"Unity without verity is no better than conspiracy." - John Trapp

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Perfect and the Prophets


The long discussion between Dan Phillips and Adrian Warnock over cessationism (Dan's position) and continualism (i.e. belief in the continuation of charismatic gifts - Adrian's position) continues. I want to revisit a subject I have blogged on before, specificly the nature of "the perfect" in 1 Corinthians 13:8-12. I touched on the significance of Revelation 11:3 to determining what the perfect is in the previous post, but I want to develop the relationship further.

Let me post the significant passages so we have them in hand.
Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:8-12 ESV)
And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth. (Revelation 11:3 ESV)

First Syllogism

A syllogism is a form of logical argument. A typical syllogism has two premises and an inference. In evaluating this kind of syllogism, you need to ask two basic questions. First, are the premises true? Second, is the inference valid.

Here's my syllogism about 1 Corinthians 13:8-12 and Revelation 11:3.

Premise 1: 1 Corinthians 13:8-12 says that the coming of the perfect will end prophecy.
Premise 2: Revelation 11:3 says that prophecy will occur after the completion of the canon.

Inference: The perfect cannot be the completed canon.

Let's examine each part. Premise 1 is not, as far as I know, disputed by anyone. Premise 2 would be disputed by those that hold to some form of preterist (the view that some or all New Testament prophecy has already been fulfilled - see here) interpretion of Revelation. For the most part then, most will agree with Premise 2.

The remaining question then is whether or not the inference is valid. This is not a difficult inference to make. If we agree with Premise 1 (the perfect ends prophecy) and Premise 2 (prophecy occurs after the completion of the canon) then the perfect is not the completed canon.

Not So Fast

Another possible argument that would invalidate the inference is that the prophecy described in Revelation 11:3 is not the gift of prophecy which passes away at the completion of the canon. I would agree that if this were the case, then the inference would not be justified (it might still be true, but it could not be deduced from these two premises).

The problem is that most cessationists will say that the view of Wayne Grudem, et. al. that New Testament prophecy is different from Old Testament prophecy is false, because prophecy is prophecy. If you argue that the prophecy of Revelation 11:3 is different than the prophecy of 1 Corinthians 13:8-12, then you cannot deny the possibility that the prophecy of 1 Corinthians 13:8-12 is different than Old Testament prophecy. In fact, it would seem likely that the prophecy of Revelation 11:3 would be more like OT prophecy than the prophecy of 1 Corinthians 13:8-12.

The Second Syllogism

None of the above disproves cessationism. But with the exception of preterists it makes holding to a "perfect = completed canon" position almost impossible.

Another claim made by cessationists is that continualists/charismatics have a "leaky canon". By this they mean that the continuation of prophecy (and tongues) endangers the sufficiency of Scripture. But does it really?

Premise 1: According to Revelation 11:3 God will send prophets after the closing of the canon.
Premise 2: God has closed the canon.

Inference: The existence of prophets does not impune the integrity of the canon.

As before, only a preterist would disagree with Premise 1. There are those who would disagree with Premise 2, but they are outside the scope of this discussion. As far as I know, every cessationist would affirm Premise 2. But if both premises are true, then the inference is the logical result.

Other Evidence

In my previous post on this subject, I mentioned Acts 21:8-11:
On the next day we departed and came to Caesarea, and we entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him. He had four unmarried daughters, who prophesied. While we were staying for many days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’ ” (ESV)

Generally when this passage is looked at in this debate, it centers on Agabus. I want to note Philip's daughters, who prophesied. What did they prophesy? Is it written down? Is it canon? No, it is not canon. Not all prophecy is canonical.

There are Old Testament examples as well of non-canonical prophecy.
And the king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “There is yet one man by whom we may inquire of the Lord, Micaiah the son of Imlah, but I hate him, for he never prophesies good concerning me, but evil.” And Jehoshaphat said, “Let not the king say so.” (1 Kings 22:8 ESV)

Micaiah's prophecies were of God (read 1 Kings 22:5-40) but aside from this one prophecy, they are not recorded. Prophecies may be for a specific time, place, and person, without broader application that would warrant that they be part of Scripture. This is true of OT prophets, NT prophets, and is true of present and future prophets, if God should deem to grant such. It is not correct to assume that a belief in the continuation of prophecy de facto jeopordizes the canon. Prophets do not make the Scriptures leaky, and God apparently thinks there is a place for extra-Biblical revelation, based on Revelation 11:3.

Bounding My Statements

First, neither of these syllogisms, even if fully correct, disproves cessationism. I think they significantly weaken the cessationist case, but cessationists have other arguments for their position. I don't believe there is a strong Biblical case for cessationism, but I'm fallible and could be wrong.

Second, I am not a charismatic and I am skeptical of modern day manifestations of what are called the NT charismatic gifts (prophecy, tongues, etc.). I do believe that prophecy has to be infallible, contrary to the argument of many charismatics. However, I have been greatly impressed with many Reformed Charismatics, and I am not willing to say that their experiences are contrary to Scripture.

Third, from what I can tell from writings on blogs, Dan Phillips and Adrian Warnock both are Christians who desire to follow our Lord. I appreciate the passion with which they are willing to defend their beliefs, and the Christian love and humility that keeps them civil in that defense. This is not a personal attack on either man.

Why did I write this then? While I may not be as optimistic as Adrian about how effective this medium will be for bringing it about, I believe we must wrestle with the Bible as Jacob wrestled with God "until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ." (Ephesians 4:13 ESV)


Blogger Even So... said...

Bless you...

You know, Eddie, I had a thought; you wouldn't have a brother named Sergio, would you?

I just remembered a guy who grew up around my neighborhood, in the elementary years, and some middle school, whose name was "Eddie Beal"...

Could it be you? Ever live in Florida? Early 70's?

Just a thought...

12:06 AM EDT  
Blogger Taliesin said...

(Still half asleep this morning, I think)

Never lived in Florida (visited a few times for work and had a nephew who lived there last year before moving out to California). I’m living in the house my parents purchased here in Indiana in the 50's. I spent several years in Texas after college, but other than that Indiana has always been home (I guess I just like corn).

Once I would have been shocked to learn there were many other Eddie Beal’s out there. I always thought the name was fairly unusual (Beal is spelled so many different ways, and this is not the most common). But I've discovered there are more out there then I would have suspected.

8:00 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm no bible scholar but judging from Paul's comparison of seeing in a mirror "dimly" v.s. face to face, I always assumed that the "perfect" which will make the partial obsolete is speaking about our ability to see Him perfectly, in a face to face encounter instead of indirectly and "dimly" ( the greek form of our word 'enigma') in a mirror. I came to this conclusion long before I even knew that there were those who claimed that the completed bible canon was "the perfect" of 1 Cor. 13. It is interesting that the epistle of James equates the "mirror" with the word of God (1:23). This turns the cessationist' argument on it's head.
There is another argument showing that the "perfect" is a face to face encounter with the Lord. It is based on the continuation of the obvious prophetic 'type' found beginning in Genesis 22. I came across the idea of seeing prophetic implications in seemingly trivial oddities found in bible passages through hearing a tape by Chuck Missler on this kind of thing in Genesis 22 & 23. It was sometime later when I was no longer a brand new Christian and I came in contact with people who said the bible is "that which is perfect" that one day as I was reading the bible I noticed a verse in Genesis 24 which solved the question, at least for me.

After the Beloved Son (Isaac/Jesus) is offered as a sacrifice on the mountain in chapter 22, Sarah dies (Israel is cut off because of their unbelief) in chapter 23. Then in chapter 24 Eliezer, whose name means "God is my Helper(type of the Holy Spirit Who is our 'Helper') is sent to get a bride (the church) for the Son. This bride travels on a CAMEL as Eliezer leads her to meet her husband-to- be. (camels are associated with gifts, riches and wealth throughout scripture. Here the camel probably symbolizes all of the spiritual gifts, and maybe also the word of God, since it is inspired by the Holy Spirit and He reveals it's truth to us as our Teacher). When I got to Genesis 24:64 it hit me - When she lifted her eyes and SAW Isaac, she DISMOUNTED FROM HER CAMEL (it was no longer necessary and could be 'done away').

I know this will not be considered 'proof', but I can't help but relate it to 1 Cor. 13:12.

2:15 PM EDT  

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