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What early Christian writings described the "cessation of prophets"? (Solved)

Discussion in 'The Ancient Way - Eastern Orthodox' started by rakovsky, Jan 17, 2020.

  1. rakovsky

    rakovsky Newbie

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    (Update: Based on the research and discussion below, the answer is basically Tertullian and Origen)

    Book I of the Christian Sibyllines from the first few centuries AD appears to describe the foundation of the church of the Christians who follow the New Covenant, then the leading of the church by the apostles, then maybe the killing or suppression of the apostles by governments, then the defeat of the Judean rebels and looting of Judea by Rome's armies, all of which happened in the 1st century:
    Charlesworth ascribes the looting by the Romans in the final verse above to what occurred under Vespasian in c. 70 AD. Peter, Paul, and James had been killed earlier, in c.62-63 AD. So I get the sense that the passage means that the "prophets" ceased (eg. with the deaths of leading apostles like Paul, Peter, and James), then a Roman leader (ie. Vespasian) destroyed and looted the Temple.

    Phillip Long summarizes the passage this way on his Reading Acts blog:
    Reading this passage made me consider whether other early Christian writings contained this concept. It's tough to say that prophecy really totally ceased in the first century, since for instance early Christians considered Melito of Sardis in the 2nd century to be a prophet.

    James Ash writes about Origen's position in "The Decline of Ecstatic Prophecy in the Early Church" (http://cdn.theologicalstudies.net/37/37.2/37.2.2.pdf):
    In the "Cessation of the Charismata", Benjamin Warfield writes:
    Unfortunately, I didn't find other early Christian writers expressing this idea of a Cessation of Prophets occurring during the Christian period.
     
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2020
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  2. ArmyMatt

    ArmyMatt Regular Member Supporter

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    I was always taught that all Christians are called to be God's prophets, because Christ the Prophet like unto Moses still lives.
     
  3. rakovsky

    rakovsky Newbie

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    That makes sense. I am just looking for other early places that this concept of Cessation showed up. St. John Chrysostom and St. Augustine expressed the idea that there were less speaking in tongues and such signs than before, but they were not really early writers like I am referring to.
     
  4. ArmyMatt

    ArmyMatt Regular Member Supporter

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    not sure, but it'd be interesting to see what you dig up.
     
  5. rakovsky

    rakovsky Newbie

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    What I cited above was all that I dug up. James Ash's article goes through the 2nd century writers like Irenaeus and comes up with a general idea that the gifts of the Spirit were still prevalent in that period, although with the battle against Montanism it looks like there was something of a decline.
    So basically your statement was correct that EOs have prophecy, but along with this statement, the general sense from Patristics is that the prevalence has declined since the early period. I quoted from Irenaeus (2nd century), and then from St. John Chrysostom and St Augustine who have this position in section IV. The belief that charismatic “gifts” are widespread in my article contrasting the modern Charismatic movement with Orthodoxy here:
    Modern Charismatic Movement Similar to Charismaticism in the Early Church? - Orthodox Reformed Bridge
    So it looks like in the 2nd century there are indications from the three sources in my OP of a decline in prophecy, but it looks like the Sibylline Oracle states it too strongly in calling it "Cessation" or a "stopping" of prophecy. William Deane writes in his commentary on Book I of the Sibylline Oracles that it is probably from the 3rd century AD:
    The third century date would better match the part about there being a cessation in the 1st century, since in the 1st-2nd century they tended to talk not so much about a cessation, but only maybe about a decline, at least in the two other sources like Origen whom I cited in the OP.
     
    Last edited: Jan 17, 2020
  6. ArmyMatt

    ArmyMatt Regular Member Supporter

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    it could also be that prophecy as seen in the OT has ceased since the Messiah has come.
     
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  7. rakovsky

    rakovsky Newbie

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    To go along with what you are saying:
    Some writers talking about the cessation of the Prophets meant the end of the period of Old Testament prophets. For instance, the Muratorian Canon refers to the "completion of the prophets" as something happening before the apostles' time, so it is really talking about the end of the OT prophets. But James Ash in his article "The Decline of Ecstatic Prophecy in the Early Church" maybe misread the Muratorian Canon as if it meant that prophecy per se ended before the apostle' preaching.
    Here is what the Muratorian Canon says:
    In the quote above "the Prophets" refers in fact to the OT books, and it isn't implying that believers who gave inspired predictions vanished with the end of the OT period.

    But regardless, when the Sibylline Oracles talk about the Cessation of Prophets, they are talking about the Christian period:
    ie. Named after Christ, the Christian Church will sprout from the nations, and then afterwards there are wise leaders (eg. the apostles or bishops), and then afterwards there is a cessation of Prophets. John the Baptist, at least in the Biblical portrayal, was killed before the Apostles led the Church, so the Cessation of Prophets likely means something else than the end of OT prophecy.

    I read that maybe actually John the Baptist died after Jesus' time, but anyway if one is to generalize, the period of the OT Prophets preceded the time of the Apostles' leadership of the Church, which in turn preceded the decline of Christian prophets of whom we read in the Didache and other early 1st-2nd century writings.
     
  8. ArmyMatt

    ArmyMatt Regular Member Supporter

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    it could be a broader term. the phrase "after these things" can have an eschatological understanding as well.
     
  9. rakovsky

    rakovsky Newbie

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    Sure, I can expect that for some writings, but in this Oracle, the next lines go:
    So the "Cessation of Prophecy" that the Oracle talks about comes after the establishment of the wise leaders (mid-1st century, maybe upon Jesus' death or Pentecost) but before the Romans ravage the Jews' treasures, referring to the 70 AD Roman conquest of Judea when the Temple was looted. The Romans' ravaging of the Hebrews' gold and silver sounds like the events of 70 AD when the Temple was looted more than what would be for us a future eschatological event.
     
  10. ArmyMatt

    ArmyMatt Regular Member Supporter

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    sure, but that doesn't mean it's not also eschatological.
     
  11. rakovsky

    rakovsky Newbie

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    I value your input and know that Christian revelation and prophecy often includes symbolic interpretation. What would exactly the eschatological understanding of the Cessation of Prophecy mean? That in our literal future the gift of Prophecy will basically cease from among believers? That would not fit the context in my view, nor would it fit very well with my understanding of EO eschatology.

    The coming of the "wise leaders" after the creation of the Christian Church/Sprout seems to refer to a literal, past event in chronological time - the coming of the apostles to leadership in the 1st century Church and the appointment of bishops, rather than to an eschatological event that would be in our literal future. I guess that you could interpret the appointment of the apostles as something occurring outside time in an eschatological sense like the Last Supper being a timeless event, but the appointment of the wise leaders seems to be more of a chronological literal event because it actually was a literal event in time, and the passage introduces their appointment by saying "after these things", meaning that it occurred chronologically after them, rather than in a purely timeless, extradimensional or out of time sense. Even if you consider the appointment of the apostles to be timeless, at least in the passage it looks to be referring to the appointment in a chronological sense.

    Also, the sacking of Jerusalem was foremost a chronological event with theological implications, like the Temple no longer being the focal point of direct worship. So in a sense that was eschatological, but here it is most likely meant literally and chronologically.

    So based on the surrounding context, the Cessation of Prophecy would also tend to be meant in a literal chronological context, just like, say, the cessation of the Old Testament prophecy occurred literally in the 1st century with the death of John the Baptist or earlier.

    If you want to say that the Cessation of Prophecy is a future eschatological event here, then it would entail that the Roman sacking of Jerusalem would also be meant eschatologically, as it comes afterward. And then we would have to get into some kind of spiritual, timeless, eschatological understanding of the sacking of Jerusalem, and I feel that this goes too far for the Oracles. The Oracles talked alot about Roman emperors and imperial policy and Roman events, which also are generally taken to be specifically about numerous Roman emperors known to have the same kinds of experiences during the time when the Oracles were considered written, ie the 1st to 4th centuries AD.
     
    Last edited: Jan 18, 2020
  12. ArmyMatt

    ArmyMatt Regular Member Supporter

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    that's the thing about eschatology. it uses current events (around the time it was written), which culminates at the end of time.
     
  13. rakovsky

    rakovsky Newbie

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    Good discussion.
     
  14. rakovsky

    rakovsky Newbie

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    Well, in the Oracle, the prophets stopped after wise leaders were appointed, rather than stopping since the Messiah came. In the excerpt in the OP, the Messiah resurrected, wise leaders were appointed, and then prophets ceased and then the Romans conquered the Jews' treasures.
    The Oracle does not chronologize the events in terms of the Messiah coming, and then the prophets ceasing, and then the Messiah resurrecting, which is the chronology that would fit the Gospel narrative if "a cessation of prophets" referred to the Old Testament prophets. Back in the early Christian period, there were Christian preachers who were called "prophets" like in the Didache. This Christian sense of the term fits better with a reading of the Oracle as referring to the cessation of prophets due to the chronology there.

    It doesn't make everything in the Oracle's use of the term and its scheme (ie. wise leaders, then cessation of prophets, then the conquest of Jerusalem) great though. IIRC, Augustine and John Chrysostom referred to cessation (actually a severe decline) as happening with the end of the apostles' era, and the Evangelist John was still having visions after the Roman conquest of Jerusalem.
     
  15. ArmyMatt

    ArmyMatt Regular Member Supporter

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    unless the wise men are the Apostles, who are "fishermen most wise" because of the Messiah sending the Spirit.
     
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