This blog is a part of a series of writings called, “The Anatomy of the Biblical Church.” This time, I want to take a look at the role of the prophetic in the biblical church. Many sincere believers in Jesus believe that the prophetic has all but ceased operation in today’s church. Most who believe this viewpoint believe it for the same reason that they believe that the apostolic ministry of the church has ceased:
Once the canon – the collection of books considered as sacred were compiled, there was no longer any need for the prophetic or the apostolic since the primary role of both was to create doctrine.
Last week, I wrote about the biblical evidence for the cessation of the role of the apostolic. I presented evidence that the apostolic is still functioning. Now, I’d like to look at biblical evidence regarding the operation of the prophetic.
The five fold ministry office of the prophet is included in the list of the Holy Spirit’s equipping of the church in Ephesians 4:11-13.
And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry.
Many bible scholars believe that Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13:8-9 speak of a day in which the prophetic will cease:
Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. For we know if part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.
I agree that Paul is prophesying of a day in which prophecy will no longer be needed. But the disagreement on when that is has to do with your definition of the “perfect” that is to come.
Those who believe that prophecy has stopped believe that the Bible is the perfect being spoken of in this passage. I’ve shared my thoughts on this in this series of writings before today. Reading in context, I believe that the perfect that the Bible speaks of that will do away with the need for prophecy that is coming is the return of Jesus Christ.
Let’s look at some other things the Bible has to say about prophecy:
Right after telling the Corinthians that something perfect is coming that will do away with the need for prophecy, Paul tells the believers:
Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. 1 Corinthians 14:1
Some scholars believe that all prophecy must be considered inviolate or perfect revelation. Since prophecy is perfect revelation, then it must be considered equal to the Bible as revelation.
While God has always used prophets to speak to His people, I don’t find evidence to say that all prophecy was to be considered inerrant. Look at some commands God gave His people regarding prophecy:
I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him. And it shall be that whoever will not hear My words, which He speaks in My name, I will require it of him. But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die. And if you say in your heart, ‘How shall 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 happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him. Deuteronomy 18:18-22
What is this telling us?
Prophecy should be tested.
In Jeremiah, chapter 28, there was a prophet named Zedekiah who prophesied something in the name of the Lord. It was contrary to what Jeremiah was prophesying. Then, Jeremiah prophesied that Zedekiah would die before the year was out because of falsely prophesying in the name of the Lord. Zedekiah died that same year. How did the people know which prophecy was from God?
By comparing it to the word of God. Did it flow with the principles of the word and uphold the commands of God? If so, follow it. If it was predictive, you often simply had to wait to see if it came to pass.
But, God never told us prophecy was not to be tested. Any word coming through a man other than Jesus must be tested.
Tell me one New Testament prophet whose prophesies became doctrine?
Agabus prophesied in the book of Acts but his prophecies were not doctrinal but predictive. When Jude, the brother of James speaks of events of the future, he quotes the apostles. New Testament prophecy is not to create doctrine but to edify, exhort, and to comfort the people. In some instances, prophecy given today, like that of Agabus is predictive. Prophecy needs to line up with the Bible and needs to be witnessed by the leading of the Holy Spirit.
Paul told us in the book of 1 Corinthians 14:29 that prophecy is to be tested:
Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge.
If prophecy is inerrant, why is it to be judged?
But, does this mean that prophecy is no longer needed?
Do we need to be taught? Do we need to be edified? Do we need to be encouraged? Do we need to be comforted? Do we need to be warned?
Yes, we do!
If Paul knew a day was coming in which prophecy was no longer needed, why did he encourage it so much?
Therefore, brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak in tongues. Let all things be done decently and in order. 1 Corinthians 14:39-40
Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22