Inquire of the Lord

Is an extra-Biblical prophet less inspired than a prophet whose writings have entered the canon? Does the voice of an extra-Biblical prophet speak with less authority and certainty than that of a Biblical writer?

Eric Livingston is a pastor living in Colac, Victoria, Australia.

It is 621 B.C. These are days of reformation, a time for cleansing the sanctuary and restoring truth. In the Jerusalem Temple, High Priest Hilkiah is renovating the house of God to its rightful state. His eyes are drawn to an ancient manuscript, "a book of the law of the Lord given by Moses" (2 Chron. 34:14). Apparently, this was either the Pentateuch or portions of it. It is later called "the book of the covenant" (verse 30), which seems to indicate the major portion of Deuteronomy, the book of heart obedience, which is an amplification of Exodus 20-23. The focal point seems to be the legislative sections of Deuteronomy, together with the blessings for obedience and cursings for disobedience. Most likely it was the Temple copy, neglected and lost during the impious reign of King Manasseh (see Deut. 31:24-26; 2 Chron. 33:1-9).

Hilkiah hands the venerated writings of Moses to the learned scribe Shaphan, who in turn reads from the 800-year-old Scriptures to King Josiah, the leader of the reformation. Josiah is first horrified, then perplexed.

In the light of these Scriptures wayward Judah stands condemned. Retributive judgment is the penalty for apostasy. But King Josiah also hears promises of reward for obedience, and of blessings for repentance and loyalty.

The question is Can the impending judgments be averted, or at least stayed long enough for the necessary national reform to be effected? Or is it already too late? This was Josiah's perplexity. Notice that it lay in the area of the interpretation and application of Scripture. More precisely, it had to do with the sometimes difficult question of conditional prophecy (see chap. 34:23-28).

The 26-year-old king anxiously sought the most authoritative guidance and support when he heard the Word of God. Shaphan, the scholarly scribe, stood nearby. Hilkiah, the high priest, was readily available. So too were the teaching Levites (see chap. 35:3). Today's counterparts to Shaphan would be the Luthers, Calvins, Wesleys, Spurgeons, et cetera; Hilkiah would correspond to a church group's leader; and the Levites would represent Bible-teaching ministers.

But notice in the Biblical example that Josiah used these prominent men from the Temple and the royal court merely as messengers, a most imposing five-man delegation honoring both the Sacred Oracles and the guide who would give counsel regarding them (see chap. 34:20). To whom did the king turn?

Josiah said, " 'Go, inquire of the Lord for me and for those who are left in Israel and in Judah, concerning the words of the book that has been found.' ... So Hilkiah and those whom the king had sent went to Huldah the prophetess" (verses 21, 22, R.S.V.). It is interesting that when he needed increased light on the Word of God, the king inquired of one who was an extra-Biblical, or non-Biblical, prophetess. An extra-Biblical, or non- Biblical, prophet refers to inspired agents of God who have the prophetic gift but who are not authors of Biblical books. Nathan, Elisha, Huldah, John the Baptist, and Agabus are examples of such in ancient times.

The Word of God was too important, and the gravity of the situation too great, for any lesser commentator. No doubt Josiah rightly valued the interpretations and guidance of Shaphan and Hilkiah (as we value favored and trusted commentators); but as a final authority, illumination bowed to inspiration.

The king-reformer wanted more than human help. As a conscientious student of Scripture, he sought the infallible guidance of God and availed himself of the opportunity to obtain spirit of prophecy counsel from the Holy Spirit through an inspired prophetess (see also Neh. 9:30).

Huldah's testimony was clear and direct, simplifying, and yet intensifying, the written Word of God: "And she said to them, 'Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: "Tell the man who sent you to me, Thus says the Lord, Behold, I will bring evil upon this place and upon its inhabitants, all the curses that are written in the book which was read before the king of Judah. Because they have forsaken me and have burned incense to other gods, that they might provoke me to anger with all the works of their hands, therefore my wrath will be poured out upon this place and will not be quenched. But to the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the Lord, thus shall you say to him, Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Regarding the words which you have heard, because your heart was penitent and you humbled yourself before God when you heard his words against this place and its inhabitants, and you have humbled yourself before me, and have rent your clothes and wept before me, I also have heard you, says the Lord. Behold, I will gather you to your fathers, and you shall be gathered to your grave in peace, and your eyes shall not see all the evil which I will bring upon this place and its inhabitants."' And they brought back word to the king" (2 Chron. 34:23-28, R.S.V.).

The authority of a message is derived from its source. Josiah recognized the same divine Source in both the Bible (that is, certain writings that were accepted as authoritative and that eventually gained Biblical status) and in the message of a contemporary prophet. We must remember, of course, that during Josiah's day Scripture was still being written, and, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, God's people were still in the process of recognizing Biblical writings. Thus, at that time, there was probably not the sharp distinction we draw today between an extra-Biblical prophet, such as Huldah, and a Biblical prophet, such as Jeremiah. Both spoke for the Lord, and their contemporaries saw the same divine Source in both.

However, even though clear lines may not have existed in Josiah's day between extra- Biblical and Biblical prophets, today the canon of Scripture is clearly set, and the decision has been made whether a particular inspired writer is to be included in the Bible. Thus, from our perspective, the question naturally arises, Does a Biblical prophet have a greater degree of inspiration than an extra-Biblical prophet? If so, we could possibly expect, in this scriptural illustration, to find the Holy Spirit leading Josiah to Jeremiah, Zephaniah, or possibly Habbakuk (all contemporary prophets whose inspired writings ultimately found their way into the canon of Scripture) rather than to Huldah, a prophetess whose inspired messages were never incorporated into the Bible. But we find Josiah seeking counsel regarding the established Scripture from Huldah, an extra-Biblical prophetess. Thus the Lord led the king to a certain and authoritative source for guidance.

From this we may infer two somewhat interrelated implications: First, the scope of a prophet's authority is limited to the intended audience for his message; and second, the role (but not the inspiration or intrinsic authority) of non-Biblical prophets and their writings has a lesser function than that of their Biblical counterparts.

The Holy Spirit inspired many prophets to speak and write. All were of the same Source; all were equally inspired. But to retain all of these messages through the centuries would necessitate hiring a truck to carry the Bible to church in the twentieth century!

So God periodically moved upon His people to retain certain of the inspired documents that suitably summarized His will, character, and providence in relation to man's redemptive needs to that time. Thus, we have a gradual formation of the Bible. These Biblical writings have universal authority in function, scope, and time.

All other inspired writings, including both the productions of extra-Biblical prophets and certain writings even of such Bible authors as Samuel and Paul that did not find their way into Scripture (see 1 Sam. 10:25; 1 Cor. 5:9; Col. 4:16), are lesser lights. The scope of their authority is limited by the shorter time span (and sometimes smaller community) they are designed to serve. Their function is to intensify, simplify, clarify, and amplify the truths and principles of the Bible in the context of a contemporary situation. For these reasons they are lesser lights, maintaining the centrality of the Bible as the standard, or norm, and always leading back to it. Accordingly, these lesser lights are not designed to be sources of additional truth, except, of course, as they provide the extra detail that inevitably accompanies amplification and application of any data.

First Chronicles 29:29; 2 Chronicles 9:29; 12:15; 13:22; 20:34; 32:32; 33:19, provide additional examples of extra-Biblical, or non-Biblical, writings that were inspired of God. The prophet Iddo even wrote a "commentary" (see chap. 13:22, margin) probably consisting of a sacred history containing expository comments, according to Gesenius's Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon, page CCCCLI. Some scholars feel that Nathan and/or Gad may have a portion of their writings retained in Scripture, unacknowledged. If so, these inspired men are still to be classed as "non-Biblical" writing prophets, since they would be a source for, rather than the actual author of, the Biblical book.

Thus, the role and scope, not the inspiration or authority, of non-Biblical prophets or writings is lessened by function, time, and possibly communal location. It is these limitations, not their inspiration, that make the inspired, yet extra-Biblical, writings of Nathan, Gad, Iddo, Paul, and Samuel (and Ellen G. White, for whom we claim the prophetic gift) "a lesser light to lead men and women to the greater light" (Colporteur Ministry, p. 125).

As Ellen White herself put it: "I recommend to you, dear reader, the Word of God as the rule of your faith and practice. By that Word we are to be judged. God has, in that Word, promised to give visions in the 'last days'; not for a new rule of faith, but for the comfort of His people, and to correct those who err from Bible truth. Thus God dealt with Peter when He was about to send him to preach to the Gentiles. (Acts 10.)" —Early Writings, p. 78.

It is the privilege and responsibility of the God-designated audience of any prophetic counsel (be it through Biblical prophets or extra-Biblical prophets) to honor the preeminent authority in the message because of its divine source.

When Josiah sent his messengers to "enquire of the Lord . . . concerning the words of the book" (2 Chron. 34:21), the testimony of Huldah the prophetess in reply intensified the Bible's warnings of retribution for apostasy, but she also held out hope and encouragement for the penitent king. Thus she emphasized first law, and then gospel—justice and mercy blended as at Calvary. Josiah was comforted and guided by the spirit of prophecy comments. And he was motivated to effect a mighty reform, calling the people back to God's commandments (see verses 29, 31, 32; 35:19).

Notice that the Holy Spirit, operating through Huldah outside of the Bible, worked harmoniously with the Scriptures. Josiah was not led away from the Sacred Word, but back to it. He found his doctrine in the Bible, confirmed his interpretation and working procedure by consulting contemporary spirit of prophecy counsel, and then used the acknowledged Word as his foundation for teaching and reform (see chaps. 34:30-32; 35:4, 6, 12, 15).

Similarly, pioneer Seventh-day Adventist leaders established a solid doctrinal foundation by searching the Scriptures and, as necessary, received through the Spirit of Prophecy clear explanations of the passages being studied, with instruction of how they were to labor and teach effectively. (See Ellen G. White, Selected Messages, book 1, p. 206 ff.; Gospel Workers, p. 302.)

The testimony of Huldah the prophetess related to the Bible in four distinct ways. It intensified the message of Scripture already given. It simplified the Scripture by bringing it to bear on Josiah's specific situation. Scripture was exalted, and (as shown in the subsequent reforms) minds were attracted to the Sacred Book. These four aspects—intensification, simplification, exaltation, and attraction—are present in the work of other extra-Biblical prophets. Huldah's testimony was, as Ellen White wrote about her own, " 'not to give new light, but to impress vividly upon the heart the truths of inspiration already revealed [intensification]. . . . God has through the Testimonies simplified the great truths already given [simplification]. . . . The Testimonies are not to belittle the word of God, but to exalt it and attract minds to it [exaltation and attraction].'" —Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 665.*

Further, as the prophetess anciently comforted and guided the anxious Josiah, so Ellen White's writings are "for the comfort of His people, and to correct those who err from Bible truth" (Early Writings, p. 78).

The testimony of the prophetess Huldah did add some detail beyond that found in the Biblical manuscript. It applied the Deuteronomic principle of reward for obedience to the contemporary situation, with the result that Josiah received the promise "Because thine heart was tender, and thou didst humble thyself before God, ... I have even heard thee. . . . Thou shall be gathered to thy grave in peace, neither shall thine eyes see all the evil that I will bring upon this place" (2 Chron. 34:27, 28). Incidentally, this promise met only partial fulfillment, being limited by Josiah's later disobedience (see chap. 35:20- 24)

It should be noted that the "hope of the gospel" (Col. 1:23), which Huldah held out to Josiah, contained nothing extraneous to the essential message of the Scripture being studied namely, reward for obedience and punishment for impenitence. The testimony served only to simplify, intensify, apply, and amplify Scripture. Additional truth was not brought out, but God through the testimony of Huldah simplified the great truths already given. Again, Ellen White parallels Huldah the prophetess.

Like Josiah, we may inquire of the Lord concerning His Word by going to an inspired, though extra-Biblical, source.

* I am indebted for the observations regarding Ellen White's enunciation of these four aspects of her writings to the excellent pamphlet "The Writings of Ellen G. White and the Bible," by Dr. T. H. Blincoe. Other studies, with similar themes, have recently been produced by D. A. Delafield and A. S. Jorgensen, and are available through the Ellen G. White-SDA research centers.

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Eric Livingston is a pastor living in Colac, Victoria, Australia.

April 1981

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