Bnonn Tennant (the B is silent)

Where a recovering ex-atheist skewers things with a sharp two-edged sword

Spotting real prophecies

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3 minutes to read If prophecy continues, and someone tells you they have received a word from the Lord, how can you tell if they’re for real, or just full of it?

Previously I gave two rough alternative arguments that spiritual gifts continue. In the comments, Dr P and I had an interesting exchange, with the key question being:

How would you test an alleged prophecy against Scripturee in a matter which is adiaphora?

Now, I think most “prophecies”—the sorts of “words from the Lord” people receive willy-nilly in certain churches—are obviously tosh and can be dismissed out of hand. But that said, here are a few criteria I’d look to if I wasn’t sure:

The alleged prophet

  1. What is the general character of this person? Is he reliable, clear-headed, sober-minded, sensible; does he judge matters by reference to Scripture and evidence? Or is he flighty, muddle-headed, opinionated, silly, wrapped up in himself; is he a busybody, prone to flights of fancy, or judging matters by reference to his own emotions?
  2. Is he a mature believer? Is he theologically competent? Or is he immature or inclined to just throw ideas together in a blender and chug whatever comes out?
  3. Does he have a history of prophetic ability that has proven sound? Or does he have a history of claiming to receive prophecies that turned out to be bogus?

The alleged prophecy

  1. What form does it take? Prophecy in Scripture tends to be given by a visible appearance of the Word of Yahweh (aka Jesus). Is that what this person experienced—or did they just have a strange dream? If they’re hearing voices, it might be better to get them medical help than to accept their spiritual help.
  2. Does it have the ring of truth? Does it seem edifying…or does it seem self-serving? Is it plausible to think God would speak to someone on this matter? Is it important, or trivial? (In general, I tend to assume that God giving someone else a “prophecy” about my personal life is extremely improbable unless they are in some kind of mentoring role where it will actually edify me. After all, if prophecy continues, God can speak to me just as easily as to someone else.)
  3. Does the alleged prophecy line up with anything I have experienced in my own life? Does it come at a time when I am already thinking about the issue at hand despite the person not knowing? Does it coincide with an event which, in isolation, looks random, but in combination with the prophecy appears meaningful? Is there any evidence of providence here (especially in a way I’ve experienced before)?
  4. Can I verify the prophecy? Is it specific enough to falsify; does it make predictions or demonstrate improbable knowledge of something? Or is it vague and subjective? If it is a dream, is it open to interpretation?
  5. Having prayed about it, do I have any sense that the prophecy is something I should act on; or do I have the sense that it’s nonsense?

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