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1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 (ESV):

19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil.

What prophecies was Paul referring to in verse 20? Prophecies found in the canon of Scripture, outside the canon, or both? How are we to test them (v21)?

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  • 'Prophesying' as we know from both the major and the minor prophets is (most commonly) a matter of seeing the present situation and discerning it (and seeing the inevitable consequences of that state leading to a future condition). And we know that any man may speak, as long as he speak as the oracles of God. And women, too, may prophesy. I think this is a very broad subject, covering many aspects of a very wide spectrum. – Nigel J May 18 at 15:32
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Some the congregations in the NT had withing them legitimate prophets of God giving revelations from God. We see this several times such as Acts 15:32, 11:27, 13:1, 21:10, etc.

Thus, when someone stood up and claimed to be a prophet with a message/revelation from God, the NT instruction was (as usual) practical:

  • 1 Cor 14:22 - Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers, but for unbelievers. Prophecy, however, is for believers, not for unbelievers.
  • 1 Cor 14:26 - What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a psalm or a teaching, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. All of these must be done to build up the church.
  • 1 John 4:1 - Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God. For many false prophets have gone out into the world.
  • 2 Thess 2:2 - not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by the teaching allegedly from us--whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter--asserting that the day of the Lord has already come.

Note the Expositor, Greek Testament comments:

1 Thessalonians 5:20. As εὐχαριστεῖν was a special function of the prophets in early Christian worship (cf. Did. x. 7), the transition is natural. The local abuses of ecstatic prophecy in prediction (2 Thessalonians 2:2) or what seem to be exaggerated counsels of perfection (1 Thessalonians 5:16 f.) must not be allowed to provoke any reaction which would depreciate and extinguish this vital gift or function of the faith. Paul, with characteristic sanity, holds the balance even. Such enthusiastic outbursts are neither to be despised as silly vapouring nor to be accepted blindly as infallible revelations. The true criticism of προφητεία comes (1 Thessalonians 5:21) from the Christian conscience which is sensitive to the καλόν, the συμφέρον, the οἰκοδομή, or the ἀναλογία τῆς πίστεως (cf. Weizsäcker’s Apost. Age, ii. 270 f.). But this criticism must be positive. In applying the standard of spiritual discernment, it must sift, not for the mere pleasure of rejecting the erroneous but with the object of retaining what is genuine.

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1 Thessalonians 5:

20 Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good.

This implies that there were bad prophecies that failed the test. Since prophecies in the canon cannot fail, Paul was referring only to prophecies outside of the canon.

How are we to test them?

One way is found in Deuteronomy 18:

22 If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously, so do not be alarmed.

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What prophecies was Paul referring to when he said “do not despise prophecies” in 1 Thessalonians 5:20?

1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 (ESV):

19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil.

Paul's letter was addressed to the Christian congregation of Thessalonica, so he is referring to in verse 20, to all prophecies found in the canon of Scripture. A dedicated Christian that claims to serve the true God then goes out along with the world and its corrupt influences and partakes in its corruption adds to his sins, because he is treating prophecies with contempt.

He is ignoring all the words that God has caused to be spoken through the mouths of His prophets and spokesmen. Such a professed Christian has these words from the God he claims to serve; he has the Bible but ignores it in favor of men’s ideas, which appeal to his selfish desires. To do this is to insult God, to be a hypocrite and more reprehensible than the unbelievers.

How are we to test them (v21)? To examine and scrutinize something to see if it is genuine, by checking the Greek Septuagint version of the Hebrew scriptures and any other NT Greek scriptures available at the time.

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