Why There are No Prophets in Today’s World

September 5, 2013 — 7 Comments

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.

Why There are No Prophets in Today's World

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:

  1. The the biblical message. 2
  2. The theological heritage of the church. 3

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?

Notes:

  1. 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).
  2. See my post, Review of Who Needs Theology? by Grenz and Olson
  3. See my post, Review of Who Needs Theology? by Grenz and Olson

Christopher L. Scott

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Christopher Scott is Small Groups Pastor at Rocky Hilly Community Church in Exeter, CA. He has more than ten years of experience leading volunteers, running nonprofit programs, and teaching the Bible in small group settings. He holds a bachelor's degree from Fresno Pacific University and master's degree from Dallas Theological Seminary.

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  • I know we should never pick and choose our verses, but I would like to here your input on Ephesians 4:11 And he gave some to be apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;

    Why is that Paul wrote about these specific callings yet many believe the Prophet and Apostle are not longer active but the other 3 are?

    • Jon, this is a good verse to discuss. I have come across this verse in the past but did not consider it when preparing this blog post.

      My main concern with this post was to show that Jack Deere was basing his argument that prophets exist today from one verse in Matthew. I wanted to show an alternative view to his statement about prophets existing day solely based on that verse.

      However, in Jack Deere’s book, Surprised by the Voice of God, he never shares that verse from Ephesians. In my opinion, that verse would be helpful to his argument and it certainly is strong evidence against my blog post title about “why there are no prophets in today’s world.”

      You do raise a good point. In light of the verse shared, it might be incorrect for us to believe that three of those callings are active and alive today while the fourth (prophecy) is not active.

      Thanks for sharing.

      • it is great that we can dialogue as we work out our faith. I clearly don’t consider my self to be a Bible exert I am always learning. I really do enjoy your blog, keep up the great post.

  • Pingback: Vital Distinctions to Make When Reading the Bible and Hearing God | Christopher L. Scott | Biblical Leadership()

  • dave wainscott

    Great series, Christopher. So glad you are blogging and enjoying school.

    I do think the Ephesians passage solves the question of whether there are prophets today; the answer has to be yes. But of course that doesn’t justify crazy contemporary uses/abuses of the gift/title….or even all that Deere et al say and do

    In light of the conversation with Jon below, would you want to consider renaming the title of this post? HOWEVER, you may not want to, as it’s what got me to click expectantly on the post (:

    Do you find folks at DTS that are open to a balanced (non TBN) view of charismatic gifts, prophecy etc?

    Keep up the great work and hi to the Mrs.

    • Thanks for commenting, Dave. Perhaps renaming the post would be more appropriate.

      Good point on the Ephesians passage. Perhaps that does solve the issue. Like you said, the goal of this post was to analyze Deere’s view of prophets and why he believes there are prophets.

      Regarding DTS folks’ view of charismatic gifts and prophesy, I am not sure. One of the professors of theology I had during the summer expressed a concern with people who “claim to hear words from God.” He shared that the “only truly prophetic divinely revealed words of God are contained in Scripture.” It was only one professor, so I can’t speak too much since I am still new to DTS. But, it is worth making observations about.

      Thanks for stopping by, Dave.

      • davewainscott

        Thanks..i go with the 1 Cor model still being normative..whenever you gather, one has a revelation, a hymn ..prophets in turn etc

        The Swindoll/DTS take on the charismatic gifts disappearing due to 1 Cor 13 is so well-meaning but sure sounds like eisegesis. No one in
        church history read the text that way till our day.

        Love the conversation…and you and yours