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The Prophetic Gift

Generally speaking, this week’s published lesson study gives an excellent general discussion of the prophetic gift as experienced in both testaments. My comments for the most part state that much more could be said about the gift—which may, at times, surprise us—regarding the diversity of its manifestations and the type of people used by God.

Regarding the Old Testament: The writer of Hebrews well said, “In the past, God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways” (Heb 1:1).


Deuteronomy 13:1–5, seems to suggest that even a false prophet can at times get things right. The true prophet will always lead hearers to the prophecy and to worship the true God.

The text of Deuteronomy 13: 1–5, is to be preferred to Jeremiah 28:9, when it comes to discerning true prophets from false ones. The Jeremiah test in context is a contest between Hananiah and Jeremiah. Jeremiah predicted the destruction of Jerusalem followed by an exile; Hananiah prophesied peace.

We often use Jeremiah 28:9, incorrectly. In effect, the text says that if the prophecies of Hananiah, who prophesied peace, came to pass one would know that God had spoken through him rather than through Jeremiah.

Sometimes a false prophet can get things right (as explained in the lesson). However, sometimes a true prophet predicts events that don’t come to pass because there are conditional aspects. Sometimes, a true prophet prophesies in order to avoid the event, as, for example, with Jonah. At times, the prophecy can have a conditional element, even when it is not stated.

It is common to find those who oppose the prophetic ministry of Ellen White often quoting prophecies of hers that seem to foretell the return of Jesus in her day. Why don’t they also oppose the prophetic ministries of John (Rev. 1:3, 7; 22:12, 20) and Paul (1 Thess. 4:17; 1 Cor. 15:51–55), who also seemed to believe that Jesus would return in their lifetimes?

Sunday: Patriarch and Prophet

1 Kings 13:1–32, seems to broaden our understanding regarding the humanity of prophets. The older prophet speaks lies, yet also gives a true prophecy described in the text as the “word of the Lord.” The younger prophet gives a true prophecy, but is deceived into disobedience and loses his life. As with the story of Balaam, this text seems to teach that someone may be a true prophet, yet become a false or apostate prophet.

Here is a passage that seems to break most of the guidelines we imagine existing for the gift of prophecy.

Tuesday: Prophets in Israel

I am conscious of a statement found in Ellen White’s book, Desire of Ages, page 33:

Outside of the Jewish nation there were men who foretold the appearance of a divine instructor. These men were seeking for truth, and to them the Spirit of inspiration was imparted. One after another, like stars in the darkened heavens, such leaders had arisen. Their words of prophecy had kindled hope in the hearts of thousands of the Gentile world.

Could this be repeated as we await the second coming of Jesus?

Music seems to have played an important part in prophesying. For example, David set apart the sons of Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun for the ministry of prophesying accompanied by harps, lyres, and cymbals (1 Chron. 25:1). Many biblical psalms that played a part in the temple ritual apparently had a prophetic origin.

Prophesying could come upon people involuntary at times, as with the case of Saul and his messengers (1 Sam. 19:20–23).

Thursday: New Testament Prophets

Diversity in the way the gift is manifested is also indicated in the New Testament.

Although Luke regularly names established prophets such as Anna, Agabus, and others, he does not always call those who prophesy “prophets.” Among this group are the following:

Mary (Luke 1:46–55)

Zechariah (Luke 1:67–69)

Simeon (Luke 2:25–35)

Ananias (Acts 9:10)

To this list, we may add Caiaphas (John 11:49–52), the apostate high priest.

From this list, we can see that a variety of individuals may experience the gift of prophecy and consciously or unconsciously make prophetic statements. They may—or may not—go through this experience again.

Peter’s reference to the fulfillment of the prophecy made by Joel in Acts 2:17—21, seems to imply that the gift of prophecy will become more widespread among diverse kinds of people. Should we expect something different since Pentecost?

Well might we ponder points made by Paul: Although not all will be prophets (1 Cor. 12:29), all should eagerly desire the gift of prophecy (1 Cor. 14:1), which brings strength, encouragement, and comfort to the church (1 Cor. 14:3).

Ephesians 5:19, admonishes Christians to “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord. ” Andrew T. Lincoln understands this passage calling Christians to speak “to one another in psalms and hymns and songs inspired by the Spirit, … ‘spiritual songs’ to snatches of spontaneous praise prompted by the Spirit.&#133”1

[T]he songs which the believers sing to each other are spiritual because they are inspired by the Spirit.…Phil 2:6–11; Col 1:15–20; Eph 5:14; 1 Tim 3:16 may provide some examples which have found their way into the NT, to snatches of song freshly created in the assembly.…Believers who are filled with the Spirit delight to sing the praise of Christ, and such praise comes not just from the lips but from the individual’s innermost being, from the heart, where the Spirit himself resides.…2

We may not want to include all music, yet is it possible that God inspires music this way sometimes, as in Old Testament temple worship?

What can we learn about the diversity of the gift of prophecy as revealed in Acts 21?

  1. Verse 4: The disciples “through the Spirit” urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem. This is a term that Luke used earlier to describe the gift of prophecy (11:28), yet Paul and his party seemed to ignore the counsel and continue on their way.
  2. Verse 4: Phillip’s daughters prophesied.
  3. Verses 21:10–12, 30–33: Agabus, an itinerant prophet, prophesied correctly, although he seems to have gotten a few details wrong. When Luke and others heard this, they plead with Paul not to go, but Agabus does not seem to have joined them.
  4. Paul was an apostle prophet, as pointed out in this week’s lesson. In Acts 20:22, he seems to have been led by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem.

How do we see Ellen White’s prophetic ministry? Like any of the examples found in this chapter? Is her work like that described in 1 Corinthians 14?

Notes and References

1. Andrew T. Lincoln, Word Biblical Commentary: Ephesians, no. 42 (Dallas, Texas: Word Publishing, 1990), 345–6.

2. Ibid.

Graeme Bradford has served as a Seventh-day Adventist pastor, evangelist, and missionary, and as a professor in the Theology Department of Avondale College. Among his publications are three recently released books: Prophets are Human, People are Human: Look at What They Did to Ellen White!, and More than a Prophet.

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