What’s going on in Acts 21:4? Is the Spirit giving conflicting revelation?

The Issue

There seems to be a contradiction between what these individuals are telling Paul “through the Spirit” and what Paul felt constrained to do by the Spirit (20:22-23).

4 Views

1. Paul is disobedient to the Spirit.

The Spirit is telling Paul not to go, and he is simply being stubborn, disobedient, and determined to go to Jerusalem regardless.

  • However, the language in ch.20 is that the Spirit is constraining him to go (vv.22-23).
  • Paul’s attitude is not one of rebellion, but utter submission (v.24).
  • Furthermore, the rest of the book (chs. 21-28) outlines Paul’s path from Jerusalem to Rome as something positive and fitting the very programmatic design of 1:8.

2. “Soft prophecy.”

We have a case here of what might be called “soft prophecy,” i.e., it comes from the Spirit’s influence generally speaking, but is open to error and misconstrual. Therefore, what the disciples here are telling Paul to do in 21:4, as well as 21:10ff, is generally but not perfectly accurate (Wayne Grudem’s view, popular among many continuationists and charismatics).

  • It is troubling to surmise that prophetic revelation is not reliable or entirely accurate, or that God would fail to convey this information without it being intercepted by human fallibility. If it is true that prophecy can error, what does this mean for our ability to trust other prophecy / the Bible as a whole?
  • It is odd to expect a qualitative difference between OT prophecy (proper) and NT “soft” prophecy, especially in terms of it moving from infallible (better) to fallible (worse), especially when everything else about the New Covenant is better. Unless given really good reason, we should assume both forms of prophecy to be the same. And if there is a reasonable way to understand this passage along those lines (i.e., prophecy remains the same) that is to be preferred.
  • Many appeal to Agabus’ prophecy in 2:10ff as an example of such “soft” potentially somewhat erroneous prophecy, since Agabus predicts that the Jews will bind Paul when in fact it ends of being the Romans. However, this is surely to press the details too far. This is not how prophecy works elsewhere (consider Acts 2:36 where Peter accuses his Jewish hearers of killing Jesus, although it was in fact the Romans who in fact carried out the execution).  So here, although the Romans in fact arrest Paul, the Jewish crowds certainly play a role in his arrest (ch. 21).

Continue reading

Tongues | Special Revelation and Conclusion

The following belongs to a series on the continuation or cessation of the miraculous phenomena of tongues-speaking. Read the previous post here.

__________

Special Revelation and Tongues-Speaking

If no other argument up until this point has been persuasive, this next argument is the most decisive point cessationism has. The argument is as follows: 1) since tongues-speaking is revelatory (1 Cor 14:6, 26)1 and 2) since the canon of scripture (special revelation) is closed, then 3) no tongues utterances can be given in this age. Denying the second premise is dangerous business and places one outside of historical evangelicalism. Consequently, in order to deny this argument continuationists typically deny the first premise by arguing that the revelation given via tongues is different than that of scripture, and therefore, tongues’ continual existence is not inconsistent with a closed canon.2 However, problems surface when such a distinction is made.

Continue reading

Tongues | The Nature and Function of Tongues Speaking

The following belongs to a series on the continuation or cessation of the miraculous phenomena of tongues-speaking. Read the previous post here.

__________

One of the most significant and decisive factors concerning the cessation or continuation of tongues is the purpose that tongues had/has, or said differently, the essence of the presence of tongues. Temporary function and provisional existence would argue for the momentary presence of tongues. But on the other hand, a continual function and permanent nature would necessitate continuation.

A Sign

Of the Hardening of Israel

In 1 Corinthians 14:1 Paul begins an argument that prophecy is to be preferred over tongues, namely, uninterpreted tongues (14:1-25). Paul’s first reason is that uninterpreted tongues do not edify the congregation (14:2-19; cf. 12:7; 13:1-3). Paul’s second reason, found in verses 20-25, is that tongues repel unbelievers1 due to its apparent bizarre manifestation when uninterpreted (v.23). Paul says this repelling effect is due to the fact that tongues is not primarily for the church. The essence of tongues’ existence is found in it being a sign to Israel of their hardened hearts (vv.21-22).2 However, prophecy, which is given for the congregation’s good (v.22),3 can serve to draw the unsaved to repentance (vv.24-25).

Continue reading

Tongues | A Historical Theology of Tongues-Speaking

The following belongs to a series on the continuation or cessation of the miraculous phenomena of tongues-speaking. Read the previous post here.

__________

“Reinventing the wheel” has never been an efficient venture. Contemporary theology owes much to the theological progress made before it. Although it certainly does not have the final word in the matter, what historical theology can contribute to this study on tongues must be considered, as demanded by wisdom and caution.

If continuationism is true, one would expect to find evidences of tongues in those centuries closest to the apostolic era. However, as D.A. Carson notes, from the beginning of the 2nd century until the Montanists emerged, claims of tongues-speaking were tremendously rare.1 Eusebius of Caesaria (AD 263-339) gave report of this 2nd century sect (the Montanists) which practiced babbling speech. His report reveals that this group was divisive, declared heretical, and expelled from the Church.2

Continue reading

Tongues | “Tongues … Will Cease” (1 Corinthians 13:8-13)

The following belongs to a series on the continuation or cessation of the miraculous phenomena of tongues-speaking. Read the previous post here.

__________

1 Corinthians 13:8-13 is the only text in scripture that explicitly mentions that tongues will cease (v.8). Consequently, these six verses often find themselves at the center of the debate between cessationism and continuationism.

The Three Main Views on the Identity of “the Perfect”

The crux of one’s interpretation of this text is how one understands “the perfect” in v.10. Conceding minor differences, there are three main interpretations on the identity of “the perfect.” First, some view “the perfect” as referring to the completed canon.1 If this interpretation is correct, 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 would explicitly affirm the cessation of tongues with the completion of the NT. A second view, which is the most widely accepted among scholars today,2 is that “the perfect” refers to an eschatological reality.3 Thirdly, a minority view is that “the perfect” refers to the mature church.4 Some link the word “prefect” used here (teleios) to its use in Ephesians 4:13 and claim that “the perfect” refers to the completely mature Church at the end of the age. Others see this maturation of the Church as occurring at the end of the apostolic era (most likely in accordance with the close of the canon). Consequently, this third view tends to blur into either the first or second view,5 leaving basically two options.

Continue reading