Continuing Revelation—A Crucial Issue
Jude’s affirmation that we have a completed revelation from God is a crucial issue in our day. Many religious groups base doctrine on what they claim is revelation added to Scripture. In the introduction we noted several of these claims.
Approach to a Completed Revelation
Up to this point we have cited just one biblical passage to support the contention that the Bible is a completed revelation. Jude’s statement is forceful (Jude 3). John’s warning at the end of the Revelation and at the end of the canon of Scripture seems emphatic. Yet is there more? Can we really make a case for the position that God is not speaking to men today as He did when He gave His Word? When a cacophony of voices contends, for one reason or another, that God still reveals Himself, we must deal with this question. Christians deserve a certain, biblical, and reasonable explanation of the biblical teaching on this subject.
One is amazed at how little is written affirming that Scripture is a completed unit of revelation. Perhaps the older writers, thoroughly combating the rationalistic attacks on Scripture, did not see the need to contend against the mystical attacks on it. Most of the classic systematic theologies or works on the inspiration of Scripture contain a brief statement about the issue.46 Pache is typical when he says, “All the revelations discussed above were accorded to individuals or to generations now passed away.”47 Certainly the Pentecostal and now Charismatic movement was not as prevalent as it is today. To be sure, Baptist theologians have affirmed that Scripture is the sole authority for faith and practice. They have argued against Rome’s threefold authority structure of Scripture, tradition, and church authority. But we can find almost nothing that explains why Scripture is complete or how we know that it is.
John MacArthur has written probably the best current book on the Charismatic movement. He deals with this issue clearly but briefly.48 Peter Masters has a chapter entitled “Proving the Gifts Have Ceased,” in which he deals with the cessation of all sign gifts, including prophecy.49 His work is also helpful.
Approaching the Issue
We confront an apparent problem when dealing with the issue of a completed revelation versus continuing revelation. Scripture is clear that God revealed Himself progressively as He gave the Scripture. Hebrews 1:1, 2 explain that “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son.”
Both the Old and New Testaments give clear instruction for discerning false prophets. The New Testament teaches that God gave signs and wonders to vindicate apostolic revelation. Scripture also teaches that God will again give supernatural revelation with miracles vindicating it (Joel 2:28). This will occur during the Tribulation. Rolland McCune affirms that “As a matter of fact, the rapture initiates a whole new era of revelation; there will be widespread revelatory activity during the Tribulation and Millennium (Rev. 11:3; Joel 2:28).50
As we approach this issue, we must answer a question: If there was supernatural revelation during the time God gave the Scriptures, and if there will be supernatural revelation during the time of the Tribulation, how do we know we are not receiving revelation today?
Evidence for a Completed Revelation and the Cessation of the Sign Gifts
Since God gave revelation to those who lived during Bible times and since He will give revelation again during the Tribulation, it is possible to discover God’s approach to this subject. Understanding God’s guidelines for distinguishing true revelation from false will enable us to biblically evaluate the claims of those who say that God has revealed Himself to them. In this section we will examine three Old Testament passages and three in the New Testament that inform our thinking on this subject.
Deuteronomy 13:1–5—the Theological Test
If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a wonder, And the sign or the wonder come to pass, whereof he spake unto thee, saying, Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them; Thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams: for the Lord your God proveth you, to know whether ye love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. Ye shall walk after the Lord your God, and fear him, and keep his commandments, and obey his voice, and ye shall serve him, and cleave unto him. And that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams, shall be put to death; because he hath spoken to turn you away from the Lord your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed you out of the house of bondage, to thrust thee out of the way which the Lord thy God commanded thee to walk in. So shalt thou put the evil away from the midst of thee.
God warns Israel against a prophet who may arise among them. This prophet will come with a purported revelation received by prophecy or dream (v. 1). He will support his prophecy with a miracle. The miracle, according to verse two, may actually come to pass. The purpose of the prophet’s message is to seduce Israel to serve other gods: “Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them” (v. 2). Notice that according to verse three, the nation is to reject the prophet, even though he gives a claimed revelation and accredits it with a miracle! Part of God’s purpose in allowing this seducer to come is to prove His people’s love for Him (v. 3).51 The sensational and miraculous is not the sole vindication and authentication of a purported revelation.
Criteria for Judging Prophetic Claims
In verse four God describes the standard by which all claimed prophecy must be judged. All supposed prophecy, to be genuine, must be consistent with (1) the character of God (“Ye shall walk after the Lord your God”) and (2) the already written Word of God (“His commandments, His voice”). These claims to additional revelation must also result in (3) the fear of God (“fear Him”), (4) obedience to God (“obey His voice”), and (5) devotion to Him (“and cleave unto Him”). Any prophetic claim to genuineness must be consistent with what we know about the character of God as it is revealed in His Word. It must also promote obedience to and love for God. Any prophetic claim that does not “square” with the character of God and His revealed Word exposes itself as patently false.
Source of False Prophecy
Several times Scripture indicates that Satan’s activity motivates false prophecy. Deuteronomy 13:12, 13 seem to teach this fact. Passages like Matthew 24:24; 2 Thessalonians 2:9; Revelation 13:11–14; 16:14 and 19:20 also support this idea. In fact, it seems that the false prophet of Revelation 13, who will appear during the Great Tribulation, fits the model of Deuteronomy 13:1–5.
Modern Prophecy Exposed
This biblical standard exposes current claims to prophecy as clearly false. We could cite many examples here, but one will suffice. Notice a statement by the popular Charismatic preacher Kenneth Copeland. He says:
It’s time for these things to happen, saith the Lord. It’s time for spiritual activity to increase. Oh, yes, demonic activity will increase along at the same time. But don’t let that disturb you. Don’t be disturbed when people accuse you of thinking you’re God. Don’t be disturbed when people accuse you of a fanatical way of life. Don’t be disturbed when people put you down and speak harshly and roughly of you. They spoke that way of Me, should they not speak that way of you? The more you get to be like Me, the more they’re going to think that way of you. They crucified me for claiming that I was God. But I didn’t claim I was God; I just claimed I walked with Him and that He was in Me. Hallelujah. That’s what you’re doing” [emphasis mine].52
Note that Copeland is guilty of heresy on two counts. First, he says that Jesus did not claim to be God. That statement is false when judged by the standard of John 5:18; 10:30 and 14:7, 9. Copeland robs Jesus of His deity. Second, Copeland elevates man to the level of Christ. We are, according to Copeland, making the same claims that Christ made. The author of Hebrews tells us that Jesus was made like men in His humanity (Heb. 2:14–17). He also sets Christ apart as unique and different from men in His deity (Heb. 7:26). In two sentences Copeland diminishes the deity of Christ and promotes an exaltation of man. Both statements radically differ from revealed Scripture. This twentieth-century prophet does not meet the biblical standard and must be rejected.
(Next: Additional evidence for a completed revelation and the cessation of the sign gifts.)
46 F. David Farnell has written four articles in Bibliotheca Sacra and one in The Master’s Theological journal. Farnell is a cessationist, holding that we do not receive continuing revelation today. The articles are in response to Wayne Grudem’s views to the opposite. We will cite some of Farnell’s writing, but it is highly technical and not for the popular reader.
47 Pache, 23.
48 John F. MacArthur, Jr., Charismatic Chaos (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 60–65.
49 Peter Masters, The Healing Epidemic (London: The Wakeman Trust, 1988), 112–35.
50 Rolland D. McCune, “A Biblical Study of Tongues and Miracles” (Minneapolis: Central Baptist Theological Seminary, n.d.), 8.
51 Our first and greatest duty to God is to love Him. See Deuteronomy 6:1–7; 10:12, 13; 30:6; Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:29, 30; Luke 10:27.
52 Kenneth Copeland, Believer’s Voice of Victory, February 1987, quoted in MacArthur, 57.
Fred Moritz serves on the missions faculty at Maranatha Baptist University. He earned his MDiv at Central Seminary (Plymouth, MN) and DMin at Bob Jones University (Greenville, SC). He became assistant to Dr. Monroe Parker at Baptist World Mission in 1981 then Executive Director in 1985, where he oversaw 350 missionaries. He is also the author of “Be Ye Holy”: The Call to Christian Separation and Contending for the Faith.