What is a prophet? Part I

For he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you shall live. -Genesis 20:7

Dear members and friends of the Swedenborgian Church,

The history of religion or religious activity goes so far back in the past that it predates the invention of writing by almost 10,000 years. Yet, throughout human history many religious activities have been ritualized and led by those individuals who could be described as “specially gifted.” They were called different names depending on where they were, but their role in their community was somewhat identical: connecting humans to the divine and/or delivering messages from the divine to humans.

In the Bible, the individuals who connected the divine and humans were called prophets. Interestingly the word prophet in the Bible is first used by God. Nabiy (pronounced naw-bee) is the Hebrew word for prophet, and means spokesman or speaker. The origin of nabiy itself is another Hebrew word, naba (naw-baw), which means to be under the influence of the divine spirit. Combining them together, we could conclude that a prophet, according to the Old Testament, is a person who has become a spokesman of God and is under influence of the divine spirit. The first person to be identified as a prophet in the Bible was Abraham.

Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are all called  “Abrahamic” religions because all three claim that their root is the single and same person: Abraham. In other words, they all claim to believe in the God of Abraham. Many biblical scholars believe that Abraham was the first historic figure in the Old Testament, meaning that there actually lived this man named Abraham! And, in the Old Testament, Abraham was the first person to be given the title of prophet by none other than God. Yet, Abraham was hardly the founder of any of the three major religions (Judaism, Christianity, or Islam). In fact, Abraham did not say or teach anything about faith or how to believe in God, but instead he simply lived a life which he believed to be the will of his God. The truth is that Abraham did not need to prove either the existence of his God nor the reality of the message from his God to anyone but to himself

However, the well-known story from Genesis of Abraham offering his son Isaac as a sacrifice to God calls into question what it means to be a prophet and whether it’s a even a notion we should entertain in our modern lives. Next week, I’ll examine this story further for evidence of what made Abraham and those who would follow him worthy of the title “prophet.”

Blessings, Rev. Junchol Lee