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Reference: Prophet


1. The spirit of prophecy, as it meets us under the Old Dispensation, runs on into the New, and there are prophets in the NT who are properly to be described as OT prophets. Such as Anna the prophetess (Lu 2:36; cf. Miriam, Deborah, and Huldah in the OT); Zacharias, who is expressly said to have prophesied (Lu 1:67 ff.); Simeon, whose Nunc Dimittis is an utterance of an unmistakably prophetic nature (Lu 2:25 ff.) But above all there is John the Baptist, who was not only recognized by the nation as a great prophet (Mt 14:5; 21:26; Mr 11:32; Lu 20:6), but was declared by Jesus to be the greatest prophet of the former dispensation, while yet less than the least in the Kingdom of heaven (Mt 11:9 ff. = Lu 7:26 ff.)

2. Jesus Himself was a prophet. It was in this character that the Messiah had been promised (De 18:16,18; cf. Ac 3:22; 7:37), and had been looked for by many (Joh 6:14). During His public ministry it was as a prophet that He was known by the people (Mt 21:11; cf. Lu 7:16), and described by His own disciples (Lu 24:19), and even designated by Himself (Mt 13:57; Lu 13:33). And according to the teaching of the NT, the exalted Christ still continues to exercise His prophetic function, guiding His disciples into all the truth by the Spirit whom He sends (Joh 16:7,13), and 'building up the body' by bestowing upon it Apostles, prophets, and teachers (Eph 4:8 ff.).

3. From the prophetic office of her exalted Head there flowed the prophetic endowment of the Church. Joel had foretold a time when the gift of prophecy should be conferred upon all (Joe 2:28 f.), and at Pentecost we see that word fulfilled (Ac 2:16 ff.). Ideally, all the Lord's people should be prophets. For 'the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy' (Re 19:10), and in proportion as Christians are filled with the Pentecostal Spirit they will desire, like the members of the newborn Church, to bear testimony to their Master (cf. Nu 11:29; 1Co 14:5).

4. But even in the Spirit-filled Church diversities of gifts quickly emerged, and a special power of prophetic utterance was bestowed upon certain individuals. A prophetic ministry arose, a ministry of Divine inspiration, which has to be distinguished from the official ministry of human appointment (see art. Ministry). In a more general sense, all those who 'spoke the word of God' (Heb 13:7) were prophets. The ministry of the word (Ac 6:4) was a prophetic ministry, and so we find St. Paul himself described as a prophet long after he had become an Apostle (Ac 13:1).

5. But in a more precise use of the term we find the specific NT prophet distinguished from others who 'speak the word of God,' and in particular from the Apostle and the teacher (1Co 12:28 f., cf. Eph 4:11). The distinction seems to be that while the Apostle was a missionary to the unbelieving (Ga 2:7-8), the prophet was a messenger to the Church (1Co 14:4,22); and while the teacher explained or enforced truth that was already possessed (Heb 5:12), the prophet was recognized by the spiritual discernment of his hearers (1Co 2:15; 14:29; 1Jo 4:1) as the Divine medium of fresh revelations (1Co 14:25,30-31; Eph 3:6; cf. Did. iv. 1).

Three main types of prophesying may be distinguished in the NT

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