Question of the Week: Is prophecy still practiced today?
The short answer is yes. The long answer is actually a question. What do you mean by prophecy? The office of a prophet, as well as the Apostles, is a specific calling with requirements that would not allow them to be practiced today. The spiritual gift of prophecy defined in 1 Corinthians 14:3 takes place whenever someone accurately and consistently teaches the Bible. Obviously that would have to still be in place in order for there to be a church. In order to properly understand and practice discernment between the two, we need to approach both topics with as much background information about them as we can. The more you know the real deal, the easier it will be to spot a counterfeit. And the more you appreciate the real deal, the less you’ll be reactionary towards those who abuse it.
Beginning with the Old Testament, the gift of prophecy belonged to those who were called to be prophets. In the broadest possible sense, it refers to someone sharing God’s word. At this time in history, however, the Bible hadn’t been written yet. Therefore the people who claimed to be speaking in His name needed to be held to a high level of scrutiny given how easy it was and is to simply claim God told you to say something. The office of a prophet and thus the person whose words spoken in the name of God were recorded as scripture, were all tested according to the pioneer of this spiritual calling. Moses was used by God to reveal His Law, as well as the history of mankind’s relationship with God as it pertained to our redemption. With Israel as the focus, Moses was sent with many miracles in order to be taken seriously. That standard going forward would not only be how future prophets were judged to be authentic, but also on his authority the crime of being a false prophet became a capital offense.
I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him. And it shall be that whoever will not hear My words, which He speaks in My name, I will require it of him. But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in My name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.’ And if you say in your heart, ‘How shall we know the word which the Lord has not spoken?’— when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.
Deuteronomy 18:18-22 (NKJV)
Going on to the New Testament, the judge of scripture going forward would be judged by what had already been revealed in the Old Testament. The eyewitnesses of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection used the Old Testament to conclude He was the Messiah. Likewise, the individuals who made these claims were held to the same standard that Old Testament prophets would be given their calling came from the same God that spoke through Moses. The Apostle Peter points this out when they have to determine who met the qualifications to replace Judas Iscariot as an eyewitness among the twelve.
“Therefore, of these men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John to that day when He was taken up from us, one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection.”
Acts 1:21-22 (NKJV)
Without exception, everyone who recorded scripture in the Old and New Testament were accurate in the information they recorded, consistent in the God they presented, accountable for the things they reported, and verified by God as prophets through miracles. This is what defines for us not only what makes someone a prophet, but what a prophet was supposed to do. To prophesy means to speak on behalf of someone else. In the context of religious truths, the one you’re speaking on behalf of is God.
God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds;
Hebrews 1:1-2 (NKJV)
This kind of prophecy is obviously not able to be practiced today. Anyone who could have been an eyewitness of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection from the time of John the Baptist’s baptism all the way to His ascension into Heaven from the Mount of Olives died in the early 2nd century at the latest. Likewise, the need for further prophets in the Old Testament sense is no longer necessary given that we have the full counsel of God’s word in the Bible. So the question is if prophecy can be practiced today, what other kind is there apart from those who revealed scripture? The answer is those who teach it.
Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries. But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men. He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church. I wish you all spoke with tongues, but even more that you prophesied; for he who prophesies is greater than he who speaks with tongues, unless indeed he interprets, that the church may receive edification.
1 Corinthians 14:1-5 (NKJV)
Paul the Apostle is giving instructions for a church to practice the gift of prophecy and tongues properly. Like any Jewish Rabbi, he enjoyed teaching through contrasts. Tongues and prophecy both had their place, but their purpose needed to be understood as well. Tongues speak to God while Prophecy speaks to men. Tongues aren’t understood by men, while prophecy is. Tongues edifies the individual, while prophecy edifies, exhorts, and comforts the entire church. Without an interpretation, tongues serves no purpose. Prophecy is an interpretation in of itself, and serves the main purpose for which Christians are gathering together in the first place. That is why Paul the Apostle not only encourages both, but gives preference to a spiritual gift that is very much still being practiced at and beyond the time Paul wrote this letter. If prophecy only means revealing scripture in the strictest sense, then Paul should have clarified that none should prophecy apart from those in the Old Testament office of a prophet. He doesn’t. Instead, he gives instructions for the proper use of both spiritual gifts towards the church in general. Therefore it is right to conclude that prophecy can be practiced by those outside of the Old Testament Prophets and New Testament Apostles.
Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast what is good.
1 Thessalonians 5:20-21 (NKJV)
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