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Nine Moons » Blog Archive : Prophets Don’t All Weigh The Same » Prophets Don’t All Weigh The Same

Prophets Don’t All Weigh The Same

Christian J - March 6, 2013

Mormons like to beat themselves up for not giving enough value to the man they call prophet. And there may be something to that, for a variety of reasons. However, the practice goes off the rails when we start throwing in historical prophets as a comparison.

“We would all sit up a little straighter if it was Moses right?” And on and on about the complacency of modern life and the ease in which we receive the Word. Its true, many of us do live a more comfortable life than our forebears. And for many in history, scripture (or information of any kind) was terribly hard to acquire. But those are not the reasons that we value some prophets more than others.

I’m aware that a main theme of the Mormon narrative is the sameness of God’s prophets throughout time and place. And although I think this is a historically dubious claim (at least the way we commonly teach it), I understand its utility in the way we try to view the living prophet.

The problem is that we’ve already decided – theologically/institutionally – that some prophets really do weigh differently. We like to say that the latest Conference addresses are the same as scripture for at least the 6 months following. But that’s really not the same as placing it in the canon for time and all eternity. It’s not. Thank heaven it’s not, right?! Sure, we like to revive the words of modern prophets and find the wisdom that God revealed through them. But we all know that this is heavily cherry picked to align with our contemporary sensibilities (or revelations). And even then – manuals do not equal canon.

Of course, this should all be non controversial. And that’s the point. Its right in front of our nose and we talk as if its not. Its right in the fabric of official Church teaching.

So, Thomas S. Monson does not weigh the same as Joseph Smith or Jeremiah or Paul and that’s OK. It has been for quite a long time.

21 Comments »

  1. It could also be pointed out that we’ve canonized the words of some men (and the woman who wrote Hebrews) who were not, in fact, prophets. But, I’m trying to make this claim within the realm of mainstream Mormon belief.

    Comment by CJ Douglass — March 6, 2013 @ 9:36 am

  2. It’s true many “prophets, seer and revelators” do very little if any of what that title implies. So what’s the difference between them? Great Prophets were chosen by God and personally trained for years by him. Lessor prophets are ordained and sustained with the *authority* (not the power) to act as Prophets for the church but to be able to fill that calling they must learn how those skills from the Spirit and it takes a lot of work to learn. Given their other church administrative responsibilities few of them seem to posses significant prophetic skills and most appear to rely on the same inspiration common members do to magnify their callings.

    Comment by Howard — March 6, 2013 @ 11:06 am

  3. “Thank heaven it’s not, right?! ”

    Laugh. For sure. :)

    Comment by Thomas Parkin — March 6, 2013 @ 1:18 pm

  4. It depends on what you mean by “weigh.” There is a certain segment of mormondom that elevates the current prophet above anyone. For example, a general authority (one of the seventy) of some repute visited my mission to speak at one point and made this stunning pronouncement:

    “I don’t care what the scriptures say; I care what the current prophet says they say.”

    (emphasis was his)

    Yeah, you read that right. It was probably the most interesting talk I ever heard from any GA anywhere at any time, but I’ve never been sure how seriously to take it. I will say, however that I’ve heard similar things since, and I think it’s not an uncommon view.

    Comment by MCQ — March 6, 2013 @ 2:36 pm

  5. I agree. And it makes for some interesting games of GA poker.

    “I’ll see your John Taylor, and raise you a George Q. Cannon!”
    “Brigham Young, eh? Sorry, everyone… but I’ve got a Joseph Smtih.”

    Joseph Smith trumps everyone else. It’s just a fact.

    Comment by DavidF — March 6, 2013 @ 7:52 pm

  6. Howard, I like to think of the prophets in terms of gifts and talents – sometimes based on what their particular time and place requires of them. In that way, they’re just like us – human and flawed, but also qualified through grace for the calling that God has given them.

    “I don’t care what the scriptures say; I care what the current prophet says they say.”

    MCQ, I will go even further and say that this is a predominant view among the body of the Church – no less among the GAs and auxiliary leaders. As an example, I don’t know anyone still in the Church who doesn’t view the WoW that way. Still, my main point was to suggest that the expiration date we give to those fresh prophetic words, by their very nature are less valuable. And maybe that’s the best analogy I can muster – the difference between fresh/perishable food and non-perishable.

    Of course many LDS would find it offensive to suggest that some/most of our current prophet’s words will someday lose their value – yet that is the pattern of our history.

    I also happen to really dislike that approach to searching the scriptures, in part because it compels us to take them less seriously.

    Comment by CJ Douglass — March 7, 2013 @ 8:37 am

  7. CJ Douglas,
    Follow the Spirit! In the absence of the Spirit follow the prophet.

    Comment by Howard — March 7, 2013 @ 9:24 am

  8. In the absence of the Spirit, repent.

    Comment by log — March 7, 2013 @ 3:34 pm

  9. Ultimately this church is built on the rock of continuing revelation and that means that we have to look to the Prophet and Apostles and also receive personal light and inspiration.

    The current words of the prophets are inspired direction to us and delivered for the people of the time for which they are written. Certain other documents that are canonized have risen above that level of being contextualized merely to a specific place and time and are applicable to people everywhere and throughout time. I would suggest that more recent first presidency declarations such as the Family Proclamation and The Living Christ would actually fit in that category.

    I reject the notion that somehow President Monson is less inspired than Joseph Smith or Brigham Young. I have a firm testimony that this church is being led continually by revelation from the lord even in the small day to day things.

    Comment by symphonyofdissent — March 8, 2013 @ 4:42 am

  10. I reject the notion that somehow President Monson is less inspired than Joseph Smith or Brigham Young. I agree somewhat because the key word here is *inspired*. It is clear that Joseph revealed far more revelation than Pres. Monson has. Joseph received the restoration, the BoM, temple rights and started the church however Pres. Monson is much more of a businessman than Joseph was.

    Comment by Howard — March 8, 2013 @ 6:51 pm

  11. I would suggest that more recent first presidency declarations such as the Family Proclamation and The Living Christ would actually fit in that category.

    Except that the Church has specifically disclaimed that the Family Proclamation is scripture. I think those declarations are good policy statements that have more force than the typical conference address, but they are not scripture. The Church has the ability to make them scripture if it wished and has never done so. It would be a mistake to equate them with revelation that has been made scripture.

    Comment by MCQ — March 8, 2013 @ 8:22 pm

  12. MCQ, of course I agree with you – obviously because they’re not part of the quad. But do you have an explicit reference you could give?

    Comment by CJ Dougalss — March 8, 2013 @ 8:48 pm

  13. This paragraph from Elder Packer’s talk a few years ago, shows his original comment on the family proclamation and the changes made by the Church prior to publication of the talk:

    Fifteen years ago, with the world in turmoil, the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles issued “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” the fifth proclamation in the history of the Church. It qualifies according to the definition as a revelation and would do well that members of the church to read and follow it. It is a guide that members of the Church would do well to read and to follow.

    The italics are the part that was deleted and the bold is the part that was substituted. As you can see, the Church downgraded it from a revelation to a guide. I think that shows it is in no immediate danger of canonization.

    Comment by MCQ — March 9, 2013 @ 12:26 am

  14. Great post. Sorry to be so late on this thread, and so will probably not be read, but I would also like to “weigh” in myself.

    We continually hear in the church that a living prophet is more important than a dead prophet (thank you Ezra T). However, as you correctly point out, some have greater weight than others. For example, Joseph Smith’s statements, regardless of if canonized, seem to hold great credibility when it comes to the interpretation/direction of gospel topics (Think King Follet discourse, etc.). Then think of poor Bro. Brigham and his Adam-God doctrine,etc. It seems so easy to dismiss the later but fully accept the former.

    My point is that unless something was canonized, then all the quotes and non-scriptural references to JS in all the teaching manuals of the church should pretty much be stricken, just as much as BY’s quotes.

    Also, since we seem to take the past 6 months talks as pretty much gospel and then pick and choose what we don’t like/accept from many years ago, perhaps the talk about living prophets being more important than dead ones really isn’t doctrine either ;-)

    Comment by Paolo — March 14, 2013 @ 2:04 pm

  15. Don’t worry Paolo, we read everything. And no, that definitely isn’t doctrine, just the opinion of one (now) dead prophet. I once heard President Hinckley’s daughter (after his death) say, “there’s nothing deader than a dead prophet.” She wasn’t referring to church doctrine, but I think it still applies.

    I agree that Brigham has far less credibilty than Joseph Smith on gospel topics but I actually think even Brigham would agree with that. He never seemed to consider himself in the same category as Joseph, prophet-wise.

    I think it’s ok to refer to quotes from any prophet in teacher’s manuals, as long as we all understand and agree that all prophets are fallible and any statement they make must be taken with a grain of salt until or unless confirmed by personal revelation. Some quotes don’t require confirmation, but anything controversial or too far out of the faith-repentance-baptism sweet spot should not necessarily be considred gospel in the absence of personal revelation.

    Comment by MCQ — March 14, 2013 @ 10:30 pm

  16. Some prophets weigh more with me. As do a lot of people who are not prophets or even Mormon.

    I’m reading the Old Testament again and am questioning the definition of scripture altogether. Because this is clearly a mish-mash. And I believe the Book of Mormon contains a lot of Joseph Smith’s personal feelings, beliefs, what have you, besides scripture.

    It’s only an opinion.

    Comment by annegb — March 23, 2013 @ 9:40 am

  17. I like your opinions, annegb, but my opinion is that Joseph’s personal feelings and beliefs ended up in the D&C and his Lectures. If he had put his own feelings into the BOM, it would have been a much longer book and taken much longer to translate.

    Comment by MCQ — March 24, 2013 @ 1:08 am

  18. What do you make of the use of the word “Adieu?”

    Comment by annegb — March 24, 2013 @ 9:28 am

  19. I actually wrote a post about that previously.

    http://www.nine-moons.com/?p=1380#more-1380

    Comment by MCQ — March 24, 2013 @ 1:16 pm

  20. annegb,

    FWIW – For a while now I’ve been debating within myself just what the BoM is as well. One of the HUGE disadvantages of the book is that we can’t go back and look at the original language (like the Bible). So, the fact that we receive it King James English, means that there are a number of words and meanings that don’t/can’t shine through. So, Joseph’s use of the word “adieu” was a choice, just like ever other English word, but it would be still nice to see how that matches up with what Jacob really meant.

    Also – MCQ’s post is worth a read.

    Comment by CJ Douglass — March 25, 2013 @ 9:05 am

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