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Whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same

When we hear discourse in the church about the legitimacy of the prophets’ words, inevitably, this scripture comes up.

“What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.” (D&C 1:38)

It is usually used to support the inerrancy of the prophets’s words. After all, if God’s voice and the servants’s voice are the same thing, then it stands to reason that what the prophets say is literally God’s words.

There is a problem with this traditional interpretation however. While the common interpretation of this scripture amounts to something like “mine own voice and the voice of my servants are the same,” we can see that the scripture doesn’t actually say that.

What is the central message of this verse? “my word shall not pass away”.

Everything before and after that phrase and ties back to it. Consider what comes before it:

“What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself.” But why does he not excuse himself? The answer lies in the next phrase:

“and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away”

He doesn’t excuse what he says because what he says last forever; it’s eternal and will never fail.

What about the rest of the verse?

“my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled”

Not only will his words last forever, but instead of failing, they will be fulfilled.

Then finally: whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same. In this instance, the Lord isn’t saying that his words are the same as the prophets’ words. What he is saying is that whether his words are fulfilled by his own voice or whether his words are fulfilled by the voices of the prophets (or literally, his servants), the result will be the same, his words will be fulfilled.

I think it so important that when we read our scriptures that we always put forth effort to determine what is meant by what we read, and we should always be careful not to project on what we read traditional interpretations just because we assume they are correct interpretations.

25 thoughts on “Whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same”

  1. Wow, I really like this. Because, I’m reading it now as an invitation to be one of the ways god’s word is fulfilled. In a small simple base case, if I speak to my children with gentleness and truth, I’m a part of fulfilling his promise that they are loved by Him.

  2. If we read D&C 1 as a coherent whole, notice the blunt declarations earlier that, with respect to the leadership, “inasmuch as they erred,it shall be made manifest….inasmuch as they sought wisdom they might be instructed…” That is, not everything that a leader or member says is necessarily the inspired word of God. And when they make mistakes, it should not be a shock to the system, but just a matter of fact, due to humanity and the precondition that such wisdom must be sought, and not just assumed to already be in one’s possession. However, what the Lord says to us, conveyed through whatever medium, voice, text, personal inspiration, or inspired servant, remains his word, with his backing. One of the express purposes of D&C 1 is to spell out what does and what does not constitute “the authority of my servants.” Read carefully, it provides a tolerant and robust set of realistic expectations. Read poorly,… you get what you pay for. Being inspired at times doesn’t make them inspired all times and in all things. God has spoken to Joseph Smith, as well as unnamed “others.” So in D&C 1, revelation is neither exclusive to LDS, nor perfect or present on all occasions, but it is a very real presence. When it happens, when transmitted via his own voice, or the voice of servant who at that moment and in that instance, but not necessarily at all other times places and subjects, it is very real.

    My take, FWIW.
    Kevin Christensen

    1. Excellent points, Kevin. Something others definitely need to realize and accept. I think the sooner we accept the fallibility of our leaders, the easier things will be for us in the long run. When we accept sometimes they get things wrong, we are less likely to face a faith crisis.

  3. Of course the apostles and prophets are fallible. You are correct, D&C 1:38 does not support the “inerrancy” of prophetic utterance. Nevertheless, “they who will not … give heed to the words of the prophets and apostles, shall be cut off from among the people.” (D&C 1:14.)

    It isn’t about fallibility, it’s about authority: Christ’s authority. As Church members, we follow the apostles and prophets because Christ, not we ourselves, called them to serve. They are Christ’s representatives, not ours. Yes, they will be judged for the way they use their authority, but they will not be judged by us. Christ gives the authority to judge His apostles only to the First Presidency, not to us members. And so we follow them, with a conviction born of the Holy Ghost that they are indeed His apostles and prophets. And we follow them without regard to their fallibility or infallibility.

    1. R. Gary, consider this quote:

      “So it is with regard to the inhabitants of the sun. Do you think it is inhabited? I rather think it is. Do you think there is any life there? No question of it; it was not made in vain.” (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 13:271)

      Given the scripture you quoted at the beginning of your comment, do you take the position that anyone who does not heed Young’s words and does not believe the Sun to be inhabited will be cut off from among the Lord’s people?

      1. Today, we follow those fifteen men who serve in the two highest quorums of the Church. I’ll consider your BY quote when one of them quotes it in official Church media. In the meantime, here is an example of today’s Church publishing the words of an earlier prophet:

        “Beware of those who would set up the dead prophets against the living prophets, for the living prophets always take precedence.” (Ezra Taft Benson, in Teachings of the Living Prophets, Religion 333, published in 2010.)

        And here is another reason why your BY quote doesn’t concern me:

        “It should be remembered that not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. It is commonly understood in the Church that a statement made by one leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, not meant to be official or binding for the whole Church.” (D. Todd Christofferson, General Conference, April 2012.)

        1. First, you say that “we follow them without regard to their fallibility or infallibility”. Then you use a quote that suggests that we should regard their fallibility, that it is okay to disregard some things that are sais.

          So which is it?

          1. Again, it isn’t about fallibility, it’s about authority. We follow the apostles and prophets because they are called of God and have His authority. Twice the Lord tells the elders of His Church to say “none other things” than that which the apostles and prophets teach. (D&C 52:9, 36.) Notice that in both verses, the words apostles and prophets are both plural. Christofferson is suggesting that we not urge upon others as official doctrine single statements made by individual leaders.

          2. Two questions:

            Does it count then if Joseph Smith, Hyrum Smith, and Brigham Young all said the moon was inhabited? That seems to be more than a single statement by an individual leader.

            How does authority fit into it when a prophet or apostle says a single statement as an individual leader?

  4. It was not my intent to change your mind about anything, merely to provide a few examples of another point of view on D&C 1:38. I appreciate the opportunity to do that.

    1. I appreciate your taking the time to share your thoughts. I was already aware of the traditional interpretation of D&C 1:38, but I appreciate your time nevertheless.

  5. I actually like R. Gary’s thoughts here. You said originally, “[D&C 1:38] is usually used to support the inerrancy of the prophets’s words.” He agreed that ‘inerrancy’ was not the intent of the scripture (and so doesn’t follow the ‘traditional interpretation’ as outlined in your OP), but felt rather in context of the entire section that it is a statement about authority and our duty to follow when those holding the proper keys to speak for God do so or exercise their keys with the intent to do so. I agree with this line of thought. Although I think the text definitely supports your reading of the verse as well.

    As for your Brigham Young quote, I really doubt B. Young was trying to exercise his keys to create an official church position here, the use of “think” several times suggests it was a passing opinion, most likely in the middle of a discourse where it was not a central point.

  6. When things get really serious, the words of the prophet will be canonized. Other than that, we are left with the present day prophets using selected information imparted by former prophets for our editfication. Brigham’s opinion as to life on the sun (or moon or anywhere else) were not canonized, nor given more than a passing thought by subsequent prophets and lay people alike.
    The Adam-God theory is another that did not pass muster as scripture. It was never even presented to the church body for canonization.

    When God says that His word “whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same” and when I read from a prophet of God that the Lord will not allow a prophet to lead thechurch astray, I think that we can be fairly confident that the word that does reach us is fron God.

    There are two reasons for this. The number one reason is that the Quorum of the twelve is equal in authority to that of the first presidency and can take up the matter if it feels that there is something amiss with the president of the church. Number two, the Lord is perfectly capable of issuing a “course correction” to a prophet who is off track, much as He did in the case of Jonah and that big fish.

    I don’t think that any prophet of the Church would willfuly try to lead the church astray, but if they were doing so inadvetantly, I do not believe that any of them would still go their own way after such a “course correction.”

    And after all is said and done, or maybe before all is said and done, “all things shall be done by common consent in the church, by much prayer and faith, for all things you shall receive by faith. ” (D&C 26:2)

    Glenn

    1. You’re right that Brigham Young’s thoughts on extraterrestrial life and the Adam-God theory were never canonized, but neither have any of the prophets’s words since 1978. Does that mean anything not canonized is okay to put aside?

      Also, despite not being canonized, Brigham Young’s thoughts on extraterrestrial life and Adam-God were taught by other leaders of the 19th century. What were the saints of the day to think when several of their leaders taught these doctrines other than that they must be true?

  7. I also disagree that this scripture usually supports inerrancy. That is clearly false. We do not believe in inerrancy of the prophets and we do not teach such a doctrine. This verse affirms that the Lord can and does speak through prophets. When He does it is as if the Lord Himself is speaking.

    We should give this scripture some very heavy weight. If we too easily disregard the words of prophets (and there are usually 15) we might find ourselves unable to hear the voice of the Lord and disregard it.

    1. Well, it sort of affirms that the Lord can speak through prophets, but what it is specifically talking about is he uses the voice of the prophets to fulfil his will. We can, of course, infer that refers to his using their voice in place of his voice.

      We should not easily disregard the words of the prophets, but we must confirm what they say is God’s voice.

  8. I didn’t mean to disagree so strongly with you. My post has been on my mind all day. I don’t usually like to be so sure of myself as to say your interpretation is simply false. I like to appreciate everyone’s point of view allow for multiple interpretations.

    What I was really getting at, as I think about my comments is there is not equivalent of Biblical Inerrancy or Papal Infalibility in the Mormon tradition. I agree that D&C 1:38 might be used to such ends by some but I don’t think that is the mainstream view. But I don’t live in a large Mormon center so what is mainstream in Utah does not necessarily represent the periphery and my experience. It is my experience that outside large LDS populations members may be more heterodox and less dogmatic.

    That said I think the strongest statement for the view you take is the quote by someone that the Lord will never allow the prophet to lead the church astray. But there is some distance between leading astray and infallibility.

    Your view also raises the question if prophets are not infallible who get’s to decide when? I also think we must be careful because not every word given by an apostle or prophet is fit for everyone. Individual circumstances vary and so we can be somewhat selective a prophets message. Prophets give general advice. So while generally it would be nice if mothers stayed at home to raise children our individual realities may not make that feasible for us. Divorce is generally not a good thing but there are also circumstances where it is necessary. So in such regards I think you are exactly correct that we can confirm what prophets say, and decide how their words apply in our lives.

    1. No worries. I actually didn’t think you were disagreeing with me. :)

      “I agree that D&C 1:38 might be used to such ends by some but I don’t think that is the mainstream view.”

      I think it is a mainstream view. Everywhere I have lived, I have heard people espouse the view and use D&C 1:38 to support it. Regardless, my point of the original post was not whether the prophets are infallible, but that the use of this scripture to say everything the prophets say is from God is a wrong interpretation.

      “Your view also raises the question if prophets are not infallible who get’s to decide when?”

      Presumably, God. You might be interested in this post.

  9. What makes a man a prophet? (Interesting conversation on that topic: http://www.mormoninterpreter.com/the-sod-of-yhwh-and-the-endowment/ )

    Are there callings in the Church which guarantee a man is a prophet?

    If there are callings in the Church which guarantee a man is a prophet, then how is the guarantee known – not merely believed – to be true?

    If there is no calling the Church which guarantees a man is a prophet, then how can we know – not merely believe – whether any particular man is a prophet?

    What makes a man an apostle? (Acts 1:22)

    Are there callings in the Church which guarantee a man is an apostle?

    If there are callings in the Church which guarantee a man is an apostle, then how is the guarantee known – not merely believed – to be true?

    If there is no calling in the Church which guarantees a man is an apostle, then how can we know – not merely believe – whether any particular man is an apostle?

    How can we know when a man speaks the words of the Lord?

    Is there a calling which guarantees a man always speaks the word of the Lord, and not merely the philosophies of men, mingled with scripture?

    If such a calling exists, how is the guarantee known – not merely believed – to be true?

    Is reliance on the leadership of the Church pleasing in the sight of God? (TPJS p. 237)

    Can a man receive a calling in the Church to whatever position he may be called by God and yet harbor erroneous doctrinal views?

    Is there a calling in the Church which guarantees doctrinal and / or moral purity for the office holder?

    Is there any merit to parroting a doctrinal view for the sole reason that it is widely held among the leadership?

    Why are we warned so bluntly against trusting in any man (2 Nephi 4:34, Jeremiah 17:5, JST Mark 9:44 [note the overall context])?

    What sets Joseph Smith apart from his successors?

    If Joseph was not shy about his visions and gifts, as well as his status as a prophet, why have there been none since like him who have claimed these gifts likewise?

    Why is it that, with the sole exception of Samuel, all of the prophets raised up unto the Jews came from outside their priesthood leadership? Isn’t the Lord’s house a house of order?

    If the Lord’s house is a house of order, did Lehi act wisely in NOT rejecting the prophets, none of which were from the Church leadership?

    Laman and Lemuel defended the correctness of the Church’s leadership, righteousness, and faithfulness to the commandments, so why were they wrong?

    If the Lord changes not, why have miracles, visions, and visitations ceased (Moroni 7)?

    What accounts for the striking similarities between the Deuteronomists and today’s Church culture (see this discussion: http://www.mormoninterpreter.com/prophets-and-kings-in-lehis-jerusalem-and-margaret-barkers-temple-theology/ )?

    Why will the kingdom of God be rent from the Gentiles, who will be destroyed at the coming of Christ (JST Matt 21:47-56, D&C 109:60)?

    Will the destruction come upon us, who are identified with the gentiles, because we don’t have charity (Ether 12:36-37)?

    Doesn’t lacking charity mean we lack the gift of the Holy Ghost (Moroni 8:26)?

    Didn’t Joseph teach that the one thing that sets our religion apart from all others is, or was, the gift of the Holy Ghost (History of the Church 4:42)?

    Isn’t the gift of the Holy Ghost given through the baptism by fire (Moses 6:50-68)? Isn’t that how the Melchizedek priesthood is given unto men, and we become the children of God, and partake of the atonement?

    If, as President Packer has said, we generally do not have power in the priesthood, could it be related to our lacking the gift of the Holy Ghost (The Power of the Priesthood, April 2010 Conference)?

    As the Holy Ghost dwelleth not in unholy temples, could there be a general lack of righteousness in the Church?

    Can one believe on the name of Christ if one does not repent from *all* one’s sins (Helaman 14:13)?

    Does one have a remission of one’s sins if one does not repent from *all* one’s sins?

    Can one have the gift of the Holy Ghost without repenting from *all* one’s sins?

    Does Christ advocate for them who do not repent from *all* their sins (D&C 45:1-5)?

  10. Was Joseph teaching a true principle when he said this?

    “We take the sacred writings into our hands, and admit that they were given by direct inspiration for the good of man. We believe that God condescended to speak from the heavens and declare His will concerning the human family, to give them just and holy laws, to regulate their conduct, and guide them in a direct way, that in due time He might take them to Himself, and make them joint heirs with His Son. But when this fact is admitted, that the immediate will of heaven is contained in the Scriptures, are we not bound as rational creatures to live in accordance to all its precepts? Will the mere admission, that this is the will of heaven ever benefit us if we do not comply with all its teachings? Do we not offer violence to the Supreme Intelligence of heaven, when we admit the truth of its teachings, and do not obey them? Do we not descend below our own knowledge, … by such a course of conduct? (Documentary History of the Church, vol. 2, p. 11.)”

    Was Elder Paul H. Dunn teaching a correct principle when he said “I don’t care what the scriptures say, I care what the current prophet says they say”?

    Was President Joseph Fielding Smith teaching a correct principle when he said “If I say anything that is contrary to the scriptures, the scriptures prevail”?

    Is there a calling in the Church which renders a man immune to correction by reference to the scriptures, which have been upheld as binding upon all the Saints, by common consent?

  11. Consider again the similarity of outlook and teachings of the Deuteronomists to those of the modern Church. Is it possible that the similarities are not coincidental, but products of the same historical process? Given that following Josiah’s “reformation” of the faith, that prophets were raised up from outside of the Church leadership to prophesy evil concerning the people, is it possible that Josiah’s reformation was unauthorized, and that things were excised from the faith which were central to it? Is it possible that the Church itself has had an unauthorized reformation which has excised the heart of the faith restored through Joseph Smith?

    Again, we look in vain for “the Spirit of God like a fire burning” and “the latter day glories coming forth,” with “vision and blessings of old returning” and “angels visiting the earth.”

    Why are we by that metric of necessary spiritual power which inevitably attends true faith (Moroni 7) demonstrably inferior to the generation which Joseph Smith taught?

    Are we truly closer to Zion than our forefathers? Given that possession of the Holy Ghost is the sole qualification for Zion (Moses 7:27), why do we not live in Zion, the pure in heart, without rich or poor? Could it be that our covenants are feigned (D&C 104:4), and that we have not taken upon us the name of Christ (Alma 34:38)? Are we ashamed to do that (Mormon 8:38 [33-41])?

    Why do we mock at the models in the Book of Mormon concerning missionary teaching and conversion (Alma 22:12-18)?

    Why do we not teach the same things, but rather deny them? Specifically, why is the scriptural doctrine of the Fall (Moses 6:48-49) denied universally, but the *fact* of the Fall treated as either a creed or flatly denied?

    Is it possible that because we mock at these things we have no power (D&C 84:54-59, Ether 12:22-28)?

  12. Why is it that they who “follow the Brethren” go to hell (D&C 76:98-112)?

    How is it that “following the Brethren” or “following the prophet” is not the same as “receiving the prophets”, and Church membership is not the same as “receiving the Gospel” (D&C 76:101)?

    What is “the testimony of Jesus” which these, who “follow the Brethren”, lack (D&C 76:101)?

    Is it only those who have the spirit of prophecy (Revelation 19:10) which are exalted (D&C 76:51)?

    Does that not imply that only they who have stood in the divine council are exalted?

    Is sitting through a dramatic reenactment of the divine council the same as standing in the real divine council?

  13. In sum: is there a calling in the Church which guarantees a man *is* the Lord’s servant?

    Was Judas, who was called to the Holy Apostleship, a servant of the Lord?

    Is John the Baptist an example of a servant of the Lord having no calling in the Church?

    Why do we trust in men, and make flesh our arm, rather than purifying our lives and crying mightily unto the Lord to be redeemed from the Fall, and being made his servants, that we may speak forth and fulfill his words?

    Can it be that for the most part, our religion is vain?

  14. And, finally, suppose that the Lord hasn’t changed. Suppose that once again, as has happened throughout scripture, he begins raising up prophets from among the lay members and not the leadership.

    How would these prophets be known?

    From whence would their authority come?

    How would they obtain authority?

    How would they be received?

    Would they say “All is well in Zion, yea, Zion prospereth, all is well!”, or, perhaps, “The Church is moving forward and continually improving!”?

    Would they say “God has created all men, and God has redeemed all men, and in the end, all men (except, possibly, the sons of perdition whose numbers may be counted on the thumbs of one hand) shall be saved in a kingdom of God.”?

    Would they say “Nobody’s perfect, so eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die; and if it so be that we are not perfectly clean when we die, God will beat us with few stripes and in the end we shall be exalted in the Celestial Kingdom!”?

    Would they say “trust in the Brethren, for they cannot lead you astray!”?

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