There are no new revelations. That is what we were taught in Bible College and our professors were correct. Then we encountered passages such as 1Corinthians 14:26 which taught that members of the assembled church could have a revelation and it caused some of us to question what we were taught. In this paper the conclusion we come to will depend on how we answer the apparent contradiction between our teachers’ claims and how we define the range of meaning of the term “revelation” (apokalupsis). Understanding this range of meaning will help us clear up much of the church’s confusion about spiritual gifts and provide support for our Bible College instructors. We shall begin by examining the claims of two groups: those who believe there are new revelations (such as those involved in the modern day apostles and prophets movement) and those who claim that the “revelatory” gifts ceased when the canon of scripture was completed around 100 A.D.
The first group includes those of the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) and some other Charismatic and Pentecostal groups who argue that gifts of the Spirit exist today and are God’s means of giving revelation to the church, both individually and corporately. In practice this leads to individuals receiving “words of knowledge, words of wisdom, and prophecies” that contain supernatural information which is beyond Scripture and is not available through ordinary means. Such practices are outside the bounds of Scripture.
The second group consists of those who argue that “revelatory” gifts have ceased with the completion of the canon of scripture in 100 A.D.
I will side with neither group but will defend this position: Spiritual gifts in the local congregation never were revelatory in the sense of giving inerrant, binding revelation to the church in the same manner as Scripture. This I will demonstrate. Therefore, there is no reason to claim that “they ceased on the grounds that they have no further purpose for the church.”1
Walter Chantry who claims that the gifts were revelatory during the time of the writing of Scripture defends the cessationist2 argument saying, “Hence, stop-gap revelations were given to edify the church while the Holy Ghost brought all things of Christ to the remembrance of the Apostles [John 14:26].”3 This argument is common with many who claim that at least some gifts (what they call “revelatory” gifts) have ceased. I do not support that position either.
If there are no new revelations, and spiritual gifts never were revelatory, then both the cessationists and those who promote latter-day apostles are wrong. That was the position of my professors in a Pentecostal Bible College in the early 1970s when I was taught, in no uncertain terms, “There are no new revelations.”
Revelations in the Church
In 1Corinthians 14 Paul uses the term “revelation” in the context of prophecy in a Christian meeting. The use of this term has led to confusion among many such as those in the latter day apostles and prophets movement who assume that this means revealing something new (from God) that could not be known by ordinary means. We will attempt to clear up this confusion by exploring the range of meaning with which Paul uses apokalupsis “revelation.”
Paul wrote, “But if a revelation is made to another who is seated, let the first keep silent” (1Corinthians 14:30). Why would Paul affirm that a member of the gathered flock may have a “revelation” in the context of teaching that all can prophesy (1Corinthians 14:31) if such prophesy were not “revelatory” in the same sense that Paul and other biblical apostles were given inerrant and binding revelation?
The answer is found in Ephesians, seeing how Paul uses revelation there in two different ways.
Consider this passage:
I do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, (Ephesians 1:16 – 18)
This is a prayer for the Ephesian Christians to better understand the implications of Messianic salvation provided through the gospel. But in the following section Paul uses the term differently:
if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace which was given to me for you; that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. And by referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; (Ephesians 3:2-5)
In this case Paul speaks of revelation (apokalupsis in noun and then verb form) as something that was uniquely given to him and the other apostles and prophets.
Therefore, “revelation” can mean that which would have been unknown had God not chosen to reveal it (as He did uniquely to and through His apostles and prophets), or it can mean that God opens the eyes of individual Christians to the glories of various implications of Messianic salvation for them and the church. The unique “revelation” is only given to God’s chosen spokesmen; various implications of this once-for-all given revelation are available (and called “revelations”) to all Christians.
Paul uses the term in the more general sense in 1Corinthians 14:30 (cited above) and in 1Corinthians 14:26 where apokalupsis is listed as something that may be given to a member of the gathered flock. This means there are no new revelations as my teachers told me, but there are “revelations” of the implications and applications of the apostolic revelation given to the church once for all and found in Scripture. These are available to all and can be judged objectively.
Words of Wisdom and Knowledge
If there are no new revelations, then what do we make of certain passages such as those that refer to “word of knowledge” or “word of wisdom”? Or the passages about prophecy such as are found in 1Corinthians 14? We shall see that Paul did not turn the matter of binding revelation over to the Corinthians to fill in what he had not taught them (as some have proposed). Any interpretation that says that he did fails to understand the context of Paul’s Corinthian correspondences and thus his meaning. Paul’s own authority was under attack at Corinth, and Paul defended it against those who valued sophia and gnosis (wisdom and knowledge), claiming that Paul lacked both in the hyper-spiritual sense that the false teachers claimed to have them. Paul defends his message of the cross as the true wisdom and power of God (1Corinthians 1:20-24).
Many modern teachers claim to have obtained “words of wisdom” and “words of knowledge,” but the way they practice such “gifts” amounts to clairvoyance. But did Paul mean that God gave some Christians gifts that allowed them to do some version of mind reading? Did Paul expect Christians to know secret things not revealed in Scripture (in disobedience to Deuteronomy 29:29)? No. But many people believe Christians should and they cite examples from Acts where the apostles had supernatural insight. We do not deny that apostles were granted revelations. The issue, however, is whether or not the church today should expect new revelations. We say the church should not.
Let us examine a key proof text used by those who claim new revelations: “For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit” (1Corinthians 12:8). The phrases “word of wisdom” and “word of knowledge” are in the genitive in the Greek. This gives a certain ambiguity and can mean “a word that consists of wisdom” or “a word that comes from wisdom.” Since Paul does not elaborate about what he means, we must consult what he has said earlier about wisdom and knowledge (which elitists in Corinth claim to have in contrast to Paul who supposedly did not). Surely Paul did not now promote what he earlier (in the same epistle) corrected. In his excellent commentary, Gordon Fee observes:
The phrase means either “a message/utterance full of wisdom” or “an utterance characterized by wisdom.” In either case its content is probably to be understood in light of Paul’s own argument in 2:6–16. There the “message of wisdom,” revealed by the Spirit, is not some special understanding of the “deeper things” or “mysteries” of God. Rather, it is the recognition that the message of Christ crucified is God’s true wisdom, a recognition that comes only to those who have received the Spirit. For only the Spirit, Paul says, whom we have received, understands the mind of God and reveals what he accomplished in Christ (2:10–13). Thus in the present case the “utterance of wisdom” comes “through the Spirit,” and in Corinth it is almost certainly to be found among those who give spiritual utterances that proclaim Christ crucified in this highly “wisdom”-conscious community. It is of some interest, therefore, that this particular “gift” does not appear again in any further list or discussion. 4
Any “word of wisdom” that has nothing to do with the cross and the finished work of Christ is not the “wisdom” that Paul asserts in the face of false, Corinthian sophia. The word “wisdom” is found 17 times in 1Corinthians chapters 1-3. Its content (in Paul’s teaching) is the message of the cross which is understood (meaning embraced in its full significance) by those who have received the Spirit. So any “word of wisdom” that claims to be from the Spirit must be about God’s work of grace in Christ through the cross or various implications thereof. The modern-day version that amounts to revelations that have nothing to do with Christ and His cross are no better than the false sophia of the “spiritual” teachers in Corinth who rejected Paul. Ironically, many use 1Corinthians to teach ideas and practices inimical to Paul’s teaching in the epistle.
The phrase “word of knowledge” is to be understood in context as well. The gnosis that the spiritual elitists of Corinth relish “makes arrogant” (1Corinthians 8:1). What is known by the Spirit is centered on Christ and His cross, as preached by Paul:
we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. (1Corinthians 2:12, 13)
What Paul spoke was the message of the cross, which is foolishness to the minds of those lost and in rebellion against God. The knowledge that is of value to the church is that which comes from God’s revealed knowledge about Christ and the content of the gospel of Christ and is characterized by speaking forth profound implications of gospel truth for the lives of Christians. It is not “secret” knowledge that bedazzles the hearers and invokes personal admiration toward the speaker. Any definition of “word of knowledge” that promotes ideas similar to the “knowledge” claimed by the spiritual elite in Corinth that “makes arrogant” (1Corinthians 8:1—cited below) is antithetical to Paul’s meaning in 1Corinthians 12 and elsewhere.
If what Paul means by words of wisdom and knowledge is taken in the greater context of what he says about sophia and gnosis in the rest of the extant Corinthian correspondences (1 & 2 Corinthians), then why should we claim that these words were revelatory and must have ceased? Is there some reason we do not need to have church members share with each other, by the Spirit, important, true implications of Christ crucified in their daily lives? Of course not. So those who argue that such gifts were revelatory and have ceased misunderstand Paul’s meaning, as do those who today teach new revelations beyond Scripture. It is better to seek to understand Paul’s meaning as revealed in binding and inerrant Scripture than to misunderstand it and promote error or misinterpret it to silence those who do. The truth will always benefit and never harm the church.
Prophecy is another gift that is claimed by many cessationists and non-cessationists as “revelatory.” It is assumed by such persons that prophecy in the church as taught particularly in 1Corinthians 14 is of the same category of prophecy as found, for example, in the book of Isaiah. This certainly would raise the stakes. Those involved in the New Apostolic Reformation make such claims. To counter such ideas cessationists argue that the revelatory gifts have ceased. But what if Paul was speaking of something different than the binding, inerrant revelations of inspired Biblical prophets like Moses and Jesus? I claim that he was, and that as such, every member of the body of Christ may prophesy. But none of them can ever add anything to the body of revealed material found in Scripture, and their prophecies are binding only if they bring out valid implications and applications of Scripture.5
Paul explains his understanding of the purpose of prophecy as a gift of the Spirit exercised in the church: “But one who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation” (1Corinthians 14:3). The term for “edification” in the Greek has to do with “building up” and is used by Paul in 1Corinthians 8:1 which is important to us to understand Paul’s meaning: “Now concerning things sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies” (1Corinthians 8:1). The false gnosis of the Corinthians concerned special, secret knowledge that was beyond anything preached by Paul. Their knowledge “puffs up” but Paul’s knowledge (truly inerrant revelation from Christ – Galatians 1:12) concerned God’s love revealed through the gospel and manifested in the church—it “builds up.”
The claim that prophecy in the church consists of special revelation beyond Scripture given to certain persons (the content of which becomes gnosis) is tantamount to teaching what Paul rebukes. It is to make Paul in 1Corinthians 14 opposed to what Paul wrote in the first 13 chapters of the epistle. To prophesy unto edification is to speak forth valid implications of the truth of the gospel revealed in scripture, not to give new revelations beyond scripture. Thus prophecy in the church is not “revelatory” in the sense of being “stop-gap” as Chantry and other cessationists claim nor revelation beyond scripture that is valid today as the NAR and others claim. It is “revelatory” in another sense (as in Ephesians 1:17) which we will discuss in more detail. Paul does use the term “revelation” as something given to the local body by individual members in this chapter (14:6, 26, 30).
Edification is linked to the gospel itself. The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament explains how the concept is used in 1Corinthians 14:
The individual helps to edify the community by receiving for himself the exhortation of the Gospel and then passing it on to others. . . . The case is different [than with the tongue speaker] with the man who proclaims God’s Word, the prophe_teuo_n (prophesying one). This man edifies the community. The term edification comprises two aspects, on the one side inner strengthening in might and knowledge, and on the other outer winning and convincing. It corresponds to the congregation’s process of growth, but this is to be understood in terms of Christ, the Spirit and the act of faith.6
The content of “prophecy” in the church as explained in 1Corinthians 14 has to do with the gospel, not new revelations. What edifies the church is gospel truth applied to lives.
The term for edify in the Greek means “to build up.” What is “built up” is the church and members in particular. No one in the church needs secret information that is not obtainable by any biblically legal means (Deuteronomy 29:29). People visit psychics looking for such knowledge. What we need is the truth of the gospel preached to us and the implications of God’s work of redemption applied to our lives. We need moral and spiritual guidance that only the Bible provides:
All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (2Timothy 3:16, 17)
Paul’s message of Christ’s gospel was sufficient for them, and they were not lacking:
I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus, that in everything you were enriched in Him, in all speech and all knowledge, even as the testimony concerning Christ was confirmed in you, so that you are not lacking in any gift, awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, (1Corinthians 1:4 – 7)
What was lacking was their confidence in the sufficiency of Christ and their contentment in the gospel. They longed for the sophia and gnosis peddled by the Greek philosophers. They longed for a false spirituality that went beyond the gospel Paul preached. They were dissatisfied with Paul and his message.
The gift of prophecy that brings edification was provided by God and commended by Paul to them to be practiced. True implications and applications of the faith once-for-all delivered (Jude 1:3) edify the church. New, secret information is toxic, not edifying. As we shall see, judging secret information is difficult, if not impossible. Prophecy is to be judged.
Paul also stated that prophecy in the church was for exhortation. The Greek word for “exhortation” found in 1Corinthians 14:3 is parakle_sis, which can mean “comfort, encouragement, or exhortation.” There may be an overlap of meaning here, but prophecy is a gift of the Spirit, and the Spirit is the Comforter who encourages, comforts, and helps the church. Paul uses the cognate verb in 2Corinthians 5:20 for “entreating” people through the gospel to be reconciled to God.
Prophecy in the congregation is empowered by the Spirit who enables believers to speak forth from gospel truth to the needs of the congregation, individually and corporately. Keep in mind that the issue in Corinth revealed in 1 and 2 Corinthians was the sophia and gnosis valued by Paul’s critics versus the gospel that Paul preached. Paul claimed that the message of the cross is the power of God and the wisdom of God (1Corinthians 1:18 – 24). I find it amazing how many people ignore the issue of the gospel of the crucified Messiah laid out by Paul earlier in the epistle and interpret prophecy in 1Corinthians 14 as if Paul were now contradicting himself and urging the congregation so enamored with their version of gnosis to find secret or previously unrevealed gnosis through personal prophecy. Paul, rather, teaches the congregation to lay aside uninterpreted tongues in favor of prophecy that is understood, applicable, linked to the truth of the gospel, and capable of being judged objectively. Such prophecy edifies the church and brings exhortation and comfort. Secret knowledge does no such thing.
Using the same Greek word for exhortation, Paul wrote to the Romans, “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). Prophecy that brings forth valid implications and applications of Scripture brings encouragement and leads to perseverance. By understanding prophecy this way, we can follow Paul’s admonition to “not go beyond what is written” (1 Corinthians 4:6). New revelations do not bring edification to the church, only confusion. And “God is not a God of confusion” (1Corinthians 14:33).
The last description of the purpose of prophecy in the congregation is “comfort” (KJV) or “consolation” (NASB). The term translated “consolation” is very closely related to the term for exhortation, and there may be an overlap in meaning. What is important to understand is that gospel truth comforts Christians. It reminds us that our sins are forgiven. It reminds us of God’s special love for His own and that He will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). According to Matthew 26:28, Jesus’ blood is represented by the cup and was poured out for “the forgiveness of sins.”
Secret knowledge or spiritual information that might invoke some type of hope of finding a good outcome, such as what people seek through astrology, psychics, or spiritists (and sadly modern-day prophets) is not what prophecy in the church is all about. Prophecy includes consolation. The greatest consolation that we have is that our sins are forgiven and we are part of God’s family, to be with Him and the church triumphant forever. Both the Lord’s Supper and baptism remind us of the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 26:28; Acts 2:38) and remind us of the finished work of Christ on the cross.
Prophecy in the church should do the same. When we announce, authoritatively, the terms for the forgiveness of sins we prophesy in a most powerful manner. What passes as prophecy in many churches and on TV is not what Paul taught in 1Corinthians 14. Prophecy comforts God’s flock and warns and convicts unbelievers.
Prophecy in the Church and the Unbeliever
Paul anticipates an unbeliever who comes to a Christian fellowship. In a section that has often been misunderstood (1Corinthians 14:22 – 25) Paul claims that the Corinthian concept that speaking in tongues proved to other believers that one was “spiritual” (pneumatikos – a “spiritual one”; 1Corinthians 14:37) is false. Tongues are not a sign to other believers that one is more spiritual, but are ironically a sign to unbelievers in a very negative way! Tongues convince unbelievers that members of the church are “mad” (1Corinthians 14:23). Gordon Fee aptly explains the irony:
Because tongues are unintelligible, unbelievers receive no revelation from God; they cannot thereby be brought to faith. Thus by their response of seeing the work of the Spirit as madness, they are destined for divine judgment—just as in the OT passage Paul has quoted. This, of course, is not the divine intent for such people; hence Paul’s urgency is that the Corinthians cease thinking like children, stop the public use of tongues, since it serves to drive the unbeliever away rather than to lead him or her to faith.7
Prophecy, unlike tongues, is in the native language of the gathered church. It therefore is intelligible to all, and when done Biblically serves to bring the implications of the gospel to bear on all, including a possible visiting unbeliever.
Paul says this:
But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all; the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you (1Corinthians 14:24, 25).
I have heard a number of people cite examples of obtaining supernatural information about someone’s secret sins that caused an outcome like this and use such examples to prove that God will reveal secret information to Christians that becomes the content of prophecy. This is not Paul’s meaning here. Those who prophesy are not a special class of “prophets” but “all.” Any member of the congregation might be the “prophesying one.” The results of such prophesying are the conviction of sin and in the ideal case, conversion.
This shows that the work of the Spirit is through all believers. One of the works of the Spirit is conviction of sin: “And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8). When Peter preached the gospel on Pentecost, the result for some was that they were convicted of sin:
Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ this Jesus whom you crucified. Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:36 – 38)
Earlier, Peter cited Joel to the effect that when the Holy Spirit was poured out, everyone, (not just special prophets) would prophesy (Acts 2:17, 18). If prophecy as understood in such passages is not to inerrantly speak new revelations beyond scripture, but to speak forth valid implications and applications of scripture, particularly concerning the gospel, then Acts 2:17, 18 compared with 1Corinthians 14:24, 25 makes perfect sense. The results for the church preaching the gospel will be like the results of Peter preaching the gospel: sinners will be convicted and some will repent, confessing that a true work of God is happening.
In the previously cited 1Corinthians 14:25b, the apostle Paul mentioned the unbeliever who falling on his face, confesses that God is at work. Gordon Fee explains that this is an allusion to the OT and describes conversion:
The final result of such exposure before God is conversion, which is what Paul’s language unmistakably intends. The language is thoroughly steeped in the OT. First, “he will thus fall on his face and worship God.” This is biblical language for obeisance and worship. That Paul intends this to mean conversion is indicated by the final exclamation, which is a conscious reflection of Isa. 45:14 (cf. Zech. 8:23): God, speaking through the prophet, says that the Egyptians will come over to you, and “will worship” before you, and say, “Surely God is with you.” Paul simply changes the singular “with you,” referring to Israel, into a plural, “among you,” referring to the gathered community. This final confession of the unbeliever is thus the “sign” that prophecy is for “believers”; it is sure evidence of God’s favor resting on his people.8
This conviction and conversion is the ideal result of gospel preaching. The gospel is to be on the lips of all and proclaimed by all. God will use it to convert those who will believe. This is prophecy in its most important NT sense. I explained this in an article on the topic:
If I say to someone, “According to the Law of God, everyone is a sinner and stands condemned as a law-breaker. The penalty for all law-breakers is eternity in hell. Since you, like everyone else, have broken God’s law, you stand condemned. God is perfectly just and cannot lie. God said that the soul that sins must die. But God is also loving and merciful. So God’s own Son, Jesus Christ, came into human history through the virgin birth, lived a sinless life, and shed His blood on the cross to avert God’s wrath against sin, and was bodily raised from the dead and appeared to many witnesses. If you repent of living for self, trusting self, and spurning God’s Word and put your faith in Jesus Christ, you will be saved. But if you neglect God’s offer of salvation through the finished work of Christ, you will face God’s wrath in eternity and there will be no escape.” – I have truly prophesied in a most powerful and true way. Those words are not inspired Scripture, but they are valid implications from Scripture. 9
Such prophecy is the domain of all believers, not just certain official “prophets.” God will use it to convert the lost.
Prophecy is to be Judged
Paul makes it clear that all believers may prophesy (1Corinthians 14:24. 31), but this does not mean all at once or all at any given meeting. He gives further instruction: “And let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment” (1Corinthians 14:29). It is very crucial to realize that Paul has not switched subjects and is still giving instruction to the church about prophecy at the public assembly. Therefore “prophets” here does not mean “official prophets holding office” but is functional terminology meaning “one who prophesies.” The New Apostolic Reformation and others get this wrong as well and use the passage to prove that there are multiple official prophets, that their prophesies are fallible (because they must be judged), and that giving false predictive prophecy does not make such prophets false prophets as they would have been by OT standards. This false interpretation wrenches the passage out of context. Paul goes on to say: “For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted” (1Corinthians 14:31). Prophecy is for exhortation (as it says in verse 3) and may be done by all. It is not the domain of authorized prophets who speak secret information or predict the future.
What, then, is it to judge prophecy as shared in the church by individual believers? Many understand this wrongly and assume that the prophecy is subjective and judgment of it is subjective as well. Some claim that only official prophets give prophecy and that only other official prophets may judge it. So in this scenario, one prophet says, “Thus says the Lord, such and so is going to happen.” Another prophet might say, “Yes I think that is from God.” Or another prophet might say, “No I do not think that is from God.” The result for the church is confusion and uncertainty. Has God really spoken? We do not know.10
But if prophecy is objective, bringing forth implications and applications of Biblical truth, then judgment of it is objective as well. We judge whether the meaning of Scripture is properly explained, and that any claimed implications and applications are validly derived from the text. For example, I have heard Psalm 101:3, KJV, used to prove that it was a sin for a Christian to have a TV because it constituted a wicked thing set before their eyes. That is not a valid application or implication of the passage for several reasons and therefore is a false “prophecy” (i.e., “thou shalt not own a TV”) and should be judged as such if uttered in the church.
Any Christian gathering where Scripture is taught, discussed, interpreted, and applications made by the gathered community constitutes prophecy by all that can, and must, be judged. What God said is objective, and whether a valid implication of what He said has been spoken can be judged objectively as well. Discernment is objective. God does not turn His church over to the subjective realm to make judgments.
Pentecostals and Charismatics need not give up their belief that the gifts of the Spirit are for today. But if they have listened to the many false apostles and prophets in the world and they belong to movements that promote such false ones, they have a serious problem. Now they have embraced confusion and error and will be led away from the gospel of truth. They have denied sola scriptura and will never cease being unstable (2Peter 2:14). Gifts that are gospel-centric, Christ-centric, and objectively judged to be true (because they are biblical) edify the church. There is no need to embrace cessationism in regard to spiritual gifts. What has ceased is the existence of authoritative apostles and prophets who speak new revelations beyond Scripture. There are no new revelations!