Can prophets be wrong?

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Or, more specifically, can they be wrong without being considered false prophets.

For example, I don’t agree with the practise of cutting intermediate hymns short during General Conference because speakers took up more than their alloted times. Not only do I not agree with it, I think it’s wrong. Does that mean I think they fail as prophets, that they are false prophets?

I don’t think so.

Arguably, my example is an administrative issue, and has nothing to do with a prophet’s prophet-ness. But perhaps there are issues that have everything to do with it.

I am sure many could come up with a quote or two from earlier church leaders that seem anomalistic to current Church dogma. Do one or two (or even a handful of) quotes that seem wrong mean their owners are false prophets? Do such few quotes negate dozens or hundreds of accurate quotes?

25 thoughts on “Can prophets be wrong?

  1. The best answer to the question is D&C 1:24-28:
    24 Behold, I am God and have spoken it; these commandments are of me, and were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding.
    25 And inasmuch as they erred it might be made known;
    26 And inasmuch as they sought wisdom they might be instructed;
    27 And inasmuch as they sinned they might be chastened, that they might repent;
    28 And inasmuch as they were humble they might be made strong, and blessed from on high, and receive knowledge from time to time.
    Kevin Christensen
    Pittsburgh, PA

  2. I don’t think we believe prophets are infallable and they can be wrong. They are men subject to all the frailties mortality brings. Some proceedural things are merely that, administrative and not doctrinal. However if a prophet acts as a prophet and his counsellors and the quorum of the twelve add their witness to the prophets voice I believe we may follow with confidence.

  3. Yeah, one major issue here is whether the prophet was speaking as such at the time of a quote. Then there are other issues to consider. Was Jonah a false prophet on the road away from Nineveh? A true prophet on the way back? I think there are more fine distinctions to be made. This is why we need an individual witness of everything declared by the prophet.

  4. A screw-up doesn’t unmake a prophet, or we’d have completely written off Moses and Joseph Smith and pretty much everyone else. I’m actually inclined to believe that with a few notable exceptions, prophets are just men who are given a really tough job with some help to get it done. What comes out of them is mostly just “to them” and we’re blessed to have leaders with lots of wisdom and experience. Our expectation of prophetic perfection doesn’t do us any good, because we will, inevitably, come across error in both our historical and current leaders. If we’ve decided that they are infallible in all things, what are we to do with evidence of an obvious blunder? Too many end up throwing out the baby with the bath water instead of just drying the baby off and re-evaluating.

    So Joseph Smith was a really poor administrator and Brigham Young was a bigot and Ezra Benson was paranoid about the commies. Since God only has imperfect humans to work with, that imperfection sometimes manifests itself, just as a leader’s particular virtues will also manifest themselves. He calls imperfect Bishops and primary teachers and prophets.

    What concerns me is the condemnation that comes if you dare to express an opinion that may be contrary. Just saying “I disagree” doesn’t necessarily equal apostasy or “ark-steadying” or “evil speaking”, and as a people, we will be healthier if we can move away from that position and actually let people express what they really think or feel without threat of ecclesiastical consequence.

  5. It is curious. In many ways, this should be viewed as a silly question since both theological grounds and empirical grounds show the prophet can be wrong on lots of things. Even the D&C notes that Joseph Smith wasn’t always that good as distinguishing between revelations of God, man, or the devil.

    However, we as a church tend to overwhelmingly behave as if prophetic infallibility was true – leaving us to wrestle with this question again and again and again.

  6. The thing I find curious is how when an apostle becomes prophet everything they have ever said or written becomes canon.

    For example Pres. Kimball wrote in Miracle of Forgiveness that drives on Sunday was breaking the sabbath now that is gospel at least it frequently comes up on the list of no-nos. There may be better things to do but getting the family in a small enclosure and talking is not the end of the world.

  7. I’ve been wondering what you would prefer to cutting the hymn short during General Conference. Making the other speakers cut their talks short? Or just going over the allotted time so that the television and radio stations carrying the conference cut off the end?

  8. “Not only do I not agree with it, I think it’s wrong.”

    There are standards in place to help prevent this. Each speaker can see a light that comes on when they need to wrap up their thoughts. I think it comes on 5 minutes before their alloted time expires.

    The difference between a talk and a song is that a talk is not yet completed until it is delivered. I would think it a tragedy to cut that last piece of a talk off that could be the difference in someone’s testimony all to hear a song that could be heard in its entirety at any time.

  9. “. . . all to hear a song that could be heard in its entirety at any time”

    Then why sing at all? Why not tell the congregation to go home and listen to such-and-such hymns?

    After all, that would give much more time to testimony bearing.

  10. jjackson.. if merely stating “I disagree’ meant that you are apostatizing I would be in serious trouble. I say that ALL THE TIME.. or else I say “Where does it say that?” or “Is that principle or preference?” Prophets are still first and foremost human beings Kim. We are all capable of receiving revelation but we all make mistakes. When the prophet speaks and gives us new guidance I still go away and pray about it being right. I remember when the 3 hour block was about to come out. I swore up and down if they did that I was not going to church anymore. I mean seriously.. have you tried keeping 5 small children quiet for 3 hours??

    I was convinced the Prophet was out of his mind.. and many times I have questioned where they are coming from. If they ever came out and said polygamy was back in fashion let me tell you, God would have to stand in front of me and tell he it was His decision before I would agree to it. It doesn’t mean I think the prophet was a false prophet.

    And as for a red light coming on 5 minutes before your talk ends.. in Regina when we lived there the pulpit had the same light but I made the mistake of putting my scriptures down on it and even though it was blinking I didn’t see it and kept yakking away till a member of the bishopric yanked on the back of my skit. So that doesn’t always work.

    As for the songs being cut short.. I agree that I would rather listen to the end of a speaker’s talk before they got cut off by the station due to singing all 7 verses of a song. Besides Kim although I know you said if that was the case why listen to music there at all when you can listen to it at home… having a hymn means potty break :)

  11. Make sure speakers stick to their allotted time.

    That’s a fine suggestion, but I’m willing to guess that they’re already doing their best to make that happen. The fact is, no meeting can be planned out with absolute perfection in that regard. So there needs to be some method for readjustment. I don’t know of a better one than adjusting the number of verses sung in a hymn, and I don’t see why you would go so far as to characterize it as “wrong.”

  12. Because I don’t think it is appropriate considering that the song of the heart pleases God and he considers the song of a the righteous to be a prayer. The First Presidency has gone so far as to say that music is essential to our meetings and that some of the greatest sermons are found in the hymns. Given this nature, it doesn’t seem right to cut off the songs.

    Perhaps they are doing all they can to prevent people from going over. If so, it’s not working. Every conference, at least one person goes over.

  13. Seems like much ado about nothing.

    Have you ever tried to practice a talk and time it. If some people are nervous they may speak faster or slower. We can’t micromanage everything.

    Hymns are important and so are the talks.

    Just enjoy conference. It may not be perfect but the Holy Ghost is the great teacher at conference and it can work through great talks and great music.

    Perhaps we are looking a bit beyond the mark here.

  14. Have you ever tried to practice a talk and time it.

    Yep. Dozens of talks actually, and dozens of times for each talk. Every talk I’ve done in fact.

    We can’t micromanage everything.

    Yet we micromanage the number of verses sung.

    Perhaps we are looking a bit beyond the mark here.

    And beyond the point of the post.

  15. Kim,

    I believe they are wrong all the time. They try things out to see if they work. They have the best intentions, and make the best efforts, but sometimes they don’t have “it” quite right and it takes several tries.

    To relate to your hymn example, there is nothing stoping them from booking an extra half hour of air time to deal with overs in talk time and still sing all the verses. If they do happen to end on time and have an extra half hour of broadcast time to go through, they could always show mo-tab videos or something.

    Clearly it’s not a priority for them to sing all the verses.

  16. I was trying to be provacative in my last post. It seems that I was successful.

    I am sorry Kim.

    But I just don’t see why you can’t cut the General Authorities of the church some slack for what seems to be a simple matter of allowing some flexibility in the broadcasting of General Conference.

    If it is wrong to shorten hymns how would you handle the matter?

    Many who have spoken in church have gone on too long winded, and I don’t like that, but life is full of little annoyances.

  17. Fewer speakers is one option. Shorter time allotments is another.

    I’m fine with flexibility, but why does it always come at the expense of the hymns? It’s only the hymns that have to be flexible.

    Maybe none of us are righteous enough for God to consider the songs we sing in conference to be prayers, so it may be a moot point anyhow.

  18. It’s only the hymns that have to be flexible.

    Are you sure about that? Common wisdom (which I’ve never confirmed through official sources) is that there are warning lights for speakers approaching the end of their allotted time. If that’s the case, I believe they’re being asked to be flexible by cutting short their remarks.

  19. Wouldn’t one option be to do everything in the time that it takes to do it completely and just bump the last speaker off the agenda? You know, like a talk show.

  20. That is another option, rick. It certainly flexible. If the other speakers know someone could get booted off, maybe it would motivate them to stick to their alloted times.

  21. In general, I think the hymns are important but the speakers are more important. Yes, the hymns are a form of worship and even prayer. But they are the same, whether we’re singing them in General Conference or elsewhere. The talks are new. So I think the Brethren have made the right choice.

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