On the Nature of the Prophets in 1 Cor. 14 & Expositing the Scriptures as “Prophesying”

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Order of Contents

Articles  5
Quotes  2


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Articles

1500’s

Vermigli, Peter – sections 2, 4-5, 7-13  in ch. 3, “Concerning Prophesy; out of 1 Samuel 19:33”  in The Common Places…  (London, 1583), pt. 1, pp. 17-24

Vermigli fundamentally defines prophecy as a revelation of God apart from human industry and studies.  While prophecies do not err, prophets may.  Hence prophecy is not fallible, but prophets may be.  In consistency with this there were prophets in 1 Corinthians 14 which exposited the Scriptures, and could err.  They were given to help the Church flourish at that time when the Scriptures were not complete and Christian doctrine and learning was not so widespread and attainable.  But ordinary Christian teachers and pastors today are not of those prophets, nor may be called such, as their knowledge and gifts for expositing the Scriptures must come through study and human learning.

“2…  [Margin note: A prophet is an interpreter of the Word]  Also they which expound other men’s prophesies are prophets.  For so was Aaron said to be the prophet of Moses unto Pharaoh: and the expounders of the holy scriptures are called prophets.  Also it belongs to the office of a prophet to pray unto God: wherefore Paul says that ‘every man praying or prophesying, etc.’ [1 Cor. 11:4]  And in Genesis [ch. 20], God answers Abimelech concerning Abraham, when he had taken his wife from him: ‘Give him his wife again, for he is a prophet, and shall pray for thee.’  And Paul in the first epistle to the Corinthians the 14th chapter sets forth more at large the office of a prophet.  ‘When ye come together’ (says he) ‘every one hath a psalm, or hath doctrine, or hath revelation, or hath interpretation; let all things be done to edifying.  They may also make hymns and thanksgiving, and exhort the people.  For Paul says: ‘He that prophesieth, speaketh doctrine, exhortation, and consolation.’  Which faculty pertains to the mind and power of understanding.

And a prophet differs from a priest, in that a priest should not only exhort, teach, and comfort; but also minister holy services, which thing a prophet may not do.  Besides, the priests were of the tribe of Levi: the prophets were of other tribes.  Moreover, the priests might err, & often did err; but the true prophets, in that they were prophets, could not err.  Indeed they sometimes added somewhat of their own, but therein they were not prophets…

4. But now that spirit, wherewith they be stirred up, is sometimes good, and sometimes evil.  For as God does edify the church by his prophets: so the devil apishly counterfeiting God, subverts it by his prophets…

5.  …But a fuller definition [of prophesy] is this: Prophesy is a faculty given unto certain men by the spirit of God, without teaching or learning, whereby they are able certainly to know things heavenly, high, and secret, and to open the same unto others for edifying of the church.  Here this word faculty is the general word to prophesy, which may be referred to natural power: not that the same power is natural, but that it may make men apt, as natural power does, whereby they may be assured of their knowledge.

7. But above all things, prophets must beware that they corrupt not, nor that they add not, or diminish any thing.  For some, otherwhile having received the illumination of God, do add over and besides of their own.  In the Acts (21:4, 10) certain holy men lightened with the spirit of God, said that many grievous afflictions were prepared for Paul at Jerusalem.  And this in very deed they spake truly: but they added other things of their own.  For they gave counsel unto Paul, that he should not go to Jerusalem; which thing they had not of the holy Ghost.  Good prophets ought not so to behave themselves.  For if they will mingle their own wisdom with the oracles of God, they may easily both be deceived themselves, and also cause others to be deceived.  Besides this, the prophets must take heed, that they suffer not themselves to be corrupted either by money, or favor; as we read that Balaam did.  For they which so do (says Jerome) are not prophets, but diviners: As when Logic is corrupt with errors, and fallacies, it is no longer Logic, but Sophistry.  For they which may be hired to speak in favor for reward sake, be rather the diviners of idols, than the prophets of God: and if they bear any office in the church, they will soon infect their auditory with errors: and so both shall be cast headlong into the ditch.  Further, they must endeavor themselves, by their life and manners, to win credit to the Word of God…

8 But thou wilt say, Seeing there be some good prophets and some bad; by what mark may the one sort be discerned from the other?…  There be certain other more sure tokens showed us in the scriptures.  God says in Deuteronomy, that these be two sure arguments of a good prophet.  The first, if he lead not away the people to idolatry, and strange gods: Secondly, if it certainly come to pass whatsoeuer he foreshows.  The one of these, which concerns idolatry, is undoubted and certain; but of the second some doubt may be.  For sometimes the foreshowings of the true prophets have not come to pass.  Isaiah did prophesy that king Hezekiah should die of that disease whereof he was sick: and Jonah said that within forty days the city of Ninevah should be destroyed, and yet neither of these things came to pass according to the prophesy.  Here the answer may be that those sayings were not prophesies, so much as they were threatenings: and that the prophets did foresee those effects according to the causes: and when the causes were changed, it was no absurdity that the effects changed also: and therefore the prophets cannot be reproved as liars.  But that place of Deuteronomy is not to be understood of threatenings, but of other prophesies…

9. Whereas Paul says that the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets; that he added, lest the prophets should be at any contention among themselves, and should hinder one another; or least that any one should say: He could not wait till another had done.  Paule adds another note in the same place: None (says he) can say, the Lord Jesus, but in the spirit of God.  And no man speaking in the spirit of God, defies Jesus.  These be assured tokens both of a good prophet and of a bad.  Nevertheless it is not sufficient to confess the Lord Jesus in words, but it must also be done in true faith.  Augustine in his commentaries begun upon the Epistle to the Romans: There be found (says he) which profess God in words, but deny him in their doings.  Wherefore whosoever professes the true faith of God, and shows the same in his deeds and manners, must be accounted for a true prophet.  Yet we ought not to deny, but that evil men also do sometimes foreshow true things.  Such be they which shall say in that latter day: Have not we cast out devils, and wrought many miracles in thy name?  And generally we may conclude that whosoever confesses Jesus Christ, of what manners soever he be, so he lead us not away from the faith, the same is to be esteemed for a prophet of God.  For God can use the works even of evil ministers, in showing forth his glory, so they keep themselves within the prescript of faith…

But if we take prophesying more largely for the exposition of the prophets, and Word of God, it cannot be denied but that that faculty may be attained by exercise and doctrine.  And therefore to that purpose we find that schools were appointed, wherein the children of the prophets were instructed…

10. Now let us in a few words declare the effects of prophesy.  The first effect is, the edifying of the church.  Therefore Solomon says in the 29th of Proverbs: When prophesy ceases,the people be scattered, and with idleness and loitering be quite marred.  For prophesy keeps men in their duty: wherefore Paule says,
He that prophesieth, speaketh doctrine, exhortation, and comfort; so that if the ordinary ministration at any time (as it happens) be out of course, God raises up prophets extraordinarily to restore things into order.

But it may be doubted, whether prophets do surely know those things to be true, which they foretell: yes verily.  For otherwise how could Abraham have found in his heart to slay his son, unless he had been assured of the commandment of God.  Wherefore in that they be prophets, they be sure of that which they say; I add, ‘in that they be prophets.’  For as being men they may both err and be deceived.  In Chronicles, David told Nathan that he would build up a temple unto the Lord.  Then Nathan the prophet, as if he allowed the king’s mind, bade him do that which seemed good to his own eyes; but afterward he received from the mouth of God, that the same work pertained to Solomon: therefore Nathan as man erred: but God forthwith called him home.

11. But we see that Abraham and Abimelech [Gen. 20] did then prophesy when God appeared unto them, but not as they thought good themselves.  So we may perceive that this power of prophesy, is not to be counted an habit, but a preparation, or as they term it a disposition, being in a kind of quality.  And the heauenly light, wherewith a man’s mind is then lightened, is rather as a sudden passion, as that which may easily be removed, than as a passible quality: and is as light in the air, but not like the light of
the celestial bodies: not as a paleness coming of the natural temperature of the body; but as that is which rises of a sudden frighting of the mind…

But there is not so necessary a bond between prophesy and justifying faith as that every man that has attained to the gift of prophesying, is forthwith become a friend of God and justified.  We know that Balaam was a wicked man, and yet nevertheless a prophet.  And in Matthew there is mention made of certain wicked persons that in the day of judgment shall object unto the Lord; Have we not prophesied in thy name?  Who nevertheless shall hear (Christ say) I know you not [Mt. 7].  But this is no marvel, since the same happens in the office of the apostles and evangelists, and other ministers of the church.  Judas was not in God’s favor, and yet nevertheless an apostle, and sent to preach among the rest.  And Paul in the epistle to the Philippians,
speaks of some that they did not preach Christ with a pure mind; but onely that they might stir up afflictions to him, whereunto the apostle adds that he is glad so Christ be preached, whether it be in truth, or by an occasion.  And why?  This is no necessary consequent.  Among their reasons alleged, this also may be brought for a cause: namely, for that this gift is granted of the Lord, for the furtherance and profit of others: even as are the gifts of healing, of tongues, and of other such graces.  And this does nothing derogate from the goodness of God: nay rather it does more plainly show the same unto us, when we understand thereby, that he is so gracious, as he will make even the wicked to serve to a good purpose.

12. Sometime this name of a prophet is used in the holy scriptures for an interpreter, as in the 7th of Exodus, Aaron is appointed to be Moses’s prophet, that is, his interpreter before Pharaoh.  And ye shall find that the word prophesying in the first of Samuel, is attributed unto Saul, when he being assailed with the evil spirit of the Lord, spake strange and unusual things (as the Greeks say) by a vehement concitation of the mind.  But the children of the prophets were the disciples of great and famous prophets, which sometime with their musical instruments and songs, were so stirred up to sing the praises of God as they spake some things beyond their wonted manner and custom: so that it easily appeared they were set on by the spirit of God…

13…  And it should seem that in the stead of them [prophets], there succeed most learned teachers of the holy scriptures, plentifully at this day given us of God.  Nevertheless it cannot be proved by the scriptures that such be called prophets, unless they, by the inspiration of God, foreshow some secret mysteries, without the earnest endeavor of man’s eloquence.  Except thou wilt wrest the words of Paul in the first to the Corinthians to that purpose: and yet thou canst not prove it necessarily.  And although that Christ said that there should be such gifts in his church; yet he did not warrant that they should continue still forever: neither have we any promises that Christ would perpetually adorn his church with such gifts.” – pp. 18-24

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William Perkins – Art of Prophesying

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1600’s

Rutherford, Samuel

pp. 249-57  in ch. 16 of A Peaceable & Temperate Plea…  (London, 1642)

Rutherford’s view is the same as Vermigli.  Rutherford is here arguing against the separatist leader in New England, John Robinson, who taught that the prophets in 1 Cor. 14 were examples for non-officed laymen with gifts of knowledge to regularly, publicly preach for the church.

“These prophets [in 1 Cor. 14] were prophets by office, and
so beside that they were gifted, they were sent with
official authority to preach:

1. They are such as Paul speaks of, 1 Cor. 12:28, ‘God hath set some in the Church, first apostles, secondarily prophets,’ therefore, they were officers set in the body, as apostles were at that time, Eph. 4:11.

2. They are called prophets, 1 Cor. 14:29, 32.  But in all the Old or New Testament, prophets signify over these that are in office, as the places in the margin clear, and a place cannot be brought where the word prophet signifies a man who publicly preaches, and yet is no prophet by office, but possibly a fashioner, a ploughman, a shoemaker.

3. The formal effects of public edifying, comforting,
convincing, converting souls are ascribed to these prophets, vv. 1, 3-5, 12, 24-25, 31, which are ascribed to preaching pastors, Rom 10:14-15; 1 Cor. 14:1-3.

4.  In this chapter, and in ch. 13, Paul does set down canons anent the right use of the offices that he spake of, 1 Cor. 12:28-29.

5. Paul must think them prophets by office, while as he compares himself who was an apostle and prophet with these prophets, v. 37, ‘If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write to you are the commandments of the Lord.’

Also these prophets were extraordinary and temporary,
as were the gifts of tongues and miracles; and
therefore none out of office now are to prophesy publicly.

Mr. Robinson says, they cannot be extraordinary,
because extraordinary prophets are infallible, and cannot
err, else the Scriptures should have been written
by prophets who could err; but these prophets, 1 Cor.
14, could err and were not infallible because their doctrine
was to be judged, v. 29.

Answer: This is a silly reason, Pareus, Bulling, Calvin, Beza
say all spirits are to be tried by the Word, and all prophets,
even Samuel and Nathan may err, and look beside the book, and may speak of their own spirit.  How then were the penmen of Scripture infallible, says Robinson?

I answer, there are none simply infallible but God; every man is a liar: The penmen of the Scripture were infallible, because when they were actually inspired by the Holy-Ghost, they could not err: and the spirits of all prophets are to be tried by the Word, even of Paul preaching at Berea: But it follows not that
Paul then could err.  To this they answer that false prophets, as Balaam, could not err when they were actually inspired, no more than canonic writers.

Answer:  In the case of infallibility all are alike, none
are infallible by any infused habit of a prophetical spirit;
but false prophets were inspired with an habitual spirit of lying, which spirit is not in canonic writers.

Robinson and others of his side think them not extraordinarily inspired:

1. Because these prophets might have been interrupted and put to silence, that another to whom choicer things were revealed, might prophesy, v. 3.

2. Because Paul exhorts to pray for the gift of interpretation, and to covet (say others) to prophesy.
Now we cannot seek in faith from God an extraordinary
and miraculous gift.

3. Others add, this prophesying was subject to the free-will of the prophets, for they might prophesy, or keep silence, as they pleased; but the acts of extraordinary prophesying are not subjected to the free-will of the prophets; therefore this was but ordinary prophesying, to the which all gifted professors even out of office are obliged for the edifying of the Church of Christ to the world’s end.

Answer:  All these three come to one, to wit, acts of
extraordinary prophesying are under the determination
of free-will.  A little of this.

1st Conclusion: Pareus observes well that there be two
kinds of prophets. 1. Some who foretold things to come, of these the text in hand speaks not.  2. Some extraordinarily inspired with an extraordinary grace of interpreting Scripture: The former were prophets in the Old Testament, the latter especially prophets of the New Testament; knowledge of both were given without study or pains.  So there was a prophetical spirit in Paul, Gal. 1:12, ‘I received it not of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.’

2nd Conclusion: The act of foretelling things to come,
especially things merely contingent, which are determined
only in the free decree of God, is not so under our free-will, as the acts of preaching and interpreting Scripture out of a prophetical infused habit: For prophesying things to come seemed to have come on the prophets of old, as a fire-flash appears to a man’s eye in the dark air, he cannot choose but see it, Eze. 2:14, ‘So the spirit lifted me up, and took me away,
and I went in bitterness, in the heat of my spirit, but the hand of the Lord was strong upon me,’ Jer. 20:9, ‘And I said, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name, but his word was in my heart, as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay,’ 2 Kings 3:15, ‘The hand of the Lord came upon Elisha, and he prophesied.’  See Jerome, Oecumenius, Gregory and Thomas.

The prophetical spirit in the New Testament seems to be more swayed with free-will, and moral threatnings, 1 Cor. 9:16, ‘Woe unto me if I preach not the Gospel; yet the habit from whence he preached was a prophetical principle, Gal. 1:12; 1 Cor. 14:32.

3rd Conclusion: Hence prophesying is not a habit and it is a habit.  It is not a habit: 1. Because no prophet can simply prophecy when he will, except the man Christ, especially of things to come by contingent causes (the presence of which things (says Suarez) is only connatural to God, and to no moral man) coming on men by a transient irradiation, while as the candle of God’s prophetical light glances upon the fancy, and from thence to the mind, that the man may see and read the species and images, and when this light shines not Nathan and Samuel read beside the Bible and are widely out.

Prophecy also is a habit for: 1. something remains in Isaiah and Jeremiah while they sleep and prophesy not, from whence they are named prophets and really are prophets; for when God has once revealed himself to one as to his own prophet, even from by-past revelation:

1. There remains a disposition to prophecy, 1 Sam. 3:20, All Israel knew, even from Dan to Beersheba, that Samuel was established to be a prophet of the Lord.

2. Because there remains a prophetical light, whereby the man gave assent to the last prophetical revelation, and so the species and prophetical images must remain in the fantasy, and with these a prophetical memory of by past predictions, and so some experimental certainty, that what he foretells shall come to pass: See Thomas and Cajetan.


4. Conclusion: Hence Separatists may see that extraordinary
acts of prophecy may well be subjected to the determination of the Church, and yet be extraordinary inspirations, and that diverse ways:

1. Because they were prophets of the New Testament,
and so grace being more abundant now nor under the Old Testament, it can bow and facilitate free-will
to acts of prophesying, and Paul from more grace
labored more abundantly than they all.

2. Prophesying at that time in Corinth might well be obtained by prayer upon the extraordinary impulsion of the spirit, as Daniel obtained by prayer the interpretation of a dream; neither can it be proved from 1 Cor. 14 that Paul wills them all without exception to covet to speak with tongues and to prophesy, but only these that were extraordinarily moved to pray, except these [words] (v. 31, ‘ye may all prophecy’) be contrary to these words (1 Cor. 12:29, ‘are all prophets?’) which we cannot say.

3. Because it was of old in the power of prophets to use some means to dispose themselves to prophecy, for when the passion of anger overclouded the fancy
and the species therein, then Elisha calls for a minstrel
to play, and dispose the mind better, as Cajetan says:
Howbeit for all that the text says the hand of the
Lord only actuated these species and caused him to
prophesy.” – pp. 249-54

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pp. 300-1, 303-5  of Question 3, “Whether the arguments of Mr. [John] Robinson for the prophesying of private persons not in office do strongly conclude? [No]”  in The Due Right of Presbyteries..  (London, 1644), pt. 2, ch. 5, sections 1 & 2

Gillespie, George – ch. 5, “Whether these prophets and prophesyings in the primitive Church, 1 Cor. 14 and 1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11, were extraor­dinary, and so not to continue: Or whether they are precedents for the preaching or prophesying of such as are neither ordained ministers nor probationers for the ministry”  in A Treatise of Miscellany Questions (Edinburgh, 1649), pp. 64-85

“Here are three opinions concerning these prophets mentioned by the apostle:

1. [that they were, and warrant, laymen preaching, as held by the Independent, Socinians and Arminians;]

2. That these prophets were Church officers, and no more but ordinary teachers or interpreters of Scripture in the Church: without excluding the sons of the prophets, or probationers from their assembly, and from exercising their gifts in preaching upon occasion, and fore-trial of their gifts, or of the growth and increase thereof, yet I remem­ber no place in the New Testament where ordinary pastors are said to prophesy, except Rev. 11:3, where notwithstand­ing, prophesy is ascribed unto them in no other sense than the working of miracles, v. 6:

‘Those have power to shut heaven, that it rain not in the days of their prophesy, and have power over waters to turn them into blood, and to smite the earth with all plagues as often as they will.’

All which (prophesying and miracles) is spoken by way of allusion to Moses and Elijah.

3. That they were extraordinary prophets, immediately and extraordinarily inspired by the Holy Ghost; and that they are to be reckoned among these other administrations which were not to continue, or be ordinary in the Church: apostles, e­vangelists, workers of miracles.

(Synopsis of Pure Theology, disp. 42, thesis 22; Martyr, Common Places, class. 4, ch. 1; Aretius, Theological Problems, place 62; Calvin, Institutes, bk. 4, ch. 3, §4; Diodati on 1 Cor. 14:1; the late English Annotations on 1 Cor. 12:28; Mr. [Paul] Bayne on Eph. 4:11, together with two learned coun­trymen of mine, Mr. David Dickson on 1 Cor. 14:31 and Mr. [Samuel] Rutherfurd on his Peaceable Plea, ch. 16)

I know many Protestant writers of very good note, are of the second opinion.  But with all due respect unto them, I hold the third opinion, with Ger­hard [a Lutheran], Common Places, tome 6, p. 72, and diverse others.” – pp. 64-65

“There are but three senses of the word “prophesying,” which I can find anywhere else in the New Testament:

1. For such prophesying as is competent to all converted and gifted persons, when they are filled with a spirit of illumi­nation and speak with other tongues as the Spirit gives them utterance: In which sense Joel foretold that daughters as well as sons, handmaids as well as men-servants, young and old should prophesy, Acts 2:17-18, which was accordingly ful­filled upon the day of Pentecost, for Acts 1:14 and 2:1, 4, this Spirit of prophesy was poured out upon all the disci­ples, men and women.

2. For such prophesying as is [materially] the preaching of ordinary mini­sters, although I know no text where without any contro­versy the word is used for the ordinary ministerial preach­ing; Yet I understand the word to be used in this sense (though by allusion only, whereof before), Rev. 11:3, ‘And I will give power unto my two witnesses and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days clothed in sackcloth.’

3. For extraordinary prophesying from immediate and miraculous inspiration, in which sense it is often used in the New Testament, as I shall show anone.” – pp. 70-71

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Durham, James – on Rev. 11:3


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Quotes

Intro to Rutherford

Given Rutherford’s teaching above that the 1 Cor. 14 prophets were extraordinary (and taught by revelation apart from human endeavor), and therefore modern pastors are not of that same class, Rutherford’s implying that pastors are ordinary prophets below must be in an analogous and broad sense (Gillespie says by “allusion only” above, in relation to Rev. 11:3).

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Samuel Rutherford

The Due Right of Presbyteries..  (London, 1644), pt. 2, ch. 5, sections 1 & 2, Question 2, “Whether or not all gifted persons may preach the Word of God publicly and ordinarily, for the gathering in of souls to Christ, though they be destitute of all official authority, or Church calling to that ministry? [No]”, pp. 280-81

“8. All prophets are either ordinary or extraordinary, as is clear in God’s Word; extraordinary now are not in the Church, and the ordinary prophets now are not gifted to preach the Word, except as Timothy, from their youth they have been trained up in the Scriptures and have learning, sciences, knowledge of the tongues, if he would be a man able to teach others, 2 Tim. 2:3; 1 Tim. 3, he must meditate, read, and give himself wholly to these things, 1 Tim. 3:15-16, and so must leave his calling contrary to the apostle his commandment, 1 Cor. 7:20-22; 1 Thess. 4:11; Eph. 4:28, but if he have a gift for public preaching, he is to separate himself for it, seeing a gift is a token of Gods separation.”

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George Gillespie

A Treatise of Miscellany Questions (Edinburgh, 1649), ch. 4, objection 3, p. 59

“Objection 3.  The apostle says, 1 Cor. 14:26, ‘When ye come together every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation,’ v. 31, ‘ye may all prophesy one by one.’  Therefore all that preach or pro­phesy need not to be ordained.

Answer: What those pro­phets were, and what is meant by prophesying there, all are not of one opinion.  I hold that these prophets were immedi­ately and extraordinarily inspired, and I reckon them among these other administrations, which were not ordinary, or ever to continue in the Church: apostles, evangelists, workers of miracles.  But of this I am to speak distinctly, and by itself afterwards [in ch. 5].  Meanwhile, they that make the objection must prove two things, else they conclude nothing against the ne­cessity of ordination:

1. That these prophets were not sent and ordained, but that their gifts and parts, gave them a suf­ficient calling to interpret in the Church.

2. That although they had no ministerial sending or vocation, yet they were not extraordinary prophets, but that such prophets are to continue ordinarily in the Church.

I believe it will trouble them to prove either.”

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