Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Wolves in Sheeps Clothing

In Matthew 7:15 the Savior warns his followers of false prophets who would come to them in sheep's clothing to conceal their identity as rabid wolves. The analogy is easily understood. The false prophets would appear outwardly to be ordinary members of the Christian community while concealing their true natures as enemies of the community and enemies of the Savior who is the Good Shepherd. The Savior often compared his followers to sheep and portrayed himself as their shepherd (see John 10).

Additionally, it is significant that the Savior depicts these false prophets as wearing the "clothing" of the sheep. Clothing is often closely associated in the scriptures with temple rituals. The word from which "clothing" was translated is ἔνδυμα (enduma). The root of enduma is ἐνδύω (enduō - from which our word endow comes) which means " to invest with clothing (literally or figuratively): - array, clothe (with), endue, have (put) on" (Strong's Greek Concordance). Exodus 28 describes the sacred vestments of the temple priests which were an integral part of the rituals of the temple just as the temple clothing is today in LDS temples. Clothing also serves the purpose of identifying the wearer as belonging to a particular group (for more on this I recommend Daniel Belnap's article in Studies in the Bible and Antiquity entitled "Clothed with Salvation: The Garden, the Veil, Tabitha, and Christ").

Therefore, the false prophets in the Savior's analogy are clothed in the ritual clothing that identify them as members of the community.

The story of Korihor in Alma 30 provides additional insights to the characteristics and tactics of false prophets. There are a few I wish to point out:
  1. He was the recipient of a false spiritual manifestation (Alma 30:53).
  2. He specifically targeted the leaders of the church with criticism in his efforts to destroy the faith of the Nephites (Alma 30:31).
  3. He appealed to the Nephite's sense of pride (Alma 30:17-18).
In our day false prophets have followed a very similar pattern to that found in the story of Korihor and have followed the pattern established by the Savior in Matthew 5 by coming to the Saints dressed in sheep's clothing in order to lead them into a false system of salvation. On one occasion the Prophet Joseph Smith gave a key to detecting and ferreting out false prophets:

"I will give you one of the Keys of the mysteries of the Kingdom. It is an eternal principle, that has existed with God from all eternity: That man who rises up to condemn others, finding fault with the Church, saying that they are out of the way, while he himself is righteous, then know assuredly, that that man is in the high road to apostasy; and if he does not repent, will apostatize, as God lives." (HC 3:385)

On another occasion he is reported to have said:

"I will give you a key that will never rust, - if you will stay with the majority of the Twelve Apostles, and the records of the Church, you will never be led astray." (William G. Nelson, in “Joseph Smith, the Prophet,” Young Woman’s Journal, Dec. 1906, p. 543).

Based on the teachings of Joseph Smith those who come forward to claim that the leaders of the Church are in error unwittingly identify themselves as false teachers regardless of whatever else they may say. It seems especially ironic to me that false prophets often recognize Joseph Smith's prophetic calling while rejecting his successors. How can they claim to follow him while at the same time rejecting his teachings?

Safety is to be found by following the Lord's anointed and not speaking evil of them. If we do so the Savior has given us a promise that we will not be overcome. This promise is found in Joseph Smith Matthew 1:9-11:

"And many false prophets shall arise, and shall deceive many; And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold; But he that remaineth steadfast and is not overcome, the same shall be saved." (emphasis added)

Don't be deceived by those who claim to have more light and knowledge than the leading authorities of the Church. Their message may be very, very compelling. They exploit those who are seeking further light and knowledge by offering what appears to be deeper understandings. However enlightening and truthful this information seems it is invariably mingled with false doctrines and ideas and those who espouse those doctrines often set themselves up as a light while denigrating the Lord's anointed. Run as far away as you can from those who criticize the Church's leaders. They do not have your best interests in mind but are puffed up in their own self importance. True teachers will always remain within the channels the Lord has established in his Church and will foster a sense of loyalty. Use the keys the Prophet has provided and do not fall into the traps others set to ensnare.


  1. Thanks for the quotes and insight. I think one of the adversary's greatest tools is to take what is taught in the restored gospel and ever so slightly twist it so that it feels right and true, but is just off course a degree or two. But, in the end that course totally misses the mark. They will often read the same verses and use the same quotes, but gather a completely different meaning. So, How do you tell someone they are wrong when they claim to have received a witness of the spirit regarding that course?

    1. That’s a really good point. If you are off course even by just a tiny bit if you continue down that path when you reach the end of the path you will be miles off course. I’m not sure what the best way is to help those who seem to be missing the mark by a degree or two. Maybe the best way is to not challenge them or tell them straight up that they are wrong because I think people become defensive when someone takes that approach and immediately it puts up a wall and shuts down all receptiveness. Probably the best way is to suggest to them an alternate way of considering something without being challenging or defiant.

      Here’s a good scripture: D&C 38:41 - 41 “And let your preaching be the warning voice, every man to his neighbor, in mildness and in meekness.” I think we also have to keep in mind that ultimately we’re not the ones who are going to change their mind or convert them into another way of thinking, the Spirit is and we just have to create an environment where the Spirit can do its job.

      Here’s a quote from Joseph Smith that I have always liked that I think applies:

      “Nothing is so much calculated to lead people to forsake sin as to take them by the hand and watch over them with tenderness. When persons manifest the least kindness and love to me, what power it has over my mind, while the opposite course has a tendency to harrow up all the harsh feelings and depress the human mind.”

  2. Here's an excerpt from the 1st issue of the Interpreter (http://www.mormoninterpreter.com/) that seems pertinent to this topic as well:

    "In our dispensation, Thomas Marsh became so preoccupied
    with Joseph Smith’s perceived imperfections that he forfeited
    his apostleship and was excommunicated in 1839. This wasn’t
    because Joseph was perfect. 'He has sinned,' the Lord flatly declared.
    (Fortunately, my sins aren’t announced in scripture.) But,
    adds the Lord, 'he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses
    standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in
    him the greater sin' (Doctrine and Covenants 64:7, 9).
    Rebaptized in 1857, Marsh expressed regret for his nearly
    two decades outside the Church. 'I got a beam in my eye and
    thought I could discover a mote in Joseph’s eye. . . . I was . . .
    completely darkened.'"

    Daniel Peterson, Charity in Defending the Kingdom. Interpreter, Vol. 1, 2012 vi.