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English Bible Dictionary

Prophet

 

The ordinary Hebrew word for prophet is nabi, derived from a verb signifying "to bubble forth" like a fountain; hence the word means one who announces or pours forth the declarations of God. The English word comes from the Greek prophetes (profetes), which signifies in classical Greek one who speaks for another, especially one who speaks for a god, and so interprets his will to man; hence its essential meaning is "an interpreter." The use of the word in its modern sense as "one who predicts" is post-classical. The larger sense of interpretation has not, however, been lost. In fact the English word ways been used in a closer sense. The different meanings or shades of meanings in which the abstract noun is employed in Scripture have been drawn out by Locke as follows: "Prophecy comprehends three things: prediction; singing by the dictate of the Spirit; and understanding and explaining the mysterious, hidden sense of Scripture by an immediate illumination and motion of the Spirit." Order and office: The sacerdotal order was originally the instrument by which the members of the Jewish theocracy were taught and governed in things spiritual. Teaching by act and teaching by word were alike their task. But during the time of the judges, the priesthood sank into a state of degeneracy, and the people were no longer affected by the acted lessons of the ceremonial service. They required less enigmatic warnings and exhortations, under these circumstances a new moral power was evoked the Prophetic Order. Samuel himself Levite of the family of Kohath, (1 Chronicles 6:28) and almost certainly a priest, was the instrument used at once for effecting a reform in the sacerdotal order (1 Chronicles 9:22) and for giving to the prophets a position of importance which they had never before held. Nevertheless it is not to be supposed that Samuel created the prophetic order as a new thing before unknown. The germs both of the prophetic and of the regal order are found in the law as given to the Israelites by Moses, (13:1; 18:20; 17:18) but they were not yet developed, because there was not yet the demand for them. Samuel took measures to make his work of restoration permanent as well as effective for the moment, and you can find more about that here on st-takla.org on other commentaries and dictionary entries. For this purpose he instituted companies or colleges of prophets. One we find in his lifetime at Ramah, (1 Samuel 19:19,20) others afterward at Bethel, (2 Kings 2:3) Jericho, (2 Kings 2:2,5) Gilgal; (2 Kings 4:38) and elsewhere. (2 Kings 6:1) Their constitution and object similar to those of theological colleges. Into them were gathered promising students, and here they were trained for the office which they were afterward destined to fulfill. So successful were these institutions that from the time of Samuel to the closing of the canon of the Old Testament there seems never to have been wanting due supply of men to keep up the line of official prophets. Their chief subject of study was, no doubt, the law and its interpretation; oral, as distinct from symbolical, teaching being thenceforward tacitly transferred from the priestly to the prophetic order. Subsidiary subjects of instruction were music and sacred poetry, both of which had been connected with prophecy from the time of Moses (Exodus 15:20) and the judges. (Judges 4:4; 5:1) But to belong to the prophetic order and to possess the prophetic gift are not convertible terms. Generally, the inspired prophet came from the college of prophets, and belonged to prophetic order; but this was not always the case. Thus Amos though called to the prophetic office did not belong to the prophetic order. (Amos 7:14) The sixteen prophets whose books are in the canon have that place of honor because they were endowed with the prophetic gift us well as ordinarily (so far as we know) belonging to the prophetic order. Characteristics: What then are the characteristics of the sixteen prophets thus called and commissioned and intrusted with the messages of God to his people?

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