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Gospel Q&A: Are Prophets Infallible?

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Gospel Q&A is a series from LDS Daily that strives to answer important gospel questions from readers. Today, we’ll be answering the question, “Are prophets infallible?”

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The simple answer to this question, “Are prophets infallible?” is obvious: Of course not. They are humans and as such, they are imperfect. Imperfect people make mistakes, even if they are prophets called by God.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said, “Except in the case of His only perfect Begotten Son, imperfect people are all God has ever had to work with. That must be terribly frustrating to Him, but He deals with it. So should we.”

Prophets are not perfect, and they have never claimed to be.

Former First Presidency member, James E. Faust said, “We make no claim of infallibility or perfection in the prophets, seers, and revelators.”

In fact, prophets often bring up their weaknesses. Spencer W. Kimball (among others) spoke of intense wrestling with his apostolic calling knowing his own inadequacy. His initial response to his call was, “Oh, Brother Clark! Not me? You don’t mean me? There must be some mistake. I surely couldn’t have heard you right. … It seems so impossible. I am so weak and small and limited and incapable.”

What’s the Real Question We’re Asking?

But all of this reassurance that prophets are men—imperfect, human, fallible beings—doesn’t really answer the question being asked. I think we can all fairly easily accept that Jesus Christ is the only perfect person to have walked the earth. I believe the real question is, “Do prophets make mistakes in their role as prophets?” Or, “Can prophets be wrong in their proclaimed revelation?” I think these are different questions. Imperfection means that of course prophets can be wrong sometimes, but there is a significant difference between being wrong in their everyday interactions versus leading the Lord’s church astray.

Included in Official Doctrine 1 in the Doctrine & Covenants, Wilford Woodruff, the fourth prophet in this dispensation, said, “The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray. It is not in the programme [sic]. It is not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt that, the Lord would remove me out of my place, and so He will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God and from their duty.”

When a prophet is speaking or presenting a message in his official capacity as prophet, seer, and revelator, he does so under the direction of the Lord. His imperfections outside of his role as prophet do not limit his capacity within his role as prophet. His responsibility is to speak the mind and will of the Lord. Our responsibility is to obey it.

Exclamation Points, Not Question Marks

When we seek to parse out which of the prophet’s words were spoken as his own person and which were spoken as the prophet, we fail in our responsibility to obey.

Two years before Russell M. Nelson was called as an apostle, he said, “I never ask myself, ‘When does the prophet speak as a prophet and when does he not?’ My interest has been, ‘How can I be more like him?’” . . .  My [philosophy is to] stop putting question marks behind the prophet’s statements and put exclamation points instead.”

When we act in humility and receive the word of the Lord through His prophet, even when it wasn’t what we expected he might say, we open the windows of heaven to receive the blessings and safety of obedience.

President N. Eldon Tanner of the First Presidency said, “You may not like what comes from the authority of the Church. It may contradict your political views. It may contradict your social views. It may interfere with some of your social life. But if you listen to these things, as if from the mouth of the Lord himself, with patience and faith, the promise is that ‘the gates of hell shall not prevail against you; yea, and the Lord God will disperse the powers of darkness from before you, and cause the heavens to shake for your good, and his name’s glory.”

Let us look to the prophet and live in the light of revelation he receives and relays to the Lord’s church. There is no safer way in these turbulent times.

Disclaimer: While all of my answers will use scriptures and/or words of modern prophets, I do not represent The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I don’t believe any of my answers are comprehensive. I’m just one person using the gospel I have been blessed with to bring hope, peace, and answers to other seekers of truth.

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Rebecca Wright
Rebecca Wright
Becca loves audiobooks, dark chocolate, singing, hiking, walking,  going out with her husband, and raising their chickens and children. She still wants to meet her hero Sheri Dew, see flowing lava and a blue whale in person, and uplift others with her words.

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