In my February 16 entry on this blog, I listed ten suggestions that Mormons have offered over the years to explain the apparent failure of Joseph Smith’s Missouri Temple prophecy. These included the suggestions that the LDS Church was unable to build the temple because of opposition from enemies or disobedience of the LDS people themselves; that the prophecy referred to the Kirtland temple rather than one in Independence; and that it was not a predictive prophecy at all but rather a command for the Saints to (try to) build a temple in Independence. (Mormons occasionally suggest that no answer is needed because scripture need not be inerrant; this view admits that the prophecy is in error but denies that the mistake is evidence against Joseph Smith’s claim to be a prophet.) I have argued up to this point that all of these suggested strategies for handling the problem fail.

The explanations that remain attempt to resolve the difficulty by stipulating definitions of the word generation that overcome the problem. Two of these explanations were once plausible but now may be dismissed rather easily. Mormons used to suggest, reasonably enough, that a “generation” might refer to a long period of time, such as one hundred years, or even slightly longer. Indeed, in the late nineteenth century this was as close to the official explanation as any. Thus, a footnote to D&C 84:5 in late nineteenth-century editions commented, “a generation does not all pass away in one hundred years.” Once the year 1932 had come and gone, this theory quickly began to lose any viability (and by that time the footnote had disappeared). Still, as long as even one person who had been living in 1832 was still alive, there was a chance that the prophecy could be literally fulfilled. By the mid-twentieth century this diminishing chance had evaporated to zero. Joseph Fielding Smith admitted as much:

“It may be reasonable to assume that in giving this revelation to the Prophet the Lord did have in mind the generation of people who would still be living within the one hundred years from the time of the announcement of the revelation, and that they would enjoy the blessings of the temple, and a glorious cloud would rest upon it. It is also reasonable to believe that no soul living in 1832, is still living in mortality on the earth.” (Answers to Gospel Questions, 4:112)

Joseph Fielding Smith’s own explanation was that Christ had absolved the Church members of their obligation because of the opposition of their enemies. I have already shown why this explanation does not work.

In more recent years, some Mormons have suggested what turn out to be rather implausible explanations as to the meaning of “this generation” in Joseph Smith’s prophecy. One of the comments to an earlier installment in this series, left by a Mormon called Matt, takes this approach. He suggests that the word might mean “race” or “progeny” or perhaps some other meaning listed in the 1828 Webster’s dictionary. Matt may have derived this information from an article on the Missouri temple prophecy by the LDS apologetics organization FAIR, which cites the same dictionary. It also appeals to a Bible dictionary that lists various definitions, including “race, posterity.” The FAIR article offers the following comment:

During his ministry in Jerusalem, Jesus revealed the signs of his second coming, and prophesied that “this generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled” (Matthew 24:34). All those who heard his prophecy died nearly 2,000 years ago, so evidently Jesus meant “generation” to mean “age” or some other long period of time. It’s possible that Joseph meant the same thing in his revelation about the Independence temple, and therefore the time period for its fulfillment is still open.

Admittedly, Matthew 24:34 has been interpreted in a variety of ways in the history of Christianity. The short answer to the above argument is that what Jesus prophesied would take place in “this generation” was the desecration and destruction of the Jerusalem temple by the Romans in AD 70, not the Second Coming. (A full defense of this assertion cannot be given here, so I will address this point separately.) As for its relevance to the issue here, the meaning of Matthew 24:34 really should not be controversial for Mormons. After all, Joseph Smith supposedly gave to the LDS Church an inspired translation of Matthew 24 that is part of the LDS scripture called Pearl of Great Price. Joseph Smith’s version reads as follows:

Verily, I say unto you, this generation, in which these things shall be shown forth, shall not pass away until all I have told you shall be fulfilled. (Joseph Smith—Matthew 1:34)

According to Joseph Smith, the “generation” to which Jesus referred in Matthew 24:34 was not the generation living when Jesus spoke those words, but the generation that would be alive on the earth when the various events described in the preceding verses of the prophecy had occurred. In other words, Joseph Smith explained Jesus’ statement to mean that a single future generation would witness all of the events described in the prophecy in Matthew 24.

Although I disagree with Joseph Smith’s understanding of Matthew 24:34, what it shows is that Joseph Smith did not endorse the idea that generation in Matthew 24:34 meant “race” or “age” or some indefinitely long period of time. He understood it to mean the time span of a single generation of people. His only qualification to the verse was to place that generation into the distant future beyond the first century when Jesus made that statement.

As for Smith’s own prophecy in D&C 84:1-5, it clearly echoes Jesus’ statement in Matthew 24:34 (and the parallels in Mark 13:30 and Luke 21:32) as it appears in the King James Version and all other legitimate Bible versions. Note the obvious parallel wording:

Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled” (Matt. 24:34 KJV).

Verily I say unto you, that this generation shall not pass, till all these things be done” (Mark 13:30 KJV).

Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled” (Luke 21:32 KJV).

“For verily this generation shall not all pass away until an house shall be built unto the Lord…” (D&C 84:5).

The use of the introductory “verily” and the key words “this generation shall not pass away till (until)” together constitute an unmistakable allusion or adaptation by Joseph Smith of the words of Jesus in this famous discourse. If any further confirmation were needed, it is noteworthy that whereas Jesus’ prophecy focused on the destruction of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem, or Zion (Matt. 24:1-3; Mark 13:1-4; Luke 21:5-7), Joseph Smith’s prophecy (in which Jesus allegedly is speaking) focused on the building of a new temple in the place that he identified as Zion (D&C 57:2-3; 84:2-3). This thematic parallel eliminates any possible doubt.

Since Joseph Smith does not add any qualification to his statement such as he would later add to Matthew 24:34 (“in which these things shall be shown forth”), we should surely understand him to mean that his own generation, the people living in his day, would not all die before the temple was built. Furthermore, D&C 84:4 allows no such qualification: “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.” Here “this generation” cannot refer to a future generation. The temple, Joseph Smith says, is to be built “at this place” and “in this generation.”

I conclude that there is no escaping the obvious meaning of the passage, the meaning that was accepted by all Latter-day Saints for the first several decades, at least, of the LDS Church’s history. Joseph Smith predicted, in the name of the Lord, in LDS scripture, that a temple would definitely (“verily”) be built in Independence, Missouri, before the people living in 1832 had all died. 176 years have passed since Joseph issued this prediction. As of March 19, 2009 (see here), the longest recorded life of any human being in modern history was 122 years (Jeanne Calment, 1875-1997), and the oldest human currently living (Gertrude Baines) was born in 1894, 62 years after Joseph Smith’s prophecy. Since none of the many explanations that LDS scholars and leaders have offered hold up, we are left with the conclusion that D&C 84:1-5 is a false prophecy.

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One comment

lindalds
 1 

What saves it is this:

D&C 84:3 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.

Which place are they beginning at?

The answer is in the heading of the section.

“Revelation given through Joseph Smith the Prophet, at Kirtland, Ohio, September 22 and 23, 1832”

Given at KIRTLAND OHIO.

Beginning at THIS place. Kirtland.

even the place of the temple, which temple shall be reared in this generation. Dedication of the Kirtland temple–27 March 1836

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.

I think all this happened at the dedication of the Kirtland temple.

So, it is a TRUE prophecy.

June 15th, 2010 at 10:23 pm

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