Were prophets infallible?
There is no such thing as sin. It’s an outmoded religious idea. Sin is an illusion. A perception. A mental creation. It is not real outside of your head. Morals are evolved responses. Humans are hardwired by evolution to behave the way they do. That’s what some people think about sin. Another idea is that some people are sinless.
The Shia branch of Islam says that prophets of Allah (God) are infallible. They claim that “All the prophets and messengers of Allah, with no exception, are sinless and infallible”, while some others say they were protected from major sins but not from minor ones. What does the Bible say on this topic?
In the Bible, a prophet (nabi in Hebrew, Strongs #5030) is one who speaks on behalf of someone else. For example, Aaron was Moses’ spokesman (Ex. 7:1). So he was a prophet of Moses. The word is usually used in the Old testament for a spokesman for God, a person chosen by God to speak to people on His behalf. God’s prophets brought messages from God. They were God’s messengers to humanity who were enabled by the Holy Spirit (2 Chr. 15:1; Neh. 9:30; Mic. 3:8). They guided the nation of Israel spiritually and wrote the Old Testament. In this post, we list some of their sins and shortcomings which are mentioned in the Bible. Sin is rebellion against God which is a part of human nature that’s inherited from Adam and Eve (Dt. 9:7; Rom. 5:12; Eph. 2:1-3).
Abraham is the first man to be given the title “prophet” in the Bible (Gen. 20:7). During his life, he deceived both Pharaoh and King Abimelek by saying that his wife was his sister instead of saying that she was his wife (Gen. 12:10-20; 20:1-13). On both of these occasions, which were 20 years apart, he didn’t trust God’s promise that he would have a son (Isaac). Instead he thought that they would kill him to take his beautiful wife for their harems.
God spoke indirectly to prophets by visions and dreams, but He spoke to Moses directly, face to face (Num. 12:4-8; Dt. 34:10). Also, “No one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel” (Dt. 34:12NIV). That’s why Moses has been called the greatest prophet. He also complied and wrote most of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible). By the way, John the Baptist was the prophet with the greatest privilege because he announced the arrival of the Messiah (Mt 11:9-11).
God commissioned Moses to lead the Israelites from slavery in Egypt northwards to Canaan (Ex. 3:1-22). Previously God had promised Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that their descendants would occupy Canaan (Ex. 6:8). But Moses died before Israel reached Canaan. This was God’s judgment because he “broke faith with me (God) in the presence of the Israelites at the waters of Meribah Kadesh in the desert of Zin and because you (Moses) did not uphold my holiness among the Israelites” (Dt. 32:51NIV). This occurred when there was no water for the Israelites and their livestock and they complained to Moses and Aaron (Num. 20:1-13). God told Moses to take his staff and gather the people together and speak to a rock and water would pour out of it. But Moses didn’t obey God. Instead of speaking to the rock, he struck it twice with his staff. Because of this sin, God told him “you will not bring this community into the land (Canaan) I give them”.
A prophet from Judah
After King Jeroboam set up an idolatrous system of worship in the kingdom of Israel, God sent a prophet from Judah to denounce their idolatry (1 Ki. 13:1-32). Because of God’s judgement of their apostate worship, the prophet was commanded not to eat or drink while he was in Israel. But when an old man said, “I too am a prophet, as you are. And an angel said to me by the word of the Lord: ‘Bring him back with you to your house so that he may eat bread and drink water.’ (But he was lying to him.) So the man of God (prophet) returned with him and ate and drank in his house” (1 Ki. 13:18-19). This was a lie because although the old man may have been a true prophet in his younger days, he was now living in Bethel where there was a golden calf idol. While they were eating together, the old man from Bethel received a message from God saying that because of his disobedience, the prophet would die and would not be buried with his family. On his way home, the prophet was killed by a lion and buried in Bethel.
Peter said that David was a prophet (Acts 2:30). King David wrote many of the psalms. But he exploited his positional power in adultery with Bathsheba and arranging the killing of Uriah her husband (2 Sam. 11:1-27).
When God told Jonah to preach to the Assyrians in Nineveh, he disobeyed by boarding a ship travelling in the opposite direction (Jon. 1:1-3; 4:1)!
Jeremiah predicted the Babylonian invasion of the kingdom of Judah and demise of the Babylonian empire about 70 years later and the return of the Jews to their homeland. He also wrote the books of Jeremiah and Lamentations. But at times Jeremiah regretted his unpopular ministry. This led to depression and suicidal thoughts (Jer. 20:14-18).
What about Enoch and Elijah?
The Bible says that sin leads to death (Rom. 6:23). Therefore, people die because of sin. Did any prophets not die? Yes, Enoch and Elijah (Gen. 5:24; Heb. 11:5). Does this mean that they never sinned?
James used Elijah to illustrate the prayer of a righteous person. He emphasized that Elijah had the same human nature as us:
“Elijah was a human being, even as we are” (Jas. 5:17NIV).
“Elijah was a human being like us” (Jas.5:17NET).
“Elijah was a man with a nature like ours” (Jas. 5:17ESV, HCSB)
So Elijah had a sinful nature like us: He wasn’t infallible and sinless.
For example, after he was threatened by Queen Jezebel, “Elijah was afraid and ran for his life”. He ran from Jezebel travelling at least 160 km (100 miles) to Beersheba! Then he was depressed and suicidal (1 Ki. 19:1-14). So Elijah was like us when he experienced fear, discouragement and dismay.
We know very little about Enoch, except that his father was Jared and Methuselah was one of his sons (Gen. 5:18-24). “Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away” (Gen. 5:24). And Jude records a prophesy by Enoch (Jude 14-15). As Enoch had two human parents; according to Romans 5:12 he inherited the sin of Adam. This is a characteristic of humanity. The only exception is Jesus, who didn’t have a human father (Joseph was His step-father).
After Jesus miraculously fed over 5,000 people and taught at the festival of tabernacles, they thought He was the prophet who was promised in the Old Testament (Jn. 6:14; 7:40). The Samaritan woman, the blind man, and those who saw Him raise the widow’s son thought that Jesus was a prophet (Jn. 4:19; 9:17; Lk. 7:16). So some people thought He was a prophet (Mk. 6:15; 8:28). When some Pharisees advised Jesus to escape from Jerusalem, He said “no prophet can die outside Jerusalem” (Lk. 13:33). When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, the people said He was “Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee” (Mt. 21:11). And the two travelling to Emmaus after Christ’s death called Him a prophet (Lk. 24:19). God had promised Moses “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him” (Dt. 18:18). This prophet would be a mediator between God and people. In the context of Christ’s coming reign on earth, Peter said that Jesus would be a prophet like Moses (Acts 3:21-23). The similarity is that both are raised up by God (Dt. 18:15, 18).
But Jesus was unique. He didn’t have a biological (human) father like all other people. And He is the only sinless infallible person to have lived on earth. The Bible says “He committed no sin”; He “had no sin”; and “in Him is no sin” (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pt. 2:22; 1 Jn. 3:5). He made no mistakes or errors. He was greater than Moss (Heb. 3:1-6). Also see, “Ten reasons Jesus was more than a prophet”. These reasons are all consistent with Jesus being the divine Son of God who is equal with God and is alive today.
All the Old Testament prophets were sinners because they had a sinful nature (being born of human parents) and so they weren’t infallible. Likewise, people like Mary the mother of Jesus, the Pope, and Muhammad are sinners and so they weren’t (or aren’t) infallible. Also, the originators and leaders of all religions (except for Jesus Christ) are sinners and so they weren’t (or aren’t) infallible.
However, a biblical prophet’s revelations were divinely authoritative and infallible. David wrote, “the Spirit of the Lord spoke through me; His word was on my tongue” (2 Sam. 23:2). Peter said that a prophetic message is “completely reliable” and “prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (1 Pt. 1:19-21). A prophet’s words were God’s words. What a prophet said, God said.
What about prophets who lived after 33 AD? Those whose message is not consistent with Jesus being the Son of God and the only mediator between God and humanity are false prophets: because “In the past God spoke to our (Jews) ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son (Jesus), whom He appointed heir of all things, and through whom He made the universe” (Heb. 1:1-2). In fact, “many false prophets have gone out into the world” and they can be recognized by their false view of Jesus (1 Jn. 4:1-3).
What about Christians today? The Bible says, “If we claim to be without sin (a sinful nature), we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins (individual sins), He (God) is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned (individual sins), we make Him (God) out to be a liar and His word is not in us” (1 Jn. 1:8-10). Conversion doesn’t eradicate our sinful nature. But it gives us a new divine nature with power to live victoriously over the sinful nature. One of the ways to do this is to confess our individual sins and through God’s parental forgiveness (based on Christ paying the penalty for us) our fellowship with God and each other is restored. If anyone claims to be sinless, they make God out to be a liar and deny the reason Jesus come to earth to die. This applies to both the Gnostics of John’s era and todays atheists who deny that immoral actions are sinful.
The Bible shows that prophets like Abraham, Moses, a prophet from Judah, David, Jonah, Jeremiah were sinners and so they aren’t infallible. Even a prophet who didn’t die (Elijah) was a sinner. In fact, all the descendants of Adam and Eve were sinners except for Jesus Christ who wasn’t conceived in the usual way. He is the only infallible person.
So the Shia Islamic view that prophets of Allah (God) are infallible isn’t consistent with the Bible. Also, the atheist and Buddhist view that there is no such thing as sin isn’t consistent with the Bible. This means that they are human ideas that don’t come from God.
Written, November 2016