Traits of False Prophets in the Bible

Elijah and false prophets of Baal
Elijah and false prophets of Baal sacrifice calves at Mount Carmel.

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In the Bible, false prophets were people who claimed to speak the Word of God but instead spread false messages and teachings. In other words, these so-called prophets told lies in the name of the Lord. False prophets were also people who spoke on behalf of false gods.

Key Bible Verse

"Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves. You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?" (Matthew 7:15-16, NLT)

The Difference Between True and False Prophets

Because of their misleading nature, the Bible describes false prophets as wolves in sheep’s clothing. True prophets in the Bible loved the truth and sought to draw people closer to God by declaring the truth about God and for God. By contrast, false prophets were driven to lead people away from God through deception and lies.

Their motives set false prophets apart from the true prophets of God in the Bible. False prophets were frequently more interested in gaining popularity than telling the truth. To achieve admiration, false prophets told people whatever they wanted to hear rather than the reality they needed to hear (Jeremiah 6:14; Ezekiel 13:16).

False prophets were usually motivated by self-interest, greed, and personal or financial gain (Micah 3:11; Titus 1:11; 1 Timothy 6:5; 2 Peter 2:3).

Traits of False Prophets

The Bible encourages believers to examine every spirit:

“Dear friends, do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit. You must test them to see if the spirit they have comes from God. For there are many false prophets in the world.” (1 John 4:1, NLT)

Fortunately, the Bible also provides several tests for determining whether a prophet is a true prophet of God or a false one.

Teachings Inconsistent With Scripture

The true prophet’s message always lined up with the Word of God in Scripture and upheld the law of God, whereas the false prophet’s teaching was contrary to sound doctrine (1 Timothy 6:3). Any prophet who contradicted what God had previously revealed in His Word proved himself to be a phony (Galatians 1:6-8).

Spiritually Unprofitable Teaching

The teachings of false prophets in Scripture did not convict people of sin or encourage spiritual growth (2 Peter 2:17–22; 2 Timothy 4:3). God’s true prophets spoke only according to God’s law for the strengthening and building up of God’s people (Ephesians 4:11–13).

Not Called of God

True prophets in the Bible never acted of their own authority but were called by God to deliver messages the Lord had given them (Deuteronomy 18:18; Jeremiah 1:9; Ezekiel 2:7; 2 Peter 1:20–21). False prophets acted of their own authority, or on behalf of false gods, or the god of this world, Satan (Jeremiah 2:8; 23:16).

Did Not Acknowledge Jesus Christ as Divine

Authentic prophets of God recognized that Jesus Christ is the Divine Son of God who came to earth and revealed himself in the flesh (1 John 4:2–3).

Did Not Preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ

The Apostle Paul warned the early churches against false prophets and teachers who preached “a different gospel” than the gospel of Jesus Christ—the gospel Paul had preached to them, and they had received (2 Corinthians 11:1; 13-15; Galatians 1:6–9). False prophets spoke a counterfeit gospel.

Did Not Fear or Glorify God

False prophets in the Bible were known to be immoral in their personal lives (Isaiah 28:7; Jeremiah 23:14, 23:32). Rather than being attracted to doing good and glorifying God, these false prophets were tempted toward evil and led people in the wrong direction (Deuteronomy 13:1–5).

Prophecies Not Fulfilled

One biblical test was only helpful after the fact. If the words of the prophet did not come true, then the prophet was proven to be false (Deuteronomy 18:22-22; Jeremiah 28:9).

The best way to recognize false prophets is to know Jesus intimately, follow him closely, and study the truth in God's Word diligently.

Sources

  • Commentary on I & II Peter, I, II & III John, Jude (Vol. 11, p. 208).
  • The Letters of James and Peter (3rd ed. fully rev. and updated, p. 364).
  • Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (p. 554).
  • “False Prophets.” Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible (p. 455).
  • “Prophet, Prophetess.” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 2, p. 1782).