NO CONTINUATION OF PROPHETS TODAY
By: Victor T. Stephens
"People often claim to hunger for truth, but seldom like the taste when it's served up."
~ George R.R. Martin
In the New Testament, the prophetic gifts were given to the Church during the time-frame of Pentecost in 33 AD and completion of the Book of Revelation by the Apostle John about 95 AD (some say earlier). However, much controversy and tension arises in the Christian Church of whether the existences of the prophetic gifts are still valid today. Those who believe these gifts have ceased … known as "cessationists", will often receive a wail of opposition from those who have the opinion they are still a normative function in today’s church age. The latter group is known as "non-cessationists".
Recently, after a brief and somewhat confrontational encounter with several non-cessationists, I elected to write this article to comprehensively challenge and refute the argument that the prophetic gifts are legitimately functional in the church today. It is important that we carefully examine the evidence in our endeavors to arrive at a proper understanding of the nature and duration of prophecy. Every believer should regard the Word of God as the highest and final authority for discerning every question. We should be determined to adhere to His Word of Truth and not count on dubious reports of personal experiences of men.
Nevertheless, likened to other doctrinal controversies, I doubt I will permanently seal this debate despite the decisive and overriding scriptural grounds for the expulsion of today's prophetic movement. A large segment of those who are deeply devoted to the errant idea of existing prophetic gifts will attempt to force anti-biblical maxims while promptly discarding any evidence that may prove contrary to their sentiments. Moreover, egocentric individuals will typically resort to expeditious character assassination of those who dare intrude into their comfortable world and question their beliefs. It is unfortunate that this sophomoric conduct is prevalent within the church today. However, such actions should be anticipated. As 2 Timothy 3:13 points out, "evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived."
Defining a Prophet
The word "prophet" occurs approximately 300 times in the Old Testament and about 125 times in the New Testament. The following signs by which a true prophet was recognized are:
1. He will speak in the name of the Lord. (Deut. 18:19; Exodus 7:1-2)
2. He will be able to predict that which does come to pass. (Deut. 18:22)
3. He will be able to predict signs and wonders. (Deut. 13:1-2)
4. He will receive visions or dreams from the Lord. (Num. 12:6)
5. He will be 100% accurate. (Jer. 28:9)
6. He will never give private interpretation. (2 Peter 1:20)
Now, in order to validate the existence of prophets today, non-cessationists have redefined prophecy in the New Testament as a less reliable form of prophecy compared to that of Old Testament prophecy. Actually, as we will discover later in this article, New Testament prophecy was a continuation of Old Testament prophecy; and it was always completely accurate.
From the Old Testament to the New Testament Foundation
In the Old Testament, God's typical means of revelation was mediated through the prophets. Moses and the other prophets testified and wrote about Jesus Christ. Acts 26:22-23 says:
"But God has helped me to this very day; so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen --- that the Messiah would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would bring the message of light to his own people and to the Gentiles." (Acts 26:22-23)
Once the canon of the Old Testament was closed, Malachi and other prophets ceased prophesying. The prophet Malachi stated,
"I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty." (Mal. 3:1)
After the Book of Malachi, there was no prophecy for 400 years. This period of time was known as the "silent years". In the New Testament, future revelations were to come by Jesus Christ via the Holy Spirit to the apostles and prophets. Hebrews 1:1-2 states:
"In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe."
Second Peter 3:2 says:
"I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Savior through your apostles." (2 Peter 3:2)
Although the Old Testament came to an end, God's revelation was still incomplete. His completed revelation to the Church came by His Son through the apostles and prophets. Their prophetic gifts are demonstrated in numerous places in Acts, 1 Corinthians, and other accounts in the New Testament. In his commentary, Philip E. Hughes states:
"By the assertion that it was in former times that God spoke through the prophets, whereas it is in this final age that he has spoken through his Son. That quite distinct ages or dispensations are involved --- the one marked by incompleteness and anticipation, the other by completeness and fulfillment, the one preliminary, the other ultimate --- shows how fundamental the contrast is."
(Philip E. Hughes, "A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews", Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977, page 37)
F. F. Bruce echoes Hughes saying:
"His word was not completely uttered until Christ came; but when Christ came, the word spoken in Him was indeed God's final word …. The story of divine revelation is a story of progression up to Christ, but there is no progression beyond Him." (F. F. Bruce, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, "The Epistle to the Hebrews", Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964, page 3)
In Hebrews 1:2 and 2 Peter 3:2, take note that the writers say "he has spoken", "the words spoken". The word "spoken" is past tense. In the words of Philip E. Hughes, he comments:
"The past tense of the verb spoke indicates, further, that God's speaking is complete: this is true not only of the past era of the Old Testament prophets but also of the present age of messianic fulfillment. God's word in Christ has been spoken, fully and finally."
(Philip E. Hughes, "A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews", Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977, page 37)
Before the Bible was completed, the early church was sustained by the revelatory knowledge of the apostles and prophets. Today, it should be evident that God and His Son have already said all that needs to be said through the Old and New Testaments. What was once partial is now complete.
The Foundation of the Church
There are a number of scripture references that non-cessationists allude to in support of the continuation of the prophetic gifts in today's church age. The problem, however, a myopic understanding of such scriptural allusions demonstrates that non-cessationists lack perception of the uniqueness of the early church in its nascent formation. Ephesians 2:19-20 and Ephesians 4:11-13 state:
"Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God's people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone."
"So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ." (Eph. 4:11-13)
After the death of Christ, the New Testament church age began. As a result, Old Testament laws were annulled (Heb. 7:12). On account there were no New Testament scriptures to equip the Church, God sent the Holy Spirit at Pentecost to empower the apostles and prophets to convey His Word (Eph. 4:11-13). God granted them revelatory gifts to teach His truth (John 14:26; 16:13) and perform confirmatory miracles (Heb. 2:3-4).
Now, according to Ephesians 2:19-20, the apostles and prophets constitute the foundation of the church. However, Christ is the chief cornerstone of the foundation. The wisdom of Christ, His reconciliation of both Jews and Gentiles unto God in one universal body by the cross, and the imparting of the Holy Spirit have been disclosed through the revelatory ministries of the apostles and prophets. Ephesians 2:14-17 and Ephesians 3:4-6 state:
"For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near." (Eph. 2:14-17)
"In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus." (Eph. 3:4-6)
Take note Ephesians 2:19-20 says the uniting of Gentile believers with the Jewish believers (the church) has been "built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone." The word "built" is past tense ... which means already completed.
While Paul forms no differentiation of which gifts are ongoing or which ones have desisted in this passage, we have to consider Ephesians 4:11-13 in context of Paul's previous declaration in Ephesians 2:19-20. As pointed out, the apostolic and prophetic gifts were foundational. Therefore, no one today can lay claim to a position that has already been laid down.
Since the apostles and prophets are the foundation of the church, to allege they still exist is implying we are still attempting to build or rebuild a foundation. When a builder is constructing a new home, he hires a foundation contractor who lays the foundation first. Once the foundation is built, it doesn't need to be continuously re-laid by the contractor. Thus, his job is now complete. First Corinthians 3:11 says:
"For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ." (1 Cor. 3:11)
Notice here that the foundation ... which is Jesus Christ has already been laid. He is the chief cornerstone of the foundation (Eph. 2:19-20).
Referencing back to our home builder analogy ... once the foundation contractor constructs the foundation ... carpenters, plumbers, electricians, roofers, etc. will be needed to build the superstructure upon the foundation. In the context of Ephesians 2:19-20 and Ephesians 4:11-13, the "superstructure" represents the reconciliation of both Jews and Gentiles unto God in one body.
In proper context, Ephesians 4:11-13 in light of Ephesians 2:19-20 represent the individual components of the body of Christ: Christ is the chief cornerstone of the foundation, the apostles and prophets are the secondary foundation, and the Gentile and the Jewish believers constitute the building which rests upon the foundation of the apostles, prophets, and Christ. These components are united together to form the entire body of Christ. First Peter 2:4-5 says:
"As you come to him, the living Stone -- rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him -- you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." (1 Peter 2:4-5)
With that said, Ephesians 2:19-20 and Ephesians 4:11-13 are saying the apostles and prophets are the foundation. Evangelists, pastors and teachers will be needed to build the remainder of the superstructure ... the body of Christ. Teachers of God's Word will expound on what has already been revealed through the apostles and prophets ... which are the scriptures recorded in the Bible for all generations. They are needed "to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be build up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ."