Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe that anciently, God communicated His will to the world through prophets like Noah, Abraham, and Moses. This has always been the pattern God has followed, and we believe He’s still following that pattern. Just like in ancient times, there are prophets today. That said, there seems to be a bit of confusion about what a prophet is, and what a prophet is not. Let’s talk about it.
A prophet, whether ancient or modern, is no more or less human than you or I. Prophets are capable of sin, they can make mistakes. There are plenty of well-documented mistakes Latter-day Saint prophets have made in the past. Some people like to use those mistakes as evidence that those men weren’t prophets, but mistakes are to be expected.
If the lives of ancient prophets were as well-documented as the lives of some modern prophets, I think we’d find plenty of questionable decisions to complain about. Even with the documentation we do have, we see ancient prophets making all sorts of calls we’d probably condemn in a second nowadays.
Paul said some pretty sexist stuff. Peter assaulted a government employee. Jonah tried to abandon Nineveh and he literally ran from God. Noah got drunk and ran around without his clothes on. Nathan told King David that God had approved of his decision to build a temple, God had to gently remind the prophet that, no, that was not the case. Does that make them bad people? No, it just makes them people.
Prophets are also products of their time. They’re not outside the influence of their culture. The prophet Elijah rounded up priests of a false rival religion and had them killed. Can you imagine if Christians did that today with people from other religions? Not cool. But apparently, that’s how they rolled in Elijah’s era. Does that make it OK? Not to us in our era, but it illustrates that prophets shouldn’t be separated from cultural context.
Brigham Young believed there were people living on the Moon. Why? Probably because that’s what newspapers were reporting. It’s known as The Great Moon Hoax. Does falling for the hoax make him a false prophet? No, just a prophet that was also a product of his time, he was his own person and he had his own opinions. God doesn’t want his prophets, for better or worse, just to be His puppets.
Additionally, prophets are not omniscient. Being a prophet doesn’t make them the smartest person on the planet. An apostle, M. Russell Ballard said,
“I worry sometimes that members expect too much from Church leaders and teachers—expecting them to be experts in subjects well beyond their duties and responsibilities. The Lord called the apostles and prophets to invite others to come unto Christ—not to obtain advanced degrees in ancient history, biblical studies, and other fields that may be useful in answering all the questions we may have about scriptures, history, and the Church. Our primary duty is to build up the Church, teach the doctrine of Christ, and help those in need of help.”
We often say that God communicates to His prophets. But what does that mean? Do they sit down and have Sunday brunch together? That’s probably not how it works. Most of the time when they receive revelation from God, just like for you and me, is a process. It takes effort. Yes, sometimes there are miraculous visions and there’s very clear communication, but more often than not, prophets are left to seek as much inspiration as possible while using their best judgment.
They prayerfully make the best decisions they can, and God either says, “sure, sounds good,” or, “nope, that’s a bad idea,” or even, “that’s a bad idea but I’m going to let it play out and help you learn from your mistakes later on.” God isn’t just trying to tell us stuff, He’s trying to teach us stuff. This kind of process is evident in the Bible when it comes time for the eleven apostles to fill the space left by Judas. In Acts 1 we read,
And they appointed two, Joseph called Barsabas … and Matthias.
And they prayed, and said, Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men, shew whether of these two thou hast chosen, That he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas by transgression fell … And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.
They prayed for inspiration, and then counseled together, made the best decision they could, and called Matthias, presumably with a thumbs-up from God.
Sometimes, God will reveal a broad principle to the prophet and apostles, for example, “temples are important and people need to be spiritually prepared before they go there.” And then the prophet and apostles have to figure out the best policies to implement or apply that revelation: For example, deciding to start using temple recommends and doing recommend interviews.
In ancient times there were real prophets and false prophets. In modern times there are real prophets and false prophets. God has given us the Holy Ghost to be able to discern who is who, and we’ll talk more about that more in another episode. You guys are awesome, hope you learned something, have a great day. <p>