The Gift of Prophesy

Prophecy is a spiritual gift


The Apostle Paul told the believers in the church at Corinth that they should pursue and earnestly desire the gift of prophesy. Believe it or not, he even wrote that he wanted all of them to prophesy – gasp! The reason he was advocating for the gift of prophecy was that he knew it would play a part in building up the church. Hold on, isn’t that something we all want to see today – the building up of the church by the gifting of the Holy Spirit, to the praise of Jesus and for the glory of God? 

So why is it that many churches today frown upon or discourage the use of the spiritual gift of prophecy? Some churches and denominations flat out deny that the gift of prophecy exists at all today, basing their belief not on strong biblical support but rather on the [weak] theory of Cessationism (which believes the more miraculous spiritual gifts ceased to be towards the end of the first century). Other churches and movements actively push the gift of prophecy without offering any sense of responsibility or accountability. But what about our church? The Harbor Church is a church that believes in Continuationism (the position that all the spiritual gifts are still available today). So how do we correctly respond to a spiritual gift like prophecy? If this gift is still in play today, which we believe it is, then what do we need to know about it and what are the biblical guidelines that govern its use in our church? 

1. Some historical perspective

The first mention that prophecy would one day be in the church was given by the prophet Joel close to seven hundred years before the birth of Christ. He wrote that the Spirit of God would be poured out upon all flesh and that sons and daughters, young and old men, and male and female servants would have dreams, visions and…prophesy.

“And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit.” Joel 2:28-29 (Acts 2:16-18)

On the Day of Pentecost, when tongues of fire appeared to rest upon the Apostles and they started to speak in tongues, the Apostle Peter discerned that this was the outpouring of the Holy Spirit of which Joel had prophesied. As it turned out, it wasn’t long before dreams, visions and the gift of prophecy also showed up in the early church. 

2. Prophecy is a spiritual gift.

The spiritual gift of prophecy is one of at least twenty spiritual gifts given to the church by the Holy Spirit. These spiritual gifts are listed in four different New Testament passages: Romans 12:3-8, Ephesians 4:11-14, 1 Corinthians 12:1-31 and 1 Peter 4:10-11. Three of these four lists specifically mention the gift of prophecy. 


  • For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 1 Cor. 12:8-10

  • Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith. Rom. 12:6

  • And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ. Eph. 4:11-12

3. The primary purpose of prophecy is to build up the corporate church.

Prophets had an important function in the building up of the body of Christ. They used their gifts of prophecy to build up the church by sharing with the church words of encouragement (Acts 15:32; 1 Cor. 14:3), strength (Acts 15:32; 1 Cor. 14:3), consolation (1 Cor. 14:3), teaching (1 Cor. 14:31) and revelation (1 Cor. 14:26, 30). 

  • And Judas and Silas, who were themselves prophets, encouraged and strengthened the brothers with many words. Acts 15:32

  • To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 1 Cor. 12:7

  • On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. 1 Cor. 14:3

  • The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. 1 Cor. 14:4

  • What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. 1 Cor. 14:26

  • And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ. Eph. 4:11-12

No new faith-foundational revelation.

God’s revealed Word has “once for all been delivered to the saints” (Jude 3) and been recorded in the canon of Scripture – something which is closed and therefore cannot be added to nor deleted from (Deut. 4:2, 12:32; Rev. 22:19-20). This means that we should not expect not accept any new revelation that would alter, supplant or upend the foundational teachings of Christianity (Matt. 5:18). Those current-day prophets who dare to reveal new teachings on matters of the faith not already found in the Bible should be called out for their deceptive revelations, dismissed as false prophets and removed from the church so they may not have further opportunity to attempt to deceive God’s elect. 


So what should we expect today’s prophets to reveal? The answer is only that which God has told them. At a glance, prophets in the New Testament gave words from the Holy Spirit that foretold an upcoming famine (Acts 11:27-28) and the Apostle Paul’s imprisonment (Acts 21:10-11), encouraged and strengthened the disciples in Jerusalem (Acts 15:32), called out the lies, evils and laziness of the Cretans (Titus 1:12) and imparted a spiritual gift and otherwise spoke to the future ministry of a young pastor named Timothy (1 Tim. 1:18, 4:14). 


Given these examples from early church history, we should expect today’s prophets to foretell such things as future events so that God’s people will be cared for, to reveal future events on a person’s timeline, provide needed and timely encouragement and strength for the church body, on occasion, to call out the sinful lifestyle of those not following the Lord and to speak into the lives of those called by God to minister for him. 

5. Prophets and their prophesying seem to have been normative in the early church.

The early church prophets, consisting of both men and women, at times foretold future events (Acts 11:27-29, 21:10-11), revealed the giving of spiritual gifts to individuals (1 Tim. 4:14), and also encouraged and strengthened the corporate church (Acts 15:32). In conjunction with the apostles, evangelists, shepherds and teachers and under the oversight of the elders, they used their gift of prophecy to equip the saints and edify the church (1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11-12, 1 Pet 5:1-3). When the early Corinthian church met together, words of prophecy were a normal part of the service agenda (along with a hymn, a lesson, speaking in tongues and an interpretation). 1 Cor. 14:26

  • On the next day we departed and came to Caesarea, and we entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him. He had four unmarried daughters, who prophesied. Acts 21:8-9

  • Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). Acts 11:27-28

  • Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. Acts 13:1

  • And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. Acts 20:22-23

  • While we were staying for many days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. 11 And coming to us, he took Paul's belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is how the Jews[a] at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’” Acts 21:10-11

  • What then, brothers? When you come together…let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, 32 and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. 1 Cor. 14:26, 29-32

6. The use of the gift of prophecy was encouraged in the early church.

Knowing the importance that prophecy had for the upbuilding of the church, the Apostle Paul laid hands on believers who then began to prophesy as well as encouraged those who had the gift of prophecy to use it in the church according to their faith. His heartfelt desire was that everyone in the church would seek the gift of prophecy so that the church would be built up. He was also concerned that there would be some who, for whatever reason, weren’t comfortable with prophesy, so he gave a command that prophecy was not to be held in contempt, ignored, spurned, brushed aside or neglected (1 Thess. 5:20). 

  • And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. Acts 19:6

  • Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. 1 Cor. 14:1

  • Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. 1 Cor. 14:5a

  • So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 1 Cor.14:39

  • Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. 1 Tim. 4:14

  • Do not despise prophecies. 1 Thess. 5:20

7. Feelings of prophecy were never encouraged in the early church.

All the prophets of the Old Testament spoke in in the power and authority of the Almighty God. They were fully convinced that God was using them as a mouthpiece or spokesperson to deliver his words to those for whom his words were intended. Old Testament prophets were speaking the very words that God had given them. Without a doubt, they were spokespersons for God. When they said, “Thus says the Lord,” they and everyone else knew that’s exactly what was happening, God was speaking his words through them. 

  • Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord, Israel is my firstborn son. Ex. 4:22

  • And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Long ago, your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates, Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor; and they served other gods. Josh. 24:2

  • But Elisha said, “Hear the word of the Lord: thus says the Lord, Tomorrow about this time a seah of fine flour shall be sold for a shekel, and two seahs of barley for a shekel, at the gate of Samaria.” 2 Kings 7:1

8. “Thus says the LORD…” vs. “I have a feeling God is telling me to tell you...”

Prophets who speak today should be speaking to the church or individuals in the same power, authority and confidence of the Old Testament…and New Testament prophets. For example, Agabus, a prophet in the book of Acts, once started one of his prophecies with this preface: “Thus says the Holy Spirit…” (Acts 21:11). Prophets today should be speaking as being commanded by God to do so. However, the sad reality is that for many so-called prophets in the church today, that doesn’t always seem to ring true. 

Too often prophecies today are begun with some variation of, “I have a feeling God is telling me to tell you…” rather than, “God has clearly commanded me to tell you this specific prophecy right now.” When prophecies begin with a preface of a feeling or an impression it leads one to legitimately wonder if that prophet is really speaking the words of God…or words of presumption, feelings, emotions or vain hopes (Deut. 18:20; Jer. 23:16; 2 Pet 1:21). Prophecies that come forth from anything other than God, though given passionately, with best of intentions and even with some type of Scriptural support, can and often do result in the disasters of false hopes, wrong responsive actions, the doubting of God and his Word and/or the weakening of someone’s faith. 

If you believe you have the gift of prophecy, please know that you should be using your gift under the authority and oversight of the elders at your church. You’ll also need to make sure that what you say is 100% from God and will come true as surely as his word stands. Why would anyone want to listen to a prophecy that was mostly true or might come true? Unless you have the confidence that God has commanded you to say something in his name, given you permission to say something in his name and revealed the timing of when you should say something in his name, you would do best to remain silent and not say anything at all – regardless of your feelings on the matter. Why? Because those are the rules all the prophets in the Bible followed. There is no account in the Bible of any prophet who gave a prophecy based on his or her feelings or impressions. Remember, if you have the gift of prophecy, you are supposed to be a mouthpiece for God’s words, not your own. By definition, that’s what a prophet is, a mouthpiece for someone else (see Aaron being a mouthpiece and prophet for Moses – Exodus 4:14-16, 5:1, 7:1-2). The bottom line is that those who prophesy should do so in the name of God or not at all. 

9. Biblical governing guidelines and regulations concerning prophecy.

To ensure order in the church service as well as to authenticate and and/or affirm a given prophecy was of God, the church leaders had to make sure that everything was done in conformity to a given set of God-given guidelines. Among those guidelines for the use of prophecy were (and still are): 

  • No more than two or three prophets were allowed to speak at a given church service (1 Cor. 14:29). 

  • If a prophet was speaking, and another received a revelation, then the first prophet was to be silent to allow the second prophet to speak (1 Cor. 14:30). 

  • If someone prophesied, the prophecy was to be weighed, evaluated and judged to determine if it was from God, for “the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets” (1 Cor. 14:29-32). 

  • Prophecy was not to cause any confusion or disorder during (and of course, after) the church meeting (1 Cor. 14:33). 

10. We are called to test to see if a prophet or their prophecies are really from God.

Rather than naively believing a prophecy that we hear publicly at church or is privately prayed over us or another individual, we are called to put the prophecy to the test. If the prophecy is evaluated and in any way fails that test, then we are not to pay attention to that [false] prophet or their [false] words. We need to be especially on guard to identify false and misleading prophecies that are given from the presumption of man, a deceptive vision or an evil and lying spirit (1 Kings 22:21-23; Lam. 2:4). 

  • Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. 1 Cor. 12:29

  • Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. 1 Thess. 5:20-21

1.     Check to make sure the spirit confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh.

  • Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. 1 John 4:1-3

2.     Check to see if the prophet is speaking on his or her own accord.

  • But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ Deut. 18:20

  • Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. Jer. 23:16

  • For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. 2 Pet 1:21

3.     Check to make sure that the elders and others with the gifts of prophecy and discernment agree with the prophecy.

  • Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. 1 Cor. 14:29

4.     Check to make sure that the prophecy perfectly aligns with the Word of God.

  • Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Acts 17:11

  • Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. 1 Thess. 5:20-22

5.     Check to make sure what the prophet speaks in the name of the Lord actually comes true. 

When we hear a prophecy, we should write it down and put a date on it so we can verify its validity. If it comes true, then we should take it to heart and praise God; if it doesn't, then we should question the gifting of the so-called prophet. We should also not be content to listen to a prophet whose prophecies are only right a good percentage of the time. Remember, all the prophecies that the prophets gave in the Bible came true 100% of the time. 

  • When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him. Deut. 18:2

  • As for the prophet who prophesies peace, when the word of that prophet comes to pass, then it will be known that the Lord has truly sent the prophet.” Jer. 28:9

6.     Check to see if the prophet’s words and ministry are producing good fruit. 

  • “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits.” Matt. 7:15-16

7.     Check to see if the prophet is causing confusion in the church or in an individual’s life. 

  • For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. 1 Cor. 14:33

8.     Check to see if the church is being built up – or divided. 

  • On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. 1 Cor. 14:3-4

9.     Check to see if the prophet is leading people astray from the faith.

  • “If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which 10dreamer of dreams. For the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. Deut. 13:1-3

  • And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. Matt. 24:11

10. Check to see if the prophet is under the authority of the elders of the church. 

It’s not uncommon for so-called prophets to “go rogue” and speak their prophesies outside of the oversight and authority of the leaders of a local church. Left unchecked, these prophets often times find willing audiences for their prophecies and, with no accountability, lead people astray. Sadly, this lone-ranger mentality often leads to division and factions within a church body. 

  • Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. Heb. 13:17

  • So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you;[b] not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. 1 Pet 5:1-3

Bonus Material

11. We are warned to beware of false prophets.

Jesus and the Apostles Paul, Peter and John all warned about false prophets coming into the church. We need to be aware that false prophets, often for unjust gain, can creep in and infiltrate the church in-person, at conferences and seminars, as well as through books, television, YouTube and other social media platforms. 

False prophets wittingly or unwittingly produce bad fruit (Matt. 7:15-20), promote lawlessness (Matt. 7:21-23), introduce destructive heresies  (2 Pet 2:1-3), blaspheme the truth (2 Pet 2:1-3), lead people astray (2 Pet 2:1-3) and go against the will of the Father (Matt. 7:21-23). The elect need to be on guard, for false prophet will arise, give false prophesies, perform great signs and wonders and cunningly lead people away from true faith in Jesus. 

  • “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. ... Matt. 7:15-20

  • “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one 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 many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ Matt. 7:21-23

  • And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. Matt. 24:11

  • For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. Matt. 24:24-25

  • But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep. 2 Pet 2:1-3

  • Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 1 John 4:1

12. Not everyone has the same spiritual gifts.

Though all believers are encouraged to seek the spiritual gift of prophecy, not every believer will actually receive the gift of prophecy. We need to remember that it is the Holy Spirit who gives us spiritual gifts as he so chooses, not as we may necessarily want (1 Cor. 12:18). 

  • But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 1 Cor. 12:18

  • For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 1 Cor. 12:8-10

  • And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? 1 Cor. 12:28-30

13. The gift of prophecy is not gender-specific.

In the Old Testament, Moses’ sister Miriam was a prophetess (Ex. 15:20), Deborah was both a judge of Israel and a prophetess (Judg. 4:4) and Hulda, who lived in the days of King Josiah, also prophesied (2 Kings 22:14). There is also the mention of the prophet Isaiah conceiving a son with a prophetess (Isa. 8:3) and a reference to a prophetess named Noadiah who tried to instill fear into Nehemiah (Neh. 6:14). Beyond that, the prophet Joel wrote that daughters and female servants would prophesy when the Holy Spirit was poured out upon them (Joel 2:28-29). 

In the New Testament, there is mention of the four unmarried daughters of Philip who prophesied (Acts 21:8-9). The Apostle Paul also makes reference and gives instructions to wives who have the ability to prophesy (1 Cor. 11:4-5). 

It’s clear that the gift of prophecy was given to build up the church body. For the church to be edified through the gift of prophecy a prophet would need to stand in church and publicly speak a prophecy. While it’s true that The Apostle Paul told the Corinthian church that women were to be silent in church (1 Cor. 14:33-35), it needs to be taken into consideration that his concern was that women were disrupting a church service in their clamor to learn something. His solution was for women to be quiet in church and if they wanted to learn anything, to ask their husbands at home (1 Cor. 14:35). 

However, it should be noted that the Apostle Paul could not have been telling the women who had the gift of prophecy to remain silent in church because if these prophetesses remained silent in church there would be no way they could ever use their God-given gift for the building up of the church. Further, the Apostle Paul would not have given instructions to women who prophesied to cover their heads when they prophesied if he didn’t allow them and expect them to use their gift of prophecy in a corporate church setting. Therefore, we should expect and encourage both men and women to use their gift of prophecy in the church today.