Alleged false prophecies of Joseph Smith

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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]


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:


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]


"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," (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, 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 " 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," (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


  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,
  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),
  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," <> (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," <> (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," <> (13 May 2020).
  61. Boylan, "Oliver Granger," (13 May 2020).
  62. John A. Tvedtnes, "A Reply to Dick Baer," <> (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," <> (29 June 2020).