March 1, 2012

Five Dangers of Fallible Prophecy

by Nathan Busenitz

I have a great deal of respect for Wayne Grudem. His Systematic Theology was required reading in seminary, and I learned a great deal from his clear and comprehensive discussions on everything from angelology to soteriology. Though I did not always agree with his conclusions, I appreciated his ability to articulate the major positions with fairness and objectivity.

Along with many others, I am thankful for Dr. Grudem’s contribution to the body of Christ — not only through his Systematic Theology, but also through his work with the ESV and his involvement in the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

Having said that, I find his views on the gift of prophecy to be particularly troubling. Hence today’s post.

Just a few days ago, a colleague pointed me to a video in which Wayne Grudem and Ian Hamilton engaged in a friendly debate regarding the definition of prophecy in the New Testament. I was already aware of Dr. Grudem’s espousal of a non-authoritative, fallible form of New Testament prophecy (from his Systematic Theology, his extensive chapter in The Kingdom and the Power, and his book on Prophecy), so I was eager to watch the interchange.

For those who have not watched the debate (it is over an hour long after all), the issue essentially boils down to this: What was the gift of prophecy in the New Testament, and is it still in operation today? 

Ian Hamilton, representing the cessationist perspective (which I agree with), contended that there is only one kind of prophetic gift in the New Testament, and it is equivalent to prophecy in the Old Testament. It consists of error-free revelation from God. Thus, it is both infallible and authoritative, such that the prophet can proclaim, “Thus says the Lord” with absolute accuracy. Moreover, the gift of prophecy was for the foundation age of the church (Ephesians 2:20). Thus, it passed away, along with the apostles, when the foundation age ended.

Wayne Grudem, representing the continuationist position, argued that there are two kinds of prophetic gift in the New Testament. There is apostolic prophecy which was infallible, authoritative, and foundational; it alone was equivalent to Old Testament prophecy, and it ceased after the time of the apostles.

But, in Grudem’s view, there is a second type of New Testament prophecy — what we might call congregational prophecy. This form of prophecy is fallible, non-authoritative, and has continued throughout the church age. It is not equivalent to Old Testament prophecy (and therefore bypasses the strict stipulations of Deuteronomy 13 & 18) and might be better compared to “Spirit-led advice.” It generally consists of personal impressions from God, which are then interpreted by the prophet and reported to the congregation (sometimes incorrectly depending on the faith of the individual). The congregation is not bound to obey these words of prophecy, but nonetheless ought to consider them carefully within the greater context of life.

Here are a few key statements (with timestamps) from the video in which Dr. Grudem explains his views:

[26:00] Because this [congregational prophecy] does not have the authority of God’s words, I would counsel people never to make huge life decisions based on a prophecy alone.

[27:08] I don’t want to say that this ever comes — ever, ever, ever comes — with the force of Scripture, or stands alone, it stands in the whole complex of all of life and we take it into account as one factor.

[27:39] I would put this idea of God bringing things to mind in the same category of authority as advice or counsel from a godly person.

[35:10] So I do use the word “revelation” [when speaking of modern prophecy]. But I think it’s revelation that doesn’t result in canonical Scripture and doesn’t come with the force of Scripture, but is simply God bringing things to mind.

[38:51] I don’t see in the New Testament [discussion of prophecy] any parallel to the treatment of prophets in the Old Testament where they were taken out and stoned, or the New Testament equivalent would be excommunication. … False teachers are certainly condemned and should be excluded, but not anybody who makes a mistake on a prophecy.

[59:53 — regarding the evaluation of these prophecies:] Pastorally, if someone is in charge of a home fellowship group or if a pastor is in charge of a prayer meeting, you call it as you see it. I have to use an American analogy, it’s an umpire calling balls and strikes as the pitcher pitches the ball across the plate.

[1:09:15] To give a practical example [of prophecy], I’ll put it in terms of guidance. I’m convinced that a number of years ago, God led me to cancel my subscription to the newspaper to the Chicago Tribune, because morning after morning I was spending too much time reading it. And God finally put it on my heart, “Wayne, you’ve got to cancel that.” So out of obedience, I cancelled it. I think that was God guiding me.

Those quotes from Dr. Grudem are, obviously, just a small sampling of all that was said. But they highlight some of the key features of Grudem’s view. They underscore the fact that Grudem sees modern-day prophecy as non-authoritative, fallible, and essentially consisting of God guiding people through personal impressions.

Ian Hamilton did an excellent job pointing out some of the exegetical, theological, and pastoral reasons why Grudem’s view of prophecy is not tenable. (In my opinion, Hamilton overwhelmingly won the debate, though he was very gracious in doing so.)

But why is this issue so important? 

Like Hamilton, I too have exegetical and theological reasons for rejecting a definition of prophecy that consists of non-authoritative, fallible messages. In this post, however, I want to outline several of the alarming implications for pastoral ministry that (I believe) stem from Dr. Grudem’s definition of prophecy. In my opinion, his position on this issue opens an ecclesiological pandora’s box.

Here are five of areas of concern:

1. By creating a category of modern “prophecy” that can include erroneous messages, this view makes it unnecessarily difficult for the church today to identify and refute false prophets (cf. Matt. 7:15). It further neuters (i.e. ignores) the strict requirements on true prophecy found in Deuteronomy 13 and 18.

2. By defining prophecy in terms of impressions and subjective guidance, this view provides no objective or authoritative means by which a person can know for sure if a feeling is from God or some other source. It also provides no objective or authoritative means by which church leaders can evaluate for sure whether a “prophet’s” message is legitimate.

3. By teaching that God still gives prophetic revelation today, this view encourages believers to look for messages from God outside of the Bible. While continuationists insist on a closed canon (and rightly so), this view of prophecy — in practice — calls into question the sufficiency of Scripture at the most practical levels of daily living.

4. By using terms like “prophecy,” “revelation,” and “a word from the Lord,” this view has the potential to manipulate people by binding their consciences to a fallible message or compelling them to make unwise decisions. Though proponents insists that congregational prophecy is not authoritative (at least, not at the corporate level), their understanding of prophecy is highly vulnerable to being abused within the local congregation.

5. By  allowing for error in prophecy, this view permits people to say, “Thus says the Lord” when in fact their messages are fallible and erroneous. In effect, it allows people to attribute to the God of Truth messages that are errant, which is a very dangerous thing to do. Furthermore, by redefining fallible messages as “prophecy,” it demeans and cheapens the true gift of infallible prophecy as it operated in the Old and New Testaments.

There are other implications as well, but these are sufficient to make the point: the charismatic insistence on continued prophetic revelation (outside of Scripture) has significant implications for the life of the church. Thus, the cessationist-continuationist debate is not merely an academic exercise. Where one lands exegetically and theologically on this issue has very real ramifications for pastoral ministry.

In my judgment, those who open the door to modern-day prophecy not only do harm to the biblical text, they also open themselves up to all sorts of theological and spiritual danger. In so doing, they needlessly put themselves and their congregations at risk.

* * * * *

Update: Mike Riccardi has written a helpful follow-up post on NT prophecy and the uniqueness of the first-century church. Click here to read it.

Nathan Busenitz

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Nathan serves on the pastoral staff of Grace Church and teaches theology at The Master's Seminary in Los Angeles.
  • Ben Thorp

    I’d be interested to know how you account for the various people named as prophets in the Old and New Testaments who don’t have their words recorded in Scripture. Are their prophesies invalid, making them false prophets? Or are they valid, in which case Scripture does not contain all the inspired words of God? (For a couple of examples, the group of prophets among whom Saul prophesied, or the daughters of Philip in the NT).

    (FWIW your point 5 is null; every continuationist church I’ve been in is very specific about _not_ allowing people to say that for precisely that reason. Therefore the danger is only as much as danger as it would be in a cessationist church – someone could say it unwarranted, but it would be countered by a leader)

    • AStev

      The words “Thus says the Lord” are irrelevant. If someone is claiming to have a prophecy, it’s implied that it’s from God, whether they specifically say so or not.

    • Sam

      We already know that the Bible doesn’t contain ALL the inspired words of God. If it did, for instance, we’d have a record of every word that Jesus ever spoke to anyone, anywhere, any time. At least a couple of biblical authors, both OT & NT, are very clear that they didn’t write down and transmit every word or everything they heard from God.

    • Ben, has someone made the argument that to be “valid” all OT and NT prophecy must be contained in the recorded revelation of God?

    • Podszilla

      ” I’d be interested to know how you account for the various people named as prophets in the Old and New Testaments who don’t have their words recorded in Scripture. Are their prophesies invalid, making them false prophets?”

      This is a great point.

    • I think Rev 10:1-4 is helpful with this issue. In verse 4, the Apostle John says ,”4 When the seven peals of thunder had spoken, I was about to write; and I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Seal up the things which the seven peals of thunder have spoken and do not write them.” “. Simply stated, it seems there are truths God has revealed in his scriptures and there are truths he has not revealed in the scriptures. In this case, the apostle John is specifically instructed not to write down (thus not part of the revealed scriptures) what he heard. Unwritten truths or prophecies described in the OT or NT are not invalid, they’re just not revealed to us at this present time.

    • Nate_Busenitz

      Hi Ben,

      Thank you for your comment. There were obviously OT and NT prophets who gave words of prophecy that are not recorded in Scripture. Christ Himself also said and did many things that were not written down (John 20:30). The cessationist position does not argue otherwise, nor is it jeopardized by such an acknowledgment.

      However, now that the “prophetic word” (2 Peter 1:19-21) of canonical Scripture is complete, cessationists believe that there is no longer any new revelation being given by God. Hebrews 1:1-2 states that while God spoke through the prophets in the past, He spoke finally and fully through His Son, Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus gave apostles and prophets as gifts to the church (Eph. 4:11) in order to give additional revelation to His church (cf. John 14-16). But they were only for the foundation of the church (Eph. 2:20). Now that the foundation age (the apostolic age) is over, and the canon is complete, the gift of prophecy (in the sense of people receiving new revelation from God) has ceased.

      Also, it is important to note that all biblical prophets were held to a standard of 100% accuracy. Deuteronomy 18:22 states that “When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken. The prophet has spoken presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.” (A few verses earlier, the text even demands the death penalty for errant prophets–showing that God takes errant prophecy very seriously.)

      In my reading of the text, if continuationists are going to appeal to biblical prophets as a parallel to their own experiences, they must hold themselves to the same level of 100% accuracy. Insofar as continuationism argues for fallible, errant prophecy, it can no longer point to biblical prophecy as a parallel.

      Hope that helps. Thanks again for your comments.

      • Hi Nathan

        Thanks for the article. I’m intrigued, however. You said ‘all biblical prophets were held to a standard of 100% accuracy’ and quoted Deuteronomy 18:22. So what do you make of Agabus, who clearly got aspects of his prophecy inaccurate in Acts 11:28 yet is referred to as a prophet in Acts 21:10?



        • Nate_Busenitz

          Hi Sam,

          Thanks for your comment. I don’t know of any evangelical commentators who believe Agabus made a mistake in Acts 11:28. The controversy surrounds his statement in Acts 21:10-11. But (in Acts 21) nothing in the text states that Agabus’s prediction regarding Paul’s arrest in Jerusalem was inaccurate. Rather, the indication of the text is that Agabus spoke with the full authority of the Holy Spirit. He even starts his prophecy by declaring, “Thus says the Holy Spirit” (v. 11).

          Luke (in reporting the fulfillment of Agabus’s prophecy a few verses later–Acts 21:30ff.) skips over details that would have been redundant, since he had already recorded those details when he included the words of Agabus. Thus, I believe Paul was first bound by the Jews with a belt and then handed over to the Romans, just as Agabus foretold. (This, in fact, fits with how Paul himself reported what happened in Acts 26:21 — The Jews seized him first and then handed him over to the Romans.)

          To suggest that Agabus “clearly got aspects of his prophecy inaccurate” is an argument from silence. It imposes a view of “fallible prophecy” on the text. Since Agabus credited the Holy Spirit with his information (a point which the text affirms), I think it is extremely dangerous to claim that Agabus’s prophecy was inaccurate. After all, he was quoting the Holy Spirit Himself. And we would never want to credit God with error.

          For a full discussion of Agabus from a cessationist perspective, see page 81 from Thomas Edgar’s book, Satisfied by the Promise of the Spirit.” You can access it online through Google Books:

          Thanks again for your question. I hope this is helpful.

          • Hi Nathan

            Thanks for your response – fair enough 🙂 no-one had ever pointed out Acts 26:21 to me before so I’ll give that a revisit!

            As I’m sure you could have predicted (prophecied?!) I don’t think I’m convinced to be a cessationist yet; where you point out that you consider using Agabus as an argument from silence, the vast amount of arguments in favour of cessationism to me seem to be from silence, so should equally be disregarded.

            I suppose that unfortunately I find that your five dangers of infallible prophecy all seem to be around how difficult it is to weigh up prophecy, rather than whether or not the Bible says we should earnestly seek it as a spiritual gift nowadays. So the primary biblical reason for being a charismatic for me is that the Bible commands us to eagerly desire prophecy – arguing that these commands were for a specific situation seems to me to call into question whether, for example, Paul’s commands about homosexuality were for a specific situation or for nowadays as well.

            For me, some of my most formative preachers around nowadays are Terry Virgo, John Piper, Mark Driscoll, etc, who are eager to pursue the prophetic as a direct result of their great respect and love for God and the Bible. What do you make of their theology outside of the cessationist/charismatic argument? Have you ever tried speaking in tongues?

            Apologies if this comes across as offensive in any way – I just know that as a charismatic who used to be a cessationist the level of joy and intimacy with God that baptism in the Spirit brings is a good thing which has inspired far greater evangelism, love for my wife, and monetary giving than I possibly could have before. Not to mention miraculous healings!

    • Nate_Busenitz

      FWIW your point 5 is null; every continuationist church I’ve been in is very specific about _not_ allowing people to say that for precisely that reason.

      If today’s prophecy is parallel to biblical prophecy, then why would a modern prophet be prohibited from saying, “Thus says the Lord”? Or at least, “Thus says the Holy Spirit” (Acts 21:11)?

  • Matt Waymeyer

    Good stuff, Nathan. Regarding your first point, it would be interesting to ask Dr. Grudem if there are any false prophets alive today and, if so, how one would be able to identify them as such.

    • csrima

      This is definitely a gray area for many in the church today. We can be sure there are false prophets, although it seems most these days only call people false prophets who are pointing out the false-prophety-ness of others. It’s hard to be a Biblical Christian when it’s a sin to call sin, sin.

  • Don’t know much about either position myself and not meaning to start a debate, but if the cessationist view is correct why would Paul say “I wish you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you prophesied” (1 Cor. 14:5) to the Corinthians, if they couldn’t even do it themselves? Wouldn’t that be dishonest, or at least a jerk thing to do?

    • Sam

      No, it wouldn’t. He was writing to people in the church at the same time he was, which would mean, in a continuationist’s view, that the gifts were, at the time, still continuing, and would stop continuing at some later date. If the gifts were still being used then, he’s certainly in his place to wish it for them.

    • The cessationist view is not that sign gifts ceased during the NT, but that they ceased after the foundation of the church by the Apostles. The Corinthians of course could display these gifts when Paul wrote to them.

      • Nigel

        One of my problems with the cessationist view is that so much of scripture is now redundant. Why is it that we do not have any of the unfallible prophecies from the NT church that Paul is wanting, but we do have an instruction that we should all desire to prophecy?

        • My problem with the Old Testament is that so many of the Mosaic laws are…

    • Ranthony

      Just remember the letters to the Corinthian church was a warning to an out of control church, not a model for us to follow. If you study 1 Corinthians from the beginning you see very quickly this was not a church model to follow.

      • But Paul’s instructions to them were meant to be followed, right?

      • Bentley


        One thing we seem to miss sometimes though is that while the Corinthians obviously had many problems resulting from their practice of spiritual gifts, Paul never tells them to shut it down. He never tells them to shut the church down or quit practicing or pursuing the gifts. I’m not advocating that we follow the Corinthian church as a model though. I am advocating that we follow Paul’s instructions. Is encouraging pursuit and practice of spiritual gifts risky? Yes, because the church is full of justified sinners on the path of sanctification who can abuse and misuse them. Can they, however, be pursued and practiced in such a way that gives God glory, builds up His church, and is in submission and support of Scripture? I believe Paul would say yes, with clear teaching and good practical examples it is possible.

    • Nate_Busenitz

      Hi Josh,

      Good question about 1 Corinthians 14:5. Paul was writing during a time when all agree the spiritual gifts were active and available. So, his statement was certainly valid for the time in which he wrote. Mike Riccardi’s article helps to explain this point further:

      However, a couple exegetical points can be made regarding Paul’s “wish” in verse 5.

      1) Paul has already indicated that not every believer will receive the gift of tongues or prophecy (1 Cor. 12:28-31). So his wish in 14:5 (just 18 verses later) must be interpreted as a rhetorical point, and not as a potential reality.

      2) Paul uses an identical Greek expression a few chapters earlier (in 1 Corinthians 7:7), where he wishes all of the Corinthians were unmarried like he was. Obviously, not all of the Corinthian believers were unmarried. So Paul’s “wish” must again be interpreted as being intended to make a rhetorical point.

      3) The Corinthians already all wished for the gift of tongues. (Due to their spiritual pride, they prized that gift above any other.) In 1 Cor. 14:5, Paul is actually providing a mild corrective to their thinking. For rhetorical purposes, he connects with the very thing they were wishing for (“tongues”) and then pushes them to desire something greater (“prophecy”) — because prophecy did not need to be interpreted in order to edify the congregation.

      Thanks again for your comment,

  • Joeyharris80

    Nathan – interesting post on what prophecy is not. But the big question to you is…what is new testament prophecy? i.e. if you are the average Corinthian 2000 years ago and read Pauls letter to saying to “earnestly desire” to prophesy…what do you do with that? Do you in fact obey Pauls command here (whatever your definition of prophecy is?

    • Nick F.

      I think Nathan (and most other strict cessationists) would have us ignore that part of scripture. The point is not that there are God’s words that weren’t recorded, but whether there are words that were recorded that we can freely ignore. We disregard OT liturgical and civic laws because Christ himself gave us freedom to do so. I’ve always found the cessationist exegesis to be weak, and I just don’t think scripture clearly states that *all* gifts ceased when the last apostle died, when the canon was completed, or whatever.

      Most cessationists probably wouldn’t say that *all* gifts ceased, either — it really comes down to a disputed few. We all agree that there’s no more scripture, and many of us would still be open to occasional miraculous healings by God’s power. But as for the areas of tongues and prophesy, it’s far less clear, and I’d much rather take scripture at face-value when there’s no obvious reason not to do so. That’s what sets my conscience at ease, even if it puts me at odds with some of my fellow believers. At the same time, while gifts are encouraged, the main point of out faith is following Jesus, so even if we disagree I still don’t see this as a very big deal.

      • Jgilcher


        I commend your desire to take Scripture at face value, but you have reckon with the reality that 1 Corinthians 13:8 says that both prophecy and tongues would cease and no longer operate. Irenaeus, Chrysostom and Augustine (not to mention other early church fathers) explicitly noted in their writings that in their day neither tongues nor prophecy were operating. And then what you have is at least 1700-1800 years of no occurences of either tongues or prophecy–that is, unless you count the false prophecies and ecstatic speech of fringe, cult groups like the Jansenists, Camisards and Cevenols.

        It’s not really until the early 1900s that things like “prophecy” and tongues really exploded (in places like LA and KC) and yet, those things took place in extremely theologically suspect movements (none of which, probably, would you affiliate yourself with).

        This says nothing of the fact that the occurrences of “prophecy” and “tongues” today resembles nothing of what is portrayed in Scripture (i.e., tongues in the Bible=actual, spoken languages; tongues today=unidentifiable ecstatic speech; prophecy in the Bible=infallible, authoritative revelation from God; prophecy today=fallible advice that might be from God).

        So I think taking a text like 1 Corinthians 13:8 at face value should cause you to reckon with that text before saying that there’s no obvious reason to believe that they have ceased.

        Also, men like Dr. Busenitz would not have you ignore 1 Corinthians 14:5 and nor would he recommend any other cessationist do that. Be careful of your assumptions or accusations. I think any cessationist who loves the Bible would encourage an honest historical-grammatical interpretation of that text understood in its context-which is exactly what you desire as well.

        Also, in 1 Corinthians 13:10, when Paul says when the “perfect” comes, then things like tongues and prophecy will cease. True, this does not actually say when the canon is completed or when the last apostle dies. But you surely have an opinion of what it means. Because what you believe about what the “perfect” is determines why you believe what you do about both tongues and prophecy.

        THe term “perfect” has the idea of complete or better, mature. I believe the best view of this is that Paul is saying that the “perfect” is a stage of maturity in the church in which foundation-laying gifts like tongues and prophecy would no longer be needed. And it was either apostles or apostolic delegates who were equipped with these gifts (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:12). When they laid the foundation of the church, the gifts of tongues and prophecy would no longer be needed, since they were in large measure for the purpose of authenticating the Gospel message.

        THe question is not: “Can God do these things?”, the question IS: “Are these sign gifts God’s normal means of operation today in the church?” I believe (of course) the answer is “no.” Rather, God grows His church through preaching, discipleship, mentoring, training, equipping the saints and then evangelism and disciple-making.

        THanks for your time Nick. Have a great day.

    • Paul Lamey


      “Do you in fact obey Paul’s command here?”

      Are you saying that “earnestly desire” in 1 Cor 14:39 is a command for all Christians in all times without qualification and without context? I think you need to demonstrate such a view from the context and show that was the intent of Paul’s message.

      It’s important to remember that Paul’s statement is essentially the last thing he says after dealing with the issue for three chapters. Continuationists usually point to 1 Cor 12:31; 14:1, 12 in addition to 14:39 to espouse what you’re saying. I’m surprised you didn’t mention these as well because they are important to the context of 14:39.

      In its context, Paul’s point in 1 Cor 12:31 is that the Corinthians be enthusiastic for the gifts that edify rather than gifts like healing and tongues. For this reason they are to give priority to edification rather than selfish measures in the assembly. Paul is not teaching in any of these verse that Christians are to individually pursue certain gifts, prophesy or otherwise. Rather he is teaching that they should have as a priority the edification of the church. The verb translated “earnestly desire” is the same in 1 Cor 12:31; 14:1, 12, 39 and not used in any of these contexts to teach that individuals seek certain gifts. If this is in fact Paul’s purpose in writing these three chapters then there are no statements in the NT that command or teach believers to seek specific gifts.

      Thanks for the interaction,

  • Reg Schofield

    I hold that within Grudems view as well there can creep in a “superiority” type of fellowship . What I refer to is what I have seen in certain Churches in my area who are hyper charismatic and certain individuals who have bee raised up because they are the ones who give prophecy. I know first hand people who have been deeply hurt because of a so called word from the Lord for them and they have left not just that Church but have stopped going altogether . Instead of people coming together around the word of God to hear it preached , I have witnessed first hand , people waiting for a fresh word from the Lord and the Bible is almost a secondary source. So much for the sufficiency of the word of God. Excellent post and its one that I will be sharing .

    • Job Kaper

      There is clearly some abuse and/ misuse of prophecy and other spiritual gifts in (charismatic) churches but that in itself does not disqualify the gifts. I have experienced manipulation from the pulpit where the word was preached but that says more about the person than the place of the pulpit. I know of churches where there is a good place for prophecy and where there are good checks and balances.

  • Pingback: 5 dangers inherent in Wayne Grudem’s view of ongoing, fallible prophecy —> |

  • If you notice, Grudem (just like every person who believes in extra-biblical revelations) will ultimately lean on their own subjective experience to make a point.

    • Ben Thorp

      A good number of people who don’t believe in extra-biblical revelation also lean on their own subjective experience to make a point.

    • To be fair, cessationists also lean on their own subjective experiences too, they just won’t use it in argument. Experience shouldn’t be discounted outright anyway- many people have a conversion experience – an encounter with Christ – that is much more than just mentally/intellectually deciding to follow Him, and it would be unwise to discount or discredit them.

      • Josh, I think when he says “lean on”, he means “use it in a debate to defend his position.”

        • Just because it’s not explicitly verbally ‘leaned on’ to make a point in a debate doesn’t mean it’s not still leaned on to make a point in a debate. That’s what I was trying to say.

    • Bentley


      As someone who has recently embraced the continuationist position I can tell you that I did so having not experienced any so-called extra biblical revelations either for myself or from someone else. I did so from a study of Scripture which led me to believe that New Testament prophecy is 1. one of many gifts God has given for the edification of His church, 2. Is not mainly revelatory in the way most of us are thinking but is 3. an imperfect revelation, insight, etc that is given for edifying, encouragement, and consolation in a way that couldn’t have happened if God hadn’t specifically given it.

      I’m not denying that many charismatic and/or continuationists get this wrong and do think of New Testament prophecy as mainly directional or future-revealing extra-biblical revelation. However, I don’t think that is how the New Testament portrays it.

      • Gabe


  • C. M. Sheffield

    Well said brother. Thank you for this helpful post.

  • Truth Unites… and Divides

    Thanks for warning us of the 5 dangers, Nate!

  • michael henry

    I watched the cordial debate between Grudem and Hamilton in it’s entirety. It was astonishing to hear Grudem espouse the same biblical ideas one would hear from a Beth Moore believer, or an average “God told me” charismatic church goer. While Hamilton gave clear and concise biblical examples and warnings regarding prophecy, Grudem gave “well, I trust what my wife feels, and she discerned…”. While Hamilton gave us Pauline guidelines for prophecy in the church, Grudem gave “well, we have to be discerning, we have to check it by seeing whether it is true or not”. With Grudem, when answering Hamilton’s concerns, his response was always to be more careful, to verify with other believers. He had no answer, and I don’t think it was asked, about what if they are deceived too? While surely honest and well meaning, Grudem in his defense of the experiential really abandons scriptural authority in favor of experience. The prophecy comes first, then it is somehow discerned as valid by other believers and the simple “test the spirits” is applied. Somehow a negative example of a prophecy being “tested” as false is never given by Grudem, or any other charismatic, while we always have abundance of positive affirmations. Somehow, God always seems to verify what a charismatic experiences, and claims as prophecy. Grudem’s defense of his position was incredibly weak.

    • Truth Unites… and Divides

      “While Hamilton gave clear and concise biblical examples and warnings regarding prophecy, Grudem gave “well, I trust what my wife feels, and she discerned…“”

      I wonder how much of Grudem’s position on fallible prophecy is based upon his love for his wife and her feelings.

      I.e., Can a spouse’s thoughts, feelings, and positions on issues affect and influence the other spouse’s positions on issues?

  • Podszilla

    Having read this post, my respect for Grudem has positively skyrocketed. I think it is telling that most cessationist argue primarily from skepticism and misgivings, rather than from scripture. The irony is that while saying Grudem’s view of prophecy “calls into question the sufficiency of Scripture at the most practical levels of daily living” you overlook the very fact that it IS scripture that informs Grudem’s stance. Grudem embraces this view, BECAUSE scripture necessitates it. To hold a cessatioist perspective seems untenable at best, because Paul (in scripture) urges the inconsistent believers in the frontier church of Corinth to “eagerly desire the gift of prophecy” (1 Cor 14:1). He them goes on to give as detailed a description of the how/why of this gift as he gives to anything in his writings (including communion and church structure).

    So let’s not be governed by fear or gloomy “what ifs” in this area, but rather by scripture! I applaud Grudem for doing just that.

    • See Paul Lamey’s comment to Joey above:

      Also, let’s also not assume that it’s “fear or gloomy ‘what ifs'” that govern one’s theology.

      • Thanks Mike. Paul L actually wrote,

        “It’s important to remember that Paul’s statement is essentially the last thing he says after dealing with the issue for three chapters.”

        This isn’t true, though. It is actually the FIRST thing he says, before tackling the topic of the prophetic. He primarily spends two chapters dealing with their pre-ocupation with tongues before saying, “What you should really desire is to prophesy.” His description of the prophetic (in v. 3) actually jives very closely with Grudem’s description.

        I do think this only illustrates the seeming biblical illiteracy that typifies the cessationist camp. To say that verse one was the LAST thing Paul said about the prophetic, when it actually introduced the topic is just a misstatement of the facts.

        To the point of whether I’m assuming “fear and gloomy ‘what ifs'” I would quote Busenits own objection:

        “By defining prophecy in terms of impressions and subjective guidance, this view provides no objective or authoritative means by which a person can know for sure if a feeling is from God or some other source.”

        This line of reasoning comes less from Scripture than it does from fear about “what if”. Scripture is very clear that discernment and the counsel of the church leadership must factor in. Busenits rationale would have us reject ALL purported prophetic words because SOME might be false. (Baby AND bathwater.) Paul tells us that we shouldn’t treat prophesy with contempt (1 Thes. 5:20), and it would seem clear that rejecting all prophetic claims out of hand would be just that.

        More to the point, Paul is not writing these letters looking backward into the so-called “Apostolic age”, but forward into the so-called “church age”. He is writing about the ongoing modus operandi of these churches. He gives no caveat about these things going away.

        The only motive I can ascertain for rejecting such clear Scriptural counsel is fear or discomfort with the unknown.

        You can read more of my views in this series of posts:

        Know that I run in cessationist circles, but have never seen much strength in their exegesis.


        • Paul Lamey


          I was responding to someone’s comment about 1 Cor 14:39 which is in fact the last thing that Paul says about this topic in 1 Cor 12-14. Additionally, I also noted that 14:39 should be understood in the flow of the context of the overall passage.

          I’m sorry that you saw my comment as an illustration of “the seeming biblical illiteracy that typifies the cessationist camp.” Is this the Spirit-filled type of interaction you long for the church to embrace?


          • Paul,

            Thanks for the mild rebuke.

            I used the word “seeming” because I don’t think it is “actual” biblical illiteracy. I would say I’m often perplexed by the seeming reluctance to work out passages like 1 Cor. 14 or 1 Thes. 5 into church life. The guidelines for dealing with the prophetic are fairly spelled out, though they do require us to embrace some … messiness?

            Biblical illiteracy is probably too caustic, but I’m trying to put a term to what I see as a tendency to circumvent the clear teachings of Scripture on such topics. (It seems like one of those odd occasions when we prefer the protracted and less-likely interpretation over the clear and probable one. The basic motivations here seem to tend toward discomfort or fear regarding the outworking.)


        • I’ll still assert that Busenits’ line of reasoning comes less from Scripture than it does from fear about “what if”.

          But that’s because (a) not every blog post can be about everything, and (b) this particular blog post highlighted the pastorally harmful effects of fallible prophecy. So Nate is showing that, pastorally, the what-ifs that this sort of aberration does engender, are harmful. He’s not saying that’s the only reason to reject the redefinition of NT prophecy.

          and it would seem clear that rejecting all prophetic claims out of hand would be just that.

          Nobody’s called for rejecting all prophetic claims out of hand. Cessationists are calling for the rejection of prophetic claims on the basis that Scripture teaches that ongoing revelation has ceased with the closing of the canon, and that the contemporary “gift of prophecy” is not at all like the NT gift.

          More to the point, Paul is not writing these letters looking backward into the so-called “Apostolic age”, but forward into the so-called “church age”. He is writing about the ongoing modus operandi of these churches.

          He doesn’t have to look backward. He’s there. 1 Thessalonians was one of Paul’s earliest epistles (ca. AD 51). There’s no argument that 1st-century churches saw the biblical gift of prophecy exercised, and thus needed apostolic direction for use. That’s what passages like 1Thess 5 were. So, no forward-looking or backward-looking. He’s writing to them in the context and circumstances they were facing at the time of writing.

          He gives no caveat about these things going away.

          I know that the 1Cor 13 issue is fraught with problems for both sides, but one thing that it does unequivocally state is that tongues and prophecy will cease. You can’t say, then, that there’s no caveat about these things going away.

          The only motive I can ascertain…

          Actually, you can’t ascertain any motive. So you should refrain from speculating. As the more civilized bloggers say, that would be uncharitable.

          • To start, let’s be careful about the scold-y tone. We’re having a discussion, so let’s just engage rather than be too nit-picky.

            I’m mostly probing the motives stated in the original piece (rather than being based in Scripture, they were based in fears about risks. I just want to bring the topic back to a Scriptural basis. These discussions typically go down the road of “but what if”. When they do that, they detour from Scripture.This is why I want to identify where that is happening. To be fair, the “this will be taken too far” idea is every bit as much an indictment on motives and discernment as anything. To caution against being motivated by such fears/misgivings isn’t the same as attributing negative motives–it is addressing people motives as they’ve been disclosed. I think I’ve done a good job of citing these things above.

            You’re definitely right that no post can cover all basis, but that is the beauty of these forums. It give us a chance to hash out some of the finer points (hopefully).

            I would say that your reference in 1 Cor. 13 is clearly an eschatologal text. (Referring to that day when “the perfect comes” and when we see “face to face” and “know fully” (see also 1 John 3:2). I think all of us would agree that prophecy will cease in the age to come–as will missions for the same reason.

            I’m not certain what your saying with, “He doesn’t have to look backward. He’s there.” It would seem you are saying Paul is essentially saying, “Accept the Apostolic prophetic writings.” In that case, however, I would expect Paul to say, “earnestly desire that you might prophesy, but you never will because only Apostles do that.”

            Clearly Paul is allowing for non-Apostolic prophesy moving forward into the life of the church. Let’s remember that is was Paul who differentiated between the apostles and prophets in Ephesians 4:11.

            If you read early church history, there actually are lots of references to prophets. Some (as in the case of Montanus and his two prophetesses) were deemed false/heretical. This did cause a backlash against the prophetic, and the canonization of Scripture!

            Tertullian, for one, was deeply grieved by this. Clearly embracing the ongoing role of prophet. This was in the 2nd century!

            That’s all. I’m genuinely interested in this topic. Not trying to be provocative. I would love a continued, healthy engagement. It’s a great place to do so.


          • To start, let’s be careful about the scold-y tone.

            🙂 Oh, the irony of the comment thread.

            …rather than being based in Scripture, they were based in fears about risks.

            Yes. In this post. But that doesn’t mean that such convictions are not also based in Scripture. It means that the topic of the post was the harmful pastoral implications.

            You’re definitely right that no post can cover all basis, but that is the beauty of these forums.

            But your comments didn’t take that into account when you treated Nathan’s argument as if this post was all he had to say about the issue. In fact, you categorized all cessationists in general as arguing from misgivings and skepticism rather than from Scripture. Maybe that’s been the case in your previous interactions with cessationists, but reading 1,500 words doesn’t qualify you to lump Nate into that category, and it certainly doesn’t communicate that you’re here for honest, sharpening dialog.

            I’m not certain what your saying with, “He doesn’t have to look backward. He’s there.” It would seem you are saying Paul is essentially saying, “Accept the Apostolic prophetic writings.” In that case, however, I would expect Paul to say, “earnestly desire that you might prophesy, but you never will because only Apostles do that.”

            I’m not sure what I’ve said that implies that. There can be NT prophets (a) who are not apostles, (b) whose prophecies are not recorded in Scripture, and (c) whose prophecies are nevertheless infallible revelation from God. You seem to be saying that since Paul’s commands about prophecy are in Scripture, they automatically apply to the church today in the same way they applied to the 1st-century church. I’m just saying that’s a naive reading of Scripture that doesn’t take into account the uniqueness of the NT church in its nascent form, at the fading out of the Old Covenant and the dawning of the New Covenant.

            So, Paul is saying to the Thessalonians, “Even though there are abuses [as is evidenced by 2Thess 2:1-3] don’t despise prophecy and dismiss it all together. Test the prophets. Just like Moses told Israel, if they prophesy falsely they are false prophets, don’t listen to them. If they don’t confess Jesus as God in the flesh (cf. 1 John), they are false prophets; don’t listen to them.” But, applying that to the contemporary church must take into account that there are no prophets receiving infallible revelation today. So there won’t be a one-to-one correlation between interpretation and application.

            Clearly Paul is allowing for non-Apostolic prophesy moving forward into the life of the church.

            Nobody’s arguing that all prophecy has to be “Apostolic.” We’re arguing that all prophecy has to be prophecy (i.e., infallible, authoritative, binding revelation from God), whether given by an Apostle or simply a prophet.

            Ironically, the only person who argues that Apostles and prophets are the same is Grudem himself in his flawed exegesis of Ephesians 2:20.

            I’m not sure what you mean by your references to the Montanist heresy, canonization, and Tertullian. Is there a quote from Tertullian that would indicate he believed that 2nd-century believers received infallible, authoritative revelation from God?

          • Since it won’t allow me to reply to your thread, I’ll just re-reply to Mine, Mike.

            I do think we’re going in circles (or are about to), but I’ll throw in a brief response. Mostly I’m saying that the typical cessationist line tends toward misgivings about risks. I’ve not heard strong Scriptural evidence for this. Probably don’t have space here to delve…

            You wrote:

            “You seem to be saying that since Paul’s commands about prophecy are in Scripture, they automatically apply to the church today in the same way they applied to the 1st-century church. I’m just saying that’s a naive reading of Scripture… etc.”

            I wouldn’t have chosen the word naive. Seems a little ad hominem to me. To your point of “taking into account the uniqueness of …” et al. This still isn’t Scripture. This is what I’m talking about. It’s putting our presuppositions above Scripture; it’s theologizing the text instead of letting it say what it says.

            To be fair, you’ve provided a few good examples from the OT/NT about this topic, and the importance of testing. That’s really all I’m saying.

            I think the term “infallible” is a bit misleading here, because is has the baggage of being a description/doctrine on Scripture. I think Grudem is essentially talking about, “Utterances that have an impulse from God, yet aren’t intended to be on par with Scripture” NOT “utterances that have an impulse from God, but are flawed in some way.”

            OK, this isn’t brief anymore. Sorry. What I really wanted to say, also from a pastoral perspective, is that Paul indicates a certain power and importance of the prophetic in the life of the church. So a pastor COULD say, “Allowing for the prophetic in the life of my church constitutes too much of a pastoral risk.” OR they COULD say, “Not allowing the benefits Paul speaks about regarding the prophetic into my church is too big a pastoral risk.”

            Paul tells us the prophet “speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort” and “edifies the church.” A pastor could (should?) very well say, “This could be a little messy, and will take some serious discernment, but we can’t afford to lose the unique contribution of the prophets in our church.”

            This, in conjunction with what I believe is a preponderance of Biblical support, is what began my conversion FROM cessationist TO continuationist.

            It’s an in-house debate for sure, but I am personally convicted that the church stands to gain much from the God-intended continued presence of the prophetic.


          • I wouldn’t have chosen the word naive. Seems a little ad hominem to me.

            It’s not ad hominem. There’s no argument “against the man,” here. It’s an appropriate description. That handling of Scripture is naive. Or shallow, or surface-level. It’s similar to (though, granted, not the same as) prooftexting without context. It’s kind of like the “Biblicism One” that Carson and Keller talk about: “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.”

            We have to ask the difficult questions of the text, asking how what it is teaching jives with the whole of Scripture, taking context into account.

            To your point of “taking into account the uniqueness of …” et al. This still isn’t Scripture. This is what I’m talking about. It’s putting our presuppositions above Scripture; it’s theologizing the text instead of letting it say what it says.

            No it isn’t. It’s querying the text: “Who wrote this? To whom did he write it? For what purpose or occasion? When did he write it? What affect do answers to these questions have on interpretation? And if I am in a different setting than the original recipients, how do those differences affect the text’s application to me?” These questions are not merely “theologizing.” They are part and parcel of the exegetical process.

            For example, it would be a naive reading of Scripture to suggest that followers of Yahweh cannot eat shellfish or mix fabrics, because it would ignore the fact that such Laws were given through Moses, for the nation of Israel, in obedience to the Old Covenant Law, for the purpose of distinguishing Israel among the nations, before the substance of those shadows came in Christ. It’s in the Bible! Or how about head coverings in church? That’s even in the New Testament! Asking such questions about the author, recipients, setting, and purpose is not getting around the text; it’s actually getting into the text and submitting to its agenda, rather that forcing it to submit to ours.

            I think the term “infallible” is a bit misleading here, because is has the baggage of being a description/doctrine on Scripture.

            Not quite sure about this phrase. Did you mean “on par with Scripture”? Infallible is an accurate description of God’s revelatory Word. When someone claims to have a revelatory word from the Lord, that word must be infallible, because God’s Word is infallible. That’s just what prophecy is — whether it’s been recorded in Scripture or not. All agree on this definition of prophecy for the OT, and no one in the NT who uses this term gives the slightest indication that anything has changed or that they’re talking about a different gift.

            “Utterances that have an impulse from God, yet aren’t intended to be on par with Scripture”

            Sure, and that’s OK. Just don’t call it prophecy. Call it what it is: subjective impulses and gut-feelings that may or may not be helpful.

            “Allowing for the prophetic in the life of my church constitutes too much of a pastoral risk.”

            But see, you continue to miss the point. That’s not the point of this post. The point is: “The miraculous gifts constitute revelation. Revelation has ceased because Scripture is sufficient. We don’t see the gifts of prophecy, tongues, or healing as we see them in the NT. Therefore, we shouldn’t practice them. The contemporary redefinition of prophecy is not only foreign to the NT, but it is also pastorally harmful.”

          • Mike – We’re going in circles. Nice chatting. If you’d like to continue this via e-mail or something let me know.

            I appreciate your thoughtfulness. Do know that a continuationist view of this topic isn’t merely the result of naiveté. You’ll weigh certain factors in, and I’ll weigh in others. I’m trying to take into account the whole of Scripture, historical context AND “how thoughtful Christians have wrestled with these same texts for centuries”. Sounds like you are too. Try not to caricature.

            FYI, Tertullian (a proponent and defender of Montanus, along with his “prophetess” companions Priscilla and Maximilla) famously said, “The Holy Spirit has been chased into a book!” after the canonization of Scripture. While he didn’t part way with the church on account of the Montanist heresy, still he was saddened by the church’s rejection of ongoing prophecy. We know of upshoots of this movement well into the 3rd century.

            So we do know that this debate lasted three centuries into church history, and clearly it’s not yet entirely resolved. To describe Wayne Grudem (Wayne Grudem!) as anything but a thoughtful theologian and exegete would be hard to imagine.

            Grace/Peace brother

          • NB

            I do not know many evangelicals who would want to appeal to the Montanists as a good example of prophecy in church history. The Montanists were declared heretical by the early church.

          • NB – You’re missing my point. Tertullian grieved the way the church leaders responded to the Montanist heresy. Rather that allowing for continued discernment in the area, they canonized Scripture and (to his mind) “chased the Holy Spirit into a book”.

            I think Tertullian (not a heretic) felt that we threw the baby out with the bathwater. I’m citing this example because it became an early church disagreement about the nature of revelation/prophecy, which had orthodox leaders on either side, NOT to endorse the Montanist heresy.

            The point is: in the early church it was still open for discussion whether prophesy still took place. Indeed through the 2nd or 3rd century.

  • How would you distinguish between the Holy Spirit’s leading of individual believers and (possibly false) prophecy as Grudem describes it? As a cessationist, what form do you think the former takes in practice?

    • Paul Lamey


      It sounds like you and I grew up in the same church. The Spirit guides us to obey His Word, to follow wise-biblical counsel, to pray (cf. Rom 8) and to present our entire lives as sacrifices which are pleasing to God (cf. Rom 12). We are never exhorted in Scripture to be guided by impressions. Certainly our thinking (ideas, thoughts, etc.) are shaped over time by the Spirit’s work in our lives. Because of this it is tempting for us to interpret various thoughts as being from the Spirit. However, we are never told to pursue such forms of guidance, impressions, or “having peace” about our decisions.

    • Hi Hannah,

      Thanks for your honest question. I would give a hearty “Amen” to Paul’s response, but also wanted to add that this post ( might be of interest to you.

  • Kirk

    Nathan, thanks for your post. I appreciate the concerns you raise, and wholeheartedly agree that this discussion is not merely exegetical or theological, but profoundly pastoral! Personally–just to tip my hand–I became convinced of the continuationist perspective many years ago, and attend a continuationist church. My comment is in regards to the third concern. While a completely valid concern, how would a cessationist expect the Lord to lead/guide them when praying about whether or not to buy a home, for example?

    • Daryl Little


      A cessationist would expect the Lord to lead them because they would recognize that He leads all of his sheep all of the time.

      That is to say, that where Scripture is silent, we are free. So while we pray for direction and wisdom, we are free to buy whatever house we’d like. We don’t expect Him to tell us which one precisely because Scripture a) never tells us to look for that kind of thing, and b) never refers to prayer as a conversation.

      In that way, I think all the evidence points to (generally) a greater tendency to trust, from the cessationist, and a lesser such tendency in the continualist.
      I don’t need God to speak to me, since I trust in His ability to direct my every step (as Scripture promises) without telling me how He’s doing it.

      • Kirk

        Hi Daryl,

        Thanks for the reply. I hope we can both profit from our interchange. I agree that the Lord does lead His sheep, and there is certainly freedom to make decisions where Scripture is silent. There are many decisions I make every day where I appeal to wisdom, not prophecy or impressions. I wonder though, do you believe that God can or ever does lead people specifically, specially, and subjectively? This question is obviously a little broader than the topic of contemporary prophecy, but it’s clearly related.

        Thanks Daryl,

        • Daryl Little

          Can God? Of course.

          Does he? We he never did with the average non-prophet guy in the Bible, so I think it would be incredibly presumptuous of me to expect that He would do that for me.
          Add that to Hebrews 1:1 and the general lack of anyplace in Scripture which tells us to expect that kind of thing…

          I actually don’t think this question is broader than prophecy. I see the biblical definition of a prophet as being someone through whom and to whom, God speaks. So claiming that God told me to move to Aberdeen, means I’m claiming to be a prophet.

          I know many people will deny that connection, but I don’t think it’s possible.

          • Kirk

            Hi Daryl,

            Last post for me unless you’d like to discuss it further. You’ve given me something to think about, and I’d like to do the same for you. By the way, I appreciate your obvious love for the Word of God and desire that believers live by it and not by every so called “new” message from the Lord. That’s admirable; the church would certainly be healthier if all Christians were firmly established in the Scriptures.

            Regarding Hebrews 1:1, God has certainly spoken to us most decisively through Christ, but I don’t think the author of Hebrews means to preclude other prophetic revelations. After all, even on the cessationist view, the gift of prophecy was functioning when the apostles were alive, certainly the same time period in which the letter to the Hebrews was written.

            Second, I think Scripture does tell us to expect this kind of thing. On the day of Pentecost, Peter said that Joel 2:28-29 was being fulfilled. It’s hard to believe that this was 1) completely fulfilled in Acts 2 and never again to be repeated afterwards (of course, we already know that’s not true since prophecy and visions occurred after Pentecost) or 2) completely fulfilled in the time of the apostles (65 years or so) and never to occur again after their deaths. I don’t see any reason from Scripture to believe that. In fact, we all agree that NT believers receive the Holy Spirit in a way that OT believers did not. Why would this promise, therefore, cease to be relevant for us?

            Thanks for allowing me to chat with you. Take care,

  • Jason

    I am kind of in the middle on this issue right now. I was a cessationist all of my Christian life, 20yrs as an adult. Then 3-1/2yrs ago started attending a Sovereign Grace Church. Here is a question I have. Do cessationist believe that God never leads by placing something on the heart of the believer? Is His leading always purely academic?(derived from a text) We would all agree that He never, never, leads contrary to any text of Scripture. But is His leading only from a text, or does the Holy Spirit have the ability to communicate to us directly? Whether by impression, feeling, leading, or whatever label you want to put on it.

  • My question to Grudem would be, how is it that he has not despised prophecy (according to his understanding of 1Thess 5:19-21) when he and his wife decided that the prophecy of guy who said they shouldn’t move forward on the church building project wasn’t “from the Lord”? Or again, how was the pastor not despising prophecy when he made the rule about no prophecies about marriage/romantic relationships? Like the moderator said at that point, “On what basis” does he not permit those prophecies?

    And further, are we to understand that that’s what Paul in 1 Thess 5 and John in 1 John 4 meant by “test” the prophecies / spirits? According to what standard do we suppose they were calling the NT churches to “test” these things? The subjective gut-feelings about whether or not it seemed like it was “from the Lord”? Not to be dramatic, but: no indeed! Hamilton was right: the test was of the prophet, not the content of his prophecies per se, and he was to be tested as a true or false prophet on the basis of the clearly revealed Word of God.

    • Mark B. Hanson

      I think you are right here. How does a disagreement about the truth of a fallible prophecy not degenerate into a “God said..”, “No he didn’t..” argument? All Grudem really said was that his impressions overrode the impressions of the “prophet”, and since Grudem was the one in charge, he decided not to follow. Looks like a power issue from this vantage.

    • guest2000


      It seems as if you are saying Grudem and like-minded individuals have to support every prophecy spoken or they are despising them. If someone told you that you have to support every word spoken in your church or you don’t really support words being spoken in your church, wouldn’t you think that unwise counsel? Grudem (like you) wants to use wisdom when discerning the helpfulness/unhelpfulness of something spoken in church.

  • I could be wrong, but I see the issue being that Grudem calls it prophecy. I think if he changes his term(s) and calls it God given wisdom or insight or something like that rather than prophecy then most nod in agreement and the issue disappears. It is his insistence on linking it to the word prophecy and the larger context that comes with that word that creates the push back.

    • Kirk

      Good point Chris. I think you’re partly right, whether you agree with Grudem or not. However, Nathan’s third concern above may still apply to apparent revelations, insights, etc. even if we don’t call them prophecy. I think the issue comes down to whether or not the Lord leads/guides/speaks/communicates to His people today in other ways outside of direct Scripture (though never in contradiction to Scripture of course).

    • Paul Lamey

      The problem is that the Bible does not equate “insight” with “prophesy.” The first is associated with wise application (e.g., Ps 199:99; Prov 12:8) while the other is a binding statement given directly by God (Deut 18:18-19). These are not the same. I may have insight into a person’s problems but I can not bind their thinking on something that may be a conscience issue. It is the difference between, “it would be wise for you not to eat meat here” and “the Lord is telling you that you are not to eat meat here.” One is based on wisdom the other is based on a direct command from the lips of God.

  • What do you do then, with this passage from Spurgeon’s autobiography, (Volume 2, pg 226-227)?

    I could tell as many as a dozen similar cases in which I pointed at somebody in the hall without having the slightest knowledge of the person, or any idea that what I said was right, except that I believed I was moved by the Spirit to say it; and so striking has been my description, that the persons have gone away, and said to their friends, ” Come, see a man that told me all things that ever I did ; beyond a doubt, he must have been sent of God to my soul, or else he could not have described me so exactly.” And not only so, but I have known many instances in which the thoughts of men have been revealed from the pulpit. I have sometimes seen persons nudge their neighbours with their elbow, because they had got a smart hit, and they have been heard to say, when they were going out, “The preacher told us just what we said to one another when we went in at the door.”

    Martin Lloyd-Jones called your strict cessationist view, “madness”:

    What is being taught in Christendom today is this; that since we have got the New Testament canon, since we have got the Word now, we do not need these direct interventions, we do not need God to speak to us directly, as He spoke to Abraham and to Isaac and to Jacob and these patriarchs. We have got the Word now! Is this superior to the direct speech of God? I think we are mad! There is no other word for this. We are mad.

    In short,I don’t think objections #1 and 2 are valid. The Bible gives clear directions on discerning false prophets –we know them by their fruits, don’t we? The testimony of their lives, the evidences of their character, and we also test their doctrine and teachings…then one can discern the prophecy itself, whether it is true. Clearly, Spurgeon passes the test. Equally as clear, the Kansas City Prophets and all their ilk miserably fail theirs. Church doesn’t have to look like Crazy Town–it can look like the Metropolitan Tabernacle.

    • You can correct me if I’m wrong, but it doesn’t sound like Spurgeon is espousing prophecy per se. He himself said he has “no idea that what I said was right.” That doesn’t sound like biblical prophecy to me, where the speakers could say *with confidence and authority* “thus saith the Lord.”

      Also, Nathan’s objections in #1 and #2 are valid. He is dealing with the prophet’s prophecies. I know some otherwise godly men who claim to be prophets of the Grudem variety — but their prophecies still fail. How can you *objectively* discern whether his prophecy is really good? With Grudem’s definition, you just can’t. Yes, they have fruit — but their fruit doesn’t mean all their prophecies are accurate. Grudem admits as much. But the same cannot be said of OT and early church prophets. What they said came to pass, period. No one was left guessing, Gee, will this one come to pass? Nathan’s point is that this is dangerous in the church.

      I don’t know why he feels the need to redefine “godly wisdom” as “prophecy.” Why not just call it wisdom — it is legitimate spiritual gift.

      • I am never going to say that Spurgeon espoused prophecy. He was a cessationist too! In doctrine, at least. In practice, he very actively prophesied.

        Anyone who has ever had a word of prophecy does not calculate whether the word is going to be true. Like Spurgeon, we have “no idea what (we) say is right.” There is a sense that to hold it in is disobedience to the Lord. It is like what Jeremiah said of God’s Word,
        “But if I say I’ll never mention the LORD
        or speak in his name,
        his word burns in my heart like a fire.
        It’s like a fire in my bones!
        I am worn out trying to hold it in!
        I can’t do it! ” (Jer. 20:9)

        But I am not here to defend Grudem. I have honest questions about Spurgeon’s testimony and Lloyd-Jones’ indignation, that no-one has yet answered. There is legitimate prophecy, forth-telling, that Spurgeon ably demonstrated. Grudem gave a pass to failed prophets who should never have been let out to pass go. His arbitrary splitting of hairs of the definition of prophecy–creating an unbiblical category of ‘fallible prophecy’ –has caused all the chaos, and cursed the church with evil influences like Bob Jones and Rick Joyner. The Bible clearly states that if one claims to be a prophet, and the word fails,we should not regard them. Their words are presumptuous. (Deut.18)

        No, we should not stone false prophets, but the local church has the responsibility to put them out, until they repent and go back to emptying the trash cans and sweeping the floors in the back of the church where they really belong. They should not be encouraged to continue babbling into microphones and given world-wide influence.

        • The only real issue I have here, again, is definitions. If Spurgeon was a cessationist and (as Nate and Mike pointed out below) preached that we should not live by impressions, then I think it’s fair to say that what he did when he had *might* have been “moved by the Spirit” was not, by his definition, prophecy. In other words, you are applying Grudem’s (and maybe MLJ’s) definition to Spurgeon’s experience.

          Thus, again, we have to go back to Scripture and see…. is there really a category of prophecy that can fail? What biblical examples are there of this?

          I’m content to say that Spurgeon’s experience of feeling *strongly compelled* to say something is just that: strongly compelled. There is no warrant to call it prophecy, especially when it fails. I think we are too quick to call something prophecy when someone just “calls it.” I’ve had that experience myself! But when the said “prophet” also has a history of failures (which I would bet dollars to donuts was Spurgeon’s experience), why should he be called a prophet in any biblical sense?

          You see, the words “prophet” and “prophecy” have very strong connotations, of divine revelation. We cannot erase these connotations so I think it is unwise to start categorically calling impulses and wise advice “prophecy,” much less the people who practice such things “prophets.” I think you, at least in part, agree with this because this definition is exactly what armed false prophets (Jones, Joyner) with power and influence. It does a great disservice — and that was the point of Nate’s original article…. I think!


    • What do you do then, with this passage from Spurgeon’s autobiography?

      (a) I point out that Spurgeon is not Scripture. (b) I point out that Spurgeon self-identified as a cessationist and preached the cessation of the miraculous gifts even while having such experiences. and (c) I defer to Phil Johnson ( 🙂 ):

      It would make sense that MLJ disagreed strongly with this perspective; he was a continuationist. But he also wasn’t infallible… heh.

      Clearly, Spurgeon passes the test. Equally as clear, the Kansas City Prophets and all their ilk miserably fail theirs.

      What test, though? The subjective evaluation of whoever happens to be listening? What do you have to say about the church building example in the video? Or the pastor’s prohibition of “marriage” prophecies? IOW, what about when it’s not so clear? All we have are my subjective impressions contradicting your subjective impressions, and one (or both) of us are claiming that the Lord is responsible for such contradiction. No thank you.

    • Nate_Busenitz

      Hi Karen,

      Thanks for quoting two of my favorite pastors from church history! Without getting into a prolonged debate over Spurgeon’s and Lloyd-Jone’s individual pneumatologies, perhaps I can provide some balance from their own writings:

      * * * * *

      Charles Spurgeon (sermon, “A Well Ordered Life”): “To live by impressions is oftentimes to live the life of a fool and even to fall into downright rebellion against the revealed Word of God. Not your impressions, but that which is in this Bible must always guide you. ‘To the Law and to the Testimony.’ If it is not according to this Word, the impression comes not from God—it may proceed from Satan, or from your own distempered brain! Our prayer must be, ‘Order my steps in Your Word.’ Now, that rule of life, the written Word of God, we ought to study and obey.”

      * * * * *

      (I would also add that Spurgeon himself held to a cessationist position on the gifts. He would not equate “impressions” with the gift of prophecy.)

      * * * * *

      D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (Fellowship with God, p. 95): “Let us imagine I follow the mystic way. I begin to have experiences; I think God is speaking to me; how do I know it is God who is speaking to me? How can I know I am not speaking to man; how can I be sure that I am not the victim of hallucinations, since this has happened to many of the mystics? If I believe in mysticism as such without the Bible, how do I know I am not being deluded by Satan as an angel of light in order to keep me from the true and living God? I have no standard…. The evangelical doctrine tells me not to look into myself but to look into the Word of God; not to examine myself, but to look at the revelation that has been given to me. It tells me that God can only be known in His own way, the way which has been revealed in the Scriptures themselves.”

      * * * * *

      Both Spurgeon and Lloyd-Jones are warning against the subjectivism and error that can result from mystical impressions.

      The fact that Grudem labels these impressions as “prophecy” only further confuses the issue. Yet, it does not add any authoritative or objective basis for evaluating their legitimacy. Thus, Grudem writes:

      * * * * *

      Wayne Grudem (The Gift of Prophecy in the NT and Today, pp. 120-21): “Did the revelation seem like something from the Holy Spirit; did it seem to be similar to other experiences of the Holy Spirit which he had known previously in worship. Beyond this it is difficult to specify much further, except to say that over time a congregation would probably become more adept at making evaluations…and become more adept at recognizing a genuine revelation from the Holy Spirit and distinguishing it from their own thoughts” (emphasis mine).

      * * * * *

      In my view, that kind of subjectivity is frightening. To assert that it is equivalent to NT prophecy, or to call it “revelation from God” even though can never been known with the full assurance of complete accuracy is troubling.

      I’m confident church history would be on my side on this one.

      Thanks again for your comment!

  • guest

    If we know the Bible, are growing in wisdom and discernment, then false prophets (those who do not speak the Truth–or things that line up with God’s word) should be recognizable.

    The Holy Spirit is a person, alive in us, who desires to talk with us, regularly. It makes sense then, that we would receive revelation from Him about God, ourselves, and others–that always lines up with Scripture. In Revelation, it says that “prophesy is the testimony of Jesus.” Prophecy should and when used properly, does lead those who receive it to love Jesus more, because they see His love for them through the prophecy. This is part of having an intimate relationship with Jesus.

    If you’ve not visited a healthy church with a Biblical understanding of prophecy (b/c to say that it’s not is to choose to ignore Scripture), with a heart that asks the Lord to minister to you through prophecy, I’m confident that you’d be blessed.

    All of us are fallible and have wrong assumptions in our theology. Those who are genuinely seeking the Lord–and who know Him intimately will be willing to evaluate their presuppositions, even if means discomfort.

    There will always be those who abuse certain gifts, are proud, arrogant, etc. We need to look to Jesus, the most humble man ever to walk the earth, and be like Him.

    I’d encourage you to prayerfully and actively (got visit a church, get to know people who appreciate the prophetic, look to see the fruit) reconsider your perspective on this. I think you could be missing out on a much more vibrant, intimate relationship with the Lord.

    • Daryl Little


      You said “The Holy Spirit is a person, alive in us, who desires to talk with us, regularly. It makes sense then, that we would receive revelation from Him about God, ourselves, and others–that always lines up with Scripture”

      I have two questions…

      Where does Scripture tell us that the Holy Spirit desired to talk with us regularly.

      Does “Move to Ohio” line up with Scripture? Why, why not?

      • guest

        I think there are a few things to take into consideration:

        1. Jesus said that He was going to send us a Helper who would teach us all things (Jn 14:26-31), and that it would be better for us than for Jesus to remain (Jn 16:7-8). The Holy Spirit is God living IN us. He knows our thoughts, can bring things to mind, etc. He intended us to abide in Him–how does that happen without the Holy Spirit? Jesus isn’t here.

        2. How can the Holy Spirit be a helper, teacher, guide, one to talk to, who who we can blaspheme, someone who we can resist…if it’s not a person? How would the Holy Spirit teach us without communicating with us? As evidenced through Scripture and by the fact that we have Scripture, God is communicative..and He created us to communicate.

        3. What does Jesus mean when He said in Jn 10:27, “My sheep hear my voice, and they follow me.” How do we hear His voice?

        4. Acts 4:24-25 references David speaking by the Holy Spirit. Do we really believe that the Lord, who is unchanging, does not speak through His Holy Spirit anymore? Acts 20:23 says that the Holy Spirit “testified” to Paul…how was that done if not through communicating to Him?

        Perhaps someone is about to lose their job (but don’t know it yet) and they think they hear the Lord saying, “Move to Ohio.” So, they pursue it–they pray and ask the Lord for understanding, seek counsel…maybe move forward to looking at jobs…and one day, they go to work and find out that they have no more job. Things start to make sense…when they move to Ohio, secret desires are met, specific relationships are made that are strategic in growing them in the Lord like never before….

        God has provided a job, given a gift like a good Father (meeting the secret desires), He is wooing this person to Himself through the relationship..all these things line up with God’s character in Scripture.

        Why would we, for a minute, think that the Lord couldn’t tell us to move to Ohio, to turn left, etc.? I believe that God is capable of huge, impossible things that we just don’t have boxes for…so yes, I think it’s possible that He could tell someone to move to Ohio. And, I think He delights in this…because it wows us and builds faith in Him. IT brings HIM glory and no man.

        I hope I answered your questions! (And that all of this made sense!) 🙂

  • Noah Hartmetz

    Good post Nate. Something that I think gets overlooked in all of this is the redefinition of prophecy (and other gifts) in order to support contemporary practice. I’m guessing there are few people who would go out on a limb and say that what they have heard or experienced is the very same thing as what Paul was telling the Corinthians to desire and the Thessalonians to test. That’s where the train gets derailed because “Thus says the Lord” gets turned into “I think this is what the Lord is saying…but I could be wrong.”

    As far as the video, I couldn’t help but chuckle when Hamilton asked where fallible prophecy appeared in the NT and Grudem answered with Agabus. Hamilton’s facial expression was priceless!

    • “I think this is what the Lord is saying…but I could be wrong.”

      Exactly. And find a prophet in the OT or the NT who spoke like that.

      • Truth Unites… and Divides

        “Exactly. And find a prophet in the OT or the NT who spoke like that.”

        I didn’t find one.

        • guest

          Have you ever made a mistake? Like, when you told someone yes then backed out…or spoke a harsh word to someone, etc.? Both of those times, you represent Christ if you claim to be His. You have the ability to hurt someone. You misrepresent Christ in those times if you have done these things.

          But as I’m sure you experienced, you’ve received great grace…the people you’ve hurt know that you’re imperfect and that you’re not going to get it right every time.

          Praise God! That’s how we’re to function in the body of Christ!

          Have you ever been the recipient of prophecy? I think you’ll be blown away at the kindness and love for your heavenly Father if you do. But, just as the Lord usually functions…if you aren’t open to it, He won’t force it.

  • Bentley


    Thanks for your engagement on this issue and the charitable way you are addressing your disagreements! As someone who has moved towards embracing continuationism from being kind of a default cessationist I would have one question in regards to the 5 concerns you listed above. It seems like most of them, and maybe this is a result of how Dr. Grudem framed it, center around this New Testament “congregational” prophecy consisting largely of directional prophecy. Like: “I believe the Lord is telling me you should stop reading the Chicago Tribune.” While I believe God could give someone that type of impression it is quite specific and I would hold on to it loosely as I sought the Lord regarding that issue. I believe that this New Testament “congregational” prophecy actually consists more of encouraging and upbuilding and consoling words as opposed to directional or future-revealing words.

    Take 1 Corinthians 14:1-4:

    “1 Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. 2 For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. 3 On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. 4 The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church.”

    It seems like a lot of the disagreement on this New Testament “congregational” prophecy is around it somehow competing with or casting doubt on Scripture. I would think from the words of 1 Corinthians above that it shouldn’t do that at all. It should be more comprised of Scripture-supporting/Scripture-supported words, pictures, dreams, prayers, etc that encourage, upbuild, and console in a unique way because instead of it being a merely general word of encouragement it is something that God specifically has given for a specific person or situation.

    I know a lady with a supposed gift of “congregational” prophecy and one of her words to me for example was along these lines: “I believe the Lord gave me a picture of you sitting in a car and you are looking into the rear-view mirror. What you are looking at is God’s grace towards you in the past. I believe that the Lord is saying to you to not just look into the rear-view mirror but turn around and get the full picture of how gracious God has been to you.” It seemed that God was encouraging me in how extraordinarily He has poured out His grace in my life so far and that I was not fully appreciating it. This is the kind of thing where most could agree that this is an encouraging word, nothing too spectacular about it, but it often-times turns out to be just the right encouragement at just the right time for the particular person in that particular situation because it is God who is at work to love and encourage and console His people.

    I’m not sure if that helps at all, but this has been my experience so far and, more importantly, it seems more to line up with how this New Testament “congregational” prophecy is portrayed in the New Testament instead of being mainly directional or future-revealing.

  • Michael Delahunt

    Excellent work, Nate! Thanks for the read, very helpful and grounded in God’s Word. I would say that there is no higher and more intimate way to be here on this sin-cursed earth than to be a disciplined follower of Christ who does not turn to hear his/her ears or feelings tickled, but is willing to take what God’s word has said and live it, to obey Christ and be sprinkled by His blood, through the empowering and transforming work of the Holy Spirit that fills us as our minds are renewed (1 Peter 1: 1-2, Romans 12:1-2).

  • Teathyme

    I’m a little confused with the article having just listed to MacArthur’s “Not Quenching the Holy Spirit” GTY 52-30 where MacArthur states the following: “There are many things in my life that the Spirit has to lead me into. He provides a level path for me. So there is the objective leading of the Spirit as He prompts us to obey the Word and there is the subjective leading of the Spirit as He through circumstances and providence and as He is speaking to us in our hearts challenges us and moves us along a path of circumstance, opportunity, responsibility…You’re going to have a voice saying..Do this, don’t do that. Not an audible voice, but a strong compelling as you’re in the Word…the Spirit of God is whispering to your mind…do this, don’t do this, go this way….

    “That’s the subjective work of the Spirit that’s not necessarily related to the Scripture…the Spirit goes beyond that and leads us through the circumstances of life, in areas that are not revealed in Scripture.”

    It seems that both Grudem and MacArthur are saying the same thing?? Can someone help clarify my confusion here. Thanks.

    • Nate_Busenitz


      Thanks for your comment.

      Cessationists do not deny the ministry of the Holy Spirit in providentially leading His people, by aligning their desires with His sovereign will (Ps. 37:4). I believe that was Pastor MacArthur’s point in that sermon.

      Confusion comes when labels like “prophecy” or “divine revelation” are applied to fallible impressions or subjective feelings of guidance.

      In the debate between Grudem and Hamilton, Grudem noted that they might be able to agree with each other as long as Grudem changed his terminology and stopped calling it “prophecy.” (While it might not resolve every issue, it would certainly alleviate much of the tension.)

      In my post, the point I was making was that, when fallible impressions are labeled “prophecy” (and therefore equated with prophetic revelation in the New Testament) the implications for practical church ministry are massive and highly problematic.

      Hope that helps!

  • All prophesy needs to be filtered through the Lord’s teachings. Jesus’ commandments guide our every action and relationship, and we need to conduct those actions with an eye focused exclusively on His wishes for us. If we falter in our resolve to focus carefully on His wishes, we stray from the right path and become lost. Using Gospel commandments will be sufficient. Don’t complicate the issue. Too simple for you? You’ll live several lifetimes just trying to conduct this life according to the Gospel commandments. Go to to find a book dedicated exclusively to Jesus’ commandments.

  • hopechurch

    Nathan, may I ask how you interpret 1 Cor 14:29-33

  • Nate_Busenitz

    I am teaching for most of the day today and will be unable to interact with the comments until later. However, tonight and tomorrow I’ll do my best to engage in the conversation.

  • Dave

    I’m actually more of cessationist in my interpretations, however I have to say that your points form an argument that is not that great.

    Basically all five can be summed up into: A view of prophecy consistent with Dr. Grudem’s will make it difficult for the church and could lead to abuse. That’s pretty much everything.

    Point by Point
    1. Just cause it’s difficult doesn’t mean it’s not correct. And technically it would not ignore Ot prophetic regulations because it defines itself as something other than that.

    2. Just because someone is open to a subjective phrase does not mean that they throw out objective authoritative scripture. Anything subjective ought to be viewed in light of objective authority. Potential for abuse doesn’t make an argument wrong.

    3. The view should actually encourage believers to seek scripture as the final word by which other words are evaluated.

    4. Again. Abuse doesn’t make a point bad.

    5. see point 2, 3, & 4.

    • Nate_Busenitz

      Hi Dave,

      Thanks for your comment. In actuality, I reject Grudem’s view of fallible prophecy for exegetical and theological reasons which I did not include in today’s article because they are outside the point I was trying to make. (I tried to make that clear in my article.)

      My point was to show the negative pastoral implications that result when a view of fallible prophecy is espoused.

      This post is by no means the heart or the sum of my argument against fallible prophecy. (That would begin with Deuteronomy 13 and 18, and would require many blog posts to complete.) This post was simply an attempt to address some of the ramifications, at the practical ministry level, for those who embrace that viewpoint.


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  • Job Kaper

    The cessationist view is hard to defend from scripture. There simply is no clear biblical basis for it. Futhermore it is very interisting that the early church fathers Justin (Martyr) and Irenaeus speak clearly of the gifts and miraculous power and saw it as valid. Miracles and the exoricism of demons was a great witness and apologetic for the church in the first few centuries. The reformation was impacted to much by modernism to recognise this fact! Maybe cessationists are affraid of something foreign to them and focus to much on the areas of concern (as in the above).

    • Nate_Busenitz

      Hi Job,

      Thanks for your comment. Obviously, I would not agree with your statement that “there simply is no clear biblical basis for [the cessationist view].” My cessationism is grounded in the text, starting with a biblical definition of the gifts (on which there are dozens of passages). It would also include texts like Acts 2, Ephesians 2:20, Hebrews 2:3-4, and many others. Your claim that cessationist arguments are not grounded in the text exposes the fact that you have not seriously interacted with any evangelical cessationist scholars.

      Regarding church history, I would love to discuss your premise in more detail. But let me first direct you to four different articles, three by myself and one by a colleague of mine.

      1. The fact that cessationism has been the predominant view throughout church history (including church history before the Enlightenment):

      2. The fact that the early church believed that the apostolic foundation of the church was unique:

      3. The early church and the gift of prophecy:

      4. The early church and the gift of tongues:

      Thanks again for your comment.

      Hope this helps!

  • Teathyme

    Thanks Nathan – your reply was very helpful. It seems terminology is part of the problem and you are making a distinction of not allowing for “new canonical revelation” (who’s going to write it down anyway??) and this is the point you are addressing. Its nice to know one can really get an answer to help – so thanks again!

  • guest2000


    I enjoyed the discussion between Grudem and Hamilton. I also found your article helpful. I disagree with you regarding who was the clear winner or that there was one. Both individuals seemed to make strong arguments for their side. So I think I come some where in the middle of the two.

  • Truth Unites… and Divides

    This form of prophecy is fallible, non-authoritative, and has continued throughout the church age. It is not equivalent to Old Testament prophecy (and therefore bypasses the strict stipulations of Deuteronomy 13 & 18) and might be better compared to “Spirit-led advice.

    Hi Pastor Nate B. and Pastor Mike R.,

    I just went through this passage in Acts 20: 22: “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there.

    Does Paul’s retelling here of what happened fall under fallible prophecy and “Spirit-led advice”?

    • Nate_Busenitz


      Thanks for your comment. There is nothing in Acts 20-21 that mandates fallible prophecy.

      In Acts 20:22-23, Paul says, “And see, now I go bound in the spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that chains and tribulations await me” (NKJV).

      As you can see from the NKJV, many commentators understand the “spirit” in Acts 20:22 to be Paul’s human spirit. But even if it is a reference to the Holy Spirit, the very next verse confirms that the Holy Spirit also revealed to Paul that — once he arrived in Jerusalem — he would be arrested.

      In Acts 21:4, prophets from Tyre reiterated this same message — that if Paul continued on his path to Jerusalem, he would experience persecution and suffering. Luke does not record the specific content of their message, but rather provides a brief summary of the interpretation of their message by Paul’s traveling companions (including Luke) who urged him not to go to Jerusalem in light of the prophetic predictions.

      In Acts 21:10-11, the prophet Agabus again reiterated the same reality. If Paul went to Jerusalem, he would be bound by the Jews — which is exactly what happened (cf. Acts 26:21). When they heard Agabus’s warning, Paul’s companions again tried to persuade him not to go to Jerusalem (Acts 21:12-13). But Paul remained undeterred.

      When he arrived, Paul experienced the very thing that the Holy Spirit had said would happen. He was bound by the Jews and then delivered over to the Romans.

      Yet, Paul was not being disobedient in going to Jerusalem. He understood the prophetic warnings and he was willing to embrace the suffering that awaited him there. God did not tell him not to go to Jerusalem; rather the Holy Spirit made it clear what would happen to Paul when he arrived there. And that is exactly what happened.

      To argue for fallible prophecy from these passages is to make an argument from silence. The text affirms the words of Agabus and the other NT prophets as truly being from the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 21:11). To claim that they erred in their prophecy is ultimately to lay the blame at the feet of God Himself. And that is certainly something we must be careful to avoid.

      Thanks again for your comment. I hope this helps!

      • Truth Unites… and Divides

        Brother, that helps a lot!

  • Thank you for your even-handed responses to my honest inquiries. I have been struggling with these questions since leaving the church that slid into charismania four years ago, and recent events have only increased my sense of urgency to understand these issues. I have no time to engage in a lengthy debate, but after reading the numerous comments directed my way, I have some thoughts.

    “He would not equate “impressions” with the gift of prophecy.”

    No, but I am certain he would not equate the events he describes in his autobiography as mere “impressions.”

    I would like to stick to Spurgeons’ experiences and his interpretation of them. He said he was “moved by the Spirit” to say them, and he quoted the Scripture passage in John 4, of the woman at the well, confounded by Jesus’ supernatural knowledge of her situation, who earlier said, “Sir, I perceive you are a prophet.” Spurgeon experienced this ‘move of the Spirit’ while serving the church in preaching,and since cessationists conflate the Ephesians 4 offices of teacher and prophet to account for the latters’ conspicuous absence in their churches, we must understand Spurgeons words have the authority of the proclaimed words of God. And since there was no conflict between Spurgeon and his hearers concerning the truth of these supernatural revelations, there can be no accusations of squishy subjectivity.

    So, given the nature of these revelations –especially their startling truth, and the context in which they occurred– we cannot lightly dismiss them. They are not the mere impressions Spurgeon discouraged in your quote as being of the sort of that is flimsy guidance for believers. These words carry a far heavier weight, and I am sure Spurgeon understood well the burden of his responsibility every time he strode to the pulpit of the Metropolitan Tabernacle. He knew the power of the words of the Lord he proclaimed, that could pierce between soul and spirit and discern the thoughts and intents of the heart. Never would he mix that powerful and prophetic word he spoke from the pulpit with mere “impressions.”

    So while I vehemently agree with you regarding Grudem’s category of “fallible prophecy” — it has been a colossal failure in aiding the process of discernment –but he is right about this: there is a kind of prophecy that need not be included in the canon of Scripture, that Spurgeon here ably demonstrated. It is indeed binding and authoritative, but only to the individual to whom it has been directed, whose thoughts and intents have been discerned by the Spirit, and who is called to repent or agree with such words of the Lord. They belong to the category with which John ends his book, those that, “If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.”

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