Discernment and Revelation, Part 3: The Case for Cessationism

With Parts 1 and 2 as a backdrop, the question is reduced to this: Is God giving authoritative revelation on par with that which He has given in the past (much of which has been inscripturated) or is He not? If He is, then the church of Christ needs to take note and come into compliance with the modern prophecy movement, following its revelations as it would Scripture. But if the Lord is not revealing His inspired word today, then we need to reject the claims of the modern prophets and expose these supposed revelations for what they are.

This means the position taken by most on prophecy—cautious but open—is untenable. The cautious but open crowd is skeptical of the claims coming from the prophetic movement, and they are suspicious of the many “words from God” that so many evangelicals are claiming. Still, they hesitate to embrace cessationism. They are concerned about limiting God or, as it was mentioned earlier, “putting God in a box.” To this let me make two replies:

  • It is okay to “put God in a box” if God, in fact, is the One who put Himself in that box. In other words, God can do anything He wants to do, but we expect God to do what He says He will do. If God has put Himself in the cessationist box we can embrace and proclaim it.
  • Taking the open but cautious view really does not hold up. Either God is speaking today apart from His Word or He is not. If He is speaking, how do we determine which of the multitude of messages people claim are from Him and which are bogus? If, with Grudem, we have eliminated the tests of Deuteronomy 13 and 18, how are we to evaluate all these revelations? How do we know to whom we should listen and whom we should ignore?

On such an important area as divine revelation it is indefensible to believe that God’s people cannot know with certainty whether such is taking place. Surely we should expect that the Scriptures themselves would lay out the guidelines for us to determine if divine, authoritative, inspired revelation is being given today. I believe it does and that we can be confident, from the witness of Scripture itself, that God has ceased speaking to mankind during this age apart from the Bible. Let’s take a quick look at what the Word has to say.

The OT pattern: the scarcity of personal revelation from God

A cessationist view begins with a careful look at what God actually did in Scripture. We find, when we search carefully, that God was not speaking to everyone all the time. His revelation, even in biblical times, was rare and when He did speak it was always supernaturally with an audible voice, never through inner voices or impressions.

The assumption held by many that God spoke to most of His children in biblical times is simply not true. The average believer in either Testament never received a personal word from God, and even the majority of key players never heard the voice of God personally.

When God did speak in Scripture it almost always dealt with the big picture of what He was doing in the outworking of His redemptive program or the life of His people in general. You will search in vain to find God instructing someone to take a job, purchase a number of donkeys, or buy a house—except as it related to the bigger issue of God’s dealings with His people. Beyond a few individuals, finding a non-prophetic person in Scripture who heard directly from God becomes a difficult task.

The contention that God spoke to almost everyone all the time, leading, guiding and directing, simply does not stand the test of careful examination of the Scriptures. Even among those to whom God spoke in the Old Testament, He spoke more than twice only to Noah, Abraham, Moses (considered to be a prophet), Jacob, Aaron, Joshua, David and Solomon.

The NT pattern: also relatively scarce

But what about the New Testament? We find that most records of God speaking to individuals after Pentecost are found in the book of Acts. But even here we find only thirteen distinct times in which God spoke directly to individuals (two of these through angels), (Acts 8:26-29, 9:4, 9:10, 10:3, 10:11-16, 12:7-8, 13:2-4, 16:6, 16:9-10, 18:9, 21:4, 21:11, 22:17-21, 23:11). Eight of these occasions were to Paul or Peter, leaving a total of five other individuals or groups to whom God spoke directly in the first 30 years of church history.

So far, we have examined what might be called negative evidence. That is, if we are looking for a pattern of how God spoke to individuals in scriptural times, that pattern reveals a scarcity of individual revelations. The Lord chose to speak primarily through His prophets and the apostles. Following that pattern we should expect the same today. Let’s now move to more positive evidence that the Lord has ceased speaking today apart from Scripture.

Positive evidence

Beginning with Ephesians 2:20, we find that the church is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets.” Since Christ is the cornerstone of the church, this verse has to be speaking of the witness concerning Christ that the apostles and prophets provided to the church. It is only to be expected that this witness would be passed along to the future generations of believers via the instrument of Scriptures that those men were inspired to write.

As Ephesians 3:5 tells us, the “mystery of Christ” has been “made known to the sons of men through the revelation given to Christ’s holy apostles and prophets.” In the next chapter, Paul teaches that the Lord has provided gifted men to the church for its perfection or maturity. The apostles’ and prophets’ role in that process was laying the foundation of the church, as we have seen (Eph 2:20; 3:5). How? Through the teaching of New Testament truth, the apostles’ doctrine. The early church gathered together to devote “themselves to the apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:42), for it was the apostles who would provide New Testament revelation.

(Next: the case for cessationism concluded)

Gary Gilley Bio

Gary Gilley has served as Senior Pastor of Southern View Chapel in Springfield, Illinois since 1975. He has authored several books and is the book review editor for the Journal of Dispensational Theology. He received his BA from Moody Bible Institute. He and his wife Marsha have two adult sons and six grandchildren.

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