by Joe Humphries
The Fallacy of Equating Prophecy with Scripture
We have all been on the wrong side of an argument at some point. We made a wrong assumption or didn’t believe something simply because we were not comfortable with the implications. Many today in the Church, especially in reformed circles, do not believe the office of prophet (Ephesians 4:11) or the gift of prophecy[JH1] (Romans 12:6) are still in operation today. “However,” as Douglas Moo says, “while it has an ancient and respectable pedigree, this view is inadequately grounded in the New Testament.” One objection which has been raised is the idea that if the Spirit is still speaking through prophets, then the canon will have to be reopened. However, as I will show below, this position is not supported by scripture. Further, it has hurt the church by ignoring Paul’s clear admonition to not neglect parts of the body of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-31) such as prophets.
So, would we have to reopen the canon if prophets are still around today? The assumption here is that prophecy is the same as scripture, but this assumption is incorrect. The people (Luke, Paul, John etc.) who wrote scripture did not record every prophecy. The Spirit prophesied through the seventy elders in Numbers 11 and the prophecies were not recorded. The New Testament mentions many prophets who were active during the time of the early church. For example, Acts 11 mentions a group of prophets who travelled from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them named “Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world.” It’s important to note that only the briefest mention is given of this prophecy, and none of the prophecies of the other prophets are included. Clearly there are many examples that reveal the authors of scripture did not function under the premise that all prophecy needs to be part of scripture.
Jesus was the greatest prophet because the Spirit was upon Him without limit (John 3:34) and His words were the Spirit Himself (John 6:63) yet scripture does not record every word Jesus said. Wouldn’t it be nice to have the content of this conversation in scripture, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (Luke 24:27)? Yet the content isn’t recorded for us to benefit from. Scripture doesn’t record every prophecy so why do people think the canon would need to be reopened if someone prophesied today?
Someone might ask if prophecy and scripture have the same authority. Yes, a real utterance of the Spirit has the same authority as scripture because scripture says so: “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God.” A prophecy uttered by the Spirit and scripture have the same authority because they have the same source―The Spirit of the Father and the Son. Prophecies and scripture have the same authority but different purposes.
Towards the end of 1 Corinthians 14 Paul talks about how prophets could expose the secret sins of people coming into the church and “they will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!”  Prophecy can do things scripture can not do. The prophet is made capable through the Spirit to give specifics into someone’s life that prove God is among us. The Spirit is speaking through the prophet in real time with details to stop people in their sin or instruct (i.e., a famine is coming – Acts 11:28) and encourage (1 Cor 14:31) the body of Jesus Christ. Scripture can’t tell me that a famine is coming but the Spirit can give an utterance to a prophet that one is coming.
The prophecies recorded in scripture are there because they are important to the whole church in providing us with the history of redemption. Some prophesies became scripture, however when a prophecy is uttered by the Spirit it is not scripture. The Spirit of Jesus has not stopped speaking. I cry out to the church to return to sola scriptura and “Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy.”
There are 3 clear passages that show Paul believed prophets would be here until Christ’s return. Ephesians 4:11-13, “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets … to equip his people for works of service … until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” Also, “Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.” Paul believed the Corinthian church needed all Spiritual gifts until Christ returned. The third section is 1 Corinthians 13:8 where we read that prophecies will cease. However, scholars have pointed out the passage says when they will cease―when “completeness comes” (13:9) Christ’s future coming. We clearly need prophecy until completeness comes which is why Paul goes on to tell the Corinthians to “eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy.”
There are no verses that say prophecy will cease before Christ comes back. I genuinely understand the fear of prophecy being around today. I didn’t believe it for a long time, but my arguments were not based on scripture―they were based on fear that I would have to listen and obey every prophecy I heard. However, we are repeatedly told to evaluate prophetic utterances. Another hindrance I’ve seen is that people want to understand how prophecy works before they will accept it or seek it as Paul commands us to. I too at one time didn’t ask for the gift of prophecy because I wanted to understand every facet of it first. However, I believe as we ‘eagerly’ seek it―we will begin to understand it.
One final comment worth mentioning―Craig Keener has pointed out that when people believe prophecy has ceased, they are committing the very thing they are trying to prevent. Keener writes that “Cessationism is itself a postbiblical doctrine and as such is epistemologically self-defeating.” Cessationists want the canon to be closed so no one creates a new doctrine yet to do that they must make up a doctrine that is not in scripture. Please interact in the comments below.
 Moo, D. J. (2021). A Theology of Paul and His Letters: The Gift of the New Realm in Christ. (A. J. Köstenberger, Ed.) (p. 149). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic.
 Schreiner, T. R. (2018). 1 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary. (E. J. Schnabel, Ed.) (Vol. 7, p. 280). London: Inter-Varsity Press. See Also, Gardner, P. (2018). 1 Corinthians. (C. E. Arnold, Ed.) (p. 575). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Keener, Craig S (2001). Gift & Giver: The Holy Spirit for Today. (p.213) Grand Rapids, , MI: Zondervan.
Joe Humphries lives in Washington and sells appliances. He is married with two children and loves music!