Mormonism and prophets/Criticisms related to 19th-century prophets

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Criticisms related to 19th-century Latter-day Saint ("Mormon") prophets

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Question: Did Brigham Young state that everything he said could be considered "scripture"?

Brigham made it clear that his previous statement should not mean that anything he said was scripture, but only that which he had the opportunity to correct and send to the Saints as scripture

Brigham Young made a statement which is often misrepresented:

Well, brethren and sisters, try and be Saints. I will try; I have tried many years to live according to the law which the Lord reveals unto me. I know just as well what to teach this people and just what to say to them and what to do in order to bring them into the celestial kingdom, as I know the road to my office. It is just as plain and easy. The Lord is in our midst. He teaches the people continually. I have never yet preached a sermon and sent it out to the children of men, that they may not call Scripture. Let me have the privilege of correcting a sermon, and it is as good Scripture as they deserve. The people have the oracles of God continually. In the days of Joseph, revelation was given and written, and the people were driven from city to city and place to place, until we were led into these mountains. Let this [discourse] go to the people with "Thus saith the Lord," and if they do not obey it, you will see the chastening hand of the Lord upon them. But if they are plead with, and led along like children, we may come to understand the will of the Lord and he may preserve us as we desire.[1]

Brigham here says that his remarks are "scripture." The Church statement notes that "isolated statements are often taken out of context." That is true in this case. Here is Brigham's own explanation of this comment:

Brother Orson Hyde referred to a few who complained about not getting revelations. I will make a statement here that has been brought against me as a crime, perhaps, or as a fault in my life. Not here, I do not allude to anything of the kind in this place, but in the councils of the nations—that Brigham Young has said "when he sends forth his discourses to the world they may call them Scripture." I say now, when they are copied and approved by me they are as good Scripture as is couched in this Bible, and if you want to read revelation read the sayings of him who knows the mind of God, without any special command to one man to go here, and to another to go yonder, or to do this or that, or to go and settle here or there.[2]

Brigham made it clear that his previous statement should not mean that anything he said was scripture, but only that which he had the opportunity to correct and send to the Saints as scripture. This provides a good example of why this rule exists at all: what a prophet may intend to convey may not be what his listeners hear, or what scribes recorded. Thus, teachings must be approved by the author and submitted as binding scripture in order for them to be considered such.


Question: Did John Taylor receive a revelation on September 27, 1886 that promised that polygamy would never be abandoned by the Church?

The revelation does not say that the practice of plural marriage will never be abandoned, but that the law of the new and everlasting covenant (which includes monogamous and polygamous marriage) would not be altered or revoked

Note: Some sources consider this revelation to be fraudulent and not from John Taylor at all. If this is the case, then any quote therefrom is moot. This article will presume, for the sake of argument, that the document is from John Taylor, third president of the Church.[3]

The revelation does not say that the practice of plural marriage will never be abandoned: It says that the law of the new and everlasting covenant (which includes monogamous and polygamous marriage) would not be altered or revoked. It enjoins obedience to commandments already received—including the command to practice plural marriage, which had not been rescinded in 1886.

A document that is apparently in John Taylor's handwriting was found among his papers after his death

A document that is apparently in John Taylor's handwriting was found among his papers after his death. It appears to be in his handwriting, and it is probably genuine,[4] though some past Church officials have been skeptical.[5] The text reads:

You have asked me concerning the new and everlasting covenant and how far it is binding upon my people.

Thus saith the Lord—All commandments that I have given must be obeyed by those calling themselves by my name, unless they are revoked by me, or by my authority, and how can I revoke an everlasting covenant? For I, the Lord, am everlasting, and My everlasting covenant cannot be abrogated nor done away with, but they stand forever.

Have I not given my word in great plainness on this subject? Yet have not great numbers of my people been negligent in the observance of my law and the keeping of my commandments? Yet I have borne with them these many years, and this because of their weakness, because of the perilous times.

And, furthermore, it is now pleasing to me that men should use their free agency in regard to these matters; nevertheless I, the Lord, do not change, and my word, and my law, and my covenants do not.

And as I have heretofore said by my servant Joseph: All those who would enter into my glory must and shall obey my law and have I not commanded men, that if they were Abraham's seed and would enter into my glory they must do the works of Abraham? I have not revoked this law nor will I, for it is everlasting and those who will enter into my glory must obey the conditions thereof.

Even so Amen.[6]

John Taylor, so far as is known, did not discuss this revelation with anyone, and it was never canonized as binding upon the Church

John Taylor, so far as is known, did not discuss this revelation with anyone. It was also never canonized as binding upon the Church.

The critics—and "Mormon fundamentalists" who use this document as justification for the continued practice of plural marriage—argue that this document claims that polygamy will never be abandoned by the Church.

The document concerns the new and everlasting covenant, not the practice of plural marriage

However, this is not what the text says. It declares, rather, that "You have asked me concerning the new and everlasting covenant....My everlasting covenant cannot be abrogated nor done away with, but they stand forever."

It is common for critics to insist that "the new and everlasting covenant" can only refer to plural marriage. But, this is not consistent with LDS scripture:

  • the Old Testament frequently referred to the "everlasting covenant" which God had established with Noah (), and Israel ().
  • Hebrews asserts that Christ's sacrifice is the basis of the "everlasting covenant": Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant... (Hebrews 13:20).
  • in 1830, the Lord declared of baptism into the restored Church: "this is a new and an everlasting covenant, even that which was from the beginning" (D&C 22:1).

None of these covenants had anything necessarily to do with plural marriage; they certainly did not exclusively refer to plural marriage.

The Doctrine and Covenants frequently refers to the covenant, and it is clear that the reference is generally to the Gospel covenant, not to plural marriage

The Doctrine and Covenants frequently refers to the covenant, and it is clear that the reference is generally to the gospel covenant, not to plural marriage (emphasis added in all cases):

D&C 45 (March 17, 1831)
I came unto mine own, and mine own received me not; but unto as many as received me gave I power to do many miracles, and to become the sons of God; and even unto them that believed on my name gave I power to obtain eternal life. And even so I have sent mine everlasting covenant into the world, to be a light to the world, and to be a standard for my people, and for the Gentiles to seek to it, and to be a messenger before my face to prepare the way before me (DC 45:8-9).
D&C 49 (March-May 1831)
Wherefore, I will that all men shall repent, for all are under sin, except those which I have reserved unto myself, holy men that ye know not of. Wherefore, I say unto you that I have sent unto you mine everlasting covenant, even that which was from the beginning (DC 49:8-9).
D&C 66 (October 25, 1831)
Verily I say unto you, blessed are you for receiving mine everlasting covenant, even the fulness of my gospel....(DC 66:2).
D&C 76 (February 16, 1832)
[Telestial kingdom is those who] received not the gospel, neither the testimony of Jesus, neither the prophets, neither the everlasting covenant....(DC 76:101).
D&C 88 (December 27, 1832)
[In the school of the prophets] Let him offer himself in prayer upon his knees before God, in token or remembrance of the everlasting covenant....[and say] I salute you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, in token or remembrance of the everlasting covenant, in which covenant I receive you to fellowship...through the grace of God in the bonds of love, to walk in all the commandments of God blameless, in thanksgiving, forever and ever.(DC 88:131-133).
D&C 101 (December 16, 1833)
When men are called unto mine everlasting gospel, and covenant with an everlasting covenant, they are accounted as the salt of the earth and the savor of men....(DC 101:39).

Thus, the "everlasting covenant" or "new and everlasting covenant" may refer to the gospel message and its restoration. This phrase is also used, however, in the revelation on plural marriage—we will label this "the new and everlasting covenant of marriage" (compare DC 131:).

The new and everlasting covenant of marriage

The revelation on plural marriage (DC 132:) describes a similar idea:

4 For behold, I reveal unto you a new and an everlasting covenant; and if ye abide not that covenant, then are ye damned; for no one can reject this covenant and be permitted to enter into my glory.

5 For all who will have a blessing at my hands shall abide the law which was appointed for that blessing, and the conditions thereof, as were instituted from before the foundation of the world.

6 And as pertaining to the new and everlasting covenant, it was instituted for the fulness of my glory; and he that receiveth a fulness thereof must and shall abide the law, or he shall be damned, saith the Lord God.(DC 132:4-6)

This "new and everlasting covenant" has a "law" and "conditions thereof," and one must "abide the law." What is the law and conditions?

And verily I say unto you, that the conditions of this law are these: All covenants, contracts, bonds, obligations, oaths, vows, performances, connections, associations, or expectations, that are not made and entered into and sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, of him who is anointed, both as well for time and for all eternity, and that too most holy, by revelation and commandment through the medium of mine anointed, whom I have appointed on the earth to hold this power (and I have appointed unto my servant Joseph to hold this power in the last days, and there is never but one on the earth at a time on whom this power and the keys of this priesthood are conferred), are of no efficacy, virtue, or force in and after the resurrection from the dead; for all contracts that are not made unto this end have an end when men are dead (DC 132:7).

The law and conditions of the "new and everlasting covenant of marriage" are that such relationships must be sealed by priesthood authority (vested in one many only, the President of the Church) and the Holy Spirit of promise. This law encompasses both monogamous and polygamous marriage.

It was common for nineteenth century members of the Church to focus on the plural marriage aspect of this covenant

It was common, of course, for nineteenth century members of the Church to focus on the plural marriage aspect of this covenant, since that is what they were commanded to do. Yet, even John Taylor's other revelations were clear that polygamy was not the only aspect of the "new and everlasting covenant."

So far as it [Celestial Marriage] is made known unto men, it is made known unto them as the Gospel is made known unto them and is part of the New and Everlasting Covenant; And it is only those who receive the Gospel that are able to, or capable of, entering into this Covenant.[7]

Thus, "celestial marriage" (used in this document as a synonym for plural marriage) is "part of the New and Everlasting Covenant," but it is not the sum total. As the Church discontinued the practice of plural marriage, leaders began to emphasize this doctrine more extensively. Some have argued that this was a completely novel interpretation, virtually forced upon the Church once it decided to abandon plural marriage.

But, Taylor's 1882 account above clearly disproves this theory—"celestial marriage" is only part of what is referred to as the "new and everlasting covenant." And, this "new and everlasting covenant" cannot be simply "the gospel," since the text indicates that only those who accept the Gospel can accept this covenant: if the covenant and the gospel are the same thing, in this text, the expression is nonsensical.

Applying the analysis to the 1886 document

With this background, we are prepared to better understand the 1886 document.

"You have asked me concerning the new and everlasting covenant and how far it is binding upon my people
  • To what degree, then, must the Saints keep the new and everlasting covenant? Was monogamy sufficient to fulfill the covenant? (Recall that the covenant includes both monogamous and polygamous marriages sealed by priesthood authority, in both D&C 132 and John Taylor's earlier unpublished revelation.)
"Thus saith the Lord—All commandments that I have given must be obeyed by those calling themselves by my name, unless they are revoked by me, or by my authority, and how can I revoke an everlasting covenant? For I, the Lord, am everlasting, and My everlasting covenant cannot be abrogated nor done away with, but they stand forever"
  • All commandments must be obeyed—and the members of the Church had been commanded to practice plural marriage. Furthermore, the new and everlasting covenant of marriage (which includes, but does not exclusively consist of plural marriage) will not be taken from the Church.
"Have I not given my word in great plainness on this subject? Yet have not great numbers of my people been negligent in the observance of my law and the keeping of my commandments?"
  • The "law," as we have seen, is that all marriage contracts must be sealed by those with authority, or they are not binding after death. In addition to the law, there was also a commandment to practice plural marriage, which was not embraced by some who could have complied.
Yet I have borne with them these many years, and this because of their weakness, because of the perilous times
  • The hostility against the Church in general and polygamy in particular made keeping the commandment to practice polygamy difficult.
"And, furthermore, it is now pleasing to me that men should use their free agency in regard to these matters; nevertheless I, the Lord, do not change, and my word, and my law, and my covenants do not."
  • We again recall that "the law" is that all marriages must be sealed to last beyond the grave. His "word" or commandments had also been given.
"And as I have heretofore said by my servant Joseph: All those who would enter into my glory must and shall obey my law and have I not commanded men, that if they were Abraham's seed and would enter into my glory they must do the works of Abraham?"
  • Abraham's works were to be sealed, to keep all the commandments, and make all the sacrifices which God asked of him—including but not limited to plural marriage (see Works of Abraham).
"I have not revoked this law nor will I, for it is everlasting and those who will enter into my glory must obey the conditions thereof."
  • Again, we recall that the law is that marriages must be sealed, and obedience to all God's commandments must be observed.

There is, as Brian Hales has noted, no scriptural mention of "the law of plural marriage," nor did Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, or John Taylor ever use this term.[8] (In fact, references to "the law" of plural marriage tend to crop up far more frequently in "fundamentalist" writings.) It may be significant that this revelation repeatedly refers to both "the law" and covenants (which will not change) and "commandments" by which one is bound by the covenant (which may change or vary from person to person and time to time).


Question: Will Mormons "walk back to Jackson County" before the second coming of Christ?

No, this is a "faith promoting" myth

Graham W. Doxey in the April 1979 Ensign:

Myth #1: We’re going to walk to Missouri to prepare for the Second Coming. Scripture makes it clear that Missouri has a prophetic role to play in the Second Coming and it seems logical that some people will need to go there to assist in portions of that work. But the scriptures contain no references that spell out in detail how that assistance will be given.

One of the quotations I hear frequently repeated is part of a sermon by Joseph F. Smith in 1882: “When God leads the people back to Jackson County, how will he do it? Let me picture to you how some of us may be gathered and led to Jackson County. I think I see two or three hundred thousand people wending their way across the great plain enduring the nameless hardships of the journey, herding and guarding their cattle by day and by night. … This is one way to look at it. It is certainly a practical view. Some might ask, what will become of the railroads? I fear that the sifting process would be insufficient were we to travel by railroads.” (Journal of Discourses, 24:156–57.)

This is a vivid mental picture, but people frequently remember the picture and forget he said “some of us” and “may be gathered.” We should also keep in mind that he said this is “one way to look at it,” remembering also the perspective of 1882. From our perspective in 1979, it seems even less likely that we would sell our automobiles and herd cattle along our freeway systems. But we simply have no scriptural information about who—if any general Church members—will be called to go back and the means that they might use. The prophets of our day have not found it timely or necessary to speak on the matter. [9]


Question: Will all Mormons return to Jackson county before the second coming?

No, this is a "faith promoting" myth

Graham W. Doxey in the April 1979 Ensign:

Myth #2: The entire Church will be gathered to Missouri. Here recent prophets have been quite specific. President Spencer W. Kimball said in October Conference, 1978: “We are building up the strength of Zion—her cords or stakes—throughout the world. Therefore, we counsel our people to remain in their native lands and gather out the elect of God and teach them the ways of the Lord. There temples are being built and the saints will be blessed wherever they live in all the world.” (Ensign, Nov. 1978, p. 76.)

During the time of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, it was essential for members of the Church to “gather to Zion” for their own spiritual and physical safety. But now that temples, welfare proJects, educational facilities, genealogical research libraries, and the blessings of a full church organization in stakes are available, this gathering is no longer required or wise. And although the Church purchased some Clay County land last December, it was solely for investment purposes—not for other Church use. At a general conference, President Harold B. Lee stressed the point made by Elder Bruce R. McConkie at the Mexico City Area Conference: “‘The place of gathering for the Mexican Saints is in Mexico; … and so it goes throughout the length and breadth of the whole earth. Japan is for the Japanese; Korea is for the Koreans; Australia is for the Australians; every nation is the gathering place for its own people.’” (Ensign, July 1973, p. 5.)

Of course, there will be special functions of the temple in Jackson County, but worldwide gatherings of the Saints to Missouri may not be necessary, or desired—after all, the mission of members is to always share the gospel with the nonmembers who surround them throughout the world, and this activity will undoubtedly continue after the Second Coming. Elder Harold B. Lee further cautioned the Saints in all lands to be guided by the current prophet, not by rumor or supposition, and “look forward to the instruction that shall come to them from the First Presidency of this Church as to where they shall be gathered and not be disturbed in their feelings until such instruction is given to them as it is revealed by the Lord to the proper authority” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1948, p. 55).[10]


Question: Will there be immense destruction in Jackson County before the second coming of Christ?

This may have already taken place, or it is yet to occur

Graham W. Doxey in the April 1979 Ensign:

Myth #3: But won’t there be immense destructions in Missouri preceding the Second Coming, so extensive that “not a yellow dog will be left to wag his tail”? It’s true that destruction throughout the earth is one of the conditions prior to the Second Coming. Yet as far as destruction in Missouri is concerned there are two schools of thought among members.

One believes that it has already taken place. Elder B. H. Roberts published a reported prophecy of Joseph Smith to Alexander Doniphan, his lawyer in Missouri. According to Doniphan’s brother-in-law, writing the incident over seventy years after it occurred, Joseph Smith warned Doniphan that “‘God’s wrath hangs over Jackson County … and you will live to see the day when it will be visited by fire and sword. The fields and farms and houses will be destroyed, and only the chimneys will be left to mark the desolation.’

“General Doniphan said to me,” his brother-in-law continued, “that the devastation of Jackson county [during the Civil War] forcibly reminded him of this remarkable prediction.” Elder Roberts cites additional descriptions of Jackson County’s role during the Civil War as fulfillment of this prophecy. (See Comprehensive History of the Church, 1:538–59; italics added.)

The other school of thought on the so-called “yellow dog” prophecy is that some members feel it is yet to occur. However, a study of the supposed source of the prophecy is helpful. It seems to have originated in a conversation between Heber C. Kimball and Amanda H. Wilcox in Salt Lake City in May 1868. She reports him as saying, “The western boundries of the State of Missouri will be swept so clean of its inhabitants that, as President Young tells us, when we return to that place, ‘There will not be left so much as a yellow dog to wag his tail.’” (Prophetic Sayings of Heber C. Kimball to Sister Amanda H. Wilcox, n.p., n.d., p. 6.)

There seem to be a number of questions about the authenticity of this account since Heber C. Kimball was apparently in Provo, not Salt Lake, during the month of May. Also, no other record exists of Brigham Young making a similar statement. However, it is sufficiently similar to Joseph Smith’s statements, except for the “yellow dog,” that someone may have remembered the original substance but in the retelling allowed embellishment to creep in.[11]

  1. Brigham Young, "Latter-Day Saint Families, etc.," (2 January 1870) Journal of Discourses 13:95-95.
  2. Brigham Young, "Texts for Preaching Upon at Conference—Revelations, etc.," (6 October 1870) Journal of Discourses 13:264-264.
  3. For a detailed look at this document, see Brian C. Hales, "An 1886 Revelation to John Taylor," mormonfundamentalism (accessed 14 January 2009).
  4. J. Max Anderson, The Polygamy Story: Fiction and Fact (1979), 63-76; D. Michael Quinn, "LDS Church Authority and New Plural Marriages, 1890–1904," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 18 no. 1 (Spring 1985), 29 n. 90. Cited in Brian C. Hales, "An 1886 Revelation to John Taylor."
  5. Hales discusses Anthony W. Ivins' opinion (footnote 25), and Mark E. Petersen (footnote 2; quoting Quinn, 29 n. 90); see Brian C. Hales, "An 1886 Revelation to John Taylor."
  6. Cited in "The Trial of Apostle John W. Taylor." Also in "Revelations in Addition to Those Found in the LDS Edition of the Doctrine and Covenants," New Mormon Studies CD-ROM, (Signature Books in association with Smith Research Associates).
  7. Revelation to John Taylor, "Questions And Answers Concerning Celestial Marriage," (25-26 June 1882, Salt Lake City, Utah), in John Taylor Papers, Church Historians Office.
  8. See Hales, c.f. footnote 14. Franklin D. Richard's use in October 1885 (JD 26:243) is the sole use in the Journal of Discourses.
  9. Graham W. Doxey, "Missouri Myths," Ensign (April 1979)
  10. Graham W. Doxey, "Missouri Myths," Ensign (April 1979)
  11. Graham W. Doxey, "Missouri Myths," Ensign (April 1979)