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Old and New Testament Prophets Part 1
- Junior DeSouza
Difference #1: PURPOSE
OT prophets: establish the Old Testament Scriptures
NT prophets: invigorate the church
The Old Without a doubt, the most crucial difference separating Old and New Testament prophets pertains to their purpose.
The purpose of Old prophetic ministry was to receive and speak divine revelation that would be recorded as the Old
Testament Scriptures. God was entrusting over half of His Bible to those prophets! The New Testament recognizes and
affirms this: Jesus (Mt 22:40), Paul (Ro 1:2, 16:25,26NKJV), Peter (2Pet 1:19-21).
The New New Testament prophets, on the other hand, have an abruptly different purpose. The purpose of New prophetic
ministry is to provide practical, situation-specific messages from God that invigorate the church. Paul is plain about this (1Co
14:3,4,22), as is Luke (Ac 15:32). Through New prophecy, the Holy Spirit comforts (1Co 14:3), strengthens (Ac 15:32),
instructs (1Co 14:31), guides (Ac 13:1-3, 1Ti 1:18), corrects (1Co 14:24), foretells (Ac 11:27-30), and even praises (Ac 19:6;
see 1Sam 10:5,6, 1Chr 25:1) in astonishingly relevant and timely ways. Its role is simply to perceive and communicate God's
situational will, and in so doing, recipients are illumined and invigorated God-ward.
New Testament prophecy does not receive or write more Scripture, nor does it replace the existing and complete Scriptures.
Paul is stiff on this point (1Co 14:37,38), and John's final words certainly reach farther than just his own book of Revelation
Difference #2: QUALITY
OT prophets: ministered infallibly, with 100% perfection
NT prophets: minister fallibly, with potential error
The Old Because of their unparalleled responsibility to establish a perfect Old Testament Scripture, God Himself ensured
that the quality of Old prophetic ministry was 100% perfect, or infallible. The prophets themselves, as people, were not perfect,
but their ministry certainly was. Consider it...how else could we have a perfect Old Testament in our Bibles today?
Deuteronomy 18:20 presents the standard of Old prophetic ministry as perfection. Prophets would be executed not only for
prophesying in the name of a false god, or prophesying incorrectly, but also for prophesying anything God Himself did not
initiate, even if it was technically correct (Deu 13:1,2). God would never demand such a ridiculous standard without also
providing a miraculous undergirding for His true prophets to fulfill it.
1Samuel 3:19,20 (and 9:6) illustrates this. God Himself ensured that not one of Samuel's prophetic words fell short, and
because of his prophetic perfection, all Israel recognized he passed the Deuteronomy 18:20-test. Isaiah 44:26 says the
same, that God Himself fulfilled and performed all the prophetic words of His true Old Testament prophets. Jeremiah 1:12
reiterates, saying God personally watched over Jeremiah's prophetic word to fulfill it. Because of their unparalleled purpose
(establish Scripture), Old prophets likewise possessed unparalleled ministerial quality (infallibility). God Himself guaranteed
this by miraculously undergirding their every word.
The New New Testament prophets, on the other hand, are not ministerially infallible. Their prophesying might possess
partial or total inaccuracies. New Testament Scripture shows us this. The believers at Tyre prophesied to Paul not to go to
Jerusalem (Ac 21:4). This was a partially inaccurate word, because Paul himself felt compelled and bound by the Spirit to go
to Jerusalem (20:22NIV), which he in fact did (21:17). Yet Acts 21:4 says they spoke by the Spirit. How can both be true? The
explanation: the Tyrian believers received a genuine revelation from the Spirit concerning Paul's suffering and imprisonment
in Jerusalem, yet they misinterpreted and misapplied the revelation to say Paul should not go to Jerusalem at all. Genuine
revelation...faulty interpretation...faulty application. I'm sure we can all relate.
Agabus also prophesied partially inaccurately in Acts 21:10,11. Paul was indeed arrested, this part was accurate, but he was
not arrested by the Jews and handed over to the Romans by them. Verses 32 and 33 (and 23:27) tell us Paul's life had to be
forcibly saved by the Roman soldiers, who rescued him from the abusive Jewish mob who would have torn him to shreds
and killed him.
Paul joins Luke in his cognizance of prophecy's potential fallibility in the church age. In 1Corinthians 14:29, he tells believers
to judge, evaluate carefully, and thoroughly sift (Gk diakrino) prophetic words that are spoken. In 1Thessalonians 5:19-22 he
says the same, telling the church to separate the good from the bad in prophecy, while remaining open and positive towards
prophetic ministry in general. New prophecy, and all spiritual gifts, can be like a poor reflection in a mirror (1Co 13:2),
especially when used by the spiritually non-mature or inexperienced. The good news is, prophetic Christians can develop
and advance in their prophetic faculty, learning to minimize perceptive dilution to consistently prophesy reliably and accurately.
Difference #3: AUTHORITY
OT prophets: possessed absolute authority
NT prophets: possess relative authority
The Old Because of their unparalleled responsibility to author the Old Testament Scriptures, God endowed these
messengers with absolute authority to ensure nothing or no one would get in the way. Their task was simply too important to
God's overall redemptive program.
This absolute authority connoted their prophetic word was the final authority from God in all of Israel-it was to be obeyed
without hesitation or question. There were no ifs, ands, buts, whys, howevers, or therefores. There was no personal testing,
evaluation, or "praying for confirmation" when a prophet of Yahweh prophesied. If he/she was attested as a true prophet of the
LORD, his every prophesied word was divine law (Deu 18:18,19, Isa 8:20, Jer 6:19). When necessary, these prophets
demonstrated superhuman miraculous powers to enforce their authority and protect their mission (Num 16:1-35, 1Sam
12:18, 1Ki 13:1-6, 20:35,36, 2Ki 1:10,12, 5:20-27, Eze 11:13). Check out these specific passages concerning this.
The prophet Moses said if anyone did not fully obey the Old prophet's word, God Himself would hold that person fully
accountable (Deu 18:15-19, esp v19). The prophet Samuel said that to disobey the prophet's word was equal to the sin of
witchcraft and idolatry (1Sam 15:22,23), both of which were punishable by death (Lev 20:6,27, Deu 13:6-11). An unnamed
prophet caused King Jeroboam's hand to instantly wither because he tried to arrest him after he prophesied (1Ki 13:1-6); the
same prophet instantly restored the king's hand back to life just moments later. The prophet Elijah's absolute authority is
seen by his commanding the people to seize and slaughter eight hundred and fifty false prophets (1Ki 18:40); we also see it
by his calling fire from heaven to destroy two companies of soldiers who tried to arrest him while he was praying (2Ki
1:10,12). His prophetic word could literally prohibit or permit rainfall for years on end (1Ki 17:1).
A man was killed by a lion because he disobeyed a simple prophetic request from a prophet (1Ki 20:35,36). Gehazi and all
his descendants were sentenced to leprosy forever because he lied to the prophet Elisha (2Ki 5:20-27). An unnamed prophet
told King Amaziah that God would destroy him because he ignored his prophetic advice (2Chr 25:15,16). The prophet Isaiah
told Israel that merciless divine breaking (judgment) would come to them because they rejected his prophetic word (Isa
30:12-14). The prophet Jeremiah declared that he personally possessed God's wrath to pour out all over Israel (Jer
6:10-12,17-19). The prophet Ezekiel actually killed a person simply by prophesying (Eze 11:13). Now that's absolute authority!
Once again, this absolute authority accompanied the Old prophets to safeguard the establishment of the Old Testament
Scriptures. Without such authority, Israel would not recognize and canonize their writings as truly Holy Scripture. With this
authority, however, it was undeniable that the Most High God had indeed called them to author His Word.
The New New Testament prophets, on the other hand, have a lesser and different type of authority: relative authority. New
prophecy is not the indisputable final authority, as Old prophecy was. The completed Scripture is now the supreme law of
God's people (1Co 14:37,38, 2Pet 3:15,16, Rev 22:18,19). All New prophecy is to be screened and tested by the hearers:
tested for divine authenticity (1Co 14:29, 2Th 2:1-3, 1Jn 4:1-6), tested for agreement with Scripture (1Co 14:37,38), and tested
for the accurate/good, and if necessary, sifted for the inaccurate/bad (1Th 5:19-22). New prophecy, then, is accountable to
Scriptural, personal, and governmental evaluation. Such comprehensive judging of New prophecy signifies its demotion in
the area of authority. We no longer see that "do-or-die-without-question" badge the Old prophets wore.
Though New prophecy has divinely-instituted boundaries, it nonetheless possesses a relative authority. This means New
Testament prophetic authority is relative to the authenticity and accuracy of the prophesied word, and, possesses authority
over its situational target only. In other words, prophecies, or portions of prophecies, that are found to be genuine, possess
authority only over the intended recipient (particular person, group, church, nation, organization, etc...). Paul had no obligation
to obey the prophetic directive at Tyre since it was tested and found to be partially inaccurate (Ac 21:4,17, 20:22). On the other
hand, the Antiochan church was under all divine obligation to obey the word spoken there, because, after fasting and prayer,
the directive was proven to be authentic and accurate (Ac 13:1-3).
Herein is where Old and New prophecy greatly differ. True Old prophets and their prophecies did not need to be re-tested
every time they uttered-authenticity was assumed. If the prophecy came from a recognized true prophet, the word was to be
immediately and indisputably accepted by all Israel, or God would hold the rebel severely accountable. New prophecy,
though, requires testing to happen every single time a message is prophesied, no matter who the communicator is (1Co
14:29, 1Th 5:19-22, 1Jn 4:1-6). Once confirmation has been attained, then that individual or group is accountable to that word,
and that word possesses authority over them and only them.
In summary. Old prophecy possessed a theocratic, absolute authority over all God's people, was not subject to continuous
testing, and was above/over God's people. New prophecy possesses a relative, situational authority, is subject to continuous
testing, and is therefore on equal ground with God's people.
Difference #4: REVELATORY TRANSMISSION
OT prophets: external revelation
NT prophets: internal revelation
The Old God communicated with the Old Testament prophets through external revelations, from the outside, through their five
physical senses (mainly seeing and hearing). Such revelation was direct and clear, easy to reproduce without errors. This
was absolutely necessary since they were responsible for composing a perfect Old Testament Bible.
For example, God spoke to those prophets in a direct audible voice, dictating exactly what to say and write. Sometimes He
showed up in human or angelic form and spoke as two friends would. Sometimes He sent angels to appear on His behalf
and dictate the message. Sometimes He spoke through dramatic physical visions, telling them simply to write exactly what
they saw. Though He did reveal Himself and inspire Scripture in a few other, more subtle ways (guided observation,
subconscious inspiration, etc.), external revelation was nonetheless the main form of Old prophetic revelation. The Old
Testament is covered with such easy-to-not-mess-up revelatory encounters. The prophets did not always understand all of
what they were encountering (Dan 8:27, Lk 10:24, 1Pet 1:10-12), but what they did encounter was clear and easy enough to
communicate without errors. This explains, in part, how the Old prophets were enabled to minister with 100% infallibility.
The New God communicates with New Testament prophets, in general, through internal revelations. The messages typically
come in less direct, more subtle ways from deep within their inner man. Certainly God might speak externally if He desires,
as in a physical vision (Ac 2:17,18, 9:10-16) or angelic appearance (Heb 13:2), yet I refer to the typical and most predictable
form of divine communication in the New era as indicated in the New Testament.
New prophets perceive the Lord no differently than the average Christian-internally. Ephesians 1:17,18 is a key passage in
this regard. Paul's prayer was that we would experience the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, the eyes of our hearts being
enlightened (Colossians 1:9 reiterates this). In other words, internal revelation. He wrote to all the Christians at Ephesus,
which included the prophets (4:11). This suggests a certain norm and predictable form of divine communication.
New prophets perceive the Lord no differently than the average Christian. We are all high priests in the New era, we are all
indwelt by the same Holy Spirit, and we all perceive that Spirit mainly internally. The only difference between personal
revelation and prophetic revelation is the revelation's content and intent-the average Christian receives divine messages
mainly about and for themselves (personal revelation), while prophetic Christians receive a mixture of both, messages
about/for themselves and messages about/for others (prophetic revelation). Whether it be personal or prophetic, it is
nonetheless the Spirit within granting revelation from within. Notice these New Testament revelational styles and their internal
illuminated Scripture.....2Ti 3:16, Heb 4:12;
impression (distinct mood or thought).....Ac
15:28, Ro 8:16, 1Co 2:16
compulsion (strong desire or "burden")...Php
2:13, 1Co 15:10
In the Old era, the Lord came to the prophet from outside (external revelation); in the New era, the Lord seeks to come through
the prophet from the inside (internal revelation). Once again, this is because the Spirit now indwells the Christian, and
therefore, He communicates with them from His residence-within.