What is the gift of prophecy? Should we allow its use in our churches today? After all, we have the completed Canon, the full inerrant scriptures to guide us. In our church, The Road @ Chapel Hills, we value personal prophecy. Personal prophecy today is not the speaking of the very words of God (as in the Old Testament) but rather, “Speaking merely human words to report something God brings to mind.” Wayne Grudem, The Gift of Prophecy. The Bible clearly allows for personal prophecy. Nathan brought David a confrontational “word from God,” (2 Sam. 12:13); Isaiah predicted Hezekiah’s death, (Is. 38:1); and Agabus told Paul he faced trouble in Jerusalem, (Acts 21:11-14).
“Personal prophecy” refers to a word, thought, dream, or vision that the Holy Spirit may prompt one person to give another, relating to personal matters. Many feel deep reservations about this operation of the gift of prophecy, because sometimes it is abused. Personal prophecy can easily be used to manipulate others, bring false direction, or may be unwisely or hastily applied. In one of the most famous personal prophetic passages in the New Testament, we can make some observations:
When he [Paul] had come to us, [Agabus] took Paul’s belt, bound his own hands and feet, and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man who owns this belt, and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’”
Now when we heard these things, both we and those from that place pleaded with him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, “What do you mean by weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”
So, when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, “The will of the Lord be done.” (Acts 21:11-14, NKJV)
First, the prophetic word will usually not be new to the mind of the person addressed, but it will confirm something God is already dealing with him about. Paul was already sensitive to the issue Agabus raised.
Second, the character of the person bringing the prophetic word ought to be weighed. Agabus’ credibility is related not to his claim of having a prophetic word, but to his record as a trustworthy man of God, used in the exercise of this gift. (Acts 11:28, 21:10).
Third, remember that the prophetic word is not to be considered “controlling.” In other words, such prophecies should never be perceived as dominating anyone’s free will. Christian living is never cultish, governed by omens or superstitious claims. Paul did not change his plans because of Agabus’ prophecy or because of the urging of others (vs. 12-14); he received the word graciously, but continued his plans nonetheless.
Lastly, all prophecy is “in part.” That “part” does not give the whole picture. Agabus’ prophecy was true, and Paul was bound in Jerusalem, but not by the Jews (as Agabus had prophesied), but rather by the Romans. (Acts 22:33).
All personal prophecy must be weighed against the truth and infallibility of the Bible. The ultimate judgment for a questionable prophetic word is not how we feel about it, but whether it lines up with Scripture.
On the Road Less Traveled,
Steve Holt D.D. MA