Are there still prophets today, and if so, do true prophets have to be correct?

Q. I just read an article on Politico.com about contemporary prophets who are predicting that Donald Trump will become president again by the spring of this year, 2021, several years before he could actually be re-elected. 1. I know that Paul speaks of prophecy as a gift, but I don’t understand the need for prophets since the death of Christ. Wasn’t “the Word made flesh” so that we don’t need prophets? Didn’t God reveal all that we need to know? 2. I know that Old Testament prophets sometimes made prophetic statements about rulers but I thought that, for the most part, their prophecies focused on God’s people and their relationship with Him. It seems somewhat ungodly to think that God would be prophetically involved in micro-politics in our country. 3. Are there any instances in the OT of prophets being incorrect? If not, is it possible that Scripture only records their hits and omits their strikeouts? If not, then should we conclude that any modern-day prophet who strikes out is not really a prophet? If so, is there any modern-day prophet who is batting 1.000? (Or, to continue the metaphor, do you get a couple of swings and misses – and maybe foul balls – but aren’t out until you reach a certain number of misses?)

Let me respond to your first, third, and second questions in that order.

As for your first question, I personally believe that the gift of prophecy remains active in the church today. I do not believe that any prophecies since the New Testament was completed have added anything to the revelation in Scripture, but I do believe that God still speaks through spiritually gifted and sensitive people to bring inspired messages to groups of believers that need guidance, challenge, and encouragement. So in one sense, yes, through the incarnation of the Word of God in Jesus, and the completion of the written word of God in the Scriptures, God has given us everything we need for life and godliness. In another sense, there is still a need for groups of believers to hear what God is saying to them about specific situations they are facing, and it is the ongoing role of prophets to speak that word.

But this immediately raises the question of how we can know whether such contemporary prophets are truly speaking from God, instead of from themselves, likely under various influences. This relates to your third question. Wouldn’t a genuine prophet get things right, at least a credible amount of the time? And prophets generally hold themselves to this standard. The article you cited quoted one person who had predicted that Donald Trump would win the 2020 presidential election as saying, on the day that Joe Biden was declared the winner, “I take full responsibility for being wrong. There was no excuse for it. I think it doesn’t make me a false prophet, but it does actually create a credibility gap.” Others quoted in the article go further. One self-described prophet said, of those who are still insisting in February 2021 that Trump will soon return as president, “This has opened the door to outright delusion. … I’ll say we’ve earned the world’s mockery for our foolishness.” So yes, we should expect that any genuine prophet would have a strong track record for accuracy and truth. The Bible itself specifies this same standard: “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.” I think we could still have much respect, however, for a prophet who got something wrong but then admitted that promptly and humbly.

Finally, to respond to your second question, I would say that the prophecies that are recorded in the Scriptures, if we may take them as a model, give just as much attention to social and political concerns as to God’s people and their relationship with Him. Prophecy is both “fore-telling” and “forth-telling.” That is, it not only announces what God is going to do, it also speaks truth to power. Some biblical scholars have estimated that there is actually much more forth-telling than fore-telling within biblical prophecy. But there needs to be a standard for that as well. If prophets are to address current social and political realities, as well as situations within the believing community, then they must do so in keeping with the principles that God reveals in the Scriptures. The truth that is spoken to power must be God’s truth. And this was perhaps an even greater concern in the article you cited than the issue of incorrect prophecies that Trump would be re-elected. The article quotes a theologian and pastor who monitors present-day self-described prophets as saying that in return for favorable prophecies about him, “They had direct access to him and ability to influence decisions Trump was making. The real story was in the power, influence and access.” The article quotes others who see the positive prophecies as having been an “attempt to curry favor with a powerful political figure and movement.” If that is actually the case, then they would not have been speaking truth to power. They would have been telling power what it wanted to hear.

Author: Christopher R Smith

The Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith is an an ordained minister, a writer, and a biblical scholar. He was active in parish and student ministry for twenty-five years. He was a consulting editor to the International Bible Society (now Biblica) for The Books of the Bible, an edition of the New International Version (NIV) that presents the biblical books according to their natural literary outlines, without chapters and verses. His Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series is keyed to this format. He was also a consultant to Tyndale House for the Immerse Bible, an edition of the New Living Translation (NLT) that similarly presents the Scriptures in their natural literary forms, without chapters and verses or section headings. He has a B.A. from Harvard in English and American Literature and Language, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in the History of Christian Life and Thought, with a minor concentration in Bible, from Boston College, in the joint program with Andover Newton Theological School.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.