This is the third in a set of articles that builds on the previous set which explained 1) we need God to reveal himself, 2) he has revealed himself in the Bible, and 3) the Bible is necessary, inspired, authoritative, self-authentifying, sufficient, clear, and final.
The last segment clarified why we are sure today’s Bible has been transmitted to us without error. One further question remains, “Are there additional revelations which came later than the 1st century or outside of Palestine and should also be considered God’s Word?” Stated another way, “The Bible may well inerrantly and completely transmit God’s revelation in its place and up to the time of Jesus’ immediate disciples, but could there be other revelation which God gave at other places and in latter times?”
The answer was already hinted at in points (E) and (I) of the outline in the previous article. Since this is such a vital issue we will delve into more detail here.
- The Bible is God’s Word – Previous Article
- Holy scripture is God-breathed
- Jesus Christ viewed Scripture as sure, undeniable, unbreakable
- New Testament writers regarded the Scriptures as God’s word
- The Bible has been transmitted to us intact – Previous Article
- The Word Compiled
- The Word Preserved
- The Bible is God’s completed written revelation to man
- God Speaks in the Scriptures – Later Article
- Personal Reactions
- Necessary Implications
The Bible is God’s completed written revelation to man
When we consider that fact that God has gone to great effort to reveal himself to us it is no surprise that he has taken great measures to make sure it was written down accurately and transmitted to future generations with full integrity. Once his supreme revelation came in the Person, work, and word of the Son it follows that no further revelation will come; that which the Old Testament predicted came to fruition in the New Testament. This is not a mere deduction. God himself asserts that in time past there were periods of closed canon and the time would come when it would be permanently closed. In the Old Testament God gave a “roadmap” for revelation and then he proceeded to work according to this plan.
To facilitate this discussion I should explain two more theological terms: “cessationism” and “continuationism.” Cessationism teaches that for periods (temporary cessationism) or for all time (permanent cessationism) God ceases/has ceased giving revelation. Continuationism teaches that God is always giving revelation and will continue to do so. The former camp is the framework elucidated in the Bible whereas the latter is maintained by various other religions including Roman Catholicism, Islam, and Mormonism. We will see that once Cessationism is established from Scripture, the claims (and therefore the veracity of those other religions themselves) are easily dismissed.
The Bible clearly predicts, and history manifested, temporary and permanent cessationism. There was more-or-less steady revelation to prophets but then a time when prophecy temporarily ceased, followed by a time when it re-emerged, and finally a time when it permanently ceased. Let us begin with the period of temporary cessation.
The Canon was temporarily closed
God predicted a “gap” in revelation, what we refer to as the “silent years” or the “intertestamental period”—the ~400yrs between the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament.
‘the days come, saith the Lord GOD, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD: And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the LORD, and shall not find it.’ (Am 8.11–12)
- there will be NO revelation; even more serious than when it was “rare” or “not widespread” (1Sm 3.1)
- God sends the famine; revelations are given or withheld at his discretion. Cessationism does not tie God’s hands, it simply states what God has chosen to do.
- lack of revelation is not due to man’s failure to seek it; they do look for it earnestly (“wandering … to seek the word”). People desire prophesy but God withholds it.
- the cessation of revelation is worldwide; from sea to sea, north to east. “Sea to sea” refers to the universal worldwide reign of the Messiah (Ps 72.8; Zec 8.10; Mic 7.12). “North to east” rounds out the compass and thus indicates the whole globe.
That there was no true prophet/prophesy in this period is demonstrated in the way the New Testament is linked with the Old Testament. The OT ends with Malachi’s prediction of a forerunner to the LORD (Malachi ch 3-4) and the gospels present John the Baptist as that forerunner (Jn 1). To insert other prophets and other prophecy would break the chain that unites the Old and New Testaments into a unified whole.
Additionally, this passage from Amos demonstrates that the Continuationist claim, “God is always giving revelation” is unfounded. It simply is not true that God is always speaking. If he was silent (temporarily) prior to New Testament times it is certainly reasonable that he could be silent (permanently) after.
The Canon is permanently closed
Thus we consider the final, permanent closing of the canon when the New Testament was completed. Isaiah 8 prophesies a time when God’s people will be forbidden to go to any revelation other than “the law and the testimony” (v20) i.e. the Bible. Other revelation-seeking is disobedient (v21) because the “law and the testimony” are bound up and sealed (v16) by the time of the war in vv19-22. When we peg the time frame of this passage then we know when this “closing” of “the Book” happened.
Isaiah 8-9 is repeatedly quoted in the New Testament as a 1st century fulfillment. The evidence falls along these lines:
- Isaiah 8.11-9.7 is Messianic (Mt 4.13-16; 21.44) with a terminus of Israel’s 1st century expulsion from the land (Rom ch 10-11; Lk 20.9-19).
- Isaiah 8.14-15 is specifically applied to the casting away of Israel (Rom 9.31-33; 11.9-11; Lk 2.34; 20.17; 1Pt 2.8).
- Isaiah 8.18 is divinely interpreted as referring to Jesus in the midst of his people (Heb 2.13).
- Isaiah 8.21-22 describes the anguish of the Jewish War in 66-73AD (Lk 21.11-12,23,24; 23.28-31).
Thus the bookends of Isaiah 8.11-22 are the life of Christ and the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD.
Isaiah 9.1-7 repeats this same time period by contrasting the Jewish War (vv1-5) with the earlier revelational judgment that Jesus brought against Israel (v1 with Mt 4.16). The bookends here are the incarnation of the Messiah (vv6-7) and his destruction of Israel (vv1-5).
In between these bookends there will be oral and written revelation. It is termed “the law” (8.16,20), “the testimony” (8.16,20), “this word” (8.20), and “light” (8.20; 9.2).
Of particular relevance to our discussion is 8.16: the binding and sealing of revelation at the end of that era. According to theological word dictionaries, “bind up” means to narrow, tie, wrap, shut, or restrict and “seal up” means to close from interference such as shutting inside a house (Job 24.16), blocking a spring (Song 4.12), blocking a bodily discharge (Lv 15.3); also the idea of it being ended/closed and not reopened (Dn 9.24 and Job 14.17). God then contrasts the condition of those who continue to seek revelation from spirits (8.19) and the faithful who only appeal to the written law and testimony (8.20). The people who speak outside of the Law and Testimony have “no light in them…they shall be driven to darkness” (v20,22).
This outlined time frame is confirmed in other Scriptures. Turning to Daniel… ‘Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophesy, and to anoint the most Holy.’ (9.24)
“End of sins” and “seal up vision and prophesy” is the same hebrew word discussed above in Isaiah 8.16 so again it speaks of stopping/blocking/ceasing. “Vision” is the general term for infallible revelation (Dn 8.1,2,13; 1Sm 3.1; 1Chr 17.15; 2Chr 32.32). “Prophesy” is actually “prophet” though by association it is the message the person delivers, hence the King James has “prophecy”; but a more literal translation is the person, “prophet.” Taken together, “vision and prophet” means that God is going to make and end of both the vehicle of inspired revelation and the inspired revelation itself. The time frame for this occurrence is determined from the last event mentioned: the war which “shall destroy the city and the sanctuary” (v26). This is the city of Jerusalem and the sanctuary of the Temple which were destroyed by the Roman armies in 70AD.
Last, we’ll consider Zechariah 13. Its fulfillment is 1st century as well:
- Zechariah 12.10 refers to the piercing of Christ’s side and the pouring out of the Spirit at Pentecost (Jn 19.34-37; Rev 1.7; Mt 24.30).
- Zechariah 12.11-14 refers to a time when Israel is distinguished by tribes and families, which became impossible after Jerusalem was conquered and the Jews disbursed.
- Zechariah 13.1 refers to Christ’s redemption (Jn 19.34; Rev 21.6,7; 1Jn 1.7; Ezk 47.1-5).
- Zechariah 13.7 is quoted as a 30AD fulfillment (Mt 26.31,56; Mk 14.27).
- All these events are linked together by “in that day” (Zec 12.4,8,9,11; 13.1,2,4). In that day God advances the Gospel and ends the age of the prophets (Zec 13.2).
There will continue to be claims of prophetic revelation (“shall yet prophesy”, v3) but God’s people will know it is false. ‘Impossible claim,’ they will say, ‘God told us true prophesy has ended. You speak lies!’ (v3) It is no wonder that supposéd prophets will be “ashamed of their vision” (v4)—they are aware that faithful saints know better.
Amos 8, Isaiah 8-9, Daniel 9, and Zechariah 13 all have their fulfillment in the 1st century and show that God is the one who sovereignly determines to withdraw revelation temporarily and, ultimately, permanently. In the next (and last!) in this series we will look at the implications of all this.