What is the New Testament Gift of Prophecy? Should Christians Still Seek to Prophesy? #257
Happy Wednesday friends! I hope you are listening from a place that isn’t burning down around you, and that your sun is yellow and bright like it should be and not weird and pinkish/orange like our sun is in California right now thanks to all of the fires around here. Praise God that our air quality isn’t bad, however, and the closest fires to us in Salinas are 100% contained!
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Although several definitions have been given for the gift of prophecy, a fresh examination of the New Testament teaching on this gift will show that it should be defined not as “predicting the future,” nor as “proclaiming a word from the Lord,” nor as “powerful preaching”—but rather as “telling something that God has spontaneously brought to mind.”
Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House, 2004), 1049.
As to WHAT should be prophesied, Grudem has a good answer on that as well:
THE NEW TESTAMENT contains much material about the gift of prophecy, but very few actual prophecies are recorded. Is there any way, then, for us to find out the content of these prophecies? What did they actually say? What kinds of statements did they contain? What topics did they talk about? In fact, there is an even better way to find out the content of congregational prophecies than by examining some or even several quotations of actual prophecies, and that is to examine New Testament statements about the purpose and function of the gift of prophecy in general-what is it intended to do, and what does it actually accomplish? These general statements about the gift should give us a more accurate picture of the contents of prophecies than looking at a few examples when we would have no way of knowing if the examples were themselves representative of the use of the gift as a whole. So our initial purpose in this chapter is to find out the function and purpose of prophecy. How does the New Testament see it as bringing benefit to the church? Once again we shall study the relevant passages in 1 Corinthians first, and then examine the related passages elsewhere in the New Testament. i CORINTHIANS 14:3: ANYTHING THAT WOULD BUILD UP, ENCOURAGE, OR COMFORT The primary text here is I Corinthians 14:3 (RSV): “He who prophesies speaks to men for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation.” In this context Paul is arguing that the Corinthians, in seeking spiritual gifts, should seek especially to prophesy (1 Cor. 14:1). To prove this point, in verses 2-5 he contrasts tongues and prophecy: No one understands the person speaking in tongues, so he is not speaking to men but to God (v. 2). But by contrast, he who prophesies is speaking to men so that they can understand, and by a prophet’s words the hearers receive edification, encouragement, and comfort (v. 3). While the tongue-speaker edifies himself, the prophet edifies the church (v. 4). This is the reason prophecy is superior to tongues: It brings more benefit to the church (v. 5). This context suggests that prophecy was to be used for others This context shows that Paul sees prophecy as an essentially public gift. There is no indication that a prophet would prophesy in private for his own personal benefit. If he did, his prophecy would be on the same level as the tongues in 1 Corinthians 14:4 (RSV) (“He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself”), and this would not be the kind of prophecy the Corinthians were especially to seek (v. 1). So unless prophecy functions in the assembled meeting of the church (or, presumably, a smaller meeting of some part of the church), it loses its pre-eminence among the gifts. While the context of I Corinthians 14:3 demonstrates the necessity for prophecy to function publicly, the three specific terms used by Paul in this verse define more precisely the wide range of functions that prophecy was thought to have. Paul says, “He who prophesies speaks to men for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation” (1 Cor. 14:3, RSV). The terms used show a broad range of “edifying” functions The first word, “upbuilding” (or “edification,” Greek oikodome) is said to be the result not just of prophesying but of many different human activities: Church discipline brings edification (2 Cor. 10:8, 13:9), not offending others by what we eat brings edification (Rom. 14:19), self-denial for the benefit of one’s neighbor will bring edification (Rom. 15:2), and acting in love will “build up” or edify others (1 Cor. 8:1). When the church comes together, any legitimate speech activity can result in edification: A hymn, a teaching, a revelation, a tongue, an interpretation-all give “edification” (1 Cor. 14:26). In fact, according to Ephesians 4:29 (RSV) (“Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for edifying”), all Christian speech, even that of ordinary conversation, should bring about this kind of edification. It is a general term that refers to any kind of help toward growth in Christian maturity-and prophecy is one of the activities that contribute to the edification of Christians in the church. The second term, encouragement (Greek paraklesis) can mean “comfort” (from sorrow-Luke 2:25; 6:24; 2 Cor. 1:3-7) or “encouragement” (to those who are discouraged-Rom. 15:4, 5; 2 Cor. 7:4, 13) or “exhortation or appeal” (that is, an urging of someone to do something-2 Cor. 8:17; 1 Thess. 2:4; Heb. 12:5; 13:22). Yet it has a weaker force than “command,” for Paul contrasts this verb “appeal, exhort” with the verb meaning “command”: “I am bold enough in Christ to command you … yet … I prefer to appeal to you” (Philem. 8-9, RSV). It is probable that the range of meanings “comfort-encouragement-exhortation” was not neatly divided in the minds of Paul’s readers, so any New Testament use-like this one in 1 Corinthians 14:3-which is not further defined by context, might be thought to encompass a variety of speech activities which could include any or all of these elements. This word, then, is not very restrictive in meaning, and would allow for prophecy to include a variety of kinds of speech that would bring the hearers at times “comfort,” at times “encouragement,” and at times “exhortation.”
I will close our discussion then with a repetition of 1 Corinthians 14:1 “Pursue love and desire spiritual gifts, and especially that you may prophesy. “