Is All Prophecy Equal to Scripture? Part 3

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

In this brief series on prophecy, I'm attempting to re-ask one question that I presupposed so many years ago while I was still a cessationist.  During the first half of my life, I assumed that everytime a prophet prophesied something it was equal with Scripture.  In Part 2 of this series I gave a sampling of my survey on prophets in the Bible.  There I attempted to show a simple conclusion, that very little of a prophet's prophecies were ever recorded in the Scripture.  Therefore, not all prophecies are equal to Scripture.  If they were, they would have made it into the Bible.  This was the first reason I offered as to why this premise just isn't true.  It was the beginning of the end for my cessationism.  It's simple.  And it's hard to argue with.  The facts are what they are.  And it becomes difficult to interpret them any other way, at least in my opinion.

There's a second reason why this premise is not true.  It centers on the very nature of the prophecies themselves.  Not only were most prophecies not recorded in the Bible, but many of the very examples of prophecy we have given to us in the Bible are not...well...Scriptural.  While at first this statement sounds blasphemous, it will make sense as I move on, and hopefully you'll understand what I mean.  In short, I simply mean that many of the prophecies we have in the Scripture are not of a doctrinal content which we normally think of when we think of Scripture.

2.  There are differing qualities and content of prophecy itself.

The second reason why not all prophecy is not equal to the canon of Scripture is simply seen in the differing qualities or content of prophecy itself.  I've already demonstrated that Scripture is of the highest level of prophecy.  In other words, there is a doctrinal type of prophecy that delivers revelation from God on the truths of the gospel.  And this is no doubt what Jude referred to in verse 3 of his letter, when he mentioned "the faith once and for all delivered to the saints." 

However, there is other prophetic information that God revealed to people in the Scripture that is not of a doctrinal quality.  Here is a sampling.  I break them down into two basic categories.

A.  Practical Prophecy: Hearing From God About Doing the Mission
  • The Holy Spirit Gives Directions...Literally
    • In Acts 8:26 the Holy Spirit told Philip which road to take in order to ensure that he intersected with the Ethiopian eunuch, who was later led to Christ.
    • In Acts 9:11, the Holy Spirit basically gave Ananias an address where he could find Saul, who had just been struck blind by the resurrected Jesus on Saul's religious rampage to Damascus.
    • In Acts 10:5, the Holy Spirit told Cornelius what city he needed to send his men to in order to find Simon Peter and bring him back for more teaching and revelation.
  • The Holy Spirit Predicts...In Order to Help His People Prepare
    • In Acts 11:27-30, Agabus was one of several prophets who came from Antioch to Jerusalem to help. In the process, the Holy Spirit told him about a famine that was going to come.  As a result, the disciples in Jerusalem started preparing to help financially.
  • The Holy Spirit Directs...In Order to Further Jesus' Mission
    • In Acts 13:1 and following, the Holy Spirit told the church in Jerusalem to set apart a couple of men for a missionary journey.  
    • In Acts 16:6-7, the Holy Spirit somehow redirected Paul and Silas on their second missionary journey away from a region and to another one.
    • In Acts 16:8, the Holy Spirit gave Paul a dream about a man from Macedonia calling him to cover and help.
    • In Acts 20:22, Paul says that the Holy Spirit is telling him to go to Jerusalem.  Strangely, it seems that the Holy Spirit was telling other men to tell Paul not to go to Jersualem, in Acts 21:4.  (Go figure that one out!)
  • The Holy Spirit Predicts...Danger Ahead!
    • In Acts 21:10-11, Agabus prophesied again that if Paul went to Jerusalem he would be arrested and harmed.
    • In Acts 27:9-10, Paul, presumably the prophetic power of the Holy Spirit, predicted that the voyage he and his shipmates were on would be dangerous and even disastrous.
    • In Acts 27:21-26, Paul is again informed prophetically by the Holy Spirit about the incredible and merciful solution to the disaster they were experiencing.
    • In Acts 27:33 and following, Paul is seen giving what again appears to be prophetic insight about how to prepare for the danger and deliverance God had prepared for them.
  • The Holy Spirit Reveals Get Things Done
    • In Acts 5:1-10, Peter received a supernatural word that Ananias and Sapphira were lying to the church and to the Holy Spirit.
    • In Acts 8:23, Peter prophetically discerns the heart of Simon and stops the work of the enemy.
    • In Acts 13:8-11, Paul prophetically discerned the spiritual condition of Elymas and spoke correction and judgment into the situation.
    • In 1 Corinthians 14:24-25, Paul teaches that a prophecies in the local church expose a sinner's heart so that he falls to his knees and claims that God is alive through His people.
B.  "One-Anothering" Prophecy: Strengthening, Comforting & Encouraging One Another

Just from this simple survey of the book of Acts it should be easy enough to see that the Holy Spirit can communicate practical information to people. And that's called prophecy.  But it isn't doctrinal prophecy, is it?  

And what about the kind of prophecy spoke about in 1 Corinthians 14:3?  There, Paul writes that prophecy is also for strengthening, comforting, and encouraging.  This means that prophecy among the average believer in the early church was simply about doing those things for one another.  

This would create another non-canonical type of prophecy that occurred with great frequency in the early local churches, wouldn't it? I guess we could call this non-canonical prophecy a "one-anothering" type of prophecy.  

Based on a simple reading of that verse within its context, Paul gives clear guidelines on how prophecy is to operate in a gathering of believers.  When they prophecy in that setting they are to strengthen, comfort and encourage one another.  Plain and simple, right?

In this non-canonical type of prophecy, God is spontaneously revealing information to a person.  It's revelation.  But it's not equal to Scripture...anymore than the revelation of wisdom and knowledge we get about God is equal to Scripture (Eph. 1:17-19)...anymore than the way the Spirit gives us assurance about being a son or daughter of the Father is equal to Scripture.  

In short, just because the Holy Spirit spoke, it didn't always result in Scripture.  He spoke onto tablets, scrolls, and papyri.  But He also spoke into men's minds and hearts.  And He still does today...on the tablets, scrolls, and papyri of our heart.  That was guaranteed in the New Covenant (Ezekiel 36:36-37; Jeremiah 31:31-34).

Stay tuned for Part 4 where I'll reference the relationship of women to prophecy in an attempt to show the plain difference in prophetic content and quality.  This will be a further attempt to show why not all prophecy is necessarily equal to the canon of Scripture.    

Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4 / Part 5

About the Author: Rob is a follower of Jesus at Jubilee Church.  From there he pursues Jesus' mission at Revive Consignment as the Business & Operations Development Director, as well as at Jubilee Church of Atlanta, in Woodstock, GA. From there he envisions and pursues missional-shaped business for the kingdom. He and his wife Sherri have been married for 20 years and together have three sons and a daughter. Rob believes the mission of the gospel is summed up in four simple phrases: know God, obey Jesus, make disciples, and plant churches. This is the pursuit of his life, as well as the point of his blog.

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