Hear the audio version at Anchor, Apple Podcasts, and Spotify.
Ah, yes. 2020. That year of healing, prosperity, Donald Trump being reelected, and racism being ended in the United States of America.
What was that? None of those things happened? Let me check with my personal prophet and get back to you.
Well, it seems like he got it wrong. He says he’s sorry and that he was tuning into FM frequencies when God was speaking on the AM dial.
Smoke, meet my friend, fire
Whether it was Kenneth Copeland decreeing and declaring the COVID-19 pandemic to be over in the name of God (Several times, I might add); or Shawn Bolz prophesying that COVID-19 would be over in a matter of a couple of weeks; or Bethel closing their healing rooms due to COVID-19 (I’m not sorry for finding that hilarious); or Bill Johnson and others decreeing and declaring that racism was over in America; or the late, IHOP-aligned Bob Jones prophesying that the Kansas City Chiefs winning the Super Bowl last year was a sign of end times revival; or Pat Robertson, Paula White, Kris Vallotton, Kat Kerr, Greg Lock, Bolz again, Copeland again, and scores of others prophesying – saying that God told them – that Donald Trump would win reelection, or that the election results would be thrown out, or that God would miraculously intervene and Trump would be inaugurated on January 20 (Depending on what day it was, of course), 2020 proved to be a trust buster in terms of those who claim to be prophets.
To Vallotton’s credit, he has apologized for missing the mark, but the error he made in the apology was in the attempt to differentiate between prophesying falsely and prophesying wrongly. Many of these people would agree that they heard from God and just missed it. The problem is that Scripture’s standard for prophesy is perfection, not a pretty good batting average or completion percentage.
From Deuteronomy to Jeremiah 29:11
The Old Testament knows two tests for prophets, both of them in Deuteronomy as follows:
If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, “Let us go after other gods,” which you have not known, “and let us serve them,” you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him. But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has taught rebellion against the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you out of the house of slavery, to make you leave the way in which the Lord your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. – Deuteronomy 13:1-7
And later, immediately after banning interpreting omens, something many of these so-called prophets love to do:
I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him. But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that 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 that the Lord has not spoken?”— when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him. – Deuteronomy 18:18-22
The first test is that if someone performs something miraculous, say, pretending to grow someone’s leg even though he won’t miraculously heal people at a hospital, but follows a false god, God takes that so seriously that under the Law, he would have been executed. While many mentioned here hold to heretical teachings such as kenosis and teach that Jesus went to hell to atone for sin, that is outside the scope of my main argument but is still vital to the overall tone. God’s name is not to be taken in vain by using the name of Jesus while describing someone who actually isn’t Jesus. I’m looking at you, Joseph Smith.
The second test is whether the thing actually happened or not. Did it happen? Cool. Did someone speak in God’s name and it didn’t happen? The standard in this case is to bat 1.000. A 4-for-5 day at the plate is a fantastic batting average, but four out of five or 99 out of 100 still falls short. God says he didn’t say anything to that supposed prophet. In fact, he’s not a prophet at all, and we shouldn’t listen to him.
Examples of false prophets being refuted abound through Scripture, like in Jeremiah 28 when Hannaniah falsely prophesies that Nebuchadnezzar would be overthrown in two years. Jeremiah responds by telling him that God didn’t say that and that Hannaniah would die that year. You can guess what happened that year and what didn’t happen in two years. That then leads into Jeremiah 29 and everyone’s favorite out of context memory verse, Jeremiah 29:11. The reason God reminded his people about his plans for them was because false prophets, whom God said he didn’t send, kept telling everyone that they were about to go home. God then tells them through Jeremiah that, no, it’s going to be 70 years, so go ahead and start a 401K.
Ezekiel 13 goes so far as to call false prophets jackals and says they’re not in the council of his people. Ergo, this is a salvation issue. For someone to say he is speaking for God when he really isn’t, excludes him from the flock and will send him to hell if he doesn’t repent.
The New Testament case is just as airtight. On top of Romans 16’s exhortation to mark and avoid false teachers, 2 Peter tells us that those who prophesy falsely deny God and that their destruction will be swift, much like what we just saw in Jeremiah. God will simply not stand for being slandered with words he never spoke.
Anticipating a common objection
One of the most common but most easily defeated objections comes from pitting Scripture against itself. It is claimed that Agabus falsely prophesied in Acts 21 when he said Paul would be bound hand and foot by the Jews and handed over to the Gentiles. Paul is then accused in the Temple on false charges, beaten, and a mob forms before Roman soldiers arrested him and bound him with two chains. These parties will say that Agabus got it wrong, because the Jews didn’t specifically hand over Paul to the Romans, never mind the prophetic symbolism and the fact that Paul says, “I was delivered as a prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans,” in Acts 28:17 and confirms Agabus’ accuracy. As an aside, see this blog for a more detailed treatment, but the short version is that saying the New Testament’s standards for allowing inaccurate prophecy are different than the Old Testament simply doesn’t hold water.
His sheep know his voice
We can take comfort that we don’t have to strain to hear God, nor do we have to perform some ritual to “get on his frequency.” He has spoken to us in these last days by his Son (Heb. 1:1), and the Word of God bears fruit and increases wherever it goes (Is. 55:11, Col. 1:6). This isn’t meant to wade into a continuation/cessation argument, but if God wanted you to hear something, you would probably have a similar reaction to Isaiah 6, and you wouldn’t have to guess. After all, Jesus said his sheep know his voice (John 10:27).
Not only do Jesus’ sheep know his voice; they actually listen and obey (John 10:16), so if the aforementioned parties are truly hearing and listening to God, they should obey his word in Deuteronomy 18 by resigning their ministerial posts, repenting of their sin and calling out to Christ for forgiveness for blaspheming his name and violating the Third Commandment. God doesn’t need them, and the Church will be healthier for it.