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Question While the Bible warns us of false prophets, how could you tell if someone is a real or false prophet?

AnswerGreat question!  The Biblical understanding of a prophet is one “who speaks in God’s name and under his inspiration.”  Prophecy is a message of truth received from God and transmitted by a prophet who serves as the intermediary between God and the people.  Anyone can claim to be a prophet but there are ways to distinguish between a true and false prophet.  Our first guide is to look at the characteristics of the prophets in the Bible.  They have a sensitivity to evil especially injustice.  They are concerned for the welfare of the people and challenge the leaders who fail to care for the people.  Prophets feel fiercely and everything matters to them even what some may dismiss as trivial matters.  The prophet calls the rebellious back to God proclaiming God’s infinite mercy and love.  The prophet is intent on calling all people to be responsible for their actions and prick’s the conscience of the individual.  This is one reason the prophet is rejected or persecuted is because he challenges people to consider what they rather not have to or have avoided. The prophet promotes kindness, justice, and righteousness.  Though his message begins with impending doom the word from God is not acted on, it concludes with a message of hope.

So the first step to determine if a prophet is a true prophet or false prophet is to compare him and his message to the biblical prophets.

Another way is through the discernment of the Holy Spirit.  Discernment is the art of listening to our inner selves and learning to recognize (discern) movements that arise from the Holy Spirit.  St. Paul in his letter to the Galatians provides a list of vices and virtues to help the community recognize the work of the devil and the work of the Holy Spirit.  The following would imply an absence of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:20):  immorality, impurity, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outburst of anger, acts of selfishness, dissension, and envy.  If I heard a message from an acclaimed prophet and found any of these characteristic in his life or words he proclaims I would discern the absence of the Holy Spirit and identify him as a false prophet.  What I would be looking for in the true prophets life and message would be the gifts of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:21) love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

The false prophet illegitimately claims charismatic authority within a religious group or uses the gift of prophecy for evil ends or personal gains.  I personally have a hard time with certain televangelists who ask the audience for donations while they personally have a fleet of Mercedes, private plane, and live in big mansions.  I ask myself how God’s work and care for the poor is accomplished through the ministry and what percentage is going to help the poor?  Is it a 50/50 split for God and me? I’d rather not donate any money for a cause that is not less than 90% going to the poor which is why I trust the Catholic organizations I donate to.  There also is a tie between deception and being a false prophet (MT 24:10) as well as claims to doing great signs (Rev 16:13, Rev 19:20).  Also, Acts 13:7 identifies a magician who is parading as a false prophet.

The true prophet can be identified through his good fruits (Mt 7:15-23), always acknowledging the humanity and divinity of Jesus Christ (1 Jn 4:1-3) and whose word is not for personal gain but rather for the building up of the Church (1 Cor 14:37).

Fr. Tom

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