Prophecy is a topic of great interest on the Internet and elsewhere. On social media, without having to call names, people are calling out individuals who are not true prophets. However, this ministry is answering questions coming from the scriptures, which should answer our questions, and if you choose to evaluate an individual by the word of God, which would be precisely what the Lord would have us do. The word of God tells us, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God because many false prophets have gone out into the world” – 1 John 4:1.
So, what is a true prophet of God? In dialogue with the text, my words will be red.
Although the word “prophecy” often evokes images of people who predict the future, Hebrew prophets primarily anticipated the punishment of evil and a better life on earth for faithful Israelites (e.g., Isa 24:21–23; 26:1–6, 19; 27:12–13; 45:1–8; 60:1–22; Ezek 36–39; Zech 9; 14). Many of us want our futures said to us, so we can be prepared for whatever will occur. Moreover, knowing an event before it happens can significantly benefit us. However, a prophet rooted in the word of God speaks of sin and the possibility of evil being punished. If a prophet is speaking on behalf of God and he or she is not willing to talk about the truth but only say what is pleasing in the ears of the hearers, that person is not a true prophet of God. They spoke the truth about the present and what would happen if people did not change their behavior and return to Yahweh’s ways. A true prophet only mentioned your behavior if it was not conducive to God’s word; prayerfully, we would return to God and obey his word.
When Hebrew prophets did focus on the future, they usually were concerned with the short-term future. For example, they predicted the fall of Israel or Judah or the end of the Babylonian or Assyrian empires—events that fulfilled God’s intentions or righteousness. At times, prophecies also concerned events far into the future. For instance, Old Testament prophecies do not reference Jesus by name but speak about what a future Messiah or Suffering Servant would accomplish. The New Testament writers interpreted Old Testament texts as predictions of Jesus’ birth, career, death, and resurrection (see Matt 1:22–23; Luke 1:32–33; Acts 2:22–35). Some events in biblical prophetic works have yet to occur, as with the New Testament promises of Jesus’ return in Revelation (Rev 7; 22). Because God is concerned about our social climate, he will allow nations to rise to reprimand us. The New Testament people were looking for a Messiah but were mistaken for Jesus, who came to alleviate their oppression by the Roman Empire. However, people in the New Testament were familiar with the sayings of the Old Testament prophecies concerning a Messiah.
While the biblical prophets were primarily concerned with their original audience, their writings offer modern readers insight into God’s will and divine justice. Therefore, when we investigate biblical prophecies, we should seek the will of God for all people, not monetary gain, am I going to get married, and all of that which we would like to know in advance.
The earliest canonical prophetic books date to the eighth century BC; the so-called writing prophets emerged around the 10th/ninth century BC. Public writing, as attested by the number of public inscriptions found, emerged in the 10th/9th century BC, and the canonical “Writing Prophets” emerged beginning in the eighth century with Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, and Micah.
However, the designation “writing prophets” does not mean that the prophets themselves were literate (though they may have been), only that their sayings have been preserved in volumes attributed to them. For example, Jeremiah 51:60 does record that the prophet Jeremiah “wrote on a scroll all the disasters that would befall Babylon,” but this may mean that he instructed a scribe to write the sayings (see Jer. 51:59). Aside from the book of Jeremiah, little is known about the writing process of prophetic books.
Redditt, Paul. 2016. “Prophets, the.” In The Lexham Bible Dictionary, edited by John D. Barry, David Bomar, Derek R. Brown, Rachel Klippenstein, Douglas Mangum, Carrie Sinclair Wolcott, Lazarus Wentz, Elliot Ritzema, and Wendy Widder. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.