How to Discern Human Error from False Prophecy


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We accept the writings of past prophets (Moses, Isaiah, Nephi, etc.) as scripture, as divine revelation from God. We also accept many of the writings of Joseph Smith as scripture. We believe that prophets speak the word of God, and we have scripture to back that up, such as "whether by my own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same."

We also understand that prophets are fallible mortals, just like the rest of us, except that they have a special calling to receive divine revelation. As fallible mortals, not everything they say can or should be accepted as scripture, right? I mean, if I'm talking sports with President Monson, and I ask him who he thinks is going to win the next basketball tournament, and he says he thinks the Lakers have the best chance because of this player or that coach or whatever else, I'd still be a fool to bet my life savings on the Lakers unless the outcome of the tournament somehow had something to do with the eternal salvation of mankind.

But where is that line? Aside from feeling the Spirit, how can we define what should or should not be heeded as divine revelation?

For example, Brigham Young was recorded in a Journal of Discourses as having said that Adam is God. (I did read the actual passage. He says that Adam is our father, which is true from a genealogical standpoint, and he says that Adam was part of the creation of the world as Michael the Archangel, which can also be confirmed by scriptural references. But then he seems to refer to Adam as "our god and the only god...") This is contradictory to church teachings and scriptures, but it was taught by a prophet. Assuming the quote is accurate, was Brigham Young wrong, or was he prophesying falsely?

That's just one example. There are others, like something I heard about descendants of the Nephites' skin turning pale after they join the church (doesn't happen) or about blacks never receiving priesthood authority. I'm not concerned about those points specifically. Just trying to figure out how to discern divine revelation from the errors of man.

Any ideas?

(I'm sure this question has been answered before, but I can't seem to find a thread for it. A friend asked me, and I had no good answer for him, which made me wonder the same thing.)

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Here is the Gospel according to Omega:

Official doctrine is rarely introduced in fact I can narrow it down to 6x it has happened in the history of the church everyone of these instances passed through the same procedure. approval by the first presidency, the concurrence of the twelve and then accepted in a sustaining vote of the entire membership.

1830, Bible and Book of Mormon were officially accepted with the organization of the Church
1835, Doctrine and Covenants, first 103 sections were officially accepted
1880, Doctrine and Covenants additional 32 sections were accepted along with the Pearl of Great Price
1890, Polygamy was repealed (Official Declaration, p. 291)
1976, D&C sections 137 & 138 were officially accepted
1978, The priesthood was made available to all worthy males regardless of race (Official Declaration 2, p. 292)

Other "Doctrines" are a matter of church policy.

As far as when the Prophet is speaking as a Prophet who knows. I listened to conference this past weekend and you will not go astray heeding the words of our leaders. Was it all "prophetic"? were any new "doctrines" revealed? nope.

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Elder Eyring (First Presidency!) talked about D&C section 50 in the very first talk of this session of general conference, which addresses your question:

Quote

 17 Verily I say unto you, he that is ordained of me and sent forth to preach the word of truth by the Comforter, in the Spirit of truth, doth he preach it by the Spirit of truth or some other way?

 18 And if it be by some other way it is not of God.

 19 And again, he that receiveth the word of truth, doth he receive it by the Spirit of truth or some other way?

 20 If it be some other way it is not of God.


This is the part of his talk that really struck me, and I wonder if we have enough faith in His organizing of His church, and His calling of His witnesses:
 

Quote

Whatsoever they speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture; shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation, Behold, this is the promise of the Lord unto you, o ye my servants. Wherefore, be of good cheer and do not fear, for I the Lord am with you, and will stand by you, and ye shall bear record of me, even Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God, that I was, that I am, and that I am to come. (D&C 68:2-4)

 

 

These are the notes I was taking that led up to that comment. Transcription of the talks don't seem to be available yet. 

Quote

  • When we gather in Christ’s name, He will be with each of us. The Lord is in our midst as we meet for conference.

  • By the power of the Spirit, we can feel that He is with us.

  • Christ commanded that we should call Him while He is near. Draw near unto Him. Ask, seek, knock.

  • Parable of the seed. Seed: word of God, Sower: the Lord. Condition depended on the quality of the earth. The soil is the heart of the person who receives the seed. We have to deliberately soften and cultivate the condition of our hearts, by avoiding temptation and nourishing the seed.

  • Speakers at conference pray diligently for the help of the Holy Spirit.

  • If we listen with the Spirit, our hearts will soften and our faith will strengthen.

  • We draw closer to Him when we pray together.

  • What is spoken by the Spirit becomes scripture; the mind of the Lord, the word of the Lord.

  • We can pray each time a speaker goes to the pulpit and add our faith. Through the Spirit, both the teacher and listener are edified.

 

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7 hours ago, HawaiianShirts said:

Aside from feeling the Spirit, how can we define what should or should not be heeded as divine revelation?

There is no other way. Every other way is not of God:

And again, he that receiveth the word of truth, doth he receive it by the Spirit of truth or some other way? If it be some other way it is not of God." (D&C 50:19-20)

There's no other options unless one is not of God - baptized members are supposed to be of God. Joseph Smith taught that a prophet is only a prophet when acting as such (it's in his personal journal). A prophet is only speaking the word of God when speaking under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost. So yes, if you were discussing football with the prophet he would likely be speaking opinion rather than under the influence of the Holy Ghost and it would not be a good idea to place bets on his opinions.

You have cited other situations such as Brigham Young claiming that Adam is God. That was his opinion, not something from the Holy Ghost. And it's the same thing with Bruce R. McConkie regarding blacks and the priesthood, with Jospeh Fielding Smith saying that he didn't think we'd ever land on the moon, with Paul Dunn as he exaggerated some of his war stories, and so forth. To trust them without relying on the Spirit is to blindly follow them, and the Lord has never sanctioned blindly following leaders. In fact in D&C 50:19-20 we see that doing so is not of God.

Receiving by the Spirit isn't that hard, it just takes practice and fine tuning. There's a simple way to receive by the Spirit and it does not require revelations or inspiration though they will often come while receiving by the Spirit. To do it a person first makes sure the Spirit is with them. They will know the Spirit is with them because they will feel the presence. The presence of the Spirit is summed up with ALL the feelings listed in Galatians 5:22-23 - all feelings must be present else it must never be assumed to be the Spirit. Once the Spirit is positively being felt then begin reading or hearing what is desired to be checked. The Spirit will never testify of a falsehood so by monitoring the presence of the Spirit one can know whether they are receiving truth or not - the presence will remain or get stronger if it is truth, or it will wain if only partially true or a precept of man with some truth, or it will withdraw if it is false. Of course another possibility for a withdrawal is if we personally did something to offend the Spirit (angry thought, negative attitude, etc) and in that case it is not known whether the statement was true or false since we caused the withdrawal. Aside from that if we know it is the Holy Spirit then we can trust what is being received by the presence or absence thereof.

While working out of town once I visited different wards on different weeks. One week I went to a ward and the Spirit was clearly being felt. Sacrament services went well! Come Sunday School the instructor began the lesson and the Spirit's presence witnessed the truth of each statement made. Point after point the Spirit was testifying. It was great! But at one point the instructor paused and the Spirit left. I was beside myself trying to figure out why the Spirit suddenly left when I was enjoying the basking. The next statements from the instructor were false doctrine that was readily recognized even without the Spirit withdrawing. Once the instructor moved away from the comments the Spirit returned and proceeded to testify the rest of the class. The Spirit knows what a person is going to say even before they say it and that was why the Spirit withdrew during that brief pause. 

That is the most basic way to receive by the Spirit and is the easiest way. It may not be easy to master it, though, since it takes effort to monitor the presence of the Spirit while also trying to hear what is being said. It takes practice. Beyond that there's many other ways to also receive from the Spirit. Usually it will be through an enlightened understanding that gives direction but no definitive answer. Other times it will be straight answers. And yet other times it can be through revelation or visions. Anything from the Spirit is excellent and while receiving by the Spirit it is not uncommon for the Spirit to give further insights. And while at it, strive for that presence to be with you 24/7 - it is well worth it!

Edited by Sadliers
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Thanks for the responses, all. Great insight. I hope I can convey this same information in a similarly clear way to my friend.

Just had a thought, though. Seriously. I opened the scriptures to where I left off last time, read 1 Nephi 19:1, which brought to mind the scripture that says, "Out of the mouths of two or three witnesses shall every word be established..."  Might that apply in this situation?  There were those with Joseph Smith when he was visited by heavenly beings, or those who saw the gold plates.  Nephi quoted Isaiah and others.  We've got loads of examples of prophets echoing the words of other prophets, both ancient and modern.  I think it's clearly established that God's not going to say a thing once and then never mention it again (probably because He knows that many of us won't pay attention the first time anyway).

If we take the Brigham Young example again, I don't think I know of any other prophet saying the same thing.  So it's only out of the mouth of one witness.  And, yes, I know that the Spirit is the only certain-sure way to know if a statement matches divine truth or not.  But for those who are not yet familiar with the Spirit's confirming presence, or who resist it, or who don't feel it for whatever reason, would it be fair to say that if a statement is confirmed by another, then it is much more likely to be prophetic than if it comes from only one person?

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On 4/4/2016 at 5:31 PM, HawaiianShirts said:

Just trying to figure out how to discern divine revelation from the errors of man.

 

4 hours ago, HawaiianShirts said:

So it's only out of the mouth of one witness.  ... would it be fair to say that if a statement is confirmed by another, (close)

If by divine revelation, you mean actual "doctrine" of the church vs. B. Young's opinion, here you go. This is the difference: (lds.org)

"When revelation is doctrine for the whole Church, it comes to only the First Presidency AND Quorum of the Twelve Apostles...  The prophet and President of the Church can receive revelation individually that becomes doctrine when it is sustained by the united voice of the First Presidency AND Quorum of the Twelve Apostles"

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I like the question.

I consider it my religion to sustain my church leaders, both local and General Authority, and take it on faith that they are generally leading me where the Lord wants me to go.

However, members are becoming less naive, more aware these days, that there is no doctrine of infallibility of leaders in our church. Jesus was the only perfect person who ever lived. So in that case, what about my leaders? Do they make mistakes? Have they ever been wrong? Yes, of course. So what do do about that?

I have always taken comfort in the following quote:

Quote

Elder Marion G. Romney recalled an experience he had with President Heber J. Grant:

“I remember years ago when I was a bishop I had President Grant talk to our ward. After the meeting, I drove him home. … When we got to his home I got out of the car and went up on the porch with him. Standing by me, he put his arm over my shoulder and said:

‘My boy, you always keep your eye on the President of the Church, and if he ever tells you to do anything, and it is wrong, and you do it, the Lord will bless you for it.’ Then with a twinkle in his eye, he said, ‘But you don’t need to worry. The Lord will never let his mouthpiece lead the people astray’” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1960, p. 78).

https://www.lds.org/manual/aaronic-priesthood-manual-3/lesson-24-follow-the-prophet?lang=eng

 

However, ultimately, as I understand it, it all comes down to faith and testimony and following the Holy Spirit.

You might say, well what about the scriptures. Surely, I can just follow them and be OK? I believe, yes, in general.

But there is always that story about Nephi who was commanded to kill Laban, in cold blood. Way, way against the Ten Commandments. https://www.lds.org/scriptures/bofm/1-ne/4

This story comes right at the beginning of the Book or Mormon, as if the Lord wants to make sure we don't overlook it. I think this story is very instructive in may respects.  How did Nephi deal with this instruction from the Spirit? He pondered it first, even argued with the Spirit, until he was sure it was right. He didn't just rush out to do something that was against his previous understanding. But he did follow the Spirit in the end.

What I get form this story is: Whatever the Holy Spirit tells you to do, that's what is right. The Holy Spirit trumps prophets and scriptures.

So we as members have this great burden of responsibility: Live to have the Spirit with us, and follow it. But make sure it really is from the Holy Spirit. I'm amazed that the Lord trusts us with this much responsibility. But I think it's how we grow in faith and how we prove our obedience - these are the purpose of life.

Lastly, I will say that when someone questions council from the prophet or something the scriptures tell you to do, I would tell them to err on the side of following the leaders. I have never heard anything from the scriptures or from the modern prophets that I thought was leading me astray. There's a reason we have prophets and scriptures - they will usually tell us what the Spirit wants us to do anyway.

Some things you may have to take on faith, like why couldn't blacks have the priesthood for so long? I don't know, but I do know the Lord is at the head of the church, and I trust him. If he thought it was important enough for his purposes, he would have given a revelation to change it earlier.

Ultimately, after all learning and pondering and reasoning a person might do, any question of belief and doctrine still always comes down to faith. (Except when maybe a person has progressed beyond faith to full knowledge? - I don't know anything about what that might be like.)

I love being a member of a church that 1) tells me to use my mind, to ask questions, to learn, and to pray and ponder about my decisions. But that also 2) teaches faith as its first principle. And that trusts me to figure out how to reconcile these two.

 

Edited by tesuji
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On 4/4/2016 at 5:31 PM, HawaiianShirts said:

 

For example, Brigham Young was recorded in a Journal of Discourses as having said that Adam is God. (I did read the actual passage. He says that Adam is our father, which is true from a genealogical standpoint, and he says that Adam was part of the creation of the world as Michael the Archangel, which can also be confirmed by scriptural references. But then he seems to refer to Adam as "our god and the only god...") This is contradictory to church teachings and scriptures, but it was taught by a prophet. Assuming the quote is accurate, was Brigham Young wrong, or was he prophesying falsely?

 

The Adam-God quotes have always interested me.  You are right, the idea that Adam = Elohim is contradictory to church teachings, and if you read the entire talk it came from, as I recall, later in the talk Brigham Young makes it clear that Adam and Elohim were two different, distinct people (meaning the talk may appear internally contradictory upon brief reading).  So, what is to make of these contradictions, especially in light that modern prophets have said that the idea that Adam is God, as understood popularly, is flat out wrong?

I personally think that there is a great deal we do not know about Adam.  We have unanswered questions about pre-Adamites (e.g., Neanderthal man), the age of the Earth, whether there was death before Adam, whether there was intelligent life before Adam, the Adam-God quotes . . . there is so much mystery in the creation and the fall that I personally believe that Brigham Young was trying to tell us something about Adam in the Adam-God quotes, that whatever he was trying to tell us was correct, but that he did not, for whatever reason, clarify what he was trying to teach sufficiently for us to really know what he was getting at.  Make no mistake, there is something special, something that has not fully been revealed, about Adam.  I think, if we had more than three or four quotes from Brigham on the subject, perhaps we would have a better understanding of what he was trying to say and perhaps we would find that it does not contradict the gospel at all.

I do not believe that Brigham Young was wrong when he made the Adam-God quotes.  It isn't a matter of believing Adam-God; it is that we don't really know enough about Adam-God to know what Adam-God is really saying or teaching.  Therefore, I have faith that whatever Brigham was trying to say was right, that someday we will know more about it, and until then I choose to keep an open mind.

Edited by DoctorLemon
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13 hours ago, HawaiianShirts said:

If we take the Brigham Young example again, I don't think I know of any other prophet saying the same thing.  So it's only out of the mouth of one witness.

The trouble with Adam-God is that it--or at least, its implications--cannot align neatly with some of Brigham Young's other teachings about God.  Is Jehovah Jesus?  If so, is Jehovah superior to, or subordinate to, Michael/Adam?  If not, then where does Jesus fit into the "quorum" of Elohim, Yahovah and Michael that Young described?  Brigham Young brought the theory up on numerous occasions, but he did not satisfactorily resolve these issues.

Nonetheless, we can't glibly dismiss this as just a flight of fancy by Brother Brigham.  He claimed to have gotten it from Joseph Smith himself.  Heber Kimball endorsed the idea.  So did Wilford Woodruff.  A very young Joseph F. Smith taught the doctrine, though he repudiated it later in life.  And Eliza R. Snow devoted at least one poem to the idea.

So while additional witnesses are helpful, they don't make an adequate long-term substitute for direct revelation.

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Haven't read through the thread, but why on earth would we be looking for reasons to determine when the prophet isn't speaking as a prophet? As far as I'm concerned, if the living prophet gives me counsel, I'm following it. What do I care if it's officially "prophetic" counsel or not? He has the right and authority to lead this church. I will follow. What value could there possibly be in my scrutinizing every word he says for whether it's officially "thus saith the Lord" or not? That sounds like a good way for me to let Satan into my heart.

As far as "doctrine" goes, it's pretty straight forward. The church's doctrine is plainly taught, repeated, shared by the common consensus of the leaders of the church, and isn't some great mystery to riddle out.

It really isn't that complicated.

Edited by The Folk Prophet
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On 4/4/2016 at 6:31 PM, HawaiianShirts said:

We accept the writings of past prophets (Moses, Isaiah, Nephi, etc.) as scripture, as divine revelation from God. We also accept many of the writings of Joseph Smith as scripture. We believe that prophets speak the word of God, and we have scripture to back that up, such as "whether by my own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same."

We also understand that prophets are fallible mortals, just like the rest of us, except that they have a special calling to receive divine revelation. As fallible mortals, not everything they say can or should be accepted as scripture, right? I mean, if I'm talking sports with President Monson, and I ask him who he thinks is going to win the next basketball tournament, and he says he thinks the Lakers have the best chance because of this player or that coach or whatever else, I'd still be a fool to bet my life savings on the Lakers unless the outcome of the tournament somehow had something to do with the eternal salvation of mankind.

But where is that line? Aside from feeling the Spirit, how can we define what should or should not be heeded as divine revelation?

For example, Brigham Young was recorded in a Journal of Discourses as having said that Adam is God. (I did read the actual passage. He says that Adam is our father, which is true from a genealogical standpoint, and he says that Adam was part of the creation of the world as Michael the Archangel, which can also be confirmed by scriptural references. But then he seems to refer to Adam as "our god and the only god...") This is contradictory to church teachings and scriptures, but it was taught by a prophet. Assuming the quote is accurate, was Brigham Young wrong, or was he prophesying falsely?

That's just one example. There are others, like something I heard about descendants of the Nephites' skin turning pale after they join the church (doesn't happen) or about blacks never receiving priesthood authority. I'm not concerned about those points specifically. Just trying to figure out how to discern divine revelation from the errors of man.

Any ideas?

(I'm sure this question has been answered before, but I can't seem to find a thread for it. A friend asked me, and I had no good answer for him, which made me wonder the same thing.)

The light shines in darkness, and that is what we are to discern. We all have some degree of darkness in our fallen natures, so it is best to hold to the rod that we have, follow the light it leads us to, and allow grace to attend us. As far as following the Lord’s servants, holding to the rod (the Gospel) indicates that there are none better to join up with and follow, according to 3 Nephi 11. The Lord knows both they and we are fallible, so he set up His Church in a way that He can best manage the work of our salvation.

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  • 2 weeks later...
28 minutes ago, chriscox478 said:

Is it possible that Joseph got the book of Mormon from God then became a false prophet? Im not comfortable with section 132

Not a chance.

Who are you, and why is celestial marriage such an issue?

Lehi

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I had someone on my mission have a firm testimony of the Book of Mormon, but had an issue with Joseph Smith.  So I get that, but I never had an issue with his teachings.  He was learning as he was building up the church.  It's interesting that many (even most) of our common doctrines and practices come from Smith questioning a passage in the Book of Mormon or the Bible, and then inquiring of the Lord, and more truth was revealed.  I think this happened until all the keys and doctrines needed to spread the Gospel were established, including polygamy, and the Temple.  I find it very interesting that Smith was killed shortly after the endowment and the full functional temple ordinances were revealed.  Was Joseph Smith a fallen prophet?  Nope, he fulfilled his mission and prepared the way for the church to continue. 

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19 minutes ago, chriscox478 said:

my name is chris. … Celestial marriage is not my issue. plural marriage is my issue.

Your name is not as important as your history.

Why is Plural Marriage an in issue?

Lehi

Edited by LeSellers
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16 minutes ago, chriscox478 said:

why do you say not a chance?

Because "he lived great an he died great". He spilled his blood as a prophet of God to seal his testimony and his work.

Not a chance he was a "fallen prophet".

Lehi

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52 minutes ago, chriscox478 said:

Im not comfortable with section 132

21 minutes ago, chriscox478 said:

Celestial marriage is not my issue. plural marriage is my issue.

Just for clarification, section 132 has a few verses about Plural Marriage, and a host of verses about celestial marriage. You said it was section 132 tht made you uncomfortable. So I assumed you meant the bulk of the section.

Lehi

 

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33 minutes ago, chriscox478 said:

please don't talk to me

When you come to a public forum and ask questions, you are going to get a variety of answers from a variety of people.  LeSellers is attempting to answer your questions.  Telling one to not talk to you is not going to get your questions answered.  Remember it's hard to tell tone on a public forum and sometimes the way things are presented can come off in a way not meant. 

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8 hours ago, chriscox478 said:

please don't talk to me

Sorry you took offense.

If we don't know what the basis for your discomfort is, we cannot hope to respond meaningfully.

There's nothing about Plural Marriage that should make anyone, Latter-day Saint or atheist feminist, unhappy.

The true bases for Plural Marriage are freedom and love. I can't see anyone's being upset about that.

Lehi

Edited by LeSellers
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