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Prophets and/or Apostles: a Leaky Canon?

If this post begins to get confusing, I suggest you begin by reading EARNESTLY DESIRE….

There are many Christians who – in spite of good Biblical scholarship which convincingly disproves this – argue that the Canon of Scripture is closed because prophecy is no longer in operation – or at least that the canon is closed, and therefore we no longer NEED the prophetic gift(s). Yet, the New Testament was not written by prophets, with the exception of the Revelation of John (who was also an Apostle)! You see, the group of men in the New Testament who spoke the words of God with God’s authority – like the “prophets” of the Old Testament – were called “the Apostles.”

First, the message the Apostles proclaimed was the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the revelation of God’s message of salvation to the world. As Wayne Grudem points out, “Such an insistence on the divine origin of (this) message is clearly in the tradition of the Old Testament prophets.

Secondly, Jesus promised a special empowering to the 12, who were called the Apostles after Christ’s resurrection. John 14:26 says, “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you (he was speaking here to the Apostles) all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” Later, in John 16:13, Jesus says to the Apostles, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth…” Yes, there is a sense in which these verses may apply to us, for it shows that one of the roles of the Spirit is to lead people to the truth of Jesus, however Jesus, here, directly promised the Apostles that the Holy Spirit would help them remember and understand the message that he gave them to proclaim to the world, and this is a special call of God on their lives.

Lastly, the Apostles recognized the authority of their own teachings and writings as the very words of God. Paul commands the church in Thessalonica to receive his words “…not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God” (1 Thessalonians 2:13), and points out, as was the case with denying the words of the Old Testament prophets, that anyone who disregards his words “disregards not man but God” (1 Thessalonians 4:8). Others are punished for disregarding the message of the Apostles; “If anyone refuses to obey what we say in this letter, note that man, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed.” (2 Thessalonians 3:14) Also, in 2 Peter 3:15-16, Peter equates Paul’s letters with “the other Scriptures.” Further, Acts 5:3-4 & 21, implies that lying to an Apostle is equivalent to lying to the Holy Spirit, and thus God himself!

Some of what confuses us is that many – Evangelicals & Charismatics – automatically assume that the ‘gift of prophecy’ in the New Testament (and for today?) is exactly the same as the calling to be a prophet which occurs in the Old: they are not the same thing.  It’s important to note that the Hebrew Old Testament word for “prophet” meant “authoritative messenger of God”. However, the Greek word that we translate as “prophecy” in the New Testament didn’t carry that same connotation. We have a number of extra-Biblical writings ranging from the time 60 B.C. – 199 A.D. wherein the Greek word “prophet” is used to mean anything from a philosopher to a medical quack – a botanist to historian, and any range of things in-between. The primary definition for the Greek word “prophet” was essentially “one who declares, proclaims, or makes known” and that appears to have only sometimes been a proclamation of secret knowledge revealed from the spirit-realm. That is why the soldiers who blindfold and beat Jesus in Luke 22:64 command him, “Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?” They are not commanding Jesus to speak revealed words of divine authority, but simply to tell them something hidden that has been revealed to him. This would be a good working definition of the New Testament gift of prophecy as well.

The New Testament is made up of the writings of the Apostles (and of those under their authority) because it is THEY, not the New Testament prophets, who are the authoritative messengers of God during that time. And since to be in the office of New Testament Apostles you had to have personally experienced the living or physically resurrected Jesus, that office (in the New Testament sense of being an authoritative messenger of Jesus) is now closed, thus no one can any longer speak the very words of God to his people, except in that they are rightfully dividing His written word (the teachings of the Prophets and Apostles) in the Scriptures.

That is just to say, the modern-day operation of the gift of prophecy – Biblically understood – does nothing to create a “Leaky Canon” (i.e. – the idea of a “Leaky Canon” is where one believes that the prophetic words spoken today have the same authority over their lives as Scripture, essentially ‘adding’ to the Biblical revelation).

In fact, it should lead those in the prophetic movement back to the Scriptures, as the Biblical gives a great deal of guidance on how to correct and guide our interpretations and understanding of the modern-day  Prophecy. 1 Corinthians 14:29 encourages us to “weigh” what is spoken in a prophecy. 1 Thessalonians 5:21, likewise, encourages us – after telling us specifically not to ‘despise prophecy’ (and doesn’t that mean that there must be some reason – misuse, probably – that led people to be tempted to ‘despise prophecy’?) – to “test everything and hold fast to what is good”.

Scripture IS sufficient: prophecy does not need to lead to a ‘leaky canon.’ It is good, however, to clearly state what we means by the term ‘sufficient’. I believe that Scripture is sufficient, and since the Scripture tells me to desire Prophecy, and to not despise it, I seek to hear God that way, and since Scripture tells me that the heavens show of His glory, I recognize that there are things to know of God revealed by the stars and creation, and since the Scriptures encourage fellowship with other believers as a source of growth and strength, I expect to meet God there too. Being obedient to Scripture IS a proper recognition of Scripture’s sufficiency. Developing doctrines which entail ideas and restrictions that aren’t necessarily in the Word, is not a good way to recognize the Scriptures’ sufficiency.

The Bible is our authoritative guide – the unquestionable Words of God through the Holy Spirit.  Prophecy is a potentially powerful, subjective, broadly given gift, which is seeing “through a mirror, dimly” – a seeing “in part” – an imperfect gift which, though useful now, will pass at the return of Christ, when we will finally see “face to face“.

Do not despise prophecy, but even more so, cling to the Word.  If you do this, and walk in the prophetic, chances are that you are walking Biblical grounds.

Be blessed.

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Filed under: Apostles, Bible, Cessasionist, Charismatic, Continualist, Contraversy, Debate, Doctrine, Hermeneutics, Holy Spirit, Miracles, Mystery, Pentecostalism, prophecy, Theology, Wayne Grudem, , , , , , , ,

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