Thursday, December 08, 2005

Did Prophets Exist Only in Bible Times?

Have you heard people speak against one religion or another because of claims of living prophets? Some of these folks misread the Bible to support their preconceived notions. Some blindly follow “tradition.” Or maybe it's just plain old prejudice.

One argument I recently heard is definitely of the circular reasoning variety. The claim is that the Bible itself claims there can be no prophets beyond those in the Bible. When she was asked to provide chapter and verse to support this claim she didn’t want to – or couldn’t. But let’s look at the circular reasoning part of this claim.

The Bible itself, especially the Old Testament, is comprised of many “books” generated, in part, by many prophets. As prophecies were revealed to these prophets, these prophecies or mini “books” were transcribed so that others could benefit by the word of God. The prophets were charged with the responsibility of conveying His word to the people. There was no Bible, as we know it today, yet in existence during those days. Many other parts of the Bible were written after these initial prophets wrote their prophecies. In fact, all of the books and letters of the New Testament were written many decades before various committees agreed on what books and letters would even comprise the Bible in the 2nd and 3rd centuries after Christ.

As prophets conveyed prophecy, the words of God transmitted by the prophets were written down. These writings eventually made their way to become agreed upon Scripture, or in the case of the “closed canon”, the Bible. If the Bible did not yet exist during the time of creation of prophecy, how could “the Bible” say what should and should not be considered prophecy? This makes no sense!

Again, prophecy is the revealed word of God conveyed to and through man. Such men were known as prophets because the word of God came through them. Their collective writings, when acknowledged by groups of learned people, hopefully Godly and spiritually discerning, would eventually be confirmed and declared to be Gods word and eventually compiled in a book of Scripture.

Who would ever dare declare that God shall no longer be permitted to convey His wisdom to men through prophets?

Here are several specific, though misleading arguments against continuing prophecy:

“Jesus was the fulfillment of all prophecy.” Fact: John wrote the Book of Revelation 30 +/- years after the death and resurrection of Jesus. The book of Revelation is THE major book of prophecy in the New Testament, if not in the entire Bible. Was John a false prophet? I don’t think so.

“Prophecy ended with the apostles.” Fact: Then why do the following scriptures say what they say?

o In Matthew 23:34, Christ said:
"Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city.... "

o The same is repeated in Luke 11:49. Not only would Christ send prophets, but He would expect His followers to receive His prophets as His messengers (Matthew 10:40-41):
"He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me. He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward; and he that receiveth a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man's reward." (See also John 13:20 and John 15:20.)

o Likewise, 1 Corinthians 12:28-29 and Ephesians 3:1-6 confirm that the early Church had apostles and prophets and that they taught sacred truths to the early Christians. Paul further explains the importance of apostles and prophets in the Church in Ephesians 4:11-14:
"11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: 13 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 fullness of Christ: 14 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...."

“The Bible is the final and ultimate word of God. Revelation, the last book in the Bible says so.” Fact: Chapter 22, verses 18 and 19[1] of the Book of Revelation are grossly misapplied. First, the Book of Revelation is not universally agreed upon as being the last book of the Bible written, even though it is the last one in the compiled canon of Scripture. Other books of the Bible may have been written, or “added to” the books of what later became the Bible[2]. Second, these verses pertain to John’s prophecy only, his revelation as contained within the Book of Revelation. It did not pertain to the Bible. The Bible, the closed canon of Scripture, did not even yet exist at the time of his writing Revelation[3]. The Jews tried to discredit the letters of the New Testament in the same way. They believed that God’s truth ended with the law and the prophets and that any new scripture was blasphemous. Those who deny current prophets are making the same mistake.

The closed canon of Scripture that we call the Bible is not God’s final written communication to His people. The Bible does not claim that revelation has ceased or that prophets will no longer reveal the word of God to His people.

People hate change. And they hate authority. Claiming that God will no longer provide new revelation through prophets is a way to avoid change and authority. It is our misdirected attempt to maintain the status quo because neither change nor authority is comfortable. Worse, we might receive real time confirmation of what God wants us to do. That would hit too close to home. We might even feel compelled to obey! Darn.

In fact, God’s written communication with His people continues today through His prophets, just as they have for thousands of years. Anyone who denies that God needs to and in fact does give us counsel, admonition, and encouragement as much today as He did two or three thousand years ago is misunderstanding both current conditions and the character, nature, and power of God.

[1] Revelation 22:18-19: “For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written n this book. And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.”

[2] Among the several books of the New Testament Bible scholars believe could have been written after the Book of Revelation (81-96; as early as 60’s) include 1st (90 to 96) and 2nd (100 to 120; as early as 64) Peter, James (50-200; as early as 45), Timothy (60 to 100), and Titus (60-100).

[3] The first “canon” was the Muratorian Canon, which was compiled in (A.D. 170). The Muratorian Canon included all of the New Testament books except Hebrews, James, and 3 John. In A.D. 363, the Council of Laodicea stated that only the Old Testament and the 27 books of the New Testament were to be read in the churches. The Council of Hippo (A.D. 393) and the Council of Carthage (A.D. 397) also affirmed the same 27 books as authoritative.