There are many people who claim to be modern day prophets. Some might spell them “profits” because they are motivated by money and make sensational claims, like promising financial blessing for anyone that sends in their “seeds of faith.” We hear of modern day prophets prophesying about things to come that are outside the Word of God. It is easy to tell that many of these modern day prophets are wolves in sheep’s clothing, but what about those who don’t appear to be exploiting for financial gain? Are there modern day prophets of God? What does Scripture say about prophets and what is the true test to validate if the modern day prophets are who they claim to be?
Prophets were foundational to the church. The Bible tells us the church was “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:20). The prophet proclaimed a message from the Lord to the early believers and their message varied from person to person. Sometimes, a prophet’s message was revelatory, bringing new revelation and truth from God. Other times, the prophet’s message was predictive. The truth is God can give someone a message to deliver to someone else and also reveal the truth to someone in a supernatural way. God can also enable that person to deliver that message others. However, these people do not have the biblical gift of prophecy. Here’s why.
While all Christians have the ability to prophesy in the sense of speaking forth the truth, there was a group of church leaders in the apostolic church who functioned uniquely as prophets. They were apparently next to the apostles in the order of authority within the church. According to Scripture, the function of the prophets was to edify, console and exhort (Acts 15:32: 1 Corinthians 14:3). There are no prophets today in the same sense as there were under the old covenant and in the apostolic church. Before the canon of Scripture was complete, God used prophets to maintain order and teach correct doctrine. After the canon was completed, however, prophecy began to be more of a problem than a help. Eventually, the office of prophet died out.
In the New Testament, the gift of the office of prophet was a temporary one granted by God for the purpose of building His Church. Contrary to the apostles, who had broad ministries, these men had localized ministries within local churches. We see these examples in Acts 11: 21-28 and Acts 13:1. To understand why they don’t exist today, you need to understand the primary purposes of the prophets in the New Testament. They were gifted men given to the Church and appointed by God for the purpose of helping to lay the foundation of the Church. They, like the apostles, received God’s revelation and truth and proclaimed it to their churches. It is important to remember that the early Church did not have a completed Bible, so God granted this revelation for the purpose of teaching His message to the Church. The New Testament prophets also spoke forth and taught the apostles’ doctrine. Everything taught by these prophets had to be consistent with the teaching of the apostles.
Today, however, a prophetic word can be spoken in the church in the sense that God’s Word can be proclaimed based on Scripture and the leading of the Holy Spirit. But there will be no new revelations that will replace or contradict God’s written Word. Another thing you need to be conscious of is the tests that must be passed by any supposedly prophetic statement. According to 1 Corinthians 14, there are two tests that must be passed. Verse 29 states that after two or three speak a prophetic message, the others are to “judge” or “weigh carefully on what is said.” Simply put, the prophetic message must not disagree with the knowledge of God’s Word and of the truth held by the other members of the assembly. Next, verses 37 and 38 demonstrate that just as the apostle Paul submitted his words to the examination of the Corinthians on the basis of their knowledge of the Word of God, any prophecy that is given must be judged by the standard of the truth already known to the church of Christ. In other words, no completely new truth would be revealed, but rather the prophet would illustrate and explain truths already accepted and recognized by God’s people.
Finally, if you look at the two functions of the prophets, you can see that the office of prophet is one that is no longer necessary and has ceased within the Church because the foundation was laid long ago and God’s revealed Word was completed with the close of the New Testament canon. The Church’s foundation does not need to be laid again and there is no need for further revelation beyond what God has provided for us in His complete Word.
Whenever a person claims to be speaking for God, which is the essence of prophecy, you should always compare what is said to what Scripture says. If God were to speak through a person today, it would be in agreement with what He has already said in the Bible. God doesn’t contradict His Word. John 4:1 tells us, “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” 1 Thessalonians 5:20-21 declares, “Do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good.” No matter what the situation is, whether it is word from the Lord or a supposed prophecy, our response should be the same. Compare what is said to what the Word of God says. If what is being said contradicts the Bible, throw it out. If what is being said is in agreement with the Bible, pray for wisdom and discernment as to how to apply the message. Don’t be deceived.