Preface: This article is an edited extract from chapter 2 of my book A Ready Reply: Answering Challenging Questions About the Gospel (Horizon Publishers, 1994).

VINDICATING PROPHECY:

WHY THE ANTI-MORMON VIEW OF PROPHECY IS INVALID

Michael T. Griffith
1994
@All Rights Reserved

The purpose of this chapter is to show that the anti-Mormon standard for judging Joseph Smith's prophecies is just as damaging to a number of Bible prophecies, if not more so.

In discussing difficult Bible prophecies, it is not my intention to attack the Bible, nor to suggest that any of the biblical prophets were false prophets. Rather, it is to illustrate the fact that anyone who accepts the anti-Mormon standard for concluding that Joseph Smith uttered false prophecies must also conclude that several Bible prophets did the same thing.

It has been my experience that anti-LDS critics are willing to make every possible allowance and exception for difficult Bible prophecies, but none for those of Joseph Smith.

The Anti-Mormon Standard

Typically, anti-Mormons point to Deuteronomy 18:21-22 as their measuring rod for branding as "false" a number of Joseph Smith's prophecies. Here is how these verses read in the Revised Standard Version (RSV):

And if you say in your heart, "How may we know the word which the LORD has not spoken?"--when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word which the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously, you need not be afraid of him.

Using a strictly literal interpretation of these verses as their guide, most if not all anti-Mormons insist that if a prophecy does not come to pass, it is automatically false, period. These critics don't seem to realize they are stepping into quicksand when they use this criterion to attack Joseph Smith. The issue of prophecy is extremely complex. It is by no means as simple as a strictly literal understanding of Deuteronomy 18:21-22. The rigid anti-Mormon interpretation of these verses invalidates several Bible prophecies as much as it does some of Joseph Smith's prophecies. In fact, atheistic critics have used this same sort of approach to attack several prophecies in the Bible.

Rules on Prophecy

However, after studying prophecy for several years, I have deduced certain rules which, when taken into account, enable us to explain the difficult prophecies uttered by certain Bible prophets and by Joseph Smith. I will now list these rules. Most of them are intertwined to varying degrees.

1. Almost all prophecy is conditional to one degree or another, even if this is not stated in the prophecy itself (which is often the case).

2. In some cases human actions and choices can alter, postpone, or prevent the fulfillment of prophecy.

3. A prophecy is not always telling us what will happen, but what could happen under certain circumstances.

4. A prophey’s timetable for fulfillment can be misunderstood.

5. A prophecy can apply to more than one occurrence or time period, i.e., it can have dual application.

6. A prophecy's fulfillment can be intended to take place in the spirit world or during the millennium, even if this is not stated in the prophecy itself.

7. The fulfillment of prophecy can go unobserved and/or unrecorded.

8. A prophecy can contain rhetorical overstatements. For example, a prophecy might read that "every single house" in a certain town will be "leveled to the ground," when what is really meant is that the town will suffer heavy destruction.

9. Such terms and expressions as "soon," "quickly," "in a little while," "shortly," etc., are often given from the Lord's perspective of time--so that "soon," for example, might turn out to be a very long time by our reckoning.

10. The text of a prophecy can undergo alteration to the point that it no longer reflects the original intent of the prophecy.

Therefore, just because a prophecy goes partially or totally unfulfilled does not mean it is false. Anyone who would deny this must explain those prophecies in the Bible which did not come to pass.

Difficult Bible Prophecies

Let us now examine three difficult Bible prophecies that would have to be rejected as false if we were to insist on judging them solely on the basis of a strictly literal reading of Deuteronomy 18:21-22.

In 2 Samuel 7:5-17, we read that the prophet Nathan unequivocally prophesied to David that through his son Solomon the Davidic empire would be established "forever," that the children of Israel would dwell in the promised land "and move no more," and that the "children of wickedness" would no longer afflict them. These things are quite clearly stated. No conditions are attached to these promises, none whatsoever.

That Nathan was predicting the permanent establishment of the temporal kingdom of David has even been acknowledged (albeit somewhat obliquely) by R. K. Harrison, a fine conservative Bible scholar:

The Davidic dynasty was confidently expected to usher in a new era of Israelite life of an enduring quality (2 Sam. 7:5ff), because it was firmly rooted in loyalty to the God of the Covenant. (1969:410, emphasis added.)

Robert Jamieson, Andrew Faucet, and David Brown concede that the promise of "the throne of his kingdom" being established "forever" (vs. 13) refers "in its primary application, to Solomon, and to the temporal kingdom of David's family" (587). The promise is reiterated in verse 16: "thine [David's] house and thy kingdom shall be established forever before thee: thy throne shall be established forever." In short, as Robert H. Pfeiffer has stated, "... the point of II Samuel 7 is the eternity of this [the Davidic] dynasty" (370). It was because of the supposed permanence of the Davidic empire that the children of Israel would be able to remain in the promised land "and move no more" (vs. 10).

And, as for the assurance that the Israelites would no longer be afflicted by "the children of wickedness" (vs. 10), the New International Version phrases it this way: "Wicked people will not oppress them anymore."

But, of course, what actually happened to the Davidic empire and to the children of Israel? The Davidic dynasty was later smashed. The Israelites were driven and scattered from the promised land. And "wicked people" certainly continued to afflict and oppress them.

The second difficult Bible prophecy we will consider is one which is attributed to the Savior Himself. It is found in Matthew 10:23, wherein Jesus is represented as very matter-of-factly stating that His second coming would occur before the disciples returned from the mission on which He was then sending them. This, of course, did not happen. The verse reads as follows in the RSV:

When they persecute you [the disciples] in one town, flee to the next; for truly, I say unto you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel, before the Son of man comes.

Howard Clark Kee has said the following about this verse:

One of the most problematic sayings in the whole Synoptic tradition [i.e., Matthew, Mark, and Luke] is this explicit statement that the disciples will not have completed their mission tour before the Son of man comes, i.e., before the age ends and the kingdom of God arrives in its fullness. (In Laymon 622)

Says T. F. Glasson, "Thus, before the disciples return Jesus expects to be caught up to heaven and to come down in glory" (57). This verse is so problematic that many scholars have questioned its authenticity. Glasson notes that there is "widespread doubt concerning the genuineness of Matthew 10:23. . . ." (59).

The third difficult Bible prophecy we will consider is Judges 13:5, where it is recounted that an angel promised Samson's mother that Samson would "begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines." No matter how liberal or expansive one wants to be with the facts of Israelite history (as recorded in the Bible or elsewhere), there is no way it can reasonably be concluded that Samson fulfilled this prophecy.

Not only did Samson fail to even "begin" to free Israel from the Philistines, but (1) there were times when he consorted with Philistine women, (2) he married a Philistine, (3) he himself never even led any Israelite troops against the Philistines, and (4) the Philistines eventually humiliated him.

Moreover, and most importantly, Israel actually lost ground to the Philistines during Samson's tenure. Judges 13-16 illustrates Philistine encroachment into Hebrew territory. The Samson narrative documents the eastward expansion of the Philistines by mentioning the Philistine presence in Timnah and Lehi, both in the strategic valley of Sorek (Achtemeier 1985:787-791). This Philistine expansion worsened the land shortage that eventually forced the Danites to migrate northward.

Of course, the nonfulfillment of Judges 13:5 can be attributed to Samson's failure to live according to his Nazirite calling. In addition to his sexual liaisons, he married a Philistine, ate unclean food, drank wine, and allowed his hair to be cut. Therefore, it could be said that the angel's prophecy was nullified by Samson's behavior. However, the angel placed absolutely no conditions on his promise that Samson would begin to deliver Israel from the Philistines. He simply declared that Samson would do so.

Conclusion

The three Bible prophecies discussed above are certainly "difficult," to put it mildly. However, they can be explained, if one is willing to accept the rules on prophecy presented herein.

The exact same thing can be said about Joseph Smith's alleged "false prophecies." Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God, and he never uttered a single false prophecy.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Michael T. Griffith holds a Master’s degree in Theology from The Catholic Distance University, a Graduate Certificate in Ancient and Classical History from American Military University, a Bachelor’s degree in Liberal Arts from Excelsior College, and two Associate in Applied Science degrees from the Community College of the Air Force.  He also holds an Advanced Certificate of Civil War Studies and a Certificate of Civil War Studies from Carroll College.  He is a graduate in Arabic and Hebrew of the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, and of the U.S. Air Force Technical Training School in San Angelo, Texas.  In addition, he has completed Advanced Hebrew programs at Haifa University in Israel and at the Spiro Institute in London, England.  He is the author of five books on Mormonism and ancient texts, including How Firm A Foundation, A Ready Reply, and One Lord, One Faith.

 

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            -----.  "Did the Freemasons Copy Their Ritual from the Mormons?"  Sandy, Utah: Unpublished paper, 1984, copy in my possession.

           

            -----.  MORMONISM, THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS, AND THE NAG HAMMADI TEXTS.  Murray, Utah: Sounds of Zion Publishing, 1980.

 

            Smith, Morton.  JESUS THE MAGICIAN.  San Francisco, California: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1978.

 

            Smith, Robert F.  "Satan: Notes on the Gods."  December 1992 Draft, copy in my possession.

 

            Snyder, Graydon.  ANTE-PACEM: ARCHAEOLOGICAL EVIDENCE OF CHURCH LIFE BEFORE CONSTANTINE.  Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 1985.

 

            Sparks, Jack N., editor.  THE APOSTOLIC FATHERS.  Nashville,  Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1978.

 

            Stadelmann, Luis.  THE HEBREW CONCEPTION OF THE WORLD (Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1970).

 

            Sundberg, Albert C.  "The Making of the New Testament Canon."  In   Charles Laymon, editor, THE INTERPRETER'S ONE-VOLUME COMMENTARY ON THE BIBLE.  Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon

Press, 1971. 1216-1224.

 

            Talmage, James E.  JESUS THE CHRIST.  Thirty-Fourth Edition. Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1962.

 

            -----.  THE ARTICLES OF FAITH, Forty-Second Edition.  Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of

Latter-day Saints, 1976.

 

            Thompson, Claude Holmes.  "The Book of Jude."  In Charles Laymon, editor, THE INTERPRETER'S ONE-VOLUME COMMENTARY ON THE BIBLE.  Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press, 1971. 942-944.

 

            Turner, Rodney.  "The Doctrine of Godhood in the New Testament."  In PRINCIPLES OF THE GOSPEL IN PRACTICE. 1985 Sperry Symposium.  Salt Lake City, Utah: Randall

Book Company, 1985. 21-38.

 

            Tvedtnes, John.  THE CHURCH OF THE OLD TESTAMENT.  Second Edition.  Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1980.

 

            Tzaferis, Vassilios.  "Crucifixion--The Archaeological Evidence."  In BIBLICAL ARCHAEOLOGY REVIEW, January/February 1985. 49-53.

 

            Vestal, Kirk Holland, and Arthur Wallace.  THE FIRM FOUNDATION OF MORMONISM.  Los Angeles, California: LL Books, 1981.

 

            Vine, W.E.  VINE'S EXPOSITORY DICTIONARY OF NEW TESTAMENT WORDS.  4 Volumes.  Westwood, New Jersey: Barbour and Company, Inc., reprint of 1952 edition, with the four volumes combined into one volume.

 

            Wellnitz, Marcus Von.  "The Catholic Liturgy and the Mormon Temple."  In BYU STUDIES, Winter 1981. 3-35.

Westcott, Brooke Foss.  THE BIBLE IN THE CHURCH.  Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1979, reprint.

 

            White, James.  "Mormon Scholars Defend Their Church: A Review and Rebuttal of Offenders for a Word."  In PROS APOLOGIAN, Spring 1993. 1-9.  This article and the one cited below both appeared in the Spring 1993 issue of PROS APOLOGIAN.

 

            -----.  "Hugh Nibley, The Universal Apostasy, And the Gates of Hades."  In PROS APOLOGIAN, Spring 1993. 10-12.

 

            Wilken, Robert.  THE CHRISTIANS AS THE ROMANS SAW THEM.  London: Yale University Press, 1984.

 

            Winston, David.  "Creation EX NIHILO Revisited."  In the JOURNAL OF JEWISH STUDIES, volume 37, Spring 1986. 88-91.

 

            Woodrow, Ralph.  BABYLON MYSTERY RELIGION.  Riverside, California: Ralph Woodrow Evangelistic Association, 1981.