For a long time, I have thought that the biblical case for cessationism (the belief that miraculous gifts ceased at the end of the apostolic age) was rather weak. B.B. Warfield, whose name is so often associated with this belief, made his case (in Counterfeit Miracles) on historical, not scriptural grounds.
I was interested, then to read this essay by Thomas Schreiner in which he sets out the biblical-theological reasons for thinking that miraculous gifts have ceased.
Schreiner, it should be noted, does not deny the possibility of occasional miracles. But he does deny that any person can rightly lay claim to gifts such as apostleship, prophecy, tongues, and healing. Sign and wonders today are out of the ordinary.
Essentially, Schreiner’s case is that these gifts served the purpose of validating the message of Jesus and the apostles, and provided guidance to a young church which did not yet possess a completed New Testament.
Now that the apostolic foundation is laid and passed on to the church in the completed canon of Scripture, the miraculous gifts no longer characterize the normal and expected operation of the church, and prophecy is no longer needed for revelation.
this is not to rule out God in his sovereignty granting such signs and wonders in cutting-edge missionary ventures today or to deny that God still works miracles.
Acts 2:22 “Men of Israel, listen to these words: This Jesus the Nazarene was a man pointed out to you by God with miracles, wonders, and signs that God did among you through Him, just as you yourselves know.”
Heb 2:3f speaks of ‘such a great salvation [which] ‘was first communicated through the Lord and was confirmed to us by those who heard him, 2:4 while God confirmed their witness with signs and wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.’
Passages such as Acts 2:43; 4:30; 5:12; 6:8; 14:3; 15:12; Rom. 15:19; 2 Cor. 12:12 show how signs and wonders served to confirm the apostolic message.
‘The foundation of the apostles and prophets’ (Eph 2:20), having once been laid, does not need to be laid again. The apostolic message was delivered one for all (Jude 1:3).
The final and definitive word has been spoken by God (Heb 1:2).
The foundation having been laid, the message having been delivered, we have everything God’s wants us to know concerning salvation. The canon is closed.
Schreiner agrees that no scriptural text (including 1 Cor 13:8-12) teaches directly that gifts will cease. The cessation of gifts would not be relevant to Paul and the other apostles: it applied to the next generation.
Take apostleship. When James the apostle was put to death in Acts 12:2, he was not replaced. Paul was the ‘last’ of the apostles (1 Cor 15:8).
So with prophecy, that other foundational gift. NT prophets uttered authoritative words from God. But we look to the completed canon of Scripture as our final authority. Whereas those who today claim to be prophets often make mistakes, no such mistakes were tolerated in OT times, Deut 18, (and, by extension, in NT times).