7. False Prophecies by Joseph

Joseph's prophecy of the Civil War (D&C 87) is often touted by Mormons as evidence of his prophetic calling. However, many are not aware of the numerous specific prophecies from Joseph which were never fulfilled.

The Government Overthrown

The plight of the early Saints after being driven out of their homes time and again is well known. Their wrongs were never redressed. Well more than "a few years" have passed since that time. Yet, despite the following prophecy from Joseph, the U.S. government continues strong.

"I prophesy 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 plunger and extermination of thousands of her citizens to go unpunished, thereby perpetrated a foul and corroding blot upon the fair name 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." (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, Vol. 5, p. 394, May 1843)

A Temple in This Generation

On April 30, 1832, Joseph prophesied that a temple would be built in Independence, Missouri before the current generation passed away:

"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." (D&C 84: 4-5)

Allowing the widest possible latitude of 100 years for a generation, that still leaves the prophecy unfulfilled more than 70 years late and counting. There still is no LDS temple in Independence, Missouri.

Abridgement of D&C 137

In 1976, the 137th section of Doctrine and Covenants was submitted to the general conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for a vote to be "sustained" as scripture. It is a narrative of a vision supposedly seen by Joseph in Kirtland, Ohio in 1836.

What the members who voted on this new addition to scripture were not told by "the Brethren," is that whole paragraphs (216 words) of the actual revelation as recorded in The History of the Church had been conveniently left out of the version to be included in the Doctrine and Covenants. The reason for these omissions was that four false prophecies were contained in the part of the revelation which was censored out. These were prophecies so obviously incorrect that even the average LDS reader would pick them up. Therefore they went down the "black hole" of Mormon history.

Here is what is not in the new D&C 137:

[Joseph Smith:] "....I saw the Twelve Apostles of the Lamb, who are now upon the earth, who hold the keys of this last ministry, in foreign lands, standing together in a circle, much fatigued, with their clothes tattered and their feet swollen, with their eyes cast downward, and Jesus standing in their midst, and they did not behold him. The Saviour looked upon them and wept.

"I also beheld Elder M'Lellin in the south, standing upon a hill, surrounded by a vast multitude, preaching to them, and a lame man standing before him supported by his crutches; he threw them down at his word and leaped as a hart, by the mighty power of God.

"Also, I saw Elder Brigham Young standing in a strange land, in the far south and west, in a desert place, upon a rock in the midst of a bout a dozen men of color, who appeared hostile. He was preaching to them in their own tongue, and the angel of God standing above his head with a drawn sword in his hand, protecting him, but he did not see it.

"And I finally saw the Twelve in the celestial kingdom of God. I also beheld the redemption of Zion and many things which the tongue of man cannot describe in full."

First, at least seven of the twelve under discussion were soon excommunicated or apostatized from the church: John F. Boynton & Luke S. Johnson (1837), Lyman Johnson (1838), William E. M'Lellin (c.1838), Thomas B. Marsh & Orson Hyde (1838), and William Smith (1845). How could they have ever attained the celestial kingdom under those conditions? Although a few of these men later returned to the church, the majority remained apart for life.

Second, the vision of M'Lellin preaching and working miracles in the south never came true because he apostatized from the church without ever doing it (see above).

Third, although Brigham Young did bring the Mormons west and was a great colonizer and orator, the vision of Brigham Young preaching to "men of color" in their own language, in some strange and faraway place in the southwest never took place, or at least there is no trace of it in the very detailed records and diaries concerning his reign as prophet.

Finally, Zion (Independence, Missouri) was never redeemed, and has never been redeemed in the 150+ years since the prophecy was made. Is it any wonder that the Brethren chose to remove whole chunks of this "inspired" revelation?

United Order

In D&C 104:1 (1834) a prophecy is given concerning the LDS institution, the "United Order" (a theocratic, communistic method of distributing and controlling property and goods):

"…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…"

LDS history reveals that this "everlasting" order had to be disbanded soon after because it failed. Mormons today do not practice a communal approach to property.

Treasures in Salem

With more than $50,000 in debts coming due, Joseph hearkened back to his gold digging days when he read a story in the Painesville Telegraph concerning a vast treasure buried beneath an old house in Salem, Massachusetts. Joseph had been enchanted by Salem as a youth, as it was where he first tasted the exciting world outside his small Vermont village. A convert named Burgess offered to lead Joseph to the exact location of the house in Salem. So Joseph departed east with Sidney Rigdon, Oliver Cowdery, and his brother Hyrum, ostensibly on a missionary tour. When they arrived in Salem in August 1836, he received this revelation:

"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…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. Concern not yourselves about your debts, for I will give you power to pay them… And the place where it is my will that you would tarry, for the main, shall be signalized unto you by the peace and power of my Spirit, that shall flow unto you. This place you may obtain by hire. And inquire diligently concerning the more ancient inhabitants and founders of this city. For there are more treasures than one for you in this city." (D&C 111)

Joseph never found any treasures in Salem. The "many people" were never gathered out, as only 13 were baptized out of the whole city. The treasures of silver and gold prophesied were never found. They returned to Kirtland, Ohio the following month, disillusioned and without funds to pay their debts. (Fawn Brodie, No Man Knows My History, 192-193)

Mission of David W. Patten

"…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 all the world. (D&C 114:1, 1838)

Sadly, Patten was killed before he could fulfill this prophecy. Apologists have two arguments against this fact. One is that Patten was actually being called on a mission to the spirit world after death. Although that is a creative response, the verse itself contradicts it since 1) he was to go on the mission with eleven other men, none of whom were killed before spring; and 2) the verse says his mission was to "the whole world."

The other argument is that he wasn't worthy of the mission so the Lord killed him. The problem with that assertion is that Joseph Smith himself proclaimed that:

"Brother David Patten was a very worthy man, beloved by all good men who knew him…and died as he had lived, a man of God, and strong in the faith of a glorious resurrection…one of his last expressions to his wife was 'whatever you do else, O! do not deny the faith.'" (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, Vol. 3, p. 171).

These explanations do not hold water.

Mission to Toronto

In the work, An Address to All Believers in Christ, David Whitmer, (one of the "Three Witnesses" to the Book of Mormon) related that in the winter of 1829-1830, Joseph Smith sent Hiram Page and Oliver Cowdery on a mission to Toronto, Canada to sell the copyright to the Book of Mormon. This mission was ordered by a revelation that Joseph claimed he had received from God.

Unfortunately, both the mission and the revelation were failures. This is yet another false prophecy, as the man anxious to buy the copyright to the Book of Mormon never appeared. When Joseph was asked why the revelation had failed, he explained that:

"Some revelations are of God: some revelations are of man: and some revelations are of the devil…When a man enquires of the Lord concerning a matter, if he is deceived by his own carnal desires, and is in error, he will receive an answer according to his erring heart, but it will not be a revelation from the Lord." (David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ, p. 31)

But the question must be asked, if the "prophet" Joseph Smith cannot tell which of his revelations are from God and which are not; why should we trust any of them?

For more false prophecies by Joseph, see:

The False Prophet, Joseph Smith "And It Didn't Come to Pass..."

The Prophet Joseph Smith

Joseph's Successor

Despite claims by the LDS church to the contrary, the evidence is strong that Joseph blessed his eldest son, Joseph, and promised him succession as the church's next prophet. In the winter of 1843, during a sermon to his people in the grove next to the Nauvoo temple, Joseph called his son to the stand beside him and declared:

"I have often been asked who would succeed me as the prophet to the church. My son Joseph will be your next prophet."

This event was confirmed through sworn testimonies by Sophia K. Cook, niece of Martin Harris, as well as James Whitehead, secretary to Joseph Smith, and John H. Carter, all of whom heard the speech (Zion's Ensign, Vol. 12, No. 29, p. 5; Temple Lot Case, pp. 28, 180; No Man Knows My History, p. 381-2).

Lyman Wight said in a letter to the Northern Islander:

"Now Mr. Editor, if you had been present when Joseph called on me shortly after we came out of jail, to lay hands with him on the head of a youth, and heard him cry aloud, you are my successor when I depart, and heard the blessings poured on his head…you would not have been led by blind fanaticism…" (Reprinted in Saints Advocate, Vol. 7 (September 1884), p. 478)

Joseph's son recalled this incident in later years:

"I was also present at a meeting in the grove near the temple, and I remember my father laying his hands on my head, and saying to the people that this was his successor, or was to be his successor." (Temple Lot Case, p. 79).

Henry Brown in his History of Illinois (New York, 1844) stated:

"The prophet, it is said, has left a will or revelation appointing a successor; and, among other things, it is stated that his son, a lad of twelve years, is named therein as his successor. Of this, however, there is no certainty." (History of Illinois, p. 489)

And finally, John D. Lee confirmed:

"It was then understood among the Saints that Young Joseph was to succeed his father." (Mormonism Unveiled, p. 155)

Of course, the Reorganized LDS Church broke away on this very issue, because Brigham Young rather than Joseph's son was appointed the successor in the LDS Church.

Failed Miracles

Although Joseph was reputed to have been involved with miracles of healing, there were cases where his miracles went awry. For example, at the first general conference in Kirtland he seized a convert's hand which had been crippled in an accident, stating: "Brother Murdock, I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to straighten your hand!". He tugged stiffly at the curled fingers, but to no avail. Turning to an old man who was lame in one leg, Joseph ordered him to rise and walk. The old man took a step or two, then could go no further. A father brought forth the body of his small child, but despite earnest prayers by Joseph the child could not be brought back to life. Some later rationalized that the failure of Joseph's miracles was because Ohio was not consecrated ground, and that only in the promised land would they become efficacious. (As detailed through several letters from Ezra Booth to Edward Partridge, published in 1831-1832 in the Ohio Star at Ravenna. See also John Whitmer, History of the Church, MS., Chapter 7; and History of the Church, Vol. I, p. 176n)

Apologist Response

As related by Steve Benson (grandson of President Ezra Taft Benson) in an interview with Apostles Dallin H. Oaks and Neal A. Maxwell, prophecies are considered to be a minor aspect of the prophet's role, and are usually only for private application:

"[Apostle Dallin H.] Oaks replied that 'we shouldn't be citing fulfilled prophecies, because prophesying is only a minor aspect of what a prophet does.' Oaks said that, in actuality, the fundamental role of a prophet is 'to testify of Christ.' He said that 'foretelling events' is a prophet's 'minor responsibility.' [Apostle Neal A.] Maxwell said that Church members 'shouldn't use fulfilled prophecies to keep box scores.' He added, 'We've never had a perfect prophet or a perfect general authority.' When Mary Ann and I pointed out Joseph Smith's failed prediction of a temple being built in Missouri before those living in Smith's generation would pass away, Maxwell commented with a laugh, 'Maybe there was too much foretelling and not enough testifying.' Oaks observed, 'Prophecies are for private use and private application, more than they are for general Church application.' I asked if it was not problematic for a Church to be led by prophets who are making frequent mistakes in their prophesying. Oaks replied, 'In total, there aren't that many mistakes that have been made.' Of 5,000 prophecies, he said, 'only five haven't been fulfilled.' He then added, 'But we shouldn't be keeping track, anyway.' (Steve Benson, Conversations Behind the Mormon Curtain: A First-Person Account of Meetings Between LDS Apostles Dallin H. Oaks, Neal A. Maxwell, and Steve and Mary Ann Benson, November 21, 2002)

Michael Griffith made several points related to how prophecies can be misunderstood by others:

  1. "Almost all prophecy is conditional to one degree or another, even if this is not stated in the prophecy itself (which is often the case).
  2. In many cases human actions and choices can alter, postpone, or prevent the fulfillment of prophecy.
  3. A prophecy is not always telling us what will happen, but what could happen under certain circumstances.
  4. A prophet can misunderstand the timetable for a prophecy's fulfillment (this, of course, does not invalidate the prophecy itself).
  5. A prophet can be mistaken about certain details of a prophecy but correct with regard to its central message.
  6. A prophecy can apply to more than one occurrence or time period, i.e., it can have dual application.
  7. A prophecy's fulfillment can be intended to take place in the spirit world or during the millennium, even if this is not stated in the prophecy itself.
  8. The fulfillment of prophecy can go unobserved and/or unrecorded.
  9. A prophecy can contain rhetorical overstatements. For example, a prophecy might read that "every single house" in a certain town will be "leveled to the ground," when what is really meant is that the town will suffer heavy destruction.
  10. Such terms and expressions as "soon," "quickly," "in a little while," "shortly," etc., are often given from the Lord's perspective of time--so that "soon," for example, might turn out to be a very long time by our reckoning.
  11. The text of a prophecy can undergo alteration to the point that it no longer reflects the original intent of the prophecy." (Michael T. Griffith)