The Sunday Monitor of November 19, 2023, published an article by Elvis Mbonye titled: Who are false prophets?
Let me start by appreciating two things about that article. First, Mbonye rightly recognized that false prophets exist, and the Bible instructs us to discern who they are.
Secondly, the article rightly notes that, often, falsehood consists in the subtle pervasion of the truth, making discernment less straightforward. Error uses truth like a fisherman employs a worm on a hook to trap and drag the unsuspecting fish to the frying pan. The fish celebrates having a meal without knowing it is the meal.
Now, Mbonye, while acknowledging the biblical call to discern, puts a hidden hook before us by arguing that those who warn others about false prophets are themselves false brethren. For him, safeguarding the sheep against falsehood is a façade, a mere weaponization of the truth.
While it is possible to weaponize truth, I fear that Mbonye’s generalization is a subtle swoop of skilled penmanship undermining the biblical discernment it purports to support. One way to undermine scripture is to ignore the context of the cited texts, making them mean what the author did not intend.
Mbonye’s article relies on many of these misquoted texts to establish what he thinks is “Jesus’ methodology” for detecting false prophets. For Mbonye, texts like John 10:11- 12, Hebrews 2:3-4, and Deuteronomy 18:21-22 suggest that miracles ultimately authenticate a true prophet.
But I propose that this isn’t the case. For example, while Deuteronomy 18:21-22 suggests that a true prophet’s predictions must happen (false predictions, indeed, reflect poorly on the said prophet), two comments are in order. First, Deuteronomy 13:1-5 warns that fulfilled prophecies alone do not authenticate a prophet.
None should say, “Ah, the prediction has occurred; therefore, the prophet is from God.” For Moses, even false prophets can predict wonders that come to pass as a test by God to see whether his people know and obey his Word.
Secondly, Deuteronomy 18:15-22 distinguishes false prophets in general from a specific future and final prophet like Moses, whom Israel and nations must heed. Acts 3:19-24 identifies this specific prophet as Jesus — not just any prophet.
In John 10:11-13, Jesus highlights himself as the good shepherd by his sacrificial love, not by miracles.
“The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John. 10:11). We must remember that this statement would be subversive in a Greco- Roman world, which thought that power, pomp, and prosperity marked one as having the favour of the gods. Greco-Roman ‘heirs of gold’ would rather die for riches than those they lead. And while hirelings endanger the sheep’s life for self-benefit, Jesus’ self-sacrifice reveals that “the Father knows me, and I know the Father” (John 10:15).
Thus, John 10:11-13 stresses sacrificial love, not miracles, as revealing the mutual knowledge between the Father and the Son. Lastly, while Mbonye is correct that Hebrews 2: 3-4 speaks of God certifying the message of Jesus and his apostles “by signs and wonders and various miracles,” this text says nothing about prophets.
Crucially, a careful reader recognizes how Hebrews starts by stating the stop of prophetic revelation with Christ’s coming (1:1-2). The author insists that God often spoke to Israel through prophets, but that was “long ago.”
In “these last days,” God “has spoken to us by his Son.” Jesus is God’s ultimate, climactic, and superior self-disclosure. Christ is God’s final word, and while all prophets pointed to him, he pointed to no prophet after him.
In conclusion, how Mbonye handles biblical texts to affirm his prophetic status confirms his conviction that “the best liars take the truth and twist it a little so that it’s not an obvious lie.”
But the bitter irony, I propose, is that texts like Hebrews 1 and Deuteronomy 18 suggest that the answer to his question, “Who are false prophets?” may be as simple as “everyone who currently claims to be one.” We are then forced to ask: Is Elvis Mbonye also a false prophet?
The author is a PhD candidate in New Testament Studies at Ridley College, Melbourne.