Rebutting the “miracles come in clusters” argument

Some cessationists argue that miracles come in clusters in redemptive history, signalling important events.  And the unspoken conclusion is that they don’t happen today.

Even if this were true, the conclusion wouldn’t follow.  But is it true?  The following is from Jack Deere’s Surprised by the Spirit.

Over the years, I have observed that the majority of what Christians believe is not derived from their own patient and careful study of the Scriptures. The majority of Christians believe what they believe because godly and respected teachers told them it was correct. I have seen this illustrated in hundreds of ways, but the following is one I shall never forget.

Seminary graduates who want to enter into the doctoral program are required to pass both written and oral examinations before they can be admitted. As a professor, one of my tasks was to help administer these exams along with some of my colleagues.

On this particular day we were examining three young, hopeful, prospective doctoral students. We were giving them the oral exam, the most nerve-racking part of the entrance requirements. In this exam, four to five professors ask the prospective student questions about the Hebrew language, archaeology, other technical fields of study related to the Old Testament, and about his own personal views of theology. The reason for the latter was that we did not want to give our Th.D. degree to a student who held to a theology that the seminary could not approve.

. . . When I asked him a third question, namely, what he believed about the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit, his confidence seemed to return. Undaunted, he replied that they were not given any longer. Again, his reason for this was that it was the plain teaching of the Scriptures. I asked him what he thought was the strongest evidence from the Bible to support the passing away of the miraculous gifts of the Spirit.

“The Bible teaches that there are only three periods where miracles were common in the history of God’s dealings with his people. They were common during the time of Moses and Joshua, Elijah and Elisha, and Christ and the apostles—three periods of two generations each. The next time miracles will be common will be during the reign of the Antichrist and the great Tribulation,” he replied without a moment’s hesitation.

“Did you arrive at this position from a careful inductive study of the Scriptures?” I asked.

“That’s correct.”

At this point, I knew he was not telling the truth. He did not come to that position from a careful study of the Scriptures. Benjamin Breckenridge Warfield, the Princeton theologian, had popularized that position at the beginning of the twentieth century, with the result that reformed and dispensational theologians have been using it ever since. One or more of us had passed this teaching on to the student, and now he was trying to claim that he had gotten it by careful study of the Scriptures.

His dishonesty was a little more than I was willing to tolerate, so I said, “Let’s see if you can defend that position now. Let’s start with chapter one of Genesis and think our way through every chapter of the Old Testament to see if the biblical evidence supports your theory. Remember, we should only find three periods in which miracles are common. What took place in the first chapter of the Bible?”

“That is where God creates the world.”

“How about chapter two?”

“That is the story of the creation of the world with man at the center.”

“Chapter three?”

“That is where the Devil comes to Adam and Eve and tempts them to sin, and God has to expel them from the garden.”

“Are these things miraculous?,” I asked.

“Well yes, but you have to start somewhere.”

“O.K., fine. Chapter four?”

“The first murder,” he said.

“Chapter five is a genealogy. What happens in chapters six to nine?”

“That is where God wipes out the whole earth with the flood and rescues eight people in an ark, on which species of every living animal have been miraculously summoned.”

“Chapter ten?”

“Another genealogy.”

“Chapter eleven?”

“The Tower of Babel, where God comes down and confounds the language of all the families of the earth.”

“So really the first eleven chapters of Genesis don’t actually fit your theory, do they?”

“Yes, but that is primeval history; I mean you expect things like that at the very beginning.”

“O.K., for the sake of argument let’s dismiss the first eleven chapters of the Bible. At chapter twelve and for the rest of the book of Genesis we move into simple narrative biography. What happens in chapter twelve?”

“God sovereignly calls Abraham to leave Ur of the Chaldeans and go to a land where he is going to begin a program to redeem the entire world.”

“Anything else strike you as supernatural or miraculous elsewhere in Abraham’s life?”

“Well, in chapter fifteen there was that supernatural smoking oven and flaming torch that passed between the parts of the sacrifice Abraham had laid out (Gen. 15:17). Besides the divine conversation in chapter 17, the Lord and angelic beings appear to Abraham in chapter 18 and eat with Abraham. Then there was the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, when the heavens rained fire and brimstone on those cities (Gen. 19). Then there was the supernatural birth of Isaac in chapter twenty-one and the encounter with the angel of the Lord as he offered up Isaac on the altar in chapter twenty-two.”

“So, the life of Abraham doesn’t really fit your theory that miracles or the supernatural are not common until the time of Moses and Joshua, does it?”

“No.”

“What about Isaac, Jacob or Joseph; anything there seem miraculous or supernatural to you?”

“Chapter twenty-eight—the prophetic messianic vision of the angels ascending and descending on that ladder while Jacob slept.”

“What else in Jacob’s life?”

“Chapter thirty-two. He actually wrestles with God, or the preincarnate Christ, all night long. Then with Joseph there are all of those dreams and interpretations.” So I said, “As far as the evidence goes, the book of Genesis doesn’t fit your theory, does it?”

“No.”

“Now we are at the book of Exodus, and we have already said that Moses’ and Joshua’s life contain miracles and supernatural occurrences, so let’s skip from Exodus through the book of Joshua and come to the book of Judges. Anything in the book of Judges strike you as miraculous?”

He said, “Well, the angel of the Lord actually appears to Gideon, and there is all that stuff going on with the fleece. Then the angel of the Lord appears to Samson’s parents, and there is the miraculous power of Samson.”

“So the book of Judges doesn’t actually fit this theory, does it?”

“No.”

“What do you have in the book of 1 Samuel?”

“A prophet whose words do not fall to the ground” (1 Sam. 3:19-21).

And on and on the discussion went. In chapter after chapter the student was forced to list miraculous and supernatural occurrences that contradicted his assertion that miracles only occurred at three points in the history of Israel.1 The student was forced to admit not only that could he not defend his position, but that the Scriptures actually contradicted it.
[end]

If you have the book (Surprised by the Power of the Spirit), Appendix C contains an extensive chart listing all of them.

About J. B. Aitken

Interests include patristics, the role of the soul in the human person, analytic theology, Reformed Scholasticism, Medievalism, Substance Metaphysics
This entry was posted in American Evangelicalism and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s