What is the biblical definition of prophecy and prophesy?
There is great confusion about the definition of biblical prophecy. This brief study will explain what is prophecy and prophesy in the Bible.
Meaning of Prophecy
The definition of prophecy is “a message from God.” The message from God may be to a person or a nation and it may be about a future event. That is a brief definition of the Greek word for prophecy in the Bible. The Greek word is propheteia. It means, “inspired utterance from God” or “a message from God.” Thayer’s Lexicon provides a more comprehensive definition of propheteia as a,
. . . discourse emanating from divine inspiration and declaring the purposes of God, whether by reproving and admonishing the wicked, or comforting the afflicted, or revealing things hidden; esp. by foretelling future events.
Simply put, the meaning of prophecy is a message from God that may or may not include foretelling the future.
First Illustration of Prophecy
Next, we will look at two illustrations of this word. The first illustration is from 2 Chronicles 15:8, which states,
Now when Asa heard these words and the prophecy which Azariah the son of Oded the prophet spoke . . . 2 Chronicles 15:8 (NASB)
This verse tells us that Azariah, the son of Oded, had spoken a prophecy. When we look at the seven verses that come just before 2 Chronicles 15:8, we learn that God had given Azariah a message. This helps us to understand that a prophecy can be just a simple message from God and not contain any predictions.
Second Illustration of Prophecy
The second illustration comes from Matthew 13:14-15,
“In their case the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled, which says,
‘ YOU WILL KEEP ON HEARING, BUT WILL NOT UNDERSTAND;
YOU WILL KEEP ON SEEING, BUT WILL NOT PERCEIVE;
FOR THE HEART OF THIS PEOPLE HAS BECOME DULL,
WITH THEIR EARS THEY SCARCELY HEAR,
AND THEY HAVE CLOSED THEIR EYES,
OTHERWISE THEY WOULD SEE WITH THEIR EYES,
HEAR WITH THEIR EARS,
AND UNDERSTAND WITH THEIR HEART AND RETURN,
AND I WOULD HEAL THEM.’”
Matthew 13:14-15 (NASB)
Here we told that Isaiah gave a prophecy and the prophecy is quoted. Now if we read Isaiah 6:8-10 we discover that this prophecy was given to Isaiah by God. The Isaiah prophecy looks forward to the time of Christ and warns that the people will not hear and not understand and turn back to God.
How God Communicates Prophecy
2 Peter 1:21 tells us that the books of the Old Testament were communicated by the Holy Spirit to the various authors.
. . . for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. 2 Peter 1:21 (NASB)
That is, a prophecy is a message from God to the men who wrote the different books. Prophecy sometimes includes foretelling the future, such as is found in the Major and Minor Prophets.
Meaning of Prophesy
The meaning of prophesy in the Bible is “to speak for God.” Prophesy is the verb form of the noun prophecy. In the Greek language, the word for prophesy is propheteuo. A more formal definition of propheteuo is “to be a prophet,” or “to speak forth by divine inspiration.” As the prophets spoke and wrote, they prophesied the very words of the Lord for our edification.
The meaning of prophecy is “a message from God.” The word prophesy is the verb form of prophecy, and it means “to speak forth for God.” Thus a prophet will speak the oracles of God (Nahum 1:1; Habakkuk 1:1; Malachi 1:1). As a result, all of the Old Testament books are prophetic.The same is true of the New Testament books. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 is a great summary. It says,
All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NASB)
1. Joseph Henry Thayer, The New Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testamwent. Christian Copyrights. 1983., p. 552.
2. Ibid. p. 553.
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