The children of Israel were surrounded by prophets that claimed to be speaking for God but they were actually false prophets. In fact, by most accounts in the Old Testament, most “prophets” were false prophets and there were two kinds. First, there were prophets associated with other gods. For example, when Elijah is all alone in facing down the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah on Mount Carmel recorded in 1 Kings 18. They were not claiming to be from God. Therefore, it was pretty easy to identify.
Our question is about the second type of false prophets – those that claimed to be prophets sent from God. This was a bit more challenging. They are not announcing themselves as representing another god. How was a person to identify “God’s prophets” that were false?
How Scripture answers "How were false prophets identified?"
One way that false prophets were identified in Old Testament times was by waiting to see if what they said came to pass1. But what about when you couldn’t wait and needed to make a decision right away about someone speaking truth3?
In addition to this challenge, it could be that God is testing you6. God says He might send a “prophet” (or “strong delusion”8) to perform great signs, but speak things contrary to His word as a test6. And it’s in this, along with other examples2,3, that we see a more fundamental rule emerge. We see the prophet’s message being measured against past messages from other proven, true prophets2 – that is, prophets speaking God’s word6. They were “testing” to see that the things prophesied were true in the early church as well5,7,8. In other words, the consistency of the message is paramount (and why wouldn’t it be since God doesn’t change).
Note: A ‘tip-off’ for the hearer that a “prophet of God” was actually a false prophet was someone that is always preaching peace3 (“everything’s going to be okay”). The much more common message of God’s true prophets was one of judgment, condemnation for disobedience, and a call to repent. True spokesmen for God are speaking His words/message4.
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