Skip to main content

Oracle (in the Bible)


The Israelites, like other ancient peoples, asked (Heb. šāal: Nm 27.21; Jgs 1.1; 20.22; 1 Sm 10.22; 23.2;30.8; 2 Sm 2.1; 5.19; or dāraš: Gn 25.2223; 1 Sm 9.9; 1 Kgs 22.8, 1423;2 Kgs 22.1819) their God for information about imminent matters of personal or national importance or about future events. Yahweh answered in most cases through officially recognized persons (priests, seers, prophets, etc.) and in different oracular ways that were dignified and worthy of His nature and revelation. He condemned practices that were too base or humanistic, or that placed Him as one among equals or even as the chief one of many gods.

One of the principal functions of the priests was to utter oracles (Dt 33.8), and this type of oracle was called tōrāh, "instruction law" (Jer 18.18). Thus, Moses was often approached to inquire of God for the people and make known His decisions (Ex 18.1516; 33.711). The high priest through the urim and thummim (Ex 28.30;

Lv 8.8) or the ephod (1 Sm 23.612; 30.78) gave divine answers. The Levite priest of Micah was consulted by the Danites for a divine decision (Jgs 18.56). Levitical priests were to try difficult cases at God's chosen sanctuary, and disobedience to their decisions carried the death penalty (Dr 17.812). There was also a common custom of casting lots, and this was regarded at times as indicating the divine will (1 Sm 14.3842; Acts 1.26).

The seer (Heb. rōeh ) and the prophet (Heb. nābî' ) also were consulted for divine decisions; e.g., the seer Samuel (1 Sm 9.9; 11.1820), and the Prophets Nathan (2 Sm 7.17), Elijah (1 Kgs 18.3639), Elisha (2 Kgs8.715), Isaiah (Is 38.16), and Micaiah, son of Imlah (1 Kgs 22.728). Even without its being requested, their pronouncements and writings were regarded as words or oracles of Yahweh. The technical term for an oracle of a prophet is n e'ūm yhwh, literally "pronouncement of Yahweh." It occurs 361 times in the Hebrew OT, mostly in the books of the "writing" Prophets, where it generally stands at the end of a short oracle given in Yahweh's name, traditionally rendered in English as "Thus says the Lord." It serves as a sort of signature guaranteeing the authenticity of the oracle.

Bibliography: a. barucq, Dictionnaire de la Bible supplement, ed. l. pirot et al. (Paris 1928) 6:775787.

[j. e. steinmueller]

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Oracle (in the Bible)." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . 24 Apr. 2019 <>.

"Oracle (in the Bible)." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . (April 24, 2019).

"Oracle (in the Bible)." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Retrieved April 24, 2019 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.