Failed Prophecies of Joseph Smith (information gleaned from the 1997 study of the same name by the Institute of Religious Research)
Joseph Smith has often been called The Prophet by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints (possibly better known by non members as the Mormons). Many of his Revelations and assertions – although bearing similarity to quotations from the Bible are not strictly testable in that they are described as coming from Gold Tablets which are now taken back to heaven. On the other hand there is a very clear and direct way which his authority as a prophet can be tested which dates back to Deuteronomy chapters 13 and 18. The most direct test is whether or not the prophecies turn out to correct by the way in which they relate to subsequent events in history. Eg Deuteronomy 18:21-22 which reads as follows:
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.
Because even in the Bible we are warned that there will be many false prophets (2nd Corinthians 11:4-15; Galatians 1:6-9; 1 Timothy 4:1; 2 Peter 2:1-3; 1 John 4:1 and Jude 3-16)it seems reasonable to look at the track record of those who claim to speak with God’s authority.
Here we will look at seven sample prophecies of Joseph Smith, selected for their specific and unambiguous predictions and noting in each case the assertion that their source was divine authority. They are all sourced from Latter-day Saint scriptures or the History of the Church (HC), a seven volume history published under the authority of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints . The commentary for each cites the original source. Relevant historical outcomes are noted for comparison.
Prophecy # 1 – When the Lord will come.
“President 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 they should be ordained to the ministry and go forth to prune the vineyard for the last time, for the coming of the Lord, which was nigh – even fifty six years should wind up the scene”. (History of the Church, Vol. 2, page 182).
WHAT HAPPENED: This prophecy was apparently spoken by Joseph Smith in 1835, as recorded by Oliver Cowdery. The fifty-six years works out to be 1891. The Lord still hasn’t come!
Prophecy # 2 – David W. Patten will go on a mission
“Verily, thus saith the Lord: It is wisdom in my servant David W. Patten, that he settle up all his business as soon as he possibly can, and make a disposition of his merchandise, that he may perform a mission unto me next spring, in company with others, even twelve including himself, to testify of my name and bear glad tidings unto the world”. (Doctrine & Covenants 114:1)
WHAT HAPPENED: This prophecy was made on April 17, 1838. As it happened David W. Patten died in October of 1838 and therefore did not do what the “Lord” was quoted as saying according to his wisdom.
Prophecy # 3 – The United States Government has a clear warning what will happen to it if it does not do as directed within a few years.
“I prophecy in the name of the Lord God of Israel, 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” (History of the Church, Vol. 5, page 394).
WHAT HAPPENED: Joseph Smith made this prophecy in May 6, 1843. As it happened the United States Government did not redress any of the wrongs committed against the Mormons in Missouri, and more than 150 years later, the U.S. Government still stands unbroken and unpunished. (Although some would say it is in a bit of a mess!!!)
Prophecy # 4 – Congress to be broken up as a government
“While discussing the petition to Congress, I prophesied, by virtue of the holy Priesthood vested in me, and in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, that, if Congress will not hear our petition and grant us protection, they shall be broken up as a government, and God shall damn them, and there shall be nothing left of them – not even a grease spot.” (Millennial Star, Vol. 22, p. 455. When this was recorded in the official History of the Church (HC), vol. 6, p. 116 for some reason the Church leaders decided to leave out the “grease spot” bit
WHAT HAPPENED: The petition was not heard nor was protection granted (Deseret News, Vol. 1, p. 59) confirms the petition was not heard, nor was the required protection granted. It is now clear that Congress was never broken up in consequence and is still functioning. The assemblers of History of the Church, possibly noting that the prediction had not come to pass explained this by saying”This prediction doubtless has reference to the party in power; to the ‘government’ considered as the administration;” ( p. 116). According to the note in HC, this means the Democratic Party, which was in control at the time. However, it seems clear enough that when Joseph Smith had said that “Congress shall be broken up as a government” he would have known that Congress is made up of representatives from both parties.
Prophecy #5 -Finding Treasure in Salem, Massachusetts
This prophecy is recorded in Doctrine & Covenants Section 111. The introduction to this prophecy, found at the beginning of Section 111 states:
“Revelation given through Joseph Smith the Prophet, at Salem, Massachusetts, August 6, 1836. HC 2:465-466. At this time the leaders of the [LDS] Church were heavily in debt due to their labours in the ministry.
1. I, the Lord your God, am not displeased with your coming this journey, notwithstanding your follies.
2. I have much treasure in this city for you, for the benefit of Zion, and many people in this city, whom I will gather out in due time for the benefit of Zion, through your instrumentality.
3. Therefore, it is expedient that you should form acquaintance with men in this city, as you shall be led, and as it shall be given you.
4. And it shall come to pass in due time that I will give this city into your hands, that you shall have power over it, insomuch that they shall not discover your secret parts; and its wealth pertaining to gold and silver shall be yours.
5. Concern not yourselves about your debts, for I will give you power to pay them”.
WHAT HAPPENED: The treasure was not discovered, (at least never in Salem) nor did Salem ever find itself in the control of the Mormons. In “due time” may be infinitely flexible, but it is pushing it to say in 2015 that it is still immanent.
Prophecy #6 – Pestilence, Hail, Famine & Earthquake will Destroy the Wicked
“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 (bold added by me!)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” (History of the Church, Vol. 1, pp. 315-316).
WHAT HAPPENED: Such a widespread destruction of the wicked of that generation never occurred. Perhaps it awaits some future disaster eg Donald Trump!!!!
Prophecy # 7 – Temple to be Built in Zion, Missouri
This prophecy comes directly from Doctrine & Covenants Section 84, the introduction of which states:
Revelation given through Joseph Smith the Prophet, at Kirtland, Ohio, September 22 and 23, 1832. HC 1:286-295.
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.
WHAT HAPPENED: The Mormons were forced to flee Missouri due to persecution and a temple was never built on the “temple lot” in the lifetime of Joseph Smith or within the generation of his contemporaries.
POSTSCRIPT I am confident that given the time and effort of the Mormon leadership to sort out answers to criticisms since these apparently failed prophecies that answers which would satisfy the membership Latter Day Saints have now been devised. However at the time of writing I am unaware as to how these points are answered. I would appreciate if some LDS Church leader would tell me how these issues are now answered.