Some people in the 21st century believe that prophets exist today. I lightly touched on this topic in my most recent blog post and will explore this topic further today.
Photo Credit: Christopher Pattberg
An examination about whether or not prophets exist today needs to start by looking at the Old Testament version of a prophet.
The Old Testament Version of a Prophet
In the book of Deuteronomy Moses provides a long discourse to the nation of Israel. Within this discourse is a description of a prophet and how the people will be able to judge whether someone is a true or false prophet. God declares through Moses, “If the prophet speaks in the Lord’s name but his prediction does not happen or come true, you will know that the LORD did not give that message. That prophet has spoken without my authority and need not be feared” (Deut. 18:22). Moses is telling the nation of Israel that the main way (and the only way) they are to tell whether future prophets are true or false is whether or not their predictions come true.
Jeremiah, like Moses, also receives a similar word from God about the office of the prophet. God speaks through Jeremiah, “So a prophet who predicts peace must show he is right. Only when his predictions come true can we know that he is really from the LORD” (Jer. 28:9). Jeremiah continues Moses’ theme that you know if a prophet is a true prophet because his predictions come true by sharing the story of his cousin, Hanamel. Jeremiah shares,
“At that time, the LORD sent me a message. He said, ‘Your cousin Hanamel son of Shallum will come and say to you, “Buy my field at Anathoth. By law you have the right to buy it before it is offered to anyone else.”’ Then, just as the LORD had said he would, my cousin Hanamel came and visited me in the prison. He said, ‘Please buy my field at Anathoth in the land of Benjamin. By law you have the right to buy it before it is offered to anyone else, so buy it for yourself.’ Then I knew that the message I had heard was from the LORD” (Jer. 32:6-8).
The Old Testament clearly shows that the test of a prophet is whether or not his prophesies come true. This was declared by Moses in the Torah and affirmed and exampled by Jeremiah. Deere’s belief that a prophet is measured by the fruit of his prophesies and not by whether or not the prophesies come true clearly disagrees with the Old Testament Torah.
4 Reasons to Reconsider Deere’s
Definition of a Prophet
There are four reasons that a biblically minded reader should examine Deere’s view of what a prophet is and how a prophet is distinguished.
1. The first reason relates to the context of Jesus’ teaching from which Deere’ quotes his argument.
Jesus never changed Scripture, He only elevated the Old Testament laws. An example of this is Matthew 7 which is part of Jesus’ well-known “Sermon on the Mount,” a long discourse to listeners in the area. Perhaps even more emphasis can be added to the fact that Jesus was fulfilling the law since Matthew was a Jew writing to the Jews.
As already stated, Deere claims that Jesus’ statements in Matthew 7:16, 18 nullify the teaching in Deuteronomy 18. However, when reading Jesus’ words it is important to note that Jesus himself says in Matthew 5:17, “Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses [of which is Deuteronomy 18] or the writings of the prophets [of which is Jeremiah]. No, I came to accomplish either purpose.” 1
With this statement Jesus is prefacing his Sermon on the Mount by saying that he came to fulfill what was written, not to get rid of it. In other words, Jesus is not delivering a new law, He is the Messianic interpreter showing the real intent of God’s Torah. Luke T. Johnson, author of The Writings of the New Testament: An Interpretation further explains, “The term ‘fulfill’ in this place also hears the sense of ‘reveal.’ By his teaching, Jesus will show the true and ‘full’ meaning of God’s torah. The proper understanding of ‘these commandments’ here is critical” (pp. 185, 187).
By his own words, Jesus is telling his readers that his teaching is supposed to reveal the true meaning of God’s word, not to change or nullify what has already been said.
2. The second reason to examine Deere’s belief in a prophet’s measurement by the fruit of his work is based on the idea that Matthew 7 seems to be dealing with how someone identifies people based on actions.
This small passage is not exclusively teaching a new definition of how you judge whether someone is a true or false prophet. The passage emphasizes how to identify people and their character based on their actions.
It is possible that the term prophet here is merely used as an example or illustration by Jesus. The possibility of this passage being about how to measure people based on their actions is also shown in how Jesus closes His section of teaching on this topic with the statement, “Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions” (Matt. 7:20). If this teaching was focused on how to judge a prophet it is plausible to expect Jesus to complete his section of teaching with the term prophet; however prophet is not used in Jesus’ summarization.
3. The third reason to examine Deere’s claim about what a prophet is stems from the fact that he violates the two tools used for constructing theology.
The two tools every person must use in order to construct theology are:
How Deere’s teaching contradicts the traditional office of the prophet in the Old Testament has already been displayed regarding the biblical message. Deere is also discounting the theological heritage of most evangelical churches, all orthodox churches, and all catholic churches. Any such claim that would discount an Old Testament doctrine and thousands of years of church history is going to need more than one cloudy contextual verse.
4. The fourth reason to examine Deere’s claim is the plausible origins of fruitful labor.
Deere places a strong emphasis on the fact that a prophet is proven by the fruit. However, does not fruit also come from people’s statements that are not special revelation?
If a prophet does make a prediction, and it causes people to do good, then is he a true prophet? For example, Ben Carson gave a well received speech in which he proclaimed that if America continued to place an increasing emphasis on sports, it would soon end up in despair like past powerful countries have (an example being Rome). If a hearer applies this to his life and it produces fruit in his life, is he a prophet?
Ben Carson is a Christian, and he seeks to speak his voice to cause good in the world—to produce fruit—but does his statement make him a prophet merely because it caused fruit in someone’s life? Is anyone who produces good fruit a prophet?
Question: Why do you believe there are no prophets in today’s world?
- Other translations such as the New American Standard Bible have Jesus use the word “fulfill” in this way, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill” (Matt. 5:17). ↩
- See my post, Review of Who Needs Theology? by Grenz and Olson ↩
- See my post, Review of Who Needs Theology? by Grenz and Olson ↩