False prophets in the Bible

The Bible expects you to take the words of God’s prophets very seriously, because they speak for God. It doesn’t approve of all prophets, though, and it’s equally adamant that some prophets should be ignored. But even false prophets can do miracles and stuff. So how can you tell who the real prophets are?

The Bible provides a few different ways to tell which prophets you shouldn’t listen to. And it encourages us to test prophecies and reject every kind of evil. So let’s see how many of the prophets in the Bible are not actually true prophets of God, according to the Bible’s own criteria.

Some of the Bible’s prophet tests are not so useful: It suggests that if a prophet doesn’t acknowledge Jesus, his prophecies are not coming from God. But most of the prophets in the Bible lived before Jesus, so can we really expect them to acknowledge him? Well, we are talking about prophets, so maybe we should expect that of them. But still, there’s no way to know for sure that a prophet didn’t ever acknowledge Jesus. Maybe they did, but the Bible just doesn’t mention it. So that test isn’t going to be useful for evaluating prophets of the past. But don’t worry, the Bible has other methods we can use to spot false prophets.

Prophets the Bible specifically calls false

The most obvious way to tell that someone is a false prophet according to the Bible is when the Bible specifically says so:

Now that you have a good idea of what the God of the Bible thinks of false prophets, let’s see who else God’s law says should have been treated the same way…

Prophets of other gods

The Bible says if a prophet tells you to worship other gods, God did send that prophet… but he has to be executed anyway. So does anyone who claims to speak for other gods. That means these people should have been killed and not listened to:

  • Aaron was “Moses’s prophet“, but he made idols and encouraged the people to worship them.1
  • Balaam got the Israelites to worship the gods of Moab.2
  • Micah’s priest, who was also a prophet, served a guy who made his own household gods. And then when some other people convinced him to go with them and be their priest instead, he took those idols with him, so those people could worship them too.
  • The prophets of Asherah were brought along with the prophets of Baal when Elijah challenged them to prove that their gods were real. But for some reason it doesn’t say what the outcome was for the prophets of Asherah. If they had failed as well, you’d think the author would have been eager to report it… But even if their gods were real, the Bible still says prophets who speak in the name of other gods have to be killed.

Prophets who made false predictions

There are a ton of false predictions in the Bible, so that’s another easy way to spot false prophets. The Bible says if what a prophet predicts turns out to be false, God has not actually sent that prophet or spoken through him, and that false prophet must be killed. That makes all these people false prophets:

According to God’s law, all those people should have been executed, not honored as prophets of God.

Prophets who did bad things

Jesus said you can also test prophets by how good the “fruit” is that they bear. “Fruit” here is commonly understood to mean the morality of the prophets’ behavior, and I’m going to assume that’s what he meant. So if a prophet does bad or sinful things, Jesus says that’s a sure sign that he’s a false prophet, who deserves to be thrown into the fire. That makes all these people false prophets:3

Since a good tree can’t bear bad fruit, we can recognize by what those people did that they were all false prophets.

Who’s left?

Those are the only biblical prophets left who might possibly be true prophets.8 Just 19 out of about a hundred individuals, and 5 out of 11 groups of prophets. Most of the prophets in the Bible are frauds, according to the Bible’s own methods for identifying false prophets.

The remaining prophets are pretty obscure, not particularly famous for their prophecy. None of them have books of the Bible named after them or anything. The Bible doesn’t really have much to say about these people and the predictions they made… which is probably the only reason they didn’t fail the false prophet tests. You’d think the Bible would have made a bigger deal out of these people if they really were (the Bible’s only) true prophets.

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