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Mormonism and prophets/Characteristics
The characteristics of Latter-day Saint ("Mormon") prophets
Jump to Subtopic:
- Question: Are Latter-day Saint prophets not really "prophets" because they don't foretell unknown events?
- Question: Are General Authorities very silent about some issues, allowing academic or volunteer organizations take their place?
- Question: Does the Church's public affairs department act independently of direction from Church leadership?
- Question: What does the Church say on the propriety of Church members publicizing personal revelations, dreams or visions?
- Question: Did David O. McKay like to be "recognized, lauded, and lionized"?
Question: Are Latter-day Saint prophets not really "prophets" because they don't foretell unknown events?
Some critics say that Latter-day Saint prophets aren't really "prophets" because they don't prophesy by foretelling unknown events. They commonly issue challenges such as, "If Gordon B. Hinckley is a prophet, tell me one event that he's prophesied." Do LDS prophets "prophesy"?
Prophets have many roles, only one of which is to prophesy future events. Most modern LDS prophets have been forthtellers rather than foretellers. The key issue is the possession of divine authority, in that they give whatever message(s) God wishes communicated to His children.
The LDS Bible Dictionary has a good response to this:
The work of a Hebrew prophet was to act as God's messenger and make known God's will. The message was usually prefaced with the words "Thus saith Jehovah." He taught men about God's character, showing the full meaning of his dealings with Israel in the past.... It was also the prophet's duty to denounce sin and foretell its punishment, and to redress, so far as he could, both public and private wrongs. He was to be, above all, a preacher of righteousness. When the people had fallen away from a true faith in Jehovah, the prophets had to try to restore that faith and remove false views about the character of God and the nature of the Divine requirement. In certain cases prophets predicted future events, e.g., there are the very important prophecies announcing the coming of Messiah's kingdom; but as a rule prophet was a forthteller rather than a foreteller.
The Anchor Bible Dictionary treats prophesy as "inspired speech at the initiative of a divine power" and includes the following:
- Predictions or apparent predictions
- Eschatology or apocalyptic
- Social or religious criticism
- Commissioned messages from deities
Furthermore, according to the Bible, the key role of "prophecy" is to testify of Christ, for "the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy" (Revelation 19:10).
Clearly, foretelling future events is only one calling of a prophet; many Biblical and modern prophets have carried out their calling by focusing on other roles. For example, Elijah is considered one of the great prophets of the Old Testament, and yet he didn't prophesy about the future. In a similar way, President Gordon B. Hinckley has made numerous social criticisms on topics such as the ills of pornography, the importance of the role of the family and the need for self reliance. In doing so, he has evoked warnings of previous prophets while not necessarily making a direct declaration of some pending event. At the same time, he has acted as a commissioned messenger for God with statements such as the Proclamation on the Family, published in 1995 over the names of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and read by President Hinckley to the sisters of the Church in a General Relief Society talk.
One example of LDS prophets "forthtelling" is Family Home Evening. In 1915 President Joseph F. Smith and his counselors in the First Presidency began a Churchwide effort to strengthen the family. They called on parents in the Church to gather their children once each week for a "Home Evening." Families were to take time to pray and sing together, read the scriptures, teach the gospel to one another, and participate in other activities that would build family unity.
The stated purpose of Family Home Evening was to strengthen families, which may have seemed curious at that time, when families were strong by today's standards. We now live in an age when about half of all marriages end in divorce, and the need for Family Home Evening is readily apparent. LDS prophets implemented a solution that addressed the future weaking of the institution of marriage, something infinitely more valuable than simply prophecying its demise.
Question: Are General Authorities very silent about some issues, allowing academic or volunteer organizations take their place?
It is not the purpose of a prophet to answer these kind of issues
It is claimed that General Authorities are very silent about some issues, and that academic or volunteer organizations take their place. 
Some critics of the Church believe that a prophet must take a position on every single issue, such as stem cell research or organ cloning, or responding to Book of Mormon anachronisms. Ironically, these are the same critics who claim that the Church tells us how to think, and that we must always accept the prophet's opinion on every matter. On many issues, Church members are simply encouraged to form their own conclusions.
It is not the purpose of a prophet to answer these kind of issues. The purpose of the Book of Mormon is to bring people to Christ, not to describe ancient American history or culture. Those questions have nothing to do with our spiritual progression. In the church we can find all the answers that we need, for our salvation. Certainly, General Authorities will address what we need to hear for our progression in the plan of God, and so that we can accomplish the mission of the church, which is: the perfecting of the saints. Latter-Day Saints certainly don't need to know those answers to follow the Gospel of Jesus Christ, especially if they have faith.
Asking why believing scholars, groups, and organizations are necessary is like asking why a library is necessary. Such groups attempt to find answers and explore possibilities. Whenever scientists encounter problems, they don't back up and suddenly claim that science is wrong. Instead they attempt to find solutions or think of explanations for those problems.
Question: Does the Church's public affairs department act independently of direction from Church leadership?
This idea is illogical and somewhat offensive
This page addresses two related criticisms of the Church:
- Some claim that official statements issued by Church public affairs are only the output of a bureaucratic Church department, and do not necessarily represent the views or intended message of the prophets and apostles.
- Others complain that receiving information from Church public affairs is not "as good" as hearing from prophets and apostles, and claim that Church leaders are hiding behind public affairs spokespeople.
It is ironic that the same critics who complain about a "rogue" Public Affairs department also often claim that individual apostles have the power or influence to insist that dissidents be subject to Church discipline. How is it, then, that these apostles are so powerful that they can unilaterally demand that someone be excommunicated, while remaining either so clueless or impotent that they cannot rein in a Public Affairs department that will not stay on message?
Does Church Public Affairs "freelance"?
Church Public Affairs has issued statements that make their role clear:
Church Public Affairs "does not act independently of church leadership,” spokesman Scott Trotter….“Official statements on the [LDS] church websites are approved at the highest level.” He added, "The church is naturally concerned when some members deliberately misrepresent its leaders and actions. In such cases, the church reserves the right to publicly correct the record."
In 2014, Michael Otterson (managing director of Church Public Affairs) wrote:
First, it’s important to understand that the Public Affairs Department of the Church does not freelance. For Public Affairs to initiate or take a position inconsistent with the views of those who preside over the Church is simply unthinkable, as anyone who has ever worked for the Church will attest.
As managing director of the Public Affairs Department, I work under the direct supervision of two members of the Twelve apostles, two members of the Presidency of the Seventy and the Presiding Bishop, and alongside a remarkable and devoted staff of men and women.
This group of senior General Authorities often refers matters of particular importance to other councils of men and women leaders, to the full Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and to the First Presidency for further discussion or decision.
He elsewhere wrote:
Please also understand that no Church spokesperson...issues statements on behalf of the Church that are not either initiated or approved by members of the Twelve and, at times, by the First Presidency. We stand by the statement that was issued on their behalf, and which was accurate in every detail.
Why use a public affairs department?
Elder Quentin L. Cook explained that a Public Affairs department is sometimes the most effect way to disseminate prophetic and apostolic messages. He also emphasized that anything produced by Church Public Affairs is reviewed and approved at the highest levels of Church government:
It’s interesting. People who disagree with anything that is either sent by letter or put in the Newsroom, or however it’s done, can find interesting ways to say that it really doesn’t mean what it says.
You look back at the history of Wilford Woodruff’s announcement on polygamy in 1890 and there were still people quibbling about that for a long, long time.
The Church uses, the First Presidency and the Twelve use, whatever means will be most effective depending on what the issue is and who it affects. Most often that will be a letter to stake presidents and bishops, and it will be sent all over the world. But sometimes it’s for a particular area.
Sometimes we use news releases. Sometimes we use the Newsroom site to put those up, particularly with community issues that are important. When something is put up on the Newsroom or an announcement is made in a different way, that is the Church’s policy.
It’s interesting to me that the announcement that the priesthood would be available to all worthy male members regardless of race was a news release. Ultimately there was a letter sent out, but it was announced at a press conference with the Managing Director of Public Affairs. Some people have chosen to say they’re not going to believe it unless it’s in a letter. Others have said that the prophet will have to tell them personally. I think that kind of tells you where they are when they make those kinds of statements.When something goes up on the Newsroom site, you can be sure that the approval process is such that those official statements have the complete support of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
Question: What does the Church say on the propriety of Church members publicizing personal revelations, dreams or visions?
"No member of the Church has the right to publish any doctrines, as the doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, without first submitting them for examination and approval to the First Presidency and the Twelve"
On the final day of BYU Campus Education Week, Robert L. Millet, an author and BYU professor, gave a presentation outlining five points Latter-day Saints can use to avoid doctrinal deception in the Church. He said that red flags should go off in members’ heads when they encounter things that are not doctrinally sound.
One Saturday morning, Brother Millet said, he received a call from Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve. Elder Maxwell was concerned about a book that had received a lot of attention and had gained somewhat of a cult following. He asked Brother Millet if he knew about it and what he thought about it. Brother Millet said, “Elder Maxwell, frankly, it has a lot of doctrinal problems.”
Elder Maxwell said, “It never ceases to amaze me how gullible the Latter-day Saints can be. Our lack of doctrinal sophistication makes us an easy prey for such fads.” Brother Millet then explained that Latter-day Saints ought to pore over the scriptures constantly to learn the doctrines, lest they be deceived.Sooner or later someone comes along claiming a new revelation, a new doctrine, or some new way of life, said Brother Millet. He asked how members can determine if something is from God. He proposed five questions that a person might ask to determine if something is false.
It ought to have been known, years ago, by every person in the Church-for ample teachings have been given on the point--that no member of the Church has the right to publish any doctrines, as the doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, without first submitting them for examination and approval to the First Presidency and the Twelve. There is but one man upon the earth, at one time, who holds the keys to receive commandments and revelations for the Church, and who has the authority to write doctrines by way of commandment unto the Church. And any man who so far forgets the order instituted by the Lord as to write and publish what may be termed new doctrines, without consulting with the First Presidency of the Church respecting them, places himself in a false position, and exposes himself to the power of darkness by violating his Priesthood.
While upon this subject, we wish to warn all the Elders of the Church, and to have it clearly understood by the members, that, in the future, whoever publishes any new doctrines without first taking this course, will be liable to lose his Priesthood. 
The history of the Church records many pretended revelations claimed by imposters or zealots who believed in the manifestations they sought to lead other persons to accept, and in every instance, disappointment, sorrow and disaster have resulted therefrom
When visions, dreams, tongues, prophecy, impressions or any extraordinary gift or inspiration conveys something out of harmony with the accepted revelations of the Church or contrary to the decisions of its constituted authorities, Latter-day Saints may know that it is not of God, no matter how plausible it may appear. Also they should understand that directions for the guidance of the Church will come, by revelation, through the head. All faithful members are entitled to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit for themselves, their families, and for those over whom they are appointed and ordained to preside. But anything at discord with that which comes from God through the head of the Church is not to be received as authoritative or reliable. 
Let us be faithful and silent, brethren, and if God gives you a manifestation, keep it to yourselves. 
Nothing is a greater injury to the children of men than to be under the influence of a false spirit when they think they have the spirit of God. 
The reason we do not have the secrets of the Lord revealed unto us, is because we do not keep them but reveal them. 
The adversary presents his principles and arguments in the most approved style, and in the most winning tone, attended with the most graceful attitudes; and he is very careful to ingratiate himself into the favour of the powerful and influential of mankind, uniting himself with popular parties, floating into offices of trust and emolument by pandering to popular feeling, though it should seriously wrong and oppress the innocent. Such characters put on the manners of an angel, appearing as nigh like angels of light as they possibly can, to deceive the innocent and the unwary. The good which they do, they do it to bring to pass an evil purpose upon the good and honest followers of Jesus Christ. 
If the Lord Almighty should reveal to a High Priest, or to any other than the head, things that are, or that have been and will be, and show to him the destiny of this people twenty-five years from now, or a new doctrine that will in five, ten, or twenty years hence become the doctrine of this Church and kingdom, but which has not yet been revealed to this people, and reveal it to him by the same Spirit, the same messenger, the same voice, and the same power that gave revelations to Joseph when he was living, it would be a blessing to that High Priest, or individual; but he must rarely divulge it to a second person on the face of the earth, until God reveals it through the proper source to become the property of the people at large. Therefore when you hear Elders, High Priests, Seventies, or the Twelve, (though you cannot catch any of the Twelve there, but you may the High Priests, Seventies, and Elders) say that God does not reveal through the President of the Church that which they know, and tell wonderful things, you may generally set it down as a God's truth that the revelation they have had, is from the devil, and not from God. 
Now I want to tell you that which, perhaps, many of you do not know. Should you receive a vision of revelation from the Almighty, one that the Lord gave you concerning yourselves, or this people, but which you are not to reveal on account of your not being the proper person, or because it ought not to be known by the people at present, you should shut it up and seal it as close, and lock it as tight as heaven is to you, and make it as secret as the grave. The Lord has no confidence in those who reveal secrets, for He cannot safely reveal Himself to such persons. It is as much as He can do to get a particle of sense into some of the best and most influential men in the Church, in regard to real confidence in themselves. They cannot keep things within their own bosoms.
They are like a great many boys and men that I have seen, who would cause even a sixpence, when given to them, to become so hot that it would burn through the pocket of a new vest, or pair of pantaloons, if they could not spend it. It could not stay with them; they would feel so tied up because they were obliged to keep it, that the very fire of discontent would cause it to burn through the pocket, and they would lose the sixpence. This is the case with a great many of the Elders of Israel, with regard to keeping secrets. They burn with the idea, "O, I know things that brother Brigham does not understand." Bless your souls, I guess you do. Don't you think that there are some things that you do not understand? "There may be some things which I do not understand." That is as much as to say, "I know more than you." I am glad of it, if you do. I wish that you knew a dozen times more.
When you see a person of that character, he has no soundness within him. If a person understands God and godliness, the principles of heaven, the principle of integrity, and the Lord reveals anything to that individual, no matter what, unless He gives permission to disclose it, it is locked up in eternal silence. And when persons have proven to their messengers that their bosoms are like the lock-ups of eternity, then the Lord says, I can reveal anything to them, because they never will disclose it until I tell them to. Take persons of any other character, and they sap the foundation of the confidence they ought to have in themselves and in their God. 
Joseph F. Smith
We can accept nothing as authoritative but that which comes directly through the appointed channel, the constituted organizations of the priesthood, which is the channel that God has appointed through which to make known his mind and will to the world. 
Joseph Fielding Smith
It seems that periodically it becomes necessary to call attention to the true order the Lord has given us in regard to revelation. During the past three or four months I have received a number of communications, coming from various parts of the Church, asking if certain purported revelations or dreams or purported visions are reliable and have the endorsement of the Authorities of the Church. . . .
Now, the Lord will give revelations to this Church, and he will give commandments to this Church from time to time…but always in accordance with his own law; and we do not have to run around and invite individuals who are without authority to relate to us purported visions, or revelations or commandments, for the guidance of this people….
If a man comes among the Latter-day Saints, professing to have received a vision or a revelation or a remarkable dream, and the Lord has given him such, he should keep it to himself. It is all out of order, in this Church, for somebody to invite him into a sacrament service to relate that to the Church, because the Lord will give his revelations in the proper way, to the one who is appointed to receive and dispense the word of God to the members of the Church. . . .
Now, these stories of revelation, that are being circulated around, are of no consequence, except for rumor and silly talk by persons who have no authority….When you know God's truth, when you enter into God's rest, you will not be hunting after revelations from Tom, Dick and Harry all over the world. You will not be following the will-o'-the-wisp of the vagaries of men and women who advance nonsense and their own ideas. 
When a revelation comes for the guidance of this people, you may be sure that it will not be presented in some mysterious manner contrary to the order of the Church. It will go forth in such form that the people will understand that it comes from those who are in authority, for it will be sent either to the presidents of stakes and the bishops of the wards over the signatures of the presiding authorities, or it will be published in some of the regular papers or magazines under the control and direction of the Church, or it will be presented before such a gathering as this at a general conference. It will not spring up in some distant part of the Church and be in the hands of some obscure individual without authority, and thus be circulated among the Latter-day Saints. Now, you may remember this. 
There have been individuals, from time to time, who have been invited to go into the wards, in the sacrament meetings, priesthood classes, Sunday Schools and Mutual Improvement organizations, and at times, for their special benefit, cottage meetings have been held where they might come and relate remarkable visions or revelations claimed by these individuals to have been given to them. All this is wrong. . . .
Now, the Lord will give revelations to this Church; and he will give commandments to this Church from time to time, and as it is necessary; but always in accordance with his own law; and we do not have to run around and invite individuals who are without authority to relate unto us purported visions, or revelations or commandments, for the guidance of this people.
Everything in the Church is done in order. Everything pertaining to the kingdom of God is in order, because it is obedient to law.
If a man comes among the Latter-day Saints, professing to have received a vision or a revelation or a remarkable dream, and the Lord has given him such, he should keep it to himself. It is all out of order, in this Church, for somebody to invite him into a sacrament service to relate that to the Church, because the Lord will give his revelations in the proper way, to the one who is appointed to receive and dispense the word of God to the members of the Church. 
Boyd K. Packer
We always know who is called to lead or to teach and have the opportunity to sustain or to oppose the action. It did not come as an invention of man but was set out in the revelations: “It shall not be given to any one to go forth to preach my gospel, or to build up my church, except he be ordained by some one who has authority, and it is known to the church that he has authority and has been regularly ordained by the heads of the church” (D&C 42:11; emphasis added). In this way, the Church is protected from any imposter who would take over a quorum, a ward, a stake, or the Church. 
Neal A. Maxwell
There is a difference between a spiritual impression and a personal obsession. The latter may merely mask a long-held drive to be heard or to be vindicated, and aging does not automatically improve such views. 
Question: Did David O. McKay like to be "recognized, lauded, and lionized"?
It takes a certain talent to transform an account that praises McKay as a “modest, private person,” into an “admission” that McKay “liked” his celebrity
Some claim that David O. McKay "liked his ‘celebrity status’ and wanted ‘to be recognized, lauded, and lionized'."
<onlyinclude>Snuffer quotes D. Michael Quinn: “a First Presidency secretary acknowledged that [David O.] McKay liked his ‘celebrity status,’ and wanted ‘to be recognized, lauded, and lionized’” (349). He cites Quinn’s Extensions of Power volume, which gives as its source a book by secretary Francis M. Gibbons. A check of these references is discouraging, but not surprising for those familiar with Quinn’s methods. The actual text of Gibbons’ volume for the pages cited reads:
 The encroachment on [McKay's] private life that celebrity status imposed...was something President McKay adjusted to with apparent difficulty. He was essentially a modest, private person, reared in a rural atmosphere, who at an early age was thrust into the limelight of the Mormon community. And as he gained in experience...as wide media exposure made his name and face known in most households, he became, in a sense, a public asset whose time and efforts were assumed to be available to all. This radical change in status was a bittersweet experience. To be recognized, lauded, and lionized is something that seemingly appeals to the ego and self-esteem of the most modest among us, even to David O. McKay. But the inevitable shrinkage in the circle of privacy that this necessarily entails provides a counter-balance that at times outweighs the positive aspects of public adulation. This is easily inferred from a diary entry of July 19, 1950....The diarist hinted that it had become so difficult to venture forth on the streets of Salt Lake City that he had about decided to abandon the practice. For such a free spirit as he, for one who was so accustomed to going and coming as he pleased, any decision to restrict his movements about the city was an imprisonment of sorts. But the only alternatives, neither of which was acceptable, were to go in disguise or to ignore or to cut short those who approached him. The latter would have been especially repugnant to one such as David O. McKay, who had cultivated to the highest degree the qualities of courtesy and attentive listening.
It was ironic, therefore, that as the apostle's fame and influence widened, the scope of his private life was proportionately restricted.... 
Everywhere he traveled in Australia, or elsewhere on international tours, President McKay received celebrity treatment. Enthusiastic, cheering, singing crowds usually greeted him at every stop, sometimes to the surprise or chagrin of local residents. A group of well-known Australian athletes, about a flight to Adelaide with President McKay's party, learned an embarrassing lesson in humility. Seeing a large, noisy crowd at the airport, and assuming they were the object of its adulation, the handsome young men stepped forward to acknowledge the greeting  only to find that the cheers and excitement were generated by the tall, white-haired man who came down the ramp after them.
It takes a certain talent to transform an account that praises McKay as a “modest, private person,” (whose privacy and personal convenience suffered because of how unwilling he was to appear rude or short with anyone) into an “admission” that McKay “liked” his celebrity. The original line about being “recognized, lauded, and lionized” is obviously intended to point out that such things are a danger to anyone because they appeal to the ego, and all would be tempted by them—but it is likewise clear that Gibbons does not think that McKay succumbed to that temptation. Snuffer is helping Quinn bear false witness against both McKay and Gibbons.
- Bible Dictionary (LDS English edition of the Holy Scriptures), s.v. "prophet," 754, (emphasis added), (italics in original).
- David Noel Freedman, ed., (6 vols) The Anchor Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 477, s.v. "prophecy". ISBN 038542583X.
- Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, The Family: A Proclamation to the World (First read by Gordon B. Hinckley as part of his message at the General Relief Society Meeting held 23 September 1995, in Salt Lake City, Utah.)
- Website: MormonThink, Article: "Testimony & Spiritual Witnesses," URL: mormonthink.com (Last accessed: 11 Jun. 2011) FAIR review
- Peggy Fletcher Stack, "Some LDS conservatives now at odds with their church," Salt Lake Tribune (28 April 2011).
- Michael Otterson (Managing Director, Church Public Affairs), "Context missing from discussion about women," letter (29 May 2014), 4.
- Michael Otterson (Managing Director, Church public affairs), "Dear Sister Reynolds," letter (April 2014).
- Quentin L. Cook, "Understanding Our External Environment," Leadership Enrichment Series (23 February 2011).
- Published proclamation of the First Presidency of the Church and the Twelve, Oct. 21, 1865) - [President Brigham Young, Elder Wilford Woodruff, George A. Smith, Amasa M. Lyman, Ezra T. Benson, Charles C. Rich, Elder Lorenzo Snow, Erastus Snow, Franklin D. Richards, George Q. Cannon]
- Joseph F, Smith, Anthon H. Lund, Charles W. Penrose, in Messages of the First Presidency, 4:285.
- Joseph Smith, Jr., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected by Joseph Fielding Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976), 91. off-site
- Joseph Smith, Jr., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected by Joseph Fielding Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976), 205. off-site
- Joseph Smith, Jr., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected by Joseph Fielding Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976). off-site
- Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 11:238–239 (3 June 1866).
- Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 3:318.
- Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 4:288.
- Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed., (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1939), 42.
- Joseph Fielding Smith, Conference Report (April 1938), 65–67.
- Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols., (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954–56), 287.
- Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols., (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954–56), 288.
- Boyd K. Packer, "The Weak and Simple of the Church," Ensign (November 2007), italics in original..
- Neal A. Maxwell, Notwithstanding My Weakness (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1981), 110.
- Denver C. Snuffer, Jr., Passing the Heavenly Gift (Salt Lake City: Mill Creek Press, 2011), 348, citing D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power (Signature Books, 1997), 363 ( Index of claims ) Quinn cites Francis Gibbons, David O. McKay: Apostle to the World, Prophet of God (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 1986), 347, 263..
- The citation is from Quinn, Extensions of Power, 363. Quinn cites Francis Gibbons, David O. McKay: Apostle to the World, Prophet of God (Deseret Book 1986), 347, 263.
- See note 55 herein.