Gifts and Ministries in 1 Corinthians

It’s time for Moore College’s annual School of Theology. This year the hot topic is 1 Corinthians.

As a bit of a taster, David Peterson (former principal of Oak Hill College, London, and former research fellow at Moore College) delivered a paper on gifts and ministries in 1 Corinthians. In covering this topic, he touched on the issue of prophecy. One of his suggestions was that ‘prophecy’ is actually a very broad category that does not only involve predicting or revealing secrets, also teaching in a wider sense. For example, preaching, such as that conducted by Peter at Pentecost and Stephen before the Sanhedrin (both in the book of Acts) can be classified as prophecy, especially given that Paul sees the purpose of prophecy as providing constructive words for the church. Words of ‘revelation or knowledge’ (1 Cor 14.6) are, therefore, a small subset of the larger phenomenon of ‘prophecy’.

From what I can see, this would mean that the ‘list’ of phenomena in 1 Cor 14.6 (revelation, knowledge, prophecy, and teaching) are all different aspects of the one wider category which Paul labels more generically as ‘prophecy’ in 1 Corinthians. David then went on to talk about the different roles of apostles, prophets, and teachers as reflecting the progressive way in which a church is founded, maintained, and nourished (1 Cor 12.29).

David really just touched on the issues, not being able to explore them in considerable depth within the allocated time. But it certainly was a stimulating and thought provoking paper.

14 thoughts on “Gifts and Ministries in 1 Corinthians

  1. A compelling thought, but a very subtle distinction. Does he say how one would know when a ‘constructive word’ wasn’t just straight teaching, as opposed to ‘prophetic ministry’?

      • Ok, so- now I’m trying to work out how this helps us? Haven’t scholars always thought that prophecy had an element of teaching?
        It raises more questions regarding its implications than answers? no?

        • No, I don’t think scholars have always thought prophecy had an element of teaching in it. There are some implications I can see off hand. Firstly, it would mean prophecy isn’t limited to ‘prediction’. Secondly, it would spark some closer examination of other texts that talk about prophets and teachers and the like, to hone what those terms actually mean. And thirdly, it might require slightly new terms of reference in the discussion of Pauline teaching on the role of women. I’m still not sure what to make of it, but it’s an interesting suggestion.

          • Sorry, my lack of clarity- by ‘some element of teaching’ I mean haven’t (some) scholars seen prophecy as ‘some kind of word ministry’ that seemed authoritative but never completely sure exactly ‘what’ that word ministry was or ‘how’ it was authoritative? (in the N.T usage anyway)…

  2. OT prophecy had both a predictive, spontaneous praise driven and a reflective redemptive element to it. That is not only was the prophet inspired by the Spirit to foretell, the Spirit inspired the prophet to look at the current situation of society in light of Gods word and speak forth Gods judgement / thoughts about the situation.

    There was also an element of praise in the prophetic, such as Miriam’s song after crossing over the Red Sea, King David’s and others psalms. Some of the OT prophets were kings, or were high officials / administrators, others were shepherds and market gardeners.

    • Not all prophecy was predictive. That, I believe, is a popular misconception. Prophecy is simply divine comment on human affairs. Often it involves a statements of future consequences for a current course of action, but not always. On occasion it is simply about assigning particular meaning to past events.

      But that’s OT prophecy. Is NT prophecy exactly the same thing? I have reservations about equating them completely.

  3. Hi George.
    I disagree that the prophetic didn’t have a predictive element to it. Its true that not all the prophet said / wrote etc was predictive.

    As I wrote in my statement above the prophet could be inspired to preach into the condition of society without a predictive element to it…but it wasn’t considered prophecy unless it did contain that predictive element to it.

    What are your reservations between OT and NT prophecy?

    • Hi Craig. The classic test of a prophet (whether what they said comes true) is a test of a prophet, but not the only test. It certainly works when there is a predictive element in the prophecy. However, I really don’t think the heart of prophecy is predicting the future. The heart of prophecy is a revelation of God’s mind, character, and purposes. Sometimes this is expressed through prediction, but not always. For example, Hosea often talks about Israel’s exodus experience. That’s just not prediction. By thinking of prophecy along the lines of revelation, rather than narrowly as prediction, we can see why the NT sees Jesus as fulfilling all of scripture, not merely a certain set of predictions.

      My reservation about OT and NT prophecy has to do with the fact that the NT sees itself as explaining the end or culmination of divine revelation. It’s not revealing more, but rounding things up. As such, I think there is a slight but important shift from the OT, whose revelation is still ‘in progress’ and therefore incomplete.

      • You have made some good points with there.

        I think Nahum would have been a better example to use then Hosea… though Nahum is considered to be more of a court poet then prophet.

        The Deut requirement of a prophet was that they were to be accurate in their predictions and to speak forth Gods heart. Using Hosea as an example, he was considered a prophet because of the predictive element in his ministry.

        I can see you are seeing a dichotomy between the Canon in the OT and NT and that it is now closed. Yet if you look closer at the ministry of both the OT and NT prophet and gift of prophecy there is little difference in the function of either.

        Both spoke forth an immediate word of encouragement, rebuke, or comfort to individuals at certain times. Both spoke forth Scriptural truths, inspired by the Holy Spirit.
        While both the OT and NT speaks of Christ… they didn’t always speak of Christ. Take Jonah for instance. We also see both OT and NT prophets addressing individuals sins, words of comfort or direction as well as ministry directions.

        Interesting your example of the prophets using the exodus experience. Most of the prophets did that…which falls in line with God’s command within the Mosiac law to remember what God had done for them on a continual basis…The Israelite call to remembering wasn’t to just remember what God had done in a past experience; rather it was a call to remember God within your present experience.

        • Nahum, like most of the prophets, is poetic. But he’s still a prophet. He’s never been considered a non-prophetic figure in the strict sense of the word. I guess we’ll agree to disagree on the necessity of a predictive element. I see prophecy as simply God’s comment on human affairs, whether it has prediction or not. It’s also why I think we can say the entire OT is ‘prophetic’ and points to Christ. It’s not that Jesus fulfils a list of predictions. Rather, the OT sets precedents and creates expectations which Jesus fulfils — even Jonah. After all, Jesus referred to the sign of Jonah as indicative of his own ministry. Jonah wasn’t predicting Jesus, but Jesus still fulfilled Jonah.

          Was Jonah a false prophet because his prediction didn’t come true?

  4. Your right about Nahum being consistently being known as a prophet. All of Scripture is prophetic, but you are bringing into the discussion a new dimension from your original article.

    I see the OT and NT prophet as having the same role in that each brought about a freshness and the revelation / experience of God being with them in this point of time.

    The role of prophecy today being different to preaching (though preaching can be prophetic) has the same intent of the experiential revelation of God being with us today.

  5. P.S regarding Jonah being a false prophet. That is an interesting discussion regarding the prophecy being realised.

    I’m studying the Minor Prophets at the moment and one thing that is coming through is the Hebrew train of thought regarding the timing of when a prophecy comes to pass… some of the prophetic was an immediate now, some in the future, some right at the end of time. Such as we see John tying together many of the OT prophecies together in Revelations.

    What comes out of Jonah is not so much the message of destruction, rather it was Gods will for Nineveh to repent…which it did. There is a huge theme within the 12 regarding social justice entwined with religious function….and certainly in Nahum we do see Jonah’s prophecy coming to pass.

    The question to ask is was Nahum speaking forth a fresh word, or repeating what Jonah and other prophets had said… Certainly we see this issue happening between Obadiah and Jeremiah and whether or not they were both repeating someone else’s word? I reflected on this here recently

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