Friday, July 29, 2016

Contra Don Codling: Apostles and Redemptive History

Are revelatory gifts signs of the Apostles?

Codling continues with his third rebuttal, against the argument that revelatory gits are the signs of the apostles. I do not particularly find this cessationist argument persuasive, since it focuses the attention on the apostles instead of on the apostolic era, on men instead of God. Regardless, I find Codling's attempted rebuttal weak. First, Codling thinks that the cessationist view is that revelatory gifts were given through impartation from the apostles (p. 81). While that is true, that is only part of the argument, which states that the revelatory gifts were given through the ministry of the Holy Spirit through the apostles, not necessarily by the Apostles meting it out as if they decide who to give and who not to give the Holy Spirit. Second, Codling raised the example of Paul's reception of the Holy Spirit directly from God as a counter-example (p. 82). But this ignores the fact that Paul is called to be an apostle so obviously he received the gifts directly from God the Holy Spirit.

Besides this, Codling did score some hits against sloppy argumentation in his response to the use of Hebrews 2:1-4 (pp. 84-5) among others, but this cessationist argument is not a strong one anyway.

Finality of the revelation of Christ

The cessationist argument that is being responded here is that Scripture teaches the finality of special revelation, therefore there is to be no more special revelation today, and thus no more revelatory gifts. Codling attempts to refute this argument by looking at the texts that have been adduced to promote this position. First, he looks at Hebrews 1:1-2. In a startling piece of eisegesis Codling claims that Hebrews 1:1-2 just teach a division between the Old Covenant revelation and New Covenant revelation, and charge that the traditional way of interpretation of this text creates "a new dispensation with an apostolic and a post-apostolic dispensation in place of the new covenant period" (p. 87). But note what the texts actually is saying. Yes, it contrast the former times with the last days. But the former times consist of all the period before Christ, while the last days here has is focused on Christ. Is Christ a definitive revelation, or a continuous revelation? That is the issue which Codling does not address, the quality of that revelation not the seeming duration. It is the revelation of Christ that is definitive and therefore fixed, which militates against continual revelation today. Christ as the Incarnate Word has fully revealed Himself in the Inscripturated, Breathed-out Word, and thus Hebrews 1:1-2 teaches the finality of revelation because Christ's revelation is final in the canon.

Codling next deals with Galatians 1:6, which is a puzzle since it does not deal with cessationism at all. He next touches Revelations 22:18-19, but his argument here is a mess. The point of Revelations 22:18-19 is to prohibit adding to said revelation, so how does that reconcile with the assertion that "this does not preclude direct communication between God and his people" (p. 89)? If there is personal direct communication between God and man today, why should we not add that to the canon as an addition to the Scriptures? One could raise the issue of non-canonical special revelation during the apostolic era, but, since these are the revelation of the later days, their focus is on Christ and partake of the finality of canonical revelation, and thus have ceased according to Hebrews 1:1-2.

Excursus: Non-canonical special revelation

At this point, I would like to deal with the issue of non-canonical special revelation. We know that not all prophecies by New Testament prophets made it into the canon of Scripture, like the prophecies of Philip's four unmarried daughters (Acts 21:9). Codling utilizes these non-canonical prophecies to undermine the finality of revelation, for by decoupling revelation from canon, he can advocate for the continuous presence of the revelatory gifts.

How should we understand these special revelation? We are to understand them like scaffolding, with the canon being the structure. Both structure and scaffold are geared towards one purpose, the revelation of Christ in the later days as what Hebrews 1:1-2 states. But with the completion of the canon and the transition to the post-apostolic era, God's revelation is finalized and thus the scaffolding is dissolved. Was the scaffolding necessary during the inaugurating phase of the New Covenant? Yes, it was. But just as surely, these special revelation are tied to the structure and therefore they have served their purpose. To desire non-canonical special revelation is to ask for the scaffold, which is the same as asking for baby things. We have the final revelation, so why do we need the scaffold that helps to build it?

Revelatory gifts and redemptive history

The last argument that Codling will address is that the revelatory gifts are tied to the initiation of the kingdom of God, which is essentially Richard Gaffin's argument. While Codling has many parts in his argument, he has one main point that I would like to interact with.

Codling's main point is that not all the work of the church is foundational work (pp. 97-8). The problem with this is that it confuses the work of the Spirit in preparing the finality of revelation with the gifts being used explicitly for the foundation of the church. The Spirit gives gifts which manifest in various ways. Some may not be foundational in the strict sense, but they are all needed to create the environment and church life for the revelation of Christ to be written down. Codling is in error here because he takes a too narrow view of what the initiation of the kingdom actually means. Along these lines, Codling's assertions of restriction on the exercise of the gifts at Corinth in 1 Corinthians 14:26 (p. 99) fails because not all revelatory gifts are for the foundation of the revelation of Christ, but they are all required for the kingdom to be inaugurated.

[to be continued]

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