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Countercult ministries/Watchman Fellowship/Section 8
Response to claims in "Joseph Smith and the Biblical Test of a Prophet"
|Claims made in "False Prophecy in the Doctrine and Covenants"||
A FairMormon Analysis of: Watchman Fellowship, a work by author: James Walker
|Claims made in "The Bible: 1,002 - Book of Mormon: Zero"|
Response to claims in "Joseph Smith and the Biblical Test of a Prophet" by Watchman Fellowship
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- Response to claim: Latter-day Saints claim that the truthfulness of "the LDS Church" and Joseph Smith can be tested using the promise in Moroni 10:4. This test is claimed to be too "subjective" to be valid
- Response to claim: The true test of a prophet is that all his prophecies come to pass (Deut. 18:20-22), and “…the Bible never recommends prayer as a way of discerning true and false prophets”
- Response to claim: Joseph Smith predicted in 1835 that, "The coming of the Lord, which was nigh - even fifty-six years should wind up the scene"
- Response to claim: The author claims that Doctrine and Covenants 37:1, which instructs Joseph to stop translating until he goes to Ohio, is a "self-fulfilling prophecy"
- Response to claim: Two unfulfilled “close-dated unconditional prophecies” preserved in Doctrine and Covenants Section 84:3-5 (construction of a temple in MO) and Section 114 (David Patten serving a mission to all the world) prove that Joseph Smith was a false prophet
Response to claim: Latter-day Saints claim that the truthfulness of "the LDS Church" and Joseph Smith can be tested using the promise in Moroni 10:4. This test is claimed to be too "subjective" to be valid
Latter-day Saints claim that the truthfulness of "the LDS Church" and Joseph Smith can be tested using the promise in Moroni 10:4. This test is claimed to be too "subjective" to be valid.
How can the authors assume that this test is too "subjective" to be valid?
Question: What is Moroni's promise?
The Book of Mormon provides a means of determining the truthfulness of the book
The Book of Mormon provides a means of determining the truthfulness of the book Moroni 10:3-5:
Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.
And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.
And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.
Moroni's promise claims that we can know the truthfulness of the gospel by praying about it with sincere intent
Moroni's promise claims that we can know the truthfulness of the gospel by praying about it with sincere intent (Moroni 10:3-5). However, some claim that praying about the Book of Mormon is not an objective standard for determining if the book is true or not, and should therefore not be trusted. It is also sometimes asserted that many people have read and prayed about the Book of Mormon or the Church and have either received no answer, or an answer from God that it is false.
A knowledge of the truth of the Book of Mormon or of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not something that is casually obtained
A knowledge of the truth of the Book of Mormon or of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not something that is casually obtained. It is not enough to simply "ask God" without putting forth some effort. The Lord requires that we be sincere and that we actually study the contents of the book in order to know of its truthfulness. As Moroni says, we must have "real intent" while "having faith in Christ." Those that read the Book of Mormon solely for the purpose of finding flaws in order to tear it down do not have "real intent" to know of its veracity. We are taught that feelings alone are not enough, and that we should confirm them.
Question: Is prayer the only element required in the determination of truth?
Prayer is one element in determining truth
Non-Mormons often claim that the Bible is the only true "yardstick" for determining truth. Ironically, the Bible refutes this, and clearly shows that the Holy Spirit, or the Spirit of Truth will lead us to all truth (John 14:26, John 15:26, 1 Jn 5:6). By claiming the Bible as the only source of truth, non-LDS are in fact minimizing the power of prayer and the role of the Holy Ghost.
The LDS believe that the most significant verse of scripture, the scripture which has had the greatest impact on the history of the world is found in James 1:5–6:
If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. (James 1:5-6)
This verse led a young man, Joseph Smith to follow that counsel–to offer a humble prayer of faith, being willing to accept the answer, no matter how difficult to accept that answer might be. That prayer led to the beginning of the restoration of the gospel.
There are elements in addition to prayer that are required in order to determine truth
Through Joseph Smith, the Lord has revealed other keys to prayer. One is that we are to "study it out" in our minds, then go before the Lord and ask for confirmation that our decision is correct. We are then instructed that if our decision is correct, we will feel the fruits of the Spirit, and if incorrect, we will have a "stupor of thought". Thus, serious seekers of truth cannot fully claim they have studied the Book of Mormon until they have read it in its entirety. The LDS encourage critical analysis of the Book of Mormon, specifically by prayerfully asking if anyone could have fabricated the book. Everyone who asks himself that question with every page will find, somewhere between the first page and the last, that the answer is 'no'–that the Book of Mormon is true. The Book of Mormon is convincing evidence of the restoration of the gospel through Joseph Smith.
Question: What about those who pray and don't receive a confirmation the Book of Mormon is true?
There is more required than simply praying in order to receive a confirmation of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon
Moroni's gives us the requirements that need to be fulfilled in order to obtain a confirmation:
And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. (Moroni 10:4)
It is not enough to simply ask: One must exercise faith in Jesus Christ and demonstrate a sincere effort to understand what is contained in the Book of Mormon. It is useful to recall Oliver Cowdery's experience when he attempted to translate,
But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right. (DC 9:8)
One should also seek to make themselves worthy to receive the Spirit's influences.
The Book of Mormon also provides some additional insight into how the Spirit works--that we have to be worthy of its influence by sincerely coming unto Christ through faith in him and his atonement and repentance (Mosiah 2:37; Alma 34:36). This should be taken into consideration as well.
The Gospel provides some more generous epistemic doors to walk through
It should be noted as well that the Gospel provides other doors for those to walk through if they don't receive the witness of the Holy Ghost. For some, they are going to continue to need to seek knowledge "by study and also by faith" (D&C 88:118). This is for those that don't have faith. Others may receive a different spiritual gift: to believe on others who claim to have received the Holy Ghost testifying to them of Christ's divinity and the truthfulness of the Church (D&C 46:13-14).
What about those that receive a witness that the Book of Mormon is not true?
Some have wondered if its possible that someone can receive a witness that the Book of Mormon is not true. In the author's immediate experience and the experience of other acquaintences, this has not happened. It's likely that in situations such as this that the person is either lying to stump missionaries, honest investigators, and members of the Church , that they've misinterpreted an experience, or not understood Latter-day Saint pneumatology and/or epistemology correctly. Though, for those that might hypothetically exist, it may be possible that the Lord wishes for that person to perform the work of Salvation within their own sphere. As Orson Whitney stated:
Perhaps the Lord needs such men on the outside of His Church to help it along. They are among its auxiliaries, and can do more good for the cause where the Lord has placed them, than anywhere else. … Hence, some are drawn into the fold and receive a testimony of the truth; while others remain unconverted … the beauties and glories of the gospel being veiled temporarily from their view, for a wise purpose. The Lord will open their eyes in His own due time. God is using more than one people for the accomplishment of His great and marvelous work. The Latter-day Saints cannot do it all. It is too vast, too arduous for any one people. … We have no quarrel with the Gentiles. They are our partners in a certain sense.”
Or as the Savior taught (Luke 9:49-50):
49 ¶ And John answered and said, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name; and we forbad him, because he followeth not with us.50 And Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us.
Preach My Gospel: "As you pray for inspiration, you should also confirm your feelings...Certainly the Spirit of the Lord can bring strong emotional feelings, including tears, but that outward manifestation ought not to be confused with the presence of the Spirit itself"
"How Do I Recognize and Understand the Spirit?," Preach My Gospel: A Guide to Missionary Service:
As you pray for inspiration, you should also confirm your feelings. For example, compare your decisions with the scriptures and the teachings of the living prophets. Be certain that the feelings are consistent with the assignment you have; for example, you will not receive revelation to tell a local bishop how he should perform in his calling. Discuss your decisions and conclusions with your companion, your district leader, or your mission president when appropriate.
President Howard W. Hunter offered this counsel: “Let me offer a word of caution. … I think if we are not careful … , we may begin to try to counterfeit the true influence of the Spirit of the Lord by unworthy and manipulative means. I get concerned when it appears that strong emotion or free-flowing tears are equated with the presence of the Spirit. Certainly the Spirit of the Lord can bring strong emotional feelings, including tears, but that outward manifestation ought not to be confused with the presence of the Spirit itself” (The Teachings of Howard W. Hunter, 184). The Spirit of the Lord always edifies.
Response to claim: The true test of a prophet is that all his prophecies come to pass (Deut. 18:20-22), and “…the Bible never recommends prayer as a way of discerning true and false prophets”
The true test of a prophet is that all his prophecies come to pass (Deut. 18:20-22), and “…the Bible never recommends prayer as a way of discerning true and false prophets”.
Many LDS critics attempt to condemn Joseph Smith using a standard that would, if applied to Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Nathan, an angel of God, and Jonah, also condemn the Old Testament as a fraud.
Question: Does Joseph Smith fail the "prophetic test" found in Deuteronomy 18?
Deuteronomy 18 states that if a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord that something will happen, and then it does not happen, that the prophet has spoken "presumptuously"
Evangelicals point to Deuteronomy 18:20-22 as a 'test' for a true prophet:
20 But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die.
21 And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the Lord hath not spoken?
22 When a prophet speaketh in the name of the Lord, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him.
It is claimed that Joseph Smith made failed prophecies, and as such must be a "false prophet." When critics charge Joseph Smith with uttering a "false prophecy" they are generally making one or more errors:
- they rely on an inaccurate account of what Joseph actually wrote or said, or they misrepresent Joseph's words;
- they ignore or remain unaware of circumstances which fulfilled the prophecy;
- they ignore or deny the clear scriptural principle [Jeremiah 18:7-10] that prophecy is contingent upon the choices of mortals;
Many LDS critics attempt to condemn Joseph Smith using a standard that would, if applied to Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Nathan, an angel of God, and Jonah, also condemn the Old Testament as a fraud
No reasonable or biblical application of Deuteronomy 18 condemns Joseph Smith. Like the prophets of the Bible, Joseph's prophetic claims cannot be tested by looking for a failure in "fore-telling"—we must, as with the biblical prophets, decide if Joseph "knew God in the immediacy of experience," by weighing "the moral and religious content" of his message as he "challeng[es] his hearers to respond to the divine standards of spirituality through acts of cleansing and renewal of life," which may only be ultimately judged by the source of prophecy—God himself. Every prophet is an invitation to enter into a "prophetic" relationship with God for ourselves, to communicate with him, and obtain the testimony of Jesus for ourselves.
Confusion on this point arises from one or more errors:
- prophecy may be fulfilled in ways or at times that the hearers do not expect;
- most prophecies are contingent, even if this is not made explicit when the prophecy is given—that is, the free agent choices of mortals can impact whether a given prophecy comes to pass
- sectarian critics may apply a standard to modern LDS prophets whom they reject that they do not apply to biblical prophets. This double standard condemns Joseph unfairly.
Prophecy may be fulfilled in ways or at times that the hearers do not expect
Deuteronomy doesn't exactly say that one mistake makes a false prophet. James L. Mays, editor of Harper's Bible Commentary writes:
- Prophecy in the names of other gods is easily rejected, but false prophecy in God's name is a more serious matter. This dilemma requires the application of a pragmatic criterion that, although clearly useless for judgments on individual oracles, is certainly a way to evaluate a prophet's overall performance.
The problem with applying Deut. 18:22 to a single, individual prophecy is that some prophecies can be fulfilled in complex ways or at times much later than anticipated by the hearers. As one conservative Bible commentator noted:
- As far as external considerations were involved, therefore, there would appear to have been [in Old Testament times] virtually no means of differentiating the true from the false prophet....While the popular view current in the seventh century B.C. distinguished a true prophet from a false one on the basis of whether their predictions were fulfilled or not, this attitude merely constituted an inversion of the situation as it ultimately emerged, and not an absolute criterion of truth or falsity as such. As Albright has pointed out, the fulfilment of prophecies was only one important element in the validation of a genuine prophet, and in some instances was not even considered to be an essential ingredient, as illustrated by the apparent failure of the utterances of Haggai [Haggai 2:21] against the Persian empire.R.K. Harrsion, Introduction to the Old Testament (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1969); reprint edition by (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2004), 755–756.
Most prophecies are contingent, even if this is not made explicit when the prophecy is given
The Bible contains many examples of God choosing to reverse or revoke certain prophecies, as He says He is free to do in Jeremiah:
- 7 At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it;
- 8 If that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them.
- 9 And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it;
- 10 If it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them.Jeremiah 18:7-10
This principle is also illustrated in 1Sam 2:30 where, because of the wickedness of the priests, the Lord revokes his promise that the house of Aaron will forever serve him:
- 30 Wherefore the Lord God of Israel saith, I said indeed that thy house, and the house of thy father, should walk before me for ever: but now the Lord saith, Be it far from me; for them that honour me I will honour, and they that despise me shall be lightly esteemed.
Sectarian critics may apply a standard to modern LDS prophets whom they reject that they do not apply to biblical prophets
Many Bible prophets would not survive the critics' hostile application of Deuteronomy 18 as Jewish and Christian commentators have long realized. The reading which the critics wish to apply to modern day prophets does not match how scholars of Judaism have understood Deuteronomy in its Old Testament context.
Wrote one author:
- "The true prophet, as intercessor, was ready to risk a confrontation with God, in contrast to his counterpart, the false prophet. The problem of distinguishing between them was indeed perplexing, as shown by two separate passages in Deuteronomy...The answer given is that if the 'oracle does not come true, that oracle was not spoken by the Lord; the prophet uttered it presumptuously.' This, however, cannot serve as an infallible criterion, because there are several occasions when an oracle delivered by a true prophet did not materialize even in his own lifetime. Such unfulfilled prophecies include Jeremiah's prediction of the ignominious fate of Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 22:19), which was belied by 2 Kings 24:6, and Ezekiel's foretelling the destruction of Tyre by Nebuchadnezzar (Ezekiel 26:7-21), which was later admitted to have failed but was to be compensated by the Babylonian king's attack on Egypt (Ezekiel 29:17-20)"
We will see examples in the next section of biblical prophets who would be labeled as "false prophets" if the critics were consistent in their application of Deuteronomy.
The Jewish Study Bible observed:
- Having established an Israelite model of prophecy, the law provides two criteria to distinguish true from false prophets. The first is that the prophet should speak exclusively on behalf of God, and report only God's words. Breach of that rule is a capital offense (Jeremiah 28:12-17.) The second criterion makes the fulfillment of a prophet's oracle the measure of its truth. That approach attempts to solve a critical problem: If two prophets each claim to speak on behalf of God yet make mutually exclusive claims- (1 Kings 22:6 versus 1 King 22:17; Jeremiah 27:8 versus Jeremiah 28:2)- how may one decide which prophet speaks the truth?
- The solution offered is not free of difficulty. If a false prophet is distinguished by the failure of his oracle to come true, then making a decision in the present about which prophet to obey is impossible. Nor can this criterion easily be reconciled with Deuteronomy 13:3, which concedes that the oracles of false prophets might come true. Finally, the prophets frequently threatened judgment, hoping to bring about repentance (Jeremiah 7:, Jeremiah 26:1-6). If the prophet succeeds and the people repent and thereby avert doom (Jonah 3-4:), one would assume the prophet to be authentic, since he has accomplished God's goal of repentance. Yet according to thee criteria here (but contrast Jeremiah 28:9), the prophet who accomplished repentance is nonetheless a false prophet, since the judgment oracle that was proclaimed remains unfulfilled. These texts, with their questions and differences of opinion on such issues, reflect the vigorous debate that took place in Israel about prophecy."
Response to claim: Joseph Smith predicted in 1835 that, "The coming of the Lord, which was nigh - even fifty-six years should wind up the scene"
Joseph Smith predicted in 1835 that, "The coming of the Lord, which was nigh - even fifty-six years should wind up the scene." Since that didn’t happen by 1891, it suggests Joseph may have been a false prophet.
- History of the Church, Vol. 2 p. 182
The authors do not note that Joseph wasn't really sure what this meant.
Question: Did Joseph Smith prophesy that Jesus Christ would return in 1890?
Jesus Christ stated that no mortals or angels would know when He would return
It is important to realize that while Jesus Christ resided on the earth he stated that no mortals or angels would know when He would return:
But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only" (Matthew 24:36).
Because we do not know, we need to constantly be ready for his return, for "in such an hour as ye think not the Son of Man cometh" (Matthew 24:44).
In February 1835, Joseph Smith is reported to have said that "fifty-six years should wind up the scene"
Joseph Smith did make several interesting statements about seeing the Savior. B.H. Roberts in History of the Church notes the Prophet's remark in 1835 when he is reported to have said that,
...it was the will of God that those who went Zion, with a determination to lay down their lives, if necessary, should be ordained to the ministry, and go forth to prune the vineyard for the last time, or the coming of the Lord, which was nigh—even fifty-six years should wind up the scene.
In Feb 1835, fifty six years in the future was February 1891. This would be shortly after Joseph's 85th birthday (he was born 23 December 1805).
Joseph made continuous reference to this date in light of a revelation which he reported. It is recorded in D&C 130:14-17, and it is clear that the revelation leaves the exact date of Christ's second coming much more uncertain. Whatever Joseph meant or understood by "wind up the scene," it must be interpreted in light of the revelation as he reported it, and the conclusions which he drew from it.
This particular revelation is a favorite of anti-Mormon critics. They have misquoted it, misreported it, misinterpreted it and misexplained it. Most often they simply do not complete the quote, making it appear that the Prophet said something he didn't.
Joseph acknowledged as he recorded this revelation that he didn't understand its meaning or intent
The revelation is reported in abbreviated form, and Joseph acknowledged as he recorded it that he didn't understand its meaning or intent:
I was once praying very earnestly to know the time of the coming of the Son of Man, when I heard a voice repeat the following: Joseph, my son, if thou livest until thou art eighty-five years old, thou shalt see the face of the Son of Man; therefore let this suffice, and trouble me no more on this matter. (D&C 130:14-15).
Many critics end the quote at this point, and then they hope the reader will assume that the statement is a prophecy that the Savior would come in the year 1890 or 1891, since the Prophet Joseph was born in 1805. (Other critics do not even bother to cite D&C 130, and simply rely on the quote from the Kirtland Council Minute Book of 1835, reproduced in History of the Church.)
Joseph expresses his uncertainty: "I believe the coming of the Son of Man will not be any sooner than that time"
However, if the reader will continue further in that passage, they will see how Joseph Smith himself understood the revelation, unfiltered through note-takers or critics who wish to explain his meaning:
I was left thus, without being able to decide whether this coming referred to the beginning of the millennium or to some previous appearing, or whether I should die and thus see his face (D&C :130).
The actual content of Joseph's prophecy--if personal opinion can be said to be prophecy--does not occur until the next verse:
I believe the coming of the Son of Man will not be any sooner than that time.(D&C 130:17.)
Without a doubt, Joseph's belief proved correct. The Lord did not return to the earth for His Second Coming before that time.
At least twice, as is recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants, Joseph saw the face of the Son of Man
But there are other aspects of fulfillment that should also be considered. We do not know when it was that the Prophet earnestly prayed to know the time of the Lord's coming. The context, (verse 13), shows that it may have taken place in 1832 or earlier. At least twice, as is recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants, Joseph saw the face of the Son of Man. D&C 76:20-24 and D&C 110:2-10 both record appearances of the Lord Jesus Christ, either of which may constitute fulfillment of the Lord's prophetic promise. He may also have seen the Lord's face at the time of his death in 1844, as he pondered in D&C 130:16.
Joseph made reference to the incident on at least two other occasions, and indicated that his belief was not that the Lord would come by the time of his 85th birthday, but rather that the Lord would not come before that time, which of course was a correct prophecy.
In the History of the Church:
I prophesy in the name of the Lord God, and let it be written--the Son of Man will not come in the clouds of heaven till I am eighty-five years old.
Again, Joseph Smith doesn't say the Lord will come then, but that He will not come before that time. The return to his age 85 shows that all these remarks derive from the same interpretation of his somewhat opaque revelation from the Lord, who seems determined to tell his curious prophet nothing further.
Joseph denies that anyone knows an exact date
Later, Joseph Smith again prophesied on the subject of Christ's coming:
I also prophesy, in the name of the Lord, that Christ will not come in forty years; and if God ever spoke by my mouth, He will not come in that length of time. Brethren, when you go home, write this down, that it may be remembered. Jesus Christ never did reveal to any man the precise time that He would come. Go and read the scriptures, and you cannot find anything that specifies the exact hour He would come; and all that say so are false teachers.
This remark was made on 10 March 1844. It echoes a teaching given through Joseph in the Doctrine and Covenants in March 1831:
And they have done unto the Son of Man even as they listed; and he has taken his power on the right hand of his glory, and now reigneth in the heavens, and will reign till he descends on the earth to put all enemies under his feet, which time is nigh at hand—I, the Lord God, have spoken it; but the hour and the day no man knoweth, neither the angels in heaven, nor shall they know until he comes. (D&C 49:6-7, emphasis added)
Thus, from the beginning to the end of his ministry, Joseph Smith denied that a man could or would know the date of the second coming of Christ. (Joseph's remarks may have been instigated by the intense interest among religious believers in William Miller's prophecy that Christ would return by 1843.)
The author claims that Doctrine and Covenants 37:1, which instructs Joseph to stop translating until he goes to Ohio, is a "self-fulfilling prophecy."
D&C 37:1 states: "Behold, I say unto you that it is not expedient in me that ye should translate any more until ye shall go to the Ohio, and this because of the enemy and for your sakes." This isn't a prophecy at all! It is simply instruction for Joseph to stop translating until he goes to Ohio. The authors appear to wish to portray every utterance that Joseph attributed to the Lord as a "prophecy." }}
Response to claim: Two unfulfilled “close-dated unconditional prophecies” preserved in Doctrine and Covenants Section 84:3-5 (construction of a temple in MO) and Section 114 (David Patten serving a mission to all the world) prove that Joseph Smith was a false prophet
Two unfulfilled “close-dated unconditional prophecies” preserved in Doctrine and Covenants Section 84:3-5 (construction of a temple in MO) and Section 114 (David Patten serving a mission to all the world) prove that Joseph Smith was a false prophet.
- History of the Church, Vol. 3, p. 171.
Question: Was Joseph Smith's prophecy that the Independence, Missouri temple "shall be reared in this generation" a failed prophecy?
Jesus Christ used the very same terminology in Matthew 24:34: "Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled"
There is a double standard of interpretation that critics use against Joseph Smith, since Jesus Christ used the very same terminology. Matthew 24:34 quotes Christ as saying, "Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled." Luke 21:32 repeats this prophecy. The term "these things" refers to wars, famines, the sun being darkened, and even the "stars falling from heaven." Some of "these things" occurred during Christ's time period. Some have continued since then. Some have escalated into our time. Some have not occurred yet.
So we must ask, since Joseph Smith is charged with false prophecy concerning "this generation," did Jesus Christ utter a false prophecy? Absolutely not! So, if Joseph Smith uttered a false prophecy about "this generation," then so did Christ. It has been many centuries longer from the time of Christ until now, than it has been from the 1830's till today.
The word "generation" has different meanings. According to scripture, the word "generation" can have reference to a time frame, a people, or even a dispensation. Without specific wording which would indicate exactly what the word "generation" means, it is dishonest to accuse one (Joseph Smith) of false prophecy, while accepting another (Jesus Christ) when both use it in a general form.
Joseph Smith's revelation in D&C 84 may appear on the surface to be a failed prophecy, but a more informed reading reveals that its fulfillment is still in the future.
When the scriptures use words such as "this generation," "a little season," "nigh," "soon to come," "quickly," and "in due time," it can mean several years, or even centuries
The main problem critics have in interpreting D&C 84 is timing. They cannot understand that when the scriptures use words such as "this generation," "a little season," "nigh," "soon to come," "quickly," and "in due time," it can mean several years, or even centuries. They have no problem with accepting a long time when the Bible makes these statements, but they refuse to interpret Joseph Smith with the same standard. To criticize such terminology is to claim the Bible false. The four hundred years of Israel's Egyptian captivity was a "little season" to the Lord. All the scriptural terms of time (nigh, shortly come to pass, at the doors, about to be, soon to be, in due time, not many days, a little season, near, close at hand, time will come, not many years, and generation) are not specific in numbers of years. Most of them are conditional. To say that "next generation" as used in the Bible can mean thousands of years, and turn around and say these very same words mean only a hundred years when used in the Doctrine and Covenants is hypocritical. Scripture comes from one source, God. His prophets write as they are inspired by the Holy Ghost. The Book of Mormon, Pearl of Great Price, Doctrine and Covenants, and the Bible use the same terms, with the same meaning, because they come from the same source. You cannot interpret one in one way, and another in a different way. When the Lord wants something accomplished, it will be done, in the Lords time.
On 20 July 1831 Joseph Smith recorded a revelation identifying Independence, Missouri, as "the center place; and a spot for the temple is lying westward, upon a lot which is not far from the courthouse" (DC 57:3). Joseph and Sidney Rigdon dedicated a site for the temple on 3 August 1831. The following year, Joseph received another revelation concerning the gathering to Zion:
2 [T]he word of the Lord concerning his church, established in the last days for the restoration of his people, as he has spoken by the mouth of his prophets, and for the gathering of his saints to stand upon Mount Zion, which shall be the city of New Jerusalem.
3 Which city shall be built, beginning at the temple lot, which is appointed by the finger of the Lord, in the western boundaries of the State of Missouri, and dedicated by the hand of Joseph Smith, Jun., and others with whom the Lord was well pleased.
4 Verily this is the word of the Lord, that the city New Jerusalem shall be built by the gathering of the saints, beginning at this place, even the place of the temple, which temple shall be reared in this generation.
5 For verily this generation shall not all pass away until an house shall be built unto the Lord, and a cloud shall rest upon it, which cloud shall be even the glory of the Lord, which shall fill the house (DC 84:2-5, (emphasis added)).The Saints were expelled from Jackson County in late 1833, before they could make any progress on the temple. Despite their best efforts, they were unable to return to reclaim their lands. After they settled in Nauvoo, Illinois, Joseph recorded another revelation rescinding the earlier commandment to build the Independence temple:
49 Verily, verily, I say unto you, that when I give a commandment to any of the sons of men to do a work unto my name, and those sons of men go with all their might and with all they have to perform that work, and cease not their diligence, and their enemies come upon them and hinder them from performing that work, behold, it behooveth me to require that work no more at the hands of those sons of men, but to accept of their offerings....
51 Therefore, for this cause have I accepted the offerings of those whom I commanded to build up a city and a house unto my name, in Jackson county, Missouri, and were hindered by their enemies, saith the Lord your God (DC 124:49,51).
It is unclear from the wording of the 1832 revelation whether Joseph Smith meant it to be a prophecy or a commandment
When he declared the "temple shall be reared in this generation," it's possible that he meant this as a directive (Compare to the ten commandments: "thou shalt.." and D&C 59:5-13). If this is the case, D&C 84 is not actually a prophecy. Webster's 1828 dictionary noted of "shall":
In the second and third persons [i.e., when applied to another person], shall implies a promise, command or determination. "You shall receive your wages," "he shall receive his wages," imply that you or he ought to receive them; but usage gives these phrases the force of a promise in the person uttering them. 
Thus, "shall" indicates a promise or command—and, LDS theology (with its strong emphasis on moral agency) always holds that man is free to accept or reject the commandments or promises of God, and that God will often not overrule the free-agent acts of others which might prevent his people from obeying. In such cases, God rewards the faithful for their willingness and efforts to obey, and punishes the guilty accordingly.
If the revelation is meant as a prophecy, the timeline for its fulfillment depends on what Joseph meant by "generation"
Typically we consider this to mean the lifespan of those living at the time of the revelation. However, in scriptural language "generation" can indicate a longer period of time.
During his ministry in Jerusalem, Jesus revealed the signs of his second coming, and prophesied that "this generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled" (Matthew 24:34). All those who heard his prophecy died nearly 2,000 years ago, so evidently Jesus meant "generation" to mean "age" or some other long period of time. It's possible that Joseph meant the same thing in his revelation about the Independence temple, and therefore the time period for its fulfillment is still open.
In Easton’s Bible Dictionary of 1897, the English word “generation” is variably defined with reference to the KJV text:
Gen. 2:4, "These are the generations," means the "history." 5:1, "The book of the generations," means a family register, or history of Adam. 37:2, "The generations of Jacob" = the history of Jacob and his descendants. 7:1, "In this generation" = in this age. Ps. 49:19, "The generation of his fathers" = the dwelling of his fathers, i.e., the grave. Ps. 73:15, "The generation of thy children" = the contemporary race. Isa. 53:8, "Who shall declare his generation?" = His manner of life who shall declare? or rather = His race, posterity, shall be so numerous that no one shall be able to declare it. In Matt. 1:17, the word means a succession or series of persons from the same stock. Matt. 3:7, "Generation of vipers" = brood of vipers. 24:34, "This generation" = the persons then living contemporary with Christ. 1 Pet. 2:9, "A chosen generation" = a chosen people. The Hebrews seem to have reckoned time by the generation. In the time of Abraham a generation was an hundred years, thus: Gen. 15:16, "In the fourth generation" = in four hundred years (comp. verse 13 and Ex. 12:40). In Deut. 1:35 and 2:14 a generation is a period of thirty-eight years.
So, the nineteenth-century understanding of KJV Biblical/religious usage of "generation" includes such variations as:
- all the descendants of
- succession or series of people from same stock
- race, posterity
- one hundred years
- thirty-eight years
Contemporary with Joseph Smith, Webster's 1828 dictionary defined "generation" as:
...2. A single succession in natural descent, as the children of the same parents; hence, an age. Thus we say, the third, the fourth, or the tenth generation. Gen.15.16. 3. The people of the same period, or living at the same time. O faithless and perverse generation. Luke 9. 4. Genealogy; a series of children or descendants from the same stock. This is the book of the generations of Adam. Gen.5. 5. A family; a race. 6. Progeny; offspring. 
Webster relied heavily on examples drawn from the KJV of the Bible in his definitions. Thus, when those of Joseph's era used Biblical language speaking of "generations," they understood multiple potential meanings. Whether these shades of meaning were intended by the original biblical authors is immaterial; they reflect the usage of religious English in Joseph's day.
Note the double standard of interpretation critics use against Joseph Smith, for Jesus Christ used the very same terminology
Let's look at what Jesus himself said to the people of his day concerning prophecies of His second coming. Matthew 24:34 quotes Christ as saying, "Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled." Luke 21:32 repeats this prophecy.
What are "all these things," and have they come to pass?
- Many shall come in Christ's name, deceiving many (Matthew 24:5, Luke 21:8)
- Wars and rumours of wars (Matthew 24:6, Luke 21:9-10)
- Famines (Matthew 24:7, Luke 21:11)
- Pestilences (Mathew 24:7, Luke 21:11)
- Earthquakes (Matthew 24:7, Luke 21:11)
- Apostles killed (Matthew 24:9, Luke 21:16)
- Many shall be offended (Matthew 24:10)
- Many shall be betrayed (Matthew 24:10)
- Men will hate one another (Matthew 24:10)
- False prophets will deceive many (Matthew 24:11)
- Iniquity shall abound (Matthew 24:12)
- Love of many shall wax cold (Matthew 24:12)
- Gospel shall be preached in all the world (Matthew 24:14)
- Distress of nations (Luke 21:25)
- Men's hearts will fail them because of fear (Luke 21:11)
- Sun shall be darkened (Matthew 24:29, Luke 21:25)
- Moon shall not give her light (Matthew 24:29, Luke 21:25)
- Stars shall fall from heaven (Matthew 24:29, Luke 21:25)
- Sign of the Son of man shall appear (Matthew 24:30, Luke 21:27)
Some of "these things" occurred during Christ's time period. Some have continued since then. Some have escalated into our time. Some have not occurred yet. So we must ask, since Joseph Smith is charged with false prophecy concerning "this generation," did Jesus Christ utter a false prophecy? Absolutely not! But, according to the critics' rules of interpretation, he did, because "this generation" passed away without "all these things" being fulfilled. So, if Joseph Smith uttered a false prophecy about "this generation" so did Christ. I have never read anything from anyone who is a critic of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that attacks Jesus Christ, or the Bible, for making a prophecy of "this generation" which has not yet occurred. Yet it has been many centuries longer from the time of Christ until now, than it has been from the 1830's till today. It should be noted that D&C 84 does not say the "people now living," it says "this generation." The word "generation" has different meanings. According to scripture, the word "generation" can have reference to a time frame, a people, or even a dispensation. Without specific wording which would indicate exactly what the word "generation" means, it is dishonest to accuse one (Joseph Smith) of false prophecy, while accepting another (Jesus Christ) when both use it in a general form.
Question: Why did Joseph Smith say that David Patten would serve a mission when he was killed only six months later?
D&C 114 was not a prophecy, it was a mission call
It is claimed that Joseph Smith prophesied that David Patten would go on a mission (D&C 114:1), yet six months later Patten was dead. They insist that this is an example of a failed prophecy that makes Joseph Smith a false prophet.
Those who make this argument employ a misreading of the call to Patten and a double standard regarding prophecy to condemn Joseph Smith.
D&C 114 was not a prophecy, it was a mission call. Joseph Smith, under the inspiration of the Lord, issued a call for David Patten to go on a mission the following spring. This call by revelation is not a prophecy that David would serve a mission, but an admonition to set all his affairs in order so that he may perform a mission. Although Patten was killed, his affairs were in order when he died so that his family could endure his absence. This alone indicates the Lord's foreknowledge of Patten's death. And who knows but that Patten served that mission call on the other side of the veil?
In any event, Patten's death would not change the instructional nature of that call. Joseph Smith declared that: To the "great Jehovah . . . the past, present, and future were and are, with Him, one eternal 'now'." The Savior does know all that will happen to us individually, but he still gives agency to us and to others who impact on our lives, which usage often precludes what would have happened if the Lord's will were done on earth as it is in heaven.
There are several Biblical parallels to David Patten's mission call, such as the calling of Judas as an Apostle. As one of the Twelve Apostles, Judas was promised by the Lord that he would sit on twelve thrones with the others and judge the twelve tribes of Israel (Matt. 19:28). Judas, of his own choice (unlike David Patten) never fulfilled this promise of the Lord. This doesn't make the Lord a false prophet in the case of Judas. Nor were the Lord and His prophet, Joseph Smith, mistaken in the case of David Patten.
The Lord knocks at the door and gives the promise or opportunity. Whether we open the door and respond in a way to reap the potential blessing is up to us, and in many cases, up to the righteousness of others. In David Pallen's case, extenuating circumstances prevented him from serving an earthly mission: a mob killed him. To understand the case of David Patten, one might study D&C 124:49, which states if "their enemies come upon them and hinder them from performing that work, behold, it behooveth me to require that work no more at the hands of those sons of men, but to accept of their offerings."
Some critics have pointed to the "thus saith the Lord" phrase at the beginning of D&C 114 (verses 1 and 2) as proof that this was a prophecy. A quick examination of other sections where "thus saith the Lord" was part of the revelation demonstrates that the phrase was not used exclusively for prophecies (as in D&C 87) but is also used in revelations where instructions (D&C 21, 44, 49, 50, 52, 75, 89, 91, etc.) callings (D&C 36, 55, 66, 69, 99, 100, 108, etc.), and reproof (D&C 61, 95) are given. More than half the time the phrase was used in the first verse of the section. When used in the first verse, it appears to be an indication that it is being given as a revelation. But callings in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are considered callings from God given by revelation. (See Ex. 28:1; Heb. 5:4; Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 1, Callings)
- Orson F. Whitney (Conference Report, April 1928, p. 59.This was also cited by Ezra Taft Benson, Conference Report April 1972. He offered Kane and Doniphan as examples.)
- "How Do I Recognize and Understand the Spirit?," Preach My Gospel: A Guide to Missionary Service (2004)
- Harrison, 755.
- This wiki article was originally based on Jeff Lindsay, "If any prophecy of a so-called prophet proves to be wrong, shouldn't we reject him? Isn't that the standard of Deut. 18:22?," off-site Due to the nature of a wiki project, the text may have been modified, edited, and had additions made.
- James L. Mays (editor), Harper's Bible Commentary (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1988), 226.
- Shalom M. Paul, "Prophecy and Prophets" a supplemental essay in Etz Hayim, a Torah/Commentary published by the Jewish Publication Society, 1411, (emphasis added).
- Jewish Study Bible (published by the Jewish Publication Society), commentary on Deu. 18:20-23.
- Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 2:182. Volume 2 link
- Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 5:336–337. Volume 5 link
- Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 6:254. Volume 6 link
- Noah Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language (New York: S. Converse, 1828), s.v. "shall."
- Noah Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language (New York: S. Converse, 1828), s.v. "generation."
- The original form of this article is from Stephen R. Gibson, "Did Joseph Smith Prophesy Falsely Regarding David Patten?," in One-Minute Answers to Anti-Mormon Questions (Bountiful, Utah: Horizon Publishers, 2005) ISBN 0882907840. off-site. Because of the nature of wiki projects, over time it may have been altered substantially from the original.
- Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 4:597. Volume 4 link