The Doctrine of Continual Revelation

President Thomas S. Monson

President Thomas S. Monson

The emails I receive these days give me ample opportunity to teach the gospel. Below is my response to a fundamentalist.

I will explain why you do not understand the doctrine of continual revelation, and why it is leading you away from the truth.

First, a scripture:

And I do this that I may prove unto many that I am the same yesterday, today, and forever; and that I speak forth my words according to mine own pleasure. And because that I have spoken one word ye need not suppose that I cannot speak another; for my work is not yet finished; neither shall it be until the end of man, neither from that time henceforth and forever.

Wherefore, because that ye have a Bible ye need not suppose that it contains all my words; neither need ye suppose that I have not caused more to be written. (2 Ne. 29:9–10)

Revelation can be a nebulous thing.  It is not always so clear cut that it builds on top of prior revelations and is in harmony with them.  Every prophet that has ever lived on the earth was rejected by his own generation because they thought he did not conform to the “old revelations,” that they changed them, and gave them something new.  Joseph gave us the script.  And I repeat. 

Along came Noah.  But he preached something different than the people thought they had heard before, and would not follow him.

Noah was a perfect man, and his knowledge or revelation of what was to take place upon the earth gave him power to prepare and save himself and family from the destruction of the flood. This knowledge, or revelation, … was not believed by the inhabitants of the earth. They knew Adam was the first man, made in the image of God; that he was a good man; that Enoch walked with God three hundred and sixty-five years, and was translated to heaven without tasting death. But they could not endure the new revelation: the old we believe because our fathers did, but away with new revelations. And the flood swept them away. …1

The example of Christ is so obvious that it almost requires no description.  Everyone, save His disciples, rejected Christ because He came preaching something “new.”  Do you not think the Pharisees were wise, and knew the “old revelations” by memory?  No, it was because Christ came teaching new revelations they thought they had not heard before, and he was rejected and crucified:

The same principle … was signally manifest among the Jews when the Savior came in the flesh. [They] boasted of the old revelations, garnished the sepulchres of the dead, gave tithes of mint and anise, made long prayers for a pretense, and crossed sea and land to make proselytes, but yet when the new revelation came fresh from the mouth of the great I Am himself, they could not endure it—it was too much. It showed the corruptions of that generation, as others before, and they cried, away with him; crucify him! …2

Joseph Smith experienced the exact same persecution, and for the same reason.  Many did not believe what Joseph taught because it smacked in the face of the “old revelations” and what they thought they knew about the gospel of Christ:

Once more, the same course and language were used when the Book of Mormon came to this generation. The old revelation, the old patriarchs, pilgrims and apostles, were blessed. We believe in them, but the new ones we cannot abide.”3

President Wilford Woodruff once reported:

I will refer to a certain meeting I attended in the town of Kirtland in my early days. At that meeting some remarks were made … with regard to the living oracles and with regard to the written word of God. … A leading man in the Church got up and talked upon the subject, and said: “You have got the word of God before you here in the Bible, Book of Mormon, and Doctrine and Covenants; you have the written word of God, and you who give revelations should give revelations according to those books, as what is written in those books is the word of God. We should confine ourselves to them.”

When he concluded, Brother Joseph turned to Brother Brigham Young and said, “Brother Brigham, I want you to take the stand and tell us your views with regard to the living oracles and the written word of God.” Brother Brigham took the stand, and he took the Bible, and laid it down; he took the Book of Mormon, and laid it down; and he took the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, and laid it down before him, and he said: “There is the written word of God to us, concerning the work of God from the beginning of the world, almost, to our day. And now,” said he, “when compared with the [living] oracles those books are nothing to me; those books do not convey the word of God direct to us now, as do the words of a Prophet or a man bearing the Holy Priesthood in our day and generation. I would rather have the living oracles than all the writing in the books.” That was the course he pursued. When he was through, Brother Joseph said to the congregation: “Brother Brigham has told you the word of the Lord, and he has told you the truth.”4

Christ himself said:

…Verily I say unto you, No prophet is accepted in his own country. (Luke 4:24; cf. Matt. 13: 57, Mark 6: 4, John 4: 44)

And it continues to this day.  People the world over reject President Monson as the Lord’s prophet on earth because they think he preaches a different gospel, including many fundamentalists.  This is unfortunate, but it is not surprising.  It is how people have treated the prophets since Adam.

Yea, wo unto this people, because of this time which has arrived, that ye do cast out the prophets, and do mock them, and cast stones at them, and do slay them, and do all manner of iniquity unto them, even as they did of old time.
And now when ye talk, ye say: If our days had been in the days of our fathers of old, we would not have slain the prophets; we would not have stoned them, and cast them out. (Helaman 13:24–25)

Our ninth Article of Faith reads:

We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God. (Articles of Faith 9)

You honor the prophets and apostles at the beginning of the restoration, and garnish their sepulchers, but you cast out their modern-day successors, saying they preach a different gospel.  I testify to you that they do not! It is the Restored Gospel of our Savior, Jesus Christ, and some day all will come to realize that, for every knee shall bow (Rom. 14:11; cf. Mosiah 27:31, D&C 76:110).

Christ spoke to you:

29 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous,
30 And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.

31 Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets.
32 Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers.
33 Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?
34 ¶ Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city:
35 That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar.
36 Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation.
37 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!
38 Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. (Matt. 23:29–38)

Will you follow Christ?  Will you follow those who Christ has sent and called to lead His Church today?

Notes:
  1. “Knowledge Is Power,” an editorial published in Times and Seasons, Aug. 15, 1842, pp. 889–90; spelling, punctuation, and grammar modernized; italics deleted; Joseph Smith was the editor of the periodical. []
  2. ibid. []
  3. ibid. []
  4. Wilford Woodruff, in Conference Report, Oct. 1897, pp. 22–23; punctuation modernized; paragraph divisions altered. []

14 Comments

  1. Kevin Harris
    Posted October 23, 2009 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the always well researched and informative posts.

  2. Posted October 23, 2009 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    You are welcome, Kevin.

  3. Mark Greene
    Posted October 23, 2009 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    I agree with your comments about continuing revelation but in conjunction with your post about accountability, I would like to offer another perspective. I don’t believe that the spirit of prophecy and revelation is always commensurate with priesthood authority. Revelation may be given to anyone as the Lord decides. This revelation can have important information for the Church in general or for mankind. This fact is evidenced in the Book of Mormon where prophets seemed to come out of the woodwork and where even babes prophesied. Revelation to any one individual does not necessarily mean that it will become official Church doctrine.

    The problem with thinking that you must have a priesthood office or an education degree in order to speak in the name of the Lord with authority is that once you have this office or degree you tend to think that no one below you can teach you. This problem was discovered and discussed by Pres. Henry Eyring in his 1988 BYU speech “Listen Together”. In this sense, those above are accountable to those below.

    When we say in the Church that we “follow the prophet” what do we mean? Are we following just one man or are we following fifteen prophets? While only one man holds all the keys of the kingdom, I would be concerned if there were discord between those designated as prophets. In such a case, I may even side with a position. This has occurred in the past, notably with the Jerusalem Council in the Book of Acts and with the question of Blacks holding the priesthood in our day. In both cases, discord turned to accord by the spirit of prophecy and revelation. When fifteen prophets agree such as in the proclamation on the family then if I disagree, I hold a dangerous position. The strength of any one voice is in the spirit of prophecy and revelation which requires our spiritual agency to discern. The strength of a prophetic voice is in unity with other prophets, past and present.

  4. Posted October 23, 2009 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for your comments Mark.

    I must disagree on a couple points. Revelation may be given to anyone the Lord chooses, but revelation given to any member may not be used to exercise authority over anyone not in their priesthood jurisdiction. I can receive revelation for my own family, but not for my ward, for instance (only the Bishop has authority to receive revelation for his ward). I would not use any revelation that I personally receive to give information to the Church as “important.” If there is “important” information that the Lord wants to give His Church, He will give it through His living prophet, who has the proper authority and keys over the whole Church.

    Yes, those above can learn from those below, but I don’t believe that is accountability. Accountability is responsibility to someone or for some activity. In this, I believe the Brethren are accountable to the Lord, first and foremost. Elder Oaks explained this well in his contrast between elected government officials and authorities called by God. The only accountability, I believe, that those in priesthood authority have towards us is that they do what the Lord has told them to do (their accountability is that they are accountable to God’s word).

    There has been “discord” or seeming “contradictions” between those designated as prophets in this dispensation. That is why continual revelation is so important. We are safe when we follow the living prophet, as he is God’s current mouthpiece on the earth. The strength of a prophetic voice is in unity with the living First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, not in any past prophet or apostle.

  5. Mark Greene
    Posted October 23, 2009 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

    Bryce:

    The point I was trying to make in my original comment is that all of us are accountable to the spirit of prophecy and revelation including the living prophet. The unity of the living prophet and the apostles comes by the spirit of prophecy and revelation. This is what makes the prophet as a “collective” prophet powerful. Revelation from the spirit of prophecy and revelation may be given to anyone and it may be important revelation. However, priesthood authority and priesthood keys must be followed for revelation to become authoritative or applied church doctrine. If you received a revelation that you thought was important for the Church membership, how would you proceed? The accountability that we all have is doing what the Lord has revealed to us even if it means being taught by someone of lesser authority.

  6. Antony
    Posted October 23, 2009 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

    Bryce, where do the Lehi’s and Samuel the Lamanite’s fit into the jurisdiction doctrine? They were respectively called to prophecy against the Israelites and the Nephites. Neither was the President of the Church or in the Quorum of 12 or any other position of authority in the then organised Church (at least not that I can discover). What about Isaiah or Jeremiah or the many prophets who were stoned / killed / ostracized for prophesying against the Israelites?

    I am also interested in your “fundamentalist” conversation. The “fundamentalists” that I have spoken to tend more towards wishing there was more revelation in the Church. The complaint is that since the members of the Church find it so hard to follow the council given that more and more is taken from the Church.

    Examples given are:
    - Law of Consecration gets pared down to Law of Tithing.
    - 7 year food and sundry supply becomes 1 year (and last I heard, in some places 3 months or less).
    - …

    The question asked is: Should the individual lower his goal because the majority are not willing to try for the higher goal?

    I am sure you know what Brother Joseph had to say about the Saints in his day (corn-dodger and hemlock knots?), and listening to President Ezra Taft Benson it has not changed much even in our day.

    In no way is this meant as disrespect for the 1st Presidency or Quorum of the 12, I believe that they are doing the best that they can with what they have been given: I believe that we as a Church though are suffering from the curse of 2 Nephi 28:30.

    As President Hinckley said, we all need to reach a little higher.

  7. Posted October 23, 2009 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

    If you received a revelation that you thought was important for the Church membership, how would you proceed?

    My father had to consider this question once, and his conclusion has always been the guiding principle in my life too (I’ll have to find out where he learned it). If we receive a new revelation that we think is important for Church membership, or even if we just haven’t ever heard it taught before by the proper Authorities, we should keep it private until the day that we hear or read that it is taught by a General Authority who has the right to teach such a revelation to the general membership of the Church. Then we may teach it to others too. Teaching it to others any time prior to that point is overstepping our priesthood authority.

  8. Posted October 23, 2009 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

    Antony,

    I believe Lehi and Samuel the Lamanite were called by God as prophets to teach the people, the same way God calls his prophets today. They may not have been the “president” of the Church as we know it, because there was no such church organization in their day. Isaiah, Jeremiah, the same way. They were called to teach the people what the Lord commanded them. Today, there are no such prophets outside of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and not outside the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. There may be individuals that are inspired of the Lord to teach good things, but the prophet of the Church is the only person on the earth with the authority to receive new revelation for mankind.

    The fundamentalist I conversed with believed that there had been NO revelation in the Church for the last 100 years, nay, since the days of Joseph Smith. He believed, therefore, that the Church had apostatized some time ago, and that there were no real prophets and apostles today, etc., etc. He claimed to be an active LDS member.

    I have no problem trying to live the laws of the gospel today as closely as we can, while still being in harmony with the teachings of the living prophets and apostles. I encourage it! As Elder Maxwell has said, that is true orthodoxy. See my series on the Law of Consecration.

    Yes, as President Hinckley said, we should all reach a little higher.

  9. Mark Greene
    Posted October 24, 2009 at 7:39 am | Permalink

    Should the Apostle Paul have kept his knowledge of no circumcision of the gentile members to himself? He proceeded to introduce his revealed knowledge through the proper priesthood channels of the Church. The Spirit of prophecy and revelation through the presiding authority of the Church at that time was the final arbiter.

  10. Posted October 24, 2009 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    Paul was an Apostle, therefore he was in that circle of prophets, seers, and revelators to which such revelation comes.

    If any of us believes we have received a new revelation for the Church, it is outside our priesthood authority to teach it to anyone else until those with the proper authority teach it. If there is something important for the general membership of the Church to know, God will reveal it through His prophets.

    Remember D&C 28.

  11. Mark Greene
    Posted October 24, 2009 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    Paul was an apostle but he was not the presiding prophet of the Church at that time. Are you saying that revelation, even important revelation, only comes to those designated as prophets in the “circle of prophets”? If so, this contradicts your previous statement that “revelation may be given to anyone the Lord chooses”. What was Joel prophesying in Joel 2:28? What did Moses mean in Numbers 11:29? I disagree with your position about teaching what we individually believe to be the truth even if we believe that it valid for the Church in general. If your position were right, Paul should be criticized. However, we do not individually have the right to teach such truths as official church doctrine until it is declared as such by those that have the authority. I asked you if you had received what you think is important revelation for a circle larger than yourself or your family how you should proceed. Your response was to keep it private. I prefer the Apostle Paul’s procedure. He taught what he believed to be revealed truth to the Church but he also took his beliefs before the priesthood authority of the Church where the Spirit of prophecy and revelation through the presiding authority of the Church decided the matter as official Church doctrine. The same procedure should apply to us today. The presiding prophet of the Church has the keys to the knowledge of the spirit of prophecy and revelation as it applies to the Church at a particular time. I believe this is the meaning of D&C 28:2. While the presiding prophet holds these keys and this authority, he does not have exclusive right to the spirit of prophecy and revelation.

  12. Posted October 24, 2009 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

    Mark, I’m going to try this again. Anyone can receive revelation, but no one may receive new revelations (that are unique or different from what the Brethren currently teach), and then teach them outside of their priesthood jurisdiction (which is precisely what Hiram Page was doing, and why D&C 28 was received to correct the Church). Revelation that is very important may be given to an individual, for their own edification, for their family, or for those over whom they preside in their office, but that revelation is not meant for the wider Church body. Such new revelation for the Church will come only through the prophet the Lord has designated for that purpose. If I received what I thought was important revelation for a circle larger than myself and my family, but it was something that was not currently taught by the General Authorities, then it would be very inappropriate for me to teach it to any other members of the Church (which is what Hiram Page was doing, and why he was wrong). It does not matter if we don’t teach it as “official Church doctrine.” It is not my priesthood right to teach it at all. It is only the prophet’s right and authority to introduce new or unique revelation to Church members. I would hold the revelation private to myself until the day that I learned the General Authorities teach it. Then it would be appropriate for me to also teach it. Such is the order in the priesthood (D&C 28:1–7). Again, Paul was an Apostle, we are not.

    Perhaps I can find out where my father learned about this. I’ve heard some talks myself on this subject. I’ll find them and post some links.

  13. Posted October 28, 2009 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    I must say, I haven’t received any emails from antis or fundies in quite some time now. I can’t decide whether I miss their emails or not.

    Arguing with them can be entertaining, but certainly wastes a lot of time.

    Great write-up of your email conversation with this fundamentalist. I love the story of Brigham Young preaching on the oracles vs. scriptures. Good stuff!

  14. Benjamin Oram
    Posted October 28, 2009 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

    This was an interesting conversation. It cause me to recall past teachings on the subject.

    Elder Packer made it clear when he said “leaders receive revelation for their own stewardships. Individuals can receive revelation to guide their own lives. But when one person purports to receive revelation for another person outside his or her own stewardship—such as a Church member who claims to have revelation to guide the entire Church or a person who claims to have a revelation to guide another person over whom he or she has no presiding authority according to the order of the Church—you can be sure that such revelations are not from the Lord.” (Boyd K. Packer, “Prayers and Answers,” Ensign, November 1979, p. 20).

    I think this conversation would also be helped by a definition of “important” revelations. Certainly the revelation that all persons may come closer to Christ through Temple study is important and may be given to an individual through personal revelation. This revelation may passed on to anyone since it comports with the teachings of all the prophets and apostles. However, if by “important” you mean a change in Church policy or a teaching concerning doctrine which is not currently in circulation, that will most definitely not be brought forward by anyone but the presiding authorities of the Church, lest we cease to be a church of order. For additional clarification, here are some talks that speak directly to the subject which I have found helpful.

    Elder Dallin H. Oaks (then Utah Supreme Court Justice) “Revelation,” 1981.
    President Ezra Taft Benson “Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet,” Ensign, June 1981.

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