essay: False Prophet, identification

July 4, 2014


What is a False Prophet?

False prophet is a label given to a person who is viewed as illegitimately claiming authority within a religious group . The individual usually is one who falsely claims the gift of prophecy.

Prophets are (falsely) considered important figures in Christianity today. But, to prophesy falsely is one of the worst forms of blasphemy since it falsely claims the speaker is acting with divine authority given directly by God. Usually in a dream or vision, or in many cases, God supposedly directly speaks to the person vocally. (Extra Biblical Revelation).

The Old Testament defines false prophecy twice, in Deuteronomy 13:1-5, and Deuteronomy 18:20-22.

The first reference is to a prophet who works a miracle or makes a true prediction, then advocates the worship of other deities ; such a prophet must be put to death.

The second passage describes a prophet who speaks in God’s name without his permission. False prophets of this type are distinguished by their failure to make true predictions. The penalty for this type of false prophecy is also death.

Deut 18:20-22

20 ‘But the prophet who speaks a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he speaks in the name of other gods, that (false) prophet shall be put to death.
21 “You may say in your heart, ‘How will we know the word which the Lord has not spoken?’
22 “When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously.

(Luke 6:39-45)

For a good tree does not bear bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. For every tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they gather grapes from a bramble bush. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. (Luke 6:39-45)


(2Co 11:14.15)

And no marvel; for even Satan fashioneth himself into an angel of light. 15 It is no great thing therefore if his ministers also fashion themselves as ministers of righteousness, whose end shall be according to their works. 2 Corinthians 11:14-15


Deuteronomy 18:20-22,  False prophets of this type are distinguished by their failure to make true predictions. The penalty for this type of false prophecy is  death, “shall surely die“.


 False prophets in Christianity


False prophets in the New Testament


Christians refer to the Hebrew Bible as the Old Testament , and in general revere it as part of the eternal word of God. As such, the definitions and examples given above are accepted by Christians as well. In fact, the stricture not to presume to change God’s Law is recognized by Jesus in various passages, such as Matthew 5:17 , ” Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.


Throughout the New Testament , there are warnings of both false prophets and false Messiahs , and believers are adjured to be vigilant. The following verses are from the Sermon on the Mount :


Matthew 7:15 – 23 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? So, every sound tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears evil fruit. A sound tree cannot bear evil fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits. Not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name and do mighty works in your name? And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you, depart from me you evildoers.”


Jesus predicted the future appearance of false prophets. The following verses are from the Olivet Discourse :


Matthew 24:11 – 13 “And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.” Matthew 24:24 “For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.


In the Gospel of Luke , chapter 6, Jesus brought out an ethical application for his disciples using the analogy of false prophets in the Old Testament: Verse 26 reads:


“Woe unto you when all men shall speak well of you ! for so did their fathers to the false prophets.”In chapter 13 of the Acts of the Apostles , Paul and Barnabas encountered a man named Elymas in the island of Cyprus . Verse 6 describes him as a false prophet:


And when they had gone through the isle unto Paphos, they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew, whose name was Bar-jesus;”


The Second Epistle of Peter , chapter two begins with these words:


But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not. ”


The First Epistle of John , chapter four begins with these words:


Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God; because many false prophets are gone out into the world.”


The most famous of New Testament false prophets, is the Revelation false prophet whose name is recorded three times in the Book of Revelation . Revelation’s False Prophet is the inforcer or agent of the Antichrist, also known as the Beast , and he is ultimately cast with the Antichrist into the lake of “fire and brimstone.” Who the False Prophet will be is one of the major mysteries in Christian eschatology .


False prophets in Islam


The history of Islam has seen a number of false prophets, some of them go back to as early as the age of Prophet Muhammad, such as Musaylimah , al-Ansi , Tulayha ibn Khuwaylid and Sajah. In recent history the figure of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad has been the subject of much controversy in this regard. He is considered a false prophet by Main-stream Orthodox Muslims. The followers of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, though, revere him as a saint and call themselves Ahmadi Muslims. Ahmadis have been been declared non-Muslims by the government of Pakistan , and their beliefs considered heretical and outside of Islam. Ahmaids claim to be within the fold of Islam and deny the allegations leveled against them.


Notes & References


  1. For example, some theologians who teach the historicist view, do identify the False Prophet with the appearance of Mohammed in the 7th century. One such teacher is Francis Nigel Lee in his article Islam in the Bible .
  2. “Apostasy Campaign Against Musailma”, from,
  3. “Fatwas and Statements of Islamic Scholars about Ahmadiyya”,,
  4. “An Act to amend the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan” [Gazette of Pakistan, Extraordinary, Part I, 21 September 1974,
  5. “Fatwas of Muslim Scholars and Organizations Regarding the Qadiani (Ahmadiyya) Cult”,,
  6. “Accusations Against Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Answered”, by Mirza Masum Beg