Criticism of Mormonism/Books/One Nation Under Gods/Appendix B

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Response to claims made in "Appendix B: Failed Joseph Smith Prophecies"



A FAIR Analysis of: One Nation Under Gods, a work by author: Richard Abanes
Claim Evaluation
One Nation Under Gods
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Response to claims made in One Nation Under Gods, "Appendix B: Failed Joseph Smith Prophecies"


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Response to claim: 459, 616n1 - Moroni told Joseph that Isaiah 11:6-11 was "about to be fulfilled"

The author(s) of One Nation Under Gods make(s) the following claim:

Moroni told Joseph that Isaiah 11:6-11 was "about to be fulfilled."

Author's sources:

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

The scripture prophesies the day when "the Lord shall set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant of his people," thus preparing for the time when "wolf also shall dwell with the lamb" in the millennial world. In an LDS world-view, the establishment of the Church and the gathering of scattered Israel through missionary work is a clear fulfillment of this prophecy.

The author may not believe that this qualifies, but the Church's establishment, rapid growth, and conversion of millions certainly fits the context, since the Book of Mormon's translation was the necessary prelude to the gathering of Israel (compare 1 Nephi 10꞉14, 1 Nephi 14꞉1-2,7, 2 Nephi 25꞉17).


Response to claim: 459, 616n2 - Joseph was to go to Canada and sell the Book of Mormon copyright

The author(s) of One Nation Under Gods make(s) the following claim:

Joseph was to go to Canada and sell the Book of Mormon copyright.

Author's sources:
  1. Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith—History 1:40.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

This is correct.


Question: Are there any eyewitness accounts of the events that resulted in the trip to Canada to sell the Book of Mormon copyright?

Joseph Smith decided this could be an opportunity to relieve some of the financial pressure associated with publishing the Book of Mormon

Joseph Smith had been told there were people in Canada willing to buy the copyrights to useful books. Due to the dire financial position of the Church, he decided this could be an opportunity to relieve some of the financial pressure associated with publishing the Book of Mormon. Four men went to Canada.

Joseph Smith received a revelation directing them to go to Kingston, Canada, with some conditions placed upon their success

Before leaving, Joseph Smith received a revelation directing them to go to Kingston, Canada, with some conditions placed upon their success.

...it Pleaseth me that Oliver Cowderey Joseph Knight Hyram Pagee & Josiah Stowel shall do my work in this thing yea even in securing the Copyright & they shall do it with an eye single to my Glory that it may be the means of bringing souls unto me Salvation through mine only Be{t\gotten} Behold I am God I have spoken it & it is expedient in me Wherefor I say unto you that ye shall go to Kingston seeking me continually through mine only Be{t\gotten} & if ye do this ye shall have my spirit to go with you & ye shall have an addition of all things which is expedient in me. amen & I grant unto my servent a privelige that he may sell a copyright through you speaking after the manner of men for the four Provinces if the People harden not their hearts against the enticeings of my spirit & my word for Behold it lieth in themselves to their condemnation &{\or} th{er\eir} salvation.

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The text of the actual revelation was recently discovered and published in The Joseph Smith Papers

The text of the revelation was published in the The Joseph Smith Papers: The Revelations and Translations Series. According to Marlin K. Jensen, Church Historian and Recorder,

Another interesting development from work on the Revelations and Translations Series has been the identification of a previously unpublished revelation on securing a copyright for the Book of Mormon in Canada. David Whitmer, after he left the Church, recalled that the revelation promised success in selling the copyright, but upon return of the men charged with the duty, Joseph Smith and others were disappointed by what seemed like failure. Historians have relied upon statements of David Whitmer, Hiram Page, and William McLellin for decades but have not had the actual text of the revelation. Revelation Book 1 will provide that.

Although we still do not know the whole story, particularly Joseph Smith’s own view of the situation, we do know that calling the divine communication a “failed revelation” is not warranted. The Lord’s directive clearly conditions the successful sale of the copyright on the worthiness of those seeking to make the sale as well as on the spiritual receptivity of the potential purchasers. [1]

Hiram Page, one of the participants, stated he for the first time understood how some revelations given to people were not necessarily for their direct benefit

Hiram Page, who was one of the individuals sent to Canada, laid out the event in a letter in 1848.[2] Page wrote that the revelation Joseph Smith received conditioned success upon whether those individuals in Canada capable of buying the Book of Mormon copyright would have their hearts softened. When unable to sell the copyright, the four men returned to Palmyra. Hiram Page stated he for the first time understood how some revelations given to people were not necessarily for their direct benefit—in fact, Hiram Page believed that the revelation was actually fulfilled.


Question: After receiving the revelation to attempt to sell the Book of Mormon copyright in Canada, did Joseph Smith later claim that the revelation was false?

David Whitmer, years after he left the Church, claimed that Joseph said that the revelation did not come from God

David Whitmer claimed that Joseph Smith received a revelation and prophesied that Oliver Cowdery and Hiram Page should go to Canada where they would find a man willing to buy the copyright to the Book of Mormon. When they failed to sell the copyright, Whitmer states that Joseph admitted that the revelation had not come from God.

David Whitmer was not a participant in the trip to Canada

The primary evidence supporting the negative aspects of the Canadian Mission story comes from David Whitmer, who was not a participant in the event, and who had left the church many years before. With the discovery of the Hiram Page letter of 1848 showing that the actual participants involved in the trip felt that Joseph Smith delivered an accurate revelation of what would transpire on the Mission, and in fact even found the event uplifting rather than negative, it is evident that no individual contemporary to the event felt that this represented a false prophecy by Joseph Smith. What we do see is excellent evidence in fulfillment of the teachings of Deuteronomy 12 and 18 that Joseph Smith was perceived as a true prophet of God by those involved in the Mission to Canada in early 1830.


Question: How did the erroneous story of the attempt to sell the Book of Mormon copyright develop over time?

Hiram Page’s 1848 account of the Canadian Mission trip was sent to William McLellin

Hiram Page’s 1848 account of the Canadian Mission trip was sent to William McLellin. Because it was private correspondence, its existence and details were unknown until the 1930’s, when the letter was donated to the RLDS Church’s archives as part of a larger collection of McLellin materials.[3] The content of the letter was not broadly known until after the document was stolen in 1985, but a copy of the original was donated by a private collector around the year 2000 who had made a copy prior to the theft of the original.

In 1872 William McLellin wrote about the journey to Canada

In 1872 William McLellin wrote about the journey to Canada.[4] He had no first hand knowledge of the event, as he did not join the Church until 1831. He apparently got the description of the event from Martin Harris, who was likewise not there and had no first hand knowledge. From the published account, McLellin ignores Hiram Page’s 1848 letter, and asserts that all involved in the Canadian Mission viewed it as a complete failure. Since all involved were dead, and the only known account by one of the participants, who obviously viewed it as a success, was in McLellin's possession, he apparently did not worry about being corrected.

In about 1881 J.L. Traughber wrote a letter to a German correspondent, who published it in 1886, retelling McLellin’s second or third hand knowledge of the event

In 1881 or shortly thereafter a man by the name of J.L. Traughber wrote a letter to a German correspondent, who published it in 1886, retelling McLellin’s second or third hand knowledge of the event.[5]

In 1886, David Whitmer mentions the trip to sell the copyright for the first time

Beginning in 1886, David Whitmer reports for the first time of the Canadian Mission.[6] Initially Whitmer reports the event in the third person, but by the time of his 1887 pamphlet An Address to All Believers in Christ, 57 years after the event occurred, he reports to having been a first hand witness, and Joseph Smith having given a false prophecy. Whitmer states,

Joseph looked into the hat in which he placed the stone, and received a revelation that some of the brethren should go to Toronto, Canada, and that they would sell the copyright of the Book of Mormon. Hiram Page and Oliver Cowdery went to Toronto on this mission, but they failed entirely to sell the copyright, returning without any money. Joseph was at my father's house when they returned. I was there also, and am an eye witness to these facts. Jacob Whitmer and John Whitmer were also present when Hiram Page and Oliver Cowdery returned from Canada.

Well, we were all in great trouble; and we asked Joseph how it was that he had received a revelation from the Lord for some brethren to go to Toronto and sell the copyright, and the brethren had utterly failed in their undertaking. Joseph did not know how it was, so he enquired of the Lord about it, and behold the following revelation came through the stone: "Some revelations are of God: some revelations are of men: and some revelations are of the devil." So we see that the revelation to go to Toronto and sell the copyright was not of God, but was of the devil or of the heart of man.[7]

Whitmer was looking for evidence to support his conclusion that Joseph Smith was a fallen prophet

One must remember that not only was Whitmer looking for evidence to support his conclusion that Joseph Smith was a fallen prophet, but he also wrote with no fear of contradiction, as all the witnesses to the event were dead.


Question: How does David Whitmer's account of the attempt to sell the Book of Mormon copyright compare to those of the eyewitnesses?

Whitmer's account is at variance in several ways with Hiram Page’s account

Whitmer's account is at variance in several ways with Hiram Page’s account. Whitmer gets the destination city in Canada wrong (he says Toronto, the other accounts, and the revelation itself, say Kingston) and he did not correctly identify all of the participants (he identified Hiram Page and Oliver Cowdery, while Page noted Joseph Knight and Josiah Stowell). Note that the text of the revelation itself finally clears up the issue of exactly who the revelation was directed to,

...it Pleaseth me that Oliver Cowderey Joseph Knight Hyram Pagee & Josiah Stowel shall do my work in this thing...

Page, an eyewitness, makes no mention at disappointment in Joseph Smith, nor is there any mention of a "false prophecy"

Page also makes no mention or even a hint at disappointment in Joseph Smith, nor is there an accusation that the trip was based upon a "false prophecy," so naturally no subsequent "revelation" is noted by Page explaining the mission’s failure.

In Whitmer’s 1887 account we learn for the first time of the supposed post-mission revelation where Joseph Smith is told that some revelations are from God, some from devils, some from men. This account is in all likelihood a fabrication. Unlike his consistent, life-long statements concerning the witness of the Gold Plates, this account, which is probably a second-hand retelling of events 57 years after their occurrence, suddenly appears and is wrong on several of the documentable facts, as well as being inconsistent with the first-hand testimony of Hiram Page, given 40 years earlier than Whitmer and by comparison much closer to the actual event.


Question: How did Latter-day Saint scholars respond to the attempt to sell the Book of Mormon copyright prior to Page's letter coming to light?

B.H. Roberts expressed doubt as to the accuracy of the story, and suggested that David Whitmer may not have recalled all of the details correctly

The letter from 1848 by Hiram Page was not publically available until the 20th Century. As a result, various LDS responses to the accounts by Whitmer and McLellin of necessity must explain why the apparent anomalous revelation does not make Joseph Smith a fallen prophet. Such was the case when B.H. Roberts expressed doubt as to the accuracy of the story, and suggested that David Whitmer may not have recalled all of the details correctly, yet went on to address the claim anyway. Roberts concluded:

Does that circumstance vitiate his claim as a prophet? No; the fact remains that despite this circumstance there exists a long list of events to be dealt with which will establish the fact of divine inspiration operating upon the mind of this man Joseph Smith. The wisdom frequently displayed, the knowledge revealed, the predicted events and the fulfilment thereof, are explicable upon no other theory than of divine inspiration giving guidance to him. [8]

As it happens, the passage of time and the uncovering of additional information has vindicated that confidence.


Response to claim: 459, 616n3 - The book claims that the elect were to be gathered "against the day when tribulation and desolation are sent forth upon the wicked"

The author(s) of One Nation Under Gods make(s) the following claim:

The book claims that the elect were to be gathered "against the day when tribulation and desolation are sent forth upon the wicked."

Author's sources:
  • B.H. Roberts, Comprehensive History of the Church, vol. 1, 165.
  • David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ, 30-31.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

This is taught repeatedly in the Book of Mormon.

The author may not believe that such a thing will happen, but this does not make it a "failed prophecy."

Ironically, the author is a conservative Christian—yet, many early Christians of the Roman period believed that Christ's return was imminent two thousand years ago. The author is apparently willing to excuse them, but will condemn the Latter-day Saints because the end has not yet come. This is a good example of a double standard and special pleading.

Response to claim: 460, 616n8 - A temple in Missouri would be built "in this generation"

The author(s) of One Nation Under Gods make(s) the following claim:

A temple in Missouri would be built "in this generation."

Author's sources:
  1. D&C 84꞉2-5

FAIR's Response

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

The author takes "this generation" to mean within the lifetime of those who lived when Joseph Smith was alive. Jesus Christ used the very same terminology in Matthew 24:34: "Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled." When the scriptures use words such as "this generation," "a little season," "nigh," "soon to come," "quickly," and "in due time," it can mean several years, or even centuries


Articles about Joseph Smith

Alleged false prophecies by leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Many critics of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints assert that its past presidents (men that Latter-day Saints consider prophets) have made failed prophecies and that this either proves or provides evidence for the claim that they aren't true prophets receiving revelation from God.

We will first discuss general principles regarding alleged false prophecies.[9]

The Three Models of Prophecy: Film Reel, Weather Forecast, and Plan

How we understand a claim of false prophecy will depend on what we understand prophecy to be. There are at least three potential models:

  1. Film Reel model: The future is already planned out and God, like an old-timey projectionist, can unfurl the reel and see what happens further on in the movie of life, come back to the present, and reveal that will to his children. Key to this model of prophecy is that the events revealed in prophecy will certainly happen.
  2. Weather forecast model: God makes a prediction of the future based off of present circumstances. If present circumstances change, then the prophecy does not have to reach fulfillment. God’s formula in scripture seems to be one set up on conditional statements. In this model, prophecy is a description of what will probably happen, not a certain declaration.
  3. Plan model: God revealing his plans for the future given certain conditions being met. If those conditions are not met, then God will act differently. For instance, God can state that if A happens, then B will happen. (For example, "If you do not repent, you will be destroyed." Under this model, humans make choices right now that change the outcome of the prophecy. Key to this model of prophecy is that the events revealed and described in prophecy will contingently happen.

Elements of all models may apply in some situations. We often have a model in mind without realizing it, and so make judgments based on only a partial view of what prophecy is or can be.

A more speculative fourth option—God's foreknowledge may not be absolute

A more speculative option (and one that is likely to be much more objectionable for some) is the idea that God does not have exhaustive foreknowledge of the future. (Conservative protestant critics, often Calvinists by theology, would typically reject this option strongly since they believe in God's absolute sovereignty—including the idea that some people are unconditionally chosen from all eternity to be saved. Those so chosen will always respond to God's decision to offer them salvation, and this saved state cannot be undone by any human choice or action,

By contrast, the restored Church of Jesus Christ holds to none of these views—God has not predestined any of his children to salvation or damnation, all have the moral agency to respond to God's gracious offer of salvation, and even those who are in a saved state and covenant relationship can use that same moral agency to reject God and not "endure to the end."[10]

The Church does not take an official position as to how members ought to view God's foreknowledge.[11]

Some believe that God has knowledge of all things that will actually happen in the future.

Others believe that the nature of free will or moral agency means that even God cannot be certain how truly free creatures will act until they do so. Thus, God has a very good idea of how things will go, but he does not achieve certainty until we choose to act. Those who hold this view insist that this does not mean that God does not have all the power it is possible to have—merely that absolute foreknowledge is a logical impossibility. Further, they also believe that regardless of these considerations, God is still absolutely capable of bringing to pass his purposes, and no moral agent can thwart his plans, save as it regards themselves.[12]

Deuteronomy 18—a biblical test of true prophesy

Critics from other branches of Christianity often cite Deuteronomy 18:20–22 as a scriptural test of a claim to prophethood. That scripture states:

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

This test is straightforward—if a prophesy is made and it fails, the speaker of the prophesy should be regarded as a false prophet. While simple on the surface, the matter quickly becomes more complex. If the critics used this standards on the bible as they try to use it against Joseph Smith, they would soon dismiss much of the bible.

John Tvedtnes wrote:

Based on the false premise that "all you need is one false prophecy to have a false prophet," some critics have ignored many of Joseph Smith’s [fulfilled] prophecies and have zeroed in on ones they consider to be false. But they typically identify unfulfilled commandments, opinions, and counsel as "false prophecies." In doing so, they forsake the rules laid out in 18?lang=eng&id=p20-22#p20-22 Deuteronomy 18꞉20-22, ignoring the fact that the passage defines a false prophecy as one uttered in the name of the Lord which does not come to pass.

The main problem is that the critics do not apply these same standards to biblical prophecies. And when we try to show that, by these standards, many of the biblical prophets fail the tests they have set up for Joseph Smith, we are accused of "Bible-slamming." To those who ascribe more divinity to the Bible than to God, such a "sin" is worse than blasphemy itself. Honesty, however, impels us to submit the biblical prophets to the same tests as those applied to Joseph Smith.

For this reason, following the logic of the critics, we would have to conclude that Moses-to whom the revelation in Deuteronomy 18:20-22 is ascribed-was a false prophet. In Numbers 25꞉13, he said, in the name of the Lord, that Phinehas, his grand nephew, would hold the priesthood eternally. But if Hebrews 7꞉11-12 is correct, the Aaronic priesthood is not eternal. In this particular example, Moses fills the requirement for the test of Deuteronomy much more closely than does Joseph Smith in most of the examples of "false prophecies" cited by the critics. How, then, can Latter-day Saints accept both Joseph Smith and Moses as true prophets, regarding their prophecies as divinely-inspired? The answer lies in the fact that prophecy is typically conditional.[9]

Step #1: Ensure that the account of the prophecy is authentic and is not based on hearsay

John Tvedtnes wrote:

This brings us to the fact that some critics quote secondary sources to illustrate "false prophecies" uttered by Joseph Smith. By their very definition, such sources cannot be considered totally accurate in their representation of the prophet’s words. One of the critics became rather selective in his use of secondary sources. Whenever the "prophecy" (some of them weren’t prophecies), in his judgment, failed, he was quick to pronounce the secondary source "authentic" or "reliable." But when it was fulfilled, he denounced it as coming from a secondary source and therefore unreliable. He even went so far as to term one failed prophecy as "reliable" because its source was "Mormon," while denouncing another fulfilled prophecy on the very same grounds.

For my part, I use all secondary sources with caution. They may give insights, but they cannot be considered with the same weight as known statements of Joseph Smith. This is true of journal accounts as well, for the reason that they are generally written after the fact (often at the end of the day) and are usually not reviewed by the person who made the statement.

Here is an example of how journals are sometimes misused: One critic quoted a revelation of Joseph Smith as found in Parley P. Pratt’s Autobiography (page 100), reading "surely Zion cannot fail, neither be moved out of her place." Elder Pratt, however, gave an abbreviated version of the revelation, which is found in D&C 97꞉19-20. In the original, we find that the words in question are what "the nations of the Gentiles shall say" of Zion at some point in the future. The secondary version was evidently used because it is more susceptible to interpretation as a "false prophecy."

Other problems arise when the critics cite a known forgery or a "false prophecy" by Joseph Smith whose only source is another anti-Mormon publication. Of a particular document, one critic wrote, "I believe this might be the most clear cut prophecy Joseph Smith ever gave." The document in question is a forgery prepared by Mark Hofmann. ...

One critic asked, "Do you really want to risk your eternal salvation on men who make statements like these?" To this, I reply, Can we risk our eternal salvation on the Bible, which reports that the sun and the moon stood still for Joshua (Joshua 10꞉12-14), when we know that this-like Quakers living on the moon-is a scientific impossibility? One might object that what the Bible describes is the standing still of the earth, rather than of the heavenly bodies (which is precisely the way the Book of Mormon puts it in Helaman 12꞉13-15). But the point is that the author of Joshua held an incorrect belief concerning the movement of celestial bodies, even if that does not invalidate the basic story he tells. So, too, Joseph Smith (and others) could have held false views concerning these same celestial bodies and yet told the truth about the revelations he received from God.[9]

Step #2: Verify that the source claims that the prophecy came by revelation from God

Tvedtnes continued:

Under date of February 8, 1843, Joseph Smith wrote, "[I] visited with a brother and sister from Michigan who thought that >a prophet is always a prophet;’ but I told them that a prophet was a prophet only when he was acting as such" (History of the Church 5:265). Prophets are, after all, human beings. The fact that they speak for God on occasion does not remove their free agency. Like all of us, prophets have opinions. Sometimes, these opinions are clearly set off, as Paul did in his first epistle to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 7꞉10,12,25,40). Joseph Smith occasionally used wording such as "this is my counsel" (History of the Church 1:455) or "I therefore warn" ( Nauvoo Neighbor, June 19, 1844).[13] Elder Charles W. Penrose, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve and later a counselor in the First Presidency, wrote, "At the head of this Church stands a man who is a Prophet…we respect and venerate him; but we do not believe that his personal views or utterances are revelations from God."[14]

More recently, Joseph Fielding Smith wrote:

It makes no difference what is written or what anyone has said, if what has been said is in conflict with what the Lord has revealed, we can set it aside. My words, and the teachings of any other member of the Church, high or low, if they do not square with the revelations, we need not accept them. Let us have this matter clear. We have accepted the four standard works as the measuring yardsticks, or balances, by which we measure every man’s doctrine. You cannot accept the books written by the authorities of the Church as standards in doctrine, only in so far as they accord with the revealed word in the standard works. (Doctrines of Salvation 3:203)

Similar thoughts were expressed by President Harold B. Lee in a European area conference:

If anyone, regardless of his position in the Church, were to advance a doctrine that is not substantiated by the standard Church works, meaning the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price, you may know that his statement is merely his private opinion. The only one authorized to bring forth any new doctrine is the President of the Church, who, when he does, will declare it as revelation from God, and it will be so accepted by the Council of the Twelve and sustained by the body of the Church. And if any man speak a doctrine which contradicts what is in the standard Church works, you may know by that same token that it is false and you are not bound to accept it as truth.[15]

In January 1970, six months after the first Apollo moon landing, Joseph Fielding Smith became President of the Church. Some anti-Mormon groups took delight in pointing out that he had, during his tenure as an Apostle, declared that it was "doubtful that man will ever be permitted to make any instrument or ship to travel through space and visit the moon or any distant planet."[16] What these same critics failed to point out was that President Smith never attributed his belief to a revelation from God. Indeed, many of his generation held the same opinion, and all were surprised-but delighted-when proven wrong. Incorrect opinions do not make false prophets. Some of the Bible’s foremost prophets, such as Moses and Jeremiah, objected that their lack of eloquence made them unsuited to fill the role the Lord had cut out for them. God overruled these opinions and sent them on their way.[17]

Step #3: Ensure that the account of the prophecy does not misrepresent or misinterpret what the prophet actually said.

To avoid misrepresenting or misinterpreting what a prophet said:

  • Check sources: Revisit the source of the prophecy to see if there is any missing context.
  • Check interpretation: Consider alternative interpretations. Have other Latter-day Saint or other Christians authors examined the prophecy in question? Have they offered alternative interpretations? Is there only one possible interpretation that is compelled by the source or are there multiple possible interpretations?
  • Ask, 'Vision or prophecy?': John Tvedtnes wrote that
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).12 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?[9]
  • Multiple ways to fulfillment: Latter-day Saints (like many other Christians) believe in the concept of dual fulfillment. That is: prophecies can be fulfilled in multiple ways.
  • Check timeframe: Often, prophecies do not have a set timeframe for when they will be fulfilled. Sometimes they use language that's equivocal. For instance, prophecies may state that God will "soon" act in a certain way. But, as many know, our "soon" and God's "soon" may not be the same.[9]
  • Prophetic language: Tvedtnes observed that "[w]hen it comes to written revelations, the question of language becomes paramount. Was the revelation taken from the Lord’s dictation by the prophet? Or does it reflect the prophet’s language, reflecting the truths revealed to him by God? One could argue either case without clear resolution. But Latter-day Saints realize that the Lord "speaketh unto men according to their language, unto their understanding" (2 Nephi 31꞉3; see also D&C 1꞉24). Thus, each prophet of the Old Testament wrote in his own dialect. Some of the later ones even used Aramaic or Persian words then being borrowed by the Hebrew language."[9]

Step #4: Remember that most prophecies are contingent on conditions being met—even if that contingency is not made clear by the explicit text of the prophecy

Prophecy is virtully always conditional in the Latter-day Saint view. Before concluding that a prophesy is false, we should look for any stated or implied conditions for fulfillment.

John Tvedtnes wrote:

It was the Lord himself, through the biblical prophet Jeremiah, who explained the conditional nature of prophecy:
At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it; 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. And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it; 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)[18]
Jeremiah himself exemplified the principle of conditional prophecy when he told king Zedekiah, in the name of the Lord, that he would not go captive into Babylon if he followed the prophet’s instructions; otherwise, he would be taken captive and Jerusalem would be destroyed (Jeremiah 38꞉17-23). The conditional nature of prophecy explains why Jonah is not a false prophet. The Lord’s threat to destroy Nineveh within forty days (Jonah 3꞉4) was mitigated by the repentance of the city’s population (Jonah 3꞉4-9). "And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not" (Jonah 3 10). Ironically, Jonah was upset by the fact that the prophecy was not fulfilled, and the Lord had to explain to him that the resultant repentance of "sixscore thousand persons" was more important than fulfilling the word (Jonah 4꞉1-11). From this story, it is obvious that the free-will actions of men play a role in the fulfillment of prophecy. Here are other examples from the Bible:
  • The Lord told David that the men of Keilah "will deliver thee up [to Saul]" (1 Samuel 23꞉12). This did not happen, however, because David fled from the city (verses 13-14).
  • Isaiah told king Hezekiah, "Thus saith the Lord, Set thine house in order; for thou shalt die, and not live." (2 Kings 20꞉1) But after the king pleaded with the Lord, the prophet delivered a new message, saying that fifteen years would be added to his life (verses 2-6).
  • The Lord told Moses that he would destroy the Israelites and make of Moses a greater nation than they. When Moses protested that this would be wrong, the Lord changed his mind (Numbers 14꞉11-20).
  • The Lord said through Elisha that the combined armies of Israel, Judah and Edom would "smite every fenced city" of Moab and that he would "deliver the Moabites also into your hand." But one city, Kir-hareseth, was not taken. When Mesha, the Moabite king, sacrificed his son on the city wall, the Israelites left and went home. The prophecy was not fulfilled because the Israelites would not cooperate with the Lord’s wishes.
  • Through Ezekiel, the Lord declared that the Lebanese city of Tyre would be destroyed by the Babylonian king Nebuchadrezzar, never to be rebuilt (Ezekiel 26, especially verses 4, 7, 12, 14). Though Nebuchadrezzar laid siege against Tyre from 598 to 586 B.C., he was never able to take the city.
  • The Lord then told Ezekiel that, in compensation for his not taking Tyre, Nebuchadrezzar would be given the land of Egypt, (Ezekiel 29 17-10). Its people would be slain and its rivers dry up (Ezekiel 30꞉10-12; Ezekiel 32꞉11-15) and the land of Egypt would remain uninhabited for forty years (Ezekiel 29꞉11-13). But though Nebuchadrezzar defeated an Egyptian army in battle, he never conquered Egypt either.
  • Isaiah, in his prophesy against Babylon (Isaiah 13꞉1), declared that the Medes would slay men, women and children and that Babylon would "be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah. It shall never be inhabited, neither shall it be dwelt in from generation to generation" (Isaiah 13:17-20). In 539 B.C., Cyrus, king of the Medes and Persians, took Babylon without bloodshed, and made it one of the principal cities of his empire. Babylon remained inhabited for centuries afterward.
It is in the light of the conditional nature of prophecy that we must consider some of Joseph Smith’s prophecies. For example, the missionary calling promised Thomas B. Marsh in D&C 112 was never fulfilled because he was excommunicated and forfeited his blessings. Critics have stated that if God really knew Marsh’s heart (verse 11), he would have known that he would apostatize and not be worthy of the promised blessings. The same argument has been used in regard to George Miller’s calling to the bishopric (D&C 124꞉20-21), eight years before he was disfellowshipped.
  • By this same reasoning, God should not have promised a throne to David (1 Samuel 16꞉12-13; 2 Samuel 3꞉9-10; 1 Kings 2꞉4; 1 Kings 8꞉25; 1 Kings 9꞉5), since David, in future, would commit adultery and order the death of an innocent man (1 Samuel 11). This also brings up the question of Jesus’ promise to his twelve apostles: "Ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (Matthew 19꞉28). This promise was made before Judas betrayed the Master and he was obviously included among those who would sit on the "twelve thrones." How could Jesus have made such a promise to the one who would betray him, whom he termed "a devil" (John 6꞉70-71)? The answer seems obvious: at the time of the promises, Judas, Thomas B. Marsh and George Miller were faithful to the Lord. By their subsequent actions, they lost all claim to those promises.[9]

Step #5: Remember the commandment "shall" and the predictive "shall"

One mistake people make in interpreting prophecies mistaking a commandment for a foretelling. That is because both may use "shall". There's obviously a difference between "thou shall not kill" (command) and "thou shall be in Arizona in four months" (foretelling of location).

Step #6: most prophecies can be considered "unreasonable" by some standard

John Tvedtnes wrote:

Some of the critics have included "unreasonable" prophecies in their lists of false prophetic utterances by Joseph Smith. The subjective nature of such a determination makes this procedure unacceptable. What is "unreasonable" to one person may be perfectly acceptable to another. For example, the prophets Ezekiel and Jeremiah "contradicted" each other concerning an essential point, and yet were both right. Ezekiel had prophesied that king Zedekiah would go to Babylon but never see it (Ezekiel 12:13), while his contemporary Jeremiah prophesied that Hezekiah would be taken captive to Babylon (Jeremiah 32:5). But, in the end, both prophets proved true, for Zedekiah indeed went captive into Babylon, but did not see the city, for he had been blinded (2 Kings 25:7). Thus, we see that prophecies "impossible" of fulfillment have, in the course of time, proven true. Joseph Smith deserves at least the same kind of consideration.[9]

Conclusion

We will use these principles to evaluate Joseph Smith's alleged prophecies.

First, however, we need to consider a question that may lurk behind many Christian critics of Joseph Smith. Although they search for "false prophecies" to discredit him, the underlying motive may be that they "know" that there cannot be any more prophets today. They believe the bible "says so," and thus Joseph must be a false prophet. Their evaluation of Joseph's prophecies are not intended, then, to ascertain if he is a true prophet. They have already decided that he is a false prophets on other grounds.

Are there not supposed to be any more prophets after Christ's day?

The belief that there would be no more prophets after Christ is firmly rooted in tradition, not the Bible

The belief that there would be no more prophets after Christ is rooted in tradition, not the Bible. The Bible teaches the opposite of this traditional belief. "Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets." (Amos 3꞉7, (emphasis added)) God has always had direct dealings with man, through the prophets and through revelation. "Am I a God at hand, saith the Lord, and not a God afar off?" (Jeremiah 23꞉23) This is the process God has used since the time of Adam. "As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began." (Luke 1꞉70) it is only logical, and biblically correct, to expect God to have the same relationship with man today.

Christianity claims that God does not change. This is a statement that Latter-Day Saints agree with. Yet, while making this claim, most of Christianity says God has changed because he does not now call prophets.

Only the living prophets are opposed

Those who oppose Joseph Smith as a prophet, do not oppose dead past prophets, but the living ones. Jesus himself noted the irony—the religious leaders opposed him most strongly. Christ understood that his opponents claimed to believe in the past prophets while rejecting a present-day messenger from God. Jesus described them as having the appearance of righteousness, yet were full of iniquity:

Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell? Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city (Matthew 23꞉28-34):

Many follow this pattern today—they proclaim a belief in Christ while denying living prophets.

Alleged false prophecies of Joseph Smith

Did Joseph Smith prophesy that he couldn't be killed within 5 years of August 1843?

It would appear that the letter written by Sarah Scott on 22 July 1844 is a blending of separate and distinct pieces of information and they have been assembled in order to support her view that Joseph Smith was a false prophet

Claim: Joseph Smith prophesied in August 1843 "that he could not be killed within five years from that time". Since he was killed less than one year later, some claim that his statement counts as a false prophecy and that he should be considered a false prophet.

The letter written by Sarah Scott on 22 July 1844 is likely a blending of separate and distinct pieces of information and they have been assembled—whether consciously or subconsciously—in order to support her view that Joseph Smith was a false prophet.

As always, we consider the original document in analyzing this claim:

Joseph also prophesied on the stand a year ago last conference that he could not be killed within five years from that time; that they could not kill him till the Temple would be completed, for that he had received an unconditional promise from the Almighty concerning his days, and he set Earth and Hell at defiance; and then said, putting his hand on his head, they never could kill this Child. But now that he is killed some of the Church say that he said: unless he gave himself up. My husband was there at the time and says there was no conditions whatever, and many others testify to the same thing.

Biases of the author

We note first that the author and her husband "were influenced by William Law to leave the Church in 1844" - close to the time when the document was composed.[19] That does not mean that the report is false, but we need to account for the writer's bias.

Secondly, this letter is not an eyewitness account of what was said by Joseph. The writer stead cites someone else (her husband) who was an eyewitness and so the information second-hand. 

Thirdly, this information is being relayed about 11 months after the Prophet spoke, so memories may be more flawed. The author is also not clear about the dates—the sentence above should read: "a year ago [before] last conference"). The underlined portion of the letter accurately reflects what Joseph Smith said on 27 August 1843.[20] 

The "five years" aspect is from an earlier statement

The 'five-year prophecy' is being included where it doesn't belong. On 12 January 1838 the Prophet met in council at his father’s house in Kirtland, Ohio. During a discussion about the dire circumstances caused by apostates and mobs – and in anticipation of his leaving for Missouri - Joseph Smith said: "One thing, brethren is certain, I shall see you again, let what will happen, for I have a promise of life five years, and they cannot kill me until that time is expired."[21] Five years would expire by January 1843, and it is interesting that on 22 January 1843 the Prophet said: "I understand my mission and business. God Almighty is my shield and what can man do [see D&C 122:9] if God is my friend? I shall not be sacrificed until my time comes, then I shall be offered freely."[22]

The idea of an "unconditional promise" with respect to the Prophet's "days" on the earth also appears to be a misapplication of information

The idea of an "unconditional promise" with respect to the Prophet's "days" on the earth also appears to be a misapplication of information. While the Prophet was languishing inside Missouri's Liberty Jail the Lord informed him in March 1839: "Thy days are known, and thy years shall not be numbered less" (D&C 122꞉9). These words were published in Nauvoo in 1840, and so we see how Sarah Scott or her informant could have either intentionally or unintentionally mixed them with a later statement.[23]

Contemporary records do not support the claim

Sarah Scott's claim that on 27 August 1843 Joseph Smith said that nobody could kill him "till the Temple would be completed" is not supported by the notes taken by Willard Richards, Franklin D. Richards, and William Clayton[24].

And, at least three months prior to the composition of Scott's letter the Prophet had told a group of Saints, "There is something going to happen; I don't know what it is, but the Lord bids me to hasten and give you your endowment before the Temple is finished".[25] Indeed, in 1839 Joseph Smith had prophesied his own death before the age of 40—which would have been on 23 December 1845.[26] Knowing about these well-established claims from Joseph makes us more confident that Scott was misreporting or misrepresenting the matter.

This letter also discounts the idea that Joseph said he could not be killed unless he gave himself up

This letter also discounts the idea (testified to by some unidentified Church members) that Joseph said he could not be killed unless he gave himself up. Scott's husband was present at the 27 August 1843 meeting and did not hear any such thing. And it does not appear from contemporaneous notes that Joseph said this on that date. However, on 31 August 1842 Joseph Smith told a gathering of Relief Society sisters "that great exertions had been made on the part of [the Church's] enemies, but they had not accomplished their purpose—God had enabled him to keep out of their hands. . . . the Lord Almighty had preserv'd him . . . . He said he expected th[at] heavenly Father had decreed that the Missourians shall not get him - if they do, it will be because he does not keep out of the way."[27]

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources
  • Letter, Sarah Scott to Calvin and Abigail Hall (parents), 22 July 1844, Nauvoo, Illinois. Published in George R. Partridge, ed., “The Death of a Mormon Dictator: Letters of Massachusetts Mormons, 1843–1848," New England Quarterly 9/4 (December 1936): 597.

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 killed in Missouri at the Battle of Crooked River. [28]

"Thus saith the Lord"

Some critics have pointed to the "thus saith the Lord" phrase at the beginning Patten's call in D&C 114}1-2} proves that this was a prophecy. 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. When used in the first verse, it appears to be an indication that what followed was the product of revelation.

Patten's call

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 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 could.

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'."[29] Despite this, God 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.

Biblical parallels

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's choices never fulfilled this promise of the Lord. This doesn't make Christ a false prophet. Patten's death at the hands of Missourians was their doing, not his.

As D&C 124꞉49 says, 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."

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Did Joseph Smith state that the moon was inhabited, and that it's inhabitants were dressed like Quakers?

This is not a quote from Joseph Smith, but rather a late, third-hand account of something that Joseph is supposed to have said

The source for this claim is not Joseph Smith himself; the first mention comes in 1881 in Oliver B. Huntington's journal, who attributed the information from Philo Dibble. So, we have a late, third-hand account of something Joseph is supposed to have said.[30] Hyrum Smith [31] and Brigham Young [32] both expressed their view that the moon was inhabited.

A patriarchal blessing given to Huntington also indicated that "thou shalt have power with God even to translate thyself to Heaven, & preach to the inhabitants of the moon or planets, if it shall be expedient." [33]

Huntington later wrote an article about the concept for a Church magazine:

As far back as 1837, I know that he [Joseph Smith] said the moon was inhabited by men and women the same as this earth, and that they lived to a greater age than we do—that they live generally to near the age of a 1,000 years.

He described the men as averaging nearly six feet in height, and dressing quite uniformly in something near the Quaker style.[34]

The idea of an inhabited moon or other celestial body was not foreign to at least some early LDS members. It is not clear whether the idea originated with Joseph Smith.

In the 1800s, the idea that the moon was inhabited was considered scientific fact by many

In any case, this idea was considered 'scientific fact' by many at the time. William Herschel, the discoverer of the planet Uranus, died in 1822. Herschel argued "[w]ho can say that it is not extremely probable, nay beyond doubt, that there must be inhabitants on the Moon of some kind or another?" Furthermore, "he thought it possible that there was a region below the Sun's fiery surface where men might live, and he regarded the existence of life on the Moon as 'an absolute certainty.'" [35]

Other scientists announced that they had discovered "a lunar city with a collection of gigantic ramparts extending 23 miles in either direction." [36]

The 1835 Great Moon Hoax added to the belief in lunar inhabitants

In addition to these pronouncements from some of the most prominent scientists of the day, a clever hoax in 1835 only added to the belief in lunar inhabitants.

John Herschel, son of the famous William, went to South Africa to study stars visible only in the southern hemisphere. This was the cause of considerable public interest, given Herschel's involvement.[37]

On 23 August 1835, Richard Locke published the first article in the New York Sun of what purported to be reports from Herschel's observations. Over a total of six installments, Locke claimed that Herschel was reporting lunar flowers, forests, bison, goats, unicorns, bipedal tailless beavers who cooked with fire, and (most provocatively) flying men with wings:

They appeared to be constantly engaged in conversing, with much impassioned gesticulation; and hence it was inferred, that they are rational beings. Others, apparently of a higher order, were discovered afterwards. . . . And finally a magnificent temple for the worship of God, of polished sapphire, in a triangle shape, with a roof of gold.[38]

These reports were widely believed and caused a minor sensation. They were carried in the Painsville Telegraph, adjacent to Mormon Kirtland.[39] The Sun eventually hinted that the matter was a hoax:

Certain correspondents have been urging us to come out and confess the whole to be a hoax; but this we can by no means do, until we have the testimony of the English or Scotch papers to corroborate such a declaration.[40]

Popular belief in lunar inhabitants persisted for decades after the hoax

No more than this was forthcoming, and the Painsville Telegraph made no mention of the possibility of a hoax. Popular belief in lunar inhabitants persisted for decades. Herschel initially found the episode amusing, but he eventually grew frustrated with having to continually explain to the public that the whole matter was a hoax, with which he had nothing to do: he would later refer "the whole affair as 'incoherent ravings'".[41]

In a private letter, Hirschel's wife indicated how skillfully the hoax was carried out:

Margaret Herschel was more amused. She called the story "a very clever peice of imagination," and wrote appreciately ... "The whole description is so well clenched with minute details of workmanship...that the New Yorkists were not to be blamed for actually believing it as they did...." [42]

Modern prophets and general authorities will sometimes cite newspaper articles or books to illustrate the points which they wish to make

Church publications did not shy from embracing later scientific findings on the matter:

1856

Desert News noted:

Proof that the Moon is not Inhabited.

"Dr. Scoresby, in an account that he has given of some recent observations made with the Earl of Rosse’s telescope, says: ‘With respect to the moon, every object on its surface of 100 feet was distinctly to be seen; and he had no doubt that, under very favorable circumstances, it would be so with objects 60 feet in height…. But no vestiges of architecture remain to show that the moon, is, or ever was, inhabited by a race of mortals similar to ourselves….. There was no water visible…."[43]

1880

"As there is no air nor water on the moon, but very few changes can take place upon its surface. There can be no vegetation and no animals, and although many astronomers have brought their imaginations to bear upon this subject, and have given us descriptions of the beautiful scenery upon its surface, and have even peopled it with inhabitants, we have every reason to believe that it is as barren and lifeless as an arid rock."[44]

Modern analogies

Modern prophets and general authorities will sometimes cite newspaper articles or books to illustrate the points which they wish to make. In doing so, they are not endorsing such articles or books as being prophetically correct in all particulars. Rather, they are using the science and information of their day to enhance their preaching of the gospel.

"Worlds without number"

LDS doctrine was not provincial, since it provided for "worlds without number" (Moses 1꞉33) created by Christ. These worlds held those who would require the gospel, since by Christ "the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God." (D&C 76꞉24)

Information given to the 19th century Saints by the authorities of the day were consistent with these doctrines, and so they believed them, and occasionally mentioned them in a religious context.

As always, prophets and believers are products of their time. Biblical authors, for example, clearly accepted a geocentric (earth centered) cosmos, with a flat earth and heavens supported by four pillars.

Like the authors of the Bible, modern prophets are generally beholden to their era's scientific concepts, except where corrections in those concepts are needed to permit the gospel to be understood and applied. This does not mean, however, that prophets of any era do not receive revelation about matters of eternal significance.

Brigham Young on an inhabited moon.

Summary: Brigham seems to have derived a similar idea from similar influences.


Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources
  • Contender Ministries, Questions All Mormons Should Ask Themselves. Answers
  • Tower to Truth Ministries, "50 Questions to Ask Mormons," towertotruth.net (accessed 15 November 2007). 50 Answers
  • Jay Jacobson, "Three Reasons Not to Become a Mormon,": 7.
  • Search for the Truth DVD (2007) Resources
  • The God Makers (film, 1982)
  • Jerald and Sandra Tanner, The Changing World of Mormonism (Moody Press, 1979), 23.( Index of claims )

Did Joseph Smith claim at one time that Kirtland Safety Society notes would be "as good as gold"?

Joseph was likely being optimistic regarding the bank's future

Whatever one thinks of Joseph's conduct in connection with the Kirtland Safety Society, this promise, ironically, eventually came true.

  • Brigham Young redeemed Kirtland Safety Society scrip for gold in Utah.
  • Marvin S. Hill notes that, "Brigham Young needn't have gone to such pains to ensure that this prophecy was fulfilled. Today [1977] these notes are worth far more than the exchange rate between currency and gold."[45]
Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Did Joseph Smith give a false prophecy by claiming that queens would pay respect to the Relief Society within ten years?

The prophecy is clearly conditional on the continuing righteousness of the Relief Society

Such a record exists, although critics generally do not cite the entire text. Abanes, One Nation, for example, cites only: "I now prophecy that before ten years shall roll around, the queens of the earth shall come and pay their respects to this Society." Abanes then notes, "No queens have ever fulfilled this prophecy.".[46]

Here is the prophecy in context, with several key phrases highlighted:

Females, if they are pure and innocent can come into the presence of God, for what is more pleasing to God than innocence; you must be innocent or you cannot come up before God. If we would come before God let us be pure ourselves. The devil has great power—he will so transform things as to make one gape at those who are doing the will of God—You need not be teasing men for their deeds, but let the weight of innocence be felt which is more mighty than a millstone hung about the neck. Not war, not jangle, not contradiction, but meekness, love purity, these are the things that should magnify us. Action must be brough[t] to light—iniquity must be purged out—then the vail will be rent and the blessings of heaven will flow down—they will roll down like the Mississippi river. This Society shall have power to command Queens in their midst—I now deliver it as a prophecy that before ten years shall roll around, the queens of the earth shall come and pay their respects to this Society—they shall come with their millions and shall contribute of their abundance for the relief of the poor—If you will be pure, nothing can hinder.

After this instruction, you will be responsible for your own sins. It is an honor to save yourselves—all are responsible to save themselves.[47]

According to Joseph's own words, the prophecy is clearly conditional on the continuing righteousness of the Relief Society.

Critics omit the qualifier as they try to discredit Joseph.

Fulfillment of the prophecy

There are several schools of thought regarding this prophecy:

  1. That fulfillment has been delayed.
  2. That it has already been fulfilled.

We do not take a position on this issue, but present the various arguments here.

Was the fulfillment of the prophecy delayed?

If the prophecy remained unfilled, then it would be because the conditions set forth were not met. There is some evidence to support this position.

For example, it is known that Joseph received considerable trouble from his wife, Emma, as head of the Relief Society. Emma would not support plural marriage, and used the Relief Society to attempt to thwart Joseph's teaching of it. Joseph was frequently trying to draw people up to their own better potential and encourage people to prepare to behold the face of God—he gave similar reproofs to the men of the Church:

How vain and trifling have been our spirits, our conferences, our councils, our meetings, our private as well as public conversations—too low, too mean, too vulgar, too condescending for the dignified characters of the called and chosen of God, according to the purposes of His will, from before the foundation of the world! We are called to hold the keys of the mysteries of those things that have been kept hid from the foundation of the world until now. Some have tasted a little of these things, many of which are to be poured down from heaven upon the heads of babes; yea, upon the weak, obscure and despised ones of the earth. Therefore we beseech of you, brethren, that you bear with those who do not feel themselves more worthy than yourselves, while we exhort one another to a reformation with one and all, both old and young, teachers and taught, both high and low, rich and poor, bond and free, male and female; let honesty, and sobriety, and candor, and solemnity, and virtue, and pureness, and meekness, and simplicity crown our heads in every place; and in fine, become as little children, without malice, guile or hypocrisy.[48]

However, in the case of the Relief Society prophecy, Joseph states, point blank, that "iniquity must be purged out," which implies that it has to be there to begin with. There were certainly apostates among the Relief Society.

Problems with the Relief Society

Brigham Young was not pleased about what the Relief Society leadership had done to oppose Joseph and to oppose plural marriage, and the associated difficulties which the Relief Society and their zeal to expunge impurity caused. (Joseph spoke to them about this also, see below.)[49])

Hiatus for the Relief Society

Following the death of Joseph Smith, the Relief Society as an organization went on "hiatus," in part due to these concerns.

Brigham noted, one year after the martyrdom:

When I want Sisters or the Wives of the members of the church to get up Relief Society I will summon them to my aid, but until that time let them stay at home if you see Females huddling together, veto the concern, and if they say Joseph started it all tell them it is a damned lie for I know he never encouraged it.[50]

Note that Brigham's issue is not with the existence of the Relief Society, but the "huddling together" to seek out iniquity. John Taylor gives us further background on why the organization was suspended,

The "reason why the Relief Society did not continue from the first organization was that Emma Smith the Pres. taught the Sisters that the principle of Celestial Marriage as taught and practiced by Joseph Smith was not of God."[51]

Emma's opposition

It should be noted that critical authors Newell and Avery claim this is not true in the strict reading of the minutes—however, it is well known that Emma did everything she could to discourage people from following Joseph's teachings on plural marriage, both in what she said privately and publicly. Newell and Avery provide evidence of this tendency themselves when citing Emma Smith's announced plans, but don't draw the obvious conclusion:

"We [the Relief Society] intend to look into the morals of each other, and watch over each other…. All proceedings that regard difficulties should be kept among the members [of the Relief Society]…. None can object to telling the good but withhold the evil." Given human nature, Emma was demanding an impossible commitment from her members…[52]

Eliza R. Snow's testimony

Even Eliza R. Snow felt it necessary to correct the impression that the Relief Society in Nauvoo had done "more harm than good," emphasizing that it "saved many lives." But, the mere fact that she needed to correct this impression should tell us something about how the Relief Society under Emma's tenure was seen—there were lives saved, but there was also a somewhat darker side that kept Brigham from reconstituting the organization for ten years, and made Eliza need to emphasize that it had been worth it, on balance, even with the problems.[53]

Joseph expressed similar concerns

Joseph expressed his own reservations:

"You need not be teasing men for their deeds, but let the weight of innocence be felt which is more mighty than a millstone hung about the neck."—i.e., quit acting as a type of police on public morals. He spoke on this more than once; it was an on-going problem, and much of it was driven by Emma. (Joseph had previously spoken to the Relief Society and cautioned them about their zeal not being according to knowledge.[54]

Joseph said that there were problems that had to be improved. This could be good evidence that in Emma's case, that the problem wasn't solved. Joseph repeatedly talked to them about judging the actions of others, minding their own business, sustaining the prophet, and so forth. The following remarks from 28 April 1842 are from the same discourse as the prophecy under consideration:

  • "He exhorted the sisters always to concentrate their faith and prayers for, and place confidence in their husbands, whom God has appointed for them to honor, and in those faithful men whom God has placed at the head of the Church to lead His people; that we should arm and sustain them with our prayers; for the keys of the kingdom are about to be given to them, that they may be able to detect everything false; as well as to all the Elders who shall prove their integrity in due season."
  • [Joseph] "said the same aspiring disposition will be in this Society, and must be guarded against; that every person should stand, and act in the place appointed, and thus sanctify the Society and get it pure (italics added)."
  • [Joseph continued] "saying everyone should aspire only to magnify his own office and calling....and said, don't be limited in your views with regard to your neighbor's virtue, but beware of self-righteousness, and be limited in the estimate of your own virtues, and not think yourselves more righteous than others; you must enlarge your souls towards each other, if you would do like Jesus, and carry your fellow-creatures to Abraham's bosom. He said he had manifested long-suffering, forbearance and patience towards the Church, and also to his enemies; and we must bear with each other's failings, as an indulgent parent bears with the foibles of his children (italics added)."
  • "How precious are the souls of men! The female part of the community are apt to be contracted in their views. You must not be contracted, but you must be liberal in your feelings. Let this Society teach women how to behave towards their husbands, to treat them with mildness and affection. When a man is borne down with trouble, when he is perplexed with care and difficulty, if he can meet a smile instead of an argument or a murmur—if he can meet with mildness, it will calm down his soul and soothe his feelings; when the mind is going to despair, it needs a solace of affection and kindness. (italics added)"
  • "When you go home, never give a cross or unkind word to your husbands, but let kindness, charity and love crown your works henceforward....Let your labors be mostly confined to those around you, in the circle of your own acquaintance, as far as knowledge is concerned, it may extend to all the world; but your administering should be confined to the circle of your immediate acquaintance, and more especially to the members of the Relief Society. Those ordained to preside over and lead you, are authorized to appoint the different officers, as the circumstances shall require."[55]

Was the prophecy fulfilled?

One might ask, "What would it otherwise have taken to fulfill the prophecy? Was the Queen of England supposed to come to Nauvoo?" One could argue that the prophecy was in fact fulfilled. The queens in their midst were anointed as part of the endowment, revealed by Joseph at Nauvoo, and some had their election made sure before leaving for Utah. Joseph's speech to the Relief Society could be a foreshadowing of the temple ordinances they would later receive and that would qualify and prepare them to receive such.

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

Said Jesus of his 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"

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.[56]

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 we continue further, we 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.)

Joseph's belief was correct—he 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.

The History of the Church describes Joseph's return to the same ideas:

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.[57]

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.[58]

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.)

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Was a "forged" prophecy about Stephen A. Douglas added to the History of the Church?

Joseph Smith prophesied that Stephen A. Douglas would run for the presidency four years before he actually did

Page one of Deseret News (24 Sept 1856). Material on Stephen A. Douglas, at it appears in the History of the Church is outlined in read.
Detail of the Stephen A. Douglas prophecy, printed on 24 September 1856. This was nearly a year before Douglas would 'turn against' the Saints, and more than four years before he was nominated as President of the United States.

Joseph Smith told Judge Stephen A. Douglas four years before he was nominated for the Presidency of the United States:

I prophesy in the name of the Lord God of Israel, that unless the United States redress the wrongs committed upon the Saints in the State of Missouri and punish the crimes committed by her officers, that in a few years the government will be utterly overthrown and wasted, and there will not be so much as a potsherd left, for their wickedness in permitting the murder of men, women and children, and the wholesale plunder and extermination of thousands of her citizens to go unpunished; thereby perpetrating a foul and corroding blot upon the fair fame of this great republic, the very thought of which would have caused the high minded and patriotic framers of the Constitution of the United States to hide their faces with shame. Judge, you will aspire to the presidency of the United States; and if ever you turn your hand against me or the Latter-day Saints, you will feel the weight of the hand of Almighty upon you; and you will live to see and know that I have testified the truth to you; for the conversation of this day will stick to you through life.[59]

The claim that this prophecy was added after the fact is false

As B.H. Roberts' editorial remark in the History of the Church noted:

There is, and can be no question about the prophecy preceding the event. The prophecy was first published in the Deseret News of September 24, 1856. It was afterwards published in England in the Millennial Star, February, 1859. The publication in the Deseret News preceding Douglas' Springfield speech, mentioned above, (June, 1857) by about one year, and about four years before Douglas was nominated for the presidency by the Charleston Democratic convention.[60]

This paper is available in digital form on-line. Screenshots are included in this article.

Why did Joseph prophesy that the wicked "of this generation" would be swept from the face of the land and the Lost Ten tribes would be gathered?

The final and total return of the Ten Tribes is not required by the prophecy—only the preparation and preliminaries for their return

The destruction of the wicked was seen by those to whom the prophecy was given as fulfilled by the Civil War and its attendant destruction, and it was this that those living were commanded to avoid by fleeing to Zion and the safety of the gospel:

And now I am prepared to say by the authority of Jesus Christ, that not many years shall pass away before the United States shall present such a scene of bloodshed as has not a parallel in the history of our nation; pestilence, hail, famine, and earthquake will sweep the wicked of this generation from off the face of the land, to open and prepare the way for the return of the lost tribes of Israel from the north country. The people of the Lord, those who have complied with the requirements of the new covenant, have already commenced gathering together to Zion, which is in the state of Missouri; therefore I declare unto you the warning which the Lord has commanded to declare unto this generation, remembering that the eyes of my Maker are upon me, and that to him I am accountable for every word I say, wishing nothing worse to my fellow-men than their eternal salvation; therefore, "Fear God, and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment is come." Repent ye, repent ye, and embrace the everlasting covenant, and flee to Zion, before the overflowing scourge overtake you, for there are those now living upon the earth whose eyes shall not be closed in death until they see all these things, which I have spoken, fulfilled. Remember these things; call upon the Lord while He is near, and seek Him while He may be found, is the exhortation of your unworthy servant.[61]

There are two aspects to the prophecy.

1. Destruction of the wicked (marked in blue.

These events were certainly seen by the nineteenth-century Saints as fulfilled. They saw the Civil War as the culmination of prophecies against wicked people in a wicked nation. For more information see:

Those now living are to flee to Zion to avoid the scourge—i.e., the destruction, which certainly bypassed the Saints in Utah during the Civil War.

2. The preparation for the return of the ten tribes (marked in red.

The critics wish to say that Joseph prophesied the return of the Ten Tribes—but, he did not. He prophecied that those living would see those things necessary to "prepare the way" for the return of the tribes. The prophecy also noted (in green) that this gathering was already beginning as those who embraced the covenant gathered to Zion.

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Why did Joseph Smith claim that Thomas B. Marsh, who later apostatized, would be "exalted," and that he would preach "unto the ends of the earth"?

This was a conditional prophesy, which was not fulfilled in Marsh's case because of his apostasy

Many feel that Marsh's replacement as President of the Quorum of the Twelve (Brigham Young) did fulfill this prophecy, especially in reference to the line which reads: "thy path lieth among the mountains, and among many nations." Had Marsh remained faithful, he and not Brigham would have directed the western exodus of the Saints to the Rocky Mountains. He also would have joined in the missions abroad conducted by Brigham.

Those who offer the criticism that this is a false prophecy generally do not cite the entire text

Richard Abanes, One Nation Under Gods, for example, cites only verses 3–4, 7–8, and 11.

In D&C 112꞉3-11, note the material highlighted in bold, which the author of One Nation Under Gods omits:

Nevertheless, inasmuch as thou hast abased thyself thou shalt be exalted; therefore, all thy sins are forgiven thee. Let thy heart be of good cheer before my face; and thou shalt bear record of my name, not only unto the Gentiles, but also unto the Jews; and thou shalt send forth my word unto the ends of the earth. Contend thou, therefore, morning by morning; and day after day let thy warning voice go forth; and when the night cometh let not the inhabitants of the earth slumber, because of thy speech. Let thy habitation be known in Zion, and remove not thy house; for I, the Lord, have a great work for thee to do, in publishing my name among the children of men. Therefore, gird up thy loins for the work. Let thy feet be shod also, for thou art chosen, and thy path lieth among the mountains, and among many nations. And by thy word many high ones shall be brought low, and by thy word many low ones shall be exalted. Thy voice shall be a rebuke unto the transgressor; and at thy rebuke let the tongue of the slanderer cease its perverseness. Be thou humble; and the Lord thy God shall lead thee by the hand, and give thee answer to thy prayers. I know thy heart, and have heard thy prayers concerning thy brethren. Be not partial towards them in love above many others, but let thy love be for them as for thyself; and let thy love abound unto all men, and unto all who love my name.

With the benefit of hindsight, we can see the material cautioning Marsh again pride—the cause of his apostasy and fall from Church leadership—as genuinely prophetic.

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Why did Joseph describe the United Order in revelation as "everlasting" and "immutable and unchangeable" until Jesus comes?

The United Order is an "everlasting" covenant because it comes from God, reflects his purposes, and is attended by promised blessings for all who obey

This does not mean—just as with biblical examples which use identical language—that "everlasting" is a prophecy about its duration of practice or implementation.

The relevant scripture reads (color emphasis added for clarity):

1 Verily I say unto you, my friends, I give unto you counsel, and a commandment, concerning all the properties which belong to the order which I commanded to be organized and established, to be a united order, and an everlasting order for the benefit of my church, and for the salvation of men until I come—

2 With promise immutable and unchangeable, that inasmuch as those whom I commanded were faithful they should be blessed with a multiplicity of blessings;

3 But inasmuch as they were not faithful they were nigh unto cursing.

4 Therefore, inasmuch as some of my servants have not kept the commandment, but have broken the covenant through covetousness, and with feigned words, I have cursed them with a very sore and grievous curse.

5 For I, the Lord, have decreed in my heart, that inasmuch as any man belonging to the order shall be found a transgressor, or, in other words, shall break the covenant with which ye are bound, he shall be cursed in his life, and shall be trodden down by whom I will;

6 For I, the Lord, am not to be mocked in these things—(D&C 104꞉1-6)

We note:

  • the practice of the Order is not prophesied to be "immutable and unchangeable." Rather, the Lord says that the promise is "immutable and unchangeable"—and, that promise is that "inasmuch as those whom I commanded were faithful, they should be blessed with a multiplicity of blessings."
  • the United Order is to be everlasting—that is, it is always the Lord's highest law. Temple-worthy Latter-day Saints promise to observe the law of consecration. They are not, at present, commanded to enter the United Order, but covenant to do so if asked.
  • the Lord makes it clear (verses 3-6) that some might break the covenant, and suffer the penalty. Thus, failure to live the law is not failure of a prophecy, but failure to live a commandment.

Biblical parallels: similar uses of the term "everlasting" that describe the importance and efficacy of certain commandments or ordinances

There are similar uses of the term "everlasting" that describe the importance and efficacy of certain commandments or ordinances. Yet, Christians do not believe they are bound to continue to observe these ordinances and covenants at all historical times. For example (emphasis added in all cases):

  • Aaron and the Levites are given an "everlasting priesthood throughout their generations" (Exodus 40:15, see also Numbers 25:13). Yet, modern day Christians (like many of our critics) do not believe that the only legitimate priestly authority persists with Levitical descendants, or that such descendants currently enjoy divine sanction.
  • Circumcision is described as "a token of the covenant betwixt me and you" that "my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant." Those who are not circumcised "shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant" (Genesis 17:10-14). Yet, modern Christians do not believe that circumcision continues to be binding or necessary.
  • Likewise, the "bread for a memorial" is commanded to be "set...in order before the Lord continually," since it is "taken from the children of Israel by an everlasting covenant" (Leviticus 24:8). Do the critics likewise believe that this ought to be continued in unbroken succession to the present for it to be a valid commandment from God?
Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Did Joseph Smith prophesy that Zion, in Jackson County, Missouri, would be redeemed by September 1836?

There were many conditionals placed on this prophecy—its fulfillment relied on the members' faithfulness:

use every effort to prevail on the churches to gather to those regions and locate themselves, to be in readiness to move into Jackson county in two years from the eleventh of September next, which is the appointed time for the redemption of Zion. Ifverily I say unto youif the Church with one united effort perform their duties; if they do this, the work shall be complete....and if we do not exert ourselves to the utmost in gathering up the strength of the Lord's house that this thing may be accomplished, behold there remaineth a scourge for the Church, even that they shall be driven from city to city, and [p.146] but few shall remain to receive an inheritance; if those things are not kept, there remaineth a scourge also; therefore, be wise this once, O ye children of Zion! and give heed to my counsel, saith the Lord. (emphasis added)

Compare with:

  • D&C 101꞉1-9- given on 16 December 1833 (History of the Church 1:458-464)
  • D&C 103꞉1-12- given on 24 February 1834 (History of the Church 2:36-39)
  • D&C 105꞉6-13 - given on 22 June 1834 (History of the Church 2:108-111)[62]

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

On 20 July 1831 Joseph Smith recorded a revelation identifying Independence, Missouri, as "the center place; and a spot for the temple[.]" (D&C 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:

[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. 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. 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. 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 (D&C 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.

Commandment, not Prophecy

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

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

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. ... 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 (D&C 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.[63]

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 Saints 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:

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; 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; ...:For verily I say unto you, my law shall be kept on this land. ...
Who am I that made man, saith the Lord, that will hold him guiltless that obeys not my commandments? 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. 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. For, behold, they shall push the people together from the bends of the earth. ...
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; 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. 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. Behold, here is wisdom. Let them do this lest they receive none inheritance, save it be by the shedding of blood. 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. 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. 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.[64]

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources
  • Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson, Mormonism 101. Examining the Religion of the Latter-day Saints (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2000), Chapter 9. ( Index of claims )
  • Jerald and Sandra Tanner, The Changing World of Mormonism (Moody Press, 1979), 420-421.( Index of claims )
  • Tower to Truth Ministries, "50 Questions to Ask Mormons," towertotruth.net (accessed 15 November 2007). 50 Answers
  • Watchman Fellowship, The Watchman Expositor (Page 3)
  • Watchman Fellowship, The Watchman Expositor (Page 7)
  • Watchman Fellowship, The Watchman Expositor (Page 8)

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.

Joseph received a revelation on 8 July 1838 "concerning the immediate duties of William Marks, Newel K. Whitney, and Oliver Granger" (D&C 117). The revelation 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.’[65]

Concerning Oliver Granger specifically:

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. 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 (D&C 117꞉12-13).

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.

"Sacred Remembrance" as remembered in the canon

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. His contributions to building up the Church are not forgotten. 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.

John 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."[66]

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."[67]

Boylan continues:

With respect to αναμησις, the term appears five times in the Septuagint [Greek translation of the Old Testament]. 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.[67]

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).[68]

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: [][Logical_fallacies/Page_4#Fallacy_of_the_undistributed_middle|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.[69]

In any case, either reply suffices to dispel the idea that this is a false prophesy.

Is Doctrine and Covenants 84:114 warnings to New York, Albany, and Boston an example of a false prophecy?

Figure 1. Portrait of Newel K. Whitney.

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

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.[70]

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)."[71] 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).""[71]

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.[72]

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."[73]

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.

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.[74] 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.


Source(s) of the criticism—D&C 84 and the destruction of New York, Boston, and Albany
Critical sources
  • Dick Baer
Past responses

Source(s) of the criticism—Alleged false prophecies of Joseph Smith
Critical sources


Notes

  1. Marlin K. Jensen, “The Joseph Smith Papers: The Manuscript Revelation Books,” Ensign (July 2009) off-site
  2. Letter to William McLellin, February 2, 1848, as cited in Dan Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, Vol. 5, pages 257-9.
  3. Ibid., page 257
  4. William McLellin to Joseph Smith III, September 8, 1872. See Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, Vol. 5, page 328.
  5. John L. Traughber correspondence, which appears to date from 1881. Dan Vogel’s editor comments in “Early Mormon Documents”, Vol. 5, page 333, explain his assumption this was written to James T. Cobb. See page 334 for relevant statements concerning the Mission to Canada.
  6. David Whitmer Interview with Omaha (NE) Herald, Oct. 10, 1886, as quoted by Dan Vogel in Early Mormon Documents, Vol. 5, pages 174-181. See page 180 for relevant material.
  7. David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ by a Witness to the Divine Authenticity of The Book of Mormon (David Whitmer: Richmond, Virginia, 1887).
  8. Brigham H. Roberts, Comprehensive History of the Church (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1965), 1:165. GospeLink
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 9.5 9.6 9.7 John A. Tvedtnes, "The Nature of Prophets and Prophecy," FAIR Publications, accessed November 3, 2022, https://www.fairlatterdaysaints.org/archive/publications/the-nature-of-prophets-and-prophecy-2.
  10. [citation needed]
  11. James E. Faulconer, "Foreknowledge of God," in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, ed. Daniel H. Ludlow (New York: MacMillan Publishing, 1992; 2007), 2:521–22.
  12. This stance in other branches of Christianity is sometimes called open theism. [citation needed]
  13. Elder Bruce R. McConkie, in his The Mortal Messiah (1:10), indicated that the very nature of that book made it inevitable that it would contain some of his own opinions and speculations.
  14. Millennial Star 54 (21 March 1892): 191.
  15. The First Area General Conference for Germany, Austria, Holland, Italy, Switzerland, France, Belgium, and Spain of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, held in Munich Germany, August 24-26, 1973, with Reports and Discourses, 69.
  16. Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, Vol. 2 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1958), 191.
  17. Tvedtnes continues:

    One opinion held by Joseph Smith, frequently cited by critics, is that the Lord would come in 1890 (e.g., History of the Church 2:182). That this was, in fact, his feeling, is clearly indicated by the number of references he made to it. Joseph’s statements on this subject were made in reaction to Adventist prophecies that Christ would come in the 1840s (History of the Church 5:272, 290-291, 326, 337). Joseph reported that he had once prayed to know the time of the Lord’s coming, and had been told, "My son, if thou livest until thou art eighty-five years of age, thou shalt see the face of the Son of Man." But Joseph was careful to add, "I was left to draw my own conclusions concerning this; and I took the liberty to conclude that if I did live to that time, He would make His appearance. But I do not say whether He will make His appearance or I shall go where He is" (History of the Church 5:324, 337; D&C 130꞉14-17).

    Since Joseph did not live to the age of 85, the "if" portion of the Lord’s statement to him clearly shows that it was conditional. Moreover, Joseph was not told that the Lord would return in glory in 1890, only that he would see him at that time if he was yet alive. In other words, the Lord did not answer Joseph’s question directly, for the very reason that no one knows the time of his coming–not even Joseph Smith or the angels of heaven (Matthew 24꞉36).

    One might enquire about the likelihood that the Lord would "trick" Joseph Smith thus, making him think that he would see the Lord in 1890 when, in fact, the Lord knew Joseph would die in 1844. The question is mooted by a similar situation in the Bible. Isaiah came to King Ahaz in the name of the Lord and told him that Ephraim (head of the northern kingdom of Israel) would be broken "within threescore and five years" ). Ahaz reigned in Judah from 734 to 728 B.C. Sixty-five years later would be 689-663 B.C. In actual fact, however, Israel was taken captive in 722 B.C., just six years after Ahaz’s death, when his son Hezekiah was king of Judah.

    Joseph made an assumption based on what the Lord told him, but it was only an assumption, and it was unwarranted. But this assumption guided some of his other declarations. This does not make him a false prophet, only a mortal who–like the rest of us–often let preconceived notions govern his thoughts. He was perfectly willing (and able) to change direction when the Lord contradicted any of his preconceptions.

    This same charge is addressed here further in the article.
  18. Some might be disturbed by the use of the word "repent" in this passage. The meaning of the underlying Hebrew verb used in the passage is "to regret," and does not imply that the Lord is guilty of any wrongdoing. At the time the King James Bible was translated, "repent" merely meant to change one’s mind.
  19. (BYU Studies, vol. 20, no.2, Winter 1980, 218, ftnt. [needs work]
  20. Words of Joseph Smith [citation needed] ideally to JSPP.
  21. (Lucy Mack Smith History, chapter 46).
  22. (Words of Joseph Smith).  [needs work]
  23. (Times and Seasons, vol. 1, no. 8 June 1840, 133)
  24. see Words of Joseph Smith [needs work]
  25. (Times and Seasons, vol. 5, no. 17, 15 September 1844, 651).
  26. (see HC, 7:212; JD, 1:364).
  27. (Words of Joseph Smith[needs work]
  28. 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.
  29. 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
  30. Van Hale, "Mormons And Moonmen," Sunstone 7 no. (Issue #5) (September/October 1982), 13–14. off-site
  31. Hyrum Smith, "Concerning the plurality of gods & worlds," 27 April 1843; cited in Eugene England (editor), "George Laub's Nauvoo Journal," Brigham Young University Studies 18 no. 2 (Winter 1978), 177.off-site
  32. Brigham Young, "The Gospel—The One-Man Power," (24 July 1870) Journal of Discourses 13:271-271.
  33. Patriarchal Blessings Books 9:294–295.
  34. Young Woman's Journal (1892) 3: 263.
  35. Patrick Moore, New Guide to the Moon (W.W. Norton & Company, New York: 1976), cited by Van Hale, "Mormons And Moonmen," Sunstone 7 no. (Issue #5) (September/October 1982), 15. off-site
  36. Van Hale, "Mormons And Moonmen," 15.
  37. Holmes, 464.
  38. Moore, New Guide to the Moon 130–131; cited by Van Hale, "Mormons And Moonmen," 16.
  39. Painesville Telegraph (11 September 1835).
  40. New York Sun 16 September 1835; cited by Alex Boese, "The Great Moon Hoax," museumofhoaxes.comoff-site
  41. Richard Holmes, The Age of Wonder (London: Harper Press, 2008), 199.
  42. Holmes, 465, (italics in original).
  43. Deseret News 6 (1856): 134d.
  44. ‘Quebec,’ "The Moon", Contributor 1/9 (June 1880): 193-5, from page 195
  45. Marvin S. Hill, Keith C. Rooker and Larry T. Wimmer, "The Kirtland Economy Revisited: A Market Critique of Sectarian Economics," Brigham Young University Studies 17 no. 4 (Summer 1977), 445, and footnote 113. PDF link
  46. Richard Abanes, One Nation Under Gods: A History of the Mormon Church (New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, 2003), 464, 617 n. 23 ( Index of claims ) D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power (Signature Books, 1994), 634.
  47. Joseph Smith, "Observations Respecting the Priesthood," A Sermon Delivered on 28 April 1842, from the Minutes of the Nauvoo [Illinois] Relief Society, original in Church Archives; reproduced in Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, The Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of Joseph Smith, 2nd Edition, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1996), 114. Also in Joseph Smith in The Essential Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature, 1995), 162-163. Compare with edited versions of these remarks in Joseph Smith, Jr., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected by Joseph Fielding Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976), 227. off-site and History of the Church, 4:605–606. Volume 4 link
  48. Joseph Smith, Jr., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected by Joseph Fielding Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976), 137. off-site
  49. Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery, Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith, 2nd edition, (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1994). [citation needed]
  50. Newell and Avery, 174; citing Brigham Young statement, 9 March 1845, Seventies Record, LDS Archives
  51. Newell and Avery, 174; John Taylor, 29 June 1881, LDS Archives
  52. Newell and Avery, 109; citing RS Minutes, 18th meeting, 28 September 1842.
  53. Eliza R Snow, "A Book of Records Containing the Minutes of the Organization and Proceedings of the Female Relief Society of West Jordan Ward," 12 April 1868, LDS Archives
  54. For example, Joseph spoke to the Relief Society on 30 March 1842: "Pres. Joseph Smith arose—spoke of the organization of the society. Said he was deeply interested that it might be built up to the Most High in an acceptable manner—that its rules must be observed—that none should be received into the society but those who were worthy. Proposed that the society go into a close examination of every candidate—that they were going too fast—that the society should grow up by degrees; should commence with a few individuals—thus have a select society of the virtuous, and those who will walk circumspectly. Commended them for their zeal but said some times their zeal was not according to knowledge. One principal object of the institution was to purge out iniquity—said they must be extremely careful in all their examinations or the consequences would be serious. Said all difficulties which might and would cross our way must be surmounted, though the soul be tried, the heart faint, and hands hang down—must not retrace our steps. That there must be decision of character aside from sympathy. That when instructed we must obey that voice, observe the constitution, 2 that the blessings of heaven may rest down upon us. All must act in concert or nothing can be done, that the society should move according to the ancient Priesthood, hence there should be a select society, separate from all the evils of the world, choice, virtuous and holy." - Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, The Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of Joseph Smith, 2nd Edition, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1996), 110. Compare versions in Joseph Smith, Jr., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected by Joseph Fielding Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976), 201. off-site; and History of the Church, 4:570. Volume 4 link
  55. Joseph Smith, Jr., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected by Joseph Fielding Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976), 225–229. off-site See also History of the Church, 4:602-607. Volume 4 link
  56. 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
  57. 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
  58. 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
  59. 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), 5:394. Volume 5 link
  60. History of the Church, 5:393. Volume 5 link The History of the Church notes that the original source was taken "from the journal of William Clayton, who was present," though the prophecy against Douglas is in not the published portions of Clayton's journals (See Cecelia Warner, "The Tanners On Trial," Sunstone: Review 4:4/6 (April 1984); Lawrence Foster, "Career Apostates: Reflections on the Works of Jerald and Sandra Tanner," Dialogue 17/2 (Summer 1984): 48 and n. 28; James B. Allen, review of An Intimate Chronicle: The Journals of William Clayton, by George D. Smith, ed., BYU Studies 35/2 (1995): 165–75). It is not known if more material is in the Clayton journals that served as a basis for the complete History of the Church entry. At any rate, the publication of the prophecy before June 1857 makes the point moot—the Church was claiming this as a prophecy well before it was fulfilled, and had no reasons before then to attack Douglas if the prophecy was unauthentic.[citation needed]
  61. History of the Church, 1:315-316. Volume 1 link
  62.  [needs work]
  63. Noah Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language (New York: S. Converse, 1828), s.v. "shall."
  64. 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).
  65. 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 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). Volume 3 link
  66. John Tvedtnes, "The Nature of Prophets and Prophecy," <https://www.fairmormon.org/archive/publications/the-nature-of-prophets-and-prophecy-2> (13 May 2020).
  67. 67.0 67.1 Robert S. Boylan, "Oliver Granger and ‘Sacred Rememberance’," (13 May 2020).
  68. Richard Packham, "Joseph Smith as Prophet," <http://packham.n4m.org/prophet.htm> (13 May 2020).
  69. Boylan, "Oliver Granger," (13 May 2020).
  70. John A. Tvedtnes, "A Reply to Dick Baer," <http://www.shields-research.org/Critics/Tvedtnes.htm> (29 June 2020).
  71. 71.0 71.1 Donald W. Parry and Jay A. Parry, Understanding the Signs of the Times (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1999), 465.
  72. DC 84꞉50-53,94].
  73. DC 49꞉6-7].
  74. 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).

Response to claim: 461 - The author claims that the Civil War prophecy was false

The author(s) of One Nation Under Gods make(s) the following claim:

The author claims that the Civil War prophecy was false

Author's sources:
  1. No citation provided

FAIR's Response

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

Joseph Smith reiterated the prophecy in 1842, and added more detail, 19 years before the Civil War, and Orson Pratt preached about the prophesy in 1832, 29 years before the Civil War.


Articles about Joseph Smith

What is Joseph Smith's 1832 prophecy of the Civil War?

The prophecy was given 25 December 1832 and is given in Doctrine and Covenants 87:1-8

1 VERILY, thus saith the Lord concerning the wars that will shortly come to pass, beginning at the rebellion of South Carolina, which will eventually terminate in the death and misery of many souls;

2 And the time will come that war will be poured out upon all nations, beginning at this place.

3 For behold, the Southern States shall be divided against the Northern States, and the Southern States will call on other nations, even the nation of Great Britain, as it is called, and they shall also call upon other nations, in order to defend themselves against other nations; and then war shall be poured out upon all nations.

4 And it shall come to pass, after many days, slaves shall rise up against their masters, who shall be marshaled and disciplined for war.

5 And it shall come to pass also that the remnants who are left of the land will marshal themselves, and shall become exceedingly angry, and shall vex the Gentiles with a sore vexation.

6 And thus, with the sword and by bloodshed the inhabitants of the earth shall mourn; and with famine, and plague, and earthquake, and the thunder of heaven, and the fierce and vivid lightning also, shall the inhabitants of the earth be made to feel the wrath, and indignation, and chastening hand of an Almighty God, until the consumption decreed hath made a full end of all nations;

7 That the cry of the saints, and of the blood of the saints, shall cease to come up into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth, from the earth, to be avenged of their enemies.

8 Wherefore, stand ye in holy places, and be not moved, until the day of the Lord come; for behold, it cometh quickly, saith the Lord. Amen. (D&C 87꞉1-8)

Attempts to explain away this prophecy fail on multiple grounds. It is no surprise that nineteenth-century members of the Church consistently saw the Civil War as a fulfillment of prophecy, and evidence of Joseph Smith's prophetic gifts.

After the end of the rebellion in South Carolina, did the Church not mention the Civil War prophecy for many years?

Joseph Smith reiterated the prophecy in 1842, and added more detail, 19 years before the Civil War

12 I prophesy, in the name of the Lord God, that the commencement of the difficulties which will cause much bloodshed previous to the coming of the Son of Man will be in South Carolina.

13 It may probably arise through the slave question. This a voice declared to me, while I was praying earnestly on the subject, December 25th, 1832. (D&C 130꞉12-13)

Orson Pratt preached about the prophesy in 1832, 29 years before the Civil War

Orson Pratt testified that he began preaching the prophecy soon after it was given. In 1870, he said:

I went forth before my beard was gray, before my hair began to turn white, when I was a youth of nineteen, now I am fifty-eight, and from that time on I published these tidings among the inhabitants of the earth. I carried forth the written revelation, foretelling this great contest, some twenty-eight years before the war commenced. This prophecy has been printed and circulated extensively in this and other nations and languages. It pointed out the place where it should commence in South Carolina. That which I declared over the New England States, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and many other parts in the East, when but a boy, came to pass twenty-eight years after the revelation was given.

When they were talking about a war commencing down here in Kansas, I told them that was not the place; I also told them that the revelation had designated South Carolina, "and," said I, "you have no need to think that the Kansas war is going to be the war that is to be so terribly destructive in its character and nature. No, it must commence at the place the Lord has designated by revelation."

What did they have to say to me? They thought it was a Mormon humbug, and laughed me to scorn, and they looked upon that revelation as they do upon all others that God has given in these latter days—as without divine authority. But behold and lo! in process of time it came to pass, again establishing the divinity of this work, and giving another proof that God is in this work, and is performing that which He spoke by the mouths of the ancient prophets, as recorded in the Book of Mormon before any Church of Latter-day Saints was in existence.[1]

Thus, Orson Pratt indicates that not only did he preach regarding Joseph's prophesy in 1832, but that he was ridiculed for it. He would also remember:

Now I am aware that it is almost impossible for even some of the Latter-day Saints to get that confidence and that strong faith in the events which God intends to accomplish on this land in the future to believe in such a thing, to say nothing about outsiders, that do not believe a word of it. Outsiders do not believe it any more than they believed me when I was a boy and took that revelation which was given in 1832, and carried it forth among many towns and cities and told them there was to be a great and terrible war between the North and the South, and read to them the revelation. Did they believe it? Would they consider that there was any truth in it? Not in the least, "that is a Mormon humbug" they would say. "What! this great and powerful nation of ours to be divided one part against the other and many hundreds of thousands of souls to be destroyed by civil wars!" Not a word of it would they believe. They do not believe what is still in the future.[2]

The Church printed the prophecy in the Pearl of Great Price in 1851, ten years before the Civil War

The Church also printed the prophecy in the Pearl of Great Price in 1851, and continued to publicize it until the Civil War. Clearly, they did not keep it "under wraps" until the Civil War became inevitable.[3]

Orson Pratt also included the full prophecy from December 1832 on the front page of his publication The Seer in April 1854, seven years before the Civil War

Orson Pratt also included the full prophecy from December 1832 on the front page of his publication The Seer in April 1854, with interpretation and editorial comment for 6 pages.[4] There are also many extant manuscript copies of the prophecy, in the handwriting of men who left the church before Joseph Smith died, and some who didn't (WW Phelps, Thomas Bullock, Willard Richards [who died before the Civil War], Edward Partridge, Algernon Sidney Gilbert, Frederick G. Williams).[5]

The Philadelphia Sunday Mercury quoted the prophecy in 1851, ten years before the Civil War

Robert Woodford's Ph.D. thesis also located a an article in a Philadelphia paper quoting the revelation from 1851, with comments, from May 1861; it was reprinted in England a month later:

Philadelphia Sunday Mercury, Sunday May 5, 1861

A MORMON PROPHECY

We have in our possession a pamphlet, published at Liverpool, in 1851, containing a selection from the ‘revelations, translations and narratives’ of Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism. The following prophecy is here said to have been made by Smith, on the 25th of December, 1832. In view of our present troubles, this prediction seems to be in progress of fulfilment, whether Joe Smith was a humbug or not:

‘A REVELATION AND PROPHECY BY THE PROPHET, SEER, AND REVELATOR, JOSEPH SMITH. Verily thus saith the Lord…. Amen [complete text quoted]’

The war began in South Carolina. Insurrections of slaves are already dreaded. Famine will certainly afflict some Southern communities. The interference of Great Britain, on account of the want of cotton, is not improbable, if the war is protracted. In the meantime, a general war in Europe appears to be imminent. Have we not had a prophet among us?[6]

Clearly, members of the Church did not hide the prophecy, and spread it far and wide among themselves and among others from the 1830s until its fulfillment in the 1860s.

Did the Church cover up the fact that the Civil War prophecy was made during the 1832 rebellion in South Carolina?

No American statesman in 1832 believed that the doctrines of secession then talked of would result in a great civil war

It is claimed that Mormons "cover up the fact that the 'prophecy' was made in the midst of an earlier rebellion in December 1832. That rebellion ended quietly a few months later."[7]

This claim, however, is false. Gil Scharffs noted that critics "are correct when they say Joseph Smith announced the Civil War prophecy when rebellion in South Carolina was threatening. A large 1832 rebellion never materialized and the threat ended a few months later."[8]

No American statesman in 1832 believed that the doctrines of secession then talked of would result in a great civil war. None of them had the foresight to see that a great rebellion would occur, beginning in South Carolina; that it would terminate in the death and misery of many souls; that the Southern States would be divided against the Northern States; that the Southern States would call on Great Britain, and that war would eventually be poured out upon all nations. No one foresaw that this would be the result except Joseph Smith--when but twenty-seven years of age--and he saw it only by the spirit of prophecy and revelation. To be required to believe that the prophecy was merely the fortunate conjecture of a more than ordinary astute mind, requires a greater amount of credulity than to concede the inspiration of the Prophet; and then the question would still remain, why is it that sagacious minds in other generations have not paralleled this astuteness of Joseph Smith's? Why did not some of the brilliant minds in the Senate or House of Representatives in 1832 make such a prediction? There was not a lack of brilliant minds in either Senate or House at that time, yet none seemed equal to the task.[9]

The fact that there were rumors of war is in fact a fulfillment of prophecy itself! (Matthew 24:6-7) The question is not were there rumors of war, but the question should be, did the events take place just as Joseph Smith said they would. As soon as Joseph uttered the words "Thus saith the Lord" he was tied to the prophecy being true or false, and if the events did not happen as he said, then, and only then, could it be declared a false prophecy.

Wars would shortly come to pass, beginning with the rebellion of South Carolina, which would eventually terminate in war being poured out upon all nations and in the death and misery of many souls

It was because of this fact that the Lord made known to Joseph Smith this revelation stating that wars would shortly come to pass, beginning with the rebellion of South Carolina, which would eventually terminate in war being poured out upon all nations and in the death and misery of many souls. It may have been an easy thing in 1832, or even 1831, for someone to predict that there would come a division of the Northern States and the Southern States, for even then there were rumblings, and South Carolina had shown the spirit of rebellion. It was not, however, within the power of man to predict in the detail which the Lord revealed to Joseph Smith, what was shortly to come to pass as an outgrowth of the Civil War and the pouring out of war upon all nations. It must be conceded that no one, except Joseph Smith, ever entered into such detail in relation to this conflict or stated with such assurance that the time would come when all nations would be involved in war, The revelation begins with these words: "Verily, thus saith the Lord, concerning the wars that will shortly come to pass beginning at the rebellion of South Carolina, which will eventually terminate in the death and misery of many souls; and the time will come that war will be poured out upon all nations, beginning at this place." This, certainly, is a bold prediction which no one, other than Joseph Smith, dared to make.[10]:2:123

Was Joseph Smith's 1832 prophecy of the Civil War invalid because a civil war was "inevitable," and "anyone" could have predicted it?

There is no evidence that Americans were predicting a Civil War between 1832-1851

So, was the prophecy "so obvious" that anyone could have predicted it? The critics must prove this contention.

Where is the evidence that most Americans were predicting a Civil War between 1832-1851? Why was Orson Pratt ridiculed if this was obvious to everyone? This seems a desperate attempt by the critics to dismiss a "hit" by Joseph. Everything can look obvious in retrospect if one doesn't know history.

There is, in fact, good contemporary evidence that this prophecy was mocked by prominent authors only 4 years before the Civil War began

A newspaper article from 1857 reported a garbled version of the prophecy, but the author's scorn is clear:

New beauties are being revealed in the Mormon faith almost every day, and new prophecies of Joe Smith fulfilled. When any event of state occurs, or any remarkable circumstance happens, some of the Mormon apostles find a prophecy of Joseph’s (probably dated twenty-five years ago), which has just been fulfilled by the occurrence. These prophecies are never spoken of until after the occurrence. The fact is, the leaders frame the prophecy themselves after its fulfillment. Joe Smith did at one time prophecy that before the year 1860, the Union would be divided, the havoc of war spread over our glorious Republic, battles be fought whose equal was never before known, father would be arrayed against son, and brother against brother, and that our glorious Republic would be stained with human blood from North to South, the Constitution be trampled upon, and the Government fall to the ground; and then would the little band of Mormons rear the standard of their creed aloft, and proclaim to the world that the millennial year had been ushered in, and the reign of Christ begun. (emphasis added)

But methinks the Mormons can entertain but little hope of the fulfillment of that prophecy, as the Union has stood the strongest test and did not even shake. But when I shall see the above prophecy come to pass, I shall probably then change my mind about the truth of the revelation. At present, I see no chance of its verification within the time specified.[11]

Was Joseph Smith's 1832 prophecy of the Civil War invalid because "war was not brought to all nations" by the Civil War and/or claiming there is "no link" between the Civil War and later conflicts?

The Civil War was, indeed, a bloody war, resulting in about 204,000 battle casualties plus another 225,000 military personnel who died of disease

Significantly, the prophesy warns of "the death and misery of many souls." The Civil War was, indeed, a bloody war, resulting in about 204,000 battle casualties plus another 225,000 military personnel who died of disease. This number actually well exceeds the American battle deaths (128,000) in World War I. In World War II, there were 396,637 battle deaths.[12]

Here are some figures concerning another war (World War I).

Authoritative tables give the grand total of all armies mobilized at 59,176,864. Direct military deaths out of this number are set down as 7,781,806; the wounded at 18,681,257; prisoners and missing 7,080,580; making a total of direct military casualties of 33,434,443. This is only a statement of military casualties however. The same authority sets down the number of civilians as being greater from famine, disease, and massacres than those who fell in the military operations. Of these two classes are named: civilians who were killed by direct military causes, and those who died from indirect causes. Of the first class the number was 100,082; and the second--those who died from indirect causes, among the Armenians, Syrians, Jews, and Greeks--massacred or starved by the Turks--are numbered at 4,000,000. The deaths numbered beyond the normal mortality of influenza and pneumonia induced by the war is placed at 4,000,000. The Serbians who died through diseases, or massacre, numbered 1,085,441. Making the total of deaths in these two classes 9,085,441, so that with military deaths and civilian deaths, resulting from the war, make a grand total of 16,967,329 deaths. And of the more than 18,000,000 who were wounded in battle 30% or about 6,000,000, were made permanent human wrecks.[13]:1:302

Following the Civil War, many nations entered into alliances and secret agreements in order to protect themselves from other nations

Following the Civil War the nations, in their great alarm because of the new methods of warfare which were being developed and their fear of other nations, entered into alliances and secret agreements in order to protect themselves from other nations. At the outbreak of the World War, these alliances had reached proportions never before known, and during the war other alliances were made until nearly every nation on the earth had taken sides with the Triple Alliance or the Triple Entente. It was during the period of the World War, 1914-1918, Great Britain made her appeal to the nations to come to the defense of the standard of Democracy. Her pleadings were heard round the world. And what is still more remarkable, the entire procedure conforms exactly to the prediction made by Joseph Smith, viz: "they shall also call upon other nations in order to defend themselves against other nations." A plurality of nations aligned and allied on both sides of the deadly conflict.[10]:2:125

This revelation was not just about the American Civil War

The revelation makes that very clear by first stating in verse one, "thus saith the Lord concerning the wars that will shortly come to pass." Notice that the word used is wars (plural), not war (singular), thereby "suggesting not one war but a continuum of conflict. Thus, like chapter 24 of Matthew, this scripture covered things both imminent and distant."[12]Of course, in our own time, we could add the war in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq, civil wars in Central America, Lebanon, the British-Argentine conflict, Desert Storm, etc.

In our several Indian uprisings since the close of the Civil War, many see the fulfillment of that part of the prophecy which declares that the "remnants who are left of the land [the American Indians] will marshal themselves, and shall become exceeding angry, and shall vex the Gentiles with a sore vexation."[13]:1:303

World history since 1861 demonstrates that armed conflict widened and persisted since the American Civil War. There is nothing in the prophecy that claims that the Civil War must be the direct cause of on-going war, merely that on-going war will occur. And, it will happen after "Great Britain" "shall...call upon other nations, in order to defend themselves":

2 And the time will come that war will be poured out upon all nations, beginning at this place.

3 For behold, the Southern States shall be divided against the Northern States, and the Southern States will call on other nations, even the nation of Great Britain, as it is called, and they shall also call upon other nations, in order to defend themselves against other nations; and then war shall be poured out upon all nations. (D&C 87꞉2-3)

This is an excellent description of WW I and II, during which war was "poured out" into global battles. And, since WW II war and strife has not ceased.

An on-line database of armed conflict demonstrates that there has not been a single year since the end of the Civil War in which a war or armed conflict did not begin, and many of these wars lasted for multiple years (or even, in some cases) decades. (Click here to download a PDF from this on-line database listing the wars from 1865-1950.)

Was Joseph Smith's 1832 prophecy of the Civil War invalid because slaves did not rise up against their masters in the Civil War?

Of the 2,653,000 soldiers enlisted on the side of the Union, 186,397 were colored, and many of them saw active service in the field against their former masters

In the part taken by negroes in the war between the states, many see the fulfillment of the prediction of the revelation that "slaves shall rise up against their masters, who shall be marshaled and disciplined for war;" for of the 2,653,000 soldiers enlisted on the side of the Union, 186,397 were colored, and many of them saw active service in the field against their former masters.[13]:1:302-303[14] However, the prophecy does not tie slave rebellions directly to the Civil War. After discussing the call on other nations for assistance, the prophecy reads:

4 And it shall come to pass, after many days, slaves shall rise up against their masters, who shall be marshaled and disciplined for war.(D&C 87꞉4)

The phrase "it came to pass," and related forms generally indicates a transition in subject or time. The prophecy is clear that the revolt of slaves will come "after many days," which in scriptural language (remember Jesus' second coming was "near," and "even at the door") generally suggests a fairly long period of time.

The prophecy also could refer to past race riots in the U.S. and other countries, uprisings in African nations against their governments, the liberation of peoples under dictatorships throughout the world, or some future liberation of those forced to fight against their will for totalitarian regimes.

What accounts of the Civil War prophecy were given by Latter-day Saint leaders?

Other accounts of the prophecy from LDS leaders

The contemporary evidence is complemented by accounts given later by LDS leaders and members:

  • I copied a revelation more than twenty-five years ago, in which it is stated that war should be in the south and in the north, and that nation after nation would become embroiled in the tumult and excitement, until war should be poured out upon the whole earth, and that this war would commence at the rebellion of South Carolina, and that times should be such that every man who did not flee to Zion would have to take up the sword against his neighbor or against his brother. These things are beginning to be made manifest, but the end is not yet; but it will come, and that too much sooner than the world of mankind anticipate, and all those things spoken by the mouths of his Prophets will be fulfilled.[15]
  • The Lord has led this people out of bondage with a high hand and an outstretched arm. No man acquainted with the history of this people is ignorant of the almighty power of God that has been manifested in the organization, growth and present condition of the Church, though they may be unable naturally to account for it. And the more we grow and prosper, the more our enemies are angry with us. They are angry with us because we told them, thirty years ago, that calamity would come upon this nation. Their anger still increases, while they are drinking of the bitter cup; and at the same time the Saints are increasing in numbers, in faith, in hope, in wealth and in power. I have talked with men who professed to be gentlemen and dispensers of life and salvation to the people, who, Pharaoh-like, declared that they would rather be damned than believe that Joseph Smith was a true Prophet of God. I promised them they should have their choice.[16]
  • We are under no necessity of sending forth the Elders of Israel in the condition that we have hitherto had to do; in fact, it would not be safe for a man to shoulder his valise and tramp through the States as the Elders used to do. Bloodshed, robbery, murder, jay-hawking (a polite name for robbery,) stalks abroad throughout the land, and the only chance for safety is for every man to pass along about his business and be silent; this is the case in many parts of the country. The fact that Joseph Smith predicted the present trouble and state of affairs—prophesied the result of mobbing the Saints in Missouri and elsewhere, enrages them; instead of the fulfillment of that prophecy making the people of the country friendly to us, it makes them bloodthirsty, more filled with hell, more eager to waste and destroy and crush out the last remaining particle of truth that may exist on the face of the land.[17]
  • These things ought to be a warning to us. We comfort our souls sometimes on the fulfillment of the prophecies of God. We say "Mormonism" must be true because Joseph Smith prophesied thus and so concerning a division of this nation, and that the calamities which are now causing it to mourn should commence in South Carolina. That is true, he did prophecy that, and did foretell the events that have since transpired, and did tell where the commencement of those difficulties should originate. Well, if this is true, are not other things true? If it is true that the Lord has revealed a certain amount of truth in relation to these matters, is it not as true that He has revealed other truths in which we are as individuals interested; and if it is true that God has commenced to deal with other nations as He is doing with this until war and desolation shall spread through the earth, it is just as true that we ought to be very careful what we are doing to secure the favor of God and to fulfill our destiny upon the earth in a manner which will meet his designs.[18]

For further discussion on the Saints' attitude to the Civil War, both before and after its outbreak, see Attitude of Saints to Civil War prophecy.

Every student of United States history is acquainted with the facts establishing a complete fulfilment of this prophecy. In 1861, more than twenty-eight years after the foregoing prediction was recorded, and ten years after its publication in England, the Civil War broke out. It is known the Confederate States solicited aid of Great Britain. While no open alliance between the Southern States and the English government was effected, British influence gave indirect assistance and substantial encouragement to the South, and this in such a way as to produce serious international complications. Vessels were built and equipped at British ports in the interests of the Confederacy; and the results of this violation of the laws of neutrality cost Great Britain fifteen and a half millions of dollars, which sum was awarded the United States at the Geneva arbitration in settlement of the Alabama claims. The Confederacy appointed commissioners to Great Britain and France; these appointees were forcibly taken by United States officers from the British steamer on which they had embarked. This act, which the United States government had to admit as overt, threatened for a time to precipitate a war between this nation and Great Britain.[19]

Did Joseph Smith prophesy that the government would be overthrown and wasted?

The prophecy has already been amply fulfilled by events in Missouri and the United States soon after Joseph's death

On 6 May 1843, Joseph Smith said:

'I prophecy in the name of the Lord God of Israel, unless the United States redress the wrongs committed upon the Saints in the state of Missouri and punish the crimes committed by her officers that in a few years the government will be utterly overthrown and wasted, and there will not be so much as a potsherd left for their wickedness in permitting the murder of men, women and children, and the wholesale plunder and extermination of thousands of her citizens to go unpunished, thereby perpetrating a foul and corroding blot upon the fair fame of this great republic, the very thought of which would have caused the high-minded and patriotic framers of the Constitution of the United States to hide their faces with shame. Judge [Stephen A. Douglas], you will aspire to the Presidency of the United States; and if you ever turn your hand against me or the Latter-day Saints, you will feel the weight of the hand of the Almighty upon you; and you will live to see and know that I have testified the truth to you; for the conversation of this day will stick to you through life.[20]

Since it is more than 150 years since this prophecy was uttered, and because the US government still exists, it is claimed that this is a false prophecy. However, the prophecy has already been amply fulfilled by events in Missouri and the United States soon after Joseph's death.

Missouri suffered greatly during the Civil War

Missouri suffered greatly during the Civil War. Over 1,200 distinct battles or skirmishes were fought on Missouri soil; only Tennessee and Virginia saw more action on their soil.

Between 1862 and 1864, the western parts of Missouri endured guerrilla warfare. Although guerrilla warfare occurred throughout much of the state, most of the incidents occurred in northern Missouri and were characterized by ambushes of individuals or families in rural areas. These incidents were particularly nefarious because their vigilante nature was outside the command and control of either side and often pitted neighbor against neighbor.

Among the more notorious incidents of guerrilla warfare were the Sacking of Osceola, burning of Platte City and the Centralia Massacre.

In 1863 following the Lawrence Massacre in Kansas, Union General Thomas Ewing, Jr. accused farmers in rural Missouri of either instigating the attack or supporting it. He issued General Order No. 11 which forced the evacuation of all residents of rural areas of the four counties (Jackson, Cass, Bates and Vernon) south of the Missouri River on the Kansas border to leave their property, which was then burned. The order applied to farmers regardless of loyalty, although those who could prove their loyalty to the Union could stay in designated towns and those who could not were exiled entirely.[21]

LDS readers will recognize that Jackson county was notorious for its treatment of the Saints, and it was among those counties from which inhabitants were evacuated and a "scorched earth" policy implemented. The commanding general ordered his men not to engage in looting or other depredations, but he proved unable to effectively control his soldiers, who were mostly Kansans eager to exact any revenge possible upon their Missouri neighbors. Animals and other property were stolen or destroyed, and houses, barns and outbuildings burnt to the ground. The area affected quickly became a devastated "no-man's-land", with only charred chimneys and burnt stubble remaining where once-fertile farms had stood.[22]

If one read's Joseph's prophecy as referring at least partly to the government of Missouri, then it was fulfilled dramatically. Nothing remained in many areas, and government in some areas broke down almost completely as various factions struggled for control.

In the US government of Joseph's day, the Whigs had won the presidency and controlled the Senate: The Whigs were destroyed as a political power, never to recover

In 1840, William Henry Harrison was elected as president on the Whig ticket. He was to die within a month of taking office, succeeded by Vice-President John Tyler who was in office when Joseph made his prophecy in May 1843. The Whig party was to fracture along pro- and anti-slavery lines, and by 1854 the northern Whigs left the party to join the new Republican party. Others were later to join the Constitutional Union party, dedicated to the avoidance of civil war. Following the Civil War, the Whigs in the south tried to regroup, but were soon absorbed into the Democratic party.[23]

Thus, in the US government of Joseph's day, the Whigs had won the presidency and controlled the Senate. The Whigs were to be destroyed as a political power, never to recover. The United States government was to be destroyed, since the secession of the South arguably remade the American political order. Eleven states formed their own government as the Confederate States of America, and two states (Missouri and Kentucky) were split between pro-Union and pro-Confederate factions. Even following the war, the Reconstruction era undertook the abolishment of the Confederacy, the reestablishment of Southern representation in the Congress, and a revamping of the United States constitution to change the relationship of the states to the federal government.

Chief among the constitutional changes was the Fourteenth Amendment, which made all citizens of the states citizens of the United States. Thus:

No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

This was a fundamental alteration of the government of the United States, and would have helped resolve many of the Saints' difficulties, had it been in place before the Civil War. Joseph Smith would complain:

I am the greatest advocate of the Constitution of the United States there is on the earth. In my feelings I am always ready to die for the protection of the weak and oppressed in their just rights. The only fault I find with the Constitution is, it is not broad enough to cover the whole ground.

Although it provides that all men shall enjoy religious freedom, yet it does not provide the manner by which that freedom can be preserved, nor for the punishment of Government officers who refuse to protect the people in their religious rights, or punish those mobs, states, or communities who interfere with the rights of the people on account of their religion. Its sentiments are good, but it provides no means of enforcing them. It has but this one fault. Under its provision, a man or a people who are able to protect themselves can get along well enough; but those who have the misfortune to be weak or unpopular are left to the merciless rage of popular fury.[24]

The fourteenth amendment gave the federal government the power to enforce defense if the states failed to do so. As George A. Smith noted:

That is the situation we were in in Missouri when Governor Dunklin declared that the constitution and laws of Missouri could not be enforced so as to protect this people. It was virtually declaring us independent of that State, and acknowledging our right to protect ourselves in that capacity.[25]

G.A. Smith notes that Missouri could refuse to protect the Saints, and the federal government could not intervene. The 14th amendment altered this state of affairs. Elias Higbee's words to Congress would likewise insist that "I told them first, that I represented a suffering people, who had been deprived, together with myself, of their rights in Missouri; who numbered something like fifteen thousand souls; and not only they, but many others were deprived of the rights guaranteed to them by the Constitution of the United States."[26]

On this view, the United States government was remade following the Civil War. The old order was gone.

During the Civil War, members of the Church clearly saw the conflict as a fulfillment of Joseph's prophecy

During the Civil War, members of the Church clearly saw the conflict as a fulfillment of Joseph's prophecy. As one federal governor wrote in 1862, "Brigham Young and other preachers are constantly inculcating in the minds of the crowded audiences who sit beneath their teachings every Sabbath that the United States is of no consequence, that it lies in ruins, and that the prophecy of Joseph Smith is being fulfilled to the letter."[27] Thus, the secession of the South and the start of the Civil War was regarded as fulfillment of prophecy. As one author noted:

Mormon leaders consistently expressed their feelings that the war had been brought on by the wickedness of the United States, which had rejected Mormonism and permitted the death of the prophet of God and his servants. Because no effort had been made to punish the guilty or to prevent recurrences, the Mormons saw no reason to wonder at secession and dismemberment of such a union. Although the waste of lives was lamentable, a war between the states would avenge the death of Joseph Smith.

The Saints seemed especially gratified that Jackson County was a war zone and that Missouri would suffer the penalty of its cruelties to the Mormons.[28]

After the war, B.H. Roberts linked Joseph's prophecy to the Civil War, since it also forms part of the prophecy given to Stephen Douglas

After the war, B.H. Roberts linked Joseph's prophecy to the Civil War, since it also forms part of the prophecy given to Stephen Douglas. Noted Roberts:

It would be mere conjecture, of course, to say what the result would have been had Stephen A. Douglas been true to the Saints--the people of his friend Joseph Smith. But certainly had he been elected in 1860 the Southern States would have had no such excuse for their great movement of secession as they at least persuaded themselves they had in the election of Abraham Lincoln. And had Mr. Douglas in the event of his election followed the counsel given to the government and people of the United States by Joseph Smith in respect to the question of slavery, that evil might have been abolished without the effusion of blood, and no place found in the history of the United States for that horrible conflict known as the American civil war.[29]

Thus, Roberts too saw the Civil War and its surrounding events as fulfillment of Joseph's prophecy.

Joseph Smith's Civil War prophecy

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Notes

  1. Orson Pratt, (10 April 1870) Journal of Discourses 13:135.
  2. Orson Pratt, (27 December 1868) Journal of Discourses 12:344.
  3. Paul H. Peterson, "Civil War Prophecy," in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 4 vols., edited by Daniel H. Ludlow, (New York, Macmillan Publishing, 1992), 1:288.
  4. Editor [Orson Pratt], "A Revelation and Prophecy by the Prophet, Seer, and Revelator, Joseph Smith," The Seer 2/4 (April 1854): 241–247.
  5. Robert Woodford, The Historical Development of the Doctrine and Covenants, Ph.D. Dissertation, Brigham Young University, 1974, 1104–1124.
  6. Woodford, "The Historical Development of the Doctrine and Covenants," 1110, 1111 (figures 12 and 13) [figures contain photocopy of the masthead of each newspaper, and the article itself].
  7. The God Makers, 224, lines 21-24; cited by Gilbert W. Scharffs, The Truth about ‘The God Makers’ (Salt Lake City, Utah: Publishers Press, 1989; republished by Bookcraft, 1994), Chapter 15. Full text FAIR link ISBN 088494963X. direct off-site
  8. Gilbert W. Scharffs, The Truth about ‘The God Makers’ (Salt Lake City, Utah: Publishers Press, 1989; republished by Bookcraft, 1994), Chapter 15. Full text FAIR link ISBN 088494963X. direct off-site
  9. Brigham H. Roberts, New Witnesses for God, 3 Vols., (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1909[1895, 1903]), 1:319. ISBN 0962254541.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Joseph Fielding Smith, Church History and Modern Revelation (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book Co., 1947).
  11. "O.P.M.," "Mormonism and its Origin, Number 4," The Golden Era San Francisco (18 October 1857). [Thanks to Ted Jones for this reference.]
  12. 12.0 12.1 Neal A. Maxwell, Sermons Not Spoken (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1985), 66.
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 Brigham H. Roberts, Comprehensive History of the Church (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1965). GospeLink
  14. "American Civil War: Slavery during the war," wikipedia.org (accessed 15 Jan 2009) off-site
  15. Wilford Woodruff, (July 27, 1862) Journal of Discourses 10:13.
  16. Brigham Young, (September 28, 1862) Journal of Discourses 10:4.
  17. George A. Smith, (April 6, 1863) Journal of Discourses 10:144.
  18. John Taylor, (October 25, 1863) Journal of Discourses 10:278.
  19. James E. Talmage, The Articles of Faith (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1981[1899]), 25-26.
  20. 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), 5:394. Volume 5 link
  21. "Missouri in the American Civil War," Wikipedia (accessed 3 January 2009) off-site.
  22. "General Order No. 11," Wikipedia (accessed 3 January 2009) off-site.
  23. "Whig Party (United States)," Wikipedia (accessed 3 January 2009) off-site
  24. 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), 6:56–57. Volume 6 link
  25. George A. Smith, "Difficulties With Which the Church Has Had to Contend in Its Establishment in Utah," (10 September 1861) Journal of Discourses 9:110.
  26. 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), 4:81. Volume 4 link
  27. Stephen S. Harding; cited in Eugene. E. Campbell, Establishing Zion: The Mormon Church in the American West, 1847-1869 (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, 1988), 291.
  28. Eugene. E. Campbell, Establishing Zion: The Mormon Church in the American West, 1847-1869 (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, 1988), 291.
  29. Brigham H. Roberts, "The Evidence Of Prophecy," in New Witnesses for God, 3 Vols., (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1909[1895, 1903]), 1:311. ISBN 0962254541.
Articles about Joseph Smith

What is Joseph Smith's 1832 prophecy of the Civil War?

The prophecy was given 25 December 1832 and is given in Doctrine and Covenants 87:1-8

1 VERILY, thus saith the Lord concerning the wars that will shortly come to pass, beginning at the rebellion of South Carolina, which will eventually terminate in the death and misery of many souls;

2 And the time will come that war will be poured out upon all nations, beginning at this place.

3 For behold, the Southern States shall be divided against the Northern States, and the Southern States will call on other nations, even the nation of Great Britain, as it is called, and they shall also call upon other nations, in order to defend themselves against other nations; and then war shall be poured out upon all nations.

4 And it shall come to pass, after many days, slaves shall rise up against their masters, who shall be marshaled and disciplined for war.

5 And it shall come to pass also that the remnants who are left of the land will marshal themselves, and shall become exceedingly angry, and shall vex the Gentiles with a sore vexation.

6 And thus, with the sword and by bloodshed the inhabitants of the earth shall mourn; and with famine, and plague, and earthquake, and the thunder of heaven, and the fierce and vivid lightning also, shall the inhabitants of the earth be made to feel the wrath, and indignation, and chastening hand of an Almighty God, until the consumption decreed hath made a full end of all nations;

7 That the cry of the saints, and of the blood of the saints, shall cease to come up into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth, from the earth, to be avenged of their enemies.

8 Wherefore, stand ye in holy places, and be not moved, until the day of the Lord come; for behold, it cometh quickly, saith the Lord. Amen. (D&C 87꞉1-8)

Attempts to explain away this prophecy fail on multiple grounds. It is no surprise that nineteenth-century members of the Church consistently saw the Civil War as a fulfillment of prophecy, and evidence of Joseph Smith's prophetic gifts.

After the end of the rebellion in South Carolina, did the Church not mention the Civil War prophecy for many years?

Joseph Smith reiterated the prophecy in 1842, and added more detail, 19 years before the Civil War

12 I prophesy, in the name of the Lord God, that the commencement of the difficulties which will cause much bloodshed previous to the coming of the Son of Man will be in South Carolina.

13 It may probably arise through the slave question. This a voice declared to me, while I was praying earnestly on the subject, December 25th, 1832. (D&C 130꞉12-13)

Orson Pratt preached about the prophesy in 1832, 29 years before the Civil War

Orson Pratt testified that he began preaching the prophecy soon after it was given. In 1870, he said:

I went forth before my beard was gray, before my hair began to turn white, when I was a youth of nineteen, now I am fifty-eight, and from that time on I published these tidings among the inhabitants of the earth. I carried forth the written revelation, foretelling this great contest, some twenty-eight years before the war commenced. This prophecy has been printed and circulated extensively in this and other nations and languages. It pointed out the place where it should commence in South Carolina. That which I declared over the New England States, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and many other parts in the East, when but a boy, came to pass twenty-eight years after the revelation was given.

When they were talking about a war commencing down here in Kansas, I told them that was not the place; I also told them that the revelation had designated South Carolina, "and," said I, "you have no need to think that the Kansas war is going to be the war that is to be so terribly destructive in its character and nature. No, it must commence at the place the Lord has designated by revelation."

What did they have to say to me? They thought it was a Mormon humbug, and laughed me to scorn, and they looked upon that revelation as they do upon all others that God has given in these latter days—as without divine authority. But behold and lo! in process of time it came to pass, again establishing the divinity of this work, and giving another proof that God is in this work, and is performing that which He spoke by the mouths of the ancient prophets, as recorded in the Book of Mormon before any Church of Latter-day Saints was in existence.[1]

Thus, Orson Pratt indicates that not only did he preach regarding Joseph's prophesy in 1832, but that he was ridiculed for it. He would also remember:

Now I am aware that it is almost impossible for even some of the Latter-day Saints to get that confidence and that strong faith in the events which God intends to accomplish on this land in the future to believe in such a thing, to say nothing about outsiders, that do not believe a word of it. Outsiders do not believe it any more than they believed me when I was a boy and took that revelation which was given in 1832, and carried it forth among many towns and cities and told them there was to be a great and terrible war between the North and the South, and read to them the revelation. Did they believe it? Would they consider that there was any truth in it? Not in the least, "that is a Mormon humbug" they would say. "What! this great and powerful nation of ours to be divided one part against the other and many hundreds of thousands of souls to be destroyed by civil wars!" Not a word of it would they believe. They do not believe what is still in the future.[2]

The Church printed the prophecy in the Pearl of Great Price in 1851, ten years before the Civil War

The Church also printed the prophecy in the Pearl of Great Price in 1851, and continued to publicize it until the Civil War. Clearly, they did not keep it "under wraps" until the Civil War became inevitable.[3]

Orson Pratt also included the full prophecy from December 1832 on the front page of his publication The Seer in April 1854, seven years before the Civil War

Orson Pratt also included the full prophecy from December 1832 on the front page of his publication The Seer in April 1854, with interpretation and editorial comment for 6 pages.[4] There are also many extant manuscript copies of the prophecy, in the handwriting of men who left the church before Joseph Smith died, and some who didn't (WW Phelps, Thomas Bullock, Willard Richards [who died before the Civil War], Edward Partridge, Algernon Sidney Gilbert, Frederick G. Williams).[5]

The Philadelphia Sunday Mercury quoted the prophecy in 1851, ten years before the Civil War

Robert Woodford's Ph.D. thesis also located a an article in a Philadelphia paper quoting the revelation from 1851, with comments, from May 1861; it was reprinted in England a month later:

Philadelphia Sunday Mercury, Sunday May 5, 1861

A MORMON PROPHECY

We have in our possession a pamphlet, published at Liverpool, in 1851, containing a selection from the ‘revelations, translations and narratives’ of Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism. The following prophecy is here said to have been made by Smith, on the 25th of December, 1832. In view of our present troubles, this prediction seems to be in progress of fulfilment, whether Joe Smith was a humbug or not:

‘A REVELATION AND PROPHECY BY THE PROPHET, SEER, AND REVELATOR, JOSEPH SMITH. Verily thus saith the Lord…. Amen [complete text quoted]’

The war began in South Carolina. Insurrections of slaves are already dreaded. Famine will certainly afflict some Southern communities. The interference of Great Britain, on account of the want of cotton, is not improbable, if the war is protracted. In the meantime, a general war in Europe appears to be imminent. Have we not had a prophet among us?[6]

Clearly, members of the Church did not hide the prophecy, and spread it far and wide among themselves and among others from the 1830s until its fulfillment in the 1860s.

Did the Church cover up the fact that the Civil War prophecy was made during the 1832 rebellion in South Carolina?

No American statesman in 1832 believed that the doctrines of secession then talked of would result in a great civil war

It is claimed that Mormons "cover up the fact that the 'prophecy' was made in the midst of an earlier rebellion in December 1832. That rebellion ended quietly a few months later."[7]

This claim, however, is false. Gil Scharffs noted that critics "are correct when they say Joseph Smith announced the Civil War prophecy when rebellion in South Carolina was threatening. A large 1832 rebellion never materialized and the threat ended a few months later."[8]

No American statesman in 1832 believed that the doctrines of secession then talked of would result in a great civil war. None of them had the foresight to see that a great rebellion would occur, beginning in South Carolina; that it would terminate in the death and misery of many souls; that the Southern States would be divided against the Northern States; that the Southern States would call on Great Britain, and that war would eventually be poured out upon all nations. No one foresaw that this would be the result except Joseph Smith--when but twenty-seven years of age--and he saw it only by the spirit of prophecy and revelation. To be required to believe that the prophecy was merely the fortunate conjecture of a more than ordinary astute mind, requires a greater amount of credulity than to concede the inspiration of the Prophet; and then the question would still remain, why is it that sagacious minds in other generations have not paralleled this astuteness of Joseph Smith's? Why did not some of the brilliant minds in the Senate or House of Representatives in 1832 make such a prediction? There was not a lack of brilliant minds in either Senate or House at that time, yet none seemed equal to the task.[9]

The fact that there were rumors of war is in fact a fulfillment of prophecy itself! (Matthew 24:6-7) The question is not were there rumors of war, but the question should be, did the events take place just as Joseph Smith said they would. As soon as Joseph uttered the words "Thus saith the Lord" he was tied to the prophecy being true or false, and if the events did not happen as he said, then, and only then, could it be declared a false prophecy.

Wars would shortly come to pass, beginning with the rebellion of South Carolina, which would eventually terminate in war being poured out upon all nations and in the death and misery of many souls

It was because of this fact that the Lord made known to Joseph Smith this revelation stating that wars would shortly come to pass, beginning with the rebellion of South Carolina, which would eventually terminate in war being poured out upon all nations and in the death and misery of many souls. It may have been an easy thing in 1832, or even 1831, for someone to predict that there would come a division of the Northern States and the Southern States, for even then there were rumblings, and South Carolina had shown the spirit of rebellion. It was not, however, within the power of man to predict in the detail which the Lord revealed to Joseph Smith, what was shortly to come to pass as an outgrowth of the Civil War and the pouring out of war upon all nations. It must be conceded that no one, except Joseph Smith, ever entered into such detail in relation to this conflict or stated with such assurance that the time would come when all nations would be involved in war, The revelation begins with these words: "Verily, thus saith the Lord, concerning the wars that will shortly come to pass beginning at the rebellion of South Carolina, which will eventually terminate in the death and misery of many souls; and the time will come that war will be poured out upon all nations, beginning at this place." This, certainly, is a bold prediction which no one, other than Joseph Smith, dared to make.[10]:2:123

Was Joseph Smith's 1832 prophecy of the Civil War invalid because a civil war was "inevitable," and "anyone" could have predicted it?

There is no evidence that Americans were predicting a Civil War between 1832-1851

So, was the prophecy "so obvious" that anyone could have predicted it? The critics must prove this contention.

Where is the evidence that most Americans were predicting a Civil War between 1832-1851? Why was Orson Pratt ridiculed if this was obvious to everyone? This seems a desperate attempt by the critics to dismiss a "hit" by Joseph. Everything can look obvious in retrospect if one doesn't know history.

There is, in fact, good contemporary evidence that this prophecy was mocked by prominent authors only 4 years before the Civil War began

A newspaper article from 1857 reported a garbled version of the prophecy, but the author's scorn is clear:

New beauties are being revealed in the Mormon faith almost every day, and new prophecies of Joe Smith fulfilled. When any event of state occurs, or any remarkable circumstance happens, some of the Mormon apostles find a prophecy of Joseph’s (probably dated twenty-five years ago), which has just been fulfilled by the occurrence. These prophecies are never spoken of until after the occurrence. The fact is, the leaders frame the prophecy themselves after its fulfillment. Joe Smith did at one time prophecy that before the year 1860, the Union would be divided, the havoc of war spread over our glorious Republic, battles be fought whose equal was never before known, father would be arrayed against son, and brother against brother, and that our glorious Republic would be stained with human blood from North to South, the Constitution be trampled upon, and the Government fall to the ground; and then would the little band of Mormons rear the standard of their creed aloft, and proclaim to the world that the millennial year had been ushered in, and the reign of Christ begun. (emphasis added)

But methinks the Mormons can entertain but little hope of the fulfillment of that prophecy, as the Union has stood the strongest test and did not even shake. But when I shall see the above prophecy come to pass, I shall probably then change my mind about the truth of the revelation. At present, I see no chance of its verification within the time specified.[11]

Was Joseph Smith's 1832 prophecy of the Civil War invalid because "war was not brought to all nations" by the Civil War and/or claiming there is "no link" between the Civil War and later conflicts?

The Civil War was, indeed, a bloody war, resulting in about 204,000 battle casualties plus another 225,000 military personnel who died of disease

Significantly, the prophesy warns of "the death and misery of many souls." The Civil War was, indeed, a bloody war, resulting in about 204,000 battle casualties plus another 225,000 military personnel who died of disease. This number actually well exceeds the American battle deaths (128,000) in World War I. In World War II, there were 396,637 battle deaths.[12]

Here are some figures concerning another war (World War I).

Authoritative tables give the grand total of all armies mobilized at 59,176,864. Direct military deaths out of this number are set down as 7,781,806; the wounded at 18,681,257; prisoners and missing 7,080,580; making a total of direct military casualties of 33,434,443. This is only a statement of military casualties however. The same authority sets down the number of civilians as being greater from famine, disease, and massacres than those who fell in the military operations. Of these two classes are named: civilians who were killed by direct military causes, and those who died from indirect causes. Of the first class the number was 100,082; and the second--those who died from indirect causes, among the Armenians, Syrians, Jews, and Greeks--massacred or starved by the Turks--are numbered at 4,000,000. The deaths numbered beyond the normal mortality of influenza and pneumonia induced by the war is placed at 4,000,000. The Serbians who died through diseases, or massacre, numbered 1,085,441. Making the total of deaths in these two classes 9,085,441, so that with military deaths and civilian deaths, resulting from the war, make a grand total of 16,967,329 deaths. And of the more than 18,000,000 who were wounded in battle 30% or about 6,000,000, were made permanent human wrecks.[13]:1:302

Following the Civil War, many nations entered into alliances and secret agreements in order to protect themselves from other nations

Following the Civil War the nations, in their great alarm because of the new methods of warfare which were being developed and their fear of other nations, entered into alliances and secret agreements in order to protect themselves from other nations. At the outbreak of the World War, these alliances had reached proportions never before known, and during the war other alliances were made until nearly every nation on the earth had taken sides with the Triple Alliance or the Triple Entente. It was during the period of the World War, 1914-1918, Great Britain made her appeal to the nations to come to the defense of the standard of Democracy. Her pleadings were heard round the world. And what is still more remarkable, the entire procedure conforms exactly to the prediction made by Joseph Smith, viz: "they shall also call upon other nations in order to defend themselves against other nations." A plurality of nations aligned and allied on both sides of the deadly conflict.[10]:2:125

This revelation was not just about the American Civil War

The revelation makes that very clear by first stating in verse one, "thus saith the Lord concerning the wars that will shortly come to pass." Notice that the word used is wars (plural), not war (singular), thereby "suggesting not one war but a continuum of conflict. Thus, like chapter 24 of Matthew, this scripture covered things both imminent and distant."[12]Of course, in our own time, we could add the war in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq, civil wars in Central America, Lebanon, the British-Argentine conflict, Desert Storm, etc.

In our several Indian uprisings since the close of the Civil War, many see the fulfillment of that part of the prophecy which declares that the "remnants who are left of the land [the American Indians] will marshal themselves, and shall become exceeding angry, and shall vex the Gentiles with a sore vexation."[13]:1:303

World history since 1861 demonstrates that armed conflict widened and persisted since the American Civil War. There is nothing in the prophecy that claims that the Civil War must be the direct cause of on-going war, merely that on-going war will occur. And, it will happen after "Great Britain" "shall...call upon other nations, in order to defend themselves":

2 And the time will come that war will be poured out upon all nations, beginning at this place.

3 For behold, the Southern States shall be divided against the Northern States, and the Southern States will call on other nations, even the nation of Great Britain, as it is called, and they shall also call upon other nations, in order to defend themselves against other nations; and then war shall be poured out upon all nations. (D&C 87꞉2-3)

This is an excellent description of WW I and II, during which war was "poured out" into global battles. And, since WW II war and strife has not ceased.

An on-line database of armed conflict demonstrates that there has not been a single year since the end of the Civil War in which a war or armed conflict did not begin, and many of these wars lasted for multiple years (or even, in some cases) decades. (Click here to download a PDF from this on-line database listing the wars from 1865-1950.)

Was Joseph Smith's 1832 prophecy of the Civil War invalid because slaves did not rise up against their masters in the Civil War?

Of the 2,653,000 soldiers enlisted on the side of the Union, 186,397 were colored, and many of them saw active service in the field against their former masters

In the part taken by negroes in the war between the states, many see the fulfillment of the prediction of the revelation that "slaves shall rise up against their masters, who shall be marshaled and disciplined for war;" for of the 2,653,000 soldiers enlisted on the side of the Union, 186,397 were colored, and many of them saw active service in the field against their former masters.[13]:1:302-303[14] However, the prophecy does not tie slave rebellions directly to the Civil War. After discussing the call on other nations for assistance, the prophecy reads:

4 And it shall come to pass, after many days, slaves shall rise up against their masters, who shall be marshaled and disciplined for war.(D&C 87꞉4)

The phrase "it came to pass," and related forms generally indicates a transition in subject or time. The prophecy is clear that the revolt of slaves will come "after many days," which in scriptural language (remember Jesus' second coming was "near," and "even at the door") generally suggests a fairly long period of time.

The prophecy also could refer to past race riots in the U.S. and other countries, uprisings in African nations against their governments, the liberation of peoples under dictatorships throughout the world, or some future liberation of those forced to fight against their will for totalitarian regimes.

What accounts of the Civil War prophecy were given by Latter-day Saint leaders?

Other accounts of the prophecy from LDS leaders

The contemporary evidence is complemented by accounts given later by LDS leaders and members:

  • I copied a revelation more than twenty-five years ago, in which it is stated that war should be in the south and in the north, and that nation after nation would become embroiled in the tumult and excitement, until war should be poured out upon the whole earth, and that this war would commence at the rebellion of South Carolina, and that times should be such that every man who did not flee to Zion would have to take up the sword against his neighbor or against his brother. These things are beginning to be made manifest, but the end is not yet; but it will come, and that too much sooner than the world of mankind anticipate, and all those things spoken by the mouths of his Prophets will be fulfilled.[15]
  • The Lord has led this people out of bondage with a high hand and an outstretched arm. No man acquainted with the history of this people is ignorant of the almighty power of God that has been manifested in the organization, growth and present condition of the Church, though they may be unable naturally to account for it. And the more we grow and prosper, the more our enemies are angry with us. They are angry with us because we told them, thirty years ago, that calamity would come upon this nation. Their anger still increases, while they are drinking of the bitter cup; and at the same time the Saints are increasing in numbers, in faith, in hope, in wealth and in power. I have talked with men who professed to be gentlemen and dispensers of life and salvation to the people, who, Pharaoh-like, declared that they would rather be damned than believe that Joseph Smith was a true Prophet of God. I promised them they should have their choice.[16]
  • We are under no necessity of sending forth the Elders of Israel in the condition that we have hitherto had to do; in fact, it would not be safe for a man to shoulder his valise and tramp through the States as the Elders used to do. Bloodshed, robbery, murder, jay-hawking (a polite name for robbery,) stalks abroad throughout the land, and the only chance for safety is for every man to pass along about his business and be silent; this is the case in many parts of the country. The fact that Joseph Smith predicted the present trouble and state of affairs—prophesied the result of mobbing the Saints in Missouri and elsewhere, enrages them; instead of the fulfillment of that prophecy making the people of the country friendly to us, it makes them bloodthirsty, more filled with hell, more eager to waste and destroy and crush out the last remaining particle of truth that may exist on the face of the land.[17]
  • These things ought to be a warning to us. We comfort our souls sometimes on the fulfillment of the prophecies of God. We say "Mormonism" must be true because Joseph Smith prophesied thus and so concerning a division of this nation, and that the calamities which are now causing it to mourn should commence in South Carolina. That is true, he did prophecy that, and did foretell the events that have since transpired, and did tell where the commencement of those difficulties should originate. Well, if this is true, are not other things true? If it is true that the Lord has revealed a certain amount of truth in relation to these matters, is it not as true that He has revealed other truths in which we are as individuals interested; and if it is true that God has commenced to deal with other nations as He is doing with this until war and desolation shall spread through the earth, it is just as true that we ought to be very careful what we are doing to secure the favor of God and to fulfill our destiny upon the earth in a manner which will meet his designs.[18]

For further discussion on the Saints' attitude to the Civil War, both before and after its outbreak, see Attitude of Saints to Civil War prophecy.

Every student of United States history is acquainted with the facts establishing a complete fulfilment of this prophecy. In 1861, more than twenty-eight years after the foregoing prediction was recorded, and ten years after its publication in England, the Civil War broke out. It is known the Confederate States solicited aid of Great Britain. While no open alliance between the Southern States and the English government was effected, British influence gave indirect assistance and substantial encouragement to the South, and this in such a way as to produce serious international complications. Vessels were built and equipped at British ports in the interests of the Confederacy; and the results of this violation of the laws of neutrality cost Great Britain fifteen and a half millions of dollars, which sum was awarded the United States at the Geneva arbitration in settlement of the Alabama claims. The Confederacy appointed commissioners to Great Britain and France; these appointees were forcibly taken by United States officers from the British steamer on which they had embarked. This act, which the United States government had to admit as overt, threatened for a time to precipitate a war between this nation and Great Britain.[19]

Did Joseph Smith prophesy that the government would be overthrown and wasted?

The prophecy has already been amply fulfilled by events in Missouri and the United States soon after Joseph's death

On 6 May 1843, Joseph Smith said:

'I prophecy in the name of the Lord God of Israel, unless the United States redress the wrongs committed upon the Saints in the state of Missouri and punish the crimes committed by her officers that in a few years the government will be utterly overthrown and wasted, and there will not be so much as a potsherd left for their wickedness in permitting the murder of men, women and children, and the wholesale plunder and extermination of thousands of her citizens to go unpunished, thereby perpetrating a foul and corroding blot upon the fair fame of this great republic, the very thought of which would have caused the high-minded and patriotic framers of the Constitution of the United States to hide their faces with shame. Judge [Stephen A. Douglas], you will aspire to the Presidency of the United States; and if you ever turn your hand against me or the Latter-day Saints, you will feel the weight of the hand of the Almighty upon you; and you will live to see and know that I have testified the truth to you; for the conversation of this day will stick to you through life.[20]

Since it is more than 150 years since this prophecy was uttered, and because the US government still exists, it is claimed that this is a false prophecy. However, the prophecy has already been amply fulfilled by events in Missouri and the United States soon after Joseph's death.

Missouri suffered greatly during the Civil War

Missouri suffered greatly during the Civil War. Over 1,200 distinct battles or skirmishes were fought on Missouri soil; only Tennessee and Virginia saw more action on their soil.

Between 1862 and 1864, the western parts of Missouri endured guerrilla warfare. Although guerrilla warfare occurred throughout much of the state, most of the incidents occurred in northern Missouri and were characterized by ambushes of individuals or families in rural areas. These incidents were particularly nefarious because their vigilante nature was outside the command and control of either side and often pitted neighbor against neighbor.

Among the more notorious incidents of guerrilla warfare were the Sacking of Osceola, burning of Platte City and the Centralia Massacre.

In 1863 following the Lawrence Massacre in Kansas, Union General Thomas Ewing, Jr. accused farmers in rural Missouri of either instigating the attack or supporting it. He issued General Order No. 11 which forced the evacuation of all residents of rural areas of the four counties (Jackson, Cass, Bates and Vernon) south of the Missouri River on the Kansas border to leave their property, which was then burned. The order applied to farmers regardless of loyalty, although those who could prove their loyalty to the Union could stay in designated towns and those who could not were exiled entirely.[21]

LDS readers will recognize that Jackson county was notorious for its treatment of the Saints, and it was among those counties from which inhabitants were evacuated and a "scorched earth" policy implemented. The commanding general ordered his men not to engage in looting or other depredations, but he proved unable to effectively control his soldiers, who were mostly Kansans eager to exact any revenge possible upon their Missouri neighbors. Animals and other property were stolen or destroyed, and houses, barns and outbuildings burnt to the ground. The area affected quickly became a devastated "no-man's-land", with only charred chimneys and burnt stubble remaining where once-fertile farms had stood.[22]

If one read's Joseph's prophecy as referring at least partly to the government of Missouri, then it was fulfilled dramatically. Nothing remained in many areas, and government in some areas broke down almost completely as various factions struggled for control.

In the US government of Joseph's day, the Whigs had won the presidency and controlled the Senate: The Whigs were destroyed as a political power, never to recover

In 1840, William Henry Harrison was elected as president on the Whig ticket. He was to die within a month of taking office, succeeded by Vice-President John Tyler who was in office when Joseph made his prophecy in May 1843. The Whig party was to fracture along pro- and anti-slavery lines, and by 1854 the northern Whigs left the party to join the new Republican party. Others were later to join the Constitutional Union party, dedicated to the avoidance of civil war. Following the Civil War, the Whigs in the south tried to regroup, but were soon absorbed into the Democratic party.[23]

Thus, in the US government of Joseph's day, the Whigs had won the presidency and controlled the Senate. The Whigs were to be destroyed as a political power, never to recover. The United States government was to be destroyed, since the secession of the South arguably remade the American political order. Eleven states formed their own government as the Confederate States of America, and two states (Missouri and Kentucky) were split between pro-Union and pro-Confederate factions. Even following the war, the Reconstruction era undertook the abolishment of the Confederacy, the reestablishment of Southern representation in the Congress, and a revamping of the United States constitution to change the relationship of the states to the federal government.

Chief among the constitutional changes was the Fourteenth Amendment, which made all citizens of the states citizens of the United States. Thus:

No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

This was a fundamental alteration of the government of the United States, and would have helped resolve many of the Saints' difficulties, had it been in place before the Civil War. Joseph Smith would complain:

I am the greatest advocate of the Constitution of the United States there is on the earth. In my feelings I am always ready to die for the protection of the weak and oppressed in their just rights. The only fault I find with the Constitution is, it is not broad enough to cover the whole ground.

Although it provides that all men shall enjoy religious freedom, yet it does not provide the manner by which that freedom can be preserved, nor for the punishment of Government officers who refuse to protect the people in their religious rights, or punish those mobs, states, or communities who interfere with the rights of the people on account of their religion. Its sentiments are good, but it provides no means of enforcing them. It has but this one fault. Under its provision, a man or a people who are able to protect themselves can get along well enough; but those who have the misfortune to be weak or unpopular are left to the merciless rage of popular fury.[24]

The fourteenth amendment gave the federal government the power to enforce defense if the states failed to do so. As George A. Smith noted:

That is the situation we were in in Missouri when Governor Dunklin declared that the constitution and laws of Missouri could not be enforced so as to protect this people. It was virtually declaring us independent of that State, and acknowledging our right to protect ourselves in that capacity.[25]

G.A. Smith notes that Missouri could refuse to protect the Saints, and the federal government could not intervene. The 14th amendment altered this state of affairs. Elias Higbee's words to Congress would likewise insist that "I told them first, that I represented a suffering people, who had been deprived, together with myself, of their rights in Missouri; who numbered something like fifteen thousand souls; and not only they, but many others were deprived of the rights guaranteed to them by the Constitution of the United States."[26]

On this view, the United States government was remade following the Civil War. The old order was gone.

During the Civil War, members of the Church clearly saw the conflict as a fulfillment of Joseph's prophecy

During the Civil War, members of the Church clearly saw the conflict as a fulfillment of Joseph's prophecy. As one federal governor wrote in 1862, "Brigham Young and other preachers are constantly inculcating in the minds of the crowded audiences who sit beneath their teachings every Sabbath that the United States is of no consequence, that it lies in ruins, and that the prophecy of Joseph Smith is being fulfilled to the letter."[27] Thus, the secession of the South and the start of the Civil War was regarded as fulfillment of prophecy. As one author noted:

Mormon leaders consistently expressed their feelings that the war had been brought on by the wickedness of the United States, which had rejected Mormonism and permitted the death of the prophet of God and his servants. Because no effort had been made to punish the guilty or to prevent recurrences, the Mormons saw no reason to wonder at secession and dismemberment of such a union. Although the waste of lives was lamentable, a war between the states would avenge the death of Joseph Smith.

The Saints seemed especially gratified that Jackson County was a war zone and that Missouri would suffer the penalty of its cruelties to the Mormons.[28]

After the war, B.H. Roberts linked Joseph's prophecy to the Civil War, since it also forms part of the prophecy given to Stephen Douglas

After the war, B.H. Roberts linked Joseph's prophecy to the Civil War, since it also forms part of the prophecy given to Stephen Douglas. Noted Roberts:

It would be mere conjecture, of course, to say what the result would have been had Stephen A. Douglas been true to the Saints--the people of his friend Joseph Smith. But certainly had he been elected in 1860 the Southern States would have had no such excuse for their great movement of secession as they at least persuaded themselves they had in the election of Abraham Lincoln. And had Mr. Douglas in the event of his election followed the counsel given to the government and people of the United States by Joseph Smith in respect to the question of slavery, that evil might have been abolished without the effusion of blood, and no place found in the history of the United States for that horrible conflict known as the American civil war.[29]

Thus, Roberts too saw the Civil War and its surrounding events as fulfillment of Joseph's prophecy.

Joseph Smith's Civil War prophecy

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Notes

  1. Orson Pratt, (10 April 1870) Journal of Discourses 13:135.
  2. Orson Pratt, (27 December 1868) Journal of Discourses 12:344.
  3. Paul H. Peterson, "Civil War Prophecy," in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 4 vols., edited by Daniel H. Ludlow, (New York, Macmillan Publishing, 1992), 1:288.
  4. Editor [Orson Pratt], "A Revelation and Prophecy by the Prophet, Seer, and Revelator, Joseph Smith," The Seer 2/4 (April 1854): 241–247.
  5. Robert Woodford, The Historical Development of the Doctrine and Covenants, Ph.D. Dissertation, Brigham Young University, 1974, 1104–1124.
  6. Woodford, "The Historical Development of the Doctrine and Covenants," 1110, 1111 (figures 12 and 13) [figures contain photocopy of the masthead of each newspaper, and the article itself].
  7. The God Makers, 224, lines 21-24; cited by Gilbert W. Scharffs, The Truth about ‘The God Makers’ (Salt Lake City, Utah: Publishers Press, 1989; republished by Bookcraft, 1994), Chapter 15. Full text FAIR link ISBN 088494963X. direct off-site
  8. Gilbert W. Scharffs, The Truth about ‘The God Makers’ (Salt Lake City, Utah: Publishers Press, 1989; republished by Bookcraft, 1994), Chapter 15. Full text FAIR link ISBN 088494963X. direct off-site
  9. Brigham H. Roberts, New Witnesses for God, 3 Vols., (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1909[1895, 1903]), 1:319. ISBN 0962254541.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Joseph Fielding Smith, Church History and Modern Revelation (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book Co., 1947).
  11. "O.P.M.," "Mormonism and its Origin, Number 4," The Golden Era San Francisco (18 October 1857). [Thanks to Ted Jones for this reference.]
  12. 12.0 12.1 Neal A. Maxwell, Sermons Not Spoken (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1985), 66.
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 Brigham H. Roberts, Comprehensive History of the Church (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1965). GospeLink
  14. "American Civil War: Slavery during the war," wikipedia.org (accessed 15 Jan 2009) off-site
  15. Wilford Woodruff, (July 27, 1862) Journal of Discourses 10:13.
  16. Brigham Young, (September 28, 1862) Journal of Discourses 10:4.
  17. George A. Smith, (April 6, 1863) Journal of Discourses 10:144.
  18. John Taylor, (October 25, 1863) Journal of Discourses 10:278.
  19. James E. Talmage, The Articles of Faith (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1981[1899]), 25-26.
  20. 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), 5:394. Volume 5 link
  21. "Missouri in the American Civil War," Wikipedia (accessed 3 January 2009) off-site.
  22. "General Order No. 11," Wikipedia (accessed 3 January 2009) off-site.
  23. "Whig Party (United States)," Wikipedia (accessed 3 January 2009) off-site
  24. 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), 6:56–57. Volume 6 link
  25. George A. Smith, "Difficulties With Which the Church Has Had to Contend in Its Establishment in Utah," (10 September 1861) Journal of Discourses 9:110.
  26. 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), 4:81. Volume 4 link
  27. Stephen S. Harding; cited in Eugene. E. Campbell, Establishing Zion: The Mormon Church in the American West, 1847-1869 (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, 1988), 291.
  28. Eugene. E. Campbell, Establishing Zion: The Mormon Church in the American West, 1847-1869 (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, 1988), 291.
  29. Brigham H. Roberts, "The Evidence Of Prophecy," in New Witnesses for God, 3 Vols., (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1909[1895, 1903]), 1:311. ISBN 0962254541.
Articles about Joseph Smith

What is Joseph Smith's 1832 prophecy of the Civil War?

The prophecy was given 25 December 1832 and is given in Doctrine and Covenants 87:1-8

1 VERILY, thus saith the Lord concerning the wars that will shortly come to pass, beginning at the rebellion of South Carolina, which will eventually terminate in the death and misery of many souls;

2 And the time will come that war will be poured out upon all nations, beginning at this place.

3 For behold, the Southern States shall be divided against the Northern States, and the Southern States will call on other nations, even the nation of Great Britain, as it is called, and they shall also call upon other nations, in order to defend themselves against other nations; and then war shall be poured out upon all nations.

4 And it shall come to pass, after many days, slaves shall rise up against their masters, who shall be marshaled and disciplined for war.

5 And it shall come to pass also that the remnants who are left of the land will marshal themselves, and shall become exceedingly angry, and shall vex the Gentiles with a sore vexation.

6 And thus, with the sword and by bloodshed the inhabitants of the earth shall mourn; and with famine, and plague, and earthquake, and the thunder of heaven, and the fierce and vivid lightning also, shall the inhabitants of the earth be made to feel the wrath, and indignation, and chastening hand of an Almighty God, until the consumption decreed hath made a full end of all nations;

7 That the cry of the saints, and of the blood of the saints, shall cease to come up into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth, from the earth, to be avenged of their enemies.

8 Wherefore, stand ye in holy places, and be not moved, until the day of the Lord come; for behold, it cometh quickly, saith the Lord. Amen. (D&C 87꞉1-8)

Attempts to explain away this prophecy fail on multiple grounds. It is no surprise that nineteenth-century members of the Church consistently saw the Civil War as a fulfillment of prophecy, and evidence of Joseph Smith's prophetic gifts.

After the end of the rebellion in South Carolina, did the Church not mention the Civil War prophecy for many years?

Joseph Smith reiterated the prophecy in 1842, and added more detail, 19 years before the Civil War

12 I prophesy, in the name of the Lord God, that the commencement of the difficulties which will cause much bloodshed previous to the coming of the Son of Man will be in South Carolina.

13 It may probably arise through the slave question. This a voice declared to me, while I was praying earnestly on the subject, December 25th, 1832. (D&C 130꞉12-13)

Orson Pratt preached about the prophesy in 1832, 29 years before the Civil War

Orson Pratt testified that he began preaching the prophecy soon after it was given. In 1870, he said:

I went forth before my beard was gray, before my hair began to turn white, when I was a youth of nineteen, now I am fifty-eight, and from that time on I published these tidings among the inhabitants of the earth. I carried forth the written revelation, foretelling this great contest, some twenty-eight years before the war commenced. This prophecy has been printed and circulated extensively in this and other nations and languages. It pointed out the place where it should commence in South Carolina. That which I declared over the New England States, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and many other parts in the East, when but a boy, came to pass twenty-eight years after the revelation was given.

When they were talking about a war commencing down here in Kansas, I told them that was not the place; I also told them that the revelation had designated South Carolina, "and," said I, "you have no need to think that the Kansas war is going to be the war that is to be so terribly destructive in its character and nature. No, it must commence at the place the Lord has designated by revelation."

What did they have to say to me? They thought it was a Mormon humbug, and laughed me to scorn, and they looked upon that revelation as they do upon all others that God has given in these latter days—as without divine authority. But behold and lo! in process of time it came to pass, again establishing the divinity of this work, and giving another proof that God is in this work, and is performing that which He spoke by the mouths of the ancient prophets, as recorded in the Book of Mormon before any Church of Latter-day Saints was in existence.[1]

Thus, Orson Pratt indicates that not only did he preach regarding Joseph's prophesy in 1832, but that he was ridiculed for it. He would also remember:

Now I am aware that it is almost impossible for even some of the Latter-day Saints to get that confidence and that strong faith in the events which God intends to accomplish on this land in the future to believe in such a thing, to say nothing about outsiders, that do not believe a word of it. Outsiders do not believe it any more than they believed me when I was a boy and took that revelation which was given in 1832, and carried it forth among many towns and cities and told them there was to be a great and terrible war between the North and the South, and read to them the revelation. Did they believe it? Would they consider that there was any truth in it? Not in the least, "that is a Mormon humbug" they would say. "What! this great and powerful nation of ours to be divided one part against the other and many hundreds of thousands of souls to be destroyed by civil wars!" Not a word of it would they believe. They do not believe what is still in the future.[2]

The Church printed the prophecy in the Pearl of Great Price in 1851, ten years before the Civil War

The Church also printed the prophecy in the Pearl of Great Price in 1851, and continued to publicize it until the Civil War. Clearly, they did not keep it "under wraps" until the Civil War became inevitable.[3]

Orson Pratt also included the full prophecy from December 1832 on the front page of his publication The Seer in April 1854, seven years before the Civil War

Orson Pratt also included the full prophecy from December 1832 on the front page of his publication The Seer in April 1854, with interpretation and editorial comment for 6 pages.[4] There are also many extant manuscript copies of the prophecy, in the handwriting of men who left the church before Joseph Smith died, and some who didn't (WW Phelps, Thomas Bullock, Willard Richards [who died before the Civil War], Edward Partridge, Algernon Sidney Gilbert, Frederick G. Williams).[5]

The Philadelphia Sunday Mercury quoted the prophecy in 1851, ten years before the Civil War

Robert Woodford's Ph.D. thesis also located a an article in a Philadelphia paper quoting the revelation from 1851, with comments, from May 1861; it was reprinted in England a month later:

Philadelphia Sunday Mercury, Sunday May 5, 1861

A MORMON PROPHECY

We have in our possession a pamphlet, published at Liverpool, in 1851, containing a selection from the ‘revelations, translations and narratives’ of Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism. The following prophecy is here said to have been made by Smith, on the 25th of December, 1832. In view of our present troubles, this prediction seems to be in progress of fulfilment, whether Joe Smith was a humbug or not:

‘A REVELATION AND PROPHECY BY THE PROPHET, SEER, AND REVELATOR, JOSEPH SMITH. Verily thus saith the Lord…. Amen [complete text quoted]’

The war began in South Carolina. Insurrections of slaves are already dreaded. Famine will certainly afflict some Southern communities. The interference of Great Britain, on account of the want of cotton, is not improbable, if the war is protracted. In the meantime, a general war in Europe appears to be imminent. Have we not had a prophet among us?[6]

Clearly, members of the Church did not hide the prophecy, and spread it far and wide among themselves and among others from the 1830s until its fulfillment in the 1860s.

Did the Church cover up the fact that the Civil War prophecy was made during the 1832 rebellion in South Carolina?

No American statesman in 1832 believed that the doctrines of secession then talked of would result in a great civil war

It is claimed that Mormons "cover up the fact that the 'prophecy' was made in the midst of an earlier rebellion in December 1832. That rebellion ended quietly a few months later."[7]

This claim, however, is false. Gil Scharffs noted that critics "are correct when they say Joseph Smith announced the Civil War prophecy when rebellion in South Carolina was threatening. A large 1832 rebellion never materialized and the threat ended a few months later."[8]

No American statesman in 1832 believed that the doctrines of secession then talked of would result in a great civil war. None of them had the foresight to see that a great rebellion would occur, beginning in South Carolina; that it would terminate in the death and misery of many souls; that the Southern States would be divided against the Northern States; that the Southern States would call on Great Britain, and that war would eventually be poured out upon all nations. No one foresaw that this would be the result except Joseph Smith--when but twenty-seven years of age--and he saw it only by the spirit of prophecy and revelation. To be required to believe that the prophecy was merely the fortunate conjecture of a more than ordinary astute mind, requires a greater amount of credulity than to concede the inspiration of the Prophet; and then the question would still remain, why is it that sagacious minds in other generations have not paralleled this astuteness of Joseph Smith's? Why did not some of the brilliant minds in the Senate or House of Representatives in 1832 make such a prediction? There was not a lack of brilliant minds in either Senate or House at that time, yet none seemed equal to the task.[9]

The fact that there were rumors of war is in fact a fulfillment of prophecy itself! (Matthew 24:6-7) The question is not were there rumors of war, but the question should be, did the events take place just as Joseph Smith said they would. As soon as Joseph uttered the words "Thus saith the Lord" he was tied to the prophecy being true or false, and if the events did not happen as he said, then, and only then, could it be declared a false prophecy.

Wars would shortly come to pass, beginning with the rebellion of South Carolina, which would eventually terminate in war being poured out upon all nations and in the death and misery of many souls

It was because of this fact that the Lord made known to Joseph Smith this revelation stating that wars would shortly come to pass, beginning with the rebellion of South Carolina, which would eventually terminate in war being poured out upon all nations and in the death and misery of many souls. It may have been an easy thing in 1832, or even 1831, for someone to predict that there would come a division of the Northern States and the Southern States, for even then there were rumblings, and South Carolina had shown the spirit of rebellion. It was not, however, within the power of man to predict in the detail which the Lord revealed to Joseph Smith, what was shortly to come to pass as an outgrowth of the Civil War and the pouring out of war upon all nations. It must be conceded that no one, except Joseph Smith, ever entered into such detail in relation to this conflict or stated with such assurance that the time would come when all nations would be involved in war, The revelation begins with these words: "Verily, thus saith the Lord, concerning the wars that will shortly come to pass beginning at the rebellion of South Carolina, which will eventually terminate in the death and misery of many souls; and the time will come that war will be poured out upon all nations, beginning at this place." This, certainly, is a bold prediction which no one, other than Joseph Smith, dared to make.[10]:2:123

Was Joseph Smith's 1832 prophecy of the Civil War invalid because a civil war was "inevitable," and "anyone" could have predicted it?

There is no evidence that Americans were predicting a Civil War between 1832-1851

So, was the prophecy "so obvious" that anyone could have predicted it? The critics must prove this contention.

Where is the evidence that most Americans were predicting a Civil War between 1832-1851? Why was Orson Pratt ridiculed if this was obvious to everyone? This seems a desperate attempt by the critics to dismiss a "hit" by Joseph. Everything can look obvious in retrospect if one doesn't know history.

There is, in fact, good contemporary evidence that this prophecy was mocked by prominent authors only 4 years before the Civil War began

A newspaper article from 1857 reported a garbled version of the prophecy, but the author's scorn is clear:

New beauties are being revealed in the Mormon faith almost every day, and new prophecies of Joe Smith fulfilled. When any event of state occurs, or any remarkable circumstance happens, some of the Mormon apostles find a prophecy of Joseph’s (probably dated twenty-five years ago), which has just been fulfilled by the occurrence. These prophecies are never spoken of until after the occurrence. The fact is, the leaders frame the prophecy themselves after its fulfillment. Joe Smith did at one time prophecy that before the year 1860, the Union would be divided, the havoc of war spread over our glorious Republic, battles be fought whose equal was never before known, father would be arrayed against son, and brother against brother, and that our glorious Republic would be stained with human blood from North to South, the Constitution be trampled upon, and the Government fall to the ground; and then would the little band of Mormons rear the standard of their creed aloft, and proclaim to the world that the millennial year had been ushered in, and the reign of Christ begun. (emphasis added)

But methinks the Mormons can entertain but little hope of the fulfillment of that prophecy, as the Union has stood the strongest test and did not even shake. But when I shall see the above prophecy come to pass, I shall probably then change my mind about the truth of the revelation. At present, I see no chance of its verification within the time specified.[11]

Was Joseph Smith's 1832 prophecy of the Civil War invalid because "war was not brought to all nations" by the Civil War and/or claiming there is "no link" between the Civil War and later conflicts?

The Civil War was, indeed, a bloody war, resulting in about 204,000 battle casualties plus another 225,000 military personnel who died of disease

Significantly, the prophesy warns of "the death and misery of many souls." The Civil War was, indeed, a bloody war, resulting in about 204,000 battle casualties plus another 225,000 military personnel who died of disease. This number actually well exceeds the American battle deaths (128,000) in World War I. In World War II, there were 396,637 battle deaths.[12]

Here are some figures concerning another war (World War I).

Authoritative tables give the grand total of all armies mobilized at 59,176,864. Direct military deaths out of this number are set down as 7,781,806; the wounded at 18,681,257; prisoners and missing 7,080,580; making a total of direct military casualties of 33,434,443. This is only a statement of military casualties however. The same authority sets down the number of civilians as being greater from famine, disease, and massacres than those who fell in the military operations. Of these two classes are named: civilians who were killed by direct military causes, and those who died from indirect causes. Of the first class the number was 100,082; and the second--those who died from indirect causes, among the Armenians, Syrians, Jews, and Greeks--massacred or starved by the Turks--are numbered at 4,000,000. The deaths numbered beyond the normal mortality of influenza and pneumonia induced by the war is placed at 4,000,000. The Serbians who died through diseases, or massacre, numbered 1,085,441. Making the total of deaths in these two classes 9,085,441, so that with military deaths and civilian deaths, resulting from the war, make a grand total of 16,967,329 deaths. And of the more than 18,000,000 who were wounded in battle 30% or about 6,000,000, were made permanent human wrecks.[13]:1:302

Following the Civil War, many nations entered into alliances and secret agreements in order to protect themselves from other nations

Following the Civil War the nations, in their great alarm because of the new methods of warfare which were being developed and their fear of other nations, entered into alliances and secret agreements in order to protect themselves from other nations. At the outbreak of the World War, these alliances had reached proportions never before known, and during the war other alliances were made until nearly every nation on the earth had taken sides with the Triple Alliance or the Triple Entente. It was during the period of the World War, 1914-1918, Great Britain made her appeal to the nations to come to the defense of the standard of Democracy. Her pleadings were heard round the world. And what is still more remarkable, the entire procedure conforms exactly to the prediction made by Joseph Smith, viz: "they shall also call upon other nations in order to defend themselves against other nations." A plurality of nations aligned and allied on both sides of the deadly conflict.[10]:2:125

This revelation was not just about the American Civil War

The revelation makes that very clear by first stating in verse one, "thus saith the Lord concerning the wars that will shortly come to pass." Notice that the word used is wars (plural), not war (singular), thereby "suggesting not one war but a continuum of conflict. Thus, like chapter 24 of Matthew, this scripture covered things both imminent and distant."[12]Of course, in our own time, we could add the war in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq, civil wars in Central America, Lebanon, the British-Argentine conflict, Desert Storm, etc.

In our several Indian uprisings since the close of the Civil War, many see the fulfillment of that part of the prophecy which declares that the "remnants who are left of the land [the American Indians] will marshal themselves, and shall become exceeding angry, and shall vex the Gentiles with a sore vexation."[13]:1:303

World history since 1861 demonstrates that armed conflict widened and persisted since the American Civil War. There is nothing in the prophecy that claims that the Civil War must be the direct cause of on-going war, merely that on-going war will occur. And, it will happen after "Great Britain" "shall...call upon other nations, in order to defend themselves":

2 And the time will come that war will be poured out upon all nations, beginning at this place.

3 For behold, the Southern States shall be divided against the Northern States, and the Southern States will call on other nations, even the nation of Great Britain, as it is called, and they shall also call upon other nations, in order to defend themselves against other nations; and then war shall be poured out upon all nations. (D&C 87꞉2-3)

This is an excellent description of WW I and II, during which war was "poured out" into global battles. And, since WW II war and strife has not ceased.

An on-line database of armed conflict demonstrates that there has not been a single year since the end of the Civil War in which a war or armed conflict did not begin, and many of these wars lasted for multiple years (or even, in some cases) decades. (Click here to download a PDF from this on-line database listing the wars from 1865-1950.)

Was Joseph Smith's 1832 prophecy of the Civil War invalid because slaves did not rise up against their masters in the Civil War?

Of the 2,653,000 soldiers enlisted on the side of the Union, 186,397 were colored, and many of them saw active service in the field against their former masters

In the part taken by negroes in the war between the states, many see the fulfillment of the prediction of the revelation that "slaves shall rise up against their masters, who shall be marshaled and disciplined for war;" for of the 2,653,000 soldiers enlisted on the side of the Union, 186,397 were colored, and many of them saw active service in the field against their former masters.[13]:1:302-303[14] However, the prophecy does not tie slave rebellions directly to the Civil War. After discussing the call on other nations for assistance, the prophecy reads:

4 And it shall come to pass, after many days, slaves shall rise up against their masters, who shall be marshaled and disciplined for war.(D&C 87꞉4)

The phrase "it came to pass," and related forms generally indicates a transition in subject or time. The prophecy is clear that the revolt of slaves will come "after many days," which in scriptural language (remember Jesus' second coming was "near," and "even at the door") generally suggests a fairly long period of time.

The prophecy also could refer to past race riots in the U.S. and other countries, uprisings in African nations against their governments, the liberation of peoples under dictatorships throughout the world, or some future liberation of those forced to fight against their will for totalitarian regimes.

What accounts of the Civil War prophecy were given by Latter-day Saint leaders?

Other accounts of the prophecy from LDS leaders

The contemporary evidence is complemented by accounts given later by LDS leaders and members:

  • I copied a revelation more than twenty-five years ago, in which it is stated that war should be in the south and in the north, and that nation after nation would become embroiled in the tumult and excitement, until war should be poured out upon the whole earth, and that this war would commence at the rebellion of South Carolina, and that times should be such that every man who did not flee to Zion would have to take up the sword against his neighbor or against his brother. These things are beginning to be made manifest, but the end is not yet; but it will come, and that too much sooner than the world of mankind anticipate, and all those things spoken by the mouths of his Prophets will be fulfilled.[15]
  • The Lord has led this people out of bondage with a high hand and an outstretched arm. No man acquainted with the history of this people is ignorant of the almighty power of God that has been manifested in the organization, growth and present condition of the Church, though they may be unable naturally to account for it. And the more we grow and prosper, the more our enemies are angry with us. They are angry with us because we told them, thirty years ago, that calamity would come upon this nation. Their anger still increases, while they are drinking of the bitter cup; and at the same time the Saints are increasing in numbers, in faith, in hope, in wealth and in power. I have talked with men who professed to be gentlemen and dispensers of life and salvation to the people, who, Pharaoh-like, declared that they would rather be damned than believe that Joseph Smith was a true Prophet of God. I promised them they should have their choice.[16]
  • We are under no necessity of sending forth the Elders of Israel in the condition that we have hitherto had to do; in fact, it would not be safe for a man to shoulder his valise and tramp through the States as the Elders used to do. Bloodshed, robbery, murder, jay-hawking (a polite name for robbery,) stalks abroad throughout the land, and the only chance for safety is for every man to pass along about his business and be silent; this is the case in many parts of the country. The fact that Joseph Smith predicted the present trouble and state of affairs—prophesied the result of mobbing the Saints in Missouri and elsewhere, enrages them; instead of the fulfillment of that prophecy making the people of the country friendly to us, it makes them bloodthirsty, more filled with hell, more eager to waste and destroy and crush out the last remaining particle of truth that may exist on the face of the land.[17]
  • These things ought to be a warning to us. We comfort our souls sometimes on the fulfillment of the prophecies of God. We say "Mormonism" must be true because Joseph Smith prophesied thus and so concerning a division of this nation, and that the calamities which are now causing it to mourn should commence in South Carolina. That is true, he did prophecy that, and did foretell the events that have since transpired, and did tell where the commencement of those difficulties should originate. Well, if this is true, are not other things true? If it is true that the Lord has revealed a certain amount of truth in relation to these matters, is it not as true that He has revealed other truths in which we are as individuals interested; and if it is true that God has commenced to deal with other nations as He is doing with this until war and desolation shall spread through the earth, it is just as true that we ought to be very careful what we are doing to secure the favor of God and to fulfill our destiny upon the earth in a manner which will meet his designs.[18]

For further discussion on the Saints' attitude to the Civil War, both before and after its outbreak, see Attitude of Saints to Civil War prophecy.

Every student of United States history is acquainted with the facts establishing a complete fulfilment of this prophecy. In 1861, more than twenty-eight years after the foregoing prediction was recorded, and ten years after its publication in England, the Civil War broke out. It is known the Confederate States solicited aid of Great Britain. While no open alliance between the Southern States and the English government was effected, British influence gave indirect assistance and substantial encouragement to the South, and this in such a way as to produce serious international complications. Vessels were built and equipped at British ports in the interests of the Confederacy; and the results of this violation of the laws of neutrality cost Great Britain fifteen and a half millions of dollars, which sum was awarded the United States at the Geneva arbitration in settlement of the Alabama claims. The Confederacy appointed commissioners to Great Britain and France; these appointees were forcibly taken by United States officers from the British steamer on which they had embarked. This act, which the United States government had to admit as overt, threatened for a time to precipitate a war between this nation and Great Britain.[19]

Did Joseph Smith prophesy that the government would be overthrown and wasted?

The prophecy has already been amply fulfilled by events in Missouri and the United States soon after Joseph's death

On 6 May 1843, Joseph Smith said:

'I prophecy in the name of the Lord God of Israel, unless the United States redress the wrongs committed upon the Saints in the state of Missouri and punish the crimes committed by her officers that in a few years the government will be utterly overthrown and wasted, and there will not be so much as a potsherd left for their wickedness in permitting the murder of men, women and children, and the wholesale plunder and extermination of thousands of her citizens to go unpunished, thereby perpetrating a foul and corroding blot upon the fair fame of this great republic, the very thought of which would have caused the high-minded and patriotic framers of the Constitution of the United States to hide their faces with shame. Judge [Stephen A. Douglas], you will aspire to the Presidency of the United States; and if you ever turn your hand against me or the Latter-day Saints, you will feel the weight of the hand of the Almighty upon you; and you will live to see and know that I have testified the truth to you; for the conversation of this day will stick to you through life.[20]

Since it is more than 150 years since this prophecy was uttered, and because the US government still exists, it is claimed that this is a false prophecy. However, the prophecy has already been amply fulfilled by events in Missouri and the United States soon after Joseph's death.

Missouri suffered greatly during the Civil War

Missouri suffered greatly during the Civil War. Over 1,200 distinct battles or skirmishes were fought on Missouri soil; only Tennessee and Virginia saw more action on their soil.

Between 1862 and 1864, the western parts of Missouri endured guerrilla warfare. Although guerrilla warfare occurred throughout much of the state, most of the incidents occurred in northern Missouri and were characterized by ambushes of individuals or families in rural areas. These incidents were particularly nefarious because their vigilante nature was outside the command and control of either side and often pitted neighbor against neighbor.

Among the more notorious incidents of guerrilla warfare were the Sacking of Osceola, burning of Platte City and the Centralia Massacre.

In 1863 following the Lawrence Massacre in Kansas, Union General Thomas Ewing, Jr. accused farmers in rural Missouri of either instigating the attack or supporting it. He issued General Order No. 11 which forced the evacuation of all residents of rural areas of the four counties (Jackson, Cass, Bates and Vernon) south of the Missouri River on the Kansas border to leave their property, which was then burned. The order applied to farmers regardless of loyalty, although those who could prove their loyalty to the Union could stay in designated towns and those who could not were exiled entirely.[21]

LDS readers will recognize that Jackson county was notorious for its treatment of the Saints, and it was among those counties from which inhabitants were evacuated and a "scorched earth" policy implemented. The commanding general ordered his men not to engage in looting or other depredations, but he proved unable to effectively control his soldiers, who were mostly Kansans eager to exact any revenge possible upon their Missouri neighbors. Animals and other property were stolen or destroyed, and houses, barns and outbuildings burnt to the ground. The area affected quickly became a devastated "no-man's-land", with only charred chimneys and burnt stubble remaining where once-fertile farms had stood.[22]

If one read's Joseph's prophecy as referring at least partly to the government of Missouri, then it was fulfilled dramatically. Nothing remained in many areas, and government in some areas broke down almost completely as various factions struggled for control.

In the US government of Joseph's day, the Whigs had won the presidency and controlled the Senate: The Whigs were destroyed as a political power, never to recover

In 1840, William Henry Harrison was elected as president on the Whig ticket. He was to die within a month of taking office, succeeded by Vice-President John Tyler who was in office when Joseph made his prophecy in May 1843. The Whig party was to fracture along pro- and anti-slavery lines, and by 1854 the northern Whigs left the party to join the new Republican party. Others were later to join the Constitutional Union party, dedicated to the avoidance of civil war. Following the Civil War, the Whigs in the south tried to regroup, but were soon absorbed into the Democratic party.[23]

Thus, in the US government of Joseph's day, the Whigs had won the presidency and controlled the Senate. The Whigs were to be destroyed as a political power, never to recover. The United States government was to be destroyed, since the secession of the South arguably remade the American political order. Eleven states formed their own government as the Confederate States of America, and two states (Missouri and Kentucky) were split between pro-Union and pro-Confederate factions. Even following the war, the Reconstruction era undertook the abolishment of the Confederacy, the reestablishment of Southern representation in the Congress, and a revamping of the United States constitution to change the relationship of the states to the federal government.

Chief among the constitutional changes was the Fourteenth Amendment, which made all citizens of the states citizens of the United States. Thus:

No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

This was a fundamental alteration of the government of the United States, and would have helped resolve many of the Saints' difficulties, had it been in place before the Civil War. Joseph Smith would complain:

I am the greatest advocate of the Constitution of the United States there is on the earth. In my feelings I am always ready to die for the protection of the weak and oppressed in their just rights. The only fault I find with the Constitution is, it is not broad enough to cover the whole ground.

Although it provides that all men shall enjoy religious freedom, yet it does not provide the manner by which that freedom can be preserved, nor for the punishment of Government officers who refuse to protect the people in their religious rights, or punish those mobs, states, or communities who interfere with the rights of the people on account of their religion. Its sentiments are good, but it provides no means of enforcing them. It has but this one fault. Under its provision, a man or a people who are able to protect themselves can get along well enough; but those who have the misfortune to be weak or unpopular are left to the merciless rage of popular fury.[24]

The fourteenth amendment gave the federal government the power to enforce defense if the states failed to do so. As George A. Smith noted:

That is the situation we were in in Missouri when Governor Dunklin declared that the constitution and laws of Missouri could not be enforced so as to protect this people. It was virtually declaring us independent of that State, and acknowledging our right to protect ourselves in that capacity.[25]

G.A. Smith notes that Missouri could refuse to protect the Saints, and the federal government could not intervene. The 14th amendment altered this state of affairs. Elias Higbee's words to Congress would likewise insist that "I told them first, that I represented a suffering people, who had been deprived, together with myself, of their rights in Missouri; who numbered something like fifteen thousand souls; and not only they, but many others were deprived of the rights guaranteed to them by the Constitution of the United States."[26]

On this view, the United States government was remade following the Civil War. The old order was gone.

During the Civil War, members of the Church clearly saw the conflict as a fulfillment of Joseph's prophecy

During the Civil War, members of the Church clearly saw the conflict as a fulfillment of Joseph's prophecy. As one federal governor wrote in 1862, "Brigham Young and other preachers are constantly inculcating in the minds of the crowded audiences who sit beneath their teachings every Sabbath that the United States is of no consequence, that it lies in ruins, and that the prophecy of Joseph Smith is being fulfilled to the letter."[27] Thus, the secession of the South and the start of the Civil War was regarded as fulfillment of prophecy. As one author noted:

Mormon leaders consistently expressed their feelings that the war had been brought on by the wickedness of the United States, which had rejected Mormonism and permitted the death of the prophet of God and his servants. Because no effort had been made to punish the guilty or to prevent recurrences, the Mormons saw no reason to wonder at secession and dismemberment of such a union. Although the waste of lives was lamentable, a war between the states would avenge the death of Joseph Smith.

The Saints seemed especially gratified that Jackson County was a war zone and that Missouri would suffer the penalty of its cruelties to the Mormons.[28]

After the war, B.H. Roberts linked Joseph's prophecy to the Civil War, since it also forms part of the prophecy given to Stephen Douglas

After the war, B.H. Roberts linked Joseph's prophecy to the Civil War, since it also forms part of the prophecy given to Stephen Douglas. Noted Roberts:

It would be mere conjecture, of course, to say what the result would have been had Stephen A. Douglas been true to the Saints--the people of his friend Joseph Smith. But certainly had he been elected in 1860 the Southern States would have had no such excuse for their great movement of secession as they at least persuaded themselves they had in the election of Abraham Lincoln. And had Mr. Douglas in the event of his election followed the counsel given to the government and people of the United States by Joseph Smith in respect to the question of slavery, that evil might have been abolished without the effusion of blood, and no place found in the history of the United States for that horrible conflict known as the American civil war.[29]

Thus, Roberts too saw the Civil War and its surrounding events as fulfillment of Joseph's prophecy.

Joseph Smith's Civil War prophecy

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Notes

  1. Orson Pratt, (10 April 1870) Journal of Discourses 13:135.
  2. Orson Pratt, (27 December 1868) Journal of Discourses 12:344.
  3. Paul H. Peterson, "Civil War Prophecy," in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 4 vols., edited by Daniel H. Ludlow, (New York, Macmillan Publishing, 1992), 1:288.
  4. Editor [Orson Pratt], "A Revelation and Prophecy by the Prophet, Seer, and Revelator, Joseph Smith," The Seer 2/4 (April 1854): 241–247.
  5. Robert Woodford, The Historical Development of the Doctrine and Covenants, Ph.D. Dissertation, Brigham Young University, 1974, 1104–1124.
  6. Woodford, "The Historical Development of the Doctrine and Covenants," 1110, 1111 (figures 12 and 13) [figures contain photocopy of the masthead of each newspaper, and the article itself].
  7. The God Makers, 224, lines 21-24; cited by Gilbert W. Scharffs, The Truth about ‘The God Makers’ (Salt Lake City, Utah: Publishers Press, 1989; republished by Bookcraft, 1994), Chapter 15. Full text FAIR link ISBN 088494963X. direct off-site
  8. Gilbert W. Scharffs, The Truth about ‘The God Makers’ (Salt Lake City, Utah: Publishers Press, 1989; republished by Bookcraft, 1994), Chapter 15. Full text FAIR link ISBN 088494963X. direct off-site
  9. Brigham H. Roberts, New Witnesses for God, 3 Vols., (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1909[1895, 1903]), 1:319. ISBN 0962254541.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Joseph Fielding Smith, Church History and Modern Revelation (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book Co., 1947).
  11. "O.P.M.," "Mormonism and its Origin, Number 4," The Golden Era San Francisco (18 October 1857). [Thanks to Ted Jones for this reference.]
  12. 12.0 12.1 Neal A. Maxwell, Sermons Not Spoken (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1985), 66.
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 Brigham H. Roberts, Comprehensive History of the Church (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1965). GospeLink
  14. "American Civil War: Slavery during the war," wikipedia.org (accessed 15 Jan 2009) off-site
  15. Wilford Woodruff, (July 27, 1862) Journal of Discourses 10:13.
  16. Brigham Young, (September 28, 1862) Journal of Discourses 10:4.
  17. George A. Smith, (April 6, 1863) Journal of Discourses 10:144.
  18. John Taylor, (October 25, 1863) Journal of Discourses 10:278.
  19. James E. Talmage, The Articles of Faith (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1981[1899]), 25-26.
  20. 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), 5:394. Volume 5 link
  21. "Missouri in the American Civil War," Wikipedia (accessed 3 January 2009) off-site.
  22. "General Order No. 11," Wikipedia (accessed 3 January 2009) off-site.
  23. "Whig Party (United States)," Wikipedia (accessed 3 January 2009) off-site
  24. 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), 6:56–57. Volume 6 link
  25. George A. Smith, "Difficulties With Which the Church Has Had to Contend in Its Establishment in Utah," (10 September 1861) Journal of Discourses 9:110.
  26. 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), 4:81. Volume 4 link
  27. Stephen S. Harding; cited in Eugene. E. Campbell, Establishing Zion: The Mormon Church in the American West, 1847-1869 (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, 1988), 291.
  28. Eugene. E. Campbell, Establishing Zion: The Mormon Church in the American West, 1847-1869 (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, 1988), 291.
  29. Brigham H. Roberts, "The Evidence Of Prophecy," in New Witnesses for God, 3 Vols., (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1909[1895, 1903]), 1:311. ISBN 0962254541.
Articles about Joseph Smith

What is Joseph Smith's 1832 prophecy of the Civil War?

The prophecy was given 25 December 1832 and is given in Doctrine and Covenants 87:1-8

1 VERILY, thus saith the Lord concerning the wars that will shortly come to pass, beginning at the rebellion of South Carolina, which will eventually terminate in the death and misery of many souls;

2 And the time will come that war will be poured out upon all nations, beginning at this place.

3 For behold, the Southern States shall be divided against the Northern States, and the Southern States will call on other nations, even the nation of Great Britain, as it is called, and they shall also call upon other nations, in order to defend themselves against other nations; and then war shall be poured out upon all nations.

4 And it shall come to pass, after many days, slaves shall rise up against their masters, who shall be marshaled and disciplined for war.

5 And it shall come to pass also that the remnants who are left of the land will marshal themselves, and shall become exceedingly angry, and shall vex the Gentiles with a sore vexation.

6 And thus, with the sword and by bloodshed the inhabitants of the earth shall mourn; and with famine, and plague, and earthquake, and the thunder of heaven, and the fierce and vivid lightning also, shall the inhabitants of the earth be made to feel the wrath, and indignation, and chastening hand of an Almighty God, until the consumption decreed hath made a full end of all nations;

7 That the cry of the saints, and of the blood of the saints, shall cease to come up into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth, from the earth, to be avenged of their enemies.

8 Wherefore, stand ye in holy places, and be not moved, until the day of the Lord come; for behold, it cometh quickly, saith the Lord. Amen. (D&C 87꞉1-8)

Attempts to explain away this prophecy fail on multiple grounds. It is no surprise that nineteenth-century members of the Church consistently saw the Civil War as a fulfillment of prophecy, and evidence of Joseph Smith's prophetic gifts.

After the end of the rebellion in South Carolina, did the Church not mention the Civil War prophecy for many years?

Joseph Smith reiterated the prophecy in 1842, and added more detail, 19 years before the Civil War

12 I prophesy, in the name of the Lord God, that the commencement of the difficulties which will cause much bloodshed previous to the coming of the Son of Man will be in South Carolina.

13 It may probably arise through the slave question. This a voice declared to me, while I was praying earnestly on the subject, December 25th, 1832. (D&C 130꞉12-13)

Orson Pratt preached about the prophesy in 1832, 29 years before the Civil War

Orson Pratt testified that he began preaching the prophecy soon after it was given. In 1870, he said:

I went forth before my beard was gray, before my hair began to turn white, when I was a youth of nineteen, now I am fifty-eight, and from that time on I published these tidings among the inhabitants of the earth. I carried forth the written revelation, foretelling this great contest, some twenty-eight years before the war commenced. This prophecy has been printed and circulated extensively in this and other nations and languages. It pointed out the place where it should commence in South Carolina. That which I declared over the New England States, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and many other parts in the East, when but a boy, came to pass twenty-eight years after the revelation was given.

When they were talking about a war commencing down here in Kansas, I told them that was not the place; I also told them that the revelation had designated South Carolina, "and," said I, "you have no need to think that the Kansas war is going to be the war that is to be so terribly destructive in its character and nature. No, it must commence at the place the Lord has designated by revelation."

What did they have to say to me? They thought it was a Mormon humbug, and laughed me to scorn, and they looked upon that revelation as they do upon all others that God has given in these latter days—as without divine authority. But behold and lo! in process of time it came to pass, again establishing the divinity of this work, and giving another proof that God is in this work, and is performing that which He spoke by the mouths of the ancient prophets, as recorded in the Book of Mormon before any Church of Latter-day Saints was in existence.[1]

Thus, Orson Pratt indicates that not only did he preach regarding Joseph's prophesy in 1832, but that he was ridiculed for it. He would also remember:

Now I am aware that it is almost impossible for even some of the Latter-day Saints to get that confidence and that strong faith in the events which God intends to accomplish on this land in the future to believe in such a thing, to say nothing about outsiders, that do not believe a word of it. Outsiders do not believe it any more than they believed me when I was a boy and took that revelation which was given in 1832, and carried it forth among many towns and cities and told them there was to be a great and terrible war between the North and the South, and read to them the revelation. Did they believe it? Would they consider that there was any truth in it? Not in the least, "that is a Mormon humbug" they would say. "What! this great and powerful nation of ours to be divided one part against the other and many hundreds of thousands of souls to be destroyed by civil wars!" Not a word of it would they believe. They do not believe what is still in the future.[2]

The Church printed the prophecy in the Pearl of Great Price in 1851, ten years before the Civil War

The Church also printed the prophecy in the Pearl of Great Price in 1851, and continued to publicize it until the Civil War. Clearly, they did not keep it "under wraps" until the Civil War became inevitable.[3]

Orson Pratt also included the full prophecy from December 1832 on the front page of his publication The Seer in April 1854, seven years before the Civil War

Orson Pratt also included the full prophecy from December 1832 on the front page of his publication The Seer in April 1854, with interpretation and editorial comment for 6 pages.[4] There are also many extant manuscript copies of the prophecy, in the handwriting of men who left the church before Joseph Smith died, and some who didn't (WW Phelps, Thomas Bullock, Willard Richards [who died before the Civil War], Edward Partridge, Algernon Sidney Gilbert, Frederick G. Williams).[5]

The Philadelphia Sunday Mercury quoted the prophecy in 1851, ten years before the Civil War

Robert Woodford's Ph.D. thesis also located a an article in a Philadelphia paper quoting the revelation from 1851, with comments, from May 1861; it was reprinted in England a month later:

Philadelphia Sunday Mercury, Sunday May 5, 1861

A MORMON PROPHECY

We have in our possession a pamphlet, published at Liverpool, in 1851, containing a selection from the ‘revelations, translations and narratives’ of Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism. The following prophecy is here said to have been made by Smith, on the 25th of December, 1832. In view of our present troubles, this prediction seems to be in progress of fulfilment, whether Joe Smith was a humbug or not:

‘A REVELATION AND PROPHECY BY THE PROPHET, SEER, AND REVELATOR, JOSEPH SMITH. Verily thus saith the Lord…. Amen [complete text quoted]’

The war began in South Carolina. Insurrections of slaves are already dreaded. Famine will certainly afflict some Southern communities. The interference of Great Britain, on account of the want of cotton, is not improbable, if the war is protracted. In the meantime, a general war in Europe appears to be imminent. Have we not had a prophet among us?[6]

Clearly, members of the Church did not hide the prophecy, and spread it far and wide among themselves and among others from the 1830s until its fulfillment in the 1860s.

Did the Church cover up the fact that the Civil War prophecy was made during the 1832 rebellion in South Carolina?

No American statesman in 1832 believed that the doctrines of secession then talked of would result in a great civil war

It is claimed that Mormons "cover up the fact that the 'prophecy' was made in the midst of an earlier rebellion in December 1832. That rebellion ended quietly a few months later."[7]

This claim, however, is false. Gil Scharffs noted that critics "are correct when they say Joseph Smith announced the Civil War prophecy when rebellion in South Carolina was threatening. A large 1832 rebellion never materialized and the threat ended a few months later."[8]

No American statesman in 1832 believed that the doctrines of secession then talked of would result in a great civil war. None of them had the foresight to see that a great rebellion would occur, beginning in South Carolina; that it would terminate in the death and misery of many souls; that the Southern States would be divided against the Northern States; that the Southern States would call on Great Britain, and that war would eventually be poured out upon all nations. No one foresaw that this would be the result except Joseph Smith--when but twenty-seven years of age--and he saw it only by the spirit of prophecy and revelation. To be required to believe that the prophecy was merely the fortunate conjecture of a more than ordinary astute mind, requires a greater amount of credulity than to concede the inspiration of the Prophet; and then the question would still remain, why is it that sagacious minds in other generations have not paralleled this astuteness of Joseph Smith's? Why did not some of the brilliant minds in the Senate or House of Representatives in 1832 make such a prediction? There was not a lack of brilliant minds in either Senate or House at that time, yet none seemed equal to the task.[9]

The fact that there were rumors of war is in fact a fulfillment of prophecy itself! (Matthew 24:6-7) The question is not were there rumors of war, but the question should be, did the events take place just as Joseph Smith said they would. As soon as Joseph uttered the words "Thus saith the Lord" he was tied to the prophecy being true or false, and if the events did not happen as he said, then, and only then, could it be declared a false prophecy.

Wars would shortly come to pass, beginning with the rebellion of South Carolina, which would eventually terminate in war being poured out upon all nations and in the death and misery of many souls

It was because of this fact that the Lord made known to Joseph Smith this revelation stating that wars would shortly come to pass, beginning with the rebellion of South Carolina, which would eventually terminate in war being poured out upon all nations and in the death and misery of many souls. It may have been an easy thing in 1832, or even 1831, for someone to predict that there would come a division of the Northern States and the Southern States, for even then there were rumblings, and South Carolina had shown the spirit of rebellion. It was not, however, within the power of man to predict in the detail which the Lord revealed to Joseph Smith, what was shortly to come to pass as an outgrowth of the Civil War and the pouring out of war upon all nations. It must be conceded that no one, except Joseph Smith, ever entered into such detail in relation to this conflict or stated with such assurance that the time would come when all nations would be involved in war, The revelation begins with these words: "Verily, thus saith the Lord, concerning the wars that will shortly come to pass beginning at the rebellion of South Carolina, which will eventually terminate in the death and misery of many souls; and the time will come that war will be poured out upon all nations, beginning at this place." This, certainly, is a bold prediction which no one, other than Joseph Smith, dared to make.[10]:2:123

Was Joseph Smith's 1832 prophecy of the Civil War invalid because a civil war was "inevitable," and "anyone" could have predicted it?

There is no evidence that Americans were predicting a Civil War between 1832-1851

So, was the prophecy "so obvious" that anyone could have predicted it? The critics must prove this contention.

Where is the evidence that most Americans were predicting a Civil War between 1832-1851? Why was Orson Pratt ridiculed if this was obvious to everyone? This seems a desperate attempt by the critics to dismiss a "hit" by Joseph. Everything can look obvious in retrospect if one doesn't know history.

There is, in fact, good contemporary evidence that this prophecy was mocked by prominent authors only 4 years before the Civil War began

A newspaper article from 1857 reported a garbled version of the prophecy, but the author's scorn is clear:

New beauties are being revealed in the Mormon faith almost every day, and new prophecies of Joe Smith fulfilled. When any event of state occurs, or any remarkable circumstance happens, some of the Mormon apostles find a prophecy of Joseph’s (probably dated twenty-five years ago), which has just been fulfilled by the occurrence. These prophecies are never spoken of until after the occurrence. The fact is, the leaders frame the prophecy themselves after its fulfillment. Joe Smith did at one time prophecy that before the year 1860, the Union would be divided, the havoc of war spread over our glorious Republic, battles be fought whose equal was never before known, father would be arrayed against son, and brother against brother, and that our glorious Republic would be stained with human blood from North to South, the Constitution be trampled upon, and the Government fall to the ground; and then would the little band of Mormons rear the standard of their creed aloft, and proclaim to the world that the millennial year had been ushered in, and the reign of Christ begun. (emphasis added)

But methinks the Mormons can entertain but little hope of the fulfillment of that prophecy, as the Union has stood the strongest test and did not even shake. But when I shall see the above prophecy come to pass, I shall probably then change my mind about the truth of the revelation. At present, I see no chance of its verification within the time specified.[11]

Was Joseph Smith's 1832 prophecy of the Civil War invalid because "war was not brought to all nations" by the Civil War and/or claiming there is "no link" between the Civil War and later conflicts?

The Civil War was, indeed, a bloody war, resulting in about 204,000 battle casualties plus another 225,000 military personnel who died of disease

Significantly, the prophesy warns of "the death and misery of many souls." The Civil War was, indeed, a bloody war, resulting in about 204,000 battle casualties plus another 225,000 military personnel who died of disease. This number actually well exceeds the American battle deaths (128,000) in World War I. In World War II, there were 396,637 battle deaths.[12]

Here are some figures concerning another war (World War I).

Authoritative tables give the grand total of all armies mobilized at 59,176,864. Direct military deaths out of this number are set down as 7,781,806; the wounded at 18,681,257; prisoners and missing 7,080,580; making a total of direct military casualties of 33,434,443. This is only a statement of military casualties however. The same authority sets down the number of civilians as being greater from famine, disease, and massacres than those who fell in the military operations. Of these two classes are named: civilians who were killed by direct military causes, and those who died from indirect causes. Of the first class the number was 100,082; and the second--those who died from indirect causes, among the Armenians, Syrians, Jews, and Greeks--massacred or starved by the Turks--are numbered at 4,000,000. The deaths numbered beyond the normal mortality of influenza and pneumonia induced by the war is placed at 4,000,000. The Serbians who died through diseases, or massacre, numbered 1,085,441. Making the total of deaths in these two classes 9,085,441, so that with military deaths and civilian deaths, resulting from the war, make a grand total of 16,967,329 deaths. And of the more than 18,000,000 who were wounded in battle 30% or about 6,000,000, were made permanent human wrecks.[13]:1:302

Following the Civil War, many nations entered into alliances and secret agreements in order to protect themselves from other nations

Following the Civil War the nations, in their great alarm because of the new methods of warfare which were being developed and their fear of other nations, entered into alliances and secret agreements in order to protect themselves from other nations. At the outbreak of the World War, these alliances had reached proportions never before known, and during the war other alliances were made until nearly every nation on the earth had taken sides with the Triple Alliance or the Triple Entente. It was during the period of the World War, 1914-1918, Great Britain made her appeal to the nations to come to the defense of the standard of Democracy. Her pleadings were heard round the world. And what is still more remarkable, the entire procedure conforms exactly to the prediction made by Joseph Smith, viz: "they shall also call upon other nations in order to defend themselves against other nations." A plurality of nations aligned and allied on both sides of the deadly conflict.[10]:2:125

This revelation was not just about the American Civil War

The revelation makes that very clear by first stating in verse one, "thus saith the Lord concerning the wars that will shortly come to pass." Notice that the word used is wars (plural), not war (singular), thereby "suggesting not one war but a continuum of conflict. Thus, like chapter 24 of Matthew, this scripture covered things both imminent and distant."[12]Of course, in our own time, we could add the war in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq, civil wars in Central America, Lebanon, the British-Argentine conflict, Desert Storm, etc.

In our several Indian uprisings since the close of the Civil War, many see the fulfillment of that part of the prophecy which declares that the "remnants who are left of the land [the American Indians] will marshal themselves, and shall become exceeding angry, and shall vex the Gentiles with a sore vexation."[13]:1:303

World history since 1861 demonstrates that armed conflict widened and persisted since the American Civil War. There is nothing in the prophecy that claims that the Civil War must be the direct cause of on-going war, merely that on-going war will occur. And, it will happen after "Great Britain" "shall...call upon other nations, in order to defend themselves":

2 And the time will come that war will be poured out upon all nations, beginning at this place.

3 For behold, the Southern States shall be divided against the Northern States, and the Southern States will call on other nations, even the nation of Great Britain, as it is called, and they shall also call upon other nations, in order to defend themselves against other nations; and then war shall be poured out upon all nations. (D&C 87꞉2-3)

This is an excellent description of WW I and II, during which war was "poured out" into global battles. And, since WW II war and strife has not ceased.

An on-line database of armed conflict demonstrates that there has not been a single year since the end of the Civil War in which a war or armed conflict did not begin, and many of these wars lasted for multiple years (or even, in some cases) decades. (Click here to download a PDF from this on-line database listing the wars from 1865-1950.)

Was Joseph Smith's 1832 prophecy of the Civil War invalid because slaves did not rise up against their masters in the Civil War?

Of the 2,653,000 soldiers enlisted on the side of the Union, 186,397 were colored, and many of them saw active service in the field against their former masters

In the part taken by negroes in the war between the states, many see the fulfillment of the prediction of the revelation that "slaves shall rise up against their masters, who shall be marshaled and disciplined for war;" for of the 2,653,000 soldiers enlisted on the side of the Union, 186,397 were colored, and many of them saw active service in the field against their former masters.[13]:1:302-303[14] However, the prophecy does not tie slave rebellions directly to the Civil War. After discussing the call on other nations for assistance, the prophecy reads:

4 And it shall come to pass, after many days, slaves shall rise up against their masters, who shall be marshaled and disciplined for war.(D&C 87꞉4)

The phrase "it came to pass," and related forms generally indicates a transition in subject or time. The prophecy is clear that the revolt of slaves will come "after many days," which in scriptural language (remember Jesus' second coming was "near," and "even at the door") generally suggests a fairly long period of time.

The prophecy also could refer to past race riots in the U.S. and other countries, uprisings in African nations against their governments, the liberation of peoples under dictatorships throughout the world, or some future liberation of those forced to fight against their will for totalitarian regimes.

What accounts of the Civil War prophecy were given by Latter-day Saint leaders?

Other accounts of the prophecy from LDS leaders

The contemporary evidence is complemented by accounts given later by LDS leaders and members:

  • I copied a revelation more than twenty-five years ago, in which it is stated that war should be in the south and in the north, and that nation after nation would become embroiled in the tumult and excitement, until war should be poured out upon the whole earth, and that this war would commence at the rebellion of South Carolina, and that times should be such that every man who did not flee to Zion would have to take up the sword against his neighbor or against his brother. These things are beginning to be made manifest, but the end is not yet; but it will come, and that too much sooner than the world of mankind anticipate, and all those things spoken by the mouths of his Prophets will be fulfilled.[15]
  • The Lord has led this people out of bondage with a high hand and an outstretched arm. No man acquainted with the history of this people is ignorant of the almighty power of God that has been manifested in the organization, growth and present condition of the Church, though they may be unable naturally to account for it. And the more we grow and prosper, the more our enemies are angry with us. They are angry with us because we told them, thirty years ago, that calamity would come upon this nation. Their anger still increases, while they are drinking of the bitter cup; and at the same time the Saints are increasing in numbers, in faith, in hope, in wealth and in power. I have talked with men who professed to be gentlemen and dispensers of life and salvation to the people, who, Pharaoh-like, declared that they would rather be damned than believe that Joseph Smith was a true Prophet of God. I promised them they should have their choice.[16]
  • We are under no necessity of sending forth the Elders of Israel in the condition that we have hitherto had to do; in fact, it would not be safe for a man to shoulder his valise and tramp through the States as the Elders used to do. Bloodshed, robbery, murder, jay-hawking (a polite name for robbery,) stalks abroad throughout the land, and the only chance for safety is for every man to pass along about his business and be silent; this is the case in many parts of the country. The fact that Joseph Smith predicted the present trouble and state of affairs—prophesied the result of mobbing the Saints in Missouri and elsewhere, enrages them; instead of the fulfillment of that prophecy making the people of the country friendly to us, it makes them bloodthirsty, more filled with hell, more eager to waste and destroy and crush out the last remaining particle of truth that may exist on the face of the land.[17]
  • These things ought to be a warning to us. We comfort our souls sometimes on the fulfillment of the prophecies of God. We say "Mormonism" must be true because Joseph Smith prophesied thus and so concerning a division of this nation, and that the calamities which are now causing it to mourn should commence in South Carolina. That is true, he did prophecy that, and did foretell the events that have since transpired, and did tell where the commencement of those difficulties should originate. Well, if this is true, are not other things true? If it is true that the Lord has revealed a certain amount of truth in relation to these matters, is it not as true that He has revealed other truths in which we are as individuals interested; and if it is true that God has commenced to deal with other nations as He is doing with this until war and desolation shall spread through the earth, it is just as true that we ought to be very careful what we are doing to secure the favor of God and to fulfill our destiny upon the earth in a manner which will meet his designs.[18]

For further discussion on the Saints' attitude to the Civil War, both before and after its outbreak, see Attitude of Saints to Civil War prophecy.

Every student of United States history is acquainted with the facts establishing a complete fulfilment of this prophecy. In 1861, more than twenty-eight years after the foregoing prediction was recorded, and ten years after its publication in England, the Civil War broke out. It is known the Confederate States solicited aid of Great Britain. While no open alliance between the Southern States and the English government was effected, British influence gave indirect assistance and substantial encouragement to the South, and this in such a way as to produce serious international complications. Vessels were built and equipped at British ports in the interests of the Confederacy; and the results of this violation of the laws of neutrality cost Great Britain fifteen and a half millions of dollars, which sum was awarded the United States at the Geneva arbitration in settlement of the Alabama claims. The Confederacy appointed commissioners to Great Britain and France; these appointees were forcibly taken by United States officers from the British steamer on which they had embarked. This act, which the United States government had to admit as overt, threatened for a time to precipitate a war between this nation and Great Britain.[19]

Did Joseph Smith prophesy that the government would be overthrown and wasted?

The prophecy has already been amply fulfilled by events in Missouri and the United States soon after Joseph's death

On 6 May 1843, Joseph Smith said:

'I prophecy in the name of the Lord God of Israel, unless the United States redress the wrongs committed upon the Saints in the state of Missouri and punish the crimes committed by her officers that in a few years the government will be utterly overthrown and wasted, and there will not be so much as a potsherd left for their wickedness in permitting the murder of men, women and children, and the wholesale plunder and extermination of thousands of her citizens to go unpunished, thereby perpetrating a foul and corroding blot upon the fair fame of this great republic, the very thought of which would have caused the high-minded and patriotic framers of the Constitution of the United States to hide their faces with shame. Judge [Stephen A. Douglas], you will aspire to the Presidency of the United States; and if you ever turn your hand against me or the Latter-day Saints, you will feel the weight of the hand of the Almighty upon you; and you will live to see and know that I have testified the truth to you; for the conversation of this day will stick to you through life.[20]

Since it is more than 150 years since this prophecy was uttered, and because the US government still exists, it is claimed that this is a false prophecy. However, the prophecy has already been amply fulfilled by events in Missouri and the United States soon after Joseph's death.

Missouri suffered greatly during the Civil War

Missouri suffered greatly during the Civil War. Over 1,200 distinct battles or skirmishes were fought on Missouri soil; only Tennessee and Virginia saw more action on their soil.

Between 1862 and 1864, the western parts of Missouri endured guerrilla warfare. Although guerrilla warfare occurred throughout much of the state, most of the incidents occurred in northern Missouri and were characterized by ambushes of individuals or families in rural areas. These incidents were particularly nefarious because their vigilante nature was outside the command and control of either side and often pitted neighbor against neighbor.

Among the more notorious incidents of guerrilla warfare were the Sacking of Osceola, burning of Platte City and the Centralia Massacre.

In 1863 following the Lawrence Massacre in Kansas, Union General Thomas Ewing, Jr. accused farmers in rural Missouri of either instigating the attack or supporting it. He issued General Order No. 11 which forced the evacuation of all residents of rural areas of the four counties (Jackson, Cass, Bates and Vernon) south of the Missouri River on the Kansas border to leave their property, which was then burned. The order applied to farmers regardless of loyalty, although those who could prove their loyalty to the Union could stay in designated towns and those who could not were exiled entirely.[21]

LDS readers will recognize that Jackson county was notorious for its treatment of the Saints, and it was among those counties from which inhabitants were evacuated and a "scorched earth" policy implemented. The commanding general ordered his men not to engage in looting or other depredations, but he proved unable to effectively control his soldiers, who were mostly Kansans eager to exact any revenge possible upon their Missouri neighbors. Animals and other property were stolen or destroyed, and houses, barns and outbuildings burnt to the ground. The area affected quickly became a devastated "no-man's-land", with only charred chimneys and burnt stubble remaining where once-fertile farms had stood.[22]

If one read's Joseph's prophecy as referring at least partly to the government of Missouri, then it was fulfilled dramatically. Nothing remained in many areas, and government in some areas broke down almost completely as various factions struggled for control.

In the US government of Joseph's day, the Whigs had won the presidency and controlled the Senate: The Whigs were destroyed as a political power, never to recover

In 1840, William Henry Harrison was elected as president on the Whig ticket. He was to die within a month of taking office, succeeded by Vice-President John Tyler who was in office when Joseph made his prophecy in May 1843. The Whig party was to fracture along pro- and anti-slavery lines, and by 1854 the northern Whigs left the party to join the new Republican party. Others were later to join the Constitutional Union party, dedicated to the avoidance of civil war. Following the Civil War, the Whigs in the south tried to regroup, but were soon absorbed into the Democratic party.[23]

Thus, in the US government of Joseph's day, the Whigs had won the presidency and controlled the Senate. The Whigs were to be destroyed as a political power, never to recover. The United States government was to be destroyed, since the secession of the South arguably remade the American political order. Eleven states formed their own government as the Confederate States of America, and two states (Missouri and Kentucky) were split between pro-Union and pro-Confederate factions. Even following the war, the Reconstruction era undertook the abolishment of the Confederacy, the reestablishment of Southern representation in the Congress, and a revamping of the United States constitution to change the relationship of the states to the federal government.

Chief among the constitutional changes was the Fourteenth Amendment, which made all citizens of the states citizens of the United States. Thus:

No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

This was a fundamental alteration of the government of the United States, and would have helped resolve many of the Saints' difficulties, had it been in place before the Civil War. Joseph Smith would complain:

I am the greatest advocate of the Constitution of the United States there is on the earth. In my feelings I am always ready to die for the protection of the weak and oppressed in their just rights. The only fault I find with the Constitution is, it is not broad enough to cover the whole ground.

Although it provides that all men shall enjoy religious freedom, yet it does not provide the manner by which that freedom can be preserved, nor for the punishment of Government officers who refuse to protect the people in their religious rights, or punish those mobs, states, or communities who interfere with the rights of the people on account of their religion. Its sentiments are good, but it provides no means of enforcing them. It has but this one fault. Under its provision, a man or a people who are able to protect themselves can get along well enough; but those who have the misfortune to be weak or unpopular are left to the merciless rage of popular fury.[24]

The fourteenth amendment gave the federal government the power to enforce defense if the states failed to do so. As George A. Smith noted:

That is the situation we were in in Missouri when Governor Dunklin declared that the constitution and laws of Missouri could not be enforced so as to protect this people. It was virtually declaring us independent of that State, and acknowledging our right to protect ourselves in that capacity.[25]

G.A. Smith notes that Missouri could refuse to protect the Saints, and the federal government could not intervene. The 14th amendment altered this state of affairs. Elias Higbee's words to Congress would likewise insist that "I told them first, that I represented a suffering people, who had been deprived, together with myself, of their rights in Missouri; who numbered something like fifteen thousand souls; and not only they, but many others were deprived of the rights guaranteed to them by the Constitution of the United States."[26]

On this view, the United States government was remade following the Civil War. The old order was gone.

During the Civil War, members of the Church clearly saw the conflict as a fulfillment of Joseph's prophecy

During the Civil War, members of the Church clearly saw the conflict as a fulfillment of Joseph's prophecy. As one federal governor wrote in 1862, "Brigham Young and other preachers are constantly inculcating in the minds of the crowded audiences who sit beneath their teachings every Sabbath that the United States is of no consequence, that it lies in ruins, and that the prophecy of Joseph Smith is being fulfilled to the letter."[27] Thus, the secession of the South and the start of the Civil War was regarded as fulfillment of prophecy. As one author noted:

Mormon leaders consistently expressed their feelings that the war had been brought on by the wickedness of the United States, which had rejected Mormonism and permitted the death of the prophet of God and his servants. Because no effort had been made to punish the guilty or to prevent recurrences, the Mormons saw no reason to wonder at secession and dismemberment of such a union. Although the waste of lives was lamentable, a war between the states would avenge the death of Joseph Smith.

The Saints seemed especially gratified that Jackson County was a war zone and that Missouri would suffer the penalty of its cruelties to the Mormons.[28]

After the war, B.H. Roberts linked Joseph's prophecy to the Civil War, since it also forms part of the prophecy given to Stephen Douglas

After the war, B.H. Roberts linked Joseph's prophecy to the Civil War, since it also forms part of the prophecy given to Stephen Douglas. Noted Roberts:

It would be mere conjecture, of course, to say what the result would have been had Stephen A. Douglas been true to the Saints--the people of his friend Joseph Smith. But certainly had he been elected in 1860 the Southern States would have had no such excuse for their great movement of secession as they at least persuaded themselves they had in the election of Abraham Lincoln. And had Mr. Douglas in the event of his election followed the counsel given to the government and people of the United States by Joseph Smith in respect to the question of slavery, that evil might have been abolished without the effusion of blood, and no place found in the history of the United States for that horrible conflict known as the American civil war.[29]

Thus, Roberts too saw the Civil War and its surrounding events as fulfillment of Joseph's prophecy.

Joseph Smith's Civil War prophecy

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Notes

  1. Orson Pratt, (10 April 1870) Journal of Discourses 13:135.
  2. Orson Pratt, (27 December 1868) Journal of Discourses 12:344.
  3. Paul H. Peterson, "Civil War Prophecy," in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 4 vols., edited by Daniel H. Ludlow, (New York, Macmillan Publishing, 1992), 1:288.
  4. Editor [Orson Pratt], "A Revelation and Prophecy by the Prophet, Seer, and Revelator, Joseph Smith," The Seer 2/4 (April 1854): 241–247.
  5. Robert Woodford, The Historical Development of the Doctrine and Covenants, Ph.D. Dissertation, Brigham Young University, 1974, 1104–1124.
  6. Woodford, "The Historical Development of the Doctrine and Covenants," 1110, 1111 (figures 12 and 13) [figures contain photocopy of the masthead of each newspaper, and the article itself].
  7. The God Makers, 224, lines 21-24; cited by Gilbert W. Scharffs, The Truth about ‘The God Makers’ (Salt Lake City, Utah: Publishers Press, 1989; republished by Bookcraft, 1994), Chapter 15. Full text FAIR link ISBN 088494963X. direct off-site
  8. Gilbert W. Scharffs, The Truth about ‘The God Makers’ (Salt Lake City, Utah: Publishers Press, 1989; republished by Bookcraft, 1994), Chapter 15. Full text FAIR link ISBN 088494963X. direct off-site
  9. Brigham H. Roberts, New Witnesses for God, 3 Vols., (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1909[1895, 1903]), 1:319. ISBN 0962254541.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Joseph Fielding Smith, Church History and Modern Revelation (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book Co., 1947).
  11. "O.P.M.," "Mormonism and its Origin, Number 4," The Golden Era San Francisco (18 October 1857). [Thanks to Ted Jones for this reference.]
  12. 12.0 12.1 Neal A. Maxwell, Sermons Not Spoken (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1985), 66.
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 Brigham H. Roberts, Comprehensive History of the Church (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1965). GospeLink
  14. "American Civil War: Slavery during the war," wikipedia.org (accessed 15 Jan 2009) off-site
  15. Wilford Woodruff, (July 27, 1862) Journal of Discourses 10:13.
  16. Brigham Young, (September 28, 1862) Journal of Discourses 10:4.
  17. George A. Smith, (April 6, 1863) Journal of Discourses 10:144.
  18. John Taylor, (October 25, 1863) Journal of Discourses 10:278.
  19. James E. Talmage, The Articles of Faith (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1981[1899]), 25-26.
  20. 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), 5:394. Volume 5 link
  21. "Missouri in the American Civil War," Wikipedia (accessed 3 January 2009) off-site.
  22. "General Order No. 11," Wikipedia (accessed 3 January 2009) off-site.
  23. "Whig Party (United States)," Wikipedia (accessed 3 January 2009) off-site
  24. 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), 6:56–57. Volume 6 link
  25. George A. Smith, "Difficulties With Which the Church Has Had to Contend in Its Establishment in Utah," (10 September 1861) Journal of Discourses 9:110.
  26. 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), 4:81. Volume 4 link
  27. Stephen S. Harding; cited in Eugene. E. Campbell, Establishing Zion: The Mormon Church in the American West, 1847-1869 (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, 1988), 291.
  28. Eugene. E. Campbell, Establishing Zion: The Mormon Church in the American West, 1847-1869 (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, 1988), 291.
  29. Brigham H. Roberts, "The Evidence Of Prophecy," in New Witnesses for God, 3 Vols., (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1909[1895, 1903]), 1:311. ISBN 0962254541.

Response to claim: 461, 616n10 - The wicked "of this generation" would be swept from the face of the land and the Lost Ten tribes would be gathered within Joseph Smith's generation

The author(s) of One Nation Under Gods make(s) the following claim:

The wicked "of this generation" would be swept from the face of the land and the Lost Ten tribes would be gathered within Joseph Smith's generation.

Author's sources:

FAIR's Response

|authorsources=

  1. History of the Church, 1:315-316. Volume 1 link

}}

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

The final and total return of the Ten Tribes is not required by the prophecy—only the preparation and preliminaries for their return. The destruction of the wicked was seen by those to whom the prophecy was given as fulfilled by the Civil War and its attendant destruction, and it was this that those living were commanded to avoid by fleeing to Zion and the safety of the gospel.


Articles about Joseph Smith

Alleged false prophecies by leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Many critics of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints assert that its past presidents (men that Latter-day Saints consider prophets) have made failed prophecies and that this either proves or provides evidence for the claim that they aren't true prophets receiving revelation from God.

We will first discuss general principles regarding alleged false prophecies.[1]

The Three Models of Prophecy: Film Reel, Weather Forecast, and Plan

How we understand a claim of false prophecy will depend on what we understand prophecy to be. There are at least three potential models:

  1. Film Reel model: The future is already planned out and God, like an old-timey projectionist, can unfurl the reel and see what happens further on in the movie of life, come back to the present, and reveal that will to his children. Key to this model of prophecy is that the events revealed in prophecy will certainly happen.
  2. Weather forecast model: God makes a prediction of the future based off of present circumstances. If present circumstances change, then the prophecy does not have to reach fulfillment. God’s formula in scripture seems to be one set up on conditional statements. In this model, prophecy is a description of what will probably happen, not a certain declaration.
  3. Plan model: God revealing his plans for the future given certain conditions being met. If those conditions are not met, then God will act differently. For instance, God can state that if A happens, then B will happen. (For example, "If you do not repent, you will be destroyed." Under this model, humans make choices right now that change the outcome of the prophecy. Key to this model of prophecy is that the events revealed and described in prophecy will contingently happen.

Elements of all models may apply in some situations. We often have a model in mind without realizing it, and so make judgments based on only a partial view of what prophecy is or can be.

A more speculative fourth option—God's foreknowledge may not be absolute

A more speculative option (and one that is likely to be much more objectionable for some) is the idea that God does not have exhaustive foreknowledge of the future. (Conservative protestant critics, often Calvinists by theology, would typically reject this option strongly since they believe in God's absolute sovereignty—including the idea that some people are unconditionally chosen from all eternity to be saved. Those so chosen will always respond to God's decision to offer them salvation, and this saved state cannot be undone by any human choice or action,

By contrast, the restored Church of Jesus Christ holds to none of these views—God has not predestined any of his children to salvation or damnation, all have the moral agency to respond to God's gracious offer of salvation, and even those who are in a saved state and covenant relationship can use that same moral agency to reject God and not "endure to the end."[2]

The Church does not take an official position as to how members ought to view God's foreknowledge.[3]

Some believe that God has knowledge of all things that will actually happen in the future.

Others believe that the nature of free will or moral agency means that even God cannot be certain how truly free creatures will act until they do so. Thus, God has a very good idea of how things will go, but he does not achieve certainty until we choose to act. Those who hold this view insist that this does not mean that God does not have all the power it is possible to have—merely that absolute foreknowledge is a logical impossibility. Further, they also believe that regardless of these considerations, God is still absolutely capable of bringing to pass his purposes, and no moral agent can thwart his plans, save as it regards themselves.[4]

Deuteronomy 18—a biblical test of true prophesy

Critics from other branches of Christianity often cite Deuteronomy 18:20–22 as a scriptural test of a claim to prophethood. That scripture states:

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

This test is straightforward—if a prophesy is made and it fails, the speaker of the prophesy should be regarded as a false prophet. While simple on the surface, the matter quickly becomes more complex. If the critics used this standards on the bible as they try to use it against Joseph Smith, they would soon dismiss much of the bible.

John Tvedtnes wrote:

Based on the false premise that "all you need is one false prophecy to have a false prophet," some critics have ignored many of Joseph Smith’s [fulfilled] prophecies and have zeroed in on ones they consider to be false. But they typically identify unfulfilled commandments, opinions, and counsel as "false prophecies." In doing so, they forsake the rules laid out in 18?lang=eng&id=p20-22#p20-22 Deuteronomy 18꞉20-22, ignoring the fact that the passage defines a false prophecy as one uttered in the name of the Lord which does not come to pass.

The main problem is that the critics do not apply these same standards to biblical prophecies. And when we try to show that, by these standards, many of the biblical prophets fail the tests they have set up for Joseph Smith, we are accused of "Bible-slamming." To those who ascribe more divinity to the Bible than to God, such a "sin" is worse than blasphemy itself. Honesty, however, impels us to submit the biblical prophets to the same tests as those applied to Joseph Smith.

For this reason, following the logic of the critics, we would have to conclude that Moses-to whom the revelation in Deuteronomy 18:20-22 is ascribed-was a false prophet. In Numbers 25꞉13, he said, in the name of the Lord, that Phinehas, his grand nephew, would hold the priesthood eternally. But if Hebrews 7꞉11-12 is correct, the Aaronic priesthood is not eternal. In this particular example, Moses fills the requirement for the test of Deuteronomy much more closely than does Joseph Smith in most of the examples of "false prophecies" cited by the critics. How, then, can Latter-day Saints accept both Joseph Smith and Moses as true prophets, regarding their prophecies as divinely-inspired? The answer lies in the fact that prophecy is typically conditional.[1]

Step #1: Ensure that the account of the prophecy is authentic and is not based on hearsay

John Tvedtnes wrote:

This brings us to the fact that some critics quote secondary sources to illustrate "false prophecies" uttered by Joseph Smith. By their very definition, such sources cannot be considered totally accurate in their representation of the prophet’s words. One of the critics became rather selective in his use of secondary sources. Whenever the "prophecy" (some of them weren’t prophecies), in his judgment, failed, he was quick to pronounce the secondary source "authentic" or "reliable." But when it was fulfilled, he denounced it as coming from a secondary source and therefore unreliable. He even went so far as to term one failed prophecy as "reliable" because its source was "Mormon," while denouncing another fulfilled prophecy on the very same grounds.

For my part, I use all secondary sources with caution. They may give insights, but they cannot be considered with the same weight as known statements of Joseph Smith. This is true of journal accounts as well, for the reason that they are generally written after the fact (often at the end of the day) and are usually not reviewed by the person who made the statement.

Here is an example of how journals are sometimes misused: One critic quoted a revelation of Joseph Smith as found in Parley P. Pratt’s Autobiography (page 100), reading "surely Zion cannot fail, neither be moved out of her place." Elder Pratt, however, gave an abbreviated version of the revelation, which is found in D&C 97꞉19-20. In the original, we find that the words in question are what "the nations of the Gentiles shall say" of Zion at some point in the future. The secondary version was evidently used because it is more susceptible to interpretation as a "false prophecy."

Other problems arise when the critics cite a known forgery or a "false prophecy" by Joseph Smith whose only source is another anti-Mormon publication. Of a particular document, one critic wrote, "I believe this might be the most clear cut prophecy Joseph Smith ever gave." The document in question is a forgery prepared by Mark Hofmann. ...

One critic asked, "Do you really want to risk your eternal salvation on men who make statements like these?" To this, I reply, Can we risk our eternal salvation on the Bible, which reports that the sun and the moon stood still for Joshua (Joshua 10꞉12-14), when we know that this-like Quakers living on the moon-is a scientific impossibility? One might object that what the Bible describes is the standing still of the earth, rather than of the heavenly bodies (which is precisely the way the Book of Mormon puts it in Helaman 12꞉13-15). But the point is that the author of Joshua held an incorrect belief concerning the movement of celestial bodies, even if that does not invalidate the basic story he tells. So, too, Joseph Smith (and others) could have held false views concerning these same celestial bodies and yet told the truth about the revelations he received from God.[1]

Step #2: Verify that the source claims that the prophecy came by revelation from God

Tvedtnes continued:

Under date of February 8, 1843, Joseph Smith wrote, "[I] visited with a brother and sister from Michigan who thought that >a prophet is always a prophet;’ but I told them that a prophet was a prophet only when he was acting as such" (History of the Church 5:265). Prophets are, after all, human beings. The fact that they speak for God on occasion does not remove their free agency. Like all of us, prophets have opinions. Sometimes, these opinions are clearly set off, as Paul did in his first epistle to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 7꞉10,12,25,40). Joseph Smith occasionally used wording such as "this is my counsel" (History of the Church 1:455) or "I therefore warn" ( Nauvoo Neighbor, June 19, 1844).[5] Elder Charles W. Penrose, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve and later a counselor in the First Presidency, wrote, "At the head of this Church stands a man who is a Prophet…we respect and venerate him; but we do not believe that his personal views or utterances are revelations from God."[6]

More recently, Joseph Fielding Smith wrote:

It makes no difference what is written or what anyone has said, if what has been said is in conflict with what the Lord has revealed, we can set it aside. My words, and the teachings of any other member of the Church, high or low, if they do not square with the revelations, we need not accept them. Let us have this matter clear. We have accepted the four standard works as the measuring yardsticks, or balances, by which we measure every man’s doctrine. You cannot accept the books written by the authorities of the Church as standards in doctrine, only in so far as they accord with the revealed word in the standard works. (Doctrines of Salvation 3:203)

Similar thoughts were expressed by President Harold B. Lee in a European area conference:

If anyone, regardless of his position in the Church, were to advance a doctrine that is not substantiated by the standard Church works, meaning the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price, you may know that his statement is merely his private opinion. The only one authorized to bring forth any new doctrine is the President of the Church, who, when he does, will declare it as revelation from God, and it will be so accepted by the Council of the Twelve and sustained by the body of the Church. And if any man speak a doctrine which contradicts what is in the standard Church works, you may know by that same token that it is false and you are not bound to accept it as truth.[7]

In January 1970, six months after the first Apollo moon landing, Joseph Fielding Smith became President of the Church. Some anti-Mormon groups took delight in pointing out that he had, during his tenure as an Apostle, declared that it was "doubtful that man will ever be permitted to make any instrument or ship to travel through space and visit the moon or any distant planet."[8] What these same critics failed to point out was that President Smith never attributed his belief to a revelation from God. Indeed, many of his generation held the same opinion, and all were surprised-but delighted-when proven wrong. Incorrect opinions do not make false prophets. Some of the Bible’s foremost prophets, such as Moses and Jeremiah, objected that their lack of eloquence made them unsuited to fill the role the Lord had cut out for them. God overruled these opinions and sent them on their way.[9]

Step #3: Ensure that the account of the prophecy does not misrepresent or misinterpret what the prophet actually said.

To avoid misrepresenting or misinterpreting what a prophet said:

  • Check sources: Revisit the source of the prophecy to see if there is any missing context.
  • Check interpretation: Consider alternative interpretations. Have other Latter-day Saint or other Christians authors examined the prophecy in question? Have they offered alternative interpretations? Is there only one possible interpretation that is compelled by the source or are there multiple possible interpretations?
  • Ask, 'Vision or prophecy?': John Tvedtnes wrote that
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).12 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?[1]
  • Multiple ways to fulfillment: Latter-day Saints (like many other Christians) believe in the concept of dual fulfillment. That is: prophecies can be fulfilled in multiple ways.
  • Check timeframe: Often, prophecies do not have a set timeframe for when they will be fulfilled. Sometimes they use language that's equivocal. For instance, prophecies may state that God will "soon" act in a certain way. But, as many know, our "soon" and God's "soon" may not be the same.[1]
  • Prophetic language: Tvedtnes observed that "[w]hen it comes to written revelations, the question of language becomes paramount. Was the revelation taken from the Lord’s dictation by the prophet? Or does it reflect the prophet’s language, reflecting the truths revealed to him by God? One could argue either case without clear resolution. But Latter-day Saints realize that the Lord "speaketh unto men according to their language, unto their understanding" (2 Nephi 31꞉3; see also D&C 1꞉24). Thus, each prophet of the Old Testament wrote in his own dialect. Some of the later ones even used Aramaic or Persian words then being borrowed by the Hebrew language."[1]

Step #4: Remember that most prophecies are contingent on conditions being met—even if that contingency is not made clear by the explicit text of the prophecy

Prophecy is virtully always conditional in the Latter-day Saint view. Before concluding that a prophesy is false, we should look for any stated or implied conditions for fulfillment.

John Tvedtnes wrote:

It was the Lord himself, through the biblical prophet Jeremiah, who explained the conditional nature of prophecy:
At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it; 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. And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it; 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)[10]
Jeremiah himself exemplified the principle of conditional prophecy when he told king Zedekiah, in the name of the Lord, that he would not go captive into Babylon if he followed the prophet’s instructions; otherwise, he would be taken captive and Jerusalem would be destroyed (Jeremiah 38꞉17-23). The conditional nature of prophecy explains why Jonah is not a false prophet. The Lord’s threat to destroy Nineveh within forty days (Jonah 3꞉4) was mitigated by the repentance of the city’s population (Jonah 3꞉4-9). "And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not" (Jonah 3 10). Ironically, Jonah was upset by the fact that the prophecy was not fulfilled, and the Lord had to explain to him that the resultant repentance of "sixscore thousand persons" was more important than fulfilling the word (Jonah 4꞉1-11). From this story, it is obvious that the free-will actions of men play a role in the fulfillment of prophecy. Here are other examples from the Bible:
  • The Lord told David that the men of Keilah "will deliver thee up [to Saul]" (1 Samuel 23꞉12). This did not happen, however, because David fled from the city (verses 13-14).
  • Isaiah told king Hezekiah, "Thus saith the Lord, Set thine house in order; for thou shalt die, and not live." (2 Kings 20꞉1) But after the king pleaded with the Lord, the prophet delivered a new message, saying that fifteen years would be added to his life (verses 2-6).
  • The Lord told Moses that he would destroy the Israelites and make of Moses a greater nation than they. When Moses protested that this would be wrong, the Lord changed his mind (Numbers 14꞉11-20).
  • The Lord said through Elisha that the combined armies of Israel, Judah and Edom would "smite every fenced city" of Moab and that he would "deliver the Moabites also into your hand." But one city, Kir-hareseth, was not taken. When Mesha, the Moabite king, sacrificed his son on the city wall, the Israelites left and went home. The prophecy was not fulfilled because the Israelites would not cooperate with the Lord’s wishes.
  • Through Ezekiel, the Lord declared that the Lebanese city of Tyre would be destroyed by the Babylonian king Nebuchadrezzar, never to be rebuilt (Ezekiel 26, especially verses 4, 7, 12, 14). Though Nebuchadrezzar laid siege against Tyre from 598 to 586 B.C., he was never able to take the city.
  • The Lord then told Ezekiel that, in compensation for his not taking Tyre, Nebuchadrezzar would be given the land of Egypt, (Ezekiel 29 17-10). Its people would be slain and its rivers dry up (Ezekiel 30꞉10-12; Ezekiel 32꞉11-15) and the land of Egypt would remain uninhabited for forty years (Ezekiel 29꞉11-13). But though Nebuchadrezzar defeated an Egyptian army in battle, he never conquered Egypt either.
  • Isaiah, in his prophesy against Babylon (Isaiah 13꞉1), declared that the Medes would slay men, women and children and that Babylon would "be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah. It shall never be inhabited, neither shall it be dwelt in from generation to generation" (Isaiah 13:17-20). In 539 B.C., Cyrus, king of the Medes and Persians, took Babylon without bloodshed, and made it one of the principal cities of his empire. Babylon remained inhabited for centuries afterward.
It is in the light of the conditional nature of prophecy that we must consider some of Joseph Smith’s prophecies. For example, the missionary calling promised Thomas B. Marsh in D&C 112 was never fulfilled because he was excommunicated and forfeited his blessings. Critics have stated that if God really knew Marsh’s heart (verse 11), he would have known that he would apostatize and not be worthy of the promised blessings. The same argument has been used in regard to George Miller’s calling to the bishopric (D&C 124꞉20-21), eight years before he was disfellowshipped.
  • By this same reasoning, God should not have promised a throne to David (1 Samuel 16꞉12-13; 2 Samuel 3꞉9-10; 1 Kings 2꞉4; 1 Kings 8꞉25; 1 Kings 9꞉5), since David, in future, would commit adultery and order the death of an innocent man (1 Samuel 11). This also brings up the question of Jesus’ promise to his twelve apostles: "Ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (Matthew 19꞉28). This promise was made before Judas betrayed the Master and he was obviously included among those who would sit on the "twelve thrones." How could Jesus have made such a promise to the one who would betray him, whom he termed "a devil" (John 6꞉70-71)? The answer seems obvious: at the time of the promises, Judas, Thomas B. Marsh and George Miller were faithful to the Lord. By their subsequent actions, they lost all claim to those promises.[1]

Step #5: Remember the commandment "shall" and the predictive "shall"

One mistake people make in interpreting prophecies mistaking a commandment for a foretelling. That is because both may use "shall". There's obviously a difference between "thou shall not kill" (command) and "thou shall be in Arizona in four months" (foretelling of location).

Step #6: most prophecies can be considered "unreasonable" by some standard

John Tvedtnes wrote:

Some of the critics have included "unreasonable" prophecies in their lists of false prophetic utterances by Joseph Smith. The subjective nature of such a determination makes this procedure unacceptable. What is "unreasonable" to one person may be perfectly acceptable to another. For example, the prophets Ezekiel and Jeremiah "contradicted" each other concerning an essential point, and yet were both right. Ezekiel had prophesied that king Zedekiah would go to Babylon but never see it (Ezekiel 12:13), while his contemporary Jeremiah prophesied that Hezekiah would be taken captive to Babylon (Jeremiah 32:5). But, in the end, both prophets proved true, for Zedekiah indeed went captive into Babylon, but did not see the city, for he had been blinded (2 Kings 25:7). Thus, we see that prophecies "impossible" of fulfillment have, in the course of time, proven true. Joseph Smith deserves at least the same kind of consideration.[1]

Conclusion

We will use these principles to evaluate Joseph Smith's alleged prophecies.

First, however, we need to consider a question that may lurk behind many Christian critics of Joseph Smith. Although they search for "false prophecies" to discredit him, the underlying motive may be that they "know" that there cannot be any more prophets today. They believe the bible "says so," and thus Joseph must be a false prophet. Their evaluation of Joseph's prophecies are not intended, then, to ascertain if he is a true prophet. They have already decided that he is a false prophets on other grounds.

Are there not supposed to be any more prophets after Christ's day?

The belief that there would be no more prophets after Christ is firmly rooted in tradition, not the Bible

The belief that there would be no more prophets after Christ is rooted in tradition, not the Bible. The Bible teaches the opposite of this traditional belief. "Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets." (Amos 3꞉7, (emphasis added)) God has always had direct dealings with man, through the prophets and through revelation. "Am I a God at hand, saith the Lord, and not a God afar off?" (Jeremiah 23꞉23) This is the process God has used since the time of Adam. "As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began." (Luke 1꞉70) it is only logical, and biblically correct, to expect God to have the same relationship with man today.

Christianity claims that God does not change. This is a statement that Latter-Day Saints agree with. Yet, while making this claim, most of Christianity says God has changed because he does not now call prophets.

Only the living prophets are opposed

Those who oppose Joseph Smith as a prophet, do not oppose dead past prophets, but the living ones. Jesus himself noted the irony—the religious leaders opposed him most strongly. Christ understood that his opponents claimed to believe in the past prophets while rejecting a present-day messenger from God. Jesus described them as having the appearance of righteousness, yet were full of iniquity:

Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell? Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city (Matthew 23꞉28-34):

Many follow this pattern today—they proclaim a belief in Christ while denying living prophets.

Alleged false prophecies of Joseph Smith

Did Joseph Smith prophesy that he couldn't be killed within 5 years of August 1843?

It would appear that the letter written by Sarah Scott on 22 July 1844 is a blending of separate and distinct pieces of information and they have been assembled in order to support her view that Joseph Smith was a false prophet

Claim: Joseph Smith prophesied in August 1843 "that he could not be killed within five years from that time". Since he was killed less than one year later, some claim that his statement counts as a false prophecy and that he should be considered a false prophet.

The letter written by Sarah Scott on 22 July 1844 is likely a blending of separate and distinct pieces of information and they have been assembled—whether consciously or subconsciously—in order to support her view that Joseph Smith was a false prophet.

As always, we consider the original document in analyzing this claim:

Joseph also prophesied on the stand a year ago last conference that he could not be killed within five years from that time; that they could not kill him till the Temple would be completed, for that he had received an unconditional promise from the Almighty concerning his days, and he set Earth and Hell at defiance; and then said, putting his hand on his head, they never could kill this Child. But now that he is killed some of the Church say that he said: unless he gave himself up. My husband was there at the time and says there was no conditions whatever, and many others testify to the same thing.

Biases of the author

We note first that the author and her husband "were influenced by William Law to leave the Church in 1844" - close to the time when the document was composed.[11] That does not mean that the report is false, but we need to account for the writer's bias.

Secondly, this letter is not an eyewitness account of what was said by Joseph. The writer stead cites someone else (her husband) who was an eyewitness and so the information second-hand. 

Thirdly, this information is being relayed about 11 months after the Prophet spoke, so memories may be more flawed. The author is also not clear about the dates—the sentence above should read: "a year ago [before] last conference"). The underlined portion of the letter accurately reflects what Joseph Smith said on 27 August 1843.[12] 

The "five years" aspect is from an earlier statement

The 'five-year prophecy' is being included where it doesn't belong. On 12 January 1838 the Prophet met in council at his father’s house in Kirtland, Ohio. During a discussion about the dire circumstances caused by apostates and mobs – and in anticipation of his leaving for Missouri - Joseph Smith said: "One thing, brethren is certain, I shall see you again, let what will happen, for I have a promise of life five years, and they cannot kill me until that time is expired."[13] Five years would expire by January 1843, and it is interesting that on 22 January 1843 the Prophet said: "I understand my mission and business. God Almighty is my shield and what can man do [see D&C 122:9] if God is my friend? I shall not be sacrificed until my time comes, then I shall be offered freely."[14]

The idea of an "unconditional promise" with respect to the Prophet's "days" on the earth also appears to be a misapplication of information

The idea of an "unconditional promise" with respect to the Prophet's "days" on the earth also appears to be a misapplication of information. While the Prophet was languishing inside Missouri's Liberty Jail the Lord informed him in March 1839: "Thy days are known, and thy years shall not be numbered less" (D&C 122꞉9). These words were published in Nauvoo in 1840, and so we see how Sarah Scott or her informant could have either intentionally or unintentionally mixed them with a later statement.[15]

Contemporary records do not support the claim

Sarah Scott's claim that on 27 August 1843 Joseph Smith said that nobody could kill him "till the Temple would be completed" is not supported by the notes taken by Willard Richards, Franklin D. Richards, and William Clayton[16].

And, at least three months prior to the composition of Scott's letter the Prophet had told a group of Saints, "There is something going to happen; I don't know what it is, but the Lord bids me to hasten and give you your endowment before the Temple is finished".[17] Indeed, in 1839 Joseph Smith had prophesied his own death before the age of 40—which would have been on 23 December 1845.[18] Knowing about these well-established claims from Joseph makes us more confident that Scott was misreporting or misrepresenting the matter.

This letter also discounts the idea that Joseph said he could not be killed unless he gave himself up

This letter also discounts the idea (testified to by some unidentified Church members) that Joseph said he could not be killed unless he gave himself up. Scott's husband was present at the 27 August 1843 meeting and did not hear any such thing. And it does not appear from contemporaneous notes that Joseph said this on that date. However, on 31 August 1842 Joseph Smith told a gathering of Relief Society sisters "that great exertions had been made on the part of [the Church's] enemies, but they had not accomplished their purpose—God had enabled him to keep out of their hands. . . . the Lord Almighty had preserv'd him . . . . He said he expected th[at] heavenly Father had decreed that the Missourians shall not get him - if they do, it will be because he does not keep out of the way."[19]

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources
  • Letter, Sarah Scott to Calvin and Abigail Hall (parents), 22 July 1844, Nauvoo, Illinois. Published in George R. Partridge, ed., “The Death of a Mormon Dictator: Letters of Massachusetts Mormons, 1843–1848," New England Quarterly 9/4 (December 1936): 597.

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 killed in Missouri at the Battle of Crooked River. [20]

"Thus saith the Lord"

Some critics have pointed to the "thus saith the Lord" phrase at the beginning Patten's call in D&C 114}1-2} proves that this was a prophecy. 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. When used in the first verse, it appears to be an indication that what followed was the product of revelation.

Patten's call

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 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 could.

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'."[21] Despite this, God 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.

Biblical parallels

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's choices never fulfilled this promise of the Lord. This doesn't make Christ a false prophet. Patten's death at the hands of Missourians was their doing, not his.

As D&C 124꞉49 says, 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."

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Did Joseph Smith state that the moon was inhabited, and that it's inhabitants were dressed like Quakers?

This is not a quote from Joseph Smith, but rather a late, third-hand account of something that Joseph is supposed to have said

The source for this claim is not Joseph Smith himself; the first mention comes in 1881 in Oliver B. Huntington's journal, who attributed the information from Philo Dibble. So, we have a late, third-hand account of something Joseph is supposed to have said.[22] Hyrum Smith [23] and Brigham Young [24] both expressed their view that the moon was inhabited.

A patriarchal blessing given to Huntington also indicated that "thou shalt have power with God even to translate thyself to Heaven, & preach to the inhabitants of the moon or planets, if it shall be expedient." [25]

Huntington later wrote an article about the concept for a Church magazine:

As far back as 1837, I know that he [Joseph Smith] said the moon was inhabited by men and women the same as this earth, and that they lived to a greater age than we do—that they live generally to near the age of a 1,000 years.

He described the men as averaging nearly six feet in height, and dressing quite uniformly in something near the Quaker style.[26]

The idea of an inhabited moon or other celestial body was not foreign to at least some early LDS members. It is not clear whether the idea originated with Joseph Smith.

In the 1800s, the idea that the moon was inhabited was considered scientific fact by many

In any case, this idea was considered 'scientific fact' by many at the time. William Herschel, the discoverer of the planet Uranus, died in 1822. Herschel argued "[w]ho can say that it is not extremely probable, nay beyond doubt, that there must be inhabitants on the Moon of some kind or another?" Furthermore, "he thought it possible that there was a region below the Sun's fiery surface where men might live, and he regarded the existence of life on the Moon as 'an absolute certainty.'" [27]

Other scientists announced that they had discovered "a lunar city with a collection of gigantic ramparts extending 23 miles in either direction." [28]

The 1835 Great Moon Hoax added to the belief in lunar inhabitants

In addition to these pronouncements from some of the most prominent scientists of the day, a clever hoax in 1835 only added to the belief in lunar inhabitants.

John Herschel, son of the famous William, went to South Africa to study stars visible only in the southern hemisphere. This was the cause of considerable public interest, given Herschel's involvement.[29]

On 23 August 1835, Richard Locke published the first article in the New York Sun of what purported to be reports from Herschel's observations. Over a total of six installments, Locke claimed that Herschel was reporting lunar flowers, forests, bison, goats, unicorns, bipedal tailless beavers who cooked with fire, and (most provocatively) flying men with wings:

They appeared to be constantly engaged in conversing, with much impassioned gesticulation; and hence it was inferred, that they are rational beings. Others, apparently of a higher order, were discovered afterwards. . . . And finally a magnificent temple for the worship of God, of polished sapphire, in a triangle shape, with a roof of gold.[30]

These reports were widely believed and caused a minor sensation. They were carried in the Painsville Telegraph, adjacent to Mormon Kirtland.[31] The Sun eventually hinted that the matter was a hoax:

Certain correspondents have been urging us to come out and confess the whole to be a hoax; but this we can by no means do, until we have the testimony of the English or Scotch papers to corroborate such a declaration.[32]

Popular belief in lunar inhabitants persisted for decades after the hoax

No more than this was forthcoming, and the Painsville Telegraph made no mention of the possibility of a hoax. Popular belief in lunar inhabitants persisted for decades. Herschel initially found the episode amusing, but he eventually grew frustrated with having to continually explain to the public that the whole matter was a hoax, with which he had nothing to do: he would later refer "the whole affair as 'incoherent ravings'".[33]

In a private letter, Hirschel's wife indicated how skillfully the hoax was carried out:

Margaret Herschel was more amused. She called the story "a very clever peice of imagination," and wrote appreciately ... "The whole description is so well clenched with minute details of workmanship...that the New Yorkists were not to be blamed for actually believing it as they did...." [34]

Modern prophets and general authorities will sometimes cite newspaper articles or books to illustrate the points which they wish to make

Church publications did not shy from embracing later scientific findings on the matter:

1856

Desert News noted:

Proof that the Moon is not Inhabited.

"Dr. Scoresby, in an account that he has given of some recent observations made with the Earl of Rosse’s telescope, says: ‘With respect to the moon, every object on its surface of 100 feet was distinctly to be seen; and he had no doubt that, under very favorable circumstances, it would be so with objects 60 feet in height…. But no vestiges of architecture remain to show that the moon, is, or ever was, inhabited by a race of mortals similar to ourselves….. There was no water visible…."[35]

1880

"As there is no air nor water on the moon, but very few changes can take place upon its surface. There can be no vegetation and no animals, and although many astronomers have brought their imaginations to bear upon this subject, and have given us descriptions of the beautiful scenery upon its surface, and have even peopled it with inhabitants, we have every reason to believe that it is as barren and lifeless as an arid rock."[36]

Modern analogies

Modern prophets and general authorities will sometimes cite newspaper articles or books to illustrate the points which they wish to make. In doing so, they are not endorsing such articles or books as being prophetically correct in all particulars. Rather, they are using the science and information of their day to enhance their preaching of the gospel.

"Worlds without number"

LDS doctrine was not provincial, since it provided for "worlds without number" (Moses 1꞉33) created by Christ. These worlds held those who would require the gospel, since by Christ "the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God." (D&C 76꞉24)

Information given to the 19th century Saints by the authorities of the day were consistent with these doctrines, and so they believed them, and occasionally mentioned them in a religious context.

As always, prophets and believers are products of their time. Biblical authors, for example, clearly accepted a geocentric (earth centered) cosmos, with a flat earth and heavens supported by four pillars.

Like the authors of the Bible, modern prophets are generally beholden to their era's scientific concepts, except where corrections in those concepts are needed to permit the gospel to be understood and applied. This does not mean, however, that prophets of any era do not receive revelation about matters of eternal significance.

Brigham Young on an inhabited moon.

Summary: Brigham seems to have derived a similar idea from similar influences.


Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources
  • Contender Ministries, Questions All Mormons Should Ask Themselves. Answers
  • Tower to Truth Ministries, "50 Questions to Ask Mormons," towertotruth.net (accessed 15 November 2007). 50 Answers
  • Jay Jacobson, "Three Reasons Not to Become a Mormon,": 7.
  • Search for the Truth DVD (2007) Resources
  • The God Makers (film, 1982)
  • Jerald and Sandra Tanner, The Changing World of Mormonism (Moody Press, 1979), 23.( Index of claims )

Did Joseph Smith claim at one time that Kirtland Safety Society notes would be "as good as gold"?

Joseph was likely being optimistic regarding the bank's future

Whatever one thinks of Joseph's conduct in connection with the Kirtland Safety Society, this promise, ironically, eventually came true.

  • Brigham Young redeemed Kirtland Safety Society scrip for gold in Utah.
  • Marvin S. Hill notes that, "Brigham Young needn't have gone to such pains to ensure that this prophecy was fulfilled. Today [1977] these notes are worth far more than the exchange rate between currency and gold."[37]
Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Did Joseph Smith give a false prophecy by claiming that queens would pay respect to the Relief Society within ten years?

The prophecy is clearly conditional on the continuing righteousness of the Relief Society

Such a record exists, although critics generally do not cite the entire text. Abanes, One Nation, for example, cites only: "I now prophecy that before ten years shall roll around, the queens of the earth shall come and pay their respects to this Society." Abanes then notes, "No queens have ever fulfilled this prophecy.".[38]

Here is the prophecy in context, with several key phrases highlighted:

Females, if they are pure and innocent can come into the presence of God, for what is more pleasing to God than innocence; you must be innocent or you cannot come up before God. If we would come before God let us be pure ourselves. The devil has great power—he will so transform things as to make one gape at those who are doing the will of God—You need not be teasing men for their deeds, but let the weight of innocence be felt which is more mighty than a millstone hung about the neck. Not war, not jangle, not contradiction, but meekness, love purity, these are the things that should magnify us. Action must be brough[t] to light—iniquity must be purged out—then the vail will be rent and the blessings of heaven will flow down—they will roll down like the Mississippi river. This Society shall have power to command Queens in their midst—I now deliver it as a prophecy that before ten years shall roll around, the queens of the earth shall come and pay their respects to this Society—they shall come with their millions and shall contribute of their abundance for the relief of the poor—If you will be pure, nothing can hinder.

After this instruction, you will be responsible for your own sins. It is an honor to save yourselves—all are responsible to save themselves.[39]

According to Joseph's own words, the prophecy is clearly conditional on the continuing righteousness of the Relief Society.

Critics omit the qualifier as they try to discredit Joseph.

Fulfillment of the prophecy

There are several schools of thought regarding this prophecy:

  1. That fulfillment has been delayed.
  2. That it has already been fulfilled.

We do not take a position on this issue, but present the various arguments here.

Was the fulfillment of the prophecy delayed?

If the prophecy remained unfilled, then it would be because the conditions set forth were not met. There is some evidence to support this position.

For example, it is known that Joseph received considerable trouble from his wife, Emma, as head of the Relief Society. Emma would not support plural marriage, and used the Relief Society to attempt to thwart Joseph's teaching of it. Joseph was frequently trying to draw people up to their own better potential and encourage people to prepare to behold the face of God—he gave similar reproofs to the men of the Church:

How vain and trifling have been our spirits, our conferences, our councils, our meetings, our private as well as public conversations—too low, too mean, too vulgar, too condescending for the dignified characters of the called and chosen of God, according to the purposes of His will, from before the foundation of the world! We are called to hold the keys of the mysteries of those things that have been kept hid from the foundation of the world until now. Some have tasted a little of these things, many of which are to be poured down from heaven upon the heads of babes; yea, upon the weak, obscure and despised ones of the earth. Therefore we beseech of you, brethren, that you bear with those who do not feel themselves more worthy than yourselves, while we exhort one another to a reformation with one and all, both old and young, teachers and taught, both high and low, rich and poor, bond and free, male and female; let honesty, and sobriety, and candor, and solemnity, and virtue, and pureness, and meekness, and simplicity crown our heads in every place; and in fine, become as little children, without malice, guile or hypocrisy.[40]

However, in the case of the Relief Society prophecy, Joseph states, point blank, that "iniquity must be purged out," which implies that it has to be there to begin with. There were certainly apostates among the Relief Society.

Problems with the Relief Society

Brigham Young was not pleased about what the Relief Society leadership had done to oppose Joseph and to oppose plural marriage, and the associated difficulties which the Relief Society and their zeal to expunge impurity caused. (Joseph spoke to them about this also, see below.)[41])

Hiatus for the Relief Society

Following the death of Joseph Smith, the Relief Society as an organization went on "hiatus," in part due to these concerns.

Brigham noted, one year after the martyrdom:

When I want Sisters or the Wives of the members of the church to get up Relief Society I will summon them to my aid, but until that time let them stay at home if you see Females huddling together, veto the concern, and if they say Joseph started it all tell them it is a damned lie for I know he never encouraged it.[42]

Note that Brigham's issue is not with the existence of the Relief Society, but the "huddling together" to seek out iniquity. John Taylor gives us further background on why the organization was suspended,

The "reason why the Relief Society did not continue from the first organization was that Emma Smith the Pres. taught the Sisters that the principle of Celestial Marriage as taught and practiced by Joseph Smith was not of God."[43]

Emma's opposition

It should be noted that critical authors Newell and Avery claim this is not true in the strict reading of the minutes—however, it is well known that Emma did everything she could to discourage people from following Joseph's teachings on plural marriage, both in what she said privately and publicly. Newell and Avery provide evidence of this tendency themselves when citing Emma Smith's announced plans, but don't draw the obvious conclusion:

"We [the Relief Society] intend to look into the morals of each other, and watch over each other…. All proceedings that regard difficulties should be kept among the members [of the Relief Society]…. None can object to telling the good but withhold the evil." Given human nature, Emma was demanding an impossible commitment from her members…[44]

Eliza R. Snow's testimony

Even Eliza R. Snow felt it necessary to correct the impression that the Relief Society in Nauvoo had done "more harm than good," emphasizing that it "saved many lives." But, the mere fact that she needed to correct this impression should tell us something about how the Relief Society under Emma's tenure was seen—there were lives saved, but there was also a somewhat darker side that kept Brigham from reconstituting the organization for ten years, and made Eliza need to emphasize that it had been worth it, on balance, even with the problems.[45]

Joseph expressed similar concerns

Joseph expressed his own reservations:

"You need not be teasing men for their deeds, but let the weight of innocence be felt which is more mighty than a millstone hung about the neck."—i.e., quit acting as a type of police on public morals. He spoke on this more than once; it was an on-going problem, and much of it was driven by Emma. (Joseph had previously spoken to the Relief Society and cautioned them about their zeal not being according to knowledge.[46]

Joseph said that there were problems that had to be improved. This could be good evidence that in Emma's case, that the problem wasn't solved. Joseph repeatedly talked to them about judging the actions of others, minding their own business, sustaining the prophet, and so forth. The following remarks from 28 April 1842 are from the same discourse as the prophecy under consideration:

  • "He exhorted the sisters always to concentrate their faith and prayers for, and place confidence in their husbands, whom God has appointed for them to honor, and in those faithful men whom God has placed at the head of the Church to lead His people; that we should arm and sustain them with our prayers; for the keys of the kingdom are about to be given to them, that they may be able to detect everything false; as well as to all the Elders who shall prove their integrity in due season."
  • [Joseph] "said the same aspiring disposition will be in this Society, and must be guarded against; that every person should stand, and act in the place appointed, and thus sanctify the Society and get it pure (italics added)."
  • [Joseph continued] "saying everyone should aspire only to magnify his own office and calling....and said, don't be limited in your views with regard to your neighbor's virtue, but beware of self-righteousness, and be limited in the estimate of your own virtues, and not think yourselves more righteous than others; you must enlarge your souls towards each other, if you would do like Jesus, and carry your fellow-creatures to Abraham's bosom. He said he had manifested long-suffering, forbearance and patience towards the Church, and also to his enemies; and we must bear with each other's failings, as an indulgent parent bears with the foibles of his children (italics added)."
  • "How precious are the souls of men! The female part of the community are apt to be contracted in their views. You must not be contracted, but you must be liberal in your feelings. Let this Society teach women how to behave towards their husbands, to treat them with mildness and affection. When a man is borne down with trouble, when he is perplexed with care and difficulty, if he can meet a smile instead of an argument or a murmur—if he can meet with mildness, it will calm down his soul and soothe his feelings; when the mind is going to despair, it needs a solace of affection and kindness. (italics added)"
  • "When you go home, never give a cross or unkind word to your husbands, but let kindness, charity and love crown your works henceforward....Let your labors be mostly confined to those around you, in the circle of your own acquaintance, as far as knowledge is concerned, it may extend to all the world; but your administering should be confined to the circle of your immediate acquaintance, and more especially to the members of the Relief Society. Those ordained to preside over and lead you, are authorized to appoint the different officers, as the circumstances shall require."[47]

Was the prophecy fulfilled?

One might ask, "What would it otherwise have taken to fulfill the prophecy? Was the Queen of England supposed to come to Nauvoo?" One could argue that the prophecy was in fact fulfilled. The queens in their midst were anointed as part of the endowment, revealed by Joseph at Nauvoo, and some had their election made sure before leaving for Utah. Joseph's speech to the Relief Society could be a foreshadowing of the temple ordinances they would later receive and that would qualify and prepare them to receive such.

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

Said Jesus of his 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"

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.[48]

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 we continue further, we 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.)

Joseph's belief was correct—he 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.

The History of the Church describes Joseph's return to the same ideas:

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.[49]

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.[50]

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.)

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Was a "forged" prophecy about Stephen A. Douglas added to the History of the Church?

Joseph Smith prophesied that Stephen A. Douglas would run for the presidency four years before he actually did

Page one of Deseret News (24 Sept 1856). Material on Stephen A. Douglas, at it appears in the History of the Church is outlined in read.
Detail of the Stephen A. Douglas prophecy, printed on 24 September 1856. This was nearly a year before Douglas would 'turn against' the Saints, and more than four years before he was nominated as President of the United States.

Joseph Smith told Judge Stephen A. Douglas four years before he was nominated for the Presidency of the United States:

I prophesy in the name of the Lord God of Israel, that unless the United States redress the wrongs committed upon the Saints in the State of Missouri and punish the crimes committed by her officers, that in a few years the government will be utterly overthrown and wasted, and there will not be so much as a potsherd left, for their wickedness in permitting the murder of men, women and children, and the wholesale plunder and extermination of thousands of her citizens to go unpunished; thereby perpetrating a foul and corroding blot upon the fair fame of this great republic, the very thought of which would have caused the high minded and patriotic framers of the Constitution of the United States to hide their faces with shame. Judge, you will aspire to the presidency of the United States; and if ever you turn your hand against me or the Latter-day Saints, you will feel the weight of the hand of Almighty upon you; and you will live to see and know that I have testified the truth to you; for the conversation of this day will stick to you through life.[51]

The claim that this prophecy was added after the fact is false

As B.H. Roberts' editorial remark in the History of the Church noted:

There is, and can be no question about the prophecy preceding the event. The prophecy was first published in the Deseret News of September 24, 1856. It was afterwards published in England in the Millennial Star, February, 1859. The publication in the Deseret News preceding Douglas' Springfield speech, mentioned above, (June, 1857) by about one year, and about four years before Douglas was nominated for the presidency by the Charleston Democratic convention.[52]

This paper is available in digital form on-line. Screenshots are included in this article.

Why did Joseph prophesy that the wicked "of this generation" would be swept from the face of the land and the Lost Ten tribes would be gathered?

The final and total return of the Ten Tribes is not required by the prophecy—only the preparation and preliminaries for their return

The destruction of the wicked was seen by those to whom the prophecy was given as fulfilled by the Civil War and its attendant destruction, and it was this that those living were commanded to avoid by fleeing to Zion and the safety of the gospel:

And now I am prepared to say by the authority of Jesus Christ, that not many years shall pass away before the United States shall present such a scene of bloodshed as has not a parallel in the history of our nation; pestilence, hail, famine, and earthquake will sweep the wicked of this generation from off the face of the land, to open and prepare the way for the return of the lost tribes of Israel from the north country. The people of the Lord, those who have complied with the requirements of the new covenant, have already commenced gathering together to Zion, which is in the state of Missouri; therefore I declare unto you the warning which the Lord has commanded to declare unto this generation, remembering that the eyes of my Maker are upon me, and that to him I am accountable for every word I say, wishing nothing worse to my fellow-men than their eternal salvation; therefore, "Fear God, and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment is come." Repent ye, repent ye, and embrace the everlasting covenant, and flee to Zion, before the overflowing scourge overtake you, for there are those now living upon the earth whose eyes shall not be closed in death until they see all these things, which I have spoken, fulfilled. Remember these things; call upon the Lord while He is near, and seek Him while He may be found, is the exhortation of your unworthy servant.[53]

There are two aspects to the prophecy.

1. Destruction of the wicked (marked in blue.

These events were certainly seen by the nineteenth-century Saints as fulfilled. They saw the Civil War as the culmination of prophecies against wicked people in a wicked nation. For more information see:

Those now living are to flee to Zion to avoid the scourge—i.e., the destruction, which certainly bypassed the Saints in Utah during the Civil War.

2. The preparation for the return of the ten tribes (marked in red.

The critics wish to say that Joseph prophesied the return of the Ten Tribes—but, he did not. He prophecied that those living would see those things necessary to "prepare the way" for the return of the tribes. The prophecy also noted (in green) that this gathering was already beginning as those who embraced the covenant gathered to Zion.

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Why did Joseph Smith claim that Thomas B. Marsh, who later apostatized, would be "exalted," and that he would preach "unto the ends of the earth"?

This was a conditional prophesy, which was not fulfilled in Marsh's case because of his apostasy

Many feel that Marsh's replacement as President of the Quorum of the Twelve (Brigham Young) did fulfill this prophecy, especially in reference to the line which reads: "thy path lieth among the mountains, and among many nations." Had Marsh remained faithful, he and not Brigham would have directed the western exodus of the Saints to the Rocky Mountains. He also would have joined in the missions abroad conducted by Brigham.

Those who offer the criticism that this is a false prophecy generally do not cite the entire text

Richard Abanes, One Nation Under Gods, for example, cites only verses 3–4, 7–8, and 11.

In D&C 112꞉3-11, note the material highlighted in bold, which the author of One Nation Under Gods omits:

Nevertheless, inasmuch as thou hast abased thyself thou shalt be exalted; therefore, all thy sins are forgiven thee. Let thy heart be of good cheer before my face; and thou shalt bear record of my name, not only unto the Gentiles, but also unto the Jews; and thou shalt send forth my word unto the ends of the earth. Contend thou, therefore, morning by morning; and day after day let thy warning voice go forth; and when the night cometh let not the inhabitants of the earth slumber, because of thy speech. Let thy habitation be known in Zion, and remove not thy house; for I, the Lord, have a great work for thee to do, in publishing my name among the children of men. Therefore, gird up thy loins for the work. Let thy feet be shod also, for thou art chosen, and thy path lieth among the mountains, and among many nations. And by thy word many high ones shall be brought low, and by thy word many low ones shall be exalted. Thy voice shall be a rebuke unto the transgressor; and at thy rebuke let the tongue of the slanderer cease its perverseness. Be thou humble; and the Lord thy God shall lead thee by the hand, and give thee answer to thy prayers. I know thy heart, and have heard thy prayers concerning thy brethren. Be not partial towards them in love above many others, but let thy love be for them as for thyself; and let thy love abound unto all men, and unto all who love my name.

With the benefit of hindsight, we can see the material cautioning Marsh again pride—the cause of his apostasy and fall from Church leadership—as genuinely prophetic.

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Why did Joseph describe the United Order in revelation as "everlasting" and "immutable and unchangeable" until Jesus comes?

The United Order is an "everlasting" covenant because it comes from God, reflects his purposes, and is attended by promised blessings for all who obey

This does not mean—just as with biblical examples which use identical language—that "everlasting" is a prophecy about its duration of practice or implementation.

The relevant scripture reads (color emphasis added for clarity):

1 Verily I say unto you, my friends, I give unto you counsel, and a commandment, concerning all the properties which belong to the order which I commanded to be organized and established, to be a united order, and an everlasting order for the benefit of my church, and for the salvation of men until I come—

2 With promise immutable and unchangeable, that inasmuch as those whom I commanded were faithful they should be blessed with a multiplicity of blessings;

3 But inasmuch as they were not faithful they were nigh unto cursing.

4 Therefore, inasmuch as some of my servants have not kept the commandment, but have broken the covenant through covetousness, and with feigned words, I have cursed them with a very sore and grievous curse.

5 For I, the Lord, have decreed in my heart, that inasmuch as any man belonging to the order shall be found a transgressor, or, in other words, shall break the covenant with which ye are bound, he shall be cursed in his life, and shall be trodden down by whom I will;

6 For I, the Lord, am not to be mocked in these things—(D&C 104꞉1-6)

We note:

  • the practice of the Order is not prophesied to be "immutable and unchangeable." Rather, the Lord says that the promise is "immutable and unchangeable"—and, that promise is that "inasmuch as those whom I commanded were faithful, they should be blessed with a multiplicity of blessings."
  • the United Order is to be everlasting—that is, it is always the Lord's highest law. Temple-worthy Latter-day Saints promise to observe the law of consecration. They are not, at present, commanded to enter the United Order, but covenant to do so if asked.
  • the Lord makes it clear (verses 3-6) that some might break the covenant, and suffer the penalty. Thus, failure to live the law is not failure of a prophecy, but failure to live a commandment.

Biblical parallels: similar uses of the term "everlasting" that describe the importance and efficacy of certain commandments or ordinances

There are similar uses of the term "everlasting" that describe the importance and efficacy of certain commandments or ordinances. Yet, Christians do not believe they are bound to continue to observe these ordinances and covenants at all historical times. For example (emphasis added in all cases):

  • Aaron and the Levites are given an "everlasting priesthood throughout their generations" (Exodus 40:15, see also Numbers 25:13). Yet, modern day Christians (like many of our critics) do not believe that the only legitimate priestly authority persists with Levitical descendants, or that such descendants currently enjoy divine sanction.
  • Circumcision is described as "a token of the covenant betwixt me and you" that "my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant." Those who are not circumcised "shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant" (Genesis 17:10-14). Yet, modern Christians do not believe that circumcision continues to be binding or necessary.
  • Likewise, the "bread for a memorial" is commanded to be "set...in order before the Lord continually," since it is "taken from the children of Israel by an everlasting covenant" (Leviticus 24:8). Do the critics likewise believe that this ought to be continued in unbroken succession to the present for it to be a valid commandment from God?
Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Did Joseph Smith prophesy that Zion, in Jackson County, Missouri, would be redeemed by September 1836?

There were many conditionals placed on this prophecy—its fulfillment relied on the members' faithfulness:

use every effort to prevail on the churches to gather to those regions and locate themselves, to be in readiness to move into Jackson county in two years from the eleventh of September next, which is the appointed time for the redemption of Zion. Ifverily I say unto youif the Church with one united effort perform their duties; if they do this, the work shall be complete....and if we do not exert ourselves to the utmost in gathering up the strength of the Lord's house that this thing may be accomplished, behold there remaineth a scourge for the Church, even that they shall be driven from city to city, and [p.146] but few shall remain to receive an inheritance; if those things are not kept, there remaineth a scourge also; therefore, be wise this once, O ye children of Zion! and give heed to my counsel, saith the Lord. (emphasis added)

Compare with:

  • D&C 101꞉1-9- given on 16 December 1833 (History of the Church 1:458-464)
  • D&C 103꞉1-12- given on 24 February 1834 (History of the Church 2:36-39)
  • D&C 105꞉6-13 - given on 22 June 1834 (History of the Church 2:108-111)[54]

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

On 20 July 1831 Joseph Smith recorded a revelation identifying Independence, Missouri, as "the center place; and a spot for the temple[.]" (D&C 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:

[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. 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. 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. 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 (D&C 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.

Commandment, not Prophecy

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

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

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. ... 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 (D&C 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.[55]

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 Saints 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:

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; 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; ...:For verily I say unto you, my law shall be kept on this land. ...
Who am I that made man, saith the Lord, that will hold him guiltless that obeys not my commandments? 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. 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. For, behold, they shall push the people together from the bends of the earth. ...
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; 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. 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. Behold, here is wisdom. Let them do this lest they receive none inheritance, save it be by the shedding of blood. 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. 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. 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.[56]

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources
  • Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson, Mormonism 101. Examining the Religion of the Latter-day Saints (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2000), Chapter 9. ( Index of claims )
  • Jerald and Sandra Tanner, The Changing World of Mormonism (Moody Press, 1979), 420-421.( Index of claims )
  • Tower to Truth Ministries, "50 Questions to Ask Mormons," towertotruth.net (accessed 15 November 2007). 50 Answers
  • Watchman Fellowship, The Watchman Expositor (Page 3)
  • Watchman Fellowship, The Watchman Expositor (Page 7)
  • Watchman Fellowship, The Watchman Expositor (Page 8)

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.

Joseph received a revelation on 8 July 1838 "concerning the immediate duties of William Marks, Newel K. Whitney, and Oliver Granger" (D&C 117). The revelation 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.’[57]

Concerning Oliver Granger specifically:

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. 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 (D&C 117꞉12-13).

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.

"Sacred Remembrance" as remembered in the canon

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. His contributions to building up the Church are not forgotten. 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.

John 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."[58]

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."[59]

Boylan continues:

With respect to αναμησις, the term appears five times in the Septuagint [Greek translation of the Old Testament]. 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.[59]

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).[60]

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: [][Logical_fallacies/Page_4#Fallacy_of_the_undistributed_middle|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.[61]

In any case, either reply suffices to dispel the idea that this is a false prophesy.

Is Doctrine and Covenants 84:114 warnings to New York, Albany, and Boston an example of a false prophecy?

Figure 1. Portrait of Newel K. Whitney.

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

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.[62]

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)."[63] 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).""[63]

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.[64]

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."[65]

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.

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.[66] 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.


Source(s) of the criticism—D&C 84 and the destruction of New York, Boston, and Albany
Critical sources
  • Dick Baer
Past responses

Source(s) of the criticism—Alleged false prophecies of Joseph Smith
Critical sources


Notes

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 John A. Tvedtnes, "The Nature of Prophets and Prophecy," FAIR Publications, accessed November 3, 2022, https://www.fairlatterdaysaints.org/archive/publications/the-nature-of-prophets-and-prophecy-2.
  2. [citation needed]
  3. James E. Faulconer, "Foreknowledge of God," in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, ed. Daniel H. Ludlow (New York: MacMillan Publishing, 1992; 2007), 2:521–22.
  4. This stance in other branches of Christianity is sometimes called open theism. [citation needed]
  5. Elder Bruce R. McConkie, in his The Mortal Messiah (1:10), indicated that the very nature of that book made it inevitable that it would contain some of his own opinions and speculations.
  6. Millennial Star 54 (21 March 1892): 191.
  7. The First Area General Conference for Germany, Austria, Holland, Italy, Switzerland, France, Belgium, and Spain of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, held in Munich Germany, August 24-26, 1973, with Reports and Discourses, 69.
  8. Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, Vol. 2 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1958), 191.
  9. Tvedtnes continues:

    One opinion held by Joseph Smith, frequently cited by critics, is that the Lord would come in 1890 (e.g., History of the Church 2:182). That this was, in fact, his feeling, is clearly indicated by the number of references he made to it. Joseph’s statements on this subject were made in reaction to Adventist prophecies that Christ would come in the 1840s (History of the Church 5:272, 290-291, 326, 337). Joseph reported that he had once prayed to know the time of the Lord’s coming, and had been told, "My son, if thou livest until thou art eighty-five years of age, thou shalt see the face of the Son of Man." But Joseph was careful to add, "I was left to draw my own conclusions concerning this; and I took the liberty to conclude that if I did live to that time, He would make His appearance. But I do not say whether He will make His appearance or I shall go where He is" (History of the Church 5:324, 337; D&C 130꞉14-17).

    Since Joseph did not live to the age of 85, the "if" portion of the Lord’s statement to him clearly shows that it was conditional. Moreover, Joseph was not told that the Lord would return in glory in 1890, only that he would see him at that time if he was yet alive. In other words, the Lord did not answer Joseph’s question directly, for the very reason that no one knows the time of his coming–not even Joseph Smith or the angels of heaven (Matthew 24꞉36).

    One might enquire about the likelihood that the Lord would "trick" Joseph Smith thus, making him think that he would see the Lord in 1890 when, in fact, the Lord knew Joseph would die in 1844. The question is mooted by a similar situation in the Bible. Isaiah came to King Ahaz in the name of the Lord and told him that Ephraim (head of the northern kingdom of Israel) would be broken "within threescore and five years" ). Ahaz reigned in Judah from 734 to 728 B.C. Sixty-five years later would be 689-663 B.C. In actual fact, however, Israel was taken captive in 722 B.C., just six years after Ahaz’s death, when his son Hezekiah was king of Judah.

    Joseph made an assumption based on what the Lord told him, but it was only an assumption, and it was unwarranted. But this assumption guided some of his other declarations. This does not make him a false prophet, only a mortal who–like the rest of us–often let preconceived notions govern his thoughts. He was perfectly willing (and able) to change direction when the Lord contradicted any of his preconceptions.

    This same charge is addressed here further in the article.
  10. Some might be disturbed by the use of the word "repent" in this passage. The meaning of the underlying Hebrew verb used in the passage is "to regret," and does not imply that the Lord is guilty of any wrongdoing. At the time the King James Bible was translated, "repent" merely meant to change one’s mind.
  11. (BYU Studies, vol. 20, no.2, Winter 1980, 218, ftnt. [needs work]
  12. Words of Joseph Smith [citation needed] ideally to JSPP.
  13. (Lucy Mack Smith History, chapter 46).
  14. (Words of Joseph Smith).  [needs work]
  15. (Times and Seasons, vol. 1, no. 8 June 1840, 133)
  16. see Words of Joseph Smith [needs work]
  17. (Times and Seasons, vol. 5, no. 17, 15 September 1844, 651).
  18. (see HC, 7:212; JD, 1:364).
  19. (Words of Joseph Smith[needs work]
  20. 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.
  21. 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
  22. Van Hale, "Mormons And Moonmen," Sunstone 7 no. (Issue #5) (September/October 1982), 13–14. off-site
  23. Hyrum Smith, "Concerning the plurality of gods & worlds," 27 April 1843; cited in Eugene England (editor), "George Laub's Nauvoo Journal," Brigham Young University Studies 18 no. 2 (Winter 1978), 177.off-site
  24. Brigham Young, "The Gospel—The One-Man Power," (24 July 1870) Journal of Discourses 13:271-271.
  25. Patriarchal Blessings Books 9:294–295.
  26. Young Woman's Journal (1892) 3: 263.
  27. Patrick Moore, New Guide to the Moon (W.W. Norton & Company, New York: 1976), cited by Van Hale, "Mormons And Moonmen," Sunstone 7 no. (Issue #5) (September/October 1982), 15. off-site
  28. Van Hale, "Mormons And Moonmen," 15.
  29. Holmes, 464.
  30. Moore, New Guide to the Moon 130–131; cited by Van Hale, "Mormons And Moonmen," 16.
  31. Painesville Telegraph (11 September 1835).
  32. New York Sun 16 September 1835; cited by Alex Boese, "The Great Moon Hoax," museumofhoaxes.comoff-site
  33. Richard Holmes, The Age of Wonder (London: Harper Press, 2008), 199.
  34. Holmes, 465, (italics in original).
  35. Deseret News 6 (1856): 134d.
  36. ‘Quebec,’ "The Moon", Contributor 1/9 (June 1880): 193-5, from page 195
  37. Marvin S. Hill, Keith C. Rooker and Larry T. Wimmer, "The Kirtland Economy Revisited: A Market Critique of Sectarian Economics," Brigham Young University Studies 17 no. 4 (Summer 1977), 445, and footnote 113. PDF link
  38. Richard Abanes, One Nation Under Gods: A History of the Mormon Church (New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, 2003), 464, 617 n. 23 ( Index of claims ) D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power (Signature Books, 1994), 634.
  39. Joseph Smith, "Observations Respecting the Priesthood," A Sermon Delivered on 28 April 1842, from the Minutes of the Nauvoo [Illinois] Relief Society, original in Church Archives; reproduced in Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, The Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of Joseph Smith, 2nd Edition, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1996), 114. Also in Joseph Smith in The Essential Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature, 1995), 162-163. Compare with edited versions of these remarks in Joseph Smith, Jr., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected by Joseph Fielding Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976), 227. off-site and History of the Church, 4:605–606. Volume 4 link
  40. Joseph Smith, Jr., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected by Joseph Fielding Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976), 137. off-site
  41. Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery, Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith, 2nd edition, (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1994). [citation needed]
  42. Newell and Avery, 174; citing Brigham Young statement, 9 March 1845, Seventies Record, LDS Archives
  43. Newell and Avery, 174; John Taylor, 29 June 1881, LDS Archives
  44. Newell and Avery, 109; citing RS Minutes, 18th meeting, 28 September 1842.
  45. Eliza R Snow, "A Book of Records Containing the Minutes of the Organization and Proceedings of the Female Relief Society of West Jordan Ward," 12 April 1868, LDS Archives
  46. For example, Joseph spoke to the Relief Society on 30 March 1842: "Pres. Joseph Smith arose—spoke of the organization of the society. Said he was deeply interested that it might be built up to the Most High in an acceptable manner—that its rules must be observed—that none should be received into the society but those who were worthy. Proposed that the society go into a close examination of every candidate—that they were going too fast—that the society should grow up by degrees; should commence with a few individuals—thus have a select society of the virtuous, and those who will walk circumspectly. Commended them for their zeal but said some times their zeal was not according to knowledge. One principal object of the institution was to purge out iniquity—said they must be extremely careful in all their examinations or the consequences would be serious. Said all difficulties which might and would cross our way must be surmounted, though the soul be tried, the heart faint, and hands hang down—must not retrace our steps. That there must be decision of character aside from sympathy. That when instructed we must obey that voice, observe the constitution, 2 that the blessings of heaven may rest down upon us. All must act in concert or nothing can be done, that the society should move according to the ancient Priesthood, hence there should be a select society, separate from all the evils of the world, choice, virtuous and holy." - Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, The Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of Joseph Smith, 2nd Edition, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1996), 110. Compare versions in Joseph Smith, Jr., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected by Joseph Fielding Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976), 201. off-site; and History of the Church, 4:570. Volume 4 link
  47. Joseph Smith, Jr., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected by Joseph Fielding Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976), 225–229. off-site See also History of the Church, 4:602-607. Volume 4 link
  48. 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
  49. 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
  50. 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
  51. 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), 5:394. Volume 5 link
  52. History of the Church, 5:393. Volume 5 link The History of the Church notes that the original source was taken "from the journal of William Clayton, who was present," though the prophecy against Douglas is in not the published portions of Clayton's journals (See Cecelia Warner, "The Tanners On Trial," Sunstone: Review 4:4/6 (April 1984); Lawrence Foster, "Career Apostates: Reflections on the Works of Jerald and Sandra Tanner," Dialogue 17/2 (Summer 1984): 48 and n. 28; James B. Allen, review of An Intimate Chronicle: The Journals of William Clayton, by George D. Smith, ed., BYU Studies 35/2 (1995): 165–75). It is not known if more material is in the Clayton journals that served as a basis for the complete History of the Church entry. At any rate, the publication of the prophecy before June 1857 makes the point moot—the Church was claiming this as a prophecy well before it was fulfilled, and had no reasons before then to attack Douglas if the prophecy was unauthentic.[citation needed]
  53. History of the Church, 1:315-316. Volume 1 link
  54.  [needs work]
  55. Noah Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language (New York: S. Converse, 1828), s.v. "shall."
  56. 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).
  57. 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 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). Volume 3 link
  58. John Tvedtnes, "The Nature of Prophets and Prophecy," <https://www.fairmormon.org/archive/publications/the-nature-of-prophets-and-prophecy-2> (13 May 2020).
  59. 59.0 59.1 Robert S. Boylan, "Oliver Granger and ‘Sacred Rememberance’," (13 May 2020).
  60. Richard Packham, "Joseph Smith as Prophet," <http://packham.n4m.org/prophet.htm> (13 May 2020).
  61. Boylan, "Oliver Granger," (13 May 2020).
  62. John A. Tvedtnes, "A Reply to Dick Baer," <http://www.shields-research.org/Critics/Tvedtnes.htm> (29 June 2020).
  63. 63.0 63.1 Donald W. Parry and Jay A. Parry, Understanding the Signs of the Times (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1999), 465.
  64. DC 84꞉50-53,94].
  65. DC 49꞉6-7].
  66. 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).

Response to claim: 461, 617n12 - The Latter-day Saints should retain their Missouri lands and seek legal redress. If they did not obtain it, then God would avenge them and destroy their adversaries

The author(s) of One Nation Under Gods make(s) the following claim:

The Latter-day Saints should retain their Missouri lands and seek legal redress. If they did not obtain it, then God would avenge them and destroy their adversaries. The book notes that "God will avenge them with 'ten thousand of his Saints' and all their adversaries would be destroyed."

FAIR's Response

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

The author misunderstands the context of the quote. Here is the quote in context:

Therefore, this is my counsel, that you retain your lands, even unto the uttermost, and employ every lawful means to seek redress of your enemies; and pray to God, day and night, to return you in peace and in safety to the lands of your inheritance: and when the judge fail you, appeal unto the executive; and when the executive fail you, appeal unto the president; and when the president fail you, and all laws fail you, and the humanity of the people fail you, and all things else fail you but God alone, and you continue to weary Him with your importunings, as the poor woman did the unjust judge, He will not fail to execute judgment upon your enemies, and to avenge His own elect that cry unto Him day and night.
Behold He will not fail you! He will come with ten thousand of His Saints, and all His adversaries shall be destroyed with the breath of His lips! All those who keep their inheritances, notwithstanding they should be beaten and driven, shall be likened unto the wise virgins who took oil in their lamps. But all those who are unbelieving and fearful, will be likened unto the foolish virgins, who took no oil in their lamps: and when they shall return and say unto the Saints, Give us of your lands—behold, there will be no room found for them. As respects giving deeds, I would advise you to give deeds as far as the brethren have legal and just claims for them, and then let every man answer to God for the disposal of them.

Note the relationship to Jude 1:14-15:

14 And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints,
15 To execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him.

Response to claim: 462, 617n14 - The United Order was claimed through revelation to be "everlasting," "immutable and unchangeable" until Jesus comes

The author(s) of One Nation Under Gods make(s) the following claim:

The United Order was claimed through revelation to be "everlasting," "immutable and unchangeable," "until I [Jesus] come."

Author's sources:
  1. D&C 104꞉1-6

FAIR's Response

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

The United Order is an "everlasting" covenant because it comes from God, reflects his purposes, and is attended by promised blessings for all who obey. This does not mean—just as with biblical examples which use identical language—that "everlasting" is a prophecy about its practice or implementation.
  1. REDIRECTAlleged false prophecies of Joseph Smith#Why did Joseph describe the United Order in revelation as "everlasting" and "immutable and unchangeable" until Jesus comes?

Response to claim: 462, 617n15 - Joseph Smith prophesied that the Lord said: "I will fight your battles..." The author claims that this is a failed prophecy

The author(s) of One Nation Under Gods make(s) the following claim:

Joseph Smith prophesied that the Lord said: "I will fight your battles...the destroyer I have sent forth to destroy and lay waste mine enemies; and not many years hence they shall not be left to pollute mine heritage, and to blaspheme my name upon the lands which I have consecrated for the gathering together of my saints." The author claims that this is a failed prophecy.

Author's sources:
  1. D&C 105꞉13-15

FAIR's Response

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

The Saints saw this prophecy fulfilled by the bloody frontier battles of the Civil War that rested more heavily on Missouri than almost any other area.


Response to claim: 462, 617n16 - September 11, 1836 was "the appointed time for the redemption of Zion." The author claims that this is a failed prophecy

The author(s) of One Nation Under Gods make(s) the following claim:

September 11, 1836 was "the appointed time for the redemption of Zion." The author claims that this is a failed prophecy.

Author's sources:
  1. History of the Church, 2:145. Volume 2 link

FAIR's Response

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

The author fails to acknowledge that there were many conditionals placed on this prophecy—its fulfillment relied on the members' faithfulness.


Articles about Joseph Smith

Alleged false prophecies by leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Many critics of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints assert that its past presidents (men that Latter-day Saints consider prophets) have made failed prophecies and that this either proves or provides evidence for the claim that they aren't true prophets receiving revelation from God.

We will first discuss general principles regarding alleged false prophecies.[1]

The Three Models of Prophecy: Film Reel, Weather Forecast, and Plan

How we understand a claim of false prophecy will depend on what we understand prophecy to be. There are at least three potential models:

  1. Film Reel model: The future is already planned out and God, like an old-timey projectionist, can unfurl the reel and see what happens further on in the movie of life, come back to the present, and reveal that will to his children. Key to this model of prophecy is that the events revealed in prophecy will certainly happen.
  2. Weather forecast model: God makes a prediction of the future based off of present circumstances. If present circumstances change, then the prophecy does not have to reach fulfillment. God’s formula in scripture seems to be one set up on conditional statements. In this model, prophecy is a description of what will probably happen, not a certain declaration.
  3. Plan model: God revealing his plans for the future given certain conditions being met. If those conditions are not met, then God will act differently. For instance, God can state that if A happens, then B will happen. (For example, "If you do not repent, you will be destroyed." Under this model, humans make choices right now that change the outcome of the prophecy. Key to this model of prophecy is that the events revealed and described in prophecy will contingently happen.

Elements of all models may apply in some situations. We often have a model in mind without realizing it, and so make judgments based on only a partial view of what prophecy is or can be.

A more speculative fourth option—God's foreknowledge may not be absolute

A more speculative option (and one that is likely to be much more objectionable for some) is the idea that God does not have exhaustive foreknowledge of the future. (Conservative protestant critics, often Calvinists by theology, would typically reject this option strongly since they believe in God's absolute sovereignty—including the idea that some people are unconditionally chosen from all eternity to be saved. Those so chosen will always respond to God's decision to offer them salvation, and this saved state cannot be undone by any human choice or action,

By contrast, the restored Church of Jesus Christ holds to none of these views—God has not predestined any of his children to salvation or damnation, all have the moral agency to respond to God's gracious offer of salvation, and even those who are in a saved state and covenant relationship can use that same moral agency to reject God and not "endure to the end."[2]

The Church does not take an official position as to how members ought to view God's foreknowledge.[3]

Some believe that God has knowledge of all things that will actually happen in the future.

Others believe that the nature of free will or moral agency means that even God cannot be certain how truly free creatures will act until they do so. Thus, God has a very good idea of how things will go, but he does not achieve certainty until we choose to act. Those who hold this view insist that this does not mean that God does not have all the power it is possible to have—merely that absolute foreknowledge is a logical impossibility. Further, they also believe that regardless of these considerations, God is still absolutely capable of bringing to pass his purposes, and no moral agent can thwart his plans, save as it regards themselves.[4]

Deuteronomy 18—a biblical test of true prophesy

Critics from other branches of Christianity often cite Deuteronomy 18:20–22 as a scriptural test of a claim to prophethood. That scripture states:

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

This test is straightforward—if a prophesy is made and it fails, the speaker of the prophesy should be regarded as a false prophet. While simple on the surface, the matter quickly becomes more complex. If the critics used this standards on the bible as they try to use it against Joseph Smith, they would soon dismiss much of the bible.

John Tvedtnes wrote:

Based on the false premise that "all you need is one false prophecy to have a false prophet," some critics have ignored many of Joseph Smith’s [fulfilled] prophecies and have zeroed in on ones they consider to be false. But they typically identify unfulfilled commandments, opinions, and counsel as "false prophecies." In doing so, they forsake the rules laid out in 18?lang=eng&id=p20-22#p20-22 Deuteronomy 18꞉20-22, ignoring the fact that the passage defines a false prophecy as one uttered in the name of the Lord which does not come to pass.

The main problem is that the critics do not apply these same standards to biblical prophecies. And when we try to show that, by these standards, many of the biblical prophets fail the tests they have set up for Joseph Smith, we are accused of "Bible-slamming." To those who ascribe more divinity to the Bible than to God, such a "sin" is worse than blasphemy itself. Honesty, however, impels us to submit the biblical prophets to the same tests as those applied to Joseph Smith.

For this reason, following the logic of the critics, we would have to conclude that Moses-to whom the revelation in Deuteronomy 18:20-22 is ascribed-was a false prophet. In Numbers 25꞉13, he said, in the name of the Lord, that Phinehas, his grand nephew, would hold the priesthood eternally. But if Hebrews 7꞉11-12 is correct, the Aaronic priesthood is not eternal. In this particular example, Moses fills the requirement for the test of Deuteronomy much more closely than does Joseph Smith in most of the examples of "false prophecies" cited by the critics. How, then, can Latter-day Saints accept both Joseph Smith and Moses as true prophets, regarding their prophecies as divinely-inspired? The answer lies in the fact that prophecy is typically conditional.[1]

Step #1: Ensure that the account of the prophecy is authentic and is not based on hearsay

John Tvedtnes wrote:

This brings us to the fact that some critics quote secondary sources to illustrate "false prophecies" uttered by Joseph Smith. By their very definition, such sources cannot be considered totally accurate in their representation of the prophet’s words. One of the critics became rather selective in his use of secondary sources. Whenever the "prophecy" (some of them weren’t prophecies), in his judgment, failed, he was quick to pronounce the secondary source "authentic" or "reliable." But when it was fulfilled, he denounced it as coming from a secondary source and therefore unreliable. He even went so far as to term one failed prophecy as "reliable" because its source was "Mormon," while denouncing another fulfilled prophecy on the very same grounds.

For my part, I use all secondary sources with caution. They may give insights, but they cannot be considered with the same weight as known statements of Joseph Smith. This is true of journal accounts as well, for the reason that they are generally written after the fact (often at the end of the day) and are usually not reviewed by the person who made the statement.

Here is an example of how journals are sometimes misused: One critic quoted a revelation of Joseph Smith as found in Parley P. Pratt’s Autobiography (page 100), reading "surely Zion cannot fail, neither be moved out of her place." Elder Pratt, however, gave an abbreviated version of the revelation, which is found in D&C 97꞉19-20. In the original, we find that the words in question are what "the nations of the Gentiles shall say" of Zion at some point in the future. The secondary version was evidently used because it is more susceptible to interpretation as a "false prophecy."

Other problems arise when the critics cite a known forgery or a "false prophecy" by Joseph Smith whose only source is another anti-Mormon publication. Of a particular document, one critic wrote, "I believe this might be the most clear cut prophecy Joseph Smith ever gave." The document in question is a forgery prepared by Mark Hofmann. ...

One critic asked, "Do you really want to risk your eternal salvation on men who make statements like these?" To this, I reply, Can we risk our eternal salvation on the Bible, which reports that the sun and the moon stood still for Joshua (Joshua 10꞉12-14), when we know that this-like Quakers living on the moon-is a scientific impossibility? One might object that what the Bible describes is the standing still of the earth, rather than of the heavenly bodies (which is precisely the way the Book of Mormon puts it in Helaman 12꞉13-15). But the point is that the author of Joshua held an incorrect belief concerning the movement of celestial bodies, even if that does not invalidate the basic story he tells. So, too, Joseph Smith (and others) could have held false views concerning these same celestial bodies and yet told the truth about the revelations he received from God.[1]

Step #2: Verify that the source claims that the prophecy came by revelation from God

Tvedtnes continued:

Under date of February 8, 1843, Joseph Smith wrote, "[I] visited with a brother and sister from Michigan who thought that >a prophet is always a prophet;’ but I told them that a prophet was a prophet only when he was acting as such" (History of the Church 5:265). Prophets are, after all, human beings. The fact that they speak for God on occasion does not remove their free agency. Like all of us, prophets have opinions. Sometimes, these opinions are clearly set off, as Paul did in his first epistle to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 7꞉10,12,25,40). Joseph Smith occasionally used wording such as "this is my counsel" (History of the Church 1:455) or "I therefore warn" ( Nauvoo Neighbor, June 19, 1844).[5] Elder Charles W. Penrose, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve and later a counselor in the First Presidency, wrote, "At the head of this Church stands a man who is a Prophet…we respect and venerate him; but we do not believe that his personal views or utterances are revelations from God."[6]

More recently, Joseph Fielding Smith wrote:

It makes no difference what is written or what anyone has said, if what has been said is in conflict with what the Lord has revealed, we can set it aside. My words, and the teachings of any other member of the Church, high or low, if they do not square with the revelations, we need not accept them. Let us have this matter clear. We have accepted the four standard works as the measuring yardsticks, or balances, by which we measure every man’s doctrine. You cannot accept the books written by the authorities of the Church as standards in doctrine, only in so far as they accord with the revealed word in the standard works. (Doctrines of Salvation 3:203)

Similar thoughts were expressed by President Harold B. Lee in a European area conference:

If anyone, regardless of his position in the Church, were to advance a doctrine that is not substantiated by the standard Church works, meaning the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price, you may know that his statement is merely his private opinion. The only one authorized to bring forth any new doctrine is the President of the Church, who, when he does, will declare it as revelation from God, and it will be so accepted by the Council of the Twelve and sustained by the body of the Church. And if any man speak a doctrine which contradicts what is in the standard Church works, you may know by that same token that it is false and you are not bound to accept it as truth.[7]

In January 1970, six months after the first Apollo moon landing, Joseph Fielding Smith became President of the Church. Some anti-Mormon groups took delight in pointing out that he had, during his tenure as an Apostle, declared that it was "doubtful that man will ever be permitted to make any instrument or ship to travel through space and visit the moon or any distant planet."[8] What these same critics failed to point out was that President Smith never attributed his belief to a revelation from God. Indeed, many of his generation held the same opinion, and all were surprised-but delighted-when proven wrong. Incorrect opinions do not make false prophets. Some of the Bible’s foremost prophets, such as Moses and Jeremiah, objected that their lack of eloquence made them unsuited to fill the role the Lord had cut out for them. God overruled these opinions and sent them on their way.[9]

Step #3: Ensure that the account of the prophecy does not misrepresent or misinterpret what the prophet actually said.

To avoid misrepresenting or misinterpreting what a prophet said:

  • Check sources: Revisit the source of the prophecy to see if there is any missing context.
  • Check interpretation: Consider alternative interpretations. Have other Latter-day Saint or other Christians authors examined the prophecy in question? Have they offered alternative interpretations? Is there only one possible interpretation that is compelled by the source or are there multiple possible interpretations?
  • Ask, 'Vision or prophecy?': John Tvedtnes wrote that
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).12 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?[1]
  • Multiple ways to fulfillment: Latter-day Saints (like many other Christians) believe in the concept of dual fulfillment. That is: prophecies can be fulfilled in multiple ways.
  • Check timeframe: Often, prophecies do not have a set timeframe for when they will be fulfilled. Sometimes they use language that's equivocal. For instance, prophecies may state that God will "soon" act in a certain way. But, as many know, our "soon" and God's "soon" may not be the same.[1]
  • Prophetic language: Tvedtnes observed that "[w]hen it comes to written revelations, the question of language becomes paramount. Was the revelation taken from the Lord’s dictation by the prophet? Or does it reflect the prophet’s language, reflecting the truths revealed to him by God? One could argue either case without clear resolution. But Latter-day Saints realize that the Lord "speaketh unto men according to their language, unto their understanding" (2 Nephi 31꞉3; see also D&C 1꞉24). Thus, each prophet of the Old Testament wrote in his own dialect. Some of the later ones even used Aramaic or Persian words then being borrowed by the Hebrew language."[1]

Step #4: Remember that most prophecies are contingent on conditions being met—even if that contingency is not made clear by the explicit text of the prophecy

Prophecy is virtully always conditional in the Latter-day Saint view. Before concluding that a prophesy is false, we should look for any stated or implied conditions for fulfillment.

John Tvedtnes wrote:

It was the Lord himself, through the biblical prophet Jeremiah, who explained the conditional nature of prophecy:
At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it; 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. And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it; 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)[10]
Jeremiah himself exemplified the principle of conditional prophecy when he told king Zedekiah, in the name of the Lord, that he would not go captive into Babylon if he followed the prophet’s instructions; otherwise, he would be taken captive and Jerusalem would be destroyed (Jeremiah 38꞉17-23). The conditional nature of prophecy explains why Jonah is not a false prophet. The Lord’s threat to destroy Nineveh within forty days (Jonah 3꞉4) was mitigated by the repentance of the city’s population (Jonah 3꞉4-9). "And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not" (Jonah 3 10). Ironically, Jonah was upset by the fact that the prophecy was not fulfilled, and the Lord had to explain to him that the resultant repentance of "sixscore thousand persons" was more important than fulfilling the word (Jonah 4꞉1-11). From this story, it is obvious that the free-will actions of men play a role in the fulfillment of prophecy. Here are other examples from the Bible:
  • The Lord told David that the men of Keilah "will deliver thee up [to Saul]" (1 Samuel 23꞉12). This did not happen, however, because David fled from the city (verses 13-14).
  • Isaiah told king Hezekiah, "Thus saith the Lord, Set thine house in order; for thou shalt die, and not live." (2 Kings 20꞉1) But after the king pleaded with the Lord, the prophet delivered a new message, saying that fifteen years would be added to his life (verses 2-6).
  • The Lord told Moses that he would destroy the Israelites and make of Moses a greater nation than they. When Moses protested that this would be wrong, the Lord changed his mind (Numbers 14꞉11-20).
  • The Lord said through Elisha that the combined armies of Israel, Judah and Edom would "smite every fenced city" of Moab and that he would "deliver the Moabites also into your hand." But one city, Kir-hareseth, was not taken. When Mesha, the Moabite king, sacrificed his son on the city wall, the Israelites left and went home. The prophecy was not fulfilled because the Israelites would not cooperate with the Lord’s wishes.
  • Through Ezekiel, the Lord declared that the Lebanese city of Tyre would be destroyed by the Babylonian king Nebuchadrezzar, never to be rebuilt (Ezekiel 26, especially verses 4, 7, 12, 14). Though Nebuchadrezzar laid siege against Tyre from 598 to 586 B.C., he was never able to take the city.
  • The Lord then told Ezekiel that, in compensation for his not taking Tyre, Nebuchadrezzar would be given the land of Egypt, (Ezekiel 29 17-10). Its people would be slain and its rivers dry up (Ezekiel 30꞉10-12; Ezekiel 32꞉11-15) and the land of Egypt would remain uninhabited for forty years (Ezekiel 29꞉11-13). But though Nebuchadrezzar defeated an Egyptian army in battle, he never conquered Egypt either.
  • Isaiah, in his prophesy against Babylon (Isaiah 13꞉1), declared that the Medes would slay men, women and children and that Babylon would "be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah. It shall never be inhabited, neither shall it be dwelt in from generation to generation" (Isaiah 13:17-20). In 539 B.C., Cyrus, king of the Medes and Persians, took Babylon without bloodshed, and made it one of the principal cities of his empire. Babylon remained inhabited for centuries afterward.
It is in the light of the conditional nature of prophecy that we must consider some of Joseph Smith’s prophecies. For example, the missionary calling promised Thomas B. Marsh in D&C 112 was never fulfilled because he was excommunicated and forfeited his blessings. Critics have stated that if God really knew Marsh’s heart (verse 11), he would have known that he would apostatize and not be worthy of the promised blessings. The same argument has been used in regard to George Miller’s calling to the bishopric (D&C 124꞉20-21), eight years before he was disfellowshipped.
  • By this same reasoning, God should not have promised a throne to David (1 Samuel 16꞉12-13; 2 Samuel 3꞉9-10; 1 Kings 2꞉4; 1 Kings 8꞉25; 1 Kings 9꞉5), since David, in future, would commit adultery and order the death of an innocent man (1 Samuel 11). This also brings up the question of Jesus’ promise to his twelve apostles: "Ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (Matthew 19꞉28). This promise was made before Judas betrayed the Master and he was obviously included among those who would sit on the "twelve thrones." How could Jesus have made such a promise to the one who would betray him, whom he termed "a devil" (John 6꞉70-71)? The answer seems obvious: at the time of the promises, Judas, Thomas B. Marsh and George Miller were faithful to the Lord. By their subsequent actions, they lost all claim to those promises.[1]

Step #5: Remember the commandment "shall" and the predictive "shall"

One mistake people make in interpreting prophecies mistaking a commandment for a foretelling. That is because both may use "shall". There's obviously a difference between "thou shall not kill" (command) and "thou shall be in Arizona in four months" (foretelling of location).

Step #6: most prophecies can be considered "unreasonable" by some standard

John Tvedtnes wrote:

Some of the critics have included "unreasonable" prophecies in their lists of false prophetic utterances by Joseph Smith. The subjective nature of such a determination makes this procedure unacceptable. What is "unreasonable" to one person may be perfectly acceptable to another. For example, the prophets Ezekiel and Jeremiah "contradicted" each other concerning an essential point, and yet were both right. Ezekiel had prophesied that king Zedekiah would go to Babylon but never see it (Ezekiel 12:13), while his contemporary Jeremiah prophesied that Hezekiah would be taken captive to Babylon (Jeremiah 32:5). But, in the end, both prophets proved true, for Zedekiah indeed went captive into Babylon, but did not see the city, for he had been blinded (2 Kings 25:7). Thus, we see that prophecies "impossible" of fulfillment have, in the course of time, proven true. Joseph Smith deserves at least the same kind of consideration.[1]

Conclusion

We will use these principles to evaluate Joseph Smith's alleged prophecies.

First, however, we need to consider a question that may lurk behind many Christian critics of Joseph Smith. Although they search for "false prophecies" to discredit him, the underlying motive may be that they "know" that there cannot be any more prophets today. They believe the bible "says so," and thus Joseph must be a false prophet. Their evaluation of Joseph's prophecies are not intended, then, to ascertain if he is a true prophet. They have already decided that he is a false prophets on other grounds.

Are there not supposed to be any more prophets after Christ's day?

The belief that there would be no more prophets after Christ is firmly rooted in tradition, not the Bible

The belief that there would be no more prophets after Christ is rooted in tradition, not the Bible. The Bible teaches the opposite of this traditional belief. "Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets." (Amos 3꞉7, (emphasis added)) God has always had direct dealings with man, through the prophets and through revelation. "Am I a God at hand, saith the Lord, and not a God afar off?" (Jeremiah 23꞉23) This is the process God has used since the time of Adam. "As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began." (Luke 1꞉70) it is only logical, and biblically correct, to expect God to have the same relationship with man today.

Christianity claims that God does not change. This is a statement that Latter-Day Saints agree with. Yet, while making this claim, most of Christianity says God has changed because he does not now call prophets.

Only the living prophets are opposed

Those who oppose Joseph Smith as a prophet, do not oppose dead past prophets, but the living ones. Jesus himself noted the irony—the religious leaders opposed him most strongly. Christ understood that his opponents claimed to believe in the past prophets while rejecting a present-day messenger from God. Jesus described them as having the appearance of righteousness, yet were full of iniquity:

Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell? Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city (Matthew 23꞉28-34):

Many follow this pattern today—they proclaim a belief in Christ while denying living prophets.

Alleged false prophecies of Joseph Smith

Did Joseph Smith prophesy that he couldn't be killed within 5 years of August 1843?

It would appear that the letter written by Sarah Scott on 22 July 1844 is a blending of separate and distinct pieces of information and they have been assembled in order to support her view that Joseph Smith was a false prophet

Claim: Joseph Smith prophesied in August 1843 "that he could not be killed within five years from that time". Since he was killed less than one year later, some claim that his statement counts as a false prophecy and that he should be considered a false prophet.

The letter written by Sarah Scott on 22 July 1844 is likely a blending of separate and distinct pieces of information and they have been assembled—whether consciously or subconsciously—in order to support her view that Joseph Smith was a false prophet.

As always, we consider the original document in analyzing this claim:

Joseph also prophesied on the stand a year ago last conference that he could not be killed within five years from that time; that they could not kill him till the Temple would be completed, for that he had received an unconditional promise from the Almighty concerning his days, and he set Earth and Hell at defiance; and then said, putting his hand on his head, they never could kill this Child. But now that he is killed some of the Church say that he said: unless he gave himself up. My husband was there at the time and says there was no conditions whatever, and many others testify to the same thing.

Biases of the author

We note first that the author and her husband "were influenced by William Law to leave the Church in 1844" - close to the time when the document was composed.[11] That does not mean that the report is false, but we need to account for the writer's bias.

Secondly, this letter is not an eyewitness account of what was said by Joseph. The writer stead cites someone else (her husband) who was an eyewitness and so the information second-hand. 

Thirdly, this information is being relayed about 11 months after the Prophet spoke, so memories may be more flawed. The author is also not clear about the dates—the sentence above should read: "a year ago [before] last conference"). The underlined portion of the letter accurately reflects what Joseph Smith said on 27 August 1843.[12] 

The "five years" aspect is from an earlier statement

The 'five-year prophecy' is being included where it doesn't belong. On 12 January 1838 the Prophet met in council at his father’s house in Kirtland, Ohio. During a discussion about the dire circumstances caused by apostates and mobs – and in anticipation of his leaving for Missouri - Joseph Smith said: "One thing, brethren is certain, I shall see you again, let what will happen, for I have a promise of life five years, and they cannot kill me until that time is expired."[13] Five years would expire by January 1843, and it is interesting that on 22 January 1843 the Prophet said: "I understand my mission and business. God Almighty is my shield and what can man do [see D&C 122:9] if God is my friend? I shall not be sacrificed until my time comes, then I shall be offered freely."[14]

The idea of an "unconditional promise" with respect to the Prophet's "days" on the earth also appears to be a misapplication of information

The idea of an "unconditional promise" with respect to the Prophet's "days" on the earth also appears to be a misapplication of information. While the Prophet was languishing inside Missouri's Liberty Jail the Lord informed him in March 1839: "Thy days are known, and thy years shall not be numbered less" (D&C 122꞉9). These words were published in Nauvoo in 1840, and so we see how Sarah Scott or her informant could have either intentionally or unintentionally mixed them with a later statement.[15]

Contemporary records do not support the claim

Sarah Scott's claim that on 27 August 1843 Joseph Smith said that nobody could kill him "till the Temple would be completed" is not supported by the notes taken by Willard Richards, Franklin D. Richards, and William Clayton[16].

And, at least three months prior to the composition of Scott's letter the Prophet had told a group of Saints, "There is something going to happen; I don't know what it is, but the Lord bids me to hasten and give you your endowment before the Temple is finished".[17] Indeed, in 1839 Joseph Smith had prophesied his own death before the age of 40—which would have been on 23 December 1845.[18] Knowing about these well-established claims from Joseph makes us more confident that Scott was misreporting or misrepresenting the matter.

This letter also discounts the idea that Joseph said he could not be killed unless he gave himself up

This letter also discounts the idea (testified to by some unidentified Church members) that Joseph said he could not be killed unless he gave himself up. Scott's husband was present at the 27 August 1843 meeting and did not hear any such thing. And it does not appear from contemporaneous notes that Joseph said this on that date. However, on 31 August 1842 Joseph Smith told a gathering of Relief Society sisters "that great exertions had been made on the part of [the Church's] enemies, but they had not accomplished their purpose—God had enabled him to keep out of their hands. . . . the Lord Almighty had preserv'd him . . . . He said he expected th[at] heavenly Father had decreed that the Missourians shall not get him - if they do, it will be because he does not keep out of the way."[19]

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources
  • Letter, Sarah Scott to Calvin and Abigail Hall (parents), 22 July 1844, Nauvoo, Illinois. Published in George R. Partridge, ed., “The Death of a Mormon Dictator: Letters of Massachusetts Mormons, 1843–1848," New England Quarterly 9/4 (December 1936): 597.

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 killed in Missouri at the Battle of Crooked River. [20]

"Thus saith the Lord"

Some critics have pointed to the "thus saith the Lord" phrase at the beginning Patten's call in D&C 114}1-2} proves that this was a prophecy. 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. When used in the first verse, it appears to be an indication that what followed was the product of revelation.

Patten's call

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 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 could.

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'."[21] Despite this, God 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.

Biblical parallels

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's choices never fulfilled this promise of the Lord. This doesn't make Christ a false prophet. Patten's death at the hands of Missourians was their doing, not his.

As D&C 124꞉49 says, 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."

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Did Joseph Smith state that the moon was inhabited, and that it's inhabitants were dressed like Quakers?

This is not a quote from Joseph Smith, but rather a late, third-hand account of something that Joseph is supposed to have said

The source for this claim is not Joseph Smith himself; the first mention comes in 1881 in Oliver B. Huntington's journal, who attributed the information from Philo Dibble. So, we have a late, third-hand account of something Joseph is supposed to have said.[22] Hyrum Smith [23] and Brigham Young [24] both expressed their view that the moon was inhabited.

A patriarchal blessing given to Huntington also indicated that "thou shalt have power with God even to translate thyself to Heaven, & preach to the inhabitants of the moon or planets, if it shall be expedient." [25]

Huntington later wrote an article about the concept for a Church magazine:

As far back as 1837, I know that he [Joseph Smith] said the moon was inhabited by men and women the same as this earth, and that they lived to a greater age than we do—that they live generally to near the age of a 1,000 years.

He described the men as averaging nearly six feet in height, and dressing quite uniformly in something near the Quaker style.[26]

The idea of an inhabited moon or other celestial body was not foreign to at least some early LDS members. It is not clear whether the idea originated with Joseph Smith.

In the 1800s, the idea that the moon was inhabited was considered scientific fact by many

In any case, this idea was considered 'scientific fact' by many at the time. William Herschel, the discoverer of the planet Uranus, died in 1822. Herschel argued "[w]ho can say that it is not extremely probable, nay beyond doubt, that there must be inhabitants on the Moon of some kind or another?" Furthermore, "he thought it possible that there was a region below the Sun's fiery surface where men might live, and he regarded the existence of life on the Moon as 'an absolute certainty.'" [27]

Other scientists announced that they had discovered "a lunar city with a collection of gigantic ramparts extending 23 miles in either direction." [28]

The 1835 Great Moon Hoax added to the belief in lunar inhabitants

In addition to these pronouncements from some of the most prominent scientists of the day, a clever hoax in 1835 only added to the belief in lunar inhabitants.

John Herschel, son of the famous William, went to South Africa to study stars visible only in the southern hemisphere. This was the cause of considerable public interest, given Herschel's involvement.[29]

On 23 August 1835, Richard Locke published the first article in the New York Sun of what purported to be reports from Herschel's observations. Over a total of six installments, Locke claimed that Herschel was reporting lunar flowers, forests, bison, goats, unicorns, bipedal tailless beavers who cooked with fire, and (most provocatively) flying men with wings:

They appeared to be constantly engaged in conversing, with much impassioned gesticulation; and hence it was inferred, that they are rational beings. Others, apparently of a higher order, were discovered afterwards. . . . And finally a magnificent temple for the worship of God, of polished sapphire, in a triangle shape, with a roof of gold.[30]

These reports were widely believed and caused a minor sensation. They were carried in the Painsville Telegraph, adjacent to Mormon Kirtland.[31] The Sun eventually hinted that the matter was a hoax:

Certain correspondents have been urging us to come out and confess the whole to be a hoax; but this we can by no means do, until we have the testimony of the English or Scotch papers to corroborate such a declaration.[32]

Popular belief in lunar inhabitants persisted for decades after the hoax

No more than this was forthcoming, and the Painsville Telegraph made no mention of the possibility of a hoax. Popular belief in lunar inhabitants persisted for decades. Herschel initially found the episode amusing, but he eventually grew frustrated with having to continually explain to the public that the whole matter was a hoax, with which he had nothing to do: he would later refer "the whole affair as 'incoherent ravings'".[33]

In a private letter, Hirschel's wife indicated how skillfully the hoax was carried out:

Margaret Herschel was more amused. She called the story "a very clever peice of imagination," and wrote appreciately ... "The whole description is so well clenched with minute details of workmanship...that the New Yorkists were not to be blamed for actually believing it as they did...." [34]

Modern prophets and general authorities will sometimes cite newspaper articles or books to illustrate the points which they wish to make

Church publications did not shy from embracing later scientific findings on the matter:

1856

Desert News noted:

Proof that the Moon is not Inhabited.

"Dr. Scoresby, in an account that he has given of some recent observations made with the Earl of Rosse’s telescope, says: ‘With respect to the moon, every object on its surface of 100 feet was distinctly to be seen; and he had no doubt that, under very favorable circumstances, it would be so with objects 60 feet in height…. But no vestiges of architecture remain to show that the moon, is, or ever was, inhabited by a race of mortals similar to ourselves….. There was no water visible…."[35]

1880

"As there is no air nor water on the moon, but very few changes can take place upon its surface. There can be no vegetation and no animals, and although many astronomers have brought their imaginations to bear upon this subject, and have given us descriptions of the beautiful scenery upon its surface, and have even peopled it with inhabitants, we have every reason to believe that it is as barren and lifeless as an arid rock."[36]

Modern analogies

Modern prophets and general authorities will sometimes cite newspaper articles or books to illustrate the points which they wish to make. In doing so, they are not endorsing such articles or books as being prophetically correct in all particulars. Rather, they are using the science and information of their day to enhance their preaching of the gospel.

"Worlds without number"

LDS doctrine was not provincial, since it provided for "worlds without number" (Moses 1꞉33) created by Christ. These worlds held those who would require the gospel, since by Christ "the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God." (D&C 76꞉24)

Information given to the 19th century Saints by the authorities of the day were consistent with these doctrines, and so they believed them, and occasionally mentioned them in a religious context.

As always, prophets and believers are products of their time. Biblical authors, for example, clearly accepted a geocentric (earth centered) cosmos, with a flat earth and heavens supported by four pillars.

Like the authors of the Bible, modern prophets are generally beholden to their era's scientific concepts, except where corrections in those concepts are needed to permit the gospel to be understood and applied. This does not mean, however, that prophets of any era do not receive revelation about matters of eternal significance.

Brigham Young on an inhabited moon.

Summary: Brigham seems to have derived a similar idea from similar influences.


Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources
  • Contender Ministries, Questions All Mormons Should Ask Themselves. Answers
  • Tower to Truth Ministries, "50 Questions to Ask Mormons," towertotruth.net (accessed 15 November 2007). 50 Answers
  • Jay Jacobson, "Three Reasons Not to Become a Mormon,": 7.
  • Search for the Truth DVD (2007) Resources
  • The God Makers (film, 1982)
  • Jerald and Sandra Tanner, The Changing World of Mormonism (Moody Press, 1979), 23.( Index of claims )

Did Joseph Smith claim at one time that Kirtland Safety Society notes would be "as good as gold"?

Joseph was likely being optimistic regarding the bank's future

Whatever one thinks of Joseph's conduct in connection with the Kirtland Safety Society, this promise, ironically, eventually came true.

  • Brigham Young redeemed Kirtland Safety Society scrip for gold in Utah.
  • Marvin S. Hill notes that, "Brigham Young needn't have gone to such pains to ensure that this prophecy was fulfilled. Today [1977] these notes are worth far more than the exchange rate between currency and gold."[37]
Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Did Joseph Smith give a false prophecy by claiming that queens would pay respect to the Relief Society within ten years?

The prophecy is clearly conditional on the continuing righteousness of the Relief Society

Such a record exists, although critics generally do not cite the entire text. Abanes, One Nation, for example, cites only: "I now prophecy that before ten years shall roll around, the queens of the earth shall come and pay their respects to this Society." Abanes then notes, "No queens have ever fulfilled this prophecy.".[38]

Here is the prophecy in context, with several key phrases highlighted:

Females, if they are pure and innocent can come into the presence of God, for what is more pleasing to God than innocence; you must be innocent or you cannot come up before God. If we would come before God let us be pure ourselves. The devil has great power—he will so transform things as to make one gape at those who are doing the will of God—You need not be teasing men for their deeds, but let the weight of innocence be felt which is more mighty than a millstone hung about the neck. Not war, not jangle, not contradiction, but meekness, love purity, these are the things that should magnify us. Action must be brough[t] to light—iniquity must be purged out—then the vail will be rent and the blessings of heaven will flow down—they will roll down like the Mississippi river. This Society shall have power to command Queens in their midst—I now deliver it as a prophecy that before ten years shall roll around, the queens of the earth shall come and pay their respects to this Society—they shall come with their millions and shall contribute of their abundance for the relief of the poor—If you will be pure, nothing can hinder.

After this instruction, you will be responsible for your own sins. It is an honor to save yourselves—all are responsible to save themselves.[39]

According to Joseph's own words, the prophecy is clearly conditional on the continuing righteousness of the Relief Society.

Critics omit the qualifier as they try to discredit Joseph.

Fulfillment of the prophecy

There are several schools of thought regarding this prophecy:

  1. That fulfillment has been delayed.
  2. That it has already been fulfilled.

We do not take a position on this issue, but present the various arguments here.

Was the fulfillment of the prophecy delayed?

If the prophecy remained unfilled, then it would be because the conditions set forth were not met. There is some evidence to support this position.

For example, it is known that Joseph received considerable trouble from his wife, Emma, as head of the Relief Society. Emma would not support plural marriage, and used the Relief Society to attempt to thwart Joseph's teaching of it. Joseph was frequently trying to draw people up to their own better potential and encourage people to prepare to behold the face of God—he gave similar reproofs to the men of the Church:

How vain and trifling have been our spirits, our conferences, our councils, our meetings, our private as well as public conversations—too low, too mean, too vulgar, too condescending for the dignified characters of the called and chosen of God, according to the purposes of His will, from before the foundation of the world! We are called to hold the keys of the mysteries of those things that have been kept hid from the foundation of the world until now. Some have tasted a little of these things, many of which are to be poured down from heaven upon the heads of babes; yea, upon the weak, obscure and despised ones of the earth. Therefore we beseech of you, brethren, that you bear with those who do not feel themselves more worthy than yourselves, while we exhort one another to a reformation with one and all, both old and young, teachers and taught, both high and low, rich and poor, bond and free, male and female; let honesty, and sobriety, and candor, and solemnity, and virtue, and pureness, and meekness, and simplicity crown our heads in every place; and in fine, become as little children, without malice, guile or hypocrisy.[40]

However, in the case of the Relief Society prophecy, Joseph states, point blank, that "iniquity must be purged out," which implies that it has to be there to begin with. There were certainly apostates among the Relief Society.

Problems with the Relief Society

Brigham Young was not pleased about what the Relief Society leadership had done to oppose Joseph and to oppose plural marriage, and the associated difficulties which the Relief Society and their zeal to expunge impurity caused. (Joseph spoke to them about this also, see below.)[41])

Hiatus for the Relief Society

Following the death of Joseph Smith, the Relief Society as an organization went on "hiatus," in part due to these concerns.

Brigham noted, one year after the martyrdom:

When I want Sisters or the Wives of the members of the church to get up Relief Society I will summon them to my aid, but until that time let them stay at home if you see Females huddling together, veto the concern, and if they say Joseph started it all tell them it is a damned lie for I know he never encouraged it.[42]

Note that Brigham's issue is not with the existence of the Relief Society, but the "huddling together" to seek out iniquity. John Taylor gives us further background on why the organization was suspended,

The "reason why the Relief Society did not continue from the first organization was that Emma Smith the Pres. taught the Sisters that the principle of Celestial Marriage as taught and practiced by Joseph Smith was not of God."[43]

Emma's opposition

It should be noted that critical authors Newell and Avery claim this is not true in the strict reading of the minutes—however, it is well known that Emma did everything she could to discourage people from following Joseph's teachings on plural marriage, both in what she said privately and publicly. Newell and Avery provide evidence of this tendency themselves when citing Emma Smith's announced plans, but don't draw the obvious conclusion:

"We [the Relief Society] intend to look into the morals of each other, and watch over each other…. All proceedings that regard difficulties should be kept among the members [of the Relief Society]…. None can object to telling the good but withhold the evil." Given human nature, Emma was demanding an impossible commitment from her members…[44]

Eliza R. Snow's testimony

Even Eliza R. Snow felt it necessary to correct the impression that the Relief Society in Nauvoo had done "more harm than good," emphasizing that it "saved many lives." But, the mere fact that she needed to correct this impression should tell us something about how the Relief Society under Emma's tenure was seen—there were lives saved, but there was also a somewhat darker side that kept Brigham from reconstituting the organization for ten years, and made Eliza need to emphasize that it had been worth it, on balance, even with the problems.[45]

Joseph expressed similar concerns

Joseph expressed his own reservations:

"You need not be teasing men for their deeds, but let the weight of innocence be felt which is more mighty than a millstone hung about the neck."—i.e., quit acting as a type of police on public morals. He spoke on this more than once; it was an on-going problem, and much of it was driven by Emma. (Joseph had previously spoken to the Relief Society and cautioned them about their zeal not being according to knowledge.[46]

Joseph said that there were problems that had to be improved. This could be good evidence that in Emma's case, that the problem wasn't solved. Joseph repeatedly talked to them about judging the actions of others, minding their own business, sustaining the prophet, and so forth. The following remarks from 28 April 1842 are from the same discourse as the prophecy under consideration:

  • "He exhorted the sisters always to concentrate their faith and prayers for, and place confidence in their husbands, whom God has appointed for them to honor, and in those faithful men whom God has placed at the head of the Church to lead His people; that we should arm and sustain them with our prayers; for the keys of the kingdom are about to be given to them, that they may be able to detect everything false; as well as to all the Elders who shall prove their integrity in due season."
  • [Joseph] "said the same aspiring disposition will be in this Society, and must be guarded against; that every person should stand, and act in the place appointed, and thus sanctify the Society and get it pure (italics added)."
  • [Joseph continued] "saying everyone should aspire only to magnify his own office and calling....and said, don't be limited in your views with regard to your neighbor's virtue, but beware of self-righteousness, and be limited in the estimate of your own virtues, and not think yourselves more righteous than others; you must enlarge your souls towards each other, if you would do like Jesus, and carry your fellow-creatures to Abraham's bosom. He said he had manifested long-suffering, forbearance and patience towards the Church, and also to his enemies; and we must bear with each other's failings, as an indulgent parent bears with the foibles of his children (italics added)."
  • "How precious are the souls of men! The female part of the community are apt to be contracted in their views. You must not be contracted, but you must be liberal in your feelings. Let this Society teach women how to behave towards their husbands, to treat them with mildness and affection. When a man is borne down with trouble, when he is perplexed with care and difficulty, if he can meet a smile instead of an argument or a murmur—if he can meet with mildness, it will calm down his soul and soothe his feelings; when the mind is going to despair, it needs a solace of affection and kindness. (italics added)"
  • "When you go home, never give a cross or unkind word to your husbands, but let kindness, charity and love crown your works henceforward....Let your labors be mostly confined to those around you, in the circle of your own acquaintance, as far as knowledge is concerned, it may extend to all the world; but your administering should be confined to the circle of your immediate acquaintance, and more especially to the members of the Relief Society. Those ordained to preside over and lead you, are authorized to appoint the different offic