The gift of prophecy as non-binding revelation

White Dove on Gold

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By Spencer D Gear

It is not unusual to hear some cessationist, evangelical Christians who are opposed to continuing revelatory charismatic gifts for Christians today, making cessationist[1] comments that cannot be aligned with Scripture. They think that all such revelation ceased with the apostles and the completion of the New Testament Scriptures. I encountered two of these:

  1. Pastor Paul Cornford (2008) of North Pine Presbyterian Church (Petrie, Brisbane, Qld) supplied me with his article. He begins his exposition by raising the issue of ‘the meteoric rise of modern pentecostalism and its claim to ongoing revelation’. Rightly he points to the challenge that this view puts to traditional churches, especially those of the cessationist persuasion. His view is that God spoke through these means in the Old Testament, but not since the conclusion of the New Testament. See my online response to him in, “Does the superiority of New Testament revelation exclude the continuation of the gifts of the Spirit? Is cessationism biblical?
  2. On Christian Fellowship Forum, I encountered Chris whose view is that

in the matter of the nature of religious authority you have completely departed from the reformation and returned to the Catholic view here. That is, God still gives new doctrine or revelation of content by men today, just as He did in the past.[2]

My response was that this statement showed how he was committed to tradition before biblical revelation.[3]  I provided him with biblical evidence for the continuation of the gifts of the Spirit from I Cor. 14 and he had the audacity to state that I have departed from Reformation thinking and returned to a Catholic view.  That is an audacious and false representation.  I am committed to a biblical view of the continuation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit and that includes the gift of “revelation” through the gift of prophecy. He stated:

Your only difference is to see which claim of this being so, that of the pope or tradition on one hand or the new prophets and apostles on the other, we should be listening to.  But in the end the river has been crossed and it really makes little difference which new revelations of content one desires to find valid, for the same ‘logic’ supports them all.[4]

This is a nonsense statement.  Since when has Chris been the arbiter of deciding what should be cut out of the Bible of NT Christianity?  I am affirming nothing more or less than what contemporary, evangelical, Reformed theologian, Wayne Grudem, states:

“Spiritual gifts are given to equip the church to carry out its ministry until Christ returns.  Paul tells the Corinthians, ‘you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (1 Cor. 1:7).  Here he connects the possession of spiritual gifts and their situation in the history of redemption (waiting for Christ’s return), suggesting that gifts are given to the church for the period between Christ’s return and says, ‘When the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away’ (1 Cor. 13:10), indicating also that these ‘imperfect’ gifts (mentioned in vv. 8-9) will be in operation until Christ returns, when they will be superseded by something far greater. . .  Paul reminds believes that in their use of spiritual gifts they are to ‘strive to excel in building up the church’ (1 Cor. 14:12)”(Grudem 1994:1018-1019). [5]

Concerning the gift of “revelation”, Grudem explains that it is

“a spontaneous ‘revelation’ made prophecy different from other gifts. If prophecy does not contain God’s very words, then what is it? In what sense is it from God?

Paul indicates that God could bring something spontaneously to mind so that the person prophesying would report it in his or her own words. Paul calls this a ‘revelation’: ‘If a revelation is made to another sitting by, let the first be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged’ (1 Cor.14:30-31). Here he uses the word revelation in a broader sense than the technical way theologians have used it to speak of the words of Scripture—but the New Testament elsewhere uses the terms reveal and revelation in this broader sense of communication from God that does not result in written Scripture or words equal to written Scripture in authority (see Phil. 3:15; Rom. 1:18; Eph. 1:17; Matt. 11:27).

Paul is simply referring to something that God may suddenly bring to mind, or something that God may impress on someone’s consciousness in such a way that the person has a sense that it is from God. . . .

Thus, if a stranger comes in and all prophesy, ‘the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you’ (1 Cor. 14:25). I heard of a report of this happening in a clearly non-charismatic Baptist church in America. A missionary speaker paused in the middle of his message and said something like: ‘I didn’t plan to say this, but it seems the Lord is indicating that someone in this church has just walked out on his wife and family. If that is so, let me tell you that God wants you to return to them and learn to follow God’s pattern of family life.’ The missionary did not know it, but in the unlit balcony sat a man who had entered the church moments before for the first time in his life. The description fitted him exactly, and he made himself known, acknowledged his sin, and began to seek after God.

In this way, prophesy serves as a ‘sign’ for believers (1 Cor. 14:22)—it is a clear demonstration that God is definitely at work in their midst, a ‘sign’ of God’s hand of blessing on the congregation. And since it will work for the conversion of unbelievers as well, Paul encourages this gift to be used when ‘unbelievers or outsiders enter’ (1 cor. 14:23)” (Grudem 1994:1056-1057)

It is Chris’s kind of Reformed tradition that is out of step with biblical Christianity and he has the audacity to want to relegate my support of the full-range of the gifts of the Spirit to a Catholic position. If it is, so be it, as it supports the Scriptures. It is Chris’s cessationist view that has convoluted biblical Christianity.

I’m the first to admit that some crazy things happen in Pentecostal and charismatic Christianity, but these Pentecostal extremes and the Reformed cessationist position both are aberrations of biblical Christianity in my understanding of the texts. See my article, “Double faults and not aces: Margaret Court“, for an expose of charismatic false teaching.

Chris had the audacity to state:

Your total surrender here of the protestant principle of authority to that of Rome vindicates a comment I made often before, that the charismatic movement is a return to the old religion of experiences and relics and ongoing mystical revelations and works earning heaven. Now you may not want to say this is the case, being somewhat still embedded in the contrary view, but in effect surrender of the principle of authority to the idea OF ONGOING revelation/tradition and man’s decision of what is revelation or not has placed your view squarely in the ‘counter-reformation’ perspective.[6]

This kind of cessationist comment cannot be supported biblically.

I highly recommend Wayne Grudem’s book, The Gift of Prophecy (1988, 2000).


Cornford, P 2008. The superiority of New Testament revelation. North Pine Presbyterian Church, Petrie (Brisbane), Qld., Australia. Available at: (Accessed 30 December 2011).

Grudem, W 1988. The Gift of Prophecy. Eastbourne: Kingsway Publications (also 2001. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books).

Grudem, W 1994, Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

White, R F 1992. Richard Gaffin and Wayne Grudem on 1 Cor 13:10: A comparison of cessationist and noncessationist argumentation. In the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, June, 35/2, 173-181, available at: (Accessed 11 January 2012).


[1] Cessationism is ‘the belief that the gifts of the Spirit described in the NT have ceased to be part of the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the church today’ (The Scholars Corner, available at: (Accessed 10 January 2012).

[2] Christian Fellowship Forum; Chris goes under the name of lrschrs. I’m ozspen. Chris’s post is in Contentious Brethren, Truth by what authority, #616, 21 December 2007, available at: (Accessed 11 January 2012). I have corrected Chris’s typographical errors.

[3] My comments are as ozepen, #622, ibid.

[4] lrschrs, ibid., #616.

[5] For a discussion of the comparison between cessationist and continuationist views on the gifts of the Spirit, see White (1992).

[6] lrschrs, ibid., #616.


Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 15 October 2015.


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