PROPHETS OF GOD IN THE FIRST-CENTURY CHURCH

Fulfilled Bible prophecy is evidence that the Bible’s message came from the mind of God. We thrill to read of the foretelling of the virgin birth of the Christ (Isaiah 7), the coming fall of Babylon (Isaiah 13), and the influential role of King Cyrus (Isaiah 44). Each of those memorable prophecies is found in the Old Testament. But what about prophets in the New Testament church?

A group of Christians in the first century were called prophets. Jesus “gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers” (Ephesians 4:11). Paul made this observation about the mystery of the Christ, the message of salvation which was revealed to mankind in its fullness in the first century: “which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets” (Ephesians 3:5). Again, those were first-century prophets in God’s church. Paul also reminded the saints in Corinth, “And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles . . .” (1 Corinthians 12:28). Yes, by the will of God there were prophets in His church in the first century.

Does the Bible tell us the names of any of those who were prophets in the first century? It does. Prophets (plural) came to Antioch when Barnabas and Paul were laboring with the church there. One of them, Agabus, predicted the coming of a great famine (Acts 11:27,28). What about in the Antioch church? The Bible lists the names of some of the prophets and teachers who labored there (Acts 13:1). We further read that Silas and Judas were prophets (Acts 15:22,32).

What role did prophets play in the church? While prophets did at times predict future events, their work was not limited to foretelling. Hear this contrast between speaking in tongues and prophecy: “Therefore tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophesying is not for unbelievers but for those who believe” (1 Corinthians 14:22). In that same context, we read, “But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men” (1 Corinthians 14:3). Again, “For you can all prophesy one by one,

that all may learn and all may be encouraged” (1 Corinthians 14:31). So, prophets spoke. They spoke so people could learn. They spoke in order to edify, exhort, and comfort God’s people. We already mentioned the prophets Judas and Silas. Note what is said about their efforts when they went to Antioch: “Now Judas and Silas, themselves being prophets also, exhorted and strengthened the brethren with many words” (Acts 15:32). The prophets’ work benefitted the church!

From where did the prophets receive their messages? The power to prophesy was granted to certain members of the church by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:7,10,11). Let us go back to Ephesians 3:5, where it is written that the mystery of God “has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets.” First-century prophets were guided miraculously to reveal God’s gospel of salvation. Because that is true, since such writers as Mark and Luke were not apostles, we recognize them as prophets.

As the Spirit guided Paul to address matters pertaining to the proper use of miraculous gifts in connection with public worship, He gave this instruction: “Let all things be done for edification . . . Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge. But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent . . . And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets” (1 Corinthians 14:26,29,30,32). Thus, the prophets’ activities were to be guided by the regulations laid out by the Spirit.

What about the duration of the prophets’ role? The Bible says that, like other miraculous gifts granted by the Spirit were to cease and vanish away, “. . . prophecies, they will fail . . .” (1 Corinthians 13:8). That statement points to the temporary nature of the gift of prophecy — prophecy, along with other spiritual gifts, was part of a temporary arrangement. When “that which is perfect” came (1 Corinthians 13:10, that is, when the complete truth of God had been revealed, there would be no more need for prophets. We thank God for the work done by first-century prophets, but today there are no true prophets.

— Roger D. Campbell

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