Prophets and Those Who Prophesy

A widespread misconception seems to persist in the Body of Christ that a person who prophesies is a prophet.  While all prophets prophesy, not everyone who prophesies is a prophet!

In fact, if everyone who prophesies is a prophet, the following passage contradicts itself:

1 Corinthians 14:29-31:
Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge. But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent.  For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged.

These verses say that only two or three prophets are to speak.  However, all may prophesy one by one. Therefore, the fact that you prophesy cannot mean that you are necessarily a prophet.

Prophet is a “ministry gift office” along with the offices of apostle, evangelist, pastor and teacher in Ephesians 4:11.  These are commonly referred to as “five-fold ministry gifts”, though the term “five-fold” is not used in the Bible to describe them.  Actually, some hold that there are only four offices because Ephesians 4:11 says that Jesus gave “some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers”; these people believe “pastor and teacher” is one office. However, I’d have to disagree because Acts 13:1 says that there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers with no indication that any of them were pastors.

Very few people are prophets, just as very few are pastors, evangelists, apostles or teachers.  These are specific ministry offices that God appoints people to (1 Corinthians 12:28); you cannot call yourself to one of these offices, nor can you call anyone else to them. This negates the whole idea that someone can attend a one-week so-called “school of the prophets” and become a prophet.

You can’t train anyone to be a pastor or an apostle or an evangelist or a teacher in a week, either! (Wouldn’t it be nice?)

Notice that a prophet would tend to function in what we call “revelation gifts” (word of wisdom, word of knowledge, discerning of spirits – these are 3 of the 9 mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12). How would we know this, and how does this differ from someone who simply prophesies in church but isn’t a prophet? The simple gift of prophecy does not have any revelation attached to it; it is to edify, exhort and comfort others (1 Corinthians 14:3). While people who are not prophets can flow in the “revelation gifts” (as well as all the other ones), a prophet would be expected to bring forth revelation, not just edification, exhortation and comfort. When speaking of prophets, Paul said, “if anything be revealed to another [prophet] that sits by…”.  In the case of Agabus, a New Testament prophet, he foretold a great famine (Acts 11:28) and also warned Paul about the troubles he would have at Jerusalem (Acts 21:11).  This goes beyond simple edification, exhortation and comfort. Now on the other hand, Philip the evangelist had four daughters who prophesied (Acts 21:9), but they are not called prophetesses.

People get into dangerous error when they start thinking, “I am a prophet now because I have prophesied. I can just go up to people and start giving them words.  Perhaps they will get saved as a result.” The gifts of the Spirit operate as the Spirit wills; you can desire to flow in the gifts, but you do NOT control them.  People can actually open themselves up to weird spirits when they try to start prophesying without the anointing – not every “voice” in the spirit realm is God’s voice!  It is dangerous when people start walking around giving out every stray impression they have and attaching “Thus saith the Lord” to it.

Some point out that Moses said, “Oh, that all the Lord’s people were prophets” (Numbers 11:29), but this does not negate the fact that God sets ministry gifts (including prophets) in the church and that it is Jesus who gives some to fill certain ministry offices. The obvious answer to Paul’s rhetorical question, “Are all prophets?” (1 Cor 12:29) is NO, but we are ALL still told to desire to prophesy (1 Cor 14:1).