What Does It Mean To Be A Prophet?

What does it mean to be a prophet?

I used to assume that prophecy only told about future events. This is not necessarily the case. In an Old Testament context, being a prophet could mean being unpopular [cue Jonah & Nathan], or having a profound vision/experience from God [see Isaiah & Daniel]. Sometimes a prophet was a civic leader [such as Deborah & Micah]. Sometimes prophets led worship and praise of God [such as Miriam & Habakkuk]. Always, a prophet was a messenger of God- someone who received a word from God not only for their own benefit, but for other people’s benefit too.

One of my favorite verses comes from Joel 2. In context of the chapter, Joel is saying that as God restores and provides for His people, God will reveal Himself and work through anyone- male or female, slave or free, etc.

“Then you will know that I am among my people Israel, that I am the LORD your God, and there is no other. Never again will my people be disgraced. Then, after doing all those things, I will pour out my Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your old men will dream dreams, and your young men will see visions. In those days I will pour out my Spirit even on servants—men and women alike.” [v.27-29]

In the New Testament, prophets looked like Mary & Elizabeth [Luke 1] who spoke the truth of God’s miraculous work in their lives, Simeon & Anna [Luke 2] who recognized and verbally witnessed that the One in front of them was the Messiah, John as he wrote the mysteries of Revelation given to him in a vision, and so on. God has always used women and men to join His work on Earth, especially as prophets or messengers.

1 Corinthians says:

“So you see that speaking in tongues is a sign, not for believers, but for unbelievers. Prophecy, however, is for the benefit of believers, not unbelievers. Even so, if unbelievers or people who don’t understand these things come into your church meeting and hear everyone speaking in an unknown language, they will think you are crazy. But if all of you are prophesying, and unbelievers or people who don’t understand these things come into your meeting, they will be convicted of sin and judged by what you say. As they listen, their secret thoughts will be exposed, and they will fall to their knees and worship God, declaring, ‘God is truly here among you.’ Well, my brothers and sisters, let’s summarize. When you meet together, one will sing, another will teach, another will tell some special revelation God has given, one will speak in tongues, and another will interpret what is said. But everything that is done must strengthen all of you.” [14:22-26]

This is a passage that deals a bit with speaking in tongues, but in a bigger pictures deals with worship. Prophecy should be included in worship [v.26], is for the benefit of believers [v. 22], and should strengthen everyone [v. 26]. Worship is of course ‘valid’ or ‘acceptable’ without one or more of these elements named in v. 26, but it is in most Christian traditions to include a sermon or homily during worship. Preaching is prophesy. Nowhere in this passage is prophesy or other acts of worship leadership gendered or reserved for one gender. However, this same chapter of 1 Corinthians [along with other New Testament verses and epistles] includes verses restricting women. There are a few ideas about these specific verses that seem to contradict a larger Biblical narrative of God using women to bring The Word. I will respond to these ‘problematic’ passages in the next blog.

As for me & my household we will serve the Lord, which means obedience, which for me means preaching. I have been hesitant to push forward with a pastoral vocation [in any ministry] because it is hard. The calling is an honor, but is also very demanding with high expectations. [see James 3:1-2] If you are interested in an easy life, do not answer The Call. These concerns and demands vary & differ between personalities and denominations, but women in pastoral leadership often have a particular challenge that their male counterparts do not- questioning by others and sometimes even themselves if what they are called to do is obedient to God.

What does God desire most from men and women who claim to have faith? While there are many interpretations of nearly every verse in the Bible, what is the best interpretation of select Pauline verses and passages on gender roles? This & more will be discussed in the next blog to follow.

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