I post this to contribute to the ongoing musings and discussions happening on our squad related to the outpouring of the indwelling Spirit. This is not meant to be the authoritative answer by any means. These are thoughts compiled by one scholar who has devoted his life to studying the Bible and encouraging the church and scholarly community with his findings.
What follows is a list of characteristics that generally apply to most (but not all) prophets. Prophets pray (Abraham), praise (Mariam) and preach (Amos), but so do lots of other people who are not called prophets. What makes them so special?
These characteristics, compiled by John Goldingay of Fuller Theological Seminary, distinguish prophets from other leaders, and can be thought of as familial traits or resemblance shared by family members.
Disclaimer: No one prophet applies to all of these characteristics. No one characteristic applies to all people labeled as prophets. Characteristics of one prophet may not be a necessary component of prophetic ministry as a whole. Goldingay's 9 Facets of a Prophet / Prophetic Ministry1. A prophet shares God's nightmares and dreams.
They can see things that other people cannot see (i.e. Isa 1, Elisha & God's armies)
A prophet looks at the present in light of the past and in light of the future as well as the future in light of the present. Decimation is not the last word.
Prophets in the OT were invited into God's "cabinet," His heavenly court, to be a part of the decision making process of the gods. (Gen 1 & Job 1 are two examples of this "heavenly cabinet". 1 Kings 22 is a prime example of a prophet being a part of the process. Abraham's pleading for Sodom & Gomorrah in Gen 18 is another.
A prophet brings bad news (nightmares) more than good news (dreams), about 2/3 bad and 1/3 good.
2. A prophet speaks like a poet and behaves like an actor.
The books are most written in poetic style, in verse, and contain a lot of indirect communication. They are full of hyperbole and imagery, simile and metaphor (1 Kings 13 & 22).
Receiving a word from a prophet does not make life less complicated (or easier). Its like hearing a parable from Jesus. We should expect Christian prophets to speak in pictures.
Prophets speak in rhyme. Prophets can dance. They got rhythm.
God may leave us initially puzzled. God speaks in pictures & images for 2 reasons: 1- that deep truths about God can't be put in straightforward language that speaks only to the rational mind (they are not simply easily understood and comprehended) they require images that have the capacity to reach the whole person (deep truths about god speak to the whole person, not just the rational mind) and
2- that we don't want to receive God's truth. But, pictures and images can get past our defenses and break through our resistance.
Prophecy speaks to our will, our imagination and our insight.
3. A prophet is somebody who confronts the confident with rebuke and the downcast with hope.
They minister directly with the people of their day, they speak to their own people and the struggles they are dealing with. They don't speak much about "the Messiah."
The first two thirds of Ezekiel is mostly rebuke, but the final third of Ezekiel is about restoration. First Isaiah (1-39) is mostly rebuke. Second Isaiah (40-55) is mostly hope. A true prophet knows what time it is, an speaks accordingly.
4. A prophet is someone who speaks mostly to the people of God.
They are not social reformers though they do have a vision of what things should like. They remind the people of their commitment to God. They do speak to the world/nations, but primarily to the people of God. Prophets today will call the church to be people of God instead of an imitation of the world.
5. A prophet is someone who is not a part of the establish societal/ruling/political structure.
They are independent of institutional pressures of church and state, not on the payroll of gods people. they speak using objectionable language an that says something about who they are speaking to as well as the prophets themselves.
6. A prophet is a scary person who mediates the things of a scary God.
Prophetic ministry today should reduce the domestication of God that characterizes us as evangelicals and charismatics.
7. A prophet intercedes with boldness and praises with freedom.
They are mediators who mediate in BOTH directions as members of God's cabinet, they take part in cabinet discussions on behalf of the people of God advocating for them (prayer). They also proclaim the cabinet's decisions to the people (preaching). Amos 7&8. Both activities, the preaching and the prayer, have the same aim, which is for God's positive purposes to be fulfilled and God's negative purposes to be abandoned. (Abraham in Gen 20). Prophets pray & preach, as well as praise!
8. A prophet is someone who speaks and ministers in a way that reflect the personalities of the individual and their time.
God speaks by their "hand." Some humanness comes out in the delivery of Hod's message. God uses them as who they are to bring the message they can bring. Jeremiah speaks differently than Isaiah who speaks differently than Ezekiel, etc.
It does not bypass the person or their personality.
9. A prophet is certain to fail, in some way or another.
God sent prophets to call His people out from their apostasy and back into right relationship with Him. Almost none of them succeed. Ironically Jonah was the most successful prophet. However, God is ever hopeful, and no "failure" discourages Him.
Prophets are not infallible - they make mistakes (i.e. Elijah, Hannaniah, Jeremiah in ch 15, they may not achieve the purpose for which God sent them.
So, what's the point? God stays ever faithful and ever hopeful. Prophets are a means of God's grace. A prophet should prophesy because God called him/her. He or she must be obedient and faithful, because God is. Closing Thoughts
I would encourage you to listen to the first 45 min of this lecture where Goldingay explains these 9 facets/familial traits. If you are interested, you might as well listen to the entire course. If you want to read more on the topic of the Holy Spirit and prophecy check out Walter Brueggeman's The Prophetic Imagination, Gordon Fee's God's Empowering Presence. Probably the best commentary on 1 Corinthians is by Gordon Fee, the chief NT editor for the NIV.
After understanding how prophets ministered in the OT, we can begin to draw conclusions about what the gift of prophecy and prophetic ministry should look like today. Stay tuned for a post later this month on some of my thoughts on that matter.
(The pictures were taken and edited by Loren when Jack & Jake team preached in Uganda.)