Category Archives: John 13-17

Turkish De-light

By Marv

Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good.  (1 Thes. 5:19-21)

Is there any book of the Bible we could do without? For example, would Christian doctrine suffer from the omission, say, of Proverbs? What about 1 and 2 Chronicles? Aren’t they largely redundant, not to speak of some tiresome genealogical material? And Revelation–apart from that curse thing–what if it were just to disappear completely, instead of having to be Docetized into docility as so many are wont to do?

While we’re at it, what animals could we vote off the island? Whole classes, perhaps. Got to go with reptiles, I think. I’d be sorry to say goodbye to the cute gecko who sells me insurance, but to get rid of snakes…! Insects, maybe: no cockroaches, fire ants, hornets. No butterflies either, but I’d get soon over it.

How about colors? I’m not overly fond of orange. Sunsets would be the losers, but how practical are they anyway?

Fortunately, authority in such matters have not been given over to the likes of us. What God has given–what He has provided by the good pleasure of His will–exists for His own purposes and according to His manifold wisdom.

The apostle was speaking on a particular subject, but his words must certainly have a general application:

For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving (1 Timothy 4:4).

If this principle holds in regard to foodstuffs, how much more does our Lord mean us to receive His bounty in regard to the vital interworking among the members of Christ’s body? Paul instructs us in no uncertain terms in this regard:

But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. (1 Cor. 18-20)

Who of us will venture to say that God has chosen ill? No one, surely. Or we should hope. And what are these parts, specifically, that the apostle is referring to? He gives us a few examples:

For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. (1 Cor. 12:8-11)

The Spirit wills. God chooses.

What about me? Don’t I get a vote? Well… no, in fact. We have not been consulted. We only work here.

Still, isn’t there quite a bit of this we really could do without? Can we not have a perfectly healthy church while making some strategic omissions from this list? Let’s say in my opinion some of these “gifts” have outlived their usefulness, are now more cumbersome than useful, more problematic than practical. Are these–less desirable bits–really necessary?

Well, I’m sure I don’t know, but I do have the Word of God to guide me:

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. (1 Cor. 12:21-26).

Is it too much of a stretch to conclude that if we cannot say “I have no need of you” that we do have need? Perhaps the Spirit was wise after all in willing, God in choosing.

How comes then Mr. Frank Turk of Pyromaniacs with his Open Letter to Mark Driscoll, which is a response to Driscoll’s Resurgence video post Four Points of the Movement (highly recommended), in which Driscoll attributes (hard) Cessationism to “worldliness.” In Mr. Turk’s open letter he responds with  a series of affirmations and denials? Observe, please, how many times and in how many different ways he can say “I have no need of you.”

I deny that this work [the personal action of God the Holy Spirit for the life of the Church] necessarily includes speaking in tongues (as in Acts 2 as well as in so-called “private prayer langauges”), healing the sick or raising the dead by explicit command, prophecy in the sense that Isaiah and John the Baptist were prophets, or any other “sign-and-wonder”-like exhibition. That is: I deny that these actions are necessary for the post-apostolic church to function as God intended. (emphasis mine).

Now a number of misconceptions are evident here as shown by his use of such words as “exhibition,” but from Paul’s list quoted above, Turk explicitly says “I have no need of you” to gifts of prophecy, healing, working of miracles, tongues. Lest we misunderstand:

I deny that this activity [“signs and wonders”] is common, normative, necessary, or in the best interest of God’s people to been seen as common, normative and/or necessary. God in fact warns us against seeking signs rather than the thing signified repeatedly in the OT and NT. (emphasis mine)

Not “in the best interest of God’s people” is Turk’s evaluation. Paul, on the other hand says “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (1 Cor. 12:7). Whose advice shall we take here?

What about “common” or that magic word “normative”? Let’s say we take it above even the apostle’s pay grade for some indication of how common we ought to expect works of power to be:

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. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. (John 14:12-13)

These are the words of our Lord, in His farewell address on the eve of His crucifixion. The works in question are those overt acts of God’s power that achieve the Father’s goals, under His authority, in the Spirit’s power, and engender faith in those who see:

Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves. (vv. 10-11)

Do not miss Jesus’ stated goals of our doing His works: “that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” (13)

Just a word about Mr. Turks reference to “sign seeking.” In the body of his open letter he proclaims himself to be well versed in “what actual Cessationists believe.” Evidently, this includes one very hackneyed and spurious misapplication of Matthew 16:4, which I have pointed out elsewhere falls more to the charge of Cessationists than Continuationists. Far from requiring miracles to overcome disbelief, we may join with the early church in their well-received prayer:

And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness. (Acts 4:29-31)

Apparently, God was pleased to do so, even if Mr. Turk would rather not:

 I deny that explicitly-supernatural outworkings, or events the Bible calls ‘signs and wonders’ (e.g. – Acts 2:1-11, Acts 3:3-7, Acts 5:1-11, Acts 9:32-35, etc.) are either normative or necessary for the on-going life of the church.

I would have thought this included the “word of knowledge,” but then Mr. Turk makes a negative assertion which would seem to require omniscience on his part to make:

I deny that there is any man alive today who is gifted to perform miracles as Christ and the Apostles where gifted to perform miracles.

I will not presume to point to such a person either, though by our Lord’s own words in John 14:12, if I believe Jesus Christ, I ought not strongly doubt that He knew whereof He spoke.

How are we to account Mr. Turk’s denials, which–not to put too fine a point on it–would seem to run directly contrary to the Scriptures, apostolic authority, and the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ?

In the topsy-turvy world of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, firemen no longer put out fires but start them. What are we to say of this world, which sees a “Pyromaniac” with no qualms against quenching? Farbeit from me to resort to Driscoll’s W-word, but it seems to me that the Church really does need all the good gifts that the Father has chosen, the Son promised, and the Spirit willed, since there’s still some “world-tilting” to do.

Pyro Techniques?

By Marv

There was a little girl, who had a little curl, applied directly to the forehead. When she was good, she was very, very good. When she was bad, she was horrid!

Speaking of Team Pyro

As a frequent reader there (Pyromaniacs), frequent writer here (To Be Continued…), I’ve known sooner or later it would happen. I find myself pretty much in their camp on most things–with one major exception–which happens also to be the subject of this blog–Continuationism. I knew eventually I’d have to post something to be applied directly to the horrid.

I figured I’d wait until one of the crew posted some cogent argumentation for Cessationism, and then counter with a well-reasoned, insightful, exegetically-based, Biblical response. But then Dan Phillips today offers a 26-worder in which he basically says: “Don’t bother.”

His pithy posting we can reproduce in toto (plus title):

Tersely put: “continuationism” self-refuting

The very fact that “continuationists” acknowledge the need to make their case to Christians by argument is, itself, a devastating and sufficient refutation of the position.

Now what are we to make of this epigram, which would seem to be a low and inside pitch, or to change metaphors, a little bit of choir practice? Mr. Phillips, sir, you force me to bring out the numbers.

1. As best as I can decipher his meaning, being a bear of little brain, I would paraphrase thus: Continuationism is about the showy-stuff. If you can’t show me the showy stuff, what good is to give me a bunch of telly stuff? Cessationists of this ilk are prone to refer to certain gifts as “spectacular” or  “dramatic,” with razzle dazzle like a kind of magic show:

Give ’em an act with lots of flash in it, and the reaction will be passionate.

While a manifestation of the Holy Spirit may well be impressive, especially to those to whom His work is directed (e.g. 1 Cor 14:24-25), we would be wrong to expect Him to put on a show for us. His effects are deeper, directed toward spirit, heart and mind: “upbuilding and encouragement and consolation” (1 Cor. 14:3); conviction of “sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8).

2. Behind this statement lies a number of Cessationist misconceptions about how “spiritual gifts” work. This type of argumentation (much in the MacAruthur tradition) I call the Unicorn and Jackass show. Insist on a unicorn: a mythological beast, which never existed: such as a “gift of healing,” with which an individual is endued (something like an X-man super power), operating at will, always efficacious, instantaneous, permanent, irreversible. Or inerrant oral prophecy, which neither the Old nor New Testaments teach (the Scriptures yes, oral prophecy, no.) Then with this expectation bring out the jackasses. This can be done in as few as two words: Benny Hinn.

3. Note the formulation of his statement. Quotes around continuationists. Why? The use of “need” (always a red flag for misleading argumentation). I’d like to know who he is purporting to quote here as “acknowledging” this or that. Who knows? Maybe it’s Team Continuo here. I doubt it, but we do acknowledge the importance of Biblical argumentation.

4. Which makes it odd, coming from a blog that otherwise highly values “argumentation,” appeal to Scripture and right reason, that one of them would denigrate such in this case.

5. So often Cessationists accuse their Continuationist bretheren of basing their view on experience rather than the Scriptures–all the while doing this very thing themselves, as in this case.

6. So often Cessationists accuse their Continuationist bretheren of being “an evil and adulterous generation [who] seeks for a sign,” and then themselves insist on a “spectacular” sign, or else they will not believe the Scriptures.

7. It is the Scriptures themselves that teach Continuationism. We see both in the direct teaching of our Lord (John 14: 12) and of His apostles (1 Cor. 12-14), that it is the Father’s will, and to His glory that the Body of Christ continue Christ’s empowered ministry between Pentecost and Parousia. One looks in vain for valid support of the notion that any of this would cease within the first century.

8. We are called to pursue these gifts (1 Cor. 14:1), but to do so we must be convinced that the Scriptures do in fact teach that they are for today as well as for the first century. This cannot be done by experience, but only by examining the Scriptures. Whatever we do, we must do in faith, and faith must be grounded in the Word. Thus argumentation.

9. So anyway, if we show you something “spectacular,” you say, there are “lying wonders.” Just because it’s supernatural doesn’t mean it’s of God. Or if we demonstrate something clearly from the Scriptures, you ask “Tell me about your most recent spectacular miracle.”

10. A Continuationist is not one who can say “Lookie-lookie what I can do.” It’s not about possessing an ability in oneself. It is one who says, “Look here in the Word of God. Shall we not believe what God tells us?”

11. You might as well have someone who insists God is not doing that “prayer” thing any more. God is not answering prayer any more. Go on, show me. Pray something and lets see what happens. Sure, you hear stories about God answering prayer with specific fulfillment, but this is always somebody’s neighbor’s cousin’s hairdresser. Face it, these answers–if they happen at all–are coincidence, wishful thinking, psychosomatic. We many wonder at our lack or efficacity at prayer, when the Bible promises so much (James 5:16).

12. Anyway, to hold to Continuation is not to say that all happens now as it did for Christ and the apostles. Or that history has shown a constant and even presence of these gifts without fluctuation. What continues is God’s purpose, design, and provision, not His church’s specific performance in what He has provided. It is thus with every other aspect of the life of the Church. Why should “spiritual gifts” be any different. Some things nearly lost must be rediscovered (such as salvation by grace through faith), and the Church must always be seeking in the Scriptures to return to the faith taught by the apostles.

Seeing, Eating, Working like Jesus

By Marv

Jesus’ prophetic conversation with the “woman at the well” (John 4) served as the proximate means, or at least the occasion, of the unveiling of the eyes of her heart (2 Cor. 3:15). The late John Wimber made frequent use of this account in calling Christians to understand and practice “power evangelism.” During my seminary days—pre-Continuationist, to be sure—such usage of the text was heavily criticized as misuse.

Down the hallway, at the same time John 4:35 was extolled as an important missions verse:

Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest.

At the time I didn’t make the connection, that Christ Himself is here calling us to what Wimber called “Power Evangelism”—otherwise known as the ordinary procedure of God working through the Body of Christ to effect His works.

Jesus’ words here show us clearly that Wimber’s use of the passage was entirely correct, since He is calling us to see as He saw, eat as He ate, and work, as He worked, the works the Father had given Him to accomplish.

When Jesus told his nonplussed disciples: “lift up your eyes,” he was hardly telling them to pay more attention to their physical surroundings, lest they miss an opportunity to witness. Jesus was calling them to follow His example in how He operated. Now the second Person of the Godhead has omniscience in Himself. But Jesus was not asking His disciples to exercise their own omniscience. He constantly operated according to resources available (or that would become available) to his disciples, and to us his disciples, since He was anointed with the Holy Spirit.

His intention, the Father’s Plan, was for the church to carry on Jesus’ operating ministry after His departure from the earth. This is crystal clear from John 14:12:

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.

Why this is true is because of Christ’s sending the Holy Spirit to anoint His Body as He Himself was anointed. The Holy Spirit has a speaking, communicational function from Christ, and ultimately the Father, toward us:

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. (John 16:13)

Jesus, anointed as He was, perceived information through the Holy Spirit, so as to possess and employ knowledge beyond what his physical senses could tell Him:

And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and might,
the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide disputes by what his ears hear,
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; (Isaiah 11:2-4)

He saw what the disciples could not, that the woman bringing her jar to the well was elect of God and that her moment of conversion had come, that Jesus would be the messenger, and that the method would be prophetic exposure of her sinful life.

This is not alien to the expected experience of the church. Far from it. The apostle Paul urged the Corinthians to prophesy, with expectation of similar results:

But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all,the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you. (1 Cor. 14:24-25)

It was lunch time and the disciples brought back food from the village, but Jesus enigmatically said to them: “I have food to eat that you do not know about” (v. 32). They didn’t get it, of course.  He explained: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (v. 34).

He had been down this road before:

“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). Not just every word of Scripture (since when Jesus quoted that verse, He was constrained by a direct instruction through the Holy Spirit and not by a written Bible verse), but every word communicated by the Father to His anointed worker. Just as He is calling His disciples to see as He saw, He called them to hear as He heard—and so do the work of the Father.

And this is how we work as he worked. “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” (John 14:12). It calls for us to be in that ongoing state of open communication with Christ and the Father through the Holy Spirit by which He works through us those “good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).

 

Reports of their demise have been greatly exaggerated: a humble response to Dean Gonzales

by Marv

What I liked best about The Cessation of Special Revelation: A Humble Argument for the Cessation of NT Prophecy and Tongues,  a blog series posted last year by Dr. Robert R. Gonzales, Jr., Dean of Reformed Baptist Seminary is the refreshing way that it takes the “humble” part seriously.  Dean Gonzales comports himself as a gentleman throughout, without the faintest whiff of ad hominem.  He also approaches the subject as a scholar, concentrating his argument on how best to understand the relevant scriptural texts.  In this he takes on Wayne Grudem’s position on prophecy, as laid out in The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today. The fact that he chooses a worthy interlocutor such as Dr. Grudem is commendable.  As a whole Dean Gonzales takes an approach that ought to be widely emulated.

He is also clear.  He lays out his main thesis in a form of a syllogism, and backs it up with scriptural citation and logical discussion.  The syllogism reads as follows:

Major Premise: All pre-parousia divinely authoritative special revelation has been completed and has, therefore, ceased.
Minor Premise: NT prophecy and tongues are forms of pre-parousia divinely authoritative special revelation.
Conclusion: Therefore, tongues and prophecy have ceased.

Appreciative as I am of his approach, I am not, however, convinced by his argument.  It is a variation of a fairly conventional one, tying the term of charismata to that of the Canon.  In fact I have to object to his references to “scriptural-quality revelation.”  The Bible ascribes, I think, unique attributes to itself.  There is no other revelation, never has been, of equal “quality” to that of Scripture.

This is why the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, to which both Dean Gonzales and Reformed Baptist Seminary ascribe states that:

“The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience.”

In multiple places Dean Gonzales makes reference to oral prophecy in the early New Testament church as “canonical.”  If this is so, I cannot see how to avoid the conclusion that not only the Holy Scripture, but also every genuine prophecy ever uttered would constitute the Canon.  The Confession, at least, would seem to limit canonicity to those prophecies that the Holy Spirit saw fit to inscripturate.

Similarly, the Bible warrants application of the term inspiration to the Scriptures, the written product of the Holy Spirit’s work.  Whether we are justified in using “inspired” for other manifestations of the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:7) is not readily obvious, to me at least, and his doing so tends to give Dr. Gonzales’ argument a certain circularity, assuming facts not in evidence.

Again, to the Confession, the Bible is the only “infallible” rule.  Contrary to the dean’s assertion or assumption and (perhaps) even Dr. Grudem’s understanding, even Old Testament oral prophecy was not “infallible” in the way that the Scriptures are.

If OT era prophecy were infallible, how could there be false prophecies?  I find it odd that verses such as Deut. 18:22 are often cited to suggest that OT era oral prophecy was inerrant or infallible, when it demonstrates precisely the opposite:

“When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.”

We are never similarly warned to watch out for “false Scriptures.”  In both the OT and the NT era, “the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets” (1 Cor. 14:32).  The Word of the Lord came to the prophet (Gen. 15:1, 1 Sam. 15:10, 2 Sam. 7:4).  In this last reference, Nathan received the Word of the Lord precisely because Nathan the prophet had spoken presumptuously to David earlier in the day (2 Sam. 7:3).  There is no great intertestamental shift involved that would allow for similarly presumptuous utterances in the NT era, such as the instructions to Paul not to go to Jerusalem, which he sees fit to ignore (Acts 21:4).

The OT prophet was responsible to report the Word of the Lord accurately, though he could fail to do so.  The Scriptures, on the other hand, by being theopneustos are guaranteedcertified to be the Word of the Lord.  They are thus of a quality above and beyond that of oral prophecy, in any era.  This is why Peter specifies “no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation” (2 Pet 1:20, emphasis mine).  The distinction of two levels of prophecy: “Scripture-quality” and otherwise, does not originate with Dr. Grudem, but is apostolic.

Now, one specific line of argument calls for special mention.  In his part seven he makes a point about the word “mystery” (μυστήριον), which at first blush gives an impression of decisiveness and may in fact be persuasive to many people.  Yet I’m afraid it does not hold up to scrutiny.

As he makes the point succinctly, I will simply quote him:

What I really want to call your attention to is the fact that according to 13:2 and 14:2 both prophecy and tongues reveal “mysteries.” The term “mysteries” is not referring to garbled nonsense. That term translates the same Greek word that Paul used in Ephesians 3 to speak of the canonical-level NT special revelation uttered by apostles and prophets. And according to these passages in 1 Corinthians, these “mysteries” are “known” through the gift of prophecy (13:2) and they are “spoken” through the gift of tongues (14:2).

This argument fails in at least three ways:

1.  In bringing in Ephesians 3:3-9, Dean Gonzales commits a neat little fallacy known as “illegitimate totality transfer.”  The red flag that should tip us off to this is his phrase “the same Greek word that Paul used…to speak of…”  This is meant to imply that the Eph. 3 passage provides us the definition of the term μυστήριον, that is, that it refers to “canonical-level NT special revelation uttered by apostles and prophets.”  But this semantic information is not carried by the single noun μυστήριον, but by an entire descriptive clause: “which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (v. 4).  This is not even a description of what a “mystery” in general is but specifically what Paul there calls “the mystery of Christ.”

The word “mystery” (μυστήριον) essentially denotes a “secret.”  The term was well known in the Greco-Roman world due to the plethora of “mystery religions” in which as part of the initiation, certain items of secret knowledge were imparted to the novice.  The practice has survived to this day in the arcana of societies such as the Freemasons, who possess a convoluted mythology which members are forbidden to reveal to outsiders.

Dean Gonzales simply overloads the word with extraneous meaning, as if he had reached into Eph. 3 with sticky fingers and pulled away half the context along with the noun.  Looking elsewhere, we come away with a more Ockham-friendly understanding that what μυστήριον conveys is the concept “secret” or something unknown or whose meaning is not easy to discern.

“As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.” (Rev. 1:20)

“But the angel said to me, “Why do you marvel? I will tell you the mystery of the woman, and of the beast with seven heads and ten horns that carries her.” (Rev. 17:7)

In these two cases the “mystery” is the secret to what the visionary imagery symbolizes.  John saw some strange things, knew they meant something, but did not know what they meant, needed to have someone decipher them.

2.  This is what is happening in 1 Cor. 14:2.  Paul is pointing out that a message given in a tongue sounds strange to the hearers, who know it means something, but do not know what it means, and cannot know unless there is someone who can decipher them.

Paul gives us no excuse for not understanding this, because he restates his point multiple times. Verse 2 alone makes Paul’s meaning clear: the problem with one giving a message in tongues in the church assembly, the problem is “no one understands him.” Then he restates his point: “but he utters mysteries in the Spirit.”

Dean Gonzales states that by “mystery” Paul is “not referring to garbled nonsense,” but the issue is not nonsense versus meaningfulness, but meaning that is hidden versus meaning that is known. That by “mystery” here Paul means a message with hidden meaning (due to being in a foreign language) is evident from the many ways he says it:

“…speaks not to men but to God” (2)

“no one understands” (2)

“speech that is not intelligible” (9)

“speaking into the air” (9)

“I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me.” (11)

“when he does not know what you are saying?” (16)

In short, the meaning of the word “mystery” in 1 Cor. 14:2 is made so abundantly clear within the context of the chapter itself, that giving preference to examples in remote context, theologically rich though they be, does not make exegetical sense.

3.  In 1 Cor. 13:2, Paul is talking about prophecy, not tongues, and so the concept of unintelligibility is not the issue.  Indeed, here he is making reference to “secrets” in the sense of deep, hidden, unrevealed knowledge.  This is clear because of his parallel of “all mysteries” and “all knowledge”:

“And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge…”

But does this verse justify Dean Gonzales assertion that “Paul portrays NT prophecy as a revelatory gift by which the one who possess the gift comes to understand ‘all mysteries’”?  That Dean Gonzales would make such a claim is rather surprising in view of the fact that he knows perfectly well that in verses 13:1-3 Paul is engaging in hyperbole.  He argues as much within this very discussion: “Paul’s reference to the “tongues … of angels” may simply be a form of hyperbole.”  Indeed, it is clearly hyperbole to suggest that any mortal human being would “understand all mysteries and all knowledge.”  This is a hypothetical gift of prophecy taken to the nth degree, not any reasonable expectation of what a given prophecy from a given church member would entail on a given Sunday.

Dean Gonzales then is very seriously overstating the nature of oral prophecy in the New Testament church.  It may well be opening up secrets of a sort.  Paul says as much in 1 Cor. 14:24-25:

“But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.”

But these secrets are not theological or doctrinal truths, hidden in the recesses of God’s eternal plan, things which, once revealed, find their place in God’s Canon, as a “prophecy of Scripture,” alongside the writings of Moses, Isaiah, Peter, Paul, and John.  They are individual details of a particular person’s life, revealed to that person, through the Holy Spirit for “upbuilding and encouragement and consolation” (1 Cor. 14:3) or else to convict regarding “concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8).

This is what Jesus does in John 4:17 when he says to the Samaritan woman:

“You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.”

To which she replies:

“Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet.”

Jesus’ words to her, while perfectly true, and divinely authoritative, were for her specifically, not for the Canon, even though a few of the details occur as recorded speech within a canonical gospel.  Jesus told her more, things which are not reported by John, since the woman says Jesus “told me all that I ever did.”  They are important for her, but not “canonical” for the people of God.

On another occasion when Jesus gave a prophecy, he revealed future secrets of Peter’s life, but when asked about John’s life, Jesus said “what is that to you?”

Yet these are acts by which Jesus, prophesying through the Holy Spirit, spoke faith-enhancing words to individuals, none of which constituted temporary stand-ins for Scripture, the Canon being as yet incomplete.  Even these were not in the same class as Scripture, not “canonical.”

This brings us to the main problem with Dean Gonzales’ conclusion that prophecy ceased as the Canon closed: it contradicts the express teaching of Jesus.  Jesus prophesied, and intending that His church also would prophesy, He sent the Holy Spirit:

“Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.

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.” (John 14:11-12)

“Whoever believes in” Jesus, is considerably broader than just those living prior to the close of the Canon.  Indeed, it has nothing to do with the Canon.

And Jesus did just as He said, pouring out the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, with the promise:

I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. (Acts 2:17-18)

The difference between OT era and NT era is not thus “canonical” versus “non-canonical”: there has always been this distinction.  It is not “infallible” versus “fallable,” since a prophet could always (though should never) speak presumptuously.  The significant difference, post Pentecost, is what we may call the “democratization” of prophecy.  In pouring the Spirit on “all flesh” so that even the most humble believer may prophesy, prophecy is no longer tied to the theocratic functioning of the nation of Israel.  While the prophet still has responsibility to speak the revelation accurately, there is, in the church, no death penalty for failure to do so.  In fact we are explicitly told “do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (1 John 4:1).  Our instruction is to “test everything” and “hold fast what is good” (1 Thes. 5:21).

“Good,” the apostle calls it, to which we may “hold fast.” This is not something to be rejected, but among the good works which we are told to stir up (Heb. 10:24) not to douse (1 Thes. 5:19).

That is the importance of Cessationist arguments such as Dean Gonzales’, to which, I respond, I hope, with equal respect and gentleness, yet with conviction that it does not teach what the Lord and the apostles in fact taught regarding prophecy and tongues.  To teach that prophecy and tongues have ceased in the Body of Christ, if in fact they have not ceased, is to discourage our brothers and sisters from the good that Our Lord has intended them to do.  Therefore, any argument that they have ceased had better be significantly more decisive than the one we have been examining.

Whence Tongues?

By Marv

The vital and dynamic interconnection we believers share with the Father and the Son through the Holy Spirit (since Pentecost) is patterned after that between the Father and the incarnate Son through the Holy Spirit (John 14:11,20). This is by divine design. The works we are empowered to do through this union, from loving our brothers and sisters to effectual prayer—and including “spiritual gifts” are likewise the same works as the Father did through the Son (John 14:12), now distributed through the Body (1 Cor. 12:12-13).

Is there not one exception? The gift of tongues evidently appears only after Jesus’ ascension, at the descent of the Spirit at Pentecost. Though we cannot say with certainty that Jesus never spoke in tongues, the textual evidence appears to suggest that tongues is new with the pouring out of the Spirit. This difference between Jesus’ ministry and the church’s ministry correlates with another difference. Jesus was “sent only to the lost sheep of the tribe of Israel” (Matt. 15:24). The Church is sent to “all nations” (Matt. 28:19).

Now Christ’s overall ministry has always been for the nations as well as to the Nation of Israel.

“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” (Is. 49:6)

There are foreshadowings of this ultimate purpose in the gospels. Jesus said, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32) on the occasion of Greeks coming to see Him (vv. 20-21). Yet this phase of ministry does not engage in earnest until the baton is passed, as it were, to the Church as Christ’s Body, after Christ’s bodily departure from the earth.

That the form of this added charisma, tongues, should correspond so clearly to the expansion of Christ’s mission from the Nation to the nations is more than suggestive that in itself it carries a meaning. It is called a “sign” after all; it signifies something. That the impartation of human languages evokes the confusion of tongues at Babel is also hard to miss. I think this is perfectly deliberate, and I want to explain how I think this works.

If we compare Babel with Pentecost as to their relative places in the outworking of God’s plan of redemption, we find each one at a corresponding and in some ways inverse pivot point. The first eleven chapters of Genesis, far from being a mere string of Hebrew folktales, threaded like so many beads at the beginning of the Torah, lay the groundwork for the rest of the Bible. These chapters communicate two major elements, without which nothing in the remainder of the Scriptures would make much sense. The first is the introduction of the problem, sin, human rebellion to the Creator. The second is the first steps undertaken by the Creator to effect redemption.

We see in Genesis 1 God’s method of creating by dividing. The Babel account is not so much a “curse” as a hindrance to man’s collective ability, in order to restrain his descent into utter ungodliness. It is redemptive, or an element in the redemptive plan. It is a divide and conquer plan. By confusing the languages of men, He creates nations. Once He has divided mankind into nations, He proceeds to create a Nation for Himself. That Nation, in turn, will one day serve to bring redemption to the nations.

Beginning with the call of Abraham (Gen. 12) God builds a people, and with the exodus and the giving of the Law, He constitutes them a nation, His Nation. This is all ultimately for the nations (Gen. 18:18), but for a period of time the nations—the Gentiles—are segregated from the Nation by the Law. Understand that our word “Gentiles” is simply a rendering of the Hebrew word for “nations” (goyim).

It hardly needs pointing out that a major ongoing theme throughout the Old Testament is the separation of Israel from the Gentiles. This theme of separation begins with Abraham, just after the account of Babel and continues on through the Gospels up to the inauguration of the Church’s mission to the “all nations.” Then there is a shift, a radical change in orientation.

I picture this as a 90 degree shift. If the various nations are likened to parallel lines, such as in the grain of wood, then OT Israel operated on a national orientation, along the grain. The Church, by contrast, is like a line cutting across the grain, in trans-national orientation, “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” (Rev. 7:9).

The book of Acts narrates the beginnings of this shift in orientation. It is one of the main themes of the book, which begins in Jerusalem and ends in Rome. In chapter one Jesus sets the tone: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (v. 8). In chapter two, they do receive power, just as Jesus said they would, and they proceed, in fits and starts to fulfill Christ’s mandate to be a “light to the nations.”

It can be no mere coincidence that the moment of this shift is signaled by a phenomenon that features the praises of God being voiced in that languages of the nations (Acts 2:5-6). Babel produced the inability to speak in one tongue, Pentecost produced the ability to speak in many tongues. Babel was the starting point of the national orientation, in which God would plant His Nation. Pentecost was the end point of that orientation, and signaled the transition to a trans-national orientation, in which Israel was one nation among many (Eph. 2:11-17).

This phenomenon of Spirit-empowered utterance was new, in that it appeared in trans-linguistic form, but Spirit-empowered utterance was nothing new, as a perceptible evidence of the Spirit coming on a person for service had been seen in the past:

When he [Saul] turned his back to leave Samuel, God gave him another heart. And all these signs came to pass that day. When they came to Gibeah, behold, a group of prophets met him, and the Spirit of God rushed upon him, and he prophesied among them. (1 Sam 10:9-10)

Were the disciples at Pentecost also among the prophets? Peter stood up on that day and directly declared this to be so (Acts 2:17-18). Though the phenomenon was “tongues” on this occasion, it was a manifestation of the prophetic promise of the New Covenant. Some two decades later (in Paul’s first letter to Corinth), we see that it was not a one-shot phenomenon, but remained and became part of the regular practice of the church (1 Cor. 14:26), attested to by Paul’s own use (v. 18), though it was not without controversy, apparently (v. 39).

Tongues functions in some sense as a “sign,” to unbelievers, Paul states (1 Cor. 14:22). I don’t think it is quite justified to specify as some do, to unbelieving Jews, but as we have seen, the form itself of the gift is a a declaration that the Spirit has been given also to the Gentiles (Acts 10:45-46), and would thus serve as part of what provokes Israel to jealousy (Rom. 11:11).

To say it is a “sign” is not to invoke the whole “temporary “sign-gift” construct. The sign-ness of tongues does not appear to express the totality of its usefulness. With it God is praised, with it the Church may be built up. We do not have much Scriptural narrative demonstrating an evangelistic use, but it would be surprising if this were not in the picture, and contemporary anecdotal evidence suggests it is. It is not just “an attestation to the validity of new revelation” or some such concept. At any rate, is a “sign for unbelievers” likely to be without use, as long as there are plenty of unbelievers to go around?