Agabus the fallible prophet?


A conversation in our home group sparked the re-post of this two post series on fallible prophecy originally published in 2011.


One of the many seminary classes I am taking is pneumatology (the theology of the Holy Spirit). In this class we evaluated various positions on the spiritual gifts which exposed me to the a view that regards the NT gift of prophecy as operating today in a fallible manner. It is held by such esteemed pastors and scholars as John  Piper, Wayne Grudem, and D. A. Carson.

Piper gives this succinct definition of the NT prophet:

the gift of prophecy is in the New Testament [and it] is a Spirit-prompted, Spirit-sustained utterance that does not carry intrinsic, divine authority and may be mixed with error.

Grudem is a bit more verbose in his definition from “The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today” (p 142):

Because New Testament prophets do not speak with the very words of God, the content of the prophecy should not include a preface such as, “Thus says the Lord,” that would mislead hearers into thinking that the prophecy had or was claiming authority equal to the very words of God in Scripture. Of course, some of the very words in a prophecy may have been revealed by God, but it would be unwise and misleading for any prophet today to claim certainty that this was so. And even if God did bring some specific words to mind, the New Testament gives us no warrant for saying that God wants us to hear these words as his own words, carrying his own absolute authority.

I can tell you that I don’t hold this view. For the record I hold that the NT gift of prophecy is God directly revealing infallible absolute truth to a person who then has the responsibility for handling that revelation correctly (Ex 7:1-2; Deut 13:1-5;18:21-22). Anything else is not prophecy. I think Dan Philips calls it out well in #24 of his NEXT! series.

However the fact that far more gifted teachers and pastors do hold this view will require more study on my part to understand the overall position better. However it is not my intent to get into the full set of arguments for or against this view on prophecy in this post (or the next). What I do want to look at is Agabus the NT prophet in the book of Acts.

One of the arguments for this view is that Agabus had “mistakes” in his prophecy. On this both Grudem and Carson agree. Although Piper holds the overall position on fallible prophets, I am not sure of his view regarding the prophecies of Agabus.

Carson in “Showing the Spirit” assesses Agabus (p 97-98):

The prophecy of Agabus in Acts 21:10-11 stipulates that the Jews at Jerusalem would bind the man who owns Paul’s girdle and hand him over to the Gentiles. Strictly speaking, however in the event itself, Paul was not bound by the Romans; and the Jews did not hand Paul over to the Romans, but sought to kill him with mob violence, prompting a rescue by the Romans. I can think of no reported Old Testament prophet whose prophecies are so wrong on the details.

Grudem provides several pages looking at this example (p 77-83) in “The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today” concluding (p 79) that:

What was unique about Agabus’s prophecy was this prediction of “binding” and “delivering into the hands of the Gentiles”. And on these two key elements, he is just a bit wrong.

So was Agabus wrong as Grudem and Carson argue? 

Is Agabus a fallible prophet?

More to follow…


One thought on “Agabus the fallible prophet?

  1. Pingback: Agabus the fallible prophet? (Part 2) | Dead Heroes Don't Save

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