What makes a prophet false? I would argue it is more than just lying or an incorrect prophecy. Fundamentally, prophets are false when they speak without God’s commission. That is, a prophet could be false if, in speaking God’s true words, they do so without God’s sanction. This reflection comes in response to seeing four hundred so-called prophets tell Ahab to go into battle only to have Jehoshaphat retort, “Is there no longer a prophet of the Lord here whom we can inquire of?” (1 Kings 22:7) Note that Jehoshaphat is not immediately questioning the veracity of the prophetic word, but questions who actually masters these prophets. Jehoshaphat proves insightful as we learn later that angelic spirits are using these prophets to deceive Ahab.
You might ask, “So what?” Here is my basic point. Today, regardless of your position on the continuation of prophecy, we all believe that disciples are called to be ambassadors and spokespeople who faithfully represent truth from God. Still, I would add that to be true as God’s representatives, we don’t simply need God’s word; we also need God’s spirit at work in us. There are times when we can speak the truth falsely, without sensitivity to God’s timing and purpose. This never happens to the person being led by God’s Holy Spirit.
Let us then remember that our responsibility to be true in our proclamation requires both the truth of scripture as well as the truth of God’s abiding presence. Both are essential as we follow God in our present days.