Dr. Andy Woods
Ecclesiology 30, Spiritual Gifts 9
7-22-18 Lesson 30
Father, we’re grateful for this morning, grateful today and grateful for Your grace. We’re thankful Lord that the same grace that saved us is the same grace that sustains us, and I just ask that the Holy Spirit will be active, involved, illuminating our Bible studies this morning. I ask for the Holy Spirit to work and I ask, Father, that we would leave here today changed people and only You can do that. We ask these things in Jesus name, and God’s people said… Amen.
Let’s open our bibles, if we could, to Corinthians, chapter 13:8-13. As you know we’re continuing on with our study on the doctrine of the church, kind of broadening it a little bit because one of the purposes of the church is for people to use their spiritual gifts. That kind of requires a treatment, if you will, of the whole issue of spiritual gifts. And then once you get into the subject of spiritual gifts everybody wants to know are all the spiritual gifts for today? So that’s rabbit trail number two that we’ve been going down. Rabbit trail one is the spiritual gifts rabbit trail. And rabbit trail two is the whole debate between the charismatics and the cessationists. And those are two big rabbit trails, aren’t they? So I’m going to try to pull us out of that rabbit trail today, at least one of those rabbit trails, and wrap up our teaching on the gifts that we believe have ceased, the foundational gifts, the confirmatory gifts and today I’d like to finish the treatment of why we believe the revelatory gifts have ceased.
But here are the seven gifts that we’re talking about: apostle, prophet, workers of miracles, tongues, interpretation of tongues, healing and knowledge. And as we have explained many, many Christians that love Jesus just as much as we do think that those seven gifts are continuing today in the church; they’re called continuationists. Our belief is in that second category on the screen, selective cessationism meaning we think those seven gifts stopped in the first century. And that’s basically what our teaching position at our church indicates.
And more important than understanding the teaching positions of Sugar Land Bible Church is understanding the biblical case why those seven gifts have ceased. And it really elates to taking the spiritual gifts and putting them into four categories. What we’re trying to argue is that the first three categories are gifts that have ceased. The majority of the gifts, at least sixteen, remain in the fourth category, edificatory, and they continue on. So by foundational gifts we’re talking about apostles and prophets, and as we’ve tried to explain that’s what the Lord built the church on, the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And since you lay a foundation one time we don’t believe that there are actual apostles and prophets today.
The second category is the confirmatory gifts and we’ve made a lot of pains to describe that there are certain gifts or miracles that cluster around time periods when God is doing something new. So at the age of the dawning of the church, Acts 2, God was doing something new; He was reversing His normal operation that had happened under the Mosaic Law for at least one thousand five hundred years, and so God testified to it through various signs and wonders. And that’s how we understand workers of miracles, tongues and the gift of healing. We look at those as sign gifts that authenticated the age of the church but since we’re not in a new dispensation today and the age of the church has been rolling on for two thousand years, there’s no need for those gifts to be in operation. And I’m sorry to just sort of dump this on you if this is your first time with us on this study, I would encourage you to go back into the archives and read or listen to or watch our explanations on this.
Right now I’m just sort of reviewing which takes to a third category of gifts called revelatory gifts. And revelatory gifts would be prophets, tongues and their interpretation and the gift of knowledge where people are being actually used as a divine conduit of revelation. In other words, when they speak God speaks and when they speak God is actually speaking through that person on an equal level as the Scripture itself. And we’re trying to argue that those gifts, revelatory gifts, just like the foundational gifts and confirmatory gifts have also ceased in the first century. So that’s sort of where we are in our study on this.
And we’re talking about prophet, knowledge, tongues and their interpretation, revelatory gifts. And the key passage on this whole thing is 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 which I’m going to hope to finish up this morning. So let’s refamilarize ourselves with 1 Corinthians 13:8-13. Paul says, “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.  For we know in part and we prophesy in part;” and here’s the key line here,  “but when the perfect” the Greek is telion [telion] in the original, “when the perfect comes, the partial” what’s the partial? Prophecy, tongues and the gift of knowledge, “the partial will be done away with.”
And in that transition Paul uses two illustrations. The first one is in verse 11, the second one is in verse 12. Paul says,  “When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.” That’s illustration number one, the transition from immaturity to maturity, once the perfect comes and partial revelations have been done away with. And then he says in verse 12, illustration two, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.  But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
So you obviously look at a passage like this and it says the partial is done away with when the perfect comes. So the twenty dollar question is what is “the perfect.” What does that mean, because you can document the petering out of these revelatory gifts at the manifestation of something called “the perfect” or the telion. And as you can imagine this is not an easy question to answer because there’s three views on the subject. The most popular view is the telion is the second coming of Christ or some kind of event related to the second coming of Christ, the rapture, the eternal state, something like that. And according to this view you can expect these revelations in part to continue until the second coming of Christ. And what I have done in prior teachings is I’ve given you the six problems with that interpretation. It’s a very popular view but there are six major problems with it.
Which takes us to view number two; the second view is the telion is the maturity of the church, and people define the maturity of the church different ways. But maturity has to do with, some say when the apostles died, or when the canon of Scripture was complete, or when the church made its final break with Judaism in A.D. 70. And they kind of throw this collection of data together and they say well, the church reached its maturity back in the first century so that’s when the gifts ceased. And I think that particular view is a lot closer to the truth than view one but I don’t think that’s the right view. Which takes us to view number three which I think we talked about last week, didn’t we? According to view number three, which is what our position is, is the telion or the perfect is the completion of the New Testament canon. Once the twenty-seventh book of the Bible of the New Testament was written, the Book of Revelation, that’s when the canon was complete (canon just means measuring rod), and therefore the partial gifts passed away at that particular point.
And I’ve sort of walked you through how that view works and that’s the position of Sugar Land Bible Church, a lot of people today are saying Lord, please talk to me, and what does the Lord do? He hands them a Bible, because we believe God has communicated already in these sixty-six books. Once that communication process was completed there was no longer a need for the revelatory gifts because now you’re holding in your hand a completed canon, which is complete. And as we have tried to explain it’s completely sufficient for all matters of faith and practice.
And I’ve tried to give you the strengths of this canon view and I think that’s where we were last time. The canon view works really well because it pits a partial quantity, gives in part, with a completed quantity, the canon. The canon view works very well because telios is used of the Scripture in the earliest book of the New Testament, which would be which book? The Book of James, over in James 1:25. [James 1:25, “But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.”]
The canon view works very nicely because Paul talks about a mirror in these verses, verse 12. And I’ll say more about the mirror a little bit later, but James, in the same chapter, in the same paragraph, when he’s talking about the law of God refers to the law of God as a mirror. What does a mirror do? It tells you the truth about yourself. If you’re looking good the mirror will tell you; if maybe there’s a few more gray hairs than you used to have, or maybe less hair than you used to have or maybe if you’ve gained a little weight since your high school days, the thing about a mirror is it won’t lie to you about that. And so that’s why mirrors can be very frustrating, can’t they, because we’re all decaying, aren’t we? “From dust you are to” what? “to dust you shall return.”
The mirror won’t pad its remarks to avoid hurting your feelings. So that’s how the Scripture functions, it’s like a mirror, it gives us an accurate assessment of who we are “in Adam,” and once you understand that you begin to understand our need for redemption. And you’ll see James using the telion as a mirror, or describing it as a mirror in James 1.
Beyond that the canon view handles real well the switch in the “now’s” in 1 Corinthians 13:13. [1 Corinthians 13:13, “But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.”] There’s a switch in the “now” at the end of verse 12, the Greek word is arti, and it switches to nun in verse 13. And I showed you a quote, I think last time, from The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, which indicates that when those two nouns are used simultaneously the arti is imminent (it could happen at any moment) and the nun is more talking about something that could stretch out between the two advents of Christ. So when Paul, in verse 12 says, “For now we see in a mirror dimly but then face to face” he’s talking about a shift that’s going to happen within the next four decades or so of his own life, actually beyond his life span when the canon of Scripture would be shut.
But in verse 13 when he uses a completely different word for “now” the nun or the nunni, he is talking about a great time period between the two comings of Christ where although the revelatory gifts will have ceased, faith, hope and love will continue. So even though we believe these revelatory gifts have ceased we still believe faith, hope, love continue today, right? But he says the greatest of these is what? Love, because when Jesus comes back I won’t have to have faith any more, I won’t have to have hope any more, but what will always continue? Love itself!
So you put these things together and the canon view really has a lot going for it although what you find with people is they just dismiss the view out of hand today without telling people the things that this view actually has going for it.
So that’s where we were last time, that’s where we ended off and what I want to do today is go over the objections to the canon view and I want to show you that each of these objections can be answered. I have, I think four objections to the canon view specifically, I’ll go through those very fast, and then I have four more objections to selective cessationism in general; these are things you’ll hear from people when you get into this discussion and I’ll try to answer those for you fast, and I’m hoping, God willing, we can open it up for questions towards the end. That’s the game plan anyway.
What are some objections to this canon view? The first objection is verse 12 where it talks about “face to face.” It says is verse 12, 1 Corinthians 13, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.” Now your average Christian reads that and they think it’s talking about face to face with God. In other words, they believe that when the perfect comes is the second coming of Christ and that’s when you’re going to see Jesus “face to face.” So they interpret “face to face” as fellowship with God, seeing Jesus directly face to face. And they’ll go through many, many verses where “face to face” communication is revealed as communication with God. For example, over in Judges 6:22, it says, “When Gideon saw that he was the angel of the LORD,” the “angel of the LORD many times in the Old Testament, as you know, is a preincarnate appearance of Jesus, not in every case but in a lot of cases and this may be one of those cases. It says, “When Gideon sat that he was the angel of the LORD he said, ‘Alas, O Lord GOD! For now I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face.’”
So there are many, many verses that use the concept of “face to face” as some kind of communication with God. I don’t know if you want to jot all these down but Genesis 32:20, Exodus 3:11, Deuteronomy 5:4, Deuteronomy 34:10, the Judges verse that I have there on the screen, Ezekiel 20:35. [Genesis 32:20, “and you shall say, ‘Behold, your servant Jacob also is behind us.’” For he said, ‘I will appease him with the present that goes before me. Then afterward I will see his face; perhaps he will accept me.’” Deuteronomy 5:4, “The LORD spoke to you face to face at the mountain from the midst of the fire.” Deuteronomy 34:10, “Since that time no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face’” Ezekiel 20:35, “and I will bring you into the wilderness of the peoples, and there I will enter into judgment with you face to face.”]
So “face to face” is used of direct fellowship with God many times in the Old Testament so people say well, that’s what it means here in verse 12. So therefore, the perfect is the second coming of Christ, that’s when we’re going to see Jesus face to face, and therefore that’s when the revelatory gifts will cease. See that?
But I’m here to tell you that “face to face” does not always mean direct fellowship with God. It can also mean direct revelation from God. In other words, God speaking to man rather than man having fellowship with God. And when you go back to the Book of Numbers, chapter 12 and verses 6-8 this is how God’s communication with Moses is described.
It says, “He said, ‘Hear now My words: if there is a prophet among you, I, the LORD, shall make Myself known to him in a vision. I shall speak with him in a dream. “Not so, with My servant Moses, He is faithful in all My household;  With him I speak mouth to mouth,” now there it’s not using the broader category “face to face” but the smaller category, “mouth to mouth,” obviously the face would include the mouth. “With him I speak mouth to mouth, even openly, and not in dark sayings, and he beholds the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid to speak against My servant, against Moses?”
And so here “mouth to mouth” or “face to face” is being used, when you look at this in context not so much to describe Moses’ fellowship with God, although that was part of it, but it’s being used to describe God’s disclosure to Moses. And I think that’s the way to understand “face to face” here, as communication from God to man and of course that understanding of “face to face” fits really well with the canon view because that’s when God’s revelation to man was completed in the first century through the twenty-seventh book of the New Testament. So “face to face,” what I’m trying to argue, can fit with the completed canon understanding of 1 Corinthians 13:10.
Now take a look at verse 12 very carefully and tell me if you see the word “God” in verse 12. It says, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face;” does it say face to face with God? It doesn’t say that at all; the word “God” has to be completely read into the passage. And for years and years I thought “face to face” meant second coming and I was psychologically or subconsciously, whatever word you want to use reading the word God into the passage but the passage doesn’t say God. It simply says “face to face.”
Now let me ask you a basic question: when you look in a mirror whose face do you see? Do you see God’s face; if you think you’re looking at God’s face in the mirror you may need some counselling of some kind, you might have a slight self-esteem issue that needs to be corrected. When you look in a mirror you’re not seeing God. Who are you seeing? You’re seeing yourself. And it talks here about a mirror. Now the word “mirror,” verse 12, is esoptrov [eseptron] in Greek and that word is only used one other place in the whole Bible, in the New Testament. Guess where it’s used? In the James 1 passage. The James 1 passage is the passage that I indicated earlier uses telion or telios to refer to God’s law or God’s Word. And in that same passage is the only other occurrence of the word “mirror” which is describing a feature of the Scripture.
So James 1:22-23 says, “But prove yourselves doers of the” what? “the word,” the context here is the Scripture, “and not merely hearers who delude themselves.  For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a” what does it say, “in a mirror.” So what am I trying to get at? When you go to the earliest book of the New Testament, and that’s important to understand because it was an established verbal meaning of words before the Apostle Paul even hit the scene, perhaps even before Paul was saved or right around that time period. What you’ll see in the oldest book of the Bible is telion, James 1:21-25, is used to describe God’s Word and God’s word in that James 1 passage is analogized to a mirror.
And what is Paul doing here in 1 Corinthians 13:8-13? He’s using the exact same words, telion, which I think means Scripture, completed Scripture, and he’s describing that feature of the Scripture as a mirror which gives you an honest self-assessment.
[1 Corinthians 13:8-13, “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.  For we know in part and we prophesy in part;  but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.  When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.  For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.  But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.”]
And so my point is you have a pretty strong case, do you not, that the telion here in 1 Corinthians 13 is not talking about the second coming, it’s talking about the completed canon, because number one, “face to face” can refer to not fellowship with God but God’s disclosure to man, Numbers 12. Number two, it fits with James’ use of the word telion. And number three, it fits with James’ use of the word mirror, which is only used one other time in the whole New Testament, in the Book of James.
So the completed canon view of the telion in 1 Corinthians 13 fits beautifully with Paul’s description of face to face. In other words, you don’t have to read into this passage the second coming of Christ, it doesn’t even say see God face to face. Paul is using terminology that his audience would be well aware of in reference to the completed canon of Scripture.
The second objection to the completed canon view is verse 12 when it says, “once the perfect comes we will know just as we are known.” And people say well, that’s got be the second coming of Christ, right, because when Jesus Christ comes back all of our questions are going to be answered and that’s when we’re going to know fully “just as we are known.” And so a lot of people will reject the completed canon view on that basis. They don’t see how it’s possible that a completed canon could so add to our understanding that we would know “just as we are known.” I’ve quoted in the past the great Martin Lloyd Jones who completely dismisses the completed canon view and he writes this: “It” that’s the completed canon view, “means that you and I have the Scriptures opened before us and know much more than the Apostle Paul of God’s truth… It means that we are altogether superior…even to the apostles themselves, including the apostle Paul! It means that we are now in a position which . . . ‘we know, even as we are known’ by God . . .” now look at how fast he dismisses this idea, he says, “indeed, there is only one word to describe such a view, it is nonsense.” [D. Martyn Lloyd Jones, Prove All Things, ed. Christopher Catherwood (Eastbourne, England: Kingsway, 1985), 32–33.]
So with the stroke of a pen he just dismisses it as ridiculous. And what I’m here to tell you is it’s not ridiculous when you understand that what the completed canon gives us in terms of understanding. The completed canon of Scripture is an all sufficient revelation and accompanying it is the ministry of the Holy Spirit which allows you to fathom its meaning and its depths when you use proper laws of language in your study. And if it astounding how much you can learn through that process. Think what we couldn’t know about a completed canon and now that we have it and also the enablement of the Holy Spirit think what we can know now. That transition, to my mind, fits with a transition from limited sight to full sight.
Are we omniscient today because we have a completed canon and the Holy Spirit? No, I’m not saying that but what I’m saying is the level of understanding that is attainable today that was not attainable to Christians in the first century, even to Paul himself, through those partial revelatory gifts is unfathomable what we can know. And didn’t Jesu tell us that that day would arrive.
He said to His disciples in the Upper Room, John 16:12-15, “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” See that? He wanted to talk about things to his disciples that the disciples didn’t have the ability to understand. Why couldn’t they understand it? There was no New Testament yet, and the Holy Spirit had not been poured out with its illuminating ministry as would happen in Acts 2.  But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into” what’s the next word there? 80% of the truth… is that what it says? It says “all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.  He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you.” Look at verse 15, what things, it doesn’t say 75% of things does it, it says “all things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you.”
You have to understand because of a completed canon and because of the ministry of the Holy Spirit that wants you to understand this book you’re sitting on top of a virtual goldmine that Isaiah and Jeremiah and the prophets of the Old Testament couldn’t even dream of. In fact, the apostles themselves, even Paul himself couldn’t even picture what we would have once that canon of Scripture was complete. It’s not a partial revelation; it is a complete revelation. So therefore, when Paul says, when the telion comes and the perfect comes you will know, just as you are known,” people say well that can’t be today. Yes it can if you understand what we have, not omniscience but an all sufficient revelation in linguistic form and the means of the Holy Spirit to understand it.
And we don’t even understand the riches that we have today because we’re too busy to do Bible study, we’re busy with other things when in reality Bible study is the greatest thing you could ever give yourself as a Christian. You’re able to understand things that even the apostles, the prophets of old could not understand.
Paul continues on and he talks about not heaven but the illumination of the Holy Spirit. Jesus in John 16 is not talking about heaven; He’s talking about the coming illumination of the Holy Spirit through a completed canon. Paul would write in 1 Corinthians 2:9-12, “but just as it is written, “Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, And which have not entered the heart of man, All that God has prepared for those who love Him.” I read that for years and thought that was talking about heaven. But watch the context of this. It says,  “For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches” what? 80% of things… it doesn’t say that does it, “the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God.  For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God.  Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things” what? “freely given to us by God.”
The context here is not heaven, the context here is Bible study available to a Christian in the post-canon age is what it’s talking about.
Paul goes on and he says,  “which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.  But the natural man” that’s the person without the Spirit, does not accept the things of the Spirit of God for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.  But he who is spiritual appraises” what? 80% of things, it doesn’t say that does it; it says, “all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one.  For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.”
All this stuff about “eye has not seen, ear has not heard,” in context that’s not talking about heaven; it’s talking about the illumination of the Holy Spirit with a completed canon. And so once the canon is complete, to my mind that handles the transition well, for now we know in part, then we will know in full. When Paull made this statement, about A.D. 56, the canon of Scripture hadn’t been completed yet and the church was dependent on these revelatory gifts, like knowledge, tongues, interpretation of tongues and prophecy. But Paul here is saying that’s just partial, once this canon is complete the Christian will have all knowledge, making the partial revelations unnecessary because of a completed canon.
And this doesn’t sell well today, what I’m saying, in a postmodern culture because what we’re being inundated with is post modernity which basically relates to what is called your epistemology. Epistemology is how we know what we know; that’s what epistemology is. And postmodernism is an attack on the type of epistemology that I’m talking about here because postmodernism says you can’t know. In fact, the only thing you can really know is you don’t know! And the only thing you can really be certain of is your own uncertainty. And the only thing that you’re not allowed to be agnostic on is your own agnosticism. That’s post-modernity.
So someone like myself that stands up and says you know what, you can know all things; you’re immediately attacked with the word arrogant, prideful, and what I’m trying to say is that is man’s philosophy being pushed against us. When you actually look at the words of Christ and you actually look at the words of Jesus Christ, the knowledge that you can have of God’s truth, there’s really no limit to it because number one, you’ve got a completed disclosure in sixty-six books. And number two, you’ve got the Holy Spirit to enable you to understand it. And beyond that, if that weren’t enough, you’ve got spiritual gifts in operation in the church, like the gift of teaching, to enable you to grasp divine details.
The only impediment to your knowledge is getting out of fellowship with God. That’s why there’s such a push by the world system to get you to go back into the flesh because if you go back into the flesh that doesn’t cancel your eternal destiny but it disrupts your moment by moment fellowship with God which will short-circuit the learning process. See that? But if you’re in fellowship, if you’re reading the Bible through proper laws of language, if you’re depending upon the Holy Spirit for understanding, you can know more than the Apostle Paul himself, is what I’m saying. And so when Martin Lloyd Jones just writes off this view as absurd I don’t think it’s absurd at all when you actually understand what is being said here.
So “knowing as known,” to my mind fits the canon understanding. The third objection that’s raised against the canon view if the competed canon was not in the mind of the Apostle Paul. The canon hadn’t been completed yet, it wouldn’t be completed for another forty years, roughly, and so what people say is you’re reading into the context something that’s not there. Well, here’s my answer: Paul, what was his occupation prior to him becoming a missionary and a Christian theologian, and an apostle? He was a Pharisee, wasn’t he. In fact, Philippians 3:5 he describes his former life in Pharisaism. [Philippians 3:5, “circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee;”]
And as a Pharisee he knew all about a closed canon. Now he knew about it, not in the sense so much of the New Testament canon that was being completed, I’ll show you in a minute that I think he did understand that, but he certainly had the concept in his mind from the Old Testament, any Pharisee would. So to say that you’re forcing Paul to talk about something that he is not understanding I don’t think works because Paul had a conceptual understanding of a closed canon by virtue of his occupation as a Pharisee. Do you see that?
And even as that canon was coming together in the New Testament, coming together in Paul’s lifetime I think there are things that Paul says that demonstrate an understanding of a completed set of writings that was coming together. For example, what does he say to Timothy when he’s in prison, 2 Timothy 4:13, bring my nightlight and my pillow? No, he says, “When you come bring the cloak which I left at Troas with Carpus, and the” what? “the books, especially the parchments.” What books would he be talking about? He’s talking about that finite set of writings that was in the process of being compiled. Paul will write to Timothy, I think it’s in 1 Timothy 6:20 and other places, he’ll say guard the deposit. [1 Timothy 6:20, “O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge.”] What deposit is he talking about? He’s talking about that finite collection of writings that was part of the canon.
Peter would speak of Paul’s writings in 2 Peter 3:15. [2 Peter 3:15, “and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you,”] And I appreciate what Peter says here. He says you know, some of the things that Paul says are hard to understand. Doesn’t that make you feel a little better. But he talks about how Paul wrote these things, this would be very late, A.D. 67, right before Peter’s death, A.D. 68, right in there, but Paul wrote with divine wisdom. So Peter is acknowledging the concept of a closed canon, as is Paul, Paul would already under the concept of a closed canon just by virtue of an Old Testament canon, because of his background as a Pharisee.
So this argument, the closed canon view, is completely out of context in terms of interpreting the perfect in 1 Corinthians 13:10, people say you’re reading into the context something that Paul is not talking about. [1 Corinthians 13:10, “but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.”] I think it fits the context very well actually, which would take us to a fourth objection to the closed canon view and this objection to me is probably the one that is the most troubling because to me it’s sort of self-serving. And even online I’ve gotten people who have viewed this course online and they’ll say “are you saying that there are two or at least one whole chapter in 1 Corinthians 14 that’s not for us,” because if my interpretation on this is correct and tongues, prophecy, interpretation of tongues and knowledge ceased what does Paul do in the first century with the completed canon? What is Paul doing in 1 Corinthians 14? He’s giving rules for the operations of those gifts.
So if those gifts had ceased then people say well, what you’re saying is the whole chapter of the Bible is not for us in the age of the church, because everything is about us, right? [Laugher] I call that not exegesis but narcissi-Jesus, where people want to see themselves in everything. And I guess my answer to that is the old maxim, all Scripture is for us, right? I mean, “All Scripture is God breathed and profitable….” [2 Timothy 3:16] but not all Scripture is directly about us. Romans 15:4 says, “Whatever is written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” So all Scripture is for us, all sixty-six books; there are things you can learn in all sixty-six books that will apply to your life. But that doesn’t mean that all Scripture is directly about us.
I mean, I hope when God told Joshua to slay the Canaanites, I hope you don’t sharpen your sword and head off to the Middle East. I hope when God tells Noah to build a giant ark, I hope I don’t drive by your house and see a giant construction in your driveway. I mean… don’t we all understand this! I hope also when the Book of Leviticus tells you to bring an unblemished sacrifice to the temple, and by the way, you shouldn’t even show up on Sunday, you ought to show up on Saturday and you shouldn’t be here in Houston, you should be in the Middle East doing it because that’s what the Book of Leviticus tells you to do. I hope when you read those passages you basically say well, all that is from God, we can learn truths from all those things and although all Scripture is for us not all Scripture is directly about us.
You do the same thing here in 1 Corinthians 14. Yeah, Paul was writing at a time before “the perfect” came when the revelations in part were fully functioning and he gives rules for tongues, interpretation of tongues, prophecy, and those kinds of things but he’s talking about a forty-year period of time before the canon was shut, meaning you read 1 Corinthians 14 with that subject in mind. Now you read 1 Corinthians 14 I guarantee you’re going to learn a lot of great stuff. You’re going to learn about discernment because it says let two to three prophets prophesy at a time and let the others pass judgment on what it said. There’s a great principle from there that you don’t just absorb everything anybody says but you filter it through the lens of God’s Word. There’s a concept of discernment there that you can apply today. It’ll say twice God is not a God of confusion and God is a God of order so you’ll read 1 Corinthians 14 and you’ll discover that God wants things done in an orderly systematic way in His church.
So there are great principles that you can derive from 1 Corinthians 14 with the understanding that a lot of the things Paul is talking about there related to rules concerning the revelatory gifts have ceased. I don’t just do that in 1 Corinthians 14, I do that anywhere in the Bible. I do that in Genesis, I do that in the Book of Leviticus, and one of the things that… I taught in a Bible college for seven years with a lot of millennials, one of the reasons that they are rejecting the interpretation that I am giving here, which is basically what you call dispensationalism, is they get upset when you tell them that certain parts of the Bible are not directly about them; it’s for them but not about them. And you can stand up in front of a class full of millennials and you can argue your point until the cows come home but what they want to do is take any verse of the Bible and make it about them, I would say because of narcissism and selfishness.
And so, you’ll notice that a lot of young people will reject the interpretation I’m giving because they don’t like the idea that the whole Scripture is not directly about them and they want to go into any passage of the Bible, rip it out of context and claim it for their spiritual quiver of the day. That’s what they want to do! And when you start to rightfully, as 2 Timothy 2:15 says, divide the Word of God, and you start to teach the subject of dispensations you can watch the walls go up in the minds of young people, not all but many who (to my mind) are very narcissistic, very, very self-centered. [2 Timothy 2:15, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” KJV]
And this is one of the reasons I believe this view that I’m giving here, dispensationalism, is dying in the minds of younger people. They don’t like it, they don’t like it going into 1 Corinthians 14 and having somebody tell them that not everything happening in 1 Corinthians 14 is happening in the church today. For whatever reason that bothers them and it’s because of this subject of narci-Jesus that I call it that many of them reject this kind of interpretation.
So what is the bottom line, BLT, bottom line time? Ready? What is the perfect? The perfect is the completed canon which finished in the first century, which means the revelations in part, prophecy, tongues, and the gift of knowledge, ceased when the canon was completed in the first century; that’s the bottom line. And when you go through all the different views on the subject, the eschaton view, the maturity of the church view, the completed canon view, I believe that the completed canon view, although it’s completely ridiculed today and dismissed, is actually the view that makes the most sense when you begin to look at ALL of the biblical data. The Sugar Land Bible Church, therefore, takes the position that the revelatory gifts ceased when the canon of Scripture was completed. That’s when “the perfect” came. That’s our understanding of 1 Corinthians 13:10. [1 Corinthians 13:10, “but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.”]
Now having said all that let me very quickly give you, not just the specific objections to the canon view, which I just did, let me give you the broader objections, at least four of them, to the doctrine of selective cessation.
Objection number one is people say well, wait a minute, you say there is no prophets today, doesn’t the Bible predict prophets in the future. I mean, doesn’t Joel 2 say your sons and daughters will what? prophecy. [Joel 2:2, “It will come about after this That I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; And your sons and daughters will prophesy, Your old men will dream dreams, Your young men will see visions.”] Doesn’t Revelation 11, we’re studying Revelation during the main service, eventually we’ll get to Revelation 11, hopefully before the rapture itself, but doesn’t Revelation 11 talk about two prophets? So how can you say the gift of prophecy has ceased when the Bible clearly predicts in the future there’s going to be prophets. Well, the answer to that is you have to distinguish between Israel and the church. Joel 2, Revelation 11 is God’s end time program for Israel. Where is the church when that happens? It’s in heaven. When Paul talks about prophecy ceasing he’s not talking about prophecy ceasing forever, for all time, he’s talking about how that’s going to work in the church once the canon of Scripture is complete.
So the way to handle objection number one is to go back to the Israel/church distinction. You have to figure out what parts of the Scripture pertain to the church and what ones pertain to Israel.
Objection number two is if you take prophecy and knowledge out of the church, as the interpretation that I’m giving you does, then the objection is you’re leaving the church without the benefit of understanding or proclaiming Scripture. And what I would say is this, and this comes from my mentor, J. Dwight Pentecost. He said, “Once the canon of Scripture was completed the gift of prophecy gave way to the gift of preaching.”
In other words, a preacher today is not receiving direct revelation from God. If you’re in a church where the preacher is claiming to have direct revelation from God you might want to think about finding another church because that’s a scary situation to be in. What a preacher does today is he seeks to understand, through the illumination of the Holy Spirit, and he seeks to proclaim what God has already said. So in that sense the gift of knowledge and the gift of what we would call prophecy, sort of shifted once the canon of Scripture was shut. No longer was it a direct word from God but it was the capacity to understand what God has already said in these sixty-six books. No longer was it being a direct channel of God in terms of being a direct vehicle of communication from God but now it was the spiritual gift of proclaiming what God has already said. See the difference there?
When you understand knowledge and prophecy the right way then God has given to the church, even in the twenty-first century both the means or the means I should say of understanding and proclaiming Scripture.
The third objection you run into on the subject of cessationism is you get called, I’ll say this really fast, they say well, you’re an anti-super naturalist. In other words, you don’t believe in miracles, you don’t believe God can heal, you don’t believe that God works providentially in the affairs of men. And you have to be very careful handling this objection because we have never said in this study that God doesn’t heal. Have we ever said God doesn’t heal? We believe God heals. What we say has ceased is the gift of healing. See that? And now it’s very, very different when God heals, and He does heal people, does He heal everybody? Not necessarily, we’ve gone through teachings on that. But He can and does heal. When God heals He does it directly rather than indirectly through someone claiming the gift of healing. See the difference there.
So we have this chart that we’ve used before, it’s the distinction between how God does miracles today versus how He did miracles when all of these sign gifts were in operation. So I completely and totally reject the label that people want to throw on us constantly, that you don’t believe in miracles and you’re an anti-super naturalist. Listen, if I was an anti-super naturalist why would I pray. I mean, the whole basis of me praying is for God to move His hand. Right? I pray for government, I pray for people to get well, I don’t boss God around because He’s the creator and I’m the what? [someone says creature] Well, worse than the creature, I’m the lump of clay, I mean, how can a lump of clay say to the potter “why did you make me this way? Romans 9. I don’t order God around, I ask in His grace for His hand to move. I do that all the time. Why would I do that if I believed God didn’t do miracles.
So people are very clumsy with their language, they’ll throw anti super naturalist at you, it’s just not true. What we’re saying is there was a transition from how God did it prior to the closing of the canon versus how God does it today. But recognizing that distinction does not make you an anti-super naturalist. In fact, our own doctrinal statement on this subject says: “However we affirm that God is sovereign and may in His discretion heal” when? “today. “So we believe in divine healing, we just don’t believe in the sign gift of healing.
And the last objection I’ve already handled in this class at other times, but you’ve heard this one, my personal favorite, you’re putting God in a box. Whenever you get into this subject someone will say you just put God in a box, as if I had the ability to put God in a box! When you say God doesn’t work in such and such a way today they’re say you’re limiting God, you’re putting God in a box. No, it’s not putting God in a box, it’s defining God by the parameter that He Himself has established. See that? If God Himself has set up certain parameters, that’s what we’re arguing, then we would expect God to work within those parameters, right?
For example, can God tell a lie? He cannot. How do I know that? Because it contradicts His character, Hebrews 6:18. [Hebrews 6:18, “so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us.”] Well did I just put God in a box? I just said God couldn’t do something. Why don’t they say you’re putting God in a box when you say God can’t lie? No, you’re defining God by how He has revealed Himself. See that?
Let me ask you a question, can a person be saved by good works? I mean don’t we see it all the time, God will not save a person if they’re trying to be saved by their good works. Why don’t we say well you just put God in a box? No, I didn’t put God in a box, I’m defining how God works based on parameters that He has already established. So, I’m just sort of trying to help us understand some of these arguments against selective cessationism.
What’s the bottom line? Revelatory gifts have ceased as have the confirmatory and foundational gifts. And nest time we convene, next week, I’ll show you excerpts from church history where key theologians will testify that those three categories of gifts have ceased so we’ll get into that subject. In other words, what I’m teaching is consistent with the testimony of church history and then there are some other categories that we will cover as well.
So we’re finished talking about the gifts that have ceased except for a few more comments. And we’ve got a couple of minutes left for questions. So, does anybody have a comment or a question, questions are preferred but comments are acceptable.
[Someone asks a question, can’t hear.] Great question; how do you know what Scripture is speaking towards the church and Israel? I would go to Acts 2 when the church started, and hang a right, and I would keep taking Scripture as church age truth right up to Revelation, end of Revelation 3, because Revelation 4 is the church in heaven. And if I can be so bold I would throw into the mix some transitionary statements Jesus made, particularly in the Upper Room Discourse. John 13-`7 when He is revealing a shift of rules that is about to happen and we know that shift of rules happened I Acts 2. So if it’s Upper Room Discourse or Act 2 through Revelation 3 you’ve a pretty good be thinking the Scripture is directly about the church. Does that help at all. Does that mean we throw out everything else? No, all Scripture is for us but not all Scripture is about us. So if you’re finding something in the Old Testament that you want to claim as your life verse, and a lot of people do that, they’ll claim Jeremiah 29:11 or whatever.
I would encourage you to find that same principle, not just in the Old Testament but if you find the same principle, like God provides, those kinds of things, if you can anchor it in the epistles you’re in pretty good shape claiming that promise. If it’s some promise that you can’t find anywhere in the epistolary literature you might want to rethink how you’re using that particular Old Testament verse. Now again, this is not popular teaching because you’ve got on your refrigerator all kinds of verses, and it’s sort of disappointing to learn that, oh my gosh, maybe that’s not directly about me. So that’s what I would call narci-Jesus, right. Any other questions.
[Someone asks a question, can’t hear.] Well, that’s true, the revelatory gifts were still functioning but remember what he says when a prophet prophesies the others are to listen carefully and weigh what’s said. So if some prophet is saying something contradictory to something that has already been revealed through the apostles then it’s not valid. So even in that time period, remember the Bereans, they were considered more noble than the Thessalonians because they searched the Scriptures daily to see what Paul said was true. So they were open to those revelatory gifts but they understood that those revelations could never contradict what God had already said. That’s how I understand it, not exceed what’s written. Does that help at all?
Father, we’re grateful for this truth and I ask that You’ll help us grow in our understanding and appreciation for what we have today. We’ll be careful to give You all the praise and the glory. We ask these things in Jesus’ name, and God’s people said…