Assembly 2.0: Part 11.7: Prophecy, Introduction



Of course, we know from scripture that the earliest assemblies included prophecy and speaking in tongues. 1 Cor 11 and 14 are quite clear on this point. It’s been traditionally taught (not just just in the Churches of Christ) that the New Testament prophets were given to fill the gap created by the New Testament not being yet complete. Congregations were equipped with prophets who taught doctrine and such until the canon was completed, and then the gift of prophecy was no longer needed.

Nice theory. Zero scripture to support it. In fact, the scriptures plainly contradict it! After all, no congregation had more prophecy that the church at Corinth. 1 Corinthians is likely the oldest book in the New Testament. But the Corinthian church was filled with prophecy — even the women prophesied in church (chapter 11!) — and the assemblies were evidently filled with so many prophecies that the problem was they kept interrupting each other! — so why did they need Paul to begin writing the New Testament by sending them his first preserved epistle? If the prophets filled in for the missing New Testament, why did Paul have to write them two letters?

Just so, the churches in Rome and in Ephesus had prophets, and yet Paul needed to write them letters. Why? Why did the Romans not already know about faith and works? Why did the Ephesians not already know about marriage and the Spirit?

Must a prophet speak like Isaiah?

The problem is that we assume that “prophet” means someone like Isaiah or Jeremiah or Moses or David. And yet it’s clear that the word had a much, much broader meaning. It certainly could include such men, but it could also include Agabus —

(Act 21:10-14 ESV) 10 While we were staying for many days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea.  11 And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’”  12 When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem.  13 Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”  14 And since he would not be persuaded, we ceased and said, “Let the will of the Lord be done.” 

The apostle refused to honor the warning of the prophet Agabus. It would have been unthinkable to reject the word of a Moses or an Isaiah. Obviously, Agabus was of a lower prophetic station. In fact, Agabus wasn’t entirely accurate —

The prophecy was not fulfilled in so many words: although the Jews seized Paul, they did not hand him over to the Romans, but rather the Romans rescued him from them, while keeping him in custody.

I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale NTC 5; IVP/Accordance electronic ed. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 359-360.

(There are literary reasons for Agabus to have spoken as he did. He creates a strong parallel with the passion of Jesus. But he was not strictly accurate.)

Must prophecy be at the level of scripture?

Another mistake often made with regard to prophecy is to assume that prophecy always carries the same authority as scripture — which is surely a form of prophecy but not the only form. After all, the countless prophecies uttered by the Corinthian prophets were not written down nor were they sufficient to counsel the church to reform its many errors.

In Showing the Spirit: A Theological Exposition of 1 Corinthians, 12-14, D. A. Carson argues that the semantic range of “prophet” in the First Century was much broader than in earlier times, so much so that Paul could refer to Epimenides of Crete as a “prophet” when quoting his saying, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons” (Tit 1:12 ESV) from the Sixth Century B.C.

In Acts 2, Peter refers to the apostles’ speaking in tongues as fulfilling Joel’s promise that the Spirit would be outpoured so that men and women would “prophesy.”

In Acts 21:10 ff, Agabus, called a prophet, warns Paul not to go to Jerusalem, and Paul refuses to honor the prophet’s instructions. It’s unimaginable that a godly man would have rejected the instructions of a prophet on the order of, say, an Isaiah or Jeremiah.

Throughout the Old Testament, we read of “prophecy” that sounds a lot like ecstatic speech, perhaps the same as tongues. For example,

(1Sa 19:20-24 ESV)  20 Then Saul sent messengers to take David, and when they saw the company of the prophets prophesying, and Samuel standing as head over them, the Spirit of God came upon the messengers of Saul, and they also prophesied.  21 When it was told Saul, he sent other messengers, and they also prophesied. And Saul sent messengers again the third time, and they also prophesied.  22 Then he himself went to Ramah and came to the great well that is in Secu. And he asked, “Where are Samuel and David?” And one said, “Behold, they are at Naioth in Ramah.”  23 And he went there to Naioth in Ramah. And the Spirit of God came upon him also, and as he went he prophesied until he came to Naioth in Ramah.  24 And he too stripped off his clothes, and he too prophesied before Samuel and lay naked all that day and all that night. Thus it is said, “Is Saul also among the prophets?” 

When Saul stripped himself naked, lay on the ground, and spoke words of prophecy, he was said to be “among the prophets.” This would seem to demonstrate that he was acting as prophets sometimes acted.

And so, the fact is that we can’t be very precise about just what phenomenon was referred to as “prophecy” in the early church. Was it prophecy as Saul prophesied? Or prophecy as Moses or Ezekiel prophesied?

One thing we can know for sure is that today’s preaching and exhortation are not the same thing. Indeed, there was something about prophecy that distinguished it from ordinary speech. Consider the occasion when Moses appointed 70 men to serve as
judges —

(Num 11:24-29 ESV) 24 So Moses went out and told the people the words of the LORD. And he gathered seventy men of the elders of the people and placed them around the tent.  25 Then the LORD came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the Spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders. And as soon as the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied. But they did not continue doing it.  

26 Now two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the Spirit rested on them. They were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp.  27 And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.”  28 And Joshua the son of Nun, the assistant of Moses from his youth, said, “My lord Moses, stop them.”  29 But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the LORD’s people were prophets, that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!” 

There was something about the speech of Eldad and Medad that made others recognize them as prophets. But we are never told what it was.

But just as is true in Numbers 11 and 1 Corinthians 12-14, to be able to prophesy was considered a good and holy thing — something to be sought and desired.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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13 Responses to Assembly 2.0: Part 11.7: Prophecy, Introduction

  1. Interesting presentation of the problem of prophecy. Looking forward to solutions!

  2. Price says:

    Excellent ! It is my understanding that the “prophesy” of the NT is more “personal” in nature rather than a type of inscripturation that would be for all people for all time… “On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. [1Co 14:3 ESV] With this kind of HS encouragement to the body and to individuals one can appreciate why Paul wished that they all could prophesy… Imagine what that would look like !

  3. David Hinckley says:

    Jay, It would be GREAT is you were to take several of these blog posts series (like this one on Salvation, Church, Assembly, and …) and put each series into a single PDF doc. I guess any of us could do it also, and I just might….someday. 🙂

  4. Jay Guin says:


    At the bottom of each post is a printer icon. Just click the button and select a .pdf printer. Windows 10 has one by default. If your computer doesn’t have one, several good ones are available for free download. Here’s a link. We use CutePDF at my office:

    Notice that the print feature gives you the option to delete headers and footers, which cleans up the URLs and such that would otherwise appear on top and bottom.

    My only complaint is that the print feature prints the comments as well as the text — which is sometimes very helpful, but some posts have 100+ comments. It can a lot of paper. But you can limit which pages are printed, and the preview makes it easy to print only the original post, if that’s your preference.

    The alternative is to highlight the post, hit Ctl-Shift-P, select Print Selection and the pdf printer, and then just the post will be converted to pdf.

  5. Jim H says:

    I think it was Price, who in an earlier post regarding the Holy Spirt posted that the HS works “on/upon and through” and “in/within and through” (i.e., “both/and”) to accomplish His role in spiritual leadership formation and the maturing of disciples, and the church. I totally agree, and find these prepositional placements (on/upon and in/within) of the HS very interesting. In the OT we find the prepositions “on/upon” primarily used with respect to “outwardly” prophesying and leadership skills, but not necessarily exclusively. And in the NT, we see the HS working primarily “inwardly” (“in/within”) the disciple in a more inward spiritual personal transformative mode, but again, not exclusively. I apologize for not being more precise with biblical examples to demostrate what I see as interesting differences in the working prepositional placement of the HS in the OT and NT, but we are in the process of preparing to move into a new downsized home and all of my study notes and reference materials in preparation for a personal In-depth study of the HS is in storage and I neglected to transfer my study from my thrumbdrive to my laptop. It would be of interest to me, and perhaps others, if Jay would consider having a theological discussion of this as a topic.

  6. Kevin says:

    I have been compiling several of Jay’s series for a while now. Here’s another way:
    -Copy and paste all the desired articles into a Word document
    -Reduce / increase font as desired
    -Remove pictures if desired
    -Save as a PDF

    This method will give you a lot of control over the document, i.e. including page numbers, manipulating page breaks, adjusting the page margins, including desired comments, retaining hyper-links, etc.

  7. Monty says:

    The prophetic/ecstatic utterances of 1 Corinthians is just plain bizarre. It didn’t promote unity, it didn’t seem to instruct( they had to have Paul tell them that the guy who had his father’s wife was wrong and needed to be gone). It didn’t teach brothers to not take one another to court or to refuse division based on who baptized them. It obviously didn’t promote love as Paul had to pen the love chapter to teach it’s superiority over their giftedness without it. It would be interesting to know what benefit they enjoyed by prophecy. I mean they couldn’t even eat together and do communion well, gifted as they were. They were exercising their gifts and yet getting the one another relationship all wrong(it would seem) whereas Paul teaches in Ephesians that they were supposed to “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” In some ways they were like us, they went to church, heard from God’s word, and left none the better for it as pertaining to everyday life.

  8. Price says:

    Perhaps it would be a mistake to assume that the gift of God would always be used appropriately by mere mortals… Being gifted apparently doesn’t mean spiritually perfect. But, then of course not being gifted doesn’t make one perfect either.. As for me, all things being equal, I’d rather be gifted.

  9. Jay Guin says:

    Jim H,

    I covered this sometime ago, but doubt that I could find the precise post. But I’ve observed that in Eph, for example, the Spirit is both said to be “in” the Christian and the Christian “in” the Spirit. This not always obvious from the English.

    (Eph. 2:18 ESV) For through him we both have access in [en] one Spirit to the Father.

    (Eph. 6:18a ESV) 18 praying at all times in [en] the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.

    (Eph. 2:22 NAS) in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in [en] the Spirit.

    (Eph. 3:16 ESV) that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in [eis] your inner being,

    (Eph. 5:18 ESV) And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with [en] the Spirit,

    Any student of another language knows that prepositions can be devilishly difficult to translate, but we do the same in English. We “pray in the Spirit” and yet we think of the Spirit as being “in” us — and this is very true to the Greek.

    When the Spirit is acting as mediator, we pray “in” the Spirit, perhaps meaning “by means of”. In fact, the ESV translates,

    (Eph. 2:22 ESV) In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by [en] the Spirit.

    After all, if we are temples of the Spirit (1 Cor 3:16-17), then the Spirit is the means of God’s indwelling. But the meaning could be that are God’s temple, which is saturated with the Spirit. It’s hard to say. But all the “in” verses could be translated as well, if not better, with “by” — which is a meaning “en” sometimes takes.

    Therefore, at least in Eph, I’d be inclined to take the “in” [en] verses to mean “by the Spirit” whereas the verses speaking of the indwelling, using eis, to refer to the Spirit’s internal working within the Christian.

    Not sure I want to sort through every OT and NT passage this way. But a few samplings for fun —

    (Num. 24:2 ESV) And Balaam lifted up his eyes and saw Israel camping tribe by tribe. And the Spirit of God came upon [en] him,

    “Upon” is from the Hebrew, but the LXX says “in” — which is interesting.

    (Jdg. 3:10 ESV) Judges 3:10 The Spirit of the LORD was upon him, and he judged Israel. He went out to war, and the LORD gave Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia into his hand. And his hand prevailed over Cushan-rishathaim.

    This “upon” in both Heb and LXX (ep‘), and nearly all remain OT passages speak in terms of “upon” in both Heb and LXX. “Upon” is used in the Gospels, Acts, and 1 Pet., doubtlessly following the LXX. This is paralleled in Acts 2 with the tongues of fire resting upon (epi) the disciples (Acts 2:3, KJV).

    But Paul never uses “upon.” He prefers “en” meaning “by” —

    (Rom. 2:29 ESV) But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by [en] the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.

    But en can mean in —

    (Rom. 8:9 ESV) You, however, are not in the flesh but in [en] the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in [en] you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.

    Paul is so focused on the Spirit’s indwelling, which is like God’s dwelling in the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle, that he sees the Spirit being “in” the Christian, whereas the OT and some NT authors see the Spirit as “upon” the Christian. Of course, in John, Jesus pictures the Spirit as Living Water welling up within the believer.

    I’m not sure that I see a profound significance. The OT authors tend to see the Spirit as poured out from heaven above on the recipient. But they see the Spirit influencing the behavior and character of the recipient, which to us, means the Spirit is acting “on” the person by acting “in” the person. That is, in English we’d use “on” when the object of the action is the person but “in” when the object is the person’s mind, character, etc. — although there’s no actual difference. I seem to see the same tendency among the NT authors. But I’ve not done a serious study.

    I might say that my paranoia is acting on me to make me fearful or I might say my paranoia is acting in me to make me fearful. It’s the same thing, but one imagines the paranoia as an external agent (although it’s not) and one as an internal agent. It’s a figure of speech.

  10. Jay Guin says:

    Kevin and David,

    I think Kevin’s idea is better for compiling into a single document, although the fonts and paragraphing can get a little wonky, depending on your computer set up. These are easily fixed. Hopefully, the Greek and Hebrew fonts transfer well. And I’d keep the pictures. And some comments are very worthwhile to keep. Hyperlinks should automatically transfer.

  11. Monty says:

    I’d much rather prefer giftedness too, but if we aren’t, then obviously God didn’t think it a preferable thing to scripture,that is if we stick with those particular gifts ceasing(whenever that time frame was)and if they were designed by God to bridge a gap so-to-speak. If we say that they are still available today then what we have available is vastly superior. We have a completed Bible, not bit’s and pieces, and giftedness. The best of both worlds. Maybe we just need to stir up our gifts, or discover our gifts, or maybe we know and the knowing is just a calling we feel deep inside. It would be interesting for those who say that the giftedness is still for the church today to confess they have it and explain how they went about eagerly desiring giftedness and what took place when they received it. Does the Holy Spirit give a person their giftedness at conversion or is that sometime later? I would like to hear stories from those who say they received giftedness somewhere post conversion and what that process was like. Did they not know what they had until they started prophesying? I know from listening to others who say they speak in tongues that they didn’t have it until they did it. Is that true of prophesying? It would seem to me that instead of hypothesizing over the details in the Book, let’s just hear from those who claim it. Get it from the horses mouth. Please don’t misconstrue what my intentions are because I’m very serious.

  12. laymond says:

    Mat 24:24 For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.
    Mat 24:25 Behold, I have told you before.

    We were warned.

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