role of a prophet in society has often been questioned and misunderstood. Prophets are often seen as peculiar people who receive divine inspiration. The purpose of this paper is to discuss whether a prophet is always inspired. We will begin our discussion by defining prophetic inspiration and the function of a prophet. Our discussion will then focus on how to distinguish between prophecy that is inspired and prophecy that is uninspired.
The prime examples of prophetic inspiration can be found in the bible. According to a book entitled Inspiration and Revelation in the Old Testament, it is very difficult to explain the function of the Hebrew prophet. The book asserts that this difficulty exist because the function of the prophet is beyond that of human experience and is characterized by philosophical and religious assumptions. (Robinson) The author also asserts that 'The Hebrew prophets have so greatly influenced religion that they have become incorporated into it. Post-exilic Judaism subordinated them to its fundamental conception of a complete torah, revealed once for all to Moses on Mount Sinai. Christianity, by an intuition that unconsciously approximated to the historical truth, drew its noblest inspiration from that of the prophets (together with their disciples, the psalmists), thus restoring the prophets in some degree to their historical place, as the pioneers of Israel's higher religion." (Robinson)
The author goes on to explain that one of the main functions of a prophet is to make Israel ware of the spirit of God and His power. (Robinson) The book also contends that the function of a prophet is to encourage God's people to obey His commands. (Robinson) The author also explains that prophetic inspiration and the call to become a prophet are inspired by God. (Robinson) The author points to the prophet Amos explaining that the prophet was removed from his regular occupation so that he could become God's mouthpiece. (Robinson)
According to another book entitled Evangelical Theories of Biblical Inspiration: a Review and Proposal, explains that inspiration is essential to ensuring the infallibility of the teachings that are present in the Bible and amongst God's people. (Trembath) The book explains that inspiration is also important because it ensures that the message is properly transferred from God to the prophet to His people. (Trembath) The author defines inspiration as "the process of transmission so that content (the product of revelation, illumination, and natural cognitive activity) is properly conveyed regardless of the truth or falsity of that content." (Trembath) The author explains that inspiration was essential to the function of a prophet because the prophets' words were viewed as being the very words of God. (Trembath)
Are all prophets inspired?
It is important to keep in mind that prophets are people and that they can misinterpret God's words or operate out of their own desires. Although there were many prophets that were inspired by God throughout the Bible, there were also false prophets and prophets that were not always inspired by God. A book entitled, The Prophets: Their Personalities and Teachings explains that the false prophets were actually nothing more than soothsayers, traveling the country in groups and were paid to make predictions. The bible refers to these soothsayers as the prophets of Baal. Throughout the bible, there are some distinguishing characteristics of false prophets and real prophets. For instance, the book reports that the false prophets traveled in groups or gangs. (Cohon) On the other hand, the true prophets "Stood alone." (Cohon) The book also explains that the false prophets would prophesy saying "Thus saith the King" while the true prophets would say "thus Saith the Lord." (Cohon)
The book also explains the difference in inspiration between the false prophets and the true prophets. The author asserts,
"The nature of genuine prophecy is to be interbound with one's very life. Third, the inspiration of the false prophets was usually produced artificially. In the story of Saul, which we have cited, the false prophets are equipped with musical instruments and the purpose of these was to stimulate prophecy. Elisha, asked to prophesy, found himself incapable of it for the reason that he was completely composed, mentally cool and normal in every way. To engage in prophecy one had to be hysterical. "Bring me a minstrel," he says. "And it came to pass, when the minstrel played, that the hand of the Lord came upon him." "An examination of the writings of the great prophets for phenomena of this sort warrants the statement that the greater the prophet was the less recourse did he have to such extraneous support for his message." (Cohon)
The author also asserts that the prophets that were not inspired by God often seemed to be in a state of frenzy when he was delivering a prophecy. (Cohon) On the contrary, the true prophet had control over his mental abilities. (Cohon)
A book entitled, Prophecy and the Biblical Prophets explains that the bible also describes individuals who are false prophets and possess lying spirits. The book explains that God will sometimes send false prophets to confuse the people. The book explains, "The Lord controls all the spirits that possess men, good and evil. False prophets, like Zedekiah, are possessed by lying spirits, sent by God to trick people, leading them, as in the case of Ahab, to their death." (Sawyer)
An article entitled, "Let Women Not Despair": Rabanus Maurus on Women as Prophets," explains that there was apprehension about prophets throughout the bible. The author explains that in the early Christian church of the New Testament there was difficulty understanding the function of a prophet. The author explains Paul explains the role of the prophet and the characteristics of a true prophet. The journal explains,
"Paul is consistent in his approbation of prophets. In his various lists of the charisms that constitute the Church, the gift of prophecy is the only constant and it is always given second place, sometimes to the office of apostle, otherwise only to the gift of love (1 Corinthians 12:8-11, 28-30; 13:1-2; Romans 12:6-8). Even in dealing with the chaotic church at Corinth, Paul upholds the importance of prophecy; in doing so, however, he gives critical norms by which the true prophet can be discerned. The authentic prophet gives an intelligible message and functions always to build up the church community. These two norms -- intelligibility and the building up of community -- significantly affect the way in which later exegetes reinterpret the prophetic vocation." (Mayeski)
Another article found in the Renaissance Quarterly, describes the Palm Sunday prophets of London and other cities in England. These prophets operated between 1498 and 1559. (Erler) The Palm Sunday prophets are described as boys and adults who were given wigs to wear and traveled throughout England. (Erler) They were also given compensation for their prophecies. (Erler) We can draw some parallels between these prophets and to the false prophets of the bible. Two of the main similarities are that they traveled in groups and they were compensated for their messages.
An article in the journal Christian History, explains the prophets who failed. The article discusses false prophets such as Sabbatai Sevi of the seventeenth century and Jim Jones who led followers to commit suicide. (Foster) The article also discusses James J. Strang, who was a Mormon prophet. Strang was assassinated in 1856 and was the leader of a community of 2,500 people in Michigan. (Foster) The article explains that the prophet was charismatic and articulate and many believed that he was a genuine prophet. (Foster) However, others were convinced that he was a false prophet. (Foster)
Strang claimed that he was the successor to Joseph Smith and claimed that he received a letter from Smith just prior to his death and that he had received angelic ordination. (Foster) The article explains,
"With considerable eloquence, Strang argued that the letter, in conjunction with an angelic ordination which he had received, made him Joseph Smith's true successor. To buttress these claims, Strang proceeded to deliver revelations in Smith's "Thus saith the Lord" style. He denounced polygamy as an utter abomination. He called for Mormons to gather to his headquarters at Voree, Wisconsin, rather than undertake a foolhardy migration westward. Under the watchful eyes of four witnesses in the autumn of 1845, Strang dug up brass plates near Voree, which he then "translated." Later he would "translate" a brilliant elaboration and extension of Mosaic Law which he called the Book of the Law of the Lord..." (Foster)
One of the main characteristics that caused Strang to be labeled as a false prophet was his beliefs concerning polygamy. Originally, he claimed that polygamy was wrong and should be abolished but later changed his mind about the practice. In addition, Strang did not have the support of the organized Mormon Church.
Indeed, prophets have often been accused of providing false prophecies that are not inspired by God. A Book entitled, The White Lie by Walter Rea, discusses Prophet Ellen G. White and Seventh Day…