Gospel-Driven Prophecy: Understanding the Differences Between OT and NT Prophecy, Part 3Thursday, October 19, 2006
A First Comparison: NT Prophets Included All God’s People
These two facts of OT prophecy then – rarity and uniqueness – are the very grounds which separate most (though certainly not all) of the OT prophets from the NT prophets. For when we turn to the NT we find prophets to be quite different. Compared to OT prophets, NT prophets are not rare at all. In fact, that is exactly the intention of the Holy Spirit since Pentecost which was prophesied by the OT prophet Joel. Referring to a new group of prophets, called the church, Peter (in Acts 2:17 ff.) quotes Joel’s prophecy (from 2:28 ff.).
“…‘And in the last days it will be,’ God says, ‘that I will pour out my Spirit on all people, and even your sons and daughters will prophesy; and your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy” (NET Bible).Clearly the emphasis can be seen! Prophesy is no longer about a rare individual anointed as a prophet by another prophet. It is about the Holy Spirit anointing all His people to prophesy as His prophets – men and women, sons and daughters, children and adults, young and old, slave and free. None of this is in common with OT prophets. And as previously noted that’s precisely a point of Pentecost: a pouring out of the Spirit on all God’s people and not just upon the specially appointed. All are anointed with the Spirit, and not just special individuals. Prophets are no longer specially chosen, but rather they make up all God’s chosen people.
A Second Comparison: NT Prophecies Have a Different Purpose
In 1 Corinthians 14 Paul makes several statements which bridge the first facet of NT prophets – that prophesy is for all God’s children – to the second facet which I see as the purpose of NT prophecy. I will show this in a moment. Let me say here, however, that to stress the NT attention on the first facet, consider verse one in 1 Corinthians 14 where Paul teaches them, “Pursue love and be eager for the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.” There can be no clearer instruction on the fact that God desires everyone in the local church to be gospel-driven by its pursuit of love, purposing to see it control the gift of prophesy which the Corinthians were to eagerly pursue. This verse was not written to specific individuals. It was written to the whole church and everyone in it. Such clear instruction should span the cultural and historical gap to local churches today.
There are two other verses in this context which continue to emphasize the all-inclusive purpose of prophecy. Fast-forwarding to verse 5, Paul explains, “I wish you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you [all] would prophesy. The one who prophecies is greater than the one who speaks on tongues…” Paul seems to continue the emphasis that Pentecost began upon all the people of God. Speaking for God, Paul instructs the church at Corinth that prophesy is intended for all believers and not just certain ones. Finally, toward the end of the chapter in verse 31 Paul explains regarding the exercise of the gift in the church. “For you can all prophesy one after another, so all can learn and be encouraged.” Once again, there is a clear emphasis on the fact that all may prophesy. Prophesy then is no longer for certain persons whom God appoints, as in the OT.
Having established Paul’s uniformity of all-inclusiveness with Peter’s interpretation of Pentecost, a brief return to verse 3 of 1 Corinthians 14 will finalize the primary purpose of this gift of prophesy. Not only was the gift given to prove the all-inclusive nature of the work of the Spirit in the church of Christ, but it was also given in order to accomplish something specific. Paul teaches us that, “the one who prophecies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouragement, and consolation.” In this verse we find the connection between NT prophets and their prophecies largely differs from the connections of OT prophets and prophecies. It is by this facet that they are clearly and unmistakably distinguished from one another.
The majority of the prophets of the NT were average, ordinary church members. Certainly at least three of the apostles (Peter, James, and John) had the gift of prophesy. This would seem to make them rare, placing them in the category of OT prophets. Yet strangely they are never mentioned as prophets, but as apostles. Remember also that the historical context is different. NT prophets are not prophesying to rebellious OT Israel and her kings and rulers. They are prophesying to the redeemed NT church.
Undoubtedly the prophetic gifting of the apostles who wrote Scripture was special in the sense that they were apostles, and as such they were chosen by Christ to be the initial bearers of the gospel to the world, to be the writers of Scripture, and the builders of the church. This puts them in a special category. Yet again they are apostles and not prophets. And their possession and usage of the gift of prophesy is for the NT church and not OT Israel. In essence, the apostles can be seen as the first to possess a gift which was prophesied in the OT as eventually being desired for and poured out upon all the redeemed.
The analysis seems to point in the direction that NT prophets are not seen in the NT appearing before Israel’s kings and pronouncing doom and judgment, calling rulers to repent. Peter’s call to repentance after his first sermon in Acts 2:22 would seem to indicate such. But his audience was those gathered for the Feast of Booths, and he addresses them, “Men of Israel…” While rulers may have been present, the context makes clear that they were not the primary audience as was the case with OT prophets and their messages. And while Paul appeared before kings and rulers, they were not the kings and rulers of Israel. They were pagan kings. In the end, while OT and NT prophets and prophecies seem to slightly overlap in context and purpose, they are very much different from each other both in context and purpose.
Read Part Four
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Conclusion