Cessationism: Why Miraculous Gifts Aren’t Limited to Charisma


In my recent “debate” with Matt Slick on the Apostolic Sign Gifts, he argued that there was a distinction between the χάρισμα miraculous gifts and the δωρεά gift of the Apostolate. Below is a more detailed response than I was able to give in our short back-and-forth in that format.

The Two Arguments Regarding χάρισμα and δωρεά

The argument from Cessationists goes like this: If you’re not a New Apostolic Reformation heretic, you believe the the Apostolate has ceased. The Apostolate was a gift to the church (Ephesians 4:11). Ergo, most Charismatic-Continuationists are at least partial cessationists, believing that at least one gift to the church has ceased. Then, with the “gifts can’t cease” argument being removed, the Cessationist urges the Charismatic-Continuationist to be consistent and move another foot or two down the path to full Cessationism.

The counter-argument from Charismatic-Continuationists goes like this: Actually, “charismatic gifts” include all those in which χάρισμα (charisma) is used in the Bible, and can be anything from salvation (Romans 5:15-16) to the gifts of tongues to miracles and healing, as listed in places like 1 Corinthians 12:8-10. Because χάρισμα is used to describe salvation, which doesn’t cease, then χάρισμα is a category of gifting that isn’t ceasing. And because χάρισμα describes the miraculous gifting, it also doesn’t cease. The gifting of the Apostles to the church is not χάρισμα, but is δωρεά (dorea). This is a different category of gift from χάρισμα, the Charismatic-Continuationist argues, and δωρεά can cease, whereas χάρισμα cannot. Therefore, it’s not a problem to believe that the Apostolate has ceased (a δωρεά) but that “charismatic gifts” (a χάρισμα) cannot. 

REALITY

The counter-argument from Charismatic Continuationists which provides a hard distinction between χάρισμα and δωρεά simply doesn’t exist and isn’t supported by the Spirit’s use of these words in the Scripture.

In Romans 5:15-16, salvation is described as a “gift” and the word χάρισμα is used (hence the Charismatic-Continuationist claim that salvation is a “charismatic gift”). However, compare this to Luke 11:13, in which the Holy Spirit’s work in salvation is described as a “gift” and the word δόμα (a form of δωρεά ) is used. Surely the Charismatic-Continuationist wouldn’t want to call the gift of the Holy Spirit revokable or ceasing merely because it’s δωρεά! Simply put, nothing about the etymology of χάρισμα or δωρεά dictates whether they are perpetual or can cease, and nothing about χάρισμα and δωρεά is altogether unique from one word to the next.

The Meaning of these Words

χάρισμα is listed in Strong’s Greek Concordance (S5486) and is defined as “a gift of grace, of undeserved favor.”

δωρεά is listed in Strong’s Greek Concordance (S1431) and is defined as “a gift, freely given and hence not acquired by merit or entitlement.”

Do you see anything profoundly different between χάρισμα and δωρεά in their definitions? No. Then why do Charismatic-Continuationists create the distinct division between the contrived categories of χάρισμα and δωρεά gifts? The answer is simple; they must, in order to believe that some gifts from Christ to the church have ceased, but that others cannot. So not only are χάρισμα and δωρεά used interchangeably in Scripture, they share nearly identical definitions.

The Charismatic-Continuationist must hinge his argument upon a conspiracy theory of sorts, that the Holy Spirit chose to codify the contrived categories of New Testament gifts into the different words used for those gifts. Of course, to do this the Charismatic-Continuationist must deny or be obtuse as to the regular use of synonyms employed by the Holy Spirit throughout the pages of Holy Writ, and to be consistent, must believe that every use of what appears to be synonymical language must indeed be the Holy Spirit choosing to make distinguishing differences between words and concepts for our clarity. In other words, to argue this way, the Charismatic-Continuation must deny the Holy Spirit uses synonyms, and that each synonym imposes an important distinction upon the meaning of the passage. Simply put, this is not the way that serious scholars exegete scripture. 

Then Why χάρισμα and not δωρεά?

Then why, the wondering soul might ask, does the Holy Spirit choose one word over the other when describing the miraculous gifts of Romans 12 or 1 Corinthians 12? Simply put, χάρισμα is the much more common word for gift in the New Testament. Far from being a specific or narrow word with which the Holy Spirit could make a point, He chose to use a rather common and ordinary word for the individualized giftings listed here. χάρισμα is simply used far more than other synonyms for gift, and so it should come as no surprise this word was used regarding miraculous gifts, as its used for many non-miraculous gifts as well.

It’s important to note, however, that δωρεά is also used to reflect the individualized gifting that God gives particular individuals in places like Ephesians 3:7, in which Paul says I became a servant of this gospel by the δωρεά of God’s grace given me through the working of his power” – power that included miraculous gifting, which Paul no doubt is referring to here.

But, guess what. The word δωρεά is not the only word used to describe the Apostolate. The word χαρίσματα is also used. Consider 1 Corinthians 12:28, “And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues.” Here, the placement of apostles in the church is mentioned in the same context and sentence as the miraculous gifts. It’s impossible to distinguish between δωρεά and χαρίσματα, and again, these words are used interchangeably.

Simply put, the only distinction between χάρισμα and δωρεά is an external, artificial, contrived one. The words are used interchangeably and synonymously. If a δωρεά refers to salvation or miraculous gifting (or the Apostolate) and χάρισμα refers to salvation or miraculous gifting (or gifts of the Apostolate) then it’s nonsensical and illogical to claim that δωρεά gifts can cease but χάρισμα gifts cannot, when they are the very same gifts, are used synonymously, and have the same definition.

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