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In 1 Corinthians 12, 13 & 14 the Apostle Paul talks about the spiritual gift of prophecy and also about prophets, and he seems to use both terms interchangeably:

10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. (1 Cor 12:10 ESV)

27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way. (1 Cor 12:27-31 ESV)

2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing (1 Cor 13:2 ESV)

8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. (1 Cor 13:8-1 ESV)

Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. 2 For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. 3 On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. 4 The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. 5 Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.

6 Now, brothers, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I benefit you unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching? (1 Cor 14:1-6 ESV)

22 Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers. 23 If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? 24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, 25 the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you. (1 Cor 14:22-24 ESV)

29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. 30 If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, 32 and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. 33 For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. (1 Cor 14:29-33 ESV)

36 Or was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached? 37 If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. 38 If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. 39 So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 40 But all things should be done decently and in order. (1 Cor 14:36-40 ESV)

Similarly, Acts 21:7-11 mentions Philip's four unmarried daughters who prophesied, and Agabus, who was a prophet. Since the author of Acts provides no clarification as to the difference (if any) between the ability to prophesy and being a prophet, to me the expressions seem to be used interchangeably as well in this context:

7 When we had finished the voyage from Tyre, we arrived at Ptolemais, and we greeted the brothers and stayed with them for one day. 8 On the next day we departed and came to Caesarea, and we entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him. 9 He had four unmarried daughters, who prophesied. 10 While we were staying for many days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. 11 And coming to us, he took Paul's belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’” (Acts 21:7-11 ESV)

Question

What is the difference, if any, between the spiritual gift of prophecy and being a prophet?

Is "having the gift of prophecy" and "being a prophet" synonymous expressions that New Testament authors used interchangeably?


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  • I would express this more strongly: the definition of a prophet is one who has the spiritual gift of prophecy.
    – Dottard
    May 29 at 21:14

1 Answer 1

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There are (at least) 4 common ways that the Biblical texts refer to prophets:

  • Prophets were the people who wrote (most of) the Tanakh (e.g. Matt. 7:12, Acts 24:14)
  • Prophets are people who predict the future (e.g. Acts 11:27-28)
  • Prophets are those who give testimony of Jesus (e.g. John 1:45, Rev. 19:10)
  • Prophets are God's representatives to whom He reveals truth (e.g. Amos 3:7, quoted below)

7 Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.

Prophet, then, is sometimes used in the most general sense--a prophet is one who prophesies, but it is also repeatedly used in the Bible as a technical term, describing one who has been given a specific office or responsibility.

These uses of "prophet" are not mutually exclusive. Isaiah is a good example of one who meets all 4 criteria:

  • He wrote part of the Tanakh
  • He made numerous predictions of the future
  • He gave testimony of Jesus (see esp. chapters, 7, 9, 53...but so much more; I acknowledge that this is a New Testament interpretation of the Old Testament text)
  • He was God's representative sent to declare God's message (see esp. chapter 6)
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    Great answer! +1 :D
    – Rajesh
    May 29 at 21:47
  • 1
    Good answer +1.
    – Dottard
    May 29 at 22:33
  • Insightful answer, +1. Which of the four categories of prophet would you say Paul is referring to in 1 Corinthians 12, 13 & 14?
    – user38524
    May 30 at 0:18
  • @SpiritRealmInvestigator in chapters 13 & 14 I don't see that Paul is using it as a technical term (w/ the possible exception of 14:32), so it looks to me like he's referring generally to people who predict the future and/or give testimony of Jesus. In 12:10 I would say the same. But in verses 28-29 he's talking about specific offices; that looks like a technical usage of the term (option 4) rather than a general comment about people who prophesy. May 30 at 3:47
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    Confirming this use of "prophet" as a title, H5030 - nāḇî' - Gesenius's hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon has this as the primary definition: "a prophet, who as actuated by a divine afflatus, or spirit, either rebukes the conduct of kings and nations, or predicted future events." May 30 at 13:19

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