Most of us are familiar with this story, related by Wilford Woodruff:
I will refer to a certain meeting I attended in the town of Kirtland in my early days. At that meeting some remarks were made that have been made here today, with regard to the living oracles and with regard to the written word of God. The same principle was presented … when a leading man in the Church got up and talked upon the subject, and said: “You have got the word of God before you here in the Bible, Book of Mormon, and Doctrine and Covenants; you have the written word of God, and you who give revelation should give revelations according to those books, as what is written in those books is the word of God. We should confine ourselves to them.”
When he concluded, Brother Joseph turned to Brother Brigham Young and said, “Brother Brigham, I want you to take the stand and tell us your views with regard to the living oracles and the written word of God.” Brother Brigham took the stand, and he took the Bible, and laid it down; he took the Book of Mormon, and laid it down; and he took the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, and laid it down before him, and he said: “There is the written word of God to us, concerning the word of God from the beginning of the world, almost to our day.” “And now,” said he, “when compared with the living oracles those books are nothing to me; those books do not convey the word of God direct to us now, as do the words of a Prophet or a man bearing the Holy Priesthood in our day and generation. I would rather have the living oracles than all the writing in the books.” That was the course he pursued. When he was through, Brother Joseph said to the congregation: “Brother Brigham has told you the word of the Lord, and he has told you the truth.” (Conference Report, October 1897, pp. 22-23.)
This lays out the principle that revelation to current prophets has authoritative primacy over the scriptures. However, in our day, the general authorities seem to have disclaimed that primacy:
It is not to be thought that every word spoken by the General Authorities is inspired, or that they are moved upon by the Holy Ghost in everything they write. I don’t care what his position is, if he writes something or speaks something that goes beyond anything you can find in the standard church works, unless that one be the prophet, seer, and revelator-please note that one exception-you may immediately say, “Well, that is his own idea.” And if he says something that contradicts what is found in the standard church works, you may know by the same token that it is false, regardless of the position of the man who says it. (Harold B. Lee, Stand Ye in Holy Places, pp. 162-63.)
It makes no difference what is written or what anyone has said, if what has been said is in conflict with what the Lord has revealed, we can set it aside. My words, and the teachings of any other member of the Church, high or low, if they do not square with the revelations, we need not accept them. Let us have this matter clear. We have accepted the four standard works as the measuring yardsticks, or balances, by which we measure every man’s doctrine.
You cannot accept the books written by the authorities of the Church as standards of doctrine, only in so far as they accord with the revealed word in the standard works.
Every man who writes is responsible, not the Church, for what he writes. 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. If he writes that which is in perfect harmony with the revealed word of the Lord, then it should be accepted. (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, Volume 3, pp. 203-4)
How do we reconcile these statements with those of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and Wilford Woodruff? Do the standard works have primacy over the words of living prophets or the other way around?