Prophet, Seer, and Revelator
John A. Tvedtnes
[Portions of this article appeared previously in John A. Tvedtnes,
On the day the Church was organized, 6 April 1830, the Lord told Joseph Smith, “Behold, there shall be a record kept among you; and in it thou shalt be called a seer, a translator, a prophet, an apostle of Jesus Christ, an elder of the church” (D&C 21:1). I have long been intrigued by the order in which these titles were used. Joseph first became a seer (one who sees) when he saw the Father and the Son appear in the sacred grove. His next job was that of translator, as he worked on the Book of Mormon. During that time, he also became a prophet, receiving revelations for various friends and family members. During the late spring of 1829, he and Oliver Cowdery were ordained to the apostleship by Peter, James, and John. Finally, on the day the Church was organized, these two men were sustained as elders of the Church and came to be called First Elder and Second Elder. Ultimately, when the First Presidency was organized in January 1832, Joseph received the title President.
Some have assumed that the term “prophet” denotes a priesthood office, which it does not.[i] Latter-day Saints often speak of the President of the Church as “the prophet,” but forget that we sustain not only him, but also his counselors and the twelve apostles as “prophets, seers, and revelators.” So there is not just one prophet at the head of the Church, though one of them presides.
Brigham Young said, “Many persons think if they see a prophet they see one possessing all the keys of the kingdom of God on the earth. This is not so; many persons have prophecied [sic] without having any Priesthood on them at all. It is no particular revelation or gift for a person to prophecy. You take a good statesman, for instance, he will tell you what will become of a nation by their actions. He foresees this and that, and knows the results; this is what makes a statesman, and no man is a good statesman unless he can foresee the results of any line of policy that may be pursued. To be a prophet is simply to be a foreteller of future events; but an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ has the keys of the holy Priesthood, and the power thereof is sealed upon his head” (Journal of Discourses 13:144).
In the Bible, we read that two of the seventy elders chosen by Moses did not come to the tabernacle with the others, yet received the spirit and began to prophesy in the camp. When Joshua came to ask Moses to forbid them, “Moses said unto him, Enviest thou for my sake? would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them!” (Numbers 11:29). In Revelation 19:10, we read that “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy,” so anyone who has a testimony of Christ can be considered a prophet.[ii]
Doctrinal revelation is reserved for the President of the Church, with his counselors and the Twelve, but revelation for divine guidance is available to other Church leaders, including bishops, stake presidents, and fathers, in their stewardships, and worthy individual members have a right to the influence of the Holy Ghost. In the Bible, six women are called by the term “prophetess” (Exodus 15:20; Judges 4:4; 2 Kings 22:14; 2 Chronicles 34:22; Nehemiah 6:14; Isaiah 8:3; Luke 2:36).
[ii] This was one of Joseph Smith’s favorite passages and he frequently quoted it, especially when asked if he were a prophet.