Archive for the ‘Book review’ Category

confess(In the previous post we began our assessment of the work of Leon Morris on the word ‘propitiation’. Here’s the rest.)

Next Morris turns to hilasmos. He concludes once again that ‘whenever’ it means forgiveness the circumstances indicate the turning away of divine wrath.

One example should be enough to test the quality of this conclusion. In Psalm 130, we read ‘but there is forgiveness with you’. The context celebrates God’s loving orientation towards Israel. He does not mark their sins but will instead redeem them from them all. It would seem that God’s wrath is far from view in this Psalm. But no, Morris finds propitiation implied even here: “the word occurs in a context of trouble.” That’s it, that’s the proof. Did you catch it? The writer is facing troubles: a clear statement of God’s wrath(!) Apparently God has marked the psalmist’s sins after all. And not only is God’s wrath here: for Morris the turning away of wrath is a ‘necessary feature’ implied by this context of trouble.

It seems there is no context where Morris cannot find the idea of God’s wrath being turned away. I suppose he might say the whole Bible is such a context – in which case every word in it must necessarily speak of propitiation! In any case, Morris’s approach makes the business of considering individual examples of usage pretty pointless: we know what the outcome will always be.

Next is hileos. Morris’s comment on Deuteronomy 21:8 is revealing. The context is all about the removal of guilt in case of murder. Clearly expiation is in view. The elders are to sacrifice a heifer and say, “Do not let the guilt of innocent blood remain upon your people.” There is no mention here of wrath or punishment. In spite of this, Morris detects it: “It is difficult to interpret this other than as a propitiatory rite.” Why is that? Why could it not be, say, an expiatory rite? No reasons are given. In fact we already know that Morris has ruled out the category of simple expiation a priori. Actually one gets the feeling that this comment of Morris’s pretty much sums up his approach to studying the usage of the hilas– word-group: he finds it difficult to seriously consider interpretations other than propitiatory ones. If so, this tells us about Morris – but not about hileos.

The real test for Morris comes with exilaskomai.  For the word is mainly used in Leviticus, in a cultic context. But in Leviticus there is no mention, no suggestion of God’s wrath: the focus is always on the removal of sin or guilt. In fact the book is remarkable for omitting this common OT idea, the wrath of God. In this cultic sphere, the category is apparently absent.

You might think it would be difficult to find propitiatory ideas, then, in this Levitical term, exilaskomai. But I think by now you’ll have guessed that Morris finds them. Here’s how he does it: there are a handful of occurrences of exilaskomai outside this cultic context. He decides that this reflects the normal usage of the word, and that the huge number of cultic occurances are the exceptional usage. Ok…

He calls these few non-cultic occurrences “what the verb means in itself quite apart from the conventional use of the cultus.” He then demonstrates to his own satisfaction that these few occurrences allow of a propitiatory interpretation. The next step is to let these few non-cultic occurrences to control the meaning of the term when found in a cultic context: they ‘give us the key to the understanding of the cultic references.’ They become in effect the tail that wags the dog. They force a propitiatory meaning onto the Levitical usage.

This is Morris at his worst. As we have pointed out elsewhere, this idea of an intrinsic meaning in a word ‘in and of itself’ apart from context and usage, this has been thoroughly discredited by a century of lexical semantics by now. Usage and context are the keys to word meaning. For Morris to extract the word from its cultic setting in order to pin down its ‘real’ meaning apart from all the distractions of context, is naive. To then reimport this meaning into the cultic usage, is to commit the ‘illegitimate identity transfer’ which James Barr complained was such a common error among biblical scholars. A word’s meaning in one context cannot determine its meaning in a very different context.

In fact, words take on different meanings in different settings. Especially in a technical setting like the Levitical instructions, a word could easily have a special meaning. The legitimate way to discover that meaning is to look at Levitical usage. Simple. But that yields an ‘expiation’ result…

At the end of this chapter studying the OT usage of the hilas- word-group, Morris summarises his position beautifully: “When we reach the stage where we must say ‘When the LXX translators used “propitiation” they did not mean propitiation’, it is surely time to call a halt. No sensible man uses one word when he means another.” This would seem to be a conclusive argument – if the LXX was using ‘propitiation’. But that is precisely what Morris is attempting to prove. What this sums up so clearly is that Morris has all along been assuming the meaning of the word in order to prove that assumption. He might as well say, “It must mean propitiation, because that’s what it means.” We might remember that he began his discussion with this same argument. This silliness does nothing to advance our understanding of the hilas- group.

Such large-scale and persistent methodological flaws and follies as we have identified render Morris’s work of little value as a contribution to the study of the hilas word-group. The fact is that neither he, nor the ‘authorities’ he adduces, seem to understood how to employ the disciplines of modern lexical semantics (the science of studying words).

Sadly the evangelical constituency for which he was writing had even less understanding of these things than he did, and so were easily impressed by the appearance of scholarship. I for one grew up on this diet, being assured that “it has now been settled by the best scholars that this word means ‘propitiation’”. It is distressing to revisit this from a linguistic point of view, and find such poor quality work. I come away from this review feeling that the Christian community deserved better from a scholar they trusted so much.

In summary, pretty much everyone agrees that the idea of ‘expiation’ is central to in LXX usage of the hilas- word-group. Morris has argued that propitiatory ideas are also to the fore whenever this root is used. But he has not produced convincing evidence for this. The best we could say is, he has shown from the usage that ‘propitiation’ is sometimes in view in some of the terms studied. But in other hilas- words – in particular those connected with the Levitical sacrifices – there is no evidence of ‘propitiation’.


One point at which we cannot reach detente with the Postmodernists is in their suspicion of the category ‘truth’, and their preference for diversity instead.

However, short of the return of Christ our claims to truth must be open to critique, and not coercive. Truth is not something to be enforced. Rather it should be claimed in a way appropriate to its content. In the biblical narrative, it’s truth claims are often presented under the category of ‘witness’. This category has a lot to offer in a postmodern setting. It is non-threatening and non-self-serving. Witness, in the biblical sense, is about what God has done and what the witnesses have experienced. It is also witness against false idols – such as, in our context, the gods of consumerism. Because the witness is about God’s acts, it resists corruption into the usual human will to power.

Paul gives us resources to understand how this witness works in 1 Corinthians 1-4. His whole ministry was shaped by its witness to ‘Christ crucified.’ There we see that not only the content of our witness must be cross-centred, but also its form. I.e. it is only when the church’s community life stands as an alternative to the surrounding culture, when that life becomes part of our testimony to Jesus crucified, that we become faithful witnesses.


How can the church’s witness confront the massive voice of the modern narrative of worldwide economic power? There have always been totalising power narratives, such as those that drove the great empires of old. The biblical metanarrative generally stood over against these narratives, especially in the Apocalyptic writings, where a very different story of imperial rule is asserted.

The Roman empire under Augustus, for instance, was entranced with the project of world-wide dominance to the ends of the earth. Jesus’ commission in Acts 1:8, by picking up this phrase ‘to the end of the world’, proposes a counter-narrative to that of Rome: a project not of power but of witness. Revelation explores the way these two projects clash and conflict. John sees the witnesses to Jesus as witnessing largely by not conforming to the imperial project.

This all gives us plenty of clues about what witness might involve today in the face of the modern narrative of global economic power that holds sway in the West.


Doesn’t this biblical narrative tend to over-ride and squash other local world-views? When God reverses Babel at Pentecost, he affirms the place of cultural diversity in his kingdom. The gospel is not a culture-crusher. The biblical story is hospitable to other stories, drawing them in to relationship with itself.


The Christian church is in a position to embrace some aspects of modern globalism as consonant with God’s global project. But also to expose other aspects as anti-God and anti-creature also. This is a challenging time for us. We have often failed to keep ourselves from the human will to power, but there is room for repentance!


This chapter contains much gold, and I can only lament that it is so brief and covers so much territory that Bauckham’s ideas are left fairly undeveloped. I would dearly love to hear more of his thoughts about how we sit in our culture, and about what it might look like to be a faithful witness in the face of the new global empire. The stuff on Rome’s power project was very helpful.

RB’s vision for a witnessing church is one I find captivating. But I would like to see a more rigorous discussion of why the church has failed so extremely in this vision over so long. Is the gospel really so ineffective in the face of the human temptation to power? Or has there been a theological  problem in the church historically, that has distorted witness at this vital point? If so, where have we gone wrong? Which aspects of RB’s biblical-theological vision stand in tension with the church’s traditional narrative? I for one would have appreciated at least one further chapter!

But hopefully you’ve heard enough to be convinced that this is a little book worth reading and digesting, worth discussing and debating. A deeply theological book, that teaches us how to read Scripture more perceptively. A prophetic book, that has a message of challenge and hope for the modern church.


Bauckham has told his whole story now, of the God who reveals himself to the whole world through particular people and times and places, most especially through Jesus of Nazareth. He sums up his argument by quoting Lesslie Newbigin on ‘election.’ In his book The Open Secret, LN says election is God’s way of relating to us as the humans we are, i.e. all connected. Instead of sending salvation to each man directly – an isolating salvation – God makes it pass from one to another. So then, someone must be called and sent first for the others. And this is how LN understands ‘election’: it is not for the person alone but for the others that he is called by God. A salvation that suits human needs must involve election.

That’s a pretty cool way of seeing it. And it gives an ultimate point or direction to the human story – what Bauckham has been talking about all along: from the one to the many. LN says ‘Christian faith is thus a way of understanding world history which challenges and relativises all other models  by which the meaning of history is interpreted.’


But, Bauckham points out, since the 1970s Postmodernism has challenged the very idea of an overarching meaning to human history. It rejects metanarratives as tools for projecting power. So isn’t Newbigin’s view – which is also the theme of Bible and Mission – suspect from a 21st century point of view?

This is where RB lets his model for understanding Scripture confront the modern world we live in. He wants to hear the critique postmodernism would launch at the Christian story. Is this Christian metanarrative simply a way of silencing the voices of others and controlling them? Certainly the church has been guilty of doing this, during its history. Yes. But is this dynamic of oppression built into the biblical narrative itself?

 The biblical story as a non-modern metanarrative

Postmodernism started as a critique of the metanarrative of Modernism, coming out of the Enlightenment. The dream of reason leading to progress was exposed as a tool of western domination. The biblical narrative does not share modernism’s dream of human knowledge and mastery. It sees history as the stage for the fulfilment of God’s purposes, not man’s. Much remains mysterious from our limited perspective. God’s action is not predictable but free, and often disruptive and unexpected. So mission is not a smooth expansion like Modernism’s ‘progress.’ Also, the biblical narrative, while telling an overall story, is told by many voices, and as such is manifold, untidy and multi-perspectival. It does not press all to adopt a single tidy viewpoint on life. And it does not suppress the minority voices as modernism would tend to do.

In other words the Bible’s metanarrative is not totalitarian and intolerant of diversity. There is plenty of room within it for the range of human experience and culture. The critiques of postmodernism are not really aimed at this sort of story.


That’s pretty convincing, RB. Great to have your summary of the book at the start of the chapter. Great that you open your view up to critique, and face it calmly. It’s good to have the Christian story distinguished clearly from the Enlightenment one I grew up with – we still tend to mix them up!

I can see how RB deals with and ultimately escapes the critique of postmodernism. Does it matter? Surely the gospel is going to offend people anyhow, and we shouldn’t be ashamed of that? Who cares if we upset a bunch of postmodernists?

I care, actually. Because key elements of the postmodern case seem to me to be just and true. Their critique of modernism leaves it looking oppressive and cruel. And when I see those attitudes and behaviours in the church or in her message, I want to repent of that. I want to be confident that we are not silencing the weak and siding with the strong. That’s stuff I’ve learned from Jesus.

In other words, Postmodernism has brought out strands in the Christian faith that have long lain dormant. It has preached to us things that we should have been preaching, when we were instead embarking on the grand adventure of empire. Its voice has been prophetic. God who can speak through an ass can even speak through a french philosopher! And so where it is true to the gospel, it behoves Bauckham (and us) to listen carefully and examine ourselves and the story we are telling – which is what he is doing here.

If the biblical story doesn’t fall foul of the postmodernist critique, why is it that the church’s behaviour often is oppressive and totalising? Why are so many church leaders bullies? And what does this biblical story have to offer that might challenge the abusive narratives which have captured our world? More on this next time…

Screen Shot 2014-10-23 at 12.58.36 PM3. Anticipated closure and permanent narrative openness.

Another mouthful of a title! But there’s good stuff in here. The NT often seems to indulge in hyperbole when speaking of the extent of the spread of God’s kingdom. Paul has the gospel proclaimed ‘through the whole world’, to ‘every creature’ etc. Revelation contrasts Rome’s claims to universal rule with the church’s universality.

This hyperbole of completion might seem to suggest a final arrival, an end to the movement from particular to universal. But in fact it does not close off options for the future. The NT narratives make it clear the mission is not complete, e.g. the open ending of Acts 28. Nor are we given a timetable from here till the parousia. So then the church in every age finds itself plunged ‘into the midst of the biblical story where the words of the great commission still ring in its ears.’

Thus we live in ‘a dialectic of anticipated closure and permanent openness.’ This presses the reality of God’s unfolding purposes for the world hard on the church’s consciousness. We are caught up in something global that he is doing now, expressed in a unique way in our particular locality. 


I’m less sure what I think about this part. It’s very interesting! There certainly are the two sides of anticipated closure and ongoing openness, in the NT. It’s helpful to have that spelt out so clearly. However, I’m not entirely comfortable with structuring it as a dialectic. In fact, I’m always suspicious of dialectics: they remind me too much of Enlightenment German philosophy.

I think what I’m missing here is the language of eschatological arrival, of the ‘ends of the ages’ which seems to be the NT way of expressing closure. Rather than being anticipated, it’s a closure that is occuring now. Calling it anticipated, describing us as plunged in the midst of history, seems to me to locate us wrongly in history. We are not in the middle, but at the end. I doubt RB would disagree, but I don’t quite like the structure of his thought here.

Also, calling the openness permanent is a bit ambiguous. I suppose he means ongoing. Whenever you live, prior to the return of Christ, openness is still there.

I think the structure of a dialectic between permanent openness and anticipated closure makes it feel too abstract and unreal, too much like a paradox. The way I read the NT, it’s more like, history is closing up, drawing to a fast conclusion, and the time is short. We are living in the last days. Yet there is still time right now. Seems pretty simple to me. Maybe I’ve missed something?

Overall, however, I like the picture. The church lives caught up in the movement of God’s uncompleted worldwide mission, which he is bringing to its conclusion. Consciousness of this pushes us forward. We express our part in that cosmic program through the unique particulars of our local situation. Yes.

2. Outlines of a hermeneutic for the kingdom of God515gxgjcZSL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

Bauckham explains that he is not doing a biblical theology of mission. Rather he aims to outline an approach to reading Scripture that ‘takes seriously its missionary direction’. The Bible story is about ‘a project aimed at the kingdom of God’, i.e. the arrival of God’s universal purpose for the creation. However it always starts off with particulars, with individuals and communities. This movement out from the particular to the universal is …mission.

This hermetic will need to view the bible as a whole story, or metanarrative, with an awareness of the powerful potential such a story will have on our lives. It will focus on the way this story moves from the particular to the universal. This movement corresponds to God’s identity as the one who is God of Israel so that he may be Lord of all creation.

This outward movement has three dimensions:

The temporal movement from the old and particular into the new and universal future of God.  From Jesus’ sending by his Father, to his return in God’s kingdom.

The spatial/geographical movement from one place to every place, from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth.

The social/numerical movement from the one to the many, from Abraham to many nations, from Jesus to all people.

God’s people are caught up in each of these movements, and this means mission.

The Bible’s story is full of instances of movement of these three kinds. Each story is unique and yet orientated towards the ‘universal horizon’ of God’s coming kingdom. I.e. they all fit into the big story. Jesus describes the final goal of the metanarrative using various narrative imagery: the seed that grows by itself (temporal movement), the mustard seed (spatial), the catch of fish (social/numerical). Each these stories is about mysterious growth – for the church’s mission is not something she can achieve herself. Nor is it a continuous movement. Rather mission is a collection of stories each one starting from the particular and growing outwards and into the future.


In this section Bauckham lays the groundwork for his project in the whole book: he wants to show us how to read the Bible in a way that exposes its missional dimensions, so often overlooked. And he does this at the broadest possible level: he’s talking narrative deep-structure and everything above it, here. This little section does a lot of work: it provides us with a powerful analytic framework for grasping how mission functions in the Bible’s story. It’s not just Matthew 28! I reckon readers equipped with this 3-fold movement model are going to be reading in a much deeper and more sophisticated way than they were before. And therefore thinking mission in a much more thorough-going way too. Once again, Bauckham comes up with the goods!

I like it that this is Biblical theology he’s doing. It often bothers me how much theological discussion goes on without much reference to Scripture. Bauckham brings us back to the biblical narratives again and again, supremely to the gospel narrative of Jesus. His use of the parables and stories of Jesus is particularly enjoyable and insightful. So nice to be able to read Scripture along with a great exegete/interpreter like RB.

As I’ve mentioned, this would have been better as its own chapter, rather than a section in a larger one. It’s a big shift of gears from the previous section. And it’s enough for my little brain to chew on in one bite!

In summary: GOLD!

FoodMcworldThis is a small, non-technical and fairly easy to read book on the subject of mission, by one of the great Christian scholars of our generation. That’s gotta be good, hey?

Bauckham is a bit of a genius when it comes to writing short books that have a big impact. His God Crucified changed the face of Christological studies, in about 70 pages. This one weighs in at 110 pages: my sort of book!

The subtitle, ‘Christian Witness in a Postmodern World’ gives a clearer sense of what the book is about. What place can Christian mission have in a world where truth itself (and therefore mission) itself is frowned upon?

Chapter 1:  A Hermeneutic for the Kingdom of God.

That’s not a very friendly title for what is actually a ripper chapter. In fact it isn’t a good guide to the contents either.

1. Between McWorld and Jihad

September 11 2001, could be seen as the clash of ‘universalist cultures’ – those of Islam and of Global Capitalism. ‘Universalist’ means cultures that seek to impose themselves on the whole world in a way that crushes difference. Universalist cultures ‘threaten all things local, traditional and particular.’ Bauckham tells us his book is going to be about these issues – the local and particular, and the universal – as they relate to Christian mission.

Bauckham identifies two key concepts involved in the story of 9/11: metanarrative and globalisation. A metanarrative is a story about the meaning of reality as a whole, encompassing and integrates all its diversity. E.g.  ‘progress’ and Marxism. The new metanarrative of the West is Globalism with its story of economic salvation.

Postmodernism suspects and rejects metanarratives as tools of domination and oppression. It promotes instead particularity, diversity and localism. One Jewish postmodernist, Sacks, pleads for an approach to religion which distinguishes it from God. God is universal, but all religions are particulars and should remain so. I.e. give up universalist dreams such as those of Islam.

So where does Christianity stand when confronted with McWorld and Jihad? Bauckham points out that “almost certainly Christianity exhibits more cultural diversity that any other religion, and that must say something about it.” But are God and religion are fundamentally different, one universal and one particular? RB points out that the idea that God is universal is itself particular to the Judeo-Christian tradition!

It is more accurate to say God is both universal and particular. ‘We find the universal God in his particularity as the God of Israel…and of Jesus’. Bauckham wants to examine how these two things – the particular and the universal –  are related, ‘because it is in that relationship that the church’s universal mission belongs and has its meaning…Mission takes place on the way from the particularity of God’s action in the story of Jesus to the universal coming of God’s kingdom.’ And here we have the thesis of the whole book.

But can Christian mission be justified at all? Is it not just ‘a tidal wave of religious homogenisation sweeping away all the diversity of the world.’

That would have been a great place to finish the first chapter – one suspects the book has retained the structure of the lectures on which it is based. We will stop here and reflect.


Bauckham writes beautifully. His style is clear, concise and eloquent. 9/11 offers a compelling, if somewhat overused, way into the subject. He uses plenty of illustrations, making for easy reading.

He has introduced his key themes and terms: mission in the light of postmodern concerns about the universal and the particular, about metanarrative and globalisation. Each of these is explained clearly. He has raised his main issues cogently and compellingly.

If I have a criticism it would be that Bauckham undersells his product. The question he has raised here about the legitimacy of mission has not been a small one. In fact it has been massively powerful in the modern history of the church. Over the past 60 years this critique of universalist narratives (like the Christian one) has seeped into the bones of the churches and sapped their missionary zeal. It has come to seem arrogant and presumptuous to try to make ‘converts’ (i.e. disciples for Jesus). Church groups, under the influence of postmodern ideas, have lost confidence in the whole missionary endeavour, and often given it away. This has been a fundamental change in the outlook and action of Christians in the modern West. It would have been helpful for Bauckham to unpack this a bit, give some of this wider context, and explain what is at stake for the church, in the issues he is discussing. These things may have seemed obvious to Bauckham, but many of us don’t know even recent history or the history of ideas. Words like universalism, particularity and metanarrative can seem big and abstract and academic to readers unused to such vocabulary. They can mask the fact that Bauckham is actually dealing with a red-hot topic: Is mission an intrinsically violent movement? 

I think the average reader just needs a little bit more reason to care about the themes of the book, before diving into Bible-land with RB. Brief is good, but at this key moment in his book I feel he’s been a bit too brief! This book is so good I’d like it to be more accessible at a ”thinking reader” level, not just an academic one.

  1. Quenching the Spirit

After recognising that his position will offend many, Gaffin makes some helpful concluding remarks. He suggests that what is often seen as ‘post conversion baptism of the Spirit’ really is a great working of the Spirit, in convicting us of the gospel! ‘Often too, what is seen as prophecy is actually a spontaneous, Spirit-worked application of Scripture’. In relation to tongues he makes a damning appraisal of the contemporary practice. He notes that it is often seen as a gift for all believers, for personal benefit, not relating to judgement in any way, and with interpretation either being neglected or ‘applied in a dubious fashion’. Hence; ‘Contemporary tongues are not the gift of the Spirit described in Acts 2 or 1 Corinthians 12-14.’ Smack down! He concludes with a genuine appreciation of the many strengths of the charismatic movement, which we could all learn from.


I really dug the first section. Gaffin’s Old/New Covenant gear was great. The Spirit is the risen life of Christ amongst his people. I for one need to make more of that. I dug plenty of other stuff along the way, but the jury is still out on the issue of cessation of tongues and prophecy.

At times, Gaffin places too much weight on uncertain exegesis (eg. In relation to 1 Cor 14:14 he says that ‘my spirit’ must be the Holy Spirit, whereas Paul seems to have a distinction between the Holy Spirit and our spirit. Eg. Rom8:16.) But at many points he garners enough evidence to convince me. He convinced me that prophecy is always revelation and even that tongues are about the revelation of gospel mysteries too.

However I’m still unsure about the beam that bears most of the weight in his argument for the cessation of prophecy. Keeping in mind the ‘covenantal, redemption-historical character of all revelation’, I think his key statement is: ‘Since the history of redemption has been definitively accomplished, and since after Pentecost its ongoing movement is delayed until Christ’s return […], the basis and rationale for new revelations is lacking and revelation has therefore ceased.’

I think this characterization of prophecy is overly restrictive. His insistence that all prophecy is covenantal and redemptive historical in character is laudable, but I think he applies those categories too restrictively. Prophecies like Agabus’ concerning the famine (despite Gaffin’s arguments) doesn’t seem to fit within his tight definition. Old Testament prophecy didn’t always relate all that directly to salvation history either (eg. 1 Kings 20:35, or 2 Kings 2:3-5). Without a shadow of a doubt I’m not the exegete that Gaffin is, but I do find it hard to see how some prophecies in the scriptures relate directly to ‘the ongoing movement’ of redemptive history.

Similarly, I agree with him that we shouldn’t expect any ‘new revelations’ concerning salvation history, or the character of our God revealed therein. It’s just that plenty of prophecy doesn’t seem to offer significant new information about salvation history or God’s character either. Is it possible that similar prophecy could operate today? Maybe prophecy ‘forthtelling’ old information for new believers in certain circumstances?

For this reason I’m not convinced his arguments for the cessation of prophecy hold. This would then carry for tongues also. However, I’m still not sure what I think about this tricky topic!

  1. The question of cessation.

The temporary Nature of the Apostolate

The existence of ‘apostleship’ in lists of gifts is evidence that not all gifts are intended to continue. Are there other gifts that are ‘so integrally associated’ with the ministry of the apostles that they disappear along with the end of the apostolate?

The foundational character of the Apostolic witness AND of prophecy.

The Apostles witnessed to Christ and so lay out the once for all foundation of the church. Ephesians 2 associates prophets with apostles in this work. ‘They have a foundational, that is, temporary, noncontinuing role in the church’s history, and so by God’s design pass out of its life, along with the apostles.’ To those who might suggest that there are other kinds of non-foundational prophecy that continue, he responds that this is a misunderstanding of the ‘covenantal, redemption-historical character of all revelation’. He argues emphatically that, ‘Since the history of redemption has been definitively accomplished and since after Pentecost its ongoing movement is delayed until Christ’s return […] the basis and rationale for new revelations is lacking and revelation has therefore ceased.’ Ie. All revelation is about salvation, and salvation is sorted.

Three related remarks: First, ‘Scripture leaves no place for privatized, localized revelations for specific individual needs and circumstances.’ Second, there were plenty of prophets who spoke the Word of God for their moment but weren’t inscripturated. Third, Gaffin insists that having anything other than a closed canon ‘conflicts with the covenantal nature of all revelation’.

The cessation of tongues

This part of the argument follows simply from the first, given that he’s more or less equated prophecy and tongues. An interesting side point is the way he suggests (with reference to 1 Cor14:20-25 and an analogy with parables) that tongues fit in the context of the founding of the church by demonstrating God’s (new covenant) judgement and rejection of Israel, and so ‘intensify and harden unbelief that is primarily Jewish.’

Tomorrow, Gaffin’s conclusion and mine.

  1. Prophecy and Tongues.

1 Cor. 14: Some controlling Observations.

In this chapter tongues and prophecy are played off against each other, prophecy is clearly superior. However a sharp division between these two isn’t possible, and their partnership in 1 Corinthians 14 underlines this. Both are about the reception and communication of “mysteries” (13:2, 14:2).


‘New Testament prophecy is revelatory. […] The words of the prophet are the words of God and are to be received and responded to as such. […] The prophet reveals the Word of God, the preacher expounds that word.’ They, with the Apostles, reveal the ‘unsearchable riches, the ‘mystery’ of the gospel. It includes both ‘forthtelling’ and ‘foretelling’. There are no levels of authority in prophecy, even between written vs oral prophecy. It’s all revelation. Weighing of prophecy wasn’t ‘sifting worthwhile elements’, but determining if the whole prophecy was from the Holy Spirit or another spirit. Obviously there is spurious prophecy even within the church (eg. 2Thes2:2).



Gaffin begins by dispensing with a common view of tongues which suggests that the Spirit bypasses our minds to produce this vocalization of a ‘volitional, yet non-intellective, preconceptual capacity in man, usually with the emphasis that tongues bring to expression the more primal, deeper levels of personality.’ Gaffin points out the ‘insuperable difficulty’ with this position, that Paul doesn’t see mind and spirit as opposites. In fact, they both have ‘essentially the same reference’ in Paul’s anthropology (eg. Rom1:9). This view comes from a ‘conviction that religious experience is essentially irrational.’

Rather, Gaffin argues for a ‘fully inspired’ view. ‘Tongues are a mode of prophecy.’ Pretty well the only difference between the two is that prophecy utilizes ‘the speaker’s existing language (conceptual) capacities’, while tongues doesn’t. ‘His speech capacities are so taken over by the Spirit that the words spoken are not his’. This reading depends on reading 1 Corinthians 14:14’s ‘my spirit prays’ as ‘the Holy Spirit prays’ (which Gaffin admits ‘is difficult’, at least its initial impression).

He goes on to argue that tongues must be a genuine kind of language.

Tomorrow, arguments for cessation.


  1. Some basic perspectives on the gifts of the Spirit

The gift of the Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit.

Gaffin lays a few planks in his argument here, but they’re not especially load bearing (unless you hold a particular view).

  1. The ‘universal donation’ of the Spirit is a foretaste of eschatological life, while the gifts variously given are ‘particular operations pertaining to various ministries and as such, are provisional and sub-eschatological (1Cor13:8f).’ The ‘subsequent course of the entire discussion is decisively determined’ by this distinction.
  2. Therefore the essence of the New Covenant is tied to these gifts. They ‘disclose the essence of the kingdom and its blessings, but without at the same time constituting or embodying that essence.’ They act as signs. Therefore ‘each gift has to be examined in order to determine its specific purpose(s) and the specific conditions for its presence in the church.’
  3. In terms of function, ‘From beginning to end the gifts are given for service in the church.’ If the recipient of the gift gets something out of the exercise of that gift (in service to others), that is a ‘fringe benefit’. In this vein, he acknowledges the possibility that tongues could be used privately (eg. 1cor14:18,28).

Gaffin then makes two moves which are probably quite familiar to many of us. First, he says that the lists of gifts are ‘selective and representative’. In fact, he pushes it a bit further, saying, ‘Too sharp a line should not be drawn between many of the gifts.’ There are the two categories of ‘word’ and ‘deed’ gifts, but there’s also overlap. Second, in the matter of ‘identifying your gifts’ he calls us to ask not ‘What is my spiritual speciality?’, but ‘What, in the situation in which God has placed me, are the particular opportunities I see for serving other believers in word an deed?’


A reflection: I find this general, ‘overlapping’ approach, while realistic, hard to square with his recommendation of examining each gift. Such an examination seems to require quite a clean cut, test tube definition of a given gift. This is exactly what he’ll go on to provide. In practice though, how do these two approaches fit together? With tongue in cheek, I wonder how the Spirit feels about being cross examined on why he’s blowing where he is. But then Gaffin goes and says something awesome like this;


‘Probably the most important and certainly the most difficult lesson for us to learn is that ultimately spiritual gifts are not our presumed strengths and abilities, not something that we “have” (or even have been given), but what God does through us in spite of ourselves and our weakness.’

Tomorrow, more detail on prophecy and tongues.