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).
Michael T. Griffith
@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
That Nathan was predicting the permanent establishment of the temporal
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
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
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
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
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
Not only did Samson fail to even "begin" to free
Moreover, and most importantly,
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
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.
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
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