It is good to note that prophets are not infallible in their ministry. Prophets hear in part and prophecy in part (1 Corinthians 13:9). This means it is quite important for an individual receiving a prophecy to sense the affirmation of the Holy Spirit for that word in their lives. All believers are in a position to hear from the Lord for themselves. If that affirmation isn’t there, the individual may need to lay the prophecy aside for awhile.
A false prophecy may have accurate information but still be a false prophetic word. In Acts 16:16-18 we see a prophetic word given by a young lady about Paul and his team. The word contained accurate information and its content was absolutely true. However, it was still a false prophecy. There are three reasons for this. First, her source was a “spirit of divination” as we see in verse 16. Secondly, her focus in the word given was on Paul and not on Jesus. And, thirdly, her motive was to earn money for her master. Thus, although the content was accurate this would, for these three reasons, be deemed a false prophecy. All prophecy should be tested (1 Thessalonians 5:19-22).
So, what is a false prophet? Many people wrongfully think that if someone prophesies something that doesn’t come true, he should immediately be labeled “false prophet.” Since we all prophesy “in part,” just because a prophetic word has some inaccuracies in it DOES NOT mean that the individual is a false prophet. A false prophet is someone who knowingly or unknowingly (if they are blinded by the enemy) tries to lead someone astray. False prophets will tend to bring division in churches and leadership and hinder the building of the church (Matthew 7:15-23, Titus 3:9-11). They are false in their character even if their words are true.
This is not to say that prophets should not be held accountable for their prophetic words. They do need to be held accountable, and when they deliver public words that turn out to be wrong, they need to publicly acknowledge their mistake. This really does not happen often enough. Part of the character of the prophet needs to be one of integrity. If he speaks a prophetic word that is incorrect or only partially correct, then he needs to be held accountable for his ministry.