Are There Prophets Today?
COPYRIGHT ©1999 - James M. Frye
Revised 2012, 2014
All scripture quotations are taken from the Authorized King James Bible. Any deviations are not intentional. All underlines, bold and words within brackets are the author's.
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Many people in our day claim to prophesy. Are these people really receiving and speaking divine messages from God? Are there still prophets today? Many would tell us that there are. Others would say no. In this article we shall look at what the Bible has to say on this subject.
What Was A Prophet?
A prophet was someone who spoke for God. To be more specific, a prophet was one whom God spoke through. Prophets often declared this fact by saying "Thus saith the Lord".
1 Kings 20:13 And, behold, there came a prophet unto Ahab king of Israel, saying, Thus saith the LORD, Hast thou seen all this great multitude? behold, I will deliver it into thine hand this day; and thou shalt know that I am the LORD.
A prophet was the very mouthpiece of God. What they spoke was not their own words, but the very words of God.
2 Peter 1:21 For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.
Old & New Testament Prophets Were the Same
Some people teach that New Testament (N.T. from here on) prophets were different than Old Testament prophets. Is this true? Let’s look at a man named Agabus for our example of a N.T. prophet.
Acts 11:27-28 And in these days came prophets from Jerusalem unto Antioch. And there stood up one of them named Agabus, and signified by the Spirit that there should be great dearth throughout all the world: which came to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar.
Acts 21:10-11 And as we tarried there many days, there came down from Judaea a certain prophet, named Agabus. And when he was come unto us, he took Paul's girdle, and bound his own hands and feet, and said, Thus saith the Holy Ghost, So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle, and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.
From these two passages, we see two characteristics of a N.T. prophet: 1 - They spoke for God (God spoke through them), and 2 - They predicted the future. That is the exact same thing Old Testament prophets did. There is absolutely no difference between a prophet in Old Testament times and a prophet in N.T. times. Later we will see why people try to make this distinction.
Prophets and Prophecy
Some people also teach that there is a difference between a prophet and one who prophesies. They say that a person can prophesy all the time but not necessarily be a prophet. Is this true?
1 Samuel 10:10-11 And when they came thither to the hill, behold, a company of prophets met him [Saul]; and the Spirit of God came upon him, and he prophesied among them. And it came to pass, when all that knew him beforetime saw that, behold, he prophesied among the prophets, then the people said one to another, What is this that is come unto the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?
Saul had never prophesied before in his entire life, but when the people see him prophesy they immediately assume that he is a prophet. Why? - Because, those who prophesied were prophets. There weren't people going around prophesying all the time that weren’t prophets. One who prophesied was a prophet, and a prophet was one who prophesied. The terms are used interchangeably in the Bible.
1 Corinthians 14:29-32 Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge. If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace. For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted. And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.
The above passage is very clear. A prophet is one who prophesies and one who prophesies is a prophet. Why is it that people try to make these distinctions today? The reason is that they are trying to avoid the Biblical tests for false prophets.
Tests for False Prophets
The Bible gives us two tests for detecting false prophets.
Deuteronomy 18:21-22 And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the LORD hath not spoken? When a prophet speaketh in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him.
The first test for a false prophet is his accuracy. True prophets were 100% accurate. Not 95% or even 99%, but 100%. True prophets were controlled by God, so they never missed. If a prophet missed even one time, that "prophet" was a "false prophet".
Those who claim to be prophets today miss all the time. The amazing thing, however, is that even though they predict things that do not come to pass, they do not lose their followers. In the Old Testament they would have lost their life. God so despised false prophets that in the verse prior to our last text, He instituted the death penalty for them.
Deuteronomy 18:20 But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die.
There is a second test for false prophets.
Deuteronomy 13:1-3 If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a wonder, And the sign or the wonder come to pass, whereof he spake unto thee, saying, Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them; Thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams: for the LORD your God proveth you, to know whether ye love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.
In this case, what the false prophet predicts comes to pass, but he is still a false prophet. God will sometimes allow this to test people to see if they love him with all their heart. The test this time is in the message the prophet gives.
Does it line up with scripture? Does it lead us into truth and following the God of the Bible? Or, does it lead us into following after a false god or into ERROR? Some of the greatest doctrinal heresy today comes from the mouths of those who claim to be prophets. We test these so-called prophets by examining whether or not what they teach lines up with the Bible.
1 John 4:1 Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try [test] the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world
It is the doctrine that is taught that is the test of the spirit behind the prophet. The Bible warns us that in the latter times, many shall be deceived by evil spirits.
1 Timothy 4:1 Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils;
So then, there are two tests for false prophets. First, a prophet has to be 100% accurate. If they miss even once they are a false prophet. Secondly, a prophet must speak according to sound doctrine. Their message may not contain doctrinal error. It must lead people in the way of truth and after the true God of the Bible.
God is Angry with Those Who Claim to
Speak For Him Whom He Did Not Send
What does God think of people who presumptuously claim to speak for him?
Jeremiah 14:14-15 Then the LORD said unto me, The prophets prophesy lies in my name: I sent them not, neither have I commanded them, neither spake unto them: they prophesy unto you a false vision and divination, and a thing of nought, and the deceit of their heart. Therefore thus saith the LORD concerning the prophets that prophesy in my name, and I sent them not, yet they say, Sword and famine shall not be in this land; By sword and famine shall those prophets be consumed.
Jeremiah 23:25-26 I have heard what the prophets said, that prophesy lies in my name, saying, I have dreamed, I have dreamed. How long shall this be in the heart of the prophets that prophesy lies? yea, they are prophets of the deceit of their own heart;
Jeremiah 23:31-32 Behold, I am against the prophets, saith the LORD, that use their tongues, and say, He saith. Behold, I am against them that prophesy false dreams, saith the LORD, and do tell them, and cause my people to err by their lies, and by their lightness; yet I sent them not, nor commanded them: therefore they shall not profit this people at all, saith the LORD.
The last verse talks about the "lightness" of the false prophets. They do not take seriously the responsibility of claiming to speak for God. This is no laughing matter. If the person was a true prophet, fine, but woe unto that man who claims to be speaking for God whom God did not send. God will deal most severely with him. A person had better think twice before claiming to speak for God.
Are There Prophets Today?
1 Corinthians 13:8-10 Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.
In this passage, we are told that three things would pass away/cease (prophecies, tongues, and knowledge). In this article, we will examine prophecy and knowledge. For information on tongues, see my article "Speaking In Tongues".
Let’s look at prophesy.
1 Corinthians 13:9-10 ... we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect [complete] is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.
Prophecy was in part. That is, it was a partial revelation of God's truth. In the early days of Christianity, the N.T. was not yet complete, and Scripture was still being written. The church at Corinth, for example, probably had a copy of one of the gospels (Mark, for example) and copies of the letters Paul had written to them. How, then, were they to know all the other truths that God had for them which had not yet been written down and collected into the N.T.? – Through prophecy, of course.
Each particular prophecy was only God's revelation in part. But once that which is perfect had come (God's completed revelation in the N.T.), then there was no more need for that which was in part (prophecy), and prophecy ceased.
The same was true with the Old Testament. There was approximately 400 years between the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the N.T.. During that time, no scripture was being written. From the time of the last Old Testament prophet (Malachi), until the time of the first N.T. prophet (John the Baptist), there were no prophets and no prophecy. Once the Old Testament was completed, prophecy ceased.
What, then, should we expect to happen after the N.T. was completed? - The same thing; prophecy would cease. The last N.T. book to be written was the Book of Revelation. Since that time, there has been no such thing as true prophecy.
Now, what about knowledge?
1 Corinthians 13:12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
What kind of knowledge is being spoken about here?
1 Corinthians 13:8 Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.
Tongues would cease, prophecies would fail, and this “knowledge” would vanish away. Many mistakenly think this passage is referring to the second coming of Christ, and that only then will tongues, prophecy and knowledge pass away. This verse makes that impossible. This passage is not talking about the partial knowledge that we have in this life, for when Jesus comes that knowledge will not “vanish away”. It will be increased. Will we suddenly have all of the knowledge which we have learned prior to the second coming taken away from us? No, that partial knowledge will be added to with the additional revelations brought to us by the revelation of Jesus Christ. This passage is not speaking of the second coming.
As we have already seen, “that which is perfect” is a reference to God's completed revelation of the N.T.. What sort of knowledge would “vanish away” and “be done away” once the N.T. was completed? Only “revelation knowledge” qualifies.
1 Corinthians 12:8 For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit;
One of the spiritual gifts listed in the N.T. is “the word of knowledge”. It was a revelatory gift by which a person was given “knowledge” directly by God via revelation. Like the gift of prophecy, this knowledge was only a partial revelation of the truth which would be revealed in the entire N.T..
1 Corinthians 13:9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in Part.
Before the N.T. was completed/perfected, people only knew part of the revelation God was going to give - but now that the N.T. has been completed/perfected, that partial revelation knowledge has been done away.
1 Corinthians 13:9-10 For we know in part, and we prophesy in Part. But when that which is perfect [complete] is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.
Once this revelation was perfected in the completion of the N.T., then believers would “know as they are known”. That is, they would know everything that God wants them to know about Him, just as He knows everything about them. God has always known everything about us, but now we have the knowledge of everything He wants us to know about Him (for now) in the completed N.T.. Prior to the completion of the N.T., we only knew part of these truths and, therefore, were only able to see the glory of God through a glass dimly (darkly). But now, with the fullness of this revelation being completed, we can see God’s glory clearly (face to face).
1 Corinthians 13:11 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
We don’t have to wait until the second coming in order to come to full spiritual maturity and put away childish things. But believers did need to wait until the completion of the N.T. - for only then did they possess God’s full revelation on what it means to be fully spiritually mature. Once again, this passage is speaking of God's completed revelation of the N.T. and not the second coming. So, are there prophets today? No, there are not prophets today. As we have seen, true prophecy passed away with the completion of the N.T.
There are many warnings in the Bible about false prophets.
1 John 4:1 Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.
Matthew 7:15 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
Matthew 24:11 And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many.
Mark 13:22 For false Christ's and false prophets shall rise, and shall shew signs and wonders, to seduce, if it were possible, even the elect.
Since there are no true prophets today, anyone who claims to be a prophet is a false prophet.
Sources of False Prophecy
If those who claim to prophesy today are not true prophets and what they speak is not from God, then what is the source of their message? In the Bible, we find two sources for the messages of false prophets.
1. Evil Spirits
2 Chronicles 18:21 And he said, I will go out, and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets. And the LORD said, Thou shalt entice him, and thou shalt also prevail: go out, and do even so.
Jeremiah 2:8 The priests said not, Where is the LORD? and they that handle the law knew me not: the pastors also transgressed against me, and the prophets prophesied by Baal, and walked after things that do not profit.
Revelation 16:13-14 And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet. For they are the spirits of devils, working miracles, which go forth unto the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty.
Evil spirits try to deceive people into thinking that they are receiving a message from God, when in fact the evil spirits themselves are the source of the message.
2. A Person's own heart
Jeremiah 23:16 Thus saith the LORD of hosts, Hearken not unto the words of the prophets that prophesy unto you: they make you vain: they speak a vision of their own heart, and not out of the mouth of the LORD.
Jeremiah 23:26 How long shall this be in the heart of the prophets that prophesy lies? yea, they are prophets of the deceit of their own heart;
Jeremiah 14:14 Then the LORD said unto me, The prophets prophesy lies in my name: I sent them not, neither have I commanded them, neither spake unto them: they prophesy unto you a false vision and divination, and a thing of nought, and the deceit of their heart.
Another source of false prophecy is a person's own heart. There are two ways in which this happens.
1) Intentionally. Sometimes people just plain make it up as they go along. Maybe they are trying to impress others with how spiritual they are. There is a real temptation to do this in Charismatic circles because those who "prophesy" are often held in the highest esteem.
2) Unintentionally. Another way that this happens is when a person has been taught false doctrine regarding prophecy and, therefore, seeks to try to prophecy. They then misinterpret their own thoughts (the voice of their own spirit) for the voice of God.
1) A prophet was someone who spoke for God. Their words were not their own, but the very words of God.
2) A prophet in the Old Testament was the same as a prophet in the N.T.. They both spoke for God and predicted the future.
3) A prophet is one who prophesies, and one who prophesies is a prophet. Those who went around prophesying all the time were prophets.
4) The Bible gives us two tests to detect false prophets. First, a prophet must be 100% accurate. They must never miss. Those who "make mistakes" are false prophets. Secondly, a prophet's message must be biblical. It must lead us into truth and following the God of the Bible - not into following a false God or into ERROR. Those who give a prophecy containing false doctrine are false prophets.
5) God is angry with those who claim to be speaking for Him that he did not send. Anyone who "presumptuously" claims to speak for God will be dealt with most severely by Him if they do not repent.
6) Prophecy was in part. That is, it was only a partial revelation of God's truth. Once God's complete revelation in scripture was finished, there was no more need for that which was in part and prophecy passed away.
7) The Bible contains many warnings to beware of false prophets.
8) There are two sources of false prophecy: A) Evil spirits - who try to deceive people with supposed messages from God; and B) A person's own heart - either by making up the message or by mistaking their own thoughts (the voice of their own spirit) for the voice of God.
What will you believe? Will you believe what the Bible says about prophets and prophecy?