Reformed Theologian Dr. John MacArthur writes.
“Most biblical miracles happened in three relatively brief periods of Bible history: in the days of Moses and Joshua, during the ministries of Elijah and Elisha, and in the time of Christ and the apostles… All three periods of miracles were times when God gave his written revelation— Scripture— in substantial quantities. Those doing the miracles were essentially the same ones heralding an era of revelation. Moses wrote the first five books of Scripture. Elijah and Elisha introduced the prophetic age. The apostles wrote nearly all of the New Testament.”
The first theologian who made this argument popular was Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield, who believed in four dispensations of miracles, including the time of Daniel. It amazes me that some cessationists still use this argument, as it is not even used by cessationist scholars anymore for various reasons. First, it is worth noting that this argument is used by those who would want to say that miracles authenticated the written decrees of God, for instance, given to Moses and Joshua or Christ and the Apostles, for example. But the problem is clear in that there was no written revelation with the second era of miracles of Elijah and Elisha, for instance. Only about 100 years after the death of Elijah and about 50 after the death of Elisha, at the time of Isaiah.
Another reason this argument will not work because Jeremiah (32:20), the Prophet, is seeing signs and wonders at his time between 626 B.C. and 586 B.C., which is far beyond Joshua and Moses or Elijah and Elisha. Now any assertion that the Prophet Jeremiah is referring to the signs and wonders of the past will not hold true because the Hebrew text of this verse clearly stipulates that Jeremiah writes, “To this day.” (הַזֶּ֔ה (hayyōwm) הַזֶּ֔ה (hazzeh). Further, by Jeremiah acting as Prophet of Israel, we can see that God is still miraculously at work in Israel. The Prophet Isaiah clearly defines the Prophetic to be a clear sign and wonder (Isa. 8:18). Also, if someone uses the argument that Elijah and Elisha introduced the first Prophetic age, they obviously miss the fact that the Prophetic age was introduced with Samuel (1 Sam 3:19-21, 10:5).
For someone who holds that God only produced miracles during three periods, we should point out and show that that in times outside of these three periods, we find God’s activity and the miraculous. Just a cursory reflection of the Old Testament shows clearly that signs and wonders still occurred. Here are some examples: The rapture of Enoch (Gen 5:24), The Plagues on Pharoah’s house (Gen 12:17), The Lord appearing to Abraham (Gen 18:1), Angels blinding men (Gen 19:11), the miraculous conception of Isaac (Gen 21:1), God appearing to Jacob (Gen 32:1), Joseph’s dream (Gen 37:5).
By the way, this is JUST in the book of Genesis; there are numerous examples from the text that shows clearly that God still used signs and wonders outside of the three periods. Dr. Jack Deere brilliantly asks the question.
“What kind of supernatural events are we talking about here? [It] can be summarized in the following way:
- Many appearances of the Lord to individuals
- Many appearances of angels to individuals and even to groups of people
- Supernatural rescues of individuals
- Supernatural deliverances of groups and even the whole nation
- Supernatural empowerings for:
- superhuman strength
- Prophetic understanding and prophetic words for people who are not prophets supernatural guidance and direction in a variety of ways.
- Supernatural judgments: the destruction of individuals the destruction of armies the destruction of cities the destruction of the earth other supernatural judgments such as illness, blindness, insanity, and plague.
- Supernatural dreams, trances, and visions
- Supernaturally given interpretation of the above
- Miraculous conceptions
- Miraculous healings
- Supernatural satanic and demonic interaction with man
- Cosmic signs, such as the sunlight falling back ten steps, fire falling from heaven, and so on
- Consistent prophetic ministry from the time of Samuel until the end of the Old Testament canon
Dr. Jack Deere exclaims;
“These are the kinds of things that occur throughout the Old Testament period.
In fact, let me tell you, in Church History, we can clearly see, even after the event of the Apostles, that God kept doing signs and wonders. Nigel Scotland writes just on the first 5 centuries.
“If the cessationist view was correct, it would be the case that all the gifts of the Holy Spirit had ceased to function in the early Church, at the very latest by 150 AD. By that time not only had the Apostles long since died but most of those who had been taught by them had also come to the end of their days. The view of many people is that this is, in fact very far from being the case and that there is plenty of evidence of the experience of baptism in the Holy Spirit and the use of spiritual gifts in the early Catholic Church right down to the great ecumenical Church Council of 451 and beyond.”
Scotland (2001) shows emphatically that throughout the ages, signs and wonders persisted and were quite frequent. God the Holy Spirit was active within and outside of the Church throughout the ages. John McArthur would have us believe that all charismatics are blaspheming the Holy Spirit because of their belief in the work of the Holy Spirit. The opposite is just true.
Miracles did happen.
You see, a soft-cessationism always covers the individual using it as an argument. “We never said God cannot heal or do supernatural things; it is just not that often…” Right… Dr. Craig Keener writes about this perspective.
“The softest form of cessationism simply says that God does not always act in the miraculous ways we see in the Gospels and Acts. It allows, however, that he sometimes does so, especially where the gospel is breaking new ground. Such cessationism repudiates claims such as someone being able, for example, to always heal on command—a claim very few charismatics themselves would offer. Personally, I would not choose to call such an approach cessationism. Indeed, a large proportion of practicing charismatics and Pentecostals hold this position, including myself!”
Cessationism, for me, is not a biblical imperative but has its roots in David Hume, Modernism, skepticism, rationalism, and naturalism which leads to anti-supernaturalism. It seems like more of my American friends criticize from a place of comfort and are not in any real need of God’s intervention.
That is maybe why we see the miraculous more in Africa. People here live in more dire circumstances and need to trust God for their “daily bread.” But man, what a blessed life to live in the expectation that God can bless, heal, and still do the impossible. This impacts the way we pray, speak, and preach! It is amazing how some cessationists will get irritated at what they call “motivational sermons.”
Now again, I know some people preach and pray only for what God can do and give, but we should never be afraid to depend more on God (Jer. 17:7-8, Matt. 6:25-26, Phil. 4:19) and show that a sign of maturity is that intimate realization that one can be dependent on the move of God.
And the abuse of the gifts is not an argument against the gifts of the Holy Spirit. There has been bad teaching, but that does not cancel the gift of teaching.
 Charismatic Chaos, pp. 112-14.
 B. B. Warfield, “Miracles” in A Dictionary of the Bible, 4th ed., J. D. Davis, ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1954), Pg.505.
 Excerpt From Authentic Fire: A Response to John MacArthur’s Strange Fire
Brown, Michael L. https://itunes.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewBook?id=0
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