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In religion, a false prophet is a person who falsely claims the gift of prophecy or divine inspiration, or to speak for God, or who makes such claims for evil ends. Often, someone who is considered a "true prophet" by some people is simultaneously considered a "false prophet" by others, even within the same religion as the "prophet" in question. In a wider sense, it is anyone who, without having it, claims a special connection to the Deity and sets him or herself up as a source of spirituality, as an authority, preacher, or teacher. Analogously, the term is sometimes applied outside religion to describe someone who fervently promotes a theory that the speaker thinks is false.
- "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? So, every sound tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears evil fruit. A sound tree cannot bear evil fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits."
The New Testament addresses the same point of a false prophet predicting correctly and Jesus predicted the future appearance of false Christs and false prophets, affirming that they can perform great signs and miracles, for example, the Olivet Discourse:
- "Take heed that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, I am the Christ, and they will lead many astray. [...] Then if any one says to you, Lo, here is the Christ! or There he is!, do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. Lo, I have told you beforehand. So, if they say to you, Lo, he is in the wilderness, do not go out; if they say, Lo, he is in the inner rooms, do not believe it." (Matthew 24:4–5, 24:23–26)
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus brought out an ethical application for his disciples using the analogy of false prophets in the Old Testament:
- "Woe to you, when all men speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets." (Luke 6:26)
- "When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they came upon a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet, named Bar-Jesus. He was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence, who summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God. But Elymas the magician (for that is the meaning of his name) withstood them, seeking to turn away the proconsul from the faith. But Saul, who is also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him and said, “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord? And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you shall be blind and unable to see the sun for a time.” Immediately mist and darkness fell upon him and he went about seeking people to lead him by the hand. Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had occurred, for he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord." (Acts 13:6–12)
This particular story likewise best matches the model found in Deuteronomy. The claim here is that Elymas is trying to turn Sergius Paulus from the true faith, just like the false prophet described in the preceding verses. In these verses, we do not see Elymas prophesying as the term is popularly understood, so the model seems to fit this scenario best.
The Second Epistle of Peter makes a comparison between false teachers and false prophets and how the former will bring in false teachings, just like the false prophets of old:
- "But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their licentiousness, and because of them the way of truth will be reviled. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words; from of old their condemnation has not been idle, and their destruction has not been asleep." (2 Peter 2:1–3)
The First Epistle of John warns those of the Christian faith to test every spirit because of these false prophets:
- "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit which does not confess Jesus is not of God. This is the spirit of antichrist, of which you heard that it was coming, and now it is in the world already." (1 John 4:1–3)
The false prophet of Revelation
One well-known New Testament false prophet is the false prophet mentioned in the Book of Revelation. The Apocalypse's false prophet is the agent of the Beast, and he is ultimately cast with the Beast into the lake of "fire and brimstone" (Revelation 19:20, 20:10). The character traits of the beast from the land are revealed in its divided personality (Revelation 13:11). It appears outwardly benign as a lamb, but its discourse reveals its true nature: It speaks like a dragon. Another mention of a false prophet in the New Testament is an antichrist spirit which denies the Son.
The Quran states Muhammad is the Seal of the Prophets, which is understood by mainstream Sunni and Shia Muslims to mean that anyone who claims to be a new prophet after him is a false prophet. All mainstream Muslim scholars' perspectives from both Sunni and Shia denominations do not see the second coming of the Messiah as the coming of a new prophet, as the Islamic Messiah Jesus had already been an existing prophet, and will rule by the Qur'an and Sunnah of Muhammad, bringing no new revelation or prophecy.
Thawban ibn Kaidad narrated that Muhammad said;
"There will be 30 dajjals among my Ummah. Each one will claim that he is a prophet; but I am the last of the Prophets (Seal of the Prophets), and there will be no Prophet after me."— Related by Ahmad ibn Hanbal as a sound hâdith.
Abu Hurairah narrated that Muhammad said;
"The Hour will not be established until two big groups fight each other whereupon there will be a great number of casualties on both sides and they will be following one and the same religious doctrine, until about 30 dajjals appear, and each of them will claim that he is Allah's Apostle..."
Samra ibn Jundab reported once Muhammad (while delivering a ceremonial speech at an occasion of a solar eclipse) said;
"Verily by Allah, the Last Hour will not come until 30 dajjals will appear and the final one will be the One-eyed False Messiah."
Anas ibn Malik narrated that Muhammad said;
"There is never a prophet who has not warned the Ummah of that one-eyed liar; behold he is one-eyed and your Lord is not one-eyed. Dajjal is blind of one eye On his forehead are the letters k. f. r. (Kafir) between the eyes of the Dajjal which every Muslim would be able to read."— Sahih Muslim, Book 41: The Book Pertaining to the Turmoil and Portents of the Last Hour, Chapter 7: The Turmoil Would Go Like The Mounting Waves of the Ocean, Ahâdith 7007-7009.
Imam Mahdi, the redeemer according to Islam, will appear on Earth before the Day of Judgment. At the time of the Second Coming of Christ, the Prophet 'Isa (Jesus Christ son of Mary) will kill al-Masih ad-Dajjal (The Antichrist). Muslims believe that both Jesus and Mahdi will rid the world of wrongdoing, injustice and tyranny, ensuring peace and tranquility.
- "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. The Lord your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. It is the Lord your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him. That prophet or dreamer must be put to death, because he preached rebellion against the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery; he has tried to turn you from the way the Lord your God commanded you to follow. You must purge the evil from among you" (Deuteronomy 13:1–5).
The Books of Kings records a story where, under duress from Ahab, the prophet Micaiah depicts God as requesting information from his heavenly counsel as to what he should do with a court of false prophets. This depiction is recorded in 1 Kings 22:19–23:
- "Micaiah continued, 'Therefore hear the word of the Lord: I saw the Lord sitting on his throne with all the host of heaven standing around him on his right and on his left.' And the Lord said, 'Who will entice Ahab into attacking Ramoth Gilead and going to his death there?'"
- "One suggested this, and another that. Finally, a spirit came forward, stood before the Lord and said, 'I will entice him.'"
- "'By what means?' the Lord asked."
- "'I will go out and be a lying spirit in the mouths of all his prophets,' he said."
- "'You will succeed in enticing him,' said the Lord. 'Go and do it.'"
- "So now the Lord has put a lying spirit in the mouths of all these prophets of yours. The Lord has decreed disaster for you".
It is possible that Micaiah meant to depict the false prophets as a test from YHWH. It is also possible that it was meant as a slur on Ahab's prophets, such as Zedekiah, the son of Chenaanah.
The penalty for false prophecy, including speaking in the name of a god other than YHWH or speaking presumptuously in YHWH's name, is death (Deuteronomy 18:20). Likewise, if a prophet makes a prophecy in the name of YHWH that does not come to pass, that is another sign that he is not commissioned of YHWH and that the people need not fear the false prophet (Deuteronomy 18:22).
The Jewish Koine Greek term pseudoprophetes occurs in the Septuagint (Jeremiah 6:13, 33:8-11, 34:9, 36:1-8, Zechariah 13:2); Flavius Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews 8-13-1, 10-7-3, The Jewish War 6-5-2); and Philo of Alexandria (Specific Laws 3:8). Classical Pagan writers used the term pseudomantis.
Use outside religion
The term false prophet is sometimes applied outside religion, to describe promoters of scientific, medical, or political theories which the author of the phrase thinks are false. Paul Offit's 2008 book Autism's False Prophets applied the phrase to promoters of unproven theories and therapies such as the unsupported relationship between thiomersal and vaccines and chelation therapy. Ronald Bailey's 1993 book Ecoscam: The False Prophets of Ecological Apocalypse applied the phrase to promoters of the global warming hypothesis; however, by 2005 Bailey had changed his mind, writing "Anyone still holding onto the idea that there is no global warming ought to hang it up."
References and notes
- James L. Resseguie, The Revelation of John: A Narrative Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009),186-87.
- Gunny, Ahmad (19 Apr 2011). Prophet Muhammad in French and English Literature: 1650 to the Present. The Islamic Foundation. p. 94. ISBN 0860374785.
- Tolan, John Victor, ed. (15 September 2000). Medieval Christian Perceptions of Islam: A Book of Essays. Routledge. p. 99. ISBN 0415928923.
- Quran 33:40
- Quran 9:128–129
- Sahih al-Bukhari, 9:88:237
- Sahih Muslim, 41:7007
- Sahih Muslim, 41:7009
- Sahih Muslim, 41:7008
- "The Signs Before the Day of Judgment by Ibn Kathîr". Qa.sunnipath.com. 2005-07-03. Archived from the original on 2012-03-15. Retrieved 2012-05-24.
- Martin 2004: 421
- Glasse 2001: 280
- [Quran 3:55]
- Sahih Muslim, 41:7023
- Momen 1985: 166-8
- Berger, David; Wyschogrod, Michael (1978). Jews and "Jewish Christianity". [New York]: KTAV Publ. House. ISBN 0-87068-675-5.
- Singer, Tovia (2010). Let's Get Biblical. RNBN Publishers; 2nd edition (2010). ISBN 978-0615348391.
- Kaplan, Aryeh (1985). The real Messiah? a Jewish response to missionaries (New ed.). New York: National Conference of Synagogue Youth. ISBN 978-1879016118. The real Messiah (pdf)
- Mordechai Cogan, 1 Kings: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, Anchor Bible Commentaries, Yale 2001
- Offit, Paul A. (2008). Autism's False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0-231-14636-4.
- Bailey, Ronald (11 August 2005). "We're All Global Warmers Now". Reason. Reason Foundation. Retrieved 23 August 2020.