The Old Testament prophet’s message was to be examined by the people to determine the truthfulness of the message, stone the false prophet and heed the true prophet. One difference between the OT prophet and the NT prophet is the result of identifying the false prophet. The people under the law were to stone the false prophet, while the people under the dispensation of grace are to expose the false prophet as blaspheming God! In this article, we will examine another aspect of the prophet – the official office of prophet. Does the NT prophet appointed by church leadership have an official office? And if the NT prophet appointed by the church lies can he or she be considered a true prophet of God?
Selection of the Prophet in the Old Testament
The prophet of the OT was chosen by God but there was also an “order” or “office” of prophet that was selected by the people and were trained in the school of prophecy. Therefore, we find in the OT two types of prophets. Those called out by God Himself, sent to a specific people to declare God’s message of repentance, judgment and promise. This type of prophet was to reveal the sins of the people, new truth, and future events. A second type of prophet that was simply to speak already established Law to God’s people. The main function of this prophet of God was to reveal already revealed law in connection with Israel’s sins. They served as preachers of the truth warning Israel of judgment.
In the first class of prophet, those selected by God, the individual selected by God was from different groups of people from all walks of life and included all age groups from the young to the old. They were selected form the babe in the womb to the elderly on their deathbed. Within this group of prophet are included the writing prophets and even included some who did not write.
Samuel is the first of a new order of prophet chosen by God (1 Sam. 3:1-20). A new order was needed because from Joshua to Eli the failure of the priesthood grew to apostasy. The priesthood that governed spiritual things failed to point out Israel’s sins. It is during the priestly reign of Eli that Samuel comes on the scene. Notice what First Samuel says about the lack of new revelation from God during this period:
Then the boy Samuel ministered to the LORD before Eli. And the word of the LORD was rare in those days; there was no widespread revelation. (1 Sam. 3:1)
When Samuel was old enough he became a prophet, God called him to service:
19 So Samuel grew, and the LORD was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground.
20 And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel had been established as a prophet of the LORD. (1Sam. 3:19-20)
Samuel was then the first of a new class of prophet as Scripture says,
9 Formerly in Israel, when a man went to inquire of God, he spoke thus: "Come, let us go to the seer"; for he who is now called a prophet was formerly called a seer. (1Sam. 9:9)
17 And when Samuel saw Saul, the LORD said to him, "There he is, the man of whom I spoke to you. This one shall reign over My people." 18 Then Saul drew near to Samuel in the gate, and said, "Please tell me, where is the seer's house?" 19 And Samuel answered Saul and said, "I am the seer. Go up before me to the high place, for you shall eat with me today; and tomorrow I will let you go and will tell you all that is in your heart. (1Sam 9:17-19)
The great OT scholar, Dr. Unger, writes, “Samuel took measures to make his work of restoration permanent as well as effective for the moment. For this purpose he instituted companies, or colleges, of prophets. One we find in his lifetime at Ramah (1 Sam. 19:19-20); others afterward at Bethel (2 Kings 2:3), Jericho (2:5), Gilgal (4:38), and elsewhere (6:1). Into them were gathered promising students, and there they were destined to fulfill. So successful were these institutions that from the time the Samuel to the closing of the canon of the OT there seems never to have been wanting of official prophets.” (Unger’s Bible Dictionary)
Prophets chosen by God ranged from kings and priests to women. The duration of their prophecy varied but with the exception of Moses, they did not remain a prophet of God all their lives. This group of prophets were all those that were chosen by God from Samuel to Malachi. The period of silence from Malachi to Jesus was notable and moved the people to look for the Messiah to break the 400 years of silence.
The 400 years of silence is notable as God moved in Israel to prepare for the greatest event in history, Christ’s incarnation, presentation, prophecy, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension to heaven. The last of the OT class of prophet was John the Baptist whose message was that of all the prophets: repent, get right with God, for judgment is at hand.
One the other hand, the official OT prophet that was selected by man was selected, sent to school to learn the law, and functioned as watchmen and preachers of the law (cf. 1 Sam. 19:19-20; 2 Kings 2:3, 2:5, 4:38, 6:1). They functioned like pastors and shepherds monitoring the people of God. Their function was to declare, discern and apply God’s moral will. This group of prophet spent years in school training up for the office. This class of prophet is thought to be what was called a Scribe by the time of Jesus. He was the expert in the law who served in the Sanhedrin alone side the Pharisees and Sadducees. The official office of prophet that Samuel created all those years ago had turned into legal experts held by a mix of God’s word and tradition. I find it sad that this group was not even identified by the people as prophets of God by the time of Christ. The prophet of God had ceased to speak for 400 years prior to John the Baptist. John prepared the way of the Lord.
The False Prophet
a. Warnings in the Old Testament
When speaking about a prophet, God always includes a warning about those that claim to speak for Him but do not. He requires a test of what the prophet says. A test whether what the prophet says lines up with established Scripture. The Lord warns us of a prophetic deception because this is a fallen world whose ruler, Satan is the father of lies and deception. The Lord warns us in Deut. 18:20 that there will be false prophets. Notice the warnings concerning false prophets throughout Scripture, in the OT:
"For both prophet and priest are profane; Yes, in My house I have found their wickedness," says the LORD. 12 "Therefore their way shall be to them Like slippery ways; In the darkness they shall be driven on And fall in them; For I will bring disaster on them, The year of their punishment," says the LORD. 13 "And I have seen folly in the prophets of Samaria: They prophesied by Baal And caused My people Israel to err. 14 Also I have seen a horrible thing in the prophets of Jerusalem: They commit adultery and walk in lies; They also strengthen the hands of evildoers, So that no one turns back from his wickedness. All of them are like Sodom to Me, And her inhabitants like Gomorrah. 15 "Therefore thus says the LORD of hosts concerning the prophets:`Behold, I will feed them with wormwood, And make them drink the water of gall; For from the prophets of Jerusalem Profaneness has gone out into all the land.' 16 Thus says the LORD of hosts: "Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you. They make you worthless; They speak a vision of their own heart, Not from the mouth of the LORD. 17 They continually say to those who despise Me,`The LORD has said, "You shall have peace "'; And to everyone who walks according to the dictates of his own heart, they say,`No evil shall come upon you.'" 18 For who has stood in the counsel of the LORD, And has perceived and heard His word? Who has marked His word and heard it? 19 Behold, a whirlwind of the LORD has gone forth in fury - A violent whirlwind! It will fall violently on the head of the wicked. 20 The anger of the LORD will not turn back Until He has executed and performed the thoughts of His heart. In the latter days you will understand it perfectly. 21 "I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran. I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied. 22 But if they had stood in My counsel, And had caused My people to hear My words, Then they would have turned them from their evil way And from the evil of their doings. (Jer. 23:11-22)
The prophets of Israel are distinguished from the pagan prophets in that they received their message from God. The pagan prophets used divination, they cut open and examined the entrails of animals to prophesy. They used all manner of the occult to talk to the dead. They used drugs to put themselves in a “prophetic” state and prophesied blessings and curses for money. This culture had moved into Israel and God was mad. Israel was to be set apart from the world, yet they set their minds after the things of the world and prophesied lies. Listen to the prophet Jeremiah:
25 "I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in My name, saying,`I have dreamed, I have dreamed!' 26 "How long will this be in the heart of the prophets who prophesy lies? Indeed they are prophets of the deceit of their own heart, (Jer. 23:25-26)
14 And the LORD said to me, "The prophets prophesy lies in My name. I have not sent them, commanded them, nor spoken to them; they prophesy to you a false vision, divination, a worthless thing, and the deceit of their heart. 15 "Therefore thus says the LORD concerning the prophets who prophesy in My name, whom I did not send, and who say,`Sword and famine shall not be in this land'--`By sword and famine those prophets shall be consumed! (Jer. 14:14-15)
Notice that there were also women prophetesses,
17 "Likewise, son of man, set your face against the daughters of your people, who prophesy out of their own heart; prophesy against them, 18 "and say,`Thus says the Lord GOD: "Woe to the women who sew magic charms on their sleeves and make veils for the heads of people of every height to hunt souls! Will you hunt the souls of My people, and keep yourselves alive? 19 "And will you profane Me among My people for handfuls of barley and for pieces of bread, killing people who should not die, and keeping people alive who should not live, by your lying to My people who listen to lies?" 20 `Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: "Behold, I am against your magic charms by which you hunt souls there like birds. I will tear them from your arms, and let the souls go, the souls you hunt like birds. 21 "I will also tear off your veils and deliver My people out of your hand, and they shall no longer be as prey in your hand. Then you shall know that I am the LORD. (Ezek. 13:17-21)
"Her prophets plastered them with untempered mortar, seeing false visions, and divining lies for them, saying,`Thus says the Lord GOD,' when the LORD had not spoken. (Ezek. 22:28)
11 If a man should walk in a false spirit And speak a lie, saying,`I will prophesy to you of wine and drink,' Even he would be the prattler of this people. (Mic. 2:11)
God put an end to the prophets of old. There were NO prophets for 400 years before Christ came in the flesh! Can you imagine, Israel with no active prophets? How can that be? The chosen people of God find themselves in silence for 400 years?
b. False prophets in the New Testament
In the NT one finds the Church is also infiltrated by the world. Both Paul and John address the Greek Gnostic culture has moved into the church. Like the OT false prophet that receives a “secret” message from God, the NT false prophet likewise claims secret revelation from God. The heart of the Greek religion was the prophet who was a special person who achieved such a high state of spiritual maturity that they would receive a special message from God – a gnostic “Gr. gnosis, knowledge.” Dr. Wolf writes in The Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, “they all offer knowledge – and in a form or degree not to be found outside their own teaching. This concern for knowledge links the higher and the lower forms of Gnosticism. At its lowest, the knowledge offered related simply to power and secrets of the future – the same sort of things as those for which people consulted astrologers and fortune tells, but put into a religious setting. In its higher forms, it is related to abstracted speculation, grappling with problems which had long been obstacles for educated pagans….Sometimes, too, it is special knowledge about Jesus which is proffered, on the basis of secret, closely guarded sources.” There is a strong pull in the church to hear secret knowledge – a special message from God, and some seek out a special word about them personally. God has spoken His Word and the prophets have written by the power of the Spirit. Is this not enough? Has God spoken today? Yes, by His Word! Yet some in the Church desire more and the false prophet is more than willing to give them a special message claimed to be from God.
Notice Jesus’ warning:
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. (Matt. 7:15)
The Prophet and the Church
Is the prophet found as an official of the Church? The church is made up of the following officials: (1) elders – teachers; (2) elders – overseers; and (3) deacons. The office of Pastor-Teacher- Elder is given specific qualifications (Tim. 3:1-7), likewise, the office of Overseer- Elder is given equivalent qualification (Titus 1:5-9). Likewise, the office of deacon is given specific qualification (1 Tim. 3:8-13). These two offices, elder and deacon, are the only two official offices found in Scripture. Where does the prophet fit in this organization? The office of prophet, like the office of apostle, has past, as the founding period of the church is complete. The apostle was one sent by Christ with a special commission. The apostle Paul was the last apostle chosen by Christ and sent with a message (Acts 1:21-22; 1 Cor. 15:8-9). Both the apostles and prophets served to found (past tense) the church which continues to be the thing that is the foundation of the church today (Eph. 2:20).
Where then does the prophet fit into the church? The prophet and the apostle are not official offices of the church but rather used as temporary gifted instruments used by God for the purpose of building the church.
The Gift of Prophecy
The prophet of old like the prophet of the NT was gifted by the Spirit of God to carry out the task of new revelation and often times that involved predicting a near event that came true in order to validate the person is a prophet from God.
The apostles are considered prophets and both are considered gifts of the church (Eph. 4:11; 1 Corinthians 12; Paul 1 Cor. 13:2; Peter 2 Pet. 3:10-13; John Rev. 1:1). The gifts to the Church are said to be manifestations of the Spirit (1 Cor 12:7). The Acts of the Apostles reveals the following prophets: Agabus (Acts 11:28; 21:10-11), Judas and Silas (Acts 15:32), Twelve men in Ephesus (Acts 19:6), daughters of Philip (Acts 21:9).
Yet outside the book of Acts, a prophetic act by anyone outside the apostles is not found. Paul speaks of the gift in his instructions to the church at Corinth. It is here that one finds that the signs gifts will end.
7 But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: 8 for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills. (1Cor. 12:7-11)
Moreover, Paul exhorts them to seek something beyond there gnostic inspired thinking:
27 Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. 28 And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way. (1Cor. 12:27-31)
Paul exhorts them to live a life of love (Gr. agape, “giving love, that asks nothing in return”) filled faith:
4 Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; 5 does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; 6 does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail (Gr. katargeo, Fut. Pas. Ind.,“render idle, cause to cease:” “they will be idled”); whether there are tongues, they will cease (Gr. pauo, Fut. Mid. Dep. Ind.,“to cease:” “they will [themselves] cease”); whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away(Gr. katargeo, Fut. Pas. Ind.,“render idle, cause to cease:” “They will be idled”). 9 For we know in part (neuter noun) and we prophesy in part (neuter noun). 10 But when that which is perfect (neuter adj.) has come, then that which is in part (neuter noun) will be done away Gr. katargeo, Fut. Pas. Ind.,“render idle, cause to cease:” “They will be idled”). (1 Cor. 13:4-10)
As you can see by the Greek, the neuter nouns refer to knowledge and prophecy that “we prophesy” that is, Paul and those that truly have the gift of prophecy. In the future the knowledge gifts will cease – they will be idled. The neuter adjective of verse 10, “that which is perfect,” points back to the neuter nouns of the “part,” namely, knowledge and prophecy. Prophecy will cease! The neuter cannot mean when Christ returns for it would be a masculine, nor does it mean the kingdom for it would be a feminine. Prophecy and knowledge point to God’s instruments who are used to write down His word in what we call the Word of God and what the Word calls the Scriptures – the whole of the Old and New Testaments.
The question is when will the prophecy and knowledge end? Prophecy ended when the Scriptures were completed. When the last Prophet (Christ) speaks through the Holy Spirit to the last apostle/prophet John. The book of Revelation is the last great book of the Bible and John was the last prophet to speak new revelation! The gift of apostleship and prophecy ended sometime in mid to late A.D 90’s.
Notice the apostle Peter equated the prophets with Scripture when he wrote,
And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; 20 knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, 21 for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. 2:1 But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. (2 Peter 1:19-2:1)
The NT prophet is no different from the OT prophet. Both receive direct revelation from God to be spokesmen for Him, reproving, correcting, and encouraging the people of God concerning sin and the promises of God. The OT and NT prophet spoke under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and thus cannot lie. The prophet of God in the OT was empowered by the Spirit for a temporary period to serve a specific purpose during a specific period. The NT prophet also served to speak for God for a specific period of time for a specific purpose, though, the NT spokesmen for God cannot lie during this service, for God does not lie. Finally, the NT prophet was not an official office but was temporarily sent for the purpose of fulfilling progressive revelation to build and establish the Church. After the church was formed and the apostles died, the prophet ceased. The book was sealed and the Spirit of God speaks through the Word of God to convict the world of sin, teach the body of Christ, and guide her until the bride is taken to heaven.