I started writing a comment reply to a question, but as the reply grew I figured that I didn’t want it to be lost in the comment archives, so I decided to make it a post unto itself.
The question was:
“Please help me! I agree with the definition of OT prophecy and agree that most/all modern prophets are false accordingly. I can and do argue and point people who declare themselves as prophets to the Deuteronomy and Ezekiel 13 passages. But often they counter with 1 Cor 14. Which seems to say everything that edifies, encourages or comforts is prophecy. Good grief, If that is the definition then virtually everything is prophetic. Music, poetry, compliments, corporal punishment etc. This is exactly how some are approaching and defining prophecy in these last days. I have been told “it it edifies? Receive it. If it does not? reject it” I know this is kooky but have not seen it addressed as yet in all the bubub, Bub. Any light would be appreciated.
Seeing that 1 Corinthians 14 was the scripture that was referenced, I’ll look at every single instance of the “prophet”, “prophecy” and “prophesy” in 1 Corinthians and see if Paul redefines the gift in any way when he’s writing to the church in Corinth (as always, my comments are indented and in italics):
– 1 Corinthians 14:3 – “On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation…”
So the effect of Biblical prophecy is upbuilding, encouragement and consolation. No redefinition there.
1 Corinthians 14:4 -“The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church…”
This only mentions the effect of Biblical prophecy. Again, no redefinition.
1 Corinthians 14:5 – “Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.”
Here Paul speaks of a general desire for the Corinthians to prophesy (which is better than tongues), not a suggestion that everyone actually can (1 Corinthians 12:30 suggests that not all can speak in tongues, and 1 Corinthians 14:23 suggests that if that occurred, it would actually be bad for the church). Also note that the building up is again the effect of Biblical prophesy. No redefinition.
1 Corinthians 14:6 – “Now, brothers, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I benefit you unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching…”
This is a passing mention to the pointlessness of ecstatic speech, for it brings no benefit unless it has content. Again, no redefinition of the term or concept.
1 Corinthians 14:22 – “Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers.”
This is again, a passing mention of “prophecy”. The passage follows the quote in 1 Corinthians 14:21, which is from Isaiah 28:11-12 (an oracle of judgment against Israel). This is where we are told explicitly that one of the purposes for tongues was one of judgment (on the unbelief of Israel). No redefinition.
1 Corinthians 14:23-25 – “If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.”
This passage says that tongues performed by the whole church makes the whole church looks nuts, but prophesy performed by the whole church will convince an unbelieving Jew (“unbeliever”) or a unregenerate Gentile (“outsider”) that God is actually working through the church because Biblical prophesy will speak into the life of the person with the actual voice of God. No redefinition, but this definitely fits well with a standing OT definition of prophesy. No redefinition.
1 Corinthians 14:29-30 – “Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent.”
So this starts a section of how to prophesy properly (i.e. orderly), and commands the prophesies to be evaluated. Some look at this and make a case for a difference between NT and OT prophesy on the basis of evaluation, but that’s simply absurd.
The biblical test for prophets is found in the Old Testament, meaning that the test was most likely actually used and prophets were tested in the OT as well. Call me crazy, but I’d take a wild stab in the dark and suggest that in the OT, there were a whole lot of people condemned as “false prophets” because they failed the test of authenticity. (This is rocket science, I know…)
It’s worth noting that the church in Corinth isn’t told how to test the prophecies, which would suggest that either the OT testing procedures and principles were still binding or there was some new oral tradition handed down to Corinth on NT testing procedures and principles that never made it into scripture and was lost in history. If the former is true, the OT test is still binding today (since it was never rescinded) and the one we should currently use. If the latter is true, nobody at all should ever prophesy since we don’t actually know, in any objective and biblical sense, how to test the prophecies. People have proposed various “biblical” tests, but all the ones I’ve read are both arbitrary and unhelpfully vague. Again, no redefinition.
1 Corinthians 14:31-33 – “For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.”
Paul here continues the commands regarding orderly prophesy for the purpose or learning and encouragement. Some people also make mileage out of the phrase “the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets”, suggesting that this wasn’t the case in the OT (citing passages like Jeremiah 20:9).
This idea is also patently untrue, as there are plenty of easy example of OT prophets able to hold their tongue and wait their turn. One that springs to mind is 1 Kings 22:13-23, where Micaiah actually gives a sarcastic prophesy to Ahab in 22:15 before giving God’s real message to Ahab in 22:19-23. It’s actually quite humorous how Ahab says to Micaiah in 22:16 “How many times shall I make you swear that you speak to me nothing but the truth in the name of the Lord?” Abab wasn’t happy about Micaiah’s sass, and Ahab’s response suggests that it wasn’t the first time this had happened to Ahab.
Micaiah had a word from the Lord, but he didn’t blurt it out like he was out of control. He could hold it in and give a sarcastic response before he delivered it to Ahab, which suggests that he had some control over when and where he delivered it.
Anyone wanna suggest that Micaiah wasn’t a *real* prophet?
1 Corinthians 14:37 – “If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord.”
This is a passing mention of “prophet”, and Paul only supersedes any prophetic authority with his apostolic authority, so that no prophet can speak “thus saith the Lord” and overrule Paul.
1 Corinthians 14:39 – “So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues.”
This is a passing mention of “prophesy” again. Paul is giving strong correction to the prophets in Corinth and doesn’t want the church to become so skittish towards prophesy that they simply abandon it…but Paul doesn’t redefine it to be something less than Old Testament prophecy either.
And as for the second statement, “and do not forbid speaking in tongues”, I’m sure that a few thousand people would love to rub my face in that “clear meaning of scripture” and I have a simple response: I don’t.
I’m actually open to tongues and would welcome tongues in my church…I just want them to be Biblical tongues and not gibberish masquerading as Biblical tongues. The definition of tongues (given in Acts 2:6-11) is the anvil on which all modern pretenders are smashed, and don’t forget that the definition includes the multiple purposes of tongues.
If Jews aren’t in the service, then you cannot possibly have Biblical tongues in your service.
If your church is basically Gentile, like almost every church in North America, how do the tongues confirm the inclusion of the Gentiles into the church? To whom is the confirmation aimed? The Gentiles in the service (for whom the confirmation of inclusion was never intended in the first place) or the Jews who aren’t even there to hear it?
And if there aren’t any Jews there to hear the confirmation of inclusion of the Gentiles in the church, there also aren’t any Jews there to be judged for their unbelief and rejection of Christ as messiah.
Come to think of it, the one place where Biblical tongues could occur is the one place I’ve never heard of it happening: in a synagogue!
You like apples? How do you like them apples?
So I think I’ve provided at least a somewhat serious response to the idea that Paul redefined “prophecy” and “prophet” in 1 Corinthians 14; Paul didn’t. The understanding and definitions from the OT were still binding in Corinth, as were the OT tests for the authentication of a prophet.
Until Next Time,
Lyndon “not the prophet of the Son nor the son of a prophet” Unger