King Benjamin on Prophetic Fallibility

Recently, I was studying the words of King Benjamin, and was struck by his opening remarks. I feel as if he touches on issues that concern many members of the Church today, about the nature of prophets and apostles.

We Treat the Words of Prophets with Weight

King Benjamin starts, “My brethren, all ye that have assembled yourselves together, you that can hear my words which I shall speak unto you this day; for I have not commanded you to come up hither to trifle with the words which I shall speak, but that you should hearken unto me, and open your ears that ye may hear, and your hearts that ye may understand, and your minds that the mysteries of God may be unfolded to your view.”

In other words, we should not trifle with the words of prophets. We should not treat them as silly, ridiculous, backwards, bigoted, irrelevant, or anything else along that spectrum. We should take them seriously, examine them, treat them as having weight in our decisions. We should seek to learn from them, open our hearts to their wisdom, and open our minds to their insights. We should see the words of prophets as conduits for revelation, and occasions to have the “mysteries of God unfolded to [our] view.”

But not Because They Are Perfect

He then goes on to say, “I have not commanded you to come up hither that ye should fear me, or that ye should think that I of myself am more than a mortal man. But I am like as yourselves, subject to all manner of infirmities in body and mind.”

In other words, we should do none of this because prophets are perfect, or anything more than mortal men. They have limitations, biases, weaknesses, just as we do. They have infirmities in both body and mind. They do not know everything, and they sometimes get things wrong. We should not fear them as we would God — we fear God not man, and prophets are men.

But Because They Are Called of God

He goes on: “Yet I have been chosen by this people, and consecrated by my father, and was suffered by the hand of the Lord that I should be a ruler and a king over this people; and have been kept and preserved by his matchless power, to serve you with all the might, mind and strength which the Lord hath granted unto me.”

In other words, we should not trifle with the words of prophets, but treat them with weight — not because they are perfect or anything more than mortal men, but because they are called of God and sustained by us as His servants. They have been consecrated, set apart, ordained to a holy calling, and we have sustained them to this holy calling. This is why we treat their words with weight. Treating their words as having authority does not imply that they are perfect, simply that they are called of God.

In other words, in the first few sentences of King Benjamin’s speech, we are rather directly instructed on the nature of prophetic teaching, and shown the path to walk between the false assumption of prophetic infallibility and the recklessness of treating their words with frivolousness of callousness. If we treat prophetic teaching with weight because they are without flaw, we will be sorely disappointed. If we ignore their teachings because they are imperfect, we will damn ourselves. But if we heed their teachings because they are called of God, we will have the mysteries of God unfolded to our view.

16 thoughts on “King Benjamin on Prophetic Fallibility

  1. This is a super smart, super timely reading. Just underlines the endless riches to be found in the Book of Mormon. How has that been there all this time and I haven’t seen it?
    Thank you.

  2. I like this post. I am a parent to several children. I am often busy with one thing or another and so I send one of my children to relay a message from me to the others. Often times the other children are not happy to get an order from me from their peer-sibling. Often it gets ignored. My kids know that a messenger child is not perfect, but nonetheless it does not change the fact that he or she is relaying my orders. I get rather put out when my other children ignore a message from me. I don’t see it as a rejection of the child, but as a rejection of me personally.

    It is really no different with us today with our current prophets and apostles. It is easy to point to supposed flaws in the Brethren, whether true or not to discredit what they are telling us. It does not change the fact that they are telling us what the Lord would say if He were here.

  3. Well said. For me, one of the great paradoxes of life is that my all-knowing and all-powerful God uses imperfect mortals as His mouthpiece. We should not miss the message because we are distracted by some imperfection in the mouthpiece by which the message is delivered.

  4. This is an interesting reading of Mosiah but it doesn’t answer the primary concern of many members of the church today regarding prophets; how does one distinguish between the church president speaking his mind and opinion versus the direct will of God?

  5. TROY: Prayer, the same tool Peter used to get his own and personal testimony of Jesus, no other way nor means.

  6. I do have a question, even though I think I know the answer: How will those non-members that “trifle with the words of prophets…..” be eventually judged, If the calling of a prophet is infinite then the prophecies are therefore for all mankind even for those unaware of it or non-members.

  7. Do not overlook the fact that all essential doctrines, practices, procedures etc require the UNANIMOUS agreement of ALL the apostles including the three in the First Presidency.

  8. EAD: My reading is that 1) it is hard to “trifle with the words of the prophets” if one has never heard them; and 2) my understanding is that once anyone, anywhere, anytime becomes aware of an eternal truth, that person is responsible/accountable in living in accordance with that truth and will be judged by what he has been given – not by what *he* has not encountered.

  9. I envision a loving God who will consider each of our unique cases on its individual merits, and a God who will be merciful not only to us, but also to all those with whom we would interact in future (particularly with respect to new spirit children).

    We will ultimately be as happy as possible given the need to protect the innocent from those who would damage them.

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