What is a Biblical Prophet? By Jack Kettler
This study will be a general overview of what constitutes the nature of a biblical prophet. As will be seen, the Old Testament prophetic office was a foreshadowing of the heavenly office of Christ and His headship over the Church. Christ’s present mediatorial reign and implications will be briefly considered. As in previous studies, we will look at definitions, scriptures, commentary evidence, and confessional support for the purpose to glorify God in how we live.
What is a prophet in the Bible?
Answer: In a general sense, a prophet is a person who speaks God’s truth to others. The English word prophet comes from the Greek word prophetes, which can mean “one who speaks forth” or “advocate.” Prophets are also called “seers,” because of their spiritual insight or their ability to “see” the future. *
“A prophet is someone who is the mouthpiece of God. He stands between God and man to communicate to man the Word of God. When the prophet spoke as the mouthpiece, he was inspired and without error. The prophet, though, is not a puppet or a mindless repeater of what he hears. Instead, he retains his own will, mind, and thoughts as he speaks for God. God would put His words in their mouths (Deut. 18:18, Jer. 1:9). A prophet was God’s servant (Zech. 1:6) and messenger (2Chron. 36:15). The prophecies fell into three categories: concerning the destiny of Israel, the messianic prophecies, and eschatological prophecies. The term Law and Prophets refers to the writings of the OT divided into two categories. The Law is the Pentateuch or Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The Prophets are all the rest of the OT books.” **
Scriptures and select commentary entries:
“The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen.” (Deuteronomy 18:15 ESV)
Whom was Moses speaking of in this passage?
From the Pulpit Commentary on the passage from Deuteronomy we read:
“Verses 15-22. – There should be no need for Israel to turn to heathen soothsayers, or diviners, or such like, because from amongst themselves, of their own brethren, would God raise up prophets like unto Moses, who, as occasion required, would reveal to them what God willed them to know. Verse 15. – A Prophet. The Hebrew word so rendered (נָבִיא) is a derivative from a verb (נָבָא), which signifies to tell, to announce; hence the primary concept of the word is that of announcer, or forth-speaker; and to this the word “prophet” (Greek προφήτης from πρόφημι, I speak before or in place of) closely corresponds; the prophet is one who speaks in the place of God, who conveys God’s word to men, who is an interpreter of God to men. (As illustrative of the meaning of the word, cf. Exodus 7:1; Exodus 4:16.) Hence Abraham is called a prophet (Genesis 20:7), and the term is applied to the patriarchs generally (Psalm 105:15); God conveyed his mind to them, and they spoke it forth to others (cf. Amos 3:7). Like unto me. When the people heard the voice of God speaking to them at Sinai, and from the midst of the fire uttering to them the Ten Words, they were struck with terror, and besought that they might not again hear that awful voice, but that Moses might act as mediator between God and them – might hear what God should say, and speak it unto them (Deuteronomy 5:22-27). Moses thus became God’s prophet to the people; and of this, he reminds them here, as well as of the circumstances amid which he entered specially on this office (cf. vers. 16, 17). The phrase, “like unto me,” does not necessarily imply that the prophet who was to come after Moses was to be in every respect the same as he; all that is indicated is that he would act as Moses had acted as a mediator between God and the people in the way of conveying his will to them.” (1)
Deuteronomy speaks of a coming prophet. The next passage from Luke shows the fulfillment of Moses’ prophecy.
“Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!” (Luke 7:16 ESV)
From Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible on Luke 7:16:
“And there came a fear on all … That were there present, and heard, and saw what was done. Not a fear of dread, and terror, and of punishment, as in devils and wicked men; but a fear and reverence of the divine majesty, whose power and presence they were sensible must be there at that time:
and they glorified God; they praised him, and gave thanks to him, ascribing this amazing action to divine power, and gave God the glory of it; and blessed him for the Messiah, who was sent unto them, as they concluded Jesus to be, from this wonderful instance:
saying, that a great prophet is risen up among us; even that great prophet Moses wrote of, and said should be raised up from among the children of Israel, Deuteronomy 18:15 and that God hath visited his people. The Arabic version adds, “for good.” For God sometimes visits for evil, in a wave of wrath and sore displeasure; but this was a visitation for good: they concluded that God had looked upon them with a look of love, and had a gracious regard to them, and had sent them the Messiah, who, they hoped, would deliver them from the Roman yoke; as he had formerly looked upon, and visited their fathers, and sent a redeemer to them, to deliver them from Egyptian bondage. The Ethiopic version renders it, “and God hath mercy on his people;” and the Persic version, ‘God hath looked upon his people, and hath taken care of them.’” (2)
The writer of Hebrews further confirms the fulfillment of what is said in Luke:
“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” (Hebrews 1:1-3 ESV)
In times past God spoke through His prophets. Now He speaks through His Son.
Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary summarizes the Hebrews passage nicely:
“1:1-3 God spake to his ancient people at sundry times, through successive generations, and in divers manners, as he thought proper; sometimes by personal directions, sometimes by dreams, sometimes by visions, sometimes by Divine influences on the minds of the prophets. The gospel revelation is excellent above the former, in that it is a revelation, which God has made by his Son. In beholding the power, wisdom, and goodness of the Lord Jesus Christ, we behold the power, wisdom, and goodness of the Father, Joh 14:7; the fulness of the Godhead dwells, not typically, or in a figure, but really, in him. When, on the fall of man, the world was breaking to pieces under the wrath and curse of God, the Son of God, undertaking the work of redemption, sustained it by his almighty power and goodness. From the glory of the person and office of Christ, we proceed to the glory of his grace. The glory of His person and nature, gave to his sufferings such merit as was a full satisfaction to the honour of God, who suffered an infinite injury and affront by the sins of men. We never can be thankful enough that God has in so many ways, and with such increasing clearness, spoken to us fallen sinners concerning salvation. That he should by himself cleanse us from our sins is a wonder of love beyond our utmost powers of admiration, gratitude, and praise.” (3)
Hence, Jesus is the fulfillment of the future prophet spoken of in Deuteronomy 18:15. Moreover, the perfection of Christ in His position as head of the Church negates the need for Old Testament type prophets functioning today. This argument of Christ’s headship rests upon the sufficiency of Christ. Christ’s representatives today are pastors, teachers and deacons. For elders, see Titus 1:5, 7; Acts 20:17, 28 and for deacons see Acts 20:35; 1Timothy 5:17.
Christ and His exalted place as the head of the Church:
“And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church.” (Ephesians 1:22)
Offices of Christ as head of the Church:
Presently Jesus occupies three main offices: Prophet, Priest, and King first seen in the Old Covenant with Israel. In the New Covenant, these three offices became combined into one office held exclusively by the Lord Jesus Christ.
These Messianic offices anticipated in the Old Covenant:
The Messianic Prophet is seen in “The LORD thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken.” (Deuteronomy 18:15)
The Messianic Priest is seen in: “The Lord hath sworn, and will not repent; Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.” (Psalm 110:4)
The Messianic King is seen in “Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.” (Psalm 2:6)
Scriptural passages that support the Threefold offices of Christ:
From Scripture, Christ as a Prophet:
“A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you. And it shall come to pass, that every soul, which will not hear that prophet, shall be destroyed from among the people.” (Acts 3:22-23)
From Scripture, Christ as a Priest:
“Even he shall build the temple of the LORD and he shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon his throne; and he shall be a priest upon his throne: and the counsel of peace shall be between them both.” (Zechariah 6:13)
From Scripture, Christ as a King:
“Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.” (Psalm 2:6)
“Fear not, daughter of Sion: behold, thy King cometh, sitting on an ass’s colt.” (John 12:15)
“Which in his times he shall shew, who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords.” (1Timothy 6:15)
Christ holds the unified office of Prophet, Priest, and King, and shares it with no one. The writer of Hebrews in 7:13-17 declares that Jesus is the one eternal high priest after the order of Melchizedek.
Now for some valuable overviews of the Old Testament biblical prophets.
General characteristics of a prophet by Louis Berkhof:
“THE SCRIPTURAL IDEA OF A PROPHET.
- The terms used in Scripture. The Old Testament uses three words to designate a prophet, namely, nabhi, ro’eh, and chozeh. The radical meaning of the word nabhi is uncertain, but it is evident from such passages as Ex. 7:1 and Deut. 18:18 that the word designates one who comes with a message from God to the people. The words ro’eh and chozeh stress the fact that the prophet is one who receives revelations from God, particularly in the form of visions. These words are used interchangeably. Other designations are “man of God”, “messenger of the Lord”, and “watchman”. These appellatives indicate that the prophets are in the special service of the Lord, and watch for the spiritual interests of the people. In the New Testament the word prophetes is used, which is composed of pro and phemi. The preposition is not temporal in this case. Consequently, the word prophemi does not mean “to speak beforehand”, but “to speak forth”. The prophet is one who speaks forth from God. From these names, taken together, we gather that a prophet is one who sees things, that is, who receives revelations, who is in the service of God, particularly as a messenger, and who speaks in His name.
- The two elements combined in the idea. The classical passages, Ex. 7:1 and Deut. 18:18 indicate that there are two elements in the prophetic function, the one passive, and the other active, the one receptive, and the other productive. The prophet receives divine revelations in dreams, visions, or verbal communications; and passes these on to the people, either orally, or visibly in prophetical actions, Num. 12:6-8; Isa. 6; Jer. 1:4-10; Ezek. 3:1-4,17. Of these two elements, the passive is the most important, because it controls the active element. Without receiving, the prophet cannot give, and he cannot give more than he receives. But the active is also an integral element. One who receives a revelation is not yet necessarily a prophet. Think of Abimelech, Pharaoh, and Nebuchadnezzar, who all received revelations. What constitutes one a prophet, is the divine calling, the instruction, to communicate the divine revelation to others.
- The duty of the prophets. It was the duty of the prophets to reveal the will of God to the people. This might be done in the form of instruction, admonition and exhortation, glorious promises, or stern rebukes. They were the ministerial monitors of the people, the interpreters of the law, especially in its moral and spiritual aspects. It was their duty to protest against mere formalism, to stress moral duty, to urge the necessity of spiritual service, and to promote the interests of truth and righteousness. If the people departed from the path of duty, they had to call them back to the law and to the testimony, and to announce the coming terror of the Lord upon the wicked. But their work was also intimately related to the promise, the gracious promises of God for the future. It was their privilege to picture the glorious things, which God had in store for His people. It is also evident from Scripture that the true prophets of Israel typified the great coming prophet of the future, Deut. 18:15, cf. Acts 3:22-24, and that He was already functioning through them in the days of the Old Testament, I Pet. 1:11.” (4)
Another overview of biblical prophets during Old Testament times from the Easton Bible Dictionary:
“(Heb. nabi, from a root meaning, “to bubble forth, as from a fountain,” hence “to utter,” Compare Psalms 45:1). This Hebrew word is the first and the most generally used for a prophet. In the time of Samuel another word, ro’eh, “seer,” began to be used (1Samuel 9:9). It occurs seven times in reference to Samuel. Afterwards another word, hozeh, “seer” (2Samuel 24:11), was employed. In 1Chronicles, 29:29, all these three words are used: “Samuel the seer (ro’eh), Nathan the prophet (nabi‘), Gad the seer” (hozeh). In Josh 13:22Balaam is called (Heb.) a kosem “diviner,” a word used only of a false prophet.
The “prophet” proclaimed the message given to him, as the “seer” beheld the vision of God. (See Numbers 12:6 Numbers 12:8.) Thus a prophet was a spokesman for God; he spake in God’s name and by his authority (Exodus 7:1). He is the mouth by which God speaks to men (Jeremiah 1:9; Isaiah 51:16), and hence what the prophet says is not of man but of God (2Peter 1:20 2Peter 1:21; Compare Hebrews 3:7; Acts 4:25; 28:25). Prophets were the immediate organs of God for the communication of his mind and will to men (Deuteronomy 18:18 Deuteronomy 18:19). The whole Word of God may in this general sense be spoken of as prophetic, inasmuch as it was written by men who received the revelation they communicated from God, no matter what its nature might be. The foretelling of future events was not a necessary but only an incidental part of the prophetic office. The great task assigned to the prophets whom God raised up among the people was “to correct moral and religious abuses, to proclaim the great moral and religious truths which are connected with the character of God, and which lie at the foundation of his government.”
Any one being a spokesman for God to man might thus be called a prophet. Thus Enoch, Abraham, and the patriarchs, as bearers of God’s message (Genesis 20:7; Exodus 7:1; Psalms 105:15), as also Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15; 34:10; Hosea 12:13), are ranked among the prophets. The seventy elders of Israel (Numbers 11:16-29), “when the spirit rested upon them, prophesied;” Asaph and Jeduthun “prophesied with a harp” (1Chronicles 25:3). Miriam and Deborah were prophetesses (Exodus 15:20; Judges 4:4). The title thus has a general application to all who have messages from God to men.
But while the prophetic gift was thus exercised from the beginning, the prophetical order as such began with Samuel. Colleges, “schools of the prophets,” were instituted for the training of prophets, who were constituted, a distinct order (1Samuel 19:18-24; 2Kings 1Samuel 2:3 1Samuel 2:15; 4:38), which continued to the close of the Old Testament. Such “schools” were established at Ramah, Bethel, Gilgal, Gibeah, and Jericho. The “sons” or “disciples” of the prophets were young men (2Kings 5:22; 2Kings 9:1 2Kings 9:4) who lived together at these different “schools” (4:38-41). These young men were taught not only the rudiments of secular knowledge, but they were brought up to exercise the office of prophet, “to preach pure morality and the heart-felt worship of Jehovah, and to act along and co-ordinately with the priesthood and monarchy in guiding the state aright and checking all attempts at illegality and tyranny.”
In New Testament times the prophetical office was continued. Our Lord is frequently spoken of as a prophet Luke 13:33; 24:19). He was and is the great Prophet of the Church. There was also in the Church a distinct order of prophets (1Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 2:20; 3:5), who made new revelations from God. They differed from the “teacher,” whose office it was to impart truths already revealed.
Of the Old Testament prophets there are sixteen, whose prophecies form part of the inspired canon. These are divided into four groups:
The prophets of the northern kingdom (Israel), viz., Hosea, Amos, Joel, Jonah.
The prophets of Judah, viz., Isaiah, Jeremiah, Obadiah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah.
The prophets of Captivity, viz., Ezekiel and Daniel.
The prophets of the Restoration, viz., Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.” (5)
A true prophet spoke the Word of God. After the closing of the canon of Scripture ongoing divine revelation ceased along with the prophetic office. See this writer’s chapters on “Sola Scriptura” and the “Primacy of Scripture” in the book The Religion that started in a Hat. We are still to be on guard against false prophets “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves” (Matthew 7:15). This warning does not prove that there are real prophets.
With the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, prophets from among men of old during the infancy of redemptive history are no longer needed. Christ Jesus is our heavenly prophet and mediator.
A necessary aside, we will look at the unique Mediatorship of Christ:
Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter 8:1-3 and Scriptural proofs addresses this:
Section 1.) It pleased God, in His eternal purpose, to choose and ordain the Lord Jesus, His only begotten Son, to be the Mediator between God and man;(1) the Prophet,(2) Priest,(3) and King;(4) the Head and Saviour of His Church;(5) the Heir of all things;(6) and Judge of the world;(7) unto whom He did from all eternity give a people, to be His seed,(8) and to be by Him in time redeemed, called, justified, sanctified, and glorified.(9)
(1) Isa 42:1; 1Pe 1:19,20; John 3:16; 1Ti 2:5 (2) Ac 3:22 (3) Heb. 5:5,6 (4) Ps 2:6; Lk 1:33 (5) Eph. 5:23 (6) Heb. 1:2 (7) Ac 17:31 (8) John 17:6; Ps 22:30; Isa 53:10 (9) 1Ti 2:6; Isa 55:4,5; 1Co 1:30
Section 2.) The Son of God, the second person in the Trinity, being very and eternal God, of one substance and equal with the Father, did, when the fulness of time was come, take upon Him man’s nature,(1) with all the essential properties and common infirmities thereof, yet without sin;(2) being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the Virgin Mary, of her substance.(3) So that two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion.(4) Which person is very God, and very man, yet one Christ, the only Mediator between God and man.(5)
(1) John 1:1, 14; 1Jn 5:20; Philippians 2:6; Gal 4:4 (2) Heb. 2:14, 16, 17; Heb. 4:15 (3) Lk 1:27, 31, 35; Gal 4:4 (4) Lk 1:35; Col 2:9; Ro 9:5; 1Pe 3:18; 1Ti 3:16 (5) Ro 1:3, 4; 1Ti 2:5
Section 3.) The Lord Jesus, in His human nature thus united to the divine, was sanctified and anointed with the Holy Spirit above measure;(1) having in Him all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge;(2) in whom it pleased the Father that all fulness should dwell:(3) to the end, that being holy, harmless, undefiled, and full of grace and truth,(4) He might be thoroughly furnished to execute the office of a Mediator and Surety.(5) Which office He took not unto Himself, but was thereunto called by His Father;(6) who put all power and judgment into His hand, and gave Him commandment to execute the same.(7)
(1) Ps 45:7; John 3:34 (2) Col 2:3 (3) Col 1:19 (4) Heb. 7:26; John 1:14 (5) Ac 10:38; Heb. 12:24; Heb. 7:22 (6) Heb. 5:4, 5 (7) John 5:22, 27; Mt 28:18; Ac 2:36
In particular, note what section three states:
The Confession of Faith, (chap. 8.3.), declares, “Which office he took not to himself, but was thereunto called by his Father, who put all power and judgment into his hand, and gave him a commandment to execute the same.” This reference is speaking of Christ the Mediator.
What is a Mediator? Easton’s Bible Dictionary has a nice entry that is helpful:
“It is one who intervenes between two persons who are at variance, with a view to reconcile them. This word is not found in the Old Testament; but the idea it expresses is found in Job 9:33, in the word “daysman” (q.v.), marg., “umpire.”
This word is used in the New Testament to denote simply an internuncius, an ambassador, one who acts as a medium of communication between two contracting parties. In this sense, Moses is called a mediator in Galatians 3:19.
Christ is the one and only mediator between God and man (1Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 8:6; 9:15; 12:24). He makes reconciliation between God and man by his all-perfect atoning sacrifice. Such a mediator must be at once divine and human, divine, that his obedience and his sufferings might possess infinite worth, and that he might possess infinite wisdom and knowledge and power to direct all things in the kingdoms of providence and grace which are committed to his hands (Matthew 28:18; John 5:22 John 5:25 John 5:26 John 5:27); and human, that in his work he might represent man, and be capable of rendering obedience to the law and satisfying the claims of justice (Hebrews 2:17 Hebrews 2:18; Hebrews 4:15 Hebrews 4:16), and that in his glorified humanity he might be the head of a glorified Church (Romans 8:29).
This office involves the three functions of prophet, priest, and king, all of which are discharged by Christ both in his estate of humiliation and exaltation. These functions are so inherent in the one office that the quality appertaining to each gives character to every mediatorial act. They are never separated in the exercise of the office of mediator.” (6)
“Then comes the end, when he [Jesus] shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” (1Corinthians 15:24-26)
Christ is now reigning and as our prophet, priest, and king and His work as the heavenly mediator further invalidates the need for an Old Testament like prophets functioning in the New Covenant era. Christ’s reign is continuing as we still are awaiting the last enemy death to be destroyed. The prophetic, priestly, and kingly offices of the Old Covenant all find perfect fulfillment in the Lord Jesus Christ. Do we need a prophet today? Yes, it is Jesus, and He is our all-sufficient prophet.
- H. D. M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell, The Pulpit Commentary, Deuteronomy, Vol.3., (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans Publishing Company reprint 1978), p. 303-304.
- John Gill, Exposition of the Old and New Testaments, Luke, (Grace Works, Multi-Media Labs), 2011, p. 200.
- Matthew Henry, Concise Commentary, Hebrews, (Nashville, Tennessee, Thomas Nelson), p. 1992.
- Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans Publishing, 1949), pp. 357-358.
- M.G. Easton M.A., D.D., Illustrated Bible Dictionary, “Prophet,” Third Edition, published by Thomas Nelson, 1897.
- M.G. Easton M.A., D.D., Illustrated Bible Dictionary, “Mediator,” Third Edition, published by Thomas Nelson, 1897.
“To God, only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) and “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28, 29)
Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at: THERELIGIONTHATSTARTEDINAHAT.COM
For more Study:
* Got Questions https://www.gotquestions.org/prophet-Bible.html