Question: Did Parley P. Pratt make a prophecy in 1838 to La Roy Sutherland about the latter being struck dumb and coming to an untimely end?

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Question: Did Parley P. Pratt make a prophecy in 1838 to La Roy Sutherland about the latter being struck dumb and coming to an untimely end?

Parley P. Pratt is here really more (mis)reading scripture than coming up with a prophecy out of the blue

Did Parley P. Pratt make a prophecy in 1838 to La Roy Sutherland about the latter being struck dumb and coming to an untimely end? Didn't he also claim that no unbelievers would be on the American continent within 50 years?

Parley P. Pratt is here really more (mis)reading scripture than coming up with a prophecy out of the blue. He was mistaken, but this causes no problem for believers--even apostles can be mistaken, and an isolated apostle has no right to declare binding doctrine. New revelation would always come to the prophet--which Parley likely knew, but he just thought his reading of the scripture was obviously correct, so felt no fear in making it. But, we must remember he came out of a long religious background before joining the Church in which he had a deep sense of the second coming's urgency and imminence. So, what seemed a "natural" reading to him just wasn't.

As demonstrated in detail below, Pratt believed he was reporting the "plain sense" of the Book of Mormon—but this is not as clear as he thought it was.

The background to this statement of Pratt's is that Sutherland (the anti-Mormon to whom Pratt is replying) is complaining that the Book of Mormon makes no predictions that can be "checked" to prove its validity. Pratt disagrees, and writes:

Also, page 122 2nd edition. "Woe unto all those who tremble and are angry, because of the truth of God; for behold he that is built upon the rock, receiveth it with gladness; and he that is built upon a sandy foundation trembleth, lest he shall fall." Also. page 123 2nd edition. "Woe be unto the Gentiles, says the Lord God of Hosts; for notwithstanding I shall lengthen out my arm unto them from day to day, they will deny me." See also, page 514, and read the fate of our nation, and the fate of the Indians of America; in the day that the Gentiles should reject the fullness of the gospel.--(The Book of Mormon.) See also, page 526, where a sign is given, and the time clearly set for the restoration and gathering of Israel from their long dispersion, namely, the coming forth the Book of Mormon, should be the sign; and in the day this work should come forth, should this great event commence among all nations. Also, p. 527, where all who will not hearken to the Book of Mormon, shall be cut off from among the people; and that too, in the day it comes forth to the Gentiles and is rejected by them. And not only does this page set the time for the overthrow of our government and all other Gentile governments on the American continent, but the way and means of this utter destruction are clearly foretold; namely, the remnant of Jacob will go through among the Gentiles and tear them in pieces. like a lion among the flocks of sheep. Their hand shall be lifted up upon their adversaries, and all their enemies shall be cut off. This destruction includes an utter overthrow, and desolation of all our Cities, Forts, and Strong Folds--an entire annihilation of our race, except such as embrace the Covenant, and are numbered with Israel.

Now, Mr. Sunderland, you have something definite and tangible, the time, the manner, the means, the names, the dates; and I will state as a prophecy, that there will not be an unbelieving Gentile upon this continent 50 years hence; and if they are not greatly scourged, and in a great measure overthrown, within five or ten years from this date, then the Book of Mormon will have proved itself false. And furthermore, as Mr. LaRoy Sunderland has lied concerning the truth of Heaven, the fulness of the Gospel; and has blasphemed against the word of God, except he speedily repent, and acknowledge his lying and wickedness, and obey the message of eternal truth, which God has sent for the salvation of his people. God will smite him dumb, that he can no longer speak great swelling words against the Lord; and a trembling shall seize his nerves, that he shall not be able to write; and Zion’s Watchman shall cease to be published abroad, and its lies shall no longer deceive the public; and he will wander a vagabond on the earth, until sudden destruction shall overtake him; and if Mr. La Roy Sunderland enquires, when shall these things be? I reply, it is nigh thee--even at thy doors; and I say this in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen. [1]

The Book of Mormon references

The Book of Mormon quotes that he provides here are by page number, since verses were not added to the text until later. The references in modern-day verses would be:

p. 122

26 Yea, wo be unto him that hearkeneth unto the precepts of men, and denieth the power of God, and the gift of the Holy Ghost!
27 Yea, wo be unto him that saith: We have received, and we need no more!
28 And in fine, wo unto all those who tremble, and are angry because of the truth of God! For behold, he that is built upon the rock receiveth it with gladness; and he that is built upon a sandy foundation trembleth lest he shall fall. (2 Nephi 28:26-28)

p. 123

32 Wo be unto the Gentiles, saith the Lord God of Hosts! For notwithstanding I shall lengthen out mine arm unto them from day to day, they will deny me; nevertheless, I will be merciful unto them, saith the Lord God, if they will repent and come unto me; for mine arm is lengthened out all the day long, saith the Lord God of Hosts (2 Nephi 28:32).

p. 527

23 Behold, I [Jesus Christ] am he of whom Moses spake, saying: A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you. And it shall come to pass that every soul who will not hear that prophet shall be cut off from among the people.
24 Verily I say unto you, yea, and all the prophets from Samuel and those that follow after, as many as have spoken, have testified of me.
25 And behold, ye are the children of the prophets; and ye are of the house of Israel; and ye are of the covenant which the Father made with your fathers, saying unto Abraham: And in thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed.
26 The Father having raised me up unto you first, and sent me to bless you in turning away every one of you from his iniquities; and this because ye are the children of the covenant—
27 And after that ye were blessed then fulfilleth the Father the covenant which he made with Abraham, saying: In thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed—unto the pouring out of the Holy Ghost through me upon the Gentiles, which blessing upon the Gentiles shall make them mighty above all, unto the scattering of my people, O house of Israel.
28 And they shall be a scourge unto the people of this land. Nevertheless, when they shall have received the fulness of my gospel, then if they shall harden their hearts against me I will return their iniquities upon their own heads, saith the Father.
29 And I will remember the covenant which I have made with my people; and I have covenanted with them that I would gather them together in mine own due time, that I would give unto them again the land of their fathers for their inheritance, which is the land of Jerusalem, which is the promised land unto them forever, saith the Father.
30 And it shall come to pass that the time cometh, when the fulness of my gospel shall be preached unto them;
31 And they shall believe in me, that I am Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and shall pray unto the Father in my name.
32 Then shall their watchmen lift up their voice, and with the voice together shall they sing; for they shall see eye to eye (3 Nephi 20:23-32).

3 Nephi 21

It is likely that the next quote is the one to which Parley refers. He says, of this portion, "all who will not hearken to the Book of Mormon, shall be cut off from among the people; and that too, in the day it comes forth to the Gentiles and is rejected by them. And not only does this page set the time for the overthrow of our government and all other Gentile governments on the American continent, but the way and means of this utter destruction are clearly foretold; namely, the remnant of Jacob will go through among the Gentiles and tear them in pieces. like a lion among the flocks of sheep. Their hand shall be lifted up upon their adversaries, and all their enemies shall be cut off. This destruction includes an utter overthrow, and desolation of all our Cities, Forts, and Strong Folds--an entire annihilation of our race, except such as embrace the Covenant, and are numbered with Israel."

Here's the entire chapter:

1 AND verily I say unto you, I give unto you a sign, that ye may know the time when these things shall be about to take place—that I shall gather in, from their long dispersion, my people, O house of Israel, and shall establish again among them my Zion;
2 And behold, this is the thing which I will give unto you for a sign—for verily I say unto you that when these things which I declare unto you, and which I shall declare unto you hereafter of myself, and by the power of the Holy Ghost which shall be given unto you of the Father, shall be made known unto the Gentiles that they may know concerning this people who are a remnant of the house of Jacob, and concerning this my people who shall be scattered by them;
3 Verily, verily, I say unto you, when these things shall be made known unto them of the Father, and shall come forth of the Father, from them unto you;
4 For it is wisdom in the Father that they should be established in this land, and be set up as a free people by the power of the Father, that these things might come forth from them unto a remnant of your seed, that the covenant of the Father may be fulfilled which he hath covenanted with his people, O house of Israel;
5 Therefore, when these works and the works which shall be wrought among you hereafter shall come forth from the Gentiles, [i.e., the Book of Mormon will come forth and be published] unto your seed which shall dwindle in unbelief because of iniquity;
6 For thus it behooveth the Father that it should come forth from the Gentiles, that he may show forth his power unto the Gentiles, for this cause that the Gentiles, if they will not harden their hearts, that they may repent and come unto me and be baptized in my name and know of the true points of my doctrine, that they may be numbered among my people, O house of Israel;
7 And when these things come to pass that thy seed shall begin to know these things—it shall be a sign unto them, that they may know that the work of the Father hath already commenced unto the fulfilling of the covenant which he hath made unto the people who are of the house of Israel.
8 And when that day shall come, it shall come to pass that kings shall shut their mouths; for that which had not been told them shall they see; and that which they had not heard shall they consider.
9 For in that day, for my sake shall the Father work a work, which shall be a great and a marvelous work among them; and there shall be among them those who will not believe it, although a man shall declare it unto them.
10 But behold, the life of my servant shall be in my hand; therefore they shall not hurt him, although he shall be marred because of them. Yet I will heal him, for I will show unto them that my wisdom is greater than the cunning of the devil.
11 Therefore it shall come to pass that whosoever will not believe in my words, who am Jesus Christ, which the Father shall cause him to bring forth unto the Gentiles, and shall give unto him power that he shall bring them forth unto the Gentiles, (it shall be done even as Moses said) they shall be cut off from among my people who are of the covenant.
12 And my people who are a remnant of Jacob shall be among the Gentiles, yea, in the midst of them as a lion among the beasts of the forest, as a young lion among the flocks of sheep, who, if he go through both treadeth down and teareth in pieces, and none can deliver.
13 Their hand shall be lifted up upon their adversaries, and all their enemies shall be cut off.
14 Yea, wo be unto the Gentiles except they repent; for it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Father, that I will cut off thy horses out of the midst of thee, and I will destroy thy chariots;
15 And I will cut off the cities of thy land, and throw down all thy strongholds;
16 And I will cut off witchcrafts out of thy land, and thou shalt have no more soothsayers;
17 Thy graven images I will also cut off, and thy standing images out of the midst of thee, and thou shalt no more worship the works of thy hands;
18 And I will pluck up thy groves out of the midst of thee; so will I destroy thy cities.
19 And it shall come to pass that all lyings, and deceivings, and envyings, and strifes, and priestcrafts, and whoredoms, shall be done away.
20 For it shall come to pass, saith the Father, that at that day whosoever will not repent and come unto my Beloved Son, them will I cut off from among my people, O house of Israel;
21 And I will execute vengeance and fury upon them, even as upon the heathen, such as they have not heard.
22 But if they will repent and hearken unto my words, and harden not their hearts, I will establish my church among them, and they shall come in unto the covenant and be numbered among this the remnant of Jacob, unto whom I have given this land for their inheritance;
23 And they shall assist my people, the remnant of Jacob, and also as many of the house of Israel as shall come, that they may build a city, which shall be called the New Jerusalem.
24 And then shall they assist my people that they may be gathered in, who are scattered upon all the face of the land, in unto the New Jerusalem.
25 And then shall the power of heaven come down among them; and I also will be in the midst.
26 And then shall the work of the Father commence at that day, even when this gospel shall be preached among the remnant of this people. Verily I say unto you, at that day shall the work of the Father commence among all the dispersed of my people, yea, even the tribes which have been lost, which the Father hath led away out of Jerusalem.
27 Yea, the work shall commence among all the dispersed of my people, with the Father to prepare the way whereby they may come unto me, that they may call on the Father in my name.
28 Yea, and then shall the work commence, with the Father among all nations in preparing the way whereby his people may be gathered home to the land of their inheritance.
29 And they shall go out from all nations; and they shall not go out in haste, nor go by flight, for I will go before them, saith the Father, and I will be their rearward.

These verses are quoting the resurrected Christ. So, it seems that Parley is reading these verses about how the coming forth of the Book of Mormon is a sign, and he sees the destruction to come afterward as quite imminent: when he testifies in "the name of Jesus Christ," he is essentially citing Christ, and assuming that his interpretation of the scripture is accurate. This type of reading was very common among Mormons and non-Mormons at the time; many saw the end as near. So, it is entirely natural that Parley might take that reading.

Was Parley's interpretation correct?

However, it is hard for later readers to read these verses and say that it is as explicit as all that. The scripture uses the term "in that day," which is typical of Isaiah's millennial prophecies in the KJV. So, I think Parley misunderstood these verses, and assumed that this meant that the end would be very near to the Book of Mormon's publication and so saw them as a prophecy with a clear time-frame.

Unfortunately for his argument, I don't think this was not the case. The Book of Mormon simply isn't that clear or specific. And, notably, Joseph Smith (the prophet and president of the Church) made prophecies which insisted that the end would not come within the time frame that Parley offered up.

In this case that Elder Pratt was simply wrong. He had no authority to declare doctrine for the Church. What he was doing, it seems, was instead reading scripture and interpreting what he thought was a prophecy contained therein. If he had been right in his reading, then of course his prophecy would have been true, since scripture has the authority to give prophecy. But, it is hard to read the scripture and think that this is as clear-cut as he makes it out to be. It isn't.

Parley likely wanted a response to Sunderland's argument, but Sunderland was right--there is no prophecy in the Book of Mormon that is specific enough that someone in 1838 could have said, "Oh yeah, this is obviously from God, it foretold X." And, while Sunderland may think that a weakness, modern believers would probably see it as normal and expected--God does not give "signs" like that. There may well be prophecies we can appreciate, but they won't be so compelling that they will force people to believe, and we may not see them until "after the fact."

In sum, Parley is here really more (mis)reading scripture than coming up with a prophecy out of the blue. He was mistaken, but that's OK--even apostles can be wrong, and an isolated apostle has no right to declare binding doctrine. New revelation would always come to the prophet--which Parley likely knew, but he just thought his reading of the scripture was obviously correct, so felt no fear in making it. But, we must remember that he came out of a long religious background before joining the Church in which he had a deep sense of the second coming's urgency and imminence. So, what seemed a "natural" reading to him just wasn't.

It's a good reminder that what we think is really obvious about scripture may not be so; our own biases and cultural presuppositions come into it. (This article may be doing the same thing, of course, reading it with more historical distance, but a compelling case can certainly be made, nonetheless, that the Book of Mormon is not near so precise or specific as Parley thought.)

If the Book of Mormon had actually said what Parley thought it did, and did so as specifically as he thought it did, that might pose a problem. But, he's mistaken about what it says, and so the Book of Mormon stands or falls on Parley's misreading.

What Parley was likely trying to do was force Sunderland to take the Book of Mormon seriously (since this argument in itself would have proved nothing to Sunderland, since it was well in the future). Parley took the Book of Mormon text more seriously than many of his fellow Saints, and so he was probably trying to encourage his readers to give it a fair shot.

That is good advice, even if his application or reading was flawed in this case.


Notes

  1. Parley P. Pratt, Mormonism Unveiled: Zion’s Watchman Unmasked, and its Editor, Mr. L. R. Sunderland, Exposed: Truth Vindicated: the Devil Mad, and Priestcraft in Danger! (New York: O. Pratt and E. Fordham, 1838), 14-16.