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Gary Derickson: The Cessation of Healing Miracles in Paul’s Ministry

Gary W. Derickson, “The Cessation of Healing Miracles in Paul’s Ministry”, Bibliotheca Sacra, Issue 155 (July-September 1998), p. 299-315.

This article by the Associate Professor of Biblical Studies at Western Baptist College attempts to show that Paul’s ability to heal diminished towards the end of his ministry and finally ceased. Professor Derickson gives an introduction to his subject by discussing some of the basic concepts of cessationism and makes reference to both sides of the miraculous gifts debate.

Derickson states that the debate about the cessation or continuance of the miraculous gifts is not about whether God can or does heal today, but whether or not God does so through human agents.

Definitions

Derickson understands that charismatics believe that miracles “performed by miracle workers” (p. 301) can and should be experienced today. He does not intend to deal in this article with every area of what he calls the “modern faith healing debate,” but, “Rather, it examines only one aspect of the debate, namely, the New Testament evidences concerning the status of ‘miracle workers’ as the Apostolic Age drew to a close” (p.301, footnote). However, the conclusion he draws at the end of his article is, “… it is wrong for proponents of faith healing to claim that God must work the same today as He did at the beginning of the church” (p. 315).

The thesis of this article cannot contribute greatly to the theological debate about contemporary spiritual gifts because of the difficulty that arises from Derickson’s definition of a “miracle worker.” Derickson’s definition of a supernatural miracle would be acceptable to the majority, if not all evangelicals. His suggested definition for miracles “worked” by human agents is what charismatics would have difficulty with. “The miracles discussed in this article are those that involve a human agent through whom they are worked. The following is a suggested definition: ‘Miracles by miracle workers are those acts of God which He chooses to perform through the agency of either an apostle or gifted person with the authority and ability to exercise miraculous power at will.’ Only those performing supernatural acts at will are considered miracle workers” (p. 302). On a positive note, this definition may help refine the cessationist position on “miracle workers” and therefore bring to greater contrast the differing views that exist in the “modern faith healing debate.” The greater the contrast, the less likely this theological debate will be trivialized into a useless squabble. The fact of the matter is that whether the church today should go to God with an expectation of the miraculous is a big issue—one that says much about the future of the church worldwide.

The question that is begging from Derickson’s definition of a miracle worker is whether or not anyone has ever worked miracles at will. One of the few points of general agreement among the diversity of the charismatic movement is their belief that there are anointings or giftings for the working of miracles, God working through a human agent. Charismatics and Pentecostals do not believe, however, that such healers and miracle workers are able to do these things at will. Most charismatics believe quite strongly that it is God who heals, even though it is often through a human agent.

Miracles: Performed At Will?

There are some passages in the Old and New Testaments that might seem to indicate miracles and healings were done by the will of the human instrument being used by God. Many examples also exist that indicate quite the opposite. There are many examples of healings and miracles which were “performed” through the agency of an anointed individual that had nothing to do with that individual’s personal volition. Consider some of the following miracles that happened apart from the will of man, yet men were the point of contact for the supernatural to take place.

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Category: Pneuma Review, Spirit, Winter 1999

About the Author: Raul L. Mock is one of the founders and directors of the Pneuma Foundation and editor of The Pneuma Review. Raul has been part of an Evangelical publishing ministry since 1996 and their Information Technology team since 1998. He and his wife, Erin, have a daughter and twin boys and live in the Grand Rapids, Michigan area. Google+ LinkedIn

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