AskDefine | Define prophet

Dictionary Definition



1 an authoritative person who divines the future [syn: oracle, seer, vaticinator]
2 someone who speaks by divine inspiration; someone who is an interpreter of the will of God

User Contributed Dictionary

see Prophet



propheta, from propheta (later reinforced in English by Anglo-Norman prophete), from (prophētēs) "one who speaks for a god" < (pro) "before" + (phēmi) "I tell"


  • prŏf'it, /ˈprɒfət/, /"prQf@t/
    Homophones: profit


  1. Someone who speaks by divine inspiration.
  2. Someone who predicts the future; a soothsayer.

Derived terms


one who speaks by divine inspiration
one who foretells the future
Translations to be checked

Extensive Definition

In religion, a prophet (or prophetess) is a person who has encountered the supernatural or the divine and serves as an intermediary with humanity.
Claims of prophets have existed in many cultures through history, including Judaism, Zoroaster in Persia, the Sybilline and Delphic Oracles practices in Ancient Greece, Christianity, Islam, the Völuspá in Old Norse, and many others. Traditionally, prophets are regarded as having a role in society that promotes change due to their messages and actions. The label 'prophet' can be extremely subjective; without exception, a person considered a 'true' prophet by some people is simultaneously considered a false prophet by some others.
In the late 20th century the appellation of a 'prophet' has been used to refer to individuals particularly successful at analysis in the field of economics, such as in the derogatory 'prophet of greed'.
Alternatively, social commentators who suggest escalating crisis in environment and society due to a lack or failure of due care are often referred to as 'prophets of doom.'


In Judaism, a prophet is seen as a person who is selected by, and speaks as a formal representative of God, and the intention of the message is always to effect a social change to conform to God's desired standards initially specified in the Torah dictated to Moses.
In Hebrew, the word traditionally translated as prophet is נְבִיא (navi), which means "spokesperson". This forms the second of the three letters of TaNaKh, derived from Torah, Nevi'im, Ketuvim. The meaning of navi is perhaps described in Deuteronomy 18:18, where God said, "I will put my words in his mouth and he will speak to them all that I command him." Thus, the navi was thought to be the "mouth" of God. The root nun-bet-alef ("navi") is based on the two-letter root nun-bet which denotes hollowness or openness; to receive transcendental wisdom, one must make oneself “open”. Cf. Rashbam's comment to Genesis 20:7.
Fully a third of the TaNaKh is devoted to books about prophetic experience including a separate book of ‘minor’ prophets known as The Twelve Prophets (Trei-Assar) .
According to I Samuel 9:9, the old name for navi is ro'eh, ראה, which literally means "Seer". That could document an ancient shift, from viewing prophets as seers for hire to viewing them as moral teachers. Allen (1971) comments that in the First Temple Era, there were essentially seer-priests, who formed a guild, divined, performed rituals and sacrifices, and were scribes, and then there were canonical prophets, who did none of these (and were against divination) and had instead a message to deliver. The seer-priests were usually attached to a local shrine or temple, such as Shiloh, and initiated others as priests in that priesthood: it was a mystical craft-guild with apprentices and recruitment. Canonical prophets were not organised this way. The similar term "ben-navi" ("son of the prophet") means "member of a seer-priest guild".
Some examples of prophets in the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) include Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Miriam, Isaiah, Samuel, Ezekiel, Malachi, and Job. In Jewish tradition, Daniel is not counted in the list of prophets.
A Jewish tradition suggests that there were 600,000 male and 600,000 female prophets. Judaism recognizes the existence of 48 male prophets who bequeathed permanent messages to mankind. According to the Talmud there were also seven women who are counted as prophets whose message bears relevance for all generations: Sarah, Miriam, Devorah, Hannah (mother of the prophet Samuel), Abigail (a wife of King David), Huldah (from the time of Jeremiah), and Esther.
Malachi's full name was Ezra Ha'Sofer (the scribe), and he was the last prophet of Israel if one accepts the opinion that Nechemyah died in Babylon before 9th Tevet 3448 (313 BCE). Babylonian Talmud

Divine Pathos

In his book The Prophets, Abraham Joshua Heschel describes the unique aspect of the Jewish prophets as compared to other similar figures. Whereas other nations have soothsayers and diviners who attempt to discover the will of their gods, according to Heschel the Hebrew prophets are characterized by their experience of what he calls theotropism — God turning towards humanity. Heschel argues for the view of Hebrew prophets as receivers of the "Divine Pathos," of the wrath and sorrow of God over his nation that has forsaken him.
He writes:
Prophecy is the voice that God has lent to the silent agony, a voice to the plundered poor, to the profane riches of the world. It is a form of living, a crossing point of God and man. God is raging in the prophet's words. (The Prophets Ch. 1)


Christians share the Jewish belief that a prophet is a person who speaks for God, in the name of God, and who carries God's message to others. They believe a prophet is someone who look's at their society and look's at their church and says something is not right here. A prophet will tell people that certain bad things will happen if they do not fix this. Some Christian denominations teach that a person who receives a personal message not intended for the body of believers (where such an event is credited at all) should not be termed a prophet. The reception of a message is termed revelation; the delivery of the message is termed prophecy. For Christians the authenticity of a prophet is judged as Jesus said that one should judge a prophet, by his fruits (Gospel of Matthew 7) and by checking whether his predictions come true. Deuteronomy 18:21-22 contains several warnings about false prophets and is very specific about the test of whether a prophet is true or false. A false prophet is considered to be someone who is purposely trying to deceive, or is delusional, or is under the influence of Satan (for detail, see main article False prophet).
Christians recognize that anyone they consider prophetic is still human and fallible, and may make wrong decisions, have incorrect personal beliefs or opinions, and sin from time to time; the human characteristics of a prophet are independent of the message God has given him and do not negate the validity of his prophecies.
Nevertheless, some Christians believe the minimum requirements of a true prophet can be summarized as follows: (1) Clear (not vague) prophecies (2) 100% accuracy in prophesying (i.e. one false prophecy is all it takes to disqualify them as a prophet), and (3) Must not contradict the Bible.
Many Christians believe these standards create a conundrum for other Christians who actively support high profile ministers who have large followings who claim to have received prophecies that have later turned out to be mistaken (see Unfulfilled historical predictions by Christians). Other Christians claim that these standards would disqualify several Biblical prophets, whose prophecies, though clearly stated, appear to be unfulfilled (Jonah 3:4, 2 Samuel 7:5-17, Judges 13:5). Some sects of Christianity would also use these guidelines to disqualify the heads of other sects as prophets of God.
Some Christians, including many who believe in dispensationalism, believe prophecy ended with the coming of Jesus, who delivered the "fullness of the law." Within this group, many Protestants believe that prophecy ended with the last of the Hebrew prophets of the Torah of the Hebrew Bible, leaving a gap of about 400 years between then and the life of Jesus. The majority, including the Eastern Orthodox, allow an exception for John the Baptist as a prophet contemporary with Jesus.
New Testament passages that explicitly discuss prophets existing after the death and resurrection of Christ include Revelation 11:10, & 23:34, John 13:20 & 15:20, and Acts 11:25-30, 13:1 & 15:32. Christians believe that the Holy Spirit leads people to faith in Jesus and gives them the ability to lead a Christian life and to give gifts (i.e. abilities) to Christians. These may include the charismatic gifts such as prophecy, tongues, healing, and knowledge. Christians holding a view known as cessationism believe these gifts were given only in New Testament times and ceased after the last apostle died. Historical records, however, contradict this theory. Christians almost universally agree that "spiritual gifts" such as the gifts of ministry, teaching, giving, leadership, and mercy (see, e.g. ) are still in effect today.


The Qur'an identifies a number of men as Prophets of Islam (Arabic: nabee نبي ; pl. anbiyaa أنبياء ). Muslims believe such individuals were assigned a special mission by God (Arabic: Allah) to guide humanity. Besides Muhammad, this includes Tanakh prophets such as Moses and David, and Jesus from the Christian religion.
According to the Islamic creed, the essence of all the prophets’ messages is what Islam calls for: worshipping God alone and rejecting false deities. The message of Islam resembles the messages of all previous prophets of God. The Qur'an states: "Abraham was not a Jew nor a Christian, but he was (an) upright (man), a Muslim (submission to God's will), and he was not one of the polytheists" (). There were at least 4 Sharia which were revealed to Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus. Each of the prophets is believed to have been assigned a special mission by God (Arabic: Allah) to guide the whole or a group of the mankind, depending on the mission assigned to each.
God is believed to have instructed each of these prophets to warn his community against evil and urge his people to obey God. Although only 25 prophets are mentioned by name in the Qur'an, a Hadith (no. 21257 in Musnad Ibn Hanbal) mentions that there were 124,000 of them in total throughout history, and the Qur'an says that God has sent a prophet to every group of people throughout time, and that Muhammad is the last of the Prophets.() In general, Muslims regard the stories of the Qur'an as historical. The message of all the prophets is believed to be the same. Many of these prophets are also found in the texts of Judaism (The Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings; collectively known as the Old Testament to Christians) and Christianity.
While Islam shares the Jewish tradition that the first prophet is Adam, it differs in that the last prophet is Muhammad, who in Islam is called Seal of the Prophets. Jesus is the result of a virgin birth in Islam as in Christianity, and is regarded as a prophet like the others. Traditionally, five prophets are regarded as especially important in Islam with distinctive title were given to each of them for example: Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad. Also, only a tiny minority of prophets are believed to have been sent holy books (such as the Tawrat, Zabur, Injil and the Qur'an), and those prophets are considered "messengers" or rasul. However, other main Prophets are considered a Messenger or a Rasul even if they didn't receive a Book from God. An example can be the Messenger-Prophet Aaron "Haroon", the Messenger-Prophet Ishamel "Isma'eel" or the Messenger-Prophet Joseph "Yousuf". Muhammad is regarded in Islamic belief as having undertaken a prophetic mission addressed to all of humanity rather than a specific populace. Prophets were required to call all people to God; The-Lord of the Worlds. However, the laws they brought may have been limited to a certain community at some Era.
Although it offers many incidents from the lives of many prophets, the Qur'an focuses with special narrative and rhetorical emphasis on the careers of the first four of these five major prophets. Of all the figures before Muhammad, Moses is referred to most frequently in the Qur'an. As for the fifth, the Qur'an is frequently addressed directly to Muhammad, and it often discusses situations encountered by him. Direct use of his name in the text, however, is rare. Rarer still is the mention of Muhammad's contemporaries. Besides the four Holy Books sent by God to the four messengers, Muslims believe that God also had granted Scrolls Suhuf (contains basic Divine Laws to guide the people) to Abraham and Moses.
Muslims believe that evidence for the prophethood of Muhammad is as good as the evidence for previous prophets. A common argument is to ask why the Jew or Christian believe in Moses or Jesus, and to use the same answer to prove Muhammad's prophethood. They also maintain that all accusations levied on their prophet can be used against persons such as Abraham, Israel, Moses and Jesus. Thus they hold that the Jews or Christians are not consistent. If they believe in Moses or Jesus for their miracles, the same should apply to Muhammad. If Muhammad is accused of fighting, is it not the same said about Abraham, Moses and David? They also argue that prophecies about Muhammad are still in the Old and New Testaments.


The Bahá'í Faith refers to what are commonly called prophets as Manifestations of God who are directly linked with the concept of Progressive revelation. Bahá'ís believe that God expresses this will at all times and in many ways, including through a series of divine messengers referred to as Manifestations of God or sometimes divine educators. In expressing God's intent, these Manifestations are seen to establish religion in the world. Thus they are seen as an intermediary between God and humanity.
The Manifestations of God are not seen as an incarnation of God, but they are also not seen as an ordinary mortals. Instead, the Bahá'í concept of the Manifestation of God emphasizes simultaneously the humanity of that intermediary and the divinity in the way they show forth the will, knowledge and attributes of God; thus they have both human and divine stations. They also claim that they are God's one and only true channel to mankind on earth, and used by God for this purpose. They have made many eschatological forecasts, some of which have led people (including followers) to incorrect assumptions. One example is their original belief of the end of the world in 1914. Their Biblical studies showed that the enthronement of Jesus would be in the year 1914 (Daniel 4:10-16; Revelation [Apocalipsis] 12:6,14; Ezequiel 4:6), however they incorrectly assumed that the world would also be destroyed. As a result the editors of the Watchtower have acknowledged that Jehovah's Witnesses "have made mistakes in their understanding of what would occur at the end of certain time periods."

Seventh-day Adventist

The Seventh-day Adventist Church believes Ellen White, a cofounder of the church, possessed the gift of prophecy.


Tenrikyo's prophet, Nakayama Miki or Oyasama, is believed by Tenrikyoans to have been a kind of microphone of God, as God spoke through Oyasama, directly, to whomever was in the vicinity. She had three aspects: the Shrine of Tsukihi (the body of the woman was occupied by the mind of God), The Parent of the Divine Model (Oyasama taught the people by instructions and examples), and The Truth of the Everliving Oyasama (she continues to watch humanity develop, even after shedding her body).

Other religions

Other individuals

Other people throughout history have been described as prophets in the sense of foretelling the future (as opposed to forthtelling the message of the Deity). Examples of such prophets include:

Science-fiction and fantasy

See also



Further reading

  • Elst, Koenraad: Psychology of Prophetism - A Secular Look at the Bible (1993) [ ] ISBN 81-85990-00-X
prophet in Arabic: نبي
prophet in Official Aramaic (700-300 BCE): ܢܒܝܐ
prophet in Breton: Profed
prophet in Catalan: Profeta
prophet in Czech: Prorok
prophet in Danish: Profet
prophet in German: Prophet
prophet in Modern Greek (1453-): Προφήτης
prophet in Spanish: Profeta
prophet in Persian: پیامبر
prophet in Finnish: Profeetta
prophet in French: Prophète
prophet in Hebrew: נביא
prophet in Hungarian: Próféta
prophet in Croatian: Prorok
prophet in Indonesian: Nabi
prophet in Italian: Profeta
prophet in Japanese: 預言者
prophet in Korean: 예언자
prophet in Kurdish: Pêxember
prophet in Latin: Propheta
prophet in Lingala: Proféte
prophet in Lithuanian: Pranašas
prophet in Malayalam: പ്രവാചകന്‍
prophet in Dutch: Profeet
prophet in Norwegian Nynorsk: Profet
prophet in Norwegian: Profet
prophet in Polish: Prorok
prophet in Portuguese: Profeta
prophet in Romanian: Proroc
prophet in Russian: Пророк
prophet in Simple English: Prophet
prophet in Slovak: Prorok
prophet in Albanian: Profeti
prophet in Swedish: Profet
prophet in Thai: ประกาศก
prophet in Turkish: Peygamber
prophet in Ukrainian: Пророк
prophet in Uzbek: Paygʻambar
prophet in Yiddish: נביא
prophet in Chinese: 先知

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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