Below is an hour-long debate/discussion between Ian Hamilton (Cambridge Presbyterian Church; Cambridge, England) and Wayne Grudem (Phoenix Seminary, Arizona) on the role and continuation of prophecy in the church today. Adrian Reynolds moderated the discussion, which took place at Proclamation Trust‘s 2010 Evangelical Ministry Assembly (EMA).

HT: Paul Levy

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26 thoughts on “A Debate on the Continuation of Prophecy”

  1. Craig Hurst says:

    I found this to be very helpful. I am on Ian’s side on this. I agree with much of Wayne’s description of his position but I think he is wrongly using the term prophecy to describe it categorically.

  2. Daren Thomas says:

    Has anyone written a response to D. A. Carson’s book “Showing the Spirit?” If I remember correctly, Carson strengthened and corrected some of Grudem’s work on this subject. I would like to read a good scholarly response to the points raised by Carson qua Grudem.

    1. Peter Jeffcoat says:

      Speaking of Carson and this issue, read this (and no, Carson isn’t joking here): http://thecripplegate.com/dcrsns-defense-of-continuationism/

      1. Daren Thomas says:

        That Cripplegate post is a prime example of something that is unhelpful. It doesn’t address the main points raised by Carson qua Grudem. That post is ridicule with no argumentation to back up the “point and laugh” session.

        To reiterate I would like to read a scholarly response to Carson’s Showing the Spirit. Is anyone writing one or is there one written that I have not found?

  3. J.Clark says:

    I have a question for discussion: Why is there no evidence in the NT of the end of prophecy? Shouldn’t there be some mention that this talk of prophecy is going to end with the apostles? Someone would have to point me to such evidence in order for me to even enter the discussion. Paul doesn’t say (I Cor. 14:1) “earnestly desire the spiritual gifts especially prophecy and oh by the way, I’m only speaking to the apostles and when they die so does prophecy and after that just ignore what I say.” It doesn’t follow. Discuss.

    1. MB Livingston says:

      J, read the greek. Paul says “But you earnestly desire the greater gifts” and then he proceeds to show them a better way. The sentence is not a command. It is a chastisement. Read the entire context (chapters 12-14). He is chastising them for being showy and misusing the gifts. He is chastising them for thinking too highly of the gifts rather than focusing on love. That verse you cite is a chastisement, not a command.

      Look at how Grudem handles 1 Thess 5:20 in Systematic Theology. He says the verse says “Do not despise prophesying.” He doesn’t provide the citation for what translation he is using for that verse, so it must be assumed it is an author’s translation. Every major English translation says do not despise “the prophecies” or “prophecies,” as in the true prophecies delivered by the prophets (scripture). The greek is a noun. But Grudem says it is a verb and uses that verse to say that Paul was commanding them to not despise the act of prophesying. He then uses this incorrect translation to make the point that we are to still prophesy and we shouldn’t despise it today when it happens. Grudem misuses the Greek here and in other areas, unfortunately.

      My point is that you need to correctly handle the Greek when dealing with these verses or you’ll draw wild conclusions like Grudem does.

      Also, Grudem’s definition of prophecy is just flat out unbiblical. Grudem says there are prophecies from God in the Bible that are not 100% accurate. If any non-reformed pastor said such a thing, they’d be lambasted by Justin Taylor, et all. But since Grudem says it, he gets a pass.

      If God gives a prophecy, it is 100% accurate and we MUST obey it. Grudem says God gives errant prophecies that we don’t need to obey. Show me in the Bible where God spoke and it wasn’t 100% accurate and 100% binding.

      1. Timothy says:

        In the RSV, the translations of 1 Thess 5:20 is pretty much as Grudem gives it. So there is at least one translation with which he is in agreement. Also pretty much all the translations seem to imply that the prophecies are those that are taking place in the Thessalonian church. So I do not think Grudem is quite as wild as you suggest.
        An example of a prophecy that was not 100% correct is that by Agabus in Acts 21. Was it from God?
        And there are examples of OT prophecies that do not take place.

      2. Henry says:

        MB Livingstone,

        One reason I don’t think your argument is persuasive is that the immediately following words are ‘test everything, hold fast to what is good’.

        Your interpretation would have us believe that we are to ‘test’ bona fide OT prophecies, as though there is some chance they could be wrong.

        1. Jared O says:

          Great point Henry, way to keep things in context. The problem I’ve always run into with cessationist arguments is they deal with such isolated Scriptures to support this idea that the gifts ceased when a natural reading of the New Testament doesn’t give you that impression at all.

        2. Robert says:

          Henry makes a very good and important observation. From reading various responses here I believe an important distinction that Grudem makes is between what I will call (1) scripture level prophesying, and (2) the sharing of prophesies. We all agree that type (1) prophecy is inerrant and infallible and what we usually in Christian circles call “the Word of God”. That is not the type of prophesying that Paul is discussing in 1 Cor. 12-14 in my opinion (nor the type of prophesying in which he says “test all things” concerning as Henry correctly observed).

          This second form of prophesying is what I would liken to what some of us in modern times call “congregational sharing”. Some congregations allow for a time of public sharing in which anyone is allowed to stand and give something that they believe that God has put on their heart with the rest of the congregation during a public worship service. Is this prophecy like that given to Isaiah? No. Is it infallible and inerrant and beyond challenge? No. But here is the key: the Lord does put these kinds of things on the heart of his people. Sometimes we are given a burden to pray of a certain person or situation. Sometimes we are given wisdom about a practical situation which we are dealing with. It is these kinds of things that I believe Paul is discussing in 1 Cor. 12-14.

          People get alarmed (and rightly they should) when this kind of prophesying is elevated to type (1) status. Especially when some will preface their sharing with: “Thus says the Lord . . .” It would probably be better to say something like: “I believe that God has put this on my heart and I would like to share that . . .”

          The Corinthian church members were much more involved in their public services. But problems arose when some prophesied in non-shared languages (keep in mind that Corinth was a major seaport city with people constantly coming and going who spoke different languages than the native Greek language). So Paul tells them you can all participate in the service as long as you do so in a decent and orderly manner (i.e. all non-shared languages must be translated so that everyone understands the message, those who share/prophesy must do so one at a time rather than all at once simultaneously, if anyone shares a message/prophecies, that message must be evaluated by others, everything should be done in a decent and orderly manner).

          I believe that modern congregations would greatly benefit from this controlled and orderly sharing of messages/prophecies that God puts on people’s hearts. The Puritans engaged in this kind of thing as well and if I am not mistaken even saw this as “prophesying.” The dangers come when the type 2 sharing/prophesying is mistakenly seen as, and elevated to type 1 prophesying. I do not believe that type 1 prophesying continues today though congregations should make room in their services for the type 2 prophesying. As long as it is done in an orderly and edifying manner.

          Robert

      3. Robert says:

        Looking over MB’s comments there are some mistakes that need to be brought out into the open.

        “J, read the greek. Paul says “But you earnestly desire the greater gifts” and then he proceeds to show them a better way.”
        The better way is not a way that does not involve gifts, it is instead to use your gifts in a loving way. This is shown all over 1 Cor. 14 where Paul instructs the Corinthians to repeatedly consider others and do only what edifies or builds up others.

        “The sentence is not a command. It is a chastisement. Read the entire context (chapters 12-14). He is chastising them for being showy and misusing the gifts. He is chastising them for thinking too highly of the gifts rather than focusing on love. That verse you cite is a chastisement, not a command.”

        Actually there is no evidence in the passage that they were “being showy”. Looking at 1 Cor. 12-14 is like listening to one person on one side of a phone call. You can make out some of what the other person is saying (or in this case doing) by what the person you are actually listening to says. Look at Paul’s rules of order for the service and then conceive the opposite to see what they must have been doing. Paul tells them to always translate non-shared languages (opposite = some used non-shared languages without translating them for the sake of others who did not know the language being used). Paul tells them to prophesy one at a time and let others evaluate the messages (opposite = multiple people shared prophecies simultaneously and none of these simultaneous messages were being evaluated). Their problems were disorder and not considering others when doing what they were doing.

        “Look at how Grudem handles 1 Thess 5:20 in Systematic Theology. He says the verse says “Do not despise prophesying.” He doesn’t provide the citation for what translation he is using for that verse, so it must be assumed it is an author’s translation. Every major English translation says do not despise “the prophecies” or “prophecies,” as in the true prophecies delivered by the prophets (scripture).”

        That is begging the question on the part of MB assumes that the prophecies referred to had to have been the type (1) prophecy.

        “The greek is a noun. But Grudem says it is a verb and uses that verse to say that Paul was commanding them to not despise the act of prophesying. He then uses this incorrect translation to make the point that we are to still prophesy and we shouldn’t despise it today when it happens. Grudem misuses the Greek here and in other areas, unfortunately.”

        Actually I don’t believe that Grudem misuses the Greek here and in other areas. This is MB’s assertion which is not substantiated.

        Anyone can say of another that they are misusing the Greek. Fine, then document and show how they have done so.

        “My point is that you need to correctly handle the Greek when dealing with these verses or you’ll draw wild conclusions like Grudem does.”

        This is another unsubstantiated assertion: that Grudem draws wild conclusions. This kind of rhetoric does nothing in establishing the truth here. I do not believe Grudem’s claim to be “wild” at all. In listening to the debate Grudem and Hamilton agree that God sometimes put things in the hearts of his people (the disagreement is that Hamilton wants to restrict the term or word “prophecy” to type (1) prophecy, while Grudem suggests that the term can be used in reference to both type (1) prophecy and type (2) prophecy). If I were there I would have asked Hamilton: then what do you think we should call type (2) prophecy? And secondly why can’t it be called “prophecy” when in fact the Greek word “propheteuo” means “to speak forth”. Prophesying in the Greek merely means “speaking forth”. The debate is not even on the meaning of the Greek word “prophecy”/to speak forth but on whether the speaking forth that Paul talks about involved both type (1) and type (2) prophecies?

        “Also, Grudem’s definition of prophecy is just flat out unbiblical.”

        Again the Greek word merely means “speaking forth”. What determines the type of prophesy or speaking forth occurring is the content of the “speaking forth.”

        MB again engages in a mere unsupported assertion. The definition of the Greek word prophecy is “to speak forth”. So actually Grudem’s discussion fits this Greek word very well.

        “Grudem says there are prophecies from God in the Bible that are not 100% accurate.”

        Now this is a misrepresentation of Grudem. Grudem does not point to any examples of prophecies from God “that are not 100% accurate.”

        To give a glaring and obvious counter example. The apostle Paul talks about and makes lots of references to prophesying in 1 Cor. 14 and yet never gives any example of all of any of the prophecies that were being “spoken forth” at Corinth. He gives neither an example of a type (1) prophecy or an example of a type (2) prophecy. If type (2) prophesying was occurring in the first century, why should Paul ever give us the content of one of them? Put another way, if no examples are given, it does not follow that no type (2) prophesying was occurring at that time.

        “If any non-reformed pastor said such a thing, they’d be lambasted by Justin Taylor, et all. But since Grudem says it, he gets a pass.”

        I think this is an unfair criticism of Grudem. First of all he is and has been a calvinist in his theology for a long, long time. There are no doubts about him being “Reformed” in his theology.

        Second, in listening to the debate, it seemed clear to me that him and Hamilton agree on quite a bit. Both believe that there was a type (1) prophecy. Both agree about the nature of type (1) prophecy. Both believe that the Holy Spirit is alive and well and guiding his people today. Grudem made it clear that type (2) prophecy is not infallible, not inerrant and not on the same level as the type (1) prophecy. Grudem made it plain that he does not believe type (1) prophecy is occurring today: that the canon is closed.

        The disagreement again between Hamilton and Grudem is that Grudem wants to call type (2) prophesying prophecy while Hamilton does not. Hamilton does not want to call these type (2) utterances prophesying. Perhaps to make the point we should call them “blips” and then ask whether or not there is a place for “blips” in the modern church service (if the “blips” are shared in an orderly and decent manner by following the rules that Paul gave in 1 Cor. 14)? I appreciate and share and enjoy services where more than just the preacher, music director and worship team participate. I am built up when people share what God is doing in their lives and what God has put on their hearts and burdened them with. All of these are examples of “blips”.

        “If God gives a prophecy, it is 100% accurate and we MUST obey it.”

        Of course if it is type (1) prophesying. But that is just the point, the argument is whether or not type (2) prophesying exists and whether or not this kind of “speaking forth” may be fruitful in today’s public services.

        “Grudem says God gives errant prophecies that we don’t need to obey. Show me in the Bible where God spoke and it wasn’t 100% accurate and 100% binding.”

        Again, the scripture does not contain instances of type (2) prophecies. And why should it?

        I would challenge MB in response can you prove that everytime a believer today believes that God has put something on his heart that God has not really done it? Has MB never experienced any instances in his life when some individual seemed to have been given something by God that was not type (1) prophecy? Those of us who preach have often had the experience where after having delivered a message someone will come up to us afterwords and say something to the effect: “ Wow God was really speaking through you, you spoke exactly to my situation, how did you know . . .” All we did was deliver a message and yet the Spirit clearly took it and put it on someone’s heart. True our utterances were not type (1) prophecy, nor was the Spirit putting it on the heart of the listener a type (1) prophecy. But the fact is God still continues to put things on people’s hearts. I really don’t care what you want to call it. Call it “blips” if you want. But recognize that is really is God at work in the hearts of his people.

        Robert

  4. Thank you for posting this link, Justin. I found this discussion fascinating and helpful as the words, “God told me . . . ” always raise red flags for me. One of the treasures I discovered in the sermon resources on The Gospel Coalition website is a message by John Woodhouse called “Case Study—Guidance” which I highly recommend.

    1. Nick Batzig says:

      Nancy, I agree! Thanks for recommending Woodhouse’s message. It is very helpful!

  5. ASA says:

    “… holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these.” (2 Timothy 3)

  6. Jeff Downs says:

    The audio for this is located here. I was given permission to extract the audio and post it on our Sermon Audio site. I guess b/c Hamilton is on the board board of <a href="http://www.gpts.eduGPTS.

  7. Ben Pun says:

    thanks for posting. hamilton’s closing words in the last few minutes almost brought tears to my eyes! may our conversations about this topic be like this one — firm in our disagreements, but always done in deep love for one another in Christ.

    1. Lee Dyck says:

      Couldn’t agree more with you Ben! And thanks for the recommendation Nancy.

  8. Paul Torrez says:

    Thanks Justin this was both helpful and encouraging…

  9. Ryan says:

    Is it not important, both theologically and pastorally, to view the whole issue of continued revelation being normative in the life of the believer (specifically with regards to being led of the Spirit) in the context of the new covenant as a whole (particularly as it contrasts with the old covenant)? What I mean is this…was not the crux of the new covenant God taking His law and writing it on our hearts (Jeremiah 31:33, Hebrews 8:10)? In other words God taking a set of external commandments (His law) and making them the internal driving force of the believer. So that their desires reflect His desires.

    Because of this, are there not then massive issues with defining leadership of the Spirit (Romans 8:14 ‘all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God’) as an external commandment coming to a neutral heart (whatever form the subjective guidance takes, ‘prophetic’ words or otherwise)? Is not this the very arrangement God was specifically counteracting in the new covenant? Such a theology thus runs counter to the new covenant and conflicts with Paul speaking of leadership of the Spirit in the context of desire (the desires of the Spirit vs the desires of the flesh-Galatians 5:16-18).

  10. Ryan says:

    I wish Ian had pressed Wayne on his statements regarding the sufficiency of scripture. Wayne said that he believed in the doctrine (the sufficiency of scripture) only moments before saying he cancelled his subscription to the Chicago Tribune ‘out of obedience’ to what he felt God was telling him to do. Does he mean that if he hadn’t cancelled his subscription he feels he would’ve been disobeying God? If so does that not completely undermine the doctrine of sufficiency of scripture and, as a result, is not Wayne not taking away with the left hand what he is giving with the right?

    Regardless of what Wayne meant in those statements, it seems that in the context of that dialogue wanted to distinguish between sufficiency of scripture in a corporate sense vs sufficiency of scripture for the individual (ie he would never tell a class to cancel their subscriptions to daily newspapers HOWEVER God does still guide us subjectively with binding commandments (which might include directions regarding newspaper subscriptions)). But again, is he not taking away with the left hand what he is giving with the right? There is only marginal difference if any at all (in terms of undermining the sufficiency of scripture) between Wayne telling a class to cancel newspaper subscriptions and relaying an anecdote which communicates God could be telling them to do so by binding extra-biblical direction. This is especially so when he relays his anecdote couched in terms of ‘obedience’.

    It’s exactly that kind of theology, one that holds God gives new and binding commandments subjectively to individual believers, that binds the consciences’ of thousands of believers world-wide and communicates, implicitly, that scripture is not sufficient. This occurs regardless of any contrary assertions affirming scripture’s sufficiency.

  11. Steve Lynch says:

    Pastors could never pass the scrutiny that they place on Prophets. That’s why they had to get rid of us.

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Justin Taylor


Justin Taylor is senior vice president and publisher for books at Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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