First of all, let’s begin with the definition of the word prophesy. The word for prophesy is “propheteuo,” which means the following: “to prophesy, to be a prophet, speak forth by divine inspirations, to predict.” Also implied in this term is the following definition: “to utter forth or declare a thing which can only be known by divine revelation.” It also includes the idea of foretelling future events and breaking forth in sudden impulse with teaching or admonishment. Thus, prophecy, or to prophesy, is, in essence speaking for God. A prophet is given divine revelation by God to deliver as a spokesperson for God, or he may simply declare what God has already revealed. What prophets speak may or may not be inspired. For example, we certainly don’t have everything that Jeremiah or Isaiah said, but what we do have in the Bible is the inspired Word of God. All of their prophesying could have been prompted by God, but not all of what they were given was meant to be Scripture. Much of what they said had future implications, all of which came true. It appears that prophecy is thus more than a mere speaking forth of truth. Prophecy is more often than not speaking the divine revelations and oracles of God. It is especially important to note that the gift of prophecy is differentiated from the gift of pastor-teacher when Paul gives the lists of gifts in Ephesians 4:11: “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers.” Thus, in light of the definition of the word and the fact that Paul differentiated it from the other gifts which require a speaking forth of God’s Word, it seems reasonable to conclude that prophecy was a separate gift and ministry. Prophecy is thus not to be used interchangeably with preaching and teaching. The question remains as to whether or not it is a gift that is still in effect.
Hebrews 1:1-2 says, “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.” In the Old Testament, when as yet the Bible was incomplete, God regularly spoke through prophets. Prophets found one another out and learned from one another as Elisha did from Elijah. Those who needed a word from God would ask the prophet to seek God on their behalf. God would speak to the prophet who would relay the message to them. Other times the prophets would go and declare a message from God whether or not the people wanted to hear it. This prophetic office lasted until the coming of Christ, as this passage in Hebrews indicates. God was silent for 400 years before the coming of Christ, and then He spoke through His Son. Thus, the office of prophet was no longer needed since the ultimate prophet, we could say, came in the Person of Christ. After Christ ascended into heaven, the apostles were to carry on the ministry of God. These were the men who had seen the risen Christ and were commissioned by God to be sent out as missionaries into the world to establish the church. Once these eye-witnesses of Christ went to be with the Lord, the church had been established. Thus, the apostolic ministry ended and the age of the church began. While the apostles were yet alive and likely even through the time up until the canon of Scripture was fully completed, the gift of prophecy was still active. The prophetic office had ended but the gift of prophesy and prophetic ministry was active. This is why commands had to be given about how it was to be used. For example, Romans 12:6 says, “Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith.” 1 Corinthians 12-14 spends a great deal of time discussing prophecy in the local church. 1 Corinthians 13:2 implies that prophecy involves having insight into mysteries and knowledge that, presumably, others might not have. This again supports the idea that, before Scripture was completed, God gave revelation through prophets who enabled the early church to understand God’s will and ways, particularly in light of the Old Testament Scriptures. The prophets were said to be greater than teachers and only second to the apostles (1 Corinthians 12:28). The work of prophecy was edification and exhortation, which appears to be more the focus during this time than the foretelling of future events, though that likely did happen. There seem to be some miraculous insights given prophetically to these individuals who would have been able to disclose the secrets of men’s hearts to them (1 Corinthians 14:25). Prophecy was done orderly, one by one, and all spoke coherently about God’s desires and commands (1 Corinthians 14:31-33).
To say that prophecy only meant the speaking forth of God’s Word is to oversimplify matters. Prophecy was active during the time of the early church with gifts of miracles, healings, tongues, and interpretation of tongues. What we must determine is whether or not prophecy is still an active gift or if it was given for a special time to support and edify the church while as yet the Word of God was not complete. 1 Corinthians 13 states that gifts of prophecy will be “done away.” The phrase clearly means that they will be abolished and put to an end. The issue is if this has already happened or if it is yet to occur. Revelation 22:18-19 says, “I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book.” God makes it clear that all that we need to know about future events is bound up in God’s revelation to John. Thus, we can infer that God is not giving any prophecy about future events any longer. Furthermore, since the Scripture speaks of itself that it is sufficient to make us adequate and equipped (2 Timothy 3:16-17), we can conclude that we don’t need any additional revelatory prophecy. We have all that we need to know in the written Word of God. The written Bible was completed near the end of the first century A.D., though the formal canon wasn’t completed for several hundred years after this time. Once all of the Scripture was available, which it was shortly into the second century, I believe we can infer that New Testament prophetic ministry came to an end. We don’t need any more insights into divine mysteries for the Bible explains what we need to know. Since teaching and preaching carry the burden to edify and exhort, there is really no need for prophecy to exist any longer (2 Timothy 4:2). Even Timothy was to study the word so that he could rightly teach it (2 Timothy 2:15) and to read it publicly (1 Timothy 4:13). Thus, the word that Paul was most concerned with Timothy speaking and teaching was what had already been written. Some prophecy could have still been going on at this point, but once the written Word was finished, I don’t see why prophecy would need to continue on.
This is evidenced by the Scripture. The original language in Hebrews 1:1-2 infers that when God spoke through Christ as recorded by His servants the apostles and prophets, He spoke once for all. In other words, there will be no more revelation or prophecy until the second coming of Christ. Joel 2:28-29 indicates that prophesy will be reactivated at the second coming of Christ so that all mankind will prophesy as God reveals Himself more than before. In the meantime, Christ has spoken, and His church has been established. Ephesians 2:20 says that the household of God, the church, has “been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone.” Ephesians 3:5 also indicates that God revealed the mystery of Christ and the foundation of the church through the apostles and prophets. Thus, prophesy through the Old Testament office, prophesy through Christ, and prophesy through the New Testament apostles and prophets was all part of what we now have as God’s written and complete Word. Prophesy will happen again when Christ returns, but until then we need to take advantage of all that Christ has given us in this time through His finished Word and the leading of His Holy Spirit which is sufficient for all things pertaining to life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3).
This does not make the church boring or dead, for we can still seek the Holy Spirit of God. God still speaks through His Word and by His Spirit to our hearts according to His Word. The Scripture is alive, and our Savior is alive. Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Life in Christ is a living and active experience with our risen Savior as He guides us into all truth by His Spirit and works to conform us into His image. We need to pay attention to the Holy Spirit within our hearts, not grieving Him or quenching Him. He has plenty of ministry to do aside from prophetic ministry given that we have an entire Bible to study and learn. We need to let God’s Word dwell in us richly (Colossians 3:16) so that we can have the wisdom that we need. We can count on God to supply us with whatever wisdom that we may be lacking. Christ is sufficient and His Word is sufficient. We truly have all that we will ever need until Christ returns because of Christ and His Word.
Thayer and Smith. "Greek Lexicon entry for Propheteuo". "The New Testament Greek Lexicon".