Defending the Faith with a Broken Sword – Part 2
It is a commendable thing to want to defend the teaching of the Holy Scriptures. Such efforts, however, only serve the cause of truth when they are biblically sound and reasonably argued.
As was noted in first installment of this series, however, some teachers with the very best of motives have nevertheless wielded a “broken sword” in their sincere attempts to contend for the faith.
In these articles, we are trying, in the kindest way possible, to call attention to some of the exegetical fallacies that have been employed in various efforts to uphold biblical truth.
The Duration of Miracles — Micah 7:15
The Bible teaches that miraculous works, such as were performed by Christ and His apostles, were limited to the first century. An irrefutable case can be made for the fact that, with the completion of the New Testament record, supernatural gifts passed from the church’s possession. Miracles are not being performed today (see What Does the Bible Say About Miracles?).
However, some of the arguments made in attempting to prove that supernatural gifts have passed away simply are not sound and should be abandoned.
Ben M. Bogard was a Baptist champion who conducted 237 religious debates — mostly with gospel preachers. One of his most interesting encounters was with the flamboyant Aimee Semple McPherson, founder of the Four Square Gospel Church. In that discussion, Bogard affirmed that:
“Miracles and divine healing, as taught and manifested in the Word of God, ceased with the closing of the apostolic age.”
For a change, Mr. Bogard was on the side of truth. Some of his argumentation, though, was less than persuasive.
For example, Bogard quoted the Old Testament book of Micah where the prophet declared:
“According to the days of thy coming out of Egypt will I show unto him marvelous things” (Mic. 7:15).
He suggested that this passage had to do with the miracles of Jesus and His apostles — which it most likely does. But then he triumphantly asserted that “the prophet Micah foretold exactly how long the ‘marvelous things’ would continue.”
He reasoned that as Israel was in Egypt for forty years, so the supernatural gifts of the first century would continue for just forty years. Therefore, all miraculous works had been terminated by A.D. 70! (Bogard-McPherson Debate, pp. 42-43).
There are two things wrong with Bogard’s argument.
- Micah 7:15 just does not contain the explicit information, nor even an implication, that the gentleman sought.
- This argument is not consistent with other facts that bear upon the case. Let us reflect upon these points.
First of all, Micah 7:15 contains a portion of God’s answer to the prophet’s prayer that Israel be delivered from the perils to which she would be divinely subjected, namely, the Babylonian captivity. Micah pled that the Lord might revive His benevolent care for the Hebrews “as in the days of old” (Mic. 7:14).
In verse 15 Jehovah responds by saying:
“According to the days ...” (KJV)
A better translation is:
“As in the days [ASV, NKJB, NASB, NIV] of thy coming forth out of the land of Egypt will I show unto them marvelous things.”
All the passage affirms is this: God would again authenticate His presence among His people by the manifestation of such wonders as characterized their deliverance from Egyptian bondage. There is utterly no justification for seeing in this verse a forty-year chronology indicating the termination of miraculous gifts by A.D. 70.
I have examined more than twenty scholarly, conservative commentaries on the book of Micah, and not a one of them sees a reference to a forty-year time frame in 7:15. The argument has simply been fabricated out of thin air, yet even some of our own good brethren have attempted to use it in confrontations with the Pentecostals.
Secondly, there is a strong body of evidence that supports the view that some of the New Testament books were written after A.D. 70 (e.g., John’s epistles and the book of Revelation). Such suggests, therefore, that inspiration (and miraculous gifts) did not terminate at A.D. 70.
Did John cease to be an apostle in A.D. 70? He lived a third of a century beyond that time. If he continued to function as an apostle, did he exercise the “signs of an apostle” (2 Cor. 12:12) during the post-A.D. 70 period?
Duration of Miracles — 1 Corinthians 13:10
One of the strongest arguments against the continuation of miracles beyond the first century is Paul’s instruction in 1 Corinthians 13:8ff. There, he states that prophecies, tongues, and supernatural knowledge will finally pass away.
When? The answer is: “when that which is perfect is come” (1 Cor. 13:10). But what is “that which is perfect”?
A literal translation from the Greek is “when the complete thing comes, the in part thing shall be done away.”
Since the expression “in part thing” denotes the piece-by-piece revelation of God’s truth via the various spiritual gifts (prophecies, tongues, knowledge), “that which is perfect” is obviously the completed revelation. [Note: a better rendition is “the complete thing”; cf. G. Kittle (Ed.), Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, VIII, p. 75.]
Hence, the divine revelatory process was completed when the New Testament record was concluded. At that time, miraculous gifts ceased forever!
The Pentecostals do not accept this conclusion. They contend that the phrase “that which is perfect” is a reference to Christ, thus, spiritual gifts would continue until the return of the Lord.
Now, occasionally gospel preachers will respond to this objection in the following way. “The expression ‘that which is perfect’ is a neuter gender form; accordingly, it cannot refer to Christ.”
This approach is not correct for the neuter form does in fact sometimes refer to Jesus. In Luke 1:35, baby Jesus, in the womb of His mother, is called “the holy thing which is begotten.” Moreover, John in his first epistle writing of Christ declares:
“That which was from the beginning, that which we have heard, that which we have seen with our eyes, that which we beheld, and our hands handled concerning the Word of life” (1 Jn. 1:1).
A neuter adjective is four times used of the Lord in this verse. It is thus quite incorrect to argue that Jesus Christ is never denominated by neuter terms.
The fact is, Christ cannot be “that which is perfect” in 1 Corinthians 13:10 because the context will not allow it! The “perfect” (complete) must balance with the “in part,” and the Lord does not fit that picture. The argument does not turn solely on the grammar.
We do not need, therefore, to give false teachers an advantage by making a weak argument that will not stand up.
For a more detailed discussion of this text, see see What Does the Bible Say About Miracles?.
Sabbath Day Abolished
It is a fundamental biblical truth that the law of Moses was a temporary system in the plan of God, the design of which was to prepare the world for the coming of the Messiah. The law was added “till the seed should come,” and that seed was Christ (Gal. 3:19; cf. 3:16).
When Jesus Christ fulfilled His divine mission at Golgotha (see John 19:28-30), the Mosaic economy passed away (Mt. 5:17-18). Jesus abolished in His flesh, by His death upon the cross, the “law of commandments” (Eph. 2:15), and so, we are not under the demands of the Old Testament regime.
One aspect of the law of Moses was the Jewish responsibility to keep the Sabbath day as a holy day. If it can be established that the Mosaic system as a whole has been abrogated, then it surely follows that the Sabbath regulation, as a component of that code, has likewise passed away. This point is made in several New Testament contexts.
For example, in Romans 7:4 Paul argues that Christians are “dead to the law through the body of Christ.” They are “discharged” from the law (Rom. 7:6). That this dead law included the ten commandments, the fourth of which enjoined Sabbath-keeping, is clear from verse 7, where the tenth commandment is explicitly quoted.
Too, in Colossians 2:14 the apostle notes that the “bond written in ordinances,” i.e., the Old Testament economy, has been “nailed to the cross.” He then observes that as a consequence of that act, no man can judge another in respect of the Mosaic law, including the Sabbath (Col. 2:16). The Sabbath is abolished!
It is well-known, of course, that some religionists today insist that Sabbath-keeping is still a divine requirement. We must attempt to teach these misguided souls the truth, and, as evidenced above, there are many excellent arguments which may be employed to this end. We do not need to use flawed instruction to accomplish this goal. Sadly, however, some have not always resisted the temptation.
In the book of Amos, the question is asked: “When will the ... Sabbath be gone?” (Amos 8:5). Subsequently the Lord declares: “I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in the clear day” (Amos 8:9).
This latter passage is coupled with Mark 15:33, where the writer states that the sun was darkened at the time of Christ’s death, and it is fervently announced that the Sabbath was thus to be “gone” at the time of the crucifixion.
This argument completely wrests Amos 8:5ff from its ancient context and gives it an application foreign to the original meaning.
In Amos 8, the prophet is describing the wicked condition of Israel in the 8th century B.C. He predicts punishment upon the nation—“the end is come upon my people Israel” (Amos 8:2).
He quotes certain rebellious Jews as asking, “When will the new moon and Sabbath be gone?” The reason being, they wanted to be free of the law’s restraints so that they could “sell grain” (Amos 8:5) seven days a week!
This was illustrative of their utter disregard for things spiritual.
In view of that evil disposition, Jehovah promised that judgment would come. Employing apocalyptic language, the Lord states that He will cause the sun to go down at noon and the earth to be darkened (Amos 8:9). This is the typical jargon of symbolism for the destruction of a nation (cf. Is. 13:10; Joel 2:10; Mt. 24:29).
This context does not relate to the crucifixion of Christ and it is not responsible exegesis to use it in that way.
And so, we must guard ourselves. Let us defend the truth with vigor. Let us press the battle. But let us do so with accuracy.