Biblical Prophecy, False Prophets And Their Punishment

Feature Article Biblical Prophecy, False Prophets And Their Punishment

Charlatan priests and prophets have preyed on their Ghanaian victims for a long time. These false prophets and frauds have employed great shrewdness and guesswork and combined them with trickery. They have used deceptions and socio-psychological manipulations to make themselves rich and powerful. Discerning Ghanaians should have asked: Why can't God speak at any time to people, but only on New Year's Eve? It is a shame the Christian community has to wait for the Ghanaian police to intervene to save us from the falsehoods of the "professional" prophets. That is an indictment against the whole Ghanaian Christian community. What is the role of Christianity in public life? Why does it have to take the police to issue such restraint against falsehoods coming from supposedly Christian pulpits every New Year's Eve, wrapped in the cloak of prophecy from God? What are groups like the Christian Council of Ghana doing when the church's integrity is at stake?

The false prophets continue with their trade every year because they know many Ghanaians, educated and uneducated, are Biblically illiterate. Also, they know that other Christian groups that are supposed to know better do not hold them accountable by repudiating them in public. Why aren't some Christians challenging the falsehoods of these charlatan prophets in public? Many societies in antiquity, including the Jewish people, instituted the death penalty for false prophecy because of its profound implications. As Christians, we sin by omission when we don't denounce falsehoods as Amos did to Amaziah (Amos 7).

The prophecies given by the charlatan prophets in Ghana have grave psychological and social implications. How would you feel or do if someone told you that you would die next year? You can either ignore it if you are emotionally strong or seek the service of the "professional" prophets to intervene spiritually on your behalf. Their goal is first to place you under spiritual bondage so they can manipulate you. With the politicians, the purpose of these prophecies is to obtain financial gains, favors, and political and financial inducements from them. Why don't they warn the politicians about their corrupt practices and the exploitation of the poor as the Biblical prophets did?

A prophetic utterance in Christianity is a direct word from God about the situation at hand through the mouth of one of his people. Unlike the "guesstimations" we hear from many Christian ministers in Ghana, prophecy is a declaration of future events, such as no human wisdom can forecast—a declaration dependent on knowledge of human affairs that can belong only to the omniscient God.

Also, contrary to the idea that prophecy is an irresistible compulsion, there is no hint from the New Testament that it is so. The Apostle Paul teaches some prophets to keep quiet while others are given a chance to speak (I Corinthians 14:29). Therefore, the gift of prophecy and its mode of communication involves the use of the mind. The interpretation and the manner of communicating that prophecy are at the discretion of the prophet. True prophets can therefore wait and speak to the affected people in private rather than making a public display of their trade.

The prophet is not only to deliver his message with wisdom but also with pathos. In his excellent book "The Prophets," the Jewish scholar Abraham Herschel writes, "The task of the prophet is to convey the word of God. Yet the word is aglow with the pathos. One can't understand the word without sensing the pathos. The prophet should not be regarded as an ambassador who must be dispassionate to be effective."

Though prophetic gifts continue to appear in the church, they have become increasingly suspect because of their abuse, especially among Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians. The Didache laments over bogus and self-seeking prophets. Unlike the cessationists who think the gifts of the Holy Spirit ceased after the canonization of the Scriptures, I believe prophecy is meant to continue in the church. But because of the danger of abuse and its subjective nature, people who aspire to be prophets in the church must be guided by the Scriptures and their prophetic words judged. The Bible urges Christians to test all prophecies. In I John 4:1, the apostle writes, "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world."

The test of the true prophet is that his prophecy will be brought to fulfillment according to God's purpose (I Kings 22: 26 – 28; Jeremiah 28). "But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name which I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die. And if you say in your heart, 'How may we know the word which the LORD has not spoken? Now listen to the Lord's response – When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, and if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word which the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously, you need not be afraid of him." Deuteronomy 18:20-22. Deuteronomy 13:5 also commands that a false prophet be put to death. This is because false prophets can quickly turn believers away from the true God by their false prophecy. They can also bring people under spiritual bondage and psychologically manipulate them. Many of these false prophets practice sorcery and divination and use socio- psychological manipulations on their victims.

Evidence from the Scriptures suggests that prophecy must meet specific criteria for it to be credible. First, the event prophesied must be beyond the power of men to foresee. Second, the prophecy must come before the event. Third, the prediction in the prophecy must be unique to the event and must come to pass. Fourth, the communication of the prophecy must be unambiguous and unmistakable. And fifth, the moral character of the prophet himself provides another checkpoint (Jeremiah 23:14). However, the last criteria criterion has limitations, for no true prophet except Christ was sinless. Notwithstanding, the prophet must have impeccable character by human standards. Therefore, it is fair to judge people's prophecy from a Biblical standpoint since they are presumed to speak for God Almighty.

A closer look at the Old Testament prophecies reveals that most prophecies of God were about these three things: One, the exploitation of the people by the leaders, second, idolatry, and third, adultery. Biblical prophecies were not that concerned about who would get sick or die even though there were times when God, through the prophets, asked some kings to put their house in order before dying or were told about their deaths as punishments for their idolatry: worshiping of pagan Gods. Therefore the kinds of prophecies about political parties and prominent personalities without any rebuke from God about their evil deeds are suspect and must be treated with the contempt they deserve.