The Cessation of Spiritual Gifts

Dan’s post from yesterday reminded me of a post I wrote way back nearly 4 years ago when I first started blogging in which I addressed spiritual gifts and the debate between those who are called continuationists and cessationists. I present it for a newer reading audience, slightly modified from its original publication.
Continuationist Christians maintain that spiritual gifts like prophecy and speaking in tongues, and signs and wonders like miraculous healing, have continued to be active with God’s people uninterrupted since the day of Pentecost and are present today in Christ’s Church. There are a small handful of theological “big guns” recognized as “sound” believers – totally outside extreme charismatic denominations where abuse of these spiritual gifts are rampant – like John Piper and Wayne Grudem who hold to continuationalism.On the other side of the aisle are cessationist Christians who believe spiritual gifts like tongues and prophecy, and miraculous signs and wonders, were simply foundational for the New Testament Church as God’s redemptive purposes transitioned from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant. They had a unique and special function for the era immediately following the day of Pentecost. Once that transition was completed (during the close of the apostolic age near the end of the 1st century) the gifts ceased to function. I personally fall into the cessationist camp.

I don’t claim to be an expert in the whole continuationist-cessationist disagreement, nor do I believe I can add anything particularly new to the discussion. I thought, however, that I would offer my proverbial two cents.

I especially wish to answer the one major assertion by those in the continuationist camp I have heard oft repeated. That being, “Show me one Bible verse that teaches cessationism.”

I have heard this question a lot, but I would merely point out the similarity of this rebuttal with that of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Oneness Pentecostals who argue the Bible does not teach the Trinity. One of their key lines of argumentation is to say, “There isn’t one Bible verse that mentions the word Trinity.” Yet, the biblical revelation of the Triune Godhead doesn’t stand or fall on the absence of the elusive one Bible verse, but is testified to a proper exegetical understanding of the whole of scripture.

I would say the same thing about cessationism. What does the whole of scripture reveal about the purpose and work of spiritual gifts? Does the Bible genuinely say these fantastic signs and wonders type gifts will be normative for the entire age of the New Testament? When one considers the biblical data on gifts within the whole of God’s revelation a person can easily conclude gifts like tongues and prophecy had a unique place in the Church and once they served their purpose, they were no longer needed and ceased operations.

Before moving on, it may be helpful to clear up the biggest misunderstanding about cessationism. I believe it is wrongly assumed by cessationist opponents that cessationism is saying God will not work supernaturally. That God can’t or won’t do miracles. This is not what the cessationist is saying. As a cessationist, of course I believe God can still do miracles today. That is not the issue. Rather it is the question of does He regularly use gifted men and women with a special anointing from the Holy Spirit to perform such signs?I believe God does not, because such individuals are no longer necessary. Why are they no longer necessary? In my opinion, because we have the complete revelation of God contained in the Scriptures of the OT and NT. Those gifted people only served to provide the New Covenant revelation that would be our NT document and confirm the message of the saving gospel of Jesus Christ. Once all the revelation was complete and the message confirmed those gifts had served their purpose and ceased.Now, not only will the whole of scripture correctly interpreted conclude these revelatory-confirmatory gifts ceased, I also believe there is one specific passage that teaches us these gifts will cease: 1 Cor. 13:8-10. I have corresponded with many pro-gift, continuationist Christians over the years, so let me share an edited summary of my accumulated correspondence on this subject as to why I believe 1 Cor. 13:8-10 teaches cessationism.

The main point hinges on how we are to understand the word perfect in 1 Corinthians 13:10. I understand the perfect as the completed canon, and I do so for a couple of reason. First, teleion is better rendered the completed, rather than the perfect. During the time of the apostles, the divine revelation of prophecy and knowledge would still be in transmission. God was still in the process of giving revelation to the Church through the apostles and the prophets. However, I believe Paul had in mind that a new covenant document, just like the OT, would be provided by the Lord. Thus, the completed revelation of God’s New Covenant revelation would eventually come to the Christians. Furthermore, the illustrations Paul uses in 1 Cor. 13:11-13 are analogous to this idea of partial revelation in comparison to completed revelation. Paul uses three major illustration:

(1) A child replaced by an adult (13:11) This is a rather simple, yet clear illustration all people can understand. All children will grow into adulthood. In fact, if one does not grow into adulthood, either because of physical disability, or perhaps practical maturity, we understand that to be a grievous situation. Becoming an adult mentally, emotionally, as well as physically, completes the process of human development.

(2) the hazy replaced by the clear (13:12) I understand the phrase “face to face” not to refer to seeing Jesus in his full glory, as many in the continuationist camp, as well as the cessastionist camp believe, but I see it as an analogy of a person being able to see a clear reflection, as opposed to a hazy reflection.

Rarely, if ever, is the word teleion used to speak of flawless perfection. John, James, and Paul use the word consistently to speak of complete maturity. When Paul writes that the Corinthians see, at the moment, in a glass darkly, what does he mean? I think it is simple. In fact, the NASB does a much better job of translating the phrase: Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Paul is picturing a mirror that does not give a clear image. The point Paul is making is that revelatory knowledge at that time was like seeing in a dirty mirror, or perhaps a warped mirror. It only produces a distorted, barely recognizable image. In like manner the revelatory knowledge at that time was not complete, or we can say it was unclear, or only partial.

However, there will come a time, Paul explains, when we all will be able to see face to face. In other words, the image in the mirror will be as clear as seeing someone face to face. Though I understand the eschatological interpretation of this phrase is the most popular, i.e., the idea of seeing Jesus face to face in the eternal state, the immediate context of 1 Cor. 13 does not validate that interpretation.

(3) Imprecise knowing replaced by precise knowing (13:12)
. Expanding on the picture of a hazy reflection, the idea of seeing is often used in scripture as mental perception. A hindrance to vision would mean a hindrance to knowledge. An interesting cross reference to this notion of vision equating knowledge is found in 2 Cor. 3:14-4:6. There, Paul speaks of knowledge being the illumination the Holy Spirit brings in the hearts of men. Where do we have contained for us the complete and full knowledge of the gospel of Jesus Christ and its ability to transform lives? Where we can truly see, as it were, face to face now? I believe in the completed NT canon.

The whole point of Paul’s words in 13:8-12 is to inform us that these gifts had a specific purpose for a stated period of time. Eventually, they will come to an end because something would replace them. I think tongues ended at the destruction of Jerusalem, and prophecy and knowledge at the finishing of the NT canon.

For those interested in further study on cessationism, I addressed spiritual gifts in a series of lectures I once gave on Genuine Christian Spirituality. They are available for the downloading or the podcasting.

16 thoughts on “The Cessation of Spiritual Gifts

  1. I disagree with your interpretation of 1 Cor 13:8-13. This is the most famous (and only) passage that cessationists quoted to support the ending of spiritual gifts. But they have misinterpreted and even twisted it to support their lack of faith and unbelief. Their belief in the cessation of spiritual gifts belittles the power of God and reduces their faith to just another religion.Cessationism is a cult, and amount to changing God’s words. (Rev 22:18-19)Now let me explain to you the correct interpretation of 1 Cor 13:8-13.Taken on its own, these few verses seem to indicate that spiritual gifts will end. But if you read it in context of the entire chapter 13, it is certainly untrue.1. This chapter is about love. The Corinthian church has many spiritual gifts, but are divisive and bickering (1 Cor 12).2. Therefore, 1 Cor 13:1-7 addresses the fundamental problem, which is the lack of love among the Christians. They spoke in tongues, prophesy, gave words of knowledge, but lack the human touch and compassion for their listeners.3. But isn’t this is how new or immature Christians behave? Although they are self righteous, and over-zealous in criticizing others and passing judgement. This is what verse 12 talks about. The child is an immature Christian, using his spiritual gifts without the fruits (love, joy, peace, etc)4. V8-9 … prophecies, they will cease… tongues, they will be stilled … knowledge, they will pass away. This is the favourite verses of cessionists. But they have left out the first 3 words in v8, “Love never fails”.5. Let me explain what is v8-9 really means. – All prophesies will cease because when the prophesied event happens, the prophecy ends.- Tongues will be stilled because no one can continue speaking away without pausing to rest and drink water.- Knowledge will pass way, because as new knowledge supersedes the old. Just like a digital camera superseding a film camera.It’s common sense, and this is the power of the Word of God, where a simple mind can already understand. But a theologian wise in his own way gets stumbled.6. What is this “perfection” in v10 means? Cessationists equates perfection to the completion of the New Testament, and the subsequently the ceasing of spiritual gifts. As there is no other passages of scripture to support their version of perfection, every cessationist theology I’ve read is a long-winded, beating around the bush attempt to confuse the reader with feeble arguments from 1 Cor 13:10.7. Let me then explain perfection. It is found in 1 Cor 14:1, “Follow the way of love”. Therefore perfection here refers to the use of spiritual gifts with fruits of the spirit, and practicing faith with good works.8. Perfection is best summed up by 1 John 4:18, which states:”There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”Thus, perfection is doing everything in love.I’ve been a Christian for 25 years. I’ve been a cessionist to charismatic. I’ve seen spiritual gifts happening in the church and missions field. So the cessationist doctrine is a faithless denial of the powers of God. To a cessionist, it seems that when a sick person is prayed for and recovered immediately, it is the works of Satan. But if he recovers after a long time, it is the work of God. How ridiculous!But in the end, Christianity is about the love of God in action.

  2. Thanks Mun for the comments,Let me address some of your thoughts: Cessationism is a cult, and amount to changing God’s words. (Rev 22:18-19) (Fred) Wow, those are some rather strong words. Cessationism is an organized cult? I would be curious as to your definition of the word “cult.” I find that statement to be completely made from ignorance. The primary reason is that historically, the groups who practiced the gifts were known for unorthodox theology and sub-biblical teaching. They tended toward Gnosticism, mystery religions and other strange doctrines. In our modern days, the primary movers of charismatic theology are groups which seem to be tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine. They readily gravitate toward the Word of Faith movement and the Toronto Blessing non-sense. They are always looking for some one to mutter and peep a new “word” from God as if the scriptures are not sufficient to supply it and they are easily led astray into error, generally manifested in believing false prophecies, false teachers like T.D. Jakes and Benny Hinn, and being departed from their hard earned money by shucksters. Taken on its own, these few verses seem to indicate that spiritual gifts will end. But if you read it in context of the entire chapter 13, it is certainly untrue. (Fred) Interesting that you say “Taken on its own” as if the words are clear enough to begin with, but then you have to “clarify” the words by the use of your unique interpretation. Any how,I would agree with your general assessment, until you begin making a case for why prophecy, tongues and knowledge are to be redefined in a different manner than what Paul has defined them in his discussion. You never address any of my exegesis of the text:I don’t see you providing a clear definition of the word telion, translated as “perfect” or “complete,” the whole discussion of the middle and active voice in the original Greek as it pertains to the cessation of tongues, prophecy and knowledge, how those three categories relate to Paul’s categories of gifts in chapter 12:7-10my connecting gifts to the nature of the New Covenant, Paul’s use of his illustrations near the end of chapter 13 as they relate to the purpose of spiritual gifts, and the entire chapter of 1 Corinthians 13 as it fits in with chapters 12 and continues into chapter 14. Those are important factors you gloss over. 6. What is this “perfection” in v10 means? Cessationists equates perfection to the completion of the New Testament, and the subsequently the ceasing of spiritual gifts. As there is no other passages of scripture to support their version of perfection, every cessationist theology I’ve read is a long-winded, beating around the bush attempt to confuse the reader with feeble arguments from 1 Cor 13:10.(Fred) I would be curious as to what long-winded cessationist theology you have read? Have you looked at B.B. Warfield, Sam Waldron, Thomas Edger, Robert Thomas, for example? I never considered their attempts to be “beating around the bush to confuse readers.” At any rate, not all cessationists equate the perfection to the completion of the NT. That happens to be my position. Generally, they equate it to the completion of the church as to necessary revelation and knowledge for it to function. That revelation and knowledge was given by the apostles and ended when they died. Or, they will understand the perfection with the second coming. As for there being no other passages, I suggest looking at Ephesians 4 and 2 Corinthians 3-4:6 where Paul uses similar language to talk about the maturity of the Church as a whole by the work of the Spirit providing the necessary revelation for the Church to function as God intended it to. I’ve been a Christian for 25 years. I’ve been a cessionist to charismatic. I’ve seen spiritual gifts happening in the church and missions field. So the cessationist doctrine is a faithless denial of the powers of God.(Fred) What church are you affilated with? I have seen spiritual gifts happening in the Church and on the mission field as well, but I have yet to see gifted messengers who have the ability to turn on and turn off spiritual power and use it as God has anointed them to use it. I take it then, that you would believe God still provides divine revelation? If so, why is it necessary in light of the Bible? Why isn’t the scripture sufficient to lead and direct a person? But in the end, Christianity is about the love of God in action. (Fred) Why is it needful to experience spiritual gifts to show the love of God in action as a Christian?

  3. The opposite of Cessationists are the Sensationists. These are people that are easily swayed by emotions, without seeking to verify the teaching with God’s Word. Their lives (and their leaders) may not be right before God, and God will deal with them if they do not repent.The early Disciples of Christ did not practise such sensational teachings. Luke, who wrote one-third of the NT, is a doctor and not a faith healer. Even Paul have asked Timothy to consume wine for his stomach ailment, and not by miracle healing (1 Tim 5:23). So I agree with you that certain “charismatic” doctrines are wrong, but I also disagree with the cesssationist doctrine.Now I come to the word perfect, or “teleios” in Greek. This word occurred 19 times in 17 verses in the KJV NT. This word is associated in the context of “be perfect”, “perfect man”, “perfect gift”, “perfect tabernacle”, “perfect law”, and “perfect love”. In Greek, the word perfect is “teleios”, while complete is “pleroo”, so they are not the same! In Col 4:12, you will find both words used together: You can verify the Greek interpretation from“Epaphras, who is [one] of you, a servant of Christ, saluteth you, always labouring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect {teleios} and complete {pleroo} in all the will of God.”If perfect equals complete, then why Paul uses both words in the same verse? The difference is that “perfect” refers to the end of some act or state, but not of the end of a period of time, while complete means to fill up totally. So an analogy is that a marathon runner may be perfect in his running ability, but not complete as a triathlete who needs to be able to cycle and swim.Therefore, nothing in the scripture to suggest that the perfection is the result of the NT being completed. Instead this perfection always refers to the attribute of a person.Next, there is nothing unique is my interpretation of 1 Cor 13:8. It is just taking the words literally without reading between the lines, with a simple mind. If you refer again to 1 Cor 13:8 in Greek, you will find that Paul applied the word “katargeo” (or cease) to both prophecies and knowledge; and applied the word “pauo” (or pause) to tongues. Why didn’t he use the same word “katargeo” to all three gifts? Isn’t it possible that “pauo” of tongues means that a person cannot speak indefinitely in tongues without taking rest?I have not read the works of B.B. Warfield, Sam Waldron, Thomas Edger, Robert Thomas, et al. But I read the Bible and the testimonies of people like Betty Baxter, Daniel Ekechukwu., Brother Yun, George Muller and Samuel Doctorian. These are people who experienced the miracles of God in their lives. Are the skeptics, who denies miracles or have not witness any miracles, more credible than them? It is the same analogy as people who did not go to the moon denying that NASA faked the moon landing.The cessationists treat the Bible as a historical book, but to me it is the living Word of God. Every religion has their sacred scriptures detailing miracles. But God’s Bible stands out from them because Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. The miracles and gifts are still there. God the Father is ready to give these gifts to those He wills and willing to believe by faith.Finally I’m an Anglican. Every miracle that I witnessed, in church or missions field has one purpose only – which is to glorify God! To your question “Why isn’t the scripture sufficient to lead and direct a person?” It depends how you want the scripture to lead and direct you. Those who refuse to believe that spiritual gifts have ceased will not receive spiritual gifts from God. Those who want spiritual gifts for His works and glory will receive according to His will.

  4. I don’t see why cessationism is such a problem. The OT miracles ceased, why not the NT ones? I don’t see any men with super human strength ripping lions in half, or men parting the Red Sea anymore. The miracles then fulfilled a specific purpose, then ended. The apostolic gifts fulfilled a specific purpose, then ended. Just a thought.

  5. The OT miracles ceased, why not the NT ones? Here’s the thing: everyone knows the revelatory and sign gifts have ceased.That’s why all the energy in Charismaticism is invested in diversion, or redefinition.If NT signs were happening, there’d be no debate among Christians.

  6. I think the great theologian Mr. T had the best cessationist argument, “Stop all the jibba jabba fool!”

  7. 1CO 13:8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. Ok here we go. The main issue here is when did these gifts stopped operating. Cessationists will refer to extrabiblical references to satisfy this question, but actually if we will look at its beginning in Christian history it is fairly easy to resolve this issue.But first let me categorically declare: It is true that these gifts will cease to operate as per the above quoted verse. But when?Cessationist answer is wrong.The answer can be found on Peter's speech at the Day of Pentecost.Here it is:AC 2:17 " `In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. AC 2:18 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.Here Peter clearly stated that what happened at the Day of Pentecost is the fulfillment of Joel's prophecy. The time when these things happened is called "the last days." There is no mistaking that Peter is acknowledging that the beginning of "the last days" is the Pentecost Day which is also the day of the outpouring of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. That is the main key here. Mind you part of that last day prophecy is yet to be fulfilled our time. Which part is it?Here it is:AC 2:19 I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. AC 2:20 The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.The signs and gifts are coterminous with the season of Joel's "the last days" prophecy. Ours is still the season of the last days. It is a big mistake that we present-day believers keep on saying the gifts have ceased now by wrongly quoting Paul's letter to the Corinthians. We are still in the last days. You better start correcting your theology now. The cessationists are facing a big accountability to God. They should repent of this particular sin.

  8. I just want to clarify one of the illustrations used by Paul in I Corinthians. He uses the illustration of mirrors on purpose. Corinth is the birthplace of the modern day mirror. There was no mirror in that time that gave a clear picture. Mirrors were convex pieces of metal that were highly polished, and provided a highly distorted and unclear image of the person who was looking into it. Historically, it is not until the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries that glass was able to be used in conjunction with metal to provide an efficient image.So, contextually, it is possibly more appropriate to suggest that the mirror is the provision of the unclear image, and that "then", we will see "face to face". In this context this would suggest a personal encounter, not just an understanding of Scripural revelation. Any thoughts?

  9. Until 18 months ago I was basically a cessationist. Although I did not operate in any charismatic gifts, after much study I recognized that in 1 Corinthians Paul is talking about two different types of tongues: 1) A sign to the unbeliever2) A believer speaking to God, not man.The 2nd being the one that operates most frequently today. I did not have the gift but realized that because believers we not speaking in known tongues the way the apostles did on the Day of Pentecost did not refute the genuineness of the action. Making the comparison of Jehovah Witnesses saying show us where the word "Trinity" appears in the Bible and non-cessationist saying show us scripture that supports the teaching of cessation is a very poor analogy. We refute Witnesses by showing scripture that supports the "doctrine" of the Trinity. Non-cessationist are asking cessationist to do the very thing we do to support the "doctrine" of the Trinity, namely show scriptures that support the doctrine of cessationism. No one that I know is asking cessationist to show them where the "word" cessation appears in the scripture. Whenever someone makes a claim so serious as cessation the burden of proof lies with the one claiming that God no longer does something that He did since the beginning of time, move supernaturally in the life of one who loves Him and believes that He does miraculous things. Abraham didn't just believe that God "could" give him a son. Abraham believed God "would" give him a son.Jesus said in John 10:37 "if I do not do the works of my Father believe me not".Aren't Christians lives supposed to reflect the life of Christ as much as supernaturally, not naturally, possible?Paul said in 1Thess 1:5 "Our gospel did not come to you in word only but in power and the Holy Spirit"Finally, if you study when Israel receives its rain each year you'll notice that they initially receive rain just before the spring feasts then go through a long dry spell only to receive their greater rainfall just before the fulfillment of the fall feasts. What a coincidence. That exactly reflects the history of the church and the outpouring of Holy Spirit!

  10. In Cor13 Paul concludes that faith & hope shall ABIDE when that which is perfect is come. In Rom8:24 its clear that hope (& faith too) do not abide when that which you hope for is present. Thus Paul is not refering to Christ's coming, but to the completion of Scripture. When Scripture is complete, faith & hope will still abide, till the Day of Christ. ope shall ABIDE when that which is perfect is come. In Rom8:24 its clear that hope (& faith too) do not abide when that which you hope for is present. Thus Paul is not refering to Christ's coming, but to the completion of Scripture. When Scripture is complete, faith & hope will still abide, till the Day of Christ.

  11. My testimony is that for 3 years I was taking medicine for a bipolar illness. In Feb. 2011, I asked the Lord Jesus to take away the pills that were harming me. In doing so I received supernatural healing! God has healed me. It took me 4 months to regain my thoughts from being on the man made drugs. My deacons don't believe me, but a local pharmisest (spelling?) has told me that because I have not had any problems with lack of sleep or high emotions that I am healed. This is my testimony and this is what I have experianced and I know God is able to do the impossible!

  12. Pingback: Biblical and Theological Studies | hipandthigh

  13. Pingback: The Continuationists’ Signs and Wonders Problem | hipandthigh

  14. Pingback: Does Charismata Exist Today? | End Time Musings

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