A Lengthening Shadow: Is Quality of Thought Deteriorating in LDS Scholarly Discourse Regarding Prophets and Revelation? Part One

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Abstract. Many mistakes that occur in scholarly endeavors are understandable. The truth is often difficult to discover, and this makes errors inevitable and expected. And, of course, some mistakes are so insignificant that to complain of them would be mere pedantry. But this is not true of all errors. Some are both obvious and of such significance to their topics that they are egregious. With respect to the gospel, there is reason to be concerned that this is occurring to some degree on the topic of prophets and the Lord’s revelations to them. Erroneous claims and arguments are not difficult to find, including some published under the auspices of reputable and mainstream entities. Is it possible that such errors are becoming common, and commonly accepted, in Latter-day Saint scholarly discourse? To help answer this question, it is useful to consider, among others, works by Terryl Givens, Patrick Mason, and Grant Hardy. This paper will do so in three Parts.

Synoptic Introduction

My central concern is easy to state, particularly in question form: Is there a general deterioration of thought on the topic of prophets and revelation in LDS scholarly discourse, and is the deterioration worsening? Put another way: Do significant errors regarding prophets [Page 2]and revelation occur, and are they becoming both common, and commonly accepted, in the rhetoric of LDS scholars?

Errors and Their Egregiousness

To explain what I mean by “significant errors” in asking this two part question, imagine (if you have an interest in political theory) a discussion of the nature and effects of communist thought that omits the 85–100 million deaths caused by communist regimes in the twentieth century.1 Or (in the field of Mormon studies) imagine coming across an assertion that Joseph Smith himself claimed to be the author of the Book of Mormon — not its translator — based on how he was designated on the title page of the 1830 edition of the book (i.e., “author and proprietor”), entirely ignoring the publication conventions of the time that thoroughly explain this peculiarity.2 Or (if you have a background in philosophy) imagine a claim that a particular study provides a comprehensive treatment of Wittgenstein’s philosophical thought, only to discover that the treatise focuses exclusively on the Tractatus and completely ignores the Investigations (among other later works).3

All these errors would be (or are) egregious, partly because they are so obvious. In each of these cases the relevant facts are both easily accessible and important to the topic, and it would be unconscionable to overlook them. Indeed, one might say that some intellectual errors are so obvious, and so significant to their subject matter, that they amount to betrayal of the intellect itself. It is hard to imagine any justification for them.

These examples are useful because the first element of our two-part question asks whether errors of this type are to be found in scholarly gospel discussions regarding prophets and revelation. After all, it would seem that a significant number of mistaken claims and arguments have appeared on the topic in recent years. The subject is certainly significant, so the only real question is whether the errors are so obvious and so important to the topic that there is no justification for them. Do they, too, constitute a betrayal of the intellect?

Errors and Their Contamination of the Intellectual Landscape

The second element of our two-part question asks whether such errors, if they are occurring, are spreading their influence and infiltrating the thinking of LDS scholars generally. After all, it is one thing for an author to make a significant mistake in his or her own personal thinking and quite another for a respectable and mainstream venue to compound that [Page 3]error by accepting and publishing it. It is still another for the error then to be widely accepted by the scholar’s peers as non-error.

To the degree this occurs, authors’ original mistakes can spread without limit, infiltrating and contaminating the conventional wisdom of scholars generally, subtly reconstituting the intellectual landscape they accept and share. False conclusions can become the new shared assumptions — never to be questioned again — and deficient patterns of thinking can become the new norms in argument. Intellectual standards themselves thus decline.4

Is this general deterioration of thought occurring in LDS scholarly discourse regarding prophets and revelation?

The Path Forward

To explore the two-part question of this paper, I will identify a number of recent mistakes regarding prophets and revelation that have been produced by LDS scholars and published in reputable venues. These errors are composed of two parts: (1) a claim that is faulty because it is either completely tenuous, implausible, or manifestly false; and (2) the errors in analysis that lie behind the faulty claim and that lead to it. Whether appearing in offhand comments or in the course of full investigations of prophets and revelation, examples of such errors do not seem difficult to find.

Because this article is lengthy, it is divided into three parts — Part One appearing here, and Parts Two and Three in subsequent issues. Since some readers will want only a headline view of the content, periodic summaries and conclusions appear along the way, including a general conclusion at the end of Part Three. The following sections appear over the three Parts:

Part One

Terryl Givens and Patrick Mason: “In All Patience and Faith”
Patrick Mason: The Lord’s Guidance to the Church
Terryl Givens and Patrick Mason: The Priesthood-Temple Restriction
Conclusion to Part One

Part Two (all sections are based on Grant Hardy’s work)

Grant Hardy: Introduction
Nephi as Exclusionary and Condemning in Attitude
Nephi’s Failure to Eat of the Fruit of the Tree
[Page 4]Nephi’s Misleading Narrative Regarding Laman and Lemuel
“Another Side” to the Story Regarding Laman and Lemuel
Nephi’s Omission of Lehi as a Witness of the Lord
“Irony” in Nephi’s Committing the First Act of Killing in the Book of Mormon
One Methodological Note
Conclusion to Part Two

Part Three

Terryl Givens: Abraham, Moses, and Jonah
Brief Additional Illustrations
General Conclusion: A Lengthening Shadow

Despite the length of this article, the examples I address are still just a sample of a larger pool of mistakes I have noticed, all of which could be examined in the same way. Nevertheless, the instances discussed here are at least instructive, and others can add to my list as their own time and interests permit. Together, the examples we consider will allow readers to reach their own assessment of the two-part question posed by this paper.

A final note: Although it facilitates expression to refer to well-known authors by name, this article is not a study of authors. It is a study of claims. Do the assertions we examine withstand scrutiny or don’t they? The question (as always) is not whether an author is smart or famous or “faithful” (ad hominem considerations all), or even whether anything else an author has produced is cogent or even admirable. The only question is whether a given important claim is intellectually sound — and if it is not, the reasons it is not. That is the focus of this study.

Terryl Givens and Patrick Mason:
“In All Patience and Faith”

To begin, consider a single paragraph by Terryl Givens.5 In it he desires to show that we should not expect moral superiority from men called as prophets — they are not “infallible specimens of virtue and perfection.” As partial support for the obviousness of this claim, Givens draws attention to the Lord’s statement to the infant Church, regarding Joseph Smith, that “thou shalt give heed unto all his words and commandments” and that “his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith” (D&C 21:4–5). Givens quotes only the phrase “in [Page 5]all patience and faith” in this passage, however, remarking that “God would not have enjoined us to hear what prophets, seers, and revelators have to say ‘in all patience and faith’ if their words were always sage and inspired.”6 Givens thus interprets this passage to indicate that we are to have patience and faith toward the Brethren since they are not always “sage and inspired.”

Givens has made this claim more than once,7 and Patrick Mason has recently made it at much greater length — devoting an entire chapter to the matter in a recent popular book.8

Misreading and Absurdity

Unfortunately, the interpretation Givens and Mason offer of this verse is untenable. After all, immediately prior to telling us to receive prophets’ word in patience and faith,9 the Lord tells us to receive that word “as if from mine own mouth.” But this creates an obvious problem. If the Lord is telling us to receive prophets’ words as if from his own mouth, it is not likely that he is simultaneously telling us to have patience and faith because those words might not be “sage and inspired.” Such an interpretation reduces to the claim that the Saints should recognize that the Lord’s own words are not always sage and inspired and therefore that members should be patient with him. This absurdity is not what Givens and Mason intend, but it is what their interpretation of the verse logically entails.

A Natural Interpretation

The Lord’s instruction to consider Joseph Smith’s words “as if from mine own mouth,” and to do so “in all patience and faith,” would more naturally be interpreted to mean something like: “Follow my servant Joseph even though you will suffer all manner of persecution and hardship by doing so” — which of course is exactly what history shows that the Saints experienced. Such a statement is hardly unique to Joseph Smith, however. The Lord could have said the same (and probably did) regarding ancient prophets like Noah and Moses. Far from encouraging his children at the time to be patient with these prophets (e.g., “be tolerant of Moses even though his clumsy confrontations with Pharaoh are making your lives harder day by day”), a statement of this sort would actually have meant: “Trust that Moses is following my will even though in the short term Pharaoh will make your hard lives even harder” (see Exodus 5:5–22).

[Page 6]The application is equally obvious in the case of Lehi. At the time they first left Jerusalem an admonition to receive Lehi’s word “in all patience and faith” would emphatically not have been a command to put up with this “visionary man” who was needlessly causing everyone such sacrifice. Instead, it would have been something like: “Trust in your father even though I have not told him where you are going, how long it will take, or how hard it will be. I will provide help along the way, but fundamentally your father is doing my will in patience and faith — not knowing all the answers — and so should you.”

The same point, of course, could be made regarding prophets ranging from Abraham and Daniel to Jeremiah, Abinadi, and John the Baptist. The scriptural record indicates that following each of them would have required patience and faith — not because they were mistaken, but precisely because they were right. Worldly elements rejected these prophets, and those who followed them risked exactly the same treatment. This seems a common element in scriptural history: The character of our fallen world (including Satan’s widespread and destructive influence) all but guarantees trying circumstances, to one degree or another, for those who follow the prophets, and those circumstances guarantee the need for patience and faith. The Lord’s words to Joseph Smith are entirely consistent with such a theme. Far from suggesting we need to be patient with prophets, the passage tells us we need to be patient in enduring the worldly consequences of following prophets. This is a scripturally consistent interpretation of the passage and, unlike the Givens/Mason reading, it does not entail absurd consequences.

A recent example of this principle is evident in the reaction to certain remarks made by President Russell M. Nelson. He spoke explicitly of the process through which the presiding councils of the Church receive revelation, and identified as revelation a specific decision made through this process (regarding children in same-sex marriages)10 — a decision that did in fact result in public criticisms of the Church, which easily found high-profile coverage.11 Remarks of Elder M. Russell Ballard are also interesting in this regard. He said, “This is the Church of Jesus Christ. He is the head of it. We know His will; we fight His battles.”12 That Elder Ballard uses the term “battles” makes obvious that he sees controversy to be inevitable regarding certain decisions and actions by the presiding Brethren, and that, more than anything, is what would seem to require patience and faith.13

All this seems evident enough. Unfortunately, Givens and Mason quote only a part of the passage they cite, and this leads them into error. [Page 7]They reach a conclusion about prophets that, judging by where they have presented it, has had influence among the Saints, even though it is the near-opposite of what the verse actually says and even though it entails a conclusion about the Lord that is logically absurd.

Patrick Mason: The Lord’s Guidance to the Church

Consider next Patrick Mason’s discussion regarding the Lord’s guidance to the Church. In the course of his chapter “In All Patience and Faith,”14 Mason asserts that, just as with individuals, the Lord “intervenes occasionally” in guiding the Church.15 The rest of the time the Lord operates with the presiding councils of the Church according to the principle familiar from Joseph Smith: namely, they possess correct principles and govern themselves.16 Revelation from the Lord thus occurs on a now-and-then basis, and the rest of the time the Brethren operate according to their own judgment. That is why they can make errors — even “grave” ones — and that is why patience regarding them is required of us.17

But is “occasional” — “now-and-then” — an apt description of the extent to which the Lord provides revelation to his leaders? It is worth asking since Mason fails to account for two large considerations in making this claim. The first is a question of mere plausibility, and the second is a question of what prophets and apostles themselves have said on this topic.


Think of the matter first from the standpoint of plausibility. Consider, to begin, Russell M. Nelson’s experience, prior to joining the Twelve, of a vision he received during the course of performing heart surgery. The vision showed him how to proceed to solve a valve problem that had not yet been medically discovered, and that resulted in his patient’s recovery.18 Consider also the report of President Gordon B. Hinckley announcing from the pulpit that the Lord had just revealed to him the man who should be called as patriarch in a different but related stake — an account similar to examples shared by President Thomas S. Monson, among others, in calling stake patriarchs.19 Note also the public report that Harold B. Lee, following his death, visited with Hugh B. Brown from the spirit world incident to the dedication of the Washington, D.C. Temple.20 Note, as well, President Nelson’s experience of contact from two sisters beyond the veil — contact that eventually led to significant [Page 8]spiritual accomplishment by their family members on this side of the veil.21 Also relevant is the experience of Bruce R. McConkie, who, in a vision, saw Joseph F. Smith and others from the spirit world who were in attendance at the funeral of Joseph Fielding Smith.22 And consider as well the direction given to Dallin H. Oaks as he left the presidency of BYU. He was choosing at the time between pursuing possible nomination to the Utah Supreme Court and several much more lucrative positions in the legal profession. He received the specific direction: “Go to the Court and I will call you from there.”23

These experiences — and there are far more that could be cited — are useful to consider for two reasons. First, they are interesting because their scope is so limited. Hugh B. Brown enjoyed a through-the-veil experience that enriched him but no one else. Presidents Hinckley and Monson (and others) experienced revelations regarding patriarchs, one stake at a time, and President Nelson had a through-the-veil experience that blessed a single family. And Bruce R. McConkie similarly enjoyed a vision that directly blessed no one but himself. Such experiences indicate the Lord’s willingness to provide revelation on matters of limited scope, and this at least suggests that he would be willing to provide it on matters of much wider consequence — matters of importance to the entire Church, not to mention the world.

Second, it is relevant that Russell M. Nelson and Bruce R. McConkie had the visions mentioned above prior to their callings to the Twelve, and that Dallin H. Oaks received specific direction from the Lord in discrete and exact words before he was likewise called as an apostle. Such experiences indicate these individuals’ openness to the Spirit, and it seems reasonable to suppose their capacity would not diminish after being ordained prophets, seers, and revelators. This supposition, combined with the first point — that the Lord is probably willing to give revelation on a range of matters, including important ones — makes plausible the idea that he does give revelation on a range of matters, including important ones. This is not dispositive, of course, but it is clearly suggestive that revelation is more common than the “occasional” or “now-and-then” revelation that Mason supposes.

Prophets and Apostles on Revelation

But plausibility is not the only issue. In claiming that revelation to the presiding Brethren is only “occasional,” Mason also fails to address multiple direct declarations by prophets and apostles that contradict his [Page 9]view — and that would therefore seem to require discussion by him. Speaking as the prophet, for example, President Kimball said:

We testify to the world that revelation continues and that the vaults and files of the Church contain these revelations which come month to month and day to day. I know the Lord lives and I know that he is revealing his mind and will to us daily, so that we can be inspired as to the direction to go.24

President Harold B. Lee spoke similarly:

I bear you my solemn witness that it is true, that the Lord is in his heavens; he is closer to us than you have any idea. You ask when the Lord gave the last revelation to this church. The Lord is giving revelations day by day, and you will witness and look back on this period and see some of the mighty revelations the Lord has given in your day and time. To that I bear you my witness.25

President Gordon B. Hinckley also reported:

There has been in the life of every [prophet and apostle I have known] an overpowering manifestation of the inspiration of God. Those who have been Presidents have been prophets in a very real way. I have intimately witnessed the spirit of revelation upon them. … Each Thursday, when we are at home, the First Presidency and the Twelve meet in the temple, in those sacred hallowed precincts, and we pray together and discuss certain matters together, and the spirit of revelation comes upon those present. I know. I have seen it.26

These are expressions from three men who served as prophets: “He is revealing his mind and will to us daily,” “the Lord is giving revelations day by day,” and prophets possess “an overpowering manifestation of the inspiration of God.” Few would employ the concept of “occasional” to summarize what such statements indicate about the degree to which prophets receive revelation from the Lord.

But of course these declarations are far from the only descriptions of revelation in the presiding councils of the Church. Elder Boyd K. Packer, for example, also spoke of recorded but unpublished revelations: “Perhaps one day other revelations which have been received and have been recorded will be published.”27 Of his own experience as a member of the Twelve and the First Presidency, President James E. Faust said, “I can testify that the process of continuous revelation comes to the Church [Page 10]very frequently. It comes daily.”28 Speaking similarly, President Howard W. Hunter said that “there is an unending stream of revelation flowing constantly from the headwaters of heaven to God’s anointed servants on earth.”29 And Spencer W. Kimball once reported of President McKay that he was “responsible for … more revelations in his fifteen years of leadership than are in all the Doctrine and Covenants.” He added:

I could take time to tell you of these revelations — temples that have been appointed, people who have been called, apostles who have been chosen, great new movements that have been established, great new eras, great new challenges. … They came by revelation.30

Speaking specifically of their callings as seers, President Boyd K. Packer said of those who lead the Church that “it is their right to see as seers see” and, based on what they see, “it is their obligation to counsel and to warn.”31 And Elder Dallin H. Oaks observed, “Visions do happen. Voices are heard from beyond the veil. I know this.” He added that most revelation, however, “comes by the still, small voice,” and then said, “I testify to the reality of that kind of revelation, which I have come to know as a familiar, even daily, experience to guide me in the work of the Lord.”32

In this connection President Boyd K. Packer’s declaration is noteworthy. He said that experiences such as “dreams, visions, visitations, miracles” are present in the Church, and added, “You can be sure that the Lord can, and at times does, manifest Himself with power and great glory.”33 On another occasion he said, “He lives now, directing personally the operations of His Church upon the earth and manifesting Himself personally to His servants.”34 He also remarked, “Revelation continues with us today. The promptings of the Spirit, the dreams, and the visions and the visitations, and the ministering of angels all are with us now.”35

Of the revelatory powers that occur in the Church, Elder James E. Faust shared the experience enjoyed in President Kimball’s first temple meeting with all the general authorities following his ordination and setting apart as President of the Church. Elder Faust reported that President Harold B. Lee, who had just passed away, was present and that “the spirit of President Lee bore witness to us — that we should support and sustain President Spencer W. Kimball, and that everything that has been done is in accordance with the mind and the will of the Lord.” Elder Faust added that they felt the presence of other prophets as well, [Page 11]including “President Smith, President Grant, President Taylor, President Snow, the Prophet himself, and even the Savior Jesus Christ.”36

Speaking similarly, President Boyd K. Packer reported the presence of Brigham Young, Lorenzo Snow, and Elder Rudger Clawson at the dedication of the Brigham City temple,37 and, at the solemn assembly in which he was sustained as President of the Church, Harold B. Lee spoke of the presence of “personages,” some of whom were unseen and some of whom were “seen.”38

Elder David B. Haight publicly shared one experience in which he “was shown a panoramic view” of the Lord’s earthly ministry. Elder Haight saw the Lord’s baptism, his teaching, his healing of the sick, his mock trial, and his crucifixion and resurrection. He viewed such scenes “in impressive detail, confirming scriptural eyewitness accounts.” Elder Haight said, “[I] was taught over and over again the events of the betrayal, the mock trial, the scourging of the flesh of even one of the Godhead,” and witnessed his “struggling up the hill in His weakened condition carrying the cross.” He also saw the Savior stretched upon the cross, the nailing of his body to it, and his hanging on the cross “for public display.” “The eyes of my understanding,” Elder Haight remarked, “were opened by the Holy Spirit of God so as to behold many things.”39

In this connection it is relevant that Boyd K. Packer could say of the Lord that “I know Him when I see Him, and I know His voice when I hear Him.”40 This report bespeaks a familiarity with the Lord that completely belies Mason’s view. The same is true of Elder Richard G. Scott’s declaration: “I bear solemn witness that He lives. I know He lives because I know Him.”41 President Packer also referred to the words exclaimed by Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon following their joint vision of the Savior: “This is the testimony last of all which we give of him: That he lives! For we saw him” (D&C 76:22–23). President Packer’s comment was simply, “Their words are my words.”42 And, after remarking that many witnesses saw the Lord shortly following his resurrection, President Ezra Taft Benson added, “There have been many in this dispensation who have seen Him. As one of those special witnesses … I testify to you that He lives. He lives with a resurrected body.”43 President James E. Faust spoke similarly. Bearing witness of the Savior “as one of the special witnesses,” he said, “I know that He is close to the leadership of the Church … He lives.” He added, “I can testify with the same conviction and sureness as the brother of Jared. As he saw the finger of God, it is written, ‘he believed no more, for he knew.’ I know.”44

[Page 12]Speaking in the same general vein, President Marion G. Romney once remarked:

I think that the witness that I have and the witness that each [of the apostles] has, and the details of how it came, are too sacred to tell. I have never told anybody some of the experiences I have had, not even my wife. I know that God lives. I not only know that he lives, but I know him.45

Speaking of this topic generally, Elder McConkie declared that modern apostles “are expected, like their counterparts of old, to see and hear and touch and converse with the Heavenly Person, as did those of old.”46 He said that apostles have the obligation to see the Lord — indeed, that they “are entitled and expected to see his face, and that each one individually is obligated to ‘call upon him in mighty prayer’ until he prevails.”47

Finally, it is important to note President Boyd K. Packer’s testimony that although the beginning of the Church was initiated “by the veil parting and visitations from beyond the veil,” such experience “if anything, has been intensified in our generation. I bear witness to that.”48 On another occasion, he remarked, “There has come, these last several years, a succession of announcements that show our day to be a day of intense revelation, equaled, perhaps, only in those days of beginning, 150 years ago.”49 And on yet a third occasion, he reported that “we now live in a more intense period of revelation” than in the early days of the Restoration. “The Lord is close to us and is revealing Himself to us as the great work of the Restoration moves forward.”50

An apt summary of all that we have considered is President Harold B. Lee’s statement to members that “the measure of your true conversion … is whether or not you are so living that you see the power of God resting upon the leaders of this Church and that testimony goes down into your heart like fire.”51 In President Lee’s view, the degree to which the power of God rests upon his leaders is significant enough, and apparent enough, that he equates appreciation of this with conversion itself.

All these statements are consistent with the expression of one Book of Mormon author who reported that “there are many among us who have many revelations.” He said that “as many as are not stiffnecked and have faith, have communion with the Holy Spirit, which maketh manifest unto the children of men” (Jarom 1:4). To Jarom, communion with the Spirit should be more than merely periodic for everyone.

[Page 13]The statements we have considered also put one in mind of President Boyd K. Packer’s remark regarding those who disagree with decisions that are made and who point to their disagreement as “evidence that the leaders are not inspired.” He said, “It has always been so. Helaman described those who ‘began to disbelieve in the spirit of prophecy and in the spirit of revelation; and the judgments of God did stare them in the face’ (Helaman 4:23).”52 On another occasion President Packer spoke of the sadness this entails. “To see clearly what is ahead and yet find members slow to respond or resistant to counsel or even rejecting the witness of the apostles and prophets brings deep sorrow.”53

All the statements we have considered are relevant to Mason’s view that revelation in governing the Church is “occasional.” Individually, and certainly as a whole, these declarations contradict Mason’s claim. Moreover, all these statements appear in prominent places and are completely accessible — and there are a lot of them. Though Mason does not do so, it would seem incumbent on anyone who asserts “revelation is only occasional” to address them.

An Important Proviso about Revelation: Degrees of Importance and Degrees of Control

In light of so many statements regarding the ongoing nature of revelation in the presiding councils of the Church, it is important to note that just because revelation occurs frequently, even daily, does not mean it is constant and that the Lord gives revelation on every matter faced by the presiding Brethren. The Lord did not always direct Joseph Smith on the endless array of issues that came before him but left him to his own judgment. “Speaking of revelation,” it is reported, “he [Joseph Smith] stated that when he was in a ‘quandary,’ he asked the Lord for a revelation, and when he could not get it, he followed the dictates of his own judgment. …”54

This is easy to understand, both in the Prophet’s day and in ours. The current Brethren deal with an enormous number of matters, and they vary widely in importance. On this topic Elder Dallin H. Oaks remarked (regarding the experience of all members) that “we are often left to work out problems without the dictation or specific direction of the Spirit. That is part of the experience we must have in mortality.” Thus, he said, “revelations from God … are not constant. We believe in continuing revelation, not continuous revelation.” But, he added:

Fortunately, we are never out of our Savior’s sight, and if our judgment leads us into actions beyond the limits of what is [Page 14]permissible and if we are listening … the Lord will restrain us by the promptings of his Spirit.55

President Packer taught the same principle. He said that “you cannot make a mistake, any mistake that will have any lasting consequence in your life, without having been warned and told not to do it.”56

Although Elder Oaks and President Packer are speaking of members and leaders generally, there is every reason to suppose that is how the Lord often leads the Church itself. Although direct guidance is felt frequently (as mentioned earlier, Elder Oaks reports in this same talk that he experiences it “daily”), personal judgment also plays an important role in many dimensions. Often, on matters the Lord leaves to his leaders’ judgment in governing the Church, any number of options might be acceptable. Even though the alternatives might still vary in quality, they are all sufficiently satisfactory that he would actually restrain none of them. Nevertheless, there are always limits to what the Lord will permit — options that would not be acceptable — and thus, even on matters primarily left to mortal judgment, he prevents what goes beyond those limits. This would seem to be the purport of the remarks of Elder Oaks and President Packer as applied to the Church.

It is easy to imagine that the Lord exercises such varying degrees of direction and control based on the importance of the issues under consideration. Sidney Rigdon, for example, was directed by the Lord on two occasions to do as “seemeth him good” regarding certain particulars (D&C 41:8; 58:50–51), and other brethren were also told to decide a given issue on their own because, the Lord told them, that particular issue “mattereth not unto me” (D&C 60:5). In multiple other places the Lord speaks similarly — giving direction by the Spirit but leaving certain details for members to decide for themselves (e.g., D&C 38:37; 48:3; 61:35; and 62:7–8).

The scriptural record thus supports what would seem to be common sense: some issues matter a great deal, some matter to a small extent, and, comparatively speaking, some matter very little if at all, and the Lord exercises direction and control commensurate with such varying degrees of importance. Surely this reality explains why President J. Reuben Clark could remark that “we are not infallible in our judgment, and we err,”57 while President Gordon B. Hinckley could say that “the Lord is directing this work, and He won’t let me or anyone else lead it astray”58 (and President Uchtdorf could similarly say that “God will not allow His Church to drift from its appointed course”59). The difference in such [Page 15]statements would seem to stem naturally from a difference in the issues each has in mind and in their relative importance.60

A Well-Known Statement by B. H. Roberts

In light of all this, it is useful to note a statement by B. H. Roberts, quoted both by Terryl Givens and more fully by another recent author, Roger Terry.61 Terry, in particular, seems to use the statement to support a view like Mason’s regarding revelation to the Church. He quotes Elder Roberts as follows (emphases by Terry):

There is nothing in the doctrines of the Church which makes it necessary to believe that [men are constantly under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit], even … men who are high officials of the Church. When we consider the imperfections of men, their passions and prejudices, that mar the Spirit of God in them, happy is the man who can occasionally ascend to the spiritual heights of inspiration and commune with God! …

We should recognize the fact that we do many things by our own uninspired intelligence for the issues of which we are ourselves responsible. … He will help men at need, but I think it improper to assign every word and every act of a man to an inspiration from the Lord. Were that the case, we would have to acknowledge ourselves as being wholly taken possession of by the Lord, being neither permitted to go to the right nor the left only as he guided us. There could then be no error made, nor blunder in judgment; free agency would be taken away, and the development of human intelligence prevented. Hence, I think it a reasonable conclusion to say that constant, never varying inspiration is not a factor in the administration of the affairs of the Church; not even good men, though they be prophets or other high officials of the Church, are at all times and in all things inspired of God. It is only occasionally, and at need, that God comes to their aid.62

Here Elder Roberts seems clearly to support Mason’s view regarding the periodic nature of revelation (the subject we are considering in this section). But while Elder Roberts’ statement no doubt serves a useful purpose in denying exaggerated claims and expectations regarding those who hold the apostleship — including its highest office — it also presents us with a false choice. After all, from the fact that prophets [Page 16]are not inspired “at all times and in all things” it hardly follows that revelation is therefore only occasional. As we have seen at some length, the Brethren’s own statements identify the truth as falling somewhere between “constant” and “occasional,” and thus there is no justification for making these the only options. Indeed, Elder Roberts’ own reference to “need” suggests this: by his own account, if “need” is frequent, then inspiration too should be frequent. This, perhaps, is what we learn from the Brethren’s own declarations regarding the degree of guidance they receive: since they do not report receiving revelation “at all times and in all things,” but do report receiving it far more frequently than “occasionally,” the need for guidance would therefore itself seem to be more than occasional.

It is instructive to notice the false choice in this instance because Mason offers the same kind of faulty alternatives in his discussion. He positions his view of revelation-as-occasional specifically in contrast to this hypothetical: “If God were to dictate every decision and forcibly instigate every policy, if he refused to allow his Church leaders, from prophets to Primary presidents, to ever make mistakes or commit sin, he would be defeating his own purpose: to help us learn to use our moral agency to develop our divine nature and become like he is.”63 The problem with this statement is that it is so exaggerated, it loses meaning (e.g., “every decision,” “every policy,” “every Church leader, from prophets to Primary presidents,” “ever make mistakes,” “ever commit sin,” “dictate,” and “forcibly instigate”).64 As we have seen, there are more options for the Lord’s guidance than “every decision” and “occasional.” Thus, to create a choice where an extreme view like this is one of the alternatives, and where “occasional revelation” is the other, is, again, to create a false choice.

What all this demonstrates is the inherent risk in taking, as a starting point in one’s thinking, a position so extreme that it is obviously false. It is hard, for example, to imagine any thoughtful person who believes the Lord dictates “every decision” and prevents every mistake, or that “every word and every act” of anyone, in any position, is due to “inspiration from the Lord.” The fact that presiding councils govern the Church — not individuals (even prophets) acting on their own — is enough to disprove any notion of this sort.65 In addition to its obvious inaccuracy, however, the risk in starting with an extreme view of this kind is that it can beguile us into thinking that when we deny it, we automatically embrace its opposite. In other words, it is easy to suppose that if revelation is not constant, then it must be infrequent — merely occasional. But this is [Page 17]mistaken. If I deny the statement “revelation is received at all times and in all things,” all I assert is simply: “revelation is not received at all times and in all things.” I do not assert “revelation is only occasional.” That is more than a denial of the first statement: whether I am aware of it or not, it is a new contention, all its own. Unfortunately, it is easy to overlook this and thus to fall into the trap of manufacturing one extreme position out of another and then presenting the two of them as if they were our only alternatives. They’re not.66


Multiple public reports by those holding the apostleship appear to be straightforward contradictions of Mason’s claim about revelation. We have considered close to forty such declarations, some regarding guidance to the Church per se and some regarding personal spiritual manifestations (including examples prior to their callings to the Twelve). Whereas it would be unreasonable to expect Mason to address all these statements, it is incumbent on one asserting that revelation is only occasional to address at least some of them — or, for that matter, others like them.67 Unfortunately, Mason does not do so and thus does nothing to show how his view is to be reconciled with these contrary statements. Moreover, while it is possible to cite remarks by B. H. Roberts to support a view like Mason’s, that statement, due to its own weaknesses, actually fails to provide any such support.

Terryl Givens and Patrick Mason:
The Priesthood-Temple Restriction

In further exploring errors regarding revelation and prophets, it is useful to consider the priesthood-temple restriction removed in 1978. Both Givens and Mason make comments regarding this matter, and both suggest the original restriction was a mistake.68 Much regarding this restriction remains a mystery, of course (a major reason for this will be discussed in due course), and thus it is important to avoid adding to the mystery by making important errors when discussing it. Unfortunately, both Givens and Mason make such mistakes in their respective treatments. Errors include severely misconstruing, overlooking, and mis-reporting statements by Spencer W. Kimball; omitting consideration of relevant statements about previous prophets’ concern with the priesthood restriction; failing to address public statements made by [Page 18]apostolic witnesses who participated in the change; and overlooking a key distinction in the pattern of revelation in the Church.

Spencer W. Kimball: The Priesthood Restriction an Error?

In the course of discussing the imperfection and fallibility of Church leaders, Givens tells us that Spencer W. Kimball, as an apostle, “referred as early as 1963 to the priesthood ban as a ‘possible error’ for which he asked forgiveness.”69 He is referring to this statement by Elder Kimball in a letter: “I know the Lord could change his policy and release the ban and forgive the possible error which brought about the deprivation.”70

Patrick Mason cites the same statement in his own discussion of prophetic action.71 Like Givens, he takes the statement as evidence that prophets can make serious mistakes in guiding the Church, and asks: “Can I forgive prophets for their faults, even their occasionally severe ones, and be patient with my brothers?”72

Radical Misinterpretation

Unfortunately, this is another case (as in their discussion of D&C 21:4–5)73 where Givens and Mason both misread the very statement on which they rely. They take Elder Kimball to say that the priesthood temple ban might have been a mistake and that the Lord could forgive the Church leaders who made it — all leading to the ultimate release of the restriction. But in reaching this conclusion, they completely overlook Elder Kimball’s explicit reference to the priesthood ban as the Lord’s policy. He says, “I know the Lord could change his policy and release the ban.” Then he speaks about forgiving the “possible error” that brought about the restriction in the first place. But Elder Kimball obviously cannot be speaking of the restriction itself as an error because he has already identified it as the Lord’s policy: he cannot be saying both that it is the Lord’s policy and that it is an error. And for the same reason, when Elder Kimball speaks about forgiveness, he cannot be speaking about forgiveness for the policy: since he has already identified the restriction as the Lord’s doing this would amount to saying that the Lord might forgive himself — which of course would be absurd.

So what can Elder Kimball mean in speaking of “possible error” and of “forgiveness”? In addressing this matter it is important to consider the circumstances. At the time Elder Kimball wrote this letter (1963) the priesthood-temple restriction had long been in place, and yet there was no universally accepted explanation for the restriction. As will be discussed later, the Lord regularly gives instructions without [Page 19]explanations, and that often leaves all members (including leaders) on their own in trying to understand what the reasons might be in one case or another. (For example, why did the Lord restrict the priesthood to the tribe of Levi in the time of Moses? Why did he begin directing his work on earth through apostolic quorums after so many centuries of directing it through a system of patriarchs? If he is no respecter of persons, why, in the meridian of time, did God follow a sequence of presenting the gospel first to the house of Israel and only afterward to the gentiles? And so forth.) In such instances, some are entirely content to recognize that the Lord has left important questions incompletely answered (or, in some cases, not answered at all) and to leave the matter at that. Others pursue a different path and try to draw the best inferences they can from whatever evidence seems to apply. Those in the second category can be influenced by any number of factors, from cultural realities at the time to seeming hints appearing in scripture. At the time Elder Kimball wrote this letter, for example, one theory (advanced at the time by Joseph Fielding Smith and since explicitly disavowed by the Church) was that the restriction might have been due to lack of faithfulness in the pre-earth life. This theory is what Elder Kimball appears to have in mind in speaking of “possible error” and “forgiveness.” He seems to be saying something like this: “The priesthood ban is the Lord’s policy, but he could change it. If the restriction is due, as Joseph Fielding Smith (and some others) have thought, to error committed in the pre-earth existence, perhaps the Lord could forgive that error and release the restriction.” In nothing he says does Elder Kimball endorse this explanation, of course. (And again, the Church has explicitly disavowed it.) He obviously does not claim to know the reason for the restriction and thus speaks only hypothetically, mentioning nothing more than “possible” error. Nevertheless, as discussed above, Elder Kimball clearly identifies the restriction as the Lord’s policy and thus cannot be speaking of the policy itself as an error and as in need of forgiveness. He is conspicuously not saying what Givens and Mason represent him to be saying.

Ignoring a Relevant Statement

This becomes the more obvious when Elder Kimball goes on to say, in the same paragraph of the letter, that those who were pressing for change in the policy were bringing “into contempt the sacred principle of revelation and divine authority.”74 He would have little reason to say this if he hadn’t thought the policy was a matter of revelation and divine authority — particularly since he has just explicitly identified it as the Lord’s policy. [Page 20]This sentence about revelation simply assumes and reinforces the earlier sentence about whose policy it was. Unfortunately, Givens and Mason both fail to consider this part of Elder Kimball’s letter, in addition to completely misreading the part they do consider. As a result, Givens and Mason both reach a conclusion about Spencer W. Kimball that is the opposite of the truth. And they both reach it in the same way: through misreading one part of Elder Kimball’s letter and through omission of another part of the same letter.

Overlooking Obvious Counterevidence

But there is an additional problem, beyond such misreading and omission. After all, Givens takes Elder Kimball’s statement from a source in which the following declaration appears within centimeters of what he quotes. It is Spencer W. Kimball again, speaking as President of the Church, in response to a question about the priesthood restriction:

I am not sure that there will be a change, although there could be. We are under the dictates of our Heavenly Father, and this is not my policy or the Church’s policy. It is the policy of the Lord who has established it, and I know of no change, although we are subject to revelations of the Lord in case he should ever wish to make a change.75

“This is not my policy or the Church’s policy … it is the policy of the Lord who has established it.” This declaration is impossible to miss, appearing on the very page from which Givens quotes the earlier statement from Elder Kimball regarding “possible error” and “forgiveness.”76 It is additional evidence that Givens and Mason are inaccurate in their treatment.77 Such a statement would be included and carefully considered in any adequate study of Spencer W. Kimball on this topic, and yet both authors fail to consider it altogether.

This is the third mistake in these authors’ treatment of Elder/ President Kimball (in addition to radically misinterpreting one of his statements — leading to a logically absurd consequence — and overlooking another). As a result, nothing in their efforts supports the view that Spencer W. Kimball thought the priesthood-temple restriction might have been an error and hoped that it could be forgiven. If the priesthood ban was really a mistake, as Givens and Mason suppose, it is at least clear that Spencer W. Kimball did not think so, and thus it is inaccurate at best and disingenuous at worst to use his words to further their contention.
[Page 21]

Spencer W. Kimball: Personal Prejudice?

But there is yet an additional problem regarding the treatment of Spencer W. Kimball. In discussing President Kimball’s persistent plea to the Lord regarding the priesthood-temple restriction, Mason reports the following: “Kimball had to struggle and fight — mostly, he admitted, against himself, and against the prejudices [presumably, the racist sentiments] natural to a white man born in America in 1895.”78

But notice what President Kimball actually said on this matter:

I had a great deal to fight … myself, largely, because I had grown up with this thought that Negroes should not have the priesthood and I was prepared to go all the rest of my life until my death and fight for it and defend it as it was.


I have always prided myself on being about as unprejudiced as to race as any man. I think my work with the minorities would prove that, but I am so completely convinced that the prophets know what they are doing and the Lord knows what he is doing, that I am willing to rest it there.79

So President Kimball “admitted” nothing like Mason reports. Instead, he stated the exact opposite — that he was actually free of the prejudice Mason attributes to him and that what he had to “fight” was simply the psychological momentum created by his defense of the restriction over a lifetime. After all, once the responsibility fell upon him, as President, to lead in receiving the Lord’s revelations on important matters, he could no longer merely defend others as he had done throughout his ministry. Since, if the Lord changed his policy (as had been promised) it would be led through President Kimball, it now became President Kimball’s responsibility to ask independently, just as other Presidents before him had asked. It was a “fight” to shift from a longtime attitude of defense to an attitude of such openness to change should the Lord desire it, but this fight was not against “the prejudices natural to a white man born in America in 1895,” as Mason contends. That is actually the opposite of what President Kimball “admitted” about himself.80

Did the Lord Have to Wait on His Prophets?

It is also relevant to note this remark by Mason:

Some assume that for many decades prophets had patiently waited on God to reveal if and when the policy should change. [Page 22]Based on Kimball’s self-assessment, perhaps it was the case that God was patiently waiting on his prophets.81

The hypothesis Mason floats here overlooks significant evidence. For one thing, in addition to being radically mistaken about “Kimball’s self-assessment,” it overlooks President Kimball’s own report that “his predecessors had sought the Lord’s will concerning the priesthood policy, and for whatever reason ‘the time had not yet come.’”82 Since President Kimball had himself worked intimately with five of these predecessors over his decades in the Twelve, he can be considered a reliable source. Mason’s comment also overlooks Leonard Arrington’s report regarding President Lee’s fasting and prayer on the topic.83 In suggesting that prophets were casual about the subject of the priesthood temple restriction, it would seem that Mason should acknowledge and address such reports — particularly President Kimball’s own.84

In addition, Mason’s conjecture about the Lord waiting on his prophets also overlooks one report regarding President David O. McKay. According to the account, President McKay reported that he had “inquired of the Lord repeatedly” regarding the restriction on blacks holding the priesthood. In his latest inquiry, he said, “I was told, with no discussion, not to bring the subject up with the Lord again; that time will come, but it will not be in my time, and to leave the subject alone.”85 This is consistent with other statements regarding President McKay, including the report by Elder Marion D. Hanks that President McKay “had pleaded and pleaded with the Lord but had not had the answer he sought.”86

Also relevant on this issue is the report of Elder Boyd K. Packer, who was concerned about President Kimball’s inability to let the matter rest. He asked: “Why don’t you forget this?” But then, we are told, he “answered his own question, ‘Because you can’t. The Lord won’t let you.’”87 To Elder Packer’s mind President Kimball wasn’t focused on the priesthood-temple restriction purely as a matter of personal interest or simply as a function of his personality. To some significant extent it was the Lord making him restless and guiding him to deep pondering and preparation on the matter. Contrary to his workings with President McKay, now the Lord wouldn’t let his prophet leave the subject alone. All this, of course, is exactly what one would expect if the time had finally arrived for the change — as previous prophets had taught would come88 — and the Lord was now preparing for that transformation.

All these matters are relevant to Mason’s suggestion about the Lord’s “waiting patiently on his prophets.” In making this type of suggestion, [Page 23]one would hope that Mason would acknowledge and account for such statements by and about leaders of the Church (e.g., President Lee, President McKay, and Elder Packer), and particularly by President Kimball himself about past prophets. Unfortunately, Mason considers and addresses none of them.

Failure to Address Relevant Public Statements

In addition to the specific instances of error we have seen in the approach Givens and Mason take toward the priesthood-temple restriction, a general mistake is their failure to address the statements made by those present when the policy was actually changed. Elder Bruce R. McConkie, for instance, reports that in the very meeting where the revelation was received, President Kimball explicitly referred to the priesthood restriction as something the Lord had “theretofore directed.”89 This report, of course, is completely consistent with President Kimball’s earlier statement as President, cited above: “This is not my policy or the Church’s policy … it is the policy of the Lord who has established it.” Following the change, President Gordon B. Hinckley also said of the restriction: “I don’t think it was wrong … [V]arious things happened in different periods. There’s a reason for them.”90 Elder McConkie spoke similarly, as did President Boyd K. Packer.91 No one present and who has spoken publicly of the experience, has ever said the revelation was a correction of error. And for that matter, neither does the official statement of the revelation recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants (Official Declaration 2).

This pattern is consistent with the report we saw earlier regarding President David O. McKay, who, it is said, was told that the time for the change would come but that it would simply not come in his time.92 It is also consistent with President Kimball’s report, to the same effect, regarding other prophets.93

All these reports are relevant to the view held by Givens and Mason. They seem clear in suggesting that the priesthood-temple restriction was a mistake and that the 1978 revelation was a correction of that error. This is not an uncommon view. However, since each of the leaders mentioned above was intimately involved in apostolic discussions preceding the change, and since each was present when the change was actually made, and since each believed the change was not a correction, Givens and Mason need to supply an argument for why all of them were wrong. Unfortunately, both fail to consider the matter.
[Page 24]

Overlooking a Key Distinction:
Instructions vs. Explanations

In addition to the errors we have just reviewed, Givens and Mason also overlook a key distinction in understanding the pattern of revelation, both generally and in this dispensation. Although multiple scriptural principles pertain to revelation and sustaining the Brethren in general — most of which I have discussed elsewhere94 — one is particularly important regarding the priesthood-temple restriction. It is the distinction between instructions and explanations, a matter briefly mentioned earlier, that is pertinent to thinking about this subject. Elder Dallin H. Oaks said on this topic:

If you read the scriptures with this question in mind, “Why did the Lord command this or why did he command that,” you find that in less than one in a hundred commands was any reason given. It’s not the pattern of the Lord to give reasons. We [mortals] can put reasons to revelation. We can put reasons to commandments. When we do, we’re on our own.95

Elder Neal A. Maxwell emphasized the same point when he remarked: “I have found that the Lord gives more instructions than explanations.”96 Thus, while it is tempting to think that the Lord gives full light on everything he directs, this is actually not his pattern. When it comes to reasons and explanations, he often leaves mortals in the dark.

This, as suggested by both Elder Oaks and Elder Maxwell, seems to apply to every level of the Lord’s kingdom. Incidents in the lives of Abraham, Moses, Lehi, Nephi, Mormon, Joseph Smith, and others all demonstrate that prophets often follow the Lord’s direction without knowing why. Such precedents should lead us to expect that the Lord will not typically reveal the reasons for his decisions and that those reasons may not even be evident in our lifetimes.97

The Inevitability of Incomplete Understanding, Even by the First Presidency

This reality can leave even the First Presidency, just like earlier prophets, in the position of knowing by the Spirit a certain course to take without understanding exactly why it is the course to take. Given the Lord’s pattern, such incomplete understanding seems inevitable. Indeed, as Elder Maxwell said on one occasion: “There will be times when we follow the prophets even as they are in the very act of obedience themselves; [Page 25]they will not, in fact, always be able to explain to us why they are doing what they are doing — much as Adam offered sacrifices without a full understanding of what underlay that special ritual.”98 In a similar vein, President George Q. Cannon once said of the First Presidency that “we can see a certain distance in the light of the Spirit of God as it reveals to us His mind and His will, and we can take these steps with perfect security, knowing that they are the right steps to be taken.”99 But, he added, the Brethren do not know the result that will come from these steps. Nor, as Elders Maxwell and Oaks have said, are the reasons for the instruction necessarily clear. It is relevant, therefore, that President Cannon remarked: “It is just as necessary that the Presidency and the Apostles should be tried as it is that you should be tried. It is as necessary that our faith should be called into exercise as that your faith should be called into exercise.”100

Appreciating the reality and scope of such incomplete understanding is central to understanding revelation itself. Mason reports that it can be “painful and disorienting” to consider that multiple prophets over this dispensation continued to withhold temple blessings and the priesthood from blacks even though we do not have a clear understanding as to why they did so.101 This claim of anxiety due to such lack of understanding is no doubt true. But it would seem equally true of the prophets withholding those blessings: they did not have a clear understanding as to why they were doing so, either. This reality would appear to instantiate the general pattern of how the Lord works with mortals: he provides instructions, but he typically does not provide explanations, even to his prophets. To expect explanations, therefore, is to ignore centuries of precedent. This is the message of Elder Oaks, Elder Maxwell, and numerous scriptural incidents, and it was precisely Elder Kimball’s position regarding the priesthood restriction itself. He once expressed the wish that the Lord had provided “a little more clarity in the matter” — nevertheless, he said, “for me, it is enough.”102

Non-Authoritative Attempts at Explanation

As briefly mentioned earlier, even when the Lord does not provide explanations for the direction he gives, members and leaders might still try to reason from the scriptures to determine what the explanation might be. Unless otherwise explicitly so declared, however, these explanatory efforts do not enjoy the same official status as the action itself. This is true regardless of whom the speaker(s) might be.

[Page 26]Elder Oaks’ statement perfectly expresses this point. Following his remark that we are on our own when we try to explain the reasons for commandments, he adds (specifically regarding the priesthood-temple restriction):

Some people put reasons to the one we’re talking about here, and they turned out to be spectacularly wrong. There is a lesson in that. … I decided a long time ago that I had faith in the command and I had no faith in the reasons that had been suggested for it.”103

Here Elder Oaks relies on the distinction between instructions and explanations, accepting the priesthood-temple restriction itself as the correct action but simultaneously rejecting the various explanations that had been offered for it. The same distinction is evident in the Church essay regarding the priesthood. That essay disavows past explanations for the restriction, but (though it sets out at length the historical setting of the time) it does not disavow the restriction itself. 104

This distinction between instructions and explanations highlights a general pattern in this dispensation: the Lord laid the doctrinal foundation of the Church essentially through revelations to Joseph Smith (expressed in the standard works),105 and he has subsequently provided revelation to prophets, seers, and revelators not in order to reveal new doctrine but specifically to direct the ongoing work of the Church.106 Doctrinal — explanatory — matters are therefore the exclusive province of the scriptures. This is why Joseph Fielding Smith himself (who expressed the idea that the priesthood-temple restriction resulted from behavior in the pre-earth existence) emphasized that if his own doctrinal explanations “do not square with the revelations, we need not accept them.” He added: “If Joseph Fielding Smith writes something which is out of harmony with the revelations, then every member of the Church is duty bound to reject it.”107 Similarly, Bruce R. McConkie taught that even if a President of the Church teaches a doctrine out of harmony with the scriptures, “it is the scripture that prevails” and, he added, “it does not make one particle of difference whose views are involved. The scriptures always take precedence.”108

All this emphasizes the point made by Elder Oaks: the Lord (as we saw in the previous section) provides direction on an ongoing basis to guide the affairs of the kingdom, but he typically does not provide the doctrinal foundation or explanation for what he directs. Those who seek to provide explanations are thus “on their own,” and what they say in that domain is not authoritative if it contradicts or exceeds the clear teachings [Page 27]of scripture.109 Significant and impressive men of God have done this regarding the priesthood-temple restriction, of course — including Brigham Young, Joseph Fielding Smith, and Bruce R. McConkie — but, for the reasons we have seen, their explanations are not authoritative, and they never have been.

This distinction, then — between revelatory (and thus authoritative) instructions and non-revelatory explanations — seems pertinent to considering matters surrounding the priesthood-temple restriction. It is a distinction that applies to revelation generally, and it would seem important, therefore, to consider it in thinking about the priesthood-temple restriction specifically. Elder Oaks certainly does so. Unfortunately, Givens and Mason do not consider this matter in their respective comments on the subject, much less does either demonstrate why the distinction would be inapplicable in this case. Mason, for example, specifically refers to the Church essay regarding race and the priesthood110 and appears, at least tacitly, as if he might suppose this official disavowal of past explanations for the restriction is tantamount to disavowal of the restriction itself. But this view is persuasive only if one considers the distinction between instructions and explanations in the first place and then shows why it doesn’t apply in this particular circumstance. Mason does not do this. (In addition, of course, he also fails to account for the reports, which we saw earlier, of multiple leaders — including President Kimball — who participated in the change and who manifestly did not believe the change was a correction of previous error.) Indeed, both Givens and Mason overlook the distinction between revelatory (and thus authoritative) instructions and non-revelatory explanations altogether and thus both fail to account for the issues it raises for their thinking about the priesthood-temple restriction.111


The assertions we have considered by Givens and Mason regarding the priesthood-temple restriction are flawed. Both appeal to Spencer W. Kimball in multiple ways to indicate the possibility that the priesthood ban was a mistake and that the 1978 revelation corrected the error. However, although this does not seem to be an uncommon attitude — and although it is logically possible that this view of history is accurate — none of their appeals to Spencer W. Kimball actually supports it. Indeed, all their appeals to him backfire and, if anything, actually support the opposite of that position (including their oversight and/or avoidance of a statement by President Kimball that explicitly [Page 28]states the opposite of that position). Both also fail to address and account for public statements by apostolic witnesses who participated in the 1978 revelation and who contradict the idea that the change was a correction of error. Finally, as we have just seen, they both overlook — and therefore fail to consider — the distinction between revelatory (and thus authoritative) instructions and non-authoritative explanations. This is a key distinction in understanding the Lord’s general pattern in his dealings with mortals, including with the prophets and apostles he has chosen to represent him. As such it would seem to be a key distinction to understanding the priesthood-temple restriction as well.

As I said at the beginning, a good deal of mystery surrounds the priesthood-temple restriction, and that is why the topic generates so much discussion. The only point here is that consideration of this topic is not helped by the kinds of mistakes and oversights we have seen — errors in analysis that are both significant and avoidable and that therefore reduce clarity instead of increasing it.

Conclusion to Part One

As mentioned at the beginning, the motivation for this paper is to examine whether serious errors are occurring — and even increasing — in LDS scholarly discussions of prophets and revelation.

Although we are only partway through consideration of the matter, it is significant that we have already identified multiple errors on the topic in reputable sources. We have seen five important claims that prove to be faulty — either because they are implausible, completely tenuous, or manifestly false112 — and we have also seen eleven fundamental errors in analysis that lead to these faulty claims. These errors range from severely misinterpreting a verse on “patience and faith” and overlooking numerous (and public) first-hand apostolic declarations regarding revelation, to misreading, omitting, and mis-reporting statements by Spencer W. Kimball as well as failing to appreciate a key distinction in understanding the Lord’s pattern of revelation to mortals.

The errors we have seen do not appear to be trivial. While one can understand failure to consider one public statement or another on a particular topic — or perhaps even a handful — when those statements are so central and so numerous, it is difficult to understand overlooking them all.113 Moreover, while it is also possible to appreciate how one can overlook a particular passage of scripture in forming one’s conclusions, it is difficult to justify taking a single scriptural phrase completely out [Page 29]of context and using it to promulgate a conclusion that is both highly significant and the near-opposite of what the passage actually says. It is even more difficult to justify this when the resulting misinterpretation also entails an absurdity. It is similarly hard to justify reporting an apostle’s comment to be stating the exact opposite of what it actually says (especially when the misinterpretation results in another absurdity) as well as to excuse omissions of other statements by that leader that subvert the claim one is making. And so forth. It is hard not to see such matters as serious.

It is also worth noting that although we have examined some of the material from Mason’s chapter, “In All Patience and Faith,” more in that chapter regarding prophets and revelation calls for similar commentary.

This is still only the beginning, however. Part Two will consider additional claims and analyses that, to all appearances, are just as faulty as those we have seen here. These will be drawn from Grant Hardy’s discussion regarding Nephi. Part Three will then address a potpourri of further examples, as well as provide a general conclusion regarding the subject of this study.



  1. See, for example, Stéphane Courtois, et al., eds. The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression (Cambridge, MA: Harvard, 1999). I give a brief treatment of the grisly reality, with additional sources, in my Even unto Bloodshed: An LDS Perspective on War (Salt Lake City: Kofford, 2015), 194–97, 206–9.
  2. One appearance of this charge is in David Persuitte, Joseph Smith and the Origins of the Book of Mormon, 2nd ed. (Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Co., 2000), 11. If it is possible to excuse Persuitte for committing this error in the first edition of his book (published in 1985), it is harder to do so for his repeat of the error in his second edition. Kenneth Godfrey, for one, drew attention to the mistake in his review of the book in 1986. See Kenneth H. Godfrey, “Not Enough Trouble,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 19/3 (1986): 143. A few years later John Welch and Miriam A. Smith discussed it as well. See “Joseph Smith: ‘Author and Proprietor,’” in John W. Welch, ed., Reexploring the Book of Mormon: A Decade of New Research (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 1992), Kindle location 2210–2243.
  3. See Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, trans. D.F. Pears and B.F. McGuinness (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1961), and Philosophical Investigations (Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 1953). For a brief overview of Wittgenstein and of his two contrary waves of influence, see my “The Spirit and the Intellect: Lessons in Humility,” BYU Studies, 50/4 (2011): 84–86.
  4. Here’s an example of what I mean. Harvard paleontologist and evolutionary biologist, Stephen Gould, reports that for years researchers in his discipline often failed to publish what they actually found most frequently in their field work, namely: (1) when species appeared in the geological record, they did so suddenly, without evidence of gradual evolutionary development beforehand; and (2) most species appearing in the fossil record did not exhibit observable change over time — they looked about the same when they disappeared from the record as they did when they first arrived. Thus, while transitional forms were apparent between larger taxonomic groups, they were generally lacking at the species level. Because paleontologists considered such results to depart from what evolutionary theory predicted, they did not consider such fossil studies to offer new and important evidence but instead to indicate the imperfection of the record itself: the geological record had to be incomplete because it failed to conform to what they understood from the theory must have actually happened. As a result, paleontologists were disappointed by much of what they actually found regarding species development, and “traditional paleontology therefore placed itself into a straightjacket that made the practice of science effectively impossible” (763). Specifically, rather than relying on what they found most frequently, paleontologists came to rely instead on individual isolated examples that at least seemed to demonstrate the gradual species change they expected. These included the horse, the oyster Gryphaea, and the antlers of the “Irish Elk” — examples that, according to Gould, became famous and that appeared in textbook treatments of evolution (and that were then replicated in succeeding textbook treatments). Unfortunately, Gould tells us, all these famous examples were shown to be false when studied rigorously. They did not actually demonstrate the gradual species development that textbooks used them to exemplify. It is no surprise that when this reality finally became known, other evolutionary scholars (such as biologists) — who had relied on such famous examples as representative of geological findings — were “often astounded and incredulous” at learning the actual geological reality (760). For his complete discussion of the topic, see Stephen Jay Gould, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory (Cambridge, MA: Harvard, 2002), esp. 745–63. I give a more complete treatment of these and related matters in my “Of Science, Scripture, and Surprise,” FARMS Review, 20/2, (2008): 163–214; http://publications.mi.byu.edu/fullscreen/?pub=1431&index=8.
  5. See Terryl Givens, “Letter to a Doubter,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture, 4 (2013), 135; https://journal.interpreterfoundation.org/letter-to-a-doubter/#more-2521.
  6. Ibid., 136.
  7. In addition to “Letter to a Doubter,” see Terryl Givens and Fiona Givens, Crucible of Doubt: Reflections on the Quest for Faith (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 2014), Kindle location 1396. See also Marc Bohn, “Terryl Givens on What It Means to Sustain,” Times and Seasons, February 3, 2016; http://www.timesandseasons.org/index.php/2016/02/terryl-givens-on-what-it-means-to-sustain/.
  8. See the chapter, “In All Patience and Faith,” in Patrick Q. Mason, Planted: Belief and Belonging in an Age of Doubt (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 2015). Although he does not refer to this particular verse, David Bokovoy shares thoughts along similar lines in his “How to Save LDS Youth in a Secular Age,” Patheos, December 26, 2014, http://www.patheos.com/blogs/davidbokovoy/2014/12/how-to-save-lds-youth-in-a-secular-age/.
  9. The passage is specifically about Joseph Smith, but Givens and Mason apply its message to prophets generally. I will do the same in order to address their use of it.
  10. Russell M. Nelson, “Becoming True Millennials,” January 10, 2016, Young Adult Broadcast; https://churchofjesuschrist.org/broadcasts/article/worldwide-devotionals/2016/01/becoming-true-millennials?lang=eng).
  11. See, for just four examples: “New Policy on Gay Couples and Their Children Roils Mormon Church,” New York Times, November 13, 2015, https://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/14/us/mormons-set-to-quit-church-over-policy-on-gay-couples-and-their-children.html?_r=0; “Mormon church labels same-sex couples apostates,” CNN, November 7, 2015, http://www.cnn.com/2015/11/06/us/mormon-church-policy/; “New Mormon policy makes apostates of married same-sex couples, bars children from rites,” Salt Lake Tribune, November 5, 2015, http://archive.sltrib.com/article.php?id=7363267&itype=storyID; and “Mormon LGBT policy change triggers widespread backlash,” Salt Lake Tribune, November 12, 2015, http://archive.sltrib.com/article.php?id=7433214&itype=storyID. Indeed, according to one source, Facebook was also “ablaze with dismay” over President Nelson’s own comments. See “Policy or Revelation?” Times and Seasons, January 14, 2016, https://www.timesandseasons.org/index.php/2016/01/policy-or-revelation/.
  12. M. Russell Ballard, “To the Saints in the Utah South Area,” September 23, 2015, https://churchofjesuschrist.org/prophets-and-apostles/unto-all-the-world/to-the-saints-in-the-utah-south-area?lang=eng.
  13. President Harold B. Lee spoke explicitly of the expression “in all patience and faith” in terms of what we may have to change in our lives as a result of declarations by the Brethren. He said: “You may not like what comes from the authority of the Church. It may contradict your political views. It may contradict your social views. It may interfere with some of your social life. But if you listen to these things, as if from the mouth of the Lord Himself, with patience and faith, the promise is that ‘the gates of hell shall not prevail against you; yea, and the Lord God will disperse the powers of darkness from before you, and cause the heavens to shake for your good, and his name’s glory’ (D&C 21:6).” See Harold B. Lee, “Heeding the True Messenger of Jesus Christ,” in Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Harold B. Lee, Chapter 9, https://churchofjesuschrist.org/manual/teachings-harold-b-lee/chapter-9?lang=eng.
  14. This chapter appears in Patrick Q. Mason, Planted: Belief and Belonging in an Age of Doubt (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 2015).
  15. Mason’s reasons for this view are embedded in his discussion of the priesthood-temple restriction, a topic covered in the section entitled “Terryl Givens and Patrick Mason: The Priesthood-Temple Restriction.”
  16. Patrick Mason, Planted, Kindle location 2310.
  17. One of the grave errors he has in mind is the priesthood-temple restriction removed in 1978. See Planted, Kindle location 2345. This topic is covered in the section entitled “Terryl Givens and Patrick Mason: The Priesthood-Temple Restriction.”
  18. Russell M. Nelson, “Sweet Power of Prayer,” General Conference, April 2003, https://churchofjesuschrist.org/general-conference/2003/04/sweet-power-of-prayer?lang=eng.)
  19. See Sheri L. Dew, Go Forward with Faith: The Biography of Gordon B. Hinckley (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 1996), 379. See also: Thomas S. Monson, Inspiring Experiences that Build Faith (Salt Lake City: Deseret), 1994, 73–74; “They Pray and They Go,” General Conference, April 2002, https://churchofjesuschrist.org/general-conference/2002/04/they-pray-and-they-go?lang=eng&_r=1; “Your Patriarchal Blessing: A Liahona of Light,” General Conference, October 1986, https://churchofjesuschrist.org/general-conference/1986/10/your-patriarchal-blessing-a-liahona-of-light?lang=eng&_r=1;
  20. Russell M. Nelson, The Gateway We Call Death (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 1995), 100–1.
  21. Russell M. Nelson, “The Price of Priesthood Power,” General Conference, April 2016, https://churchofjesuschrist.org/general-conference/2016/04/the-price-of-priesthood-power?lang=eng.
  22. Joseph Fielding McConkie, The Bruce R. McConkie Story: Reflections of a Son (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 2003), 12.
  23. Dallin H. Oaks, Life’s Lessons Learned: Personal Reflections (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 2011), Kindle location 788–801. Incidentally, as Elder Oaks remarks here, he completely forgot the notification that the Lord would “call” him from the Court. Only as he prepared to write the above book and re-read his journal did he remember all the Lord had told him and realize its meaning.
  24. Spencer W. Kimball, “Revelation: The Word of the Lord to His Prophets,” General Conference, April 1977, https://churchofjesuschrist.org/general-conference/1977/04/revelation-the-word-of-the-lord-to-his-prophets?lang=eng&query=.
  25. Harold B. Lee, “Admonitions for the Priesthood of God,” General Conference, October 1972; https://churchofjesuschrist.org/general-conference/1972/10/admonitions-for-the-priesthood-of-god?lang=eng.
  26. Gordon B. Hinckley, in The Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 1997), 71, 555.
  27. Boyd K. Packer, “We Believe All that God Has Revealed,” General Conference, April 1974, https://churchofjesuschrist.org/general-conference/1974/04/we-believe-all-that-god-has-revealed?lang=eng&_r=1.
  28. James E. Faust, “Come Out of the Darkness into the Light,” CES Fireside for Young Adults (8 September 2002); https://churchofjesuschrist.org/media-library/video/2002-09-05-come-out-of-the-darkness-into-the-light?lang=eng.
  29. Howard W. Hunter, The Teachings of Howard W. Hunter, ed., Clyde J. Williams (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1997), 196.
  30. Spencer W. Kimball, The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982), 447, Kindle location 6365.
  31. Boyd K. Packer, “The Snow-White Birds,” address at BYU, 29 August 1995; https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/boyd-k-packer_snow-white-birds/. It also appears in Boyd K. Packer, Mine Errand from the Lord: Selections from the Sermons and Writings of Boyd K. Packer (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 2008), 458.
  32. Dallin H. Oaks, “Teaching and Learning by the Spirit,” Ensign, March 1997; https://churchofjesuschrist.org/ensign/1997/03/teaching-and-learning-by-the-spirit?lang=eng. He also emphasized that those who have such experiences do not speak of them because “we are instructed not to do so (see D&C 63:64) and because we understand that the channels of revelation will be closed if we show these things before the world.”
  33. Boyd K. Packer, “The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ — Plain and Precious Things,” General Conference, April 2005; https://churchofjesuschrist.org/general-conference/2005/04/the-book-of-mormon-another-testament-of-jesus-christ-plain-and-precious-things?lang=eng&_r=1.
  34. Boyd K. Packer, “The Light of Thy Childhood Again,” Church News, November 28, 2009; http://www.ldschurchnewsarchive.com/articles/58265/The-Light-of-Thy-Childhood-Again.html.
  35. Boyd K. Packer, “Revelation in a Changing World,” General Conference, October 1989; https://churchofjesuschrist.org/general-conference/1989/10/revelation-in-a-changing-world?lang=eng&_r=1.
  36. James E. Faust, “The Odyssey to Happiness,” BYU Fireside, January 6, 1974; https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/james-e-faust_odyssey-happiness/. This wording is a transcription of Elder Faust’s spoken words, which were recorded and made publicly available at the time. That recorded version seems unavailable currently, however, and the printed version is somewhat modified from Elder Faust’s actual verbal expression.
  37. See “Dedicatory Prayer,” Brigham City Utah Temple, 23 September 2012; https://churchofjesuschrist.org/temples/details/brigham-city-utah-temple/prayer/2012-09-23.
  38. Harold B. Lee, “May the Kingdom of God Go Forth,” General Conference, October 1972; https://churchofjesuschrist.org/general-conference/1972/10/may-the-kingdom-of-god-go-forth?lang=eng. His actual words were: “There has been here an overwhelming spiritual endowment, attesting, no doubt, that in all likelihood we are in the presence of personages, seen and unseen, who are in attendance.” Although President Lee, according to the command in D&C 63:64, attempts to be appropriately vague in these remarks, the reference to “personages seen” makes at least part of his meaning explicit.
  39. David B. Haight, “The Sacrament — and the Sacrifice,” General Conference, October 1989; https://churchofjesuschrist.org/general-conference/1989/10/the-sacrament-and-the-sacrifice?lang=eng.
  40. Sarah Jane Weaver, “President Packer Shares Christmas Testimony: ‘Jesus is the Christ,’” Church News, December 25, 2010; http://www.ldschurchnewsarchive.com/articles/60298/President-Packer-shares-Christmas-testimony-Jesus-is-the-Christ.html.
  41. Richard G. Scott, “Sisters in Councils,” Worldwide Leadership Training, February 2011, https://churchofjesuschrist.org/broadcasts/article/worldwide-leadership-training/2011/02/sisters-in-councils?lang=eng.
  42. Boyd K. Packer, “The Witness,” General Conference, April 2014; https://churchofjesuschrist.org/general-conference/2014/04/the-witness?lang=eng&_r=1&cid=GCA14-L0814–1-notePacker.
  43. Ezra Taft Benson, “Jesus Christ: Our Savior, Our God,” Ensign, April 1991; https://churchofjesuschrist.org/ensign/1991/04/jesus-christ-our-savior-our-god?lang=eng.
  44. James E. Faust, “Beginnings,” CES Fireside for Young Adults, May 7, 2006; https://churchofjesuschrist.org/media-library/video/2006-05-03-beginnings?category=ces-devotionals/2006-ces-firesides&lang=eng.
  45. Marion G. Romney, in F. Burton Howard, Marion G. Romney: His Life and Faith (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988), 222.
  46. Bruce R. McConkie, The Promised Messiah (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 1978), 592.
  47. Ibid., 594.
  48. Boyd K. Packer, in an address for a Family History broadcast, 18 November 1999; cited in Mine Errand from the Lord: Selections from the Sermons and Writings of Boyd K. Packer (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 2008), 137.
  49. Boyd K. Packer, “A Tribute to the Rank and File of the Church,” General Conference, April 1980; https://churchofjesuschrist.org/general-conference/1980/04/a-tribute-to-the-rank-and-file-of-the-church?lang=eng.
  50. Boyd K. Packer, “A Call to Faith,” address at a seminar for new mission presidents, 27 June 2007; cited in Mine Errand from the Lord: Selections from the Sermons and Writings of Boyd K. Packer (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 2008), 137. Some might wonder if President Packer is technically correct on this matter since it is possible he is not aware of every manifestation that occurred in the early days and therefore might not be in the perfect position to make this comparison. (For a treatment of many experiences that are not well-known, see John W. Welch, ed., Opening the Heavens: Accounts of Divine Manifestations 1820–1844, 2nd ed. [Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: BYU Press and Deseret, 2017]). But even if this is true — even if President Packer is comparing the current era only with experiences that are common knowledge regarding the opening of this dispensation — it is still a highly significant statement. And that’s to say the least of it. Moreover, whatever the historical record of the early days of this dispensation, no outside observer can be aware of the details President Packer has in mind in speaking so strongly of the current period. What experiences does he have in mind, over the decades of his intimate association with numerous apostles and prophets in furthering the Lord’s work, that aren’t known at all by the public and that will become known only in some future history? In any event, whether one imagines President Packer to be technically accurate or not, his comparison must at least be seen as inconsistent with the claim that revelation is only occasional in the Lord’s guidance of the Church.
  51. Harold B. Lee, “Be Loyal to the Royal Within You,” BYU Speeches, 11 September 1973, https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/harold-b-lee_loyal-royal-within/. President Lee quotes the similar words of an unnamed apostle and then makes those words his own in emphasizing his point on this matter.
  52. Boyd K. Packer, “Revelation in a Changing World,” General Conference, October 1989; https://churchofjesuschrist.org/general-conference/1989/10/revelation-in-a-changing-world?lang=eng&_r=1.
  53. Boyd K. Packer, “The Twelve Apostles,” General Conference, October 1996; https://churchofjesuschrist.org/general-conference/1996/10/the-twelve-apostles?lang=eng&_r=1.
  54. “The Prairies, Nauvoo, Joe Smith, The Temple, the Mormons, etc.,” Pittsburgh Weekly Gazette, 15 September 1843, in The Papers of Joseph Smith, Vol. 1: Autobiographical and Historical Writings, ed. Dean C. Jessee (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 1989, 443), cited in Matthew Roper, “Joseph Smith, Revelation, and Book of Mormon Geography,” The FARMS Review, 22/2, 2010, 83; http://publications.mi.byu.edu/publications/review/22/2/S00003-5176a03b6d5fc3Roper.pdf.
  55. Dallin H. Oaks, “Teaching and Learning by the Spirit,” Ensign, March 1997, https://churchofjesuschrist.org/ensign/1997/03/teaching-and-learning-by-the-spirit?lang=eng.
  56. Devotional address at BYU–Hawaii, 1 March 2005; cited in Boyd K. Packer, Mine Errand from the Lord: Selections from the Sermons and Writings of Boyd K. Packer (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 2008), 131.
  57. Cited in D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power (Salt Lake City: Signature, 1997), 7, 368.
  58. Gordon B. Hinckley, Excerpts from Recent Addresses of President Gordon B. Hinckley,” Ensign, July 1996; https://churchofjesuschrist.org/ensign/1996/07/excerpts-from-recent-addresses-of-president-gordon-b-hinckley?lang=eng.
  59. Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Come, Join with Us,” General Conference, November 2013; https://churchofjesuschrist.org/general-conference/2013/10/come-join-with-us?lang=eng.
  60. Although observers can reach different judgments on the matter, it actually does not seem difficult to imagine at least the kinds of issues that are of highest importance and therefore on which the Lord would likely exercise the greatest influence. It is plausible to suppose these would be matters on which First Presidencies make the most formal announcements and take the most visible action, particularly on matters that affect the most people in the most significant ways. Insistence on the centrality of the family, the importance of (and clarifications about) moral cleanliness, the cessation of polygamy, the lifting of restrictions on the priesthood, and so forth would seem to fall in this category. It would also seem to include matters of significant social and moral importance, such as gambling and lotteries, pornography, the Equal Rights Amendment, homosexual conduct, and same-sex marriage. It seems plausible that mistaken decisions on such momentous topics would fall in the category of “leading astray,” whereas mistakes regarding, say, activity days for Primary children or the awards to be earned by Priests or Laurels — or even the length of missionary service — would not. It is not hard to imagine that denials of “fallibility” apply with ease to matters of smaller important (e.g., various programmatic matters of one sort or another), while affirmations about “not leading astray” apply with equal ease to matters of significant social and spiritual importance. And of course one can imagine a wide range of issues in between. As mentioned, on many matters it would seem the Lord finds multiple options acceptable enough and simply allows his leaders to exercise their own judgment in deciding among them. In this connection, it is relevant to note again President Nelson’s explicit declaration about the receipt of revelation regarding children from the homes of gay couples. (See the subsection, “A Natural Interpretation,” in the section “Terryl Givens and Patrick Mason: ‘In All Patience and Faith’” earlier in this Part.) A report of this sort gives a data point that helps inform us about the types of issues on which the Lord provides clear direction. It is not sufficient to provide anything like a full picture, of course, and one can expect reasonable people to disagree about particulars. Nevertheless, data of this sort — combined with the multiplicity of firsthand declarations testifying to ongoing and regular revelation — are difficult to reconcile with the claim that (as Mason asserts) for the most part the Lord simply keeps his distance and that his direction of the Brethren is only occasional.
  61. See Terryl Givens and Fiona Givens, Crucible of Doubt: Reflections on the Quest for Faith (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 2014), Kindle location 1433, and Roger Terry, “Why the True Church Cannot Be Perfect,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, 46/1 (Spring 2013), 94–107, https://www.dialoguejournal.com/wp-content/uploads/sbi/articles/Dialogue_V46N01_427c.pdf.
  62. B. H. Roberts, “Relation of Inspiration and Revelation to Church Government,” Improvement Era, March 1905, 362; cited in Roger Terry, “Why the True Church Cannot Be Perfect,” 105.
  63. Planted, Kindle location 2308.
  64. As another example, Mason rejects the view of “an ironclad requirement that prophets be 100 percent right 100 percent of the time” and of prophets as “incorruptible paragons of virtue whose every word comes straight like lightning from heaven and whose every action is godly in both purpose and execution” (Planted, Kindle location 2288). This is another example of a position so extreme that there is no significance in Mason’s denying it. It is hard to imagine who wouldn’t deny it. We have already considered a more nuanced view of revelation in this section, and additional relevant material will be discussed in the next.
  65. I discuss the preeminent role that councils play in Church government in my “Sustaining the Brethren,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture, 14 (2015): vii-xxxii; https://journal.interpreterfoundation.org/sustaining-the-brethren/. In terms of decisions, the highest authority in the Church is the full First Presidency, not the President alone.
  66. Incidentally, this is how debates are created generally in which disputants end up defending rival positions both of which are false. It is impossible for either contender to win since each is defending a false claim. That is always the risk when the starting point of one’s thinking is the formulation of a position so extreme that it is obviously mistaken: it easily leads to a contrary view that is just as extreme and just as mistaken. Nothing is gained by defending either position.
    As a final (but smaller) point, it is also possible that revelation is genuinely more common in recent decades than in the time of Elder Roberts. If the need for revelation is greater now than it was then, by his own principle regarding need, the frequency of revelation would also be greater. On this very matter, Elder Neal A. Maxwell reported in the late ’70s that “the volume of ‘operational revelation’” is at the highest level it’s ever been” (see Bruce C. Hafen, A Disciple’s Life: The Biography of Neal A. Maxwell [Salt Lake City: Deseret, 2002], 414), and we have already considered three remarks by President Boyd K. Packer regarding the unique intensity of revelation in recent times — well past the ’70s and up to the present. (See the subsection “Prophets and Apostles on Revelation.”) It is possible, therefore, that — even aside from the other problems inherent in quoting Elder Roberts’ statement — it is an outdated report.
  67. In an endnote (Kindle location 2481) Mason does refer to Wilford Woodruff’s well-known declaration that the Lord will not permit the Church to be led astray. Mason interprets this statement to mean that the Brethren are precluded from leading the Church “entirely” astray, but that they are not precluded from making decisions that are wrong, serious, and have long-lasting negative consequences. The first thing to notice, however, is that this conception of “not leading astray” is so narrow — and permits so many serious and far-reaching errors — that meeting this standard would not require much revelation at all. Mason would not consider this a problem, of course, because that is exactly what he believes. Indeed, he believes the Church can be led significantly astray — though not entirely — precisely because he believes that revelation is only occasional. The difficulty is that Mason does not even consider the numerous declarations of ongoing revelation that we have seen (much less accommodate them in his view), and thus he has not yet earned the right to assume this view of revelation. Indeed, there is every reason to believe Mason’s view is false. But if so, it can hardly be used as a premise in any other argument — i.e., ‘since revelation is only occasional, Wilford Woodruff must have meant only that no one can lead the Church entirely astray.’ If Mason’s premise about revelation is wrong, he can hardly claim that the conclusion he bases on it is right. As a further matter, Mason also overlooks a distinction that is important in understanding how the Lord works with his prophets, and this oversight, too, is instrumental in his thinking about revelation, including his view of Wilford Woodruff. This distinction will be discussed in the section entitled, “Terryl Givens and Patrick Mason: The Priesthood-Temple Restriction.”
  68. Givens reports that Spencer W. Kimball considered the restriction a “possible error” and he does so in his paragraph about the imperfections and weaknesses of prophets. And this comment about Elder Kimball is immediately followed by his remark about the need for patience and faith regarding prophets since they are not always sage and inspired. See Terryl Givens, “Letter to a Doubter,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture, 4 (2013): 135–36; https://journal.interpreterfoundation.org/letter-to-a-doubter/#more-2521. Givens would have no reason to mention the priesthood-temple restriction in the context of prophets’ imperfections and weaknesses — and their inability to be always sage and inspired — if he didn’t think the restriction was an illustration of those weaknesses and inabilities. It is difficult, at least, to imagine what other conclusion one could be expected to draw from his mention of the subject in this context. Mason is perfectly explicit in his view of the priesthood restriction as an error. He compares it to Lehi’s “temporary lapse” in murmuring against the Lord — remarking, however, that the lapse was not equivalent to the greater problem of priesthood-temple denial and its effect over generations. He discusses the topic in the context of “human fallenness” and “sin” and, among other remarks, asks, “If I personally believe that Brigham Young erred when he instituted the priesthood ban in 1852, can I forgive him?” See Patrick Q. Mason, Planted: Belief and Belonging in an Age of Doubt (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 2015), Kindle locations 2408–2437
  69. Givens, “Letter to a Doubter,” 135.
  70. Spencer W. Kimball, The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982), Kindle location 6394.
  71. See the chapter, “In All Patience and Faith,” in Patrick Q. Mason, Planted: Belief and Belonging in an Age of Doubt (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 2015), Kindle location 2368.
  72. Patrick Q. Mason, Planted, Kindle location 2396.
  73. See the first section in this Part, “Terryl Givens and Patrick Mason: ‘In All Patience and Faith.’”
  74. Spencer W. Kimball, The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982), Kindle location 6394.
  75. Ibid., 449, Kindle location 6393.
  76. It is possible that Mason did not see this statement by President Kimball since, unlike Givens, he takes the earlier quote about “possible error” and “forgiveness” from a secondary source rather than from the actual Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball (Givens’ source). See Note 14 in Mason’s Planted, Kindle location 2499.
  77. It would not be legitimate to argue that this statement by Spencer W. Kimball, as President, represents a change from his thinking as an apostle. As seen earlier, when we read the first statement (written as an apostle) accurately, it is perfectly consistent with the later statement made when he was President.
  78. Patrick Q. Mason, Planted: Belief and Belonging in an Age of Doubt (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 2015), Kindle location 2374.
  79. These statements are reported in Edward L. Kimball’s standard history of the topic, “Spencer W. Kimball and the Revelation on Priesthood,” BYU Studies 47, no. 2 (2008), 48, 28–29, file:///C:/Users/Duane%20Boyce/Downloads/47.2kimballspencerb0a083df-b26b-430b-9ce2–3efec584dcd9.pdf. Mason includes the first quote in his book, though not the second. (Ellipses in the original.)
  80. As an incidental matter, there are independent reasons to believe that President Kimball was free of personal prejudice. One of these is what he himself mentions: a long and well-documented ministry of service to minorities. Another is the reality of his life circumstances. From age 3 until his calling to the Twelve at age 48, Spencer spent his life in Thatcher and Safford, Arizona — geographical areas that offered little exposure to African Americans. Personal prejudice is often born in areas where the wider community is already separated by racial mistrust and animosity, and Spencer Kimball would have experienced little of that over the first five decades of his life in those communities.
  81. Patrick Q. Mason, Planted: Belief and Belonging in an Age of Doubt (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 2015), Kindle location 2374. The idea that God was waiting on his prophets is Mason’s answer to his earlier question: “Why didn’t God inspire at least one of the prophets — there were ten in that span, from Brigham Young up until Spencer W. Kimball — to make a change on such a momentous issue?” (Planted, Kindle location 2207).
  82. See Edward L. Kimball, “Spencer W. Kimball and the Revelation on Priesthood,” BYU Studies 47, no. 2 (2008), 45, file:///C:/Users/Duane%20Boyce/Downloads/47.2kimballspencerb0a083df-b26b-430b-9ce2–3efec584dcd9.pdf. This study by Edward Kimball is a standard history on the subject of President Kimball and the priesthood-temple restriction, and it is one that Mason cites. That is why it is surprising that Mason overlooks an important element like this that appears in that source.
  83. Cited in Edward L. Kimball, “Spencer W. Kimball and the Revelation on Priesthood,” BYU Studies 47, no. 2 (2008), 32 (Note 71), file:///C:/Users/Duane%20Boyce/Downloads/47.2kimballspencerb0a083df-b26b-430b-9ce2–3efec584dcd9.pdf. Again, it is surprising that Mason overlooks a matter like this since it appears in this source, which he elsewhere cites. Incidentally, L. Brent Goates, President Lee’s official biographer, expressed doubt about this story. His doubt is not dispositive, however. He also doubted another story about President Lee that was actually true. This was in reference to “an alleged dream or revelation which Elder Lee was supposed to have received during the Los Angeles Temple dedicatory services.” In support of his discounting of the stories, Goates quotes from Elder Lee’s brief diary account — but he completely overlooks President Lee’s more robust description of the event in General Conference years later. There, President Lee specifically referred to this experience as a vision, whose dimensions were multiple and profound, and about which he spoke in utmost solemnity. The experience was thus more dramatic than Goates reports and the persons reporting it were more reliable than Goates thinks. Even meticulous biographers can be mistaken. There is thus no reason to think that the doubts Goates expressed regarding President Lee’s fasting and prayer on the subject supersede Arrington’s straightforward report of the matter. For the discussion by Goates, see L. Brent Goates, Harold B. Lee: Prophet and Seer (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1985), 324. For President Lee’s public account of the experience, see General Conference, April 1973, “Stand Ye in Holy Places,” https://churchofjesuschrist.org/general-conference/1973/04/stand-ye-in-holy-places?lang=eng.
  84. Again, all of these reports appear in a source with which Mason is familiar and elsewhere cites.
  85. In Gregory A. Prince and William Robert Wright, David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2005), 104.
  86. See Edward L. Kimball, “Spencer W. Kimball and the Revelation on Priesthood,” BYU Studies 47, no. 2 (2008), 22, file:///C:/Users/Duane%20Boyce/Downloads/47.2kimballspencerb0a083df-b26b-430b-9ce2–3efec584dcd9.pdf. See also p. 45 in the same monograph. This report by Elder Hanks is another statement Mason overlooks in the study by Edward Kimball that he elsewhere cites.
  87. Cited in Edward L. Kimball, “Spencer W. Kimball and the Revelation on Priesthood,” BYU Studies 47, no. 2 (2008), 48, file:///C:/Users/Duane%20Boyce/Downloads/47.2kimballspencerb0a083df-b26b-430b-9ce2–3efec584dcd9.pdf.
  88. For just one example, Official Declaration 2 itself speaks of “the promises made by the prophets and presidents of the Church who have preceded us.”
  89. See Mark L. McConkie, ed., Doctrines of the Restoration: Sermons and Writings of Bruce R. McConkie (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1989), 160.
  90. See “We Stand for Something: President Gordon B. Hinckley,” On the Record, Sunstone 21/4 (December 1998): 71 [cited in Gregory L. Smith, “Shattered Glass: The Traditions of Mormon Same-Sex Marriage Advocates Encounter Boyd K. Packer” http://publications.mi.byu.edu/fullscreen/?pub=1462&index=6 (accessed February 17, 2015)].
  91. Regarding Elder McConkie, see Mark L. McConkie, Doctrines of the Restoration, 159–71; regarding President Packer, see “Lessons from Gospel Experiences,” new mission presidents’ seminar, 25 June 2008, disc 4, track 12, 0:00–0:54 (cited in Gregory L. Smith, “Shattered Glass,” footnote 42).
  92. See again Gregory A. Prince and Wm. Robert Wright, David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2005), 104, and the additional reports in Edward L. Kimball, “Spencer W. Kimball and the Revelation on Priesthood,” BYU Studies 47, no. 2 (2008), 22 and 45, file:///C:/Users/Duane%20Boyce/Downloads/47.2kimballspencerb0a083df-b26b-430b-9ce2–3efec584dcd9.pdf.
  93. See again Edward L. Kimball, “Spencer W. Kimball and the Revelation on Priesthood,” BYU Studies 47, no. 2 (2008), 45, file:///C:/Users/Duane%20Boyce/Downloads/47.2kimballspencerb0a083df-b26b-430b-9ce2–3efec584dcd9.pdf.
  94. I address the majority of these in my “Sustaining the Brethren,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture, 14 (2015), vii-xxxii; https://journal.interpreterfoundation.org/sustaining-the-brethren/.
  95. Dallin H. Oaks, Life’s Lessons Learned: Personal Reflections (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 2011), Kindle location 655–659.
  96. In Bruce C. Hafen, A Disciple’s Life: The Biography of Neal A. Maxwell (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 2002), 413.
  97. One example: The Lord instructed Mormon to include the small plates of Nephi in his record (after he had already directed Nephi to make the record in the first place), but he gave neither of these prophets any explanation for his instructions — and the (presumptive) reason did not become clear until centuries later (1 Nephi 9:5; Words of Mormon 1:6–7).
  98. Neal A. Maxwell, All These Things Shall Give Thee Experience (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 1979), Kindle location 1340. The remark also appears in Cory H. Maxwell, ed, The Neal A. Maxwell Quote Book (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1997), 274.
  99. George Q. Cannon, in Jerreld L. Newquist, ed., Gospel Truth: Discourses and Writings of President George Q. Cannon, vol. 1 (Salt Lake City: Zion’s Book Store, 1957), 346.
  100. Ibid., 346.
  101. Patrick Q. Mason, Planted: Belief and Belonging in an Age of Doubt (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 2015), Kindle location 2345.
  102. Spencer W. Kimball, Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1995), 448; Kindle location 6393.
  103. Dallin H. Oaks, Life’s Lessons Learned: Personal Reflections (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 2011), Kindle location 655–659.
  104. See “Race and the Priesthood” at https://churchofjesuschrist.org/topics/race-and-the-priesthood?lang=eng.
  105. This doctrinal province seems, in significant part, to explain the Lord’s declaration to Joseph Smith that “this generation shall have my word through you” (D&C 5:10) — i.e., the doctrines of the Lord are located in the revelations given to Joseph. Commenting on this passage, Bruce R. McConkie said, “What this means is that if we are going to receive the knowledge of God, the knowledge of truth, the knowledge of salvation, and know the things that we must do to work out our salvation with fear and trembling before the Lord, this must come in and through Joseph Smith and in no other way. He is the agent, the representative, the instrumentality that the Lord has appointed to give the truth about himself and his laws to all men in all the world in this age.” In Mark L. McConkie, ed., Doctrines of the Restoration: Sermons and Writings of Bruce R. McConkie (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1989), 19.
  106. This is evident even in the major doctrinal pronouncements of the Church since the time of Joseph Smith: such statements have been scriptural expositions — emphasizing various passages of the existing canon — rather than pronouncements claiming to announce new doctrinal truths. Significant examples that are widely familiar and accessible include: “The Father and the Son: A Doctrinal Exposition by the First Presidency and the Twelve” (1916); “The Origin of Man” (both the 1909 and 1925 statements by the First Presidency); “The Family: A Proclamation” (by the First Presidency and the Twelve, 1995); and “The Living Christ” (by the First Presidency and the Twelve, 2000). Note 109 discusses two examples of the Lord revealing new doctrine to prophets subsequent to Joseph Smith.
  107. Joseph Fielding Smith, in Bruce R. McConkie, ed., Doctrines of Salvation, 3 vols. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954–56), 3:203–4.
  108. In Mark L. McConkie, ed., Doctrines of the Restoration: Sermons and Writings of Bruce R. McConkie (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1989), 231.
  109. The exception, of course, would be if the matter were made official by the First Presidency and the Twelve, and particularly if it were presented to the Church for addition to the canon. This was the case with the vision given to Joseph F. Smith regarding the redemption of the dead, which did establish new doctrine subsequent to Joseph Smith. This revelation achieved official status through a process of formal approval by the full First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve (later, of course, to be presented to the full Church and officially accepted into the standard works). This indicates the pattern to be followed in any presentation of new doctrine to the Church. It will not come from any individual, acting alone, but only through the official councils the Lord has established. The same principle is evident in the revelation given to Brigham Young, found in Section 136 of the Doctrine and Covenants. The revelation includes two verses that constitute new doctrine, but they are limited in scope since they refer exclusively to Joseph Smith (D&C 136:38–39). As with the vision of Joseph F. Smith, this revelation was canonized through official Church action.
  110. Planted, Kindle location 2325.
  111. In this connection it is worth noting that ambiguity is sometimes introduced into this topic by contrasting “doctrines” with “policies.” (This is a matter on which Edward L. Kimball might have written more clearly. See his “Spencer W. Kimball and the Revelation on the Priesthood,” BYU Studies (47/2) 2008, 22; https://byustudies.byu.edu/content/spencer-w-kimball-and-revelation-priesthood.) It is easy to misinterpret a statement like “the restriction on the priesthood was a policy, not a doctrine” because we might think this means that, as a policy, it was therefore more or less man-made rather than revealed. But of course the matter of revelation applies to policies as well as to doctrines, since even a policy — a practice — can be either man-made or revealed. For generations God directed that the priesthood could be held only by the tribe of Levi and that only those descended from Aaron could hold the office of high priest in that priesthood. The fact that this pattern has been changed in this dispensation certainly signals that this practice was a policy (i.e., it was not an eternal, unchangeable fact about the universe), but it does not signal that it was not revealed. The record clearly depicts that it was. This category of God’s work — revealed policy — is the proper description for many activities occurring over the history of the world, including instructing Noah to build an ark, leading Abraham to the land of Canaan, leading the children of Israel out of Egypt, directing that the gospel go first to Israel and then to the Gentiles and later directing that the gospel go first to the Gentiles and then to Israel, constructing priesthood offices for the children of Israel according to lineage, identifying Salt Lake as the gathering place for Saints throughout the world and later identifying Saints’ local geographies as their official gathering place, building smaller temples, and so forth. The Lord does many things on a temporary and even localized basis, often for reasons known only to him.
  112. The claims are (1) that “in all patience and faith” refers to being patient with prophets, (2) that God intervenes only occasionally in guiding the Church, (3) that Spencer W. Kimball thought the priesthood-temple restriction was a possible error and asked forgiveness for it, (4) that President Kimball had to fight his personal prejudices along the way to overturning the priesthood-temple restriction, and (5) that the Lord may have been waiting on his prophets — rather than their waiting on him — with regard to removing the restriction.
  113. As indicated in Note 67, this problem is not ameliorated by Mason’s brief discussion of Wilford Woodruff’s famous statement about leading the Church astray. Mason’s interpretation assumes he is correct about the infrequency of revelation to the presiding councils of the Church, even though there is strong reason to suppose he is not correct about this. This assumption is exactly what is called into question by all of the reports/declarations we have considered and that Mason overlooks. That is one of the reasons his inattention to such reports is so serious: his neglect contributes to an implausible conclusion about revelation and his implausible conclusion about revelation partly determines his conclusion about what it means to “lead astray.”
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About Duane Boyce

Duane Boyce received his academic training in psychology, philosophy, and the clinical treatment of families. He received a Ph.D. from Brigham Young University and conducted his postdoctoral study in developmental psychology at Harvard University. He was a member of the Moral Studies Group at BYU and served on the faculty there. He is a founding partner of the Arbinger Institute, a worldwide management consulting and educational firm, and is the author or coauthor of five books. He has published academic essays on scriptural topics in BYU Studies, The FARMS Review, Religious Educator, Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship, and the Journal of the Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture. He is author of the recent book, Even unto Bloodshed: An LDS Perspective on War (Kofford, 2015). Among other callings, he has served as a bishop and a stake president.

67 thoughts on “A Lengthening Shadow: Is Quality of Thought Deteriorating in LDS Scholarly Discourse Regarding Prophets and Revelation? Part One

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  3. In Boyce’s explication of more-than-occasional revelation to the Brethren, I expected him to quote D&C 128: 11: “Now the great and grand secret of the whole matter, and the summum bonum of the whole subject that is lying before us, consists in obtaining the powers of the Holy Priesthood. For him to whom these keys are given there is no difficulty in obtaining a knowledge of facts in relation to the salvation of the children of men, both as well for the dead as for the living.”

    This verse suggests to me that the prophets and apostles who hold the keys of the Holy Priesthood will have no difficulty in receiving more-than-occasional revelations. However, the verse also suggests that such revelations will pertain to “the salvation of the children of men” and not necessarily to every administrative or policy issue in the Church.

    Applying this logic to the priesthood-temple ban, the key question is whether that ban pertained to “the salvation of the children of men” or was it mere policy? Well, holding the priesthood and making temple covenants seem to have an awful lot to do with “the salvation of the children of men”. Accordingly, I believe that the ban was a revealed directive, albeit a perplexing and troubling one.

    As for the tone of the article, it was occasionally strident. However, the article has provoked a healthy discussion, in part driven by that stridency, which is a good thing. These are important issues and Latter-day Saints should be free to speak strongly, even sharply, about them. I sometimes worry that our usual brotherly and sisterly deference and courtesy causes us to let too many things slide.

  4. As Boyce notes citing Joseph Fielding Smith and Elder McConkie, the only fully authoritative and binding revelations are those that have been canonized. Anything anyone says–up to and including a prophet or apostle–that contradicts canonized scripture is invalid. Canonized revelations are rare. Uncanonized, less authoritative revelations are common for both Church leaders and ordinary members. If Givens and Mason were referring to canonized, fully authoritative revelations as being rare, they are obviously right. One can reconcile the claims of Givens and Mason with Boyce’s arguments about frequent revelation by just assuming that they are talking about unofficial versus official revelation. It is worth noting that the priesthood ban was never a canonized revelation. Its rescission is canonized and has fully authoritative doctrinal status.

  5. I have been hesitant to post any of my thoughts seeing how this issues seems to be quite contentious and the comments seem less… based in academics than passion. That being said, I would like to share a few of my thoughts.

    As a matter of preface, I have read much of Givens but only a touch of Mason. I have never read anything by Boyce before. Everything I say should thus be taken with the appropriate grain(s) of salt.

    To begin with, I very much admire the attempts and efforts of Boyce. It seems a very admirable thing to make an argument in favor of prophets and revelation over clay feet and common sense. Heaven knows, I will defend the prophets every opportunity I get because I love them, support them, learn from them, and strive to emulate them in the emulation-worthy aspects of their lives and characters.
    Does the author achieve his goals, however?

    By the end of the article, one thing that seemed somewhat off was the tone. His final introductory note states, “Although it facilitates expression to refer to well-known authors by name, this article is not a study of authors. It is a study of claims.”

    These two sentences stuck in my mind the entire article because the tone at times seemed as if it were the other way around—and that the authors were being criticized because of the views they espouse. My hope is this is either unintentional or only perceived this way by myself. If either of those options are ruled out, I think the article could be strengthened greatly by referring to “the author” or some such language that removes much of the passion in readers who know the authors personally and focuses, in fact, on the arguments.

    The other point I want to address is the extremes of how revelation is describes. (Please note again that I have read very little of Mason and am going off of the Boyce’s presentation.) The author of this article occasionally refers to the fact revelation comes in different shapes and sizes, but the conclusions are always extreme—the grandest of revelations or no revelation at all. Similarly, my understanding of his presentation of Mason is that Mason also does not consider revelation on a graded scale. In other words, when I finished the article it largely seemed that Boyce, Mason, and Givens essentially believed only in all-or-nothing revelation and that Boyce was in favor of virtually all revelation and Mason and Givens were in favor of virtually no revelation. That confuses me because I have not come across that viewpoint in Givens. Additionally, many of the examples Boyce provides in full context deal with Brethren who speak about the reality of revelation in gradation.

    Whether it was the intention of the author or not, I came away feeling the only way to support his argument was to agree revelation always comes in grand manifestations. Since I do not believe that and have never seen a single of the Brethren teach anything but the opposite, it seemed to greatly weaken all the rest of the argument.
    And that is unfortunate because I believe in prophets and revelation, and while I admire academics and the gritty compassion of dealing with people in situations of doubt, I do think we may be drifting too far in the direction of sympathizing most with weakness. For example, in church history I sometimes read works that belittle previous research (for fairly solid reasons) as being hagiographies which they will now replace with honest “warts-and-all” books. But those books almost always seem to come across as “warts-only.”
    To agree with Boyce, that is a dangerous road and one which may not be justified (or at the very least, prove ultimately worth it) for any degree of intellectual honesty. Sometimes we must be wise and hearken to the counsel of the Lord. Sometimes we must accept the weaknesses of our leaders and follow them just as we accept their revelatory realities and accept them. To me, that is life. Good and bad, great and small, glorious and mundane—but consistent throughout.

    Boyce calls our attention to some remarkable, noteworthy, exceptional, unusual, and rare spiritual experiences we are privileged to know about. These experiences are just as real and just as available as using the Spirit and studying things out in our own minds to learn how to become like God—even if we make mistakes along the way. However, the inference of the author appears to be that these kinds of experiences are the rule and not the exception. I cannot think of a single teaching from a General Authority which not only fails to back up this principle, but also does not refute it.

    In fact, while he criticizes some descriptions of the prophets as working by common sense, I argue strongly (and can do so with scriptural and conference sources galore): there are different degrees of inspiration and revelation as well as different gifts by which the Spirit is manifest—including wisdom and judgment.
    If a prophet makes a decision using common sense obtained through years of teaching by the Spirit, how is that not revelation? Or, how is that not godliness? Surely God cannot expect us to live throughout the eternities dependent upon Him to reveal every decision to us face to face? If God does not send angels to do for man what we can do for each other, why would He reveal Himself in glorious ways when He has already taught us how to formulate decisions?

    I’m certain my words are weak here. By saying this, I say also at the same time—prophets of God and members of the Church receive direct revelation in grand and glorious ways.

    Both are true.

    Extremes are unnecessary.

    Boyce continues, “It seems reasonable their capacity would not diminish after being ordained,” referring to revelations to Bruce McConkie and Russell Nelson of their future calls to the Twelve.

    Absolutely true.

    But capacity to receive rare revelation does not change the Lord’s principle of communicating with man. The capacity merely means when the occasion is again proper, similar experiences will of course recur.

    Boyce, however, writes this “is clearly suggestive that revelation is more common than the ‘occasional’ or ‘now-and-then’ revelation.” This again seems problematic. It leaves little room for gradations of revelation or differing frequency. Furthermore, the use of adjective “clearly” is perhaps a crutch to the argument as the evidence he puts forward would more fully support his conclusion if it were proportional.

    Not having read Mason’s work, I do not know if he puts forward there is either strong revelation or no revelation—and that, of course, could immediately invalidate my thoughts. I have just never heard a scholar indicate there are only extremes in revelation. I suspect that just as Boyce did not say there are gradations of revelations but likely believes such is the case, so may Mason also believe there are gradations but come down on the other side.
    (My mind recalls an example by Elder McConkie who taught that the vast majority of us are born again by degrees, but those few who have remarkable experiences like Alma are considered so remarkable that they get written up in the scriptures; conversion is used in this example as a gift of the Spirit, not the sum total of every way the Spirit manifests itself.)

    It is important to recall the words of the Book of Mormon that show Nephi and Lehi (the brothers) “received many revelations daily.” This is an actual reality to which every member of the Church can live for—and live within. But even in this blessed state, I have never known anyone whose every revelation was the kind ‘that gets written up in the scriptures.’

    For that matter, I have never known anyone who can say that of the majority of their revelations.

    At the same time, for those who never have these experiences it is unfortunate and we must be very careful to say there are no miracles just because we may not yet be in a position to witness those miracles.

    Revelation is real.

    Visions are real.

    God is real.

    All are manifest to us, but line upon line, precept upon precept and we seek to prove worthy and capable of handling each new line and precept of knowledge.

    Joseph Smith’s revelations were at times very glorious—but they also required an almost unspeakable degree of expertise knowing the voice of the Spirit in its quieter forms. And while Apostles and members hear voices, see visions, and obtain the word of the Lord word-for-word by His own mouth, it would seem to contradict the Lord’s purposes for growth in mortality by providing for those experiences to be the rule. We are to walk by faith, even though blessed along the way by knowledge—even special knowledge.
    At the very least, Boyce has created an environment suitable for a great deal of debate and I look forward to reading Part 2 and Part 3.
    I just wonder if some of the passionate responses in the comments perhaps reflect a tone that was less suited for this article under the stated purposes?

    My kudos to Boyce for taking on an important topic. My hope that there are some changes in tone and methodology coming down the line.

  6. I find Boyce difficult to believe when he says he wishes to “allow readers to reach their own assessment” then uses inflammatory language and hyperbole such as, “egregious” “unconscionable”, “of course absurd”, “radically mistaken”. Clearly anyone is an idiot who doesn’t agree with Boyce.

    The problem with this paper is that it is so exaggerated it loses meaning. Perhaps Boyce has reached a conclusion opposite of the truth, not noticing that the errors of church leaders seem egregious because they are so obvious it would be unconscionable to overlook them. Some errors are so obvious and so significant that they amount to betrayal. It is hard to imagine any justification for them.

    • Interesting choice of (exaggerated) language to complain about someone else using what you considered exaggerated language. Pointing out what he considers “egregiously,” etc., poor logic or methodology isn’t uncommon in scholarly articles. They simply reflect an opinion that others are free to disagree with. A different approach may have been received differently (I’d have preferred not giving the feeling of personalizing it, though he’s clearly arguing their messaging), but I’m beginning to doubt it.

  7. One of the most difficult challenges for anyone in the Church is to be able to discern between the promptings of the Holy Ghost and the strong, positive, comfortable feelings we can get from our own ideas and our own biases. Some years ago I was discussing this problem with my seminary class and I asked them how they could discern between the two? There was a long period of silence as they each struggled with the answer to this difficult question. Finally one young man lit up like a light bulb and said, “I know! I know! You ask your mum.”

    He was exactly right. That is why the Church is governed by councils and not by individuals. It is common for anyone to be deceived or misled in their thinking that the good feelings they may have about an idea comes from the Lord when in fact it may not. It is less common for a group seeking the will of the Lord to all make the same error. All decisions by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve must be unanimous (D&C 107:47). Prior to their weekly meetings where their decisions are made, these prophets, seers and revelators meet in an upper room of the Temple and partake of the sacrament “that they may always have His Spirit to be with them.” Under this procedure any decision made by these councils can be relied upon to be the mind and the will of the Lord. This includes the decision to withhold the priesthood from the blacks, which remained in effect for over one hundred years of councils of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve.

  8. Wasn’t it Joesph Smith who said, paraphrasing, a prophet is a prophet only when acting as a prophet? Not every action taken or word spoken from those we respect as prophets seers and revelators is in their capacity as a prophet. Elder Christofferson drove that point home in a talk in General Conference in April 2012. He even mentioned a talk by Brigham Young in the morning (dealing with Johnson’s Army) that was diametrically opposite to a talk he gave in the afternoon session. Before beginning the afternoon session Brigham said to the effect, in the morning you heard from Brother Brigham. Now you’ll hear the word of the Lord. The point of all this is that we as a people are not less faithful when we acknowledge that truth. Now that said, this humanness about the prophets makes them no less prophets and no less holding mantles of seership and revelation, and it is incumbent upon me in humility to sustain them. As for Brother Boyce’s article, I feel uncomfortable taking one, two, or three quotes of one or two individuals and proclaiming that scholars in general have accordingly lost their faith or are veering off paths of faithfulness. Heaven help me if someone digs up words I’ve said in the past in an effort to label me or use to generalize about a group of people. I’d be toast. I hope to always sustain the brethren. I don’t need them to be perfect for me to do that. I hope to treat my fellow brothers and sisters with charity, even or perhaps especially those whose faith in the brethren is coming up short. Part of my hope is because of the express teachings of the brethren. It’s what they’d want me to do.

  9. I found this article to be nauseating. Boyce repeatedly and flagrantly engages in the very practice he condemns. By extracting statements that make his point and ignoring the vast body of work that refutes is chief arguments, he conveys meaning that is not there. Though I am glad that Interpreter gave a platform and audience for this essay (and the abundance of responses validates its interest), Boyce did not impress me or alter my view that The Spirit is the source of all truth and I am to read, ponder and pray and then do what I am directed. I hope I can have more charity for Boyce than he does for the scholars he targets.

  10. I believe strongly in the principle found in Moroni 10: 4 that we should individually ask God in each case if a given principle is true or not. This is not a circular argument as stated in Moroni, because it implies that even the statement that we should ask God should itself be tried in the same way it suggests- that we should individually ask God if Moroni was correct. I have received my own confirmation with certainty, but others have not.

    Either prophets are infallible or they are not. If they are infallible there is no need for the admonition in Moroni 10:4- we should just follow blindly. But I think no one is suggesting that.

    The central argument here appears circular. Supporting the words of prophets with other words of prophets begs the question.

    One statement by a prophet followed by the words “Thus saith the Lord” is still a statement by a prophet, alleging that the Lord told him to say that. Perhaps that statement is true, perhaps it is not.

    Such statements are still to be tried, in my opinion, by Moroni 10:4 or other similar statements like the founding scripture of the Restoration, James 1:5 which famously declares if we lack wisdom, (which applies to all of us), that we should “ask God” and not one who alleges to be a prophet.

    We should not accept either the Bible or Book of Mormon or any prophetic statement because those volumes assert their own validity, but because God Himself has confirmed their validity to us individually in our own hearts.

    • Thank you! Yes. Someone finally made this point. I would also include the allegory of the seed in Mosiah 32:32-34. Not every word a prophet speaks is the word of the Lord. But every word of the Lord a prophet speaks, is. It is up to us to determine the difference through these provided tests. So if I test the stated counsel from the Lord’s anointed, it’s not because I’m in danger of apostasy, it’s because I’m remaining true to the Devine program of modern day revelation. I would also add that though we may come to know the word of the Lord, we still may not understand it fully, or it may still be a struggle to obey. That is where the patience comes in.

      • Thanks- but I think you meant Alma 32 in case anyone wants to check the reference. And for me, it starts quite a bit before verse 32. But yes I agree fully that that is one of the most important chapters in the Book of Mormon, explicating a Pragmatic view of truth and knowledge. Again it puts forth the notion that each principle must be proven by each individual for themselves without blind obedience, at least in my interpretation. If I am to surrender my God-given agency to follow a human being other than God Himself, I must know that it is His will for me as an individual.

  11. Looks like a lot of the commentators here find criticism of the pet theories of their beloved intellectuals far more concerning than the recent movement to belittle and render insignificant the Lord’s anointed. If the Priesthood ban was just racism roaming about unhinged for well over a hundred years, and the Lord allowed it, what trust could we possibly have in the Brethren on any issue today (and perhaps this is really the kernel of the matter–“the brethren might be wrong, so I’m justified in clutching to my favorite cause that they’ve spoken out directly against”)

    Has anyone else noticed this strange competition going among “believing” LDS scholars to see who can boldly disbelieve more?–like they’re saying to their academic peers, “Look, I know I belong to a backwards faith and all, but, trust me, I’m really a reasonable fella–unlike all the irredeemable rubes that really believe all this old-fashioned junk about miracles and revelation and, god forbid I speak it with a straight face, certainty. No, that’s not me at all! I can quote Steven Pinker or Fawn Browdie extensively if you don’t believe me. And, when the SRHTF, I can bracket truth claims like such a BAMF that it’d make Leroy Brown himself blush (because, as we well know, scholarship isn’t about the pursuit of truth, but rather the framing of all issues in an air-tight naturalistic casing that can only ever lead to one conclusion…’Oh, do not ask, what is it? Let us go and make our visit’!)”

    As a side note, I was just waiting for someone to invoke that old self-serving and utterly asinine “sacrament talk” from Richard Poll, wherein he declared, in no uncertain terms, the innate superiority of “Liahona Mormons” to (the obviously retarded) “Iron Rod Mormons.” I bet you can guess which side Poll, as well as those who lovingly cite him, align with. But don’t worry, they’ll also be the first to chastise others for their uncharity if ever their favorite piano keys are criticized. Notice, the above article specifically criticized the ideas of those in question, not them personally; whereas, the ideas in question make very unflattering and insulting insinuations about folks like SWK and BY etc. But, again, I guess, slandering the Brethren of yesteryear as idiot-racists that clearly led the Church astray is no big deal, just don’t you dare criticize this criticism you intolerant, close-minded bigot-beast!

    I must also have missed the canonization of Givens, Hardy, etc. When did their contentions become “the hide-bound, authoritarian tradition” we are bound to uphold against all sally-forthers and uncomely comers? If you like their books (or adore them personally)– cool beans and more power to you–that doesn’t, however, render them suddenly the infallible interpreters of all things Mormon or some purple robed kings of Beaver Island toward which all our knees must now bow.

    • For someone concerned with belittling, your comment seems to be peppered with it. I think you are missing the tone, tenor, and substance of scholars such as Givens, who are not in a competition to disbelieve more than the next guy, but who have been able to overcome doubt through various methods including taking a scholarly approach to doctrine and culture. These same people are some of the few who are tackling many of the issues and inconsistencies that others (even in leadership) have brushed off for years. That brushing off is even present in this article, which is why it has drawn criticism from those who have been contemplating these issues for years and have been challenged by them. The only argument for infallibility seems to be made by the author and, by extension, yourself. My recommendation to you is to try taking on what you feel is incorrect in this approach, as opposed to attacking your own categorization of it (also known as a straw man).

    • Marvin, I stand in reverent awe of your silvery tongue/pen (or keyboard) and powers of eloquent expression. I would need labor for hours on a few paragraphs just to approach your gift for elucidation. Impressive. May I say “Well done” and woes to “all sally-forthers and uncomely comers!” And cool beans to you.

    • That seems to be a complete misreading of Givens. In The Crucible of Doubt and other books, it is clear that he believes in revelation from God to living apostles and prophets, and in the reality of the Restoration to Joseph Smith. That book and his others works should strengthen the faith of believing Latter-day Saints. Recognizing the challenges of fallible mortals in an intelligent, respectful, and faithful manner is hardly a race to show how much he can disbelieve. Where do you get that notion? And Dennis, what makes you think that errant critique is marvelously eloquent?

      • I am a believing Latter-day Saint, and I have read The Crucible of Doubt and The God Who Weeps. Those books by Brother and Sister Givens definitely did strengthen my faith in the Lord and His Restored Church; so I am a witness that the Givenses’ books can definitely be faith-promoting. I have also read a lot of your writing online, Brother Lindsay, and it has done the same for me.

        I think you and others have done a fine job countering what seems to me to be a weak argument by Brother Duane Boyce. However, based on my own personal experience, I have one major critique of another book by Brother Givens, Wrestling the Angel. One line of the following passage was particularly difficult for me. I include the rest of the passage for context, and because I think it is also relevant to Dr. Boyce’s article:

        “[Joseph Smith’s] prophetic vocation…involved visions, borrowings, re-workings, collaborations, incorporations, and pronouncements, with false starts, second-guessings, and self-revisions. Smith experimented with polyandry, then ceased; he implemented, then suspended a communalistic mandate; he dictated revelations, then subjected them to sometimes substantial, repeated revision. His self-understanding as a prophet included the ever-present sense of his own fallibility, the need for intellectual struggle, an indebtedness to other flawed but gem-laden religious traditions, and inspiration as a continual wrestle with heavenly powers. He saw himself as neither the deluded charlatan of his detractors nor the airbrushed Moses of his latter-day adherents” (p. 40 of Wrestling the Angel in my Kindle edition).

        The line that was difficult for me was, “Smith experimented with polyandry, then ceased.” To me, the problem with that line is that there is no additional information given on Joseph Smith and polyandry in a footnote or anywhere else in the book. Had I not done reading on that topic before I read the book, especially from Brother Brian Hales’s work, I would have had a much harder time with that statement by Givens.

        My conclusion, however, is that whatever anyone speaks or writes, “when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation” (D&C 68:4). Whenever a fallible human being speaks or writes when he or she is not moved upon by the Holy Ghost, it is not any of those things.

        I would also like to add what is taught in the following quotes to that conclusion. They are from Presidents J. Reuben Clark and Harold B. Lee, respectively:

        “[We] should [bear] in mind that [the First Presidency and the Twelve] have had assigned to them a special calling; they possess a special gift; they are sustained as prophets, seers, and revelators, which gives them a special spiritual endowment in connection with their teaching of the people. They have the right, the power, and authority to declare the mind and will of God to his people, subject to the over-all power and authority of the President of the Church. Others of the General Authorities are not given this special spiritual endowment and authority covering their teaching; they have a resulting limitation, and the resulting limitation upon their power and authority in teaching applies to every other officer and member of the Church, for none of them is spiritually endowed as a prophet, seer, and revelator. Furthermore, as just indicated, the President of the Church has a further and special spiritual endowment in this respect, for he is the Prophet, Seer, and Revelator for the whole Church” (President Clark).

        “We can know or have the assurance that they (the Prophet and Apostles) are speaking [or have spoken or written] under inspiration if we so live that we can have a witness that what they are speaking is the word of the Lord. There is only one safety, and that is that we shall live to have the witness to know” (President Lee).

  12. Bro. Boyce takes Prof. Mason to task for saying that the Church occasionally intervenes in Church affairs, and Bro. Boyce then cites a number of General Authority statements reporting that the relationship between them and God is close.

    In the Reed Smoot hearings, Senate lawyers asked President Joseph F. Smith whether he had ever had a revelation. He testified that he had not. In the next hearing, he stated that he wished to correct his earlier statement. He stated that the Holy Spirit was constantly guiding the Church.

    The New Testament provides for bottom-up Church governance. “When two or more [apostles] are gathered in my name, I will be there and will ratify their decisions,” is the paraphrase. The Old Testament describes different kinds of prophetic revelation; the kind Moses received and all others.

    Thus, the NT model is generally bottom-up ratification. But, fire can come from the sky and consume the priests of Baal, at times, or Jesus can appear to Paul. Hence President Smith’s confusion in the Reed Smoot hearings.

    When the Church approved the Manifesto, many in the Church criticized the Manifesto as not stating “Thus Sayeth the Lord” as did many D&C sections. We heard the same argument in the recent controversy over the children of same-sex marriages. Revelation doesn’t generally come as text dictated from a stone.

    I think Bro. Boyce’s perception of what is revelation and what is not seems a little naive — something a Primary student might believe or is told but is contrary to the New Testament model. Is there not room for human error? Is there not room for human freedom of will of interpretation? Did Nathan err when he told David to go ahead and build the temple, and did he err when he reversed himself and told David to wait for Solomon to do it? Did Joshua err when he approved a treaty with the Gibeonites after God told him to wipe them out?

    Peter received his revelation three times to take the Gospel to the Gentiles and to treat the Gentiles no differently than the House of Israel, and then Paul castigates him at the Jerusalem conference for refusing to eat with Gentiles. Is the Galatians account accurate? Or Luke’s account in Acts? Did Peter commit error (Paul calls him a “false brother”) or did Paul get it wrong? Did the revelation occur or did it not?

    We’ve been there in priesthood councils. In bishoprics. Stake presidencies. We can see how the Church works and is guided. It is exactly as Prof. Mason describes it. We are free to choose under the guidance of the Spirit, and Moroni is not necessary for each High Council meeting.

  13. Below is the passage from Givens in chap. 6 of The Crucible of Doubt that Boyce should have considered to understand what Givens’ means when he suggests that D&C 21:4-5 considers the human aspect of our leaders as delegates for the Lord. The following also refutes the idea that Givens’ position ignores the significance of the phrase “as if from my own mouth”:

    Delegation is a sobering, even terrifying gesture on God’s part. To delegate or to deputize, both mean that the person receiving that authority has something like God’s power of attorney; the person’s acts, within circumscribed limits, carry the weight and efficacy of God’s own acts. But surely no human can act with the wisdom, the perfect judgment, the infallibility of God. Precisely so. And if delegation is a real principle — if God really does endow mortals with the authority to act in His place and with His authority, even while He knows they will not act with infallible judgment— then it becomes clearer why God is asking us to receive the words of the prophet “as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith.” [Doctrine and Covenants 21:4-5] Indeed, this counsel was part of the very first revelation God gave to the newly organized Church in this dispensation, which should give the warning particular primacy among God’s many counsels. Clearly, the Lord can delegate His authority to a human without any assumption that said human will always exercise that authority in perfect conformity with God’s intentions. From Sunday School teachers to prophets, those with God’s authority to act in His name will, even with the best of intentions and efforts, make mistakes. God has already anticipated the need to overlook His prophets’ human weaknesses; hence His admonition on the day of the Church’s very founding. And so did Joseph himself remind his people: “if they would bear with my infirmities . . . I would likewise bear with their infirmities,” he said.

    However, a different question emerges when it is the action, not the person, that is imperfect. If a bishop makes a decision without inspiration, are we bound to sustain the decision? The story is told of a Church official who returned from installing a new stake presidency. “Dad, do you Brethren feel confident when you call a man as the stake president that he is the Lord’s man?” the official’s son asked upon his father’s return home. “No, not always,” he replied. “But once we call him, he becomes the Lord’s man.” The answer disconcerts initially. Is this not hubris, to expect God’s sanction for a decision made in error? Perhaps. It is also possible that the reply reveals the only understanding of delegation that is viable.

    If God honored only those decisions made in perfect accord with His perfect wisdom, then His purposes would require leaders who were utterly incapable of misconstruing His intention, who never missed hearing the still small voice, who were unerringly and unfailingly a perfect conduit for heaven’s inspiration. And it would render the principle of delegation inoperative. The Pharaoh didn’t say to Joseph, your authority extends as far as you anticipate perfectly what I would do in every instance. He gave Joseph his ring. The king of Spain didn’t say, I will honor your judgments and directives insofar as they accord with my precise conclusions at such a time as I second-guess your every word and act. He signed the viceroy’s royal commission. And after calling Joseph Smith to his mission, the Lord didn’t say, I will stand by you as long as you never err in judgment. He said, “Thou wast called and chosen. . . . Devote all thy service in Zion; and . . . lo, I am with thee, even unto the end.” [Doctrine & Covenants 24: 1, 7, 8]

    So, what does this mean for us devoted disciples of the Loving God? In Farrer’s opinion, God “does not promise [Peter, or Joseph] infallible correctness in reproducing on earth the eternal decrees of heaven. He promises him that the decisions he makes below will be sanctioned from above.” In that view, if delegation has any meaning at all, then God is as good as His word. He honors the words and actions of His servants, sincerely executed on His behalf. Here Farrer gives an interesting reading of Christ’s words to Peter, that what His servant binds on earth, will (then and therefore) be bound in heaven. The words are God’s promise to give His divine weight of authority to the principle of delegation, to stand surety for the leaders He entrusts. (Givens, Crucible of Doubt, Kindle location 1363)

  14. First, I am glad Interpreter published this essay. It allows for a discussion of two contrasting (though not necessarily opposite) cultural points of view. Taken to logical ends, those viewpoints surround questions of prophetic authority and inerrancy.

    Boyce characterizes scholarly arguments with which he disagrees with words like “egregious,” “error,” “contamination,” and “absurdity.” He makes it clear that any clear-headed reading of D&C 21 or rightful interpretation of the black-priesthood issue will fall on his side of interpretation and that many popular LDS scholars have slipped into an intellectually vapid decline in their very approach to these matters.

    I had to do a double take when reading the essay, because it was so ironic. Scholarship is a critical methodology by which one tests claims, examines and deconstructs theories, including the reexamination of “facts” and interpretation of “facts.” Great scholars are able to look at their own cultural prejudices and re-examine facts with these in mind. It is very difficult to do. And yes, many errors are made in the scholarly endeavor.

    When it comes to scholarly methodology in matters of faith, there are many times when there are not sufficient facts to make any beyond-reproach-claims. And that is why it is called faith. Boyce cites dozens of examples of Mormon leaders receiving revelation as proof that such revelation is not infrequent and that it is “from the Lord’s mouth” and therefore right.

    Maybe. I believe so. But citing such examples does not address all the dynamics in play when people of faith might be in error. In any case, scholarly methodology MUST ask a few questions along the way, like “What and where are the examples when leaders do not receive revelation on important things, or ignore that revelation and end up doing wrong things?” Being that such examples are not promulgated in the faith-promoting literature, they often remain unpublished. Still, there is enough published to show that there is no inerrancy among the brethren, and Boyce doesn’t seem to quote any of these things. Hmmm, remember, his argument is about the methodology of scholarship, and not specific truth claims.

    Further, citing a prophet who claims frequent revelation from God as proof of frequent revelation from God via prophets is circular and has methodological problems. It’s that scholarship thing.

    Principally, Boyce uses a text to make his points, showing how the scholars in question are apparently amateurs to the scholarly endeavor. Yet, I found Boyce’s stance to be problematic. D&C 21:4-5 is not as clear cut as Boyce wants it to be. The verses read: “Wherefore, meaning the church, thou shalt give heed unto all his [the Prophet Joseph’s] words and commandments which he shall give unto you as he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me; For his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith.”

    Boyce says that because the verse declares that the prophet’s words are “as if from mine own mouth” then any claim that they may not be accurate or sage is contrary to the obvious divine authority thus stated. But Boyce’s interpretation is equivocal, resting on an assumption that he delineates in his explanation of the verse. Mind you, these verses have qualifiers. They are addressing the church (as opposed to individuals), someone has to be walking in all holiness for this to apply (is it the prophet or the church? both readings can apply), and that someone has to be walking in faith and patience as the words are given (again, is it the prophet or the church? here Boyce gives his interpretation, which is his interpretation.) Further, this revelation was given at the founding of the church and dealt with Joseph Smith, and therefore does it apply to the principles of the founding and the new directives by the first prophet? Or does it apply to all the words of all the prophets throughout all the church at all times? How we answer these questions will be based off a great many cultural assumptions we have.

    As I see it, one can have a few interpretations of these verses that are not identical to Boyce’s. Given’s interpretation still applies, with certain qualifiers (which I believe Givens actually gives), just as Boyce’s interpretation still applies, given some qualifiers.

    NO discussion in these matters of Mormon priesthood authority, correct revelation, and prophetic inerrancy ever get off the ground these days without discussing the priesthood ban with African descended blacks in the Church. Boyce’s arguments in this regard are circumstantial.

    He cites Kimball as stating the ban was “the Lord’s policy.” This should end the argument for Boyce. But it does no such thing. Kimball’s statement need not be interpreted as actual revelation, but rather his understanding of what the Lord’s policy was. Herein lies the problem with prophetic inerrancy. What happens when one’s understanding of the Lord’s policy, with the best of intentions, turns out to be man-made tradition? Further, receiving a revelation from God, without an explanation, can be like pouring new wine into old bottles, the old bottles being the cultural prejudices the one receiving the revelation has.

    The whole point was Kimball was reassessing what he believed to be the Lord’s policy. But just because he or any other prophet believes a policy to be the Lord’s does not mean that it is (God had to send the Apostle Peter a vision three times until Peter finally understood that the current policy towards teaching the Gentiles was not the Lord’s policy). And in fact Kimball fasted and prayed until he got a revelation that was different than his understanding of the Lord’s policy. In other words, there still is a gray area here that Boyce wants to make black and white.

    In fact, the entirety of Boyce’s article seemed to me to be from that black and white stock of thinking which has caused a great deal of struggle among the faithful (as very problematic episodes in history have come to light) and in which writers like Givens are addressing in a much more nuanced way. You can disagree with Givens, or Boyce, but again this article was about scholarship and scholarly methodology and not about faithful truth claims.

    I do not see the retrograde thinking of scholars like Givens or Hardy via Boyce’s claims, at least as presented in his essay. What Boyce does is show us his own presuppositions in his interpretations, aligns the data along those presuppositions, and then calls people outside of those presuppositions “errant” and “absurd.” Okay. But Boyce’s article was not about truth claims regarding priesthood authority or prophetic inerrancy, it was about scholarly methodology and playing loose with the texts. After reading the texts he cites I am still doing my double-take.

    • “Further, citing a prophet who claims frequent revelation from God as proof of frequent revelation from God via prophets is circular and has methodological problems.”

      It might be, if Boyce were trying to prove that LDS prophets have frequent revelation rather than to prove that LDS prophets perceive that they have frequent revelation. The former would appear to constitute a deductive proof that the LDS Church is what it claims to be; that would be a remarkable thing, and certainly not what Boyce is claiming to have achieved. As I understand it, Boyce is presenting the perceptions of multiple prophets and apostles as counter-evidence to the perception of Seventy B.H. Roberts, whom the scholars cite as if his opinion on the matter were conclusive.

  15. When Patrick Mason spoke at a FAIR conference and made claims about the prophets that seemed, to me, to indicate that he did not believe they were inspired by the Lord, I felt a tremendous disappointment. He is certainly free to believe whatever he likes, say whatever he likes, and publish whatever he likes, but I wondered: if FAIR, of all places, were giving the spotlight to those who essentially argue that the Lord is not currently running the church, then where are the thinking faithful to go?
    Thank you, Interpreter, for having the integrity to publish this piece in spite of its running afoul of popular writers (at least one of whom I know you have previously published). It gives me hope that thought, argument, and faith can still coexist in an online age.

  16. I thought the article was interesting and insightful. I generally agree with brother Boyce’s overall conclusion that the scholarly LDS community at large is perpetuating ideas that may likely be in error. The issues he brought up—an emphasis on prophetic fallibility, the infrequency of prophetic revelations, and the priesthood ban being perceived as an error—are issues that also concern me, but I felt like a somewhat different approach could have been more effective.

    It seems that some in this discussion have felt like Boyce was making personal or uncharitable attacks towards Givens and Mason. I don’t think that was his intent. He writes, “The only question is whether a given important claim is intellectually sound — and if it is not, the reasons it is not. That is the focus of this study.” So I think a charitable interpretation of this piece is to take Boyce at his word. If his approach was in error, I don’t think it was intentionally so.

    Could it have been improved in this area? I believe so. While the aim was to talk about ideas only—which it almost completely did—the tone on at least one occasion did get a little personal. Boyce writes, “If the priesthood ban was really a mistake, as Givens and Mason suppose, it is at least clear that Spencer W. Kimball did not think so, and thus it is inaccurate at best and disingenuous at worst to use his words to further their contention.” Boyce’s choice to speculate about why Givens and Mason were in error (at least as Boyce perceived them to be) seems—by implication—to unnecessarily call attention to and question their moral character in this instance.

    I also think Boyce’s overall approach seemed too absolute. Rather than simply exploring, testing, and then proposing alternatives to Givens’ and Mason’s interpretations, Boyce unequivocally pronounces them as errors and mistakes. And the frequent characterization of these errors as obvious, egregious, and radical sort of gives the whole article a bit of an edge to it. Perhaps it would have been better to simply propose that these faithful and influential writers might be in error on the covered topics and then make the arguments to show why. This alternative approach would probably have done more to engender positive discussion about the issues being raise, and would have avoided the problem of people pushing back against the ideas because of their tone, rather than their substance. I bring these things up, in part, because this is a three part series and I hope that brother Boyce would consider my feedback in his approach to the next two articles.

    As for the specific arguments, it seems that at times Boyce’s analysis suffers from uncertainties in some of his foundational premises. For instance, what Givens and Mason meant by “occasional” revelations is never clearly explained. Do they think that “occasional” entails that revelations are received hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, or even in decade intervals? Having a clear understanding of what they intended by their description is a key first step to adequately responding to it. Furthermore, little effort was made to differentiate between spiritual impressions (still small voice) and more powerful revelatory experiences. Lots of quotes were given by church leaders about the frequency of revelation among the church’s highest authorities, but most of those don’t specifically comment on what type of revelation they are talking about. I truly enjoyed the compilation of evidences demonstrating that revelations—whatever their form—are fairly regularly received in the highest councils of the church, but I felt that pitting these against Mason’s and Givens’ claims of “occasional” revelations wasn’t necessary.

    On a different note, it seems that Mason’s and Givens’ interpretation of President Kimball’s “possible error” statement as a “radical misinterpretation” is unnecessary. If the reason for the ban was never explained by the Lord to President Kimball or anyone else, then him speculating that it might have been a “possible error” doesn’t need to be an “absurdity” as Boyce claims. It’s possible that President Kimball firmly believed the ban was given by revelation and yet was open to the possibility of it being an error. That would explain why his statements always discuss it as a revelation and yet in one instance he suggests it may not have been.

    Boyce’s alternative interpretation also seems to have problems. He proposes, “The priesthood ban is the Lord’s policy, but he could change it. If the restriction is due, as Joseph Fielding Smith (and some others) have thought, to error committed in the pre-earth existence, perhaps the Lord could forgive that error and release the restriction.” My first concern is that the term “error” is singular in President Kimball’s statement, whereas the theory suggesting that the ban was due to unfaithfulness in the premortal realm has to do with the potential “errors” (plural) of many individuals. It’s possible to assume that President Kimball was referring to these individuals’ potential unfaithfulness collectively as “the error” but that seems to be an odd way of stating it. I don’t have access to the full context of this quote, but I assume that President Kimball never directly addressed this theory in his letter, whereas he did address the priesthood ban directly. And the location of “ban” immediately prior to the statement of “possible error” makes it an inviting antecedent. I’m not saying I think Boyce is wrong. I’m not sure what to think yet. All I’m saying is that Givens’ and Mason’s understanding of President Kimball’s statement doesn’t seem to qualify as a “radical misinterpretation.” I would like to see the full quote before reaching any firm conclusions.

    The important thing about Boyce’s article is that it presents an important alternative that is often absent in the discussions of many LDS scholars who write on these topics. I, like Boyce, am concerned that members of the church are speaking of the priesthood ban as if we as a people—especially as a scholarly community—are now pretty much certain it was an error. The church has never declared it be an error, and I think the scholarly LDS community would be wise to patiently wait on the Lord for more information before reaching and then promulgating such an important conclusion. I, like Boyce, am sometimes concerned that issues of prophetic fallibility and infrequent revelation are being misunderstood, overemphasized, or misrepresented. And I think that many of Boyce points were quite valid. These issues are important because they are at the core of many a faith crisis. I hope that Boyce’s article at least shows the need for caution and thoughtful reflection whenever we discuss the potential errors of past prophets and the revelatory limitations of current prophets.

    • Thank you for that apt remarks, Dahle. Previously I had thought Boyce’s article was a little uncharitable, but now that I see what you’re saying here, I have changed my mind. I appreciate your very thoughtful analysis.

      Also, your thoughts on President Kimball’s usage of the singular “error” is very insightful. Thank you.

  17. Givens here is slammed for just cherry-picking one phrase in his use of D&C 21:4-5 while neglecting the crucial “as if from mine own mouth.” We are told this is the critical error that leads to an egregious blunder, comparable to the hypothetical extreme error of neglecting the bulk of Wittgenstein’s writing while claiming to provide a comprehensive analysis of the author.

    But has Boyce adequately and fairly assessed Givens’ thinking on this matter? To be fair in evaluating him, should he not consider what Givens actually means and consider the tiny paragraph Boyce attacks in light of its context and in light of Givens’ related works?

    While Boyce is aware of the Crucible of Doubt and cites it from Chapter 6, in that very chapter Givens discusses D&C 21:4-5 in much more details, clearly quoting “as if from mine own mouth” and providing an excellent analysis of what it means in his argument. That analysis based on a solid understanding of the concept of delegation provides a reading that appears consistent with scripture, logically sound, and removes the “absurdity” that Boyce assigns to Given by making “as if” become more like “exactly the same as”, which arguably is a strained reading applied to give an overly harsh result.

    In other words, I think the key argument is flawed and unfairly applied. I hope it can be revised, especially in light of Givens’ more detailed discussions on this topic. He’s not an apostate leading the faithful away, from what I can see.

  18. CAUTION: Read this paper with “all patience and faith”

    An author who takes no pains to include an accurate representation of his opposition is an author who cannot be taken seriously. Boyce makes little to no attempt to include quotations from Brethren of the past which could discredit — or at least disrupt — his sanctimonious train of thought. There are plenty which would do so.

    Also, despite agreeing that the Brethren are not infallible, it seems that he spends an entire paper trying to convince us that anyone attempting to clarify how that infallibility might manifest itself is mistaken and that any claims attempting such clarification should be dismissed out of hand as “obvious” and “egregious” errors. And although he claims to be attacking authors’ “claims” and not authors per say, he advocates their censorship, stating that “respectable and mainstream venue[s]” should not “compound that error by accepting and publishing it, both as if such censorship is desirable and as if publishing is synonymous with agreement (a rather egregious claim, I should say).

    I just find it very, very difficult to read, let alone sympathize, with authors like Boyce who are much too comfortable letting the Brethren do their speaking and thinking for them, especially when only particular Brethren are quoted and even then only when they support their agenda.

    His predilection for (as others have noted) insufficiently —
    and often incorrectly — summarizing authorial claims leads him towards the creation of a neat line of straw men whom he then proceeds to systematically disembowel. I’m honestly left with the impression that Boyce is not at present capable of writing a well-balanced article and so I’m sure this will appeal especially to those Mormons who insist on viewing the Brethren and all that they do and say as infallible whatever the Brethren actually say and do.

    • I read the article as saying that if there really are “plenty” of Brethren whose statements support Mason and Givens, then it would have been those authors’ responsibilities to quote them. Boyce is not making his own argument about prophets for which he must identify possible counterexamples. What he is doing is showing how many obvious counterexamples *they* overlooked in making their own arguments. If there are further supporting statements they could have used, but didn’t, that merely bolsters the claim that their thinking on this topic is not rigorous.

  19. Very impressed. I’m a psychologist, one thing I would add is that this “God only occasionally reveals His Will” argument is that it promotes a distant, and therefore, disinterested God. The God of Spinoza and Einstein is far away and not particularly interested in us.

    The close God, either a strict or a benevolent version, is intensely interested in us, and is willing to intervene frequently.

    We have known for a long time that both a belief in God and attendance at religious services both boost human happiness and longevity. But the distant God doesn’t seem to convey that same benefit. So following this argument that God isn’t that engaged leads to less joy and more alienation.

    Some will “yes but” that comment, but bear in mind, my assertions are based on a broad and deep literature in my field. Perhaps some think God is close but cold and judgmental, and that makes them unhappy. The weight of the evidence is that there are still benefits from seeing God as close, even if rather judgmental.

    Now I never did understand the priesthood ban, never did like it, but I have supported the Church and will always do so. I heard some explanations that didn’t hold up, like the time a student in a 1969 BYU class asked about Elijah Able and the instructor claimed it happened while Joseph Smith was out of town. I went to the library and looked it up and the explanation was false. That was an explanation, and I didn’t believe it, but I assumed there was some reason for the ban. When one asserts it was just an error, that is more like Baal whom Elijah mocked as being asleep or out for a walk, whereas Elijah’s relationship with Jehovah is very close. When I have felt in my own life the temptation to think God is distant, that brings me unhappiness. When I chose to think of God as very close, I feel much better. So this article was wonderful from my point of view, and I think it will bring people more happiness to recognize God as wishing to be close to us and to our leaders.

    • Just wanted to add my thoughts to this a bit and share my understanding and it is this, God is exactly as close as we allow Him to be. If we view him as distant chances are we will place Him at a distance from us. When we view Him as close chances are we will act in ways that will bring Him closer.

  20. I enjoyed this article and look forward to more. I also admire Givens’ work.
    Prophets are human and have made mistakes. One of the evidences of the truth of Hebrew scripture is that they point out the weaknesses of prophets/kings as other ancient civilizations do not. I know Joshua erred in making a covenant with a Canaanite group after being told by the Lord not to. He allowed himself to be deceived. King David was chosen by Samuel under the direction of God but yet committed adultery and murder. We still quote his Messianic psalms. In early Church history many were called but then apostatized; even Apostles. I’m sure that Joseph Smith was not perfect. He was a weak vessel, “…nothing but an ignorant plowboy.”. It is truly a marvelous work and a wonder what God has been able to accomplish with all those weak vessels.

    As for God not explaining. Perhaps it is because we are unable to understand.

  21. Brandt, perhaps i should be more charitable towards such academics arguments, but it is hard for me to be charitable of drift toward error. Doing so turns a virtue into a vice as so eloquently stated by Elder Oaks.
    The First Presidencies formal statement of what a faithful member must believe to be considered such is found in Pres. Clark’s Charted Course of the Church talk. pres. Packer named that talk uncanonized scripture on multiple occasions.
    I worry that these scholars are redefining the word faithful to mean faithless or waivering in faith. Makes me shudder.
    Truly faithful scholars should be well past the early questioning /investigating quest for a testimony and be firm in the faith (as defined by the FP in Clerk’s talk) and know about and love these revelatory experiences Boyce quoted. They should KNOW that prophets and apostles receive revelation and everything Duane points out that entails. That’s algebra, not calculous.
    The article’s points are valid and timely.

  22. This interpreter essay is more like the kind of stuff you’d expect on someone’s amateur grievance blog. I couldn’t get past how badly Boyce misrepresents Givens, and how poorly constructed Boyce’s counterarguments are. For example, Boyce wants D&C 21:4-5 to be about prophetic infallibility rather than authority. Givens does not at all deny prophetic authority. He is underscoring prophets’ authority even though they can err. Boyce might be right that his own reading is correct, but that hardly makes his the only natural reading. In fact, as Nathaniel noted, Boyce has to resort to a very forced reading of the phrase “as if” in order to make it work. When we do not force “as if” to mean “identical” or “the very thing,” we see that it refers to the authoritative status of Joseph’s pronouncements rather than to any inerrant quality they should possess. How, then, is Givens’ reading a distortion? His argument is not hurt at all. Boyce also wants us to conclude that Mason takes president Kimball out of context because he does not privilege a statement of Kimball’s where he states that he does not consider himself racist. However, this statement is from 1963. The one quoted by Mason is about 1978, and does, indeed, indicate that Kimball struggled with his racism, and that he had reconsidered his earlier positions which were based on loyalty to the church’s policy, and evaluated them as racist. Boyce would force us to consider president Kimball as entirely static despite the 1978 revelation being absolutely dynamic and life-changing for him. Boyce shifts his position on prophets back and forth enough to suit various rhetorical needs while all the while avoiding the need to defend the coherence of his views. Boyce simply assumes them. This is like nailing carrots in green jello to the wall. Boyce first holds that to assume prophets make mistakes is as absurd as believing that God makes mistakes. He then concedes that prophets can make mistakes except that these are not really mistakes, only choices between good things, and if there are actual mistakes then they are of no consequence. If Boyce were writing an anti-Mormon piece everyone would be tearing his arguments to shreds. Terryl Givens (and Mason and Hardy) deserves better than this.

  23. The point is that certain named scholars are erroneously drifting from unquestioned belief and faith in prophets and revelation toward less than that–very true. This is done to apease doubters, but also diminishes faith in all who may buy their falacious arguments. Duane’s piece is highly commendable for its forthright expose of error in these modern scholars’ weak and watered down explanations.
    Compare their works with the declarations of truth from special witnesses and the differences, as boyce points ot, are startling.
    I am so pleased to see this posted.

    • I would hope that we read our fellow Saints’ offerings with more charity than I see in the article, or this response.

      As for the named scholars who are “drifting from unquestioned belief,” I am unaware that a faithful Latter-day Saint is required to have an unquestioned belief and faith in anything. On the contrary, if we believe without having questioned (and answered), then we have abdicated our moral agency and negated the heart of God’s plan. Moral agency can be messy, and it leads to different people who express things differently. I will continue to enjoy, and be edified, by Givens’ ideas. If Givens is experiencing a deterioration in the quality of his thought, I hope that I may deteriorate similarly to be able to produce such quality arguments and discussions as he does.

      • Brant: well said. The spirit seems to be perceived by iron rod Mormons differently than by liahona Mormons. It seems that iron rodders are offended by liahona types (of which I’m one) which causes us to be annoyed by them. 🙂 Not only do I think that liahona scholars are NOT leading us to apostasy, I think their spiritual insights are sublime, and I think they actually agree with iron rodders more often than IRs are willing to admit.

        • I personally see the effort to divide people between “iron rod” types and “Liahona” types as being misguided. Both represented the word of God in the Book of Mormon. They are not in contradiction, nor is there any reason to assume they would be. One can be a “Liahona” member and an “iron rod” member simultaneously. In fact, it would be impossible, in my view, to separate the two approaches, at least as it relates to the Book of Mormon’s usage of the two.

      • I agree. While I appreciate Boyce’s identification of certain apparent misinterpretations, there does’t appear to be any value in defending the racial priesthood ban of the church’s past or portraying it as God’s policy. And it is hard to see how Givens or Hardy could be doing such a bad job at their work as is conveyed here.

        Likewise, just because some commenters may not agree with Boyce doesn’t mean they are obliged to do so disrespectfully.

      • I too disagree that rational saints ought to follow “unquestioned belief”; however, I don’t see that as what’s going on this article. Boyce’s point isn’t blind obedience. It is that it has become too easy to recategorize prophets without doing sufficient argumentative work. For example, it might well be true that prophetic revelation really is occasional, but if you want to make that claim as part of an argument about fallibility, you really ought to confront the dozens of public statements about frequency of revelation from the prophets themselves that seem to contradict that claim. If you want to say President Kimball was racist, you ought to include and explain his own statement that he was not. Etc. It’s not about prophets per se; it’s about the observation that certain arguments about prophets are being made without sufficient attention to contradictory evidence.

  24. Just a note on the podcast reading of this article: Even at maximum volume, it is somewhat of a strain to hear it (and I’m amplifying it through a Bluetooth speaker). Just fyi for future podcasts.

    • Thank you for the notice about the volume. We usually check that, but missed it on this one. It has now been fixed.

  25. “This reality would appear to instantiate the general pattern of how the Lord works with mortals: he provides instructions, but he typically does not provide explanations, even to his prophets. To expect explanations, therefore, is to ignore centuries of precedent. This is the message of Elder Oaks, Elder Maxwell, and numerous scriptural incidents …”

    To expect explanations seems to be precisely what that very story–of Adam’s experience with animal sacrifices and the angel–teaches us to expect. After all, it is a story where an angel expressly explains to Adam why he was commanded to offer sacrifices. It is a story where God does precisely what this paper tells us he doesn’t typically do–that is, give an explanation.

    Why would a being who loves us not want us to have explanations, when an understanding that comes from the ability to explain is manifestly essential to attaining God’s level of intelligence? God not wanting to provide explanations would seem directly counterproductive to the endeavor to become like God. If someone claimed that God typically avoided doing things to help us attain other godly attributes, such as the attributes of charity or humility or faithfulness, wouldn’t that seem particularly egregious? Why then should anyone believe that God typically doesn’t want to give explanations, when those are the very things one needs in order to gain an understanding, and when wisdom, understanding, and reason are manifestly essential attributes of God?

    If the thing for parents to do in order to help their children grow and learn and become responsible is to try as often as they can to explain why they do or don’t want their children to do something, why should anyone prefer to believe in a God who characteristically does the exact opposite?

    If God does have a reason for commanding this or that, why not want us to learn the reason? A being like God certainly would have rational reasons for what he commands. This leaves us with two general possibilities concerning what God wants us to know: Either God does want us to find out what those reasons are, or he doesn’t. Again, a being like God clearly would want us to find out–to learn and grow in understanding. If he does, then why should anyone expect to not learn what his reasons are?

    • God sometimes explains things; and sometimes He does not, and sometimes He waits a while to see if we will obey before the explanation. Adam and sacrifice is one of these third categories: Adam was commanded to offer sacrifice, and he did so. It was only “after many days” did the Angel of the Lord appear and explain things, so Adam clearly was doing it blindly for quite some time.

      Why no explanation? Well, likely so God could see if Adam would obey a commandment based on pure faith. After all, Adam had failed that test in the garden of Eden; so God was testing Adam to see if he’d learned his lesson.. and Adam passed with flying colors.

      Job was another person who didn’t get the whole picture. Why did God allow him to be tortured, basically? Why do bad things happen to good people? In fact, the Book of Job never did get around to God explaining why to Job, other than “I am God, so don’t question me.” It took latter-day revelation to get an answer finally.
      Joseph Smith while in Liberty Jail pled for a very long time to understand why. And do we know why the Lord ordered us to enter into polygamous marriages; especially considering all the grief it caused the Church? We don’t know why that law was introduced; nor do we know if we would still be living it save for the US government persecution. Much like we don’t have to obey the full law of consecration because of the inability of the Saints to live the law; so God revoked it and instituted tithing.

      Point is, there’s lots of times God issues commandments He doesn’t give reasons for. We don’t know the date of His return; no one does. Why not? Why has the Lord not chosen to share that date with anyone? I don’t know. No one else does either. We just have to have faith that He will come, on His own timetable, not ours.
      Recall that one purpose of this life is to demonstrate we will have faith in Him, when we don’t know everything. We’ve already proven that we will follow Him if we do know all the answers (our first estate) so part of this life is to show if we will follow Him with but partial knowledge.

  26. Something missing in the discussion so far is the Lord’s formal statement of “mine authority, and the authority of my servants” (D&C 1:6, including the following verses in verses 24-28:
    “These commandments are of me, and were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding. And inasmuch as they erred, it might be made known; And inasmuch as they sought wisdom, they might be instructed; And inasmuch as they sinned, they might be chastened that they might repent; And inasmuch as they were humble they might be made strong, and blessed from on high and receive knowledge from time to time.”

    The possibilities and the conditions here are all part of the direct context for much more frequently quoted verse 38, and should therefore, be a part of how we approach and understand it.

    Elsewhere in the Doctrine and Covenants, I notice the word “expedient” as the most relevant guarantee on prophetic behavior. In reading the scriptures, I learn of a God who at times finds it worthwhile to try our faith, rather than resolve all of our problems and frustrations at once. And all of that leads to why I find the definition of “sustain” to be so fascinating and helpful as it pertains to my place in a covenant community:


    1. To keep up; keep going; maintain. Aid, assist, comfort.
    2. to supply as with food or provisions:
    3. to hold up; support
    4. to bear; endure
    5. to suffer; experience: to sustain a broken leg.
    6. to allow; admit; favor
    7. to agree with; confirm.

    The range of meanings, are, I think, what makes the word so appropriate and important for individuals raising their hand to “sustain” one another as members of the same covenant community.

    There are all sorts of relevant quotes in “Brigham Young and the Enemy”
    in “Criticizing the Brethren”
    and in “The Unsolved Loyalty Problem”

    And regarding specific troubling issues, I don’t think any discussion of the Priesthood ban can be worthwhile if it does not include mention of the cultural context described in an important BYU Studies essay by Stirling Adams on Noah’s Curse:

    And of course, this should be placed aside Nibley’s important observations in Abraham in Egypt, regarding the fact that a close reading of the Book of Abraham shows that:
    “Pharaoh’s claim to the priesthood was invalid, because he insisted with great force that it was the patriarchal priesthood of Noah, received through the line of Ham (Abraham 1:25—27). His earthly rule was blessed (Abraham 1:26), but he could not, of course, claim patriarchal lineage through his mother. There is an interesting parallel here with the case of Job, who, according to a newly found Testament of Job, though the most righteous of men and a direct descendant of Jacob or Israel, cannot claim a place among the patriarchs of the line because it is through his mother that he relates to Jacob, while his father’s line, through Esau, was invalid because Esau had forfeited the priesthood.415 Pharoah finds himself in exactly that situation: The male line of Ham had become rebellious, while the female line was not patriarchal.”

    “In Abraham 1:21—27 we certainly see something of that confusion that results from the mingling of patriarchal and matriarchal claims that left the pharaohs forever in doubt as to just where they stood on authority.”

    Pharaoh, being a righteous man, established his kingdom and judged his people wisely and justly all his days, seeking earnestly to imitate that order established by the fathers in the first generations [the pawt], in the days of the first patriarchal reign, even in the reign of Adam, and also of Noah, his father, who blessed him with the blessings of the earth, and with the blessings of wisdom, but cursed him as pertaining to the Priesthood. Now, Pharaoh being of that lineage by which he could not have the right of Priesthood, notwithstanding the Pharaohs would fain claim it from Noah, through Ham (Abraham 1:26—27).

    “Question: Why could they not have it?

    “Answer: Because, as noted, it came through a matriarchal succession, the first pharaoh being “the eldest son of Egyptus, the daughter of Ham, and it was after the manner of the government of Ham, which was patriarchal” (Abraham 1:25). Pharaoh was of a more righteous line than the sons of Ham, but daughters do not transmit patriarchal succession. In all of this, please note, there is no word of race or color, though that has been the main point of attack on the Book of Abraham by the enemies of the Prophet.”

    (CWHM 14, Abraham in Egypt, 528, 530)

    It happens that the cultural background and interpretations that that Stirling Adams reviews were the inheritance of the early LDS, NOT their invention. Such thinking colored their expectations and readings, and therefore, had an effect on whether and when they got around to considering the possibility of error and whether and when they sought wisdom, which is exactly the kind of expectation I get from reading D&C 1 when considering the authority of “my servants”, a designation that, also applies to me and my own weakness, with beams in my own eye that often required removal before I could see clearly.

  27. For the question about the Priesthood: for whatever reason, the Lord has chosen to restrict the Priesthood for the vast, vast majority of the Earth’s existence. The seed of Cain were the first to be explicitly restricted, of course, but I’m pretty sure that Enoch for instance wasn’t ordaining people of Japanese or Chinese descent (if they had even heard of the gospel).

    The scriptures in general show that the blessings of the gospel were highly restricted, until Joseph Smith’s time. This was part of the covenant with Abraham, I believe: only his descendants were privileged to have the gospel, at least for several thousand years. It’s a bit unknown as to whether the Jaredites had the gospel or the Priesthood, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they didn’t.

    Jesus Himself obeyed the restriction of the gospel to the Jews. Of course, individual exceptions were granted based on the faith of the person in question, but generally speaking the vast majority of humans were not even eligible to be baptized, let alone hold the Priesthood, until Joseph Smith’s time. The Lord commanded Peter to expand to the Gentiles, but I’ve always wondered if the Gentiles were mostly the Indo-European races–Christianity as a whole did not really penetrate Africa or Asia until Joseph Smith’s time.The Lord explicitly allowed the Lamanites to receive the gospel, but even then I honestly don’t know how many Christians there were among the native Americans prior to Joseph’s time.

    So, the Lord does restrict His gospel; and has done so for millenniums. These restrictions have been primarily ethnic based, and the Church itself was based on the Patriarchal system for thousands of years; with blessings predicated on whether you were the firstborn, etc.

    Why? I have no idea. To say it’s racism is wrong, because the Lord is not racist. But it is and was commanded by the Lord. Why was the Priesthood restricted to Levites? Explicit restrictions based on what DNA you were born with. Racist? No. But I don’t know why and the Lord hasn’t chosen to reveal His reasons either. The blacks prior to 1978 were apparently not yet ready or whatever; who knows why the Lord hadn’t extended the Priesthood to them.

    But you know what? They were still better off than the Jews. We still have restrictions on preaching to them; including baptizing them for the dead. The blacks at least qualified for baptism, the gift of the Holy Ghost, and the sacrament (in other words, they got to participate in the gospel at the same level as the Law of Moses Jews; without the higher priesthood). Right now, the Jews don’t even get that, with, of course, rare, case by case exceptions. And the Jews are the Lords chosen people! Yet the first shall be last and the last shall be first, the Lord has said.

    Why all of this? It’s one of those things the Lord has not chosen to reveal. But it’s not racism, whatever the reason–of that we can be sure.

    • Vance, you wrote: “It’s a bit unknown as to whether the Jaredites had the gospel or the Priesthood.”

      The Book of Ether has plenty to say about “faith” and “repentance” which are the first two the first principles of the Gospel. Ether frequently mentions prophets, which by scriptural definition must be holders of the Priesthood. The Brother of Jared moved the Mountain Zerin by the power of his voice (Ether 12:30), which could only be done by authority of the Priesthood, and “Ether was a prophet of the Lord” who was shown the vision of the complete history of the world that few prophets have seen.

      You are correct that further details of the Gospel are missing in the writings of Ether but it covers about 2,000 years of history in less than 30 pages and appears to be more of a secular history than a spiritual history.

      You are also correct about the Jews of Israel today. Not only can they not be baptized, they cannot even attend a church meeting in spite of the Lord’s admonition “never to cast any one out from your public meetings, which are held before the world” (D&C 46:3).

      • Hi Theodore, Based on scriptural examples, one doesn’t have to be ordained in the Priesthood to be a prophet. Anna the Prophetess in the NT is one example. Also, we are taught that if we have the faith the size of a grain of mustard we could move mountains. It doesn’t mention Priesthood Authority as a prerequisite to performing the move. I’ve additionally noted that no ordinances are mentioned in Ether, so just want to point out that making an assumption of Priesthood Authority because of the word prophet or of moving mountains is kind of what Bro Boyce is pointing out.

        • Anyone can receive the gifts of the Spirit who has had that gift confirmed upon them by the laying on of hands, including the gift of prophecy, but when we speak of the presiding apostle in the Church (colloquially as “the prophet”) and other apostles, they are ordained as prophets, seers, and revelators holding the priesthood office of apostle, something requiring priesthood ordination, and only the president of the Church is allowed to receive revelation binding on the whole, just to be clear.

        • Maggie, at your suggestion I will explain more in depth. You are correct about the term “prophet” as it is sometimes used. “In a general sense a prophet is anyone who has a testimony of Jesus Christ by the Holy Ghost, as in Num. 11:25–29; Rev. 19:10” (LDS Bible Dictionary). It would be in this general sense that the scriptures sometimes refer to a prophetess. “The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Revelation 19:10).

          Applying this general sense to the Book of Ether, where it mentions that there were many prophets among them at various times (Chapters 7, 9, 11, 12, 15), there were many amongst the Jaredites at various times who had the testimony of Jesus Christ. They could not have the testimony of Christ (Messiah) if they did not have the knowledge of the Gospel of Christ. This alone appears to verify that the Jaredites had the Gospel of Jesus Christ amongst them.

          The more particular sense of the word “prophet” refers to someone who is called by God and given authority to speak for Him (D&C 42:39). They are Prophets of God (big P). As “the Priesthood is power and authority of God” (Handbook 2: 2.0). Prophets have His authority and therefore must hold the priesthood. In Ether 7:23 we read, “In the reign of Shule there came prophets among the people, who were sent from the Lord, prophesying that the wickedness and idolatry of the people was bringing a curse upon the land, and they should be destroyed if they did not repent.” These prophets were sent from the Lord and were prophesying of their future destruction if they did not repent. They had to have held the Priesthood.

          There are only two named prophets in the Book of Ether, The Brother of Jared (Mahonri Moriancomur) and Ether himself. The powers these men were given of God can only come to those who hold the Priesthood. The Brother of Jared had his calling and election made sure (Ether 3:13) and was shown the vision of the entire history of the world and commanded to write it (Ether 3:25-27). This is the two thirds of the plates that Joseph Smith, even with all the authority he was given, was not allowed to translate. With all the Priesthood authority we’ve had on the earth from Joseph to our day, we are still not allowed to read what was written by the Brother of Jared. Ether was also a Prophet of God (Ether 12:2) and was allowed to have and to read the complete record of the Brother of Jared, confirming that he also held the Priesthood.

          There was a powerful Prophet of God at the beginning of the Jaredite record and then again at the end, with Prophets sent from God among them at various times in between. I believe that these facts confirm that some Jaredites held the Priesthood and had the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

          As their history of righteousness and wickedness varied greatly their knowledge and testimonies of the Gospel would have done the same. It is probable that through much or most of their 2,000 year history that the Jaredites did not have the fullness of the Gospel but only had a portion of it, as did Israel in the land of Israel between Moses and Jesus Christ. The Book of Ether speaks frequently of faith and repentance, which are the first two principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Although the record does not mention baptism, faith and repentance have no eternal significance without the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. These are the three principles that are administered by the authority of the Lesser Priesthood. It requires the High Priesthood to administer the principle and ordinance of the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost. As with Israel, most Jaredites may have been denied this (D&C 84:24-27).

          A side note regarding faith as the power to move mountains. The earth was created by the power of God by the words of God (Moses 2:6). God has power to command the elements of the universe. This is how water is changed into wine, stone turned into bread, dead and decaying bodies are returned to life, etc. etc. Nephi recognized this power when he said, “If [God] should command me that I should say unto this water, be thou earth, it should be earth; and if I should say it, it would be done. And now, if the Lord has such great power…” (1 Nephi 17:50-51). It is by the power and authority of God that these things are done. “The Priesthood is power and authority of God.” These things are done by the power and authority of the Priesthood. This does not change the fact that all these miracles are also done by faith. In Moroni’s great discourse on faith in Ether 12 you will notice that all those who accomplished great miracles by faith, also held the priesthood. The power of the Priesthood can only be controlled by righteousness and by faith. Faith is the lever to the power of God. It is the actuator of the Priesthood. Those who do not hold the Priesthood can also bring to pass great miracles by their faith, by calling upon God to use His power on their behalf, but they cannot command and control the elements of the earth themselves.

    • Vance, you said, “The blacks prior to 1978 were apparently not yet ready…”

      I hope these quotes will help you reconsider that thought:

      “I am certain that the Church is directed through revelation, believing that at least the most recent Prophets have prayed sincerely about this matter and that if the Lord thought it best to make a change at this time he could get through to his leaders and have a change made. However…I also believe that the Lord does wish a change could be made and that we all bear responsibility for the fact that it hasn’t been made yet.”

      Eugene England, 1973

      “[I believe] the chief deterrent to a divine mandate for change is not to be found in any inadequacy among [those of black, African descent] but rather in the unreadiness of the Mormon whites with our heritage of racial folklore.”

      Armand Mauss

    • You might also consider that the revelation in Acts 10 is actually a reiteration of the Great Comission in Matthew 28.

      In that case, it was not that the waiting Gentiles were unready; it was that the Former-day Saints did not fully understand what teach and baptize all nations meant.

      • Hmm. So while accusing me of treating blacks poorly (the “not yet ready”) bit, you then accuse every white Mormon of blatant racism; necessarily including the leadership.

        I’m sorry, but that sounds a little bit like the recent posts that God really didn’t want polygamy but He had to tolerate it because of the wickedness of the Saints; and that somehow He just failed to mention it to prophets that He regularly communicated with that they were sinning.

        The Lord has zero problems issuing commands His people are uncomfortable with; indeed likely that is one reason for the command is to afflict the comfortable. So this idea that the Lord just had to wait for His people to mature and get over their racism seems wrong; if the Lord was ready He would have issued the command, regardless of how His church members felt.

        Like I said, no one knows the reason for the restriction. Blaming racist Brigham and the bigoted Saints, as well as all the prophets until Spencer W. Kimball, seems wrong. Whether the black people were unready or unprepared, I don’t know. I do know that the Lord started preparing them before the revelation came.

        The Lord has dealt in racial restrictions for a very long time. Blaming White Mormons and accusing them of blatant racism that forced the Lord to deny the blacks the Priesthood simply doesn’t fit with the scriptural pattern of blessings and cursings flowing to many racial and ethnic groups and nations throughout history. The Lord treats the Jews differently–both for good and bad. He treats the Gentiles differently than the Jews; we are lucky that He allows us to be adopted into His people. He treated the blacks differently than the Gentiles; and, uncomfortably, likely the Nephites and the Lamanites. And He has not chosen to reveal why. So speculating that the Lord was anxious to give all salvation to everyone but was held back by white racist Mormons is actually quite offensive, in my opinion.

        • You are entitled to that opinion, but you are reading way too much into my comments. I did not accuse you of anything; I apologize that it seemed otherwise.

          My intent was to offer up a different point of view than “blacks were not yet ready”. I am confused as to why this speculation of yours should be treated as benign and the question, “what if the majority group was not yet ready” should be treated with such contempt. After all, if speculating that one group (blacks) was not ready is not offensive to you why should asking if the other group (whites) was not ready be offensive to you? In the end, if there is such a thing as being fully ready for what God blesses us with, then being ready would be different for every individual within a group anyway, and “we don’t fully know why” is the only answer we have for so many of the purposes of God.

          Nevertheless, there is certainly scriptural precedent for the majority group in the Church not being ready for the Gospel to be preached to certain other people. Let me elaborate a little on the example I cited in one of my earlier replies to your comment:
          As the New Testament plainly demonstrates, the early Christians went through a difficult process adjusting from their lives and views under the Law of Moses to life under God’s Higher Law. Under that latter law, the time had come to teach all nations the Gospel. However, some time passed before the full meaning of that Great Comission was understood and acted upon. But I am so grateful for the humble example of Peter who said, “God hath shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean.” His view had changed; it had been elevated by the Lord.

          I believe Elder McConkie followed that humble example when he said, “Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or President George Q. Cannon or whomsoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world.” He also said, “Since the Lord gave this revelation on the priesthood, our understanding of many passages [of scripture] has expanded. Many of us never imagined or supposed that they had the extensive and broad meaning that they do have.”

          Additionally, the First Presidency and Quorum of the 12 have approved this statement, “Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects unrighteous actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.”

          As far as who is/was a racist, that is not for me to judge, thankfully. I think every human being has espoused racist ideas to some degree and for some length of time. I know I have. In fact, I am still not perfect by any means, but, like Peter and Elder McConkie, I have been blessed to have my views changed and lifted by the Lord. In addition, I doubt any mortal person has been totally perfect in not only his/her views on race but also any other area, generally speaking. After all, we all sin and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). However, I believe there is room to ask questions and discuss ideas without judging each other for all sinning differently (to paraphrase the bumper sticker that President Uchtdorf talked about in a recent conference address).

          So can we keep discussing ideas and asking questions, and set aside personal accusations such as who is or was racist? None of us can cast that stone at anyone else because, whether or not we realize it, the reality is that to at least some degree we all have had and do have racist ideas. In this and all other areas we need God to lift us up to see the world more as He does.

  28. The way the Lord, who is the God and Savior of this world, deals with each of us is one where we look “through a glass darkly” We should try to understand this relationship better but I feel we may not have it right, in spite of our desires. I so appreciate the several occasions where I have felt a clear communication to me about what God would have me do. I have no other good choice but the act on these promptings.

    As to God’s communication with his prophets, here the issue is more nuanced. The Lord would like His Church to help in the best way possible, given the weaknesses of his members, in proclaiming the Gospel, perfecting the saints, redeeming the dead & helping the poor and needy. Thus there needs to be direction which takes into account three things. First, the state of the societies within which the Church operates, those outside the Church . Second, the state of the members themselves, what they are able and willing to do in response to direction. Third, the leaders themselves with their desire for unity but the different perspectives they bring to their callings.

    Thus prophets think, ponder, discuss and pray about what the Lord would have them do in a given situation. The Lord sets limits outside of which he will not allow his prophets to stray. Here D & C 1:24, 38 is pertinent “these commandments are of me, and were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, they might come to understand…whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.”

    If a given issue is critical we can be sure that what is decided is within the bounds the Lord has set. Does this mean that it is the perfect answer? It may not be possible to give the perfect answer if the world, the saints and perhaps ever the leaders are not able or willing to accept it. However, it is an answer the Lord gives at present, thus is his mind and will for now. My obligation as a member is to seek the Lord’s help in my being obedient to the direction given to his prophets.

  29. I recall a couple of examples that Henry B. Eyring offers about revelation received by the First Presidency and Twelve before his call as an apostle, when he was working closely with them on various tasks. He recalled a review of Church investments in which the brethren directed that they pull out of a particular category of investments that had been performing well. Soon after, it experienced a major reversal. The international broker who dealt with Brother Eyring told him that they were the only major investors who had foreseen a problem, and he wanted to know how they knew.

    Another instance was accompanying apostle Neal Maxwell on his assignment to issue missionary callings to hundreds of young men and women around the world. Brother Eyring recognized a young man who was called to a particular mission, and related to Elder Maxwell the significant connection of the missionary’s family to that nation. Elder Maxwell responded that such “coincidences” are examples of the revelation applied in all the callings.

    I am sure there are many more examples of the regular and pervasive revelation that he saw as he worked closely with the brethren. As a PhD professor of organizational management, he saw inspiration at work in the decisions they made, beyond ordinary human judgment.

  30. Good analysis. Unfortunately, the problematic issue that brought Givens and Patrick to reach for the latter argument is still present. The priesthood ban still looks like a result of 19th century racism (as does the nods to the curses of Cain and Ham found in Moses and the BoA).

    • I’m pleased that Benjamin Seeker brought this up and to learn that I am not the only one thinking it. In 1633 the Roman Catholic Inquisition tried and condemned Galileo for teaching heliocentrism (teaching that the sun was at the center of the Solar System). I suppose one could provide a careful analysis of Catholic doctrine and history and prove that the Church was right to discipline Galileo for contradicting well established Church teachings. However, no carefully worded analysis can change the fact that Galileo was right. The sun really is at the center of the Solar system. Mr Boyce has a similar issue to deal with. A growing body of genetic research over the past decades has established that ALL Europeans have African ancestry as recently as 2000 years ago. So all of the Church leaders quoted in the article were disobeying the supposed commandment by holding the priesthood themselves and giving it to other Europeans, while withholding it from those who “appeared” to be black. Mr Boyce has provided zero evidence that such a priesthood restriction had any basis in physical reality. Certainly truth trumps revelation, regardless of who received the revelation. And the Sun is still at the center of the Solar System.


      “Anyone alive 1,000 years ago who left any descendants will be an ancestor of every European,” the researchers say in an FAQ file about their study. “While the world population is larger than the European population, the rate of growth of number of ancestors quickly dwarfs this difference, and so every human is likely related genealogically to every other human over only a slightly longer time period.”

      • The 1000 year figure quoted above is for ALL Europeans. For North Americans the heritage is more recent. During Harold B. Lee’s presidency, somewhere between 3 and 4 percent of Mormon priesthood holders had black African ancestry as recent as six generations back in their family tree.


        “Researchers at 23andMe looked at the genetic ancestry of about 78,000 customers likely to consider themselves as entirely of European ancestry and found that somewhere between 3 percent and 4 percent of those people have “hidden” African ancestry.The percent of African ancestry is relatively low with the majority of individuals having just 0.5 percent to 0.75 percent – which suggests that those people have an African ancestor who lived about six generations, or about 200 years, ago.”

    • An interesting point, that of the twelve tribes of Israel, only Levi was allowed to hold and officiate in the priesthood. …”That isn’t right Moses!! Thats tribal discrimination!! Tell God I demand a safe space!! Hate crime!!” ..As an Ephraimite, I am still sore about this.
      I agree, to our sensibilities, the ban looks bad, but, in this essay, I learned much I didn’t know. I thought the essay made a very good case that, just perhaps, it did not depend the opinion of church leadership, left to themselves. Very thought provoking. I am extremely grateful to people who take the trouble to pull this stuff together. Thank you Mr. Boyce.

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