A Biblical Definition and View of Prophecy
In my most recent post, I blogged my introductory comments regarding Cessationism and Continuationism. Libbie and Ray have both weighed in with good responses, and in this post, I would like to try to lay out a biblical definition and view of prophecy. I think that perhaps this can help us put some of this debate into perspective and shape the direction of it.
Now, many people have mentioned what Ray and I have both observed: namely, it seems from Scripture that there are two types of prophecies. To use the familiar terms, there is foretelling (telling the future, which is most commonly associated with the word "prophecy") and there is forthtelling, or speaking the mind of God.
Biblically speaking, how do I arrive at the conclusion of these two aspects of prophecy? Moses is referred to as a prophet in Deut 18:18. And yet what he was speaking to Israel was the word of God for their present tense, not a predictive statement of the future. To be sure, there were predictive statements (such as what would happen when they got in the land, etc.), but through Moses came the entire Law, a "forthtelling" for their day.
Additionally, many of the prophets recorded in the OT are speaking the words of God, just as Deut 18:18 predicted. While Isaiah, Ezekiel, and others told about things to come (most notably the arrival of Jesus), they also were speaking to the people about the present conditions of idolatry, spiritual adultery, etc. They were speaking appeals to repent and turn back to God. They were the very mouthpiece of God.
Now, as Ray pointed out in another discussion, we know that Hebrews 1:1,2 shows us that Christ was a very key figure in that line of prophets. But He was much greater than a mere prophet. Consider this:
- The prophets spoke the word of God, but Jesus is the Word of God.
- The prophets said, "Thus saith the Lord", but Jesus said, "Verily, verily I say unto you."
- The prophets were men representing God, but Jesus is a man and God.
To underestimate the importance of Jesus in the subject of prophecy is to overlook a major element. But, we must look, then at the relationship of prophecy to Christians in the New Testament. If Hebrews 1:1,2 means that prophecy ceased with the coming of Jesus, then we have a bit of a difficulty. 1 Corinthians 14:29-32, which outlines the way in which prophecy should function in the church gathering, would be completely unnecessary if there were no prophecy after Christ. Hebrews 1, itself, would be unnecessary. In fact, most of the New Testament (other than the Gospels and Acts, which are mostly historical records and testimonies) would be unnecessary because we would have everything we needed from the words of Jesus.
Now, don't think that I'm heading off into heresy by implying that we need "Jesus plus..." for salvation. Absolutely not! But we are given instructions regarding prophecy within the New Testament, after the ascension of Christ, and so we must examine what that prophecy is. Is it foretelling and forthtelling? Or is it one or the other? Or is it something else entirely?
I think I'll pause at this point and see if anyone wants to interact so far. I'll post more later with regard to examples of prophecy in the New Testament, and then we'll get into whether it was limited to the "Apostolic Age". We'll also talk about what we can determine it means to "weigh" a prophecy and how to handle false prophecy.
I'll show my hand a little bit here in advance to say that I don't think anything has changed over time with regard to how we should view prophecy, how we weigh it, and what we do with false prophecies/prophets (although I'm not going to advocate literal stoning!). And one final point I hope to touch on in this discussion is how the idea of "speaking the mind of God" today relates to sola Scriptura, and whether this is a true conflict or a false dichotomy. Everybody still with me?! ;)
Until next time,