The New Testament Gift of Prophecy
Definition, Theses and Suggestions
- It is still valid and useful for the church today. This is the clear implication of 1 Corinthians 13:8-12 and Acts 2:17-18.
- It is a Spirit-prompted, Spirit-sustained, utterance that is rooted in a true revelation (1 Corinthians 14:30), but is fallible because the prophet’s perception of the revelation, and thinking about the revelation, and report of the revelation are all fallible. It is thus similar to the gift of teaching which is Spirit-prompted, Spirit sustained, rooted in an infallible revelation (the Bible), and yet is fallible but very useful to the church.
- It does not have an authority that is on a par with Scripture, for Scripture is verbally inspired, not just Spirit-prompted and Spirit-sustained. The very words of the biblical writers are the words of God (1 Corinthians 2:13; 2 Timothy 3:16). This is not true of the words that come from the “gift of prophecy.”
- The New Testament gift of prophecy is a “third category” of prophetic utterance between the categories of 1) verbally inspired, intrinsically authoritative, infallible speech spoken by the likes of Moses, Jesus and the apostles; and 2) the speech of false prophets spoken presumptuously, without inspiration and liable to condemnation (Deuteronomy 18:20). Those two categories (absolutely infallible vs. false) do not exhaust all the biblical teaching on prophecy.
Prophecy in this “third category” (the New Testament gift of prophecy) is a regulated1 message or report in human words2 usually made to the gathered believers3 based on a spontaneous, personal revelation from the Holy Spirit4 for the purpose of edification, encouragement, consolation, conviction or guidance5 but not necessarily free from a mixture of human error, and thus needing assessment6 on the basis of the apostolic (Biblical) teaching7 and mature spiritual wisdom.8
- Recognize God’s complete sovereignty in giving gifts freely to whomever he wills (1 Corinthians 12:11; Hebrews 2:4).
- Recognize that not all will become prophets (1 Corinthians 12:29).
- Desire earnestly this gift (1 Corinthians 14:1,5,39). Pray for it (1 Corinthians 14:13).
- Be grateful for the gifts you do have; use them to the full; rejoice that others are different from you; and avoid all jealousy (1 Corinthians 12:14-29).
- Make love your aim in all things; realize that love is the greatest miracle and the surest sign of God’s blessing; grow more and more toward solid, stable biblical maturity (1 Corinthians 14:1,12,26,37; 2:14).
- Muster the courage to speak out what you believe (with more or less confidence) may be given to you from the Lord in gatherings designed for this less-structured expression (1 Corinthians 14:26).
- Have humble expectations that the prophecy will not be taken as a word of Scripture but as a Spirit-prompted human word to be weighed by Scripture, and by mature spiritual wisdom. For a prophecy to be accepted as valid it should find an echo in the hearts of spiritually mature people. It should be confirmed by biblically saturated insight. And it should find a resonance in the hearts and minds of those who have the mind of Christ and are ruled by his peace. (1 Thessalonians 5:19-21; Colossians 1:9; 3:15; Ephesians 5:15-17; Romans 12:1-2; Philippians 1:9-10).
1 1 Corinthians 14:32
2 1 Corinthians 14:3,29; Acts 21:4,11
3 1 Corinthians 14:4
4 1 Corinthians 14:30; Luke 7:39; 22:64; John 4:19
5 1 Corinthians 14:3, 24-25; Acts 21:4; 16:6-10
6 1 Thessalonians 5:19-20; 1 Corinthians 14:29
7 1 Corinthians 14:36-38; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3
8 Colossians 1:9