The Abuse of and the Proper Use of the Gift of Prophecy

by Jack Wellman · Print Print · Email Email

The gift of prophecy is so misunderstood today, so what is the gift of prophecy and how are Christians misunderstanding it or abusing it?


The gift of prophecy is so misunderstood today, so what is the gift of prophecy and how are Christians misunderstanding it or abusing it? The gift of prophecy is actually a speaking gift, just like the word of knowledge is. This gift involves understanding truth with an insight that only comes by revelation from God’s Spirit. John MacArthur says that those with the gift of knowledge understand the deep things of God and the mysteries of His Word. That’s not the same gift as the gift of prophecy. The word prophecy, prophēteia, comes from the verb prophēteuō; prophēmi, which is pro – before, phēmi – to speak, so what it means is to speak before, however, it does not mean to speak before in time. This word refers to the act of speaking before an audience. It is not to speak before others in terms of foretelling something in the future. It is to speak before an audience. It is literally, “to speak before someone,” so to speak in public…to publicly proclaim, is the true gift of and true use of the gift of prophecy.

Gift of Prophecy

Dr. John MacArthur (Grace to You Ministries) says that the idea of prophecy being all about predicting the future comes from the addition to the English word prophecy that came to be used in the Middle Ages. However, a Greek or Hebrew person or scholar knew that this word meant “to speak publicly” or to proclaim. They understood that it was not about predicting the future and in the New Testament, most of the time it is not about the future…but about the here and now (the Bible). Now what is the gift of prophecy? Simply put from its definition, it is the ability given by the Spirit of God to a person to proclaim God’s truth before others. It is to proclaim God’s truth publicly or privately and as commanded by God (Matt 28:18-20). In chapter 14 verse 3 of 1 Corinthians it says, “But he that prophesies speaks unto men.” It does not say, “He speaks unto men about what will be.” Simply put, the one he speaks to are men and women…people. The one with the gift of prophecy is the one who speaks to men and women and children about Jesus Christ. It is really the gift of proclaiming Christ. Jesus gave an imperative command to proclaim the gospel (Acts 1:8)! The best Greek translators understood that the use of the word prophecy was the gift of proclaiming; the gift of speaking before others.

What’s Proclaimed?

In Biblical times, God has always given this gift to men to proclaim His truth and sometimes the future, so God has had somebody speaking His Word in the Old and New Testaments, and by the way, the prophecies were not always predictions about what was to come. Only about one-third of the prophecies in the Bible were about the future. This means that a full 2/3rds of the prophecies were for doctrinal, law (instructional), and historical purposes (the present) and not about the future. Most of the prophecies that did foretell the future were about Jesus Christ, the Coming Messiah, and which prophecies cannot be duplicated. I urge you to beware and use caution about anyone who comes to you and says, “I have a word from God for you.” They might…but it’s not from God. Perhaps the word is from the little “g” god; the god of this word (2 Cor 4:3-4).Minor Prophets

God Speaking

Peter comments on the Old Testament and says, “For this prophecy came not by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet 1:21). The New Testament writers claimed to be inspired by God too. They knew it was not a word from them. They were proclaiming God’s Word, and when the whole of the New Testament was done, it too was a prophecy; a proclamation from God that tells us that His direct revelation to mankind is over as we now have all we need in the 66 books of the Bible (Rev 22:18). We have the full sufficiency of the Word.

Vital Reason for Prophecy

The most vital thing for God’s people is to be proclaiming God’s truth. That’s why Paul said, “Follow after love, desire spirituals, but rather that you may prophecy” (1 Cor 14:1). Please notice, “He that prophesies speaks to men edification, exhortation, and comfort,” meaning the one who prophecies ministers to believers. Paul adds, “If you all prophesy and there come in one that believes not or one unlearned, he will be convicted of all and judged of all, and the secrets of his heart made manifest. Then the person can fall down on their face and worship God and report thatGod truly is in you” (1 Cor 14:24) and among you. Isn’t that our goal! For souls to be saved! That’s the true and intended purpose for the gift of prophecy. Now if the church is stressing tongues, when you come together and you all babble in these different languages, people will come into the church and think you’re nuts. They think you’ve lost it, however if you would prophesy (proclaim Scripture), they would come in and they would listen, and perhaps they would be convicted by the Holy Spirit and by the power that is in the Word of God (Rom 1:16; 1 Cor 18) and then be saved. The simple meaning of the word of prophecy is…proclaiming…telling…sharing, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Using the Gift

The point of prophecy is given in Revelation 19:10 which says, “For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” In other words, at the heart of all proclamation (prophesying) is Christ. Anyone who gets up and proclaims Jesus Christ is fulfilling the spirit of prophecy by sharing the gospel. Somebody who gives the testimony of Christ is fulfilling the gift of prophecy. In the Book of Romans, Paul says that, “Having then gifts different according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith” (12:6). It goes on to mention other gifts, but interestingly enough, not one of the gifts mentioned here is miraculous, and prophecy is included with them. I say this is interesting because all of the gifts listed in 1 Corinthians 12 have a miraculous possibility. None of the ones here in Romans 12 really do, and prophecy is included among them. What that tells me is that prophecy could be a miraculous thing, but most times, it is just proclaiming the gospel.

The Measure of Your Faith

Let’s notice something in Romans 12:6 where it reads, “Let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith.” The definite article in the Greek reads: “According to the measured out amount or proportion of the faith.” What does that mean? If you’re going to prophesy, be sure to measure your prophecy against Scripture. In other words, make sure your prophecy agrees with what is already written and revealed in the Word of God. The one who truly prophecies does not go outside the Bible for material! If the prophecy (proclaiming God’s Word/Truth) doesn’t’ measure up to Scripture, then it’s not genuine prophecy (unless of course, they are a false prophet). These are the non-revelatory aspects in a list of gifts that themselves are non-miraculous. They’re supernatural as energized by the Spirit, however, if you have the gift of prophecy, then be sure you prophesy according to the proportion of the faith or the measured out truth of the faith as found in the Word of God. It must have the exact same construction as Jude 3 says, where we are to contend for “the faith once for all delivered to the saints,” meaning, God’s no longer revealing new things about the faith. If it’s new, it’s not from God; if it’s from God, it’s not new.


I think it’s obvious now that the gift of prophecy is proclaiming what has already been revealed in Scripture, and for those false prophets today, there is a serious warning that comes to you, saying, “If any man adds to the words of this Book or takes away shall be added to him the plagues written” (Rev 22:18). Jesus warned us 2,000 years ago that there would be many false prophets. That assumes there will be more false ones than true ones, just as in biblical times. The revelatory aspect is done my friends. We cannot help God by coming up with something new and “receiving a new word from God.” It is dangerous to do so. There were a scant few prophets in the early church who did prophecy about future events (less than 4 times), but that was during the infancy of the church when they had no New Testament yet. Prophesying about the future ceased at the point of the canon being closed. The non-revelatory sharing and proclaiming aspect of the gift of prophecy (proclaiming Christ and Him crucified) has not ceased and will not cease until Jesus returns.

Here is some related reading for you: What is the Spiritual Gift of Prophecy? How Do You Know if You Have It?

Resource – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), Crossway Bibles. (2007). ESV: Study Bible: English standard version. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Bibles. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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