Mormon Statements Affirming Biblical Tests for Prophets
This article sets forth biblical tests for discerning whether someone is a true prophet of God and shows that the LDS Church has affirmed the validity of these tests. It first explains that appeals to spiritual experiences in defense of a prophet are not decisive, because some false prophets claim to act on behalf of Jesus Christ and to be inspired by the Spirit. The article then presents four basic, biblical tests. You can click on any of the links shown here to go directly to that test.
(1) The true prophet’s predictions in God’s name come true; predictions in God’s name that fail to come true are the mark of a false prophet.
(2) The true prophet’s teachings must agree with established doctrines that came through earlier, genuine revelations, specifically those found in Scripture (in particular the Bible). A prophet whose teachings clearly contradict earlier revelations is a false prophet.
(3) The true prophet’s fruits are good; the false prophet’s fruits are bad.
(4) The true prophet’s revelations are authentic, factually solid, and reasonable; revelations that are inauthentic (because they are anachronistic, contain plagiarism, etc.), contrary to known facts, or illogical are not from God.
For each test, quotations from the Bible (KJV) are presented that teach the test, followed by quotations from Mormon authorities affirming the validity of the test. Again, we preface those four tests with an explanation of why an individual’s spiritual experience is not a valid test.
Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves…. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. (Matt. 7:15, 21-23)
For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. (Matt. 24:24; also Mark 13:22)
Despise not prophesyings. Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. Abstain from all appearance of evil. (1 Thess. 5:20-22)
Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. (1 John 4:1)
Just like ancient Israel, we must be able to discern between true and false prophets.1
…nothing is a greater injury to the children of men than to be under the influence of a false spirit when they think they have the Spirit of God.2
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. (Deut. 18:20-22)
Then said I, Ah, Lord GOD! behold, the prophets say unto them, Ye shall not see the sword, neither shall ye have famine; but I will give you assured peace in this place. Then the LORD said unto me, The prophets prophesy lies in my name: I sent them not, neither have I commanded them, neither spake unto them: they prophesy unto you a false vision and divination, and a thing of nought, and the deceit of their heart. Therefore thus saith the LORD concerning the prophets that prophesy in my name, and I sent them not, yet they say, Sword and famine shall not be in this land; By sword and famine shall those prophets be consumed. (Jer. 14:13-15)
The prophet which prophesieth of peace, when the word of the prophet shall come to pass, then shall the prophet be known, that the LORD hath truly sent him. (Jer. 28:9)
Eight or nine years ago they [the Irvingites] had about sixty preachers going through the streets of London, testifying that London was to be the place where the “two witnesses” spoken of by John, were to prophesy; that (they) the church and the spirit were the witnesses, and that at the end of three years and a half there was to be an earthquake and great destruction, and our Savior was to come. Their apostles were collected together at the appointed time watching the event, but Jesus did not come, and the prophecy was then ambiguously explained away.3
The ultimate test of a true prophet is that when he speaks in the name of the Lord his words come to pass. That standard was explained by the Lord to Moses in these words: “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” (Deut. 18:22).4
Test #2: The true prophet’s teachings must agree with established doctrines that came through earlier, genuine revelations, specifically those found in Scripture (in particular the Bible). A prophet whose teachings clearly contradict earlier revelations is a false prophet.
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. Ye shall walk after the LORD your God, and fear him, and keep his commandments, and obey his voice, and ye shall serve him, and cleave unto him. And that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams, shall be put to death; because he hath spoken to turn you away from the LORD your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed you out of the house of bondage, to thrust thee out of the way which the LORD thy God commanded thee to walk in. So shalt thou put the evil away from the midst of thee. (Deut. 13:1-5)
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)
Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. (Rom. 16:17)
I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed. (Gal. 1:6-9)
Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world. (1 John 4:2-3)
Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. (Jude 3)
In secular as well as spiritual affairs, Saints may receive Divine guidance and revelation affecting themselves, but this does not convey authority to direct others, and is not to be accepted when contrary to Church covenants, doctrine or discipline, or to known facts, proven truths, or good common sense…. The Holy Ghost does not contradict its own revealings. Truth is always harmonious with itself.5
Even if individuals claim that their message is of God or is approved by the Church, if it does not conform to established doctrine, one can safely put it down as being false.6
It makes no difference what is written or what anyone has said, if what has been said is in conflict with what the Lord has revealed, we can set it aside. My words, and the teachings of any other member of the Church, high or low, if they do not square with the revelations, we need not accept them. Let us have this matter clear. We have accepted the four standard works as the measuring yardsticks, or balances, by which we measure every man’s doctrine.7
Next, John gave the means by which his readers could test a person or prophet to see if he were of God:
“Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.” (1 Jn. 4:2–3.)
The belief that Jesus had not really come in the flesh but had only appeared to do so is called docetism.This belief was based on the gnostic view that it would be impossible for a divine being such as Christ to be associated with matter, since matter was evil. Docetism denied, therefore, the humanity of Christ, his physical suffering, his physical death, and his physical resurrection; he only seemed to have a physical body.
John denounced as deceivers and antichrist those “who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh” (see 1 Jn. 2:22–26; 2 Jn. 1:7) and pleaded with the Saints to hold fast to true doctrines: “Let that therefore abide in you, which ye have heard from the beginning. If that which ye have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, ye also shall continue in the Son, and in the Father.” (1 Jn. 2:24.)8
I had a conversation recently with a prominent minister of a church in the East and he said, I do not agree with you in your peculiar views. I answered, are you not for the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth? If you are, so am I. How is it possible to get up an argument? I will make a bargain. I will compare my religion with yours. We will start out with the Bible alone taking it as the standard. All that the Bible teaches for doctrine and practice we will take for our guide. If I have an error I will part with it. Will you do the same? …Take up the Bible, compare the religion of the Latter-day Saints with it, and see if it will stand the test.9
We appeal to the Bible to prove that the truths received through the restoration of the gospel are in accord with its teachings.10
When prophets write and speak on the principles of the gospel, they should have the guidance of the Spirit. If they do, then all that they say will be in harmony with the revealed word. If they are in harmony then we know that they have not spoken presumptuously. Should a man speak or write, and what he says is in conflict with the standards which are accepted, with the revelations the Lord has given, then we may reject what he has said, no matter who he is….
Mormonism, as it is called, must stand or fall on the story of Joseph Smith. He was either a prophet of God, divinely called, properly appointed and commissioned, or he was one of the biggest frauds this world has ever seen. There is no middle ground.
If Joseph Smith was a deceiver, who wilfully attempted to mislead the people, then he should be exposed; his claims should be refuted, and his doctrines shown to be false, for the doctrines of an impostor cannot be made to harmonize in all particulars with divine truth. If his claims and declarations were built upon fraud and deceit, there would appear many errors and contradictions, which would be easy to detect. The doctrines of false teachers will not stand the test when tried by the accepted standards of measurement, the scriptures.
…The world has been unable to place a finger upon anything that is inconsistent, or out of harmony in the revelations to Joseph Smith, with that which has been revealed before, or predicted by the prophets and the Lord Himself .11
I have seen also in the prophets of Jerusalem an horrible thing: they commit adultery, and walk in lies: they strengthen also the hands of evildoers, that none doth return from his wickedness: they are all of them unto me as Sodom, and the inhabitants thereof as Gomorrah. (Jer. 23:14)
Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. (Matt. 7:15-23)
Another test of a true prophet was established by the Savior Himself. True prophets should be distinguished from false prophets by the standard, “By their fruits ye shall know them” (Matt. 7:20).12
The Savior acknowledged that there would be imposters who would attempt to pass themselves off as his authorized representatives. He warned of false prophets who would come in sheep’s clothing but who would have their own selfish motives to fulfill. “Ye shall know them by their fruits,” he said.13
…similar to identifying plants by their fruits, we can identify false prophets and false teachers by their teachings, actions, and ideas.14
Test #4: The true prophet’s revelations are authentic, factually solid, and reasonable; revelations that are inauthentic (because they are anachronistic, contain plagiarism, etc.), contrary to known facts, or illogical are not from God.
Therefore, behold, I am against the prophets, saith the LORD, that steal my words every one from his neighbour. (Jer. 23:30)
Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word; it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, that thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed. (Luke 1:1-4)
If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things? (John 3:12)
And as he thus spake for himself, Festus said with a loud voice, Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad. But he said, I am not mad, most noble Festus; but speak forth the words of truth and soberness. For the king knoweth of these things, before whom also I speak freely: for I am persuaded that none of these things are hidden from him; for this thing was not done in a corner. (Acts 26:24-26)
Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. (2 Thess. 2:1-2)
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. (2 Tim. 4:3-4)
For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty. (2 Peter 1:16)
If we compare the historical, prophetical, and doctrinal parts of the Book of Mormon with the great truths of science and nature, we find no contradictions—no absurdities—nothing unreasonable. The most perfect harmony therefore exists between the great truths revealed in the Book of Mormon and all other known truths, whether religious, historical, or scientific.15
…convince us of our errors of doctrine, if we have any, by reason, by logical arguments, or by the word of God, and we will be ever grateful for the information, and you will ever have the pleasing reflection that you have been instruments in the hands of God of redeeming your fellow beings from the darkness which you may see enveloping their minds.16
In secular as well as spiritual affairs, Saints may receive Divine guidance and revelation affecting themselves, but this does not convey authority to direct others, and is not to be accepted when contrary to Church covenants, doctrine or discipline, or to known facts, proven truths, or good common sense…. The Holy Ghost does not contradict its own revealings. Truth is always harmonious with itself.17
Most people won’t buy stock or used cars without investigation, but several scriptural imitations are too often believed without their claims being checked. One is The Archko Volume, containing supposed reports on Jesus’ trial from the officials who judged him. The book obviously thrives because it is too easy to confuse what we would like to find with what is authentic…. The Archko documents were invented in the nineteenth century and published by a minister who pretended to discover original manuscripts in Rome and Constantinople. Born in 1824, William Dennes Mahan was a Cumberland Presbyterian minister by 1860, serving at least two decades in upper central Missouri, mainly at Boonville…. His success at copying the work of others led to overconfidence. He so openly plagiarized that he was removed from office.18
1. Old Testament Teacher Resource Manual (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2003), 180.
2. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 205.
3. Ibid., 211.
4. President Ezra Taft Benson, “Joseph Smith: Prophet to Our Generation,” Ensign, March 1994.
5. First Presidency (Joseph F. Smith, Anthon H. Lund, and Charles W. Penrose), 1913, quoted in Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2002), 411–16.
7. Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 3:203.
8. Kent P. Jackson, “Early Signs of the Apostasy,” Ensign, Dec. 1984.
9. President Brigham Young, May 18, 1873, in Journal of Discourses 16:43, 46. This statement is not found on LDS.org.
10. LeGrand Richards, A Marvelous Work and a Wonder, rev. and enlarged ed. (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 1976), 1.
11. Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954), 1:187, 188, 189, emphasis in original. Part of this passage is quoted in Old Testament Student Manual: Genesis—2 Samuel (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1980), 224–33.
12. President Ezra Taft Benson, “Joseph Smith: Prophet to Our Generation,” Ensign, March 1994.
13. Dean L. Larsen, “‘By Their Fruits Ye Shall Know Them,’” General Conference, Oct. 1985.
14. “Lesson 12: Matthew 7,” in New Testament Seminary Teacher Manual (2015).
15. Orson Pratt, Divine Authenticity of the Book of Mormon, 56.
16. Orson Pratt, The Seer (1853), 15-16.
17. First Presidency, quoted in Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual (2002), 411–16 (see n. 5 above).
18. Richard Lloyd Anderson, “I Have a Question,” Ensign, Sept. 1974; see also his article “The Fraudulent Archko Volume,” BYU Studies 15/1 (1974): 43–64.