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W3. Prophesying Falsely.    [Make a Comment]

We are not to prophesy falsely.

Key Scriptures

This precept is derived from His Word (blessed be He):

Deuteronomy 13:2-6(1-5)
If a prophet or someone who gets messages while dreaming arises among you and he gives you a sign or wonder, and the sign or wonder comes about as he predicted when he said, 'Let's follow other gods, which you have not known; and let us serve them,' you are not to listen to what that prophet or dreamer says. For ADONAI your God is testing you, in order to find out whether you really do love ADONAI your God with all your heart and being. You are to follow ADONAI your God, fear him, obey his mitzvot, listen to what he says, serve him and cling to him; and that prophet or dreamer is to be put to death; because he urged rebellion against ADONAI your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you from a life of slavery; in order to seduce you away from the path ADONAI your God ordered you to follow. This is how you are to rid your community of this wickedness.

Deuteronomy 18:18-22 (Maimonides RN27, RN29; Meir MN175; Chinuch C517, C519)
'I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their kinsmen. I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I order him. Whoever doesn't listen to my words, which he will speak in my name, will have to account for himself to me. But if a prophet presumptuously speaks a word in my name which I didn't order him to say, or if he speaks in the name of other gods, then that prophet must die.' You may be wondering, 'How are we to know if a word has not been spoken by ADONAI?' When a prophet speaks in the name of ADONAI, and the prediction does not come true - that is, the word is not fulfilled - then ADONAI did not speak that word. The prophet who said it spoke presumptuously; you have nothing to fear from him.

Matthew 7:15-20
Beware of the false prophets! They come to you wearing sheep's clothing, but underneath they are hungry wolves! You will recognize them by their fruit. Can people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every healthy tree produces good fruit, but a poor tree produces bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, or a poor tree good fruit. Any tree that does not produce good fruit is cut down and thrown in the fire! So you will recognize them by their fruit.

Supportive Scriptures

Jeremiah 14:13-16
Then I said, "ADONAI, God! The prophets are telling them, 'You won't see war, and you won't have famine; but I will give you secure peace in this place.'" ADONAI replied, "The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I didn't send them, order them or speak to them. They are prophesying false visions to you, worthless divinations, the delusions of their own minds. Therefore," ADONAI says, "concerning the prophets who prophesy in my name, whom I did not send, yet they say, 'There will be neither war nor famine in this land' - it will be war and famine that will destroy those prophets. And the people to whom they are prophesying will be thrown out into the streets of Yerushalayim because of the famine and war, with no one to bury them - them, or their wives, or their sons, or their daughters - because I will pour their own wickedness out upon them."

Jeremiah 23:20-21
ADONAI's anger will not abate till he fully accomplishes the purpose in his heart. In the acharit-hayamim, you will understand everything. I did not send these prophets; yet they ran. I did not speak to them; yet they prophesied.

Matthew 24:23-24
At that time, if someone says to you, 'Look! Here's the Messiah!' or, 'There he is!' don't believe him. For there will appear false Messiahs and false prophets performing great miracles - amazing things! - so as to fool even the chosen, if possible.

2 Peter 2:1
But among the people there were also false prophets, just as there will be false teachers among you. Under false pretenses they will introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, and thus bring on themselves swift destruction.

1 John 4:1
Dear friends, don't trust every spirit. On the contrary, test the spirits to see whether they are from God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.


Prophecy involves hearing God's voice and, if that which God says is meant for persons other than the hearer, repeating it for those others to hear. In the time of Moses, prophecy was limited to only certain people (prophets) upon whom God's Spirit rested and indwelt, and their function in speaking what God said was vitally important because the average Israelite was unable to hear God's voice on his or her own. These prophets were held to a very high level of accountability - they were even to be put to death if they prophesied falsely.

Prophecy in the New Covenant is an extension of the Mosaic, but with the huge step up of everyone being able to receive the Holy Spirit and hear the voice of God for themselves (Romans 12:6; 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, 14:1, 22-33). The Holy Spirit's universal availability (along with the salvation brought by Yeshua) is what characterizes the New Covenant (see 1 Corinthians 14:1-40) as being both new and "better" (Hebrews 8:6-7). Sometimes what God says to us is meant for us alone, and sometimes it is meant for others. And just as with the prophets of old, when we hear words that are meant for others, are obligated to speak them out.

In the New Covenant (as in the Mosaic), the existence of false prophesy and false prophets remains a problem and, although we no longer execute those who speak falsely, we are instructed to test everything that we hear so as not to be misled (1 Thessalonians 5:20-21; 1 John 4:1). The principal way of testing what we hear is comparing it to Scripture and what we know about God from Scripture.

Perhaps analogous to the "school" (company) of prophets mentioned in 1 Samuel, 2 Kings and elsewhere in Scripture, the entire body of believers (now able to prophesy) along with prophets of the fivefold ministries (see Ephesians 4:11-12) can be viewed as the New Covenant's expansion of the prophets of old that came together in order to hear God, affirm God's words that were heard, and weed out prophecy that was false.

Commentary by Daniel C. Juster

I would add that prophecy in the New Testament seems to not require the strictness and penalty of the Mosaic period. We find that no penalty is enjoined in the New Covenant for inaccuracy in prophetic words, since the community should be able to test these. In addition, we see words such as those of Agabus whose word was partially correct, but not correct in its detail. Nevertheless, Agabus was known as a credible prophet in the book of Acts.

There is a level of prophecy and prophetic accuracy that can be experienced by every believer, but there are three levels of the prophetic gifting:

  1. All believers who are open to the Holy Spirit can prophecy on a basic level.
  2. Some believers are imbued with a special gift of prophecy; these tend to prophesy more frequently than others and with greater accuracy.
  3. Some with the prophetic gift have been proven, over time, to prophesy with exceptional quality and accuracy, and these we call prophets (see 1 Corinthians 14 and Ephesians 4:11).

Classical Commentators

Maimonides, Meir, and HaChinuch prohibit prophesying falsely, and refer to the Talmud's penalty of strangulation for doing so. Maimonides and HaChinuch (but not Meir) also wrote a mitzvah prohibiting us from having pity for a false prophet and declining to put him to death for his sin.


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