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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: The Various Gifts of the Holy Spirit

Don Stewart :: What Is the Gift of Prophecy?

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What Is the Gift of Prophecy?

The Various Gifts of the Holy Spirit – Question 9

One of the gifts that God has given to the church is the gift of prophecy. Paul wrote about this gift in his letter to the Romans. He said.

We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith (Romans 12:6 NRSV).

According to Paul, there is a certain spiritual gift known as the gift of prophecy.

The Gift of Prophecy Defined

The gift of prophecy is a special ability to speak forth the message of God. A prophet is basically a spokesman for God. He or she delivers the Word of God to people by means of direct revelation. Prophetic utterances can deal with certain individuals, the church, or a larger context. It does not always refer to the future. The word is used far more to proclaim the Word of God rather than to predict the future. There are a number of observations that we can make about this gift.

Prophecy Is Mentioned More Often than the Other Gifts

This gift is mentioned more than any of the other spiritual gifts. We find it referred to in Romans 12:6, 1 Corinthians 12:28, 29; 13:1-3, 8; 14:6, and in Ephesians 4:11.

While the New Testament does not necessarily list the spiritual gifts in order of importance, we usually find the gift of prophecy near the top each time it is listed. For example, we read the following in the Book of First Corinthians..

And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues (1 Corinthians 12:28 NKJV).

In this instance we find prophets listed right behind the apostles.

In Ephesians, we again read of the prophets immediately after the apostles.

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers (Ephesians 4:11 ESV).

Obviously the prophet was an important person in the early church.

The Gift of Prophecy Was Highly Regarded

This importance is confirmed by Apostle Paul who put a special emphasis on this gift. He said to the Corinthians.

Pursue love and strive for the spiritual gifts, and especially that you may prophesy (1 Corinthians 14:1 NRSV).

Notice that Paul said that it was important to strive to prophesy. He also said that we are to be eager to prophesy. He wrote.

So, dear brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and don’t forbid speaking in tongues (1 Corinthians 14:39 NLT).

This further indicates the importance of the gift.

The Apostle Paul also spoke of the apostles and prophets as God’s gift to the church. He put it this way in his letter to the Ephesians.

Having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone,... And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers (Ephesians 2:20; 4:11 NASB).

Therefore, the evidence leads us to believe that the gift of prophecy was a very important gift in the early church.

A Prophet Is Distinct from a Teacher

In a general sense, a preacher who proclaims the Word of God acts in a prophetic role. He is speaking for God. But New Testament prophecy is not the same thing as preaching. Prophecy may involve foretelling something that will happen in the future. This, of course, must come by divine revelation since nobody, apart from God, knows what will take place in the future.

Prophets Were Active from the Beginning

When the New Testament church was born on the Day of Pentecost the Apostle Peter let it be known that prophecy was going to be a reality for believers in this age. He quoted the prophet Joel as follows.

No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams (Acts 2:16, 17 NRSV).

From the beginning of the New Testament church, God gave His prophets to proclaim His truth.

There Are a Number of Prophets Mentioned

The New Testament mentions a number of people who possessed the gift of prophecy. They include Agabus who predicted a coming famine. He also warned Paul of his sufferings. Barnabas, Simeon, Lucius, Manaen and Paul were mentioned among prophets and teachers at Antioch.

The church at Antioch had several prophets and teachers. They were Barnabas, Simeon, also called Niger, Lucius from Cyrene, Manaen, who was Herod’s close friend, and Saul (Acts 13:1 CEV).

There seem to be many who possessed this gift in the apostolic age. While not specifically stated, it is likely that all the apostles had the gift of prophecy.

Both Men and Women Exercised the Gift of Prophecy

The Bible speaks of both men and women exercising the gift of prophecy. Scripture speaks of the four daughters of Philip that had the gift. We read of this in the Book of Acts.

Now this man had four virgin daughters who prophesied (Acts 21:9 NKJV).

The gift was given to both men and women.

The Prophets Were Not Necessarily in Leadership

Those who were given this gift were not necessarily in leadership in the church. In the Book of Acts, Judas and Silas were called prophets. Scripture says.

Then Judas and Silas, both being prophets, spoke extensively to the Christians, encouraging and strengthening their faith (Acts 15:32 NLT).

However, these two men are not described as church leaders. The Bible further says that the people in the local assemblies were to judge the prophecies. Paul wrote to the Corinthians.

Let two or three prophesy, and let the others evaluate what is said (1 Corinthians 14:29 NLT)

This seems to shows that a person could exercise the gift without being the leader in one of the churches.

There Is a New Testament Example of a Prophet Predicting the Future

We have an example in the New Testament of a prophet predicting the future. This is found in the Book of Acts with a man named Agabus. The Bible says.

One of them named Agabus stood up and began to indicate by the Spirit that there would certainly be a great famine all over the world. And this took place in the reign of Claudius (Acts 11:28 NASB).

This is an example of predictive prophecy.

Prophets Instructed and Encouraged the People

However, the basic ministry of the prophet was to instruct and encourage the people in the local congregation. Paul wrote.

For you can all prophesy one by one, so that everyone may learn and everyone may be encouraged (1 Corinthians 14:31 HCSB).

God gave the prophets and their prophetic words to instruct and encourage the people.

The New Testament Prophet Was Similar to the Old Testament Prophet

There are similarities between prophets of the Old Testament and the New Testament prophets. Both spoke the Word of God to the people, they both warned of judgment, both spoke on current issues and both could predict future events.

However, the Old Testament prophet was different in a number of senses. To begin with, the Old Testament prophet usually delivered their message to the nation Israel while the New Testament prophet gave a universal message. The Old Testament prophet often had the characteristics of a leader in the nation of Israel. The New Testament prophets had no such position in any nation.

While the Old Testament prophet usually gave a message that dealt with an entire nation, the New Testament prophet delivered personal messages to individuals.

These facts sum up what the New Testament has to say about the gift of prophecy which God gave to His church.

Summary – Question 9
What Is the Gift of Prophecy?

The New Testament prophet had a unique gift to speak God’s message to the people. This was done by means of direct revelation. From the Scripture, we learn a number of things about this gift.

First, prophecy is most often mentioned among the spiritual gifts. Furthermore, it is also at the top of the list of spiritual gifts. It was highly regarded by the believers.

However, it must be distinguished from the gift of teaching. Prophecy was the result of direct revelation while the teacher explained divine revelation.

This gift was active from the Day of Pentecost, the birthday of the church. Indeed, Simon Peter spoke the prophetic word on that very day. There are a number of New Testament prophets who are mentioned by name. We also find that both men and women had the gift of prophecy.

We find that the prophets were not always the leaders in the church. Indeed, there were believers in the congregation of Corinth who had this gift while not being in leadership.

If necessary, the New Testament prophet could foretell the future. However, the main reason for the gift was the instruction and encouragement of the church.

Finally, we discover that the New Testament prophets were in some senses similar and in other senses different, from the Old Testament prophets.

Are There Still Apostles Today? ← Prior Section
Were the New Testament Prophetic Messages Given without Error? Next Section →
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