Church of Christ Deism: The Word Has Been Confirmed Argument

i_dont_believe_in_miracles_i_rely_on_them_tshirt-p235921785579041865yk07_400Those who wish to deny that God continues to act outside the laws of nature today make several arguments from scripture. The only one that ever seemed plausible to me is this one

Jesus promised the apostles the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5), to guide them into all truth (John 16:13), and to give them special power (Acts 1:8). This promise was fulfilled (Acts 2:4). Therefore, when they began preaching the gospel they were able to confirm the word with signs following (Mark 16:20). The truth has now been confirmed. “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by them that heard him; God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to his own will?” (Heb 2:3,4)

I think every sentence in that paragraph is true. Yes, miracles were given to confirm the testimony of the apostles. Yes, that really happened. Yes, the word has already been confirmed through miracles. Yes.

But … does that mean miracles have ceased? Were miracles given solely to confirm the word? And having confirmed the word, does the need for miracles end?

Hebrews, which declares the word “confirmed” was written around AD 64 (F. F. Bruce, New International Commentary on the New Testament: Hebrews, page xliii). Did miracles end before 64 AD? I don’t know anyone willing to make that claim. After all, many apostles were still alive at that time. John likely lived for decades afterwards.

And the other passages so often cited — 1 Cor 13 and Eph 4 — are addressed to the completion of the New Testament, or so the argument goes. But Hebrews was certainly not the last book of the New Testament to be written.

But the biggest problem with the argument is that there is no evidence at all that miracles ceases in AD 64 and no evidence that God’s miraculous work confirming the gospel was supposed to end. I mean, if confirmation was stop once accomplished, why not stop after Pentecost? Or when Paul raised someone from the dead? Or when the Corinthian church will filled with miraculous gifts?

Why did God give not a confirmation but confirmation after confirmation? Why stop in AD 64?

You see, the Hebrews writer is not arguing that confirmation has been finished for all time. No, he’s just making the point that the gospel had been repeatedly confirmed.

  Jesus promised the apostles the baptism of the Holy
 Spirit (Acts 1:5), to guide them into all truth (John
 16:13), and to give them special power (Acts 1:8).  This
 promise was fulfilled (Acts 2:4).  Therefore, when they
 began preaching the gospel they were able to confirm the
 word with signs following (Mark 16:20).  The truth has now
 been confirmed.
    "How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation;
 which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was
 confirmed to us by them that heard him; God also bearing
 them witness, both with signs and wonders with divers
 miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to hisJesus promised the apostles the baptism of the Holy  Spirit (Acts 1:5), to guide them into all truth (John  16:13), and to give them special power (Acts 1:8).  This  promise was fulfilled (Acts 2:4).  Therefore, when they  began preaching the gospel they were able to confirm the  word with signs following (Mark 16:20).  The truth has now  been confirmed.     "How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation;  which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was  confirmed to us by them that heard him; God also bearing  them witness, both with signs and wonders with divers  miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to his    own will?" (Heb 2:3,4)
 own will?" (Heb 2:3,4)

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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27 Responses to Church of Christ Deism: The Word Has Been Confirmed Argument

  1. Rich says:

    Jay,

    Please help me understand your concern.

    I don't see anywhere in your quote or the whole article quoted that says Bible miracles stopped in AD 64 or even the day the last NT book was written. The word 'now' seems to indicate present day when the article was written.

    I have also never heard that Bible miracles ceased on the day of the completion of the last NT book. I have heard that only apostles could pass on the miraculous gifts based on observations of events in Acts 8 and 19. The second generation of people having these powers could have lived several years following the completion of the NT. It was certainly valuable to confirm the NT as it was being rolled out and passed along for the first time.

    The purpose of the miracles performed by humans was to confirm the NT but the timing continued for a while afterward.

    Again, for clarification, I'm talking about the miracles performed directly by humans in the NT and not the methods God uses today to answer our prayers and other means of interactions.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Paul said he will then see face to face and that he only knew in part until then when that which is perfect comes (1 Corinthians 13:12). When did Paul get a copy of the Bible?

  3. mark says:

    This issue like many others like it , create what I call the fiction factor. It is the story we tell in order to make sense of Biblical and historical challenges. The restoration movement and apostasy stories fall into this problem in which it is a historical story that is slanted to fit problems in eschatology, worship, and unity. Prayer also falls into this problem of how God interacts today.

    However there is only two sides to notion God works today that is either he does or he doesn't. The degree is debatable but to limit God to the oddity of scripture and its evolution is dangerous.

  4. mark says:

    “In a galaxy far far away” like in Star War we need a long rolling story in front of our Gospel to make sense of the other strange beliefs that will pop up along the way to becoming a non denominational non instrumentalist anti institutionalist! This of course is why others have remarked we now look like the Mormons or JW.

    Anonymous makes an interesting point what about the story of the Bible? How does 370 years of history meld itself into a New Testament? The story of the Bible makes us all look a little dumbfounded. When did Paul get a copy of the Bible? How many stories do we need to fabricate our branch of Christianity?

  5. Rich says:

    mark,

    I apologize for not understanding your comments.

    I understand that the scriptures in question explain to us God's choice to demonstrate His powers directly through humans simultaneous with Him providing His written communication (the New Testament) to us via humans.

    God has the power to perform whatever supernatural act He wishes. I just haven't observed people walking on water, turning water to wine, and raising the dead like was done in the NT. These scriptures seem to indicate why He doesn't give humans these abilities anymore. But He can if He so desires.

  6. I have met people who claim to have healed deaf people with a prayer and a touch of the hand. These people who have claimed to have healed by the power of God were not (ever) on TV or the radio and never asked for money or fame.

    I find it easy to laugh them off as a bit looney. I find it hard to believe that they did what they claim. I, however, was not there on the occasion that they claimed healing powers. I can neither prove nor disprove their claims.

    I see little good coming from saying that "they are looney and phonies."

    I cannot say, "God, today, cannot or would not heal a person through the prayers and touch of another person."

  7. Alan says:

    I'm fully convinced that God does act outside the laws of nature today. If I didn't believe that, I wouldn't be able to pray with faith that God will answer.

    OTOH I'm not at all convinced that God gives people today the power to defy laws of nature. I've been a Christian for 33 years and have been surrounded by people who, as far as my human abilities can discern, were Christians in every sense of the word. But I never saw any of them speak in tongues, or receive a revelation from God, or heal the sick or raise the dead. If God were giving those kinds of gifts to people today, it seems to me that I would have encountered it by now. Why have the churches in my life all been deprived of these gifts?

    In Acts 2 and Acts 10, those who received the gifts did not know in advance what would happen. They did not ask for it and they did not initiate it. God unilaterally intervened. If God wants people to speak in tongues today, I think it will happen just like that.

    The explanation I've heard for the disappearance of miraculous gifts (ie, people beig given the ability to perform miracles), is that these gifts were passed on by the laying on of apostles' hands (Acts 8:17-18). And historically the practice of miracles at least approximates the era in which people could have had personal contact with an apostle. I don't know if that completely explains the disappearance of miraculous gifts but it might.

    Those who claim God himself does not perform miracles today don't have an equivalent passage to back up their belief. I think the denial that God directly performs miracles is an overreaction to Pentecostalism. It's a product of humanism and the Age of Reason — a time when people believed everything could be explained by natural laws and that the scientific method could reveal the cause of everything. The "Deism" label comes closer to fitting that teaching IMO.

  8. Donald says:

    Great discussion. I really like what Alan said. A problem we have had in the past is reactionary preaching. Because of this our doctrines have tended to be to one extreme or the other, rather than biblically balanced.

    I'm always reminded of Samuel, where it says that in those days the word of the Lord and visions were rare. Apparently for a season that was the case, but not always. It seems that a large number of Christians with views of eschatology different from CofC believe Jesus' return will be preceded by various signs and miraculous events. These compose probably the majority of people who still believe in the miraculous.

    And while I love and am very grateful for the New Testament, I believe we've somehow managed to elevate it so highly above the rest of the scriptures that we've idolized it and trivialized the rest.

    I believe we need a paradigm shift.

  9. Rich says:

    Alan,

    What do you think about using the word 'providence' or some other word rather than miracle to describe God's supernatural work today? This is meant to distinguish between miraculous gifts given to humans and God's direct actions.

  10. I have no doubt that God can perform miracles today. Whether he performs them in the same sense as the miracles we read in the NT, I simply to not know.

    But I do know that the miracle that I am most aware of is the righteous he grants to me thru his grace and love. As well as the resulting changes I see in my own personal life.

    That's miracle enough for me.

  11. Alan says:

    Rich, I don't necessarily object to the word "providence" itself. The KJV and NAS use that word in Acts 24:2 referring to the beneficial acts of Felix. The NIV uses that word in Job 10:12. I don't find the word in several other translations I checked. Other than the NIV in Job, I don't find it in any English translations referring to acts of God. My point is that the scriptures don't describe a distinction between God's "providence" and "miracles."

    However, it seems that by using the word "providence" to refer to acts of God today, some people mean that God does not intervene supernaturally today. I don't believe that is correct. If God intervenes, it is inherently supernatural. "Natural" is what would happen if God did not intervene.

  12. Jerry Starling says:

    Have we assumed too much to say that the power to perform miracles was passed only by the laying on of an apostle's hands? Certainly we have instances where that happened – but is it ever stated that this is the only way it could (or did) happen?

    1 Corinthians 12:11 (NIV) says, "All these [spiritual gifts] are the work of the one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines." Does this leave the door open for miracles by those who were not apostles nor had ever met an apostle?

    Would God have left, say, the Ethiopian Eunuch to go on his way as a newborn babe without giving him some way for continued nourishment?

    I am not putting these possibilities as realities. I am asking questions for which I see no easy answers, Note that every sentence in the above paragraphs ends in a question mark, except for the one verse of Scripture that I quoted. The question marks are not only in the text, but are also in my heart.

  13. Alan says:

    Certainly we have instances where that happened – but is it ever stated that this is the only way it could (or did) happen?

    I think you make a valid point. The scriptures don't explicitly rule out other possibilities. Still, if God is still giving Christians miraculous powers, I wonder why I haven't encountered examples of it in all my years in the church.

  14. Edward Fudge says:

    A look into the literature reveals that early Christian writers document miracles for several centuries after the New Testament was written. Among many Fathers who testify to supernatural ministry in the name of Jesus Christ are the following.

    Tertullian, "To Scapula," chap. 4, written between A.D. 196-212 — "Heaven knows how many distinguished men, to say nothing of common people, have been cured either of devils or of their sicknesses." [Specific examples follow, of persons named and known to his readers.]

    Origen (185-254), "Against Celsus," chapters 2, 6, 24 — "[W]e can clearly show a countless multitude of Greeks and Barbarians who acknowledge the existence of Jesus. And some give evidence of their having received through this faith a marvellous power by the cures which they perform, invoking no other name . . . than that of the God of all things, and of Jesus . . . . For by these means we too have seen many persons freed from grievous calamities, and from distractions of mind, and madness, and countless other ills, which could be cured neither by men nor devils" (chap. 24).

    Athanasius (296-373), "Vita S. Antoni, chapters 83-84 — "[W]e ought not to doubt whether such marvels were wrought by the hand of a man. For it is . . . Jesus himself who saith to His disciples and to all who believe on Him, 'Heal the sick, cast out demons; freely ye have received, freely give.' Antony, at any rate, healed not by commanding, but by prayer and speaking the name of Christ. So that it was clear to all that it was not he himself who worked, but the Lord who showed mercy by his means and healed the sufferers" (chap. 83-84).

    Lactantius (died A.D. 320), "The Epitome of the Divine Institutions," chap. 51 — "And as He Himself before His passion put to confusion demons by His word and command, so now, by the name and sign of the same passion, unclean spirits, having insinuated themselves into the bodies of men, are driven out, when racked and tormented, and confessing themselves to be demons, they yield themselves to God, who harasses them."

    Augustine (4th-5th centuries), "The City of God," Book 22, chap. 8 — "It is sometimes objected that the miracles, which Christians claim to have occurred, no longer happen. One answer might be that they are no longer needed as they once were to help an unbelieving world to believe. . . . The truth is that even today miracles are being wrought in the name of Christ . . . .

    The fact that the canon of our Scriptures is definitely closed brings it about that the original miracles are everywhere repeated and are fixed in people's memory, whereas contemporary miracles . . . seldom become known. [Augustine then cites specific examples, naming individuals involved.] . . . It is a simple fact that, that there is no lack of miracles even in our day. And the God who works the miracles we read of in the Scripture uses any means and manner He chooses. The only trouble is that these modern miracles are not so well known as the earlier ones . . .

  15. Alan says:

    Your examples support the continuance of miracles, which I do not dispute. On the other hand, there is evidence that speaking in tongues disappeared in the middle of the second century. Eusebius wrote harshly of Montanus and the Phrygian heresy, characterized by unintelligible tongues:

    Montanus became beside himself, and being suddenly in a sort of frenzy and ecstasy, he raved, and began to babble and utter strange things, prophesying in a manner contrary to the constant custom of the Church handed down by tradition from the beginning. Some of those who heard his spurious utterances at that time were indignant, and they rebuked him as one that was possessed, and that was under the control of a demon, and was led by a deceitful spirit, and was distracting the multitude; and they forbade him to talk, remembering the distinction drawn by the Lord and his warning to guard watchfully against the coming of false prophets.
    But others imagining themselves possessed of the Holy Spirit and of a prophetic gift, were elated and not a little puffed up; and forgetting the distinction of the Lord, they challenged the mad and insidious and seducing spirit, and were cheated and deceived by him. In consequence of this, he could no longer be held in check, so as to keep silence. Thus by artifice, or rather by such a system of wicked craft, the devil, devising destruction for the disobedient, and being unworthily honored by them, secretly excited and inflamed their understandings which had already become estranged from the true faith.

    In 385 AD, Jerome rejected the prophecy of the Montanists. After quoting Peter's sermon including Joel's prophecy of gifts being poured out, Jerome wrote:

    If, then, the apostle Peter, upon whom the Lord has founded the Church, has expressly said that the prophecy and promise of the Lord were then and there fulfilled, how can we claim another fulfilment for ourselves?

    While I would differ with some of the implications of Jerome's statement, it seems clear that Jerome did not expect to see prophecy in his day.

    By the way, I would be careful placing too much faith in the statements of Tertullian on this subject, since he was regarded as a heretic in his later life, perhaps even becoming a Montanist himself.

  16. Edward Fudge says:

    Tongues are documented throughout Christian history, as are prophecy, healing and other phenomenal (i.e., observable) gifts. There is also ample evidence of counterfeits of the various gifts, which turn many people away from the legitimate ones.

  17. Alan says:

    How would you explain the fact that so many people like myself, have been Christians for decades, surrounded with devoted Christians in multiple congregations over the years, without ever encountering a Christian speaking in tongues, prophesying, healing the sick, or raising the dead?

  18. Anonymous says:

    I don't believe every single believer in the First Century saw miracles.

  19. Robert Baty says:

    My first debate book was Woods-Franklin (1974).

    So, since you are on the subject and I have not seen, in my casual following of this discussion, mention of it, I will ask for comments regarding Woods use of Micah 7:15 to argue for a "qualitative" difference in how God works in the world today as opposed to the first century time frame.

    > "According to the days of they coming
    > out of the land of Egypt will I show
    > unto him marvelous things."

    My apologies for asking if it has already been considered.

    Sincerely,
    Robert Baty

  20. Edward Fudge says:

    Alan:
    One might explain your not having seen certain gifts in the same way one would explain why my friend Jacob, a Kenyan national who has always lived in the interior of Kenya, has never seen an automobile with a GPS system, a cruise ship or a $1,000 bill. He has simply never been where those things were. However, the fact that he has not seen them is no evidence to me that they do not exist, for I have personally seen a car with GPS and a cruise ship, and I have heard credilble testimony from others who have seen $1,000 bills.

    Suppose, however, that Jacob, hearing my testimony that I have seen cars with GPS systems and cruise ships, responded that I must be wrong because he has not seen the same things. We would all think him to be illlogical and we would be correct. If one person truly does see something, that is more significant than the fact that 1,000 otherpeople havenot seen it.

    The biblical answer to your question is that God distributes gifts according to his own will. It is possible that you overlooked seeing something that was present where you were. It is more likely that the gifts have not been givven in the places you have in mind.. There are a number of reasons why that could be the case, particularly if they were neither desired or expected by those who were present.

    Far more important is the fact that thousands of contemporary Christian believers of sound mind and honest character, testify that they have seen one or more of the gifts that have thus far been absent from your view.

    Cordially,
    Edward

  21. Alan says:

    One might explain your not having seen certain gifts in the same way one would explain why my friend Jacob, a Kenyan national who has always lived in the interior of Kenya, has never seen an automobile with a GPS system, a cruise ship or a $1,000 bill

    There's a significant difference in those things and gifts of the Spirit.
    God gives gifts of the Spirit for the common good of the church. So, one would expect to find them wherever one finds a church, if God were still giving them. God does not show favoritism.

    There are a number of reasons why that could be the case, particularly if they were neither desired or expected by those who were present.

    The gifts were not expected in Acts 2 and Acts 10, but God sent them anyway. While some churches don't expect to receive the gifts, it's not fair to say they don't want them. They just don't expect them.

    I think the absence of gifts in most churches creates a tremendous difficulty for those who would say God gives the gifts to Christians today.

  22. Anonymous says:

    I believe God gives spiritual gifts according to what a person can handle. Some would abuse such gifts which would not be good for them, others, or the church.

  23. My great fear, Alan, is that you and I have been taught the cessation of miraculous gifts for so long that we have quenched the Spirit of God.

    Do you remember Mark 6:5 with as much of a cringe as I do …?

    "He [Jesus] could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them."

    I consider it quite possible that I've dismissed things I've seen that were genuine, miraculous works of God – because I did not believe that they could be.

  24. Alan says:

    Keith,
    As a very young Christian, I encountered a Pentecostal Christian walking down the street. He questioned me about spiritual gifts, and told me he "claimed" the gifts for me. As I walked away I simply prayed that God would not let me be deceived. I was quite willing for God to give me whatever gifts he chose. But I did not receive the gifts that the Pentecostal Christian had "claimed."

    I remember that like it was yesterday.

  25. Pingback: Church of Christ Deism: The Church Fathers « One In Jesus.info

  26. rey says:

    If miracles are supposed to be here today but aren't that would imply they never were around. Essentially your view amounts not to a saving of miracles for now but to a destruction of miracles for the past. Because if they're supposed to be happening but aren't then that calls into question their ever having happened.

  27. A Brother says:

    Good comments all…and wonderful spirit of studying these things together. I would like to hear why Edward thinks that tongues would be of any value? Also would like to know if anyone on this site has experienced the raising of the dead or the restoration of a limb? If not (like me) are we all just in a “Spirit-less wilderness”?…or is it that these along with other apostolic gifts have ceased? I have known some spiritual giants who have great faith and sacrificed much…why now raising from the dead?

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