AskDefine | Define prophesied

Dictionary Definition



1 predict or reveal through, or as if through, divine inspiration [syn: vaticinate]
2 deliver a sermon; "The minister is not preaching this Sunday" [syn: preach] [also: prophesied]prophesied See prophesy

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  1. past of prophesise

Extensive Definition

Prophecy, generally, describes the disclosing of information that is not known to the prophet by any ordinary means. In religion, this is thought to be a divinely inspired revelation or interpretation. Although, found throughout the religions of the world, the term has found popular acceptance through the work and influence of the Hebrew prophets.

Definitions of Prophecy

Rabbinic scholar Maimonides, suggested that "prophecy is, in truth and reality, an emanation sent forth by the divine being through the medium of the active intellect, in the first instance to man's rational faculty, and then to his imaginative faculty." This closely relates to the definition by Al-Fârâbî who developed the theory of prophecy in Islam. The Catholic Encyclopedia defines prophecy as "understood in its strict sense, it means the foreknowledge of future events, though it may sometimes apply to past events of which there is no memory, and to present hidden things which cannot be known by the natural light of reason."


The English word 'prophecy' (noun) in the sense of "function of a prophet" appeared in Europe from about 1225, from Old French 'profecie' (12th century), and from Late Latin 'prophetia', Latin 'proficio' (advance), from Greek 'prophetia', "gift of interpreting the will of the gods," from 'prophetes' (see prophet). The related meaning "thing spoken or written by a prophet" is from c.1300, while the verb 'prophesy' is recorded by 1377.
One of the earliest recorded uses of the term, prophecy, is nevuah, and comes from Hebrew "divrei nevuah", (English - words of prophecy), and forms the name of a major subdivision of the Tanakh, the Nevi'im [נביאים], and means "a prediction", from the root "Nuv" meaning to bear fruit, or make flourish. This may relate to the nature of prophecy from the Jewish perspective where, in Rabbinic traditions, Ezra is metaphorically referred to as the "flowers that appear on the earth" signifying the springtime in the national history of Judaism.

Components of prophecy

There are many religious systems where prophecy is the core principle of belief recorded orally or in written form. In the case of the written texts, usually called scriptures, the contents often include, though not exclusively, a record of prophecy that include the identification of the Source , the experience of the prophet or prophetess, and the record itself.
Prophecy is itself a part of a process. Most commonly the sequence of changes of properties or attributes of an ordinary human being into a prophet can be describe with the following:
  • 1. There is an original condition stated by the Divine to a given individual, group or society
  • 2. There is a need for a prophecy predicated by some divergence from the original condition
  • 3. There is the selection of the messenger of the need to correct the divergence by the Source, the prophet
  • 4. There is the experience of the messenger's realisation of his/her new role and mission
  • 5. There is the delivery of the message...
  • 6. ...and its recording as a claim to acting on behalf of the Source (which may occur at a later time)
  • 7. There is the acceptance or rejection of the message by the intended addressee(s)
  • 8. The content of the prophecy becomes reality, or not, if the message is accepted
  • 9. If the prophecy becomes reality, the messenger is accepted as a prophet/prophetess based on the (point 8.) outcome
  • 10. Once the messenger is accepted as a prophet (i.e. true prophet), he/she may make further claims of prophecy that are likely to be accepted based on the precedent of the previous delivery
  • 11. Once the claims of prophecy are accepted, the prophet/prophetess become a part of the belief system, or faith

Nature of prophecy

In the earliest Jewish source, the Torah, prophecy often consisted of a warning by God of the consequences should the society, specific communities or their leaders not adhere to Torah;s instructions. Prophecies sometimes included promises of blessing for obeying God, and returning to behaviours and laws as written in the Torah. Warning prophecies feature in all Jewish works of the Tanakh.
The rabbinic teachings, notably RaMBaM, suggest there were many levels of prophecy, from the highest such as that experienced by Moses, to the lowest where the individuals were able to apprehend the Divine Will, but not respond or even describe this experience to others, such as Noah.
Maimonides' theory of prophecy contains two elements 1) an explanation of what prophecy is, and 2) a ranking of the various types of prophecy and prophecy-like phenomena. I think we can use the ranking of prophecy implicate in Maimonides to substantiate our thesis that the rationalism of Maimonides is essentially a moral rationalism.
Maimonides in his work, The Guide for the Perplexed, outlines twelve modes of prophecy from lesser to greater degree of clarity:
  • 1. Inspired actions
  • 2. Inspired words
  • 3. Allegorical dream revelations
  • 4. Auditory dream revelations
  • 5. Audiovisual dream revelations/human speaker
  • 6. Audiovisual dream revelations/angelic speaker
  • 7. Audiovisual dream revelations/Divine speaker
  • 8. Allegorical waking vision
  • 9. Auditory waking revelation
  • 10. Audiovisual waking revelation/human speaker
  • 11. Audiovisual waking revelation/angelic speaker
  • 12. Audiovisual waking revelation/Divine speaker (that refers implicitly to Moses)
Of the twelfth mode Maimonides, focuses his attention on its "implicit superiority to the penultimate stage in the above series", and therefore above all other prophetic and semi-prophetic modes.
Experience of prophecy in the Torah and the rest of Tanakh do not restrict it to Jews, or even to human beings if one episode is to be interpreted literally. Nor is the prophetic experience restricted to the Hebrew language, since much of the prophecies of Daniel are in Aramaic.
Many of the Tanakh prophecies are accompanied by radical changes in the life of the prophets, and their experience is often accompanied by physiological change, including physical stress, experience of extrasensory perception (visions), physical collapse, and changes in their psychological state as a result of the encounter with the Divine.
The prophetic experience is always bestowed on the individual, usually unprepared for the experience, by the Divine, and this often causes the prophet to undergo travel, and often privations and persecution due to the unwelcome contents of the message he or she bring to those for whom it is intended.
In the Christian New Testament prophecy is often referred as one of the fivefold ministries or spiritual gifts that accompany the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. From this many Christians believe that prophecy is the supernatural ability to receive and convey a message from God or the divine. The purpose of the message may be to "edify, exhort and comfort" the members of the church or an individual believer. In this context, not all prophecies contain predictions about the future. The Apostle Paul also teaches in Corinthians that prophecy is for the benefit of the whole Church and not just the individual exercising the gift.

Instances of prophecy


The Tanakh contains prophecies from various Hebrew prophets (55 in total) who communicated messages from God to the nation of Israel, and later the population of Judea and elsewhere.
Malachi, whose full name was Ezra Ha'Sofer (the scribe), is acknowledged to have been the last prophet of Israel if one accepts the opinion that Nechemyah died in Babylon before 9th Tevet 3448 (313 BCE). Babylonian Talmud


The Book of Enoch, while not a part of the Canon of Scripture for most of the Christian Churches, was quoted as a prophetic text in the New Testament (Letter of Jude with also a probable reference in I Peter 3:19,20 to Enoch 6-36, especially 21, 6; 2 Enoch 7:1-5).

Prophecy in the Gospels

There are instances in the Gospel writings where individuals are described as being prophets or prophesying, suggestive of a culture that was still open to the possibility of prophecy or hearing from the Divine despite Jewish beliefs to the contrary. Some examples include Simeon, Anna, and John the Baptist.
The Gospel literature shows several instances where Jesus prophesied. An example of this is the the gospel of John which shows that whilst passing through Samaria, Jesus encountered a woman who had been married five times. In the story, Jesus relates to her details of her personal life. The woman states that "I can see you are a prophet." Jesus prophecies about his pending death, and about the end times

Prophecy in other Christian literature

Throughout the book of Acts, there are numerous references to individuals prophesying in different ways and contexts. Examples include where the church in Antioch is described as having both prophets and teachers. Also prophet by the name of Agabus predicted a severe famine. The author goes on to explain that this came to pass under the reign of the Roman Emperor Claudius. The Apostle Paul, while staying in Caesarea, stayed with Philip the Teacher, whose four daughters all prophesied. At the same time, the prophet Agabus comes and warns Paul about going back to Jerusalem, saying that he will be handed over to the Gentile authorities.
Prophecy in the Pauline Epistles
In the Pauline Epistles, the prophet, is often referred as one of the fivefold ministries or spiritual gifts that accompany the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The five ministries being; Apostles; Prophets; Evangelists; Teachers and Pastors. From this many Christians believe that prophecy is the supernatural ability to receive and convey a message from God or the divine. The purpose of the message may be to encourage the church or an individual believers. In this context, not all prophecies contain predictions about the future. The Apostle Paul also teaches in Corinthians that prophecy is for the benefit of the whole Church and not just the individual exercising the gift.

Prophecy in the Modern Church

Since the early 1900's, the number of Christians claiming to be endowed with prophecy has greatly increased with the growth of the Pentecostal movement.
The Charismatic movement, which started in the 1960's, started as an acceptance of the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the use of spiritual gifts by groups within mainline churches, one of the movement's beliefs being that one such "spiritual gift" is the modern manifestation of prophecy.
Instances of prophecy have also been witnessed in the Catholic Church. In 1917, three children were reported to have received visions and prophecies at Fatima, Portugal.
Seventh-day Adventist Church
In the Seventh-day Adventist Church, church co-founder Ellen G. White was considered to have the gift of prophecy.

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

In the 1840s, Joseph Smith, is said to have translated golden plates through divine revelation by the spirit, thereby producing the Book of Mormon. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe that their founder was a "latter-day" prophet.

Amerindian prophecy

Several cases of claimed prophecy exist among the Amerindian populations, notably the three Dogrib prophets who claimed to have been divinely inspired to bring the message of Christianity's God to their people.


Muslims maintain that Muhammad experienced a prophetic phenomena equated with interpretation of dreams, visions and remote viewing, and thus identify him as a prophet.


The founder of the Ahmadiyya Islamic reform movement, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, claimed to have fulfilled the prophecies concerning the Messiah.

Bahá'í Faith

In 1863, Bahá'u'lláh, the founder of the Bahá'í Faith, claimed the he is the 'Promised One' of all religions, in other words a prophet.
Prophecy has been claimed for, but not by, Michel de Nostredame popularly referred to as Nostradamus who was a converted Christian. However, it is known that he had travelled widely, had suffered several tragedies in his life, and had been persecuted to some degree for his suggestions about the future, reportedly derived through a use of a crystal ball.

Scepticism about prophecy

Sceptics believe many apparently fulfilled prophecies can be explained as coincidences (possibly aided by the prophecy's own vagueness), or that some prophecies were actually invented after the fact to match the circumstances of a past event ("postdiction"). Whitcomb in The Magician's Companion observes, One point to remember is that the probability of an event changes as soon as a prophecy (or divination) exists. . . . The accuracy or outcome of any prophecy is altered by the desires and attachments of the seer and those who hear the prophecy.



  • Alcalay, Reuben., The Complete Hebrew - English dictionary, Hemed Books, New York, 1996 ISBN 978-9654481793
  • Tucker, T.G., Etymological dictionary of Latin, Ares Publishers, Inc., Chicago, 1985 ISBN 978-0890051726
  • Helm, June., Prophecy and Power among the Dogrib Indians, University of Nebraska Press, 1994

Further reading

  • Marcus Tullius Cicero. 1997. De divinatione. (Trans. Arthur Stanley Pease), Darmstadt: Wissenschafltihce Buchgesellschaft.
  • David Edward Aune. 1963. Prophecy in early Christianity and the ancient Mediterranean world. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans. ISBN 0-8028-3584-8.
  • Christopher Forbes. 1997. Prophecy and inspired speech: In early Christianity and its Hellenistic environment. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, ISBN 1565632699.
  • Clifford S. Hill. 1991. Prophecy, past and present: An exploration of the prophetic ministry in the Bible and the church today. Ann Arbor, MI: Vine, ISBN 080280635X.
  • Jürgen Beyer. 2002. 'Prophezeiungen', Enzyklopädie des Märchens. Handwörterbuch zur historischen und vergleichenden Erzählforschung (English - Encyclopedia of the fairy tale. Handy dictionary for historical and comparative tale research), vol. 10. Berlin & New York: Walter de Gruyter, col. 1419-1432
  • Fabio R. Araujo. 2007. Selected Prophecies and Prophets. Charleston, SC: BookSurge, ISBN-10: 1419668455

External links

prophesied in German: Prophezeiung
prophesied in Spanish: Profecía
prophesied in French: Prophétie
prophesied in Indonesian: Nubuat
prophesied in Hebrew: נבואה
prophesied in Dutch: Profetie
prophesied in Japanese: 予言
prophesied in Norwegian: Profeti
prophesied in Norwegian Nynorsk: Profeti
prophesied in Portuguese: Profecia
prophesied in Russian: Пророчество
prophesied in Albanian: Profecia
prophesied in Simple English: Prophecy
prophesied in Slovak: Prorokovanie
prophesied in Swedish: Profetia
prophesied in Turkish: Kâhinlik
prophesied in Chinese: 预言

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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