How do we know when a prophet is speaking as a prophet or giving his opinion?

How do we know when a prophet is speaking as a prophet or giving his opinion?




Last week in priesthood class a member asked, “How can one tell when a man, whom we sustain as prophet, is speaking as a prophet or giving his own opinion?”





Dear Don,

President Brigham Young taught that

What a pity it would be if we were led by one man to utter destruction! Are you afraid of this? I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by Him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation, and weaken that influence they could give to their leaders, did they know for themselves, by the revelations of Jesus, that they are led in the right way. Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not. This has been my exhortation continually.  Journal of Discourses 9:150.

So, in other words:  we know when the prophet is speaking as a prophet, because the Holy Spirit confirms the truth of those words into our hearts.  This is the same principle we should apply when we have questions about something said by anyone in the Church, from a primary teacher up to an apostle:

And whatsoever they shall 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.  Doctrine and Covenants 68:4, emphasis added.



Therefore, why is it that ye cannot understand and know, that he that receiveth the word by the Spirit of truth receiveth it as it is preached by the Spirit of truth?


Wherefore, he that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together.  Doctrine and Covenants 50:21-22.

Now, a caveat:  A major reason that we need prophets and apostles is because the whisperings of the Spirit are so easily missed, ignored, or misinterpreted.  Prophets and apostles are intended to serve as a separate line of revelation that is not easily ignored, or rationalized away by our own prejudices or predispositions.  In a revelation that was intended to warn Hiram Page and his followers that Page’s own individual ability to receive revelation had become obscured, the Lord advised the Church that “I have given him [Joseph Smith] the keys of the mysteries, and the revelations which are sealed, until I shall appoint unto them another in his stead.”  Doctrine and Covenants 28:7.

Of course, this does not mean that we must blindly accept everything a prophet says as completely doctrinal.  However, it suggests to me that I can approach most statements by apostles and prophets, with the presumption that they probably know more than I do about any given Gospel topic.  And we do have a promise from President Woodruff that the Lord will never permit the head of the Church “to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God and from their duty”.  Official Declaration 1, explanatory material.  It was in this sense, I believe, that Brigham Young observed,

I do not wish any Latter-day Saint in this world, nor in heaven, to be satisfied with anything I do, unless the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ, the spirit of revelation, makes them satisfied. I wish them to know for themselves and understand for themselves, for this would strengthen the faith that is within themJournal of Discourses 3:45


Thus, while we do not need to slavishly change our opinions to conform to every little thing a Church leader says; a conflict between what Elder Oaks calls the “priesthood line” of revelation versus our individual “personal line” of revelation should be a cause for serious introspection and soul-searching before we dismiss what we think we have received through either line.  As Elder Oaks teaches in his Conference address entitled “Two Lines of Communication“,

We must use both the personal line and the priesthood line in proper balance to achieve the growth that is the purpose of mortal life. If personal religious practice relies too much on the personal line, individualism erases the importance of divine authority. If personal religious practice relies too much on the priesthood line, individual growth suffers. The children of God need both lines to achieve their eternal destiny. The restored gospel teaches both, and the restored Church provides both.






How do we know if the prophet is false by the words they speak?

How do we know if the prophet is false by the words they speak?




Brigham Young has said multiple times and it is written in the Journal of Discourses that he said people lived on the moon dressed as Quakers. He also said, “Is their life on the sun? Without question, for it was not created in vain.” Since those could not be true what is your stance on this because in Deuteronomy it says the way to know a prophet was false is if they speak in the Lord’s name and that doesn’t come to pass or isn’t true. (Paraphrased) What are your thoughts on this?





Dear Michael,

You are correct that the Lord warned, through Moses, that

But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die.


And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the Lord hath not spoken?


When a prophet speaketh in the name of the Lord, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him.

Deuteronomy 18:20-22.

In fact, I believe that this is why Jonah demanded the Lord kill him when the Lord did not destroy Nineveh as Jonah had prophesied that He would–Jonah knew Moses’ warning, assumed due to the “failed” prophecy that he himself had spoken presumptuously, and was therefore prepared to pay the scriptural penalty.  As it turned out, of course, the Lord had other plans for Jonah.  (See Jonah 3-4.)

It is not Church doctrine that prophets of God are infallible in every statement they make.  We understand that, as Joseph Smith taught, “a prophet [is] a prophet only when he [is] acting as such”; and that his opinions and even teachings about nonessential issues may be subject to human error.

Notwithstanding the Lord’s instructions to the Israelites as to how to identify and punish false prophets; in our day, to the extent that prophets make erroneous statements, the Lord forgives them and sustains them in their calling–up to a point.  If a prophet goes so far as “to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God and from their duty”, President Woodruff taught that it would then become incumbent on the Lord to remove that prophet from his office (see explanatory text appended to Official Declaration 1).  Procedurally this would happen through the convening of a bishop’s court, which would have authority to take the appropriate action (D&C 107:76); although it would remain the prerogative of a departing prophet to name his legitimate successor (D&C 43:4).






Is the position of President of the Church a separate office in the Priesthood?

Is the position of President of the Church a separate office in the Priesthood?




Is the President of the Church ordained or set apart? Is the position a separate office in the Priesthood or a calling?





Dear Dave,

“The president of the Church”, like quorum and auxiliary presidents, is not itself a separate Priesthood office. Rather, the man who holds that calling, is the “Presiding High Priest over the High Priesthood of the Church” (D&C 107:66).The entire context of this revelation on Priesthood organization further clarifies the office of Priesthood presidents.

“Verily, I say unto you, saith the Lord of Hosts, there must needs be presiding elders to preside over those who are of the office of an elder; And also priests to preside over those who are of the office of a priest; And also teachers to preside over those who are of the office of a teacher, in like manner, and also the deacons—” (D&C 107:60-62).

Please note that the presidents of these various quorums are selected from that quorum – that is to say, the president of the elders quorum is himself an elder. There is no separate office in the priesthood for this calling. The same is true for high priests, seventies, apostles, deacons, and teachers.

In a later revelation, the names of specific individuals were presented to be sustained for these offices. For instance, “I give unto you John A. Hicks, Samuel Williams, and Jesse Baker, which priesthood is to preside over the quorum of elders” (D&C 124:137). This same revelation specifies that those so called to presidencies are “officers belonging to [God’s] Priesthood” (D&C 124:123). Returning back to the “Revelation on Priesthood”, we find a similar term used to describe the First Presidency:

“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.” (D&C 107:22).

The office here spoken of is not an office of the Priesthood (in the sense of elder, high priest, apostle, seventy, or patriarch), but an office in the sense of a role or calling. In this sense, presidents hold a separate office in their quorums or church but not a separate office of the Priesthood. We still hear this usage every six months when General Conference is introduced “with speakers selected from the General Authorities and General Officers of the Church”. The General Sunday School President, for an example of a General Officer, certainly holds a separate office in the Church but not a separate office in the Priesthood.

Seeing that there is no separate Priesthood office, why then is it said that the Presiding High Priests are “ordained”? This is the same term that appears with regards to Emma’s calling (see D&C 25:7) and I think the same answer will suffice.

“The term ‘ordain’ was used generally in the early days of the Church in reference to both ordination and setting apart, and, too, correctly according to the meaning of the word. Men holding the Priesthood were said to have been ‘ordained’ to preside over branches and to perform special work. Sisters also were said to have been ‘ordained’ when they were called to some special duty or responsibility. In later years we developed a distinction between ordain and setting apart. Men are ordained to offices in the Priesthood and set apart to preside over stakes, wards, branches, missions, and auxiliary organizations. The sisters are set apart—not ordained—as presidents of auxiliary organizations, to missions, etc. This saying that Emma Smith was ‘ordained’ to expound scripture, does not mean that she had conferred upon her the Priesthood, but that she was set apart to this calling, which found its fulfillment in the Relief Society of the Church” (Church History and Modern Revelation by Joseph Fielding Smith, 1:126).

We see this term in modern times when the principles outlined are exercised. At the death of President Lee, “Elder Ezra Taft Benson … made the formal motion that the First Presidency of the Church be reorganized and that Spencer W. Kimball be sustained, ordained, and set apart as the president, prophet, seer, revelator, and as trustee-in-trust of the Church. This motion was seconded and unanimously approved. … Then, with President Benson being mouth, in a beautiful prayer and blessing, Spencer Woolley Kimball was ordained and set apart as prophet, seer, and revelator and president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (Chosen of the Lord by N. Eldon Tanner, April 1974 General Conference). As President Benson has long since died, I have not been able to ask him about his usage of “ordain” in this context. It’s possible he used the word, since it is the one specified in scripture, in conjunction with the more common and well-understood “set apart” for clarity. It’s also possible that he used in in the civic or governmental sense, meaning “to establish or order by appointment, decree, or law: enact” (as demonstrated by the preamble to the United States Constitution which “ordain[s] and establish[es]” that document). This is not the scriptural usage, but it is a proper usage in modern times for the Quorum of the Twelve (the presiding body of the Church in the absence of a First Presidency) to ordain or establish via ordinance Brother Nextinline to be President of the Church.







Are modern day prophets set apart and if so, how?

Are modern day prophets set apart and if so, how?




How are modern day prophets set apart? I know that each member of the First Presidency and members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles hold all the keys, but only the prophet can exercise all priesthood keys. So, when the current prophet dies is the new prophet set apart?





Dear Chris,

The transition of presidency from Joseph Smith to Brigham Young serves as a good case study for modern prophetic succession. The restored Church of Jesus Christ was organized line upon line, as God “reveal[ed] many great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of God” (see Article of Faith 9). At the first meeting of the Church, Joseph Smith was called as the First Elder, and Oliver Cowdery as Second Elder (D&C 20:2-3). This gave these two preeminence in the Church which continued to be recognized with the office of Assistant President – an office Oliver held from its creation December 5, 1834 (History of the Church, 2:176) until his excommunication in 1838. On January 19, 1841, the office was again filled by Hyrum Smith (D&C 124:94-96). Joseph Fielding Smith explained the significance of this position:

“The Lord called Oliver Cowdery as the second witness to stand at the head of this dispensation assisting the Prophet in holding the keys. The records inform us that every time the Prophet received authority and the keys of the priesthood from the heavens, Oliver Cowdery shared in the conferring of those powers with the Prophet. Had Oliver Cowdery remained faithful and had he survived the Prophet under those conditions, he would have succeeded as President of the Church by virtue of this divine calling” (Doctrines of Salvation, 1:213).

By March 1833, the First Presidency was organized and recognized as the highest quorum in the Church (D&C 81:1-2). A few years later (April 1835), with the addition of several high councils and a quorum of 12 apostles, a pecking order was established. The 12 apostles, as a quorum, were “equal in authority and power” to the First Presidency (D&C 107:22-24). For the apostles, this promise became a reality in the winter of 1843-44. Said Joseph at a meeting with the 12:

“Now, brethren, I thank God I have lived to see the day that I have been enabled to give you your endowments, and I have now sealed upon your heads all the powers of the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods and Apostleship, with all the keys and powers thereof, which God has sealed upon me; and I now roll off all the labor, burden and care of this Church and Kingdom of God upon your shoulders, and I now command you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to round up your shoulders, and bear off this Church and Kingdom of God before heaven and earth, and before God, angels and men” (in James R. Clark, comp., Messages of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 3:134).

At the death of Joseph Smith, there was an open question of who would lead the Church in his absence. The Assistant President could have claimed it, but had been martyred alongside him. Some suggested that William Marks, as president of the High Council in Zion (see D&C 107:36-37), was the natural successor; however, he didn’t want it. That left Sidney Rigdon, first counselor in the First Presidency, and Brigham Young, President of the Quorum of the 12. Neither claimed to fill Joseph’s shoes as president of the Church. Rather, Sidney would lead as Guardian of Joseph’s legacy, while Brigham would indirectly lead by presiding over the quorum that did in fact have the right to govern.

Sidney Rigdon and Brigham Young came to a head on August 8, 1844 at a conference convened specifically to establish a successor for the Prophet. Sidney Rigdon said: “I have been ordained a spokesman to Joseph, and I must … see that the church is governed in a proper manner. Joseph sustains the same relationship to this church as he has always done. No man can be the successor of Joseph.” Sidney wanted to be appointed as “guardian”, to build up the Church to Joseph.

Brigham said if Sidney’s claim to authority came from being Joseph’s counselor, then “if President Rigdon wants to act as his counselor, he must go beyond the veil where [Joseph] is” (Wilford Woodruff: History of his Life and Labors as Recorded in his Daily Journals, by Matthias F. Cowley, p 218). He then reaffirmed the doctrine that the 12 hold the keys.

More important than the sermon itself was the spiritual confirmation that accompanied it. George Q. Cannon said of that meeting:

“It was the first sound of his voice [Brigham’s] which the people had heard since he had gone east on his mission, and the effect upon them was most wonderful. … It was the voice of Joseph himself; and not only was it the voice of Joseph which was heard; but it seemed in the eyes of the people as though it was the very person of Joseph which stood before them. A more wonderful and miraculous event than was wrought that day in the presence of that congregation we never heard of. The Lord gave His people a testimony that left no room for doubt as to who was the man He had chosen to lead them. They both saw and heard with their natural eyes and ears, and then the words which were uttered came, accompanied by the convincing power of God, to their hearts, and they were filled with the Spirit and with great joy. There had been gloom, and, in some hearts probably, doubt and uncertainty; but now it was plain to all that here was the man upon whom the Lord had bestowed the necessary authority to act in their midst in Joseph’s stead” (Joseph Smith, the Prophet, Juvenile Instructor, Oct. 29, 1870, 174–75).  (see also The Kingdom of God will Roll on”: Succession in the Presidency, by Brent L. Top and Lawrence R. Flake. Ensign, Aug. 1996).

A schism resulted, but those who attended the conference voted to sustain the 12 as the leaders of the Church (I’ve seen some summaries describe the vote as “unanimous”, but the only way I can reconcile that with Sidney’s presence is if he abstained). As the senior apostle, Brigham organized the saints and led the saints west. D&C 136 (Jan 1847) was given to the head of the Quorum of the 12 because that was the governing body over the Church. It wasn’t until Dec 27, 1847, that the First Presidency was once again reorganized with Brigham Young as the President. The Quorum of the Twelve led the Church for a little more than three years following the death of President Brigham Young and for nearly two years following the death of President John Taylor. About 2 weeks after the death of Wilford Woodruff, the 12 met together and each member spoke in favor of reorganizing the First Presidency right away. President Cannon relates, “After hearing their views, President Snow then arose and stated to the brethren that he had, since the death of President Woodruff, felt led to present himself before the Lord, clothed in his priestly robes, in the Temple, and the Lord had revealed to him that the First Presidency should be organized, and also revealed to him who his counselors should be.” (see Succession in the Presidency).

We see these same principles in play today:

  1. The Prophet is the head of the Church on the earth and holds all the keys of the kingdom.
  2. The First Presidency is the principal governing body of the Church.
  3. The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles also holds all the keys of the kingdom, and sits as the second governing body of the Church.
  4. At the death of the Prophet, the First Presidency is dissolved and the Quorum of the 12 becomes the principal governing body of the Church, exercising the keys of the kingdom.
  5. The Lord has expressed His will that the Church should have a First Presidency, so the apostles do not wait long to consider the issue.
  6. The apostles select a new Prophet and President of the Church.
  7. The apostles set apart the new Prophet.
  8. A solemn assembly is held where the new Prophet is sustained.

For a modern application of these steps at work, consider President Tanner’s account of the transition at the death of President Lee:

“… Four days after President Lee’s death, President Kimball, the president of the Twelve, called the members of the Twelve together in the upper room of the temple for the purpose of discussing the reorganization of the First Presidency and to take whatever action was decided upon. Those who had been counselors to the President—that is, President Romney and myself—took their respective places in the Quorum of the Twelve.


“President Kimball, upon expressing his great sorrow at the passing of President Lee and his feeling of inadequacy, called upon the members of the Twelve in order of seniority to express themselves individually as to how they felt about reorganizing the presidency of the Church.


“As each member of the Twelve spoke, he expressed himself as feeling that now was the time to reorganize the First Presidency and that President Spencer W. Kimball was the one whom the Lord wanted to preside at this time. The sweet Spirit of the Lord was present in rich abundance and there was complete unity and harmony in the minds and spoken words of the Brethren. The only purpose and desire was to do the will of the Lord, and there was no question in anyone’s mind but what the will of the Lord had been expressed.


“Elder Ezra Taft Benson then made the formal motion that the First Presidency of the Church be reorganized and that Spencer W. Kimball be sustained, ordained, and set apart as the president, prophet, seer, revelator, and as trustee-in-trust of the Church. This motion was seconded and unanimously approved.


“In all humility, President Kimball stepped forward and made his speech of acceptance, praying that the Spirit and blessings of the Lord would attend him that he might be made able to carry out the will of the Lord. …


“He then chose and nominated as his first counselor N. Eldon Tanner and as his second counselor Marion G. Romney, each of whom expressed himself in all humility and pledged himself to support and sustain President Kimball as the president of the Church and to fill his office to the best of his ability, and prayed for the blessings of the Lord to attend him.


“Following this, President Benson was sustained as president of the Council of the Twelve. President Kimball then took his seat in the middle of the room, and as all those present placed their hands upon his head, we felt the Spirit of the Lord was truly with us, and this sweet Spirit filled our hearts. Then, with President Benson being mouth, in a beautiful prayer and blessing, Spencer Woolley Kimball was ordained and set apart as prophet, seer, and revelator and president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1974, 121–23; or Ensign, May 1974, 84–85).

As was the case in the days of Brigham Young, we have a church body who have been promised the companionship of the Holy Ghost, who confirms the decision of the governing body. They learned the Lord’s will for who should lead the Church on earth, and we are left without excuse to learn the same in our day.





Have Prophets of the Church seen Jesus Christ in person?

Have Prophets of the Church seen Jesus Christ in person?



Dear Gramps,

We read in the Book of Mormon and the Bible that Christ appeared to His servants throughout history. Is there any evidence that all Prophets of the Church have seen Him in person?






We have no way of knowing for certain, because it is not usually announced publicly when such a sacred event occurs. I have no issue with thinking that it is possible. I even think it could be quite likely. Especially given a quote from Oliver Cowdery to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles that was kindly provided to me in research for this answer:

You have been indebted to other men in the first instance for evidence; on that you have acted; but it is necessary that you receive a testimony from Heaven for yourselves; so that you can bear testimony to the truth of the Book of Mormon, and that you have seen the face of God. That is more than the testimony of an angel. When the proper time arrives, you shall be able to bear this testimony to the world. When you bear testimony that you have seen God, this testimony God will never suffer to fall, but will bear you out; although many will not give heed, yet others will. You will, therefore, see the necessity of getting this testimony from Heaven.

“‘Never cease striving till you have seen God face to face. Strengthen your faith; cast off your doubts, your sins, and all your unbelief, and nothing can prevent you from coming to God. Your ordination is not full and complete till God has laid His hands upon you. We require as much to qualify us as did those who have gone before us; God is the  same. If the Saviour in former days laid his hands on his disciples, why not in latter days?

In this example we see that it could be a mandatory part of becoming an Apostle. Once again, it would be a very sacred event, hence the reason we don’t hear about it when it occurs.

A related, and interesting thing to note, though, is that each of us has the opportunity to be visited by the Lord as we prove ourselves prepared for such an event. There is another event that is not discussed too often in the Church called ‘receiving the Second Comforter’. In short, when we reach such a point of righteousness, the Savior Jesus Christ himself will appear to us. The Bible Dictionary says this on the matter;

Two Comforters are spoken of. The first is the Holy Ghost (John 14:16–27; Moro. 8:26; D&C 21:9; 42:17; 90:11). The Second Comforter is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. “When any man obtains this last Comforter, he will have the personage of Jesus Christ to attend him, or appear unto him from time to time, and even He will manifest the Father unto him” (D&C 88:3–4; 130:3; HC 3:381). See also Holy Ghost.

Surely we don’t think that the privilege of seeing our Savior for ourselves would be restricted to the Prophets. All the blessings of righteous obedience to the Gospel of Jesus Christ are available to each and every one of us. Clearly this includes the visitation of Christ himself.

Now, I must remind you that such an event would clearly be a very sacred one, thus very unlikely to be discussed publicly. There are records of the then current Prophets of the Church seeing the Savior from time to time, but they are desperately rare. Should such events be made public simply because they have happened? I don’t think so. There are special and personal events that have taken place between my wife and me in public places, and with other family. Even those that are not spiritual in nature are events that I keep to myself because of the precious nature of them. They are dear to my heart and to tell them to the world lessens their value to me. Were I granted such an opportunity to see my Savior, I would hardly think to tell anyone outside my home, much less the world at large.

Having said that, an important question related to yours would be this; why would we need to know if Christ has appeared to all the Prophets since Joseph Smith’s first vision?

I can see the appeal of it, but the spiritual benefit of such knowledge is more difficult for me to grasp. For example, I have a firm testimony of Joseph Smith’s first vision. I also have a firm testimony that each and every prophet to follow Joseph Smith has been called of God to that position. I have a firm testimony that the revelations given to the Prophets have been, and continue to be the will of God given to us, to strengthen us and guide us back to His presence at the last day.

It surely would be wonderful to have accounts written that Christ still appears to his Prophets today, and as I said above, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if He does. At the same time, my faith in Christ, and my belief in His word does not require me to know whether or not He still does so.





Did the Hoffman papers prove a Prophet can be led astray?

Did the Hoffman papers prove a Prophet can be led astray?



If prophets are led by God and will never lead his people astray why did Gordon B. Hinckley buy the phony Hoffman letters that led to murder?




Dear Poki,

For those unfamiliar with the decades-old news, back in the 80s a collector by the name of Mark Hoffman came across a number of historic documents of interest to American historians and some of special interest to historians of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Church documents told stories from the earliest period and revolved around the obtaining, translating, and printing of The Book of Mormon. They included a second-hand account of what was in the lost 116 pages, a copy of the lost Anthon transcript, and an early account tying Joseph tightly with so-called “folk magic”.

President Gordon B. Hinckley acquired a number of these controversial documents (I should note only some were controversial, but all were certainly exciting). Given the stir these finds were creating, President HInckley spoke on the matter, and his address was included as September 1985’s First Presidency message (meaning it was presented and taught in Latter-day Saint homes). Note: 1) the openness of the First Presidency in sharing even the controversial letters; 2) the cautious language around the trustworthiness of the documents; and 3) the core of the matter.

As most of you know, recently there have been great stirrings over two old letters. One was purportedly written in 1825 by Joseph Smith to Josiah Stowell. If it is genuine, it is the oldest known product of Joseph Smith’s handwriting. It concerns the employment of Joseph by Mr. Stowell, who was engaged in a mining operation looking for old coins and precious metals. The other carries the date of October 23, 1830, and was purportedly written by Martin Harris to W. W. Phelps.

I acquired for the Church both of these letters, the first by purchase. The second was given to the Church by its generous owner. I am, of course, familiar with both letters, having held them in my hands and having read them in their original form. It was I, also, who made the decision to make them public. Copies were issued to the media, and both have received wide publicity.

I knew there would be a great fuss. Scholars have pored over them, discussed them, written about them, differed in their opinions, and even argued about them.

I am glad we have them. They are interesting documents of whose authenticity we are not certain and may never be. However, assuming that they are authentic, they are valuable writings of the period out of which they have come. But they have no real relevancy to the question of the authenticity of the Church or of the divine origin of the Book of Mormon.

Much has been said about the Martin Harris/ W. W. Phelps letter. I ask: Shall two men, their character, their faith, their lives, the testimonies to which they gave voice to the end of their days, be judged by a few words on a sheet of paper that may or may not have been written by the one and received by the other?” (Keep the Faith, Ensign, Sept. 1985).

1) The Church has been accused in the past of whitewashing its history. Yet three decades ago it printed and contextualized seemingly difficult documents in its own periodicals and issued copies to the public. 2) The “prophet, seer, and revelator” who acquired these for the Church uses such phrases as “if it is genuine” and “assuming they are authentic” when discussing them. 3) The core of the matter is really whether or not God spoke to Joseph; whether or not this is Christ’s church. Answer those questions, and the rest melt away.

Then our story gets downright tragic. A number of people involved with these documents are getting bombs delivered to their doorsteps. After two murders, Mark Hoffman himself is blown up (but not fatally). Well, it comes out that (despite passing a lie-detector test), Hoffman himself is the murderer. As part of his guilty plea, he agreed to make a list of his forgeries (see Fraudulent Documents from Forger Mark Hoffman Noted, News of the Church – note also that you can use this list to read some of the contextualizing the Church did when publicly releasing these documents).

So now we return to your question. First off, the two murders rest solely on the head of Mark Hoffman and him alone. They happened because of his desperation to keep running a pyramid scheme that was unsustainable. With that out of the way, how could President Hinckley (and presumably other Church leaders) be taken in by this fraud?

My own response to this is based on my own experience with the spirit of discernment and revelation. Having these gifts of the spirit does not mean they are always “on”. The scriptures attest that revelatory experiences come when we are moving forward and acting, rather than just asking (see the brother of Jared, Oliver Cowdery’s translation, and Jesus’ testimony). But we don’t have to rely on my response here because Elder Oaks spoke on this matter while it was still fresh.


Some have asked, how was Mark Hofmann able to deceive Church leaders?

As everyone now knows, Hofmann succeeded in deceiving many: experienced Church historians, sophisticated collectors, businessmen-investors, national experts who administered a lie detector test to Hofmann, and professional document examiners, including the expert credited with breaking the Hitler diary forgery. But why, some still ask, were his deceits not detected by the several Church leaders with whom he met?

In order to perform their personal ministries, Church leaders cannot be suspicious and questioning of each of the hundreds of people they meet each year. Ministers of the gospel function best in an atmosphere of trust and love. In that kind of atmosphere, they fail to detect a few deceivers, but that is the price they pay to increase their effectiveness in counseling, comforting, and blessing the hundreds of honest and sincere people they see. It is better for a Church leader to be occasionally disappointed than to be constantly suspicious” (Recent Events Involving Church History and Forged Documents, Ensign, October, 1987).



Why does the Prophet rely on apologetic sites to speak for the Church?

Why does the Prophet rely on apologetic sites to speak for the Church?




Why does the Prophet not answer direct questions relative to the current issues facing the church? He instead relies on apologetic sites, such as this on, to respond for the church. Is he a prophet in name only?






I would venture to guess that the Lord does not typically instruct modern prophets to engage in apologetics, because He recognizes that a direct revelation from Him is the best apologetic possible.  Rather than scholarly or intellectual endeavors, a prophet’s major role is to get people into a position where they can receive their own revelation–first through faith, repentance, baptism, and receipt of the gift of the Holy Ghost; and then by helping them to avoid sin, so that they can remain in a situation where they can receive additional strength, guidance, and knowledge from God Himself.

My experience is that after a little introspection, nearly everything a modern prophet says ends up being very relevant to me indeed–but as it turns out, the teaching is usually what I need to know (which tends to be the “whats” of the Gospel); not necessarily what I want to know (which tends to be the “whys” of the Gospel).  If, for some reason, there is something that God determines we truly need to know but that cannot be appropriately revealed to the Church as a whole at the present time, we can rest assured that God will reveal it to us at the appropriate time and in His own way.

Jesus Himself cautioned against expecting prophets to teach according to our own expectations in Matthew 11:16-17:

16.  But whereunto shall I liken this generation? It is like unto children sitting in the markets, and calling unto their fellows,

17 And saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented.

So while we might wish our prophets to explain the rationale behind the LDS Church’s policies on who may be ordained to the priesthood, or expound the finer points of the translation of the Book of Mormon, or take a more aggressive stance against the physical destruction of war, or change certain stances on morality, the reality is different. Of late they have tended to reinforce that the Church’s policies on who may hold the priesthood are divinely inspired. They confirm that the Restoration continues, and warn that the spiritual destruction of pornography is one of the world’s great dangers today. And they proclaim that the Church’s moral teachings offer safety  and ARE worth defending. (Please follow links)



Why don’t we have prophets today like days of old?

Why don’t we have prophets today like days of old?



Why do we not have many prophets today like the days of old? I thought God was the same yesterday, today and forever?





In short, we do.

I think you’re confusing what a prophet is, as in “one who prophesies”, and the priesthood calling of prophet, seer, and revelator, a.k.a. the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. At the very least, we have 15 prophets though, as all of the 12 and the counselors to the president are prophets, and it is not beyond reason for a seventy to prophesy by the Spirit. Nor is it out of bounds that anyone, male or female, might prophesy. Prophesy is a gift of the spirit as we read in Moroni 10:8,13,17:

8 And again, I exhort you, my brethren, that ye deny not the gifts of God, for they are many; and they come from the same God. And there are different ways that these gifts are administered; but it is the same God who worketh all in all; and they are given by the manifestations of the Spirit of God unto men, to profit them.

13 And again, to another, that he may prophesy concerning all things;

17 And all these gifts come by the Spirit of Christ; and they come unto every man severally, according as he will.

Dallin H. Oaks taught,

“Speaking under the influence of the Holy Ghost and within the limits of his or her responsibility, a person may be inspired to predict what will come to pass in the future.”

What we need to remember is that the Lord has structured His Church in these last days so that only one man holds all the keys to the kingdom on earth at one time. And only one man may receive revelation on behalf of that kingdom as a whole.

But anyone can receive revelation, including prophesy, for their stewardship. Take for example a Patriarch. Patriarchal blessings almost always contain prophesy. A patriarch is a prophet.

As the Lord revealed to Oliver Cowdery in D&C 28:4-7:

4 And if thou art led at any time by the Comforter to speak or teach, or at all times by the way of commandment unto the church, thou mayest do it.

5 But thou shalt not write by way of commandment, but by wisdom;

6 And thou shalt not command him who is at thy head, and at the head of the church;

7 For I have given him the keys of the mysteries, and the revelations which are sealed, until I shall appoint unto them another in his stead.

And in D&C 43:1-7 we learn concerning those not set apart receiving revelation for the Church:

1 O hearken, ye elders of my church, and give ear to the words which I shall speak unto you.

2 For behold, verily, verily, I say unto you, that ye have received a commandment for a law unto my church, through him whom I have appointed unto you to receive commandments and revelations from my hand.

3 And this ye shall know assuredly—that there is none other appointed unto you to receive commandments and revelations until he be taken, if he abide in me.

4 But verily, verily, I say unto you, that none else shall be appointed unto this gift except it be through him; for if it be taken from him he shall not have power except to appoint another in his stead.

5 And this shall be a law unto you, that ye receive not the teachings of any that shall come before you as revelations or commandments;

6 And this I give unto you that you may not be deceived, that you may know they are not of me.

7 For verily I say unto you, that he that is ordained of me shall come in at the gate and be ordained as I have told you before, to teach those revelations which you have received and shall receive through him whom I have appointed.

Note the reason for this order of things. “That you may not be deceived.” The Lord has established a pattern and a standard that we may move forward with confidence and not be blown about by every prophesy, commandment, or revelation claimed by any old person.

Two important points are established in the hierarchy of the Church. First, only the president of the Church may receive revelation for the whole Church. If any other man or woman claims to have knowledge for the Church that the prophet does not, we may safely discard that information. Second, if anyone receives revelation even within their stewardship that is contradictory to the prophet we may also discard it. Even within our stewardship, the Lord is a God of order. He will not inspire us to do differently than He has told His prophets. Of course we must be wise in this. If we feel prompted not to attend a ward activity, in spite of the fact that we’ve been counseled to attend activities in general, we should follow the prompting. If we feel prompted to not pay our tithing, we should pay our tithing anyway. The prompting is false. Laws of the gospel are given by he who presides over the Church through revelation from God.

Gerald N. Lund taught,

“Revelation from God does not contradict gospel principles or go contrary to established Church policy and procedure.”

Dallin H Oaks taught this principle as well,

“First, we should understand what can be called the principle of “responsibility in revelation.” Our Heavenly Father’s house is a house of order, where his servants are commanded to “act in the office in which [they are] appointed” (D&C 107:99). This principle applies to revelation. Only the President of the Church receives revelation to guide the entire Church. Only the stake president receives revelation for the special guidance of the stake. The person who receives revelation for the ward is the bishop. For a family, it is the priesthood leadership of the family. Leaders receive revelation for their own areas of responsibility. Individuals can receive revelation to guide their own lives. But when one person purports to receive revelation for another person outside his or her own area of responsibility—such as a Church member who claims to have revelation to guide the entire Church or a person who claims to have a revelation to guide another person over whom he or she has no presiding authority according to the order of the Church—you can be sure that such revelations are not from the Lord.”

Finally, Boyd K. Packer speaks on the matter of common sense in these matters. Unfortunately common sense is becoming all too uncommon. But we can still be wise in these things:

“You should know also that, in addition to static and interference which jam the circuits, there are counterfeit signals.

Some have received revelations and heard voices that are put there deliberately by wicked sources to lead astray. You can learn to recognize those and tune them out, if you will.

Now, how do you tell the difference? How can you know if a prompting is an inspiration or a temptation?

My answer to that must surely expose my great confidence in young people. I believe young people, when properly taught, are basically sensible.

In the Church we are not exempt from common sense. You can know to begin with that you won’t be prompted from any righteous source to steal, to lie, to cheat, to join anyone in any kind of moral transgression.

You have a conscience even as a little boy and girl. It will prompt you to know the things that are wrong. Don’t smother it.

Once again the scriptures tell us something. Read the Book of Mormon—Moroni, chapter 7. I quote only one verse:

“For behold, my brethren, it is given unto you to judge, that ye may know good from evil; and the way to judge is as plain, that ye may know with a perfect knowledge, as the daylight is from the dark night” (Moro. 7:15).

You read the whole chapter. It tells of a way to judge such things.

If ever you are confused and feel that you are being misled, go for counsel to your parents, and to your leaders.”

Truly the Lord does not change. Prophesy abounds. We all have the right to prophesy, as long as we use wisdom and follow the Lord’s order.



Didn’t the Lord specifically dictate women’s role in the home?

Didn’t the Lord specifically dictate women’s role in the home?


Good day brother Gramps,

I just read the reply you gave to Carmen. On one one you write, “Carmen What we do with our lives, so long as it is legal and morally sound, is pretty much up to us to decide. I can’t recall the Lord ever dictating specifics on this.” Yet, you give this response, “President Ezra Taft Benson had this to say: “Sometimes the mother works outside of the home at the encouragement, or even insistence, of her husband. It is he who wants the items or conveniences that the extra income can buy. Not only will the family suffer in such instances, brethren, but your own spiritual growth and progression will be hampered. I say to all of you, the Lord has charged men with the responsibility to provide for their families in such a way that the wife is allowed to fulfill her role as mother in the home.” If it’s out of the mouth if a prophet, it is from the Lord, therefore, He did dictate specifics on this topic.





I agree with what President Benson has said, and I apologize for not being more clear with my previous answer. However I stand by my answer as it is written. In support of my statement, President Gordon B. Hinckley had this to say, in direct reference to the quote of President Ezra T. Benson in your question. It comes from his comments during the October Conference in 1996. The talk is called “Women of the Church

Some years ago President Benson delivered a message to the women of the Church. He encouraged them to leave their employment and give their individual time to their children. I sustain the position which he took.

Nevertheless, I recognize, as he recognized, that there are some women (it has become very many in fact) who have to work to provide for the needs of their families. To you I say, do the very best you can. I hope that if you are employed full-time you are doing it to ensure that basic needs are met and not simply to indulge a taste for an elaborate home, fancy cars, and other luxuries. The greatest job that any mother will ever do will be in nurturing, teaching, lifting, encouraging, and rearing her children in righteousness and truth. None other can adequately take her place.

Now, please be assured that I agree with your position as well. What I might have said in order to be further clear on this matter could be this; Heavenly Father has always had specific things he wanted us to do as parents raising children in this life. At the same time, he knew from the start that it would be impossible for us to completely fulfill those roles perfectly. Because of this fact, there are families where both spouses must work to provide for their family. There are yet others where the husband cannot work, or cannot provide for the family as well as the wife can. And yes, there are families where the husband provides adequately for the family, and the wife is thus able to stay home and be a full-time mother to her children.

Unsuprisingly, our modern apostles have spoken on this very thing. The Proclamation on the Family phrases it thusly: “. . . circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation.” The Lord has not attempted to impose a mandatory one-size-fits-all solution over the Church at large; rather, He expects each person to counsel with Him and seek His will as it applies to that person’s specific situation. And that is the key. Because our General Authorities are speaking generally, to a world-wide Church, across different cultures, and even different periods of time, you will find principles being espoused that appear contradictory. For instance, the same Christ that commanded an unconditional love (“love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matt. 22:39)) also commanded the exercise of conditional love (“love one another, as I have loved you…. [and as a demonstration of the conditional nature of Christ’s love] “Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you” (John 15:12, 14)). Elder Oaks addresses the reality of this contradiction head on:

If parents have a wayward child—such as a teenager indulging in alcohol or drugs—they face a serious question. Does parental love require that these substances or their consumption be allowed in the home, or do the requirements of civil law or the seriousness of the conduct or the interests of other children in the home require that this be forbidden?

To pose an even more serious question, if an adult child is living in cohabitation, does the seriousness of sexual relations outside the bonds of marriage require that this child feel the full weight of family disapproval by being excluded from any family contacts, or does parental love require that the fact of cohabitation be ignored? I have seen both of these extremes, and I believe that both are inappropriate.

Where do parents draw the line? That is a matter for parental wisdom, guided by the inspiration of the Lord. There is no area of parental action that is more needful of heavenly guidance or more likely to receive it than the decisions of parents in raising their children and governing their families. This is the work of eternity. (Law and Love, October 2009 General Conference).

Since parents have been tasked with the work of eternity they will find wisdom in the words of the living oracles, and clarity and direction from the Wonderful Counselor.


Are there keys that only Jesus Christ holds?

Are there keys that only Jesus Christ holds?



Our topic of discussions this month with the YW and YM is the priesthood. One of them asked,”What priesthood keys are held by Jesus Christ that the President of the church does not hold?” I was not able to answer the question at that time but stated I would find out.  Can you help me with this question?




To start with, we need to discuss the meaning of the word “keys”. Here’s the thing. It’s just a word. In the literal sense, of course, a key is an object, usually metal, that fits into a lock and when turned, opens that lock allowing access to something else. That is the meaning of a key symbolically too. It allows access to something that we cannot have access to otherwise. From this point of view, any permission, authority, or right may be understood to be a symbolic key. As Jesus Christ has all authority and power, He holds the complete keys to our salvation, for only through Him may we be saved. (John 14:6)

In the early days of the Church the word was used quite a bit more liberally than it is now as to what it meant. For example, Joseph Smith often spoke of the key to revelation. Sometimes he meant this in literal terms of the rights of the priesthood (which, from a certain perspective, it always is), but in other ways he spoke of keys to mean understanding in terms such as, “this grand Key; Knowledge is the power of God unto Salvation.”

One prime example that’s somewhat of a hot button in today’s climate is when Joseph referred to keys and ordination concerning the Relief Society. He said, “And I now turn the key to you in the name of God and this Society shall rejoice and knowledge and intelligence shall flow down from this time”

We see here the meaning of the phrase turning a key related to knowledge and understanding, rather than specific priesthood keys. Some like to see this phrase as indicitive that women have, or should have, priesthood keys. But Dallin H. Oaks clarified in the recent conference:

“The understanding we seek begins with an understanding of the keys of the priesthood. “Priesthood keys are the authority God has given to priesthood [holders] to direct, control, and govern the use of His priesthood on earth.” Every act or ordinance performed in the Church is done under the direct or indirect authorization of one holding the keys for that function. As Elder M. Russell Ballard has explained, “Those who have priesthood keys … literally make it possible for all who serve faithfully under their direction to exercise priesthood authority and have access to priesthood power.”

“In the controlling of the exercise of priesthood authority, the function of priesthood keys both enlarges and limits.  It enlarges by making it possible for priesthood authority and blessings to be available for all of God’s children.  It limits by directing who will be given the authority of the priesthood, who will hold its offices, and how its rights and powers will be conferred.  For example, a person who holds the priesthood is not able to confer his office or authority on another unless authorized by one who holds the keys.  Without that authorization, the ordination would be invalid.  This explains why a priesthood holder–regardless of office–cannot ordain a member of his family or administer the sacrament in his own home without authorization from the one who holds the appropriate keys.

With the exception of the sacred work that sisters do in the temple under the keys held by the temple president, which I will describe hereafter, only one who holds a priesthood office an officiate in a priesthood ordinance.  And all authorized priesthood ordinances are recorded on the records of the Church.”

Joseph Smith taught that, “Adam holds the Keys of the dispensation of the fulness of times, i.e. the dispensation of all the times have been and will be revealed through him from the beginning to Christ and from Christ to the end of all world the dispensations that have [been and] are to be revealed.”

In D&C 128:10-11 we also learn more about keys, in this case specifically related to the living prophet who holds the keys to the kingdom on earth:

“10 And again, for the precedent, Matthew 16:18, 19: And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

11 Now the great and grand secret of the whole matter, and the summum bonum of the whole subject that is lying before us, consists in obtaining the powers of the Holy Priesthood. For him to whom these keys are given there is no difficulty in obtaining a knowledge of facts in relation to the salvation of the children of men, both as well for the dead as for the living.”

As you can see, the meaning of the word keys is consistent in one respect. It refers to authority and power. However, over the years we have narrowed and clarified the usage of the word to mean something more specific. Yes, it still refers to authority and power, but when we speak of keys now we speak of specific authorities and powers that relate to offices in the priesthood.


“Some rights are given to a man automatically when he is given the Aaronic or Melchizedek Priesthood. For instance, when a man receives the Melchizedek Priesthood, he is given the authority to give father’s blessings, to give blessings of comfort, and to administer to the sick. He will hold these rights as long as he bears that priesthood. Even death cannot take this authority from him.

However, there are certain rights that one can be given that are only temporary. A branch president, for example, holds the keys of his branch only for the time he remains branch president. When he is released from that position, he no longer holds these keys.”

Specifically, in modern usage, those who hold keys are:

  • The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
  • The Presidency of the Seventy
  • The Presidents of temples, missions, stakes, and districts
  • Bishops and branch presidents
  • Quorum presidents (including Aaronic Priesthood quorum presidents)

The simplest way to understand modern usage of priesthood keys is to think in terms of saving ordinances. A man who has the priesthood can exercise certain authority and power on his own. However, he cannot baptize someone without first gaining permission from someone with those keys (usually the bishop). Only those with the proper keys can authorize saving priesthood ordinances to be performed.

In that sense, does the Savior hold keys (the right to the administration of saving ordinances) that the living prophet does not? It would seem so. President Brigham Young taught, for example:

“It is supposed by this people that we have all the ordinances in our possession for life and salvation, and exaltation, and that we are administering in those ordinances. This is not the case. We are in possession of all the ordinances that can be administered in the flesh; but there are other ordinances and administrations that must be administered beyond this world. I know you would like to ask what they are. I will mention one. We have not, neither can we receive here, the ordinance and the keys of resurrection.”

What other ordinances are there that we don’t have? I do not know for sure. A few other potentials that are mentioned by Spencer W. Kimball, from where I pulled the above Brigham Young quote, are the power to create a spirit and the power to fashion worlds. Will these be specific ordinances in the same regard as baptism and the like? I guess someday we’ll find out.


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