Today, I continue my edited transcript of a sermon on the gifts of the Holy Spirit. There are three key things that prophecy is not. You see examples of all of these in Acts 21, which makes that a crucial chapter for understanding New Testament prophecy.
Prophecy is NOT infallible
In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul says, “We know in part and we prophesy in part.” So by definition, prophecy is not without error. If you study Agabus’ prophecy in Acts 21, you’ll see that the general gist of his prophecy is correct, but the specifics of it are wrong. He says that the Jews will bind Paul and give him over to the Romans. It doesn’t happen like that. The Jews do not bind Paul. Paul is bound, but by the Romans. We can only assume that perhaps Agabus saw a picture of Paul being bound and chained, and perhaps he saw Jews there and he saw Romans there. So what does Agabus say? That the Jews are going to bind you and give you to the Romans. So he gets the details wrong, but he gets the general point right. Prophecy is like that in the New Testament.
Prophecy is not equivalent to Scripture
Some people think that prophecy is exactly the same as Scripture. That’s not true. Even in the Old Testament, Jonah had lots of prophecies. He was a prophet. Almost all of those were not recorded in the Bible. There is really only one prophecy from Jonah, and it’s very, very short and very, very unimpressive in one sense. In fact, that prophecy doesn’t even come to pass since it announces a judgment and the hearers repent. Yet he’s called a prophet. So he must have gone around prophesying, but they just never wrote those words down.
Also, we see that Philip’s daughters in Acts 21 prophesied, but their words are also not recorded. So some people say, “Well, all prophecy should be recorded in the Bible.” That’s not true. It didn’t happen in the Bible and it obviously shouldn’t happen now. Advocates of this view fail to take into account the passage from Joel that is quoted in Acts 2. If all God’s people are to prophesy, it is obvious that not all God’s people’s words can have equal weight with the Bible or there would be anarchy and a very large Bible! Joel must be envisaging something very different from OT prophecy which involved only select individuals.
Prophecy is not authoritative
Also in Acts 21, there was a group of believers, and through the Spirit (they obviously received some kind of prophecy), they told Paul not to go to Jerusalem. Interesting. They clearly had a sense of danger, a sense of what was going to happen to Paul in Jerusalem, and understandably, they made the jump and said, “You mustn’t go. The Spirit is warning us, so therefore, you mustn’t go.” And yet Paul ignores them. He heard it, he weighed it, he listened to it, but he wasn’t locked in by it, and he didn’t let it define his life. Actually, he said, “No, I must go to Jerusalem despite what you said.” Prophecy is not authoritative in our lives.