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Moses said:

And Moses saith to him, `Art thou zealous for me? O that all Jehovah's people were prophets! that Jehovah would put His Spirit upon them!' [Numbers 11:29 YLT]

Similarly, Paul said:

Pursue the love, and seek earnestly the spiritual things, and rather that ye may prophecy,. [1 Corinthians 14:1 YLT]

and I wish you all to speak with tongues, and more that ye may prophecy, for greater is he who is prophesying than he who is speaking with tongues, except one may interpret, that the assembly may receive edification. [1 Corinthians 14:5 YLT]

39 so that, brethren, earnestly desire to prophesy, and to speak with tongues do not forbid; 40 let all things be done decently and in order. [1 Corinthians 14:39-40 YLT]

Do Cessationists share Moses and Paul's sentiment?

Do they wish that all God's people may prophesy?


Related questions:


Interesting related article (food for thought): https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/essay/the-gift-of-prophecy/

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  • are you equating someone called to be a prophet (the office) with the gift of prophecy?
    – DDover
    Commented Jan 4, 2022 at 18:31
  • @DDover - I'm leaving the possibility of making that distinction to answerers. If you believe such a distinction exists, you are super welcome to answer this Biblical Hermeneutics question: Are Moses (Numbers 11:29) and Paul (1 Corinthians 14:5) talking about the same type of prophecies?
    – user50422
    Commented Jan 4, 2022 at 19:05
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    I've often wondered whether strict cessationists, who view the N.T. prophetic gift in terms of infallible inspiration, believe that any Christian could have added to the Biblical canon in the first century? That is when Paul said, "you may all prophecy" he also meant "you may all write Bibles"? If so, why did Paul even need to write letters to the people if they already were regularly receiving infallible words directly from above?
    – Jess
    Commented Jan 6, 2022 at 0:21

2 Answers 2

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It would first need to be established what Moses meant by the people prophesying in the wilderness, and then what Paul meant by Christians prophesying in the congregation. Then it would be necessary for modern-day proponents of those claiming the gift of prophesying to say what they mean by that. The question, as it stands, tries to blend all three into one continuum, but that is not scripturally warranted (according to Cessationists).

A huge problem in trying to answer this question is that many modern-day Christians suppose that prophesying must mean making some predictions about the future. While that is included in biblical prophesying, much more comes within its scope.

This might not appear to answer your question but it actually does, because Cessationists simply do not look at the matter of the gift of prophesy in the way you seem to (or, at least, they way you put it in your question.) The simple answer of a Cessationist would be, "No, they do not wish all Christians would prophesy today in the sense you describe, but that in no ways means they diminish what Moses and Paul said about prophesying in their respective eras."

I will simply leave it at that, trusting that my preamble will have enabled you to see why not. If it doesn't, I will still leave it at that because it's impossible for people who don't understand the complexities of the matter to grasp such an answer, not until they stop trying to morph three distinct eras into one as if there was no difference between them. Not only are there semantics problems, but also cherry-picking of scriptures. I note that you did not include in your verses where Paul said "But where there are prophecies, they will cease," but that the greatest gift, love, never would (1 Cor.13:2 & 8). Sadly, the very mention of that chapter will trigger some to respond, to argue what it really means. Yet your question only needs a simple answer - "No, they don't."

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  • I'm very interested in your exegetical stance on these passages. If you are willing, feel free to post an answer to a related question on Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange: Are Moses (Numbers 11:29) and Paul (1 Corinthians 14:5) talking about the same type of prophecies? I'm about to start a bounty on that question actually. Regarding the exegesis of 1 Corinthians 13, I generally support this kind of interpretation.
    – user50422
    Commented Dec 29, 2021 at 12:53
  • @Spirit Realm Investigator There's only one answer to that other Q of yours, and it has been accepted. It majors on the exegetical stance about what it meant to prophesy, in Moses' and Pauls' respective eras, with which I agree. I have no interest in bounty points, thank you.
    – Anne
    Commented Dec 29, 2021 at 13:03
  • Take a look at the BH.SE question again, I just started a bounty on it a few seconds ago.
    – user50422
    Commented Dec 29, 2021 at 13:05
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No, they don't wish all God's people to prophesy. But Cessationist Christians appreciate prophecies as much as Moses and Paul since they appreciate hearing the authentic voice of God expressed in the prophetic books of the Bible. Just because they don't expect modern day prophets doesn't make them appreciate prophecies less. They just have a different understanding of

  • the authentic channel of God's speaking: only Biblical era prophets
  • what counts as prophecy: only the written word of God and other "God said" speech or writing from those prophets that were not preserved

and they would see both Moses and Paul sharing the same standard for authenticity and reverence toward God's word delivered through true prophets, prompting obedience.

Biblical prophecy vs. impression

In order to do this, they wouldn't water down prophecy into "impression", relegating the latter to another mode of communication by the Holy Spirit to guide Christians.

Quote from cessationist Thomas Schreiner on "impression" from his blog article:

What some people today call “prophecies” are actually impressions from God. He can use impressions to guide and lead us, but they aren’t infallible and must always be tested by Scripture. We should also consult with wise counselors before acting on such impressions. I love my charismatic brothers and sisters, but what they call “prophecy” today isn’t actually the biblical gift of prophecy. God-given impressions aren’t the same thing as prophecies.

Quote from cessationist John MacArthur on how continuationists redefine the narrow scope of Biblical "prophecy":

In Scripture, prophecy is always presented as the infallible, authoritative declaration of God’s inerrant revelation. It was not an impression on the mind, whether clear or vague, but a verbal declaration, using words the prophet vocalized audibly or wrote legibly in the presence of others who could hear or read them. Scripture never uses the terminology of prophecy to speak of mystical, intuitive impressions. When continuationists use the biblical terminology of the miraculous gifts to describe something other than the biblical phenomena—when they take a word with a very narrow meaning in Scripture (such as prophecy) and give it a new, broad, unbiblical application—that is, when they redefine the terms—continuationists tacitly concede the central premise of the doctrine of cessationism, namely, that the miraculous gifts of the Spirit as defined and practiced in the New Testament do not occur today.

To learn how Cessationists define "prophecy", please read John MacArthur's 2014 blog article Prophecy Redefined: verbal, propositional, infallible.

A much more detailed defense of the cessationist position in light of the sufficiency of scriptures can be learned from a sermon by Justin Peters: Hearing from Heaven: How to Know the Voice of God (video here), part of John MacArthur's church 2019 Sufficiency of Scriptures conference.

For the cautious continuationist view on desiring modern day fallible gift of prophecy, see the sermon series by Jon Bloom of Desiring God: The Gift of Prophecy Today.

Num 11:29

Why did Moses say this? You need to look at the larger context Num 11:16-30 about God's putting the Spirit that is upon Moses to the 70 elders so the 70 could also speak with God's authority like Moses, thus lessening the burden of Moses (v. 17). The empirical manifestation was reported in v. 25. By this time all Israelites could see the "sign" confirming that indeed, those 70 were "anointed" prophets by God himself. But it turns out there were only 68 in the Tabernacle because Eldad and Medad stayed in the camp, although they too displayed the "sign" (v. 26). Why did Joshua asked Moses to make them stop (v. 28)? From the 1989 Evangelical Commentary on the Bible:

Joshua, Moses’ assistant and one of the seventy, took the prophesying of Eldad and Medad as a threat to Moses’ leadership. Moses did not believe that at all. He knew that if the people were all equipped with the Spirit they would not be dissatisfied, but would accept and declare the word of the Lord and trust him to fulfill that word.

So the reason Moses said this was he wished all of Israel were given the same spirit so they wouldn't rebel against Moses, burdening him greatly (for example, the most recent case that they demanded meat, v.18-20). Therefore, Num 11:29 has nothing to do with the stance that every Christian should desire the gift to prophesy.

1 Cor 14:5

John MacArthur, a well known cessationist, provides a cessationist interpretation in his 2014 blog article Biblical Prophecy and Modern Confusion responding to John Piper's position on desiring prophecy for today's Christians in his Ask Pastor John episodes #214 and #215 by making two points:

First, he quoted Thomas Edgar's interpretation in his 1996 book Satisfied by the Promise of the Spirit: Affirming the Fullness of God's Provision for Spiritual Living:

... the context of 1 Cor. 14 is decidedly against every individual prophesying. Paul has already stated that all are not prophets. The concept that everyone is to prophesy would also invalidate the entire emphasis of chap. 12, viz., that all members do not have the same function. Therefore, 1 Cor. 14:1 must refer to the attitude of the church as a whole.

Second, he made the following point:

Consider how a Christian living under the New Covenant is to obey the commands for animal sacrifice prescribed in the book of Leviticus. Does the refusal to slaughter a lamb on the Day of Atonement mean that a Christian is disobedient to the clear command of the Old Testament? Of course not. Based on what the totality of Scripture teaches about atonement for sin, we “obey” such commands by looking to the perfect sacrifice of Christ, which fulfilled and eclipsed those sacrifices, and by resting in His once-for-all finished work. Similarly, because of what the totality of Scripture teaches about the purpose, function, and temporary nature of the miraculous gifts, the cessationist obeys the commands to “earnestly desire to prophesy” by looking to the perfectly sufficient revelation of the written Word, which fulfilled and eclipsed all previous revelation, and by resting in His once-for-all finished Word.

John MacArthur then provided more exegesis on other verses related to Paul's injunction to desire the gift to prophesy in 3 subsequent blog articles here, here, and here. He then wrote the Cessationist way to deal with the charismatic movement emotional and financial abuses here which is necessarily different than the Continuationist way represented by John Piper's Ask Pastor John episodes #216 and #217.

Postscript

Having read all the blog articles mentioned in this answer myself, I just want to add that regardless of which side the readers ultimately choose for themselves, the loving and civil debate between Pastor John MacArthur and Pastor John Piper should be a model for all of us, not least in their lifelong and utmost dedication to:

  • careful exegesis of the written Word of God and to
  • meditating on the incarnate Word of God (the living Jesus)

which they both agree to be the absolute standard for belief, emotion, and practice.

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