What is a Prophet?
The work of a Hebrew prophet was to act as God’s messenger and make known God’s will. The message was usually prefaced with the words “Thus saith Jehovah.” He taught men about God’s character, showing the full meaning of his dealings with Israel in the past. It was therefore part of the prophetic office to preserve and edit the records of the nation’s history; and such historical books as Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Sam., 1 and 2 Kings were known by the Jews as the former Prophets. It was also the prophet’s duty to denounce sin and foretell its punishment, and to redress, so far as he could, both public and private wrongs. He was to be, above all, a preacher of righteousness. When the people had fallen away from a true faith in Jehovah, the prophets had to try to restore that faith and remove false views about the character of God and the nature of the Divine requirement. In certain cases prophets predicted future events, e.g., there are the very important prophecies announcing the coming of Messiah’s kingdom; but as a rule a prophet was a forthteller rather than a foreteller.1
That last part is interesting, a prophet is a forthteller rather than a foreteller. The word forthteller is one that we’re not used to. President Anthony Ivins, counselor to President Heber J. Grant, once gave the definition of a prophet almost the same as we have it today in the Bible Dictionary, adding that a prophet’s “direct, and most important calling is to be a forth-teller, or director of present policy, rather than a foreteller of what is to come”2. Carolyn Rasmus commented on this:
Isn’t that fascinating language? A forth-teller, meaning to present to the people the doctrine, to speak forth on things that we need to know. We often think of a prophet as foretelling the future. But consider even the word prophet itself: the prefix pro means “forth.” So a prophet declares or states forth the word of God.3
Indeed, the word prophet comes from two roots, pro meaning “before” or “forth,” and phanai meaning “to speak.” So both the word forthteller and prophet have the meaning that the person is speaking for someone else, that they are a spokesman, “speaking forth” the word of another. The Hebrew word for prophet is nabiy which literally means spokesman or speaker, speaking not his own words, but those delivered to him. In Greek the word is prophetes which has the meaning of someone who is moved by the Spirit of God and hence is his spokesman, who declares to mankind what he has received by inspiration from God. In many commentaries, a prophet is said to be the immediate organ, instrument, or mouthpiece of God for the communication of his will to men. This brings more meaning to the scripture from Doctrine and Covenants that says “whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same” (D&C 1:38). A prophet reports what he hears from God, sometimes even prefacing their words with, “Thus saith the Lord…”
Now we begin to see what a prophet is. He is a righteous man with much faith, but specifically called and commissioned to deliver the word and will of God to mankind on the earth. The most common way the will of the Lord has been communicated to mankind since the beginning was through the voice of his prophets. They were messengers from our Heavenly Father, servants. When the people wanted to know what God wanted them to do, they listened to the prophet. Almost all of the scriptures we possess were given to us through prophets, who not only declared the word of God, but wrote it down.
Since God will do nothing without revealing his will to the prophets (Amos 3:7), it is therefore reasonable to believe that he has called prophets today. And He has. God’s prophet on the earth today is President Thomas S. Monson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
We Don’t Worship the Prophet
Some people have mistakenly understood that we worship the prophet, such as Joseph Smith, Jr., or President Monson. This is not the case. We worship God the Father, and His Son, Jesus Christ. We revere and respect the prophets as messengers sent by God to deliver His message to us, and we try to follow the word of God as delivered through them by the Holy Spirit.