In numerous religions, including Abrahamic religions, Jah religions, Sikhism, and many forms of Paganism, a prophet is an intermediary with a deity, particularly someone who speaks for the deity or interprets the deity's will or mind. A prophet usually operates through some means of divination, channeling, or extra-sensory perception, and the prophet's pronouncements in the name of a deity are sometimes called revelation. Some utterances foretelling the future may be interpreted as having been prophesies. Some "prophecies" seem to have been made after the event; these are given the technical name vaticinia ex eventu.
The concept of a prophet is an old one, and the concept is important in numerous religions. The Greek oracles were inherited from autochthonous sacred sites that preceded the Greeks' arrival in the Aegean. The Bible refers to prophets of Yahweh, Baal, and other regional deities. Christians refer to John the Baptist as a prophet of the Christian god, and Muslims refer to Muhammad as The Prophet, the last and greatest of the prophets of Allah, or God. Latter Day Saints also commonly refer to Joseph Smith, Jr. and his successors as The Prophet.
Pagan Greek and Roman oracles
The role of spokesperson for the gods is an archaic one in the Hellenic world. However, the word prophet itself derives from the Greeks, who used the word προφήτης to refer to an interpreter or spokesperson of a deity, who "utters forth." In Greek religion the interpreters of Zeus, Apollo, and other gods were the oracles, at numerous ancient sites, where the god or goddess spoke through women, sometimes identified as sibyls and the utterances, in classical times, were interpreted by men. In various Greek legends, oracles (particularly Apollo's at Delphi) spoke cryptically of the future, and their meaning was frequently misunderstood. In The Iliad the Trojan princess Cassandra warns of upcoming events, but has been cursed such that no one believes her prophecies.
The Hebrew and Jewish concepts of prophet
In Hebrew, the word traditionally translated as prophet is נְבִיא (nevi), which likely means "proclaimer". The meaning of nevi is perhaps described in Deuteronomy 18:18, where God said, "I will put my words in his mouth and he will speak to them all that I command him." Thus, the navi was thought to be the "mouth" of God.
The root nun-bet-alef ("navi") is based on the two-letter root nun-bet which denotes hollowness or openness; to receive transcendental wisdom, one must make oneself “open”. Cf. Rashbam's comment to Genesis 20:7.
Some examples of prophets in the Tanakh (the Jewish scripture, which Christians refer to as the Old Testament) include Abraham, Sarah, Isaiah, Samuel, Ezekiel, and Job. In Jewish tradition, Daniel is not counted in the list of prophets.
The Tanakh states that prophecy is not limited to Jews, and is remarkable for the many accounts of prophets it contains. It specifically mentions the prophecy of Bilam, a gentile. The accounts include details of men, women and even animals receiving prophecy in various ways. (This section needs to be greatly expanded)
Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote one of the 20th century's classic commentaries on the prophets, entitled "The Prophets" which has received acclaim in the Jewish community, and in part of the Catholic and liberal Protestant community.
Classical Jewish texts teach that the most direct forms of prophecy ended with the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE. However, various rabbinic Jewish works, including the midrash, state that other less direct forms of communication between man and God still exist, and have never ended.
Many Jewish works, including the Talmud and Maimonides's Guide for the Perplexed states that gentiles may receive prophecy. However, Judaism generally does not accept that any of the specific people well known in other religions are genuine prophets. Jews have not recognized any specific gentile leader as a prophet, as most people who claim to be prophets in other religions have done so in such a way as to delegitimize or supersede Judaism itself. Judaism (based on Deuteronomy Ch. 13 and 18:20) holds that no true prophet will create a new faith or religion as a successor to Judaism. Thus, the Qur'an's claims that Jews have deliberately falsified the Bible and that only Muslims know the true word of God is rejected.
The Talmud states that minor forms of prophecy still occur. One example of this is the 'bat kol'. (e.g. Tosefta Sota 13:3, Yerushalmi Sota 24b, and Bavli Sota 48b). The Talmud notes that each time a Jew studies the Torah or its rabbinic commentaries, God is revealed anew; there is still a link between the God and the Jewish people. Reference: Abraham Joshua Heschel's "Prophetic Inspiration After the Prophets: Maimonides and Others" (Ktav)
A Jewish tradition holds that there were 600,000 male and 600,000 female prophets. Judaism recognizes the existence of 49 prophets who bequeathed permanent messages to mankind. [Jewish prophets]
According to the Talmud there were also seven women who are counted as prophets whose message bears relevance for all generations: Sarah, Miriam, Devorah, Hannah (mother of the prophet Samuel), Abigail (a wife of King David), Huldah (from the time of Jeremiah), and Esther. There were, of course, other women who functioned as prophets, and the last prophet mentioned in the Bible, Noahdiah (Nehemiah 6:14) was a woman.
Christian concepts of a prophet
Some Christian denominations teach that a person who receives a personal message that is not intended for the body of believers, where such an event is credited at all, should not be termed a prophet. For them, a prophet is a person who speaks for God, in the name of God, and who carries God's message to others. The reception of a message is termed revelation; the delivery of the message is termed prophecy. To question the authenticity of a prophet is seen as an irreligious act by those who have accepted the prophet's claims, for the link to the divine is threatened. Questions of self-deception and gullibility arise from those who remain unconvinced.
Some Christians, i.e. those who believe in the dispensationalism, believe prophecy ended with the coming of Jesus, who delivered the "fullness of the law". Within this group, many Protestants believe that prophecy ended with the last of the prophets in the Hebrew portion of the Bible that Christians call the "Old Testament" included in their canon, leaving a gap of about 400 years between then and the coming of Jesus Christ. The majority allow an exception for John the Baptist as a prophet contemporary with Jesus.
This being said, Christianity as a whole and the majority of Protestant denominations reject dispensationalism. Most Protestants hold that prophecy continues to this day, though what is meant by this varies widely. Denominations influenced by Pentecostalism tend to look for ecstatic visions and cryptic messages of the kind found in the Old Testament, while Reformed denominations see prophecy continuing in everyday preaching. The majority of Protestant congregations do not seem to have a well-developed inclusion of prophecy in their religious practice.
The Eastern Orthodox generally believe that John the Baptist (also known as John the Forerunner) was the last of the prophets, thus tightly linking the period of prophecy in the Old Testament with Jesus. Roman Catholics and Muslims also regard John the Baptist as a prophet.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, more commonly known as the Mormon church, believes that its founder, Joseph Smith, Jr., was a prophet. The president of the church is officially known as the "Prophet, Seer and Revelator" in the belief that he continues to receive direct revelation from God for the guidance of the church and for the world in general. In chronological order, these are Joseph Smith, Jr., Brigham Young, John Taylor , Wilford Woodruff , Lorenzo Snow, Joseph F. Smith, Heber J. Grant, George Albert Smith, David O. McKay, Joseph Fielding Smith, Harold B. Lee, Spencer W. Kimball, Ezra Taft Benson, Howard W. Hunter, and presently (as of June 1994) Gordon B. Hinckley. The Book of Mormon includes much information about ancient prophets who, the book and Mormon tradition claim, lived among the peoples inhabiting the American Continents in ancient times.
The Unification Church regards its founder, Sun Myung Moon as a living prophet.
Jehovah's Witnesses do not consider any person in their modern-day history to be a prophet. Occasionally, their literature refers to the Christian congregation collectively as God's prophet on earth; this must be understood however in the sense of declaring God's judgments from the Bible, rather than a claim to inspiration. For many years, their magazine The Watchtower included a foreword that said: "No, The Watchtower is no inspired prophet."
Given that Christians believe Jesus to be God, those in the New Testament that received a message from him might be considered by some Christians to be prophets.
The Islamic concept of prophet
Islam holds that Allah (Islamic proper name of God, not to be confused with Ilah, Arabic for God) sent messengers to all nations on earth, at various stages of their histories. These messengers, some who were also prophets, had the task of conveying religious guidance to the people. The Qur'an is held by Muslims to be the uncreated speech of God and transmitted via the angel Gabriel to the prophet Muhammad.
The Qur'an mentions the names of 25 prophets, and indicates that there have been many others sent to humanity throughout time. These 25 include Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad. These individuals were mortal humans; Islam demands that a believer accept all of the prophets, making no distinction between them. It is Muhammad who is held to be the last prophet, ending a long line of messengers and also believed is the return of prophet Isa (Jesus) on the Last Day.
The Ahmadi Muslims consider Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian to be a prophet. However as he comes after the prophet Muhammad, their teachings are considered heretical and non-Islamic by most Muslims.
Some historical figures who claimed to be a prophet in a more or less Islamic sense of the word include Musaylimah of Yamamah , Ha-Mim of the Ghomara, Salih of the Berghouata, and (possibly less than seriously) the great Arab poet al-Mutanabbi ; no groups maintain their prophethood today.
Muslims distinguish between prophets per se (نبي nabi) and messengers (رسول rasul), the latter being the greatest of the prophets and who bring a book rasila .
See: Prophets of Islam
The Bahá'í concept of prophet
The Bahá'í Faith teaches that there have been other great prophets besides the seven cited by Islam. The founder of the Bahá'í faith, Bahá'u'lláh, who came after Muhammad, is one such prophet. In addition, there were other prophets who spoke to the followers of other faiths in other parts of the world. Thus the founders of great non-Western religions, such as Buddha, are also considered prophets of God. The faith teaches that religion is an unfolding process in world history, and the various prophets participated in this process in different times and cultures. This explains the differences in the world's great religions, which are ultimately one and come from God.
The Direct Worship concept of prophet
Direct Worship teaches that God is equally accessible to all mankind, and that He has ordained only one universally common mode of worship for all mankind to follow. As such, any follower of Direct Worship can obtain enlightenment from God provided a certain level of sacrifices is met and that these sacrifices are performed directly in honor of God only. Consequently, prophets in Direct Worship are accorded a normal human status, but are recognised to have received divine revelation as a reward for performing significant prayers and sacrifices.
Tenrikyo concept of prophet
Tenrikyo's prophet, Miki Nakayama or Oyasama , is believed by Tenrikyoans to have been a kind of microphone of God, as God spoke through Oyasama, directly, to whomever was in the vicinity. She had three aspects: the Shrine of Tsukihi (the body of the woman was occupied by the mind of God), The Parent of the Divine Model (Oyasama taught the people by instructions and examples), and The Truth of the Everliving Oyasama (she continues to watch humanity develop, even after shedding her body).
Other people throughout history have been described as prophets in the sense of foretelling the future (as opposed to forthtelling the message of the Deity). Examples of such prophets include: