Category:Apostasy/Loss of spiritual gifts

Loss of Spiritual Gifts as a Result of the Apostasy

Parent page: Apostasy

Up to the third century, new revelation was seen as possible

It is significant that it is the intellectuals of the church who have always insisted on the apparently fundamentalist doctrine of a complete, perfect, final, and unalterable Bible; R. H. Charles can tell us why this is so: "God had, according to the official teachers of the Church, spoken His last and final word," and the policy of the doctors "so far as lay in its power, made the revival of such prophecy an impossibility." 29 The theory of complete, finished, and absolute scriptures was simply a door banged in the face of future prophets by the doctors. In a recent and important study Van Unnik has shown that until the third century the Christians had no objection whatever to the idea "that someone might still add revelations to the writings of the Gospel."30 There was originally no moral objection or mystic principle barring the production of more scriptures whenever God should see fit to reveal them; it was only when "the Church believed that the time of Revelation and therefore also the time of bringing forth new holy scriptures had come to an end with the Apostolic Age," that the expectation of more holy writings was discouraged and condemned.31 After that it was to the interest of the scholars to cry out with alarm at any suggestion of going beyond the Bible and the human mind.

There are just two sources of revelation, the Roman Catholic Church declares: "No other source of [public] revelation exists except the canonical books and the apostolic tradition."32 The Protestants go even further: "We believe . . . that the sole rule and standard according to which all dogmas together with all teachers should be estimated and judged are the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments alone."33 So an eminent Protestant divine declares today: "I boldly assert, therefore, that God does not speak today because of the supreme character of His revelation of Himself made once for all in His Christ. . . . We must . . . recognize His voice in his final written Word."[1]

The Bible does not interpret itself, and its interpreters do not agree

But just as scientists insist that the evidence speaks for itself, only to discover that it speaks with different voices to different scientists, so those who maintain with Irenaeus, that the Bible speaks its own message clearly, directly, and unequivocally to all soon discover themselves in wild disagreement as to what it says. Vincent of Lerinum, author of the famous Vincentian canon, notes that "although the canon of the Scripture is complete, 'and of itself is sufficient and more than sufficient for all things,' yet tradition is needed for a proper understanding of the Scripture."35 Already we are questioning the vaunted self-sufficiency of the holy page to convey its own message; yet the churchmen dare not change their position, lest they lower the bars to revelation. But how can they presume to add their comments and explanations to the Bible, supplying that information without which, they assure us, the holy Word cannot be understood, and at the same time insist that they are adding nothing, but simply letting the book speak for itself? Like the scientists, they are not letting the evidence alone at all; they are officiously helping it to say the things they think it should say. But how, short of revelation, will we ever know the real word of God? That is a question that greatly exercised St. Hilary. "We are quite aware," he says, "that most people think the mere sound of the words or the letters are enough," but of course that won't do: Scripturae enim non sunt in legendo sunt, sed in intelligando—The Scriptures don't consist in what you read but in what you understand.36 But how can our weak intellects, our humana imbecillitas, ever be sure of understanding aright? Only by revelation, is Hilary's sensible conclusion.37

Now surely the fat is in the fire, but Hilary deftly snatches it out again by defining revelation as the reading of the Scriptures "not as men interpret it, but as it is," with no private human opinions allowed to color or distort it, and "no human interpretation stepping an inch beyond the bounds of what is divinely constituted."38 Since our fatal weakness lies in our inability to interpret the Word of God, Hilary will simply dispense with all interpretation and read the Word as it is. But the same Hilary has just announced that the Scripture is not as you read it but as you understand it; on what ground, then, would he interpret it? He is good enough to tell us: our "revelation" should be founded on right reason, good historical knowledge, and a sense of correct doctrine.39 To this day the clergy have never been able to solve the problem of how to enjoy inspired guidance while renouncing all claim to revelation.40 "The Word of God," writes E. C. Blackman, "is in the words of the Bible, but is not to be identified with them . . . but interpreted out of them. . . . The Bible is not itself revelation but is the record of revelation."41

Interpreted, but how? Well might the Catholics challenge the Protestant position with the argument: "The Bible is a difficult book, it is full of dark places and apparent inconsistencies. How do you Protestants think you can manage without the authoritative guidance of the Church when you come to interpret it and to build doctrine upon it?"42 To which the proper answer is: "How do you Catholics think you have solved the difficult problem of interpretation simply by agreeing (after centuries of hot debate) on who is to do the interpreting, without the vaguest idea of how he is to do it, apart from the normal fallible processes of human intelligence?" For Catholic theologians often repeat St. Augustine's lament that "men of the most outstanding piety and wisdom very often disagree in their interpretation of the Scriptures."43

We have noted above that Augustine knew of no higher court of appeal; but even in much later times "the medieval mind, indeed, was much perplexed by the possibility of error in the interpretation of the will of God." 44 At present Catholic journals are full of articles on "The Inerrancy of the Scripture," "The Consequent Sense of the Scripture," "The Sensus Plenior of Scripture," etc., with one scholar asking, Do the Scriptures "perhaps contain a deeper meaning expressed by God and left to the ingenuity of the human mind to detect?"45 And another proving that Genesis 3:5 refers to Mary with the observation: "The text, if paraphrased, reads simply enough, once cleared of the unnecessary accretions which have been read into it."46 Here we see both the ultimate appeal to the human intellect and the way it is answered—by a critic who removes from the text what annoys him personally and then proves his case by paraphrasing what is left. Aquinas insisted that the Bible is "the only sure and binding authority. But one uses the authority of canonical scripture properly and in arguing from necessity,"47 that is, by employing the old techniques of the schools. St. Thomas warns us especially against getting any fancy ideas about revelation: "For our faith rests upon the revelation given to the apostles and prophets who wrote the canonical books, but not upon revelation, if such there were, given to other teachers."48 It is learned, not inspired, exegesis, which is recognized: "In the philosophical interpretation of its eschatological hope," an eminent Catholic theologian has very recently written, "Christian theology from the very beginning clings to Aristotle." 49 Aristotle was not a prophet, but a scientist; what would a pagan professor know about the "eschatological hope"?[2]

Return of a sense revelation is needed

A French Protestant scholar reminds us that in the Middle Ages there were so many legitimate ways of interpreting the Scriptures that they really meant nothing at all—since they could mean anything you pleased—and boasts that it was the Reformation "which was to give its objectivity and its dignity back to the sacred text."50 But that was no solution to the problem of interpretation, as the rapid multiplication of conflicting Protestant sects demonstrated, and today the words of a leading Protestant theologian are strangely reminiscent of Hilary: "The Bible has to be interpreted from its own centre. It is not concentric with Aristotle, as Roman theology posits, nor with modern rationalism, as theological liberalism has assumed. . . . It . . . authenticates itself . . . to the man who comes in faith and prays for the inward witness of the Holy Spirit."51 The old double-talk again: it authenticates itself, but it does not authenticate itself—a higher authority is needed, "the inward witness of the Holy Spirit." Why not break down and call it revelation?

Today there is cautious but unmistakable edging toward an acceptance of the long-forbidden idea of modern revelation. This has followed upon a growing realization that the Bible alone is not enough. The Apostles, we are now being told, had no intention of writing all their knowledge down in a book; what they did write "was only meant to complement the spoken word: they had no intention of supplanting it."52 Furthermore, what they wrote was meant for the initiated alone and may never be deciphered by the learning of men.53 They wrote, moreover, with no idea of canonicity in mind: "The idea that any book was written with the conscious purpose of securing a place in the sacred corpus," says Rowley, "rests on the most unreal conception of the process of canonization."54 Nay, the New Testament, we now learn, was only a sort of substitute for living witnesses and for a long time remained a very plastic document.55 So today we find Catholic and Protestant scholars agreeing that "the inadequacy of the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture has demonstrated itself"—that favorite official doctrine of Protestant and Catholic alike!—"It is too narrow to fit the facts; it cannot be carried through in the exegesis of Scripture without resorting to special pleading; it does not explain the admitted imperfection of the Old Testament; it involves a materialistic notion of the truth. Above all, in being a negative word, it is quite inadequate to express the glory of the revelation of God in the Scripture."56 But even if the Scriptures were inerrant, where is their inerrant interpreter? That is the question, and D. M. Mackay assures us that we won't find it among the scholars or scientists when he writes: "Our position, then, in attempting to make any comprehensive or systematic statement about God, is logically very insecure. It is just no good quoting a series of inspired scriptures and then supposing that the guarantee of inspiration will extend infallibly to all our apparently logical deductions from them."[3]


  1. Hugh W. Nibley, The World and the Prophets, 3rd edition, (Vol. 3 of Collected Works of Hugh Nibley), edited by John W. Welch, Gary P. Gillum, and Don E. Norton (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company; Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1987), Chapter 31, references silently removed—consult original for citations.
  2. Hugh W. Nibley, The World and the Prophets, 3rd edition, (Vol. 3 of Collected Works of Hugh Nibley), edited by John W. Welch, Gary P. Gillum, and Don E. Norton (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company; Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1987), Chapter 31, references silently removed—consult original for citations.
  3. Hugh W. Nibley, The World and the Prophets, 3rd edition, (Vol. 3 of Collected Works of Hugh Nibley), edited by John W. Welch, Gary P. Gillum, and Don E. Norton (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company; Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1987), Chapter 31, references silently removed—consult original for citations.

Pages in category "Apostasy/Loss of spiritual gifts"

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