Hebrews 2 and the Continuationist - Cessationist Debate4
The author of Hebrews asks, “how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will” (Heb. 2:3-4).
Does this passage support the notion that signs, wonders, miracles, and spiritual gifts of a certain sort ceased to exist at some point in the first century? No.Several things should be noted.
First, the author does not limit this text to the apostles, nor does the word “apostle” even appear in the passage. The phrase “those who heard” would surely include the apostles but by no means must be limited to them. Many more than the Twelve heard Jesus, did miracles, and exercised spiritual gifts.
Second, to “what” or to “whom” did God bear witness by signs and wonders? Most likely he has in mind the gospel of “salvation” (v. 3). Jesus first proclaimed the message, those who heard him confirmed it to those who did not have the privilege of hearing it firsthand. God in turn confirmed the veracity of this gospel by signs, wonders, miracles and gifts of the Spirit.
Third, nothing in this text suggests that the miracles that confirmed the message were performed only by those who originally heard the Lord. The text allows for the possibility that when God testified to the gospel he did it among and through the author of Hebrews and his audience as well. The present tense participle, “God also bearing witness,” at least suggests that “the corroborative evidence was not confined to the initial act of preaching, but continued to be displayed within the life of the community” (William Lane, Hebrews, 1:39).
Fourth, nothing in the text asserts that these miraculous phenomena must be restricted either to those who personally heard the Lord or to those who heard the message of salvation secondhand. Why wouldn’t God continue to testify to the message when it is preached by others in subsequent generations? In other words, in saying that God “bore witness” to the people of the early church he is not necessarily saying that God never “bore witness” for the benefit of those in the church of more recent days.
Fifth, we must not forget that there are other purposes, uses, or benefits in the display of the miraculous beyond that of gospel attestation. Paul believed that “miracles” and “healings” and “prophecy” and the like were designd by God to build up the body of Christ. They were given for “the common good” (1 Cor. 12:7). The error of reductionism must be avoided. That is to say, we must not take one stated purpose of signs, wonders, and miracles and reduce God’s aim in such phenomena to that alone. There is no reason why signs, wonders, and miracles could not easily continue to function in numerous other ways beyond the age of the apostles.
Sixth and finally, note that the author distinguishes between “various miracles” and “gifts” of the Spirit, suggesting that by “gifts” he intends more than what we would call miraculous charismata. I doubt anyone would restrict all spiritual gifts (such as teaching, mercy, evangelism, etc.) to the first century simply because they served to authenticate and attest to the gospel. So I find nothing in this text that would require a cessationist view of spiritual gifts.