Tag Archives: prophets

Do the Same Kinds of Prophets Exist Today as did in Biblical Times?

While all Christians have the ability to prophesy in the sense of speaking forth the truth, there was a group of church leaders in the apostolic church who functioned uniquely as prophets. These were apparently next to the apostles in the order of authority within the church (1 Corinthians 12:28-29 ; Ephesians 4:11). The function of the prophets was to edify, console, and exhort (Acts 15:32;1 Corinthians 14:3).

There are no prophets today in the same sense as there were under the old covenant and in the apostolic church. Before the canon of Scripture was complete, God used prophets to maintain order and teach correct doctrine. After the canon was completed, however, prophecy began to be more of a problem within the church than a help. Eventually, the office of prophet died out completely except among heretical groups such as the Montanists.

Today, however, a prophetic word can be spoken in the church in the sense that God’s Word can be proclaimed based on Scripture and the leading of the Holy Spirit. But there will be no new revelations that will supplant or contradict God’s written Word.

According to 1 Corinthians 14, there are two tests that must be passed by any supposedly prophetic statement. First, verse 29 states that after two or three speak a prophetic message, the others are to “judge” (NKJV) or “weigh carefully what is said” (NIV). In other words, the prophetic message must not disagree with the knowledge of God’s Word and of truth held by the other members of the assembly. Second, verses 37 and 38 demonstrate that just as the apostle Paul submitted his words to the examination of the Corinthians on the basis of their knowledge of the Word of God, any prophecy that is given must be judged by the standard of the truth already known to the church of Christ. In other words, no completely new truth would be revealed, but rather the prophet would expound and explain truths already accepted and recognized by God’s people.

The New Bible Dictionary summarizes the purpose of New Testament prophecy in this way:

It is in this sense that the apostle urged the church of his day, and would urge us also, to desire earnestly to prophesy: not to desire the notoriety of doctrinal innovators, but to contend earnestly for the truth once for all delivered to the saints.

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How Often Have People Misapplied Prophecy?

There has been a long history of people misunderstanding and misapplying biblical prophecy. The Jews preceded the church in misapplying prophecy. Convinced that a God-anointed King (Messiah) would lead them to military victory over the Romans and establish a dynasty that would bring Israel’s story to fulfillment, they ignored the warnings of both John the Baptist and Jesus that national repentance and purification would have to precede national restoration. Consequently they supported numerous military leaders and false messiahs

1 during the first and early second centuries, leading to the disastrous wars of AD 70 and 135.

In the second century, a Christian sect believed itself gifted with new revelation from the Holy Spirit. Montanism claimed that the end of the world was at hand and that the heavenly Jerusalem would be established in Phrygia (the base of the movement). Believing that the end of the world had almost arrived, this sect practiced extreme asceticism and became a serious threat to the life of the church.

As time continued, Christians repeatedly mistook the conditions of their day as the fulfillment of endtime prophecy and this continues to this day. Every generation of Christians rightfully thinks of itself as significant to God’s plan, and when unusual conditions arrive—especially periods of warfare, calamity, or any major cultural change or social upheaval—they usually see circumstances and individuals of their day fitting remarkably well with the symbols and images of biblical prophecy.

In the late Roman period, Attila’s Huns and the Germanic Goths were viewed by terrified Christians as “Gog and Magog,” and after the great defeat of the Roman Army at Adrianople, Bishop Ambrose of Milan declared: “The end of the world is coming upon us.”

The Crusades were a period of great eschatological expectation. The Encyclopedia Britannica states:

The eschatological strain of the Crusades can be noted in the Crusade sermons of Bernard of Clairvaux in 1147, who kindled enthusiasm to liberate Jerusalem with reference to the pressing terminal dates of the endtime.

During the Crusade period, many believed that Frederick II (who conquered Jerusalem in 1229) would usher in the millennium. Even after his death, people continued to believe he would return from the dead to establish the kingdom of righteousness (Frederick redivivus). Historian Paul S. Boyer writes that during this time period:

Manuscripts . . . complete with illustrations and elaborate charts (a staple of later prophecy writers as well), circulated through Europe and England, stimulating apocalyptic speculation. Further, . . . the material . . . linking the Jews explicitly to Antichrist helped to fuel an upsurge of anti-Semitism in late-medieval Europe (When Time Shall Be No More, p. 53).

During the early Reformation, large groups of Taborites in Bohemia and Anabaptists in Germany and the Low Countries held fanatical views of the imminence of the endtimes that resulted in armed rebellion against the religious and secular authorities, and some of the most horrible episodes of violence in Western history.

The major reformers too perceived themselves as standing on the verge of the apocalypse. They viewed the pope as an “internal antichrist” established in the temple at the holy place and the marauding Turkish Muslims as the “external antichrist.” During the 17th century, England was awash with prophetic speculation.2The English colonies in North America were also preoccupied with the endtime:

Puritans who traveled to America in the 17th century and Quakers, Baptists, and Methodists in the 18th century believed that America was the “wilderness” promised in the Revelation to John. William Penn gave the name Philadelphia to the capital of the woodland areas ceded to him (1681) because he took up the idea of establishing the true church of the end time, represented by the Philadelphia community of the Revelation to John. A great number of the attempts undertaken to found radical Christian communities in North America may be viewed as anticipations of the coming Jerusalem (Britannica, vol. 16, p. 301).

A cluster of radical apocalyptic movements appeared in the United States and England in the early to mid-19th century, leading to the rise of the Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Mormons, along with other cultic groups that are still large and growing today. Also in the mid-19th century, a heretical Christian cult took root in China, resulting in the Taiping Rebellion (1845­–1864). The prophet/leader of this movement, Hong Xiuquan, combined social reforms with authoritarian, visionary leadership to create the largest uprising in human history, creating an army of over a million and directly bringing about the deaths of approximately 20 million people.

A large number of political, religious, and military circumstances in the early to mid-20th century made it appear almost certain to many premillennial observers that all the circumstances were in place for the imminent rise of the Antichrist, the false prophet, the rapture, and the beginning of the 7-year tribulation period. However, from the vantage point of the beginning of the 21st century, it is obvious that many of the boldly projected prophetic scenarios didn’t occur.

Evangelicals who have lived through these changes have learned through several generations of experience how misleading it can be to reach sweeping conclusions through prophetic interpretation of current events and how important it is to avoid dogmatism and undue speculation while remaining open to the possibilities. Today, the astonishing power of international bankers and corporations, the unprecedented rapidity of technological development, and the international tendency towards a world government offer many opportunities to speculate about the relationship of current events to biblical prophecy. Yet, given the mistakes made by Christians in the past, we would be wise to dedicate our time and energy to Christian witness rather than eschatological speculation.

(See the ATQ article, Can We Know If Current Events Are the Fulfillment of Prophecy?)

  1. “In my name (epi toe onomati mou). They will arrogate to themselves false claims of Messiahship in (on the basis of) the name of Christ himself. Josephus (Wars of the Jews VI, 54) gives their false Christs as one of the reasons for the explosion against Rome that led to the city’s destruction. Each new hero was welcomed by the masses including Barcochba. ‘I am the Messiah,’ each would say.” (Robertson’s Word Pictures, Matthew 24:4-5) Back to Article
  2. From 1642 to 1660, as England experienced civil war, regicide, a commonwealth, and military dictatorship, end-time anticipation ran rife. John Milton, the poet of Puritanism, was but one of many who invested these events with high eschatological significance, viewing them as the prelude to the moment when “the Eternall and shortly-expected King shall open the Clouds to judge the severall Kingdomes of the World.” The urgent apocalyptism of these years can scarcely be overstated. One William Sedgwick, drunk on the Millennium, predicted the end in two weeks, a rash venture in date setting that earned him the lifelong nickname “Doomsday Sedgwick.” The coming “day of doom,” reported an observer in 1647, was “the common talk about London.”

    The career of Milton’s teacher Joseph Mede (1586–1638), a prophecy scholar and fellow of Christ College, Cambridge, illustrates the ubiquity of prophetic interest in these years. While he sometimes indulged in the prevailing tendency to interpret current events apocalyptically, Mede’s larger objective was to integrate the Bible’s various prophetic and apocalyptic sections into a single, synchronous end-time narrative. So impressive did English Puritans find his 1627 work, Clavis Apocalyptica (Key to the Revelation), that the House of Commons ordered it translated and reprinted posthumously in 1643. This and Mede’s other prophecy writings, collected in Works of the Pious and Profoundly Learned Joseph Mede (1672), circulated widely in England and America. Influenced by Alsted’s eschatology, Mede embedded a future Millennium firmly in his prophetic scheme, stimulating a revival of this doctrine in the English-speaking world.

    With the defeat of Charles I in 1646 and his beheading in 1649, apocalyptic speculation surged among English radicals, largely drawn from society’s lower ranks, who saw an egalitarian new order on the horizon. Like the Taborites and early Anabaptists, they invoked Bible prophecy to validate their expectations. (Paul S. Boyer, When Time Shall Be No More, pp. 64-65) Back to Article
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Who Selected the Documents That Are Included in the Bible?

The 39 books of the Old Testament and the 27 books of the New Testament are the only writings Christians consider fully inspired. The books that are in our present Old Testament were universally accepted at the time of Christ and endorsed by Him. In fact, there are nearly 300 quotations from the Old Testament books in the New Testament.

A number of books that are considered valuable but not inspired are found in the Roman Catholic and Anglican Bibles. These books are called the Apocrypha (which means “hidden,” “secret,” or “profound”). The Apocrypha was accepted by the council of Carthage, but was not accepted by many important church leaders, including Melito of Sardis, Tertullian, Origen, Athanasius, Cyril of Jerusalem, Epiphanius, Gregory of Nazianzus, Basil the Great, John Chrysostom, and Jerome. 1

Although the New Testament Canon was officially confirmed in its present and final form by the third council of Carthage in 397, the 27 documents it contains were accepted as authoritative from the very beginning.

The New Testament is solidly rooted in history. It revolves around the death, burial, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Not even the rationalist critics of the 19th century could find reason to question Pauline authorship of 1 Corinthians, and it has been acknowledged as the earliest written testimony of Christ’s resurrection. In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul declared:

For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been rasied, your faith is worthless, you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hope in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied (vv. 16-19).

First-century Christians circulated documents—either written or approved by the apostles—which contained an authoritative explanation of the accounts concerning Jesus’ life and teaching. These documents often quoted from each other and presented the same gospel message from different perspectives and in different styles. Hundreds of other documents were written and circulated, but the church quickly rejected spurious documents and established the authority of those that were genuine.

  1. “Augustine alone of ancient authors, and the councils of Africa which he dominated, present a different picture. Augustine specifically accepted the apocryphal books and gives the total number as forty-four. He is the only ancient author who gives a number different from the twenty-two or twenty-four book reckoning. The list includes Tobit, Judith, 1 and 2 Maccabees, 1 Esdras (the book composed of part of 2 Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah), Wisdom of Solomon, and Ecclesiasticus. The Local councils of Carthage and Hippo, dominated by Augustine, included the same books. This listing prob. agreed with the ideas of Pope Damasus who dominated the local council of Rome at 382. It will be remembered that it was Damasus who urged Jerome to translate also the apocryphal books for his Vulgate. Jerome did so with the explicit declaration that they were not canonical.
    “Green (op. cit. 168-174) discusses the witness of Augustine and points out that Augustine seems to vacillate. Green quotes Augustine; ‘What is written in the book of Judith the Jews are truly said not to have received into the canon of Scripture’ (Augustine, City of God xviii, 260). ‘After Malachi, Haggai, Zechariah, and Ezra, they had no prophets until the advent of the Savior’ (id. xvii, last ch.). He was well aware that Maccabees were after the cessation of prophecy. Green concludes that Augustine was using ‘canonical’ in the sense of books which may be read in the churches without putting them all on an equal plane.” Excerpted from an article by R.L. Harris (“Canon of the Old Testament”) in the Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible. Back To Article
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