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 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. Part 9 finalizes the Biblical witness and concludes the article.
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.
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.
- Heinrich Schlier, “bebaioō” in Gerhard Kittle, ed., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), 1: 601. [↩]
- Ibid., 1: 602. [↩]
- A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1932), 5: 343. [↩]
- The adjective bebaios appears in verse two and the verb bebaioō appears in verse 3. Both words are from the same root and the same sense applies. [↩]
- M. R. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament (1887; reprint, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989), 5: 396. [↩]
- William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 969. Also Timothy Friberg, Barbara Friberg and Neva F. Miller, Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, Baker’s Greek New Testament Library (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000), 4: 366. These two sources are representative of others. [↩]
- D. A. Carson, Showing the Spirit: A Theological Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12–14 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1987), 90–91. [↩]