The Hermeneutics Of Noncessationism -- By: Robert L. Thomas

Journal: Masters Seminary Journal
Volume: TMSJ 14:2 (Fall 2003)
Article: The Hermeneutics Of Noncessationism
Author: Robert L. Thomas


The Hermeneutics Of Noncessationism

Robert L. Thomas

Professor of New Testament

The Master’s Seminary is noncessationist in regard to such gifts as teaching, helps, and administration, but is cessationist regarding revelatory and sign gifts. Recent changes in evangelical biblical hermeneutics that have accompanied comparable changes in evangelicalism as a whole have opened doors of opportunity for nonecessationists to defend their position in a new way. The new hermeneutical subjectivism has given continuationists an opportunity that is nonexistant when following traditional grammatical-historical principles of interpretation. Four examples illustrate this use of revisionist hermeneutics. (1) Narrative-based interpretation takes its cue from evangelical redaction criticism and its theory that narrative literature can teach doctrine just as effectively as didactic type writings, a theory that has been successfully refuted. (2) Community-based interpretation sees a contemporary Christian community as playing an indispensable role in assigning meaning to a biblical text. This too contradicts traditional grammatical-historical principles. (3) Tradition-based interpretation allows for reading into a biblical passage an interpreter’s own background and beliefs, but differences in defining how to limit that tradition reflects the extreme subjectivism to which such a principle leads. (4) Mediating-based interpretation theorizes the existence of a common ground between cessationists and noncessationists and alters traditional hermeneutical principles in a way to accommodate that preunderstanding. All four approaches illustrate the growing sophistication of noncessationist hermeneutics and their continuing violations of grammatical-historical hermeneutics.

To frame this discussion, the position of The Master’s Seminary on cessationism is a good startingpoint. The institutional “Statement of Faith” on that issue reads as follows:

We teach that the Holy Spirit administers spiritual gifts to the church. The Holy Spirit

glorifies neither Himself nor His gifts by ostentatious displays, but He does glorify Christ by implementing His work of redeeming the lost and building up believers in the most holy faith (John 16:13, 14; Acts 1:8; 1 Cor. 12:4–11; 2 Cor. 3:18).

We teach, in this respect, that God the Holy Spirit is sovereign in the bestowing of all His gifts for the perfecting of the saints today and that speaking in ton...

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