Tag Archives: prophets

What Is Prophecy? (Part 2)

by Scott

Last week, I began some posts on the gift of prophecy and the ministry of the prophet. I believe it is a given, both biblically and practically, that these giftings-ministries are both needed and given today.

Christ, the great prophet, expected his church to be a prophetic body empowered by the prophetic Spirit. This wasn’t to end with the affirmation of a canon of Scripture. Rather, with the Scripture acting as a standard, the body of Christ was to get on with not only it’s priestly and kingly ministries, but also its prophetic ministry. And thankfully, Christ has gifted specific people as prophets to equip the people of God to hear God and speak faithfully on behalf of God.

Let me address 3 points that I think become easy misnomers about prophecy:

a) Prophecy is mainly about prediction.

I alluded to this one in my previous article, but I think it worth fleshing out a bit more.

I suppose, at least for some, the word prediction makes one think of all types of spooky stuff – palm reading, fortune-telling, etc. It’s part and parcel to the spookiness that exists around terms like prophecy and revelation. And, some of it is warranted when you consider the practice of certain folk today. Or, even more, we turn to the Bible, our minds mainly recall the predictive texts, especially the ones that were to point to Christ.

But, again, this is not inherent. Just like shouting and street corner-preaching is not the innate characteristic of an evangelist. Just like 45-minute sermons are not implicit in the shepherding call. Just like Scripture-writing is not inherent to apostolic ministry.

So, whereas prophecy could include an aspect of foretelling, I would say it is firstly about forthtelling. Prophets always spoke into their own time. That’s typically what they had in mind. True, there is a Christocentric nature to the words of the Hebrew prophets in the Old Testament Scriptures, and the New Testament writers applied their words in such a way. But the words of Samuel and David and Isaiah and Ezekiel and Hosea were given smack dab in the middle of their situations. Even the words of the great apostolic prophet, John, in his visionary text of Revelation, come forth into an early church of his day. I’m always reminded of how he starts things out:

The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. (Rev 1:1)

Somehow these words can easily be adjusted to say: The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place when these things  begin. They haven’t begun yet (or maybe they have now), but they will begin one day, in the distant future from John. And then these things will soon take place from that day forward from when things were set in motion.

But that’s not what John is getting at. Revelation speaks to the church of his day, even 7 churches in the area of Asia.

Of course, some of this does have a predictive element. If John or the prophets of old were speaking into their day, they were preparing people for situations that were going to take place in the future for them. Nevertheless, the element of prediction is smaller than we might imagine. This, again, is due to the nature of prophecy – the word of the Lord into particular ongoing situations. Into Israel, in to Judah, into Rome, into Galatia, into Jewish Christians of the early decades, into churches in Asia minor.

So,what does a non-predictive prophecy look like?

Maybe something like this: The Lord says to the church, ‘Listen, oh listen, my children. Where are your ears? Where is your attentiveness? Where have you gone? If you will listen, will I not speak words of life, words of direction, words of healing, words of tenderness? Will I not make your paths straight? Listen, oh listen, my children.’

Very real. Very practical. Very much into the current life of the church.

Prophecy is firstly about speaking forth the word of the Lord for now.

b) Prophecy is mainly about rebuke.

This is another misnomer that hangs in the air with regards to prophecy. But a quick glance at 1 Cor 14:3 reminds us of one central goal with prophecy.

But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort.

It doesn’t mean that prophecy is merely a pat on the back from a pushover Santa Claus type figure: ‘You’ll be ok. Hang in there.’ At times, prophecy will involve correction and rebuke. But even with these words, such comes forth with the ultimate goal of seeing people strengthened, edified and built up. This is also in line with Paul’s earlier words about the purpose of all gifts of the Spirit:

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (1 Cor 12:7)

Therefore, I would say a helpful and good working definition for prophecy is this: a Spirit-inspired, intelligible, verbally delivered message intended to edify, encourage and comfort other believers.

3) Prophecy is mainly word-for-word.

It took a while, but the evangelical church as a whole has mainly moved away from more of a dictation concept with regards to the inspiration of Scripture. This view basically sees the words of Scripture as given either through an audible voice or through the direct hearing of God’s voice in a visionary context. But we know that some of the writers utilised first and second-hand testimony, varying documents and sources and accounts available at the time, oral traditions, etc. Very practical stuff for assisting these wise authors and compilers of Scripture. Of course, we are not sure how much of Scripture records more direct revelation and how much of it is providential revelation, if you will. Nevertheless, the point is we recognise that Scripture is not a dictated text.

But, while some may recognise that certain portions of Scripture are not dictated (genealogies, proverbs, reports in the Gospels, etc), maybe there still remains an underlying thought that at least the detailed words of the prophets were pretty much word-for-word speeches and written recordings of God’s revelation.

Now, I don’t disagree that some prophetic messages were given in a more direct sense (at least as direct as it can be from God in all his God-ness speaking to finite and fallen humans). But I also am convinced that absolute direct speech from God, which is then disseminated from one person to another person or group of people, is not inherent to prophecy.

Why would I say such?

I am simply reminded of Paul’s words himself: For we know in part and we prophesy in part. (1 Cor 13:9)

Of course, one could argue that what is being communicated here is this: No one person sees the whole picture and counsel of God. But the picture (via words) that is given from God is complete in that picture itself.

It’s plausible. And we cannot really argue in detail one way or the other.

But, let’s simply consider something practical: Let’s say God gives a revelation of his fatherly care for people. Do we really think that one particular revelation is going to come in all its fulness?

What about God’s rightness and faithfulness? If God were to open his mouth and explain to finite and fallen humans how right-eous and faithful he is, how’s that gonna play out?

Yeah, I’m thinking it’s not only a piece of the entire counsel of God, but it’s a small piece of the entire counsel of God on that one facet of his character, purpose and plan. Again: For we know in part and we prophesy in part.

And, though some will feel quite uncomfortable with me suggesting something from experience, I can simply testify that the outworking of prophecy seems to move along in this direction. Sometimes the voice is more clear cut than others. But sometimes it comes through what we sense in our spirit’s, in the deep parts of who we are. It’s not so clear, but the communication still comes forth with a prophetic edge, functioning along the lines of the ever-important goal found on Paul’s pen in 1 Cor 12:7 and 14:3.

We can know his voice. But only in part. We can speak forth the word of the Lord. But never in fulness. Prophecy was never meant as a word-for-word dictation message from God via a human. It’s not unlike the goal of the spiritual gift known as interpretation of tongues. The point is not to interpret from the tongue to the known language of the church in direct word-for-word form. It is to communicate the message of the tongue, the heart and thesis of what the Spirit is looking to see communicated.

I’ve seen prophecy on a regular basis for the almost 16 years of my life in Christ and I could never be moved to see it as something foregone, ending a long time ago with the finished product of our canon of Scripture. And I have not only known prophecy and revelation to come forth today, but I have also known the true fruit to come from it, that of edification, strengthening, encouragement, exhortation and the common good.

Maybe it’s time we let down our guard and begin to a) listen to him and b) build relationships with men and women of God that are faithfully and healthily looking to do the same.

Apostles & Prophets Today – Why It All Matters

by Scott

When I write or teach, I tend to talk a bunch of theology and doctrine while forgetting to consider many practical matters. And we all know that theological talk (or jabber) without practically walking out the truth is not true biblical theology. Or we should know that.

So I’m aware of my tendencies. I can try and wax eloquent about certain things (I said try), but, in the end, I really want it to be a practical reality that affects our lives.

In the midst of this series on the Ephesians 4 ministry gifts, some might ask, ‘What’s the point? Why does it all matter?’

And the question is more directed at me, not the Scriptures. Continue reading

Wayne Grudem on Ephesians 2:20 and 3:5

by Scott

Many people who have spent time studying pneumatology and the gifts of the Spirit will probably be aware of Wayne Grudem and the works he has written around such topics. Grudem believes the charismata gifts of 1 Corinthians 12 still exist today. He is one of the many ‘theologically-minded’ and scholarly Christians now standing as advocates for these gifts of the Spirit. Others are Sam Storms, John Piper, Gordon Fee, Mark Driscoll, Jack Deere, and many other such people.

Though one can get a taster of his theological stance on the gifts of the Spirit in his Systematic Theology (pgs1016-1088), another of his writings, The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today, gives a much more in-depth treatment of the gift of prophecy, as you would expect from such a title.

Though the book definitely stands as an evangelical stalwart for study on the gift of prophecy, I believe the book fails to incorporate the full biblical teaching on prophecy, as well as the nature of apostles and prophets. I want to deal with one area where I believe his work has some shortcomings. This revolves around his discussion on New Testament apostles. With this specific matter, Grudem offers what I believe is faulty exegesis on the passages of Ephesians 2:20 and 3:5. You can see his discussions in chapter 2 of the book (pgs45-47), as well as in his Appendix 6 (pgs329-436). Remember, this is in the revised edition from 2000. I don’t believe earlier copies have Appendix 6.

Before analysing some of his words, let’s quote the two biblical passages. I shall give a little bit of context around these verses up for discussion:

19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Eph 2:19-22)

4 When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. 6 This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. (Eph 3:4-6)

What does Grudem teach about New Testament apostles and prophets by looking at these two Scriptures? The two bullet points below are a summary of his thoughts:

  • New Testament apostles are equal to the Old Testament prophets in their authority. Therefore, these two groups, NT apostles and OT prophets, are the authoritative recorders of Scripture.
  • Subsequently, New Testament prophets have much less authority than New Testament apostles.

In discussing the two Ephesians texts, Grudem gives four possibilities of how to understand the roles of apostles and prophets in the New Testament. Those possibilities are below, with the emphasis being his own:

  1. the apostles and the Old Testament prophets
  2. the teaching of the apostles and New Testament prophets
  3. the apostles and New Testament prophets themselves
  4. the apostle-prophets themselves (that is, the apostles who are also prophets)

His conclusion is that the best interpretation can be found with the fourth option. For Grudem, from a New Testament perspective, these two verses in Ephesians teach that apostles and prophets are mainly one joint ministry rather than two distinguishable ministries. Such helps maintain his viewpoint that New Testament apostles are the authoritative writers of the New Testament while the prophets of the Old Testament era were the authoritative writers of the Old Testament.

Grudem goes on to state:

After considering these views…it seems best to me to conclude that Ephesians 2:20 has meaning 4, that the church is “built upon the foundation of the apostles who are also prophets,” and Ephesians 3:5 should be understood to mean that the mystery of the Gentile inclusion in the church “was not made to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles who are also prophets by the Spirit.” (p46)

But such a view only seems contrived to prove one’s point rather than to be carefully founded in exegesis of the Scripture. For starters, in every other place outside of Ephesians 2:20 and 3:5, apostles and prophets are actually distinguished from one another. The two main places we see this distinction are:

11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Eph 4:11-13)

28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? (1 Cor 12:28-29)

One other major point Grudem brings up to try and prove that apostles and prophets are one group in both Ephesians 2:20 and 3:5 is that, in both instances in, the definite article ‘the’ is found before the word apostle, but not before prophet. Thus, Paul is referring to one joint authoritative group, mainly apostle-prophets.

Theologian, Edmund Clowney, who oddly enough used to be Grudem’s seminary professor, and they maintain a great relationship to this day, answers Grudem in his own work:

The absence of the article before ‘prophets’ in Ephesians 2:20 and 3:5 indicates, then, not that prophets are identical with apostles, but that they are closely linked with them since they, too, receive and communicate revelation. (The Church, p261, italics mine)

This makes perfect sense, for we see prophets carrying a very unique and important ministry amongst the body of Christ within the New Testament. Some examples are:

  • Acts 13:1-3 – Prophets utilised in the apostolic commissioning of Paul and Barnabas together.
  • Acts 15:22-35 – Following the Jerusalem council, Judas and Silas, who were prophets, accompanied Paul and Barnabas on their trip to Antioch. We read that these two were ‘leading men among the brothers’ (vs22) and of their strengthening role they had to the church (vs32). Noting that in vs32 we are told these two are prophets, we can assume that the verse is not simply telling us they were simply doing a little encouraging. But it is highly probable the strength and encouragement came out of their prophetic ministry. Not to mention Silas’ continued role in Paul’s apostolic-ministry team.
  • 1 Cor 12:28 – Though I am not up for pyramid-like leadership structures, we still get a sense of the important role prophets had from reading this verse – first apostles, second prophets, third teachers…
  • Eph 4:11-13 – Prophets are part of a team of ministries that are given by Christ to the church to help equip and prepare them for ministry. They have quite a significant role, along with apostles, evangelists, teachers and shepherds.

I’m not negating the role of apostles, nor would I even look to negate their primary role within the New Testament. But apostles never replaced prophets in any sense. They both existed alongside each other, as we find in the testimony of the New Testament itself. Prophets were foundation layers, in conjunction with apostles (hence Eph 2:20 and 3:5). Prophets were revelatory communicators, and still are.

Therefore, my conclusion is that apostles and prophets are two distinguishable ministries, yet both working together in an all-important, authoritative role within Christ’s body. For practical purposes today, this does not mean we add to the biblical canon, making their words the rule of faith for the entire body of Christ for all time. But, by His Spirit, God still utilises these ministries in relaying revelation from God. And such would make sense, for God has always been communicating even outside the bounds of the biblical canon. This was even taking place in biblical times as Scripture was being authored and inspired by God.

So, when God speaks today, it doesn’t mean we write 4 John or 3 Thessalonians or 1 Brussels. It simply means that, as people speak forth revelation (or what they claim as revelation), we learn to weigh it against Scripture, keep it before the leaders we are connected to, keep it before the wider body we are in relationship with, and pray for discernment. It doesn’t make it easy. But it makes us move towards becoming the men and women God desires His body to be – hearers of His word. How amazing to hear the living God through both His written revelation and through His spoken revelation.

Thus, in all, though I do believe I understand the desire of Wayne Grudem to uphold the importance of the revelation of God as found in the trustworthy, God-breathed canon of Scripture, I do not believe that we faithfully accomplish this by somewhat watering down the role of prophets, claiming that apostles replaced prophets as the only authoritative revelatory communicators of the new covenant era. Nor can I agree with another major premise of his, mainly that God’s revelation can come to the mind (or spirit) with 100% accuracy, but by the time it is spoken from the mouth of humans today, it is no longer 100% accurate. But, hey, challenging that notion is for another day and another time. In all, I would call Grudem to rethink his exegesis of Ephesians 2:20 and 3:5