Question: Is the prophecy contained in Doctrine and Covenants 84:114 an example of a false prophecy?

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Question: Is the prophecy contained in Doctrine and Covenants 84:114 an example of a false prophecy?

Figure 1. Portrait of Newel K. Whitney.

Introduction to Criticism

On 22 and 23 September 1832, Joseph Smith received a revelation after several of his followers had returned from proselyting missions in the eastern United States. Part of this revelation contains a prophecy that assigns Newel K. Whitney, the presiding bishop of the Church, to a mission in New York City, Albany, and Boston. This revelation is canonized as Doctrine and Covenants 84. The 114th verse of this revelation reads as follows:

114 Nevertheless, let the bishop go unto the city of New York, also to the city of Albany, and also to the city of Boston, and warn the people of those cities with the sound of the gospel, with a loud voice, of the desolation and utter abolishment which await them if they do reject these things.

Critics of the Church claim that this is a false prophecy since the cities of Albany, Boston, and New York still remain without "desolation and utter absolishment" close to 200 years after this revelation was given and recorded.[1]

Response to Criticism

The text itself refers to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. The Doctrine and Covenants tells us that "[w]hen the Lord comes, every corruptible thing will be consumed, the elements will 'melt with fervent heat,' and the works of the world will be burned up (2 Pet. 3:10-12; D&C 101:24-25)."[2] The Doctrine and Covenants also tells us that "all the wicked will be destroyed by burning (Mal. 4:1; D&C 29:9; 64:23-24; 133:63-64)."[3]

The "wicked", according to this very revelation, are those that "come not unto" and/or "receiveth not [the] voice" of the Savior nor the people that he sends to bear testimony of his Gospel.[4]

Concerning the Second Coming, the Doctrine and Covenants tells us that "the hour and the day no man knoweth, neither the angels in heaven, nor shall they know until he comes."[5]

It should be noted that the prophecy is contingent upon repentance (i.e. "if they do reject these things.") and that this revelation should not be taken to mean that all of Boston, New York, and Albany will be destroyed. It means that those that reject the Gospel will be and that can include individual people from those cities.

Figure 2. Greek depiction of Second Coming of Jesus Christ circa 1700 A.D. Public domain.

Conclusion

This argument should remind all that prophecy may take time to interpret correctly and that the timeframe that we assign to the fulfillment of a prophecy may not be the timeframe the Lord has in mind for it.[6] We should remember to read the scriptures contextually as well as holistically; that is, read the scriptures in their historical context as well as read everything that Scripture has to say on any given topic. That way, we'll be much better equipped to interpret Scripture correctly. Learning these skills will help Latter-day Saints and others interested in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to strengthen their testimonies of the Savior and prepare for his Second Coming--the very event for which this revelation was given to help make more imminent and urgent to early Latter-day Saints and those that they were preaching to as missionaries.

Notes

  1. John A. Tvedtnes, "A Reply to Dick Baer," <http://www.shields-research.org/Critics/Tvedtnes.htm> (29 June 2020).
  2. Donald W. Parry and Jay A. Parry, Understanding the Signs of the Times (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1999), 465.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Doctrine and Covenants 84:50-53, 94.
  5. Doctrine and Covenants 49:6-7.
  6. See John A. Tvedtnes, "The Nature of Prophets and Prophecy," <https://www.fairmormon.org/archive/publications/the-nature-of-prophets-and-prophecy-2> (29 June 2020).