Bible Question:

How can a true prophet be recognized from a false prophet?

Bible Answer:

In the Old Testament, it was common for God to speak directly to a prophet or through dreams or visions. Then God and the prophet would know this had truly occurred. But no one else would know that God had spoken to the prophet. Any one could claim to be a prophet. So, how can a true prophet be distinguished from a false prophet?  Therefore, this article will first discuss the issue of miracles, signs and wonders. Then we will answer the questions, “How can you identify a true prophet?” and  “How can you identify a false prophet?” or how can we know if a prophet is true or false?

How to know if a prophet is true or false

Message of Miracles, Signs and Wonders

Jeremiah 5:30-31; 14:14-15; 27:14-15; 29:9 cite four times when God said prophets had prophesied falsely. God had not spoken to them in a dream, vision or in any way. He had not sent them. False prophets existed in the Old and New Testaments, and they exist today.

Jeremiah 23:25-27 is another example of false teachers or false prophets who claimed that they had a dream from God, but they did not have real dreams or visions. They invented them and claimed that God had given them a message.

“I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy falsely in My name, saying, ‘I had a dream, I had a dream!’ “How long? Is there anything in the hearts of the prophets who prophesy falsehood, even these prophets of the deception of their own heart, who intend to make My people forget My name by their dreams which they relate to one another, just as their fathers forgot My name because of Baal?” Jeremiah 23:25-27

This passage reveals that God knew which prophets were true or false, but how can we determine who is a real prophet of God? How can a believer know if someone who claims to be a prophet, claims to have dreams, visions and performs miracles, is actually a true prophet from God?

The problem of identifying a false prophet can be more difficult when someone performs signs and wonders and claims to be speaking for God. We usually want to believe that signs, wonders and miracles are the proof that a man is speaking for God. Anyone can say, “I have a word from God.” But are they telling the truth?

For example, the magicians in Egypt caused a staff to become a snake (Exodus 7:8-13), water to become blood (Exodus 7:20-25) and caused frogs to cover the land (Exodus 8:1-7). But they could not cause flies or gnats to cover the land (Exodus 8:18-19).

Another example is found in  2 Thessalonians 2:9 where we are told the future antichrist will perform “all power and signs and false wonders.”

. . . that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders . . . 2 Thessalonians 2:9 (NASB)

But verse 10 says that only those who perish, who are going to hell, will be deceived. This means that believers will be to identify the antichrist.

Other passages of Scripture in the New Testament tell us that the signs, wonders and miracles that Jesus and the apostles performed authenticated that they were speaking for God and were speaking truth (Mark 16:20; John 21:30-31; Acts 2:22-24; 5:12; 1 Corinthians 2:14; 2 Corinthians 12:12; Hebrews 2:3-4). As an example, here is Acts 2:22-24,

Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know — this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. “But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power.” Acts 2:22-24 (NASB)

These scriptures demonstrate that miracles, wonders and signs can accompany true prophets, false prophets, true teachers, false teachers, and apostles. Therefore, how can a believer determine when miracles, wonders and signs affirm that the teacher or prophet is speaking for God? The following two sections will answer the question.

How To Identify A False Prophet

First, God tells us how to identify a false prophet in Deuteronomy 13:1-3.

“If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes true, concerning which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods (whom you have not known) and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams; for the LORD your God is testing you to find out if you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” Deuteronomy 13:1-3 (NASB)

How can we recognize a false prophet or a false teacher who performs miracles, wonders and signs? Listen to what he or she says! In this passage, God says that a false prophet or false teacher will encourage us to abandon God, even to worship other gods. Since Colossians 3:5 says that idols include immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, then any prophet or teacher who encourages us to do these things is not speaking for the Lord. Today, we could call them a false teacher.

Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. For it is because of these things that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience . . . Colossians 3:5-6 (NASB)

The point is that if someone is performing miracles, wonders and signs, then notice what they are saying. Are they encouraging people to worship another god such as immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed? Or maybe they are encouraging you to move toward a cult or another religion? Is the person urging people to move away from the Lord Jesus and move away from “the faith once for all delivered to the saints”? That is, what is he or she teaching? Does their teaching differ in any way from what the Bible teaches?

How To Identify A True Prophet

Now, “How can we identify a true prophet?” Together Numbers 12:6 and Jeremiah 28:9 answer the question.

Hear now My words:
If there is a prophet among you,
I, the LORD, shall make Myself known to him in a vision.
I shall speak with him in a dream.
Numbers 12:6 (NASB)

The prophet who prophesies of peace, when the word of the prophet comes to pass, then that prophet will be known as one whom the LORD has truly sent. Jeremiah 28:9 (NASB)

Numbers 12:6 says that God used to speak to His prophets and Jeremiah 28:9 says that what the prophet declared would come true.

But Deuteronomy 18:19-22 is the most comprehensive answer.

“It shall come about that whoever will not listen to My words which he shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it of him. ‘But the prophet who speaks a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.’ You may say in your heart, ‘How will we know the word which the LORD has not spoken?’ When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.” Deuteronomy 18:19-22 (NASB)

Here God declares in greater detail that when a true prophet declares something will happen, it will come true. But notice that God says that a true prophet will speak “in My Name.”

New Revelation From Teachers or Prophets

It is not unusual today to hear someone claim that Jesus or the Holy Spirit has spoken with them. They claim to have received new revelation knowledge from God that is equal to that of Scripture. They claim to be prophets like those in the Old Testament who spoke for the Lord. Some claim to be equal to the apostles. But Scripture repeatedly warns that no one is to add to the Word of God. Most believers are familiar with Revelation 22:18-19 which warns us to not add to or take away from Scripture.

I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book. Revelation  22:18-19 (NASB)

Some claim these verses apply only to the book of Revelation and, therefore, do not restrict new revelation knowledge. But such a claim misses three important points.

The first point is that the Old Testament prophesied the coming of the Messiah. Therefore, when Jesus arrived, He was accepted by those who recognized Him as the Messiah. When He taught new truth, it was accepted by His followers. That is, His new revelation was accepted because the Old Testament said He was coming. The gospels tell us that Jesus trained and commissioned apostles to speak for Him. In Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus commanded the apostles to teach all future disciples what He had commanded them to do.

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20 (NASB)

Therefore, the second point is that we accepted the apostles as speaking for God. They were hand selected by Jesus and commissioned by Him to lead the new church. The apostle John was the last apostle to write Scripture. The third point is that since the apostles did not endorse anyone else to speak after them, no one else can add to Scripture. Therefore, no one  receives new revelation or knowledge today. God is not speaking new truth to anyone today. Scripture has not told us to accept anyone else.

As a result, if someone claims to have received new revelation truth from the Father, Jesus or the Holy Spirit, they are liars and the truth is not in them. The canon of scripture is already closed. God has told us to expect anyone else to speak for Him!

Modern False Prophets or False Teachers

There are many false teachers today who claim they speak with God and, yet, their own words reveal they are false teachers. God has not spoken with them. Rather than giving many different examples, one example should be sufficient to illustrate the use of Deuteronomy 13:1-3 in identifying a false teacher.

The example we shall give is that of Benny Hinn, who during a crusade church service declared that God was three persons, each with a body, soul, and spirit. He said, “There are nine of them.” During the crusade he declared, while he was speaking, that the Holy Spirit was speaking to him. So he stopped speaking to the crowd, and then told the audience that the Spirit had just given some new revelation of knowledge. Then he asked the audience if they would like to hear something that they will never hear from a mainline denominational church. The audience responded with approval. Then he declared that they had been taught that God was a trinity, but he had just been told by God that there are nine of them, not three. [1]

There is a YouTube video of a statement that is still available online of the church service in which he said this,

God the Father is a person. God the Son is a person. God the Holy Ghost is a person. Each one of the them is a prime being by Himself. If I can shock you and maybe I should, there are nine of them. What did you say? Let me explain. God the Father, ladies and gentlemen, is a person, with His own personal spirit, with His own personal soul and His own personal spirit body. You say, “I never heard that.” Do you think you are the church to hear the things you have heard for the last fifty years?  Do you know the Holy Spirit has a soul, and body, separate from that of Jesus and the Father? [2]

This is a modern example of a false teacher who also claims to perform healings and routinely talk with God. Why do we know that he is a false teacher? Because when he said “there are nine of them” in the example above, he contradicted the clear teaching of Scripture that God is a triune or a trinity,

 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. . . Matthew 28:19 (NASB)

So the test of Deuteronomy 13:1-3 is what do they teach about God? What do they encourage you to do? Later, on the Trinity Broadcast Network (TBN) television program, Paul Crouch challenged Hinn about his false teaching. Benny Hinn laughed it off.[3] The response should have been that Mr. Hinn was a false teacher.

Conclusion

In summary, both Deuteronomy 13:1-3 and Deuteronomy 18:19-22 refer to someone who performs miracles, wonders and signs. The difference is what they say about God. In Deuteronomy 13:1-3 the false teacher urges people to abandon the true God and abandon the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3, 17), but in Deuteronomy 18:19-22 the prophet is a true prophet who urges us to follow the true God and contend for the the faith once for all delivered to the saints.

Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints. Jude 3 (NASB)

 

References:

1. Hank Hanegraff. Christianity In Crisis. Audio Cassette. Harvest House Publishers. 1993.
2. Benny Hinn 9 in the Godhead.Youtube . com.  January 4, 2013.
3. Hanegraff. Ibid.

Suggested Links:

How To Know A False Prophet
Who was the prophet Nahum?
Mormons claim that they have present day prophets. Is this true?
What were the major prophets trying to accomplish?
Is there a list of all the known prophets and prophecies?