Many bad prophets have existed throughout the history of the Church.
If books like New Covenant Prophetic Ministry by Jim and Carolyn Welton had existed, far fewer of these bad prophets would have existed. Now don’t misunderstand me; I am not speaking about preventing cults and witchcraft. Obviously those are wrong. But a false prophet is not the same as a bad prophet. Bad prophets are trying their best, but they get things wrong; they are sometimes inaccurate and make mistakes.
In Deuteronomy 13 we see the definition of an actual false prophet:
If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder spoken of takes place, and the prophet says, “Let us follow other gods” (gods you have not known) “and let us worship them,” you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The Lord your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. It is the Lord your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him (Deuteronomy 13:1–4).
Here the false prophets actually got their predictions correct! What made them false was their intention to lead the people after false gods. False prophets are accurate, but they lead people down a path of destruction.
Later on in Deuteronomy 18, we meet the bad prophet:
I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him. I myself will call to account anyone who does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name. But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, is to be put to death. You may say to yourselves, “How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the Lord?” If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously; so do not be alarmed (Deuteronomy 18:18–22).
We see in verse 18 that this type of prophet is raised up by God as His representative. But if such prophets speak presumptuously (from their own hearts, independent of God’s direct revelation), the people will know they are wrong because their words won’t come to pass. In Deuteronomy 13, the false prophet was accurate but led the people after false gods, whereas in chapter 18 the bad prophet was a true prophet of God who at times spoke presumptuously and inaccurately.
How are we to respond to these two types of prophets?
But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, is to be put to death….If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously; so do not be alarmed (Deuteronomy 18:20–22).
This verse shows us two different responses depending on the type of prophet.
- Bad prophets who speak presumptuously/inaccurately — Don’t be alarmed.
- False prophets who mislead people after other gods — Put them to death.
The Bad Prophet: If true prophets of God are inaccurate, they have spoken presumptuously, and the people should not be alarmed. Essentially, that means they don’t need to be afraid of him, but they also should take them less seriously when they prophesy. This should be our response to many of the prophets in the modern Church. If their track record for prophetic words is inaccurate, we shouldn’t be so moved when they prophesy. If they say California is going to be judged by God and then judgment doesn’t come, or if they declare financial investments that never turn up positive, it is irresponsible for us to continue to hold them in high regard. At least until they stop speaking presumptuously, we must not put so much weight on their words.
The False Prophet: False prophets are accurate, but they lead people after other gods (see Deut 13:1–4). The instruction to ancient Israel was to put them to death (see Deut. 18:20). Clearly, as we are not ancient Israel, this command no longer applies. Yet we can see the difference between the two types of prophets and the two different responses commanded to Israel.
The implications of this difference are significant. When people prophesy, they can be inaccurate without being false prophets! God never commanded death to His own prophets when they were inaccurate. So we do not have to be afraid of practicing prophecy and joyfully learning to hear God’s voice for ourselves and others. Jesus said His sheep will hear His voice (see John 10:3), and as His sheep, this is our privilege and our joy.
Here’s one final thought. Prophecy has never changed, but the covenants have changed. Prophets have always been God’s covenant lawyers. Under the Old Covenant, they came as God’s lawyers to prosecute His case against His covenant partner Israel. Now in the New Covenant, they are still God’s covenant lawyers, but the covenant has changed. Instead of pointing out guilt, sin, and condemnation, the New Covenant lawyer’s job is to point to the New Covenant, to declare, “You are released from shame; you are forgiven; you are free!” The job of the New Covenant lawyer (prophet) is to enforce God’s New Covenant and its effects. This includes healing, deliverance, salvation, forgiveness, and a cleansed conscience.
No longer is the Spirit only on a few individuals, as in Old Covenant times, but now in the New Covenant the Spirit has been poured out to all. It is time for the whole Church to “pursue the greater gifts…” (1 Cor. 12:31), but “especially prophecy” (1 Cor. 14:1). This is our great honor!
(From the Foreword of New Covenant Prophetic Ministry by Jim and Carolyn Welton)