Thursday, September 29, 2016

Can the Prophet Lead You Astray?

by Kimber Albrechtsen

The Disobedient Prophet by Benjamin West, 1793

There is a pervasive belief in the LDS church that "the prophet can never lead us astray." I believe that this teaching is false and harmful. There are many counter-arguments to my position, and I have used every single one of them myself in the past, wrestling with their ramifications in my search for truth. My conclusions aren’t popular, but they are founded in scripture and compatible with the nature of the God I believe in: a God whose mission is prove us and see if we will choose good over evil, God over man.

You don’t have to agree with me, but it’s in your best interest to agree with God. I’d encourage you to ask the Lord if I’m presenting any truth here (really, go ask Him). If the Spirit doesn’t confirm any of this as truth (sometimes truth hurts and makes you feel uncomfortable…that doesn’t mean it’s not the Spirit), feel free to dismiss it all and think I’m a heretic, but let’s still be friends. Believe it or not, these conclusions have brought me immense spiritual peace, an increased desire to connect with my Savior, and a renewed commitment to learning the truths of the gospel. That’s why I share them; not to start a fight, but to offer a perspective that has brought nothing but light into my life.

My position: The idea that “the prophet will never lead us astray” is false, spiritually infantilizing, and a hallmark of pride and idolatry.

The counter-arguments:

But our doctrine is that he will never lead us astray!

The simplest way to prove a “never x” statement wrong is to show even a single incidence of “x.” Here are three:

·      Brigham Young taught the Adam-God doctrine (that Adam is actually God)[1]. But many leaders since have denounced this teaching as false doctrine. Spencer W. Kimball said, “We warn you against the dissemination of doctrines which are not according to the Scriptures and which are alleged to have been taught by some of the General Authorities of past generations. Such, for instance, is the Adam-God theory. We denounce that theory and hope that everyone will be cautioned against this and other kinds of false doctrine” (Ensign Nov. 1976, p.77). Was Brigham Young wrong to teach Adam-God, or was Spencer W. Kimball wrong to denounce the teaching? It’s not the purpose of this post to examine who is wrong here, but to establish that one of them was in error.

·      Brigham Young taught the necessity for blood atonement (the idea that certain sins could not be remitted by Christ’s atonement, but rather required the spilling of the sinner’s blood to atone for their sins).[2] But a church statement in 2010 said, “In the mid-19th century, when rhetorical, emotional oratory was common, some church members and leaders used strong language that included notions of people making restitution for their sins by giving up their own lives. However, so-called "blood atonement," by which individuals would be required to shed their own blood to pay for their sins, is not a doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We believe in and teach the infinite and all-encompassing atonement of Jesus Christ, which makes forgiveness of sin and salvation possible for all people” (Deseret News, June 17, 2010). Was Brigham Young teaching false doctrine? Or is current church leadership denying an unsavory-yet-true part of our faith? It is one or the other.

·      Joseph Fielding Smith and Harold B. Lee (along with numerous apostles) taught that individuals were born with black skin (and subsequently denied the priesthood and temple ordinances) because they had been less valiant in the premortal existence.[3] Today, the church has published in its “Race and the Priesthood” gospel topics essay, Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects unrighteous actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.” Were Joseph Fielding Smith and Harold B. Lee racists teaching false doctrine? Or is current church leadership appealing to a politically-correct-minded membership (and potentially their tax-exempt status) by denying uncomfortable doctrines?

Again, I am not making any statement on the specific doctrines presented, but merely pointing out that church presidents have rejected the teachings of other church presidents on numerous occasions, clearly establishing that at least one of the parties was teaching false doctrine.

But those are just false doctrines some leaders taught a long time ago. How does that qualify as leading church members astray?

D&C 84: 45 “For the word of the Lord is truth, and whatsoever is truth is light, and whatsoever is light is Spirit, even the Spirit of Jesus Christ.”

If someone teaches you something that is false, they are preventing you from acquiring something true (especially if you feel completely confident that the “someone” in question is incapable of teaching you anything false so you stop looking for truth, believing you have it). Preventing the acquisition of truth is preventing the reception of the glory of God (“The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth[4]” D&C 93:36). The consequences for the deceived can be eternal.

Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection. And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come” (D&C 130:18-19).

“… A man is saved no faster than he gets knowledge, for if he does not get knowledge, he will be brought into captivity by some evil power in the other world, as evil spirits will have more knowledge, and consequently more power than many men who are on the earth. Hence it needs revelation to assist us, and give us knowledge of the things of God” (Joseph Smith, DHC 4:588).

If someone prevents us from attaining intelligence in this life, we will be disadvantaged in “the world to come.” How disadvantaged? Can’t the Lord or an angel just teach me what I got wrong, because I was following “the prophet,” and I should at least get credit for that, even if he was wrong…right? No, sorry. It is one thing to be kept in ignorance because of a lack of opportunity to learn of Christ; we know these people will have a chance to learn the gospel after this life. However, those blessed with a wealth of scripture, revelation, and teachings of the restoration will be held to a higher standard. We know we are supposed to be praying for knowledge and searching the scriptures for light. It is on our heads if we substitute the teachings of men for truth.

D&C 76:75, describing those in the Terrestrial Kingdom: “These are they who are honorable men of the earth, who were blinded by the craftiness of men.”

D&C 131:6, “It is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance.”

False doctrine will not only leave you blind and ignorant, it will also prevent you from receiving the blessings of abiding by true principles.

Here’s an example of the effect of teaching false doctrine: Brigham Young, John Taylor, and Wilford Woodruff taught that polygamy was essential for exaltation. This teaching was so emphasized that when Wilford Woodruff ended the practice, saints still loyal to polygamy broke away from the main body of the church, unable to believe that a doctrine presented as unchangeable could be changed. Apostles John W. Taylor and Matthias Cowley resigned from the Quorum of the Twelve, and the former was excommunicated for continuing to perform plural marriages. This fracture in the church eventually led to the formation of many Mormon fundamentalist groups. Some of those groups promote child marriage, sexual abuse, estrangement of family members, fraud, and other sins. In 1943, 39 years after the second manifesto was issued, apostle Richard R. Lyman was excommunicated when his nearly-two-decades-long affair was discovered. Elder Lyman justified the relationship as “plural marriage.”

Denying truth (intelligence) to others by teaching false doctrine is a very grave sin.

 Yea, and there shall be many which shall teach after this manner, false and vain and foolish doctrines, and shall be puffed up in their hearts, and shall seek deep to hide their counsels from the Lord; and their works shall be in the dark….O the wise, and the learned, and the rich, that are puffed up in the pride of their hearts, and all those who preach false doctrines, and all those who commit whoredoms, and pervert the right way of the Lord, wo, wo, wo be unto them, saith the Lord God Almighty, for they shall be thrust down to hell!" (2 Nephi 28:12,15).

Nephi teaches us about the dangers of accepting false doctrine, “Because of pride, and because of false teachers, and false doctrine, their churches have become corrupted, and their churches are lifted up; because of pride they are puffed up” (2 Nephi 28:9,12).

False doctrines lead to blindness, ignorance, corruption, and pride. Truth comes from God. Lies come from Satan. When someone preaches false doctrine, they are leading you astray.

It is illogical and hypocritical to acknowledge that past church presidents have erred in their teaching while maintaining that current church presidents are unable to do the same. Yesterday it was Adam-God, polygamy, blood atonement, and racism … what is being taught today that will be rejected as false by future leaders?

What about D&C 1:38?

 “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 ).

Context is very important when reading this verse. You have to read the first 37 verses of the section to understand the 38th. The Lord gave D&C 1 specifically as a preface to the Doctrine and Covenants (v.6). In several places in the section, the Lord references “these commandments” (v. 30,37), as in “these commandments in this book that I am specifically vouching for as “my word” written by the servants who specifically put the book together.” So here’s one way to read this scripture: “I said what I said, I meant what I meant, my words shall be fulfilled, 100%...even though (most of) you are receiving this book as revelations through my servant and not directly from me.”

Even if you want to generalize this scripture to other prophetic statements (and there’s certainly a case for that), this is not a blanket assurance that anything that comes out of a general authority’s mouth is “the same” as if God had said it. It’s only “the same” if it’s “[the Lord’s] word”—meaning a completely authorized message from Him. How do you know if it is? Here’s some ideas: check it against scripture, ask the Lord, and test out “the word” and see if it leads you to repent and draw near to Christ.

Here’s another thing to pay attention to in this verse: the difference between someone’s word, and someone’s voice. If I am reading a book aloud to my kids, is the story my word? No! The story is the author’s words, presented in my voice. When a prophet is speaking from the Lord’s “story” (His word, truth, gospel), in a mortal voice, it’s still vouched for by God as being God’s. The problem comes when a prophet starts adding to or changing God’s story (or doesn’t even receive God’s story in the first place). Then his words carry no authority and will not be vouched for by God, because they were never His.

General authorities contradict each other and scripture (and even themselves) frequently, but God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. His word shall not pass away—it is more enduring than even this earth.

Need more to convince you that not everything that comes from the voice of a church president is “the same” as God’s word? Here’s this gem from Brigham Young:

“Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African race? If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so. The nations of the earth have transgressed every law that God has given, they have changed the ordinances and broken every covenant made with the fathers, and they are like a hungry man that dreameth that he eateth, and he awaketh and behold he is empty”(JD 10:110).

Brigham Young was a great storyteller.

What about D&C 21:4-5?

Again, context is key. This scripture is about Joseph Smith, not every person who would inherit his office as president of the church afterwards. It’s also specifically talking about the “commandments which he shall give unto you as he receiveth them,” meaning specifically the revelations he was receiving for the church. Joseph Smith wasn’t given a free pass to give whatever commandments he wanted, he was only authorized to give the Lord’s commandments as he received them—not as he made them up or altered them.

Also, I would be more willing to consider applying this “stamp of approval from God” scripture to others if they displayed the same spiritual gifts and fruit as Joseph (angelic ministrations, visions, revelations, miracles, translation of scripture, etc).

What about D&C 20:26?

This verse talks about how prophets speak as they are inspired by the Holy Ghost. I’m cool with that. That doesn’t mean that everything they say was provided by the Holy Ghost and is therefore from God.

Elder Harold B. Lee said, "It is not to be thought that every word spoken by the General Authorities is inspired, or that they are moved upon by the Holy Ghost in everything they read & write" (To Seminary & Institute of Religion Faculty, July 1964. DCSM :144).

But D&C 13:1 says that the church will never be taken from the earth!

Actually, it says the Aaronic priesthood would never again be taken from the earth. The Aaronic priesthood was restored before the church was organized; therefore the priesthood can exist without the church. Also, if you want to get into the issue of “keys,” know that the Lord can take keys away whenever He wants and give them to whomever He wants.[5] No one has a “right” to keys that supercedes the Lord’s purposes. There is no guarantee that the LDS church won’t screw up in a big enough way that the Lord would take the priesthood torch and give it to someone else to finish His work. In fact, the Lord actually prophesied this about the Gentile church (us):

“And thus commandeth the Father that I should say unto you: At that day when the Gentiles shall sin against my gospel, and shall reject the fulness of my gospel, and shall be lifted up in the pride of their hearts above all nations, and above all the people of the whole earth, and shall be filled with all manner of lyings, and of deceits, and of mischiefs, and all manner of hypocrisy, and murders, and priestcrafts, and whoredoms, and of secret abominations; and if they shall do all those things, and shall reject the fulness of my gospel, behold, saith the Father, I will bring the fulness of my gospel from among them.” (3 Nephi 16:10).

There are two other groups of people in scripture who thought themselves too important, chosen, and righteous to be led astray: the Zoramites[6] and the Pharisees.[7]

What about Daniel 2:44/D&C 65:2?

These scriptures are about the “kingdom which shall never be destroyed” and how the gospel will “roll forth unto the ends of the earth.” Exciting prophecies! But “the kingdom” is not synonymous with “the LDS church,” just like “the gospel” is not “the LDS church.” The church has been tasked with teaching the gospel and has been given “the keys of the kingdom,” but possessing “the keys” doesn’t mean the church is the kingdom. “The keys” are simply the tools and authority to build the kingdom, and as I just covered, the keys can be taken away if we don’t use them properly.

Defining “the kingdom” is not as simple as it seems. A study of the phrase “the kingdom of God/heaven” in scriptures yields references to all of the following: the celestial kingdom, Zion (as in the city where the righteous will be saved during the calamities of the last days), the LDS church, the primitive Christian church, the internal state of one’s heart, Christ’s millennial kingdom, the gospel, a kingdom “not of this world,” “righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost,” etc.

Here are a few scriptures which shed some light on whether “the kingdom” of the LDS church is capable of failing:

“That inasmuch as ye do this, glory shall be added to the kingdom which ye have received. Inasmuch as ye do it not, it shall be taken, even that which ye have received” (D&C 43:10).

Here the Lord says the early saints have received some form of kingdom. But the very next sentence specifies that the kingdom will be taken away if the church fails to keep the Lord’s commandments. There is no assurance that success is the only possible outcome.

“But behold, at the end of this appointment your baptisms for your dead shall not be acceptable unto me; and if you do not these things at the end of the appointment ye shall be rejected as a church, with your dead, saith the Lord your God” (D&C 124:32).

Here the Lord is going so far as to threaten to reject the church if they are slothful in obeying His command to complete the Nauvoo temple in the allotted time. Why would the Lord threaten to reject a church that is supposedly immune to failure? The Lord does not make empty threats because the Lord cannot lie.

But this church manual says the Church is the kingdom of God/the prophet can't lead us astray.

I'm hesitant to ascribe any authority to the words of anonymous authors whose livelihoods depend on the reputation of the church and its leaders. 

What about President Benson’s 14 Fundamentals for Following the Prophet talk?

I think it’s crucial to understand what happened after the talk was given. Ezra Taft Benson was not the president of the church when he gave this talk, if that matters to you. President Kimball was president at the time, and when he found out about the talk given by Elder Benson, he was concerned about the unthinking “follow the leader” mentality it promoted. He was so concerned by the talk that he told Elder Benson to apologize to the Quorum of the Twelve, and later had him explain himself to a larger group of General Authorities.[8][9] I think it’s interesting that today the talk is extensively quoted without the same alarm from our leaders.

Even if current leaders disagree with past leaders, that’s okay because it’s just policies, programs, and procedures that they’re changing.

That would be okay, if it were true. The fact is that church leaders have changed a lot more than the color of the Personal Progress notebooks.

Here’s one example:

“The only men who become Gods, even the Sons of God, are those who enter into polygamy” (Brigham Young, JD, 11:269).


“Plural marriage is not essential to salvation or exaltation” (Elder Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p. 523).

These men aren’t talking about policies, they are talking about doctrine. One of them is right; one of them is wrong. What once was “true,” now is “false,” even worthy of excommunication. Doctrines don’t change. God doesn’t change.

Modern revelation says prophets can’t lead us astray. We have God’s personal promise that they can’t.

There is no canonized revelation from God stating anything to this effect.

What about all these quotes we have from church presidents who say they can never lead us astray? They are as good as God’s word!

What if you went to buy a used car, and you wanted to be sure you could trust the salesman. How would you determine his trustworthiness? If he told you “It is impossible for me to lie!” would you accept that as fact? I hope you wouldn’t do that with a price of a car on the line, and I really hope you wouldn’t do that with your soul on the line. “The prophets will never lead us astray because the prophets say they can never lead us astray” is circular reasoning and should be rejected.

Has the Lord ever promised us leaders who won’t lead us astray? No. But He did say this: “Cursed is he that putteth his trust in man, or maketh flesh his arm, or shall hearken unto the precepts of men, save their precepts shall be given by the power of the Holy Ghost” (2 Nephi 28:31).

You are cursed if you trust men, no matter the title or office they hold. You are cursed if you listen to any precept that isn’t given by the Holy Ghost. The way to know if something is given by the Holy Ghost is by having the Holy Ghost yourself. Not by checking a man’s rank on the centerfold of the conference edition of the Ensign.

From Joseph Smith’s teaching to the Relief Society:

“President Joseph Smith read the 14th chapter of Ezekiel–said the Lord had declared by the Prophet, that the people should each one stand for himself, and depend on no man or men in that state of corruption of the Jewish church–that righteous persons could only deliver their own souls–applied it to the present state of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints–said if the people departed from the Lord, they must fall–that they were depending on the Prophet, hence were darkened in their minds…” (TPJS p.237).

I don’t want a “darkened mind” and I don’t want to be cursed, so I don’t trust prophets, true or false, because they are mortal men.

Please revisit my section on D&C 1:38. Also see below for an illustration on how this teaching is based on faulty logic:

Heavenly Father wouldn’t let a prophet lead us astray.

This idea is contrary to the very nature of God, who was willing to lose a third of His children rather than deny their agency.

God said, “Wherefore, because that Satan rebelled against me, and sought to destroy the agency of man, which I, the Lord God, had given him, and also, that I should give unto him mine own power; by the power of mine Only Begotten, I caused that he should be cast down;” (Moses 4:3).

To deny a man his right to choose between good and evil is Satanic.

But the Lord wouldn’t call a man to be an apostle or prophet unless He knew the man would be righteous.

Then why did the Lord reveal the proper procedure to discipline a church president in D&C 107?

“There is not any person belonging to the church who is exempt from this council of the church. And inasmuch as a President of the High Priesthood shall transgress, he shall be had in remembrance before the common council of the church, who shall be assisted by twelve counselors of the High Priesthood; And their decision upon his head shall be an end of controversy concerning him. Thus, none shall be exempted from the justice and the laws of God, that all things may be done in order and in solemnity before him, according to truth and righteousness” (D&C 107:81-84).

The existence of such procedures is evidence that the Lord knew a church president could err in serious enough ways to warrant a church disciplinary council.

Ezra Taft Benson said, "Six of the original apostles selected by Joseph Smith were excommunicated. The three witnesses to the Book of Mormon left the Church. Three of Joseph Smith's counselors fell - one even helped plot his death. A natural question that might arise would be that if the Lord knew in advance that these men would fall, as he undoubtedly did, why did he have his prophet call them to such high office? The answer is, to fill the Lord's purposes. For even the Master followed the will of the Father by selecting Judas. Pres. George Q. Cannon suggested as explanation, too, when he stated, "Perhaps it is how own design that faults & weaknesses should appear in high places in order that his saints may learn to trust in him & not in any man or men” (Conference Report, October 1963, p. 15-19).

But Wilford Woodruff said….

Wilford Woodruff presented his infamous statement as part of a manifesto meant to appease the federal government and halt the seizure of church property. The manifesto amounted to a complete contradiction of his previous teachings that polygamy was necessary for exaltation, and that the Lord would never allow the practice to be done away with.[10] To assuage the alarm of the saints at this massive about-face, Woodruff propped up the change with an assurance that “The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray” (Official Declaration 1). He made up a new “doctrine” to justify his abandonment of another.

But the office of the living prophet is too important to be corrupted.

Actually, there is no “office of the living prophet.” The office President Monson holds is called “President of the High Priesthood of the Church,” or “Presiding High Priest of the High Priesthood” (D&C 107:65-66). Here are some other High Priests: Alma, Melchizedek, Caiaphas, Annas/Ananias, Eli (quite a mix of characters!).

But we sustain our leaders as prophets, seers, and revelators! And D&C 107:91-92 says that’s what the president is!

The sustaining vote of a congregation does not dictate whom God will choose as His servants, nor whom he will allow to remain His servants.

D&C 107:91-92 says, “And again, the duty of the President of the office of the High Priesthood is to preside over the whole church, and to be like unto Moses—Behold, here is wisdom; yea, 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.”

This scripture says that it is the president’s duty to be a prophet, seer, revelator (and translator!), not that it is his default gift. The president is to seek after “all the gift of God which he bestows.” The office of president/high priest comes with a duty, not a guarantee.

Another interesting way to read this scripture is to see it as a list of attributes we should seek for in the leaders we sustain. The gifts of prophecy, seership, translation, etc. are available to any with sufficient faith, regardless of their position in church hierarchy. It would be “wise” to choose those who exhibit these gifts as our leaders, not just to cross our fingers and hope they eventually qualify for them. Did you know you are supposed to have a say in who leads this church? “No person is to be ordained to any office in this church, where there is a regularly organized branch of the same, without the vote of that church” (D&C 20:65).

You’re citing a lot of scriptures. Weren’t the scriptures written by prophets in the first place?

Yes, they were. And a lot of those prophets wrote the actual words of God down. Here are some of those words: “Cursed is he that putteth his trust in man, or maketh flesh his arm, or shall hearken unto the precepts of men, save their precepts shall be given by the power of the Holy Ghost” (2 Nephi 28:31). So how can I “trust” this scripture, which came through a prophet, if I’m not supposed to trust prophets?

Easy: I don’t trust this scripture, or Nephi. I trust God when he confirms to me that it is true. When God tells me that Nephi, in this verse, accurately recorded His words, then I believe that the words are truth.

I don’t need to receive a witness about everything the prophet says if I’ve already received a witness that he’s a prophet.

This attitude assumes that a prophet cannot change, is devoid of agency, and is acting as a prophet at all times. Joseph Smith said, “A prophet is only a prophet when he is acting as such” (DHC 5:265). How do you know when he’s “acting as such”? You ask for and receive a witness. If you aren’t willing to ask, you won’t receive, and you’ll be in danger of accepting false doctrine and the precepts and commandments of men. 1 Thessalonians 5: 21 “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.”

“What a pity it would be if we were led by one man to utter destruction! Are you afraid of this? 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 that 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 whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not. This has been my exhortation continually” (Brigham Young, JD 9:150).

But I feel happy/peaceful/the spirit when I hear my leaders speak. That means they’re speaking truth.

That’s great, as long as you know the difference between the voice of the spirit and the emotional reactions nurtured by decades of social conditioning accompanying the cult of personality surrounding our religious leaders.

"The opportunity to be up-close and personal with Pope Francis was beyond my imagination that such a blessing would happen...I could not stop sobbing the moment I saw Pope Francis coming towards where we were. The feeling of seeing, talking, touching a holy man, and a direct descendant of St. Peter, I thought I died and went to heaven! His compassionate eyes and tender touch will always be in my heart." -Debbie Tan

Modern prophets have the right to modern revelation tailored to our day. That’s why they say things that contradict scripture or previous prophets.

"If any man preaches to you, doctrines contrary to the Bible, the Book of Mormon, or the Book of Doctrine & Covenants, set him down as an imposter... Try them by the principles contained in the acknowledged word of God; if they preach, or teach, or practice contrary to that, disfellowship them; cut them off from among you as useless and dangerous branches” (Joseph Smith, Times & Seasons, 5:490-491, April, 1, 1844).

Read this!!

There is a difference between a modern prophet giving a modern-day application of established truth (such as warning us of the dangers of pornography) and contradicting and changing truth as established in scripture and canonized revelation.

Even if the prophet says to do something wrong, if we obey, we’ll be blessed.

The Lord said of the Pharisees and their followers, “Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch” (Matthew 15:14).

We are accountable for who we choose to follow. If a prophet tells you to do something wrong, that doesn’t make it less wrong. If you put a prophet’s words above God’s words, you are being idolatrous. Your obedience to a man will not negate your disobedience to God.

Sometimes God does require things of us that we don’t understand, but we’d better know for sure that God is the source of the instruction before we do anything contrary to God’s laws. God gave this assurance to Abraham, Nephi, and Mary. He will give the same to you if necessary. In the absence of such assurance, you act at your peril.

In 1 Kings 13 there is a little-known story about two prophets with major implications for our day. It’s not a short story, but it’s amazing and you should keep reading (good job for even making it this far!). My comments are inline in blue.

 1 And, behold, there came a man of God out of Judah by the word of the Lord unto Beth-el: and Jeroboam stood by the altar to burn incense.
 2 And he cried against the altar in the word of the Lord, and said, O altar, altar, thus saith the Lord; Behold, a child shall be born unto the house of David, Josiah by name; and upon thee shall he offer the priests of the high places that burn incense upon thee, and men’s bones shall be burnt upon thee.
 3 And he gave a sign the same day, saying, This is the sign which the Lord hath spoken; Behold, the altar shall be rent, and the ashes that are upon it shall be poured out.
 4 And it came to pass, when king Jeroboam heard the saying of the man of God, which had cried against the altar in Beth-el, that he put forth his hand from the altar, saying, Lay hold on him. And his hand, which he put forth against him, dried up, so that he could not pull it in again to him.
 5 The altar also was rent, and the ashes poured out from the altar, according to the sign which the man of God had given by the word of the Lord.
 6 And the king answered and said unto the man of God, Entreat now the face of the Lord thy God, and pray for me, that my hand may be restored me again. And the man of God besought the Lord, and the king’s hand was restored him again, and became as it was before. (So this prophet prophesies, proclaims signs, and performs miracle—clearly a “man of God.”)
 7 And the king said unto the man of God, Come home with me, and refresh thyself, and I will give thee a reward.
 8 And the man of God said unto the king, If thou wilt give me half thine house, I will not go in with thee, neither will I eat bread nor drink water in this place:
 9 For so was it charged me by the word of the Lord, saying, Eat no bread, nor drink water, nor turn again by the same way that thou camest. (Not even half a kingdom could tempt this prophet to disobey God’s word.)
 10 So he went another way, and returned not by the way that he came to Beth-el.
 11 Now there dwelt an old prophet in Beth-el; and his sons came and told him all the works that the man of God had done that day in Beth-el: the words which he had spoken unto the king, them they told also to their father.
 12 And their father said unto them, What way went he? For his sons had seen what way the man of God went, which came from Judah.
 13 And he said unto his sons, Saddle me the ass. So they saddled him the ass: and he rode thereon,
 14 And went after the man of God, and found him sitting under an oak: and he said unto him, Art thou the man of God that camest from Judah? And he said, I am.
 15 Then he said unto him, Come home with me, and eat bread.
 16 And he said, I may not return with thee, nor go in with thee: neither will I eat bread nor drink water with thee in this place:
 17 For it was said to me by the word of the Lord, Thou shalt eat no bread nor drink water there, nor turn again to go by the way that thou camest.
 18 He said unto him, I am a prophet also as thou art; and an angel spake unto me by the word of the Lord, saying, Bring him back with thee into thine house, that he may eat bread and drink water, that I may prove him; and he lied not unto him. (The original text said “…drink water. But he lied to him,” leading the reader to believe the second prophet was a false prophet. But the Lord saw fit to have Joseph Smith correct the verse for the JST so it would be clear that he was using a true prophet to test another prophet’s ability to put the word of God first.)
 19 So he went back with him, and did eat bread in his house, and drank water. (The first prophet was willing to let the words of the second prophet override the words of God.)
 20 And it came to pass, as they sat at the table, that the word of the Lord came unto the prophet that brought him back:
 21 And he cried unto the man of God that came from Judah, saying, Thus saith the Lord, Forasmuch as thou hast disobeyed the mouth of the Lord, and hast not kept the commandment which the Lord thy God commanded thee,
 22 But camest back, and hast eaten bread and drunk water in the place, of the which the Lord did say to thee, Eat no bread, and drink no water; thy carcase shall not come unto the sepulchre of thy fathers. (Read: You will be punished for your disobedience to God. You failed the test.)
 23 And it came to pass, after he had eaten bread, and after he had drunk, that he saddled for him the ass, to wit, for the prophet whom he had brought back.
 24 And when he was gone, a lion met him by the way, and slew him: and his carcase was cast in the way, and the ass stood by it, the lion also stood by the carcase. (That the lion stands idly by the ass and carcass is poignant. A lion acting on its own instincts would eat the carcass, attack the ass as well, or run away. This odd behavior from the lion makes it clear this was an act of God.)
 25 And, behold, men passed by, and saw the carcase cast in the way, and the lion standing by the carcase: and they came and told it in the city where the old prophet dwelt.
 26 And when the prophet that brought him back from the way heard thereof, he said, It is the man of God, who was disobedient unto the word of the Lord: therefore the Lord hath delivered him unto the lion, which hath torn him, and slain him, according to the word of the Lord, which he spake unto him.
 27 And he spake to his sons, saying, Saddle me the ass. And they saddled him.
 28 And he went and found his carcase cast in the way, and the ass and the lion standing by the carcase: the lion had not eaten the carcase, nor torn the ass.
 29 And the prophet took up the carcase of the man of God, and laid it upon the ass, and brought it back: and the old prophet came to the city, to mourn and to bury him.
 30 And he laid his carcase in his own grave; and they mourned over him, saying, Alas, my brother! (The second prophet’s prophecy is fulfilled and the first prophet is buried apart from his family.)

This story illustrates several principles: that prophets can be led astray, that prophets can lead others astray, that God can use prophets to test whether we will listen to them or Him, and that the fate of those who put their trust in man will be terrible.

Subscribing to the false teaching that “the prophet will never lead us astray” leads to complacency, pride, ignorance, and idolatry. Protect yourself by being humble, studying the scriptures, turning to the Lord for answers, and praying for the gift of discernment. I’ll close with the words of the only prophet I can trust, Jesus Christ:

“Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16).

[1] "Now hear it, O inhabitants of the earth, Jew and Gentile, Saint and sinner! When our father Adam came into the garden of Eden, he came into it with a celestial body, and brought Eve, one of his wives, with him. He helped to make and organize this world. He is MICHAEL, the Archangel, the ANCIENT OF DAYS! about whom holy men have written and spoken – He is our FATHER and our GOD, and the only God with whom WE have to do. Every man upon the earth, professing Christians or non-professing, must hear it, and will know it sooner or later!"
- Prophet Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, v. 1, p. 51
[2] “Suppose you found your brother in bed with your wife, and put a javelin through both of them. You would be justified, and they would atone for their sins, and be received into the Kingdom of God. I would at once do so, in such a case; and under the circumstances, I have no wife whom I love so well that I would not put a javelin through her heart, and I would do it with clean hands.... There is not a man or woman, who violates the covenants made with their God, that will not be required to pay the debt. The blood of Christ will never wipe that out, your own blood must atone for it” (Brigham Young, JD 3:245-47).
[3] “There is no truth more plainly taught in the Gospel than that our condition in the next world will depend upon the kind of lives we live here. ‘All that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.’ (John 5:28-29.) Is it not just as reasonable to suppose that the conditions in which we now live have been determined by the kind of lives we lived in the pre-existent world of spirits? That the apostles understood this principle is indicated by their question to the Master when the man who was blind from his birth was healed of his blindness, ‘Master, who did sin, this man or his parents that he was born blind?’ (John 9:2.) Now perhaps you will have a partial answer to some of your questions as to why, if God is a just Father, that some of his children are born of an enlightened race and in a time when the Gospel is upon the earth, while others are born of a heathen parentage in a benighted, backward country; and still others are born to parents who have the mark of a black skin with which the seed of Cain were cursed and whose descendants were to be denied the rights of the priesthood of God” (Harold B. Lee, Decisions for Successful Living, pp. 164-165).
[4] Note: All bold or emphasis formatting was added by me.
[5] Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, (2011), 78–87.
[6] “Holy God, we believe that thou hast separated us from our brethren; and we do not believe in the tradition of our brethren, which was handed down to them by the childishness of their fathers; but we believe that thou hast elected us to be thy holy children; and also thou hast made it known unto us that there shall be no Christ. But thou art the same yesterday, today, and forever; and thou hast elected us that we shall be saved, whilst all around us are elected to be cast by thy wrath down to hell; for the which holiness, O God, we thank thee; and we also thank thee that thou hast elected us, that we may not be led away after the foolish traditions of our brethren, which doth bind them down to a belief of Christ, which doth lead their hearts to wander far from thee, our God” (Alma 31:16-17).
[7] “And think not to say within yourselves, We are the children of Abraham, and we only have power to bring seed unto our father Abraham; for I say unto you that God is able of these stones to raise up children into Abraham” (JST Matthew 3:36).
[8] Sheri L. Dew, “”Ezra Taft Benson: A Biography," Chapter 22, "The Expanding Church" [Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1987], p. 469
[9] (D. Michael Quinn, “The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power,” in Chapter 3, “Ezra Taft Benson: A Study in Inter-Quorum Conflict” [Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, in association with Smith Research Associates, 1997], pp. 110-11; and p. 469, fn 349-355)
[10] President Woodruff prophesied, “The Lord will never give a revelation to abandon plural marriage” (Diaries of Heber J. Grant, p. 89).


  1. What a powerful message! I had an experience with my bishop that quoted Woodruff's passage which stated that the Lord would not allow his prophets to ever lead us astray. I didn't know how to explain it to him then, not that he would have listened, but this states my thoughts and feelings exactly and so much more. Thank you.

  2. This is very good. When quoting Woodruff's statement about the Lord would not allow the prophets to ever lead us astray, the first 4 words of that statement are always deleted. Those 4 words are: "I say to Israel,". Those 4 words gives validity that he was speaking as a man and not as a prophet which would eliminate it as scripture. To show that is correct, I have included the link to a copy of the original Deseret Evening News article that includes the entire speech given by Wilford Woodruff: The statement is at the end of his speech, just before the "Markets and Stocks" article. Also read George Q. Cannon's speech just before Woodruff's to gain further insight into the Manifesto.

  3. and Gordon B. Hinckley taught that men commit most domestic violence and cause most divorce, even though hundreds of studies show women and men both admitting the sad opposite in both cases. Yep honest women have told me this over and over too. But, a prophet said it, so night is day and day is night: Isaiah 5:20 2 Nephi 28:14-21 Mormon 8:38-39.

  4. Good article! The most intense spiritual experience I ever have had (two years after my LDS mission) after a week of fasting brought me to understand the scriptures that contradict the "Prophet will never lead us astray" mantra. I was not expecting that response, but now see it really is a critical gospel truth. Here I explain what the Spirit showed me:

    1. Trying to read your response to Heavenly Daughters, but 3.pdf no longer available. Can you help?

  5. See also Isaiah in 2Nephi 18:20 regarding modern prophets contradicting dead prophets.

  6. good. My mind is kind of blown right now, but in a really good way. I am having so many thoughts as a result of your thoughtful and well-sourced post, but the most prevalent at this moment is the increase in personal accountability that I feel when it comes to my own spiritual progress and eternal salvation. And I feel like that is how it should be.

    1. I'm so glad that's what you got from my post, Chelsea. Thank you for reading. Also, do you mind shooting me a quick email? The one I have for you doesn't seem to be working.

  7. I would like to see footnotes 8 and 9, but it goes to a blog account that I don't have access and I don't even know how to get access.

    1. Those footnotes are for books, not blogs. Not sure why they are linking to nowhere.

    2. I’d like to know which books those are too. Would you be willing to cite them here so I can read them?
      Thank you for the article

    3. Full citations are at the end of the post.
      (8] Sheri L. Dew, “”Ezra Taft Benson: A Biography," Chapter 22, "The Expanding Church" [Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1987], p. 469
      [9] (D. Michael Quinn, “The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power,” in Chapter 3, “Ezra Taft Benson: A Study in Inter-Quorum Conflict” [Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, in association with Smith Research Associates, 1997], pp. 110-11; and p. 469, fn 349-355)

      Thanks for reading!

  8. Very well put together, thank you.

  9. This article is amazing. Exceptionally well done. I think in the LDS church we abandon all reasoning and the numerous examples from the scriptures that teach that the prophet is just a man. We elevate him to an unholy position that really damns us because we stop thinking for ourselves.

    Again thank you.


Comment Policy: Add some light and love to the conversation!