Detecting False Prophets

The Case Study of Nigerian Pastor TB Joshua

By Gary Meredith

How can Christians spot a phony modern day "Christian prophet"? One man gives us a perfect current example — TB Joshua, the "Nigerian Prophet," founder and General Overseer of the Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN) headquartered in Lagos, Nigeria. He claims 15,000 attendees, including some powerful government officials, and 1.5 million Facebook followers. His channel reaches every continent except South America. Though some members of SCOAN may truly be born again Christians, they are all being either deceived, or are part of the deception and share in Joshua's guilt and condemnation (Galatians 1:8-9). Predictably, they are increasingly displaying the signs not of maturing Christians (Galatians 5:22-23), but of cult members — becoming secretive, defensive, offensive, and deceptive.

When I worked in a bank, a Secret Service agent spoke to the staff about how to spot counterfeit money. He said the key is to study the real thing. The more you study real money, the easier it is for you to spot the fakes. In the same way, the more you study the Bible — God's true and perfect word — the easier it will be for you to spot fakes like TB Joshua. Following are just a few of the many reliable standards God gives us in his word.

True prophets' predictions come true 100 percent of the time. (Deuteronomy 18:21-22) This is the Bible's simplest, most famous test for a prophet. Making false prophecies carried the death penalty in Israel (Deuteronomy 18:20). Examples of TB Joshua's false prophecies include this about the 200-plus school girls kidnapped by Boko Haram in April, 2014: "Unless I am not called by God. I place my career and calling on the line. That these 200 plus school children kidnapped, they have to be released immediately, unharmed and unhurt." Over a year later they remain captive, with some possibly converted to Islam and carrying out terrorist murders. Therefore TB Joshua is condemned by his own words (Luke 19:22) as a false prophet. He also falsely predicted the 2014 Ebola crisis was over as it actually got much worse; and that the missing Malaysia Airline jet would be found in 2014 — it's still missing.

True prophets give very specific messages that can easily be tested and proven as true or false when the time comes for fulfillment. For examples of very specific prophecies see 1 Samuel 10:1-7; 2 Kings 19; and Daniel chapters 7-12. They do not produce a long list of vague predictions they can later claim came true no matter what happens, like fortune tellers. Of his 98 predictions for 2015, not a single one meets that test. For example, his first prediction says: "I foresee problems coming before the election [in Nigeria] that may stop the election. What God revealed to me is there will be no election in 2015 if we do not pray to avert it. [trouble]." In other words, he is "predicting" that there either will or will not be an election — so what? You don't have to be a prophet to say that. God knows for certain if there will be an election. Obviously TB Joshua does not. He's always predicting deaths and disasters, but with vague language so that whenever one hits anywhere in the world he quickly claims credit.

True prophets do not get surprised by unexpected doom that strikes them. (1 Kings 22:24-26; 1 Kings 18:19-40) In September, 2014, a SCOAN building collapsed, killing 116 people. While TB Joshua was busy warning people all over the world about coming disasters, he didn't foresee the tragedy that struck his own church. He has since suggested that journalists exposing his faked "miracles" were behind the disaster, and also that it was the result of an attack by high-tech weapons. What kind of prophet makes such wild accusations? The inquest has just proven that the tragedy resulted from shoddy, sub-standard construction.

True prophets do not run away as cowards (2 Samuel 12:1-7; 2 Chronicles 18:6-27). TB Joshua was the only one of 32 witnesses about the building collapse who refused to testify at the inquest, instead fleeing to South America. In 2015, for the first time, he did not attend his own birthday party, though it will still be celebrated and televised around the world over his network. He also boasted he would personally bring his "anointed water" to Ebola victims, then sent someone else in his place.

True prophets' actions do not harm innocent people. During last year's Ebola crisis in Africa, TB Joshua told people they could safely go back to living the way they were before the epidemic, that they could "write off" the disease. The epidemic then got worse, possibly because some acted on this dangerous advice and spread the disease. TB Joshua also offered his "anointed water" to stricken nations for victims of Ebola. Only Sierra Leone accepted, and from the time the water arrived in August 2014 through the end of the year, the disease spread much more rapidly — possibly due to a false sense of security that sanitary precautions to contain disease did not need to be followed, in direct contradiction of Scripture (Leviticus 13 and many other passages).

True prophets never glorify themselves. They instantly stop any attempt to take God's glory for themselves (Acts 10:25-26; Revelation 19:10). Members on his website's video have replaced Jesus with TB Joshua in John 3:16, and also refer to him as a modern Messiah — blasphemy! TB Joshua loves to show the long video about himself at his church. SCOAN members even sing a song with the words about God's "anointed servant TB Joshua, the Man of God...Everything about him is good." His birthday is celebrated in countries around the world, televised over his TV network from the main celebration at SCOAN headquarters, to which he sells tickets! There is no example of any biblical prophet displaying such an ego. He claims he was in his mother's womb for 15 months, not 9, and that his birth was prophesied 100 years in advance. Everything about his ministry points to himself — his birth, his calling, his powers, his vision for the entire world — rather than pointing others to Jesus, as we are called to do (Romans 15:6; 1 Corinthians 2:2; 3:5-7; Philippians 2:5-11). True prophets do not misquote Holy Scripture. The very verse that exposes him as a fraud, Deuteronomy 18:22, he twists as: "When God speaks, the wise listen." A correct translation is: "If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously, so do not be alarmed." Demons often misquote or misapply Scripture in the same way (Matthew 4:6; Acts 16:16-18).

True prophets do not invent new spiritual terms and doctrines. His website states: "It is the goodness of our cause that interests God more than physical and mental disposition." That is pure anti-Christian nonsense. We have no "goodness" apart from God (Mark 10:18; Romans 3:10-18; 7:18), nor any good "cause" apart from God's will and plan for our lives (Ephesians 2:10; Romans 8:28-30). A description on a current broadcast states, "The baptism of the Holy Spirit gives infallibility," a ridiculous claim found nowhere in the Bible. He labels his "anointed" water as "for the salvation of your soul" and "the blood of Jesus," which is not just unbiblical but blasphemous.

True prophets do not make all kinds of promises for our happiness and prosperity. His website states: "Throughout the Scriptures, we see clear proof that God can use any medium to express Himself...One of the mediums He is using in The SCOAN is the Morning Water...By using the Morning Water, you are symbolically setting yourself apart for Jesus Christ's special attention as you pray in faith. I mean, you are positioned for mercy, favour, healing, deliverance, blessing, prosperity and fruitfulness." All of that is a fortune-teller's lie — there is nothing in Scripture about any "medium" that God uses to deliver such blessings. It is a conman's trick to get rich from donations, as some phony televangelists do.

True prophets make predictions to focus attention on the kingdom of God, not trivial events. Many of TB Joshua's predictions concern elections, celebrity troubles and deaths, and even sporting events like soccer games and boxing matches. He acts like an astrologer or fortune teller, similar to the demon-possessed slave girl in Acts 16:16-18, whose owners used her "gift" to make lots of money foretelling the future until Paul exorcised her. I do not know if SCOAN members bet money on these events, but it would be surprising if no one from his vast audience did.

True prophets speak for the Lord with his words. In his list of 98 prophecies for 2015, nearly all of Joshua's prophecies state "I foresee" or "I see" or "I am repeating" but almost never "the Lord says..." He claims his prophecies are from God, but his messages are clearly all from TB Joshua using the language of a fortune teller, not a prophet of God.

TB Joshua fails every one of the above tests of a true prophet. True prophets do not lie, misquote Scripture, promote false doctrines, glorify themselves, make trivial predictions, harm others with lies, make false accusations, run away from legal responsibilities, or exhibit other shameful behavior.

However, in one strange way TB Joshua does fulfill biblical prophecy. As Jesus warned us about these times, "For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect." (Matthew 24:24) Peter also reminded us that "there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them — bringing swift destruction on themselves." (2 Peter 2:1) TB Joshua fulfills those prophecies perfectly.

He also fulfills Paul's prophecy about these days: "For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths" (2 Timothy 4:3-4).

Whatever "good works" he may do — he has apparently donated millions of dollars for a variety of good causes — TB Joshua is leading an antichrist cult. With his large congregation, a worldwide TV channel, celebrity endorsers, and over one million Facebook followers, TB Joshua is in a position to do much harm to the body of Christ with his false teaching and false hopes. No Christian should have anything to do with him. Some African Christian leaders have boldly done the right thing by publicly condemning his teaching and calling on him to repent and be saved.

Sadly, healing and other "miracles" which can be counterfeited by Satan (Revelation 13:14) are very appealing to suffering people. We must gently correct those who are desperate enough to be deceived, about the danger of TB Joshua's false teaching which "is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough!" (Galatians 5:9).

Finally, anyone seeking answers about their future should seriously question their motives for wanting to know such things from supernatural sources, including so-called prophets and miracle workers. Most are really looking for a fortune teller, not God's will for their lives. That is what Jesus meant when he said "A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign!" (Matthew 12:39) We Christians have something infinitely better than a prophet — we have the mind of Christ! (1 Corinthians 2:16) We can go directly to God with our needs (John 16:13, 23; Philippians 4:6-7; James 1:5) because we are his children (1 John 3:1), and the temple of his Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:17).

So instead of seeking fortune tellers, Christians can trust God to reveal his plan for each of us, which was written by Him before the beginning of time (Psalm 139:16; Ephesians 1:4-12; 2 Timothy 1:9).

To learn more about the errors, heresies and scandals of TB Joshua and SCOAN, see here.

For a Got Questions answer to the question, see "Are there prophets in the church today?".

Published 7-20-2015