Spiritual Gift Series
Spiritual Gifts: The Gift of Prophecy
Category of Gift: Speaking
“And He gave some as . . . prophets, . . . .”
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1.1 The Claim of Prophets Today. Today I hear many people talking as if they were prophets. They tell me that they died, saw a great light, or felt a warm feeling, or spoke with loved ones who have died. They tell me they no longer fear death, because of what they have seen and experienced. Among Christians, I hear that a person had a word of prophecy for another Christian. So many people claim to be prophets, both within the church and outside the church. Who do you believe and why are so many people claiming to be prophets? We must follow the clear teaching of the Bible regarding prophets and false prophets. We can begin by reviewing the claims by some people that the Bible contains different levels of prophecy.
1.2 The Modern Claims of Different Types of Prophecy. Some people argue today that the New Testament Gift of Prophecy comes in two types: (1) an authoritative type, where the prophet always speaks the truth; and (2) a non-authoritative type, because the prophet speaks some truth, mixed with error. If you read the Bible carefully, you will see that the entire Bible only contains information about only one type of prophecy, and God only speaks the truth, never mixed with error or lies. According to Jesus, lying means that you are not speaking the truth (John 8:44-45). Prophets from God never produce prophecies containing lies (a lie is not speaking the truth). Therefore, any claims about different types of New Testament prophecy deny the truth of the Bible. God has no mixture of truth with error in Himself. In contrast, Satan has no truth in him and moves men (including believers) to speak lies for him (John 8:44; Matthew 16:23). The person claiming to speak prophecy, but actually mixes truth with error, is a false prophet.
1.2.1 The Modern Claim that Agabus the Prophet Was Wrong. Some people claim that Agabus was wrong about his prophecy, and so use his prophecy as an example of lower level prophecy that contains some errors and some truth. This view contains no truth and all error concerning the claim of non-authoritative prophecy. In contrast, Agabus himself specifically said he was quoting the Holy Spirit: “This is what the Holy Spirit says:” (Acts 21:11). So, let us examine their claim that Agabus prophesied with some errors.
188.8.131.52 First Claim of Error: Agabus Erred by Stating that The Jews Would Bind Paul. First, the opponents of true prophecy claim that Agabus erred in prophesying that the Jews would bind Paul. What did Paul himself testify to about the incident leading to his binding? Paul himself actually testified that the Jews “laid hands on him” (Acts 21:27). So, you can believe the Holy Spirit, Agabus, Paul, and Luke or those opponents of prophecy who claim prophetic error.
184.108.40.206 Second Claim of Error: Agabus Erred by Stating that Paul Would Be Delivered into The Hands of the Romans. Second, the opponents of true prophecy claim that Agabus further erred in prophesying that the Jews would deliver Paul into the hands of the Romans. Should you believe the opponents of true prophecy or Luke the author of Acts, writing under inspiration of the Holy Spirit? Luke stated that the Jews “rushed together, and and taking hold of Paul, they dragged him out of the temple . . . .” (Acts 21:30). Having seized Paul and dragged Paul out of the temple, with an intent to kill Paul outside the temple, those same Jews relinquished their custody of Paul to the Romans who came to take Paul into their custody (Acts 21:31-35). So, you can believe the Holy Spirit, Agabus, Paul, and Luke or those opponents of prophecy who claim prophetic error.
1.2.2 Luke Never Claimed a Prophetic Error. In answering those two claims of prophetic error, we must note that those humans are now calling God a liar for putting such accounts in the Bible and presenting them as true revelations from the Holy Spirit. Of course, in the alternative, first we must observe that the Bible contains no indication that Luke or any other human author of the Bible considered the prophecy incorrect in any way. Should you believe Paul or the humans who charge Agabus and God with error? Agabus specifically said he was quoting the Holy Spirit: “This is what the Holy Spirit says:” (Acts 21:11). Now regarding the false claim that Agabus erred regarding the fact that the Jews delivered Paul to the Romans, consider the words of Paul himself: “Brethren, though I had done nothing against our people or the customs of our fathers, yet I was delivered (“παραδώσουσιν”–same Greek word Agabus used for delivered (“παραδώσουσιν”) (Acts 21:11) as a prisoner into the hands of the Romans” (Acts 28:17).
1.3 The Warning Concerning Prophetic Utterances. In 1 Thessalonians 5:20, Paul wrote to the Thessalonians not to despise prophetic utterances. We must be very careful to obey this command and examine the doctrine of prophets and prophecy in the Bible.
Testing the Prophets
2.1 The Testing of Prophets. In the last times (which began in Acts 2 at Pentecost), many false prophets will arise who will deceive many people (Acts 2:16-17; Matthew 24:11). Those false prophets will even perform signs and wonders, in order to lead the elect astray, if possible (Mark 13:22). Every prophet should be tested against the Scriptures. Deuteronomy 13:1-5 provides the death penalty for every dreamer or false prophet who entices people to serve any god but the true and living God of the Bible. Furthermore, the Bible says: “You shall follow the LORD your God and fear Him; and you shall keep His commandments, listen to His voice, serve Him and cling to Him.” (Deuteronomy 13:4). Therefore, every person who claims to have a prophecy from God should be examined by the other prophets to test whether their claim to have revelation from God agrees with Scripture, God’s complete revelation for all men (1 Corinthians 14:28-33; 1 John 4:1-6). Every spirit must be tested to see if it is from God (1 John 4:1-3).
2.2 The Spirit of Anti-Christ and Prophecy. John wrote that many false prophets have gone out into the world. Therefore, John warned believers not to believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God. Every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God, but is the spirit of anti-Christ. In fact, many anti-Christs were already at work in the New Testament time and they continue their activity today (1 John 2:18). Some anti-Christs even came out from among Christians, because those anti-Christs were never Christians (1 John 2:19). Jesus warned that many people will seek to enter the kingdom of heaven, calling to Jesus and saying: “Lord, Lord.” They will claim to have prophesied in His name, cast out demons in His name, and performed many miracles in His name (notice they hope for salvation based upon their “good” works) (Matthew 7:22). Yet, Jesus will say to them: “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23). Jesus further warned that the false prophets may come to believers in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves (Matthew 7:15). Therefore, we must test the spirits of the prophets to see if they are speaking for God or against God.
2.3 Caiaphas and Prophecy. Just because someone gave a prophecy that turned out to be true, do not automatically conclude that person is a born-again believer. Even an unbeliever may deliver a prophecy as the Holy Spirit comes upon him. That unbeliever obviously does not possess any spiritual gift from the Holy Spirit, such as the Spiritual Gift of Prophecy. As an example of an unbeliever prophesying, consider the prophecy of the high priest Caiaphas. The chief priests and Pharisees convened a council concerning the mighty signs that Jesus was performing among the people. They were determined to stop Jesus. One member of the council disclosed his evil motives for opposing Jesus. First, he feared that the Romans would come and take away the place held by the council (a position of power). Second, he feared that the Romans would take away the Jewish nation (John 11:48). In response, Caiaphas declared that “it is expedient for you that one man die for the people, and that the whole nation not perish” (John 11:50). John explained that Caiaphas had prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation and that Jesus may gather together into one the children of God who are scattered abroad (John 11:51-52). So, believers should be very careful to examine all prophecies and the people who utter them to see if those prophecies agree with the word of God, the Bible. Even unbelievers may speak true prophecies, as Caiaphas did because of his office as high priest. Before we move into a deeper study of the Spiritual Gift of Prophecy, let us first understand the New Testament Prophet.
John The Baptist as Prophet
3.1 John the Baptist. John the Baptist provides an example of an Old Testament prophet ministering in the transition period to the New Testament. He never received the baptism of the Holy Spirit described in Acts 2, and so never received a spiritual gift of prophecy bestowed upon church-age believers. Yet, the ministry of the prophets in the Old Testament rested upon revelation from God just as the ministry of the prophets in the New Testament. So, John the Baptist helps us understand the role of the Old Testament prophet, especially as the prophet’s work interfaces with the coming of Messiah, Jesus Christ, and His church of believers baptized by Jesus in the Holy Spirit. Jesus said that all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John (Matthew 11:13). With the appearance of Jesus Christ, God took flesh and dwelt among men. Jesus fulfilled the Law of Moses and made a final, complete sacrifice for sins. Jesus also inaugurated the New Covenant and sent the Holy Spirit to indwell believers. Through the Holy Spirit, believers will do greater works than Jesus (John 14:12). Jesus declared that John was a prophet, fulfilling the prophecy of Malachi 3 that Elijah would appear, and that John was more than a prophet, because he was the special messenger announcing the arrival of Messiah (Luke 7:26ff.) With John, we see the transition from the prophetic work of the Law and the prophets of the Old Testament to the work of the apostles and the prophets of the New Testament: announcing the Kingdom of God and proclaiming mysteries. Things changed powerfully when Jesus took flesh and dwelt among men.
3.2 John the Baptist–The Transition Prophet. In order to understand the Spiritual Gift of Prophecy, we may begin with John the Baptist. Jesus said that the Law and the prophets were preached until John the Baptist, but since then the kingdom of God has been preached (Luke 16:16). John the Baptist stands at a turning point in spiritual history, and particularly the spiritual history of prophets.
3.3 John the Baptist Prepared. John the Baptist prepared the way for the ministry of Jesus in the flesh. Jesus proclaimed that no one born of women is greater than John the Baptist; yet, Jesus said that he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than John (Luke 7:28). John the Baptist, however, said he would not have recognized Jesus except that God, who sent John to baptize with water, would identify Jesus as the Messiah. God told John that John would see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Messiah; that one would be the One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit (John 1:33).
Prophecy and the Scripture
4.1 God Breathed. In 2 Timothy 3:16, God declared that He breathed out all Scripture. Because He breathed it out, all Scripture is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Because of God’s intended use for Scripture, He obviously preserved it from any errors in the original autographs. By the term “autographs,” I mean the original document written by the author. Today, we only have copies of those autographs, but we have very reliable copies of the original documents for both the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament prophets spoke of the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. God revealed to those prophets that they were not serving themselves, but New Testament believers, to whom those glad tidings about Christ were announced for salvation. Even angels longed to look into such matters. The prophets themselves made careful searches and inquiries into the revelation of the grace that would come to the New Testament believers (1 Peter 1:10-13). Therefore, God intended that all believers rely upon Scripture (Old Testament and New Testament) as totally trustworthy, free from all errors, and sufficient to know all matters pertaining to life and Godliness (2 Peter 1:2-3).
4.2 Distortions of Prophecy. Peter wrote that Paul wrote letters according to the wisdom given to him. Peter indicated that some of Paul’s letters contained matters difficult to understand. Even so, Peter recognized those letters as part of the Scriptures (the Old Testament Books). Therefore, when people distorted the inspired letters of Paul, they were distorting Scripture itself, to their own destruction (2 Peter 3:14-16).
Revelation and the Prophets
5.1 Direct Revelation from God. Prophecy in the Bible always involved direct revelation from God to the prophet. God never intended that His prophets would write down in the Bible all the prophecies He provided to people on earth. Yet, the Bible contains all the prophecies that God intended to be recorded for the church. With those introductory thoughts in mind, now let us turn to a brief explanation of how revelation works with the prophet.
5.2 God Speaks through the Prophet. God speaks through the prophet by the Holy Spirit moving men to speak for God (2 Peter 1:20-21). The Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms all contain prophecies about the life, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, return and reign of Jesus Christ (Luke 24:44; Acts 13:40). Isaiah proclaimed that everyone taught of God will come to Jesus, because they have learned from the Father (John 6:45).
5.3 The Basics of Bible Prophecy. Some people falsely have tried to divide prophecy into various levels of inspiration: True Prophecy and True-False Prophecy. God only speaks the truth and never lies. As we study True Prophecy, we see some characteristics of True Prophecy.
5.3.1 Verbal Inspiration. Prophecy from God always includes a verbal statement from God, whether delivered through a vision, a dream, or other means. In other words, the content of the revelation was communicated by words (God may employ images also, like a sheet holding unclean animals (Acts 10:9-16), but God accompanies the imagery with words). God breathed out those words, and inspired each of those words in the original autographs (Jeremiah 26:2; John 14:26; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21). Verbal inspiration means that God inspired the words in the original autographs of the Bible (the copies of those autographs require careful study). Of course, thoughts come from words, but the exact words God chose for the original autographs really matter. Please keep in mind that the Gospel of John used very simple Greek words and phrases, whereas Paul and Peter used big Greek words and complex phrases to communicate. God placed His words into each writer’s minds and hearts and the autograph was inspired as God moved in the author’s heart and mind.
5.3.2 Plenary Inspiration. Plenary inspiration means that God inspired all of the words in the original autographs of the Bible. Because God cannot lie (Titus 1:2), and never tempts anyone to lie (James 1:13), all the words God inspired are completely true, without error of any kind.
5.4. Attacks upon Inspiration. Many people have attacked the inspiration of the Bible. In some cases, they attack the verbal inspiration of the Bible. In other cases, they attack the plenary inspiration of the Bible. At times, they attack both the verbal inspiration of the Bible and plenary inspiration of the Bible.
5.4.1 Attacks upon Verbal Inspiration. People today often attack the words of the Bible.
220.127.116.11 Modern Translators. For example, modern translators laboring in foreign fields use dynamic equivalents (made popular by Eugene Nida who promoted alterations in form to preserve the content), or substitute words, to convey their interpretations of the Bible. Instead, these translators should believe the words of the Bible really matter. For example, when translators practice the techniques of Eugene Nida, then they produce their own commentaries of the Bible, rather than translations of the Bible, which convey the words of God. Wycliffe Bible Translators and the United Bible Society, undermine the inspiration of the Bible by employing dynamic equivalents, without proper concern for the original words of the Bible. God used words to create meanings. Without the inspired words, the meaning belongs only to the translator, and no longer to God as the original author. I am not suggesting a wooden literalism where every original word must be translated in the same order to be faithful to the text. I am recognizing, however, that if you believe in verbal, plenary inspiration, you would be interested in retaining to the best extent possible the words of the Bible in their proper context of meaning, and not writing a new book to convey what the translator believed God meant when He wrote the Bible using words He chose. The more the translator interprets the Bible before translating, the worse the final translation will be. God never called translators to be commentators first, but rather every good translation would convey the words, grammar, and syntax of the original languages in a readable form, so that the words God chose would be reflected in the translation.
18.104.22.168 Modern Paraphrases. Many modern paraphrases, sometimes labeled “translations,” contain the errors of dynamic equivalents (also known as “functional equivalents” and similar terms). Although some translators would deny it, the term “dynamic equivalents” means that the Bible translators try to first interpret the text of the Bible, and then translate their thoughts about the proper interpretation. They claim to translate the Bible, but they only translate what they believe the passage means. They shoot for thought for thought translations, instead of word for word translations. All modern paraphrases that pretend to be translations, such as the New Living Translation, the New International Version, and the many other works that people wrongly trust as “Bibles,” contain mere commentaries on the text, and so deny verbal inspiration.
22.214.171.124.1 Problems with the Good News Bible/Today’s English Version. For example, Romans 8:3, “sending His son in the likeness of sinful flesh, . . .” (New American Standard Bible) becomes “who came with a nature like man’s sinful nature” in the Good News Bible/Today’s English Version. While the New American Standard Bible conveys no hint that Jesus was sinful by nature, the Good News Bible/Today’s English Version clearly suggests that Jesus had a sinful human nature, and so was a sinner. Words really matter.
126.96.36.199.2 New International Version. Likewise, the New International Version ignores words in the original text. The translators of the New International Version, like many other modern commentaries, do not like many Bible doctrines and avoid special words in the original autographs. For example, the New International Version in 1 John 2:2 removes the term “propitiation” and translates the term as “atoning sacrifice” (see also Romans 3:25; Hebrews 2:17; and 1 John 4:10). Propitiation has a different meaning from the general term sacrifice or atoning sacrifice. Likewise, the New International Version deleted many gender-specific details like “father,” “son,” “brother,” and similar terms despite the clear text of the Bible. Furthermore, the word “saints” does not appear in the New International Version, but words like the “Lord’s people” appear in 1 Corinthians 14:33-34. Similarly, the word “behold” occurs over 200 times in the Greek New Testament, but the New International Version translates it only about 100 times. Also, consider 1 Kings 2:10: “Then David slept with his fathers and was buried in the city of David” (New American Standard Bible). The New International Version translates the verse with both dynamic equivalents and gender bias: “Then David rested with his ancestors and was buried in the city of David.” Notice the removal of the gender term “fathers” and the entire idea of “slept” meaning death (compare Jesus using the phrase “fallen asleep” and meaning Lazarus had died (John 11:12-16)).
188.8.131.52.3 New Living Translation. The New Living Translation also removes gender terms like “father” and opts for “gender-neutral” translations. Ignoring gender means the New Living Translation ignores verbal inspiration. For example, Proverbs 22:6 in the New Living Translation reads “Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it.” Notice the gender neutral terms “children” and “they.” The glaring problem arises in that the original text used the term “child” and “he” (Proverbs 22:6). The New American Standard Bible translates the verse: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and even when he is old, he will not depart from it.” The New Living Translation imposes commentary upon the original text and ignores verbal inspiration. The translators for the New Living Translation had a total disregard for verbal inspiration (the words matter). The translators for the New Living Translation substitute their own words and ideas for the words God Himself breathed out.
The Spiritual Gift of Prophecy
6.1 Classes of Spiritual Gifts. Because words really matter, we must be careful to study the words used in the Bible. Paul used different Greek words to separate into three classes the spiritual gifts listed in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10. He separated the groups with the word “another of a different kind” (hetero–“ἑτέρῳ”) and distinguished between the gifts of the same group with the word “another of the same kind” (allo–“ἄλλῳ”).
6.1.1 Group One (Verse 8)
Word of Wisdom (allo)
Word of Knowledge
6.1.2 Group Two (hetero) (Verse 9-10)
Distinguishing of Spirits
6.1.3 Group Three (hetero) (Verse 10)
Interpretation of Tongues
6.1.4 Special Revelation Gifts. Special revelation means that God has revealed something which would not be known through the study of creation, which also testifies to the glory of God. Based upon the grouping above, we can see that the Spiritual Gift of Prophecy belongs to the second group of spiritual gifts. The Spiritual Gift of Prophecy will always involve the prophet receiving direct revelation from God. In other studies, we have examined the Spiritual Gift of the Word of Wisdom and the Spiritual Gift of the Word of Knowledge. Because of the Spiritual Gift of Prophecy stands in a different group from the Spiritual Gift of the Word of Wisdom and the Spiritual Gift of the Word of Knowledge, the Spiritual Gift of Prophecy has a different scope than those other two gifts. It also functions differently in the church. All three gifts share the common element of special revelation from God, but the scope and function of the Spiritual Gift of Prophecy has more in common with the other gifts in its class (Faith, Healing, Miracles, and Distinguishing of Spirits) than with the Class One gifts (Word of Wisdom, Word of Knowledge). Likewise, the Spiritual Gifts in Class Three (Tongues and Interpretation of Tongues) have more in common regarding their scope and function with each other than with the other classes of spiritual gifts.
6.1.5 The Relationship between the Spiritual Gifts of Prophecy, Knowledge and Wisdom. In 1 Corinthians 13:2, Paul wrote that if he had the Spiritual Gift of Prophecy and he knew all mysteries and all knowledge, but did not have love, he was nothing.
184.108.40.206 The Scope and Function of the Gift of Prophecy. The scope of the Spiritual Gift of Prophecy includes both the scope of the Spiritual Gift of the Word of Wisdom and the scope of the Spiritual Gift of the Word of Knowledge. The scope of the Spiritual Gift of the Word of Wisdom primarily includes the revelation of the mysteries of God. The scope of the Spiritual Gift of the Word of Knowledge includes the revelation of all matters previously revealed, but now authoritatively explained and applied. This application of the gifts provides the function of the spiritual gifts within the church today (including, at times, ministry to the people outside the church through some spiritual gifts). Therefore, we know that the Spiritual Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament included the revelation of mysteries (the Spiritual Gift of the Word of Wisdom) and the authoritative application of previous revelation (the Spiritual Gift of the Word of Knowledge).
220.127.116.11 The Full Measure of the Spiritual Gift of Prophecy. Now notice that in 1 Corinthians 13:2, Paul explained that the Spiritual Gift of Prophecy, taken to fullest measure, would allow him to understand all mysteries and all knowledge. As we know, God used various prophets in the Old Testament to provide separate, although related, prophecies to different people at different times. Likewise, prophets in the New Testament delivered revelations at different times to different people, yet forming a cohesive whole for believers of all ages. So, a single person did not deliver the full measure of the Spiritual Gift of Prophecy, because God in His wisdom delivered the message primarily through Jesus Christ, but also through the ministry of different men moved by the Holy Spirit who wrote the New Testament.
6.1.6 The Relationship between Prophecy and Faith. In Romans 12:6, we see that Paul linked the Spiritual Gift of Prophecy with the proportion of faith. (The Greek phrase “εἴτε προφητείαν κατὰ τὴν ἀναλογίαν τῆς πίστεως” provides insight into the meaning of “faith” in this context and its relationship to the Spiritual Gift of Prophecy, as described in the text). Faith means that you have assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).
18.104.22.168 Shipwreck, Prophecy and Faith. Therefore, as Paul prophesied that not one soul would be lost in shipwreck, so he believed that God had told him the truth behind the prophecy. Paul proclaimed those words to a crew trapped in a storm and Paul believed God would fulfill that prophesy. Everyone would soon know whether he spoke the words of God or not. Because of his faith, Paul proclaimed the prophecy in the midst of the storm, with every life on board threatened with death (see Acts 27:1-44). Therefore, the prophet must be the first to believe the prophecy.
22.214.171.124 Jonah, Prophecy and Faith. Jonah, the Reluctant Evangelist of the Old Testament, also illustrated the link between prophesy and faith. In the Book of Jonah, Jonah received a call from God to preach repentance and salvation to the people of Nineveh. Jonah hated the people of Nineveh because it was the capital city of Assyria, the enemy that had destroyed Israel and killed many people of Israel. Jonah knew that if he preached salvation to those people, and they repented and turned to God, then God would certainly forgive them. Therefore, Jonah’s hatred drove him away from God and away from Nineveh. But, God used a storm and a great sea animal to change Jonah’s mind and send him to Nineveh. Jonah delivered the prophetic warning from God that the city would be destroyed in forty days unless that city repented. Jonah preached, the city repented, and God forgave the enemies of Israel. In dismay, Jonah witnessed the love, mercy and grace of God at work. Jonah had great faith in the prophecy and God who gave the prophecy. Jonah also believed that God would forgive the repentant sinner who trusted God for salvation. Jonah had great faith in God, but a deep hatred for his enemies. Even so, God used Jonah as a preacher and a prophet. Although Jonah did not possess the Spiritual Gift of Prophecy, he was an Old Testament prophet and demonstrates the relationship of faith in the Word of God and prophecy.
The Proper Use of Prophecy in the Assembly
7.1 Only Two or Three Prophets Speak. Paul also outlined the details of the proper, public use of the Spiritual Gift of Prophecy. Only two or three prophets should prophesy during the meeting of the assembly.
7.2 Other Prophets Pass Judgment. As the prophets present their revelations, the other prophets would pass judgment (“οἱ ἄλλοι διακρινέτωσαν“) upon the prophecies given. Interestingly, the word “others” (“ἄλλοι“) means others of the same kind, so the meaning would be that other prophets (the same kind of gift) would pass judgment upon the prophet delivering the new prophecy. The same root word term for “discerning of spirits” (“διακρίσεις”) referring to the Spiritual Gift of Distinguishing of Spirits, underlies the judgment that others in the congregation render about the prophecy. Perhaps a person blessed with the Spiritual Gift of Distinguishing of Spirits would also be helpful in determining the nature of the prophecy. Therefore, this limitation as to the number of prophecies and content of the prophecies was subject to the strict control of the church, and not just one prophet leading the entire group. Please note also that the prophets do not lose self-control and slip into ecstatic outbursts. Paul commanded that if another prophet received a revelation, the first prophet must keep silent. Again, in some cases, the person with the Spiritual Gift of Prophecy received the revelation during the meeting of the saints (1 Corinthians 14:29-33). Each believer would have an opportunity in turn the share the revelation. The same root word term for “discerning of spirits” (“διακρίσεις”) referring to the Spiritual Gift of Distinguishing of Spirits underlies the judgment that others in the congregation render about the prophecy.
7.3 Keep Silent. If one prophet is speaking, and another prophet who is seated receives a revelation, the prophet with the new revelation must stay seated and wait for his turn (1 Corinthians 14:30).
7.4 Taking Turns. Paul wanted all the prophets to know that all may prophesy one by one, but not all at the same time. Yet, to preserve decency and order in the congregation, the assembly should not be plagued with many voices all speaking at once. God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the assemblies of the saints (1 Corinthians 14:33).
Evangelism and The Spiritual
Gift of Prophecy
8.1 The Prophetic Ministry to Unbelievers. In 1 Corinthians, Paul developed carefully the doctrine of the spiritual gifts and their proper and orderly use in the church. As he revealed truth about the Spiritual Gift of Prophecy, he contrasted the Spiritual Gift of Prophecy with the use of the Spiritual Gift of Tongues. He indicated that the Spiritual Gift of Prophecy empowered people to come to know Jesus Christ as Savior. We should not be surprised. Jesus used this same power during His incarnate ministry.
8.2 The Woman at the Well. As Jesus evangelized the Samaritan city of Sychar, Jesus began by speaking with a woman at Jacob’s well, located near Sychar. He first asked her for a drink, which surprised her because Jews had no dealings with Samaritans (John 4:9). Jesus then explained to her that, if she would ask Him, Jesus would give her a well of water springing up to eternal life (John 4:14). Jesus then asked her to go and call her husband. She replied: “I have no husband.” Jesus then commended her for telling the truth, and then He revealed to her that she had had five husbands, and the one whom she then had was not her husband. The woman then replied that she perceived Jesus was a prophet. The woman left her water pot, went into the city and told everyone that Jesus had told her all the things that she had done. She said: “This is not the Christ, is it?” The city then went out to see Jesus. This event characterizes the way that Jesus used prophecy to spread the Gospel. Jesus knew all things about this woman, and used that revelation to call her to account.
8.3 Declaring that God Is Among You. Paul also described the function of the Spiritual Gift of Prophecy as convicting and calling people to account as the secrets of their hearts will be disclosed.
8.3.1 The Convicting Power of the Spiritual Gift of Prophecy. Paul described the convicting power of the Spiritual Gift of Prophecy in 1 Corinthians 14:24. Paul used the word “convicted” (“ἐλέγχεται”) which here means that the secrets of his heart have been revealed and they are not Godly. Just like the woman at the well, the revelation of immorality or sin brings conviction of sin, even secret sins lurking in the hearts of people.
8.3.2 The Calling To Account by the Spiritual Gift of Prophecy. Paul also described the Spiritual Gift of Prophecy as calling people to account because of the revelation of the secrets of their hearts. Paul used the word “call to account” (“ἀνακρίνεται”) meaning here that the secrets of the heart are judicially scrutinized by the believer exercising properly the Spiritual Gift of Prophecy. Just like the woman at the well, after the secrets have been revealed, the believers call to account the unbeliever or ungifted.
8.3.3 The Worship of God after Conviction and Calling To Account. The proper use of the Spiritual Gift of Prophecy reveals the secrets of people’s hearts, so that they are convicted and called to account before the church. The disclosure of those secrets results in that person falling on his face and worshiping God, declaring that God is certainly among the people in that congregation. Notice here the revelatory character of the Spiritual Gift of Prophecy operates on a personal level, with the intention to bring confession and conversion. Notice also that the person recognizes not only the power of the spiritual gift, but also the presence of God in that group of believers.
The Spiritual Gift of Prophecy and Edification,
Exhortation, Consolation and Teaching
9.1 Speaking to Men. In 1 Corinthians 14:2, Paul wrote that a believer who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, because he speaks mysteries. In contrast, the believer who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation. We can examine more closely each of these three functions of prophecy. Please recall that not everyone who edifies the church, not everyone who exhorts the church, not everyone who consoles the church, not everyone who teaches, not everyone who preaches, or everyone who who speaks has the Spiritual Gift of Prophecy. So, never be deceived when someone claims to be a prophet because they are speaking forth a teaching or exhorting the congregation. Without the supernatural element of perfectly truthful revelation from God, no prophecy has been made and the Spiritual Gift of Prophecy has not been used.
9.1.1 Edification. The term “edification” (“οἰκοδομὴν“) means to build a structure, such as a home or a larger structure, like a tower. Throughout 1 Corinthians 12-14, Paul emphasized the greater value of the Spiritual Gift of Prophecy over the Spiritual Gift of Tongues (unless an interpreter was present). Paul stated the issue succinctly in 1 Corinthians 14:4: “One who speaks in a tongue edifies himself; but one who prophesies edifies the church.” Therefore, we know that the Spiritual Gift of Prophecy edifies the entire church when used among the congregation. Jesus used the root word for “edify” to describe a king who set about to build a tower, but was unable to complete it (Luke 14:28-30). In 1 Corinthians, the term “edification” means to build up believers in their faith (1 Corinthians 8:1; 1 Corinthians 14:5). A good example of the Spiritual Gift of Prophecy providing edification of the church may be found in Revelation 22:1-5, where John revealed that a river of the water of life will come from the throne of God and the Lamb of God, watering the tree of life, whose fruit brings healing of the nations. The curse will be lifted, the bond-servants of the Lamb will see His face and His name will be on their foreheads, and God will illumine them, and they will reign forever and ever. Happy days await all believers.
9.1.2 Exhortation. The term “exhortation” (“παράκλησιν”) has many uses in the New Testament. For a more thorough examination of the different ways the root word for “exhortation” as used in the New Testament, please see the Spiritual Gift of Exhortation. In brief, that gift means that a person encourages, confronts, comforts, and takes many actions to strengthen other believers. In 1 Corinthians 1:10, Paul wrote: “Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment.” This text illustrates how exhortation urges believers to move toward the same goal “all agree and there be no divisions” by means of “becoming complete in the same mind and in the same judgment.” Exhortation means that one believer takes affirmative action to help another believer using words and actions to motivate them and guide them towards spiritual maturity. A good example of the Spiritual Gift of Prophecy forming the basis for exhortation comes from 2 Peter 3:10-13. In that passage, Peter described the total destruction of the world with intense heat and the earth and its works will be burned up. Then Peter exhorted: “Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and Godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat.”
9.1.3 Consolation. The term “consolation” (“παραμυθίαν”) means to provide comfort during times of adversity. For example, Paul wrote about the consolation of love in Christ (Philippians 2:1). At times of death, heartache, and grave problems, the consolation provided by proper ministry of the Spiritual Gift of Prophecy can produce great results. For example, in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Paul comforted the Thessalonian believers with his prophecy concerning the future gathering of all believers in the clouds with Jesus at a time of resurrection. Paul did not want the believers to grieve as the Gentiles who have no hope, but rather use the prophecy to comfort one another. See also Revelation 21:1-4, concerning the new Jerusalem. In that passage, the first heaven and the first earth have passed away. The holy city, the new Jerusalem descends, and God declared that His tabernacle is now among men, and God Himself will be among them. God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will be no longer any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.
9.2 Teaching. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 14:31, also showed that the believers “may learn” (“μανθάνωσιν“) and “may be exhorted” (“παρακαλῶνται”) through the proper administration of the Spiritual Gift of Prophecy. If the prophets will go one by one, and not several at once, then the revelation of each one will first be approved or not by other prophets, and then all the believers may learn and be exhorted. So, we know that revelations were given so that believers may learn more about God during meetings of believers.
Desiring Greater Gifts
10.1 Desire that You May Prophesy. Paul urged the believers at Corinth to pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that they may prophesy (1 Corinthians 14:1-5). Of course, Paul directed this revelation to the entire body of believers using the plural term. He had also revealed that the Holy Spirit bestows spiritual gifts upon individual believers, at the sole prerogative of God (1 Corinthians 12:11). Paul meant that the Spiritual Gift of Prophecy edifies the entire church, while the Spiritual Gift of Tongues does not edify anyone except the speaker, unless an interpreter is present.
10.2 The Superiority of Prophecy. Paul also promoted the general superiority of the Spiritual Gift of Prophecy over the Spiritual Gift of Tongues. Generally, Paul taught that tongues only edify the speaker, but prophecy edifies the entire church. While Paul wished that everyone spoke with tongues, he wished even more that everyone would prophesy (1 Corinthians 14:4-5).
Prophecy as a Sign Gift
11.1 Prophecy as a Sign to Believers. In contrast to the Spiritual Gift of Tongues which functioned as a sign to unbelievers (see Acts 2 and the evangelistic preaching of Peter to the masses concerned about drunken behavior), Paul distinguished the Spiritual Gift of Prophecy as a sign to believers. As above, we have seen how the Spiritual Gift of Prophecy may provide help in evangelism (see John 4–the woman at the well). In 1 Corinthians 14:22, Paul emphasized that the Spiritual Gift of Prophecy stands a sign to believers. In the New Testament, a sign (“σημεῖον”) often means testimony from God regarding spiritual truth (Hebrews 2:4). The sign identifies the revelation of God regarding a person, place or thing. Anti-Christ will also use all power, signs and false wonders (2 Thessalonians 2:9).
11.2 Prophecy as a Revelation within the Church. In 1 Corinthians 14:26, Paul listed a variety of ministries inside the assembly. He mentioned that one believer may have a psalm, another a teaching, another a revelation, another a tongue, and another an interpretation. He also commanded that all things be done for edification. We have seen above that one ministry of the Spiritual Gift of Prophecy serves to disclose the secrets within hearts, and that revelation takes place within the congregation. Notice here that the believer with the revelation is probably the believer exercising the Spiritual Gift of Prophecy.
11.3 Prophecy: Sign to Believers. In the New Testament, a sign (“σημεῖον”) often means testimony from God regarding spiritual truth (Hebrews 2:4). The sign identifies the revelation of God regarding a person, place or thing. Anti-Christ will also use all power, signs and false wonders (2 Thessalonians 2:9). Therefore, the Spiritual Gift of Prophecy functions primarily as a sign to believers, in contrast, the Spiritual Gift of Tongues which functions as a sign to unbelievers. Frequently, a sign identifies the prophet as truly speaking from God (2 Corinthians 12:12), although false prophets also have the ability to perform signs and wonders (Matthew 24:24).
Some Functions of Prophecy
12.1 Selection for Ministry. In Acts 13:1, a group of prophets were gathered together at Antioch. While the group were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit directed that they set apart Barnabas and Saul for the work to which the Holy Spirit had called them. This event marks the ministry of the Holy Spirit providing specific guidance through The Spiritual Gift of Prophecy to a group for ministry and the setting apart of men for a particular ministry.
12.2 Direction for Ministry. In Acts 16, the Holy Spirit forbade Paul and his ministry team from speaking the word in Asia (Roman province), and they were not allowed to speak in Mysia and Bithynia (Acts 16:6-7). In a vision, Paul received direction to go to Macedonia (compare Numbers 12:8; Joel 2:28). So, we see the Holy Spirit using the Spiritual Gift of Prophecy to direct believers in ministry, both positively and negatively.
12.3 Revelation of Sin. In Acts 5:1, we meet a man named Ananias and Sapphira, his wife. Peter exercised the Spiritual Gift of Prophecy in exposing hidden sins and lying to the Holy Spirit. In the early church, believers would often sell their property and deliver the proceeds of sale to the feet of the apostles, so that the needs of all the believers could be met by the proper administration of those funds. Ananias came before Peter and laid money before the apostles’ feet. Peter then prophesied several related points: (a) Satan had filled the heart of Ananias to lie to the Holy Spirit; and (b) Ananias had kept back part of the purchase price; and (c) Ananias had lied to God, and not men (Acts 5:1-4). Peter made it plain that Ananias had no duty to give all the purchase price, but Ananias lied by keeping back part of the purchase price. As a result of that lie to the Holy Spirit, Ananias heard the prophecy and fell down dead. After about three hours, Sapphira came in, not knowing what happened to her husband Ananias. She had full knowledge of the lies of Ananias (Acts 5:2). Peter then prophesied to Sapphira: (a) you have agreed together with Ananias to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test; and (b) the feet of those who buried your husband will carry you out (Acts 5:7-10). Sapphira also died immediately. Great fear came upon all the church and over all who heard about these things. The Spiritual Gift of Prophecy functioned as a sign to believers.
12.4 Revelation of Famine. Agabus also revealed through the Holy Spirit that a great famine would come over all the world and it took place during the reign of Claudius. As a result of that prophecy, the disciples in Antioch made a contribution to the believers living in Judea and commissioned Barnabas and Saul to deliver the gift to the elders in Judea.
The Limitations on the
Spiritual Gift of Prophecy
13.1 Not All Are Prophets. Paul indicated that the Spiritual Gift of Prophecy would be limited. He stated plainly that not all believers have the Spiritual Gift of Prophecy (1 Corinthians 12:29: “All are not prophets, are they?”).
13.2 Prophecy Shall Be Done Away. While love never fails, the Spiritual Gift of Prophecy shall be done away (“εἴτε δὲ προφητεῖαι, καταργηθήσονται“), just as tongues shall cease (“εἴτε γλῶσσαι, παύσονται“) and knowledge will be done away (“εἴτε γνῶσις, καταργηθήσεται“). Notice that both the Spiritual Gift of Prophecy and the Spiritual Gift of Knowledge shall be done away. Paul used the same Greek root word in the same tense and the passive voice to describe the action of those two gifts being done away. Paul does not emphasize who did away with those two gifts, but he does highlight that they will be done away. Paul, in his epistles, used the root word “to nullify or abolish” in different ways, but Paul used the same root word to describe God acting when the end (“τέλος”) comes, and then God will abolish (“καταργήσῃ”) all rule and all authority and all power (1 Corinthians 15:24). In passing, please note in 1 Corinthians 13:8 that spiritual gifts are in the plural, and they shall be done away, while knowledge is in the singular, and it shall be done away. The significance appears to be that many varieties of the Spiritual Gift of Prophecy may be working, but only one Spiritual Gift of Knowledge. Notice also that tongues shall cease (“παύσονται“), which is also plural meaning that many tongues may be spoken, or many varieties of the gift itself (less likely), but the middle voice means it ends itself, on its own actions. Therefore, we may see that prophecy and knowledge terminate differently than tongues. For all of these spiritual gifts, God has imposed a time limitation upon them (1 Corinthians 13:8). That time appears to be the time when the perfect comes, which in this context appears tied to when believers know fully and are fully known in 1 Corinthians 13:12, which speaks of the day when believers will see face to face with Jesus, yet in the future.
13.3 Prophesy in Part. The Spiritual Gift of Prophecy only functioned in part, meaning, that the Spiritual Gift of Prophecy never revealed all knowledge or all things (1 Corinthians 13:9). So, the Spiritual Gift of Prophecy was never designed by God to provide all knowledge and never intended to provide a complete prophetic picture of all things. To be sure, we do have a complete revelation of all things we need for life and Godliness (2 Peter 1:2-4).
13.4 The Perfect Comes. When the perfect (“τέλειον”) comes, the partial shall be done away (“καταργηθήσεται”). The meaning of this verse has been widely disputed, but in this context it certainly signals a limitation upon the Spiritual Gift of Prophecy, so that it fulfills only a temporary role in the life of the body of Christ.
Hallmarks of The Spiritual
Gift of Prophecy
Prophets: Understanding the Spiritual Gifts. The believer with The Spiritual Gift of Prophecy provides revelation from God. Every prophet and every prophecy must be tested against the Scriptures. Although it seems likely that The Spiritual Gift of Prophecy may not be operative today, if it is operative in some form, then the following hallmarks apply.
Please review this entire chapter to understand The Spiritual Gift of Prophecy and then see if you have that spiritual gift.
Check out the list to see if you have some of the spiritual qualities listed below and then see if other believers confirm your understanding. You may have The Spiritual Gift of Prophecy.
♦ Prophecy-gifted believers receive direct revelation from God.
♦ Prophecy-gifted believers provide prophecies without error.
♦ Prophecy-gifted believers speak revelations from God and welcome testing of their prophecies against the Scriptures.
♦ Prophecy-gifted believers speak prophecies according to the pattern provided by the Scriptures as to time, place and order of speakers.
♦ Prophecy-gifted believers speak prophecies as a sign to other believers.
♦ Prophecy-gifted believers speak to people for edification and exhortation and consolation.
♦ Prophecy-gifted believers may provide directions to believers.
♦ Prophecy-gifted believers may reveal sin.
♦ Prophecy-gifted believers may reveal impending famines.
♦ Prophecy-gifted believers speak to men for edification and exhortation and consolation.
All prophets should be tested to see if they are from God and speak direct revelations from God, without any error. The Scriptures rest upon verbal and plenary inspiration. Therefore, they provide a perfect means to test the words of a prophet. God will not contradict the Scriptures. If people distort the Scriptures, they do so to their own destruction. Within the local assembly, believers should earnestly desire spiritual gifts, that they may prophesy. The believer exercising The Spiritual Gift of Prophecy, a sign to believers, may reveal the secrets of the hearts of people, bringing conviction leading to salvation of unbelievers. The Spiritual Gift of Prophecy also provides edification, exhortation and consolation and teaching. Selection for ministry and direction for ministry may be provided through The Spiritual Gift of Prophecy. Not all believers are prophets and prophecy shall be done away with when the perfect comes. Until then, we should not despise prophetic utterances, but examine everything carefully, holding on to that which is good.