Prophesy - Trench's New Testament Synonyms
Prophesypropheteuo (G4395) Prophesy
manteuomai (G3132) Tell Fortunes
Although propheteuo is used frequently in the New Testament, manteuomai is used only in Acts 16:16, where a girl possessed with a "spirit of divination" or "spirit of Apollo" is said to have "brought her masters much profit by for-tune-telling [manteuomene]. "The absence of manteuomai elsewhere in the New Testament and its use here are noteworthy.
The inspired writers abstained from using words that would tend to destroy the distinction between heathenism and revealed religion. Thus eudaimonia, though a religious word from a heathen point of view, is never used to express Christian blessedness. Similarly, arete (G703), the predominant word in heathen ethics for "virtue," is very rare in the New Testament. It is used only once by Paul (Phil. 4:8). In the epistles of Peter, it is used in quite a different sense than it is used in Aristotle. In the same way, ethe (G2239), from which we derive ethics, occurs only in a quotation from a heathen poet (1 Cor. 15:33), indicating that its absence elsewhere in the New Testament is not accidental.
In keeping with this same principle, propheteuein was consistently used in the New Testament to express prophesying by the Spirit of God. When the sacred writers referred to the lying art of heathen divination, they employed manteuesthai (cf. Deut. 18:10; 1 Sam. 28:8). What is the essential difference between "prophesying" and "soothsaying," and why was it necessary to distinguish them by using different terms (propheteuo and manteuomai)?
The answers to these questions may be found after we have investigated the etymology of one of the words.
Before doing that, however, we will deal with what used to be a very common error (especially among the fathers), which was to understand the pro (G4253) in propheteuein and in prophetes in a temporal sense. That way of interpreting prophetes results in understanding its primary meaning as "he who declares things beforethey come to pass." Although such foretelling or forean-nouncing may have characterized the office of prophet, it was not the essence of that office, either in sacred or in classical Greek. The prophetes is the outspeaker, the one who speaks out the counsel of God with the clearness, energy, and authority that spring from the consciousness of speaking in God's name and of having received a direct message from him to deliver. This appeared in a less distinct form in classical Greek, since the word only came to its full expression when used of the prophets of the true God. But there too the prophetes is the interpres deorum(interpreter of the gods). The meaning of the word, however, diminished from referring to the interpreter of the godsor of Godto referring to no more than an interpreter in a general sense, though still an interpreter of the good and true. Prophetes is used in the Old and New Testaments primarily to refer to one who had been taught by God and who spoke out God's will (Deut. 18:18; Isa. 1; Jer. 1; Ezek. 2; 1 Cor. 14:3). Foretelling the future was concomitant to that.
Manteuomai introduces us to a different sphere. Manteuomai is related to mantis and through that word (as Plato taught) to mania (G3130) and mainomai (G3105). Consequently, manteuomai refers to the tumult of the mind, to the furyor temporary madnessof those who were supposedly possessed by the god during the time that they delivered their oracles. This mantic furywas displayed by rolling eyes, foaming lips, and flying hair, as well as by other signs of a more than natural agitation. Perhaps these symptoms were sometimes produced (and no doubt often aggravated) in seers like Pythonesses, Sibyls, and others by inhaling earth vapors or by other artificial stimulants.Everyone who believes that real spiritual forces underlie all forms of idolatry also will acknowledge that often there was more than mere trickery or fraud in these manifestations. Anyone with insight into the awful mystery of the world's false religions will see in these symptoms the result of an actual relation to a spiritual worlda spiritual world that lies not above but beneath.
Scripture speaks of such mantic fury only to condemn it. "The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets" (1 Cor. 14:32). The true prophet did not speak on his own authority: "For a prophet does not speak anything of himself, but all that he utters belongs to others, as if another one is prompting." The prophet was transported out of himself. He was said to be en pneumati (in the Spirit, Rev. 1:10), en ekstasei (in a trance, Acts 11:5), and hypo pneumatos hagiou pheromenoi (carried along by the Holy Spirit, 2Pet. 1:21). The prophet was lifted above, not set beside, his everyday self.
It was not discord and disorder but a divine harmony and order that were introduced into his soul. He was not overcome in his lower life by forces stronger than his own, by an insurrection from beneath; but his spirit was lifted out of that region into a clearer, divine atmosphere. All that he previously had still remained his, but it was purged, exalted, and quickened by a power higher than, yet not alien to, his own. Man is most truly man when he is most filled with the fullness of God.
And even within heathenism, the superior dignity of the prophetes to the mantis was recognized on these very grounds. Plato's Timaeus (71e-72b), for example, depicts the mantis as one in whom all reason is suspended, as one who more or less rages. Plato draws the line broadly and distinctly between the mantis and the prophetes, subordinating the former to the latter. The utterances of the mantis were allowed to pass only after they had received the approval of the prophetes.
It is customary to appoint the class of interpreters [propheton] as judges of those divinely inspired. Some call them prophets [manteis], not knowing at all that they are expositors of dark sayings and visions and are not prophets [manteis], but they might very fittingly be called interpreters [prophetai] of prophecy.
The truth that Plato glimpsed was permanently embodied in the Christian church. The church kept and used propheteuo but relegated manteuomai to the heathenism it was about to displace and overthrow.