How to distinguish true and false prophets

Opinion by Abel Basutu

This article is neither discussing any particular persons nor is it intended to judge anyone.  It is neither intended to cast aspersions on any persons nor cause anyone to be exposed to ridicule or contempt. 

false prophetsIt is merely to shed some light on the issue of prophets that have, of late, been so topical.

The history of counterfeit money is almost as old as currency itself, and despite the use of most sophisticated modern technology, the battle persists today between the banks and the fraudsters.   So is the case with counterfeit prophets.

Hardly a month passes by without reports of someone who would have been conned by people masquerading as prophets in Zimbabwe.  Unassuming men and women have been raped, robbed or murdered by the so called prophets who in actual fact are false and counterfeit.

A counterfeit note resembles the original currency.  To identify whether a note is counterfeit or not, one needs to know features of a genuine note.  So it is with prophets.  The Bible helps us distinguish between true prophets and false prophets.

While in Jerusalem, Jesus warned believers not to be deceived, “for many will come in My name, saying I am He,” Luke 21:8.  The ‘many’ whom Jesus was referring to are people.  So people can deceive and lead many to be lost.

At one time the apostle Paul also warned church elders “For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock.   Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves” (Acts 20:29-30).

Believe not all Spirits

Christians are exhorted not to believe every spirit, but to “…test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).

Genuine and false prophets shall be known by their fruits. “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles?” (Matthew 7:15-16).

I firmly believe that truth does not depend on consensus of opinion and mob psychology.  If it’s in the Bible it is for me and I believe it.  If it’s not in the Bible then it’s not for me.  But in studying the Bible, we must also distinguish exegetical analysis from eisegesis.

Exegesis (from Greek) refers to a critical explanation or interpretation of a text, especially a religious text. This means propounding and expounding on scripture giving due regard to the context. On the other hand, Eisegesis (also from Greek) is the process of interpreting a text or portion of text in such a way that it introduces one’s own presuppositions, agendas, and biases into and onto the text.

There are numerous such texts in the Bible which been misinterpreted or taken out of context. For example, the issue of prophets, speaking in tongues, marriage, and ordination and so on and so forth.

Ways of identifying false prophets 

1.         Signs and Wonders

Jesus admonishes Christians  “false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand” (Matthew 24:24-25).

Your desire must not be centered solely on miracles because the devil and his apostate or rebel angels and demons can also perform miracles. Remember the time when God spoke to Aaron and Moses to speak to Pharaoh.   Aaron cast his road before Pharaoh and his servants and it became a serpent.  Pharaoh called his magicians and they did likewise with their enchantments.

The Bible says “for every man threw down his rod, and they became serpents.  But Aaron’s rod swallowed up their rods” (Genesis 7:12). 

Therefore, demons can perform signs, which go out to the kings of the earth and of the whole world (Revelation 16:14).  Today we see people falling at the wave of a handkerchief under the guise they are receiving the Holy Spirit.  The Word of God says “test the spirits”.

The Lord God admonishes us “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you.  They make you worthless; They speak a vision of their own heart, Not from the mouth of the LORD” (Jeremiah 23:16).

God knows this and says again the false prophets “prophesy lies in My name. I have not sent them, commanded them, nor spoken to them; they prophesy to you a false vision, divination, a worthless thing, and the deceit of their heart” (Jeremiah 14:14).

“Your prophets have seen for you.  False and deceptive visions; They have not uncovered your iniquity, To bring back your captives, But have envisioned for you false prophecies and delusions” (Lamentations 2:14).

2.         Dreams

All people dream. But when people approach others to mislead them it becomes treacherous.  Beware of people who come talking about their dreams for God says “I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in My name, saying, ‘I have dreamed, I have dreamed!’(Jeremiah 23:25).

“Behold, I am against those who prophesy false dreams,” says the LORD, “and tell them, and cause My people to err by their lies and by their recklessness. Yet I did not send them or command them; therefore they shall not profit this people at all,” says the Lord (Jeremiah 23:32)

God warns that ‘ in the multitude of dreams and many words there is also vanity but we are to fear God’ (Ecclesiastes 5:7)

3.         Adultery and fornication

False prophets are bent on committing adultery, fornication and other evil vices.  The word of God is clear. “…I have seen folly in the prophets of Samaria: They prophesied by Baal And caused My people Israel to err.  Also I have seen a horrible thing in the prophets of Jerusalem: They commit adultery and walk in lies; They also strengthen the hands of evildoers, So that no one turns back from his wickedness.  All of them are like Sodom to Me, And her inhabitants like Gomorrah” (Jeremiah 23:13-14).

4.         Twisting scriptures

In 2 Peter 3:15-16, God admonishes us to “consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation—as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures.”

Some people twist Scriptures to suit their desires. They may deceive themselves and many but their efforts are in vain.

As a practice, carry your Bible with you.  When a preacher cites a verse, check it for yourself.

5.         False prophets do not keep God’s law

Christians are called out to do as Christ would have done.  After all that what it means to be Christians, to walk like Christ.  In Matthew 5:17 Jesus said He came to the world not to destroy but fulfill the law.

“Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 John 2:3-4).

In the book of Isaiah we have a wise counsel that helps us distinguish genuine from counterfeit prophets. “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isaiah 8:20).

Therefore let us be circumspect because God knows that not all who say Lord are genuine. “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.  Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’  And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ (Matthew 7:21-23).  The question is what is the will of the Father?

“For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ.  And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works” (2 Corinthians 11:13-15)

False prophets come with destructive doctrines and heresies.  Covetously they seek to exploit with deceptive words.  (2 Peter 2: 1-3).


Doom of false prophets

What so ever a man sows so shall he also reap.  “For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment;  and did not spare the ancient world, but saved Noah, one of eight people, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood on the world of the ungodly;  and turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them to destruction, making them an example to those who afterward would live ungodly;  and delivered righteous Lot, who was oppressed by the filthy conduct of the wicked  (for that righteous man, dwelling among them, tormented his righteous soul from day to day by seeing and hearing their lawless deeds)—  then the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment,  and especially those who walk according to the flesh in the lust of uncleanness and despise authority. They are presumptuous, self-willed. They are not afraid to speak evil of dignitaries, whereas angels, who are greater in power and might, do not bring a reviling accusation against them before the Lord” (2 Peter 2:4-12).

“The prophets prophesy falsely, And the priests rule by their own power; And My people love to have it so. But what will you do in the end?” (Jeremiah 5:31).

But surely it is written “…The prophet who teaches lies, he is the tail.  For the leaders of this people cause them to err, And those who are led by them are destroyed” Isaiah 9:15-16).

My call to all of us is the call of the prophet Isaiah to “search from the book of the Lord and read…” (Isaiah 34:16).  David did that and that’s why he proclaimed “I have more understanding than all of my teachers for your testimonies are my meditation” (Psalms 119:99).

May we be revived by His word.  May the Lord help us to do according to His will in our lives.

Abel Basutu works for the African Union Commission as a Finance Expert based in Addis Ababa. He is a Christian and a former Journalist with Ziana.

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