Prophecy (Gr. , from , to foretell), the prediction of future events. The belief that certain men or classes of men had the faculty of prediction can be traced to the remotest antiquity; and. the priesthood in particular were regarded as being endowed with it. But the term prophecy, in this sense, is generally restricted to the Old Testament theology. The word prophet in the languages of Christian nations is derived from the Greek , by which the Septuagint renders the Hebrew nabi. But the term of the Septuagint does not fully correspond to the primary meaning of the Hebrew word, which denotes a man speaking by divine inspiration; though sometimes the word is used in a bad sense of men who only pretend to inspiration, or are inspired of an evil spirit. - The prophets of the Old Testament appear as the privileged organs of communication between God and his people. Frequently, though for the most part indefinitely, they pointed to a glorious completion of the theocracy through a great descendant of David, the Messiah. They also acted as the interpreters of the law, and were guardians of the rights of the oppressed. Their mission, as a body of extraordinary teachers, became especially important in times when the ordinary guardians of the law, the priests, sided with the apostates and idolaters. The germ of the prophetic office is found in the Mosaic economy, but the order was formally developed by Samuel, when the moral decline of the nation had made it necessary. In the age of the judges, prophecy, though existing only in scattered instances, exerted a powerful influence.
But the conspicuous prophetic agency begins with Samuel, who founded schools of the prophets at Gibeah, Ramah, Bethel, Jericho, and Gilgal. Instruction was given in the interpretation of the divine law, and in music and sacred poetry. Samuel, Elijah, and Elisha are mentioned as principals of such institutions. The pupils are frequently called the "sons of the prophets." The prophets were mostly taken from these schools, yet not always; for Amos relates of himself that he had been trained in no school, but was a herdsman when the Lord took him to prophesy unto the people of Israel. Sometimes, but rarely, it occurred that women came forward as prophetesses. The golden era of the prophets extends from the time of Samuel to the Babylonish captivity, and hardly any important event happened in which they did not appear as performing the leading part. After the time of Samuel they often held weekly and monthly meetings for teaching, that work being tacitly transferred from the priests to the prophets. About 100 years after the return from the Babylonish captivity the prophetic profession ceased, and Haggai, Zech-ariah, and Malachi are uniformly mentioned by Jewish tradition as the last of the prophets. - The manner of life of the prophets was conspicuous for strictness, austerity, and asceticism.
Some of them appear to have been in possession of considerable physical and medical knowledge, and to have occasionally made use of it. Later they often wrote down their prophecies, and many others compiled historical works. Thus Gad, Nathan, and perhaps Samuel, wrote the history of David; Nathan also the history of Solomon; Shemaiah and Iddo the history of Rehoboam; Jehu the history of Jehoshaphat; and Isaiah the history of Uzziah and Hezekiah. - The New Testament mentions the power of prophecy as one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. We read of one prophet, Agabus, who predicted the famine under Claudius and the imprisonment of Paul; but generally a foreknowledge and foretelling of futurity is not mentioned as characteristic of those men who, as Barnabas, Judas, and Silas, are called prophets in the Acts and the Pauline epistles. The object of the Christian "prophecy" was, according to 1 Cor. xiv. 3, "edification and exhortation and comfort." Among the books of the canon of the New Testament only one, the Revelation, bears a prophetic character. - The mode in which the divine will was revealed to the prophets has been the subject of much discussion.
The Bible declares that sometimes God spoke to them in an audible voice, sometimes in dreams, sometimes by giving them an ecstatic elevation in which they saw truths ordinarily unseen, and sometimes by visions. Many writers, especially since the middle of the last century, have endeavored to show that the Scriptures do not assert a direct and miraculous supernatural interference, and that the prophetic inspiration can be explained by a high degree of religious enthusiasm and ecstasy. Among these writers are Eichhorn, Die He-bräischen Propheten (3 vols., Göttingen, 1816-'20); Knobel, Der Prophetismus der Hebräer (Breslau, 1837); Ewald, Die Propheten des Alien Bundes (Stuttgart, 1840); and Dr. Williams in the Oxford "Essays and Reviews." With regard to the predictions occurring in the books of the prophets, this class of writers either ascribe them (as Bunsen did) to a kind of spiritual clairvoyance, or they maintain (with Dr. Williams) that few if any passages can be claimed as strictly prophetic, the prophetic utterance containing only certain "deep truths and great ideas." The great majority of Christian theologians maintain that this view is opposed by the plain intent of the Old Testament, by the counter testimony of Christ and the apostles in the New, and also by the concessions of unbelieving interpreters, such as Strauss, who say that the Scriptural writers undoubtedly claim prophetic inspiration, but that the claim is absurd.
Among the works written from this standpoint are Prof. Fair-bairn's treatise on "Prophecy, its Nature and Functions" (8vo, Edinburgh, 1856), and especially Tholuck, Die Propheten und ihre Weis-sagungen (Gotha, 1860), who has reviewed the whole subject in a philosophical manner, and concludes that the prophecies cannot be interpreted " as the utterance of subjective religious aspirations," and that "the very course of history has impressed upon these declarations the stamp and confirmation of an objective and supernatural inspiration." The reader may also consult various commentaries on the books of the prophets, and that class of works which limit themselves to an interpretation of the "Messianic prophecies" throughout the entire Old Testament, among which Heng-stenberg's Christologie (3 vols. 8vo, Berlin, 1829-'35; English translation, 1836-'9, and in Clark's " Foreign and Theological Library," 1854) is the best known. - Besides the works already named, see Köster, Die Propheten des Alten und Neuen Testaments (Leipsic, 1838); Davison, "Discourses on Prophecy" (Oxford, 1839); Stuart, "Hints on the Interpretation of Prophecy" (Andover, 1844); Maurice, "Prophets and Kings of the Old Testament" (1853); Pusey, "The Minor Prophets" (Oxford, 1861); R. Payne Smith, "Messianic Interpretation of the Prophecies of Isaiah" (1862); and Stanley, "Lectures on the Jewish Church" (1863).