But How Can I Know He’s a Prophet?

In an era oversaturated with access to information and opinions, is it possible to know for certain whether a prophet is called of God?

The first time I questioned my testimony about Joseph Smith was during a bike ride with a district leader on my mission. I still vividly remember what he said: “I’ve been reading Saints, and it turns out that Joseph and Emma would drink wine occasionally.”

Photo by SixteenMilesOut

You know how people say to trust your gut? Well, for a moment, my shocked gut wondered if everything I’d learned was for naught. I couldn’t believe that a prophet of God had drunk alcohol, especially when he taught that we shouldn’t drink it.

In this era of the internet, with unlimited access to information, it’s not uncommon to discover unflattering facts about childhood heroes who seemed to be the ultimate paragons of virtue. How, then, can we trust anything they say?

It turns out that this is the perfect question to test information for truth—if it’s asked with honest desire. 

In his BYU speech “The Profile of a Prophet,” Elder Hugh B. Brown shares an experience when he was confronted by a hard-bitten British judge about his religious beliefs. Elder Brown tested a similar question: what would qualify a person to be a prophet? Together, Elder Brown and the judge searched for mutually agreed-upon criteria that would test someone’s claim to prophethood. Through probing questions, they eventually agreed on several criteria that all past prophets had adhered to, which they applied to Joseph Smith. For example, did Joseph “boldly claim that God had spoken to him”? Did he “have courage and faith enough to endure persecution and to give his life . . . for the cause he espoused”? And were “his teachings . . . in strict conformity with scripture”?

After weighing these criteria and considering Joseph Smith’s experience of being called as a prophet, the judge responded, “If what you have told me is true, it is the greatest message that has come to this earth since the angels announced the birth of Christ.” Similar criteria led me to ask honest questions and find answers amid my shock about a prophet’s seeming hypocrisy—for example, after remembering the implicit trust Joseph had in God, and the way he strove to obey God in every way, I thought, “Joseph was normally obedient, so am I missing some context here? What about the Word of Wisdom would be different then?”And then, later, this reaction led me to look up the historical context of the Word of Wisdom—which, it turns out, was only a recommendation in Joseph’s time. The Word of Wisdom wasn’t a commandment until Brigham Young became the prophet, which meant that Joseph wasn’t breaking the commandments.

Despite a tumult of information and opinions, we can apply inspired criteria in our search for truth, a process that will help us know with certainty whether someone is a prophet.

Read more about Elder Hugh B. Brown’s experience by reading his full devotional address “The Profile of a Prophet.” 

Source: BYU Speeches 

—Merlin Blanchard, Latter-day Saint Insights 


Find more insights 

For more thoughts on wrestling with tough information in Church history, read Tyler Balli’s article Joseph Smith’s Seer Stones: Coming to Grips With Troubling Information in the Church.”

Want more ideas for how to find answers to your questions? Check out Morgan Lewis’s article “Engage in the Wrestle: Seeking Spiritual Answers.”

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