Thursday, November 14, 2013

On prophecy and prayer

But earnestly desire the higher gifts (1 Cor 12:31). 
Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy (1 Cor 14:1). 
So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues (1 Cor 14:39).
Is it incumbent on modern-day Christians to obey these injunctions? 
i) For cessationists, Christians today couldn't obey these injunctions even if they tried. If God has withdrawn these spiritual gifts, then he's removed the underlying conditions which make compliance possible. 
ii) There's also some dispute on the best way to render these statements. Consider Thiselton's preferred translations: 
Continue to be zealously concerned about the "greatest" gifts (12:31). 
Pursue love, but be eager for gifts of the Spirit [for utterance], most particularly that you may prophesy (14:1). 
Continue to be zealously concerned about prophetic speech and do not forbid speaking in tones (14:39).
On 14:1, Thiselton contends that
Zeloute denotes cultivating a stance of eagerness. Be eager for permits a corporate concern for the well-being of the community, i.e., that these gifts may operate in the church, which is Paul's horizon of concern. By contrast, NIV's eagerly desire suggests a more individualist concern which Paul does not encourage, while NRSV's strive for positively conflicts with Paul's insistence that these are "gifts of grace" (as in 12:31, charismata) which God chooses to give or to withhold in his sovereign freedom to "order" the church as he wills (12:18). To read strive for can be pastorally misleading and theologically doubtful (1082-83).  
iii) Another complication is that you can only obey a command if you understand a command. If you don't know what it means, or what it's referring to, then you can't intentionally obey it or disobey it. Compliance depends on prior understanding of the command or prohibition. What was Paul's concept of prophecy or tongues? Absent correct interpretation, it's a cipher. 
iv) One potential solution is to make it a matter of prayer. Often we don't know how or what to pray for:
26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Rom 8:26-27).
If you're not sure how to obey these commands, or whether to obey these commands (in case they are moot), you can turn it into a prayer, and leave the rest to God. God knows what he meant. And God knows if these are still in force. So God will answer or decline to your prayer accordingly. If it's not his will, he won't do it. Since these are gifts, God must do something to you or for you before you can take the next step. So it's ultimately in God's hands where to go from there–or not. 

1 comment:

  1. At the time, the people understood the test of a prophet still to be that of Deut 18:20-22. NT canon had not been established yet and the open canon was being written by those who were personally called by Jesus. Yet they were not writing on the leading edge of the foretelling marks of the prophets, they were writing on the following edge. That is to say that the OT prophets foretold some events that had not happened yet so as to mark those events as revelatory. The Apostles of Christ were fulfilling those prophecies and validating not only their own writings, but the writings that had come before.

    The former prophets, and latter prophets also, wrote of the second coming which is yet to be fully observed. At that time, there will be new revelation, but we understand the revelation to be due to the barriers of the fallen world being removed and all of us having direct knowledge of God. Therefore, prophesy will no longer be necessary.

    So the role of Apostles of Christ as prophets was to explain the OT in light of Jesus Christ. Once they passed on, the canon was closed. If this is true, and I may be wrong, but it seems as though prophets today are not the same as the OT prophets or the Apostles of Christ, but rather they expound on the writings of the the prophets of scripture, former and latter, so as to reveal their meaning to the people today.

    The clarity of this supposition relies not on all possible meanings of prophemi (or glossalolia), but in the distinction that Paul gives us in Corinthians between prophesying and tongues. Speaking in different tongues doesn't edify the church. Prophesying does. The only way to edify the church is if the meaning of the one prophesying is clear. The only way it can be clear is if it is already validated by scripture. So I would equate prophesying today with expository preaching or writing. Anything else is has no foundation for demanding my immediate obedience.