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Rodman Williams: The Gift of the Holy Spirit Today: Purpose, Part 1

21. It is probable that the Ephesian prophetic utterance was not proclamation of the gospel as was that of Peter and the others mentioned. As we have noted, Peter and company were bearing witness concerning Christ in order to bring people to faith. The Ephesians may rather have prophesied to one another, since the text does not suggest that other people were present to be addressed. If this is the case, their prophesying was more akin to Paul’s description in 1 Corinthians 14 of prophecy as being for believers: “prophecy is not for unbelievers but believers” (1 Corinthians 14:22). It should be added that Paul in this context is speaking only of the gathered community, the body of believers, wherein prophecy is addressed to believers for their edification (see discussion hereafter). This community function of prophecy would not preclude the role of prophecy in another situation as bearing witness to the Good News of Jesus Christ. Prophecy is a speaking of God’s word to man whether it be in an evangelistic or community context.

22. Literally, “prophesying” (prophēteuousai). Hence, the text does not state that they were “prophetesses” (NAS) or “possessed the gift of prophecy” (NEB), but that on this occasion they “did prophesy” (KJV). “Prophets” are mentioned elsewhere in Acts, viz., 11:27-28; 13:1; 15:32; and 21:10. It is important to differentiate between the act of prophesying, which Philip’s daughters performed, as a universal possibility since Pentecost, and the office of prophet which belongs to certain persons. In 1 Corinthians, Paul likewise distinguishes between those who are prophets (12:27, 29) and prophesying which may be done by all (14:1, 5, 31). Incidentally, there is no suggestion that the office of prophet is limited by race, sex, or class either. If all may prophesy, it follows that out of that universally possibility, regardless of background, some will be designated especially to the office of prophet.

23. Thus there is a parallel with tongues. We have earlier spoken of the universal possibility of speaking in tongues along with certain limitations. Tongues and prophecy are basic, dynamic expressions of the Holy Spirit that pervade the Spirit-endowed community.

24. To “prophesy” means essentially to “for speak” (pro plus phēmi), hence for God. It may also have the temporal significance of “fore speak,” where prophecy contains the element of prediction (e.g. the case of Agabus in Acts 11:28 and 21:11). In any event, prophesying is a “forth speaking,” namely, a word, a message, on behalf of God.

25. In Acts, the emphasis is more on the former; in 1 Corinthians it is on the latter. “Primitive Christian prophecy is the inspired speech of charismatic preachers through whom God’s plan of salvation for the world and the community and His will for the life of individual Christians are made known” (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. VI, p. 848). Both are included—as God’s message is one of both salvation of unbelievers and direction (or edification) of believers.

26. Thus there is a likeness to tongues in that the message originates with the Holy Spirit and is expressed through the human spirit—hence, a direct utterance of God. The difference, of course, is that tongues is an utterance in an “unknown language” whereas prophecy is in the common speech. Tongues is the highest possible utterance on earth—transcendent speech addressed to God; prophecy is next to it, being God-given speech addressed to man. In neither case does the speech result from human meditation or conceptualization but comes immediately from the Holy Spirit.

27. Paul adds that, “He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church. Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy” (1 Corinthians 14:4-5). In the previous footnote I spoke of the primary of tongues over prophecy, but does not Paul say otherwise here? No, for two reasons: first, Paul is speaking to the Corinthians about community edification and in that situation prophecy, which is addressed to men, has the primary role, but tongues first of all build up or edify the believer (without which there could be little community edification); second, even in the community, tongues may be no less significant than prophecy if interpretation follows, for Paul continues (in v. 5): “He who prophesies is greater than he who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets [ei mē diermēneuē], so that the church may be edified.” Tongues could then, if interpretation follows, be equally “great” since (as Paul earlier says) “one who speaks in a tongue …utters mysteries in the Spirit” (v. 2). Interpretation would then be the declaration of those divine mysteries.

28. Many concrete illustrations could be given of the things mentioned in the paragraph above. It is Joel 2 and Acts 2 all over again!

29. An extraordinary demonstration of this occurred during the meeting of some ten thousand “charismatics” in Rome, May, 1975. One of the occasions (which the author attended) was the gathering in St. Peter’s Church where Cardinal Suenens celebrated the Eucharist and prophecies began to be uttered from within the audience. There was no prior preparation—but the atmosphere was full of expectation. One prophecy declared: “My people, I speak to you of a new day. I speak to you of the dawning of a new age in my church. I speak to you of a day that has not been seen before, of a life on the earth not seen before for my church. Prepare yourselves for me—prepare yourselves for the action I begin now, because the things you see around you will change. The combat you must enter into now is different, it is new. You need wisdom from me you do not have now. You need the power of my Holy Spirit in a way you have not possessed before. You need an understanding of my will and of the way I work that you do not have now. Open your eyes, open your hearts, prepare yourselves for me and for the day I announce now. My church will be different, my people will be different. Difficulty and trial will come upon you—comfort that you know now will be far from you. But the comfort you will have is the comfort of my Holy Spirit. They will seek for you to take your life, but I will support you. Come to me—bind yourselves together around me because I proclaim a new day of victory and triumph for your God. Behold it is begun!”

Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptural quotations are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible.

The Gift of the Holy Spirit Today: Purpose (Chapter 4, Part 2)


The Gift of the Holy Spirit Today by J. Rodman Williams, was published in 1980 by Logos International. Used by permission of the author. Reprinted in Pneuma Review with minor updates from the author.

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Category: Spirit, Winter 2003

About the Author: J. Rodman Williams (1918-2008), Ph.D., is considered to be the father of renewal theology. He served as a chaplain in the Second World War, he was a church pastor, college professor, and key figure in the charismatic movement of the 1960s. Beginning in 1982, he taught theology at Regent University School of Divinity in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and became Professor of Renewal Theology Emeritus there in 2002. Author of numerous books, he is perhaps best known for his three volume Renewal Theology (Zondervan, 1996).

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