The Gift of Prophecy
Is the Prophetic Gift for Our Time?
Why should we be concerned with the prophetic gift? We could philosophize, but it is better to ask our questions and let the Bible writers answer them. After all, it is the Biblical concept of prophecy that we want to understand in order to evaluate Ellen G. White’s experience. If we accept the eyewitness reports that something beyond human actions was involved in her out of body experiences and messages, then we need to find the Bible standard and compare her experiences to that. Let’s look at some passages that answer our question: Why should we be concerned with the prophetic gift?
The apostle Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthian believers, mentions the gift of prophecy.
Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular. And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.
1 Corinthians 12:27, 28
He states that the gift of prophecy is one of several gifts placed in the church by God. The modern term for ‘apostles’ is ‘ministers’. Ministers and teachers are needed in the church today, and so also are prophets needed. These gifts are intended to reside in the church until the end of time. In his letter to the Ephesian church, Paul says this:
And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we [henceforth] be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, [and] cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, [even] Christ:
These gifts are given to unify us, and to help us grow up and become mature Christians who can recognize and resist error. It is interesting that apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers are all sources of information. Their job is to teach people, and guide their development. They are not to be controllers. This shows that God governs by instructing us, and honoring our decisions. Jesus plainly taught that the only obedience He wanted was prompted by love and appreciation, not coercive force. In the ‘sermon on the mount’, Jesus gave an interesting warning:
Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
There is no point in warning about false prophets unless there are true prophets also. This sermon was given to the general populace, and was recorded as information that was useful for future times as well. It is reasonable, then, to assume that this warning was intended for all time, including ours. Centuries before this, a Jewish king named Jehoshaphat counseled his people this way:
And they rose early in the morning, and went forth into the wilderness of Tekoa: and as they went forth, Jehoshaphat stood and said, Hear me, O Judah, and ye inhabitants of Jerusalem; Believe in the LORD your God, so shall ye be established; believe his prophets, so shall ye prosper.
2 Chronicles 20:20
The concept of believing in God is parallel with the idea of believing His prophets. Can we consistently claim to honor someone while we persistently reject and abuse their official messengers? Many people today do not want prophets to exist because they are unwilling to accept God’s existence. God is a nice myth that serves useful social functions for some people, but many are disturbed if someone testifies that they are witnesses to God’s existence. If a prophet has had a definite experience with God as a supernatural person, this upsets many people because it challenges their entire belief structure. We can see, though, that the Bible does not limit the existence of prophets to ancient times.
The Tests for Identifying the Gift of Prophecy
However, if true prophets of God exist, we need to know how to separate them from prophets for other gods. Since Moses talked with God on a face to face basis, his writings are a good place to start.
And the LORD came down in the pillar of the cloud, and stood [in] the door of the tabernacle, and called Aaron and Miriam: and they both came forth. And he said, Hear now my words: If there be a prophet among you, [I] the LORD will make myself known unto him in a vision, [and] will speak unto him in a dream. My servant Moses [is] not so, who [is] faithful in all mine house. With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the LORD shall he behold: wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?
Moses quotes God as telling his siblings that He will communicate to prophets by visions and dreams. We may expect, then, that visions, or out of body experiences, and dreams, at night while asleep, are the normal means that God will use to communicate to prophets. God does have rivals, so we need some tests to separate the prophets of His rivals from His own. Moses wrote about one such test:
If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a wonder, And the sign or the wonder come to pass, whereof he spake unto thee, saying, Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them; Thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams: for the LORD your God proveth you, to know whether ye love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. Ye shall walk after the LORD your God, and fear him, and keep his commandments, and obey his voice, and ye shall serve him, and cleave unto him. And that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams, shall be put to death; because he hath spoken to turn [you] away from the LORD your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed you out of the house of bondage, to thrust thee out of the way which the LORD thy God commanded thee to walk in. So shalt thou put the evil away from the midst of thee.
People today wonder at the severity of the punishment for prophets of other gods. Why is God so seemingly intolerant? These other gods are rebels against God and His government. For one who claims loyalty to God to actually represent his rivals who are at war with Him is a matter of treason, which has always been justifiably punishable by death. The test, then, is to identify which god the prophet teaches people to follow. Is it the god whom Moses knew? Or is it one of His many rivals, some of whom call themselves by the same names that He uses? In order to use this test we must learn to know what Moses knew and taught about his God. But that lies outside the scope of this article.
The passage quoted above recognizes that unusual phenomena are used to gain credibility on both sides of the war. Many people think that a miracle proves that God is at work. The truth is that a true miracle only proves that a god is at work, but does not prove which god. (There are also counterfeit miracles which are mere sleight of hand. We ignore these for this article.)
Moses provides another test that is used to determine a prophet’s validity. It has to be explained a little bit because of the way God often works, but once understood it becomes a useful test to determine whether a prophet is from God or one of His rivals.
But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die. And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the LORD hath not spoken? When a prophet speaketh in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that [is] the thing which the LORD hath not spoken, [but] the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him.
First, notice that a true prophet is not allowed to speak anything except what is given him or her. If they speak on their own authority, or the authority of God’s rivals, they are traitors to God’s cause. This means that a true prophet may have to say ‘I don’t know’ when he does not know. No guess work is allowed.
The second point is that God’s prophets experience 100% fulfillment of what they predict. There are two qualifiers to this. We have already looked at one, that the prophet must teach us to follow the god whom Moses knew. The other qualifier involves the fact that many of God’s statements are conditional. They are of the nature: if A, then C, but if B, then D. A and B are paths of action that we may choose between. Many will only accept C as an outcome, but D is also acceptable. Sometimes the alternative is implied rather than explicit, though we will have no trouble recognizing this if we are acquainted with God and His government. Jonah had problems with this.
Jonah did not want to go to the city of Nineveh. He knew that if he preached that Nineveh would be destroyed, and if the people repented and changed their habits, then God would change His mind about destroying Nineveh. So Jonah conducted one of the most successful evangelistic campaigns of history, and was unhappy over his success. He preached the destruction of the city, and he semed to think that if the city was not destroyed then this invalidated him as a true prophet. Jonah did not want to admit the if-then nature of his message, but the people of Nineveh recognized the possibility that real change would avert the threatened attack. They took the implied option, and obtained mercy.
We must recognize the conditionality of many of the promises that God makes. When we do this, we will find 100% fulfillment of all His promises. Many interpreters miss this point, however. But God makes it plain in several passages, such as Deuteronomy 28: 1, 2, 15. These verses introduce two possibilities: if obedience, then blessings; if disobedience, then curses. Many people want the blessings without meeting the conditions, but this is presumption rather than faith.
Another test for determining a valid prophet from God is given by the prophet Isaiah. This test is of a more general nature, and applies to any work that claims to be from God.
To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, [it is] because [there is] no light in them.
The term ‘law’ refers to the writings of Moses because they include the laws that God gave His people to live by. The term ‘testimony’ refers to the testimony of those messengers who have come after Moses and have already been proven to be consistent with him. This applies especially to those who have written material that is now regarded as scripture. It is this consistency that determines whether something is indeed from God. There are ancient writings, known as the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, that have failed this test. While some will tout them as ‘lost books of the Bible’, they are not lost books. They do not qualify as Scripture because they fail Isaiah’s test. Incidently, this is a test that Jesus and Paul both accepted and stood up to, and they often quoted older scripture in order to point this out.
Jesus gives the fourth major test for identifying a true prophet in His ‘sermon on the mount’.
Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither [can] a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
Jesus advises us to check out the fruit that the prophet bears. He then explains that the fruit we are to look for is obedience to His laws. Many will claim to have been His prophets and to have done miracles in His name. If their lives and teachings have contradicted the laws given by Moses and the prophets, then these are false prophets. They may be sincere, but they have been deceived by the rebellious gods who are in competition with God and are at war with Him.
These four tests are the major tests. Other tests that some have proposed may be considered as included in these four as sub-categories if they are valid tests. The gift is intended to be in the church throughout all time, and there are many counterfeits and imposters because of the rebellion that is currently in progress. Thus, tests are needed. In summary, the four tests are:
1. The prophet will bear a message, given by God, that will lead to the God whom Moses knew.
2. Any conditions understood, there will be 100% fulfillment of one alternative.
3. That message will be consistent with the writings of Moses and subsequent prophets.
4. The prophets life will be consistent with the laws God has given by Moses and the prophets.
If a prophet meets these tests, then we may trust that prophet’s messages. If they fail these tests, then they are from God’s rivals. Some people become confused because some of these rivals will use the same names that God uses, and teach and do some of the things God says. These rivals are imposters, and we may recognize them as such if we are willing to do so.
It takes time to prayerfully learn the laws of God’s kingdom, and the counsels He has sent our way. But if we will learn to do His will, we will be enabled to recognize the validity of any messenger. Jesus promised this to us:
Jesus answered them, and said, My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me. If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or [whether] I speak of myself.
John 7:16, 17
If we are willing to obey God, then we will be enabled to recognize true prophets from imposters. If we are in rebellion against God, then we will be deceived by His rivals. That choice is ours.
A Prophets Work
Many people have problems dealing with the idea of a modern prophet because they have vague and erroneous ideas about what the work of a prophet really is. Again, we must look to the Bible for accurate information. As we do, we find that we can classify prophets into some general classifications.
Some prophets wrote the Bible. Moses is the first, and his work in Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy is foundational. Other prophets who wrote scripture include Daniel, King David, Isaiah, et al, in the Old Testament. In the New Testament are men like Paul and John.
However, not everything written became scripture. Consider these writings mentioned in the Bible, but not included in it:
Salute the brethren which are in Laodicea, and Nymphas, and the church which is in his house. And when this epistle is read among you, cause that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and that ye likewise read the [epistle] from Laodicea.
Colossians 4:15, 16
Now the acts of David the king, first and last, behold, they [are] written in the book of Samuel the seer, and in the book of Nathan the prophet, and in the book of Gad the seer . . .
1 Chronicles 29:29
Now the rest of the acts of Solomon, first and last, [are] they not written in the book of Nathan the prophet, and in the prophecy of Ahijah the Shilonite, and in the visions of Iddo the seer against Jeroboam the son of Nebat?
2 Chronicles 9:29
Paul’s letter to Laodicea has not been preserved, even though many of Paul’s other letters are preserved and included in the Bible. While Samuel’s work is in the Bible, Nathan’s, Gad’s, Iddo’s and Ahijah’s works are not included. These were all works written by prophets, yet not included in the sacred canon. Paul suggests a reason in statements that he makes about those books that are included:
For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.
1 Corinthians 10:11
The writings that have been preserved for us provide material that comforts us and teaches us what we need to know for our time and experience. This other material, then, must deal more with local events of their time and place, or may merely duplicate and reinforce the material saved. These materials were important in their time and place, just as useful to believers then as the saved writings. But the saved writings are the ones we need today. The others might confuse us since we do know those local conditions as well. Those writings were just as inspired, but not preserved as necessary for long term use.
We see, then, that inspired writings can be written and used, and yet not considered an addition to scripture because they deal with local time or events. They are just as inspired, but serve different purposes. The Bible provides the primary knowledge, and the frame work for recognizing other inspired writings, and any other writings would add details and applications of principles to our specific situations in order to help us understand the Bible teachings better.
Some prophets wrote scripture, and provided the frame work for recognizing other prophets. Other prophets worked within this framework and served in a more localized way. Now let’s look at a third group of prophets. These people served in the prophetic office, yet wrote nothing that we are aware of. They also served in more local capacities than the Bible writers, yet were just as inspired by the same God.
So Hilkiah the priest, and Ahikam, and Achbor, and Shaphan, and Asahiah, went unto Huldah the prophetess, the wife of Shallum the son of Tikvah, the son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe; (now she dwelt in Jerusalem in the college;) and they communed with her.
2 Kings 22:14
And in these days came prophets from Jerusalem unto Antioch. And there stood up one of them named Agabus, and signified by the Spirit that there should be great dearth throughout all the world: which came to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar.
Acts 11:27, 28
And the next [day] we that were of Paul's company departed, and came unto Caesarea: and we entered into the house of Philip the evangelist, which was [one] of the seven; and abode with him. And the same man had four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy. And as we tarried [there] many days, there came down from Judaea a certain prophet, named Agabus.
The leading priests and the king sought counsel from a woman, Huldah, who was a prophetess. She passed on to them what God revealed to her. Her work was important in its time and place, yet she left us no known writings. Philip had four daughters who prophesied, yet they did not write any material known to us today. Agabus was recognized as a prophet by Paul, yet Agabus did not write scripture or any other writings of which we have a record.
Clearly then, the work of a prophet is to pass on information that God has given. That information may be passed on verbally or in writing. Certain of those writings have been accepted as the most prominent, and provide the context for the rest. While any prophet’s work will be just as inspired by God as any others, that work does not have to be considered an addition to the Bible. The work of any modern prophets would be to apply the Bible principles to modern circumstances, and to add details that would have been useless to past generations but will help us.
God sends us prophets because He cares about us, and wants to communicate to us the information that will help us successfully live our lives. What areas of life does God talk to us about through His prophets?
Thou shalt have a place also without the camp, whither thou shalt
go forth abroad: And thou shalt have a paddle upon thy weapon; and it shall be, when thou wilt ease thyself abroad, thou shalt dig therewith, and shalt turn back and cover that which cometh from thee: For the LORD thy God walketh in the midst of thy camp, to deliver thee, and to give up thine enemies before thee; therefore shall thy camp be holy: that he see no unclean thing in thee, and turn away from thee.
This passage occurs while the children of Israel are in the wilderness after leaving Egypt on their way to the promised land of Canaan. It has to do with camp sanitation. A certain area was to be designated for eliminating urine and feces. A hole was to be dug, and then filled in when the individuals finished relieving themselves. This provided for a clean camp that would be relatively free of disease, and it also fertilized the soil. We can see here that proper sanitation and sewer management are of concern to God.
And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which [is] upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which [is] the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat. And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein [there is] life, [I have given] every green herb for meat: and it was so.
Genesis 1:29, 30
This passage from the first chapter of the Bible shows the original diet intended for man. The ‘meat’, or food, for man was to be fruit such as apples, pears, mangoes, etc. It also included small fruits like raspberries and other berries. The cereal grains would also be included in this description, and various nuts as well. After man joined the rebellion and was separated from God and His government, vegetables were added. Later, the flesh of animals was allowed, but with certain restrictions: only certain kinds of animals were allowed; if they died of disease or old age they were not allowed; the eating of the fat and blood of the animal was forbidden. In modern research, excellent reasons for these prohibitions have been discovered. They all have the effect of limiting disease and giving us a longer, healthier life.
The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman's garment: for all that do so [are] abomination unto the LORD thy God.
.... neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woollen come upon thee.
There are to be clear distinctions between the sexes in their dress, and linen and wool should not be mixed together into fabric for cloth. Linen and wool rubbed together produce static electricity. There are a few modern researchers who have begun studying the effects of static electricity on our nervous systems, but this combination seems to be unsuitable for our best health.
Thou shalt not have in thy bag divers weights, a great and a small. Thou shalt not have in thine house divers measures, a great and a small. [But] thou shalt have a perfect and just weight, a perfect and just measure shalt thou have: that thy days may be lengthened in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.
This has to do with the way we do business. We are to use the same measuring system for both buying and selling. We are not to use one system to buy, and another to sell. This does not have to do with a reasonable profit, but with fair dealing in our measuring.
He becometh poor that dealeth [with] a slack hand: but the hand of the diligent maketh rich. He that gathereth in summer [is] a wise son: [but] he that sleepeth in harvest [is] a son that causeth shame.
Proverbs 10:4, 5
There is a time that is appropriate for each type of work, such as harvesting. If the work is done with due diligence, i.e., with proper care and attendance to necessary details, and at the appropriate time, then wealth is increased. God leaves it to us to learn how to do this, but He cares enough to tell us about it and give us the chance to develop these capabilities.
The disciple John summarizes God’s interests in us and our welfare this way in one of his letters:
Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.
3 John 1:2
Our financial prosperity and our health are just as important to God as our spiritual welfare, and thus His prophets may give us information in all these areas. As the ancient king Jehoshaphat said: "Believe in the LORD your God, so shall ye be established; believe his prophets, so shall ye prosper."