Prophecy – Cessationist vs Continuist Debate

By | July 10, 2013

This is a very good debate on prophecy between Wayne Grudem and Ian Hamilton.  I hold to Ian Hamilton’s position.

[vimeo w=400&h=300]

Update 4-30-2014:

I just read this book and highly recommend it.  It is an excellent critique of Grudem’s position, pointing out the potential dangers to the Church once they buy into Grudem’s theory of “fallible prophecy.”

Fallible Prophets

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Thank you for a prompt and reasonably thorough reply. I hadn’t read the commentary that you pasted from and I think I have a little clearer understanding of the framing of the debate. My original post was simply referencing the apparently clashing views of Hamilton and Grudem. I tend to think in terms of prophecy being God’s speaking (in some form or another). From that vantage point, predictive prophecy need be what is being spoken of. But where I see the dividing line in the discussion is that Ian Hamilton (sorry…I don’t know if he is a Ph.D. or not, so I don’t want to call him doctor erroneously!) steps away from prophecy being for today. He justifies that by defining prophecy rather rigidly – starting with a “Thus saith the Lord” and being binding on the conscience of the hearer. And I can sympathize with that – it seems biblically rigorous! Dr. Grudem, on the other hand, is defining prophecy on multiple levels, and so can agree that OT type prophecy doesn’t happen today (or if it does, it is exceedingly rare!). But since Paul makes it clear that Prophecy must continue until the perfect comes, unless one is a full-fledged cessationist (and believes that the perfect HAS come) or a non-cessationist who believes that there are no limits to prophecy today, both of them (it seems to me) are making their judgments more on experience than on scripture. Both of them are required to filter their view of scripture through their experience. Ian Hamilton has to disavow all claims of prophecy or discard his view altogether. Dr. Grudem has to reassess what prophecy is (in scripture) and filter the scriptures through that lens. In light of the two passages I referenced, I don’t see how anyone can be in the middle on it. The only thing I would say is that the OFFICE of a prophet could certainly be argued to have passed away.

So from what you are saying, the debate isn’t so much over “if” prophecy has ceased, but in what way it has ceased. It comes down to a question of authority.

But, there again, I would point to I Corinthians 13:9-10 rather than the verses that list the offices. If authority is vested in a man (like it would have been before Christ) then that denies the giving of the Holy Spirit. But if the act of prophesying is still a valid activity (as Paul says, until we all come to unity of the faith, knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ) and we no longer know only in part, then why limit it? Why say it is no longer active? No longer looking to a single man, but John says that we have need that no man teaches us because we have the Holy Spirit. Is the bible the “perfect” in light of the Holy Spirit? Which is more perfect, the gift or the giver of that gift? The argument is “How do we know?” and scripture goes a long way to answering that. But if our faith rests in scripture (as distinguished from He who gave it), then won’t He be faithful to reveal all things to us?

The question of abuse is a good one. But the phrase that comes to mind is “abusus non tollit usum” (abuse is not an argument against proper use). We have guidelines of proper use, but the handbook does not replace the thing that it is instructing us about. A man may memorize a memorize a car manual (for example) but have no clue how to get in and drive it or properly repair it. Likewise, the bible does not (nor can it ever) replace the role of the Holy Spirit.

I am not a charismatic in the common sense of the word today (I don’t speak in tongues nor have any real desire to do so! I’d much rather speak a few intelligible words and edify many.). But I have to admit that the scriptures say that the Spirit moves as HE wills, not as we do. The scripture also says that those who minister for God are ministers of the Spirit, not the letter. The letter kills but the Spirit gives life. This is far from any license to bring any so-called “revelation” to the church, but it has become that. There is the question of authority addressed. That chapter in 2 Cor 3 starts out with Paul speaking of the commendation of him to the Corinthians. And in the first letter he wrote to them (I Cor 4), he writes of those who are puffed up – that he will come and judge the situation. And what does he say? That he will know the power of those who are so exalted – not the speech. For, as he says, the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power. Again, I think they are right in their looking at authority as the central issue. But if the written word is seen to have authority over the Spirit of God (who inspired it), isn’t that inverted? Certainly, there must be some sort of test to determine who is and who isn’t of the Spirit of God (test the spirits, as is said in the video). But if Paul’s test was not one of mere letter of speech, why should ours simply be measurement against the letter of scripture?

I’ve not ever heard anyone address the connection between Ephesians 4:11-16 and I Cor 13:9-10. I only found a reference to it (even if a passing reference) in something written by Dr. Grudem. It may have been his Systematic Theology. What I read was online several years ago, so I can’t be 100% certain. I’ve never read his Theology, so I’m not sure.

This is a huge topic and I’m not making it any shorter…

Thanks for your latest response, it is well reasoned and makes sense to me. I just listened again to this debate and I still find myself aligned much more closely with Hamilton than Grudem. When Grudem speaks of prophecy I do not disagree with the examples he gives, but I don’t think I would label those examples as “prophecy.” I would be more inclined to call it discernment or a word of knowledge or even just a personal leading from the Spirit. (Such as when Grudem felt the Lord telling him he should cancel his newspaper description.) Prophecy, as I believe Hamilton was saying, is something that is spoken with authority – “thus says the Lord.” Not a “I think the Lord may be saying this.” Hamilton also mentioned a few times that he would never be one to say God cannot do whatever He pleases; I think that is obvious but necessary to state. I think prophecy, as I conceive it, may take place today, but it is a rare occurrence. I read a book several years ago called “The Scotts Worthies.” This book was short biographies of eminent saints from the Reformation era. It contained some amazing stories, some of which included legitimate prophecies. I don’t remember the exact details but there was one man who was being troubled by a heckler, or maybe he was even mocking God, but the saint told him that he would be dead in a matter of time – and he was.

As a related item, I don’t ever recall having a vivid dream from the Lord but He seems to use them quite often to speak to Muslims. I have heard of several instances of this including a friend of my wife who had Jesus vividly speaking to her in a dream. Because of this they now are reading the bible together and she is eager to learn more. God is God, he does whatsoever He wills.


I think I agree with you. When you started, one of the first thoughts that went through my mind was to go back to Reformation days and recall several instances of what can only be termed predictive prophecy. But in those cases, no one needed to be held accountable to the word but God (I read Scots Worthies in university – my introduction to the Reformation and I loved the book!). For example, there is Huss’ famous dying words about Luther being raised up 50 years after him. But there was (and I have had real trouble finding who it was since I read it so many years ago) a short bio about a man who was called the Prophet of the Scottish Reformation (not a name I recognized like Wishart or Knox or Hamilton, I don’t think). And his life read almost like a biblical OT prophet’s! The things he said and did were just incredible. I wish I could remember who that was. Then there were things said by more prominent men (like Luther and Wishart) that were also remarkably prophetic. And, as you point out, what they said was not bound to any man as authoritative.

I guess what I still don’t know is how to take the passages in Ephesians 4 and I Cor 13. They seem to say that prophecy will continue and so I have a hard time saying that we should deny the possibility that someone could legitimately say “Thus saith the Lord”. I certainly wouldn’t without really sound reason, but then again, if the Holy Spirit is the interpreter, I guess it wouldn’t be absolutely necessary. The Lord can impress the importance of what is said on any heart He so chooses.

Since this is a huge topic, I don’t know if I can profitably continue without getting overly detailed. The thing that came to mind while writing was this set of scriptures :

God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets,
Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds;
Hebrews 1:1-2

And I fell at his feet to worship him. And he said unto me, See thou do it not: I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus: worship God: for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.
Revelation 19:10

And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.
Revelation 12:17

I think that if we are His, we have that Spirit of prophecy and it may be that we prophesy without knowing it. But that will be because He indwells us by His Spirit. We, then, can’t help but minister things that are beyond our understanding. For we must prophesy in part where we do not understand. It is simply that we may utter mysteries by the impulse of the Holy Spirit whether we realize it or not. David, I think, did that many times in the Psalms when he experienced things that foreshadowed Christ’s crucifixion and prophesied (again, probably unwittingly) about things that were hundreds of years down the road. And he didn’t have to say “Thus saith the Lord” either. That, I think, i prophesy that remains and I believe that the Holy Spirit is operative (and will be) in believers until the whole body is brought to unity, maturity and the full measure of what it was intended to be in Christ. That, necessarily, will include prophetic utterance.


Wayne Grudem has the burden of showing that there are different varieties of prophets, but doesn’t Ian Hamilton have the burden of showing (saying that prophecy has ceased) that Ephesians 4:11-16 and (in direct tandem) I Corinthians 13:9-10 no longer applies (as a direct result of what he believes)? Or am I missing a point here?

Hi Jeremy, First let me say that I am no expert bible scholar. I am an untrained laymen, so my opinions should be taken with that in mind. I posted this video on July 10th and have not listened to it since. I probably should go back and listen again because I do not recall if Ian Hamilton addressed Ephesians 4:11 and I Corinthians 13:9-10 or not. That said, I don’t think Ian Hamilton necessarily has the burden of proof; his view (that apostles and prophets were foundational gifts for the establishment of the church and are no longer active today) is the orthodox view, held throughout centuries of Christianity. I think if Wayne Grudem has an opposing view then he must shoulder all the burden of proof. I believe that the two above mentioned passages are speaking about different things. In Ephesians Paul is talking about the office of a prophet. In 1 Corinthians he is talking about “the communication of a limited amount of knowledge which cannot compare to the full disclosure of God’s heart and mind.” (The Pillar NT Commentary.) Here is a quote from “The Pillar New Testament Commentary.” This was written by Peter T. O’brien and the overall editor of these commentaries is D.A. Carson. I have found this series to be excellent, quite easy for a layman such as myself to understand. I think O’brien’s commentary reflects the orthodox view quite well. “11 Christ now sets out to accomplish the goal of filling all things by supplying his people with everything necessary to foster the growth and perfection of the body (v. 13). Having achieved dominion over all the powers through his victorious ascent, he sovereignly distributes gifts to the members of his body. The building of the body is inextricably linked with his intention of filling the universe with his rule, since the church is his instrument in carrying out his purposes for the cosmos. While in 1 Corinthians 12:4- 11 the ‘varieties of gifts’ are the diverse ministries allocated by the Spirit and the ability to exercise them, here the gifts are the persons themselves, ‘given’ by the ascended Christ to his people to enable them to function and develop as they should. Christ supplies the church with gifted ministers. Four (or five) categories are mentioned: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. The words ‘he gave gifts to men’ are not restricted to these, but they exemplify all the gifts of Christ’s victory by which he endows the church. The words which commence the Psalm citation, ‘This is why’ (v. 8), indicate that all the varying graces of v. 7 are gifts from Christ’s bounty. These in v. 11 are deliberately emphasized since they provide the church with the teaching of Christ for the edification of the body (v. 12) and for the avoidance of false teaching (v. 14). They enable others to exercise their own respective ministries so that the body is built to maturity, wholeness, and unity. Those listed are ministers of the Word through whom the gospel is revealed, declared, and taught. The return to ‘each one’ occurs in v. 12 with its reference to ‘the saints’ who have been equipped by the ministries which the apostle lists here. The New Testament contains five such lists (Rom. 12:6- 8; 1 Cor. 12:8- 10, 28- 30; Eph. 4:11- 12; cf. 1 Pet. 4:10- 11) which between them number more than twenty different gifts, some of which are not particularly spectacular (cf. Rom. 12:8). Each list diverges significantly from the others. None is complete, but each is selective and illustrative, with no effort to force the various gifts into a neat scheme. Even together all five do not present a full catalogue of gifts. The specific mention, first of all, that Christ gave apostles and prophets corresponds to the earlier references in 2:20 and 3:5 (see the exegesis above) to their foundational role as the authoritative recipients and proclaimers of the mystery of Christ (note also their appearance first in Paul’s list of 1 Corinthians Corinthians 12:28). Because of the mention of evangelists, pastors, and teachers, many modern commentators have concluded that the apostles and prophets had passed from the scene by the time Ephesians was written and had been replaced by a second generation of ministers. But this conclusion is unnecessary. Evangelists, pastors, and teachers exercised their ministry during the apostles ‘time and subsequently, and were no doubt the church workers whom most of the readers had encountered. Many did not know the apostle Paul. It was his fellow- evangelists through whom the gospel was proclaimed outside Ephesus, while towards the end of his ministry the term’ pastor ‘or’ shepherd ‘was used alongside’ overseer ‘and’ elder ‘to describe church leaders (cf. Acts 20:17, 28, where’ elders ‘are’ overseers ‘who’ pastor ‘the flock). (Note particularly the example of Epaphras, through whom the congregations at Colossae, Laodicea, and Hierapolis were founded:Col. 1:7- 8; 4:12- 13.) Evangelists were engaged in the preaching of the gospel. They are not mentioned elsewhere in the Pauline corpus except at 2 Timothy 4:5, where Timothy is urged to’ do the work of an evangelist ‘. The only other New Testament occurrence of the noun is in Acts 21:8, where Philip (one of the’ seven ‘of Acts 6:3- 6) is called’ the evangelist ‘. As proclaimers of the gospel evangelists carried on the work of the apostles. While the term probably included itinerant individuals who engaged in primary evangelism, it was not limited to them. The admonition to Timothy to’ do the work of an evangelist ‘is set within the context of a settled congregation, which presumably meant a ministry to believers and unbelievers alike, while the cognate verb, rendered’ preach the gospel ‘, covers a range of activities from primary evangelism and the planting of churches to the ongoing building of Christians and the establishment of settled congregations (cf. Rom. 1:11- 15). Here in Ephesians 4 evangelists are given by the ascended Christ for the purpose of… Read more »

You are most welcome Dee. I really thought Ian Hamilton schooled Wayne Grudem. In my opinion Grudem is a man of slightly above-average intelligence. That he is a vaunted spokesman for the neo-reformed movement and considered one of their luminaries speaks volumes of the movement.


I really liked this. Thank you for posting it.