Prophets in Mormonism, Part II

By Marvin W. Cowan

The Profile of a Prophet is the title of an article by Hugh B. Brown in the LDS magazine Ensign for June 2006 (pp. 34-39).  Brown was an LDS Apostle and a member of the First Presidency with the ninth LDS President and Prophet, David O. McKay.  The article is a summary of a discussion Brown had with an English friend about Joseph Smith being a true prophet.  In it he listed some characteristics that he said should distinguish a man who claims to be a prophet.  One of the characteristics he mentioned was that a prophet “would predict future events in the name of the Lord, and they would come to pass as did Isaiah and Ezekiel” (p. 37).  While that is what the Bible teaches, Brown didn’t give any examples of such prophecies by Joseph Smith or any other Mormon prophet.  Instead of giving examples of Joseph Smith’s fulfilled prophecies, Brown later said, “Only by the whisperings of the Holy Spirit can one come to know the things of God.  By those whisperings I say I know that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God.  I thank God for that knowledge”(p.39).  So, it was not because of fulfilled prophecies that Brown knew that Joseph Smith was a prophet.  It was because of an experience he called “the whisperings of the Holy Spirit.”  Many Mormons claim to know something is true by “the whisperings of the Holy Spirit” but they differ on what that means.  Some say it is a feeling or “a burning bosom” while others say they heard a voice speak to them.  The Bible doesn’t say such things prove a man is a true prophet.  The Biblical proof of a true prophet is that all of his prophecies come true (Deuteronomy 13:1-5 and 18:20-22).  It also warns that if a man prophecies in the name of any god other than the God of Israel, he is still a false prophet even if his prophecy comes to pass.

In his article, Hugh B. Brown also said that Joseph Smith “predicted many things which have come to pass, things which only God could bring to pass” (p. 38).  Again he gave no example of such prophecy.  When Mormons are asked for examples of Joseph Smith’s true prophecies, most of them mention Smith’s “Civil War prophecy” which is now LDS scripture in Doctrine & Covenants 87.  But everything that is true in Smith’s “prophecy” was published in secular newspapers before his revelation.  Smith’s Civil War prophecy is dated December 25, 1832, and the first three verses declare: “Verily, thus saith the Lord concerning the wars that will shortly come to pass, beginning at the rebellion of South Carolina, which will eventually terminate in the death and misery of many souls; and the time will come that war will be poured out upon all nations beginning at this place.  For behold, the Southern States shall be divided against the Northern States, and the Southern States will call on other nations, even the nation Great Britain, as it is called, and they shall also call upon other nations, in order to defend themselves against other nations; and then war shall be poured out upon all nations.”

Mormons point out that the Civil War did begin in South Carolina and ended with the death and misery of many.  But four days before Smith’s revelation, the Painsville, OH newspaper near Smith’s home predicted that war would begin in South Carolina between the Northern and Southern states.  That was also predicted in many newspapers even earlier because on July 14, 1832, Congress had passed a tariff act which South Carolina considered so bad that they declared it null and void on November 24, 1832.  President Andrew Jackson responded by sending Gen. Scott with armed troops and a warship to Charleston, SC on December 10, 1832, and many expected war to begin in So. Carolina two weeks before Smith received his revelation!  However, things temporarily settled down and the Civil War didn’t begin in South Carolina until about 28 years later.  But it began because the same old issues had never been resolved.  So, when Smith prophesied war would begin in South Carolina between the Northern and Southern states, it was information that had already been in the newspapers.  But Smith also predicted that the Southern states would call on Great Britain for help and that Great Britain would call on other nations to help and then war would be poured out upon all nations.  The South did call on Great Britain for help, but Britain refused to help and did not call on any other nation to help and war was not poured out upon all nations as Smith had predicted.  So, there is false prophecy even in the first three verses of Smith’s Civil War prophecy.

But nothing in the remaining verses of Smith’s Civil War prophecy happened.  He said that slaves would rise up against their masters in the war (v. 4).  But there was no great uprising of slaves against their masters nor were slaves major participants in the war.  Slaves were freed by Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.  The main participants in the war were Northern white people fighting Southern white people.  Smith’s prophecy also said the “remnants of the land” would “vex the Gentiles with sore vexation” in the war (v. 5).  LDS authorities identify the “remnants of the land” as American Indians.  Did the Indians vex the white “Gentiles” with a great vexation or have any major part in the Civil War?  Did the sword, bloodshed, famine, plague, earthquake, thunder and lightening etc. “make a full end of all nations” as Smith said in v. 6?   It is too late for these things to be fulfilled now, so it is false prophecy.  Yet, it is this prophecy that Mormons almost always use as evidence that Smith was a true prophet of God!

Our next article will continue our discussion of prophets in Mormonism.  More can be read on this subject in my book Mormon Claims Answered.

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