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Samuel, the Byzantine Prophet

In religion, a prophet (or prophetess) is a person who has directly encountered the numinous or the divine and serves as an intermediary with humanity. Prophets existed in many ancient cultures, including each Abrahamic religion, the Sybilline and Delphic Oracles in Ancient Greece, the Völuspá in Old Norse, Zoroaster in Persia, and many others. Traditionally, both prophets and false prophets are regarded as having a founding or galvanizing role in society due to their teachings and actions. The label 'prophet' can be extremely subjective: Without exception, someone who is considered a 'true' prophet by some people, is simultaneously considered a 'false' prophet by some others.

In Abrahamic religion, a prophet is seen as a person who is encountered by, and speaks as a formal representative of God, and the intention of the message is always to effect a social change to conform to God's desired standards initially specified in the Torah dictated to Moses.

In the late 20th Century the appellation of a 'prophet' has been used to refer to individuals particularly successful at analysis in the field of economics, such as in the derogatory 'prophet of greed'.

Alternatively, social commentators who suggest escalating crisis in environment and society due to a lack or failure of due care are often referred to as 'prophets of doom.'

For lessons on the related topic of Seers, follow this link.


In Hebrew, the word traditionally translated as prophet is נְבִיא (navi), which likely means "proclaimer". This forms the second of the three letters of TaNaKh, derived from Torah, Navim, Ketuvim. The meaning of navi is perhaps od. The root nun-bet-alef ("navi") is based on the two-letter root nun-bet which denotes hollowness or openness; to receive transcendental wisdom, one must make oneself “open”. Cf. Rashbam's comment to Genesis 20:7.

Fully a third of the TaNaKh is devoted to books about prophetic experience including a separate book of ‘minor’ prophets known as The Twelve Prophets (Trei-Assar) .

According to I Samuel 9:9, the old name for navi is ro'eh, ראה, which literally means "Seer". That could document an ancient shift, from viewing prophets as seers for hire to viewing them as moral teachers. Allen (1971) comments that in the First Temple Era, there were essentially seer-priests, who formed a guild, divined, performed rituals and sacrifices, and were scribes, and then there were canonical prophets, who did none of these (and were against divination) and had instead a message to deliver. The seer-priests were usually attached to a local shrine or temple, such as Shiloh, and initiated others as priests in that priesthood: it was a mystical craft-guild with apprentices and recruitment. Canonical prophets were not organised this way. The similar term "ben-navi" ("son of the prophet") means "member of a seer-priest guild".

Some examples of prophets in the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) include Abraham, Sarah, Isaiah, Samuel, Ezekiel, Malachi, and Job. In Jewish tradition, Daniel is not counted in the list of prophets.

A Jewish tradition suggests that there were 600,000 male and 600,000 female prophets. Judaism recognizes the existence of 48 male prophets who bequeathed permanent messages to mankind.[1] According to the Talmud there were also seven women who are counted as prophets whose message bears relevance for all generations: Sarah, Miriam, Devorah, Hannah (mother of the prophet Samuel), Abigail (a wife of King David), Huldah (from the time of Jeremiah), and Esther. There were, of course, other women who functioned as prophets, and the last prophet mentioned in the Bible, Noahdiah (Nehemiah 6:14) was a woman.

Malachi's full name was Ezra Ha'Sofer (the scribe), and he was the last prophet of Israel if one accepts the opinion that Nechemyah died in Babylon before 9th Tevet 3448 (313 BCE). Babylonian Talmud | first = Vilna Gaon | volume = San.11a, Yom.9a/Yuch.1.14/Kuz.3.39,65,67/Yuch.1/Mag.Av.O.C.580.6}}

See also

Divine Pathos

In his book The Prophets, Abraham Joshua Heschel describes the unique aspect of the Jewish prophets as compared to other similar figures. Whereas other nations have soothsayers and diviners who attempt to discover the will of their gods, according to Heschel the Hebrew prophets are characterized by their experience of what he calls theotropism — God turning towards humanity. Heschel argues for the view of Hebrew prophets as receivers of the "Divine Pathos," of the wrath and sorrow of God over his nation that has forsaken him.

He writes:

Prophecy is the voice that God has lent to the silent agony, a voice to the plundered poor, to the profane riches of the world. It is a form of living, a crossing point of God and man. God is raging in the prophet's words. (The Prophets Ch. 1)


Christians share the Jewish belief that a prophet is a person who speaks for God, in the name of God, and who carries God's message to others. Some Christian denominations teach that a person who receives a personal message not intended for the body of believers (where such an event is credited at all) should not be termed a prophet. The reception of a message is termed revelation; the delivery of the message is termed prophecy. For Christians the authenticity of a prophet is judged as Jesus said that one should judge a prophet, by his fruits (Gospel of Matthew 7) and by checking whether his predictions come true. Deuteronomy 18:21-22 contains several warnings about false prophets and is very specific about the test of whether a prophet is true or false. A false prophet is considered to be someone who is purposely trying to deceive, or is delusional, or is under the influence of Satan (for detail, see main article False prophet).

Christians recognize that anyone they consider prophetic is still human and fallible, and may make wrong decisions, have incorrect personal beliefs or opinions, and sin from time to time; the human characteristics of a prophet are independent of the message God has given him and do not negate the validity of his prophecies.

Nevertheless, some Christians believe the minimum requirements of a true prophet can be summarized as follows: (1) Clear (not vague) prophecies (2) 100% accuracy in prophesying (i.e. one false prophecy is all it takes to disqualify them as a prophet), and (3) Must not contradict the Bible.

Many Christians believe these standards create a conundrum for other Christians who actively support high profile ministers who have large followings who claim to have received prophecies that have later turned out to be mistaken (see Unfulfilled historical predictions by Christians). Some sects of Christianity would also use these guidelines to disqualify other sects as prophets of God.

Some Christians, including many who believe in dispensationalism, believe prophecy ended with the coming of Jesus, who delivered the "fullness of the law." Within this group, many Protestants believe that prophecy ended with the last of the Hebrew prophets of the Torah of the Hebrew Bible, leaving a gap of about 400 years between then and the life of Jesus. The majority, including the Eastern Orthodox, allow an exception for John the Baptist as a prophet contemporary with Jesus.

New Testament passages that explicitly discuss prophets existing after the death and resurrection of Christ include Revelation 11:10, Matthew|10:40-41 & 23:34, John 13:20 & 15:20, and Acts 11:25-30, 13:1 & 15:32. Christians believe that the Holy Spirit leads people to faith in Jesus and gives them the ability to lead a Christian life and to give gifts (i.e. abilities) to Christians. These may include the charismatic gifts such as prophecy, tongues, healing, and knowledge. Christians holding a view known as cessationism believe these gifts were given only in New Testament times and ceased after the last apostle died. Historical records, however, contradict this theory. Christians almost universally agree that certain more mundane "spiritual gifts" are still in effect today, including the gifts of ministry, teaching, giving, leadership, and mercy (see, e.g. Romans|12:6-8|Romans 12:6-8).


The Qur'an identifies a number of men as Prophets of Islam (Arabic: nabee نبي ; pl. anbiyaa أنبياء ). Muslims believe such individuals were assigned a special mission by God (Arabic: Allah) to guide humanity. Besides Muhammad, this includes Abrahamic prophets such as Moses and David, and Jesus from Christian religion.

According to the Islamic creed, the essence of all the prophets’ messages is what Islam calls for: worshipping God alone and rejecting false deities. Islam is the religion of all prophets in human history; all of them called for beliefs which Islam calls for, and so they declared belief in Islam. The message of Islam resembles the messages of all previous prophets of God. The Qur'an states: "Abraham was not a Jew nor a Christian, but he was (an) upright (man), a Muslim (submission to God's will), and he was not one of the polytheists" . There were at least 4 Sharia which were revealed to Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus. Each of the prophets is believed to have been assigned a special mission by God (Arabic: Allah) to guide the whole or a group of the mankind, depending on the mission assigned to each.

God is believed to have instructed each of these prophets to warn his community against evil and urge his people to obey God. Although only 25 prophets are mentioned by name in the Qur'an, a Hadith (no. 21257 in Musnad Ibn Hanbal) mentions that there were 124,000 of them in total throughout history, and the Qur'an says that God has sent a prophet to every group of people throughout time, and that Muhammad is the last of the Prophets.(Template:Quran-usc) In general, Muslims regard the stories of the Qur'an as historical. The message of all the prophets is believed to be the same. Many of these prophets are also found in the texts of Judaism (The Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings; collectively known as the Old Testament to Christians) and Christianity.[1]

While Islam shares the Jewish tradition that the first prophet is Adam, it differs in that the last prophet is Muhammad, who in Islam is called Seal of the Prophets. Jesus is the result of a virgin birth in Islam as in Christianity, and is regarded as a prophet like the others.[2] Traditionally, five prophets are regarded as especially important in Islam with distinctive title were given to each of them for example: Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad. Also, only a tiny minority of prophets are believed to have been sent holy books (such as the Tawrat, Zabur, Injil and the Qur'an), and those prophets are considered "messengers" or rasul. However, other main Prophets are considered a Messenger or a Rasul even if they didn't receive a Book from God. An example can be the Messenger-Prophet Aaron "Haroon", the Messenger-Prophet Ishamel "Isma'eel" or the Messenger-Prophet Joseph "Yousuf". Muhammad is regarded in Islamic belief as having undertaken a prophetic mission addressed to all of humanity rather than a specific populace. Prophets were required to call all people to God; The-Lord of the Worlds. However, the laws they brought may have been limited to a certain community at some Era.

Although it offers many incidents from the lives of many prophets, the Qur'an focuses with special narrative and rhetorical emphasis on the careers of the first four of these five major prophets. Of all the figures before Muhammad, Moses is referred to most frequently in the Qur'an. As for the fifth, the Qur'an is frequently addressed directly to Muhammad, and it often discusses situations encountered by him. Direct use of his name in the text, however, is rare. Rarer still is the mention of Muhammad's contemporaries. Besides the four Holy Books sent by God to the four messengers, Muslims believe that God also had granted Scrolls Suhuf (contains basic Divine Laws to guide the people) to Abraham and Moses.

Muslims believe that evidence for the prophethood of Muhammad is as good as the evidence for previous prophets. A common argument is to ask why the Jew or Christian believe in Moses or Jesus, and to use the same answer to prove Muhammad's prophethood. They also maintain that all accusations levied on their prophet can be used against persons such as Abraham, Israel, Moses and Jesus. Thus they hold that the Jews or Christians are not consistent. If they believe in Moses or Jesus for their miracles, the same should apply to Muhammad. If Muhammad is accused of fighting, is it not the same said about Abraham, Moses and David? They also argue that prophecies about Muhammad are still in the Old and New Testaments.

Other prophets

Claims of prophecy continued through history and have occurred in many regions around the World. One of particular renown is Nostradamus, who was born in France at the beginning of the 16th century.

Another man of special significance is the Islamic figure Mirza Ghulam Ahmad who claimed a certain kind of prophethood (claimed to be the promised Messiah and Mahdi, the spiritual second coming of Jesus) and founded the Ahmadiyya. He has since become a subject of much controversy especially within mainstream Islam.


Template:Main The Bahá'í Faith refers to what are commonly called prophets as Manifestations of God, or simply Manifestations (mazhar) who are directly linked with the concept of Progressive revelation. Bahá'ís believe that God expresses this will at all times and in many ways, including through a series of divine messengers referred to as Manifestations of God or sometimes divine educators.Template:Cite encyclopedia In expressing God's intent, these Manifestations are seen to establish religion in the world. Thus they are seen as an intermediary between God and humanity. The Concept of Manifestation in the Bahá'í Writings | journal = Bahá'í Studies | volume = monograph 9 | pages = pp. 1-38 | url =}}

The Manifestations of God are not seen as an incarnation of God, but they are also not seen as an ordinary mortals. Instead, the Bahá'í concept of the Manifestation of God emphasizes simultaneously the humanity of that intermediary and the divinity in the way they show forth the will, knowledge and attributes of God; thus they have both human and divine stations. This view resembles the Christian view of Christ, as well as the Shi'a understanding of the prophets and Imams.

Bahá'u'lláh referred to several historical figures as Manifestations. They include the figures in the Abrahamic Faiths such as Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad, but also include the founders of great non-Western religions such as Zoroaster, Krishna, and Buddha. The Báb, as well as himself, were included in this definition, and Bahá'u'lláh wrote that God will send more Manifestations in the future, when necessary. Thus religious history is interpreted as a series of dispensations, where each Manifestation brings a somewhat broader and more advanced revelation, suited for the time and place in which it was expressed.

These Manifestations are taught to be "one and the same", and in their relationship to one another have both the station of unity and the station of distinction. Bahá'u'lláh wrote in the Kitáb-i-Íqán that in respect to their station of unity "if thou callest them all by one name. and dost ascribe to them the same attribute, thou hast not erred from the truth."The Book of Certitude, Bahá'í Publishing Trust, Wilmette, Illinois, USA ISBN 1-931847-08-8 |url= In this sense, the Manifestations of God all fulfill the same purpose and perform the same function by mediating between God and creation. In this way each Manifestation of God manifested the Word of God and taught the same religion, with modifications for the particular audience's needs and culture. Bahá'u'lláh wrote that since each Manifestation of God has the same divine attributes they can be seen as the spiritual "return" of all the previous Manifestations of God. Bahá'u'lláh then states the diversity of the teachings of the Manifestations of God does not come about because of their differences, since they are one and the same, but because they each have a different mission.

In addition to the Manifestations of God, in the Bahá'í view, there are also minor prophets. While the Manifestations of Gods, or major Prophets, are compared to the sun, which produces its own heat and light. The minor prophets, on the other hand, are likened to the moon, which receive their light from the sun. Moses, for example, is taught as having been a Manifestation of God and his brother Aaron a minor prophet. Moses spoke on behalf of God, and Aaron spoke on behalf of Moses (Exodus 4:14-17). Other Jewish prophets are considered minor prophets, in the Bahá'í view, as they are considered to have come in the shadow of the dispensation of Moses to develop and consolidate the process he set in motion.

Modern prophetic claims

In modern times the term "prophet" can be somewhat controversial. Many Christians with pentecostal or charismatic beliefs believe in the continuation of the gift of prophecy and the continuation of the role of prophet a taught in Ephesians 4. In many churches throughout the world, certain members of the congrgation will give prophecies during the church meeting. Prophecies like this are often directed toward the congregation. Prophecies can also be directed toward indviduals, known a personal prophecy. The content of prophecies can vary widely. Prophecies are often spoken as quotes from God. They may contain quotes from scripture, statements about the past or current situation, or predictions of the future. Prophecies can also 'make manifest the secrets' of the hearts of other people, telling about the details of their lives. Sometimes, more than one person in a congregation will receive the same message in prophecy, with one giving it before another.

It is said that certain minister prophesied that the then governor Ronald Reagan would be president and that this was witnessed by the entertainer Pat Boone. Evangelist Perry Stone claims that he received a revelation that then governor George W. Bush would become president and shared this with him six month later at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem and shared this revelation with him. Perry Stone also tells of seeing a vision of the World Trade Center bombing before it occurred.

Certain other controversial movements have claimed to have prophets, Joseph Smith, Jr. and Ellen G. White, the respective founders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Seventh-day Adventist Church, are considered prophets by members of those churches, but are vilified in some other branches of Christianity.

Latter-day Saints

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ("LDS Church", see also Mormons) and other churches from the Latter Day Saint movement believes that God continues to communicate with his children. While anyone may receive revelation for themselves or their own families, Mormons believe certain individuals have been called as prophets throughout history to proclaim God's message to the church and to the world. These prophets (including LDS Apostles) are regarded as "special witnesses" of Jesus Christ, and are believed to have been foreordained as such as a part of God's Plan of salvation --to lead and guide His children on earth. The message of the gospel of Christ, since the time of Adam and Eve, has consistently been a call for people to repent and exercise faith in God and in Jesus' Atonement. A form of Dispensationalism exists where periods of time are introduced by a major prophet. The Book of Mormon describes the ministries of many of these prophets among the ancient inhabitants of the Americas, and alludes to other prophets who would be chosen in nations other than in the Americas and Bible lands.

Latter-day Saints believe that God calls a prophet to lead the Lord's church any time it has been organized on the earth, beginning with Adam, and continuing on with others recorded in the Old Testament such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Isaiah, and Malachi. Jesus did this during his mortal ministry, and Peter acted in Christ's place after His ascension, but because of persecution the church eventually fell into apostasy. With the Restoration of the Gospel in 1830 through Joseph Smith, Jr., Latter-day Saints claim the true Christian church was, again, organized and established upon the earth. God is believed to direct affairs of the church through the leadership of the church, especially the President of the Church. He is believed to be authorized to receive revelation for the whole world and is often referred to simply as "the Prophet." He speaks bi-annually at the LDS Church's general conference, which is broadcast in many areas in addition to being printed and published.

Joseph Smith (1805–1844) is called the "Prophet of the Restoration" and was the first in the latter-days and is considered the prophet of the dispensation of the fulness of times. The current leader of the church is Gordon B. Hinckley (b. 1910). In chronological order, past Presidents of the LDS Church were Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, Lorenzo Snow, Joseph F. Smith, Heber J. Grant, George Albert Smith, David O. McKay, Joseph Fielding Smith, Harold B. Lee, Spencer W. Kimball, Ezra Taft Benson and Howard W. Hunter.

Hugh B. Brown, a former member of the First Presidency, presented an explanatory dialogue entitled Profile of a Prophet[2].

Latter-day Saints also believe other good men and women have had important roles among mankind and have been born on earth at particular times based on God's foreknowledge in all things, to guide their societies in true principles based on the light and knowledge they specifically sought after. For example, Mohammed, John Calvin, John Wycliffe, Martin Luther, Philipp Melanchthon William Tyndale, the United States founding fathers, and including early modern era philosophers, scientists, statesmen, and inventors such as Christopher Columbus, Francis Bacon, Benjamin Franklin, and James Watt, were inspired by God in bringing much goodness and truth to their societies, though theirs was not a revelatory calling through priesthood authority and direct revelation, thus differing from the calling of a prophet.[3]

Community of Christ

Members of Community of Christ, like the Mormons and other adherents of the Latter Day Saint movement believe that God continues to communicate with his children. While anyone may receive guidance from the Lord for themselves, only those called by God to be the prophet of the Church are able to present revelations that are intended to be presented to the Church as a whole, or to the world.

Following the death of Joseph Smith II, the church was loosely re-organized by those whom the modern Church would view as having been faithful to the original teachings of Smith. When his son Joseph Smith III was old enough to take over, they petitioned him to do so, and in time he was sustained as the second prophet of the Church. Joseph Smith III served in that capacity for 54 years. He was succeeded as prophet by Frederick M. Smith, Israel A. Smith, W. Wallace Smith, Wallace B. Smith, W. Grant McMurray and most recently Stephen M. Veazey.

Community of Christ (as well as most Latter Day Saint denominations) considers the Book of Mormon to be scripture. This book, for the most part, deals with the history of a group of Israelites who immigrated to the Americas, circa 600 BC. Throughout the history of the resulting civilizations (the Nephites and Lamanites), and one previous society (the Jaredites) several prophets are called into God’s service. Among the more important ones are:

Abinadi, Alma the Younger, King Benjamin, Jacob, the Brother of Jared, Lehi, Mormon, Moroni, Nephi, & Samuel the Lamanite, who, like many other figures in the Book of Mormon account, "presented a revelation which was intended to be presented to the church as a whole" even though he was not "called by God to be the prophet of the Church." [3]. In addition, four prophets of the Old World, not known to exist outside the Book of Mormon, are also mentioned (and occasionally quoted): Ezias, Neum, Zenock and Zenos (the latter was quoted at great length in reference to a prophesy concerning the final fate of the House of Israel).

Jehovah's Witnesses

Jehovah's Witnesses do not consider any single person in their modern-day organization to be a prophet. Their literature has referred to their organization collectively as God's "prophet" on earth; this is understood however in the sense of declaring their interpretation of God's judgments from the Bible along with God's guidance of His Holy Spirit. One issue of The Watchtower their magazine, said: "Ever since 'The Watchtower' began to be published in July of 1879 it has looked ahead into the future... No, 'The Watchtower' is no inspired prophet, but it follows and explains a Book of prophecy the predictions in which have proved to be unerring and unfailing till now. 'The Watchtower' is therefore under safe guidance. It may be read with confidence, for its statements may be checked against that prophetic Book." 'The Watchtower 1 Jan 1969 They also claim that they are God's one and only true channel to mankind on earth, and used by God for this purpose. They have made many eschatological predictions and as a result have acknowledged they "have made mistakes in their understanding of what would occur".Reasoning From the Scriptures p.136

Seventh-day Adventist

Template:Main The Seventh-day Adventist Church believes Ellen White, a cofounder of the church, possessed the gift of prophecy.


Tenrikyo's prophet, Nakayama Miki or Oyasama [4], is believed by Tenrikyoans to have been a kind of microphone of God, as God spoke through Oyasama, directly, to whomever was in the vicinity. She had three aspects: the Shrine of Tsukihi (the body of the woman was occupied by the mind of God), The Parent of the Divine Model (Oyasama taught the people by instructions and examples), and The Truth of the Everliving Oyasama (she continues to watch humanity develop, even after shedding her body).

Other religions

Other individuals

Other people throughout history have been described as prophets in the sense of foretelling the future (as opposed to forthtelling the message of the Deity). Examples of such prophets include:

Science-fiction and fantasy

See also


Further reading

  • Elst, Koenraad: Psychology of Prophetism - A Secular Look at the Bible (1993) [5] ISBN 81-85990-00-X


"I admonish you to give up the practice of always quoting the prophets of old and praising the heroes of Israel, and instead aspire to become living prophets of the Most High and spiritual heroes of the coming kingdom. To honor the God-knowing leaders of the past may indeed be worth while, but why, in so doing, should you sacrifice the supreme experience of human existence: finding God for yourselves and knowing him in your own souls?"[6]

  1. The Bible; containing both the Old and New Testaments (see Biblical narratives and the Qur'an)
  2. See the Qur'an Template:Quran-usc
  3. Smith, Joseph F., Gospel Doctrine, 1919, Chapter 22.;Top, Brent L., Life Before, 1988, Chapter 7