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Stoning Prophets


I have heard from a number of sources that, in Old Testament times any prophet who made a false prediction was stoned to death.  It was said in such a way as to strike fear into the heart of anyone who would claim or wish to be a prophet.  In other words, being a prophet is not a profession for fallible human beings.  

It sounds a little like the medical profession today, where one false move could lead to a multi-million dollar lawsuit.  A doctor doesn't really have to be an irresponsible drunkard to get sued either.  Virtually all doctors take out insurance against such lawsuits, because they happen even to the best of doctors, as stonings must have happened to even the best of prophets.

Now if you were to balance the stoning model up against something Jesus said about prophets, then you get the idea that the people who enforced this rule were the really bad people.

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee... (Luke 13:34)

Fundamentalism (or legalism, as some call it) may be at work in many different ways in today's world (e.g. the lawsuits against medical practitioners as mentioned above).  Jesus' opponents were traditionally "Pharisees and lawyers" (with some scribes and Sadducees thrown in on the side).  

This tendency toward legalism in Christianity is most commonly evidenced by the "infallible Bible" teaching... a teaching which requires a fair bit of explanation with regard to prophecies such as Isaiah's prediction that Damascus (a city which continues to this day) would become a ruinous heap.

Behold, Damascus is taken away from being a city, and it shall be a ruinous heap. (Isaiah 17:1)

I am not taking the position that this prophecy (or any other prophecy in the Bible) is totally false, but I am suggesting that our understanding of what a particular prophecy is saying may be limited... too limited, perhaps, for any honest person to pick up a stone with much confidence.  (Think of what Jesus did when some of these same teachers of the law wanted to take up stones against the woman caught in adultery.  It wasn't that Jesus thought adultery was okay, but just that he saw the self-righteous stoners as hypocrites, and felt that was worse.)

One of the biggest limitations in passing absolute judgment on a prophecy is, of course, how long the public must wait before they can decree that the prophecy has failed to materialise.  Jesus' predictions about his own return would certainly fall into this category.

It is interesting that Jesus had quite a different method for discerning between true prophets and false prophets.  He made no reference to whether or not a prediction actually happened, but rather to how the prophet was received by the status quo.

Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! for so did their fathers to the false prophets. (Luke 6:26)

In fact, he says that the false prophets can often do a better job than the real ones in producing "signs and wonders".

For false Christs and false prophets shall rise, and shall shew signs and wonders, to seduce, if it were possible, even the elect. (Mark 13:22)

So the real role of the prophet is not to be a fortune teller so much as a "forth-teller" of the TRUTH.  And the truth may often have several different applications.

If I may return to mention of doctors for a moment, I recall hearing that one of the most important attributes in a doctor is the ability to live with contradictions.  Apparently the reason for that is that, while medicine is an exacting science, when it comes to applying what the scientists have learned, practitioners discover that no two people react exactly the same.  What works for one does not necessarily work for another.  Maybe there is some of that with regard to all truth, including the things spoken by prophets.

What I mostly notice when I read through the prophets of the Old Testament is that they are saying over and over to the people of God, "You have lost your way.  You have turned against God.  Repent!  And if you do, God will forgive you."  It is almost monotonous by the time you have read them all.  So I am assuming that the false prophets either leave out the call to repentance (in their effort to gain popularity), or they leave out the offer of forgiveness (in their effort to vent their own self-righteous anger).

Jonah was called the "reluctant prophet", because he knew that God would often have a change of heart if he saw signs of repentance in the people whom he came to judge.  Nevertheless, Jonah finally did as he was told and walked through Nineveh proclaiming that the city would be destroyed in 40 days.  Was it destroyed in 40 days?  No.  Was Jonah a false prophet?  According to the "lawyers" he was, and they would have stoned him if they could; but according to the bigger picture, he was not.  He had spoken the message of judgment, and God had given them mercy instead, when he saw them repent.  Jonah was learning to live with contradictions.

I am as skeptical and critical as anyone else about people like this latest "prophet" from America, who said that Jesus was going to come back on May 21st  of this year.  One can usually pick up from the start that such people are all bluff, and that it may have more to do with delusions of grandeur than with really wanting to say what God wants to say.  But a call to repentance is often present even then, and that much of the message is definitely true.

I get the idea that an unrepentant world is just waiting for an excuse to stone any prophet who is not fighting for the status quo, and so if they cannot hang them on that, they'll find something else.  That certainly has been my experience.  Over and over, I have been condemned for trivial things that really have nothing to do with what I really stand for.  I can imagine that just writing this article will give some cause to believe that I must have made some similarly ridiculous prediction about Jesus coming back, as they did when I made it known that I think humane treatment should be taken into consideration with regard to reforming paedophiles.

In conclusion, although I have not been able to locate the passage where Jews were instructed to stone false prophets, I still accept that it does exist, but stubbornly cling to what Jesus said about those who stone the prophets, and about their resemblance to the people who crucified Jesus.  Let us all seek to speak the truth in love, and expect that it could very easily lead to a few stonings, except that it will be the good guys on the receiving end.
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