Are Old Testament Type Prophets Valid Today?
Seaborn Hall, 5/14/20
I appreciate your words and your ministry in general, and have featured your opinions on my site from time to time, particularly relative to the Joyner-Bentley-Powell controversy. In this particular matter your counsel was wise and discerning and helpful to the Body of Christ.
But it is rare that anyone is on point all of the time, myself included, so perhaps it should be no surprise that I completely disagree with the perspective you share in your recent articles, 6 Principles To Discern New Testament Prophets + 6 More Principles To Discern New Testament Prophets. In this matter, I believe that you follow church tradition that misinterprets and obfuscates important issues that need to be clear for us to move forward as a Body in the next decade and more.
The Fundamental Error We Make Relative To Prophets And Prophecy
It is impossible to elaborate on every view you express without writing a book, so I will go straight to what I believe is the traditional and foundational concept that your principles are built on.
The first erroneous concept you build on is the principle that there is a fundamental difference between Old and New Testament prophets and prophecy. As I will try to show, there is not.
The second erroneous concept is related – as has most of the church for the last three decades, you conflate the function of prophet with the gift of prophecy. They need to be evaluated separately because there are different levels of prophet and therefore different levels and different criteria for prophecy. An extension of this is that a ‘team’ concept among prophets is either nullified, or more nuanced.
The Bible Presents A Unified Old-New Testament View Of Prophecy
Perhaps some of the confusion on this issue comes out of the Anaheim Vineyard. Building on Mike Bickle’s pastoral-prophetic work during the 1980’s, during the 1990’s John Wimber vaulted prophecy and prophets into international prominence. As he encouraged and built widespread integration of prophecy into the church Wimber placed a lot of emphasis on a seminary professor’s book on the same.
From what I know from my years at Anaheim and my subsequent seminary education, the view that New Testament prophecy is different from Old Testament prophecy may have had its beginnings with that book, Wayne Grudem’s The Gift Of Prophecy In The New Testament And Today. Originally published in 1988 this book appears to have become at least one of the foundational books of ‘prophetic theology’ in the church.
Many of Grudem’s insights into New Testament prophecy are helpful. However, Grudem’s foundational view that New Testament prophecy is different from Old Testament prophecy is challenged by a survey of supernatural encounters in the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. One of the most important insights of such a survey is that the prophetic voice in both testaments and eras is not different, but unified.
The Unifying Passage – Numbers 12
One insight that occurs in such a survey is the importance of Numbers 12. This is a passage that is foundational to prophecy in both the Old and the New Testaments. In Numbers 12, God responds to Miriam’s complaint against Moses by saying that Moses speaks to God ‘mouth to mouth.’ He differentiates this from His normal way of speaking with prophets, which involves visions and dreams, or ‘dark’ sayings.
‘Mouth to mouth’ communication is ‘open’ communication in which Moses beholds the ‘form’ of the Lord. In other places in Scripture this communication is described as ‘face to face,’ another like phrase that describes literal communication with God expressing Himself in the form of a man.
According to Exodus 33:7-11, “Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to a friend.” Since Abraham was also called a ‘friend of God’ we can expect that his experience with God was similar – even though it is not specified as such. But we can justifiably infer this from the Hebrew word used for ‘appeared.’
In Genesis 32:22-30, in response to having wrestled with God – again in the form of a man – Jacob says, “I have seen God face to face.” At Genesis 35:9-13, God appeared – ostensibly in the form of a man – and then went up from him.
Gideon – a judge – also described his encounter with the Angel of the Lord as a ‘face to face’ experience. According to Judges, “When Gideon saw that he was the angel of the LORD, he said, “Alas, O Lord GOD! For now I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face (Judg. 6:22 NAS95).” The people of God also saw God ‘face to face’ at the mountain (Duet. 5:4-5).
In summary, Moses, like Abraham, beheld some sort of form and conversed with God in literal, understandable speech. Numbers 12 appears to clarify levels among prophets, and ‘riddles’ or ‘dark speech’ typified by dreams and visions are a step back or down from the high level of Moses and others before and after him.
Numbers 12 And The Old Testament
Deuteronomy 18:14-22 then seems to imply that though Moses is unique for his time, he is not unique throughout Israel’s history. God will always – from generation to generation – raise up a “prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command them.” So, this person will not be like Moses, but will be a prophet like Moses.
In other words, high level prophets of Israel – prophets like Moses – will receive the same type of communication that Moses received in the future. This type of communication seems to be different from what the other prophets receive, as distinguished in Nu. 12: 1-8.
It seems that Moses was not unique in the sense that he saw God “face to face” but he is the epitome of this experience. The writer is merely using this descriptive phrase to describe a relationship in which God was able to talk to ‘prophets like Moses’ in a way that was different from other prophets – He spoke with them literally in the form of a man, ‘face to face.’
Numbers 12 And The New Testament Continuation
The post-resurrection continuation of this ‘face to face’ literal word experience of Moses and others are various, but is epitomized in the Apostle Paul in Acts and the Apostle and Prophet John in Revelation 1-2.
At Acts 9:4-7 Saul, who will become the Apostle Paul, sees a Light and hears the literal voice of God. God activated Paul’s call by speaking literally to Ananias in a vision in Acts 9:10-19. Ananias actually carried on a conversation with God. There is no record that Ananias was anything more than a normal believer – he is not called a prophet or an apostle. Ananias both saw and heard – it is likely that he saw God ‘face to face’, as a form of a man, within a vision.
At Acts 9:17 we learn from Ananias that the Lord Jesus appeared to Paul on the Damascus road, thus speaking with him ‘face to face.’ In Acts 10:30f Cornelius speaks ‘face to face’ with a man who tells him his prayers have been heard and issues him instructions. Peter and others also experience this literal experience of encountering God or His agents.
In Revelation 1 – which caps the New Testament prophetic experience – we are told of an encounter that the apostle and prophet John has with Jesus that results in the prophecy of the book. These literal ‘face to face’ encounters in the New Testament confirm a continuation of the Old Testament’s highest level of intimates’ communication with God.
A Unified View Of Prophecy Changes Its ‘Principles’
A unified view of prophets and prophecy between the Old and New Testaments should change the way we view things. Your principles are in bold, then my responses.
Principle 1 – Difference between Old and New Testament Prophets: Team. This is your foundational principle, which I responded to above. ‘Teams’ are valid in many respects (Elisha, sons of prophets). Was the book of Revelation the result of a ‘team’? No, it was a prophetic word straight from the Throne valid with or without a ‘team.’ When a high level prophet receives literal, ‘face to face’ communication from the Throne (Rev. 1:1; 10:8) that word is immutable (and, in this era, of course, it never contradicts Scripture).
Principle 2 – Prophets need even more humility. I agree that we all need humility and we largely agree here. Further, if someone is called to the office of prophet God has various ways of producing the needed humility. It is said that Moses was the most humble man of his time (Numbers 12:3). Did he need to ‘get’ more humility, or did God prepare him in such a way that he had and was able to walk in the humility he needed? I would say the later.
Moses was humble for two reasons: God prepared him by devastating him, and God encountered him ‘face to face.’ Both produced the needed humility for his call. But humility never prevents mistakes or protects us from sin, as Moses also found out.
Principle 3 – Prophecy is not like a horoscope. We largely agree here. But there is such a thing as a ‘word of knowledge (1 Cor. 12:8),’ which I would suggest is a ‘sub-set’ of the gift of prophecy. It is one manifestation of it. Words of knowledge may be genuine or false, spiritual or soulish. They are not always accurate, and when accurate, not always spiritual.
Principle 4 – Issachar. Signs of the times. I think we largely agree here. However, an ‘Issacharian’ is separate and distinct from a ‘prophet,’ even though the prophet Hosea was from this tribe. Nevertheless, men of Issachar were not normally prophets, they were ‘interpreters’. This is one place that the ‘team’ concept comes into play. See this brief, The Greatest Need Of The Prophetic Church Today, for more.
Principle 5 – New Testament prophets expose sin and wrong motives. Part of the purpose of a prophet is to expose sin and wrong motives, a continuation of the Old Testament mandate. A prophet tears down and builds (Jer. 1:10). Apostles are primarily tasked with building up (2 Cor 12:19). This, however, does not mean that both can’t exercise discernment and judgment (your examples). The apostle Paul never calls himself a prophet. In fact, if he wrote Timothy as tradition holds, then he called himself an ‘apostle, proclaimer, and teacher’ (2 Tim. 1:11) – not a prophet. I would suggest that not every apostle is a prophet – though some are. The gift of prophecy is different and clarified in 1 Cor. 14:3. And, can we both agree, ‘titles’ – Bishop, Apostle, Prophet – are a danger zone?
Principle 6 – What does it mean to prophesy from your soul? Micaiah (1 Ki. 22) is likely a higher level prophet. Many lower level prophetic people make the mistake of prophesying from their soul. Loren Sandford called this ‘sanctified psychic readings’ in his groundbreaking 2005 book, Purifying The Prophetic (largely ignored by prophetic leadership at the time). Notice Micaiah’s prescription to Zedekiah: ‘hide yourself.’ How false prophets (Jer. 23) come to be false prophets is another discourse for another time.
Principle 7 – Prophecy is more than predicting things that come to pass. Prediction is not the primary purpose of a true prophet or prophecy. I will go further. No prophet should ever be evaluated or judged based on whether prophecies come true (See, Evaluating Prophets and Prophecy for more). The purpose and criteria for prophecy is different depending on whether you are speaking of the office of prophet or the gift of prophecy. Jeremiah 1:10 appears to address the purpose of a high level prophet – Old or New Testament. 1 Corinthians 14:3 appears to address the purpose of the New Testament gift of prophecy. Neither purpose is primarily predictive. Divination, a sin, is predictive. This is something the entire prophetic stream should consider more strongly. An argument could be made that over the last thirty years much of the ‘prophetic’ has become nothing more than divination.
Principle 8 – Independent prophets giving words to the nation is not seen in the New Testament. As to this point, first, arguments from silence are lesser forms of debate and are rarely convincing. Just because the Bible does not speak of something does not mean that it didn’t occur. For example, the Gospel of John notes that Jesus did many things not recorded.
Second, I believe that your principle here is incorrect. We do see this type of prophecy from the prophet, John, in Revelation. He pronounces judgements on churches, kings, and nations in Revelation 2-3, Revelation 10-11 (esp. 10:11), and Revelation 19-22. And wasn’t Agabus speaking to nations in Acts 11:27 when he prophesied famine all over the world? Further, John the Baptist essentially pronounced judgment on Israel by pronouncing judgment on the Sadducees and Pharisees – the leaders of the nation – in Matthew 3:7-10 and Luke 3. And, of the Baptist, Jesus said, “among those born of women there is no one greater than John (Luke 7:28), essentially making him a ‘bridge’ to the New Testament era.
I am sure someone will quote to me the remainder of the verse though, so let me address that. Jesus continued, “yet he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he (Luke 7:28b).” If this means what it appears to mean, that every post-resurrection believer is greater than John the Baptist, and if John is on the same level as the Old Testament prophets, then surely this means that in this era prophetic office has not been lowered, but raised. In other words, prophetic office not only still functions, when it functions it does so in a higher, qualitative manner because now resurrection life indwells all believers, and prophets. It is in the ‘much more’ realm of Romans 5.
Principle 9 – There is little accountability when prophets give incorrect prophetic words that alter people’s life decisions. True, there has been little accountability in thirty+ years of prophetic ministry, something that should be addressed. However, a true prophet is primarily accountable to Jesus alone (it is a ‘face to face’ relationship) and a delay is not the same thing as being wrong. On the other hand prophetic words are soulish and wrong at times (see principle 6 and next point). The body of Christ should never make life decisions – or any other decisions – based on any prophetic word. Believers are to be led by the Holy Spirit within them (Rms. 8: 14) – not by prophecy or prophetic words. The lack of accountability you blame on prophets is actually due more to a lack of comprehensive, authoritative (team) teaching that helps the body of Christ to understand, interpret, and apply prophecy. Not just accountability from prophets, but accountability from leaders as a whole – to other leaders and to the Body.
Principle 10 – Prophecy from humans is filtered through imperfections of humans. I have to disagree some here. All prophecy is not filtered through human imperfections. There are different levels of prophets and prophecy. Higher level prophecy comes directly from the Throne (Numbers 12, ‘mouth to mouth’, or ‘face to face’, Revelation 10-11). A lower level, and more common phenomenon of what we think of as New Testament prophecy, comes through interpretive activity (Num. 12, ‘riddles’) and may more easily be misinterpreted and misapplied. This lower level of prophecy, equal to the gift of prophecy, is filtered through imperfections.
Principle 11 – The witness of the Spirit. As I stated above, I agree that the ‘witness of the Spirit’ is the primary way that God speaks to believers – and the primary way that believers are to be led (Rms 8:14). The apparent purpose of prophets (Jer. 1:10) and New Testament prophecy (1 Cor. 14:3) is different. It may be related to guidance – but only in a more general or secondary way.
Principle 12 – Warning. I believe your warning here is misplaced. In 1 Corinthians 14 Paul was writing about spiritual gifts and their operation in the church body. He was not writing a treatise on prophets or prophecy. He was not clarifying lines of authority either. The context is ‘when you assemble’ (1 Cor. 14:26). He did not say that if you disobey his teaching you are not a prophet – on the contrary, he says, “But if anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. (1 Cor. 14:38 NAS95).” The meaning here had to do with congregational order in an assembly – not with prophetic authority in the Body.
In conclusion, I would like to lay before you – and any reader – a challenge: Do an extensive survey of Scripture – from Genesis to Revelation. Log every instance of supernatural interaction, including dreams and visions, but especially supernatural encounters with God and His agents. Then reassess your insights and conclusions on prophets and prophecy.
What Will A Scriptural Survey Of The Supernatural Show?
I did such a survey while in a doctoral program at Fuller Seminary in California. My research and conclusions can be accessed here.
What the survey shows, among other things, is that there is no discernible difference between prophets in any era – Old or New Testament. In other words, New Testament prophets and prophecy are not different – they are a continuation and extension of the Old Testament prophetic voice. There are Moses type and Miriam type prophets in both eras. We are living in the era of the ‘much more’ prophetic voice – ‘in the days of the Voice (Rev. 10:7).’
Moses (as a prophet and a builder) becomes a type for the office of prophet and the office of apostle. Miriam becomes a type for symbolic prophecy, or ‘riddles’ – prophecy needing interpretation – similar to the New Testament gift of prophecy. As such, the Old Testament and New Testament concepts of prophets and prophecy are unified.
For some, this will raise the question of whether we have higher level prophets today, as well as a host of other issues and questions. I’ll leave those issues for later, but for the present, thank you for seeking to address prophetic issues in the Body of Christ and for your gracious consideration of my response.