Prophecy and Teaching

I recently came across a well-respected preacher teaching that New Testament prophecy and teaching are one and the same thing. The hoary old debate still rumbles on, it seems.

Putting aside a definition of New Testament prophecy for the moment, and putting aside some understandable concerns of those who have seen spiritual gifts abused and counterfeited, I can't see how the argument works from scripture. I've tried over the years, I really have. But at the end of the day I am forced to think that the Bible makes a fairly clear distinction between the two gifts. Consider the following:

Romans 12:6f    Having gifts that differ according to the grace that is given us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches in his teaching...

1 Corinthians 12:8f    To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the workings of miracles, to another prophecy... [the point here is not, for example, to try to demonstrate that utterance of knowledge is the same category as teaching, but that prophecy is delineated separately from other kinds of useful, edificatory utterance in the church]

1 Corinthians 14:6    Now, brothers, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I benefit you unless I bring some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching?

We could also look at other verses that are inconclusive but suggestive, such as Acts 13:1 "There were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers. These might well be the same category in Acts - prophet/teachers. But in the other passages teaching and prophecy are both listed separately in the same lists of blessings poured out on the church by the Holy Spirit for her building up.

It might be argued that the lists of gifts in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians are not intended in context to function as an authorised complete list of gifts. Granted. It might also be argued that they are not meant to define distinct, minutely defined categories of gifts and that surely there is overlap at points. Also granted. But neither point dismisses the fact that teaching and prophecy are not conflated in any of them. And that is just to comment on didactic passages. Were we to go to some narrative examples we would find it very difficult to conclude, for example, that Agabus prophecying the famine through the Spirit in Acts 11 falls into any category that might be called teaching.

Why does the claim persist that the two are one and the same? What is to be gained through that argument? By far the most important argument is that were prophecy to be anything other than teaching, it would constitute additional special revelation on a par with scripture as regards authority. I can understand people being worried about that. Another argument might be that in places where there is definite lack of experience of prophecy, Bible teaching is the closest category available for understanding those passages that speak of prophecy. Another argument might be that when people have seen excess, counterfeit or claims for prophetic revelation that dismiss or claim to go beyond scripture, they are justified in writing the whole thing off because the negative is so damaging. Another argument might be that scripture is by far the normative means of God ruling his Church (correct) and that therefore anything that seems to fall outside that norm is a challenge to God's rule over his Church (logically not necessarily correct).

The trouble with that kind of response is that it doesn't encourage approaching the text (or the Lord) positively. It suggests that the right response to abuse is non-use, rather than correct use. And at the end of the day it is likely to lead us into disobeying the Bible. 1 Cor.12:31 says "earnestly desire spiritual gifts." 1 Cor.14:1 says "Pursue love and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy." 1 Cor.14:39 says: "So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But all things should be done decently and in order."

It is not often the church is commanded to earnestly desire or seek something three times in three chapters. It quite overcomes counter-arguments such as "we don't have many examples of prophecy in Acts and they occur over a very long time, so we don't have to give great attention to them." If we use that kind of reasoning to subtly avoid the force of repetition, we have to ask ourselves whether some persuasive but extra-scriptural argument has taken root in our minds that is causing us to read scripture selectively and to disobey a command that I find uncomfortable.