The spiritual gift of prophecy is the God-given ability to receive direct revelation from God and communicate it to others. Those with this gift have a special ability to hear God’s voice and relay His messages. The messages can contain anything God wants to reveal, including exposing sin, warning of future events, or declaring God’s will. This gift is not about predicting the future but rather speaking forth God’s word in a timely and relevant way.
Prophecy in the New Testament refers primarily to the spiritual gift of prophecy. While Old Testament prophets spoke the authoritative word of God, prophecy in the New Testament is not equal to Scripture. New Testament prophecy must be tested against the Bible (1 Corinthians 14:29; 1 Thessalonians 5:20-21).
The Apostle Paul addresses the place of prophecy in the church in 1 Corinthians 14. He sees prophecy as something that must be used for the strengthening, encouragement, and comfort of believers (1 Corinthians 14:3). Prophecy edifies the church when it reveals the secrets of someone’s heart, causing them to fall down and worship God (1 Corinthians 14:24-25). Prophecy must be done in a fitting and orderly way (1 Corinthians 14:40), with two or three prophets speaking and the others weighing carefully what is said (1 Corinthians 14:29).
Romans 12:6 distinguishes prophecy from other gifts by indicating that it corresponds to the believer’s faith. The prophet speaks in proportion to the faith he or she has been given. Prophecy is a reception and transmission gift. The prophet receives a word from God and transmits it to others who need to hear it. This may happen privately or in a public gathering. When done publicly, prophecy must strengthen the entire church (1 Corinthians 14:3-4).
While Old Testament prophets were primarily men, prophecy in the New Testament is a gift given by the Holy Spirit to both men and women. The prophet Joel foretold of a time when God would pour out His Spirit on all flesh, including sons, daughters, menservants and maidservants, and they would prophesy (Joel 2:28-29). On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was given to the church and both men and women prophesied (Acts 2:17-18). Philip had 4 virgin daughters who were prophets (Acts 21:9). Prophecy is a gift for the entire church, regardless of gender, age, or social status.
Those with the gift of prophecy are sensitive to both the prompting of the Holy Spirit and the needs of the church body. The Holy Spirit gives them a message that will minister to the hearers. The prophet humbly submits the word he or she has received to the church leadership for discernment. Those in leadership are responsible to weigh carefully the words spoken through the gift of prophecy, testing them against Scripture.
The following are some of the key characteristics of the spiritual gift of prophecy:
- Speaks edification, exhortation and comfort to men for their strengthening (1 Corinthians 14:3)
- Communicates a timely and relevant message from God
- Exposes the secrets of the heart, causing repentance (1 Corinthians 14:24-25)
- Strengthens, encourages and comforts the church (1 Corinthians 14:3)
- Convicts of sin
- Clarifies God’s will in a particular situation
- May reveal future events to prepare the church for what is to come
- Blesses church members through the message given (1 Corinthians 14:24-25)
- Should be carefully tested against the Scriptures (1 Thessalonians 5:20-21)
The gift of prophecy is just one of the gifts of the Spirit available to believers. Paul lists some of the gifts of the Spirit in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4. 1 Corinthians 12:7-11 indicates that the Spirit gives gifts to each believer for the common good. The gifts are given by God’s grace according to His sovereign will and timing. Not every believer operates in the gift of prophecy. Prophets speak as moved by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21). The gift and office of prophet is appointed by God (Ephesians 4:11-12).
There are some warnings in Scripture about false prophets who speak lies and deceive many. Jesus said to beware of false prophets who come disguised as sheep but inwardly are ravenous wolves that seek to destroy the flock (Matthew 7:15). The only way to detect false prophets is to test their words against the authoritative Word of God. Prophecies that contradict the Bible or lead people away from God’s truth are false. True prophecies from the Holy Spirit will always line up with Scripture.
Prophecy is a marvelous gift that God has given to His church. When used properly and in order, prophecy powerfully builds up, encourages and strengthens the body of Christ. Those blessed with the spiritual gift of prophecy humbly speak the words given them by the Holy Spirit for the benefit of all. Their words provide clarity and reveal the secrets of hearts. Hearing a timely and relevant message from God through a prophet has the power to convict, encourage, strengthen, and bless those ready to receive it.
Some key Bible passages on the spiritual gift of prophecy:
- Romans 12:6 – Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith;
- 1 Corinthians 12:10 – To another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.
- 1 Corinthians 13:2 – And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
- 1 Corinthians 13:8 – Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.
- 1 Corinthians 14:1-5 – Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.
- 1 Corinthians 14:29-33 – Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.
- Ephesians 4:11-13 – And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,
- 1 Thessalonians 5:20-21 – Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good.
- 1 John 4:1-3 – Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.
In summary, the spiritual gift of prophecy is the special ability to receive and communicate an immediate message from God to His people through a divinely-anointed utterance. Those with the gift of prophecy should exercise it in a spirit of humility, always looking to Jesus as the true Prophet and being willing to have their words tested against the Scriptures. Prophecy is intended to strengthen, encourage, and comfort believers and spur them towards deeper faith and obedience. This marvelous gift must be eagerly desired and rightly administered for the upbuilding of Christ’s church.
Thank you for your inquiry. I hope this overview on the spiritual gift of prophecy from a biblical perspective has provided you with helpful insight and understanding. Please let me know if you have any other questions!