The topic of spiritual gifts is a hot topic in the church today, one fraught with emotion and sacred cows. Prophecy is, I believe, the most important of these gifts to get right because, if we get it wrong, it carries great danger to the church. I realize this is a controversial issue, but if it wasn’t that wouldn’t be any fun, would it?
There are those in the church today who espouse and propagate a blatantly erroneous view of prophecy that claims that prophecy in the New Testament and today was different from that in the Old Testament insofar as modern prophecy can contain errors while that in the Old Testament could not. Of most concern to me is not that obvious heretics would embrace such a teaching to cover for their inability to predict the future, but that otherwise orthodox teachers would embrace such an unreasonable position. I submit that prophecy today is the same as it was in the Old Testament and that those who would call themselves prophets must meet the same standard that God sets forth in Deuteronomy 18:21-22:
You may say in your heart, ‘How will we know the word which the Lord has not spoken?’ When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.
In the Old Testament, prophecy is very clearly a direct revelation from God, that the prophet then conveys to the people to whom God wishes the message to be delivered. This includes prediction of the future and/or other supernatural signs to authenticate that the prophet was indeed a messenger sent by God, not just some rando yelling at the clouds, or worse.
To redefine prophecy into the watered-down ‘I think God kinda said this’ formula pushed by people like Wayne Grudem would require clear teaching in the New Testament that prophecy was now a hit-or-miss affair, rather than the ironclad truth that God had given out before. Such a major change, from rock-solid completely accurate prophecy to error-ridden guesswork, is kind of a big deal, such that you’d expect God to mention it somewhere. That He does not mention such a major change inveighs heavily against it happening.
Some may cite Paul’s command in 1 Corinthians 14:29 to have others pass judgement on prophecy indicates that prophecies in the New Testament can contain errors, because otherwise why would Paul tell the Corinthians to pass judgment on them? I would refer those people to Jesus’ words in Matthew 24:11, where he predicts that false prophecy will be rampant. The Apostle Peter (in case the words of Jesus weren’t clear enough) likewise says that false prophets are coming in 2 Peter 2:1; and by the time John wrote 1 John 4:1 they had already spread into the world. It was crucial that, since the canon of Scripture was not yet completed, the early church test prophets, so as to know when God was speaking to them and when someone was trying to slip in some heresy. Obviously, God is not going to give someone a prophecy that contains heresy; that is against His nature. Without a clear teaching that prophecy given by God can suddenly contain errors, there is no adequate counterargument to the conclusion that the church was discerning between real prophets and the false prophets that Jesus said were coming to try to deceive us.
Since prophet today must meet the same standard and fulfill the same role as those in the New Testament and Old Testament, we must use the same test as well to determine if they are true prophets. That means that all of their prophecies must be accurate. Absolutely all of their prophecies must come true, or they are not prophets. Even one failed prophecy is enough to show that their alleged prophecies are nothing but worthless prattle. A failed prophecy is not merely carte blanche to ignore their so-called ‘prophecies’, but rather an indicator that you must do so. God commanded the Israelites not to be afraid of a false prophet. Likewise, if one claiming to be a prophet has ever been wrong, it is incumbent on us to ignore them, like you would any rando yelling at the clouds.
Some may take issue with with this standard, as no modern prophet can meet it. By this standard, they may say, nobody today has the gift of prophecy. Then they’ll point to what they think is an example of prophecy coming true in their life, with the expectation that it will disprove the biblical standard. This is a textbook example of circular reasoning. They assume that prophecy is given today, and that what they experienced must have been prophecy, because (they assume) prophecy is given today. This proves nothing. Furthermore, our experiences can never trump scripture. One’s unshakable certainty that a ‘prophet’ who has been wrong before is right this time has no bearing on what scripture says. If an alleged prophet’s supposed prophecy has been even a little bit incorrect even one time, that ‘prophet’ is eternally and irrevocably disqualified; no matter how certain you are that he is a true prophet.
Furthermore, in 1 Corinthians 13:8, Paul explicitly says that prophecy is going to be done away with. With the completion of the Bible, God does not need to speak directly to us; He gave us the Bible, and that is all we need. God didn’t forget to put anything in the Bible, and there cannot be any kind of unforeseen circumstance that would require new revelation from Him. That’s not even a thing.So, to answer the question posed in the title, no; prophecy is not a gift for today. No ‘prophet’ can meet the stringent requirements laid forth in scripture. Rather, this disturbing elevation of false prophecy is highly detrimental to the Christian life, as it teaches people to look for Divine instruction in places other than the Bible, where it will not be found. God takes false prophecy extremely seriously, indeed, in Deuteronomy 13:5 He commanded the people of Israel to put false prophets to death. To teach believers that it’s okay if they get their ‘prophecies’ a little wrong, or even that such a thing is normal is to directly contradict God and to minimize a great sin. It is no small thing to claim to speak for God, which is what prophecy is. This redefinition of prophecy is extremely dangerous, and should be shunned in its entirety.
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