False Teachers, False Prophets and Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing
James R. Aist
“Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.” – Jesus (Matthew 7:15)
I compiled this document in response to the book, “Translating God”, by Shawn Bolz. While the book includes several points that appear to be biblically sound, there are a great many false teachings in it that are unbiblical, very misleading and too significant to dismiss lightly. Such a mixture of biblical truth and heresy is typical of the “wolves in sheep’s clothing” that Jesus warned us about. (Note: where page numbers are given, they refer to specific pages in the book.)
A Pentecostal Definition of “Prophecy”
Dr. Cecil M. Robeck, Jr. has defined prophecy as “A spontaneous manifestation of God’s grace, received by revelation, (sometimes as a vision, at other times as impressions or thoughts) and spoken by the Spirit through a Christian who has been given a gift of prophecy in the language of those who hear the prophetic word spoken.” Such definitions apply specifically to prophecy in a meeting of a church body.
From this definition, we can see that there are three things that must happen in order for the process to be complete: First, the Holy Spirit must give the gift of prophecy to a Christian of His choosing; second, the Holy Spirit must give to that person a revelation from God; and third, the revelation must then be spoken to those whom God wants to hear it. Thus, true prophecy is initiated by the Holy Spirit and manifests first as a revelation given by the Holy Spirit. The one prophesying then turns the revelation into a prophecy by speaking it to those who hear. In other words, the Holy Spirit operates the prophecy, while the human being merely co-operates with the Holy Spirit in the process.
Regarding the aspect of spontaneity in prophecy, let me first point out that spontaneity is commonly present as an element of true prophecy in the definitions of most Pentecostal and charismatic writers. Shawn, however, conspicuously leaves “spontaneous” out of his definition (see page 100 in the book). Could this be because his three-step procedure to hear from God is not spontaneous at all, but an intentional human act to get the prophecy ball rolling, so to speak? As you will see in the Bible passages below, with true prophecy, the spontaneity is in the giving of the revelation to the human being, which is according to the will of the Holy Spirit, not the will of the human being. However, there is flexibility in when the revelation is to be shared with those who are to hear it: if the revelation comes during the meeting, then it is to be given as soon as possible during the meeting. But if the revelation comes before the meeting, then one is to wait until the meeting has begun and then give it.
Bible Passages on “Prophecy” in the Christian Church:
1 Corinthians 12:1 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant.
Paul is about to teach the Corinthians all they (and we) need to know about prophecy in the Christian church body. [If he were to leave out any essential information, then the Corinthians (and we) would still be ignorant after learning all that Paul teaches here.]
1 Corinthians 12:6 There are various operations, but it is the same God who operates all of them in all people.
It is the Holy Spirit, not the human being, who operates the gift of prophecy. We just co-operate with the Holy Spirit.
1 Corinthians 12:10 …to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues.
Note that “discerning of spirits” follows immediately after “prophecy” in this list. Perhaps this order of mention was meant to imply that to effectively “test the spirits to see if they are from God,” one needs to exercise the gift of “discerning of spirits.” The test of the written word of God should always be applied also. The gift of prophecy is not given to all Christians as a result of their conversion; rather, it is distributed only to some, according to the will of the Holy Spirit.
1 Corinthians 12:10 But that one and very same Spirit works all these, dividing to each one individually as He will.
It is the Holy Spirit, not a human being, who distributes the gift of prophecy (cf. Hebrews 2:4) as He wills, and then He works them Himself. Prophecy doesn’t “just happen”; the Holy Spirit, not a human being, initiates the process by giving someone with the gift of prophecy a revelation from God. (See the Addendum, below)
1 Corinthians 14:1 Follow after love and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.
Of all of the spiritual gifts, prophecy is the one most to be desired. (One may wonder, then, if maybe some of the time and energy we have been focusing on the gift of tongues might have been better spent on the gift of prophecy. I’m just sayin’.)
1 Corinthians 14:3 But he who prophesies speaks to men for their edification and exhortation and comfort.
Apparently, these are the three main purposes that God has in mind for giving us prophecy revelation in and for the church body.
1 Corinthians 14:5 I desire that you all speak in tongues, but even more that you prophesy. For greater is he who prophesies than he who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may receive edification.
Not only is prophecy greater than tongues, but the prophet is greater than the tongues speaker, unless there is an interpretation. A message in tongues with interpretation in a church meeting is a revelation from God to edify those present; it is man-ward directed, whereas tongues spoken privately is God-ward directed to give praise and glory to God.
1 Corinthians 14:12 So, seeing that you are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that you may excel to the edifying of the church. (cf. Young’s Literal Translation: so also ye, since ye are earnestly desirous of spiritual gifts, for the building up of the assembly seek that ye may abound.)
I see in this verse something that goes beyond just “…earnestly desire to prophesy.” What I see here is a call to action, an instruction for us to make every effort to get better at discerning the voice of God, so that our prophecies are true. Thus, teaching about prophecy that is aimed at improving our ability to discern the voice of God may be both biblical and encouraged. This is a key verse relative to the part of the book that promotes contemporary prophecy classes and practice sessions. (Caution: prophecy practice sessions should be summarily rejected and avoided, because they are based on the false teaching that it is a human being, not the Holy Spirit, who initiates the process of prophecy. See 2 Peter 1:20-21, below.)
1 Corinthians 14:24-25 But if all prophesy and there comes in one who does not believe or one unlearned, he is convinced by all and judged by all. Thus the secrets of his heart are revealed. And so falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you.
Pentecostal theology holds that “…the secrets of his heart…” refers to hidden sins. According to this view, prophecies in the church body can convict a hearer of sin.
1 Corinthians 14:26 When you come together, every one of you has a psalm, a teaching, a tongue, a revelation, and an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.
Apparently, prophecy revelation is routinely received before the meeting and then brought to the meeting, to be delivered during the meeting. Tongues, with interpretation, is for the edification of the whole church, just like prophecy is.
1 Corinthians 14:29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge.
All present at the meeting are to listen to the prophecy, and judge what is said (to decide if it is from God). There is no mention of judgment of, or punishment for, the prophet if the prophecy is found to be false. Instead, according to Pentecostal Theology, there is grace to cover these human failures. But, that does not mean that we should celebrate false prophecies and take even more risks in prophesying, as Shawn teaches, any more than we should “…continue in sin that grace may increase” (Romans 6:1-2). The two main tools that we have to judge prophecies are the written word of God and the gift of discerning of spirits.
1 Corinthians 14:30 If anything is revealed to another that sits by, let the first keep silent.
Some prophecy revelations are received during the meeting, and these are to be given priority in the order of presentation at the meeting.
1 Corinthians 14:31 For you may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged.
Prophecies are to be given one after another, not while others are being given, so that all of the prophecies may be heard and judged by all, and all may be edified.
1 Corinthians 14:37 If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that what I am writing you is a command of the Lord.
Paul has received these instructions directly from Jesus, so his teaching here about prophecy in the church body is, itself, a true prophecy.
Acts 2:17-18 ‘In the last days it shall be,’ says God, ‘that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.
All true believers are eligible to prophesy, because God has poured out His Spirit on all flesh. But, 1 Corinthians 12:10 says that they can only do so if/when the Holy Spirit chooses to use them in this way. Shawn, on the other hand, declares, falsely and without equivocation, that “You get to prophesy if you want to.” (Top of page 161 in the book.)
1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies. Examine all things. Firmly hold onto what is good. Abstain from all appearances of evil.
Test all prophecies to see if they are from God. Accept those that pass the tests, and reject those that do not. The tests are the written word of God and the gift of discerning of spirits. Note again that there is no explicit judgment of the prophet and no punishment specified for delivering a false prophecy…only grace, instead, according to Pentecostal Theology. But remember, that does not mean that we should celebrate false prophecies and take even more risks in prophesying, as Shawn teaches, any more than we should “…continue in sin that grace may increase” (Romans 6:1-2).
2 Peter 1:20-21 But know this first of all, that no prophecy of the Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation. 21 For no prophecy at any time was produced by the will of man, but holy men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.
True prophecy does not proceed from the will or the imagination of human beings. Instead, people are moved by the Holy Spirit to relay a message from God. The Holy Spirit, not a human being, initiates and operates the process. By contrast, Shawn Bolz teaches, erroneously, that “You get to prophecy if you want to”, i.e., if it is your will to do so (see top of page 161 in the book and the Addendum, below).
1 John 4:1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
Do not just believe that everything a prophet says is from God, really is from God; there are many false prophecies being floated around. Rather, test every prophecy and decide for yourself if it is from God. This rule applies to even the most famous and esteemed of “prophets.” The tests are the written word of God and the gift of discerning of spirits.
General Commentary: Notice that all of these verses pertain specifically to the use of the gift of prophecy in the assembly of the saints for the edification of all assembled. Nothing is said here of either revelations about individuals, or whether or not we are to share such personal revelations with anybody. I am presently of the opinion that revelations from God about individuals are just words of knowledge to be kept to oneself, unless God instructs you to share the revelation with the individual or a group, in which case it then becomes a prophecy, by definition. I have yet to find in the Bible any instruction or permission to share God-given personal information about an individual to any group of people (e.g., a small group or class within a church body, a church body, a conference or convention of “prophets”, the internet, etc.). This will become an issue if/when we consider the way Shawn Bolz commonly uses prophecy (See the Addendum, below). Pentecostal theology commonly refers to revelations from God about and for individuals as “Rhema”, and much of what Shawn Bolz calls “prophecy” fits much better within the definition of “Rhema” than of “prophecy.” In any case, what Shawn routinely teaches and practices is not biblical prophecy as taught by Paul and others. For a sound, biblical teaching by Watchman Nee on the Rhema word, see text pages 51-59 at this link: https://s3-us-west-1.amazonaws.com/bfa-media/ebooks/TGC-eng.pdf
To more fully understand what Shawn Bolz is teaching and practicing, it will be instructional and revealing to have a look at some videos that are readily available on the internet. Here are three articles, with accompanying videos, which I strongly urge you to read, watch and ponder:
The first article/video reveals, in Shawn’s own words, how he teaches children (and adults, for that matter) how to listen and hear what God wants to say to them: 1) close your eyes; 2) listen for God’s voice; 3) if you hear something, write it down. Shawn is teaching that we can initiate prophecy in this manner, whereas the Bible teaches that it is the Holy Spirit who initiates prophecy. And where is the testing of the spirits to see if they are from God? It appears that Shawn is assuming that whatever one hears spoken into the mind is from God.
From the Bible we learn that God and His angels are not the only spirits inhabiting the spirit world around us. There are also Satan and his minions, including evil spirits, evil angels, demons, etc. (Ephesians 6:12). We also learn that both God and Satan are able to put thoughts into our minds (e.g., Satan lying to Eve in the garden of Eden, the account of Ananias lying to Peter about his sale price, and Peter speaking the words of men given to him by Satan, when Jesus said that He would be killed in Jerusalem). I can hardly imagine a more dangerous way to invite Satan to put thoughts into our minds than to follow Shawn’s three-step method to hear God’s voice. Here’s the link: https://bereanresearch.org/shawn-bolz-teaches-children-channel-gods-voice/
The second article/video features a video of Shawn being called to the stage at a prophecy conference to perform his prophecy show. The commentary is extremely fair-minded and careful to not draw conclusions beyond the information that was actually confirmed by searching the internet. At the end of the commentary is a response by Shawn Bolz to his critics, in which he admits that he uses a Notepad or a Smart Phone to aid in giving his prophecies. He also states that “I pray into meetings and ask God for an encounter for people”, the details of which are to be found in the first article/video, above. After viewing the video, I suggest that you ask yourself 1) Does this use of prophecy seem like what the Holy Spirit had in mind for the use of the gift of prophecy in the church?, and 2) Since, through prophecy, the secrets of a man’s heart are revealed by the Holy Spirit, why, then, in the series of prophecies in this video, has the Holy Spirit revealed to Shawn only published information about these people? Are we to believe that the Holy Spirit was unable to reveal any secrets that were hidden in their hearts? Or, is this just 5-6 compounded “coincidences” in a row? You can draw your own conclusions. Here’s the link: https://jonnyleaders.wordpress.com/2016/04/12/shawn-bolz-evidence-his-words-of-knowledge-are-mostly-online-public-knowledge/
The third video shows Bolz claiming that the Holy Spirit was saying that a woman in the audience (who, as it turns out, works in the church office where he was performing) is 50 years old, whereas she had already turned 51 several weeks earlier. Either the Holy Spirit didn’t know how old she was, or Bolz was using outdated information he had previously gleaned elsewhere (perhaps the church’s website?). You be the judge. Here’s the link: https://www.facebook.com/ShawnBolz/videos/10159922681585657/
Here is some further information that, I believe, we should have in mind as we proceed through “Translating God”:
Bolz Wrongly Dividing the Word of God: Some Selected Examples
(The false claims of Bolz regarding Agabus and his prophecies are on pgs. 66-67)
(See: Acts 11:27-30; 21:3-4; 7-15; and 21:27-36)
(Note that 1) Agabus was not among those who tried to dissuade Paul from going to Jerusalem, as Bolz claims. He just delivered the prophecy and let it go at that; 2) the Jews did seize Paul and turn him over to the Gentiles (Roman soldiers). So, this is another prophecy of Agabus fulfilled, not failed as Bolz claims!)
Conclusions: 1) both of the prophecies of Agabus were actually fulfilled; 2) this is not an example of a false prophecy in the NT, as Bolz claimed; and, 3) Bolz says that the second prophecy of Agabus was concerning Paul’s visit to Rome, whereas it was really about Paul’s visit to Jerusalem! He couldn’t even get that right; 5) “the devil is in the details!”
Bolz “paraphrases” John 3:16-17
“Before you even prophesy out of your mouth there has to be a change in your heart. It starts with really understanding.” (pg. 47) What he says here may have some truth in it re. prophecy, but this passage has nothing to do with prophecy. This is classic “scripture twisting” of the worst kind, to serve his purpose.
Bolz misrepresents why Jesus spoke in parables.
(See pgs. 89 & 90). In Matthew 13:10-17, Jesus explains to His disciples why He spoke in parables, and it was nothing at all like what Bolz said! What Bolz says serves his purpose, but it is false exegesis.
In Exodus 33:20, God said to Moses, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live.” But, on page 27 of the book, Shawn writes, “What is that like, to know we can see God the way he truly is? Throws that old superstitious theology of not being able to “see the face of Jesus and live” right out the window, doesn’t it?” Did you see the slight of word there? Shawn substituted the word “Jesus” for “God”, and that makes all the difference. The Old Testament makes several references to appearances of Jesus, called Christophanies, in which men see Jesus face-to-face without falling dead (e.g., Exodus 33:11). But Shawn cannot make Exodus 33:20 out to be “old superstitious theology” without that little word switch. Moreover, Shawn reveals in this quote his utter disrespect and contempt for the word of God, referring to it as “old superstitious theology.”
How can one understand how Shawn can feel free to so grossly and shamelessly misrepresent what the Bible says? I believe that a clue can be found on page 63 of his book, where he states, “…God’s love and Spirit as they interpret the Bible together for the days and time they live in.” Notice he didn’t say something like “…as they explain the relevance of what the Bible says to the days and time they live in.” Rather, he says, in effect, that the Bible should be re-interpreted so as to conform to the days and time we live in. If we are free to let the days and time we live in interpret what the Bible really means, then the Bible can be construed to say anything we want it to say. And so, we have the Bolz Sub-standard Version, or BS for short.
Some False teachings of Shawn Bolz:
- We can all prophecy if we want to. (page 161);
- A human being can initiate the process of prophecy by following his three-step procedure to prompt the Holy Spirit to speak a revelation from God (See addendum, below);
- Shawn implies that God is not offended by false prophecies (several pages in the book), and Pentecostal theology asserts that there is grace to allow for false prophecies. Now, if God is not offended by false prophecies, then why would there be any need for grace to cover them? Moreover, grace is not given automatically, but is conditional. So, what must we do to have grace released for our offenses against God? The Bible says that we must confess our sins and repent, but Shawn says we should celebrate our failed prophecies to encourage ourselves to take even more risks of giving false prophecies in the future! Where have we heard that kind of “logic” before? Take a look at Romans 6:1-2!
- Jesus did not come to “convict” the world of sin (pg. 47, re. John 3:17, where Jesus actually said “condemn the world”, not “convict the world.” In point of fact, Jesus spoke many times against a variety of sins, thus convicting those of His hearers who had ears to hear;
- People don’t have to change (repent) to inherit a relationship with God (p. 74);
- Prophecy is only about love and relationship; the content and words don’t matter to God (pgs. 67, 68, 69, 70, 77 etc.);
- Apparently, Bolz assumes that a Word of Knowledge can come only from God (pgs. 102, 104), but we know that Satan also can speak words into the minds of men (e.g., Eve, Peter, and Ananias). Thus, a false prophecy can, in fact, come from either the prophet or from Satan, and Shawn’s assumption amounts to a very dangerous false teaching;
- Shawn teaches “another gospel.” His gospel intentionally avoids the mention of obedience, sin, repentance, punishment or the wrath of God (the bad news) and skips directly to God’s love and blessings and approval (the good news). But the Bible says that God demonstrated His love for us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. John 3:16 says the same thing, but with fewer words. Any teaching of the “good news” without the need for repentance is a false gospel, because it’s only half of the full Gospel.
How to Recognize False Teachers and Prophets:
- There will be many others like them (Matthew 24:11 and 1 John 4:1)
- By their own will they will produce prophecies (2 Peter 1:21)
- They will appear to be Christians (i.e., they are “wolves in sheep’s clothing”) (Matthew 7:15)
- They will bear evil fruit (e.g., false prophecies) (Matthew 7:16-20)
- They will not endure (i.e., abide in) sound doctrine (2 Timothy 4:3)
- They will gather to themselves teachers in accordance with their own desires (e.g., Prophecy Conventions) (2 Timothy 4:3)
- They will teach what men, having “itching ears”, are eager to hear (2 Timothy 4:3)
- They will turn from the truth to myths (2 Timothy 4:4)
- They will be out of control (2 Timothy 4:5)
- They will manifest signs and wonders to deceive even the elect (Matthew 24:24)
- They will secretly bring in destructive heresies (2 Peter 2:1; Jeremiah 23:14)
- Many will follow their ways (2 Peter 2:2)
- They will blaspheme the way of truth (2 Peter 2:2)
- They will be presumptuous and arrogant (2 Peter 2:10)
- They will revel in their own deception (2 Peter 2:13)
- They will forsake the right way (2 Peter 2:15)
- They will speak arrogant words of vanity (2 Peter 2:18)
- They will promise freedom (2 Peter 2:19)
- They will speak lies in hypocrisy (1 Timothy 4:2)
- They will put their own words into God’s mouth (Jeremiah 23:16)
No one will find it enjoyable to label a prominent personality in Christendom a “wolf in sheep’s clothing”, but the many warnings in the New Testament about false teachers, false prophets and false doctrines in the end times are there for a reason and demand our careful attention and appropriate action. We are instructed in the New Testament to test all of these to see if they are from God…or not. God’s written word, or logos, is a test that should be always be applied. The spiritual gift of discerning of spirits is also available to us and can be used to determine what is and is not from God. If you are not prepared, or willing, to make such determinations, as the Bible instructs us to do, then I challenge you to prepare yourself and muster the courage of your convictions to speak out so that others will not be fooled by the “wolves in sheep’s clothing” that you encounter. There is no better way than this for us to “defend the faith.”
(To read more of my biblically-based articles, click HERE)