Question: Does Oliver Cowdery's blessing and promise to Orson Hyde contain a false prophecy, which was then altered before being printed in History of the Church?

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Question: Does Oliver Cowdery's blessing and promise to Orson Hyde contain a false prophecy, which was then altered before being printed in History of the Church?

Claims of "false prophecy" rest upon the most narrow, critical reading possible, and ignore important aspects of LDS thought and theology

It is claimed that the ordination blessing given to Orson Hyde is an example of false prophecy. It is also claimed that Hyde's blessing was altered in the History of the Church for propaganda reasons. [1]

Changes made to the text clarify but do not alter its meaning. Claims of "false prophecy" rest upon the most narrow, critical reading possible, and ignore important aspects of LDS thought and theology.

Text of the Orson Hyde blessing was edited in History of the Church?

The original of Hyde's blessing is in the Kirtland Council Minute book. It is compared here (left) with the version as it appears in the History of the Church (bold text indicates differences):

Kirtland Council Minute Book History of the Church

Orson Hyde blessing. Oliver Cowdery proceeded and called upon the Lord to smile upon him and that his faith shall be perfect, and that the blessings promised shall be realized. He shall be made mighty and be endowed with power from on high, and go forth to the nations of the earth to proclaim the gospel. That he shall escape all the pollutions of the world. The Angels shall uphold him, and that he shall go forth according to the commandment, both to Jew & Gentile and shall go to all nations, kingdoms and tongues and shall All who hear his voice, shall acknowledge him to be a servant of God. He shall be equal in holding the Keys of the Kingdom. He shall stand on the earth and bring souls till Christ comes. We know that he loves thee, and may this thy servant be able to walk through pestilence and not be harmed. The powers of darkness shall have no ascending over him. He shall have power to smite the earth with pestilence, to divide waters and lead through the Saints. He shall go from land to land and from sea to sea. He shall be like unto one of the three Nephites.

Oliver Cowdery called upon the Lord to smile upon him; that his faith be made perfect, and that the blessings pronounced may be realized; that he be made mighty, and be endued with powers from on high, and go forth to the nations of the earth to proclaim the Gospel, that he may escape all the pollutions of the world; that the angels shall uphold him; and that he shall go forth according to the commandment, both to Jew and Gentile, and to all nations, kingdoms and tongues; that all who hear his voice shall acknowledge him to be a servant of God; that he shall be equal with his brethren in holding the keys of the kingdom; that he may stand on the earth and bring souls till Christ comes. We know that he loves Thee, O, Lord, and may this Thy [p.190] servant be able to walk through pestilence and not be harmed; and the powers of darkness have no ascendency over him; may he have power to smite the earth with pestilence; to divide waters, and lead through the Saints; may he go from land to land and from sea to sea, and may he be like one of the three Nephites.

The word "shall" was changed to "may"

The majority of the changes alter a phrase like "shall" to a phrase like "may." The critics presumably wish to mislead the unwary into concluding that the initial version gave unconditional promises or prophecies, while the History of the Church version adds a conditional aspect. Yet, the critics are simply ignorant of word usage in the early 1800s. 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.[2]

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. The History of the Church makes this fact more unambiguous for the modern reader, perhaps, in its use of "may." But, this change in no way changes the content of the blessing.

In fact, the ordination given to Brigham Young on the same day includes similar promises, but usually uses "may" instead of "shall." Since Brigham's blessing was given by Martin Harris, while Orson's was given by Oliver Cowdery, this difference is probably best explained by the habits in language between the two men. (Compare Brigham Young ordination blessing.) Latter-day Saints do not believe that such blessings are generally word-for-word dictation from God, but instead are the speaker's best attempt to put into words the information communicated to them by the Holy Spirit (e.g., DC 1:24). Those people who edited the History of the Church understood this.

Critics reading through their own theology and ideas

This is another excellent example of sectarian critics' tendency to read LDS scripture and language through their own lenses—the critics are often Calvinists, believing in God's absolute predestination of events and acts. But, LDS theology has never seen the matter that way. Instead, God gives promises or commands to mortals who may choose to participate or not. As the Lord said elsewhere:

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

Question: Is this blessing an example of a false prophecy?
Answer: No.

Critics go further in claiming that the blessing which says that Hyde "shall stand on the earth and bring souls till Christ comes" proves that this is a false prophecy.

But, the blessing nowhere asserts that Hyde will be a mortal until the Second Coming. Unlike many Christian theologies, the doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not place the abode of the dead in another world or realm. Likewise, it does not cause the preaching of the gospel and the redeeming of souls to cease with death. Missionary work continues in the spirit world after death, and the "spirit world" to which the dead go is on earth. Brigham Young said:

When you lay down this tabernacle [i.e., mortal body], where are you going? Into the spiritual world. Are you going into Abraham's bosom. No, not anywhere nigh there, but into the spirit world. Where is the spirit world? It is right here. Do the good and evil spirits go together? Yes, they do. Do they both inhabit one kingdom? Yes, they do. Do they go to the sun? No. Do they go beyond the boundaries of this organized earth? No, they do not. They are brought forth upon this earth, for the express purpose of inhabiting it to all eternity. Where else are you going? Nowhere else, only as you may be permitted....

Father Smith and Carlos and brother Partridge, yes, and every other good Saint, are just as busy in the spirit world as you and I are here. They can see us, but we cannot see them unless our eyes were opened. What are they doing there? They are preaching, preaching all the time, and preparing the way for us to hasten our work in building temples here and elsewhere, and to go back to Jackson County and build the great temple of the Lord. They are hurrying to get ready by the time that we are ready and we are all hurrying to get ready by the time our Elder Brother is ready {{ea}.[3]

Thus, faithful apostles would continue their work among the wicked (either as a mortal or among the spirits) until Christ comes.


Notes

  1. Jerald and Sandra Tanner, Mormonism—Shadow or Reality?, 5th edition, (Salt Lake City: Utah Lighthouse Ministry, 1987), 188.
  2. Noah Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language (New York: S. Converse, 1828), s.v. "shall."
  3. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 3:370.


Further reading and additional sources responding to these claims