Mormonism and doctrine/Statements made by past prophets as "scripture"

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Statements made by past prophets as "scripture"

Summary: Are statements of past prophets considered doctrine? It is claimed that anything that is, or ever was, officially published by the Church ought to represent doctrine.

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Question: Did Brigham Young state that everything he said could be considered "scripture"?

Brigham made it clear that his previous statement should not mean that anything he said was scripture, but only that which he had the opportunity to correct and send to the Saints as scripture

Brigham Young made a statement which is often misrepresented:

Well, brethren and sisters, try and be Saints. I will try; I have tried many years to live according to the law which the Lord reveals unto me. I know just as well what to teach this people and just what to say to them and what to do in order to bring them into the celestial kingdom, as I know the road to my office. It is just as plain and easy. The Lord is in our midst. He teaches the people continually. I have never yet preached a sermon and sent it out to the children of men, that they may not call Scripture. Let me have the privilege of correcting a sermon, and it is as good Scripture as they deserve. The people have the oracles of God continually. In the days of Joseph, revelation was given and written, and the people were driven from city to city and place to place, until we were led into these mountains. Let this [discourse] go to the people with "Thus saith the Lord," and if they do not obey it, you will see the chastening hand of the Lord upon them. But if they are plead with, and led along like children, we may come to understand the will of the Lord and he may preserve us as we desire.[1]

Brigham here says that his remarks are "scripture." The Church statement notes that "isolated statements are often taken out of context." That is true in this case. Here is Brigham's own explanation of this comment:

Brother Orson Hyde referred to a few who complained about not getting revelations. I will make a statement here that has been brought against me as a crime, perhaps, or as a fault in my life. Not here, I do not allude to anything of the kind in this place, but in the councils of the nations—that Brigham Young has said "when he sends forth his discourses to the world they may call them Scripture." I say now, when they are copied and approved by me they are as good Scripture as is couched in this Bible, and if you want to read revelation read the sayings of him who knows the mind of God, without any special command to one man to go here, and to another to go yonder, or to do this or that, or to go and settle here or there.[2]

Brigham made it clear that his previous statement should not mean that anything he said was scripture, but only that which he had the opportunity to correct and send to the Saints as scripture. This provides a good example of why this rule exists at all: what a prophet may intend to convey may not be what his listeners hear, or what scribes recorded. Thus, teachings must be approved by the author and submitted as binding scripture in order for them to be considered such.


Question: When are the writings or sermons of Church leaders entitled to the claim of scripture?

J. Rueben Clark: "there are many doctrines, tenets as the Lord called them, that have not been officially defined and declared"

In response to the question, "When Are the Writings or Sermons of Church Leaders Entitled to the Claim of Scripture?" President J. Rueben Clark of the First Presidency said:

But there are many places where the scriptures are not too clear, and where different interpretations may be given to them; there are many doctrines, tenets as the Lord called them, that have not been officially defined and declared. It is in the consideration and discussion of these scriptures and doctrines that opportunities arise for differences of views as to meanings and extent. In view of the fundamental principle just announced as to the position of the President of the Church, other bearers of the Priesthood, those with the special spiritual endowment and those without it, should be cautious in their expressions about and interpretations of scriptures and doctrines. They must act and teach subject to the over-all power and authority of the President of the Church. It would be most unfortunate were this not always strictly observed by the bearers of this special spiritual endowment, other than the President. Sometimes in the past they have spoken "out of turn," so to speak. Furthermore, at times even those not members of the General Authorities are said to have been heard to declare their own views on various matters concerning which no official view or declaration has been made by the mouthpiece of the Lord, sometimes with an assured certainty that might deceive the uninformed and unwary.[3]

Notes

  1. Brigham Young, "Latter-Day Saint Families, etc.," (2 January 1870) Journal of Discourses 13:95-95.
  2. Brigham Young, "Texts for Preaching Upon at Conference—Revelations, etc.," (6 October 1870) Journal of Discourses 13:264-264.
  3. J. Reuben Clark, “When Are the Writings or Sermons of Church Leaders Entitled to the Claim of Scripture,” address given to seminary and institute teachers at BYU, 7 July 1954, published in Church News (31 July 1954): 9–10; reprinted in Dialogue 12 (Summer 1979), 68–80.