New Covenant Prophecy?

Wayne Grudem. John Piper. CJ Mahany. Three men I richly respect and have learned a lot from. They have a few things in common. They are all Baptistic. They are all Reformed. They are all charismatic to some degree. Their formulation of the charismatic gifts are pretty much the same and are based mostly on Grudem’s work. I’ve heard both Piper and Mahany agree with Grudem.

Grudem’s position is that the prophets and prophecy we see in the Old Testament, the “Thus Sayeth the Lord” sort of thing, was fulfilled in the Apostles’ writing of the New Testament. Prophecy in the New Covenant is different. Now, because the Holy Spirit indwells covenant members, prophecy is more common (cf Acts 2:15-21, Joel 2:28-32) but of a different sort. Now, according to Grudem, prophecy is fallible because it is given to sinful men and women who may misunderstand or distort. It is not the authorative, “thus sayeth the Lord” but “I think the Lord is saying…”

At first, I reacted against it. This didn’t sound like prophecy. What makes us think that prophecy could be fallible? Well, the proof text offered is 1Th 5:20-21. Paul commands that prophecy be tested and that which is good is to be retained. I remember John Piper saying that this didn’t sound like something that Paul would command of the Old Testament Scriptures. In other words, if NC prophecy was the same as OC prophecy, he reasoned, then Paul wouldn’t have commanded it be tested like this. Well, this got me. I didn’t know how to answer it so I just kind of swallowed the pill without water. That is to say, it kind of stuck in my throat but it was in there.

This morning, I read something that rather undid that argument for me. I opened to Deuteronomy 13 and read, “If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder…” Here was a command to test prophets in the Old Covenant. Paul was not saying anything new, he was simply repeating the commandment to test prophets.

This seems to take some of the wind out of the Grudem sails on that particular verse. True, Paul wouldn’t command the Old Testament be tested like that, but he would command testing of contemporary (to him) prophecy. Surely Moses wasn’t commanding that the books he’d written up to that point be tested and only the good retained. Neither was Paul.

But it doesn’t necessarily empty the wind from sails entirely. The very fact that the command to test prophecy is retained in the New Testament canon rather than being passed along either verbally, on in a non-inspired letter. The fact that the command is in an inspired letter and is retained for all the church means something for us. The question is what we are supposed to do with it. It doesn’t support Grudem’s concept of New Covenant prophecy like I originally thought it did. That doesn’t establish continuing prophecy, but it doesn’t deny it either.

So the issue remains: how do prophecy and sola scriptura relate? I mean, if “The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience” (1689 LBC 1.1) then what are we to do with prophecy today? The cessationalist position is that prophecy must have ended at the closing of the Biblical canon. God spoke through his word and when he was done speaking the canon was closed and revelation has ended. While this makes sense, is there any hint in the Bible that such would be so? The prooftexts offered in the past have been pretty weak in my opinion.

On the other hand, how do we as evangelical Protestants hold to the sufficiency of Scripture deal with the concept of ongoing prophecy? Ah, I continue to wrestle with this issue and remain non-normative on the Charismatic gifts. That means that I’m open to the possibility but cautious to the point of suspicion on their appearance. Perhaps in that I am exercising Paul’s admonition as he intended it.

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  • The test in the OT makes me glad I wasn’t a prophet (cf Deut 18:20-22). To be killed for “missing it” (today’s colloquialism) seems severe; speaking for God, though, is weighty. I think that any belief regarding NT prophecy must take this penalty into account — or, must at least account adequately for the obsolescing of this penalty.

  • Well said Cartee.

  • Acts 2:38-39:
    Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every
    one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the
    forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the
    gift of the Holy Spirit. 39The promise is for you
    and your children and for all who are far off—for
    all whom the Lord our God will call.”
    So if the gift of Holy Spirit is for ALL whom the LORD calls and ALL that are far off and ALL your children (contextual speaking the children of the gentiles which we are because we are not jewish but born into Jesus’ family because of His redemptive work on the cross)so we are HIS children….
    Show me anywhere that it says that God goes back on HIS promises and that the HS is limited here on earth in us and I will gladly change my view. But if you look in the Bibile and cannot find any reasons to support the cessationalist view then you have to agree that there is the definate possibility that the gifts of the Spirit are still at work today. It is all about the willingness of the Christian.
    Speaking in tongues is a voulentary act. It is not something that you are posessed to do. You choose to do it or not. just like you chose Christ, you choose to let the Spirit to work through you. He has NEVER forces Himself on ANYONE.
    Read what Paul says about these things. Get the context of culture mixed in and check the greek and Hebrew on this.
    Holy Spirit is still at work today no matter whether you like it or not and that is fact. Paul stated that is was a promise from Jesus himself. Jesus is ALWAYS Faithful….

  • Brandon, I think you make a good point and then a false association. The Holy Spirit is for all in the New Covenant, but that doesn’t mean that what that looks like is the same in all.

    And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? – 1Co 12:28-30

    Just because all have the Spirit does not mean that the Spirit is manifested in all in the same manner.

    Even the cessationist would agree that the “Holy Spirit is at work today” where the cessationist would disagree with you is what that looks like. They believe in the cessation of the charismatic gifts, not the cessation of the Holy Spirit. :)

  • CJ
    A most powerful thing happened to me.
    After falling to the deep sin of lust (internet porn) again.
    I rejected all thoughts concerning God’s forgiveness. After facing that numb feeling for several hours, I said to our Lord “I don’t feel like talking, this is my problem” at that very instant I saw the face of my most precious Savior, blood steaming from His deformed face. In an instant I knew that I was wrong, He made my problem His. I saw it in His face and then He said in His own words-
    “God made Him who had no sin
    to be sin for us, so that in Him
    we might become the
    righteousness of God.”
    2Co 5:21

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