(Heb. nebuah; Gr. prophemteia). The word used in the OT to describe the message of men who spoke to the people of Israel under the inspiration of the Spirit of God. This message, often introduced with a “thus saith the Lord,” came sometimes in the form of a commandment; sometimes as a promise of deliverance either in the immediate or more remote future; sometimes as a word of judgment and condemnation; and sometimes as a word of admonition, a lamentation, hymn of praise, or the like. In the written form in which OT prophecy has been preserved for us, these various types of oral utterance have been worked together either by the prophet himself or by later editors to convey his total message.
In declaring his message-be it one of reproof and admonition of the wicked, or one of comfort and consolation for the righteous-the prophet is always conscious of the fact that he speaks as God's mouthpiece, that his word is the word of Him who is the Lord of history, who declares “the end from the beginning” and makes His counsel to stand
Isa. 46:10). It is for this reason that the prophet's message embraces the future (“foretelling” as well as “forthtelling”) and that the people know that what does not come to pass is not spoken of the Lord (Deut. 18:22). (The ultimate test of true prophecy, however, is not the outcome of a prediction, but faithfulness to the relevation given through Moses-Deut. 13. Much has been said about the nature of prophetic inspiration in an effort to understand how the word of the Lord came to certain men in a unique way; but it is doubtful that we can say more than that the prophets were personally aware of a mighty divine influence which came over them and gave the words that they used the ultimate authority of a message from God Himself. (Hence the correctly concludes many prophetic oracles with: “This is the very word of the Lord.”)
Whereas the spoken word is the primary form of prophecy, the prophets sometimes embodied the word in symbolic acts to convey their message. Isaiah walked naked and barefoot (Isa. 20); Jeremiah shattered a potter's vessel (Jer. 19); Ezekiel dug through a wall (Ezek. 12); and Ahijah rent his coat, giving ten pieces to Jeroboam (1 Kings 11:29f.). One might assimilate these symbolic acts to the visible word of the sacraments in the NT.
Prophecy, in the NT, means much the same things as in the Old, only now the word of consolation and admonition, as well as the word of prediction, relates to Christ and His kingdom and to His coming triumph over the powers of evil in the world. (In this sense the Apocalypse as a whole is called a word of prophecy-Rev. 1:3; 22:18,19.) In contrast with the OT, every Christian, in a sense, is a prophet, since the Spirit of Christ has come upon all flesh “and they shall prophesy.” In the NT church, however, there seems to have been a special group called “prophets” who were next to the apostles in rank, though ministering to a single congregation (“in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers”-1 Cor. 12:28). It would seem from this passage that Paul gave great weight to the gift of prophecy as uniquely edifying to the church. It was a gift used in the worshiping congregation; it involved the knowledge and communication of spiritual truths, resting upon inspiration; it was uttered, not in ecstatic, but rational, speech; and, in contrast with teaching, which was bound to the “tradition,” prophecy had the character of revelation (see 1 Cor. 12-14 passim). However the “spirits” are to be “discerned” (1 Cor. 14:29), the criterion being the “analogy of the faith” (Rom. 12:6), that is, the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints by the apostles, who were the ultimate authoritative teachers in the church.
The exact content of these prophecies is difficult to ascertain, but evidently they consisted of utterances given by a sudden impulse in the form of a lofty discourse and in praise of the divine goodness and wisdom-utterances which illuminated the truth in a way that could not be achieved by reason alone.
Note the juxtaposition of “the gift of prophecy” and the understanding of “all mysteries and all knowledge” in 1 Corinthians 13:2. With death of the apostles, who had no successors, gradually those with the gift of prophecy also disappeared, so that from the third century onward, of the original triad of apostles, prophets, and teachers, there remained only the teachers. In the Didache the church is admonished to respect apostles and prophets, if they are true prophets, and instructions are given concerning them which would indicate that they were wandering teachers who might settle with a given congregation for a certain length of time.
The author of the Didache,,* and Eusebius all discuss the problem of false prophecy. With the rise of Montanism* in the second century claiming new prophetic insights which did not correspond with the tradition received from the apostles, the church began to distinguish such prophecies from the true prophecies contained in Scripture. From this time on, the prophetic gift appears here and there, but increasingly it gives place to teaching. By the time of Hippolytus (235) and Origen (250), the word “prophecy” is limited to the prophetic portions of Scripture. In the place of the prophet one finds the teacher, specifically the catechist and apologist, who oppose all false doctrine and seek to support their exposition of true doctrine by appealing to the authoritative word of Scripture.
Enthusiasts have arisen on the fanatical fringe of the church down through the ages, claiming prophetic inspiration. Their followers, however, like those of Theudas and Judas, have, for the most part, come to nought. In our own day, Pentecostal assemblies have revived what they believe to be the NT “gift of prophecy.” It differs from tongues in that it is given in intelligible speech, but unlike conventional preaching, it is unprepared and spontaneous. It is not given to fanaticism.
A.B. Davidson,Prophecy (1903); H.H. Rowley (ed.), Studies in Old Testament Prophecy (1946); H.A. Guy, Prophecy, Its Origins and Significance (1947).
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
prof’-e-si, prof’-e-si, prof’-ets:
I. THE IDEA OF BIBLICAL PROPHECY
1. The Seer and Speaker of God
2. Prophetical Inspiration
3. Relation to Dreams
4. Freedom of Inspiration
5. Supernatural Visions of the Future
6. The Fulfillment
II. HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENT OF THE PROPHETIC OFFICE
3. Period of the Judges
5. Period of the Kings
6. Literary Prophets, Amos, Hosea
7. Poetical Form of Prophecy
8. Prophets of Judah, Isaiah, and Others Down to Jeremiah
9. During the Exile, Ezekiel, Deutero-Isaiah, Daniel
10. After the Exile, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi
11. Cessation of Prophecy
12. Prophecy in the
III. HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENT OF PROPHECY
1. Contents of Prophecy
2. Conception of the Messiah
3. Before the Exile (through Judgment to Deliverance)
4. Analogous Ideas among Heathen Peoples
5. During the Exile (Ezekiel, Deutero-Isaiah)
6. After the Exile (Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi)
7. Contemporaneous Character of Prophecy
8. Partial Character of Prophecy
9. Perspective Character of Prophecy
IV. ANALOGOUS PHENOMENA AMONG THE GENTILES
1. Necromancy and Technical Witchcraft
2. The Mantle Art
3. Contents of Extra-Biblical Oracles
I. The Idea of Biblical Prophecy.
1. The Seer and Speaker of God:
According to the uniform teaching of the Bible the prophet is a speaker of or for God. His words are not the production of his own spirit, but come from a higher source. For he is at the same time, also, a seer, who sees things that do not lie in the domain of natural sight, or who hears things which human ears do not ordinarily receive; compare
2. Prophetical Inspiration:
3. Relation to Dreams:
In a certain respect the dream can be cited as an analogous phenomenon, in which also the ideas that are slumbering in the soul uninvited put in their appearance without being controlled by consciousness and reason. On the other hand, prophecy differs pecifically from dreams, first, because the genuine prophetical utterance is received when the prophet is clearly conscious, and, secondly, because such an utterance brings with it a much greater degree of certainty and a greater guaranty of its higher origin than is done even by a dream that seems to be prophetical. In
4. Freedom of Inspiration:
5. Supernatural Visions of the Future:
The attempt has often been made to explain prophecy as a natural product of purely human factors. Rationalistic theologians regarded the prophets as enthusiastic teachers of religion and morals, as warm patriots and politicians, to whom they ascribed nothing but a certain ability of guessing the future. But this was no explanation of the facts in the case. The prophets were themselves conscious of this, that they were not the intellectual authors of their higher knowledge. This consciousness is justified by the fact that they were in a condition to make known things which lay beyond their natural horizon and which were contrary to all probability. Those cases are particularly instructive in this respect which beyond a doubt were recorded by the prophets themselves. Ezekiel could indeed, on the basis of moral and religious reflections, reach the conviction that Zedekiah of Jerusalem would not escape his punishment for his political treachery and for his disobedience to the word of Yahweh; but he could never from this source have reached the certainty that this king, as the prophet describes the case in 12:8 ff, was to be taken captive while trying to escape from the besieged city and was then to be blinded and taken to Babylon. Just as little could he in Babylon know the exact day when the siege of Jerusalem began (24:2). If this prophet had learned of these things in a natural way and had afterward clothed them in the form of prophecy, he would have been guilty of a deception, something unthinkable in the case of so conscientious a preacher of morality. But such cases are frequently met with. Jeremiah predicts to Hananiah that he would die during the year (28:16), but it is not only such matters of detail that presuppose an extraordinary vision of the prophet. The whole way also in which Jeremiah predicts the destruction of Jerusalem as inevitable, in direct contrast to the hopes of the Jerusalemites and to the desires of his own heart, shows that he was speaking under divine compulsion, which was more powerful than his own reflections and sympathies. On any other presupposition his conduct would have been reprehensible cowardice. The case of Isaiah is exactly the same. When he gives to Ahaz the word of God as a guaranty that the Syrians and the Ephraimites would not capture Jerusalem (7:4 ff), and when he promises Hezekiah that the Assyrians would not shoot an arrow into the city, but would return without having accomplished their purpose (37:22,33), these things were so much in contradiction to all the probabilities of the course events would take that he would have been a frivolous adventurer had he not received his information from higher sources. Doubtless it was just these predictions which established and upheld the influence of the prophets. Thus in the case of Amos it was his prediction of a great earthquake, which did occur two years later (1:1); in the case of Elijah, the prediction of the long dearth (
6. The Fulfillment:
II. Historical Development of the Prophetic Office.
It is a characteristic peculiarity of the religion of the Old Testament that its very elementary beginnings are of a prophetical nature. The fathers, above all Abraham, but also Isaac and Jacob, are the recipients of visions and of divine revelations. Especially is this true of Abraham, who appeared to the foreigners, to whom he was neither kith or kin, to be indeed a prophet (nabhi’) (
Above all, the creative founder of the Israelite national religion, Moses, is a prophet in the eminent sense of the word. His influence among the people is owing neither to his official position, nor to any military prowess, but solely and alone to the one circumstance, that since his call at the burning bush God has spoken to him. This intercourse between God and Moses was ever of a particularly intimate character. While other men of God received certain individual messages only from time to time and through the mediation of dreams and visions, Yahweh spoke directly and "face to face" with Moses (
3. Period of the Judges:
Since that time revelation through prophecy was probably never entirely wanting in Israel (
4. Schools of Prophets:
Since the days of Samuel we hear of schools of prophets, or "sons of prophets." These associations probably originated in this way, that an experienced prophet attracted to himself bands of youths, who sought to receive a measure of his spirit. These disciples of the prophets, together with their families, lived in colonies around the master. Possibly Samuel was the first who founded such a school of prophets. For in or near the city of Ramah we first find nayoth, or colonies of such disciples (
5. Period of the Kings:
6. Literary Prophets, Amos, Hosea:
However, the flourishing condition of the kingdom under
7. Poetical Form of Prophecy:
It is to this custom that we owe our knowledge of the very words of the utterances of many of the prophets of a later period. In addition to the larger books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, we have a number of smaller prophetical books, which have been united into the Book of the Twelve Prophets. These utterances as a rule exhibited an elevated form of language and are more or less poetical. However, in modern times some scholars are inclined to go too far in claiming that these addresses are given in a carefully systematized metrical form. Hebrew meter as such is a freer form of expression than is Arabic or Sanskrit meter, and this is all the more the case with the discourses of the prophets, which were not intended for musical rendering, and which are expressed in a rhythmically-constructed rhetoric, which appears now in one and then in another form of melody, and often changes into prose.
8. Prophets in Judah Isaiah, and Others Down to Jeremiah:
9. During the Exile, Ezekiel, Deutero-Isaiah, Daniel:
In the time of the exile itself we find the period of the activity of Ezekiel. It was significant that this prophet became the recipient of divine revelations while on Babylonian territory. His work was, in accordance with the condition of affairs, more that of a pastor and literary man. He seems also to have been a bodily sufferer. His abnormal conditions became symbolical signs of that which he had to proclaim. Deutero-Isaiah, too (
10. After the Exile, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi:
After the return from Babylon the Jews were exhorted by Haggai and Zechariah to rebuild their temple (about 520 BC). At that time there were still to be found prophets who took a hostile attitude to the men of God. Thus Nehemiah (
11. Cessation of Prophecy:
Malachi is regarded by the Jews as the last really canonical prophet. While doubtless there was not a total lack of prophetically endowed seers and speakers of God also in the closing centuries of the pre-Christian era, nevertheless the general conviction prevailed that the Spirit of God was no longer present, e.g. in the times of the Maccabees (compare 1 Macc 4:46; 9:27; 14:41). It is true that certain modern critics ascribe some large sections of the Book of Isa, as well as of other prophets, even to a period as late as the Greek. But this is refuted by the fact mentioned in Ecclesiasticus (beginning of the 2nd century BC) that in the writer’s time the prophetical Canon appeared already as a closed collection. Daniel is not found in this collection, but the Book of the Twelve Minor Prophets is. It was during this period that apocalyptic literature began to flourish, many specimens of which are foundamong the Apocrypha and the Pseudepigrapha. These books consist of eschatological speculations, not the product of original inspiration, but emanating from the study of the prophetic word. The very name Pseudepigrapha shows that the author issued his work, not under his own name, but under the pseudonym of some man of God from older times, such as Enoch, Ezra, Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Baruch, and others. This fact alone proves the secondary character of this class of literature.
12. Prophecy in the New Testament:
III. Historical Development of Prophecy.
1. Contents of Prophecy:
The contents of prophecy are by no means merely predictions concerning the future. That which is given by the Spirit to the prophet can refer to the past and to the present as well as to the future. However, that which is revealed to the prophet finds its inner unity in this, that it all aims to establish the supremacy of Yahweh. Prophecy views also the detailed events in their relation to the divine plan, and this latter has for its purpose the absolute establishment of the supremacy of Yahweh in Israel and eventually on the entire earth. We are accustomed to call those utterances that predict this final purpose the Messianic prophecies. However, not only those that speak of the person of the Messiah belong to this class, but all that treat of the coming of the kingdom of God.
2. Conception of the Messiah:
The beginnings of the religion of Israel, as also the chief epoch in its development, emanated from prophetical revelations. The prophet Moses elevated the tribal religion into a national religion, and at the same time taught the people to regard the religion of the fathers more ethically, spiritually and vitally. Samuel crowned the earthly form of the concrete theocracy by introducing an "Anointed of Yahweh" in whom the covenant relation between Yahweh and Israel was concentrated personally. The Anointed of the Lord entered into a much more intimate relationship to Yahweh as His Son or Servant than it was possible for the whole people of Israel to do, although as a people they were also called the servant or the son of God (compare
3. Before the Exile (through Judgment to Deliverance):
4. Analogous Ideas among Heathen Peoples:
In recent times scholars have pointed to the fact that in the old Orient, among the Egyptians, the Babylonians and elsewhere, the expectation of a miraculously-born King of the future, who was to bring to His own people and to all nations salvation and peace, was entertained at an early period. Yet so much is certain, that Isaiah and Micah did not base their hopes on the vague dreams of the Gentileworld, but upon the prophetic establishment of a divine sanctuary and kingdom of Zion. The personal figure of this Son of David is not so much in the foreground in the other prophets down to the period of the exile. These prophets mention only casually the Good Shepherd, as e.g.
5. During the Exile (Ezekiel, Deutero-Isaiah):
6. After the Exile (Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi):
After the exile prophecy continues its work. The Messianic expectations, too, are developed further by Haggai, and still more by Zechariah. Malachi announces the advent of the
7. Contemporaneous Character of Prophecy:
If we survey this prophecy of the kingdom of God and its divinely-blessed Ruler, the Messiah, from a Christian standpoint, we find that a grand divine unity connects its different elements. The form of this prophecy is indeed conditioned by the views and ideas of the time of utterance. The prophets were compelled to speak so that their hearers could understand them. Only gradually these limitations and forms become spiritualized, e.g. the kingdom of God is still pictured by the prophets as established around the local center of Zion. Mt. Zion is in a concrete manner exalted, in order to give expression to its importance, etc. It is the New Testament fulfillment that for the first time gives adequate form to divine revelation. At least in the person of Jesus Christ this perfection is given, although the full unfolding of this kingdom is yet a matter of the future.
8. Partial Character of Prophecy:
A second characteristic feature of prophecy is the partial nature of the individual prophetical utterances and prophetical pictures. One picture must be supplemented by the others, in order not to be misunderstood. Thus, e.g. according to
9. Perspective Character of Prophecy:
A third feature that deserves attention is the perspective character of prophecy. The prophet sees together and at once upon the surface of the pictures things which are to be fulfilled only successively and gradually. Thus, e.g. Deutero-Isaiah sees in the near future the return from captivity, and directly connected with this a miraculous glorification of the city of God. The return did as a matter of fact take place soon afterward, but the glorification of the city in which Yahweh Himself had promised to dwell was yet in the distant future. The succeeding prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, predict that this consummation shall take place in the future.
Also in the predictions concerning the future made by Jesus and in the Apocalypse of John these characteristics of prophecy, its contemporaneous and perspective and at times symbolical features, are not disregarded. The firm prophetic word is intended to give the congregation certain directive lines and distinctive work. But an adequate idea of what is to come the Christian church will become compelled to form for itself, when the fulfillment and completion shall have taken place.
IV. Analogous Phenomena among the Gentiles. 1. Necromancy and Technical Witchcraft:
The uniqueness of Biblical prophecy is grasped fully only when we try to find analogies among the Gentile peoples. Here we find everywhere indeed the art of sooth-saying, the headquarters for which was Babylon. But with this art the prophecy of the Old Testament stands out in bold contrast (compare the prohibitions in
2. The Mantic Art:
More spiritual and popular was the interpretation of dreams. It also was the case that mediums intentionally would convert themselves into a semi-waking trance. In this way the suitable mediums attained to a certain kind of clairvoyance, found among various peoples. This approaches the condition of an ecstatically aroused pseudo-prophet, of whom mention is made above. In Greece, too, oracles were pronounced by the Pythian prophetess, who by vapors and the like was aroused to a practice of the mantic article In Dodona it was the voice of the divinity in Nature, which they sought to read in the rustling of the trees and the murmuring of the water. How uncertain these sources were was well known to heathen antiquity. The ancients complain of the enigmatical character of the Sibylline utterances and the doubtful nature of what was said. See Religion in Ancient Greece. In contrast to this, Israel knows that it possesses in prophecy a clear word (
3. Contents of Extra-Biblical Oracles:
But the contents also of the Biblical prophecies are unique through their spiritual uniformity and greatness. The oracle at Delphi, too, at times showed a certain moral elevation and could be regarded as the conscience of the nation. But how insignificant and meager was that which it offered to those who questioned it, in comparison with the spontaneous utterances of the prophets of Israel! Also what has in recent times been said concerning the "prophetical texts" from ancient Egypt (Gressmann, Texte und Bilder, I, 20 ff) may indeed show some external similarity to the prophecies of Israel; but they lack the spiritual and religious depth and the strictly ethical dignity of the prophets of the Scriptures, as also the consistency with which these from century to century reveal the thoughts of God and make known with constantly increasing clearness their purposes and goal.
Witsius, De prophetis et prophetia, 1731; Chr. A. Crusius, Hypomnemata ad theologiam propheticam, Part I, 1764; A. Knobel, Der Prophetismus der Hebraer, 1837; F. B. Koester, Die Propheten des Altes Testament und New Testament, 1838; B. Duhm, Die Theologie der Propheten; Kuenen, Thein Israel; F. E. Koenig, Der Offenbarungsbegriff des Altes Testament, 1882; C. von Orelli, Die alttestamentliche Weissagung von der Vollendung des Gottesreiches, 1882; W. Robertson Smith, The Prophets of Israel and Their Place in History, 1882; E. Riehm, Die messianische Weissagung, English translation, 1885; Delitzsch, Messianic Prophecy, 1891; A. T. Kirkpatrick, The Doctrine of the Prophets, 1892; G. French Oehler, Theologie des A T, 1891; Ed. Koenig, Dos Berufungsbewusstsein der alttestamentlichen Propheten, 1900; F. H. Woods, The Hope of Israel, 1896; R. Kraetzschmar, Prophet und Seher im alten Israel, 1902; A. B. Davidson, Old Testament Prophecy, 1903; Eb. Schrader, Die Keilinschriften und dos A T, 1902; C. von Orelli, Allgemeine Religionsgeschichte; M. Jastrow, Die Religion Babyloniens und Assyriens, 1903; Gressmann, Ursprung der israelitisch-judischen Eschatologie, 1905; W. J. Beecher, The Prophets and the Promise, 1905; C. S. Macfarland, Jesus and the Prophets, 1905; G. G. Findlay, The Books of the Prophets in Their Historical Succession, 1906-7; Gressmann, Alt-orientalische Texte und Bilder zum A T, 1909; Selwyn, Christian Prophets.
C. von Orelli