Thursday, May 26, 2011

Luke's Conception of Prophets

(This post is part two in a series on Christian prophecy; part one is here.)

In my 2004 Ph.D. dissertation, I offered the following definition of "prophet" based solely on the evidence from Luke-Acts:
"Prophets" may be defined as those who by virtue of their nearness to God are enabled by the Holy Spirit to have insight into matters hidden from other humans, and (sometimes) to perform deeds beyond the ability of ordinary mortals; prophets are also empowered by the Holy Spirit to address divinely-commissioned messages to other humans or to proclaim words of praise to God.
  • My definition was self-consciously descriptive. I argued that the evidence does not permit a strict definition which isolates what is unique about the entity being defined—partly because Luke did not provide as many details about prophets as we would like and partly because there are few (if any) characteristics attributed uniquely to prophets. Nevertheless, I concluded that it is still possible to arrive at a descriptive definition of "prophet" which distinguishes between central and peripheral characteristics of prophets by analyzing the frequency in which characteristics appear and the degree to which they are tied to an individual's prophetic role.
  • In retrospect . . .
  • I'm surprised by the lack of reference in the definition to a worship context for prophetic activity since it appears so frequently in L-A and throughout the NT.
  • I would no longer include miracles in the definition, even though Luke obviously thought it was not unusual for prophets to perform them.
  • I wish I had thought more about how Luke might have defined prophecy and not simply what it meant to be a prophet. He seems to take for granted what it was, which makes our task frustratingly difficult.
  • You'll notice that I make no distinction between OT and NT prophets from Luke's perspective. That's because I concluded there is none.
Since I have no immediate plans to publish this section, I've made a longer excerpt available here, for those inclined to read more.

Feedback, of course, is welcome!

Next up: Did Luke believe all Christians are prophets?

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