Monday, December 15, 2008

Bible Questions Answered #4: Gift of Prophecy?

Is the Gift of Prophecy for Today?
Q. I’ve heard 2 beliefs on prophecy that I’m confused about:
1) The only prophecy for today is Scripture.
2) There are people with the gift of prophecy in the church who hear and relate messages from God that are not found word-for-word in Scripture.
Which is it?

Just as we said in discussing the gift of healing, the Bible does not tell us that the gift of prophecy has ceased (see our discussion of the gift of healing for “that which is perfect” in 1 Corinthians 13, Scripture instructs the church at Corinth in their usage of the gift of prophecy, so we must conclude that this is from God (1 Cor 12:28-31). 1 Corinthians 14 deals extensively with prophecy, in the context of comparing prophecy with tongues (tongues + interpretation is equal to prophecy, verse 5). In this chapter we learn much concerning prophecy:

  • We are to “earnestly desire” the spiritual gifts, “especially that you may prophesy” (v1).
  • This gift brings “upbuilding and encouragement and consolation” (v3).
  • This gift builds up the church (v4).
  • Paul wants all of the church members to speak in tongues, “but even more to prophesy” (v5).
  • Paul would rather speak 5 words of prophecy (instruction) than ten thousand in an unknown tongue that is not interpreted (v19).
  • Prophecy is a sign for believers (v22).
  • Prophecy brings conviction to unbelievers (vs 24-25).
  • 2 or 3 prophets can speak when we come together, while the rest of the church weighs what is said (v29).
  • All can prophesy one by one (2 or 3 per meeting, v31).
  • The prophet can exercise self-control over this gift (vs 32-33).
  • Women should not exercise this gift in an official church meeting, for they are under the authority of the men (vs 34-35). This appears to be speaking about women giving authoritative words, not praises and testimonies. (Chapter 11 gives instructions for women to prophesy with head coverings, or long hair. Perhaps this refers to times other than official church meetings). In church meetings, authoritative words are to come from men.
  • Anyone with the gift of prophecy will acknowledge that Paul is speaking the truth concerning these instructions (v37).
  • If anyone rejects these instructions, he is rejected as a prophet (v38).
  • We are commanded to “earnestly desire to prophesy” (v39).
  • This gift, and all gifts in the meetings of the church, should be used “decently and in order” (v40).

We must point out a couple things about the gift of prophecy.
1. It must be tested against Scripture. No true prophecy can go against Scripture.

2. The New Testament gift of prophecy should not be seen as the word of God as equal to Scripture, but rather an idea that God has supernaturally brought to the mind of the Christian to build up the church. The words should not be added to Scripture. This is seen in 1 Cor 14:30 when Paul speaks of the prophets speaking in a church meeting and a “revelation is made to another sitting there.” It seems that prophecy in the church is God bringing an idea to mind that is communicated in human words, not the very words of God, equal to Scripture. The prophet is using his words, and could even mix his own thoughts or words with the revelation, which is why the listeners are urged to “weigh what is said” (29). This instruction is also given to the Thessalonian believers (1 Thess 5:19-21).

There is a great danger when people view this gift as being equal to words of Scripture. The Bible commands us to carefully weigh words of prophecy. Words of prophecy will usually be a confirmation of what God is already putting in the heart. Grudem advises us to be suspicious of those who come with a very personal “word from God” for us to obey. Never obey based on one “word” from a self-proclaimed “prophet.” But weigh what is said and pray for confirmation to be given. Never obey any “word from God” that goes against Scripture.
Even with these warnings, we must not despise prophecy (1 Thess 5:20). Let us seek to walk rightly in this and all gifts, and praise God for building up the church through the gifts of the Spirit.

Wayne Grudem has a lot of helpful instruction concerning this gift in his Systematic Theology, chapter 53.

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