A Case for Cessationism
Fred Moritz The issue of whether revelation from God and the supernatural gifts of the Spirit have ceased is an issue of intense debate in the Christian world today. Perhaps the beginnings of the modern discussion can be traced to 1956 when Christian Life published the article “Is Evangelical Theology Changing?” This article was written by the developing New Evangelical leaders to describe their new theological positions. The article identified one of the subjects that evangelicals were discussing as, “A willingness to re-examine beliefs concerning the work of the Holy Spirit.” Prior to that time Pentecostalism was seen as a “fringe” movement. At the time of the article the discussion was between the Evangelicals and the Pentecostals. The ensuing years have seen the rise of the Charismatic Movement and the Third Wave.
Today the Charismatics are a part of mainstream evangelicalism, and some Evangelicals who embrace otherwise traditional theological positions are also identifying themselves as Charismatic. Several of these influential leaders affirm that at least some of the sign gifts of the Spirit are at work in the churches today.
We find at least two groups of continuationists. There are those, whether Roman Catholic, cults, or some who simply promote an aberrant bibliology, who advocate some sort of continuing revelation that is authoritative today. There are others who hold that the canon of Scripture is closed, but the New Testament sign gifts still operate in ministry.
Claims for Continuing Revelation
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints claims that “the Book of Mormon is a volume of holy scripture comparable to the Bible.” Mormonism clearly asserts that the Book of Mormon is revelation that God added to his Word. This group’s “Articles of Faith” affirms a commitment to continuing revelation. The seventh statement reads, “We believe in the gift of tongues, prophecy, revelation, visions, healing, interpretation of tongues, and so forth.”
The Seventh-day Adventists make a similar claim.
The church of the living God is “the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15, NIV). It is the depository and citadel of truth, protecting truth from the attacks of its enemies. Truth, however, is dynamic, not static. If members claim to have new light—a new doctrine or a new interpretation of the Scriptures—those of experience should test the new teaching by the standard of Scripture (see Isa. 8:20). If the new light meets this standard, then the church must accept it; if not, it should reject it.
This statement subtly makes the Seventh-day Adventist Church the final authority in determining truth. This is how the Adventists justify Ellen G. White’s writings as authoritative. Lest anyone think we are reading too much into this, note that the Adventists affirm that the gift of prophecy is active in the church today. In the middle of the same section they claim, “The gift of prophecy was active in the ministry of Ellen G. White, one of the founders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. She has given inspired instruction for God’s people living during the time of the end.” The Adventists try to “have their cake and eat it too.” The chapter cited tries to set the Scriptures apart as unique, yet claims at the same time that Ellen G. White’s writings are prophetic and inspired.
The Roman Catholic Church adds tradition and the authority of the church to the Bible. The Second Vatican Council stated without equivocation that the Word of God is qualified by tradition and the teaching of the church.
But in order to keep the Gospel forever whole and alive within the Church, the Apostles left bishops as their successors, “handing over” to them “the authority to teach in their own place.” This sacred tradition, therefore, and Sacred Scripture of both the Old and New Testaments are like a mirror in which the pilgrim Church on earth looks at God, from whom she has received everything, until she is brought finally to see Him as He is, face to face (see 1 John 3:2).
The Vatican II statement makes a clear distinction between tradition and Scripture. It continues,
Hence there exists a close connection and communication between sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture. For both of them, flowing from the same divine wellspring, in a certain way merge into a unity and tend toward the same end. . . . Consequently it is not from sacred Scripture alone that the Church draws her certainty about everything which has been revealed. Therefore both sacred tradition and sacred Scripture are to be accepted and venerated with the same sense of loyalty and reverence.
Vatican II leaves no question about the issue of her authority. Chapter II, “Handing on Divine Revelation,” concludes with this statement:
It is clear, therefore, that sacred tradition, Sacred Scripture and the teaching authority of the Church, in accord with God’s most wise design, are so linked and joined together that one cannot stand without the others, and that all together and each in its own way under the action of the one Holy Spirit contribute effectively to the salvation of souls.
Rome’s position is that the Scriptures, tradition, and the teaching authority of the Church combine to give God’s revelation to men and provide for man’s salvation. In this system both tradition and new pronouncements from the church occupy a place of authority with Scripture.
These various pronouncements are diametrically opposed to clear statements of Scripture. We will later look at the statement in Jude where the servant of the Lord said:
Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints (v. 3).
For now, it is sufficient to understand that Jude’s statement is both an exhortation to earnestly contend for the faith, and also an affirmation that the faith is a completed revelation. It has been “once for all delivered to the saints.”
Jack Deere represents the position of many, if not most, Charismatics today. His book, Surprised by the Voice of God, bears the subtitle “How God Speaks Today Through Prophecies, Dreams, and Visions.” Deere contends that God speaks to men today outside of his Word. He advances the theory that God uses special revelation today and that the revelatory gifts have not ceased.
We do not mean to belittle those with whom we disagree, but the Charismatic position is untenable. Deere makes claims that leave the thinking reader incredulous. Let him tell his own story and make his own claim.
The other day I was running on a treadmill and listening through headphones to a portable CD player. I wish I could say it was Beethoven or Bach I was listening to. It wasn’t even contemporary Christian music; it was plain ol’ country western. A love song came on, and the voice of God came through the words of the ballad. How did I know it was God? Because a sharp, clean edge of conviction slit an opening in my heart. I had been insensitive and ungrateful to the woman I love. Leesa never said anything. Maybe she didn’t notice it, or maybe she chose to ignore it. I was certainly oblivious to it—until the song came on. When it did, the lyrics laid bare my sin in such a specific way that it not only shamed me but humbled me to repent.
Still not sure it was God speaking to me? Scripture says it was, for the Holy Spirit is the only Person powerful enough to break through the darkness of the human heart with a conviction of sin which leads to repentance (John 16:8). If you’re wondering of what particular sin I repented, keep wondering—I’m not telling. All I can tell you is this. The words may have been from Nashville, but the message was from Heaven. And it was a message for me. A message that moved me to bring my life in harmony not only with the Word of God . . . but also with my wife.
Deere’s claim, however, overlooks the truth that God’s revelation is sufficient for all the believer’s needs. Paul tells us that the inspired Word “is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16). Peter states that God’s power has “given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness” (2 Pet 1:3) and that these “things” are in the “exceeding great and precious promises” of Scripture (2 Pet 1:4). Deere’s statement is a tacit statement that Scripture is not sufficient and that God was forced to turn to a worldly Nashville singer to accomplish what the Word of God could not do. That is an illogical conclusion.
Beyond this, does not the Scripture tell us that it does a convicting or reproving work (2 Tim 3:16) because it is a revelation from God? Therefore, fresh revelation is not needed for each convicting work God does. It appears that at the very least Deere has confused conviction and revelation.
Peter Ruckman is the leader of a movement that popularly claims inspiration for the King James Version of the Bible. He advocates “the A.V. 1611 as the final authority ‘in all matters of faith and practice.’” The purpose here is not to examine or dispute Ruckman’s approach to the debate over manuscripts and translations. Ruckman takes his position to an illogical conclusion in chapter 8 of his book, entitled “Correcting the Greek with the English.” After dealing with eleven passages in the New Testament that reflect textual variations in the manuscripts or problem translations (e.g., “robbers of churches” rather than “robbers of temples” in Acts 19:37), Ruckman comes to this astounding conclusion: “Moral: ‘Mistakes in the A.V. 1611 are advanced revelation!’” In his zeal to defend his approach to the text of Scripture, and particularly the KJV, Ruckman has fallen into the trap of subjecting the Scriptures to his own supposedly “enlightened reason,” as B. B. Warfield would have called it. Thus he advocates an advanced revelation beyond what God spoke through the writers of the Scripture.
The Sovereign Grace movement advocates a different position. The website affirms that the Bible is the authority for faith, and it denies that God is giving any additional biblical revelation, saying of the Scriptures:
They are totally sufficient and must not be added to, superseded, or changed by later tradition, extra-biblical revelation, or worldly wisdom. Every doctrinal formulation, whether of creed, confession, or theology must be put to the test of the full counsel of God in Holy Scripture.
Yet the movement further affirms, “We are evangelical, Reformed, and charismatic.” The Sovereign Grace website avers that all the spiritual gifts are for the churches today.
The Holy Spirit desires to fill each believer continually with increased power for Christian life and witness, and imparts his supernatural gifts for the edification of the Body and for various works of ministry in the world. All the gifts of the Holy Spirit at work in the church of the first century are available today, are vital for the mission of the church, and are to be earnestly desired and practiced.
John Piper is another example of this position. He also argues for a closed canon of Scripture but a continuation of the revelatory gifts. He makes four declarations about prophecy:
- It is still valid and useful for the church today. This is the clear implication of 1 Corinthians 13:8–12 and Acts 2:17–18.
- It is a Spirit-prompted, Spirit-sustained, utterance that is rooted in a true revelation (1 Corinthians 14:30), but is fallible because the prophet’s perception of the revelation, and thinking about the revelation, and report of the revelation are all fallible. It is thus similar to the gift of teaching which is Spirit-prompted, Spirit sustained, rooted in an infallible revelation (the Bible), and yet is fallible but very useful to the church.
- It does not have an authority that is on a par with Scripture, for Scripture is verbally inspired, not just Spirit-prompted and Spirit-sustained. The very words of the biblical writers are the words of God (1 Corinthians 2:13; 2 Timothy 3:16). This is not true of the words that come from the “gift of prophecy.”
- The New Testament gift of prophecy is a “third category” of prophetic utterance between the categories of 1) verbally inspired, intrinsically authoritative, infallible speech spoken by the likes of Moses, Jesus and the apostles; and 2) the speech of false prophets spoken presumptuously, without inspiration and liable to condemnation (Deuteronomy 18:20). Those two categories (absolutely infallible vs. false) do not exhaust all the biblical teaching on prophecy.
Further, Piper states he “believes that ‘signs and wonders’ and all the spiritual gifts of 1 Corinthians 12:8–10 are valid for today and should be ‘earnestly desired’ (1 Corinthians 14:1) for the edification of the church and the spread of the gospel.” We should also note that Piper distinguishes this gift of prophecy from Scripture, and he does not believe God is giving additional biblical revelation in this day.
Let me begin by affirming the finality and sufficiency of Scripture, the 66 books of the Bible. Nothing I say about today’s prophecies means that they have authority over our lives like Scripture does. Whatever prophecies are given today do not add to Scripture. They are tested by Scripture. Scripture is closed and final; it is a foundation, not a building in process.
Wayne Grudem also believes that sign gifts are operative today. He has described his position in his systematic theology and in several other writings. He says:
What I mean by that is that I do not think there is any passage of Scripture, or any combination of passages, that should lead us to think that God does not communicate directly with his people throughout all of history in individual, personal ways that occur in addition to his communication in and through the written words of Scripture.
Citing 1 Corinthians 1:7, he says, “Here [Paul] connects the possession of spiritual gifts and their situation in the history of redemption (waiting for Christ’s return), suggesting that gifts are given to the church for the period between Christ’s ascension and his return.” He then reasons that there are possibly more spiritual gifts than those listed in the six New Testament passages that identify spiritual gifts. “And if we wished to divide up different kinds of service or administration or evangelism or teaching, then we could quite easily have a list that included fifty or even a hundred items.”
In another place Grudem elaborates:
On the other side, I am asking those in the cessationist camp to give serious thought to the possibility that prophecy in ordinary New Testament churches was not equal to Scripture in authority, but was simply a very human—and sometimes partially mistaken—report of something the Holy Spirit brought to someone’s mind.
We must also note that Grudem affirms that God is giving no additional Scripture in these days. Commenting on Hebrews 1:1–3 he states:
The contrast between the former speaking “of old” by the prophets and the recent speaking “in these last days” suggests that God’s speech to us by his Son is the culmination of his speaking to mankind and is his greatest and final revelation to mankind in this period of redemptive history. The exceptional greatness of the revelation that comes through the Son, far exceeding any revelation in the old covenant, is emphasized again and again throughout chapters 1 and 2 of Hebrews. These facts all indicate that there is a finality to the revelation of God in Christ and that once this revelation has been completed, no more is to be expected.
Jesse Johnson summarizes Carson’s position on tongues:
He too grants that the NT gift was actual languages. But the tongues spoken today, he writes, are more like a computer language (picture Pig Latin put to code) than Swahili. While human language is decipherable, Carson’s understanding of the modern day gift of tongues is that it is just like a real language, except that it is undecipherable. Tongues may sound like gibberish, but that is because we don’t have the key to unlock the code.
Carson holds that the tongues of Acts 2 and 1 Corinthians 14 were essentially the same, though they fulfilled different functions. He says:
On balance, then, the evidence favors the view that Paul thought the gift of tongues was a gift of real languages, that is, languages that were cognitive, whether of men or of angels. Moreover, if he knew of the details of Pentecost (a currently unpopular opinion in the scholarly world, but in my view eminently defensible), his understanding of tongues must have been shaped to some extent by that event. Certainly tongues in Acts exercise some different functions from those in 1 Corinthians; but there is no substantial evidence that suggests Paul thought the two were essentially different.
Carson then argues the tongues of 1 Corinthians 12 may not have been known human languages.
It appears, then, that tongues may bear cognitive information even though they are not known human languages—just as a computer program is a “language” that conveys a great deal of information, even though it is not a “language” that anyone actually speaks. You have to know the code to be able to understand it. Such a pattern of verbalization could not be legitimately dismissed as gibberish. It is as capable of conveying propositional and cognitive content as any known human language. “Tongue” and “language” still seem eminently reasonable words to describe the phenomenon. This does not mean that all modern tongues phenomena are therefore biblically authentic. It does mean there is a category of linguistic phenomenon that conveys cognitive content, may be interpreted, and seems to meet the constraints of the biblical descriptions, even though it is no known human language. Of course, this will not do for the tongues of Acts 2, where the gift consisted of known human languages; but elsewhere, the alternative is not as simple as “human languages” or “gibberish,” as many noncharismatic writers affirm. Indeed, the fact that Paul can speak of different kinds of tongues (12:10, 28) may suggest that on some occasions human languages were spoken (as in Acts 2), and in other cases not—even though in the latter eventuality the tongues were viewed as bearing cognitive content.
We must understand that like Sovereign Grace, Piper, and Grudem, Carson believes the canon of Scripture is closed and God is not revealing additional Scripture today. In describing progressive revelation he states:
By “progressive revelation” I refer to the fact that God progressively revealed himself in event and in Scripture, climaxing the events with the death-resurrection-exaltation of Christ and climaxing the Scriptures with the closing of the canon. The result is that God’s ways and purposes were progressively fulfilled not only in redemption events but also in inscripturated explanation. The earlier revelation prepares for the later; the later carries further and in some way explicates the earlier.
Sign Gifts and Scripture
The issue whether the sign gifts continue or have ceased is closely tied to the question of continuing revelation. Is God giving us Scripture today? Are the sign gifts of the New Testament still in operation today? And is the prophetic gift of the Old Testament identical with the prophetic gift in the New Testament? These issues are connected because the New Testament seems to indicate that the sign gifts were apostolic and that they were specifically given to accredit the apostles as the channels through whom God gave the New Testament revelation.
This article argues that the sign gifts of the Spirit were temporary and are not operative today. Maranatha has held this position since its founding. The Fundamental Baptist Fellowship International also states this belief:
We believe that certain gifts, being miraculous in nature, were prevalent in the church in the first century. They were foundational and transitional. These gifts have ceased, being no longer needed because the Scriptures have been completed and the church has been divinely certified (Heb. 2:1–4; 1 Cor. 13:8–12; Eph. 2:20). We believe that speaking in tongues was never the common or necessary sign of the filling or baptism of the Spirit. We believe God, in accord with His own will, does hear and answer prayer for the sick and afflicted (1 Cor. 12:11, 30; 13:8; James 5:14–16).
The purpose of this article is not polemical. In other words, we do not intend to examine and refute the claims of those who argue for some form of continuing revelation or the continuance of the sign gifts. Critiques have been written and detailed debates or discussions have also taken place in print. We intend to examine the biblical evidence that leads to the conclusion that Scripture is complete and that the sign gifts of the Spirit have ceased.
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).”
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? This question will be answered in the following section.
God’s Self Revelation
The Old Testament Record
God created Adam and Eve, and he revealed his will to them. From the very beginning God spoke to Adam (Gen 2:16). From the early chapters of Genesis we can conclude that God created man, he created language, and that man was capable of understanding God’s message to him. God revealed himself and his will to Adam and Eve by word. The evidence seems to indicate that God communicated with Adam and Eve on a regular basis (Gen 3:8). Satan, however, questioned and denied God’s revelation to the human race (Gen 3:1, 4). He tempted Eve, Adam disobeyed God, and the human race was plunged into sin.
When God gave the Ten Commandments, he met Moses on Mount Sinai. We are told that “the LORD spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend” (Exod 33:11). In the forty days that Moses was in the mountain, “he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments” (Exod 34:28). Moses looked back on that momentous occasion and added another point that becomes important in the biblical development of this theme. “And he said, the Lord came from Sinai, and rose up from Seir unto them; He shined forth from mount Paran, and he came with ten thousands of saints: from his right hand went a fiery law for them” (Deut 33:2).
David was used of the Holy Spirit to say: “The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels: the Lord is among them, as on Sinai, the holy place” (Ps 68:17).
The word translated “saints” in Deuteronomy and “holy” in Psalms is qōdeš. It is in the family of words for the holiness of God. This particular word is used of God’s holiness or of holy things or persons. Thus the KJV translates the word as “saints” in Deuteronomy and as the “holy place” in Psalms. The word translated “angels” in Psalm 68:17 is ’elep. “The basic meaning is one thousand but it is often to be taken as a figurative term.” The noun in the plural would thus be translated “thousands.”
Moses stated that God came down onto Sinai with his “holy ones,” and David reported that he came to Sinai with “thousands of thousands” which the KJV translates as “angels.” The reasonable conclusion to be drawn from Deuteronomy is that angels accompanied God when he met Moses. It is no wonder that the scene at Sinai was awesome.
The Spirit of God continues this theme in the New Testament. Stephen indicted the leaders of the Jewish council saying of Israel: “Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it” (Acts 7:53). Paul described the law saying “it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator” (Gal 3:19). It is essential to note that the author of Hebrews informs us that “the word spoken by angels was steadfast” (Heb 2:2).
Later, God taught the Israelites how he would communicate to them. He said he would speak through prophets. “And he said, Hear now my words: if there be a prophet among you, I the LORD will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream” (Num 12:6). He informed Israel that his revelation would come by visions and dreams. He later reiterated: “Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7). This is consistent with Hebrews 1:1–3. God spoke through the prophets until Jesus began God’s final revelation to mankind in the last days.
God warned Israel that false prophets would arise, and he set standards by which Israel could discern between true prophets and false prophets. The statement in Deut 6:4 becomes the basis for God’s standard in discerning false prophets. We will examine the critical passages in Deut 13 and 18 later in this article. In later Old Testament passages, false prophets were condemned because they claimed to speak for God when he had not spoken (Ezek 20:28). Throughout the Old Testament, Israel recognized that God spoke through the prophets (1 Sam 3:6, 19, 20). False prophets were exposed and rejected as were the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:39).
The New Testament Record
In the New Testament, God spoke to his people through the apostles. The apostles functioned in at least four important ways. First, they were men who must have been with Christ during his earthly ministry from his baptism until he ascended to heaven. They were called to be eyewitnesses of Christ’s resurrection (Acts 1:21, 22). Second, Jesus promised the apostles that the Holy Spirit would supernaturally remind them of his teachings (John 14:25, 26). The early church relied on the apostles’ doctrine for its authority until Scripture was completed (Acts 2:42). Third, the apostles were the human instruments through which God gave us the New Testament. They and the early churches recognized that God was speaking through them (1 Cor 2:10–13; 1 Tim 5:17 with Deut 25:4 and Luke 10:7). Paul asserted this apostolic authority to validate his teaching and writing to the Thessalonians (2 Thes 2:15). Peter considered the writings of the apostles to be on an equal plane with the writings of the Old Testament prophets (2 Pet 3:2), and then he taught that Paul’s writings were Scripture (2 Pet 3:16). The writer of Hebrews declared that Christ was the climax of God’s revelation (Heb 1:1–3). He then stated that salvation “at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him” (Heb 2:3). We conclude that Christ and the apostles were the messengers by which God gave the New Testament (Heb 2:1–4). It seems that this is the reason Paul affirms to the Ephesian church that local churches “are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone” (Eph 2:20). Fourth, these men were the first generation of church-planting missionaries who spread across the known world with the Gospel. As the apostle of the Gentiles, Paul could say of his apostolic ministry, “I magnify mine office” (Rom 11:13). It is clear that God used them to communicate his revelation to us and that they were conscious of their place as the channels through which that revelation came.
The New Testament speaks of a body of truth that God revealed and that was commonly held by believers. Very often New Testament authors use the term “the faith” to describe that common doctrinal agreement. Scripture “prescribes” the faith for us. By that term we mean that it lays down the rule, sets down the regulations, or stipulates the biblical truths that make up “the faith.” We may illustrate this by a doctor prescribing a medication. The prescription identifies the medicine and the strength of the dosage. It instructs the patient how often to take it and how to take it (with food, etc.). In the same way the New Testament describes our Christian belief system. This “faith” is more than a reference to the saving trust we place in Christ for our salvation. It refers to the entire body of Christian truth as revealed in Holy Scripture.
Jude speaks of “the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3). “Jude’s definition of New Testament Christianity begins with an affirmation that God has revealed his Word to men.” We cannot describe the faith without insisting on a biblical doctrine of Scripture.
A proper understanding of the Gospel is a crucial part of “the faith.” Paul exhorts the Philippians: “Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel” (Phil 1:27) [emphasis mine]. It is important to note that a lifestyle compatible with the Gospel is a part of “the faith of the gospel” in this verse. Those who do not provide for those of their households have denied the faith and are worse than unbelievers (1 Tim 5:8).
When Paul and Barnabas discipled the new believers in Turkey, they exhorted them “to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). “The faith” includes the full body of Christian teaching concerning doctrine, godly living, and even suffering.
“The faith” must include sound doctrine. Paul warned Timothy of those who would depart from “the faith” (1 Tim 4:1). This includes embracing deceit and doctrine that is demonic in origin. False doctrine is a departure from “the faith.” He then told Timothy that to lead his people away from error and into truth would mark him as “a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of (the) faith and of good doctrine” (1 Tim 4:6). A full body of good doctrine comprises “the faith.” He exhorted Timothy to “fight the good fight of (the) faith” (1 Tim 6:12). He used the same language to say “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim 4:7).
Scripture clearly has a broader outlook than just the Gospel, as precious as that is. In 1 Corinthians Paul described a series of teachings that he promulgated in all the churches where he ministered. These teachings included:
Faith in Christ (1:2)
His apostolic teaching (4:17; 11:2)
Biblical revelation about marriage (7:17)
Peace in the churches (11:16)
Common practice concerning sign gifts (14:33–38)
Instructions about giving (16:1)
After all this, the apostle exhorts the Corinthians to “stand fast in the faith” (1 Cor 16:13). He clearly intended that fidelity to the faith included the Gospel, but it entailed much more, the full body of truth God revealed through him and the other apostles.
This revealed faith must be fought for (1 Tim 6:12; 2 Tim 4:7–8; Jude 3). Christ and New Testament authors gave repeated warnings about false christs, false apostles, and false teachers (Matt 7:15; 24:4, 5, 11, 24; Acts 20:29, 30; 2 Cor 11:13; 2 Tim 3; 2 Pet 2:1; 3:1–5; 1 John 2:22–23; 4:1; 2 John 7; Jude 4–19). They described their false doctrine, their motives, and their ungodliness.
This survey is necessarily brief, but its purpose is to establish several points. God has spoken to the human race and given us his Word. Biblical Christianity is a revealed religion. False prophets, teachers, and apostles have been present at every turn, denying the truth of that Word and attempting to counterfeit it. God’s people are called upon to discern between the true and false prophets and teachers and then to reject the false. God’s revealed Word is the standard by which we are to affirm truth and reject error. We must “earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3). Biblical history teaches us that we are called upon to live, proclaim, and minister God’s truth against the backdrop of false teaching. False teachers and their doctrine must be exposed.
We affirm our belief that the Bible is the Word of God, God’s revelation to mankind. We accept it as our only rule for faith and practice. We believe and embrace the doctrines revealed in Scripture. We judge all doctrines and teachings by the standard of the Word.
God’s Self Revelation Completed
We now turn to examine the question whether God’s self revelation is complete. This has been and still is a hotly debated issue. It is a crucial subject in contemporary theology. Many religious groups base doctrine on what they claim is revelation added to Scripture. In the introduction we noted several of these claims.
Opposition to God’s Completed Revelation
Through the centuries, God’s Word has endured countless attacks. Satan’s temptation of Eve began with the subtle attack on God’s revelation. He asked: “Yea, hath God said?” (Gen 3:1). B. B. Warfield provides a keen analysis of these attacks on God’s Word.
In the whole history of the church there have been but two movements of thought, tending to a lower conception of the inspiration and authority of Scripture, which have attained sufficient proportions to bring them into view in an historical sketch. (1) The first of these may be called the Rationalistic view.
This rationalistic approach to Scripture has caused great theological battles in the last 150 years. Its roots really grew out of Enlightenment thinking, popularized by Friedrich Schleiermacher at the beginning of the nineteenth century. It emerged as a formalized concept in the 1860s with the Graf-Wellhausen theory, which came out of Heidelberg, Germany. As it developed, this “modernism,” as it became known, taught that Moses did not really write the Pentateuch. Rather, some later editor, using four separate sources, “cut and pasted” the Pentateuch together as a reflection of human tradition. Likewise, according to the “higher critics,” two, three or even four separate authors wrote the Book of Isaiah rather than the prophet of whom the Scriptures speak. The Book of Daniel looks like it was written as prophecy, but, according to this “higher criticism,” it was really written after the fact. These allegations have been disproved by historical and archeological evidence. These false premises have been through many revisions and finally now have been almost completely abandoned. A modern form of this folly is the so-called “Jesus Seminar,” which has decided that Jesus actually spoke about twenty percent of what the Gospels attribute to him!
This rationalistic system intended to prove that the Bible is not a supernatural revelation from God, but merely a human book containing moral and ethical principles. Based on evolution, it denied the supernatural character of the Bible and the miraculous claims the Bible makes. This system of unbelief spread from the European universities to the denominational universities, colleges, and seminaries in the United States.
Bible believers in Europe and the United States rose up in opposition to the attacks of modernism. Spurgeon fought the famous Down-Grade controversy and eventually withdrew from the Baptist Union in England over it. Frederick Godet, the famous Swiss exegete, was a thorough-going Bible believer. In Germany, E. W. Hengstenberg withstood the arguments of Schleiermacher. In the United States those who believed the Bible vigorously fought against the invading modernism. Early in this century godly men published a series of writings in defense of the faith called The Fundamentals. Pettegrew documented that Curtis Lee Laws adopted the term “Fundamentalist” for those who believed God’s Word and intended to defend it. This is a brief summary of the rationalistic attack on the Scriptures in modern times. Fundamentalism as a movement emerged as a defense against the attacks of modernism.
While modernism was a rationalistic attack on the Scriptures, the second type of attack on God’s Word is really more prominent today. Warfield continued his observation:
(2) The second of the lowered views of inspiration may be called the Mystical view. Its characteristic conception is that the Christian man has something within himself,—call it enlightened reason, spiritual insight, the Christian consciousness, the witness of the Spirit, or call it what you will,—to the test of which every “external revelation” is to be subjected, and according to the decision of which are the contents of the Bible to be valued.
This “mystical” approach to Scripture opens the door to the error of continuing revelation.
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. Pache is typical when he says, “All the revelations discussed above were accorded to individuals or to generations now passed away.” Certainly the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements were not as prevalent then as they are 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. However, we can find almost nothing that explains why Scripture is complete or how we know that it is.
John MacArthur has written one of the best current books on the Charismatic movement. He deals with this issue clearly but briefly. Peter Masters has a helpful chapter entitled “Proving the Gifts Have Ceased,” in which he deals with the cessation of all sign gifts, including prophecy.
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.
Jude’s epistle gives us strong evidence that we have a completed revelation from God. Jude 3 states:
Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.
Jude emphasized an important truth in his statement about tē pistei (“the faith”). He wrote that it “was once delivered to the saints.” That statement indicates that God’s revelation is complete and we need expect no more. The word “once” and its place in the verse bear out our contention.
The word “once” in verse three is the Greek word hapax, which conveys the meaning of “once for all.” The Holy Spirit tells us through Jude that God revealed himself to us in Scripture (“the faith”), and he completed his revelation. Lenski explains,
“Once delivered” (effective aorist) means “once for all” (the classical meaning) and not merely “on one occasion.” . . . To offer doctrines that are other than this faith is to offer falsehood, poison. To subtract from or add to this faith is to take away what Christ gave, or to supply what he did not give.
By using this forceful word, Jude is telling us that no other revelation will be given.
Jude further emphasizes the fact of a completed revelation by the order in which he uses his words in the sentence. The word order in the Greek is emphatic. Describing the faith, Jude calls it tē hapax paradotheisē tois hagiois pistei – literally “the once-for-all delivered to the saints faith.” This places the primary emphasis in the sentence on the word “once” more than on “the faith.”
Jude is certainly not de-emphasizing “the faith.” It is the substance of God’s revelation, believed by Christians and recorded in Scripture. Jude’s main emphasis is that “the faith” is a “once for all” revelation. God gave it to us over a period of sixteen hundred years through forty human authors. New Testament Christians received the Old Testament as God’s revelation. They also recognized the writings of the apostles as Scripture (2 Pet 3:16). When John the Apostle wrote “Amen” (Rev 22:21), God’s revelation was completed. God has given us “all things that pertain unto life and godliness” (2 Pet 1:3), and he has not changed his mind. He curses those who would add to or subtract from his revelation (Rev 22:18, 19). Many have attempted to deny, modify, or add to God’s Word by one means or another. Jude declares that New Testament Christianity rests on the foundation of a completed revelation from God. Biblical fundamentalism in the present day stands on the same foundation of a complete revelation from God.
The beloved apostle adds his warning, saying:
For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book (Rev 22:18–19).
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.
Deuteronomy 13:1–5 — The Theological Test
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). The sensational and miraculous is not the sole vindication and authentication of a purported revelation.
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.
Several times Scripture indicates that Satan’s activity motivates false prophecy. Deuteronomy 13:12, 13 seem to teach this fact. Passages like Matt 24:24; 2 Thes 2:9; Rev 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. Stewart Custer, writing on Revelation 13:11–18 says:
What irony that this last false religious leader will try the same old trick to get mankind to worship a man rather than the true God! “And he will perform great signs, to even cause fire to come down out of heaven to the earth before men” (v. 13). The Jews have a standing warning not to follow a prophet who performs miracles if he tries to lead them away from Jehovah God (Deut. 13:1–5).
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.
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 the exaltation of man. Both statements radically differ from revealed Scripture. This twentieth-century prophet does not meet the biblical standard and must be rejected.
Deuteronomy 18:15–22 — The Practical Test
Any consideration of this passage must begin by acknowledging that this prophecy was fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Philip told his brother Nathanael, “We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (John 1:45). Peter directly quoted Deuteronomy 18:15, 18, affirming that Jesus fulfilled the prophecy (Acts 3:20–22).
This statement is consistent with the previous statement of Deuteronomy 13:1–5. Deuteronomy 18:20 declares: “But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die.” This statement is consistent with the criteria and the warning given in Deuteronomy 13:4, 5. So this passage builds on the theological standard set in the previous passage.
And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the Lord hath not spoken? When a prophet speaketh in the name of the Lord, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously; thou shalt not be afraid of him (Deut 18:21–22).
God’s practical test for the prophet is that his prophecy must come true. God requires the prophet to speak with total accuracy. In later years God’s judgment came on the nation of Israel. One of the causes for God’s judgment was that “her prophets have daubed them with untempered mortar, seeing vanity and divining lies unto them, saying, Thus saith the Lord God, when the Lord hath not spoken” (Ezek 20:28). God judged the nation and her lying prophets. God’s men spoke, by divine requirement, with complete accuracy. We believe that the same divine requirement applies to New Testament prophecy.
The Charismatics and those who hold to a continuation of the gifts recognize that if the New Testament prophecy must meet the same standard as that in the Old Testament, their claims to a different kind of authentic prophecy are nullified. They argue against it in three ways. First, they argue that the Old Testament strictures do not apply to New Testament prophecy. They claim two forms of prophecy in the New Testament, apostolic and non-apostolic. They contend that New Testament apostles spoke inspired words. They further argue that New Testament prophets who were not apostles were not inspired in the same ways as the apostles or Old Testament prophets.
Grudem admits that this is a crucial point: “Now if New Testament congregational prophecy was like Old Testament prophecy and New Testament apostolic words in its authority, then this cessationist objection would indeed be true.” 
He has written extensively on this subject, saying:
Much more commonly, prophet and prophecy were used of ordinary Christians who spoke not with absolute divine authority, but simply to report something God had laid on their hearts or brought to their minds. There are many indications in the New Testament that this ordinary gift of prophecy had authority less than that of the Bible, and even less than that of recognized Bible teaching in the early church.
Farnell further quotes Grudem: “Only NT apostles spoke inspired words. The very words of NT prophets were not inspired as were those of OT prophets.”
Let us carefully set Grudem in context. He believes that Scripture is a completed canon, and at the same time he argues that the New Testament allows for a continuing gift of prophecy. He further states:
Furthermore, aside from the question of current practice or belief, I have argued extensively elsewhere that ordinary congregational prophecy in New Testament churches did not have the authority of Scripture. It was not spoken in words that were the very words of God, but rather in merely human words. And because it has this lesser authority, there is no reason to think that it will not continue in the church until Christ returns. It does not threaten or compete with Scripture in authority but is subject to Scripture, as well as to the mature judgment of the congregation.
Second, the Charismatics assert that some prophecy may be erroneous. Deere states,
Some people think one missed or failed prediction makes a person a false prophet. The Bible, though, doesn’t call someone a false prophet for simply missing a prediction. In the Scripture, false prophets are those who contradict the teaching and predictions of true prophets and attempt to lead people away from God and his Word.
Piper holds the same position about this kind of prophecy: “It is a Spirit-prompted, Spirit-sustained, utterance that is rooted in a true revelation (1 Corinthians 14:30), but is fallible because the prophet’s perception of the revelation, and thinking about the revelation, and report of the revelation are all fallible.”
The biblical response to Deere’s statement is a “bad news, good news” statement. The “bad news” is that Deere’s first assertion is simply wrong. Deuteronomy 18:22 clearly discredits the prophet because he “missed the prediction,” as Deere says. The language of Ezekiel 13:1–9 and 22:28 is unmistakable. The false prophets were false because they spoke lies. Argue as he will, Deere cannot escape the requirement that the prophecy must come true. The “good news” in Deere’s statement is that the last half of it is correct. False prophets seek to lead people astray after another god (Deut 13:2).
Third, Charismatics argue for a difference between Old Testament and New Testament prophecy. They contend that New Testament prophecy is not held to the same standard of one hundred percent accuracy as Old Testament prophecy. Grudem states his position succinctly:
On the other side, I am asking those in the cessationist camp to give serious thought to the possibility that prophecy in ordinary New Testament churches was not equal to Scripture in authority, but was simply a very human—and sometimes partially mistaken—report of something the Holy Spirit brought to someone’s mind.
Farnell explains the ramifications of Grudem’s position.
This leaves Grudem with two forms of New Testament prophecy: nonauthoritative “congregational” prophecy and authoritative (i.e., apostolic) prophecy. The crucial point of his thesis is that apostles, not New Testament prophets, were the true successors of the Old Testament prophets and spoke like their earlier counterparts with the authority derived from the inspiration of their words.
It appears that the only way to justify the Charismatic type of prophecy that occurs today is to establish a difference between the prophetic gifts of the Old and New Testaments. This simply cannot be done.
It must be noted that the standard of perfection (Deut 18:20, 21) appears in the context of a Messianic prophecy. The standard requiring one hundred percent accuracy applied to Christ in an era after Old Testament prophecy ceased. If one portion of that passage is valid in the New Testament era, then the rest of it must also apply. The requirement that the prophet speak with one hundred percent accuracy must apply to the New Testament prophet also.
New Testament prophecy rests on Old Testament prophecy. Farnell argues for continuity between Old Testament and New Testament prophecy. He makes several points. They include (1) the continuity between Joel 2:28–32 and Acts 2:17–21, (2) the continuity between the Old and New Testament prophets (Mal 3:1; 4:4–6; with Matt 3:3–17; Mark 1:3–8; Luke 3:4–17; Matt 11:9–11), (3) the similarity between Agabus and the Old Testament prophets (Acts 21:11), (4) the continuity of John the Apostle with Old Testament prophets (Rev 22:7–9), (5) the similarity of language used by prophets in both Testaments, (6) the warnings about false prophets in both Testaments (Deut 13, 18; Matt 24:11), and (7) the fact that prophets were empowered by the Spirit of God in both testaments.
Joel 2:28 gives its own rules and guidelines for its fulfillment. Many believers acknowledge that this prophecy was partially fulfilled at Pentecost (Acts 2:16). However, Charles L. Feinberg takes a somewhat different position.
Peter distinctly states that he is referring to the prediction of Joel. However, that fact alone does not constitute a fulfillment. In the first place, the customary formula for a fulfilled prophecy is entirely lacking in Acts 2:16. And even more telling is the fact that much of Joel’s prophecy, even as quoted in Acts 2:19–20, was not fulfilled at that time. We cannot take the position that only a portion of the prophecy was meant to be fulfilled at all, because this would work havoc with Bible prophecy. God predicts and He can perform just what He predicted. The best position to take is that Peter used Joel’s prophecy as an illustration of what was transpiring in his day and not as a fulfillment of this prediction. In short, Peter saw in the events of his day proof that God would yet completely bring to pass all that Joel prophesied. Joel’s prophecy, then was prefilled; it is yet (as the Old Testament passages on the outpouring of the Spirit show) to be fulfilled.
The Charismatics draw the faulty conclusion that the present-day Charismatic manifestations are the fulfillment of this prophecy. Speaking of Pentecost, Deere states,
Peter claimed that the day of Pentecost was the beginning of the fulfillment of Joel 2:28–32. . . . With the coming of the Spirit there is a sense in which every Christian is to be prophetic. There will be prophecies, dreams, and visions in the church without distinction in regard to gender, age, or economic position.
The biblical evidence is to the contrary. Joel prophesied that the supernatural gifts of the Spirit (prophecy, dreams, and visions, v. 28) would be accompanied by divine supernatural manifestations in the physical world (blood, fire, smoke, the sun darkened, the moon turned to blood, vv. 30, 32). In other words, God’s supernatural work in the earth will accompany and vindicate the supernatural manifestation of the Spirit in God’s people. This pattern was fulfilled at Pentecost. The wind and fire accompanied the gift of tongues (Acts 2:1–4). These divine manifestations in nature will also mark the prophetic occurrences of which Christ spoke and John prophesied. See Matt 24:29, 30; Mark 13:24, 25; Luke 21:11, 25; and Rev 6:12.
We conclude that if there is to be a valid fulfillment of Joel 2:28–32 today, it must combine the element of supernatural phenomena in the physical realm with the supernatural manifestation of the gifts of the Spirit. Whether the Acts passage is a dual fulfillment of Joel, or whether it is an illustration of Joel’s prophecy as Feinberg argues, the Charismatics cannot demonstrate both these elements.
1 Corinthians 13:8–10
This passage deals with three separate spiritual gifts—prophecies, tongues, and knowledge. Prophecy is clearly a gift through which God gave special revelation to men (Heb 1:1, 2; Eph 3:5). The gift of knowledge was likely also a channel for revelation. Paul states flatly that all three of the gifts will end (v. 8). He teaches that these gifts are “in part” (v. 9). They are some of the means God used to give partial and progressive revelation. Further, Paul specifies the time when these gifts would cease. He says, “But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away” (v. 10).
In contrast to gifts that are “in part” (v. 9), Paul speaks in verse ten of “that which is perfect.” The meaning of “that which is perfect” is variously understood. Deere uses the term three times to refer to the partial knowledge of the prophet, whether present-day or apostolic. This does not seem to square with Paul’s statement that the prophecy itself was partial and stood in contrast to an anticipated complete revelation. Those who advocate a continuation of the sign gifts generally use the term in reference to the rapture of the church. McCune points out that this is not reasonable because the terms that refer to the rapture (parousia, epiphaneia, and apokalupsis) are feminine terms, while teleion (“perfect”) is a neuter word. We have also previously noted that with the rapture God will begin a whole new era of revelation. He further notes that “perfect” cannot refer to Christ since it is a neuter term, and a reference to Christ himself “would be masculine.” He comes to a forceful conclusion.
Since “that which is perfect” is in intended contrast with the partial or incomplete revelatory process (cf. 1 Cor. 13:10 with v. 9), and since it is the cause of the doing away of that which is “in part” (1 Cor. 13:10), the “completed thing” most naturally would refer to the completed process of revelation in the first century which is embodied in the New Testament canon.
Gromacki adds detail to McCune’s position.
If the gift of tongues involved the revelation of truth from God to man or about man, then its purpose is no longer needed because God has completed His revelation (Rev. 22:18–19). The need for today is to understand what He has already revealed, not to have new revelation. The silence of church history will confirm the fact that the gift of tongues was not intended to become a permanent part of church life. Otherwise, how could the church of Jesus Christ have functioned in those centuries of silence?
The same author advances six lines of reasoning to support his conclusion. First, there is the blanket statement in 13:8 that “tongues shall cease” (glōssai pausontai). That the gift ceased in the apostolic era can be demonstrated by the fact that in the second century and subsequent centuries it did not occur.
The second argument is that the phrase “that which is perfect” refers to the completed canon which formed the climax of the maturing process of the church. “Logically, to telion must refer to completeness or perfection in the same realm as that referred to by to ek merous. Since to ek merous refers to the transmission of divine truth by revelation, the other term to telion must refer to God’s complete revelation of truth, the entire New Testament (taken of course with its foundational book, the Old Testament).”
Paul’s two illustrations (13:11–12) serve as a third argument. Progressive development from infancy to maturity in Paul’s personal life would best suit the development of the body of Christ (cf. 1 Cor 12). There may be a subtle inference here to the gifts of tongues (“spake”), knowledge (“understood”), and prophecy (“thought”) which would be “put away” or rendered inoperative by maturity (same word is used: katargethesetai, 13:8; cf. katergeka, 13:11). The second illustration is a little more difficult to understand. Weaver argued that it does not refer to the second coming of Christ: “If the mirror [glass] is metaphorical for something, then the ‘face to face’ experience is also metaphorical. If the mirror represents imperfect knowledge, then the face to face encounter is metaphorical for the complete knowledge.” This is consistent with the context of partiality and completeness. By looking into the partially revealed Word, man got a partial picture of himself; however, when the Word was completed, then man could see himself exactly as God saw him. Why? Because God had completely revealed the purpose of man and the church in the Word.
“Fourth, if the gift of tongues was also a sign to curious Jews (14:21–22), then that significance ended with the destruction of Jerusalem (A.D. 70).”
“Fifth, in books written after First Corinthians dealing with church problems and normal Christian living, there is no mention of the gift of tongues.”
“Sixth, Morris regarded the contemporary ignorance of the basic nature of the gifts as an argument against their permanence. He wrote: ‘But, in view of the fact that they disappeared so speedily and so completely that we do not even know for certain exactly what they were, we must regard them as the gift of God for the time of the church’s infancy.’”
Prophecy was a God-ordained method by which God gave partial revelation to men in a progressive order. God stated that it would come to an end when his revelation was completed. With the completion of Scripture, we should look for no more revelation in this age. We have God’s completed Word. “The gifts which had to do with authority and the giving and discerning of revelation (apostleship, prophecy, miracles, healing, tongues, interpretation of tongues) were temporary, whereas the other gifts were permanent.”
Hebrews 1:1, 2
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. 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.” With 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.
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.
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 bebaios (v. 2) means “standing firm on the feet, steadfast, maintaining firmness or solidity.” 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. 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 “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.” 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 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 sunepimartureō. Its root is martureō, 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. Several Greek authorities define the word as “to testify at the same time.”
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.
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.
At least three Old Testament passages teach us about God’s mind and purpose in his process of revelation. Deuteronomy 13:1–5 states that any valid prophecy will be consistent with that which has already been revealed in Scripture and with the person and character of God as revealed to us in Scripture
Deuteronomy 18:15–18 teaches that the true prophet speaks with total accuracy. We must regard all who claim to be prophets and do not meet this standard as false. In the Old Testament theocracy such false prophets would have been stoned to death!
Scripture demonstrates a continuity between Old Testament and New Testament prophecy. The same theological test for Old Testament prophets applies to New Testament prophets. The same practical test for Old Testament prophets applies to New Testament prophets. The Deuteronomy passages lead us to the conclusion that no current claims to prophecy from God are valid.
Joel 2:28 teaches, and Acts 2:17–21 confirms, that the Holy Spirit’s supernatural gift of prophecy will be accompanied by God’s supernatural manifestations in the physical universe. At the very least, Joel 2:28–32 eliminates the validity of any current, supposedly revelatory gift of the Spirit.
We conclude that revelation has ceased. 1 Corinthians 13:8–10 teaches that God gave partial revelation through prophecy. With the completed revelation, the partial revelations ceased. Hebrews 1:1, 2 declare that Jesus Christ is the culmination of God’s revelation. Hebrews 2:1–4 affirm that New Testament revelation came through Christ and the apostles. It ended when their respective ministries were completed. We conclude that signs and wonders have ceased because God sovereignly gave them to accredit Christ and the apostles, who were the messengers of the New Testament revelation.
Certain statements seem to indicate that Scripture is a closed body of revelation. Jude 3 speaks of “the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.” That forceful statement is convincing in itself and consistent with the teaching of Hebrews 2:1–4. The warning to those who would add to or take away from the Word of God, coming at the end of the Book of the Revelation (Rev 22:18, 19) and at the end of the canon of Scripture, gives support to the same conclusions.
 Wayne Grudem, The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today (Westchester, IL: Crossway, 1988), 14–15.
 Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 64.
 D. A. Carson, Showing the Spirit: A Theological Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12–14 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1987), 83.
 Carson, Showing the Spirit, 86–87. Emphasis mine.
 Jack B. Scott, “109 אָלַף” in Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr. and Bruce K. Waltke (Chicago: Moody, 1999), 1: 48.
 Moritz, 27.
 Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction, 1039.
 Grudem, Systematic Theology, 1039–40.
 D. A. Carson, Showing the Spirit: A Theological Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12–14 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1987), 90–91.