Messengers of God (part 2): How Does One Recognize a Prophet?

In Scripture we find three tests that can be applied to know whether someone is a true of false prophet. By using these tests we can determine if someone claiming to be speaking on behalf of God, is, in fact, speaking on God’s behalf.

Test #1 – Predictive Accuracy

Deuteronomy 18:20-22 says:

But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ 21 And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the LORD has not spoken?’- 22 when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.

How can I know if someone is speaking for God? Answer #1: Does what they say come to pass? If it does not, then I should pay no mind to that person or what they have to say. Notice, that if a prophet’s word fails to come to be, then not only should what he said be discredited, but the prophet should be discredited. “You need not be afraid of him.”

How many predictions must a true prophet of God get right according to this passage? All of them. How many wrong predictions makes someone claiming to be a prophet of God a false prophet? Just 1.

Test #2 – Doctrinal Accuracy

But it is not just predictive accuracy that makes for a true prophet. They must also be doctrinally accurate. Deuteronomy 13:1-5:

“If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, 2 and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ 3 you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the LORD your God is testing you, to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. 4 You shall walk after the LORD your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him. 5 But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has taught rebellion against the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you out of the house of slavery, to make you leave the way in which the LORD your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.

Did you catch what he says there? If a prophet speaks a word, and it comes to pass, should we assume him to be a true prophet? Well, no, not if he is calling us after another God. In other words, a person can get the prediction right and still be dead wrong.

Anything God would speak to us will always accord with who He is and what He has already revealed. God is consistent and does not change. He will not speak against Himself. So we can test what someone says against what God has already said. If what they say leads us away from what God has said, beware! Don’t listen to them.

This fact holds true for New Testament teachers as will. 2 Peter 2:1 warns, “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.”

Test #3 – Moral Accuracy

Jeremiah 23:11-15:

Both prophet and priest are ungodly; even in my house I have found their evil, declares the LORD. 12 Therefore their way shall be to them like slippery paths in the darkness, into which they shall be driven and fall, for I will bring disaster upon them in the year of their punishment, declares the LORD. 13 In the prophets of Samaria I saw an unsavory thing: they prophesied by Baal and led my people Israel astray. 14 But in the prophets of Jerusalem I have seen a horrible thing: they commit adultery and walk in lies; they strengthen the hands of evildoers, so that no one turns from his evil; all of them have become like Sodom to me, and its inhabitants like Gomorrah.” 15 Therefore thus says the LORD of hosts concerning the prophets: “Behold, I will feed them with bitter food and give them poisoned water to drink, for from the prophets of Jerusalem ungodliness has gone out into all the land.”

What was the problem with the prophets here? Their lives did not match their message. The message they delivered was undermined by the lives they led. A prophets life should line up with the message the claim to give from God.

Summary

So we find from Scripture that a prophet of God should have 100% predictive accuracy, their message should square with what God has already said, and their lives should be consistent with the righteousness of the one whom they speak for. These three tests were given by God to protect His people from false prophets and teachers who would lead people astray even as they claimed to speak for God. Let us apply these test today to anyone who would claim they have a message from the Lord.

 

*Note: This message from Nathan Busenitz’s was helpful in writing this article.

 

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