December 18, 2017

A Case for Cessationism (8)

Fred Moritz

This article first appeared in the Maranatha Baptist Theological Journal. You may also find it here. We republish on Proclaim & Defend with permission.

The article will appear here in parts for easier reading. This will require an alteration of footnote numbering – for citation, refer to the longer article linked above.

Part OnePart Two Part ThreePart FourPart FivePart SixPart SevenThis is Part EightPart Nine

Part 1 surveyed Claims for Continuing Revelation as taught by Cults, Roman Catholics, Charismatics and Peter Ruckman. Part 2 continued by surveying the views of Sovereign Grace, John Piper, Wayne Grudem and D. A. Carson. Part 3 moved on to a considering the question of continuing revelation in light of the doctrine of inspiration, firstly looking at the Old Testament Record. Part 4 continued to consider that question, looking now to the New Testament Record. Part 5 turned to the question of a completed canon, firstly discussing the arguments of some against  a completed canon. Part 6 discussed the idea of completed revelation in accordance with the witness of Biblical writers. Part 7 continued that discussion, with further discussion in Part 8.

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.[1] 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.[2] 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.[3] 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.”[4] 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.[5]

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?[6]

The same author advances six lines of reasoning to support his conclusion.[7] 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.[8]

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).”[9]

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.[10]

“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.’”[11]

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.”[12]

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.[13] 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.”[14] 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.[15]

To be continued… [last installment due Tuesday, 2013.12.31]

Dr. Moritz is a professor at Maranatha Baptist Seminary. For more on this topic, see Fred Moritz, Contending for the Faith (Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University Press, 2000), 35–63.

  1. Lester L. Lippincott III, “A Study of ‘That Which Is Perfect’ in First Corinthians 13:10” (Th.M. thesis, Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, 1990), 37–42, gives a concise analysis of the varying views of the gift of knowledge. He assembles con­vincing argumentation that it was a supernatural gift through which God gave special revelation. The account of Peter dealing with Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1–11) is a case in point. []
  2. Deere, Surprised by the Voice of God, 155, 245, 330. []
  3. McCune, 9. Grudem makes a detailed case for this posi­tion. Grudem, Systematic Theology, 1032–1035. []
  4. McCune, 9. []
  5. Ibid. []
  6. Robert G. Gromacki, The Modern Tongues Movement (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1978), 119. []
  7. The following arguments are from Gromacki, 125–28. []
  8. Gromacki, 125–26. []
  9. Gilbert B. Weaver, “‘Tongues Shall Cease’: 1 Corinthians 13:8.” Unpublished research paper (Grace Theological Seminary, Winona Lake, Indiana, 1964), 12. Cited in Gromacki, 126. []
  10. Gromacki is citing Weaver, 14. []
  11. Gromacki is citing Leon Morris, “Gifts of the Spirit’s Free Bounty,” The Sunday School Times(December 12, 1964), 5. []
  12. Gromacki cites Harold Lindsell and Charles J. Woodbridge, A Handbook of Christian Truth(Westwood, NJ: Revell, 1953), 322. []
  13. R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of the Epistle to the Hebrews and the Epistle of James(Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1966), 31. The author of Hebrews uses the word laleo—“to speak”—twice. The first time, the Holy Spirit inspires him to use an aorist participle, “having spoken,” which looks forward to the main aorist verb, “he spoke.” Lenski calls this an “aorist of finality.” []
  14. Leon Morris, “Hebrews,” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary 12 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), 13. []
  15. Lenski, 33. []

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