The Canon Is Closed: The Cessation of Special Revelation

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I believe the gifts of NT prophecy and tongues served an important but provisional role in the founding of the New Covenant community. To establish this thesis I will need to demonstrate two premises: First, scripture-quality revelation has ceased. Second, NT prophecy and tongues are forms of scripture-quality revelation. The first premise, which is the focus of this post, is (generally) affirmed by all parties. This fact is critical in that it clarifies the real point of the debate and helps us to avoid mischaracterizations.1

Major Premise: The Canon Is Closed

Special revelation reaches its ultimate historical goal in the apostolic witness to the person, words, and work of Jesus Christ. And this inspired apostolic witness reaches its final covenantal form in the canonical writings of the New Testament. Since special revelation has reached its ultimate goal and final form, the church should not expect any more scripture-quality revelation until the bodily return of Christ. I develop this argument with some detail in my three-part lecture series “The Necessity of Scripture.”2

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NT Prophecy and Tongues Today? An Introduction

Perhaps one of the most debated topics among modern Christians is the subject of New Testament (NT) prophecy and tongues. Many believers in our day are raising the question, “Are the New Testament gifts of prophecy and tongues still for today?” This isn’t just a modern question. It’s been raised from time to time throughout the history of the church.

In the early church there were different responses to that question. For example, the early church fathers Irenaeus (c. 130-200) and Tertullian (c. 150-212) both refer to ongoing manifestations of prophecy and tongues in their day (i.e., 2nd and 3rd century). On the other hand, both Chrysostom (c. 350-407) and Augustine (354-430) argue that the gift of tongues had ceased by their time (i.e., 4th and 5th century).

During the Protestant Reformation various Anabaptist sects claimed to be recipients of direct revelation. Luther and Calvin were skeptical of these claims. In general the Reformers seem to argue for the cessation of extra-ordinary gifts. But there are inconsistencies in their writings. For example, in his commentary on Ephesians 4:11, Calvin argues that the offices of apostle, prophet, and evangelist have ceased, and only the offices of pastor and teacher are perpetual.1 In his Institutes, however, Calvin suggests that the Lord “now and again revives them as the need of the times demand.”2

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Some Notes on Daniel 7 (Part 2)

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A Time. Times, and Half a Time

The length of time that these saints are given into his hand is described cryptically as “a time, times, and half a time” (7:25). If we stand back and think a little about these words, it will become apparent that the only possible way in which they can make sense is if we understand the plural “times” as designating “two times.” If it can mean any more than two the whole revelation drops into irrelevance. This is because if any more than “two times” is meant, it might be three or four, or twelve, or twelve hundred times. Who’s to know?

No, the only way “times” designates anything for sure is if it is a simple doubling of a “time.” This would mean that we have one unit (or “time”), and two additional units (“times”), and then a half unit (half the first unit). Hence, whatever the units are we have three and a half of them.

Since we know that these units are units of time the best suspects are days, weeks, months, or years. In Daniel 4:23, 32 it is most likely that the “seven times” in which Nebuchadnezzar was insane stands for seven years. If that is correct then “a time, times, and half a time” in Daniel 7:25, and later in Daniel 12:7 stands for three and a half years.

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Some Notes on Daniel 7 (Part 1)

Detail from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel - Michelangelo Caravaggio

Just as there are four kingdoms represented by the materials in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream-image in Daniel 2, four kingdoms are also present in Daniel’s vision of the four beasts in chapter 7. Since we find weird creatures, portents of the last days, a supernatural guide and such, this vision is associated with apocalyptic genre.1

Saying something is “apocalyptic” is enough in some quarters to designate it non-literal, but comparison of biblical apocalypses with plain prophetic passages strongly suggests that they can refer to the same things, and that therefore, apocalyptic texts should not be understood apart from the more straightforward prose of comparative prophetic literature.

Each of the four beasts arises out of the sea (Dan.7:3). This “great sea” (v.2) is not interpreted, but it possibly refers to the Mediterranean, although it has additional value as a symbol for the world, especially in resistance to God (v.17; Isa. 57:20).2

The standard opinion of conservative commentators is that the beasts in Daniel 7 represent Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece (Macedonia), and Rome, exactly as in Daniel 2.3 I believe this is the correct understanding of the four beasts of Daniel 7:4-7, although I shall have to leave more detailed explanations to the commentaries.4

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Apocalyptic Fixation

Author’s note: This article reproduces and modifies some of the chapter on “Covenant and Apocalyptic” in the book I am writing. It is therefore not meant to be a full exploration of the subject.

If you have been keeping abreast of evangelical treatments of the books of Daniel, Ezekiel, and Zechariah, or the Olivet Discourse or Book of Revelation you will have run into the term “Apocalyptic literature.” It’s the favorite go-to for anyone who wants to stop the mouths of the prophets while sounding scholarly.

I realize that opening line is a bit testy, but I write it as one who has spent some time studying the major works on Apocalyptic — all written by critical liberal scholars — and have read the almost threadbare regurgitations of conservatives who are content to use this scholarship to support their reading of the Bible while retaining traditional beliefs.

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What Is a Prophet? (Part 2)

Elijah Fed by an Angel - Ferdinand Bol, 17th Century

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Prophecies of Far Future Events

The ministries of Samuel (see 1 Sam. 3:9-18), Elijah (2 Ki. 1:3-4), Micaiah (1 Ki. 22:17-20), and Elisha (2 Ki. 3:14-19) included short-term predictions which could be verified. But there were also prophecies which anticipated things much further off, like Nathan’s oracle,

I will also appoint a place for My people Israel and will plant them, that they may live in their own place and not be disturbed again, nor will the wicked afflict them any more as formerly… (NASB, 2 Samuel 7:10)

This hope for David’s people has not yet been realized, and the later prophets repeat it. These later writing prophets often made long-range predictions which could not be confirmed during their lifetimes, but these far off prophecies were established on the assurance of contemporary foretellings which came to pass. One thinks about Amos’s oracle against Israel (and the interfering priest Amaziah) in Amos 7:14-17, or Jeremiah’s pronouncements concerning the conquering Babylonians in Jeremiah 21:1-10. Ezekiel was told that there were still Jews in the land who foolishly believed that God would not drive them out of the land. His prediction to the contrary (Ezek. 33:21-33) ended with the solemn words,

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What Is a Prophet?

Elijah Fed by an Angel - Ferdinand Bol, 17th Century

A draft excerpt from the book “The Words of the Covenant” (forthcoming, DV)

It is commonly asserted within biblical scholarship that the main focus of the prophet was on proclamation; that only incidentally was he (or she) concerned with prediction. In many studies of the role of the prophet the emphasis is put upon the prophet’s function as a moral exhorter to his time and place. Here is a recent example:

The prophet’s role was to speak the word of God to the king, nation, or people to reveal his will for their lives and how they should act. Prophecy sometimes included predictions, but always with a view to revealing something of God’s plan, nature, or personality so that the hearers would respond appropriately in worshipful obedience.1

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Witnessing Better Than Knowing the Future

A Sermon (No. 2330) Intended for Reading on Lord’s-Day, October 15th, 1893.

Delivered by C.H. Spurgeon, at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington on Thursday Evening, August 29th, 1889.

When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.—Acts 1:6-8.

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