6. Gifts of the Spirit: Prophecy

This gift can be very edifying for you and the church. It is not a preacher’s inspired sermon. And don’t despise it, either, says the Scripture.

Let’s begin with my (tentative) translation.

4 There are a variety of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 There are a variety of services, and the same Lord. 6 And there are a variety of workings, but the same God who works everything in everyone. 7 To each the manifestation of the Spirit is given towards the common benefit. 8 For to one person is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom; to another person a message of knowledge by the same Spirit; 9 To a different person faith by the same Spirit; to a different person the gifts of healings by the one Spirit; 10 To a different person workings of miracles; to a different person prophecy; to a different person discernings of spirits; to a different person kinds of (prayer and praise) languages; to another person an interpretation of (prayer and praise) languages; 11 The one same Spirit works and distributes all these things to each particular individual as he wills. (1 Cor. 12:4-11)

For other translations, please click here: biblegateway.com

For my commentary on how to organize these gifts, please click on:

Gifts of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12:7-11 and 12:28

Exegetical Commentary on “Prophecy”

Some theology: Above are three great verses (4-6) on the activity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Triunity is not an abstract doctrine, but the three persons want to invade your space and gift you, so that you can reach and help people.

Click here The Trinity: What Does He Mean to Me? and at the end of that linked ten-point post, you can click on other articles on the Trinity.

“prophecy”: As I noted in my commentary on Rom. 12:6, it comes from the Greek noun prophēteia (pronounced pro-fay-tay-yah). It is not in the plural, so this must be a collective definition. This is why we have to be careful about over-analyzing the plural in 1 Cor. 12:7-11, though I still maintain Paul is communicating something to us when he uses the plural.

In both here and Rom. 12:6, it has the same meaning: to speak by the power of the Spirit. It is not merely forthtelling or a strong speaking ability, though the gift of prophecy could include that. It could be spoken softly and in bits and pieces, haltingly. It is not natural talent or ability in speaking, or else why would Paul make so much of God’s grace and charisma inspired by the Spirit? And it does not mean just shrieking and freaking behind the pulpit (too much soul power). It has to go deeper. It does not come by study, though that is important to know God’s mind and to prevent a prophetic person’s own thoughts from dominating. The Spirit speaks special knowledge that the human speaker did not know before (1 Cor. 14:24-25).

The purpose of prophecy is seen in 1 Cor. 14:3:

Edify, exhort, and comfort (KJV)

Edification, exhortation, and comfort (NKJV)

Strengthen, encourage, and comfort (NIV)

Strengthening, encouragement, and consolation (NET)

Edification, exhortation, and consolation (NASB)

Grow in the Lord, encouraging, and comforting (NLT)

Strength, encouragement, and comfort (NCV)

Helped, encouraged, and made to feel better (CEV)

Upbuilding, encouragement, and consolation (ESV)

Grow, be strong, and experience his presence with you (MSG)

Defining and Describing this Gift

J.. Rodman Williams

Prophecy, accordingly, is an immediate communication from God in the common language. It is a “speaking for” God by which a person’s tongue is completely at the disposal of the Holy Spirit. The concepts and words do not derive from the speaker but from a divine source. So God communicates in a given situation a special message in His people.

Thus the occurrence of prophecy is an extraordinary event (Vol. 2, p. 382).

Then Williams says that prophecy must be tested because humans can make a mistake, and prophecy is a high-powered occurrence. People can so desperately want the gift that they can speak from their own minds. So Williams lays out these statements about true and false prophecies (1 Thess. 5:20-21; 1 Cor. 14:29). (1) “True prophecy is an expression of the mind and Spirit of Christ” (p. 386). So to test prophecies, ask whether they glorify Christ and are in conformity to his character. (2) True prophecy is harmonious with the Word of God in Scripture. Scripture has been tested, prophecies have not. (3) True prophecies build up the community (1 Cor. 14:4). Prophecies can admonish and warn, but not tear down. (4) True prophecies find consent and agreement in the others in the community. (5) True prophecies glorify God, not man. Self-serving prophecies that elevate the speaker cannot be from God (pp. 386-87).

Finally, prophecy flows from faith, so the speaker must be open to revelation, which, in context, is another word for prophecy (1 Cor. 14:29-32). Next, prophecy can come in a variety of language forms, such as first person “I the Lord say to you ….” Or the language form can speak for God: “The Lord says ….” And then prophecies should be done in an orderly manner (1 Cor. 14:29-30), and the spirit of prophets are subject to the prophets, so they can control their impulses (1 Cor. 14:32). No outbursts, which are disorderly.

On a personal note, over at Melodyland School of Theology, where Prof. Williams was president for a few years, we had “charismatic gatherings” once a month or once a quarter (I don’t remember), and Williams was completely open to prophecy. I could see that he took them seriously and joyfully.

Wayne Grudem

He has along section on this gift and seems to boil it down in his figure 53.1: “Prophecy occurs when a revelation from God is reported in the prophet’s own (merely) human words.” He urges the church not to get caught up in personal words, seeking them over Scripture, and to elevate them on the same level as Scripture (p. 1057).

Craig Keener

Prophecy involves God speaking to or through a servant who listens to his voice” (Gift Giver: The Holy Spirit for Today [Baker Academic, 2001], p. 118). Prophets can preach, but this gift goes beyond preaching; it can receive spontaneous revelations (1 Cor. 14:29-31) that could reveal the secrets of the hearts (1 Cor. 14:24-25). “In fact, the biblical terminology for prophecy is broad enough to include any message that a prophet received from the Lord and made clear was from God” (p. 120). In teaching, God’s authority is in the biblical text that the teacher accurately expounds. In contrast, prophecy is God’s message when it comes accurately from God (p. 121). Studying to teach is not the same as the manifestations of prophecy.

David Lim

In 1 Corinthians 14 prophecy refers to a variety of Spirit-inspired spontaneous messages in the speaker’s known language “for their strengthening [especially of faith], encouragement, [especially to move ahead in faithfulness and love] and comfort [that cheers and revives hope and expectation]” (1 Cor. 14:3). By this gift the Spirit illumines the progress of God’s kingdom, reveals the secrets of people’s hearts, and puts the sinner under conviction (1 Cor. 14:24-25). (Systematic Theology, ed. Stanley Horton, p. 467)

Derek Prince

Prophecy is not just inspired preaching. Neither does it proceed from human reasoning, learning, education, seminary training. Like all other gifts, it is made possible only by the supernatural operation of the Holy Spirit (The Gifts of the Spirit, [Whitaker House, 2007], p. 176).

In 1 Cor. 14:2-4 Paul lays down the basic purpose and function of prophecy: “For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God, for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. On the other hand, the one who prophesies the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies build up the church” (ESV).

From those verses Prince explains the differences between prophecy and unknown tongue:

Prophecy: (1) Speaks to people (2) Speaks words understood by speaker and listeners; (3) Edifies the church.

Unknown Tongue: (1) Speaks to God; (2) Speaks mysteries; (3) Edifies individual believer who is the speaker (p. 179).

Jack Hayford

This manifestation of the Spirit, then, “consisted of spontaneous, Spirit-inspired, intelligible messages, orally delivered in the gathered assembly, intended for the edification or encouragement of the people. This is not the delivery of a previously prepared sermon.” (Gifts, Fruit, and Fullness of the Holy Spirit [Thomas Nelson, 1993], p. 138, quoting himself in an earlier article for Charisma magazine).

Paul Walker

Prophecy is (1) divinely inspired utterance; (2) supernatural proclamation in a known language; (3) not of the intellect, but of God; (4) everyone may exercise it, when they have the fullness of the Spirit; (5) intellect, faith, and will are used in this gift, but they are not the source; it comes from the Spirit of God (The Spirit-Filled Study Bible [3rd ed. Thomas Nelson, 2018], p. 1947).

My Definition

The charismatic gift of prophecy is the proclamation and forthtelling, whether loudly or in a whisper, the mind of God towards an individual, a church, or a nation, flowing out of the Spirit of God, not natural means. It is not preaching or teaching after study. It is a charismatic gift.

Scriptural Examples

Let’s look at a few key verses to get a range of meanings.

In 1 Thess. 5:20, in the context of a command not to quench the Spirit, Paul tells the church there not to treat prophecies with contempt. This is a warning to us today.

In 1 Tim. 1:18 Paul encourages his disciple Timothy to remember the prophecies that pointed him to remember to wage spiritual warfare, holding on to faith and a conscience (1:18). If one does not have faith and a good conscience, then spiritual warfare is difficult.

In 1 Tim. 4:14 Paul reminds him not to neglect the gift (charisma) that was given him through prophecy when the body of elders laid hands on him. So gifts can be imparted by laying on of hands. They don’t always have to come by passivity. It is possible to knock on the door to God’s throne room and ask him for a gift. If he says no to one gift, then find out from him what your gift is. I used to think I should be a pastor and church planter, but God never opened up that door to me. In fact he very clearly spoke to me that this was not my calling. Further, I did not go to seminary and earn an M.Div., nor was I ever invited to shepherd a church (except for 6 months in Paris, France, and I was bad at it). Then in 2012, I sought God hard yet again about planting a church in my home city. God clearly revealed to me one word: no. Then clarity came. I am a teacher (see below), not a pastor or church planter. Of course. It makes sense now. I had been teaching for a long time.

Finally, Philip the evangelist and servant (Acts 6) had four prophetic daughters who were unmarried (Acts 21:9). These four girls had a ministry, and no doubt they were young, some premarriage age and others of marriageable age, but unmarried. Kids don’t get “Holy Spirit, Jr.” They get the fullness of the Spirit, both boys and girls. They can have a prophetic ministry—and so can single people.

Prophecy can have predictive elements. Agabus was a prophet in Judea, and he told Paul, as follows:

10 While we stayed there [Caesarea] several days, a certain prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. 11 He approached us and took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, “The Holy Spirit says this: ‘In this way the Jews in Jerusalem shall bind the man whose belt this is and turn him over to the hands of the Gentiles’” (Acts 21:10-11, my tentative translation)

Not all prophecies have to be sugar and spice and everything nice. They can warn. To be forewarned is to be forearmed.

How does this post help me grow in my knowledge of God?

As for the recent failed “Trump prophecies” and the rise of independent prophets broadcasting their prophecies on youtube and other platforms, please see the links, below, on NT prophets and prophecies. Often the “youtube prophets” are arrogant, defiant, unteachable, and disconnected from the local church. Or they may lead a local church but don’t allow their prophecies to be judged. They are surrounded by “yes men.” This is very dangerous. Again, see the links, below for more detail

You can exercise this gift as God wills. Some people may specialize in this gift; if so, they are termed prophets. But it all comes from God. It cannot be exercised because a speaker is in a “groove” or routine and does it regularly, so he’s used to it. No. God is the source.

1 Cor. 14:29-33 says:

29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. 30 If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, 32 and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. 33 For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. (1 Cor. 14:29-33, ESV)

Note that v. 29 says that the other may judge. Some say only prophets should judge  prophets. But this is not the context of the verse. It is prophecies in the church by ordinary people bringing their own gifts to share: “When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up” (v. 26). There is no specialization of the super-gifted. So anyone can judge a prophecy. He should, particularly if it is directed at him.

Bottom line: v. 26 says that you can bring your own revelatory gift or song to the house church. “Everyone gets to play,” as a wise pastor used to say. You can “play” too. Ask God to give you a gift for his church, and if it builds his people up, he will be glad to give it to you. If he sees, however, that you’re immature and self-seeking (you want attention), then be careful! The “word” you have may have come from your own mind.


New Testament Restricts Authority of Modern Prophets

Is ‘Decreeing’ Biblical?

What Is the ‘Anointing’?

Do Prophets and Prophecy Exist Today?

Do NT Apostles Exist Today?

What Is the ‘Anointing’?


1. Gifts of Spirit: Word of Wisdom

2. Gifts of the Spirit: Word of Knowledge

3. Gifts of the Spirit: Faith

4. Gifts of the Spirit: Gifts of Healings

5. Gifts of the Spirit: Workings of Miracles

6. Gifts of the Spirit: Prophecy

7. Gifts of the Spirit: Discernings of Spirits

8. Gifts of the Spirit: Spirit-Inspired Languages (‘Tongues’)

9. Gifts of the Spirit: Interpretation of Spirit-Inspired Languages


Works Cited

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