This post explores what the Bible teaches about the gift of prophecy.
Prophecy is one of the gifts of the Spirit mentioned in Romans 12:6 and in 1 Corinthians 12:10. The Greek word for 'prophesy' is propheteuo which Thayer's Lexicon defines as 'to utter forth, declare, a thing which can only be known by divine revelation'. To prophesy is simply to speak forth a revelation that you have received from God. The purpose of prophetic words is to bring strength, encouragement and comfort to the hearers (1 Corinthians 14:3 NLT).
Not every believer is given the gift of prophecy. The Holy Spirit gives different gifts to different people as He sees fit (1 Corinthians 12:11; 1 Corinthians 12:29). Whilst Paul encouraged the Corinthians to desire to prophesy (1 Corinthians 14:1), such a desire must be submitted to the will of God. When Paul said, 'you can all prophesy one by one...' (1 Corinthians 14:31) he was speaking specifically to the prophets in the church.
How might God give someone a prophetic revelation? And how can the recipient know that it was God who spoke to them? Often, when the Bible tells us that God spoke to someone, the precise way that God spoke is not always stated. We do know that God used visions to speak to people (e.g. Jeremiah 1:11-14). Also, God's words to Jeremiah felt like a burning fire in his heart (Jeremiah 20:9). Nehemiah was aware that rebuilding Jerusalem's wall was something that God Himself had placed on his heart to do (Nehemiah 2:12). The fact that Nehemiah was aware that it was God may indicate that God's voice is self-authenticating. With God's voice comes the awareness that God has spoken. The two-disciples on the road to Emmaus said this about their encounter with the risen Christ: 'Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road..?' (Luke 24:49 NKJV). Christ's voice had a unique effect on their heart.
In a church service, prophetic words should be restricted to only two or three speakers (1 Corinthians 14:29-31). All prophetic utterances must be tested to ensure that they are in agreement with what the Bible teaches (1 Thessalonians 5:20-21). If the prophecy includes a prediction, and the prediction does not happen, the prophecy was not from God (Deuteronomy 18:21-22).
Finally, it is important to note that the Bible is now complete - no new revelation is to be added to it. The doctrines that we are to believe and base our lives upon are found in the Bible only, and not from any prophecy that someone today claims God has told them.
Also see: Are Apostles and Prophets in the Church Today?
Verses marked NIV are from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. Verses marked HCSB are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman CSB®, and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers. Verses marked NKJV are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Verses marked NLT are from Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved. Quotations marked NEB are from The New English Bible: The New Testament © ‘The
Delegates of the Oxford University Press and the Syndics of the Cambridge University Press 1961, 1970.