1 Chronicles 17 and the Fallibility of Prophets

The other night as we were reading the Old Testament I came across an interesting passage in 1 Chronicles 17, verses 2-5:

1 NOW it came to pass, as David sat in his house, that David said to Nathan the prophet, Lo, I dwell in an house of cedars, but the ark of the covenant of the LORD remaineth under curtains.

2 Then Nathan said unto David, Do all that is in thine heart; for God is with thee.

3 And it came to pass the same night, that the word of God came to Nathan, saying,

4 Go and tell David my servant, Thus saith the LORD, Thou shalt not build me an house to dwell in.

Here David wants to build a temple, and the Lord’s prophet, Nathan, approves of the idea and says that God is with David in terms of the proposed plan. The Lord is actually against the proposal, and intervenes with a revelation to Nathan to correct the matter. As a result, the prophet has to make a retraction, contradicting his previous position in light of subsequent revelation from the Lord.

What we see here is an authorized prophet acting in good faith, but acting as a human being (an authorized and anointedd one – that’s a key difference). He can make decisions and statements that prove to be incorrect or need to be changed by later actions from the Lord. It’s all par for the course. No reason to reject Nathan as a prophet or get all bent out of shape about all the changes that have been made. Rather, we should rejoice that the Lord did have (and now does have) a means to reveal His will and correct problems that may arise.


Author: Jeff Lindsay

7 thoughts on “1 Chronicles 17 and the Fallibility of Prophets

  1. Thank you for writing this, Jeff. You do a great work online. I am frequently frustrated by how often critics of our leaders, particularly those who label themselves as “active” Mormons, protest that our leaders are not infallible. Whoever said they were? Certainly not I. In most cases pointing out this obvious truth is just an excuse for disobedience or justification for holding a different opinion on doctrine from the prophets.

    The story I like to refer to when I’m presented with this problem is the story of Moses leading the Children of Israel for 40 years in the wilderness after the Exodus from Egypt. How many times during those 40 years must it have seemed to some of the saints that he was just leading them around in circles? Wasn’t he “leading the church astray?” Well, actually he wasn’t. He was leading them around in circles by the command of God. And those who failed to follow him are the ones who were astray. Just because a prophet seems to be leading us astray at any given moment does not mean that it is so. Sometimes the Lord commands a circuitous route. If we “active” members could always tell which way the Lord wants his church to go, then we wouldn’t need a prophet, would we?

  2. I’m reminded of a speaker at Pres. Kimball’s funeral back in 1985. I believe it was Thomas S. Monson…
    He said people often asked him when Pres. Kimball was acting as a prophet and when he was acting as a man. He responded that he didn’t try to seperate the two, but he just tried to be more like him.

    You do a good thing here Jeff. I stumbled across your website a month of so ago. I find that I frequent it a couple of times a week. Critics will never change the truth.

  3. Hi my name is Josh Kim. I agree that prophets are fallible and that it doesn’t mean that they are not fallen.

    There seems to be a furor in other blogs over Elder Bednar’s talk at a BYU devotional in Provo a month ago.

    People decry the fact that he used earrings as an example of obedience. What do you think?

  4. the saints have been counciled over and over and over not to wear earrings if they are male, or only one pair of modest earrings if you’re a female. this should be the simplest council in the entire world to follow. apparently people justify that the prophets’ councils are not always important, or that they think they know better than the Lord. Thus I think earrings are an excellent example of obedience; it is such a simple principle to follow, and those who don’t are simply lacking a strong enough testimony about our leaders and the church. personally it bothers me when girls in the church are wearing multiple pairs of earrings; it shows me that they don’t value the council of the prophets, and that isn’t very attractive. Yes it’s a small issue, and there are much more important commandments to follow. But it’s such an easy commandment to be faithful to, that it saddens me when people don’t adhere to it. if they won’t listen to Pres. Hinckley when it comes to earrings, will they listen to him about gambling? what about pornography? Will they only follow his council when it’s something they want to hear?

  5. One can argue that numerous earrings, body piercings, and tattoos are not inherently evil (though I like the point about not putting graffiti on our bodies, and do worry about the infections and scarring people get), but in the context of our present society, they tend to be associated with people whose values are at odds with the Gospel. Perhaps obeying the counsel of the prophets on this point is a way of providing an outward symbol of our inward faith, helping us to avoid the appearance of evil, and teaching us indirectly to move toward higher standards.

    These principles that are so annoying to some of our people may be analogous to the prohibition on coffee. It may be that coffee is not harmful to one’s health, and may be much better than, say, french fries or donuts. But whether it’s healthy or not, avoiding coffee is a very visible symbol to others of our obedience to our religion. The rebellious can sip their lattes and swirl their cappuccinos and snicker at the prophets, joking that the Word of Wisdom is “mocha-do about nothing” (hey, I like that phrase – it just popped out – anyone heard it elsewhere?), but the obedient take a more humble approach in their decision to respect the counsel of God.

    Of course, we need to be gentle and accepting of those who don’t yet understand the counsel of the Lord or who have not yet made the commitment to follow it. Let us be kind and warm to all in our midst, no matter how injured their cartilage, how stained their skin, or how prone to infection their tongue, nostrils, and other random body parts. Let us simply be grateful for the inspired counsel we have received and do our best to live it and encourage it in our circles of influence, recognizing that others may not understand, need more time, or did not get the counsel in time to avoid a tattoo.

  6. “Whoever said they were?”

    “When the prophet has spoken, the thinking has been done.”

    “The Lord will never allow the prophet to lead the church astray.”

    These and similar stuff are found in many places… all the while we have the loonytune statements of Jos Fielding and ET and BrighamtheSupremeRacist etched in the books as spoken from the pulpit.

    Two pray about something and come to opposite conclusions. Two study something and come to opposite conclusions. A leader speaks his own opinion but fails to state it as such and we get crap like “Mormon Doctrine”.

    Pick and choose what works for you and dont rely on these jokers too much or you will be in deep doodoo.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.