I believe in the Biblical doctrine of Cessationism. What does that mean? That means I believe what the Bible teaches, in that certain Gifts of the Holy Spirit were only intended to be with the Church for the apostolic era. And that in this present day they are gone. This doesn’t apply to all gifts, the ones that are identified as being ceased are the following:
- Words of Knowledge
- Miraculous Healing via Human agent
In this post I am going to present an overview of the key points that convinced me this was true. And in the future I will dig into the nuance in greater depth.
Keep in mind, if you currently believe in a particular post apostolic 19th Century Prophet. Or if you are a strong believer in Pentacostal / Charistmatic theology this post is going to make you very mad. I myself believed in a few modern prophets before I came to accept this doctrine. It wasn’t an easy thing to do, if you have read my posts in the past you know I grew up believing Ellen White was a prophet. All I ask is that you read with an open Bible.
Prophetic Gifts Prophecied to End
First I am going to present a passage in Daniel 9. You have probably heard this passage used with regards to eschatology in one fashion or another. I am going to attempt to avoid going there with it. Instead I am going to bring out some of the teachings in this passage that seem to get overlooked.
“Seventy weeks are decreed about your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place. Know therefore and understand that from the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks. Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with squares and moat, but in a troubled time. And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing. And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed. And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator.” Dan 9:24-27 ESV
Most of the material I have read on the above passage focuses on how to calculate the 70 weeks and then overlay it across human history. The best means of calculating the days seems to be based upon whose methodology overlays with history the best. I think this is a mistake and in practice, focusing on the time prophecy tends to de-emphasize the associated Gospel promises. In the text we see a messianic prophecy that the following things will happen:
“finish the transgression”
“put an end to sin”
“atone for iniquity”
“bring in everlasting righteousness”
“seal both vision and prophet“
“anoint a most holy place”
My contention is that the above prophecies have already been fulfilled in Christ. Certainly the “atonement” has already passed, and Jesus did in fact say “it is finished”. This act has brought the everlasting righteousness of God into the hearers of the word (Rom 10:17)(Eph 2:8-9)(Php 3:9). Also, the New Covenant believer is literally the Temple of God as we are anointed by the presence of God the Holy Spirit within us (1 Cor 6:19)(Eph 1:13).
However you interpret the 70 weeks, and however that fits into your eschatology, the point is that this apocalyptic passage in Daniel 9 speaks to a fulfillment in Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the Cross. A fulfillment which has already transpired long before today. To separate “seal both vision and prophet” from this would call into question the other things that have been fulfilled.
Jesus Teaches Sufficiency of Scripture
When people call into question the sufficiency of scripture, particularly that of the New Testament, I point out this particular verse in John 14:
Charismatics like to use this text above to argue that the Holy Spirit gives you and I fresh revelation after the close of canon. But the problem is that in the context of the above verse, Jesus is speaking to the apostles not to you and me directly. The promise for us is very comforting though because that means we can expect to find the fulfillment of this promise in what the Apostles have left for us, specifically, the New Testament. To those who would deny this I simply ask them:
“Can God do what he said he would do in verse 26? Or can he not?”
The implications of how one answers that question is staggering. You come out either accepting the Bible as sufficient or not believing that God can keep his promises. Both of those conclusions have enormous implications for Cessationism vs Continuationism. Just think it through logically, if God cannot keep this promise to the apostles then you don’t know if your salvation is any good or not. If he can keep this promise to the apostles then you know your New Testament is sufficient for “all things” God wanted us to have. This in and of itself makes Continuationism an intellectually suicidal doctrine for a Christian to hold to.
Paul Teaches Cessationism
“… As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” 1 Cor 13:8-13 ESV
The idea is that prophecies given to the early Church, which did not have a new testament yet, are now gone. Tongues used to preach the Gospel without having to learn a new language have ceased. And words of knowledge like those used by Peter with Ananias (Acts 5:3-4) have passed away. These gifts served a purpose in the early days of the Church, and that purpose passed with the closing of the canon.
I am not trained in Greek, but to help with understanding the part vs perfect in the above passage I am going to quote someone who is.
“[The words] “complete” and “piecemeal” have been used to translate the words that traditional English versions render “perfect” and “imperfect” The versions have presumably chosen the latter terms for the sake of euphony, and they are acceptable translations if properly understood ( as meaning “complete” and “piecemeal” respectively); but in contemporary English perfect and imperfect usually carry a moral connotation that is alien to the passage under consideration.” – Douglas Judisch, An Evaluation to the Claims of the Charismatic Gifts, Pg 45
That is actually very clarifying, the implication is that the early Church received in parts and pieces through the gift of prophecy what we receive today in the complete form of a closed canon. Does this mean that faith, hope, and love have ceased too? Of course not, the author of the book continues with the following analysis:
“The fourth consideration that excludes the possiblity of prophetic gifts in the postapostolic era is the explicit testimony of the apostle Paul concerning the time of their disappearance. The pertinent passage occurs in the course of Paul’s demonstration in I Corinthians of the superioirty of love to all other gifts of the Spirit, including the more spectacular prophetic gifts. In chapter 13 Paul argued that one evidence of love’s superioirty is that it, like faith and hope, will outlast the prophetic gifts in the church. The force of Paul’s argument is this: faith, hope and love will outlast the gifts of the prophesying, speaking in tongues, and knowing divine truths by direct revelation; therefore, faith, hope, and love are superior to these prophetic gifts. Paul goes on to conclude that love is even greater than faith and hope . He does not rehearse the whole argument. The apostle assumes his readers realize that love will outlast faith and hope (just as faith and hope will outlast the prophetic gifts), since he has stated at the beginning of the paragraph that love never comes to an end. (He does not have to state of course that faith and hope come to an end eventually; everyone knows that.) According to Paul, then, the prophetic gifts will com to an end at the least by the time “the complete thing” arrives. (He does not actually tell us whether speaking in unlearned tongues will last, like prophesying and prophetic knowledge, until that time, or whether it will cease before the other two gifts.) If “the complete thing” has already arrived, then any claim to prophetic gifts in our times is automatically invalid.” – Douglas Judisch, An Evaluation to the Claims of the Charismatic Gifts, Pg 45-46
As stated above we can expect Faith, Hope, and Love to last through this age. The former two will not be necessary in the age to come as such will be fulfilled then just as prophecy, words of knowledge, and tongues are now. But Love is greater than all of these as it will continue into the age to come.
Juxtaposition of Christ and Prophecy
Another passage I am going to bring up is one in Hebrews, it is not as comprehensive as the others but I want to mention it because when compared with those I have presented it adds clarity.
“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” Heb 1:1-2 ESV
Notice that one is juxtaposed over and against the other. This gives an either/ or dichotomy which is important to present in any doctrine that claims such a strong polemic as the one I have presented in this post. In times past we expect prophets and prophecy and in times present we expect Jesus Christ. To cling to the former is to partially or fully deny the sufficiency of the latter.
What about Faith Healing?
I am not claiming that God doesn’t heal anyone today. Of course he does, I would venture so far as to say that every Christian has experienced, witnessed, or at least heard of this in some capacity. The distinction is that in our day and age we pray for this, and hope for it, but we don’t get to make it happen, and it is not contingent upon our faith or piety as to whether or not we receive it. Compare that to what we see in scripture here:
“12 Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. ; 13 None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. ; 14 And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, ; 15 so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. ; 16 The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed.” Acts 5:12-16 ESV
“11 And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, ; 12 so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them.” Acts 19:11-12 ESV
Notice that in the above passages we see that Paul and Peter were healing everyone. This was not a faith healing as taught by Pentacostals and Charismatics. They will place the burden of miracle upon the one seeking healing and teach that receiving said blessing is contingent upon the amount of faith one has or can be withheld based on the presence of secret sins. With fine print that loose its a wonder anyone is ever healed.
Instead, true Apostolic healing had a success rate of 100%. Neither the quantity of faith nor the presence of sin impeded it’s power. From the text it states that the impact of this was that many believed in the teaching of the apostles. It is my belief that this was the purpose of these blessings, and it explains why Christianity spread so far and so fast, something that to this day baffles modern historians. Compare the narrative in Acts to one of Paul’s letters written late in his ministry to Timothy:
“23 (No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.)” 1 Tim 5:23 ESV
Why isn’t Paul instructing Timothy to seek healing from someone bearing that gift or another apostle? Instead he gives him reasonable medical advice for the day they were living in, water generally wasn’t very clean back then which is why wine was such a staple.
The implication is that the primary purpose of the signs and wonders in Acts was completed even in the Apostles lifetimes. It is logical to assert such things were even fading in their time as the canon was ebbing closer and closer to completion. Today, even the most devout leaders of the New Apostolic Reformation must concede that their track record of faith healings comes no where close to Paul or Peter in the book of Acts. Even if you accept that some are true who can claim a record of 100%?
This means that to one extent or another EVERYONE believes in Cessationism. Taking that one step further, since everyone is compelled to believe in it to one degree or another, it follows that there is even greater reason to understand the verses teaching Cessationism as they plainly read.
These are fair observations to point. Amidst our generation of apostasy where so many are claiming to be an Apostle or a Prophet, and so many supposed prophecies fail to materialize, I cannot help but be reminded of the words of Christ in the Olivet Discourse.
“24 For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.” Mat 24:24 ESV
It is because of this that Cessationism is such a great peace and comfort. Christ promised there would be false prophets in the latter days. Instead of trying to distinguish each one apart we know from scripture that they are all wrong. Trust in Christ and his Word that is written down. If a prophecy is false you don’t want it, and if it is true you don’t need it for God’s Word is sufficient.
“16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, ; 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” 2 Tim 3:16-17 ESV
There’s a great deal more nuance to this doctrine that I do very much intend to dig into in the future. Once that happens I will group them together as I have done with other series in the past.
If you do not want to wait for the rest though I highly recommend a book that has helped me understand this teaching. It is currently being sold by Concordia Theological Seminary, you can find it HERE for $5. It’s worth every penny and has been a blessing to me.