One of the most interesting explanations of Joseph Smith’s Missouri Temple prophecy is the suggestion that the words “shall be reared” and “shall be built” (D&C 84:4, 5) may be imperatives rather than indicatives. In other words, they may express commands of what the Saints were told to do, not predictions as to what would certainly occur. One LDS apologetics web site offers this explanation with some tentativeness:

It is unclear from the wording of the 1832 revelation whether Joseph Smith meant it to be a prophecy or a commandment. When he declared the “temple shall be reared in this generation,” it’s possible that he meant this as a directive (Compare to the ten commandments: “thou shalt..” and D&C 59:5-13). If this is the case, D&C 84 is not actually a prophecy.

The passages that present commands to which this LDS article refers follow a standard literary form, known from ancient times, of apodictic laws. An apodictic law simply orders those to whom it applies to do or not to do specific things. These are very familiar from the Ten Commandments, as the article noted (see Ex. 20:3-17; Deut. 5:7-21):

“Thou shalt not commit adultery.”
“Thou shalt not steal.”

The passage in Doctrine & Covenants (59:5-13) quotes some of the Ten Commandments, as well as other biblical commands, and includes additional commands following the very same form:

“Thou shalt thank the Lord thy God in all things.” (D&C 59:7)

The statements in D&C 84:4-5 in question simply do not fit this form, as a quick re-reading of them ought to make clear:

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. (D&C 84:1-5)

Note that there is no “Thou shalt” in these statements at all.

What thoroughly discredits this explanation is the fact that in these very statements, other occurrences of “shall” clearly are indicative statements concerning the future, not imperatives issuing commands. The words “this generation shall not all pass away” obviously cannot be a command (“Don’t you dare all die off until you finish this building!”). Even more clearly, the words “which cloud shall be even the glory of the Lord, which shall fill the house”) are predictive in nature, not orders or commands.

LDS scholars do well to rethink their assumptions about the meaning of their texts, and there is nothing wrong with thinking “outside the box.” Such creative interpretations, however, should be subjected to scrutiny as well. In this case, the revisionist reading of the passage in D&C 84:1-5 does not withstand such scrutiny. As almost all Mormons have recognized over the years, the passage is indeed a predictive prophecy.

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