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Prophecy in the New Covenant, Part Two

By Marv

In part one I argue that a fundamental distinction of prophecy under the New Covenant is that it occurs within a prophetic community, where every regenerate individual has the ability to hear God’s voice for him/herself. At the people’s own request immediately following the Sinai lawgiving, God agrees henceforth to speak to them through an intermediary, and not directly. The people agreed in return to heed the prophet’s word as God’s. They would fail to do so, of course.  Nevertheless in Deut. 18:17, God calls this request a good one. Whether this represents His complete approval or merely acquiescence to their desire, He has something better for the Body of Christ, beginning with Pentecost.

This new thing, this better thing is the Spirit poured out on “all flesh,” every member of the redeemed community without distinction. All can hear God’s voice. Therefore, prophecies given within this prophetic community can be weighed (diakrino, 1 Cor. 14:29), and tested (dokimazo, 1 Thes. 5:21) by others, who also hear the Lord’s voice.

This was not possible of the Old Testament Israelites (except within the prophetic circle: 1 Kings 22:1-28). The general population depended on the few prophetic individuals, as intermediaries, and were obliged to obey them (Deut. 18:19). Consequently, the prophet wielded enormous power and authority in what he said, and was answerable to severe consequences for malfeasance.

Two particularly egregious deviations even represented capital offenses, according to Deut. 18: 2o:

  1. Wilful deception in presenting a message “in God’s name” when God never commended it; a violation of the third commandment, using God’s name in vain.
  2. Prophesying in the name of a false god, a violation of the first commandment, having another god before YHWH.

This passasge is not infrequently subject to a cursory reading, leading some spurious propositions, regarding prophecy, whether before or after Pentecost:

a. That this passage teaches that prophetic utterances are infallable or inerrant (like Scripture). This notion can be quickly dispatched by looking at the premise that v. 22 actually presents; any given prediction by a prophet speaking in the name of the Lord will turn out (a) true or (b) not true. This is not exacly the definition of infallable.

We need to understand that prophecy happens in two parts: First, the word of the Lord comes to the prophet (Jer. 1:4, and numerous other places). Second, the prophet proclaims to others what the Lord said to him/her:

 But the LORD said to me,
  “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’;
 for to all to whom I send you, you shall go,
 and whatever I command you, you shall speak.
(Jeremiah 1:7 ESV)

The first part is an act of God, and therefore perfect. The second an act of man and subject to human frailty.  It may be performed flawlessly or otherwise. The designation of the Scriptures as inspired (theopneustos, 2 Tim. 3:16), indicates that in the case of the Canonical text this second part was in fact delivered flawlessly. They are thus guaranteed to the reader. The Scriptures never give us such a guarantee of oral prophecy, whether in the Old or New Testaments. What the OT regulation does do, as opposed to the NT,  is constrain obedience.

b. Another spurious proposition is that the death penalty attached to any imperfect act of prophesying. This is not what the text says, however. Deut. 18:20 specifies a presumptious act: “the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak…” The verb translated “presumes” is zud, which indicates insolent, proud, or arrogant action.

A few examples suffice to show the nature of such an act:

 But if a man willfully (yazid) attacks another to kill him by cunning, you shall take him from my altar, that he may die.
(Exodus 21:14 ESV)

 So I spoke to you, and you would not listen; but you rebelled against the command of the LORD and presumptuously (tazidu) went up into the hill country.
(Deuteronomy 1:43 ESV)

This is about deliberate, premeditated disregard of God’s truth, not a mistake. Here is a clear example of this happening:

 And he went after the man of God and found him sitting under an oak. And he said to him, “Are you the man of God who came from Judah?” And he said, “I am.” Then he said to him, “Come home with me and eat bread.” And he said, “I may not return with you, or go in with you, neither will I eat bread nor drink water with you in this place, for it was said to me by the word of the LORD, ‘You shall neither eat bread nor drink water there, nor return by the way that you came.’” And he said to him, “I also am a prophet as you are, and an angel spoke to me by the word of the LORD, saying, ‘Bring him back with you into your house that he may eat bread and drink water.’” But he lied to him. So he went back with him and ate bread in his house and drank water.
(1 Kings 13:14-19 ESV)

Verse 22 gives a rough test, to distinguish when “the prophet has spoken it presumptuously.” The test is that an event predicted either happens as predicted or fails to do so. Clearly this makes sense, but we do have to consider its range of sensitivity and specificity. First as to sensitivity, even a fake prediction can “come true” by luck, through manipulation, or by simply being a clever guess. At any rate, the text doesn’t state that a prediction that does come true is by this fact a genuine word from God. Another text tells us as much:

 “If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the LORD your God is testing you, to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.
(Deuteronomy 13:1-3 ESV)

In regard to specificity, even some instances of true God-commanded prediction may fail to occur as predicted. For example, the prophet Jonah made a simple prediction: “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (Jonah 3:4). This prophesied destruction did not happen. This was, however, because God relented, after the Ninevites repented. The prediction itself gave no hint of being conditional, but it was, by virtue of a principle that God enunciates elsewhere:

 If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it.
(Jeremiah 18:7-10 ESV)

Another interesting instance is 1 Kings 22:5-28. Here the true prophet Micaiah gives a sarcastic false prophecy: “Go up and triumph; the LORD will give it into the hand of the king” (v. 15), even though he has just promised: “As the LORD lives, what the LORD says to me, that I will speak.” (v. 14). The sarcasm appears to be plain to all, however, as the king doesn’t buy any of it. In fact, the king has the right idea:

 But the king said to him, “How many times shall I make you swear that you speak to me nothing but the truth in the name of the LORD?”
(1 Kings 22:16 ESV)

Micaiah then goes on to deliver the actual prophecy, with dire consequences for the king. He even evokes the Deut. 18 test:  

And Micaiah said, “If you return in peace, the LORD has not spoken by me.” (1 Kings 22:28 ESV)

In another instance, the prophet Nathan spoke not presumptuously, but carelessly when David inquired of the Lord through him:

 …the king said to Nathan the prophet, “See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells in a tent.” And Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that is in your heart, for the LORD is with you.”
(2 Samuel 7:2-3 ESV) 

This was an error, but far from being stoned or rejected from ministry, God himself goes on to deliver a corrective message, and an edifying one, through Nathan, (2 sam. 7:4-17), an important Messianic prophecy.

There are then multiple ways for a prophecy to be delivered imperfectly, even in OT times, short of wilful deception: errors of hearing, errors of memory, of interpretation, of application. Though I’ve been using the phrase the voice of God, this “voice” is sometimes actually a visual perception. Micaiah, for example experienced both visual and verbal revelation:

And he said, “I saw all Israel scattered on the mountains, as sheep that have no shepherd. And the LORD said, ‘These have no master; let each return to his home in peace.’”
(1 Kings 22:17 ESV)

The frequency of visual revelation is underlined by this editorial statement in 1 Samuel:

 Formerly in Israel, when a man went to inquire of God, he said, “Come, let us go to the seer,” for today’s “prophet” was formerly called a seer.
(1 Samuel 9:9 ESV) 

Accordingly the initial revelation may be a chalenge to “read.” Literally enigmatic:

 And he said, “Hear my words: If there is a prophet among you, I the LORD make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream. Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house. With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?”
(Numbers 12:6-8 ESV)

Paul directly alludes to this passage, speaking about prophecy in terms of “seeing”:

 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
(1 Corinthians 13:12 ESV)

Paul’s “face to face” is Moses’ “mouth to mouth.” Less obviously, Paul’s “dimly” (en ainigmati=Lit. “in an enigma) reflects the LXX of Num. 12:8 “in riddles” (di’ ainigmatôn). There is certainly no warrant for the baseless assumption of some that the voice of the Lord is always (or even frequently) audible. Or clear.

So when we come to a post-Pentecost example open to question, as the frequently cited prophecy of Agabus in Acts 21:

 While we were staying for many days, a 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, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’”(Acts 21:33 ESV)

at least one detail was technically inaccurate it would seem:

 Then the tribune came up and arrested him and ordered him to be bound with two chains. He inquired who he was and what he had done.

The Romans not the Jews. Is this an error? Does it matter? Did Agabus hear the words “This is how the Jews etc.”? Or did he see a picture and describe what he thought he saw?

The general point was reinforced by multiple other prophecies:

 And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me.
(Acts 20:22-23 ESV)

 And having sought out the disciples, we stayed there for seven days. And through the Spirit they were telling Paul not to go on to Jerusalem.
(Acts 21:4 ESV)

Are these prophecies contradictory, that sending him to Jerusalem and those warning him to stay away? More likely the urging him not to go was the addition of well-meaning human hearts, though the revelatory information was real.

One thing is certain, Paul did not obey those prophecies warning him off. It is of course true that he was an apostle, and that trumps any number of prophets. However he had been perfectly willing to be led by prophetic words before (Acts 13:1-3). At any rate, prophetic words in these post-Pentecost times are taken seriously, seen as helpful, useful, vital, giving purpose, granting courage, allowing preparation. What they are not, particularly, is unquestioningly authoritative, not individually at least.

They are a function of the Body, the community: men, women, and children, not the hierarchy of the nation of Israel. Thus the number of prophetic voices increases greatly, even exponentially, with Pentecost. One might also say God threw the Spirit to the wind, landing on individuals of all kinds, and at all levels of maturity. Not so apostleship. Not so the place of the teacher.

The Pentecost event has rightly been called the “democratization” of prophecy. It has been detatched from the hierarchy. No longer the property of the generals, it has been given to the enlisted personnel–even buck privates.

So am I saying that in post-Pentecost prophecy the “standards” are lower? No, that is not what I am saying. But the dynamics of the process are different. God is as jealous as ever for every word that proceeds from his mouth, but it is protected now by the community of faith, not by a trained, professional elite. Prophecy is no longer a government function. It belongs to the people.

It is not “okay” to deliver an imperfect prophecy, but in God’s New Covenant arrangement, the whole range of  Body members possess the ability to hear the voice of God and to speak prophecies. Necessarily, then, this includes the immature, the untrained, even those with questionable character and shaky theology. Even in the Old Testament era, prophets did not emerge fully formed, like Athena from the head of Zeus. There was a learning process. We see a glimpse into what prophetic training consists of in 2 Kings 6:1-7, where  we see Elijah with a band of disciples, the “sons of the prophets.”

Then as now, with prophecy as with any other skill, no one does it well who did not at first do it poorly. This is true with teaching, with evangelism, with administration, any function you can name within the Body of Christ. Why on earth would we imagine it any different with prophecy?

Again, what guards the integrity of the function is the multiplicity of practitioners. If it is true, as I am suggesting, that the “democratization” of this gift leaves any individual expression of it open to human frailty, the flip side is that “in an abundance of counselors there is safety.” (Proverbs 11:14 ESV) Indeed, a group function with weighing and testing, checks and balances should ultimately prove more reliable over the long haul than an authoritative elite, however tightly regulated.

In regard to the function of post-Pentecost prophecy in the twenty-first century, I contend that the function is still as vitally present as ever in the Father’s plan for the Body of Christ through the Holy Spirit. However, the question may legitimately asked how many, if any, are really exercising this gift well? It has to be admitted, that if there is indeed a learning component, the stream of discipleship in this area has been interrupted. If immature, imperfect practitioners can always be expected to exist, these have to be more numerous than otherwise in the current situation. Does this have to remain the case? I don’t think so.

But we should understand that prophecy in the New Covenant is a function of the forest, with variations occurring from tree to tree. We do need to give attention to our trees, however.

Prophecy in the New Covenant, Part One

By Marv

Be careful what you ask for. You might get it.

Sinai. Year One of the new Nation constituted by YHWH Himself, for His own purposes. Yesterday they were an ethnic group, an agglomeration of clans and tribes, united by common ancestry: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob. In the incubator of Egyptian bondage they had been fruitful and multiplied. Then, through Moses, YHWH came to take them to Himself:

You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.
(Exodus 19:4 ESV)

They saw it for themselves.

Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”
(Exodus 19:5-6 ESV)

Moses heard and spoke these words to the people. But YHWH wanted the people to hear Him themselves.

All the people answered together and said, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do.” And Moses reported the words of the people to the LORD. And the LORD said to Moses, “Behold, I am coming to you in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and may also believe you forever.”
(Exodus 19:8-9 ESV)

He then delivered His law before them, and they both saw and heard. But they were afraid of His fire and His voice and did not want to hear it themselves.

Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.
(Exodus 20:18-21 ESV)

A decisive moment. Called to faith, they responded with fear. Privileged to hear the voice of God, they rejected that privelege. Though they themselves were to be a “kingdom of priests,” they wanted an intermediary. God gave them what they asked for.

Moses continued as intermediary, God’s prophet for them. Through the years that followed He sent other prophets, other intermediaries, until the time when He sent THE Prophet, His Son.

 “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen—just as you desired of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ And the LORD said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.
(Deuteronomy 18:15-18 ESV)

God’s grace shone through, but we can wonder what might have been for the generations to come, if the people on that day had not asked not to hear God’s voice. Understand, it folded into God’s sovereign plan, but He says He would speak through an intermediary and not to them, because they had asked for this.  But the arrangement came with strict specifications, both for the people and for the intermediary:

 And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him. But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’
 (Deuteronomy 18:19-20 ESV)

Severe consequences on both sides, but they had what they asked for. And they promised to heed the word of God’s prophet, though they no longer saw the manifestation of God’s glory or heard his voice. They had the Word through the prophets, and then the Prophet Himself, but the people failed:

 And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.
(John 5:37-40 ESV)

But with the Son comes something different, the New Covenant.

 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”
(Jeremiah 31:31-33 ESV)

Though some of this is “not yet,” there is an “already” in the Body of Christ, through the Holy Spirit:

 And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
(2 Corinthians 3:3-6 ESV)

And in this New Covenant, through the Son of God, the Holy Spirit is poured out on all believers, starting with Pentecost. The arrangement to which God agreed at Sinai is reversed. He came again in sound and fire:

And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them.
(Acts 2:2-3 ESV)

All God’s people can henceforth hear His voice.:

 And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
 that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
 and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
  and your young men shall see visions,
  and your old men shall dream dreams;
 even on my male servants and female servants
  in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.
(Acts 2:17-18 ESV)

Moses himself had foreshadowed this situation:

 But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the LORD’s people were prophets, that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!”
(Numbers 11:29 ESV)

So He has now done. A profoundly fundamental distinction of the Body of Christ to the nation of Israel under the Old Covenant is the Spirit poured out on all and His voice now present to all. How would the experience of Israel been different had they not rejected His voice? We may not know, but we do know how it is different today.

In the first place, the severity of the Deuteronomy 18 consequences were based on the people’s unwillingness to hear, to which God acquiesced:

 And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him. But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the LORD has not spoken?’—when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.
(Deuteronomy 18:19-22 ESV)

In the Body of Christ, now that “all God’s people are prophets,” the dynamics are very different, since all can hear for themselves:

Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.

But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.

Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.
(1 Corinthians 14:1-5; 24-25; 29-33 ESV)

Now questions are frequently asked about prophecy in the Body of Christ, whether the words spoken out are infallable or inerrant as the Scriptures are; whether any inaccuracies are tantamount to false prophecy; whether the dire penalties of Deuteronomy 18, or some similarly serious consequence be directed to the one so prophesying imperfectly.

This I intend to address in the second part.

I feel like ice is slowly melting

By Marv

“Charismatics need to chill out. Evangelicals need to thaw out.”

So spoke a pastoral mentor of mine, some two decades back, on his premise that the two sides would eventually meet in the “radical middle,” as Vineyard history has termed it. He has proved more right than not. I was a thaw-out case myself–in my paradigm shift to Continuationism. Well before I had reached ambient temperature I realized there was scarcely straw to grasp at in the Scriptures that I could construct a Cessationist straw man out of. The rest–coming to view Continuationism in a positive light–as affirmatively supported in the Bible–took a little more time–process. So I know the symptoms.

When all you have left to operate on is your preconceived notions, these still take a bit of processing. You tend to figure child-rearing experts at least have children of their own. You don’t go for business advice to those who’ve never run a business. And sooner or later you realize that if anyone has understanding of how spiritual gifts actually work–they are more likely to be Continuationists than Cessationists. So long-held Cessationist notions will likely have to give way, but it takes time.

I venture, therefore, a diagnosis. If you want to see a thaw in process, keep an eye on C. Michael Patton’s posts in the ongoing Patton-Storms summit at Parchment and Pen, AKA “Why I Am/Not Charismatic.” Something in his remarks seems diffferent this time around. I think I detect some movement (and it isn’t just because on the latest TUP podcast he seems to have quoted your truly, AKA “somebody.”) Could it be he has passed the point of no return? Only time will tell.

The latest round has covered prophecy, and in it Sam Storms lays out an excellent presentation of what prophecy looks like post-Pentecost. With the “democratization” of prophecy, by the coming of the Holy Spirit, everyone in the Body of Christ can hear the voice of the Spirit. As the priesthood of the believer contrasts with the Levitical priesthood of Israel, the “prophethood of the believer” (as my colleague Scott has explained), removes prophecy from the theocratic authority structure of the Old Covenant.

The dispensational change has a consequent effect on the nature of post-Pentecost prophecy in terms of its level of authority, but Patton, Dispensationalism notwithstanding, continues to party like it’s A.D. 32. However his latest round of objections to Storm’s presentation, sounds to me less like his putting up a vigorous defense than it does trying to wrap his mind around unaccustomed ideas. The fact that he has to dig deep into the Old Testament to back up his sticking points suggests he realizes he’s still driving his father’s Oldsmobile. What are some of these areas?

Prophecy in Church history

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, of all people, cites a few instances of prophetic confrontation from the pulpit, where secrets of the heart were disclosed (1 Cor. 14:25). Patton points out that Spurgeon was nevertheless a Cessationist. No doubt he was, but the “all flesh” of Acts 2:17-18 includes Cessationists as well as Continuationists, though it is arguably more consistent to do so as the latter. I can look back and see instance of hearing God’s voice during my Cessationist days. So can Patton, according to a recent post.

Prophecy in relation to Scripture

Patton also bristles at the idea of fallable prophecy, hung up on a parallel between spoken prophecy and the written Word of God. The notion of “slippage room” between revelation received and prophecy given strike him as akin to a liberal, even “deistic” view of the inspiration of the Scriptures. Deism is an odd label for a view that affirms “manifestations of the Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:7) are “normative” for today. But what Patton voices as an objection is essentially his own restatement of what Storms has been arguing is the nature of post-Pentecost spoken prophecy as contrasted with the Scriptures. Patton gets it, but it makes him uncomfortable. If liberals bring Scripture down to the level of non-Canonical spoken prophecy, it is because they discount the guarantee of 1 Tim. 3:16, which guarantee is given to the Scriptures but never to non-Canonical prophecy.

Prophecy in relation to teaching

It is an odd charge–this “deism” business–in that, as a teacher, his own process of expositing the Scriptures operates virtually identically to Storms’ process interpreting and applying received revelation. The step of “observation” is different, reading the Bible vs. hearing the voice of God afresh, but why from that point is it more “deistic” to grant fallable human input as a possible contaminant of the spoken prophecy than it is in the case of spoken teaching? Because the Spirit should be expected to protect His word? And we shouldn’t have the same expectation in terms of the Spirit’s work of illumination? If anything, the contemporary view of teaching, as a charisma, that it isn’t particularly “supernatural” is more open to the charge of deism than anything suggested by Storms in regard to prophecy.

More than a little disconcerting is the double standard Patton voices, apprehensive against fallability in prophecy as tantamount to outright false prophecy. This in view of the fact that it is to the teachers of the Church that we owe the false doctrine known as Cessationism. For centuries the teachers have pushed out the prophets, leading the body in a rousing chorus of “I have no need of you.” Patton’s sticking point here is that prophecy must be held to a higher standard than teaching–to wit, perfection–on the grounds that prophecy is “claiming new revelation.”

Never mind that the interpreter of Scripture has much less excuse for hearing revelation incorrectly, in that he or she has to do with the established, written, canonical revelation, which has been known and read for centuries, discussed, debated, argued. With two millennia of interpretive tradition, shelves full of commentaries, and three to four years of Seminary training in analyzing texts the teacher has an enormous advantage, prophetic revelation typically being fleeting, faint, indistinct. Prophecy, like its sister gift, teaching, entails skills to be learned. Egad, to view my seminary preaching videos would make stoning seem a mercy. To a large extent the church is only now relearning how to prophesy, a further step in reformation, but we ought to insist on flawlessness–while in the matter of teaching the Body of Christ is so wildly divergent that huge percetages of the exercise of this gift must be pure error?

At any rate New Testament does not share Patton’s higher standard of prophecy than teaching, much the opposite:

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” (James 3:1)

But with regard to prophecy:

Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets.” (1 Cor. 14:29-32)

This last sentence, “the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets” is what gives the slippage room discussed above, and precisely why there is no guarantee of infallability with spoken prophecy. The Scripture is different; it is precertified–God-breathed (1 Tim. 3:16). Even though “no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man” and those who prophecy are “carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21), the spirit of the prophet remains subject to the prophet, and thus must be weighed. Not so a “prophecy of Scripture” (emphasis mine), which is guaranteed not be a product of “someone’s own interpretation” (ibid. v. 20).

So how is it that Patton the Bible teacher says: “The congregation or students should always be reminded that the teacher is fallible since he or she has not received divine revelation.” (emphasis in original). Really? Um, then what’s that book in your hand, Michael?

Prophecy as encouragement

Patton seems now to appreciates the truth that prophecy is for upbuilding and encouragement (1 Cor. 14:3), and is not just a so-called “sign gift.” Still he is wary of false encouragement: “the ability of a prophecy to encourage is not the test of its veracity.” That is very true, which is why prophecies need to be tested.

Prophecy in New Testament examples

As invaluable as NT precept regarding post-Pentecost prophecy are the Canonical examples of it in the pages of Acts. If post-Pentecost prophecy bore the same authority as Scripture, or as the Old Testament prophet, Paul would have been in violation by continuing to Jerusalem even though “through the Spirit they were telling Paul not to go on to Jerusalem.” (Acts 21:4). Patton seems not quite sure what to do with this example.

The oft-cited Agabus example is that the wording of his prophecy was not technically accurate (Acts 21:10). He said it was the Jews who would bind Paul, when in fact it was the Romans. Now is this an “error” in an otherwise legitimate prophecy? It’s a debatable argument. Patton’s response is to point to Peter’s Pentecost sermon in which he says to the Jews “you” crucified Jesus, since of course it was really the Romans. (Acts 2:36). The two instances are not quite parallel. Certainly it was Roman soldiers who drove the nails, but it was in response to the vox populi despite Pilate’s inclination to release Jesus:

And Pilate said to them, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him.” (Mark 15:14).


Still, now it’s Patton who is defending the prophet by comparing prophecy with teaching. So maybe this is progress.

Prophecy in the Grudem understanding

Wayne Grudem has been the go-to guy on the view of prophecy that Storms advances, ever since the publication of The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today in 1989, an expansion of his earlier 1982 PhD dissertation The Gift of Prophecy in 1 Corinthians. Patton asks whether anyone has espoused this view prior to Grudem. It is true that novelty is not particulary a recommendation in theology, but in the history of the church the apostolic teaching has frequently had to be rediscovered, and the charge of innovation has not been wanting. That Paul himself had to instruct the church not to despise prophecy (1 Thes. 5:20), does suggest Grudem is on solid ground. At any rate, the appendices of Grudem’s book, at least the revised edition (2000) contain examples of similar understanding from at least as far back as the Puritan era.

The Scriptures are there to be examined, however, and I think that Grudem does little more than present what is there to be read. I don’t know how many studies have been done by those taking prophecy seriously as something to be practiced today. Many if not most studies previous to his had been safely tucked away in Cessationism.

Ultimately, it is the Scriptures that must be the guide in this matter, not tradition. I am pretty sure that if one’s committment is to Cessationism, the statements of Scripture need not prove an insurmountable obstacle. However, I am all the more certain that to one passionate for Biblical truth–as Patton has always shown himself to be–shorn of Cessationist presuppositions, as he seems more and more to be–the Bible will ultimately speak for itself. And if those of us who support non-Canonical prophecy for today are correct, the full thaw will come in time.

Being Particular

By Marv 

To Be Continued… has been covering the discussion going on between C. Michael Patton and Sam Storms over at Parchment and Pen, entitled “Why I am/not Charismatic.” The title comes from Patton, who previously authored a series of eight solo posts with a similar title (“Why I am not Charismatic“). In case we forgot to remind you, we authored a part-for-part response to his series, available here in a single volume.

This time around the title differs in terms of a slash, which presumably allows Storms to read it “Why I am Charismatic.” The very title is an example of the power of being able to define the terms. Due to baggage of the word Charismatic, it is not the main term by which Storms self-identifies, though it is the way Patton identifies what he is not. So I’m afraid there is an inherent asymmetry to the discussion, as phrased.

Here at round five terminology is still in focus as the topic of discussion is: What are Spiritual Gifts? At this point the best way I can characterize the two men’s disparate treatments is to horrendously oversimplify and caracature those two great philosophers of antiquity: Plato and Aristotle. As we see here in a detail from the Raphael’s fresco The School of Athens. At our left Plato points heavenward, while Aristotle indicates the plane of this world, thus illustrating opposing approaches to understanding. Plato moves from the universal to the particular, Aristotle from the particular to the universal.

Who is who here? Storms, a la Plato emphasizes the universal, when he points out that however you slice it, “spiritual gifts” are manifestations of the same Holy Spirit. We do not truly grasp the meaning of the particulars unless we begin with this universal understanding.

Patton takes Aristotle’s approach (or my cartoon version of it) in working from the particulars to the universal. I am not impartial of course, but I do think this approach less satisfying. One main reason is that the data are not homogeneous. Patton works from four passages each with a list of sorts and applies them all to a single chart. But Eph. 4:11, for example, works differently from the other passages, focusing on different kinds of leaders rather than the spectrum of functions within the church as a whole.

Moreover, at any rate, the “gifts” themselves are not really all the same kind of “thing.” They describe the many ways that the Holy Spirit manifests Himself as the Body of Christ does its work, but some–perhaps administration–are ongoing capacities while others–word of wisdom for example–may be the event of a moment. The picture of the whole is more complex than picturing them as something like the different colors in a 24 pack of crayons.

In fact, Storms says, do not think of them as “things” at all. They are empowered activities which the Spirit grants to be done through the various Christians who make up Christ’s Body. And how these work, whether one to a customer or ebbing and flowing through the lives of particular believers, or somewhere in between is not as cut-and-dried as often made out to be.

Here is the main weakness in Patton’s presentation, as I see it, this time around. Here is his conclusion on one matter in his own words:

My basic thesis here is that Christians already have at least one gift. Individuals do not need to hope they get one in the future. As a part of the body of Christ, the moment anyone becomes a member, they have in their possession the charimata.

This statement is problematic in a few ways–mainly grammatical, I’m afraid–and while I always abhor a plural pronoun with a singular antecedent, here it causes confusion: anyone (sing.) has charismata (pl.). I take it he means that one has his or her charisma (=gift).

And what does he mean individuals don’t need to hope etc. They can but they don’t have to? They shouldn’t because it is impossible? They can but we shouldn’t encourage them to? Clarity, please.

But Patton bases his conclusion on a few passages, on which he makes some grammatical remarks. And here, once again, I am sorry to say, that grammar has not been his friend. Let us take a look at these instances:

1 Corinthians 12:7: “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”

Patton correctly parses “is given” (didotai) here as present indicative passive , though he is a bit vague in drawing forth conclusions from this grammar point. He seems to be treating it as if it were a perfect form: “has been given.” Otherwise I cannot account for his idea that Paul means by this verb “‘each one’ already has the gift in question.” (emphasis in the original)

The aspectual force he bases his conclusion on is not at all indicated in this passage. The present tense of these verbs is just as (if not more) compatible with the idea that the Spirit is regularly distributing manifestations of Himself as the Church goes about its life. God “empowers” (energôn, present active participle, v. 6); The spirit “empowers” (energei, present indicative active) and “apportions” (diairoun, present indicative participle) as He “wills” (bouletai, present indicative deponent middle, all v. 11.) These are all presents. Paul is talking about ongoing work, not any fait accompli.

1 Peter 4:10: “As each has received a gift…”

He is correct that  is more felicitous for his point: each one has received (or each one received) elaben (aorist indicative active). So from this verse we may derive Patton’s point that each believer is gifted from the point of inclusion in the Body. What does not follow is that others are not given later. Affirmation of past actions do not imply negation of present or future ones.

Romans 12:6, again, in making an affirmative statement, does not make the negative one Patton wants to draw from it.

1 Cor. 14:1: “Pursue love, and earnestly desire (zêloute) the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.”

I simply do not know what to say to Patton’s assertion that the second person plural indicates corporate actions rather than individual. This is wildly fallacious. True, he is addressing the church as an aggregate and not a single individual, but are we to understand, when he says in the next chapter: “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (15:58), that he is exhorting no individual to be steadfast and immovable–or to know about one’s labor individually, but only as a body? It simply is not reasonable.

Anyway, does Paul here urge no individual to “pursue love”? It also is in the second person plural. Is this a corporate but not individual mandate? And what about “that you may prophesy”? Do they all prophesy then as a body? In v. 3 an individual is said to prophesy.

Or what do we make of v. 5 where Paul says: “Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy.” How are we to explain this statement–if all gifts have been given at conversion? He is serious about this being a possiblity for any of them, as he states in verse 39: “So, my brothers, earnestly desire (zêloute) to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues.” What can this mean but that each one is encouraged to prophesy, whether or not that “gift” was given at conversion.

But the most telling example is v. 13: “Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray for the power to interpret. ” No question of plural here, or corporate action. Here one with gift A (so to speak) is instructed to seek (through prayer) gift B.

[By the way, here is a serious problem with the rendering of NIV2011 (as I have just discovered): “For this reason the one who speaks in a tongue should pray that they may interpret what they say.” Wow. This is singular all the way through. It is very clearly the same individual speaking in a tongue who would do the interpreting, though this is quite obscured through the clumsy “indefinite” they.]

Patton is simply wrong to say that “the church at Corinth, not any individual Christian, should hope for, pray for, and earnestly desire prophecy.” Indeed it isn’t prophecy Paul tells them to earnesty desire, as if to say at least someone in their body, but to prophesy–an individual should desire that he or she would be able to prophesy. He clearly urges every believer to seek to engage in the action of prophesying. And he clearly says a believer can and should pray for particular gifts.

The Best Continuationist Essay Ever Written by a Cessationist

By Marv

Justin Taylor at Between Two Worlds has just posted on an article by Vern Poythress he calls “The Best Essay Ever Written on Spiritual Gifts Today.”  I’m rather inclined to agree.  I don’t think I’d express everything exactly as Dr. Poythress does, but given that caveat, I think he is exactly on target.

One commentator referred to Dr. Poythress’ approach as a “middle way” between Cessationism and Continuationism. I don’t think I’d call it a “middle way.”   Dr. Poythress himself, in his title, indicates he considers what he says to be “within Cessationist theology. ”  Shhh, don’t tell the Cessationists, but it sounds to me like what I mean by Continuationism.

The article is fourteen years old, having been published in JETS in 1996.  He calls it: “Modern Spiritual Gifts as Analogous to Apostolic Gifts: Affirming Extraordinary Works of the Spirit within Cessationist Theology.”

Tweaks I’d make:

1.  Dr. Poythress says that modern spritual gifts are “analogous” to “Apostolic gifts.”  It isn’t completely clear to me from his article, but I’d say not only modern gifts but also ancient non-apostolic spiritual gifts were, in Poythress’ words, analogous to Apostolic gifts.

2.  I’m not quite sure apostles should be said to be exercising “Apostolic gifts” or simply their apostolic ministry.  I mean, Jesus wasn’t exercising “gifts” when He ministered in power.  I think the concept of “gifts” come in when we get to the non-apostolic members of the Body of Christ.

3.  I also would try to find a different word than “inspired” to express what Dr. Poythress means by it.  I prefer to reserve it for the Scriptures, in that the work of the Spirit extended to the writing.  I don’t think “people” or “gifts” ought to be modified by the adjective “inspired.”

4. “Analogous” might be very, very slightly weak for the relationship between the apostles’s ministry and non-apostolic, including modern gifts, but I think I might be inclined to accept it, provided I clarify that ancient non-apostolic gifts and modern gifts are real spirtiualgifts, not just analogs of real gifts.

Note, these tweaks are all terminological.  As far as the substance is concerned, run, do not walk to read his essay.