No. In the New Testament, prophecy is described as a revelation for a particular moment (1 Cor. 14:30). Preaching and teaching[1] is an exposition of what God has already revealed in his written word, the Bible.

I grew up in a church setting in which people often claimed that what is described in the New Testament as “prophecy” — most fully developed in 1 Corinthians 14 — should be equated with pastoral preaching or teaching, that is, explaining and applying the Bible. I’m not sure how this idea developed, but I think it may have arisen in cessationist circles where miraculous prophetic speech of any kind was viewed with suspicion.[2]

Though I am uncertain who originally equated prophecy with biblical exposition, it’s likely that the weighty influence of John Calvin [1509-1554] contributed to acceptance of this view for many people. For example, here is a passage I found in Calvin’s Corinthians commentary about “prophets” in 1 Corinthians 12:28:

By this term he means, (in my opinion), not those who were endowed with the gift of prophesying, but those who were endowed with a peculiar gift, not merely for interpreting Scripture, but also for applying it wisely for present use …. Let us, then, by Prophets in this passage understand, first of all, eminent interpreters of Scripture, and farther, persons who are endowed with no common wisdom and dexterity in taking a right view of the present necessity of the Church, that they may speak suitably to it, and in this way be, in a manner, ambassadors to communicate the divine will (bolding mine).[3]

Despite my enduring appreciation for Calvin as a commentator and theologian, there are good biblical reasons to view New Testament prophecy in one category (linked together with such activities as “word of knowledge,” “word of wisdom,” and “interpretation of tongues,” 1 Cor 12:8-11); and to view preaching and teaching in a separate category. Even though both are ministries of speech and can result in similar responses from listeners (such as conviction of sin or a renewed love for God), they are not the same activity.

Preaching and teaching focus upon proclamation and instruction rooted in God’s previously given revelation (that is, Scripture). Prophecy, in contrast, is more miraculous, situation-specific (sometimes even person-specific), often spontaneous, and more “revelational.” Here are eleven biblical arguments that New Testament prophecy belongs in a different category from preaching and teaching.

  1. Prophecy gets linked with visions and dreams in Peter’s speech on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:17 quoting Joel 2:28-29).
  2. Prophecy is often described as “by the Holy Spirit” (Luke 1:67; Acts 11:28; 19:6; cf. Luke 2:27-28; 1 Thess. 5:19-20).
  3. Prophecy sometimes includes previously unknown information (Acts 5:1-11; 21:10-11).
  4. Prophecy is joined together with other miraculous activities under the heading of “the manifestation of the Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:7-11; contrast the mixed list in 1 Cor. 12:28-31).
  5. Prophecy in practice seems to be more local and spontaneous — a word from the Lord for the moment. Acts 13:1-3 first mentions prophets in the church in Antioch, and then comments that during a time of worship, the Holy Spirit communicates that Barnabas and Saul (Paul) should be sent off as missionaries.
  6. Prophecy gets linked with tongues and miraculous knowledge in 1 Corinthians 13:8 (cf. 13:2).
  7. Prophecy can result in an outsider entering a Christian meeting, hearing a word of prophecy, and having “the secrets of his heart disclosed,” resulting in him “declaring that God is really among you” (1 Cor. 14:25).
  8. Prophecy appears in a list of activities in the church along with teaching (that also includes sharing a hymn, a tongue, or an interpretation of a tongue) (1 Cor. 14:26). In other words, prophecy and teaching seem to refer to two different activities on this list.
  9. Prophecy gets equated with receiving a “revelation” (1 Cor. 14:29-30; cf. 14:6, 26; 13:2).
  10. Prophecy can be delivered to an individual (1 Tim. 1:18; 4:14). Timothy received a prophecy intended for him alone, which supports the idea that prophecy is not simply the formal preaching or teaching of the Bible to the church.
  11. Prophecy can (but does not have to) be focused on not-previously-revealed future events (Rev. 1:1; Acts 11:28; 21:10-11).

In light of these biblical observations, I conclude that whereas preaching and teaching are explications and applications of God’s previously-revealed word, prophecy as described in the New Testament is usually spontaneous, revelatory and viewed as miraculous in a way that preaching and teaching is not. Prophecy is a particular message from God for a particular moment and for a particular individual or group — a message that in no way supersedes God’s written Word. Prophecy is subservient to God’s previously-revealed message, the Bible and must not contradict it. Prophecies also must be evaluated (1 Cor. 14:29).

But from the perspective of the New Testament, prophecy is not the same thing as preaching and teaching.


[1] The activities of preaching and teaching may have some fine differences between them (i.e., preaching veering more proclamational and teaching more instructional), but there is such overlap between them in the Bible that they often get used together in the same sentence (Matt 11:1; Luke 20:1; Acts 5:42; 15:35; 1 Tim 5:17; 2 Tim 4:2; cf. Eph 4:11).

[2] Cessationism is the view that the miraculous ministries of the early church, such as healing, speaking in tongues, and prophesying, ceased as regular activities of the church with the dying out of the original apostles.

[3] John Calvin, Commentary on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians, vol. 1, trans. John Pringle (Edinburgh: The Calvin Translation Society, 1845), 415.

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