Deuteronomy 18:15–22—The Practical Test
The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken; According to all that thou desiredst of the Lord thy God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God, neither let me see this great fire any more, that I die not. And the Lord said unto me, They have well spoken that which they have spoken. I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him. But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die. And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the Lord hath not spoken? When a prophet speaketh in the name of the Lord, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously; thou shalt not be afraid of him.
A Messianic Prophecy
Any consideration of this passage must begin by acknowledging that this prophecy is fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Philip told his brother Nathanael “We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (John 1:45). Peter directly quoted Deuteronomy 18:15, 18, affirming that Jesus fulfilled the prophecy (Acts 3:20–22).
A Consistent Prophecy
This statement is consistent with the previous statement of Deuteronomy 13:1–5. Deuteronomy 18:20 teaches us: “But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die.” This statement is consistent with the criteria and the warning given in Deuteronomy 13:4, 5. So this passage builds on the theological standard set in the previous passage.
A Credible Prophecy
And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the Lord hath not spoken? When a prophet speaketh in the name of the Lord, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously; thou shalt not be afraid of him (Deut. 18:21–22).
God’s practical test for the prophet is that his prophecy must come true. God requires the prophet to speak with total accuracy. In later years God’s judgment came on the nation of Israel. One of the causes for God’s judgment was that “her prophets have daubed them with untempered mortar, seeing vanity and divining lies unto them, saying, Thus saith the Lord God, when the Lord hath not spoken” (Ezek. 20:28). God judged the nation and her lying prophets. God’s men spoke, by divine requirement, with complete accuracy. We believe that the same divine requirement applies to New Testament prophecy.
A Contested Prophecy
The Charismatics and those who hold to a continuation of the gifts recognize that if the New Testament prophecy must meet the same standard as that in the Old Testament, their claims to a different kind of authentic prophecy are nullified. They argue against it in three ways. First, they argue that the Old Testament strictures do not apply to New Testament prophecy. They claim two forms of prophecy in the New Testament, apostolic and non-apostolic. They contend that New Testament apostles spoke inspired words. They further argue that New Testament prophets who were not apostles were not inspired in the same ways as the apostles or Old Testament prophets.
Grudem admits that this is a crucial point: “Now if New Testament congregational prophecy was like Old Testament prophecy and New Testament apostolic words in its authority, then this cessationist objection would indeed be true” [emphasis Grudem].53
He has written extensively on this subject, saying:
Much more commonly, prophet and prophecy were used of ordinary Christians who spoke not with absolute divine authority, but simply to report something God had laid on their hearts or brought to their minds. There are many indications in the New Testament that this ordinary gift of prophecy had authority less than that of the Bible, and even less than that of recognized Bible teaching in the early church.54
Farnell further quotes Grudem: “Only NT apostles spoke inspired words. The very words of NT prophets were not inspired as were those of OT prophets.”55
Let us carefully set Grudem in context. He believes that Scripture is a completed canon, and at the same time he argues that the New Testament allows for a continuing gift of prophecy. He further states:
Furthermore, aside from the question of current practice or belief, I have argued extensively elsewhere that ordinary congregational prophecy in New Testament churches did not have the authority of Scripture. It was not spoken in words that were the very words of God, but rather in merely human words. And because it has this lesser authority, there is no reason to think that it will not continue in the church until Christ returns. It does not threaten or compete with Scripture in authority but is subject to Scripture, as well as to the mature judgment of the congregation.56
Second, the Charismatics assert that some prophecy may be erroneous. Deere states,
Some people think one missed or failed prediction makes a person a false prophet. The Bible, though, doesn’t call someone a false prophet for simply missing a prediction. In the Scripture, false prophets are those who contradict the teaching and predictions of true prophets and attempt to lead people away from God and his Word [emphasis Deere’s].57
Piper holds the same position about this kind of prophecy: “It is a Spirit-prompted, Spirit-sustained, utterance that is rooted in a true revelation (1 Corinthians 14:30), but is fallible because the prophet’s perception of the revelation, and thinking about the revelation, and report of the revelation are all fallible.”58
The biblical response to Deere’s statement is a “bad news, good news” statement. The “bad news” is that Deere’s first assertion is simply wrong. Deuteronomy 18:22 clearly discredits the prophet because he “missed the prediction,” as Deere says. The language of Ezekiel 13:1–9 and 22:28 is unmistakable. The false prophets were false because they spoke lies. Argue as he will, Deere cannot escape the requirement that the prophecy must come true. The “good news” in Deere’s statement is that the last half of it is correct. False prophets may also seek to lead people astray after another god (Deut. 13:2).
Third, Charismatics argue for a difference between Old Testament and New Testament prophecy. They further contend that New Testament prophecy is not held to the same standard of one hundred percent accuracy as Old Testament prophecy. Grudem states his position succinctly:
On the other side, I am asking those in the cessationist camp to give serious thought to the possibility that prophecy in ordinary New Testament churches was not equal to Scripture in authority, but was simply a very human—and sometimes partially mistaken—report of something the Holy Spirit brought to someone’s mind.59
Farnell explains the ramifications of Grudem’s position.
This leaves Grudem with two forms of New Testament prophecy: nonauthoritative “congregational” prophecy and authoritative (i.e., apostolic) prophecy. The crucial point of his thesis is that apostles, not New Testament prophets, were the true successors of the Old Testament prophets and spoke like their earlier counterparts with the authority derived from the inspiration of their words.60
It appears that the only way to justify the Charismatic type of prophecy that occurs today is to establish a difference between the prophetic gifts of the Old and New Testaments. This simply cannot be done.
It must be noted that the standard of perfection (Deut. 18:20, 21) appears in the context of a Messianic prophecy. The standard requiring one hundred percent accuracy applied to Christ in an era after Old Testament prophecy ceased. If one portion of that passage is valid in the New Testament era, then the rest of it must also apply. The requirement that the prophet speak with one hundred percent accuracy must apply to the New Testament prophet also.
New Testament prophecy rests on Old Testament prophecy. Farnell argues for continuity between Old Testament and New Testament prophecy. He makes several points. They include (1) the continuity between Joel 2:28–32 and Acts 2:17–21, (2) the continuity between the Old and New Testament prophets (Mal. 3:1; 4:4–6; with Matt. 3:3–17; Mark 1:3–8; Luke 3:4–17; Matt. 11:9–11), (3) the similarity between Agabus and the Old Testament prophets (Acts 21:11), (4) the continuity of John the Apostle with Old Testament Prophets (Rev. 22:7–9), (5) the similarity of language used by prophets in both Testaments, (6) the warnings about false prophets in both Testaments (Deut. 13, 18; Matt. 24:11), and (7) the fact that prophets were empowered by the Spirit of God in both Testaments.61
And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit. And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood before the great and terrible day of the Lord come.
Joel 2:28 gives its own rules and guidelines for its fulfillment. Many believers acknowledge that this prophecy was partially fulfilled at Pentecost (Acts 2:16). However, Charles L. Feinberg takes a somewhat different position.
Peter distinctly states that he is referring to the prediction of Joel. However, that fact alone does not constitute a fulfillment. In the first place, the customary formula for a fulfilled prophecy is entirely lacking in Acts 2:16. And even more telling is the fact that much of Joel’s prophecy, even as quoted in Acts 2:19–20, was not fulfilled at that time. We cannot take the position that only a portion of the prophecy was meant to be fulfilled at all, because this would work havoc with Bible prophecy. God predicts and He can perform just what He predicted. The best position to take is that Peter used Joel’s prophecy as an illustration of what was transpiring in his day and not as a fulfillment of this prediction. In short, Peter saw in the events of his day proof that God would yet completely bring to pass all that Joel prophesied. Joel’s prophecy, then was prefilled; it is yet (as the Old Testament passages on the outpouring of the Spirit show) to be fulfilled.62
The Charismatics draw the faulty conclusion that the present-day Charismatic manifestations are fulfillment of this prophecy. Speaking of Pentecost, Deere states,
Peter claimed that the day of Pentecost was the beginning of the fulfillment of Joel 2:28–32.… With the coming of the Spirit there is a sense in which every Christian is to be prophetic. There will be prophecies, dreams, and visions in the church without distinction in regard to gender, age, or economic position.63
(Next: The Biblical Evidence)
53 Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 1039.
54 Wayne A. Grudem, “Still Prophesy,” 30, quoted in F. David Farnell, “Fallible New Testament Prophecy/Prophets? A Critique of Wayne Grudem’s Hypothesis,” The Master’s Seminary Journal 2 (1991): 161.
56 Grudem, Systematic Theology, 1039-40.
57 Deere, Surprised by the Voice of God, 68.
58 http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/taste-see-articles/the-new-t…. Accessed 24 April 2013.
59 Wayne Grudem, The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today (Westchester, IL: Crossway, 1988), 14–15, quoted in F. David Farnell, “Is the Gift of Prophecy for Today? Part 1: The Current Debate about New Testament Prophecy,” Bibliotheca Sacra 149.595 (July 1992): 280.
60 Farnell, “The Current Debate,” 281.
61 F. David Farnell, “Is the Gift of Prophecy for Today? Part 2: The Gift of Prophecy in the Old and New Testaments,” Bibliotheca Sacra 149.596 (October 1992): 387–405. Farnell has done excellent and extremely detailed work in these articles. The reader may wish to consult the entire series in Bibliotheca Sacra.
62 Charles L. Feinberg, The Minor Prophets (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), 81–82.
63 Deere, 179. Earlier, on page 101, he makes a similar statement: “When the Holy Spirit brought the mighty wind and the tongues of fire on the Day of Pentecost, many thought the 120 people from the Upper Room were drunk. But God opened Peter’s mind to understand that these phenomena were the beginning of a fulfillment of the ancient prophecy spoken of in Joel 2:28–32” [emphasis mine].
Fred Moritz serves on the missions faculty at Maranatha Baptist University. He earned his MDiv at Central Seminary (Plymouth, MN) and DMin at Bob Jones University (Greenville, SC). He became assistant to Dr. Monroe Parker at Baptist World Mission in 1981 then Executive Director in 1985, where he oversaw 350 missionaries. He is also the author of “Be Ye Holy”: The Call to Christian Separation and Contending for the Faith.