Today we use the term prophet to describe someone who speaks bluntly and with forthrightness. The Bible uses the term prophet in a more specialized sense. Biblical prophets spoke for God under the control of the Holy Spirit.
The unique role of the Spirit separates the prophets from others who speak for God. The Spirit’s influence was described in Isaiah’s assertion that the Lord’s “strong hand” was upon him when he spoke (Isa. 8:11). In the New Testament, biblical prophets were described as being “carried along” by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21). This language emphasizes God’s control over their words. While speaking under the influence of the Holy Spirit, the prophets spoke only those things that God wanted them to say. The control and direction of their words by the Holy Spirit means that the words of the prophets are God’s Word. The prophets’ words are true.
God’s Spirit also guarantees the truth of Scripture to all believers. The theological word that we use to refer to this unique act is inspiration. It comes from 2 Timothy 3:16–17, where it is translated “God breathed.” In the act of inspiration, the Holy Spirit empowered the prophets and writers of Scripture so that they would write only what God wanted them to record. His controlling influence preserved the Scriptures from error.
The Spirit empowers believers who have the gifts of preaching and teaching the Scriptures (1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11). But He does not divinely dictate their utterances in the same way that He did those of the prophets and writers of Scripture. Their words were to be regarded as God’s words. The words we use when we preach or teach have the authority of God only to the degree that what we say agrees with God’s Word. This is an important difference. It obligates those who speak for God to base their message on the Bible and to study it carefully.
The church’s pastors, preachers, and teachers have a calling and charge to speak about God and proclaim the truth of Scripture. Though they are not divinely inspired, they still must ensure that their preaching is consistent with God’s revelation through His inspired, inerrant Scripture.
To learn more, read My Servants the Prophets by Edward J. Young (Eerdmans)