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Design of Providence: Did Agabus get it wrong?

Monday, January 9, 2012

Did Agabus get it wrong?

Some supporters of the International House of Prayer in Kansas City (IHOP-KC), in an attempt to justify founder Mike Bickle's position that New Testament prophets can get details of a prophecy wrong, or can prophesy wrongly (see my posts here and here), have tried turning to a scriptural example. They turn to the prophecy of a prophet named Agabus, found in Luke's Acts of the Apostles. Using his very own personal account, Luke recalls the prophesy given by Agabus regarding Paul's eventual journey to Jerusalem and his imprisonment.
While we were staying for many days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. And coming to us, he took Paul's belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, "Thus says the Holy Spirit, 'This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.'" [Acts 21:10-11]
IHOP-KC supporters claim that this was wrong, as it was the Romans who bound Paul. To verify this, they go to verse 33.
Then the tribune came up and arrested [Paul] and ordered him to be bound with two chains. He inquired who he was and what he had done. [Acts 21:33]
Therefore, they say, since Agabus was wrong (at least "partially") on the details, this is scriptural proof for the IHOP-KC position that New Testament prophets can get some things in a prophecy wrong. Is this the case?

First, let's remember what the apostle Peter wrote regarding prophecy in general:
Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. [2 Peter 1:20-21]
As I discussed in the previously cited post, both the words and the grammar here are clear. The apostle Peter begins by saying that "no prophecy of Scripture" comes from someone's own interpretation (not referring to sola scriptura, but man making up scripture with no assistance from God), and then explains why in the next verse: it is because no prophecy was ever by "the will of man," but as men "were carried along by the Holy Spirit." The original word translated in the ESV as "carried along" means that God is in complete control, and what God wants to be said will be said. God is not a victim of fatalism to the personal spiritual whims of the creature, and His prophecies are not capable of being given with any degree of error. At the time of this writing, I have yet to have a follower of Mike Bickle or IHOP-KC's doctrines give a real response to this passage of scripture.

Secondly, we should point out that the idea that Agabus got the details of the prophecy wrong is vastly foreign to the over 2000 years of Christian exegesis and scriptural study. Some recent men, such as Wayne Grudem and D.A. Carson, have certainly made the claim that Agabus spoke in error (and IHOP-KC's followers readily quote them), but their opinion is in the vast minority. Some of the greatest theologians and expositors of scripture throughout history have interpreted Agabus's prophecy as being completely fulfilled with no mistake on his part (even with verse 33 in consideration). This list of great men includes John Calvin, Matthew Henry, John Wesley, John Gill, Adam Clarke, Albert Barnes, A.T Robertson and many, many others.

Thirdly, let's try to understand what occurs in Jerusalem when Paul arrives. While the backing of Christian history can be vital, it is not Matthew Henry, D.A. Carson or anyone else who gets the final word, but scripture itself and its plain meaning. We find, in this section, the apostle Paul at the Temple performing Jewish forms of worship, and a riot occurs:
When the seven days were almost completed, the Jews from Asia, seeing him in the temple, stirred up the whole crowd and laid hands on him, crying out, "Men of Israel, help! This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against the people and the law and this place. Moreover, he even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place." For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian with him in the city, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple. Then all the city was stirred up, and the people ran together. They seized Paul and dragged him out of the temple, and at once the gates were shut. And as they were seeking to kill him, word came to the tribune of the cohort that all Jerusalem was in confusion. He at once took soldiers and centurions and ran down to them. And when they saw the tribune and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul. Then the tribune came up and arrested him and ordered him to be bound with two chains. He inquired who he was and what he had done. Some in the crowd were shouting one thing, some another. And as he could not learn the facts because of the uproar, he ordered him to be brought into the barracks. And when he came to the steps, he was actually carried by the soldiers because of the violence of the crowd, for the mob of the people followed, crying out, "Away with him!" [Acts 21:27-36]
Paul was indeed bound by Romans (v. 33), but it was at the instigation of the Jews (v. 31-32), who had already seized and dragged him out of the Temple (v. 30). It was because Paul's enemies had instigated the people and caused the riot that the Romans were compelled to chain him. Some commentators, such as John Gill, suggest that the reason the tribune puts Paul in chains is to calm the Jews and pacify the situation, and, if this were the case, then the Jews of Jerusalem would indeed be responsible for Paul's binding. Certainly Tertullus, spokesman for the Jewish leadership, made the claim later on that it was they who captured Paul (Acts 24:6). Although there is a textual variant in the next verse where Tertullus gives some credit to the tribune, this is not in the earliest manuscripts, and is left out of most modern translations.

Fourthly and finally, if Agabus got the details of the prophecy wrong, the characters of Acts - including the author Luke himself - are completely silent on the matter. We don't see Agabus and others being befuddled by the differing events in the same manner Mike Bickle, Bob Jones and the other Kansas City Prophets were befuddled by differing events from their own prophecies (as was often recorded by Bickle himself). In fact, let's take a moment to understand how the apostle Paul interpreted the events of Acts 21. To the Jews in Rome, Paul said:
"Brothers, though I had done nothing against our people or the customs of our fathers, yet I was delivered as a prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans." [Acts 28:17]
Did Agabus get the details of the prophecy wrong? That's completely foreign to the apostle Paul himself. Paul interprets the events as the Jews capturing him as a prisoner (thus being bound, even if only by instigation) and handing him over to the Romans. According to the apostle Paul, Agabus got everything right. If Agabus had been wrong, Paul should have said something similar to simply: "I was arrested by the Romans." There is good reason, therefore, that the previously mentioned theologians believed that Agabus's prediction was completely fulfilled, and that is the apostle Paul himself, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, confirmed it so in this verse. At this moment in my life, I do not believe myself spiritually mature enough to disagree with the apostle Paul.

It is perfectly fine to turn to scripture affirm or review our theology. However, when we reach a level where we attempt to accuse prophets of God of prophesying falsely (even if "partially") and ignore how scripture itself interprets an event, then we are not continuing in a mindset where scripture has the final say. Instead, we are entering a mindset where our presuppositions and desires to validate another man's ministries and false teachings are carrying the day. I humbly ask that those supporting IHOP-KC, Mike Bickle and his peers carefully and prayerfully consider this. God bless.

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