Religious Beliefs

Have prophets and prophecy figured prominently in Christian tradition?

Christianity grew at least initially out of Jewish tradition, in which the prophets of the Old Testament played a central role. A prophetess named Anna was in the Temple when Mary and Joseph presented their child there to fulfill the Law, and proclaimed Jesus the salvation of Jerusalem (Luke 2:36-38). Jesus himself was very much a part of that prophetic heritage. He and his contemporaries wondered about the spiritual identity of Jesus’ cousin John (the Baptist). Many considered John a prophet (Mark 11:32), and Jesus told his followers that John was indeed a prophet, but even more, he was the very Elijah whose return had been foretold (Matthew 11:11-15). The Gospels report that many identified Jesus, too, as the expected prophet, and that Jesus even hinted that they were correct (see, e.g., Matthew 10:41, 13:57, 21:11). Paul’s letters list prophets as belonging to a rank or office second only to that of Apostle, suggesting that prophecy continued to play an important role after Jesus’ death (e.g., I Corinthians 12:28, Ephesians 4:11). It is not clear in those cases how these prophets functioned.

Long after the age of biblical prophecy, some Christians have identified modern “saints” as prophets who have raised their voices in opposition to oppression and injustice. Such courageous people are, therefore, spokespersons for God in our time, thus fulfilling the role of prophets of old. Some Christian (e.g. Charismatic) groups believe that prophecy continues today as a spiritual gift among their members.


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