Monday, April 13, 2015

Martin Luther - the Reformer

It is fitting to briefly take a glance at history at arguably the greatest Reformer, Martin Luther, who firmly stood by “Scripture alone”, and preached “faith alone” as the means of salvation. His testimony is both a relevant challenge and encouragement to us today to stand by the “Five Solas” amidst hostility against pure Christian doctrine from within and without the church.

“The term 'Reformation' is used by historians and theologians to refer to the western European movement [1517-1648], centering upon individuals such as Martin Luther, Huldrych Zwingli, and John Calvin, concerned with moral, theological, and institutional reform of the Christian church in that region.” (McGrath, 1998:156). “Martin Luther... is one of the few men of whom it may be said that the history of the world was profoundly altered by his work... Whether honored or opposed, none can deny his preeminent place in the history of the church.” (Walker, 1959:302). “Other men and women felt deeply the need for reform but none matched the burly German” (Shelley, 1982:256).
Early in the 20th century, Ernst Troeltsch defined Protestantism as a “modification of Catholicism” in which Catholic problems remain, but different solutions given (Shelley, 1982:256). The four Catholic concerns that Protestantism answered in a new way are: How is a person saved? Where does religious authority lie? What is the Church? And what is the essence of Christian living? It is Luther that finally offered biblical solutions that have stood the test of time to these questions.

Luther before the Reformation
Luther was born in Eisleben, Germany on 10th November 1483. His father was a poor Saxon miner. His parents had high hopes for him academically, desiring that he become a lawyer. He obtained free education at Eisenach School. “His father valued education and made it possible, through hard work in the mining industry, for Martin to attend college in Erfurt. The University of Erfurt was the most celebrated in all Germany.” (Murrell, 1998:15). He proved to be a brilliant law student, and obtained an MA degree by 1505. While at university, John Wesel, a Christian humanist greatly influenced him. It was also at university that he got introduced to the Bible when, to his amazement, he discovered a copy of the then rare document in the library while browsing the books.
On a certain day in 1505, as he was returning to Erfurt from a visit to his parents at Mansfeldt, Luther was caught up in a thunderstorm. He was struck by a bolt of lightning, knocking him to the ground. In fear, he called out to the Roman Catholic's patroness of miners crying, “St. Anne, save me! And I'll become a monk.” (Shelley, 1982:256). Luther had every intention of becoming a lawyer according to his parents' wishes. But two weeks after his lightning experience, consumed by guilt, Luther kept his vow to St. Anne by joining the Augustinian monastery at Erfurt. His parents were disappointed as their hopes of Luther becoming a lawyer went down the drain.
He was ordained a priest in 1507 after studying theology. And in 1508 he got a teaching position at the University of Wittenberg, where he also earned his Bachelor of Bible degree in theology. After a year at Wittenburg, he was transferred to Erfurt, where he earned his second theology degree, and taught the Sentences of Peter Lombard, the standard text of theology then (Murrell, 1998:16). He would later receive his Doctor of Divinity degree in 1512 while he continued to teach.
Luther was a very dedicated monk. The Pelagian teaching that surrounded him taught him to save himself through good works. “In the monastery he lived a life of strict asceticism... He cheerfully performed the humblest tasks. He prayed and chastised himself even beyond the strictest monastic rules. He wasted away till he looked like a skeleton. His cell, even in the severest cold of winter, was unheated. He often spent the night in vigils and only occasionally slept on a mat.” (Kuiper, 1964:162). He would recall years later that, “I kept the rule so strictly that I may say that if ever a monk got to heaven by his sheer monkery, it was I. If I had kept on any longer, I should have killed myself with vigils, prayers, reading and other work” (Shelley, 1982:256). “And yet, despite all of his efforts, Luther was still burdened with a sense of shame and guilt. His soul was in the deepest depths of despair because, no matter how hard he tried, he knew he had not done enough to merit salvation” (Murrell, 1998:17).
In 1515, while pondering Paul's epistle to the Romans, He came across the words in chapter one verse 17 that read: “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘But the righteous man shall live by faith’” (NASB). Luther later recalled, “Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement that 'the just shall live by his faith.' Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise.” (Shelley, 1982:257). Luther now clearly understood that man only got saved by grace through faith in Christ's finished work on the cross, and not by any personal merit. This clashed with what he had previously known as the Roman Catholic Church's doctrine of justification by faith and good works. Luther would later argue that: “Good works do not make a man good, but a good man does good works.” (Shelley, 1982:260).

The Beginning of the Reformation
The Renaissance, spanning the 14th to 17th centuries, was a cultural revolution in Europe that inspired the exploration of the literal and arts classics. Scholars in this era were known as humanists, to which Desiderius Erasmus is reputed as the greatest of them. Though many of the greatest Christian humanists died Roman Catholic, such as Erasmus, “it would be impossible to exaggerate their importance as precursors to the Reformation.” (Renwick & Harman, 1999:106, 107). With a return to the classics, the Renaissance led people back to original Greek and Hebrew Scriptural documents, looking beyond the Latin Vulgate and other patristic translations. Erasmus himself produced an invaluable Greek translation of the New Testament, the first in print. It was against this background that Luther “launched the most gigantic revolution in the history of the Christian Church” (Walker, 1959:302).
The sale of indulgences, introduced during the Crusades, was a great source of income for the pope. Roman Catholicism taught that payment of indulgences (contributions to a worthy cause) absolved the individual from partial or even full punishment for sins that had already been confessed and forgiven. So with the discovery that justification is by faith alone, Luther began to attack the theology behind indulgences in his sermons.
But it is a particular incident that heightened Luther’s fury with the issue of indulgences. The Dominican monk, John Tetzel, was preaching throughout Germany raising funds on behalf of the pope to complete the construction of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. Tetzel alleged that indulgences paid for this cause would even free souls from purgatory, claiming that, “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs” (Shelley, 1982:258). Duke Frederick, prince of Saxony, forbade the sale of these indulgences in his territory. But his Wittenberg citizenry traveled to other towns to buy the indulgences. It is this act that prompted Luther's response against indulgences (Vos, 1960:79).
Luther drew up 95 propositions (theses) for theological debate on 31st October 1517. On All Saints' Day, he posted them on the Castle Church door at Wittenberg in accordance with the university custom of proposing a debate. Among other things, the 95 Theses argued that “indulgences cannot remove guilt, do not apply to purgatory, and are harmful because they induce a false sense of security in the donor.” That was the spark that ignited the Reformation (Shelley, 1982:258). Within four weeks, the theses, originally in Latin, were translated into several languages and distributed to every country in Western Europe (Murrell, 1998:18).
The Dominicans immediately reported Luther to Rome as a man guilty of preaching “dangerous doctrines”. The pope summoned him to Rome in July 1518 but Luther snubbed the invitation because honoring it would have led him to his execution (Renwick & Harman, 1999:110).
Luther insisted on Scriptural proof that he was wrong. During an 18-day debate in July 1519 with theologian John Eck in a highly charged atmosphere at Leipzig, Luther said, “A council may sometimes err. Neither the church nor the pope can establish articles of faith. These must come from Scripture.” (Shelley, 1982:259). Luther henceforth denounced papal authority and took on Scriptural authority to govern him instead. After the debate, Eck lobbied for Luther to be declared a heretic. But Luther sought audience with the German people by publishing a series of pamphlets. Three of the most famous pamphlets produced in 1520 are: 'To the Nobility of the German Nation', 'On the Babylonish Captivity of the Church', and 'Concerning Christian Liberty' (Renwick & Harman, 1999:111). Issues he addressed through the pamphlets included: the church's wealth and political power, and the invalidity of the seven sacraments (Luther recognized Baptism and the Lord's Supper only as the two ordinances instituted by Christ).
Luther also became a controversialist. “He insisted that people either side entirely with him – because of what he saw as the great danger of the church of Rome and the papacy – or else get away from him and become his enemies” (Olson, 1999:378). In his expository series of the Gospel of John in 1538, he began one of his sermons by stating: “Although we must always expect the best from man, especially from the believers, we remember that they may err and go astray. If this truth had been observed in Christendom, we would have had neither the pope nor all the filth and stench of his anti-Christian doctrine with which the Christian Church was later seduced” (Murray, 1965:30).

Luther's Excommunication
On 15th June 1520, Pope Leo X issued a Bull (a papal document named after its seal) condemning 41 of Luther's beliefs as “heretical, or scandalous, or false, or offensive to pious ears, or seductive of simple minds, or repugnant to Catholic truths.” (Shelley, 1982:255). The bull called upon him and his followers to recant within 60 days, and also ordered for his works to be burned. But in response, on 10th December 1520, Luther instead publicly burned the Bull condemning him, the Canon Law, and forged Decretals (decisions of popes and general councils) in a bonfire outside Wittenberg (Renwick & Harman, 1999:111).
In January 1521 the pope declared him a heretic and excommunicated him from the church. In the same year, Emperor Charles V summoned Luther to the Diet (a national meeting of princes and powerful leaders) at Worms to account for his writings.  The exchanges are reported to have been hostile as he was questioned about his writings. Luther again appealed to the authority of Scripture and stated, “My conscience is captive to the Word of God... I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither honest nor safe. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen.” (Shelley, 1982:260). The emperor responded by declaring him an outlaw with the sentence to fall in 21 days.
But Duke Frederick, whose territory included Wittenberg, saved him from execution when he sent troupes to intercept Luther's journey back home by staging a kidnapping. Disguised as a nobleman with the name Junker George, Luther was afforded refuge at the Wartburg Castle for almost a year. But this time wasn't spent without productivity. It is here that he translated the New Testament into German using Erasmus Desiderius' recent Greek translation. Luther's German translation was pivotal to the Reformation.
At the same time, the revolt against Rome spread. More radical reformers than Luther emerged. Princes, dukes and electors are among those that gave support to the movement. Younger humanists also rallied behind him. Luther returned to Wittenberg in March 1522 to this excitement among the people. Upon his return he did away with the office of bishop, advocating for the pastoral office instead. Monks and nuns also abandoned celibacy and began to marry, with Luther himself taking a former nun as his wife in 1525.

Challenges during the Reformation
Both the Nobles' Revolt in 1523 and the Peasants' Revolt in 1525 caused Luther great anguish as he was blamed for them. In 1524, the German peasants took advantage of the atmosphere of reform and attempted to extend it to their social and economic ills by revolting against their lords. When the peasants turned violent, Luther reacted furiously against them in his pamphlet: 'Against the Thievish and Murderous Hordes of Peasants', calling on the princes to crash the revolt. In 1525 the princes did likewise, leaving about 100,000 peasants dead. As a response, surviving peasants labeled Luther a false prophet, with many returning to Catholicism, while others resorting to more radical forms of the Reformation (Shelley, 1982:261). Many of his followers became Anabaptists. Luther, initially opposed to persecution tactics, would later recommend the persecution of the Anabaptists in 1530 as the movement grew rapidly (Renwick & Harman, 1999:116).
Charles V called the first Diet of Speyer in 1526 aimed at inciting action against Luther's views. But in a rare twist of events, the Diet gave the edict of toleration, allowing each German state to adhere to the religion of its ruling prince. The second Diet of Speyer in 1529 ruled that Lutheran districts should remain Lutheran, and Catholic districts should remain Catholic, but with the Catholic Church allowed religious freedom in Lutheran territory. The evangelical minority in attendance protested against the decision, thus the origin of the term 'Protestant' (Renwick & Harman, 1999:113). After the Diet, Germany was divided into Protestant and Catholic sections that bitterly opposed each other.
In 1530 Reformation leaders gathered at Augsburg to draft a common statement of faith. Luther was unable to attend because he was still outlawed. Philip Melanchthon, a young Greek professor at Wittenburg, and Luther's eventual successor as the leader of the Reformation, drafted the Augsburg Confession. The Confession was signed by Lutheran princes and theologians (Shelley, 1982:263).
Despite his problems with the law and the church, at about 1531 Luther began to suffer health problems that included kidney and bladder stones, arthritis, and eventually angina. He died in Eisleben, his birthplace, in 1546 after suffering a stroke. He was buried in the Castle Church in Wittenberg.
Almost 10 years after his death, The Peace of Augsburg (1555), following a civil war between Charles V and Lutheran princes (1546 -1555), allowed each prince to decide the religion of its subjects. It also banned all other sects of Protestantism except Lutheranism. As a result, Lutheranism eventually became a state religion in large sections of the empire (Shelley, 1982:263). But princes and bishops who turned Protestant had to surrender their estates.

Despite his brilliance and zeal for the Lord, by all means Luther was not perfect and earned quite some warranted criticism along the way. This is seen in some controversial theological views he held and his extremist reaction to the peasant revolt and other issues. But it is his solutions to the four Catholic concerns mentioned above that render his contribution to the Reformation of the Church as matchless. With submission to Scriptural authority, Luther answered the concerns as follows: How is a person saved? Not by works but by faith alone. Where does religious authority lie? Not in the Roman Catholic Church but in Scripture alone. What is the Church? It is the community of all Christian believers since all are priests unto God. And what is the essence of Christian living? Serving God in any useful calling, whether ordained or lay (Shelley, 1982:264). Thus his influence lives on even today.

Kuiper, B. K. 1964. The Church in History. Michigan: Christian Schools International
McGrath, A. E. 1998. Historical Theology: An Introduction to the History of the Christian Thought. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing
Murray, I. H. 1965. The Reformation of the Church: A collection of Reformed and Puritan documents on Church issues. Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust
Murrell, S. E. 1998. A Glorious Institution: The Church in History. Parts Three and Four. Pensacola: Mount Zion Publications
Olson, R. E. 1999. The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition & Reform. Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press.
Renwick, A. M. & Harman A. M. 1999. The Story of the Church. 3rd Edition. Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press
Shelley, B. L. 1982. Church History in Plain Language. Dallas. Word Publishing
Vos, H. F. 1960. Highlights of Church History. Chicago: Moody Press

Walker. W. 1959. A History of the Christian Church. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Our resounding Amen!

Unlike Adam I never got to experience the garden,
But like Adam I’ve wasted opportunities more than golden,
Typical of men to blame it all on the women,
So like Adam I never wanted to pay the cost of my burden,

Condemned for my sin, with no hope of even a glimpse of heaven,
My yoke is hard my burden heavy, with guilt I’m heavy-laden,
Plagued by the curse of sin, among its victims I’m bedridden,
If I was thrown with the lions, I wouldn’t survive a night in their den,

But Christ the promised Seed, who would save the downtrodden,
The promise of salvation from the Judge, to Adam and his children,
Deliverance from eternal death, I’ll never experience the burning oven,
The Judge of sin the Savior from sin, so with God I’m now even,

Hope of eternal future with Christ, better than the best of Eden,
Can’t wait to be with Christ, thank God the rapture will be sudden,
He came and will return for me, in His kingdom we will be brethren,
Coheirs with Christ, eternal victory, our resounding Amen!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Holiness of God in Leviticus


The main biblical words for holiness/holy are the Hebrew ‘qados’ and ‘qodes’ in the Old Testament, expressing ‘separation’ or ‘cutting off’, applied to the separation of a person or thing to divine use. In the Old Testament holiness is designated of places, things, seasons, and official persons, in their connection with the worship of God. Holiness signifies a relation that involves separation from common use and dedication to a sacred one (DOUGLAS, 1962:530).

In reference to God, holiness denotes His separateness from creation and elevation above it. It thus sets forth His transcendence. Holiness is a term for the moral excellence of God and His freedom from all limitation in His moral perfection (Habakkuk 1:13). The word also denotes relationship, and signifies God’s determination to preserve His own position relative to all other free beings. It is His self affirmation; the attribute by which He makes Himself the absolute standard of Himself (DOUGLAS, 1962:530).

Revelation of God's Holiness

The holiness of God was expressed through such symbols and types as the holy nation, holy land, holy city, holy place, and holy priesthood (BERKHOF, 1941:74). Holiness is the one attribute which God would have His people remember Him by more than any other. Hence it is His image in the entire Old Testament (EVANS, 1949:37, 38). In Leviticus, the phrases: “I am the LORD” and “I am holy” are used over 50 times. His holiness is manifested in His Law. The Law forbids sin in all of its modifications: in its most refined as well as grossest forms, the intent of the mind as well as the pollution of the body, the secret desire as well as the overt act (PINK, 1975:42).

The Law was designed to impress upon Israel the idea of the holiness of God and the necessity of leading a holy life. It was revealed in the manner in which the LORD rewarded the keeping of the Law, and visited transgressors with dire punishments (BERKHOF, 1941:74). The holiness of God can be revealed in the four sections of Leviticus as follows:

1.       The Sacrificial Offerings (chapters 1:1-7:38)

2.       The Consecration of the Priests (chapters 8:1-10:20)

3.       The Consecration of the People (chapters 11:1-17:16)

4.       Guidelines for practical holiness (chapters 18:1-27:34)

1.       The Sacrificial Offerings (1:1-7:38)

During the Old Testament period, sacrifices were emphasized as they were the most important activity of formal worship. The covenant relationship between God and Israel was related to sacrifices in three ways: it was a gift; a means of communion or fellowship; and perhaps the most important, they served to heal violations in the covenant relationship (LONGMAN III & DILLARD, 2007:85). Without these offerings man would incur the wrath of God because His holiness and His wrath are inseparable (TOZER, 1961:106).

To sanctify means to ‘make holy’, and is used in the Old Testament with reference to both the Levitical offerings and to the people to whom the offering applied. It meant to set apart for a holy purpose (GUTHRIE, 1983:89, 90). Whenever the covenant relationship was broken, Israel would seek forgiveness from God by offering sacrifices as substitutions for the penalty for their sin.

The five types of sacrifices were: burnt offerings (chapter 1), which served to compensate for sin; grain offerings (chapters 2), which served as a gift; peace offerings (chapter 3), which were offered for fellowship; sin offerings (chapter 4:1-5:13), for the removal of sin; and guilt offerings (15:14-6:7), offered for offences against the things of the LORD.

2.       The Consecration of the Priests (8:1-10:20)

God’s holiness can be seen through His interaction with the priestly office of the Levites. The priests spend most of their time in the presence of the Holy God; hence during their ordination they were consecrated (set apart) for holy service as was evident in their special priestly clothing and anointing with oil (chapter 8). They also offered sacrifices for their own sins, and in this way, they stayed holy as well.

After ordination the priests were charged with maintaining holiness in the camp through sacrifices (Leviticus 1-7, 9). They themselves were to adhere to a very strict conduct. An example is when Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu offered ‘strange fire’ before the LORD and were immediately consumed (10:1, 2). Moses reminded Aaron that, “By those who come near Me (the LORD) I will be treated as holy, and before all people I will be honored (10:3).”

Many of the laws in Leviticus were directed toward the priests so that they might preserve their holiness (Leviticus 21-22). It was also part of their duty to teach the Israelites the Law so that they could protect God’s holiness in the camp (Leviticus 10:11). Thus the main function of the priesthood in Leviticus was to protect the holiness of God (LONGMAN III & DILLARD, 2007:85).

3.       The Consecration of the People (11:1-17:16)

God’s people must be seen to be distinctive in their way of life, and as free as possible from any evil pollution of body or spirit (HARRISON, 1980:132, 133). The Israeli camp had to be kept pure (clean) because God was present among them. At the center of the camp stood the tabernacle in which the ark, the primary symbol of God’s holy presence, dwelt. From this spot different levels of holiness were represented.
Only the current high priest could enter the most holy place; only Levitical priests from Aaron’s family were allowed within the tabernacle; the rest of the Levites formed a perimeter around the tabernacle; the other Israeli tribes were spread within the camp surrounding the tabernacle; and lastly, unclean individuals and Gentiles stayed outside the camp. This shows that there was a clear distinction between the clean and unclean, and further that God by His holy nature commanded who could come close, and how close they could come, to the tabernacle.

The priests were delegated the responsibility of declaring who could be within the camp or not by determining who was clean or not in order to avoid offending Gdo. In commanding cleanness, God regulated matters such as: 1) Food, by prescribing the animals they could and could not eat (chapter 11); 2) Child birth, by declaring the number of days a woman was to be unclean after birth, and that the child if male, should be circumcised on the eighth day (chapter 12); 3) Skin diseases, by giving the conditions of how the infected should be treated and declared clean (13-14), and 4) How a man was to be cleansed after discharge (15), among others.

Day of Atonement

Also significant in this section of consecrating the people was the annual Day of Atonement (chapter 16). ‘Atonement’ means ‘a making one’, and points to a process of bringing those who are estranged into a unity (DOUGLAS, 1962:107). On the tenth day of the seventh month (Tishri, October/September), Israel observed its most solemn holy day. All work was forbidden and a strict fast was commanded upon the entire nation. The Day of Atonement served as a reminder that the daily, weekly, and monthly sacrifices made at the altar of burnt offering were not sufficient to atone for sin. Even at the altar of burnt offering, the worshippers stood afar off, unable to approach the Holy presence of God who was manifest between the cherubim in the Holy Place. Atoning blood was brought into the Holy Place by the high priest as the representative of the people (DOUGLAS, 1962:110).

Also, in Leviticus 17:11 the principle of substitutionary atonement is outlined, that is, atonement is made by a victim that takes the place of a sinner that sheds its blood in the sinner’s stead (TIDBALL, 2005:213). In the verse God states, “For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.” 

4.       Guidelines for Practical Holiness (18:1-27:34)

Justification is an act of God about the state of a man’s person; but sanctification is the work of God about the nature of a man (RYLE, 2001:166). And it is these guidelines on practical holiness that were given for man’s sanctification. Alderson (1986:20) wrote, “The Moral Law reflects God’s own essential attributes. Since God is holy, His Law is holy.”

Such laws included guidelines on: sexual relations (18); social order (19); the priesthood (21, 22); the Sabbath and feasts (23); Sabbatical and Jubilee years (25); penalty for idol worship, cursing parents, sexual sin (20), and blasphemy (24); redemption of gifts devoted to God (27); and the blessings and curses of obedience and disobedience respectively (26).

As seen in Leviticus, because Israel was in a covenant relationship with the holy God, they were challenged to live holy lives on earth as they worship Him. Thus the meditation of J. C. Ryle (2002:53), arguably the Church of England’s last Puritan, suffices, “Suppose for a moment you were allowed to enter heaven without holiness. What would you do? What possible enjoyment could you feel there? To which of the saints would you join yourself, and by whose side would you sit down? Their pleasures are not your pleasures, their tastes not your tastes, their character not your character. How could you possibly be happy, if you had not been holy on earth?”



  • ALDERSON, R. 1986. No Holiness, No Heaven! Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust
  • BERKHOF, L. 1941. Systematic Theology. Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
  • DOUGLAS, J.D. 1962. The New Bible Dictionary. Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press
  • EVANS, W. 1949. The Great Doctrine of the Bible. Chicago: The Moody Bible Institute
  • GUTHRIE, D. 1983. Hebrews: An Introduction and Commentary. (In_Morris, L. ed. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press)
  • HARRISON, R.K. 1980. Leviticus: An Introduction and Commentary. (In_Wiseman, D.J., ed. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press)
  • LONGMAN III, T. & DILLARD, R.B. 2007. An Introduction to the Old Testament. Nottingham: Inter-Varsity Press
  • PINK, A.W. 175. The Attributes of God. Michigan: Baker Book House
  • RYLE, J.C. 2001. Holiness: Part II – Its nature, hindrances, difficulties, and roots. Pensacola: Mount Zion Publications
  • RYLE, J.C. 2002. Holiness: Its nature, hindrances, difficulties, and roots. Idaho: Charles Nolan Publishers
  • TIDBALL, D. 2005. Leviticus. (In_Motyer, J.A., ed. The Bible Speaks Today. Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press)
  • TOZER, A.W. 1961. The Knowledge of the Holy. New York: HarperCollins Publishers

Friday, December 28, 2012

A Biblical Look at Prophecy


A prophecy refers to the oral or written message of a prophet. Biblically, a prophet is “one who is divinely inspired to communicate God’s will to His people and to disclose the future to them” (Unger, 1988:1040). “Prophecy should not be essentially defined as a foretelling of the future. Instead, it is the forthtelling [sic] of a revelation from God which on occasion also may involve the prediction of future events.” (Robertson, 1993:4). The three modes God used to communicate prophecy are: visions, dreams and direct communication.

Prophecy is purely an act of God as the Apostle Peter confirmed: “No prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:20-21). In this passage Peter also confirms that prophecy is the gift chosen by God for producing Scripture, hence our look at prophecy in both the Old and New Testaments.

1.      Prophecy in the Old Testament

The importance of prophecy in Scripture cannot be overemphasized, seeing that prophetic literature constitutes about a quarter of the canon (Walvoord, 1998:vii). But from the Old Testament, we also see that prophets can either be cultic (such as a diviner), false, or God-sent. Hence stun warning is given to the people of God to steer clear of cultic and false prophets and prophecy, a practice punishable by death (Deuteronomy 13:1-5; cf. 18:20).

As we study the Old Testament and especially sections on prophetic literature, two main themes stand out: judgment and salvation. The people, not only Israel but world nations as well, are judged for their sin, while at the same time, there is the presentation of hope through the promise of the Messiah (e.g. Ezekiel 34). Thus the prime purpose of prophecy as seen throughout Scripture is the progressive revelation of Christ. “Christ is the central figure and focus of all history and prophecy” (Tan, 1974:104). The dual theme of judgment and salvation with Christ as the centre can be traced as early as Genesis 3 where God judges man for his sin, but also gives him the first promise of a Redeemer through the seed of the woman (verse 15). Hence “Scripture not only presents the prophetic word as a demonstration of God’s power and wisdom, but it presents His response to man’s need [for a Saviour]” (Unger, 1988:1040).

2.      Prophecy in the New Testament

While prophecy in the Old Testament predicted the future coming of the Messiah, prophecy in the New Testament confirmed the fulfilment of His coming. “Prophecy in the New Testament is seen as both a continuation of Old Testament prophecy as well as its fulfilment. For New Testament authors, the correct interpretation of Old Testament prophecy is that it speaks in toto of Christ.” (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2009:"Prophecy").

In the New Testament Christ Himself confirmed that He is the theme of the Old Testament on at least five different occasions (Matthew 5:17; Luke 24:27; Luke 24:44; John 5:39; Hebrews 10:7) (Jensen, 1978:45). Further, the Gospel accounts record John the Baptist, the last of the Old Testament prophets, as bearing witness to the fact that the prophecy of the Messiah was fulfilled in Christ (John 1:29, 36; cf. Mark 1:1-8). Not only does the New Testament confirm the fulfilment of the Messianic prophecies, it also details prophecies concerning His Second Coming. This is most explicitly read in the book of Revelation.

3.      Prophecy Today

So where does prophecy stand in the Church today? Do we still need divine revelation from God? Well, with the major purpose of prophecy being the advent of Christ there negates the need for prophecy today after Christ’s incarnation. Hebrews 1 states that, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son” (verses 1, 2). “The story of divine revelation is a story of progression up to Christ, but there is no progression beyond Him” (Bruce, 1990:46). We only await His return as revealed in Revelation. And even in Revelation, John the apostle was warned against editing the prophetic book by adding to or removing from the content (Revelation 22:18, 19).

Today, Scripture, as recorded in the Old and New Testaments, is enough for us to know the revelation of God through Christ. Paul confirmed that all Scripture is inspired by God and sufficient for us (2 Timothy 3:16, 17). Hence the work prophets did in the past is done through Scripture today. The Old Testament prophesied Christ’s coming, while the New Testament confirmed His coming and prophesied His imminent return.


Thus all prophecy necessary for revelation concerning Christ has already been given, whether on His first or second coming. “Scripture alone!” is hence the biblical assertion of the Church today in terms of access to special revelation.


  • Bruce, F. F. 1990. Hebrews. New International Commentary on the New Testament (NICNT). Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company
  • Encyclopaedia Britannica. 2009. Article on "Prophecy." Encyclopaedia Britannica Deluxe Edition.  Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica
  • Jensen, I. L. 1978. Jensen’s Survey of the Old Testament. Chicago: Moody Bible Institute
  • Robertson, O. P. 1993. The Final Word: A Biblical Response to the Case for Tongues and Prophecy Today. Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust
  • Tan, P. L. 1974. The Interpretation of Prophecy. Indiana: BMH Books
  • Unger, M. F. 1988. The New Unger's Bible Dictionary. Chicago: Moody Bible Institute
  • Walvoord, J. F. 1998. End Times: Understanding Today’s World Events in Biblical Prophecy (In_Swindoll, C. R., ed., Understanding the Basic Precepts of Our Faith. Nashville: Word Publishing)