When is a prophet a prophet?

Often critics of the Church will bring up something that a prophet or apostle has done that was wrong (in their opinion) and ask how a man of God could do something like that. Defenders of the Church often then reply with this quote from Joseph Smith:

“a prophet [is] a prophet only when he [is] acting as such”

History of the Church 5:265

I definitely understand the concept, but I have to admit that seems kind of like a cop-out. It kind of gives the impression that a prophet can be a prophet, and then decide to be mean, and just say that he wasn’t being a prophet while he was being mean.

I heard a quote mentioned on a recent FairMormon podcast that I think gives more clarity on this topic. The quote was, “when God makes the prophet, he does not unmake the man.”

The full quote is from David O McKay, and is as follows:

Someone has said that when God makes the prophet, he does not unmake the man. I believe that, though being “born anew,” and being entitled to new life, new vigor, new blessings, yet the old weaknesses may still remain. The adversary stands by, ever eager and ready to attack and strike us at our weakest point.

David O. McKay, “The Divine Church“, Conference Report, April 1962, pp. 5-9

For additional thoughts on this, check out this By Common Consent post from a couple of years ago

Leave a Reply