When Christian scholars refer to the prophetic books of the Bible, they are talking primarily about the Old Testament Scriptures written by the prophets. The prophetic books are divided into categories of major and minor prophets. These labels do not refer to the importance of the prophets, but rather, to the length of the books authored by them. The books of the major prophets are long, while the books of the minor prophets are relatively short.
Prophetic Books of the Bible
Prophets have existed throughout every era of God's relationship with mankind, but the Old Testament books of the prophets address the "classical" period of prophecy — from the later years of the divided kingdoms of Judah and Israel, throughout the time of exile, and into the years of Israel's return from exile. The prophetic books were written from the days of Elijah (874-853 BCE) until the time of Malachi (400 BCE).
According to the Bible, a true prophet was called and equipped by God, empowered by the Holy Spirit to perform his job: to speak God's message to specific people and cultures in specific situations, confront people with sin, warn of coming judgment and the consequences if people refused to repent and obey. As "seers," prophets also brought a message of hope and future blessing for those who walked in obedience.
The Old Testament prophets pointed the way to Jesus Christ, the Messiah, and showed humans their need for his salvation.
Isaiah : Called the Prince of Prophets, Isaiah shines above all the other prophets of Scripture. A long-lived prophet of the 8th century BCE, Isaiah confronted a false prophet and predicted the coming of Jesus Christ.
Jeremiah: He is the author of the Book of Jeremiah and Lamentations. His ministry lasted from 626 BCE until 587 BCE. Jeremiah preached throughout Israel and is famous for his efforts to reform idolatrous practices in Judah.
Lamentations: Scholarship favors Jeremiah as the author of Lamentations. The book, a poetic work, is placed here with the major prophets in English Bibles because of its authorship.
Ezekiel: Ezekiel is known for prophesying the destruction of Jerusalem and the eventual restoration of the land of Israel. He was born around 622 BCE, and his writings suggest he preached for about 22 years and was a contemporary of Jeremiah.
Daniel: In English and Greek Bible translations, Daniel is considered one of the major prophets; however, in the Hebrew canon, Daniel is part of "The Writings." Born to a noble Jewish family, Daniel was taken into captivity by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon in about 604 BCE. Daniel is a symbol of steadfast faith in God, most famously demonstrated by the story of Daniel in the lion's den, when his faith saved him from a bloody death.
Hosea: An 8th-century prophet in Israel, Hosea is sometimes referred to as the "prophet of doom" for his predictions that worship of false gods would lead to the fall of Israel.
Joel: The dates of Joel's life as a prophet of ancient Israel are unknown since the dating of this Bible book is in dispute. He may have lived anywhere from the 9th century BCE to the 5th century BCE.
Amos: A contemporary of Hosea and Isaiah, Amos preached from about 760 to 746 BCE in northern Israel on subjects of social injustice.
Obadiah: Little is known of his life, but by interpreting the prophecies in the book he authored, Obadiah likely lived some time in the 6th century BCE. His theme is the destruction of the enemies of God's people.
Jonah: A prophet in northern Israel, Johan likely lived in 8th century BCE. The book of Jonah is different from the other prophetic books of the Bible. Typically, prophets issued warnings or gave instructions to the people of Israel. Instead, God told Jonah to evangelize in the city of Nineveh, home of Israel's cruelest enemy.
Micah: He prophesied from approximately 737 to 696 BCE in Judah, and is known for predicting the destruction of Jerusalem and Samaria.
Nahum: Known for writing about the fall of the Assyrian empire, Nahum likely lived in northern Galilee. The date of his life is unknown, although most place authorship of his writings at about 630 BCE.
Habakkuk: Less is known about Habakkuk than any other prophet. The artistry of the book he authored has been widely praised. Habakkuk records a dialogue between the prophet and God. Habakkuk asks some of the same questions people are puzzled by today: Why do the wicked prosper and good people suffer? Why doesn’t God stop the violence? Why doesn’t God punish evil? The prophet gets specific answers from God.
Zephaniah: He prophesied during the same time as Josiah, from about 641 to 610 BCE, in the area of Jerusalem. His book warns about consequences of disobedience to God's will.
Haggai: Little is known about his life, but Haggai's most famous prophecy has been dated to about 520 BCE, when he commands Jews to rebuild the temple in Judah.
Malachi: There is no clear consensus on when Malachi lived, but most Bible scholars place him at around 420 BCE. His primary theme is the justice and loyalty that God shows to mankind.