Thursday, February 6, 2014

Sam Storms on Fallible Prophecy: Points 6 and 7

Sixth, related to the above is 1 Corinthians 14:37-38, where Paul writes: “If anyone thinks that he is a prophet or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.” Paul is clearly claiming a divine authority for his words that he is just as obviously denying to the Corinthians. “According to Paul, the words of the prophets at Corinth were not and could not have been sufficiently authoritative to show Paul to be wrong” (Grudem, 68).

And yet Paul believed the prophecy at Corinth to be a good and helpful gift of God, for he immediately thereafter exhorts the Corinthians once again to “earnestly desire to prophesy” (v. 39)! Paul obviously believed that the spiritual gift of congregational prophecy that operated at a lower level of authority than did the apostolic, canonical, expression of it was still extremely valuable to the church.

First all, Paul is not directing his comments to the ideal of prophecy, or the content of prophecy. Nor is Paul directing his comments at the authority of prophetic words. In addition, Paul is not directing these comments at prophecy alone. His comments here are directed at everything he has just said. It is a solemn warning by the apostle that people that ignore his words are ignoring the commandment of the Lord. The closest thing we can say about how this command relates to prophecy is that it concerns the format and order for how it was to proceed in the ancient Corinthian Church. In addition, this command also applied to the use of the gift of languages or tongues in that Church. The truth is that this chapter is completely disregarded by nearly every Pentecostal church in existence. I can say without hesitation or exaggeration that I never witnessed a Pentecostal church or pastor that actually submitted to these plain teachings given to Corinth. Pentecostals and Charismatics claim that this does not apply to the supernatural “prayer language.” And in so doing, they reduce Paul’s commands to meaningless nonsense and logical absurdities. Storm and Grudem are simply wrong that Paul’s instructions place his command over the actual content of first-century prophetic utterances. It does nothing of the sort.

Seventh, although I don’t have space to provide an extensive exegetical explanation of Acts 21, I believe we see in this narrative a perfect example of how people (the disciples at Tyre) could prophesy by the Spirit and yet not do so infallibly or at a level equal to Scripture. Their misguided, but sincere, application of this revelation was to tell Paul ("through the Spirit," v. 4) not to go to Jerusalem, counsel which he directly disobeyed (cf. Acts 20:22).

There is nothing in the text to lead us to believe that these individuals were prophesying to Paul by the Lord, not to go to Jerusalem. If we look at Acts 20:23, Paul says the Holy Spirit is testifying to him in every city that bonds and afflictions await him. We see this played out in 21:4. These men knew by the Spirit, what was waiting for Paul in Jerusalem. They did not want this for Paul and tried to persuade him not to go near Jerusalem. However, just a few verses later, we see a different kind of event. We see Agabus prophesying that the Jews will certainly be responsible for his eventual captivity and the response of the brethren is the same as v. 4. They beg Paul not to go. Nowhere does God warn Paul directly not to go. After all, the Holy Spirit has told him all along what is going to happen to him. To understand this as the Holy Spirit commanding him not to go is simply wrong. There is no language in the text that demonstrates that Paul received any commands from the Lord that he disobeyed.

The Spirit’s role is best seen as informing them of those coming hardships for the apostle. Their very natural reaction was to urge him not to go. Their failure to deter him only heightens the emphasis on Paul’s firm conviction that God was leading him to Jerusalem and had a purpose for him there.[1]

The fact is that the prophecy given by Agabus was realized. Everything the Spirit warned Paul about concerning his future actually came to pass. There was no false-prophecy as some like to claim. There was no disobedience on Paul’s part as others wish to claim. Paul was told that he was going into bonds and that great suffering awaited him. It happened just as God told Paul it would happen. If only modern Charismatics and Pentecostals experienced the same phenomena the ancient Church experienced, perhaps this conversation would be more stimulating. As it stands, what we see are men like Grudem and Storms stretching the text beyond its exegetical limits in order to read it through the modern, Charismatic grid. Thus far, Storms has failed to establish the validity of a single one of his points. He has three more opportunities to gain some traction.

[1] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 433.

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