Prophetic interpretation: “God told me it means this!”

by K.W. Leslie, 25 January

Sometimes the Spirit explains his scriptures. Other times prophets just don’t wanna do their homework.

I’m writing this article under the Prophecy category, but I should warn you: It’s not just prophets, wannabe prophets, and fake prophets who try to pull this stunt. Y’know where I first encountered it? Among cessationists, of all people.

Yep. All of ’em figure they have the very same Holy Spirit as the authors of scripture. Which they should, if they’re Christians. Since the Spirit inspired the scriptures, the Spirit should also be able to clue us in on what the scriptures mean.

Cessationists claim God doesn’t prophetically talk to people anymore. So what’s the point of ’em having the Holy Spirit? Well, they think he’s here for only two reasons:

  1. Confirm we’re going to heaven. Ep 1.13-14
  2. Illuminate the scriptures.

Illuminate means “light up,” and depending on how much the cessationist will permit the Holy Spirit to do, they figure either he lights them up so they can understand the scriptures, or lights the scriptures up so they can be understood. In essence they figure the only reason God the Holy Spirit is in their lives, is so he can make their bibles work. But they absolutely won’t refer to this process as prophecy… even though it totally is. Hey, if God’s speaking to us, and giving us stuff to tell others, that’s prophecy.

Anyway, they’re not wrong. One of the many things the Spirit does is inform us what he meant when he inspired the prophets and apostles who wrote the bible. That’s cool. You won’t find too many Christians who have a problem with the concept. That’s because I haven’t yet got to the actual problem.

And here it is: They take this idea of theirs about what the bible means, don’t bother to confirm it really did come from the Spirit, nor confirm it to be true, get up in front of other Christians, and proclaim, “This is what it means. And I know, ’cause I got it from God.”

Yes, it skipped a step. We’re supposed to confirm prophecies, folks. That means when we get an idea about how scripture oughta be interpreted, we bounce it off other Christians. Ever heard of a bible commentary? Totally counts as confirming it with other Christians. So do bible handbooks, bible dictionaries, and sending emails or making phone calls to real live bible scholars. If you got it in your head “This means that,” go find out whether this means that. Otherwise the devil’s gonna realize, “Hey, this dude never double-checks,” and is gonna have a lot of fun steering you wrong. How else d’you think cults start?

The problem is when a presumptive preacher or prophet figures they never need to double-check. They’ve been following God long enough to know what he sounds like. (A month’s all you need, right?) They have the Holy Spirit, so they need not that any man teach them. The Spirit teaches everything, Jn 14.26 and fallible fellow Christians will just mix ’em up anyway. Thus they get up in front of everyone and proclaim, “Thus saith the LORD”… and the LORD said no such thing.

Sometimes they even teach this as a legitimate way to interpret scripture. They call it “divine interpretation”—or instead of “divine,” they’ll go with “prophetic,” “spiritual,” “supernatural,” “revelatory,” or some other supernatural-sounding name. Shorthand for “Pretty sure I heard God, but I didn’t confirm jack.”

We got forewarned this sort of thing would happen.

This isn’t a new phenomenon. It’s a very very old one. God-followers of every generation have done it. Even generations back in bible days. It’s why Simon Peter, among other things, had to write this in his second letter.

2 Peter 1.19 - 2.1 KWL
19 We have a certain prophetic word, which is good for you to turn to.
It’s like a lamp shining in a dim room till the day can dawn,
till a morning star can rise in your hearts.
20 But know this first: No scriptural prophecy is open to one’s own interpretation,
21 for no human will ever brought forth a legitimate prophecy.
Instead people, by carrying the Holy Spirit, spoke from God—
1 and fake prophets also came from the people.
Likewise fake prophets come from you, who’ll secretly bring in destructive heresy,
denying they know the slaveowner who bought them,
bringing swift destruction upon themselves.

See, the apostles weren’t spitballing when they taught the new Christians how God works: They got all this stuff directly from Jesus. 2Pe 1.16 They got it confirmed by the Father himself. 2Pe 1.17-18 And of course they could back one another up. Do we have that kind of testimony? Well, unless the Lord Jesus appears to a roomful of us at once (and sometimes he actually does that! Jn 20.19), we’re gonna have to settle for individual messages from the Holy Spirit, and we’re gonna have to go to one another for confirmation.

If we haven’t gone to one another for confirmation, Peter wanted it made clear: “No scriptural prophecy is open to one’s own interpretation.” 2Pe 1.20 You don’t get to claim, “I realize nobody else teaches this passage this way… but God told me…” Nuh-uh. God doesn’t solely talk to you. Nor me. Nor anyone. Every single Christian has the Holy Spirit indwelling ’em. Every single Christian can hear God, if we listen. So go find one of those listeners and get your “message” confirmed. And if that Christian is no help, go find another. Keep looking till you find someone to confirm you… or correct you.

Because those would-be prophets who won’t look for confirmation nor hear correction? Fake prophets. They’re not following the Holy Spirit. They’re following some other guy. They’re pretty sure they aren’t, “denying they know the slaveowner who bought them,” 2Pe 2.1 but y’know, the Holy Spirit isn’t gonna misteach his own scriptures anywhere near as badly as they do.

Yep. God’s never gonna quote himself out of context. (That is, unless he’s testing you to make sure you know your bible; note when he tried to get Ezekiel to cook bread over his own poo. Ek 4.9-15) The Holy Spirit isn’t gonna change or redefine the meanings of his scriptures, just so his prophets can say something new. Why would he ever need to do such a thing?—he can simply have ’em say something new! And since there’s quite often a relevant verse which’d prove the Spirit’s point—one which the Spirit should know, but this prophet apparently doesn’t—why couldn’t the Spirit simply point us to that verse?

Really, bending a verse to suit a message is more Satan’s wheelhouse. As demonstrated when it tried to use Psalm 91 on Jesus. Lk 4.9-12

Didn’t wanna do their homework.

But don’t get me wrong: I’m not claiming every so-called prophet who attempts to proclaim a brand-new, “Spirit-inspired” interpretation of scripture, is automatically Satan’s unwitting pawn. Or willing puppet, either. Most of the time, to be blunt, we’re dealing with a lazy prophet.

See, confirmation means they’ve got what they think is a prophecy—and they wanna share it right now!—and they can’t, because they’ve gotta do their due diligence. And they don’t wanna. It’s way more impressive if they just blurt it out. Especially if it’s really from God, and they’re just so sure it’s really from God. So they’re willing to take the risk. Hey, nobody stones prophets to death anymore, right?

Or we’ve got an arrogant prophet: Someone who’s convinced they’re always right, ’cause God made ’em always right. Even though we’re wrong. That’s the sort you’re often gonna find among cessationists: People who believe the Holy Spirit renewed their minds once they became Christian, despite the many sinful attitudes and behaviors they still battle with. Or don’t, ’cause cheap grace.

As a result, there’s a lot of inaccurate and bad prophecies floating around out there. Doesn’t help prophecy’s reputation at all. Or God’s reputation: For every Christian who says, “Oh, God’s okay, but those prophets, and that church which permits that sort of behavior, are way out of line,” there’s a pagan or two who insists, “No, the whole thing’s rubbish.”

When you have a “prophet” who has no respect for proper methods of biblical interpretation, for context, for the bible in the first place… well, you have a prophet who actually doesn’t respect the Holy Spirit who inspired it. Who likely doesn’t even know him, either. Be careful.