Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Evaluating True and False Prophecy

As part of the OT Prophecy module we were presenting seminars last week on the subject of the evaluation of true and false prophecy in Israel. For my own paper I used L J Wood's helpful approach as a schema. He lists six tests (and a seventh: spiritual discernment in the hearer - which I thought was his own addition and too subjective): use/non-use of divination; character of message; character of prophet; willingness for self-effacement (a proxy for commitment); harmony with Torah and previous prophets (which I see as the key); fulfilment of predictive prophecy. After outlining each of these, I then looked at the Jeremiah-Hananiah confrontation as a case study. Overholt says of this
The account of Jeremiah’s confrontation with Hananiah...makes it obvious that the prophet had not worked out these criteria on a theoretical and systematic basis. He apparently had at his disposal no sure yardstick against which he could measure this opponent and refute his message on the spot.
Anyway, to cut to the chase (or at least to the conclusion of my paper)...

The method whereby the people of God could discern true from false prophets is perhaps less straightforward than envisaged by Wood’s six tests. The historical context to each warning about discerning between prophets could be seen as particularly significant. For example, Childs sees the warnings of Deut 18 as protection against false prophets terrorizing the community with false threats of disaster, whereas Jeremiah 23 is protection against false prophets lulling the people into a false sense of security.

A balanced observation, pinpointing the key issue in discerning true and false prophecy, is made by Lindblom: ‘The marks by which one could recognise a true or a false prophet cannot be expressed in a formula. They were not dogmatically fixed. Different features had to be taken into consideration…The general agreement of a prophet’s preaching with Yahweh’s will, thoughts, and purpose guaranteed the fact that this prophet had been sent by Yahweh and had a true divine message to convey’.