Kierkegaard on Prophets/Apostles

I have read with interest some posts at FPR about prophets, and what they ought to be like.  It so happens that I have just started reading some Kierkegaard, and he had some interesting things to say about prophets and apostles.

David Paulsen has an excellent article that was published in BYU studies about Kierkegaard and Joseph Smith.  As I related in a previous post, Mormons will like some of what Kierkegaard has to say regarding Christian apostasy.   In the Book on Adler, Kierkegaard gives five characteristics that he would expect from one who had the true mantle of authority.  They are:

1 –  The prophet/apostle has something new (even paradoxical) to bring to the table.

2 – A prophet/apostle is called by God and sent on a mission.

3 – There would be no foundational aesthetic claims (like a poet) or any logical arguments (like a philosopher).  What is delivered is revelation from one having authority.

4 – There would be a confidence in such revelation.

5 – There would be no other evidence other than his statement or testimony, and a willingness to suffer everything for the sake of the message.

These statements ring true to me as something of a test for prophetic claims, and as evidence of the reality of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ through a modern day prophet named Joseph Smith.

8 Responses to “Kierkegaard on Prophets/Apostles”

  1. 1 Howard June 9, 2011 at 8:20 pm

    Prophets are raised up not ordained and sustained.

  2. 2 Eric Nielson June 10, 2011 at 6:57 am

    I do not see the two as mutually exclusive.

  3. 3 Matt W. June 10, 2011 at 11:55 am

    Eric: This is interesting. I am comfortable with these parameters for Joseph Smith, how do you think they do when applied to Thomas S. Monson?

    Is President Monson bringing something new (even paradoxical) to the table?

    Or is his mission simple to continue/course correct the work of Joseph Smith, rather than to add to it?

  4. 4 Paul June 10, 2011 at 12:09 pm

    Eric, I think the points you outline are particularly descriptive of the first prophet of a restoration, but may or may not describe those who follow. Aside from the modern prophets which Matt mentions, even non-tranformative prophets of the Book of Mormon (eg, after Lehi (or maybe Nephi)) fit the bill less. Hard to tell in those cases because we only have part of their record, of course.

  5. 5 Eric Nielson June 10, 2011 at 12:41 pm

    Matt and Paul:

    I think you are both on to the same thing. Subsequent prophets to JS are likely perpetuating the same message with the same type of commitment.

  6. 6 Mogget June 10, 2011 at 12:58 pm

    Hi Eric,

    I’m curious about how you understand points 3 and 5. That is, would a person who offered logical argument or some sort of proof be automatically disqualified as a prophet? Or is it somewhat softer, perhaps to suggest that such things are not a necessary part of prophet discourse?

    And to push it a bit further, what’s lurking behind my questions is the larger matter of what sort of a deity these ideas imply. I guess I’m a bit uncomfortable with the idea of Supreme Being who disdains to use typical forms of human persuasion.

    Thanks for your thoughts,


  7. 7 Eric Nielson June 10, 2011 at 2:37 pm


    My take is that the fundamental claim is revleation from God, testified by the spirit. No sure, things might ring true in other ways (logic, beauty, etc.) but these are not fundamental. Sure these things may proove logical and rational in the long run, but prophets are not prophets as a result of their genius. So I would expect ‘God told me X’ from a prophet, not ‘I figured out X’. Make sense so far?

    I think that the type of deity implied is one who works through spiritual communication, feelings, etc. Also one who works through prophets who speak as ones who have authority.

    I do think in the long run the messages delivered will make sense, be logical, ring true, etc. But if there is revelation from God, then what is revealed will trump human argument and opinion. And if a prophet has really received revelation he will have supreme confidence in it.

    Thats about all I got. So good to hear from you again!

  8. 8 Eric Nielson June 11, 2011 at 12:21 pm

    As an addition, Kiekegaard felt that there must be something absurd involved for there to be faith. That is interesting, but perhaps a bit far for most of us.

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