The Unauthorized Investigator's Guide to
The Church of JESUS CHRIST of Latter-day Saints

Epistemological Prophetic Revelation

What is epistemological prophetic revelation?

In the LDS Church, one of the most quoted scriptures from the Old Testament is Amos 3:7, "Surely the Lord GOD will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets." 

The truth they have doesn’t consist of theories that they have developed that explain what we observe in the universe. Rather, it consists of what God told them. The truth wasn’t inferred but was revealed—thus the ensuing knowledge is based on revelation.

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If somebody is in the truth-seeking business, it would make sense to find a prophet and see if he had any wisdom and any eternal truths that he’d like to share with you. Fortunately, many people claim to be prophets and they do claim have eternal truths that they wants to share. If you want to know truth, just listen and accept what they say.

It sounds pretty simple so far, doesn’t it? But like just about everything in the truth-seeking world, the closer you look the more complicated it gets. Jesus said, as recorded in Matthew 7:15, "Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves." So there are false prophets running around, pretending to be true prophets. It is possible then, that the very people we think are genuine prophets are really false prophets trying to lead us down the wrong path.

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Fruit: How Jesus told us to know true from false prophets

How then can we determine whether or not our prophet is a genuine prophet? Fortunately, Jesus goes on to say. In verses 16-20 he says, "Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them."

So, to distinguish the true prophets from the false prophets, all we need to do is examine their symbolic fruits and determine if they are good or evil.

Let’s say a truth seeker has bought the prophetic revelation model of seeking truth, and is searching for the true prophet. He has narrowed it down to 2 people, Gordon B. Hinckley, the president of the LDS Church, and John Paul II, the pope of the Catholic Church. Also assume the truth seeker was in the Navy where they say "You can delegate authority, but you can't delegate responsibility" meaning that the captain of the ship must take full responsibility for the actions of his crew.  Thus, the prophet must take full responsibility for the actions of the church he leads.  Furthermore, assume that the investigator recognizes that each prophet gets his authority from those who gave it to him.  It follows that the prophetic claims of Gordon Hinckley can be evaluated by looking at the fruits of the church itself, just as the prophetic claims of John Paul II can be evaluated by looking at the collective fruits of Catholicism.

When I hear people talk about applying the test "by their fruits ye shall know them", they usually try to apply it to the whole church.  That is all I am trying to do.  The purpose of the assumptions in the previous paragraph is to logically justify applying this test to the whole church.

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So, which faith brings forth good fruit and which brings forth evil fruit: Mormonism or Catholicism?

On the good fruit side, both churches teach good, old fashioned family values. Both churches spend millions of dollars in charitable endeavors. And both leaders are generally respected by people of every faith, and even by people of no faith at all. And both churches facilitate spiritual experiences for its members.  On the bad fruit side, both churches are partially responsible for mass murder (For example the Inquisition and to the Mountain Meadow Massacre). Both churches have recently excommunicated scholars for honestly expressing their well-thought out opinions (For example, Matthew Fox and David P. Wright).

Upon close examination the truth of the matter becomes clear—trees aren’t either all good or all bad; they are seriously mixed up with both good fruit and bad fruit. Jesus is proposing a false dichotomy when he says that trees either bring forth good fruit or evil fruit.

Can Science tell us which prophets are true?

Today, the realms of science and religion are almost mutually exclusive. Science deals with the aspects of the universe that can be tested, observed, and measured. Religion deals with everything else—things that can’t be measured or observed, but rather must be accepted through faith. The line between what questions science can and cannot answer has been moving continuously towards religion, taking more and more ground from the domain or religion and passing it to the domain of science.

Actually, the line between the realm of science and the realm of religion is fuzzy, and there is a battle being waged over where exactly the line should be drawn.

The encroachment of science upon religion suggests a way to test alleged prophet’s claims to divine knowledge. If a prophet taught something as true that was beyond the understanding of science and science has since verified that the prophet was right, that gives evidence in favor of his or her prophetic claims. On the other hand, if science has disproved things which prophets once taught then that is evidence against the claims of the alleged prophet.

For example, suppose an alleged prophet once insisted that the earth is the center of the universe and that all heavenly bodies revolve around it, and that he knew that such was the case because the divine revelation in the Bible clearly indicated that it was. Suppose that a scientist comes by and discovers that the planets revolve around the sun rather than around the Earth, and that the Earth was merely another planet, traveling around the sun. Wouldn’t that give reasons to pause and question the truthfulness of this prophet’s other claims?

Let’s take it a step further. Suppose that this prophet tried to intimidate the scientist into keeping quiet about his work. He tells the scientist, "What I say is the truth, not what your scientific evidence indicates. If you keep teaching this blasphemy I will be forced to excommunicate you." If the prophet did that, not only would you have to question his claims to divine knowledge, you would also have to question his integrity and consider the possibility that he is more interested in maintaining his own power than in championing truth.

Of course, one could insist that despite all the evidence to the contrary, the sun really does revolve around the earth. One could focus on all of the questions that science hasn’t answered, and say that since science hasn’t answered these other questions why should we trust their theory about a heliocentric solar system? One could focus on all of the times that science has proven its own theories wrong, and use that as a reason to discount all of science and say that when there is a conflict between science and revelation, that revelation should be believed.


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