Question: If Gordon B. Hinckley were a true prophet, why did he not discern the nature of the Hofmann forgeries?

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Question: If Gordon B. Hinckley were a true prophet, why did he not discern the nature of the Hofmann forgeries?

Prophets are not omniscient nor are they infallible

Critics of the Church raise the question: If Gordon B. Hinckley were a true prophet, why would he be fooled into buying the forgeries? Would he not be able to discern the fraud? [1]

The assumption that President Hinckley should have discerned the nature of the forgery stems from incorrect expectations of what a prophet is. Prophets are not omniscient nor infallible. The Church bought the documents when assured by experts that they were genuine.

Prophets do not generally act to take away the free agent choices of others. President Hinckley's decision to purchase the documents allowed them to be examined, and kept them available for further study so that the forgery could be discovered. (Had a private collector, especially one hostile to the Church, acquired the documents, access might have been much more difficult.)

Some think it strange that a prophet could have been deceived. President Hinckley's public statements make it clear that he was not entirely convinced of the document's provenance, but provisionally accepted the judgment of the experts. (For a discussion of the decision to promptly make the document public when owned by the Church by an author who declared the document a forgery early on, see Rhett S. James, "Writing History Must Not Be an Act of Magic (Review of Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, revised and enlarged edition, by D. Michael Quinn)," FARMS Review of Books 12/2 (2000): 395–414. [{{{url}}} off-site].)

The Lord made it clear to Joseph Smith that a prophet is not granted to know all the designs of those who seek to destroy the Church:

But as you cannot always judge the righteous, or as you cannot always tell the wicked from the righteous, therefore I say unto you, hold your peace until I shall see fit to make all things known unto the world concerning the matter. (DC 10:37)

The LDS doctrine of agency requires that those who plot evil be allowed a certain latitude, though (as President Hinckley prophetically noted) permanent harm to the Lord's work will not be permitted.


  1. Criticisms related to President Hinckley's inability to detect the Mark Hofmann forgeries are raised in the following publications: Richard Abanes, One Nation Under Gods: A History of the Mormon Church (New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, 2003), 424 ( Index of claims ) (See here for a response to this issue for this individual work.); Jerald and Sandra Tanner, The Changing World of Mormonism (Moody Press, 1979), 337.( Index of claims ); Watchman Fellowship, The Watchman Expositor (Page 3)