With all the talk about false election prophets and prophecies, some biblical perspective is in order. Let’s take a look at what the Bible would tell us about how to deal with this issue of false prophets and prophecies.
The Old Covenant Standard Does Not Apply Today
Under the Old Covenant, the test of a true prophet was very straightforward and simple. If they predicted something about the future, and it did not come to pass, they were to be deemed a false prophet and put to death. The standard is written in such a way that if they got a single prediction wrong, they were stoned to death.
Modern believers tend to make much of this rule. Many Christians love applying this Old Covenant standard to today’s prophetic believers, and they even seem to relish the part about being stoned to death. Nevermind that the penalty of stoning was also applied to adulterers, fornicators, and even people who cursed. This part of the Old Covenant law is often proclaimed to prove what a terrible sin is being committed when a prophet “gets it wrong.”
There’s just one problem. The New Covenant does not say that “getting it wrong” is a sin.
The New Covenant Standard for Prophets
The New Testament has much to say about how to identify false prophets. However, getting a prediction wrong is never mentioned as one of the criteria. Greed. Bad fruit. Introducing destructive heresies. Having depraved conduct. Everyone speaking well of them. Denying the incarnation (that Jesus Christ came into the world in a body of flesh). All of these are identified as defining characteristics of false prophets (see these Scriptures).
While some pastors might meet some of those criteria, most people in the prophetic movement do not.
The Bible does say that false prophets will deceive many. If a person purposefully deceives other people with prophetic statements, then yes, they are a false prophet. But “getting it wrong” does not meet the biblical definition of deceiving people.
For example, let’s say that you are going out of town and you ask someone about how to get there. They tell you a specific route to take, and tell you that it makes for a wonderful trip. However, when you take that route, the traffic ends up being terrible. There is road construction, and you are delayed for quite a while. Would you accuse that person of deceiving you?
No, you would not. You might seek some clarification, but you would not accuse them of deceiving you. Because they gave you the best information they had, and they had no ill intent toward you. In fact, they were trying to help.
Prophetic Words About Future Events Are Not Always Set in Stone
Even in Old Testament times, we find that prophetic words were not always set in stone.
In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to him and said, “This is what the LORD says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover.”(Isaiah 38:1 NIV)
That word did not come to pass. Period.
And the way Isaiah worded it, there was nothing conditional about it. Isaiah gave what sounded like an absolute, unconditional word of God, and then God did something completely different than what Isaiah spoke. Some of the believers alive today would have been likely to label Isaiah a false prophet.
Jonah’s word to Nineveh provides another example. Jonah never said, “If you pray, you can avoid this.” His exact quote to Nineveh is, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.”
Yet this did not happen.
If one of God’s purposes for a specific prophetic word is to display His ability to predict the future, you can bet it will come to pass. There are plenty of those types of prophetic words in Scripture. But He sometimes has other purposes for releasing a specific word. Scripture proves this through the examples given above.
God Can Change His Instructions
The other thing we seem to be missing is that God often gives us commands, marching orders, or instructions and then changes them later on. For example, let’s say it’s Tuesday and you ask your pastor what he plans to preach about on Sunday. He tells you that God has led him to preach about tithing. So you expect to hear a sermon about tithing.
But on Sunday, the pastor preaches a sermon about sexual sin. When you ask for an explanation, the pastor explains that on Friday night, he felt the Lord prompting him to preach a different sermon.
Would you accuse your pastor of deceiving you? Would you accuse him of being a “false pastor”? Of course not. Because he had no intent to deceive you. He is just doing his best to listen to and obey the Lord.
The Bible proves that God does change His directions at times, even if they are worded without conditions. Just ask Abraham:
Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”(Genesis 22:2 NIV)
“Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”(Genesis 22:12 NIV)
Making a Prophetic Mistake
It’s also very easy to make a mistake in the prophetic. Let’s use a very timely and realistic example. Let’s say that God gives you a prompting in your spirit that, “Donald Trump is going to win the 2020 election.” But when you go to deliver the word, it comes out as, “Donald Trump is going to have a second term.”
The actual word you got was true. The wording of your delivery may or may not have been true. Only time will tell.
A prophetic person who did their best is kind of like a quarterback apologizing for a loss after playing his heart out. No one should be mad at them. They did their best. It took courage to release that word. They probably prayed and sought the Lord very earnestly before doing it. And maybe they made some kind of mistake.
I can’t find any verse in the Bible that tells them to apologize, publicly repent, or castigate themselves.
And as far as I know, there isn’t any verse in the Bible that tells others to criticize them. In fact, I can’t find anything that mentions church discipline for a person who gets it wrong.
“Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good.”(1 Thessalonians 5:20-21 ESV)
“Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said.”(1 Corinthians 14:29 NIV)
In short, the Bible tells us to test the prophetic word, not to stone the person who gave it!