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Volume 7, Issue 6: Disputatio

Prophecy Old and New

Douglas Jones and Marc Dupont

Divine prophecy has always been central to the biblical message. Contemporary charismatic theology seeks to uphold the centrality of prophecy, though differentiating between the types of prophecy found in the Old and New Covenants. Does or did New Covenant prophecy follow in the same paths as the Old, or is it on a different road altogether?

In the following interchange, the managing editor of Credenda/Agenda, Douglas Jones and Marc Dupont discuss the relationship between Old and New Covenant prophetic revelation.
Marc Dupont is the Assistant Pastor of the Toronto Airport Vineyard, Toronto, Canadathe starting place of the Toronto Blessing, which has seen international influence. Marc Dupont has written on spiritual gifts in his book The Elijah Years: Insights for the 90's (1995), and he also serves with Mantel of Praise Ministries, a ministry dedicated to training believers worldwide in the development of spiritual gifts.

DJ: When the prophet Joel proclaimed that God would pour out His Spirit on all flesh, such that "Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy" (Joel 2:28; Acts 2:17), his listeners would have thought of the type of prophecy common to Israel, not some lesser version. God's prophets spoke infallibly, and those who presumptuously spoke when God had not spoken would have faced the death penalty (Deut. 18:20). Many of my charismatic brethren desire prophetic revelation without its death-penalty seriousness. Many argue that in the New Covenant we have a less serious form of prophecy, one which may be mistaken. Joel's and Peter's listeners would have been surprised at this turn.
MD: Joel 2:28 would have been very difficult for a Hebrew of that time to put into perspective, because only a few were able to hear from God. Deuteronomy 18:16 indicates the prophets at that time were spokesmen because the Hebrews were so deeply afraid of His presence. Jeremiah in speaking of the New Covenant to come said "No longer will a man teach his neighbor, saying, 'Know the Lord,' because they will all know me (Jer. 31:34)." The authority of prophecy, because of the New Covenant, has gone from control to encouragement and edification (see I Corinthians 14:3-5). Because of the New Covenant I see at least four other primary differences between Old Testament and New Testament prophecy.
DJ: You appear to be arguing that prophecy is different now because of a shift from a fearful/controlling context to an edifying/encouraging context. But the New Covenant certainly requires the same, if not a greater, fear of God than the Old. God promised that New Covenant believers would "fear Me forever" (Jer. 32:39). And the New Testament threatens us with "much worse punishment" than Moses (Heb. 10:29, cf. Rom. 11:22), commands us to "fear God" (I Pet. 2:7; Lk. 12:15), exhorts us to work out our salvation with "fear and trembling" (Phil. 2:12), and executes prophetic judgments (Acts 5:11). Moreover, why would greater intimacy bring fallible prophecy? In marriage, for example, greater intimacy brings much better communication not less.
MD: Working out our salvation in fear and trembling should compel us to seek God, rather than live our Christianity primarily by our own understanding (Prov. 3:5-7). In Old Testament times people were to implicitly obey the prophet because only they, in general, could hear from God. The tearing of the veil (Lk. 23.45) represents the freedom in Christ to personally know and be led by God (Rom. 8:14). An Old Testament authoritative prophecy today would be a denial of our priesthood. The main responsibility today is to weigh prophecies and respond as the Bible, the Spirit, and those we trust confirm. Because good communication is learned, Christians are to be on a learning curve of intimacy with God.
DJ: This priesthood argument for unauthoritative prophecy has three main problems. First, far from an "implicit" or unquestioning obedience to the Old Covenant prophets, God required the people to evaluate the prophetic message (Dt. 18:21,22; 13:3) just like in the New (1 Cor. 14:29). Second, faithful Old Covenant believers were a "kingdom of priests" (Ex. 19:6; 1 Pet. 2:9), yet that didn't permit false prophecy. Third, even an "expanded" priesthood gives reason only for wider prophecy, not false prophecy. The Spirit now gloriously empowers us to obey God's commands in a way unrealizable in the Old (Heb. 10:10; Rom. 8:4), declaring those same commands "holy and righteous and good" (Rom. 7:12) and "not burdensome" (1 Jn. 5:3), even though they call for the punishment of false prophets.
MD: Old Covenant believers failed to enter their priesthood regarding intimacy with God or why the Levitical priesthood? They asked not to hear from God, according to Exodus 19:20. Hence, they were unable to discern by the Holy Spirit. That is why the Deuteronomy 18:21,22 test was strictly accuracy as opposed to evaluation. Regarding the New Covenant, Jesus said "My sheep listen to my voice." Deuteronomy 13:3 states false prophets as those who promoted false gods. Jesus indicated the main criteria for accessing prophets should be the fruit rather than accuracy. Both Jonah and Ezekiel would be false prophets if a strictly legal and technical view were taken of Jonah 3 and Ezekiel 26:7-12 and 29:18.
DJ: Even if someone agreed with everything you say here about intimacy and priesthood, it wouldn't entail that God's requirements of truthfulness have been weakened. The questions of intimacy and priesthood are simply irrelevant to the point about fallibility. Moreover, if accuracy is not part of evaluation, then it wouldn't matter if one revealed the Shepherd's own voice or another's. Also, you give no support for your claim about Christ lowering the standards of accuracy. You would need to do this, given Christ's condemnation of those who would annul one of the least of the Old Covenant commandments (Matt. 5:19; Mk. 7:9-13) and His description of false prophets as those who speak inaccurately about His presence (Matt. 24:5, 23ff).
MD: Understanding Old/New Testament differences concerning priesthood are critical in regards to prophecy today. Regarding infallibility I did not say accuracy in not part of the evaluation, but that fruit is the essential criteria. Because of the New Covenant, prophecy today is spelled with a little rather than big "p". In the O.C., as King Saul learned, directional prophesies were to be implicitly obeyed (1 Samuel 18:8-13). Paul stated prophecy today is to encourage not direct or control. Jeremiah 31:34 states, "they shall all know the Lord." We are to grow in the art of encouraging one another, which like life, means occasional mistakes. False prophets are those who operate with wrongful motivation, or are continually off.
DJ: Can't we agree that appeals to priesthood and Jeremiah 31 are irrelevant at least to the issue of fallibility ? Both might give evidence of a wider work of the Spirit, but neither suggests that New Covenant prophecy will be occasionally mistaken. Also, given that the offices of priest and prophet were largely distinct, a change in the priesthood wouldn't necessarily change the prophetic office. More interesting is your renewed claim that prophecy today is to "encourage not direct or control." But David said that God's Old Covenant revelation was delightful, comforting, and sweeter than honey (Ps. 119:47,50, 103), and John's New Covenant prophecy to the seven churches threatened the severest curses. Both Covenants include encouragement and control.
MD: Many Bible passages can't be taken merely from surface understanding, or else many should "cut off" hands and "pluck out" eyes. The description of false prophets in Deuteronomy 18 is "presumptuous" from the Hebrew zadown . Zadown and the root word ziyd , mean arrogant, proud, and/or insolent. Ezekiel's unfulfilled word of Ezekiel 26:7-12; 29:18 did not render him a false prophet. Agabus's prophecy to Paul (Acts 21:11) was true in general but wrong in specifics. Because prophecy today is not "thus saith" words to be canonized, Christians in humility with good intent, can make an honest mistake in prophesy (making accountability necessary). Otherwise Paul's encouragement of "you can all prophesy in turn" (1 Cor 14:31) would be spiritual Russian roulette.
DJ: Please help clarify something for me. Earlier you claimed that the Old Covenant required "strict accuracy" but other times you suggest via Joel, Ezekiel, and Deuteronomy that it didn't. Which was it, strict or not strict? Deuteronomy 18 doesn't say pride is the test of prophecy but that accuracy is the test for pride. Your appeal to Ezekiel and Agabus are unjustifiable arguments from silence, but even granting your use of them, surely there is a difference between vagueness and falsity. A vague but verifiably true prophecy is different from an untrue prophecy. Allowing prophecy to be legitimately mistaken guts it of any authority or confidence whatsoever. Even the most confident prophecy could be mistaken.
MD: I stated accuracy was the only way the Hebrews could determine true prophets, (the priesthood issue again). God, however, always looks at the heart (1 Sam.16:7). In God's grace it is possible to have a good record yet be imperfect. Ezekiel was indubitably a true prophet because of his consistency and fruit, but it is a matter of scriptural record that Ezekiel 26:12 was unfulfilled. In answer to your last question, Paul states in 1Cor.14 "prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said." New Covenant Spirit-led discernment and biblical consistency are our tools for correct assessment. Douglas, why did Jesus say to "know prophets by their fruit" as opposed to strictly accuracy?
DJ: You reassert the requirement of accuracy but suggest that Ezekiel was a true prophet who failed to meet it. One of these must go. Nothing in the Ezekiel passage limits its fulfillment to one person, and Alexander clearly fulfilled it later. But see how your position on prophecy forces you to start weakening the claims of truth throughout Scripture. Jesus' command concerning fruit can't be set at odds with accuracy and truth, since Scripture tells us that "the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth" (Eph. 5:9). If prophecies can be false, and many people prophesied that the Toronto Blessing is genuine, could those prophecies be mistaken?
MD: Ezekiel 26:7-12 is clearly addressed to Nebuchadnezzer king of Babylon, not anyone else. Ezekiel possibly made an honest mistake as opposed to speaking out of presumption. I see 4 distinctions between Old and New Covenant prophesies; (1) There is no equivalent to the main Old Testament prophets, except the apostles. You referred to Revelation; let's not forget John was an Apostle. (2) Old Testament words were "thus saith" word-by- word prophecies meant to be canonized, unlike today. (3) Rather than directive words of a few men to be feared, Deuteronomy 18:22, we can all prophesy, as the Spirit speaks, in order to encourage one another (1 Cor.14:31). Regarding Toronto prophecies, Matthew 7:20 suggests: "What's the fruit of those involved"?
DJ: You've chosen not to respond to my counterexamples for your point (3). Your (1) and (2) seem to undermine each other since Ezekiel spoke two "thus saiths" (Ezek. 26:3,7) in the passage where you think he was mistaken, and if the Apostles are equivalent to that sort of fallible prophet, then the Apostles could be just as "honestly mistaken" as Ezekiel. Doesn't your view undermine any infallible word from God? If the Spirit wasn't strong enough to speak infallibly through Ezekiel, perhaps He also spoke fallibly through the Apostles. If we are to look to fruit, shouldn't we worry about a Christian perspective which implies that Christ's Gospel itself could be mistaken?
MD: The infallible Bible illustrates God speaking through imperfect people: Peter, an Apostle, needing to be rebuked (Gal. 2), the older prophet prophesying falsely then correctly (1 Kings 13:18-21), or Nathan changing his previous word (2 Sam. 7:2-5). It is a presupposition to believe that either a prophet is always infallible or else a false prophet, such as Balaam. The prophets and Apostles experienced true inspiration but at other times were imperfect. Your view renders Paul's exhortations of 1 Cor.14:1,5,26,29,31,39 hazardous, and Jesus' words regarding fruit untrustworthy. We must take the Bible as a whole and trust the Spirit to lead, even with our humanness, or one ends up dismissing scriptures which don't fit our theories as irrelevent.
DJ: Your opening citations appear irrelevant, since they aren't cases of divine revelation, and your appeal to Paul and Christ assume what you needed to prove. You've also chosen not to explain why fruit or encouragement now excludes truth (cf. Eph. 5:9). You speak of an "infallible Bible," yet if even the "strict" Old Covenant prophets could speak falsely, then any kind of infallibility is out the window, and the Gospel itself is in question (and no amount of equally fallible "leading of the Spirit" will rescue the situation). I can't help but worry about the consequences -- long term consequences -- that this sort of conclusion will have on the sheep.
Marc, thanks for being so good to take part in this discussion. I know we each could go on more. Years ago we were in the same church and of one mind on this subject, and though I have since abandoned my charismatic convictions (for greater joys, in my view), we can at least be sure to be of one mind again when we bow in joy before the Lamb in glory. Thanks again.

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