Bnonn Tennant (the B is silent)

Where a recovering ex-atheist skewers things with a sharp two-edged sword

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2 rough alternative arguments that spiritual gifts continue

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2 minutes to read Independent lines of evidence seem to converge on a continuationist position.

I am not particularly up with the play on the debate over charismata, so quite possibly I will say nothing new. But two separate lines of argument occurred to me today based on Matthew 24:24. I’ll sketch them below.

For false messiahs and false prophets will appear, and will produce great signs and wonders in order to deceive, if possible, even the elect. Matthew 24:24; cf 2 Thess 2:9-10; Rev 13:14

Jesus takes for granted here that signs and wonders are still available to false messiahs and prophets. Not merely a single, eschatological figure, but to numerous false representatives of God. This suggests two arguments that run parallel to this fact:

1. An a fortiori argument

  1. How much more excellent will God’s works among his people tend to be, than Satan’s works among the reprobate?
  2. Satan’s works among the reprobate include great signs and wonders.
  3. Therefore, how much more excellent will God’s works among his people tend to be, even than great signs and wonders?

2. A presuppositional argument

When I say “presuppositional” I mean that Jesus’ prophesy in Matthew 24:24 seems to make sense only if he presupposed that spiritual gifts would continue in the church:

  1. If signs and wonders have ceased among God’s people, they would not appear to be authentic works of God that might deceive the elect
  2. But the signs and wonders of false prophets do appear so authentic as to deceive, if possible, even the elect
  3. Therefore, signs and wonders have not ceased among God’s people

These arguments are, of course, merely sketches. Perhaps they could be refined, or perhaps they can be attenuated to have no force at all. But I found them interesting.


Dr P

Per the a fortiori element, ar God’s works among His people today the same as signs and wonders in previous times?

The presuppositional argument is also weak: let’s say that signs and wonders have ceased, but someone does something so inexplicable or so like a sign/wonder in Scripture that certain Christians vegin to doubt their convictions and believe the purported sign? In such a case a false prophet would appear real despite the fact that signs and wonders have ceased. If htey have not, how would one distinguish between true and false ones?

Dr P

Sorry about hitting the post button. My point was that not all inexplicable occurrances are sign and wonders per Scripture, and a definition of such would be helpful. Something done by a person not claiming to be a prophet could be misconstrued; even an anointing done as Lutherans do today could preceed an unusual cure of what was diagnosed as a terminal illness, or a highly unusual event could occur on the mission field and be reported by a reasonable observer. In each case, even of signs and wonders had ceased, one could be so taken aback as to doubt cessationism. The elect could thus be deceived, but not in a satanic fashion; ie not in following the performer of the act in question in a cultish fashion.

Dominic Bnonn Tennant

Does Scripture give us a clear definition of signs and wonders? Or does it just assume that we can recognize them when they occur?

even an anointing done as Lutherans do today could preceed an unusual cure of what was diagnosed as a terminal illness, or a highly unusual event could occur on the mission field and be reported by a reasonable observer.

What’s the difference between a highly unusual event, and a miracle? If a reasonable, sober-minded missionary with no expectation of miracles, reports how a member of one tribe traveled to share the gospel with another tribe who could not speak his language, and yet was able to do so as proved by the fact that tribe now believes the gospel, is that just an “unusual event”? The only reasonable explanation is glossolalia. Isn’t glossolalia a classic charismatic gift in the New Testament?

Why should a cessationist disbelieve that glossolalia has occurred here, and that he has misunderstood the Bible’s teaching about spiritual gifts&mash;rather than construct implausible explanations to maintain his pet theology?

Dr P

Bnonn, inexplicable doesn’t mean miraculous. As both s physicain and a former pentecostal, my interest has more been claims of cures. Of course, we had our share of “prophecies” and faux glossolalia, but my reading of events during the Scottish Reformation and various mission field events seem close enough to miraculous as the example you gave. I am not a cessationist, but I think we’d both agree that not all is now as it was then; eg new revelation. and adding to the canon of Scripture. The question then becomes Scripturally defining the limits. What are your thoughts?

Dominic Bnonn Tennant

Inexplicable doesn’t mean miraculous—true. But on a Christian view, to say something is “inexplicable” when it is perfectly explicable by reference to a miracle, is question-begging.

I mean, imagine I work at Burger King and spend all my spare cash on lottery tickets. One day you hear that I’ve bought a yacht and am living on a private island. That’s not inexplicable unless you happen to have very good evidence that I haven’t won the lottery. Simply refusing to believe I won the lottery because you didn’t read about it in the paper, and insisting that there must be some other explanation, wouldn’t be rational.

Of course, there are plenty of bogus miracles and gifts. Indeed, glossolalia in Pentecostal churches is a good example. (I should have said xenoglossy in my previous comment.) We shouldn’t be credulous any more than we should be incredulous. Sober-minded, I think Paul would have said.

Dr P

In your example, there is indeed a lottery, and so somebody has to win it. In pentecostal circles there are a superabundance of “thus saith the LORD,” cancer cures, etc. Yes, we must be soberminded, but there’s still the question of continuing authoratative revelation a la our mutual friend, contra the illuminating ministry of the Holy Ghost. If I admit continuation of xenoglossy, what of the other gifts, including authoritative revelation?

Dr P

Let’s take Poole on 1 Cor 12:10: to another prophecy, which in the general signifieth the revelation of the will of God, whether by the foretelling fo future contingencies, or opening the Scriptures by preaching or teaching. The prophet, being gifted by God, speaks the word and woll of God to men, who then must render diligent obedience thereto. That sound pretty authoritative to me. Likewise with the speaker in tongues and his interpreter, teachers, and hose gifted for ruling. ISTM the strict continuationist has a dilemma on his hands, as he must surrender his private judgment to those gifted, but he must also discern the true from the false. With neither the urim and thummim nor an apostle (could ‘t said strict continuationist also believe in a latter day apostolate, depending on the scope of what one calls the gifts?), how is he to do this? There was no gainsaying Moses a la Dathan, Korah, and Abiram, or Peter and Paul al la Annanias, Sapphira, and Elymas; can we same for Brother Billy Bob? How would this actually work?

Dominic Bnonn Tennant

Let’s confine ourselves to prophecy. Is it as monolithic as you seem to be assuming? I haven’t read David Aune’s Prophecy in Early Christianity and the Ancient Mediterranean World, but I believe it is considered the standard scholarly monograph on prophecy. In it, he concludes:

Prophetic sayings and speeches preserved in early Christian sources exhibit a wide variety of forms and styles. Even though we have somewhat overconfidently proposed a typology of six types of basic forms of prophetic speech and three kinds of complex forms, it is apparent that only the presence of formal framing devices betrays the possible presence of Christian prophetic speech…There is therefore no such thing as a distinctively characteristic form of Christian prophetic discourse that is recognizable apart from the presence of formal framing devices. The only real exception to this generalization is the apocalyptic vision report, a literary form which we have not considered in any detail and which requires careful study in its own right.

Moreover, it’s hard to make sense of 1 Cor 13:8-10 if it doesn’t mean that prophecy will pass away at the parousia. If it means prophecy will pass away in the church age, that would imply that scripture has passed away too. So prophecy seems to continue (or at least that it can).

This isn’t to say inscripturation still continues. Nor does it mean God still gives revelation for the general public. That would require a separate argument.

Dr P

Perhaps I’m just not up – I take that back, for I’m definitely not – to the level of you and Steve Hayes, but my reading of your responses and thr triablogue link leave me feeling unaswered as to how I’m to respond to a “thus saith the LORD.” The cessationist nay-sayer has a knee-jerk response and need not trouble himself.

ISTM the continuationist needs an ecclesial framework closer to those of the OT and even the catholic churches, in which a prophet is clearly identified and has the clear proof of his charism publicly recognized. I can’t imagine anyone having told Isaiah”sorry, dude, but no revelation after Moses” when the office of prophet was clearly in operation. St John the Baptist and Agabus were both recognized prophets in churches which recognized the office.

Lutherans of the quia sort are strict cessationists, seeing NT prohecy as ” a simple reporting of what God appears to bring to mind (,” which appears to br a via media between hard cessationism and pentecostalism. The Scots presbyterians seem to have a similar view in calling the preaching of licentiates “prophesying at meetings.”

Nonetheless these answers seem too pat, making God an apotheosis of Heloise cum her helpful hints versus a giver of infallible revelation seen in both Testaments; ie hedging one’s bet. See 1 Kg 20:35f wheree a prophet gave an explicit command to individual to commit a specific act;’ and punished one who didn’t comply; what of Brother Billy Bob’s command? What guidance would a continuationist give, and why? Again, the catholics are loaded with this sort of stuff; eg Fatima, miraculous relics, incorrupt bodies, myrrh-gushing relics, visions, and the like., which would seem a continuationist’s dream.

Gor myself, I’m a weak continuationist only because I can’t see myself telling God how to run His creation, but an an arch-skeptic vis-a-vis claims of the miraculous, and can give no better answer. I am open to your arguments.

Dominic Bnonn Tennant

I think my first question would be, do you see the gift of prophecy as necessarily implying the office of prophet? If so, why?

Of course, in the OT, the gift went with the office. But if we recognize that the NT church is not structured like that, and the office is done away with, does it follow that we should think the gift is also done away with?

Dr P

Good question, but I must say that I see no reason to separate gift from office. That the OT and NT churches are strctured differently, they are still parallel – at least to those of us who still hold to the 3 offices of bishop, presbyter (priest writ large), and deacon, plus a high view of the ancient rites of the church. Healings involve apostolic “sacramentals” and ecclesial impostion of hands and chrism rather than self-styled healers and their self-glorifying “ministries.”

In the OT, Moses’ 70 elders prophesied, as did Saul temporarily. In both cases, those men were officers in a church-state rather than Joe Budweisers. Per NT prophecy, it’s less clear whether it was restricted to recognized prophets or merely landed on various believers momentarily. In fine, I see no reason in the NT to believe that the gift is in any wise separate from the office, and am still curious as to how a confirmed continuationist would handle a latter-day “thus saith the LORD.” I function as an ultraskeptical cautious continuationist, believing these sorts of things are restricted to extraordinary times and places, but I’m not sure if I can justify my position.

Dominic Bnonn Tennant

I think you’re looking at the whole structure too monolithically. Even in the OT, the office of prophet wasn’t something only given to people who were already in positions of authority in the church-state. Rather, prophets were divinely commissioned. The Word would appear to them in a vision and say, “You’re going to talk to Israel for me.”

I don’t hold to the same view of church structure that you do, so I doubt any answer I give will be satisfying. I don’t think the roles in the church are demarcated in terms of an authority hierarchy like you do. We are all officers of the church already because we are all priests. So I think church roles are demarcated in terms of function; pastors, teachers, evangelists, etc.

That being the case, I have no reason to think that the gift of prophecy will be withheld from anyone in particular. Not that it will be given to anyone and everyone; just that there’s no reason to think it can’t be.

But given that God has completed his public revelation and recorded it all in Scripture, I don’t think prophecy in the NT looks like a “thus saith Yahweh” event. Not that God couldn’t send a word for a particular situation, but there’s no reason to expect it. Prophecy looks more like the anecdotes related by Spurgeon, about how he spontaneously came to know things about people that were useful for their salvation or for the edification of his church.

So if someone came to me saying they had a word from the Lord, I would listen to what they had to say, but I would test the spirits. 99.999% of people who say that sort of thing are just jacked up on their own ideas, rather than speaking in the Spirit.

Dr P

When St Peter called the NT church a kingdom of priests, he only reiterated the description of OT Israel. Since the latter had both general and specific priesthoods, I see no reason to believe that the former doesn’t, and so am not sure what to make of your distinction. In the OT, the office of prophet was clear in that those commissioned were both gifted and publicly recognized as prophets; I can’t see why one should not expect the same in the NT church. Is there a Scriptural reason you know of for this assumption of discontinuity between the Testaments? Also, while I am inclined to believe Mr Spurgeon’s accounts, these sound more like what St Paul called a “word of knowledge” than prophecy, as no authoritative pronouncement or prediction was made. Am I missing something?

The problem for me is not so much the threat to the doctrine of Scripture (although I still see one) as is the authoritative nature of prophecy as a word from God – a definition problem like I had with John. Should Brother Billy Bob tell me to do something sinful, it would be easy for me to write him off as a false prophet; a command to perform something adiaphora might be more problematic.

Dominic Bnonn Tennant

When St Peter called the NT church a kingdom of priests, he only reiterated the description of OT Israel. Since the latter had both general and specific priesthoods, I see no reason to believe that the former doesn’t, and so am not sure what to make of your distinction.

I assume we are coming from quite different theological trajectories, but let me make a brief comment:

It’s true that in Exodus 19:6, God calls Israel a “kingdom of priests”. But given that to be a priest, you had to be a member of the tribe of Levi, it’s very implausible to interpret this as meaning that everyone in Israel was a priest. Rather, he must be emphasizing that Israel is, as it were, replete with priests—which in turn emphasizes his close relationship with Israel, since it was through these priests that ritual access to God was made possible.

However, in Revelation 1:6, for instance, John refers to “us”—namely himself and his readers in the seven churches—as priests. This is the whole point of the letter to the Hebrews: since Jesus, acting as high priest, has made us permanently holy before God, we all have direct access to him through the Holy Spirit, without need for other human intermediaries. In that respect, because we have access to the holy of holies, we are all now priests.

If that is the case, it fundamentally alters the nature of the church hierarchy between the old and new covenants. Whereas formerly there was an authority hierarchy along bloodlines, concerned with maintaining ritual purity, now everyone is equal, and roles and authority are assigned on the basis of gifting (not necessarily supernatural of course).

Anyway, in terms of prophecy, there are certainly unanswered questions, and problems like your good friend Brother Billy Bob. But then, Israel had a good share of false prophets, and the NT warns us to be on the watch for false prophets—so it would be odd if there were no true prophets to distinguish them from, surely? It seems God expects us to be able to tell the difference. No doubt that’s one reason he gave us the Bible. So we know what to look for ;)

Dr P

You’re right about our different trajectories, as I would see Joe (Yossel?) Israelite as a general priest, avle to petition God for unbelievers, eg while capitve in Babylon, versus the Levitical priests who could perform sacrifice. The same would be in the NT, where I can pray for unsaved loved ones whom God will not hear, as opposed to presbyters and bishops, who can offer the sacraments. The difference is in an expansion the covenant a la Isaiah 66:21 rather than a radical democratizing of the priesthood. I suspect we differ on a number of trajectories.

Getting back to the question at hand, though, how would you test an alleged prophecy against Scripturee in a matter which is adiaphora? I still see no guidance here.

Neal Herring

This is absolutely awesome! My first time reading you was on one of your critiques of Roger Olson. It was so well written and amply scriptural that I knew you had to be a continuationist as well!

Dominic Bnonn Tennant

Haha, well thank you Neal. I’m glad you enjoyed it. Others have not been so persuaded, but as I say, these are only rough arguments that struck me one day and I thought were interesting enough to write down.

Ken McKinley

I just stumbled across this site and this particular post. As a partial preterist, the observation from Matthew 24 could be easily answered depending on when one divides Jesus’ teaching on the destruction of the temple and the end of the age. As for false prophets, and antichrist using signs and wonders… could this not simply be that they use said signs and wonders to deceive those who do not love the truth; with part of that truth being that the sign gifts have passed away?
I admit, I’m playing devils advocate. But I wonder how one would answer these objections.

Dominic Bnonn Tennant

Hey Ken, I wouldn’t really “answer” the objections I guess, since I never intended to make a careful or rigorous defense. I was just musing about possible ways to argue that people don’t often use.

As a partial preterist myself, I think you have something of a point on the first issue. And on the second, it would really come down to how plausible you think that is versus how plausible the implication is that I trade on in my argument.