Preacher or Prophet: Is There a Difference?
Updated: Feb 15
Biblical Definition of Prophet
A Prophet is called by God to communicate a certain message, at a certain time, to His people. The Hebrew word for prophet “nabi” means “one who speaks”. All Prophets had a unique, God gifted ability to hear from Him when no one else could. These messages were then communicated to God’s people, Israel, of either warning or comfort. Most messages involved announcing what God saw, His judgment, and a call to repentance from evil. They do/did so on the hope that people will turn back to God.
The Prophets were also messengers of hope and comfort as well. It seems both Prophets, and those they prophesied to, were caught in a vicious cycle. The nation of Israel sinned, God sent a messenger with threats of judgment, and the people repented. A short time later, Israel would go sin all over again. The role of a Prophet is not only unique and the life of the Jewish people, it is unique in world history.
Other cultures had visionaries and seers, but only Israel had Prophets. Of course, later Islam would “claim” a prophet named Mohammed but still, Prophets began in Israel. Just an FYI: foundationally the Quran is built on the patriarch of the Jewish people, Abraham.
Definition of a Preacher
A biblical Preacher/Pastor is called by God to proclaim and teach His word. Let’s be clear: all God called Prophets “preach” but not all Pastor/Preachers are Prophets. The word preacher is derived from the Greek word “kerux” which can either mean “herald” or “messenger”. The word Pastor comes from a Latin word of the same name but means “shepherd”. Even with respect to these two callings, Pastors are Preachers of the gospel, but not all Preachers serve as Church Pastors. The difference lies in level of leadership responsibility. Jesus provided a three (3) word job description for Pastors: “feed my sheep”.
In the New Testament, Preachers are referred to as “elders” or “overseers” and given responsibility for congregational care. As a Pastor, my primary duties include teaching, preaching, and guiding God’s people. Of course, we often have management level organizational responsibility such as finances, etc. We are also commanded to model Christ like behavior and when we come short, turn back to Jesus through repentance.
Difference Between Preacher and Prophet
The difference between a Preacher/Pastor, and a Prophet, is how this call of God is carried out. There are numerous differences between these two ordained functions, but I will keep this brief. Let’s deal with a Preacher/ Pastor first. A Pastor, called by God anyway, are among the meekest individuals alive. This is not to suggest “weakness” either. Having met hundreds of these men and knowing the “false preachers” from the “God called”, this trait is unanimous. Next, Preachers have a heart of grace towards God’s people. Some have mastered the art of “faking” grace, however.
A Prophet is different for several reasons. First, a Prophet can never be defined as “meek” with the exclusion of Moses. Moses, however, had a task unique from any other Prophet since. He had to boldly proclaim God’s word before a wicked Pharaoh, yet function as a shepherd/Pastor while leading God’s people (later). No other from the time of Moses, until now, can lay claim on such world shifting authority from God! Prophets are the opposite of “meek” and “full of grace”. They are confrontational, aggressive, and more "war-like" and "lamb like".
The work God has called a Prophet to requires these traits. The work of a local Preacher/Pastor requires traits God has gifted them with as well. Next, where preachers call for “grace”, Prophets cry out for God’s justice on wickedness. Finally, a Prophet isn’t normally called to shepherd God’s people as a Pastor.
Here are three (3) biblical Preachers and Prophets:
New Testament Preachers:
1. The Apostle Paul: next to Jesus Christ, Paul is perhaps the most well-known New Testament preacher. He was originally a persecutor of Christians but had a dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus. Paul was the most well-traveled Apostle having been sent, by Jesus, to preach the gospel to the Gentiles.
2. Apollos: he was a preacher who is mentioned in the Book of Acts. He was Jewish, from Alexandria, and well-versed in scripture. Initially, he only knew about the baptism of John but was later taught about the completed ministry of Jesus by Aquilla in Priscilla.
3. Stephen: heralded as one of the church’s first deacons, this young man preached the second most powerful sermon in the Book of Acts before the Sanhedrin Council. For his message, he was stoned to death.
Old Testament Prophets:
1. Elijah: this Prophet was one (1) of only two (2) people in the biblical narrative who never saw physical death. The other was Enoch (Book of Genesis). Elijah lived during the reign of King Ahab in the Northern Kingdom of Israel. He was one of the more confrontational Prophets in Israel. He confronted 400+ false prophets of Jezebel and Ahab on Mount Carmel. His message to Israel was that they needed to turn back to God.
2. Isaiah: he was a prophet who lived during the time of the divided kingdom in Israel. Isaiah prophesied to both the Northern and Southern kingdoms. One of the most notable of his prophecies included the coming of Israel’s Messiah.
3. Jeremiah: admittedly, this is the Prophet whose book I study most! His struggle against the call he was given is unique among the prophetic writings. I know we aren’t supposed to have favorites - please forgive me Saints. However, Jeremiah lived during the time leading up to the Babylonian captivity of Judah. He warned the people about this coming judgment and urged them to turn back to God. Jeremiah suffered persecution and spoke more about “shepherds” and “Pastors” than any other biblical prophet.
Note: there were two (2) Prophets mentioned in the New Testament as well. Excluding Jesus, of course, John the Baptist as well as Anna, a woman, were verified New Testament Prophets.
How are Prophets and Preachers Chosen
Prophets and Preachers are chosen by God because He knows what’s best. I truly wish I could point to some biblical text to understand why God chooses whom He does. However, and as His word says: “his thoughts are not our thoughts neither are his ways are ways said the Lord”. We do not know the “why”, just “how” God communicates the command to go preach. I have asked God why He chose me for many years now. He has never responded, or at least not in a way I discern.
God does not choose leaders the way modern day church pastoral selection committees do. They post the job announcement, having listed carnal criteria, and choose who they think is best. That is interesting because all claim to have prayed and God answered their prayer(s). Based on the condition of the church, I doubt they earnestly prayed, but guarantee God gave them the leader they deserved!
Some will use Jeremiah 3:15, as well as God’s description of David being: “a man after his own heart” as a qualification for the call. While that is an interesting posit, there is something foundational wrong with it. First, David already loved the Lord, and was among His people when anointed by Samuel. Next, anyone not reconciled through Jesus Christ is a reprobate, sinner, and worthy of death. This becomes important because, at least when we are lost, we could not be people after God’s own heart.
This is not a question of “who we were prior to meeting God” rather “who we became after”. This “man” is prepared and who can claim to be prepared having never met God? Sorry, the “man after God’s own heart” is invalid and unsatisfying until after our salvation experience.
Let’s review biblical examples of the “how” people are called (if not the “why”):
1. Exodus 3:1-12 - God called Moses while appearing as a burning bush! Moses listed reasons why God should choose someone else, but God refused. No qualification that Moses possessed explained God’s choice of him.
2. Jeremiah 1:4-10 - the Lord called Jeremiah as the young boy and reminded him that chosen him before he was ever born. Again, no reason was given why or what qualification Jeremiah had.
3. Amos: this Prophet was both a shepherd and a farmer when God called him. Someone told Amos: “Man of God go somewhere else and preach”. Amos responded that he was not qualified to even preach but God told him to.
In summary, all we know is “that” God calls us and not “why”. Please point out me biblical evidence listing why God called Abram (later Abraham). What special attribute, prior to the call, did this “friend of God” have? We know, even after the call, he was a “liar”.
Can Women Serve as Prophets
That is an interesting question, and an answer may not be as straightforward as many believe. It is said that we Christians believe what the Bible says however, that depends on the Christian. For instance, in more traditional churches, women are largely forbidden from preaching the gospel. However, there is no biblical evidence against our sisters being selected as either a Prophet or Preacher. The “Pastor” issue is for another discussion. Nevertheless, scripture indicates there were women who served as Prophets.
Here are biblical examples of this reality:
1. Miriam: she was the sister of Moses and Aaron. Miriam was a Prophetess and led the women in singing and dancing after the crossing of the Red Sea. (Exodus 15:20-21) 2. Deborah – arguably the best know Prophetess in Israel, she also served a “Judge”. She was known for wisdom and led the Israelites in a victorious battle against the Canaanites. (Judges 4:4-5) 3. Huldah - Huldah was also a Prophetess during the reign of King Josiah of Judah. When the Book of the Law was discovered in the temple, Josiah sent messengers to Huldah to inquire of the Lord. She confirmed it was from the Lord God and predicted judgment on the nation. (2 Kings 22:14-20) 4. Noadiah - Noadiah was a false prophetess who opposed the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem. (Nehemiah 6:14) 5. Isaiah's wife - Although she is not named, Isaiah's wife is referred to as a Prophetess. She gave birth to a son who was given a prophetic name. This name represented the judgment of God on Israel's enemies. (Isaiah 8:3-4) 6. Anna – this Sister was a Prophetess who met the baby Jesus at the temple in Jerusalem. She recognized Him as the Messiah and praised God. (Luke 2:36-38)
In summary, women can be both a Prophet and Preacher biblically. That is, if we truly believe: “God is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”
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