Maybe a week, maybe a month; you will meet a tall dark stranger; the next few weeks are going to be hard on your energy levels....

What are the real/inferred differences between “prophecy” and “fortune telling”?


Fortunetelling more strictly means perceiving someone's good or bad fortune.

Your future will be happy.

Your future looks cloudy.

A prophecy is more likely to go into much more detail:

The king will return on May 31st.

You will die before your brother.

That being said, the two can be used interchangeably with regards to specific prophecies and fortunes told. The choice between them probably reflects a particular business, marketing or publicity strategy. A fortuneteller is more likely to give you vague but generally happy news about your love life and can be found at carnivals and gypsy conventions. Prophets are more likely to be found in religious environments that include churches and temples.

This probably stems from an implication of the source of the prediction: Fortunetelling is a mystical or psychic ability while prophesies are typically considered divine knowledge imparted to a chosen few.

Of note: Time travelers are warning of impending doom are generally considered to "predict the future" and, therefore, dodge both of the titles. When they must be given a title it is usually a "prophet" but even then it tends to be a label proffered by the stupid people of the past because they cannot understand the magic technology of time travel. "Predictions" or "predictors" also apply to pundits, investors or bookies.

I am also under the impression that most written predictions are considered "prophesies" unless being recorded as a tale of a particular fortune telling experience. This is more of a hunch than my other points, however.

More thoughts on the subject include the idea of a "false prophet" as opposed to a fortune teller merely being wrong. In terms of practical applications, most fortune tellers or prophets are deliberately vague on account of the, er, difficulty of being more accurate.

A more abstract term for this entire discussion would be "divinations" which encompasses activities such as dowsing and tarot cards.



A prophecy is a process in which one or more messages that have been communicated to a true prophet are then communicated to others by this true prophet. Such messages typically involve divine inspiration, interpretation, or revelation of conditioned events to come (cf. divine knowledge) as well as testimonies or repeated revelations that the world is divine


Fortune-telling is the practice of predicting information about a person's life, often commercially.

The scope of fortune-telling is in principle identical with the practice of divination. The difference is that divination is the term used for predictions considered part of a religious ritual, invoking deities or spirits, while the term fortune-telling implies a less serious or formal setting, even one of popular culture, where belief in occult workings behind the prediction is less prominent than the concept of suggestion, spiritual or practical advisory or affirmation. Historically, fortune-telling grows out of folkloristic reception of Renaissance magic, specifically associated with gypsies.


Well, at its roots, the function of prophecy is not about foretelling the future, really, it's about haranguing the populace about how they need to quit being drunken sluts or whatever because $DEITY is getting pissed. Originally, the stuff about the future was warning people about the bad shit that was going to go down if they didn't shape up. But, on the one hand, people never shape up, so the bad shit always went down, and on the other hand, everybody loves a good apocalypse, so over time the predictive orientation became more and more a part of the gig until prophet started meaning someone who foretells the future. Kinda hilarious if you ask me.

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    An example of a story where a prophet successfully inspired positive change is Jonah and Ninevah. Jonah was sort of bummed he didn't get to see divine retribution. – MrHen Mar 23 '11 at 18:07

The difference between prophecy and fortune telling is that fortune telling is just a prediction about the future, and prophecy is a message from God on what God is going to do for us. It might also be for people to know and realize the power and purpose of God in our lives. Prophecy is hinged on God, while fortune telling is just a prediction without even the glorification of God.

  • This is mainly irrelevant to the question at hand, and assumes the validity of sectarian theology. – Robusto Apr 8 '12 at 13:12
  • ... a particular sectarian theology. My ministers taught me it doesn't have to be any more divinely inspired than any other ability. It could just be the ability to see consequences of current actions. For example, it doesn't exactly take the Hand of God to fortell that tweaking the Assyrians at the height of their power won't end well. The problem is getting the King to see it. So Biblical "prophecy" is often just about having the courage to point out impending folly to the powers that be. – T.E.D. Nov 2 '12 at 19:24