By Their Fruits Ye Shall Know Them - Part 1
Joseph Smith’s inspired translation of the Bible added great clarity to the comments on judgment in Jesus’s sermon on the mount. A teaching that before came across as an outright absolute was corrected, becoming a qualified directive. Notice the difference between the two:
Matthew 7:1-2 — “Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.”
Matthew 7:1-3 JST — “Now these are the words which Jesus taught his disciples that they should say unto the people: Judge not unrighteously, that ye be not judged; but judge righteous judgment. For with what judgment ye shall judge, ye shall be judged; and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.”
In the inspired version we learn that we are indeed supposed to make judgments. Using our agency is impossible without making judgments. With every choice we make we are judging between the verity and value of at least two different ideas or courses of action. The verb ‘judge’ means:  “To compare facts or ideas, and perceive their agreement or disagreement, and thus to distinguish between truth and falsehood;”  “To form an opinion; to bring to issue the reasoning or deliberations of the mind;”  “To discern; to distinguish; to consider accurately for the purpose of forming an opinion.”Jesus’s instruction was for us not to judge unrighteously but to judge righteous judgment. We are to compare facts and ideas, distinguish between truth and falsehood, and form our opinions in a righteous manner. (Righteous meaning in accordant with divine law and divine will, or justice.)
In the rest of chapter 7 of Matthew’s record, Jesus outlined how to make righteous judgments in regard to a number of subjects He felt were important. These included: accurately judging yourself and others, discerning hypocrites, knowing who to share mysteries with—including recognizing the spiritual stature of others and identifying when to impart and when to invite others to seek answers directly from God, forming an opinion about the character of God, discerning true and false prophets, and distinguishing a true follower of Christ from an imposter.
Jesus’ inclusion of guidance on how to discern between true and false prophets affirms the timeless relevance of the topic for his disciples in any time period, especially the last days when, as Isaiah foretold, “priests and prophets have gone astray…they err as seers, they blunder in their decisions.”The Lord taught:
“And again, beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits; for do men gather grapes of thorns or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.”
The analogy of knowing them by their fruits is ingenious. You can tell an apple tree is an apple tree because it produces apples, and likewise for any fruit tree. The answer to Jesus’s rhetorical question ‘do men gather grapes of thorns or figs of thistles?’ is an obvious and resounding no. Thorn bushes don’t produce grapes and thistles don’t produce figs. You thus can discern a grapevine from a thorn bush and a thistle from a fig tree. The same applies for true and false prophets.
But He did not say to simply look at the tree or bush, instead we are to pay attention to the fruit. This is because the false prophets will be wearing sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. As a side note, it is interesting the definition of ravening is “eagerness for plunder” and “preying with rapacity.” Rapacity is “the act or practice of extorting or exacting by oppressive injustice.”Outwardly they may look like prophets, but the kicker is whether or not the fruit is produced. Notice there is no middle ground here—they are either prophets who produce fruit, or they’re false prophets. Thus, someone who claims the title of ‘prophet’ but fails to produce any valid fruit would be a false prophet. Regardless of how eloquently an individual speaks, how successful they are, how liked they are by the people, and even if they hold a high religious office, if they do not produce the fruits of a true prophet, then they are a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
People do not have a great track record in being able to recognize the difference between real and false prophets. Joseph Smith taught:
“The world always mistook false prophets for true ones, and those that were sent of God, they considered to be false prophets and hence they killed, stoned, punished and imprisoned the true prophets, and these had to hide themselves “in deserts and dens, and caves of the earth,” and though the most honorable men of the earth, they banished them from their society as vagabonds, whilst they cherished, honored and supported knaves, vagabonds, hypocrites, impostors, and the basest of men.”
How ironic that the true messengers of God are met with rejection and violence while the extortionists are embraced. Yet, upon closer analysis we find that this is a pattern. In the days of Jeremiah the sustained ecclesiastical leaders were corrupt but still revered by the people. The Lord explained: “A wonderful and horrible thing is committed in the land; The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means; and my people love to have it so: and what will ye do in the end thereof?”Bearing rule by their means indicates they were living off the people, taking advantage of their credulity just like the ravenous wolves eager for plunder Jesus referred to. The people’s love of deceit from the imposters indicates their idolatrous spiritual condition. Think of it, they actually preferred being lied to and taken advantage of versus seeking the truth! We find a similar situation among the self-righteous Nephites as they were ripening for destruction. Samuel the Lamanite boldly testified of their ignorant obsession with flattery:
“For as the Lord liveth, if a prophet come among you and declareth unto you the word of the Lord, which testifieth of your sins and iniquities, ye are angry with him, and cast him out and seek all manner of ways to destroy him; yea, you will say that he is a false prophet, and that he is a sinner, and of the devil, because he testifieth that your deeds are evil.
But behold, if a man shall come among you and shall say: Do this, and there is no iniquity; do that and ye shall not suffer; yea, he will say: Walk after the pride of your own hearts; yea, walk after the pride of your eyes, and do whatsoever your heart desireth—and if a man shall come among you and say this, ye will receive him, and say that he is a prophet. Yea, ye will lift him up, and ye will give unto him of your substance; ye will give unto him of your gold, and of your silver, and ye will clothe him with costly apparel; and because he speaketh flattering words unto you, and he saith that all is well, then ye will not find fault with him.”
Would you say the Nephites were judging righteous judgment? They were comparing ideas and perceiving their agreement or disagreement; they were distinguishing, forming an opinion, and bringing issues to the reasoning or deliberations of the mind. It is clear they mistook, or misjudged, false prophets for true ones; indicating an unrighteous judgment. In Isaiah’s words they “suppose[d] what is evil to be good and what is good, evil,” putting “darkness for light and light for darkness.”Yet in the midst of their self-deception they were convinced. Could it have been because the ‘prophets’ they endorsed were well-known, well-beloved figures in their religion, and the prophets the Lord sent to “come among” them were not? What if deep down they were not actually convinced, but were simply too scared to make waves so they played along?
Righteous judgment in this example would have involved recognizing the priestcraft in the imposters and refusing to take part in it; rather than receiving them, lifting them up, giving them of their substance, not finding or identifying fault in them, and saying they are prophets. No doubt it was knowledge of manifold accounts similar to this that prompted Mormon to warn us Gentiles: “Wherefore, take heed, my beloved brethren, that ye do not judge that which is evil to be of God, or that which is good and of God to be of the devil.”
These verses are typologically relevant to us in our day as we know the Book of Mormon was written “by the spirit of prophecy and revelation.”It appears that when the Davidic servant, typified here by Samuel, shows up on the scene the Lord’s people at large will prefer so-called prophets who speak flattering words and tell them “all is well” to those who testify of their sins and iniquities. The Servant’s response to this will be the same as Samuel’s:
“O ye wicked and ye perverse generation; ye hardened and ye stiffnecked people, how long will ye suppose that the Lord will suffer you? Yea, how long will ye suffer yourselves to be led by foolish and blind guides? Yea, how long will ye choose darkness rather than light? Yea, behold, the anger of the Lord is already kindled against you; behold, he hath cursed the land because of your iniquity.”
Webster’s 1828 Dictionary
Webster’s 1828 Dictionary
Isaiah 28:7; Isaiah Institute Translation
Matthew 7:24-29 JST
Webster’s 1828 Dictionary
TPJS pg. 206
Isaiah 5:20; Isaiah Institute Translation
Book of Mormon Title Page
You hit the subject directly on the head. Isaiah says that Jehovah will "sift the nations in the sieve of falsehood...." The Gileadi translation explains this.
30:27–28 Behold, Jehovah Omnipotent coming from afar! His wrath is kindled, heavy is his grievance; his lips flow with indignation, his tongue is like a devouring fire. His breath is like a raging torrent that severs at the neck. [He comes] to sift the nations in the sieve of falsehood; with an erring bridle on their jaws [he will try] the peoples.
Because Jehovah’s coming “from afar” is preceded by the king of Assyria/Babylon’s coming “from afar” (Isaiah 5:26; 10:3; 13:5), one event is inextricably linked to the other, implementing Jehovah’s deliverance and destruction. While the righteous receive Jehovah their God, the wicked get a false god (Isaiah 10:12–14; 14:13–14; 37:23–35). Personifying Jehovah’s wrath, grievance, lips, indignation, tongue, fire, breath, etc., the archtyrant cleanses the earth before Jehovah comes. As a new Flood, he desolates all except Jehovah’s people affiliated with Zion and Jerusalem (Isaiah 8:7–8; 10:28–32; 36–37).
[He comes] to sift the nations in the sieve of falsehood; with an erring bridle on their jaws [he will try] the peoples. In the interim before he comes, Jehovah lets all kinds of untruths prevail among his people and the nations to test their loyalties. Persons who keep his law and word—the terms of his covenant—intuitively know and accept the truth, while those who wallow in sin can’t perceive it and stumble. People conditioned to deceiving themselves (Isaiah 28:15; 44:18–20; 59:3–4) fall prey to the deceptions of the archtyrant (Isaiah 10:7; 21:2; 33:1, 7–8)—the sieve of lies and bridle of error.