About that Owen quote on private revelations

One of John Owen’s quotes is being memed on Facebook to the effect,

“If private revelations agree with Scripture, they are unnecessary and if they disagree they are false.”

What do continuationists such as myself make of this quote?  Has Owen powerfully refuted me?  Well, only if we are clear about what we mean by “agree” and “contradict.”  Let’s begin with the second half of Owen’s quote.

if they disagree they are false

First of all, what is a contradiction?  A contradiction is when one says A = ~A.  For example, the Bible says don’t murder but I got a private revelation from God saying it’s cool.  That is a contradiction and Owen’s quote holds good in this case.   However, in symbolic logic the proposition A  B is not a contradiction.  It is a conjunction.

The first part of Owen’s quote actually presents a challenge.  Well, it could present a challenge:

(1) If private revelations agree with Scripture, they are unnecessary.

The most obvious rejoinder is, “Is that true?  Says who?”  I think the intent behind Owen’s claim is like the following:

(1*) Scripture is a self-contained totality whose content is synonymous with the term “revelation.”

If (1*) is true, then Owen’s claim obtains and continuationists are in deep error.  That means Revelation {R₁ } does not allow for any difference.  Still, one has to ask if that is indeed the case.  As it stands it is false. See:

(2) God speaks in natural revelation (Ps. 19:1-2).

Whatever else (2) means, it certainly means that there exists a realm of objective knowledge in creation to which we have intellectual access.  (1) and (2) do not contradict.  (1*) and (2) do contradict, but since the latter is in the bible and the former is not, then (1*) is certainly wrong and we can reject it.

But perhaps the cessationist can continue modifying his premise:

(1′) Scripture is the final moment of God’s special revelation, the final moment of God’s speaking-revelation.

Now we are getting somewhere.  (1′) does present a challenge if it obtains. Is it correct?  Only if the term “Revelation” is being used univocally.  Continuationists have never claimed that Revelation is univocal.   Perhaps they are exegetically wrong for thinking that, but that’s a different subject altogether. Owen’s modified claim (1′) only obtains if everyone is using Revelation univocally.

But we can ask if the cessationist is consistent in his use of Revelation.  (1′) seemed to imply that the Bible was the final moment of God’s speaking-revelation.  But what does the Bible say?

“In many and various ways God spoke to the prophets but in these last days he spoke to us by his Son” (Heb. 1:1).

(3) Jesus is the final speaking-moment of God’s revelation.

(3) and (1′) contradict.  (1′) therefore fails.  It’s been probably ten years since I’ve read Warfield’s essays on Revelation, but if I recall, the idea of Jesus-as-Revelation appears (as it must, since it is in Scripture) but only as an odd duck.  It presents several problems for the cessationist argument:

(3a) If Jesus is the final moment of Revelation, which would seem to rule out modern-day prophets, then Jesus, revealing God before the writing of the New Testament, would also rule out the New Testament.

About J. B. Aitken

Interests include patristics, the role of the soul in the human person, analytic theology, Reformed Scholasticism, Medievalism, Substance Metaphysics
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