By Robert I. Holmes   (from Australia)

Does being anointed make what you say in ministry acceptable to God? Can you speak error while under the anointing?  Can you be in error and speak a true Word from God? Is there room to make mistakes in prophecy when so many lives and so much is at stake? Where does our responsibility lie in these matters? How much flexibility does the prophetic minister have?

At one end of the spectrum we have those that training ‘young prophets’ in a public forum (usually at their conferences. During the training time ‘anything goes’ and often this carries on into the public arena when they are released for ministry. They are rarely if ever corrected for mistakes or error in their speech, under the guise of ‘despise not prophesy’). In fact at one conference, after an ‘off’ word was spoken by a fledgling, the administrator was asked about it. She replied, “It’s all encouraging, comforting and edifying, so what if they get it wrong?” I must admit her position makes me uneasy.

At the other end of the spectrum there has been book recently written by a person concerned with the excesses of the prophetic movement. Their basic tenant is that if you are genuinely a prophet of God, you should not have error. Everything you say should be from God, and you should not leave room for error – after all Samuel got it right at the age of three and not one of his words failed. There is no room for training, development and growth. I must admit his position makes me uneasy. It is this position I wish to tackle in this article – both because it stifles the young and immature in the gift, and because it sets an unbiblical standard for ministry.

What of the ‘professions’ in our society: doctors, lawyers, psychiatrists, veterinarians and accountants of the world. They all have one thing in common: they do not run a business; they have a ‘practice’. What do you do every time you make an appointment to see one? They practise on you! Their whole life is practise. Take for example the doctor who spends seven years in university then becomes a General Practitioner (GP). They may ‘practise’ this for several years before discovering they enjoy ‘ENT’ the best – and so they specialise. And we, as citizens attending their place of practise, allow them scope to get it wrong. In some cases we risk our very lives as they practise. So where is the middle ground, what is the truth in the matter of error in prophecy?

I will say it plainly at the start: There must be room for human error, and there must be safeguards against that error. My belief is that the human vessel inevitably colours the word given to them. The point I want to stress is that we need mechanisms to protect the people and the Body and catch that colouring before it does damage.

Colouring the word

Just how much of a spoken or written message purporting to be from God can come from our own soul? Is a person delivering a prophetic word ‘just a mouthpiece’ for God? Do we think a person’s personality and sin can be entirely removed from the delivery – that God can ‘possess’ a person so wholly that they become Him for a moment? That they become merely a channel or an automaton?

One only needs to read the prophets one after another to see that their personality left an impression, a watermark on the words they left us! Compare the zeal of Daniel with the tears of Jeremiah; the strength of Isaiah with the compassion of Moses; the wrath of Zechariah with the fear of Jonah. What of the tone we use in our voice, or choice of words, or the emotion we portray? The person moulds the message; the vessel flavours the wine.

The following quotes, taken from leaders in the Pentecostal and Charismatic tradition, really capture the truth for me:

    "What authority does prophecy carry? The same authority as any other Christian endeavour like counselling, teaching, preaching and worship - if it is true the truth of it will prove so!"-- Donald Bridge

    "We are not expected to accept every word spoken through the gift of utterance as being from God... but only what is quickened to us by the Holy Spirit and is in agreement with the Bible"-- Dennis Bennett

    "It seems very difficult for some people to recognise any source of utterance except divine and satanic. They refuse to see the profound importance of the place of the human spirit in moulding and affecting each utterance"-- Donald Gee

    “Prophecy can be impure - our own thoughts or ideas getting mixed into the message we receive, whether we get them directly or only a sense of them - the risk is very real” -- Bruce Yocum

Some examples from the Bible

Those who might argue the infallibility of Biblical prophecies might do well to review some of the more pertinent examples of ‘words’ delivered in the Bible. I am not here speaking of the Biblical prophecies of the end times, or the Messiah – more the words of advise and prophecy offered to someone in the Bible. Here are some examples of colouring:

What of Micaiah. The first words purporting to be ‘the word of the Lord’ to the kings gathered at the threshing floor from him were a lie: “Micaiah said, "As the LORD lives, whatever the LORD says to me, that I will speak… then he answered him, "Go up and triumph; the LORD will give it into the hand of the king." (1 Kings 22:14-15). He coloured the truth. Had the king not questioned him further it would have been left at that! What of Nathan's advice when asked by David if he should build a temple? The first words from Nathan’s lips once again purported to be a word from God, but they were wrong: “Do all that you have in mind, for God is with you." But that same night the word of the LORD came to Nathan, saying: “Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the LORD: You shall not build me a house to live in” (1 Chr 17:2,3).

A third example of ‘mixture’ in the OT is found in 1 Kings chapter 13. A young (and nameless) prophet is obedient to deliver the word of God to the king. A miracle occurs in splitting the altar as a sign, the king speaks against the prophet, his hand withers but a wonderful healing takes place and the young prophet sets off home again. The young man meets an older prophet who deceives him, and then the old prophet prophesies accurately the word of the Lord saying a lion will kill him for his rebellion: “I also am a prophet as you are, and an angel spoke to me by the word of the LORD: Bring him back with you into your house so that he may eat food and drink water." But he was deceiving him… As they were sitting at the table, the word of the LORD came to the prophet who had brought him back… Because you have disobeyed the word of the LORD… your body shall not come to your ancestral tomb." (1 Kings 13:18-22) The sly old prophet deceived him, yet the ‘word of the Lord’ came to him. There was absolute mixture in the ministry – even as in Balaam’s case.

The New Testament

Does anything change in the new covenant? See the details of the prophecy Agabus delivers to Paul about his fate: “Thus says the Holy Spirit, 'This is the way the Jews in Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.'" Yet we find that when Paul is taken to Jerusalem it is not the Jews who bind Paul but the Romans. He is not handed over to the Gentiles but rather, delivered from them and taken from a potential riot. Agabus got it right in his first prophecy about the drought but elements of his second prophecy are clearly in error. Did he not colour the word by his own understanding – seeking to convince Paul not to continue to Jerusalem?

If our messages were not coloured then Paul's command would be nonsensical - why otherwise would he say, "Don't restrain the Holy Spirit, don't despise inspired messages" (1 Thess 5:19 GNB) and then immediately advise, "Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good and discard what is evil" (1 Th 5:20-21 NRSV). Why would you have to test it if there wasn't some mixture? What evil could there be in a perfect prophecy?

The Anointing

Many in ministry right now seem to have a misconception about ‘the anointing’ and the covering it provides to those who make mistakes in ministry.  When considering the place of being anointed or speaking under divine direction or unction we must first agree on what ‘anointing’ actually means! Unless we agree what anointed means, we can't agree on the next question. Perhaps we can try to define anointing first, for the sake of our discussion.

According to Harper, anointing a king in the OT signified, "divine sanctification and approval." Now we know that in the NT we achieve our sanctification by the action of Christ's atoning death on the cross. We achieve our approval unto God by accepting the deposit of the Holy Spirit into our lives. Harper goes on, "It may also signify consecrating someone for a holy purpose." In this way Aaron was anointed High priest, and the furnishings were anointed for use in the temple. Thus the David could consider Saul, "The Lord's anointed" and not touch him - for he was God's chosen vessel for a purpose. This would imply that a person may be 'set apart' by the Spirit in a meeting to deliver a word from God. When we are invited to minister at a meeting, and feel the Holy Spirits promoting to go, we might talk then of being ‘anointed’ or chosen for this task.

Here we have the bestowing of divine favour. It is being bestowed with God's divine favour - whether for a word of knowledge, a task, a message or an office. A good example of this anointing is the story of the young prophet (again nameless) anointing Jehu as king, “When Jehu went out to his fellow officers, one of them asked him, "Is everything all right? Why did this madman come to you?" "You know the man and the sort of things he says," Jehu replied. "That's not true!" they said. "Tell us." Jehu said, "Here is what he told me: 'This is what the LORD says: I anoint you king over Israel.'" They hurried and took their cloaks and spread them under him on the bare steps. Then they blew the trumpet and shouted, "Jehu is king!" (2 Kings 9:11-13). These men honoured the words of the prophet, even though they held him in such low esteem.

The last way we might mean anointed is when a special unction or divine authority comes upon us for a task or work.  Sampson tied the foxes together, tore the city gates off, and finally destroyed the meeting place with a divine impartation of strength. Three kings came to Elisha for a word about a battle, and Elisha called "Get me a minstrel." and while the musician was playing, the power of the LORD came on him. And he said, "Thus says the LORD..." (2 Kings 3:14-16). It seems Elisha waited for the anointing to come upon him, and THEN he prophesied. Fascinating! Fundamentally the anointing is an act of God (1 Sam 10:1).

Mixture in the Message

So does being anointed change what I have stated above? Can one be in error and speak a true Word from God?  The short answer is yes! Where does error or colouring enter in to our ‘word’? It comes from the one delivering the word. Whilst God may indeed use a donkey, and even the rocks may cry out before Him, He ordinarily uses people to get the message across. Every person has sin – if you say you have none, you deceive yourself and the truth is not in you. All have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God. Sin affects what you say and do because, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks”. And your heart is corrupted –“The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse-- who can understand it?” (Jer 17:9).

God has two choices when looking for a spokesperson - He can use a sinner, or He can use a sinner. Either way He has a vessel that is going add  'colour' to the message in some way. If sin, or the presence of sin debarred you from speaking for God then we would all be silent!  Imagine if the reverse were true - if you could not prophecy error, while under the anointing or otherwise. Then God would have to disqualify everybody! Or at the very least He would be restrained from using anyone in a church with error and any person with errant doctrine (oops there goes Branham, Wigglesworth, Woodworth-Etter, Alexander-Dowie and others!)

Some examples

I used to be in a movement in the church that was very self-centred. People came to the meetings either to get 'inner healing', a 'touch from God' or an experience of His divine nature coming on them. We were manifestations focused and sought God's hand instead of His heart. In spite of all this, He came with great power. I ministered in this environment in words of knowledge for nearly two years! Some of the most powerful utterances and prophecies came forth during that time, including the breaking of a drought on our nation! God confirmed His word with signs following. There were healings - a lady delivered of arthritis, a man cleansed of bowel cancer, a young child in the womb saved from Downs Syndrome etc.

Yet God clearly showed us, many of us, the error of the movement and the errors of what we had embraced. Shall I now deny that He did not use us in those days? Were they false signs and wonders? Perhaps... but I think not. The nature of the words and miracles were divine. As to whether you can speak error under the anointing I have a story from a man called Bob. Bob was ministering at a conference in his native country of the USA. The anointing came very powerfully, and he was having many words and signs following.

Just after the ministry a brother came and told of how a dear friend had been cursed by a well-known minister - an evangelist. Well Bob - still under the anointing, did a very foolish thing. Bob says of his own actions, "I messed up big time!" He turned around and cursed that evangelist, and prophesied decrease, obscurity in his ministry and trouble for his life. And it came to pass, the man went into a deep depression, and his ministry declined from the public eye over a period of three weeks and then his marriage failed. In fact I do not think he has ever recovered fully.

But what happened to Bob? Well he became very, very sick and was taken to hospital to die. His organs shut down almost immediately and he was hooked up to life saving machines. He was visited by the angel of the Lord who declared, "The Lord in His mercy has spared your life, but for every moment you uttered a curse under the anointing, you shall spend a week in sickness." Three months later Bob was restored to health. The higher the anointing, the higher the price you pay for disobedience. You see the Lord still anointed Bob's prayer, and answered it - but,  "From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded." (Luke 12:48).

How about 100%?

To the man who wrote the book I mentioned at the beginning I would say this – yes Samuel got it right but like Jesus after Him, “Samuel grew in stature before God and man”. Even Jesus grew in maturity and use of his gifts. Now shall we accept failure? Shall we accept anything less than 100% my answer is no.

It is possible to get it absolutely right, 100% right all of the time – after all Samuel and Jesus both did it! Think of the Scriptures and how they came to be. Orthodox understanding on the Bible says that it is inerrant - without fault and God managed to do this through men. Indeed the balance is that we can get it right 100%. One only needs to look at the prophecy of the Bible and it’s exacting fulfilment in history to know that we are, with God’s help able to hit the mark.

In fact it is possible to hit the mark all the time. Think of the testimony given of Samuel - “As Samuel grew up, the LORD was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the LORD.” (1 Sam 3:20). He let NONE of his words fall to the ground, not one. I can think of at least two men that got it right all the time in recent history.

It was said of Smith Wigglesworth that, “Everyone Smith prayed for was healed!” That is also because he did not pray for anyone who God had not shown would be healed. Similarly it was said that in the early years of William Branham's ministry “Of all the thousands of such 'words of knowledge' that he gave, none was ever known to be wrong or inaccurate. His gift was reportedly exactly 100%”. May it be so with us, brethren if we strive not for the 100 fold, we shall have to be content with the 30 or 60! And if we aim for anything less we will never get it.


Robert I. Holmes

Storm-Harvest Ministries


Posted 11/2/99

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