Will the Real Prophets of God Please Stand Up!?

Marvin Sanguinetti gives insight into what the Bible says about prophets and prophecies, and how to assess whether prophetic declarations are true  

The proliferation of prophets and public displays of prophetic ministries make it an inescapable encounter for 21st century Christians. There is no shortage of the giving and receiving of personal, esoteric and enigmatic claims, unveiling intricate information about what God is going to do for believers.

Some modern-day prophets often draw attention to themselves, rather than making prophecy and the use of the prophetic office a Christocentric experience. Jesus Christ must always be highlighted as Lord in any prophetic event, and participant observers should be left with no doubt that God has truly spoken (1 Corinthians 11:3). An anomaly of the average prophet is they are not accountable to any type of biblical governance and are usually pastored by only themselves. This is not the model shown in the New Testament!

Prophets and prophecies should be put under the biblical and theological microscope of solid hermeneutics and Christian ethics; their beliefs and behaviours must be scrutinised (1 John 4:1). Why? God often advised Israel to reject prophets and their prophecies: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord” (Jeremiah 23:16, ESV). Moreover, whether prophecies are foretellingor forthtelling, all must be examined by the wider Christian community, ‘…knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation…’ (2 Peter 1:20, NKJV).

We must vehemently challenge the notion that God gives direction for prophets and prophetesses to instruct congregants to “drink bleach substances”; “eat grass”; buy them second private jets; give all their social security benefits as offerings; or predict falsely who would win the USA election. To be clear – and I offer this as a disclaimer – I wholeheartedly and unequivocally affirm the prophetic office and gifts as integral to New Testament Christianity, so this brief commentary does not have an anti-prophetic modus operandi.

To understand this phenomenon, we should distinguish between the ‘office of the prophet’ and the ‘gift of prophecy’.

Those functioning in the prophetic office share divine directives by God to His people, and often speak on national and international issues of justice, equity, global spiritual decline, and calling nations back to God. (See Jeremiah 23:1-40, for example.)

Those with the gift of prophecy tend to address issues of personal concerns, including its operation in the local church (1 Corinthians 12-14). Having the God-given ability to discern or know intricate details about others is not itself prophecy but is prophetic in nature. These gifts are called ‘word of wisdom’ and ‘word of knowledge’ (1 Corinthians 12:8-11).

In today’s prophetic environment, we must exercise caution, because ‘soothsaying’ might be mistaken for biblical prophecy. Soothsayers will often reveal things about you that are true, but this is quickly followed by unbiblical requests for money and/or unethical favours (Acts 8:18-24). Moreover, one might not have the gift of prophecy, but God can still use them to prophesy (1 Samuel 10:10-13).

So how might we know who the real prophets are today? How might we tell which prophecies are true and which are blatantly false?

(1) What they say happens (Deuteronomy 18:20-22, Jeremiah 28:9).

(2) They never contradict what is written in Scripture (Isaiah 8:19-20, John 10:35, Matthew 5:18).

(3) Users of the office and gift demonstrate humility, maturity, and openness for their predictions to be tested or judged (1 John 4:1, 1 Corinthians 14:29).

(4) Their message is balanced between encouragement and a call to repentance. Watch those prophets who lean to one side and neglect the other (Micah 2:1-11, Isaiah 40:1-2, Acts 21:10-13).

(5) Through the Holy Spirit, they will always point people to Jesus Christ and not to themselves (John 16:13).

Here are some other observations and bad practices we should look out for when deciding whether prophets of prophecies are true:

(a) Ask yourself whether the prophets or prophetesses attend church. Do they sit under or are submitted to other biblical leadership? (Ephesians 4:11)

(b) If these “men and women of God” invite you to ask them to prophesy, then it is hype and has no biblical foundation!

(c) True prophets and prophetesses do not trawl through social media or use details provided by stewards at the church doors as a basis for calling out an individual to make it seem like God revealed to them intricate details about that individual. This is deception! Let us use our gifts properly!


Dr Marvin Sanguinetti (PhD) is an academic theologian and university lecturer. He is author of the book Patterns of Christological Categorisation, and combines scholarly research with pastoral commitments. Email nlbc2007@aol.com

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