As I was coming up (Southern speak for growing up) in my hometown of Austin, TX I can recall numerous encounters with people I would eventually learn were Mormons. I can remember seeing clean white shirts, black ties, black slacks and nice shoes as they pedaled around the neighborhood on bikes. More than once, I accepted the tracts they handed out, but I was only a child, so I did not really understand what was going on. I was simply too involved in childish things, as I was in Middle School.
They always struck me as being incredibly nice. Not only were they clean-cut, well-pressed and very studious, they were also unfailingly polite, respectful and completely unobtrusive. It’s no wonder they did not make much of an impression on a 13-yeard-old version of me. That was not my thing back then. It is safe to say that I was not very open to matters of spirituality; I was more concerned with looking good for the girls, and avoiding embarrassment before my peers. Shallow was not the correct term for me at that age, as it implies that there might have been a deep end. If I had been a body of water, no part of me would have been deep enough to drown a cricket, but I digress.
Years later, while going through the trials and tribulations of Basic Combat Training for the Army, I would find myself spending time with a Mormon. While his name escapes me today (nearly thirteen years later), I can recall that we very quickly gave him the nickname “The Stormin’ Mormon”. Again, he was quiet, studious, always respectful, an all-around decent guy. However, he did show a tough side during training that showed he was well-acquainted with the rougher side of human nature, which was something we appreciated under the circumstances. Simply put, the man could ruck, he could fight, and he was not in any way lazy. That was more than enough for any of us.
Throughout all of this, I had labored under the impression that, while they were Christians, they held beliefs that were just a bit odd. I had heard of Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, and their belief that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. However, nothing really caught my attention until recently. In recent times, I’ve found new interest in their beliefs because my wife made a new friend: a Mormon woman. Sometime within the next few weeks, this woman and her husband are due to come over and spend time with us. Neither side has any illusions, our intent is the same: to convince the other side of the truth of our own position. In other words, our intent is as much to convert our new-found friends as theirs is to convert us. It seems only fair, all things considered.
Now, you will note that I said I thought they were Christian, implying that I no longer hold that position. If that is what you have gathered, then you would be right. I no longer regard them as Christian because they do not worship the Jesus that is found in Scripture. What they worship is a false image of Jesus, which makes them idolaters. This means that their very belief is not inspired by God, but rather based on a deception from Satan, either in the form of delusion on the part of Joseph Smith, or a deliberate lie. Joseph Smith’s story is really difficult to believe, yet, countless numbers of Mormon missionaries go about the daily business of trying to convince others to believe that Joseph Smith was the real deal. So, without further ado, let’s set about making the case for Joseph Smith as a false and failed prophet, based upon the Bible and the facts of history.
What is a Prophet?
According to Merriam-Webster, a prophet is defined as, “one who utters divinely inspired revelations”. In the Bible, Scripture states that a prophet is someone who God has chosen to speak for Him, to teach from His Word, and to lead His people. Some prime examples are Jonah, Isaiah, Nathan, and even Jesus. All of them were prophets, Jesus being chief among them. This brings up an interesting and very pertinent question. How does one tell when they are dealing with a Prophet of God? Throughout history, there have been singular men, and two women, who bore the distinction of being Prophets of God, but not much is said about what it takes for someone to gain that distinction. How, then, are we to know whether or not the person in front of us is a prophet? As it turns out, there is an absolute standard by which a Prophet of God must be judged, and this standard does not allow for one bit of wiggle room.
Before going any further, there is a need to take a moment and take a look at something Jesus said in Matthew 7. “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?” (Matthew 7:15-16) By these two verses, we are given permission to judge for ourselves whether or not someone claiming to be a Prophet of God is truly what they say they are, and this is where we will begin our journey into Mormonism. We will exercise our right, granted by this statement and others like it, to decide for ourselves the true nature of someone who attempts to take on the mantle of prophet.
To be able to judge, we must first have a standard with which to judge, not to mention justification. Matthew 7:15-16 contains two articles, both of which are very much of note. Jesus opens with a warning regarding false teachers, because He knew that there would be false teachers after He was gone. Now, it’s worth noting that the word used for “prophets” (προφήτης, prophétés) could also be used to mean “teachers”, so this is not just a warning against people claiming to speak FOR God, but also a warning against anyone who would dare to teach anything but the Gospel of our Lord and Savior. It is as much a warning for those would-be teachers/prophets as it was for the followers of Jesus.
The second article is how Jesus told us to discern for ourselves whether or not someone is a true prophet. He said that we would know them by their fruits. In other words, we would know them by the end results of their actions. We would know them, not just by their words, but by the deeds that accompany them. Their character would shine through and either highlight their blessing from God, or reveal the heinous nature of their teachings. In either case, it is entirely for us to discern. What we can gain from a careful reading of the passage is that Jesus fully expects us to place on the hot seat anyone claiming to speak for God. This applies to Muhammad, as well as Joseph Smith, Jr, and Joseph Smith is who we are here to discuss.
To find the standard by which we are to apply this judgement, we must roll all the way back to the Torah, specifically in the Book of Deuteronomy, Chapters 13 and 18. It is through these chapters that God outlines clearly the standards by which every prophet is to be judged, which goes along with Jesus’ endorsement of His followers to freely judge prophets.
Deuteronomy 13:1-5 says,
“If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, 2 and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘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, and 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 taught rebellion against the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you out of the house of slavery, to make you leave the way in which the Lord your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.”
Straightaway, we have the point made, if someone comes along and shows you miracles, you are not to immediately assume that the Lord God sent them. In fact, He says that we are to pay attention to the words that they are saying. In other words, look to what they are teaching, because that will help you determine what to do next. In verse 2, the example is used, “Let us go after other gods,” This is important because they are not necessarily going to say that they want us to follow other gods, they may try to convince us that we are in fact following the Lord God, and that we had not been doing it right before. False prophets are nothing if not clever in their ability to lead people off into the weeds. Obviously, God was telling the Israelite people to be wary, and we should not be any less so. The Enemy is always seeking ways to ensnare us, and it’s up to us to avoid his traps.
God then goes into the statement that we are to love Him above all others, that we are to follow Him above all others, and that we should not listen to those who would tell us to do otherwise. That is the key part, we are not allowed to follow anyone who attempts to lead us away from the Lord, rather than toward Him. The Prophet or dreamer of dreams must hold fast to the Lord’s Word, and teach according to it, or else they shall be put to death. It seems pretty clear, right? To further clarify, Albert Barnes, noted 18th Century preacher and theologian, had this to say regarding this passage:
“A prophet is here supposed who invites the people “to go after other gods.” To such a one no credit is under any circumstances to be given, even should he show signs and wonders to authenticate his doctrine. The standing rule of faith and practice had been laid down once for all – that the people were to hold fast. The prophet who propounded another rule could only be an impostor.”
Bearing that in mind, note that there is no room for error in the language of this passage. When teaching the Word, from the Word, or according to the Word, there can be no variance. This means that anyone who calls themselves a prophet, yet teaches in a way that is contrary to God’s will, His Word, or His commands, is not merely to be regarded as a false prophet, but is to be killed for being such. That is rather serious.
“But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ 21 And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the Lord has not spoken?’— 22 when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.”
If a prophet speaks presumptuously, or in the name(s) of other gods, then they are false, and false prophets must die. Again, not only must they teach according to God’s will and direction, but they cannot be inaccurate in any way, shape, or form. Nowhere in any of this is there room for the idea that human fallibility can somehow intrude on the office of Prophet. Quite the opposite, in fact, human fallibility is not permitted to have anything to do with the execution of one’s duties as a prophet. Humans are fallible, Prophets must not be, at least when acting as a prophet.
Speaking in reference to Deuteronomy 18:21, Albert Barnes has this to say, “The passage evidently assumes such an occasion for consulting the prophet as was usual among the pagan, e. g., an impending battle or other such crisis (compare 1 Kings 22:11), in which his veracity would soon be put to the test. Failure of a prediction is set forth as a sure note of its being “presumptuous.” But from Deuteronomy 13:2 ff we see that the fulfillment of a prediction would not decisively accredit him who uttered it: for the prophet or dreamer of dreams who endeavoured on the strength of miracles to seduce to idolatry was to be rejected and punished. Nothing therefore contrary to the revealed truth of God was to be accepted under any circumstances.”
Again, there is that unyielding language that leaves absolutely no margin for error. Not only must a Prophet teach and lead according to the Word of God, but they must also transmit His Word and His will accurately and faithfully, no matter what. Just one failed prophesy, and they are a false prophet worthy of death. No pressure, right?
Coming up in Part Two, we will go over Joseph Smith’s background, including a brief biography and an overview of his teachings, from his own words. To that end, most of the material I present will come directly from the Mormons themselves, specifically the LDS website. We will also review the standards found in Deuteronomy 13 & 18, as they relate to Mormon teachings.