“Is the gift of prophecy limited to those whom we sustain as prophets, seers, and revelators?” Ensign, Apr. 1990, 53–54
Dean Sorensen, academic vice-president, Ricks College. The answer is a simple no. Prophecy is a gift of the Spirit that can come to any baptized member. Its expression, however, is limited to our areas of responsibility. Only one person at a time, for example, serves as prophet for the entire Church.
When I think of the word prophecy, dramatic events immediately spring to mind. I picture in my mind’s eye Lehi warning his fellow citizens that Jerusalem is soon to be destroyed or Nephi seeing in vision the beautiful scenes surrounding the Savior’s birth, six hundred years before these events would occur.
Prophetic utterances from our prophets, living and dead, give powerful evidence of their divine callings and represent an important part of our scriptural heritage. But fortunately, the Lord has not limited this precious gift to his Apostles and prophets; he has extended it to many others. Elder James E. Talmage of the Quorum of the Twelve wrote, “No special ordination in the Priesthood is essential to man’s receiving the gift of prophecy. … This gift may be possessed by women also.” (Articles of Faith, 12th ed., Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1924, pp. 228–29.) The Old Testament, for example, uses the word prophetess to describe at least five women: Deborah (Judg. 4:4), Miriam (Ex. 15:20), Huldah (2 Kgs. 22:14), Noadiah (Neh. 6:14), and Isaiah’s wife (Isa. 8:3). Similarly, the New Testament makes reference to Anna, a prophetess (Luke 2:36). The Apostle Peter spoke of the last days when “your sons and your daughters shall prophesy.” (Acts 2:17; see also Joel 2:28.)
The gift of prophecy is but one of the many spiritual gifts from God. Consider the words of the Apostle Paul as he puts this gift in beautiful perspective:
“Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. …
“The manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.
“For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit;
“To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit;
“To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues:
“But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will. (1 Cor. 12:4, 7–11.)
Paul seems to place prophecy in the front rank of the spiritual gifts deemed most desirable: “Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy,” he exhorted. “He that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort.” (1 Cor. 14:1, 3.)
The Lord generously offers spiritual gifts to all of us, according to our needs and the service we are called upon to render. This is a key point. The most important question for us to consider is not “Who gets to prophesy, and who does not?” but rather “Which gifts of the Spirit do I need to fulfill my personal mission in this life, and how can I become worthy to receive them?”
We may wonder, “If so many people are allowed to prophesy, won’t this lead to confusion?” Again, the answer is no—if we keep the function of the gift in proper perspective. Consider this excellent counsel from Elder John A. Widtsoe of the Quorum of the Twelve:
“Revelations are given for a two-fold purpose: to furnish guidance for the Church, and to give comfort to the individual. …
“Divine manifestations for individual comfort may be received by every worthy member of the Church. In that respect all faithful members of the Church are equal. Such manifestations most commonly guide the recipients to the solution of personal problems. … They are cherished possessions, and should be so valued by those who receive them. …
“Every member of the Church may seek and receive revelation, but only for himself and those for whom he is responsible. Every officer of the Church is entitled to revelation to help him in the field into which he has been called, but not beyond. The bishop can claim no revelation except for his ward duties, the stake president for his stake duties only; the President of the Church is the only person who can receive revelations for the guidance of the Church as a whole. These limitations, coming from the Lord, protect the orderliness of the Kingdom of God on earth.” (John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1960, pp. 98–99, 101; italics added.)
When most of us consider the word prophecy, we usually think of it in the narrow sense as the gift of predicting future events. However, when considered fully, the term carries with it a much broader meaning. Elder Talmage suggests that “the function of prediction, often regarded as the sole essential of prophecy, is but one among many characteristics of this divinely given power. The prophet may have as much concern with the past as with the present or the future; he may use his gift in teaching through the experience of preceding events as in foretelling occurrences.” (Talmage, p. 228.)
Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the Quorum of the Twelve suggested that prophecy may correctly refer to all inspired utterances of prophets and that they may pertain to the past, present, or future. (See Mormon Doctrine, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966, p. 602.) This expanded interpretation helps us to understand our fifth Article of Faith, which states that we must “be called of God, by prophecy … to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof.” The term “by prophecy” as used in context with our various Church assignments means that the call to serve should come by revelation from the Holy Ghost.
Considered in this broader sense, the gift of prophecy is available to every member, and it is appropriate for every member of the Church to seek it, for it is by this gift that a testimony of the truth comes. (See Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1938, p. 312.) As Brigham Young expressed it: “Without revelation direct from heaven, it is impossible for any person to understand fully the plan of salvation. We often hear it said that the living oracles must be in the Church, in order that the Kingdom of God may be established and prosper on the earth. I will give another version of this sentiment. I say that the living oracles of God, or the Spirit of revelation must be in each and every individual, to know the plan of salvation and keep in the path that leads them to the presence of God.” (John A. Widtsoe, comp., Discourses of Brigham Young, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1954, p. 38.)