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THE SEVEN TESTS OF CHRISTIAN PROPHETS
WHO IS A TRUE PROPHET?
It seems as if prophets and prophecies are
popping up everywhere. All sorts of people
are claiming to have received prophecies or
visions and dreams.
Some are New Age channelers. Although the
Hebrew word for prophet ('nebi') literally
means "channel" and is even used for those
who dug irrigation ditches ("Nabi-teans"),
and the New Age movement is correct to use
the term "channeler," most Christians fail
to grasp the 'passive' role of the prophet
through whom prophecy comes.
The Christian world tends to reject these
New Age 'channelers' automatically because
they contradict traditional Christian dogma,
preaching reincarnation, denying the divine
nature of Christ, and so on.
But some modern channelers also claim to be
Christian prophets, or they insist that the
experiences are inspired by God, or they're
tying themselves to the Bible in some way.
Mohammed claimed he received the Koran via
the angel Gabriel, and accepted Jesus as a
prophet of Allah. Joseph Smith said he had
been sent to be a prophet by God the Father
and by Jesus, in 1820, in a vision when the
boy was just 14 or 15 years old. Ellen G.
White, prophetess of the 7th Day Adventists,
began reporting 'visions' after going into
seizures following being hit in the head by
a snowball on a street in Portland, Maine,
when she was a teenager. Edgar Cayce also
began receiving messages after a childhood
injury. It is curious that Mohammed also
suffered from epilepsy, which some doctors
have suggested affected the modern prophets
Ellen White and Edgar Cayce.
How do Christians know if these claims are
genuine? How does one test a prophet if he
or she claims to be speaking God's words?
THE SEVEN TESTS OF A TRUE CHRISTIAN PROPHET
The New Testament gives detailed descriptions
of the rules for testing individual Christian
prophets and their prophecies:
1) FILLED WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT
The New Testament church, as described in its
writings, considered prophecy to be one of the
gifts of the Holy Spirit received by believers
who have already spoken in tongues or who have
had a spiritual "sign" that confirms that they
have indeed been "filled" with the Holy Spirit.
[Mk 16:17-18; Acts 2:1-38;10:30-48; 1 Cor 14]
Any person claiming the gift of prophecy must
accordingly first be filled with the Spirit,
with approved signs following. Paul makes it
clear that approval by one's previous elders
in this experience--men who have already had
the Spirit with signs--is required. Claiming
it without the approval or "confirmation" of
the church is insufficient [Acts 6:3;13:1-4].
2) MEMBER OF THE BODY OF CHRIST
It follows that isolated individuals--hermits
who come in out of the desert, for example--
lack the official confirmation of the Spirit-
filled Body of Christ, the Apostolic church.
One must be a member of the Spiritual Body of
Christ, part of a spiritual fellowship. Jesus
said that whenever two or more were gathered
together under His spiritual authority, there
He would be in their midst. This presupposes
that both these are truly members of the Body
of Christ, filled with the Holy Spirit, as is
found in the New Testament.
But a church is more than two persons, for as
we shall see, the operation of a church needs
several individuals to conduct its affairs--
especially when it comes to prophecy.
Notice that Paul himself, even though he wrote
half the New Testament books, said that after
Jesus himself had given him direct revelation
and made him an Apostle, that he--Paul--would
have labored "IN VAIN" if he had not received
"the right hand of FELLOWSHIP" and approval
from the THREE "PILLARS" of the church: John,
Peter, and James [Gal 1:12;2:1-10].
No structure could be upheld with only TWO
pillars: A minimum of THREE was needed. And
even after this, when he went out to preach,
Paul always took one or two approved men with
him. He never preached ALONE. In fact, he
had not even begun to preach in earnest, but
had retired to his home in Tarsus when he was
SUMMONED by Barnabus to Antioch. Even there,
Paul did not go forth to preach until he was
"SET APART" by the prophetic utterance of
OTHERS in the church. And even that itself
was insufficient, for prophetic hands were
then laid upon him and his co-preachers and
they were sent off BY THE SPIRIT[Acts 13:1-4].
The process was a corporate one, not left to
an individual's whim. And one can be sure,
prophecy itself was treated as strictly as
the preaching of what was already revealed.
3) THE PROPHET MUST BE A HOLY MAN
Obviously an unrepentant sinner will not have
acceptance as a prophet of God in the church.
Peter says that the prophets in the past had
been "HOLY MEN OF GOD (who)spoke as they were
moved by the Holy Spirit."[2 Pt 1:21]
Putting aside the fact that the prophets of
the Old Testament were MEN, in so far as they
gave official testimonies in Biblical texts
[Paul seemed to say women should keep silent
and not prophesy in the church: 1 Cor 14:34],
Peter is saying that these men were selected
in part for their being reckoned in some way
as "HOLY" and as "MEN OF GOD" as opposed to
a self-appointed person, laden with sins.
Paul warned Timothy not to "lay hands" upon
someone who might turn out to be a sinful man,
and thereby impart some spiritual gift to him.
[1 Tim 5:22-25]
Paul urges people in the Corinthian church to
desire to prophesy, and to seek higher gifts.
But in doing so it is clear one must wait to
be chosen by God. It cannot be claimed on
one's own.[1 Cor 14:1-39]
The Spirit chooses. And it is understood in
this context that the Spirit of God does not
choose a wicked person or a proud person or
a selfish or carnal person or a person who
lives in fear and deceit.
4) THEY MUST NOT CONTRADICT THE WORD OF GOD
When a claimed prophet contradicts doctrine
or teaching already confirmed in the Word of
God, then that prophet is to be rejected in
a severe way: Disfellowship. [2 Jn 7-11]
John gives a specific example for testing a
prophet to see if his spirit comes from God.
He cites the doctrine of Jesus coming in the
flesh, which gnostic prophets of his day had
rejected. This test identified someone who
might "sound" Christian because they seemed
to acknowledge the divinity of Christ, yet
by rejecting His humanity they were revealed
as false Christians, John said [1 Jn 4:1-3].
John then warned that Christians should have
nothing further to do with such persons, but
close the door on them without even saying,
"Good-bye" [2 Jn 10-11; cf Dt 13:1-11].
5) PROVED BY TWO OR THREE WITNESSES
Isolated prophecies--like isolated prophets
--were not to be accepted. Any message had
to be confirmed by witnesses [1 Jn 5:6-9].
The first witness might not be the prophet
themselves, however. Whenever the Christian
prophecy issue arises, we hear of multiple
witnesses--at least two [cf 2 Cor 13:1].
Even Jesus Himself, when transfigured or in
His Olivet prophecy, for example, had THREE
Apostles present. THREE Magi at least come
to witness to Him as King at His birth.
So the need for AT LEAST TWO OTHER PROPHETS
to witness to the message of the first is
to be assumed, and a THIRD additional may
be needed in case of any extraordinary or
questionable prophecy, such as one by a man
heretofore unknown as a prophet.
One of the most important examples of this
in the New Testament is when, "They were
FIRST called 'Christians' at Antioch."
The Greek word translated "called" here is
not the usual word rendered this way. It
is a rare Greek word meaning to "divinely
proclaim." So the verse is about PROPHECY
given "FIRST" at Antioch.[Acts 11:26;13:1]
This PROPHECY must have been REPEATED in
SEVERAL other Christian churches, for Acts
could have simply named the other churches
if it there only one or two more.
Well-attested prophets in a given church
who are proven by many signs might suffice
to have but one confirming prophet if the
matter were not of doctrinal consequence
or some other serious kind of prophetic
issue [Acts 11:27-28].
6) INTERPRETED BY ANOTHER PROPHET
"No prophecy is of PRIVATE interpretation,"
Peter says. The prophet does not decide
the meaning of his prophecy.[2 Pt 1:20-21]
One of the first examples of prophecy in
the Bible is Joseph's dream about what we
later learn will be his role in Egypt. He
is given not one, but TWO dreams, as he
later tells Pharaoh, "Showing that the
matter is fixed by God."[Gen 41:32]
Joseph's dream is reported by Joseph, but
even this is not always left to the dreamer,
but may be done by another altogether, as
a test of the INTERPRETER. Divinely-called
interpreters themselves are exercising the
gifts of the Spirit and often must PROVE
themselves by first reciting a dream they
have not been told.[Dan 2:5-11]
Joseph's dream is interpreted by his father
Jacob, not by Joseph himself. Jacob's own
qualificiations included speaking with God
and seeing the Gate of Heaven and Angels in
his dreams.[Gen 37:10]
7) JUDGED BY ANOTHER PROPHET
Once the prophecy has been witnessed by a
second or third prophet, and interpreted by
another prophet, it still must be JUDGED by
yet another prophet in the church.
Paul says that after prophecies are heard
in the church, "Let another judge." This
Greek construction assumes the meaning of
"another PROPHET," not just anyone who is
standing around at the time.[1 Cor 14:29]
Paul continues: "The spirits of prophets
are SUBJECT to PROPHETS." That is, there
is not only a need for self-restraint by
prophets in a church gathering, but that
the nature of the SPIRITS of prophets must
be JUDGED BY PROPHETS.[1 Cor 14:27-32]
The details, of course, cannot be given.
Judgement is by prophetic Spirit, not by
human standards. That is, a PROPHETIC
UTTERANCE FROM GOD judges the matter--by
a simple "Amen" perhaps, in elementary
matters, or by more detailed inspired
judgements in other cases.[1 Cor 14:32]
THE AUTHORITY BEHIND TESTING PROPHETS
Paul finishes his discussion about how a
prophecy in the Christian church is to be
tested by making a firm declaration of the
authority behind these rules:
"If any man think himself to be a prophet
or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the
things I write to you are THE COMMANDMENTS
OF THE LORD." [1 Cor 14:37]
The testing and judging of prophets is NOT
optional. It is officially declared to be
an OBLIGATION upon the church.[1 Jn 4:6-10]
TRUE PROPHECY IS NOT A TRUE TEST
Surprising as it may seem, the one test
everyone thinks is the true test of a
genuine prophet is NOT a proper test.
It does not matter if the prophecy comes
true. Predicting the future is not the
test of prophecy.
Detailed laws are given in Dt 13:1-11
about discerning a true prophet. One
of the examples is a FALSE prophet who
makes TRUE PREDICTIONS, but fails one
of the other tests above, namely that
about teaching false doctrine while he
makes TRUE prophecies. Such a prophet
was to be put to death under the Law
of Moses. By this standard, even some
of the most "accurate" of our modern
prophets would have been executed by
Moses. Today the church is instructed
only to disfellowship such a person,
as we have already noted above. But
it shows how seriously the matter is
regarded in the Bible.
Then there is the case of the genuine
prophet of God, Jonah, after whom the
John of Revelation was named. Jonah
prophesied, "Yet 40 days and Ninevah
falls," BUT IT DID NOT FALL.[Jonah 3]
So was Jonah a "false prophet"? No,
because God considered the repentance
of Ninevah and likewise reconsidered
His judgment upon the city. Jonah was
depressed by this; it made him "look"
like a false prophet. But he should
not have worried, for this is not by
itself a proof of a false prophet.
[Jonah 4:1,4-11; cf Ezek 3:17-21]
Whether a prophet is "true" or "false"
has to do with the SOURCE, not simply
whether a prediction comes true. If
the SOURCE is God, there still may be
times when the prediction might fail
to occur. But in such a case, there
will be a divinely-proclaimed prophet
who will announce that repentance or
some other factor has changed how the
judgment of God applies to a prophecy
that was previously given. And this
one too will have proper witnesses
and pass all seven tests.[Ja 5:17-18;
Rev 11:3-6; 1 Cor 5:1-5; 2 Cor 2:1-11]
And all these things would apply to
dreams and visions and revelations,
which are also forms of prophecy.
THE CHURCH FALLS AWAY
Obviously, it became much easier to
judge prophecy by whether or not it
came true--especially after the gifts
of the Holy Spirit seemed to vanish
from an increasingly apostate church.
The church dropped its guard, and its
standards for spiritual signs. In a
desparate desire to find confirmation
for its own legitimacy, the church in
the fourth century began to use those
who prophesied as "proof" of Rome's
Even today, the Catholic Church says
that one of the four "proofs" of it
being the "one true church" is that
it is "holy"--by which it means that
it has the evidence of "spiritual"
signs like the gift of prophecy.
But this is the exact OPPOSITE of the
proper test. Prophecy does not prove
the church is true; the churches own
prophets are to judge its prophets,
and thereby, the church itself, when
it strays.[1 Jn 4:1-3]
Note that many of the tests of a prophet
require other true prophets in the church
to carry them out. As the church failed
to conduct its affairs properly, it had
fewer and fewer Spirit-filled believers.
Pagans were able to enter the Church in
secret and rise as high as Bishop by the
mid-fourth century. No one could discern
these false brethren because no one could
exercise the gift of discernment, wherein
the Spirit JUDGED prophets and believers.
Without the Spirit, the church could not
exercise the seven tests.
Accordingly, these seven tests have not been
applied to prophecies in the church since the
early days of Christianity. This has allowed,
as the New Testament said would happen, false
prophets to enter into the church, creating
divisions and spawning whole new denominations
and religions.[2 Pt 1:19-21;2:1-3; Mt 24:11-14;
Mk 13:22-24; 2 Tim 4:3-4; 1 Tim 4:1-2; and note
the false spirit Paul warns of in 2 Th 2:1-4]
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