From Maranatha Baptist Theological Journal, Vol 3, No. 2, Fall 2013. Reproduced with permission. This installment competes the survey of biblical evdence and concludes the study. Read the full series.
Hebrews 1:1, 2
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, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds.
We have already noted that these verses speak of God’s continuing revelation through the prophets. These two verses also point to the finality of God’s revelation in Christ.76 Jesus Christ is the culmination of God’s revelation. He is the fulfillment of God’s promises throughout the Old Testament. “The consummation of the revelatory process, the definitive revelation, took place when … the very Son of God came.”77 With Him, and what the apostles wrote about Him, God’s revelation is complete. Lenski explains this further:
This means that now, having spoken in the person of his Son, we have the ultimate Word and revelation of God. No more and nothing further will God ever say to men. They who look for more revelation will never find it; [Heb.] 2:3 is God’s answer to them; likewise Deut. 18:19. This is certain also because the Old Testament promises of redemption have been fulfilled by the incarnate Son.78
Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip. For if the word spoken by angels was stedfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward; how shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will?
This New Testament passage indicates that God verified His New Testament revelation with signs and wonders. It further teaches that both the revelation and the accrediting signs and wonders have ceased.
Comparison to Old Testament Revelation
The term “the word spoken by angels” (v. 2) is a reference to the Old Testament revelation. Stephen (Acts 7:35, 53) and Paul (Gal. 3:19) speak of the ministry of angels in communicating God’s Old Testament revelation. Earlier we looked at the progressive biblical development of this theme from Deuteronomy to Psalms, then to Acts, and finally to this passage.
Scripture tells us the Law was “steadfast.” The word bebaioo (v. 2) means “standing firm on the feet, steadfast, maintaining firmness or solidity.”79 God has confirmed His Word, or shown it to be valid. In both the Greek and Jewish worlds, the word was used of a legally binding agreement a seller would give to a buyer in the presence of a third party.80 God established His Old Testament revelation to men. It is His Word, His bond, valid and binding. It condemned every disobedience (v. 2).
The New Testament Revelation
The New Testament revelation “at first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him” (v. 3). God’s work of revelation ceased with the completion of the Old Testament and did not begin again until Christ resumed it. “Jesus was God’s full revelation and he is the source of this new and superior revelation.”81 This passage declares who the instruments were through which the New Testament revelation came. It was “spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him” (v. 3). Those who heard the Lord Jesus were the apostles. Christ and the apostles were the ones chosen by God to give this revelation to men.
It is interesting to note that the author of Hebrews provides a timeline for God’s work of self-revelation. He speaks of the Old Testament revelation as the word spoken by angels. He then tells us that the New Testament revelation was spoken by the Lord and those who heard him. He places himself in the third generation saying that the newly revealed word was “confirmed unto us by them that heard him” (v. 3). He reports that he was not an apostle, but a recipient of the apostolic confirmation of God’s revelation through Christ. This seems to indicate that revelation and the accompanying sign gifts ceased after the time of the apostles.
Just as the Old Testament revelation was steadfast (v. 2), the New Testament revelation was confirmed (v. 3). The same word translated “steadfast” in verse two is translated “confirmed” in verse three. Both Testaments are God’s fixed revelation. He stands by one as surely as He does the other. Note the continuity and similarity between Old Testament and New Testament revelation.
God’s Witness to His Revelation
God gave witness to Christ and the apostles as they preached and wrote. He testified to the authenticity of their ministries and messages with signs, wonders, and various miracles. Thus, signs and wonders accredited the messengers of the New Testament revelation. The term “bearing them witness” (v. 4) is important. It is the word sunepimartureo. Its root is martureo, which means “to bear witness.” This compound form of the word is used only here in the New Testament. The idea of the word is that God bore witness by means of the signs, wonders, and other gifts of the Spirit to accredit their ministries.82 Several Greek authorities define the word as “to testify at the same time.”83
The facts of this passage bring us to some inescapable conclusions. God revealed Himself through Christ and those who heard Him, that is, the apostles. God confirmed and established His Word to men in the New Testament just as He did with the Old Testament. As Christ and the apostles preached, taught, and wrote, God bore witness to their ministries with the additional evidence of signs, wonders, miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit. The word “bearing witness” expresses the idea of “bearing witness at the same time.” That means that the revelation from God and the supernatural evidences of it accompanied each other and were simultaneous with each other. The miracles accredited the revelation. God limited the means by which He made His revelation known. He revealed Himself only through Christ and the apostles. When God completed His work of revelation, the supernatural signs ceased. Paul understood the scope of his ministry and that the miracles he performed were tied to his office. He told the Corinthians, “Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds” (2 Cor 12:12).
It should also be clear to us that the office of apostle ended near the close of the first century. Apostles had to have been with Christ during His earthly ministry and eyewitnesses of Christ’s resurrection. That generation eventually died. Further, Matthias met those qualifications and was elected to succeed Judas (Acts 1:26). After the death of James (Acts 12:1, 2) and the others, no one was elected or appointed to replace him or any other of the apostles.
This seems the most likely interpretation, but in any case, it is clear that the gift of apostleship that Paul mentions in this text is not transferable to persons living in our day. Perhaps that is why it is not apostleship but prophecy that is discussed so centrally in chapter 13.84
We are receiving no more revelation from God in this age because the gift of apostleship terminated. The sign gifts accompanied the apostles and for this reason we should expect no exercise of the sign gifts that accompanied the apostle’s work. This passage eliminates any idea of a valid, biblically justified revelation or accompanying sign gift from God in this age.
76 R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of the Epistle to the Hebrews and the Epistle of James (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1966), 31, points this out. The author of Hebrews uses the word “λαλέω”—“to speak”—twice. The first time, the Holy Spirit inspires him to use an aorist participle, “having spoken,” which looks forward to the main aorist verb, “he spoke.” Lenski calls this an “aorist of finality.”
78 Lenski, 33.
80 Ibid., 1: 602.
83 William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 969. Also Timothy Friberg, Barbara Friberg and Neva F. Miller, Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, Baker’s Greek New Testament Library (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000), 4: 366. These two sources are representative of others.
84 D. A. Carson, Showing the Spirit: A Theological Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12–14 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1987), 90-91.
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.