Pneumatology

Four Common Objections to Cessationism

Reposted from It Is Written. Read the series.

We have argued that Scripture-quality revelation has ceased with the completion of the New Testament canon.1 Moreover, we’ve attempted to demonstrate that New Testament prophecy and tongues are forms of Scripture-quality special revelation.2 Consequently, Christians should not expect the revelatory gifts of tongues and prophecy today. This is the essence of the cessationist argument. Before we conclude our study, however, I’d like to respond to four objections that are commonly raised against the cessationist position (see below). Then will examine two or three passages to which those who advocate for the continuation of revelatory gifts frequently appeal. 

Objection #1: The Bible Doesn’t Forbid Prophecy

The Bible commands the church neither to despise the prophetic utterance nor to forbid speaking in tongues, which is a form of prophecy (1 Thess. 5:20; 1 Cor. 14:39). Does not the abiding validity of these commands assume that tongues and prophecy will be an ongoing practice in the church?

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Review – Spiritual Gifts: What They Are & Why They Matter

Image of Spiritual Gifts: What They Are and Why They Matter
by Thomas R. Schreiner
B&H Books 2018
Paperback 192

Much has been written on the topic of spiritual gifts by both cessationists and continuationists. Enter Spiritual Gifts: What They Are & Why They Matter, written by a continuationist turned “nuanced cessationist,” Thomas R. Schreiner. Schreiner is a leading New Testament scholar and the James Harrison Buchanan Professor of New Testament Interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Although Schreiner is a New Testament scholar, he writes Spiritual Gifts for the person in the pew who desires to gain more insight into spiritual gifts without having to wade into the exegetical minutia of an in-depth, scholarly treatment of the topic.

Schreiner begins Spiritual Gifts by stating he writes the book not only to support “a kind of cessationism” but also to “sketch in a theology of spiritual gifts.”1 He acknowledges that the issue of cessationism can easily become polemical and divisive, but as is typical for Schreiner, he desires to approach this topic humbly and irenically. It is not surprising then that he dedicates the book to Wayne Grudem, John Piper, and Sam Storms—three notable continuationists.

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From the Archives: What Is the Role of the Holy Spirit in Interpretation

From Paraklesis, a resource of Baptist Bible Seminary (Fall, 2012). Used by permission.

We might better ask the question, “Does the Holy Spirit have a role in interpretation?” If the Holy Spirit does have a role, what is that role?

The purpose of this article is to propose first that the role of the Holy Spirit in interpretation is not to enable the reader to grasp the meaning of a text. We will look briefly at certain verses which supposedly teach this to see whether they actually do teach this.

This article then proposes that a role of the Holy Spirit in interpretation is actually post-interpretation. The role of the Holy Spirit is to enable the reader to make a correct evaluation of the meaning of a text so that he can welcome or accept that meaning. The Holy Spirit also assures the reader of the truth of Scripture. A role of the Holy Spirit also may be to enable the reader to relate the meaning which comes from interpretation to his life. The article looks briefly at texts which seem to support these proposals and this suggestion.

The Holy Spirit does not enable the reader to discover the (author’s intended) meaning of a passage. He does not teach the reader the meaning of a text. The Holy Spirit does not help the reader to comprehend Scripture.

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The Ministry of the Holy Spirit in Christ

While the Holy Spirit has an incredible ministry directly to believers, that is certainly not His only role. Before the Spirit’s present ministry in the church, He also interacted with Christ in several profound ways. As we understand the relationship of Christ and the Spirit, and their relationship to the Father, we can be encouraged and strengthened, knowing that we also have a relationship with all Three, and that they are doing amazing things so that we can have life (Eph 1:3-14), and walk with Him (Jn 17:3).

His Purpose in Christ

The Holy Spirit bore witness to the fact that Christ was sent from the Father, and by so doing provided a testimony to Israel that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. Note the fourfold witness identified in John’s gospel: (1) John (Jn 5:33-35) was the forerunner prophesied by the Holy Spirit (Mal 3:1; Lk. 1:67-79), (2) Jesus’ works (Jn 5:36), many of which were accomplished in the power of the Holy Spirit, (3) the Father (Jn 5:37-38)—through His word, which is the sword of the Spirit (Eph 6:17), and finally, (4) the Scriptures (Jn 5:39-47), which are the words and testimony of the Spirit (Is 59:21; Zech 4:6; Acts 21:11; 1 Tim 4:1; Heb 3:7; 9:8; 10:15; Rev 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22). His words were provided by method of inspiration—or God breathing (2 Tim 3:16), as He moved men to speak His word (2 Pet 1:20-21).

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The Role of the Holy Spirit in Interpretation

The theological term most commonly used by theologians to express the role of the Holy Spirit in biblical understanding is illumination. While the term isn’t directly used of the Holy Spirit, the concept is present, for example in John 1:5 and 1:9, “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it… the true Light which coming into the world, enlightens every man.” In this context Jesus is the Light, and His enlightening or illumining work is accomplished with everyone.

But if Christ illumines everyone, to what extent does the Holy Spirit illumine? Does the Bible even teach that the Holy Spirit illumines, or is illumination by the Holy Spirit a theological rather than exegetical concept?

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The Discreet Holy Spirit

One of the benefits of “book-by-book expository preaching” is that the preacher-teacher is more likely to present God’s balance of truth. But it is not merely a matter of teaching everything—it is also a matter of emphasis. Preaching book by book puts the emphasis upon what God’s Word emphasizes! This is especially true when the point of the text is the point of the sermon.

But the Scriptures are not evenly distributed by topic. This is particularly true when it comes to the Holy Spirit. Although the Holy Spirit is discussed in many Scriptures, He is absent from many more. This might seem odd because the Holy Spirit Himself has inspired all Scripture (2 Pet. 1:21).

In light of this seeming disparity, I would like to contemplate two issues about the Holy Spirit: His “behind the scenes” influence (His preferred discretion) and his role as the “Divine Finisher.” These issues have been discussed since the early centuries of Christianity, but do not receive much air time today.

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Does Every Believer Have a Spiritual Gift?

The phrase “spiritual gift” is only employed five times in the NASB New Testament. In Romans 1:11 (χάρισμα ὑμῖν πνευματικὸν—charisma humin pneumatikon) it is in reference to something Paul wanted to impart to the entire church at Rome. In 1 Corinthians 12:1, Paul prefaces the entire discussion of manifestations of the Spirit with the expressed desire that the Corinthians be aware of spiritual gifts. But while the Greek includes spiritual (πνευματικῶν—pneumatikon), it does not include any term for gifts.Thus, while the NASB reading implies that the context following 12:1 is a discussion of spiritual gifts, the Greek does not necessarily support that implication. In 1 Corinthians 14:1 and 12 likewise, the NASB includes the phrase “spiritual gifts,” but the Greek only includes the term “spiritual” (πνευματικά/πνευμάτων—pneumatika/pneumatōn) and no term from which the NASB translates “gifts.”

Finally, in 1 Timothy 4:14 Paul warns Timothy not to neglect the spiritual gift within him. In light of the limited number of references in the NASB (five), and the even smaller number of actual references in the Greek (two), there is no biblical data to support the idea that every believer has, specifically, a spiritual gift. On the other hand, there is data that supporting every believer’s having a manifestation of the Spirit for the common good (1 Cor. 12:7).

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