The New Testament Gift of Prophecy
Big Picture: The prophecy of the New Testament must be distinguished from the prophecy of the Old Testament, especially in its authority status. For Paul, the legitimate heirs and successors of the Old Testament prophets, so far as their authority status was concerned, were not New Testament prophets, but the apostles.
“Grace-gift” (charisma) is not a technical one for Paul that refers only to a select set of gifts that transcend the normal, like healing and tongues. It embraces gifts like “encouragement” and “generous giving,” but is also used repeatedly for the gift of salvation itself, not to mention the gift of celibacy and the gift of marriage. Although “grace-gift” can have a broad meaning for Paul, two constants are evident across the usage:
- God freely and graciously bestows a gift.
- God gives gifts for the building up of the body of Christ.
Grudem: Prophecy should be defined not as “predicting the future,” nor as “proclaiming a word from the Lord,” nor as “powerful preaching”—but rather as the reception and subsequent transmission of spontaneous, divinely originating revelation (Grudem argues elsewhere, less felicitously: “Telling something that God has spontaneously brought to mind.”) The verb to prophesy denotes this process. Ordinary congregational prophecy in New Testament churches did not have the authority of Scripture. It was not spoken in words that were the very words of God, but rather in merely human words.
Carson: In common church life, prophecy was recognized to be Spirit-prompted utterance, but with no guarantee of divine authority in every detail, and therefore not only in need of evaluation (1 Corinthians 14:29) but necessarily inferior in authority to the deposit of truth represented by the Apostle Paul (14:37-38)
The New Testament Epistles List Specific Spiritual Gifts in Six Different Passages
- 1 Corinthians 12:28: Apostle, prophet, teacher, miracles, kinds of healings, helps, administration, tongues
- 1 Corinthians 12:8–10: Word of wisdom, word of knowledge, faith, gifts of healing, miracles, prophecy, distinguishing between spirits, tongues, interpretation of tongues
- Ephesians 4:11: Apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor-teacher
- Romans 12:6–8: Prophecy, serving, teaching, encouraging, contributing, leadership, mercy
- 1 Corinthians 7:7: Marriage, celibacy
- 1 Peter 4:11: Whoever speaks (covering several gifts); whoever renders service (covering several gifts)
Indications that “Prophets” did not speak with authority equal to the words of Scripture
- Acts 21:4 “Through the Spirit, they urged Paul not to go to Jerusalem”
- Acts 21:10–11: Agabus
- 1 Thessalonians 5:19–21: “Do not treat prophesies with contempt but test them all; hold onto what is good, reject every kind of evil.”
- 1 Corinthians 14:29–38
- “Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said.” (29)
- Paul allows one prophet to interrupt another one (30)
- Paul himself claims authority far greater than any prophet at Corinth (37-38)
- Women can prophesy (chapter 11) but not judge prophecy (14:34-36)
- I. Packer, Keep in Step with the Spirit, IVP, 1984.
- A. Grudem,The Gift of Prophecy, Kingsway, 1988.
- M.B. Turner, ‘Spiritual Gifts Then and Now’,Vox EvangelicaXV1985
- A. Carson,Showing the Spirit, Baker, 1987.
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