Friday, October 05, 2007

Was Agabus Wrong? - Kring Corrects Grudem

Grace Fellowship Church: An Evaluation of Wayne Grudem's View of NT Prophecy:

The link will take you to an excellent paper delivered at our pastor's fraternal several years ago by my friend Stephen Kring. Stephen is a humble, yet very thoughtful and able exegete. I always profit under his ministry. In the paper, he takes a careful look at Grudem's view of prophecy and does some excellent Biblical Theology to evaluate his conclusions.

I remember being very helped by his section on the Agabus prophecy of Acts 21 which I quote at length below. I have yet to see anyone answer this careful critique and would love to hear of any attempts. You really ought to take the 10 minutes to read the entire paper on our website.


In Acts 21:10, 11 we read, “And as we stayed many days, a certain prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. When he had come to us, he took Paul’s belt, bound his own hands and feet, and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man who owns this belt, and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’”

Grudem uses this prophecy as a typical example of NT prophecy, which can contain mistakes and errors. He looks at Acts 21:27-35 and suggests that neither of Agabus’ predictions came true. “Paul was not bound by the Jews but by the Romans, and far from delivering Paul over to the Romans, they tried to kill him, and he had to be delivered from the Jews by the soldiers.”[8] Grudem further comments: is not that Agabus has spoken in a totally false or misleading way; it is just that he has the details wrong. But this kind of minor inaccuracy is exactly compatible with the type of prophecy we found earlier in 1 Corinthians, in which the prophet receives some kind of revelation and then reports it in his own words. He would have a “divine authority of general content” (Paul would be imprisoned at Jerusalem), but with the details wrong.[9]

D.A. Carson also states with reference to Agabus, “I can think of no reported Old Testament prophet whose prophecies are so wrong on the details.”[10]

Someone is surely wrong here, but I would suggest that it is Grudem and Carson, not Agabus or the Holy Spirit. Let’s look more carefully at this prophecy. To begin with we are dealing with a prophet whose reputation precedes him. In Acts 11:27 he “showed by the Spirit that there was going to be a great famine throughout all the world, which also happened in the days of Claudius Caesar.” At the very least, the accuracy of this prophecy leads us to expect the same from his next prophecy.

Next, note the continuity with Old Testament prophets as is reflected by the graphic symbolism of Agabus’ binding of his own hands and feet with Paul’s belt. Not only does it put this prophecy on a level with Isaiah 20, Jeremiah 13, and Ezekiel 24, it also is an indication of the certainty Agabus must have felt regarding its fulfillment.

Especially telling, however, is the introductory phrase, “Thus says the Holy Spirit”, followed by what the Holy Spirit said. In the NT the formula "Tade legei" (“these are the words of”) is only found here and in Rev. 2, 3 at the beginning of each of the seven letters to the churches in Asia. In the LXX, this is the common rendering of “Thus says the Lord”. Agabus was surely quite aware that by his symbolic actions and introductory words he was placing himself on the same inspired level as the holy men of God of the Old Testament who were borne along by the Holy Spirit.

But what about the “mistakes” Grudem alleges? Let’s consider the second one first. Contrary to what Grudem says, the Jews did deliver Paul over to the Romans. They might not have done it willingly at first, but they still did do it! This is supported by Paul’s own statement in Acts 28:17, “...I was delivered as a prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans...” But did the Jews bind Paul? Surely they did, in the sense that it was because of their hatred that Paul was bound to start with. It was at their insistence that he not be released, but remain a prisoner at Caesarea (Acts 24:27). The Jews at Jerusalem were just as responsible for Paul’s being bound as earlier Jews were for Jesus being crucified. They may not have personally and literally done the job, but their hatred brought it about (in the plan and purpose of God).

If Grudem demanded this kind of rigid literalism in the fulfillment of OT prophecy, what would he do with “I will send you Elijah the prophet” (Mal. 4:5)? Did Malachi only have an “authority of general content” at this point? Was he, like Agabus, mistaken? Or does the fulfillment explain what God meant when He inspired the prophet to say what he did? Sure the latter is the case with Malachi, and, I submit, with Agabus as well.

[8]Grudem, The Gift of Prophecy in 1 Corinthians, p. 79.

[9]Ibid., pp. 80, 81.

[10]Carson, Showing the Spirit, p. 98.