The Charismatic Movement (12): Principles of the New Testament Prophets

Finding a Prophet

You don’t have to look hard to find prophets and prophetesses in the New Testament. Luke, for example, tells of Anna (2:36), John the Baptist (7:28), and Christ (13:33, 24:19, cf. Deut 18:18). He continues his list in Acts, where the early church prophets included Agabus, Judas, and Silas in Jerusalem (11:28, 15:32); Barnabas, Simeon, Lucius, Manaen, and Saul named as prophets and teachers in Antioch (13:1); and Philip’s four daughters who prophesied in Caesarea (21:8). Sadly, along with the faithful we find the false. From Barjesus to Jezebel, the deceivers set out to turn seekers from the gospel, saints from the truth, and the spiritual to the carnal (Acts 13:6; Rev 2:20).

Fundamentals of a Prophet

New Testament prophets received direct revelation from God and communicated it to others, as did their Old Testament counterparts. Divine revelation included the past, present, and future. Christ was recognized as a prophet when He revealed the Samaritan woman’s past, just as Nathan revealed David’s past (John 4; 2Sam 12). Anna spoke of the present Redeemer as Moses spoke of present salvation (Luke 2; Exo 14). Agabus told of a future famine, just as did Elisha (Acts 11; 2Kings 8). The revelations given to the prophets also introduced new doctrines to be appreciated (Eph 3:5-7), new directions to be followed (1Cor 11:23-34), and new details to be understood (Rev 10:11). In every case, Old or New Testament, true prophets revealed previously unknown truth. This differs from those with the spiritual gift of teaching, who are enabled by God to communicate previously revealed truth (2Tim 2:2).

Foundation of the Prophets

Like apostles, New Testament prophets were essential. The Church was “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone” (Eph 2:20). Being foundational, both apostles and prophets provided for needs that existed specifically at the early stage of the building. Apostles, the small group of men who had been eye-witnesses of Christ and who were publically identified and commissioned by Him (Luke 6:13), communicated His words and His will. Prophets, second in importance (1Cor 12:28), were similarly used by God to reveal His will for His people (Eph 3:5), complementing the words of the apostles.

Facing a Prophet

Unlike apostles, whose authority was established by Christ’s direct call, New Testament prophets were to be tested before their words were trusted. Paul wrote, “Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good” (1Thess 5:20-21 ESV). John wrote, “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world” (1John 4:1). The indwelling Spirit of God helps believers in every age sense the true and suspect the false (1John 2:20, 27). But God also gave the early church some who were gifted specifically to guard against false prophecies. An orderly assembly allowed two or three prophets to speak, one at a time, and then others “judged” (1Cor 14:29). The others (literally, “other of the same kind”) were likely themselves prophets, but also possessors of the gift of discernment (1Cor 12:10). Just as the one who spoke with the gift of a foreign tongue could be understood by the gifted interpreter, the gifted prophet was verified by the gifted discerner (1Cor 14:27-32).

A further test is found in Paul’s statement, “If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord” (1Cor 14:37). A true prophet recognized the authority of the apostles’ writings, never contradicting the written Word of God.

A fourth test of any prophet is accuracy. The Lord said to Israel, “When a prophet speaketh … if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously” (Deut 18:22). The consequences: “The prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in My name, which I have not commanded him to speak … even that prophet shall die” (Deut 18:20). While the command to put to death false prophets is not for the church, the accuracy of the Lord’s true prophets never changed. They had to get it right 100% of the time. Luke carefully notes the true prophets’ predictions “came to pass” (Acts 11:28; 27:44).

Finality of the Prophets

When constructing, the foundation is done long before the building is complete. For the Church, the foundation’s completion coincided with the delivery of the New Testament. Jude refers to “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (1:3 Newberry). “The faith” being the sum of the truth—the Scriptures—was “delivered to the saints” and, once complete, are never to be added to. Paul describes this completeness in 1 Corinthians 13: “When that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away” (v10). Partial revelations to prophets became pointless as nothing is to be added to the completed revelation. The prophets “passed away” (vv8-10), being replaced by something far superior—the mature, clear, written Word of God (vv11-12).

False Prophets

Are there New Testament prophets today? Clearly, the answer is “No.” They were part of the foundation, and the foundation is complete. They were used for revelation, and the revelation is complete. In fact, to claim to have the gift of prophecy today contradicts the writings of the apostles, failing a key test of a true prophet—not to mention the need for 100% accuracy. Could we say kindly, “If any man think himself to be a prophet, please think again”?

Future Prophets

Will God send prophets in the future? Yes, but not for the Church. Once the Church is raptured, humanity will be deceived by many false prophets (Matt 24:11, 24; Rev 19:20). Into that scene of judgment God will send two prophets (Rev 11). Their subsequent murder reflects this world’s hatred of everything God has revealed by His prophets in both of His Testaments. Their miraculous resurrection and ascension affirms that “heaven and earth shall pass away: but My words shall not pass away” (Luke 21:33). We thank God for the true prophets He used to communicate the Old and New Testaments, and we rest and rejoice today in the complete, eternal, infallible, unchanging, written Word of God.