Cessationist Eisegesis

(An article by Link Hudson. Cessationism, by the way, is the doctrine that miraculous gifts and true prophetic utterances from God ceased either after the 12 apostles all died, or once the Scripture was assembled. Eisegesis is where you bring into a Bible text something from the outside and explain the Bible text by appealing to ideas external to the Scriptures themselves. The article follows.)

There are certain types of Reformed folks, who from my perspective, treat certain confessions or synods like I treat scripture. It depends on where they are from, but in the Anglo world, they often treat the Westminster confession that way. In Europe and other parts of the world, it may be the Synod of Dordt. Not all Reformed church people are that way, but some seem to be. In fact, it seems to me that the more a Reformed person emphasizes ‘sola scriptura’ the more likely it is that he treats some confession on par with how I treat scripture.

I believe ‘the scripture cannot be broken.’ I don’t expect the Bible to be wrong about anything. Interpretations may be questionable. But I don’t expect that a confession will necessarily be 100% accurate.

I’ve noticed some cessationists will take this passage and try to argue cessationism from it.

Hebrews 1
1 God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets,
2 Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds;

Logically, if one knows the rest of the Bible, using this for cessationism makes no sense. Jesus said in Matthew 23 that He would send forth prophets. We see in Ephesians 4 that Jesus gave prophets to the church after His ascension. Hebrews 2 tells of God bearing witness to them that heard the Lord through signs, wonders, and gifts of the Holy Ghost. We know a lot of these things occurred after the ascension of Christ.

Why would anyone who has actually read Acts or I Corinthians try to argue for cessationism from this verse? What is going on with cessationists using this verse? And why would someone try to use the verse to say that now that we have the Bible, God no longer speaks. The verse is about God speaking through His Son, not the Bible. Are they trying to exactly equate Jesus with the Bible? That’s theologically problematic, to say the least.

Obviously, there is something going on in these people’s heads that isn’t in that passage of scripture. It just isn’t in the text. Some eisegesis is going on. But multiple people are engaged in the same eisegesis, and it makes sense to them. So it makes sense that there must be some outside influence common to all the folks doing this.

Here is my theory. Maybe without realizing it, some Reformed folks are actually treating chapter 1 of the Westminster Confession of Faith as if it were scripture.

I’m thinking of how I read Jude 1 and II Peter 2. These chapters are parallel. One is about false brethren, and the other is about false teachers. But the arguments follow in the same order. One speaks of the false brethren being ‘spots on your love feasts’, and the other speaks of the false teachers as being ‘spots and blemishes while they feast with you.’ One speaks of not being afraid to speak evil of dignities. The other illustrates this issue by pointing to Michael not harshly rebuking Satan. The order of the judgments of God in history in both passages is the same. Understanding one complements the other.

As a student of scripture, I don’t have any problem taking a truth from one passage to deepen my understanding of the other. I accept both passages as inspired by God. This makes sense. I can do the same with passages from different Gospels, using Matthew to understand a passage in Mark or Luke, for example.

But what happens when people treat a man-made confession as if it were inspire scripture and use it to interpret scripture? I believe this is what happens with chapter 1 of the Westminster Confession of faith. Here is a selection in question:

“Therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal Himself, and to declare that His will unto His Church; and afterwards for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which makes the Holy Scripture to be most necessary; those former ways of God’s revealing His will unto His people being now ceased.”

Notice, the wording above, “sundry times, and in divers manners”. It is very similar to the wording in Hebrews 1, which states, “who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets,”.

My theory is that in the minds of some Reformed cessationists who have imbibed the Westminster Confession and put it, from my perspective, on the level of scripture, and use it as a filter through which to understand the scripture, this quote from the Westminster confession and Hebrews 1 become intertwined.

Hebrews 1:1-2 is about God speaking through His Son. It is a ‘lesser to greater argument’, a practice of Jewish hermeneutics. In the past God spoke through prophets. Now He has done something greater, speaking through His Son. The passage does not say that God did away with prophets.

Notice that the concept of cessation is in the man-made confession, not in scripture. The Westminster Confession says “those former ways of God’s revealing his will unto His people being now ceased.” Inspired scripture from God does not say that. Hebrews does not say that. Men wrote that. And men who treat the Westminster Confession as if it were scripture eisegete the idea into the text of Hebrews.

Isn’t this the problem that led to the Reformation? Luther found that the beliefs of clergy and laity were obscured by centuries of church tradition that had taken them away from the teaching of scripture. Church tradition should never be an excuse for not believing scripture. And a confession written several hundred years ago late into the Reformation is no excuse for not believing what scripture says about spiritual gifts. It is no excuse for not believing scripture when it says that to one is given by the same spirit….the gift of prophecy. It is no excuse for not earnestly desiring spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. It is no excuse for disobeying the commandment of the Lord to let the prophets speak two or three and to let the other judge. It is no excuse to disobey the instruction to covet to prophesy and forbid not to speak with tongues. Man’s tradition is no excuse for disobeying the commands, quench not the Spirit; despise not prophesyings; prove all things; hold fast to that which is good.

By Link Hudson. Used by Permission.

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