Sign Gifts - Prophecy




We are exploring the relevance of the “sign” or “miraculous” gifts of the Spirit to see if they are still being practiced today. To accomplish this goal, we turn to the only source of authority on this matter; the 66 books of God’s Word, the Bible. Since God is the One who gives and empowers these gifts, God is the only One who can determine how and when these gifts are to be used. Paul reminds us that there will be many who will seek to deceive us into following false teaching concerning the works and ways of God (2 Cor. 11:13-15; 1 Tim. 2:1-4). This seems to be particularly true when it comes to the matter of the sign/miraculous gifts of the Spirit. I found that too often people’s opinions, experiences, and emotions seem to take precedence over the clear directives that God has given regarding spiritual gifts. Therefore our authority in all these matters must be limited to the Word of God and that alone!

It should be noted that it is not my intent in this section of our study to determine the purpose or duration of these gifts. My goal is simply to identify the gifts and give a general description of how they were used in New Testament times. We will deal with purpose and duration at a later time. In this segment we will be looking at the gift of prophecy (1 Cor. 12:9).

Prophecy (Rom. 12:6; 1 Cor. 12:10; 13:2, 8, 9;14:1-6, 22, 24, 31): The word prophecy is the Greek word “profeeteia” which has two main usages according to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon:

1) Foretell future events pertaining especially to the kingdom of God. 

2) To utter forth, declare, a thing which can only be known by divine revelation

The first meaning listed is what normally comes to most people’s minds when you mention the word, prophecy. However, in practice the prophets speak as much if not more about God’s revelation concerning the events of the present (meaning 2) as they do about the future. A study of the writings of the Old Testament Prophets reveals that large portions of their writings are spent preaching against the ongoing sins of the people of Israel and calling them to repentance before it is too late. For example look at the warning God gives through Hosea the prophet.

Hos 4:1-13, “Hear the word of the Lord, you children of Israel, for the Lord brings a charge against the inhabitants of the land: "There is no truth or mercy or knowledge of God in the land. By swearing and lying, killing and stealing and committing adultery, they break all restraint, with bloodshed upon bloodshed. . . . "Now let no man contend, or rebuke another; For your people are like those who contend with the priest. . . . My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being priest for Me; because you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.

"The more they increased, the more they sinned against Me . . . They eat up the sin of My people; they set their heart on their iniquity. And it shall be: like people, like priest. So I will punish them for their ways, and reward them for their deeds. For they shall eat, but not have enough; they shall commit harlotry, but not increase; because they have ceased obeying the Lord. 'Harlotry, wine, and new wine enslave the heart. My people ask counsel from their wooden idols, and their staff informs them. For the spirit of harlotry has caused them to stray, and they have played the harlot against their God. They offer sacrifices on the mountain-tops, and burn incense on the hills, under oaks, poplars, and terebinths, because their shade is good. Therefore your daughters commit harlotry, and your brides commit adultery.”

With this fact in mind, when we speak of prophecy in the Bible, a better definition would be “the proclamation of divine revelation.” By divine revelation we mean information given by God to man that man could not acquire by any other means. It is revelation given by God directly to a prophet to be proclaimed to others verbally and/or in written form. It may also be the proclamation of divine revelation previously given through another prophet. For example, Amos opens (1:2) with Joel 3:16 and closes his book (9:13) with Joel 3:18, 20. Isaiah likewise refers to Joel’s prophecy (Joel 1:15) in Isaiah 13:6. In Matthew 24:15, Jesus refers to the prophecy of Daniel in teaching on the Tribulation and Peter refers to Joel 2:28-32 in his message to the crowds at the temple on the day of Pentecost. Therefore even though the prophet through whom the divine revelation comes may have passed from this life, his work continues on in those who proclaim his prophetic word. This is why in Eph. 4:11 God says He gave the Apostles and Prophets as gifts to the Church. The verb “gave” is in the Aorist tense implying a gift given in the past that continues on as a gift to every succeeding generation with no particular end in sight. Therefore, though the position of Apostle and Prophet may have passed from existence at the close of the First Century,their work and contributions to the Church continual on indefinitely. 

The process of prophecy is the same in the New Testament as it was in the Old. God’s Spirit would fill or control the prophet enabling him to receive and proclaim God’s revelation. Let site just a couple of examples.

1 Sam 19:23-24, “So he (King Saul) went there to Naioth in Ramah. Then the Spirit of God was upon him also, and he went on and prophesied until he came to Naioth in Ramah.” NKJV

Luke 1:69, “Now his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied” NKJV’

The gift of prophecy, as given as a gift of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost, enabled some members of the Church to receive and proclaim new divine revelation from God. This was an important gift for the early Church since it did not yet have the 27 books of the New Testament to guide it in carrying out the will of God. It is for this reason God gave this gift to local churches to help fill in the gaps of needed instruction for the proper functioning of the Body of Christ. Like the other gifts of the Spirit, there were rules by which this gift was to be practiced.

1) Prophecy and the Head Covering: this gift, like most of the spiritual gifts, was given to both men and women (Acts 21:9; 1 Cor. 11:4-5). However, as this gift was practiced in the Church, the men were to prophesy with heads uncovered while the women’s heads were to be covered. Though the identity of the head covering is debated, the principle of the head covering leaves no doubt. Those prophesying in the church must do so in such a way that they respect the male leadership position in the Church as mandated by our Lord (1 Cor. 11:3).

2) Prophecy and Distribution: this gift was not given to every believer but only to those whom the Holy Spirit chose (1 Cor. 12:4-11). Not only was the distribution selective, the degree or portion of the gift differed from one believer to another. Possibly some were able to practice the gift more often or the revelation had a greater impact on the church than that exercised by others. We do not know exactly how this portion was metered out but Paul made it clear this difference in portion seemed to exist for all gifts of the Spirit.

Rom 12:5-8, “so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.” NKJV

3) Prophecy and Its Duration: this gift was not intended to go on indefinitely as many of the other gifts. In 1 Cor. 13:8, Paul writes that prophecy as a gift would cease some time in the future. The word translated “fail” in the NKJV means “to render idle, unemployed, inactive, inoperative; to cause to cease, put an end to, do away with, annul, abolish” (Thayer's Greek Lexicon). In other words, it was to have a point in which it would no longer fulfill the purpose of God and would come to an end. Throughout the history of man God has used prophecy only for certain periods of time as it served His specific purposes. In between these periods there would be periods of silence in which there would be little or no prophecy coming from God. For example in 400 BC, God closed a period of prophecy with Malachi, ushering in a 400 year period of silence. This is also reflected in the time of Samuel.

1 Sam 3:1, “Now the boy Samuel ministered to the Lord before Eli. And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no widespread revelation.” NKJV

Since prophecy must serve the purpose of God, the duration of the gift must be determined by the completion of that purpose. In the early church prophecy served to provide needed instruction. This instruction would later be recorded in written form in what is now known as the New Testament. The leads to the conclusion that with the competition of the NT, the gift of prophecy ended since its purpose had been fulfilled. This was in the mind of Paul when he wrote,

1 Cor 13:9-10, “For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect (literally “complete’) has come, then that which is in part will be done away.” NKJV

Church history confirms that at the close of the First Century as John penned the last book of the New Testament, the gift of prophecy ceased. No mention of the gift of prophecy is found from 100 AD until the beginnings of the Pentecostal movement in the early 1900s.

4) Prophecy and its Value: this gift was one of the greater spiritual gifts given to the Church. Paul, in 1 Cor. 14:1-25, calls upon believers to seek a better gift than tongues, the gift of prophecy (1, 5). The reason for his evaluation lies in the fact that prophecy being spoken in the language of the congregation could be easily understand and thus beneficial to all. Tongues on the other hand were meaningless sounds to the congregation if no one present understood what was being spoken and could interpret. Paul’s point is that it is better to speak in 5 words that are understandable and able to teach than ten thousand words in an unrecognizable language (19). In chapter 14, Paul is putting the emphasis on the declarative (see earlier meaning 2) aspect of prophecy which in written form (New Testament) would eventually become the foundation for the gifts of preaching and teaching (19).

5) Prophecy and Control: In 1 Cor. 14, Paul goes on to set down some rules for the use of prophecy in the worship service of the Church. Let us note the following.

A) The gift of prophecy is under the control of the one who has the gift (32). No one could legitimately say, “God is moving me to speak and I can not refrain from speaking.” Paul it makes it clear that even if the believer is moved to prophecy, he still has the ability to not use the gift or to wait for someone else to finish.

B) The gift of prophecy is to be limited to no more than two or three prophecies per service (29). If a prophet finds that three have prophesied before him, he must wait until the next service to share his prophecy.

C) The gift of prophecy is to be practiced in turn (30-31). There is not to be more than one person prophesying at a time. If while the first one is speaking a second one feels led to prophecy, the first is to stop prophesying to allow the next prophet to speak. This is important for if two or more are speaking at the same time no one will know what has been said and confusion will rein in the church (31, 33).

6) Scrutiny: Paul calls upon the congregation to judge the prophets and their messages (29). It is an easy thing for someone to stand up and say he has a prophecy from God. The difficulty is knowing whether that individual is really speaking for God or whether he is speaking for himself or even Satan. It is for this reason God gave some in the church the gift of discerning of spirits (1 Cor. 12:10). Note that Paul in addressing the source of the prophets speaks of the prophet having control over the “spirits”. John reinforces this idea when he writes,

1 John 4:1-2, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” NKJV

The Apostles knew that there would be false prophets who would creep into the church and lead the believer’s astray (Rom. 16:17-18; 1 Tim. 4:1; ; 2 Pet. 2:1; 1 Jn. 4:1). For this reason they were to use the gift of discerning of spirits and the written Word of God to determine if the prophet really spoke for God. If a prophet’s words contradicted what they had already been taught by the Apostles or what was recorded in the OT, they were to consider it as being false.

With this in mind, after two or three prophets had spoken, the church would have a time to evaluate what had been said. This evaluation was to be conducted only by the men and if any woman had a question concerning the prophecy she was to wait until after the service and ask her husband or if unmarried her father or male guardian (1 Cor. 14:34-35). The reason for this restriction on women lies with God’s will that no woman usurp her authority over men in matters of teaching or leadership (1 Cor. 11:2; 1 Tim 2:11-15). With this clearly set forth it puts an end to the idea that it is God’s will for women to serve in the capacity of Pastor, elder, or deacon. Our Lord has mandated these positions for men only. 

7) Prophecy and the Ultimate Test: all prophecy given regarding future events must come to pass. If it is even 1% off then that prophet is not of God for God has no margin of error.

To conclude, the gift of Prophecy seems to have been a temporary gift given to help the early Church until the written revelation of God was completed in the form of the New Testament. Those who say they have the gift of prophecy today must measure up to the rules and restrictions given regarding this gift. If they are to speak a prophecy it must not be in contradiction to anything found in the Scriptures. It should be done when there are male spiritual leaders present who can determine whether the prophecy is from God. It should be new revelation not revelation previously given and if it relates to future events; it must come true to the smallest of detail. If the speaker says they are moved by God to speak and can not stop themselves from speaking they do not have the gift of prophecy as all prophets have control over the spirits.

In light of these rules and guidelines, as one examines the many modern claims to the gift of prophecy, one must conclude that no one has the gift of prophecy today. Most of those that I have heard speak of a prophecy or vision they have had, I have found often their prophecy contradicts the teaching of the Bible or is shallow and without much substance. I remember in the late 70s as Oral Roberts was trying to raise money to build his new medical center, he declared that a 70 foot Jesus had appeared to him a vision and said if Robert’s supporters did not come up with 4 million dollars in 30 days, Oral Roberts would die. Some of us were hoping he would not raise the money just to see if the prophecy was really true. 30 days past and the money did not come in and Oral Roberts continued to live. He in essence was a false prophet and clearly did not have the gift of prophecy. 

Be careful of modern day prophets. Check out everything they say carefully. Chances are you will find most if not all of them to be false prophets.