What gives authenticity to a prophet’s words? How do we know that we can trust the prophets?
Early in this week’s study, we begin to learn about the power of mission as a shaping force in the life of the church. The mission of Jesus was so central to God’s plan that it was prophesied. But what does it mean to have messages sent to us directly from God?
A significant number of the writings that have been collected into the Bible were known as prophecies. But many people have a very restricted view of the gift of prophecy. People see prophecy mainly in terms of predictions, and the prophets they are aware of are those who have given their names to a number of books in the Bible. The facts are different. God used prophets on a much wider scale than one would think. And prophecy is not only about predictions. It stands for much more.The passage of Exodus 7:1–6 highlights the true work of a prophet. Moses, who (though he rarely made predictions) is referred to as a great prophet (Deut. 34:10–12), was assisted by his brother, who served as his spokesperson. “Moses is like God to Aaron, who is like a prophet to Pharaoh. The clear idea is that prophets don’t manufacture their own speeches but only pass on what they have heard from God.”1
A prophet is a man or a woman who speaks on behalf of God. Those words have authority because the message comes from God, even though the prophet may choose his or her own words to convey that message. God used this manner of communicating with His people quite extensively, as Amos underlined when he stated, “The Sovereign Lord does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7, NIV).
Some people also confine prophets to the Old Testament. But there are many passages in the New Testament, especially in speaking of the early church, that mention prophets and make it clear that no one in that time thought God had stopped talking. In Luke 1:67; 2:36; and Acts 13:1 prophets are mentioned by name. In 1 Corinthians 12:28; 14:1–5 Paul speaks specifically of prophecy as an abiding gift of the Spirit. There are false prophets, according to both Peter and John. (2 Pet. 2:1; Rev. 2:20). Most germane to our needs today, John states clearly, is that under direct influence from God, the gift of prophecy will be a characteristic of the remnant church (Rev. 12:17; 19:10).
What gives authenticity to a prophet’s words? How do we know that we can trust the Bible prophets? Well, of course, if you don’t believe the Bible is the revelation of God’s voice, then you can’t know whether to trust its prophets, either. Many specific predictions have come true, so that, at least, would give some credence, unless one decides that those must have been written later, after they’d already come to pass. It’s difficult to see what such people make of prophecies about, for instance, the Roman Empire. The prophecies of the Old Testament are known to have been around before that.
If, however, one chooses to accept the Bible as the Word (not the words) of God, then one can simply listen to its own “credentials.” “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16, NKJV). Above all, we must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. “Prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21, NKJV). This whole first chapter of 2 Peter is very instructive on the gift and use of prophecy.
If God spoke through prophets all through the history of the world and kept on speaking through them after Jesus had come and gone, at what point did He stop? Were there never prophets again, once the canon of Scripture was closed? Does He never speak through prophets now?
It’s not logical to believe this. It’s not consistent with God’s revelation of Himself throughout human history. And so we do believe there have been other men and women inspired to speak for God to the people. One of those, most recently, we believe to have been a woman named Ellen White.We can use the same criteria the Bible gives to test Ellen White’s work and her words. A full study of the gift of prophecy as revealed in the life of this humble woman is not within the purview of this reading. Suffice it to say that we believe her gift to have been genuine and miraculous—and misused by some. Her words must never be taken in place of the Bible. She called her own work “the lesser light,” whose sole purpose was to point to “the greater light,” the Word of God.2
1. Jon Dybdahl, Exodus, The Abundant Life Bible Amplifier. (Boise, Idaho: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1994), p. 80.
2. Adapted with permission from the iFollow Discipleship Resource, ©North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists.