What makes a prophet?

5 Wherefore it came to pass that my father, Lehi, as he went forth prayed unto the Lord, yea, even with all his heart, in behalf of his people.

6 And it came to pass as he prayed unto the Lord, there came a pillar of fire and dwelt upon a rock before him; and he saw and heard much; and because of the things which he saw and heard he did quake and tremble exceedingly.

7 And it came to pass that he returned to his own house at Jerusalem; and he cast himself upon his bed, being overcome with the Spirit and the things which he had seen.

8 And being thus overcome with the Spirit, he was carried away in a vision, even that he saw the heavens open, and he thought he saw God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels in the attitude of singing and praising their God.  (1 Nephi 1:5-8)


16 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, being exceedingly young, nevertheless being large in stature, and also having great desires to know of the mysteries of God, wherefore, I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me, and did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father; wherefore, I did not rebel against him like unto my brothers.  (1 Nephi 2:16)


29 And it came to pass as they smote us with a rod, behold, an angel of the Lord came and stood before them, and he spake unto them, saying: Why do ye smite your younger brother with a rod? Know ye not that the Lord hath chosen him to be a ruler over you, and this because of your iniquities? Behold ye shall go up to Jerusalem again, and the Lord will deliver Laban into your hands.  (1 Nephi 3:29)


12 And it came to pass that the Spirit said unto me again: Slay him, for the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands;

13 Behold the Lord slayeth the wicked to bring forth his righteous purposes. It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief.

14 And now, when I, Nephi, had heard these words, I remembered the words of the Lord which he spake unto me in the wilderness, saying that: Inasmuch as thy seed shall keep my commandments, they shall prosper in the land of promise. (1 Nephi 4:12-14)


17 And now when my father saw all these things, he was filled with the Spirit, and began to prophesy concerning his seed—  (1 Nephi 5:17)


I was thinking about the central message of the Book of Mormon.  It seems to focus on man’s capability to interact with heavenly beings in a literal way during mortality.  I think the excerpts above (from just the first five chapters of the book) are good examples.  But wait, you may be saying to yourself, these guys (Lehi and Nephi) were prophets, not just ordinary guys like you and me–the comparison’s not fair.  What made them prophets?  Did they rise to the top of the established religious hierarchy and get sustained by the membership in a unanimous vote?  No, Nephi killed the only person in the narrative known to mingle with the elders of the Jews (the religious hierarchy).  The Jews that heard Lehi deliver his prophetic message of impending doom were so angry they sought to kill him.  Were they angry that somebody outside the established hierarchy would claim to speak directly and literally with God?  Can you imagine something that would get adherents of the true religion (that had drifted into apostasy without realizing it) more lathered up that for some yahoo that isn’t a bretheren to accuse them of wickedness via revelation from God?  What does it mean to be a prophet?  Can people vote somebody into being a prophet of the Lord?  Even if the voting is unanimous?   If the Lord, for whatever reason He chooses, speaks to somebody and gives him a message to deliver to others, isn’t that what makes somebody a prophet?

Isn’t it true that the Lord, not a group of well-meaning people, is the only one who can make someone a prophet?  Does that mean that all people can do on their own is create a false prophet (unless their choice happens to coincide with the Lord’s choice)?

After ordaining the original 12 apostles (in this dispensation), Oliver Cowdery gave them direction which included the following charge:

“Never cease striving until you have seen God face to face.  Strengthen your faith; cast off your doubts, your sins, and all your unbelief; and nothing can prevent you from coming to God.  Your ordination is not full and complete till God has laid His hand upon you.  We require as much to qualify us as did those who have gone before us; god is the same.  If the Savior in former days laid His hands upon His disciples, why not in latter days?”  (DHC 2:195-6)

Elder Cowdery appears to be teaching that, just as only God can make a prophet, only Christ can make a true apostle.

Over twenty years after Brigham was ordained an apostle, he adressed the question of whether or not he had fulfilled that initial charge:

“I have flattered myself, if I am as faithful as I know how to be to my God, and my brethren, and to all my covenants, and faithful in the discharge of my duty, when I have lived to be as old as was Moses when the Lord appeared to him, that perhaps I then may hold communion with the Lord, as did Moses [it was believed Moses spoke to God face-to-face at age 80]…I am not now in that position, though I know much more than I did twenty, ten, of five years ago…If I am faithful until I am eighty years of age, perhaps the Lord will appear to me and personally dictate me in the management of his Church and people.”  (JD 7:243)

A few years later he further explained,

“I think it likely that after a while I may be able to so humble myself and become like a little child, as to be taught more fully by the Heavens.  Perhaps, when I am eighty years of age, I may be able to talk with some Being of a higher sphere than this.  Moses saw the glory of God at that age, and held converse with better beings than he had formerly conversed with.  I hope and trust that by the time I am that age I shall also be counted worthy to enjoy the same privilege.” (JD 10:23)  Brigham died at the age of 77.


In 1918 Heber J. Grant became President of the Church.  In 1942, in a talk given in the Tabernacle, he said:

I have never prayed to see the Savior, I know of men–Apostles–who have seen the Savior more than once.  I have prayed to the Lord for the inspiration of His Spirit to guide me, and I have told him that I have seen so many men fall because of some great manifestation to them, they felt their importance, their greatness.”  (see The Diaries of Heber J. Grant, 2010, p. 468)  President Grant passed away in 1945.  While some of the apostles had seen the Savior, not only had President Grant not personally communed with the Savior, he had never even sought for it.  While common consent justly makes a man the President of the Church, can a man justly be called a prophet without conversing with the Lord?

When two elders in ancient Israel were prophesying in camp while the other elders (i.e. General Authorities) were in a meeting with Moses, a messenger came to tell Moses.  Joshua suggested Moses shut them down.  Moses did not agree:

“Moses said unto him, Enviest thou for my sake? would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them!” (Numbers 11:29)

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