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by John H. Painter

We hear increasingly this idea of the "office" of the prophet. When presented, this idea differentiates two supposed prophetic practices. On the one hand, there is the practice of one occupying the "office." On the other hand, there is the practice of one just operating in the prophetic gifting. Notice that the use of the word "just" subordinates to the one occupying the office the one practicing the usual prophetic gifting (of Romans 12:6-8). Used in this way, the English word, "office," brings with it the context of a formal vertical authority structure. And, there was in the Church, a formal vertical authority structure, from the time of Constantine onward. The Protestant Reformation kept that authority structure, except for the office of Pope. But, what about "office" in the early Church of Peter, Paul, and the other original apostles. What does "office" mean scripturally, in the New Testament? The King James New Testament (KJV) does use the words "office" and "officer." Uniformly, the word, "officer," is a secular title, denoting a civil servant. In [Rom. 11:13], Paul mentions his "office," but the Greek is "diakonia," which is usually translated "ministry." In [1 Tim. 3:1], Paul mentions the "office of a bishop." But, there is no Greek word used that translates to "office." Rather the literal English translation of the Greek is "If anyone oversight aspires to, …" That is, the Greek deals directly with the function, rather than making of it an office. Likewise, in [1 Tim. 3:10 and 3:13], Paul is translated as "… use the office of a deacon …" Literal translation gives "… let them minister …," where all three English words come from one compound Greek word, based on "diakon," the stem that is variously translated as "minister" and "deacon." The final KJV New Testament use of "office," is [Heb. 7:5], which is translated as "… the office of the priesthood …." The Greek is simply a single word, "… the priesthood …" Again, there is no Greek word, present, that literally translates as "office." Where the KJV New Testament talks about "the office," it is talking about the function being practiced, not some authority structure. In fact, in [Rom. 12:4], which is getting ready to list the seven charismatic giftings, it says that all Christians don’t have the same office. Logically, this would mean that each and every Christian does have an office. However, the Greek word used here for "office" is "praxis," from which we get the English, "practice." That same Greek word is also translated elsewhere in the KJV as "work" or "deeds," which gives the idea that "office" is "practice," which is a hands-on kind of thing. That is, it is function, not authority structure. So, [Rom. 12:4] actually means that every Christian has a spiritual practice, in the sense of a doctor’s or engineer’s practice. The view that "office" denotes authority structure comes from King James’ time, when the English had kicked out the Pope, but kept the Roman Church authority structure. That view and hermeneutical use of "office" came from New Testament exegesis that was influenced by then current Church structure. The idea has been carried forward in subsequent King James’ translations, as a matter of tradition. It has influenced the understanding of the English-speaking peoples, not only of the Bible, but of the English language, itself. The use of the phrase, "office of the prophet," does not occur in Holy Scripture. It appears to be synthesized by extending to the five "ascension gifts" of [Eph. 4:11] those uses of "office" that pertain to bishop, deacon, and priest. However, as just shown, those latter "offices" aren’t. Neither is office of the prophet an office. It is a function. It is a function that obviously requires the charismatic gift of prophecy, from [Rom. 12:6-8]. So, how does the supposed office of prophet differ from exercise of the prophetic gift by those so gifted? In my opinion it is not a difference in kind, but only in degree. Experience shows that there is a smooth gradation in degree of prophetic gifting, as in any of the other six charismatic gifts. Those with a high degree might be supposed to occupy some authoritarian office. They might be held above their brothers. But, such differentiation is dangerous. It can lead to idolization of persons who appear prophetic and may in fact be the false prophets against whom Jesus warned [Mat. 24:11]. It is better, in my understanding, to accept all prophets equally, but to test every one according to [1 John 4:1]. And, the test is on prophetic fruit [Mat. 12:33], not on supposed authority.

About the Author Dr. John Painter - See Biographical at

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