The Difference Between the Priesthood & Prophets

It seems to me that many of us Mormons often get bogged down in the same creeds & dogma’s that God told Joseph Smith were “an abomination in his sight” (JS-H 1:19). We think that because the Lord has said that “no one shall be appointed to receive commandments and revelations in this church excepting my servant [the prophet]” (D&C 28:2) that no one but the “prophet” could possibly receive revelation pertaining to the church as a whole, or anything outside of our families or callings for that matter. This is a twisting of both the scriptures and the words of prophets who have spoken on the matter.

Lets look to the scriptures for some examples.

God often sends prophets to keep the priesthood in check.

God often gives the gift of prophesy to normal members to keep the priesthood in check.

For instance…

-Very few of the individuals we call “prophets” in the Bible were high priests, priests, or even held the priesthood (House of Levi).  Most did not even call themselves prophets (heb navi).
-The prophets were often rejected because they were either nobodies or considered a bit weird and wacky (such as Isaiah walking around naked and barefoot to get people’s attention).
-Was Anna, the prophetess from the tribe of Asher a priesthood leader when she saw the baby Jesus and “spake of him to all them that looked for redemption on Jerusalem” (Luke 1:37–38).
-Was Simeon, a man “just and devout” an officer of the priesthood when he blessed Jesus in the temple and prophesied “this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; …that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 1:25–35).
-Was Agabus a false prophet when he prophesied of the famine (Acts 11:28)?
-Was Miriam a member of the priesthood when she prophesied?
-Was Lehi or Nephi a priest (or even a Levite holding the Priesthood) when God appeared to them and told them to prophesy concerning Israel and Jerusalem?
-More than half of the Old Testament prophets were not from the tribe of Levi (and thus were not even eligible to hold Jewish priesthood). To Jews under the Mosaic law, this was the equivelant of God calling “prophets” to prophesy against Mormonism—who were not even Mormons!)

In fact, in 1 Corinthians chapter 14 Paul lengthily exhorts all members of the church to seek (“covet” in fact) the gift of prophesy that the Church might be edified. In part he says,

Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy. [for] he that prophesieth edifieth the church. …Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues. (1 Cor 14:1–4,39)

What we must remember is that there is a big difference between a prophet as one who has the gift of prophesy, and the priesthood. The president of the high priesthood (who we often call “the prophet”) as well as all the twelve apostles are set apart to be “prophets, seers and revelators” (D&C 107:92); but they certainly are not the only ones to have right to these gifts. All of these are gifts of the Spirit, and as the D&C tells us.. “and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God” (D&C 46:11). Paul reiterates this saying “But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal” (1Cor 12:7). Both Moses Numbers 11:29 and Joseph Smith in D&C 1:20 suggest that God wants all his people to be prophets and speak in his name.

To suppose that one must hold the priesthood or even be a member of the church in order to have a gift of the Spirit is to fall under the warning given by Moroni in the Book of Mormon,

7 And ye may know that he is, by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore I would exhort you that ye deny not the power of God; for he worketh by power, according to the faith of the children of men, the same today and tomorrow, and forever.
8 And again, I exhort you, my brethren, that ye deny not the gifts of God, for they are many; and they come from the same God. And there are different ways that these gifts are administered; but it is the same God who worketh all in all; and they are given by the manifestations of the Spirit of God unto men, to profit them. (Moro. 10:7–8

Now perhaps where the misunderstanding comes in, is that the priesthood is given the keys to govern the gifts of God. That all things might be done as Pauls said “decently and in order” (1 Cor 14:40), God has ordained the priesthood to be the “head” of the body of Christ (Church). The priesthood holding the “keys” which administer and govern the gifts of the Spirit is to look over and direct their usage that “that all may be profited thereby” (D&C 46:12).

26 And all these gifts come from God, for the benefit of the children of God.
27 And unto the bishop of the church, and unto such as God shall appoint and ordain to watch over the church and to be elders unto the church, are to have it given unto them to discern all those gifts lest there shall be any among you professing and yet be not of God…
29 That unto some it may be given to have all those gifts, that there may be a head, in order that every member may be profited thereby (D&C 46:26–29)

So the bishop of each ward is given the keys and responsibility to “discern” the gifts of the spirit to aid people in knowing whether a ward member or some other christian who claims to have the gift of prophesy or tongues, etc. (which they certainly could have) really does have the gifit or not. Additionally it is given to certain members of the high priesthood to hold the keys to, and in fact possess “all those gifts” or in other words to have all the gifts of the spirit so that they can better administer and discern thier usage in the church and the Christian Community. This right and authority belongs to the Melchizedek priesthood, and is most certainly held by the presidency of the high priesthood (First Presidency of the Church).

8 The Melchizedek Priesthood holds the right of presidency, and has power and authority over all the offices in the church in all ages of the world, to administer in spiritual things.
91 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—
92 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.

Even outside of the Mormon Church, Christians may seek and obtain spiritual gifts. We should not think that healings, prophesies, or other miracles done by other churches are somehow of the devil least we be like John saying “Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name; and we forbad him, because he followeth not with us”, whom Jesus rebuked saying “Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of.” (Luke 9:55)

Just as Christ gathered all believers in One as he descended to teach the Nephites and Lamenites, exhorting them not to “contend” one with another, so also is it the Mormon Church, and the restored priesthood which is charged with gathering and directing all Christians in one during this the dispensation of the fullness of times. We certainly cannot do this if we think our “prophet” (president of the high priesthood) or simply only members of our church are the only one with right to the gift of prophesy, seership, healing or other spiritual gifts. We might well remember Paul’s council,

3 Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.
4 Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.
5 And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord.
6 And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. (1 Cor 12:3–6)


Needed Reformation

Part of my reason for writing this article is my belief that there is some needed reformation and repentance among Mormon people. In both the bible and Book of Mormon we are told that there were times that God “covered” the prophets or took the gift of prophesy out of the midst of certain people because they had no faith in them. During these times God did not take the “president of the high priesthood” from their midst—there will always be someone to fill that throne—but he took the gift of prophesy, revelation and seership from the masses.  I fear this has occurred in Mormonism to some degree because of our false belief that that if God is going to speak to Mormons, it will be through the “prophet” (President of the High Priesthood) or the “twelve apostles” (travelling twelve).

We love to point the finger at other people and religions for their “rejection” of the prophets, instead of searching ourselves for error. When was the last time you searched out the prophets (and not just the high priests)?

  7 And again I speak unto you who deny the revelations of God, and say that they are done away, that there are no revelations, nor prophecies, nor gifts, nor healing, nor speaking with tongues, and the interpretation of tongues;
8 Behold I say unto you, he that denieth these things knoweth not the gospel of Christ; yea, he has not read the scriptures; if so, he does not understand them

8 And again, I exhort you, my brethren, that ye deny not the gifts of God, for they are many; and they come from the same God. And there are different ways that these gifts are administered; but it is the same God who worketh all in all; and they are given by the manifestations of the Spirit of God unto men, to profit them…
9 For behold, to one is given by the Spirit of God, that he may teach the word of wisdom…
13 And again, to another, that he may prophesy concerning all things;
14 And again, to another, the beholding of angels and ministering spirits…
24 And now I speak unto all the ends of the earth—that if the day cometh that the power and gifts of God shall be done away among you, it shall be because of unbelief.
25 And wo be unto the children of men if this be the case; for there shall be none that doeth good among you, no not one. For if there be one among you that doeth good, he shall work by the power and gifts of God.


See this article for a little more information about modern misconceptions about ancient Israeli prophets.

for more authoritative information see the books: Karel van der Toorn’s Scribal Culture and Joseph Blenkinsopp’s A History of Prophecy in Ancient Israel