What does 1 Thessalonians 5:20 “Do not scoff at prophecies,but test everythiing that is said” mean?
We do not know the exact context of the interesting command from Paul to the Thessalonians. We must assume that some were “scoffing” at prophecies. Another translation has them treating certain prophecies “with contempt.” I will speculate that certain members of the church in Thessalonica were disrespecting certain inspired teachers for some reason. Perhaps they were telling fellow members that a genuine prophet (inspired by one of the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit) that was not genuine, and were causing confusion in the church, causing people to not listen to an inspired message. That would be my thought. Of course, immediately after he tells them to be willing to accept true prophetic messages he also tells them to “Test everything.” They were not to simply accept every message as genuine and inspired. Paul seems to be advising a balance between, on the one hand, accepting anyone’s voice as inspired without discerning the possibility that some might be deceived and, on the other hand, refusing all miracles, even the genuine ones.
It is difficult to know exactly how to apply this passage today because the public miracles were passed on by the laying on of hands of the apostles so we do not have new prophecy and we do not have inspired tongues today, at least as far as I can tell from the scriptures. For this reason, the practical application of this admonition is not obvious.
Even though we do not have inspired teachers any more, we do have wise and spiritual leaders. Perhaps we could apply this passage by advising one another to listen to wise counsel but to listen with discernment—not settling for just any advice or any direction, but looking for that which comes from the truly mature and spiritual. We need to be open to direction but not so open as to not show discernment.