 is universal and every believer performed signs and wonders, why does Luke single out the apostles in Acts 2:43? Where is the biblical account that ‘many wonders and signs were taking place through all the brethren’?”
Actually, in Acts 6, Luke records that, “Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people” (Act 6:8), and he says not a word there about the apostles performing miracles. What then are we to deduce from this? (And notice the language uses: “great wonders and signs.”)
Of course I recognize that God used the apostles in unique ways and accredited them in unique ways, but because the Spirit was poured out on all flesh at Pentecost (Shavu‘ot), miracles were performed by others as well, including a non-apostle like Stephen. In the same way, Luke records that as a result of Philip’s ministry in Samaria (again, he was not an apostle), “unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed” (Act 8:7). In fact, while none of the Samaritans received the gift of the Spirit until the apostles laid hands on them later in the chapter, Philip was used to bring miraculous healing and deliverance to them.
And while Hebrews 2:3-4 spoke of God’s divine attestation when the gospel was initially preached to the readers, in Galatians 3:5, Paul spoke of ongoing miracles that were taking place among the Galatians, quite apart from the apostles. And, to repeat, 1 Corinthians 12-14 described the ongoing, miraculous work of the Spirit in the midst of the Corinthian church, expected to continue until the eschaton, while James (Jacob) 5:14-15, mandated prayer for the seriously ill, with the elders expected to pray in faith for healing.
What then do we make of the fact that, as believers, we are obviously not all raising the dead or healing the blind or walking on water? As Prof. Waymeyer asks, “If it was never God’s design that all believers perform miracles and healings, how can Brown affirm an interpretation of John 14:12 which says that it was?” Again, I’m not affirming an interpretation of the text as much as letting the text speak for itself, since, to repeat, the problem is not a matter of exegesis but rather of application.
Professor Waymeyer wrote, “Even though it is undoubtedly true that every single believer will have eternal life (John 3:15, 16, 36; 6:40, 47), is not judged (John 3:18), will never thirst (John 6:35), will experience the rivers of living water (John 7:38), will live even if he dies (John 11:25, 26), believes in the Father (John 12:44), and will not remain in darkness (John 12:46), it is simply not the case that every single believer does (or will do) the miraculous works that Jesus did (2:1-11; 4:46-54; 5:1-9; 6:1-14; 6:16-21; 9:1-41; 11:1-45). This was never the sovereign design of God for the Body of Christ (1 Cor 12:27-30), and it was not promised by Jesus in John 14:12.”
Actually, this where we find the solution to the problem. First, to repeat, 1 Corinthians 12:27-30 makes clear that gifts of healing, miracles, and tongues are essential parts of the Body, along with teaching, helping, and administrating, and even if Prof. Waymeyer ’s interpretation of John 14:12 were true (which it is not), then we should still expect to see the operation of these miraculous gifts through some believers rather than all. Second, when we look at verses like John 6:35, which we cited above (Jesus said, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst”), we see that some of these promises are also invitations, unless we want to argue that every single believer in Jesus in history has never once experienced any type of spiritual hunger or thirst their entire lives. Rather, when we truly look to him and find our delight in him, we do not hunger or thirst (or, from another perspective, while we do hunger and thirst for his fullness in our lives, it is he alone who satisfies fully).
In the same way, John 14:12 (along with the verses that follow) is an invitation and a promise, and, it has been fulfilled both specifically and generally, the former in that all of Jesus’ followers engage in at least some of his works on at least some level, the latter in that, looking at the Body as a whole historically and to this very day, all kinds of healings and miraculous works are being done (and have been done) through Jesus’ followers. And if we look to Mark 16:17-20 as an early historical witness (if not as Scripture itself), it promises that healing and deliverance will take place through “those who believe,” just as Jesus said in John 14:12: “‘And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.’ . . . And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs.”
I do commend Prof. Waymeyer for raising an important pastoral concern when he writes, “Sadly, Christians today who claim this promise for themselves—and who are unable to perform the kinds of signs and wonders that Jesus did—may find that they are tempted either to water down the biblical definition of a miracle or to waver in their commitment to sola scriptura.” His solution, unfortunately, is quite wrong, as he writes, “Better to maintain confidence in the Bible’s sufficiency and to interpret this verse in its original context.”
Rather, it is the Bible itself that speaks clearly of the ongoing, miraculous work of the Spirit in this age until the Lord’s return, and we denigrate sola scriptura when we deny the plain sense of the Word based on our experience or lack thereof. As I stated in Authentic Fire, I have heard from many cessationists in recent months who stated clearly that they are cessationists primarily because of bad experiences they had in charismatic circles as opposed to primarily because of the testimony of Scripture. And so, it is fair to ask the question, “If I was only reading the Bible, would I take John 14:12 as a promise to the apostles only or would I take this as a promise from Jesus to all believers?”
The fact is that there are scores of promises in Scripture that are often challenging to apply (promises of answers to prayer in certain circumstances; promises of joy and peace in the midst of trials; promises of divine comfort in the midst of loss; promises of power to overcome sin), and we will find ourselves in an endless cycle of reinterpreting the Bible based on our experience if we try to explain why these verses really don’t mean what they appear to mean because we haven’t experienced their reality. Rather, as people of faith, we believe God regardless of what we see, feel, or experience, and as believers, we proclaim John 14:12 to be true, expecting God to use us to bring healing, deliverance, and salvation to a dying world, just as Jesus did, to the glory of the Father.