Prophecy and Prophets
When we analyze the gift of prophecy as it pertains to making predictions about future events, it is not difficult to determine its application. But, this is not the case with determining the function and responsibility of prophets in the early church, because it is not always clear from the Greek language if the text is speaking of a prophet who has the ability to predict future events or a person fulfilling a completely different function. Additionally, the gift of prophecy is not always given to a person fulfilling the office of a prophet within the church as noted in Acts 19:1-7; 21:8-9.
Without doing an in-depth analysis of several texts in which prophecy and prophets are discussed, it is difficult to determine if the usage of the word prophet is referring to a person exercising the gift of prophecy, the office of a prophet as a spiritual leader, or the gift of being an inspired teacher.
In ancient Israel there were both men and women who functioned as prophets; however, it is important to understand that there were distinct differences between a prophet and a prophetess in authority, responsibility, and how each was to perform their individual function as a prophet, just as there is during this gospel age of salvation.
When the subject of prophets and prophetesses is reviewed, it is important to understand that they are always directly chosen by God for a specific task, such as delivering a message of repentance to God's people, foretelling or delivering punishment for disobedience to God, blessing or cursing people or nations on behalf of God, foretelling future events, and in some cases, teaching spiritual lessons.
Male prophets were the Creator's personal representatives to Israel, other nations, and people. These men not only predicted future events and issued warnings, but the Creator also gave some of them tremendous supernatural power to work all kinds of miracles, signs, and wonders. Some of these prophets controlled weather, created food, caused childbirth, healed people, resurrected the dead, took men's life by fire, cursed individuals with death, and altered physical elements.
Although male prophets in ancient Israel were at times leaders of God's people, prophetesses were never shown as being authorized to hold positions of leadership by the Creator God. For a detailed explanation of the function and responsibility of prophetesses in ancient Israel get a copy of the Book Survive and Thrive as a Follower of Christ, ISBN 978-0-9844608-6-1 or visit www.bibleresearch.org.
Women prophets were the Creator's personal representatives, just as men were. The biblical record shows that the prophetess Deborah advised the Israelites concerning God's will for them, gave them warnings from God, and conveyed knowledge of prophetic events. Huldah the prophetess warned King Josiah and the people of Judah of punishment because of their rebellion against God, and Anna the prophetess spoke of the advent of Christ. But, none of these women were given positions of leadership.
The Early Church
Much of what is written about prophets and prophetesses in the early church is difficult to understand in many translations of the Textus Receptus, because many translators used the same word in their language to translate different Greek words referring to the functions of prophets which obscures the meaning of the text.
Therefore, it is important to understand the meaning and nuances of the Greek words relating to prophets in the context of each scripture in order to determine if the person being written about is functioning in the office of a prophet, a prophet delivering a prophetic message or warning, or an inspired teacher.
It is apparent from 1.Corinthians 12:l-12 that the supernatural abilities the Father bestows on specific individuals were meant to be used in a unified organizational structure to perform the collective work in which he has called each of the elect to participate. In verses 8-11, Paul mentions several abilities the Father gives, one which is the gift of prophecy:
"For to one is given by the spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same spirit; To another faith by the same spirit; to another the gift of healing by the same spirit; To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another different kinds of languages; to another the interpretation of languages: All these are the work of one and the same spirit, and he gives them to each person, as he wills" (1.Cor. 12:8-11 KJV Para.).
The English word prophecy in verse 10 is translated from the Greek word propheteia, which means prediction.
All references in the New Testament (KJV) where the word prophecy is used it is translated from the Greek word propheteia, the only exception is in 2.Pet.1:19, where it is translated from the Greek word prophetikos, which relates to the prediction of events (i.e., prophetic).
Even if the Father gives a person the ability to predict future events it does not mean that person is fulfilling the function and office of a prophet in the same sense as the powerful prophets of ancient Israel or in the sense of a prophet as a spiritual leader within the church:
"And God has set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healing, helps, governments, different languages. Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles?" (1.Cor. 12:28-29 KJV Para.).
The English word prophets in verse 28 is translated from the Greek word prophetes, which can mean one who foretells an event (i.e., a prophet); by analogy, an inspired speaker.
The English words first, secondarily, and thirdly are translated from the Greek words proton, deuteros, and tritos, which respectively mean first, second, and third in time, place, order, or importance.
By stating that "God has set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers," Paul not only reveals the hierarchical structure of the church but also that prophets are of great importance to the elect in order for the church to function as the Father intended.
What Paul writes in 1.Corinthians, chapters 12 and 13 is in the context of explaining the purpose for the Father giving supernatural abilities to his earthly children and the attitude in which these abilities are to be exercised.
"For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away" (1.Cor.13:9-10 KJV).
The English word prophesy in verse 9 is translated from the Greek word propheteuo, which can mean to foretell events, divine, speak under inspiration, or exercise the prophetic office.
Paul says that, as yet, we do not know everything and he clarifies this statement in verses 11-12:
"When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known" (1.Cor.13:11-12 KJV).
When Paul says "we prophesy in part," he is making a reference to the giving of divinely inspired messages, not the ability to predict future events. He then explains that, when we are god-beings in the Father's kingdom our knowledge and understanding will be perfect.
Because chapter 13 is a continuation of Paul's thoughts and instruction about the gifts of the spirit, the connection between the ability to give divinely inspired messages (1.Cor.13:9-12) and a prophet in a leadership function of the church noted in 1.Cor.12:28 can easily be made. The prophet of 1.Cor.12:28 is both a man fulfilling the office of a prophet and an inspired speaker.
"Pursue godly love, and desire the spiritual
gifts, but much more that you may prophesy" (1.Cor.14:1KJV Para.).
The English word spiritual in verse 1 is translated from the Greek word pneumatikos, which refers to the supernatural (i.e., things pertaining to the spirit realm). The use of the word pneumatikos tells us that Paul is urging the elect at Corinth to desire to be spiritual (i.e., righteous) in their thought, attitude, and behavior.
The word gifts is not in the Textus Receptus and was added by the King James translators. The addition of the word gifts obscures Paul's intent to urge the elect to desire things pertaining to godly spirituality (i.e., godly characteristics).
The English phrase you may prophesy in verse 1 is translated from the Greek word propheteuo which can mean to foretell events, divine, speak under inspiration, or exercise the prophetic office. In the context of verse 1, propheteuo means to speak things which are divinely inspired.
"I would that you all speak with languages but rather that you prophesied: for greater is he that prophesies than he that speaks with languages, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying" (1.Cor.14:5 KJV Para.).
The English words prophesied and prophecies in verse 5 are translated from the Greek verb propheteuo. Because Paul is writing about edifying the elect, it seems logical that, in verse 5, propheteuo means to speak under inspiration of the holy spirit in the context of teaching God's truth.
Paul says he wished that all those who spoke to the congregation in Corinth had the supernatural ability to speak in other languages. However, he wished even more that these men would be inspired speakers who were able to explain God's truth, because the one who can explain God's truth has a far better gift than the one who is multilingual, unless the multilingual preacher or teacher can also explain and expound God's truth in the foreign language with clarity.
The Elect at Rome
In Romans, chapter 12, Paul states that, because each member of the Father's family is important and is called to perform certain functions and responsibilities within the Father's family, none should think too highly of themselves, then in verse 6 he mentions prophecy:
"Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given us, if prophecy, according to the proportion of faith" (Rom.12:6 Para.).
The English word prophecy in verse 6 is translated from the Greek word propheteia, which means prediction.
A person who is inspired to predict something should have faith that what they have received to convey to others is true; otherwise, they should not voice this prediction.
Obviously none of the abilities the Father bestows on his elect are unnecessary, but there are important questions that need to be answered:
1) Why is it necessary for some individuals to be gifted with the ability to predict future events; 2) In what venue are these predictions to be made known? These two questions will be answered as we continue to make an analysis of the gift of prophecy.
The Elect at Ephesus
In his letter to the elect at Ephesus Paul lists several functions within the church which directly impact the spiritual growth of the elect. All of these functions require some degree of supernatural ability in order for them to be performed adequately. One of these is the function of a prophet:
"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, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we are no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the deceitful scheming and trickery of people, 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: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplies, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, makes increase of the body to the edifying of itself in godly love" (Eph.4:11-16 KJV Para.).
Fulfillment of Prophecy
In order to explain to a crowd of people gathered outside the temple in Jerusalem why the apostles and the others with them had the ability to speak in languages foreign to them, Peter quotes the prophet Joel and says that this was being done in order to fulfill this prophecy about events which would happen in the end of the age of human rule:
"But this is what was spoken of by the prophet Joel; And it will come to pass in the last days, says God, I will pour out my spirit on all flesh: and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out my spirit in those days; and they shall prophesy" (Acts 2:16-18 Para.). See Joel 2:28; Isa.44:3.
The English phrase they shall prophesy in verse 18 is translated from the Greek verb propheteuo, which can mean to foretell events, divine, speak under inspiration, or exercise the prophetic office. Depending on the context in which propheteuo is used, it can express more than one of its meanings. Perhaps, both the foretelling of future events and the speaking of divine counsel will be manifested by those speaking.
It is evident from verses 16-18 that the Father chooses both men and women to fulfill the function of a prophet and to speak under divine inspiration within his earthly family. The only difference is the degree to which each fulfills this responsibility.
Prophets in the Early Church
Because of the importance of prophets to the functioning of the early church, it seems the Father chose many men to fulfill the function of a prophet with the ability to predict future events and fulfill other functions of this office. It seems he also chose many men to fulfill the function of teaching his truth to the elect. Some of these men fulfilled the functions of both a prophet and a teacher. The following are several men, mentioned by name, who fulfilled the responsibility of prophet and teacher in the early church:
"Now in the church in Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen . . ." (Acts 13:1 Para.).
Barnabas who was also an apostle and a companion of Paul (Acts 14:14) is mentioned as also being a prophet. Because the men with Barnabas are called prophets and teachers, it is logical to assume that some of these men fulfilled the office of a prophet as well as being an inspired teacher of God's truth to the elect.
"And Judas and Silas, being prophets also themselves, exhorted the brethren with many words, and confirmed them" (Acts 15:32 KJV).
Because these men are only mentioned as prophets, it cannot be determined if they fulfilled the office of a prophet or were inspired teachers of God's truth. However, in Acts 15:22, the prophets Judas surnamed Barsabas, and Silas are called "chief among the brethren."
The English word chief in verse 22 is translated from the Greek word hegeomai, which can mean to lead, i.e., command (with official authority). This seems to indicate that they were fulfilling the office of a prophet and teacher within the church.
After Paul and his companions left Ptolemais on their way to Jerusalem, they lodged with Philip the evangelist who was one of the original seven men chosen to serve the widows noted in Acts 6:5:
"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" (Acts 21:8-9 KJV).
The English word prophesy in verse 9 is translated from the Greek verb propheteuo, which is a derivative of the Greek word prophetes and means to foretell events, divine, speak under inspiration, and exercise the prophetic office.
Women receive prophetic revelations and can reveal these revelations to others as many scriptures indicate. The daughters of the evangelist Philip were among those of the early church whom God chose to receive and convey information to the elect. See also Joel 2:28-29; Acts 2:14-18; 21:9-10.
Although righteous women can and do prophesy, it is not proper for a woman to prophecy in the congregational assemblies of the elect. Paul speaks to this in 1.Corinthians, chapter 14:
"Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted to them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also says the law" (1.Cor.14:34 KJV).
Additionally, Paul says that it is a shame for a woman to speak in church. The English word speak in verse 34 is translated from the Greek word laleo, which means to talk.
"And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church" (1.Cor. 14:35 KJV).
Paul's instruction to the elect at Corinth in chapter 14 concerns the issue of authority and order in the congregation. Men who receive a revelation should speak in an orderly fashion and women should not speak out in the congregation, but must keep silent.
Although righteous women are sometimes chosen and authorized to convey prophetic and other types of messages, like the prophetesses Deborah, Huldah, and Anna, women cannot, formally proclaim these messages within formal congregational assemblies, according to the authority structure of the church. Therefore, in order for a prophetess to fulfill her responsibility, she must do so within the authorized structure of the church; otherwise, she acts without divine authority and usurps the divinely appointed order of authority.
This silence of women within the congregational worship assemblies when a minister or other men are speaking not only shows respect for God and his law but also for the authority of the spiritual leader and the other men in the congregation. Moreover, it is evident that, if women are to be silent in a formal congregational assembly, they are also prohibited from prophesying or teaching within a formal assembly.
Agabus the Prophet
Agabus is first mentioned in Acts, chapter 11 as a prophet among other prophets within the church:
"During this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world. (This happened during the reign of Claudius.) The disciples, each according to his ability, decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea. This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul" (Acts 11:27-30 NIV).
The English word prophets in verse 27 is translated from the Greek word prophetes, which can mean to foretell events, by analogy to speak under inspiration.
Whether or not all of these men had the gift of prophecy in the sense of being able to predict future events, it is evident that Agabus was a prophet of the highest order because his prediction came to pass.
The second time Agabus in mentioned is when he gave a prophetic warning to Paul and his companions while they were lodging with Philip who had four daughters on whom the Father had bestowed the gift of prophecy:
"After we had been there a number of days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. Coming over to us, he took Paul's belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, "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 21:10-11 NIV).
This account shows Agabus as a prophet with the gift of prophecy, which allowed him to be given insight into future events. Agabus then conveyed the information revealed to him to Paul and others with him who needed it in order to decide what to do:
"When we heard this, we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, "Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus." When he would not be dissuaded, we gave up and said, "The Lord's will be done" (Acts 21:12-14 NIV).
Apollos and Prophesying
In Acts 18:24-28 and 19:1-7 is the account of a gifted individual named Apollos who understood the gospel message and was preaching it with great success, but he and others were only baptized as John the Baptist had instructed and had not received the holy spirit. Paul laid hands on Apollos and 11 other individuals and they received the holy spirit and the gift of languages and prophesied.
The word prophesied in the account of Apollos is translated from the Greek word propheteuo, which means to foretell events, divine, speak under inspiration, and exercise the prophetic office.
It can be assumed that, because these men had just received the holy spirit, they were not all made a part of church leadership (i.e., the office and function of a prophet) at that time, although the scriptures do show that Apollos continued in the function of an evangelist. There is not enough information in this account to determine if any of these men prophesied in the sense of foretelling future events or were inspired to say other things of importance. What we can know for sure is that all these men were given two gifts from the Father to prove that they were of the elect.
Nowhere in the biblical record is it found that prophets were ordained to their function by either the priesthood or the eldership. What is found, are prophets who were personally selected to this position of service, authority, and responsibility by the Creator God (Jesus Christ) and God the Father, after which they were acknowledged by God's people as they fulfilled these positions.
Within a Congregation
In his first letter to the Corinthian church, Paul address serious problems regarding disorderly conduct, among which was the inability of some men to keep from interrupting a man speaking to the congregation during a formal assembly of the church:
"Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the others judge. If any thing is revealed to another that sits by, let the first hold his peace. For you may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted. And the spirit of the prophets is subject to the prophets. For God is not of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints" (1.Cor.14:29-33 KJV Para.).
The English word prophets in verse 29 and throughout this text is translated from the Greek word prophetes, which means a foreteller (a prophet); by analogy, an inspired speaker:
The English word prophesy in verse 31 is translated from the Greek word propheteuo, which can mean to foretell events, divine, speak under inspiration, and exercise the prophetic office:
From the Greek words prophetes and propheteuo in verses 29-33, it is logical to assume that within the congregation at Corinth there were both men occupying the office of a prophet and men with the gifts of prophecy and the ability to speak under inspiration of the holy spirit.
Clearly, not everyone should be speaking at the same time, each man should wait their turn if they have been given a revelation or have special understanding of the subject being presented. Paul stresses order among the elect in a formal setting when they come together to worship the Father, to learn, and to share in learning.
Acceptance of Prophets
Although Christ was speaking of himself when he said the following about God's prophets, it can also apply during this gospel age of salvation:
"And he said, Truly I say to you, No prophet is accepted in his own country. But I tell you of a truth, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elias, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when great famine was throughout all the land; But to none of them was Elias sent, save to Sarepta, a city of Sidon, to a woman that was a widow. And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Eliseus the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, saving Naaman the Syrian" (Lk.4:24-27 KJV Para.).
The English word prophet in verse 24 is translated from the Greek word prophetes, which means a foreteller (a prophet); by analogy, an inspired speaker.
Have there been and will there continue to be men occupying the office of a prophet within the Father's earthly family? The answer is obviously yes according to both the apostle Paul and Christ:
"And God has set some in the Church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healing, helps, governments, diversities of languages" (1.Cor.12:28 KJV Para).
"And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy one thousand two hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth." These are the two olive trees and the two lamp-stands standing before the God of the earth. And if anyone wants to harm them, fire proceeds from their mouth and devours their enemies. And if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this manner. These have power to shut heaven, so that no rain falls in the days of their prophecy; and they have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to strike the earth with all plagues, as often as they desire" (Rev.11:3-6 NKJV).
"Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn-bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them" (Matt.7:15-20 NIV).
"But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping" (2.Pet.2:1-3 NIV).
Many people today claim to be the Sovereign God's prophets and because of their persuasiveness, it is sometimes difficult to know whether or not a person is a prophet of God or a false prophet, but there are many false prophets and teachers of damnable heresies and shameful things which are in opposition to God's truth. One way to tell if a person is a prophet sent from God is to see if their teaching or message reflects God's truth. If a prophet's teaching, message, or behavior is in opposition to God's law, they are not sent from him. See Deut.13:1-3; 18:19-27.
The biblical record contains many warnings about avoiding false prophets. The Book of Revelation speaks of a great False Prophet that will come on the world scene at the end of this age and deceive most of the world into worshiping a false god who is identified in the Book of Revelation as the Beast.
Will the False Prophet and the Beast openly reveal who and what they are and their true intentions? Of course not! The only way that a person will be able to recognize these individuals for what they truly are is to understand the prophecies concerning them.
This is why the elect need to clearly understand the foundational plan of God, the foundational teachings of the Bible, and what God expects of those he calls to salvation during this age; otherwise, they will be among those deceived by false prophets and other evil individuals.
Does it Matter?
Does it matter what you believe about prophets and prophecy and will these beliefs affect your salvation? The answers to both questions depend on your attitude and behavior toward God and the current state of world events.
For ancient Israel, it was very important for them to heed a prophet's warning to repent of their individual and national sins in order to receive the blessing that God had promised and not suffer punishment for continued rebellion. Today, it is just as important to pay attention to the Father's prophets as it was for ancient Israel, because the Father's prophets during this gospel age are not only to witness of his truth to the world, but also are charged with the care of the church.
The gift of prophecy is extremely important, whether one is chosen to fulfill the office of a prophet or prophetesses, or as a prophet who is inspired through the holy spirit to instruct and give spiritual insight to the elect.
We do not know the extent of the authority, supernatural power, or abilities that male prophets in ancient Israel or in the early church had. But, it is evident from the biblical record that being a prophet or a prophetess with the gift of prophecy is an extremely important function and responsibility within the Father's earthly family.
By B.L. Cocherell b14w7