Question: Is prophecy only available for "after the fact" confirmation that God has acted?

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Question: Is prophecy only available for "after the fact" confirmation that God has acted?

This claim fails on logical and scriptural grounds, and contradicts the teachings of Joseph Smith

Some who are excommunicated from the Church claim that prophecy is only given so we can understand "after the fact" that God has acted. God does not let anyone know what will come. [1]

It appears that this is simply one more tactic to encourage members of the Church to disregard prophets and assure them that no one can foretell the future with sufficient detail or clarity to be useful, except after the fact. It allows him to use his own interpretations of prophecy and insist that he should be heeded when he disagrees with the interpretation given by prophets.

It is a variant of a tactic described in the Book of Mormon from Korihor and Sherem, the two anti-Christs:

O ye that are bound down under a foolish and a vain hope, why do ye yoke yourselves with such foolish things? Why do ye look for a Christ? For no man can know of anything which is to come (Alma 30:13).

And now behold, I, Sherem, declare unto you that this is blasphemy; for no man knoweth of such things; for he cannot tell of things to come (Jacob 7:7).

The only difference is that in this case, the critic claims that "no man can know of anything which is to come" until it has already happened—which is functionally the same thing. If we cannot understand prophecies until they have come to pass, then prophets and the prophecies cannot guide our lives and choices. If they accept this, then members of his audience are vulnerable to accepting Snuffer's interpretation of prophecy.

This claim fails on logical and scriptural grounds, and contradicts the teachings of Joseph Smith, whom the author claims to sustain as a prophet.

"The grand rule of heaven was that nothing should ever be done on earth without revealing the secret to his [the Lord's] servants the prophets, agreeably to Amos 3:7."
—Joseph Smith, Jr.[2]

One excommunicated critic claims:

Prophecy is not given so you can anticipate the details beforehand. Prophecy is only given so that after the event takes place, you can then understand the scriptures’ meaning. Only after He has acted can you understand how the Lord intended to accomplish His will and fulfill His promise. Prophecy’s purpose is not to allow you beforehand to know the events with enough specificity so that God's will could be anticipated, prevented, and frustrated. If you knew what He was up to, you could prevent it. But because you do not, when the prophecies are fulfilled, then you know the Lord has acted. God can use any means He chooses to accomplish His promises. Everything God is doing is not disclosed at the time it is underway.[3]


The author claims that if the future were foretold, "God's will could be anticipated, prevented, and frustrated." "If you knew what He was up to," he claims, "you could prevent it."

This is illogical. God's will—by definition—cannot be frustrated. No one can prevent God bringing to pass his purposes. God is all-powerful, and all-knowing. Mortals cannot thwart his purposes, save that they may use their moral agency to refuse to follow God's purposes for them. Thus, a mortal might thwart God's desire that he be saved, but he cannot thwart God's purposes in history, or God's desire to save others.

Scriptural claims

Scriptural examples of foretelling are numerous.

  • Jesus warned the Christians of the impending destruction of Jerusalem (Matthew 24:)., with the result that many Christians escaped the Roman destruction of AD 70.
  • Detailed prophecies of Christ's birth were available, anticipated, and were not able to be thwarted. The Book of Mormon—which the critic claims to believe is scripture—is simply brimming with examples. (For a few, see: 2 Nephi 25:19; Helaman 14:2,12; 3 Nephi 1:4-9).
  • God promises that he will tell prophets before-hand of his plans and intent—"Surely the Lord GOD will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets" (Amos 3:7).
  • The Book of Mormon begins with a testimony that Jerusalem will be destroyed—and it was. The captive Jews were also prophesied to return, and they did (1 Nephi 1:4,13; 2:13; 3:17; 10:3; 2 Nephi 1:4); 25:10).
  • The name of Joseph Smith and his father were announced (2 Nephi 3:15).

Readers can doubtless think of many other examples.

Joseph Smith

Joseph said:

It is only a handful of priesthood you see here tonight, but this church will fill North and South America it will fill the world.[4]

Joseph gives an account of making a prophecy and having the wicked desire to thwart it, but they could not:

Esquire Butterfield asked me "to prophesy how many inhabitants would come to Nauvoo." I said, I will not tell how many inhabitants will come to Nauvoo; but when I went to Commerce, I told the people I would build up a city, and the old inhabitants replied "We will be damned if you can." So I prophesied that I would build up a city, and the inhabitants prophesied that I could not; and we have now about 12,000 inhabitants. I will prophesy that we will build up a great city; for we have the stakes and have only to fill up the interstices.[5]

Brigham Young likewise did so during Joseph's lifetime, for the benefit of the Prophet:

About January 16, 1838, being destitute of money to pursue my journey, I [Joseph] said to Brother Brigham Young: "You are one of the Twelve who have charge of the kingdom in all the world; I believe I shall throw myself upon you, and look to you for counsel in this case." Brother Young thought I was not earnest, but I told him I was. Brother Brigham then said, "If you will take my counsel it will be that you rest yourself, and be assured you shall have money in plenty to pursue your journey."[6]

Parley P. Pratt reported:

As we arose and commenced our march on the morning of the 3d of November, Joseph Smith spoke to me and the other prisoners, in a low, but cheerful and confidential tone; said he: "Be of good cheer, brethren; the word of the Lord came to me last night that our lives should be given us, and that whatever we may suffer during this captivity, not one of our lives should be taken." Of this prophecy I testify in the name of the Lord, and, though spoken in secret, its public fulfilment and the miraculous escape of each one of us is too notorious to need my testimony.[7]

Another likewise sought to disprove a prophecy:

John Darby came in and said he was going to California with Brewster. I told him I would say, as the Prophet said to Hezekiah, "Go, and prosper; but ye shall not return in peace." Brewster may set out for California, but he will not get there unless somebody shall pick him up by the way, feed him and help him along. Brewster showed me the manuscript he had been writing. I inquired of the Lord, and the Lord told me the book was not true—it was not of Him. If God ever called me, or spake by my mouth, or gave me a revelation, he never gave revelations to that Brewster boy or any of the Brewster race. [8]

Even minor matters could be foretold, and in precise detail, according to Joseph:

When I was playing in the yard of the Mansion, in Nauvoo, with Joseph and Frederick, two of the Prophet's sons, a gentleman drove to the gate and asked if Joseph Smith was at home. The Prophet came forward, and the gentleman drove his horse up to a tie post and left the lines lying loose.

When he was about half way to the house, Joseph said, "Mr., I think you would do well to tie your horse; he might get a scare and run away and break your carriage."

The gentleman replied, "I have driven that horse for some years and never tie him. I am a doctor and cannot afford to tie up at every place I call."

Joseph repeated, "You had better tie, all the same. Your horse might get a scare and run away."

The doctor replied, "No fear."

Joseph seemed quite uneasy, and got up several times from his chair on the porch. Suddenly the horse started up the street and struck a wheel against a post and scattered the pieces for a block or more. The doctor sprang to his feet, and looking after the horse, cried out to Joseph, "I'll be d—Prophetsd if you ain't a prophet!"[9]

It would be hard to be more specific than this.


  1. Denver Snuffer, "Preserving The Restoration," Lecture 10, Mesa, Arizona (9 September 2014), 11.
  2. Joseph Smith, Times and Seasons 3, 905. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  3. Denver Snuffer, "Preserving The Restoration," Lecture 10, Mesa, Arizona (9 September 2014), 11.
  4. Cited by Wilford Woodruff, Conference Report (April 1898), 57.
  5. 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), 5:232. Volume 5 link
  6. History of the Church, 3:2. Volume 3 link
  7. Parley P. Pratt, The Autobiography of Parley Parker Pratt (Salt Lake City, Deseret Book Company, 1985), 164.
  8. History of the Church, 5:214. Volume 5 link
  9. Hyrum L. Andrus and Helen Mae Andrus, comps., They Knew the Prophet, 146