PROPHECY AND COUNSELING IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
Three guest teachers in our Austrian Bible Institute had differing views on the subject of biblical counseling and students were becoming confused. One teacher felt that personal counseling involved reprimands and disciplinary measures while another believed it meant taking time to listen to people's problems. A third seemed to equate biblical counseling with modern psychology (he no longer teaches!). The administration referred the matter to our Board and mentioned that there was a need to set guidelines for counseling of students on campus. I
said that ours was a Bible school and whatever conclusion we came to, should be
in line with biblical teaching and just just some human line of thinking. I was
then asked to do a study on the subject and produce report for the Board to review on January 29, 1993. Much that is
written here was translated from that report.
I was certainly not the best qualified person for this job, but I accepted, not realizing what I was getting myself in for! In my four years as a ministerial student, I spent a lot of time counseling both on campus and in outreach ministries, but I do not recall ever taking a course on counseling. My own knowledge of the subject is purely of a practical nature. During the sixties, this had not yet become a popular religious profession and
multi-million (if not billion) dollar "business" that it has become today. It
seems as though there are counseling specialists for every aspect of life and
Christian counselors for any spiritual malady. There are hundreds of books, videos, tapes and magazines to choose from.
The demand for more personal counseling probably stems from the institutionalization of the church and isolation of the individual due to modern life styles (TVs, computers, both mates working etc.). Whatever the reason, counseling has become recognized by some as the most important aspect of church ministry, even more important than preaching
WHAT IS COUNSELING?
This term is also used in secular circles in America, but in Austria, the
German word used is "Seelsorge", which has only a religious connotation. If you ask an Austrian (most are Roman Catholic) what he understands under "Seelsorge", he would answer, "That is what a priest does." In Protestant groups, "Seelsorge" has a different
connotation, but most people still connect the word to pastors or ministers. The German word
"Seelsorge" does not appear in the German Bible. but it literally means "soul-care". For this reason, I first
did a study of the word "soul" in the Bible.
Whether we like it or not, our understanding of the word "soul" is strongly influenced by the Roman Catholic Church. Even evangelical Christians generally use this word in the Catholic sense rather than
according to the biblical definition. We claim, for example, that the soul lives on when we die even though the Bible clearly states repeatedly that
"the soul that sinneth shall surely die!" After the spirit is separated from the body in death, the Bible doesn't speak of souls until after the resurrection (compare Genesis 2:7). The passage in Matthew 10:28 and Luke 16:24 speak of souls in hell, which have bodies. The souls John saw under the alter in Revelation 6:9 were visible, could hear and wore white raiment. Revelation 20:4 describes a similar scene in which the reference is clearly to resurrected beings. We believe in a bodily resurrection! According to John 5:28-29 and II Corinthians 5:10, ALL people MUST be bodily resurrected, whether good or evil. Not only heaven, but hell is also a place for resurrected beings with indestructible bodies! Paul speaks of earthly and heavenly or spiritual bodies in I Cor.15:39-44.
We tend to confuse the Bible words "spirit" and "soul". Perhaps it is because there are so many kinds of spirits that we get confused. We speak of the Holy Spirit, but God is also a Spirit:
"and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth." In Revelation, John speaks several times of the "seven spirits of God", probably in reference to Isaiah 11:1-2 (see my article:
"Seven Spirits of God"). There are of course spirits of men, evil spirits and angels, called "ministering spirits". There are spiritual attitudes, gifts and actions and to make matters even more complicated, the word for spirit is also the word for "wind"!
So, because we switch these two words around, we speak of "soul winning."
It would be difficult and even unbiblical to speak of "spirit-winning," but
few see a problem with this non-biblical term. When the Bible says, "he that winneth souls
is wise" (Proverbs 11:30) and calls our hope "an anchor of the soul"
(Hebrews 6:19), meaning it speaks of whole, living persons. That is why we are not tossed to and fro by every wind and wave of teaching that comes our way (Hebrews 6:19).
The false teaching or at least false concept of the soul has led many down a
The word "soul" simply means "life" or "person". Modern airline pilots speak of "souls" on board their aircraft rather than passengers. Paul speaks of 376 souls which survived the shipwreck in Acts 27:37. Genesis 35:18-19 and 1.Kings 17:21-22 are good examples of this usage, where the soul (Martin Luther renders it "life" in these passages) departs from an individual in death or is restored in resurrection. The very words used for death" or "dying" indicate parting or division.
The English word "counseling" doesn't appear in my English Bible, but counsel is mentioned hundreds of times. We are told to seek counsel from God but also of
godly persons. We are also warned not to reject godly counsel.
COUNSELING ACCORDING TO EXPERTS
The best known "expert" in the German speaking world is Dr. Michael Dietrich, author of the book, "Biblisch Therapeutische Seelsorge" (Biblical, Therapeutic Counseling). Dietrich names six main aspects of counseling:
1) Comforting, 2) Admonishing, 3) Loosening or Binding, 4) Leading to a change of thought patterns, 5) Helping to recognize self, and 6) Assisting one to analyze his past in order to have hope for the future and be able to master the present (his wording is not easy to translate!).
In my investigations of what other Bible Colleges and Seminaries teach about counseling, I became quite frustrated. Most schools include just about every aspect of Christian ministry under this heading. The Korntal Theological Seminary has a 50-page outline on the subject that might just as well be called "Bible Survey"! I decided to concentrate on what the Bible has to say on the subject. Certainly, such an important ministry as counseling would be given ample space in the pages of the New Testament!
I found 17 spiritual gifts listed in Romans 12:3-8; I Corinthians 2:8-11; 12:28-29 and Ephesians 4:11-14, but counseling was not mentioned among them. I began to wonder if counseling could be included under a combination of gifts such as teaching, evangelism etc. If this is the case, there should be no need to create a special gift of counseling. The more I studied, the more uneasy I became about my understanding of the spiritual gifts.
One gift in particular puzzled me. I had been taught in Bible College that the
gift of prophecy was the gift God gave to those men who wrote inspired
Scripture. This was a gift which belonged to the so-called "sign gifts," which
"ceased" to be valid for Christians once the canon of Scriptures was complete
(an understanding based on I Corinthians13:8). In the light of this belief, I
asked myself why Paul placed such a strong emphasis on the gift of prophecy. Why
did he place a gift which would in a few years become obsolete in such a
position of prominence. And why would he encourage believers to seek after this
as a "greater gift"?(I Corinthians 12-14).
I recently heard an evangelist comment on Ephesians 4:11, And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers. He gave great effort to show that all five are God's gifts to the church. After that strong emphasis, he said, "Who are the apostles? They wrote the New Testament. Who are the prophets? They wrote the Old Testament. Now that we have the complete Bible we no longer have apostles and prophets, but we
still have evangelists, pastors and teachers."
I had to restrain myself from jumping up in protest. Was he claiming that God is an Indian-giver? He gives five gifts to the church and immediately takes two of them away! Why would he give prophets to the New Testament church if they were only for writing the
New Testament scriptures and afterwards to become obsolete? If this were the
case, would he not have given us some indication or their historical berevity?
I am aware of the fact that certain preachers and groups misuse or falsely interpret this text in order to build themselves up in the eyes of their followers, but we do not need to distort or deny or even explain what God says in order to defend the faith. Paul's purpose in writing this very chapter is to show what was wrong in the church at Corinth. Their actions, teachings and false emphasis were causing confusion and sowing discord when they should have been building up, encouraging and comforting the believers.
PROPHECY and COUNSELING
I decided to take a closer look at the gift of prophecy. In doing so, I was startled to come across the clear definition of prophecy which the Apostle Paul gives us in I Cor.14:3, which is strikingly similar to the definition which Dr. Dietrich gives to counseling! Paul writes,
"But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort." I asked myself if Paul might be speaking of additional tasks, which the prophets carried out along with writing
scripture. I have been taught always to read the context of any verse which puzzled me, so I read on and came to verse six, where Paul speaks of "revelation", "knowledge", "prophecy" and "instruction" as though they were distinctly different things. I had to stop and pray that the Lord would prevent me from getting off onto some heretical trail of thought before continuing.
I got out my trusty Strong's Concordance with definitions and usages of Hebrew and Greek terms
and did some serious study. Prophecy in the New Testament is made up of two Greek words meaning to speak forth or proclaim as received. The general idea of the word in the New Testament is to speak forth as one who receives through the help of the Holy Spirit. The Zwingli Bible uses three words to translate
propheteia "Reden aus Eingebung" (speaking as inwardly given).
Returning to the text, I saw that all spiritual gifts are for the edification of the church. "Edify" means to build up. This is how it is translated in 31 of 39 appearances in the New Testament. Paul played down speaking in tongues because it only builds up the person. But he elevates prophecy, saying that it builds up the church. In verse 22, Paul says that speaking in tongues is a sign gift, but although he speaks of prophecy in the same verse, he does not call it a sign gift -- nor is it called that anywhere else. Paul states that prophecy is not for unbelievers, but rather for believers, however if an unbeliever happens to be a witness to it, it could only do him good and even cause him to praise God! That is understandable in the light of prophecy's definition in verse three (words of edification, exhortation, and comfort).
Further study shows that ALL believers can have this gift, including women. The four daughters of Phillip in Acts 21:9 had the gift of prophecy. In fact, ALL Christians are
even advised to SEEK this gift (I Corinthians 11:4-5; 14:29-32)! No such advice is given for any of the other gifts of the Spirit.
It would certainly cause no problems if all believers including women spoke words of edification, exhortation, and comfort to the edification of the church! All of us need
that at times!
Another thought occurred to me as I considered this definition of prophecy. In the Old Testament, there were prophets, priests and kings, but all three offices are seldom (never ??) found in one person. Jesus Christ was all three -- Prophet, Priest and King! The New Testament teaches that Christians are co-heirs with Christ, destined to rule with Him for all eternity (II Timothy 2:12; Revelation 5:10). All Christians are also priests (I Peter 2:9). Should we be surprised if we are also to be prophets? Did not Jesus say,
"...as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you." I Thessalonians 5:11-14 does not mention prophecy, but the text reminds us of the definition of that word given in I Corinthians14:3:
"Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do. And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labor among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; And to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake. And be at peace among yourselves. Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men."
Is it possible that prophets in the New Testament should be understood differently from the Old Testament prophets?
PROBLEMS WITH THIS COMPARISON
One difficulty with comparing prophecy and counseling lies in the fact that prophets received and wrote our Scriptures. In II Peter 1:19-21 and Revelation 1:3, God's Word is called "Prophecy."
My own opinion is that Christians over-emphasize this aspect of prophecy. They tend to overlook the fact that prophets had many other ministries, of which being spiritual counselors to God's people was probably most important. Moses, Samuel and other prophets were first and foremost spiritual counselors to God's chosen people. Nathan prophesied that David's child would die, but he spoke as David's spiritual counselor. Some prophets never wrote a word of scripture nor did they prophesy any future event. Prophets who spoke in Gideon's time simply reminded the people of God's past wonders and of their own sinfulness (Judges 6:8-10). The Scriptures are not inerrant because prophets wrote them, but because the
scriptures are inspired of God. Both the Old and New Testament speak of false prophets and God's people are called upon to test the prophets.
Jeremiah 28:5-17 Then Hananiah the prophet took the yoke from off the prophet Jeremiah's neck, and brake it. And Hananiah spake in the presence of all the people, saying, Thus saith the LORD; Even so will I break the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon from the neck of all nations within the space of two full years. And the prophet Jeremiah went his way. Then the word of the LORD came unto Jeremiah the prophet, after that Hananiah the prophet had broken the yoke from off the neck of the prophet Jeremiah, saying, Go and tell Hananiah, saying, Thus saith the LORD; Thou hast broken the yokes of wood; but thou shalt make for them yokes of iron. For thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; I have put a yoke of iron upon the neck of all these nations, that they may serve Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon; and they shall serve him: and I have given him the beasts of the field also. Then said the prophet Jeremiah unto Hananiah the prophet, Hear now, Hananiah; The LORD hath not sent thee; but thou makest this people to trust in a lie. Therefore thus saith the LORD; Behold, I will cast thee from off the face of the earth: this year thou shalt die, because thou hast taught rebellion against the LORD. So Hananiah the prophet died the same year in the seventh month.
Israel had only the law of Moses and later, the prophets, but they were expected to test them. This is one reason why the prophets prophesied future events and worked miracles. These were the proofs of their authenticity. True prophets were characterized by their insistence upon such testing.
Deuteronomy 18:21-22 I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him. But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die. And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the LORD hath not spoken? When a prophet speaketh in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt
not be afraid of him
(see II Kings 6:24-7,1 for an example of this).
NO MORE NEED FOR SIGNS
God gave us standards by which we can judge truth. Today, we have the entire Bible and every believer also has the Holy Spirit of whom is written,
He will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come.
(John 16:13). This would perhaps explain why prophets in the New Testament are not given the same
status as in the Old, as the following verses indicate:
Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge. If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace. For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted. And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.
I Corinthians 14:29-31
True Christianity is unique in that it is perhaps the only religious group which calls upon people to test and prove what is truth. Sects and institutional churches warn people NOT to question their claims. Leaders of these groups claim to be the only ones authorized to interpret dogma. "Normal" members are expected to swallow whatever is served them as truth, asking no questions. Not so with true biblical Christianity.
The Jews asked Jesus for a sign that would prove his words were from God. How did Jesus react to such a request? He said that no sign would be given this wicked generation except the sign of the prophet Jonah. He didn't commend them to blind faith, but rather called them to check the scriptures which they already accepted as God's Word (John 5:39). He also gave them another sure-fire method of recognizing truth in John 7:17
If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.
In other words, the desire and intention of obeying God is the key to understanding. Paul said that the brethren in Berea "were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so."(Acts17:11). Read also: Romans 12:2; Ephesians 5:10; Philippians 1:10 and I Thessalonians 5:21.
GIFTS WHICH CEASE OR FAIL
The popular interpretation of I Corinthians 13:8-10 by evangelical Christians is used as an argument against the use of prophecy today. Here is the passage in question:
"Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known."
Theologians seem to be divided into two camps on the interpretation of this passage. One group claims that the gifts of tongues and prophecy would no longer be valid gifts after the canonization of Scripture is completed. The second group claims that
prophecy will cease when Christians enter heaven. William Mac Donald plays it safe in his commentary and presents both versions, showing no apparent preference.
I find it difficult to accept that the very gift of the Spirit which Paul esteems to be worth seeking after (along with charity, which is said to never fail) should soon be classified as something to avoid or even warn against!
I Corinthians 14:1 & 39 with Romans 12:3-8 and I Thessalonians 5:20)!
At least 17 spiritual gifts are named In Romans 12:3-8; I Corinthians 12:8-11; 12:28-29; and Ephesians 4:11-14. Eight of these are named only once; seven are mentioned twice and one gift is mentioned three times. The gift of prophecy is listed four times. The last verse in I Corinthians 12 calls upon Christians to
"covet the best gifts". What might these be? This admonishment is followed by the famous "Chapter of Love". Then chapter 14 begins where chapter 12 left off, with a call to seek charity and spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy. It is interesting to note that each of the passages which list the spiritual gifts is followed by a plea for love (Romans 12:9; I Corinthians13 and Ephesians 4:15). The importance given to the gift of prophecy by Paul is difficult to ignore. And this gift was supposedly destined to soon fail, cease or fall into disrepute among Bible-believing Christians?
There is another problem which I have with the above mentioned interpretations. According to this interpretation, Knowledge is also doomed! Either knowledge has already ceased, or it will cease when we reach heaven, depending upon which interpretation you prefer. The apostle is very much aware of the problems which knowledge can bring (I Corinthians 8-9), but as a well educated person, I seriously doubt that this is what he meant. If Paul had claimed that ignorance should fail, we could understand that in the light of the following verses. Daniel prophesied that knowledge would increase in the last days (Daniel 12:4). There is no doubt that knowledge is imperfect today, but it certainly has not failed. That it should someday fail or cease is difficult for me to swallow, let alone digest!
Let's take another look at I Corinthians 13:8-11. The Luther Bible uses the same German word meaning "cease" for three different Greek words. According to the Greek text, only speaking in tongues will "cease" (pauo). Charity will never "fail" (ekpipto). An entirely different word is used in conjunction with prophecy and knowledge. The Greek word here is
katargeo which generally means "to render powerless or negate effectiveness". The word must have given translators headaches, for it appears in the New Testament 27 times and Luther gives it no less than 11 renderings; the King James uses twice as many: to destroy (5), do away (3), abolish (3), cumber, loose, cease, fall, deliver... plus eleven other renderings!). Even in this passage, the word is translated in three different ways: "cease", "vanish away" and "done away"!
If we insert katargeo in place of the translation in each occurrence, it becomes easier to understand the word as New Testament Christians must have understood it. The first appearance of the word (always significant) is found in Luke 13:7:
"Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth (katargeo) it the ground?"
Jesus uses the term to describe the earth where the fruitless fig tree is standing. The tree is alive and green, but because there is no fruit, the place where it is standing is rendered ineffective. In other words, that particular part of the earth is unproductive. The unfruitful tree saps precious energy from the soil that could better be occupied by a fruitful tree.
Here are other verses where the word katargeo appears. I have inserted the normal meaning of
katargeo in brackets.
"For what if some did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect
[rendered powerless, have diminished effectiveness]?" (Romans 3:3)
"Do we then make void the law through faith? [render it powerless, diminish its effectiveness]
God forbid: yea, we establish the law." (Romans 3:31)
"For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, [rendered powerless, has little effect)
and the promise made of none effect [rendered powerless, has little effect]" (Romans 4:14)
"Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, [rendered powerless or disarmed, become ineffectual]
that henceforth we should not serve sin." (Romans 6:6)
"For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband
[the law is no longer in effect]." (Romans 7:2)
"But now we are delivered from the law [its power over us is diminished or ineffective], that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter."
"And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are:
[render them powerless, diminish their effectiveness]" (I Corinthians 1:28)
"Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought
[ultimately lose their power and influence]" (I Corinthians 2:6)
"Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats: but God shall destroy things that are: both it and them
[both the stomach and food are temporal and God will cause them to become meaningless]. Now the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord; and the Lord for the body." (I Cor.6:13)
"Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power
[disarm, render powerless, diminish effectiveness]." (I Cor.15:24)
"The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death [death will lose its sting; its power to destroy]" (I Cor.15:26)
"But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not steadfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away: [the glow on Moses' face lost its power or effect upon people]" (II Corinthians 3:7)
"For if that which is done away was glorious [rendered powerless, lost its effectiveness], much more that which remaineth is glorious."
(II Corinthians 3:11)
"And not as Moses, which put a vail over his face, that the children of Israel could not steadfastly look to the end of that which is abolished
[rendered powerless, its effectiveness diminished): But their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same vail untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which vail is done away [rendered ineffectual, can no longer hide the truth]
in Christ." (II Corinthians 3:13-14)
"And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul [akuroo, a synonym very close to katargeo] that it should make the promise of none effect [to be rendered powerless, lose its effectiveness]." (Galatians 3:17)
"Christ is become of no effect unto you [the effectual, saving power of the cross is nullified],
whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace." (Galatians 5:4)
"And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? then is the offence of the cross ceased [if Paul still preached circumcision, the message of the cross would not cause offence or have any negative effect upon the Jews]." (Galatians 5:11)
"Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances
[because of Christ's death on the cross, the law and commandments have lost their divisive power]; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace". (Ephesians 2:15)
And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy [strip him of power - the antichrist is not destroyed, but cast into the lake of fire]
with the brightness of his coming:. (2.Thessalonians 2:8)
"But is now made manifest by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death
[taken away the power of death], and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel." (2. Timothy 1:10)
"Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil
[strip the devil of his power to destroy the body. Satan also is not destroyed, but cast into the lake of fire]." (Hebrews 2:14)
Now let us look at our text in I Corinthians 13 with this definition in mind.
"Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail (be rendered powerless, have little effect, lose their ability to impact);
whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away [lose effectiveness, power to influence].
For we know in part [imperfectly], and we prophesy in part [imperfectly]. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part
[imperfect] shall be done away [imperfect knowledge and prophecy will no longer be a problem for us. Even as the "sting of death" is removed, so imperfection loses its "sting"].
When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things." (I Corinthians 13:8-11)
I am willing to be corrected if proven wrong, but I believe that Paul is actually bemoaning the fact that prophecy and knowledge (gnosis) will lose their positive effect on people in the latter days. He may well be stating this fact with tears in his eyes! I believe that Paul is simply envisioning what we are witnessing today with our own eyes.
Knowledge HAS increased just as Daniel said it would! Grammar School kids have more knowledge in
their little heads today than the college professors of yesterday! Our children know more about
technology than their parents. They cruise the "Information Highways" with their computers and learn
things that would make their parent's hair stand on end! One can obtain information on making bombs, learn all there is to know about sex, order sophisticated weapons, download neo-Nazi hate material and view every kind of violence and perversity. And the kids are also very knowledgeable in many academic and scientific realms. But increased knowledge has had little positive effect on the adult generation and may be even less advantageous for our youth.
The same is true of prophecy. If we reject the charismatic-Pentecostal definition and accept Paul's definition in I Corinthians14:3, we can begin to fathom what Paul is talking about. Christian counseling is really going big time today! In a newsletter from Focus on the Family, dated September, 1995, Dr. James Dobson writes that his radio program was aired 15,325 times each week. Focus on the Family publishes ten monthly magazines that reach three million homes. Thirty eight new books per year hit the book stores. This is only one of many Christian organizations that has Christian counseling as its major emphasis, yet people are screaming for more counseling! And how effective is all this counseling? Dobson himself vents frustration at the insignificant impact all this is making on our society. Following the United Nations "Women's Lib" Congress in China, Dr. Dobson chided Bible believing Christians, churches and pastors in America for remaining largely silent. It was the influence of Roman Catholics and third world blocs, which prevented the congress from perpetrating even greater evil.
With this in mind, verse nine also becomes more clearly understandable. Paul states that knowledge and prophecy are already (in his time) "in part". This word means incomplete, or imperfect. Taken in context, it would mean "imperfect" here. In verse 10, Paul contends that when "that which is perfect is come" (has reached maturity - see verse 11), the imperfect or incomplete won't matter any more - will become of no effect - will have no negative effect for us. Incidentally, if
katargeo means to do away with or vanish as it is translated in verse 8, then verse ten doesn't make any sense at all. That which is partial can be completed in order to make it whole, but you can never attain the whole by doing away with the part! Some contend that "in part" refers to the incomplete canon of scripture, but
that hardly makes sense.
I believe that my understanding is congruous with other scriptures. Paul's description of the last days (1.Timothy 3:1-11), says that men are ever learning, but never come to a recognition of the truth. He goes on to add that
"spiritual counseling" will also have little effect, as was the case with Jannes and Jambres, who opposed Moses.
I recently came across two articles in German periodicals, which mention I Corinthians13:9. One was an article stating the position of the German Evangelical Alliance towards the charismatic movement. The authors wrote:
"Within the framework of the Evangelical Alliance, there should be room for members of churches to get together, even though they have different understandings in certain spiritual or theological matters. "For now we know in part..." (I Cor.13:9 ff). The life which Jesus gives to each of us who believes on him, is eternal, unperishable and unsurpassable." - "Neues Leben", August, 1993
Where does eternal life come from? According to this article, it comes from Jesus regardless of one's understanding of scripture -- and the authors use this Bible passage to prove their point! Because our scriptural knowledge is imperfect, we should be tolerant of other theological positions!
In "Gemeindegründung", Oct.-Dec. 1993, Ernst Maier (now deceased) wrote an article on the role of women in the church (basically a very good article). He wrote:
"The New Testament was written by the apostles and prophets. None of these were women... Women in the NT as well as in the OT were allowed to prophesy, however their prophecies are not identical to teaching, for Paul forbids this in I Timothy 2:12. Prophecy is different from teaching... prophecy ceased with the prophets and apostles of the New Testament."
Brother Maier makes the mistake that many others make. His false understanding of prophecy in the Bible (in my opinion) leads him and others to believe that only prophets receive revelations, therefore only prophets can write scripture. Furthermore, that which prophets write must be scripture. I find it ironic, that Mr. Maier says the apostles AND prophets wrote the New Testament. To my knowledge, only apostles wrote the New Testament. Maier obviously concludes that these must also be prophets, or they would have no legal right to pen words of scripture. I reject this elevation of mere men (even godly men!) and the unintended, but consequent degradation of the true author of scripture. The Bible is not God's inerrant Word because certain men with special titles or offices wrote down the words. The writers themselves repeatedly stated that they were mere fallible human beings, which God in His grace chose to use. We mortal creatures can state our belief in the inerrancy of God's Word, but no man, regardless of title or position is the proof of the Bible's inerrancy. God is big enough not to need man's seal of approval!
PROPHETS WERE SPIRITUAL COUNSELORS
Most prophets were what we would call "spiritual counselors" of God's people. I repeat here what I wrote earlier. Nathan predicted the death of King David's baby, but he was first and foremost David's counselor. Many prophets never wrote scripture. Not everything the prophets said and did is recorded in the Bible, but that which is recorded shows us that predictions of things to come (which is what most Christians think of, when they think of prophecy) played only a minor role in their ministries. The nameless prophet of Judges 6:7-10 spoke only of God's workings in the past and called upon the people to repent. Many prophets of the Old Testament addressed an immediate audience (Israel, for example) and their messages are only "indirectly" written for our edification (I Corinthians10:1-6). The common Hebrew word for Prophet is
näbi, which means "proclaimer". Two other Hebrew terms for prophet mean "one who sees" (all three words are found in 1.Chronicles 29:29). True prophets were men who walked with God and communicated his declared will to the people. Prophets like Moses, Samuel, Elijah, Elisha and Jeremiah were spiritual counselors of Israel.
Prophets in the New Testament can best be seen as spiritual counselors in the church (both male and female), who share with others that which they receive from the Lord.
This is in harmony with John 16:13, which says, Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come.
Threefold Ministry of Prophecy (according to I Cor. 14:3) Edification, Exhortation and Comfort
One result of my study was producing this chart to describe
Christian counseling. Counseling has to do with relationships.
Copyright © 2000
Ralph V. Harvey (updated 2016)