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Response to hard cessationist critic, by Craig Keener


Would you believe in a raising if a doctor attested it? Presumably not, since some doctors have done so, including one in the U.S. who testified that the patient was dead and unable to be resuscitated for forty minutes. You (again, I am speaking hypothetically here to an imaginary interlocutor, as Paul often did) would not accept this, because you do not accept as evidence the experience of anyone postbiblical (though of course on other issues, such as some journalistic reports or a family member saying where they moved your lamp, you would). Your reason, presumably, is because you believe the Bible does not allow for this. And that is where I would find your questioning most interesting.

Cessationist arguments against demonstrable miracles are inconsistent with Scripture.

The remarkable contrast between such a hard cessationist approach and that of a hard atheist is that the hard atheist has a much better argument than does the hard cessationist. So long as only a natural explanation for an event is admissible, one may be found; I do not deny that a nontheist can come up with a nontheistic explanation for anything if they wish. Even if their case proves cumulatively improbable they can still claim that it is more probable than theism if they are certain of their atheism on other grounds. I will not be surprised if hard cessationists cite antisupernaturalists’ dismissals of the evidence and documentation as discrediting it, even though cessationists would not share the assumptions on which antisupernaturalists’ selectively rigorous analysis is based.

Instead of trusting the Bible enough, cessationists …

But by rejecting the validity of all experience outside of Scripture and claiming to depend only on experience within Scripture, hard cessationists often confuse matters. In fact, they usually do appeal to experience by saying that there are many frauds, but in so doing they appeal to experience very selectively. An atheist who rejects miracles is consistent with their worldview, but the hard cessationist’s argument against demonstrable miracles that go beyond ordinary natural explanations is not consistent with Scripture.

If Scripture said, “This sort of miracles, i.e., those that are harder to explain naturalistically, will cease at such-and-such a time,” this sort of hard cessationist would have an argument from Scripture. But Scripture nowhere says this; raisings appear occasionally in the Old Testament and in the Book of Acts—certainly not on a regular basis, but neither with any indication that they cannot occur at other times.

What is even more striking is that Scripture not only does not talk about dramatic miracles ceasing; in fact it nowhere makes the distinction between cures (or, for that matter, gifts, but that is a different subject) that could possibly be explained naturalistically and those that could not. That distinction stems from the same kind of skepticism that (through the deists and finally Hume) led to antisupernaturalism. It is not antisupernaturalistic per se, but it does seem quite convenient that it can make common cause with skeptics in explaining away all miracle reports that do not readily allow natural explanations. The modern skeptical worldview is very good at this, and hard cessationists can keep public peace with that intellectually dominant worldview so long as the Bible may be excluded as a special case.


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Category: Spirit, Summer 2014

About the Author: Craig S. Keener, Ph.D. (Duke University), is F. M. and Ada Thompson Professor of Biblical Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. He is author of many books, including Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts (Baker Academic, 2011), the bestselling IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, The Historical Jesus of the Gospels, Gift and Giver: The Holy Spirit for Today, and commentaries on Acts, Matthew, John, Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, and Revelation. In addition to having written more than seventy academic articles, several booklets and more than 150 popular-level articles, Craig is is the New Testament editor (and author of most New Testament notes) for the The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible. He is married to Dr. Médine Moussounga Keener, who is from the Republic of Congo, and together they have worked for ethnic reconciliation in North America and Africa. Craig and Médine wrote Impossible Love: The True Story of an African Civil War, Miracles and Hope against All Odds (Chosen, 2016) to share their story.

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