Question: Are Latter-day Saint prophets not really "prophets" because they don't foretell unknown events?

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Question: Are Latter-day Saint prophets not really "prophets" because they don't foretell unknown events?

Prophets have many roles, only one of which is to prophesy future events: The key issue is the possession of divine authority, in that they give whatever message(s) God wishes communicated to His children

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.[1]

The Anchor Bible Dictionary treats prophesy as "inspired speech at the initiative of a divine power"[2] 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,[3] 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.


Notes

  1. Bible Dictionary (LDS English edition of the Holy Scriptures), s.v. "prophet," 754, (emphasis added), (italics in original).
  2. David Noel Freedman, ed., (6 vols) The Anchor Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 477, s.v. "prophecy". ISBN 038542583X.
  3. 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.)