But any prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, or who presumes to speak in my name a word that I have not commanded the prophet to speak—that prophet shall die. You may say to yourself, “How can we recognize a word that the LORD has not spoken?” If a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD but the thing does not take place or prove true, it is a word that the LORD has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; do not be frightened by it.
The word of the LORD came to me: Mortal, prophesy against the prophets of Israel who are prophesying; say to those who prophesy out of their own imagination: “Hear the word of the LORD!” Thus says the Lord GOD, Alas for the senseless prophets who follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing! Your prophets have been like jackals among ruins, O Israel. You have not gone up into the breaches, or repaired a wall for the house of Israel, so that it might stand in battle on the day of the LORD. They have envisioned falsehood and lying divination; they say, “Says the LORD,” when the LORD has not sent them, and yet they wait for the fulfillment of their word! Have you not seen a false vision or uttered a lying divination, when you have said, “Says the LORD,” even though I did not speak?
Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: Because you have uttered falsehood and envisioned lies, I am against you, says the Lord GOD. My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and utter lying divinations; they shall not be in the council of my people, nor be enrolled in the register of the house of Israel, nor shall they enter the land of Israel; and you shall know that I am the Lord GOD. Because, in truth, because they have misled my people, saying, “Peace,” when there is no peace; and because, when the people build a wall, these prophets smear whitewash on it. Say to those who smear whitewash on it that it shall fall. There will be a deluge of rain,b great hailstones will fall, and a stormy wind will break out. When the wall falls, will it not be said to you, “Where is the whitewash you smeared on it?” Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: In my wrath I will make a stormy wind break out, and in my anger there shall be a deluge of rain, and hailstones in wrath to destroy it. I will break down the wall that you have smeared with whitewash, and bring it to the ground, so that its foundation will be laid bare; when it falls, you shall perish within it; and you shall know that I am the LORD. Thus I will spend my wrath upon the wall, and upon those who have smeared it with whitewash; and I will say to you, The wall is no more, nor those who smeared it— the prophets of Israel who prophesied concerning Jerusalem and saw visions of peace for it, when there was no peace, says the Lord GOD.
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? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad 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,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father 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 many deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.
Yet in the same way these dreamers also defile the flesh, reject authority, and slander the glorious ones.
With the projection of Joe Biden to win the US presidential election, the news cycle gave focus on the nature of “prophets” who predicted Donald Trump would win the election.1 Before commenting further, I want to state that repentance of false prophecy is indeed possible and God will forgive such. However, such repentance should come the humility to recognize that one is not a prophet, or at least no longer one, if one spoke confidently that one’s words were from God and it did not come to pass. Such repentance would lead one to stop misleading the people about one’s status as a direct spokesperson of God.
Perhaps the most salient examples of these “prophets” is Kris Valloton, who apologized for his false prophecy on Instagram and then removed the apology. In his apology, however, he made the comment that getting the prediction wrong does not make him a “false prophet,” urging against the “finger of judgment” and that “this is not about a man winning a political race, but about the Lord healing our land!” According to him, he had a dream about the mutilation of children in transgenderism.
Yet, what Vallotin says matches so much of what we see the Scriptures say about false prophets. Jude calls them “dreamers” and Vallotin dreamed. Jesus says that false prophets will look like sheep, with Valloton warnings about “finger of judgment” seemingly coming across as peaceful, sheep-like rhetoric, but in what amounts to an ultimately self-serving way. God speaking through Ezekiel talks about how of type of prophets who spoke about “peace,” which Vallotin rhetoric about “healing” sounds very similar. If we were to draw up a characterization of false prophets in the Bible, Kris Valloton would be a prime example of this.
What lurks underneath the persona of a false prophet is that of human desire being dressed up in the name of God. All humans are desirous animals and it informs everything we think and believe. We look at the world through the lens of our desires, whether it be the more commonly understood desires for specific “goods”, such as money, status, respect, love, sex, etc., and some things that we don’t always think of desires but do stand as motivations for us, such as desires to avoid our fears, such as being harmed, having a broken heart, etc. Yet, for false prophets, we can draw a picture of these desires controlling what they believe they hear and receive from God. It is these desires that control their imagination, that control their hopes, control what they believe they hear from God.
The problem with false prophets isn’t, per se, the single instance of a false prophecy. According to Deuteronomy, it is the “presumption” (זיד and זָדוֹן) to speak when God has not spoken, which is a term associated with arrogance and rebellion. When it used of persons, it designates people who disregard the “boundaries” of others, such as Pharoah and Egypt who abused Israel (Exodus 18.11) or the Israelites who disregarded the covenantal authority of God (Deuteronomy 1.43). A modern synonym for such presumptuous behavior is narcissism, where a person presumes a sense of grandiosity that means they feel entitled in a way that it crosses boundaries of people, both those below them and those who have authority over them. In the context of false prophecy, a presumptuous prophet is one who crosses the boundaries of God’s authority and takes it upon themselves to speak on God’s behalf, feeling they are special enough to do so.
When Kris Valloton refuses to be recognized as a false prophet because of a false prophecy, even though he made a clear false prediction,2 he engages in the type of rationalization that narcissistic engage in. His rationale for his prophetic role was based upon his correctly predicting Trump’s rise to the president after he declared his candidacy in 2015 and that Trump would not be impeached. While the first prediction was not a 50-50 type prediction, people all the time predict unlikely occurrences. That one is lucky on an individual instance does not a prophet make. The second prediction was actually a very likely occurrence, given the nature of politics and how the Republicans controlled the Senate. Volloton’s previous track-record can be readily explained by a combination of “luck” and “intuition.” It does not represent a track record for a person who God is consistently inspiring and speaking through. Yet, for those who are more narcissistic, they are inclined to overlook the mundaneness and unexceptional nature of their “successes” as signs of their special nature, and Volloton rationalizes in a narcissistic way that he is a prophet.
When a true prophet speaks on behalf of God, there is a sense of discomfort about what God is speaking and saying, as God is frequently speaking and leading them in a way that goes against their own will and desires. Jeremiah as the weeping prophet is a prime example of this. When the Apostle Paul came to the Corinthians and had demonstrations of the Spirit and power, he did so with feelings of weakness, fear, and trembling, not with a puffed up chest and pride. The Prophet of prophets, Jesus, in the greatest prophetic act of facing and enduring persecution of the cross said: “Not my will but yours” to the Heavenly Father. For the true prophet, their desires do not dictate what God is inspiring them to say or do. It is often the reverse, with God’s will leading them through pain, suffering, and the facing of fears. There is a clear distinction in their minds between God, or the Father in the case of the divine Son Jesus, and themselves and their own wishes and desires, and their own will does not compel them to engage in specific prophetic speech and actions, although it might lead them to avoid acting prophetically out of their own self-interest.
This doesn’t mean that a true prophet doesn’t have their own desires that may differ from the will of God. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they may not wonder if something they want is the will of God and have to learn to discern between God’s will and their own will. Nor does this mean that *everything* a prophet says is true (but they won’t speak with the confident authority of “Thus says the Lord” unless it is genuinely from God). At the end, though, they do not work form a personality of narcissism that presumes their own thoughts, their own dreams, their own imaginations are the will of God, but they may experience hesitance at times to speak and act with the authority of God because they so recognize the distinction between themselves and God. Moses saw himself unfit because of his trouble with speech, Jeremiah appealed to his youth as a reason he is not a prophet to the nations, Jonah fled to not fulfill God’s calling on him. True prophets do not bask in the position and may often seek to avoid and run from the responsibilities that come with the role because they know it comes with difficulties and sacrifice, as God speaks through prophets to call resistant people to repentance, which is often a difficult task that comes with a great personal cost to the prophet.
This is not the way of the narcissist who masquerades as a prophet. Their desires for being special and honored means they seek the status and authority that comes from being seen as one who speaks on God’s behalf, and they will rationalize away how they should be seen as such for their own benefit. The false, presumptuous/narcissistic prophet sees the honor that comes with the position, rationalizing their status, while they often speak and act in such a way that makes them avoid dealing with the costs that are associated with true prophets. It is their desires that make them resistant the repentance from clear, false prophesy that would lead them to throw away the title of a prophet and the possible perks that come with the role when it becomes evident that they aren’t such. False prophets imagine how worthy they are, even appealing to some of the great works they do as Jesus’ characterizes them, but yet their life is not lived with the Father’s will in mind but their own desires that they presume is God’s empowerment and legitimation. In a more general sense for the religious narcissist, a self-proclaimed prophet or not, they manage to rationalize the belief that they and God are specially fused in a way that gives them special blessings and status that is above others while at the same time being unable to recognize the truth of how a holy, holy, holy God speaks and acts in ways that differ from their own desires.
All this should lead us to the question about those who “prophesied” Trump’s victory. Unless it somehow occurs in an unlikely manner at this point, it should lead us to ask the question: what is it about Trump that appealed to the desires of the “prophet,” since as it stands, it is apparent it wasn’t a word from God? Was it simply appealing to the desires of their politically conservative audience that would allow them to continue to hold status by predicting the “peace” that this audience wanted? Was it something about the policies of Trump that appealed to them? And did they experience any repulsion towards Trump’s character due to a desire for truth and virtue that would have made them mourn such a prediction, much like I am sure any faithful Jewish prophet would feel that would prophesy the rule of the destruction of Jerusalem, the evil of Israel, and the reign of the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar? Or, is the desire for true righteousness so far from their heart that they never experience any feelings of fear, worry, or mourning over the idea of such a man continuing to be president?
- See Newseek’s article, Craig Keener’s article in Christianity Today, and an article in the Christian Post for a few examples.
- Unless, in some unlikely circumstance, the vote tallies get dramatically changed in Trump’s favor in the recounting and through discoveries of systematic election fraud that has yet to materialize.