Definition and Etymology:
“Prophet” is the Greek noun PROPHETES, προφήτης (prof-ay’-tace), which like Apostle, is transliterated into the English as Prophet. The term PROPHETES is related to the verbal form PROPHEMI – πρόφημί, (pro-fay-mee’), “to say, to foretell.” Because of the temporal force of the PRO prefix, PROPHETES is often interpreted as, “one who foretells, a fortune-teller, or one who is Divinely enabled to look into the future.” That definition is too narrow. As early as the classical period PROPHETES simply denoted a “preacher or speaker,” as PROPHETEIA – προφητεία (prof-ay-ti’-ah) meant, “prophecy or an oracular response.”
The gift of prophecy was not a national leader like that of the Old Testament prophets. This gift was second in order of merit for the Church, and is so listed in 1 Cor 12:28. It is also mentioned in Rom 12:6; 1 Cor 12:10; 14:1‑40, where it is presented in contrast to the gift of tongues. Old Testament prophets were national leaders, especially in times of crisis. In times of prosperity, he was the final authority on Bible doctrine. However, this gift is not related to national leadership. Many of the Old Testament prophets were great national leaders, e.g., Elijah. Isaiah dictated the correct foreign policy that saved Israel. But those with the gift of prophecy in the Church Age, were not national leaders; they only functioned within the realm of the Church.
The gift of Prophet was given to males only and had a limited teaching ministry related to contemporary events; that is why they are called “prophets and teachers” in Acts 13:1. Foretelling was an important dimension of prophecy, e.g., Deut 13:1f.; 18:21-22. Yet, a prophet in the Biblical sense of the term is someone more than a person who prophesies the future. A prophet proclaimed the Word of God to the people in response to a Divine call. At the center of the prophet’s urgency to speak for God, especially in the Old Testament, is often a circumstance of the day that God is addressing. Thus, the Lord used the Prophet to bring His people into conformity with the Covenant and His will.
As a spiritual gift of the Church Age, the Prophets spoke, as inspired by the Spirit of God, the Mystery Doctrines for the Church Age, which also include eschatology, 1 Cor 13:2. The prophet was a minister to the Church, 1 Cor 14:4, 22, and ordinarily spoke a message of “edification, and exhortation, and consolation,” 1 Cor 14:3. Occasionally, he was empowered to make an authoritative announcement of the Divine will in a particular case, Acts 13:1ff, and in rare instances he uttered a prediction of a future event, Acts 11:28; 21:10f. Because of the tremendous amount of eschatology in the New Testament epistles, it is obvious that the writers who were apostles also had the gift of prophecy.
Even so, in the New Testament, the gift of prophet continued to foretell future events, including messages of Divine guidance, or a warning of judgment, or a prediction about the immediate future. For example, Agabus’ prophecy of a famine, Acts 11:28, and what awaited Paul in Jerusalem, Acts 21:10f. In addition, others like Silas and Judas, (not Iscariot), had the gift of prophecy, Acts 15:32; as did some in the church at Antioch including Barnabus, Acts 13:1.
Therefore, a New Testament prophet was one who proclaims the Word of God, Acts 11:28; Eph 3:5. Believers in the early Church did not possess Bibles, nor was the New Testament written and completed. How then, would these local assemblies discover God’s will? His Spirit would share God’s truth with those possessing the gift of prophecy. Paul suggests that the gift of prophecy had to do with understanding “all mysteries and all knowledge,” 1 Cor 13:2, meaning spiritual truths.
In exercising the temporary spiritual gift of prophecy, the prophet received his message from God, or he declared God’s will to someone in terms of prophecy, i.e., in terms of future events. The prophecy also had to be doctrinally accurate. Paul’s outline of the gift of prophecy in 1 Cor 14:3 emphasizes the functional nature of prophecy as “edification, exhortation, and comfort.” They, together with the apostles, were instrumental in revealing the Mystery of the Gospel with a fullness of revelation not known before, Eph 3:5.
Prophecy did not involve a state of ecstasy or any relinquishing of the prophet’s own personality and will, or any identification of the prophet as possessed by God. The Prophet could control himself, as Paul wrote to advise them to have control over their prophetic words, 1 Cor 14:29-33.
False prophecies and prophets were to be distinguished from genuine. This was to be carried out by those Spirit-filled believers who were present, 1 Cor 14:29, especially by those with another of the temporary gifts, Discerning of Spirits, 1 Cor 12:10; cf. 1 John 4:1-2.
Philip’s daughters are said to have prophesied in Acts 21:9 which presents a problem, because the four daughters of Philip the evangelist are said to “be prophesying” in the Present, Active, Participle. However, they did not have a spiritual gift. Therefore, we must distinguish between people permitted by God to prophesy, and those who had the spiritual gift of prophecy. No record of their prophecies is ever given, and obviously, they did not have the spiritual gift of prophecy.
Christians today do not get their spiritual knowledge immediately from the Holy Spirit through Prophets, but mediately through the Spirit teaching the Word. With the Apostles, the prophets had a foundational ministry in the early church, and they are not needed today, Eph 2:20. As such, the gift did not extend into the post‑Canon period because of the doctrine of historical trends. Every function of the gift of Prophecy during the pre‑Canon period is fulfilled by the doctrine of historical trends during the post‑Canon period. By metabolizing doctrine, you become your own prophet. Therefore, with the completion of the Canon of Scripture in A.D. 96 and its gradual circulation, temporary gifts of communication ceased to exist; they were replaced by the permanent communication gifts of Evangelism and Pastor-Teacher.