|« Prev||Chapter III. The Prophetic Ministry.||Next »|
THE PROPHETIC MINISTRY
St. Paul’s conception of a Christian community167167This is equally true of the whole Church of Christ throughout the whole world: for each local church is the Church in miniature. The relation of the prophetic ministry to the whole Church on the one hand and to the local church on the other is an instructive illustration of the visibility of the Church Universal in every Christian community. is a body of which the Spirit of Christ is the soul. The individual members are all full of the Spirit, and their individual powers and capacities are laid hold of, vivified, and strengthened by the indwelling Spirit in such a way that each is “gifted” and enabled to do some special service for Christ and for His Church in the society in which he is placed. Every true Christian is “gifted” in this way. In this respect all are equal and of the same spiritual rank. The equality, however, is neither monotonous nor mechanical. Men have different natural endowments, and these lead to a diversity of “gifts,” all of which are serviceable in their places, and enable the separate members to perform different services, useful and necessary, for the spiritual life of the whole community and for the growth in sanctification of every member. Some have special “gifts” bestowed on them which enable them to do corresponding services, and some are “gifted” in a pre-eminent degree. Thus, although every Christian is the dwelling place of the Spirit, and is therefore to be called “spiritual”1681681 Cor. iii. 1; cf. Gal. vi. 1, and 1 Cor. ii. 15. (πνευματικὸς), some are more fitted to take leading parts than others, and are called the “spiritual” in a narrower and stricter sense of the word. 70These specialized gifts of the Spirit included all kinds of service, and were all, in their own place, valuable and equally the “gifts” of the one Spirit. Some of them, however, were sure to be more appreciated than others. To men and women, quivering with a new fresh spiritual life, nothing could be more thirsted after than to hear again and again renewed utterances of that “word of the Spirit,” which had first awakened in them the new life they were living. Hence among the specially “gifted” persons, those who had the “gift” to speak the “Word of God,” for edification and in exhortation, took a foremost place, and were specially honoured.169169Compare the τετιμημένοι of the Didache (iv. 1; xv. 2) and 1 Tim. v. 17: “oἱ καλῶς προεστῶτες πρεσβύτεροι διπλῆς τιμῆς ἀξιούσθωσαν, μάλιστα οἱ κοπιῶντες ἐν λόγῳ καὶ διδασκαλίᾳ.” It would be a mistake, however, to call this ministry of the “Word” the “Charismatic Ministry,” as if it alone depended on and came from the “gifts” of the Spirit; for every kind of service comes170170Rom. xii. 7: “εἴ́τε διακονίαν, ἐν τῇ διακονίᾳ,” is any kind of service in the Christian community. from a “gift,” and the ministry of attending to the poor and the sick, or advising and leading the community with wise counsels, are equally charismatic.171171“Helps” (ἀντιλήψεις) and “wise counsels” (κυβερνήσεις) are placed in the same list of “gifts” with apostles, prophets, teachers and those who have powers of healing. The ministry of the local church, which is the foundation whence has come the present ministry in the Church in all its branches, was as much founded on the “gifts” of the Spirit as was the ministry of the Word. Sohm appears to ignore this in his otherwise admirable discussion of the “Lehrgabe” (Kirchenrecht, i. 28 ff.); and Harnack does not have it always before him, as it ought to be, in the dissertations appended to his epoch-making edition of the Didache (Texte u. Untersuchungen, II. ii.).
St. Paul always assumes that this “gift” of speaking the “Word of God” required a “gift” in the hearers which corresponded to the “gift” in the speakers, and that it would have small effect apart from the general “gift” of discernment of spirits. The spiritual voice needs the spiritual ear. The ministry of the Word depends for its effectiveness upon the ministry 71of discernment: for the “natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him; and he cannot know them because they are spiritually examined.”1721721 Cor. ii. 14. There was therefore in this ministry of the “Word” the exercise of a two-fold “gift” or charisma; on the one hand the charisma which enabled the speaker to declare what was the message of God, and on the other hand the charisma in the hearers which enabled them to recognize whether the message was really what it professed to be, a declaration of the Spirit, to receive it if it was and to reject it if it was not. The duty laid upon the speakers was to speak forth the Word of God in the proportion of the faith that was in them, or to the full measure of the Christ that was in them; and the duty laid upon the hearers was to test whether what was said to them was really an utterance of the Spirit.173173The prophets who speak the “Word of God” are told to prophesy according to the measure of the faith that is in them: κατὰ τὴν ἀναλογίαν τῆς πίστεως (Rom. xii. 6); and the hearers are told to test the speakers (1 Cor. xii. 10, compare vv. 1, 4; 1 Thess. v. 21; cf. 1 Cor. x. 15; xi. 13); and in 1 John iv. 1-3 it is said, “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but test the spirits whether they be of God,” etc. This charisma of discernment lay at the basis of the “call” given by the congregation to men to be their office-bearers: compare Canons of Hippolytus, ii. 7-9 (Texte und Untersuchungen, VI. iv. pp. 39, 40); and its use showed that the spiritual “gift” which belonged to the whole community was higher than the gift “ possessed by an individual prophet inasmuch as it was the judge of that gift.” Compare Sohm, Kirchenrecht (1892), i. 56 ff., whose remarks, however valuable, seem too doctrinaire.
This “ministry of the Word” was the creative agency in the primitive Church, and it may almost be said to have had the same function throughout the centuries since. It was overthrown or thrust aside and placed under subjection to an official ministry springing out of the congregation, and it has never regained the recognized position it had in the first century and a half. But whenever the Church of Christ has to be awakened out of a state of lethargy, this unofficial ministry of the Word regains its old power though official sanction be withheld. From 72point of view, and that not the least important, the history of the Church flows on from one time of revival to another, and whether we take the awakenings in the old Catholic, the mediaeval, or the modern Church, these have always been the work of men specially gifted with the power of seeing and declaring the secrets of the deepest Christian life, and the effect of their work has always been proportionate to the spiritual receptivity of the generation they have spoken to. The Reformation movement, which may be simply described as the translation into articulate thought of the heart religion of the mediaeval Church, and which revived in so many ways the ideas and usages of the primitive times, has expressed the two cardinal ideas of this primitive ministry of the Word, in its declaration that the essential duty of the ministry of the Church is the proclamation of the Gospel, and in its statement that the principle of authority in the last resort is always the witness of the Spirit in the hearts of believers.174174“Ut hanc fidem consequamur, institutum est ministerium docendi Evangelii et porrigendi Sacramenta” (Augsburg Confession, Pt. I. art. v.); “Nam sicuti Deus solus de se idoneus est testis in suo sermone; ita etiam non ante fidem reperiet sermo in hominum cordibus, quam interiore Spiritus testimonio obsignetur” (Calvin, Instit. I. vii. 4). “Our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts” (West. Conf. i. 5).
The divine “gift,” whose possession placed men among the class of those who spoke the Word of God (λαλοῦντες τὸν λόγον τοῦ Θεοῦ)175175Heb. xiii. 7: Didache iv. 1: “My child, him that speaketh to thee the Word of God thou shalt have in remembrance day and night, and honour him as the Lord: for, where that which pertaineth to the Lord is spoken, there the Lord is.” gave the primitive Church its preaching ministry.176176This statement ought to be qualified: the local presidents or προϊστάμενοι of 1 Thess. v. 12 seem to have had other duties besides merely to exercise oversight; they had also to warn and instruct. Those so endowed were in no sense office-bearers in any one Christian community; they were not elected to an office: they were not set apart by any ecclesiastical ceremony; the 73Word of God came to them, and they spoke the message that had been sent them. They all had the divine call manifested in the “gift” they possessed and could use. They were sent for the extension and edification of the whole Church of God, and although they used their gifts in the meetings of the local communities yet they were always to be conceived as the ministers of the Church universal. Some of them were wanderers by the very nature of the work they were called to; many of them, perhaps most, did not confine themselves to one community. They came and went as they pleased. They were not responsible to any society of Christians. The local church could only test them when they appeared, and could receive or reject their ministrations. The picture of these wandering preachers, men burdened by no cares of office, with no pastoral duties, coming suddenly into a Christian community, doing their work there and as suddenly departing, is a very vivid one in sub-apostolic literature. Their presence—men who were the servants of all the churches and of no one church—was a great bond which linked together all the scattered independent local churches and made them one corporate whole.
We find in this “prophetic ministry” a threefold division. They are apostles, prophets and teachers. It does not seem possible to make a very strict or mechanical division between the kinds of “Word of God” spoken by each class of men, but it may be said that what was needed for zealous missionary endeavour was the distinguishing characteristic of the first class, exhortation and admonition of the second, and instruction of the third. In virtue of their personal “gifts” they were the venerated but not official leaders177177Heb. xiii. 7: “Μνημονεύετε τῶν ἡγουμένων ὑμῶν, οἵτινες ἐλάλησαν ὑμῖν τὸν λόγον τοῦ Θεοῦ.” (ἡγούμενοι) of every community where they were for the time being to be found, and were worthy, not only of honour, but of honorarium.1781781 Cor. ix. 13, 14; Gal. vi. 6; cf. 2 Cor. xi. 8, 9, and Phil. iv. 10 ff. “But every true prophet who will settle among you is worthy of his support. Likewise a true teacher, he also is worthy, like the workman, of his support. Every first-fruit then, of the products of the wine-press and threshing-floor, of oxen and of sheep, thou shalt take and give to the prophets.” Didache. xiii, 1-3. Τιμὴ has the two meanings of “honour” and “honorarium,” and it is difficult to know sometimes how to translate it; a case in point is 1 Tim. v. 17. We can 74trace this threefold ministry of the Word from the most primitive times down till the end of the second century, if not later. It existed in the oldest Gentile Christian community, that of Antioch, where a number of prophets and teachers sent forth two apostles from among their own number.179179Acts xiii. 1-3. Apostles, prophets and teachers are mentioned in the First Epistle to the Corinthians and in the Epistle to the Ephesians.1801801 Cor. xii. 28; Eph. iv. 11. The same threefold ministry is given in the Pastor of Hermas, which dates about181181Hermas, Simil. ix. 15: “The thirty-five are the prophets of God and His ministers; and the forty are the apostles and teachers of the preaching of the Son of God.” 140 A.D., and in the Pseudo-Clementine Homilies, which can scarcely be earlier than 200 A.D.182182Homilies, xi. 35: “Wherefore, above all, remember to shun apostle or prophet or teacher who does not first accurately compare his preaching with that of James, who was called the brother of my Lord.” In all these authorities we have the three classes mentioned together, and in all save one we have them in the same order. The three classes are also placed in pairs: apostles and prophets in the Epistle to the Ephesians and in the Apocalypse;183183Rev. xviii. 20: “Rejoice over her, thou heaven, and ye saints and ye apostles and ye prophets.” Eph. ii. 20: “Being built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets.” Didache, xi. prophets and teachers in the Didache and in the Pseudo-Clementine Letters;184184Didache, xiii. 1, 2; xvi. 2. Pseudo-Clementines, De Virginitate, i. 11, “Ne multi inter vos sint doctores, fratres, neque omnes sitis prophetae”; but this is a quotation, said to be from Scripture. For fuller list of authorities compare Harnack, Texte u. Untersuchungen, II. ii. 93-110, and tabular summary in note pp. 110-112. apostles and teachers in Hermas and in the Epistles to Timothy.185185Hermas, Pastor, Vis. iii. 5; 1 Tim. ii. 7; 2 Tim. i. 11.
1. Apostles. The distinguishing characteristic of an apostle186186For the meaning and work of an apostle: compare Lightfoot, St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, 7th ed. pp. 92-101; note on The name and office of an apostle; Harnack, Texte u. Untersuchungen, II. ii. 111-118; Weizsäcker, The Apostolic Age (Eng. Transl.), ii. 291-299; Sohm, Kirchenrecht, i. 42-45; Loening, Die Gemeindeverfassung des Urchristenthums, pp. 33-37; Armitage Robinson, Encyc. Bibl., art. Apostle, pp. 264-6; Schmiedel, Encyc. Biblic., art. Ministry, pp. 3114-3117; Hort, The Christian Ecclesia, pp. 22-41; Seufert, Ursprung and Bedeutung des Apostolats; Gwatkin, art. Apostle, Hastings’ Bible Dictionary, i. 126. 75was that he had given himself, and that for life,1871871 Cor. xv. 10; Gal. ii. 7, 8. to be a missionary, preaching the gospel of the Kingdom of Christ to those who did not know it. He had received the “gift” of speaking the “Word of God,” and he was distinguished from others who had the same “gift” in this, that he had been called either inwardly or outwardly to make this special use of it. The prophet and the teacher had the same “gift” in the same or in less measure than the apostle, but they found their sphere of its use within the Christian community, while the apostle’s sphere was for the most part outside, among those who were not yet within the Church of Christ. They built on the foundation laid by the apostle; he laid the foundation for others to build upon.188188Rom. xv. 20. The apostles were men who in virtue of the implanted “gift” of “speaking the Word of God” and of the “call” impelling them, were sent forth to be the heralds of the kingdom of Christ. This was their life-work. They were not appointed to an office, in the ecclesiastical sense of the word, but to a work in the prosecution of which they had to do all that is the inevitable accompaniment of missionary activity in all ages of the Church’s history.
Our Lord has Himself shown us where
to look for the origin and meaning of the term “apostle.” He declared Himself
to be the Apostle or Sent One of the Father; as the Father had sent Him, so
He sent others in His name to be His apostles or sent ones, to deliver His message
of salvation.189189 This appears to be the line of thought in our Lord’s address in the synagogue at Nazareth.
He quoted from Isaiah lxi. 1, about the one sent from God,
and declared that He was the “Sent One” (Luke iv. 18, 21); He had come to
deliver a message from the Father which was to be proclaimed in the cities
of Palestine (Luke iv. 41; cf. Matt. xv. 24). He made His
followers His representatives in Matt. x. 40-42 (cf. the parallel passages in
Mark ix. 37, and Luke ix. 48). The two thoughts are combined in John xx. 21:
“Jesus therefore said unto them again, Peace be unto you; as the Father hath sent Me, even so I send you”; cf. Clement,
Ep. I. xlii. 1, 2; Tertullian, De Praescriptione, 37.
In earlier classical Greek “apostolos “ meant a messenger who is also a representative of the man who sent him; in later Greek, the Attic use of the word to mean “a naval expedition, a fleet dispatched on foreign service,” seems to have superseded every other. The word however was used in later Judaism to mean the messengers sent from Jerusalem to collect the Temple tribute from the Jews of the Dispersion and who were at the same time charged with the business of carrying letters and advice from the Jewish leaders in the capital of Judaism, and of promoting religious fellowship throughout all the Jews scattered over the civilized world. Hence Dr. Lightfoot says, “In designating His immediate and most favoured disciples ‘Apostles’ our Lord was not introducing a new term, but adopting one which from its current usage would suggest to His hearers the idea of a highly responsible mission.” Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians (7th ed.); The name and office of an Apostle, pp. 93, 94; cf. also Seufert, Ursprung and Bedeutung des Apostolats, pp. 8-14. But is is very doubtful if the word was in use in Judaism until after the time of our Lord, and it seems in every way simpler to believe that the Christian origin and use of the word were what are given above. The apostles 76were the representatives and “envoys” of Christ, the pioneers of Christianity. The word, therefore, lends itself to a very wide application, for in a sense every Christian ought to be an “ envoy “ or herald of the Master. Our Lord sanctioned the widest use of the word when He declared that whoever received a little child in His name received Himself;190190Matt. xviii. 5. the little ones can be and are His “envoys.”
But there were concentric rings in this wide circle of application; and the men belonging to each were distinguished from the others by the kind of preparation they had received, and by the nature of the call which had come to them.
Our Lord, personally and by living human voice, selected twelve men and called them “apostles,”191191In Mark iii. 13-16 we are told that Jesus appointed Twelve, “whom He also called Apostles” (that is the reading adopted by Westcott and Hort) for a double purpose (the two parts of the purpose being made emphatic by the repetition of ἵνα), of being in close companionship with Him, and of sending them forth to preach and to cast out demons, This, that they had to do, was what Jesus Himself had been doing (Mark i. 39; cf. Mark i. 14-34). Thus their training was both intimate companionship and close imitation in service. The account is confirmed by Luke vi. 13, where He called the Twelve; by Luke ix. 2, where He sent them forth to do and to teach; and by Luke ix. 10, where we are told that they did what they had been commanded. Hort, The Christian Ecclesia, pp. 22-41. that by personal companionship 77with Him in the inner circle of His disciples, and by experience gained in a limited mission of apprenticeship among the villages of Galilee, where following their Master’s example closely they preached and cast out demons, they might have the training to be witnesses for Him in the universal mission which was to be theirs after His death. Their preparation was their intimate personal companionship with their Lord and their apprentice work under His eyes. Their call was the living voice of the Master while He was with them in the flesh. These two things separated the “Eleven” from all others; they were both of them incommunicable and rested on a unique experience.
One, Matthias, who had enjoyed the personal companionship with Jesus, though in a lesser degree, and who had been an eyewitness during the Lord’s ministry on earth and could testify to the Resurrection, was called by the voice of his fellow-believers and by the decision of the lot to the same “service and sending forth” (διακονία καὶ ἀποστολή).192192Acts i. 25. His preparation was the same as that of the “Eleven,” though less complete; but his call was quite different.
Another, Paul, was “called” and prepared by Jesus Himself, but in visions and inward inspirations. We have no evidence that St. Paul ever saw Jesus in the flesh, still less that he had any opportunity of converse with Him. His “call” came to him on the road to Damascus in the vision of the Risen Christ Whom he had been persecuting; it was repeated from the lips of Ananias, also instructed in vision;193193Acts ix. 10 ff. it came to him over and over again in his lonely musings, where he was obliged to think out for himself the principles which were to guide him in 78his new life. His preparation was altogether different both from that of the “Eleven” and of Matthias. They had been gradually prepared; they had been led step by step, and had been weaned from their old life in half-conscious ways. He had been torn out of his by a sudden wrench; and his preparation had been given him in inward moral struggle and spiritual experience, in musings and visions and raptures, “whether in the body or out of the body” he could not tell.1941942 Cor. xii. 1-4; Gal. i. 15-17. It was this difference in “call” and preparation—the difference between personal intercourse with Jesus in the flesh and intercourse with Him in visions—that separated St. Paul from the “Eleven.” And it was this difference that St. Paul’s opponents of the “sect of the Pharisees who believed” seized upon when they refused to acknowledge his claims to apostolic authority. If we take the Pseudo-Clementine literature to represent the opinions of these men and their successors, and discern in the attacks made on Simon Magus an example of their arguments against the apostle to the Gentiles, there is abundant proof of this. The whole argument in the last chapter of the 17th Homily turns on the impossibility of trusting to information received in visions, or of verifying and authenticating them. The argument comes to a climax in the question: “Can any one be rendered fit for instruction through visions? And if you say, ‘It is possible,’ then I ask, Why did our teacher abide and discourse a whole year to those who were awake? And how are we to believe your word, when you tell us that He appeared to you?”195195Clementine Homilies, xvii. 13-20; the quotation is from sect. 19.
In others who were called “apostles” the Spirit had implanted the inward “call” to consecrate themselves to a life of missionary endeavour, and had given them that gift of speaking the Word of God which made the “call” fruitful. Yet another class had been selected by Christian communities and sent forth to be their apostles, the “apostles of the churches,” who were 79also the apostles of the Master, and who were called by St. Paul “the glory of Christ.”1961962 Cor. viii. 23: “Our brethren, the apostles of the churches, the glory of Christ.”
Men belonging to all these classes, and to others besides, are called “apostles” in the writings of the New Testament, where the name is by no means confined to the “Eleven,” Matthias, and St. Paul. Barnabas197197Acts xiii. 2, 3: “The Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. Then when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away”; xiv. 4: “But the multitude of the city was divided; and part held with the Jews and part with the apostles (Barnabas and Paul)”; xiv. 14: “But when the apostles, Barnabas and Saul heard it . . .”; Gal. ii. 9: “They who were reputed to be pillars gave to me and to Barnabas the right hands of fellowship that we should go unto the Gentiles and they to the circumcision.” Compare 1 Cor. ix. 5, 6. was an “apostle.” He had been selected at the bidding of the Spirit by the circle of prophets and teachers at Antioch, and had been sent, with prayer and laying on of hands, to be the companion missionary of St. Paul; he is called an apostle to the Gentiles in the Epistle to the Galatians, and St. Paul associates him with himself when he claims the privileges everywhere accorded to acknowledged apostles. Andronicus and Junias were “apostles,” who had been in Christ before St. Paul.198198Rom. xvi. 7: “Salute Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also have been in Christ before me.” The phrase “of note among the apostles” has often been translated “highly esteemed among the apostles.” Upon this Dr. Lightfoot remarks: “ Except to escape the difficulty involved in such an extension of the apostolate, I do not think the words οἵτινές εἰσιν ἐπίσημοι ἐν τοῖς ἀποστόλοις would have been generally rendered “who are highly esteemed by the apostles”; and he goes on to say that the Greek fathers took the more natural interpretation and included Andronicus and Junias among the apostles. He quotes Origen and Chrysostom. The latter thought that Junias or Junia was a woman’s name, and yet he numbered her among the apostles; Lightfoot, Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians (7th ed.), p. 96 ff. Silas or Silvanus and Timothy are, on the most natural interpretation, classed as apostles in the First Epistle to the Thessalonians. St. Paul and 80his companions in his missionary work among the Thessalonians had received no material support for their labours, “though we might have been burdensome to you, being apostles of Christ”; and the we most probably includes Silas and Timothy, whose names appear with that of St. Paul in the superscription of the letter.1991991 Thess. i. 1, 6. Dr. Lightfoot includes Silas among those who are called apostles by St. Paul, but refuses to include Timothy: (1) because Timothy had not seen the Lord, and (2) because when the apostle mentions Timothy elsewhere he carefully excludes him from the apostolate. He writes in Col. i. 1 and in 2 Cor. i. 1, “Paul an apostle and Timothy the brother”; and in Phil. i. 1: “Paul and Timothy servants of Jesus Christ.” In the Pastoral Epistles Timothy is described as an evangelist: “Do the work of an evangelist; fulfil thy ministry” (2 Tim. iv. 5). It is held by many, among others by Lightfoot and Sohm, that the evangelists of 2 Tim. iv. 5, of Eph. iv. 11, and of Acts xxi. 8 (Philip the evangelist), were men who did the work of wandering missionaries but lacked the indispensable characteristic (as they think) of an apostle, viz. having seen the Lord and received a commission from Him (Luke xxiv. 48; Acts i. 22; 1 Cor. ix. 1). This distinction may prove good for the apostolic period, though it seems doubtful that it does, but it entirely falls to the ground in the immediately succeeding times. I am inclined to conclude that there is really no distinction between a wider use of the term apostle and the evangelist. The word “evangelist” occurs very seldom. The three references exhaust the New Testament uses; it disappears entirely in the immediately post-apostolic literature, it is not to be found in the Apostolic fathers nor in the Didache. When it reappears, as in Tertullian, De Praescriptione 4 (Qui pseudapostoli nisi adulteri evangelizatores) and in Eusebius (Hist. Eccl. III. xxxvii. 2, 4) it is used to describe such men as were called “apostles” in the Didache. On the other hand the apostles are described as “entrusted with the evangel” (Gal. i. 7, 8); as those who “preach the evangel” (1 Clement, 42); as the twelve evangelizers (Barnabas, viii. 3). Light., Com. on the Epistle to the Galatians (7th ed.), p. 96 n., 97. Sohm, Kirchenrecht, i. 42 n.; Harnack, Texte und Unters. II. ii. 113 n., 114; Sources of the Apostolic Canons (Eng. Trans.), p. 16, n. 8. In 1 Cor. iv. 9, when St. Paul says: “I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last of all as men doomed to death; for we are a spectacle unto the world, both to angels and to men,” Apollos, on the most natural interpretation of the passage, is classed with St. Paul among the apostles who are thus set forth.200200Lightfoot excludes Apollos on the double ground that it is extremely unlikely that he had seen the Lord, and because Clement of Rome, speaking of Peter, Paul and Apollos, calls the two former ἀπόστολοι μεμαρτυρημένοι and the latter ἀνὴρ δεδοκιμασμένος (1 Clem. 48). Epaphroditus is mentioned as one of the 81“apostles of the churches,” (the church of Philippi), and is called by St. Paul “my brother, and fellow-worker and fellow-soldier.”201201Phil. ii. 25. Many scholars include James the brother of our Lord among those called apostles by St. Paul; but the evidence is very doubtful, and James had not the missionary work which belongs to an apostle.202202The evidence for including James, the brother of our Lord among those called apostles by St. Paul is contained in 1 Cor. xv. 7: “Then He appeared to James; then to all the apostles; and, last of all, as unto one born out of due time, He appeared to me also”; in 1 Cor. ix. 5: “Even as the rest of the apostles, and the brethren of our Lord, and Cephas”; and Gal. i. 19, which may read: “But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother,” and would then include James among the apostles, or: “But I saw no other apostle, but only James the Lord’s brother.” which would exclude James. James is included by Lightfoot, Sohm, Weizsäcker (Apostolic Age (Eng. Trans.), ii. 294) and many others. Besides these St. Paul speaks of men whom he calls ironically “pre-eminent apostles,”203203The phrase, τῶν ὑπερλίαν ἀποστόλων is translated in the R. V. “the chiefest apostles,” which would imply that the “Twelve” were meant. But this is impossible. St. Paul would never have called the “Twelve” “false apostles, deceitful workers, fashioning themselves into apostles of Christ” (2 Cor. xi. 13), as he does the men mentioned in xi. 5 and xii. 11. The marginal reading, “those pre-eminent apostles,” is in every way to be preferred. Cf. Heinrici’s masterly exposition, Das Zweite Sendschreiben des Apostel Paulus an die Korinther, pp. 401-412; also Schmiedel, Encyc. Bibl. art. Ministry, p. 3114. and more gravely “false apostles,” who had come among the Corinthian believers to seduce them from their allegiance to the apostle, probably from Jerusalem, furnished with letters of commendation204204Cor. iii. 1. from St. Paul’s enemies there, and who had insinuated that St. Paul was no true apostle. There is no reason to believe that St. Paul denied that these men were apostles so far as outward marks went. They were missionaries and had given themselves to the work; they had come furnished with credentials. In all outward respects they were apostles like many 82others; but their message was false; they preached another Christ; they were among the false prophets who the Master had said would come.205205Matt. xxiv. 11; Mark xiii. 22.
As the earlier decades passed the number of men who were called apostles increased rather than diminished. They were wandering missionaries whose special duties were to the heathen and to the unconverted. In writings like the Didache they are brought vividly before us. They were highly honoured,206206Didache, xi. 4: “Every apostle who cometh to you let him he received as the Lord.” but had to be severely tested. They were not expected to remain long within a Christian community nor to fare softly when they were there. They were the special envoys of One Whose kingdom is not of this world, and Who had sent forth His earliest apostles with the words: “Go, provide neither gold nor silver nor brass in your girdle nor wallet for your journey, neither two coats, neither shoes nor staff.”207207Matt. x. 10; cf. Luke ix. 3; Mark vi. 8. Primitive Christians insisted on as rigorous an imitation as did St. Francis, and accordingly formulated the saying into the rule that if the apostle spent more than three days among his fellow Christians, if he asked for money, if he were not content with bread and water, he was no true apostle, and was not to be received.208208Didache, xi. 5, 6: “He shall not remain except for one day; if however, there be need, then the next day; but if he remain three days, he is a false prophet. But when the apostle departeth, let him take nothing except bread enough till he lodge again; but if he ask for money, he is a false prophet.”
All these men, called apostles, have one distinguishing characteristic: they
have given themselves for life to be missionary preachers of the Gospel of the
Kingdom of Christ. Hence it seems superfluous to accumulate from the epistles
of St. Paul a great variety of marks of the apostolic character and work.209209 Dr. Lightfoot has made a list of what he conceives St. Paul thought were the indispensable
qualifications for the apostolic office:—the apostle must have been a witness of the Resurrection (Acts i. 21-23);
and this was supplied to St. Paul by a miraculous revelation; a commission received either directly
from our Lord or through the medium of the Church as was the case with Matthias
(Acts i. 23-26), and with St. Paul himself, who was not actually invested with
the rank of apostle till he received it along with Barnabas at Antioch (Acts xiii. 2); the conversions which resulted
from his work (1 Cor. ix. 2); possessing the signs of
an apostle, which were partly moral and spiritual gifts such as patience, self-denial, effective preaching, and
partly supernatural “signs, wonders and mighty deeds.” Com. on the Epistle to the Galatians (7th ed), pp. 98, 99.
Weizsäcker has also made a collection of the qualifications of an apostle, but he, rightly enough, considers that they were the qualifications demanded from St. Paul by his enemies, and are therefore what they declared a true apostle ought to possess. “According to them the candidate for the apostolate required above all to be a Jew by birth (2 Cor. xi. 22). He must have seen Jesus (1 Cor. ix. 1; cf. 2 Cor. v. 16) and been an acknowledged promoter of His cause (2 Cor. xi. 23; cf. Acts i. 21). Personal qualities, like courage (2 Cor. x. 1 ff.) and eloquence seem also to have been required. On the other hand the apostle was then expected to attest himself by certain signs (2 Cor. xii. 12), above all by miraculous powers and achievements; again by visions and revelations (2 Cor. xii. 1), and further, by attacks which could not fail to be made upon him, and by his bearing under them (2 Cor. xi. 13 ff.).” He adds, “All this would have been meaningless, if only a given number of definite individuals had been recognized as apostles.” The Apostolic Age, ii. 295 (Eng. Trans.). 83The one distinctive feature about all of them was not so much what they were, but what they did. They were all engaged in a life work of a peculiar kind, aggressive pioneering missionary labour. The crowning vindication of their career was what they put into it and what they were able to accomplish; their courage,2102102 Cor. iii. 12; x. 1 rf.; xi. 21. their self-sacrificing endurance,2112112 Cor. vii. 5; xii. 10. the “signs, wonders and mighty deeds” which accompanied their labours,2122122 Cor. xii. 12. and, above all, the results of their work. It was to this last that St. Paul appealed over and over again. His Corinthian converts were the seal of his apostleship; he did not need written certificates from coterie or council, from Jerusalem or Antioch, for the Corinthians were his living “letter” of commendation known and read of all men.2132131 Cor. ix. 2; 2 Cor. iii. 1-3. He appealed to what every great missionary would point to if he were asked to justify his work, to what our Lord Himself appealed to when He was put to the question.214214Matt. xi. 2-5.
There could not but be gradations in this wide company of apostles, and these depended on things personal and incommunicable. Nothing could take from the “Eleven” the fact that they had been personally selected and trained for their missionary work by Jesus while He was still with them in the flesh. This gave them a unique position not only within the Jewish Christian Church, but also throughout all Christendom. This also was the basis of the apostolate in the narrower sense of the term. Others might be, and were, “separated unto the Gospel of God,” might devote themselves, in obedience to the “call” that came, to a life of active missionary work, and have their “call” vindicated in the abundant fruit of their labours. The Risen Christ had appeared to many others besides themselves. What separated the “Eleven” from other apostles was that the Lord, while in the flesh, had selected them and had spent long months in training them for their work. They were missionaries like the others, and made missionary tours like them, but this special and unique preparation which no others possessed gave them a position apart. St. Paul claimed that he too belonged to this inner circle; his claims were admitted when Peter, James and John “saw that he had been entrusted with the Gospel of the uncircumcision, even as Peter with the Gospel of the circumcision,” in that memorable interview, when the older apostles gave Barnabas and Paul the right hand of fellowship. St. Paul proved to them that his call and preparation had been as intimate as theirs. Christ, Who “had wrought for Peter unto the apostleship of the circumcision,” had “wrought for Paul unto the Gentiles,”215215Gal. ii. 7-9. and they had seen that it was so. And as his preparation had been the same, so the “call” had come to him directly, as distinctively, and as immediately from God, as it had come to the Twelve,2162161 Cor. i. 1: “Paul called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ, by the will of God.” 2 Cor. i. 1. Gal. i. 1: “Paul, an apostle not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ, and God the Father.” and his vision of the Risen Saviour had been as evident.2172171 Cor. ix. 1; xv. 8.85
These two uses of the term apostle, the wider and the narrower, continued beyond the apostolic age. We can see this in the Didache, which carries the reference to the narrower circle in its title,218218The full title is Διδαχὴ τῶν δώδεκα Ἀποστόλων, “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles.” while in its description of the wandering “apostles” it paints the itinerant missionaries to whom the term belonged in its widest extent. We can also see it in the difficulties which the early fathers had to determine what was the number of the apostles, and who were to be included within it.219219Compare Lightfoot, Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians, 99, 100.
The unique position occupied by the “Eleven” and by St. Paul was personal to themselves; it was based on a unique and immediate experience; no succession could come from it. But apostles, in the wider sense of the term, have always existed in the Church of Christ, and are with us still in the missioners and missionaries of the various branches of the Christian Church. In lands where the language of the New Testament is still spoken. the name as well as the thing survives; the missionaries and missioners of the modern Greek Church are still called “holy apostles.”220220Missionaries and missioners in the Greek Church are called ἱεραπόστολοι. “The delegates of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s mission to the Nestorians are regularly called apostles by the Syrians of Urmi” (Armitage Robinson, Encyc. Bibl., art. Apostle, p. 265). So are the priests who itinerate in the Peloponnesus preaching to great open air gatherings on the market-days at such towns as Tripolitza.
It was the apostolate in its widest extent that was a part of the “prophetic ministry” of the primitive Church. When we think of apostles as part of the triad of “apostles, prophets and teachers,” we must have in mind, not twelve or thirteen, but large numbers who were missionaries in the Church, and took the first rank in the prophetic ministry because their duty was to extend the boundaries of the Church of Christ. They all belonged to the class of those “gifted” to “speak the Word of God,” men who were to be tested by the discriminating “gift,” 86but who, when received, were to be honoured and their word obeyed. The spiritual “gift” which they possessed was a personal and not an official thing; and in one sense they were all on the same level, for they had all the same “ gift.” But they differed in natural endowments, and the spiritual gift had been bestowed in larger measure on some than on others. Some could, and did, fill a large sphere and wield an enormous influence; others had to content themselves with a much inferior position; but whether their sphere was large or small they had the same work to do. They were the pioneers of primitive Christianity. They cannot be compared with the officials of a long established church. The only safe comparison is with the missionary of modern times, and their work has the curious double action which must characterize pioneer Christian work in all places and at all times.
They had to teach Christian morality to converts ignorant of its first principles, and this could only be done when stern command mingled with sweet persuasiveness. They had to deal with people who could but awkwardly apply the moral principles they had been taught, and had to select typical cases, and to point out how they must be decided. On the one side their action must appear to be highly autocratic; on the other their influence was entirely personal, and their only means of enforcing their decisions was by persuasion.
They had to show their converts not merely how to live lives worthy of their new profession; they required to train them in the art of living together in Christian society, and they had to do it in such a way as to foster social as well as individual responsibility. So on the one hand they can be represented as shaping constitutions, selecting and appointing office-bearers, and generally controlling in autocratic fashion the communities their teaching had gathered together; and on the other hand this very work can be truly described as the almost independent effort of the communities themselves.221221Many of the differences, which make the Pastoral Epistles so different from the earlier epistles of St. Paul, disappear when the character of the apostle’s work is kept steadily in view. For it is the missionary’s 87business, and often the hardest part of it, to create the feelings of corporate responsibility and independent action. His work is that of a parent training his children, and dependent on natural relationship and personal character for the obedience he demanded, not that of an ecclesiastical superior with official rights to support his injunctions.
If this double
characteristic inherent in all missionary work be forgotten, it is possible
to take the most opposite views of apostolic methods and of the rights which
an apostle claimed to have and to exercise.222222 Sohm (Kirchenrecht, i. pp. 42-5) declares that with the “gift” of “speaking the Word of God”
there went as its accompaniment the “gift”
of spiritual rule, and that all “apostles, prophets and teachers “ who had
the one were also entrusted with the other. He shows how the apostles in the
primitive church of Jerusalem led in all things: in the ministry of the “Word,”
in prayer, in the appointment of office-bearers (the community elected but the
Acts vi. 3—and presided in the laying on of hands); and when they were absent at
their missionary work James took their place. St. Paul decided for his communities
questions of arrangement, sometimes by quoting a “word of the Lord,” sometimes
by giving his own opinion (1 Cor. xiv. 37); decided upon questions of marriage
(1 Cor. vii. 10, 12), of virgin daughters (1 Cor. vii. 25, 40), and generally
declared “how ye ought to walk” (1 Thess. iv. 1). Timothy and Titus, not because
they were the apostle’s delegates, but because they had the “gift” of the “Word,” appointed to office
(Titus i. 5; 1 Tim. iii. 1 ff. 8 ff.),
and directed ecclesiastical discipline (1 Tim. v. 19, 20; Titus iii. 10).
Loening (Die Gemeindeverfassung des Urchristenthums, pp.34, 35), on the other hand, thinks that the duties of an apostle were purely ethical: to teach believers how they should behave as Christians, and in particular what changes they had to make in their conduct (1 Cor. iv. 16, 17); when the apostle has a “word of the Lord” then he commands, but otherwise the apostle is not master of the faith of his converts (2 Cor. i. 24), and his directions are only counsels founded on his own experience; and it is with entreaties and persuasion that he asks the exclusion of a grievous sinner and the reception again of a repentant one (1 Cor. v. 3 ff.; 2 Cor. ii. 5 ff.; viii. 11 ff.). Men, like Sohm, who dwells upon the power to command inherent in the possession of the “gift” of speaking the Word of God, search for, find and point to St. Paul’s interference in the details of the life of his communities. 88While others, like Loening, who see the plain evidences of the independence and self-government in these same communities, insist that the apostle’s whole relation to his converts was purely ethical, and had nothing to do with organization and its working. Six months spent in watching a missionary at work would have taught them how to combine their views.
No apostle stands forth so clearly before later generations as does St. Paul. His letters reveal the man, his modes of work, the authority he possessed and the way in which he used it. We may take him as the highest type of the first, order of the prophetic ministry. His duties and the authority which lay behind them were what belonged to the planting of Christianity.
His claims to authority rested upon a double basis. He had received words, sayings and commandments of Jesus which he could hand on to his converts and which were the “traditions” which he asked them to hold fast;2232231 Cor. xi. 2; “Hold fast the traditions, even as I delivered them to you.” and being filled with “the Spirit of God,” i.e., one of those who were “gifted,” to “speak the Word of God,” he could give the authoritative interpretation of these commands, and could show the true application of the principles of Christian morality.224224The direct command of Jesus St. Paul calls ἐπιταγὴ, while his own suggestions receive the name of συγγνώμη or γνώμη; cf. l Cor. vii. 6, 10, 25; these suggestions have a measured authority for the giver has the Spirit of God: 1 Cor. vii. 40; xiv. 37. He might have demanded to be honoured for these possessions and “gifts,”2252251 Thess. ii. 6: “When we might have claimed honour from you, as apostles of Christ.” but he preferred to rest his claims to the obedience, reverence, and affection of his converts on the personal relation which had grown up between them and himself.2262261 Cor. ix. 2; 2 Cor. iii. 1-3.
He was the first who had made the Gospel known to them, and their faith in the Lord was of itself witness to his power over them and to his claims upon them; and this intimate personal relation between teacher and pupil, between preacher 89and convert, between guide and follower on the pathway heavenward, ought to beget on their part gratitude, affection, trust and imitation.227227Gal. iv. 13 ff.; 1 Cor. iv. 16; xi. 1; Phil. iii. 17. He was their spiritual father, and he could claim the affectionate obedience due to a parent, while as a father he had the right both to praise and to blame, and that with severity.228228Gal. iv. 19. 1 Cor. iv. 14; 18-21; 2 Cor. ii. 9; xiii. 2, 3.
St. Paul never forgot that he was doing the work of a pioneer, and that his work was but half done if his communities of converts remained in a state of pupilage. He was therefore careful to cultivate their sense of personal and corporate responsibility. While he was ready to answer any questions about difficulties229229Cor. vii.-x. which had arisen in the communities, he was very careful to make suggestions only, and to leave the full responsibility for the decisions to come on the shoulders of the society. Even in the case of the gross sin of incest “the condemnation he pronounces is not from a distance or in his own name only; he twice represents himself as present, present in spirit, in an assembly where the Corinthians and his spirit are gathered together with the power of our Lord Jesus. That is, while he is peremptory that the incestuous person shall be excluded from the community, he is equally determined that the act shall be their own act, and not a mere compliance with a command of his.”230230Hort, The Christian Ecclesia, p. 130; cf. pp. 84-5. For the case mentioned above, cf. 1 Cor. v. 1-13, with the conclusion: “Do ye not judge them that are within, whereas them that are without God judgeth? Put away the wicked man from among yourselves.” For the authority exercised by the apostles, besides Hort as above, compare Weizsäcker, The Apostolic Age, ii. 297-299; (Eng, Trans.); Schmiedel, Encyc. Bibl., art. Ministry, pp. 3116, 3117. Gore, The Church and the Ministry (3rd ed.), pp. 233-238, an account in which history suffers from being looked at through the coloured glass of apostolic succession. Gwatkin, art. Apostle in Hastings’ Bible Dictionary, i. 126.
It is not to be supposed that all the numerous apostles of the primitive Church were men like St. Paul; his natural 90endowments and the large “gift” of the Spirit he possessed give him a place by himself. Yet, the due deductions made, we can see in him the type of these unknown men who were the pioneers of Christianity in the first century; men who carried the Gospel to Antioch, who sowed its seeds in imperial Rome, who made hundreds of little barren spots the gardens of the Lord. They went first; the prophets and the teachers followed in their steps.
2. While the apostle was the missionary of the primitive Church, the prophet231231For the Prophetic Ministry compare: Mosheim, Dissertationes ad historiam ecclesiasticam pertinentes (1743), ii. pp. 132-308: De prophetis ecclesiae apostolicae dissertatio; Harnack, Encyclopædia Britan. art. Prophet (New Testament); Texte und Untersuchungen, II. ii. 119 ff.; Heinrici, Das erste Sendschreiben des Apostel Paulus an die Korinther, pp. 347-462; Loening, Die Gemeindeverfassung des Urchristenthums, pp. 33 ff.; Robinson, Encyc. Biblica, 3883 ff.; Gayford, Hastings’ Bible Dictionary; art. Church, i. 434 ff.; Selwyn, Christian Prophets (1899); Weinel, Die Wirkungen des Geistes and der Geister im nachapostolischen Zeitalter bis Irenaeus (1899)—an extravagant book. found his work within the Christian communities which had been created by the energy of the apostles. Prophecy was the universal and inseparable accompaniment of primitive Christianity and one of its most distinctive features. Wherever the Spirit of Jesus had laid hold on men, and believers were gathered into societies, there appeared among them some who believed themselves to be specially filled with the Spirit of the Master, and able to speak His Word as He wished it to be spoken. When such an one addressed them, his fellow Christians seemed to hear the Lord Himself speaking: “for,” they said, “where that which pertaineth to the Lord is spoken, there the Lord is.”232232Didache, iv. 1.
Prophecy had its home in Palestine; the ancient prophets, with the “Word of Jehovah” on their lips, were the spiritual guides in Israel of old. It had been silent for generations, but its reappearance was expected and longed for by pious Israelites as a sign of the nearness of the Messianic time. They looked 91for the return of Elijah or Jeremiah or another of the prophets;233233Matt. xvi. 14; Mark vi. 15; viii. 28; Luke ix. 8. and the apostles could appeal to the prophecies of Joel to explain the outpouring of the Spirit and its universal diffusion en the day of Pentecost.234234Acts ii. 16; cf. Joel ii. 28, 29. Our Lord too had led His followers to expect a revival of prophecy. He had said that He would send prophets; had foretold that unbelievers would maltreat them when they appeared;235235Matt. x. 41; Matt. xxiii. 34; Luke xi. 49. and had promised a prophet’s reward to those who received His prophets.
We need not wonder then that Christian prophets arose in the Jewish Christian Church, and were to be found there from the very beginning; but what is to be remarked is that prophecy was not confined to the Jewish Church. It appeared spontaneously wherever the Christian faith spread. We find prophets in the churches of Jerusalem and Caesarea among purely Christian Jewish communities;236236Acts xi. 27; xv. 32; xxi. 9, 10. at Antioch where Jews and Gentiles mingled in Christian fellowship;237237Acts xi. 27; xiii. 1. and everywhere throughout the Gentile churches—in Rome, in Corinth, in Thessalonica, and in the Galatian Church.238238Rom xii. 6, 7; 1 Cor. xiv. 32, 36, 37 ff.; 1 Thess. v. 20; Gal. iii. 3-5. Prophets are mentioned by name in the New Testament writings—Agabus,239239Acts xi. 28; xxi. 10. Barnabas, Saul, Symeon Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen,240240Acts xiii. 1. Judas and Silas.241241Acts xv. 32. Women prophesied, among them the four daughters of Philip.242242Acts xxi. 9. Prophecy, with prophets and prophetesses, appears in almost uninterrupted succession from the very earliest times down to the close of the second century, and indeed much longer, although it did not retain its old position. From the beginning too we find the true prophet confronted by the false, who preached a strange Christ, and attempted to turn believers away from the faith.
The primitive Church had its birth at a time when the old 92religions, whether Jewish or Pagan, had lost their power; when the old religious formulae no longer appealed to the hearts and consciences of men; when an immediate revelation of the mind of the Master was the one pressing religious need for which all craved. Prophecy gave this to the young Christian communities. The effect of the presence of these inspired men, who spoke soberly enough at times, and often burst forth into raptures and recited the visions they had received, can scarcely be overrated. They confirmed the weak, they admonished the lax, they edified the whole society.
The word “prophet,” like the term “apostle,” was used in a wider and in a narrower sense. In its widest meaning it could be, and it was, applied to all the three classes who were “gifted” to “speak the Word of God.” St. Paul himself was called a prophet long after he had begun his apostolic mission.243243Acts xiii. 1. Dr. Lightfoot seems to think that Saul was only a prophet until he had received the “call” from the prophets and teachers at Antioch. “The actual investiture, the completion of his call, as may be gathered from St. Luke’s narrative, took place some years later at Antioch. It was then that he, together with Baranbas, was set apart by the Spirit acting through the Church, for the work to which God had destined him, and for which he had been qualified by the appearance on the road to Damascus.” Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians (7th ed.), p. 98. But this surely contradicts St. Paul’s own statements. He claimed to have been an apostle from his conversion, in Acts xxii. 21, and in Acts xxvi. 17. Ramsay, St. Paul the Traveller, pp. 66, 67, answers this curious theory very thoroughly. He had the peculiar prophetic gift of speaking in visions and “revelations.”2442442 Cor. xii. 1-5. The “teachers” also had something in common with the “prophets.”245245The “prophet” is continually called a teacher and said to teach, Didache, xi. 10; and the woman Jezebel, who called herself a prophet, is said to have taught and seduced many in the church at Thyatira, Rev. ii. 20. In this wider use the whole Church was said to be composed of “saints and prophets,”246246Rev. xi. 18; xvi. 6. and the prophets when present, assumed the lead in the local churches (ἡγούμενοι).247247Silas and Judas, who were prophets in the church at Jerusalem are called ἡγούμενοι there: Acts xv. 22; cf. Heb. xiii. 7 and above p. 73.93
In the narrower sense of the term prophecy had its distinct sphere between apostleship and teaching. St. Paul, following his Master, places it second in his list of the “gifts” which God has bestowed on His Church.2482481 Cor. xii. 28. It had its place within the congregation, and was part of the preaching ministry of the apostolic Church. In the picture St. Paul gives us of the meeting for edification, prophecy in the order of service249249See above, p. 46. comes between the part devoted to instruction and “speaking in a tongue.” St. Paul’s statements lead us to believe that the prophetic “gift” was not confined to a favoured few. He expected that it should manifest itself in every community of Christians. He desired that every member of the Corinthian Church should possess it, and that all should strive to cultivate it.2502501 Cor. xiv. 1, 5, 39. The Christians in Thessalonica were exhorted to cherish “prophesyings,”2512511 Thess. v. 20. and the brethren in Rome to make full use of the “gift.”252252Rom. xii. 6. If he criticised the action of prophets at Corinth it was for the purpose of teaching them how to make the best of the “gift” which had been entrusted to them for the edification of their brethren.2532531 Cur. xiv. 29-33.
What then was prophecy? The new revelation of God in Jesus Christ, the new way of approach to the Infinite Father manifested in the appearance of the Son, had created for the primitive Christians a new life and had illumined them with a new light. It gave them a new insight into the relations between God and man, and a fresh manifestation of the bonds uniting our Father in Heaven with His children on earth. It made them see with new vividness the way of God’s salvation and the duties which God required of man. There arose in the midst of the primitive Christian societies men specially filled with all this wealth of insight, and inspired or “gifted” to disclose to their fellows the divine counsels and the hidden mysteries of the faith. These were the prophets.
They were teachers. A large part of what they uttered was 94instruction, but their peculiar “gift” was distinct from that of the teacher. He had to make known the new facts and events which the Gospel had disclosed; he had to trace the connexion between these divine events, and to explain the rationale of the divine forces at work for man’s salvation. He had to show the bearings of these divine facts and forces upon beliefs and ways of living. The distinctively prophetic task was different. The prophet was a producer, not an expounder simply, not a man whose task was finished when he had taught others to assimilate the divine knowledge which lay at their disposal. The prophet added something more. He was a revealer bringing forth something new. For prophecy presupposed revelation; it rested upon it; and apart from revelation it did not exist.2542541 Cor xii. 3; xiv. 6, 26, 30, 32; Matt. xvi. 17. The prophet was a man of spiritual insight and magnetic speech. What he uttered came to him as an intuition of the Spirit, as if he had heard a voice or seen a sight.
This does not mean that the prophet spoke in a state of ecstasy or amentia. St. Paul’s suggestions in 1 Cor. xiv. 29-33 imply that the prophet retained his consciousness throughout and had the power to control himself. The apostle counselled that whatever number of revelations had been received, not more than two or three should be uttered during one meeting, and that if a brother received a revelation while another was speaking the speaker should give way. Prophecy might be ecstatic, and we have evidence that it frequently was, but it was not so necessarily. Non-ecstatic prophecy lasted in the Church for two centuries, and can be shown to have existed among the Montanists, notwithstanding the accusations of their opponents.255255Cf. Ritschl, Die Enstehung der altkatholischen Kirche, p, 475.
Prophecy might be based on “visions.” St. Paul appeals to his own visions as well as to his “revelations.”2562562 Cor. xii. 1-5. The Apocalypse, which is the great prophetic book of the New Testament 95and the most conspicuous relic we have of the prophecy of the primitive Christian Church, is a series of visions seen by a prophet and related by him.257257Rev. xxii. 9. Sub-apostolic prophecy had its “visions” also. The Pastor of Hermas, a Roman presbyter or elder who was a prophet, is largely composed of “visions.”258258Compare the very full account of Hermas in the Dict. of Chr. Biog. ii. 912-927. It is interesting to notice how many of the “visions” of the sub-apostolic prophets were concerned with some question of Christian life and practice. Hermas had a vision about the restoration of repentant sinners to Church privileges (Vis. iii. 7); Cyprian had one about the subject which interested him most—the obedience which ought to be given to bishops; and Eusebius (Hist. Eccl. V. iii. 2-3) relates how while the confessors of Lyons were in prison, it was revealed to one of them, Attalus, after his first conflict in the arena, that his companion did not act wisely in prison in keeping to his ascetic living, that he told his vision to his companion Alcibiades, who gave heed to him and left off his ascetic usages, for, it is added “they were not deprived of the grace of God, but the Holy Spirit was their director.” But “visions” were not essential to prophecy, nor do they seem to have been its common accompaniment. All inspired witness-bearing was prophecy, and we may almost say that free, spontaneous discourse about spiritual things was its essential characteristic. We learn, for example, from the Didache that, while a definite form of words was prescribed for the celebration of the Eucharist, the prophets were not bound to use it. They were to be allowed to “give thanks as much as they will.”259259Didache, x. 7. At the same time it must be remembered that the prophets were always believed to speak in a very special fashion in the name of God and with His authority. When the prophet spoke God was present, and the prophet was to be listened to as the messenger of God.2602601 Cor. xiv. 25; Gal. iv. 14; Didache, iv. 1: “My child, remember night and day him that speaketh to thee the word of God and honour him as the Lord; for where that which pertaineth to the Lord is spoken, there the Lord is.” Acts xiii. 1, 2: “Now there were at Antioch, in the church that was there, prophets . . . and as they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate Me Barnabas and Saul . . .”
There is nothing in the whole series of descriptions of prophecy 96which have come down to us from apostolic and from sub-apostolic times to suggest that the prophets held any office, or that they were the recognized heads of local churches. Office-bearers, indeed, might be prophets; for the “gift” might come to anyone, and St. Paul desired that it should be the possession of every member of the Corinthian Church. Office neither brought it nor excluded it; a prophet was a gift of God to the whole Church, and no community could make exclusive claim to him.
Nevertheless prophets had an important influence within the local churches of primitive times. We can see this from the Epistles of St. Paul and, from sub-apostolic literature, we can discern that their influence grew rather than diminished during the first decades of the second century. This power seems to have been exercised more particularly in the two matters of discipline and absolution or restoration to membership after gross cases of sin. St. Paul does not lend his sanction to any such special powers of interference. When he speaks of excommunication or of restoration he addresses himself to the whole Christian community, in whose hands he takes for granted that these duties rest.2612611 Thess. v. 14; 1 Cor. v. 1-8; 2 Cor. ii. 5-8. But in writing to the Galatian church about dealing with sinners he uses the words, “Ye that are spiritual” (πνευματικοί).262262Gal. vi. 1: ὑμεῖς οἱ πνευματικοὶ καταρτίζετε τὸν τοιοῦτον. This term “spiritual man” or πνευματικὸς came to be used, in a fashion quite different from St. Paul’s use, almost exclusively of the prophets;263263Pseudo-Clem., De Virginit. i. 11: “With the gift therefore that thou hast received from the Lord, serve the spiritual brethren, the prophets.” Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. V. vi. 1: “In like manner we do hear of many brethren in the Church, who possess the prophetic gifts . . . whom also the apostle terms ‘spiritual.’” and the phrase of the apostle must have had some effect in leading primitive Christians to believe that the prophets were the persons to deal with these matters. The primitive Church early adopted the idea that certain sins, of which varying lists are given, were 97of such a grievous kind that the sinner could not be received back again into the Christian society. They did not hold that these sins were beyond the mercy of God; but they did think that, without the direct voice of God commanding them, it was not permitted to them to restore such sinners to the communion of the Christian society. The voice of God they believed that they could hear in the judgment of the prophet; and the prophets could declare the forgiveness which the community felt to be beyond its power. Tertullian, who represents the older view, expresses this very strongly.264264Tertullian, De Pudicitia, xxi.: “The Church it is true will forgive sins; but it will be the Church of the Spirit, by means of a spiritual man; not the Church which consists of a number of bishops. For the right and judgment is the Lord’s, not His servant’s; God’s Himself, not the priest’s.” Hermas, Pastor, Mandata, IV. iii It was also believed that God dwelt in the martyrs as He did in the prophets, and that confessors and martyrs had the right to declare whether sinners ought to be absolved and restored.265265Sohm has collected the evidence for the right assigned to martyrs to pronounce absolution on the belief that God was specially present in His martyr, in his Kirchenrecht, i. 32, n. 9. The office-bearers deprived the prophets of the right of absolution and took it upon themselves in the end of the second and in the beginning of the third centuries; and Cyprian’s long struggle with the confessors in North Africa ended in the overthrow of all such rights in the hands of any but the regular office-bearers in the Church. There are evidences also that the prophets had a large share in declaring who were to be chosen to fill the posts of office-bearers in the local churches. All these things go to show, that if the statement that the prophets exercised a “despotism”266266Harnack, Theol. Lit. Zeitung, 1889, pp. 420, 421. over the primitive Christian churches is too strong, they did possess very great authority—the authority which belongs to one who is believed to utter the Word of God.
The prophets who are referred to in St. Paul’s epistles seem to have been members of the communities which they edified with their “gift” of exhortation and admonition, and this was no doubt the case with the largest number of these gifted men. 98But many who had the “gift” in a pre-eminent way took to wandering from one local church to another, in order to awaken Christian life and service in newly planted congregations; and the wandering habit easily grew when the services of the travelling prophets proved welcome to the infant communities. This custom was foreshadowed by our Lord Himself when He promised a prophet’s reward to those who received His prophets,267267Matt. x. 41. and it evidently existed from the earliest times. Agabus wandered from church to church; we hear of his being at Jerusalem, Antioch and Caesarea.268268Acts xi. 28; xxi. 10. Such wandering prophets might easily become apostles, and we can see an example of this change of work when Barnabas, who did a prophet’s work in Antioch, was, at the call of the Spirit, sent, along with Saul, to undertake the work of an apostle or missionary in Cyprus, Pamphylia, Pisidia and Lycaonia. When these wandering prophets settled down for a time with their families,2692691 Cor. ix. 5. in any Christian community, far from home and employment, it was but right that the community they benefited by their labours should support them. St. Paul had laid down the principle that it was a commandment of the Lord’s that “they which proclaim the gospel should live of the gospel,”2702701 Cor. ix. 14; Matt. x. 10. and had said to the Galatian Christians, “let him that is taught in the word communicate to him that teacheth in all good things.”271271Gal. vi. 6. Primitive Christians had also the Lord’s promise made to those who received His prophets.272272Matt. x. 41. Hence the Christian communities made regulations for the support of the wandering prophets who gave them that exhortation and admonition which were the things chiefly sought in the meeting for edification. The prophets were to have the first-fruits of wine and oil, of corn and bread, of oxen and sheep, of clothing and of money.273273Didache, xiii.: “But every true prophet who will settle among you is worthy of his support. Likewise a true teacher, he also is worthy, like the workman of his support. Every first-fruit then of the products of the wine-press and threshing-floor, of oxen and of sheep, thou shalt take and give to the prophets; for they are your high-priests. But if ye have no prophet, give it to the poor. If thou makest a baking of bread, take the first of it and give according to the commandment. In like manner also when thou openest a jar of wine or oil, take the first of it and give to the prophets; and of money and clothing and every possession take the first, as may seem right to thee, and give according to the commandment.” The local churches supported the 99wandering prophets while they settled among them. In return the prophets exhorted in the meetings for edification and presided at the meetings for thanksgiving.274274Didache, x. 7. The mode of conducting the Eucharistic meeting is quite unknown except the one fact that when prophets were present they led. It is easy to conceive a collegiate superintendence of the meeting for edification; but it is hardly possible to think of a collegiate presidency at the dispensation of the Lord’s Supper. Did the prophets select one of their number to preside, or did they preside in turn? We do not know. Nor can we get out of this difficulty by supposing that the Lord’s Supper was dispensed in the family, when the father would naturally preside; for St. Paul's description clearly implies a common dispensation.
The conception that a prophet was inspired to speak the Word of God invested him with such a sacred authority that his position would have been completely autocratic had it not been under some controlling power. This power of control lay in the fact that every prophet required the permission or authorisation of the congregation in order to exercise his “gift” among them. This authorisation followed the testing or the recognition whether the supposed prophet had or had not the true spirit of Jesus. The power of testing lay in the witness of the Spirit, which was living in every Christian and in every Christian community. For, as has been before remarked, the prophetic ministry rested on a double “gift,” or charisma; one, the “gift” of speaking the Word, in the prophet, and the other, in the members of the Christian community, the “gift” of discernment.275275Compare pp. 70-72. The possession and use of this “gift” of testing preserved the freedom and autonomy of the local Christian churches in presence of men who were persuaded that they spoke in the name of God. Every prophet had to submit to 100be tested before he was received as one worthy to exhort the brotherhood; and his decisions or admonitions on points of discipline or absolution had to be approved by the congregation ere they were enforced. The right and the duty of Christian communities to test every one who came with a prophetic message was urged repeatedly by St. Paul and in other New Testament writings. The apostle insisted that all prophets, apostles, and even himself, ought to be tested by all Christians to whom they presented themselves. He appealed to their power of judging his own message.2762761 Cor. x. 15; xi. 13; 2 Cor. xiii. 5, 6; cf. Rev. ii. 2; compare H. Weinel, Paulus als Kirchlicher Organisator (1899), pp. 18, 19. The power to discriminate between the true and the false spiritual gifts was a special charisma which ought to be used.2772771 Cor. xii. 10; cf. vv. 1, 4. The Lord had warned His followers against “ false “ prophets, and had predicted that they would bring evil upon His Church;278278Matt. vii. 15; xxiv. 11. and St. Paul, after telling the Thessalonians to cherish prophesyings, insists on their using their power of discrimination. The same command is given in 1 John iv. 1.2792791 Thess. v. 21; 1 John iv. 1-3; cf. Didache, x. 1, 2, 11; xiii. 1. The Church of Ephesus was praised for trying and rejecting men who called themselves apostles and were not.280280Rev. ii. 2. The Churches of Smyrna and Thyatira were blamed for the untested and unrejected teaching which they had permitted.281281Rev. ii. 14, 15, 20.
There was need for testing, for if the genuine Old Testament prophecy was confronted with “gilds” of diviners and soothsayers belonging to the old Semitic naturalist religions, as well as with colleges of Jewish prophets who had retained the external prophetic characteristics, but had lost the true spirit of Jehovah,282282Deut. xiii. 3; Jer. xxiii. 21-32. the prophets of Jesus also had their rivals and their innocent or designing imitators. In that age of crumbling faiths in the Graeco-Roman world, Eastern religions were entering 101to possess the land. The great imperial system of roads and sea-routes served other purposes besides the traffic of trade, the convoy of troops, or the ordinary coming and going of the population. Bands of itinerant devotees, the professional prophets and priests of Syrian. Persian, and perhaps of Indian cults, passed along the high-roads. Solitary preachers of oriental faiths, with all the fire of missionary zeal, tramped from town to town, drawn by an irresistible impulse towards Rome, the centre of civilization. the protectress of the religions of her myriads of subject peoples, the tribune from which, if a speaker could only once ascend it, he might address the world. It was the age of wandering preachers and teachers, of religious excitements, of curiosity about new faiths,283283Compare Wissowa, Religion and Kultus der Römer (1902), pp. 78-83; Boissier, La Religion Romaine d’Auguste aux Antonins (1878), i. 354-403. when all who had something new to teach hawked their theories as traders dragged about and exposed their merchandise. We need not suppose that these men were all charlatans or self-conscious impostors. We must not thrust aside carelessly and without question the claims made by the prophets and preachers of many of these Eastern faiths to the possession of a knowledge of hidden powers and processes of nature, and of a command over them. Above all, we must not forget the strange assimilative character of so many Oriental faiths, which was as strong in Syria and Asia Minor in the early centuries as it is in India now. Christianity attracted men then as now; they were curious about it; they seized on sides of the new religion which they could best appreciate, and could so present their beliefs as to be able to plead that they themselves were Christians of a more sympathetic character and with a wider outlook than others. The great cities which were the centres of trade and commerce—the ganglia of the great empire, as the roads were its nerve-system—Ephesus, Corinth, Thessalonica, Rome, where we find the Christian prophets most active within the Gentile Christian Church, were the very places where this pagan Oriental prophecy most 102abounded. Nothing hindered the presence of such men at the meetings for edification; nothing prevented them from claiming to speak in the Spirit; only the διάκρισις lying in the Christian society, only the power of discernment and testing through that “gift” of spiritual insight which was in every true Christian, and therefore in the Christian community, prevented the claims of such men to be inspired guides being admitted.
The testing was for the purpose of finding whether the prophetic “gift” was genuine or not. It had little or nothing to do with the external appearance of the prophet or with the kind of utterance which he selected to convey his message. The question was: Were the contents of the prophetic message such as would come from the spirit of Jesus? had it the self-evidencing ring about it? had it the true ethical meaning which must be in a message from the Master?—something which distinguished it from everything heathenish or Jewish, something which showed that the prophet had drunk deeply at the well of Christ?
The test that St. Paul gives: “no man speaking in the Spirit of God saith, Jesus is anathema; and no man can say that Jesus is Lord, but in the Holy Spirit”2842841 Cor. xii. 3. may seem inadequate and easily eluded; but St. Paul is not delivering a short verbal creed; he is setting forth a principle. Prophecy must be filled with the sense of the Lordship of Jesus over the believer’s heart, soul and life, if it is true prophecy.285285The test given in 1 John iv. 1: “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they be of God; because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God; and every spirit which confesseth not Jesus (annulleth Jesus) is not of God,” also looks like a creed; but what follows makes us see that it is to be taken as a principle which can be felt and which means much more than the form of words in which it is expressed. In both cases the statement of the test is immediately followed by an exposition of the necessity of Christian love permeating the whole Christian life. In the later days of the Didache the need for testing was felt as strongly, if not more so; 103the tests, however, took a much more mechanical aspect. The fine spiritual sense which the apostle trusted to has gone into the background and some wooden maxims have taken its place. “Not every one that speaketh in the spirit,” says the Didache warningly, “is a prophet, but only if he have the ways of the Lord.”286286Didache, xi. 8. The subordinate tests are: A prophet who orders a meal in the spirit and eateth it; a prophet who does not himself practise what he teaches; a prophet who asks for money—are all false prophets. But a prophet who has the “ways of the Lord,” and who practises more than he preaches is a true prophet. (Did. xi. 9-12.) The phrase “ways of the Lord” does not, taken by itself, suggest anything mechanical, and has a flavour of the old spirituality. But the subordinate tests appear to indicate a degeneracy both in the prophetic office and in the spiritual discernment of the people. For the prophetic office and its discrimination demanded a somewhat high tone of spiritual life, and might very easily deteriorate. In this, as in other things, there is a close parallel to be drawn between the prophets of the New and of the Old Testament.
3. The third class of persons who belonged to this prophetic ministry were the teachers (διδάσκαλοι).
We can trace their presence along with that of the apostles and the prophets in the promise of Jesus, in the most conspicuous of the “gifts” of His Spirit to the apostolic church, in the records of the sub-apostolic period. Our Lord promised to send “wise men and scribes”—a “gift” to be recognized and appreciated by His followers, and rejected with hatred by those who refused His salvation.287287Matt. xxiii. 34: “prophets, wise men and scribes.” Luke xi. 49: “prophets and apostles.” Cf. Matt. x. 41. St. Paul emphasized their presence, when he said that God had set in the Church “thirdly teachers.”2882881 Cor. xii. 28. We find them mentioned throughout the apostolic and sub-apostolic periods, holding an honoured place in the infant Christian communities.
They were not office-bearers necessarily, though there was nothing to prevent their being chosen to office. What made 104them “teachers” was neither selection by their brethren nor any ceremony of setting apart to perform work which the Church required to be done. They were “teachers” because they had in a personal way received from the Spirit the “gift” of knowledge, which fitted them to instruct their fellow believers. Their more public sphere of work was in the meeting for edification, where, according to St. Paul, they had a definite place assigned to them after the praise and before the prophesyings;2892891 Cor. xiv. 26. but it may be inferred that their work was not limited to public exhortation, and that they devoted time and pains to the instruction of catechumens and others who wished to be more thoroughly grounded in the principles of Christian faith and life.290290Gal. vi. 6. St. Paul gives us some indications of the work of the “teacher.” The apostle always brought to the communities he had founded what may be called the “oral Gospel” of the Lord Jesus or the saving deeds of the Evangelical history, and certain institutions and commandments of the Master.291291We can see from 1 Cor. xv. 1-3, how St. Paul had made his converts acquainted with the sufferings, death, and rising again of our Lord; how he had enlarged on His character and ethical qualities (2 Cor. viii. 9; x. 1); etc., etc. He had taught them the institutions of Jesus (1 Cor. xi. 23 ff.). We have references to “commandments” of the Lord in 1 Cor. vii. 6, 25. These were the things which he “had received,” and which he “handed over” to his converts to be stored up in the retentive Oriental memory uncorrupted by reading and writing. He had added others—hidden things revealed to him because he was a prophet—which he called “mysteries,” about the Resurrection or the universality of the Gospel.2922921 Cor. xv. 51: “Behold I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump.” 1 Cor. ii. 6 ff. Cf. xiii. 2; xiv. 2. These things he had handed over to them either “by word or by epistle.”2932932 Thess. ii. 15. To these he had added suggestions and opinions of his own.2942941 Cor. vii. 6, 10, 25. All these things formed the stock of material on which the “gift” of the teacher enabled him to work for the edification 105of the community. St. Paul’s own discourses furnished the teachers in his communities with examples of the way in which all these stores of communicated knowledge could be brought to bear upon the faith, life and morals of the members of the local churches. He had given them a “pattern of teaching”295295Rom. vi. 17: τύπος διδαχῆς. which they could strive to imitate, and which they without doubt did copy in their public exhortations or private instructions and admonitions.
From St. Paul’s epistles it would appear that the apostle expected that every Christian community would furnish from its own membership, the teachers required to instruct the members;296296Eph. iv. 15, 16. but it is evident, at least when we get beyond the apostolic period, that many gifted men, whose services were appreciated, went from church to church teaching and preaching, and that without having any pretension to the prophetic gift. Justin Martyr and Tatian, well-known apologists of the second century, were wandering teachers of this kind.
Such a wandering master, we learn from the Didache, belonged to the class of “honoured” persons (τετιμημένοι), and at once attained a leading position in the community he entered or to which he belonged. He had to submit to the same tests as the prophet, but like him, when once received, he was honoured as one who spoke the “Word of God.”297297Didache, xiii. 2; xv. 2.
A position such as this, carrying with it both privilege and support, would be
sought after by those who thought more of the honourable position in which the
teacher stood than of the serious responsibilities which his office involved,
and there are warnings both in apostolic and sub-apostolic literature that the
work of a teacher is not to be lightly undertaken.298298James iii. 1; Barnabas, Epistle iv. 9: “Being desirous
to write many things to you, not as your teacher, but as becometh one who loves you.” It is perhaps worthy of
remark that the “teachers” seem to have maintained their position as a distinct
class of men, apart from the office-bearers
106of a local church, much longer than the prophets did. In the general overthrow
of the prophetic “ministry” during the second century the office of “teacher” was absorbed by the local ministry; but “teachers”
apart from office-bearers
seem to have maintained themselves in the Church for some centuries,299299 Compare the curious sentence in the Apostolic Constitutions (VIII. xxxii.)
which can scarcely be earlier than the beginning of the fifth century: “Let him that teaches,
although he be one of the laity, yet, if
he be skilful in the word and grave in his manners, teach;” where the reference
is evidently to the instruction of catechumens. The teachers of the famous catechetical
school of Alexandria were laymen during some part of their time as teachers.
The Christian communities, especially in large towns, must have needed teachers for Christian schools; for all teaching within pagan lands is closely associated with idolatry. Tertullian (De Idolatria, x.) has discussed the difficulties of schoolmasters amidst a pagan populace; the same difficulties attend native Christians in India now. When a Marathi boy first goes to school he is placed upon a small carpet and a board covered with red tile dust is placed before him. The image of Saravasti, the goddess of learning, is painted on the board. Then the master sitting beside him first worships Ganesa and Saravasti, and teaches the boy to make the letters which form the name Ganesa. The difficulties are exactly those which Tertullian describes. and some churches, notably that of Alexandria, seem to have possessed large numbers of teachers.300300Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. VII. xxiv. 6: “The presbyters and the teachers of the brethren in the villages.”
This prophetic ministry and the peculiar place it occupied was the distinctive feature of the organization of the Church of Christ during the apostolic and sub-apostolic periods. It gives this age a place by itself, and separates it from all other periods of the Church’s history; for it must be remembered that while this ministry lasted it dominated and controlled. Whatever administrative organization the local churches possessed had to bend before the authority of the members of this prophetic circle. To them belonged the right to lead the devotions of their brethren—to speak the “Word of God” in the meeting for edification, and to preside at the Eucharistic service—and to influence in a large but indefinite manner the whole 107action of the infant Christian communities. Yet they were not office-bearers in any sense of the word. They were not elected, nor were they set apart by any ecclesiastical action to a place of rule. Their vocation was immediate and personal. They could be tested, and their ministry might be accepted or rejected, but there the power of the Church with regard to them and to their ministry came to an end.
They appear on the pages of the apostolic and sub-apostolic literature in the three classes which have been described; but the divisions, we can see, represented functions, not offices, nor can it be said that these functions were separated by any hard and fast line.
The apostle or wandering missionary was also a prophet and a teacher; his vocation required him to be all three. The prophet might become an apostle, if he gave himself permanently to the aggressive creative work which was the characteristic of the apostolic activity; and he was also a teacher, for his prophetic utterances must often have been teaching of the highest and most stimulating kind. But a teacher could fulfil the special work of his vocation without having the “gift” of revelation added to that of knowledge.
In all three classes we can discern the effects of a real outpouring of the Spirit, imparting special spiritual gifts, and creating for the service of the infant Christian communities a ministry which “spoke the Word of God” in the same sense as did the prophets of the Old Testament Dispensation. St. Paul was a prophet in the same sense that Isaiah was, and the author of the Apocalypse had visions as vivid as those of Ezekiel.301301Compare Plumptre, Theology and Life, p. 90: “Strange as the thought may seem to us, there were in that age (the apostolic) some hundreds it may be, of men as truly inspired as Isaiah or Ezekiel had been, as St. Paul or St. Peter then were, speaking words which were, as truly as any that were ever spoken, inspired words of God, and yet all record of them has vanished.” The one great difference between the prophesying of the two 108dispensations was that the gift was much more widely bestowed in the New than it had been in the Old Dispensation.
It seems to be impossible to draw any line of demarcation between the prophecy of the Old and that of the New Testament, except that the latter partook of the universalist character of the new revelation of the Kingdom which our Lord proclaimed, and the “gift” was imparted to Gentiles as well as to Jews. The same outstanding features characterized the prophets and prophecy in the two dispensations. In both cases the prophetic “call” came to the prophet personally and immediately in a unique experience; and when the “call” came everything else had to be set aside, and the “word” from God had to be spoken. It is possible to compare narrowly St. Paul and Isaiah, St. John and Ezekiel, Polycarp and Jeremiah. In neither case was the prophetic “call” a call to office in the Church. The New Testament prophets were no more presbyters or bishops in virtue of their “call” than were the Old Testament prophets elevated to the priesthood in Israel; and in both cases the regular office-bearers had to give way to and bow before the men through whom the Spirit of God spoke.
In Old Testament prophecy, as in the prophecy of the New Testament, the Spirit of God was given in a larger measure to some men and in a smaller degree to others, and in each case the natural faculties of the prophet had full play to exert themselves according to the capacities of the man. There were gradations in the prophetic order from men like St. Paul and Isaiah, who stood in the foremost rank, to the nameless prophet whom the lion slew, or the impetuous prophet who interrupted his brother in the meeting of the Corinthian congregation.
In both cases true prophecy was surrounded with a fringe of prophet life which was hostile, and which was inspired by a spirit at variance with the purposes of Jehovah and with the principles of Jesus. In the Old Testament, as in the New, there was a marked tendency towards deterioration within the prophetic order.109
In both cases the power to discriminate between the true and the false prophecy, between the man who spoke full of the Spirit of God and the member of the prophetic “gild,” was left to the spiritual discernment of the people spoken to. The discerning faculty was often at fault; pretenders were received by and misled the faithful. Jeremiah had to protest against the way in which the people received men who claimed to be prophets, and Origen had to repudiate the prophets, or their caricatures, whom Celsus described with graphic irony.302302Origen, Contra Celsum, vii. 9: “Again inasmuch as Celsus announces that he will describe from personal observation and an intimate knowledge of the facts, the manners peculiar to the prophets of Phenicia and Palestine, let us consider these statements. Firstly, he declares that there are several kinds of prophesyings, although he gives no list of them . . . . ‘The prophets,’ he says, ‘are many and unknown persons. They are apparently and very readily moved to speak as if in a divine ecstasy without any special occasion both at the time of service and at other times. Some go about as beggars and visit encampments and towns. Every one of them says readily and simply: ‘I am God,’ or ‘I am the Son of God,’ or ‘I am the Holy Spirit. I have come; for the world is about to be destroyed; you, O men, will be lost through your wickedness. I am willing to save you; and you shall see me again coming with heavenly power. Blessed is he who now worships me. On all others I shall cast eternal fire, on cities and lands and on men. Men who do not recognize their impending judgment will repent and groan in vain; but those who have hearkened unto me, I will protect for ever.’ With these threats they mingle words, half-frantic, meaningless and altogether mysterious, whose significance no sensible man could discover. For words that are vague and without meaning give every fool and wizard an opportunity of giving any particular meaning they wish on any matter, to what has been said.” One must remember that Celsus was what would now be called a cultured agnostic. His statements are not unlike some criticisms of the Salvation Army preachers. Yet this power of spiritual insight was the only touchstone, and, indeed, there could have been no other in the last resort. For men can never get rid of their personal responsibility in spiritual things.
|« Prev||Chapter III. The Prophetic Ministry.||Next »|