Pentecostals believe the gift of prophecy continues to the present day. From what I understand, most Christians believe the gift of prophecy is what enabled the writers of Scripture to write "inspired" works. So why do Pentecostals believe in a closed canon if they believe in continuing revelation?
Charismatics who believe that the canon is closed argue that the inspiration received by the apostles personally selected by Jesus allowed them to write Scriptures that are foundational and authoritative for the entire church, for all people, and for all time. Their writings became part of the biblical canon that Protestants use today.
Nonetheless, they argue that the gift of prophecy continues into the present day throughout the church. The difference between Scripture and the gift of prophecy has been described in at least two ways:
- that prophecy, even in the New Testament, is inherently different from and of lesser authority than the inspiration received by the authors of Scripture.
- that non-apostolic prophecy is limited in scope and applicability in a way that the Bible, produced by the OT prophets and foundational apostles, is not.
Prophecy inherently different from inspiration
Wayne Grudem argues that New Testament "prophecy" should not be understood to be equivalent to inspiration or Old Testament prophecy:
Ordinary congregational prophecy in New Testament churches did not have the authority of Scripture. It was not spoken in words that were the very words of God, but rather in merely human words.1
According to Grudem, the New Testament word for prophet is normally best interpreted as "one who speaks on the basis of some external influence,"2 as indicated in Titus 1:12 and Luke 22:64. Thus it should not be seen as equivalent to OT prophecy or NT apostolic inspiration. He cites several passages that he argues demonstrate that even prophecy in the apostolic church was inherently of lower authority than Scripture, and even prone to distortion by the one prophesying:
- Acts 21:4: The disciples at Tyre tell Paul "through the Spirit" (to Grudem, an example of prophecy) not to go to Jerusalem, yet Paul disobeys and goes anyway, indicating the lesser authority of the prophecy.
- Acts 21:10–11: The prophecy of Agabus is apparently fallible, as it was Romans, not Jews (as predicted), that bound Paul. Grudem sees this as an example of a true message or vision given by the Spirit to Agabus that he inaccurately reported, probably unintentionally.
- 1 Thessalonians 5:19–21: Paul's instruction to "not despise prophesying" makes no sense to Grudem if prophecy is on the same level as Scripture, since elsewhere Paul says the Thessalonians received God's word with joy. Furthermore, the "test everything" instruction applies to these prophecies, suggesting that some would be good and some not.
- 1 Corinthians 14:29–38: Again, Paul suggests that some prophecy will be accepted and some rejected (listeners must "weigh what is said"). Furthermore, Paul challenges his audience, saying that they are not the source of God's word (v. 36) but he is (v. 37–38).2
On this basis, Grudem argues that NT "prophets" often spoke "simply to report something that God had laid on their hearts or brought to their minds,"2 not with divine authority. Therefore, the gift of prophecy
does not threaten or compete with Scripture in authority but is subject to Scripture, as well as to the mature judgment of the congregation.1
Post-foundational prophecy limited in scope and applicability
Other charismatic theologians approach Grudem's distinction between NT prophecy and OT prophecy/NT apostleship with caution. J. Rodman Williams admits a distinction between "occasional" prophets and "specialist" prophets in the New Testament, for example, but rejects the idea that something can be a prophecy and yet contain mistakes. Instead he argues that the passages on "testing" and "weighing" prophesies are meant as instructions to distinguish between true and false prophecy, not to determine how much of a given prophecy is true.3
Williams instead argues that the primary distinction between the Scriptures and the gift of prophecy is that the Scriptures, by virtue of being revealed through OT prophets, Jesus, and the early apostles, is the "fully declared" revelation of God's truth. "There is nothing more to be added" to this special revelation:
Accordingly, what occurs in revelation within the Christian community is not new truth that goes beyond the special revelation (if so, it is spurious and not of God). It is only a deeper appreciation of what has already been revealed, or a disclosure of some message for the contemporary situation that adds nothing essentially to what He has before made known.4
Similarly, W. E. Nunnally sees parallels between intertestamental and modern-day prophecy, saying:
Old Testament and New Testament are canonized Scripture. As such, they represent the culmination of a process under the direct guidance of God. Scripture is normative—eternally relevant—and is our only rule for faith and conduct. Intertestamental prophecy was not, and modern-day prophecy is not, considered Scripture. Neither has undergone a divinely directed process of popular, universal usage. Neither is eternally relevant, or normative. Both are conditioned by time, place, and situation, and therefore do not have the intrinsic authority to dictate matters of faith and practice.5
Along these lines, the Assemblies of God writes that the apostles "personally called and commissioned by the risen Lord" had "unique revelatory and authoritative roles in establishing the church and producing the New Testament" [emphasis added]. On this basis, then, though it allows churches to identify "contemporary apostles," it strictly limits them:
Contemporary apostles, of course, will not have seen or been commissioned by the risen Lord in the manner of the “apostles of Jesus Christ,” nor will they be adding their teachings to the canon of Scripture. Presumably they will demonstrate the other marks of an apostle taught in the New Testament.6
Though differing somewhat on the proper definition of "prophecy," closed-canon charismatics agree that the apostles personally commissioned by Jesus had the unique role of participating in the completion of God's special revelation, which we now have in the form of the Bible. They argue that though both originate in the same Holy Spirit, modern-day prophecy is of lesser authority and merely interprets and applies Scripture; it does not add to it.
Note: All emphasis in quotes is in the original unless otherwise stated.
- Systematic Theology, chapter 52, 1039–40.
- Systematic Theology, chapter 53, 1049–55.
- Renewal Theology, volume 2, 381 and 386.
- Renewal Theology, volume 1, 44.
- The Age of the Apostles From Biblical, Extra-biblical, Theological, and Logical Perspectives (WebCite).
- AOG Official Statement on Apostles and Prophets, 10 (approved August 6, 2001).
Yes, Pentecostals believe that the gift of prophecy continues to the present day. However, there is a difference between someone exercising the gift of prophecy and the apostles that were divinely inspired to write Scripture.
In the book Foundations of Pentecostal Theology, in the chapter on Bibliology, authors Duffield and Van Cleave discuss the difference between the gift of prophesy today and the inspiration of Scripture:
The Holy Spirit and the Scriptures
Inspiration accounts for inerrancy, and inerrancy proves inspiration. This miracle of infallible inspiration is said to be the ministry of the Holy Spirit. This might well be the very greatest ministry in which the Spirit is engaged. All Spirit-filled believers have known, to some degree, the miracle of Divine inspiration by the Holy Spirit, but never to the extent experienced by the writers of Scripture.
The Pentecostal Movement has been accused of being an experience-centered movement, and indeed it is! But it is also a Bible-centered movement. It is beautiful to see how the Holy Spirit and the written Word are always in perfect agreement. This must be so, because the Word is the result of the inspiration of the Spirit....
If any people should be people of the Word of God, it should be those who believe in the Pentecostal Baptism with the Holy Spirit. They have an inspirational ministry. They believe in prophecy, in speaking with other tongues with interpretation, in inspirational revelations. How can one tell if these come from God or not? Just because one claims to have a revelation from the Lord does not mean it should be accepted as if it was from God. There needs to be a norm, a final court of appeal, by which all manifestations of the gifts of the Spirit can be judged. In fact, the Scripture admonishes the judging of all prophecy, which Paul recognizes as perhaps the greatest of gifts. "Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge" (1 Cor. 14:29). "To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them" (Is. 8:20). There is such a "court of appeal" to which one can come. It is the written Word, which the Holy Spirit inspired. Peter calls it "a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as a light that shineth in a dark place" (2 Pt. 1:19). Those who minister, in any capacity whatever, are never so fully "in the Spirit" as when they are doing so in full accord with the clearly revealed teaching of the Bible, the Word of God. "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches," is an admonition which is given seven (7) times in the book of Revelation (2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22) and each time it follows a written epistle from the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.
It is believed that the Jesus sent the Holy Spirit on earth and the the work of the Holy Spirit has not stopped yet, it is still working even today. However, the work of the Spirit and the Canonization has very little relation or no relation at all!
Canonization was already finished before Pentecostalism was started around 19th century. The Church had already decided what books should be included. It seems the Church followed a systematic approach for the Canonization and there is little to question about it. If we study the nature of selection of books, we may find the following important aspects.
- Books written by The Apostles: Since Jesus never wrote any book by himself, the books written by the Apostles became top priority. eg. Matthew, John, Epistles of Paul and other Apostles, etc.
- Books written during the lifetime of The Apostles: Though some books were not written by the Apostles, they were written during the lifetime of the Apostles. This gives us assurance that they were written under the inspection of the Apostles or at least were approved by them. There were many books written around the first century but we must trust the Church Fathers who sincerely selected them. eg. Mark, Luke, Acts, Hebrews, etc.
Any book written after this has less importance and cannot be included in the Canon. There is NO sensible reason why any other NEW book should be included in the Canon. It doesn't matter even if someone came along later about 600 AD, claimed to be the messenger of God and wrote a book such as The Quran. No, we cannot include them, no matter how spiritual or influential the person is. The same goes for the Book of Mormon!