Piper contends along the same lines as Wayne Grudem that NT prophecy was of a different character than OT prophecy. I appreciate how Piper acknowledges and concedes why people would have a hang-up over such a declaration. He also argues that the NT gift of teaching is fallible and a good analogy of how NT prophecy works:
Spirit-Prompted yet No Intrinsic, Divine Authority
Now ask yourself this question: Did Joel and Peter and Luke think that all the men and women—old and young, menservants and maidservants—would become prophets in the same sense that Moses and Isaiah and Jeremiah were prophets, that is, people who spoke with verbal inspiration and with the very authority of God and who could write infallible Scripture? Is the prophesying of Acts 2:17 that sort of prophecy? Or is there a difference?
I believe there is a difference. I don’t think the gift of prophecy today has the authority of the Old Testament prophets or the authority of Jesus and the apostles. Or, to put it more positively, this sort of prophecy is prompted and sustained by the Spirit and yet does not carry intrinsic, divine authority.
One of the reasons that this kind of prophecy is so hard to get a handle on today is that most of us do not have categories in our thinking for a Spirit-prompted statement that doesn’t have intrinsic, divine authority. That sounds like a contradiction. We stumble over a kind of speech that is prompted and sustained by the Holy Spirit and yet is fallible. But I am going to try to show this morning and this evening that this is what the gift of prophecy is in the New Testament and today. It is a Spirit-prompted, Spirit-sustained utterance that does not carry intrinsic, divine authority and may be mixed with error.
Now if that makes the gift of prophecy seem insignificant and unedifying, consider the analogy of the gift of teaching.
The Analogy of the Gift of Teaching
Would you not say that, when the spiritual gift of teaching is being exercised, teaching is prompted and sustained by the Spirit and is rooted in an infallible, divine revelation, namely, the Bible? The gift of teaching is the Spirit-prompted, Spirit-sustained act of explaining biblical truth for the edification of the church. And all of us would say it is tremendously valuable in the life of the church. But would any of us say that the speech of a teacher, when he is exercising the gift of teaching, is infallible? No. Would we say it has divine authority? Only in a very secondary sense would we say so. Not in itself, not intrinsically, but in its source, Bible.
Why is it that a gift that is Spirit-prompted and Spirit-sustained and rooted in an infallible revelation (the Bible) is nevertheless fallible, mixed with imperfection, and only has secondary, derivative authority? The answer is this: A teacher’s perception of biblical truth is fallible; his analysis of biblical truth is fallible; his explanation of biblical truth is fallible. There is no guarantee that the link between an infallible Bible and the church will be an infallible link. The gift of teaching does not guarantee infallible teaching.
And yet, even though the gift of teaching is fallible and even though it lacks intrinsic, divine authority, we know it is of immense value to the church. We are all edified and built up by gifted teachers. God is in it. He does use it. It is a spiritual gift.
Now compare this to the gift of prophecy. It is prompted by the Spirit and sustained by the Spirit and based on a revelation from God. God reveals something to the mind of the prophet (in some way beyond ordinary sense perception), and since God never makes a mistake, we know that his revelation is true. It has no error in it. But the gift of prophecy does not guarantee the infallible transmission of that revelation. The prophet may perceive the revelation imperfectly, he may understand it imperfectly, and he may deliver it imperfectly. That’s why Paul says we see in a mirror dimly (1 Corinthians 13:12). The gift of prophecy results in fallible prophecy just like the gift of teaching results in fallible teaching. So I would ask, “If teaching can be good for the edification of the church, could not prophecy be good for edifying as well, just as Paul says it is (1 Corinthians 14:3, 12, 26)—even though both of them are fallible, mixed with human imperfection, and in need of testing?
Creating a New Category in Our Thinking
The point of what I have been saying is this: we need to create a category in our thinking for a kind of speech that is Spirit-prompted, Spirit-sustained, revelation-rooted, and yet in need of testing and sifting. We need another category of prophet besides the one of true prophet, on the one hand, who spoke with infallible, verbal inspiration (the prophetic biblical authors and Jesus and the apostles), and false prophet, on the other hand, who is condemned in Deuteronomy 13:3; 18:20 (cf. Jeremiah 23:16). The teaching that we find in the Bible about prophecy is simply not exhausted by these two categories. We need a third category for the “spiritual gift of prophecy”—Spirit-prompted, Spirit-sustained, revelation-rooted, but mixed with human imperfection and fallibility and therefore in need of sifting.
I say sifting because in 1 Thessalonians 5:19–22 that is what happens. It is not the prophet who is being tested as true or false. It is the prophecies that are being sifted for what is good and bad. “Do not quench the Spirit, do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast to what is good, abstain from every form of evil.” This is not an either/or situation where you either have a true, infallible prophet or a false, presumptuous prophet. It is a situation in which some of the prophecy is good and some is not.
Paul says that if we despise it because of this imperfection, we quench the Spirit. I hope you want to avoid that with all your heart. How shall we do that? There is so much more to say. I will pick it up here tonight, give additional reasons, and practical implications. May the Lord himself teach us even this afternoon.
Piper, J. (2007; 2007). Sermons from John Piper (1990-1999) The Authority and Nature of the Gift of Prophecy
March 25, 1990 Desiring God; Minneapolis, MN.
© 2009, Rick Hogaboam. All rights reserved.