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

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

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

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

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

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

In any event, Patten's death would not change the instructional nature of that call. Joseph Smith declared that: To the "great Jehovah . . . the past, present, and future were and are, with Him, one eternal 'now'."[2] The Savior does know all that will happen to us individually, but he still gives agency to us and to others who impact on our lives, which usage often precludes what would have happened if the Lord's will were done on earth as it is in heaven.

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

The Lord knocks at the door and gives the promise or opportunity. Whether we open the door and respond in a way to reap the potential blessing is up to us, and in many cases, up to the righteousness of others. In David Pallen's case, extenuating circumstances prevented him from serving an earthly mission: a mob killed him. To understand the case of David Patten, one might study D&C 124:49, which states if "their enemies come upon them and hinder them from performing that work, behold, it behooveth me to require that work no more at the hands of those sons of men, but to accept of their offerings."

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


  1. 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.
  2. 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