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False Prophecy in Mormonism

Mormonism, since it claims to be led by a living prophet, must be prepared for its prophetic record to be judged. This is easily done. The Bible, which is received by Mormonism as scripture, gives us a very simple test by which we can determine if a prophet or prophecy is true or false. Moses wrote, “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” (Deut. 18:22).

Have Mormon prophets prophesied? They have (it is worth noting here that if they had not, their claims to being prophets would be ipso facto invalid). Have Mormon prophets uttered prophecies that did not “follow or come to pass”? They have, and are thus false prophets.

The easiest false prophecies to look at come from Joseph Smith. This is significant, since all succeeding Mormon prophets trace their ordination to him. If Joseph Smith was a false prophet, then no one dependent upon him for prophetic authority can possibly a true prophet.

There are three obvious false prophecies made by Joseph Smith. These are not the only prophetic errors he made, but they are very clear and unavoidable. One is uncanonized, and predicts the return of Jesus in 1891; two are canonized, and prophesy the civil war and the building of a temple respectively.

In the official history of the Mormon church, we read the following statement: “President [Joseph] Smith then stated that the meeting had been called, because God had commanded it; and it was made known to him by vision and by the Holy Spirit ... it was the will of God that those who went to Zion, with a determination to lay down their lives, if necessary, should be ordained to the ministry, and to go forth to prune the vineyard for the last time, or the coming of the Lord, which was nighDDeven fifty-six years should wind up the scene” (History of the Church 2:182). This statement was made in February of 1835. A little math shows that Jesus should have returned, according to the statement, in February of 1891. Obviously, this did not happen.

Next we have Joseph’s prediction regarding the Civil War. The relevant portion of the revelation is reproduced below.

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

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

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

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

5 And it shall come to pass also that the remnants who are left of the land will marshal themselves, and shall become exceedingly angry, and shall vex the Gentiles with a sore vexation. (Doctrine & Covenants 87:-5).”

Several points in this prophecy did not come to pass. In verse one we find the only thing that Joseph Smith got right - the Civil War did begin in South Carolina. However, this is not such a prophecy as might be thought; just before this revelation was given, approximately 30 years before the actual beginning of the War, South Carolina had threatened to secede from the United States, and speculation about a coming civil war was rife.

Verses two and three say that the coming war would be poured out on all nations, with Great Britain being specifically named. This did not take place. Only two nations were involved in the fighting - the United States of America and the Confederate States of America. And technically the CSA was not a nation, for no other state extended them diplomatic recognition. They were instead part of the United States in rebellion against the constituted authority of the USA. The closest friend of the CSA, Great Britain, did not at any point become involved in the fighting, and neither did any other country.

In verse four a slave rebellion is predicted in connection with the Civil War. This did not happen.

Verse five predicts a rising of the “remnants” of the original inhabitants of the land - an obvious reference to full-scale war with the native American tribes in connection with the Civil War. This too failed to come to pass.

Next we have the revelation regarding the temple in Independence, Missouri. The relevant portion of this revelation reads as follows:

1 A revelation of Jesus Christ unto his servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and six elders, as they united their hearts and lifted their voices on high.”

2 Yea, the word of the Lord concerning his church, established in the last days for the restoration of his people, as he has spoken by the mouth of his prophets, and for the gathering of his saints to stand upon Mount Zion, which shall be the city of New Jerusalem.”

3 Which city shall be built, beginning at the temple lot, which is appointed by the finger of the Lord, in the western boundaries of the State of Missouri, and dedicated by the hand of Joseph Smith, Jun., and others with whom the Lord was well pleased.”

4 Verily this is the word of the Lord, that the city New Jerusalem shall be built by the gathering of the saints, beginning at this place, even the place of the temple, which temple shall be reared in this generation.”

5 For verily this generation shall not all pass away until an house shall be built unto the Lord, and a cloud shall rest upon it, which cloud shall be even the glory of the Lord, which shall fill the house” (Doctrine & Covenants 84:1-5).

This revelation describes the building of a temple on a particular spot on Independence, Missouri. That spot is well-known; it is currently owned by the Church of Christ (Temple Lot) which obtained the title by purchase, as affirmed by the courts 100 years ago. In the testimony of what it called the Temple Lot Case the land is described in detail, and there can be no mistake about the location. And there is no temple on that spot.

The natural interpretation of this revelation is that the temple would be built in the lifetime of those living at the time it was given. The revelation was delivered to the church in 1832. Obviously, no one living in 1832 - not even someone born in that year - is living today. That this is indeed the meaning of the text was confirmed by men who knew Joseph Smith personally and later, in Utah, spoke from the pulpit on the subject. President Joseph Fielding Smith, one of the Mormonism’s greatest scriptorians, agreed, even admitting before he died that the generation then living was dead and the temple was not yet built.

During Joseph Smith’s lifetime the church’s own paper said, “When, therefore, any man, no matter who, or how high his standing may be, utter, or publishes, any thing that afterwards proves to be untrue, he is a false prophet” (The Evening and the Morning Star, Vol. II, No. 14, pg. 105). As we have briefly seen here, Joseph Smith uttered at least three clearly false prophecies. Thus, when judged by either the Bible or Mormonism’s own standard, Joseph Smith was a false prophet. And has I have already said, if he was a false prophet, Mormonism itself is by definition false.