Arguments for the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus strongly rely on testimonial evidence. Defenders of Jesus' resurrection as a historical fact typically argue that the writings of the New Testament are reliable first- or second-hand eyewitness testimonies in support of the resurrection, despite arguments to the contrary pointing out the implausibility of miracles (according to scientific common sense), the degree of uncertainty introduced by the antiquity of the writings (they were written about 2000 years ago) and the impossibility to interview the primary sources (all self-proclaimed eyewitnesses have long since died). Simply put, the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus consists of (1) the alleged first/second-hand eyewitness accounts compiled in the NT and (2) the willingness of early Christians to withstand persecution and martyrdom for what they believed to be true. Many find these two pieces of evidence put together compelling enough to warrant their belief in the resurrection. Others, more skeptical, would remain unwilling to accept the claim unless higher standards of evidence were to be presented.

To the best of my knowledge, cessationists have no issue whatsoever in accepting Jesus' miraculous resurrection on the basis of this "testimonial argument" referenced above.

That said, when it comes to the testimonial evidence of the spiritual gifts after the apostolic age, especially in modern times, an implicit double standard seems to be at play on the cessationist side. Contemporary firsthand accounts about how the spiritual gifts are still active abound. Unlike previous generations, in this internet era we have a privilege as never before to access an endless supply of firsthand eyewitness accounts witnessing to all kinds of miracles and supernatural experiences, including spiritual gifts such as tongues, words of knowledge, healings, etc. See the appendix below for a more exhaustive list of examples.

Surprisingly, despite the abundancy, recency and accessibility of contemporary firsthand eyewitness testimonies, cessationists usually disregard this evidence altogether, judging it to be unreliable, while paradoxically believing the eyewitness accounts for the resurrection of Jesus. Isn't this a case of double standard? What kind of logically consistent epistemology can simultaneously regard (1) limited 2000-year-old testimonial evidence as reliable and (2) abundant, recent and accessible testimonial evidence as unreliable?


Examples of evidence for the continuation of the spiritual gifts after the apostolic age:

  • 3
    Uttering incomprehensible speech is trivial; rising from the dead, not so much.
    – user46876
    May 8, 2021 at 12:19
  • 1
    @Lucian - what about real human languages, e.g. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.
    – user50422
    May 8, 2021 at 17:44
  • Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of modern day cases are not of that type.
    – user46876
    May 8, 2021 at 19:02
  • 2
    @SpiritRealmInvestigator Rather than "less reliable" I would substitute with "less useful". Keep in mind that cessationists don't rule out how God's still healing and performing miracles today, and they believe exorcisms are necessary on occassions . In fact I would argue that cessationists are more rigorous in evaluating contemporary evidence and more cautious in interpreting evidence once the phenomena in question has been certified as beyond natural explanation. May 8, 2021 at 19:07
  • 1
    @Lucian There's a relevant Dilbert quote: "On the internet, no-one knows you're a dog." The statements existing on freely-accessible internet sites does not mean they are truthful, correct, accurate, or verified. If a double standard exists, it is only (as you say) that dogma of alleged events 2000 years ago is less fully questioned, but then you run into the Credo problem where you literally cannot be a Christian (or at least some sects of Christian) without accepting these aspects on faith.
    – Graham
    May 8, 2021 at 21:38

2 Answers 2

  1. There is no reference to tongues/healings/miracles in the pastoral epistles nor the later writings of John. References to Pentecost are about the utterance of foreign, earthly, languages.

  2. Then no mention of such things, generally, until about 1905. Then an explosion of claims during the past hundred years.

  3. This looks like a modern movement with no apostolic basis in sound, doctrinal fact.

  4. It also follows the trend prophesied by Paul and Peter, in the last days, of a departure from sound doctrine and the pursuit of other things.

  5. The evidence stretches across two millenia, not just the last century.

  6. It is a distraction from Jesus Christ : his sufferings, death, resurrection, ascension and return.

  7. It rather draws attention to what is excessive and unbalanced.

Cessationists look at all the evidence across two thousand years and are regarding all the evidence in the apostolic documents, the gospels, the early epistles, the pastoral epistles, Peter's epistles, John's epistles and Paul's epistles.

This is weighed against extravagant claims starting at the beginning of the twentieth century.

There is no comparison between the evidence of the apostolic testimony of chosen vessels of Jesus Christ regarding Jesus Christ's resurrection . . . . . and the claims made in very modern times of peculiar, extravagant, unbalanced and unprofitable excesses among a small minority of Christendom.

No comparison whatsoever.

  • 1) What about 1 Cor 12? 2) You should probably read these: link 1, link 2. 3) See previous links. 4) There is a risk that you may be overgeneralizing here, by taking a few bad examples of abuse of the gifts and then thinking all instances are the same. It's like encountering a few black dogs and concluding that all dogs must be black. 5) See the previous links. 6) Are you saying that 1 Cor 12 is a distraction from Christ?
    – user50422
    May 8, 2021 at 17:10
  • 7) Again, you appear to be issuing a general judgement based on a few disappointing instances you may have encountered. That's a fallacious use of induction. If the weather is generally cloudy in my town, can I make the generalization that it is generally cloudy everywhere else on earth?
    – user50422
    May 8, 2021 at 17:13

What kind of logically consistent epistemology can simultaneously consider (1) limited 2000-year-old testimonial evidence reliable and (2) abundant, recent and accessible testimonial evidence unreliable?

Short answer

It has never been about epistemology, but about authoritative interpretation of what the miracles mean. NT testimony of Jesus & Apostles's miracles (A) passes reasonable epistemological standard, so Cessationists cannot be said to be guilty of being naive / irrational. Although Cessationists can accept that recent miracles and gifts (B) may have BETTER means of verification (using modern medical instruments, for example) as well as personal significance for the people involved (i.e. eyewitness becomes Christian as a result), A are STILL more valuable by a different order of significance since 1) it's connected to Jesus and the apostles and 2) the eyewitness testimonies are packaged with inspired personal interpretation of the NT authors. In short: We can do without B but A are indispensable.

Longer answer

First, the question is misleading as to the Cessationist's objection. What does "reliable" mean to the OP? I gather that it means the measure according to the scale used by either modern historiography (the kind of documentation) or modern science (empirical standard), both of which Cessationists consider valuable and use regularly in other contexts: studying church history, evaluating effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccines, etc. BUT "reliable" can also mean trustworthiness to be the foundation of faith and this is the sense that Cessationists apply to miracles reported in the NT as well as OT. Trustworthiness take us BEYOND the miracles to the source of the miracle as well as to the our response. Do they come from God or Satan (the Pharisees ask this to Jesus)? Do they lead to the orthodox faith or to prosperity gospel / new age / other religion?

Let's consider the unique miracle first: Jesus's Resurrection. Jesus's Resurrection is different in kind than the raising of Lazarus or the resuscitation miracles that are sometimes reported today not only in Christian missions but in other religions too! Jesus's Resurrection is the first fruit of God's giving new body that will live eternally. This first fruit has never been repeated, since all Christians have or will die on earth. This is the main reason why ALL Christians, including Pentecostals and other non-Cessationists, should value Jesus's Resurrection more than the contemporary ones. (Let's call the contemporary ones resuscitation to highlight the temporary nature of it, since they will die again).

Then there's the matter of interpretation of the miracles themselves: what do they mean? Examples:

  • I already mentioned that to Christians Jesus's resurrection is MORE than resuscitation, but sign of eternal life, first fruit of what we hope for ourselves. Of course non-Christians don't interpret this the same way, and that is my exact point: interpretation matters.
  • About the interpretation of spiritual gifts, Paul addressed this in 1 Cor 12-14 since the Corinthians interpret them wrong.
  • Then moving on along church history, there was the Gnostic interpretation: denying that body is relevant, leading to either un-Christian ascetism or to licentiousness (since body will die but only the spirit lives on).
  • Prophecies and Visions can also be interpreted as continuing revelation of God (see the Montanist heresy), which was why Cessationists position is often linked to the closed canon.

(to be continued)

Thirdly, how are the miracles connected with the faith being preached? Other religions may report miracles too. (to be continued)

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