Question: Was Joseph Smith's prophecy that the Independence, Missouri temple "shall be reared in this generation" a failed prophecy?

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Question: Was Joseph Smith's prophecy that the Independence, Missouri temple "shall be reared in this generation" a failed prophecy?

Introduction to Criticism

On 20 July 1831 Joseph Smith recorded a revelation identifying Independence, Missouri, as "the center place; and a spot for the temple[.]" (DC 57:3). Joseph and Sidney Rigdon dedicated a site for the temple on 3 August 1831. The following year, Joseph received another revelation concerning the gathering to Zion:

2 [T]he word of the Lord concerning his church, established in the last days for the restoration of his people, as he has spoken by the mouth of his prophets, and for the gathering of his saints to stand upon Mount Zion, which shall be the city of New Jerusalem.

3 Which city shall be built, beginning at the temple lot, which is appointed by the finger of the Lord, in the western boundaries of the State of Missouri, and dedicated by the hand of Joseph Smith, Jun., and others with whom the Lord was well pleased.

4 Verily this is the word of the Lord, that the city New Jerusalem shall be built by the gathering of the saints, beginning at this place, even the place of the temple, which temple shall be reared in this generation.

5 For verily this generation shall not all pass away until an house shall be built unto the Lord, and a cloud shall rest upon it, which cloud shall be even the glory of the Lord, which shall fill the house (DC 84:2-5, (emphasis added)).

The Saints were expelled from Jackson County in late 1833, before they could make any progress on the temple. Despite their best efforts, they were unable to return to reclaim their lands.

Critics of the Church charge that this is a false prophecy since the temple in Independence was never completed in Joseph Smith's generation.

The supposed "prophecy" was actually a commandment and it may have already been fulfilled.

Response to Criticism

Commandment, not Prophecy

After the Saints settled in Nauvoo, Illinois, Joseph recorded another revelation rescinding the earlier revelation given to build the Independence temple:

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). </blockquote>

Thus, when Smith declared the "temple shall be reared in this generation," he meant this as a directive (compare to the ten commandments: "thou shalt.." and D&C 59:5-13) and thus D&C 84 is not actually a prophecy. 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. [1]

Thus, "shall" indicates a promise or command—and, Latter-day Saint theology (with its strong emphasis on moral agency) always holds that man is free to accept or reject the commandments or promises of God, and that God will often not overrule the free-agent acts of others which might prevent his people from obeying. In such cases, God rewards the faithful for their willingness and efforts to obey, and punishes the guilty accordingly.

Potential Fulfillment for the Commmandment?

Latter-day Saint scholars and apologists have speculated that the commandment may have already been met.

D. Charles Pyle wrote:

Indeed, this verse was fulfilled--in Kirtland. Here is what was recorded for that event in 1836:
George A. Smith arose and began to prophesy, when a noise was heard like the sound of a rushing mighty wind, which filled the Temple, and all the congregation simultaneously arose, being moved upon by an invisible power; many began to speak in tongues and prophesy; others saw glorious visions; and I beheld the Temple was filled with angels, which fact I declared to the congregation. The people of the neighborhood came running together (hearing an unusual sound within, and seeing a bright light like a pillar of fire resting upon the Temple), and were astonished at what was taking place. (History of the Church, 2:428)

See also Section 110 of the Doctrine and Covenants. Most people who read the above verse in the above section of the Doctrine and Covenants assume that verse 5 has to refer only to the temple that was to be built in the center place of that time. However, all that is required is that a temple be built and that certain events happen in order to meet the conditions of this portion of the prophecy.

Trouble with [anti-Mormon] argumentation is that the prophecy was fulfilled, even if the location of the fulfillment was moved due to the conditional nature of prophecy and of the Doctrine and Covenants. The Bible is filled with such contingent prophecies. However [many] critics of the Church . . . take the Doctrine and Covenants out of context. Building a temple there would require the Saints to remain there in the center place. However, remaining in the center place was contingent by nature. Reading a number of sections of the Doctrine and Covenants shows the conditional nature of their stay there. The Saints failed to live up to the expectations and requirements to stay there. Therefore, they were driven out. . . . The Saints were building the city. The temple site had already been dedicated and foundational cornerstones laid the year previous. Note also the past tense of the latter part of verse 3. However, verse 2, as already noted, was to be tempered by the contingent nature of sections of the Doctrine and Covenants surrounding Section 84, particularly Section 58 and the Sections numbering in the 100s. Note the following verses from Section 58:

6 Behold, verily I say unto you, for this cause I have sent you--that you might be obedient, and that your hearts might be prepared to bear testimony of the things which are to come;
7 And also that you might be honored in laying the foundation, and in bearing record of the land upon which the Zion of God shall stand; . . .
19 For verily I say unto you, my law shall be kept on this land. . . .
30 Who am I that made man, saith the Lord, that will hold him guiltless that obeys not my commandments?
31 Who am I, saith the Lord, that have promised and have not fulfilled?
32 I command and men obey not; I revoke and they receive not the blessing.
33 Then they say in their hearts: This is not the work of the Lord, for his promises are not fulfilled. But wo unto such, for their reward lurketh beneath, and not from above.
44 And now, verily, I say concerning the residue of the elders of my church, the time has not yet come, for many years, for them to receive their inheritance in this land, except they desire it through the prayer of faith, only as it shall be appointed unto them of the Lord.
45 For, behold, they shall push the people together from the bends of the earth. . . .
50 And I give unto my servant Sidney Rigdon a commandment, that he shall write a description of the land of Zion, and a statement of the will of God, as it shall be made known by the Spirit unto him;
51 And an epistle and subscription, to be presented unto all the churches to obtain moneys, to be put into the hands of the bishop, of himself or the agent, as seemeth him good or as he shall direct, to purchase lands for an inheritance for the children of God.
52 For, behold, verily I say unto you, the Lord willeth that the disciples and the children of men should open their hearts, even to purchase this whole region of country, as soon as time will permit.
53 Behold, here is wisdom. Let them do this lest they receive none inheritance, save it be by the shedding of blood.
54 And again, inasmuch as there is land obtained, let there be workmen sent forth of all kinds unto this land, to labor for the saints of God.
55 Let all these things be done in order; and let the privileges of the lands be made known from time to time, by the bishop or the agent of the church.
56 And let the work of the gathering be not in haste, nor by flight; but let it be done as it shall be counseled by the elders of the church at the conferences, according to the knowledge which they receive from time to time.

Note the words concerning "many years" in the afore-cited revelation? As can be seen, this above revelation shows some interesting things concerning this land and even was prescient concerning what would come in this region as well as what people would say when the Lord revokes and takes blessings away due to failure to keep the law of God. Did this not indeed happen? Had not it indeed been seen in those days by those who left the Church? And, is not it now being fulfilled by every single critic who has written concerning Section 84 and the land of Zion?

D&C 84:4 Verily this is the word of the Lord, that the city New Jerusalem shall be built by the gathering of the saints, beginning at this place, even the place of the temple, which temple shall be reared in this generation.

The Saints did begin gathering to this location and building the city. They were driven out before the city could be completed because they had failed to live up to expectations for remaining there as a people. Again, see the context of the Doctrine and Covenants sections preceding and succeeding Section 84, particularly those numbering in the 100s. The Saints did not keep the conditions and were driven out. They were told to keep quiet of these things and not to boast, as well as keep the law of God concerning this land. They failed in all these things and were driven out as promised in a following revelation in the Doctrine and Covenants. See, for example, Section 97:26. This forced a move of locations for the building of a temple in that generation. . . . Suffice it to say, that it still was in the Lord's plan to build a temple within that generation.[2]

Notes

  1. Noah Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language (New York: S. Converse, 1828), s.v. "shall."
  2. D. Charles Pyle, email to author, 2009. Cited in Jeff Lindsay, "What About the Failed Prophecy of a Temple in Missouri," <https://www.jefflindsay.com/LDSFAQ/FQ_prophets.shtml#temple> (14 July 2020).