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What Is the “Spirit of Prophecy”?

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The term “spirit of prophecy” occurs only once in the Bible, namely in Revelation 19:10; but the readers in John’s days knew exactly what John meant by this phrase. They were familiar with this expression, which was frequently used in the Aramaic translation of the Old Testament. For example, Genesis 41:38 in the Aramaic paraphrase of the Old Testament text says: “Pharaoh said to his servants, ‘Can we find a man like this in whom there is the spirit of prophecy from before the Lord?’” And in Numbers 27:18 the Lord said to Moses, “Take Joshua, son of Nun, a man who has within himself the spirit of prophecy, and lay your hand on him.”

For the early Christians the “spirit of prophecy” was a reference to the Holy Spirit, who imparts the prophetic gift to God’s messengers. This also becomes evident when we compare Revelation 19:10 with Revelation 22:8, 9.

The situation in both passages is the same. John falls at the feet of the angel to worship him. The words of the angel’s response are almost identical, yet the difference is significant. In 19:10, the brethren are identified by the phrase “who have the testimony of Jesus.” In 22:9, these brethren are simply called “prophets.”

According to the principle of interpreting Scripture with Scripture, this leads to the conclusion that “the spirit of prophecy” in 19:10 is not the possession of church members in general, but only of those who have been called by God to be prophets. That this is not purely an Adventist interpretation can be seen from the writings of other scholars. Lutheran scholar Hermann Strathmann, for example, says concerning the phrase “testimony of Jesus” in 19:10: “According to the parallel 22:9 the brothers referred to are not believers in general but the prophets…. This is the point of verse 10c. If they have the marturia Iesou [the testimony of Jesus], they have the spirit of prophecy, i.e., they are prophets …, like the angel, who simply stands in the service of the In summary, we can say that one of the identifying signs of the remnant church, which according to prophecy exists after the 1,260-day period, i.e., after 1798, is the testimony of Jesus, which is the spirit of prophecy, or the prophetic gift. The Seventh-day Adventist Church, from its very beginning, has believed that in fulfillment of Revelation 12:17 the spirit of prophecy was manifested in the life and work of Ellen G. White.

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