The word “prophet” is mentioned in 293 verses in the Old Testament and in 154 verses in the New Testament. It was clearly an important topic to the writers of the Bible. We can’t possibly explore all of these verses in this article, but let’s look at a few of them. Most people start with the assumption that prophets were all well and good in the Bible times, but that Jesus was meant to be the last prophet. It is important, before one decides to tune out all possible modern prophets, to make absolutely certain that is what the Bible teaches, and that it isn’t just a decision made by man.
In the Old Testament, we see many examples of people refusing to recognize the validity of the current prophet. God spoke through Noah but the people chose to ignore him, preferring not to believe he was really a prophet. Perhaps they too felt prophets were old-fashioned and not needed any more. The consequences were severe.
Throughout Biblical history, we see how often people ignored or did not recognize the presence of a prophet. When the prophets went unrecognized and were not obeyed, people suffered. Those who allowed their hearts to recognize the spiritual promptings that would tell them a true prophet existed found safety and peace. In every era, whether or not prophets were on the earth, it has been the responsibility of each individual person to find out if there is a prophet and if so, who it is. That comes only from appropriate study and prayer. God promised to provide us with answers to our prayers if we ask, and He always keeps His promises.
Although many people today deny that a prophet will ever again be chosen by God, the Bible is actually very clear on the subject:
Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets (Amos 3:7). Even more importantly, Paul, speaking after Jesus’ death and resurrection, taught;
19 Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God;
20And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;
21In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: (Ephesians 2:20).
Paul assured church members the true church is built on a foundation of apostles and prophets with Jesus Christ as the cornerstone, something few of the modern churches have maintained, even though Paul said it was important.
This makes it clear prophets are God’s chosen way to communicate with His children on earth. Throughout the Bible, He has spoken through prophets, beginning with Adam, the very first man. From time to time, the people refused to listen to these prophets and they were withdrawn for a time. This is always the choice of a close-minded and disobedient people. When sufficient time passes, God calls a new prophet and gives this group of people a chance to enjoy communication from God once again.
“It is important to understand that God never sealed the heavens in the first place; man did. It was man who proclaimed there would be no more revelation, that God had said all He had to say. Yet how presumptuous for man to tell God that He can’t speak for His children!” (Ballard, M. Russell. “The Articles of Faith.” Our search for happiness: an invitation to understand the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Co., 1993. 96. Print.)
Since the Bible does not say God changed His mind about prophets, that is exactly what we do if we refuse to allow future prophets—we tell God how to do His job. Only God can decide if we need another prophet or not. Elder Ballard, in the book mentioned above, expressed gratitude that God loves us as much as He loved the people of the Bible.
If we study what happened after Jesus died, we see the church continued to operate. The apostles clearly had a leader at all times and that leader would be the new prophet. We see them acting with authority, announcing doctrine and policy…being prophets. Many people stop reading the Bible after the resurrection, but far more went on after that time, and it is worth noticing how the apostles acted and what decisions they made as they continued to lead the church.
It should be noted that in Acts we read of two people described as prophets, showing without question that there were prophets after Jesus died. (See Acts 15:32)
Even during apostasy, individuals with faith could communicate with God for their own purposes, but only a true prophet, called by God, has ever been able to speak for the entire church. And God said He would communicate in no other way, which means that believing there will never again be a prophet is to suggest God has permanently closed the door and locked it. Doing this suggests He is refusing to allow the Christian religion a means for settling the doctrinal debates that have divided the various branches of Christianity over the centuries or to receive the comfort and guidance of prophetic teachings. This simply does not fit what we know of a kind and loving God who wants to prepare us for the Second Coming in the same way He wanted to prepare us for the First Coming.
John the Baptist and Jesus Himself encountered the attitude that there were no more prophets. The Jews told Jesus the prophets were all dead and they didn’t understand, therefore, how He could be a prophet. (See John 8.) They preferred to think He might be a former prophet come back to earth. It seemed more comfortable to them to have a Moses or Elijah return than to get a brand new prophet and today, we encounter that same attitude. People seem a little anxious at the idea of a new prophet who will speak to their day and who cannot, therefore, be dismissed as addressing outdated issues or of giving pronouncements that don’t apply to our time.
Of course, not everyone who says he is a prophet is one. Only God can call a prophet and the Bible often discusses ways to evaluate a potential prophet:
Then said Elijah unto the people, I, even I only, remain a prophet of the Lord; but Baal’s prophets are four hundred and fifty men” (1 Kings 18:22). Elijah makes it clear that not everyone who claims to be a prophet really is. There have been false prophets since early in the world’s history. Of course, today, the argument doesn’t tend to be about who the prophet is, but whether or not there are prophets at all. Still, it is important to evaluate this topic. How do we know if someone is a true prophet or a false one?
The Book of Deuteronomy in the Old Testament tells us one way to recognize a true prophet. In these verses, the prophecy actually refers to Jesus Christ, but the criteria for recognizing a prophet can be applied to other prophets as well. In these verses, God explains how they will know true prophets from false ones. As you read, think about the Old Testament prophets you have studied and see if they measure up to these verses:
15 The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken;
16 According to all that thou desiredst of the Lord thy God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God, neither let me see this great fire any more, that I die not.
17And the Lord said unto me, They have well spoken that which they have spoken
18 I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him.
19 And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him.
20 But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die.
21And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the Lord hath not spoken?
22 When a prophet speaketh in the name of the Lord, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him (Deuteronomy 18).
What do these verses teach us about identifying a prophet? First, the prophet will come from among the people and be like them. We see this to be true of all Biblical prophets, and also of all Mormon prophets. God promises that a prophet who has already been called as a prophet and then gives a false prophecy will die. This is something Mormons have been taught—that God will not allow a prophet to fall and yet keep preaching. Finally, they are told to watch to see if what the prophet says actually happens. Of course, most prophecies don’t come with a time frame. Noah spoke for an extraordinarily long time, prophesying of the flood many years before it really happened. The birth of Jesus Christ was prophesied from the beginning of time, causing many generations to pass away without seeing its fulfillment.
In a more modern example, Joseph Smith delivered a revelation known as the Word of Wisdom. It is the much discussed Mormon health code, which prohibits coffee, real tea, alcohol, and tobacco. It encourages people to eat whole grains, fruits, and vegetables and to limit meat intake. This was not at all how people lived in the 1800s, when Joseph lived. In fact, it was only fairly recently that we understood the dangers of tobacco. Today, eating whole grains, fruits, and vegetables is exactly what experts tell us to do. Could a young, uneducated farm boy have known more about nutrition and tobacco than the experts of the time? Scientific studies have confirmed that Mormons live longer and have better health than others if they are living the complete Word of Wisdom, even when other factors are eliminated. We need to watch how the teachings of prophets have played out over the course of time.
Jesus was preparing us for the continuation of prophet after His death and a return of prophets after the apostasy. The reason He needed to explain how to tell real prophets from false ones is because there would be real prophets. He never at all said there would be no further prophets, but He did spend time preparing us to recognize those future prophets.
Perhaps the most telling proof that Jesus did not intend to be the last prophet is found in Ephesians 4. Again, this comes from Paul, a strong advocate of continued revelation. He wrote:
“11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.
14 That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;
Paul explains that prophets were given to us to perfect the saints and that the need for prophets would continue until we enjoyed a unity of faith. As we look around us today, we can see the world has not yet achieved a unity of faith and so prophets are still needed to clarify doctrine, which is regularly debated and altered by the desires of human beings over the teachings of God.
This is why Mormons have no trouble accepting that God, who loves us, is happy to provide us with a prophet, as He promised He would, to guide us through the challenges of the Last Days.