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Section 8B ... Controversial Issues/
Cessationism

 

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Cessationism... Part I

Are Miraculous Gifts Of The Spirit For Today?

Carol Brooks

Is God still speaking to His church through direct revelation? Do prophets still have the authority to speak on God’s behalf, conveying information or instruction needed at that moment? Do miracles still occur in the church?

ALSO SEE

How Do You Determine Your Spiritual Gift?
An inventory of the ministry gifts that some have found helpful.

The Christian and Tongues
Is the fact that various groups spoke with tongues when receiving the Holy Spirit indicative that all believers should do so centuries later. And is there any solid evidence in the Bible for the gift of tongues utilizing unintelligible speech? Pentecostals believe that there is a “Second Blessing” (also called the baptism of the Holy Spirit) which is a deeper work of God's grace, and "distinct from and subsequent to the experience of the new birth". They teach that believers should seek and strive for this blessing. However other believe that this teaching is a serious deception.

Is Physical Healing Included In The Atonement?

Bible1-Bar

PART I... This Page

Introduction
Biblical History Of Miracles
Why Miracles Happened
God "only Works Through The Word"

(but Satan Has Free Reign)

Proof Texts
Hebrews 2: 1-4
1 Corinthians 13:8-12
The “Perfect”, “Face to Face” and ‘Know Fully’
Ephesians 2:20   Have Apostles And Prophets Ceased To Exist?


What "Apostles" and "Prophets" was Paul Talking About?

The Apostles, The Prophets and The Vital Role of The Old Testament Prophets....

Functions of The Office of a Prophet Vs. The Gift Of Prophecy
Authority, The Canon, Edification And Exhortation, Convincing and Convicting The Unbeliever

Ephesians 2:20 and Ephesians 4:11.. Prophets Vs. prophets

Examples of Genuine Modern Day Prophets

False Apostles and False Prophets

Testing Prophecy

 

PART II ... Next Page

The Acts Of The Apostles

Greater Works

Then And Now
Modern Day Prophecy.. Justice Delayed, Not Denied, Warnings to Those Who Listen to False Prophets
Direct Revelation, Miracles, Healing, Word of Knowledge, Exorcism and Tongues

So What Happened?
Gifts of The Spirit Confused With Occult Techniques and Manifestations
Evidence For Sporadic Continuance of The Gifts
The Down Side of Miracles and Healing
Conclusion... Throwing The Baby Out With The Bath Water

 


Introduction
Note: Although, in our modern world, we often use the word "miracle" rather loosely, in this article it refers to an event which cannot be explained by anything other than the work of God, who has supernaturally overridden all natural and scientific laws.

The word "Cessationism" was coined from "cessation" or "cease" which, as we know, means to stop or come to an end.

In Christian theology Cessationism refers to the belief that the "miraculous" gifts such as tongues, miracles, word of knowledge, healing and prophecy were given as affirmation of God's revelation, and to aid in the spread of the Gospel. However, as many orthodox Christians believe, once the church was established, either with the completion of the New Testament canon (Revelation was the last book written), or the death of John the last apostle, these gifts were withdrawn. And although no one single argument alone demonstrates this, the combined weight of the total evidence decisively points to this conclusion, therefore the church should soundly reject any and all claims to prophecy and other supernatural gifts of the spirit.  While some Cessationists consider that the miraculous does sometimes appear in un-reached areas, as an aid to spreading the Gospel, the general rule is that we now have the Bible and therefore do not need spiritual gifts.

On the other hand, the ever-growing Charismatic movement (a twentieth-century phenomenon) emphasizes the baptism in the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, prophecy, the gift of healing and 'personal experience', all of which are contributing factors to the movement's popularity. Some groups even go as far as to claim that that if you do not speak in tongues then you are not saved. However, growth and popularity cannot be used as a test for truth-claims, because various cults (e.g., Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons) and false religions (e.g., Islam, Eastern mysticism) have also witnessed great popularity and expansion, it is equally true that orthodox Christianity's view that once the early church was established all the gifts ceased because they were no longer needed, is indefensible.

This issue has caused considerable debate and even division in the church, with the vast majority (those who have given it any thought at all) often taking completely opposing sides. There is no dispute about whether these gifts existed in the first-century Church which most, or all, Christians take for granted. Nor is there any dispute as to whether the gifts such as teaching, helps or pastors have continued. Rather, the disagreement swirls around the more supernatural gifts, such as prophecy, miracles and healing. Again no one disputes whether is God is capable of working such miracles, but whether He actually does so through any individual..

And, as is common to most doctrinal debates, both sides use Scripture (in fact often the same verses) to support their positions. I have heard it said that this is not a issue that relates to salvation in any way and therefore should not be allowed to cause division. However I beg to disagree. Without a Biblical understanding of the gifts of the Spirit and why they are given, many people have been led to think that the supernatural phenomena they have witnessed, or even experienced, are from God, when in fact they are nothing but occult manifestations. 

Cessationists often refer to the ....


Biblical History Of Miracles
to show that signs and wonders were not every day phenomena even in Biblical times, but were concentrated at three critical periods, outside of which miracles were isolated incidents. The three specific periods usually referred to are 1) the time of Moses and the Exodus, 2) the time of Elijah and Elisha and 3) the time of Jesus' and the Apostles. (That there will be signs and wonders before and during the future Second Coming of Christ is not disputed). John MacArthur says

    If you study the Old Testament, there really are only two periods of miracles: One, the revealing of the law to Moses; and two, the lives of Elijah and Elisha when God was laying down the platform of prophetic revelation through His prophets. The rest of the Old Testament contains very few references of use of miracles, and none at the end of the Old Testament. Miracles have not been occurring all the time since the first one. And the reason is that God had a specific word to reveal, with limits and boundaries. When God was revealing either His written Word or Christ, His living Word, it was then and only then that He used miracles as a corroborating and confirming sign. [1]

I am not sure how this claim can be made, since even a cursory reading of some of the books of the Old Testament shows that there was an abundance of miracles in many other periods of Old Testament history. Given below are just a few examples of miracles strewn through the pages of the Old Testament.

    Genesis: While the plagues of Egypt and the parting of the Red Sea were some of the more spectacular miracles in Genesis, in the first few chapters alone Enoch was raptured [Genesis 5:24], All manner of animals were gathered into the ark, The Lord and angels appeared to Abraham and even ate a meal with him [Genesis 18], The men of Sodom and Gomorrah were blinded by angels and the cities destroyed by fire and brimstone, Lot's wife was turned into a pillar of salt [Genesis 19] etc.

    Judges: Although there was great spiritual decline in the days of the judges, the book of Judges is replete with miracles including Gideon defeating a multitude of the enemy with just three hundred men, this after he was visited by an angel, who miraculously caused fire to come up out of the rock and consume Gideon's offering [6:21]. Later in the same chapter we are told of the double miracle of the fleece which assured Gideon that he would be victorious in his coming battle with the Midianites.

    Samson collapsing a building (temple of Dagon?) by manually pulling down the pillars although he was tremendously weakened and. In doing so Samson may have killed as many as three thousand Philistines. [Judges 16:23-31]

    Samuel: The book of Samuel opens with the Lord hearing the prayer of a barren woman who subsequently became pregnant [1 Samuel 1]. Later on the Lord spoke to Samuel [1 Samuel 3] and supernaturally destroyed the statue of Dagon when the ark was captured and set in Dagon's temple [1 Samuel 5]

    The Book of Kings: Elisha supernaturally provided for a widow's financial need by multiplying the single pot of oil she had in the house to the extent that she had enough to sell and pay off her debts. In those days travellers were dependent upon the hospitality of the people in the land, and Elisha was no exception. He received warm hospitality from a Shunammite woman, at who's house he used to eat. When he wished to repay her she refused but his servant pointed out that this woman had no child. Elisha called her and prophesied that she would bear a son, which she did. However the son died and the woman asked for help from Elisha who returned with her and raised the child from the dead. [2 Kings 4]

    In other places Naaman was healed of leprosy [2 Kings 5], The Assyrian army was destroyed by a single angel [2 Kings 19:35], the reversal of the forward movement of the shadow caused by the sun was an answer to Hezekiah's question as to whether he would be healed. [2 Kings 20]

    Daniel: And, of course the book of Daniel is not without it's share of some really mind blowing miracles

Apart from the short inter-testamental period, between the writings of the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament, of which we know nothing, the fact is that miracles happened throughout the course of Biblical history. While they were probably not a daily occurrence in ancient Israel, the words of the prophet Jeremiah in his prayer indicates that miracles took place right up to the time of writing, even during those periods about which the Bible does not say much. Since the prophet does not give any indication as to whether or not miracles diminished in frequency, all we know is that whatever miracles happened, went unrecorded. Note his words..

    who didst set signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, even unto this day, both in Israel and among other men; and madest thee a name, as at this day;  (Jeremiah 32:20).

Besides which, it is very bizarre logic that argues that just because, in Biblical history, miracles might have happened less often in some periods than in others, they must have completely ceased in post Biblical times.


Why Miracles Happened
Also to say that God performed miracles for the single purpose of revealing Himself, and that after He had done so, miracles had no continuing purpose, does not agree with the accounts of many miracles in the Biblical texts. In fact even a cursory reading of some of the accounts show that, in the Old Testament and the New, miracles took place for a variety of reasons

    Lot's wife turning into a pillar of salt, the miraculous answer to Hezekiah's prayer, or the granting of Hannah's prayer request had nothing to do with this kind of revelation.

    The miracles performed by Elisha for two different women was not for the purpose of  God "laying down the platform of prophetic revelation through His prophets" as John MacArthur says [2]

    The widow for whom Elisha multiplied the oil already knew he was a man of God (She was not only the wife of the sons of the prophets (2 Kings 4:1) but, according to the Targum, was Obadiah's wife). So Elisha's compassion for a woman who's children could have been taken away by the debt collector was the driving force behind the miracle of the oil.

    In the same chapter the Shunammite woman who invited Elisha into her house also knew that Elisha was a man of God. As she told her husband ... "I perceive that this is a holy man of God, that passeth by us continually.  Let us make, I pray thee, a little chamber on the wall; and let us set for him there a bed, and a table, and a seat, and a candlestick: and it shall be, when he cometh to us, that he shall turn in thither. (2 Kings 4:9-10).

While it is true that many, if not most, of Jesus' miracles were performed to authenticate His person and mission, not all of them were. Because Jesus was and is a "reflection" of the Father (when people look at Jesus they see the Father), He also healed to acquaint people with the nature of God... not just His power but also His compassion.

    The death of Lazarus: But when Jesus heard it, he said, This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified thereby. [John 11:4]

    The man stricken with palsy: But when the multitudes saw it, they were afraid, and glorified God, who had given such authority unto men. [Matthew 9:8]

    "He saw a great multitude and felt compassion for them, and healed their sick." [Matthew 14:14]

    The miracle of the loaves and fishes happened because of Jesus' compassion for the multitude, because they had stayed with Him for three days and had nothing to eat: Jesus did not want to sent them away fasting, lest they faint on the way. [Matthew 15:32].

    Nor did Paul have to raise Eutychus from the dead to prove his apostleship. He was speaking to company of believers when this man fell out of the window. [Acts 20:7-12]

However, not all examples of God's active participation in the lives of man involved miracles.


God's Active Participation Apart From Miracles

Take for example the story of Joseph whose brothers were so jealous of him that they plotted together and sold him into slavery. However after enduring considerable hardship he eventually rose to a position of prominence in the Pharaoh's court ..."lord of all his house, and ruler over all the land of Egypt" [Genesis 45:8], and was used of God to rescue many of the Jews, including his scheming brothers, from the famine that devastated the area. Joseph himself is quoted as saying "you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive" (Genesis 50:20).

David said it was the Lord who delivered him from the lion and the bear and would deliver him from Goliath as well (which He did). However not all these victories achieved with the Lord's help were necessarily miraculous. [1Samuel 17:37 ]

On the other hand it is far from unusual to find orthodox Christians and Cessationists who believe that God or the Holy Spirit only works through the Word today.


God "only Works Through The Word" (but Satan Has Free Reign)
Various Biblical passages tell us that Satan can blind the minds of the unbelieving, fill the hearts of believers, beguile and corrupt believers, and even take them captive.

    in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should not dawn upon them. [2Corinthians 4:4] 

    But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thy heart to lie to the Holy Spirit, and to keep back part of the price of the land? [Acts 5:3]

    But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve in his craftiness, your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity and the purity that is toward Christ. [2Corinthians 11:3]

    and they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him unto his will. [2Timothy 2:26]

Besides which, Scripture warns us that we are

    engaged in a battle "against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in heavenly places" (Ephesians 6:12).

and prophesies that

    "... in later times some shall fall away from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons." (1 Timothy 4:1).

If Satan and his minions are allowed to directly influence our minds and beguile believers then he has considerably more latitude than God has. This could very well mean more impact and, more than likely, more sway, over believers. As said by Allan Turner

    "if God today works only in and through the Word, then we ought, in all honesty, to quit praying and use this time for more Bible study". [3]

Luckily this is not the case. Our Lord and James respectively said...

    But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thine inner chamber, and having shut thy door, pray to thy Father who is in secret, and thy Father who seeth in secret shall recompense thee. [Matthew 6:6]

    But if any of you lacketh wisdom, let him ask of God, who giveth to all liberally and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. [James 1:5]

Something is given to believers as a direct result of  prayer, or a one to one communication with God, apart from  a study of the Word which, of course, can never be underestimated. If prayer actually accomplishes something as both Jesus and James said it did, then it is not true that God works only through the word. 


‘Proof Texts’

Cessationists also largely use Hebrews 2: 1-4, 1Corinthians 13:8-10 and Ephesians 2:19-22 to 'prove' that the gifts were foundational and temporary. However, none of these passages can be construed to absolutely establish their standpoint.

Hebrews 2: 1-4
is one passage used to uphold the assertion that miracles took place only to confirm new revelation.

    For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will. [NASB]

The first three words of this chapter refer back to chapter one where the author has shown the superiority of Christ to any other being, including the angels. He was urging the Hebrews who were in danger of relapsing into Judaism, to pay close attention to the message they had heard and not "drift away" or allow themselves to become cold. He further warned that, as they knew, the consequences for neglecting God's Word and disobedience to His law in the Old Testament were very severe, but the consequences of neglecting God great salvation would be equally bad, if not far worse. In the Old Testament, revelation came through men however, in the New, it came through the Son of God Himself.

He then goes on to say that this message that our Lord taught was conveyed to the people by those that had heard it directly from Him. These men, their words, actions and the miraculous events that accompanied them proved that they were disciples of the Christ who had been resurrected from the dead and was still performing miracles through them. It was God's way of bearing witness to the Apostles and early evangelists who's words had to be heeded.

And certainly, the author speaks of this confirmation in the past tense, but all this indicates is that the signs and wonders, in the context of authenticating the message of the Apostles, is finished. What the verse does not say is that this is the only reason that miracles ever happened, and does not give any indication as to whether or not miracles will continue. 

Additionally the author includes "signs, wonders and various miracles" along with "gifts of the Holy Spirit" as a method God used to testify to the Apostles. Therefore if miracles no longer happen, all gifts of the Holy Spirit must have also ceased, including the gifts of service, teaching; exhortation; giving, leadership, and mercy.


1 Corinthians 13:8-12
Teaching the Corinthians About The Gifts
The book of I Corinthians was written to a church that had very large problems. Not only were there factional conflicts, but they were tolerating grievous immorality and heresy regarding the resurrection. They were also abusing the Lords Supper, taking each other to court, did not understand about foods sacrificed to idols, and lacked discipline.

Nevertheless, Paul never prohibited their use of the gifts of the Spirit, but gave instructions for using these gifts in a orderly fashion [Chapter 12]. He explained that as each part of the body has a different function, but is yet wholly dependant on all the other parts, each of the members of the church had a role to play in the functioning of the body as a whole. None were to be esteemed more honourably than the other, since the gifts given them were for the common good. [Vs. 14-30].

This belies the belief that those gifts were only associated with the apostles, but instead emphasizes that these gifts played an important role in the functioning of the body of Christ, if used as intended.


When The "Perfect" Comes

Paul then goes on to say in chapter 13...

    [8] Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. [9] For we know in part, and we prophesy in part; [10] but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. [11] When I was a child, I used to speak as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. [12] For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I shall know fully just as I also have been fully known.

Everyone agrees that verse 10 indicates that gifts such as prophecy, tongues, and knowledge are temporary, but are in complete disagreement as to when the gifts cease. The crux of the argument revolves around the Greek word teleios which literally means to "be complete", and is here translated into the English word "perfect".

    (A related word Teleõ, means to bring to an end, to close, finish, or conclude is often translated fulfill in the New Testament).

Cessationists often maintain that "perfect" refers to the completion of the canon. In other words, now that the Bible is "complete" or "perfect", we have no need of the "partial", or the supernatural gifts.  Other believe that that the church has reached a level of maturity and is no longer in need of special gifts.


That
Some translations read verse 10 as

    "and when that which is perfect (teleios) may come, then that which is in part shall become useless" [Emphasis Added].

I have read that the word "that" is a neuter pronoun and therefore could not refer to Christ. However it is not necessary that this passage has to be explicitly referring to Christ Himself. The word that is translated "perfect" (Greek teleios), literally means "be complete". Note how the author of Hebrews uses it in the sense of maturity

    But solid food is for full grown (teleios) men, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern good and evil. [Hebrews 5:14]

In other words, when all things are concluded, when this age gives way to the perfection of the next, when the kingdom is complete and all believers are mature, then the imperfect and partial shall be done away with. This all takes place only at the second advent of Christ. 

Besides which, Paul says two thing will happen "when the perfect comes"... 1) We shall see face to face and 2) we shall know fully as we have been known [1 Corinthians 13:12] 

    now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I shall know fully just as I also have been fully known
    We can only be sure we understand what Paul means by letting Scripture interpret Scripture.


a) Face to Face:
The phrase "face to face" is used quite often in both the Old and New Testaments... always in regard to a personal encounter, whether with man or with God Himself, as in the following examples... (Note the expression "mouth to mouth" means exactly the same thing)

    And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for, said he, I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved. [Genesis 32:30] 

    And the Lord spoke unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend. And he turned again into the camp: but his minister Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, departed not out of the Tent. [Exodus 33:11]

    Jehovah spake with you face to face in the mount out of the midst of the fire [Deuteronomy 5:4]

    and Zedekiah king of Judah shall not escape out of the hand of the Chaldeans, but shall surely be delivered into the hand of the king of Babylon, and shall speak with him mouth to mouth, and his eyes shall behold his eyes; [Jeremiah 32:4]

    Now I, Paul, myself urge you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ-- I who am meek when face to face with you, but bold toward you when absent! [2 Corinthians 10:1 NASB. The KJV uses the word "presence"]

    Though I have many things to write to you, I do not want to do so with paper and ink; but I hope to come to you and speak face to face, so that your joy may be made full. [2 John 1:12]

    but I hope to see you shortly, and we will speak face to face. Peace be to you. The friends greet you. Greet the friends by name. [3 John 1:14]

Therefore when Paul says "When the perfect comes...then we shall see face to face", it is logical to infer that He is speaking about a personal encounter with Christ Himself when He returns.

Finally Paul, in more than one place, ties in the gifts with the return of Christ, not the completion of the Bible.

    so that ye come behind in no gift (Gk. charisma); waiting for the revelation (Gk. apokalupsis) of our Lord Jesus Christ; [1 Corinthians 1:7]

    And he gave some to be apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, unto the work of ministering, unto the building up of the body of Christ: till we all attain unto the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a full grown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: [Ephesians 4:11-13] 

Note: There are different interpretations of the phrase "unity of the faith". Some take it to mean a basic mutual comprehension of those doctrines which constitute the core truths of the faith... one Lord, one faith, one baptism. However that has not happened in the last two centuries, and as the church goes further and further off course, it is not hard to believe that it will happen until only after Jesus establishes His kingdom, when all all differences will be resolved. [Also See True and False Unity]


b) Know Fully:
The second part of verse 12 reads..

    now I know in part, but then I shall know fully just as I also have been fully known

The word know has been translated from the Greek epiginóskó, which is derived from ginósko. This word is often used in relationship to salvation, which is spoken of as knowing or being known by God. [All Emphasis Added]

    My sheep hear my voice, and I know (Greek ginósko) them, and they follow me: [John 10:27 ]

    And this is life eternal, that they should know (Greek ginósko) thee the only true God, and him whom thou didst send, even Jesus Christ. [John 17:3] 

    I am the good shepherd; and I know (Greek ginósko) mine own, and mine own know (Greek ginósko) me, even as the Father knoweth me, and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. [John 10:14-5] 

    but now that ye have come to know (Greek ginósko) God, or rather to be known (Greek ginósko) by God, how turn ye back again to the weak and beggarly rudiments, whereunto ye desire to be in bondage over again? [Galatians 4:9] 

    ... The Lord knoweth (Greek ginósko) them that are his: and, Let every one that nameth the name of the Lord depart from unrighteousness. [2 Timothy 2:19]

    And hereby we know that we know (Greek ginósko) him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; [1 John 2:3-4]

    Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God; and such we are. For this cause the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. [1 John 3:1] 

The unbeliever is not known by Jesus

    [Matthew 7:21-23]  Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy by thy name, and by thy name cast out demons, and by thy name do many mighty works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew (Greek ginósko) you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

Therefore when Paul says "When the perfect comes...then I shall know fully just as I also have been fully known", it is logical to infer that He is speaking in terms of the 'completeness' of salvation, which will take place when Jesus returns and we receive our resurrection bodies. Childish thoughts and reasoning will give way to completeness or maturity. We will no longer see Christ through the Word, but "face to face".  As the apostle John said..

    "we shall be like him; for we shall see him even as he is".

There is little doubt that 1 Corinthians 13:8-10 says the spiritual gifts will cease when Jesus returns.


Ephesians 2:20... Have Apostles And Prophets Ceased To Exist?
The second passage oft used in the argument that the office of prophet was foundational and temporary is

    Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit. [Ephesians 2:19-22. Emphasis Added]

In this verse Paul describes "apostles and prophets" as the foundation that the church was built on, with Christ as the chief cornerstone. Cessationists believe that this verse strongly implies that the offices of apostles and prophets were necessary for the church before the completion of the canon, but since foundations need not be laid more than once, both apostles and prophets ceased to exist or function once the church was established. For example, Richard B. Gaffin, a contributing author to the book Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? states that Ephesians 2:11-21 pictures the church as

    "the construction project of God, the master architect-builder, underway in the period between the ascension and return of Christ (cf. 1:20-22; 4:8-10,13). In this church-house the apostles and prophets are the foundation, along with Christ as the 'cornerstone' (v. 20). In any construction project (ancient or modern), the foundation comes at the beginning and does not have to be re laid repeatedly (at least if the builder knows what he's doing!). In terms of this dynamic model for the church, the apostles and prophets belong to the period of the foundation. In other words, by the divine architect's design, the presence of apostles and prophets in the history of the church is temporary" [4].

Certainly it is true that Ephesians 2:20 strongly implies that once the church was established, the gifts were no longer essential and were discontinued. However one also has to consider three other verses, all of which appear to support the view that all the four or five gifts listed, including apostles and prophets, could be current.

    Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. [Romans 12:6-8]

    "And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ" [Ephesians 4:11-12]

    "And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondly prophets, thirdly teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, divers kinds of tongues". [1 Corinthians 12:28]

About these passages it should be noted that 1) Gifts such as prophecy and tongues appear in the same list as those of teaching and mercy. and 2) The gift of prophecy and the gift of teaching are identified as separate gifts in Romans 12:6-8 and 1Corinthians 12:28. A teacher must explain and apply the word of God. In order to do this, he has to study the Scriptures, and then impart what he has learned. On the other hand prophecy is a spontaneous, or unplanned and unrehearsed revelation that comes from God.

Since the Bible does not contradict itself perhaps a little more digging would be in order.


What "Apostles" and "Prophets" was Paul Talking About?
It is assumed by both sides that because Paul uses the word prophets in all the verses, he must be talking about the same group of people. This is not necessarily the case. So let's look first at Ephesians 2:20 in which he says that the church was built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets and ask who the apostles and prophets are that he is referring to. This question becomes much easier to answer if one first ensures a proper understanding of this "foundation" he speaks about and then works backwards to see who built this foundation.


The "Apostles"
It is very evident that, in the first century, the conversion of all the Christians came about through the apostles' testimony to Christ and preaching of the Gospel. The fact is that all the New Testament Apostles were not simply called to preach, but to represent God on earth with considerable authority and power. Jesus Christ was the cornerstone of the church and the Apostles were the foundation. The book of Revelation (21:13-14) in describing the New Jerusalem, tells us that the wall of the city has twelve foundations, and on them are the names of the twelve Apostles of the Lamb. And what was this foundation that the apostles laid?

    They bore on their backs the entire weight of the mission of the Gospel both to the Jews and the Gentiles. It was them that first publicly preached the Gospel after the resurrection of Jesus leading innumerable people, both Jew and Gentile, back to God.

    They then took a bunch of new believers spread over three continents and instructed them in God's law. They set up churches wherever they went and appointed elders to feed and shepherd the flock.

    It was the apostles that completed the second half of the Canon (the books of the Bible which are held to be genuine). No books were added to the Bible after John finished writing Revelation. In doing so they defined the doctrine and guidelines that not only steered the church of their day, but has since provided the lamp to the feet of those that actually read their words, over the next two thousand years.

    And, finally it was these men that prophesied the second advent of the Messiah in great detail.

Without the original Apostles there would have been no New Testament and no church

    Note: The word missionary comes from the word apostle. When the New Testament was translated from Greek into Latin, the Greek word apostolos was rendered as missio, which is the base of the word missionary. Certainly most missionaries are sent by their churches or other organizations, while missionaries usually, or at least very often, feel their calling comes directly from God. So, if the basis for judgment is a simple word study, then yes, missionaries are apostles... and certainly they are in a general sense. The distinction is this... apostles in the modern world do exist in the form of those that take to Gospel to unreached people, and establish churches where none existed. However, Apostles in the mold of the New Testament ones simply can not exist, because their work has already been done.


The "Prophets"
The word prophet or prophets is used almost 150 times in the New Testament and, with a handful of exceptions, always refers to Jesus Himself (Matthew 21:11; Matthew 13:57, Mark 6:4, Luke 4:24 etc), or to the Old Testament Prophets.

    (The exceptions are.... John the Baptist was called a prophet in Matthew 11:7-10. The New Testament mentions two prophecies made by a prophet from Judaea called Agabus [Acts 11:28, Acts 21:10]. Unknown prophets are mentioned in connection with the church at Antioch [Acts 13:1]. Judas And Silas are both mentioned as prophets  [Acts 15:32])

While Paul gave himself gave himself several titles including a minister (Colossians 1:23), a steward of the Gospel (1 Corinthians 4:1), an ambassador (2 Corinthians 5:20), a preacher and teacher (1 Timothy 2:7) and a slave (Titus 1:1), there is no evidence that he ever called himself a prophet. As far as I know, it is only once in the entire New Testament does Paul explicitly use the term "Prophet" to refer to the apostles of his own time.

    which in other generations was not made known unto the sons of men, as it hath now been revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; [Ephesians 3:5] 

Was Paul a prophet? Certainly he was! Part of the function of the prophets was to reveal the will of the Lord, which Paul did in spades. He also foretold the future as in his description of The Rapture in 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17. Similarly the apostle John was a Prophet with his detailed illustration of the end times in the book of Revelation.

However there has to be a reason that the vast majority of the 150 odd references to "The Prophets" in the New Testament meant the prophets of the Old Testament.


The Vital Role of The Old Testament Prophets....
While it is true that the Apostles built the foundations of the church around Christ the chief cornerstone, it is equally true that they built on the shoulders of men who had played very vital roles in the span of time from Moses to the birth of Christ. In the New Testament, the words and teachings of these men of old were referred to over and over again. A few of the many examples include...

a) When Jesus rebuked the disciples on the road to Emmaus, He said

    O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! ... And beginning from Moses and from all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself. [Luke 24:25, 27]

b) When, on on the sabbath day, the Apostle Paul preached in the synagogue in Antioch, he used the Old Testament to prove that Jesus was the promised Messiah referring to the "utterances of the prophets which are read every Sabbath" (V.27). [Acts 13:16–41]

c) Again in Rome when Paul spoke to the "chief of the Jews", he did exactly the same thing

    And when they had appointed him a day, they came to him into his lodging in great number; to whom he expounded the matter, testifying the kingdom of God, and persuading them concerning Jesus, both from the law of Moses and from the prophets, from morning till evening. [Acts 28:23]

In other words ... the faith of the New Testament believers was grounded on the words of the Old Testament prophets. What the Apostles did under the New Covenant, the Prophets had already done under the Old. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, they revealed God, wrote of His characteristics, and conveyed His Will and law to humanity. They recording God's law and plans for all posterity, thus providing the lamp to the feet of those that actually listened to, and were obedient to their words. Both the Prophets and the Apostles endeavoured to steer the nation of Israel in the right direction, while the Apostles added believing Gentiles to the flock. The Prophets of the Old Testament prophesied the first advent of the Messiah, and the Apostles the second.

They were partners, instrumental in carrying out two phases of God's great plan of salvation.

[Also See The Kingdom.. When?   and   What was The Message of Jesus]

So when Paul speaks of the foundation of the church being laid on the shoulders of the Apostles and Prophets, there is no question that he is speaking of the Old Testament Prophets and The New Testament Apostles. Both commentators Adam Clarke and Albert Barnes were of the same view, saying...

    "The doctrine taught by the prophets in the Old Testament, and the apostles in the New" (Clarke).

    "The prophets of the Old Testament, using the word, probably, to denote the Old Testament in general (Barnes).


Functions of The Office of a Prophet Vs. The Gift Of Prophecy
However one has to take into consideration that both Peter and Paul anticipated that different gifts of the Spirit would be commonly be manifest when believers came together. Potentially, each believer would contribute something that edified the entire body, which included revelation that came directly from God [All Emphasis Added]

    But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit to profit withal. For to one is given through the Spirit the word of wisdom; and to another the word of knowledge, according to the same Spirit: to another faith, in the same Spirit; and to another gifts of healings, in the one Spirit; and to another workings of miracles; and to another prophecy; and to another discernings of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; and to another the interpretation of tongues: (1 Corinthians 12:7-10).

    What is it then, brethren? When ye come together, one hath a psalm, hath a teaching, hath a revelation, hath a tongue, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying. [1Corinthians 14:26]

    But one who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation. One who speaks in a tongue edifies himself; but one who prophesies edifies the church. Now I wish that you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you would prophesy; and greater is one who prophesies than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may receive edifying. [1 Corinthians 14:3-5]

    according as each hath received a gift, ministering it among yourselves, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God; [1Peter 4:10]

It is unarguable that the gift of prophecy was a very real and very important gift of the Spirit, and those that had this gift were also called prophets.

It is important to remember that when the Bible uses the word "prophet", it does not mean that the role of this person is limited to the narrow definition of only foretelling the future, which is how the word is commonly used [Read what the Lord told Jeremiah in Jeremiah 1:10]. The prophet does not only foretell future events but is also given by God the authority to speak on His behalf. In the Scriptures any person who acts as a spokesperson for God, and delivers a message that God decreed he (or she) should deliver had been given the gift of prophecy and could be called a prophet.

However that the office of the Prophet and the "one who prophesies" (1 Corinthians 14:3-5) were two distinct functions with vast differences is shown by at at least two facts... 1) There is no evidence that those with the gift of prophecy occupied any positions of authority in the church and 2) none of their prophecies became part of the canon.
 

1) Authority
Although prophets (with a small p) are listed after apostles in Ephesians 4:11 and 1Corinthians 12:28, there is no evidence that they occupied any positions of authority in the church. One can well understand the importance of receiving revelation from God, which conveyed information or instruction needed at that moment, but their words were subject to the teachings of the apostles. In Paul's words...

    If any man thinketh himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him take knowledge of the things which I write unto you, that they are the commandment of the Lord. [1Corinthians 14:37]

As said by an Assemblies of God position paper...

    Prophets in the New Testament are never described as holding a recognized office or position as in the case of pastors and evangelists. They spoke prophetically to the Body for edification and admonition. When they prophesied under the inspiration of the Spirit, their ministry was noted, but they were not ordained to hold a position, title, or office. They could indeed have been called prophets without designating them as filling an office. [5]

Besides which 1 Timothy 5:17 and 1 Peter 5:1-4 make it clear that it is the elders, not the prophets, that were to govern and shepherd the church.


2) The Canon
As shown, it was the Old Testament Prophets and the New Testament Apostles who between them wrote the Bible under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. They revealed God, wrote of His characteristics, and conveyed His Will and law to humanity. They wrote the history of man from beginning to an end we haven't reached yet, and answered questions of eternal importance to the universal church including the issues of God, Christ, sin, salvation, holiness, the end times etc. They steered the obedient believer on his path to eternity by means of teaching, rebuking, guiding, and exhortation.

And all this was set down in writing in what we call the canon. None of which can be altered or added to.

However there are many different types of revelation that come from God. While the Apostles and Prophets communicated revelation which was set down in the Bible and applicable to every person on earth, there is revelation that has absolutely no doctrinal element, and no authority over the church in general. This revelation has limited application with importance only to the person or persons to whom it is directed, and authority over only that person or persons. It communicates specific relevant information or instruction needed at that moment.

Now that the canon is Scripture is complete, this kind or revelation is the only kind that is acceptable as being from God, providing that it does not contradict the Scriptures. The prophecy that was of universal value to the Church, which was the exclusive domain of the Apostles apparently ceased around the end of the first century, after the death of John. Therefore one can not say that prophecy today is the same as prophecy in the Old Testament or the first century.

    [Note that even the Bible contains revelation of this nature.. For example Agabus' prophecy about Paul's imprisonment in Acts 21:10 and the Holy Spirit's instruction to send Paul and Barnabas to do the work He had called them to do in Acts 13:2-3, are examples of revelation that was relevant or had importance to only a few, and did not add to or detract from the canon. The other prophecy made by Agabus in Acts 11:28-30,  about the coming famine was more widespread in it's direction, instigating the disciples of Antioch to send contributions to the brethren living in Judea].

The purpose of the 'gift of prophecy' was largely for...


3) Edification And Exhortation...
As far I am aware, there are no instances of anyone in the New Testament using the gift of prophecy to rebuke and reprimand, as the Old Testament Prophets and the New Testament Apostles did. Rather the gift was to console, strengthen and build believers up. (The word "edify" simply means to 'build up' morally or spiritually).

After Pentecost this function could be carried out by any willing Spirit-filled believer, chosen of God. At any gathering of believers, any number of them could be chosen to prophesy, or deliver a message, which need not concern matters of importance to the church as a whole, but may simply be any combination of inspired guidance, direction, exhortation, encouragement, correction, admonition etc. for an individual, or the community as a whole. This was all part of the function of a prophet.

In the following verse the Greek word paraklesis translated exhortation is related to the word used of the Holy Spirit in John 14:16, when Jesus told the disciples that the Father would send them a Comforter (parakletos).  

    But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation (Greek paraklesis) and comfort to men. [1 Corinthians 14:3]

Noting that, according to Strong's Hebrew and Greek lexicon, the Greek word Episterizo means to strengthen or support further this certainly seems to be the role of Judas And Silas, both mentioned as prophets in the New Testament...

    And Judas and Silas, being themselves also prophets, exhorted the brethren with many words, and confirmed (Greek episterizo) them. [Acts 15:32]

...and is quite probably the role that the four daughters of Philip had.

    And on the morrow we departed, and came unto Caesarea: and entering into the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, we abode with him. Now this man had four virgin daughters, who prophesied. [Acts 21:89]


4) Convincing and Convicting The Unbeliever

There were at least one other reason given for the gift of prophecy, which was also said to help convict a non believer who came into a meeting of believers.  It is extremely interesting that this gift laid bare the secrets of this person's heart, which obviously convinced him that something of God was going on there. However once again this had little to do with laying the foundations of the church.

    Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to the unbelieving: but prophesying is for a sign, not to the unbelieving, but to them that believe. If therefore the whole church be assembled together and all speak with tongues, and there come in men unlearned or unbelieving, will they not say that ye are mad? But if all prophesy, and there come in one unbelieving or unlearned, he is reproved by all, he is judged by all; the secrets of his heart are made manifest; and so he will fall down on his face and worship God, declaring that God is among you indeed. [1Corinthians 14:22-25]

However this does not mean that God will never tell us of future events, But this will be done with the sole purpose of guiding us, not establishing nor teaching doctrine.


Ephesians 2:20 and Ephesians 4:11.. Prophets Vs. prophets
It is clear that not all prophecy in the New Testament was associated with laying the once and for all foundation of the church which was done by the Apostles (capital A), but was a gift bestowed on certain every day people for the common good of the body of Christ. Revelation from God that communicated so much support for the believers had to be vital in those unstable days, which is why Paul told the Corinthians to "desire earnestly to prophesy" [14:39].

It makes a great deal of sense that  that Ephesians 2:20 talks about the foundation of the church laid by the Old Testament Prophets and the New Testament Apostles, while Ephesians 4:11 and 1 Corinthians 12:28 speak of prophets in the sense of people given 'the gift of prophecy' or revelation from God intended to edify and exhort and build up the body of Christ. This is confirmed by the context.

Ephesians 4:11-12 says "And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ"

    The first six verses of Ephesians 4 speak of what all Christians possess in common, which is the basis of their unity. However verse seven opens with the word “But", which indicates a change of emphasis. Verses 7-14 speak of the unique gifts given to the individual Christian, intended to contribute to the body as a whole. The whole body grows when each believer finds his place of service and plays out his or her part.

1 Corinthians 12:28 reads "And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondly prophets, thirdly teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, divers kinds of tongues".

    The context of I Corinthians is along the same lines.. a diversity of gifts given by the same Spirit for the common benefit of the Church, in what is an obvious order of importance.

All of which points to the conclusion that the gift of prophecy has not ceased. Those who have a genuine gift of prophecy, can continue to function into the present time towards the building up of believers, an activity that will only cease with the second advent of our Lord. However for the time being no one occupies the office of a Prophet, a situation that will change, if not earlier, then certainly when the
Two Witnesses make their appearance. They will be a throw back to the Old Testament law that stated that, under the law, two witnesses were required, and were enough, to establish any fact. Their actions will more closely akin to the Old Testament Prophets than the New Testament Apostles.


Examples of Genuine Modern Day Prophets
I have met not one, but two honest to goodness, genuine prophets (spokespersons) of the Lord, neither of whom called themselves a prophet. It is highly unlikely that either of them even thought of themselves as such. Both their messages were very specific to the situation I found myself in. Both were delivered with quiet confidence. Both were preceded by the statement ... "The Lord said to tell you". And both incidents happened in a city far away from home where neither they, nor almost anyone else knew me.

One delivered a word of encouragement for the very difficult situation I found myself in, and the other told me what was going to happen, or rather what the Lord was going to do.

The first man certainly had never seen me before, therefore what he said to me was something he could not have possibly have known through any human agency. The second incident (in the same city) came about through the pastor of the church I had attended for a short while. In this case neither he nor I really understood what the Lord was talking about, and I even thought (at the time) that he must have been mistaken, as circumstances seemed to indicate exactly the opposite of what he said, although I soon found out differently. For details see I Will Be Your Support in the ‘Who We Are’ section of the site.


An Awesome Gift and Responsibility
There is however one important aspect common to both those that filled the office of the Prophet and those that are given the 'gift of prophecy'. Whether the person was foretelling the first or second advent of Christ, the rise of the Babylonians or the antichrist, or simply delivering a message designed to edify believers, both Prophet and prophet are in direct contact with God in a way that most others are not. A truly miraculous gift and awesome responsibility.

But with this gift comes responsibility.


False Apostles and False Prophets
Any and all genuine prophecy is a supernatural revelation from God. No person, regardless of how inspiring their message, nor how persuasive the manner in which they deliver it can be considered a prophet unless this message came directly from God. The prophet does not declare what he has taken from tradition, what he has thought up himself, or what he imagines to be true. He does not speak merely human words that could be 'mistaken'. When a so-called prophet says, "Thus saith the Lord," the person or persons to whom the message is directed ought to be able to take it to the bank which fact distinguishes it from other forms of preaching and teaching.  Since his words cannot be accepted or rejected on a "take it or leave it" basis, the prophet has to be held to the highest standards of accountability.

But the problem is that most non-specific "prophecies" one hears are little more than pious sentiments that can be made up on the spot by any Christian and which make them a false prophet. Make absolutely no mistake...The Bible has plenty to say about false apostles and false prophets...

    For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, fashioning themselves into apostles of Christ. [2 Corinthians 11:13]

    I know thy works, and thy toil and patience, and that thou canst not bear evil men, and didst try them that call themselves apostles, and they are not, and didst find them false; [Revelation 2:2]

    Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves. [Matthew 7:15]

    Beloved, believe not every spirit, but prove the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets are gone out into the world. [1 John 4:1]

    But there arose false prophets also among the people, as among you also there shall be false teachers, who shall privily bring in destructive heresies, denying even the Master that bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. [2 Peter 2:1]

The test of a prophet is not whether he is sometimes right but whether he is ever wrong. Deuteronomy 18:20-22 tells us that not only does a true prophet speak ONLY what God has commanded him to speak, but the penalties for false prophecy were enormous [All Emphasis Added]

    "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. You may say in your heart, 'How will we know the word which the Lord has not spoken?' When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.

Paul also throws in a word of warning, telling the Corinthians that any and all prophetic utterances had to be tested by all those hearing the message.

    And let the prophets speak by two or three, and let the others discern. But if a revelation be made to another sitting by, let the first keep silence. For ye all can prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be exhorted; [1Corinthians 14:29-31. Emphasis Added]

The reason for Paul's directive was that he knew that even the gifts of the Holy Spirit were subject to abuse and misuse. Prophets had to have God's word undergirding their messages, therefore Paul was making sure that their prophecies conformed to the Scriptures. If the prophet's message contradicted the Scriptures... if his words did not line up with God's word, he was to be considered a false prophet.

And, it was not the messages of the Old Testament Prophets, nor the New Testament Apostles who's words were to be judged. The Apostles were already recognized as the leaders of the fledgling church who put all doctrine and teachings in place, revealing Gods will as they did so. Their words, as well as the words of the Old Testament Prophets, were the standard by which the accuracy of the words of the New Testament prophets had to be judged. As Paul said...

    If any man thinketh himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him take knowledge of the things which I write unto you, that they are the commandment of the Lord. [1Corinthians 14:37]


Testing Prophecy
A word of wisdom from Gregory Koukl of 'Stand To Reason Ministries'. (Excerpted from Do Not Despise Prophecy, But...)

    …. when a prophecy is given, if we are to test prophecies, what that means is, at least minimally, that you have got to write the prophecy down and pray about it a little bit. How many churches do you know that give prophecies regularly that have a log of the prophetic words uttered in their services--or the alleged prophetic words--so that they can pray about them and test them to see if they are from God, or if it is prophetic in a futuristic sense, to wait and see if it actually comes true? I have never heard of a single church that did that. I wonder why they don't do it…..

    …. I think we should also put the name of the person who gave the prophecy in parenthesis at the end of the prophecy. Put down their address and phone number, too. Most people don't even know whether a prophecy is fulfilled because they don't write it down; they just forget about it next week because it doesn't matter what God says in a congregation from week to week the way most people treat prophecy. It doesn't really matter. We just say, Hallelujah. Praise the Lord. Glory. Then everybody forgets about it. If we wrote it down we wouldn't forget about it, and six months later we would find out that it was bogus. [6]


Continued in Part II [HERE]

 

End Notes
[1] John MacArthur. The Temporary Sign Gifts -- Miracles.
http://www.biblebb.com/files/mac/sg1856.htm

[2] John MacArthur.The Temporary Sign Gifts, Part 1.
http://www.gty.org/Resources/Sermons/1856

[3 Allan Turner. Does God Work Only In And Through The Word Today?
http://allanturner.com/hswork.html

[4] Richard B. Gaffin. Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? Four Views, Zondervan (October 10, 1996) Pgs. 42-43

[5] Assemblies of God  Position Paper. Prophets and Personal Prophecies.
http://www.ag.org/top/beliefs/topics/sptlissues_prophets_prophecies.cfm

[6] Gregory Koukl. Do Not Despise Prophecy, But... Stand To Reason Ministries.
http://www.str.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5216

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