“The things that mark an apostle—signs, wonders and miracles—were done among you with great perseverance.” (2 Corinthians 12:12)
That verse deserves to be read and reread during this discussion. To some degree, and I don’t want to overplay this, but to some degree signs, wonders and miracles were the marks of an apostle. Here are some verses from Acts that suggest the same thing:
“Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles.” (Acts 2:43) In the earliest days of the church, it was the apostles who were doing wonders and miraculous signs. The Spirit was given to all that obeyed (Acts 2:38; 5:32), but not all did miracles. The apostles did the miracles.
“The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade.” (Acts 5:12) Time has passed, thousands have been converted, yet it is still the apostles who are doing the miracles.
Seemingly, this gift could be passed on by the apostles through the laying on of hands. The first evidence is circumstantial: in Acts 6, the apostles lay hands on 7 men. Shortly after we read that Stephen, one of the seven, is doing miracles, the first non-apostle that is mentioned as doing so. In Acts 8, we see another of the seven, Philip, doing miracles in Samaria. He was unable, however to pass on the gift. Peter and John came from Jerusalem, laid hands on the believers, and they received this outward manifestation of the Spirit. I’m convinced that these people had received the indwelling Spirit, but the Spirit had not “come on” any of them in the outward sense.
Acts 8:18 is important: “When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”” The apostles were able to pass on the ability to do miracles, the outward manifestation of the Spirit. Those that received that manifestation, the miraculous gifts, were apparently unable to pass the gift on to others (which is why Philip couldn’t pass the gift to the Samaritans).
The exception was Cornelius, in Acts 10. There is no denying that his is an exceptional case; Peter compares it to what happened at Pentecost, years before. I believe that Cornelius and his household received the outward manifestation of the Spirit before baptism, much the same as people in the Old Testament did. This happened as a sign to Peter and the other Jews that God was accepting the Gentiles.
None of this is stated explicitly. I have drawn inferences from the wording of different texts; I won’t make my inferences a line of fellowship. But this framework helps me understand what I see in the New Testament and helps explain why the early church writers spoke of miracles in the past tense.
I’ll have some more to say on this subject, but would love to hear what YOU have to say. Does any of this make sense?