Saturday, November 16, 2013

How cessationism denies the self-attesting authority of Scripture

I'm going to comment on the latest round of chronic confusions by Ed Dingess:

In his debate with Mike Brown, Sam Waldron repeatedly asked Brown to discuss why believe in a closed canon. Brown never acknowledged Waldron’s question, let alone try to answer it.

Brown specifically responded to that question. Ed may think Brown's response was inadequate, but it's dishonest of Ed to say "Brown never acknowledged Waldron’s question, let alone tried to answer it." However, honesty has never been Ed's strong suit. 

The historical events of revelation are necessarily unique to any other kind of history. It is fascinating to me that bloggers like Steve Hays repeatedly fail to address this uniqueness appropriately. In fact, if one reads enough of Steve Hays, they are left to wonder if he considers any event recorded in Scripture any differently than any other event. It would seem not to this writer.

i) One of Ed's typical confusions. By definition, every historical event is unique. Certain types of events are repeatable, such as human birth. That kind of thing happens repeatedly. But every particular birth is still unique. Each individual is only born once. 

ii) The Resurrection of Christ is fairly unique. That's a one-time event in church history. However, it's not unrepeatable. To the contrary, the Resurrection is the archetype and prototype of the endtime resurrection of the just. 

iii) By contrast, the Incarnation of Christ is both unique and unrepeatable. 

iv) Redemptive history has a progressive, irreversible quality to it. One thing builds on another. Fulfillment succeeds promise. 

v) Likewise, some historical events are far more significant than others. Both the birth of Christ and the birth of Groucho Marx are unique events, but they are hardly of equal significance. 

vi) Ed also fails to distinguish between the uniqueness of an event and the uniqueness of the record of an event. 

In the Gospels, the same event is sometimes recorded three or four times. At other times, only one Gospel records a particular event. 

To summarize then, the sin nature has made it necessary for God to provide man with a self-attesting, fully sufficient, clear, and reliable revelation of Himself.

This is another example of Ed's incorrigible confusions. Cessationism explicitly denies the self-attesting authority of Scripture. According to cessationism, prophets and apostles must be attested by miracles. That's the evidentiary function of the so-called sign-gifts in the cessationist schema. Scripture must be attested by something other than Scripture. Something independent of Scripture: miracles.

Cessationism involves a two-step argument. Cessationism doesn't begin with the authority of Scripture. Cessationism denies the presuppositional authority of Scripture. According to cessationism, the authority of Scripture is merely the conclusion we draw after evaluating the miraculous credentials of the apostle or prophet.  

Moreover, the two-step argument of cessationism is just one stage in a multi-step argument. As Warfield put it:

Meanwhile, as for Christianity itself, it has remained up to this point–let us frankly say–the great assumption. The work of the exegete, the historian, the systematist, has all hung, so to speak, in the air; not until all their labor is accomplished do they pause to wipe their streaming brows and ask whether they have been dealing with realities or perchance with fancies only. 
We must, it seems, vindicate the existence of a senses divinitatis in man capable of producing a natural theology independently of special revelation; and then the reality of a special revelation in deed and word…
But certainly, before we draw it from the Scriptures, we must assure ourselves that there is a knowledge of God in the world. And, before we do that, we must assure ourselves that a knowledge of God is possible for man.And, before we do that, we must assure ourselves that there is a God to know. Thus, we inevitably work back to first principles.
It is easy, of course, to say that a Christian man must take his standpoint not above the Scriptures, but in the Scriptures. He very certainly must. Be surely he must first have Scriptures, authenticated to him as such, before he can take his standpoint in them. Selected Shorter Writings, 2:96-98.

Now Ed may disagree with Warfield's apologetic method. But that's the framework within which cessationism operates, with its authenticating miracles. If Ed rejects that framework, then he rejects a crucial supporting argument for cessationism. 

Now, what is the impact of the position of men like Steve Hays on this age-old position of orthodoxy? If Hays is right that there is nothing unique about what God did in the divine revelation, then it follows that the nature of Scripture as we have come to know it is significantly diminished. The awe inspired by God speaking to Moses or Jesus appearing to Paul is reduced by the phenomena of God speaking to Benny Hinn…

Since Benny Hinn is demonstrably fraudulent, Ed's example is predicated on a false premise. 

…and Jesus appearing to Muslims.

I haven't taken a position on that specific claim.

According to some, this happens all the time, and it really isn’t nearly as rare and therefore as special as orthodoxy claims it is. In this view, there is nothing unique about the record of Scripture. How God interacts with us is no different from how He interacted with Israel, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Peter, or Paul. The result of Steve Hays’ argument is a massive downgrading of the revelation of Scripture. 

I specifically distance myself from the claim that "this happens all the time." 

More to the point, if that's a massive downgrading, then did the Spirit massively downgrade Scripture when he told Phillip to witness to the eunuch? If that's a massive downgrading, then did the angel massively downgrade Scripture when he appeared to Cornelius? Did God massively downgrade Scripture when he sent revelatory dreams to the Magi or Pilate's wife? 

This is unavoidable. Hays has said as much himself. He has repeatedly insisted that we are wrong to claim that Scripture is different, it is unique, that what God has given us in Scripture is nothing more than He gives some today.

Notice that Ed doesn't quote me on that.

Finally, the idea of an authoritative canon, a standard by which all truth could be known is completely obliterated by the idea of an open revelation. The point and purpose of a closed canon was the final sealing off of what is self-authoritative, clear, sufficient, and reliable from what is subjective, ambiguous, and questionable. You see, if the canon is closed, all God had to say, needed to say, wanted to say and all we needed to hear and know, we have in the canon of Scripture. However, if revelation is open and prophets continue, the canon cannot be closed…The whole point of closing the canon was fixing the divine standard by which all claims to truth and knowledge would be measured. 

Another example of Ed's incorrigible confusions. By that logic, OT Jews were unable to distinguish true prophets from false prophets, lacking, as they were, a closed canon to furnish their standard. By Ed's logic, the Christians of Thessaloniki were unable to test prophecies, contrary to Paul's command (1 Thes 5:19-21), because the canon of Scripture was incomplete at the time Paul wrote his letter.

According to the non-cessation argument, revelation and prophecy continue. This revelation and prophecy are genuinely new disclosures from God. 

Natural revelation includes "new disclosures" from God. New truths. In his post, Ed himself appeals to natural revelation. Well, something new happens everyday. We discover something new every day. If it rains, that's a "new disclosure" from God, via natural revelation. We know something about today that we didn't know the day before. Revelation encompasses event-media as well as word-media. History reveals God's master plan for the world. Each new day reveals something new about God's plan. 

We know that Matthew’s gospel is self-attesting, reliable, and authoritative. It is binding because it is the word of God. 

According to cessationism, Matthew's gospel is not self-attesting. Revelatory claims must be attested by miracles. Unfortunately for cessationism, there's no record of Matthew performing any miracles to authenticate his apostolic claims. So, by cessationist logic, Christians ought to exclude Matthew's gospel from the canon.

The question we have then is related to faith and reliability. How can we know for sure that God has spoken when this speaking is not on par with Scripture? We know this by the witness and testimony of the Holy Spirit Himself. However, I do not have the same witness about modern claims of revelations and dreams and prophecies. Indeed, I cannot have the same level of confidence.

Revelatory dreams don't require speech, much less divine speech. 

If the canon is in fact closed, and divine revelation is fixed and sufficient as well as clear, then whatever these moderns are claiming is unnecessary. We simply don’t need it.  However, one has to ask if God is in the habit of giving us revelation and dreams and prophecies we don’t need. And if we do need them, then one has to justify why we have closed the canon. If we do need them, then Scripture is not sufficient.

How did Phillip know about the eunuch? Did he read about that in Scripture? 

Furthermore, someone is going to have to come up with a way for arguing how on earth it is remotely possible to defend these new prophecies as fully reliable, totally clear, self-attesting, and authoritative.

i) Even Bible prophecies aren't "totally clear." For instance, premillennialists disagree with each other on how to interpret certain Bible prophecies.

ii) Cessationism denies the self-attesting character of Scripture. Why is Ed so dense? Why is he constantly unable to grasp the logical implications of his own commitments, even after someone walks him through the process? 

iii) Who says modern "prophecies" must be "authoritative"? Is a premonition authoritative? Is a premonition a command? 

Incidentally, even if Ed had a good argument for the cessation of revelatory dreams, that's hardly an argument for the cessation of healers. 


  1. ...…and Jesus appearing to Muslims.

    There are also claims of Jesus allegedly appearing to Christian missionaries too. For example, here's one video testimony of a persecuted missionary:

    I don't automatically accepted it as true, but neither do I a priori reject it as false.

  2. In this view, there is nothing unique about the record of Scripture. How God interacts with us is no different from how He interacted with Israel, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Peter, or Paul. The result of Steve Hays’ argument is a massive downgrading of the revelation of Scripture.

    Even in the OT there were different levels of clarity and authority when it came to prophets. In the incident of Moses marrying a Cushite woman, Miriam and Aaron said, "Has the LORD indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us also?" (Num. 12:1). Aaron and Miriam were in essence claiming equal authority with Moses. But instead the LORD got angry with Aaron and Miriam and said,

    "Hear now My words: If there is a prophet among you, I, the LORD, make Myself known to him in a vision; I speak to him in a dream. 7 Not so with My servant Moses; He is faithful in all My house. 8 I speak with him face to face, Even plainly, and not in dark sayings; And he sees the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid To speak against My servant Moses?"

    At the very least the LORD is saying that Moses' prophecies were clearer. I think it's not an unfair inference to say that the revelations Moses received from God and gave to the people were also of a higher authority than those given to and through other prophets. Even today, while the entire Tanakh is considered God's Word by Jews, the Torah has greater authority and preeminence over the rest of their canon [i.e. the Nevi'im ("Prophets") and Ketuvim ("Writings")].

    If there were gradations of authority among OT prophets, then why couldn't there be among NT prophets? It only makes sense. Otherwise there would have been no point in Scripture distinguishing between Apostles/apostles and prophets since prophets would have the same authority and prerogatives as A/apostles (cf. Eph. 4:11). From our perspective, the NT Apostles of Christ were on par with and were the counterparts of OT Prophets. Yet, when you read the writing of or about the NT Apostles of Christ in the NT, they didn't seem to regard themselves as their equals. Regardless of their self-perceptions, it doesn't really matter since they seemed to follow the principle of Prima Scriptura. That the already recognized Scriptures takes precedence over (and judges) any further alleged revelations. Including the teaching of the Apostles and apostles themselves. That's why Apostles and apostles could and were judged (Acts 17:11; Rev. 2:2; Gal. 1:8-9). If an Apostles or apostle deviated from Scripture or the received Gospel of the early church, they were to be rejected as false or apostate Apostles/apostles. So, regardless of the closing of the Canon of Scripture, Scripture took precedence. Therefore, if Scripture took precedence during OT times when revelation on par with Scripture was still being given (by their practice of Prima Scriptura), then there's no inconsistency in Scripture taking precedence after the closing of the canon even if there are revelations being given that are NOT on par with Scripture (i.e. in the present practice of Sola Scriptura).

    To summarize:
    1. there were gradations of authoritative prophets in the OT (e.g. Num. 12:1-8; there were schools of the prophets in the OT where there were "prophets in training")

    2. there were gradations of authoritative prophets in the NT (e.g. there would be no need for a distinction between the office of Apostle/apostle and prophet in Eph. 4:11 if prophets had the same ability to give equally authoritative revelations as the Apostles of Christ. Especially since some were prophetesses [i.e. female prophets, cf. Acts 21:9; 1 Cor. 11:5])

    3. If Prima Scriptura could operate during OT and NT times when revelations were still being given which were fully authoritative to the highest degree, then Sola Scriptura can operate after the close of the canon even though revelations not authoritative to the fullest degree are still being given.

    1. Also, if NT prophecies of NT prophets (who were not themselves apostles or Apostles) could ONLY be revelations on par with Scripture's authority, then there would not have been any injunction to test prophecies (1 Cor. 14:29-32; 1 Thess. 5:19-22). How dare anyone test any fully authoritative "thus saith the Lord" if it were on par with Moses' ability to give revelations? On the contrary, all were encouraged to ask God for the gift of prophecy and to be able to prophesy.

    2. I've collected most of Steve's recent posts on cessationism and continuationism in chronological order at the following blog:

      Steve Hays on Cessationism

      If anyone is interested, my tentative views on prophecy can be read in the comments of these blogs: