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Not to be confused with secession.

Cessationism in Christianity is the doctrine that Apostolic gifts ceased with the original twelve apostles. This is generally opposed to the view of continuationism, which teaches that the Holy Spirit may bestow the sign gifts to persons other than the original twelve apostles, at any time in the Church age.


In Christian theology, cessationism is the view that the "sign gifts" spoken of in the New Testament were given to the church for three reasons:

  1. They provided supernatural confirmation of the apostolic authority of the early church;
  2. They helped lay the foundation for the church; and
  3. They gave divine guidance to early believers while the New Testament was not yet complete.

Given that the authority of the early church has been established and the New Testament is complete, cessationists believe that Christians do not require charismatic gifts to guide them. As a result, cessationism stands for the proposition that the sign gifts ceased to operate with the passing of the last of the twelve apostles and are no longer in effect today.[1]

Original purpose of the signs[edit]

Cessationists teach that their primary purpose was to authenticate the Apostles' message as being of divine origin and, therefore, authoritative (Hebrews 2:3-4).[2] However, since the completion of the canon, the Church can test the veracity (or lack thereof) of any message claiming to represent God, against His written revelation having now been completed, rendering any supernatural sign as unnecessary (2 Peter 1:19; see also 2 Timothy 3:16-17), according to cessationism. It may also be noted that certain sign gifts had secondary purposes. For example, the sign of speaking in unlearned languages, amounted to a judgement upon unbelieving Jews (1 Corinthians 14:20-22; Isaiah 28:11-12). These other, secondary purposes are also believed to be passé, according to cessationists.[2]

The gift of signs[edit]

Cessationists are to note the connection specified in the context of the following verses to the Apostolic gifts: Matthew 10:8; Acts 2:4, 43; 5:12; 8:19; 2 Corinthians 12:12. The context of each of those passages explicitly indicate that the ones performing the sign gifts were indeed Apostles. Therefore, cessastionists argue that unless one can prove that he is a bona fide Apostle (see the next point, below), then he is out of line if he claims to have a sign gift. It should be clarified that it is not that cessationists deny the existence of miracles today, but rather they object to calling anything today an "Apostolic gift". For example, cessationists fully believe that God could enable a person today to speak a language he/she has never learned. However, cessationists are careful to avoid calling that "the New Testament gift of tongues". Cessationists fully believe that God can answer a prayer for someone to be physically healed, but again, they differentiate between God's answer to prayer, and the Apostolic gift of being able to heal-on-demand. Rather, the Holy Spirit is in front of every healing miracle, not the apostle.

Cessation of the apostleship[edit]

With regard to the role of the apostles being now ceased, there are at least three reasons.

The first is found in Ephesians 2:20. Here, the apostles (and prophets) are likened to a building's foundation. The argument from this metaphor is that, just as a superstructure has only one foundation, and that it is not added to once the superstructure is being built, the gift of Apostleship can therefore no longer exist, nor will it return (with its corresponding gifts). The view holds that the "concrete" of this "foundation" was still "wet" when the revelation of scripture was still being written, and when the last of the twelve apostles, John the Apostle, was still alive.[2]

At the completion of the Canon and the death of John, (the human author of the last Book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation), the "foundation" of the church was laid, and "no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid" (1 Corinthians 3:11; see also Hebrews 1:1-2).[clarification needed]

This is a part of the two-fold criteria for Apostleship, in which they had to be

  • an eye-witness of the risen Lord (John 15:27; Acts 1:21-22; 22:14-15; 1 Corinthians 9:1); and
  • personally commissioned as an Apostle by the Lord Himself (Luke 6:13; Galatians 1:1).

Some theologians[who?] say that a third requirement was the ability to work miracles; others[who?] say that while the ability to work miracles was true for all the apostles, that ability was not a prerequisite to being one, but rather evidence of being one. Using this standard, cessationists see no way there can be Apostles today, on the grounds that the Lord Jesus has ascended to heaven and will not personally visit anyone until His Second Coming.

Cessationism and the Biblical canon[edit]

Closely related to this third point is the cessationist argument that, if the possibility of additional, special revelation exists today (for example, via the Apostolic gift of tongues or prophecy), then a new way of salvation may creep into the Church. As proof, cessationists will point out cults which claim to have additional revelation beyond the 66 Books of the Bible, and the fact that they believe in other ways of salvation. Thus, they observe it is no coincidence that the Canon closed at the same time when the last Apostle died, precisely because God's plan of redemption had finally been completely revealed, and nothing more needs to be added to it by way of new, special revelation.[2][3]

Most cessationists argue that God would not give new, special revelation, after having issued the warnings in Deuteronomy 4:2, Proverbs 30:6, and Revelation 22:18.

For example, prior to the completion of the Canon, whenever God spoke, (with very few exceptions, e.g., Jeremiah 36:27), it became part of the scriptural cannon (even if it didn't make it into the Bible, whatever God said was nonetheless universally authoritative and on par with Scripture, just as any other Word from God);

  1. based on that pattern, we would expect any new "Word from God" to be added to the Bible (or at the very least, to be on par with the rest of Scripture);
  2. God will never ask His creatures to contradict His Word, such as the aforementioned warnings; therefore,
  3. God will not issue new, special revelation, now that the Canon has been closed.


Cessationism has various forms and can be classified in different ways, depending on the questions and issues on which cessationists disagree.[original research?]

Cessationism can be classified with regard to three questions: (i) the question of the presence of God's miraculous guidance, (ii) the question of the reemergence of the gifts and (iii) the question of justification of cessationism.

With regard to the presence of God's miraculous guidance[edit]

Cessationism can be divided into two types.

Cessationism asserts that the "sign gifts" such as prophecy, healing, and speaking in tongues, ceased with the apostles and the finishing of the canon of Scripture. They only served as launching pads for the spreading of the Gospel; as affirmations of God's revelation. However, these cessationists do believe that God still occasionally does miracles today, such as healings or divine guidance, so long as these "miracles" do not accredit new doctrine or add to the New Testament canon. Some cessationists believe that the miraculous gifts can take place where the message of salvation is being propagated to a tribe or nation which is unfamiliar with the Gospel. Richard Gaffin and Daniel B. Wallace are perhaps the best-known classical cessationists.

Full cessationism additionally asserts that no apostolic miracles are performed by God today.

Thus while some cessationists allow for God's miraculous guidance, the cessationist allowance differs from the continuationist in that a cessationist contends that God's miraculous guidance is not through the operation of the Charismatic gifts.[4]

With regard to the reemergence of the gifts[edit]

With regard to the possibility of reemergence (reappearance) of charismatic gifts, we can distinguish between two versions of cessationism: strong and moderate.

Total cessation of Apostolic gifts[edit]

The majority of cessationists subscribe to the total cessation of spiritual gifts. Examples of such literature are from Christians belonging to various denominations such as Conservative Baptist, Reformed Churches, etc.[5]

This theory of cessationists denies the possibility of a reemergence of the gifts on grounds of principle; that is, the denial is on a priori grounds: a strong cessationist would deny the possibility of the existence or a reemergence of genuine God's prophets and healers in the post-Apostolic age, i.e. after the 1st century, no matter what – even if we met prophets or healers who prophesied/healed in the name of Jesus. This is supported using the principle of Sola Scriptura, insisting on three propositions:[6]

  1. The completion of the canon of the Bible
  2. The infallible and sufficient authority of the Bible
  3. The perfection of the Scriptures to guide the Church

According to traditional cessationists, a person with a gift of power is also a prophet, because healings and miracles were always signs associated with the divine confirmation of the genuineness of a prophet in the periods when God revealed new truths with respect to the doctrine.[7] A strong cessationist might concede that prophecies might be useful in the guidance of the Church. Nevertheless, he will insist that the Church can be perfectly guided to reach the right decisions if it applies the principles, teachings and examples of the Bible.

Moderate cessationists[edit]

There is not much literature on moderate cessationism, but the view is propounded by certain Brethren groups of Christians, such as Hopewell Mennonite Church of Reading, PA, Free Brethren House Churches of Christ.[8]

This view denies the current existence of manifestations of genuine charismatic gifts in the Church. However, moderate cessationism allows for the possibility of a new charismatic period in the future, when God would powerfully guide His people. This openness to the possibility of a new charismatic period is motivated by premillennialist eschatological expectations, where it is assumed that Christ's Second Coming will occur before the establishment of Christ's millennial kingdom on Earth. Within this premillennialist conceptual framework, the Great Tribulation is seen as a future period immediately preceding Christ's Coming. This insists that the new charismatic period is possible only during the Great Tribulation, for otherwise the genuine gifts would be in operation before the Tribulation, thus, charismatic gifts could not be rejected on grounds of principle. This is also compatible with all premillennialist positions (pre-trib, post-trib, mid-trib and pre-wrath).[9]

The understanding of the principle of Sola Scriptura is almost identical to the variation that denies all Apostolic gifts. A moderate cessationist would agree with all three propositions of strong cessationism, but with an important qualification: all three propositions are valid only in the post-Apostolic Age of the Church before the Great Tribulation, i.e. in the period after the 1st century until the days of the Great Tribulation. Thus, in practical terms, both strong and moderate cessationism are the same. They differ only in eschatological terms, whether the gifts will re-emerge in the last days immediately preceding the time of Christ's Second Coming. The strong cessationist eschatological view is not a premillennialist, therefore it does not share the premillennialist conceptual framework, such as the premillennialist view of the Great Tribulation as something belonging to the future.[10]

Biblical grounds for moderate cessationism is the reference to two powerful prophets of God, Rev 11:3–11. According to a moderate cessationist, events described in Rev 11 are in the future, during the Great Tribulation. For this reason, a moderate cessationist has a ready answer to the question why the Bible is so vague about the cessation of the charismatic gifts: the Bible is obscure on this point precisely because the gifts will re-emerge during the Great Tribulation. A moderate cessationist concludes that they will absolutely end at the second coming of our Christ, at the end of the Great Tribulation.

With regard to its justification[edit]

Two types of cessationism can be distinguished with regard to its justification:

  1. Principled cessationism: founded a priori, on grounds of principle
  2. Empirical cessationism: founded on a posteriori grounds, i.e. on experience or empiria.

Both strong and moderate versions of cessationism belong to the forms of cessationism on principle because they appeal to the principle of Sola Scriptura. Their denial of the possibility of gifts is on a priori grounds, or on grounds of principle. However, an empirical cessationist denies the possibility of charismatic gifts on empirical grounds because he does not immediately discard an apparent miracle, healing or prophecy as counterfeit. He will rather first investigate the genuineness of the manifestation of the charismatic gift in question.

According to an empirical cessationist, there is no Christian group practicing genuine charismatic gifts because, if thoroughly investigated, many healings and other "miracles" would most certainly be shown to be false. In other words, an empirical cessationist denial is based on observation coupled with the probabilistic expectation that apparent miracles, healing or prophecies are mostly improbable.[11]

An example of the empirical form of cessationism is the view propounded by biblestudying.net. They have published a series of articles about charismatic gifts,[12] dealing with several issues concerning charismata. Their cessationist view is empirical because their denial of the continuation of the gifts is based on the historical research of early Church practices. Thus, their denial is on empirical grounds and not on grounds of principle, such as the appeal to the principle of Sola Scriptura.

According to their historical study, "the charismatic gifts did indeed decline and were eventually lost sometime between the second and fourth centuries AD".[13] An interesting thing about their cessationist view is that it is a semi-continuationist view; that is, the gifts could have continued until Christ's return, but instead ended "sometime between the second and fourth centuries AD". The conclusion of their historical study is as follows: "Thus, we must discard the doctrine that the gifts were supposed to pass away before Christ's return. Instead, we must accept the fact that the gifts were supposed to continue as a confirmation of sound doctrine until Christ's return but were lost as the Church deviated from that sound doctrine given by Christ to the apostles and by the apostles to the early Church of the first few centuries".[14]

On the question of the reemergence of the gifts, they would agree with moderate cessationists that the gifts will reemerge during the final days immediately preceding Christ's Second Coming.[15] They unofficially call their view conditional cessationism because, as a spokesman for this view says, "The primary feature of our position is its assertion of the conditional nature of cessation and its positing that either a) continuation or b) cessation and restoration were possible".[16]

Historical evidence[edit]

Some cessationists, e.g., Warfield, argue that there has been no solid objective scientific reference of the working of miracles manifested within the mainstream church for the last nineteen centuries. They claim references to miracles and spiritual gifts throughout church history have been associated with cults and mystics. However, more recent studies, e.g., Foubister, Frost, Greer, Kelsey, Kydd, Ruthven, and Shogren, have shown that the evidence is much more positive than the citations offered by cessationists.

  • Clement of Rome wrote a letter to the Corinthians in 95 AD discussing all of their spiritual problems. Tongues were never mentioned even though Corinth is the one place in the New Testament where tongues were apparently commonly used.
  • Justin Martyr wrote in an apologetic to Trypho the Jew: "If you want proof that the Spirit of God, who was with your people and left you to come to us, come into our assemblies and there you will see Him cast out demons, heal the sick, and hear Him speak in tongues and prophesy".

This quote is spurious. See Chapter 39 where Justin says: "For one receives the spirit of understanding, another of counsel, another of strength, another of healing, another of foreknowledge, another of teaching, and another of the fear of God." There is no mention of tongues or casting out demons.

  • Irenaeus was a pupil of Polycarp, who was a disciple of the apostle John. He wrote in his book Against Heresies, Book V, vi.: "In like manner do we also hear many brethren in the church who possess prophetic gifts, and who through the Spirit speak all kinds of languages, and bring to light, for the general benefit, the hidden things of men and declare the mysteries of God, who also the apostles term spiritual".
  • "Those who are in truth His disciples, receiving grace from Him, do in His name perform [miracles], so as to promote the welfare of other men, according to the gift which each one has received from Him. For some do certainly and truly drive out devils, so that those who have thus been cleansed from evil spirits frequently both believe [in Christ], and join themselves to the Church. Others have foreknowledge of things to come: they see visions, and utter prophetic expressions. Others still, heal the sick by laying their hands upon them, and they are made whole. Yea, moreover, as I have said, the dead even have been raised up, and remained among us for many years…. The name of our Lord Jesus Christ even now confers benefits [upon men], and cures thoroughly and effectively all who anywhere believe on Him".[17]
  • Origen never mentioned tongues and even argued that the "signs" of the Apostolic Age were temporary and that no contemporary Christian exercised any of these early "sign" gifts. (AD 185–253). He professes to have been an eye-witness to many instances of exorcism, healing, and prophecy, although he refuses to record the details lest he should rouse the laughter of the unbeliever.[18]
  • Chrysostom – writing on 1 Corinthians and the gift of tongues said, "This whole place is very obscure; but the obscurity is produced by our ignorance of the facts referred to and by their cessation, being such as then used to occur but now no longer take place. And why do they not happen now? Why look now, the cause too of the obscurity hath produced us again another question: namely, why did they then happen, and now do so no more?". (AD 347–407)[19]
  • Augustine – In a homily on the 1st Epistle of John, Augustine commented that speaking in tongues was a miracle suitable for the early church, but that it was no longer evident in his own time.[20] In chapters 8 and 9 of Book XXII of his City of God, written circa AD 415, Augustine noted that miracles in his own day were not as spectacular or noteworthy as those at the dawn of Christianity, but that they continued to take place.[21]

Some cessationist explanations about why gifts of the Holy Spirit ceased include:

  • their original purpose has been fulfilled
  • the testimony they were assigned to provide has been accomplished, that the Jewish church is now open to foreign nations
  • the Holy Scriptures are now complete and wholly sufficient for all the needs of a Christian worker
  • they were neglected and faded from use
  • they were withdrawn with the death of the apostles
  • they were taken away as a form of discipline from God on unbelief or disobedience
  • they were misinterpretations or exaggeration and could instead be attributed to natural and psychological phenomena
  • they were signs attesting to the truth and authority of the apostolic preaching of the gospel and are now preserved for the church in the New Testament witness


See Online and Printed Literature about cessationism[edit]

See also[edit]


Cessationist Scholars

  • The classic work is B. B. Warfield, Counterfeit Miracles (New York: Charles Scribners, 1918).
  • Chantry, Walter J. Signs of the Apostles (The Banner of Truth Trust Edinburgh, 1978)
  • Edgar, Thomas R. Miraculous Gifts: Are They for Today? (Neptune, N.J.: Loizeaux Brothers, 1983).
  • F. David Farnell "The New Testament Prophetic Gift: Its Nature and Duration." ThD Dissertation, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1990.
  • Gaffin, Richard B., Jr., Perspectives on Pentecost: Studies in New Testament Teaching on the Gifts of the Holy Spirit (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979).
  • Gardiner, G. E. The Corinthian Catastrophe. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publica¬tions, 1974.
  • Geisler, Norman L. Signs and Wonders. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1988.
  • Gentry, K. L. The Charismatic Gift of Prophecy─A Reformed Response to Wayne Grudem Memphis: Footstool Publications, 1989.
  • Gromacki, Robert G. The Modern Tongues Movement. Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1976.
  • Hoekema, Anthony. What About Tongues Speaking? Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1966.
  • Judisch, Douglas. An Evaluation of Claims to the Charismatic Gifts. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1978.
  • MacArthur, John. Charismatic Chaos, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992).
  • Masters, Peter. Healing Epidemic. London: Wakeman Trust. 1988. p. 227. ISBN 9781870855006.  and Charismatic Phenomenon(ISBN ). London: Wakeman. Jun 1988. p. 113. ISBN 9781870855013. 
  • Poythress, Vern. "Modern Spiritual Gifts as Analogous to Apostolic Gifts: Affirming Extraordinary Works of the Spirit within Cessationist Theology". The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 39/1 (1996): 71–101.
  • Robertson, O. Palmer. The Final Word, (Edinburgh : Banner of Truth Trust, 1993) — this includes a critique of Wayne Grudem's position regarding prophecy.
  • Thomas, Robert L., Understanding Spiritual Gifts – A Verse-by-Verse Study of 1 Corinthians 12–14
  • White, R. Fowler. "Richard Gaffin and Wayne Grudem: A Comparison of Cessationist and Noncessationist Argumentation." Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 35, no. 2 (June 1992): 173–81.
Interactive positions
  • Wayne Grudem (ed.) Are Miraculous Gifts for Today: Four Views. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996 (Richard M. Gaffin, Jr., R.L.Saucy, C.Samuel Storms, Douglas A.Oss).
Critics of cessationism
  • Jon Ruthven, On the Cessation of the Charismata: The Protestant Polemic on Post-Biblical Miracles NYC: Continuum Press, 1993. (Often identified as the definitive study, it examines the historical, philosophical and exegetical issues, focusing on Warfield. Link).
  • Gary Greig and Kevin Springer (eds.) The Kingdom and the Power: Are Healing and the Spiritual Gifts Used By Jesus and the Early Church Meant for the Church Today? Ventura, CA: Gospel Light, 1993 (thorough and practical).
  • Jack Deere, Surprised by the Power of the Spirit. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993, and Surprised by the Voice of God Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996.


  1. ^ Gregory A. Boyd and Paul R. Eddy, Across the Spectrum: Understanding Issues in Evangelical Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009), 243.
  2. ^ a b c d Masters, Peter; Whitcomb, John (Jun 1988). Charismatic Phenomenon(ISBN ). London: Wakeman. p. 113. ISBN 9781870855013. 
  3. ^ Masters, Peter; Wright, Professor Verna (1988). Healing Epidemic. London: Wakeman Trust. p. 227. ISBN 9781870855006. 
  4. ^ See, for instance, Richard B. Gaffin, "A Cessationist View", in Are Miraculous Gifts for Today – Four Views, pp. 41–42 (Zondervan, Michigan, 1996).
  5. ^ Examples of strong cessationists: John F. MacArthur, Charismatic Chaos (Zondervan Publishing House, 1992); Robert L. Thomas, Understanding Spiritual Gifts (Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, 1999); Walter J. Chandry, Signs of the Apostles (The Banner of Truth Trust Edinburgh, 1978).
  6. ^ Examples of cessationists employing such argumentation are John F. MacArthur and Walter J. Chantry. John F. MacArthur's second chapter of his Charismatic Chaos is an appeal to the principle of Sola Scriptura and that the canon is closed as an argument for cessationism. Walter J. Chandry's fourth section of Signs of the Apostles similarly devotes his attention to the cessationist implication of the fact that the canon is closed.
  7. ^ Several cessationists make these observations, such as John F. MacArthur, Charismatic Chaos, pp. 134–141; Walter J. Chandry, Signs of the Apostles, section three makes similar observations. Robert L. Thomas, Understanding Spiritual Gifts, pp. 31–33 (Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, 1999), etc.
  8. ^ The view is introduced by Aleksandar Katanovic in the article "The End of Charismatic Gifts," published first on the site http://www.early-church.com/, a site owned by Free Brethren House Churches of Christ.
  9. ^ Aleksandar Katanovic, "Moderate Cessationism," in: "The End of Charismatic Gifts"
  10. ^ Cessationism is defended by Reformed Churches. Christian Reformed Church is generally amillennialist in its eschatology. See for instance "Eschatology" at the site of Christian Reformed Church in North America.
  11. ^ An example of an empirical cessationist denial, see the seventh statement of the list of Statement of Beliefs of biblestudying.net, a group of empirical cessationist Christians
  12. ^ http://biblestudying.net/topic_charismatic.html
  13. ^ biblestudying.net, Preliminary Proof: When the Gifts Would Cease
  14. ^ biblestudying.net, Preliminary Proof: Conclusions
  15. ^ From e-mail correspondence with Scott McPherson, a spokesman of this view, he has confirmed their expectations about reemergence of the gifts in the final days immediate to Christ's Second Coming.
  16. ^ From e-mail correspondence with Scott McPherson, a spokesman of this view.
  17. ^ "Ante Nicene Fathers", vol 1, Irenaeus Against Heresies, bk 2, ch. 32, sec. 4, p. 847.
  18. ^ Contra Celsum, I, ii; III, xxiv; VII, iv, lxvii.
  19. ^ "FathChrysHomXXIX". Piney.com. Retrieved 2014-02-01. 
  20. ^ "CHURCH FATHERS: Homily 6 on First John (Augustine)". Newadvent.org. Retrieved 2014-02-01. 
  21. ^ "CHURCH FATHERS: City of God, Book XXII (St. Augustine)". Newadvent.org. Retrieved 2014-02-01. 

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