What did it mean to be a prophet of God? Were there prophets only in the Old Testament or were there any in the New Testament? What about today, are there any prophets today?
The Prophet of the Old Testament
When a prophet spoke in the Old Testament, he never spoke his own words, but spoke only the words given to him by God. So when he spoke, it was actually God speaking through him. There are many Old Testament prophets and they usually prophesied events that were far in the future (Dan 12) but not always. Sometimes the prophet spoke of the things that would shortly happen (2 Kings 2:3). In other cases, as with the prophet Isaiah, many of his prophecies would come hundreds of years later (Isaiah 53) but some have yet to be fulfilled (Isaiah 60).
Moses was told that Aaron would be a prophet to Israel (Ex 7:1) but God also told Moses of a coming prophet and that “I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them whatever I command” (Duet 18:18) and it was about Jesus. God tells all prophets that they are to speak only the words He gives them (Ezk 2:7) and never anything that comes from their own mind. God spoke through Amos that “The Lord GOD does nothing without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets. A lion roared! Who will not be afraid? The Lord God has spoken! Who can only prophesy” (Amos 3:7-8)
The Hebrew word for prophet as a noun is “nabiy” which is exactly what I wrote because that word means “a spokesman” and “a speaker” and they are spokesperson and speaker for God. When the word prophet is used as a verb, as in Amos 3:8, it is the Hebrew word “naba” which means “to prophesy or speak”, “under the influence of the divine spirit”. So these prophets were the mouthpieces of God but they only spoke or prophesied “under the influence of the divine spirit” and never under human influence and there are more than a thousand times that the Bible says “Thus saith the Lord”. How could the people know whether a prophet came from God or not? The way to know was recorded by Moses in Deuteronomy 18:20 which still serves as a warning today about so-called prophets who are not really prophets at all: “But the prophet who speaks presumptuously in my name a word which I have not commanded that he speak, or that he speak in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die. There is no “three knocks and you’re out” but you get one chance and if you’re a false prophet then you’re dead.
The New Testament Prophet
The age of the Old Testament prophets actually comes at the beginning of Christ’s ministry and is found in the New Testament. John the Baptist was the last of the Old Testament prophets as it says in Matthew 11:8-15
“A man dressed in soft clothes? Behold, those who wear loose garments are in the houses of kings. What did you go to see? A prophet ? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. He is the one of whom it is written: ‘Behold, I am sending my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you. “Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not been one greater than John the Baptist. But he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent have taken it by force. For all the Prophets and the Law have prophesied until John, and if you are ready to accept it, it is Elijah who must come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
In the New Testament the Greek word for prophet is “prophets” which means “an interpreter of oracles” and the oracles here are the words of God. When the word is used as one of the gifts that some in the church had, that Hebrew word was “propheteia” which means “a speech” and Christian teachers who would have the gift of prophecy really did not predict the future but it was an endowment of God and the speech was that of the Scriptures. So the prophet of God was not so much a predictor of future events, but someone who spoke for God and exhorted and led the church.
When someone is said to give a prophecy or be a prophet in the New Testament, common sense should be understood as not predicting the future, but as the Greek compound sense of the words helps define what c is really: The Greek “pro” means “before” while the “phḗtēs” or sometimes “phemi” means “to clarify, affirm in priority” so those who had the gift of prophecy in the New Testament did not prophesy what would happen in the future to the church or Christians, but what was previously clarified or “pro” (e.g. in the scriptures) was clarified or “phetes” so that what was previously clarified involved revelation divine (affirming the mind of God) or a prediction.
I can predict your future without being a prophet, but I can predict what your future most certainly holds if you are unsaved when you die or before Christ returns. Let me clarify from scripture what has been clarified in advance for you in Revelation 20:12-15
“And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before the throne, and books were open. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead was judged according to what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead that were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and they were judged, every one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
I can also predict with 100% accuracy what will happen to you if you have repented, confessed your sins and put your trust in Christ for you will be among “those who are wise will shine like the brightness of heaven above; and those who bring many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever” (Dan 12:3).
Another Patheos Reading to Check Out: What Jesus Really Looked Like: A Look at Biblical Facts
Article by Jack Wellman
Jack Wellman is pastor of Mulvane Brethren Church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the senior editor of What Christians Want to Know whose mission is to equip, encourage and energize Christians and answer questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Blind Chance or Intelligent Design available on Amazon