Sunday, February 2, 2014

Sam Storms on Infallible Prophecy: Point Number Five

Fifth, yet another statement in 1 Corinthians 14 confirms this understanding of NT prophecy. In v. 36 Paul asks, “Or was it from you that the word of God came?” He doesn’t say, “Did the word of God originate with (or “first go forth from”) you,” as some have suggested. Let’s not forget that the “word of God” didn’t originate with Paul either!

Rather, Paul’s statement is designed to prevent them from making up guidelines for public worship, based on an alleged prophetic word, contrary to what he has just stated. His point is that a Scripture quality, authoritative “word of God” has not, in fact, been forthcoming from the Corinthian prophets. Paul does not deny that they have truly prophesied, but he denies that their “words” were equal in authority to his own. Such “words” were in fact of a lesser authority.

In order to make sure we continue to focus on the subject, I want to remind you that the issue at stake here is the quality of NT prophecy. Sam Storms and other non-cessationists claim that it is of a lessor quality or authority than either OT prophecy or the teachings of the apostles that eventually became encapsulated in Scripture. Mr. Storms is working through ten points that he believes supports his argument. In reviewing his argument, I am searching for any implication in the text, properly interpreted of course, that lends support to Storms’ argument.

In his fifth point, Storms claims that 1 Cor. 14:36 lends support to his view that NT prophecy is of a lessor authority or quality than canonical Scripture. It reads as follows, ἀφʼ ὑμῶν λόγος τοῦ θεοῦ ἐξῆλθεν, εἰς ὑμᾶς μόνους κατήντησεν; The literal translation is; “Or from you the word of God went out, or to you only has it come?” Paul uses the spatial frame “from you” to draw extra attention to the tone of his argument.
Storms has opened up a real can or worms in this section. If Paul is referring to prophecy when he uses the phrase, λόγος τοῦ θεοῦ, then Storms seems to have shot his own foot. This phrase is always used of the authoritative word of God. It appears 11 times in NA28 and in every single case there is nothing to distinguish it from itself. Everywhere it appears it appears as the authoritative communication from the one triune God.

So then, what was Paul actually getting at with this question? Was Paul actually dealing with the authoritative nature of NT prophecy? Can we really interact with this verse through such a contemporary lens? If we knew nothing about modern, contemporary claims of prophetic utterances, would we even be looking at the text from Storms’ perspective? I find it difficult to believe that we can honestly answer that question in the affirmative. It seems that Storms continues to interpret 1 Corinthians 14 through the lens of modern Charismatic experience.

Even if the Corinthian believers were not prophesying and were only preaching the Word of God and teaching it, could Paul have said the very same thing to them? I think we can easily answer in the affirmative. The Corinthian believers were not in sole possession of the Word of God. God’s word had gone out to the universal church, and the Corinthian believers did not have the corner on the market of divine truth. Like every other community, the Corinthian group must submit to apostolic authority.
“As TEV makes clear, the two halves of this verse balance one another; the Christian message neither began nor ended in Corinth. The implication is that the Corinthians have no right to decide independently of other Christian communities how Christians should believe.”[1]

“The balance for the Corinthian Christians is that they are one of a number of churches that now stretch across the cities of the eastern Roman empire. They may live in one of the most important cities of the province, but they need to learn humility.”[2]

“Witherington offers two useful observations on v. 36. First, he perceives the point of Paul’s rhetorical questions to lie in the scenario that “it appears the Corinthians are trying to make up their own rules, and perhaps thinking their own word is sufficient or authoritative or even the word of God for themselves.”[3]

“Who do they think they are anyway? is the implication; has God given them a special word that allows them both to reject Paul’s instructions, on the one hand, and be so out of touch with the other churches, on the other?”[4]

There is no connection at all between 1 Cor. 14:36 with the present argument put forth by Storms. There is no reason to think that Paul is concerned to help the Corinthians understand that their local prophetic utterances are somehow less authoritative than Scripture. What Paul is concerned with is the autonomous desires of this community and their spiritual pride, which emerges throughout the letter. Storms’ fifth point does absolutely nothing to advance his case and lends not an ounce of support to his contention that there is a difference between the prophetic Word of God coming through prophets and the canonical Word of God encapsulated in Scripture.

[1] Paul Ellingworth, Howard Hatton, and Paul Ellingworth, A Handbook on Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, UBS Handbook Series (New York: United Bible Societies, 1995), 326.
[2] Clinton E. Arnold, Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary: Romans to Philemon., vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), 174.
[3] Anthony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians: a Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2000), 1161.
[4] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), 710.

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