The Biblical Test for a Prophet
Updated: Jul 15, 2021
If you encounter someone claiming that they received a revelation or prophecy from God, what should you say?
How do you know if it is truly from God? How are you supposed to test their claims?
Recently I have been in discussion with several Mormon missionaries about this topic. I have been talking with them about the issue of testing if Joseph Smith was truly a prophet.
(for a quick intro to what Mormons believe, click on this link: Here )
I asked the Mormon missionaries this question:
“What is your Biblical standard for testing if Joseph Smith was a true prophet?
Below is their response in red:
“Ultimately, the only way we can know if it really was God and Jesus is "by their fruits" (Matthew 7:15-20) Through the teachings we have learned from Joseph's first vision we have been blessed physically, mentally, spiritually, whereas those who follow the teachings of devil suffer. We ha ve followed James 1:5 and asked God, receiving spiritual confirmations that Joseph Smith is a true prophet. You can learn more about the first vision and Joseph Smith by reading the past general conference in April 2020”
Below is my edited response to them. I have included a much longer response to help my readers think through the Biblical test for a prophet or an alleged 'message from God.'
"Ok, I think you partially answered my question when you mentioned James 1:5 on how you are determining if Smith is a true prophet.
To clarify, my question is: “what is your scriptural standard/test for determining if Smith is a true prophet or not? Or “how do you know if he is a true prophet?”
So, in summary, would you say that your standards for knowing whether Smith is a true prophet are these:
Looking at the fruit of Smith's life and his followers (Matthew 7:15-20).
Receiving Physical, mental, and spiritual blessing by following Him.
Praying and receiving spiritual confirmation about His prophet status (you cite James 1:5 for this method).
Is that a fair summary of your standards for testing whether he is a true prophet?
I don’t understand your usage of James 1:5 in reference to “knowing” if Joseph Smith is a true prophet. The Book of James was written to Jewish & Gentile Christians living outside of Israel (I.e. “the diaspora”). Since the context of James is written to people that are already believers and facing persecution and needing wisdom on how to face everyday life, I’m confused about your interpretation. James is not talking about praying for knowledge (if something is true) but rather about asking for wisdom (‘if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God...”) to reflect the Godly knowledge they already have as believers. Knowledge is the facts about something, and Godly wisdom in James is using that knowledge/information you already have in a God-honoring way.
Do you agree with my distinction between knowledge and wisdom here?
It seems that the LDS website also makes this distinction between ‘knowledge’ and ‘wisdom’ in a talk by Marion Romney (click here to see the Romney quote).
So, reading James in context, this verse is not talking about the scriptural standard for how to test a prophet but talking about wisdom on how believers should wisely navigate trials.
What do you mean by a “spiritual confirmation” that Joseph Smith is a true prophet? How are you receiving “spiritual confirmation?”
Since James doesn’t fit the prescription that you should pray to test someone’s prophetic claim, where else in the Bible does it tell us to pray for knowledge if something is true instead of testing the claims of the prophets against scripture itself?
The whole Bible test for a prophet
The Bereans are commended because they follow the Biblical standard for ‘knowing’ or ‘testing’ if someone is teaching something that is consistent with scripture. They search the scriptures daily even with the apostle Paul’s teaching. They didn’t pray and seek spiritual confirmation, but rather found confirmation by testing his claims against scripture. Testing it against God’s previous revelation.
I also do not see Jesus asking people to pray if something is true, but rather using the same Biblical standard for knowing/determining if something is true and good when he says things like this...
“You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures...” (Matt. 22:29
“Have you not read...” (Matt. 19;4; 12:3-5; Luke 6: 3-5)
Thus, Jesus reinforced the Old Testament principle on how to test if someone is teaching true doctrine and if they are a true prophet. Also, I would be cautious of basing any of my ‘knowledge’ of something being true off my feelings since Jeremiah 17:9 says that the “heart is deceitful.”
What do you mean by physical, mental & spiritual blessings? What scriptures are you referring to that says that is the Biblical test for a Prophet? This test of 'physical health' is not the standard for a Biblical prophet or man of God in several scriptures. I have listed several examples below:
In Psalm 73:3 Asaph talks about struggling when he sees “the prosperity of the wicked”
Paul struggled physically when he asked God to take away his “thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor. 12:7-9)
Job said, “though God slays me, I will trust in him” (Job 13:15).
The above-listed examples are from godly men that suffered physically and/or watched the wicked prosper.
Also, how do you define “spiritual blessing?” I would agree that we receive “every spiritual blessing in Christ” (Ephesians 1: 3) but I’m not sure how you are defining spiritual blessings.
I would agree with you that we can test a prophet by their fruit; however, I think that there are more scriptures that can help us determine how to test a prophet besides just that verse.
According to scripture, there is a standard for testing and determining if a prophet truly received a message from God. When I say that Scripture is our sole authority and standard for testing Scripture, let me be clear about what I mean by this:
Scripture is the inspired and inerrant Word of God (2 timothy 3:15-16; 2 Peter 1:21; John 10:35; Psalm 119:160)
It will endure forever (Isaiah 40:8)
It is sufficient for everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1: 3).
We must not go beyond what is written (1 Corinthians 4:6
Jesus is the final revelation from God (Hebrews 1:1-2)
Scripture, in the 66 inspired books, reveals the faith was once for all delivered to the Saints and thus will not be delivered again. (Jude 3) God promised that he will have glory in the church throughout all generations (Ephesians 3:20) and thus He would not let his word and church go into total apostasy. He will always have a remnant of true believers and He will always preserve his word. Hence, more revelation or a “restoration” is not going to be expected after the apostles died out. The church will, however, always need to reform itself according to the already-revealed Word of God, but a "restoration" will never be necessary.
Having said that, it is very important that we apply God’s Biblical standards to alleged prophets.
This is very important as Scripture says in 2 Cor. 11:14 that Satan can “masquerade as an angel of light” and that a fallen angel could teach a “different gospel” other than the one that was originally taught to the Galatian church (Gal 1:8) that is different from the faith that was “once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).
Thus, according to Scripture, we must only use Biblical standards to determine if Smith was a prophet or not. This is especially true in light of the possibility of being deceived by Satan and receiving a false spiritual confirmation because you could think that you are talking to an angel of light, feel comforted yet, in reality, be misled. Plus, in Jeremiah 23:16-40 God has very serious words of warning for people that are deceived and deceiving others by claiming that they received a message from God, when in fact they have not.
I don’t want this type of deception to happen to anyone. It would be unloving to not address that type of deceit.
The Biblical test for a prophet:
The prophet must not bear any unrighteous fruit (Matt. 7:15-20).
Before I define "unrighteous fruit," I want to caution the reader to exercise caution in these areas:
We must be careful because false prophets can “appear to have righteous fruit because they come in “sheep’s clothing.” We must define righteous fruit according to scripture and not worldly standards of “they are nice, rich, healthy, give to charities, etc.”
We must always test spirits and see if they are from God (1 John 4:1).
The truth of a teacher’s words is determined not by the feats he can perform but by the orthodoxy of what he teaches. We are never to follow anyone who perverts the truth of God’s Word, no matter how gifted that person is, how large of an organization that person commands, or how amazing that person’s work seems to be
So, according to Scripture, 'unrighteous fruit' for a prophet or teacher in the church involves these things:
False teaching about the nature of God and salvation (Galatians 1).
False prophecy and false revelation (2 Peter 1:16-2: 3).
False signs and wonders (Mark 13:21-23) and interacting with a fallen angel or messenger claiming to bring a message from God (2 Cor. 11:14) If we bypass and ignore the truth of the Bible (i.e., by praying before we test against Scripture), God may allow our deception. In fact, in 2 Thessalonians 2:10–11, God sends a delusion to those who don’t love the truth. If we ignore the truth given in the Bible and look for some other answer, we have nobody to blame but ourselves if we are deceived.
An appearance of godliness but denying its power (2 Tim 3:5)
Serve their own appetites, smooth talk, and flattery and experts in greed (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Rom. 16:18; 2 Peter 2:14).
Sexual immorality/adultery (2 Peter 2:14).
Arrogance, slander, and despise authority (2 Peter 2:10).
Must be the husband of one wife (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:6).
Adding to scripture, particularly to the book of Revelation (Prov. 30:5-6; Deuteronomy 4:2; Rev. 22:18-19).
2. Teaching another god:
Does the prophet teach the same God that has already been revealed throughout all of scripture (Deut. 13:1-4)?
They must teach these things about God:
God is immaterial/Spirit: John 4:24, Luke 24:39
God is one and there is no other: Isaiah 43:10;44:6,8
There is only ONE Alpha and Omega: Isaiah 41:4;44:6; Revelation 1:7-8
Jehovah and Elohim are the same being: Deuteronomy 4:35
God is eternal and self-existent: Ex 3:14; John 8:24; Psalm 90:2
God is unchanging in his nature: Hebrews 13:8; Psalm 102:26-27
God is Holy: Psalm 71:22; Isaiah 6:3
God is Triune: John 1; 14:26; Matt 28;20
Within the One Being of God there exists eternally three co-equal and co-eternal persons, namely, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Also, it must be pointed out that the Son is not the Father and the Father is not the Spirit, and so on. There is one being of God (what he is) and three distinct persons (who he is). This is not a contradiction as God is ONE in one way and three in another. I am not talking about the divurgent view of "modalism" however. Modalism is the heretical teaching that the person of God the Father IS the person of God the Son and God the Spirit is God the Father in a different mode and so on. The Biblical teaching is that the persons are distinct, yet ONE in Being, not three gods. There is only ONE God with three persons. See the diagram below for a good conceptual explanation:
3. False Prophecies:
Does the prophet have any false prophecies (see Deut. 18:20-22)? 100% accuracy is the Biblical standard. (Note: this is also like the ‘unrighteous fruit’ listed above.) I have heard from Mormons and those connected with the NAR (New Apostolic Reformation) that you can sometimes be inaccurate on a prophecy and still not be labeled a “false prophet.” They like to point to Agabus in the book of Acts. Sadly, this is a distortion of what the text actually says. Agabus did not make a false prophecy. I will not address this claim in this post, but it has been refuted by Andrew Soncrant from the Cultish show. To read his article, click on this link here:
4. Teaching a different Gospel:
Does the prophet/teacher teach a different gospel that what has once for all been delivered to the saints (Jude 3 and Galatians 1:6-9)
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all. Evidently, some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!”
If there is any message that adds to God’s grace with works, it contradicts scripture's teaching on the gospel. If there is anything required for Salvation besides our trust in the work of Christ, then the implication is that Jesus did not do enough to pay for our sin.
Galatians 2:16 “ we know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.”
Ephesians 2:8 “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”
5. Their message must be consistent with previous Revelation given by God:
It must not contradict previous revelations, be consistent within itself and correspond to reality since all writings that are considered ‘scripture,’ we recognize that God is the ultimate source (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21) and God is not a man that he should lie. (Numbers 23:19). Furthermore, since the role of the prophet was declaring the will of God and declaring forth future events, and the final prophet was Jesus and the Church was built upon the ‘once for all faith delivered to the saints’ (Jude 3) and the foundation of the teaching of the apostles who were eyewitnesses of the risen Messiah (Ephesians 2:19-20), we should NOT be expecting ANY new Revelation for the church today. God’s Word is sufficient for the church today. Thus, we should only expect teachers to exposit the Word of God and declare his will as explained from his perfect revelation from the 39 inspire Old Testament books and 27 inspired New Testament books. So, after compiling my list on a Biblical prophet, we must apply this test to Joseph Smith, The Watchtower, and anyone else claiming to speak for God today.
They must pass ALL of these. Not just one of these.
Let’s start with an obvious test applied to Joseph Smith:
Did he have 100% fulfillment on all his prophecies?
Below are some prophecies that were given by Joseph Smith that did not come true.
Prophecies of Joseph Smith
(D & C= Doctrine and Covenants; BoM= Book of Mormon)
Testing other “fruits” of Joseph Smith’s life:
Joseph Smith has bad fruit by teaching people about “another god” as evidenced in the quotes below:
“It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the character of God, and to know that we may converse with him as one man converses with another, and that he was once a man like us; yeah, that God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself did, and I will show it from the Bible.” Teachings of the Prophet Smith, pg. 345-346
“As man now is, God once was: As God now is, man may be.” Lorenzo Snow, 5th LD president, Teachings of Lorenzo Snow, pg. 1
Scripture shows that his teaching about God is false:
“You are my witnesses,” declares the LORD, “and my servants whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I AM he. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me. I, I am the LORD, and besides me there is no savior." Isaiah 43:10-11
2. Joseph Smith taught a gospel of grace + works
“For we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23).
For thorough documentation that the LDS church teaches that this means that 'effort is required on our part to receive the fullness of the Lord’s grace and be made worthy to dwell with him' please read this article by the Mormon Research Ministry: here
3. Joseph has bad fruit by lying and committing adultery:
It has come to my attention that Joseph Smith lied to Emma Smith and secretly went behind her back to obtain another wife. Below, I have included a quote from a seemingly pro-LDS material on Emma’s response and struggle with Smith practicing plural marriage and his justification about lying to her:
“At one particularly unbelieving time, when questioned about the origin of the Old Testament practice, she responded with blind fury. Eodocia Baldwin Marsh asked, “Where did plural marriage come from? With face flushed a fiery red, Emma snapped, “Straight from hell.” Apparently, there were times when Emma did logically accept plural marriage3, but emotionally she never did. Joseph had begun teaching and practicing eternal-plural marriage in the spring of 1841, but neither Emma nor her brother-in-law, Hyrum, were aware of the Prophet’s commitment and involvement until early 1843. Joseph, recognizing the potential dangers of the restored practice, deliberately swore all practicing parties to secrecy.”
(Reflections of Emma: Joseph Smith’s wife, by Buddy Youngreen, pg. 32, emphasis mine)
Also, in Doctrine and Covenants 132:4 it says Joseph was giving a “new and an everlasting covenant; and if ye abide not that covenant, then are ye damned; for no one can reject this covenant and be permitted to enter into my glory” referring back to vs 1 that says “the doctrine of having many wives and concubine”
Then in D & C 132:54, 62 it says this in relation to Emma accepting this polygamous doctrine:
“And I command mine handmaid, Emma Smith, to abide and cleave unto my servant Joseph, and to none else. But if she will not abide this commandment she shall be destroyed, saith the Lord: for I am the Lord thy God, and will destroy her if she abide not in my law.....and if he have ten virgins given unto him by this law, he cannot commit adultery, for they belong to him, and they are given unto him; therefore is he justified.”
I know that the Mormon church hasn’t taught the polygamy doctrine anymore since 1890, but the question remains, why not? Did God change his mind? Joseph Smith was teaching that it was necessary for salvation, so why would God change his mind on eternal decrees? Also, this type of justification for lying to your wife to commit sexual immorality (I.e. saying “God told me it’s ok) sounds like the fruit of a false prophet.
Also, where does the Bible say that God supports polygamy? I think that we could say that God tolerated it, but we can not say that he ‘condoned’ it.
,This article by Alan Shlemon addresses the issue of polygamy well if anyone wants to dive into this topic more:
For those talking with Jehovah’s Witnesses and claim that the Watchtower is the “faithful and discreet” slave of Jehovah, please apply the Biblical test of a prophet to this organization to their false prophecies listed below:
List of Prophecies from Watchtower leaders:
In summary, anyone claiming to have received a special revelation or teaching from God that contradicts the Biblical test laid out above is a false teacher and false prophet and must be avoided.
Scripture tells us how to respond to a false teacher:
First, we must identify those that are causing division in the church by teaching false doctrine:
“I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.” Romans 16:17-18
2. If you have followed a false teacher, I urge you to repent of accepting their teaching, trust in God's Word alone and Christ alone for salvation and find a Biblically sound church to attend.