The seamless superintending of scripture

Cessationism in disguise

Cessationism says that now we have the bible, we don’t need supernatural gifts like healing and prophecy. There are other cessationaist type arguments that are made such as now we have the bible we don’t need apostles.

My view, for what it’s worth, is that God superintended some of the writings of some of the apostles and some others, in creating the NT. They were just carrying out their roles in the newly forming church and God worked through their efforts to create scripture. They didn’t know they were writing scripture, they were just doing their thing. That means that nothing changes once God finished writing the NT. People kept on operating in the same gifts, in the same way. They kept healing and prophesying and “apostling”. There is no cut off point. No point at which what they do changes. Their actions are “seamless” in that respect.

There was one gradual change I guess, which was that oral tradition was gradually supplemented and under girded with written documents that were increasingly recognised as authoritative writings. The more you get away from the initial witnesses (in time or space) the more helpful it is to have written testimonies and the more weight you would put on them. The transition is very smooth and natural. Again, you could call it “seamless”.

I believe the same happened with the Cannon of scripture, although the people involved knew they were trying to recognise God’s word. People did not go into a trance, they argued, considered and discussed which books should be included. It was a very human process but one that God superintended to being about just those books that where his written word, all be it with some disagreement in terms of the Apocrypha.

Why is all this important? Because nowhere does there come a time when the basic roles of people like Paul and John and Barnabus and Luke change and in fact  Christians in general. If you want to know what an apostles does, look at Paul and Barnabus. If you want to know what kind of supernatural gifts to expect, look at the early disciples in the book of Acts. The completion of scripture changes nothing in that respect. Apostles were not primarily writers of scripture. Not every word that they said was scripture. God just superintended some of their writings to be scripture. Just like not all of Luke’s records were scripture, God just superintended a couple of his scrolls: scrolls that he produced no doubt by very human research, interviews and decisions like all his other scrolls.

Why do I believe in the seamless superintending of scripture?

1) The bible never explicitly says that prophecy or healing or apostles would cease when the scripture was completed. How could it? There was no clear idea of NT scripture.

2) Scripture was not written in a trance or given to someone in competed form from the sky. It was a very human process. No one set out to write scripture. They had other reasons for writing. God superintended their reasons for his purposes in producing scripture.

3) The reasons for miraculous gifts was more than to authenticate what the apostles and others wrote. The idea that people don’t need to see the power of God at work in miracles because we now have the bible is like confusing apples and oranges (I’ve always wanted to use that expression! Philosophers use it a lot:). Most people who have not yet heard the gospel do not helpfully hold to the authority of the bible. They need persuading of it and its message in much the same way people did of the apostles’ testimony when they heard it aurally.

Can’t think of any more reasons just now, but that’s enough I think.

Anyway, if my view is correct, then it has a bearing on 1 Tim 2.  John Dickenson in his book “Hearing her voice” says that Paul is prohibiting women from “teaching” where teaching equals “repeating and laying down the oral apostolic tradition”. He argues that once the bible is completed and the apostolic tradition is contained in its pages, there is no need for “teachers” in this sense. Paul’s restriction does not therefore apply today became there are simply no teachers now who are passing on apostolic tradition (would the Catholic church agree?). It is essentially a cessationist argument. We have the bible now so we don’t need διδάσκαλος type teachers, only παράκλητος type scripture “exhorters”.

He argues from verses like 1 Tim 4:13 that teaching is not the same as exhorting, which it may not be, but I am not convinced that his arguments for defining these two words is strong enough to support the weight he puts on it. He says exhorting is always from existing scriptures, while teaching is always from apostolic oral testimony.

The BDAG definitions do not suggest his technical meaning and distinction:

παράκλησις = act of emboldening another in belief or course of action, encouragement, exhortation [1]

διδάσκαλος = teacher

διδάσκω =

A : to tell someone what to do, tell, instruct

B : to provide instruction in a formal or informal setting, teach[2]

[1] Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

[2] Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


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