CLAIM: Paul writes of the “prophecies previously made concerning” Timothy. Did a Christian prophet predict Timothy’s future?
RESPONSE: While predictive prophecy does occur in the NT church (Acts 11:27-28; 21:10-11), there is no reason to see that in 1 Timothy 1:18. The gift of prophecy in the NT church (1 Cor. 12:28) normally refers to speaking prophetically about current events –not future events. For instance, Paul writes, “Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment” (1 Cor. 14:29). Of course, if these prophets were speaking about future events, it would be impossible for the church to pass judgment on their claims. Moreover, the normal way that prophets spoke in the OT was to speak about current events, drawing people back to the knowledge of God that had already been revealed in the Bible. Most of the time, OT prophets told the people to repent and return to what they already knew in God’s word, rather than predicting unknown events in the future. This could be why “prophets and teachers” are seen to work together in the church so closely (Acts 13:1).
Therefore, when NT prophets made prophecies about Timothy, it could have been in the sense that they spoke prophetically about his ministry. That is, they could have prophetically pointed out his gift-set and his ability to lead. The “prophecies previously made” could be similar to encouragement, rather than future predictions. This use of prophecy is seen among Judas and Silas in Acts 15:32. Paul could be saying, “Timothy, remember the encouragement that people gave you. Now, press on!” When Christian leaders are faltering, it is often helpful for them to pull out encouragement letters and dwell on how far God has brought them. Prophetic statements, in this sense, could serve as encouragement for future service of God.