OT Prophecy and NT Prophecy: Essential Continuity

Reposted from It Is Written. Read the series.

In the last installment of this series, we considered Wayne Grudem’s argument for a distinction between the canonical-level1 prophecy of the Old Testament and the congregational-level prophecy of the New Testament. The former is fully inspired, infallible, and authoritative. The latter is semi-revelational, fallible, and only relatively authoritative. As we saw, Grudem bases this distinction primarily on two lines of evidence: first, examples of fallible NT prophecy and, second, commands to assess the authenticity of NT prophecy.2

I have five lines of response to Grudem’s arguments by which I will attempt to show that the Scriptures do not support Grudem’s distinction between an infallible OT canonical prophecy and a fallible NT congregational prophecy. In contrast, the data of Scripture seems to place NT prophecy in the same divine and authoritative category as OT prophecy. We’ll consider the first three lines of response below.

The Nature of Old Testament Prophecy

The nature of OT prophecy is highlighted in three key passages.

Exodus 7:1-2

Here, Yahweh declares to Moses,

See, I have made you as God to Pharaoh, and Aaron your brother shall be your prophet. You shall speak all that I command you. And Aaron your brother shall speak to Pharaoh to send the children of Israel out of his land.

In this case, Moses is God’s prophet and Aaron is Moses’ prophet. God’s word is relayed through Moses, and then again through Aaron. Notice, however, that Aaron delivers the message to Pharaoh with, to use O. Palmer Robertson’s words, “undiminished authority.”3 In this case, the prophetical words of Aaron are canonical-level revelation.

Deuteronomy 18:15-19

In this passage, God assures his people that he will raise up another prophet like Moses after Moses passes off the scene. For our purposes, note how this passage depicts the nature of true OT prophecy:

The LORD your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear, according to all you desired of the LORD your God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, nor let me see this great fire anymore, lest I die.’ And the LORD said to me: ‘What they have spoken is good. I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him. And it shall be that whoever will not hear My words, which He speaks in My name, I will require it of him.’

Once again, a prophet as God’s spokesman. What’s more, God does not merely place his words in the prophet’s head but rather in his mouth (v. 18). A prophet does not simply receive revelatory concepts in his mind, but he actually speaks divine revelation. Finally, Moses makes it clear in verse 15 and 19 that the prophet’s words are canonical-level revelation: “You shall listen to him …. It shall come about that whoever will not listen to my words which he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him.”

What’s interesting for our purposes is the way in which Peter interprets this text in Acts 3:22-23. According to Peter, this passage finds fulfillment not just in the line of prophets following Moses but primarily in the prophetic ministry of Jesus Christ, who functions as a kind of “Second (antitypal) Moses.” Certainly, the text underscores continuity between the revelation of Old Covenant prophecy and the revelation of New Covenant prophecy of Christ.

2 Peter 1:20-21

Peter refers specifically to the “prophecy of Scripture,” which at the time of his writing was primarily OT Scripture. Regarding the nature of that prophetic revelation, Peter writes,

Knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.

Peter stresses the fact that the prophecy of Scripture does not originate with man but with God. Furthermore, Peter argues that the Spirit not only superintends the thoughts of the prophet but the very words, which the prophet utters: “holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.”

In conclusion, the Bible clearly portrays OT prophecy as inspired revelation in the fullest sense, which is absolutely authoritative. With this point, Dr. Grudem has no quarrel, which leads to our second line of argumentation.4

The Continuity of New Testament Prophecy

The Bible seems to assume an essential continuity between OT and NT prophecy. This is seen, for example, on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2). Here, Peter and the other apostles are “filled with the Holy Spirit,” and they begin “to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit [gives] them utterance” (2:4). In the context, the word “tongues” refers to foreign languages other than Hebrew (2:8, 11). Then, to put this strange phenomenon in proper perspective, Peter cites an OT prophecy of which their speaking in tongues is a fulfillment. The text is Joel 2:28-32, which Peter cites in verses 17-18 :

‘And it shall come to pass in the last days,’ says God,
‘That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh;
Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
Your young men shall see visions,
Your old men shall dream dreams.
And on My menservants and on My maidservants
I will pour out My Spirit in those days;
And they shall prophesy.’

The prophet Joel is pointing forward to “the last days,” when God will do something new and unusual. Prophecy will no longer be limited to a certain class of individuals. God will pour out his Spirit on “all flesh,” that is, on “all [kinds] of mankind.” Men and women, young and old, slave and freeman will all prophesy. Thus, New Covenant prophecy will be much more widely distributed than Old Covenant prophecy.

There is no indication, however, that the nature of NT prophecy will differ with that of the OT. On the contrary, the equation of prophecy with “visions” and “dreams” (2:17) suggests that NT prophecy is of the same inspired character as OT prophecy.5 It seems probable that Joel’s audience would have interpreted Joel’s promise of future prophecy as a reference to special revelation in the fullest sense. Just as God had authoritatively and infallibly revealed himself to Israel through Moses and the OT prophets, so the day is coming, says Joel, when God would pour out His Spirit again upon the Gentile as well as the Jew, and God’s Spirit would provide His people with fresh redemptive revelation.

This prophecy, claims Peter, was fulfilled at Pentecost. Hence, the “tongues” of Pentecost are the evidence of an outpouring of God’s Spirit that results in new revelation that is on the same level of inspiration and authority as OT prophecy. Moreover, we cannot limit this new canonical-level prophecy to the apostles since the fulfillment of Joel’s promise extends to women as well as to men (2:17-18).

The Inspiration of New Testament Prophecy

If Peter’s message on Pentecost assumes a continuity between prophecy in the Old and New Testaments, several other NT texts solidify that assumption. Space does not permit an extensive survey of NT prophecy. But the three passages below support the thesis that NT prophecy, like its OT counterpart, is fully inspired revelation.

Ephesians 2:20; 3:1-5

Elsewhere we have argued that Ephesians 2:20 supports the cessation of Scripture-quality revelation. In this verse, Paul clearly speaks of the ministry of apostles as the foundational stage of the NT church’s formation: “having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone.”6

For our purposes, I want to note that Paul refers not only to “apostles” but also to “prophets.” These make up the foundation of the NT church. That the “prophets” in view are NT prophets is clear from the sequence in which the two words occur. When OT prophets are compared to NT apostles, they are listed before the apostles in sequence (2 Pet. 3:2). When the term “prophets” follows apostles, however, then NT prophets are in view (e.g., 1 Cor. 12:28, 29; Eph. 2:20; 3:5; 4:11).

Furthermore, we know these are NT prophets because they, along with the apostles, are recipients of NT revelation. This revelation had not been revealed to the OT prophets in the same degree. Paul highlights this point in the opening verses of chapter three:

For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles — if indeed you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you, how that by revelation He made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already, by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ), which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets (3:1-5).

It is crucial to note that Paul places NT prophets on a level with the apostles. The Spirit of God reveals to the prophets, as well as to the apostles, “the mystery of Christ.” The Greek word translated “mystery” (μυστήριον) refers to “what can be known only through revelation mediated from God (Mat 13:11)” or “as a supreme redemptive revelation of God through the Gospel of Christ mystery (Rom 16:25; Eph 3:9).”7 The gospel is not absent from the OT. But God has not revealed it then to the same degree he has revealed it now.

Thus, the prophets, along with the apostles, serve as God’s New Covenant spokesmen, and they communicate divinely authoritative revelation to the church (cf. Acts 13:1-4). What is more, the NT prophets belong to the foundational period of the church, which makes it likely that they, along with the apostles, pass off the scene some time after the NT canon is completed.

Sensing the force of this argument, Grudem attempts to view the phrase “apostles and prophets” (2:20; cf. 3:5) as a nominal hendiadys. The term “hendiadys” comes from three Greek words: hen = “one,” dia = “through,” dys = “two.” It refers to a literary device in which two words are used to describe one basic idea. Thus, Grudem interprets the phrase “apostles and prophets” as referring to one class of individuals and translates it, “the apostles who are the prophets.”8

Linguistic studies on the structure of Paul’s statement in the original have rendered Grudem’s interpretation improbable.9 Moreover, other NT passages like 1 Corinthians 12:28-29, Ephesians 4:11, and Revelation 18:20 clearly distinguish NT apostles from NT prophets. The passage in Ephesians 4 is especially relevant since it occurs in the same letter as the reference in 2:20 and 3:5. Therefore, according to the exegetical evidence of Ephesians 2:20 and 3:5, both NT apostles and NT prophets were the recipients and the agents of divinely authoritative revelation.

1 Corinthians 13:2; 14:1-3

In 1 Corinthians 13, the apostle Paul contrasts the NT gift of prophecy with the NT virtue of Christian love. The former is worthless without the latter. In his words, “And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” Note that Paul portrays NT prophecy as a revelatory gift by which the one who possess the gift comes to understand “all mysteries.” Remember that according to Ephesians 3, the term “mysteries” refers to divine revelation of redemptive truth previously unknown—at least not to the same degree.

With this passage in mind, we’re in a position of consider Paul’s teaching in 14:1-3. There, he explains the nature of NT prophecy:

Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries. But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men.

You’ll recall that Peter equates tongues with prophecy in Acts 2. In that passage, “tongues” is the gift of prophecy uttered in a foreign language. In this passage (and in chapter 13), however, Paul seems to contrast the two.

How do we explain this? First, we should not view Paul’s distinction between prophecy and tongues as a contrast between rational speech and irrational noise or babbling. The Greek word translated “tongues” simply refers to language (cf. Isa. 28:11-12).10 Genuine language is not a lot of irrational, incoherent noise. True language is always characterized by real words that are structured together in a coherent and rational fashion (cf. 1 Cor. 14:19).11

Second, Paul’s contrast between prophecy and tongues is not a contrast between human speech and angelic speech. Some modern Pentecostals and Charismatics think otherwise. They appeal to 1 Corinthians 13:1 where Paul writes, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.” On the basis of this verse, they argue, (1) that angelic language may be contrasted with human language, (2) that angelic language may be spoken by humans, and (3) that angelic language may sound unintelligible and irrational to humans, like “sounding brass or a clanging symbol.”

In response to this interpretation, we should observe, first, that the “sounding brass and clanging symbol” refer to human speech as well as angelic speech that is not accompanied by love. The point is not that human speech is intelligible while angelic speech is unintelligible. The point, rather, is that preaching the gospel—whether in a human tongue or an angelic tongue—makes no sense if we are not living the gospel. Second, Paul’s reference to the “tongues … of angels” may simply be a form of hyperbole—a way of saying, “Though I preaching the gospel with the eloquence of an angel.” Third, even if Paul is alluding to an actual language spoken by angels, he nowhere clearly identifies that angelic language as the tongues being uttered in the Corinthian church. In fact, there are indications in the context of 1 Corinthians 14 that Paul has actual human languages in view. Paul’s illustration in verses 10 and 11 points to a human language rather than an angelic language:

There are, it may be, so many kinds of languages in the world, and none of them is without significance. Therefore, if I do not know the meaning of the language, I shall be a foreigner to him who speaks, and he who speaks will be a foreigner to me.

Moreover, Paul’s reference to tongues as a “sign to unbelievers” in verses 21 and 22 is based upon Isaiah 28:11-12, and that OT passage is referring to a human language which is foreign and unintelligible to the recipient (cf. Deut. 28:49; Jer. 5:15).

For these reasons, it is best to view the gift of NT tongues neither as irrational babble nor as angelic speech, but rather as prophecy in a foreign language, which corresponds to the tongues spoken on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:8, 11). Paul’s contrast, then, is not between tongues and prophecy per se but between revelation uttered in a language intelligible to the church and revelation uttered in a language that is foreign to the church.12

What I really want to call your attention to is the fact that according to 13:2 and 14:2 both prophecy and tongues reveal “mysteries.” The term “mysteries” is not referring to garbled nonsense.13 That term translates the same Greek word that Paul used in Ephesians 3 to speak of the canonical-level NT special revelation uttered by apostles and prophets. And according to these passages in 1 Corinthians, these “mysteries” are “known” through the gift of prophecy (13:2) and they are “spoken” through the gift of tongues (14:2). Therefore, according to these passages, not only does the special revelation of NT prophecy reach the mind but it is uttered from the mouth as well!  The Spirit does not merely provide the thoughts to think, but He gives the very words to say.

I do not believe these passages are compatible with Grudem’s position. Grudem argues that in the case of NT congregational prophecy, revelation only extends to the mind and not necessarily to the mouth.14 But here, the one who speaks in tongues actually “speaks” the mysteries. This is not to deny that prophets may have added their own interpretation to a prophet’s message at a later time. But in that case, we must distinguish their interpretation from the prophecy itself. NT prophecy by its very nature is divinely inspired revelation—nothing more and nothing less.

Revelation 1:3; 22:7, 10; 18-19

The apostle John identifies his writing as NT prophecy (1:3; 22:7, 10). Furthermore, drawing from the covenant language of Deuteronomy 4:2, he claims absolute, canonical authority for this NT prophecy:

I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book (22:18-19).

I realize Grudem would grant that John’s prophecy was completely inspired, inerrant, and divinely authoritative. In fact, he refers to this as a kind of exception to the rule.15 But I want to suggest that the prophecy we find elsewhere in the NT is the same kind of prophecy uttered and inscripturated by John in the Book of the Revelation. And as John the Apostle makes clear by the closing words the book, such prophecy carries absolute divine authority.

Conclusion

In summary, then, I believe the Biblical evidence supports the view that Old Testament prophecy and New Testament prophecy belong to the same category of divine revelation. They are both special revelation in the fullest sense of the word. But what about Grudem’s examples of so-called “fallible” NT prophecy? And what about the texts that portray NT prophecy as susceptible to evaluation? We’ll take up these questions in our next installment.

Notes

1 I’m using “canonical” more loosely to denote Scripture quality revelation that’s not necessarily limited to prophecy that became inscripturated into the canon.

2 See “Canonical Prophecy vs. Congregational Prophecy: Wayne Grudem’s Argument.”

3 See “Canonical Prophecy vs. Congregational Prophecy: Wayne Grudem’s Argument.”

4 In the newer edition of his book on NT prophecy, Grudem distinguishes between “established, primary prophets” and “secondary” prophets. Both received revelations from God, but only prophecy from the “established” prophets made it into the canon. Additionally, Grudem distinguishes “women as prophets” as a third group. Nevertheless, he does not, on that basis, argue that the revelation these three groups of prophetic agents received and uttered actually differed in nature. See The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today, revised edition (Crossway, 2000), 274-76.

5 The Old Testament often places “dreams” and “visions” in the category of canonical revelation (cf. Num. 12:6; 24:3, 4; 2 Sam. 7:17; 2 Chron. 32:32; Prov. 29:18; Isa. 1:1; Jer. 23; Oba. 1:1; Nah. 1:1).

6 See my article, “The Necessity of Scripture: Special Revelation Has Ceased.”

7 Analytical Lexicon to the Greek New Testament in Bible Works 4.0 (Copyright 1999), en loc.

8 The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today, 45-49; see also his “Appendix 6: The Interpretation of Ephesians 2:20 and 3:5,” 329-46.

9 See D. B. Wallace, “The Semantic Range of the Article-Noun-KAI-Noun Plural Construction in the New Testament,” Grace Theological Journal 4 (1983), 59-84; R. Fowler White, “Gaffin and Grudem on Eph 2:20: In Defense of Gaffin’s Cessationist Exegesis,” Westminster Theological Journal 54 (Fall 1992), 304-21.

10 Walter Bauer, William Arndt, and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 2nd edition (University of Chicago Press, 1979), 162.

11 When I was a new believer, a friend invited me to a Pentecostal Bible study where the subject of tongues was discussed. At the end of the study, the leader of the group asked us all to stand and pray for the Spirit. Everyone except me lifted their hands and began praying. Soon the woman standing next to me began dancing around and repeating over and over the phrase, “Babble … babble … babble.” That literally happened! But I don’t very much that’s what Paul had in view when speaking of “tongues.”

12 Some have cited verses 14 and 15 as proof that “tongues” is a non-intelligible utterance: “for if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful. What is the conclusion then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding.” They argue that since one’s understanding remains “unfruitful” when uttering a tongue, then it must refer to something distinct from a human language since even the one speaking cannot understand it. In verse 4, however, Paul seems to imply that the speaker could understand it: “He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself.” Consequently, we may interpret the phrase “my understanding is unfruitful” as shorthand for, “My understanding of the divine revelation does not produce fruit in the hearers when it is uttered in a foreign language” (cf. Matt. 13:22; 2 Pet. 1:8).

13 Charles Hodge comments, “The meaning obviously is, that although not understood, yet what he utters contains divine truth. The difficultly was in the language used, not in the absence of meaning, or in the fact that inarticulate sounds were employed.” A Commentary on I and II Corinthians (1857; reprint, Banner of Truth, 1988), 280.

14 See the explanation and diagram of Grudem’s view in my post, “Canonical Prophecy vs. Congregational Prophecy: Wayne Grudem’s Argument.”

15 “Of course, the words prophet and prophecy were sometimes used of the apostles in contexts that emphasized the external spiritual influence (from the Holy Spirit) under which they spoke (so Rev. 1:3; 22:7; and Eph. 2:20; 3:5), but this was not the ordinary terminology used for the apostles, nor did the terms prophet and prophecy in themselves imply divine authority for their speech or writing.” Systematic Theology (Zondervan, 1994), 1051.

Bob Gonzales bio


Dr. Robert Gonzales (BA, MA, PhD, Bob Jones Univ.) has served as a pastor of four Reformed Baptist congregations and has been the Academic Dean and a professor of Reformed Baptist Seminary (Sacramento, CA) since 2005. He is the author of Where Sin Abounds: the Spread of Sin and the Curse in Genesis with Special Focus on the Patriarchal Narratives (Wipf & Stock, 2010) and has contributed to the Reformed Baptist Theological ReviewThe Founders Journal, and Westminster Theological Journal. He blogs at It is Written.

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G. N. Barkman's picture

Very thorough.  I find this difficult to refute.

G. N. Barkman

Bruce Rettig's picture

This is an excellent refutation of Grudem’s position, and by extension, those who would openly make New Covenant era prophecy less authoritative.

Thus, the prophets, along with the apostles, serve as God’s New Covenant spokesmen, and they communicate divinely authoritative revelation to the church (cf. Acts 13:1-4). 

But what about when we say more benign things like, “God has led me to…” regarding a decision, or a choice to preach or teach on a passage or subject? Aren’t we likewise claiming a personal revelation from God and His authority for our choice? 

Bruce

O taste and see that the Lord is good:

Blessed is the man that trusteth in him. 

Psalm 34:8

Aaron Blumer's picture

I try to avoid that kind of language  myself, because of the ambiguity. But there are nonrevelatory ways to be "led."

When the Spirit guides our thinking toward biblical truth, we are only led to already-revealed truth.

Similarly, if we are aided by the Spirit and providence to see that one option is wiser than another, no new information is actually revealed, but we are led, in a sense.

Ed Vasicek's picture

A number of jumps in this article, IMO.  I preface my remarks by describing myself as a "soft cessationalist."

"Apostles and prophets" could be simply understood as apostles, even prophets.  The word Kai is sometimes used as an apposition.  I don't think it is here, but it could be.  I personally view these two as distinct, but that is not my point.

When the same thing is done with "pastors and teachers," it seems like no one flinches; we should give the same room here.

The argument also assumes a consistency of definition not based upon a textual definition.  I agree that tongues are defined as real languages in more than one location. But the word "mysteries" is not so defined, IMO.  It certainly often does refer to OT truth that is not immediately apparent and that needs to be expanded upon (by addiitonal revelation through inspired midrash), but it also seems to refer to the secrets of men's hearts. I don't know that there is a one size fits-all definition.

My wife and I are not the type that always "feel led" this way or that way. But when God called us to our church in 1983, we were both distinctly led to accept the call with conviction.  There have been other times we have thought God might be leading us to do something, but not with such conviction. And some of those times it wasn't God leading us.

If you believe this possible scenario, you have to address the fact that being led by the Spirit is new revelation, but not infallible revelation, not canonical revelation, and not revelation others are obligated to follow.   Being led, unless it always only means making logical inferences from Scripture, does involve some level of revelation.  When God gives you wisdom in answer to prayer -- and that wisdom is not just a text from Proverbs -- that is, in a mild sense at least, new revelation.  But, again, it is not authoritative because we are fallible in our attempts to determine God's leading or perhaps our apparently God-given wisdom is the result of our subconscious mind.  It's not that simple.

Unless you are prepared to say that no one after apostolic times was ever led by God to do something, you have to admit to new revelation at some level.

Speaking in tongues could be a source of prophesy, but not necessarily so (it is also said to be a source of personal edification, even if not understood). So to take the part (tongues sometimes was prophesy) is not the same as equating tongues with uninterpreted prophesy. It is uninterpreted speech.  Paul contrasts tongues and says that prophesy is superior, and Paul wished all could prophesy. Translated tongues were still inferior to clear-language prophesy. They are two distinct gifts.  To equate them (except for the element of translation) is to make the logical fallacy of the undistributed middle (all women are people, therefore all people are women).

Grudem does bend over backwards at times, I admit, but I think he is on to something.  The Old Testament prophets, to my knowledge, never encouraged the masses of the faithful to prophesy.  Paul does seem to be doing that.  I can't say I have the answer, but whatever the answer is, it is probably not neat.

 

"The Midrash Detective"

Bruce Rettig's picture

Ed,

You raise some good points concerning revelation and being led. Certainly, when we pray and ask God to lead and direct us in the way we should go we are asking Him to provide clarity so that we might obey. However, I am reluctant to describe the criteria that eventually becomes the basis of our decision as new revelation.

Revelation has the connotation of something formerly unknown, like God's secret will, revealed. I don’t see how actual revelation from God could be fallible because God’s revelation is from an infallible source. It is our interpretation of God’s providence that is fallible, and it is our interpretation that we use to come to a conclusion for ourselves and then communicate to others. 

Since God is sovereign and accomplishes things through His providential working around us and through us, it is possible to look backwards and see God at work answering prayer and providing the guidance and pathway forward. However, the certainty with which we can claim that God has led us in a particular direction is best confirmed when reflecting upon past events rather than contemporaneously. It is claiming a definitive present leading that is so problematic in my opinion. This is not to say we cannot believe something to be the will of God for us and proceed on that basis, but we should exercise caution about claiming to know God’s secret will.

Bruce

O taste and see that the Lord is good:

Blessed is the man that trusteth in him. 

Psalm 34:8

josh p's picture

I think we need to be careful to define what we mean by being led. I recently took a new job and I did pray that God would make the way clear to me before the interview. When I got to the interview they offered me the job almost immediately and asked if I would be interested in a management position in the future. I considered what the job had to offer including how I could serve the Lord in it and took it. I did not have any feeling one way or the other that I took to be a sign. In other words I did not “feel” led but I “thought” I was being led to take the job.  My guess is, even those who are feeling led are actually evaluating the circumstances a lot more than they realize.  

Aaron Blumer's picture

I don't know why people are averse to saying "This seemed like the wisest option." This is biblical language and has solid biblical support as a decision-making process. But there are times when we all find the pros and cons overwhelming, either because we have too much information or too little, and we have to "go with our gut." There is nothing unChristian about saying "I went with my gut on this one" or "it felt right." There is no way of knowing whether the Spirit was or wasn't involved in influencing that gut feeling, and I would personally hesitate to blame it on Him.

Ed Vasicek's picture

Aaron, I understand your viewpoint, although I disagree with it.  Most decisions we make, I believe, are indeed a case of it seeming like the "wisest option."  But God can and sometimes does lead us into an option that may not seem wise, but we know He wants us to do it.  My case in point was being led to this church. At the time, neither Marylu nor I were impressed with it when we candidated, and we both decided that if we were offered the position, we would turn it down. That is where wisdom led us.

But God somehow totally changed our mind, so that two weeks later I told Marylu, "You know, if they offer us the position, I think God wants us to take it." She had the exact same experience.  That is an example of what I mean by being led.  If being led is strictly and always a manner of logic, then I would agree with Aaron. But I cannot.

If God ever impresses anything on our hearts -- maybe being burdened to pray for someone we haven't seen in years and then finding it out that person needed prayer at exactly that time, for example -- that IS new revelation.  It is fallible, not authoritative, but not something we could have known on our own.

Unless you are willing to say that the above NEVER happens (not only in your life, but in the lives of others), then you do believe in new revelation of some sort.  If you believe God can lay it on your heart to preach on a subject or talk to a person, that is new revelation (unless you are using it as a figure of speech, in which case by saying 'God laid it on my heart' you are using His Name in vain).

There is a big difference between possible, non-authoritative revelation and definite infallible authoritative revelation.

Grudem argues that NT prophecy, as typically practiced, is of this caliber, as opposed to authoritative prophecy of the OT.  He argues such authority in the NT is given to the Apostles, not the prophets.  He might be wrong, but it is important to understand this nuance.

Great subject for a poll!!!  Please participate in it.

 

"The Midrash Detective"

TylerR's picture

I feel led to say this is a wise and careful discussion ...

Tyler Robbins is a pastor at Sleater-Kinney Road Baptist, in Olympia, WA, and an Investigations Manager with the State of Washington. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

Aaron Blumer's picture

We all evaluate, decide, re-evaluate and change our minds--believers and unbelievers alike. The lost feel varying degrees of peace about things. 

When we change our minds, we either think or feel (or both) that now a different option is better than the one we formerly thought or felt was better. If it's better, it's wiser.

Certainly the Spirit is able to guide our thinking and feelings, but we have no way of knowing if these changes are Him or us. 

If you are 100% certain the Spirit "led" you to a conclusion that is not in Scripture, it would be theologically consistent to claim to be an inspired prophet.

TylerR's picture

Aaron wrote:

Certainly the Spirit is able to guide our thinking and feelings, but we have no way of knowing if these changes are Him or us.

I kind of agree. I do believe it's well-nigh impossible to distinguish between "me" and "the Spirit" when we're talking about a decision that isn't sinful or ill-advised. Is there really an objective and functional separation of the two, if we consider the fact that we're "born again" and have God's Spirit within us?

But, because I want to avoid the kind of silliness you hear so often, I don't use the "God led me to" language. In fact, I don't use much "Christianese" at all in my sermons or casual conversations with church members. For example, consider how I framed Proverbs 3:11-12 recently:

  • Christianese: When you fall into sin, God disciplines you because He loves you!"
  • English: When you do sinful and stupid things, God punishes you because He loves you!"

I had lunch yesterday with a local pastor, and it was great fun. I discussed how I left a pastorate in Illinois, and gradually found myself becoming a pastor again. I never said "God called/led/directed me back to the ministry." Instead, I said, "I decided that, if God wanted me in ministry, He'd organize the pieces on the chessboard and make it real clear." In short, I spoke about providence, not a "calling/leading/directing." Am I being too picky? Am I a theological stick in the mud? Maybe. But, I'm very careful to avoid this kind of language. You can't go wrong by punting to providence.  

Tyler Robbins is a pastor at Sleater-Kinney Road Baptist, in Olympia, WA, and an Investigations Manager with the State of Washington. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

LGCarpenter's picture

If God ever impresses anything on our hearts -- maybe being burdened to pray for someone we haven't seen in years and then finding it out that person needed prayer at exactly that time, for example -- that IS new revelation.  It is fallible, not authoritative, but not something we could have known on our own.

The above quote does not make any sense to me.

(A) How is a simple prompting of the Spirit new revelation?

(B) If it is new revelation, how could it be fallible? 

 

Mr. LaVern G. Carpenter

Proverbs 3:1-12

Aaron Blumer's picture

One of the difficulties of the topic is finding clear language... And keeping different things distinct. 

These are two different views:

  • God never impresses our hearts in a nonrational way that we should do or not do something. 
  • God probably does this but we have no way of knowing whether it's Him or our own minds/emotions working intuitively.

My view is the second one. I would reason further that whether it's the Spirit or our own gut, we are not permitted by Scripture to abandon wisdom.

Another useful distinction:

  • Being guided to see how Scripture relates to a question 
  • Being guided to do something specific or believe something specific that is not revealed.

The latter is special revelation, because we are being given truth -- that action A is the right thing to do or that concept A is the truth. 

One more distinction:

  • God perfectly revealing truth
  • Man perceiving that truth

It would not be possible for God to reveal truth imperfectly or nonauthoritatively. It would certainly be possible to incorrectly perceive, but this defeats the whole purpose of prophecy, so in Scripture, when God goes to the trouble to reveal to a prophet, the process includes making sure they speak or write it as intended.

Ed Vasicek's picture

If you sense that the Spirit leads you to take a job, that leading is not in the Bible.  He doesn't tell you to become a brick layer in Scripture, for example.  Thus this is new revelation of God's will for you.

However, consider Tyler's comments:

I do believe it's well-nigh impossible to distinguish between "me" and "the Spirit" when we're talking about a decision that isn't sinful or ill-advised. 

I would disagree that it is "well-nigh impossible," but I would say "often."  I think we can have a strong sense of God's leading on rare occasions.  

The leading is infallible.  Our perception of it (is it the Spirit or our own minds?) is what makes it fallible.  And thus, to expect others to do something based upon what we believe the Spirit is leading us to do is asking too much.  Like Tyler, I avoid saying "God led me" to do something except in very rare instances.

This is the same sort of concept Grudem applies to prophecy, which, IMO, is pretty close to being led.

I am not much of a mystic, but I think removing all the mystical (and perhaps subjective) elements makes verses like, "For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God" (Romans 8:14) lose some of their meaning, as would be the case in Romans 8:16, "The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God."

So if the Spirit bears witness to my spirit, that is, in a sense, new revelation. The Bible nowhere says "Ed Vasicek is a child of God."  Besides, it would be difficult to spell Vasicek in Greek. (:

This point needs to be faced:  most conservative evangelicals and most fundamentalists do believe that God, at some time, does mystically lead them.  If you believe that (as I do), then that is new revelation, but fallible revelation because of us, not the revelation itself.  That "leading" may be what our subconscious mind wants.

And that's why you have to be very frugal saying, "God led me."  Those who throw the phrase around for any emotional whim are essentially taking God's Name in vain and/or trying to circumvent responsibility for the decision they have made.  A lot of bullying in the name of "God led me."

"The Midrash Detective"

TylerR's picture

God is leading me to say Grudem is wrong ... !

Tyler Robbins is a pastor at Sleater-Kinney Road Baptist, in Olympia, WA, and an Investigations Manager with the State of Washington. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

Aaron Blumer's picture

So if the Spirit bears witness to my spirit, that is, in a sense, new revelation. The Bible nowhere says "Ed Vasicek is a child of God."  Besides, it would be difficult to spell Vasicek in Greek.

If you believe, it does. John 1:12.

This is actually a matter of logic, which God gave to us, after all.

  • All who believe are sons of God 
  • Ed believes
  • Therefore Ed is a child of God 

Neither reasoning to this conclusion, nor "being led" to it are new revelation.

Ed Vasicek's picture

All who believe are sons of God 

Ed thinks he believes

Some people who make professions do not have a genuine lasting faith. So Ed doesn't know if his faith is the real deal, the kind that perseveres.  Quoting on I Corinthians 15:2 (unless you believe in vain), MacArthur writes that this, "does not teach that true believers are in danger of losing their salvation, but is a warning against non-saving faith."

The Spirit assures him that he is a child of God.

Ed rests in his salvation, although when Ed grieves and/or quenches the Spirit, he may have his doubts because the Spirit's ministry of assurance is hindered.

I John 3:24 b suggests part of the reason we have assurance is our sensing the Holy Spirit within us: "And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us."  And thus His very presence is, in a sense, a new revelation that I am one who truly believes.  There is no new doctrine involved, but He assures me that I am part of a previously revealed doctrine.  The fact that the doctrine of salvation by grace has taken root in me is evidenced by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit assuring believers is an old doctrine, but the Holy Spirit assuring me is a new revelation from my perspective.

 

"The Midrash Detective"

Bruce Rettig's picture

James wrote that we are to ask for wisdom from God (James 1:5-6). Isn't that the right word to describe how we are able to discern the will of God regarding a particular decision? The leading of the Spirit described in Romans 8:14 and Galatians 5:18 has more to do with personal holiness as a consequence of regeneration, than the application of God's revealed will resulting in Christ-like behavior, rather than making a decision about something that is spelled out in Scripture.

Bruce

O taste and see that the Lord is good:

Blessed is the man that trusteth in him. 

Psalm 34:8

Ed Vasicek's picture

Sounds like a number of folks on SI do not believe in God ever leading someone in this age apart from wisdom, either direct Scripture or the application of wisdom.  I am a bit surprised.

Would those of you who so believe then agree with me that those of us who believe in God's leading on occasion apart from but never contrary to Scripture cannot be called hard cessationist but must be, at best, soft cessationists or continualists?

This means, of course, that a good segment of fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals who do not speak in tongues are not really cessationists in the strictest sense.  I am saying every Baptist pastor who honestly says, "God laid this on my heart" is not truly a hard cessationist.  Have I made my point?

The point is not whether God has ever laid something on your heart, but whether He ever does in the current age. This sounds, then, like the strict view of "no new revelation" has to account for this sensation of God laying something on one's heart as either a lie, self-deception, or from an evil entity.

 

"The Midrash Detective"

G. N. Barkman's picture

How do we know He is present?  Do we "feel" Him?  How does the Holy Spirit assure us that we are a child of God.  Do we "sense" that this is so?  We know the Holy Spirit is present by the work He performs.  When we have a sensitivity to our sin, we know the Holy Spirit is present.  When we are able to understand God's Word and believe it, we are assured that we are a child of God.  These evidences, and many others, are contrary to the natural man.  When we manifest spiritual fruit, we know it came from the Holy Spirit.

G. N. Barkman

Ed Vasicek's picture

How do we know He is present?  Do we "feel" Him? 

Galatians 4:6, "And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”"

How do you mechanically describe that?  To my way of thinking, this sounds very personal, mystical, and not something easily controlled or quantified.  It is the the western propensity to control, categorize, and quantify that tempts us to do what the Scriptures do not.  The Bible could be much clearer or more specific if God so intended.  We are not wrong to quantify and organize what we can, but we must not dismiss what we cannot control or label.

Did you ever have an experience when you just "knew" something, not because you studied it or had inside information?  You didn't know why or how you knew it, you just did.  Our spiritual side is not just a sub-point in a theology book, it is a reality. At least in my experience (and experience is not a foundation for doctrine), I just know.  This is pretty rare for me, mind you.  I cannot say how other people are led by the Spirit.

Romans 8:23-27 speaks of things like inward groanings, being helped in prayer, and searching hearts.  It seems that the Spirit operates in the realm of the heart and spirit, which does not preclude the mind (heart and mind are often used interchangeably).

 

23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 

I Corinthians 7:40 is quite interesting: "Yet in my judgment she is happier if she remains as she is. And I think that I too have the Spirit of God."   Of course Paul is the inspired apostle, but he he suggests that the Holy Spirit has a ministry of affirming truth.  I think that is interesting.

There are several verses about being led be or walking in the Spirit.  It is not just "obey the Bible," but it is that. But it is also more.  I am not a charismatic out of conviction, but many are not charismatic out of fear.  When it comes to the unquantifiable work of the Spirit, we must look at the Scriptures themselves and realize that some of these mystical aspects of His work are not defined or not always consistent with our logic and quest for patterns.

"The Midrash Detective"

Ed Vasicek's picture

If you completely reject new revelation of a fallible sort (because of us) you have:

1. No possibility of being led by the Spirit apart from Scripture or wisdom.

2. No special call to the pastorate or missions.

3. You have to believe it is impossible for God to send dreams of Jesus to the Muslim people in Iran, therefore it must be bogus, psychological or Satanic.

4. You can never experience a sense of assurance of salvation by the Spirit somehow communicating to you that you are a son of God.

5. You never sense God is wanting you to preach a series or sermon on a certain book or topic.

6. You never sense God wants you to call someone, talk to someone, say some thing, or pray for someone apart from reason. logic, or Scripture.

That's very different from my take.

"The Midrash Detective"

TylerR's picture

I haven't followed this thread too closely, but these are my thoughts:

  1. I believe the Spirit is such an active part of a believer's life that it's silly to say, "God led me to do this." The Spirit applies wisdom via the preached and read word. This is done in millions of intangible ways. Rather than say "God led me" in a special sense in a given situation, perhaps its more accurate to say, "God leads me during day to day life." It's like saying, "gravity led me to trip and fall." Well ... yeah, but thanks for stating the obvious!
  2. I don't believe there is a special "call" to the pastorate or missions. I believe God will providentially equip and gift men and women to exercise a calling in life, and will arrange events to employ His people when and where He wants them to be. That may be the pastorate. It may also be to be a doctor.
  3. I'm not sure about the dreams. It's certainly possible. There's just so much sensationalism that it's hard to take some things seriously.
  4. I know I'm a child of God because I love Him and want to do what He says. Does the Spirit communicate something special to me about this? I've never felt anything like that. I do love God, the Gospel, and serving Him. Does that count?
  5. I've never felt God "leading" me to preach a sermon series. This is probably more an issue of "framing." I do feel it would be wise to preach on a certain topic or through a certain book. But, I don't frame it (in my mind or in what I say) as a "leading." I say, "I think I'll preach through Proverbs!" and I do it.
  6. Often, someone comes to my mind through some circumstance, and I feel compelled to speak to him, communicate with her, write a letter, etc. Is there a direct "leading" from God about this? I've never "felt" that. It pops into my head, and it seems like a good idea, so I do it.

But, let's be honest about personality, for a minute. I'm a cynical, sarcastic guy. I'm not emotional. God uses me as I am. Some guys are more emotional. Some guys are more touchy-feely. We're different. I don't think Ed and I are necessarily in different places, but perhaps our personalities cause us to frame the same incidents in very different ways?

Tyler Robbins is a pastor at Sleater-Kinney Road Baptist, in Olympia, WA, and an Investigations Manager with the State of Washington. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

Aaron Blumer's picture

If you completely reject new revelation of a fallible sort (because of us)
you have:

1. No possibility of being led by the Spirit apart from Scripture or wisdom.

2. No special call to the pastorate or missions.

3. You have to believe it is impossible for God to send dreams of Jesus to
the Muslim people in Iran, therefore it must be bogus, psychological or
Satanic.

4. You can never experience a sense of assurance of salvation by the Spirit
somehow communicating to you that you are a son of God.

Well, my view is that God can do anything consistent with His character and promises. In the case of special revelation of the kind you've described (if I understand correctly your intent), I believe He can intervene to uncloud our thinking so that we see a truth we wouldn't have otherwise and that He can give us a subjective sense of comfort/peace with a particular option  . . . . but how would we know if He did?

What you're describing seems to require two acts of special revelation if we're going to be able to claim it as revelation:

  • The truth of a proposition or rightness/wisdom of a course of action
  • The truth that this knowledge/direction came from God

This is a lot to claim. 

There is also still a problem, I think, of locating the imperfection/non-authoritativeness. He cannot reveal or speak with anything less than full authority and perfection. If it's our knowing what He is saying is where the imperfection is located, we're back to the question, how do we know it is He is whom we heard/felt? 

God solved this problem in the OT, so I'll add this to reasons to be skeptical of the idea of a new kind of prophecy in the NT. Why would He unsolve the problem He had previously solved? The solution was that a prophet had to bat 100% on his predictions. He also had to provide a miraculous sign. This is all in Deut 18, as I recall, and other places. No sign, no perfect batting average = false prophet.

God could certainly change the rules for how false prophets are handled, or alter the means for detecting them, but when He invented prophecy He it made it quite certain and clear.

I would be very interested in knowing why He would turn prophecy into guesswork in the NT. We don't have to know why for it to be true, but we should be able to come up with a few plausible possibilities.

About the four numbered points: 

I have no problem at all with #1 and #2. I would have to say that #3 is possible in my view, but there would be no way to know these came from God (other than the OT way of signs and 100% fulfillment... and agreement with Scripture, obviously.). On #4, assurance should come from believing what He has said. I have no criticism at all for people who "feel" saved, but arriving at this conviction rationally, based on what God has promised should not be viewed as an inferior kind of assurance. Both heart and mind, emotions/intuition and intellect are His gifts to us.

Bruce Rettig's picture

 

Ed,

I might be oversimplifying, but it still seems much of the debate is over terminology. 

Aaron said:

 One of the difficulties of the topic is finding clear language... And keeping different things distinct. 

These are two different views:

God never impresses our hearts in a nonrational way that we should do or not do something. 

God probably does this but we have no way of knowing whether it's Him or our own minds/emotions working intuitively.

My view is the second one. I would reason further that whether it's the Spirit or our own gut, we are not permitted by Scripture to abandon wisdom.

You (Ed) said:

This point needs to be faced:  most conservative evangelicals and most fundamentalists do believe that God, at some time, does mystically lead them. 

I don’t know that there is much difference in opinion between the mechanics of what actually happens, our struggle appears to be primarily in describing it and how forcefully we will say it was God’s leading our hearts and minds that got us there.

The rub for me is that claiming that the Holy Spirit (who is the Spirit of understanding, wisdom and revelation (Isa. 11:2, Eph. 1:17)), gives us new revelation regarding choices like where to live, what to preach, what job to take etc.. The term revelation implies an understanding of God’s secret will that is impossible claim without a significant passage of time and confirming evidence. The prophets and Apostles knew they had revelation from God when they were revealing it. We cannot do the same and I think that is good reason to not use the word revelation in this way.

Also, the reliance on wisdom and Scripture is not dry and mechanical. We are not left with a choice between living either dynamic, Spirit-led life, or an academic computation of options. The Spirit leads us through the Scriptures, teaching us the mind of God, growing us in wisdom and faith as our knowledge and love for God increases. That is a dynamic process for sure.

As for your six points. I’d go with Tyler’s responses, although I’m probably more skeptical about #3 than he is.

Bruce

O taste and see that the Lord is good:

Blessed is the man that trusteth in him. 

Psalm 34:8

Ed Vasicek's picture

Guys, the whole point that you are missing is this:  God may lead/show/clarify something, but we cannot be sure.  That is exactly the kind of thing Grudem is saying with prophecy.  That is why it is not infallible. And that's why it's value is limited in contrast to canonical infallible revelation.

You may not agree that this is what prophecy means in the NT, but extra- cannonical revelation IS non-authoritative and non-certain and IS possible.  It seems to me you agree with this. The question is not its value, but its possibility.

God leads you to accept a call at a church, you believe. But this isn't Scripture so you cannot expect others to agree with this, accept this, or act in light of it. There is not authority there. And you be could be wrong.  Thus you have non-authoritative (possible) revelation apart from the Bible.  

Granted, Grudem takes this further and suggests we give more attention to such prophecies.  I am not arguing that Grudem is right, only that the kind of revelation he suggests is a viable possiblity.  I prefer to think that some people are more sensitive to God's leadings than others.

As far as personality goes, I am not particularly emotional and have seen the most unlikely personalities (engineers, ex-Marine super disciplined types) adopt very subjective charismatic postures.  I do agree there is, however, a propensity based upon personality, exceptions notwithstanding.  But believing that God has led me here or there is by no means a fringe belief even with fundamentalism.  IMO, this viewpoint is extremely maninstream, probably even embraced by your favorite commentators and theologians.

"The Midrash Detective"

TylerR's picture

Ed,

I still think we're talking past each other. For example, you wrote:

God leads you to accept a call at a church, you believe. But this isn't Scripture so you cannot expect others to agree with this, accept this, or act in light of it. There is not authority there. And you be could be wrong.  Thus you have non-authoritative (possible) revelation apart from the Bible.  

I would never say that or believe God "led me" to a church. I don't even think that way. Instead, I believe God providentially arranges matters to achieve what He wants, and the Spirit provides wisdom to make an appropriate choice. I would never label this as a "revelation," in any way, shape or form. I think we're perhaps further apart than I thought, on this one! I just don't frame things the way you seem to.

Tyler Robbins is a pastor at Sleater-Kinney Road Baptist, in Olympia, WA, and an Investigations Manager with the State of Washington. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

Ed Vasicek's picture

Tyler wrote:

I

I still think we're talking past each other. For example, you wrote:

God leads you to accept a call at a church, you believe ...

I would never say that or believe it. I don't even think that way.

Right, I understand.  We two simply disagree.  You have to say that the leading I sensed is my imagination or from a source other than God.  But I think most of the other participants acknowledge that God can lead in some mystical sense -- whether by sense, knowledge, an implanted conviction, etc.

The leading I am talking about is often in direct contrast to logic (but not Scripture).

So you are in the group that does not believe that God can send a dream, call into ministry, or put something on your heart, other than through sovereign events that lead to a logical conclusion. You certainly believe He has power to send a dream (because He did so in the Bible), for example, but you believe the Word (or a theological conviction based upon your understanding of the Word) reveals He will not.

We are not talking past each other.  I just must apologize to you for lumping you in with the other participants in this thread.  Your position is consistent with "no new revelation," I will concede your consistency.

In the words of Maxwell Smart, "Sorry about that, chief!"  :)

"The Midrash Detective"

Aaron Blumer's picture

Ed, I believe I just don't understand your view at this point.

Maybe it's better to talk about this in terms of knowing rather than in terms of "revelation"?

In the guidance experience you've been describing if someone says "I know God lead me to this church," in your view, what is he saying?

A. I have certainty that I should be at this church, and I know this certainty came from God directly and not through self-obtained information and reasoning or ordinary human intuition?

B. I have a certainty that I should be at this church, but I don't know whether this certainty came from God directly and not through self-obtained information and reasoning or ordinary human intuition?

C. I have certainty that I have heard something from God, but I am uncertain that He is telling me I should be with this church?

D. I have a very high degree of certainty that I should be at this church because of the evidence of a variety of circumstances I believe God providentially arranged, including wise counsel, and my own desire to be here?

E. Something else?

In the guidance experience you've been referring to, what does the guided individual know for sure and what does he not know for sure? In what sense does he believe he has heard from God?

(My impression of Grudem is that he would choose C. in that list.) 

Ed Vasicek's picture

"A," with the caveat that I don't expect you (others) to believe it or make decisions in light of my certainty because I am human and not God's infallible spokesperson.

I would add this -- in those rare instances where I have had this certainty, my decision ran contrary to human logic and often stretched me in ways I didn't want to be stretched -- but I knew that this was what God wanted.  My call to the ministry was another instance of this.

 

"The Midrash Detective"

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