Friday, May 21, 2010

Prophet, Seer, Revelator

I was asked this question:

"If the first presidency and the twelve really operate much like the lay members do, how then do you reconcile the MEANING of the words: Prophet; Seer; and Revelator. Aren't these gifts unusual and set apart for the highest positions of the church? Wouldn't one necessarily receive visions and dreams to qualify as a Prophet, Seer, or Revelator? How else would one SEE into the past, or the future, let alone clearly understanding the present? How do you reconcile the current revelatory state of the leadership with the meaning of the words, prophet, seer, and revelator?"

Inside the Church the current interpretation is that the "office" has associated with it a "title" set out in scripture.  The "office" of the President of the High Priesthood (D&C 107: 65-66) , who is the President of the Church, also bears the "title" of "prophet, seer and revelator."  (D&C 107: 91-92.)  The current interpretation of these verses is that the possessor of the office is entitled to the title of "prophet, seer and revelator" by virtue of office alone.  Therefore, nothing more is needed in current church usage other than possession of the office, which alone gives the possessor of the office the title accorded to the office.  So, no, our current terminology does not require something other than office.

It is possible to read the words of the verses differently, of course.  First, the words we have adopted as they appear in scripture are not actually "prophet, seer and revelator" but are instead: "a seer, a revelator, a translator, and a prophet."  Those are different words and include in the phrase "a translator" in addition to "seer, revelator and a prophet."  We have dropped the word "translator" from the title we now use.

Second, it is possible that the following words may be viewed to mean something different than the way we currently read them, "to be like unto Moses— Behold, here is wisdom; yea, to be a seer, a revelator, a translator, and a prophet,"  (D&C 107: 91-92).  They could be read to mean that before you fill the office of President of the High Priesthood you must first locate "a seer" who is also, by definition, "a revelator" and "a translator" who is undoubtedly therefore "a prophet" and, having found such a person, you are to sustain him into the office.  The office doesn't make the man, but the Lord makes a man into such an instrument, and having done so then the church is to put him into the office.  There are of course those who have these gifts.  Many of them have no church office involving priesthood, because they are female.  They may possess gifts, but they are disqualified for office.  Then there are men who possess such gifts, but they may be living in South America, serving in a small branch, and completely unnoticed by the leadership, and therefore, never called.

The problem with the second point is that it invites near chaos.  You would have dozens, hundreds or perhaps thousands of people who would step forward and make the claim that they are entitled to the office.  Ambitious men who are either deceived or, worse still, cunning and dishonest, would seek to gain the office to further their ambitions.  Such a parade of the deluded or the dishonest would be foisted upon the Saints every time the President died.  Therefore, no matter how much merit you may think the second interpretation holds, it would be far more problematic to implement than the current interpretation and method.

The advantage of the current system is that the man who fills the vacancy is distinguished by how long he has held the church's office of Apostle.  Generally that means an elderly man, often suffering from the decline of advanced years and poor health.  That means you are likely to have a man whose ambitions and exuberance are tempered by the maturity of age and the wisdom that comes from long life's experience.  It gives stability to the decision, as well as the person chosen.

If the second approach were to be adopted, then the choice would need to be made by the serving President before he left office (died), by making the choice of his successor as part of his official service.  This is the method that the Lord revealed to Joseph Smith. (D&C 43: 3-4.) Joseph attempted this, but the one he chose to succeed him died with him (his brother Hyrum). So the office was left vacant and we had to sort it out.

There is another method that we haven't tried, so far as I know.  That would be to use "lots" to choose from every male in the church.  This method was used to fill Judas' vacancy in the original Twelve in Jerusalem.  (Acts 1: 21-26.)  The description there is ambiguous, but was intended to be random, unpredictable and not just a vote.  It was a recognized way to choose someone.  (See, e.g., 1 Ne. 3: 11.)  It has been used to sort through the entire nation of Israel when all twelve tribes were assembled.  Someone had stolen an idol, resulting in the withdrawal of the Lord's Spirit from them in battle.  The result was defeat for Israel and the death of many men.  They needed to find the one who committed the offense.  So they had to choose from the entire gathering of all twelve tribes.   Beginning at the tribe level, they sorted through to find the right tribe (Judah).  Then proceeded to sort through the tribe to locate the larger family involved (Zarhites).  Then went through the family to find the individual involved (Achan).  The whole thing is in the scriptures.  (Joshua 7: 13-23.)  

Such a system was uncontrolled by man, done by lot, completely random, but produced the right person.  Left to God, it obtained God's answer.  Did with the sons of Lehi, and with the vacancy in the Twelve in the Book of Acts, too.  There is no reason why such a system wouldn't generate the Lord's choice today.  

If the President died without a successor having been designated, then random choosing using a lot system would put the choice in the Lord's hands.  But I suppose we don't have the stomach to try it, particularly when we already have a system that seems to work for us.

Your question raises the issue of "authority" or office on the one hand, and "power" or gifts of the Spirit on the other hand.  You should read President Packer's talk in last General Conference for a recent statement by a respected church leader on that subject.  I think I've commented on that talk enough already.  As I re-read it this week I was again stirred by President Packer's sagacity.  I believe he is being candid, honest and giving the Saints the absolute best advice and counsel he can at this time.

Interesting subject.  Something worth contemplating.  Perhaps there will come a time when we are able to implement the system in D&C 43. Or when we put the Lord's hand to work by using lots to choose a President.  Though I do not expect to see any change made during my life.


  1. Wow, it would be amazing to see the Church use "casting lots". That is so out of the box of our paradigm today (as are many other true things). One thing that is refreshing in this post and in being able to discuss this subject is that it is basically never acknowledged in "normal circles" in the Church that the way we choose our Presidents is policy and not doctrine.

    It seems to me that there is another interpretation of D&C 107: 91-92 than what has been presented here. "the duty of the President ... to be a seer, a revelator, a translator, and a prophet, having all the gifts of God which he bestows upon the head of the church." It sounds like this could mean that God "bestows" these gifts upon the President, the head of the church. (This interpretation doesn't seem like much of a stretch since that is what the words actually say :) HIstorically, we have many examples of kings and rulers having revelation and dreams for their people, which seems to be something God gives to people about their stewardships. "The mantle of the bishop" can be an example of this. It seems to be almost without exception that men called to be bishops experience something new and different which they refer to as the "mantle of the bishop" and which they have until the minute they are released. Is it not possible that there is a "mantle of the President of the High Priesthood" which brings with it the gifts mentioned in verse 92? (I'm not saying that righteousness or the lack of it would not have an effect. But even unrighteous kings have historically received messages from God.)

  2. Yes, this is the view of the church. The office gives entitlement, therefore just filling it produces the desired effect.

    Also, you're right also about the tradition that God works even through unqualified kings and high priests. Such was the case in John's view even when it came to Caiaphus. See John 11: 47-51.

  3. How can we govern the temple ordinances without being valid (with spiritual gifts) K&P's? Without obeying all the laws of the gospel (as found in our standard works) as we promise in the ritual? If we don't have the connection with heaven that is necessary, how can our priesthood sealings be effective in the next life? Even Emma had to accept and agree with plural marriage before getting endowed and being sealed to Joseph in 1842. Though she seemed to quickly go against it there after.

  4. The posts in this subject remind me of a chapter in Hugh Nibley's book "The World and the Prophets," especially these few lines:

    "...what in the world is there to prevent a man who holds an office from being directed by the Spirit? And what is there to prevent a spiritual man from being appointed to an office? Nay, it would seem, Harnack concluded, not only that the power and gifts of the Spirit can be possessed by one holding an office in the church, but also very probably as far as the ancient church was concerned, they must be. If the office without the spirit is a dead thing, is not the spirit without the office an ineffectual one?"

    The chapter is an interesting one to read. He argues that the original church eventually lost the gifts of the spirit and relied solely on office. However, the expectation is that in the true church that still has the approval and power of heaven, you must have BOTH office and the spirit to be effective.

    I would also argue that our current system of choosing a successor is in the hands of the Lord. Death is also one of those things that in general is completely in the hands of the Lord.

    The Lord has also in some instances given his stamp of approval on the senior member of the twelve as the successor. The mantle of Joseph falling on Brigham Young in Nauvoo is the earliest example. Also we as a church learned of the Savior's appearance to Lorenzo Snow in the Salt Lake Temple (something which he never talked about publicly during his life) in which the Savior commanded him to immediately reorganize the First Presidency, instead of waiting as had been done previously.

  5. If I understand the question, this is something I addressed in The Second Comforter. The Temple ordinances are not the real thing. They are preparatory only. They tell you they are merely practice. If you are true and faithful, the time will come when you will be called up, chosen and anointed kings and queens, priests and priestesses, whereas now you are only ordained to BECOME such. The realization of these blessings are dependent upon your faithfulness.

    Nothing done in the ordinances are controlling into the next life unless and until sealed upon a person by the Holy Spirit of Promise, just as Section 132 explains. Heaven is going to control admission. How heaven decides who is chosen is something I've tried to illustrate in Ten Parables.

  6. I forgot to include the link to the chapter, which you can read online for free.

  7. I still puzzle over verse 4 in Section 43:

    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.

    It sounds as though there is a precedent for the prophet to "step down" and "appoint another in his stead."

    appointed unto this gift? what gift?

    if it shall be taken from him? Who takes it from him? And why?

  8. A question on all this: So we're talking about the meaning of the President of the Church being or being sustained as "a prophet, seer, [formerly translator], and revelator", but what about the reasons or reality or lack of it or precident of the other 14 apostles being/being sustained as "prophets, seers, and revelators". I get and remember what Denver said about the change in policy in 1955. That's not my question. We have D&C 107 as a scriptural basis for the President of the Church with these "gifts" (although this entire post is about the differences in interpretations of what 107 means), but what about the other 14 apostles?

  9. QUOTE: "The Temple ordinances are not the real thing. They are preparatory only. They tell you they are merely practice."

    Just connecting the dots here... then this would necessarily mean that the "new name" that we receive in the temple is just a warm-up too...? I never quite got how we were supposed to feel a sense of personal connection when we were given a name solely based on the day we showed up to do our individual endowment. This helps explain that. Thanks.


  10. The new name is only a key word used during the ceremony. It is a symbol and it means something. And it is a test to see if you will keep a covenant to never reveal it. If you are true and faithful, can be trusted with ceremonial confidence, then you qualify to learn and know other things which are also to be kept from the world and not disclosed to those who are unprepared to hear them.

    The temple is quite an accurate ceremonial depiction of the real process by which God initiates a person into salvation and exaltation. But it IS NOT the actual initiation. Nor is the new name more than a ceremonial necessity to be used here to complete the ceremony.

    Do you have other names? Yes, we all do. You had them before this world was framed. And you will be acquiring yet other names as you pass through here. God reserves the right to bestow the greatest name upon you, as Psalms 2:7 suggests; and as the tenth parable describes in Ten Parables.

  11. DKD:
    DC 43:2-6
    As presiding High Priest in 1831 (no Presidency or 12 apostles or organization as we see it today at this time), Joseph was appointed by the Lord and accepted by the few members of the new church org as the one holding the gift to receive revelation and commandments to the church via urim and thummim/seership at this time. I think it was Oliver or one of the Hyrums that were using the seer stone trying to get the word of the Lord thru it for the new priesthood group without being apointed by Joseph, who held that office, and only he could apoint someone else to use it, if he was unable to for not "abiding in the Lord" (righteous enough to use it). But while he had and maintained the gift and apointment, and as being the chosen vessle to restore truth and light to the earth (and an organized system or churc to best fullfill this mission)... others were not to be seeking to give new commandment or gospel law/truths to the group without Joseph, one who was already doing that for the Lord. Causes disorder and contention. Course the Lord can appoint another if needs be. Though later, when Joseph gave others the same keys that he held by ordinaning them Kings and Priests, which give you the right to fill any office of the PH on earth, including apostleship, such members of the Quorum of Anointed held these keys in common (regardless of church position -though most church apostles were part of this higher secret quorum), but were still to act in concert as a quorum with a President of that highest priesthood quorum. For example, in 1880 Apostle W Woodruff received a revelation, gave it to the quorum to approve, and Pres Taylor was in charge to issue the revelation as legit to the church to accept or reject. But now, via temple work, we teach and prepare all who go there to obtain these keys of revelation or connection with heaven for ourselves and those in our stewardships or umbrellas, wether a Father, Elders pres, Bishop, Stake Pres, church pres, etc. The early church would give out 2nd anointings/endowments or confirm you a K&P once you proved yourself true and faithful. Another celebration or ceremony... but still must actually take place by the Master who holds the keys to endow us to make us joint heirs with Him, to prepare us to receive the fulness of priesthood of the Father like He has.

    I also think it can apply to latter and current church presidents who may not have had and used the gift to receive new revelation or translate records, they can still appoint a new person who qualifies for such gift, or appoint a successor who they hope would have the gift, or even appoint a successor and we may not have another president who has this gift in full for a century... but we are still to uphold and pray for them to receive these gifts. They hold the office and are responsible to receive and use all the gifts of God they can get to benefit the people under their stewardship. They should never pretend to have such gifts without actually having them, and bearing the fruits of such. Honesty can really build trust in those under your wings. But when we seek to hide our inabilities or pretend to have what we don't... this can and does cause many to fall away. The anti mormons have a hay day. Many who start to see things as they are (reality of our situation), would have been great help meets to turn us into the pure and holy people God wants us to be. A people prepared to be chosen to help Him with establishing the millenial work.

  12. The world always mistook false prophets for true ones, and those that were sent of God, they considered to be false prophets and hence they killed, stoned, punished and imprisoned the true prophets, and these had to hide themselves “in deserts and dens, and caves of the earth,” and though the most honorable men of the earth, they banished them from their society as vagabonds, whilst they cherished, honored and supported knaves, vagabonds, hypocrites, impostors, and the basest of men. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith Pg. 205

    This seems to match Samuel the Lamanite’s assessment as well. He told the wicked, church-going Nephites,

    ...if a prophet come among you and declareth unto you the word of the Lord, which testifieth of your sins and iniquities, ye are angry with him, and cast him out and seek all manner of ways to destroy him; yea, you will say that he is a false prophet, and that he is a sinner, and of the devil, because he testifieth that your deeds are evil. But behold, if a man shall come among you and shall say: Do this, and there is no iniquity; do that and ye shall not suffer; yea, he will say: Walk after the pride of your own hearts; yea, walk after the pride of your eyes, and do whatsoever your heart desireth- and if a man shall come among you and say this, ye will receive him, and say that he is a prophet. Yea, ye will lift him up, and ye will give unto him of your substance; ye will give unto him of your gold, and of your silver, and ye will clothe him with costly apparel; and because he speaketh flattering words unto you, and he saith that all is well, then ye will not find fault with him. (Helaman 13:25-28)

    Were are we?

  13. Brigham Young:
    Now, dear readers, if you can still believe that you can trust in any living man or group of men for your safety and salvation, then you certainly understand the message of these witnesses far differently than we do. The scriptures, prophetic visions and teachings we have quoted seem to us to express the true principals upon which the faithful must rely in these latter days far better than we can. If their words do not convince you, then there is certainly nothing we can add to strengthen the case they have so eloquently made. 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 the 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 whisperings of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not. -->Discourses of Brigham Young, compiled by John A Widtsoe, pg. 136

    Millenial Star 14: 594-6:
    "Willing obedience to the laws of God, administered by the Priesthood, is indespensable to salvation, (but) none are required to tamely and blindly submit to a man because he has a portion of the Priesthood. We have heard men who hold the Priesthood remark, that they would do anything they were told to do by those who presided over them, (even) if they knew it was wrong, but such obedience as this is worse than folly to us; it is slavery in the extreme, and the man who would thus willingly degrade himself, should not claim a rank among intelligent beings, until he turns from his folly... Others in the extreme exercise of their almighty authority, have taught that such obedience was necessary, and that no matter what the saints were told to do by their Presidents, they should do it without asking any questions. When the Elders of Israel will so far indulge in these extreme notions of obedience as to teach them to the people it is generally because they have it in their hearts to do wrong themselves, and wish to pave the way to accomplish that wrong, or else because they have done wrong and wise to use the cloak of their authority to cover it with, lets it be discovered by their superiors, who would require an atonement at their hands. We would ask for what is the Priesthood given unto men? Is is that they may have the right to administer the law of God. Have they the right to make void that law? Verily no... If a man could have as much authority as the Almighty, it would not authorize him to do wrong, nor counsel another to do wrong; and the man that will administer with partiality, for the sake of screening iniquity, will find his stewardship will be taken from him."

    Joseph F Smith: "the Standard Works of the Church are the measuring rods the Lord has given us by which we are to measure every doctrine, every theory and teaching, and if there is anything that does not conform to that which is given to us in the revelations, we do not have to accept it. Whether I say it or anyone else says it, whether it comes through the philosophy of men, or whenever a statement is made, that is in conflict with what the Lord has revealed, you should know what course to take."

    The laws to the church are given in our revelations and the scriptures, which our leaders must govern righteously within those bounds. In fact, we promise in the temple to obey the law of the gospel as laid down in our scriptures and revelations to the church... we never promise to go against our own constitution or follow leaders that do the same???

  14. They would come now by thousands and thousands, if the Latter-day Saints were only popular. “What, these honorable men?” Yes, they would say, “I want to be baptized. I admire your industry, and your skill in governing. You have a system of governing that is not to be found anywhere else. You know how to govern cities, territories, or the world, and I would like to join you.” But take care if you join this people without the love of God in your soul it will do you no good. If they were to do this, they would bring in their sophistry, and introduce that which would poison the innocent and honest and lead them astray. I look at this, and I am satisfied that it will not do for the Lord to make this people popular. Why? Because all hell would want to be in the Church. The people must be kept where the finger of scorn can be pointed at them. Although it is admitted that we are honest, industrious, truthful, virtuous, self-denying, and, as a community, possess every moral excellence, yet we must be looked upon as ignorant and unworthy, and as the offscouring of society, and be hated by the world. What is the reason of this? Christ and Baal can not become friends. When I see this people grow and spread and prosper, I feel that there is more danger than when they are in poverty. Being driven from city to city or into the mountains is nothing compared to the danger of our becoming rich and being hailed by outsiders as a first-class community. I am afraid of only one thing. What is that? That we will not live our religion, and that we will partially slide a little from the path of rectitude, and go part of the way to meet our friends. (JD 12:272.)

  15. We receive the priesthood and power and authority. If we make a bad use of the priesthood, do you not see that the day will come when God will reckon with us, and he will take it from us and give it to those who will make better use of it?" (Heber C. Kimball, Ibid., vol. 6, p. 125).

    Brigham Young: "Perhaps it may make some of you stumble, were I to ask you a question - Does a man's being a Prophet in this Church prove that he shall be the President of it ? I answer, no ! A man may be a Prophet, Seer, and Revelator, and it may have nothing to do with his being the President of the Church. Suffice it to say, that Joseph was the President of the Church, as long as he lived; the people chose to have it so. He always filled that responsible station by the voice of the people. Can you find any revelation appointing him the President of the Church? The keys of the Priesthood were committed to Joseph to build up the Kingdom of God on the earth, and were not be taken from him in time or in eternity; but when he was called to preside over the Church, it was by the voice of the people; though he held the keys of the Priesthood, independent of their voice." Journal of Discourses 1:133.

    And when the spirit of persecution, the spirit of hatred, of wrath, and malice ceases in the world against this people, it will be the time that this people have apostatized and joined hands with the wicked, and never until then; which I pray may never come. (JD 4:326-327)

    There is nothing that would so soon weaken my hope and discourage me as to see this people in full fellowship with the world, and receive no more persecution from them because they are one with them. In such an event, we might bid farewell to the Holy Priesthood with all its blessings, privileges and aids to exaltations, principalities and powers in the eternities of the Gods. (JD 10:32)

    When we see the time that we can willingly strike hands and have full fellowship with those who despise the Kingdom of God, know ye then that the Priesthood of the Son of God is out of your possession. Let us be careful how we make friends with and fellowship unrighteousness, lest the curse of God descends heavily upon us. (JD 10:273)

    When "Mormonism" finds favor with the wicked in this land, it will have gone into the shade; but until the power of the Priesthood is gone, "Mormonism" will never become popular with the wicked. (JD 4:38)

  16. mj....thank you for the very instructive and interesting input.

  17. A link to BYU history professor's research on First Presdiency approved plural marriages after the manifesto, even after the 2nd:

  18. Denver Snuffer said...

    The Temple ordinances are not the real thing. They are preparatory only. They tell you they are merely practice. If you are true and faithful, the time will come when you will be called up, chosen and anointed kings and queens, priests and priestesses, whereas now you are only ordained to BECOME such.

    I say: According to scripture we are either in "time" or "eternity"; hence one must be not only be called, but made a King/Queen and Priest/Priestess in this life [this life IS time] or risk losing the whole of it [I'm thinking the cite is DHC 5:424-5 or there abouts -- been about 30 years since I read and discarded my library]. Even the ancients taught: “Blessed of earthbound men is he who has seen these things, but he who dies without fulfilling the holy things, and he who is without share of them, has no claim ever on such blessings, even when departed down to the moldy darkness”.


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