A prophet is one who speaks for God. The term usually refers to God's spokesmen in the Old Testament, beginning with Abraham, and ending with St. John the Forerunner.
Old Testament Prophecy
The word prophet itself derives from the Greeks, who used the word προφήτης to refer to an interpreter or spokesperson of a deity, who "utters forth." In Hebrew, however, the word traditionally translated as prophet nevi, which likely means "proclaimer." The meaning of nevi is perhaps described in Deuteronomy 18:18, where God said, "I will put my words in his mouth and he will speak to them all that I command him." Thus, the navi was thought to be the "mouth" of God. The root nun-bet-alef (navi) is based on the two-letter root nun-bet which denotes hollowness or openness, perhaps in reference to God.
Some examples of prophets in the Old Testament include Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Isaiah, David, Solomon, and Job. Also, sixteen books in the Old Testament are called by the names of prophets, although not necessarily written by their hands. They are traditionally divided into the "major" and "minor" prophets:
- Book of Isaiah, Isaiah
- Book of Jeremiah, Jeremiah includes book of Baruch and the Letter of Jeremiah
- Book of Ezekiel, Ezekiel
- Book of Daniel, Daniel
The books of the 12 so-called minor prophets:
- Book of Hosea, Hosea
- Book of Joel, Joel
- Book of Amos, Amos
- Book of Obadiah, Obadiah
- Book of Jonah, Jonah
- Book of Micah, Micah
- Book of Nahum, Nahum
- Book of Habakkuk, Habakkuk
- Book of Zephaniah, Zephaniah
- Book of Haggai, Haggai
- Book of Zechariah, Zechariah
- Book of Malachi, Malachi
The End of Prophecy
Orthodoxy teaches that John the Baptist (also known as John the Forerunner) was the last of the prophets, thus tightly linking the period of prophecy in the Old Testament with Jesus, who delivered the fullness or fulfillment of the law.
Some Protestant (and thus heretical) sects hold that prophecy continues to this day, including Pentecostals and Quakers. In doing so, they often manage to diminish the role of Holy Tradition by overemphasizing such new "revelations." Mormons also think that the current president of their church is a prophet. An early Christian heresy centering around continuing prophecy was Montanism, whose most notable adherent was Tertullian.
This, however, is not to say that the spirit of prophecy is dead in the Church; there are many instances of saints and other Orthodox receiving prophetic dreams or visions. The term "prophet" itself, though, is generally reserved for Old Testament figures.
Assessment of the prophet's authenticity and false prophets
According to Deuteronomy 18:21-22, one should judge a prophet by checking whether his predictions come true. Likewise, in the New Testament Christ warned against false prophets and said that one should judge a prophet by his fruits. From (Matthew 7):
- Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
- Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
- Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
- A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
- Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
- Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.1
Sts. Peter and Paul also enjoin the faithful to beware of "false prophets" (i.e. heretics) repeatedly in their epistles. See 2 Peter 2 and Acts 20:28 in particular.
Sources and external links
- Prophet at Wikipedia
- 1Matthew 7King James Version, in public domain. Cited on www.biblegateway.com.