The Cessation of Prophecy and the Bath Kol

In recent history there has been a revival among Reformed denominations of charismatic phenomena, and due to the strongly Protestant character of these traditions some sophistication has been needed in synthesizing the sola scriptura grounding of the traditions with a belief in a kind of continuing revelation. The functioning paradigm that many both popular and highly educated Reformed charismatics (in the latter category, Wayne Grudem and D.A. Carson, along with Sam Storms and John Piper) have adopted is that there are two kinds of revelation: one of the ultimately authoritative, scriptural kind, and another of less authority, which was functioning in the manner described in 1 Corinthians 12-14 and elsewhere in the NT. Grudem and Carson have also briefly but suggestively argued that such a distinction was operating already in the OT, with interesting phenomena such as the distinction between a succession of established prophets “like Moses” and the hope of a universal outpouring of the gift of prophecy, beginning in the Torah and continuing to Joel, as well as the phenomena of the “schools of the prophets”. In the course of doing some confirmatory research for my own purposes, I have come across an interesting parallel phenomenon in early rabbinic (and presumably Second Temple) Judaism. The following comes from Roger Beckwith’s magisterial The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church:

The basic rabbinical statement of the cessation of prophecy has already been referred to. It comes in the Tosephta and the Talmud and reads, when quoted in full:

With the death of Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi the latter prophets, the Holy Spirit ceased out of Israel. Despite this, they were made to hear through a bath kol’ (Tos. Sotah 13.2; baraita in Bab. Yoma 9b, Bab. Sota 48b and Bab. Sanhedrin 11a).

The bath kol (literally, ‘daughter of a voice’, i.e., its sound, or perhaps its echo) was a more occasional and less reliable form of revelation, which will be discussed… below. Additional rabbinical statements on the cessation of prophecy are these:

‘Until then [the coming of Alexander the Great and the end of the empire of the Persians] the prophets prophesied through the Holy Spirit. From then on, “incline thine ear and hear the words of the wise” (Seder Olam Rabbah 30, quoting Prov. 22.17).

‘Rab Samuel bar Inia said, in the name of Rab Aha, “The Second Temple lacked five things which the First Temple possessed, namely, the fire, the ark, the Urim and Thummim, the oil of anointing and the Holy Spirit [of prophecy]”’ (Jer. Taanith 2.1; Jer. Makkoth 2.4-8; Bab. Yoma 21b).

‘Rabbi Abdimi of Haifa said, “Since the day when the Temple was destroyed, prophecy has been taken from the prophets and given to the wise”’ (Bab. Baba Bathra 12a).

‘Rabbi Johanan said, “Since the Temple was destroyed, prophecy has been taken from prophets and given to fools and children”’ (Bab. Baba Bathra 12b).

All the passages [above] except the third tell us what succeeded the cessation of prophecy and inspiration. The first says that the bath kol succeeded: to this should be related the fifth passage, which (as the Talmud goes on to explain) is concerned with divination, like one form of the bath kol, and in this case with divination by the irrational utterances of lunatics and infants. …

[Beckwith goes on to address apparent contradictions to his argument that the belief in the cessation of prophecy was widespread in the period before Jesus:]

Finally, there are isolated examples, reported especially in the rabbinical literature, of mysterious voices or preternatural knowledge occurring after prophecy had ceased… .

The bath kol was simply a voice, without other supernatural manifestations, of the sort that is occasionally mentioned in the Old Testament…, and the Pharisees did not deny the reports that such were still heard now and then, though they treated such reports with reserve. They would not admit them as legal evidence, because they were of a hearsay character… . Moreover, Rabbi Joshua would not admit the evidence of a bath kol on matters of exegesis (baraita in Bab. Baba Metzia 59b; cp. Jer. Moed Katan 3.1); and the fact that the Talmuds even rank as a bath kol a chance snatch of speech overheard, and used for purposes of divination in the Gentile manner (Jer. Shabbath 6.9f.; Bab. Megillah 32a), again indicates that the bath kol was not held in the highest esteem.

If, therefore, in asserting the cessation of prophecy, the Pharisees had to admit some untidiness in the evidence, it was not a major concession, or one which undermined their general contention—still less, one which showed that contention to be insincere. The exceptions were not written works but reported sayings, often addressed only to individuals, not intended (like the ministry of the prophets) for all Israel; and the reported sayings did not involve all forms of revelation or amount to life-long teaching-ministries, but were confined to a few forms of revelation and were of the most scattered and isolated character. 369-376