Prophets and Prophecy

I. Prophets and Prophecy in the early church
II. How to discern a true prophet from a false prophet
III. Prophets in the Old testament
IV. Interpretations of Old testament Prophecies.

I. Prophets and Prophecy in the early church (Top)

But every true prophet who wants to live among you is worthy of his support. So also a true teacher is himself worthy, as the workman, of his support. Every first-fruit, therefore, of the products of wine-press and threshing-floor, of oxen and of sheep, you shall take and give to the prophets, for they are your high priests. But if you have no prophet, give it to the poor. If you make a batch of dough, take the first-fruit and give according to the commandment. So also when you open a jar of wine or of oil, take the first-fruit and give it to the prophets; and of money (silver) and clothing and every possession, take the first-fruit, as it may seem good to you, and give according to the commandment. Didache (A.D. 80-140) ch.13

And while he [Polycarp] was praying, a vision presented itself to him three days before he was taken; and, behold, the pillow under his head seemed to him on fire. Upon this, turning to those that were with him, he said to them prophetically, "I must be burnt alive." Martyrdom of Polycarp (A.D. 156) ch.5

Then it seemed good to them to cry out with one consent, that Polycarp should be burnt alive. For thus it behooved the vision which was revealed to him in regard to his pillow to be fulfilled, when, seeing it on fire as he was praying, he turned about and said prophetically to the faithful that were with him, "I must be burnt alive." Martyrdom of Polycarp (A.D. 156) ch. 12

[I speak of] Philip, one of the twelve apostles, who is laid to rest at Hierapolis. Also his two daughters, who arrived at old age unmarried. His other daughter also, who passed her life under the influence of the Holy Spirit, reposes at Ephesus. Polycrates (A.D. 2nd cent.) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol. 8 pg.773

Never have any of those who have not embraced our faith done anything similar to what was done by the ancient prophets. And in more recent times, since the coming of Christ, no prophets have arisen among the Jews, who have confessedly been abandoned by the Holy Spirit. Origen (A.D. 240) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.4 pg. 614

Celsus is not to be believed when he says that he has heard such men prophesy. For no prophets bearing any resemblance to the ancient prophets have appeared in the time of Celsus [i.e., the second century]. Origen (A.D. 240) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.4 pg. 615

Besides the vision of the night, by day also, the innocent age of boys is among us filled with the Holy Spirit – seeing in an ecstasy with their eyes, and hearing and speaking those things by which the Lord warns and instructs us. And you will hear all things when the Lord, who bade me to withdraw, will bring me back again to you. Cyprian (A.D. 250) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.5 pg. 290

Consider, too, if, because of the fact that the saying, “I will pour forth of My Spirit upon all flesh, and they shall prophesy,” has been fulfilled in the churches from the Gentiles, you can say that those formerly of the world and who by believing became no longer of the world, having received the Holy Spirit in their own country - that is, the world - and prophesying, have not honor, but are dishonored. Wherefore blessed are they who suffer the same things as the prophets, according to what was said by the Savior, “For in the same manner did their fathers unto the prophets.” Now if any one who attends carefully to these things be hated and attacked, because of his living with rigorous austerity, and his reproof of sinners, as a man who is persecuted and reproached for the sake of righteousness, he will not only not be grieved, but will rejoice and be exceeding glad, being assured that, because of these things, he has great reward in heaven from Him who likened him to the prophets on the ground of his having suffered the same things. Therefore, he who zealously imitates the prophetic life, and attains to the spirit which was in them, must be dishonored in the world, and in the eyes of sinners, to whom the life of the righteous man is a burden. Origen (A.D. 248) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.9 pg.426

II. How to discern a true prophet from a false prophet (Top)

When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him. Deuteronomy 18:22

I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran: I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied. But if they had stood in my counsel, and had caused my people to hear my words, then they should have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their doings. Jeremiah 23:21-22

But concerning the apostles and prophets, act according to the decree of the Gospel. ...If he asks for money, he is a false prophet. …And every prophet who teaches the truth, but does not do what he teaches, is a false prophet. …But whoever says in the Spirit, Give me money, or something else, you shall not listen to him. But if he tells you to give for others' sake who are in need, let no one judge him. Didache (A.D. 80-140) ch. 11

But receive everyone who comes in the name of the Lord, and prove and know him afterward; for you shall have understanding right and left. …But if he has no trade, according to your understanding, see to it that, as a Christian, he shall not live with you idle. But if he wills not to do, he is a Christ-monger. Watch that you keep away from such. Didache (A.D. 80-140) ch.12

"These," said he, "are faithful, but he that sits on the chair is a false prophet who destroys the mind of the servants of God - I mean, of the doubtful-minded, not of the faithful. These doubtful-minded ones then come to him as to a soothsayer and enquire of him what shall befall them. And he, the false prophet, having no power of a divine Spirit in himself, speaks with them according to their enquiries [and according to the lusts of their wickedness], and fills their souls as they themselves wish. For being empty himself he gives empty answers to empty enquirers; for whatever enquiry may be made of him, he answers according to the emptiness of the man. But he speaks also some true words; for the devil fills him with his own spirit, if so be he shall be able to break down some of the righteous…For he that consults a false prophet on any matter is an idolater and emptied of the truth, and senseless. For no Spirit given of God needs to be consulted; but, having the power of deity, speaks all things of itself, because it is from above, even from the power of the divine Spirit." Hermas (A.D. 150) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.2 pg.27

"How then, Sir," say I, "shall a man know who of them is a prophet, and who a false prophet?" "Hear," said he, "concerning both the prophets; and, as I shall tell you, so shall you test the prophet and the false prophet. By his life test the man that has the divine Spirit.
In the first place, he that has the [divine] Spirit, which is from above, is gentle and tranquil and humble-minded, and abstains from all wickedness and vain desire of this present world, and holds himself inferior to all men, and gives no answer to any man when enquired of, nor speaks in solitude (for neither does the Holy Spirit speak when a man wishes Him to speak); but the man speaks then when God wishes him to speak.
When then the man who has the divine Spirit comes into an assembly of righteous men, who have faith in a divine Spirit, and intercession is made to God by the gathering of those men, then the angel of the prophetic spirit, who is attached to him, fills the man, and the man, being filled with the Holy Spirit, speaks to the multitude, according as the Lord wills.
In this way then the Spirit of the deity shall be manifest. This then is the greatness of the power as touching the Spirit of the deity of the Lord."
"Hear now," said he, "concerning the earthly and vain spirit, which has no power but is foolish. In the first place, that man who seems to have a spirit exalts himself, and desires to have a chief place, and straight-way he is impudent and shameless and talkative and conversant in many luxuries and in many other deceits and receives money for his prophesying, and if he receives not, he prophesies not. Now can a divine Spirit receive money and prophesy? It is not possible for a prophet of God to do this, but the spirit of such prophets is earthly.
In the next place, it never approaches an assembly of righteous men; but avoids them, and cleaves to the doubtful-minded and empty, and prophesies to them in corners, and deceives them, speaking all things in emptiness to gratify their desires; for they too are empty whom it answers. For the empty vessel placed together with the empty is not broken, but they agree one with the other.
But when he comes into an assembly full of righteous men who have a Spirit of deity, and intercession is made from them, that man is emptied, and the earthly spirit flees from him in fear, and that man is struck dumb and is altogether broken in pieces, being unable to utter a word. Thus also the empty prophets, whenever they come unto the spirits of righteous men, are found just such as they came. I have given you the life of both kinds of prophets. Therefore test, by his life and his works, the man who says that he is moved by the Spirit." Hermas (A.D. 150) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.2 pg.27

(A spiritual man) shall also judge false prophets, who, without having received the gift of prophecy from God, and not possessed of the fear of God, but either for the sake of vainglory, or with a view to some personal advantage, or acting in some other way under the influence of a wicked spirit, pretend to utter prophecies, while all the time they lie against God. Irenaeus (A.D. 180) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.1 pg.508

III. Prophets in the Old testament (Top)

For the Lord has made known to us by the prophets both the things which are past and present, giving us also the first-fruits of the knowledge of things to come, which things as we see accomplished, one by one, we ought with the greater richness of faith and elevation of spirit to draw near to Him with reverence. Barnabas (A.D. 70-130) ch.1

For the divine prophets lived after Christ Jesus. For this cause also they were persecuted, being inspired by His grace to the end that they which are disobedient might be fully persuaded that there is one God who manifested Himself through Jesus Christ His Son. Ignatius: to the Magnesians (A.D. 35-105) ch.8

Yea, and we love the prophets also, because they too pointed to the Gospel in their preaching and set their hope on Him and awaited Him; in whom also having faith they were saved in the unity of Jesus Christ, being worthy of all love and admiration as holy men, approved of Jesus Christ and numbered together in the Gospel of our common hope. Ignatius: to the Philadelphians (A.D. 35-105) ch.5

For the beloved Prophets in their preaching pointed to Him; but the Gospel is the completion of immortality. All things together are good, if you believe through love. Ignatius: to the Philadelphians (A.D. 35-105) ch.9

There were, then, among the Jews certain men who were prophets of God, through whom the prophetic Spirit published beforehand things that were to come to pass, ere ever they happened. And their prophecies, as they were spoken and when they were uttered, the kings who happened to be reigning among the Jews at the several times carefully preserved in their possession, when they had been arranged in books by the prophets themselves in their own Hebrew language. Justin Martyr (A.D. 160) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.1 pg.173

But when you hear the utterances of the prophets spoken as it were personally, you must not suppose that they are spoken by the inspired themselves, but by the Divine Word who moves them. For sometimes He declares things that are to come to pass, in the manner of one who foretells the future; sometimes He speaks as from the person of God the Lord and Father of all; sometimes as from the person of Christ; sometimes as from the person of the people answering the Lord or His Father, just as you can see even in your own writers, one man being the writer of the whole, but introducing the persons who converse. Justin Martyr (A.D. 160) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.1 pg.175

There existed, long before this time, certain men more ancient than all those who are esteemed philosophers, both righteous and beloved by God, who spoke by the Divine Spirit, and foretold events which would take place, and which are now taking place. They are called prophets. These alone both saw and announced the truth to men, neither reverencing nor fearing any man, not influenced by a desire for glory, but speaking those things alone which they saw and which they heard, being filled with the Holy Spirit. Justin Martyr (A.D. 160) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.1 pg.198

But men of God carrying in them a holy spirit and becoming prophets, being inspired and made wise by God, became God-taught, and holy, and righteous. Wherefore they were also deemed worthy of receiving this reward, that they should become instruments of God, and contain the wisdom that is from Him, through which wisdom they uttered both what regarded the creation of the world and all other things. For they predicted also pestilences, and famines, and wars. And there was not one or two, but many, at various times and seasons among the Hebrews; and also among the Greeks there was the Sibyl; and they all have spoken things consistent and harmonious with each other, both what happened before them and what happened in their own time, and what things are now being fulfilled in our own day: wherefore we are persuaded also concerning the future things that they will fall out, as also the first have been accomplished. Theophilus (A.D. 180) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.2 pg.97

The devil is called "thief and robber;" having mixed false prophets with the prophets, as tares with the wheat. "All, then, that came before the Lord, were thieves and robbers;" not absolutely all men, but all the false prophets, and all who were not properly sent by Him. For the false prophets possessed the prophetic name dishonestly, being prophets, but prophets of the liar. For the Lord says, "You are of your father the devil; and the lusts of your father you will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks of his own; for he is a liar, and the father of it." But among the lies, the false prophets also told some true things. And in reality they prophesied "in an ecstasy," as the servants of the apostate. Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 195) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.2 pg.319

But we know that prophecy expressed itself by things no less than by words. By words, and also by deeds, is the resurrection foretold. Tertullian (A.D. 198) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.3 pg.565

IV. Interpretations of Old testament Prophecies (Top)

Ps. 45:2,3,4,7 There are also some [of them] who declare, "You are fairer than the children of men;" and, "God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness above Your fellows;" and, "Gird Your sword upon Your thigh, O Most Mighty, with Your beauty and Your fairness, and go forward and proceed prosperously; and rule You because of truth, and meekness, and righteousness." And whatever other things of a like nature are spoken regarding Him, these indicated that beauty and splendor which exist in His kingdom, along with the transcendent and pre-eminent exaltation [belonging] to all who are under His sway, that those who hear might desire to be found there, doing such things as are pleasing to God. Irenaeus (A.D. 180) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.1 pg. 509

Isa 1:11-13 For He has revealed to us by all the prophets that He needs neither sacrifices, nor burnt-offerings, nor oblations, saying thus, "What is the multitude of your sacrifices unto Me, said the Lord? I am full of burnt-offerings, and desire not the fat of lambs, and the blood of bulls and goats, not when you come to appear before Me: for who has required these things at your hands? Tread no more My courts, not though you bring with you fine flour. Incense is a vain abomination unto Me, and your new moons and Sabbaths I cannot endure." He has therefore abolished these things, that the new law of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is without the yoke of necessity, might have a human oblation. Barnabas (A.D. 70-130) ch. 2

Isa.1:16-19 "Wash you, and seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, and plead for the widow. And come and let us reason together, said the Lord. Though your sins be as scarlet, I shall make them white as snow; and though they be like crimson, I shall make them white as wool. And if you be willing, and hear my voice, you shall eat the good of the land." Do you see, beloved, how the prophet spoke beforetime of the purifying power of baptism? For he who comes down in faith to the layer of regeneration, and renounces the devil, and joins himself to Christ; who denies the enemy, and makes the confession that Christ is God; who puts off the bondage, and puts on the adoption,--he comes up from the baptism brilliant as the sun, flashing forth the beams of righteousness, and, which is indeed the chief thing, he returns a son of God and joint-heir with Christ. To Him be the glory and the power, together with His most holy, and good, and quickening Spirit, now and ever, and to all the ages of the ages. Amen. Hippolytus (A.D. 225) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.5 pg. 237

Isa. 26:20 When, then, we read, "Go, my people, enter into your closets for a little season, until my anger pass away," we have in the closets graves, in which they will have to rest for a little while, who shall have at the end of the world departed this life in the last furious onset of the power of Antichrist. Why else did He use the expression closets, in preference to some other receptacle, if it were not that the flesh is kept in these closets or cellars salted and reserved for use, to be drawn out thence on a suitable occasion? …it appears that by the very phrase which he uses, "Until His anger pass away," which shall extinguish Antichrist, he in fact shows that after that indignation the flesh will come forth from the sepulcher, in which it had been deposited previous to the bursting out of the anger. Now out of the closets nothing else is brought than that which had been put into them, and after the extirpation of Antichrist shall be busily transacted the great process of the resurrection. Tertullian (A.D. 198) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.3 pg. 565

Isa. 48:18-21“He shall lead them through the deserts, shall bring forth water for them out of the rock; the rock shall be cloven, and the water shall flow, and my people shall drink;” which is fulfilled in the Gospel, when Christ, who is the Rock, is cloven by a stroke of the spear in His passion; who also, admonishing what was before announced by the prophet, cries and says, “If any man thirst, let him come and drink. He that believes on me, as the Scripture said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.” And that it might be more evident that the Lord is speaking there, not of the cup, but of baptism, the Scripture adds, saying, “But this spoke He of the Spirit, which they that believe on Him should receive.” For by baptism the Holy Spirit is received; and thus by those who are baptized, and have attained to the Holy Spirit, is attained the drinking of the Lord’s cup. And let it disturb no one, that when the divine Scripture speaks of baptism, it says that we thirst and drink, since the Lord also in the Gospel says, “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness;” Cyprian (A.D. 250) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.5 pg. 360

Isa. 54:1 Rejoice, you barren that bear not. Break out and cry, you that travail not; for more are the children of the desolate than of her that has the husband. In that He said, Rejoice, you barren that bear not, He spoke of us: for our Church was barren, before that children were given unto her. And in that He said, Cry aloud, you that travail not, He means this; Let us not, like women in travail, grow weary of offering up our prayers with simplicity to God. Again, in that He said, For the children of the desolate are more than of her that has the husband, He so spoke, because our people seemed desolate and forsaken of God, whereas now, having believed, we have become more than those who seemed to have God. Second Clement (A.D. 100) ch.2

Dan. 7:14 The final stumbling-block (or source of danger) approaches, concerning which it is written, as Enoch says, "For this end the Lord has cut short the times and the days, that His Beloved may hasten; and He will come to the inheritance." And the prophet also speaks thus: "Ten kingdoms shall reign upon the earth, and a little king shall rise up after them, who shall subdue under one three of the kings. In like manner Daniel says concerning the same, "And I beheld the fourth beast, wicked and powerful, and more savage than all the beasts of the earth, and how from it sprang up ten horns, and out of them a little budding horn, and how it subdued under one three of the great horns." Barnabas (A.D. 70-130) ch. 4

Dan. 8:13-14 "How long shall be the vision, the sacrifice taken away, the abomination of desolation, which is given, and the power and the holy place shall be trodden under foot? And he said to him, Till the evening and morning, two thousand three hundred days, and the holy place shall be taken away." These two thousand three hundred days, then, make six years four months, during the half of which Nero held sway, and it was half a week; and for a half, Vespasian with Otho, Galba, and Vitellius reigned. And on this account Daniel says, "Blessed is he that comes to the thousand three hundred and thirty-five days." For up to these days was war, and after them it ceased. Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 195) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.2 pg.334

Dan. 9:24-27 From the captivity at Babylon, which took place in the time of Jeremiah the prophet, was fulfilled what was spoken by Daniel the prophet as follows: Seventy weeks are determined upon your people, and upon your holy city, to finish the transgression, and to seal sins… That the temple accordingly was built in seven weeks, is evident; for it is written in Esdras. And thus Christ became King of the Jews, reigning in Jerusalem in the fulfillment of the seven weeks. And in the sixty and two weeks the whole of Judaea was quiet, and without wars. And Christ our Lord, "the Holy of Holies," having come and fulfilled the vision and the prophecy, was anointed in His flesh by the Holy Spirit of His Father. In those "sixty and two weeks," as the prophet said, and "in the one week," was He Lord. The half of the week Nero held sway, and in the holy city Jerusalem placed the abomination; and in the half of the week he was taken away, and Otho, and Galba, and Vitellius. And Vespasian rose to the supreme power, and destroyed Jerusalem, and desolated the holy place. And that such are the facts of the case, is clear to him that is able to understand, as the prophet said. Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 195) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.2 pg.329

Isa. 65:1-3 And again, how it was said by the same Isaiah, that the Gentile nations who were not looking for Him should worship Him, but the Jews who always expected Him should not recognize Him when He came. And the words are spoken as from the person of Christ; and they are these "I was manifest to them that asked not for Me; I was found of them that sought Me not: I said, Behold Me, to a nation that called not on My name. I spread out My hands to a disobedient and gainsaying people, to those who walked in a way that is not good, but follow after their own sins; a people that provoke Me to anger to My face." For the Jews having the prophecies, and being always in expectation of the Christ to come, did not recognize Him; and not only so, but even treated Him shamefully. But the Gentiles, who had never heard anything about Christ, until the apostles set out from Jerusalem and preached concerning Him, and gave them the prophecies, were filled with joy and faith, and cast away their idols, and dedicated themselves to the Unbegotten God through Christ. Justin Martyr (A.D. 160) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.1 pg.179

But Jeremiah also says, "In the last days they shall understand these things." For every prophecy, before its fulfillment, is to men [full of] enigmas and ambiguities. But when the time has arrived, and the prediction has come to pass, then the prophecies have a clear and certain exposition. Irenaeus (A.D. 180) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.1 pg. 496

Dan.7:8,23 Daniel too, looking forward to the end of the last kingdom, i.e., the ten last kings, amongst whom the kingdom of those men shall be partitioned, and upon whom the son of perdition shall come, declares that ten horns shall spring from the beast, and that another little horn shall arise in the midst of them, and that three of the former shall be rooted up before his face. He says: "And, behold, eyes were in this horn as the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking great things, and his look was more stout than his fellows. I was looking, and this horn made war against the saints, and prevailed against them, until the Ancient of days came and gave judgment to the saints of the most high God, and the time came, and the saints obtained the kingdom." Then, further on, in the interpretation of the vision, there was said to him: "The fourth beast shall be the fourth kingdom upon earth, which shall excel all other kingdoms, and devour the whole earth, and tread it down, and cut it in pieces. And its ten horns are ten kings which shall arise; and after them shall arise another, who shall surpass in evil deeds all that were before him, and shall overthrow three kings; and he shall speak words against the most high God, and wear out the saints of the most high God, and shall purpose to change times and laws; and [everything] shall be given into his hand until a time of times and a half time," that is, for three years and six months, during which time, when he comes, he shall reign over the earth. Of whom also the Apostle Paul again, speaking in the second [epistle] to the Thessalonians, and at the same time proclaiming the cause of his advent, thus says: "And then shall the wicked one be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus shall slay with the spirit of His mouth, and destroy by the presence of His coming; whose coming [i.e., the wicked one's] is after the working of Satan, in all power, and signs, and portents of lies, and with all deceivableness of wickedness for those who perish; because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And therefore God will send them the working of error, that they may believe a lie; that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but gave consent to iniquity," Irenaeus (A.D. 180) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.1 pg. 553-554