Adventism 202, Part 6: Prophets, Pretenders, and Pick-Pockets

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Adventism 202, Part 6: Prophets, Pretenders, and Pick-Pockets

In the last article, we covered the basic aspects of inspiration work they appear in the Biblical text. As we continue this series we will consider the following questions:

  1. What are the qualifications to be a prophet and to write Scripture?
  2. How does the Holy Spirit supervise the work of prophets in the creation of Scripture?

So, let’s go ahead and dive into the topic of inspiration once again by looking at the prophets and their qualifications.

 

Prophets, Pretenders, and Pick-Pockets

 

David E. Taylor

 

On January 31, 2014, a megachurch preacher named David E. Taylor decided to share his “prophetic insights” with the world. He apparently received a prophetic dream, along with other individuals in his social circle, in which he was “shown” that the Denver Broncos would win the 2014 Super Bowl against the Seattle Seahawks.[1] He went on to also predict the score to be 24:21 in favor of the Broncos. A quick Google search exposes this “prophet” as a pretender.

I like how one commenter on David Taylor’s failed prediction put it.

This guy had a 50/50 chance to prove himself a prophet and he blew it. 

José Luis de Jesús

A few years ago a man named José Luis de Jesús[2] decided to start a church called “Growing in Grace.” At first Jesús claimed to be the reincarnation of the Apostle Paul but later claimed that he was actually Jesus Christ. In an interview, he claimed that Jesus Christ appeared to him and dematerialized and merged with his body. After this incredible event, Jesús claimed that he was the reincarnation of Jesus Christ and that he could not die. Here are a few of his teachings…

 

  • The 10 Commandments are for the world but not for Christians
  • Jesus will not be returning in clouds of glory as described in the Bible
  • Heaven can be found here on earth
  • There is no sin
  • There is no hell
  • “666” is a sign of “Triple Blessing”
  • The four gospels in the Bible are not accurate
  • Only Paul’s writings are true in the Bible

 

Despite his claims of immortality, José Luis de Jesús died in 2013 at the age of 67 from cirrhosis of the liver. However, many of his followers still believe he is alive to this day. 

We may chuckle at these and other stories, but they demonstrate the danger of not being familiar with the true role of prophets in the church and how a false prophet can lead us astray if we’re not careful.

 

What is a prophet anyway?

 

One of the shifts in thinking that this series aims for is to help the reader see the Bible as not simply a book—a series of pages with words on them—but rather as a collection of narratives, poems, philosophy, and prose from the pen of real human beings. Who were these human beings, the prophets?

 

These men and women were used by God to communicate messages to His people and to the world. Essentially the prophets are men and women whom God has chosen to be his spokespersons. They receive divine revelations from God and then are commissioned to publish those revelations to a particular audience.

 

See below our previous diagram:

At this point, I should say that Biblical prophets are not fortunetellers. Their messages are typically revelations from God. Their messages are not responses to inquiries that are merely meant to satisfy our curiosity.  Their messages are primarily messages of rebuke, messages of comfort and conciliation, and at times predictions about the future or insights from the past. They seem to possess knowledge of spiritual realities that the rest of us are not privy too.

 

In the call of Moses and Aaron to the prophetic ministry, we find a basic description of a Biblical prophet.

 

You shall speak to him and put words in his mouth; I will help both of you speak and will teach you what to do. He will speak to the people for you, and it will be as if he were your mouth and as if you were God to him. (Exodus 4:15-16, NIV).

 

In this description, Aaron is to be a “mouth” for Moses. We would call Aaron a spokesperson today. Both Moses and Aaron are to be a “mouth” for God to God’s people (and to the Pharaoh of Egypt) in this scenario.

 

The key here is to remember that prophets do not to speak their own words in the sense that they are not to come up with their own original messages. Their messages are always rooted in revelation (either directly or indirectly).[3]

 

Modern Prophets

 

Unlike the Biblical prophets however, there are many people in our current times who claim to possess the prophetic gift or the similar position of apostle. At first glance, this may seem to be a positive phenomenon, and it would be if these claims were true. However, the title of prophet and apostle is used very flippantly today and has unfortunately led many Christians astray and into spiritual abuse and bondage.

 

The danger of calling yourself a prophet when you haven’t received a revelation from God is multifaceted. Of course, the chief issue is deception. Claiming to be a prophet, when you are not, is a serious offense against God and opens you to being a mouthpiece, not for God, but for another power entirely.

 

Most people who claim to be prophets probably covet the air of prestige and power that comes with the title. People reverence prophets and hang on to their every word, which is a serious temptation to the “prophets” human ego. Essentially, false prophets take the attention of God’s people, that belongs to God, and redirect it towards themselves.

 

An additional danger materializes when someone claims the prophetic office in a Biblically conservative faith community such as Adventism. The authority of the person believed to be a prophet is multiplied exponentially because of the Biblical understanding that prophets produce inspired, and therefore divinely authoritative, writings.

 

In other words, to disobey a prophet’s counsel is to essentially disobey God. Thus, false prophets are uniquely equipped to perpetrate spiritual abuse and manipulation in Biblically conservative communities. And since we have previously discussed that our faith should be based on divine revelations as contained in inspired writings, a false prophet provides an unstable foundation for believers to build their faith. The net effect of false prophets within any Christian community is that people leave the Bible behind in order to follow insane and deluded individuals.[4]

 

So with the plethora of false prophets active in our world today, how can we be sure that a prophet is “the real deal” and should be respected as a true spokesperson for God? Thankfully the Bible gives us plenty of criteria to test the calling of those who claim the prophetic office.

 

Five Ways to Test a Prophet

 

(1) To the Law and to the testimony

 

The first and most important test is that future revelations must agree with past revelations (especially Moses). This principle comes from the prophet Isaiah.

 

To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them. (Isaiah 8:20, KJV).

 

This principle teaches us that whenever someone prophesies or produces writings and claims they are inspired we are to compare what they have published to the law[5] [the writings of Moses composed of the first five books of the Bible and Job] and the testimony [later revelations that came after Moses, essentially the rest of the Bible].

 

If what is prophesied is contradictory to past revelation, then we can safely reject that individual as a false prophet. Again, any modern prophet that teaches concepts or doctrines that contradict Moses or the rest of the testimony of Scripture we can safely reject.

 

(2) In the Flesh

 

Another test that we can employ is found in 1 John 4:1-3.

 

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.  This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. (1 John 4:1-3, NIV).

 

In this test, it is helpful to be familiar with the original Greek. In Greek, the tense “has come in the flesh” seems to indicate not only that Jesus Christ “has come in the flesh” but that He will also remain in the flesh.

 

To help illustrate this, look at the following two statements…

 

  1. I used to smoke.
  2. I started smoking.

 

The first statement implies that you once smoked but no longer smoke. The second statement implies that you once smoked and that you CONTINUE to smoke in the present. The second statement is how we should understand John’s statement that Christ “has come in the flesh.” It is not only that Christ was once in the flesh, but that he continues to be in the flesh.

 

With this test, we can dismiss many of the prophets of the so-called New Age Movement, which often teach that Jesus’ Second Coming has already occurred spiritually and through “Christ Consciousness.” Essentially what this teaching denies is that Christ REMAINS in the flesh.

 

In New Age thinking, Christ is spiritualized and depersonalized. However, according to the Bible, Jesus, since the incarnation, has never and will never dematerialize and shed His resurrected physical human body to become a purely spiritual (non-material) being, or merge with another human being like José Luis de Jesús.[6]

 

(3) Fruit Inspection

 

At one time it was popular to respond to moral criticisms with Christ’s pronouncement to, “Judge not.” However, in the case of prophets we are absolutely expected to judge and inspect the fruit of the ministry of anyone claiming to be a prophet.

 

Jesus said:

 

Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. (Matthew 5:15-17, NIV).

 

Jesus admonishes us to be good fruit inspectors to ensure that we don’t get needlessly deceived. Essentially what Jesus is telling us to do is to use common sense! If it becomes public knowledge that a prophet has been cheating on their taxes; that person is not a true prophet.

 

The same goes for prophets that have been found in compromising situations with prostitutes, prophets that seem to care more about “tithes and offerings” and “sowing a seed” then righteousness, mercy, and justice, and prophets that abuse and beat their spouses and children. In other words, if a prophet’s ethical code and moral behavior is worse than what you would deem common decency, then it is safe to reject that prophet.

 

Lastly, does the individual win souls to Christ or does their influence turn people’s attention away from Christ? Do you see the fruit of the Spirit in the life of the prophet and their followers, or are they mean spirited, hateful, jealous, and exhibit the works of the flesh?[7]

 

(4) Their Prophecies Must Come True!

 

The previous 3 prophetic tests were relatively straight forward compared to test 4 and 5. This is because of the reality of caveats. Nevertheless, these tests are still important and should be applied as faithfully as the others.

 

The fourth test is that when a prophet gives a prophecy, it must come true in order for the prophet to be considered genuine. This principle is found in Deuteronomy 18:15-22. In other words, if a prophet says it’s going to rain on a certain day in a certain place and it doesn’t rain, you can be sure that that individual is a false prophet.

 

Today we have “prophets,” also known as psychics, that have been estimated to have 85%, 70%, or even 50% accuracy. This is unacceptable to Biblical Christians. The Biblical prophet’s predictions should be 100% accurate, every time. Except when it isn’t…

 

At first glance, this test may seem to be a straightforward:

 

Make a prediction + prediction fails to come to pass = false prophet

 

…but as stated above, this test (and the next one) have caveats. The caveat for this test is that not all prophecy is 100% guaranteed. Many prophecies in the Bible are conditional. What this means is that the prophecy, in a sense, is 100% guaranteed, as long as the conditions that trigger the prophecy are met.

 

For example, if I “prophesy” that if you jump off the roof of a 20-story building that you will fall to the ground and be badly injured (if not worse), you could safely assume that this is a conditional prophecy.

 

The key to this prophecy is that you have to jump off of a building [meet the conditions and parameters I listed] in order for the prophecy to come true. To borrow from the programing world, conditional prophecies are essentially divine “If-Then” statements.

 

If the conditions are met, then an action or outcome will be triggered.

 

The problem is that in the Bible, the conditional aspect of a prophecy is often implied but not explicitly stated. One of the most famous examples is the story of the prophet Jonah. Jonah was a true prophet, but his prophecy about the destruction of Nineveh did not come to pass. Thankfully we have Jonah’s own testimony to explain why Nineveh was not destroyed.

 

But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord, ‘Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.’ (Jonah 4:1-2, NIV).

 

One of the keys to recognizing a conditional prophecy is to recognize the character of God and what His goals are in salvation history. When God promises to destroy a group of people in the Bible, it is always the result of flagrant, entrenched wickedness and rebellion. It is never arbitrary.

 

The condition [the “if”] that triggers God’s wrath is flagrant, obstinate, degenerate, wickedness and rebellion. If the condition changes, then the “then” is never triggered, and thus the prophecy “fails” to come to pass.[8]

 

So how can we tell the difference between a conditional prophecy and an unconditional prophecy? I don’t believe there is a surefire rule to follow, but one indicator that often shows up is when the prophecy mentions the “why” for the outcome and the “why” is based on human behavior.

 

In the case of Nineveh, the outcome prophesied was negative which required the people to repent in order to avoid disaster. A similar situation occurs with the people of Israel. God promised them all types of blessings and essentially dominion and/or influence over the entire globe, but this blessing was dependent on their cooperation with God. Since they failed to cooperate, He withheld His blessings.

 

Conversely, an unconditional prophecy would be the 2nd Coming of Christ. Jesus is coming again to end the Great Controversy whether we like it or not, and is not conditioned upon our individual behavior.[9]

 

(5) Obedience to the Big Ten!

 

A true prophet will obey all of God’s 10 Commandments. This principle can be found in Deuteronomy 13:1-11. Though this test also seems straight forward, it must be carefully applied. The reason being is that it is possible for a prophet to not know that they are transgressing a commandment of God. However, when they are made aware, they sincerely repent and commit to obeying the commandments.

 

One imperfect example is King David and his infamous commission of what was essentially the statutory rape of Bathsheba and the subsequent murder of Uriah the Hittite. The incredibleness of this story is that King David possessed the prophetic gift, and yet he transgressed God’s law in an extremely grotesque way.[10]

 

In other words, he knew better! However, there is clear evidence from Scripture that once he was “made aware” of his sin he experienced a deeply profound repentance, which is recorded in Psalm 51. Thus, a prophet cannot be deemed illegitimate simply because they broke one of the 10 Commandments either due to ignorance, a moment of weakness, or a lapse in judgment. However, prophets should not be above immediate public repentance for their transgressions when confronted or made aware of their moral failures.[11]

 

The simpler application of this principle is connected with fruit inspection in regards to the prophet’s ministry. If the prophet claims that God has revealed to them that adultery, Sabbath-breaking, or any of the other transgressions of the commandments is no longer a sin, then you can be certain that that individual is not a prophet. It is one thing to be ignorant or have a personal moral failure; it is something else to teach God’s people to flagrantly disregard His law.

 

The Bottom Line of Testing Prophets

 

These are the five basic tests for determining whether someone is a true or false prophet. The key is to remember that when applying these tests the prophet must past ALL OF THE TESTS! Passing one or two tests is not enough. The prophet must pass all of the tests in order to be taken as an authoritative spokesperson for God.

 

Knowing the tests and how to apply them is important because Jesus has warned us of a rise of false prophets and false christs and their activities in the last days.

 

He replied: ‘Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them.’ (Luke 21:8, NIV).

 

For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. (Mark 13:22, NIV).

 

 

As stated earlier, claiming to be a prophet or apostle is a serious matter. It entails more than being a pastor or an evangelist. The offices of prophet and apostle qualify a person to be a spokesperson for God and produce the word of God (inspired writings).

 

Thankfully, the Bible has given us several tests to detect whether a prophet is true or false so that none of us have to fall victim to the deceptions of pretenders and pick-pockets like David E. Taylor, José Luis de Jesús, or even our own homegrown false prophets such as the Ernie Knoll’s or Anna Phillips.

 

One Last Point on Modern Prophets

Many “prophets” and “apostles” today enjoy quoting 1 Chronicles 16:22 and Psalm 105:15 when their credentials or lifestyle are questioned or tested. Let’s take a quick look at these texts to see why they are so popular among prosperity gospel preachers and false prophets today.

 

Do not touch my anointed ones; do my prophets no harm. (Psalm 105:15, NIV).

 

I have a personal rule; whenever someone quotes this verse to defend their own moral lapses I rest assured that they are a false prophet. But since this is Adventism 202, and I would like for you to base your faith on Scripture instead of my musings here are 2 passages that call for believers to test the prophets.

 

Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good. (1 Thessalonians 5:19-21, NIV).

 

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 John 4:1, NIV).

 

Again, false prophets often say,

 

You don’t need to test me. You just need to have faith. You need to believe brother [or sister]!

 

But God’s word tells us to do just the opposite. The truth is that a genuine prophet will invite testing according to the Scriptures and never endorse blind faith. They will endorse God’s commands for us to test them.

 

Why? Because God commands us to be thinkers! God commands us to evaluate the evidence and make a decision based on His word. Naiveté and gullibility will be the downfall of many in the last days. Christ has warned us that there are many wolves out there in the world and in the church, which compels us to be “wise of serpents, and harmless as doves.”[12]

 

In the next article, we will finish our study on inspiration by looking at how the Holy Spirit supervises the work of prophets and ensures its trustworthiness.

Click here to read the rest of Ingram’s series on Adventism 202

______

Notes.

[1] The David E. Taylor prediction can be seen on YouTube

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/José_Luis_de_Jesús#Death

[3] Directly, in the sense of publishing a revelation they have received. Indirectly, in the sense that that prophetic office is a life-long calling in which the prophet is “educated” over time to think like God in a sense. So even though a prophet may not have a direct revelation to point to when delivering counsel or advice, the advice is still “inspired” since it comes from an inspired mind. This is why Paul can confidently give advice about marriage in 1 Corinthians: “Now about virgins: I have no command [revelation] from the Lord, but I give a judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy” (1 Corinthians 7:25). Paul’s judgment is trustworthy because it has been shaped and educated by a lifetime of receiving divine revelations. The similar effect occurs in the life of the believer. After many years of Bible study, the mind becomes conditioned to think along certain lines and because our minds crave coherence it allows us to project, predict, and judge ethical behavior versus non-ethical behavior even though the Bible may not specifically address the particular issue we are facing! We can see, like the prophet, how a particular action or course would be incongruent with the general principles of Scripture and God’s will even though we haven’t received a “thus saith the Lord” either supernaturally by way of revelation or naturally by studying the written word.

[4] Ernie Knoll is a recent example from our own faith community (https://spectrummagazine.org/article/column/2009/07/24/prophetic-career-ernie-knoll), as well as Anna Philips (https://m.egwwritings.org/en/book/682.128) an individual that also claimed the prophetic gift during the time of Ellen White.

[5] The Law or the writings Moses are preeminent in this test because Moses, chronologically, is the first prophet to write down his revelations. Thus, his writings are the litmus test for all future revelations, those contained in the Bible and any modern-day prophecies as well. Moses’ revelations are the foundation of the rest of the Bible and serve as a prophetic sanity check.

[6] Note that this truth also debunks the theory that the Holy Spirit and Jesus are one in the same person.

[7] “The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Galatians 5:19-21)

[8] In reality the prophecy doesn’t fail because God’s goal is accomplished. In the story of Jonah, God’s goal was to get Nineveh to repent and Jonah knows this. So, when Jonah successfully convicts the entire city to repent before God, he knows that God will relent and not destroy the city. The conditions that triggered God’s wrath were no longer present and so God’s wrath is assuaged.

[9] The fact that Jesus will return is unconditional, though I am open to the idea that when He comes, is conditional on human activity. Furthermore, I would argue that most apocalyptic prophecy as found in the books of Daniel and Revelation is unconditional.

[10] David’s crime is not only repugnant to us today but even more so to God. Notice that David narrowly escapes with his life out of this situation. When confronted by the prophet Nathan, David condemns himself as being worthy of death. Personally, I believe it was David’s authentic repentance that saved him from the fate of predecessor King Saul. Yet, even though David’s life is spared he is still punished by God because of his status as a prophet and king. When a prophet sins it is punished severely, not just for the sake of the prophet but also for the sake of the people who know that the prophet is called by God to show that he does not sanction the prophet’s behavior. “Howbeit, because by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, the child also that is born unto thee shall surely die.” (2 Samuel 12:14, KJV). The unethical behavior of prophets and or apostles is punished more severely than the common believer because of their exalted position. Consequently, we see David’s household will suffer a great deal of violence that will result in the loss of 4 sons and the rape of one of his daughters.

[11] Note that for Seventh-day Adventists who believe that Ellen White was given the prophetic gift in the mid-1800s, that she was given the prophetic gift before she learned about and kept the 7th day Sabbath.

[12] Matthew 10:16.

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About the author

Ingram London

Ingram London is a PhD student studying systematic theology at Andrews University. He serves as head of content development for The Compass Magazine.