(Originally posted February 2006)
I think most cessationists would agree with me that their definition of prophecy is that it is Scripture-equivalent. To break that down further, that means that prophecy is a) as valuable as Scripture, b) as authoritative as Scripture and c) as accurate as Scripture. What’s more, cessationists would argue this has always been the case, and God has always intended prophecy to be that way.
Prophecy as valuable as Scripture.
I have read and been told by cessationists that if I believe prophecy exists today then I should write down every prophetic word I hear from God and add it to my Bible. But this shows a completely wrong-headed view of prophecy. If prophecy was always understood to be so valuable that it should be written down and included as Scripture, where are the books of Agabus, the four daughters of Philip and the prophets of Corinth? All of these (and more) prophesied and yet we find no record of what they said except where the content intersected with a Scriptural account. This, in itself, shows an important distinction between Scripture and prophecy in general.
Objection 1: A cessationist may argue that the basic content of all those prophecies are contained in Scripture, and so it was not necessary to preserve every individual prophecy itself.
In reply to that we must ask why we have such similar accounts of Jesus’ life and teaching in the Synoptic Gospels. Much of the same content is in all three. It is obvious that God is not adverse to repeating things in His Word. Why, then, not write down these other prophecies?
But, more to the point, I would agree that if we are talking about doctrine, then yes! the content is already in Scripture and so there would be no need to record prophecies dealing with the same matters. Evangelical continuationists believe the same thing – no prophecy adds to the doctrine of the Word of God. But it can restate it. All this objection does is affirm the value of the Scriptural expression of doctrine over that of prophecy – the very position I and most continuationists would argue for.
But prophecy did not just relate to doctrine, it related to individual circumstances. Surely cessationists would not suggest that the only prophetic words delivered in the New Testament Church are those recorded in the Bible. Agabus predicted a famine and Paul’s capture, but surely he predicted other things – why were they not recorded? A prophetic word was given to Timothy when the elders lay their hands on him (were there any prophets present?) – but we don’t know exactly what was said (it wasn’t recorded as Scripture!) and surely that wasn’t the only time that happened! Surely other people had their elder’s lay their hands on them and a prophetic word was given.
I think it’s quite clear that the New Testament Church did not consider prophecy to be as Scripture-equivalent so as to write the very words down for future reference.
Objection 2: Perhaps all prophecy was recorded in the New Testament Church but the writings are lost.
Anyone who decided to use this objection would argue that to state prophecies were not recorded is an argument from silence and cannot be sustained. And this is true to an extent. But we can look at the fact that in Paul’s instructions about prophecy in a church meeting he does not direct for prophecy to be written down, nor does he require the presence of a scribe – nor do any other writings that discuss prophecy eg. diadache. Therefore, it is unlikely that it was a common practice.
But let us suppose that prophecy was recorded and those records were lost. Obviously God Himself chose some writings to become Scripture for the Church over the centuries over other writings. Therefore, in the mind of God there is a differentiation between the value of general prophecy and what He decided would end up as Scripture.
[Note: After reading One Salient Oversight’s comment below, it occurred to me that he was right in that I am critiquing a cessationist argument rather than putting a positive one forward for the continuation of prophecy. I don’t think that is necessarily wrong, but I have decided that it would be better to approach the subject positively. My next posts on the matter, therefore, will attempt to do so. Whether I succeed…]
Historic Comments. (Since this is a re-post from years ago, I have included below comments that were made at the time).
One Salient Oversight February 22, 2006 at 12:25 pm
Couple of questions / musings:
1. Can you give a link to one of your own articles or an article you think is good that clearly represents what you actually think prophecy is. Maybe it’s because I’ve come in half-way that all I can see is a pro-prophecy apologetic… which is fine, but I need to know exactly what you’re trying to defend!
2. Cessationists (of which I am naturally one) would point out that prophecy did not continue beyond the New Testament period. The fact that prophets are described and their prophecies sometimes recorded in scripture has no effect whatsoever on our belief that prophecies have ceased… simply because the biblical accounts of NT prophecy obviously occurred in the period of time when it had yet to cease.
3. John records in his gospel (21:25) that Jesus did many more things than what were recorded in his work (and presumably in the synoptics). The fact that the text of most of Jesus’ sermons were not recorded verbatim means that, yes, they were not “scriptural” (in the sense that they were recorded in scripture) but they were obviously the very words of God that people were listening to. I don’t know what I’m trying to say here but it seemed important when I began writing it.
4. One of the clearest cessationist/sola sciptura verses is obviously 2 Timothy 3.16-17. In my analysis of these two verses, one thing really really stood out – that verse 17 clearly says that scripture “thoroughly equips” the man of God. The picture you get from this word (gk. exartizmo) is that it is everything you need. Have you explored this issue and are there any links you can give me to read about it?
Ali February 22, 2006 at 3:03 pm
Links to articles? I can probably sum up my view of prophecy as very similar to Grudem’s, though there are some exegetical arguments he uses that I am not as confident about. But what I am doing here is conciously writing down what I “implicitly” believe – an organisation of thoughts – using cessationist arguments as a foil – and changing my mind if need be. I am not promoting anyone else’s definition.
With regards your “No. 2″ above, I am aware that cessationists argue that the completion of the NT was the end of prophecy, but one of the big arguments they use to support that is the idea that prophecy is equivalent to Scripture. From that they argue, “You can’t add to Scripture, hence, prophecy no longer exists.” That assumption is what I am disagreeing with.
No. 3 is a good point, and emphasises that words of God were spoken that were not recorded in the Bible with no threat to the sufficiency of what is now Scripture. If that is the case, the argument that prophecy threatens the sufficiency of Scripture is false.
No. 4, no I haven’t given specific attention to 2 Tim 3:16-17 as pertains to prophecy, though I certainly know it. It occurs to me, however, that it is not inconsistent with the continuation of prophesy considering it is written to a man whom has received a gift through a prophetic message as spoken about in 1 Tim 4:14. Does Scripture contain everything you need to thoroughly equip the man of God? – undoubtedly. No prophecy is going to tell you more than Scripture about God or doctrine. Nor would I ever suggest that without the gift of prophecy the man of God will be ill-equipped. Prophecy is subject to Scripture. But prophecy can speak specifically into a situation, apply specific truths to a person, deal with individuals or groups according to where they are at.
This post is about why prophecy does not have to be seen as “Scripture-equivalent” in the area of value – though value is probably not the right word. Perhaps it is better to say that prophecy does not threaten the sufficiency of Scripture in the same way commentaries or sermons or the articles and links you are asking for do not threaten the sufficiency of Scripture. They might speak truth, they might not – all need to be tested, and if they are found to have spoken truth, this does not mean Scripture is threatened.
You wrote in previous comments about “fallible prophecy” – that is what I will get to eventually. In these comments, on the other hand, you seem to be talking about the cessation of prophecy because the New Testament has been completed. That is another argument. I’d be interested in hearing why you think that is.
Once again, I would provide you with the links you ask for, but this is the progressive writing down of my thoughts on the matter. I have read widely on the subject and experienced both charismatic and cessationist Christianity. I am not approaching this without knowledge or experience. If you are interested in some of the websites I have been to in the past, I will try to compile some. If you are interested in the books I have read, I will try to remember them. But not everything I believe comes from reading a book – sometimes I weigh evidence and think things through.
I appreciate your comments. I need to be disagreed with.
Aaron February 23, 2006 at 7:33 am
“I need to be disagreed with.”
No you don’t.
There! Does that meet your need for disagreement?
Great post, by the way. You see many things that others (on both sides of the debate) don’t see.
ali Post author February 24, 2006 at 2:32 pm
Thanks for the weak joke.
And thanks for the feedback.