A Biblical Defense Of The Cessation Of Special Revelation Part 3

A Biblical Defense Of The Cessation Of Special Revelation Part 3

The Messengers of Special Revelation

In addition to having a proper understanding of what special revelation does not mean (Part 1) and the goal of special revelation (Part 2), another important element to understand is the unique place the apostles played in the history of redemption. God has spoken to his people through his Son (Heb 1:1-2; John 1:17-18), but this communication was mediated through Jesus’ apostles. In his high-priestly prayer to the Father, Jesus said of his apostles, “For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me” (John 17:8). Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to disclose truth to the apostles (John 16:12-15) and to cause them to remember what he had said to them (John 14:26). He commissioned his apostles as his official witnesses to represent him (Luke 24:46-48), giving them the keys of the kingdom (Matt 16:19) and telling them that whoever receives them receives Christ (Matt 10:40).[1] This is why the apostle John could say, “Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us” (1 John 4:6), and why Paul could say that his very words were the words of God (1 Thess 2:13) and the commandments of the Lord (1 Cor 14:37). Charles Hodge concludes, “[The apostles] speak as messengers, as witnesses, as organs. They declare that what they said God said, and, therefore, on his authority it was to be received and obeyed.”[2]

This office of apostle was a temporary office that ceased with the closing of the New Testament canon. The church was “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (Eph 2:20) and is now being built up on that foundation (1 Cor 3:10-11).[3] A foundation is not laid twice. Gaffin comments,

The foundation of the church-house is temporally qualified. It is a historical category: laying the foundation of a building is a one-time activity; the ensuing construction is on the superstructure, not the constant, repeated re-laying of the foundation. This temporal limitation ties in with the fact, already noted, that the foundation involves the work of Christ in its once-for-all historicity. Hence, we are pointed to the conclusion that in the church the office of apostle is not intended to be perpetual; the apostolate is a temporary institution.[4]

The apostles and prophets of the NT church have completed their work, so the role of Christians today is to submit to this message that has already been delivered.[5]

Furthermore, these apostles were known by certain marks that Christians today do not possess. Apostles were eyewitnesses to the resurrected Christ (1 Cor 9:1; Acts 1:22; 10:39-41; 1 Cor 15:7-8), they were personally appointed by Christ to their office (Matt 10:1-4; Luke 6:12-16; Mark 3:14; Acts 1:2, 24; 10:41; Gal 1:1), and they confirmed their message through miraculous signs and wonders (Matt 10:1; Acts 1:5-8; 2:43; 3:3-11; 4:33 5:15-16; 8:14; 9:36-42; 20:6-12; 28:1-6; 2 Cor 12:12; Heb 2:3-4).[6] Although the apostle Paul did not originally see the resurrected Christ with the other apostles, he “was a witness of the resurrection of Jesus and had been otherwise qualified for the apostolic task.”[7] Christ appeared to him on the Road to Damascus and appointed him to apostleship (Acts 9:1-9). Paul later confirmed that he was the last apostle (1 Cor 15:8-9).

 The apostles recorded the message of Christ in writing, which would become the New Testament canon (1 Jn 5:13; John 20:31; 2 Thess 2:15; 2 Pet 3:15-16). Close associates of the apostles (Luke, Mark, Jude, and James) also penned Scripture under the supervision of apostles (Paul calls something Luke wrote “scripture” in 1 Tim 5:18). As the apostles die off, the special revelation of God begins to decline. This is evidenced by the fact Paul’s earlier writings make mentions of exercising the gift of prophecy (1 Thess 5:20; 1 Cor 12-14; Rom 12:5), but his later writings describe the foundational nature of apostles and prophets (Eph 2:20; 3:5). By the time Titus and 2 Timothy are written, Paul is not encouraging these pastors to long for a new word from God, but to hold and teach what had already been taught (Tit 1:9; 2:1; 2 Tim 1:13-14; 2:2; 2:15).[8] Jude, another letter written later, calls Christians to “contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (v. 3). In 2 Peter 3:1-2 Peter calls his readers to remember what had already been delivered by both the Old Testament writers and by the apostles. Because the apostolic messengers of Christ for this final era of revelation passed away in the 1st century, new revelation from God has ceased. God sealed the final book of the New Covenant canon (Revelation) with this warning:

I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book (Rev 22:18-19).

Wilhelmus à Brakel summarizes, “The reason for [John’s prohibition at the end of Revelation] is identical for every book of Holy Writ, and thus for the entire Scripture, the reason being that God had inspired those writings and none other.”[9]


Part 4 will respond to some common objections against the cessation of special revelation.


-1689Society Contributor: David T


[1] Robert Gonzales says, “The term apostle’ was often used to refer to an official messenger-representative.” “02 - Part 2, Canon of Scripture” (ST502 The Word Lectures for Reformed Baptist Seminary, 2016), 18, accessed February 9, 2018, https://s3.amazonaws.com/pathwright-uploads/7NYApj4mTOqaE8ohowkx_02+-+Part+2%2C+Canon+of+Scripture.pdf.

[2] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 1, Theology (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2011), 161.

[3] “As the person and work of the head is distinct from that of its members, the foundation-laying ministry of the apostles is different from the ‘upbuilding’ ministry of their successors.” Michael Horton, The Christian Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 885.

[4] 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), 1170.

[5] Wayne Grudem says, “In place of living apostles present in the church to teach and govern it, we have instead the writings of the apostles in the books of the New Testament. Those New Testament Scriptures fulfill for the church today the absolutely authoritative teaching and governing functions which were fulfilled by the apostles themselves during the early years of the church.” Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 911. Horton says, “Although the New Testament establishes the offices of pastors/teachers, elders, and deacons, it does not establish perpetual prophetic or apostolic offices with their attendant sign-gifts.” The Christian Faith, 884.

[6] John F. MacArthur Jr., Charismatic Chaos (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992), 149-150. James Boyce agreed that one who claims to be an apostle must “confirm by miracles his authority as a teacher from God. Without the miracle the new truth has no evidence that it is not simply the product of human reason or imagination." Abstract of Systematic Theology (Cape Coral, FL: Founders Press, 2006), 50. Charles Hodge confirms, “[The apostles’ testimony] was confirmed also by miraculous gifts…When a man claims to be the organ of God when he says that God speaks through him, then his working of miracles is the testimony of God to the validity of his claims. And such testimony God gave to the infallibility of the Apostles.” Theology, 162-163. Miracles were an accompaniment to divine revelation in the Old Testament, as well (see Exod 4:1-9 and 1 Kings 17:17-24 for two examples). See also, Nathan Busenitz, “Are There Still Apostles Today?” The Cripplegate, July 21, 2011, accessed March 19, 2018, http://thecripplegate.com/are-there-still-apostles-today/.

[7] N.B. Stonehouse, “The Authority of the New Testament,” The Infallible Word, eds. N.B. Stonehouse, Paul Woolley (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1967), 115.

[8] O. Palmer Robertson, The Final Word (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1993), 74-76.

[9] Wilhelmus à Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, vol. 1, God, Man, and Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 1992), 36.

Objections Regarding The Cessation Of Special Revelation

Objections Regarding The Cessation Of Special Revelation

Walking Through the Proverbs - Spurning Wisdom's Cry

Walking Through the Proverbs - Spurning Wisdom's Cry