Thursday, August 15, 2013

Distinctions in Prophets or Prophecy and Revelation: Discussions with Hays

The saga continues with Steve Hays over at Triablogue on the subject of Pentecostal theology, revelations, and our ramblings on other matters. It is clear that Steve and I do not agree on these issues. In a recent blog, Steve introduced some new points that I think most people are likely to have a couple of questions on.
To support his claim that there is a distinction in the nature of prophecies, Hays refers us to Numbers 12:6-9. Hays explicitly tells us that this text was written to instruct us on the differences in Prophetic revelation and utterances. He says there is a broad distinction between verbal and visionary revelation. Hays further breaks down the visionary revelations into representational and allegorical visions. In addition, says Hays, “Allegorical visions employ figurative imagery. That makes them somewhat enigmatic.” It appears that Hays is telling us that God’s revelation to His prophets can be ambiguous, unclear.

The context of Numbers 12 is extremely important if we are to rightly understand what is taking place there. The whole point in Numbers 12 is one of sole authority. Moses had married a Cushite woman and his siblings, Aaron and Miriam did not approve. They both spoke against God’s prophet and God Himself convened a special conference between the three of them. The purpose of this conference was to point out the distinct calling, role, and relationship God had in Moses. The purpose of the meeting had nothing to do with different modes of revelation. It was all about the difference between Moses and all the rest of the prophets. Note that the rest of the prophets, except for Christ the prophet like unto Moses, are in the same category. Hays lifts this text out of its proper context in order to prop up a position that Scripture really does not prop up itself. This shows that if there is a distinction between OT prophets and NT prophets, Hays must look elsewhere to establish it. I wonder if Hays considers John the Baptist an OT prophet. Surely he was one.

Hays then asserts that judging prophecies in the NT was quite different from judging them in the OT. This is no doubt true. However, I am not sure that Deut. 18:15-22 is the best text to compare with 1 Cor. 14:29 given its Messianic nature. Nevertheless, we expect there to be differences between the consequences of false prophecies given the fact that they were under two different covenants. The concept of judging any prophetic utterances is present in both texts. Secondly, we cannot ignore the fact that prophetic utterances in the NT were not always predictive in nature. Hence, judging such prophecies would take on a different standard. Nevertheless, if a NT prophecy happened to be predictive, why would we expect judging the integrity of such a prophecy to be any different from one in the OT? Hays does not provide any exegetical or rational justification for his position.

Hays then accuses me of being egalitarian by attempting to connect Philip’s prophesying daughters with apostolic authority. Apparently, because I believe that God’s word is binding and authoritative regardless of who said it, that means that I somehow collapse the biblical principle of male leadership. I confess that this point is difficult to take seriously. It doesn’t matter if the Devil himself passed on a word that was actually God’s word, it would absolutely be no less authoritative and binding. The authority of Scripture or revelation does not rest in the apostolic office. It rests in God Himself. That Philip had four virgin daughters that prophesied is very interesting, but we know very little about the details of this situation. God deliberately made the decision not to give us more facts around this piece of history. Nevertheless, Hays statement that I am egalitarian because of my views regarding OT and NT prophets being without any material difference is just that, a statement. It is not an argument and it does not contain an argument. The fact remains that when anyone brings us the Word of the Lord, that Word is authoritative not because of the one bringing it, but because of what it is by nature, the Word of the Lord.

Finally, Hays points us back to Agabus, arguing that several scholars “defend the veracity of Agabus.” I have responded to Hays’s reference to Agabus already. Apparently he has refused to consider my view. Perhaps he will hear Polhill’s comments, “This was not so much a warning on Agabus’s part as a prediction. Unlike the Christians of Tyre, he did not urge Paul not to go. Rather, he told him what was in store for him. This was all the more certain when one considers the nature of such prophetic acts in the Old Testament. The act itself set into motion the event it foretold. It established the reality of the event, the certainty that it would occur. Agabus’s act prepared Paul for the events to come and assured him of God’s presence in those events.” [Polhill, NAC, Acts] There is no reason to think that Agabus was counseling or advising Paul against going to Jerusalem. That is an unjustified imposition on the text.

In summary, Hays’s categories for prophecy, while interesting and intellectually stimulating fail to find support in the text. Numbers 12 has been wrenched out of context and used to support an argument it was clearly not intended to support. The subject was the distinct nature of God’s relationship and use of His servant Moses.

Second, the Word of God is not infused with authority by the apostles. It is exactly the opposite. My use of Scripture no more entitles me to apostolic or eldership authority any more than it would have Philip’s daughters. Hays’s egalitarian charge is reduced to absurdity.

Last, Hays’s interpretation of Agabus is far wide of the mark. There is nothing in the text to suggest that Agabus was issuing advice, counsel or even a warning. Luke records this event and the words of Agabus as a straightforward prophecy in a very similar fashion to OT prophecies. Any attempt to say that Paul played fast and loose with Agabus prophetic utterance is a gross misunderstanding and misreading of a text that is fairly easy to interpret as far as I can tell.

The back and forth of this discussion is not necessarily a bad thing. Healthy, respectful dialogue on subjects like this in the Spirit of Christian charity and out of a concern for Christian truth and within the confines of the Christian ethic can be extremely productive. I am a bit uneasy about the tone of these discussions. I especially worry about my tone. I know my passion for truth can sometimes come across as proud and arrogant. And no doubt, I am guilty of those dispositions at times. In our passion for Christian truth, we sometimes forget that our first aim is to serve our Christian brothers and sisters. Our goal, after all, is to convince others of the truth that we are convinced us because we think it is in their best interest to embrace it and because it honors our Lord. We do little to advance the Christian message when our desire to win an argument eclipses our sincere love for each other and for God’s truth. Not only is the Christian community looking on to see how we treat one another, so too is the world. 

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