The LDS book Gospel Principles includes a chapter titled “Prophets of God.” In discussing what a prophet is, the book also considers the varied backgrounds from which a prophet may come. He might be young, old, educated, unschooled, a professional, or a laborer. Furthermore, the book points out,
“Ancient prophets wore tunics and carried staffs. Modern prophets wear suits and carry briefcases. What, then, identifies a true prophet?” (Gospel Principles , 39)
This is a great question, one Christians are forever trying to get Mormons to think about, because Jesus warned us to beware of false prophets, even if they dress in wool ( Matthew 7:15).
The Bible often portrays Jesus as a Shepherd and His followers as sheep. When Jesus tells us in Matthew 7:15 that false prophets will come in sheep’s clothing, He’s telling us they will look like His followers: they will look like Christians. The apostle Paul also warned that false apostles and deceitful workers “disguise themselves” as apostles of Christ (2 Corinthians 11:13). Paul told Timothy: “But realize this, that in the last days…[there will be men] holding to a form of godliness” who do not belong to God (2 Timothy 3:1-5).
The Greek word translated “beware” in the Scripture actually means more than just “be careful.” It means “to turn one’s mind or attention to a thing by being on guard against it.” Therefore, Jesus is directing us to pay attention to what lies below the surface in order to guard against being deceived.
False apostles, dressing up in fine clothes while presenting sweet demeanors, will pretend to be true apostles, maintaining a façade of godliness and good works. Nevertheless, Jesus said they are dangerous and will usher their followers down the broad way that leads to destruction.
So, whether dressed in suits and carrying briefcases, or wearing tunics and carrying staffs, we need to identify whether someone claiming to speak for God is–or is not–a true prophet.
Gospel Principles asks what identifies a true prophet and answers:
“A true prophet is always chosen by God and called through proper priesthood authority (see Articles of Faith 1:5).”
These points may be requirements for a Mormon prophet, but they are not identifiers that would allow someone to ascertain whether a person is a true prophet; for anyone can claim he’s been chosen by God, and anyone can claim he’s been called through an assumed “proper priesthood authority.”
The Bible provides a pretty good list of identifiers for false prophets. Christian apologists Norman L. Geisler and Ron Rhodes explain,
There are many tests for a false prophet…Put in question form, the tests are:
- Do they ever give false prophecies? Do 100 percent of their predictions of future events come true? (Deut. 18:21-22)
- Do they contact departed spirits? (Deut. 18:11)
- Do they use means of divination? (Deut. 18:11)
- Do they involve mediums or witches? (Deut. 18:1)
- Do they follow false gods or idols? (Exod. 20:3-4; Deut. 13:1-3)
- Do they deny the deity of Jesus Christ? (Col. 2:8-9)
- Do they deny the humanity of Jesus Christ? (1 John 4:1-2)
- Do their prophecies shift the focus off Jesus Christ? (Rev. 19:10)
- Do they advocate abstaining from certain foods and meats for spiritual reasons? (1 Tim. 4:3-4)
- Do they deprecate or deny the need for marriage? (1 Tim. 4:3)
- Do they promote immorality? (Jude 4, 7)
- Do they encourage legalistic self-denial? (Col. 2:16-23)
A positive answer to any of the above questions is an indication that the prophet is not speaking for God. God does not speak or encourage anything that is contrary to his character and commands as recorded in Scripture. And most certainly the God of truth does not give false prophecies (Deut. 18:21-23).
If we look beneath the surface of suits and briefcases while asking the biblical identifying questions, how do LDS prophets fare? (You might start with a look at Joseph Smith here.)
Comments within the parameters of 1 Peter 3:15 are invited.