What is a Prophet?

By: Guy Templeton
December 12, 2013

Many people on the bloggernacle think that LDS prophets don’t act like biblical prophets. LDS prophets rarely give new scripture or perform dramatic miracles.  But is that a correct definition?  The LDS Bible Dictionary gives many roles for a prophet.  Here are some definitions (formatting changed)

  • The work of a Hebrew prophet was to act as God’s messenger and make known God’s will.  The message was usually prefaced with the words, “Thus saith Jehovah.”
  • He taught men about God’s character, showing the full meaning of His dealings with Israel in the past.
  • It was therefore part of the prophetic office to preserve and edit the records of the nation’s history; and such historical books as Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings were known by the Jews as the former Prophets.
  • It was also the prophet’s duty to denounce sin and foretell its punishment and to redress, so far as he could, both public and private wrongs.
  • He was to be, above all, a preacher of righteousness.
  • When the people had fallen away from a true faith in Jehovah, the prophets had to try to restore faith and remove false views about the character of God and the nature of the divine requirement.
  • In certain cases prophets predicted future events, such as the very important prophecies announcing the coming of Messiah’s kingdom;
  • But as a rule a prophet was a forthteller, rather than a foreteller.
  • In a general sense a prophet is anyone who has a testimony of Jesus Christ by the Holy Ghost, as in Num. 11:25-29; Rev. 19:10

Well, that last definition is a bit weak, but overall, it seems that some people have a misconception of what a prophet is.  Do you think LDS prophets match the definition of ancient biblical prophets?

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20 Responses to What is a Prophet?

  1. Howard on December 12, 2013 at 6:19 AM

    There are Prophets and prophets, the two are very different. Joseph was the former, he was personally selected and trained by God. Where do you place the ordained and sustained seniority system brethern of today? Are they Prophets like Joseph or prophets?

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  2. Kevin Christensen on December 12, 2013 at 9:01 AM

    I found 28 very clear Biblical tests for True and False Prophets. In that light, I think Joseph Smith and his successors look very good. Of course, few people bother to make use of that light.

    Kevin Christensen
    Pittsburgh, PA

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  3. Brad on December 12, 2013 at 9:14 AM

    And there are profits.

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  4. Howard on December 12, 2013 at 10:00 AM

    It’s easy to see once you parse it out: Prophet = revelation which is more God than man. prophet = inspiration which is more man than God. prophets = group inspiration which is more men than God.

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  5. KT on December 12, 2013 at 1:01 PM

    And then there are presidents of corporations……

    @kevin, I notice one of the tests is ‘seeks to please God, not men’. I have heard many a justification for BY not allowing African Americans to be ordained as ‘the world wasn’t ready for it’. Is that pleasing God or man? And what of the explanations ‘we just don’t know why’ blah blah blah…… Is that prophetic?

    If there really were prophets, what is the answer to all the different versions of the books of the Bible, with disagreements, mistakes, etc? Take for example the parable of the woman to been stoned….. ‘He without sin cast the first stone’……known by Christian scholars not to have shown up in record until 1000 years after the earliest record of that book of the bible?

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  6. Justin on December 12, 2013 at 1:43 PM

    The fun thing I find in “pro+phet” [to speak before] — is that the designation “before” works in both temporal [in time] and spacial [in space]. So — is a prophet a person who speaks about things before they happen in time? Or is s/he a person who speaks before [as in, "in the presence of"] God? The preposition “before” isn’t clear.

    In any event, I’ve e-mailed the people at The Chronicle Project about the Hebrew root “naba’ before — and they explained:

    NB means: “to prophesy”.
    The Y means — to manifest or have occur.
    The A means — to activate, or to begin.

    So the word you have is: “to begin to manifest to prophesy or a prophecy which comes true
    to fulfill a prophecy“.

    It is translated as “prophet”, but it is really a description of an action, not a noun. So you can be known as one “who prophesies”, but not “a prophet”.

    This word should not be translated as prophet even though it is over 300 times. We checked a couple of the placements and none should have had the word “prophet” in them. This is the EXACT description from the Hebrew you sent. There is no other translation that can be pulled from it. Unfortunately it is not man’s power of observation that is his great weakness, but his ineptness at conclusion.


    Personally — I think when any of us prophesy, we are not forcing anything to happen nor do we have special insight into what must come about — but we are creating. Prophets are identifying certain conditions that exist in the Sphere of All-Things-Possible and are inviting them in to play a part in this Sphere of All-Things-Actual [where we live].

    A prophet/ess is not merely being dictated to by some other force, being told things that will come to pass — even though each may be corroborating a long line of previous prophets, s/he is still an artist adding something personal to it each time they speak.

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  7. Kullervo on December 12, 2013 at 5:13 PM

    Do you think LDS prophets match the definition of ancient biblical prophets?

    Nope. Not even a little bit.

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  8. mh on December 12, 2013 at 6:57 PM

    What’s your definition kullervo?

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  9. log on December 13, 2013 at 3:10 AM

    There are multiple definitions of “prophet” in the Church.

    The possession of the spirit of prophecy, or the testimony of Jesus Christ, is one thing that qualifies a man to be called a “prophet” in today’s Church. We learn from Moses 6 that the baptism by fire and the Holy Ghost is the record of the Father and the Son, wherein a man is quickened, or born again. President Lee, the sitting president of the Church at the time, said this:

    I bear witness to you that those who hold the apostolic calling may, and do, know of the reality of the mission of the Lord. To know is to be born and quickened in the inner man. (Harold B. Lee, Stand Ye in Holy Places [Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Co., 1974], 64–65, emphasis added)

    Therefore that having been baptized by fire and the Holy Ghost may be a minimum qualifying experience which makes men “prophets”, as the Church uses the term “prophet” today. Indeed, the Comforter received thereby enables men to prophesy as seemeth the Lord good (D&C 42:16).

    It ought to be clear that “upholding and sustaining” men as “prophets, seers, and revelators,” does not give them those gifts; as President Lee said, those who are called to be apostles “may” have been born again. For further reading on that subject, see President Packer’s talk where he describes his call to the apostleship. And we have no scriptural guarantee that a man, called to the apostleship (even, ultimately, the First Presidency), has been born again, and the Lord has given us no guarantee of such; he calls men as seems him good. The scriptures, in fact, impose a duty upon the President of the Church “to be like unto Moses… to be a seer, a revelator, a translator, and a prophet, having all the gifts of God which he bestows upon the head of the church.” The scripture does not say that the President of the Church has those gifts; after all, “what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift? Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift.” (D&C 88:33) Therefore, once again, there is no guarantee.

    So, by default, we call the Brethren “prophets, seers, and revelators” by virtue of their position in the Church, without regard to whether they have the spiritual gifts which make men prophets, seers, and revelators. Thus, upholding and sustaining the Brethren as prophets, seers, and revelators, is equivalent to upholding and sustaining them as the leaders of the Church.

    The scriptures apply a different standard for when a man is to be considered a prophet. I will distinguish between persons whose position entitles them, in the modern Church, to be called “prophets, seers, and revelators,” and those who meet the scriptural definition of prophet, by referring to the latter as “true prophets”.

    The scriptural definition of a true prophet is one who has stood in the divine council. The divine council is the council held in the heavenly temple, in the presence of the Father and the Son and all the holy angels. Such a man has the Melchizedek priesthood (D&C 107:19), for this is the power and authority of that priesthood.

    It ought to be clear that no earthly ordination can possibly make one a true prophet – either one has stood in the divine council, or one has not stood in the divine council. No earthly temple, earthly ordination, nor earthly rites, are a substitute for this, even if earthly temples, ordinations, and rites may be necessary for a man to enter into the divine council. No “line of prophetic succession” can put a man in the presence of God; we attain it through our faithfulness, or not at all.

    Thus, when discussing this topic, it is necessary to distinguish between “prophets,” or the leadership of the Church, who may have only been born again, and true prophets, who come from the presence of the Father and the Son and the holy angels in the divine council, bearing the power and authority of the Melchizedek priesthood, and testimony from God.

    An objection was raised, and responded to thusly:

    log, I find it difficult to respond to your posts because of their presumptuous nature. You teach your opinion as fact and falshoods as truth. For example:

    In quoting Pres. Lee
    I bear witness to you that those who hold the apostolic calling [b]may, and do, know [/b]of the reality of the mission of the Lord. To know is to be born and quickened in the inner man. (Harold B. Lee, Stand Ye in Holy Places [Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Co., 1974], 64–65, emphasis added)

    You site the word “may” as meaning maybe. But when followed by “and do” the word “may” means “are allowed to” or “are granted to.”

    You may interpret “may” that way if you wish. I believe I consistently used the word “may.” Whatever President Lee meant, I mean. As he was talking about 14 (possibly 15) men, I find “maybe” to be plausible, because he clearly didn’t mean “do,” or there would have been no “may” about it. Some of them surely had been, after all.

    And then you said

    And we have no scriptural guarantee that a man, called to the apostleship (even, ultimately, the First Presidency), has been born again, and the Lord has given us no guarantee of such

    To be called as an apostle and not be born again? That’s what I would call a contradictory statement. Even the Lord said in D&C 107:23:

    The twelve traveling councilors are called to be the Twelve Apostles, or special witnesses of the name of Christ in all the world…

    Kind of hard to be a special witness of Christ when you haven’t even been born again.

    I agree, it would be very hard to be a special witness of Christ in those circumstances. Christ calls whom he calls, even if they’re not qualified spiritually. Reed Smoot was one such:

    “The change in the apostolic ‘charge’ apparently began with the appointment of Reed Smoot as an apostle in 1900. General church authorities had long regarded him as ‘reliable in business, but [he] has little or no faith.’ President Lorenzo Snow blessed him to receive ‘the light of the Holy Ghost’ so that he could bear testimony of Jesus Christ and Joseph Smith. That was an extraordinary departure from the apostolic charge as given since 1835.(PtHG, p.244)

    Heber J. Grant was another:

    When I was called to the apostleship I felt so unworthy that I desired to decline the honor. Even after my ordination this feeling continued until about three months later while on a mission with Brigham Young Jr. in Arizona. I was one day riding alone and thinking of my unworthiness, when the Spirit impressed me just as though a voice had spoken, “You were not worthy but the Prophet Joseph to whom you will belong in the next world, and your father, have interceded for you that you might be called, and now it remains for you to prove yourself worthy.” (Heber J. Grant, quoted in Abraham H. Cannon Journals, L. Tom Perry Special Collections Department, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, entry for 2 April 1891; reproduced in Dennis J. Horne (editor), The Journals of Abraham H. Cannon (Clearfield, Utah: Gnolaum Books, 2004), 179)

    And, as an historical example, Judas was an apostle, called by Christ directly.

    So, the fact of the matter remains that a calling, or position in the Church, is no guarantee of anything.

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  10. log on December 13, 2013 at 3:29 AM

    Incidentally, so far as we know, Joseph was the last true prophet we’ve had among the Brethren. The Lord has long since stopped speaking to the body of the Church in his own voice – indeed, he has not since January 14, 1847 (D&C 136).

    With the recent public admission by the Church via the public statements on priesthood ban that not only can the united 15 apostles lead the Church astray, but in fact have done precisely that, I think we have deeper problems than we’re willing to admit.

    Something is badly amiss, folks.

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  11. ji on December 13, 2013 at 4:30 AM

    D&C 1 says that every man can speak in the name of God — that’s the great vision and goal. See D&C 1:20.

    I sustain the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve as prophets, seers, and revelators, and that with utmost sincerity and faith. However, their authority to function and to preside and to teach comes from their callings and sustainings in the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve. In other words, and speaking of today, President Monson’s authority comes from his called and sustained office as President of the Church, sitting in council, rather than as prophet, seer, and revelator. In saying this, I am not diminishing his role or authority — rather, I hope I am strengthening it. In my own mind and heart, this perspective strengthens his role and my duty to sustain.

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  12. ji on December 13, 2013 at 4:43 AM

    a follow-up…

    This principle applied even to Joseph Smith — yes, he was a Prophet because God had called him — but his authority to direct and preside over the Church came from the Church itself (from beneath, if you will), not from God (from above).

    D&C 107:22 Of the Melchizedek Priesthood, three Presiding High Priests, chosen by the body, appointed and ordained to that office, and upheld by the confidence, faith, and prayer of the church, form a quorum of the Presidency of the Church.

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  13. Bruce Bogtrotter on December 13, 2013 at 6:05 AM

    To find out what the correct definition of a prophet is, we can turn to the scriptures…
    which were written by prophets…

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  14. DB on December 13, 2013 at 6:20 AM

    A prophet, or prophetess, is someone who has the gift of prophecy, which is a gift of the spirit. It is separate from being an Apostle and is separate from the priesthood entirely. This is completely misunderstood by many, if not most, members of the church. Prophet is not a title (though we try to make it one for the President of the church), nor is it an office or a calling. Anyone who has a testimony of Jesus Christ is not a prophet, that is wrong. Anyone who has the gift of prophecy is a prophet. Unfortunately, belief in the gifts of the spirit has largely disappeared from the church and anyone claiming to have such a gift of the spirit would probably be mocked or called in for a disciplinary council.

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  15. Kevin Christensen on December 13, 2013 at 6:56 AM

    Of 28 Biblical tests for Prophets, KT mentions one, and tries to apply it to Brigham Young on one “hot button” issue, the priesthood ban. “Seeks to please God rather than men.” One of the obvious reasons for both the introduction and persistance of the ban is that the men involved thought that they were pleasing God rather than men. That is, they were depending on an erroneous scriptural reading of Noah’s Curse that the LDS did not invent, but inherited from the larger culture. See Sterling Adams here:


    None of the Biblical tests that I found (linked to the FAIRWiki above) describes prophets as being God’s sock puppets. Inspired doesn’t mean instantly omniscient and morally without blemish. For instance 3 Nephi
    16:18 describes disciples who, due to “stiff-neckedness.. understood not my word.” They supposed they understood (3 Nephi 15:22) and did not ask. 3 Nephi 17:2 also describes the human weakness that means “ye cannot understand all my words.” 3 Nephi 17:3 asks the disciples to “ponder” and “prepare your minds.” I notice that the account does not describe anyone raising there hand to object that since God was there, why didn’t he just tell them so they wouldn’t have to either ponder or prepare.

    Wherefore, by their fruits shall ye know them. (Fruits, provide a means of recognizing a plant, despite the presence of fallen fruit, dead branches, or bird or worm damage. Apples don’t grown on sagebrush. One wormy apple does not prove that a tree is not an apple tree.) The best approach is wide angle contexting, rather than tightly focused, cynical proof-texting.
    —Matthew 7:20

    Claims a True Prophet must make
    Revelation and Vision
    Chosen by God
    Ordained by prophesy and the laying on of hands by those in authority

    Teaching of Christ
    Christ ordained by God to judge all men, and
    Teaches belief on him for remission of sins
    Testifies that Jesus is “come in the flesh”
    Apostles and prophets given “till we all come in a unity of the faith”
    Accepts the Biblical God

    Character of Teaching
    Preaches Repentance
    Teaches of one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all
    Teaches by the spirit, so that your faith stands in the power of God
    Opens understanding of the scriptures
    Teaching consistent with scripture
    Provides knowledge of the heavenly council
    Provides knowledge of the Lord’s covenant
    They teach their followers to expect trials in this life

    Personal Character
    Seeks to please God, not men
    Teaches with authority, and not as a scribe
    They lead as willing ensamples to the flock, not for filthy lucre
    Recognizes and is united with authorized prophets
    They admit to being men of passion, like us, liable to sin

    Evidences provided
    God bears them witness with signs and gifts of the Holy Ghost according to his own will
    A prophet may do works none other man did.
    Teaches that the investigators must keep his words to learn the truth of them.
    Teaches that we must pray
    Over time, arguments against a prophet fail, and demonstrate confusion

    My essay also points out the importance of removing the motes from one’s own eye, and learning what mistakes to avoid.

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  16. Justin on December 13, 2013 at 11:31 AM

    Something I thought about last night that I wanted to add to my #6 — was how similar in structure the word “pro+phecy” [meaning to speak before] is to the word “pre+diction” [meaning essentially the same thing]. So I’d say that a person pre+dictating [sayi8ng it before] an event/occurrence would be a necessary [though maybe not sufficient] condition for them being a pro+phetic saint.

    I think that the main problem in these semantics is that the LDS Church has been using capital-p “Prophet” as the title for the presiding high priest of the church of Christ, whether he has acted in the capacity or fulfilled the calling of a lower-case-p “prophet” or not — thus the two terms “The Prophet” and “a prophet/ess” have become conflated/entangled.

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  17. New Iconoclast on December 13, 2013 at 12:36 PM

    “Prophet” is Greek, “Predict” Latin; both mean “to speak before.” That’s what the LDS usually mean by a “seer” – this caused me some confusion when I first studied the Church since I had the misconception that a “prophet” predicted the future. That came not from the etymology, but from cultural connotation; I’m not a Utahn.

    However, I note that the Hebrew word “navi” or “nabi”, the OT word usually translated “prophet,” actually has a meaning closer to “spokesman.” That’s how we use the term in the Church.

    It may be that the connotation (and the use of that particular Greek word in translations from the Hebrew) came about because the ancient prophets did have a habit of predicting certain future events, usually dire consequences for people who failed to heed their counsel, and also because after the rise of Christianity, a great deal of emphasis was laid on the ancient “pre-speakings” of the eventual coming of the Messiah and the fulfillment of those prophecies in Jesus Christ. Depending on the prophets, their writing seems to me to be as often theological as predictive. One more thing that Joseph set straight?

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  18. Justin on December 13, 2013 at 1:15 PM

    New Iconoclast #17:

    “Prophet” is Greek, “Predict” Latin; both mean “to speak before.” That’s what the LDS usually mean by a “seer”

    Though I am not Utahn either — I never took “seer” to be a “before speak-er” either, simply because prophet = pro+phenai, “To speak before”, which appears to place the emphasis on the words — one who speaks a thing that comes into be-ing. Whereas, seer = see+er, “One who sees”, which appears to place the emphasis on the vision — one who sees a thing and brings that vision back to the community.

    Now, the scriptures say:

    which say to the seers

    see not

    and to the prophets

    prophesy not …

    [Isaiah 30:10]

    which is why I think that “seers see” and “prophets speak”. Also,

    and the king said that

    a seer is greater than a prophet

    and Ammon said that

    a seer is a revelator
    and a prophet also
    and a gift which is greater can no man have
    except he should possess the power of god
    which no man can
    yet a man may have great power
    given him from god

    but a seer can know of things
    which are past
    and also of things which are to come
    and by them shall all things be revealed
    or rather
    shall secret things be made manifest
    and hidden things shall come to light
    and things which are not known shall be made known
    by them
    and also things shall be made known
    by them
    which otherwise could not have been known

    [Mosiah 8:15]

    So that’s made me think that a prophet should not speak of that which he does not know — and how could a person know a thing unless they had either seen it [which is why a seer is also a prophet] or heard it from a reputable source, like an angel [making that person a prophet/ess but not a seer, because they're accepting the angel's word by faith alone, not having seen].

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  19. New Iconoclast on December 13, 2013 at 2:48 PM

    That makes perfect sense to me.

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  20. Christian J on December 20, 2013 at 12:36 PM

    No modern prophet can match the narratives in the Bible. Even the Biblical prophets themselves would be astonished to learn all the things the scribes said they did.

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