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Response to claims in "Joseph Smith and the Biblical Test of a Prophet"



A FAIR Analysis of: Watchman Fellowship, a work by author: James Walker
Claim Evaluation
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Response to claims in "Joseph Smith and the Biblical Test of a Prophet" by Watchman Fellowship


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Response to claim: Latter-day Saints claim that the truthfulness of "the LDS Church" and Joseph Smith can be tested using the promise in Moroni 10:4. This test is claimed to be too "subjective" to be valid

The author(s) of Watchman Fellowship make(s) the following claim:

Latter-day Saints claim that the truthfulness of "the LDS Church" and Joseph Smith can be tested using the promise in Moroni 10:4. This test is claimed to be too "subjective" to be valid.

Author's sources:
  1. Moroni 10:4

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

How can the authors assume that this test is too "subjective" to be valid?


Question: What is Moroni's promise?

The Book of Mormon provides a means of determining the truthfulness of the book

The Book of Mormon provides a means of determining the truthfulness of the book Moroni 10:3-5:

Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.

And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.

And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.

Moroni's promise claims that we can know the truthfulness of the gospel by praying about it with sincere intent

Moroni's promise claims that we can know the truthfulness of the gospel by praying about it with sincere intent (Moroni 10:3-5). However, some claim that praying about the Book of Mormon is not an objective standard for determining if the book is true or not, and should therefore not be trusted. It is also sometimes asserted that many people have read and prayed about the Book of Mormon or the Church and have either received no answer, or an answer from God that it is false.

A knowledge of the truth of the Book of Mormon or of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not something that is casually obtained

A knowledge of the truth of the Book of Mormon or of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not something that is casually obtained. It is not enough to simply "ask God" without putting forth some effort. The Lord requires that we be sincere and that we actually study the contents of the book in order to know of its truthfulness. As Moroni says, we must have "real intent" while "having faith in Christ." Those that read the Book of Mormon solely for the purpose of finding flaws in order to tear it down do not have "real intent" to know of its veracity. We are taught that feelings alone are not enough, and that we should confirm them.


Question: Is prayer the only element required in the determination of truth?

Prayer is one element in determining truth

Non-Mormons often claim that the Bible is the only true "yardstick" for determining truth. Ironically, the Bible refutes this, and clearly shows that the Holy Spirit, or the Spirit of Truth will lead us to all truth (John 14:26, John 15:26, 1 Jn 5:6). By claiming the Bible as the only source of truth, non-LDS are in fact minimizing the power of prayer and the role of the Holy Ghost.

The LDS believe that the most significant verse of scripture, the scripture which has had the greatest impact on the history of the world is found in James 1:5–6:

If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. (James 1:5-6)

This verse led a young man, Joseph Smith to follow that counsel–to offer a humble prayer of faith, being willing to accept the answer, no matter how difficult to accept that answer might be. That prayer led to the beginning of the restoration of the gospel.

There are elements in addition to prayer that are required in order to determine truth

Through Joseph Smith, the Lord has revealed other keys to prayer. One is that we are to "study it out" in our minds, then go before the Lord and ask for confirmation that our decision is correct. We are then instructed that if our decision is correct, we will feel the fruits of the Spirit, and if incorrect, we will have a "stupor of thought". Thus, serious seekers of truth cannot fully claim they have studied the Book of Mormon until they have read it in its entirety. The LDS encourage critical analysis of the Book of Mormon, specifically by prayerfully asking if anyone could have fabricated the book. Everyone who asks himself that question with every page will find, somewhere between the first page and the last, that the answer is 'no'–that the Book of Mormon is true. The Book of Mormon is convincing evidence of the restoration of the gospel through Joseph Smith.


Question: What about those who pray and don't receive a confirmation the Book of Mormon is true?

There is more required than simply praying in order to receive a confirmation of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon

Moroni's gives us the requirements that need to be fulfilled in order to obtain a confirmation:

Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts. And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. (Moroni 10:3-4)

It is not enough to simply ask: One must ponder the mercies of God and then ask God in the name of Christ, exercising faith in Christ, and ask actually wanting to know that the Book is true. You must also be ready to act on the knowledge you receive (i.e. be ready to make covenants through ordinances such as baptism). Finally, you must demonstrate a sincere effort to understand what is contained in the Book of Mormon. It is useful to recall Oliver Cowdery's experience when he attempted to translate,

Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me. But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right. (DC 9:7-8)

One should also seek to make themselves worthy to receive the Spirit's influences.

The Book of Mormon also provides some additional insight into how the Spirit works--that we have to be worthy of its influence by sincerely coming unto Christ through faith in him and his atonement and repentance (Mosiah 2:37; Alma 34:36). This should be taken into consideration as well.

The Gospel provides some more generous epistemic doors to walk through

It should be noted as well that the Gospel provides other doors for those to walk through if they don't receive the witness of the Holy Ghost. For some, they are going to continue to need to seek knowledge "by study and also by faith" (D&C 88:118). This is for those that don't have faith. Others may receive a different spiritual gift: to believe on others who claim to have received the Holy Ghost testifying to them of Christ's divinity and the truthfulness of the Church (D&C 46:13-14).

What about those that receive a witness that the Book of Mormon is not true?

Some have wondered if its possible that someone can receive a witness that the Book of Mormon is not true. In the author's immediate experience and the experience of other acquaintences, this has not happened. It's likely that in situations such as this that the person is either lying to stump missionaries, honest investigators, and members of the Church , that they've misinterpreted an experience, or that they are under the influence of a false spirit.

In sum, we need to follow Moroni's promise exactly if we really want it's promised blessings, we have other epistemic doors to walk through, and not everyone is meant to receive a witness of the Book of Mormon's truthfulness in this life.


Preach My Gospel: "As you pray for inspiration, you should also confirm your feelings...Certainly the Spirit of the Lord can bring strong emotional feelings, including tears, but that outward manifestation ought not to be confused with the presence of the Spirit itself"

"How Do I Recognize and Understand the Spirit?," Preach My Gospel: A Guide to Missionary Service:

As you pray for inspiration, you should also confirm your feelings. For example, compare your decisions with the scriptures and the teachings of the living prophets. Be certain that the feelings are consistent with the assignment you have; for example, you will not receive revelation to tell a local bishop how he should perform in his calling. Discuss your decisions and conclusions with your companion, your district leader, or your mission president when appropriate.

President Howard W. Hunter offered this counsel: “Let me offer a word of caution. … I think if we are not careful … , we may begin to try to counterfeit the true influence of the Spirit of the Lord by unworthy and manipulative means. I get concerned when it appears that strong emotion or free-flowing tears are equated with the presence of the Spirit. Certainly the Spirit of the Lord can bring strong emotional feelings, including tears, but that outward manifestation ought not to be confused with the presence of the Spirit itself” (The Teachings of Howard W. Hunter, 184). The Spirit of the Lord always edifies.[1]


Response to claim: The true test of a prophet is that all his prophecies come to pass (Deut. 18:20-22), and “…the Bible never recommends prayer as a way of discerning true and false prophets”

The author(s) of Watchman Fellowship make(s) the following claim:

The true test of a prophet is that all his prophecies come to pass (Deut. 18:20-22), and “…the Bible never recommends prayer as a way of discerning true and false prophets”.

Author's sources:
  1. Deuteronomy 18:20-22

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

Many LDS critics attempt to condemn Joseph Smith using a standard that would, if applied to Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Nathan, an angel of God, and Jonah, also condemn the Old Testament as a fraud.

}}

Question: Does Joseph Smith fail the "prophetic test" found in Deuteronomy 18?

Deuteronomy 18 states that if a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord that something will happen, and then it does not happen, that the prophet has spoken "presumptuously"

Evangelicals point to Deuteronomy 18:20-22 as a 'test' for a true prophet:

20 But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die.

21 And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the Lord hath not spoken?

22 When a prophet speaketh in the name of the Lord, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him.

It is claimed that Joseph Smith made failed prophecies, and as such must be a "false prophet." When critics charge Joseph Smith with uttering a "false prophecy" they are generally making one or more errors:

  1. they rely on an inaccurate account of what Joseph actually wrote or said, or they misrepresent Joseph's words;
  2. they ignore or remain unaware of circumstances which fulfilled the prophecy;
  3. they ignore or deny the clear scriptural principle [Jeremiah 18:7-10] that prophecy is contingent upon the choices of mortals;

Many LDS critics attempt to condemn Joseph Smith using a standard that would, if applied to Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Nathan, an angel of God, and Jonah, also condemn the Old Testament as a fraud

No reasonable or biblical application of Deuteronomy 18 condemns Joseph Smith. Like the prophets of the Bible, Joseph's prophetic claims cannot be tested by looking for a failure in "fore-telling"—we must, as with the biblical prophets, decide if Joseph "knew God in the immediacy of experience," by weighing "the moral and religious content" of his message as he "challeng[es] his hearers to respond to the divine standards of spirituality through acts of cleansing and renewal of life,"[2] which may only be ultimately judged by the source of prophecy—God himself. Every prophet is an invitation to enter into a "prophetic" relationship with God for ourselves, to communicate with him, and obtain the testimony of Jesus for ourselves.

Confusion on this point arises from one or more errors:

  1. prophecy may be fulfilled in ways or at times that the hearers do not expect;
  2. most prophecies are contingent, even if this is not made explicit when the prophecy is given—that is, the free agent choices of mortals can impact whether a given prophecy comes to pass
  3. sectarian critics may apply a standard to modern LDS prophets whom they reject that they do not apply to biblical prophets. This double standard condemns Joseph unfairly.

Prophecy may be fulfilled in ways or at times that the hearers do not expect

Deuteronomy doesn't exactly say that one mistake makes a false prophet.[3] James L. Mays, editor of Harper's Bible Commentary writes:

Prophecy in the names of other gods is easily rejected, but false prophecy in God's name is a more serious matter. This dilemma requires the application of a pragmatic criterion that, although clearly useless for judgments on individual oracles, is certainly a way to evaluate a prophet's overall performance.[4]

The problem with applying Deut. 18:22 to a single, individual prophecy is that some prophecies can be fulfilled in complex ways or at times much later than anticipated by the hearers. As one conservative Bible commentator noted:

As far as external considerations were involved, therefore, there would appear to have been [in Old Testament times] virtually no means of differentiating the true from the false prophet....While the popular view current in the seventh century B.C. distinguished a true prophet from a false one on the basis of whether their predictions were fulfilled or not, this attitude merely constituted an inversion of the situation as it ultimately emerged, and not an absolute criterion of truth or falsity as such. As Albright has pointed out, the fulfilment of prophecies was only one important element in the validation of a genuine prophet, and in some instances was not even considered to be an essential ingredient, as illustrated by the apparent failure of the utterances of Haggai [Haggai 2:21] against the Persian empire.[5]

Most prophecies are contingent, even if this is not made explicit when the prophecy is given

The Bible contains many examples of God choosing to reverse or revoke certain prophecies, as He says He is free to do in Jeremiah:

7 At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it;
8 If that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them.
9 And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it;
10 If it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them.Jeremiah 18:7-10

This principle is also illustrated in 1Sam 2:30 where, because of the wickedness of the priests, the Lord revokes his promise that the house of Aaron will forever serve him:

30 Wherefore the Lord God of Israel saith, I said indeed that thy house, and the house of thy father, should walk before me for ever: but now the Lord saith, Be it far from me; for them that honour me I will honour, and they that despise me shall be lightly esteemed.

Sectarian critics may apply a standard to modern LDS prophets whom they reject that they do not apply to biblical prophets

Many Bible prophets would not survive the critics' hostile application of Deuteronomy 18 as Jewish and Christian commentators have long realized. The reading which the critics wish to apply to modern day prophets does not match how scholars of Judaism have understood Deuteronomy in its Old Testament context.

Wrote one author:

"The true prophet, as intercessor, was ready to risk a confrontation with God, in contrast to his counterpart, the false prophet. The problem of distinguishing between them was indeed perplexing, as shown by two separate passages in Deuteronomy...The answer given is that if the 'oracle does not come true, that oracle was not spoken by the Lord; the prophet uttered it presumptuously.' This, however, cannot serve as an infallible criterion, because there are several occasions when an oracle delivered by a true prophet did not materialize even in his own lifetime. Such unfulfilled prophecies include Jeremiah's prediction of the ignominious fate of Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 22:19), which was belied by 2 Kings 24:6, and Ezekiel's foretelling the destruction of Tyre by Nebuchadnezzar (Ezekiel 26:7-21), which was later admitted to have failed but was to be compensated by the Babylonian king's attack on Egypt (Ezekiel 29:17-20)"[6]

We will see examples in the next section of biblical prophets who would be labeled as "false prophets" if the critics were consistent in their application of Deuteronomy.

The Jewish Study Bible observed:

Having established an Israelite model of prophecy, the law provides two criteria to distinguish true from false prophets. The first is that the prophet should speak exclusively on behalf of God, and report only God's words. Breach of that rule is a capital offense (Jeremiah 28:12-17.) The second criterion makes the fulfillment of a prophet's oracle the measure of its truth. That approach attempts to solve a critical problem: If two prophets each claim to speak on behalf of God yet make mutually exclusive claims- (1 Kings 22:6 versus 1 King 22:17; Jeremiah 27:8 versus Jeremiah 28:2)- how may one decide which prophet speaks the truth?
The solution offered is not free of difficulty. If a false prophet is distinguished by the failure of his oracle to come true, then making a decision in the present about which prophet to obey is impossible. Nor can this criterion easily be reconciled with Deuteronomy 13:3, which concedes that the oracles of false prophets might come true. Finally, the prophets frequently threatened judgment, hoping to bring about repentance (Jeremiah 7:, Jeremiah 26:1-6). If the prophet succeeds and the people repent and thereby avert doom (Jonah 3-4:), one would assume the prophet to be authentic, since he has accomplished God's goal of repentance. Yet according to thee criteria here (but contrast Jeremiah 28:9), the prophet who accomplished repentance is nonetheless a false prophet, since the judgment oracle that was proclaimed remains unfulfilled. These texts, with their questions and differences of opinion on such issues, reflect the vigorous debate that took place in Israel about prophecy."[7]

Prophecy or Commandment?

As John Tvedtnes wrote:

The vast majority of Joseph Smith’s supposed “false prophecies” listed by critics are not prophecies at all, but “commandments” or “counsel” (see D&C 104:1; 115:1, 7-9, 12) which were not obeyed. If the person receiving the instructions failed to comply, then the “prophecy,” according to the critics, is proven false. By this reasoning, even God himself is a false prophet, for Lot’s wife disobeyed him and looked back at the city of Sodom (Genesis 19:17, 26). Cain sinned even after the Lord had told him, “If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? And if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door” (Genesis 4:7).
If true prophetic statements are conditioned upon the sins or the repentance of those upon whom they are pronounced, then the same principle must apply to commandments. The Lord explained it this way: “Who am I, saith the Lord, that have promised and have not fulfilled? I command and men obey not; I revoke and they receive not the blessing. 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” (D&C 58:30-33). A similar statement is found in D&C 82:10: “I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise” (compare with verse 4).
Let’s examine one of Joseph Smith’s revelations often listed as a “false prophecy” by critics. In D&C 114, David W. Patten was commanded to “settle up all his business as soon as he possibly can” and prepare to leave on mission the next spring with the rest of the Twelve Apostles (cf. D&C 118:5-6). Due to circumstances beyond his control (i.e., mob attacks), Patten did not settle his business “as soon as he can,” as the Lord commanded and died before he could go on the mission the Lord had for him. Some have objected that, since God is all-knowing, he would have been aware that Patten would die, so why give such a commandment. In response, we ask, Didn’t God know that Nineveh would repent upon hearing Jonah’s message (Jonah 3:5)? Why, then, did he tell Jonah to prophesy doom to the inhabitants of the city (Jonah 3:4)? And didn’t God know that Hezekiah would live another fifteen years? So why give two conflicting prophecies through the prophet Isaiah (2 Kings 20:1-6)? Didn’t God know that Pharaoh would reject Moses’ words? Then why bother to send the prophet to the Egyptian king to ask that he let Israel go free?
But there is more to the David Patten story than meets the eye. Latter-day Saints believe that when a commandment is given to a man because of the office he holds, the commandment can apply to his successor. Thus, while David W. Patten did not fill the mission to England, the new apostles called to fill vacancies in the quorum did. There are biblical precedents for this. For example, the Lord commanded Elijah to anoint Hazael king of Assyria and Jehu king of Israel and Elisha as prophet in his stead (1 Kings 19:15-16). Elijah did, indeed, call Elisha (1 Kings 19:19-21). But it was Elisha, after Elijah was taken to heaven, who sent one of the prophets to anoint Jehu (2 Kings 9:1-10), and Elisha himself announced to Hazael that he would be king (2 Kings 8:7-13). In other words, Elijah did not accomplish two of the three tasks assigned to him by God. Does this make him a false prophet? In the LDS view, he did the right thing by designating his successor, who followed through on unfinished business. In the same manner, some of the things the Lord commanded the early Latter-day Saints to accomplish (such as to settle in Zion, Missouri) will be fulfilled by their descendants and successors. Likewise, the blessings pronounced on each of the tribes of Israel by Jacob (Genesis 48-49) and Moses (Deuteronomy 33) are to be understood as blessings for their future generations, not only for the men to whom the words were addressed.
We must also note that sometimes God’s commandments are designed as tests of obedience. For example, he didn’t really want Abraham to kill his son, Isaac, though this is what he told him to do (Genesis 22). The same is true of the Lord’s commandment to send an armed group (“Zion’s Camp”) to redeem the land of Zion in Missouri (D&C 101, 103, 105).

Prophecy Vs. Vision

Again from Tvedtnes:

Visions are often highly symbolic and hence require interpretation. They cannot, therefore, necessarily be taken as “prophecy” in the sense of predictions of precise future events. As an example, we may consider Joseph Smith’s vision of the celestial kingdom (History of the Church 2:380-381). It has been highly criticized because in it he saw the twelve apostles of his day in the celestial kingdom. Of the twelve, however, five were excommunicated and never returned to the Church. This, the critics say, is evidence of a false prophecy. More likely, it is an indication of what the Lord intended for them, had they all remained faithful.
If Joseph Smith is to be condemned as a false prophet on the basis of this vision, then we must condemn Jesus as a false prophet for similar reasons. Christ promised his twelve apostles that, when he returned to reign in glory, they would sit on twelve thrones and judge the twelve tribes of Israel (Matthew 19:28). And yet Judas, who was one of the twelve at the time, later fell away and, losing his place as an apostle, was replaced by Matthias (Acts 1:15-26).[8] If we take Jesus’ words literally, then either Judas will receive the reward (which makes the account in Acts wrong), or Jesus lied. On the other hand, if we do not hold Jesus to every word, should we not extend the same courtesy to Joseph Smith who, after all, was far less perfect than the Savior?

Important Steps in Evaluating Prophecy

Matthew Roper has given a good list of steps to take in evaluating each prophecy. The author will add some things to this list:

  • Is the source authentic or is it hearsay?
  • Is the statement accurately quoted?
  • Does the statement claim to be a direct revelation from God?
  • Does the quote claim to be a prophecy, or is it [a vision], statement of commandment, instruction, etc.?
  • Is it clearly intended to be literal (not poetic, a figure of speech, etc.)?
  • Is there a definite time limit set for its fulfillment, not simply “shortly,” “nigh,” “soon,” etc.?
  • Are there any stated conditions to the prophecy?
  • Are there any possible unstated conditions to the prophecy?
  • Is there only one possible interpretation?
  • Can it be shown beyond dispute that the time of fulfillment is past?
  • [Can the prophecy be fulfilled in multiple ways and/or at different times?]

Conclusion

If one keeps all of these considerations and questions in mind, one should be able to resolve every question about each prophecy.


Response to claim: Joseph Smith predicted in 1835 that, "The coming of the Lord, which was nigh - even fifty-six years should wind up the scene"

The author(s) of Watchman Fellowship make(s) the following claim:

Joseph Smith predicted in 1835 that, "The coming of the Lord, which was nigh - even fifty-six years should wind up the scene." Since that didn’t happen by 1891, it suggests Joseph may have been a false prophet.

Author's sources:
  1. History of the Church, Vol. 2 p. 182

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

The authors do not note that Joseph wasn't really sure what this meant.

}}

Question: Did Joseph Smith prophesy that Jesus Christ would return in 1890?

Jesus Christ stated that no mortals or angels would know when He would return

It is important to realize that while Jesus Christ resided on the earth he stated that no mortals or angels would know when He would return:

But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only" (Matthew 24:36).

Because we do not know, we need to constantly be ready for his return, for "in such an hour as ye think not the Son of Man cometh" (Matthew 24:44).

In February 1835, Joseph Smith is reported to have said that "fifty-six years should wind up the scene"

Joseph Smith did make several interesting statements about seeing the Savior. B.H. Roberts in History of the Church notes the Prophet's remark in 1835 when he is reported to have said that,

...it was the will of God that those who went Zion, with a determination to lay down their lives, if necessary, should be ordained to the ministry, and go forth to prune the vineyard for the last time, or the coming of the Lord, which was nigh—even fifty-six years should wind up the scene.[9]

In Feb 1835, fifty six years in the future was February 1891. This would be shortly after Joseph's 85th birthday (he was born 23 December 1805).

Joseph made continuous reference to this date in light of a revelation which he reported. It is recorded in D&C 130:14-17, and it is clear that the revelation leaves the exact date of Christ's second coming much more uncertain. Whatever Joseph meant or understood by "wind up the scene," it must be interpreted in light of the revelation as he reported it, and the conclusions which he drew from it.

This particular revelation is a favorite of anti-Mormon critics. They have misquoted it, misreported it, misinterpreted it and misexplained it. Most often they simply do not complete the quote, making it appear that the Prophet said something he didn't.

Joseph acknowledged as he recorded this revelation that he didn't understand its meaning or intent

The revelation is reported in abbreviated form, and Joseph acknowledged as he recorded it that he didn't understand its meaning or intent:

I was once praying very earnestly to know the time of the coming of the Son of Man, when I heard a voice repeat the following: Joseph, my son, if thou livest until thou art eighty-five years old, thou shalt see the face of the Son of Man; therefore let this suffice, and trouble me no more on this matter. (D&C 130:14-15).

Many critics end the quote at this point, and then they hope the reader will assume that the statement is a prophecy that the Savior would come in the year 1890 or 1891, since the Prophet Joseph was born in 1805. (Other critics do not even bother to cite D&C 130, and simply rely on the quote from the Kirtland Council Minute Book of 1835, reproduced in History of the Church.)

Joseph expresses his uncertainty: "I believe the coming of the Son of Man will not be any sooner than that time"

However, if the reader will continue further in that passage, they will see how Joseph Smith himself understood the revelation, unfiltered through note-takers or critics who wish to explain his meaning:

I was left thus, without being able to decide whether this coming referred to the beginning of the millennium or to some previous appearing, or whether I should die and thus see his face (D&C :130).

The actual content of Joseph's prophecy--if personal opinion can be said to be prophecy--does not occur until the next verse:

I believe the coming of the Son of Man will not be any sooner than that time.(D&C 130:17.)

Without a doubt, Joseph's belief proved correct. The Lord did not return to the earth for His Second Coming before that time.

At least twice, as is recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants, Joseph saw the face of the Son of Man

But there are other aspects of fulfillment that should also be considered. We do not know when it was that the Prophet earnestly prayed to know the time of the Lord's coming. The context, (verse 13), shows that it may have taken place in 1832 or earlier. At least twice, as is recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants, Joseph saw the face of the Son of Man. D&C 76:20-24 and D&C 110:2-10 both record appearances of the Lord Jesus Christ, either of which may constitute fulfillment of the Lord's prophetic promise. He may also have seen the Lord's face at the time of his death in 1844, as he pondered in D&C 130:16.

Joseph made reference to the incident on at least two other occasions, and indicated that his belief was not that the Lord would come by the time of his 85th birthday, but rather that the Lord would not come before that time, which of course was a correct prophecy.

In the History of the Church:

I prophesy in the name of the Lord God, and let it be written--the Son of Man will not come in the clouds of heaven till I am eighty-five years old.[10]

Again, Joseph Smith doesn't say the Lord will come then, but that He will not come before that time. The return to his age 85 shows that all these remarks derive from the same interpretation of his somewhat opaque revelation from the Lord, who seems determined to tell his curious prophet nothing further.

Joseph denies that anyone knows an exact date

Later, Joseph Smith again prophesied on the subject of Christ's coming:

I also prophesy, in the name of the Lord, that Christ will not come in forty years; and if God ever spoke by my mouth, He will not come in that length of time. Brethren, when you go home, write this down, that it may be remembered. Jesus Christ never did reveal to any man the precise time that He would come. Go and read the scriptures, and you cannot find anything that specifies the exact hour He would come; and all that say so are false teachers.[11]

This remark was made on 10 March 1844. It echoes a teaching given through Joseph in the Doctrine and Covenants in March 1831:

And they have done unto the Son of Man even as they listed; and he has taken his power on the right hand of his glory, and now reigneth in the heavens, and will reign till he descends on the earth to put all enemies under his feet, which time is nigh at hand—I, the Lord God, have spoken it; but the hour and the day no man knoweth, neither the angels in heaven, nor shall they know until he comes. (D&C 49:6-7, emphasis added)

Thus, from the beginning to the end of his ministry, Joseph Smith denied that a man could or would know the date of the second coming of Christ. (Joseph's remarks may have been instigated by the intense interest among religious believers in William Miller's prophecy that Christ would return by 1843.)


Response to claim: The author claims that Doctrine and Covenants 37:1, which instructs Joseph to stop translating until he goes to Ohio, is a "self-fulfilling prophecy"

The author(s) of Watchman Fellowship make(s) the following claim:

The author claims that Doctrine and Covenants 37:1, which instructs Joseph to stop translating until he goes to Ohio, is a "self-fulfilling prophecy."

Author's sources:
  1. DC 37:1

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

D&C 37:1 states: "Behold, I say unto you that it is not expedient in me that ye should translate any more until ye shall go to the Ohio, and this because of the enemy and for your sakes." This isn't a prophecy at all! It is simply instruction for Joseph to stop translating until he goes to Ohio. The authors appear to wish to portray every utterance that Joseph attributed to the Lord as a "prophecy." }}

Response to claim: Two unfulfilled “close-dated unconditional prophecies” preserved in Doctrine and Covenants Section 84:3-5 (construction of a temple in MO) and Section 114 (David Patten serving a mission to all the world) prove that Joseph Smith was a false prophet

The author(s) of Watchman Fellowship make(s) the following claim:

Two unfulfilled “close-dated unconditional prophecies” preserved in Doctrine and Covenants Section 84:3-5 (construction of a temple in MO) and Section 114 (David Patten serving a mission to all the world) prove that Joseph Smith was a false prophet.

Author's sources:
  1. DC 114:
  • History of the Church, Vol. 3, p. 171.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

}}

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).

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. [12]

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.[13]


Question: Why did Joseph Smith say that David Patten would serve a mission when he was killed only six months later?

D&C 114 was not a prophecy, it was a mission call

It is claimed that Joseph Smith prophesied that David Patten would go on a mission (D&C 114:1), yet six months later Patten was dead. They insist that this is an example of a failed prophecy that makes Joseph Smith a false prophet.[14]

Those who make this argument employ a misreading of the call to Patten and a double standard regarding prophecy to condemn Joseph Smith.

D&C 114 was not a prophecy, it was a mission call. Joseph Smith, under the inspiration of the Lord, issued a call for David Patten to go on a mission the following spring. This call by revelation is not a prophecy that David would serve a mission, but an admonition to set all his affairs in order so that he may perform a mission. Although Patten was killed, his affairs were in order when he died so that his family could endure his absence. This alone indicates the Lord's foreknowledge of Patten's death. And who knows but that Patten served that mission call on the other side of the veil?

In any event, Patten's death would not change the instructional nature of that call. Joseph Smith declared that: To the "great Jehovah . . . the past, present, and future were and are, with Him, one eternal 'now'."[15] The Savior does know all that will happen to us individually, but he still gives agency to us and to others who impact on our lives, which usage often precludes what would have happened if the Lord's will were done on earth as it is in heaven.

There are several Biblical parallels to David Patten's mission call, such as the calling of Judas as an Apostle. As one of the Twelve Apostles, Judas was promised by the Lord that he would sit on twelve thrones with the others and judge the twelve tribes of Israel (Matt. 19:28). Judas, of his own choice (unlike David Patten) never fulfilled this promise of the Lord. This doesn't make the Lord a false prophet in the case of Judas. Nor were the Lord and His prophet, Joseph Smith, mistaken in the case of David Patten.

The Lord knocks at the door and gives the promise or opportunity. Whether we open the door and respond in a way to reap the potential blessing is up to us, and in many cases, up to the righteousness of others. In David Pallen's case, extenuating circumstances prevented him from serving an earthly mission: a mob killed him. To understand the case of David Patten, one might study D&C 124:49, which states if "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."

Some critics have pointed to the "thus saith the Lord" phrase at the beginning of D&C 114 (verses 1 and 2) as proof that this was a prophecy. A quick examination of other sections where "thus saith the Lord" was part of the revelation demonstrates that the phrase was not used exclusively for prophecies (as in D&C 87) but is also used in revelations where instructions (D&C 21, 44, 49, 50, 52, 75, 89, 91, etc.) callings (D&C 36, 55, 66, 69, 99, 100, 108, etc.), and reproof (D&C 61, 95) are given. More than half the time the phrase was used in the first verse of the section. When used in the first verse, it appears to be an indication that it is being given as a revelation. But callings in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are considered callings from God given by revelation. (See Ex. 28:1; Heb. 5:4; Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 1, Callings)


Notes

  1. "How Do I Recognize and Understand the Spirit?," Preach My Gospel: A Guide to Missionary Service (2004)
  2. Harrison, 755.
  3. This wiki article was originally based on Jeff Lindsay, "If any prophecy of a so-called prophet proves to be wrong, shouldn't we reject him? Isn't that the standard of Deut. 18:22?," off-site Due to the nature of a wiki project, the text may have been modified, edited, and had additions made.
  4. James L. Mays (editor), Harper's Bible Commentary (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1988), 226.
  5. R.K. Harrsion, Introduction to the Old Testament (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1969); reprint edition by (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2004), 755–756.
  6. Shalom M. Paul, "Prophecy and Prophets" a supplemental essay in Etz Hayim, a Torah/Commentary published by the Jewish Publication Society, 1411, (emphasis added).
  7. Jewish Study Bible (published by the Jewish Publication Society), commentary on Deu. 18:20-23.
  8. According to John 6:70-71, Jesus knew well in advance that Judas would betray him.
  9. Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 2:182. Volume 2 link
  10. Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 5:336–337. Volume 5 link
  11. Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 6:254. Volume 6 link
  12. Noah Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language (New York: S. Converse, 1828), s.v. "shall."
  13. 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).
  14. The original form of this article is from Stephen R. Gibson, "Did Joseph Smith Prophesy Falsely Regarding David Patten?," in One-Minute Answers to Anti-Mormon Questions (Bountiful, Utah: Horizon Publishers, 2005) ISBN 0882907840. off-site. Because of the nature of wiki projects, over time it may have been altered substantially from the original.
  15. Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 4:597. Volume 4 link