Copyright 2006 Patrick Chu
The prophetic gift existed long before the prophetic office was instituted. Thus Enoch had the former (Jude 14); so Abraham is called a prophet (Ge 20:7) as are also the patriarchs (Ps 105:15). The office was first instituted under the Mosaic economy; but even then the gift was not always connected with the office; for example, Daniel was endowed largely with the gift, but was never called to the office, as living in a heathen court where he could not have exercised it. So David (Mt 13:35; 27:35). Hence the writings of both are classed with the Hagiographa, not with the prophets. Moreover, though the office ceased with the close of the Old Testament dispensation, the gift continued, and was among the leading charisms of the New Testament Church. “Prophet” (in Hebrew, from a root, “to gush out like a fountain”) meant one acting as spokesman for another (Ex 7:1); so, one speaking authoritatively for God as interpreter of His will. “Seer” was the more ancient term (1Sa 9:9), implying that he spake by a divine communication presented either to his senses or his mind: as “prophet” indicated his authority as speaking for God.
Christ was the only fountain of prophecy (1Pe 1:11; Re 19:10; also Ac 16:7, the oldest reading, “the Spirit of Jesus”), and declared God’s will to men by His Holy Spirit acting on the minds of the prophets. Thus the history of the Church is the history of God’s revelations of Himself in His Son to man. The three divisions of this history, the Patriarchal, the Mosaic, and the Christian dispensations, are characterized each by a distinct mode of God’s manifestations- that is, by a distinct form of the prophetic gift. (1) The theophanic mode characterizes the Patriarchal dispensation: God revealing Himself in visible appearances, or theophanies. (2) The theopneustic mode, the Mosaic: God revealing Himself through God-inspired men. (3) The theologic mode, the Christian: God revealing Himself, not merely at intervals as before, but permanently by inspired writings (“the oracles of God,” 1Pe 4:11).
In the first or patriarchal age, men work no miracles, unlike all other primeval histories, which abound in miracles wrought by men: a proof of genuineness. All the miracles are wrought by God without man’s intervention; and the divine communications are usually by direct utterance, whence the prophetic gift is rare, as God in this dispensation only exceptionally employs the prophetic agency of men in it: only in Ge 20:7, is the term “prophet” found. In the second or Mosaic dispensation, God withdraws Himself more from direct communication with man and manifests Himself through human instruments. Instead of working miracles directly, Moses, Joshua, &c., are His agents. So in His communications He speaks not directly, but through Moses and his successors. The theocracy needed a new form of prophetic gift: God-inspired (theopneustic) men must speak and act for God, the Head of the theocracy, as His administrators; the prophetic gift is therefore now connected with the prophetic office. These prophets accordingly are acting, not writing, prophets. The latter did not arise till the later ages of this second dispensation. Moses acted as a legislator; Joshua, the Judges, and Samuel as executive prophets; David and Solomon as devotional prophets. Even in the case of the writing prophets of the latter half of the Mosaic dispensation, their primary duty was to speak and act. Their writing had reference more to the use of the New Testament dispensation than to their own (1Pe 1:12). So that even in their case the characteristic of the Mosaic dispensation was theopneustic, rather than theologic. The third, or Christian dispensation, is theologic, that is, a revelation of God by inspired writings. Compare 1Pe 4:11; 2Pe 1:16-21, where he contrasts “the old time” when “holy men spake by the Holy Ghost” with our time when we have the “sure word of prophecy”; or, as it may be translated, “the word of prophecy confirmed [to us].” Thus God now reveals His will, not by direct theophanies, as in the first dispensation; not by inspired men, as in the second; but by the written word which liveth and abideth for ever (as opposed to the desultory manifestations of God, and the noncontinuance in life of the prophets, under the two former dispensations respectively, 1Pe 1:23; 2Pe 3:2, 16). The next form shall be the return of the theophanic manifestations on earth, in a more perfect and abiding form than in the first age (Re 21:3).