Prophets, prophecies, prophesying, modern-day
prophets...Many are asking us questions on these topics.
Here is my answer to a simple question which we were asked:
'Are There Really Prophets in Today's Church? A Growing Number Seem to be Claiming to be Prophets!'
e witness a mushrooming of 'prophets' in today's more charismatic Christian congregations. One whole group of the new prophets will be found within 'positive confession' (prosperity gospel) churches, and another group within the older-type 'restorationist' (pentecostal/charismatic) congregations.
Some of these new 'prophets' have made some quite amazing prophetic
statements and claims and - lamentably - cult watchers are
already filling books with failed prophecies. We could detail
those here, but I don't want to do that since others have done
it. I simply want to question the whole concept of modern-day
prophets within the Church. Let us do that.
The age of the great Old Testament Prophets has, of course, now past. There are no Isaiahs, Jeremiahs or Ezekiels around today. Hebrews 1:1-2 plainly tells us that we now live in a new era:
In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. (NIV).
Luke tells us the same thing:
The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it. (Luke 16:16).
So the age of the Prophets who were undoubtedly famous
men within their own societies has now past. The great Hebrew
Prophets could claim an audience before kings and princes and
were undoubtedly famous men indeed. And yet, Scriptures such as
Romans 12:6, 1 Corinthians 12:10 and 14:29-32, show that a gift
of prophecy can be expected to be witnessed in the New Covenant
Church of God!
It seems quite plain from a consideration
of Acts and 1 Corinthians 14:29-32 that the New Testament gift of
prophecy is quite different to the Old Testament conception of
'prophet' - The new prophets can be expected to be active
within church congregations and not necessarily in any
way famous beyond that. One of the difficulties for us in
understanding the conception of prophet in our day is partly due
to the fact that the Greek word translated prophet (propheteis)
is really much broader than the English word 'prophet', which
tends to have quite a specific ring. Truthfully, the Greek word
can - just as easily - mean 'inspired speaker', or 'encouraging
speaker', and some of the New Testament references don't
necessarily go beyond that. Yet some Scriptures obviously speak
of 'prophecy' in a predictive sense. Scriptures to consider here
are Acts 11:27-30, Acts 13:1-3, Acts 15:32-34 and Acts 21:10-11.
Moreover, the Holy Spirit's action of warning Paul and his
companions against speaking in Asia may well have come through a
congregation prophet (Acts 16:6-7). The reference to the prophet
Anna (Luke 2:36) does not need to be taken into our consideration
of the New Covenant office of prophet since Anna prophesied well
before Christ's sacrifice upon the cross making her one of the
very last Old Covenant prophets.
A consideration of these Scriptures quickly shows that these congregational prophets were just that, that is, they prophesied of conditions which would affect church congregations or leaders. In Acts 11:27-30, Agabus prophesies that a famine would spread over 'the entire Roman world' - this would obviously affect congregations of Christians. The text clearly tells us that this occurred 'during the reign of Claudius' (Verse 28).
In Acts 13:1-3, we again see prophets mentioned. At first this might appear to be a looser use of 'prophet', but it seems they are only mentioned here because a message to set apart Paul and Barnabas is received (Verse 2).
When we come to Acts 15:32-34, there is mention of Judas and Silas being prophets but the use here could well denote the encourager and inspirer sense of prophet, since no predictive prophecy is mentioned. Notice it:
Judas and Silas, who themselves were prophets, said much to encourage and strengthen the brothers
In other words, this might mean little more than, 'Judas and Silas who themselves were very encouraging and inspiring speakers said much to encourage and strengthen the brothers'
We now come to Acts 21:10-11. Agabus is again involved here. He utters a predictive prophecy regarding Paul. By the way, this was probably around 15 years after the Acts 11:27-30 occasion.
So we can see that there were indeed New Covenant prophets, but they bore little resemblance to the Old Testament Hebrew prophets who had been national figures warning of various national calamities which would befall Israel and Judah if the people did not turn from their wicked ways!
But the New Testament office only appeared concerned with Christian congregational life and with the protection of Christian leaders.
An image of Ezekiel the Prophet. The Bible strongly indicates that the age of such major national prophets has now past (Hebrews 1:1-2).
We now need to look more closely at 1
Corinthians 14, which tells us something about the use of both
'tongues' and prophecies in first century congregational
First of all, a careful consideration of verses 27-33 reveals that confusion was forbidden within the congregation. Two people were never to speak at once! Regarding tongues (which we are not discussing in this article), if there was to be no interpretation, the one who might wish to speak was to be quiet (verse 28). Corinth was a thriving seaport in which people of several nationalities could be present; it would be natural for some of these people to praise God in their native tongue, but Paul points out that the edification of the whole congregation was important. Then the text discusses prophets. Two or three could speak but, again, never at the same time! - maintaining orderly conduct without confusion was obviously deemed very important (verse 33). Paul writes that,
The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets
In other words, prophets have no automatic right to go too far or to go beyond their moment of inspiration! There seems little doubt that this is a looser sense of prophet than the sense in which Agabus was a prophet, since whatever a prophet said was to be evaluated (verse 29), presumably such an evaluation would come from the congregation's Elder (or, minister). These people were obviously not allowed free reign to say whatever they wanted without evaluation!! Paul obviously recognised that prophecy could be a gift, but this is unquestionably a looser sense of prophecy in which a Christian might receive a moment of inspiration, rather than any sense that the early church was simply filled with prophets of the stature of Agabus!
Yet Paul's quite stern warning against disorderliness and confusion being allowed to occur, obviously shows that reports had reached him of some confusion during services at Corinth! Extreme charismatic churches should take warning!! Obviously speaking primarily to those who occasionally spoke in tongues or uttered prophecies, Paul goes as far as to say,
If he ignores this, he himself will be ignored
WHO WERE "THE KANSAS CITY PROPHETS"?
The Kansas City Prophets are a group of (self-proclaimed) prophets originally associated with that American city. They arose in the 1980s with teachings and practices often regarded as heretical. They were (and are) influenced by the 'Latter Rain Movement' of the 1950s which had been so strongly associated with William Branham (1909-1965 - pictured). Branham claimed himself to be the 'angel' of Revelation 3:14 and 10:7 and prophesied that in 1977 all denominations would be consumed by the World Council of Churches under Roman Catholic control, an event which obviously did not occur.
Again, these people were obviously not
uttering prophecies like Agabus' warning, through the Holy
Spirit, that a famine would effect the entire Mediterranean
So we surely have to conclude that this 1 Corinthians 14 sense of 'prophecy' is quite a loose sense (don't forget that the Greek word for prophecy is rather broad), and may be closer to 'a moment of inspiration which could be of divine origin' sense. My own careful consideration of Romans 12:6 and 1 Corinthians 14:29-32 leads me to believe that 'prophesy' here means, 'to speak inspirational/encouraging words in public' deriving from a conception of 'prophet' which (in these verses) would mean, 'One able to speak inspiring, encouraging or revelatory words to others in public' - we would now call this 'the gift of preaching'. It is particularly clear from 1 Corinthians 14:29-32 that Paul felt that these 'prophecies' might emanate from any part of the congregation, amounting to even three occasions during a service! But people like Agabus whom the Holy Spirit directed to utter predictive warnings to the Church were undoubtedly rare. Again, any careful evaluation of Paul's words in these verses shows that he is not talking about congregational prophets of the stature of Agabus! We must ensure that we don't go beyond what the inspired text actually says.
The great national prophets of Israel and
Judah, like Hosea and Isaiah have now gone; their mission
concluded with the arrival of the New Covenant (Hebrews
The New Testament indicates the presence of, probably a very few, Congregational Prophets. These prophets appear to have been granted a gift of predictive prophecy in order to protect Christian leaders and congregations.
But within the New Testament there are surely strong indications that the words 'prophet' and 'prophecy' are not always used in exactly the same way. Agabus was obviously a major congregational prophet and there were undoubtedly a few others. But Paul often does not use the word prophet in that particular sense, for example in 1 Corinthians 12:10, 1 Corinthians 14:29-32 and Romans 12:6. Here without question a looser sense of this broad Greek word was being employed, perhaps more akin to 'moment of inspiration', or, 'encouraging and inspiring speaker'.
My opinion, for what it is worth, is that we have no prophets like Agabus in today's Church of God! But we may have very many in the much looser sense of prophet. But even if we did have people of the stature of Agabus, it seems clear to me that - in this age of the Church - they would confine themselves to being congregational prophets - and yet today's new breed of (very often self-proclaimed) 'prophets' have been unabashed about making the most amazing national predictions concerning countries like America and Israel even though Hebrews 1:1-2 appears to tell us that those kind of prophets have now simply gone!
But the New Testament does warn of false prophets who have always been around. Consult Acts 13:6-10 and Revelation 2:20. Also lets look at Matthew 7:
Watch out for false prophets. They shall come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognise them...
Occasionally, somebody E Mails me with great excitement about some new prophet or prophetic prediction which can be found on some website or other. I hope that this article explains why I am invariably so cool on this whole topic!! Just taking the recent Iraq war, some most amazing "prophecies" have floated around the internet, just about every one now being exposed as a false prophecy!! Might that not be one way in which we will know them 'By their fruits'?
Robin A. Brace