Revelation Overview, Part 2: Joseph Smith's Revelations

In the first part of our overviews on revelation, I covered the idea of backdating prophecy and how the Book of Mormon uses backdated prophecies that allow scholars to date the text to Joseph Smith’s lifetime as it contains specific events all the way up until 1829 and then suddenly gets vague with future prophecies.

To me that is incredibly important to understanding how revelation and prophecy work in the church, because once you begin to deconstruct it, then the pieces of the puzzle begin to fit together and we no longer need apologetics to tell us why these problems are not really problems and that the puzzle was never actually meant to be put together in the first place.

As both an investigator and member, I was taught about some of the revelations Joseph Smith had, often actualizing those revelations in order to make them not just relevant to the church today, but to find ways to fulfill them. This also helped to build up our testimonies of the current leaders of the church, because the mantle had rested on them to guide us in these latter days.

It wasn’t until I began having problems with polygamy that I began questioning revelation. At that point I still was not aware of any of the more specific incidents with polygamy nor did I have any idea of the ways Joseph Smith proposed to his young brides, but it began to resonate with me that there were huge problems with the idea of revelations being used to get members to surrender their moral compass.

Once I began looking into the history of revelations in the church, it quickly became clear that the revelations given by Joseph Smith were entirely based on the ideas and influences around him, much as I covered in the last overview with backdated prophecies in the Book of Mormon, the Word of Wisdom, and even the Civil War prophecy. In addition to Joseph Smith using ideas that were around him, he often used revelations to convince those around him to do what he was wanting them to do because the voice of God was much more powerful than Joseph Smith himself asking for such gigantic requests such as early members giving their money, property, and even their wife or daughter in marriage to Joseph.

After I began to see the patterns in Joseph Smith’s revelations, I then started to look at how prophets since Joseph used revelation, and clearly they do not use it in the same way that Joseph Smith produced them. While Joseph could dictate the 3,200 word D&C 132 on polygamy off the top of his head in the voice of God, most prophets since rarely, if ever, speak in the voice of God for a revelation, and my personal speculation is because these prophets do not feel comfortable doing so.

My favorite example of this is a story that is included in Saints chapter 13, which is at the time they were planning to compile the Book of Commandments. From Saints:


“Others in the room were still reluctant to publish the revelations in their current form. They knew Joseph was a prophet, and they knew the revelations were true, but they were embarrassed that the word of the Lord had come to them filtered through Joseph’s limited vocabulary and weak grammar…

The Lord did not share their concern. In His preface, He had testified that the revelations came from Him, given to His servants “in their weakness, after the manner of their language.” To help the men know the revelations came from Him, He issued a new revelation, challenging the council to select the wisest man in the room to write a revelation like the ones Joseph had received.

If the man selected for the task was unable to do it, everyone in the room would know and be responsible to testify that the Lord’s revelations to Joseph were true, despite their imperfections.

Taking up a pen, William tried to write a revelation, confident in his mastery of language. When he finished, though, he and the other men in the room knew what he had written had not come from the Lord. They admitted their error and signed a statement testifying that the revelations had been given to the prophet by the inspiration of God.” (Saints, Chapter 13)

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This story has been spun as a faith promoting story because no one else could write a revelation that was believable as being from God, but it really misses the point. There are a lot of problems with this story, with the obvious one being that if everyone knows it is an attempt to write a revelation, they are not going to receive that feeling of warmth while reading it that they would feel if they did not know it was effectively pseudepigrapha. There is a reason that Joseph Smith’s proposals to young women did not carry the same impact that telling them that God revealed that they were given to Joseph by God, and this carries the same problem.

It would not be hard for anyone who studies Joseph Smith's revelations to replicate his voice and writing style when creating new revelations, but in a meeting such as this everyone knows ahead of time which one is the placebo and that makes the experiment instantly designed to succeed in Joseph's favor, which is again an outgrowth of Joseph Smith using his charisma and cleverness to create an equation that will always work in his favor. This is the same reason that Oliver Cowdery’s attempts to translate the Book of Mormon failed (D&C 9), because Joseph Smith was in control of the situation and, in the voice of God, convinces Oliver that only Joseph Smith was meant to translate.

I also believe this is why you rarely see a revelation dictated from God after Joseph Smith’s death, because it takes someone who is willing to speak in the voice of God to pull it off, and this story from Saints illustrates how Joseph Smith used this to bolster his authority while most others did not feel comfortable even trying to do so.

The reason I wanted to spend time on this story at the beginning is because I think it’s a perfect illustration as to why there is no real revelation in the modern church after Joseph Smith, and why the changes we see today are not revelation from God, but men that have risen to the power to make the changes they always wanted to do.

But don’t take my word for it. Wendy Nelson, the second wife of the current (at the time of these overviews) prophet, Russell M. Nelson, put it this way:


“It is as though he's been unleashed. He's free to finally do what he came to earth to do. … And also, he's free to follow through with things he's been concerned about but could never do. Now that he's president of [the Church], he can do those things.”  (Latter-day Saint Prophet, Wife and Apostle Share Insights of Global Ministry)


This one quote from Wendy Nelson tells you everything you ever needed to know about revelation in the church and a whole lot more. What Wendy Nelson is telling you is that the prophet of the church is going to implement the things they always wanted to do but lacked the power to actually push through previously.

What she is telling you is that the prophets of this church are not unleashed to hear true revelations from God, but to lead the church in the way they have always wanted to but simply lacked the authority to do. This is important, because it completely undercuts the idea that as prophet you are receiving direct revelations from God as Joseph Smith claimed and leaders today constantly imply, but that you are bringing your desires as a man to implement in the voice and/or name of God.

I will be referring back to the quote throughout these overviews on revelation, because it might be the most unintentionally honest statement about revelation in the church that I have ever seen, and it fits with Russell M. Nelson’s time as prophet absolutely perfectly.

Now that I’ve gone through a brief introduction to revelation in the church, I want to look at the revelations from Joseph Smith and what they tell us about their origin and desired outcomes.


Joseph Smith and the Uses of Revelation


I want to quickly go over a few of the ways that Joseph Smith used revelations and to point out a few examples of each. Some of these examples will have some overlap from previous overviews, and I will try to keep those short with links to refer back to the overview pages they were already covered in, but it’s important to outline how Joseph Smith seemed to use the power of revelation to get what he wanted/needed from the early members who believed he was a prophet of God.


Convince Others to Accept Difficult Commands


As I’ve tried to be upfront with throughout these overviews, I am writing under the belief that Joseph Smith is the author of the Book of Mormon and thus is also the author of his claimed revelations from God. I want to be clear about this because I am approaching these revelations from an evidentiary standpoint and not one that comes from filling in the gaps with the divine.

With that being said, I believe that if you look at the revelations, you can see a sustained pattern of Joseph Smith using the voice of God to get members to do what Joseph Smith wants to get done. Because we have a lot of revelations recorded by Joseph Smith, I am going to briefly summarize some examples below where Joseph Smith uses the voice of God to get members to submit to his requests.


Convincing Martin Harris to Fund the Book of Mormon


When Joseph Smith needed Martin Harris to provide more money to get the Book of Mormon printed, Harris was being also pressured by his suspecting wife Lucy that Joseph Smith was not a prophet. Joseph Smith then claimed a prompt revelation instructing Martin Harris to sell whatever he needed to sell and give the money to Joseph or face eternal damnation:


"Therefore I command you to repent—repent, lest I smite you by the rod of my mouth, and by my wrath, and by my anger, and your sufferings be sore—how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not… And again, I command thee that thou shalt not covet thine own property, but impart it freely to the printing of the Book of Mormon…" (D&C 19:15&26)


This is a perfect example of Joseph Smith knowing that using the voice of God would be more effective to get his desires fulfilled than asking as a man, and Martin Harris did indeed provide Joseph Smith with money after this revelation.


Polygamy


I wrote three overview sections on polygamy, so I don’t want to rehash all of it here, but we have many instances where Joseph Smith used direct revelation from God to convince the young women to marry and have sex with him as polygamous brides. Furthermore, Joseph Smith’s “Happiness Letter” makes clear that revelation is seeking your desires:


"If we seek first the kingdom of God, all good things will be added. So with Solomon; first he asked wisdom, and God gave it him, and with it every desire of his heart; even things which might be considered abominable to all who understand the order of Heaven only in part, but which, in reality, were right, because God gave and sanctioned by special revelation."


What Joseph Smith is stating here is that it was Joseph who asked of his “desire” to have polygamy and then used that idea of revelation to pressure these young women to accept, and with that pressure was the promise of exaltation for her and her family if she accepts, or the gates forever being closed if she did not.

By the time Joseph Smith was using these revelations on the young women for polygamy, he had already been experimenting with how to use revelation on members for over a decade. Just as in Joseph’s treasure digging days, he knew what worked and what did not work, and the Happiness Letter gives a fairly detailed roadmap as to how Joseph Smith used revelation and justified his actions in doing so. If you have not read our write-up on the Happiness Letter yet, I cannot recommend it strongly enough as I believe it is one of the most important areas of Mormonism to understanding Joseph Smith, polygamy, and revelation.

Beyond the Happiness Letter, we have many instances where Joseph Smith claims revelations to get these young women to believe they were specifically chosen or given to Joseph Smith by God himself. While these do not appear in the Doctrine and Covenants, likely because Joseph Smith would not want to write them down for obvious reasons, we have many accounts:


Nancy Marinda Hyde


As I covered with the Happiness Letter, Joseph Smith gave a revelation to Nancy Marinda Hyde after sending her husband, Orson Hyde, on a mission to Jerusalem. This revelation included the following:


“and let my handmaid Nancy Marinda Hyde hearken to the counsel of my servant Joseph in all things whatsoever he shall teach unto her, and it shall be a blessing upon her and upon her children after her, unto her justification, saith the Lord." (December 1841 Revelation)


Joseph Smith would take Nancy as a polygamous wife, and Nancy would then help Joseph Smith recruit other wives such as the attempt with Nancy Rigdon. While we do not have evidence that Joseph and Nancy Marinda Hyde had sexual relations, it doesn’t change the fact that Joseph Smith used revelations to convince her to throw her moral compass to the side in the name of God.


Lucy Walker


One of the more tragic stories is Lucy Walker, a young girl who had lost her mother when Joseph Smith sent her father on a mission and brought Lucy into his home. Lucy talked about how “The Prophet and his wife introduced us as their daughters,” and yet in the same year that Joseph Smith sent her father away, he proposed to her:


“In the year 1842, President Joseph Smith sought an interview with me, and said: “I have a message for you. I have been commanded of God to take another wife, and you are the woman.” My astonishment knew no bounds. This announcement was indeed a thunderbolt to me. He asked me if I believed him to be a prophet of God. “Most assuredly I do,” I replied.” (Lyman Omer Littlefield, Reminiscences of Latter-day Saints: Giving an Account of Much Individual Suffering Endured for Religious Conscience, p. 46-48)


Again, just look at how Joseph Smith uses revelation to convince these women that God specifically chose them to be his polygamous brides. These is no qualifier here – the direct implication is that Joseph Smith was told by God that Lucy Walker was to be his bride.

Knowing how many issues Joseph Smith got wrong in the name of God during his time as a self proclaimed prophet whether it was the literalness of Bible stories, the Book of Abraham, or who the Lamanites are, how are we to now believe that Joseph Smith was receiving true revelation in this case? This is exactly where Occam’s Razor tells us that Joseph Smith was using his authority to coerce women to marry and have sex with him, and he knew by this point that using revelation from God was the easiest way to get members to submit to his desires.


Zina Huntington Jacobs
 

The story of Zina Huntington Jacobs is a horrifying one, but again it begins with Joseph Smith using revelation and visions to take her from her legally married husband Henry. After Zina refused Joseph’s proposal and married Henry Jacobs, Joseph Smith still wouldn’t let her go and cited the ‘angel with a drawn sword’ vision to increase the pressure. From Zina:


“He sent word to me by my brother, saying, ‘Tell Zina, I put it off and put it off till an angel with a drawn sword stood by me and told me if I did not establish that principle upon the earth I would lose my position and my life.’” (Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, p. 659)


Again, I just don’t know what more to say here, and I cover these accounts and more in the polygamy overviews. The point is that Joseph Smith used revelation to get these young women to throw away their own conscious and to do something that went against their moral compass because they believed it was from God. I feel so awful for these women knowing that they did it all for nothing, and this is why I cannot accept the idea that Joseph Smith, even if he the author of the Book of Mormon, was a good man.

If you would like to read more about how Joseph Smith used revelation in polygamy, I would encourage you to read our overviews and, if you really want to get deep into it, check out the Year of Polygamy podcast series.

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Funding the Nauvoo House


Similar to how Joseph Smith received a revelation to tell Martin Harris to sell his property to fund the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith received a detailed revelation to show just how interested God was in business matters when it came to funding the Nauvoo House in D&C 124:

 

63 And they shall form a constitution, whereby they may receive stock for the building of that house.

64 And they shall not receive less than fifty dollars for a share of stock in that house, and they shall be permitted to receive fifteen thousand dollars from any one man for stock in that house.

65 But they shall not be permitted to receive over fifteen thousand dollars stock from any one man.

66 And they shall not be permitted to receive under fifty dollars for a share of stock from any one man in that house.

67 And they shall not be permitted to receive any man, as a stockholder in this house, except the same shall pay his stock into their hands at the time he receives stock;

68 And in proportion to the amount of stock he pays into their hands he shall receive stock in that house; but if he pays nothing into their hands he shall not receive any stock in that house.

69 And if any pay stock into their hands it shall be for stock in that house, for himself, and for his generation after him, from generation to generation, so long as he and his heirs shall hold that stock, and do not sell or convey the stock away out of their hands by their own free will and act, if you will do my will, saith the Lord your God.


As a believing member, this was never a revelation I ever remember reading and there’s a good reason for it. This is absolutely jarring to read now, because it puts the voice of God as effectively a financial advisor setting terms for selling stock in a business.

I don’t even know what to do with this other than to say that this revelation shows again that Joseph Smith is using the voice of God to get early followers to fund the Nauvoo House because the voice of God giving financial commandments is much more effective than Joseph Smith trying to raise funds on his own.

This revelation even has the “saith the Lord your God” after giving verse after verse detailing exact amounts of money that the shares will be sold for, the limit of what each member can pay per share, and to make sure that the cheapskates that can’t pony up $50 aren’t considered in the effort.

It doesn’t even end from the verses I cited above – the funding revelation continues well beyond verse 69. Some of the verses are even more problematic:


83 If he will do my will let him not take his family unto the eastern lands, even unto Kirtland; nevertheless, I, the Lord, will build up Kirtland, but I, the Lord, have a scourge prepared for the inhabitants thereof.


Joseph Smith here is claiming that Kirtland would have a “scourge” following the Saints having to leave which did not happen. Just as Joseph Smith claimed God would protect the Saints in Missouri, in reality his revelations did not come to pass, because Joseph Smith was not in control of the situation.

Reading this now I just want to laugh because it’s so silly to think of God sitting there jotting down calculations to finance the Nauvoo House, but if you believe Joseph Smith is truly receiving revelation that’s what you have to imagine. Now that I’m on the other side of belief in the church, this is just a very telling revelation that illustrates exactly how Joseph Smith used the voice of God to get members to do what he desired.


Finding a Way Out of a Difficult Situation


In addition to using revelation to get others to do what Joseph Smith wants done, revelations also provided Joseph Smith a way out of a difficult situation with the most conveniently-timed revelations. While they might seem a bit snarky, once you start to see the patterns it becomes impossible to unsee them.


Lost 116 Pages


When Martin Harris lost the original 116 pages after Lucy Harris wanted to them for surety that Joseph was a prophet, Joseph Smith was able to use revelation in the voice of God to find a way out of this massive problem. As we discussed in the lost 116 pages overview, in D&C 10, God tells Joseph not to re-translate the original 116 pages as Lucy wanted ‘because evil people would prove him a fraud by altering his pages’ even though it would be incredibly obvious if they made any changes.

Joseph Smith continued to dictate the Book of Mormon after losing the first 116 pages, but he knew that he couldn't publish a book without a beginning. Joseph Smith then claims further revelation as he finished that God knew this was going to happen all along, so God would allow Joseph Smith to translate off the original plates, which would later be redefined as the small plates of Nephi, in order to finish the Book of Mormon.

Again, we cover this in so much more detail in the lost 116 pages overview but this is a prime example of Joseph Smith using revelation to effectively give his gameplan on how to deal with such a massive setback that he knew he could not replicate without exposing himself.


Hiram Page and Seer Stones


In September 1830, Hiram Page found his own seer stone and he claimed to receive revelation through his seer/peep just as Joseph Smith claimed to translate the Book of Mormon through the same stone he used to conduct treasure digs with. Page “looked at [the stone]. It contained a sentence on paper to befit it. As soon as he wrote one sentence, another sentence came on the stone, until he wrote 16 pages.”

This is exactly how Joseph claimed to translate the Book of Mormon and early revelations, and Oliver Cowdery and the David Whitmer believed Hiram Page’s claims. Joseph Smith promptly received a revelation, now D&C 28, where God tells Joseph that only he can receive the words of God:


“But, behold, verily, verily, I say unto thee, no one shall be appointed to receive commandments and revelations in this church excepting my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., for he receiveth them even as Moses."


After the revelation establishes Joseph's authority, God then says:


"And again, thou shalt take thy brother, Hiram Page, between him and thee alone, and tell him that those things which he hath written from that stone are not of me and that Satan deceiveth him."


It's quite convenient that Joseph Smith can receive revelation from a rock he found buried under a well during a treasure dig, but when someone else claims to receive revelation that way, it's clearly from Satan. On a quick side note, this same revelation commands Oliver to "go unto the Lamanites and preach my gospel unto them," which is interesting since the Lamanites are not the Native Americans as we've established earlier in our overview on DNA and the Book of Mormon.


Traveling on Water


In 1831, Joseph Smith was traveling with 10 others when they experienced unusually rough waters. Elder William Phelps even claimed to see "the destroyer in his most horrible power, ride upon the face of the waters."

After this happened, Joseph Smith promptly received a revelation that God "cursed the waters.... Wherefore, the days will come that no flesh shall be safe upon the waters." (D&C 61:14-15)

God then gives a commandment that Joseph, Sidney Rigdon, and Olivery Cowdery should travel by canal and land (and the church would pay for their travel), while letting the other 8 continue on in the rough, cursed waters. It sounds insane to think about, but God here is telling the three to take a more comfortable path while letting the other eight travel in the waters that God said were cursed – they are clearly on their own.


"And now, concerning my servants, Sidney Rigdon, Joseph Smith, Jun., and Oliver Cowdery, let them come not again upon the waters, save it be upon the canal, while journeying unto their homes; or in other words they shall not come upon the waters to journey, save upon the canal. 24 Behold, I, the Lord, have appointed a way for the journeying of my saints; and behold, this is the way—that after they leave the canal they shall journey by land, inasmuch as they are commanded to journey and go up unto the land of Zion." (D&C 61:22-24)


To make this simple: The waters were unusually rough, Elder Phelps claimed to see the "destroyer" riding on the water, and Joseph Smith then got a revelation that the waters were cursed and that the church should pay for him to travel by easier and more comfortable means. It is also important to note that while the church still refuses to allow missionaries to enter the water, the waters have not appeared to be cursed ever since, nor do current leaders or people claim to see Satan riding in it. This entire belief and practice is the result of Joseph Smith being spooked by rough waters and using revelation to justify having the church pay for a more comfortable means of travel, while leaving the other eight on their own.


Word of Wisdom


As I covered in the overview on the Word of Wisdom, the entire revelation was the direct result of Emma Smith being upset at the mess being left behind by the men during the ‘school of prophets.’ This even led Emma to say that “It would be a good thing if a revelation could be had declaring the use of tobacco a sin, and commanding its suppression.” (Linda King Newell, Mormon Enigma)

Right after Emma made this comment, Joseph Smith dictated the revelation now referred to as the Word of Wisdom, which was a reflection of the temperance movement of Joseph Smith’s time.

This is yet another example where Joseph Smith was feeling pressure and was able to produce a revelation in the voice of God to address it. In this case the revelation is full of problems as explained in the overview, but for the purposes of this section helped to get him out of a jam with his first wife Emma.


Polygamy and Emma Smith


I know, I know. I’ve already covered polygamy in this overview, so why am I going back to it? Well, for the proposals to the young women from Joseph Smith the point was that Joseph used revelation to get women to do things that they would not otherwise do, but he also used revelation about polygamy to try and get himself out of a tight spot.

Remember from the polygamy overviews that there was a very small window when Emma allowed Joseph Smith to marry and have sex with four other women, but that two of them had already been secretly married to her husband behind her back? Polygamy is a complete mess, but the entire purpose of D&C 132 being produced was Hyrum wanting to take it to Emma to get her off of Joseph Smith’s back for his polygamous marriages to her friends and neighbors.

Again I won’t rehash everything from the polygamy overviews, but I wanted to point out that Joseph Smith was able to dictate a 3,200 word revelation off the top of his head in order to try and get Emma to back off by using the voice of God to threaten that she would be “destroyed” if she did not allow her husband to marry and have sex with other, younger women.

Ultimately it does not appear that Emma was receptive to the revelation, but it does not change the fact that Joseph Smith dictated it with the purpose of getting himself out of a very tense spot in his relationship with her first wife Emma. That fits the pattern in this overview that Joseph Smith frequently used the voice of God to create revelations that seemed very concerned with getting Joseph Smith out of trouble.


Incorrect Revelations


I’ve covered these in other overviews so I will be super quick here, but there are revelations from Joseph Smith that are simply incorrect from a biblical scholarship perspective that are important to note:

 

D&C 132, Polygamy, and Abraham


In D&C 132, Joseph Smith notes that God commanded Abraham to enter into polygamy. From D&C 132:


34 God commanded Abraham, and Sarah gave Hagar to Abraham to wife. And why did she do it? Because this was the law; and from Hagar sprang many people. This, therefore, was fulfilling, among other things, the promises.

35 Was Abraham, therefore, under condemnation? Verily I say unto you, Nay; for I, the Lord, commanded it. (D&C 132:34-35)


The problem is that God never commands Abraham to enter into polygamy, and it was Sarah who told Abraham to take Hagar to have a child. This is another instance where Joseph Smith is attempting to backdate his revelation in order to tie it to something ancient, in this case the Old Testament as a justification for the polygamy he is implementing in the 1840s.

This is a pretty simple example of how Joseph Smith is willing to change existing scriptures to meet his personal desires under the voice of God.

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Elias and Elijah in the Kirtland Temple

A second example that we’ve covered previously is Joseph Smith claiming to see both Elias and Elijah at the Kirtland temple. From our priesthood restoration overview:


1836 (March): Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery claim a vision in the Kirtland temple where they receive additional priesthood keys from Moses, Elias, and Elijah. This claim gives them an ultimate authority in the church, but does not come without problems. Elias and Elijah are actually the same person even as Joseph treats them as separate visions - Elias is the Hebrew translation and Elijah is Greek.


There are apologetics here that Elias is a “forerunner” in the church’s scriptures and thus would be a separate being, but that is something that is almost exclusively in apologetics in Mormonism. The reason is that the “forerunner” argument comes mostly out of necessity within Mormonism, because no other religion needs them to be two separate beings due to a vision that requires it.

If you’re more interested in reading about the Elias/Elijah problem, there’s a pretty quick summary at Mormon Think that covers the apologetics behind Joseph Smith identifying two separate beings in the Kirtland temple.

These are errors that leave Joseph Smith’s fingerprints on the revelations, and would also note that there are many revelations that cite Adam and Eve as literal, historical people when the evidence is quite clear that the story was a late addition when the Pentateuch was being compiled as I covered in the Adam and Eve overview.


Changes to Revelations


Since I have a separate topic that covers the changes to Joseph Smith’s revelations, I am not going to cover them here outside of just mentioning that you should check out that overview if you haven’t already.

There are many key revelations that Joseph Smith made significant changes to after they were originally recorded, with many of them lining up with the needs of Joseph Smith at a given time to increase his authority, such as the priesthood restoration evolution, the changing First Vision accounts, and the change from God granting him “no other gift” after the Book of Mormon then being told Joseph Smith would be granted other gifts after all.

If you haven’t read our overview on changes to the revelations, please check that out because it is very important to understanding how Joseph Smith viewed revelation in the church, and how he would change the words of God as needed to correlate the revelations with his evolving theology.


Failed Prophecies


This overview will go on way too long if I list every revelation that has problems, but I do want to highlight a few of Joseph Smith’s failed prophecies here. If the previous 30+ overviews did not make it clear that Joseph Smith was not a prophet of God, I would like to think the failed prophecies would be hard to ignore. From Deuteronomy 18:21-22:


21 And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the LORD hath not spoken?

22 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.


Keep these two verses in mind as we look at some of Joseph Smith’s failed prophecies.


The Second Coming of the Lord in 1891


In February 1835 while in Kirtland, Joseph Smith said the following:


“President Smith arose and stated the reason why this meeting was called. It was this. God had commanded it and it was made known to him by vision and by the Holy Spirit. He then gave a relation of some of the circumstances attending us while journeying to Zion, our trials, sufferings, etc. He said God had not designed all this for nothing, but he had it in remembrance yet, and those who went to Zion, with a determination to lay down their lives, if necessary, 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, or the coming of the Lord, which was nigh, even fifty six years, should wind up the scene.” (Minute Book 1, Joseph Smith Papers)


Fifty six years later would be 1891, which obviously did not include the Second Coming. While some apologists say the revelation was not a failure because Joseph Smith did not live this long, the above revelation from Minute Book 1 makes no requirement of Joseph Smith living until 1891. Furthermore, we have many patriarchal blessings that are clear that Jesus would return during the lifetime of the early members, which we will detail in our third and final overview.


The Fall and Overthrow of the United States Government


In 1843, Joseph Smith made the following prophecy about the future of the US Government if they did not grant the church redress for the wrongs committed against the members:


“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)


If that is not enough, there is a second prophecy that was printed in the Millennial Star:


“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)


The US Government did not provide any of the payments requested by Joseph Smith, and yet it still stands almost 180 years later. There is absolutely no way to reconcile the prophecies by Joseph Smith with the history since and conclude that this was anything but a failed prophecy.


A Temple Will Be Built in the New Jerusalem


In what might be Joseph Smith’s most well known failed prophecy, he claimed in revelation that a temple would be built in Zion, Missouri in “this generation,” which makes clear that it would have happened by now. From D&C 84:


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.


As we all know today, the temple was not built as the church was forced to flee Missouri and never returned as many members had believed. Because Joseph Smith said that “generation shall not all pass away until an house shall be built unto the Lord,” there is no way around this revelation being a failed prophecy.


The Unfortunate Death of David W. Patten


On April 17, 1838, Joseph Smith gave a revelation to David W. Patten that he would serve a mission in the next spring. From D&C 114:


“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. (D&C 114:1)


The problem is that David W. Patten died in October of 1838 and thus never went on a mission the following spring. I’m not sure what more needs to be said than that.


Failed Treasure Seeking Mission to Salem


In D&C 111, Joseph Smith records a claimed revelation from God that promises “much treasure in this city for you” during a time when the church was facing massive death. From D&C 111:


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.


Yet again, this revelation did not come to pass as the church did not find treasure in Salem nor was the city ever put “into your hands.” This prophecy failed, and the trip to Salem was a failure.


Failure to Sell the Book of Mormon Copyright


Similar to the Salem revelation, Joseph Smith was looking for ways to raise cash and received a revelation that he could sell the copyright for the Book of Mormon in Canada. This was a somewhat unknown revelation that was confirmed in the Joseph Smith Papers, but was originally known as David Whitmer had referenced it as a failed prophecy. From the revelation:


“...it Pleaseth me that Oliver Cowderey Joseph Knight Hyram Pagee & Josiah Stowel shall do my work in this thing yea even in securing the Copyright & they shall do it with an eye single to my Glory that it may be the means of bringing souls unto me Salvation through mine only Be{t\gotten} Behold I am God I have spoken it & it is expedient in me Wherefor I say unto you that ye shall go to Kingston seeking me continually through mine only Be{t\gotten} & if ye do this ye shall have my spirit to go with you & ye shall have an addition of all things which is expedient in me. amen & I grant unto my servent a privelige that he may sell a copyright through you speaking after the manner of men for the four Provinces if the People harden not their hearts against the enticeings of my spirit & my word for Behold it lieth in themselves to their condemnation &{◊\or} th{er\eir} salvation.” (Revelation Book 1, p. 15)


This revelation is interesting because it creates an out, which apologists use to claim it was not a failed prophecy. Almost as a loophole out of the revelation, the phrase “if the People harden not their hearts against the enticeings of my spirit & my word” is used to say that it wasn’t a failed revelation because the people of Canada clearly had hardened their hearts against the spirit.

To be fair this is in the text and I won’t call it a completely failed revelation for that reason, but this also reminds me of the loophole that apologists use for polygamy in the Book of Mormon. After calling polygamy an abomination, the Book of Mormon includes the following loophole:


“For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise, they shall hearken unto these things.” (Jacob 2:30)


This revelation has a similar feel, which is where the author (Joseph Smith) knows that he needs to build in an excuse if the revelation fails, because he knows ultimately that he does not possess the control over those in Canada that he does over those around him such as Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdery, or the young women he would propose to in polygamous marriages.

Because the revelation does include the built-in “out,” this is definitely the weakest of the failed prophecies of Joseph Smith listed here. On the other hand, I think it is important to cover because of the way it is crafted, and also because it once again is a revelation that looks to get Joseph Smith out of money trouble and is incredibly beneficial to Joseph above all else.


Pestilence, Hail, Famine, and Earthquake Will Sweep the Wicked Off the Face of the Land


Another one of Joseph Smith’s prophecies stated that “pestilence, hail, famine, and earthquake will sweep the wicked of this generation off the face of the land” in 1833. From his letter to N.E. Seaton (or possibly Sexton?):


“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)


This, of course, did not happen. What is interesting is that apologists will cite the Civil War as a fulfillment of this prophecy, but what they neglect to note is that nowhere in this revelation does Joseph Smith mention a war, yet instead speaks entirely of natural disasters that would cause “such a scene of bloodshed” which were not responsible for the deaths of the Civil War.


Furthermore, this prophecy is clear that these natural disasters are “to open and prepare the way for the return of the lost tribes of Israel from the north county.” This, again, never happened, and in fact we now have no idea who the Lamanites are as DNA has shown they originated from Asia and are not the lost tribes of Israel.

This is yet another instance where if you take Joseph Smith at face value, there is no getting around the very basic fact that Joseph Smith’s prophecies failed. If you need to change what Joseph Smith actually said in order to make the prophecies plausible, then you could make any other religious leader’s prophecies true. To that point, I want to look at what FAIR Mormon says about this prophecy. From FAIR:


“There are two aspects to the prophecy.

1. Destruction of the wicked (marked in blue.)

These events were certainly seen by the nineteenth-century Saints as fulfilled. They saw the Civil War as the culmination of prophecies against wicked people in a wicked nation.”


Again, as I mentioned above the prophecy they are referring to is mentioning the bloodshed via “pestilence, hail, famine, and earthquake [that] will sweep the wicked of this generation from off the face of the land.”


This is how apologetics change the words you see in order to make a failed prophecy seem plausible, but it simply does not match. The natural disasters that Joseph Smith prophesies of are to happen in “this generation,” so it cannot be pushed aside as a future event in the year 2021 – this simply did not happen.

Back to FAIR:


“Those now living are to flee to Zion to avoid the scourge—i.e., the destruction, which certainly bypassed the Saints in Utah during the Civil War.

2. The preparation for the return of the ten tribes (marked in red.)

The critics wish to say that Joseph prophesied the return of the Ten Tribes—but, he did not. He prophecied that those living would see those things necessary to "prepare the way" for the return of the tribes. The prophecy also noted (in green) that this gathering was already beginning as those who embraced the covenant gathered to Zion.”


FAIR here is saying that Joseph Smith’s revelation was true because the Saints went to Utah where the Civil War did not come, except that the revelation tells Saints to go to Missouri for the Second Coming. This is some serious twisting to make this work, and also ignores the many Saints that died due to their own battles in Missouri along with the trek across to Utah.

Their point about the ‘Ten Tribes’ is also apologetics at work. They are saying that he was merely prophesying that this bloodshed would “prepare the way” for their return, but they are intentionally ignoring that Joseph Smith is explicitly saying that “this generation” would face a scourge that would wipe them from the “face of the land” unless they got to Zion.

In other words, this was all supposed to happen in “this generation” by Joseph Smith’s revelation, so for FAIR to claim that Joseph was only prophesying that this would “prepare the way” is just disingenuous. This revelation was supposed to come to fruition in “this generation,” but we are now 190 years past this revelation and it never happened.

I’m trying to not make this overview too long, but this revelation I feel is a perfect illustration of the way that apologists and the church will twist and redefine words in order to avoid taking them at face value. Joseph Smith in this prophecy is being clear that the bloodshed would come from “pestilence, hail, famine, and earthquake [that] 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.”

There is no way to claim this prophecy was fulfilled unless you are willing to completely suspend reality and put your own interpretation on Joseph Smith’s words to make them plausible. Joseph putting the natural disasters in the revelation was intentional as was his use of “this generation,” which unfortunately makes this a testable prophecy that failed.


Conclusion


Originally I felt like this second overview on revelation would be the final overview on revelations, but I want to give some time to the church after Joseph Smith, so this feels like a good time to break before the third (and final) overview on how revelation is produced and used in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

There are so many other revelations I wanted to cover in more detail above, but I hope the ones outlined show the patterns that Joseph Smith used while producing these revelations, and how he often times used them to either get those who followed him to take an action they wouldn’t otherwise want to take (selling their property to fund the Book of Mormon, buying stock in the Nauvoo House, or marrying Joseph as a polygamous bride) or to get himself out of a jam (polygamy with Emma, lack of money in the church, not wanting to travel on rough waters).

I realize this section is going to be emotional because we are all conditioned in the church to believe that these revelations were real and that we have a living prophet today receiving revelations directly from God, but the very simple fact is that many of these revelations simply failed, many of them are factually wrong (incorrectly stating that Abraham was commanded by God to enter into polygamy, Elias and Elijah being the same person yet seen by Joseph as separate people), and some are simply self serving for Joseph’s own status and well-being.

I highlighted the quote from Wendy Nelson at the beginning because I truly believe it is one of the most insightful quotes you will ever see on revelation in the church. For those who have forgotten it after reading through this long overview, I want to present it again:


“It is as though he's been unleashed. He's free to finally do what he came to earth to do. … And also, he's free to follow through with things he's been concerned about but could never do. Now that he's president of [the Church], he can do those things.”  (Latter-day Saint Prophet, Wife and Apostle Share Insights of Global Ministry)


This quote is so perfect because it explains everything about revelation in the most simply, blunt way possible. What Wendy is saying is that Joseph Smith was able to do all of the things he always wanted to, but lacked the power to do until he was perceived by others to be a prophet.

It’s why Joseph Smith ramped up his activities as he became more confident as prophet, using revelation to literally change the text of the Bible, to convince dozens of young girls to marry and have sex with him, and to get those around him to give their entire life savings to projects that would benefit Joseph Smith the most such as the Book of Mormon and Nauvoo House.

During Joseph Smith’s time as a treasure digger, he was able to get unsuspecting people to give him their money under the belief that Joseph Smith had supernatural powers that allowed him to see things that the average person could not. It didn’t matter that he never found anything because as a charismatic leader, Joseph Smith was able to make them feel like he could find those lost objects.

With revelations, however, Joseph Smith never had to actually find lost treasures. Instead of tangible objects buried deep in the ground, Joseph Smith was able to dangle the promise of exaltation over their heads in exchange for their loyalty, money, and, in some cases, their wives and children.

I realize how negative this all feels towards Joseph Smith, but this is why I constantly have stated that it is important to look at these overview topics in totality and not in isolation. Once you look at all of these topics together, the pattern becomes clear that Joseph Smith knowingly abused his perceived authority to attain his desires whether it was power, money, or sex.

There are good reasons to think that Joseph Smith also thought he was helping people along the way, which is the “pious fraud” theory of Dan Vogel. The problem, however, is that we can see that Joseph Smith was knowingly deceiving the members and his wife in the process, which means that he was aware he was not the prophet he claimed to be, and the problems with these revelations show without any doubt that he was not a prophet of God.

As I cited above, Deuteronomy is clear that a single failed prophecy is proof that the person making such a revelation is not God’s prophet:


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 18:22)


I presented a number of failed prophecies above, revelations that are factually incorrect, and revelations that go against our moral core in every way. Apologists will tell you that what you’re reading isn’t actually what Joseph Smith meant, but if that’s the case why should we take anything Joseph Smith said literally? That’s the slippery slope that apologists are willing to open up just to cover up these problems, and I hope that you can understand as we’ve gone through these overviews just how disingenuous these apologetic arguments are, with the intention to keep you from taking the church’s doctrines and scriptures at face value.

We have one final section on revelation coming up next, which will focus on the church after Joseph Smith. I think the three part revelation trilogy will be helpful to understanding again how these problems are woven throughout the church’s history, and why if any other church had these problems it would be clear as day that they are not led by God.

As I’ve said before many times now, if we use this evidence and history to evaluate the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints the same way that we would any other religious leader, church, or organization, it would be beyond clear that this church is not from God.

I know how difficult these overviews are, especially the ones that have such emotional baggage like revelation and church leaders. If you’ve stuck with me on these overviews until now, then I hope they have been helpful to you in your journey, and I want to thank you for making it this far. It sounds very cliché, but it’s been helpful to me to put my thoughts together and to see the puzzle pieces begin to fit together, and I hope they will be helpful to others along the way.

Check us out on Twitter or Facebook as well for future posts and updates, and thank you again for reading!

Next Overview Topic: Revelation, Part 3: Revelations After Joseph Smith, Discernment

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