Question: Is the prophecy concerning OIiver Granger contained in section 117 of the Doctrine and Covenants an example of a false prophecy?

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Question: Is the prophecy concerning OIiver Granger contained in section 117 of the Doctrine and Covenants an example of a false prophecy?

Figure 1: Headstone of the grave of Oliver Granger in Kirtland, Ohio.

Introduction to Criticism

Joseph Smith, founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, received a revelation on 8 July 1838 “concerning the immediate duties of William Marks, Newel K. Whitney, and Oliver Granger.”[1] This revelation is now canonized as Section 117 of the Doctrine and Covenants, a book considered to be holy scripture by the Church. The revelation was written in Far West, Missouri and was addressed as a letter to the three men, all living at the time around Kirtland, Ohio. “The Lord made clear that Marks and Whitney were to relocate to Missouri before winter (117:1-2). Once in Missouri they would preside over the Saints in their respective callings…To expedite their move [Marks' and Whitney's], the Lord instructed that Oliver Granger be dispatched to Kirtland to act as an agent for the First Presidency in settling some of their business affairs…Oliver Granger labored to resolve the Church’s unpaid debts in Kirtland until his death in August 1841. He succeeded in settling the affairs of the First Presidency to the satisfaction of their creditors. One of them wrote, 'Oliver Granger’s management in the arrangement of the unfinished business of people that have moved to Far West, in redeeming their pledges and thereby sustaining their integrity, has been truly praiseworthy, and has entitled him to my highest esteem, and every grateful recollection.’”[2]

Concerning Oliver Granger specifically, the Lord declares in verses 12 and 13 of the revelation. that:

12 I remember my servant Oliver Granger; behold verily I say unto him that his name shall be had in sacred remembrance from generation to generation, forever and ever, saith the Lord.
13 Therefore, let him contend earnestly for the redemption of the First Presidency of my Church, saith the Lord; and when he falls he shall rise again, for his sacrifice shall be more sacred unto me than his increase, saith the Lord.

Critics of the Church claim that this represents an example of a false prophecy by Joseph Smith since, today, members do not hold any sort of special occasion for the "sacred remembrance" of Oliver’s assistance to the First Presidency. This is one of several ways in which critics of the Church attempt to demonstrate that Joseph Smith was not a prophet.

This article will seek to refute this criticism.

Response to Criticism

This response will approach the criticism from a couple of different potential interpretative angles for these verses since a couple seem possible on exegetical grounds.

“Sacred Remembrance” as Canonization

The first interpretive possibility is that “sacred remembrance” refers to humans remembering Granger. If this is true of the revelation, then canonizing his revelation holds Granger’s name available to all members of the Church today so that people, including our critics, will learn about him and his contributions to building up the Church. Communities of worship, and especially Jews and Christians, have used the canon as a means of collective remembrance and shared value for hundreds of years. This possibility fulfills the revelation’s injunction to hold Oliver Granger in sacred rememberance.

“Sacred Remembrance” as Divine Regard

The second interpretive possibility is that “sacred remembrance” refers to divine remembrance and regard for Granger’s efforts. Indeed, following the approach of Latter-day Saint scholar and apologist John Tvedtnes, Latter-day Saints might interpret this verse as the Lord being the one to hold Granger in "sacred rememberance."

Tvedtnes writes:

Several critics have pointed to D&C 117:12-15 as a “false prophecy” because Oliver Granger’s name is unfamiliar to most Latter-day Saints despite the fact that the Lord said “that his name shall be had in sacred remembrance from generation to generation, forever and ever” (verse 12). It seems unlikely that the memory of any mortal can be called “sacred,” so the words “sacred remembrance” most likely refer to the fact that the Lord would remember him. After all, the verse begins with the Lord saying, “I remember my servant Oliver Granger.”[3]

Latter-day Saint theologian and apologist Robert S. Boylan has added scriptures from the Bible as evidence for the strength of Tvedtnes’ argument of interpreting this verse as divine remembrance instead of human rememberance. “Indeed,” Boylan writes, “often Yahweh in the Old Testament is said to ‘remember’ things such as his covenant with people, showing this concept of divine remembrance. For a good discussion, see Joachim Jeremias, The Eucharistic Words of Jesus, especially his analysis of αναμνησις ('remembrance/memory') in Luke 22 and 1 Cor 11."[4]

Boylan continues:

With respect to αναμησις, the term appears five times in the [ Septuagint ]. Four of these five instances are within the sense of priestly sacrifice; the exception is Wisdom of Solomon 16:6. The NRSV translates the verse as follows:
They were troubled for a little while as a warning, and received a symbol of deliverance to remind (αναμνησις) them of your law's command.

The other instances of this term in the [Septuagint] are Leviticus 24:7; Numbers 10:10; Psalms 38:1 [Septuagint 37:1] and 70:1 [Septuagint 69:1]), translating the Hebrew terms אַזְכָּרָה (Lev 24:7); זִכָּרוֹן  (Num 10:10) and הַזְכִּיר (Psa 38:1; 70:1). The NRSV captures the original language text rather well:

  • You shall put frankincense with each row, to be a token offering for the bread, as an offering (αναμνησις) by fire to the Lord. (Leviticus 24:7)
  • Also on your days of rejoicing, at your appointed festivals, and at the beginnings of your months, you shall blow the trumpets over your burnt offerings and over your sacrifices of well-being; they shall serve as a reminder (αναμνησις ) on your behalf before the Lord your God: I am the Lord your God. (Numbers 10:10)
  • A Psalm of David, for the memorial offering (αναμνησις). . . (Psalms 38:1)
  • To the leader. Of David, for the memorial offering (αναμνησις). . . (Psalms 70:1).

All of these are instances wherein God is 'reminded' of His covenant via sacrifice.

Additional passages supporting the ‘divine remembrance’ concept include:

  • And I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh. And the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth. (Genesis 9:15-16)
  • And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. (Exodus 2:24)
  • And I have also heard the groaning of my children of Israel, whom the Egyptians keep in bondage; and I have remembered my covenant. (Exodus 6:5)
  • Then I will remember my covenant with Jacob, and also my covenant with Isaac, and also my covenant with Abraham will I remember, and I will remember the land . . . but I will for their sakes remember the covenant of their ancestors, whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the heathen, that I might be their God: I am the Lord. (Leviticus 26:42, 45)
  • He hath remembered his covenant forever, the word which he commanded to a thousand generations. (Psalms 105:8)
  • And he remembered for them his covenant, and repented according to the multitude of his mercies. (Psalms 106:45)
  • Nevertheless I will remember my covenant with thee in the days of thy youth, and I will establish unto thee and everlasting covenant. (Ezekiel 16:60)
  • Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant. (Luke 1:72, NRSV)

The evidence discussed above can be summed up with the words of the Psalmist:

Remember all thy offerings, and accept thy burnt sacrifice; Selah. (Psa 20:3)
All of this strongly supports Tvedtnes’ reading of D&C 117:12.[5]

Responding to An Attempt to Discredit Tvedtnes' argument

There was an attempt to respond to and refute Tvedtnes' argument. The critic wrote:

Tvedtnes’ argument also suffers from the fact that the term "sacred remembrance" has frequently been used to refer to HUMAN remembrance: B. H. Roberts, in a Pioneer Day address in 1886 said (emphasis added in all quotations):
"My Brethren and Sisters: We have met on this occasion to bear witness to the world that we hold in sacred remembrance the entrance of the Pioneers into this region."

Joseph Smith said:

". . . our circumstances are calculated to awaken our spirits to a sacred remembrance of everything, ..." (DHC, Vol. 3, p. 290).

Writing from Liberty Jail, he wrote to Bishop Partridge:

"Our situation is calculated to awaken our minds to a sacred remembrance of your affection" (Times & Seasons, 1:7:99).

Later in the same letter he wrote:

"… [we] send our respects to fathers, mothers, wives, and children, brothers and sisters, and be assured we hold them in sacred remembrance." ([History of the Church] 3:297-298)

In a letter to Major-General Law (August 14, 1842) he wrote:

"And will not those who come after hold our names in sacred remembrance?" ([History of the Church] 5:94)

Orson Pratt, in commenting on Ezekiel 37:11, said:

"…in other words, our forefather, whose children we are, and whose names are held in sacred remembrance by us, are all dead." ([Journal of Discourses] 20:17).[6]

Robert Boylan responded:

Firstly, the impression that [he] is trying to give (that all instances of "[sacred] remembrance" refers to human, not divine, remembrance) is fallacious. Note D&C 127:9, dated September 1, 1842:
And again, let all the records be had in order, that they may be put in the archives of my holy temple to be held in remembrance from generation to generation, saith the Lord of Hosts.

Furthermore, it ignores the biblical evidence of God "remembering" things, as discussed previously, language which did influence early Latter-day Saints.

Finally, [his] argument suffers from a structural fallacy, that of the excluded middle. If one maps out his argument, it would go something like this:

First Premise: Some instance of "[sacred] remembrance" refers to human remembrance.
Second Premise: D&C 117:12 contains the term, "sacred remembrance."
Conclusion: D&C 117:12 refers to human remembrance.
To those familiar with formal logic, the fallacy is evident: the fallacy of undistributed middle. This means that the predicates in both the major and minor premises do not exhaust all the occurrences of "[sacred] remembrance," and would not necessitate the interpretation of "human remembrance" as [he] argues for. At best, it could refer to human remembrance, but the evidence discussed in this study shows that this is not the most exegetically sound reading.[7]

Conclusion

Readers are free to choose between either interpretive option. The latter has obviously been the most followed and the one done in most detail, but either option seems appropriate as a response to this rather short-sighted argument made by critics of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Notes

  1. See the heading of Section 117 of the Doctrine and Covenants
  2. Alexander L. Baugh, “Historical context and overview of Doctrine and Covenants 117,” Doctrine and Covenants Reference Companion, Dennis L. Largey and Larry E. Dahl, eds. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 2012), 828. Citing Brigham H. Roberts, ed., History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 vols. (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1932-51), 3:174.
  3. John Tvedtnes, “The Nature of Prophets and Prophecy,” <https://www.fairmormon.org/archive/publications/the-nature-of-prophets-and-prophecy-2> (13 May 2020).
  4. Robert S. Boylan, “Oliver Granger and ‘Sacred Rememberance’,” <http://scripturalmormonism.blogspot.com/2016/04/oliver-granger-and-sacred-remembrance.html> (13 May 2020).
  5. Ibid.
  6. Richard Packham, "Joseph Smith as Prophet," <http://packham.n4m.org/prophet.htm> (13 May 2020).
  7. Boylan, "Oliver Granger," (13 May 2020).