A Challenge Against the Cessation of Prophesy

By Craig Simonian





After the birth of the Pentecostalism in 1901[1], and again after the significant growth of the Charismatic Movement in the 1960s and the Signs and Wonders Movement[2] in the last decade, the debate over the cessation of certain spiritual gifts has taken on a momentum perhaps not seen before in church history.  The church, called by Christ to dwell in unity, has divided into separate camps over this issue, often hurling harsh words at one another while appending labels which in no way represent the other side.[3]  It is certainly unfair for those who hold to the continuing nature of the gifts, whom we will henceforth call Continuationists, to claim for example that Cessationists[4] have developed their theology with the purpose of boxing in the Holy Spirit.  Their frequent counterclaim that many in the Continuationist camp develop their theology out of their experience rather than Scripture is equally untrue.  The reality that must be presupposed as we approach a controversial issue such as the cessation of revelatory or word gifts[5], is that we all, to some degree, derive our theology either from experience or from lack of experience with regard to these gifts.[6]  Thus we move ahead with caution and humility recognizing that for this present time we all “see in a mirror dimly”.

In order for us to reach our own conclusion with regard to the continuation or cessation of revelatory gifts we need to understand the nature of Old and New Testament prophesy and then be able to tackle the appropriate issues one at a time. 




 The Cessationist argument takes into consideration their understanding of the unity of prophesy in the Scriptures.  In the Old Testament, the prophets delivered God’s revelatory word to the people, and were in that sense, the very mouthpiece of God.  In Deuteronomy  18:18-19, the Lord said through Moses, “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him.  If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account (NIV).”   Therefore, to ignore the prophetic message was to ignore God himself.   Such a position of authority was not claimed lightly, however, and the prophetic word was to be tested (Dt. 18:22).  In fact, severe warnings were issued in order to prevent people from claiming to be prophets without having a genuine message to proclaim.   As the Lord spoke to Moses, “A prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded him to… must be put to death.[7]"  Similarly, if a prophet lured people to follow other gods while claiming to speak His words, “that prophet or dreamer must be put to death, because he preached rebellion against the LORD your God.[8]

The authority of these OT Prophets to speak the word of God and to function, in essence, as Scripture-writers, carries into their understanding not only of NT apostles, but of NT prophets.  Thus, if a NT prophet were to speak in the church, and the congregation agreed it was from the Lord, that word would be binding upon the community.  According to Gaffin the revelation put forth by these prophets is “on par and of one piece with the inspired revelation received and proclaimed by Paul and the other apostles.[9]” Gaffin furthermore asserts that this prophetic revelation “brings to the church the words of God in the primary and original sense… the inspired, nonderivitive word of God.[10]  For this reason, as Cessationists would continue, do prophets have a foundational role in the establishment of the church.  However, once the writings which made up the canon were competed, there could no longer be authoritative canonical revelations from God, as that would be tantamount to adding to Scripture, which clearly means that prophesy, having fulfilled its’ foundational role, ceased to function in the church.

While the construction of this argument may seem reasonable, it does not seem to dialogue with the entirety of Scripture.  For this reason a more thorough discussion of Old and New Testament prophesy is needed as it relates to our ultimate question as to the cessation of prophesy and associated word gifts.  To be sure, the OT prophets were commissioned by God to admonish and pardon, to warn of approaching danger or impending judgments by God, and to call the people to repentance.  Ultimately, however, the prophet was the messenger of God—His very spokesperson.  Having established themselves as true prophets by virtue of their message being without error, the people were to unquestionably listen to them as if they were listening to God Himself.   For this reason did such prophets use the classic introduction, ‘Thus says the Lord.’  However, does this view of OT prophesy represent all the Bible teaches us regarding prophesy and prophets?

In the Book of Numbers, God rebukes Miriam and Aaron for the complaints they had raised concerning Moses taking a Cushite wife.[11]  "Has the LORD spoken only through Moses?" they asked. "Hasn't he also spoken through us?"  At once the Lord responded to them and said, "Listen to my words: ‘When a prophet of the LORD is among you, I reveal myself to him in visions, I speak to him in dreams. But this is not true of my servant Moses; he is faithful in all my house. With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles; he sees the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?"  From this passage we can see that Moses was an archetype of a unique strand of prophets which was ultimately fulfilled in the Messiah as indicated in the NT (Acts 3:21-22; 7:37; Jn. 1:21).[12]  Thus, it becomes clear that the typical prophet in Israel received revelation via visions or dreams whereas for Moses, and those like him, God spoke by means of direct communication and manifestation.  Moses understood that he was set apart in this way to speak God’s word with unique authority and that there would be a succession of unique prophets like him.  For this reason does he say, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers.  You must listen to him.[13]  And, while there were other prophets amongst the Israelites,[14] it was to be Joshua who would receive this special commission from Moses:  “Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him. So the Israelites listened to him and did what the LORD had commanded Moses.[15]

As some time progressed after the Hebrew people occupied the land of Canaan, during the time of the Judges, the priesthood, which governed and taught Israel the ways of God, had greatly deteriorated.  God raised up at this time a unique prophet who would bring reformation to this priestly order.   As the Lord’s spokesman, Samuel opposed the monarchy (1 Sam. 8:7-10) and proclaimed Saul as King (10:24).  But more than that, he was a judge, priest, and leader of the group called ‘the sons of the prophets.’[16]  Also known as the Schools of Prophets, these groups consisted of bands of men and their families who would live in communities around their master (1 Sam 19:18; 20:1)[17].  While the practices of these groups were varied to include the study of the law, music, and poetry, there was a clear focus upon deep spiritual life.   According to Unger, “so successful were these institutions that from the time of Samuel to the closing of the canon of the OT there seems never to have been wanting an adequate supply of men to keep up the line of official prophets.”[18]

From this brief study we can begin to see what might be a strand of OT prophesy separate from those prophets like Moses (Dt. 18:18). For instance, there were many occasions in Scripture when people began prophesying after the Spirit of God had fallen upon them.  One example of this is in Numbers11:25 when the Spirit was transferred from Moses to the seventy elders… “and he took of the Spirit that was on him and put the Spirit on the seventy elders. When the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied, but they did not do so again.”  Moses indicates that two such elders were not present at that moment in the Tent of Meeting and therefore did not share the prophetic experience with the others.  However, the Spirit of God later came upon them (11:26) and they too began to prophesy in the camp.  Fearing that these men were threatening Moses’ prophetic authority, Joshua tried to stop them. But Moses, in reply says, “Are you jealous for my sake?  I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!”[19]

            Several important points need to be made from this passage.  The first is that a group of men began prophesying in a way that seemed to carry anything but Mosaic or canonical authority.  Yet, Gaffin insists that God’s revelation “is always to and in the interests of the whole covenant people.”[20]  The purpose of the prophesying was not so much for them to be God’s very messengers to the Hebrews but to attest to the reality of God’s presence in their midst.[21]  If one of these seventy men made even a single mistake, they, according to Deuteronomy 18 should have been put to death.  Yet, one can not help wondering if Deuteronomy 18 and Numbers 11 are speaking of two strands of prophesy… the first referring to those prophetic men claiming to speak, with absolute verbal authority, the very words of God (such as Moses & Elijah) and the second referring to the manifestation of prophesy as an attestation of the presence of God.[22]   After all, when Moses wishes that all of Israel were prophets, could he be wishing that everyone were God’s authoritative spokesmen?  No.  More likely he is desiring that all of God’s people would experience the manifest presence of the Spirit of God.[23]

            Another example of this can be found in 1 Samuel 10:6 where Samuel told Saul that upon meeting a group of prophets,  “the Spirit of the LORD will come upon you in power, and you will prophesy with them; and you will be changed into a different person.”  This sign, that God was indeed in their midst, was to touch Saul to the degree that he would be a different person.   Several moments later, in vs. 10:9-12, the people began asking themselves, “is Saul also among the prophets?”  Was he?  Was Saul to be counted among prophets such as Moses, Jeremiah, and Isaiah?  What Saul prophesied was not recorded that day and it is likely that his prophesies lacked any lasting significance.  In fact, it does not appear that the event taking place here, whereby people are prophesying spontaneously under the influence of the Spirit, is under the scrutiny of Deuteronomy 18 at all.[24]  

            To add further weight to this argument we should also consider the breadth of OT Prophets.  They would include prophetesses such as Miriam (Ex. 15:20), Huldah (2 Ki 22:14), and Deborah (Judges 4:4).  Had God called these women to be His authoritative messengers to Israel so that to disobey them was to disobey God Himself?  Indeed, was Balaam, an enemy of God, to fill this position of Scripture-writer as he received infallible revelation from God in Numbers 11:6-24?!  When Joel wrote his book which, of course, became part of OT canon, he prefaced what would follow with the words, “The word of the Lord that came to Joel”.  Here, Joel is speaking with canonical weight behind him.  Now, representing the very words of God, he puts his life on the line.  If he errs in his delivery of God’s message, he should, according to Deuteronomy 18, be put to death.   However, in his book he refers to an experience where God would pour out His spirit on all people… and, as a result, “sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, and your young men will see visions” (Joel 2:28-29).[25]  Should these daughters and young men have been subject to death, as per Dt. 18:20, if they had spoken in error?[26] We will look at this passage through the lens of Peter as we discuss Pentecost later.  For now, a brief discussion of prophesy during the intertestamental period will shed further light on the idea of there being two strands of prophesy.




It is generally accepted that after Malachi was written in 400BC, Israel as a nation went through a period known as the “Four Hundred Silent Years[27]” where “no new revelatory or prophetic communication took place between Yahweh and Israel.”[28]   Indeed, this silence would remain with Israel until the advent of John the Baptist who, like the great canonical prophets before him, spoke as a messenger of God to the Jews.  He was part of the succession of prophets the Lord referred to when he said to Moses, “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers.”  Naturally, these words ultimately pointed to the Messiah himself. What is interesting, however, is the evidence we have from this intertestamental age regarding the continuation of prophecy in Israel.  In the Apocrypha, for example, the author, speaking of wisdom, writes, “In every generation she passes into holy souls and makes them friends of God, and prophets” (Wisd. 7:27).[29]  Josephus clearly considered John Hyrcanus (who died in 105 BC) to be a prophet of God, writing that he had, ‘the gift of prophesy, for the Deity was with him and enabled him to foresee and foretell the future…’[30] 

What stands out here is not only that Hyrcanus was a prophetic individual, but that Josephus considered him to be so on account of his being able to predict the future… not on the basis of his words having absolute divine authority.[31]  Hence, what seemed to have been quieted during the intertestamental period was not all prophesy, but that unique strand of prophesy which carried canonical weight. Grudem agrees suggesting that many of the rabbis believing in the silence of prophetic voices over Israel also believed that prophetic phenomena were still operative in those days.[32] Even Josephus, having claimed to posses prophetic gifts himself at times[33] agreed with the Jews of his day (see Against Apion 1.41) that prophecy had ceased.  The point here in not whether or not Josephus truly prophesied or not, but the fact that he had no problem stating on one hand that authoritative revelation had stopped while attesting to his having prophetic/revelatory experiences on the other hand.  This seems to support the view presented here not only that there were two strands of prophesy in the OT, but that the concept was familiar and accepted by the Jews of the intertestamental and sub-apostolic age.

Thus far we have at least shown that the Cessationist argument,[34] stating that OT prophesy and prophets existed for the sole purpose of relaying, with absolute verbal authority, the word of the Lord and to fulfill their role as “Scripture-writers”, does not take into account all the evidence presented in the OT canon.  If we are right in saying that there are, in fact, two strands of prophesy in the OT (both being revelatory yet not having the same function and authority), then it is likely that these two strands of prophesy would be presented in the NT as well.   This would preserve the theological unity of prophesy in Scripture, as the Cessationists attest to, and would show that the function of NT prophesy itself not only had a canonical role but a community or congregational role as well.  According to Hummel, congregational prophesy represents those prophesies which “served as powerful signs of God’s presence among His people without necessarily bringing a specific message that needed to be preserved.”[35] They were not a substitute for but rather supplemented Scripture.

In Malachi 4:4-5, the prophet wrote, "See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes.  He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers..."  Certainly the people of Israel held on to this word as they endured those many silent years until he whose “voice of calling in the desert, 'Make straight the way for the Lord.'" (Jn 1:23) was heard.   Zechariah could hardly believe the angel Gabriel’s message when he said that his son would  “go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah (Lk 1:17).”  But when he eventually believed those words and the Lord loosed his mouth, Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied.  When John began his preaching ministry, the people naturally asked him (Jn 1:21), “are you Elijah?”.  He was indeed the one who would come as the prophetic archetype of Elijah, renouncing sin while calling an apostate people back to God.[36]   However, while speaking of the coming Messiah, John said, "I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”[37]  At the end of Luke’s gospel (24:49), Jesus points to this baptism saying, “I am sending forth the promise of my Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”  Alas, Luke is leading us to the very inauguration of the church at Pentecost.

For cessationist Richard Gaffin, virtually everything the NT teaches about the Spirit’s work either points to or traces back to Pentecost.[38]  Whether this is overstated or not, the reality is that this was the day which John the Baptist and Jesus were pointing to, and, according to Peter, it was the manifestation of God’s word spoken through Joel, “I will pour my Spirit on all people (2:28).”  Yet, while the disciples might have expected the Day of the Lord whereby the Kingdom would be restored to Israel, they were seeing the confirmation of the inaugurated Kingdom of God.[39]  But this Kingdom was fulfilled according to veiled manifestation[40] in that while the Kingdom of God (KG)[41] had come, it had come only in part.  This is seen in John’s prophesy, about the coming baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire, when he speaks of Christ’s winnowing fork being in his hand to “thoroughly clear the threshing floor, and to gather the wheat into His barn… (Lk 3:17)”  Gaffin is right in noting the eschatological significance of this passage which is concerned with the final judgment and the parousia.[42]  Thus, while Pentecost represents a climatic event in the historia salutis, it simply initiates rather than fully establishes the presence of the KG in the church age.[43]   So when we speak of the KG, we are talking about something which is at work in our present reality, inaugurated by the ministry of Jesus, now here in power through the release of the Spirit.[44] 

Though we presently live between the times of the Kingdom being here now, but not in full (the not yet[45]), the message of the KG remains clear and strong, that “the age to come has already dawned.  God is now at work in the world!”[46]  This concept is important to our study in that the “KG extends as it is proclaimed and as signs of its presence are performed.  If Jesus came to bring the KG, we must also conclude that his followers were commissioned by him to carry out the same task”[47] utilizing all the resources he has provided (of which, prophesy, if our conclusion proves correct, is one).[48]  Gaffin’s argument that Pentecost belongs solely to the once and for all accomplishment of redemption, not to its’ continuing application,[49] conflicts with the idea that the KG is now here in power.  Rather than seeing Pentecost simply as the final stage of Christ’s redemptive work in history, Gaffin should see how it also functions as the first stage of the Spirit’s empowering work in the church.[50]




With the establishment of the age of the church whereby the Spirit of God has been poured out on all people, we are now able to look at prophesy in the NT.  According to Carson, Paul had a clear notion that the legitimate successors of the OT prophets, with regard to their authority status, were not the NT prophets, but the apostles.[51]  Certainly, Paul spoke with the kind of absolute authority which resembled the canonical prophets when he wrote to the Corinthians, “what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command” (14:37).  In fact, Paul subordinates the authority of the prophets to his own (vs.s 37-38) as he does not even allow the Corinthian prophets to determine their own agenda for worship but rather specifies how, not if, they are to operate, further relativizing their authority by demanding congregational sifting of their utterances.[52]  He even goes as far as to warn the congregation, of whom the prophets are a part, of the dangers of not heading his word.[53]  One explanation is that whereas the prophets at Corinth could be categorized as congregational prophets, Paul and the Apostles were canonical prophets and the evidence seems to indicate that Paul was aware of the difference.[54] Some, such as Grudem, feel as though the word “apostle”  was used with the very intention of making this distinction clear.[55] Paul does use the term apostle to make clear his authority of special messenger or ambassador of Christ (Gal 1:1, 11-12).

It needs to be made clear, however, that both canonical and congregational prophesy is revelation[56] communicated through the Spirit to the one prophesying.  The difference reflects only the type of authority attached to the prophetic words[57].  When Paul or Peter spoke, the believing community understood the unique authority behind their words.  Like the great prophets of late, to disobey the apostle’s words was to disobey God himself.[58]  Thus, when Paul writes that he wished all would prophesy (1 Cor 14:5,24,31) he was not advocating that all should be apostles delivering the very authoritative word of God, but that all would experience the manifestation of the Spirit as expressed through congregational prophesy to the end that it would greatly benefit the community.  So, while Paul would place both strands of revelation under the heading of prophesy, he understood that it was of a different kind.[59]  In 14:3, Paul explains to the Corinthians that “one who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation”.  While this is not to be looked upon as an exhaustive definition, it is clear that Paul sees congregational prophesy for the purpose of ministering to the church… not to develop the theological structures of the church.

This leads us to what can be considered the Cessationists’ golden verse, Ephesians 2:20.   In this passage, Paul affirms that, as a result of Christ’s work on the cross, the gentile believers no longer need carry their “alien status” but rather, they are now “fellow-citizens” with their Jewish brethren.  And not only brethren, but both are members of the household of God:

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.  In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.  (2:19-21)


For Gaffin, this passage “makes a generalization that covers all the other New Testament statements on prophesy.”[60]  His argument follows these lines:  According to 1 Cor 3:11, the foundation has already been laid in Christ Jesus.  Thus, the foundational role of the apostles and prophets must have been related to their role as revelatory witness[61] of Christ’s redemptive work.  What was lacking at that time had nothing to do with Christ’s finished work on the cross but was the lack of adequate witness to that work.[62]  And with this foundational revelatory role completed, so too were the apostle’s and prophet’s foundational role as witnesses completed.  Not only is the continuation of prophetic gifts therefore in tension with their once and for all foundational role as witnesses, but with the very canonicity of Scripture itself.  This stands to reason, for if everyone with the gift of prophesy in the NT operated with absolute divine authority, then we would have to expect this gift to have ceased as soon as the writings of the NT were completed. 

Many, if not all, of Gaffin’s premises are Biblically sound although the conclusions he draws from these premises lack textual evidence.[63]  For example, Gaffin contends that signs and wonders were given by God to attest to the foundational witness of the apostles and prophets.[64]  Therefore, when this role was completed, so too should signs and wonders have ceased.[65]  Of course, Gaffin can not provide us with one single verse that states that this was the exclusive function of signs and wonders. If it were true that such miracles served as signs to authenticate the message of the apostles, than why were there people in the NT, other than apostles, who performed miracles?[66]  According to Storms, he simply isolates one function of the miraculous and then concludes that they can have no other function in any period of church history.[67]  Similarly, while identifying that prophets had a foundational role as witnesses according to Ephesians 2:20, he wrongly concludes that their function was limited to this role.  That simply does not take into account the information the NT presents regarding the gift of prophesy.  Could we really be expected to believe that Joel’s long awaited prophesy, which was manifest at Pentecost, where the Spirit was poured on all flesh resulting in dreams, visions, and prophesy, was fulfilled by a small group of believers in a period of time between Pentecost and the writing of the last NT book in 90AD?  

In order to explain Ephesians 2:20 more fully, however, we will need to explore other possible interpretations.[68]  One such interpretation is that the apostles and prophets are referring to NT apostles and OT prophets.  This would make sense in light of our discussion of the linkage between the two groups, the apostles here used strictly with regard to the twelve, including Matthias and Paul.[69]  Yet, Paul would probably have at least written the passage to read ‘prophets and apostles’.  Also, while speaking about the mystery of the Gentile inclusion in the Gospel and Church “which was not made known to men in other generations”, Paul writes that “it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God's holy apostles and prophets (Eph 3:5).”[70]  The now would clearly separate the NT from the OT prophets.  Another more popular and accepted Continuationist argument was posed by Wayne Grudem who argues that Paul’s metaphor in Ephesians 2:20 (and 3:5) should read, apostles-prophets or ‘apostles who are prophets’.[71]  He argues that the grammar here does not require that two separate groups are intended but rather, similar grammatical constructions are used to indicate one person with two different names.[72]

Grudem develops his argument from Paul’s metaphor of God’s household built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets.  For him, a foundation is laid only once before the rest of the building is begun.   But what we see in the NT is that with each new church planted, new prophets emerge and, moreover, Paul even encourages believers to pray for the gift of prophesy.  They would then be added to the foundation… which breaks down the metaphor.  In studying Grudem and Gaffin, it is clear that both make too much of this metaphor.  Fee is right to say, albeit sarcastically, that one “must be especially careful not to make metaphors walk on all fours.[73]   The fact is, Paul, does not have the cessation of prophesy on his mind!  Grudem therefore can be seen working too hard to make Ephesians 2:20 fit his notion that it was the apostles alone who received the absolute verbal revelation from God upon which the church was found.  If Paul wanted to speak of the apostles who were also prophets, he most likely would have used a construction that emphasized the point.  Thus we are left to wonder if Gaffin’s option of the NT prophets, whose revelations, along with the apostles, carried OT canonical weight is correct or not.  But according to our premise, that there are indeed two strands of prophecy which operate in Scripture, Ephesians 2:20 bears little problem.  The apostles (who are correctly seen as the counterpart to OT canonical prophets) and the congregational prophets were witnesses to the foundational work which Christ completed on the cross.  And not only that, but they (apostles and prophets, as well as the evangelists, pastors, and teachers) were used “to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (Eph 4:12).

It is important to see the contrast between the apostles and prophets however as they were not one in the same.  As mentioned earlier, Paul subjugated the Corinthians, including the Corinthian prophets, to his own apostolic authority (1 Cor 14:37-8).  In fact, they were to listen to his words as if they were the very words of God.  For this reason, we can see that the authority of NT prophets differed from the apostles and their OT counterparts.  Furthermore, in the OT, “if a prophet speaking in the name of God was shown to be in error, the official sanction was death.  But once a prophet is acknowledged as true, there is no trace of repeated checks on the content of his oracles. By contrast, New Testament prophets are to have their oracles carefully weighed.”[74]  While Gaffin claims that it is not the prophesy that is to be judged but the prophet, clearly Paul is speaking of an evaluation (diakrino) of the prophetic words indicating his presupposition that not every word spoken by the congregational prophet should be accepted as completely true.  As Carson points out, Paul offers no warnings to these prophets such as death or excommunication if they occasionally “miss the mark.”[75]  In fact, Turner states that any one NT prophetic oracle could  be “mixed in quality”, whereby “the wheat must be separated from the chaff.”[76]  If Paul were encouraging the body of believers to judge the prophets rather than the words they spoke, he probably would have used the word krino.  According to Grudem, this is the term the NT prefers when speaking of judgments which can either be right or wrong, guilt or not guilty.[77]

In 1 Corinthians 14:29, Paul  admonished that “two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said.  And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop.”  Grudem observes that when the second prophets stands up to speak, the first must stop speaking and therefore the congregation looses the opportunity of hearing the whole word.  He asks, ‘if Paul felt the prophets were delivering absolutely authoritative words from God, would he actually ask them to end their message without finishing it?”[78]  However, if the NT prophets were only thought to be speaking human words, albeit received as revelation, to report something which God had brought to mind, then Paul’s instructions would be quite reasonable.[79]  This concept can seem problematic.  After all, if the prophetic word came by means of revelation, how could it be delivered in such a potentially fallible manner?  Well, in the same way a teacher can deliver a fallible message based on infallible, inerrant Scripture.  In fact, the words apokalupto (to reveal) and apokalupsis (revelation) can also reflect the authority of merely human words.  For example, In Philippians 3:15, Paul encourages his readers to be zealous in their continued growth and says, “if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you” (NAS).  Thus, according to Paul, God will show them their error by means of a revelatory word.[80]  Thus, as D.A. Carson points out, “when Paul presupposes in 1 Corinthians 14:30 that the gift of prophesy depends on revelation, we are not limited to a form of authoritative revelation that threatens the finality of the canon.”[81]  Hence, Grudem’s definition of prophesy seems most appropriate, that ‘prophesy is the reception and subsequent transmission of spontaneous, divinely originating revelation’ whereby the prophet is speaking merely human words to report something God brings to mind.[82]

Most writers expounding on this subject bring up the story of Agabus whereby a NT prophet, intercepted Paul who was about to travel to Jerusalem at the end of his third missionary journey.   He proceeded to tie his own hands and feet with Paul’s own belt and shared with him the prophesy he had received from the Lord, “The Holy Spirit says ‘In this way the Jews of Jerusalem  will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles’” (Acts 21:11).   What is most interesting here are the apparent mistakes made by Agabus.   First, the Jews of Jerusalem did not bind Paul  but rather, as Luke twice explains, it was the Romans who arrested and bound him (Acts 21:33; 22:29).  Secondly, whereas Agabus predicts that the Jews would intentionally deliver Paul into the hands of the Gentiles, it was the Romans themselves who rescued Paul from an angry Jewish mob and was “actually carried by the soldiers because of the violence of the crowd” (21: 35).  What is concluded by Grudem[83] is not that Agabus had spoken in a totally false or misleading way, but that he just had some of the details wrong.  Indeed, this kind of inaccuracy fits into the concept we are presenting here concerning congregational prophesy. 

For this reason is it important for the body to evaluate or sift through the prophesies given in church.  Essentially, a prophet receives a revelation from the Lord, and then reports it in his own words.  Clearly, there is room for misinterpretation in this process.  In other words, Agabus did received a word from the Lord concerning what would happen to Paul in Jerusalem such as ‘Paul will be bound in Jerusalem’ but he made assumptions as to how this was going to work itself out.  However, if Agabus was speaking in the manner of OT canonical prophets, he might have been considered a false prophet.  Gaffin disagrees saying that Grudem, and those others who views the Agabus story in this way, are demanding ‘pedantic precision’ from his prediction.[84] Yet, Scripture teaches that canonical prophets (Gaffin considers all prophesy to carry absolute canonical authority whether or not the prophesies were recorded in Scripture) will speak with painstakingly accurate detail.  This detail is what truly marks the prophet as authentic.[85]  To read this passage as Gaffin does simply does not, according to Carson, ‘pay close enough attention to the text.’[86] 

Just prior to the Agabus story, Paul lands in Tyre and proceeds to seek out the believers there.  After establishing a relationship with them, they told Paul, “through the Holy Spirit,” that he “should not go on to Jerusalem” (21:4).   While the passage does not speak of prophesy directly, such speach uttered “through the Holy Spirit” is most often considered prophetic.  How did Luke describe Paul’s response to their words?  The very next verse says, “And when our days there were ended, we departed and went on our journey.”  Paul chose to overlook their words and went on his way… an action he would not have committed if he thought they were speaking the very words of God.   Here, Gaffin concedes that the disciples at Tyre, while not speaking prophetically, had received revelation from the Spirit, and thus reported that revelation in an impaired manner.[87]  Is not Gaffin then agreeing to Grudem’s bottom-line understanding of NT prophesy as being an unreliable human response to revelation from the Holy Spirit?[88]  Gaffin’s colleague at Westminster Theological Seminary, Vern Poythress accepts this view saying that the Holy Spirit can undoubtedly work through non-discursive processes to produce human predictions.  Non-discursive processes, according to Poythress, include instances where Biblically-based ideas or predictions (or Bible verses for that matter) come to mind without the recipient knowing just where or how they arose.[89]

One last example of this can similarly be found in Acts 21 where we are told that Philip the evangelist had four unmarried daughters who had prophesied (vs.s 8-9).  No indication is given as to the content of these prophesies although it can be assumed that it also related to the impending dangers awaiting Paul in Jerusalem.  Whatever the content, the fact that such female prophets were assumed to be in operation in the church of that day[90] must necessitate the conclusion that such congregational prophets did not speak with the authority of canonical prophets or else these women would be in violation of 1 Corinthians 14:34 where it is said that women, “are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate.”  The type of speech referred to here is that which assumes authority over the men in the congregation.[91]  A revelation of God which was reported in merely human words, however, would not demand obedience on behalf of the congregation, thus adding additional weight to the idea of there being two strands of prophesy… canonical and congregational.  It is important to note, however, that while the congregations in the early church had an understanding of the unique authority of the apostles,[92] they could not be expected to see a clear distinction between the prophesies delivered by them and those delivered by the NT prophets.  Thus, what separated one group as canonical from the other which is congregational,  is certainly not the use of these terms, but relates more to the apostle’s unique commission.  That is, it is their position as apostles that separates them from the NT prophets and not so much the content of various prophesies given.[93] 

We have already observed how John the Baptist, Jesus, and then the apostles, were the successors of OT canonical prophets.  However, we must concede that this strand of Biblical prophet, who speak forth the very words of God with absolute authority, could not have continued past the writing of the canon.  Therefore, as long as the apostles are associated with this kind of authority, referring to a select group whose positions or functions can not be duplicated, we must hold to their cessation.[94]  No doubt for Gaffin, this is a fatal admission, especially since he considers apostle to be a word gift (Gal. 1:11-12; I Thes. 2:13) and therefore, we admit that at least one charismatic revelatory gift has passed.   Yet, nowhere does Gaffin define what the apostolic gift is and how it works.   Robert Saucy, a dispensationalist, tries to define it saying, “while the apostles exercised various gifts common to others (such as prophesy and teaching), they were also endowed with a unique spiritual gift that enabled them to minister as apostles.”[95]  But this is no definition at all.  According to Deere, it is simply not possible to define gift of apostleship in a way that other gifts are defined.[96]  If you accept the notion that to qualify as an apostle, one must have been “an eye-and-ear witness to the resurrection of Christ” and receive a personal commission from Jesus himself[97], then how could Paul mean to include the gift of apostleship with other gifts that should be sought out?  Either you are an eyewitness of Christ’s resurrection or not… either you have received a personal commission from Jesus, or not.[98]  They certainly possessed charismata such as prophesy, healing, mercy, etcetera,  but how is apostle a charisma?  It appears that apostleship is not so much an enabling power but an ecclesiastical position.[99] But for Paul, the term apostle was not always used in the strict sense found in Acts 1.  For example,  in Romans 16:7, Paul write, “Greet Andronicus and Junias, my relatives who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.”  Epaphroditus himself was considered by Paul to be an apostle in Phil. 2:25 and, in 2 Cor. 8:23, Paul speaks of the apostles of the congregation.    Are these apostles to be somehow included with the Twelve when they fill their unique eschatological role as judges of the twelve tribes of Israel?  Of course not.  Thus we must consider a secondary group (dare we say strand?) of apostles which can roughly be defined, according to Carson, as missionaries, church planters, or the like.[100]  Both Luke and the Patristic Fathers likewise recognized this wide and narrow definition of apostle.[101]  For example, in Ignatius’ letter to the Roman church he writes, “It is not according to the flesh that I write to you… but according to the mind of God.”  Note that he is not confusing his authority with canonical authority, for he continues, “I do not command you like Peter and Paul, they were apostles; I am a convict.” (8.3).[102]

It is now important to focus our discussion primarily on the Cessationist argument developed out of 1 Corinthians 12-14.  It is vital for Gaffin and others holding to his position on Ephesians 2:20 to enter these chapters in Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians having already established prophesy as purely foundational, necessitating its’ cessation.  Having sufficiently proven this argument as unconvincing, the Cessationists now have their hands full.   At this juncture in Paul’s letter, the apostle addresses the issue of spiritual pride and arrogance on the part of those who practiced the more noticeable gifts such as prophesy and tongues and seeks to encourage those who were feeling less spiritual because they did not practice such gifts.  He starts his exhortation with the words, “Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant” (12:1, NIV).  Yet, this translation might not reflect the best reading in the Greek as the genitive plural of pneumatikoV refers not only to spiritual gifts, but to spiritual things.[103] Moreover, if you read agnoein to mean misunderstand (as it does in Romans 15) rather than ignorant, than, according to Sigountos, a better reading of 12:1 would be, “Brothers, I do not want you to misunderstand what true spirituality is.”[104]  This seems to more appropriately reflect the direction Paul is moving in as his chief concern is not simply the misuse of some spiritual gifts in the church, but the underlying problem of equating spiritual gifts with spiritual power.[105]  Indeed this problem was not unique to the church in Corith but typified common Hellenistic religious life whereby one must continually increase in giftedness in order to climb the ‘ladder of spirituality’.  For the Corinthian church, for one to speak in tongues was to offer ecstatic utterances of the divine elevating them to greater prominence in the community.  For this reason does Paul remind them that the source of those kind of utterances which glorify God is the Holy Spirit (vs. 2).  And, the Spirit who is the source of all spiritual gifts (vs. 4, 7-11) sovereignly dispenses these gifts for the common good of the entire community as He himself sees fit. 

Paul writes, “what have you that you did not receive?  If then you have received it, why do you boast as it were not a gift” (4:7)?  For those parts of the body, according to Paul’s metaphor, which seem weaker, are in fact, indispensable and to be treated with special honor (22-23).  Yes, everyone baptized in the Holy Spirit must also have the Spirit (13), and no one in the body is therefore less important than anyone else (27).  How then, after demonstrating the equality of spiritual gifts, could Paul have written,


“And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues (28)”


in an effort to rank the gifts in order of importance?  That would break apart Paul’s whole argument.  Rather, Paul has assembled a list of gifts whose order has no theological significance.[106]  But what about verse 31, “but eagerly desire the greater gifts.  And now I will show you the most excellent way”?  Paul has just finished his barrage, “Are all apostles?” No. “Are all prophets?” No.  He is, in a quite sarcastic manner, drilling it into their minds that spiritual gifts are distributed by God to the body for his own glory… and no one should feel less important or superior to anyone else.  Why then would he follow this with “eagerly seek the greater gifts”?  Sigountos suggests that Paul is merely throwing back at the Corinthians a quote that was frequently spoken within the church.[107]  In other words, Paul might be saying, “You all say that everyone in the body should desire the greater gifts, as if some gifts are less important than other gifts.  But rather, let me show you the most excellent way.”   That ‘most excellent way’, of course, was love.

            At least some in the Corinthian congregation had put such emphasis upon the so-called greater gifts that love, the heart of Christ’s message, was being overshadowed.[108]   Paul uses chapter 13 to demonstrate, by contrasting gifts and love, that no religious behavior has any meaning apart from love.[109]  His use of hyperbole in verses 1-2 and sarcasm in 3-7 drive his point home, “you all have sought after gifts as though they would make you mature.  But look at where this has brought you.  You are puffed up (4:6, 5:2), you seek after your own interests (10:24,33), and have rejoiced in your own unrighteousness (5:1-2).”[110]  Thus Paul explains what love is in contrast to their behavior.  And, in showing just how superior love is over temporal gifts such as tongues and prophesy, he explains,

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.  For we know in part and we prophesy in part,  but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.  When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.  Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.


For years, Cessationists have used this passage to demonstrate that the imperfect revelatory gifts passed away after the advent of the perfect which, for many, represents the completed canon.   Needless to say, the passage is vital to either side of the argument as it represents the one place in Scripture which definitively identifies prophesy as something which is imperfect and therefore will one day pass away.[111]  Moreover, the passage says when it will be done away… that is, when the perfect comes.

            Paul’s effort here is to show that love is far superior than spiritual gifts because of its’ eternal nature.   Prophesy, tongues, and knowledge, are said to be temporary because our present knowledge and prophesying are partial and incomplete and that someday, something perfect will replace them.[112]   He then uses an analogy of a child who must give up childlike speech and thoughts when he becomes a man (11).  Therefore, while the speech and thoughts of a child serve a definite function in the life of a child, there must come a day when he will have to put these childish ways behind him.  If the analogy is to hold, then we can see that prophesy does indeed serve a function now as we can at least know in part and prophesy in part… but when the perfect comes, the function of prophesy will become useless.[113]  But still we are left with the question of when the perfect has or will come.  As mentioned, many Cessationists have argued that the perfect refers to the completed canon.  It is easy to see how they came to this conclusion based upon their incorrect presupposition that all prophesy is canonical in nature.  Robert Reymond argues that since prophesy and interpreted tongues are ‘Scripture-quality’ revelation, this passage too must be about ‘Scripture-quality’ revelation.  Therefore, since the perfect relates to the completion of the canon, there is no need for additional ‘Scripture-quality’ revelation.[114]  Yet, as Carson points out, can we really believe that by saying ‘when the perfect comes’ Paul is referring to the cessation of the writing of Scripture?[115]

            The second major interpretation, and the one espoused in this paper, is that the perfect refers to that parousia.   This conclusion is not difficult to arrive at based upon the context, as Paul is attempting to show how love will continue into eternity.  More specifically, Paul indicates that, “for now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.  Now I know in part; then I shall know even as I have been known” (13:12).  When shall we see Jesus face to face?  And when shall we know ‘even as we have been fully known’?  These events will happen only upon the Lord’s return (or our own death).  Grudem points out that the phrase see face to face is used several times in the OT to refer to seeing God personally.[116]  As John says in revelations 22:4, “They shall see His face”.  By saying that we will know ‘even as we have been fully known’ by God, Paul is not saying that we will all become omniscient, but “that in the consummation he expects to be freed from the misconceptions and inabilities to understand (especially to understand God and His work) which are part of this present life.”[117]   Therefore, we can read vs. 10 to say, “But when Christ returns, the imperfect (such as prophesy & tongues) will pass away.”   If our conclusions, especially with regard to Ephesians 2:20 and 1 Corinthians 13:8-12 are correct, then the Cessationist argument falls.[118]

            It must be noted, however, that Gaffin, unlike many of his dispensationalist and reformed colleagues, accepts the notion that the perfect is referring to the parousia.  Yet, he does not agree that the passage is speaking to the time of the gifts’ cessation.  He reads Paul’s assertions in vs. 10 “not as a claim about the cessation of certain modes of revelation when the perfect comes but as a claim about the ‘termination of the believer’s present, fragmentary knowledge, based on likewise temporary modes of revelation, when the perfect comes.’”[119]  Thus, Gaffin sees the text as pointing to the imperfect state of knowledge attained through gifts rather than the imperfect nature of the gifts as a means of attaining knowledge.  And, therefore, he asserts that “the time of cessation of prophesy… is an open question so far as 1 Cor 13:10 is concerned and will have to be decided on the basis of other passages and considerations.”[120]  Yet, Gaffin is clearly seeing too little in the text.  While Paul’s primary point is that love lasts forever, his secondary point is certainly not just that these imperfect gifts will cease at some time, but they will cease when Jesus comes again.  Gaffin’s denial that the coming of the perfect does away with prophesy & tongues, just can not be substantiated by anything other than the fact that he is reading cessationist thought into the text when there is no warrant to do so.  Paul’s primary point here relates to the eternal nature of love, but his secondary point, that prophesy will be here until the parousia is equally clear.

Having established the fact that love is superior than gifts because it is eternal, Paul tells the Corinthians to now “follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophesy. (14:1b)”  In other words, while spiritual gifts should not be used at the expense of love, neither should love be pursued at the expense of spiritual gifts.[121]  In emphasizing prophesy, Paul is not saying that it is more important than gifts of mercy or any other gifts for that matter.  Rather, he is setting prophesy up against the gift of tongues which was, as it was being used, creating a disorderly and unfitting atmosphere in the Corinthian church.[122]  As was alluded to earlier, the Corinthian church as a whole seemed to advocate the use of tongues as a sign of divine blessing and status of speaking the language of angels.[123]  This caused them to significantly overuse the gift.  Paul says, “He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church” (14:4).  For this reason does he offer his preference that they prophesy instead, as a prophet is greater than one who speaks in tongues because, in contrast, prophesy can be understood.  Again, the prophet is greater than the tongue-speaker only as it relates to the edification of the church… not because one is more important than the other.  Thus, he exhorts, “since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build the church” (vs. 12).[124]  Paul goes on to say that he speaks in tongues more than all of them, yet, he would rather “speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue.”   From this, one might ask how the gift of tongues could possibly be a sign for unbelievers (vs. 22).  After all, “anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God” (vs. 2).  In fact, they were encouraged not to speak in tongues during church unless there was an interpreter whereby the tongue and subsequent interpretation would function as a prophetic word.   So, how then could the unbeliever benefit from these unintelligible words?  The answer lies in the text:


Brothers, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults. 21 In the Law it is written: "Through men of strange tongues and through the lips of foreigners I will speak to this people, but even then they will not listen to me," says the Lord. 22 Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is for believers, not for unbelievers.  23 So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and some who do not understand or some unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind? 24 But if an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all, 25 and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, "God is really among you!"  1 Cor 14:20-25


While vs. 22 states that prophesy is a sign for the unbeliever, vss. 23-25 go on to say that they should use prophesy, not tongues when unbelievers are present.  Sigountos resolves this conflict as follows:  Paul begins his exhortation with a rebuke, saying that they should stop thinking like children. In fact, they should stop rambling on with their childish statements that tongues are a sign to unbelievers.  Clearly, the Hellenistic culture of Corinth, particularly the  influence of the Dionysus cult, lead people to lift the (false) tongue-speaker up to a heavenly status.  Thus the ecstatic use of tongues (13:2-3) in the church were thought to attract unbelievers.  Hence, Paul uses an reductio ad absurdam to show that the quotation he recorded in vs. 22 is false.[125]  In other words, Paul is saying, “Rather than being a sign to unbelievers as you propose, it is prophesy which is a sign to unbelievers. After all, if an unbeliever enters your church while everyone is prophesying, will he not be convinced that he is a sinner?  Will not the secrets of his heart be laid bare so that he will fall down declaring the reality of God’s presence in your midst?”  One thing missing in this passage is Paul’s corollary correction that tongues is not for unbelievers but for believers.  That is because Paul is trying to drive home the point that prophesy is more effective for believers (vss 1-19) and unbelievers (vss 20-25)![126]  And so, he goes on to limit the use of tongues to two or, at most, three, saying that they should speak one at a time and only if there is an interpreter (vs. 27-28). 

On the other hand, with regard to prophecy, Paul uses the imperative when he writes, “Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said.  And if a revelation comes to anyone sitting down, the first speaker should stop” (vs. 29-31).  According to Paul, they are able to speak in this orderly manner because “the spirits of prophets are subject to the control of the prophets.”  In other words, when God is giving one of these congregational prophets a revelation which they must report to the community, they 1) never do loose control, 2) they are never forced, by God, to speak against their will, and 3) their prophesy was understandable to the congregation.[127]  Paul concludes chapter 14 encouraging the brethren to be eager to prophesy… and not to forbid speaking in tongues.  For his goal was not to cancel the use of tongues, but limit its’  use while encouraging greater use of prophesy.  Indeed, anyone who is truly spiritual should follow these commands carefully (37-38).[128]




From 1 Corinthians, we learn not only that the gift of prophesy continues to function in the church today, but that it should be seen as one of God’s blessings to the church. Prophesy not only strengthens the church as a whole (14:26), but the congregation will no doubt learn from the prophetic words delivered and will be encouraged by them (14:31).  Indeed, they will be edified, comforted, and consoled (14:3).  Through them, the secrets of people’s hearts might be exposed… leading them to repentance or salvation (14:25).  By means of the prophetic word, Paul and Barnabas, understood that they were being called to a special ministry (Acts 13:1ff).  Judas and Silas,  “who were themselves prophets, exhorted the brethren with many words and strengthened them” (Acts 15:32). Agabus’ prophecy, in Acts 11:29, that a famine would spread over the Roman Empire, led the church to gather supplies to help them through this difficult time.  Even his prophesy in Acts 21, regarding the manner in which Paul would die, helped the believers around him see the resolve of the apostle as he nonetheless went to Jerusalem.[129]  Timothy received prophetic words which encouraged him to fight the good fight (1 Tim. 1:18).  This list, of course, could go on and on and, in fact, continues into the second century through today.  The Didache (dated somewhere between AD 70 and 11)[130] speaks of prophets taking part in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper (11-13)[131].  Yet, while the believers should welcome and support the prophets, they were to be aware of those impostors who would claim to be prophets in order to get money.[132]   Justin Martyr (ca. 100-165) affirmed that the prophetic gifts “remain with us, even until this present time” (Coxe 1:243).[133]   Eusebius quotes Irenaeus as saying, “others have foreknowledge of things to come: they see visions and utter prophetic expressions.” [134]  While Cessationists such as Farnell would like to dismiss all the Patristic evidence as owning to “false prophesy”[135], the evidence of early church history overwhelmingly supports the Continuationist position.[136]




Having looked carefully at many of the Cessationist arguments, it does appear that prophesy, and other revelatory word gifts continue on today.  Yet, many of their concerns relating to the sufficiency of Scripture and the addition of revelation to be taken on par with the Bible are valid for us today as well.  For this reason, the church should not permit prophets  from representing themselves as speaking divinely authoritative words, attaching to their prophesies the prefix, “Thus says the Lord”.    Rather, if we accept that NT congregational prophets as speaking merely human words to report something which God has brought to mind, then there is no fear of Scripture being added to.  Indeed, to add or subtract anything from Holy Scripture attempts to rob it of its authority.  Thus, to say that you have a prophetic word which contradicts Scripture or to dismiss sections of Scripture which seem unpalatable, equally endeavors to usurp the authority of the Bible as God’s complete authoritative, inspired, infallible Word.   No doubt, the misuse of prophesy has caused many people to see all prophesy as being false.  The Thessalonians were beginning to come to this same conclusion after being barraged by false prophesy themselves.  But Paul encouraged them, “Do not put out the Spirit's fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt.”[137]  When exhorting them to hold fast to their apostolic teaching (2 Thes. 2:10), Paul is explaining how our being grounded in Scripture allows us to discern false from true prophesy.[138]  As Jack Hayford has said, “If we are careful to create an environment where the Word of God is foundational and the person of Christ the focus, the Holy Spirit can be trusted to do both—enlighten the intelligence and ignite the emotions.[139] 






                [1] The modern Pentecostal movement is a later development of John Wesley's teachings on entire sanctification as a "second work of grace". However, as the nineteenth century appeared, the emphasis of this 'second work', or baptism with the Spirit, took on additional meaning.  Men such as R.A. Torrey and Andrew Murray taught that the baptism in the Spirit, distinct from regeneration, equips the Christian for service.  A.B. Simpson spoke of the baptism in broader terms including purifying, refining, quickening, and energizing. The baptism of the Holy Spirit, according to Pentecostals today, is the full reception of the Spirit subsequent to regeneration, which empowers the believer for witness and the exercise of spiritual gifts.

[2] The Signs and Wonders Movement (to which the Vineyard Christian Fellowship has now become synonymous) was birthed with Fuller Theological Seminary’s  “Signs, Wonders, and Church Growth” course taught by John Wimber and Peter Wagner in 1981.  At its’ heart is a belief in the continuation of signs and wonders (and all spiritual gifts) in the modern era for the purpose of enriching the church and the expansion of God’s Kingdom throughout the world.

[3] The current debate can not be refined to any two ‘camps’ such as Evangelicals and Pentecostals.  Indeed the argument crosses denominational boundaries so that reformed thinkers such as Wayne Grudem and Richard Gaffin stand on opposite sides as does progressive dispensationalist Robert Saucey stand opposed to classical dispensationalism thought on this issue. These men have not resorted to the name calling described.

[4] Most often found in Reformed and Dispensational circles, Cessationists argue that miraculous gifts have ceased.  Their position, most clearly articulated by Richard Gaffin (see his Perspectives on Pentecost: Studies in New Testament Teaching on the Gift of the Holy Spirit (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1979) represents a careful, well-developed case of the cessation of revelatory gifts.

[5] Found in Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, 28-31; and Ephesians 4:11.

[6] See Jack Deere’s chapter on “The Myth of Pure Biblical Objectivity” in Surprised by the Power of the Spirit (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1983), 45ff.

[7] Deuteronomy 18:20 (NIV)

[8] Deuteronomy 13:5 (NIV)

[9]  Gaffin, Perspectives, 62.

[10] Ibid., 56.

[11] Numbers 12:2-8 (NIV)

[12] Houston, George. Prophesy: A Gift for Today? (IVP 1989), p.29.

[13] Deuteronomy 18:15 (NIV)

[14] The entire book of Deuteronomy presupposes the existence of other prophetic voices in Israel.  For one, the people are admonished not to believe prophets whose words would lure people away from God.  According to volume 5 of the Anchor Bible Dictionary, “the text must have originated in a time when people wanted to hear the word of God but were troubled by the existence of numberous prophets, some of whom were in reality not sent by God.”  Moreover, as Deut 34:10 implies, “Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face”, there were other prophets amongst the Israelites at the time.  See Freedman, David Noel, ed. The Anchor Bible Dictionary (Doubleday: 1992) vol.5 p.482.

[15] Deuteronomy 34:9-12 (NIV)

                [16] Schmitt, Anchor, 483. Also, one would expect from the numerous “sons of the prophet” groups from Samuel onward that we would have significant amounts of inscripturated prophetic words delivered by them… but we do not.  You would also expect to see in Scripture frequent testimonies of these inexperienced prophets being stoned to death… but we do not.  According to Scripture, false prophets fell into three general categories: 1) Those who worshipped false gods and served idols; 2) those who falsely claimed to receive messages from the Lord; and 3) those who wandered from the truth and ceased to be true prophets.” (from Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1986.)

[17] Found afterwards in Bethel (2 K. 2:3), Jericho (2:5), Gilgal (4:8), and elsewhere (6:1).  Elijah and predecessors also led communities of this kind.

[18] Unger, Bible Dictionary (BibleSoft Database, Section on Prophets).

[19] Numbers 11:29.  See Houston, Prophesy, 36-37. 

[20] Gaffin, Perspectives, 97.

[21] Ibid., 40.

[22] This is not to say that the only function of this strand is the attest to the presence of God.  The point is that it does not carry the kind of authoritative weight evidenced by the Mosaic or canonical prophets.

[23] Ibid., 36.  Note Numbers 11:29b, “and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!”

[24] Ibid., 37.  It can be argued that this construction is built upon an argument from silence. However, the idea of there being two strands of OT prophesy carries significant weight based on the evidence. (see also 19:20-21, “But when they saw a group of prophets prophesying, with Samuel standing there as their leader, the Spirit of God came upon Saul's men and they also prophesied.  Saul was told about it, and he sent more men, and they prophesied too. Saul sent men a third time, and they also prophesied.)

[25] This passage seems to correlate with Moses’ words in Nu. 11:29,  “I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets” in that the expectation is not that all would become canonical scripture writers as the Cessationist argument leads up to, but is speaking of God’s desire to manifest his presence within the Hebrew community and, as Joel’s prophesy leads to, the Church.

[26] Again, at the heart of “false prophesy” in the OT was the leading of God’s people away from the Lord God to serve idols while speaking in His very name (see Dt. 13:1-8; Jer. 23:28,31; Micah 3:5). 

[27] F. David Farnell, “The Gift of Prophesy in the Old and New Testaments,” Bibliothca Sacra, (October-December 1992): 389.

[28] Ibid., 389.  Here Farnell is quoting Charles F. Pfieffer, Between the Testaments (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1959), 121-22.

[29] Wayne Grudem, The Gift of Prophesy in the New Testament and Today (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1988), 37.

[30] Ibid., 37.  (Taken from Antiquities 13:299-300 and paralleled in Jewish Wars. 1:68-69)

[31] Ibid., 37.

[32] W. Grudem, The Gift of Prophesy in 1 Corinthians (Washington DC: University press of American, 1982), 24-33.  See also Houston, Prophesy, 40.  Grudem relates this thought both to the intertestamental and sub-apostolic times. Also, according to stories such as that of Rabbi Haina ben Dosa (AD 80-120) where he would pray over the sick and prophesy whether the person would recover or not, Grudem similarly explains that, whether or not these stories are true, the idea was not foreign to rabbinic circles during those days.  Thus showing their openness to this type of prophetic voice while still believing that Israel had not seen a prophet who would speak the authoritative infallible word of the Lord.

[33] BibleSoft, ISBE, Section on Prophets, Part II.  Compare BJ, III, viii,9.  Also, Josephus “claimed that during the 66-70 war he presented himself to the conquering Vespasian as a messenger sent from God to announce that Vespasian would be the new Roman emperor (JW 3.400-402).”  see M. Eugene Boring, Anchor Bible Dictionary, 497.

[34] F. David Farnell, “The Gift of Prophesy in the Old and New Testaments,” Bibliothca Sacra, (October-December 1992): 388.

[35] Charles E. Hummel, Fire in the Fireplace: Charismatic Renewel n the Nineties (Downers Grove, Ill:  IVP, 1993), 102.

[36] Jesus wrote, “But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him… Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist (Mt. 17:12-13).”

[37] Luke 3:16.  Note that Luke seems to be emphasizing the fact that not only was the Spirit behind the work of the Baptist, but that He is the very one who anointed Jesus while being baptized by John and who empowered him for his ministry of preaching, teaching, and healing.  See Hummel, Fireplace, 104.

[38] See Gaffin’s article in Wayne Grudem, ed., Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996) p.30.

[39] Sigountos, lectures on the Holy Spirit (Alliance Theological Seminary), June 1997.

[40] I. Howard Marshall,  “The Hope of a New Age: The Kingdom of God in the New Testament,” Themelios 11 (1985): 8

[41] According to Marshall, the term KG “refers primarily to the sovereign activity of God as ruler or king and only secondarily to the realm over which he rules.”  Marshall, Hope, 5.

[42] Gaffin, Miracles, 32.

[43] Mt 11:12, 12:28, 10:7; Lk 16:16, 11:20, 17:21 all attest to the fact that in Jesus’ mind, “the action of God in bringing in the KG has already begun.”  Marshall, Hope, 7.

[44] Ibid., 12.

[45] The idea of the not yet is seen not only in our example of the winnowing fork but in Paul’s description of the Spirit being the “‘first installment’ of what God purposes to give in full.  In Johannine terminology eternal life is a present experience stretching into the future.”  Ibid., 12.

[46] Ibid., 12.

[47] Ibid., 13.

[48] Gordon Fee states, “whatever else, prophesy existed for the church as an eschatological community that lived between the times (1 Cor 13:8-13).”  see Gordon Fee, God’s Empowering Presence (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1994), 892.

[49] Gaffin in Grudem, Miracles, 30.

[50] See Sam Storm’s article in Grudem, Miracles, 30.

[51] D.A. Carson, Showing the Spirit: A Theological Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12-14 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1987), 94.

[52] Max Turner, “Spiritual Gifts Then and Now.” Vox Evangelica XV (1985): 54.

[53] See 1 Cor 4:21; 2 Cor 10:11; 13:1-10; 1 Tim 1:20).

[54] Certainly Peter did when linking Paul’s writings with those of Scripture (2 Ptr 3:16).

[55] Grudem, Prophesy, 40. Note that in Acts 1:26, the disciples are referred to as apostles as Matthias is chosen to replace Judas.

[56] Note that,revelation (apokalypto) does not always denote a new message with divine authority (see Philippians 3:15).

[57] Grudem, Miracles, 63.  Note, however, that Grudem prefers not to accept the idea of two kinds of prophet in the NT (his view of OT prophesy resembles Gaffin’s which we have shown to be incomplete) since we would not say that there are two types of preaching or teaching (see p.64).  While I feel there are two strands, I agree with Grudem that the notion might confuse some people into thinking that canonical and congregational prophesy is different both in kind and authority which is not true.   For this reason, I have chose to use the word strands of prophesy rather than types as to say two types appears to make both mutually exclusive.

[58] No one would say, of course, that every word spoken by the apostles carried authoritative weight.  For this reason does Paul, at times, distinguish some of his exhortations as coming from himself rather than God.

[59] Fee, Empowering Presence, 892. Also… the parallels with Numbers 11:29 are striking

[60] Gaffin, Perspectives, 96.

[61] Reference to Ephesians 3:5, “now… revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets.”

[62] Gaffin in Grudem, Miracles, 43.

[63] See Storms in Grudem, Miracles, 75.

[64] Gaffin in Grudem, Miracles, 38.

[65] It must be understood that cessationists such as Gaffin do not believe that God does not perform miracles any longer, but rather the gifts behind these miracles have ceased.  For example, while they believe that God is pleased to heal people from time to time,  they do not believe in the gift of healing.

[66] Gaffin says that while non-apostolic miracles are besides the point, the others who “exercise such gifts by virtue of the presence and activity of the apostles; they do so under and ‘apostolic umbrella’.”  Ibid., 39.  This answer, however, is not keeping to Scripture which points to the fact that the “miraculous ministry of the Holy Spirit is designed not solely for the apostles or solely for the foundational work they performed.”  Storms, 76.

[67] Storms in Grudem, Miracles, 75.

[68] See Grudem, Prophesy, 47ff; Fee, Empowered, 688; Hummel, Fire, 105; Turner, Signs, 54; Grudem, Miracles, 81; Gaffin, Perspectives, 96-97; Carson, Showing the Spirit, 96ff.

[69] We will later show that both Paul and Luke understood there to be two strands of apostles, those defined in Acts 1:26 and those defined within the broader meaning of church planter (eg Junias & Andronicus).  Also, it is possible that term, “apostle”, which was uncommon to that day, was used to designate a special group of people without creating the impression that would confuse them with the OT expectation of widespread prophecies among all the people.  See Houston, Prophesy, 105.

[70] Grudem, Prophesy, 47.

[71] Gaffin does concede that Grudem’s claim has Biblical warrant as the apostles do exercise prophetic functions (eg., Rom 11:25f.; I Cor 15:51ff.) and that Scripture does offer similar examples.  See:  R. Fowler White, “Gaffin and Grudem on Ephesians 2:20:  In Defense of Gaffin’s Cessationist Exegisis,” WTJ 54 (1992): 303-320.

[72] For an impressive list of similar constructions, see Grudem, Prophesy, 50.

[73] Fee, Empowered, 688.

[74] Carson, Showing the Spirit, 94.

[75] Ibid., 95.

[76] Max Turner, “Spiritual Gifts Then and Now,”  Vox Evangelica, XV (1985), 16.

[77] Grudem, Prophesy, 77.  (cf. Mt 7:1; 19:28; Jn 7:51; 18:31; Acts 16:15; Rom 2:1; 14:3; 1Cor 4:5; 5:3; Col 2:16; Heb 10:30; Jas 4:11; etcetera)

[78] Ibid., 80.

[79] Ibid., 80.

[80] Ibid., 82.

[81] Ibid., 83.  Grudem is here quoting Carson.

[82] Grudem, Gift of Prophesy in 1 Corinthians, 139-143.

[83] Grudem, Prophesy, 98. See also Hummel, Fire, 106 and Carson, Spirit, 97-98.

[84] Gaffin, Perspectives, 65.

[85] Grudem, Prophesy, 98.  See Grudem’s list of examples demonstrating the need for absolute accuracy in the delivered prophet word with regard to canonical prophesy.

[86] Carson, Spirit, 98.

[87] Grudem, Prophesy, 95.

[88] Ibid., 95.

[89] Vern S. Poythress, “Modern Spiritual Gifts as Analogous to Apostolic Gifts:  Affirming extraordinary works of the Spirit within Cessationist Theology,” JETS 39/1 (March 1996): 78ff.

[90] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, NICNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co.,  1987), p. 702.

[91] Grudem, Prophesy, 86.

[92] For this reason did Paul use the designation to add credibility to his argument.

[93] Carson, Spirit, 99.

[94] Ibid., 88.

[95] Robert L Saucy in Grudem, Miracles, 102.

[96] Jack Deere, Surprised By the Power of the Spirit (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993), 242.

[97] Acts 1:22-26; 1 Cor. 9:1-2; 15:7-9; Rom. 1:1,5; etcetera.

[98] Storms in Grudem, Miracles, 158.

[99] Ibid., 158.

[100] Carson, Spirit, 88. 

[101] To expound on this point goes beyond the scope of this paper, although, the word apostle, in its’ wider sense, was one sent forth to proclaim the gospel (Acts 6:2; 1 Cor 1:17; Gal 2:7-8) to the world.  We learn from the Didachi 11.4 that the ministry of apostles continued in the church into the sub-apostolic age.  In fact, the term apostle is applied to a whole class of nameless missionaries.

[102] Taken from “The Early Church Fathers: Pre-released version with Ante-Nicene Fathers,” Logos Research Systems, Logos Software, 1997.

[103]  Fee, Empowered, 152.;  James Sigountos, Lectures on the Holy Spirit, ATS, July 97.

[104] J.G. Sigountos, “That We May Be One”, Draft Copy (1997).  Also Sigountos, Lectures.

[105] This concept and construction taken from Sigountos, Lectures.

[106] Gaffin and others make the point that while Paul is not ranking the gifts in order of importance but in terms of their usefulness to the ongoing ministry of the church.  see Gaffin, Prophesy, 69.

[107] Sigountos, Lectures.

[108] They understood these greater gifts as means of attaining true spirituality.

[109] Ibid. Also, In J.G. Sigountos, “The Genre of 1 Corinthians 13,” NTS 40 (1994): 246-60., the author demonstrates how Paul structured chapter 13 using the same literary construction as the Greek encomium. If this were true, not a few problems with regard to form would be answered.  Note that such extensive use of rhetoric and comparisons typify encomium writings .

[110] Sigountos, Lectures.

[111] Grudem, Prophesy, 228ff.

[112] Ibid., 229.

[113] Ibid., 229.  Grudem points out that the word katargeo (pass away), has in it the notion of being obsolete or useless.  Also, in chapter 5, “Paul considers prophesy to be imperfect because it gives only partial knowledge of the subject it treats, because the revelation which a prophet receives is indirect and limited.” p.230.

[114] Ibid., 237.

[115] Carson, Spirit, 70.

[116] Grudem, Prophesy, 231. Eg. Gen 32:30; Judges 6:22; Dt 5:4; 34:10; Ez 20:35; Ex 33:11.

[117] Carson, Spirit, 70.

[118] Interestingly, on vs.. 10, Calvin wrote, “it is stupid of people to make the whole of this discussion apply to the intervening time.”  Turner, Spiritual Gifts, 39.

[119] R. Fowler White, “Richard Gaffin and Wayne Grudem on 1 Cor 13:10:  A Comparison of Cessationist and NonCessationist Argumentation.” JETS 35/2 (June 1992): 173-181.

[120] Gaffin, Perspectives, 111.; White, On Gaffin  & Grudem, 181.

[121] Carson, Spirit, 100.

[122] Ref. 14:20 Also, notice, that if Paul ever had an opportunity of telling the Corinthians that they should not be speaking in tongues, this would have been the place.  But Paul does not want them to stop speaking in tongues, but is instructing them as to the proper place of tongues in church service.

[123] This is not to say that everyone spoke in tongues, as Paul already said in chapter 12 that not every believer will speak in tongues.

[124] The idea that a believer can ‘try’ to excel in gifts that build the church and should ‘seek spiritual gifts’ when Paul already wrote that God distributes them according to his own discretion is one that needs more study.  Unfortunately, this is beyond the scope of this paper.

[125] Sigountos, Lectures.

[126] Ibid.

[127] Grudem, Prophesy, 126-7.

[128] Sigountos, That We May Be One, Draft copy, 1987.

[129] Grudem, Prophesy, 157.

[130] Farnell, Current Debate, 284.

[131] Houston, Prophesy,  160.

[132] D. Aune, Prophesy in Early Christianity and the Ancient Mediterranean World (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983), p.225-6.  Houston, Prophesy, 161.

[133] John Wimber, Power Evangelism (San Francisco: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1986), p. 158.

[134] Ronald A.N. Kydd, Charismatic Gifts in the Early Church (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1984), p.44.  See Ecclesiastical History. 7:3-5.

[135] Farnell, Current Debate, 284ff.

[136] Scholars such as Kydd and Aune, in addition to more popular writers such as Wimber, record this evidence extensively for us in their books cited above and therefore, we will not expound further on this.

[137] 1Thes 5:19-20

[138] Houston, Prophesy, 201.

[139] Storms in Grudem, Miracles, 222.