A Case for Cessationism, Part 3

From Maranatha Baptist Theological Journal, Vol 3, No. 2, Fall 2013. Reproduced with permission. Read the series so far.

Approaching the Issue

The issue whether the sign gifts continue or have ceased is closely tied to the question of continuing revelation. Is God giving us Scripture today? Are the sign gifts of the New Testament still in operation today? And is the prophetic gift of the Old Testament identical with the prophetic gift in the New Testament? These issues are connected because the New Testament seems to indicate that the sign gifts were apostolic and that they were specifically given to accredit the apostles as the channels through whom God gave the New Testament revelation.

Our position is that the sign gifts of the Spirit were temporary and are not operative today. Maranatha has held this position since its founding. The Fundamental Baptist Fellowship International states this belief:

We believe that certain gifts, being miraculous in nature, were prevalent in the church in the first century. They were foundational and transitional. These gifts have ceased, being no longer needed because the Scriptures have been completed and the church has been divinely certified (Heb. 2:1-4; 1 Cor. 13:8-12; Eph. 2:20). We believe that speaking in tongues was never the common or necessary sign of the filling or baptism of the Spirit. We believe God, in accord with His own will, does hear and answer prayer for the sick and afflicted (1 Cor. 12:11, 30; 13:8; James 5:14-16).35

The purpose of this article is not polemical. In other words, we do not intend to examine and refute the claims of those who argue for some form of continuing revelation or the continuance of the sign gifts. Critiques have been written and detailed debates or discussions have also taken place in print. We intend to examine the biblical evidence that leads to the conclusion that Scripture is complete and that the sign gifts of the Spirit have ceased.

God’s Self Revelation

The Old Testament Record

God created Adam and Eve, and He revealed His will to them. From the very beginning God spoke to Adam (Gen 2:16). This tells us that God created man, He created language, and that man was capable of understanding God’s message to him. God revealed Himself and His will to Adam and Eve by word. The evidence seems to indicate that God communicated with Adam and Eve on a regular basis (Gen. 3:8).

Also, from the very beginning Satan began to question and deny God’s revelation to the human race (Gen. 3:1, 4). He tempted Eve and Adam disobeyed God and the human race was plunged into sin.

The Ten Commandments

When God gave the Ten Commandments, He met Moses in Mount Sinai. We are told that “the LORD spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend” (Ex. 33:11). In the forty days that Moses was in the mountain, “he wrote the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments” (Ex. 34:28).

Moses looked back on that momentous occasion and added another point that becomes important in the biblical development of this theme. In Deuteronomy we read: “And he said, the Lord came from Sinai, and rose up from Seir unto them; He shined forth from mount Paran, and he came with ten thousands of saints: from his right hand went a fiery law for them” (Deut. 33:2).

David was used of the Holy Spirit to say: “The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels: the Lord is among them, as on Sinai, the holy place” (Ps. 68:17).

It is important to understand that the word translated “saints” in Deuteronomy and “holy” in Psalms isקֹדֶשׁ . It is in the family of words for the holiness of God. This particular word is used of God’s holiness or of holy things or holy persons.36 Thus the KJV translates the word as “saints” in Deuteronomy and as the “holy place” in Psalms.

It is also necessary to consider the word translated “angels” in Psalm 68:17. That Hebrew word is אֶלֶף. “The basic meaning is one thousand but it is often to be taken as a figurative term.”37 The plural noun would thus be translated “thousands.”

Moses stated that God came down into Sinai with His “holy ones,” and David reported that He came to Sinai with “thousands of thousands” which the KJV translates as “angels.” The reasonable conclusion to be drawn from Deuteronomy is that angels accompanied God when He met Moses. It is no wonder that the scene at Sinai was awesome.

The Spirit of God continues this theme in the New Testament. Stephen indicted the leaders of the Jewish council saying of Israel: “Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it” (Acts 7:53). Paul described the law saying “it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator” (Gal. 3:19). It is essential to note that the author of Hebrews informs us: “the word spoken by angels was steadfast” (Heb. 2:2).

Later Revelation

Later, God taught the Israelites how He would communicate to them. He said He would speak through prophets. “And he said, Hear now my words: if there be a prophet among you, I the LORD will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream” (Num. 12:6). He informed Israel that His revelation would come by visions and dreams. He later reiterated: “Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets” (Am. 3:7). This is consistent with what the New Testament writer tells us (Heb. 1:1-3). He spoke through the prophets until Jesus began God’s final revelation to mankind in the last days.

False Prophets Foretold

God warned Israel that false prophets would arise, and He set standards by which Israel could discern between true prophets and false prophets. The statement in Deuteronomy 6:4 becomes the basis for God’s standard in discerning false prophets. We will examine the critical passages in Deuteronomy 13 and 18 later in this article. In later Old Testament passages, false prophets were condemned because they claimed to speak for God when He had not spoken (Ezek. 20:28). Throughout the Old Testament, Israel recognized that God spoke through the prophets (1 Sam. 3:6, 19, 20). False prophets were exposed and rejected as were the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:39).

The New Testament Record

Apostolic Revelation

In the New Testament, God spoke to His people through the apostles. The apostles functioned in at least four important ways. First, they were men who must have been with Christ during His earthly ministry from His baptism until He ascended to Heaven. They were called to be eyewitnesses of Christ’s resurrection (Acts 1:21, 22). Second, Jesus promised the apostles that the Holy Spirit would supernaturally remind them of His teachings (Jn. 14:25, 26). The early church relied on the apostles’ doctrine for its authority until Scripture was completed (Acts 2:42). Third, the apostles were the human instruments through which God gave us the New Testament. They and the early churches recognized that God was speaking through them (1 Cor. 2:10-13; 1 Tim. 5:17 with Deut. 25:4 and Lk. 10:7). Paul asserted this apostolic authority to validate his teaching and writing to the Thessalonians (2 Thess. 2:15). Peter considered the writings of the apostles to be on an equal plane with the writings of the Old Testament prophets (2 Pet. 3:2), and then he taught that Paul’s writings were Scripture (2 Pet. 3:16). The writer of Hebrews declared that Christ was the climax of God’s revelation (Heb. 1:1-3). He then stated that salvation “at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him” (Heb. 2:3). We conclude that Christ and the apostles were the messengers by which God gave the New Testament (Heb. 2:1-4). It seems that this is the reason Paul affirms to the Ephesian church that local churches “are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone”(Eph. 2:20). Fourth, these men were the first generation of church-planting missionaries who spread across the known world with the Gospel. As the apostle of the Gentiles, Paul could say of his apostolic ministry, “I magnify mine office” (Rom. 11:13). It is clear that God used them to communicate His revelation to us and that they were conscious of their place as the channels through which that revelation came.

The Faith

The New Testament speaks of a body of truth that God revealed and that was commonly held by believers. Very often New Testament authors use the term “the faith” to describe that common doctrinal agreement.

Scripture “prescribes” the faith for us. By that term we mean that it lays down the rule, sets down the regulations, or stipulates the biblical truths that make up “the faith.” We may illustrate this by a doctor prescribing a medication. The prescription identifies the medicine and the strength of the dosage. It instructs the patient how often to take it and how to take it (with food, etc.). In the same way the New Testament describes our Christian belief system.

This “faith” is more than a reference to the saving trust we place in Christ for our salvation. It refers to the entire body of Christian truth as revealed in Holy Scripture.

Jude speaks of “the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3). “Jude’s definition of New Testament Christianity begins with an affirmation that God has revealed His Word to men.”38 We cannot describe the faith without insisting on a biblical doctrine of Scripture.

A proper understanding of the Gospel is a crucial part of “the faith.” Paul exhorts the Philippians: “Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel” (Phil. 1:27) [emphasis mine]. It is important to note that a lifestyle compatible with the Gospel is a part of “the faith of the gospel” in this verse. Those who do not provide for those of their households have denied the faith and are worse than unbelievers (1 Tim. 5:8).

When Paul and Barnabas discipled the new believers in Turkey, they exhorted “them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). “The faith” must include the full body of Christian teaching concerning doctrine, godly living, and even suffering.

“The faith” must include sound doctrine. Paul warned Timothy of those who would depart from “the faith” (1 Tim. 4:1). This includes embracing deceit and doctrine that is demonic in origin. False doctrine is a departure from “the faith.”

He then told Timothy that to lead his people away from error and into truth would mark him as “a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of (the) faith and of good doctrine” (1 Tim. 4:6). A full body of good doctrine comprises “the faith.” He exhorted Timothy to “fight the good fight of (the) faith” (1 Tim. 6:12). He used the same language to say “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7).

Scripture clearly has a broader outlook than just the Gospel. In 1 Corinthians Paul described a series of teachings that he promulgated in all the churches where he ministered. These teachings included:

  • Faith in Christ (1:2);
  • His apostolic teaching (4:17; 11:2);
  • Biblical revelation about marriage (7:17);
  • Peace in the churches (11:16);
  • Common practice concerning sign gifts (14:33-38); and
  • Instructions about giving (16:1).

After all this, the apostle exhorts the Corinthians to “stand fast in the faith” (16:13). He clearly intended that fidelity to the faith included the Gospel, but it entailed much more, the full body of truth God revealed through him and the other apostles.

False Teachers Predicted

This revealed faith must be fought for (1 Tim. 6:12; 2 Tim. 4:7-8; Jude 3).

Christ and New Testament authors gave repeated warnings about false christs, apostles, and false teachers (Mt. 7:15; 24:4, 5, 11, 24; Acts 20:29, 30; 2 Cor. 11:13; 2 Tim. 3; 2 Pet. 2:1; 3:1-5; 1 Jn. 2:22-23; 4:1; 2 Jn. 7; Jude 4-19). They described their false doctrine, their motives, and their ungodliness.

Notes

35 http://fbfi.org/constitution/. “Confession of Faith,” Article III, Section 4. Accessed 1 May 2013.

36 William Lee Holladay, Ludwig Köhler and Ludwig Köhler, A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: Brill, 2000), 314.

37 Jack B. Scott, “109 אָלַף” in Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr. and Bruce K. Waltke (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 48.

38 Moritz, 27.

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There are 2 Comments

TOvermiller's picture

I've shared some similar material to this with our church here at Faith Baptist as we periodically encounter various charismatic influences as a congregation. My study of this subject has underscored the importance of recognizing the unilateral nature of prophecy throughout Scripture. The essential nature of prophecy does not change from Old to New Testament, nor does the NT introduce a secondary kind of prophecy. Just as in the Old Testament, it continues to consist of God giving his words to people as revelation, who would in turn speak those words to others. This is not happening today, but it happened in our age as NT Scripture.

Also, I have heard men allude to prophecy in some cases as though it were synonymous with preaching. 1 Thessalonians 5:20 is one such example, "Despite not prophesyings" (KJV). The application then becomes "don't be critical of something that a preacher says when he's preaching." But this is not a careful or accurate correlation. Just as "prophecy" in the NT is never a secondary or alternative form of prophecy that is somehow less authoritative or potentially fallible in some aspects, even so NT prophecy is never equal to preaching. Preaching should of course accurately reflect what NT prophecy says, and to that degree preaching carries authority. But the act of preaching itself is not what the word prophecy refers to in the NT.

Thomas Overmiller
Pastor | www.studygodsword.com
Blog & Podcast | www.shepherdthoughts.com

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I often hear the term "prophetic" used in reference to preaching that is confrontational, along the lines of Nathan's "thou art the man!" I think this is OK with audiences who are likely to understand the intent. But agree w/Thomas that preaching is not prophecy. Before the closing of the canon, preaching and prophecy may have occurred in the same session by the same speaker, intermixed, but if they happened together at times that still doesn't make them the same thing. Like salt and pepper.   (It might be fair to say that prophecy in both OT and NT was a species of preaching: inspired utterance could be, and was, preached. ... but at times prophecy was not preached. Ezekiel's dramatic symbolic enactments come to mind... and Agabus in the NT binding hands.)

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