SPECIAL TOPIC: NEW TESTAMENT PROPHECY
I. It is not the same as OT prophecy (BDB 611, KB 661; see Special Topic: Prophecy [OT]), which has the rabbinical connotation of receiving and recording the inspired revelations from YHWH (cf. Acts 3:18,21; Rom. 16:26). Only prophets could write Scripture.
A. Moses was called a prophet (cf. Deut. 18:15-21).
B. History books (Joshua – Kings [except Ruth]) were called the "former prophets" (cf. Acts 3:24).
C. Prophets usurp the place of High Priest as the source of information from God (cf. Isaiah – Malachi)
D. The second division of the Hebrew canon is "the Prophets" (cf. Matt. 5:17; 22:40; Luke 16:16; 24:25,27; Rom. 3:21).
II. In the NT the concept is used in several different ways.
A. referring to OT prophets and their inspired message (cf. Matt. 2:23; 5:12; 11:13; 13:14; Rom. 1:2)
B. referring to a message for an individual rather than a corporate group (i.e., OT prophets spoke primarily to Israel)
C. referring to both John the Baptist (cf. Matt. 11:9; 14:5; 21:26; Luke 1:76) and Jesus as proclaimers of the Kingdom of God (cf. Matt. 13:57; 21:11,46; Luke 4:24; 7:16; 13:33; 24:19). Jesus also claimed to be greater than the prophets (cf. Matt. 11:9; 12:41; Luke 7:26).
D. other prophets in the NT
1. early life of Jesus as recorded in Luke's Gospel (i.e., Mary's memories)
a. Elizabeth (cf. Luke 1:41-42)
b. Zacharias (cf. Luke 1:67-79)
c. Simeon (cf. Luke 2:25-35)
d. Anna (cf. Luke 2:36)
2. ironic predictions (cf. Caiaphas, John 11:51)
E. referring to one who proclaims the gospel (included in the lists of proclaiming gifts in 1 Cor. 12:28-29; Eph. 4:11)
F. referring to an ongoing gift in the church (cf. Matt. 23:34; Acts 13:1; 15:32; Rom. 12:6; 1 Cor. 12:10,28-29; 13:2; Eph. 4:11). Sometimes this can refer to women (cf. Luke 2:36; Acts 2:17; 21:9; 1 Cor. 11:4-5).
G. referring to parts of the apocalyptic book of Revelation (cf. Rev. 1:3; 22:7,10,18,19)
III. NT prophets
A. They do not give inspired revelation in the same sense as did the OT prophets (i.e., Scripture). This statement is possible because of the use of the phrase "the faith" (i.e., a sense of a completed gospel) used in Acts 6:7; 13:8; 14:22; Gal. 1:23; 3:23; 6:10; Phil. 1:27; Jude 3,20.
This concept is clear from the full phrase used in Jude 3, "the faith once and for all handed down to the saints." The "once for all" faith refers to the truths, doctrines, concepts, worldview teachings of Christianity. This once-given emphasis is the biblical basis for theologically limiting inspiration to the writings of the NT and not allowing later or other writings to be considered revelatory (see Special Topic: Inspiration). There are many ambiguous, uncertain, and grey areas in the NT (see Special Topic: Eastern Literature [biblical paradoxes]), but believers affirm by faith that everything that is "needed" for faith and practice is included with sufficient clarity in the NT. This concept has been delineated in what is called "the revelatory triangle"
1. God has revealed Himself in time-space history (REVELATION).
2. He has chosen certain human writers to document and explain His acts (INSPIRATION).
3. He has given His Spirit to open the minds and hearts of humans to understand these writings, not definitively, but adequately for salvation and an effective Christian life (ILLUMINATION, see Special Topic: Illumination). The point of this is that inspiration is limited to the writers of Scripture. There are no further authoritative writings, visions, or revelations. The canon is closed. We have all the truth we need to respond appropriately to God. This truth is best seen in the agreement of biblical writers versus the disagreement of sincere, godly believers. No modern writer or speaker has the level of divine leadership that the writers of Scripture did.
B. In some ways NT prophets are similar to OT prophets.
1. prediction of future events (cf. Paul, Acts 27:22; Agabus, Acts 11:27-28; 21:10-11; other unnamed prophets, Acts 20:23)
2. proclaim judgment (cf. Paul, Acts 13:11; 28:25-28)
3. symbolic acts which vividly portray an event (cf. Agabus, Acts 21:11)
C. They do proclaim the truths of the gospel, sometimes in predictive ways (cf. Acts 11:27-28; 20:23; 21:10-11), but this is not the primary focus. Prophesying in 1 Corinthians is basically communicating the gospel (cf. 1 Cor. 14:24,39).
D. They are the Spirit's contemporary means of revealing the contemporary and practical applications of God's truth to each new situation, culture, or time period (cf. I Cor. 14:3).
E. They were active in the early Pauline churches (cf. 1 Cor.11:4-5;12:28,29;13:2,8,9; 14:1,3,4,5,6,22,24,29,31,32,37,39; Eph. 2:20; 3:5; 4:11; 1 Thess. 5:20) and are mentioned in the Didache (written in the late first century or in the second century, date uncertain) and in Montanism of the second and third centuries in northern Africa.
IV. Have the NT gifts ceased?
A. This question is difficult to answer. It helps to clarify the issue by defining the purpose of the gifts. Are they meant to confirm the initial preaching of the gospel or are they ongoing ways for the church to minister to itself and a lost world?
B. Does one look at the history of the church to answer the question or the NT itself? There is no indication in the NT that the spiritual gifts were temporary. Those who try to use 1 Cor. 13:8-13 to address this issue abuse the authorial intent of the passage, which asserts that everything but love will pass away.
C. I am tempted to say that since the NT, not church history, is the authority, believers must affirm that the gifts continue. However, I believe that culture affects interpretation. Some very clear texts are no longer applicable (i.e., the holy kiss, women wearing veils, churches meeting in homes, etc). If culture affects texts, then why not church history?
D. This is simply a question that cannot be definitively answered. Some believers will advocate "cessation" and others "non-cessation." In this area, as in many interpretative issues, the heart of the believer is the key. The NT is ambiguous and cultural. The difficulty is being able to decide which texts are affected by culture/history and which are for all time and all cultures (cf. Fee and Stuart's How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, pp. 14-19 and 69-77). Here is where the discussions of freedom and responsibility, which are found in Rom. 14:1-15:13 and 1 Corinthians 8-10, are crucial. How we answer the question is important in two ways.
1. Each believer must walk in faith in the light they have. God looks at our heart and motives.
2. Each believer must allow other believers to walk in their faith understanding. There must be tolerance within biblical bounds. God wants us to love one another as He does.
E. To sum up the issue, Christianity is a life of faith and love, not a perfect theology. A relationship with Him which impacts our relationship with others is more important than definitive information or creedal perfection.
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