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Lesson 6: Testing the Prophets *

Introduction: There is a very curious thing these days in Christianity. If a church claims a modern-day prophet, then all other modern prophets are false prophets. If a church does not have a modern-day prophet, then all modern prophets are false prophets. Why is "false" the default setting for modern prophets when Joel 2:28-29 and Romans 12:6 seem to say the gift will be widespread? Let's dive into our study and see if common notions about evaluating prophets are Biblical notions!

  1. Test One - the True God?

    1. Read Deuteronomy 13:1-3. Let's say the prophet tells us that in 90 days a meteor will destroy Las Vegas, and that happens just as predicted. Is this a true prophet? (According to this text, we don't have enough information to decide.)

      1. What additional information would be required? (You would have to know whether that prophet led people to the true God.)

      2. What prophetic "test" arises out of Deuteronomy 13? (Being accurate in your predictions proves nothing. The true test is where you are leading people to the true God.)

    2. Read 1 John 4:1-3. Would John agree with the Deuteronomy 13 test? (Yes! If a prophet acknowledges that Jesus is from God they are a true prophet.)

  2. Test Two - One-Way Accuracy?

    1. Read Jeremiah 27:16-22. What problem is facing the people of God? (They have prophets telling them two very different things. Jeremiah tells them that Babylon is going to steal more of the temple furnishings. Other prophets say what has already been stolen will soon be brought back.)

      1. Would "Test One" help sort out this conflict? (No. All the prophets say they are relying on the true God.)

    2. In Jeremiah 28:1-4 we find a specific illustration of this conflict. A prophet named Hananiah contradicts Jeremiah on this point. Read Jeremiah's reaction in Jeremiah 28:5-6. What is Jeremiah's reaction to this prophecy which he considers to be false? (He says "I hope you are right.)

      1. Is there a lesson in this for us today?

      2. Which message do you think the people would want to believe: that of Hananiah or that of Jeremiah? (Hananiah. He is saying positive things about the future. He is giving the "pro-country," "pro-God" message.)

    3. Read Jeremiah 28:7-9. We just learned that being accurate proves nothing. Is Jeremiah saying something else?

      1. Isn't Jeremiah's test a little self-serving? He says to Hananiah "You are a true prophet only if your prophecy comes true, but I'm a true prophet whether or not what I say comes true."

      2. Is there an issue about whether a prophet is saying things the people want to hear? (Assuming you are claiming the true God for your source, Jeremiah says being accurate only proves something if you are saying what the people want to hear.)

      3. Is there any logical reason why two different tests should apply depending on the message? Why would we have a different test depending on whether the prophet is saying something that is popular? (The natural heart would say the popular thing. That is why being accurate is important then.)

    4. Read Jeremiah 18:5-10. What problem arises with using accuracy as a test of a true prophet? (The people can change. If they repent they can avoid a bad prediction, if they sin they can lose a good prediction.)

      1. If you are not confused by now, you should be. Can you ever use accuracy as a test of a true prophet? (Considering all that Jeremiah says, it seems that accuracy (whether the prediction comes true) only works as a tie-breaker. Instead of applying a one-sided test, Jeremiah is saying to Hananiah "We both acknowledge the true God. In a conflict between two apparently true prophets, you decide who is speaking for God by the accuracy of the prediction.)

        1. How much help is that? You cannot tell who is a true prophet until whatever they have been disputing happens. (It doesn't help on that problem, but it would tell you who to depend on in the future.)

    5. Let's look at one last text on prophetic accuracy. Read Deuteronomy 18:21-22. Would this prophet be leading people to the true God? (It seems so - for the prophecy is in the name of the true God.)

      1. Doesn't this reinstate accuracy as a proper test of a prophet?

        1. If so, of what is accuracy a test here? (It seems we are looking at an otherwise true prophet who gets carried away and says things in the name of the Lord that reflects the prophet's own thinking.)

      2. What do we do with a presumptuous prophet? (Read Deuteronomy 18:20 and compare it with Deuteronomy 18:22. Why would we be told not to fear someone who is dead? What I think is being said is that prophets who speak for other gods are to be put to death, but a prophet of the true God who speaks presumptiously (inaccurately) should not be feared.)

  3. Test Three - Divine Intervention

    1. Read Jeremiah 28:15-17. What bright-line test do we find here? (This is a nice and clear test: God removes the false prophet.)

  4. Test Four - Past Revelation

    1. Read Isaiah 8:19. If you want to get accurate answers, where should you look? (Ask God.)

    2. How can we tell whether God is speaking to us through the Holy Spirit or through a prophet? (Read Isaiah 8:20. You check the accuracy of the current message by past revelations you believe are from God.)

      1. What are the "law" and the "testimony?" (I believe the law is the gold-standard Ten Commandments (written personally by God). If you read through Isaiah 8, testimony refers to testimony about God. Thus, this is the familiar test of whether the prophet is leading people to the true God.)

    3. Read Lamentations 2:14. How is "exposing our sin" consistent with the law? Are prophets supposed to embarrass us? (The problem with the natural heart is that we have an amazing ability to deceive ourselves that what we are doing is consistent with God's will. Part of the work of the true prophet is to strip away this self-deception. Only when we see our sins clearly will we repent.)

  5. Test Five - The Tree/Fruit Test

    1. Read Matthew 7:15-19. What "fruit" is produced by a prophet? (This must mean the results of the prophet's work. The result of their lives, the result of their words, the result of their ministry.)

  6. One Standard?

    1. As you consider these tests, are some more important than others?

      1. Are some easier to apply than others?

      2. Is there a uniform standard or overarching test that arises?

        1. If not, is there an order in which these tests should be applied?

    2. Let me suggest the following multi-part test:

      1. The first and the most obvious and easy test is whether they promote the true God - Jesus. If they do not, they are not a true prophet.

      2. If they support God, then you must take a much closer look to make a judgment. The closer look is whether they speak in accord with existing revelations from God and whether the results of the prophet's work is Godly people.

      3. The last, and least reliable test, is whether the prophet predicted something that did not occur. It is difficult to know whether the prophecy failed because God changed His mind (because the people changed), or whether the prophet was false or just presumptuous. I would not reject a failed prophecy prophet out of hand if the prophet met the first two parts of this test. Instead, I would carefully test each subsequent statement.

  7. Application of the Test

    1. How does Ellen G. White fare when this test is applied? (She clearly is promoting Jesus and her work promotes the Bible. The resulting gospel work of the Seventh-day Adventist Church through its members and institutions is impressive. Much of what her critics argue is that she is inconsistent with the Bible, but these are mainly doctrinal disputes.)

    2. What about the charges that Ellen White "copied" large portions of her writings and was wrong on the "Shut Door" prophecy? (Copying is not a test. While "fruit" is a test, Moses and David were both prophets and they had greater problems than copying in their lives. Last week we learned that Luke acted as a compiler ( Luke 1:1-4) - which suggests he "copied" from other oral and written accounts. The "Shut Door" attack presents an "accuracy" issue, which is the least reliable of the tests. At worst, this would be a "presumptuous" statement. I think she passes the true prophet test - but as with all prophets, she needs to be continuously tested by the Bible.)

    3. Friend, are you making a real effort to know God? Read and understand the Bible. Test modern prophets, and if they past the test look for further light from God.

  8. Next week: The Work of the Prophets.
* Copr. 2009, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D. All scripture references are to the New International Version (NIV), copr. 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society, unless otherwise noted. Quotations from the NIV are used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. Suggested answers are found within parentheses. The lesson assumes the teacher uses a blackboard or some other visual aid.

© 2021 Bruce N. Cameron, J.D.
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