New Testament,  Old Testament,  Theology

The Inferior Prophecy of the New Covenant

photo symbol for inferiority of prophecy

If I said the prophecy of the New Covenant was inferior to the Old Covenant, what would you think? Most of the time we focus on the superiority of the New Covenant in relationship to the Old Covenant. And rightly so! The Old Covenant never had the provision to save anyone (Heb 10:4). The Old Covenant never was able to perfect anyone (Heb 10:1). The New Covenant is vastly superior.

The New Covenant is also superior with regard to one’s relationship with God. Whereas under the Old Covenant God’s relationship with the people was located spatially in the temple, now believers themselves are regarded as the temple of God where He lives (cf. 1 Cor 6:19; Eph 2:19-22). This is a significant transition to a greater privilege from the Old Covenant.

Paul describes the comparison of the Old and New covenants as follows:

For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation [the Old Covenant], the ministry of righteousness [the New Covenant] must far exceed it in glory. Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it.

2 Corinthians 3:9-10

This brings up an important question: is there any way in which the New Covenant ministry/era is inferior to the Old Covenant ministry/era?

It is common today to regard New Testament prophecy as something less than Old Testament prophecy, thereby making it inferior to Old Testament prophecy. Consider the definition given by Wayne Grudem:

prophecy in ordinary New Testament churches was not equal to Scripture in authority, but was simply a very human and sometimes partially mistaken report of something the Holy Spirit brought to someone’s mind.

(Grudem, The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today, 14).

In contrast to this definition of New Testament prophecy from Grudem, according to the Old Testament, prophecy was exactly equal with Scripture in authority (Deut 18:18-19; cf. 2 Pet 1:20-21). In fact, because a prophet represents the very words of God, if the prophet speaks anything God has not directly communicated to him, then he is to be put to death (Deut 18:20-22; cf. Jer 14:14-16).

In the Old Testament, even if a prophecy was not recorded in Scripture, it was treated as the very words of God that must be obeyed. No mistakes were allowed. God’s revelation through human beings was not obstructed by human frailty. In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit ensured that accurate communication through the prophet took place.

However, if Grudem’s definition of New Testament prophecy is accurate, that means prophecy has taken a significant step backward. The Holy Spirit no longer guarantees absolute accuracy. Under this redefined New Covenant prophecy, now prophets no longer accurately represent God. Although prophets would have all of the privileges of the New Covenant ministry of the Holy Spirit, their actual prophecy is inferior.

I don’t think this reasoning makes sense. I think it is a mistake to see New Covenant prophecy devolve into spiritual impressions or feelings which are riddled with mistakes. In addition to not making sense logically, I really don’t think there is any way one can redefine prophecy with these new terms based on the New Testament.

The biblical definition of prophecy is a man or woman speaking on behalf of God, authoritatively and accurately. It seems to me there is no reason to redefine prophecy as something inferior to the Old Covenant, when the blessings of the New Covenant are far superior in glory and greatness.

photo credit: Leo Reynolds via photopin cc

This post originally appeared on July 25, 2014. It has been significantly edited and reposted.

Peter serves at Shepherd's Theological Seminary in Cary, NC as the professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages. He is a husband, father, and sports enthusiast.

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