If you want to know who is a false prophet and how to identify one then the Holy Scriptures provide a wealth of information. Both the Old Testament and New Testament of the Bible talk about false teaching, false doctrine, and false visions and provide warnings for true believers to discern and beware of teachers whose intention is to deceive.
What does the Bible say about false prophets and false teachers?
False prophets and false teachers pretend that their message is from God in order to deceive others. Ezekiel 13:6 states that, “Even though the Lord has not sent them, they say, “The Lord declares,” and expect him to fulfill their words”.
There will be serious consequences for false prophets and those who follow them. In Deuteronomy 18:20-22 the Lord outlines the punishment for those who share false prophecies while comforting believers that they should look out for signs of false teachings instead of being alarmed.
Isaiah 8:20 instructs us that if they speak not according to the law and testimony of God there is no light in them. It says, “Consult God’s instruction and the testimony of warning. If anyone does not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn”.
How can we discern false prophets?
The word of God says that you should ‘study to shew thyself approved’ and this is very critical for any believer who desires to be able to discern false prophets. In studying the word of the Lord, you equip yourself with vital information about false teachers.
Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. Matthew 7:15 NIV
This verse not only tells us to beware of false prophets but helps us to discern who they are. There will not always be clear signs to quickly know an individual is not prophesying for the Lord. This is because they will disguise themselves in such a way for others to believe they are genuine.
Ravenous wolves will disguise themselves in sheep’s clothing to lead the fold of God astray. Hence, we have to be vigilant in order to discern who is a part of the fold of God and who is only pretending.
Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 1 John 4:1 NIV
As a follower of Christ you have a great responsibility to guard your faith and be firm in who and what you believe. This text warns that you should exercise caution and test every spirit to ensure that you are not led astray by false prophets.
but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. 1 John 4:3 NIV
Followers of Christ are warned to be on the lookout for the antichrist. If Jesus and His teachings are not acknowledged and accepted in entirety by an individual then this person has the spirit of the antichrist and not the Spirit of God.
The King James version of Romans 8:9 states that, “Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his”. Whatever this person teaches or predicts is not from God or in accordance with His will.
For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. ⁴ They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 2 Timothy 4:3,4 NIV
The previous text notes that the antichrist is at work. As a result of this, a true believer will have to be vigilant and live to please the Lord.
If this is not done, personal desires will replace Godly desires and following the way of truth will be replaced by following after false teachers who mix truth with error and twist the word of God to suit personal lifestyle and ungodly practices.
For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. ¹⁴ And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. ¹⁵ It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve. 2 Corinthians 11:13-15 NIV
To discern whether or not a prophet is truly sent from God you have to be able to distinguish between who is pretending to be apostles of Christ and who are genuinely servants of righteousness.
How to beware of false prophets and false teachers
To beware of false prophets, you need to be able to distinguish the word of God from the traditions of men while striving to follow God’s will instead of being lured away by signs, wonders, and deceptive heresies.
But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. 2 Peter 2:1 NIV
This text warns that we should always be on the lookout for individuals who will secretly introduce harmful heresies, deny the Lord, and lead themselves and those who follow them to destruction.
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel Galatians 1:6 NIV
It is imperative that you do not turn from the teachings of Jesus Christ in order to follow after others whose teachings and practices are not in line with the will and word of the Lord.
For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. Matthew 24:24 NIV
This text reminds us that as children of God we should not become complacent. We should always keep in mind that false messiahs will perform great signs and wonders that will deceive many.
A similar warning is given in Jeremiah 23:16 where prophets provide false hope by speaking visions from their own minds. The King James Version of the text notes that,
“Thus saith the LORD of hosts, Hearken not unto the words of the prophets that prophesy unto you: they make you vain: they speak a vision of their own heart, and not out of the mouth of the LORD”.
For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people. Romans 16:18 NIV
The Bible warns about individuals who serve their own interests instead of serving the Lord. They use flattering words instead of the truth and if you are not rooted and grounded in faith you may be led astray by them.
It is therefore important to be vigilant and not to be led astray by every wind of doctrine or sensational messages.
He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. ⁷ They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’ ⁸ You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.” ⁹ And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! Mark 7:6-9 NIV
This text offers a few pointers on how to be aware of false teachings and prophecies. Those whose actions are not in line with what they profess and those who teach the commandments of men instead of the doctrines of God are false teachers.
See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ. Colossians 2:8 NIV
To guard yourself against false teachings and deceptive philosophies it’s important to know the word of God. Knowing God’s word will help you to identify between teachings based on human traditions or those based on Christ.
But the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who had performed the signs on its behalf. With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped its image. The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur. Revelation 19:20 NIV
Revelation 14:6-12 is not only about the three angels’ message. It also speaks about receiving the mark of the beast and the consequences that will follow.
This text is a reminder that we all have to beware of signs, wonders, and false teachings that are performed to captivate, lead astray, and result in eternal damnation.
How to distinguish between true and false prophets?
The best way to distinguish between true and false prophets is to know the characteristics of false teachers. The following scriptures will help you to determine if the person is speaking under God’s authority and is led by the Holy Spirit.
because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law. Matthew 7:29 NIV
Jesus was a prophet sent from above. His mission was to call sinners to repentance and share the love of God. While on earth, He taught with great authority because He was operating under divine directives and was carrying out the will of His heavenly father.
If a prophet is acting contrary to the will of God and not acting under divine supervision then this is a sign that he or she is a false prophet.
But the prophet who prophesies peace will be recognized as one truly sent by the Lord only if his prediction comes true.” Jeremiah 28:9 NIV
This text gives one indication that will tell if a teacher or prophet is genuinely acting under divine authority. God’s word in Jeremiah says that when the word of the prophet shall come to pass, then shall the prophet be known.
If the prophecy is not fulfilled this is an identifying mark of a false prophet.
Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. ²⁰ Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. Matthew 7:17,20 NIV
If a prophet does not exude the fruit of the spirit, then he or she is a false teacher. To portray the fruit of the spirit in words, thoughts, and action a person has to be led by the Spirit of God.
Love, joy, peace, gentleness, patience and all the other fruit of the spirit should be visible in the ministry and life of anyone who speaks on God’s behalf.
If on the other hand the works of the flesh are evident in one way or the other in a teacher’s or prophet’s life then he or she is not sent from God.
For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the Spirit you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough 2 Corinthians 11:4 NIV
In verse three of this chapter the apostle Paul speaks about how the serpent beguiled Eve. The serpent was subtle, mixed truth with error, and told Eve something different from what God initially said.
False gospel, teachings, and prophecies will seem similar but have errors that are contrary to the commands of God.
but test them all; hold on to what is good, 1 Thessalonians 5:21 NIV
This verse follows a warning that you should not hate/despise prophesyings. You should not ignore prophecies because they help you to better understand God’s will and His plans for the future. However, in light of this it is very important to test all prophecies then hold on to what is true.
To identify a false prophet, it is important to know what the Bible says on the topic. The Bible provides a wealth of information to give an understanding of how to discern false teachers and prophets.
It also teaches how to beware of them and distinguish between those prophesying for God and those with a false message.