Criticism of Mormonism/Books/The Changing World of Mormonism/Chapter 14

Table of Contents

Response to claims made in "Chapter 14: False Prophecy"

A FairMormon Analysis of: Criticism of Mormonism/Books, a work by author: Jerald and Sandra Tanner
Claim Evaluation
The Changing World of Mormonism
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Response to claims made in The Changing World of Mormonism, "Chapter 14: False Prophecy"

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Response to claim: 417 - Joseph Smith gave many false prophecies

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

Joseph Smith gave many false prophecies.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

None of the examples mentioned by the Tanners—or many others raised by other critics—withstand examination.


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:

  1. they rely on an inaccurate account of what Joseph actually wrote or said, or they misrepresent Joseph's words;
  2. they ignore or remain unaware of circumstances which fulfilled the prophecy;
  3. 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,"[1] 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:

  1. prophecy may be fulfilled in ways or at times that the hearers do not expect;
  2. 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
  3. 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.[2] 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.[3]

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)"[4]

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."[5]


Response to claim: 417 - Joseph Smith received a false revelation to go to Canada and sell the Book of Mormon copyright

The author(s) make(s) the following claim:

Joseph Smith received a false revelation to go to Canada and sell the Book of Mormon copyright.

Author's sources:
  • David Whitmer, An Address To All Believers In Christ, 1887, pp.30-31
  • B.H. Roberts, A Comprehensive History of the Church, vol. 1, p.165"

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

Whitmer's recollection is suspect, and the original revelation has now been published.


Question: After receiving the revelation to attempt to sell the Book of Mormon copyright in Canada, did Joseph Smith later claim that the revelation was false?

David Whitmer, years after he left the Church, claimed that Joseph said that the revelation did not come from God

David Whitmer claimed that Joseph Smith received a revelation and prophesied that Oliver Cowdery and Hiram Page should go to Canada where they would find a man willing to buy the copyright to the Book of Mormon. When they failed to sell the copyright, Whitmer states that Joseph admitted that the revelation had not come from God.

David Whitmer was not a participant in the trip to Canada

The primary evidence supporting the negative aspects of the Canadian Mission story comes from David Whitmer, who was not a participant in the event, and who had left the church many years before. With the discovery of the Hiram Page letter of 1848 showing that the actual participants involved in the trip felt that Joseph Smith delivered an accurate revelation of what would transpire on the Mission, and in fact even found the event uplifting rather than negative, it is evident that no individual contemporary to the event felt that this represented a false prophecy by Joseph Smith. What we do see is excellent evidence in fulfillment of the teachings of Deuteronomy 12 and 18 that Joseph Smith was perceived as a true prophet of God by those involved in the Mission to Canada in early 1830.


Question: Are there any eyewitness accounts of the events that resulted in the trip to Canada to sell the Book of Mormon copyright?

Joseph Smith decided this could be an opportunity to relieve some of the financial pressure associated with publishing the Book of Mormon

Joseph Smith had been told there were people in Canada willing to buy the copyrights to useful books. Due to the dire financial position of the Church, he decided this could be an opportunity to relieve some of the financial pressure associated with publishing the Book of Mormon. Four men went to Canada.

Joseph Smith received a revelation directing them to go to Kingston, Canada, with some conditions placed upon their success

Before leaving, Joseph Smith received a revelation directing them to go to Kingston, Canada, with some conditions placed upon their success.

...it Pleaseth me that Oliver Cowderey Joseph Knight Hyram Pagee & Josiah Stowel shall do my work in this thing yea even in securing the Copyright & they shall do it with an eye single to my Glory that it may be the means of bringing souls unto me Salvation through mine only Be{t\gotten} Behold I am God I have spoken it & it is expedient in me Wherefor I say unto you that ye shall go to Kingston seeking me continually through mine only Be{t\gotten} & if ye do this ye shall have my spirit to go with you & ye shall have an addition of all things which is expedient in me. amen & I grant unto my servent a privelige that he may sell a copyright through you speaking after the manner of men for the four Provinces if the People harden not their hearts against the enticeings of my spirit & my word for Behold it lieth in themselves to their condemnation &{\or} th{er\eir} salvation.

Revelation book 1 p. 15 1.jpg

The text of the actual revelation was recently discovered and published in The Joseph Smith Papers

The text of the revelation was published in the The Joseph Smith Papers: The Revelations and Translations Series. According to Marlin K. Jensen, Church Historian and Recorder,

Another interesting development from work on the Revelations and Translations Series has been the identification of a previously unpublished revelation on securing a copyright for the Book of Mormon in Canada. David Whitmer, after he left the Church, recalled that the revelation promised success in selling the copyright, but upon return of the men charged with the duty, Joseph Smith and others were disappointed by what seemed like failure. Historians have relied upon statements of David Whitmer, Hiram Page, and William McLellin for decades but have not had the actual text of the revelation. Revelation Book 1 will provide that.

Although we still do not know the whole story, particularly Joseph Smith’s own view of the situation, we do know that calling the divine communication a “failed revelation” is not warranted. The Lord’s directive clearly conditions the successful sale of the copyright on the worthiness of those seeking to make the sale as well as on the spiritual receptivity of the potential purchasers. [6]

Hiram Page, one of the participants, stated he for the first time understood how some revelations given to people were not necessarily for their direct benefit

Hiram Page, who was one of the individuals sent to Canada, laid out the event in a letter in 1848.[7] Page wrote that the revelation Joseph Smith received conditioned success upon whether those individuals in Canada capable of buying the Book of Mormon copyright would have their hearts softened. When unable to sell the copyright, the four men returned to Palmyra. Hiram Page stated he for the first time understood how some revelations given to people were not necessarily for their direct benefit—in fact, Hiram Page believed that the revelation was actually fulfilled.


Question: How did the erroneous story of the attempt to sell the Book of Mormon copyright develop over time?

Hiram Page’s 1848 account of the Canadian Mission trip was sent to William McLellin

Hiram Page’s 1848 account of the Canadian Mission trip was sent to William McLellin. Because it was private correspondence, its existence and details were unknown until the 1930’s, when the letter was donated to the RLDS Church’s archives as part of a larger collection of McLellin materials.[8] The content of the letter was not broadly known until after the document was stolen in 1985, but a copy of the original was donated by a private collector around the year 2000 who had made a copy prior to the theft of the original.

In 1872 William McLellin wrote about the journey to Canada

In 1872 William McLellin wrote about the journey to Canada.[9] He had no first hand knowledge of the event, as he did not join the Church until 1831. He apparently got the description of the event from Martin Harris, who was likewise not there and had no first hand knowledge. From the published account, McLellin ignores Hiram Page’s 1848 letter, and asserts that all involved in the Canadian Mission viewed it as a complete failure. Since all involved were dead, and the only known account by one of the participants, who obviously viewed it as a success, was in McLellin's possession, he apparently did not worry about being corrected.

In about 1881 J.L. Traughber wrote a letter to a German correspondent, who published it in 1886, retelling McLellin’s second or third hand knowledge of the event

In 1881 or shortly thereafter a man by the name of J.L. Traughber wrote a letter to a German correspondent, who published it in 1886, retelling McLellin’s second or third hand knowledge of the event.[10]

In 1886, David Whitmer mentions the trip to sell the copyright for the first time

Beginning in 1886, David Whitmer reports for the first time of the Canadian Mission.[11] Initially Whitmer reports the event in the third person, but by the time of his 1887 pamphlet An Address to All Believers in Christ, 57 years after the event occurred, he reports to having been a first hand witness, and Joseph Smith having given a false prophecy. Whitmer states,

Joseph looked into the hat in which he placed the stone, and received a revelation that some of the brethren should go to Toronto, Canada, and that they would sell the copyright of the Book of Mormon. Hiram Page and Oliver Cowdery went to Toronto on this mission, but they failed entirely to sell the copyright, returning without any money. Joseph was at my father's house when they returned. I was there also, and am an eye witness to these facts. Jacob Whitmer and John Whitmer were also present when Hiram Page and Oliver Cowdery returned from Canada.

Well, we were all in great trouble; and we asked Joseph how it was that he had received a revelation from the Lord for some brethren to go to Toronto and sell the copyright, and the brethren had utterly failed in their undertaking. Joseph did not know how it was, so he enquired of the Lord about it, and behold the following revelation came through the stone: "Some revelations are of God: some revelations are of men: and some revelations are of the devil." So we see that the revelation to go to Toronto and sell the copyright was not of God, but was of the devil or of the heart of man.[12]

Whitmer was looking for evidence to support his conclusion that Joseph Smith was a fallen prophet

One must remember that not only was Whitmer looking for evidence to support his conclusion that Joseph Smith was a fallen prophet, but he also wrote with no fear of contradiction, as all the witnesses to the event were dead.


Question: How does David Whitmer's account of the attempt to sell the Book of Mormon copyright compare to those of the eyewitnesses?

Whitmer's account is at variance in several ways with Hiram Page’s account

Whitmer's account is at variance in several ways with Hiram Page’s account. Whitmer gets the destination city in Canada wrong (he says Toronto, the other accounts, and the revelation itself, say Kingston) and he did not correctly identify all of the participants (he identified Hiram Page and Oliver Cowdery, while Page noted Joseph Knight and Josiah Stowell). Note that the text of the revelation itself finally clears up the issue of exactly who the revelation was directed to,

...it Pleaseth me that Oliver Cowderey Joseph Knight Hyram Pagee & Josiah Stowel shall do my work in this thing...

Page, an eyewitness, makes no mention at disappointment in Joseph Smith, nor is there any mention of a "false prophecy"

Page also makes no mention or even a hint at disappointment in Joseph Smith, nor is there an accusation that the trip was based upon a "false prophecy," so naturally no subsequent "revelation" is noted by Page explaining the mission’s failure.

In Whitmer’s 1887 account we learn for the first time of the supposed post-mission revelation where Joseph Smith is told that some revelations are from God, some from devils, some from men. This account is in all likelihood a fabrication. Unlike his consistent, life-long statements concerning the witness of the Gold Plates, this account, which is probably a second-hand retelling of events 57 years after their occurrence, suddenly appears and is wrong on several of the documentable facts, as well as being inconsistent with the first-hand testimony of Hiram Page, given 40 years earlier than Whitmer and by comparison much closer to the actual event.


Response to claim: 418-419 - In 1835 Joseph Smith prophesied that the Lord would come in "fifty-six years," or when Joseph was 85 years old

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

In 1835 Joseph Smith prophesied that the Lord would come in "fifty-six years," or when Joseph was 85 years old.

Author's sources:
  • History of the Church 5:336
  • Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Autumn 1966, p.76
  • Daily journal of Abraham H. Cannon, October 14, 1886, BYU Library
  • History of the Church 2:188

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

Joseph was not nearly as certain of this as the authors are.


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.[13]

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.[14]

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.[15]

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.)


Response to claim: 420-421 - Joseph prophesied that a temple in Missouri would be built "in this generation"

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

Joseph prophesied that a temple in Missouri would be built "in this generation."

Author's sources:
  • Doctrine and Covenants 84:2-5, 31
  • George A. Smith, Journal of Discourses 10:344
  • Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses 13:138, 362; 14:275; 17:111, 292
  • Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Autumn 1966, p.74"

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

The term "this generation" did not mean that it would be within a single person's lifetime.


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 it may not have been a prophecy, and if it is, 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.

Historical background

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. [16]

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
  • history
  • contemporaries
  • succession or series of people from same stock
  • race, posterity
  • one hundred years
  • thirty-eight years
  • people

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. [17]

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?

  1. Many shall come in Christ's name, deceiving many (Matthew 24:5, Luke 21:8)
  2. Wars and rumours of wars (Matthew 24:6, Luke 21:9-10)
  3. Famines (Matthew 24:7, Luke 21:11)
  4. Pestilences (Mathew 24:7, Luke 21:11)
  5. Earthquakes (Matthew 24:7, Luke 21:11)
  6. Apostles killed (Matthew 24:9, Luke 21:16)
  7. Many shall be offended (Matthew 24:10)
  8. Many shall be betrayed (Matthew 24:10)
  9. Men will hate one another (Matthew 24:10)
  10. False prophets will deceive many (Matthew 24:11)
  11. Iniquity shall abound (Matthew 24:12)
  12. Love of many shall wax cold (Matthew 24:12)
  13. Gospel shall be preached in all the world (Matthew 24:14)
  14. Distress of nations (Luke 21:25)
  15. Men's hearts will fail them because of fear (Luke 21:11)
  16. Sun shall be darkened (Matthew 24:29, Luke 21:25)
  17. Moon shall not give her light (Matthew 24:29, Luke 21:25)
  18. Stars shall fall from heaven (Matthew 24:29, Luke 21:25)
  19. 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.


Response to claim: 424 - Joseph's "Civil War prophecy" could have been deduced from the news at the time

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

Joseph's "Civil War prophecy" could have been deduced from the news at the time.

Author's sources:
  1. The Evening and the Morning Star, vol. 1, issue 8

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

Nobody was predicting a civil war at that time.


Question: Was Joseph Smith's 1832 prophecy of the Civil War invalid because a civil war was "inevitable," and "anyone" could have predicted it?

There is no evidence that Americans were predicting a Civil War between 1832-1851

So, was the prophecy "so obvious" that anyone could have predicted it? The critics must prove this contention.

Where is the evidence that most Americans were predicting a Civil War between 1832-1851? Why was Orson Pratt ridiculed if this was obvious to everyone? This seems a desperate attempt by the critics to dismiss a "hit" by Joseph. Everything can look obvious in retrospect if one doesn't know history.

There is, in fact, good contemporary evidence that this prophecy was mocked by prominent authors only 4 years before the Civil War began

A newspaper article from 1857 reported a garbled version of the prophecy, but the author's scorn is clear:

New beauties are being revealed in the Mormon faith almost every day, and new prophecies of Joe Smith fulfilled. When any event of state occurs, or any remarkable circumstance happens, some of the Mormon apostles find a prophecy of Joseph’s (probably dated twenty-five years ago), which has just been fulfilled by the occurrence. These prophecies are never spoken of until after the occurrence. The fact is, the leaders frame the prophecy themselves after its fulfillment. Joe Smith did at one time prophecy that before the year 1860, the Union would be divided, the havoc of war spread over our glorious Republic, battles be fought whose equal was never before known, father would be arrayed against son, and brother against brother, and that our glorious Republic would be stained with human blood from North to South, the Constitution be trampled upon, and the Government fall to the ground; and then would the little band of Mormons rear the standard of their creed aloft, and proclaim to the world that the millennial year had been ushered in, and the reign of Christ begun. (emphasis added)

But methinks the Mormons can entertain but little hope of the fulfillment of that prophecy, as the Union has stood the strongest test and did not even shake. But when I shall see the above prophecy come to pass, I shall probably then change my mind about the truth of the revelation. At present, I see no chance of its verification within the time specified.[18]


Notes

  1. Harrison, 755.
  2. 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.
  3. James L. Mays (editor), Harper's Bible Commentary (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1988), 226.
  4. Shalom M. Paul, "Prophecy and Prophets" a supplemental essay in Etz Hayim, a Torah/Commentary published by the Jewish Publication Society, 1411, (emphasis added).
  5. Jewish Study Bible (published by the Jewish Publication Society), commentary on Deu. 18:20-23.
  6. Marlin K. Jensen, “The Joseph Smith Papers: The Manuscript Revelation Books,” Ensign (July 2009) off-site
  7. Letter to William McLellin, February 2, 1848, as cited in Dan Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, Vol. 5, pages 257-9.
  8. Ibid., page 257
  9. William McLellin to Joseph Smith III, September 8, 1872. See Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, Vol. 5, page 328.
  10. John L. Traughber correspondence, which appears to date from 1881. Dan Vogel’s editor comments in “Early Mormon Documents”, Vol. 5, page 333, explain his assumption this was written to James T. Cobb. See page 334 for relevant statements concerning the Mission to Canada.
  11. David Whitmer Interview with Omaha (NE) Herald, Oct. 10, 1886, as quoted by Dan Vogel in Early Mormon Documents, Vol. 5, pages 174-181. See page 180 for relevant material.
  12. David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ by a Witness to the Divine Authenticity of The Book of Mormon (David Whitmer: Richmond, Virginia, 1887).
  13. 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
  14. 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
  15. 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
  16. Noah Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language (New York: S. Converse, 1828), s.v. "shall."
  17. Noah Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language (New York: S. Converse, 1828), s.v. "generation."
  18. "O.P.M.," "Mormonism and its Origin, Number 4," The Golden Era San Francisco (18 October 1857). [Thanks to Ted Jones for this reference.]