Evaluating Holy Water Part 3 – Chapter 4

(For those who have stumbled upon this post, this post is part of a series.  Here is part 1.  Here is part 2,  you’re reading part 3, here’s a modified part 3 on the Cripplegate, and part 4: an announcement of changes made to the book.)


***Update as of January 14th, 2014 – Mr. Viola has recognized that his opening of the fourth chapter was unclear and has agreed to re-write the section in question.  I’ll address more as time goes on.***


***Update as of January 31st, 2014 – Mr. Viola’s edited book is now up and online.  Make sure to check out this link***

So far, we’ve looked at chapters 1-2 of Pouring Holy Water on Strange Fire, as well as chapter 3.  Now we’re getting into the main course of the book, Frank Viola’s exploration of the New Testament texts.  Be warned: this is the longest chapter in Mr. Viola’s book and it’s also where I finish my review.

Wait a minute.  This is where you finish your review?  What about chapters 5 through 15?  I have two things to say:

1.  Once we settle the debate on the exegetical level, the debate is essentially over.

2.  My other reason will be clear once you get into the post.

Let’s rock.

Let's Rock

Chapter 4. Does the New Testament Teach That the Gifts of the Spirit Ceased?

This chapter tackles one passage of scripture, and that’s 1 Corinthians 13:8-12.  The chapter is relatively simple:

1.  Chapter 4 says that MacArthur teaches that the the miraculous gifts ceased with the completion of the Canon.

2. Chapter 4 narrows the issue of debate to the identification of “the perfect” in 1 Corinthians 13:10

3.  Chapter 4 then give five reasons why “the perfect” cannot be the completed canon.

Chapter 4 opens with the line “Most cessationists, including MacArthur, teach that the miraculous gifts of the Spirit ceased when the canon of Scripture (the completed writings of the Bible) was completed. Either that or they say the gifts ceased in A.D. 70.” (19)

It’s not a point I’ll pursue, but it’s interesting that Mr. Viola, after reading both Charismatic Chaos and Strange Fire, thinks that 1 Corinthians 13:8-12 is the only NT text relevant to cessationism.

Now what’s being discussed here is a question that comes up when 1 Corinthians 13:10 is mentioned: the question is “what is ‘the perfect’ that is mentioned in that passage?  Opinions on the identity of “the perfect” vary, but chapter 4 says that MacArthur teaches, presumably in Charismatic Chaos and Strange Fire (you know, the two books that he’s written his book to respond to), teaches that “the perfect” is the closing of the canon.

MacArthur has openly rebutted and argued against the position that chapter 4 attributes to him, and that for well over 3 decades. 

Allow me to give you, my readers, some documentation for my claims:

In 1977, John MacArthur preached through the book of 1 Corinthians and here’s a quote from the transcript from part 2 of MacArthur’s sermons on 1 Corinthians 13:8-11:

“some people say that the perfect thing is the completion of Scripture and has already come. This is a very, very popular view today. It is the completed New Testament added to the Old Testament; the perfect thing is the Scripture. So since we have this, we see face to face and we know as we are known.

I think this view is weak for the following reasons. Number one, I don’t think the Corinthians would have thought of that. Remember, Paul was basically writing to a group of people to get a message to them that they would understand. We are really eavesdropping on the Corinthians’ letter. I don’t think that the Corinthians would have comprehended the concept of ‘perfect’ in that way…

…Secondly, if you make the perfect thing the Scriptures, then prophecy and knowledge stop with the Scriptures. Then there is no proclaiming the Scriptures and no drawing knowledge out of the Scriptures. Do you see what you’ve done? You’ve eliminated one of the manifestations of those gifts…

…The third principle, I think, is really the crux of the issue. If you say that prophecy and knowledge cease at the completion of the Scripture, then there is no proclaiming, or prophesying, and no drawing principles out of the Word of God through the entire Church Age, through the entire Tribulation, through the Kingdom, or forever. I find that a little hard to believe. Joel 2:28 says that in the Kingdom, young men and daughters will prophesy. What follows the Church Age? The Tribulation. What follows the Tribulation? The Kingdom. In the Kingdom, there is prophesying (Joel 2 and Acts 2). So, if there is prophecy in the Tribulation and in the Millennial Kingdom, has prophecy ceased? No. There is still yet a future for prophecy. To say nothing of the proclaiming and the teaching going on throughout the Church Age…

…Another point; I don’t think it’s the Scripture is because it can’t explain ‘face to face.’ Now I ask you: you own a Bible and I own a Bible, but have you ever seen God face to face? No. In fact, we haven’t even seen the one who reveals God, the Lord Jesus Christ. In I Peter 1:8 it says, “Whom, having not seen, you love.” Having a Bible doesn’t mean that we’ve seen God face to face. Now, someday that will happen, when we go to heaven, and when God’s glory fills the new Heaven and the new Earth and shines out of the midst of the Holy City. Then we’ll see His glory, but it hasn’t happened yet.

Further, if you interpret the perfect thing as Scripture, I don’t think you can explain the statement, “I shall I know even as also I am known.” Because I have a Bible, do I know God as well as God knows me? No. God knows me perfectly, but I only know Him in part. Even though I have a Bible, I don’t know all there is to know about God. Paul says I shall know as I am known.”


That sermon was from 1977, and in 1978 he wrote the book The Charismatics, which was based on that sermon series.  In that book, MacArthur writes:

“Many suggestions have been made as to the identity of ‘the perfect thing.’  Some believe it is the canon; others say the maturing of the church; some hold out for the rapture and still more for the second coming.  But it seems that ‘the perfect thing’ has to be the eternal state – the new heaven and new earth created after the kingdom as the following two points show…” ( page 165)

Charismatic Chaos

Then, in his book Charismatic Chaos (which Frank Viola is responding to) he writes

“The passage does not say when tongues were to cease.  Some commentators believe that verse 10 sets the timing: “When the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.”  Many suggestions have been made as to the meaning of “the perfect.”  Some believe it is the complete new Testament; thus they conclude this passage is saying that tongues would cease when the canon was closed.  Various others sat that the perfect this is the maturing of the church, the rapture, or the second coming.  But it seems that the perfect thing Paul has in mind must be the eternal state – “face to face” in verse 12 can best be explained as being with God in the new heavens and new earth.  It is only in glory that we will know as we are known (v. 12).” (note 20 on page 230-231. The underlined words are italicized in the original.)

Back in 2010 he revisited 1 Corinthians.  His sermon on 13:9-11 is here and his position didn’t change.  Here’s another quote:

Now what is this perfect thing? What is this? People have really battled over this. I’ll just give you a little exercise here. Some people say it’s the completion of the New Testament. Some people say the perfect thing that ends the need of prophecy and knowledge is the New Testament. That just doesn’t make sense because would the Corinthians have assumed that? I mean, you have to interpret the Bible in the way you would assume the people who heard it would have interpreted it, or the people who read it would have interpreted it. They would have no reason to assume that Scripture would be the perfect thing. To them to be perfect was to be like God. And when the Scripture came, was there then no need for knowledge? Was there then no need for prophecy? Well if you want to limit those gifts only to the revelational aspect of them, that it had to be only a divine revelation to qualify as gift of prophecy or gift of the word of knowledge, those gifts would have ceased in the apostolic era when revelation was ended. But how can you limit those that way? That seems arbitrary.

The Apostles went on preaching. They received Scripture. They wrote it down and they went on preaching and teaching and the next generation did the same and every generation since down to modern times. Furthermore, in the future according to Joel 2 and even the prophecy that is repeated from Joel in the Pentecost sermon of Peter, says, “In the last days I’ll pour out My Spirit on all mankind and your sons and daughters shall prophesy and your young men shall see visions and dream dreams.” So there’s going to be prophecy in the last days, prophecy in the future. Prophecy doesn’t end with the finishing of the canon of the Scripture at the end of the first century. There will be prophecy in the Kingdom, in the Millennial Kingdom.

In the notes on 1 Corinthians 13:10 in The MacArthur Study Bible, it reads:

“The ‘perfect’ is not the completion of scripture, since there is still the operation of those two gifts and will be in the future kingdom (cf. Joel 2:28; Acts 2:17; Rev. 11:3).  The Scriptures do not allow us to see ‘face to face’ or have perfect knowledge as God does (v. 12).  The ‘perfect’ is not the rapture of the church or the second coming of Christ, since the kingdom to follow those events will have an abundance of preachers and teachers (cf. Is 29:18; 32:3,4; Joel 2:28; Rev 11:3).  The perfect must be the eternal state, when in glory we see God face to face (Rev. 22:4) and have full knowledge in the eternal new heavens and new earth.  Just as a child grows to full understanding, believers will come to perfect knowledge and no such gifts will be necessary.” (2006 NASB printing, pg. 1719).

Strange Fire

Then, in the book Strange Fire, (which Frank Viola is responding to) MacArthur writes:

“In 1 Corinthians 13:10, Paul noted that partial knowledge and partial prophecy would be done away with “when that which is perfect has come.”  But what did Paul mean by the perfect?  The Greek word (teleion) can mean “perfect,” “mature,” or “complete,” and commentators have widely disagreed as to its precise meaning – offering numerous possible interpretations.  For example, F. F. Bruce suggests that the perfect is love itself’; B.B. Warfield contends it is the completed canon of Scripture (cf. James 1:25); Robert Thomas argues that it is the mature church (cf. Eph. 4:11-13); Richard Gaffin asserts it is the return of Christ; and Thomas Edgar concludes it is the individual believer’s entrance into heavenly glory (cf. 2 Cor. 5:8).  Significantly, though these scholars disagree on the identification of the ‘perfect’, they all reach the same conclusion – namely, that the miraculous and revelatory gifts have ceased.

Nonetheless, of the possible interpretations, the believer’s entrance into the Lord’s presence best fits Paul’s use of ‘perfect’ in 1 Corinthians 13:10.  This makes sense of Paul’s later statement in verse 12 about believers seeing Christ ‘face to face’ and possessing full knowledge – descriptions that cannot be realized this side of glory.” (pg 148-149.  The underlined words are italicized in the original.)

Check it out for yourself.  I actually encourage people to.

Not only does MacArthur openly deny in every related book that he has in print what chapter 4 says he teaches, but those most closely associated with him don’t either.

Robert Thomas, retired NT professor at the Master’s Seminary (and the man who taught John MacArthur when he was in seminary), doesn’t think “the perfect” is the canon either and has been in print on the topic for decades…which means that all the thousands of cessationists influenced by both MacArthur and Thomas have been taught something other than “cessation occurred with the closing of the canon”. 

Tom Pennington may have said something in passing about that at the Strange Fire conference, but Tom Pennington didn’t even use 1 Corinthians 13 as a text in his talk and didn’t present that argument as one of his seven arguments for cessationism.  Apparently Frank Viola didn’t didn’t pay attention to, Tom Pennington’s Strange Fire session.

I don’t think that “the perfect” is the completed canon either (not that I’m a close associate of MacArthur).

As for the cessation of the gifts in 70 AD, where exactly does MacArthur say that?

Why 70 A.D. in the first place?

Well, the year 70 A.D. is known most of all for one thing: the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, not the closing of the apostolic age (unless you’re a preterist).  The book doesn’t even mention the “apostolic age” or the “apostolic era”, but only mentions the year 70 A.D.  John MacArthur has taught for at least 4 decades that the apostolic age ended with the death of the apostle John. Feel free to check out where he explicitly says discusses the apostolic age closing with the death of the apostle John around 96 A.D:

1. http://www.gty.org/resources/print/study-guide-chapter/1868

2. http://www.gty.org/resources/distinctives/DD06/the-gift-of-tongues

3.  Page 231 & 232 of Charismatic Chaos (isn’t that the book that Viola apparently is reviewing?)

Also, Tom Pennington explicitly said discussed the length of the apostolic age at Strange Fire:


Chapter 4 provides no citations or references to substantiate the idea that MacArthur teaches that “the perfect” is the closing of the canon, but in checking out everything MacArthur’s put in print on the subject including the two books that Frank Viola is responding to, MacArthur promotes an entirely different position and explicitly rebuts that position.  Same goes for the 70 A.D. thing.

What in the world?

Did Frank Viola carefully read the books he’s responding to?

Did he decide to break with a critique of Strange Fire and Charismatic Chaos to pursue a rebuttal of Cessationism (in general)?


It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know what’s going on here.

Now I’m going to shift to a first person address to Frank Viola, since I know he’ll read this:

You apparently didn’t pay close attention to the two books that got you worked up enough to write your own book, which is strange indeed.  You spent nine pages proving that you missed the explicit teaching of both Charismatic Chaos or Strange Fire, and apparently you’re not familiar with the teaching of John MacArthur on the subject.  Let’s make this clear: you are now documented as perpetrating an idea that is a lie, which highly undermines your possible qualification as a relevant voice on this issue.  That’s not name-calling or me being mean either.  That is a statement of fact that I just documented for the entire internet. 

Beyond that, you  wrote about intellectual honesty and took issue with the people who did, in Twitter, what you have done in a book.

MacArthur has never taught the either of the positions you ascribe to him. 

Not once. 

Not anywhere.

Not in anything he’s put in print on the subject.

Rather, he refutes the ideas you attribute to him in every single book he’s written and sermon he’s preached on the issue.

So why exactly did you claim he teaches ideas that he openly rejects and refutes?

Why did you not write what you intended to communicate, if you meant to say something else?

These facts are all in print, and easy to find.  Why didn’t you find them?  Did you even look?

Did you not even seriously read either Charismatic Chaos or Strange Fire before your wrote a 75 page response to it?  It seems unavoidable that you were doing something other than carefully reading those books.

Also, did Adrian Warnock, Sam Storms Michael Brown and Craig Keener really read the manuscript and endorse the book in the form that it was released to the public?  You say, on page 5 of the pdf:

Thanks to Craig Keener, Dr. Michael Brown, Sam Storms, and Adrian Warnock for reviewing the original manuscript and giving me their critical feedback. (If you disagree with this critique, send your hate mail to Craig, Michael, Sam, and Adrian.)

You may have just dragged those four men into a rather uncomfortable situation and soiled their reputations as well…

This is not an example of Matthew 7:12.  One would expect a fair and accurate representation of someone that you acknowledge as a brother in the Lord, right?

Now, I’m going to do three things:

1.  I originally wrote a whole call to repentance for maliciously lying but after thinking and praying about it, I’ll be as gracious as I can.  I’ll assume that it was simply a mistake due to the fact that you wrote in a careless fashion (due to deadlines or whatever) and didn’t do the work that you have portrayed yourself as doing…which is still inaccurately portraying yourself as some sort of reliable source of information on the subject. I’ll assume that it was some combination of cutting corners and carelessness rather than premeditated and malicious lying.  Still, I’m going to leave this post up until you take the necessary steps to repent and make things right.  That means, at minimum, a public confession of whatever sin has lead you to this place, a re-issue or update of the book (it’s an e-book, so it’s not like you need to stop the presses) with the necessary corrections made, and a formal apology to John MacArthur. Intellectual honesty demands at least that much.

2.  I’m going to stop the review at chapter 4, since it seems clear that you didn’t do the necessary research in writing this book but rather wanted to be the first charismatic to cash in on the “Let’s bash MacArthur” bandwagon.

3.  I’ll publish the rest of the review that I wrote, only because there’s some more interesting things below that further establish an alarming pattern of documented misrepresentation (which was one of your main complaints against John MacArthur…).

Just in case you decide to do what integrity does not demand and flame me via private messages, that’ll may end up on the blog; Ephesians 5:1-16 suggests that believers don’t operate in the shadows.  Also, knowing that Matthew 18 will come up almost immediately, Matthew 18 doesn’t apply here since your deception wasn’t about me; your deception was about John MacArthur and yourself (you bore false witness regarding his teaching and your study).  This is a situation akin to Galatians 2:11-14, where there’s a situation of public false teaching (not labeling you a false teacher, but rather saying that you’re teaching something that is factually incorrect) that is being publicly confronted right here, right now.

I don’t desire evil for you, nor to I celebrate in revealing the sin/failing of a charismatic.  I still consider you a brother and desire for you to make right the transgression in which you are now documented and caught, but time will tell how this plays out.  I pray for, and look forward to, the day when I can put up a whole new post about Frank Viola and what a wonderful man of upstanding character he is.  Right now, it grieves me that I cannot.


Back to the review


Frank Viola follows up that statement with “They maintain that the Bible answers all of our spiritual questions and negates the need for the miraculous manifestations of 1 Corinthians 12.  In my opinion, this idea is a colossal stretch of logic and imagination.” (19)

Well, that would be a colossal stretch of logic and imagination…especially if anyone believed that.

“The Bible answers all our questions, therefore we don’t need spiritual gifts.”

Think about that for a moment.  How in the world is the second clause logically related to the first?  Has Mr. Viola been reading some other cessationists and then wrongfully attributing their ideas to MacArthur?

pick pocket

He doesn’t say so but I’m guessing that he’s attempting to talk about Sola Scriptura, and that is not even remotely close to any sort of accurate representation of Sola Scriptura (nor it’s implications for cessationism).   I am tempted to re-iterate Steve Lawson’s talk about Sola Scriptura, but I’d rather refer my readers to the actual message given by Dr. Steve Lawson or the summary written up by Mike Riccardi.

The doctrine of the sufficiency of scripture is not synonymous with Sola Scriptura and cessationists don’t think that the sheer existence of the Bible negates the need for the gifts listed within the Bible.  Cessationists tend to suggest that the Bible teaches that only some of those manifestations were intended to be normative for the life of the church, and the presence of contemporary revelation undermines and distracts from the completed canon.  While there were prophets and apostles on earth and laying the foundation of the church, the canon was incomplete and scripture was still being written.  Now that the foundation of the church has been laid and scripture is no longer being written, the presence of contemporary prophets brings up questions regarding the contemporary and necessary redefinition of prophecy that, in the opinion of cessationists like myself, find no answers that can withstand biblical scrutiny.

Mr. Viola then writes “Despite MacArthur’s claim, there is no verse in the New Testament that suggests that the supernatural gifts of the Spirit have ceased or will pass away before Christ’s second coming” and moves on to discuss 1 Corinthians 13:8-13, saying that “the perfect” is when prophecy, tongues and knowledge will pass away, “when the perfect comes, Paul will know all things to the same degree that God knows him” (19).

Yup.  That’s already been addressed above.

Mr. Viola then writes:

“What, then, is the perfect?

Is it the Bible as cessationists teach?

Or is it the perfect state that Christ will usher in at His second coming?

A strong case can be made that it is the latter.

Here are the reasons:” (19-20)

– Well, cessationists other than MacArthur teach that so it’s kind of a royal waste of time to rebut the point…but MacArthur is the one who he’s responding to in this book-length response…erm…awkward…


Reason 1 why “the perfect” isn’t the Bible:  When Jesus returns, and we see Him face-to-face, we will have perfect knowledge and tongues, prophecy, and knowledge itself will cease.

Frank Viola then cites Philippians 3:11-12 and says “When we are resurrected, we will know ‘even as we are known.’ And there will be no need for prophecy, tongues, or even knowledge, for we will already know all things. Does the Bible give us this kind of perfect knowledge wherein we know even as we are known by God? Hardly.” (20)

Frank Viola appears to write as if others who disagree with him simply haven’t really paid attention to the Bible…except that he says something that is unbelievable.  Did you catch it?  I tossed in the full quote so you would.  Frank Viola spends many words to communicate the idea that he finds 1 Corinthians 13:8-12 to teach that in heaven, believers will have a level of knowledge parallel to God.  He appears to think that in heaven, believers will have omniscience. 

Surely Frank Viola has to realize that the passage is referring to the spiritual gift of knowledge, not simply “knowing” in the sense of accumulating facts.  Surely Frank Viola doesn’t think that the apostle Paul had some form of tourettes where he was writing an extended pericope about spiritual gifts and then just tossed in something as unfathomable as “oh, and in unrelated news: when you Corinthians get to heaven, you’ll have one of God’s exclusive and divine attributes!  Just thought I’d share!”. 

Even in 1 Corinthians 13:12, where Paul writes “Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known”, Paul can not possibly suggesting that believers will “know all things to the same degree that God knows (us)”…most obviously because the term “fully” isn’t even in the original.  The Greek reads “Now I know (ginosko) in part, but then I shall know (epiginosko), even as I am also known (epiginosko)”.  Paul is saying that he will have a qualitative knowledge of God that surpasses what one can have even with the gifts of prophecy, tongues and knowledge.  In the time of “the perfect”, believers will know God with the clarity, completeness, and experiential knowledge that he knows them; believers will have a knowledge of God that is in an entirely separate and greater category than is possible on earth, even functioning with the spiritual gifts of prophecy, tongues and knowledge.

What was that accusation made about feeble exegesis again?

Call me crazy, but I’d guess that Mr. Viola is not trained in the original languages of the Bible.

Reason 2 why “the perfect” isn’t the Bible: Paul says that knowledge will cease along with tongues and prophecy.

Frank Viola simply quotes the text and says “What cessationist would say that knowledge has passed away with the completed writings of the Bible? One has to do a lot of exegetical gymnastics to make that formula work.” (20)

No cessationist teaches that which I’m aware of teach that. What’s interesting is that, granting for the sake of argument that “the perfect” is the second coming, Paul still clearly says that tongues won’t cease at the same time or in the same way as knowledge and prophecy.  Uh oh.  I have helpful exegetical insights based on the nuances of the original languages?  Maybe us cessationists have actually studied the Bible in the original languages and not simply taken a surface reading of the passage.  Maybe we’re not as dumb as some people think.

Floyd Surprised

Reason 3 why “the perfect” isn’t the Bible: It is exotically rare to find one commentary written before 1960 that interprets “the perfect” in 1 Corinthians 13 to be the closing of the biblical canon.

Viola says “Surprisingly, it is only after the Jesus movement and the charismatic movement blossomed that cessationist leaders began connecting ‘the perfect’ with the closing of the canon of Scripture” (21) and continues on talking about how novel this interpretation of “the perfect” is. (21)

Remember: this whole point, and series of points, is totally wasted seeing that Viola is attacking a position that MacArthur doesn’t teach.  Beyond that, if the absence of a position from commentaries is no indicator from truth.  I’d guess that none of the rabbinic literature before Christ taught that the messiah would be killed and resurrected before the final resurrection of the dead.  The scriptures alone (that’s that Sola Scriptura biting us again) declare what is truth and what is not.

Reason 4 why “the perfect” isn’t the Bible: The cessationist theory of 1 Corinthians 13 fails the practical application test.

On pages 21-22, Mr. Viola explains that there is a need for revelatory gifts because there are some things that were revealed by the revelatory gifts that could not be revealed by the scripture:

a.  The fact that Ananias and Sapphira were lying (Acts 5:1-10).

b.  The heart of a sinner (1 Cor. 14:24-25).

c.  Specific instructions to Philip regarding evangelism (Acts 8:29).

d.  Agabus predicting the future famine (Acts 11:28-30).

e.  The calling of Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:2)

f.  Prohibition from ministry (Acts 16:6-7).

g.  Paul’s Macedonian vision (Acts 16:9).

h.  Agabus’ foretelling of Paul’s fate in Jerusalem (Acts 21:11)

i.  Peter’s instructions regarding Cornelius’ men (Acts 10:20)

j.  Peter’s discerning of Simon (Acts 8:23) and Paul’s discernment of Elymas (Acts 13:8-11).

Are we still arguing about why “the perfect” is the second coming?  Why did we just change gears into attacking cessationism in general?

pTzy1Vu(Hey look!  A flying bear!)

Either way, in the period while there were living prophets/apostles but before those prophets/apostles wrote the New Testament, there was somewhat regular divine revelation about various things.  No cessationist is arguing that.  I don’t understand how this argument helps with the interpretation of 1 Corinthians 13:8-11 though.  1 Corinthians 13:8-11 assumes that there was prophecy when 1 Corinthians 13:8-11 was written, and if cessationism is true, then prophecy ceased after 1 Corinthians 13:8-11 was written (by an apostle who was functioning prophetically).

Frank Viola’s real argument seems to be that the fact that Peter & Paul got specific information from God about various details of their life and ministry suggests that the contemporary church should have that ability too.  Not exactly a sound argument.  Why is that exactly?  Any why does nobody  ever make that argument about Philip and Holy teleportation in Acts 839-40? (well, almost nobody makes that argument.  I once met a fellow who taught that the Holy Spirit regularly teleported him around the world like that…)

Mr. Viola then makes several statements like “the Bible cannot substitute for or replace the supernatural manifestation of the Holy Spirit” and “these revelations do not by any means usurp authority over the Bible nor do they contradict it” and “Specific and intensely personal knowledge of people, events, and God’s will are not granted by the Bible alone.” (22)

For the first one, I believe that this is called “circular reasoning” or assuming what you’re supposed to prove.  That assumes that the supernatural manifestations of the Spirit, as specifically seen in Charismatic circles, are necessary in the first place.  That’s what the whole debate is about…

For the second, it does not logically follow.  If we’re talking about “specific” knowledge, then any prophecy containing knowledge more specific than what is in scripture would most certainly usurp the authority of scripture.  If a Mr. X is wondering if he should marry Mrs. Y and the Bible gives general guidelines about choosing a spouse where as the local prophet says “I believe the Lord is telling you yes”, which one will Mr. X most likely listen to?  The next time Mr. X has a similar problem, which one will he likely go to?  Frank Viola may not have experienced this, but when I was involved in Charismatic circles, I knew people who would drive 12-16 hours just to seek the wisdom of a prophet.  They never spent 12-16 hours studying the scripture on anything.

For the third one, Frank Viola again assumes what he’s trying to prove.  Where in the scripture are Christians (in general, not apostles or prophets) ever given reason to expect “specific and intensely personal knowledge of people, events, and God’s will” in the first place?  My head is spinning from all this circular reasoning.

Mr. Viola follows that up with a comment about how “Lord Jesus told His disciples that not only would they testify of Him (which they did through the spoken and written Word), but the Spirit would also testify of Him” and quotes John 15:26-27, John 16:13, and John 14:26. (22-23)

Yup.  Jesus said those things to the twelve, but I don’t see how those things are promises to every believer unless…no…he couldn’t possibly?  Does Mr. Viola think that a promise made to the 12 is a promise made to everyone in church history?  If the promises aren’t limited to the specific recipients of the promises (i.e. those who “have been with me from the beginning” – John 15:27) , then has every believer been guided into all truth (John 16:13), or has every believer had personal revelations of the future (John 16:13), or has every believer been personally taught by the Holy Spirit to the point of attaining omniscience (John 14:26)?

Of course not.  If I were to suggest such things, you’d rightly think I had a screw loose. 

Loose screw

So Jesus made promises to his disciples, but the very words of the very texts that Mr. Viola cites clearly articulate that those promises aren’t for every pew-warmer in church history.  They were specific promises to specific people, and I’m not one of those specific people.

Reason 5 why “the perfect” isn’t the Bible:   The testimony of post-apostolic writers verify that the gifts of the Spirit were still in operation after A.D. 70.

Mr Viola makes a point of pointing out that “MacArthur dogmatically asserts that tongues and other supernatural gifts of the Spirit are not hinted at in the post-apostolic period.  But this is not true.  The testimony of history is filled with clear accounts of the supernatural gifts of the Spirit operating in the church well after A.D. 70.” (23)

I’m not sure if Mr. Viola knows what “staying on topic” means.  This is related to the interpretation of “the perfect” in 1 Corinthians 13:11 how exactly?

Also, here we see the “bait and switch” technique being used where he states that MacArthur is talking about tongues and “other supernatural gifts of the spirit”, then he subtly changes the subject to only address the “other supernatural gifts of the Spirit”.  Let’s see whether he quotes early church fathers who reference orthodox Christians performing the 3 specific sign gifts (tongues, healing, and prophecy as performed by Jesus and the apostles).

Frank Viola quotes Polycarp from The Martyrdom of Polycarp, talking about having a vision of a flaming pillow, and then turning to those that were with him, he said to them prophetically, ‘I must be burnt alive'”. (23)

Well, it does contain a cognate of the word “prophet”, but it’s not saying that Polycarp was a prophet.  Visions aren’t prophecy.  When Daniel or Zechariah have visions, they then needed to have those visions interpreted for them, and that interpretation is prophecy.  Cessationists don’t discount people having vivid dreams or visions, and are not surprised when a person (who is living under Christian persecution where Christians are regularly being burned) has a vision of being burned alive.  Not a shocker, and Polycarp wasn’t claiming to have a sign gift.

Mr. Viola cites Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho and writes “… knowing that daily some of you are becoming disciples in the name of Christ, and quitting the path of error; who are also receiving gifts, each as he is worthy, illumined through the name of Christ. For one receives the spirit of understanding, another of counsel, and another of strength, another of healing, another of foreknowledge, another of teaching, and another of the fear of God … For the prophetical gifts remain with us, even to the present time. And hence you ought to understand that the gifts formerly among your nation have been transferred to us (Ch. 39, Ch. 82). (23)

Now this is interesting again.  It appears that Mr. Viola is putting two separate quotes from Justin Martyr together.  The first is from chapter 39 and the second is from chapter 82.

Here’s the entire text of Chapter 39:

“Now it is not surprising,” I continued, “that you hate us who hold these opinions, and convict you of a continual hardness of heart. For indeed Elijah, conversing with God concerning you, speaks thus: ‘Lord, they have slain Thy prophets, and digged down Thine altars: and I am left alone, and they seek my life.’ And He answers him: ‘I have still seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.’ Therefore, just as God did not inflict His anger on account of those seven thousand men, even so He has now neither yet inflicted judgment, nor does inflict it, knowing that daily some [of you] are becoming disciples in the name of Christ, and quitting the path of error; who are also receiving gifts, each as he is worthy, illumined through the name of this Christ. For one receives the spirit of understanding, another of counsel, another of strength, another of healing, another of foreknowledge, another of teaching, and another of the fear of God.”

To this Trypho said to me, “I wish you knew that you are beside yourself, talking these sentiments.”

And I said to him, “Listen, O friend, for I am not mad or beside myself; but it was prophesied that, after the ascent of Christ to heaven, He would deliver us from error and give us gifts. The words are these: ‘He ascended up on high; He led captivity captive; He gave gifts to men. Accordingly, we who have received gifts from Christ, who has ascended up on high, prove from the words of prophecy that you, ‘the wise in yourselves, and the men of understanding in your own eyes,’ are foolish, and honour God and His Christ by lip only. But we, who are instructed in the whole truth, honour Them both in acts, and in knowledge, and in heart, even unto death. But you hesitate to confess that He is Christ, as the Scriptures and the events witnessed and done in His name prove, perhaps for this reason, lest you be persecuted by the rulers, who, under the influence of the wicked and deceitful spirit, the serpent, will not cease putting to death and persecuting those who confess the name of Christ until He come again, and destroy them all, and render to each his deserts.”

And Trypho replied, “Now, then, render us the proof that this man who you say was crucified and ascended into heaven is the Christ of God. For you have sufficiently proved by means of the Scriptures previously quoted by you, that it is declared in the Scriptures that Christ must suffer, and come again with glory, and receive the eternal kingdom over all the nations, every kingdom being made subject to Him: now show us that this man is He.”

And I replied, “It has been already proved, sirs, to those who have ears, even from the facts which have been conceded by you; but that you may not think me at a loss, and unable to give proof of what you ask, as I promised, I shall do so at a fitting place. At present, I resume the consideration of the subject which I was discussing.

Here’s the entire text of Chapter 82:

“For the prophetical gifts remain with us, even to the present time. And hence you ought to understand that [the gifts] formerly among your nation have been transferred to us. And just as there were false prophets contemporaneous with your holy prophets, so are there now many false teachers amongst us, of whom our Lord forewarned us to beware; so that in no respect are we deficient, since we know that He foreknew all that would happen to us after His resurrection from the dead and ascension to heaven. For He said we would be put to death, and hated for His name’s sake; and that many false prophets and false Christs would appear in His name, and deceive many: and so has it come about. For many have taught godless, blasphemous, and unholy doctrines, forging them in His name; have taught, too, and even yet are teaching, those things which proceed from the unclean spirit of the devil, and which were put into their hearts. Therefore we are most anxious that you be persuaded not to be misled by such persons, since we know that every one who can speak the truth, and yet speaks it not, shall be judged by God, as God testified by Ezekiel, when He said, ‘I have made thee a watchman to the house of Judah. If the sinner sin, and thou warn him not, he himself shall die in his sin; but his blood will I require at thine hand. But if thou warn him, thou shalt be innocent. And on this account we are, through fear, very earnest in desiring to converse [with men] according to the Scriptures, but not from love of money, or of glory, or of pleasure. For no man can convict us of any of these [vices]. No more do we wish to live like the rulers of your people, whom God reproaches when He says, ‘Your rulers are companions of thieves, lovers of bribes, followers of the rewards.’ Now, if you know certain amongst us to be of this sort, do not for their sakes blaspheme the Scriptures and Christ, and do not assiduously strive to give falsified interpretations.

So, did you notice something? 

The first quote doesn’t appear at all in chapter 39 (wonder why that is?  Apparently Mr. Viola has a habit of either not doing lazy research or attributing teaching to people with hopes that nobody will check it out)…

January 15th update – NO WAIT.  It does.  I made it bold so it would stand out.  I’m the one who missed it originally.  The error was mine and it was a rather stupid one.  I don’t know how it happened, but a careful reader pointed it out to me and I am being quick to point it out and fix it.  It wasn’t malicious, and I am the one who did lazy research/editing on that point.  Thanks goes out to Courtney Stewart for catching that rather embarrassing error.

On that quotation, Mr. Viola was spot on and I made a blatant error, and my comments about habits and lazy research were both wrong and misplaced. 

That being said, chapter 82 teaches that Justin Martyr believed that there were true prophets, but they were prophets in the Old Testament sense.

Justin Martyr used the same definition of “prophet” as the Jewish people.  That also means that the same tests of accuracy and authority apply, and I’m good with that.  I’m wondering if any self-professed prophet on planet earth is willing to abide by the Old Testament definition and tests?  I’ll have my two prophetic evaluation tools on “standby” and ready to go…


Then, Mr. Viola follows that up with a quotation from Justin Martyr’s Second Apology (chapter 6) about exorcisms being performed (where it talks about “healing” in the sense of “healing from being a demoniac”. (24)

–  Irrelevant to cessationism.  Spiritual Warfare is a completely separate topic.

Mr. Viola then gives a quotation from Irenaeus’ work Against Heresies where Irenaeus comments on the existence of foreknowledge of the future, prophetic utterances, sick being healed by laying on of hands, dead being raised (2.32.4), as well as speaking in tongues (5.6.1). (24)

I’ll agree that Irenaeus claimed to have witnessed all those things.  Still has next to nothing to do with why “the perfect” isn’t the Bible in 1 Corinthians 13:11.

He then quotes Tertullian’s Against Marcion, who claims that, unlike Marcion and his “side”, Tertullian’s “side” can produce all manner of spiritual gifts including prophets who have spoken “with the Spirit of God, such as have both predicted things to come, and have made manifest the secrets of the heart”and also the interpretation of tongues (Book 5, chapter 8). (24-25)

Interesting how Tertullian speaks of prophets who predict the future and manifest the secrets of the heart.  Not only that, but he uses Isaiah 11:1-2 as his main text in talking about Spiritual gifts.  It sure seems like Tertullian was speaking of “prophets” in an Old Testament sense, with no understanding of “prophecy” as something fallible (unlike all the modern charismatic prophets).

Frank Viola follows that up with a quotation from Novation’s Treatise Concerning the Trinity, where he says “This is He who places prophets in the church, instructs teachers, directs tongues, gives powers and healings, does wonderful works, offers discrimination of spirits, affords powers of government, suggests counsels, and orders and arranges whatever other gifts there are of charismata, and thus make the Lord’s church everywhere, and in all, perfected and completed (Ch. 29).” (25)

(The link to the 29th chapter was not in the original, though the reference was.  I’ve provided the links for any interested readers to check things out from the original sources themselves, if they so desire.)

So, Novation only speaks of prophets, and what’s interesting is that in chapter 29 he goes into detail discussing how the Holy Spirit was the same in the Old and New Testaments.  In that same 29th chapter, Novation writes “And He is not new in the Gospel, nor yet even newly given; for it was He Himself who accused the people in the prophets, and in the apostles gave them the appeal to the Gentiles” and “Assuredly in the Spirit there are different kinds of offices, because in the times there is a different order of occasions; and yet, on this account, He who discharges these offices is not different, nor is He another in so acting, but He is one and the same, distributing His offices according to the times, and the occasions and impulses of things” and also “He is therefore one and the same Spirit who was in the prophets and apostles, except that in the former He was occasional, in the latter always. But in the former not as being always in them, in the latter as abiding always in them; and in the former distributed with reserve, in the latter all poured out; in the former given sparingly, in the latter liberally bestowed”.

I’d dare suggest that Novation, like Tertullian and Justin Martyr, thought of the term “prophet” in a single sense; the sense of a person who acts as God’s mouthpiece, speaking God’s words in the place of God (and all of the spoke of Isaiah and Paul in parallel, referring to both with that term).  By all means!  Let’s uphold the Biblical definition of “prophet” and this whole argument is over.


(The “Test your Anointing” chair.  If you’re a prophet, you walk away.  If you’re not…)

Frank Viola then alludes to 6+ other examples of testimonies to “supernatural gifts” that included miracles, an account of healing, “divine and glorious power”, “apostolic miracles”, and a correction on MacArthur’s quote from Augustine that was delivered later in his life recanting his former anti-miracle position. (25)  Viola then writes “The evidence is clear, then, that believers in the first three centuries of the church affirmed the perpetuity of spiritual gifts”. (26)

Yup…and cessationists affirm the perpetuity of many types of miracles, just not the sign gifts of tongues, healing and prophecy (as practiced by Jesus and the apostles).  From reading 1/3 of Frank Viola’s book so far, one gets the distinct impression that he’s blissfully unaware of the nuances within cessationism and hasn’t really ever encountered an articulate defense of cessationism.

He refers to Sam Storms’ take on Ephesians 2:20, cites Martin Lloyd Jones on how cessationists quench the Spirit, cites William Law in saying that the church needs “the miraculous inspiration of the Spirit among men as in former days”, cites A.B. Simpson (and early Presbyterian convert to Pentecostalism) in saying that the lack of all spiritual gifts weakens the gospel, refers to one of his own blog series on the spiritual gifts, and then refers his readers to Clark Pinnock on tongues and the Holy Spirit.

Well, responding to Storms’ article is beyond the scope of this review, as is responding to Lloyd-Jones.

William Law is someone I’m unfamiliar with, so I have no comment there.

– A.B. Simpson was wrong.  The gospel doesn’t stand or fall on miraculous verification.  It stands or falls on the truth of the message of the gospel.

The Clark Pinnock article from 1971 isn’t in any theological database that I can find, and it’s not online that I could find.  No comment there…but by 1996 he was an open theist.  Not the guy I’d go to for biblical doctrine on anything.

And that’s the end of chapter 4…Phew!

***And thus closes my longest blog post ever and the end of my review of Pouring Holy Water on Strange Fire.  I’ve got a far more serious book to get on with, and after documenting, at length, the sloppy research and deceitful misrepresentations that Frank Viola brings to the table, I feel quite comfortable in tossing his book aside in the “irrelevant to the current discussion” bin.

Sadly, this book doesn’t exactly make the charismatic camp look any better.

Until Next Time,

Lyndon “I edited it down, honest!” Unger


22 thoughts on “Evaluating Holy Water Part 3 – Chapter 4

  1. Thanks for this review! I knew something was off with the Justin Martyr quote…
    I also noticed that I haven’t read/heard a continuationist tackling 1 Corinthians 13:8 and the middle voice…

    • Thanks for the kind thoughts Andy. I read the Justin Martyr quote and checked out, but after his blatant misrepresentation of MacArthur, I was not surprised to find a pattern emerging.

      It is my consistent experience that an overwhelming majority of charismatic defenders lack the exegetical skills to even get into things like addressing the middle voice.

      Sadly, I find that many Charismatic defenders assume that they know all about cessationism from a Facebook-level conversations and thus don’t think they need to pay attention to much of what we say.

  2. Mr. Viola: I pray you take heed to the loving appeal made unto you (Proverbs 28:13). Blessed will be the people that the LORD calls you to shepherd Lyndon Unger. 🙂

  3. That was extremely therapeutic. I have been telling folks for a number of months leading up to, and after SF that John has never taught the perfect = scriptures, yet charismatic, after charismatic, including even Dr. Brown, insist or imply that he does. I am not even sure who they are confusing him with. To my knowledge, I am probably the only person in my immediate circle of cessationist pals who disagrees with John and believes the perfect = scriptures. Pretty much everyone else holds to one of the other perspectives, and they are still cessationists and non-charismatic.

    Curious if Viola will retract and retool and apologize.

    • Fred, I have found that dealing with many Charismatic who, at one time attended a non-charismatic church for a short time, is like dealing with atheists who “converted” to atheism in high school: they think that they’ve “been there and done that”, hence they don’t need to give us a serious ear. They assume that we’re all simpletons who basically say the same thing and haven’t ever thought about the issues that they have… Because IF we would, there is no possible way that we could disagree with them.

  4. ” I’ll assume that it was slothful deceit and not premeditated and malicious lying. Still, I’m going to leave this post up until you take the necessary steps to repent and make things right. That means, at minimum, a public confession and recantation of your deceit, meaning a re-issue or update of the book (it’s an e-book, so it’s not like you need to stop the presses) with the necessary corrections made, and a formal apology to John MacArthur. Intellectual honesty demands at least that much.”

    A rather reasonable approach to Mr. Viola’s behavior.

    • Thanks Truth. I honestly tried to strike a balance between underselling and overstating. Thing is, Frank Viola has published several other books, he’s a conference speaker, and he’s a man who is followed by tens of thousands of folks.

      At the level, the demands for both character and integrity are greater (James 3:1; 1 Timothy 5:17-25; 2 Timothy 2:14-19, etc.), not less.

      • I know he has published “several books” but he is seriously followed by thousands of folks? I find that just hard to believe. Not saying you’re wrong. You could be right, but seriously?

        • Seriously.

          I cannot really make an authoritative judgment about him but according to his Twitter account (21k followers, though I’m sure >50% are followbacks), his blog (which claims 80,000+ readers…though in other places it claims far smaller numbers, but that’s probably because he doesn’t keep the second set of numbers up to date…), and according to the WoW traffic report (63,000+ pageviews a day, which puts him in the territory of being three times as big as the Cripplegate, and the Cripplegate is probably the biggest TMS/GCC/GTY unofficial affiliate site; it gets slightly more traffic than TeamPyro…) and according to his Alexa rank (he’s one of the top 25,000 websites in the US), he’s a far more widely read/followed online presence than you, me, TeamPyro and the Cripplegate combined.

          The numbers speak for themselves Fred. Frank Viola’s blog gets 1/2 as much traffic as Grace To You, and GTY is no small presence on the internet, at least in Christian circles.

          He may be many things, but he’s not a basement blogger.

  5. Loved the thoroughness of your article. Thank you for saving us a couple of bucks. I was looking forward to buying and reading Authentic Fire from Dr Brown who I still respect for his excellent works on homosexuality and his Hebrew studies. But after the Benny Hinny debacle, does it still make sense to do a serious review of Authentic Fire?

    By the way, do you intend to reach out to Mr Viola by phone or email to to further discuss your concerns of his book?

    Keep up the good work.

    • Thanks for the kind thoughts Ivan.

      I still want to do a review of Brown’s book more because it needs to be done, and I don’t see any serious reviews out there yet.

      As for Mr. Viola, we are in current contact.

  6. Sorry to be off topic here but I didn’t know where else to put this. I just recently discovered your site and love some of the topics discussed here. Problem for me is since I’m new and you have posted lots of stuff over the years, finding posts on topics I’m interested in can be a bit cumbersome. I know you have the index at the top but you reference having 300 or so posts but it seems you have about 80 posts referenced there.

    Just a suggestion here, but have you ever been to Mike Heiser’s blog the Naked Bible? From time to time he will do a series like you do with multiple posts on a topic, but most of his series posts have a link at the top of the page where you can see all posts in one shot and you can read them easily all in order. For example on his page you can click the “Romans 5:12” link and see the entire series in order so you can easily read them one after the other. I just recently read your series on the largest 50 churches but a few times the next link in the series was nowhere to be found and I had to dig a bit for it. I read the first “7 Anvil” post and was looking for the rest of them but it appears that you never finished them, correct?

    Anyway, maybe the WordPress format makes organizing former posts difficult. If so, no worries, and I’m not complaining I’m just giving you feedback that you might get from a new visitor which might make the site easier to dig up former posts for your new readers.


    • Hey Greg, welcome!

      You’ve found one of my Achilles heels: organization. I’ve been slowly working on my index (emphasis on slowly). You’re write that the free WordPress.com doesn’t really allow me to customize much, but I’ll throw myself at it sometime in the coming weeks.

      Also, you’re right. I never finished my seven anvils post. I’ve since learned to start series and get them half to 3/4 done before posting…that means I then don’t have to take 2 week gaps between posts as I write!

      I’m still learning though, and thanks for the feedback!

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