The final (word on) prophecy

By: Stephen Marsh
August 10, 2012

So, what do we know about prophets?  What is the final word on prophecy?

So far, in previous posts I have covered:

This post is on how prophets prophesy and how the word of God is transmitted from God to man by prophets.  The final word, so to speak, on prophecy.

Some context — prophets in the scriptures

There is the classic, prophet in the mode of Moses version “And the LORD spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend” — one that we are told, over and over again is atypical for a prophet and which made Moses special.

More normative are events such as when Peter had his vision that led to gentiles being accepted as members of the Church. Peter was faced with an issue, there had been back and forth, there was a policy in place (no gentiles), he had a vision, and then they had to work out what it meant and the full implications (circumcision not required after all).  That was a process that involved several different levels of revelation, follow-up, clarification and focusing.

Interestingly enough, his first response to the voice of God was to disagree with it “not so.”

Even more common seems to be events such as found in Luke 24:17-21ff.   The apostles had been told things by Christ himself (or had read the scriptures), completely failed to understand them, pondered them, and eventually found enlightenment.

Or Phillip and the Eunuch, where Phillip is told to go to a place, but thereafter works from inspiration.

The pattern

The general pattern is that there is a problem, God speaks, men do not understand, the inspiration is clarified, then they have to work out the implications on their own, with more struggle and concentration on the issue.  Without the reason to face the issue, it seems rare for God to speak (e.g. it went a while for gentiles to be allowed to be baptized, until there was an active reason.  Circumcision issues took some time to work out).

What is striking about many examples is that the prophet involved starts off saying “no” or going in the other direction (Saul of Tarsus anyone?).  God speaks, and like with Jonah, encounters resistance.  There is revelation, but the meaning of it still has to be worked out and developed.

More modern examples

We have some more modern discussions, since Joseph Smith and Brigham Young and others talked about the process.  They talked about how they, like the apostles, were limited in their understanding of God’s words by the weaknesses of their language, their knowledge and their context.  God may be speaking, but they were the ones listening.

Further, they engaged in the process of refining what they understood and what it meant.  Revelation would often go through drafts as they worked out just what it meant, prayed and pondered about it.

What that means for us

First, a preface, so to speak, then specifics.

In preface, I would note that we have a huge administrative burden in the Church and that we have a competing chorus of voices on almost every issue and many, many issues.  It is easy to think that there is an issue or a problem, it is (a) the most important, (b) there is only one side, and (c) there is nothing else any where near as important.  I suspect that not more than 4-5 people in each stake feel that way on a monthly basis.  With 2946 stakes at the end of 2011, that is probably not more than ten thousand people a month who have something they want to say.


  • Generally, you should expect each prophet to work with their theme.  Historically, that has been true, though Spencer W. Kimball seemed to pick up new themes every time he almost died.
  • Generally, you should expect prophets, seers and revelators (such as the first quorum of the 70) to be very engaged in the day to day administrative revelation related tasks of the Church — calling new bishops, new stake presidents, new mission presidents and dealing with related issues.  Over 350 missions, with each president serving three years, means over 100 mission presidents to call and train each year.  350+ to supervise.  I would not be surprised if there were a thousand stake presidency members (presidents and counselors) to call and train each year (that is only about 300 presidencies a year or about 10% a year, it is probably more).
  • Generally, you should expect refinement once there is revelation.  I know, you would think that if Christ himself were talking to Peter or John, face to face, day to day, for more than a year, they would get the point without needing refinement, but we are so modern, we probably don’t need as much time, feedback, exposure or refinement?  Maybe not.  We might even need more.  I think it is worthwhile to keep Peter and Paul and their trials and conflicts well in mind when thinking about prophets and the transmission of the word of God to us.
  • Generally, you can move prophets to action by moving God.  There is a well documented methodology for it.
  • Expect to start off not completely clear on what God is saying or what the important parts are.

What do you think?  Is there something I have missed on what we should expect?

12 Responses to The final (word on) prophecy

  1. Bonnie on August 10, 2012 at 7:10 AM

    I agree completely about expecting prophets to work on their theme. Their lives, just as ours are, are preparatory for a mission that is specific and they can’t be expected to operate significantly outside of that mission. Sometimes I think members need to consider the mission a leader is called to fulfill before they agitate for a change that *they* feel called to comment on. What is the call God has for that leader? If we are one, we are supportive of the *way* God is working to bring about changes and balancing the things we feel called to do within our sphere.

    I also heartily agree that revelation is refined. Elder Scott spoke eloquently to that in conference, utilizing a process of “is there more?” that is entirely and perfectly effective for ascertaining the mind of God to the degree that he is mindful to share it at a particular time. If we asked this question more, I think personal revelation would grow exponentially in the kingdom. I don’t know that most members approach revelation as a conversation, and sometimes a debate. There’s certainly history of that kind of conversation between prophets and God.

    I think there’s a larger conversation that could be had in the church about how we as the “rank and file” can best assist in the Lord’s work by searching to find where the Lord is leading a prophet and moving with him in that journey. It seems that the church is divided into two camps: those who are searching for prophetic counsel in how to live their lives (and are in many ways the independent salvation seekers), and those who feel called to counsel leaders by noting ways the church should be altering its course (and are in many ways acting as outside consultants.) If we were to be one, moving in concert with the prophet, it would seem that we would be working out our own salvation with an eye toward the general direction the prophet is leading the church and offering observations in that light. I imagine the unity of a school of fish that react in tandem to the circumstances of the environment. That seems like Zion to me.

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  2. ji on August 10, 2012 at 8:16 AM

    Just as we should expect prophets to work within their own themes, we need to allow others among us to work within their themes, too. Every man can hear the voice of God, and every man can magnify his priesthood and be anxiously engaged in a good cause without waiting for direction from above.

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  3. ji on August 10, 2012 at 8:47 AM

    There are no many facets to this discussion. I agree with Bonnie (no. 1), even thought my thoughts in my no. 2 seem to differ. I understand the school of fish imagery and agree that it is a beautiful representation of Zion — but I also understand the importance of each man and each woman seeking after and following the whisperings of God to them.

    Maybe this is how I can reconcile these: at the micro level, there will be diversity of operations apparent to those who look for them — but at the macro level, to those who look for large patterns, it will be great unity. Both are possible, unity (at the macro perspective) and diversity (at the micro perspective).

    [By "diversity" I do not mean divergence in doctrine -- after all, sin is still sin -- rather, I'm talking about present or outward emphasis -- the President of the Church may have an emphasis on rescue, for example, while another member's emphasis might be on compassionate service -- a bishop's emphasis might be on missionary work while a ward member's emphasis might be on the ward's Boy Scouts -- this sort of diversity is good and healthy, and fits within the larger fabric of unity.]

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  4. Howard on August 10, 2012 at 9:57 AM

    It seems to me that like a treadmill, the fish school is pointed up current and while swimming, not making much progress as viewed from the shore.  Compare this to progress made under Joseph and Brigham.  A vacuum of leadership naturally invites  new leaders to emerge but an institution resists this so they emerge from outside the power structure.  If the fish school were making substantial progress the leadership would experience much less outside criticism and advice.  The brethren attempt to broker our relationship with God, this is good for those who need the help but limiting for those who don’t.  There is nothing wrong with agitating for change, President Hinckley allowed for it.  The brethren need to leave the mundane behind and pick up the pace for all to be well in Zion.

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  5. prometheus on August 10, 2012 at 11:27 AM

    I think it is also relevant to the discussion to look at the tension between the priestly and the prophetic roles. Typically a prophet receives a revelation, an institution forms around that revelation, codifying and refining the raw idea, and is preserved by priests.

    Then new prophets are called to preach against the institutions, which had been set up by previous prophets, and scrape away at the hedges that had been built up by the priestly maintenance of traditions.

    Currently, we seem to be firmly entrenched in a priestly tradition, and because our leaders are somewhat bound to support the institution, it is difficult for them to take the lead on seeing where it needs pruning or changing. There also seems to be an upsurge of people (in a variety of areas) who are offering insightful, positive commentary and reinterpretation / criticism of our traditions that are less helpful. I think that this is the essence of the spirit of prophecy.

    As Moses said, would God that all people were prophets. The goal is Christ: we should all be moving there of our own will and relying on our relationship with Him rather than relying on one man to carry 15 million + the world to Him.

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  6. Stephen M (Ethesis) on August 10, 2012 at 3:10 PM

    Bonnie — exactly. Wish more would understand that.

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  7. Howard on August 10, 2012 at 8:37 PM

    The like buttons are not working: tried droid phone, iPad, PC and multiple ISPs.

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  8. Stephen M (Ethesis) on August 10, 2012 at 8:51 PM

    The like buttons do not work on phones. That should work on PCs though, they did earlier.

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  9. Jake on August 11, 2012 at 3:54 AM

    In terms of becoming a prophet. I can remember when I was on my mission I decided to practice my gift of prophecy to help me become a prophet. As Preach My Gospel said that if you work on a spiritual gift then God will bless you with it and prophecy is a spiritual. So me and my companion would make prophecies each day in order to help us gain the gift of prophecy the more that were fulfilled the more prophetic we thought we were. I wonder if the first presidency do a similar thing – at their meetings do they take it in turns practicing making prophecies to develop their gift?

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  10. Jon on August 12, 2012 at 12:01 AM

    I agree with Prometheus. If I understand correctly the ban on blacks and the priesthood happened, in part, when members would send letters to the leaders that could make the change begging them to lift the ban. As was stated by someone else, people live in the paradigms and sometimes need others to agitate them to think that that paradigm isn’t the only one.

    Yes, there have been many stumbling blocks or hedges put up that need to be taken down. Like Mike S likes to say, stop telling us not to wear two earrings or none at all. This falls outside of the pervue that Christ taught, teach only repentance, etc. And is contradictory to what the scriptures teach, that man looks on the outward appearance and God doesn’t. Anyways, I’m getting sidetracked.

    The scriptures talk quite a bit of the fallibility of leaders and even church leaders leading the people astray. It is therefore for the individual to reject bad or false counsel and go the way that Christ wants. If all members did this then a “prophet” truly couldn’t lead the church astray because, if he was teaching false teachings, they would just ignore him.

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  11. Stephen M (Ethesis) on August 12, 2012 at 6:47 AM

    Where do you expect to see prophecy and on what topics?

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  12. prometheus on August 12, 2012 at 1:36 PM

    Where? Ideally, everywhere. In reality, though, I expect to see it from the periphery. Blogs, academic research, local individuals. I don’t expect very much to come over the pulpit at GC, to be honest.

    On what topics? One example: of late, there has been a resurgence of the idea of grace as opposed to works. I grew up in the 80s, and I was taught that works were how we got to heaven. People who *did* good things got to the CK, and if you didn’t, you couldn’t get there, and Jesus didn’t seem to come into the picture at all. Now, though, we are starting to get it. We are starting to understand how wrong that thinking is and it is coming out from a number of speakers in a number of venues.

    A second example: There are many people who are making a connection with Heavenly Mother, who are seeking Her out. I believe that it is time, that there is a call that has gone out, and that the message is being heard by an increasing number of people.

    Really, I expect prophecy to be about Jesus or about our Parents. I don’t expect prophecy to be predicting disasters, lottery numbers, or any other future events. It just doesn’t seem relevant in light of our needs: greater knowledge of the character of Deity, the relationships we ought to have with Them and each other.

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