Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Apostolic miracles

12 “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. 13 Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it (Jn 14:12-14).
i) Here are some elements of the cessationist argument:
a) They typically take Paul's discussion (1 Cor 12) of the spiritual gifts as their framework. Individuals who have a gift of healing, gift of xenoglossy, gift of prophecy. What ceases in cessationism is miraculously gifted individuals. 
b) They typically argue that if someone has a miraculous gift, then he can exercise that gift at his own discretion. Once God endows an individual with a miraculous gift, it operates autonomously. God has delegated that ability to the gifted individual. For instance, a healer is able to heal whoever he is willing to heal. (From what I've read, that's the position of Fred Butler and Sam Waldron.) 
c) They regard these gifts as essentially apostolic miracles. Their primary function is to authenticate the divine mission of the apostles. Hence, they cease with the apostles or their immediate disciples. That's the cut-off. It may be transmitted from an apostle to his disciple, but it's not transmitted from disciple to disciple. 
d) Some cessationists deny that answered prayer, however extraordinary, is ever miraculous. At most, an extraordinary answer to prayer is merely providential. (For instance, I've read things to indicate that's the position of Phil Johnson and Mike Riccardi.) 
Other cessationists might concede that answered prayer is sometimes miraculous, but it's not a "gift" of working miracles. (For instance, I've read things to indicate that's the position of Lyndon Unger and possibly John MacArthur.) 
ii) Cessationists of my acquaintance (e.g. Sam Waldron, Fred Butler, Matt Waymeyer) restrict the promise of Jn 14:12-14 to the Apostolate. Let's grant that narrow referent for the sake of argument.
iii) In v12, "greater works" denote miracles. That's admitted by cessationists. For instance:
Jesus was referring to miraculous works in John 14:12 when He spoke of “the works that I do.” This is clear not only from the immediate context of John 14 (see verses 10-11) but also from the greater context of John’s Gospel in which the miraculous works of Jesus gave evidence of His identity (see 5:36; 10:25; 20:30-31). And what miraculous works was Jesus referring to? He doesn’t name them, but the Gospel of John—which records only a fraction of the signs and wonders Jesus performed (21:25)—provides several examples:
  • Jesus changed water into wine (2:1-11).
  • Jesus healed a boy who was about to die (4:46-54).
  • Jesus healed a man who had been crippled and unable to walk for 38 years (5:1-9).
  • Jesus fed 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish (6:1-14).
  • Jesus walked on water (6:16-21).
  • Jesus healed a man born blind (9:1-41).
  • Jesus resurrected a man who had been dead for four days (11:1-45).

iv) But notice the relationship between v12 and vv13-14. Even though, according to cessationism, these are apostolic miracles, this does not involve an autonomous ability to work miracles. Rather, these are miraculous answers to prayer. Performing these miracles is conditioned on asking God to make it happen. It's not a blank check, where an apostle can simply fill in the desired amount, then cash it. Rather, it happens at God's discretion, not the apostle's. They can't just perform a miracle at will. Rather, God must will the miracle by honoring their prayer. 
Jn 14:12-14 is not about spiritual gift to work miracles, but a promise regarding God's willingness to perform a miracle upon request.  
That's a very different paradigm than the standard cessationist paradigm. Yet this is the programmatic statement of how the apostles perform miracles (assuming we restrict the promise to the Apostolate). 
v) By implication, this means that if miraculous answers to prayer occur in postapostolic times, that's a continuation of the promise in Jn 14:12-14. It doesn't terminate with the apostolic age. It's not confined to the Apostolate. 
It's arbitrary to cast the cessationist/noncessationist debate exclusively in terms of the continuation or noncontinuation of "gifts" or gifted individuals. That's not the only operative framework in the NT. That overlooks Jn 14:12-14. 
vi) Interpreters struggle with the unqualified language of vv13-14. Is that really meant to be unexceptional? Is that a command performance? Does God do miracles on demand?
Since this passage occurs in the Johannine corpus, there's probably an unstated caveat that's made explicit in 1 Jn 5:14: And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.


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

    Steve Hays on Cessationism

  2. Doesn't asking "in Jesus' name" [John 12:13-14; 16:24; cf. John 15:16 asking in the Father's name] imply that we're asking for something that would, at least in principle, be something Jesus would approve of (all things being equal)?

    Since this passage occurs in the Johannine corpus, there's probably an unstated caveat that's made explicit in 1 Jn 5:14

    1 John 5:14 sounds like John 15:7 (a verse continuationists have been quoting and standing upon for generations).

    If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. - KJV

    If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. - ESV

    If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. - NASB

    Christ's words abiding in us implies we would desire the types of things Christ would desire.

    Delight yourself in the LORD; And He will give you the desires of your heart. - Psalms 37:4 (NASB)

    He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him; He will also hear their cry and will save them. - Psalms 145:19 (NASB)

    The man Jesus healed of blindness said:

    We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. - John 9:31 (ESV)

    Presumably the writer of the Gospel of John agreed with that statement. If he also wrote the 1st epistle of John, then it's no wonder that the following verses are there too.

    21 Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God;22 and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. - 1 John 3:21-22 (ESV)

    14 And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.15 And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him. - 1 John 5:14-15 (ESV)

    Steve already cited verse 14. But notice how both verses refers to God "hearing" us as code for granting the specifics of our requests. That's also how the formerly blind man use the concept of God "listening" to the righteous (John 9:31) and how he applied it to Jesus who he therefore concluded must have been a righteous man. Otherwise God wouldn't have granted a miracle through Jesus (whom he later found out was the Messiah himself).

  3. Phil Johnson very clearly staked out the position outlined in sub-point "d.)" above during the Strange Fire Conference in his session entitled "Providence is Remarkable".

    He also went on to set forth a case for the purpose and role of miracles as being strictly revelatory in nature. I don't recall having come across this position being articulated by anyone else. Is this a novel position, or does it have roots in the Reformed tradition? Just curious.

  4. Off topic, but please consider praying for Dr. Rodney Decker ( He has cancer and is on hospice care. Thank you.