Will the Real Prophet Please Stand Up
Are there prophets today? Cults almost always claim to have a “prophet” who speaks for God and they typically claim that the Bible cannot be understood without the revelations of that prophet. This begs the question, are Old Testament style prophets even biblical for a New Testament church? We shall examine this question.
Cult Leaders Who Claimed to be a Prophet of God
As I visited with some young Mormon missionaries recently, they told me that one of the proofs that the LDS Church is the one true church is that they have always had a living prophet to guide them. The problem is a lot of other people are making the same claim.
- The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints recognizes their president as the true living prophet.
- The Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints says their president is the correct prophet.
- The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints claims they are the true church and have the correct prophet.
- Charles Russell, of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, claimed to be a prophet and today JWs claim that their publishing house is God’s current prophet.
- The Catholic Church claims they always have a living prophet to speak for God. They call him the Pope.
- The Christian Scientists recognize Mary Baker Eddy as having been a prophetess and they revere her writings as scripture.
- Seventh Day Adventists believe that Ellen G. White was a prophetess and they quote her writings like Christians quote the Bible.
The list could go on ad-nauseum. Rev Jim Jones of poison Kool-Aid fame claimed to be a prophet. The Church of Jesus Christ Forever in Oregon Illinois claims that Kale Aluli is “the true light in the world,” an anointed prophet who is as perfect and sinless as Jesus. He says he must be obeyed and that you can’t understand God’s word without him. Nearly every cult in the world claims to have the true prophet of God.
Warnings Against False Prophets
The fact is, not once does the scripture tell us that we are to look for prophets to lead us today. On the contrary, we are warned repeatedly about the dangers of false prophets. Whether they are called prophets, apostles, popes, or whatever, we are always told in Scripture to pay attention to what the word of God says, which are the writings of the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament apostles. Their word is final. There are no prophets or apostles today that have to be listened to. The Bible is our sole rule for faith and practice. Hear what the real apostles said:
For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness… (2 Corinthians 2:11-13-15)
But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons… (1 Timothy 4:1)
But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies…Many will follow their sensuality… (2 Peter 2:1-2)
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. (1 John 4:1)
Contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints. For certain persons have crept in unnoticed…who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness… following after their own lusts; they speak arrogantly… (Jude 1:3-4,16)
Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. (Matthew 7:15-18)
You have…put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false… (Rev 2:2)
Are There Prophets Today?
The truth is that the Old Testament practice of God providing doctrinal revelation through prophets is not something that continues under the New Covenant.
In Hebrews 1:1-2 we read:
In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.
It was in the past, under the old covenant, that God spoke through prophets. Today he speaks through His Son, Jesus. When Jesus taught that certain things of the Old Covenant were done away, he made this statement:
No one puts a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; for the patch pulls away from the garment, and a worse tear results. Nor do people put new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wineskins burst, and the wine pours out and the wineskins are ruined; but they put new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved.
Bringing back the office of Old Testament prophet is like putting new wine into old wineskins. New prophets to teach new doctrines are not needed today. Scripture tells us that the Church is….
…built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. (Ephesians 2:20)
A foundation is laid down once, at the beginning. You don’t add another foundation on top of the 2nd floor. Jesus taught that the time of the prophets ended with John the Baptist. Jesus said:
For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. (Matthew 11:13)
The Old Testament prophets that God used in the past are part of the foundation of God’s Church, along with the teaching of the apostles. We have this foundation in the Holy Bible, the sole rule for faith and practice in Christian churches.
Jesus Christ, his reality in our lives, his redemptive power at work in us as we surrender to Him, is the chief cornerstone of the Church. Cults tend to replace Jesus and the Holy Bible, with a different foundation – new prophets who teach unbiblical doctrines.
The Faith Once For All Delivered
Jude 1:3 tells us:
Contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.
Notice this tells us that the faith was once for all handed down to the saints. Cults ignore this fact. They teach that the faith was not once for all handed down. It has to be handed down again by a new prophet, and again and again by subsequent prophets.
Mormonism, for example, teaches that the entire church fell away from the faith until the prophet Joseph Smith restored it. But the Bible tells us this cannot be so. Only some fall away.
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by giving heed to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons… (1 Timothy 4:1)
Also See: Matthew 24:35 where we are told that Jesus’ words will never pass away and Matthew 16:18 where we are told that the gates of Hell will not prevail against Christ’s Church. The teaching that the entire church has fallen away is a false doctrine, one that has been used by cults for centuries. Some use 2 Thessalonians 2:3 to teach a great apostacy of the entire church. This teaching is in error. See my article The Apostasy or The Departing.
Therefore, the cultic teaching that the entire church fell away is contradictory to the Word of God. Anything that contradicts the Holy Bible is false. We should bear in mind that the Bible never once encourages us to seek out a living prophet to give us further revelation from God, but rather tells us over and over to hold onto what we have already been taught by the apostles (The New Testament) and to be cautious of those claiming to be prophets. As the Apostle Paul says:
…hold fast the word which I preached to you. (1 Co 15:2)
Ministry of the Holy Spirit Better Than a Prophet
In Jeremiah Chapter 31 there is a prophecy that predicted the coming of the New Covenant and some of the changes it would bring:
The time is coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers…This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Jeremiah 31:21-34)
This tells us that under the new covenant that we no longer need a prophet to teach us how to know the Lord, for all who accept Christ have him in their heart, from the least to the greatest, and the Holy Spirit guides each of us into all truth. When God’s law is written into our hearts and minds by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, then we no longer need the office of Old Testament prophet. Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would do these things for us:
But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. (John 16:13)
And this promise wasn’t to just a select few:
And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call. (Acts 2:38-39)
The Apostle John taught that special prophets were not needed to bring new teaching because the anointing of the Holy Spirit would guide every believer.
As for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him. (1 John 2:27)
There Are No Apostles Today
Neither are their apostles in the Church today. The concept of having new apostles or new prophets has given rise to much false doctrine. All real apostles passed away during the 1st century. Churches that claim to have apostles usually claim to be five-fold ministry churches. They are in error, for there are no living apostles today.
An apostle is someone who can give eye-witness testimony to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. They have incredible power to work miracles and were commissioned to write Scripture. Our New Testament is written exclusively by apostles, or the close associate of an apostle.
According to 1 Corinthians 9:1 an apostle must have seen the Lord Jesus Christ and been called by him. Since one must have lived in the 1st century to be able to be a witness to Christ’s death on the cross, and subsequent resurrection, it is impossible for there to be apostles today.
God gave apostles (past tense) when he founded the church. We still have them only in the sense that their writings are Holy Scripture which still guide us. Jude 1:7 says, “Remember the words having been spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ…” Notice that word “beforehand.” Why does it say “beforehand?” Because this was written by Jude, the half-brother of Jesus around 80 AD. Most of the real apostles had already been martyred by then. Cultists do not like this scripture because it totally pulls the rug out from under them. They wish it would have said something like, “Remember the words spoken by your current apostle.” Alas for the cultist, it does not say that.
Rather, It calls us to pay attention to the words “spoken beforehand” by the real apostles. Scripture never tells the Church to look for new apostles, but to rely on what was “spoken beforehand.” Jude 1:3 says, “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” Our faith was laid down once by the original apostles. It was “once for all delivered” and “spoken beforehand.” It was not to be given again and again by new apostles.
While the Bible gives details of the qualifications for selecting deacons and elders, no such information is given for apostles. That is because they were not intended for today. As the years went by and some apostles were martyred, there were no accounts of replacement apostles being chosen. If there were such a thing as apostolic succession, there would be a record of this.
Ephesians 2:20 says that the Church is “built upon the foundation of the apostles…” The foundation is the first thing laid down. You don’t build a first and second floor and then put another foundation on top of that. There are no apostles today, yet cult leaders use this unbiblical façade to erect for themselves an apostolic platform so that they can create their own doctrines, write their own scripture, and lord it over people with false authority.
The Gift of Prophecy
In other words, teachers or prophets to bring new doctrines are not necessary. Cultists point to New Testament passages that mention prophets in the early church. They also point to where the New Testament mentions the gift of prophecy. They overlook two things. One, New Testament prophecy is not doctrinal in nature but is for edification: “One who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation.” (1 Corinthians 14:3) and two, the gift of New Testament prophecy is not for a select few, but for everyone: “You can all prophesy.” (1 Corinthians 14:31)
Under the Old Covenant only a select few were chosen to be anointed with God’s Spirit and speak for Him. Under the New Covenant everyone can prophesy. Hear the Apostle Peter:
This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ” ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.” (Acts 2:16-18)
Now I wish that you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you would prophesy; and greater is one who prophesies than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may receive edifying…For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted; (1 Corinthians 14: 5, 31)
New Testament prophecy involves exhorting and encouraging a person with the powerful help and dynamic guidance of the Holy Spirit. And – this is very important – it is not infallible words from God. It is very fallible and is to be judged by the church members, especially by who it is spoken over.
Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment. (1 Co 14:29)
The Bible is the Standard, Not a Prophet
The standard in a proper New Testament church is not, “does it agree with the prophet,” but rather, does it agree with the Bible.
To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them. (Isaiah 8:20)
Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. ( Romans 16:17)
Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment. (1 Co 14:29)
Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. (Acts 17:11)
Priesthood of All Believers
Bringing back the office of Old Testament prophet is contrary to the New Testament doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. The Bible clearly tells us that all Christians are priests unto God:
You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for god’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light… (1 Peter 2:9)
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God… (Rev 5:10)
The encyclopedia explains this doctrine succinctly:
The Epistle to the Hebrews calls Jesus the supreme “high priest,” who offered himself as a perfect sacrifice (Hebrews 7:23-28). Protestants believe that through Christ they have been given direct access to God, just like a priest; thus the doctrine is called the priesthood of all believers. God is equally accessible to all the faithful, and every Christian has equal potential to minister for God. This doctrine stands in opposition to the concept of a spiritual aristocracy or hierarchy within Christianity.
All Christians are priests, in the sense that they can proclaim forth the gospel message found in the Bible, but the Old Testament concept of a priest being a mediator between God and man is discontinued under the New Covenant.
For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus… (1 Timothy 2:5)
All Christians have access directly to God through their personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This is far better than the Old Testament arrangement of only a select few having this privilege. The idea of a special prophet speaking authoritatively for God is also contrary to the New Testament teaching of the equality of believers:
But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi, for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. (Matthew 23:8-12)
Having a so-called prophet leading a church is expressly against the teaching of our Lord, who specifically taught that there should not be an ecclesiastical hierarchy within the Church. Once such a hierarchy is established it quickly degrades into a class system where those related to or closest to the prophet receive special attention and privileges. Those who are not at the top of the food chain receive inferior treatment from the elitists of the group. This utterly destroys the brotherly love that God intended for the Church.
A Mark of Cultism
Bringing back the Old Testament office of prophet distracts from the very real and powerful impact that Jesus can have on one’s life. Turning to the Bible and letting the Spirit of Christ personally lead and guide is far more wonderful, powerful and beneficial than recognizing a mere man as some so-called prophet.
Christ, your creator and redeemer is calling you to a close, personal, and exciting walk with Him. The all-knowing and all-powerful Spirit of Christ within you is a far better guide than following after a mere man.
Cults have an affinity for having a prophet for one reason – control. They want people to give unquestioned obedience to their teaching and commands. If you find yourself in a church claiming to have “a prophet of God,” run for the door. It is a mark of cultism.
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This discussion of prophets and their roles seems to intentionally leave out a lot of Biblical doctrine about how important prophets are to accomplishing God’s work. If apostles and prophets are the foundation of the church of Christ, how can there be a church of Christ without prophets and apostles?
Regardless of whether you believe Joseph Smith was a fraud or the LDS Church is a cult, it’s hard to argue that God doesn’t use prophets to get his message to the world.
Take the New Testament itself, for example. It is a record of the words of prophets and apostles, the foundation of Christ’s church as is stated in the record, to the members of the church. The only reason the Bible record ends is because those prophets were killed.
The existence of Christ’s church throughout recorded history is indicated by the existence of prophets he calls to be his representatives.
Regarding the idea that an apostle can’t exist today, how do you explain the calling of Paul as an apostle? Can Jesus not show himself to someone today as he did to Paul on the road to Damascus?
Help this all make sense, Mark.
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Hi Richard, Thanks for your comment. I will try to answer your questions. Your first question was:
1. “If apostles and prophets are the foundation of the church of Christ, how can there be a church of Christ without prophets and apostles?”
The answer is that the church still has Old Testament prophets and New Testament apostles. Its called the Bible. It is the foundation of our faith. The word of God, the Holy Bible, is God’s message to the world. Now for your second question:
2. “Regarding the idea that an apostle can’t exist today, how do you explain the calling of Paul as an apostle? Can Jesus not show himself to someone today as he did to Paul on the road to Damascus?”
To be an Apostle requires that you be a witness to Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. For example, the apostles proclaimed: “The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed…we are witnesses to these things…” (Acts 5:30-32). In 1 Corinthians 9:1 The Apostle Paul defends his apostleship, saying, “Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?” (1 Corinthians 9:1). So to be able to be an apostle you must be able to testify to both Jesus’ death and to his resurrection. Since Paul lived during the time of Christ he was able to give testimony of what all those in Jerusalem were aware of – that Jesus had been crucified, and was dead and buried. No one can do that today because they have not lived during that time of history. Paul could testify that Jesus, whom he knew for a fact to be dead, was now alive, for he not only lived during that time period, but also Jesus appeared to him and called him as an apostle.
And this was no made-up vision. Those with Paul experienced the event and Ananias was later told by the Lord that He had appeared to Paul. When Ananias went to Paul, he said to him: “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me…” (Acts 9:17) My point is that there was real evidence that Jesus appeared to Saul and called him, unlike many false prophets who merely claim they have seen the Lord, in order to get a following. And of course, as I have said, Paul lived during the time of Jesus, so he could truly be a witness to both his death and resurrection.
In 1 Corinthians Chapter 15 Paul explains that his apostleship is somewhat of an exception. He explains that he was the last person to see the resurrected Lord, for that reason Paul says he was “untimely born” as an apostle: “Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles…” (1 Corinthians 15:8-9) So Paul was the last apostle to see the Lord and be called as an apostle.
I reiterate what I said in the article, the Bible never tells us to seek new apostles, but rather, “Remember the words having been spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ…” (Jude 1:7) and to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” (Jude 1:3) The book of Jude emphasizes that the apostles spoke “beforehand” because Jude was written late, perhaps as late as 80 AD, and many of the apostles were no longer alive at the time of the writing of Jude.
I hope this is helpful to you. God bless,
Hi Pastor Mark,
I’ve been doing some research to see if I could find anything in the Bible that would require an apostle to have been a witness to Jesus’ mortal life, especially since Paul wasn’t actually a witness to the Savior’s life, having not even been converted until after Jesus died and was resurrected.
Can you explain where you’re getting the idea that an apostle has to have been someone who was a mortal contemporary of Jesus Christ?
Everything I’ve ever known about being an apostle simply requires that a person be a first-hand witness to the Savior’s resurrection and divinity, without requiring that the person be alive during Jesus’ mortal ministry.
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Hi Richard, I appreciate your honest question. Since the Apostle Paul lived during the time of Jesus, he actually was a witness to the Savior’s life. Most of the Jews in Jerusalem had heard of or seen Jesus during his three years of ministry. So Paul was very much a contemporary of Jesus. Furthermore, Paul’s apostleship was confirmed by the other apostles and recognized by other church leaders. For example:
In Acts 9:15, the Lord said to Ananias regarding Saul, “He is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel.”
Acts 22:14-15 records that the Lord, speaking through Ananias said to Paul, “The God of our fathers has appointed you to know His will, and to see the Righteous One, and to hear an utterance from His mouth. For you will be a witness for Him to all men of what you have seen and heard.”
In 2 Corinthians 12:12 Paul says, “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works.”
Consider also that the other apostles recognized Paul as an apostle. In 2 Peter 3:15-16, Peter refers to Paul as “our beloved brother.” He states that Paul wrote “according to the wisdom given him.” Finally, Peter refers to Paul’s letters and calls them “Scripture.” Peter categorized the writings of Paul in the same class as “the rest of the Scriptures,” thus giving a clear indication that Paul’s writings are indeed truthful and authoritative.
So, for Paul’s apostleship we have five witnesses:
1. Paul’s own apostolic testimony that he is called by Christ as a bonafide witness of Christ’s life, death and resurrection.
2. The testimony of Ananias.
3. The testimony of the Apostle Peter
4. The testimony of Scripture, which calls Paul an apostle. Most of the New Testament was written by Paul.
5. The testimony of the Holy Spirit in that God worked mighty miracles through Paul.
There are no people today who can claim all five of these testimonies. So to compare a modern day person who claims to be an apostle as somehow having the same qualifications as the Apostle Paul, is simply ludicrous. Are there any so-called apostles today who have the testimony of Scripture, and of the other apostles, that they are apostles? Do these modern-day “apostles” perform the kind of miracles that Paul did? Do these new apostles write Scripture, as the other apostles did? Do they have the testimony of the Bible? Does scripture endorse these people by name, certifying them as new genuine apostles?
Seeing someone alive, being aware of his public crucifixion, and then encountering Him alive after the resurrection, eating and drinking with Him and being instructed by Him, being approved as an apostle by the other apostles and by Holy Scripture itself, does not even come close to the same conditions as a false apostle today claiming that they saw an apparition of Jesus.
The Apostle Peter, speaking of himself and the other eleven apostles, explains what sets real apostles apart from everyone else:
“And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.” (Acts 10:39-41)
Obviously, one cannot give such an apostolic testimony without having been a mortal contemporary of Jesus.
Consider also that the Apostles never appointed more Apostles, except for one time. Since Judas had killed himself, they considered, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that one more Apostle would be proper. The Apostles then laid down the qualifications for Judas’ replacement:
“So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” (Acts 1:21-22) This passage sets the precedent that at the very least, one of the qualifications for being an apostle is to be a contemporary of Jesus and the other apostles.
The idea of being a “witness to the His resurrection” meant far more than just claiming a vision of Jesus. One had to a person who knew Jesus had lived, had seen him during his earthly ministry, were aware that he was killed, and then spent time with Jesus after His resurrection and were personally called by Him to be an apostle. No one today can make those claims.
Finally, we have the Apostle Paul’s testimony which indicates he is the last of the apostles. In 1 Corinthians 15:8 Paul declared “and last of all, as it were to one untimely born, He (Christ) appeared to me also.”
Here is an article by another author on this subject that I think you would find beneficial. I hope this is helpful to you.