Mormons have offered a bewildering variety of explanations for the apparent failed predictive prophecy of Joseph Smith in Doctrine & Covenants 84:1-5 that a temple would be built in Independence, Missouri, before the generation living in 1832 had all died. Let me just list these various explanations. I will attempt to list them very roughly (as best I can at this point in my research) in the chronological order in which they first appear in the literature:

  1. The Saints failed to build the temple because of opposition from their wicked enemies.
  2. The “generation” could refer to a long period of time, such as one hundred years.
  3. As long as one person is still alive from that era, even more than a hundred years later, the prophecy can still be fulfilled.
  4. The Saints failed to build the temple because it was conditional on their obedience or spiritual readiness, a condition they failed to meet.
  5. The “generation” may refer to an age or dispensation.
  6. The “temple” of D&C 84:4 should be distinguished from the “house” of D&C 84:5, which refers to the Kirtland, Ohio temple dedicated in 1836, not to the Independence temple that has yet to be built.
  7. The “generation” refers to a future generation, the one that would see the temple built, not to the generation alive in 1832.
  8. A true prophet’s words, even in scripture, need not be inerrant or infallible.
  9. God has the prerogative of changing his mind or putting on hold what he earlier intended to do.
  10. The words “shall be reared” and “shall be built” (D&C 84:4, 5) may be imperatives rather than indicatives; that is, they may express commands of what the Saints were told to do, not predictions as to what would certainly occur.

The one thing that is clear is that it is far from clear to Latter-day Saints how to interpret Joseph Smith’s statements in D&C 84:1-5. Most of these explanations are mutually exclusive. For example, if the generation specified is simply whatever future generation sees the temple built (#7), then “generation” cannot have any of the other suggested meanings in the prophecy (##2, 3, 5) and there is no reason to think God changed his mind (#9). If the Saints did not build the temple because of their lack of obedience or spiritual readiness (#4), then it cannot also be the fault of wicked enemies of the Saints (#1).

Of course, it is theoretically possible that one of these explanations is correct and the others incorrect. I will therefore be offering a critical examination of each of these explanations. If you know of a Mormon explanation of the matter that I have missed, please let me know.

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This entry was posted on Monday, February 16th, 2009 at 11:59 pm and is filed under Mormonism. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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