Pettegrew on the Cessation of (All of) the Spiritual Gifts

The New Covenant Ministry of the Holy SpiritI had a discussion with a friend over dinner a few days ago, and we were talking about books on the Holy Spirit that we liked. We talked about Sinclair Ferguson’s The Holy Spirit, and then Larry Pettegrew’s The New Covenant Ministry of the Holy Spirit came up. I commented on Pettegrew’s unique view that all of the gifts—not just miraculous and revelatory ones—were temporary and had passed with the time of the apostles. My friend responded with surprise, thinking I was talking about someone else or just mistaken. So when I got home that evening, I pulled out Pettegrew’s book and found what seems to me to be evidence in favor of my reading of Pettegrew. (If memory serves me correctly, my Pneumatology professor, Gary Reimers, is actually the one that tipped me off to Pettegrew’s view.) I sent some key quotes on to him, and, to my surprise, he still wasn’t convinced. So I’ll let you decide.

In chapter 7, “The Conundrum of the Charismata” (155-87), Pettegrew makes several comments that seem to set him apart from most cessationists. Here is a selection of the pertinent portions from the chapter. I’ve added the bold and underlining for emphasis.

In the opening pages of the chapter, Pettegrew prefaces the discussion this way:

Bible students must rethink the doctrine of the gifts of the Spirit. The topic of gifts is especially pertinent to our overall study on the new covenant ministry of the Holy Spirit because the Spirit gave gifts to the first Christians if for no other reason than to make the transition from the old covenant program to the new covenant program as smooth as possible.

. . .

Therefore, the purpose of this chapter is to present a brief theological exposition of 1 Corinthians 12–14. In so doing, we hope to answer the question so important for our overall study: Were the gifts of the Spirit intended to be a permanent part of the new covenant ministry of the Holy Spirit, or were the gifts (or some of the gifts) intended for only the initial years of the new covenant program? (157)

A few pages later, Pettegrew defines spiritual gifts this way:

A spiritual gift was a supernatural, Holy Spirit-energized ability that was sovereignly given by God for service within the local church during the transition from the old covenant program to the new covenant program. (160)

On several occasions Pettegrew makes the point that the spiritual gifts were given in a supernatural way because the NT was not yet readily available (see my point 7 below for the full significance of this):

We must be careful not to miss the distinction between the bestowal of gifts and the operation of the gifts. Not all gifts produced supernatural, spectacular operations. The gift of helps, for example, was probably not supernatural in its outworking, whereas the gift of miracles was.

But the Holy Spirit bestowed all gifts abnormally during the apostolic era. Christians were enabled to minister without having to learn in a conventional way. They did not have to attend a Bible institute or a theological seminary, in other words, to be able to minister effectively. The very fact that they did not have the New Testament prohibited them from learning how to minister as we do today. They needed supernatural help from the Holy Spirit.

. . .

. . . The gifts, therefore, were not just natural abilities that the people had developed even before they had become Christians; the Spirit of God bestowed these gifts on the early Christians supernaturally. (162)

Here’s his conclusion:

What is the relationship of the gifts to the new covenant ministry of the Holy Spirit? It is evident that the gifts were only inaugural in character, a truth for which we today can be grateful. To be under the full gift program is not something to be desired. The church members in the apostolic era always had to evaluate the prophecies, always had to determine if a translator was present, and always had to operate under the knowledge that their information was partial. Who would want this situation today? . . .

. . .

But Paul explained to the Corinthians that eventually revelation would be completed so that they would not have to go through all of the required checks. They could simply expound completed revelation.

[1] The revelational gifts, therefore, were bestowed on the apostles and prophets to explain what the church was to believe and how it was to operate in the first age of the new covenant program. [2] The miraculous gifts were given to authenticate the new covenant ministry and authority of the apostles—especially in the giving of revelation. [3] Many of the other gifts were given to enable the churches to function according to the will of God when no New Testament Scriptures were available on a widespread scale. We today have providential abilities, talents, or gifts that parallel the gifts of the New Testament era. But we must be careful that we do not focus so much on these that we miss the most important truths for spiritual maturity, such as the lordship of Christ and the sufficiency of the Word of God. . . . (18687)

Allow me to make a some comments about these selections from Pettegrew’s work:

  1. The statement “the Spirit gave gifts to the first Christians if for no other reason than to make the transition from the old covenant program to the new covenant program as smooth as possible” hints at the conclusion that this was the only reason, and thus at their temporary nature.
  2. The question “Were the gifts of the Spirit intended to be a permanent part of the new covenant ministry of the Holy Spirit, or were the gifts (or some of the gifts) intended for only the initial years of the new covenant program?” hints at the conclusion that all (or some) of the gifts were temporary. At the very least he is open to the notion that all of the gifts were temporary.
  3. The way he defines spiritual gifts suggests that he believes that all of the gifts have passed. (1) He uses the past tense was rather than the present tense is. (2) He says the gifts were “for service . . . during the transition from the old covenant program to the new covenant program.”
  4. The emphasis on the bestowal of the gifts as abnormal and supernatural in connection with the distinction between Christians before the NT and Christians after the NT supports the notion of the cessation of all of the gifts. (See point 7 for more on this.)
  5. The statement “It is evident that the gifts were only inaugural in character” seems by itself to answer the question. There is no indication that Pettegrew has a subset of gifts in view: (1) The chapter is a discussion of all of the gifts, not just a certain group of the gifts. (2) Every time he uses “the gifts” in an unqualified way (see the underlining above), he apparently has all of the gifts in view. (3) Two paragraphs later he explains what he means by “the gifts”: “revelational gifts,” “miraculous gifts,” and “the other gifts.”
  6. He speaks of all three categories of gifts as “only inaugural in character,” not just the first two categories. See the last paragraph quoted above, and notice how he describes all three categories of gifts with temporary language. Even the non-revelatory and non-miraculous gifts served their purpose “when no New Testament Scriptures were available on a widespread scale.” The implication is that they were no longer necessary after the “New Testament Scriptures were available on a widespread scale” (emphasis added). (Notice, though, that he says “many of the other gifts.” Does that mean that Pettegrew sees a fourth category of gifts that were not temporary? Perhaps. He seems to all but shut the door on that notion. What seems clear, though, is that more than just the first two categories (i.e., revelational and miraculous) were “only inaugural.” “Many of the other gifts” were, too.)
  7. When he says, “We today have providential abilities, talents, or gifts that parallel the gifts of the New Testament era,” it seems to me that he is indicating that whatever “gifts” today are, they are precisely not the same as the NT gifts that they parallel, for a thing cannot parallel itself. The point is made clear when comparing his use of providential here in contrast with he repeated use of miraculous when discussing the bestowal of the NT gifts.

Based on these points, it seems reasonable to understand Pettegrew as strongly inclined to consider all of the NT gifts as being “intended for only the initial years of the new covenant program” and unnecessary after the completion of the NT Scriptures. At best Pettegrew seems opened but disinclined to the notion that some of the gifts have continued to the present, but that list of gifts is considerably smaller than what the vast majority of cessationists would hold to (see my point 6).

I was going to email Larry and ask him for a clarification, but I have been unable to run down his email address. But more than just wanting to know what Larry intended, I’d love to hear from others who have read his book or perhaps had a class with him where he addressed the gifts. Was this your take on his view of the gifts? I’m also curious to hear from those who don’t know anything about Pettegrew or his view of the gifts. Do you think my reading seems exegetically sound (exegesis in the sense of drawing out the meaning of the book, not the Book)?

Update: I heard from several individuals via email who said that my reading of Pettegrew is right on target. One individual gave me Pettegrew’s email address, so I sent him a quick note to get confirmation. He sent a kind response indicating that I had indeed understood him correctly and that he still holds this view. He credited Gene Getz of Dallas Theological Seminary as one who influenced him on this issue. Pettegrew made it clear in his email that he considers this a minor issue, since God still providentially gives gifts to the church today similar to some of the apostolic gifts.

14 Responses to Pettegrew on the Cessation of (All of) the Spiritual Gifts

  1. Chuck Bumgardner February 24, 2009 at 7:53 am #


    To my knowledge you are indeed correct on Pettegrew’s take on spiritual gifts. At my alma mater Central Seminary in Minneapolis, our professor of pastoral theology Dan Brown also takes the same view. I suspect that it comes of trying to be a consistent cessationist: gifts are gifts are gifts, and in some sense all are “supernatural”. To be consistent, then, it is posited that if tongues, healing, etc., have passed away, all gifts have passed away.

    • Phil Gons February 24, 2009 at 8:04 am #

      Thanks, Chuck. That’s good to know. Pettegrew studied at Central, so perhaps they had the same teacher.

      BTW, does anyone know where Pettegrew is teaching now? I don’t see him on the TMS faculty page anymore.

  2. Bill Combs February 24, 2009 at 8:31 am #

    Larry is now at the Shepherds Seminary:

    One of his teachers was Dr. Rolland McCune, and I know he does not hold this view.

  3. Brian February 24, 2009 at 9:13 am #

    I have never seen any Scriptural proof of cessation, it is generally assumptions and conjecture.

    So… I think it doesn’t matter whether it is partial or full, it is still inconclusive.

    • Phil Gons February 24, 2009 at 9:28 am #

      Thanks, Brian, but that’s not really the point of this post. :)

    • Jack Shaffer July 30, 2012 at 3:40 pm #

      Brian – if you’ll read Dr. Pettegrew’s chapter, you’ll get all the biblical proof you need. You may choose not to believe it, but it’s exegetical and biblical.

  4. LaRosa Johnson February 24, 2009 at 10:04 am #

    I can’t say I’ve read the book, but from the excerpts you posted, I came to the same conclusion that you did, in that he was referring to the cessation of all the gifts, and not just some.

    Indeed an interesting read.


  5. AJ Gibson February 27, 2009 at 11:00 am #

    Hi, Phil. You know, I read this book a couple of times several years ago, but don’t remember getting the impression that he believed in the cessation of all the gifts. But your post makes it pretty clear (in my opinion) that he does, in fact, believe that.

    So I guess the question would be, Why would someone take such a position? It seems extreme. Maybe he feels that it’s easier to defend the complete cessation of all gifts than to defend the cessation of just some gifts.

  6. Becca March 3, 2009 at 3:48 pm #

    For what it’s worth, I think Pettigrew’s view of complete cessation is at least internally consistent. Dividing the gifts into categories based on what we think we observe seems a bit arbitrary to me.

    But then, I’m not a cessationist OR a dispensationalist, so I don’t know if my opinion on the distinctions counts for much…

  7. Bill March 9, 2009 at 9:48 am #

    I am a former (and grateful) student of Dr. Pettegrew and he did espouse that view at Central in the mid eighties when I studied there. I must say that he convinced me and I have been teaching that view for years now.

  8. Wyndal March 12, 2009 at 3:04 am #

    The working definition on page 160 is led appropriately (it seems to me) by the 5 or so concepts outlined from the preceding paragraphs. However, I fail to see where the last qualifier of the working definition “during the transition from the old covenant program to the new covenant program” is supported by the exposition of the text of 1 Cor. It seems to be added here for the convenience of advancing the thesis.

    Am I off base or do I just need to read the rest of the book?

    • Jack Shaffer July 30, 2012 at 3:43 pm #

      Wyndal – that is covered in his exposition of chapter 13 – Paul’s 3-fold illustration of incomplete revelation versus completed revelation, i.e., the Canon of Scripture.

  9. Aaron April 25, 2009 at 9:53 am #

    One of the interesting aspects of the cessationist argument is that there is an implication that not only has the Holy Spirit ceased to give certain gifts, but He will not (or cannot) give them again. What about the cessation of the prophetic witness during the Israelites time in Egypt and the inter-testimonial period. Let’s say that the Holy Spirit ceased to give gifts (some say as a result of Montanism, an argument I see as being extremely weak), can He not choose to give them again.

    This is interesting in light of Pettegrew’s view of the gifts as being a transitional help. Could it be then that the Lord desires to give this witness again? I don’t know what cessationists do with Joel 2:28-32, but as I read the passage it seems very very clear that Peters declaration at Pentecost was only a partial fulfillment. Thus, I take Joel 2 as having future eschatological implications. Is this not a Biblical basis for the undoing of cessation of the Holy Spirit’s activity?

    By the way, in taking a historicists view of Revelation, the open heaven scene in Rev. 11:19 is dynamically related to the Satan being cast down onto the earth (Rev. 12:1-12). This has massive implications for prayer. As Satan is cast down (bad news the earth), believers have an open heaven (good news). While a literal and future expectation of Joel implies the Spirit of prophecy being released, I don’t think God would do this apart from prayer. The New Testament consistently speaks of authority in relation to intimacy. In conclusion, I find it possible and probable, that as the earth is TRANSITIONING from this age to the next (Rev. 11:15-19), the Father will not leave His children without a prophetic witness (obviously I take a post-trib view, the only pre-mil view until 1800’s).

    Again, is it possible that if the Holy Spirit has ceased to give spiritual gifts that He could also re-release them. If Pettegrew’s argument is based on a TRANSITION from one covenant to another, isn’t it possible that gifts will be re-released in a future TRANSITION. To me, it seems consistent that as false prophets and false -christ’s deceive the nations (I Tim. 4:2), God will raise up prophetic witnesses to point to God’s Word. That seems like the kind of Father He is (Matthew 7:7-12).

    • Jack Shaffer July 30, 2012 at 3:49 pm #

      I had Dr. Pettegrew for Theology at TMS and I believe he would agree that in the next dispensation there will be the resurgence of some spiritual gifts. In his book, he is referring to the transition from the administration of the Old Covenant to the Church Age, which he would consider the dawning of the New Covenant ministry of the Spirit. He would consider the Tribulation period as another dispensation of God, though God’s promise in the New Covenant is fulfilled with Israel during that time.

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