Short answer: No difference. Long answer… well, read on.
In case you’re the sort of person who skips titles (a phenomenon I’ve seen a bunch of times, and still don’t get), I remind you this essay is called “What’s the difference between a seer and a prophet?”
Short answer: No difference. Same thing.
1 Samuel 9.9 KWL
- In the past, in Israel, a man said this when he went to seek God: “Walk, walk to the seer.”
- For “the prophet” today was “the seer” in the past.
The Hebrew ro’éh/“one who sees” referred to people who saw stuff the rest of us don’t, ’cause like all legitimate prophets, seers had the Holy Spirit, who’d show ’em stuff. It’s a term which didn’t entirely die out in ancient Hebrew, because we find it in the late-biblical-Hebrew book Chronicles. “Khanani the seer” was sent to correct King Asa ben Abijah, who jailed him for it.
So since there are prophets today, there are seers today. Every prophet is a seer.
Nowadays, there are prophets who like to sort different types of prophets, different categories of prophecy, with different labels. Some of ’em are teach there is so a difference between a prophet and a seer. A seer is a prophet, but while an ordinary prophet does such-and-so, a seer does this-’n-that. A regular prophet gets revelation thisaway, but a seer gets revelation thataway. It all depends on the prophecy teacher, and what clever-sounding “details” they’ve discovered about how God messages his people.
The most common redefinition of “seer” I’ve come across, sorta makes sense. These prophecy teachers consistently claim a seer sees stuff. God gives them revelation by letting ’em see certain things. If you see things, you are of course a seer. The differences, naturally, comes from what you see.
How prophecy teachers claim seers work.
There are all sorts of prophecy teachers out there. Some charismatic; some not. (If they’re not, by “prophecy” they tend to mean End Times stuff, and they’re gonna teach you their harebrained theories of the End. So yeah, they’re not real prophecy teachers.) Some real; some fake, and the fake ones are gonna teach some really pagan things—which means they tend to get driven out of churches. If you ever find a stand-alone prophetic ministry which never works with churches, not even the prosperity-gospel churches, you’ve got a heretic.
In the case of legitimate prophetic ministries, the prophecy teacher is gonna be a prophet. ’Cause the scriptures have a lot of stuff in there about prophets and prophecy, but they don’t necessarily tell us what a prophetic experience is like. How do you know it’s God, and not just undiagnosed schizophrenia? What sort of things would a Christian hear, see, or feel when God’s speaking with them? Well, prophets know from experience. So that’s what they teach: Their experiences. This is what happened to them; here’s where it jibes with the bible; and relax, you’re not weird. God talks to everybody.
In order to make sense of their experiences, people like to sort things out: A prophet does X, a prophet may do Y, a prophet never does Z, and so forth. And depending on their personal experiences as “seers,” or depending on how they’ve seen self-proclaimed “seers” work, or depending on how they choose to define “seer,” they claim a seer is a distinct sort of prophet who works a certain way. I’ve come across many of their definitions of “seers,” and yep, I too have decided to sort things out. I’ve whittled all the different definitions of “seer” down to three.
Seers see. These teachers insist there are two categories of prophetic messages God hands us: Messages we hear, and messages we see. Simply put, the seer gets the visual messages.
Sometimes this’ll be any sort of vision. Might be a mental picture, which they “see” in their head. Might be a visual picture: They see an image in the room, or projected on someone, kinda like you’re wearing wearable tech which projects 3D images over reality. Might be a dream, whether asleep or awake. Might be a full-on vision, where the Holy Spirit picks you up and takes you to heaven, or anywhere else.
Other prophecy teachers insist it can only be the visual pictures and visions. They count mental images as just another form of data God drops into your brain, and not part of a seer’s unique ability. Dreams too: They figure the prophets who do dreams are “dreamers,” but not necessarily seers unless they actually see visions.
Seers watch out. These teachers are big on intellectual discernment. Seers are prophets; but seers particularly pay attention to people’s motives and intentions. They see what’s going on in the world today, and they recognize what God has to say about it, whether for or against. They watch out for moral integrity and truth. They make sure to not fall for the latest Christian fads and popular culture: They keep their eyes on God, as well as serve as his watchmen.
Seers see the spiritual. And these teachers are big on supernatural discernment: Seers are prophets, but while everyone else only sees “in the natural,” meaning the physical word, a seer has the ability to see what happens “in the spiritual,” meaning what’s invisibly going on among spiritual beings and forces. Seers can detect spiritual things. They can see angels and demons.
Some teachers claim seers aren’t given God’s messages to other people, like other prophets (i.e. Samuel and Khanani). Instead they’re shown supernatural stuff—and gotta take it from there. They meditate on it, ask God about it, and deduce out why he’s revealed it to them.
Other Christians call this “the discerning of spirits.” I call it “supernatural discernment”—but I don’t insist people have to be able to literally see spiritual things to know they’re present. Sometimes we can; sometimes not; it all depends on what the Holy Spirit feels it’d be useful for us to see. And same as the prophets in the bible who saw visions (i.e. Daniel, Zachariah, John) there’s absolutely no reason God can’t simultaneously provide a message.
Because these teachers believe spiritual things trigger physical things, they believe the seer’s ability to know the future comes from the fact they can see spirits getting ready to do big things. Good stuff or evil stuff; seers can detect it, and warn us of it.
Okeydokey, I gotta remind you: None of these descriptions come from the scriptures. In the bible, a seer is a prophet is a seer is a prophet. As the writer of Samuel stated, they’re interchangeable terms.
So where’re these guys getting these definitions? Personal experience. This is what these particular prophecy teachers do, as prophets.
I don’t deny they have these experiences. Certain prophets have visions; certain prophets deduce human motives and prophesy about them; certain prophets see spiritual forces and prophesy about them. All of these are valid activities and ministries. It’s just these particular ministers choose to call themselves “seers”—and choose to define “seer” by the shape their experience takes. They put their personal definition upon “seer,” claim it’s what all seers are like, and teach it to others.
So you gotta decide who gets to set the definition: These prophecy teachers, or the writer of Samuel. Me, I’m going with Samuel.
Differentiating the types of prophets.
Those prophecy teachers who try to redefine “seer”: They have lots more vocabulary words. Lots of terms they sort prophets into.
Dreamers (of dreams)receive God’s messages through their dreams, like Jesus’s dad Joseph. Feelersfeel what other people are feeling: They pick up their emotions, or sense they’re suffering pain. Usually for the purpose of praying for supernatural healing. Hearershave the ability to hear the supernatural: They can actually hear angels singing, or God’s audible voice—you know, like the skeptics always ask us whether we heard. Knowersget words of knowledge: They know things which they couldn’t possibly, unless the Holy Spirit gave it to them. Revelators, unlike other prophets, inform us about things we didn’t yet know. New revelations—as opposed to prophets who remind us of what God said in scripture, or who explain God’s mysteries. Sensersreceive God’s messages, or cues which lead ’em to God’s messages, by feeling things, smelling things—detecting stuff through their five senses.
There are special terms for all these types of prophets. Sometimes prophecy teachers will even bust out some Hebrew and Greek words and make ’em sound all bibley.
Again, none of these terms come from the scriptures. They’re based on prophets’ experiences. Sometimes God, in order to be memorable, gets weird. He’s not limited to only one means or style of communication, y’know. He’s infinitely creative.
The problem with giving each of these types of prophets their very own title, is it pigeonholes people. It limits them. If they’re not mature enough as a Christian, they might get the false idea this is the only way God messages them—worse, the only way God can message them—and they’ll stop listening for God’s many and various other methods.
And if we’re not mature enough as a Christian, we might get the false idea that if God speaks to them any other way than through their particular field of expertise, they’re speaking outside of it—so we can ignore them. I’ve seen this happen: A “dreamer” was given a message from God in the moment—but because they’re only a “dreamer,” the recipient presumed dreamers don’t hear from God any other way, and dismissed the message as “probably not God.” Not smart.
The Holy Spirit can and will speak to us in any way he chooses. Sometimes with visions. Sometimes dropping ideas in our heads. Supernatural knowledge. Dreams. The audible voice. Talking donkeys. Burning bushes. Etcetera.
The Spirit’s always trying to grow us. He wants every Christian to hear him, and he speaks to his kids in all sorts of ways. We tend to notice his messages in one particular format, because we get comfortable with that way. It’s like the kid who’d rather text than answer phone calls, or the shutterbug who’d rather use Snapchat than Instagram. Some Christians think visions are cool, so they seek visions. Others are into dreams, so they pursue dreams. The reason I detect words of knowledge better than the other sorts of prophecy, is ’cause I like to know stuff. But God wants us to listen to him in every way he talks. We should stretch ourselves to hear him in every way. Not just our favorite ways.
So don’t limit God. And be wary of Christians who limit him—whether unintentionally, and especially if it’s intentional.