“Do not despise prophecies.” 1 Thess 5:20, BSB
But what are they? And do they still occur? And are they contrary to Rev 22:18 (I testify to everyone who hears the words of prophecy in this book: If anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book)?
Paul delves into prophecy and the gift of prophesying in 1 Cor 14. In fact he encourages people to pursue the gift of prophesying over other gifts such as tongues.
“Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries. But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men.” 1 Cor 14:1-3, NKJV
Herein is described part of the purpose of prophecy, namely to edify, exhort and comfort men.
Edify (oikodome in Greek): the act of building
Exhort (paraklesis): an intimate call that shows how the Lord weighs in the relevant facts, holy urging, is used of the Lord directly motivating and inspiring believers to carry out His plan, delivering His particular message to someone else, is shaped by the individual context, so it can refer to: exhortation, warning, encouragement, comfort etc.
Comfort (paramuthia): comfort, with a greater degree of tenderness than paraklesis, console, speaking closely to anyone
“Now, brothers, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I benefit you, unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching?” 1 Cor 14:6, NKJV
Here we see the distinction between revelation, knowledge, prophecy and teaching. Also note here how prophecy involves revealing truth, which is the Word, and should never contradict the Word of God. And it is also worth noting that commentators are unclear as to exactly how these 4 are entirely different or distinct to each other. There can be interplays and overlaps between them, as in a situation where a word of knowledge is given to someone regarding another person and is communicated via the gift of communicating this revealed truth (prophecy) – intentionally always to comfort and build up the person.
Revelation (apokalupsis): an unveiling, uncovering, revealing, principally used of the revelation of Jesus Christ (the Word), especially a particular manifestation of Christ (his Will) previously unknown of its full extent.
Knowledge (gnosis): working knowledge gleaned from first-hand experience, connecting theory to application via a direct relationship, only as reliable as the relationship it derives from
Prophecy (propheteia): the gift of communicating and enforcing revealed truth, involves divinely-empowered forthtelling (asserting the mind of God) or foretelling (prediction)
Teaching (didache): doctrine, what is taught (summarised body of respected teaching), systematic theology
“But if an unbeliever or uninstructed person comes in while everyone is prophesying, he will be convicted and called to account by all,” 1 Cor 14:24, NKJV
The effect of communicated prophecy towards the uninitiatied is shown here, where an unpersuaded, or a layman comes into contact with prophecy, he/she is both convicted and examined – and the unknown is brought to light in his/her life.
Convicted (elegcho): disciplined, shown to be guilty
Examined (anakrino): evaluation and judgement via the process of careful study
“and the secrets of his heart will be revealed. So he will fall facedown and worship God, proclaiming, “God is truly among you!” 1 Cor 14:25, NKJV
The ultimate result being a deference, and total acknowledgement of who God is.
“Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said.” 1 Cor 14:29, NKJV
Weigh, discern (diakrino): properly investigate, judge, close-reasoning
Prophecies should not be taken at face value but be carefully weighed and reasoned between prophets, or elders of the church
Interestingly Paul goes on in verse 30 to use ‘revelation’ while talking about prophets and discerning what is being said in verse 29, and going back to “For you can all prophesy in turn…” in verse 31, suggesting an overlap between prophecy and revelation.
A verse that I’ve not paid much attention to before: “The spirits of prophets are subject to prophets.” 1 Cor 14:32, NKJV, implies (via commentary on BibleHub) that though the prophecy is divinely-inspired, prophets should be able to control themselves to go in order, as per Paul, and not to lose all self-control. Whether or not this only refers to prophets as in the NT is of some debate, but it is worth bearing in mind when considering how certain ‘popular manifestations’ are known for their loss of self-control.
There is more to be added to the discussion of my original questions above, but so far it is evident that prophecy as a gift of the Holy Spirit was encouraged by Paul, that there were benefits conferred upon the church by those who practiced this gift, and that it was able to convict unbelievers as well as build up believers. Prophecy always involved (and should not contradict) the Word (truth) and served to either more fully reveal the Word (a possibly overlap with revelation, knowledge or doctrine), the mind of Christ, or to predict. There was a sense of orderliness and a need to carefully consider each prophecy, especially amongst those who themselves had the gift.