The False Prophet

If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder … and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods’ … you shall not listen” (vv. 1–3).

- Deuteronomy 13:1–5

Having examined the theme of the Word of God and the person of Moses, one who received this Word, we are now ready to look at the forms (genres) of the Word of God found in the Old Testament and how they are dealt with in the New. Since Moses is the paradigmatic prophet, we will begin with the concept of prophecy.

Anyone whom the Lord inspired to give us revelation is a prophet, including those we normally consider prophets like Jeremiah and men such as David, whom we rarely think of as a prophet. Old covenant prophets reminded Israel of its covenant duties and announced blessings or curses according to the nation’s fidelity (Deut. 18:15–22; 28). Theologians often call the prophets “covenant prosecutors,” as they stated God’s case from the heavenly court against Israel based on His law.

Scripture can use the term prophet for anyone in the Old Testament who claims to speak for the Lord, so God told Israel how to distinguish between true and false prophets. First, true prophets had the ability to do signs. A prophet whose “signs” never came to pass was not truly from the Lord (18:21–22). Yet the ability to do miracles was not itself enough to identify a true prophet, for he also had to teach right doctrine. A wonder-working prophet who impenitently led the people after other gods was to be rejected; in fact, he was to be killed (Deut. 13:1–5).

As Dr. R.C. Sproul often says, the greatest threat to God’s people is the false prophet, and under the new covenant we must guard against those who twist Scripture. This can be hard because few of us like to face conflict or want to be involved in the disciplinary steps outlined to deal with false teachers (Titus 3:1–11). Compounding the problem is that being labeled a heretic is no longer a stigma. Televangelists boast of bucking church tradition and relativists proudly claim to be “orthodox heretics.” G.K. Chesterton’s words about the early twentieth-century church still apply today: “‘Heresy not only means no longer being wrong; it practically means being clearheaded and courageous… . ‘orthodoxy’ not only no longer means being right; it practically means being wrong.” Still, the church’s health requires all believers to be absolutely committed to orthodox Christianity as it has been handed down by the apostles even if others might hate us for it.

Coram Deo

False prophets exist in our day insofar as there are many men and women who are claiming to speak for God and yet teach aberrant doctrine. While we must not be contentious over minor matters, we should never be afraid to point out the errors of those who deny or pervert cardinal Christian doctrines. In love may we help those who are in bondage to false doctrines see the essential truths of the Christian faith as taught in God’s Word.

Passages for Further Study

1 Kings 18:20–40
Jeremiah 28
Matthew 7:15–20
1 John 4:1–6

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you do not make more than 500 physical copies. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred (where applicable). If no such link exists, simply link to www.ligonier.org.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: From Ligonier Ministries, the teaching fellowship of R.C. Sproul. All rights reserved. Website: www.ligonier.org | Phone: 1-800-435-4343