I’ve been working my way through the fantastic book edited by William Pratscher called The Apostolic Fathers: An Introduction. I am loving this book, especially its in depth interaction with German scholarship on the Apostolic Fathers. When I was reading the chapter on the Didache, I couldn’t help but think that the Didache had practical advice on sorting out good prophet (or preacher) from bad. Here is Jonathon Draper’s discussion:
The prophet speaking in the name of God must be heard and obeyed, but not everyone who claims to be a prophet is in fact a prophet, as Did [sic] also recognizes (11.8). This creates a dangerous situation indeed, for any community. Deuteronomy institutes the test of fulfillment of the prophecy, and this is interpreted by Did [sic] in terms of the lifestyle of the prophet (as also in Matt 7:15-23, “You will know them by their fruits”). The “way of life of the Lord” (τοὺς τρόπους κυρίου) differentiates the true from the false prophet (e.g., 11.9-10, 12). (Pratscher, 17)
I recommend you read the whole section of the Didache that deals with these issues 11.3-13.7, but here are some highlights from Holmes’ translation:
11.4 Let every apostle who comes to you be welcomed as if he were the Lord. 5 But he is not to stay more than one day, unless there is need, in which case he may stay another. But if he stays three days, he is a false prophet. 6 And when the apostle leaves, he is to take nothing except bread until he finds his next night’s lodging. But if he asks for money, he is a false prophet. [emphasis mine throughout] 7 Also, do not test or evaluate any prophet who speaks in the spirit, for every sin will be forgiven, but this sin will not be forgiven. 8 However, not everyone who speaks in the spirit is a prophet, but only if he exhibits the Lord’s ways. By his conduct, therefore, will the false prophet and prophet be recognized.
11.12 But if anyone should say in the spirit, “Give me money“ or anything else, do not listen to him. But if he tells you to give on behalf of others who are in need, let no one judge him.
While the whole not questioning prophets bit won’t get my seal of approval, the rest of the advice is quite sound. If someone asks for money or displays a lifestyle devoid of Christian virtue, then they are false. If people just followed this advice, there wouldn’t be a televangelist left on TV within a month.