One basic strategy for explaining the apparent failure of Joseph Smith’s Missouri Temple prophecy is to argue that someone goofed. Since God can’t goof (though, according to at least some Mormons, he can change his mind), that leaves four possible suspects for the goof:

  • The prophecy itself is a goof, either because the prophet goofed or whoever reported the prophet’s words goofed.
  • The Mormons goofed by failing to do what they were supposed to do in order to bring about the fulfillment of the prophecy.
  • The enemies of the Mormons goofed (from the Mormon perspective) by preventing the Mormons from doing what they were supposed to do to bring about the prophecy’s fulfillment.
  • Mormon interpreters have goofed over the years by mistakenly understanding the passage to say something it really doesn’t say.

One can find Mormons today advocating all of these apologetic strategies; in some cases, the same Mormon will propose or suggest two or more of these types of explanations. Realistically, at most only one of these explanations can be viable at a time. If it’s the Mormons’ fault, it doesn’t make much sense to say that it’s their enemies’ fault as well. If the problem is a faulty interpretation, then presumably there’s nothing wrong with the prophecy itself. If the prophecy is faulty, there is no point in blaming the Mormon people or their enemies.

In the interest of clearing away the least promising explanations first, let’s set aside the suggestion that any criticism of the Missouri Temple prophecy is irrelevant because prophets and their prophecies are not infallible or inerrant. The FAIRMormon web site, a “wiki” site defending the LDS faith, makes this comment:

The LDS do not believe that prophets and apostles are incapable of error, despite being called of God and receiving revelation. Joseph Smith himself taught that ‘a prophet was a prophet only when he was acting as such’. The Church has always taught that its leaders are human and subject to failings as are all mortals.

This point, while accurately representing LDS belief, is irrelevant to the issue at hand, which is a passage in LDS scripture. We can and certainly do agree that prophets, including prophets in the Bible, were not infallible in all of their speech or personal opinions. However, when they wrote Scripture, they were “acting as” prophets, and their words are God’s word, exempt from the failings to which mortals are otherwise pervasively subject.

Mormons, zealous to defend their scriptures, often go so far as to argue that there are similar problems in the Bible. The web article just quoted expresses agreement with the judgment that “the Biblical authors…made errors of expression even in the Biblical record,” citing the allegedly contradictory accounts in Acts of Paul’s Damascus encounter with the risen Christ (Acts 9, 22) as an example. It would be quite easy to get sidetracked with such (flawed) criticisms of the Bible, but in fact they are totally irrelevant. Alleged minor discrepancies are one thing; flatly erroneous predictions in the name of the Lord are quite another. If D&C 84:1-5 does indeed predict that a Mormon temple would be built in Independence, Missouri, before all of the people who were alive in 1832 had died, that would be a false prophecy. “Inerrancy” in the narrow sense of the conservative evangelical view of the Bible (to which I firmly adhere) is not even the issue here. The problem is much worse than a “mistake” or a “goof.” A false prophecy clearly implies a false prophet. For that reason, few if any Mormons lean on this explanation alone in handling the Missouri Temple prophecy.

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2 comments so far

MATT THE RUG RAT
 1 

Rob,

Could you explain to me how Matt 24:34 (also see Mark 13:30, Luke 21:32) is not a false prophesy by Jesus?

February 19th, 2009 at 5:35 pm
 2 

Matt,
I’d be happy to do so. I have already planned to address this question later in this series of posts. Stay tuned!

February 19th, 2009 at 10:08 pm

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