By Rev. Jim and Carolyn Murphy

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I begin this chapter by giving Webster's definition of prophecy again: prophecy “in [the] New Testament, [is the] gift of speaking under the influence of the Holy Spirit; predictions of the future under the influence of divine guidance; [the] act or practice of a prophet. Any prediction. Something prophesied or predicted. Specifically, the divinely inspired utterance or utterances of a prophet; a book of prophecies.” Simply put, prophecy is God speaking to man.

Let me say most emphatically at the outset of this chapter that no current prophecy that is truly from God will ever supersede, override, or be in conflict with, Scripture. Genuine prophecy will always stand the test of harmony with the Scripture. Regardless of whatever other tests we apply in this book, every genuine prophecy will be in accordance with Scripture. If it is not, it is to be rejected outright.

Scriptural Admonitions to Judge Prophecy

Scripture makes it clear that all prophetic words are to be judged:

Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. (I Cor 14:29 NIV).

In this passage the Apostle Paul specifically tells us that prophecy must be judged. Even Paul, after being supernaturally taught his doctrine by revelation from the Lord Jesus Himself, submitted what he had learned to judgment by those who were mature in the Lord. Paul wrote:

I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ. (Gal 1:11-12 NIV).

Fourteen years later I went up again to Jerusalem. . . . I went in response to a revelation and set before them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. But I did this privately to those who seem to be leaders, for fear that I was running or had run my race in vain. (Gal 2:1-2 NIV).

Since Paul, who was caught up into heaven and taught his doctrine by Jesus Himself, submitted his doctrine for judgment, dare we not submit our prophecies for judgment?

Thus we know from Scripture that prophecy should be judged. But four immediate questions come to mind: 1) Why should prophecy be judged?, 2) Who should do the judging? 3) What criteria should be used to judge prophecy? And, 4) How do we judge prophecy?

We will deal with these four questions in order.

Why Should Prophecy be Judged?

Usually when a prophetic word comes forth in an assembly, a holy quiet falls over the congregation. There is the assumption, particularly among young Christians, that God is speaking to His church. But the truth is that it may not be God who is speaking!

The Bible teaches us that there are three sources of prophecy:

1.The First Source

God through the Holy Spirit:

For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (II Pet 1:21 NIV).

2. The Second Source

The human spirit or soul:

This is what the Lord Almighty says:

“Do not listen to what the prophets are prophesying to you; they fill you with false hopes. They speak visions from their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord.” (Jer 23:17 NIV).

3. The Third Source

Satanic or demonic spirits:

“Among the prophets of Samaria I saw this repulsive thing: They prophesied by Baal and led my people Israel astray . . . .” (Jer 23:13 NIV).

There will always be the spiritually less mature people in the church. Many who hear prophetic words and do not know of these three possible sources tend to receive every spoken word as “from the Lord.” The new or not yet seasoned Christian needs to be protected from prophetic error. It is primarily for their protection that prophecy is to be judged.

All prophecy must be judged, including prophecy given in private gatherings when one person communicates a prophetic word to another individual person. I have found that in a church where the gift of prophecy is prevalent, it is hopeless to try to stop private prophecy from occurring. The best thing to do is to teach the congregation the necessity of submitting all prophecy for judgment. This is especially so when the “prophet” says something like, “No one else will be able to understand this word . . . this is for you alone. You must not tell anyone about this word”! A well taught congregation will be alert to this danger.

By Whom Should Prophecy Be Judged?

There are three categories of people who are responsible for judging prophecy: prophets, pastors/elders, and individual Christians. I believe the primary responsibility falls on the first two categories, other prophets and pastor/elders.

The Apostle Paul instructs us, “Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said.” (I Cor 14:29 NIV). Here Paul burdens the prophets first and foremost with this responsibility. But the pastor and elders are also responsible for what happens in their assembly, especially in the absence of a prophet.

For this reason it is incumbent upon the pastor, or whoever has control of the pulpit at the time a prophecy comes forth, to indicate to the assembly whether or not the word spoken should be received as from the Lord. When I am in the spiritually responsible position in the assembly, I always comment on any prophecy that comes forth to indicate my acceptance or rejection of it. If it is from God, I encourage obedience to that prophetic word. If this is not done, then every individual Christian, even the less mature, must judge for himself . . . and often that judgment is incorrect!

Let me list five quick tests by which those in leadership can judge a spoken word:

Is it in accord with the Scripture?

Is it in concert with the spirit of the service?

Is there a witness of the Holy Spirit in your spirit?

Do you have confidence in the person speaking?

What is his or her level of maturity?

What is the discernable collective judgment of the other leaders present?

When I pastored, my congregation was trained to understand my actions. During the prophecy I would let the Holy Spirit bear witness to the prophecy. Using the five suggested tests listed above, I would usually catch the eye of prophets or elders who were present to receive their silent signal of acceptance or rejection. If the prophecy was of God, I would go to the pulpit after the utterance and encourage the people to receive the word, recounting the main points of the prophecy.

However, if I (we) believed the prophecy to be from the human spirit I made no move. My silence was a signal to the congregation that the church leaders had not received the prophecy as from God. This was especially so the first time an individual prophesied. If it became the habit of a person to prophesy from his or her own spirit, as that person's pastor, I would counsel him privately, instructing him how to prophesy properly. Do not publicly rebuke such people unless the prophecies continue. And the first admonition should be in private.

If I (we) discerned the prophecy to be from a demonic spirit, I would immediately move to the pulpit and interrupt the prophecy. I would then announce that we, the leaders of the church, did not receive the prophecy and I would instruct the people to disregard what was prophesied. I have had to do this only on two occasions. Though it may seem harsh to the individual prophesying, the responsibility for the collective congregation far outweighs any embarrassment to one individual.

By What Criteria Should Prophecy Be Judged?

When prophecies come forth that take time to fulfill, we have the luxury of being able to take more time to analyze and judge them. But even then the judgment criteria most often applied seems to be whether or not the word prophesied comes to pass. This is particularly true in directive prophecies concerning future events or a future course of human action. Let me state here most emphatically that whether or not a prophetic word comes to pass is not, I repeat, not, the only criteria for judging that prophecy!

There are at least three passages of Scripture on this point that help us determine the validity of the prophecy. Let's look at them:

“You may say to yourselves, `How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the Lord?' 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. Do not be afraid of him.” (Deu 18:21-22 NIV).

Here, the judgment criteria is simple: if it doesn't come true, God didn't speak it. But that does not mean the opposite is true, if it comes to pass, then God must have spoken it. We know from Scripture that demons can produce prophecy that will come to pass! Let's look at another passage of Scripture:

“If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a miraculous sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder of which he has spoken takes place, and he says, `Let us follow other gods' (gods you have not known) `and let us worship them,' you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer . . .” (Deu 13:1-3 NIV).

Here the judgment criteria goes beyond whether or not the word comes to pass. Why? Because this passage assumes that the event or thing prophesied did come to pass. This passage adds another criteria by which to judge. It is the direction the speaker is attempting to lead the people. If it is away from God, then it is not of the Lord.

The overriding question in judging a prophetic word must be, “Where did the prophecy come from?” or “What is the source of the prophecy?” The same sources are still available to us today as were available to Adam: the Tree of Life or the Tree of Death (The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil).

In determining the source of the prophecy, we ask, did the prophecy come from the 1) Tree of Life (God), or 2) The Tree of Death (the human will and/or satanic/demonic)?

I relate the source of prophecy to the basic choices given Adam in the Garden of Eden, partake of the Tree of Life and live, or partake of the Tree of Death and die. There is a third source of prophecy that I include in the “dead tree” category. It is that prophecy out of the speaker's own soul or spirit. Of the three sources, only God can produce [the tree of] life.

An excellent example from Scripture helps us understand this principle. Remember the incident involving the Apostle Paul and Silas when they were holding meetings in Philippi. Each day, as they passed through the market place on the way to their meetings, a woman followed them shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” (Acts 16:17 NIV).

The Scripture says that Paul was troubled by hearing her day after day. Why? Was it because what she said was not true? No. Every word she spoke was the absolute truth! Paul was troubled because the source of her information was demonic.

Finally Paul became so troubled that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” (Acts 16:18 NIV).

He cast the source of her prophecy (the demon) out of her! I think this passage is very interesting and revealing! We see from it that even the test of a prophetic word being scripturally accurate or “truthful” cannot be the final test of prophecy. The final test is always where did it come from?

How To Discern the Source of the Prophecy

If we are to test prophecy by its source, the question then becomes, “How can we tell the source of a prophetic word?” James 3:13-18 answers the question.

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such `wisdom' does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness. (Jas 3:13-18 NIV).

1.    Prophecies of Edification, Exhortation, and Comfort

Remember the six categories of prophecy we examined in Figure 3-1? They were edification, exhortation, comfort, predictive, rebuke and directive. If a prophecy is in the edification, exhortation or comfort category, we need to ask: What is the prophecy producing? What is its fruit? Is it producing confusion, bitterness, envy, selfish ambition, boasting, or denying the truth? Is there uneasiness, doubt, or concern in your spirit? If so, the source of the prophecy is not God. As James tells us, it is either earthly (of the human soul or spirit) and unspiritual, or it is of the devil--the Tree of Death. 

Or is the prophetic word peace-loving, considerate, submissive, merciful and full of good fruit? Is it impartial and sincere, does it “raise a harvest of righteousness”? Is there joy, peace and an “amen” in your spirit? If so, it comes from God, the Tree of Life.

2. Prophecies of Prediction, Rebuke, or Guidance

However, if the prophecy falls in the categories of prediction, rebuke or guidance, James' scriptural exhortation is not a foolproof judgment criteria.

We all know that we Christians are not perfect. Occasionally the Lord uses prophecy as His instrument to guide or rebuke us because of our sin. It is quite easy to see that if a person is in need of a rebuke from the Lord, then he or she would not receive the prophetic rebuke as “peace-loving, considerate, submissive, merciful and full of good fruit,” nor would it be “impartial” to him. The same applies to one who receives prophetic guidance from the Lord of an unpleasant nature such as the prophet Jonah received. I refer you also to the prophetic words of rebuke sent to the Church in Laodicea:

“ . . . I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm--neither hot nor cold--I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, `I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.

Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent . . . .” (Rev 3:15-19 NIV).

I'm quite certain the Church of Laodicea was less than thrilled to receive that word!

The above principle may also at times apply to prophetic words of prediction since predictive prophecy may be either pleasing or unpleasing. Israel was happy to hear prophecies predicting their future restoration to glory, but they refused to receive prophecies predicting God's discipline for their sin.

So we ask, “If the prophecy is predictive, rebuke or guidance, how may we know the source? How may we judge it?”

I believe the best judges of these kinds of prophetic words are objective, mature believers who know the person (or group) to whom the word is given, and who know enough about the circumstances surrounding the prophetic word. Here again, one sees the absolute necessity, as well as the benefits, of having a prophecy judged by other mature Christians.

There are also times when the Lord will send a prophet to deliver one of these kinds of words to a church or denominational group. In this setting, probably the best judge of the correctness of the word would be the collective leadership of the church or larger group. The pastor alone is usually not the best judge as he may not want to do what the word directs. But if the pastor or leader has surrounded himself with other mature believers who are not afraid to speak their mind, then this group should be able to judge the word. Of course, the leadership always has the option of taking the prophetic word to an outside person or group to also seek their counsel.

Very often a seemingly harsh word which is both a rebuke and directive is given. This can be for either a group or an individual. An example of this kind of word to an individual is when a Christian man is not being a proper husband or father, the Lord may well send a prophetic word to him laying out his sin and directing him to do better. Certainly this kind of word rarely brings the fruit of love, peace, joy, etc. to a wayward husband's spirit. But, as he tells his pastor, wife, or best friend about the word, they can readily see its truth and can then lovingly affirm and reinforce it.

In like manner, the Lord may on occasion send a word of direction or rebuke to a church that comes against a direction that the church leadership has taken. There may even be sin in the church leadership that is ignored or overlooked. Certainly such words of rebuke or direction would not bring James' “love and peace,” would it? But other church leaders from outside that church will readily see such a word as from the Lord.

Prophetic Mixture

When judging prophecy one more factor must be considered. Most all prophecy we hear today is a “mixture.” By mixture, I refer again to the three sources of prophecy: the divine, the human, and the demonic. Hopefully, most of the prophecy we hear today is a mixture of the divine and human. God speaks through a human instrument which of necessity allows the speaker's humanity to be heard. Certainly the prophecy will contain the speaker's perception of God's word, quality of voice, accent, figures of speech, etc. These all become part of the spoken word.

We often can have a mixture of the speaker's own perception of God's word. Mixtures of human and divine are acceptable. The more experienced the speaker becomes at prophesying, the more pure the prophecies become--less human and more Divine. It is like eating fish, we judge and then “eat the meat and leave the bones.”

But there is also a mixture of the demonic and human. Demons like to play “god.” If the human vessel is not a mature Christian who is well grounded in the Scripture, he or she may, from time to time, be duped into speaking a “prophetic word” which has the demonic realm as its source. This is particularly true if the speaker has strong pride and/or an unteachable spirit. Remember Paul and Silas and the slave girl who followed them? Such prophecies sound good to the undiscerning ear. But to the mature hearer, the demonic source is quickly revealed. For this reason, those who prophesy with a demonic mixture will seldom do so in the company of many mature Christians. They favor a small group or private prophecy--one on one--and often caution the hearers against submitting the prophecy to others for judgement saying things like, “Others won't understand this word . . . it is only for special people. You're special.”

If any portion of a prophecy is demonic, the entire prophecy is to be rejected. Why? I don't believe that there will ever be mixtures of Divine and demonic because I do not believe that God will jointly participate in anything of a demonic origin. Thus, at best we have a mixture of human and demonic. There is absolutely no point in accepting any of that combination because there is nothing of God in it. This is true even if Scripture is quoted during the prophetic word. If that kind of prophecy comes in an assembly, a public declaration of rejection must be made.

To simplify the judging process I have diagrammed the process in Figure 4-2 and 4-3.

Judging Edification, Exhortation and Comfort Prophecy
Figure 4-2

Judging Predictive, Rebuke and Guidance Prophecy
Figure 4-3

Prophetic Mannerisms

Let me conclude this chapter with a brief discussion of the tone of voice or mannerism in which a prophetic word may be delivered.

1. Was the Prophecy “Delivered in Love”?

Occasionally a prophetic word comes forth with an apparent harshness or it even has an angry tone. I have heard many Christians categorically reject such words because they “weren't delivered in love. “My Jesus is a loving Jesus” they would say. “He would never speak like that.” Wrong! While it is true that Jesus is loving, He did take a whip on two occasions and cleanse His temple! And remember His “seven woes” address to Israel's religious leaders! (Matthew, chapter 23). Are we to imagine that Jesus doesn't do that any more? Are we to imagine that there are equally sinful situations in His church today and He responds only with loving mercy? The Bible does say that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Heb 13:8 NIV).

No, a harsh tone of voice in which a prophecy is delivered is not a proper basis upon which we may reject it.

2.Personality and Mannerisms

I have known of Christians to reject prophecies delivered by a person who has distracting or offensive mannerisms. These mannerisms may include such things as poor grammatical speech, speaking with a “whiny” voice, frequently repeating such phrases as, “I say unto you,” and so forth.

When I first began to hear prophecies, all who prophesied spoke in King James English because the King James translation was the dominant Bible of that day! In fact, in those days, I heard some Christians reject prophecy because it wasn't delivered in King James English. “It couldn't be the Lord . . . it wasn't in King James English.”

One who tends to reject a prophecy because it was delivered in an unpleasing manner needs to read Isaiah, chapter 20. For three years the Lord sent Isaiah to deliver His word stripped of clothing and barefoot:

He said to him, “Take off the sackcloth from your body and the sandals from your feet.” And he did so, going around stripped and barefoot . . . . so the king of Assyria will lead away stripped and barefoot the Egyptian captives and Cushite exiles, young and old, with buttocks bared . . . (Is 20:2-4 NIV).

The King James translation says Isaiah was “naked.” Verse four in the NIV seems to concur. Now I ask you, would such a prophecy delivered in your church on Sunday morning by a naked prophet be offensive? I imagine the answer is, “yes,” it would. Does that make it a false prophecy? No, not necessarily. We simply do not have a license to reject prophecy because it is delivered in a manner we find personally offensive.

Now I am not condoning offensive mannerisms. I am merely stating that we must be careful that such mannerisms, in and of themselves, do not cause us to reject prophetic words. If we are in the habit of rejecting such words, we may well be rejecting the word of the Lord.

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