Phyllis Beveridge Nissila
Prophétés: a prophet (an interpreter or forth-teller of the divine will) (source)
At that time [end times] many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. (Matthew 24:10-11)
For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)
Prophets abound these days as certain global events, some unprecedented, seem to parallel those that are described in the prophetic books of the Bible. Perhaps as never before, people are turning to the prophets, the “interpreters,” the “forth-tellers,” for information, discernment, and comfort, but above all, for truth.
But just like a good journalist “vets,” that is, examines, investigates, analyzes, proves, etc., secular information before publishing it, a good believer does the same for any “words” people have to offer regarding God’s own information they purport to speak.
Believers don’t often call the Holy Spirit gift of discernment “vetting,” but it is, if you think about it.
The Bereans were the first vetters, you might say, a practice for which they were commended:
Now these people were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so. (Acts 17:11)
The reason I bolded part of the verse is because it is by comparison with God’s Word that any and all words from a prophet or prophetess are judged–and that is just one of the classic Principles of Biblical Interpretation (see below) by which Bible scholars as well as all believers can validate or repudiate this or that prophet claiming to speak as if their words are God’s own.
And we are all works in progress while yet on earth, so given the temptations to stray in myriad ways away from the Word of God in thought, word, and/or deed that abound “down here,” a spiritual standard, guidebook, authority, is required in this realm of human study, as it is in all others, lest we drift away from our spiritual moors, “go off plumb,” for another metaphor, and end up in a place we perhaps never meant to go.
Of course there are those who, for nefarious reasons, would love to offer another plumb line.
And still others who may be well-meaning but who are just not familiar with the rudiments of biblical interpretation.
Thus, a reminder of what the Bible says about prophecy and prophesying can help us discern who’s who in the powerful world of spiritual interpretation and forth-telling, which is the prompt for this addition to the series.
SEVEN PRINCIPLES OF BIBLICAL INTERPRETATION
Here is a generic list of seven basic Principles of Biblical Interpretation. I encourage linking to the source article for further explanation and commentary. I offer a few additional notes in parentheses.
Principle 1: Interpretation must be based on the author’s intention of meaning and not the reader’s. (This helps guard against “cherry-picking” verses for personal meaning and doctrine and/or conflating them with other verses. Using this Principle as a guide also protects us from “readers” who would want us to believe they are also “authors,” that is to say, “speaking as The Author,” God, Himself.)
Principle 2: Interpretations must be done in the context of the passage. (Era and culture matter, too.)
Principle 3: Interpret the Bible literally (or normally) allowing for normal use of figurative language. (A Bible story, passage, or teaching, often means, literally, what it says. No need to “read between the lines” as in complex figurative writing. Normal figurative language might draw a simple analogy or more easily understood simile: “this is like that”. Parables are similes.)
Principle 4: Use the Bible to help interpret itself. (What is said or implied in one place is said or implied in others with variations due only to context and audience. For example, “God’s love and desire for us to know Him is expressed in His creation, by His Son Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, and by His desire that “all people…be saved and…come to a knowledge of the truth.” And these are only four of the variations on the same theme of God’s love that are echoed in many verses throughout the Bible.)
Principle 5: Interpretation must be distinguished from application.
Principle 6: Be sensitive to distinctions between Israel and the church and Old Covenant and New Covenant eras/requirements.
Principle 7: Be sensitive to the type of literature you are in. (narrative, wisdom, poetry, historical, epistolary, or apocalyptic.)
(Note: I’m adding one more Principle, below, that I call–lightheartedly but also seriously–the “Panic Principle”).)
It is also important to know how to judge prophecy, whether from past eras or now. The Bible addresses this issue, too. I’ll start with why we are exhorted to use judgement:
Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: (1 John 4:1)
But how can we know which is a true and which is a false prophet/spirit?
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 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 4:2-3)
Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:20-21)
And from the more practical protocols of the early Church: when fellowshipping together and someone offers a word of prophecy:
Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. (1 Corinthians 14:29)
“Weigh” as in diakrinó—to distinguish, to judge.
But some might ask, what about when the Lord told Daniel some revelations are to be saved for a future date? That’s an issue of timing, not the teaching of another Gospel. Such revelations will also align with the Holy Spirit’s task of glorifying Jesus, His nature, mission, and reality. Or as Jesus, Himself, put it:
“When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father–the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father–He will testify about Me”(John 15:26, emphasis added).
True prophecies will cite no other Savior and no other definition or form of salvation.
PROPHET AND PROPHECY VETTING 101
Here are four reliable ways to begin the vetting/discernment process:
- Ask yourself: does what this “prophet” says either add to or subtract from the Word of God? (see Revelation 22:18)
- If it does, keep vetting. The so-called prophet might be saying other things that add to or subtract from God’s Word.
- If it doesn’t, also keep vetting until YOU are satisfied concerning the context and culture of the prophecy discerned by use of classic interpretative Principles because this is one of the best ways to come to a greater understanding of God’s Word in any situation.
- Check in as needed with Bible commentators, aka Bible scholars–Here is a good list–and in the spirit of “iron sharpening iron” (Proverbs 27:17), with other believers, too, who are more practiced in this kind of discernment.
In summary: carefully vet prophets who come along with a “new word” or a new interpretation of a classic verse or teaching.
And run, if you must.
Or correct with care, if you are called to that ministry.
AND REMEMBER THE “PANIC PRINCIPLE”
Most of us most of the time will not have the advantage of time, training, text, and/or temperament to go through all the vetting the Bereans did, particularly these days when Satan seems to be working at breakneck speed to, well, “break necks,” in a sense, both literally and figuratively speaking.
But there’s even a Principle for such hurried times, one I call the Panic Principle, that we can use when we need verification that what we hear from the prophets–or teachers or preachers–is true or not, in any situation, church, or classroom we find ourselves.
And when we need the answer right now.
This Principle is based on the story in Matthew 8:23-27:
Then [Jesus] got into the boat and his disciples followed him. 24 Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. 25 The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” (The story has a really good ending.)
In other words,
Whoever shall call upon the name of the Lord will be saved. (Romans 10:13)–
–in any kind of doubt or confusion, whether on land or on sea, whether one is a scholar or a commoner, whether young or old, male, or female, Jew or Greek, brand new or seasoned believer–and whether over a period of time or right now!
In short: stay in the Word.