Failed Prophecies of Joseph Smith

Failed Prophecies of Joseph Smith

Copyright © 1997 Institute for Religious Research. All rights reserved.

Joseph Smith bore many titles in his lifetime, Elder, Seer, President, Mayor, even Lieutenant General, but he is probably best known as the Prophet. And prophesy he did, often with great passion, invoking the powers of heaven and the name of God. What follows are seven prophecies of Joseph Smith, notable for their specificity and appeal to divine authority. These are taken from official Mormon sources - either the 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 (Mormon). Each are given in context and cited directly from the original source. Where they are known, subsequent historical events relevant to the prophecy are noted.

"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." - Deuteronomy 18:21-22

Prophecy # 1 - The Coming of the Lord

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).

This prophecy was spoken by Joseph Smith in 1835, and recorded by Oliver Cowdery. The fifty-six years were passed by 1891. 

Prophecy # 2 - David W. Patten to 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)

This prophecy was made on April 17, 1838. David W. Patten died in October of 1838 and thus never went on a mission the following spring.

Prophecy # 3 - The United States Government to be overthrown in 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).

Joseph Smith made this prophecy in May 6, 1843. However, the United States Government did not redress any of the wrongs committed against the Mormons in Missouri, and now over 150 years later, the U.S. Government still stands.

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. See also History of the Church (HC), vol. 6, p. 116, though when this prediction was incorporated into the official history, Mormon Church leaders decided to leave out the "grease spot" part.)

The petition was not heard nor was protection granted (Deseret News, Vol. 1, p. 59). Yet, Congress was never broken up and continues to function to this day. It is interesting that the compilers of History of the Church, added an editorial note in an attempt to soften or explain this prophecy. They state that: "This prediction doubtless has reference to the party in power; to the ‘government’ considered as the administration;" (note, p. 116). According to the note in HC, this means the Democratic Party, which was in control at the time. However, the prediction is that "Congress shall be broken up as a government" and Congress is made up of representatives from both parties. The Saints were making an appeal to the General Government, not to the Democratic Party, a point made by a summary statement in the left margin beside this prophecy as it is recorded in HC.

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 labors 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.

No treasure was ever discovered, nor did Salem ever fell into the hands of the Mormons.

Prophecy #6 - Pestilence, Hail, Famine & Earthquake to 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 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).

Such a widespread destruction of the wicked of that generation never occurred.

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.

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.

Testing Prophetic Claims

Over the last 200 years a number of people have claimed to be religious prophets with special spiritual authority from God. These include Charles Taze Russell (Jehovah’s Witnesses), Ellen G. White (Seventh-day Adventists), Mary Baker Eddy (Christian Science), and Joseph Smith (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). Each started an organization which claimed to be the one true Christian Church, each had unique teachings, and each appealed to the Bible to some degree as their basis for spiritual authority. Yet, each "prophet’s" teachings contradict those of the others.

How can we test a person like Joseph Smith who claims to be a prophet?

Jesus warned in Matthew 7:15 that many false prophets would come, and several other places warn us about false prophets and spiritual deception (2 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). We should not be surprised, therefore, to discover that there are false prophets in the world today.

A specific biblical test. The Bible, in Deuteronomy chapters 13 and 18, provides 2 tests for anyone claiming to be a prophet and speak for God. If the person fails either test given by God, then we can know for sure they are a false prophet and we are to reject their teaching. Here we will focus on the test found in 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.

Here the God of Israel tells his people how they can keep from being deceived by someone claiming to be a prophet - if even one of the prophet’s prophecies do not come true he is a false prophet. What was the punishment if a prophet did speak a false prophecy? According to verse 20 the prophet was to die. So God takes the area of false prophecy very seriously.

Joseph Smith's false prophecies in the name of the Lord constitute one of the single greatest objections to his claim to be a latter-day prophet of God.
 


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