A question that naturally arises when discussing Mormonism is: was Joseph Smith a true prophet of God? When answering this question, many Mormons point to his accomplishments and ask how a young teen could do such things if he wasn’t a true prophet. Others point to the growth of the LDS Church and say that such growth proves its truthfulness. On the other hand, many critics of Mormonism focus on problems they see in Joseph Smith’s history in an attempt to prove that he wasn’t.
But there’s an even more preliminary question that needs to be asked, namely, how should one go about determining if someone is a true or false prophet? Is that determined by their character. . .by their success? If, for example, successful growth is the evidence than we would have to say that Mohammed was a great prophet – a statement I don’t think many Christians or Mormons would endorse.
Jesus talks about false prophets in Matthew 7. There he gives some vital information. First of all, he says that they come in sheep’s clothing. In other words, they will appear harmless and good. Many false prophets will have exemplary characters. They will be “good” people. We see that in Jesus’ day. The Pharisees were the conservative, moral people of the day. But Jesus spoke very sternly to and about them.
A few verses later Jesus gives us more pertinent information. “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you; depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” (Matthew 7: 22-23) Note how these false prophets spoke and acted in Jesus’ name. They even did miracles in Jesus’ name – casting out devils and the like! In spite of that, however, Jesus didn’t accept them. Rather he angrily casts them away. Therefore using Jesus’ name and even doing spectacular works in Jesus name isn’t the mark of a true prophet.
In verse 20 Jesus tells us what to look for. “Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” I didn’t begin with this verse because people often hear that and immediately identify fruit with a person’s character, work, or outward success. But it’s obvious from the context those things aren’t “fruit”. What then is a prophet’s fruit? To answer this question, let me ask a couple of other questions first. What is a plumber’s fruit? What is a teacher’s fruit? Isn’t a plumber’s fruit his plumbing and how well he does it? Isn’t a teacher’s fruit her teaching and how well she does it? A prophet’s fruit is what he says! To determine if someone is a true or false prophet, what need to be examined are his words. That is why when evaluating Joseph Smith, what needs to be put under the microscope is not so much his character or work, but his words – his teachings. And it’s his teachings that have convinced me that he was a false prophet.
To be continued.