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Apostles and Prophets:
Validating Modern Claims of Leadership
An On-Line Book
Copyright © 1985, 2003 - All rights retained by author
Written by: C. W. Booth

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Prophets and the Post-New Testament Gift

Introduction to Prophets

Both the apostles and the prophets are said by Paul to be the foundation of the New Testament Church universal, with Christ Himself as the Churchís Cornerstone. This was certainly a confirmation by Paul that even while he and most of the apostles were still alive that the entire church, and the doctrine of the global church would be founded on what he and the others taught. Paul was aware that he was in fact setting in place the foundation of the church for all future generations. As time has revealed, the apostlesí doctrines have become the New Testament, and with the Book of Revelation, the canon of Scripture was completed and closed before the end of the first century.

In a most real sense, the written teachings of Christ, the apostles, the Old Testament prophets, and the New Testament prophets are the foundation of all Christian dogma and doctrine. When John penned his last words, the foundation of the church was finished. All that we would ever have of the Scriptures was established. No new Scriptures are being written.

When apostles passed off the scene by the end of that first century, they left behind a solid foundation. The gift of "apostle" had played its role and was left cemented in history as one of the greatest gifts the church had ever been given. Since "apostleship" was not a church office to be forever replenished, as is the office/gift of pastor, we turn to the pages of Scripture to be encouraged and edified by those who once were stewards of that eminent foundational gift.

But what of the prophet? That gift too was a foundational gift. However, Scripture-delivering-prophecy pre-dated the apostles by many centuries. Prophecy heralded Christís humble human entrance into His creation. And prophecy was central to the gift of apostleship. But what of the post-New Testament post-canon prophet? Did the gift continue? If so, what is its purpose? Or was the gift also sealed into the foundation of the first century canon?

Definition of Prophet

This one word, "prophets," has created much confusion in the modern Christian world. What was a prophet to the Jews? What was a prophet to the early Christians? What is a prophet to the post-New Testament / post-canon church? And most importantly, what is a prophet in the view of God?

As before, we look at the Greek word to get a feel for the linguistic nature of our subject. Gk: Prophetes--"an interpreter or forthteller of the Divine will" (Holman pg. 1679). In other words, prophets spoke forth Godís own words. Forthtell can mean to foretell the future, or to simply speak forth, and quite often, both at the same time. Whether to predict an event or simply to give instruction to man, they were Godís own words that the prophet spoke forth.

Such a definition, "an interpreter or forthteller of the Divine will", is entirely too simplistic. Teachers, pastors, counselors, those showing mercy, encouragement, admonishing, virtually all greater speaking gifts have an element of interpretation in them as well as an element of speaking out on the will of God. Whether relying on the writings of the Old Covenant prophets or clinging to the words of the apostles of Christ, virtually every person today in some manner speaks out on Godís will for our lives. However, this does not make such people into prophets, thereby showing the inadequacy of the simple definition. All the speaking gifts referenced (teachers, pastors, counselorsÖ) obtain their primary source text from the already written revealed Word of God. As we will see, this is not true of the prophet.

This begs the core question. How did a prophet obtain the specific words of God which he would forthtell?

 

God Presents His Own Definition of "Prophet"

"He said, ĎHear now My words: If there is a prophet among you, I the Lord shall make Myself known to him in a vision. I shall speak with him in a dream.í" (Numbers 12:6)

God says that a prophet is a man to whom He will directly communicate, in supernatural visions and divine dreams. This is direct divine revelation; God communicating with man from His Spirit to the prophet without reliance on written word or the prophetís innate teaching ability. God is not simply empowering a man to preach well, He is communicating new revelation to him.

The mechanism for transferring Godís words into a man is via a vision, a revelation. These are new words from God obtained during a personal and verbal interaction with God. This is starkly different than gaining Spirit-prompted insight into a passage of Scripture that one has been studying. Such insight is simply understanding what has already been revealed. New revelation is obtaining new words from God which have not yet been written in the Scriptures.

When a Prophet Speaks, God is Uttering His Commands

God personally holds all men accountable for keeping His holy Word. Literally this means that God requires us to treat the utterances of the prophets as if God Himself were standing in front of the assembly and issuing commandments. Anyone who disobeys a command of the Lord will be judged by Him and will be found guilty by Him. When a prophet speaks, God Himself is presenting His unalterable will and the people of God are compelled to fully obey. Whatever God commands you to do through the prophet, you shall be careful to do it all.

And how shall we know whether the man has truly received the words which he speaks from God through a direct-encounter divine vision? By carefully evaluating the truthfulness of all the words the prophet speaks; both those words that present doctrine, and those words that predict the future. And who will judge these words? All the people of the Lord must be the judges, for this is what He has commanded.

Whatever I command you, you shall be careful to do; you shall not add to nor take away from it. If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes true, concerning which he spoke to you, saying, ĎLet us go after other gods (whom you have not known) and let us serve them,í you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams; for the Lord your God is testing you to find out if you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall follow the Lord your God and fear Him; and you shall keep His commandments, listen to His voice, serve Him, and cling to Him. But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has counseled rebellion against the Lord your God who brought you from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery, to seduce you from the way in which the Lord your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from among you. (Deuteronomy 12:32-13:5)

As this passage points out, prophets may use signs and wonders to prove their true prophetic office, but, their words must never be heretical. Even if their signs and wonders came true, they were not true prophets if they "counseled rebellion against the Lord your God." Just because a man claimed to be a prophet did not make him a prophet. The people were to judge every word and to find guilty those who prophesied falsely.

"For those nations, which you shall dispossess, listen to those who practice witchcraft and to diviners, but as for you, the Lord you God has not allowed you to do so." (Deuteronomy 18:14)

God makes a distinction between those who prophecy in Satanís name and those who prophesy in Godís name. A prophet of Satan or a prophet of any other false deity is not to be confused with prophets who claim to be of God.

How then can we judge what is a true prophecy and what is a false prophecy? What is the test?

The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him. This is according to all that you asked of the LORD your God in Horeb on the day of the assembly, saying, 'Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, let me not see this great fire anymore, or I will die.' The LORD said to me, 'They have spoken well. I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. It shall come about that whoever will not listen to My words which he shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it of him. But the prophet who speaks a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.' And you may say in your heart, 'How will we know the word which the LORD has not spoken?' When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him. (Deuteronomy 18:15-22)

The test is: judge every word in the prophecy to see if there is a single false word, doctrine, or prediction. When the first false word is found, the prophet is immediately identified as a false prophet and nothing he has said is to be believed. Here, the goal is not to sift through the prophecies looking for the good amongst the bad so as to salvage only the good. The goal is to find even one single false word or false prediction by which to judge the prophet himself as false and then to discard the false prophetís entire body of work. Conversely, if everything he says is true, then all that the prophet says is to be followed as being a command from the Lord.

God says that He will put His words into the mouth of the prophet. In other words, the prophet will not sit there and compose a sermon, God will supernaturally reveal the words to him without benefit of human knowledge. Also, the prophet "shall speak to them all that I command him." (verse 18) Not only will the prophet know what the very words are that he must speak, the prophet will never have to wonder whether he must speak up or not. The prophet will have a direct and clear command via a vision or revelation to speak Godís specially revealed words. When God commands the prophet to speak, he will speak. And the people will listen.

To further help us to understand that the prophetís own will or own sermon is not coming out, God says the prophet will speak in His name. This means we are to accept what the prophet says as we would Scripture itself. Indeed, it is from Godís own Spirit, so, any time a prophet spoke for God he was giving new Scripture-worthy revelation, even if it was not written down and preserved.

Consider the fate of the Jewish prophets who attempted to sermonize in Godís name instead of repeating Godís own words on command, that prophet was to be condemned to death. Even more difficult for the would-be sermonizer, the prophetís revelations had to be infallible, without error. If a prophet forth-told even one word of error he was to be executed. This meant that any future-telling or any doctrine or any divine instructions had to be completely error free. Prophets were not permitted to make doctrinal errors in the name of God. God does not permit His prophets to be in error, not even one presumptuous word, when they speak in His name ("this is what the Lord says").

If we could briefly summarize how God defined "prophet", we would see the following elements:

Such a summary can also be used as a checklist by which to evaluate and validate any modern claims of prophetic utterance. If perchance a modern prophet should fail even one aspect of this test it must be immediately noted that since we are no longer under the civil and criminal constraints of the Law of the Old Covenant the false prophet should not be executed. Instead, we should label him a false prophet, call for his public repentance for misleading the children of the Lord, and no longer permit him to speak in the name of the Lord as a prophet. Should such a one fail to repent in public, he is to be disciplined by the entire church as is explained in Matthew 18.

To illustrate how to test a prophet and apply the criteria checklist show above, we might turn to the prophet Samuel (1 Samuel 3:1-21). When God spoke to Samuel it was so real that Samuel believed the voice was human at first. He was given revelation by God and repeated it to Eli. The revelation (a prediction) came true and Samuel was confirmed as a prophet of God.

No man is confirmed as a prophet of God until he receives and delivers new revelation from God which he received in a vision or a dream. Take the test for yourself. Are you a confirmed prophet?

Consider carefully, if your revelation message had any doctrinal, historical or predictive errors at all, then you are no prophet because that message did not come from God. Deuteronomy 18 is very precise in this regard; "But the prophet who speaks a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speakÖif the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken."

 

Giving the Prophet a Make-Over (Taking the Revelation Out of Prophecies)

Conforming to the recent trend to redefine long established words and imbue them with entirely new definitions, many within the church have modified the historically accepted concept of "prophet". By saying, "historically accepted", I am making reference to the fact that even the apostles believed that prophecy was every bit the error-free divine-revelation communication mechanism that Samuel experienced. In fact, the apostles staked their reputations on the notion that the people of God also believed that prophecy was always error-free and was never based in even small part on the whims of the fallible human mind.

"But know this first of all, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of oneís own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God." (2 Peter 1:20,21)

To loosely paraphrase: "This is important--no interpretation of the prophecy of Scripture belongs only to one man, this is because no prophecy at all was ever a product of the human mind of any man, all prophecy came from men who received revelation from the Spirit and were commanded to speak a message from God."

"Öno prophecy was ever made by an act of human willÖ" No prophecy was ever a product of the human mind. Prophets, when they act as prophets and dispense instruction in the name of the Lord, are prophesying, not teaching. Therefore, they are not using their own ideas and their own will, they are repeating what God has told them to say.

Some have tried to re-invent the prophet as merely a good teacher. Scripture argues against that invention when it says that prophecy is not mentally preparing a teaching, but echoing Godís own words in His name using the voice and the personality of a man. When a man teaches he uses his will to construct a message. When a man prophesies he does not control the content of the message, not even one word. The prophecy comes straight from God through the Spirit.

Prophets in the early church were moved by the spirit to prophesy in exactly the same way as the Old Testament prophets. These messages were not good teachings made up by manís will. Consider these passages of the New Testament that confirm that prophecy in the early church was identical in nature, power, and verbal authority to that of the Old Testament prophets.

"And while they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ĎSet apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.í" (Acts 13:2)

This verbal supernatural message was a prophecy, men moved by the Spirit. They were not moved by a good idea made up by the will of man. They did not get this urge or a funny feeling--they did get a revelation, a real, tangible, oral message that was spoken by the Holy Spirit.

"But if a revelation is made to another who is seated, let the first keep silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted." (1 Corinthians 14:30,31)

Revelation and prophecy are inseparable. When you encounter a verse on prophecy look back at the context, the other verses around it almost always describe the prophecy as a gift of revelation.

In Romans 12:6-8 Paul describes gifts of the Spirit. If the gift of prophecy is simply the gift of teaching then Paul is being quite redundant. Paul lists prophecy as a separate and distinct gift from that of exhortation and from that of teaching.

In 1 Corinthians 12:28 Paul lists prophets and then teachers. If prophets were nothing more than teachers then the list would really read "apostles, teachers, teachers". Such musing aside, prophecy throughout all human history has meant receiving new revelation from God through the Spirit and then being required to repeat that message without error.

"I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him." (Deuteronomy 18:18)

According to Revelation 22:18,19: "I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God shall add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book." (Revelation 22:18,19) New revelation of Scripture is past. The Scripture is itself the completed revelation of the written Word of God to man. Revelation and prophecy are inextricably fused in the Word.

Consider the following list as a challenge to the concept that one is able to construe the word prophet to mean simply "an inspired teacher" or "fiery exhorter":

  1. Even though Scripture shows that prophets spoke publicly, in context, the Bible almost always shows that they were speaking a message of revelation due to the fact that they were prophets (ones who spoke perfect, error-free messages at Godís literal command: 2 Peter 1:21, 3:2; Acts 21:11, 20:23).
  2. No New Testament verse ever defines a prophet as merely a teacher. No New Testament verse ever defines a prophecy as merely a teaching, but always as a revelation.
  3. The prophet gave new revelation; the pastor, exhorter, and teacher gave the explanation of the Scripture which was previously revealed to and through the prophet.
  4. It has been argued that a prophet no longer gives new revelation, but, through the illumination of the Holy Spirit is now capable of taking the Bible (already revealed prophecy) and delivering a message of truth appropriate to the needs of those around him.
  5. However, according to Scripture, we all have that same ability to use Scripture to edify (Ephesians 4:29, Romans 15:15, 1 Corinthians 2:10-13). Either the modern redefinition of a prophet as just an "illumined speaker of truth" is wrong, or, every Christian today is really a prophet in violation of 1 Corinthians 12:29.

    The phrase "motivational gift" as used by some popular seminar speakers is simply unscriptural. The "motivation" of all Christians in using gifts is to serve others by building them up (Ephesians 4:12, 1 Peter 4:10, Ephesians 4:29). It is extremely important that our theology be sound with regard to our motivations and the reasons for which God gave us these gifts. The Bible is quite profound and clear when it tells us that our only pure motivation can be to build up (edify) and serve other Christians in love. The concept of our personal motivations dictating the type of gift we receive is foreign to the pages of Godís Word.

  6. Women were forbidden to teach men in a public meeting (1 Timothy 2:11-13, 1 Corinthians 14:34-37). Yet, women were allowed to pray and prophesy in a public meeting (1 Corinthians 11:4). It is impossible for prophecy to mean "teaching already revealed prophecy" because women were not allowed to teach, only to prophesy and pray.
  7. If a prophet is just a teacher, then why would it not follow that all teachers are prophets? If all teachers are prophets, then why are not all teachings prophecies?
  8. Since the definition of prophet from Deuteronomy 18 is "one who may never speak any doctrinal error in the name of God", then would it not be true that any time a man is introduced as a prophet in regard to his teaching ministry it is essentially the same as claiming that such a man received a literal command from God to deliver that message and no single word or doctrine is, or was, ever in error (no word spoken presumptuously)? What man today would dare to claim his teaching is perfection and his doctrine is fully error-free? Still, the test of prophecy stands, every word must be true or the man has spoken presumptuously and is proven to be no prophet at all.
  9. Today men think , guess, suppose, assume, and try to figure out using multiple choice exams whether they are a prophet; sometimes even attempting to learn how to "cultivate" the gift of receiving words from God. In Scripture (Old or New Testament), men knew with certainty whether they were the prophets because God would simply say to them, "Speak as My prophet and here is the precise message."

Teaching was never considered to be prophecy in the Old Covenant, nor in the New Testament church. Verbal revelation was the heart and soul of the prophetic gift to which we do a horrible disservice when we attempt to part the two.

 

Partially Mistaken Prophecy

One of the most disturbing recent trends in the church has been to undermine the New Testament and the doctrine of inerrency by accusing the New Testament prophets of delivering "partially mistaken" revelations and prophecies. While generally such advocates of the "partially mistaken" prophecies philosophy loudly and staunchly proclaim denials when it is suggested they are advocating a fallible New Testament, it is nonetheless true that this is the logical outcome of their error.

By what evidence do modern men infer that early church prophets spoke unreliably, imprecisely, and occasionally gave presumptuous messages? What evidence they do cite is extraordinarily suspect and weak given that they are attempting to propound a new doctrine that has such sweeping implications.

Most often poor Agabus is trotted out as the sole "proof" that New Testament prophets "often" got their revelations at least partially wrong. We are told that such men as Agabus genuinely saw a true vision, but simply got the retelling of it somewhat muddled, perhaps not fully appreciating what they saw, or perhaps forgetting the sequence of the events they witnessed during the vision.

Such a theory of partially mistaken prophecy flies full in the face of what God has already revealed to us about the error-free nature of the prophetic gift. The Lord promises us that true prophets will not utter even one word presumptuously (Deuteronomy 18, 2 Peter 1:20,21).

Even worse, advocates of the theory of partially mistaken prophecy seem to forget that God promises that the Spirit will return to such men a full remembrance of what they have seen so that they need not rely on failing memory to repeat what Christ has given them to say (John 14:26). To state this a bit differently, if God gave you a message from Christ via the Holy Spirit, that same Spirit will ensure you deliver the message with perfect recall and memory in the moment you speak. If you cannot perfectly recall the message, then this would certainly raise doubts about the authenticity of the original message.

But what of Agabus? Is it true that he is an example of a partially mistaken prophet, and not merely that, but an example of the Scriptures being in error because of a prophetic mistake? Let us put Agabus to the test and see.

"Now at this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. And one of them named Agabus stood up and began to indicate by the Spirit that there would certainly be a great famine all over the world. And this took place in the reign of Claudius." (Acts 11:27,28)

Luke tells us that Agabus was a prophet from Jerusalem. He spoke by the prompting of the Holy Spirit. His message, his forthtelling, was a prediction regarding future historical events, namely, a famine.

Test One for Agabus

Was Agabus a prophet in the style and power of Deuteronomy 18?

So far, Agabus appears just as prophetically authentic as was the prophet Samuel based on the tests established in Deuteronomy. This point should not be lightly taken. Old Testament prophets had their body of work evaluated in just this manner, not in an attempt to separate the good elements of the prophecies from the bad, but to separate the true prophets from the false. The people of God were looking to find the one false word that would prove the prophet was himself false. Lacking such a false word, the prophet was declared true and all that he said was to be obeyed.

Continuing our test of Agabus we find he also prophesied that Paul would be arrested and delivered to the Gentiles.

"And as we were staying there for some days, a certain prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. And coming to us, he took Paul's belt and bound his own feet and hands, and said, "This is what the Holy Spirit says: 'In this way the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.' When we had heard this, we as well as the local residents began begging him not to go up to Jerusalem." (Acts 21:10-12)

Test Two for Agabus

It has been erroneously argued that Agabus failed the test of authentic prophecy and delivered a "partially mistaken" prophecy based on several assertions. These assertions are:

    1. Paul disobeyed the command of the Lord given by Agabus to not go to Jerusalem--if Agabus had been a true prophet speaking with authority, Paul would have obeyed. Therefore, since Paul disobeyed it proves that Agabus was either mistaken in giving Paul a command, or, Agabus lacked the authority reserved for true prophets.
    2. Acts 21:32,33 states that the Romans arrested and chained Paul, not the Jews, demonstrating that Agabus predicted the arrest, but at the hands of the wrong people.

Sadly, those who teach that Agabus was in some way less authoritative in his prophetic gift, or even slightly mistaken in his prophetic utterances have misread the Biblical account.

    1. Agabus never commanded Paul not to go to Jerusalem. Agabus merely predicted that the arrest would occur when Paul went to Jerusalem. It was the local brethren who begged Paul not to go, not Agabus. Why did the brethren beg Paul not to go to Jerusalem? Because they knew Agabus to be a true prophet and did not doubt that Paul would indeed be arrested. Paul did not disobey God or the prophecy of Agabus because Agabus never told Paul not to go to Jerusalem. Verse 14 even states that eventually they all came to understand that it was Godís will for Paul to go to Jerusalem, not a violation of it.
    2. When Agabus demonstrated that Paul would be bound by the Jews and then turned over to the Gentiles at Jerusalem, we must be careful not to read our biases into the actual account of Paulís arrest. Acts 21 most clearly states that the Jews "rushed" at Paul, took "hold" of him, "dragged" him, literally tried to beat him to death, and were still beating him when the Romans arrived. Only then did the Jews turn Paul over to the Gentiles. That Agabus did not tell Paul he would be beaten is not a mistake or a failure, Agabus simply did not give out all the details of the rather dramatic arrest, presumably because God did not command him to give out those details.

But why does Acts 21 not describe that the Jews bound Paul when Agabus said that they would? This is an argument from silence, and constitutes specious logic. Did the Jews tie up Paul when they grabbed him, dragged him, and beat him? Acts 21 does not say one way or the other. But we have the word of a prophet who said that the Jews would indeed bind Paul. With no evidence to contradict that prediction, we must assume that the Jews did bind Paul during the riotous assault on his life.

Finally, we have Paulís own testimony regarding the actual events. Who did Paul credit with causing him to be turned over to the Roman Gentiles? "For this reason some Jews seized me in the temple and tried to put me to death." (Acts 26:21). "After three days Paul called together those who were the leading men of the Jews, and when they came together, he began saying to them, ĎBrethren, though I had done nothing against our people or the customs of our fathers, yet I was delivered as a prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans.í"(Acts 28:17) Paul most certainly believed it was the Jews who turned him over to the Roman Gentiles. Also in numerous instances throughout Acts 25 and 26 the text says that it was only because the Jews pressed charges and accusations against Paul, a man whom the Roman Gentiles consistently found innocent, that Paul remained in the custody of the Gentiles. In other words, it was the fact that the Jews seized Paul and then filed legal and criminal charges with the Romans against Paul that Paul was in the custody of the Gentiles. So in every possible respect it was as Agabus said, the Jews turned Paul over to the Gentiles.

To suggest that Agabus in any way delivered a partially mistaken prophecy regarding Paul being seized by the Jews in Jerusalem and then being turned over to the Gentiles for prosecution is simply the result of a poor reading of the Biblical text and is the result of attempting to read biases into the text. Not only did Agabus get the general concepts correct, of all the details he provided, they too were correct. That Acts 21 does not explicitly confirm that the Jews tied up Paul during the draggings and beatings does not mean that this did not happen. In fact, given Agabusí proven record of accuracy, we must assume that Paul was tied up by the Jews as was foretold by the very Spirit of God.

There is no credible evidence from Godís Word to even suggest that true prophets ever delivered error-laden prophecies. We must therefore cling to the Biblical test of authenticity for proving whether a man is a true prophet of God, namely, that every word proves to be fully true and accurate. If not, that man is not a prophet of the Most High and his visions and dreams are but delusions and fantasy.

 

Prophecy in the 21st Century Church

Has the spiritual gift of prophecy continued to be given by the Spirit to men of God today? If one has come to the conclusion that the gift has ceased and that God is silent, as in the 400 year prophetic silence before Christ was born, then they bear the label "cessationist". Conversely, if one has come to the conclusion that prophecy (and other similar spiritual gifts) are indeed being liberally showered upon the church today, they wear the moniker "non-cessationist".

Prophets Who Played Foundational Roles in the Early Church--Ephesians 2:20

In previous chapters we found that the gift of apostleship was a one-time-in-history occurrence. The apostle was given to the church to introduce the mystery that Christ is the Messiah of both Jews and Gentiles, to witness the Messiahís entire ministry, and to provide eyewitness testimony that the Christ had been resurrected. Paul refers to the apostolic gift as a foundational gift for the inception of the fledging church.

An observant student of the Word will recall that Paul also referred to prophets as being a part of the same foundation, along with Christ as its cornerstone. Does this reference in Ephesians 2:20 require the cessation of the gift of prophecy in the same way that apostleship was for only one time in human history?

To say there is some debate of the precise meaning of Ephesians 2:20 would be somewhat of a deliberate understatement. Rather than address the syntactical rule sets that govern the translation of the Greek phrasing in this complex verse, I will defer to men such as F. David Farnell, R. Fowler White, and Wayne Grudem to present their own cases as to whether the reference is to "apostles who are prophets" or to "apostles and also prophets" and how this implicates a cessationist or a non-cessationist viewpoint.

That New Testament prophets were foundational and integral with establishing the doctrine of the early church and integral with revealing the mystery that Christ is the Messiah of both Jew and Gentile is well documented. Philip, the Prophet and Evangelist (Acts 8:26), played a key foundational role in bringing to the Samaritans the mystery of Christ (Acts 8:5), to the Gentiles of Ethiopia the salvation of Christ (Acts 8:26-39), and preaching the gospel to the predominantly Gentile population of Azotus (Acts 8:40).

Acts 15:32 describes how the prophets Silas and Judas traveled to the Gentiles in the church at Antioch just to teach them that they too could receive salvation from Christ without having to first convert to Judaism or submit to the Law of Moses. The very letter to the Gentiles that they carried on behalf of the church is said to have been written under the direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit (Acts 15:28). This was surely establishing the foundational doctrine of Christian salvation for all Gentiles during one of the most pivotal points in all church history.

What could be more foundational to the church, to the establishment of the doctrine of the church, and to revealing the mystery that Christ is the Savior for Gentiles and for Jews than the penning of actual Scripture? Luke, James, and Jude are all men who can only best be described as prophets. Prophets who wrote Scripture, the foundation of the doctrine of the church.

As one final illustration of the involvement that prophets played in the founding of the doctrine of the church and in the proclamation of the mystery that Christ was the Messiah of all, we approach Acts 13:1-3. Here we see that the church in Antioch had "prophets and teachers" who are listed by name. These prophets received a verbal revelation from the Spirit that Paul and Barnabas had to be released (Gk. ekpempo) to begin the first of their missionary journeys which, even before it ended, took Paul from preaching Christ to the Jews to fulfilling his ministry as "apostle to the Gentiles".

Prophets, just as apostles, were truly foundational to the church, uniting Jews and Gentiles into one temple. Does that mean that the gift ended by 100A.D.?

Future Prophets

Regardless of whether one is a cessationist or a non-cessationist, the Book of Revelation foretells that prophets will return in the end days. Specifically two prophets will appear on the scene who will prophesy for 1260 days while at the same time performing signs and wonders. And not merely signs and wonders, but a fire from their mouths will consume any adversary who attempts them bodily harm.

Present Day Prophets

What of today? We are no longer in the foundational days of the church. We are not yet in the end days, or so it would appear based on the clues given in Revelation, though we may be close. The canon is completed and we do not need any additional Scripture. Christ has already been revealed as the answer to the mystery of the unification of the Jews and Gentiles. We have pastors, teachers, and evangelists to explain the Scriptures and to instruct us in the Word. So what would be the role of prophets today?

What would be the role of prophets today? While this single question does not obviate the question of whether prophecy is a gift for todayís church, it must be somberly considered. And most certainly any answer that includes "partially mistaken prophecy", or, the dissemination of new Scriptures must be immediately discarded.

One of the few practical responses that can be offered is with regard to providing direction and guidance to men. For example, one may well wonder if they should go to this city or that city on a missions trip. How is one to discern the will of God unless God reveals it to the man? Perhaps this may be a legitimate role of a prophet. However, the ever-present dilemma faces us still. How do you know if the one giving you guidance is a true prophet or not? Judging the validity of the prophet still requires implementing the tests of Deuteronomy 18, and every word he utters in the name of the Lord must be found true.

Do Not Despise Prophetic Utterance

Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophetic utterances. But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil. 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22

Many hold that this passage proves that the gift of prophecy is meant to be a perpetual gift to the church. They rightly may point out that the word "despise" means "to reject" or "to treat as being of no worth". And the word "utterances" may be equally well translated as "gift". In other words, "do not reject prophetic gifts or utterances".

And yet, this passage does not command nor imply that the gifts themselves must be continually and perpetually given out to the church by the Holy Spirit. Paul is simply pointing out the same thing to the Thessalonians that he pointed out to the Corinthians. Prophecy is valuable and when it is present, it is not to be rejected for it is the very will of God that is being presented. To reject a true prophecy is to reject the very words of the Lord--to reject the very Spirit of the Lord.

This passage does not state that prophetic utterances will always be with us. Neither does it state that prophetic utterances will end. Perhaps of most importance is the other thing that this passage does not say. It does not say that prophetic utterances cannot be tested for truth and accuracy. Testing the prophet and testing his words is not the same as rejecting prophetic utterances. And rejecting a false prophecy (and therefore rejecting a false prophet) is not in violation of this passage, for this passage is only calling us to not reject true prophecies of the Spirit.

One final note concerning not rejecting prophetic utterances. Of all the prophetic utterances that abound, the one that would place us in eternal peril should we despise or reject it is the very Word of God, the Bible. Our Bible is the written prophetic utterance of the Spirit. It is the book that contains the words of eternal life. This Word can penetrate the heart and cause repentance. Do not despise the prophetic utterance that has been made available to all within the church today.

 

 

 

Bibliography

Bruce, F. F., The Epistle of Paul to the Romans--an Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale Press, 1982; Wm. B,. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids.

Cole, R. A., The Epistle of Paul to the Galatians--An Introduction and commentary, Tyndale Press, 1981; Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids

Kent, H. A. Jr., The Book of Acts (Commentary), Grace Theological Seminary; Winona Lake, Indiana.

New American Standard Bible, 1973; The Lockman Foundation, La Habra, California.

New American Standard--Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible--Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Dictionaries, 1981; The Lockman Foundation, Holman Bible Publishers, Nashville

The Ryrie Study Bible--New Testament, New American Standard Version, 1976; Moody Press, Chicago



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