Tag Archives: prophet

The Full Christ Needed Today

christ & church

by Scott

One of my favourite passages in all of Scripture is found in Ephesians. Actually, Ephesians, though smaller as compared to other portions of Scripture, carries a very significant role in explaining some of the greater and more ‘cosmic’ concepts of the work of God. This small letter packs in much wisdom and revelation.

And one passage I really enjoy pondering is found in 4:7-16. It, too, is filled with rich aspects in regards to the purpose of God in Christ for the new covenant age that dawned so long ago. Though a bit of a lengthier passage, here are the words from the NIV: Continue reading

What Is Prophecy? (Part 1)

by Scott

Due to my post last week, I thought I would revisit some basic thoughts and teaching around the gift of prophecy. I’ve done something like this before, but I thought I would break it up into shorter posts and bring a few additional thoughts in as needed. But I think it safe to conclude that more and more of the church has awakened to the fact that this gift is both available and needed in shaping the body of Christ today. Continue reading

Prophets Galore!

by Scott

Not too long ago, I took some time and read a major portion of the Old Testament. Basically Genesis to 2 Chronicles. Not all in one day. Heavens no! But over a couple of months. It was good to read larger chunks, to get the sweeping history of the Hebrew people and God’s work amongst them.

But there was one thing that did catch me by surprise, especially as I read the books of Samuel and Kings.

You might have not noticed it before. And the thing is, I would have expected me to previously notice, since I’m one of those charismatics around here.

There were a whole lot of prophets in the time of the ancient Israelites. I mean a whole lot. Search the word prophet in just the books of 1-2 Samuel and 1-2 Kings and the word arises about 100 times.

But it’s easy to miss this.

Why?

Well, I think when you have a particular theology that says a prophet is this or that, and this or that alone, then it’s easy to either miss or skip over what is right there in front of us.

It’s quite like the ministry gift of apostle. When people normally talk about apostles, what they have in mind is either the twelve or the twelve plus Paul. Of course, these 13 were apostles in the early church. But they were not the only ones. And I am also convinced that starting with the 12 and Paul shows our off-base approach from the beginning, mainly because we are have forgot to start with the greatest apostle of all time. You know, that guy named Jesus. Nope, not Paul. Not Peter. Not even John. It was Jesus – the sent-one from the Father, apostled with a specific mission to accomplish.

But, even after rightly starting with Christ, and then moving to the 12 and Paul, we forget that the New Testament mentions up to another 10 apostles. People like Barnabas, Apollos, James, Silas, Timothy and others. I’ve set out why I believe there were other apostles besides the twelve and Paul, which you can read in part 1 and part 2.

I didn’t really head into this Old Testament reading with a plan to catch every time it spoke of a prophet or prophets. It kind of just caught my attention unlike before in reading the Old Testament. Call it a specific Holy Spirit thing or simply what you will. But I was blown away how the word kept coming up over and over again.

First off, and this something I was quite aware of before, but it’s easy to note that there were specific prophets throughout the Old Testament that many are not usually aware of – people like:

  • Gad (1 Sam 22:5; 2 Sam 24:11; 1 Chron 21:9)
  • Nathan (2 Sam 7:2; 12:25; etc)
  • Ahijah (1 Kgs 11:29; 14:18)
  • Micaiah (1 Kgs 22:8, 14, 19)
  • Huldah, who was a woman (2 Kgs 22:14)

And, catch this. The ministry of the prophet did not end with the ‘Old Testament’, but continued into the new covenant. We’ve got folk like:

  • Agabus (Acts 11:27-28; 21:10-14)
  • Antioch prophets (Acts 13:1-3)
  • Judas & Silas (Acts 15:32)
  • Specific prophets mentioned in Corinth (1 Cor 14:29)
  • The ever revelatory apostolic prophet, John

One thing I also noticed is how many times it spoke of prophets (plural) being together, rather than just a single guy (or lady) here or there. In 1 Sam 10 we read about a procession of prophets. We are told of a group of prophets in 1 Sam 19:20. We read in 1 Kings 18 that, while Jezebeel was trying to kill off Yahweh’s prophets, a guy named Obadiah, not the prophet, was saving a hundred prophets of the Lord. So when Elijah says at Mount Carmel that he’s the only prophet of Yahweh left (1 Kings 18:22), he is communicating that he is the only one that is not in hiding.

Quite overwhelming when you start to look at the biblical text and the wider spectrum of the prophetic ministry. You might walk away thinking these prophets were everywhere.

In all, being reminded that such a ministry was more active amongst God’s people than first imagined, I have 3 points that come to me. These are points that I already believed about the ministry of the prophet, but they were even more highlighted in my recent reading of the Old Testament.

1) Prophets are not mainly Scripture writers

It’s true. A prophet is not mainly called to be an Old Testament Scripture writer, just as an apostle is not primarily called to pen New Testament Scripture. They might have and some did. But this is not essential. That’s why only a few did so in comparison to the wider nature of these two ministries. In the end, a prophet is one bearing a message from God, the ‘word of the Lord’, whether that message gets put to paper or not. Therefore, while I love Scripture and appreciate the prophets who did have their hand in it, we must continually be reminded this is not essential to the prophetic ministry. And this is why, as I will again argue later, I think it very reasonable to acknowledge the prophetic gift has continued today, since it was not solely wrapped up in the production of Scripture.

2) The ministry of the prophet both alongside and post-Scripture

Half of this point is not too disconnected from the first. The Hebrew community preserved the revelation given to them by their prophets of old, with a solid portion being penned as part of Scripture. But the word of the Lord was continually active para-Scripture, meaning alongside it’s recording. Matter of fact, with Scripture normatively being written after the spoken message was brought forth by the prophet, the plentitude of prophets were functioning in a similar vein as the well-known prophets. They were speaking the word and counsel of the Lord.

But, even more, because God was always speaking and revealing himself alongside the writing of Scripture, I think this gives precedence to the continuation of the gift and ministry today, even after having a canon of Scripture. Scripture was never given back then to replace the active ministry of the prophet. And Scripture is not here now to replace this needed ministry. I’m not saying prophecies today need to be placed in the canon, somewhere after 3 John. We have a canon and a canon remains a measuring stick. And I do not believe prophecy adds anything to the redemptive revelation in Christ. But Paul makes it very clear that this ministry role is extremely important for the body of Christ. Check out passages like Eph 2:20; 3:5; 4:11-13; 1 Cor 12:28. This is one of the five ministries given to help equip the church to be all that Christ desires it to be. I’d say it’s not optional.

Prophets functioned alongside the writing of Scripture in both the ‘Old’ and ‘New Testament’ times. And prophets are to continue functioning even after both have been finalised.

3) The importance of teamwork for prophets

As I mentioned above, I was struck during this reading with how many times I read about the plurality of prophets – the procession of prophets, the group of prophets. It’s probably not unlikely that there were schools of prophets where people were trained for this ministry. Something of that nature. And amongst a larger group of prophets, there would have been lead prophets – people like Samuel or Elijah. Maybe some functioned as a kind of counsel, while others had a stronger ministry with specific prophetic insights, and then others came to the forefront as lead prophets, even finding their messages in holy writ. But we should not simply blow these ‘other’ prophets aside as somehow unimportant.

And this is why – God is all about teamwork.

Think about Father, Son and Spirit. Think about God’s empowering the church to accomplish his mission. Things about God getting his revelation to humanity. It’s team. Always has been and always will be.

And, so, these prophets worked together as team. It’s not unlike when we turn to the pages of the New Testament and consider apostolic ministry. I am very willing to recognise that someone like John or Peter or Paul had a stronger measure of apostolic ministry as compared with a Barnabas or Apollos or James. But they were still all very much apostles. The same holds true with prophets. I am thankful for Isaiah or Ezekiel. But we also miss something if we think Nathan, Gad, Huldah, and others were inconsequential. Each had their measure of gifting, their anointing, their calling and we should give space for each to function in their own measure. The same stands true for teachers, shepherds and evangelists. Though I am a teacher, my measure of gifting is my measure of gifting and not that of a Scot McKnight or NT Wright or Jamie Smith or Ben Witherington.

But, regardless of measure, prophets or teachers or apostles or whomever are called to work in team. That’s what I believe Ephesians 4:11-13 is all about – the five ministries of the ascended Christ working together to equip and prepare God’s people for ministry themselves. This is why apostles and prophets work together to lay proper foundations in the local church.

There is no lone-ranger prophet, nor apostle, nor pastor. There is only team. God functions this way. Family is to function this way. The body of Christ is to function this way.

So, in all, I hope something fresh has been opened up in the Scriptures in regards to the prophetic ministry. And I hope our eyes have been opened a bit more to the reality that a) the ministry of the prophet is much wider than we sometimes allow and b) that God always desired that this important ministry continue even now.

How Firm a Foundation is the Argument from Ephesians 2:20?

By Marv

Ephesians 2:20 is a verse sometimes cited in support of the assertion that prophecy has ceased–which in turn serves as partial evidence for a more general cessationist position. One problem I’ve had writing on some verses relevant to the cessationist controversy is that I have difficulty seeing an actual basis for argument in the text. I don’t want to say that cessationists’ use of this verse gives proof-texting a bad name, but I am frequently amazed at how cessationism seems to create straw men in defense of it’s own positions.

What I mean is that the argument based on this verse is so weak that I am surprised when cessationists bring it up. The reason I say it is weak is that it requires a string of questionable inferences to get from A to B. A chain with nothing but weak links is manifestly a weak chain, one I wouldn’t care to place much trust in, if I were you.

The verse reads as follows:

…built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone… (Ephesians 2:20)

The basic idea in the cessationist argument is that if prophets are said to be a component of the “foundation” that their function is limited to an initial stage of construction–a stage now completed–and therefore should no longer be expected to be present. It is, I suppose, satisfying to the already convinced, but is impeachable at multiple stages.

First inference: Paul is referring to contemporary–New Testament era–prophets.

If Paul is referring to the respective authoritaties in the Old Testament, the prophets, and the New Testament, the apostles, then the verse has no relevance to the question of people prophesying in the church. This understanding enjoys a healthy degree of probablity, in view of the context in which Paul is describing a new unity composed of formerly distinct elements:

 …at one time you Gentiles in the flesh…were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise… (Ephesians 2:11-12)

…that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two… (Ephesians 2:15)

It is reasonable then that Paul would be presenting a combo platter, one from column A and one from column B. I actually think this is what is going on, though I do not purport the sampling of data I have cited is sufficient to demonstrate it–only to put into question a cessationist use of the verse.

I should say something at this point about Grudem’s argument on this verse, which in my opinion misuses the Granville Sharp rule. I have to admit I had thought he had long since retracted this argument, since being better informed on the grammatical point by Daniel Wallace. However, though he edited his text to reflect Wallace’s objection, he does stick with it. I think he takes the wrong tack here, the grammar being against it.

To recap what is involved, in Greek, when two nouns share a single article it forms a structure like one box containing two objects. If–and only if–those two nouns are singular, this forces identity of referent, both nouns necessarily indicate the same entity. This does not work if the nouns are plural. And in Ephesians 2:20 the nouns are plural.

Paul’s two-objects-in-one-box grammar does seem to be consistent, however with his both-are-now-together theme:

 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off [Gentiles] and peace to those who were near [Jews]. (Ephesians 2:17)

Furthermore, Paul could well have in mind, by metonymy, the authoritative writings of the two eras, summarized as “the prophets” for the Old Testament, and “the apostles” for the New Testament. This is similar to other phrases which refer to the Scriptures.

  • the Law and the Prophets (Acts 13:15)
  • the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms (Luke 24:44)
  •  the teaching and to the testimony (Isaiah 8:20)

One objection to what I suggest is the order of the nouns, that if Paul meant the Old Testament prophets and New Testament apostles he would have said “prophets and apostles” (i.e. chronological order) rather than “apostles and prophets.” I don’t think this is necessarily so from a psychological viewpoint. True, if he’s picturing a historical timeline, he’ll likely say “prophets” before “apostles.” But if he’s picturing his image of a temple with a foundation, he could well be starting at level and working down: this level is the apostles and below them the prophets. Basement and sub-basement, still a natural order.

Second inference: that the metaphor of the foundation implies that prophecy is not used in further building.

Let’s grant for sake of argument at this point that Paul did have in mind people prophesying in the church. The cessationist argument extrapolates from a metaphor. Certainly, Paul would mean that prophecy is foundational to the church. Is it a valid implication of this metaphor that prophecy is only foundational and not useful for building beyond the foundation? What does Paul himself say?

He uses the imagery of foundation and building elsewhere as well. In Eph. 2:20 the word for “built on” is the verb epoikodomeo, the basic word oikodomeo “build” with the prefix epi- “upon.” Note that a different prefix occurs with the same basic form two verses later (v. 22): sunoikodomeo= sun “together” + oikodomeo “build.”

In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.(Ephesians 2:22)

We see similar language in 1 Corinthians 3:

 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— (1 Corinthians 3:10-12 ESV)

Each instance of “builds upon/builds on” is epoikodomeo (likewise v. 14). Note also that the metaphor varies. Here Christ is said to be the only foundation, with nothing about apostles or prophets being part of the foundation, as in Eph. 2:20, where Christ is said to be the cornerstone. A metaphor is a metaphor, and serves its purpose in its context. Is there some reason to take Eph. 2:20 as the definitive description? Such an all-encompassing description of reality that we can draw inferences of cessation from it?

Two chapters later we find similar language making a related point.

 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up [oikodome]the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-12)

from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up [oikodome] in love. (Ephesians 4:16)

And in the same context:

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up [oikodome], as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. (Ephesians 4:29)

Does Paul mean to say that prophecy is limited to foundation laying or does he recommend it for continued building? He makes himself clear on the subject elsewhere:

The one who speaks in a tongue builds up [oikodomeo] himself, but the one who prophesies builds up [oikodomeo] 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 [oikodome]. (1 Corinthians 14:4-5)

The impact of these verses is often obscured by the rendering “edify” in some translations, but this is simply an anglicized form of the Latin aedificare, which means “to build,” like its Greek cousin oikodomeo, with both figurative and non-figurative uses. But at the very least 1 Corinthians 14 calls into serious question the limitations purported for prophecy based on Eph. 2:20.

Third inference: that the metaphor in Eph. 2:20 takes precedence over other Scriptural statements.

I have in mind chiefly Acts 2:17-18:

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.

But also:

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

and

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. (1 Corinthians 14:24-25)

as well as

For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged (1 Corinthians 14:31 ESV)

Not to mention this pretty important statement:

 “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. (John 14:12)

Where’s the controlling center to be? In the one metaphor of Ephesians 2:20? Why?

Fourth inference: if prophecy has ceased, being foundational, it is reasonable to suggest that other gifts have ceased.

I’m not saying this one would be asserted in a careful argument, but I can testify to hearing Eph. 2:20 being tossed out as evidence for cessationism in general, though strictly speaking it refers only to apostles and prophets.

It certainly is not from this verse that we learn of the cessation of the gifts tongues, healing, miracles or any of the usual suspects. In fact, if anything the verse would imply that all other gifts continue. If the foundation consists of apostles and prophets, then everything else, including tongues, healing, and miracles are by definition non-foundational. They are building material. The verse then–if we grant the basic premise–is a subtantially useful one for the continuationist perspective.

In point of fact, whereas the foundation of the church is a solid one, Eph. 2:20 makes a poor foundation for a cessationist perspective. It simply cannot support the weight put on it by some who draw from it inferences without logical basis. Let each man be careful how he builds. The wise man does not build upon sand.

Haggai & Modern-Day Prophecy

by Scott

Tucked away, near the end of the Hebrew Scriptures (the Christian Old Testament), we find a little prophet named Haggai. Well, he could have been a big prophet, but the words we have recorded were not as many as say an Isaiah or Jeremiah or Ezekiel, or Hosea or Zechariah for that matter. His words are important, just shorter.

Haggai (pronounced Hag-eye by Americans and Hag-ee-eye by Brits) was part of a post-exilic team that included at some point the main leadership of various people as Zerubbabel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Zechariah and Malachi (some overlapping with one another).

I recently found myself reading Haggai. I had no plan to, but the Lord had been speaking to my wife out of one of the minor prophets and she decided to share with me the passage. When I asked where the passage was specifically found, she mistakenly told me Haggai, though it had actually been Zephaniah (to which I later found out when I didn’t come across the passage she had read out to me). So I found myself taking up the “2 chapters” of Haggai’s prophetic message to the Jews who had returned from exile in Babylon.

After I read through this short book, a few things came to me that I believe can teach us about prophecy today, meaning prophecy coming forth in these days, centuries after the formation of the biblical canon. It mainly sprang out of these few verses: Continue reading