Part 2- Revelation for an Interim Period. Indication of Addition to Scripture
by Rev. Keith Watkins
This is the substance of a paper given at the Free Presbyterian Church Youth Conference, April 1996.
3. Revelation for an Interim Period
THE third purpose of several of the charismatic gifts was one of revelation: to supplement the canon of Scripture that was then still incomplete. Not all the charismata were revelatory, but some were. So in church services in Corinth, for example, one man would bring revelation by way of prophecy, a second man by way of another tongue with its interpretation, and a third man by way of a word of knowledge. One gift even went by the name of “a revelation” in 1 Corinthians 14:26. Divine revelation was being given through these revelatory charismata.
This temporary and interim revelation was necessary for the New Testament church in her early years, before the New Testament itself was written in its entirety. Yes, the church had the revelation of the Old Testament, but she needed new revelation appropriate for the new dispensation of the covenant of grace. The Old Testament Scriptures were sufficient for believers during that dispensation. But once the fulness of the time was come and God had sent forth His Son to die and rise again, thus ushering in the new dispensation, the New Testament church needed further revelation. In the wisdom of God, New Testament revelation would not be inscripturated in its entirety for a number of decades. In the meantime, the revelatory charismata were given for the purpose of supplying the revelatory needs of the early New Testament church.
By definition such a purpose had to be temporary. It was an interim measure, which would have to cease once that period came to an end. As soon as the New Testament Scriptures were completed, and the canon of the Bible was finished, there was no need for revelatory sign gifts. Their purpose had been fulfilled. All the churchs revelatory needs were met now by the completed canon of the Word of God. This truth is summarised in the first paragraph of the Westminster Confession: “. . . It pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal Himself, and to declare that His will unto His Church; and afterwards, 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 Scripture to be most necessary; those former ways of Gods revealing His will unto His people being now ceased.” Gods former ways of revealing His will, and that includes the revelatory charismata, have ceased, because the whole Bible is now available.
Paul wrote about the charismata in 1 Corinthians 13:8-13, “Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.”
The Corinthians were told that a time would come when the charismata of which they made so much would be no more. Prophecies would fail; tongues would cease; knowledge, that is, the special charismatic gift of extraordinary knowledge and insight, would vanish away. Compared with faith, hope and charity, the charismatic gifts were temporary. When Paul wrote of the time “when that which is perfect is come”, some believe that he was looking forward to the completion of the perfected canon of Scripture. When all of Gods intended revelation would be committed to writing, then the Church would no longer know just “in part” or “through a glass, darkly”, but would come “face to face” with the whole truth as it is in Jesus. Then the Church, having reached her maturity, could “put away childish things”, meaning the temporary gifts that were intended to be an interim measure until the perfection of the canon. If this is the case, then this passage teaches expressly that the gifts would cease when the last New Testament revelation was written.
However, this interpretation has been disputed by many and not just by the charismatics themselves. The more usual exegesis is to understand Paul as referring to heaven when he speaks of perfection. If this is the case, although the passage is not telling us expressly when the revelatory charismata would cease, nevertheless it is teaching their cessation, and further, it is laying down a principle of great significance. Even if the “child” of the passage is the Church militant throughout her time in this world and the “man” is the Church triumphant in the next world, still the principle is here being taught that partial and less clear forms of revelation must give way, in Gods purposes, to the fuller and brighter. “When that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.” From a revelatory point of view, the charismata could only ever be in part. They were never intended to supplant the place of the written Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, which are “perfect” (see Psalm 19:7), especially when considered as one completed whole. Applying this principle of the passage then will lead to the same conclusion: the charismatic gifts were no longer needed for purposes of revelation once the whole of Gods revelation for this world was perfected in the finishing of the New Testament. And therefore revelatory charismata were no longer given once the Bible was complete.
Whilst they existed, the revelatory charismata were signs that the Scripture was incomplete and insufficient. Every prophecy, every tongue, every interpretation, was a statement saying, “Scripture is incomplete and insufficient.” Such gifts had to stop as soon as Scriptures canon was finished. To have them continue after that would undermine the sufficiency of Scripture. So what is every pretended prophecy and tongue and interpretation in the modern charismatic movement saying? In effect, it is saying, “The charismatic movement thinks that the Scripture is still incomplete and insufficient.”
Dissatisfaction with the Bible lies at the heart of the charismatic craving for revelatory sign gifts. The movement does not believe in the sufficiency of Scripture. Surely this consideration alone should be enough to topple the charismatic tree in the eyes of those who love the Word of God. This is a reason why the cessationist axe needs to be rediscovered so urgently. Nothing less than the sufficiency of Scripture is at stake! To battle against the charismatic movement is to contend for the precious Biblical doctrine summarised in the Westminster Confession: “The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, mans salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit or the traditions of men . . .” (chapter I, paragraph VI). We are told by some that the Confession needs updating because it is inadequate to deal with todays situations. Admittedly, it does not contain the words “charismatic movement”, but nevertheless it is astonishing how able it is to wield the cessationist axe and aim with great precision this third blow to the root of the charismatic tree! With a completed Bible, there is no longer any need for interim revelations. The gifts have ceased.
4.Indication of Addition to Scripture
The fourth purpose of the charismata was to give notice of the impending major addition to the canon of the written, inscripturated Word of God. Not only were the gifts an interim measure to supplement the incomplete canon of Scripture, they were a signal that such incompleteness was soon to be relieved by additions to the written Word itself.
The connection between Scripture and signs in the workings of the Most High must not be overlooked. Careful observers of Bible history will expect an impending major addition to inscripturated revelation whenever there is a flurry of signs and miracles. Miraculous signs were not given continuously in a constant stream throughout history. If they had, plainly they would have ceased to be effective signs of anything.
During the Old Testament dispensation, miracles were largely confined to just two periods, and both were connected most intimately with major additions to the Bible. The first period was that of Moses. His miraculous gifts served not only to authenticate his call, but also to give a divine testimony to the new written revelation that God was to give through him. By inspiration, Moses wrote the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible, commonly referred to as “the law”. The second period was that of the prophets. Just as the law was signified as truly from God by miraculous gifts, so also was the revelation given by the prophets. The miracles of Elijah and Elisha as it were inaugurated the period of inscripturation by means of prophets. The signs wrought through those two men heralded the second great part of the Old Testament canon, “the prophets”. Thus both parts of the Old Testament, “the law and the prophets” (Luke 16:16), had miracles to testify that they were divine.
So, in the New Testament also, we would expect to see miracles to testify to the new inscripturated revelation that God then gave. And this we do see. For the special charismata in the days of the apostles were given to indicate another major and final addition to the canon of Scripture, that is, the gospels and epistles of the New Testament, to be written by the apostles and their closest associates. No wonder such lengths were gone to in order to authenticate the apostles, for they were to be the instruments in the hands of the Lord for adding the New Testament to the Word of God.
Now, if there really were a resurgence of charismatic signs and wonders in our day, we would have to be looking expectantly for a major addition to the written Word of God. Yet we know that the canon of Scripture is closed for all time. The fourth-last verse of the Bible states, “For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book” (Revelation 22:18).
The New Testament is not like the Old, which had an inherent requirement for further revelation to complete it, once the promised Messiah would come and fulfil its promises. The New Testament has completed the Bible and needs no supplement. It inherently rules out any addition whatsoever. This contrast we see at the beginning of the epistle to the Hebrews: “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son” (1:1-2). The New Testament is the revelation that God has given by His Son, that is, in the Person and work of His Son as He came into the world to fulfil all that was promised. Through His Sons incarnation and finished work, God has spoken to us fully, and that “speech” is recorded for us in the New Testament. Nothing can possibly be added to Gods wondrous revelation in Christ!
The charismatic movements claim to possess the charismata is effectively a denial of the perfection of Gods revelation in Christ. It is as if Christ and the revelation of God by Him is not enough. In seeking further revelations beyond what is written in the New Testament, charismatics are in danger of expressing dissatisfaction not only with the Bible, but with Christ Himself. If all that is written about the Saviour in completed Scripture is felt to be insufficient, such a soul is not satisfied with Christ Himself.
Thus, whereas in the early church the real charismatic gifts were a confirmation of the Scripture yet to come, now the charismatic movements deceptive imitations serve only to undermine the Scripture that has already been given. The modern claim to the charismata thus serves the very opposite purpose to that of the real charismata of old. In the days of their divine appointment, charismatic gifts directed souls to Scripture, and in particular to the fulness of Christ as revealed in a completed Bible; now, in the days of human imitation, they divert souls away from Scripture, and away from the fulness of Christ therein revealed. “Ye shall know them by their fruits.”
We have aimed our fourth and final blow to the root of the charismatic tree with the cessationist axe: any period in which signs and wonders truly flourish is one in which major additions to Scripture revelation will be made, but since Scripture is altogether complete and finalised in the coming of the Son of God, therefore the charismatic gifts must have ceased.
To conclude, the gifts have ceased. The charismata were given for four purposes: to mark the transition from the Old to the New Testament dispensation; to authenticate the apostles and their message; to supply revelation before the Bible was completed; and to signify the impending major addition to Scripture of the New Testament. All four purposes were temporary. All four have long since been fulfilled. Therefore the charismatic gifts themselves must have ceased. They have ceased! No longer can they achieve any divinely appointed purpose. May God Himself arise and plead His own cause, by raising up again the doctrine of cessationism. When He does so, the cessationist axe will fell the charismatic tree once and for all!