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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

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Prophecy, Prophets
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PROPHET (in NT). 1. The spirit of prophecy, as it meets us under the Old Dispensation, runs on into the New, and there are prophets in the NT who are properly to be described as OT prophets . Such as Anna the prophetess ( Luke 2:36; cf. Miriam, Deborah, and Huldah in the OT); Zacharias, who is expressly said to have prophesied ( Luke 1:67 ff.); Simeon, whose Nunc Dimittis is an utterance of an unmistakably prophetic nature ( Luke 2:25 ff.) But above all there is John the Baptist, who was not only recognized by the nation as a great prophet ( Matthew 14:5; Matthew 21:26 , Mark 11:32 , Luke 20:6 ), but was declared by Jesus to be the greatest prophet of the former dispensation, while yet less than the least in the Kingdom of heaven ( Matthew 11:9 ff. = Luke 7:26 ff.)

2. Jesus Himself was a prophet. It was in this character that the Messiah had been promised ( Deuteronomy 18:16; Deuteronomy 18:18; cf. Acts 3:22; Acts 7:37 ), and had been looked for by many ( John 6:14 ). During His public ministry it was as a prophet that He was known by the people ( Matthew 21:11; cf. Luke 7:16 ), and described by His own disciples ( Luke 24:19 ), and even designated by Himself ( Matthew 13:57 , Luke 13:33 ). And according to the teaching of the NT, the exalted Christ still continues to exercise His prophetic function, guiding His disciples into all the truth by the Spirit whom He sends ( John 16:7; John 16:13 ), and ‘building up the body’ by bestowing upon it Apostles, prophets, and teachers ( Ephesians 4:8 ff.).

3. From the prophetic office of her exalted Head there flowed the prophetic endowment of the Church . Joel had foretold a time when the gift of prophecy should be conferred upon all ( Joel 2:28 f.), and at Pentecost we see that word fulfilled ( Acts 2:16 ff.). Ideally, all the Lord’s people should be prophets. For ‘the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy’ ( Revelation 19:10 ), and in proportion as Christians are filled with the Pentecostal Spirit they will desire, like the members of the newborn Church, to bear testimony to their Master (cf. Numbers 11:29 , 1 Corinthians 14:5 ).

4. But even in the Spirit-filled Church diversities of gifts quickly emerged, and a special power of prophetic utterance was bestowed upon certain individuals. A prophetic ministry arose, a ministry of Divine inspiration, which has to be distinguished from the official ministry of human appointment (see art. Ministry). In a more general sense, all those who ‘spoke the word of God’ ( Hebrews 13:7 ) were prophets. The ministry of the word ( Acts 6:4 ) was a prophetic ministry, and so we find St. Paul himself described as a prophet long after he had become an Apostle ( Acts 13:1 ).

5. But in a more precise use of the term we find the specific NT prophet distinguished from others who ‘speak the word of God,’ and in particular from the Apostle and the teacher ( 1 Corinthians 12:28 f., cf. Ephesians 4:11 ). The distinction seems to be that while the Apostle was a missionary to the unbelieving ( Galatians 2:7-8 ), the prophet was a messenger to the Church ( 1 Corinthians 14:4; 1 Corinthians 14:22 ); and while the teacher explained or enforced truth that was already possessed ( Hebrews 5:12 ), the prophet was recognized by the spiritual discernment of his hearers ( 1 Corinthians 2:15; 1 Corinthians 14:29 , 1 John 4:1 ) as the Divine medium of fresh revelations ( 1 Corinthians 14:25; 1 Corinthians 14:30-31 , Ephesians 3:6; cf. Did . iv. 1).

Three main types of prophesying may be distinguished in the NT ( a ) First, there is what may be called the ordinary ministry of prophecy in the Church, described by St. Paul as ‘edification and comfort and consolation’ ( 1 Corinthians 14:3 ). ( b ) Again, there is, on special occasions, the authoritative announcement of the Divine will in a particular case, as when the prophets of Antioch, in obedience to the Holy Ghost, separate Barnabas and Saul for the work of missionary evangelization ( Acts 13:1 ff.; cf. Acts 22:21; Acts 16:5 ff.). ( c ) Rarely there is the prediction of a future event, as in the case of Agabus ( Acts 11:28; Acts 21:10; cf. v. Acts 21:4 ).

Of Christian prophets in the specific sense several are mentioned in the NT: Judas and Silas (Acts 15:32 ), the prophets at Antioch ( Acts 13:1 ), Agabus and the prophets from Jerusalem ( Acts 11:27 f., Acts 21:10 ), the four daughters of Philip the evangelist ( Acts 21:9 ). But these few names give us no conception of the numbers and influence of the prophets in the Apostolic Church. For light upon these points we have to turn especially to the Pauline Epistles ( e.g. 1Co 12:28 f., 1 Corinthians 12:14 , Ephesians 2:20; Ephesians 3:5; Ephesians 4:11 ). Probably they were to be found in every Christian community, and there might even be several of them in a single congregation ( 1 Corinthians 14:29 ). Certain of them, possessed no doubt of conspicuous gifts, moved about from church to church ( Acts 11:27 f., Acts 21:10; Cf. Matthew 10:41 , Did . xiii. 1). Others, endowed with literary powers, would commit their ‘visions and revelations’ to writing, just as some prophets of the OT had done, though of this literary type of prophecy we have only one example in the NT the Book of Revelation (cf. Revelation 1:3; Revelation 22:7; Revelation 22:9-10; Revelation 22:19 ).

Quite a flood of light is shed upon the subject of the NT prophets by the evidence of the Didache . We see there that about the end of the first century or the beginning of the second the prophet is still held in the highest estimation (xi. 7, xiii.), and takes precedence, wherever he goes of the local ministry of bishops and deacons (x. 7). But we also see the presence in the Church of those influences which gradually led to the elimination of the prophetic ministry. One influence is the abundance of false prophets (xi. 8 ff.; cf. Matthew 7:15; Matthew 24:11; Matthew 24:24 , 1 John 4:1 ), tending to make the Church suspicious of all prophetic assumptions, and to bring prophecy as such into disrepute. Another is the growing importance of the official ministry, which begins to claim the functions previously accorded to the prophets alone (xv. 1). Into the hands of the official class all power in the Church gradually passed, and in spite of the outburst of the old prophetic claims, during the latter half of the 2nd cent., in connexion with the Montanist movement, the prophet in the distinctive NT sense disappears entirely from the Catholic Church, while the ministry of office takes the place of the ministry of inspiration.

J. C. Lambert.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Prophet'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible.​dictionaries/​eng/​hdb/​p/prophet.html. 1909.