Joseph Smith, Jr.
This section will provide some of the relevant biographical background of Joseph Smith, and will be coming primarily from LDS.org, for those of you who might not know very much about him. I figure that Mormons might be more inclined to listen to what I have to say if the sources I cite are theirs. According to the website, Joseph Smith, Jr. was born in Vermont in 1805, and was murdered in Illinois in 1844. When Joseph was just 14-years-old, he went into some nearby woods to pray to God for guidance on which church to join. He was very concerned with his standing with God, and felt that many of the Gospel teachings were absent in many of the denominations. He found inspiration in James 1:5, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” which led to his trek into the woods that day. He wanted to petition the Lord in prayer, for help in determining which church was the right one. While in the woods, Joseph claimed to have witnessed a theophany, or the visible manifestation of God, during which he claims that God and Jesus appeared in the air above him. He claimed that Jesus’ advice to him was to avoid all of the churches because their teachings were an abomination in His sight. He was also promised that the true Gospel would be revealed in its fullness to him.
Three years later, Joseph claimed to have been visited by a messenger named Moroni, who told him that he had been chosen to be a prophet, in order to help usher in the millennial reign of Jesus Christ. Moroni was also supposed to have informed him that there were special golden tablets buried nearby, which had been engraved by the ancient prophets. Of his own education, Joseph Smith admits that his large, poor family’s financial situation meant that he had not been educated beyond just the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic, “[we] were obliged to labor hard for the support of a large family … , and as it required the exertions of all that were able to render any assistance for the support of the family, therefore we were deprived of the benefit of an education. Suffice it to say, I was merely instructed in reading, writing, and the ground rules of arithmetic.” (Joseph Smith, History 1832, p. 1) This highlights an aspect of this story that is a bit hard to swallow. He had little more than a basic education, but was somehow able to translate from Hebrew to English without the requisite training. To be sure, the official story found on LDS.org states that he underwent a period of training under Moroni that lasted four years, but no one has ever been able to confirm this. As far as anyone can confirm, Joseph Smith was never trained in any foreign languages. In spite of this training, he still needed something known as the Urim and Thummim to translate the Book of Mormon. This is not the end of his apparent prowess with linguistics, either. There will be more to come.
These tablets were supposed to have been the written record of a group of people known as Nephites, who left Jerusalem 600 years prior to the birth of Jesus, and settled in the Western hemisphere among the tribes native to North America. The story also states that Moroni had been the last prophet of that group, and that he had buried the tablets himself. While this might seem a bit far-fetched, the truth is, it does not stop there. You see, no one has seen these tablets, outside of the precious few who were permitted to work with Joseph Smith in the effort of translating, which overall took more than four years. What’s more, the people supposedly described in this book are reported to have abandoned their Jewish roots entirely, never mind the fact that such a thing would make them unique among any and all Jewish groups who have immigrated to foreign territory. They did not observe any of the feast days, Shabbat (Sabbath), or anything else associated with Jewish culture. It appears that they completely abandoned Mosaic Law in its entirety which is a huge thing, to say the least.
History shows that everywhere they go Jewish people tend to form their own communities. They go to great lengths to maintain their religious and cultural heritage, regardless of the surrounding culture. This is why there are European Jews, Asian Jews, African Jews, American Jews, Russian Jews, etc. They stick together, and tenaciously hang on to and pass on their entire identity to the next generation, all without allowing themselves to be melded into the surrounding populous. In fact, they can be found in nearly every country on this planet, and are typically very successful. This is why I made the statement I made, that the Nephites would be the most unique Jewish community on the planet for giving up their identity as Jews. It almost defies logic that the Nephites would do this.
In spite of this, one cannot ignore the fact that millions of people have willingly bet their salvation on the credibility of one Joseph Smith, Jr. The question is, why? Why do they believe that he was a prophet of God, and by which standard do they judge him so? Scripture shows that there are definite standards for what determines whether or not someone is making a true prophetic claim, so we must look there to clearly demonstrate whether or not he truly was a prophet of God.
To review, where we find the standard that a true prophet of God must meet is in the Book of Deuteronomy. First, we begin in Chapter 13, verses 1-5,
“If there arises among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams, and he gives you a sign or a wonder, 2 and the sign or the wonder comes to pass, of which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods’—which you have not known—‘and let us serve them,’ 3 you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams, for the Lord your God is testing you to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. 4 You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear Him, and keep His commandments and obey His voice; you shall serve Him and hold fast to Him. 5 But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has spoken in order to turn you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of bondage, to entice you from the way in which the Lord your God commanded you to walk. So you shall put away the evil from your midst.”
While the punishment prescribed here may seem harsh to our modern, relativistic sensibilities, you must understand that there is a very clear reason for it. (I’m speaking here in regards to our society, not individuals) A false prophet will, by their very definition, lead people away from God, not toward Him. As He desires nothing less than to have the relationship He had with mankind in the Garden, this is utterly counterproductive, not to mention downright evil. The best example I can give is someone who intentionally directs people down a trail that will lead to their deaths, while assuring them that it’s entirely safe. There is no difference between that person, and a false prophet.
Moving on to Deuteronomy 18, God goes into even greater detail. Deuteronomy 18:20-22, “But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in My name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.’ 21 And if you say in your heart, ‘How shall we know the word which the Lord has not spoken?’— 22 when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.”
Chapter 13 makes clear, if a prophet teaches anything which takes people away from what the Lord commands us, they are not to be followed. In fact, it says that such a prophet is to be put to death. Chapter 18 states that another way to determine if a prophet is false is through their accuracy. One false prophecy will render a prophet false, and therefore condemn him or her before God. Overall, it is safe to say that God’s standard for a prophet is that they must teach according to His Word, must not lead people astray, and that they must accurately and faithfully pass on the Word that God sends them. This is the standard by which everyone claiming to be a prophet of God must be judged. This is the standard they must meet each and every day that they serve the Lord as a prophet, and Deuteronomy, Chapters 13 and 18, make that standard a command from God to His people. In other words, it would behoove us to apply that standard when presented with anyone claiming status as a prophet.
Joseph Smith did not meet that standard. In fact, he went so far away from that standard that he leapt into alternate realms of existence. As an example, we will look at one of his most famous sermons, the King Follett Sermon, or King Follett Discourse. This will serve as a prime example of how he failed as a prophet, because he very clearly preached a false god in that sermon, one that is completely at odds with the Lord in the Bible.
To begin, Joseph Smith said, “God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret. If the veil were rent today, and the great God who holds this world in its orbit, and who upholds all worlds and all things by His power, was to make himself visible—I say, if you were to see him today, you would see him like a man in form—like yourselves in all the person, image, and very form as a man; for Adam was created in the very fashion, image and likeness of God, and received instruction from, and walked, talked and conversed with Him, as one man talks and communes with another.”
While it is true that God did take human form on occasion, Scripture is very clear about the very basic nature of God. He is not an exalted man, has never been an exalted man, and will never be an exalted man. In Isaiah 45:18, God speaks clearly to this when He says, “For thus says the Lord, who created the heavens (he is God!), who formed the earth and made it (he established it; he did not create it empty, he formed it to be inhabited!): “I am the Lord, and there is no other.”
For God to be an exalted man would mean that there would be other gods, that He would have Himself been a created being, which is not borne out in Scripture. This idea points clearly to polytheism, which God repudiates by stating repeatedly that there are no other gods, that He is the only one, and that He exists from eternity to eternity (Isa. 43:13). In Isaiah 44:8,
“Fear not, nor be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it? And you are my witnesses! Is there a God besides me? There is no Rock; I know not any.”
Joseph Smith goes a bit further into his sermon, and states,
“…Here, then, is eternal life—to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all gods have done before you, namely, by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one; from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation, until you attain to the resurrection of the dead, and are able to dwell in everlasting burnings, and to sit in glory, as do those who sit enthroned in everlasting power.”
Yet again, we have an example of teachings that run counter to the Bible, thereby showing that Joseph Smith is a false prophet. At no point does Scripture state that believers will one day become gods. In fact, God repeatedly affirms His position as the one and only God. There is no ambiguity here, He is the only One, has always been the only One, and will always be the only One. This runs counter to what Joseph Smith taught in the King Follett Discourse, and runs counter to what the Mormon Church teaches today. In the case of a disagreement between a given teaching and the Bible, it is the Bible that always wins out, not the other way around.
In Deuteronomy 13 & 18, we saw that God’s standard is absolute. One false prophecy and that is all she wrote. If you render one false prophecy, or encourage others to call on anyone but the Almighty God, then you are a false prophet. There are no two ways around that fact. In the case of Joseph Smith, this could not be illustrated more clearly than with the prophecy he gave relating to a certain plot of land located in Independence, Missouri. Had he stood before Moses, he would have been stoned to death, not only on the basis of his teachings which both add to and take away from Scripture, but also because he claimed that the Lord revealed to him a prediction of a future event that still has not happened, all these years later.
A Mormon publication, known as “Doctrine and Covenants” records two separate prophesies revealed by Joseph Smith, Jr. collectively known as the Temple Prophecy. What is “Doctrine and Covenants” you ask? It is a collection of prophesies and revelations from Joseph Smith, Jr., and a few others. Along with the King James Bible, the “Book of Mormon”, and “The Pearl of Great Price”, it is one of the books Mormons count as Scripture. In their minds, these books join the Bible as the Word of God.
In the first part of his prophecy, dated in 1831, Joseph Smith, Jr. instructs his people to begin buying up land around Independence, Missouri, claiming that it would become the site for Zion. (D&C 57:1-6) He then goes into further detail, “Behold, the place which is now called Independence is the center place; and a spot for the temple is lying westward, upon a lot which is not far from the courthouse.” (D&C 57:3) It is worth noting that the lot in question is still empty today. Three separate churches own that lot (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Church of Christ, and Community of Christ) and will not allow it to be built upon until the appointed time. The question then becomes, when is the appointed time? The answer brings us to the crux of the matter, false prophecy. It’s in the second half of the Temple Prophecy that Joseph Smith, Jr. cements his place as a false prophet, because he chooses to attach a time limit to the prophecy. In 1832, Joseph Smith, Jr. delivers the following prophecy,
“1 A revelation of Jesus Christ unto his servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and six elders, as they united their hearts and lifted their voices on high.
2 Yea, the word of the Lord concerning his church, established in the last days for the restoration of his people, as he has spoken by the mouth of his prophets, and for the gathering of his saints to stand upon Mount Zion, which shall be the city of New Jerusalem.
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.
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 Italics added for emphasis)
This passage shows that he is predicting that the temple lot will be the beginning of the city of Zion, the New Jerusalem mentioned in Revelation 21:1-2. Not only that, but he claims that it will occur within the lifetimes of his generation. As this prophesy was delivered nearly 200 years ago, it’s safe to say that none of his generation are still alive, let alone the youngest representatives of succeeding generations present at the time the prophecy was delivered. As I have actually been to the Temple Lot, I can attest to the fact that it is still empty. However, I also insist that you not take my word for it. I strongly recommend that you research it, and if possible, visit the site yourselves. Independence, Missouri certainly has some wonderful historic sites, which makes it very much worthwhile, especially for homeschoolers, and this one is definitely the most interesting empty lot anyone can imagine.
In his article, “Questions and Answers about the Temple Lot in Independence, Missouri”, Aaron L. West remarks, “We do not know exactly how, when, or where these words will be fulfilled, but we do know that that rectangle of land in Independence is sacred. It has been dedicated to the Lord. The Lord’s revelations about that land—and the principles of gospel living that are woven into those revelations—are part of His people’s past, present, and future.” (Questions and Answers, Dec. 2015) Note, “We do not know exactly how, when, or where these words will be fulfilled,” That line is confusing because Joseph Smith, Jr. was not ambiguous in his prediction. He stated the when, where, and how of that prophecy pretty clearly.
Thus far, the only counterargument I have encountered is that prophets are only human. They like to argue that a prophet’s fallible nature as a human being would lead to the occasional false or failed prophecy, so the prophecy of the Temple Lot cannot be counted against him. The FAIRMormon website, a site that was built with the intent of defending the Mormon faith, asserts, “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.”
Others within the Mormon church have echoed this idea, going so far as to excuse so-called “prophets” for mistakes they’ve made:
“Relative to these sermons [Journal of Discourses] I must tell you they represent the individual views of the speakers, and the Church is not responsible for their teachings. Our authorized Church works are the Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. In the Church very wide latitude is given to individual belief and opinion, each man being responsible for his views and not the Church; the Church is only responsible for that which she sanctions and approves through the formal actions of her councils. So it may be that errors will be found in the sermons of men, and that in their over zeal unwise expressions will escape them, for all of which the Church is not responsible” B. H. Roberts, Letter written November 4, 1887, London, Millennial Star 49. 48 (November 28, 1887)
The problem with this position is that it runs counter to the standards found in Deuteronomy 13 & 18, which is to say that their teachings cannot run counter to God’s Word and Law, and that they cannot give a single false prophecy. While Prophets may be human, and therefore fallible in all other aspects of their lives, these standards clearly stipulate that they cannot lead people to a false god, which is exactly what Joseph Smith, Jr. does, as evidenced by the King Follett Discourse. He paints a picture of the Almighty God that is completely false, given that His nature is very clearly shown throughout the Bible. He ascribes a nature to Him that contradicts Scripture in very fundamental ways that simply cannot be ignored.
I was once engaged by an angry Mormon who informed me that the reason he took issue with my biblical argument against Joseph Smith as a prophet is that it supposedly condemned other biblical prophets, including Jesus Himself. In support of his position, he pointed to four prophets, Jonah, Nathan, Isaiah, and Jesus, and made the claim that each of them gave a failed prophesy, which he claimed meant I was condemning them, too. Here is the case of Jonah, to illustrate his point.
In Jonah 3, we see a much chastened Jonah arriving in Nineveh after his encounter with the fish, inside of which he spent three days. Upon his arrival, he delivers his message from God, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (Jon. 3:4, NKJV) He had gone there to pronounce upon the people of Nineveh their last chance before final judgement, as evidenced by the phrasing in verse four: YET. The funny thing about the word “yet” is that I was once taught that it stands for “You’re Eligible Too”, a principle which is clearly highlighted here. It is all about the choices you make, whether to follow God or not, and nothing will spare you the consequences of that choice.
In saying “Yet forty days”, he was telling them that this prophecy might come to pass, if their choices are not what God wishes. As it turns out, the message hit home, and this caused everyone in Nineveh to repent of their sins,
“5 So the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them. 6 Then word came to the king of Nineveh; and he arose from his throne and laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes. 7 And he caused it to be proclaimed and published throughout Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying,
Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; do not let them eat, or drink water. 8 But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God; yes, let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. 9 Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish?
10 Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.” (Jon. 3:5-10)
As you can see, everyone from the king down chose to lower themselves before God, and cry out for His forgiveness. In verse ten, we see that the Lord chose to forgive them, and forewent judgement. This is what caused that Mormon to insist that this was a failed prophecy, the fact that Jonah declared that Nineveh would be destroyed, and it was not. He refused to take into account the wording of the message that Jonah was ordered to deliver, the fact that the entire population of Nineveh repented and begged for forgiveness, and that God chose to forgive them.
Of course, this brings up an idea that seems odd to some people; the idea of an Almighty God who can change His mind. Many people seem to draw this odd correlation between God’s nature and his thought process, linking the two in such a way that any change in God’s mind would be a sign of fallibility to them. Sadly, this idea is blasphemous because it pigeon-holes God into this entirely rigid position whereupon He is completely unable to change. I would argue that those people would do well to consider something. God has repeatedly demonstrated that He is living, dynamic, super-intelligent, omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. As such, seeking to limit Him in any way means that you are attempting to bring Him down to your level. God does not exist at our level, He exists well above us, so believing in a god you can understand, one who exists at our level, is not just blasphemous, but also idolatrous! Obviously, this will not do.
The Mormon I debated on this topic simply would not hear the idea that God changed His mind in the instances he provided, choosing instead to cling tenaciously to the idea that I had to be wrong. In the case of Jesus, he tried to make the argument that Jesus’ prophecy regarding the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem was a failed prophecy because the West Wall still stands. My argument to the contrary failed to sway him, even after I pointed out that the West Wall, also known as the Wailing Wall, had never been part of the Temple, but rather was a retaining wall built in the days of Herod the Great, meant to hold up part of the defensive outer wall he was building. The Temple itself, according to the Jewish historian Josephus, was torn down until not a single brick stood atop another. The Roman soldiers were so thorough in their work that they even pried up the stones that made up the floor of the Temple. This sounds a lot like the prophecy given by Jesus roughly 40 years prior.
Coming in Part Three, we will cover the debate between Faith-based Salvation and Works-based Salvation, to highlight some of the false teachings of the Mormon Church. We will delved into some of the Book of Mormon, and compare its teachings to that of the Bible.
King Follett Discourse: https://www.lds.org/ensign/1971/04/the-king-follett-sermon?lang=eng
Prophets are not infallible: https://www.fairmormon.org/answers/Mormonism_and_doctrine/Prophets_are_not_infallible