A Biblical Defense Of The Cessation Of Special Revelation Part 2

A Biblical Defense Of The Cessation Of Special Revelation Part 2

The Goal of Special Revelation

Part 1 of this series explored what the cessation of special revelation does not mean. This post will explore the goal of special revelation. Positively, what does the end of special revelation mean? Robertson explains,

The Bible embodies God’s personal selection of the special revelations he determined that the church would need through all the ages. In this written revelation from God is contained all that is needed for life and godliness. No further words, ideas, or supposed visions and prophecies shall supplement the completed revelation of Scripture. It is not just that the written canon is closed, meaning that no more words are to be added to the Bible. The end of revelation means that all those former ways of God’s making his will known to his church have now ceased.[1]

God never planned to go on giving new revelation forever. Revelation from God is not the goal. It is the means to a goal.

A key principle of God’s revelation is “the correlation between redemptive act and revelatory word.”[2] Meaning, God has never given special revelation haphazardly, or continually, throughout history. He chooses his words purposefully. Sometimes they are tied to narrow, typological[3] acts of salvation like God’s redemption of Joseph from sure destruction (Gen 37-50), the Exodus from Egypt (Exod 1-14) or his raising up of judges to rescue his people (Judg 2:16). But all of his revelation is tied to the broad purpose of Scripture, the salvation of Jesus Christ and the summation of all things in him (John 5:39; Luke 24:27; 2 Tim 3:15; Eph 1:10).

Often, those who believe that God is still giving new revelation hold the implicit assumption that new revelation has always been continuous. This is not the case. Richard Gaffin explains,

The history of redemption has an epochal character; it moves forward in decisive steps, not in a uniform or smoothly evolutionary fashion…Old-covenant revelation, for instance, tends to cluster around critical junctures like the exodus, key events in the monarchy, the exile, and the return of the remnant…Times of inactivity in the history of redemption are, correlatively, times of silence in the history of redemption. The rebuilding of the temple and the return of remnant from exile are the last critical developments before the coming of Christ. After that there is a lull; redemptive history pauses until the final surge forward at Christ’s coming.[4]

It should not be assumed that God’s giving of new special revelation is the norm. It was always “clear that revelation was not a thing that would continue in an unbroken line as the experience of God’s people.”[5] For example, “The time that the people of Israel lived in Egypt was 430 years” (Exod 12:40). 430 years! God did not give any new special revelation from the time Israel arrived in Egypt until the birth of Moses. Likewise, there was an over 400 year silence from the time of Malachi to the arrival of John the Baptist.

In between these times, God had also marked off stopping points of his special revelation in the form of warnings and curses to those who would add or subtract to what he had spoken surrounding a specific covenant. Michael Horton writes, “There can be no covenant without a canon or canon without a covenant…the old and new covenant canons include among their sanctions a death sentence for anyone who attempts even the slightest emendation (Ex 25:16, 21; 40:20; Dt 4:2; 10:2; 31:9-13; cf. Dt 27; Jos 8:30-35; Rev 22:18).”[6] Deuteronomy 4:2 says, “You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you.”[7] This shows that there were clear stopping points in God’s special revelation. Revelation would come “in spurts as God determined the time was right to introduce a further stage of revelation.”[8]

God’s supreme revelation would later come in the “fullness of time” (Eph 1:10; Gal 4:4; Mark 1:15). Hebrews 1:1-4 says,

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

This passage makes key contrasts regarding God’s revelation. In a previous age “long ago,” God spoke to those who had gone before (“our fathers”) by the prophets. In contrast to the many times and in many ways God spoke to the fathers through the prophets, God has now spoken singularly “by his Son.” Kevin DeYoung notes,

The big idea in the first verses of Hebrews is the big idea for the whole book of Hebrews. God has spoken by his Son, and this Son is superior to all persons, heavenly beings, institutions, rituals, and previous means of revelation and redemption…Christ is the superior and final agent of God’s redemption and revelation.[9]

            Furthermore, notice how the revelation through the Son is tied to the redemption of the Son. Jesus made purification for sins and then sat down at the Father’s right hand (v. 3). His redemption is completed, just like his revelation is past tense (“has spoken”). Hebrews 2:3-4 says that the great salvation accomplished by Christ was “declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.” John Frame’s commentary here is essential.

From the writer’s standpoint, these declarations are all in the past tense. Even though part of that message (at least the Letter to the Hebrews) is still being written, the bulk of it has already been completed. Scripture is God’s testimony to the redemption he has accomplished for us. Once that redemption is finished, and the apostolic testimony is finished, the Scriptures are complete, and we should expect no more additions to them.[10]

Just like previous revelation was tied to special events in the history of redemption, final revelation is tied to the greatest event in the history of redemption: the work of the superior Son in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension. DeYoung says,

Scripture is enough because the work of Christ is enough. They stand or fall together. The Son’s redemption and the Son’s revelation must both be sufficient. And as such, there is nothing more to be done and nothing more to be known for our salvation and for our Christian walk than what we see and know about Christ and through Christ in his Spirit’s book.[11]

If one claims that new revelation will continue, that person is claiming that Christ’s work in salvation is not yet completed, since redemption and revelation go together.[12] Richard Gaffin Jr. brilliantly summarizes,

As far as the church today is concerned, then, the history of revelation is closed until Christ’s return. The expectation of new revelation in whatever form runs counter to the witness of Scripture itself. At issue here is the correlation between redemptive act (in the sense of once-for-all accomplishment) and word revelation; where the former is lacking, there is no place for the latter. The completion or cessation of revelation is a function of the finished work of Christ (see Heb. 1:2, where the work of Christ, along with the corroborating witness of the apostles [or, in 2:3, “those who heard”], is God’s final, “last days” revelation-speech).[13]

John 1:17-18 also speaks to Christ being the goal and finality of revelation: “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known.” Bob Gonzales rightly says, “God’s promissory revelation of grace and truth came in the Old Covenant through his mediator Moses (see Exod 34). But God’s full and final revelation of grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”[14] This is good news! The fact that new revelation has now ceased is not something that should cause grief or confusion. Rightfully understood, it causes rejoicing since the finish-line has been crossed![15]  

 

We have looked at what the cessation of special revelation does not mean (Part 1) and the goal of special revelation (here). Part 3 will explore the messengers of special revelation.

 

-1689Society Contributor: David T

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[1] O. Palmer Robertson, The Final Word (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1993), 60. John F. MacArthur Jr. says, “Scripture is a closed system of truth, complete, sufficient, and not to be added to (Jude 3; Rev 22:18-19). It contains all the spiritual truth God intended to reveal.” Charismatic Chaos (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992), 59.

[2] Richard B. Gaffin Jr., “The New Testament as Canon,” Thy Word is Still Truth, eds. Peter A. Lillback, Richard B. Gaffin Jr. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2013), 1173.

[3] Vern Poythress defines a type as, “a special example, symbol, or picture that God designed beforehand, and that he placed in history at an earlier point in time in order to point forward to a later, larger fulfillment.” “An Overview of the Bible’s Storyline,” Understanding the Big Picture of the Bible, eds. Wayne Grudem, C. John Collins, Thomas R. Schreiner (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 15.

[4] Gaffin Jr., “The New Testament as Canon,” 1173.

[5] Robertson, The Final Word, 61. He continues, “Instead, the revelation of the ‘rule’ [the canon] for the life of God’s people was to be guarded as a distinctive phenomenon marked off clearly from other experiences that might occur throughout their lives. The reception of new revelation was not to be a part of their everyday, moment by moment experience. Instead, it was to be special, even as the collected revelation from God received at specific junctures generally is called ‘special’ revelation.”

[6] Michael Horton, The Christian Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 155.

[7] See also Deut 12:32

[8] Robertson, The Final Word, 63.

[9] Kevin DeYoung, Taking God at His Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014), 46-47.

[10] John Frame, The Doctrine of the Word of God (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2010), 227.

[11] DeYoung, Taking God at His Word, 52. Herman Bavinck says, “Christ became flesh and completed all his work. He is the last and supreme revelation of God, who declared to us the Father (John 1:18; 17:4,6). By him God has spoken to us in the last days (Heb. 1:1-2).” Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 1, Prolegomena, ed. John Bolt, trans. John Vriend (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 490.

[12] Herman Bavinck agrees, “The work of Christ does not need to be supplemented by the good works of believers, and the word of Christ does not need to be supplemented by the tradition of the church” or any other supposed word from God. Prolegomena, 492.

[13] Gaffin Jr., “The New Testament as Canon,” 1173-1174.

[14] Robert Gonzales, “ST501 Lecture Notes, Part 1” (ST502 The Word Lectures for Reformed Baptist Seminary, 2016), 38, accessed February 9, 2018, https://s3.amazonaws.com/pathwright-uploads/Meot13yfT6dBpVUl4PmT_ST501+Lecture+Notes%2C+Part+1.pdf.

[15] Robertson says, “The people of God should not mourn out of a sense of loss because of the end of the special gifts of revelation any more than the children of Israel should have mourned when the manna stopped as they entered the land of Canaan. They had arrived at their goal! They were in the land flowing with milk and honey! They had the advantage of a full feast from the produce of the land! Should they begin moaning because they had to plow in the morning rather than simply collect the manna?” The Final Word, 69.

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