Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Beware of the Strawman: Exegetical Issues Part II

There has been a recent discussion concerning the advocacy of continuationism - which teaches that the Apostolic sign gifts are still present with us today. The forms of this teaching will vary, but the sign gifts that are normally thought to be continuing to this day are: tongues, the interpretation of tongues, prophecy and miracles. The advocates of this doctrine are not new on the block, but have a heritage of advocacy that is rooted in the Pentacostal/Charismatic movements from the early 20th century to the present. For an excellent article related to this discussion, be sure to read Pastor Jason Robertson's (at Fide-O) work entitled: The Revelatory and Confirmatory Gifts. David Kjos at The Thirsty Theologian has been faithfully linking many other discussion on the matter, and there has also been an interesting interview between Tim Challies and one of the leading advocates of continuationism - Dr. Wayne Grudem.

I have included this post in the Strawman series, because I believe that this issue is becoming very dangerous for the church. Many advocates of this teaching have been entering into the ranks of the Reformed community and the result is that the Charismatic movement is taking root right in our own backyard. The issue is important for (at least) two reasons:

  1. The hermeneutic behind this teaching is quite wreckless and therefore establishes a dangerous precedent of Scripture being a matter of one's own interpretation.
  2. The infallibility of God's prophetic message is reduced to that which is fallible (2 Peter 1:20-21).

Concerning the second point, I believe that this strikes at the heart of the Christian's confidence and hope (Hebrews 6:13-20) - for the Lord's revealed oaths and promises are sure and immutable. As I have already indicated, one of the leading advocates of this argument of continuationism is Dr. Wayne Grudem. His primary argument for continuationsim is rooted in his interpretation of Ephesians 2:20 which advocates that Paul's mention of "apostles and prophets" is, in fact, a reference to one group of people. In other words, apostles and prophets do not constitute two different groups, but one - that is, apostles = prophets. By this argument, Grudem is then permitted to say (as he argues) that there is another prophetic office - that is, fallible prophets. This is what he has to say about the "apostles and prophets" mentioned in Ephesians 2:20:

"...the grammatical structure clearly allows for the possibility that one group with one component is meant, for there are several instances in the New Testament where one definite article governs two or more nouns joined by kai and it is clear that one group." [Wayne A. Grudem, The Gift of Prophecy in 1 Corinthians (Washington: University Press, 1982), p. 97].

In a sense, Grudem's argument is established upon the foundation of a faulty grammatical interpretation. In Daniel Wallace's summary of the misapplications of Sharp's rule in "Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics" pp. 284 - 285, he uses Grudem's teatment of Ephesians 2:20 as an example of a misapplication of Sharp's rule:

"As we have seen, there are no clear examples of plural nouns in TSKS fitting the identical group in the NT, rendering such a possibiity here less likely on grammatical grounds."82 [footnote 82] - "In Grudem's study he mixed singular TSKS constructions and plural participial TSKS constructions in with Ephesians 2:20. But the semantic patterns of each of these constructions do not match noun+noun plural TSKS constructions: There are no clear examples of plural nouns displaying identity, while all singular and virtually all plural participles fit this category."

All in all, the disjointed interpretation which says that the apostles and prophets are identical then leads Grudem to conclude that there is another group of prophets - prophets who were fallible. Not only does Wallace reveal the error of this, but he copiously lists a number of articles which address this same issue in footnote 81, on page 285. These issues are important and should not be carelessly tossed aside. Without trying to adjudicate motives or intentions here, let me just say that this is a serious issue, because the Bible does identify another kind of prophecy other than what is mentioned in Ephesians 2:20, and it is nothing to play grammatical games over. You see, the Bible refers to errant prophets as false prophets, and the church is to beware of such men, rather than enfold them as a part of God's program for the church (1 John 4:1, 2 Peter 2:1).