There is a growing confusion about this topic which involves a large part of present-day Christians. Questions such as what is the meaning of ‘false prophets’ on the Gospel, and whether there is a way to distinguish those with greater certainty, are the subjects in which we will delve into in this brief study, in order to obtain a logical, rational and evident solution.
Before proceeding, it is convenient to briefly review the meaning of the word ‘prophet‘. In this regard we will define this term as someone who publicly proclaims a message by divine inspiration. He who receives this gift of ‘prophecy‘, receives messages, and sometimes visions that can herald future events that are ahead of the prophet’s present time. It is through the prophetic message then, that God’s plans gain visibility and become a little more understandable for humanity.
The matter that God’s plans require the active cooperation of man was already discussed in this article, and we will only say that, although God is omnipotent, as a result of free will He does not force human freedom, therefore being required the participation of man’s free will to cooperate in the fulfillment of God’s will.
Prophecy is also a test for man, who is challenged by the prophetic message. Additionally, one must see it as coming from God and not from the person who simply transmits it, and here lies a first difficulty: Distinguishing whether its origin comes truly from God or from man himself.
Let’s consider the biblical text which reads as follows:
- Many false prophets will arise and deceive many; (Mt 24:11)
- False messiahs and false prophets will arise, and they will perform signs and wonders so great as to deceive, if that were possible, even the elect. (Mt 24:24, Identical words can be read in Mk. 13,22)
- Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but underneath are ravenous wolves. (Mt 7:15)
- Now the Spirit explicitly says that in the last times some will turn away from the faith by paying attention to deceitful spirits and demonic instructions (1 Timothy 4:1)
- There were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will introduce destructive heresies and even deny the Master who ransomed them, bringing swift destruction on themselves. (2 Pe 2:1)
These allusions to false prophets impose some precaution that should be taken into account regarding the messages and actions of the supposed prophet. Consider also this recommendation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
- God can reveal the future to his prophets or to other saints. Still, a sound Christian attitude consists in putting oneself confidently into the hands of Providence for whatever concerns the future, and giving up all unhealthy curiosity about it. Improvidence, however, can constitute a lack of responsibility. (CCC 2115)
Having said this, we must not make the mistake of going to the extreme, not considering any prophetic word at all, or hiding behind prudence to ignore prophetic revelations which could really have their origin in God. So let’s now consider these other biblical texts:
- Do not despise prophetic utterances. Test everything; retain what is good. (1Thes 5:20-21)
- Therefore, whoever disregards this, disregards not a human being but God, who also gives his holy Spirit to you. (1Thes 4:8)
- And he gave some as apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers, to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ (Eph 4:11-12)
- Did God’s word originate with you? Are you the only people it has reached? If anyone thinks he is a prophet or a spiritual person, he must acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command. But if anyone ignores this, he should be ignored. Therefore, my brothers, desire the ability to prophesy, and do not prevent others from speaking in other languages. But everything must be done in a proper and orderly way. (1Co 14:36-40)
- “Don’t touch my anointed or hurt my prophets!” (Pss 105:15)
- Indeed, the Lord God does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets. (Amos 3:7)
- “I have told you this while I am with you. The Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name -he will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you. (Jn 14:25-26)
Note the text of Ephesians 4, 11-12 quoted above, and compare to those of 1Corinthians 12, 4-29 and 1Corinthians 14, 1-5.21.22. Here a mention is made of a “gift of prophecy” that comes from the Holy Spirit, and at the same time it is classified as one of the necessary gifts for the edification of the mystical body of Christ: the Church.
1 Corinthians 12:4-29: (4) Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit, (5) and there are varieties of ministries, but the same Lord. (6) There are varieties of results, but it is the same God who produces all the results in everyone. (7) To each person has been given the ability to manifest the Spirit for the common good. (8) To one has been given a message of wisdom by the Spirit; to another the ability to speak with knowledge according to the same Spirit; (9) to another faith by the same Spirit; to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit; (10) to another miraculous results; to another prophecy; to another the ability to distinguish between spirits; to another various kinds of languages; and to another the interpretation of languages. (11) But one and the same Spirit produces all these results and gives what he wants to each person. (12) For just as the body is one and yet has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, form a single body, so it is with the Messiah. (13) For by one Spirit all of us—Jews and Greeks, slaves and free—were baptized into one body and were all privileged to drink from one Spirit. (14) For the body does not consist of only one part, but of many. (15) If the foot says, “Since I’m not a hand, I’m not part of the body,” that does not make it any less a part of the body, does it? (16) And if the ear says, “Since I’m not an eye, I’m not part of the body,” that does not make it any less a part of the body, does it? (17) If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? (18) But now God has arranged the parts, every one of them, in the body according to his plan. (19) Now if all of it were one part, there wouldn’t be a body, would there? (20) So there are many parts, but one body. (21) The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you,” or the head to the feet, “I don’t need you.” (22) On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are in fact indispensable, (23) and the parts of the body that we think are less honorable are treated with special honor, and we make our less attractive parts more attractive. (24) However, our attractive parts don’t need this. But God has put the body together and has given special honor to the parts that lack it, (25) so that there might be no disharmony in the body, but that its parts should have the same concern for each other. (26) If one part suffers, every part suffers with it. If one part is praised, every part rejoices with it. (27) Now you are the Messiah’s body and individual parts of it. (28) God has appointed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then those who perform miracles, those who have gifts of healing, those who help others, administrators, and those who speak various kinds of languages. (29) Not all are apostles, are they? Not all are prophets, are they? Not all are teachers, are they? Not all perform miracles, do they?
1 Corinthians 14:1-5.21.22: (1) Keep on pursuing love, and keep on desiring spiritual gifts, especially the ability to prophesy. (2) For the person who speaks in another language is not actually speaking to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands him, because he is talking about secrets by the Spirit. (3) But the person who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding, encouragement, and comfort. (4) The person who speaks in another language builds himself up, but the person who prophesies builds up the church. (5) Now I wish that all of you could speak in other languages, but especially that you could prophesy. The person who prophesies is more important than the person who speaks in another language, unless he interprets it so that the church may be built up. (21) In the Law it is written, “By means of other languages and through the mouths of foreigners I will speak to this people, but even then they will not listen to me,” declares the Lord. (22) Other languages, then, are meant to be a sign, not for believers, but for unbelievers, while prophecy is meant, not for unbelievers, but for believers.
Just as the eye cannot say to the head ‘I do not need you’ nor the head to the feet ‘I have no need of you’ (cf. 1Cor 12:21), in the same way no one who is part of this body that is the Church could affirm that the apostles (role played by present-day bishops) are not necessary and therefore they should not be listened to, or that the preachers of the gospel are not necessary because whoever knows how to read should learn everything just from reading the Bible, or in the same way, that the prophets are not necessary because all the revelation is already contained in the Holy Scriptures. Depending on your religious background, admitting this truth could be more or less difficult, since there is a tendency to deliberately ignore prophetic revelations, as if the figure of the prophet were a thing of the past, from the O.T., and this role no longer existed within the Church and the Holy Spirit were no longer giving this gift of prophecy anymore.
The role and mission of the prophet are too important (cf. 1 Cor. 14: 1-5.21.22) to be left aside, it would be equivalent to ignore or neglect the role of the apostolate that the bishops carry out nowadays; Each one has a useful function, you cannot exclude a group without causing structural damage to the entire building of the Church.
The text of 1Thes 4: 8, while not particularly related to prophetic revelations, is fully applicable to this situation for a logical reason: if the gift of prophecy comes from the Holy Spirit, it follows therefore that whoever rejects prophecy not only rejects the man or woman who proclaims it, but also God who inspires it through his holy Spirit.
Let’s make a stop at this point to expand on this meaning, and remember the accusation made by the scribes and pharisees to Jesus, giving as a result His terrible affirmation about the sin against the Holy Spirit. These accusations can be read in Mt 9:34; Mt 10:25; Mt 12: 23-28; Mk 3:22; Lk 11:15. Finding the hard answer of Jesus Christ in Mt 12:31; Mk 3: 28-30; Lk 12:10.
What caused this answer from Christ was the false accusation of him acting in alliance with the power of Satan. They had attributed good to evil, when good comes undoubtedly from God; they attributed the action of God by the work of the Holy Spirit to satanic action. Christ stressed that their argument was not logical, since it would mean that Satan would be fighting against himself. Is this not an analogous situation to considering a prophet who is inspired by the Holy Spirit as false, and therefore with a spirit of falsehood from Satan? The answer to this question may not be so simple, at least if we consider the following expression, according to which, for one to recognize a prophet it is also necessary to have received oneself the gift of prophecy:
“Anyone who receives you, receives Me. He who receives Me receives Him Who sent Me. Anyone who receives a prophet as a prophet, will receive a reward proportionate to the charity offered to the prophet, he who receives a just man because he is just, will receive a prize proportionate to the just man. The reason is that he who acknowledges a prophet as such, must be a prophet himself, that is, very holy because he is held in the arms of the Spirit of God; and who will acknowledge a just man as such proves that he is just as well, because like souls know one another. Thus, each will be given a reward according to justice.” (Quote from “The Gospel as was revealed to me” – Second year in the Public life of Jesus -265. Instructions to the Apostles at the Beginning of Their Apostolate, 28th August 1945, Maria Valtorta)
Finally let’s complement the quote from the Catechism, which recommended avoiding curiosity about the future, with this other:
- The prophets summoned the people to conversion of heart and, while zealously seeking the face of God, like Elijah, they interceded for the people. (CCC 2595)
Some examples from the Bible
Let us now examine some specific Biblical cases in which there are references to false prophets, and try to arrive to a better understanding of what is meant when speaking of a “false prophet“.
In Acts 13, 6-11 there is a mention of the meeting of Saul (Paul) and Barnabas with a person who is specifically called a false prophet: a man named Bar-Jesus (v.6) who was known by the name of Elymas, which means wise or magician. All forms of magic (sorcery, divination, etc.) were condemned by God (Ex 22:18; Lev 20:27; Dt 18: 10-12; Is 47: 12-14; Gal 5: 19-21) being these some of the most effective means that Satan employs to hinder the preaching of the gospel.
Although possibly in this case Elymas was not a ‘sorcerer’ but a man educated in natural-philosophical sciences. It could resemble the current idea of an atheist or non-Christian philosopher. Bar-Jesus openly opposed to the conversion of the proconsul (v.8), who wanted to hear the word of God (v.7). The reason for that opposition is not specified. Perhaps it was simply an attempt to maintain his position before the proconsul, from the risk of his possible conversion; Or may be it was a matter of denying that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah and exposing, in turn, to the proconsul the messianic hopes as he (and the Jewish remnant who still did not recognize Christ in the person of Jesus) understood them.
In any case we believe that the example of Bar-Jesus is representative of those professionals or men and women of science who, seeking the truth, giving advice and guidance to others, do not recognize the truth of Jesus Christ as God and Lord or the truth expressed in the Holy Scriptures, and therefore it is a science without wisdom, from which vain or erroneous advice comes out in matters of importance. It is not difficult to understand the damage it has done to societies, for example, the support in the media to the ridiculous theory which proposed that matter created itself out of nothing (Big bang), a false and retrograde message that right in the 21st century still continues to hinder many souls in their search of the truth of the origin of all things in God.
In Acts chap. 8, we have the account of an encounter with a person named Simon, who practiced magic and did great signs amazing the people in the city of Samaria (v.9). At the same time, thanks to Philip’s preaching of the Gospel, many believed in the city and were baptized, even Simon the magician believed when seeing the great signs and miracles that were performed (v.13). Peter and John descended from Jerusalem to Samaria to lay hands on the baptized so they could receive the Holy Spirit.
When Simon the magician saw that the spirit was given by the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money in exchange for receiving the same authority (v. 18), resulting in Peter’s harsh reproach for thinking that he could buy the gift of God with money (v.18). Simon magus is an example of all those who are followers of esoteric doctrines or knowledge that set aside the truth of the gospel. It may not be very difficult to find a relative or acquaintance who knows how to throw the tarot cards, and the same can be said of horoscopes being so widespread in society that they are already incorporated into newspapers and magazines as esoteric vanities in which many believe.
In Deuteronomy 13, 1-3 we have another example of false prophets, in this case what makes the distinction is that the supposed prophet, or “dreamer of dreams” after announcing a prodigy that is fulfilled, calls to go after other gods. In other words, a prophet who, through wonders or signs, tries to lead others to apostatize from their faith. It seems to be a situation similar to that of the false prophet of the Apocalypse that will arise doing great signs and wonders to make many apostatize of their faith.
An example of this could be someone who provides an important favor or service to another who has some unsatisfied basic needs, but does so in exchange for accepting certain conditions that include prohibition of religious practices or the obligation to accept idolatry in some way.
Another example can be found in Lamentations 2,14. Here it is spoken of prophets who proclaimed false and deceptive visions instead of exposing the iniquity of the people (that is, without calling for conversion) hindering their return from captivity.
Jeremiah 23,25-27 tells of false prophets who prophesy lies and deception, trying to make the people forget God by telling themselves revealing dreams. Also in Jeremiah 27: 9-10 is a reference to prophets who prophesy the lie saying “You shall not serve the king of Babylon”, in order to drive them away from their land, to be cast out and perish (v.10).
Note that in this case the question of serving the king of Babylon was not pleasant to the Jews and caused them a deep conflict, since it was the king who had taken them captive while destroying Jerusalem. They did not want to serve this king, and the false prophets called them to be disobedient to his authority, not wanting to accept that this situation of being dominated by the enemy was the will of God, from whom comes all power and authority (Cf. Jn 19, 11, Rom 13,1).
The true prophetic message, on the contrary, does not usually say what the people would like to hear. Proud and rebellious humanity does not want to be corrected. This can be verified by anyone with his own relatives, although correcting the one who sins is a highly recommended work of mercy, it would be rare for the one who receives the correction to take it well, rather they will return insults or ask who is one to judge, even those who consider themselves very Christian. The statement in Jeremiah 35,15 is an example of this: The prophets who had really been sent by God saying: “Turn away, each of you, from your evil way and reform your actions! Do not follow other gods to serve them that you may remain in the land which I gave you and your ancestors.” were not listened to and their message was rejected.
Discernment of spirits
The New Testament gives us a basic rule to discern spirits in 1 John 4, 1-3 that serves as a specific recommendation to distinguish false prophets: every spirit who aknowledges that Jesus Christ has become human is from God ( v.2) while every spirit that does not aknowledge Jesus, is not from God; and this is the spirit of the antichrist (v.3).
1 Beloved, do not trust every spirit but test the spirits to see whether they belong to God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 This is how you can know the Spirit of God: every spirit that acknowledges Jesus Christ come in the flesh belongs to God, 3 and every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus does not belong to God. This is the spirit of the antichrist that, as you heard, is to come, but in fact is already in the world. (1 John 4:1-3)
We could complement this basic rule whith what Saint Jude expressed in Jude 1,4. False prophets are also those who turn the grace of God into debauchery, e.g. those who, for example, do not recognize the duty to fulfill the commandments, or in some way seek to relax or repeal that which is sure will not change over time.
4 For there have been some intruders, who long ago were designated for this condemnation, godless persons, who pervert the grace of our God into licentiousness and who deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. (Jude 1:4)
The topic of false prophets in revelations to Maria Valtorta
Finally, let us consider the words with which this subject is treated in revelations to María Valtorta, the great italian mystic (the colored highlights are ours):
(…) “Elsewhere there are some who believe more in the false prophets, impure voices stirred up to speak by Satan and condemned by the law of the Church, and it is condemnation for all who, as Catholics, listen to them–these Satanic voices speaking by means of mediumistic tables and spiritualists, voices speaking to deceive, seduce, lead astray, and separate people from the Church.
“Only the spirits of light are truthful and good guides. But they never come–I repeat, never–by human imposition and do not need any special apparatus to manifest themselves. God sends them whenever He wants to whomever He wants. And they are the only ones who tell the truth. The others, in all of their manifestations, are a lie. Because they are manifestations of Satanism, and Satan is only deceit. Everything proceeding form these voices, even if they appear to say good words, is always contaminated with error in a subtle manner. They speak to separate people from the Church by saying it is not necessary to communicate with God. They speak to sneak in false theories on reincarnation, on a system of evolution of souls, and on successive lives–all of which is absolutely false. They speak to suggest scientific solutions to the most luminous manifestations of Divine Omnipotence, which created everything from nothing.” (María Valtorta, Notebooks 1945-1950, September to November of 1950)
(…) “These prodigies are those of which Jesus Christ spoke when preaching of the last times, putting men on guard toward them, and toward the voices of false prophets and false christs who will arise and appear here and there. But these will be nothing other than satanic traps and satanic prophets, servants of the prophesied Antichrist. They will be stirred up to seduce men by the Lie, and by the false teaching of lies. They will cause them to be found unprepared: at the terrible moment of the reign of the Antichrist on Earth: at the subsequent last coming of the Son of Man, the Victor Christ for the Last Judgment; and at the separation of the lambs and the sheep from the goats and the rams-for election and condemnation and for blessing and cursing. These prodigies are those of which Paul spoke, in his 2nd Letter to the Thessalonians (2:1-12). They are the prodigies of which John spoke, in the 13th chapter of his Apocalypse.” (María Valtorta, Lessons on the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans, 7-11 of june, 1948)
(…) “The Apocalypse is a book of revelation, certainly. Indeed, it concludes the great Revelation. But it is also a prophetic book.
Both revelation and prophecy come from God. For only God inspires them. Only God can inspire them because only He knows the Truth, in being the Truth, and is familiar with future events.
Prophecy is like a projection of future events, seen by God alone, and illuminated for those living in the mists of their temporary present.
“God takes a man–a prophet or one inspired by Him, certainly chosen by Him for this purpose– and for his spiritual eyes and ears depicts and relates past events whose truth has been altered, because of the passage of centuries or an involuntary alteration which may easily arise in oral revelation or a voluntary alteration caused by religious schisms, heresies, or scientific investigation detached from religious wisdom. Or He illuminates and reveals future events which only He knows in his eternal Present. And they see and hear, as if a film with sound were being projected in front of them. And God commissions them to manifest what He reveals to them, to become his hand and mouth to write and say what God has been pleased to reveal.
“This comparison–Jesus, too, made use of comparisons to enable his followers to understand his lessons–will enable many to grasp what prophecy is and what the prophets are, what the inspired person or seer is, and how one must believe in them, who manifest what is good to know so as to proceed along sure paths, provided they do not say things incompatible with Faith and the Great Revelation. (María Valtorta, Notebooks 1945-1950, September to November of 1950)
The false prophets of the current era that cause the most damage should not be sought so much in the religious sphere (when a simple check would be easy to do on wheter if the messages recognize Jesus Christ as our God, if they call for conversion, if they do not seek to introduce debauchery in man’s duties towards God, etc.), but in the esoteric sciences and arts that have spread enormously among the people and separate humanity from the truth of the gospel, offering advice on life decisions that are often sinful (eg. Tarot, Divination, Horoscopes, professionals who, having rejected the faith, offer sinful advice to their clients or patients, etc.).
Add to this the vanity of part (the minority, although it seems the opposite) of a sector of science that rejecting God, and therefore lacking wisdom, tries to offer explanations to the origin of the universe and of man, with ridiculous concepts already ruled out by science itself. It could be said that in this regard, the false prophets have multiplied, that they spread supposed knowledge which in reality is riddled with deception and confusion and in which countless people are immersed today, taking others and themselves away of true religion.
The wisest and most prudent recommendation seems to be the one made by Paul to the Christians of Thessalonica: “Do not despise prophetic utterances. Test everything; retain what is good.” (1Thes 5: 20-21). This, taking into account the disastrous current scenario in which prophetic revelations are virtually dismissed by the Church, and while being deprived of the benefits of this gift from the Holy Spirit, as it is logical to expect, the Church finds great difficulties in its path, before a complex and difficult time for religion, making mistakes and denying in turn the help that this important organ of the Mystical Body of Christ could provide for its better health.
Finally, a lack of recognition of the importance of prophecy in the history of the Church, especially the recent one, is observed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Not assigning the role of the prophet its fair value within the structure of the Church and not giving it the consideration it deserves, results in confusion, errors and lack of understanding of the current times. Prophetic revelations light the way at crucial moments in the history of the People of God, and remind us after so many centuries, that God continues to be present in the life of His People, always being the Good Shepherd who cares for His flock. Every time the prophecy was left aside, history showed that wrong decisions were made, with a consequent damage that is usually paid for through pain.