Thursday, September 15, 2011

Word Study: προφητεια

The goal for today's word study is to determine the meaning of προφητεια within its biblical context. There are two important axioms that we must keep in mind. First, word studies must always be based upon the original language and not simply on the English text. Secondly, the context is the ultimate determiner of the precise meaning of any word that we are attempting to study.

"And though I have [the gift of] prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing." (I Corinthians 13:2, NKJV)

Both the United Bible Societies third edition Greek text and the Majority Greek Text second edition uses the Greek word προφητειαν. When compared with seven major English translations (KJV, NKJV, NASB, NIV, RSV, ASV, and ESV) προφητειαν is translated five times as "prophecy" and two times as "prophetic powers," (RSV and ESV). Most translators have stayed with "prophecy" rather than find a synonym.

Assuming the integrity of these translators and translations, we can initially conclude the "prophecy" is a "gift" or "ability" given to certain or specific believers. In our context we see initially that if a believer who possess this gift or ability does not have Christ-like love then that individual is nothing and that gift or ability is worthless as to its purpose or function.

Webster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary (1969) defines prophecy as: 1. "the vocation of a prophet" 2.  "an inspired utterance of a prophet" 3.  "a declaration of something to come: prediction."

It defines "prophetic" from the English Standard Version and the Revised Standard Version as: 1.  "of, relating to, or characteristic of a prophet or prophecy" 2:  "foretelling events: predictive"

Keep in mind this is not the actual Greek definition per se, we are simply trying to gain some insight into this word from its English equivalent (s).

Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible shows us that Paul used prophecy a total of four times in his writings.

"Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith..." (Romans 12:6, NKJV)

" another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another [different] kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues." (I Corinthians 12:10, NKJV)

"Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of he eldership." (I Timothy 4:14, NKJV)

Of course, the fourth usage by Paul is our text under discussion. Hopefully these additional texts will help us to see what Paul meant by using this word in each of these instances. It is our intent to determine the mindset of the Apostle Paul in regards to προφητειαν. Typically a writer will use a word the same way each time that he uses it.

Now, let's begin to try and define this world by its Greek usage. First, Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words define προφητειαν as "the speaking forth of the mind and counsel of God." (pro which means "forth" and femi which means "to speak" It is used of the gift, the exercise of the gift. "Though much of the OT prophecy was purely predictive, prophecy is not necessarily, nor even primarily, fore-telling. It is the declaration of that which cannot be known by natural means. It is the forth-telling of the will of God, whether with reference to the past, the present, or the future.

Second, New Thayer's Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament states "discourse emanating from divine inspiration and declaring the purposes of God, whether by reproving and admonishing the wicked, or comforting the afflicted, or revealing things hidden; especially by foretelling future events. Used in the NT- of the utterances of OT prophets, of the prediction of events relating to Christ's kingdom, of the endowment and speech of the Christian teachers called prophets.

Third, from Volume Six, page 781 of Kittel/Friedrich's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, "is an agent noun" (In linguistics, an agent noun (or nomen agentis) is a word that is derived from another word denoting an action, and that identifies an entity that does that action. For example, "driver" is an agent noun formed from the verb "drive") Therefore it means "to say" or " to speak." This idea of publicly declaring and making known gives προφητειαν the sense of "one who proclaims," "speaker."

It is clear to see that our word can mean either a speaker, one who proclaims truths already known. At times it can be used of those who speak by the Holy Spirit things that are not known and can only be known by the revelation of God.

Albert Barnes in his commentary on Romans 12:6 wrote, "This word properly means to predict future events, but it also means to declare the divine will; to interpret the purpose of God; or to make known in any way the truth of God, which is designed to influence men. Its first meaning is to predict or foretell future events; but as those who did this were messengers of God, and as they commonly connect with such predictor, instructions, and exhortations in regard to the sins and angers, and duties of men, the word came to denote any who warned, or threatened, or in any way communicated the will of God; even those who uttered devotional sentiments or praise."

In conclusion, prophecy today does not mean fore-telling of unknown or unrevealed truths. It means to speak the revealed will or truths of God publicly. 


welcome to my world of poetry said...

Another post for me to chew over Gregg, Very well written and informative. When I don't comprehend any thing I go back to it in the stillness of evening when all chores are done for the day.

Enjoy your day.

Larri @ Seams Inspired said...

Excellent post, Gregg. Thanks for defining προφητεια so well for us.

Sidenote...We've been looking for a new church, and while reading about a church we were interested in trying, one of their beliefs was "we belive all Christians have the gift of prophecy". Because of this one statement, we decided not to attend.

Not everyone has this gift, right? Have you expounded on the different gifts? Not everyone receives all least that's how I've interpreted Scripture on it. Just curious as to how you've interpreted it, too. ☺

Happy Thursday!

Pat Donovan said...

not many takers on this one.

Pat Donovan said...

so to prophecy is to proclaim Gods word and will publicly.