4

In my experience chatting with cessationists, I've noticed that a very recurrent cessationist argument against the continuation of special revelations and sign gifts is what I would call the 'closed canon' argument. Presented in a deductive form, the argument would look something like this:

  • P1: God only gives special revelations to His servants/apostles with the purpose of revealing information that is intended to become part of the Biblical canon.
  • P2: God only gives sign gifts to His servants/apostles to authenticate their authority as conveyors of inspired messages intended to become part of the Biblical canon.
  • P3: The Biblical canon was closed at the end of the first century.
  • C1: Therefore, special revelations ceased at the end of the first century (from P1 and P3).
  • C2: Therefore, sign gifts ceased at the end of the first century (from P2 and P3).

I hope I represented the cessationist position accurately (if I didn't, please let me know in the comments).

Question: How do continuationists respond to the 'closed canon' argument against the continuation of special revelations and sign gifts? Do continuationists agree with the premises but reject the conclusions, or do they reject the premises, and if so, which ones and why?

Note: I think there are 5 different ways one could attempt to refute this argument: 1) show that the argument is logically invalid (i.e. the conclusions do not logically follow from the premises), 2) show that premise 1 is false, 3) show that premise 2 is false, 4) show that premise 3 is false or 5) any combination of the previous options.

2
  • Oh no you're right, I wasn't thinking properly. I didn't think about the whole think because of Frank's answer.
    – curiousdannii
    Sep 6 at 22:28
  • 1
    +1. For completeness, you may want to add what I think is the best statement of the Cessationist position in an article published in the Maranatha Baptist Theological Journal Fall 2013 issue: A Case for Cessationism by Fred Moritz, a Maranatha Baptist seminary professor, who responded to (among others) 3 cautious Continuationist evangelical heavy-weights: John Piper, Wayne Grudem, and Don Carson. Original PDF of the complete issue can be read and downloaded here. Sep 7 at 6:34
3

The principle of ex falso quodlibet applies here: as a false premise can be used to "prove" anything, if the premise of the argument is shown to be invalid, the entire argument falls. So let's examine the premises point-by-point:

  • P1: God only gives special revelations to His servants/apostles with the purpose of revealing information that is intended to become part of the Biblical canon.

Invalid logic at best, fatal at worst. If any examples of extrabiblical revelations can be cited, there are only two possible responses: either it invalidates the premise, or the cessationist must claim that it is a false revelation because it's not in the Bible, but this is (the proper usage of!) the fallacy known as "begging the question."

  • P2: God only gives sign gifts to His servants/apostles to authenticate their authority as conveyors of inspired messages intended to become part of the Biblical canon.

Directly contradicts the Bible in multiple points. In Mark chapter 16, Jesus says that signs and miracles will "follow them that believe," an exceptionally broad term that does not appear to be narrowly scoped to the apostles. In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul tells believers that they should all seek for the gifts of tongues and prophecy. Joel 2:28 states that "afterward ... I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions." Acts 2:17 quotes this prophecy and clarifies that it refers specifically to "the last days", or in other words, post-biblical times.

  • P3: The Biblical canon was closed at the end of the first century.

Not supported by the Bible. As I have written elsewhere on this site,

Nowhere in the Bible does it say that the Bible is complete or closed. (This is partially because the collection of individual works known today as "The Bible" wasn't actually compiled into its present form until centuries after the last of the individual works was written!) The common justification that Revelation 22: 18-19 prohibits "adding to or taking away from" the Bible is clearly invalid in light of this, even before you consider that Revelation was actually written before John's other works, including the Gospel of John itself, and that extremely similar language is found in Deuteronomy chapter 4. (Interpreted literally, that would invalidate the vast majority of the Bible, including the entire New Testament!)

Nowhere in any actual revelation or the writings of any prophet or Apostle does it say anything even resembling "Thus saith the Lord, my words are at an end." The concept emerged during the Reformation as a counter to Catholic traditional teachings that were not found in the Bible and, in the Reformers' view at least, directly contradicted teachings that were found in the Bible. It's a useful rhetorical device, but it is not itself a scriptural doctrine.

In fact, when you look at the history presented in the Bible itself, the concept of a closed canon is always associated with apostate groups. The Samaritans and the Saducees both held positions that diminished or invalidated (to different degrees) the prophets after Moses. Likewise, the Jews in the New Testament time refused to accept the new writings of Jesus's Apostles, and created the Masoretic Text (the basis for the modern Old Testament canon) as a closed work, stating that this was "The Scriptures" and nothing else could hold that status. Sound familiar?

So the first and third of these three premises are on shaky ground at best, and the second is flat-out false if you take the Bible at its word.

5
  • +1 so long as the new revelations do not contradict anything already given, right? Sep 15 at 19:59
  • @MikeBorden Acts chapter 10 would beg to differ...
    – Mason Wheeler
    Sep 15 at 20:20
  • The Jews excluded Gentiles by custom but they were never excluded by revelation. Sep 15 at 20:35
  • @MikeBorden I meant the way that it specifically contradicts and abrogates the revealed dietary laws on clean and unclean beasts, which was then used as an analogy for opening up the preaching of the Gospel to the Gentiles.
    – Mason Wheeler
    Sep 15 at 21:19
  • We can broaden that to include virtually all of the ceremonial and sacrificial law but it was not unprophesied, only misunderstood. The glory on Moses' face faded... Sep 16 at 12:44
2

Summary

P1 is false, P2 is false, P3 is false, and unsurprisingly C1 and C2 are false.

The Facts:

  1. Continuationists do not claim canonical revelation.

  2. Continuationists acknowledge no new canon has appeared since the Bible.

  3. The Bible does not say that prophecy and revelation are usually canonical, let alone necessarily canonical. If the only purpose of revelation was the canon, non-canonical prophecy wouldn’t have been going on. P1 is false. (It may be possible to complicate this point, but not change the result. If one claims “special” revelation is by definition canonical, then the statement is vacuously true, but with those definitions it would just mean that the revelation still happening is not “special”. Take care with this definition and argument. In no case can it be claimed that revelation and prophecy in general are canonical, and that’s what matters.)

  4. Signs were so ubiquitous that it’s unreasonable to claim they were only for authentication of authorship of the Bible. I also doubt there is any good case that scripture claims “God only gives sign gifts to His servants/apostles to authenticate their authority as conveyors of inspired messages intended to become part of the Biblical canon.” P2 is false.

  5. (1-3 is enough to make it irrelevant. But on top of all that, I’m almost positive that the Bible never says the canon is closed. P3 is false.)

Conclusion and Support

The idea that assembling the canon is going to be one’s cut-off point should not be conflated with the idea that a closed canon is itself evidence of cessationism.

The Bible contains dozens if not scores of descriptions of non-canonical prophecy.

1 Samuel 19:20 King James Bible

And Saul sent messengers to take David: and when they saw the company of the prophets prophesying, and Samuel standing as appointed over them, the Spirit of God was upon the messengers of Saul, and they also prophesied.

Numbers 11:26 KJV

But there remained two of the men in the camp, the name of the one was Eldad, and the name of the other Medad: and the spirit rested upon them; and they were of them that were written, but went not out unto the tabernacle: and they prophesied in the camp.

1 Peter 1:10-12 KJV

10 Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you:

I could go on. Paul seems to describe a state where every new church is prophesizing, including many individual members of each, very little of which was recorded.

One Possible Root of the Issue

It’s almost as if they claim God intervenes in His universe, enters the hearts and minds and bodies of His followers, heals the sick, saves the world, resurrects the dead.. so we would believe the Bible. Bibliolatry may be involved here. The book is great, but we need to know the author. The Logas of God, translated “The Word of God” is not a document. The Word of God is the Second Person of the Trinity. The words of God, the spirit-breathed divine scriptures, are important, but translating “The Logas”, which is Christ, as “The Word”, and then accidentally confusing that sometimes with scripture... all of that is the background story here. Faith in Christ saves. Not faith in the Bible. Of course they cannot be separated, but a saving relationship with the actual Divine True God (The Logas) doesn’t come solely from a book, or knowledge, without a surrendered heart.

We are clothed and counted as righteous through faith in The Living Christ.

5
  • The idea of the argument is that you cannot have more special revelations and sign gifts after the canon was closed, because otherwise it would mean that God would be authenticating further revelations that would extend the canon, and that would contradict the premise that the canon is closed. Therefore, by contradiction, we conclude that sign gifts and special revelations have to have ceased (if the premises are true). Of course, if the premises are false, the whole argument falls apart. Sep 15 at 19:28
  • Yes I noted the premises are false. Revelation is not usually canonical, let alone always canonical. Oooh. I see when I wrote “I dont get it”, it appeared I was saying I dont follow the logic. I dont follow how they can keep asserting false premises. I’ll make a change in a bit
    – Al Brown
    Sep 15 at 20:04
  • 1
    Al, I like how you used the phrase "canonical revelation" as a marker. It is helpful to make that distinction. See Everett Kalin's article here: ctsfw.net/media/pdfs/…
    – Jess
    Sep 15 at 20:52
  • Oh thanks for that reference. Interested in that.
    – Al Brown
    Sep 15 at 21:14
  • Edited as requested, i think.
    – Al Brown
    Sep 16 at 15:22

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .