By Raymond Harris
NOTE: Remember that it is not my intention to compose a thesis giving a critical examination of theological perspectives; my reasoning is somewhat simple, doing such an investigation seems to appeal to a small audience. Instead, I am attempting to reveal how I believe the theology is attempting to process biblical teachings. Within that framework, I will reveal some of my thoughts about why I agree or disagree about the theological perspective.
What is Cessation Theology?
Cessation Theology (CeT) interprets that the Miracles, Signs and Wonders (MSW) evidenced in the NT were strictly for either the First Century Church or until the NT canon was finalized. This means that CeT asserts that since about the Second Century the church has not been the recipient of Miracles, Signs or Wonders.
Cessation Theology’s Process of Biblical Teachings
CeT interprets the Gifts of the Spirit:1 wisdom, knowledge, faith, gifts of healing, working of miracles, prophecy, discerning of spirits, kinds of tongues, and interpretations of tongues as having ceased being an active part of the church. This means that passages which suggest anointing the sick with oil and praying for them2 was applicable to the First Century Pre-NT Canonized Church, but is not a part of the modern Church.
The primary passage for asserting CeT seems to be one of Paul’s thoughts that he wrote to the Corinthians. In his discussion about love, Paul stated:
8Charity 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. 9For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. 10But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. (1 Corinthians 13.8-10 KJV)
In this passage CeT interprets Verse Ten as evidence that all MSW would no longer be a part of the NT Church. One way CeT does this is by interpreting “that which is perfect” as the completion of the NT Canon.
Succinctly stated, it seems the principle concern of CeT is that MSW were intended for the establishment of the Church, and either that when 1) the Apostles died and the ones who received the laying on of the apostles hands died, or when 2) the NT canon was completed, there became no need for MSW affirming that with the completion of NT Canon everything became sufficient.
Testing Cessation Theology
As I have done with each theology that we are examining we spend some time testing the theology, we are going to do this primarily by considering some ideas about Paul’s statement regarding “that which is perfect”.
Love: That Which Is Perfect
By utilizing literary context (which was discussed in some decree in the previous installment), why could “that which is perfect” not be love? Love being that which is perfect seems consistent with the passage, which connects back the context of the “more excellent way”3 of Chapter Twelve and Paul’s admonition to the Corinthians to “follow after love”4 in Chapter Fourteen. With this in mind, it seems possible that Paul is reasoning that love will remove the enviousness among believers who had different gifts and capabilities.
It is of interest that Paul stated to the Corinthians,
“brethren, farewell. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you.” (2 Corinthians 13.11, emphasis mine)
It seems that in the closing of the Second Letter, Paul is encouraging them to become perfect, part of perfection includes having love. When we consider that John stated that perfect love casts out all fear,5 we can also conclude that perfect love casts out all envy, with both fully gone the believer becomes perfect.
Christ: That Which Is Perfect
Others have argued that Christ is that which is perfect and have present detailed argumentation for it. Generally speaking, as I have heard it, if Jesus is “that which is perfect” then it is affirmed that MSW should exist and will exist until Jesus returns. But for CeT, it seems that the issue with Christ being “that which is perfect” is that Christ will not be back until the end of times, and CeT affirms that MSW have ceased being a part of the Church.
NT Canon: That Which Is Perfect
This section has the probability of getting me in some real trouble because of the nature of the critique. By my critique, I am in no way suggesting that the accepted NT Canon is lacking sufficiency, because it does not. What I am trying to offer is a critique of the NT Canon being that which is perfect and why it does not seem to be a reasonable spiritual answer to the cessation of MSW, since CeT argues that the NT Canon is that which is perfect.
The problem that I see with CeT arguing the NT Canon being that which is perfect is two-fold: 1) English translations (which means that we are not addressing non-English translations), and 2) original languages. Here is what I mean. No matter how close English translations may be in expressing ideas, no two English translations are the same in expressing ideas found in the Greek. Which is one reason why ministers and Bible students have multiple English translations, in order to get different nuances (“flavors,” if the reader will permit) from the Greek. Also, no matter how many editions an English translation goes through, no two editions are the same; consider how many editions and corrections have been given just to the KJV.
As for original languages, let us work from the assumption that Greek is the original language of the NT (some argue for Hebrew/Aramaic, but for brevity of our discussion we are assuming Greek). While the Greek NT manuscripts correlate substantially, if memory serves, higher than ninety-five percent, this still leaves a discrepancy. Even if the discrepancy were only one-half of one-percent, it cannot be mathematically or scientifically perfect. Would such fractionary discrepancy make the NT Canon spiritually imperfect? I will reason, no. But suffice it to say, that anything less than one hundred percent perfection in physical existence is less than perfect.
This less than perfect-ness can be reasoned to scribal error and erosion of ink and papyrus over time; but the issue remains, if that which is perfect is perfection of physical text and continuation of NT Canon, then we have to admit that physical perfection of text does not exist. This in no way should remove the Church’s or Christian’s faith in God, Jesus, or eternity in Heaven, simply that which is perfect being the NT Canon is insufficient evidence to prove the cessation of MSW.
Epaphroditus: A NT Anomaly
In Philippians Paul mentions that a fellow Christian named Epaphroditus “was sick near unto death”.6 Based on Paul’s description, here is an instance that seems far greater in severity than Peter’s mother-in-law having a fever,7 but neither Paul nor any one else seems to do anything miraculous for Epaphroditus.
What is interesting is that the NT records Jesus healing every sickness and every disease among the people;8 and handkerchiefs or aprons were taken from Paul and people used them to be healed,9 and Paul even brought Eutychus back to life after Eutychus fell from a window,10 but neither Paul nor any one else seems to do anything miraculous for Epaphroditus. One feels compelled to ask: why? About the only reason I have is that the NT reveals not everyone received miraculous healing.
I am supposing here, but it seems proper to conclude that if everyone in the NT received some type of miraculous cure, then it would come to be expected that everyone would receive a miraculous cure. It seems that the NT provides instances like Epaphroditus to reveal that as much as MSW were available during the days of Jesus and Apostles, not everyone received miraculous healing.
Since it seems that Paul is insinuating that Epaphroditus was not miraculously healed, even though Epaphroditus lived during “the golden age of MSW,” then it seems to logically follow that if MSW existed in the modern church that not everyone would receive a miraculous healing. Therefore it seems proper to conclude that the absence of miraculous healing does not negate the possibility of a miraculous healing from having occurred, or occurring to someone else.
Thoughts about Prayer
It seems clear that the First Century Church believed in MSW, but that subsequent centuries do not necessarily believe MSW are possible. Since my Restoration Heritage beckons me to seek and understand the First Century Church, and since the First Century Church believed in MSW, it makes me ponder the possibility of MSW. Which gives me pause for the next thought.
If MSW are no longer possible, this seems to indicate that God has chosen to not let all things be possible, if this is true then it seem proper to conclude that prayer is limited. But, you see, I don’t believe that and neither do most Christians I’ve met. When we ask God “to reach down and heal” or “give a guiding hand” what are we doing in those prayers doing, if we are not asking for God to perform some type of “miracle”? Whether or not we recognized this or not, we include these things in our prayers because we believe we should pray because Jesus taught us to pray, because we believe that we should A.S.K. (Ask, Seek and Knock),11 and because we believe that God truly rewards those who diligently seek him.12
Thoughts about Earthly Hope
Irrespective of “dispensation” all things should be possible with God. Otherwise, if God has chosen not to do MSW to help modernity, but helped His people in the First Century I now ask: why would God give earthly hope and eternal hope to the First Century, but only Eternal Hope to the modernity?
While eternity in heaven with God is glorious beyond imagination, it seems impossible for God to give physical and eternal hope to Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the Children of Israel, and the First Century Church just to give strip away physical hope for the Modern church and leave only eternal hope to Modern Christians who must still exist in a physical world.
Since God authored Christianity through His Son, and Christianity is truly a better covenant built on better promises,13 CeT seems inadequate. It seems proper to conclude that stripping away physical hope for those who live in a physical world seems antithetical to the well-established behavior of the God of Christianity.
It may seem almost heretical to ask this, since it has been argued the MSW were done to confirm the Gospel, then if CeT affirms that that MSW no longer exists because the NT canon exists, then does it not seem logically correlative to claim that belief in Jesus has somehow been reduced because the NT canon exists? Diminished belief in Jesus does not seem probable when all things are possible.
I feel compelled to ask: What is so inherently “wrong” with MSW? If MSW helped convince people in the First Century of the veracity of the Gospel, does it not stand as correlative that MSW would do the same today?
Are All Things Possible?
Four times in the Gospels, Jesus indicates that all things are possible with God – once in Matthew, three times in Mark.14 Since it is assumed that Matthew was written for a Hebraic/Jewish audience, and as a nation Israel had experienced and witnessed God perform MSW, it seems proper to conclude that the Jewish people really would not have needed much more to convince them that “with God all things are possible.”15
But it is interesting that the other three “all things are possible” are written in the Gospel of Mark, which scholars believe to be written to a Roman Audience, which would make the Romans a Gentile Audience. It now becomes interesting because a Gentile might actually need more convincing that “all things really are possible” for the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Knowing this, it becomes tremendously significant that in the Gospel of Mark it is not possible for God to take away the cup of suffering from Jesus16 for if God removed Jesus’ suffering, God would have removed human atonement.
The other two instances in the Gospel of Mark of “all things being possible” is for a father needing his son healed.17 The other (which is the same found in Matthew) is that “with God all things are possible” for salvation18 a concept worth telling first to the Jew and then the Gentile. These salvation passages assert that all things are possible with God.19 But as for the miraculous healing for the man’s son, Jesus plainly said, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him that believes.”20 This seems to indicate that in some instances belief is required. I emphasis some instances because there are NT passages that seem to indicate the recipient not requiring belief, as seen in Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law;21 and when Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead.22
As we should learn from the father requesting healing, belief is a powerful ally. According to Jesus, belief is a work23 and this is one reason why belief in Jesus is what saves.24 But it is also belief that cured the woman who had a issue of blood for twelve years; is it any wonder that both Matthew and Mark reveal that her belief (her faith) healed her?25
It seems proper to conclude, irrespective of “dispensation,” that with God all things are possible. If God so desires to perform MSW then why would I, as a believer, even ponder His lack of ability to perform MSW? So I guess, the question is: Does or does not every good and perfect gift come from above, and come down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning?
So let me conclude by saying that I am not certain that I am capable of addressing and/or answering all the questions that arise if CeT is not the proper theological lens. The only thing that I am certain of is that I am no longer fully convinced that CeT is the proper theological lens; but my doubt of CeT should not be interpreted that I am fully convinced of Continuation Theology.
If Continuation Theology is more accurate, it simply means that events and questions have to be addressed as they arise, which is no different that the circumstances during the First Century, as seen when considering these words from the Apostles Paul and John:
13For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. 14And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. 15Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works. (2 Corinthians 11.13-15 KJV)
1believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world (I John 4.1)
It seems proper to conclude that if MSW are still occurring, then God would still provide his children the ability “to test” whether or not God is the source of the MSW. We must remember that since God provided the First Century Church with the ability to determine source of a MSW, then it stands to spiritual reasoning that God would do the same for the modern Church.
1. “Gifts of the Spirit.” 1 Corinthians 12.4-10.
2. “Anointing the sick will oil and praying for them.” James 5.14-15.
3. “More excellent way.” 1 Corinthians 12.31.
4. “Follow after love.” 1 Corinthians 14.1.
5. “Perfect love casts out all fear.” 1 John 4.18.
6. “Epaphroditus was sick near unto death.” Philippians 2.25-27.
7. “Peter’s mother-in-law having a fever.” Matthew 8.14-15.
8. “Jesus healing every sickness and every disease among the people.” Matthew 9.35.
9. “Handkerchiefs or aprons were taken from Paul and people used them to be healed.” Acts 19.11-12, KJV.
10. “Paul brought Eutychus back to life.” Acts 20.9-12.
11. “Ask, Seek and Knock.” Matthew 7.7-8.
12. “God rewards those who diligently seek him.” Hebrews 11.6.
13. “Covenant built on better promises.” Hebrews 8.6.
14. “Four times in gospels with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19.26; Mark 9.23; 10.27, 14.36, KJV.
15. “With God all things are possible”. Matthew 19.26.
16. “It is not possible for God to take away the cup of suffering from Jesus.” Mark 14.36.
17. “All things being possible is for a father needing his son healed.” Mark 9.23.
18. “With God all things are possible for salvation.” Mark 10.27.
19. “Passages assert that for salvation all things are possible with God.” Matthew 19.26; Mark 10.27.
20. “If you can believe, all things are possible to him that believes.” Mark 9.23
21. “Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law.” Matthew 8.14-15.
22. “Jesus raising Jairus’ daughter from the dead.” Mark 5.22-24, 35-42.
23. “Belief is a work.” John 6.28-29.
24. “Belief in Jesus is what saves.” John 11.25-26.
25. “Woman with issue of blood.” Matthew 9.18-22; Mark 5.24-34.
SOME RESEARCH LINKS
The links are not provided to affirm or deny my perspective; they are, however, provided so that my readers can continue their study drawing their own conclusions.