By Dr. Stephen Kim
There seems to be today, much confusion about the spiritual gift of prophecy. The Church ought not be lost regarding prophecy for both the Old and New Testaments have solid descriptions of what this gift looks like. The apostle Paul tells us plainly that prophecy is indeed, a spiritual gift: “Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy” (1 Cor 14:1). Thus, the Scriptural mandate is that we actively and earnestly desire the gift of prophecy.
There are three pervasive errors regarding the gift of prophecy.
- The first error is to confuse “preaching” with “prophecy” (e.g., John MacArthur).
- The second error is to hold the view that an authentic prophet can occasionally utter false prophecies and still be considered an authentic prophet (e.g., John Piper and Wayne Grudem).
- The third error is the view that all true prophecies are on par with Scripture (e.g., Seventh Day Adventists).
My definition of prophecy is a propositional truth stating God’s revelation of future events or of secret matters through an individual (often known as a prophet or a seer). This individual would then proclaim the God-given revelation to the people (often with the beginning declaration of, “Thus saith the Lord.”) Unlike what some teach, prophecy is not simply the preaching of the Bible. (The Greek word for preaching is kérussó but the Greek word for prophecy is prophéteuó.) They are two completely different activities in the very sense of each word. Anyone can publicly declare the words of the Bible (i.e., preach). On the other hand, no one can prophesy unless God supernaturally grants him a revelation.
7 POINTS REGARDING THE GIFT OF PROPHECY
- In the Old Testament, all persons in Israel generally knew what the gift of prophecy entailed. It was always a very special gift that was unique to a select few. This “general expectation” is seen in statements in passages such as 1 Samuel 9, verses 6 and 9. 1 Samuel 9:6: But he said to him, “Behold, there is a man of God in this city, and he is a man who is held in honor; all that he says comes true.” 1 Samuel 9:9: Formerly in Israel, when a man went to inquire of God, he said, “Come, let us go to the seer,” for today’s “prophet” was formerly called a seer.
- Prophecy sometimes entailed the accurate proclamation of future events. The “coming to pass” of the prophecy would verify the authenticity of the prophet. 1 Samuel 9:15-16: The LORD had revealed to Samuel: “Tomorrow about this time I will send to you a man from the land of Benjamin, and you shall anoint him to be prince over my people Israel.” Acts 11:28: And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius).
- Prophecy sometimes entailed the revelation of past or present secret matters that were supernaturally revealed by God to a prophet. In 1 Samuel 9:19-20 for example, how did Samuel know about the missing donkeys and what was going on in Saul’s mind? Answer: Because Samuel was a prophet and God had revealed those things to him. This, by the way, was a common expectation for a prophet by the Jewish public–as shown by the statement made by the Jewish men who blindfolded and beat Jesus during his trial as recorded Luke 22:64: They blindfolded him and demanded, “Prophesy! Who hit you?” Again, notice that this a present, ongoing event that would be completely unknown to the person blindfolded–unless of course, God supernaturally reveals it to the person.
- Prophecy cannot simply be the “reading or preaching of Scripture” because such acts are not miraculous, do not reveal any secrets of an unbeliever’s heart, and would not cause an unbeliever to be in the type of shock that is described by Paul in 1 Corinthians 14:23-25: If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.
- True prophecies are propositional and always come to pass. Why? Because no prophecy is ever act of fallible man. True prophecy always has its origination in the Holy Spirit who is infallible. “No prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:21). Prophets are only true prophets when all that they prophesy actually happen. There is no “best out of three” policy when it comes to prophesy. Even one false prophecy constitutes a false prophet. 1 Samuel 9:6, for example, you’ll see that this was certainly the expectation of the Israelites concerning their prophets: “Behold, there is a man of God in this city, and he is a man who is held in honor; all that he says comes true.” A false prophecy would constitute a false prophet, and a false prophet would not be recognized by the Old Testament community. In fact, they would be killed for taking lying in God’s name: But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, is to be put to death (Deut 18:20). When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him (Deut 18:22).
- True prophets will never contradict Scripture with their prophecies and therefore, true prophets will never be egalitarians who support the ordination of female pastors. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. Or was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached? If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized (1 Cor 14:35-40).
- Finally, although all prophecies are supernatural revelations by God, they are not to be recognized as Scripture. The canon of Scripture is permanently closed. God has already sovereignly chosen precisely which words constitute Holy Scripture and any modern prophecy must not be added to Scripture as “God’s Word.” The modern prophecy might be accurate, but it is never on par with Scripture. This has actually been true for centuries. For example, in Scripture, we know for certain that Agabus was a prophet, but none of his actual words are ever recorded in our canon “as Scripture.” We know with certainty that Philip had four daughters who clearly uttered accurate prophecies (Acts 21:9), but none of their words are ever recorded as part of God’s eternal Word. Hence, all true modern prophecies are revelations from God, but they are not to be added to the Bible. The Bible is closed and stands alone as “God’s eternal Word.”