What is a Prophet?

Recently I was asked what the Biblical definition of a prophet is. We find a succinct definition of how true prophecy works in 2 Peter 1:19-21. True prophecy is a message that originates with God and then is transmitted through a holy person (typically a man) who has been activated by The Holy Spirit.

The Koine Greek word προφήτης, which is translated “prophet” in 2 Peter 2:16 (KJV), is found 149 times in the King James Version of the New Testament. This fascinating title is a compound word composed of the prefix “before / above” plus “speak / say.” What I believe is most interesting, is that the second portion of this word is based upon the idea of light or illumination. This definition meshes well with 1 Samuel 9:9 which says

“Formerly in Israel, when a man went to inquire of God, he spoke thus: “Come, let us go to the seer”; for he who is now called a prophet was formerly called a seer.”

So originally a prophet was called a “seer” (or a see-er, one who sees) but somewhere along the line the term “seer” transitioned to “prophet.” If you travel deep enough into a cave you will experience that light and seeing relate to one another because you will find it literally impossible to see anything once light is completely absent!

So, based upon the Old and New Testament titles for this position, I've formed 2 slightly different definitions for a prophet: 1. One above or before, whose words illuminate the way (see Psalm 119:105) and 2. A divinely inspired speaker.

Let’s consider the inspiration of this inspired speaker for a moment. Inspiration relates to a breath or wind that enters in and animates or enlivens. This quickening force prompts motion just as wind physically moves many objects including: Ships, turbines, leaves, water, clouds and many other objects. Wind runs a wide gamut from the gentle zephyr to the devastating whirlwind of a hurricane.

If you know the scriptures well, you may already perceive where this is leading. These ideas of light and wind that are rooted in the definition of a prophet lead us back to One specific Being — The Holy Spirit. On the Day of Pentecost, Acts 2:1-4 tells us that the promised Holy Spirit arrives and is manifested by “a rushing mighty wind” and “divided tongues of fire.” This particular event is more about tongues than prophecy, but the point is that The Spirit is symbolized by both wind and light. Looking back to our original passage in 2 Peter 1:16-21, you will now note that light (day, dawn, morning star) is prevalent throughout this section and of course breath is also built in to this passage (word, spoke, Spirit). In a similar manner to how wind moves objects and light fosters movement, The Holy Spirit moves and animates holy men to prophesy.

Because real prophecy originates with The Spirit of Truth, real prophecy is true. In God’s Word, we see a strong contrast between true prophets and false prophets. Jeremiah 14:14-16 tells us that lying prophets are not sent by God, have not heard from Him but only speak the deception of their own heart. False prophets also: Hide sin (Lamentations 2:14), are greedy (Micah 3:11), steal The Lord’s Word (Jeremiah 23:30), pretend to represent The Lord (Jeremiah 23:31), deny The Lord (2 Peter 2:1), desire to destroy the sheep (Matthew 7:15), labor to deceive many (Matthew 24:11), are well spoken of (Luke 6:26) and are many (1 John 4:1). A true prophet is opposite of these traits of a false prophet!

Prophecy sometimes includes an element of foretelling the future. Based upon Romans 12:6 

“Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith...”

I believe that select, proven prophets can attain to a rare level of faith where they first speak a word which God then performs. This is possible when the prophet’s spirit and word is so closely intertwined with God’s Spirit and Word that it is impossible to delineate between the two. A clear example of this amazing anomaly is found in 2 Kings 1. Note verses 10 and 12 where Elijah says “If I am a man of God, then let fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty men” and it was so. Elijah spoke his word and God honored him to the point of performing Elijah’s word! Another example of God performing His prophet’s word is Elisha’s curse in 2 Kings 2:24 which The Lord seems to perform immediately.

Even today God remains interested in prophecy, for The Prophet, Jesus Christ is seated at the right hand of The Father. Long live Jesus Christ who is Prophet, Priest and King!

Additional verses about prophets and prophecy include: Genesis 20:7, Exodus 7:1, Numbers 12:6-8, 1 Samuel 3:19-20, Luke 1:68-70, 76, Acts 2:29-31, Acts 3:18 and Revelation 1:3

Additional verses about false or lying prophets include: Deuteronomy 13:1-5, Deuteronomy 18:20-22, Nehemiah 6:10-14, Isaiah 9:15, Jeremiah 23:11-12, Micah 3:7, Zechariah 13:3, Matthew 15:12-14, Revelation 19:20 and Revelation 20:10

P.S. After preparing this post I came across Exodus 8:13 and Exodus 8:31 which both say "the LORD did according to the word of Moses" and further prove the truth that a holy prophet can speak his own word, which The Lord then performs.