The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today

The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today

by Wayne Grudem


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This updated, comprehensive work by a respected New Testament scholar brings new understanding of the gift of prophecy and suggests how to enjoy it without compromising the supremacy of Scripture.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781581342437
Publisher: Crossway
Publication date: 11/28/2000
Edition description: REVISED
Pages: 400
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.97(d)

About the Author

Wayne Grudem(PhD, University of Cambridge; DD, Westminster Theological Seminary) is Distinguished Research Professor of Theology and Biblical Studies at Phoenix Seminary, having previously taught fortwenty years at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He is aformer president of the Evangelical Theological Society, a member of the Translation Oversight Committee for the English Standard Version of the Bible, the general editor of theESV Study Bible, and has published overtwenty books.

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Speaking God's Very Words

BEFORE WE BEGIN a study of the gift of prophecy in the New Testament, we need to look briefly at the Old Testament prophets — men such as Moses and Samuel, or Nathan, or Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Daniel.

What was their purpose? How much authority did they have? What happened if someone dared to disobey them? Did they ever make mistakes?

We are making no assumptions at this point about whether these Old Testament prophets were the same as prophets in the New Testament. (In fact, I shall argue in chapter 3 that there were some very important differences.) For now, we simply intend to survey the evidence in the text of the Old Testament and draw some conclusions, especially about the kind of authority these Old Testament prophets had.


The main function of Old Testament prophets was to be messengers from God, sent to speak to men and women with words from God.

So we read of Haggai the prophet, "Then Haggai, the messenger of the LORD, spoke to the people with the LORD'S message" (Hag. 1:13, RSV; cf. Obad. 1:1). Similarly, the Lord "sent a message by Nathan the prophet" to King David (2 Sam. 12:25, RSV), and the Lord gave Isaiah the prophet a message to deliver to King Hezekiah (2 Kings 20:4-6).

In fact, a true prophet is one whom "the LORD has truly sent" (Jer. 28:9, RSV). But false prophets who prophesy lies are ones of whom the Lord says, "I did not send them" (Jer. 29:9, RSV; cf. Ezek. 13:6).

Quite often the prophet is a special kind of messenger. He is a "messenger of the covenant" — sent to remind Israel of the terms of her covenant with the Lord, calling the disobedient to repentance and warning that the penalties of disobedience will soon be applied (see, for example, 2 Chron. 24:19; Neh. 9:26, 30; Jer. 7:25; Mal. 4:4-6).

Why is this important? It is important because official messengers do not just carry their own authority. They speak with the authority of the one who sent them.

Think of the ambassador to a foreign country who carries a message from his president or prime minister. He does not think of the message as his own, nor does it come merely with his own personal authority. The message he delivers comes with the authority of the leader who sent him.

So it was with the Old Testament prophets. They knew they were not speaking for themselves but for God who had sent them, and they spoke with his authority.


The authority of God's messengers, the prophets, was not limited to the general content or just the main ideas of their messages. Rather, they claimed repeatedly that their very words were words which God had given them to deliver. We see this in the fact that the characteristic which distinguished a true prophet was this: He did not speak his own words or "words of his own heart," but words which God had sent him to deliver. The fact that the prophets speak the very words which God has given them to deliver is emphasized frequently in the Old Testament:

• "I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak" (Ex. 4:12, RSV; cf. 24:3).

• "The word that God puts in my mouth, that must I speak" (Num. 22:38, RSV; cf. 23:5, 16).

• "I will put my words in his mouth" (Deut. 18:18, RSV; cf. vv. 21-22).

• "I have put my words in your mouth" (Jer. 1:9, RSV).

• "And you shall speak my words to them" (Ezek. 2:7, RSV; cf. 3:17).

It is not surprising then that we find the Old Testament prophets very frequently speaking for God in the first person, saying things like, "I will do this," or, "I have done that," when they are speaking for the Lord and obviously not for themselves (2 Sam. 7:4-16; 1 Kings 20:13, 42; 2 Kings 17:13; 19:25-28, 34; 21:12-15; 22:16-20; 2 Chron. 12:5; and hundreds of times in the latter prophets). This complete identification of the prophet's words with the words of the Lord is seen when the prophet says things like, "You shall know that I am the LORD" (1 Kings 20:13, RSV), or, "I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God" (Isa. 45:5, RSV). Clearly no Israelite would have thought that the prophet was claiming to speak his own words in such cases; he was simply thought to be repeating the words of the one who had sent him.

One final indication of a belief in the divine origin of prophetic words is seen in the frequency with which God is referred to as the speaker of something a prophet said. In 1 Kings 13:26 (RSV), "the word which the LORD spoke to him" is the word which the prophet spoke in verse 21. Similarly, Elijah's words in 1 Kings 21:19 are quoted in 2 Kings 9:25f. as a burden that the Lord put on Ahab, and Elijah is not even referred to (cf. Hag. 1:12; 1 Sam. 15:3, 18). It is common to read of "the word of the LORD, which he spoke by his servant the prophet" (1 Kings 14:18; 16:12; 2 Kings 9:36; 14:25; 17:23; 24:2; 2 Chron. 29:25; Ezra 9:10-11; Neh. 9:30; Jer. 37:2; Zech. 7:7, 12; etc.).


To disbelieve or disobey a prophet's words is to disbelieve or disobey God

There was a practical consequence to this idea of the prophet speaking God's very words — it made a lot of difference in how people listened to him! In fact, once the people who listen to a prophet are convinced that the prophet's very words have absolute divine authority, they will not risk disobeying or disbelieving even the slightest part of the message for fear of being punished by God himself for disobedience or disbelief (note Deut. 18:19; 1 Sam. 8:7; 15:3, with vv. 18 and 23; 1 Kings 20:36; 2 Chron. 25:16; Isa. 30:12-14; Jer. 6:10-11, 16-19; etc.). Other passages could be given, but the pattern should be clear: To disbelieve or disobey anything a prophet says in God's name is no minor matter — it is to disbelieve or disobey God.

The words of a true prophet are beyond challenge or question

There was another consequence of the fact that true prophets were thought to be speaking the very words of God. If these were God's words, then they were true and good and pure by definition, because they came from God himself.

Therefore we do not find in the Old Testament any instance where the prophecy of someone who is acknowledged to be a true prophet is "evaluated" or "sifted" so that the good might be sorted from the bad, the true from the false. Rather, when Samuel was established as a prophet, "the LORD was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground" (1 Sam. 3:19, RSV). Because Samuel was a man of God (that is, a prophet), Saul's servant could say, "All that he says comes true" (1 Sam. 9:6, RSV).

This meant that when a prophet spoke in the name of the Lord, if even one prophecy did not come true, he was a false prophet (Deut. 18:22). The authority attached to the prophetic office was so great, and thus the effect on the people resulting from the emergence of a false prophet was so disastrous, that the penalty for false prophecy was death (Deut. 18:20; 13:5). [Note: I no longer think that the Old Testament commanded the death penalty for a false prophecy, but only for false prophecies that also included an encouragement to serve other gods. See appendix 1, section 2e, below.]

So what we find in the Old Testament is that every prophet is judged or evaluated, but not the various parts of every prophecy. The people ask, "Is this a true prophet or not? Is he speaking God's words or not?" They never ask, "Which parts of this prophecy are true and which are false? Which parts are good and which are bad?" For one bit of falsehood would disqualify the whole prophecy and would show the prophet to be a false prophet. A true prophet who claimed a divine authority of actual words could never speak in his prophecy some of his own words and some of God's — they were all to be God's words or he was a false prophet.

Thus, when it was plain that the Lord was with Samuel and let none of his words fall to the ground (1 Sam. 3:19), then "all Israel ... knew that Samuel was established as a prophet of the LORD" (v. 20, RSV). Then it was seen that to disobey Samuel or to second-guess even seemingly arbitrary commands was wrong and would lead to punishment from God (1 Sam. 13:13 with 10:18; 15:23 with v. 3).

Similarly, Micaiah was willing to stake his entire reputation as a prophet on the fulfillment of one prophecy (1 Kings 22:28). Because God was thought to be the speaker of all that a prophet spoke in his name, it was unthinkable that a true prophet should deliver some oracle which was a mixture of good and bad or true and false elements. Whatever a true prophet received from the Lord, he spoke. What the Lord thus spoke through the prophet had absolute divine authority, extending even to the very words the prophet used.

Of course, this does not mean that a true prophet would never apostatize (1 Kings 13:18). The distinction I am trying to make here concerns the type of evaluation the people were expected to perform.

If the people of Israel usually thought that a prophet was just speaking his own words and not those of the Lord, then every sentence he spoke would be subject to evaluation and question. The hearers would ask of each statement, "Is this true or not? Is this right or not?" This sort of word from a prophet would be a word of men among other words of men, and would possess no more authority than any other word. Critical discernment would be necessary in hearing all the prophet's words, even if he claimed that the general contents of his message were from God, for minor mistakes might occur at any point.

But if the prophet claims to be speaking God's very words, another sort of evaluation takes place. There are only two possibilities, and there is no middle ground. The question becomes, "Are these God's words, or not? If so, I must obey. If not, the prophet is misrepresenting God and must be put to death" (see Deut. 18:20). Once his words are accepted (by whatever means) as God's words, they have a different status and are beyond challenge or question.


Although our study has not yet dealt with the question of New Testament prophecy, it still has some useful application for contemporary Christians. This is because many of the words of God spoken by Old Testament prophets have not been lost but have been preserved for us in the pages of the Old Testament. In fact, there is some indication that all of the Old Testament was thought to have been written by those who were functioning as "prophets," for we read in Luke's Gospel: "And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself" (Luke 24:27, RSV).

But whether we think of much or all of the written Old Testament as having come from those who were writing as "prophets," it can certainly be shown that Scripture claims for all of the Old Testament this same kind of authority: the authority of the very words of God.

There is a practical consequence in this for modern readers. We could fully trust the words of the Old Testament Scriptures, and (whenever its commands apply to us today) we should fully obey its commands, for they are commands from God.

And if the Old Testament has this kind of authority, we must never disregard it or think it to contain falsehood or elements unworthy of our trust. We must rather treasure it and continually return to it to hear in it the voice of our Creator speaking to us, giving guidance for our lives and spiritual nourishment to our souls. What the Old Testament says, God says, and to disbelieve or disobey it is to disbelieve or disobey God himself.



Speaking God's Very Words

IF WE SEARCH THE New Testament, will we find any counterparts to the Old Testament prophets?

At first we might expect that New Testament prophets would be like the Old Testament prophets. But when we look through the New Testament itself this does not seem to be the case. There is little if any evidence for a group of prophets in the New Testament churches who could speak with God's very words (with "absolute divine authority" that could not be questioned) and who had the authority to write books of Scripture for inclusion in the New Testament.

On the other hand, there is a very prominent group of people in the New Testament who do speak with absolute divine authority and who did write most of the books of the New Testament. These men are called not "prophets," however, but "apostles." In many ways they are similar to the Old Testament prophets.


One marked parallel between the Old Testament prophet and the New Testament apostle is that an apostle was commissioned by Christ, "sent" by him on a specific apostolic mission just as Old Testament prophets were "sent" by God as his messengers.

To the disciples (who were to become the "apostles" after Pentecost) Jesus said, "As the Father has sent me, even so I send you" (John 20:21, RSV). In a similar way he told the eleven disciples, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations" (Matt. 28:19, RSV).

And on the Damascus Road Christ said to Paul, "I will send you far away to the Gentiles" (Acts 22:21, RSV; cf. Acts 26:17; 1 Cor. 1:17; Gal. 2:7-8). In fact, just as the Old Testament prophets were covenant messengers, so in 2 Corinthians 3:6 Paul calls himself a minister of the New Covenant, and Paul often referred to the fact that Christ had entrusted him with a specific commission as an apostle (note 1 Cor. 9:17; 2 Cor. 1:1; 5:20; Gal. 1:1; Eph. 1:1; Col. 1:1, 25; 1 Tim. 1:1; etc.).


It is not surprising, then, that when we read the New Testament we ?nd several times when the apostles are connected with the Old Testament prophets, but New Testament prophets, by contrast, are never connected with Old Testament prophets in the same way.

First, this is true of Jesus when the term "apostle" is applied to him. Hebrews 1 begins, "In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son" (Heb. 1:1-2a, RSV). And then in Hebrews 3:1 (RSV), instead of calling Jesus a "prophet" on the basis of such speaking, the author says, "Therefore ... consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession," and goes on to contrast him with Moses, the archetypal Old Testament prophet according to Jewish tradition.

According to the author of Hebrews, then, God spoke through prophets in the Old Testament and through Jesus the apostle in the New Testament. But this usage is unusual — it is the only time Jesus is called an "apostle." Far more common is the use of the word "apostle" to refer to Christ's authoritative messengers. Here also there is a connection with Old Testament prophets.

For example, in 2 Peter 3:2, the readers are urged to remember "the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles." And in Luke 11:49 (RSV) we read, "I will send them prophets and apostles," a statement which in context must use "prophets" to refer to Old Testament prophets.

In the early church also, the apostles are connected with Old Testament prophets, but I am aware of no instance where New Testament prophets are associated with Old Testament prophets.

Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch (died about A.D. 107) wrote that Christ is the door "through which enter Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and the Prophets and the Apostles and the Church. ... For the beloved Prophets had a message pointing to Him" (Ignatius, To the Philadelphians 9:1-2).

Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna (died A.D. 155), encouraged the church at Philippi:

So then "Let us serve Him with fear and all reverence," as He Himself commanded us, and as did the Apostles who brought us the Gospel, and the Prophets who foretold the coming of our Lord (To the Philippians, 6.3). (Compare Hermas, The Shepherd: Similitudes 9.15.4; Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 75.)


The most significant parallel between Old Testament prophets and New Testament apostles, however, is the ability to write words of Scripture, words that have absolute divine authority.

The apostles are primary recipients of the gospel of Christ

This ability begins with the fact that the message of the apostles came directly from Christ. The apostle Paul, for example, adamantly insists that his message has not come from men but from Jesus Christ himself: "The gospel which was preached by me is not man's gospel. For I did not receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ" (Gal. 1:11-12, RSV).

Such an insistence on the divine origin of his message is clearly in the tradition of the Old Testament prophets (Deut. 18:20; 1 Kings 22:14, 28; Jer. 23:16ff.; Ezek. 13:1ff.).


Excerpted from "The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today"
by .
Copyright © 2000 Wayne A. Grudem.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Preface, 11,
Preface to the 1997 Reprint, 13,
Preface to the 2000 Edition, 15,
Introduction, 17,
1. Old Testament Prophets: Speaking God's Very Words, 21,
2. New Testament Apostles: Speaking God's Very Words, 27,
3. New Testament Prophets at Corinth: Speaking Merely Human Words to Report Something God Brings to Mind, 51,
4. New Testament Prophets in the Rest of the New Testament: Speaking Merely Human Words to Report Something God Brings to Mind, 71,
5. The Source of Prophecies: Something God Brings to Mind, 95,
6. Prophecy and Teaching: How Are They Different Gifts?, 113,
7. The Content of Prophecies: What Did the Prophecies Say?, 125,
8. Prophecy as a Sign of God's Blessing in a Church(1 Cor. 14:20-25), 145,
9. Prophets and Church Government: Were Prophets "Charismatic Leaders" in the Early Church?, 155,
10. Can All Believers Prophesy?, 161,
11. Women and Prophecy: Prophesying Encouraged, but Not the Judging of Prophecies, 183,
12. The Duration of Prophecy: How Long Will Prophecy Be Used in the Church?, 193,
13. Encouraging and Regulating Prophecy in the Local Church, 217,
14. Why Do We Need the Gift of Prophecy Today?, 227,
Appendix A: The Office of Apostle, 229,
Appendix B: The Canon of Scripture, 237,
Appendix C: The Sufficiency of Scripture, 257,
Appendix 1: Prophecy and Prophets in the Old and New Testaments: A Biblical-Theological Study, 271,
Appendix 2: What Are the "Word of Wisdom" and "Word of Knowledge" in 1 Corinthians 12:8?, 293,
Appendix 3: Some Incorrect Assumptions in Cessationist Reasoning, 303,
Appendix 4: A Note on Some Objections in Edmund Clowney's The Church, 307,
Appendix 5: Why Christians Can Still Prophesy, 313,
Appendix 6: The Interpretation of Ephesians 2:20 and 3:5, 329,
Appendix 7: Some Evidence for the Existence of the Gift of Prophecy at Various Points in the History of the Church, 347,
Abbreviations, 361,
Notes, 363,
Bibliography, 383,
General Index, 385,
Scripture Index, 388,
Extra-biblical Literature Index, 399,

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Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
ChoAZ More than 1 year ago
This is the third of Grudem's book I've read. His writing is credible because he is not trying to please any one denomination, theological or world view. His exegesis is excellent and as he walked me through various scriptures it has been easy for me to improve my interpretation skills. My prayer is that people and church leaders will "get it" regarding the importance of this spiritual gift.