A Few Words on Revelatory Gifts

Introduction

There have been a number of scholarly treatments of the so-called “debate” over whether the apostolic or revelatory gifts have ceased or are in effect at this present date.

I do not suppose this will be added to that list of fine articles and books, and I do not think there truly needs to be anything added to that list. The purpose of this short article is to merely give an oft neglected part of the argument to the interaction.

First of all, let me preface the article by saying that I do not suppose there actually is a viable debate. I realize that this may sound insulting to those who wish to believe that all things are open for discussion, as well as the fact that well intended men from both sides of this particular divide have actually participated in the interchange. I do not intend insult, so if anybody reads this in that manner, such understanding will be a drawing of a conclusion that was not determined or intended by me, although I suppose that is a desire that may prove somewhat futile.

What I mean is that the side that has Scripture on it is so overwhelmingly verifiable, that the other side must operate on conjecture grounded in faulty hermeneutics. Such is the case with a number of settled theological doctrines, such as the Doctrine of God (Theology Proper), the Doctrine of the Atonement, the Doctrine of Christology, the Doctrine of Man (Anthropology), etc. In fact, I would say that the primary premise of those who affirm the continuation of the revelatory gifts, whether in practice or by not denying the cessation of them, errs in the doctrines of Bibliology, Theology Proper, Pneumatology, and Anthropology, for they must have an imperfect view of God, an imperfect view of Sola Scriptura, an imperfect view of the working of the Holy Spirit, and an improper view of man in order to propagate even a cautious affirmation of the continuance of the revelatory gifts.

To further clarify: Just because a doctrine is argued about does not mean that is has not long been settled by Christian orthodoxy. That is simply the plain fact of the matter with the examples listed. I propose such is exactly the case with the doctrine of the revelatory gifts, as well.

What Are Revelatory Gifts?

It is the contention of this writer that the revelatory gifts of the Holy Spirit, often called the “miraculous gifts,” are for the purpose of pointing to the veracity of the one performing those miraculous works of God. It is furthermore my contention that in validating the messenger as being of God, the ministry and message of that messenger are validated; i.e., that which the messenger is proclaiming is shown to be true, and the words which that messenger speaks and writes are shown to be true.

Now, please note, that all those prophets and apostles used of God to write the New Testament epistolatory literature performed these special, or revelatory miracles at some point in their ministry (with the possible exception of the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews and the epistles of James and Jude). Since the purpose of the miraculous/revelatory gifts pointed to the veracity of the messenger and his message as being from God, they are also often called “sign gifts.” This is definitive of function, for a sign points one to something, or tells one to do or not do something (think of traffic signs). Therefore, these special revelatory gifts pointed to He who gave the power of those gifts for the purpose of validating both those who gave the message, and the message itself, as being from Him. This is what revelatory gifts are, and what they do, or did, rather.

What Revelatory Gifts Are Not

The doctrine of the revelatory gifts is often confused or conflated with the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. That is, there are some who say if the Spirit of God is always the same, being God (and He is), to suppose that He has ceased to work in the way He worked in the New Testament (and other periods where special revelatory gifts were used) would be akin to stating that God changes. However, such is faulty thinking, for a number of reasons. Therefore, what revelatory gifts are not is the normative manner of God working throughout redemptive history, both prior to, and subsequent to the ministry of our Lord in His first advent, and that of the apostles subsequent to His ministry. This will be dealt with in three reasons listed below, followed by a conclusion.

Three Reasons to Affirm the Above

Reason number one is that such thinking supposes that God has always worked by way of giving special revelation through particular revelatory gifts to individuals throughout redemptive history. This is faulty because exactly the opposite is proven to be true when we read Scripture. There are a few periods in redemptive history where God used men to reveal Himself through the miraculous, or revelatory gifts, but on the whole, the history of the people of God is one in which ordinary people are called to obey the revealed, written Word of God that is extant in their time, without more being added to that revealed written Word. If we were to keep all the pages of Scripture that show us special, revelatory gifts working through chosen men of God in redemptive history, and subtract from all the pages where such things are not occurring, we would not have much of Scripture left. Subtract all the passages except where Moses was used of God to work miracles, Elijah and Elisha, our Lord during His ministry, and the apostles during theirs, and we are left with very few pages of Scripture to deal with. This is not a matter of dispute, for any fair reading of the Scriptures will readily reveal the truth of this statement, and I invite the reader to do such, if they are in doubt. This is also not taking into account God speaking to various of the prophets, but of them all, only Elisha and Elijah did actual miracles after Moses – the rest received revelation which was subsequently written down for our instruction, but they did not do miracles.

The second reason follows hard upon the first, and it is this: As our understanding of God, and His purposes for man, both saved and unsaved, is founded upon Scripture – which is to say, upon special revelation – so was the understanding of God’s purposes for His people, and those who were not His people, gained by those of old. Although special revelation gave us the Scriptures, much of that special revelation was given through the meditation, by men of God, upon that which was previously revealed. Nothing new was added; these men of God simply meditated and were given understanding of that which they meditated upon by God. The distinction is this: these men were infallibly informed of God, by His Spirit, as to that which was true, regarding that which had been written, and it was that which was proven true already which they exposited, not any new truths they received.

As I said at the outset of this article, I do not propose to add much of a polemic to the body of literature already extant on these things, therefore, I appeal to those reading to make their studies of the Scriptures to see whether these things be true or not, as indeed, the Bereans, who searched the Scriptures as the apostle Paul exposited them, did (Acts 17:1-12). And please note, they searched the Scriptures, not looked to signs. This is normative, not the performance of miracles, and this is the established pattern in Scripture. In fact, miracles are generally – and oftentimes specifically – given as a sign of judgment, not blessing.

The third point of this article, is that because the first two points are true (which the reader may determine by the use of the analogy of the faith and the analogy of Scripture, which is to say, reading all the Scripture relevant to these matters [1]), therefore, they comprise that which is called the harmony of the Scriptures. The “harmony of the Scriptures” is inclusive of both these two principals of interpreting the Scriptures, and is not only those interpretive principles which were used by those men of God moved by the Holy Spirit to give us further revelation, but those who used the same principles in those times sparse or devoid of such direct communication of God, knowing that the Word of the living God was enough to understand the purposes of the living God. Types and shadows have been defined and expounded upon for us, by God’s fiat, and the mysteries of the gospel and redemptive history have been fully disclosed (I do not cite Scripture here, supposing that the reader will readily understand these terms and the concepts within them), therefore, God, in His sovereign decree, has willed that these former manners of disclosure of His will to His people are past, and we are to appeal only to His written Word to determine that which He requires of us [2]

The outcome of the first three points brings us to the final point of this article, and that it is a point that is most always ignored, which is the fact of the great silence of any mention of the revelatory gifts in both former Scripture, but especially, subsequent Scripture as it is given us in the expounding of the work of God in Christ Jesus, by the Spirit, through those parts of the New Testament (the document of the New Covenant) we call the epistles.

When Is An Invalid Form of Argumentation of Valid Use?

Now I know there are those who will immediately toss out the proverb, “An argument from silence is no argument at all!”

To these, I must give a rational answer. My first answer would be a rhetorical question: “Sir, have you experienced a gunshot wound today, or in your entire life, for that matter?” (“Gunshot woundcould be substituted with any number of things, such as being carried away by a tornado, hit by a train, etc.) If the answer is “no,” I would venture onto the next part of the question: “Sir, do you know of any who have?” If the answer were no, I would venture onto the next part of the question: “Sir, how possible is it, considering the amount of those you know, and your own experience, that you shall sustain a gunshot wound at any time in the future? Bear in mind, sir, that the news sources are unashamedly absent of accounts of most of the populace of the world sustaining gunshot wounds prior to the demise of most of those people, and that your own experience substantiates that lack of reporting of gunshot wounds to the general populace of the world, as well as the experience of most of the population of the world.”

Of course, the reason the media, worldwide, is absent of most of the people of the world sustaining gunshot wounds is that they do not, indeed, sustain such.  A person arguing for the possibility of each person experiencing such a thing, based upon the fact that a small percentage have, and do, indeed sustain such things, would be to engage in hyperbolic fantasy of the most extreme kind.

Now, we go to the extremity of the argument, which is simply this: Just because it does not happen generally does not mean it will not happen occasionally.

This is true, per our example (you might sustain a gunshot wound), but at this point, we must bring in the divine will. To put it briefly, if God willed that you never sustained a gunshot wound, speculation about whether you would or not is vain. Likewise, if God ordained that you, as a non-combatant, living in suburban luxury and safety, sustain a gunshot wound, you will.

This extremely ridiculous faux example has a point, however, and that point is set forth below in somewhat syllogistic manner.

The gist is this: What God has willed comes to pass.

The crux is this: God has not willed for revelatory gifts to continue.

The proof is this: The overwhelming majority of the epistolatory literature in the New Testament (the corpus document of the New Covenant) not only does not mention these revelatory gifts as ongoing, but specifically omits them as necessary, in light of the completed revelation that forms the apostolic, reformed doctrine of Sola Scriptura.

While an argument from silence can be, and often is, fallacious, in various contexts of discussion of many historical works, in the discussion of the revelatory gifts (as that discussion pertains to the Scriptures), and most especially the guidelines for how the visible church is to live, relating to each member and the interaction among members in local covenant communities who are in formal fellowship with one another, it must be considered that God gave us that document for our faith and practice. This is to say that, while there are guidelines in the gospels and the book of Acts for how believers are to live with one another and as members of the body of Christ, the final instructions our Lord ordained we follow came about in the Spirit giving the epistolatory literature. If the silence on the continuing use of the revelatory gifts is, therefore, a part of that special revelation on how the church is to both hold and practice its faith in regards to God and  one another, both in a corporate worship setting, and outside that setting, it is a very loud silence that speaks directly to the fact of whether such revelatory gifts are to continue, or whether, in fact, they have ceased with the cessation of special revelation as given through the New Testament prophets and apostles (those men of God moved by the Holy Spirit to pen the guidelines by which the church is to live in ongoing manner). This is in keeping with the Regulative Principle of Worship, as well.[3]

Outside the chapters of 1 Corinthians 12-14, and a brief mention which is given in Galatians 3:5, there is not another mention of the revelatory gifts of the Spirit in the epistolatory literature. Rather than being insignificant, this silence is of God, and has as much significance, in that respect, with the 400 years of silence between the last Old Testament prophet and the ministry of John the Baptist (and if we are to consider revelatory gifts, between the last Old Testament prophet and the ministry of our Lord during His first advent). None would be so foolish as to suggest that the silence between the last Old Testament prophet and our Lord’s first advent was not normative for those years, yet when it comes to these years after the last apostle has passed to glory, many will insist that what was normative during the ministry of our Lord, and progressively diminishing during the ministry of His apostles (more in the early years, dwindling to all but a trickle, if not completely ceased, towards the end of their ministry), is now supposed to be the normative experience of the church until Christ returns.

In such a use of Acts (which shows the diminishing nature of the apostles use of revelatory gifts) and 1 Corinthians 12-14, with the dash of Galatians 3:5 thrown in for good measure, these portions of the New Testament are used as the presuppositional rubric for the entirety of the New Testament epistles, which, to put it mildly, is not the way we do hermeneutics.

The normative manner of doing hermeneutics insists that those portions that consistently speak of how a believer is to live and act among other believers is so well laid out in the rest of the epistles, that by using the two hermeneutical principles we set forth (see footnote one), it is quite easy to see that by not reiterating, over and over again, the use of the revelatory gifts, and actually, laying out the spiritual fruits which have to do with being conformed to the image of Christ, we have the manner of our faith and practice given to us in such plain terms, that it takes imposing the few upon the many to change that which is so clear throughout the epistles. Since it is the rule that seemingly contradictory passages are explained by the context not only within which they are, but by comparison of passages which teach the manner in which our faith and practice is to be worked out – in this case, that means the entirety of the New Testament epistolatory corpus – we are not left in the dark as to how to conduct our Christian lives in all ages until our Lord comes again.

In that corpus, we are told to “walk in a manner worthy (“worthyhere carries the meaning of consistency, not merit [4]) of the calling with which we have been called with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,  eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:1b-3) There is a positive lists of characteristics which are derivative of (finitely) the character of our Lord Jesus Christ, and a negative set of things we are not to do that run through this chapter (in fact, the practical application of the first portions of his epistles often runs through the latter chapters of those letter of the apostle Paul to the churches).

Likewise, in Philippians 2, we read of the manner in which Christ came into this world and served in His humiliation, and are exhorted to “have this mind in yourselves,” after listing how we are to interrelate among one another in covenant community, which is based on our being in covenant with God through Jesus Christ. There is also a set of positive and negative commands and exhortations running through this chapter, and continuing through the epistle to the end.

We could find similar lists in Romans, Colossians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, the pastoral epistles, James, Hebrews, Peter and Paul; what we could not find, however – what is absolutely, glaringly absent from any of these epistles – are commands, admonishments, instructions or exhortations to seek any of the revelatory gifts, much less how to exercise them. Besides the chapters mentioned above in 1 Corinthians, and the one verse in Galatians 3, they are not only conspicuously absent, but (it is my contention) purposely so. Throughout the corpus of the New Testament epistles, we are told to “walk in the Spirit,” that we are to live “in Christ,” and that we must manifest the “fruits of the Spirit,” which is simply another way to list the characteristics that found their full and faultless expression in Christ Jesus. We are not told to “seek spiritual gifts” outside the one epistle, in one chapter of that epistle (and the translation of that passage is disputed [5]), and those chapters sandwich “the better way” which does not address the use of spiritual gifts, much less revelatory gifts, at all.

A few comments should be made concerning 1 Corinthians 12 & 14, and the mention of revelatory gifts in Galatians 3:5. The fact is, the first epistle to the Corinthians is largely corrective, as they were a church in disorder. Paul addressed several doctrinal and moral issues throughout the epistle, and there is no reason to suppose he deviates from this pattern in the Corinthians seeking of revelatory gifts. In fact, it is highly probable, from the mention of tongues and the word [6] used for those, that Paul was addressing the matter of the Corinthians carrying over the ecstatic utterances that took place within the pagan religions that they were formerly a part of before coming to believe in Christ. In their zeal to seek the gifts of the Spirit, they had carried over that which was supposedly proof of the interaction of deity, in their former pagan worship, into their Christian experience; wrongly so, as they had done with many other practices and doctrines which the apostle addresses throughout the epistle. In seeking to be spiritual, they had placed experience over and against doctrine, defining the latter by the former, which is precisely why the apostle addresses these things and sandwiches the “better way” of chapter 13 between his treatment of them.

In the Galatians 3 reference, there simply is no reason to assume that the apostle is speaking of anything other than the fact that the Spirit worked miracles among the Galatian churches during his ministry among them, as recorded in Acts 16 and 18. In fact, the rest of the epistle not only makes no mention of these things, but sets out that which was normative to Christian living in both prohibitive and positive language (Galatians 5:19-23).

Conclusion

There is a purpose to the special revelation that God has given to His church. Within that purpose, there is contained how we are to view God, how we are to view mankind, and how we are to view one another who are “in Christ.” The last contains direct prohibitions on how we are not to act, and prescribed commands on how we are to act, both towards the world in general, and fellow believers specifically. The dearth of information or directives concerning seeking revelatory gifts within the body of the epistolatory literature is a telling absence, and this silence on these matters has a reason: we are not to seek those things which were peculiar to the particular time of the fledgling church as normative; rather, we are to seek, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to conduct our manner of lives according to sound doctrine, for it is by this sound doctrine that we are informed of the moral living which is commanded and demanded of God’s covenant people, and which they haltingly, imperfectly, live, by the power of Christ through His Spirit dwelling in them.

An unhealthy and disproportionate seeking after signs which were for the purpose of revelation in the formative period of the church has led to all sorts of confusion, wrong living, and wrong doctrine – even heresy of the worse sort. Instead of placing a few portions of Scripture over the rest of Scripture, we are to read those portions for the purpose they were intended, which was not to give a pattern for the lives of believers throughout the ages of the church, but to show that those whom God used to give us the balancing directions on how to view and live with one another were genuine, as was their message. That time has passed (Hebrews 1:1-2), and is not being repeated over and over again. To take a “soft” position on this matter is as much a promotion of the errors contained in certain quarters of the church as is the active promotion of them. Where such errors concerning these things have been proven, time and again, to lead people astray throughout the history of the church, the warning is clear: do not seek that which God intended only for the formative period of His church, and has now abrogated.

God has spoken, and what He did not see fit to speak has as much to say to us as that which He did. We do not call down plagues or fire on cities or peoples, we do not raise people from the dead, and we do not receive new revelation. We do not seek the revelatory gifts, or place experience over reasoned understanding of doctrine which the Holy Spirit used to conform us into the image of our Lord and Savior. When the majority of the directives to the church, contained in the epistolary corpus, has, as its focus, how to live in the sphere of the power of the Holy Spirit to bring forth those characteristics of Christ that He showed to us perfectly, we are not to seek those gifts that were given to special men – the New Testament prophets and apostles – upon whom the foundation of the church was laid (Ephesians 2:19-22). We are not the foundation, but that which has been, and is being built upon that foundation. Let us pay particular attention to being led by the Spirit to walk in Christ, as we are being conformed to His image, and not be led astray by an unhealthy obsession with those things which were foundational. Let us note the absence of teaching on these things as even being peripheral, and concentrate on those things which run throughout the epistles. It is by this proper concentration of those things that pertain to godliness and holy living wherein we find the balance of the Christian life, not transitory things magnified above them.

SDG – Bill H

[1] analogia fides: the analogy of faith; the use of a general sense of the meaning of Scripture, constructed from the clear or unambiguous loci (q.v., locus), as the basis for interpreting unclear or ambiguous texts. As distinct from the more basic analogia Scripturae (q.v.), the analogia fidei presupposes a sense of the theological meaning of Scripture.  – analogia Scripturae: analogy of Scripture; the interpretation of unclear, difficult, or ambiguous passages of Scripture by comparison with clear and unambiguous passages that refer to the same teaching or event. SEE analogia fides – Richard A. Muller. Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology (Kindle Locations 325-328). Kindle Edition.

[2] 1689 Baptist Confession Chapter 1: Of The Holy Scriptures – 1. The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience, although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men inexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God and his will which is necessary unto salvation. Therefore it pleased the Lord at sundry times and in divers manners to reveal himself, and to declare that his will unto his church; and afterward for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan, and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which maketh the Holy Scriptures to be most necessary, those former ways of God’s revealing his will unto his people being now ceased. (2 Timothy 3:15-17; Isaiah 8:20; Luke 16:29, 31; Ephesians 2:20; Romans 1:19-21; Romans 2:14,15; Psalms 19:1-3; Hebrews 1:1; Proverbs 22:19-21; Romans 15:4; 2 Peter 1:19,20) MY NOTE: I add Hebrews 1:2 to the Hebrew 1:1 Scripture citation

[3] For a Reformed Baptist position paper on the Regulative Principle of Worship, please go to The American Reformed Baptist Church Association Website and read – http://s3.amazonaws.com/churchplantmedia-cms/arbca_carlisle_pa/regulative-principle.pdf

[4] 66.6 ἄξιοςb, α, ον; ἀξίωςb: pertaining to being fitting or proper in corresponding to what should be expected—‘proper, properly, fitting, worthy of, correspond to.’ Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 627). New York: United Bible Societies.

[5] earnestly desire – In context, this could not mean that believers should desire the more prominent gifts, when the whole chapter has just been confronting the fact that they have sinfully been doing just that. Desiring a gift for selfish reasons is wrong, since they are sovereignly given by God as he wills (vv. 7, 11, 18, 28). Therefore, this must be rendered not as an imperative (command), but, as the verb form allows, as an indicative (statement of fact), “You are desiring the showy gifts, wrongly.” The real imperative is to stop doing that and learn the “more excellent way,” the way of love, which Paul will explain in ch. 13. –  John MacArthur Study Bible Notes on 1 Corinthians 12:31 – MY NOTE: I have also verified this rendering of the Greek from other sources, and am convinced of its verity.

[6] 33.3 γλῶσσαc, ης f: an utterance having the form of language but requiring an inspired interpreter for an understanding of the content—‘ecstatic language, tongue, ecstatic speech.’ ὁ γὰρ λαλῶν γλώσσῃ οὐκ ἀνθρώποις λαλεῖ ἀλλὰ θεῷ ‘he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God’ 1 Cor 14:2. Most scholars assume that the phenomena described in Ac 2:4 (see 33.2) and in 1 Cor 14:2 are significantly different in that in one instance people understood in their own regional language or dialect and in the other instance an interpreter was required. It is for that reason that many interpret γλῶσσα in 1 Cor 14:2 as ecstatic speech, which was also an element in Hellenistic religions and constituted a symbol of divine inspiration. Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, pp. 387–389). New York: United Bible Societies.

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