Do prophets exist today? Is the gift of prophecy still in operation? And if the answers to these questions are both “yes,” what does that mean for us today?
Last week I wrote an article titled “Identifying False Prophecy.” Then last night I received a comment on that article from someone named Jan who challenged the existence of prophets today.
Here is Jan’s comment:
THERE ARE NO MORE PROPHETS TODAY! Scripture is VERY clear in Hebrews 1
“IN TIMES PAST, God spoke to the Fathers by the prophets, but in THESE LAST DAYS HE SPEAKS TO US THROUGH HIS SON.” “And Jesus said, “SEARCH THE SCRIPTURES for they testify of Me.” John 5 “Prophetic schools”? Pathetic schools! Nowhere in Scripture did those exist. The Charismatic church is leading millions astray away from the SUFFICIENCY of the Written Word. “And in the last days, men shall embrace doctrines of demons… and no longer endure sound doctrine!” I and II Timothy 4
As I typed up my response, I realized the length was better suited to be an article, so I’m going to offer my reply here. Do prophets exist today? Let’s have a look at what the Bible says.
Thanks for taking the time to chime in. I’d like you to consider a few things:
First, I agree with you about Hebrews 1 saying that God has now spoken to us through Jesus. But if we are supposed to interpret this to mean that ever since Jesus ascended, God no longer speaks through anything but Scripture, then we must also conclude:
- The New Testament Scriptures are not God-breathed prophecy because they were written after Jesus was gone. And, ironically, we would therefore have to reject your text of Hebrews 1, since that too is a post-Jesus revelation.
- It would also mean the prophetic book of Revelation is a lie and should be outright rejected.
- It also means the historical accounts in the book of Acts about “prophets” in the early church (like Agabus) are either inaccurate or describing agents of the devil rather than of God. (See Acts 11:27; 13:1; 15:32; and 21:10.)
Obviously, to say God stopped speaking after Jesus ascended would be a false assertion because it diminishes the authority of New Testament Scripture and creates logical inconsistencies within the Word of God. Given this, there must be a more appropriate and biblically consistent interpretation of Hebrews 1.
Contrary to your position, I would suggest that those who believe in present-day prophecy are being consistent with Scripture. We too believe that in these last days, God speaks to us by His Son. Revelation 19:10 says that “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” In other words, prophecy consists of what Jesus is saying. Thus God still speaks to us by His Son.
Note especially that Hebrews 1 does NOT say, “In these last days, God speaks to us by His Bible.” I don’t say that to diminish the Bible in any way–it is the written and authoritative word of God that, as you pointed out, testifies about Jesus. Rather, I say it to highlight the authority of the Bible and identify that the New Testament is inspired by Jesus Himself, through the Holy Spirit. While your interpretation of Hebrews 1 would actually negate New Testament Scripture, my assertion is that New Testament Scripture is also a revelation of Jesus. As Peter put it, “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:21, ESV) That’s the same Holy Spirit who Jesus said would only speak what He hears (from Jesus), thus bringing glory to the Son. (See John 16:12-15.)
Second, I agree with you that Jesus said, “Search the Scriptures for they testify of Me.” (See John 5:39.) But you have omitted several other things Jesus said, such as:
- “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” (John 10:27, ESV)
- “It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me.” (John 6:45, ESV)
- “And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 13:11, ESV; see also Matthew 10:20 and Luke 12:12)
- “When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth, for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak, and He will declare to you the things that are to come.” (John 16:13, ESV)
- “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Revelation 3:22, ESV)
As for prophetic schools not existing in Scripture, that is not entirely true. In the Old Testament, we did have “schools of prophets.” Granted, that word “school” could also be translated “company” or “group,” so that doesn’t mean there was necessarily any teaching going on.
Ironically, though, even the cessationist web site GotQuestions.org, which promotes a book by famed anti-Charismatic John MacArthur at the end of the article, says, “The ‘group of prophets’ in 1 Samuel 19 was clearly comprised of students of the prophet Samuel.” So here is a case in Scripture where a group of prophets were students of another prophet (and MacArthur’s people agree!).
In the New Testament, while we don’t really have a narrative example of someone teaching someone else how to hear God’s voice, we do have Paul’s letter to the Ephesians:
Ephesians 4:11-14 — And [Christ] gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. (ESV)
Some things to consider about this passage:
- Verse 12 says that prophets (among the others) exist to equip the saints for the work of the ministry. This word “equip” implies some sort of training, as when prophetic ministers today train believers to discern God’s voice and commune with Him.
- Verse 13 uses a strong word: “until.” Jesus gave us prophets (and the others) UNTIL a handful of things happen. What were those things?
- “UNTIL we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God.” Have all believers attained to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God? Of course not. Therefore prophets still exist.
- “UNTIL we all attain…to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” Have Christians around the world been perfected to full maturity, expressing the fullness of Christ in all that we say and do? Not at all. Therefore prophets still exist.
- And the result of these “UNTIL” statements is that after they happen, “we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” And yet you believe only what someone else taught you about this topic and accuse Charismatics of being deceived for believing the Bible. Which of us, then, is being led astray? Which of us is being carried away from what is openly stated in the Bible? But regardless of who is actually being led astray, as long as it’s still happening this scripture has not yet been fulfilled either. Therefore prophets still exist.
Remember, contemporary prophets are mentioned multiple times in the book of Acts. (Again, see Acts 11:27; 13:1; 15:32; and 21:10.) They are also mentioned (along with prophecy and other spiritual gifts) throughout the writings of various Early Church Fathers as contemporary ministries of the day. In fact, a thorough study of Church History will find that there has never been a time in the body of Christ when spiritual gifts (including prophecy) were not in operation somewhere in the world.
Since the overwhelming weight of New Testament Scripture and history are on the side of hearing God today, and since you have to take Scripture out of context in order to say prophecy has ceased, I would suggest to you that:
- Prophets still exist.
- Their role is to train and equip believers in the areas of hearing God and prophetic ministry, alongside other equipping ministries mentioned in Ephesians 4:11, so that the Body of Christ can mature into an expression of Jesus in His fullness.
- Prophecy is something that God intends all last-days believers to do. (See Joel 2:28; Acts 2:16-18; and 1 Corinthians 14:31.) Admittedly, this requires a certain measure of training for most believers, so there is nothing wrong with prophetic schools in theory (I am not vouching for the quality of all events bearing that name, only advocating for the principle).
Now, with all gentleness, I would encourage you to consider the above points and repent. You quoted from 2 Timothy 4:3-4, which says in the ESV, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”
- The very idea that God no longer speaks to His people is an unbiblical myth, propagated both by wolves and well-meaning people who don’t know any better than what the wolves told them.
- It is an abandonment of New Testament Scripture and sound doctrine to suggest that prophets no longer exist.
- Those who fight so adamantly against spiritual gifts are just as guilty of “accumulating to themselves teachers that suit their own passions” as are some people in the Charismatic movement. This is not a problem that exists only on one side, and repentance is needed in both camps so that both the Scriptures and the present working of the Holy Spirit can have reign in today’s Church (the Spirit never contradicting the Scriptures, and the Scriptures promoting the work of the Spirit).
I leave you with Paul’s words:
1 Thessalonians 5:19-21 — Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. (ESV)