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
Congregational and Personal Prophecy for Edification
"But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort. Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves, but the one who prophesies edifies the church." (1 Cor. 14:3-4)
A general conjecture accentuated among many non-cessationists is that New Testament prophets are exclusively called to bring edification to the church rather than inscriptive revelations. On page 52 of his book "Prophets and Personal Prophecy", Dr. Bill Hamon states:
"The office of the prophet is designed and endowed to function in a higher realm of ministry than the Holy Spirit gift of prophecy. This gift of prophecy operates within the saints or a minister for the general upbuilding, encouraging, and comforting of the church (1 Cor. 12:10; 14:3, 4). But the office of prophet is authorized and anointed to do more."
(Harmon, Bill, "Prophets and Personal Prophecy", page 52)
Firstly, as I pointed out earlier in this study, prophecy was for the infancy stage of the early church. They did not have the completed canon of Scripture at that point in time. How then would the local churches during Paul's day be encouraged, strengthened, and comforted? Before the completion of the New Testament, prophecy was a revelatory gift that was also used for instructing and uplifting of the body of Christ. Let's look at Acts 20:32:
"So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified." (Acts 20:32)
Now that the church has the completed Word of God, the teaching of Scripture can be used for the edification of the church. There are numerous passages throughout the Bible which can be referenced for the upbuilding of the body of Christ.
Secondly, when Paul states that prophets "speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort", he is saying that these are the effects which result when God's will is spoken in a language known to the congregation. The person who spoke in an unknown tongue only edified himself. By contrast, the person who spoke the prophetic message of God's will edified the church.
Thirdly, edification was not only associated with New Testament prophecy; it was also demonstrated in Old Testament prophecy. Consider the following three passages of Scripture:
The Spirit of God came on Azariah son of Oded. He went out to meet Asa and said to him, "Listen to me, Asa and all Judah and Benjamin. The LORD is with you when you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you. For a long time Israel was without the true God, without a priest to teach and without the law. But in their distress they turned to the LORD, the God of Israel, and sought him, and he was found by them. In those days it was not safe to travel about, for all the inhabitants of the lands were in great turmoil. One nation was being crushed by another and one city by another, because God was troubling them with every kind of distress. But as for you, be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded." When Asa heard these words and the prophecy of Azariah son of Oded the prophet, he took courage. (1 Chr. 15:1-8)
Then Haggai, the LORD’s messenger, gave this message of the LORD to the people: "I am with you," declares the LORD. So the LORD stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of the whole remnant of the people. They came and began to work on the house of the LORD Almighty, their God, on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month. (Haggai 1:13-15)
"Now Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the prophet, a descendant of Iddo, prophesied to the Jews in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel, who was over them. Then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and Joshua son of Jozadak set to work to rebuild the house of God in Jerusalem. And the prophets of God were with them, supporting them." (Ezra 5:1-2)
As we can see from these three scripture references, the roles of New Testament prophets parallel the roles of Old Testament prophets ... giving further credence to the fact that New Testament prophecy was simply a continuation of Old Testament prophecy. It is incongruous and exegetically inconsistent to propose a segregated personal prophecy in the New Testament while acknowledging no such exclusiveness within the Old Testament.
New Testament prophets prophesied in an identical fashion of speaking for God as the prophets in the Old Testament. Therefore, when Peter cited the Old Testament prophet Joel at Pentecost, it is not conceivable that Peter believed that utterances of New Testament prophets would be placed in a separate class of prophecy for edification of the Church.
Just as there were no distinctive class of prophets in the Old Testament who were functionally exclusive to edification, the same fact remains true for prophets in the New Testament. Similarly, just as Old Testament prophets spoke the will of God to ancient Israel ... which eventually became the Old Testament Canon, New Testament prophets spoke God's will for the Church until completion of the New Testament Canon.
Now, on account that the prophetic office could also include teaching God's will to the church, there was a commonality between the prophetic gift and the gift of pastor/teacher in the sense there was an overlap between these two particular gifts. However, one can observe the shift through the New Testament in which the prophetic office steadily ceased as Scripture was given to the early church. For example, let's consider 2 Peter 2:1. It says,
"But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you." (2 Peter 2:1)
Take note of the switch from "false prophets" to "false teachers". Correspondingly, reading and teaching the truth from Scripture are the only common qualities that one shares with the prophets of the early church. These two qualities alone, however, fail to qualify one as a prophet in today's church age. To allege that one is a prophet on account that he brings forth truth already revealed from Scripture is both unwarranted and not possible to demonstrate exegetically.
The completed Word of God overshadows and supersedes the prophetic gifts of the past. The Bible encompasses all that is required for the church to grow, succeed, and fulfill the mission of God. Nowhere in Scripture do we find any allusion to authentic prophets to arise during the end time church age. In today's present church age, only evangelists, teachers, and preachers are needed to teach what has already been revealed through prophecy. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the Lord directs and instructs us from His Word in Scripture. Titus 1:9 says:
"He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it." (Titus 1:9)
Hebrews 4:12 says:
"For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." (Heb. 4:12)
Second Peter 1:3 states:
"His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness." (2 Peter 1:3)
Today, the "trustworthy message" is the completed Word of God. Sound doctrine spoken through God's Word is all that is required to teach and encourage the minds of believers. It is the power and might that illuminates from God that shoulders us on. There are many passages of Scripture that offer edifying words to the Church. A few examples are:
"I can do all this through him who gives me strength." (Phil. 4:13)
"No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it." (1 Cor. 10:13)
"But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion's mouth." (2 Tim. 4:17)
"If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen." (1 Peter 4:11)
"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)
"Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." (2 Cor. 4:16-18)
"And hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us." (Romans 5:5)
Since the Bible is now complete, we must allow God through Scripture bring edification to the church. These seven passages are just a small representation of the numerous scriptures that edify the church both individually and collectively. The Bible encompasses everything we need to know in order to be saved and live the Christian life. It does not require additional inspirations or refinements that come from extra-biblical revelations. Those who believe that prophecy continues today are confronted with the pragmatic and alarming suggestion that the Bible alone is not a sufficient revelation from God for the edification of the church.