September 23, 2011

The Function of Prophecy in the New Testament

Filed under: biblical studies — Petros @ 5:25 pm
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At City of God, the question of whether preaching is prophecy is brought up.  Undoubtedly, this is the case, but there are many purposes of prophecy in the New Testament.  I wrote the following outline while part of Vineyard Church.  Scripture citations are from the Revised Standard Version.

Purposes of the Prophetic According to the New Testament

©2002 Peter W. Dunn


            Why do we need a strong prophetic ministry in the church?  It is very clear that the church cannot function as it was intended to unless God is in control, and He can only be in control if his people are listening to what He is saying.  The Spirit guides, builds up and purifies the church.  Pastors, if you want to know why your church is not healthy, listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.

I was recently told that prophecy may only edify and encourage–that NT protocols only allow for positive prophecy.  This is clearly not biblical.  There are many other purposes of the prophetic which go well beyond to edify and encourage.  This is strongly supported in the Post-Resurrection church, of which we are a part.

  1. To guide the church in mission
    1. Acts 9:  Peter’s vision, angelic visitation to Corneilius.  Propelled the church to open up to the gentiles and thus began the evangelization of non-Jews.
    2. Acts 8.26:  An angel speaks to Philip to go to south road towards Gaza.  There he meets the Ethiopian Eunuch.
    3. Acts 13:  Set apart Barnabas and Saul:  This propelled the gentile mission from its Antioch base.
    4. Acts 16.6-9: 6 And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. 7 And when they had come opposite Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them; 8 so, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. 9 And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing beseeching him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”
      1. This was a wise choice for the Holy Spirit, because the Macedonian churches became Paul’s most generous supporters, and they often financed his missions to other parts of the world.  Prob. Lydia became his most generous supporter.
      2. There may be other good reasons, but we can never know.  If we step out in the flesh, we may make what looks like a good choice but with disastrous consequences.
  2. To expose demonic activity
    1. Jesus did this regularly
      1. Matt 16.23 (Jesus discerned that Satan was behind Peter’s rebuke).
      2. Luke 13.16 (Jesus knew the woman was bound by Satan for 18 years)
      3. Luke 22.31 (Jesus knew that Satan wanted to sift Peter like wheat)
    2. Jesus Disciples and followers also have this gift
      1. Luke 22.3 (How did the evangelist know that Satan had entered Judas; clearly someone had prophetic discernment);
      2. Acts 5.3  (Peter knew that Ananias had been inspired by Satan to withhold secretly part of the money).
      3. 2 Cor 12.7 (Paul knew that his thorn in the flesh came from Satan)
      4. 1 Thes 2.18 (Paul knew he had been hindered by Satan from coming to the Thessalonians)
      5. Revelation, a prophetic book, unveils the activity of the demonic in the persecution of the church (see esp. chs. 12-19).
  3. To encourage and edify
    1. “exhort” in English means, “To urge by strong, often stirring argument, admonition, advice, or appeal” (The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 3rd Ed 1992 by Houghton Mifflin.):  Hence the word (parakalo) parakalw in Greek may be translated as encourage or exhort, depending on context.  Hence, encouragement and edification can come in the form of strong admonitions or warnings.
    2. 1 Cor 14.31:  “For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged; …”
    3. Eph 5.19 “…addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, …”
  4. To reveal sin and the thoughts of people (Nathan reveals David’s sin in 2 Sam 12)
    1. Jesus
      1. Samaritan Woman at the well in John 4
      2. Luke 5.22; 9.47 (“Jesus perceived the thoughts of their hearts.”)
    2. 1 Cor 14.24-25:  “But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, 25 the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.
  5. To help maintain the doctrinal purity of the church
    1. To help the church make correct decisions regarding doctrine and practice.
      1. Acts 15.28:  “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us”:  Decision by the church elder not to require circumcision of Gentile believers.
    2. To warn against false doctrine and false teachers.”
      1. 1 Tim 4.1:  “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by giving heed to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, …”
      2. Jesus speaking prophetically says:  Matt 24.4-5:  “Take heed that no one leads you astray.  For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray.”
  6. To reveal the future to God’s people:  To help God’s people be prepared for difficult times.
    1. Agabus in Acts 11.27f.; 21.10f.
    2. The Book of Revelation reveals future persecutions
    3. Matt 10.16f.  Jesus predicts persecution against the disipcles.

VII. To pronounce judgment

  1. Jesus pronounces a future judgment against the Jews in Matt. 21-28-22.14; and 23.37-24.51.
  2. Acts 13.10-11:  Paul pronounces judgment on Elymas (also an example of purpose II).
  3. Acts 7.51: 51 “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. 52 Which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, 53 you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.” Stephen’s discourse is prophetic; look tells us he is a man filled with the Holy Spirit and he is giving an apology, a defense for the faith:  see purpose VIII.
  4. On Christians:  Acts 5.9-10:  Peter pronounces a judgment of death upon Sapphira.
  5. Acts 8.20f.  Peter pronounces judgment on Simon Magus
  6. Gal 1.9:  Paul calls down a curse on the false teachers.

VIII. To help a martyr defend the faith, esp. at a time of persecution

  1. Matt 10.19-20: “When they deliver you up, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”
  2. Acts 4.8:  Peter gives a defense before the elders, scribes and high priest.  Luke explicitly tells us that his speech is prophetic.

IX. To act as a sign and wonder to propel evangelism (1 Cor 14.24-25)

X. To ordain leaders (1 Tim 1.18; 4.14)



  1. Dr. Dunn this article is good and expresses the Jewish ideal of God’s word being very important in the Church. The prophetic word of God was what all Jews prayed for and sought after. Their prioritizing of this one concept will drive home my next point.

    In John 1:1 the orthodox translation says that the Word is Christ and that the Word is God. Or that the Christ/Word is divine.

    There is quite a goodly amount of evidence that John meant the spoken word of God instead. Instead of the Word being “he” the word is rather “it.”

    “In the beginning” refers to Genesis when God spoke the world into existence.

    Also John himself was saying in these early verses that he was sent of God to testify to the light of the world which is Christ. That is, the word of God was in John’s mouth also.

    Your outline has these points:

    # Matt 10.19-20: “When they deliver you up, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”
    # Acts 4.8: Peter gives a defense before the elders, scribes and high priest. Luke explicitly tell use that his speech is prophetic.

    This is the word of God passed through the first ones. But God speaking the word, his own word begot the Son, foreknown from the beggining, yet begotten
    at a certain point in time. See http://www.angelfire.com/space/thegospeltruth/trinity/verses/Jn1_1.html

    Comment by Sola Yeshua — October 13, 2011 @ 11:59 pm | Reply

    • I should allow for the Word of God to change to something else identified with Christ in ref. to v. 14. The “Word became flesh” is now
      Jesus equals word. In what sense? In another man’s words, better than my own:

      Jesus was the Word of God. He was God’s expression of himself to Israel. As God’s Word he was God’s voice to Israel. He was “sent” by God; the word “sent” is the verb form of the word “apostle” which means “one sent.” And then at John 20:21-22, he says, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, now I also send you…. Receive the Holy Spirit.” As the Father sent him, now he sends his disciples. As he was the Word of God, now they are a Word of Christ, speaking that Word, that Good News which is Christ.

      Comment by Sola Yeshua — October 19, 2011 @ 2:42 pm

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