Prophecy

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,

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Canonical Prophecy vs Congregational Prophecy: Wayne Grudem’s Argument

Elsewhere we have argued that the canon of the Old and New Testaments is closed.1 If it can be demonstrated that the revelation of NT prophecy and tongues belongs to the same category as the revelation of Scripture and if we grant the cessation of Scripture revelation, then I think we’re forced to conclude that NT prophecy and tongues have ceased. Continuationists, like Wayne Grudem, concede the force of this argument. Grudem writes, “Now if New Testament congregational prophecy was like Old Testament prophecy and New Testament apostolic words in its authority, then this cessationist objection would be true.”2

It is for this reason that Grudem and other continuationists are forced to argue for a distinction between the revelation of Scripture and that of NT tongues and prophecy. Since Wayne Grudem is a leading exponent for this position, we will examine his basic arguments for a distinction between canonical prophecy and NT congregational prophecy.3 Then we will attempt to offer a biblical refutation, demonstrating that NT congregational prophecy belongs to the same class of revelation as Scripture.

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What Do Cessationists Believe About Prophecy?

"Cessationists believe that the so-called 'revelatory' gifts of the Spirit mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12–14 (most pointedly, prophecy and tongues/interpretation, 1 Corinthians 12:10) ceased sometime between the deaths of the apostles and the confirmation of the New Testament canon." - What Do Cessationists Believe About Prophecy?

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The Canon Is Closed: The Cessation of Special Revelation

Read Part 1.

I believe the gifts of NT prophecy and tongues served an important but provisional role in the founding of the New Covenant community. To establish this thesis I will need to demonstrate two premises: First, scripture-quality revelation has ceased. Second, NT prophecy and tongues are forms of scripture-quality revelation. The first premise, which is the focus of this post, is (generally) affirmed by all parties. This fact is critical in that it clarifies the real point of the debate and helps us to avoid mischaracterizations.1

Major Premise: The Canon Is Closed

Special revelation reaches its ultimate historical goal in the apostolic witness to the person, words, and work of Jesus Christ. And this inspired apostolic witness reaches its final covenantal form in the canonical writings of the New Testament. Since special revelation has reached its ultimate goal and final form, the church should not expect any more scripture-quality revelation until the bodily return of Christ. I develop this argument with some detail in my three-part lecture series “The Necessity of Scripture.”2

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NT Prophecy and Tongues Today? An Introduction

Perhaps one of the most debated topics among modern Christians is the subject of New Testament (NT) prophecy and tongues. Many believers in our day are raising the question, “Are the New Testament gifts of prophecy and tongues still for today?” This isn’t just a modern question. It’s been raised from time to time throughout the history of the church.

In the early church there were different responses to that question. For example, the early church fathers Irenaeus (c. 130-200) and Tertullian (c. 150-212) both refer to ongoing manifestations of prophecy and tongues in their day (i.e., 2nd and 3rd century). On the other hand, both Chrysostom (c. 350-407) and Augustine (354-430) argue that the gift of tongues had ceased by their time (i.e., 4th and 5th century).

During the Protestant Reformation various Anabaptist sects claimed to be recipients of direct revelation. Luther and Calvin were skeptical of these claims. In general the Reformers seem to argue for the cessation of extra-ordinary gifts. But there are inconsistencies in their writings. For example, in his commentary on Ephesians 4:11, Calvin argues that the offices of apostle, prophet, and evangelist have ceased, and only the offices of pastor and teacher are perpetual.1 In his Institutes, however, Calvin suggests that the Lord “now and again revives them as the need of the times demand.”2

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Some Notes on Daniel 7 (Part 2)

Read Part 1.

A Time. Times, and Half a Time

The length of time that these saints are given into his hand is described cryptically as “a time, times, and half a time” (7:25). If we stand back and think a little about these words, it will become apparent that the only possible way in which they can make sense is if we understand the plural “times” as designating “two times.” If it can mean any more than two the whole revelation drops into irrelevance. This is because if any more than “two times” is meant, it might be three or four, or twelve, or twelve hundred times. Who’s to know?

No, the only way “times” designates anything for sure is if it is a simple doubling of a “time.” This would mean that we have one unit (or “time”), and two additional units (“times”), and then a half unit (half the first unit). Hence, whatever the units are we have three and a half of them.

Since we know that these units are units of time the best suspects are days, weeks, months, or years. In Daniel 4:23, 32 it is most likely that the “seven times” in which Nebuchadnezzar was insane stands for seven years. If that is correct then “a time, times, and half a time” in Daniel 7:25, and later in Daniel 12:7 stands for three and a half years.

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Some Notes on Daniel 7 (Part 1)

Detail from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel - Michelangelo Caravaggio

Just as there are four kingdoms represented by the materials in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream-image in Daniel 2, four kingdoms are also present in Daniel’s vision of the four beasts in chapter 7. Since we find weird creatures, portents of the last days, a supernatural guide and such, this vision is associated with apocalyptic genre.1

Saying something is “apocalyptic” is enough in some quarters to designate it non-literal, but comparison of biblical apocalypses with plain prophetic passages strongly suggests that they can refer to the same things, and that therefore, apocalyptic texts should not be understood apart from the more straightforward prose of comparative prophetic literature.

Each of the four beasts arises out of the sea (Dan.7:3). This “great sea” (v.2) is not interpreted, but it possibly refers to the Mediterranean, although it has additional value as a symbol for the world, especially in resistance to God (v.17; Isa. 57:20).2

The standard opinion of conservative commentators is that the beasts in Daniel 7 represent Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece (Macedonia), and Rome, exactly as in Daniel 2.3 I believe this is the correct understanding of the four beasts of Daniel 7:4-7, although I shall have to leave more detailed explanations to the commentaries.4

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Apocalyptic Fixation

Author’s note: This article reproduces and modifies some of the chapter on “Covenant and Apocalyptic” in the book I am writing. It is therefore not meant to be a full exploration of the subject.

If you have been keeping abreast of evangelical treatments of the books of Daniel, Ezekiel, and Zechariah, or the Olivet Discourse or Book of Revelation you will have run into the term “Apocalyptic literature.” It’s the favorite go-to for anyone who wants to stop the mouths of the prophets while sounding scholarly.

I realize that opening line is a bit testy, but I write it as one who has spent some time studying the major works on Apocalyptic — all written by critical liberal scholars — and have read the almost threadbare regurgitations of conservatives who are content to use this scholarship to support their reading of the Bible while retaining traditional beliefs.

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