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    What is a Prophet?

    In religion, a prophet is an individual who is claimed to have been contacted by the supernatural or the divine, and serves as an intermediary with humanity, delivering this newfound knowledge from the supernatural entity to other people. The message that the prophet conveys is called a prophecy.


    Prophecy is a religious phenomenon mostly associated with Judaism and Christianity, but also with other religions, ancient and modern alike. In western culture, this phenomenon features dominantly in the Old Testament (Hebrew Scriptures), namely, the prophets of Israel.

    Many people today think of a prophet as any person who sees the future. While the gift of prophecy certainly includes the ability to see the future, a prophet is far more than just a person with that ability. A prophet, according to religious traditions, is basically a spokesman for God, a person chosen by God to speak to people on God's behalf and convey a message or teaching. Prophets were role models of holiness, scholarship and closeness to God. They set the standards for the entire community.

    The sociologist Max Weber distinguished two types of prophets, the emissary type and the exemplary. The emissary type believe that they have received an important message that must be communicated to others. The exemplary type base their religious authority on experience that serves as an example to others.

    Prophets and Prophecy in Christianity

    Christians believe a prophet is a person who speaks for God, in the name of God, and who carries God's message to others. Some Christian denominations teach that a person who receives a personal message not intended for the body of believers (where such an event is credited at all) should not be termed a prophet. The reception of a message is termed revelation; the delivery of the message is termed prophecy. For Christians the authenticity of a prophet is judged by their fruits as Jesus said that one should judge a prophet by his fruits, (Gospel of Matthew 7) and by checking whether his predictions come true. Deuteronomy 18:21-22 contains several warnings about false prophets and is very specific about the test of whether a prophet is true or false. A false prophet is considered to be someone who is purposely trying to deceive, or is delusional, or is under the influence of Satan.

    Christians recognize that anyone they consider prophetic is still human and fallible, and may make wrong decisions, have incorrect personal beliefs or opinions, and sin from time to time; the human characteristics of a prophet are independent of the message God has given him and do not negate the validity of his prophecies.

    Nevertheless, some Christians believe the minimum requirements of a true prophet can be summarized as follows: (1) Clear (not vague) prophecies (2) 100% accuracy in prophesying (i.e. one false prophecy is all it takes to disqualify them as a prophet), and (3) Must not contradict the Bible.

    Some Christians, including many who believe in dispensationalism, believe prophecy ended with the coming of Jesus, who delivered the "fullness of the law." Within this group, many Protestants believe that prophecy ended with the last of the Hebrew prophets of the Old Testament of the Bible, leaving a gap of about 400 years between then and the life of Jesus. The majority, including the Eastern Orthodox, allow an exception for John the Baptist as a prophet contemporary with Jesus.

    New Testament passages that explicitly discuss prophets existing after the death of Christ include Revelation 11:10, Matthew 10:40-41 & 23:34, John 13:20 & 15:20, and Acts 11:25-30, 13:1 & 15:32. Christians believe that the Holy Spirit leads people to faith in Jesus and gives them the ability to lead a Christian life and to give gifts (i.e. abilities) to Christians. These may include the charismatic gifts such as prophecy, tongues, healing, and knowledge. Christians holding a view known as cessationism believe these gifts were given only in New Testament times. Christians almost universally agree that certain more mundane "spiritual gifts" are still in effect today, including the gifts of ministry, teaching, giving, leadership, and mercy (see, e.g. Romans 12:6-8).

    The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church - Mormon Church) believes that God continues to communicate with his children. While anyone may receive revelation for themselves or their own families, Mormons believe certain individuals have been called as prophets throughout history to proclaim God's message to the church and to the world. These prophets (including LDS Apostles) are regarded as "special witnesses" of Jesus Christ, and are believed to have been foreordained as such as a part of God's Plan of salvation - to lead and guide His children on earth. The message of the gospel of Christ, since the time of Adam and Eve, has consistently been a call for people to repent and exercise faith in God and in Jesus' Atonement. A form of Dispensationalism exists where periods of time are introduced by a major prophet. The Book of Mormon describes the ministries of many of these prophets among the ancient inhabitants of the Americas, and alludes other prophets who would be chosen in nations other than in the Americas and Bible lands.

    Latter-day Saints believe that God calls a prophet to lead the Lord's church any time it has been organized on the earth, beginning with Adam, and continuing on with others recorded in the Old Testament such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Isaiah, and Malachi. Jesus did this during his mortal ministry, and Peter acted in Christ's place after His ascension, but because of persecution the church eventually fell into apostasy. With the Restoration of the Gospel in 1830 through Joseph Smith, Jr. (founder of the Mormon Church), Latter-day Saints claim the true Christian church was, again, organized and established upon the earth. God is believed to direct affairs of the church through the leadership of the church, especially the President of the Church. He is believed to be authorized to receive revelation for the whole world and is often referred to simply as "the Prophet."

    Latter-day Saints also believe other good men and women have had important roles among mankind and have been born on earth at particular times based on God's foreknowledge in all things, to guide their societies in true principles based on the light and knowledge they specifically sought after. For example, Mohammed, Confucius, John Wycliffe, William Tyndale, the United States founding fathers, and Gandhi were inspired by the light of Christ in bringing much goodness and truth to their societies, though theirs was not a revelatory calling through priesthood authority and direct revelation, thus differing from the calling of a prophet. [3]

    Jehovah's Witnesses do not consider any single person in their modern-day organization to be a prophet. Their literature has referred to their organization collectively as God's "prophet" on earth and that they are God's one and only true channel to mankind on earth, and used by God for this purpose. [4]

    The Seventh-day Adventist Church believes Ellen White, a cofounder of the church, possessed the gift of prophecy.

    New Testament Prophets

    Jesus Christ
    John the Baptist

    Prophets and Prophecy in Judaism

    See also Prophets of Israel

    In Hebrew, the word traditionally translated as prophet is נְבִיא (nevi), which likely means "proclaimer". The meaning of nevi is perhaps described in Deuteronomy 18:18, where God said, "I will put my words in his mouth and he will speak to them all that I command him." Thus, the navi was thought to be the "mouth" of God.

    According to I Samuel 9:9, the old name for navi is ro'eh, ראה, which literally means "Seer". That could document an ancient shift, from viewing prophets as seers of the future to viewing them as moral teachers. Orlinsky (1971) comments that in the First Temple Era, there were essentially seer-priests, who formed a guild, divined, performed rituals and sacrifices, and were scribes, and then there were canonical prophets, who did none of these (and were against divination) and had instead a message to deliver. The seer-priests were usually attached to a local shrine or temple, such as Shiloh, and initiated others as priests in that priesthood: it was a mystical craft-guild with apprentices and recruitment. Canonical prophets were not organised this way. The term "ben-navi" ("sons of the prophets" 1 Kings 20:35; Amos 2:11) means "member of a seer-priest guild". [1]

    Some examples of prophets in the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) include Abraham, Sarah, Isaiah, Samuel, Ezekiel, and Malachi. In Jewish tradition, Daniel is not counted in the list of prophets for two reasons: 1. Daniel never spoke directly to God; 2. Daniel speaks to future generations not to his generation. Nevertheless, Christians regard Daniel as a prophet.

    The Tanakh states that prophecy is not limited to Jews. It specifically mentions the prophecy of Bilam (Balaam), a gentile (Numbers, Chapters 22-24).

    Judaism recognizes the existence of 48 male prophets who bequeathed permanent messages to mankind. [2] According to the Talmud there were also seven women who are counted as prophets whose message bears relevance for all generations: Sarah, Miriam, Devorah, Hannah (mother of the prophet Samuel), Abigail (a wife of King David), Huldah (from the time of Jeremiah), and Esther. There were, of course, other women who functioned as prophets, and the last prophet mentioned in the Bible, Noahdiah (Nehemiah 6:14) was a woman.

    Classical Jewish texts teach that the most direct forms of prophecy ended shortly after the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE and the codification of the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) by the Men of the Great Assembly (Anshei Knessset HaGedolah). However, various rabbinic Jewish works, including the midrash, state that other less direct forms of communication between man and God still exist, and have never ended.

    Many Jewish works, including the Talmud and Maimonides's Guide for the Perplexed states that gentiles may receive prophecy. However, Judaism generally does not accept that any of the specific people well known in other religions as prophets are genuine prophets. Jews have not recognized any specific gentile leader as a prophet, because most people who claim to be prophets in other religions have done so in such a way as to delegitimize or supersede Judaism itself. Judaism (based on Deuteronomy Ch. 13 and 18:20) holds that no true prophet will create a new faith or religion as a successor to Judaism.

    The Talmud states that minor forms of prophecy still occur. One example of this is the bat kol - "Daughter of a voice" (e.g. Tosefta Sota 13:3, Yerushalmi Sota 24b, and Bavli Sota 48b). The sages taught that the bat kol, a voice from heaven, was frequently heard among the ancient Israelites. It became the only means of communication between God and his people after prophecy ceased.

    Old Testament Prophets and Prophetesses (Prophets of Israel)


    • Sarah

    • Miriam

    • Devorah

    • Hannah

    • Avigail

    • Huldah

    • Esther

    Male: (in paranteses are presented Hebrew transliterations)

    • Abraham

    • Isaac

    • Jacob

    • Moses

    • Aaron

    • Joshua

    • Pinchas

    • Elkanah

    • Eli

    • Samuel

    • Gad

    • Nathan

    • King David

    • King Solomon

    • Iddo

    • Michaiah son of Imlah

    • Ovadiah

    • Ahiyah the Shilonite

    • Jehu son of Hanani

    • Azariah son of Oded

    • Jahaziel the Levite

    • Eliezer son of Dodavahu

    • Hoshea

    • Amos

    • Micah the Morashtite

    • Amoz

    • Elijah

    • Elisha

    • Yonah Ben Amitai

    • Isaiah

    • Joel

    • Nachum

    • Habakuk

    • Zephaniah

    • Uriah

    • Jeremiah

    • Ezekiel

    • Shemaiah

    • Daniel ?

    • Barukh

    • Neriah

    • Seraiah

    • Mehseiah

    • Haggai

    • Zechariah

    • Malachi

    • Mordechai

    • Oded

    • Hanani

    Prophets and Prophecy in Islam

    The Qur'an identifies a number of men as Prophets of Islam (Arabic: nabee; pl. anbiyaa). Muslims believe such individuals were assigned a special mission by God (Arabic: Allah) to guide humanity. Besides Muhammad, this includes other Abrahamic prophets such as Moses and Jesus.

    According to the Islamic creed, the essence of all the prophets’ messages is what Islam calls for: worshipping God alone and rejecting false deities. Islam is the religion of all prophets in human history ; all of them called for beliefs which Islam calls for, and so they declared belief in Islam. The message of Islam resembles the messages of all previous prophets of God. The Qur'an states: "Abraham was not a Jew nor a Christian, but he was (an) upright (man), a Muslim (submission to God's will), and he was not one of the polytheists" (3:67). There were at least 4 Sharia which were revealed to Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus. Each of the prophets is believed to have been assigned a special mission by God to guide the whole or a group of the mankind, depending on the mission assigned to each.

    God is believed to have instructed each of these prophets to warn his community against evil and urge his people to obey God. Although only 25 prophets are mentioned by name in the Qur'an, a Hadith (no. 21257 in Musnad Ibn Hanbal) mentions that there were 124,000 of them in total throughout history, and the Qur'an says that God has sent a prophet to every group of people throughout time, and that Muhammad is the last of the Prophets (16:36). In general, Muslims regard the stories of the Qur'an as historical. The message of all the prophets is believed to be the same. Many of these prophets are also found in the holy texts of Judaism (The Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings; collectively known as the Old Testament to Christians) and Christianity.

    In the Islamic view the first prophet is Adam, while the last prophet is Muhammad, thus his title Seal of the Prophets. Jesus is the result of a virgin birth in Islam as in Christianity, and is regarded as a prophet like the others. Traditionally, five prophets are regarded as especially important in Islam, for example: Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad. Also, only a tiny minority of prophets are believed to have been sent holy books (such as the Torah, Psalms ?, Gospel ?, and the Qur'an), and those prophets are considered "messengers". Muhammad is regarded in Islamic belief as having undertaken a prophetic mission addressed to all of humanity rather than a specific populace.

    Greek and Roman Oracles

    The role of spokesperson for the gods is an archaic one in the Hellenic world. However, the word prophet itself derives from the Greeks, who used the word to refer to an interpreter or spokesperson of a deity, who "utters forth." In Greek religion the interpreters of Zeus, Apollo, and other gods were the oracles, at numerous ancient sites, where the god or goddess spoke through women (sibyls / prophetesses). In various Greek legends, oracles (particularly Apollo's at Delphi) spoke cryptically of the future, and their meaning was frequently misunderstood. In The Iliad the Trojan princess Cassandra warns of upcoming events, but has been cursed such that no one believes her prophecies.

    Prophets and Prophecy in Bahá'í Tradition

    The Bahá'í Faith refers to what are commonly called prophets as Manifestations of God, or simply Manifestations (mazhar) who are directly linked with the concept of Progressive revelation. Bahá'ís believe that God expresses his will at all times and in many ways, including through a series of divine messengers referred to as Manifestations of God or sometimes divine educators.[5] In expressing God's intent, these Manifestations are seen to establish religion in the world. Thus they are seen as an intermediary between God and humanity. [6]

    The Manifestations of God are not seen as an incarnation of God, but they are also not seen as an ordinary mortals. Instead, the Bahá'í concept of the Mainfestation of God emphasizes simultaneously the humanity of that intermediary and the divinity in the way they show forth the will, knowledge and attributes of God; thus they have both human and divine stations.[6] This view resembles the Christian view of Christ, as well as the Shi'a (the second largest denomination of the Islamic faith after Sunni Islam) understanding of the prophets and Imams (the Shi'a Islamic doctrine of political and spiritual leadership).

    Bahá'u'lláh (founder and prophet of the Bahá'í Faith) referred to several historical figures as Manifestations. They include the figures in the Abrahamic Faiths such as Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad, but also include the founders of great non-Western religions such as Zoroaster, Krishna, and Buddha. The Báb (founder and prophet of Bábism), as well as himself, were included in this definition, and Bahá'u'lláh wrote that God will send more Manifestations in the future, when necessary. Thus religious history is interpreted as a series of dispensations, where each Manifestation brings a somewhat broader and more advanced revelation, suited for the time and place in which it was expressed.

    These Manifestations are taught to be "one and the same", and in their relationship to one another have both the station of unity and the station of distinction. In this sense, the Manifestations of God all fulfill the same purpose and perform the same function by mediating between God and creation. In this way each Manifestation of God manifested the Word of God and taught the same religion, with modifications for the particular audience's needs and culture. Bahá'u'lláh wrote that since each Manifestation of God has the same divine attributes they can be seen as the spiritual "return" of all the previous Manifestations of God. Bahá'u'lláh then states the diversity of the teachings of the Manifestations of God does not come about because of their differences, since they are one and the same, but because they each have a different mission.[6][7]

    In addition to the Manifestations of God, in the Bahá'í view, there are also minor prophets. While the Manifestations of Gods, or major Prophets, are compared to the sun, which produces its own heat and light. The minor prophets, on the other hand, are likened to the moon, which receive their light from the sun. Moses, for example, is taught as having been a Manifestation of God and his brother Aaron a minor prophet. Moses spoke on behalf of God, and Aaron spoke on behalf of Moses (Exodus 4:14-17). Other Jewish prophets are considered minor prophets, in the Bahá'í view, as they are considered to have come in the shadow of the dispensation of Moses to develop and consolidate the process he set in motion.

    Tenrikyo Concept of Prophet

    Tenrikyo's (a Japanese religion) prophet, Nakayama Miki (Oyasama), is believed by Tenrikyoans to have been a kind of microphone of God, as God spoke through Oyasama, directly, to whomever was in the vicinity. She had three aspects: the Shrine of Tsukihi (a woman body occupied by the mind of God), The Parent of the Divine Model (Oyasama taught the people by instructions and examples), and The Truth of the Everliving Oyasama (she continues to watch humanity develop, even after shedding her body).

    Other Prophets

    Other people throughout history have been described as prophets in the sense of foretelling the future (as opposed to forthtelling the message of the Deity). Examples of such prophets include:

    • Nostradamus

    • Nathan of Gaza

    • Shirdi Sai Baba

    • Sathya Sai Baba

    • Douglas James Cottrell

    • Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (Madame Blavatsky)

    • Deganawidah

    • Dan Evehema, Hopi Elder

    • Mitar Tarabich

    • John Titor

    • Jeane Dixon

    • Richard Rossi

    • Hal Lindsey

    • Edgar Cayce

    • William Miller

    • Merlin the wizard

    • Mother Shipton

    • Elizabeth Clare Prophet

    • St Malachy

    • Ronald Weinland of the Church of God


  • Prophecy, Prophet, and Prophetess - Catholic Encyclopedia

  • Prophets and Prophecy - Jewish Encyclopedia

  • Prophets and Prophecy - Judaism 101

  • Notes

    1. Orlinsky, H. M. ( 1971). "The Seer-Priest" in W.H. Allen The World History of the Jewish People, Vol.3: Judges pp.269-279.
    3. Smith, Joseph F., Gospel Doctrine, 1919, Chapter 22.;Top, Brent L., Life Before, 1988, Chapter 7.
    5. Hutter, Manfred. (2005). "Bahā'īs". Encyclopedia of Religion (2nd ed.) 2: p737-740. Ed. Ed. Lindsay Jones. Detroit:     Macmillan Reference USA.

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    Last updated: June 2013
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