Leadership, Authority, and Religious Roles

What is the difference between a prophet and a sage?

Biblical prophets and sages arose from similar backgrounds and cultural circumstances, but had different ways of describing the relationship between the human and the divine. First, their overall purpose—call it strategy if you like—differed in several ways. Prophets spoke for God, focused on divine justice, and were motivated by the divine Word and by a conviction of God’s presence. Sages spoke for humankind, addressed human reason, and were moved by social conscience. The prophets’ rhetoric was fiery and animated, idealistic, and meant to engage people’s emotions, while that of the sages was cool and dispassionate, practical, and aimed at persuading listeners by the strength of the argument. Finally, prophets and sages directed their messages at different segments of the public. Prophets struggled urgently to make God known to the rich and powerful in the hope that they would modify their ways of ruling others. Sages sought through steady pedagogy to help ordinary people apply knowledge to their daily lives.


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