‘But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the Lord has not spoken?’— when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him. Deuteronomy 18:20-22

It has often been said that if prophets did not prophesy a true word, they were stoned in the Old Testament. Although this passage does not say that, it does say that they should die. Stoning was an acceptable form of punishment under Mosaic law. Zechariah was stoned to death (1 Chronicles 24:21), but not for being a false prophet. Hebrews 11:37 says that the Israelites stoned the prophets. Thus tradition has it that if a prophet prophesied a false word, the prophet should be stoned.

The question arises whether the same thing should happen today. Obviously, no one who exercises their prophetic gift is eager for this to happen. However, there is also a theological reason why we should not “stone the prophets” today if they get it wrong, so to speak.

The answer lies in the manifestation of the Spirit. In Old Testament times the Holy Spirit came upon particular people at particular times in particular places. It was episodic. It didn’t happen all the time. The only way to know if someone was speaking for God by the Holy Spirit was to wait for the outcome. If the word came true, they new it was from the Lord by His Holy Spirit. If it was not true, the person was lying and there was the danger that he (usually it was a “he”) could deceive many people along the way. Therefore, he had to be put to death.

In the New Testament, the Holy Spirit lives in each of us. It’s not that we all have “a piece” of the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit does live in each of us. Prophecy functions differently in the New Testament. All can prophesy. All have the Holy Spirit and have access to discernment. Thus, while some people may operate more in prophecy than others, we all have access to this gift. Consequently, the burden is on all of us collectively to discern the truth.

If a word does not ring true that someone prophesies, we have options. We can dismiss the word. We can weigh the word. We can go to the person in love and give feedback. Sometimes we don’t know until much later whether or not a word came to pass, but it is not like Old Testament times where one who claimed to speak for the Lord by definition had an inspiration from the Holy Spirit that was not common. These options were not available to people back then. It either was the “word of the Lord” or it wasn’t. If it wasn’t, they were stoned, or put to death.

By Ralph Veenstra