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The life and prophecies of
Joseph Smith
plus: what non-Mormons have said
"If there is any Church in this world that really believes that Jesus is the Christ, surely it is the Latter-day Saints. No Church has ever exalted him as has this Church. He is the head of the Church, literally... the Church bears his name; and there was no other Church in the world that bore his name when he committed it to this Church and commanded that the Church should be named after him. The whole premise of Mormonism is based upon the fact that the Father and the Son literally appeared to the Prophet Joseph Smith. They couldn't have done that if they were only an essence, everywhere present in the world. With that glorified body that Jesus took out of the tomb, he appeared to Joseph Smith, and if that thing did not actually transpire, we have no right to be assembled here in a conference claiming to be the Church of Jesus Christ. And if it did actually transpire then all the people of this world will ultimately have to accept of the work that he established through the Prophet that he raised up in this dispensation."
- LeGrand Richards, Conference Report, April 1953, p.73

See also:Where was Joseph Smith? (a map of his life) | 'Born Again Christian' FAQ | Religion in 1830

Who was Joseph Smith, and why did he matter?

Joseph Smith was born in 1805, in upstate New York, the son of a poor farmer. He had about three years' formal schooling (although he later studied a great deal for himself). He had a vision of God the Father and Jesus Christ in 1820. He translated the Book of Mormon in 1829, organized the church in 1830, and restored numerous teachings that have been lost since Bible times. He was killed by a mob in 1844, but by that time he had built the church up from nothing, laying the foundation for the eleven million strong (and growing) church of today. He founded a city, built temples, and did much else besides. He cannot be ignored. (See quotations at the bottom of this page.)


The prophecies of Joseph Smith

Joseph Smith was the first prophet of modern times. No other prophet (except for the Son of God himself) ever produced more scripture or achieved more. If we are interested in truth, we need to be interested in Joseph Smith.

Bible prophecies about Joseph Smith

The Bible gives many details of a "prophet who should come" - a great messenger of God in the last days. For details, and possibly even a record of his name, see the 101 prophecies section of this web site. The remainder of this page deals with prophecies made by, or reported by, Joseph Smith himself.

Prophecies fulfilled

A 'prophecy' is not just a prediction of the future, but any word from God. Many prophets - such as Moses or Peter - made very few predictive prophecies. However, people are usually interested in future predictions, so let us have a look at some recorded by Joseph Smith. The first such prophecy came in 1823:

Joseph Smith History 1:33
"He [the angel] called me by name, and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me, and that his name was Moroni; that God had a work for me to do; and that my name should be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues, or that it should be both good and evil spoken of among all people."

This was an astonishing prediction to make, since it required the whole of humanity to fulfil it. At the time, Joseph Smith was just an obscure farmer's son. But this prophecy, like so many others, has been literally fulfilled. Millions of people round the world, including myself, look to the prophet as a man of God. Millions of others (some of whom write to me!) denounce him as a fraud.

Was he a fraud? Or was he a true prophet? Let us look at the evidence.

It is easy to see some of the prophecies that have been fulfilled. They come in all shapes and sizes.

And if you think that making accurate predictions is easy (or even possible, without divine help), just try it! Or look at any of the other futurologists - they tend to be either vague (e.g. Nostradamus) or generally wrong (e.g. scientific policy makers). I have a copy of "The Book of Predictions", a serious book of predictions from numerous sources published in 1985. Already, most of the predictions are laughable.

Here, as in so much else, Joseph Smith did what other people could not do. He was a true prophet.


Criticisms of Joseph Smith

Critics, of course, will always look for some obscure statement that can be seen as a prophecy that was not fulfilled. They keep looking, and they have not found one yet. Actually, it should be possible to find some mistakes that Joseph Smith made, as he clearly said that he was only a prophet when he was speaking as such. But so far I have not found a single instance where he has been wrong.

When people do claim to find a false prophecy, they can only do so by pulling passages out of context and by applying rules that would condemn Jesus Christ himself.

The criticisms on this page all came from one person, but they represent the kind of thing I have seen from a number of different sources. (The fact that the author is unaware of the context of his quotes suggests that he is just repeating what others have said.)

"The Church Stands or Falls with Joseph Smith."

This part is true. But a lot of issues are impossible to prove either way, so it is often more practical to deal with other issues. In the case of particular questions about his life and work, many of these issues are already covered in web sites like www.mormons.org, www.jefflindsay.com, or www.shields-research.org, or on newsgroups such as alt.religion.mormon. I will cover issues that illustrate some point (in this case, the nature of prophecy), but this site is not designed to examine every individual accusation.

"Is there no salvation without accepting Joseph Smith?"

This is also true, but not in the way some people think. Salvation depends on accepting truth. However, we do not have to accept misleading or false versions of Joseph, and we do not have to accept everything all at once.

"But Acts 4:12 says, regarding Jesus Christ, "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved."

This question confuses two issues. Salvation is not in Joseph Smith, but a saved person does need to accept all truth. Joseph's mission is simply one more truth that we must accept if we are to be honest. I will turn the question round: Do you believe there is salvation if we reject Mathew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, and all the other Bible prophets? It is the exact same issue.

"If just one false prophecy can be proven Joseph Smith would be a false prophet."

But be careful before we jump to conclusions regarding what is a false prophecy. If we are too quick to judge, we must also reject the Bible. Whatever can be said against Joseph Smith, worse can be said against the Bible. See http://www.angelfire.com/on2/strike/ http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/, or http://www.angelfire.com/pa/greywlf/biblegod.html for starters

In truth, of course, there are many alternative explanations.


Alleged false prophecies

People come up with various attempts to prove Joseph Smith to be a false prophet. But they always fail because the critics generally ignore the context, and they seldom understand the nature of prophecy. Many such critics are born-again Christians, which is strange, since their arguments would demolish the Bible before they damaged Joseph Smith.

The following example is chosen because:

  1. It is often cited by critics.
  2. It illustrates many of the common pitfalls.
  3. It contains not one, but four allegedly false prophecies!

The background to Doctrine and Covenants section 137 is recorded in the History of the Church (HC) volume 2. But the HC includes extra material which is not included in section 137. Some of it reads:

"And I also beheld that all children who die before they arrive at the years of accountability, are saved in the celestial kingdom of heaven. 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 feet swollen, with their eyes cast downward, and Jesus standing in their midst, and they did not behold Him. The Savior 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 about 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."

Alleged false prophecy # 1:
"This shows the 12 apostles in the Celestial kingdom, yet some of them later left the church"

No, Smith claimed to see 'The Twelve." "The Twelve" refers to the quorum, and not the individual members. The members come and go, but the quorum remains the same. To a traditional Christian, who does not accept the Bible teaching that the twelve apostles were to continue, this does indeed create a problem. But such a person has an even greater problem with the New Testament (Luke 22:14, 28-30, at the Last Supper):

"And when the hour was come, he sat down, and the twelve apostles with him. ... [and he said] Ye are they which have continued with me in my temptations. And I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me; That ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel."

This teaching is repeated with more detail, in Matthew 19:28:

"And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel."

Jesus knew that Judas would betray him. Judas is elsewhere portrayed as following Satan. Yet Jesus said that those twelve would sit on twelve thrones and judge the twelve tribes of Israel! The Book of Revelation is even more clear (Revelation 21:14) "And the wall of the city [heaven] had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb."

If you condemn Joseph Smith for referring to 'the twelve' you must reject Jesus on the same grounds.

Alleged false prophecy # 2:
"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!"

It is understandable that people who reject living prophets would not understand prophecy - they had the same difficulty with accepting Jesus, 2000 years ago. But in this particular case we do not have much excuse. If we look at the context of this passage, the answer is obvious. I will now quote the parts that the critics conveniently miss out (HC 2:381-382).:

"At early candle-light I met with the Presidency at the west school room, in the Temple, to attend to the ordinance of anointing our heads with holy oil; also the Councils of Kirtland and Zion met in the two adjoining rooms, and waited in prayer while we attended to the ordinance. ...

"We then laid our hands upon our aged Father Smith, and invoked the blessings of heaven. I then anointed his head with the consecrated oil, and sealed many blessings upon him. The Presidency then in turn laid their hands upon his head, beginning at the oldest, until they had all laid their hands upon him, and pronounced such blessings upon his head, as the Lord put into their hearts, all blessing him to be our Patriarch, to anoint our heads, and attend to all duties that pertain to that office. The Presidency then took the seat in their turn, according to their age, beginning at the oldest, and received their anointing and blessing under the hands of Father Smith. And in my turn, my father anointed my head, and sealed upon me the blessings of Moses, to lead Israel in the latter days, even as Moses led him in days of old; also the blessings of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. All of the Presidency laid their hands upon me, and pronounced upon my head many prophecies and blessings, many of which I shall not notice at this time. But as Paul said, so say I, let us come to visions and revelations.

[Joseph then reports one of these prophecies and blessings, referring to the great work of the apostles and the promise of the celestial kingdom].

"The Bishop of Kirtland with his Counselors, and the Bishop of Zion with his Counselors, were present with us, and received their anointings under the hands of Father Smith, and this was confirmed by the Presidency, and the glories of heaven were unfolded to them also.

"We then invited the High Councilors of Kirtland and Zion into our room, and President Hyrum Smith anointed the head of the President of the Councilors in Kirtland, and President David Whitmer the head of the President of the Councilors of Zion. The President of each quorum then anointed the heads of his colleagues, each in his turn, beginning at the oldest."

And so the passage continues.

Anyone with any experience of the church will recognize this as a "patriarchal blessing." Every member of the church is entitled to one, although they are not usually this dramatic! The key fact of a patriarchal blessing is that all the blessings and promises are dependent on the righteousness of the member concerned. If the person does not remain faithful, the promises are withheld. I have received my own patriarchal blessing, and I also received promises. Like millions of others, I can confirm that, insofar as I have remained faithful, the promises have all been fulfilled. Just as they were fulfilled in the lives of those members of the quorum of twelve in Joseph Smith's day who remained faithful.

We do not have to look in the history books to see prophecy at work in the church!

Often, prophecies are fulfilled in miraculous ways. For example, my own patriarchal blessing says certain specific things about sharing the gospel. At the time (1985) I could not see how they could be fulfilled, as I am not a naturally sociable person and do not chat easily. I prefer to have my head buried in a book. How could I be happy as a missionary? But the Lord must have known about the Internet, because here I am, buried in books, and talking with thousands of people about the church! Prophecy is a wonderful thing.

Alleged false prophecy # 3:
"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."

Has this critic never read church history? Are there no maps in his house? This prophecy was given in Kirtland, near the northern tip of Ohio, by Lake Erie. Almost every inch of Utah, as well as the pioneer trail west, is south of this place. Brigham Young spent most of his life in what was then Indian Territory, far away "to the south and west" of Kirtland. He sometimes traveled further south to the outlying pioneer settlements, and often met native Americans - men of color. Given the times that Brigham experienced the gift of tongues, as well as his ability to speak plainly, using idioms that his audience would understand, this prophecy must have been fulfilled many times over.

Alleged false prophecy # 4:
"Zion (Independence, MO.) was never redeemed, and has never been redeemed in the 150+ years since the prophecy was made."

This point is confused over the meaning of the word "Zion" in church history. The Doctrine and Covenants explains that 'Zion' refers to the people who are pure in heart (Doctrine and Covenants 97:21, Moses 7:18, etc.). Jackson County is only referred to as Zion because it is their eventual inheritance. Thus, the geographical label is only a secondary meaning. So usually, as in the passage in question, Zion refers to the people, not the place.

Two years before 1836 (when the passage in question was written), the Lord made clear that the church would have to wait and go somewhere else before finishing at Jackson County. See Doctrine and Covenants 101:17-18, which explains the doctrine of "redeeming Zion." It finishes by saying (verse 100) "Nevertheless, I do not say they shall not dwell thereon; for inasmuch as they bring forth fruit and works meet for my kingdom they shall dwell thereon." The need to keep the commandments in order to inherit the land is further emphasized in section 103 (verses 1, 29, etc.) The sad fact is that the church did not live up to all the standards necessary, so it was not ready (and is still not ready) to inherit the lands promised: Doctrine and Covenants 105:9 (also received before the passage in question):

"Therefore, in consequence of the transgressions of my people, it is expedient in me that mine elders should wait for a little season for the redemption of Zion"

Once again, if you reject Joseph Smith (because members had to wait over 150 years for their lands of inheritance), you have to reject the Bible first - the Jews had to wait nearly 2000 years for their promises to be fulfilled!

The critic's conclusion:
"Is it any wonder that the Brethren chose to remove whole chunks of this revelation?"

They were very wise to do so! These criticisms show that many readers obviously do not read their Bibles or church history, so they have to be spoon-fed a simplified version. They are not ready for anything stronger.


Statements from non-Mormons scholars

"It is by no means improbable that some future textbook, for the use of generations yet unborn, will contain a question something like this: What historical American of the nineteenth century has exerted the most powerful influence upon the destiny of his countrymen? And it is by no means impossible that the answer to that interrogatory may be thus written: Joseph Smith, the Mormon prophet. And the reply, absurd as it doubtless seems to most men now living, may be an obvious commonplace to their descendants."

- From 'Figures of the Past' by Josiah Quincy, former mayor of Boston (1926 ed., p. 317.)

"Let anyone, even a literary genius, after forty years of life, try to write a companion volume to the Book of Mormon, and then almost daily for a number of years give out `revelations' that internally harmonize one with another at the same time formulate a system of doctrine for a Church, introduce many new principles, resuscitate extinct priesthoods, and formulate a system of Church government which has no superior upon earth... to deny such a man a wonderful power over the human heart and intellect is absurd. Only fanatical prejudice can ignore it. However he may be accounted for by the reasoning mind, Joseph Smith, the Mormon Prophet, was one of the wonders of his time."

- George Wharton James, quoted by Alvin R. Dyer, in Conference Report, October 1959, p.21

"The Mormon people teach the American religion; their principles teach the people not only of Heaven and its attendant glories, but how to live so that their social and economic relations with each other are placed on a sound basis. If the people follow the teachings of this Church, nothing can stop their progress--it will be limitless. There have been great movements started in the past but they have died or been modified before they reached maturity. If Mormonism is able to endure, unmodified, until it reaches the third and fourth generations, it is destined to become the greatest power the world has ever known."

- Count Leo Tolstoi, quoted in A Marvelous Work and a Wonder, p. 435–36

"Whatever his lapses, Smith was an authentic religious genius, unique in our national history."

- Harold Bloom, "The American Religion: The Emergence of the Post-Christian Nation"
(New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992), p. 82

"I also do not find it possible to doubt that Joseph Smith was an authentic prophet. Where in all of American history can we find his match? . . . In proportion to his importance and his complexity, [Joseph Smith] remains the least-studied personage, of an undiminished vitality, in our entire national saga."

- ibid, p. 95

"If there is already in place any authentic version of the American Religion then, as Tolstoy surmised, it must be Mormonism, whose future as yet may prove decisive for the nation, and for more than this nation alone."

- ibid p. 97

"Joseph's teachings provide solutions for most, if not all, of the genuine problems and contradictions of the Bible with which scholars have wrestled for generations"

- Heikki Raisanen, Finnish theologian, quoted in Edwin O. Haroldsen,
"Good and Evil Spoken Of," unpublished article (quoted in Powerful Truths).

[After calculating that church membership would be 265 million by the year 2080:] "We are observing an extraordinarily rare event. After a hiatus [or break] of fourteen hundred years, in our time a new world faith seems to be stirring"

- Rodney Stark, "Modernization and Mormon Growth: The Secularization Thesis Revisited,"
in "Contemporary Mormonism: Social Science Perspectives"
eds. Marie Cornwall, Tim B. Heaton, and Lawrence A. Young
[Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois, 1994], p. 13, 22
see also "The Rise of a New World Faith,"
Review of Religious Research 26, no. 1 [September 1984]: 18–27).


Conclusion

Gordon B. Hinckley on Joseph Smith

"I am grateful, my brethren and sisters, for the breadth of this kingdom. My testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith has been strengthened by the manner in which this work has spread over the earth. I think of the statement made by Moroni in 1823 to an unknown farm boy in western New York that his 'name should be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues.' (JSH 1:33.) I think of the word of the Lord to the Prophet in the loneliness of Liberty Jail: 'The ends of the earth shall inquire after thy name, and fools shall have thee in derision, and hell shall rage against thee; While the pure in heart, and the wise, and the noble, and the virtuous, shall seek counsel, and authority, and blessings constantly from under thy hand.' (D&C 122:1-2.)

"My brethren and sisters, I have witnessed the fulfillment of these marvelous promises. ...

"I marvel at, and am grateful, for the breadth of the kingdom, its spread over the world, and I know that the end is not yet-that this stone which was cut out of the mountain without hands, as the prophet foretold, shall roll forth and fill the earth, touching the hearts and lives of the virtuous and the wise and the pure in heart, wherever it is taught- for it is the kingdom of our God.

"Secondly, as I am grateful for the breadth of the kingdom, I am likewise grateful for the depth of its teaching. To spread laterally is one thing. To grow in 'the third dimension of religion,' as one writer put it, is another.

"I think we witnessed in these temples that third dimension. I shall never forget the testimony of a young man who had come from Perth on the west coast of Australia. He and his wife and children had traveled across Australia, a distance approximately as great as from San Francisco to New York, and then across the Tasman Sea to New Zealand. He said they had to sell their furniture, their car, their dishes, and many other of their prized possessions, but, he said, as he looked at his wife and their lovely children, he knew these were more precious than car, furniture, or china. By hard work and careful saving he could replace his worldly goods, but he could never afford to lose those he loved.

"And so they had come, with a sustaining conviction in their hearts that life, love, and family may all be eternal under the plan of the Lord. And as they kneeled about the altar of the temple and were bound together under the authority of the Holy Priesthood in an imperishable relationship, one glimpsed the great, eternal purposes of God-the everlasting verities that transcend in beauty and satisfaction the thin values by which most men gauge their lives."

- Gordon B. Hinckley, Conference Report, October 1958, p.12

The bottom line:

The more I learn about Joseph Smith, the more I respect him. He was a great, great man, and an eye witness of the resurrected Jesus Christ.

 

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