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Published on April 9th, 2016 | by Josiah Batten

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Cease or Persist: Campbell Opening Statement

The following is Seth Campbell’s opening statement for the forthcoming book Cease or Persist? Does Prophecy Continue in the Present Age?. The book will be available on Amazon on Friday, May 6th, 2016. Make sure to read my opening statement here.

Seth’s Opening Statement

The resolution being debated is, “Unlike prophecy in the Old Covenant, prophecy in the New Covenant is not equal to Scripture and continues into the present age.” Before proceeding, some terms need to be defined. First, what is meant by Old and New Covenant? Simply, the Old Covenant refers to collection of promises God made with His people from the time of Adam until the time of Jesus. The New Covenant was instituted by Christ who is the fulfillment of all God’s promises in the Old Covenant. Second, what is meant by “equal to Scripture”? Christians believe Scripture is the Word of God meaning it is inspired, infallible, inerrant, and authoritative.

Inspiration was the work in which God by His Spirit, through human writers, gave us His Word. … Infallible signifies the quality of neither misleading nor being misled and so safeguards…the truth that Holy Scripture is a sure, safe, and reliable rule and guide in all matters. Similarly, inerrant signifies the quality of being free from all falsehood or mistake and so safeguards the truth that Holy Scripture is entirely true and trustworthy in all its assertions.[1]

Third, what is meant by “the present age”? In this debate, the present age refers to our current place in the New Covenant. Finally, we come to the definition that is the crux of the resolution. What is meant by “prophecy”? I refer to the definition from Thayer’s Lexicon.

[A] discourse emanating from divine inspiration and declaring the purposes of God, whether by reproving and admonishing the wicked, or comforting the afflicted, or revealing things hidden; esp. by foretelling future events. Used in the NT of the utterance of OT prophets.[2]

The affirmative may offer differing definitions. He may attempt to create caveats such as “New Covenant” or “congregational prophecy” or alternate definitions like “non-authoritative and fallible.” These are errors I will address, but first I would like to state my position.

I am a cessationist. Limiting the definition to this topic, that term means that in certain places and times in the Old and New Covenants, God supernaturally communicated His will including future events, but, since the closing of the canon, God does not communicate new revelations outside of Scripture.

Therefore, my first argument against the resolution is rooted in Biblical theology. Biblical theology seeks to understand the progressive unfolding of God’s revelation throughout redemptive history. There are many themes like redemption or holiness that one can trace through Scripture. Examining the theme of prophecy reveals that the person to whom God communicated was designated a prophet and was charged with speaking that message. Further examination reveals that the task of speaking God’s message was so significant that God gave specific parameters for proper judgment. Deuteronomy 13 states if a prophet were to lead the people to another god, the magistrates were to put them to death. Deuteronomy 18 expands on these restrictions.

‘But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the LORD has not spoken?’—when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.[3]

The false prophets that are subject to death are not only the ones who prophesy in the name of foreign gods, but also those who prophesy invoking God’s name as if He gave them a message when He had not. One of the tests that this had occurred was if their prophecy was not fulfilled.

Speaking for God, or claiming to, was serious in the Old Covenant for two reasons. One, the prophet was charged with speaking God’s very words.[4] Second, God’s name was liable. If someone prophesied for God and it turned out to be untrue, it could stand to reason, in the mind of an observer, that God was fallible. Old Testament Scriptures reveal how passionate God was about His name especially among the nations.[5] The question is, has this aspect of God’s character progressed? Have His requirements for those who claim to speak for Him shifted? Does the New Covenant demonstrate that a change has occurred?

Reading the Testaments reveals certain things that undergo distinct shifts and progressions throughout Scripture. Sacrifice, temple, and circumcision are themes with progressive continuity in redemptive history. The large portions of the New Testament dedicated to explaining this progression serve as evidence. However, a reading of the Testaments will also reveal that some things are the same throughout Scripture. These are themes where no attempt at redefinition or explanation is offered or needed because nothing had changed. God’s nature, sin, and faith are themes with sustaining continuity in redemptive history. The question is, in which category does prophecy belong? The absence of any attempt by the New Testament writers to redefine prophecy in the New Covenant means that placing it in the second category is sound Biblical theology. The same word is used throughout the New Testament and the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, without redefinition between the testaments. In no place in the New Testament do the writers attempt to give an explanation of the New Covenant progression of prophecy. In no place do they attempt to claim that the Mosaic requirements for prophecy in Deuteronomy were fulfilled or abrogated. On the contrary, these authors employed the exact same word for the prophecies given in the Church as they did for the inspired, inerrant, infallible, fulfilled, authoritative, Scripture quality prophecies of the Old Covenant.

My second argument is rooted in Church history. In this regard, the affirmative position is utterly ahistorical and absent, not minimal or marginal, but altogether unheard of before the modern age. It cannot be found among the Early Fathers, Protestant Reformers, or Puritans. While I would not regard these sources as infallible, when modern Christians are presented with new understandings of Scripture that lead to new doctrines, we must ask serious questions about why no one previously understood this text in this way. While some may disagree with certain Fathers or Reformers on specific issues[6], this is a matter of disagreeing with every single biblical scholar and commentary without exception prior to the modern age. This is perilous ground to stand on without substantial, overwhelming evidence including ample explanations why all those prior, on whose legacy we stand, were wrong. Conversely, I believe we have sufficient evidence to suggest that the early post-apostolic Christians viewed prophecy the same way I defined above without additional definitions. I will give two examples. The first will demonstrate that the earliest Christians judged New Covenant prophecy by standards established in the Old Covenant alone. The second will reveal that they believed and taught that New Covenant prophecies, including those not given by apostles, were equal to Old Covenant prophecy and Scripture.

My first example comes from the second century heresy known as Montanism. The Christian convert, Montanus, claimed the gift of prophecy and taught that he and his followers were a fulfillment of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 23:34.[7] However, his prophecies proved to be a departure from Biblical prophecy in both content and manifestation. We know this because a number of them have survived in quotations by early writers. For example, he once prophesied that Zion or Jerusalem would come down from heaven to either the village of Pepuza or Tymion in Phrygia.[8]

The Early Church rejected the Montanists as false prophets and the standard by which the Church judged them reveals how New Covenant prophecy was understood as early as the second century. Anonymous rejected the Montanists as false prophets on the basis of their incorrect prophetic application of the Scriptures.[9] Epiphanius contrasted the prophecies of the Montanists with those of Moses, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. He said true prophecies must be fulfilled exactly, which was the standard established in Deuteronomy. Since the Montanist prophecies did not come true, Epiphanius concluded that they were false prophets.[10] In a letter to Marcella, a woman confronted with converting to Montanism, Jerome warned her by stating that the Church refuses to receive “prophets whose utterances fail to accord with the Scriptures old and new.”[11] Not only so, but the Montanists never claimed to be “New Covenant prophets” and, thus, fallible or errant. If the category of New Covenant prophecy existed, why do we find no appeals to it here or elsewhere? Certainly it is because no category ever existed. As a matter of fact, the Montanists antithetically claimed and defended their practice of writing new scriptures based on their own prophecies. Their primary appeal was based on their assertion that the same Holy Spirit that spoke through the Apostles was speaking through them.[12] This is the logical conclusion of the continuation of prophecy.

In the Early Church, Old Covenant standards were the basis for judging prophecy in the New Covenant. They clearly saw an uninterrupted permanence between Old and New Covenant prophecy and an error in prophecy revealed that the prophet and prophecy were both false. The Biblical response from the Church to Montanism put an effective end to post-canonical New Covenant prophecy until the modern age.

The second example comes from the writings of the Early Church on Agabus and his prophecy in Acts 21:10-14. Agabus is significant because, though there are other non-apostolic prophets listed in the New Covenant, he is the only one from that group whose prophecy was recorded in Scripture. If there is a discontinuity between Old Covenant prophecy and New Covenant prophecy or if we are to view non-apostolic prophecy as less authoritative than the prophecies of the Apostles, Old Covenant prophets, or Scripture, then certainly the Early Church’s commentary on Agabus would be the place to look, for they were writing with much less historical and cultural distance. Contrary to the affirmative position, early Christians viewed Agabus, and therefore non-apostolic New Covenant prophecy, as authoritative, infallible, inerrant, inspired, and equal with the prophecies of the apostles, the Old Covenant and, therefore, Scripture.

Among the Church Fathers, John Chrysostom compares Agabus to Ezekiel[13] while both Justin Martyr and Cyril of Alexandria argue that prophets like Isaiah were taken away from Israel and given to the Church with Cyril citing Agabus as his example of a replacement.[14] In commenting on Christian martyrdom and persecution, Tertullian saw Agabus’ prophecy as an authoritative warning of Paul’s persecution, not a command for him to flee Jerusalem.[15] In his writings on the Holy Spirit, Ambrose equates the way the Holy Spirit spoke through Agabus with the way the Father spoke through prophets in the Old Testament[16] and Augustine attests to the truthfulness of Agabus’ prophecy in spite of Paul’s fellow believers’ insistence that he remain with them.[17] While the Early Fathers did not write or mention Agabus often, when they did, every single one without exception affirmed him as a true prophet whose prophecies had come to pass and whose inspiration and authority was equal with the Old Covenant prophets which were considered Scripture.

Allow me to conclude by restating my position. Old Covenant prophecy was considered the very words of God, which is why its abuse was taken seriously in Deuteronomy. Because there was no attempt whatsoever to redefine prophecy in the New Covenant, the standards for judging prophecy established by God should remain the same. In light of this, since the canon is closed and Scripture is no longer being written, any prophecy occurring in the New Covenant must have occurred during the time of the apostles and prophets,[18] for if the very words of God were given in the present age, we should be stapling sheets into the back of our Bibles because there is no such thing as deutero-canonical. A middle ground between the words of men and the words of God does not exist.

[1] Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, 1978. (http://www.bible-researcher.com/chicago1.html) Emphasis added.

[2] Thayer’s New Testament Greek-English Lexicon, “Strong’s NT 4394: προφητεία”. (https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G4394). Emphasis added.

[3] Deuteronomy 18:20-22. English Standard Version.

[4] 2 Pet. 1:21; Rom. 3:2; Heb. 1:1

[5] Mal. 1:11; Ps. 96, 105; 1 Chr. 16:8-36; Is. 12:4-6; et. al.

[6] e.g. Luther’s treatment of the Eucharist, Augustine’s interpretation of The Good Samaritan, et. al.

[7] Eusebius. Ecclesiastical History, 5.16.12. (http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/250105.htm)

[8] Robert Grant, Augustus to Constantine: The Rise and Triumph of Christianity in the Roman World (Louisville, KY:  Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), 133.

[9] Eusebius. Ecclesiastical History, 5.16.

[10] Frank Williams, trans., The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis, Books II and III. De Fide, 2nd rev. ed. (Boston, MA:  BRILL, 2012), 9-10.

[11] Jerome, Letter 41.2. (http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/3001041.htm)

[12] William Tabbernee, Fake Prophecy and Polluted Sacraments: Ecclesiastical and Imperial Reactions to Montanism (Boston, MA:  BRILL, 2007), 146-147.

[13] John Chrysostom, Homilies on Acts, Homily 45 (http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/210145.htm)

[14] Justin Martyr, Dialogue 82. (http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/01286.htm); Cyril of Alexandria, Catechetical Lectures, 13.29. (http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/310113.htm).

[15] Tertullian, De Fuga in Persecutione, 9.6. (http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf04.iii.x.i.html).

[16] Ambrose, On the Holy Spirit, 2.13.145. (http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/34022.htm).

[17] Augustine, The Enchiridion, 101. (http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1302.htm).

[18] Ephesians 2:19-20

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About the Author

Is a senior teacher/counselor at a home for boys in state custody. I studied business administration at Fairmont State (BS), biblical studies at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary (MAR), and have completed an MA in Apologetics at Luther Rice College and Seminary. The views and positions expressed in my blogs and articles, while in agreement with the WV4G Affirmations and Denials, are my own. They do not necessarily reflect other organizations and ministries with which I am associated. I exist to make much of the Triune God.



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