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:
- The prophets of Baal were unable to prove that their god was real, so God’s prophet had them slaughtered. Later, God had the king of Israel slaughter all the prophets of Baal too.
- Zedekiah son of Kenaanah was one of Ahab’s prophets who were not God’s prophets. God actually sent a deceiving spirit to make sure they would make a false prediction. But even though Zedekiah said what God wanted him to say, it doesn’t look like it ended well for him after he made that false prediction. God doesn’t think the fact that a prophet is obeying him is any reason not to kill him.
- Pashhur prophesied lies, so God got all his friends killed and sent him and his family into exile.
- Hananiah tried to prophesy even though he was not sent by God, so God killed him.
- Ahab son of Kolaiah prophesied lies, so God got him killed.
- Zedekiah son of Maaseiah too.
- Shemaiah the Nehelamite prophesied lies and was not sent by God, so God wiped out his descendants.
- Shemaiah son of Delaiah was not sent by God either.
- Elymas was a false prophet, so God made him blind.
- Jezebel of Thyatira called herself a prophet, but her teaching was misleading and immoral, so God made her suffer and killed her children.
- The false prophet of Revelation will be thrown into hell and tormented forever.
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:
- Abraham was called a prophet, but the supposed word of God he received was inaccurate. He believed the Israelites would be enslaved for 400 years, but judging by the numbers given elsewhere in the Bible, it couldn’t have been more than 350 years.
- Jacob tried to predict what would happen to each of his sons’ descendants, but it doesn’t seem like he was particularly accurate. For instance, he predicted that Ephraim’s descendants would become a group of nations, but they only became part of one nation.
- Joseph son of Jacob predicted that his father, mother, and brothers would all bow down to him, but the Bible never says his father actually did. And his mother definitely never bowed down to him, since she died before he even made that prediction.
- Moses was called a prophet, but he was wrong when he predicted that God would help his people completely eliminate all the nations that were already living in the land he was giving them.
- Joshua claimed to speak for God when he said that God would drive out the nations before them, including the Jebusites. But the Israelites weren’t able to get rid of the Jebusites, and had to live alongside them.
- Samuel predicted that King Saul would enslave his people and confiscate a lot of their property. But King Saul was good to his people, and never did any of that.
- Jonathan thought he could get signs of the future from God, but he died before he could fulfill his prediction that he would be second to David after David became king.
- David was called a prophet, and he predicted that God would never let him die. But of course, he did die.
- Nathan predicted that Israel would have peace from then on. Yet the very next chapter is all about war between Israel and the surrounding nations. And they continued to be attacked until both Israel and Judah were conquered and their kingdoms were ended.
- Ahijah said Jeroboam would take over most of Israel, leaving Rehoboam with only one tribe. Rehoboam actually got to keep more like three tribes.
- Elijah predicted that Ahab’s family would be destroyed in the days of his son. It wasn’t actually destroyed until after two of Ahab’s sons had succeeded him and died, and the kingdom had been taken over by someone unrelated.
- Elisha predicted that Jehoash would completely destroy Aram, but then he predicted that he would not completely destroy Aram. One of those prophecies must have been false.
- The prophets at Jericho thought Elijah was still living on Earth and that they would be able to find him. If they were real prophets, they should have known that searching for him would be futile.
- Micaiah initially claimed that Ahab would be victorious, but Ahab died in battle. Of course, like Elisha, Micaiah also predicted the opposite. But the Bible doesn’t say it’s okay to prophesy both truth and falsehood. It says a prophecy that doesn’t come true is not from God, and the prophet who made that prophecy is to be killed.
- Isaiah told Hezekiah he would not recover from his illness. And he recovered.
- Micah predicted that Israel would be rescued when the Assyrians invaded. Then the Assyrians put an end to the kingdom of Israel and sent the people into exile.
- Jeremiah falsely predicted that when Jehoiakim died, he would have no one to inherit the throne from him.
- Ezekiel predicted that when the scattered people of Israel returned to their own land, they would live there forever in safety. He also predicted that when they returned to their land, they would be attacked by several nations at once, as well as experiencing a bunch of enormous supernatural disasters. Those predictions can’t both be true.
- Daniel said the king who would conquer Babylon after the Greek kingdom was divided would consider himself superior and would destroy the holy people. In reality, Mithridates I of Parthia was known for his religious tolerance, and he obviously didn’t kill all the Jews.
- Hosea said God would not devastate Ephraim again. Ephraim was part of the kingdom of Israel, which was conquered about 30 years later.
- Joel claimed that God’s chosen people would never be shamed again, but antisemetism only got much worse after that.
- Amos had visions of disasters that were supposedly going to happen to Israel. But God decided not to make those things happen.
- Obadiah said the day of the Lord was near, which refers to an apocalyptic event. Thousands of years later, the world has not ended, so no, the day of the Lord was not “near”.
- Jonah predicted that Ninevah would be overthrown in 40 days, even though he knew that wasn’t actually going to happen.
- Nahum predicted that wicked people wouldn’t invade Judah anymore. Then Nebuchadnezzar invaded Judah and put an end to that kingdom.
- Habakkuk predicted that the end of the world would come without delay, but it has been delayed more than 2500 years so far.
- Zephaniah said the day of the Lord was near, when God would destroy all life on Earth. Thousands of years later, the world has not ended, so no, that day was not “near”.
- Haggai said God would bless his people from then on, but later God cursed them all.
- Zechariah son of Berekiah claimed that no oppressor would ever overrun the Jews again. A real prophet should have known that wasn’t true.
- Huldah predicted that Josiah would be buried in peace, but Josiah died in battle.
- Malachi predicted that God would send Elijah again, which, if Jesus is to be believed, meant that Elijah would be reincarnated as John the Baptist. If John really was Elijah in any meaningful sense, surely he would know it. But John said he was not Elijah.
- John the Baptist was called a prophet, and he predicted that someone greater than him would come after him, meaning Jesus. But since Jesus was born of a woman, he could not have been greater than John.
- Jesus was called a prophet, yet he didn’t know when the world was going to end. But that didn’t stop him from mistakenly claiming that it would happen while his generation was still living.
- Peter claimed that the end of all things was near. He was wrong too.
- Paul was called a prophet, and he correctly predicted that everyone on the ship he was on would survive. But that’s not as impressive as it might seem, because he had also predicted that a lot of them would die. No matter how things turned out, he would have made a true prediction… and a false one.
- The author of Hebrews said Jesus would return in just a little while and would not delay, but the second coming has been delayed 2000 years and counting.
- James, too, erroneously claimed in his epistle that the Lord’s coming was near.
- John’s first epistle claims that it’s “the last hour“, but the world didn’t end in his time.
- John of Patmos wrote a whole book of the Bible that was all about the end of the world, and he wrongly claimed that the time was near and those things would happen soon.
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
- Miriam was called a prophet, but she angered God by speaking against his chosen leader.
- Deborah was called a prophet, but she was a woman who had authority over men, which is something the Bible does not permit.
- The Midianite dreamer was a soldier for the Midianites, who oppressed God’s people.4
- The man of God who rebuked Eli was doing wrong according to the Bible. It says you should never speak evil about the ruler of your people, because all authorities on Earth are God’s good servants, and anyone who doesn’t submit to the authorities is rebelling against God.
- Saul was known to prophesy on occasion, but God rejected him because he didn’t obey him thoroughly enough.
- Gad said David had to be punished for taking a census, even though the Bible says David never did anything wrong in his life other than what he did to Uriah. So Gad not only broke the law by criticizing his ruler, but his criticism wasn’t even true according to the Bible.
- Asaph was a seer, but he envied the wicked.
- Heman was a seer, but he was constantly overwhelmed by God’s wrath. So assuming God is just, he must have led an awfully sinful life.
- Shemaiah is another one who broke the rule against criticizing your ruler. He accused King Rehoboam of abandoning God.
- The young man of God disobeyed God, because…
- The old prophet lied to him.
- Hanani called King Asa foolish, which Jesus says is such a bad thing to say (to anyone, let alone a ruler) that you can get sent to hell for it.
- Jehu son of Hanani said bad things about kings of both Israel and Judah.
- Eliezer son of Dodavahu broke God’s law by criticizing King Jehoshaphat.
- One prophet encouraged the evil Ahab to kill many thousands of people.
- Another prophet condemned King Ahab, which was against God’s law, and he also forced people to commit violence for no good reason.
- A man from the company of the prophets intentionally put a mass-murdering maniac in charge of Israel.
- Zechariah son of Jehoiada said God should punish King Joash for what he was doing.5
- One prophet said King Amaziah wasn’t doing what God wanted him to do, and advised him to do something different.
- Another prophet said God was going to destroy Amaziah for another of his unwise decisions.
- Uriah son of Shemaiah said the same things about Jerusalem and Judah as Jeremiah, which included prophesying against their king, which made the king mad enough to kill Uriah.
- The prophets who condemned Manasseh were breaking God’s law by speaking against their ruler.
- Ezra strongly opposed interracial marriage and forced couples to get divorced.
- Nehamiah violently opposed interracial marriage.
- Noadiah, along with some other prophets, intimidated the Jews to try to discourage them from rebuilding Jerusalem.
- Zechariah father of John is said to have prophesied, but he also brought a curse on himself by questioning a message from God.
- Caiaphas convinced the other Jewish leaders to get Jesus killed just for saying things they didn’t like.
- Barnabus had a sharp disagreement with Paul. The Bible says people who are so sinful as to disagree with others should be shunned, and will not enter the kingdom of God.
- Silas taught people that they didn’t have to obey most of God’s laws if they weren’t Jewish. (If that was true, why would God inspire a non-Jewish king to kill his subjects for breaking God’s laws?)
- Timothy was called a “man of God” (which pretty much always means a prophet in the Bible). But he let himself get circumcised, which the Bible says is a terrible idea. That makes him obligated to follow the whole law perfectly, and when he fails, as everyone does, he will then be guilty of breaking all the laws, and not even Jesus can save him.
- The fortune-telling slave got her abilities from a demon, so she couldn’t have been sent by God, right?6
- The Cretan prophet, like all Cretans according to the Bible, was a liar,7 an evil brute, and a lazy glutton.
- The two witnesses will torment and kill people and cause all kinds of horrible disasters, and everyone will be glad when they die.
Since a good tree can’t bear bad fruit, we can recognize by what those people did that they were all false prophets.
- The seventy elders
- The prophet during the Midianite oppression
- The sons of Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun
- Oded father of Azariah
- Azariah son of Oded
- The prophets at Bethel
- The other Oded
- The prophetess
- Hanan son of Igdaliah was a “man of God“.
- Simeon of Jerusalem
- Simeon Niger
- Judas Barsabbas
- The disciples at Ephesus
- The daughters of Philip
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. You’d think the Bible would have made a bigger deal out of these people if they really were true prophets, and especially if they were the Bible’s only true prophets. But 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 too.