The Chinese Translation of “Prophet” and “Prophecy”

For a long time, I had this misconception of “prophecies” meaning predictions about the future due to my Chinese upbringing. In almost all Chinese Bibles, the original term “prophet” is always translated into— trying my best here to put it in English — “future predictor”, whereas “prophecy” is translated into “future prediction”.

Not widely known, the Recovery Version of the Bible in Chinese tackles this problem by translating “prophet” not into “future-predictor” but “forth-teller of God” (or “mouthpiece of God”). I appreciate this translation very much, for not only is it more accurate, but it also serves as a great reminder for us to pursue earnestly the gift of prophecy for the purpose of strengthening, encouraging, and comforting each other,

“Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy.  For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit.  But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort. Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves, but the one who prophesies edifies the church. I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be edified.” (1 Cor 14:1-5)

According to Paul, prophesying can also lead unbelievers to God.

“But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.” (1 Cor 14:24-25)

Nevertheless, since now we have the complete Scripture with us, we should note that our prophetic words should not add any “new” revelation that does not line up with the Scripture. We should always test our words with the word of God,

“Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge. But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged.”

May we all “follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit” so that “all may learn and all may be encouraged”.

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