False Prophecy in the Doctrine and Covenants

James K. Walker

Concerning prophecy and religious deception, the Bible warns: "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world" (1 John 4:1).

When someone receives a supernatural manifestation or spiritual testimony, they are cautioned that other spirits besides the Holy Spirit exist (1 Timothy 4:1) and that they should check the source of the spiritual guidance to see if it comes from a false prophet.

Many Mormons pray to receive a "testimony" of the truthfulness of the Church and believe that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God.

While prayer itself is good, the Bible never recommends prayer as a way of discerning true and false prophets.

Prayer can be very subjective and can mislead a sincere person (example: millions of sincere Moslems pray and receive a testimony that Mohammed is a true prophet).

The true test for a prophet is found in Deuteronomy 18:20-22. This scripture teaches that a prophet must be tested by checking his prophecies.

Also Jesus said, "Beware of false prophets which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves." This is not telling to examine a prophet's good works. Many false prophets have led moral lives. The fruit of a fig tree is its figs. The fruit of a prophet is his prophecies.

One false prophecy (even if some true prophecies are given) and that person is a false prophet. It does not matter how sincere he or his followers are. It does not matter how often his followers pray or what feelings they seem to receive in answer to their prayers. He is a false prophet.

Before testing any of Joseph Smith's prophecies found in the Doctrine and Covenants, it is important to classify types of prophetic statements dealing with future events.

Prophecy: Open-dated

First, there are open-dated predictions. These are prophecies that are given no certain time frame in which to be fulfilled.

An example is found in History of the Church. In this prophecy Joseph Smith predicts in 1835 that, "The coming of the Lord, which was nigh - even fifty-six years should wind up the scene" (Vol. 2 p. 182).

Although the Lord did not return by 1891, it must be noted that Joseph Smith said fifty-six years should wind up the scene.

Something could have happened to upset the original time schedule. Therefore even though this prophecy did not come true, this prophecy alone does not necessarily make Joseph Smith a false prophet.

Prophecy: Self-fulfilling

A second type of prediction that is quite common is the self-fulfilling prophecy.

One sample is located in Doctrine and Covenants 37:1. In this revelation, the Lord instructs Joseph not to translate any more until he goes to Ohio.

To make this prophecy come true, Joseph Smith had only to cease translating for a few months.

Prophecy: Conditional

A third type of prophecy Joseph Smith gave is the conditional prophecy. One such prediction is preserved in Doctrine and Covenants 40:16-18.

Here it is foretold that if the people of Ohio repent, they will not be severely judged of the Lord. This is conditional upon their repentance. If Ohio was not severely judged, it could be said that they must have sufficiently repented.

Although most of Joseph Smith's prophecies are of the first three types, there is another kind of prediction that can be found.

Prophecy: Close-dated and Unconditional

The fourth type of prediction is the close-dated unconditional prophecy. Although relatively few of Joseph Smith's prophecies are of this type they are extremely important because they make it possible to put Joseph Smith to the biblical test of a prophet.

Example: Temple in Independence

Last month's Watchman Expositor reviewed an example of a close-dated unconditional prophecy preserved in Doctrine and Covenants Section 84.

In this revelation given on September 22 and 23, 1832, Joseph Smith foretold of an LDS temple to be built in Independence, Missouri.

The prophecy specifies that the city of "New Jerusalem" including the temple was to be constructed, "beginning at the temple lot which is appointed by the finger of the Lord, in the western boundaries of the State of Missouri" (verse 3).

Verses four and five add that the "temple shall be reared in this generation. For verily this generation shall not all pass away" before the temple will be built.

One hundred and sixty years later, in 1992, there is still no LDS Temple in the entire state of Missouri much less on the "temple lot" specified in the revelation. (Note: An LDS temple is currently under construction across the state in St. Louis).

As mentioned last month, early Mormon leaders made it quite clear that the word "generation" meant those that were alive when the revelation was given in 1832. Before they all died, the Independence temple was to be.

Example: David W. Patten

A second example of a close-dated unconditional prophecy is found in Doctrine and Covenants Section 114.

This two-verse prophecy given April 17, 1838 are instructions to David W. Patten, one of the LDS twelve Apostles. He was to prepare to go on a mission with the other eleven (Apostles) into "all the world."

According to the revelation, the mission was to take place "next spring" which would give the prophecy a "closed-date" somewhere around April or May of 1839.

Less than three months later, the "twelve" were given a specific date to leave (April 26, 1839) and one of the apostles, Thomas Marsh, was instructed to stay behind to "publish my word" (Doctrine and Covenants Section 118).

The date of April 26, 1839 came and as History of the Church, written by Joseph Smith, records, "The Brethren arrived at Far West, and proceeded to transact the business of their mission" (Vol. 3 p.336).

However, David W. Patten was not part of that mission. David Patten was not present because he had died in October of 1838.

History of the Church reports: "Captain Patten was carried some of the way in a litter, but it caused so much distress that he begged to be left by the way side...he died that night" (Vol. 3, p. 171).

Rather than going on a mission with the Twelve next spring, as Joseph Smith had prophesied in 1838, Patten died before the next year even came.

This could not be a reference to a "mission" in the spirit world after death because Joseph Smith was specific that he was to go "unto all the world" (not the "spirit" world) and he was to be with the other eleven (Doctrine and Covenants 114).

Some Mormons have suggested that David Patten could have apostatized from his calling. In other words God called him to go on the mission but because of sin or faithlessness he fell from the calling.

There are two problems with this explanation. The God of the Bible is all-knowing and He knew that Patten was going to die. Also, Patten did not fall away from the Church.

After Patten's death, Joseph Smith wrote, "Brother David Patten was a very worthy man, beloved by all good men who know him. He was one of the Twelve Apostles, and died as he had lived, a man of God, and strong in the faith of a glorious resurrection" (History of the Church, Vol. 3, p. 171).

When objectively examining the prophecies of Joseph Smith in the Doctrine and Covenants it must be concluded that he made false prophecies.

One should not expect a prophet to be perfect as they are human. When they speak in the name of the Lord, however, Deuteronomy 18 demands 100 percent accuracy.

This is God's way of helping people to recognize and avoid false prophets.
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