March 2, 2012

Prophecy and the Uniqueness of the First-Century Church

by Mike Riccardi

Motivated by the conversation from yesterday’s thread regarding the dangers of so-called “fallible prophecy,” I kind of want to piggy-back on Nathan’s post by addressing a hermeneutical weakness I perceive in a certain argument for the continuation of prophecy.

In a nutshell, this particular argument seems to be that since Paul speaks directly about prophecy in the New Testament—giving directions about its proper use in the church and even commanding that the gift be sought—everything he says automatically applies to the church today in the same way that it applied to the church in the first-century. Continuationists appeal to these passages of Scripture as “biblical support” or a “preponderance of Scriptural evidence” that the miraculous gifts are to be normative for today. For those of us who believe that there are no prophets in the church today, it is asked how we avoid deliberately disobeying Paul’s injunction to not despise prophetic utterance (1Thess 5:20). Didn’t he command the Corinthians to “earnestly desire” the gifts, and “especially that you may prophesy” (1Cor 14:1)?

A Surface-Level Approach

So, it must be granted that continuationists are not seeking to base their theology on experience alone. Rather, they are indeed seeking to base their understanding of the continuation of the gifts on Scripture itself.

The problem, however, is that this use of Scripture fails to take into account the uniqueness of the New Testament church in its nascent form. The foundation of the New Testament church—the mystery of the one new man, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it had then been being revealed—was still being laid through the ministry of the apostles and prophets (Eph 2:20; 3:5). The Holy Spirit had not yet finished bringing to the disciples’ remembrance all the things which He had spoke (John 14:26); He had not yet finished guiding them into all truth, revealing to them the things they couldn’t bear while Jesus was among them (John 16:13). The New Covenant Scriptures had not been recorded. God’s final, sufficient revelation awaited completion.

Any approach to the Scriptures that does not honor the implications of this uniqueness remains shallow. Carson and Keller provide a helpful summary of this kind of approach to Scripture:

“There is a kind of appeal to Scripture, a kind of Biblicism—let’s call it Biblicism One—that seems to bow to what Scripture says but does not listen to the text very closely and is almost entirely uninformed by how thoughtful Christians have wrestled with these same texts for centuries.”

Brothers, Let us Query the Text

We don’t want to be guilty of being shallow interpreters of the Bible who don’t “listen to the text very closely.” To avoid this, we must ask the difficult questions of a text, intent on understanding how what any particular text is teaching coheres with the whole of Scripture. This is simply what John Piper calls “querying the text” (Brothers, We Are Not Professionals). Scripture was not revealed in a vacuum, but to a particular people in a particular context, for a particular purpose. Therefore, to understand and apply Scripture rightly, we must ask such questions as:

  • Who wrote this?
  • To whom did he write it?
  • When did he write it?
  • What was the occasion for writing?
  • For what purpose did he write it?

After answering these questions, we must then ask ourselves: “Given the differences that exist between the original recipients and me, can this text be applied to me in the same way it applied to them? Or are the differences that exist between us of such a nature that there cannot be a one-to-one application?”

This is not merely “theologizing,” or imposing our own theological presuppositions onto the biblical text. These are essential questions, and they are the bread and butter of sound, contextual exegesis.


For example, it would be a naïve, shallow reading of Scripture to suggest that followers of Yahweh in this age cannot eat shellfish (Lev 11:10–11) or mix fabrics (Deut 22:11). That would be to ignore the fact that such laws were given through Moses (who), for the nation of Israel (to whom), in order to rightly relate to Yahweh (occasion) under the Old Covenant Law (when), for the purpose of distinguishing Israel from the nations (purpose), before the substance of those shadows came in Christ (when). “But,” it could be argued, “it’s in the Bible!”

“Oh, but that’s the Old Testament, though, Mike. We have clear Scriptural testimony that such things are fulfilled in Christ and are thus obsolete.” Right. And that is the kind of contextual interpretation and comparison of Scripture with Scripture that I’m calling for in the cessation/continuation debate.

But let’s push it further. How about women covering their heads in church? That’s a New Testament command that Paul gives regarding orderly congregational worship. Should we require that all women wear head coverings?

No. Because we’re going to query the text. We’re going to consider that Paul is writing to the first-generation Corinthian church in AD 56, and that in that culture a head covering symbolized that a woman was under authority. We’re going to consider that Paul was making a specific application of a general principle. And we’re going to recognize that the differences between the original context and our contemporary context require us to apply the principle (perhaps by the woman taking the man’s last name) without making a one-to-one application.

Answering the questions of authorship, recipients, context, occasion, and purpose is not a way to get around the text, or to hover above the text. It’s actually the only way of digging into the text and submitting to its agenda, rather that forcing it to submit to ours.

Bringing it Back

So how do we apply what I’m trying to say? 🙂

First, we must acknowledge that there is no argument that first-century churches like Thessalonica and Corinth included members who had the biblical gift of prophecy. For this reason, it is no wonder that apostolic directions regarding prophecy turn up in letters to those churches.

But when we seek to apply passages like 1 Thessalonians 5:19–21 and 1 Corinthians 12–14 to our present context, we must realize that it will look different for us than it did for them. Contemporary churches do not include members who have the biblical gift of prophecy. There are no prophets receiving infallible revelation from God today.* That constitutes a significant difference between our period of redemptive history and that of the Thessalonians and Corinthians. Therefore, just as the food and fabric laws and the instruction about head coverings, the texts regarding the miraculous gifts will not apply to us in the same way they applied to the original recipients.

Because of this, it is invalid to argue that the 21st-century church should practice the miraculous gifts merely on the basis that Paul instructed the 1st-century church to do so. Such texts do not constitute Scriptural evidence for the continuation of the miraculous gifts.

Mike Riccardi

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Mike is the Pastor of Local Outreach Ministries at Grace Community Church in Los Angeles. He also teaches Evangelism at The Master's Seminary.
  • D Paul Mitchell

    Excellent article, thank you, Mike.

  • Noah Hartmetz

    Great stuff, Mike! I wonder how long it will take the redefinition of prophecy to appear and therefore prove that the purpose of your article wasn’t considered much at all….

    Also, it’s interesting that you quote Carson and reference Piper considering where they stand on this issue. It’s revealing that even some of the most noteworthy theologians and pastors have their holes, may God have mercy on me and reveal my own.

    • Haha. I thought the same thing concerning Piper and Carson. I agree also with your humility concerning it.

  • Truth Unites… and Divides

    Hi Mike,

    Your arguments are good.

    Q: Do you have Charismatic-Pentecostal friends or acquaintances who claim to have the gift of prophecy? If so, have you ever presented the arguments you give above to them? If you have, what was their response to your arguments?

  • Marco Ribeiro

    Hello Brother, very interesting text, I think we can all agree that we have to query the text!
    A question, though:
    “But when we seek to apply passages like 1 Thessalonians 5:19–21 and 1 Corinthians 12–14 to our present context, we must realize that it will look different for us than it did for them. Contemporary churches do not include members who have the biblical gift of prophecy. There are no prophets receiving infallible revelation from God today.’

    Did you not just assume cessationism in order to ‘respond’ to these texts? You just asserted that churches today have no members who have the biblical view of prophecy, which is exactly the point being argued in the cessationism/continuationism debate.
    Of course, once you assume that, citing these texts as ‘proofs’ for continuationism looks like ‘biblicism’, comparable to saying ‘why do you eat pork today?’.

    God Bless

    • Nathan Busenitz

      Hi Marco,

      Good question.

      Continuationists acknowledge that the apostolic age was unique when they agree that there are no longer any “capital A” apostles in the church today. Grudem, for example, states that the apostles and their “apostolic prophecy” was only for the foundation age of the church. He bases this on Ephesians 2:20.

      But Ephesians 2:20 not only includes apostles. It also includes “prophets.” (Exegetically, the prophets can only refer to NT prophets — a point which Grudem essentially conceded in his debate with Ian Hamilton, which we linked to in yesterday’s post.) If the “apostles” were only for the foundation age of the church, then (according to Ephesians 2:20) “NT prophets” also were only for the foundation age of the church.

      All of this to say:

      1) Even continuationists acknowledge that the apostolic church was unique in certain ways. Thus, they agree (in principle) with the basic premise of Mike’s post.

      2) Ephesians 2:20 provides clear exegetical evidence that, like the apostles, the prophets were only for the foundation stage of the early church.

      Hope that helps!

      • Marco Ribeiro

        Hello Nathan, thank you very much for the kind response.
        Surely, most serious christians should agree in principle with the basic premise of Mike’s post. My question was about the application of the premise to the issue of cessationism, where (in my view) he assumed that there are no members in the church today with the gift of prophecy, which is the very issue being argued.
        In your response to my comment, you did not just assume it – you argued for it.

        It is not my intention to fire up a comment debate on the issue, especially since you already provided a great conversation (between Grudem and Hamilton) and your thoughts on it on yesterday’s post.

        Once again, thank you for the kind response. The only issue I had with the post was the application of the principle to this specific scenario.
        God Bless you and Mike =]

        • Hi Marco,

          I appreciate your question and the kindness of your comments.

          I think Nathan provided a helpful answer, but I did just want to add one thing. If you weigh my wording carefully, you’ll see that I wasn’t merely assuming that there are no church members today with the gift of prophecy. I worded my assertion in such a way (i.e., “biblical gift of prophecy,” “infallible revelation from God”) that not even the conservative continuationists would dispute. So, I wasn’t assuming what I was trying to prove; I was simply moving forward on a premise that has already been stipulated by both sides.

          I hope that helps. And thanks so much for reading.

  • Michael Delahunt

    As a cessationist who is trying to rightly understand what cessationism fully holds to, how would you explain the passage (if you can spare the time):
    8Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. 9For we know in part and we prophesy in part; 10but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. 11When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. 12For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. 13But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.

    I have continuationist friends who make the point that prophesy, knowledge, and tongues will cease when the perfect comes…
    So is the perfect Heaven? (This coulde be supported by v12) Or is it perhaps referring to the canon of Scripture?

    Thanks, for the post and the faithfulness to keep the blog a light for Christ!

    • Nathan Busenitz

      Hi Michael,

      Various cessationist scholars hold multiple views of “the perfect” in 1 Corinthians 13:10. You can find a brief summary of the views here:

      • Michael Delahunt

        Thanks! I will read it!

  • “The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” -Revelation 19:10

    Now there’s a verse that’s unchained. Based upon your conclusive post, then the following question begs to be answered: Is the testimony of Jesus done away with?

    It’s long been my observation that the gift of prophecy as described in 1 Cor. 12 has been grossly misunderstood by many in the cessationist camp, and thereby it’s been either despised, stifled, or dismissed altogether.

    Scripture reasons that prophecy is a manifestational gift of the Spirit for the common good (1 Cor. 12:7). When rightly used, it is a “word gift” neither sensational nor offensive, but it is one among the various other manifestational gifts that when practiced in proportion to one’s faith, it is meant to strengthen, encourage, and comfort the body of Christ (1 Cor. 14:3).

    I am of the mind that spiritual gifts are part of God’s plan to confound the wise. They seem foolish to the wise and learned, don’t they? But the spiritual gifts should not be exegeted away due to a lack of understanding. Rather, they are meant to be humbly sought after and received by faith for the purpose of glorifying the risen Lord, demonstrated and practiced among His own for the edification of the Church and the effecting of His purposes.

    • Hi Elizabeth,

      I think the question about Revelation 19:10 is answered quite conclusively based on its own context. (I’ll just provide the previous verse, but one should consider reading 19:1-10 for the context of v. 10.)

      Then he said to me, “Write, ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.'” And he said to me, “These are true words of God.” Then I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, “Do not do that; I am a fellow servant of yours and your brethren who hold the testimony of Jesus; worship God. For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”

      The angel revealing the prophecy of Revelation to the Apostle John isn’t simply making a proverbial or maxim-like statement in a vacuum. It comes in the context of John wrongly worshiping the angel because he spoke authoritatively from God in such a miraculous fashion. The angel rebukes John, and tells him not to worship him, because he (the angel) is a fellow-slave of John and of all Christians (those who hold tot he testimony of Jesus). Then, in order to deflect intrinsic authority away from himself, he says that it is the testimony of Jesus as revealed in the Gospel — not the testimony of the angel himself — that is the source of prophecy.

      So again, it would be wrong-headed to isolate one part of one verse from its context and to treat it as a proverb or a maxim without considering the author’s/speaker’s intention.

      Your comments about the gift of prophecy being a manifestation of the Spirit for the common good are comments that I agree wholeheartedly with. That is what the gift of prophecy was, when it was being given, in the nascent form of the church, before God’s final revelation was completed. But to simply quote 1Cor 12:7 and 14:3, and to suggest the miraculous gifts should be humbly sought after (cf. 1Cor 14:1), is to make a mere assertion without argument, and is to ignore my post entirely.

  • Mike,

    Hello again. I think I’ve pinpointed the genesis of our disagreement.

    In this post you refer to our need to “querying the text”, which I would agree with. However, I would agree with Marco that your next step seems to apply a Covenantal Hermeneutic to the text (followed by a Historical/Cultural one).

    I might recommend a few preliminary steps:
    (1) Query All of Scripture: Take into account the entirety of Scripture, in order to take into account how a Jewish reader might have conceived of this. Along with this, examine the usage and context in places like Acts (over 20X), like where Philip’s four daughters are said, matter of fact-ly to prophesy.

    (2) Query the Language/Grammar: Consider the various words and their etymology, in order to take into account the nuances each bring to the concept (viz., there are 5 main biblical terms for prophecy, from the somewhat mysterious navi to the more straightforward ro’eh and hozeh, which are translated “seer”. In the NT, we find the Greek word prophetes, which literally means to “speak/bring before”. We find the terms oracle, seer and prophet employed throughout Scripture. It would be expedient to understand the meanings and variations of the word we’re discussing in the original language.

    (3) Query the Extra-biblical Texts: You might then begin to search for extant writings from this first century culture (which there are), to see if we can understand how this idea was understood in the culture. These can be found in early Christian writings and non-Christian Greek writings.

    At this point we’re approaching your Cultural lens (or query). “The uniqueness of the New Testament church in its nascent form” is a certain cultural presupposition that may be a valid component to dealing with this issue.

    At this point we’re better ready to apply a Covenantal hermeneutic/lens to the text. However, if the Covenantal hermeneutic (and the way it is connected in your view to the authoring of Scripture or the cessation of certain gifts) precedes the more exegetical and logical steps than it makes them somewhat void.

    It isn’t an issue of naïve versus informed. It’s just an issue of how you sift through the pertinent data available. You’re not demonstrating to me that you’ve done due diligence, and that’s what I’m suggesting. I’ve heard all of the various points you’ve made before, and I’ve included them in my inquiry into this topic. Nevertheless we disagree. That’s OK.

    BTW, I’ve never seen such a solid looking house of cards! If I didn’t know any better, I might think it was only made to appear as a house of cards.


    • I would agree with Marco that your next step seems to apply a Covenantal Hermeneutic to the text (followed by a Historical/Cultural one).

      I’m sorry, but I don’t understand what you mean by a “Covenantal Hermeneutic,” as you never quite defined it (and, I also don’t see how that would be agreeing with Marco; did he say something about that?). I do want to take the biblical covenants into account, and, for example, note the difference between a godly life under the Mosaic Covenant and a godly life under the New Covenant. But I am not a theological covenantalist (i.e., covenant of works, grace; Israel = Church), so I don’t believe I’m using a “covenantal hermeneutic.” I’m using a contextual, grammatical-historical hermeneutic that of necessity takes the biblical covenants into account.

      As for your recommendations, I’m not sure what makes you think that I haven’t done precisely what you suggest, aside from the fact that I disagree with your conclusions. That kind of smacks of, “You don’t agree with me, so you mustn’t have done your homework.”

      (Incidentally, your reference to Acts ignores the point of my post entirely. I have no problem stipulating that Philip’s four daughters (and many others) prophesied, in the first century, when the foundation of the church was being laid by the apostles and prophets, before God’s final revelation had been completed.)

      “The uniqueness of the New Testament church in its nascent form” is a certain cultural presupposition that may be a valid component to dealing with this issue.

      I would disagree strongly with you here. Ephesians 2:20 states that the church has “been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone.” The apostolic and and prophetic office are explicitly stated to relate to the foundation (the starting point) of the church. When the foundation was laid (completed revelation), that foundational period was over. So, the construct of “the New Testament church in its nascent [or foundational] form” is a biblical one, not a cultural one.

      • Mike,

        Thanks for the Eph. 2:20 reference. I do think the interpretation of that passage is what we’ve essentially been talking about. Marco didn’t explicitly mention a Covenantal lens, but he did point out the missing link when he wrote, “Did you not just assume cessationism in order to ‘respond’ to these texts?” I was just putting definition to this objection.

        So what I’m saying is that the brand of Covenantal Theology that you subscribe to incorporates cessetionism and the uniqueness of the 1st century church. My interpretation of that Ephesians passage (and my Covenantal views) allow for a continuationist perspective and don’t treat the 1st century church as a different type of entity than the 21st century church. I would argue that the Apostles inaugurated an entity (Covenantal Community) that is essentially the same to this day.

        Also, I wasn’t implying, “You don’t agree with me, so you mustn’t have done your homework.” I was mostly asking you to–to borrow a math term–“show your work”. (To be fair, it was you who initially described me as having “a naive reading of Scripture”. I only pointed out where I saw a lacking in your explanation.) A follow up post on your interpretation of Eph. 2:20 would be worth considering? (I’d read it!)

        As for the references to Acts, I was mostly just saying that understanding the functional understanding of prophetic would be one important step in exploring how we should understand the concept and practice in general. This is what both Grudem and Elizabeth (above) are trying inject into the conversation; i.e., misconceptions can lead to wrong misgivings. (Probably more germane to yesterday’s post.)

        Thanks again for some stimulating interaction. It’s been good to interact with a differing perspective.

        Blessings in your continue writing & ministry.


        • Noah Hartmetz

          Mike responded to Marco by saying he intentionally wrote ‘biblical gift of prophecy’, so he wasn’t assuming anything. If that’s where Mike becomes covenantal, then that can be put to rest based on what he wrote in the post.

          What do you mean by “functional understanding of prophetic”?

          Another question I want to ask is how do you explain the Bible’s explicit demand that prophets be 100% correct in their prophetic utterance (Deut 13 and 18) and simultaneously say that prophecy is still around today? In other words, who on earth qualifies–with that 100% track record–to be a prophet today and why doesn’t the church know about him or her? If that person exists, then the church is bound to obey that person’s prophetic utterance because if we don’t we are disobeying God, and that’s bad news, to put it mildly.

          I can’t think of a single person on earth who speaks that way or holds that kind of authority today.

          • Noah,

            (a) Per your other response, I did assume a Covenantal perspective. I’d probably just change my phrasing to a “Dispensational” hermaneutic. Either can preclude the prophetic a priori in a way that shortchanges are more thorough inquiry.

            (b) Also per your other response, the term “prophets” is overwhelming used in the NT (both by Gospel writers and Paul) as shorthand for the prophetic writings of the OT (Luke 24:25 & Acts 26:27). Therefore, when Paul says that the “household of God” is built upon the “foundation of the apostles and prophets” I would argue he is connecting the Apostolic era with the OT prophetic writings. (The text is, after all, about the Christ making “one new man in place of the two”.) Christ is the cornerstone connecting the OT prophetic to the NT apostolic. The church is build on the foundation of Israel. If you are to press the analogy of the foundation/structure further though, you would actually see in 4:12 that the prophets are “for building up of the body” (which squares perfectly with what Paul wrote about the “edifying” role of prophets in 1 Cor. 14:4, 5). Not just for the foundation, but the continued building. Maybe the analogy cold be pressed further to say that most structures use the same materials for the foundation as the superstructure. (Though I don’t know that the analogy was meant to be pressed that far!)

            (c) As for the accuracy demands made in Deut 13 & 18, it is firstly important that these are in the context of predictive  prophecy. I can identify at least 6 other strains of prophecy in the bible: praise, advice, encouragement, rebuke/condemnation, anointing, authoring of Scripture.) Thus predictive prophecy is only about 15% of the equation. (Along with authoring Scripture, only 30%!) But I’ll tackle these both briefly:

            Deut 13:1-5 isn’t actually about acuracy per se. It addresses the case when a person claiming to be a prophet accurately predicts an event then proceeds to say, “let us follow other gods” (i.e., disobey the 1st commandment). In this case, regardless of accuracy, I think we would all agree that a true prophet wouldn’t contradict Scripture in any way. The penalty for this person was death (a parallel to Gal. 1:8 in the NT).

            Deut 18:20-22 (esp. 22) is about accuracy in predictive prophecy. Again, notice that the prophetic gift as mentioned in the NT never refers to future-telling. The penalty for this person is actually just, ‘Don’t be afraid of him.” I think we would all agree that, as in the case of Harold Camping, we should just stop listening to such presumptuous purported prophets. While I don’t know anyone who can perfectly predict the future with 100% accuracy (something no prophet has ever really done), I do believe there may be those who have–on two or three occasions–accurately predicted the future through a prophetic revelation (something like we see Agabus do in the book of Acts.)

            – With non-predictive prophecy, we need more discernment. The reality is that the NT prophet (as defined in 1 Cor. 14 is spoken of as something given so that all “may learn and all may be encouraged). It is referred to as a revelation, but isn’t future-telling.

            This is what I mean as our need to have a Biblical functional definition of the prophetic. If we only understand it to be “future telling” or “authoring Scripture” we are practicing an unbiblical form of reductionism. The fact is that both 1 Cor. 14 and 1 Thes. 5:20-21 paint a picture of those who sharing something they believe to be a “revelation”/prophetic word. At this point the word is “weighed” or “tested” by others. If it isn’t deemed to be prophetic, the prophet isn’t discredited. Prophecy comes about through an orderly procedure before it is shared. If we can’t understand this, we’re bound to have misgivings.

            If you are totally interested in my thoughts on this topic, I’d direct you to my 5 blog posting from last summer. (1, 2, 3, 4 & 5)

            Sorry this was so long. Good questions.

          • Nate_Busenitz

            Hi Matthew,

            Thanks for your comment.

            Just a quick note about Ephesians 2:20. Most evangelical commentators (including continuationists like Grudem and Ruthven) do not interpret the “prophets” as OT prophets. Your view is very much the minority view.

            Not only does your view require an unusual word order (since Paul would be listing NT apostles before OT prophets), but it also means that Paul’s reference to prophets in 2:20 is categorically different than his references to prophets in 3:5 and 4:11 — both of which clearly refer to NT prophets.

            If you’re interested in a longer discussion on Ephesians 2:20, you can find it here:


            Thanks again for your comment.

          • Thanks Nate. I’ll try to read through that discussion.

            I would say that, prior to the 20th Century, the interpretation I proposed was the predominant one. (Contiuationist or not.) Historically speaking I may still be in the majority.

            Grudem actually goes a third rout I believe (apostle-prophets). FF Bruce does agree with the NT apostles & prophets perspective. He makes a persuasive argument, but I’m not sure he effectively utilizes the context (drawing the seamless lineage between the Gentile church once “excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise” NOW ” fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household built on the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets“).

            The exegesis all seems to hinge on word order, and comparisons with other texts. In this case I’m going to weigh in the context (both of the passage and book) for my interpretation.

            Still, I can certainly see the probability of your view.

          • Noah Hartmetz

            Thanks for the response Matthew. I see more fully why you have written what you have written in the last couple posts: it doesn’t appear that you understand the position on prophecy that is purported here. I may be wrong, so Nate or Mike need to correct me if I am, but if you pin us in the corner that prophecy is only “future telling” or “authoring Scripture” then you are assuming a straw man in our arguments.

            So, of course, prophecy involves more than what you have referenced.

            Because of time, my only other response would be that I think you should reconsider what you said about accuracy and the prophetic, otherwise you are redefining biblical prophecy and saying that God has difficulty in getting his message through to his prophets so that they can speak accurately and authoritatively.

            Lastly, from what I can see, we differ because of definition, and that definition probably results from a number of differing opinions on the important texts. That’s ok, but we should not seek to remain there, going back to the text with a humble mind.

            Thanks again.

          • Noah,

            Didn’t mean to pin you down. Just wanted to respond to your question about accuracy in predictive prophecy.

            Not sure what you meant by reconsidering what I said about “accuracy and the prophetic” or “redefining biblical prophecy”. I didn’t say NT prophecy wasn’t accurate, but that it’s veracity was determined in community prior to general acceptance. I do think I’ve tried to provide a full-orbed picture of biblical prophecy actually. I’m saddened that you think I’m redefining something.

            Finally, if you don’t think God has some trouble getting his word out through his prophets, I would encourage you to go back and re-read Jeremiah and Jonah.

            I do “understand” that this is essentially a cessationist v continuationist discussion. However, going back to the previous post by Nate, I see most of the misgivings voiced as resulting from limited or facile picture of prophecy.

            in necessariis unitas,
            in dubiis libertas,
            in omnibus caritas


          • Noah Hartmetz

            Sorry Matthew, I misunderstood the difference you were speaking of. Though I still don’t agree with you, I apologize for the misunderstanding. Also, I apologize if my words carried an unintended tone since I’m not sure if the purported quote of Francis of Assisi was meant to address that. That was not my intention.

            Two things: First, your redefinition is based on what you think is going on in Ephesians.

            Second, help me out with Jeremiah and Jonah. I know that Jonah didn’t want to say what God had for him to say, but he still said it and what he said was exactly what God had for him to say, no deviation.

            Outside of a reference to Jeremiah wishing that the things he was given to say would not be true or to his inability to keep from speaking the word though he may have desired it, I’m not sure what you’re referencing with him where what he prophesied was not exactly what God had for him to say, again with no deviation.

            From what I read, although there may be an unwillingness in some of the prophets, they still delivered their message faithfully and accurately. In addition, their message was binding on their hearers. The same can be said of NT prophets, even the words spoken that were not written. The same cannot be said today of any who claim to have the gift. I say that not because of the confidence I have in the position I hold, but because of the confidence I have in the God who uses his prophets to speak his message faithfully and accurately, without deviation.

            Ultimately, this issue boils down to whether or not someone today can say “thus says the Lord” in the sense that Jeremiah said it. The so-called “limited” view of prophecy would say no. A redefined view would say yes, and add that what is said is not morally binding, which is also a redefinition in itself. At least that’s my understanding and experience (believe me, lots of experience).

            I look forward to your response, but know that with this I am bowing out of the discussion. Thank you for the interaction. I will pray that your view changes based not on what I or Nate or Mike say, but on the word of God. I’m sure you’ll do the same for me, and I am glad for it, otherwise I am believing and teaching falsely and I will give an account one day for it. May God have mercy on me if I am teaching falsely.

          • Noah,

            Don’t worry. I’m clearly the obnoxious one on this topic! (The quote was mostly an effort on my part to keep coming back to that mentality.)

            1) I think my definition is the result of a prolonged inquiry into all of Scripture on the topic. (Regardless of the interpretation of Eph. 2:20, I see strong support in Scripture for the continuationist perspective. (Not a dead horse I want to beat anymore…)

            2) I’ll just say that the picture of the prophetic from OT & NT is a messier process than we might want to acknowledge; simply because it is God working through men. Most prophets required a little cajoling from God in the OT, and let’s not forget that even John the Baptist had second thoughts about his prophetic acknowledgement of Chirst (Mt. 11:2, 3). Thus, when we read, “Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment” (1 Cor. 14:29), we ought to see that this was a somewhat subjective process. IF prophecy is an extant gift, it would be safe to assume it would come about in mundane, unglamorous ways.

            I’ll just ask that God continues to bring clarity to us each in this. I know that, under his grace, we both “see in a mirror dimly”.

            I do wonder if our semantics derail us at times. I know you are “bowing out,” but I wonder if anyone has ever said, “God prompted me to call you about thus-and-such” or “I feel burdened to say such-and-such to you after our conversation yesterday”? (Or maybe, “It seems like God is really leading us to…?”) Maybe you give no real credence to those things, but those hover around the concept of prophecy (edifying, consoling, encouraging). Mike R just told me not to call it prophecy, but I think such things square with a Biblical view of the prophetic. I would prefer to give it additional “weight” (not on par with Scripture, but weightier than mere advice or counsel).

            One final consideration is just that NT prophecy is the idea that it isn’t universally normative (like Scripture), but is a situational glimpse from God’s perspective. (Could it be that this constitutes the vast cache of unrecorded prophecy we see alluded to in Scripture?)

            Grace/Peace friend

  • Noah Hartmetz

    Apparently it’s not just prophecy that’s being redefined in the comments, but Mike is being called a Covenant Theologian. Either Matthew doesn’t know that Mike is a dispensationalist or he doesn’t know what covenant theology is. And what’s more, now there seems to be a misunderstanding about what a foundation is. Either Eph. 2:20 means the church is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets or the foundation is continually being laid with no building (i.e. church) being set upon it.

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  • hopechurch

    Thanks Mike for your thoughtful article regarding the problem of not looking closely at critical texts.

    Your posit an argument regarding the ceremonial law, clothing and eating prohibitions were fulfilled in Christ, with the moral law coming over to the NT as a guide only, aspects outlined and reinforced by Paul, yet to be exceeded as stated by Jesus if wishing to seek salvation by law (impossible), and also often misunderstood by the homosexual activist is a good point.

    This argument is a critical aspect of Christ fulfilling the requirements of the law and hence doing away with its requirements as a method to access the father, as argued in Galatians, Romans and Hebrews. A very clear argument.

    Yet might I humbly suggest, Paul’s outline and instructions to the church is not limited to just the early church but given by God for His Church. You would agree? No? Yet, at the same time seek to identify particular local issues that Paul addressed, and ask does this apply to us?

    But your argument that the miraculous gifts are no longer applicable can’t be based on your correct illustration of the requirements of the OT ceremonies and laws being fulfilled by Christ as there is no biblical link or logic presented.

    I cannot see your link with John 14:26 to Paul’s explanations of the all the spiritual gifts in the context of worship in the churches. Paul is inspired by the Holy Spirit as was the other NT writers, we obviously have individuals within these church using prophecy, tongues, healing, knowledge, administration, but there is no record of the content of these prophecies. Hence Grudem’s view is the only sustainable view that supports the absent of records of all these prophecies and interpretation of tongues etc.

    Again, how is it possible that 1 Cor 14:29 implies an infallible prophecy will be lost when a revelation is given to another and the one giving the prophecy must sit down? This can only be supported by Wayne Grudem’s view of prophecy. (We have not even spoken of the other gifts)

    Unfortunately, I find little evidence in scripture that supports the cessation position, regarding the Christ’s church except perhaps 1 Cor 13:11-12.

    Thank you for the opportunity of sharing my views, Mike.
    God’s richest blessings.

    • Nate_Busenitz

      Hi Hopechurch,

      Thanks for your comment. It is good for us to think through these things together, for the glory of Christ.

      While Mike did draw parallels between the OT and 1 Cor. 14:39, I think you may have missed another key aspect of his argument.

      In 1 Cor. 11:4-7, Paul states that women ought to wear head-coverings when they pray. In 1 Cor. 16:20, he tells his readers to “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” In both cases, the vast majority of evangelical Christians today apply the principles behind those verses in a way that is different than how they would have been specifically applied in a first-century context.

      With those examples serving as an immediate parallel (since they bookend the section on spiritual gifts in 1 Cor. 12-14), Mike was pointing out a valid exegetical possibility.

      If the apostolic period, as the foundation age of the church, was unique within church history (cf. Eph. 2:20) …

      AND if the miraculous gifts, as authenticating signs, were limited to that foundational age (Heb. 2:3-4) …

      THEN we would expect the application of passages like 1 Cor. 14:39 to be different for believers today than it was for believers in the first-century (during the foundational, apostolic age).

      * * * *

      Regarding 1 Corinthians 14:29, I would suggest that you are importing your view of “fallible prophecy” onto the text. There is nothing in that verse (or the surrounding verses) that indicates that the prophecy was fallible or non-authoritative. Paul is simply noting that Christian prophets could exhibit self-control. In application of 1 Corinthians 13 and in order to maintain order in the worship service, they could graciously defer to one another, and keep quiet, when it was appropriate to do so.

      In my mind, that does not imply errant, fallible prophetic messages — especially given the way that NT prophecy is described throughout the book of Acts and elsewhere in the NT.

      Thanks again for your comment.

    • Hey Hopechurch,

      Nathan has been very generous with his time and has provided a very helpful answer, which I would underscore and affirm wholeheartedly.

      I did want to further address a few things you mentioned, though, in the hopes that we can clear up some misunderstandings.

      …your argument that the miraculous gifts are no longer applicable…

      I think it’s helpful for me to say: this was not my argument. The goal of this post was not to prove the cessation of the miraculous gifts. It was to demonstrate as invalid one particular argument that is often used for the continuation of the gifts. Any full-orbed case for cessationism must be greater in scope than one blog post. So I was only focusing on one bad argument for the continuationist case. I hope that clears up some confusion.

      I cannot see your link with John 14:26 to Paul’s explanations of the all the spiritual gifts in the context of worship in the churches.

      My reference to John 14:26 and 16:13 is simply to note that God’s final revelation to be recorded in the New Covenant Scriptures had not yet been given. That fact separates the Apostolic period (i.e., the first-century church) from the subsequent period(s) of church history. As I mentioned above, the reference to those texts were not, in and of themselves, designed to disprove continuationism as a whole — just to disprove the claim that there is absolutely no distinction between the first-century church and the contemporary church.

      Hence Grudem’s view is the only sustainable view that supports the absent of records of all these prophecies and interpretation of tongues etc.

      I think this uncovers a poor presupposition on your part. This statement presupposes that all infallible prophecy ever given by God must be recorded. I don’t find that principle taught in Scripture, either explicitly or by good and necessary consequence. Elijah and Elisha were called prophets of Yahweh, yet most of what we have recorded in Scripture about them is about what they did; not as much as what they said. To be known as prophets, they must have prophesied regularly; yet very little of their verbal prophecies are recorded in Scripture. So, when we come to the NT, we impose a foreign standard upon the biblical prophecy to require that it be inscripturated. The notion that only “fallible prophecy” could not be inscripturated simply doesn’t follow, and it foists upon the text a theological category (i.e., fallible prophecy) that isn’t there.

      I hope that clears up some misunderstandings. Thanks for reading.

  • Brett Schlee

    Mike, thanks for your humility and the credit you give continuationists (“So, it must be granted that continuationists are not seeking to base their theology on experience alone. Rather, they are indeed seeking to base their understanding of the continuation of the gifts on Scripture itself.”). I would echo the humor of quoting Piper on this, and ask… is there a categorical distinction between the 1st cent. church and all others, making it completely “unique”? Or is the difference merely time, place and culture?
    When we read Calvin and Luther, obviously we subconsciously edit out tidbits that refer to a church with state authority as cultural, medieval bias… is this uniqueness like that?

    • Hi Brett,

      Thanks for your words of encouragement, and for your question.

      I would say that there is both a categorical distinction between the first-century church and all others, and a time/place/culture distinction.

      The time/place/culture distinction is seen in the difference of our application of the head-covering passage in 1Cor 11, for example.

      The categorical distinction is seen in things like the fact that there are no longer Apostles in the church today, the canon is closed, and no one is receiving infallible, authoritative, binding revelation from God today. That is to say, during the first century, the foundation was being laid through the ministry of the apostles and prophets (cf. Eph 2:20). That foundation has since been laid, and the foundational ministry of the apostles and prophets ceased with the close of that foundational period.

  • Truth Unites… and Divides

    Hi Mike Riccardi,

    Suppose you were the senior pastor of a church. And you were conducting membership classes. You met with an individual who’s a continuationist, and despite loving attempts to lovingly persuade otherwise, s/he is and was inflexibly firm in being a continuationist, and s/he spoke in tongues as private prayerful language, and who also relied upon the Holy Spirit as well as the Bible for advice and decision-making, frequently saying that the “Spirit led me to….” or “God told me….”

    Would you let him or her become a member of your church?

    • Hey TUAD,

      That’s a good question. Membership is something that I’ve thought a lot about. I like the way Grace Community Church handles things on this. We don’t have a “doctrinal statement,” strictly speaking, which members must agree to 100% before being admitted into membership. We have a very detailed, “What We Teach” statement. The membership applicant isn’t asked to agree with every jot and tittle, because we want the person who was saved 45 minutes ago to be able to join our church. If they don’t have a position on the rapture, the millennium, or even the gifts, we don’t want to turn them away. We consider that our church is the best place for them to learn and grow. So instead of indicating total agreement, they indicate whether they’re willing to submit to the leadership that teaches such things.

      In the situation you describe, though, the membership applicant is “inflexibly firm” in their continuationist position. In the membership interview, I would explain that according to our “What We Teach” statement, we teach as biblical that the miraculous gifts have ceased and that tongues was never defined in the Bible as a private prayer language, but as the gift of speaking a known human language (though unknown to the speaker) that must be interpreted in the congregational assembly. I would explain that as a member, he would be required to submit to the elders’ teaching on this, and would not be allowed to teach against it. Then I would ask them if their conscience would permit them to submit to such authority and teaching that goes against what they believe — if they could be in a church where we weren’t going to have time for tongues and interpretation, or for “prophecy.”

      If they said no (which is very likely), then the matter is closed. If they said yes, they would be willing to submit to that teaching and wouldn’t teach against it, then, depending on how long they’ve been attending, I would probably encourage them to wait on membership, but continue coming to church for a few months or so, and then revisit the issue with them. I’d like to think that if the person was very serious and was at all teachable, that I would devote some time to searching the Scriptures with that person. If after some time in the church and meeting with me, they remained “inflexibly firm,” then I’d probably suggest that they prayerfully consider attending another church that allows them greater freedom of conscience, even while insisting that I believe they have wrongfully informed their conscience by improperly interpreting the Scriptures.

      Hope that helps.

      • Truth Unites… and Divides

        Hi Pastor Mike,

        That helps tremendously. Thanks.

  • Uriah Jackson

    This is a great thought provoking and stimulating conversation we have here. Great post. As one that has come from a Pentecostal background, I have served with many people who claimed to prophesy. As I grew in the faith, I realized how dangerous these people were because If a person who claimed to be a prophet spoke, he (or she) would be claiming that since they are a prophet, that the words they speak are actually from God Himself, and are to be regarded as infallible and sure as the ancient tried and true revelation of Scripture. It also implies that disregard of the said “prophecy” could be regarded as unbelief or disobedience to God Himself. Those are very heavy claims to say that a persons subjective utterances today, carry the same authority as the Word of God, even when they do not speak directly from it, and this is where many so-called prophets gracefully bow out. I have even seen where those in the Latter Rain movement claiming to be prophets have said that they don’t claim to be one of those “Thus saith the Lord” prophets” but still hold on to the supposed title, by saying that if they felt the Lord was speaking through them,they would “just speak” and if it manifests, great. What other kind of prophet is there? Paul knew when he was speaking and Christ was. He knew the difference between his opinion and the Lord’s commands.We see this in 1 Cor. 7:6-12. So why, if you’re a prophet why can’t you determine the difference?

    Another question I would like to ask is, what messages does a prophet give to us today, that is pertinent, need-to-know information that is not in Scripture? From my experience with so-called prophets, the messages they claim to speak from God include topic that are no different from a 1800 psychic (remember Miss Cleo?). Money, health, love, relationships, job advancements and other things pertaining to individuals that do not concern us as a Body. Even the NT prophecies that we have in the Scripture that had to do with Paul and Timothy (1 Tim. 4:14 Acts 21:10-11), though personally related to the two individuals, they affected us and the advancement of the Gospel today.

    “And thats all I have to say about that” -Forrest Gump

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