Another Reason Why the Historical Absence of the Spiritual Gifts Does Not Mean They Have Ceased

This is a guest post by Jesse Wisnewski, blogger at Reformed and Reforming and MDiv student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

Back in February of this year I wrote a piece on why the apparent “absence” or “disparity” of the gifts of the Holy Spirit (i.e. revelatory and miraculous) is not a valid reason to contend for their absence today. Today I’m not going to rehash what I already said, but rather I’m going point to another reason why this position is invalid.

While reading through Garrett DeWeese and J.P. Moreland’s Philosophy Made Slightly Less Difficult, I discovered that this particular historical argument for the cessation of the gifts of the Spirit is considered an argument from ignorance (argumentum ad ignorantium), which is an informal fallacy of reasoning.

What is an Argument from Ignorance?

As defined by the authors, an argument from ignorance is:

This fallacy involves citing the absence of evidence for a proposition as evidence against it.  But of course, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence (pg. 20).

In other words, just because we don’t know something doesn’t mean there isn’t anything.

For instance, if I were to learn something new today that happened in world history, this doesn’t mean that this fact wasn’t true until I learned it.  It has always been true, I just didn’t know that it was until I first read about it.

How Does this Disprove the Cessationist Postion on History?

Even though many cessationists point to the supposed lack of historical evidence for disproving the continuation of the gifts of the Spirit today, the supposed lack of evidence is not evidence of their absence.

To claim that the supposed lack of historical evidence supports cessationism fails on two fronts:

First, it goes against history since there is a plethora of historical records (also see The Charismata in Church History).

Second, it goes against reason to say that the absence of evidence is the evidence of absence.

Although miraculous activity may have surrounded certain times in Biblical history (Moses, Elijah and Elisha, Jesus and the Apostles) this doesn’t mean that the Spirit of God was not working at any other time in between or after those clustered periods.

In the End

When I first became exposed to the [reformed] Doctrines of Grace, I tried to force myself to believe in the cessation of the gifts of the Spirit.  It wasn’t because I thought it was Biblical, I had some bad experiences and didn’t like what I was seeing around town, on T.V., and hearing on the radio.

After considering the typical reasons given in support of the cessation of the gifts of the Spirit, I just couldn’t go there.  The case for the apparent “absence” or “disparity” in the quality of the gifts of the Spirit in history and today is one of them.

I believe that this position fails to take into account the relationship of the sovereignty of God in relationship to the gifts, the historical evidence for their continuation, and the logical fallacy of pointing to the absence of evidence for the evidence of absence.

This is another reason why I am open to the continuation of the gifts of the Spirit today.


7 responses to “Another Reason Why the Historical Absence of the Spiritual Gifts Does Not Mean They Have Ceased

  1. Hey Scott,

    Thank you for the link. I really appreciate the gesture. If I had more time I would have attempted to show how using this argument – absence of evidence is evidence of absence – consistently could even be used to invalidate the Bible. So, it could be argued for cessationist’s to hold this position consistently would do just that.



  2. Theodore A. Jones

    The gifts are only relative to the correct message of salvation. Hence no gifts in evidence can only reflect that an incorrect message of salvation has been believed.

  3. @ Theodore: What do you make of miraculous activity surrounding false prophets with incorrect messages (Matt 24.24; 2 Thess. 2.9-15)?

  4. Theodore A. Jones

    NIV has it as counterfeit miracles. Recall that Jannes and Jambres could only go so far and are not related to any message of salvation. Further 2 Thes. 2: 13 has the term “the lie”. You need to find out what this lie is.

  5. Interesting about the NIV and “counterfeit miracles.” First you have to remember that the NIV is a thought-for-thought translation not a word-for-word translation like the ESV or NASB. My point? The Greek Noun dü’-nä-mēs is best translated as “power.” Obviously this passage could be referring to the “power” to conduct miracles. Nonetheless, the word itself insinuates “power” and not counterfeit miracles, but based on the context I can see where the translators are coming from.

    Why are you recalling Jannes and Jambres? I said nothing about 2 Tim. 3.

    To find out what “lie” (Greek: psyü’-dos) means you don’t have to look any further than the context. The “lie” is the message of the lawless one – who proclaims himself to be God (vs. 4) – that is confirmed by all power, false signs, and wonders.

    This means that you need to deal with the thrust of the context: A lawless one will come “with all power and false signs and wonders” and he will deceive “those who are perishing because they refused to love the truth and so be saved” and be “condemned” (2 Thess. 2.9-10, 12).

    Sounds like a false gospel surrounded by miraculous activity that is powerful enough to lead people away to destruction.

    For me to agree with the thrust of your argument – Spiritual gifts are relevant to the message – is an eternally dangerous proposition.

  6. Theodore A. Jones

    But what is the lie vis a vis what is the truth? Without identification of either the majority chase the wind. For example. Apollos had to be corrected from a fake gospel. What is the correction?

  7. I’m not sure what you’re getting at. The point of the matter is that your statement – the gifts are only relative to the correct message of salvation – is not valid. “Spiritual” gifts/miraculous activity is not confined to an orthodox message and can actually be observed in the life of those leading others astray from the correct message.

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