Clear Guidance on Revelation
Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe God gives individuals revelation to help, direct, and inspire them. Some revelation comes via the prophet or other church leaders. Other revelation comes directly to individuals. Because of the obvious danger that misguided or malevolent people might misuse claims of revelation and authority to mislead and harm others, the scriptures teach clear principles to help us distinguish between true and false claims of revelation.
In the Doctrine and Covenants (scripture revealed to the earliest church prophets, mainly Joseph Smith), the Lord taught:
- Only the prophet may receive revelation for the entire church (D&C 28:2-5).
- Any legitimate call to high office in the Church will come from the prophet and be done openly through regular church channels. ““It shall not be given to any one to go forth to preach my gospel, or to build up my church, except he be ordained by someone who has authority, and it is known to the church that he has authority and has been regularly ordained by the heads of the church.” (D&C 42:11).
- Anyone authorized to receive revelation or exercise authority will “come in at the gate,” meaning be called by another church authority. People do not receive authority by courting popularity, building a following, or in another way. (D&C 43:7).
Daybell and Vallow apparently saw themselves as specially called of God to receive revelation and exert divine authority. But their claim was contradicted by the principles explained above. Daybell’s apparent workaround was to adopt a misinterpretation of the scriptures that other apostates have used from time to time to bolster their own claims of revelation.
The Davidic Servant
Some Old Testament scriptures tell about a latter-day “Davidic King,” “Davidic Servant,” or “Marred Servant.” Mainstream scholarship and consensus teaching from LDS Church leaders is that this refers to Jesus Christ, when He rules the earth after His Second Coming. But some apostates and dissident scholars have claimed the “Servant” will be a mortal man whose identity won’t be known ahead of time. Because of the name “David,” some today speculate Apostle David Bednar will be the Servant, but the same was said decades ago about the prophet David O. McKay. Crucially for those who want to have power in the Church, the misinterpretation of the Davidic King scriptures supposes he will be called by God directly instead of by the prophet or other authorized priesthood holders.
Daybell apparently wanted to gain a following as a spiritual leader and revelatory authority. He was stifled in this by the fact that he never held a higher office in the church than being secretary of his local congregation. He therefore allegedly claimed to be the Davidic Servant, so that those unfamiliar with the scriptures or willing to overlook them would treat him as a prophet and leader.
Misinterpreting an Incomplete Quote
A quote from The Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith (p. 339) is sometimes used to support the claim of a mortal “Davidic servant” to be called outside of regular Church leadership channels: “Although David was a king, he never did obtain the spirit and power of Elijah and the fullness of the Priesthood; and the Priesthood that he received, and the throne and kingdom of David is to be taken from him and given to another by the name of David in the last days, raised up out of his lineage.” Considered by itself, that quote seems to support the conclusion that Joseph Smith was prophesying about some future mortal leader. However, thanks to the Joseph Smith Papers Project, it is possible to read the full statement. After saying the above, Joseph immediately continued: “Peter referred to the same subject on the day of Pentecost.”
Christ is the Davidic Servant
Joseph Smith was referring to the Pentecost account in Acts chapters 2 and 3, and more specifically Acts 2:29–31, where Peter declares that David “being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne” (emphasis added). Considered in context, it is clear Joseph Smith was identifying Jesus Christ as the Servant, not a yet-to-be-revealed mortal figure.
Other arguments for a mortal Servant, based on Old Testament prophecies, have been made for several decades by some fundamentalist members. Many of the scriptures sometimes used to argue for a mortal Davidic Servant, such as Isaiah 61:1-3 and Isaiah 9:6-7, have been near-universally understood to refer to Christ–including by Christ Himself, who in Luke chapter 4 said He was the fulfillment of Isaiah 61. Another scripture commonly cited to support a mortal Servant interpretation is Ezekiel 37:24–25. But this also has an obvious interpretation as referring to Jesus Christ, and no mainstream Biblical scholarship supports the interpretation of a mortal Servant.
An Illegitimate Claim
To argue that these passages instead refer to a mortal man, or that they refer dually to Christ and also a mortal man, is illegitimate, motivated reasoning instead of careful scholarship. In the past, some might have taken the partial Joseph Smith quote from Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith as an interpretative guide, and read the Old Testament in light of it. But now that we know the entirety of Joseph’s statement, whatever persuasive power the old approach ever held is completely gone.
These and any other arguments for a mortal Servant have never been presented or portrayed as revelations for the Church and do not in any way constitute Church doctrine. No prophet or Church leader has authoritatively stated there will be a mortal Davidic Servant, and leaders who have spoken on the issue have stated the scriptures at issue refer to Jesus Christ.1
One Mighty And Strong
A related claim, that Doctrine and Covenants 85:7 prophesies a mortal leader, “one mighty and strong,” will lead the Church outside the normal channels of priesthood and authority, is similarly illegitimate.
First, it is illogical to think the same book of scripture that carefully set out principles determining the legitimacy of Church leadership in sections 28, 42, and 43 would also contradict them in section 85.
Second, in 1905 the First Presidency (the Church’s highest governing body) specifically addressed the issue. They explained the warning in D&C 85:7 was for a specific time and situation, Missouri in 1832, and a specific person, Edward Partridge. There is no legitimate way to claim it justifies someone like Daybell claiming he’s been called of God.
Third, even if the prophet were to lose his position of leadership through disobedience, D&C 43:4 provides that a fallen prophet still has the authority to designate his successor (presumably in order to head off illegitimate claims of successorship from pretenders like Daybell).
In sum, Daybell’s alleged claim to be a “Davidic Servant” is utterly illegitimate. Scripture, authoritative statements from Church leaders, and a recent discovery in the Joseph Smith Papers form a comprehensive case that any such claim is invalid. The Church is a “house of order,” not an opportunity for the prideful or ambitious to achieve spiritual prominence.
1 James E. Talmage and Bruce R. McConkie