Within the church we hear the phrases “they prophesied over me” or “they spoke prophetic utterances” But what does that really mean and is it of God?
First we need to understand the word being used “prophecy” and the biblical usage of that word as well.
A) In The Old Testament, specially selected individuals would be given divine truths from God Himself and they would relay those truths to the people. These truths were not from or by any other means. They would simply foreth-tell divine revelations from God. Primarily, Old Testament prophets would proclaim the will of God.
B) In The New Testament, something new happens. There are no prophets but Apostles. The Apostles made known the things of God through Jesus Christ and it was Jesus Christ that revealed the things of God.
- In 2 Peter 2:1, Peter indicates that the old testament had false prophets but the church will have false teachers. Why won’t the church have false prophets but only teachers? Because The Apostles were used to complete the ‘new’ revelations from God. With the completion of scripture, everything is revealed in it. Now all the church can do is screw up in teaching it as how there is nothing new to prophecy.
- In Jude 3, Jude is talking about faith in Jesus Christ and that it was “was once delivered unto the saints”. He is speaking past tense about the delivery of the revelations of God through Jesus Christ; nothing new is coming.
- Finally, in 1 Corinthians 13, Paul explains a great deal here. Here he states that prophecy will end. He says it will end when “that which is perfect comes”. What is that? The word Paul uses τέλειος, teleios, ‘that which is perfect’ means: Brought to an end, wanting nothing necessary to complete, full grown, and mature. The ‘knowledge’ is what has been revealed- scripture. The ‘prophecy’ is what is being revealed. So what happens when everything revealed from the Old Testament and everything necessary that Jesus said and did has been recorded and all of it has been brought together? Scripture is complete, fully grown, mature, wanting nothing necessary to complete- that which is perfect. What did Paul say would happen to prophecy when the perfect has come? They will end. Scripture is complete.
What about the gift of prophecy that Paul talks about?
It is true some are gifted with a spiritual gift of prophecy. But again, does that mean it is the same kind of prophecy like Isaiah? Looking at what the gift does for the body of the church it is clear.
I Corinthians 14
Paul contrasts “other languages” and “prophecy” and points out that prophecy is greater. The reason why prophecy is greater is because it is declaring things of God specifically. The “other languages” are just talk, ideas, concepts, principles, perspectives and opinions that are not declaring the will and truths of God. He expands this point with ‘understanding’. What good is it being able to speak 7 different languages and not be able to explain God’s will. Its better to be able to make God’s will known and understood in 1 language than speaking all kinds of languages and not being able to explain and declare the truths of God.
Paul’s use of prophecy here is simply forth-telling and declaring the will and truths of God were those that hear and know and understand. This prophecy is not revealing anything new apart from scripture.
Let us keep in mind also that when Paul was writing this, the bible was not complete. And some church elders and visiting apostles could in fact still prophecy unwritten truths of Gods will; that would be later recorded. From the time of Jesus to the Holy Spirit’s leading of the choosing and closing of the bible there was maybe a 200 year gap. And during those 200 years, the kind of prophecy, that is now ended, would have still been used by God. The Shepard of Hermes is a non-canon writing written in the early 2nd century that even records how to test traveling prophets.
The Gift of Prophecy in the modern church with the completed scripture is the God given ability to understand and explain divine truths found in scripture. Gifted teachers of divine truths.
This easily gets confused with the kind of Prophecy like The Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53. That is a kind of prophecy but not the same kind that is gifted today. We can come to understand the kinds of uses of prophecy by those verses above. There is a fundamental difference; New or proclaiming revelations from God.
- New Prophecies were before the competition of scripture. They revealed new truths to the world and they are the conduit. EX: Old Testament Prophets and The Apostles
- Proclaiming Prophecy is after the competition of scripture. They understand and proclaim pre-revealed truths to the world were scripture is the conduit. EX: Early Church Fathers and the modern church
In both cases, The Holy Spirit is still the empowering factor in both kinds of Prophecy. Both kinds are sourced from God himself and are divine in origin. The end result of both kinds of prophecy are also the same. The purpose is to make God’s will known and bring him Glory. It is a privilege and honor in both kinds as well to be given the ability to know and proclaim what is of God. In both cases the individual that is gifted is empowered to make these truths applicable to that date and time of history.
Please check out our prophecy test.