I received an inquiry this week from a sister who was perplexed about the title “prophet” when applied to the author of the book of Jacob. She wrote,
I believe that Jacob (the brother of Nephi) was a prophet but in Jacob’s writings he says he (and Joseph) were consecrated priests and teachers by the hand of Nephi. In verse 9 he mentions the strict commandment which he received from God, also again in verse 10, and 11. Verse 15 reads that he is led by the Spirit to prophesy. (However, I guess maybe through his calling as a priest and teacher he would be given that privilege (?).
I believe that he was a prophet but can’t find it in the scriptures to substantiate it. It isn’t a life-saving or gospel doctrine question, but I have heard others say that they he wasn’t a prophet … I did find some references in the Book of Mormon, Student Manual Religion 121-122, dated 1981, that referred to him as a prophet.
My response, I believe, would be useful to other Latter-day Saints as they read the Book of Mormon and as they deal with the title “prophet” as used in the modern Church. So here is what I wrote in reply to the question:
The problem seems to lie in your assumption that the term “prophet” denotes a priesthood office, which it does not. Latter-day Saints often speak of the President of the Church as “the prophet,” but forget that we sustain not only him, but also his counselors and the twelve apostles as “prophets, seers, and revelators” (and we used to do the same for the patriarch of the Church). So there is not just one prophet at the head of the Church, though one of them presides.
Brigham Young said:
Many persons think if they see a prophet they see one possessing all the keys of the kingdom of God on the earth. This is not so; many persons have prophecied [sic] without having any Priesthood on them at all. It is no particular revelation or gift for a person to prophecy.
You take a good statesman, for instance, he will tell you what will become of a nation by their actions. He foresees this and that, and knows the results; this is what makes a statesman, and no man is a good statesman unless he can foresee the results of any line of policy that may be pursued. To be a prophet is simply to be a foreteller of future events; but an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ has the keys of the holy Priesthood, and the power thereof is sealed upon his head (Journal of Discourses 13:144).
In the Bible, we read that two of the seventy elders chosen by Moses did not come to the tabernacle with the others, yet received the spirit and began to prophesy in the camp. When Joshua came to ask Moses to forbid them, “Moses said unto him, Enviest thou for my sake? would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them!” (Numbers 11:29). In Revelation 19:10, we read that “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy,” so anyone who has a testimony of Christ can be considered a prophet. 1 This was one of Joseph Smith’s favorite passages and he frequently quoted it.
Some Old Testament prophets, such as Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:1) and Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:3), were priests, so it is certainly possible for Jacob to be a priest and still be a prophet.
1 This includes men, women, and children who hold no priesthood. In the Bible, six women are called by the term “prophetess” (Exodus 15:20; Judges 4:4; 2 Kings 22:14; 2 Chronicles 34:22; Nehemiah 6:14; Isaiah 8:3; Luke 2:36).