ARE PROPHETS AND APOSTLES FOR THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH TODAY?
1 CORINTHIANS 12:28: “And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets.”
- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) points to a number of Biblical Scriptures to contend that God leads the true Church through “prophets” and “apostles” just as He did in Biblical times. Thus, Christian churches that do not claim to be led by living “prophets” and “apostles” are ridiculed by Mormons as not having the fullness of authority that the LDS Church claims to possess today. Some of the most common Scriptures used by Mormons to support this belief are:
AMOS 3:7: “Surely the Lord GOD will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.” 1.
1 CORINTHIANS 12:28: “And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets.”
EPHESIANS 2:19-20: “Now therefore ye are … of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone.”
EPHESIANS 4:11-12: “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers. For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.”
We agree with the Mormon claim that “prophets” and “apostles” are for the Christian church today 2., but we differ from the LDS view of the roles that these individuals occupy within the church. In Mormonism, only one man is appointed to the position of “Prophet” in the LDS Church at one time, but in the New Testament church, we find multiple prophets existing at the same time.
“Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers.” (Acts 13:1)
“And Judas and Silas, being prophets also themselves, exhorted the brethren with many words, and confirmed them.” (Acts 15:32)
“Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge. If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace. For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted. And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.” (1 Corinthians 14:29-32)
While a Mormon Prophet is regarded as holding supreme authority over all other leaders within Mormonism, it was not so in the early church of the New Testament. The only Prophet of the Christian Church who holds supreme authority is Jesus Christ. All other prophets are open to criticism and scrutiny. In fact, we see an example of the New Testament Apostle Paul correcting and instructing the prophets in the church at Corinth regarding their practices in 1 Corinthians 14:24, 29-32. Such correction is unheard of in the LDS Church.
THE TEST OF A PROPHET
Ultimately, each prophet is to be judged by the contemporary prophets of their day (1 Corinthians 14:29-32) and tested according to the truths of Scripture (Acts 17:11). For a “prophet” to pass this test of being a true prophet of God, he or she must present 100% accuracy in both doctrine and the proclamation of future events:
“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. And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the LORD hath not spoken? 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 18:20-22)
“To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” (Isaiah 8:20)
Not only have LDS “Prophets” failed the test of accuracy by prophesying future events that never came to pass, 3. they have failed the test of doctrine. When Joseph Smith taught: “God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man,” 4. he clearly crossed the line into the category of a false prophet by proclaiming a “god” “other” than the true God of the Bible (John 4:24; Numbers 23:19).
“If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a wonder, And the sign or the wonder come to pass, whereof he spake unto thee, saying, Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them; Thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams: for the LORD your God proveth you, to know whether ye love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Deuteronomy 13:1-3)
THE FOUNDATION OF THE PROPHETS
“Now therefore ye are … of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone.” (Ephesians 2:20)
Ephesians 2:20 speaks of the foundational role that the apostles and prophets provided for the early Christian church. These prophets hold a special position as leaders of God’s people because they receive direct revelation from God and communicate it to His people. It is in this context of receiving God’s revelation that assured God’s people:
“Surely the Lord GOD will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.” (Amos 3:7)
Since God revealed His “secret” through revelations and prophecies that were given throughout Biblical times, many of these revelations have been written in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. These writings form the prophetic foundation needed for the biblical Christian church of today to know and follow the will of God (2 Timothy 3:16).
“The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it.” (Luke 16:16)
“God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds.” (Hebrews 1:1-2)
While the Holy Spirit came upon various men of God in Old Testament times, they did not have the Holy Spirit of Christ dwelling in them like Christians do today. Therefore, followers of God in the Old Testament had to rely upon the revelations of Scripture and the prophecies of the prophets who lived in their day in order to know the will of God. While “God … spake in time past … by the prophets,” today He speaks “unto us by his Son” (Hebrews 1:1-2). Thus, every Christian is able to receive direct revelation through a personal relationship with God’s Son, Jesus Christ!
HOW THE SUPREME PROPHET LEADS GOD’S CHURCH TODAY
When Jesus Christ came, the position of supreme prophet was moved from a mortal human leader (then John the Baptist) to Jesus Christ who became the chief cornerstone and foundation of the church. (See 1 Corinthians 3:11; Ephesians 2:20.) This is why Luke 16:16 states that “the prophets were until John.” The Prophets are said to have ended with John the Baptist because he prepared the way for the final Prophet, the Lord Jesus Christ. John was the “voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord” (Mark 1:3). As we, like John the Baptist, proclaim what Jesus did in atoning for the sins of mankind, “the Kingdom of God is preached and every man presseth into it” (Luke 16:16).
All who have been adopted into God’s Kingdom no longer need a human “prophet” like Moses to stand and mediate God’s revelations to the church, because Jesus Christ is our only mediator (1 Timothy 2:5). He provides direct revelation from God to each Christian believer through His Holy Spirit. Jesus promised that when He would leave earth, He would send His Holy Spirit to be with us forever (John 14:16-17; 16:7), to teach us “all things” (John 14:26); and to guide us “into all truth” (John 16:13). Since we have the wonderful guidance of the Spirit of Christ, Christians do not need a mortal human leader serving as a supreme “prophet,” teaching the truth to God’s Church today.
All of the Old Testament prophets pointed forward to the coming of Christ. It is in this way that Scripture states that John was the last human prophet to lead God’s people. John pointed forward to the coming of Jesus Christ, while all New Testament “prophets” (after him) point back to Christ and His Kingdom.
“For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come.” (Matthew 11:13-14)
“Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.” (Matthew 5:17)
Although Jesus fulfilled the role of supreme “prophet” of God’s people, human “prophets” continue to minister to the Christian church through gifts of prophecy and words of knowledge that are based in Scripture truth and bring about spiritual edification, exhortation and comfort.
“Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy. But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort.” (1 Corinthians 14:1, 3)
“For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12:8)
FEMALE PROPHETS IN THE CHURCH
Another distinction between the “prophets” of the Mormon Church and those of New Testament Christianity is the fact that females were included in the “prophets” who formed the foundation of the Church. While no female has ever been appointed to the position of “Prophet” in the Mormon Church, female prophets of God were used throughout the Old and New Testament times. Below are some of the many female prophets of God that were mentioned in the Scriptures:
“And Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances.” (Exodus 15:20)
“And Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, she judged Israel at that time.” (Judges 4:4)
“And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher: she was of a great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity.” (Luke 2:36)
“We entered into the house of Philip the evangelist, which was one of the seven; and abode with him. And the same man had four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy.” (Acts 21:8-9)
“And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.” (Acts 2:17)
These examples demonstrate that God does not discriminate between the genders in His distribution of prophetic roles within the Christian Church as we see the LDS Church of today doing.
THE FOUNDATION OF THE APOSTLES
“And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.” (1 Corinthians 12:28)
1 Corinthians 12:28 speaks of the order of authority that God gave “apostles” in that He set them “first” in the Church. This is fitting as the Greek word for “apostle” is ἀπόστολος (apostolos) and it means: “messenger, he that is sent.” 5. So, often the “first” leader of a new church was the apostle/missionary who founded it. In Acts, we see the Apostles Paul and Barnabas being sent forth as missionaries of the Gospel to start churches throughout the Gentile (non-Jewish) regions of the Roman empire, and the Apostles Peter, James and John being sent forth to be missionaries to the Jewish people.
“And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision.” (Galatians 2:9)
In addition to missionary activities, apostles serve the Christian church through teaching and exhortation. This was certainly true of the apostle Paul, whose multiple letters to the churches constitutes a large majority of the New Testament Scripture. In the same way that the teachings of the “prophets” were required to agree 100% with teachings of Scripture, so it was with the New Testament apostles. For example, the apostle Paul’s teachings were held under the scrutiny of the Scriptures before the Christians of Berea accepted his doctrines as truth, and their studiousness in this matter was commended.
“These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” (Acts 17:11)
In summation, while we agree that “prophets” and “apostles” serve the Christian church of today in a limited fashion from what they did in the church of the New Testament era, we have noted several distinctions between the Mormon view of these offices and the Scriptural view and have summarized them in the following chart:
MORMON PROPHETS AND APOSTLES
BIBLICAL PROPHETS AND APOSTLES
Only one Prophet leads the LDS Church at one time.
Multiple Prophets serve the Church simultaneously.
The LDS Prophet holds supreme authority, no criticism allowed, not even from apostles.
Only Jesus Christ is the supreme Prophet of the Christian Church whose teachings are not criticized. All other prophets are scrutinized and corrected by contemporary prophets and apostles.
Direct revelation from God is given only to the LDS Prophet.
The Holy Spirit gives direct revelation, not only to the prophets, but also to the apostles. Personal revelation from God’s Holy Spirit is also available to all Christian believers.
Only the LDS Prophet possesses the authority to reveal Scripture. The words of the living Prophet hold greater weight than the words of previous Prophets, Apostles and the written Scripture. Often new LDS revelations contradict former revelations.
The words of the Prophets and the Apostles produced Old and New Testament Scripture for the Church. All new revelation MUST agree with previous Scriptural revelation before it is to be accepted as truth for the church.
Prophets are always male, never female.
Prophets are both male and female.
1. All Biblical Scriptures are quoted from the King James Version of the Bible.
2. We do not endorse the “Latter Rain” movement in Pentecostal Christianity that spawned the “Kansas City Prophets,” and other false so-called “prophets” and “apostles” of the “New Apostolic Reformation.”
3. See the temple prophecies of Doctrine and Covenants 84:3-5 and 115, and others.
4. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, by Joseph Fielding Smith, 1976, p. 345
5. Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, Greek Dictionary of the New Testament #652, p. 15