How Are Prophets Chosen Today?

Q: How do prophets come to be today? Does the church elect the prophet?


I had an off-line discussion with someone about this topic and thought it was worth answering in a post. I’ve spent a lot of time yacking about prophets lately, so I figured it might be pertinent now!

In case you’re totally unfamiliar with the topic, I’ll give you the quick and dirty on prophets in the LDS Church first.

Mormons believe in living prophets

As in, there’s a prophet alive and on the earth today…right now…

What is a prophet?

“God raised up prophets in ancient Israel for the same reasons He raises up prophets today. They are to teach the people the laws of God and how to live them, call the people to repentance when necessary, and bear witness of Jesus Christ. The work of all true prophets of all ages is to act as God’s messenger and make known God’s will” (LDS.org)

Prophets do receive revelations from God, but also have many other important but less spectacular functions. John Widtsoe explains:

“In the course of time the word ‘prophet’ has come to mean, perhaps chiefly, a man who receives revelations, and directions from the Lord. The principal business of a prophet has mistakenly been thought to foretell coming events, to utter prophecies, which is only one of the several prophetic functions.”

He goes onto say:

“A prophet is a teacher. That is the essential meaning of the word. He teaches the body of truth, the gospel, revealed by the Lord to man; and under inspiration explains it to the understanding of the people. He is an expounder of truth. Moreover, he shows that the way to human happiness is through obedience to God’s law. He calls to repentance those who wander away from the truth…The purpose of his life is to uphold the Lord’s plan of salvation. All this he does by close communion with the Lord.”

Prophets throughout history

Prophets have been called by God throughout history. The Old Testament tells us

“Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7).

Examples of prophets throughout history include:

  •  Old Testament
    • Adam, Moses, Noah, Isaiah, Amos, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Malachi
  • New Testament
    • John the Baptist, Jesus Christ, Peter and Paul
  • Book of Mormon
    • Lehi, Nephi, Mosiah, Mormon, and Moroni

Was Joseph Smith a prophet?

Yes (one word answers make me uncomfortable, but I’m resisting the urge to elaborate…).

How did Joseph Smith become a prophet?

 Joseph Smith claimed that as a 14 year old, while praying to know which church he should join, he had a miraculous vision during which he saw God and Jesus Christ.

During this vision, They told him that he shouldn’t join any church, that none had a fullness of truth. They told him that They had called him to restore Christ’s Church, thus beginning his call to prophetic office.

How many prophets have there been since Joseph Smith?

15 (another one word answer…eek…I’ll add a picture…)

Is there only one prophet?

In actuality, there are 15 prophets at any given time, including the President of the Church, his two counselors (the three of whom are collectively called The First Presidency) and all members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

chart2

When Mormons speak of “the prophet,” however, they are referring to the President of the Church, who is the only person authorized by God to receive revelation for the entire Church.

Who is the prophet today?

The President of the LDS Church today is Thomas Monson.

His counselors are Henry Eyring and Dieter Uchtdorf.

And the twelve Apostles, in order of seniority (seniority being determined by length of time as an apostle, not age) are:apostles

How are prophets chosen today?

In a surprisingly uncomplicated and orderly fashion, actually.

Ultimately, Mormons believe “a true prophet is always chosen by God and called through proper priesthood authority” (LDS.org)

A prophet remains prophet until he dies.

When the presiding President of the Church dies, the First Presidency automatically dissolves, and the President’s counselors return to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in their respective place of seniority.chart3

Simply, the succession of the Presidency is based on seniority in the apostleship; the senior-most apostle (again, the one who has been an apostle the longest) will become the next President of the Church.

The senior apostle (called the President of the Twelve), automatically and instantaneously becomes the presiding officer of the Church, meaning he is able to act and make decisions on behalf of the entire Church.

How is this possible, if we believe one must have authority from God to act as President/prophet?

Like I mentioned above, all apostles, once ordained, are also prophets and are given the same authority as the President of the Church.

“The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles holds all of the priesthood keys (a.k.a. authority given by God to act in His name), power, and authority needed to guide the Church. Each member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles is given the keys of the priesthood at the time of his ordination as an Apostle and calling to the Quorum. Only the President of the Church has the authority to exercise all of the keys of the priesthood, but, each member of the Quorum of the Twelve ‘holds the keys of this dispensation in latent reserve. Inherent in that divine residual is the assured ongoing leadership of the Church'” (LDS.org)

After the death of a prophet, the President of the Twelve–along with the other apostles–decide whether to reorganize the First Presidency, or to wait and continue to operate with the Quorum of the Twelve presiding; the decision is always unanimous.

Once the motion has been passed to reorganize the First Presidency, the President of the Twelve becomes President of the Church and he then chooses two counselors to complete the First Presidency; the second-most senior apostle then becomes President of the Twelve. He is then set apart through the laying on of hands.

In sum, there is no lobbying or campaigning, and there are no votes or elections.

“The moment life passes from a President of the Church, a body of men become the composite leader—these men already seasoned with experience and training. The appointments have long been made, the authority given, the keys delivered. … The kingdom moves forward under this already authorized council. No ‘running’ for position, no electioneering, no stump speeches” –Spencer Kimball

As it stands today, President Monson will be succeeded by Russell Nelson, who is the current President of the Twelve and the most-senior apostle. If President Nelson were to pass away first, Dallin Oaks would succeed President Monson, as he is the next most-senior apostle, and so on.

Interestingly, the succession of the prophet operates in a machine-like fashion, that once set in motion (following the death of the current prophet) can’t be altered. In this sense, the “picking and choosing” of prophet effectually happens when a person is chosen to become an apostle.

How are apostles chosen?

Apostles also remain apostles until death. When an apostle dies, or when there is a vacancy is the Quorum of the Twelve after the death of the prophet:

“A replacement in the Quorum of the Twelve is called by the President of the Church, who seeks and receives inspiration in extending the call. The new member of the Twelve may be called from the general authorities who are senior leaders in the Church or from the general Church membership around the world” (Mormon Newsroom)

Similarly:

“Under [the Lord’s] procedure a man is selected by the prophet to become a member of the Council of the Twelve Apostles. … He is called, as were the Apostles in Jesus’ time, to whom the Lord said, ‘Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you’ (John 15:16)’” — Gordon Hinckley

Gordon Hinckely, the 15th President of the LDS Church described the decision-making process this way:

“Under the Lord’s plan, those who have responsibility to select officers are governed by one overriding question: “Whom would the Lord have?” There is quiet and thoughtful deliberation. And there is much of prayer to receive the confirmation of the Holy Spirit that the choice is correct.”

I hadn’t really thought about this before, but this was an interesting (albeit somewhat macabre) point made by Spencer Kimball, 12th President of the LDS Church:

“There have been some eighty apostles [by 1972] so endowed [with the keys of authority] since Joseph Smith, though only eleven have occupied the place of the President of the Church, death having intervened; and since the death of his servants is in the power and control of the Lord, he permits to come to the first place only the one who is destined to take that leadership. Death and life become the controlling factors. Each new apostle in turn is chosen by the Lord and revealed to the then living prophet who ordains him.

Death is certainly an efficient way to manage things.

3 thoughts on “How Are Prophets Chosen Today?

  1. Awesome article! I am a recent convert to Islam, but welcome my Mormon Brothers into my home fro weekly prayer, and discussion. I take issue with the whole “prophet” idea. Only because Prophets are generally ordained in some saintly fashion. I have a hard time believing someone who is a car salesman by day, having the authority over the spiritual fate of another? anyway great article!

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    1. Hi Mohammad, thanks for your reply! I don’t know much about Islam to be honest, so i wish I could actually do some sort of comparison for you. But in terms of Christianity, this actually is not uncommon; Jesus himself was a carpenter 🙂 Paul, before becoming Saul and one of the most beloved prophets in the New Testament, actually persecuted Christians and spoke against Christ. All of Christ’s apostles during his mortal ministry were common men (ie: fishermen) and some were even considered to be unsavory sinners (ie: tax collectors). We believe God takes ordinary men and calls them to do extraordinary things by His power. We also believe God gives his power (what is called the Priesthood) to men to act in His name and with His authority. If God only called those who were perfect to His work, He wouldn’t have anyone to choose from! The prophet and apostles actually do not have other jobs once they are called into those callings; once called they have those callings for life, and perform them full-time, so they actually don’t have other jobs. Thanks for your thoughts!

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