No. The Spiritual Gift of Prophecy is not the same as Preaching1
One of the arguments that I often hear from my cessationist friends is that the gift of prophecy is simply another way of referring to what we typically understand to be the preaching or teaching of God’s Word. When defined this way, the cessationist can affirm that “prophecy” is still valid today without having to acknowledge that the Holy Spirit is revealing truths to believers above and beyond (but never contrary to) what we find in Scripture.
But is this actually the case? Is prophecy synonymous with preaching/teaching? No.
I will define prophecy more specifically as the speaking forth in merely human words something the Holy Spirit has sovereignly and often spontaneously revealed to a believer. Prophecy, therefore, is not based on a hunch, a supposition, an inference, an educated guess, or even on sanctified wisdom. Prophecy is not based on personal insight, intuition, or illumination. Prophecy is the human report of a divine revelation. This is what distinguishes prophecy from preaching/teaching. Teaching is always based on a text of Scripture. Prophecy is always based on a spontaneous revelation.
There are numerous reasons why we cannot equate prophecy and preaching. First, in Acts 2, Peter, quoting Joel, declares that prophecy is the direct result of revelatory visions and dreams and is the experience of young and old, both male and female.
We also see that in Acts 13:1-2 there were in Antioch both “prophets and teachers” (v. 1). If all teaching/preaching is an expression of prophecy, this seems odd. On what basis or for what reason would Luke have drawn a distinction between the two if they are essentially synonymous?
There is also Luke’s reference in Acts 21 to four daughters of Philip, all of whom had the gift of prophecy. Are we to conclude that his daughters regularly preached in the local church of which they were a part? Whereas evangelical egalitarians are inclined to say Yes, we who are complementarians would embrace another perspective.
Another hint that prophecy and preaching cannot be equated comes from what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14:6. There he differentiates between “revelation” and “knowledge” and “prophecy” and “teaching.” As noted earlier, prophecy is based on a “revelation” whereas teaching is rooted in a text.
As noted earlier, in 1 Corinthians 14:26 Paul describes how Christians are to approach the corporate gathering of the local church. “Each one,” says Paul, “has a hymn, a lesson [lit., a teaching], a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation.” Here he clearly differentiates between a “teaching” and a “revelation”. The former is based on a biblical text while the latter is the basis for prophecy. As noted above, this is confirmed in 1 Corinthians 14:29-30 where Paul explicitly says that prophecy is based on a spontaneous revelation from the Spirit. Teaching/preaching, on the other hand, is the exposition and application of a biblical text.
If prophecy and preaching or teaching are synonymous, one must explain why Paul differentiates between “prophets” and “pastors and teachers” or more likely “pastor-teachers” in Ephesians 4:11.
There are also two passages in 1 Timothy that strongly suggest that prophecy is not preaching but the report or exhortation or encouragement given by one individual to another for the latter’s edification. Paul encourages Timothy to draw upon the prophecies spoken over him as a way to “wage the good warfare” (1 Tim. 1:18). And in 1 Timothy 4:14 he urges him not to neglect the gift he has that was given to him “by prophecy” when the council of elders laid hands on him.
Finally, there are those instances in Acts that, although not explicitly called prophecies, appear to be such. I have in mind things such as Peter’s supernaturally given knowledge about the sin of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11), the revelation from the Spirit that Paul and Barnabas were to be set apart for missionary service (Acts 13:1-3), Paul’s awareness that a paralyzed man had faith to be healed (Acts 14:8-10), the counsel given to Paul by disciples at Tyre (Acts 21:4), and the word given to Paul by Agabus (Acts 21:7-14).
Thus, preaching/teaching is grounded in an inspired text. Prophecy is the fruit of a revelation, often (but not always) that comes spontaneously to a person. People may “learn” (1 Cor. 14:31) from prophecy no less than from preaching, but the fact that the results of each may be identical does not mean the roots are.