One of the biggest factors in the attempt to make prophecy an exercise and a gift that is not restricted to direct revelation from God is the desire
for mysticism. Many people who profess to be Christians long to feel God's presence; they wish to be spiritual (roll the "r" when you say "spiritual"!, and make sure the word has four
distinct syllables!); they want to hear that still, small voice of God speaking to them. They cannot accept that God may have given direct revelation only to specific individuals.
The Apostle Paul began the three-chapter discussion of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians with a clarifying warning at the beginning of chapter 12. It's
obvious that the Corinthians were excited about the more external, supernatural gifts (more about that later). They lived in a culture which did not communicate with God or any of the
gods except through media which resided at various places of idol worship.
Ancient Greece and Rome had many oracles. The most famous was that of Apollo at Delphi, where the medium was a woman over 50 called the Pythia. After bathing in the Castalian spring, she apparently would descend into a basement cell, mount a sacred tripod, and chew the leaves of the laurel, sacred to Apollo. Her utterances, which were often highly ambiguous, were interpreted by priests. Other oracles, including those at Claros (Apollo), Amphicleia (Dionysus), Olympia (Zeus), and Epidaurus (Asclepius), were consulted through various other methods; for example, the oldest of the oracles, that of Zeus at Dodona, spoke through the whispering of the leaves of a sacred oak. At some shrines, the inquirer would sleep in the holy precinct and receive an answer in a dream. (Britannica 2006 Desktop Encyclopedia)Now that the Corinthians had believed in Christ and thereby come into a relationship with God through the Holy Spirit, they should all be able to receive a word from God. Very exciting stuff! But Paul cautions them that content is more important than communication. He disagrees with the emphasis that was widely heralded when I was in graduate school that the medium is more important than the message. Not so then or now. And not that God has failed to communicate, but even in the early days of the Church, not everyone was a prophet or prophetess. High on the list still is the need to watch closely the content.
When spectacular communication gifts did take place, were they necessarily provided by the Holy Spirit? The answer is a clear "No." The opening verses of 1 Corinthians 12 make that clear, as well as does 1 John 4:1-6. So a spectacular communication gift, such as prophecy, might be distributed by the Holy Spirit, but, as indicated, it might also be enabled by a different spirit. And anyone should be able to determine what a spirit is that is replacing and, in fact, opposing the Holy Spirit. Again, the content was a key indicator as to source.
In 1966 Dr. W. Harold Mare, Professor of New Testament Language and Literature at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, MO, wrote an article in
the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society entitled "Prophet and Teacher in the New Testament." He examined the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the New
Testament to determine, if possible, whether prophets were viewed as identical to other speakers, especially teachers, or whether they were different. He found a similar emphasis
throughout, and that was that prophets were distinct from other speakers, and that the view discovered there was in harmony with the Old Testament.
Recently I read one article that proposed a prophet to be someone who thinks he is speaking from God. Frankly, that definition is dubious. The
legitimacy of a prophet had best not be left to the subjective opinion of an individual himself or herself. The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament says, "The essential idea
in the word is that of authorized spokesman." To round that out a bit we may say that a prophecy is a message from an authorized spokesman for God, or, from a little different
perspective, that it is the communication of a message received directly from God or revealed directly by God to the speaker. God appears to be the initiator determining who actually
becomes a prophet or receives the prophecy gift.
I have enjoyed personal involvement with motorcycles, and a bit of information in the history of motorcycles caught my attention. In 1909
Harley-Davidson produced a motorcycle which had an engine of about 500 cc displacement. It had an intake valve that operated automatically depending on the vacuum or pressure created by
the piston. It was a neat, simple design, but it worked only up to about 500 rpm. The bike also had a flat leather drive belt. It also had pedals which were used to start and helpful to
motor up hills. The horsepower was rated at four, and speed on excellent road surfaces might approach forty-five mph. The question I ask is this: Why is no one seeking to invent this
engine today? Bikes today may easily have 125 horsepower or more and run sometimes up to over 20,000 rpm and 200 mph. The answer is that that was in the infancy of Harley- Davidson and of
motorcycling in general. No one wants to go back there, and that particular motorcycle is mostly of museum interest.
The gift of prophecy cannot be divorced from the prophet who functioned under the direct control of God. Because of that, prophets are recognized as
those who wrote Scripture. The word of a prophet was dependable. I have heard prophecies so-called proclaimed on television such as that someone would have a successful ministry in the
coming year. Perhaps the result could be disputed, but even if there is such success, we can hardly put such a 'prophecy' on the level of Scriptural inspiration, and we shouldn't use the
'prophecy' terms to describe it. However successful it is, it is something different, perhaps not much different than an educated business prognostication.