The Gift of Prophecy, Part 2
The word of God, inscripturated, is our authority on all things, including the word of God, or prophecy, which is a word from God, or direct revelation from God. In Part 1, we looked at a couple of unbiblical views of prophecy. We turn here to two more.
The Reformed-Charismatic View
A number of persons who hold loosely to Reformed Theology have adopted a quasi-Charismatic view of prophecy. They would say that prophecy is a primary means of encouraging one another in the church. God might impress a message upon you that is meant for someone else. You have a general idea of what the message is, but you might not get all the details right. In fact, you might be completely wrong. You might misunderstand the message. Nevertheless, you are to give the message to build up another even if ultimately the message is not from God at all. This view is similar to Matt Chandler’s view outlined in Part 1, but without some of the more bizarre elements. The proponents of this view cite Agabus in Acts 21 who predicts Paul will be bound by the Jews and turned over to the Roman authorities. They say it didn’t happen the way Agabus prophesied, though it generally came to pass. In other words, his prophecy had errors in it, though the gist of it was true.
As with the first two views highlighted in Part 1, this view does not line up with the biblical definition of prophecy. The biblical gift is a direct, accurate, and infallible word from God. There are no errors or misunderstandings when someone has the genuine gift of prophecy. The Reformed-Charismatic view is built on a stretched interpretation of the Agabus prophecy in Acts 21. It is clear in that account that the Jews are responsible for Paul being bound and turned over to the Roman authorities. There is nothing in error or inaccurate about the prophecy. Here is a case when otherwise careful exegetes are grasping at interpretive straws to support their preconceived notion of what prophecy is. We don’t impose our view of prophecy on the text of Scripture. Rather, we extract it from Scripture.
The Evangelical View
Then there’s the view that prophecy today is not direct revelation from God, but powerful preaching. That preaching might be against sin, or the state, or those in sin. It’s preaching that seemingly carries a weight of authority by virtue of the boldness of the preacher and the message he delivers. But even here, one has no right to redefine the biblical gift of prophecy. If it doesn’t fit the biblical definition, it might be powerful preaching, it might be a wonderful exposition of Scripture, but it’s not the biblical gift of prophecy.
Miracles & Revelation in Redemptive History
There were three primary periods in redemptive history when miracles occurred: the time of Moses and Aaron, representing the law; the time of Elijah and Elisha, representing the prophets; and the days of Jesus and the Apostles, pointing to the establishment of the New Covenant era. The miracles served to authenticate the claims of those who spoke for God as well as Jesus’ Messiahship. Along with healing, the gifts of prophecy, the word of knowledge, and tongues were sign gifts. We’ve also alluded to the fact that they were revelatory gifts. They were given in the first century that God’s New Covenant community might have a revelation by which to live under that covenant, just as Old Covenant Israel had received the Old Covenant revelation to guide their lives in that context. While we’re merely scratching the surface here, 1 Corinthians is instructive, as it not only tells us what purpose the revelatory gifts served, but also the fact that they would cease at some point during the church age.
The Corinthian Church
The Corinthian church had a lot of problems, to say the least. One of those problems concerned those who had revelatory gifts. They were prideful, called themselves “spirituals,” and asserted their gifts were superior than those with ordinary gifts. Paul corrects them by saying that every gift is a manifestation of the Spirit at work in them, for He is the actual gift. He also tells them the Spirit’s work in them in particular ways is all of grace.
As 1 Corinthians 13 unfolds, Paul says that love of the brethren is more important than the revelatory gifts (vv 1-2). Love will never cease, says Paul, but the revelatory gifts will (vv. 8-10). They will cease when the “perfect” comes. He’s not referring to the second coming of Christ. Keep in mind the context. Paul’s not talking about the coming of Christ. He’s talking about revelation from God, the unveiling of the “mystery.” That’s what he’s referring to in v. 2 when he refers to understanding all mysteries. The word mystery is a technical term in the New Testament that refers to something given in seminal form in the Old Testament, but now fully revealed in the New Testament. So the coming of the perfect is not the second of Christ, but the completion of the New Covenant revelation. The word translated “perfect” refers to the goal, realization, maturity, or completion of something. We have these gifts in part, that is, we receive God’s revelation piecemeal, but when the completed revelation comes, the revelatory gifts will be done away. They will no longer be necessary.
Paul gives a couple of illustrations to drive home the point he’s talking about the completed revelation of God. The revelation is brought to maturity, just as a human being is. Having the full picture of God’s word is like seeing someone face to face as opposed to looking at a face in a mirror. The mirrors of Paul’s day were more akin to tarnished silver. Again, Paul is not talking about seeing Jesus face to face. That is to read Jesus into the text. It’s an illustration. Paul is saying that he will know God’s word fully just as you can look at him and know him fully.
Finally, in the very last verse of the chapter, Paul says, in contrast to the revelatory gifts that will vanish away, certain things will remain: namely faith, hope, and love. The contrast here is enlightening. Faith and hope won’t remain once Jesus comes, for those things are not necessary once we see him (Rom. 8:24; Heb. 11:1). But Paul says those things do remain. He means they remain now in the church age until Jesus comes. By way of contrast, the revelatory gifts will cease; they won’t remain until Jesus comes. As we’ve seen, they ceased with the completion of the New Covenant revelation. Hence, those gifts are not in operation today.
No doubt some will want to know how then we encourage one another? We do so with the word that God has already given us.
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