The Gift of Prophecy (Wayne Grudem)


Like all of Wayne Grudem’s books, this one is carefully argued and written with a warm, easy style. The thesis itself is only 228 pages.  The rest of the book is appendices containing responses, specific exegesis, and reprinted articles.

Grudem explains how the Old Testament used the cognate “prophet” and contrasts that with its usages in Koine Greek.  His thesis is the terms aren’t the same and when the latter is applied in the early NT church, they don’t act the same.  In the OT the words of a prophet are beyond challenge (Grudem 24), yet in the NT we are told to sift prophecies. In the OT, to disobey a prophet was death, yet Paul specifically disobeyed the prophecies not to go to Jerusalem.

Paul distinguishes himself, an apostle, from those who are prophets. Anyone who disobeyed Paul disobeyed a command from the Lord, yet we do not see this kind of authority given to NT prophets. The NT uses the language of prophets as someone who can predict the future but not have divine authority (Titus 1:12; Luke 22:64; John 4.19). This is the strongest section of the book. It’s hard to see how you can argue with Grudem at this point.  If NT prophet is connected with “apostle,” then Paul’s writings are incoherent.

“But what about Scripture?” The most common response is that any new prophecy is a revelation from God, and any time there is a revelation from God, it is on the level of codified Scripture.  Grudem slowly, yet with inexorable exactitude, destroys this argument. Here is a trick: every time you see the word revelation (apocalypto or any of its cognates) in the NT, substitute it with “codified Scripture.”  You will see what I am talking about.

Thesis: Speaking merely human words to report something God brings to mind. Prophecies need to be sifted (14.29). Some prophecies were intentionally neglected (14.30).  Contrast this with Jehoikam’s disregard for Jeremiah’s prophecy. God gave him a death sentence for neglecting it. If NT prophecies were on the same field as OT, then we should make sure that all of this “potential canon” is gathered for the church.  Yet Paul is making sure that isn’t happening. Some prophets won’t even be able to speak (Grudem 63).

“Revelation” doesn’t always imply divine authority.  We have a tendency to important later historical theology into NT concepts.  Revelation doesn’t mean binding communication from God. It means to “unveil” or “reveal.”  That’s all it means. It doesn’t mean “Bible.” God’s wrath is apokalypto against all unrighteousness.  When men would later talk about this, were their words “Bible?” In Eph. 1.17 we are to pray for a spirit of apokalypsis.  Does that mean what I speak under that is now canon? NT prophets have less authority than apostles, so they can’t be the same (14.37-38).

Duration of Prophecy

I think we can all agree that “the perfect has come” in 1 Cor. 13 doesn’t refer to the closing of the canon.  For one, it’s circular reasoning. Secondly, when the perfect comes you will “know perfectly,” which isn’t true today.

But what about prophecy is a sign-gift?  This is probably the most sophisticated response from cessationists.  But we respond: Almost everything in Acts is connected with the Apostles and is probably sign-ificant (see what I did?).    In that case, preaching the gospel is a sign-gift and doesn’t happen today, but that’s silly. Not all miracles in the NT were done by apostles.  James 5:14-15 expected healing to occur at the hands of the elders. Further, “in the absence of the Apostle Paul, [it is Christ] who “works miracles among the Galatian churches” (205). Thirdly, Philip and Stephen weren’t apostles, yet they did miracles.

There is also a long, careful discussion of Eph. 2:20, which includes an interaction with Gaffin.  This is one of those landmark books. If a cessationist book doesn’t interact with Grudem’s exegesis in this book (e.g., Strange Fire), you can throw it away.  It’s scholarship is out of date.


About J. B. Aitken

Interests include patristics, the role of the soul in the human person, analytic theology, Reformed Scholasticism, Medievalism, Substance Metaphysics
This entry was posted in American Evangelicalism, Book Review, theology and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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