We believe in prophets and have them in great abundance, but do we take all of them equally seriously? It seems like there are some unstated hierarchies going on among Mormons about prophets â€“ ancient and modern â€“ and their relative authority.
Theologically, I am not quite sure how to work this out. Among modern prophets, it seems that we have two of them that stand out as having special importance: Joseph Smith and whoever the current president of the Church is. Hence, the uncanonized statements of Joseph get greater doctrinal deference than say the uncanonized statements of George Albert Smith. Furthermore, there are some modern prophets that seem to come in for unusually high levels of dismissal or unusually high levels of authority. Thus, I think that most members feel comfortable dismissing much of what Brigham Young taught as â€œspeculation,â€? preferring instead to lionize him as a man of action and administration rather than doctrinal insight. On the other hand, some prophets by dint of the sheer volume of their writing â€“ Joseph Fielding Smith is the person that I have in mind but one might also include James E. Talmadge or Bruce R. McConkie â€“ seem to enjoy some special pride of place as theologians and accordingly their opinions come in for some heightened deference.
Looking to ancient prophets, there are certainly some that get much more press internally within the scriptures than others. Isaiah would be the prototypical example here, with Christ affirmatively commanding in the Book of Mormon that we should study his words. There is no similar injunction that we ought to specifically seek out the inner meaning of Obadiahâ€™s work. Other prophets that get lots of internal, scriptural attention would include Malachi and Elijah, and to a lesser extent Amos, Daniel, Ezekiel and Moroni. On the other hand, Ezra or Nehemiah â€“ who were historically very important â€“ get virtually no special attention.
Does anyone else see these hierarchies? Have I got them wrong? Finally, how is it that we go about setting up and justifying these hierarchies. Or do you focus an equal amount of your gospel study time on Lorenzo Snowâ€™s sermons or the Book of Nahum and the teachings of Joseph Smith or Isaiah?