God’s Vision for the Church, Pt. 1 (Church Theology, Ep. 3)

In this episode Kirk and Dan continue their series on the concept of a “Church Theology” by digging into God’s Biblical vision for the church. In the last two episodes we saw how God views the church, how he sees it. But now, what is God’s vision for the church — his desire for it and plan as it were to embody its calling and live out its mission?

Access the episode here (available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, and more).

See all other episodes in this series.

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).


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).

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The rhetorical significance of the prophetic gifts (Joel 3:1; English 2:28)

The following was a short exegetical essay for Dr. Richard E. Averbeck’s Hebrew Exegesis course at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

Be aware: I use the Hebrew Bible’s chapter and verse references in the following, which can be different than what one will find in English translations of Joel.

As evidenced by its inclusio placement, the Spirit’s outpouring serves a central role to the message of vv.1-2. Through the Spirit’s presence, the hope of YHWH’s presence among his people, anticipated in the immediately preceding verse (2:27), will be realized (Allen, 98). These factors indicate that Joel’s primary focus in 3:1-2 is the universal presence of God via the outpoured Spirit. As such, his mention of prophetic gifts has a subordinate function (Hubbard, 75). This leads to the question, what exactly is the significance of Joel’s reference to prophetic gifts in this passage? Through examination of Biblical and scholarly data, this article will conclude that Joel uses prophetic gifts as a rhetorical vehicle to communicate his primary message, which is YHWH’s intimate presence via the poured-out Spirit.

Throughout the OT, an intrinsic connection exists between prophecy and the Spirit (Num 11:25-29; 24:2; Deut 34:9-10; 1 Sam 10:6, 10; 19:20, 23-24; 2 Sam 23:2; 2 Kgs 2:9; 2 Chr 15:1; 20:14; 24:20.). As such, for God to grant individuals prophetic gifts is equivalent to God granting these individuals the Spirit’s presence (Turner, 551; Barton 95; Allen 98; Wolff, 66). Therefore, Joel successfully communicates the realization of YHWH’s presence via the Spirit by attributing prophetic gifts to “all flesh” (Allen, 98) As Stuart observes, “The verbs in the verse (‘prophesy,’ ‘have dreams,’ ‘see visions’)” each “describe revelatory functions associated with the fullness of God’s Spirit . . . .” (260). To be a prophet implies having the “Spirit of prophecy”; therefore, these prophetic gifts manifest the Spirit’s presence. As Crenshaw notes, the waw on וְנִבְּא֖וּ indicates result (165)—the outpoured Spirit results in, and is therefore evidenced by, these prophetic utterances. In summary, by claiming that everyone will prophesy, Joel anticipates an elimination of the previous era’s characteristic of only certain individuals, like prophets, being endowed with the Spirit (e.g., Jdg 3:10; Ex 31:3; Num 11:17; 1 Sam 16:13; Stuart 260-261). “The promise takes up the wistful longing of Moses expressed in Num 11:29 . . . and stamps it as a definite part of Yahweh’s program for the future.” (Allen, 99; cf. Barton, 95; Garrett, 368).

Nonetheless, the significance of Joel’s reference to prophetic gifts is not merely bound up with its function in demonstrating God’s presence among His people; it has a particular rhetorical importance within itself—it speaks to the immediacy in which all will relate to God (Crenshaw, 166). Contrary to Orelli (cited in Crenshaw, 166), who argues for a special significance to the pairing of certain gifts with certain groups of people, the various mediums of revelation in vv.1-2 are mentioned in order to enrich poetic parallelism (Hubbard, 75) and to emphasize the direct relationship all of God’s people will have with him (Wolff, 67). And as Wolff keenly observes, Joel’s focus is likely not prophetic proclamation, since all in view share in the prophetic gifts, but that all are prophets, i.e., have the Spirit of prophecy (66). In contrast to other prophecies about the eschatological Spirit, Joel’s point is not new obedience (Jer 31:31-34; Ezek 11:19-20; 36:26-27) or new creation (cf. Isa 32:25; 44:3; Crenshaw, 164-165); but rather, in continuity with the prophetic hope, Joel picks up on the Old Testament’s anticipation of an intimate relationship with God through the Spirit (Isa 32:15; 44:3; Ezek 11:19-20; 36:26-28; Jer 31:1, 31-34) by way of this “prophetic motif” (Num 12:6; Isa 50:4; Jer 15:16; 20:11; Hubbard, 73-75; Wolff, 66-67; Achtemeier, 149; Garrett, 368; Allen, 99).

In summary, Joel uses prophetic gifts rhetorically to communicate his primary message concerning the hope of intimate communion with God via the poured-out Spirit, universal to all God’s people in the “last days.” Joel’s point may not be that all of God’s people will literally prophesy, but that all of God’s people will have the Spirit. All will be prophets in a non-technical sense, i.e., having the Spirit of prophecy; but not all will be “prophets proper.” This understanding accords with the NT: Even after the redemptive-historical fulfillment of Joel 3:1-2 at Pentecost (Acts 2:16-21), not all have the gift of prophecy (1 Cor 12:10, 29); yet all do have the illuminating presence of the Spirit of prophecy (1 John 2:20, 27; cf. Jer 31:34).

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.

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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).

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