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In religion, a false prophet is one who falsely claims the gift of prophecy or divine inspiration, or who uses that gift 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. The term is sometimes applied outside religion to describe someone who fervently promotes a theory that the speaker thinks is false.
Throughout the New Testament, there are warnings of both false prophets and false Messiahs, and believers are adjured to be vigilant. The following verses (Matthew 7:15–23) are from the Sermon on the Mount:
- "Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them."
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. The following verses (;24) are from the Olivet Discourse:
- "At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. . . . For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect – if that were possible. See, I have told you ahead of time" (Matthew ;24 NIV).
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 that is how their fathers treated the false prophets" (Luke NIV).
- "They traveled through the whole island until they came to Paphos. There they met a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet named Bar‑Jesus, who was an attendant of the proconsul, Sergius Paulus. The proconsul, an intelligent man, sent for Barnabas and Saul because he wanted to hear the word of God. But Elymas the sorcerer (for that is what his name means) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith. Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, 'You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord? Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind, and for a time you will be unable to see the light of the sun.'
- "Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he groped about, seeking someone to lead him by the hand. When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord" (Acts of the Apostles, NIV).
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 there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them – bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping" (2 Peter NIV).
The First Epistle of John warns those of the Christian faith to test every spirit because of these false prophets:
- "Dear friends, 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. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus, that spirit is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world" (1 John NIV).
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, the Antichrist, and he is ultimately cast with the Beast into the lake of "fire and brimstone" (Revelation KJV).
The Quran portrays Muhammad as 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 sects 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 NIV).
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" (1 Kings 22:19–23 NIV).
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 capital punishment. 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.
The Jewish Koine Greek term pseuoprophetes occurs in the Septuagint Jeremiah 6:13, 33:8,11 34:7, 36:1,8, Zechariah 13:2, Josephus' Antiquities 8-13-1,10-7-3, War of the Jews 6-5-2, and Philo Specific Laws 3:8. Classical pagan writers use 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 thiomersal controversy 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
- Acts 13:6
- 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
- Deut 18:20
- Deut 18:22
- Bailey R (2005-08-11). "We're all global warmers now". Reason.