Why Not Stone the False Prophets?
But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded him to say, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death. You may say to yourselves, ‘How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the LORD?’
If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him.
Deut. 18:20-22 NIV
Often, I am asked the question, “If New Testament prophecy exists today, why do you guys (i.e., Charismatics and Pentecostals) not stone the prophets when they are obviously wrong in their predictions”? To begin to answer this question, we need to examine the difference between an Old Testament prophet and present day New Testament prophetic ministry.
In the Old Testament the prescription was clear (Deut. 18:20-22). If a prophet failed in his prophecy, he dies because his words did not come to fruition. Clear, tangible, visible evidence assisted the observers in discerning whether a prophecy was true or false.
The Holy Spirit was not present individually in the lives of the Israelites, the only means available for discernment was outward evidence. If the “word of the Lord” came true, the prophet was from the Lord. If the prediction was false, the prophet was false and must be killed before he or she deceives and misleads hundreds, if not, thousands of people.
Today, however, any New Testament believer has within him (or her) the presence of the Holy Spirit. Since, the Holy Spirit is resident within, then are all the spiritual gifts are available to every believer (1 Cor. 12). One of those resident gifts is the spirit of discernment (1 Cor. 12: 10): this gift assists each believer and the whole body to discern whether a prophetic word is from the Lord, the flesh, or even the devil (1 Cor. 14: 29). Thus, we are able to weigh whether a prophetic word is valid by an inner witness (1 John 4: 1-3, 1 Cor. 14:29).
Therefore, we no longer need piles of stones outside our church doors. The Lord himself guides a congregation to accept or reject a prophetic word or ministry.
In 1 Corinthians 14:29 it seems that the prophet’s words could be challenged and questioned, and that the prophet could at times be wrong. Yet there is no indication that an occasional mistake would make him a ‘false’ prophet. In 1 Corinthians 14:30, Paul seems unconcerned that some of a prophet’s words could be lost for ever and never heard by the church.
In 1 Corinthians 14:36, he refuses the prophets the right to make rules for worship other than the ones he has given, and in 1 Corinthians 14:37-38 he seems to indicate that, in his opinion, no Corinthian prophet had a kind of divine authority equal to his own. Finally, in 1 Corinthians 11:5 and 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, Paul allows women to prophesy while denying to them the right to enforce obedience or belief on the congregation, and this would be consistent with the view that prophets spoke with something less than ‘absolute’ divine authority.
Wayne Grudem, The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today (Westchester, IL: Crossway, 1988), 87.