This article on modern prophecy, looks at Jesus Christ as prophet, Deuteronomy 18:18, New Testament prophets, and the evaluation of prophecy.

Source: Clarion, 1996. 4 pages.

Prophecy Today?

Is prophecy something restricted to the early church or is it a phenomenon that we should still expect today? In the so-called “Toronto Blessing” people laugh, cry, fall to the ground, and manifest other forms of strange behaviour.1 Connected to the “Toronto Blessing” is an appeal to prophecy. A recent article in The Banner reported the following: In the sermon, Pastor Mark Dupont of the Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship “compared the Toronto Blessing, which he called ‘the laughing revival,’ to other revivals in history. ‘These are the end times. Prophetic revelation is coming forth,’ he said. ‘All over the world, something has begun to happen. God wants to reveal himself to us.’”2 Noteworthy in this brief quotation from the sermon are the two references to “prophetic revelation.” How is one to evaluate such an appeal to prophecy and revelation?

“A Prophet Like You”🔗

New Testament prophecy needs evaluation. The apostle Paul makes clear that as tongues need interpretation, so prophecy needs to be evaluated. It needs to be “distinguished” or “weighed.”3These references give some indication that the New Testament prophecy is similar in character to Old Testament prophecy. Just as the Corinthian prophets only saw through a mirror “in obscurity,” so God also spoke to the Old Testament prophets “in riddles” (1 Corinthians 13:12; Numbers 12:7). Only through Moses did God speak “face to face.”

This enigmatic method of revelation by means of prophets other than Moses had not been the Lord’s initial method of contact with His people. His self-revelation at Mount Sinai had been accompanied by awesome signs of his presence. The Lord even told Moses to warn the people to put limits around the mountain, so that they would not “see the Lord and many of them perish” (Exodus 19:21). The whole event had such a glorious character that the people themselves said to Moses: “Speak to us and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die” (Exodus 20:19).

When the people were on the verge of crossing the Jordan River to enter the promised land, Moses reminded them of these events:

The LORD spoke to you face to face out of the fire on the mountain. At that time I stood between the LORD and you to declare to you the word of the LORD, because you were afraid of the fire and did not go up to the mountain.Deuteronomy 5:4-5

Moses reminded the Israelites that it was at their own request that the Lord had placed a mediator between himself and the people (cf. Deuteronomy 5:24-25). Initially, however, God had revealed himself to them “face to face.” It is only because the people could not handle the glory of the Lord himself that they had asked for Moses to function as a mediator. From now on, he was allowed to see the Lord “face to face,” while they would only have indirect contact with their God. The Lord approved of this suggestion by the people: Their suggestion was good (Deuteronomy 5:28; 18:17).4 It was good that they were aware that they needed Moses as a prophet to stand in between the Lord and themselves.

In accordance with their request, the Lord made His promise to indeed raise up for them a prophet like Moses (Deuteronomy 18:18). This prophecy did not directly refer to the coming Messiah. In first instance, it spoke of the prophets of the Old Testament dispensation. After all, the Lord immediately added a method of evaluating the prophecy: If the prophecy did not come true it was not really a revelation from God (Deuteronomy 18:21-22). If a prophecy did come true, this in itself was not yet proof that the prophet spoke God’s very own words. Then there was a second evaluation: If the prophet incited to idolatry he was a false prophet (Deuteronomy 13:1-5). Finally, even if it had become clear that a prophet did speak the word of the Lord, this did not mean the end of all discussion: The implications of the prophecy were not always immediately clear, not even to the prophets themselves (1 Peter 1:10-11). After all, God always spoke to the prophets in visions and dreams, in riddles, not “face to face” as with Moses (Numbers 12:6-7). In fact, throughout the Old Testament, the prophecy of Deuteronomy 18 about a “prophet like you” was not completely fulfilled. In the last chapter of Deuteronomy it says that since his death, “no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, who did all those miraculous signs and wonders the LORD sent him to do in Egypt – to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land” (34:10-11).

Ultimately, therefore, this prophecy of Deuteronomy 18 is only fulfilled in the great prophet and teacher, Jesus Christ. The righteous in Israel knew this. When they saw Jesus feeding five thousand people from five barley loaves and two fish they said, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world” (John 6:14). When Jesus said to them that he had living water for them to drink some of the people reacted by exclaiming, “Surely this man is the Prophet.” Others explained, “He is the Christ” (John 7:40-41). That is also why Jesus himself said to the Pharisees that, “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me” (John 5:46). Moses wrote about Jesus, for he wrote about the prophet who would break five barley loaves and two fish to feed five thousand, of the prophet who would claim to be the living water.

This is also what Peter confessed after healing the crippled beggar in Acts 3: Repent, that God may send the Christ who has been appointed for you-even Jesus! Peter then continued: “For Moses said, ‘the Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you’” (3:19-20). Similarly Stephen, when he faced the Sanhedrin and confessed Jesus as his Saviour, said about Moses: “This is that Moses who told the Israelites, ‘God will send you a prophet like me from your own people’” (Acts 7:37).

New Testament Prophets🔗

This christological fulfilment of Deuteronomy 18 does not mean that prophecy has ceased with the coming of Christ. I already noted the similarities between Numbers 12 and 1 Corinthians 13. Also the next chapter, 1 Corinthians 14, illustrates some remarkable similarities between Old Testament and New Testament prophecy. Both need to be weighed. The test of the (non-)fulfilment of the prophecy (Deuteronomy 18:21-22) does not really come to the fore in the New Testament. Presumably, non-fulfilment of a prophecy would automatically mean the disqualification of a prophet and his prophecies, also without this being explicitly mentioned. It is clear, however, also in the New Testament, that a prophecy does not automatically have the last word. Both Paul and John call for discernment of prophecies. The criterion for establishing whether or not a revelation comes from God is fully in line with the Old Testament. There, the test was whether a prophet would incite to idolatry. In the New Testament, this same theocentric test receives a christological focus. In 1 Corinthians 12:3 Paul states that “no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, ‘Jesus be cursed,’ and no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.” Similarly, John warns his readers:

Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God.1 John 4:1-3

This test is very similar to the one described in Deuteronomy 13, the only difference being the christological New Testament emphasis in Paul and John.5

Christians “test” spirits to see whether they are from God. Even when there is no reason for doubt about this, there is still a need to evaluate the prophecy. Just as in the Old Testament the prophets did not see all the implications of the revelation which they had received, so this is also the case in the New Testament. In fact, when Paul was on his way to Jerusalem on his third missionary journey, he was warned twice that he would be imprisoned in Jerusalem, first by disciples in Syria and then by the prophet Agabus (Acts 21:4, 10-11). Despite the fact that these prophecies clearly came from the Spirit, Paul did not follow the advice which his Christian friends gave him. He continued on his way, and in Jerusalem the prophecies of his imprisonment came true. The reason why Paul did not follow up the advice based on prophecies from the Holy Spirit is that he was compelled, also by the Holy Spirit, to go to Jerusalem, and that prison and hardships were something which the Holy Spirit warned him about in every city (Acts 20:22-23). Clearly then, Paul considers prophecy, even when it comes true and is inspired by the Holy Spirit, something which still needs to be evaluated.6  In this particular case, the evaluation meant that Paul did not go with the advice, even though it was based on true prophecy.7 Thus the apostle can even come to the statement that the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets (1 Corinthians 14:32).8  The spirits of prophets are to be submitted to other prophets who evaluate the prophecy.9

In 1 Corinthians 12-14, Paul wants to put an end to the chaos in the matter of tongues-speaking. In the process, he also regulates prophesying. He comes with three regulations: only two or three prophets are allowed to prophesy on one occasion; they must do it in turn; and if, while the one is speaking somebody else receives a revelation from God, then the first person must be silent (1 Corinthians 14:29-30). This makes it incontrovertible that prophecy is not something uncontrollable or ecstatic. It can be controlled. It is impossible to square these clear instructions of the apostle Paul with anything like a “Toronto Blessing.” Furthermore, in considering contemporary claims of prophetic revelation it is good to keep in mind that the weighing, the discernment, the evaluation of the prophecy was an integral part of the Corinthian worship services.


There are a number of conclusions that could be drawn from our study. I will restrict myself, however, to just a few as they pertain to the cessation or continuation of tongues and prophecy.

  • First, Scripture clearly connects faith to the gift of the Holy Spirit, to Spirit baptism. Spirit baptism is not a second blessing that comes with the gifts of tongues and prophecy. A second blessing theology endangers the unity of the church.

  • Second, the passage of 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 does not give a conclusive answer to the question regarding the cessation of these gifts. Reformed theology should not press this passage in trying to prove that tongues and prophecy have ceased with the closing of the canon. This interpretation is exegetically unwarranted and may give charismatic theologians reason not to take the Reformed position seriously.

  • Third, whatever the exact nature of tongues may have been, it is clear that both they and prophecy fulfilled a revelatory function. This means that the closing of the canon made them obsolete.

  • Finally, according to the book of Acts, tongues and prophecy function within a particular period of salvation history. This further supports the thesis that these gifts came to an end with the apostolic period.


  1. ^ Cf. G.H. Visscher, “Toronto Blessing or Temples of the Holy Spirit?” in Clarion 44:11 (June 2, 1995) 253-56. 
  2. ^ Gayla Postma, “My Non-encounter with the Toronto Blessing,” in The Banner, April 10, 1995, p. 6. 
  3. ^  Paul uses the noun diakrisis (distinguishing) in 1 Corinthians 12:10 and the verb diakrinō (distinguish, weigh) in 14:29. 
  4. ^ H. De Jong regards the Israelites’ request for a mediator as something negative, since it is a choice for indirect contact with God only Deuteronomium: De evangelische wet Kampen: Kok, 1987 I.47-48, II.15-16). There is nothing in the text, however, that suggests that the Lord does not really mean it when he says that the Israelites have spoken well.
  5. ^ Cf. the warnings against false prophets in Matthew 7:15; 24:11; 1 Timothy 4:1; 2 Peter 2:1.
  6. ^ J. Van Bruggen mentions several other examples of evaluation of prophecy (Acts 11:28-30; 13:2-3; 11:2-18; 16:9-10) in “Women in the Congregation: To Speak or Not to Speak?” Diakonia 6 (1992) 54.
  7. ^ D.A. Carson, following Wayne Grudem, goes one step further. In their view, the “distinguishing” of prophecy means that a prophetic oracle could be mixed in character: Not all of it had divine revelatory status. Carson appeals to the prophecy of Agabus, which stipulates that the Jews would bind Paul and hand him over to the Romans (Acts 21:10-11). In the fulfilment of the prophecy, however, Paul is not bound by the Jews but by the Romans, while the Jews try to kill Paul with mob violence. Says Carson: “I can think of no reported Old Testament prophet whose prophecies are so wrong on the details” (Showing the Spirit: A Theological Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12-14 [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1987], p. 98). I cannot find Carson convincing. In the fulfilment of Agabus’ prophecy, it is clearly the Jews who grab Paul (21:30), with the Roman soldiers stepping in and arresting him (21:33). This “transfer” from the Jews to the soldiers is clearly what Agabus had in mind. Cf. on this point Norris Wilson, “Prophecy Today,” in Proceedings of the International Conference of Reformed Churches, September 1-9, 1993 (Neerlandia, AB: Inheritance, 1993), pp. 130-32. 
  8. ^ Paul uses here the verb hupotassō, the same word he uses in verse 34 for the submission of women.
  9. ^ Gordon D. Fee understands this verse to mean that the inspired utterances of the prophets are subject to the speakers themselves. In other words, the speaker is in control of these revelations. Prophecy is not a form of ecstasy (The First Epistle to the Corinthians [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987], p. 696). The open question with this exegesis is why Paul repeats the word “prophets” if it refers to the very same speakers in both cases. In saying, “the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets” the natural reading would be to understand the second occurrence of the word “prophets” to refer to different “prophets.”

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