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For other uses, see Prophecy (disambiguation).

Prophecy is a process in which one or more messages that have been communicated to a prophet[1] are then communicated to others. Such messages typically involve divine inspiration, interpretation, or revelation of conditioned events to come (cf. divine knowledge) as well as testimonies or repeated revelations that the world is divine. The process of prophecy especially involves reciprocal communication of the prophet with the (divine) source of the messages. Throughout history, clairvoyance has commonly been used and associated with prophecy.[2]

Various concepts of prophecy are found throughout all of the world's religions and cults. To a certain degree prophecy can be an integral concept within any religion or cult. The term has found deep usage in the Abrahamic religions, including Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Baha'i and Mormonism along with many others.[3]


  • Rabbinic scholar Maimonides, suggested that "prophecy is, in truth and reality, an emanation sent forth by Divine Being through the medium of the Active Intellect, in the first instance to man's rational faculty, and then to his imaginative faculty."[4]
  • The former closely relates to the definition by Al-Fârâbî who developed the theory of prophecy in Islam.[5]
  • The Catholic Encyclopedia defines a Christian conception of prophecy as "understood in its strict sense, it means the foreknowledge of future events, though it may sometimes apply to past events of which there is no memory, and to present hidden things which cannot be known by the natural light of reason."[6]

From a skeptical point of view, there is a Latin maxim: prophecy written after the fact vaticinium ex eventu.[7]


The English word "prophecy" (noun) in the sense of "function of a prophet" appeared in Europe from about 1225, from Old French profecie (12th century), and from Late Latin prophetia, Greek prophetia "gift of interpreting the will of the gods", from Greek prophetes (see prophet). The related meaning "thing spoken or written by a prophet" is from c. 1300, while the verb "to prophesy" is recorded by 1377.[8]

The word prophecy comes from the Greek verb, προφημι (prophemi), which means “to say beforehand, foretell”; it is a combination of the Greek words, προ and φημι.

Ancient civilizations

Prophecy is by no means new or limited to any one culture. It is a common property to all known ancient societies around the world, some more than others. Many systems and rules about prophecy have been proposed over several millennia.

Bahá'í Faith

Main article: Bahá'í prophecies

In 1863, Bahá'u'lláh, the founder of the Bahá'í Faith, claimed to have been the promised messianic figure of all previous religions, and a Manifestation of God,[9] a type of prophet in the Bahá'í writings that serves as intermediary between the divine and humanity and who speak with the voice of a god.[10] Bahá'u'lláh claimed that, while being imprisoned in the Siyah-Chal in Iran, he underwent a series of mystical experiences including having a vision of the Maid of Heaven who told him of his divine mission, and the promise of divine assistance;[11] In Bahá'í belief, the Maid of Heaven is a representation of the divine.[12]


The Haedong Kosung-jon (Biographies of High Monks) records that King Beopheung of Silla had desired to promulgate Buddhism as the state religion. However, officials in his court opposed him. In the fourteenth year of his reign, Beopheung's "Grand Secretary", Ichadon, devised a strategy to overcome court opposition. Ichadon schemed with the king, convincing him to make a proclamation granting Buddhism official state sanction using the royal seal. Ichadon told the king to deny having made such a proclamation when the opposing officials received it and demanded an explanation. Instead, Ichadon would confess and accept the punishment of execution, for what would quickly be seen as a forgery. Ichadon prophesied to the king that at his execution a wonderful miracle would convince the opposing court faction of Buddhism's power. Ichadon's scheme went as planned, and the opposing officials took the bait. When Ichadon was executed on the 15th day of the 9th month in 527, his prophecy was fulfilled; the earth shook, the sun was darkened, beautiful flowers rained from the sky, his severed head flew to the sacred Geumgang mountains, and milk instead of blood sprayed 100 feet in the air from his beheaded corpse. The omen was accepted by the opposing court officials as a manifestation of heaven's approval, and Buddhism was made the state religion in 527.[13]


In ancient Chinese, prophetic texts are known as Chen(谶). The most famous Chinese prophecy is the Tui bei tu (推背圖)


In the New Testament, prophecy is referred to as one of the Spiritual gifts given by the indwelling Holy Spirit. From this, many Christians believe that the gift of prophecy is the supernatural ability to receive and convey a message from God. The purpose of the message may be to "edify, exhort and comfort" the members of the Church. In this context, not all prophecies contain predictions about the future. The Apostle Paul also teaches in First Corinthians that prophecy is for the benefit of the whole Church and not just the individual exercising the gift. [1 Cor. 14:22]]

According to Walter Brueggemann, the task of prophetic (Christian) ministry is to nurture, nourish and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture.[14] A recognized form of Christian prophecy is the "prophetic drama" which Frederick Dillistone describes as a "metaphorical conjunction between present situations and future events".[15]

New Testament


There are instances in the Gospels where individuals are described as being prophets or are prophesying. Some examples include Simeon, Anna, and John the Baptist. [Matt. 21:26]] The Gospels show several instances where Jesus prophesied. An example of this is the Gospel of John which shows that while passing through Samaria, Jesus encountered a woman who had been married five times. In the story, Jesus relates to her details of her personal life. The woman states that "I can see you are a prophet." [John 4:19]] Additionally, Jesus prophesied about his impending death and resurrection [Matt. 17:22–23]], the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem [Mar. 13:1–2]] and about the end times. [Matt. 25:31–32]] [26:64]]


Throughout the Acts of the Apostles, there are numerous references to 1st century individuals prophesying in different ways and contexts. Examples include where the Church in Antioch is described as having both prophets and teachers. [Acts 13:1]]

Pauline Epistles

In the Pauline Epistles, the prophet is referred to as one of the fivefold ministries; Apostles; Prophets; Evangelists; Pastors and Teachers. [Eph. 4:11]]

Other epistles

The Epistle of Jude contains a verifiable citation from the Book of Enoch,[16] which is not a part of the canon for most Christian churches, which has "Enoch the Seventh from Adam" having "prophesied to" false teachers.[17][18]

Later Christianity

The gift of prophecy was acknowledged in the Church after the death of the apostles. In his Dialogue with Trypho, Justin Martyr argued that prophets were no longer among Israel but were in the Church. The Shepherd of Hermas, written around the mid-2nd century—John A. T. Robinson dates it before 85 AD, describes the way prophecy was being used within the church of that time. Ireneaus confirms the existence of such spiritual gifts in his Against Heresies. Although some modern commentators claim that Montanus was rejected because he claimed to be a prophet, a careful examination of history shows that the gift of prophecy was still acknowledged during the time of Montanus, and that he was controversial because of the manner in which he prophesied and the doctrines he propagated.[19]

Subsequently there are few examples of the prophetic and certain other gifts (until the Scottish Covenanters like Prophet Peden and John Wishart). Prophecy and certain other spiritual gifts were somewhat rarely acknowledged throughout church history. From 1904 to 1906, the Azusa Street Revival occurred in Los Angeles, California and is sometimes considered the birthplace of the Pentecostal movement. This revival is well known for the "speaking in tongues" that occurred there. Some participants of the Azusa Street Revival are claimed to have prophesied. Pentecostals believe prophecy and certain other gifts are once again being given to Christians. The Charismatic Movement, which began to move into mainline denominations, also accepts spiritual gifts like speaking in tongues and prophecy.

The "father" of the Charismatic movement is said to be William M. Branham, who started a religious cult based on his prophecy. His predictions include the End of the World in 1977, Benito Mussolini's last stand in Ethiopia, egg-shaped cars, and more during sermons recorded from 1947 to 1965.

Since 1972, the neo-Pentecostal Church of God Ministry of Jesus Christ International has expressed a belief in prophecy. The church claims this gift is manifested by one person (the prophesier) laying their hands on another person, who receives an individual message said by the prophesier. Prophesiers are believed to be used by the Holy Ghost as instruments through whom God expresses his promises, advice and commandments. The church claims people receive messages about their future, in the form of promises given by God and expected to be fulfilled by divine action.[20]

In 1994, the Apostolic-Prophetic Movement came on the scene, largely due to the influence of the Toronto, Brownsville and Kansas City revivals. Along with the Charismatic Movement's speaking in tongues and prophecy, the Prophetic Movement distinguished itself from past movements with physical twitching, moaning, sightings of gold dust, "glory clouds" and gems that (allegedly) fell from heaven. (Maxwell, 1994 p1).


The Latter Day Saint movement maintains that its first prophet, Joseph Smith, was visited by God and Jesus Christ in 1820. The Church further claims that God communicated directly with Joseph Smith on many subsequent occasions, and that following the death of Joseph Smith God has continued to speak through subsequent prophets. Joseph Smith claims to have been led by an angel to a large hill in upstate New York, where he was shown an ancient manuscript engraved on plates of gold metal. Joseph Smith claimed to have translated this manuscript into modern English under divine inspiration by the gift and power of God, and the publication of this translation are known as the Book of Mormon.

Further revelations claimed to have been given through Joseph Smith are published in the Doctrine and Covenants, one of four sacred LDS texts.



In the Torah, prophecy often consisted of a conditioned warning by God of the consequences should the society, specific communities, or their leaders not adhere to Torah's instructions in the time contemporary with the prophet's life. Prophecies sometimes included conditioned promises of blessing for obeying God, and returning to behaviors and laws as written in the Torah. Conditioned warning prophecies feature in all Jewish works of the Tanakh.

The rabbinic teachings, notably Maimonides (Rambam), suggest there were many levels of prophecy, from the highest such as those experienced by Moses, to the lowest where the individuals were able to apprehend the Divine Will, but not respond or even describe this experience to others, citing in example, Shem, Eber and most notably, Noah, who, in biblical narrative, does not issue prophetic declarations.[22]

Maimonides' theory of prophecy contains two elements (1) an explanation of what prophecy is, and (2) a ranking of the various types of prophecy and prophecy-like phenomena. I think we can use the ranking of prophecy implicate in Maimonides to substantiate our thesis that the rationalism of Maimonides is essentially a moral rationalism.[23]

Maimonides, in his The Guide for the Perplexed, outlines twelve modes of prophecy[24] from lesser to greater degree of clarity:

  1. Inspired actions
  2. Inspired words
  3. Allegorical dream revelations
  4. Auditory dream revelations
  5. Audiovisual dream revelations/human speaker
  6. Audiovisual dream revelations/angelic speaker
  7. Audiovisual dream revelations/Divine speaker
  8. Allegorical waking vision
  9. Auditory waking revelation
  10. Audiovisual waking revelation/human speaker
  11. Audiovisual waking revelation/angelic speaker
  12. Audiovisual waking revelation/Divine speaker (that refers implicitly to Moses)

Of the twelfth mode, Maimonides focuses his attention on its "implicit superiority to the penultimate stage in the above series", and therefore above all other prophetic and semi-prophetic modes.[23]

Experience of prophecy in the Torah and the rest of Tanakh do not restrict it to Jews. Nor is the prophetic experience restricted to the Hebrew language.

The Tanakh contains prophecies from various Hebrew prophets (55 in total) who communicated messages from God to the nation of Israel, and later the population of Judea and elsewhere. In Jewish tradition Daniel is not counted in the list of prophets.

Malachi, whose full name was Ezra Ha'Sofer (the scribe), is acknowledged to have been the last prophet of Israel if one accepts the opinion that Nechemyah died in Babylon before 9th Tevet 3448 (313 BCE).[25]

Native American prophecy

Numerous cases of prophecy exist among the Native American populations. The Onandaga and Hopi, among others, have prophecies that appear to relate to the times we are entering now. For example, the Onandaga talk of a time when the water will not be fit to drink from the streams. This, they say, will signify the beginning of a period they call the great purification, where the peoples will go through immense trials to purify themselves of the corrupting influences that have beset them. This, they say, will be seen as a period of joy for those who understand what is happening and engage this period as a time of purification, but will be a period of immense suffering for those who cling to their corrupted worldview and lifestyles. The Book of the Hopi can be seen as a work of prophecy — it discusses both the ancient history of the ages that came before, the current age, and the times to come.

There exists a problem in verifying most Native American prophecy, in that they remain primarily an oral tradition, and thus there is no way to cite references of where writings have been committed to paper. In their system, the best reference is an Elder, who acts as a repository of the accumulated wisdom of their tradition.

In another type of example, it is recorded that there are three Dogrib prophets who had claimed to have been divinely inspired to bring the message of Christianity's God to their people.[26] This prophecy among the Dogrib involves elements such as dances and trance-like states.[27]


Esoteric prophecy has been claimed for, but not by, Michel de Nostredame popularly referred to as Nostradamus who claimed to be a converted Christian. It is known that he had suffered several tragedies in his life, and had been persecuted to some degree for his cryptic esoteric writings about the future, reportedly derived through a use of a crystal ball. Nostradamus was a French apothecary and reputed seer who published collections of foreknowledge of future events. He is best known for his book Les Propheties ("The Prophecies"), the first edition of which appeared in 1555. Since the publication of this book, Nostradamus has attracted an esoteric following that, along with the popularistic press, credits him with foreseeing world events. His esoteric cryptic foreseeings have in some cases been assimilated to the results of applying the alleged Bible code, as well as to other purported pseudo-prophetic works.

Most reliable academic sources maintain that the associations made between world events and Nostradamus's quatrains are largely the result of misinterpretations or mistranslations (sometimes deliberate) or else are so tenuous as to render them useless as evidence of any genuine predictive power. Moreover, none of the sources listed offers any evidence that anyone has ever interpreted any of Nostradamus's pseudo-prophetic works specifically enough to allow a clear identification of any event in advance.[28]


According to skeptics, many apparently fulfilled prophecies can be explained as coincidences (possibly aided by the prophecy's own vagueness), or that some prophecies were actually invented after the fact to match the circumstances of a past event ("postdiction"). Whitcomb in The Magician's Companion observes,
One point to remember is that the probability of an event changes as soon as a prophecy (or divination) exists. . . . The accuracy or outcome of any prophecy is altered by the desires and attachments of the seer and those who hear the prophecy.[29]

Psychological understandings

The phenomenon of prophecy is not well understood in psychology research literature. Psychiatrist and neurologist Arthur Deikman describes the phenomenon as an "intuitive knowing, a type of perception that bypasses the usual sensory channels and rational intellect."[30]

“(P)rophecy can be likened to a bridge between the individual ‘mystical self’ and the communal ‘mystical body’,” writes religious sociologist Margaret Poloma.[31] Prophecy seems to involve “the free association that occurred through the workings of the right brain.”[32]

Psychologist Julian Jaynes proposed that this is a temporary accessing of the bicameral mind; that is, a temporary separating of functions, such that the authoritarian part of the mind seems to literally be speaking to the person as if a separate (and external) voice. Jaynes posits that the gods heard as voices in the head were and are organizations of the central nervous system. God speaking through man, according to Jaynes, is a more recent vestige of God speaking to man; the product of a more integrated higher self. When the bicameral mind speaks, there is no introspection. We simply experience the Lord telling us what to do. In earlier times, posits Jaynes, there was additionally a visual component, now lost.[33]

Child development and consciousness author Joseph Chilton Pearce remarked that revelation typically appears in symbolic form and “in a single flash of insight.”[34] He used the metaphor of lightning striking and suggests that the revelation is “a result of a buildup of resonant potential.”[35] Pearce compared it to the earth asking a question and the sky answering it. Focus, he said, feeds into “a unified field of like resonance (and becomes) capable of attracting and receiving the field’s answer when it does form."[36]

Some cite aspects of

See also


  • Online Etymological Dictionary
  • Maxwell, Joe (1994). "PLUS: Seminary Women 'Rewrite Their Stories", Christianity Today, January 5, 2012


  • Alcalay, Reuben., The Complete Hebrew – English dictionary, Hemed Books, New York, 1996 ISBN 978-965-448-179-3
  • Tucker, T.G., Etymological dictionary of Latin, Ares Publishers, Inc., Chicago, 1985 ISBN 978-0-89005-172-6
  • Helm, June., , University of Nebraska Press, 1994

Further reading

  • H. H. Rowley. 1956. Prophecy and Religion in Ancient China and Israel. New York: Harper & Brothers. vi, 154 p.
  • Jim Thompson. 2008. Prophecy Today: a Further Word from God?: Does God-Given Prophecy Continue in Today's Church, or Doesn't It?. (Evangelical Press), ISBN 978-0-85234-673-0
  • Marcus Tullius Cicero. 1997. De divinatione. Trans. Arthur Stanley Pease. Darmstadt: Wissenschaflliche Buchgesellschaft.
  • David Edward Aune. 1963. Prophecy in Early Christianity and the Ancient Mediterranean World. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans. ISBN 0-8028-3584-8.
  • Christopher Forbes. 1997. Prophecy and Inspired Speech: in Early Christianity and Its Hellenistic Environment. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson. ISBN 1-56563-269-9.
  • Clifford S. Hill. 1991. Prophecy, Past and Present: an Exploration of the Prophetic Ministry in the Bible and the Church today. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Vine. ISBN 0-8028-0635-X.
  • Jürgen Beyer. 2002. 'Prophezeiungen', Enzyklopädie des Märchens: Handwörterbuch zur historischen und vergleichenden Erzählforschung [N.B.: In English renders as "Encyclopedia of the fairy tale: Handy dictionary for historical and comparative tale research"]. Berlin & New York: Walter de Gruyter. In vol. 10, on col. 1419–1432.
  • Stacey Campbell. 2008. Ecstatic Prophecy. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Chosen Books/Baker Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-8007-9449-1.

External links

  • -logo.svg 
  • The James Randi Educational Foundation

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