There is a prominent view of prophecy that God can apparently presently give revelations or visions but then leaves the interpretation of such to the prophet, potentially resulting in errant prophecy that was only partially correct. Explaining this view in brief, 1) if the term prophets in Ephesians 2:20 and 3:5 is simply an appositional title for the apostles (meaning they are one and the same), 2) if these apostles act as the NT counterpart to the OT prophets, and 3) if any other prophets in the NT can merely be a prophet like the pagan prophets in Crete (Titus 1:12) or someone who might know something about you (cf. John 4:19) or might know who did some unseen thing (cf. Luke 22:29), then we can identify all of the other NT prophets (that is, in all other instances besides Eph 2:20 and 3:5) as something other and less than the OT prophets and have them speak from some mere “spiritual influence of some kind.”1 This influence could be the Holy Spirit, but (hopefully not) one’s “own interpretation” could muck the revelation up, maybe getting at least some of the details right along the way. In fact, Agabus in Acts 21:10–11 is an example of just that—though he said the Jews would bind Paul and deliver him to the Romans, it was the Romans who took Paul from the Jews and delivered him to their courts (so says Acts 21:33; 22:29). But he got the general idea of Paul’s arrest correct.2
A biblical view of NT prophecy, however, is to see all of it (whether by apostles or their fellow recipients of revelation, the prophets; cf. Eph 2:20; 3:5) as parallel to OT prophecy, and furthermore, as something that ceased once the Scriptures were complete (cf. Rev 22:18–19). There was obviously a loose sense of the word prophet (cf. Titus 1:12) and a narrow, biblical sense that referred to men who infallibly spoke for God, such as Agabus in Acts 21. The narrative of Acts 21:10–11 (and Acts 21:4 for that matter) would have perfectly fit with the revelation given by the Spirit to Paul in Acts 20:22–23—that imprisonment and afflictions were awaiting Paul in Jerusalem. And in keeping with Acts 19:21, Paul’s Spirit-given resolve in Acts 21:1–6 and 21:7–14 was to go obediently to Jerusalem despite what waited for him there. The resistance to Paul in the abbreviated narrative in Acts 21:4 was most likely the same in the more detailed and clearer Acts 21:10–14—inerrant prophecies of affliction were given, resulting in the human resistance of the brethren to Paul’s resolve to go to Jerusalem, much like Peter’s human resistance to Jesus once he understood that Jesus would likewise suffer (cf. Mark 8:31–32).3 As for Agabus and the fallout of his prophecy, his summary version of the events could simply be explained as the Jews and Paul described the matter later—that the Jews seized Paul, resulting in his being taken by the Romans (Acts 24:6; 26:21; 28:17).4
Of course, if one is compelled to explain the modern phenomenon of errant prophecy as a biblical phenomenon, one might find examples of such in the Bible as well. Or, if one simply lets the OT be the context for the NT, the prophets are in a class all their own from one testament to the next. According to the brief explanation above, this is the better and more biblical option of the two.
- Wayne Grudem in his Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 1050.
- This argument can be found by Grudem in his Systematic Theology, 1050–53.
- David G. Peterson, The Acts of the Apostles (PNTC; Grand Rapids, MI; Eerdmans, 2009), 579–81.
- See Bruce R. Compton, “The Continuation of NT Prophecy and a Closed Canon: Revisiting Wayne Grudem’s Two Levels of New Testament Prophecy” (paper presented at the Conference on the Church for God’s Glory in Rockford, IL on May 19, 2014), 11. Available online: http://ccggrockford.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Compton-Bruce.-A-Critique-of-Wayne-Grudems-Two-Levels-of-Prophecy.pdf.