Continuing revelation

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Continuing revelation is the belief that God's revelations about himself and other truths did not cease after the death of the Apostle John. Latter-day Saints (LDS) believe that revelation continues today and is given primarily to prophets, the current one being Gordon B. Hinckley, and that lay-members may experience or receive revelation to a lesser degree. This assertion stems from the first vision account from Joseph Smith where he prayed to receive revelation concerning which church he should join. LDS understand this to be the classic example that God still speaks today and directs his church through a modern day prophet who continually receives revelation(s). Criticism has been brought against Mormonism as it has not announced any significant revelations for quite some time. Instead, it seems that Hinckley's role has been similar to that of a pastor rather than a revelator who, in a unique relation to God, communicates new revelations to the church.

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Mormonism oscillates between three major standards of continuing revelation and authority

1. Leadership as the highest but not alone binding authority

Examples of the first standard

The words of Elder Richard L. Evan in 1940:

"Besides this we have our living prophet, for whom I am grateful, and I hope to follow after him all the days of my life. I know that when I don't follow him I am wrong, and I know that when I do I am right, even if I don't agree with him. To those who only follow him when they do agree with him he is not a prophet unto them."[1]

In April 1842 Marion Romney spoke the following at General Conference:

"I assure you you, however, that the spirit of the Lord will never direct a person to take a position in opposition to the counsel of the Presidency of His Church"[2]

At a General Conference J. N. Lambert said:

"My testimony to you is that the Lord is at the helm and will guide us through trouble and storm. He is not going to desert his people. My testimony is that Joseph Smith was a prophet; that his legal successors have been prophets. Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, Lorenzo Snow, Joseph F. Smith and Heber J. Grant, have been sent by the Almighty for a purpose; the Lord has blessed them with prophetic vision, and with the power to discern and tell the people the things that they should know. He has given to this people a mouthpiece, that we may know when to go and where to go, when to do and when not to do things; that if we find we are not doing the things we should do, that we should repent, and repent sincerely; that we should get in line and remain in line, not set up our judgment against our leaders, or against the rule or direction of the Church."[3]

One Mormon recalls the words of his bishop in sacrament meeting:

"Sometimes I hear comments in Sunday School or Priesthood that might get misinterpreted. We say that when the prophet gives us counsel over the pulpit, we can find out whether or not what he said is true. I don't think we're asking the right question. If we know that Gordon B. Hinckley is our prophet, and if we understand what that means, then we should already know that what he's telling us is true. Instead of asking if what he says is true, we should be asking for the strength and faith to do what he asks."[4]

President Ezra Taft Benson said:

"Doctrinal interpretation is the province of the First Presidency. The Lord has given that stewardship to them by revelation. No teacher has the right to interpret doctrine for the members of the Church. If Church members would remember that, we could do away with a number of books which have troubled some of our people.".[5]

Also, Benson quoting Eldon Tanner,

“In a general conference of the Church, President N. Eldon Tanner stated: A man said to me, ‘You know, there are people in our state who believe in following the Prophet in everything they think is right, but when it is something they think isn't right, and it doesn't appeal to them, then that's different.’ He said, ‘Then they become their own prophet. They decide what the Lord wants and what the Lord doesn't want’” (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p. 334).

Benson also stated:

"The living prophet is more vital to us than the Standard Works... The living prophet is more important to us than a dead prophet... The prophet will never lead the Church astray... The prophet does not have to say 'Thus saith the Lord' to give us scripture." - Ezra Taft Benson[6]

Current CES Institute manual, Teachings of the Living Prophets, reads:

"Prophets have a right to personal opinions. Not every word they speak should be thought of as an official interpretation or pronouncement. However, their discourses to the Saints and their official writings should be considered products of their prophetic calling and should be heeded."[7]

A BYU Newsnet article states:

"Consequently, 'active Mormons' know that when the prophet speaks, the debate is over... Any active church-going 6-year-old can sing 'Follow the Prophet' and no seminary graduate or gospel doctrine teacher can recite a story in any of the standard works where contradicting the Prophet turned out to be a good idea."[8]

Other quotes:

"I would not care if there was not a Bible within ten thousand miles of this place, or any other book or scrip; here are the oracles living right in our midst, and we receive them from day to day, by word of mouth from a living man, an Apostle who is alive, and through a Priesthood which is living in our midst." - Heber C. Kimball, Journal of Discourses 3:197
“You believe Adam was made of the dust of this earth. This I do not believe, though it is supposed that it is so written in the Bible; but it is not, to my understanding. You can write that information to the States, if you please—that I have publicly declared that I do not believe that portion of the Bible as the Christian world do. I never did, and I never want to. What is the reason I do not? Because I have come to understanding, and banished from my mind all the baby stories my mother taught me when I was a child” (Brigham Young, October 23, 1853, Journal of Discourses 2:6).

In this standard, for a doctrine to no longer be doctrine it must be repudiated. Practically, for a doctrine to cease to be doctrine it merely has to be de-emphasized.

Decanonization of the Lectures on Faith

Integration and teaching of new doctrine without Conference procedures yet fulfilled

Even when the procedures are fulfilled, it is now merely ceremonial.

2. Scripture as the highest but not alone binding authority

Otherwise known as prima scriptura.

"We have the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the Book of Doctrine and Covenants; but all these books, without the living oracles and a constant stream of revelation from the Lord, would not lead any people into the celestial kingdom of God. This may seem a strange declaration to make, but strange as it may sound, it is nevertheless true." [9]

3. Scripture as the alone binding authority

Otherwise known as sola scriptura.

"The place members should always look for official church doctrines is in the canonized scriptures of the church."[10]

Relationship between continuing and past revelation

Various implications

Appealing to the historic Adam-God fiasco, one Mormon writes:

"It’s now standard practice to teach that Adam and Heavenly Father are separate beings, but there was a time when that assertion contradicted what the President of the Church was teaching. Brigham Young taught that acceptance or rejection of the Adam-God doctrine 'will either seal the damnation or salvation of [men]' (Journal of Wilford Woodruff, April 9, 1852). Men like Orson Pratt were vocal in their opposition to the doctrine, and Brigham Young responded that it would “destroy him if he does not repent & turn from his evil ways” (Journal of Wilford Woodruff, March 11, 1856). Yet, in a matter of decades, the Church had abandoned the doctrine... So what are we to do if we find our conscience in opposition to what the present authorities are teaching about some issue? Force ourselves to accept something with which we disagree? I don’t think that’s the way to go. I mean, can we safely assume that, in another 25, 50, or 100 years, General Authorities will still be teaching the same thing? If Church history is any indication, then the answer is no. Today's heresies might be tomorrow's doctrines. As for myself, I’ll stick with my own intuition, spiritual experiences, and conscience."[11]

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Semantic range of meaning

What is "revelation"?

What is the "scripture"?

What is "doctrine"?

What is "speculation"?

Does "continuing" mean continuous or infrequent?

Other quotes

See also


  1. Elder Richard L. Evans, Conference Report, October 1940, Second Day—Morning Meeting, p.61
  2. Marion Romney, Conference Report, April 1942, p. 20
  3. Conference Report, April 1921, Afternoon Session, p.53
  5. The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p. 317. See "The Gospel Teacher and His Message" as found in LDS manual "Charge to Religious Educators," pp.51-52
  6. Ezra Taft Benson, “Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet,” Tambuli, Jun 1981, 1. Address given Tuesday, February 26, 1980 at Brigham Young University. Published in Liahona, and available online here.
  7. Teachings of the Living Prophets, p. 21. Available online here.
  8. "Follow the Prophet", BYU Newsnet, July 8, 2008, Amazingly, the author of the article also said, "In sustaining, they are not voting for them or agreeing with their position, they are promising to support and listen to them."
  9. James E. Faust, "Continuous Revelation," Ensign, Nov 1989, p. 8. Quoted in Elder Neil L. Andersen Counsels Young Adults to Hold Fast to the Words of the Prophets
  12. LDS-PHIL mailing list. January 18, 1999.
  15. W. John Walsh,

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