How Can We Detect False Prophets?

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How can we detect false prophets? What does the Bible say about this?

The Bible lists several false prophets by name. Balaam was hired by Moab's king to curse Israel (Numbers 22 - 24). Zedekiah wrongly predicted King Ahab would be victorious in battle against the Syrians (1Kings 22:11 - 24). Hananiah tried to refute Jeremiah's 70-year prophecy (Jeremiah 28:1 - 17). Another of the many false teachers was Shemaiah, who taught Israel to rebel against God (Jeremiah 29:24 - 32).

Noadiah was one of several false prophets during Nehemiah's time (Nehemiah 6:14). In the New Testament, Elymas was a sorcerer who confronted the apostle Paul on the island of Cyprus (Acts 13:6). Jezebel was an active teacher who promoted immorality in the church at Thyatira (Revelation 2:20).

God has many things to say about teachers who teach lies. Jesus warned his listeners about how false teachers can come in disguise, seeming to be harmless when they are actually spiritually dangerous (Matthew 7:15). He also revealed that we can detect those promoting lies by their fruits, meaning by what they teach compared to Scripture (Matthew 7:16).

Balaam and the Ass
Balaam and the Ass
Pieter Pietersz Lastman, 1622


We need to be wary of anyone who sets himself or herself up as a teacher of truth. Those not inspired by God are characterized as ravenous wolves (Matthew 7:16, Acts 20:29) and foxes (Ezekiel 13:4) who are cunning, clever and always looking for new people to deceive and take advantage of. The apostle Paul warns us about these people and then reveals we should withdraw ourselves from them (1Timothy 6:3 - 5).

Smooth words

Prophets who teach incorrect doctrines sound like their words are based on the Bible but instead they are chosen to destroy others. Deuteronomy states how serious a matter it is for someone to be a false spokesman and how Israel was to punish such people. In the Old Testament, the punishment for those who pretended to speak for the Eternal was the death penalty (Deuteronomy 13:5 - 6).

Those who are imposters, who teach lies and deceit, want others to follow their errorneous ways so that they can increase their own power and wealth (1Timothy 6:5, 10, 2Peter 2:3). True servants of the Eternal ultimately lead people to him. They speak the truth and want people to prove the veracity of their words in the Bible (see 1John 4:1). True teachers are not concerned with what people think of them or whether others do not like to hear what God has to say.

True prophets do not seek to deceive people and serve out of love. Those who do not represent God, however, tell lies and half-truths, mixed with just enough truth to seem credible (see 2Peter 2:1). Those who masquerade as someone inspired by God want people to believe their motives are purely altruistic (see 2Corinthians 11:12 - 14, Philippians 1:15 - 18). In their hearts, however, they pursue selfish goals. The Bible commands Christians to reject such false teachers and separate themselves from them.

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