False Prophets VS. Fallen Prophets
[editorial note: Since this post is being published on Halloween day, let me remind you that the original holiday was
reformation day…this is the day that Martin Luther nailed the “95 Thesis” on the door of the large and spacious building!]
The term false prophet originates in the New Testament.
If you do a Google search of the term “false prophet”, you get a little over 3 MILLION hits and 2.1 MILLION if you do a more narrow search using quotation marks.
Interestingly, the term fallen prophet cannot be found in the New Testament yet a cursory examination suggests that the term very possibly originated or at least gained traction during and from the LDS restoration movement of the 1800’s.
A general Google search of the term brings up a little over 15 MILLION hits with 41,000 resulting from a more narrow search using quotation marks!
The very first listing for fallen prophet on Google, regardless of which way you search the term, is a page accusing Joseph Smith of being a fallen prophet… it is listed below with the three lines, exactly as it shows up on Google-
Following that first listing you get lots of contemporary uses of the term mingled with sites pertaining to Mormonism both pro and con. A Google search brings up everything from music groups and songs, to video games, software platforms and even YouTube videos all incorporating the term fallen prophet, or variations thereof.
Again, the term fallen prophet never shows up in the Old or New Testament and when goggling it, virtually all of the top ranking religious sites mingled in with the contemporary sites using the key words “fallen prophet” seem to be LDS related.
Traditional Christianity virtually never uses the term nor does it show up in the Bible. This is not surprising since traditional Christianity does not put a huge emphasis on the importance of prophets, particularly in a contemporary context.
Of course Joseph Smith was accused in Kirtland of being a fallen prophet and again in Far West and finally in Nauvoo, he was accused of being a fallen prophet.
His accusers were believers in the LDS restoration who believed in his original calling as a prophet and associated revelations but felt he had eventually fallen into transgression and departed from his original calling.
The first major apostasy took place in Kirtland shortly after the special conference at the Morley Farm when some of the leading brethren who were called to be high priests denied the faith and others accused Joseph of being.
During the second main apostasy in Kirtland some people were upset about the name change of the church while others became angry about the affairs of the Kirtland Safety Society.
During the Far West period some of the most prominent leaders of the Church actually signed affidavits accusing Joseph of some very serious things. These charges landed Joseph and others in jail.
Finally in Nauvoo, people were concerned for a multitude of reasons including the fact that he was no longer receiving revelations. Section 124 was the last major revelation of doctrinal significance to be canonized. Some of the saints felt that Joseph Smith began teaching doctrines that conflicted with his earlier teachings. They saw Joseph Smith’s teachings about the progression of the Gods and his involvement in masonry and polygamy as contradicting the teachings of the gospel in the Book of Mormon and the early revelations in the D&C.
On the other hand, many of the saints interpreted the new doctrines and practices as proof of continued revelation and further enlightenment.
According to one online commentary-
“In the stormy spring of 1844, the King Follett discourse rose like a castle in the weeds, a splendid, mysterious heterodoxy standing amid the bitterness in Nauvoo. The sermon thrilled many of the city’s Mormons. Joseph Fielding, one of the Prophet’s listeners, said, “Any one that could not see in him the Spirit of inspiration of God must be dark, they might have known that he was not a fallen Prophet even if they thought he was fallen.”
People like Fielding loved accounts of the heavenly order. Not so the Laws, Fosters, and Higbees. William Law said the annual conference brought out “some of the most blasphemous doctrines… ever heard of,” such as “other gods as far above our God as he is above us.”
I have already discussed in previous blogs how some people believe that the Nauvoo era of the church represented further enlightenment while others saw it as a time of great darkness and backsliding.
There was actually a great polarization taking place at this period of time within the church.
So great was the heat on Joseph Smith by his critics that he made mention of their deliberations publicly in a sermon.
In it he said-
“my apostate enemies say that I have been a true prophet–& I had rather be a fallen true prophet, than a false prophet” May 12 1844
Joseph was pointing out that there is a very significant distinction between a false prophet and a true prophet that becomes a fallen prophet.
What does it mean to be fallen?
Fallen from what?
The probable answer to that is provided by the Lord in section 20 of the D&C.
“And we know that justification through the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is just and true; And we know also, that sanctification through the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is just and true, to all those who love and serve God with all their mights, minds, and strength. But there is a possibility that man may fall from grace and depart from the living God;”
Based on the above passage, I would submit that a fallen prophet is a person who was a true prophet at first, who has since Fallen from Grace.
That being the case, it causes one pause that Joseph would rather be a fallen true prophet than simply a false prophet from the beginning because we are taught in the church that those who fall from the greater light receive the greater condemnation.. Obviously a true prophet who transgresses and falls from grace would have fallen from a state of greater light than someone who was never a true prophet to begin with.
I am going to suggest that Joseph would rather be a fallen prophet simply because it is possible to return to a state of grace after falling from it!
Grace Vs. Mercy
It is often said that “Grace is what God gives us that we don’t deserve. Mercy results in God not giving us what we do deserve“. (God often withholds his wrath even though we deserve it)
It is interesting to observe that according to the ancient prophecy about the future Davidic servant, even though he would transgress and be chastened by the rod of men, the mercy of the Lord would not depart from him.
“If he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of men: But my mercy shall not depart away from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away before thee.” 2nd Samuel 7:15:
Is it possible that the latter day servant of God and his associates spoken of in 2nd Samuel and Leviticus 16 temporarily fall from grace while the mercy of God never departs from them?
I would suggest that one can remain within the mercy of God even while temporarily falling from grace.
Perhaps that is why Joseph said he would rather be a true fallen prophet than a false prophet. Perhaps he understood that falling from grace does not necessarily denote an eternal or unchangeable condition of damnation.
When Satan fell from heaven, he was not only falling from grace, but he was eternally falling from the mercy of God.
It is unfortunate that some of us view prophets as infallible and others of us assume that if a prophet does fall from grace they cannot repent and be returned to their former state. Such assumptions prevent us from using their lives and the counsel God gives them as examples of the human condition and the mercy of God.
Again my purpose in addressing this topic is not to Judge (condemn) Joseph Smith but rather to judge (observe and learn from ) the events of his life and from the council and prophetic instruction that the Lord gave him.
It is truly significant that the term fallen prophet is mainly only relevant in Mormonism and that Protestantism and Catholicism seldom if ever use the term.
Although the term fallen prophet does appear to originate from the Kirtland era of the restoration movement, it did not originate from the accusations that were being made by the critics of Joseph Smith.
It actually originates from a revelation from God to Joseph Smith!
First, a little context.
The storyline begins in mid 1828.
The 116 pages of the Book of Mormon had been lost because Joseph had feared man more than God and had allowed himself to be influenced by the persuasions of men.
The Lord was upset with Joseph.
In a revelation directed solely to Joseph Smith, before the church was even organized, the Lord proclaimed this very profound truth-
“Remember, remember that it is not the work of God that is frustrated, but the work of men”
The Lord then gave Joseph a hypothetical scenario-
” For although a man may have many revelations, and have power to do many mighty works, yet if he boasts in his own strength, and sets at naught the counsels of God, and follows after the dictates of his own will and carnal desires, he must fall and incur the vengeance of a just God upon him.”
One has to wonder how modern day Mormonism has embraced the infallibility of prophets doctrine, when the above passage so clearly states that prophets CAN fall!
The above passage in section 3 of the D&C very possibly constitutes the very first introduction of the “fallen prophet” term and the fact that a true prophet can in fact fall from grace.
It is this revelation that haunted Joseph throughout his public ministry because it alerted the membership of the church to the fact that a prophet of God can fall from grace after receiving a long string of revelations and doing many mighty works.
It is this passage that caused many of the converts to Mormonism to watch Joseph Smith with a very critical and accusative eye anytime he did or said something that seemed out of harmony with the prior revelations..
Clearly the hypothetical given in section 3 was not referring to the historical Joseph Smith of 1828 for indeed the pattern given did not reflect the life of Joseph during that period of time.
Take a look at the six point hypothetical the Lord gave to Joseph in section 3-
- A prophet can have many revelations
- A prophet can do many mighty works
- Following the revelations and mighty works the prophet can begin boasting
- Following the revelations and mighty works the prophet can set at naught the counsels of God
- Following the revelations and mighty works the prophet can follow his his own will and carnal desires
- Following the revelations and mighty works the prophet can FALL (and have no more gift of prophecy)
At the time this revelation was given in 1828 Joseph had not yet received very many revelations. He had mainly been blessed with the ministering of angels. The many revelations now canonized in the D&C were to come in later years.
At that time, Joseph had not done very many mighty works.
He was not a boastful person at that early time in his life.
He did make a bad judgment call with regard to Martin Harris and the 116 pages but he was tormented by his mistake and quickly became contrite and repentant.
He clearly did not fall from grace at that time, or if he did, he did not fall from grace for very long because God assured him-
“thou are still chosen, and art AGAIN called to the work” (vs 10)
(admittedly, the “again” in the above passage implies that in fact Joseph may have temporarily lost his calling even though he had not lost his status of being “chosen”.
The Lord in his mercy forgave him and accepted his repentance.
All in all, the six-part hypothetical really did not fully apply to the historical Joseph Smith of 1828 even though the hypothetical was incorporated within a revelation that was being clearly and specifically directed at him.
Lets review in greater detail what the Lord said to Joseph after giving the hypothetical.
Notice how the dialogue changed from hypothetical to personal once again.
“Behold, you have been entrusted with these things, but how strict were your commandments; and remember also the promises which were made to you, if you did not transgress them.
And behold, how oft you have transgressed the commandments and the laws of God, and have gone on in the persuasions of men.
For, behold, you should not have feared man more than God. Although men set at naught the counsels of God, and despise his words—
Yet you should have been faithful; and he would have extended his arm and supported you against all the fiery darts of the adversary; and he would have been with you in every time of trouble.
Behold, thou art Joseph, and thou wast chosen to do the work of the Lord, but because of transgression, if thou art not aware thou wilt fall.
But remember, God is merciful; therefore, repent of that which thou hast done which is contrary to the commandment which I gave you, and thou art still chosen, and art again called to the work;
Except thou do this, thou shalt be delivered up and become as other men, and have no more gift.
The Importance of Being AWARE
What an interesting statement-
“..if thou art not aware thou wilt fall.”
That is the second time in the revelation that the Lord uses the word FALL.
The word “fall” is first used in the six point hypothetical, demonstrating that a true prophet can still fall from grace if he transgresses.
Secondly, it is used referring directly to Joseph, as the Lord gives Joseph the warning that if he is not aware, he will “fall“!
This passage is what I have taken as the theme of this post because the message is so profound and yet so subtle.
Have you ever really considered the importance of being aware?
Have you ever read about the doctrine of AWARENESS?
I have written other posts in which I have attempted to show that Joseph, Sidney and others were acting as intercessory servants who were artificially taking upon themselves the transgressions of the apostate latter day saints.
In those articles I emphasized that Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon and their associates committed transgression in a different way than many others commit transgressions.
It is one thing to take upon you your own sins. It is quite another to act as intercessory servants who have the sins of latter day Israel artificially placed upon them and therefore act them out!
In the above mentioned posts I have always stopped short of calling Joseph Smith a fallen prophet because in my mind, the transgressions he took himself during or shortly after the latter day fulfillment of the atonement statute prophesy in the Kirtland Temple were artificially placed upon him and he simply acted out the sins that were in the hearts of apostate Israel.
During the Far West period the Lord gave a strong rebuke to those who were accusing Joseph and Sidney falsely-
“Cursed are all those that shall lift up the heel against mine anointed, saith the Lord, and cry they have sinned when they have not sinned before me, saith the Lord, but have done that which was meet in mine eyes, and which I commanded them. But those who cry transgression do it because they are the servants of sin, and are the children of disobedience themselves.”
How interesting that the Lord made it clear to the church in section three and section twenty and other revelations that Joseph had sinned and that he could fall in the future if he was not AWARE, yet during the Far West period he gives such a strong warning to those who falsely accuse Joseph and others of the Lords anointed servants!
Another interesting possibility that surfaces in this study is that the terms “sin” and “transgression” may not mean the same thing. It is possible that the anointed servants of the Lord that artificially took upon themselves the sins of the people were under transgression but not sin. Just a passing thought… I don’t pretend to know.
Nevertheless, after pondering section 3, I believe there is strong reason to believe that the six part hypothetical given in section 3, followed by the direct warning to Joseph that he will fall if he is not aware, is in fact more than a hypothetical. It appears to be a prophecy regarding the future historical Joseph smith of the 1840’s and perhaps even earlier.
There is an uncanny resemblance between the six-part hypothetical in section 3 and the life of Joseph during the Nauvoo era.
First of all, Joseph had published and canonized over 100 revelations by the time he began his involvement in Masonry and polygamy in Nauvoo. He had truly received “many revelations”. Shortly thereafter, revelation dried up.
Secondly, Joseph had done “many wonderful works“, including healings, the restoration of the Melchizedek priesthood, the completion of the Kirtland Temple and the associated ushering in of the gospel of Abraham, etc.
Thirdly, the humble and contrite Joseph of the early years became bold and brash and “boastful” very possibly in fulfillment of the prophecy in section 3.
Perhaps one of the most arrogant, obnoxious and blasphemous pronouncements he made is contained in a sermon he gave in front of thousands of people in 1844 when he said-
“I have more to boast of than ever any man had. I am the only man that has ever been able to keep a whole church together since the days of Adam. A large majority of the whole have stood by me. Neither Paul, John, Peter, nor Jesus ever did it. I boast that no man ever did such a work as I. The followers of Jesus ran away from Him; but the Latter-day Saints never ran away from me yet.” History of the Church, Vol. 6, pp. 408-409 (Sunday, May 26, 1844) http://www.boap.org/LDS/Parallel/1844/26May44.html
Prior to understanding the atonement statute and the effect it had on Joseph Smith I would read the above quote and other similar ones made during the Nauvoo era and just shake my head in disbelief.
At first I simply rejected the possibility that Joseph ever made such statements even though they appear to come from credible sources. These types of statements are so repugnant that I simply didn’t believe a prophet of God could utter them.
I now see them as a reminder of what happens when a person looses their spiritual equilibrium and state of spiritual awareness. The ego runs unrestrained. I believe such pronouncements from Joseph Smith represent a remarkable fulfillment of Gods warning and prophecy in section 3.
I see them as a sign that Joseph lost his awareness, when the sins of latter day Israel were put upon him, causing him to fall. (Isaiah informs us that God covers the eyes of the seers because of the iniquity of latter day Israel. Would that not constitute losing ones awareness?)
Fourth and fifthly, at the time that Joseph was boasting in his accomplishments he was contradicting the previous revelations about the importance of the celestial law of monogamy. In doing this, he was truly setting at naught the councils of God and following after the dictates of his own will and carnal desires.
According to some accounts, Joseph spoke openly about his enjoyment of the young wives he had taken on… according to William Law-
“Joseph was very free in his talk about his women. He told me one day of a certain girl and remarked, that she had given him more pleasure than any girl he had ever enjoyed. I told him it was horrible to talk like this.“ – Joseph Smith’s close confidant and LDS Church First Councilor, William Law, Interview in Salt Lake Tribune, July 31,
As mentioned on other posts, Joseph later confided in William Marks that he and the saints had been deceived into embracing the spiritual wife doctrine but this was not until it had deeply infected the quorum of the Twelve, other leaders and many members of the church.
Lastly, point number six of the prophecy is arguably the most profound and remarkable part of the prophecy to come true if this scenario I am presenting is accurate; he fell from grace, resulting in falling from his position and from his gift of prophecy.
The Lord had warned Joseph that if he boasted, he truly would become as other men, and have his gift of prophecy taken away.-
“Except thou do this, thou shalt be delivered up and become as other men and have no more gift”
When Joseph publicly announced to the Church in Nauvoo that he would no longer be prophesying for the church, I don’t believe he was exercising his own prerogative to become an emeritus prophet. I believe he was in essence acknowledging that he didn’t possess the gift of prophecy anymore.
Did he fully understood what had happened?
I don’t know.
Did he realize that the prophecy in section 3 had been fulfilled and that he had lost the gift and become as other men?
I don’t know.
He seemed to indicate that he was moving forward in his own personal progression while his brother Hyrum would remain as the prophet for the church.
I believe the prophetic and historical evidence strongly suggests Joseph had become as other men… and the Lord had taken the gift of prophecy from him.
It is not a coincidence that he did not receive any revelations during the last three years of his life.
In part four of this series we shall view the remarkable prophecy in section 3 in the context of two other supporting prophetic revelations contained in the D&C.
We shall then take a look at the meaning behind the Tree of Life vs the Tree of Knowledge and continue our attempt to gain a better understanding of the doctrine of awareness.