Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Was Joseph Smith a False Prophet?

One of the unique characteristics that Christianity has to verify its truthfulness and legitimacy is prophecy. Prophecy is commonly defined as something along the lines of “The foretelling of the future through a direct revelation from God” and the one who does this foretelling is referred to as a Prophet. But how does one test the legitimacy of a messenger of God? Was Nostradamus a prophet? What about the fortune teller that lives down the street? How does one know? Well since it is very easy for someone to say “…thus says the Lord” and claim it is a word of prophecy, the Bible has in place some very strict criteria for determining a true prophet of God from a phony. Perhaps the clearest verses regarding the testing of a prophet can be found in Deuteronomy 18:20-22 which reads:

'But the prophet who speaks a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die. You may say in your heart, 'How will we know the word which the Lord has not spoken? When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.”

Did you see that part about “that prophet shall die”? Remember this was a culture that didn’t have 16 years of appeals in the court system. God instituted this harsh punishment in order to make people think twice before speaking on behalf of God. If the person didn’t have a 100% success rate, that person was killed immediately. The Mormon text “Doctrines and Covenants” also has a statement on prophecy. D&C 1:37 states “Search these commandments, for they are true and faithful, and the prophecies and promises which are in them shall all be fulfilled.” Notice that phrase “all be fulfilled.” That will be important in a minute.

Joseph Smith claimed to be a prophet of God and he made many prophecies as such. The problem is that most of them didn’t come true and due to specific dates or people involved, many of them will never be able to come true. Now remember, according to God (who is the one giving the prophecy to the prophet) all it takes is for 1 prophecy not to come true and that person is branded as a false prophet. I have found a list which compiles well over 50 prophecies made by Smith (with citation) that never came true. (For the complete list Click Here). I’ve listed four of my favorites below:

Dec 16, 1833. Doctrines & Covenants 101:17-20 Zion (Missouri) shall not be moved out of its place; the Saints will receive their inheritance there, and there is no other place than Missouri appointed by God for the gathering of the Saints.

FULFILLMENT: History shows us that not only were the Mormons removed from Missouri but today we can see them as having established their headquarters in Salt Lake City Utah. Why are they in Utah today if God appointed the state of Missouri for them?

Feb 14, 1835. History of the Church 2:182. Joseph Smith preached that the coming of the Lord would be in 56 years (i.e., about 1891). This prophecy also occurs in his diary for April 6, 1843 and HC 5:336. See also D&C 130:14-17. Joseph Smith prophesies that "there of those of the rising generation who shall not taste death till Christ comes." He prophesies "in the name of the Lord God - let it be written: that the Son of Man will not come in the heavens till I am 85 years old, 48 years hence or about 1890." (The official historians have deleted the last phrase, beginning with "48 years" from the church history, but it is contained in the original diary.) The version in D&C 130 is phrased negatively, i.e., Christ will not come before 1890. It is also made conditional on Joseph Smith living to the age of 85. Joseph Smith says (v 16) that it might merely mean that if he lives to 85 he will go where Christ is, and therefore see his face. But that interpretation would not make sense if the revelation is in response to Joseph Smith's inquiry about the time of the second coming (v 14).

FULFILLMENT: The second coming did not occur about 1891, and the Church does not claim that it did. Nor has it occurred since. Joseph Smith did not live to be 85 years old. God must have known that he would not. Why would God make a revelation conditional upon an event which he knew would never happen?

April 23, 1834. Doctrines & Covenants 104: 78-83. God's promise to deliver the Saints from their debts. "It is my will that you shall pay all your debts." The Lord will soften the hearts of their creditors.

FULFILLMENT: Joseph Smith and other prominent Mormons had to flee Kirtland (Missouri) to avoid their creditors, leaving debts of thousands of dollars unpaid. Smith ultimately filed bankruptcy.

Feb 6, 1844. Joseph Smith prophesies that within five years the Mormons would be able to live without cooking their food. (Joseph Smith manuscript diary, omitted from the History of the Church. Cited in D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy, Salt Lake City, 1994, p. 642).

FULFILLMENT: The Mormons are still cooking their food.

Now we only looked at four of them, but I think you get the idea. According to the standard set forth in the Bible and in Doctrines and Covenants Joseph Smith does not meet the standards of a prophet of God.

Another issue that questions Smith’s credentials as a prophet of God is the famous Book of Abraham translation. It’s a long story but basically Smith translated some Egyptian hieroglyphic scrolls in 1835 (remember at this time scientists hadn’t yet cracked the code of hieroglyphics). He stated that these scrolls were the Book of Abraham and the Book of Joseph which later became Mormon Scripture and part of the Pearl of Great Price. The scrolls were then lost and found again in 1967. By this time Egyptologists could translate hieroglyphics. What they found was astonishing. These scrolls were “common Egyptian funeral scrolls, entirely pagan in nature, having nothing to do with Abraham, and from a period 2000 years later than Abraham. The "Grammar" has been said by Egyptologists to prove that Smith had no notion of the Egyptian language. It is pure fantasy: he made it up” (If you’d like more information Click Here). So as we have seen so far. Joseph Smith does not meet God’s or his own standards for a prophet and he lied about his abilities from God.

I could go on and on about other aspects of Joseph Smith’s character (i.e. he had been tried and convicted of fortune telling) but in the interest of time and space I cannot. I feel that I have presented a reasonable case (considering the limited space with which to work) against Joseph Smith. However, in the interest of fairness I shall let him speak for himself. In closing, I will leave you with a quote from Joseph Smith himself:

I have more to boast of than ever any man had. I am the only man that has ever been able to keep a whole church together since the days of Adam. A large majority of the whole have stood by me. Neither Paul, John, Peter, nor Jesus ever did it. I boast that no man ever did such a work as I, The followers of Jesus ran away from Him, but the Latter-day Saints never ran away from me ye.

--History of the Church Vol. 6, pp.408-9

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