False Prophecies of Mormon Prophets

Why False Prophecy Matters


When God speaks, it’s not a mere whisper in the wind or a faint echo. No, His voice resounds with authority, power, and a divine promise that cannot be broken. Imagine the moment when the universe burst forth into existences at His command. In a grand symphony, time, space, and matter danced harmoniously to the rhythm of His voice bringing forth a world of wonder and beauty. From nothing, God spoke and everything fell into place, held together by His sovereign hand, uniform and perfect in His decree. (Gen 1:3; Colossians 1:17)

Throughout History, God chose to communicate with His people in various ways. In the past, He spoke through prophets, His messengers who carried His truth to humanity. These prophets, empowered by the authority and name of YHWH, brought us the knowledge of the perfect God. Their words bridged the gap between our fallen state and God’s holiness, for sin had complicated our relationship with Him since the disobedient days of Adam and Eve. (Hebrews 1:1-2, 2 Peter 1:20-21; Gen 3:6-7)

As humanity found itself severed from the perfect communion with God, the need for redemption arose. God, in His abundant mercy, did not abandon Adam and his descendants. Instead, He clothed them in animal skins, guiding them toward discernment and righteousness. Adam, originally entrusted with the roles of prophet, priest and king over the world, unfortunately failed in these positions. But God, in His divine intervention, set in motion a plan to redeem humanity through the promised seed -the Messiah- who would crush the head of the serpent and conquer sin and death. This promise was fulfilled in Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God who acted the mediator for all of God’s people since the fall of man. (Gen 3:21; Romans 5:12; Gen 3:15, John 1:1-3, John 1:18)

From the very beginning, God spoke not only to Adam and Eve but also to Noah, Moses and countless other prophets throughout the Old Testament. Their prophetic voices echoed God’s will and revealed His character. These prophets, even though they lived before Christ’s incarnation, spoke on behalf of YHWH, which means they spoke on behalf of Christ. Their understanding of God prior to His incarnation was veiled, presented through shadows and types. (Gen 6:13. Ex 3:4, Num 12:6-8, Luke 24:27, 1 Pet 1:10-11)

Prophecy played a vital role in unveiling the mystery of God’s decree to world, from explaining the origins of the universe, the origin of humanity, the presence of death, to the future redemption of God’s people; through prophetic revelation we received insight into God’s grand design. It was even through a Prophet that the Law of God was given, which served as a guidepost that pointed to the ultimate fulfillment of the Law in Jesus Christ. Even the arrival of Jesus, His life, death and resurrection were fulfilled prophecies establishing Him as the head of all rule and authority. With His ascension, Jesus now sits at the right hand of the Father, reigning with all-encompassing dominion. Consequently,  the need for prophets to guide God’s people toward the incarnation has ceased, as Christ has already come. (Gen 1-3, Is 53:5-6, Ex 20:1-17, Deut 18:15, Hebrews 1:3, Matt 28:18-20)

In the early Church, the epistles of the apostles and revelation from the prophets laid the foundation of the Church prior to the full formation of the New Testament Scriptures by the Holy Spirit. In other words, they carried the torch of revelation, until the New Testament canon was complete and whole. Now, armed with the perfect and complete counsel of God’s Word, we no longer need to augment the foundation of the Church but rather build upon the rock-solid truth provided through Christ and the Holy Spirit’s inspired Word of God.  (Eph 2:20, 2 Peter 3:2, 1 Cor 3:10-11, Eph 2:19-22)

In God’s Word, we find certainty – certainty of His will for us, His unchanging nature, and His plan of salvation. The Bible contains no contradictions or variations, reflecting the perfect nature of its Author. Through faith in His revealed Word, we can fully understand who God is and His desire for His people. Like stated in Hebrews 1:1-3 we no longer need prophets for God has spoken to us through His word.  Yet, if someone comes and claims to speak on behalf of YHWH we must be able to whether or not they truly speak on behalf of God.  There are guidelines set by God for prophets which provide us with a means to test those who claim to speak of behalf of God. It is God’s previously revealed Word which is our measuring stick, ensuring that we are not led astray by False Prophets, and that is the point of this section on our website to help you understand the importance of prophecy and why through God’s Word that Joseph Smith was a False Prophet. (James 1:17, 2 Tim 3:16-17, Deut 18:20-22, 1 Cor 13:8, 1 John 4:1)

Types of Prophecy

 Conditional: Conditional prophecy is a type of prophecy that is dependent on certain conditions being met. In other words, if certain actions are taken or conditions are fulfilled, then the prophecy will be fulfilled. A well-known example of conditional prophecy is Jonah’s prophecy to the city of Nineveh. Jonah warned the people of Nineveh that if they did not repent of their sins, the city would be destroyed. However, when the people of Nineveh did repent, God relented and did not destroy the city.

"If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it."

Jeremiah 18:7-8

Unconditional: Unconditional prophecy, on the other hand, is a type of prophecy that is not dependent on any conditions being met. In other words, the prophecy will be fulfilled regardless of any actions taken or conditions being fulfilled. A well-known example of unconditional prophecy is God’s promise to Abraham that he would have a son and that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky.

Joseph Smith, despite not making numerous unconditional prophecies, did make a few that hold significant weight. It is crucial to acknowledge their importance, as the Bible unequivocally declares that if an individual professes to be a prophet and their prophecies fail to materialize, they are deemed false prophets. Astonishingly, Joseph Smith did make unconditional prophecies that ultimately proved to be unsuccessful, and it is imperative to shed light upon them now.


Biblical Precedent for False Prophecy

"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.’ And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the Lord has not spoken?’— 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."

Deuteronomy 18:20-22

“If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, 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,’ 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.

Deuteronomy 13:1-3

LDS Precedent for False Prophecy

“Mormonism, as it is called, must stand or fall on the story of Joseph Smith. He was either a prophet of God divinely called, properly appointed, and commissioned or he was one of the biggest frauds the world has ever seen. There is no middle ground.”

Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation pg. 188, vol 1

“The ultimate test of a true prophet is when he speaks in the name of the Lord, his words come to pass”

Ezra Taft Benson, Deseret News, Oct 6, 1981, p. 6a

"Search these commandments, for they are true and faithful, and the prophecies and promises which are in them shall all be fulfilled. What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same. For behold, and lo, the Lord is God, and the Spirit beareth record, and the record is true, and the truth abideth forever and ever. Amen."

D&C 1:37-39

Unconditional Failed Prophecies of Joseph Smith

1. The Coming of the Lord is Nigh

This is an unconditional prophecy that states the LORD would return in 56 years. That the vineyard – the world will be pruned one last time before God returns. Furthermore, Joseph Smith has another prophecy to show that he truly meant that Jesus would return soon:

“My Son, if thou livest until though art eight-five years of age [i.e., December 1890], thou shalt see the face of the Son of Man…. in the name of the Lord God, and let it be written – the Son of Man will not come in the clouds of heaven till I am eighty-five years old.” – Prophet Joseph Smith, Jr.’s prophecy on the return of Jesus Christ, see History of the Church, v. 5, p. 324


The context of this quote is that Joseph Smith, Jr. made a prophecy in which he told a man named Josiah Stowell that if he lived to be 85 years old, he would see the face of the Son of Man. This was recorded in the History of the Church, volume 5, page 324. The quote refers to the fact that the Son of Man (Jesus Christ) would not come in the clouds of heaven until Joseph Smith, Jr. was 85 years old, according to his prophecy. Joseph never lived to 85 he was murdered, and the Son of Man has still not come.

2. Revelation of the Temple being built in Independence Missouri (D&C 84:1-5)

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.

Joseph Smith, D&C 84:1-5

This did not happen within Joseph Smith’s generation. And there is historical proof within the LDS organization that the leaders did in fact believe that when Joseph Smith stated, within this generation, he meant the generation at hand. A generation is typically of 40-60 years. 

25 Years Later Heber C. Kimball still believed:

“They are holy places, and they will be held sacred even as Jackson County..” “and I shall yet see the day that I will go back there, with brother Brigham and with thousands and millions of others, and we will go precisely according to the dedication of the Prophet of the living God. Talk to me about my having any dubiety on my mind about these things being fulfilled.—I am just as confident of it as I am that I am called to be a saviour of men, and no power can hinder it.”

Heber C. Kimball, Dec 17, 1857 Journal of Discourses, Vol 6. p. 190
25 years later, Elias Smith still believed:

“I expect to live to be an old man, and to go back with the saints to the land of Jackson County.”

Elias Smith, 1857 Journal of Discourses, Vol 6. p. 221
29 years later, Heber C. Kimball still believed:

“Brethren, I shall go to Jackson County with thousands of this people who will be faithful to their integrity; but we cannot go back until we have built some good houses.”

Disclosure by Heber C. Kimball, 1861 Journal of Discourses, Vol. 8, p. 350
29 years later, Elder George A. Smith still believed:

“Who is there that is prepared for this movement back to the center stake of Zion, and where are the architects amongst us that are qualified to erect this temple and the city that will surround it.” “And let me remind you that it is predicted that this generation shall not pass away till a temple shall be built, and the glory of the Lord rest upon it, according to the promises.”

Elder George A. Smith, March 10, 1861, Journal of Discourse, Vol. 9, p. 71
32 years later, Elder George Q. Cannon still believed:

"The generation in which the revelation was given, which is upwards of thirty years ago.“The day is near when a Temple shall be reared in the Center Stake of Zion, and the Lord has said his glory shall rest on that House in this generation, that is in the generation in which the revelation was given, which is upwards of thirty years ago.”

Elder George Q. Cannon, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 10, p. 344, October 23, 1864
38 years later, Elder Orson Pratt still believed:

“We have just as much confidence in returning to Jackson County and the building of a great city that will remain there a thousand years before the earth passes away, as the Jews have in returning to Jerusalem and re-building the waste places of Palestine. In fact, we have more faith than they have; for they have been so many generations cast out of their land that their descendants have almost lost their faith in returning. But, the Latter-day Saints are fresh, as it were. There are many of the old stock, who passed through all those tribulations I have named, still living, whose faith in returning to Jackson County, and the things that are coming, is as firm and fixed as the throne of the Almighty.”

Elder Orson Pratt, in a discourse delivered in the Tabernacle, Salt Lake City, April 10, 1870. Journal of Discourses, Vol. 13, p. 138

“God promised in the year 1832 that we should, before this generation then living had passed away, return and build up the City of Zion in Jackson County; that we should return and build up the temple of the Most High where we formerly laid the corner stone. He promised us that He would manifest Himself on that temple, that the glory of God should be upon it; and not only upon the temple, but within it, even a cloud by day and a flaming fire by night. We believe in these promises as much as we believe in any promise ever uttered by the mouth of Jehovah. The Latter-day Saints just as much expect to receive a fulfillment of that promise during the generation that was in existence in 1832 as they expect that the sun will rise and set to-morrow. Why? Because God cannot lie. He will fulfill all His promises. He has spoken, it must come to pass. This is our faith.”

Elder Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 13, p. 362, May 5, 1870
39 years later, Elder Orson Pratt still believed:

“all the people that were living thirty-nine years ago have not passed away; but before they do pass away this will be fulfilled.”…”We just as much expect that a city will be built, called Zion, in the place and on the land which has been appointed by the Lord our God, and that a temple will be reared on the spot that has been selected, and the corner-stone of which has been laid, in the generation when this revelation was given; we just as much expect this as we expect the sun to rise in the morning and set in the evening; or as much as we expect to see the fulfillment of any of the purposes of the Lord our God, pertaining to the works of his hands. But say the objector, “thirty nine years have passed away.” What of that? The generation has not passed away; all the people that were living thirty-nine years ago have not passed away; but before they do pass away this will be fulfilled.”

Elder Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 14, p. 275., delivered in the New Tabernacle, Salt Lake City, April 9, 1871
42 years later, Elder Orson Pratt still believed:

“God said, in the year 1832, before we were driven out of Jackson County, in a revelation which you will find here in this book, that before that generation should all pass away, a house of the Lord should be built in that county. (Jackson County). This was given forty-two years ago. That generation then living was not only to commence a house of God in Jackson County, Missouri, but was actually to complete the same. And when it is completed the glory of God should rest upon it.”

Elder Orson Pratt, Interest Manifested, ETO p. 111
43 years later, Elder Orson Pratt still believed:

“We need not expect, from what God has revealed, that a very great number of those who were then in the Church and who were driven, will have the privilege of returning to that land.”

Elder Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 17, p. 291. February 7, 1875
58 years later, the LDS Church still believed: 

The 1890 edition of the Doctrines and Covenants, Section 84, p. 289 included a footnote that read, “… a generation does not all pass away in one hundred years.” This footnote has since been deleted in more recent editions.

1890 D&C, Sec 84. p. 289
103 years later, Joseph Fielding Smith still believed: 

“I firmly believe that there will be some of that generation who were living when this revelation was given who shall be living when this temple is reared. And I do not believe that the Lord has bound himself to accomplish the matter within 100 years from 1832.” “I have full confidence in the word of the Lord and that it shall not fail."

Joseph Fielding Smith, The Way to Perfection, Salt Lake City, p. 270

After 140 years, Mormon Church itself admitted this was a false prophecy. No temple was ever built on this property and the close-dated, unconditional prophecy never came true.

 Joseph Fielding Smith finally admitted there was no expectation this prophecy would ever come to pass:

“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 with the one hundred years from the time of 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.”

Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, Vol. 4. p. 112
3. The Prophecy that the United States will be Overthrown within a few years (D&C 87)
Doctrine and Covenants 87 is a revelation received by Joseph Smith on December 25, 1832, and it contains a prophecy about a future war in the United States. Here is the text of the revelation:

"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 of 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."

D&C 87
Issues with the prophecy:
  1. Timing: The prophecy states that war “will shortly come to pass,” and that it will begin with the rebellion of South Carolina. However, the Civil War did not begin until 29 years later, in 1861. This means that the prophecy did not come to pass within the timeframe specified.
  2. Specifics: The prophecy predicts that the Southern States will be divided against the Northern States, and that the Southern States will call on Great Britain and other nations for help. However, this is not exactly what happened in the Civil War. While the war did begin over issues related to slavery and states’ rights, it was not solely a North vs. South conflict, and Great Britain did not become involved in the war.
  3. Fulfilled Prophecy: Additionally, while the prophecy contains some elements that may be seen as fulfilled (such as the prediction of war and death), these are general enough that they could apply to many different conflicts throughout history. There is nothing in the prophecy that could not have been guessed or predicted by someone with knowledge of world history and politics.

Notice the following section from the D&C: “that will shortly come to pass, beginning at the rebellion of South Carolina.” I have South Carolina in bold because South Carolina actually was the first state to succeed from the Union on Dec 20, 1860. However, it is more complex than just South Carolina succeeding.  The American Civil War began on April 12, 1861, when Confederate forces attacked a United States military installation at Fort Sumter, South Carolina. Also prior to this “revelation,” Joseph Smith had recently visited New York, where he had likely heard of The Nullification Crisis which was ongoing in the United States in 1832, which was a political conflict between the federal government and the state of South Carolina over the issue of tariffs. 

This crisis led to talk of secession by some Southern states, and it’s possible that Smith heard about these developments while he was in New York. It’s also worth noting that Smith was known to be interested in politics and current events, and he was likely following the news closely during this time.

“No Man Knows My History” does mention Joseph Smith’s trip to New York prior to his civil war prophecy. In Chapter 12, “The Politics of Zion,” Brodie writes about Smith’s interest in politics and current events, and how he was likely aware of the Nullification Crisis and the talk of secession by some Southern states. Brodie also notes that during his trip to New York, Smith “had encountered many people who had a more cosmopolitan view of the world than the Saints in Missouri.” (p. 250) This exposure to different ideas and perspectives may have contributed to Smith’s interest in politics and his awareness of the events happening in the United States at the time.

Resources on the Civil War:
Resources for Nullification Crisis and Joseph Smith traveling to New York prior to Prophecy:
  • Brodie, Fawn M. No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith, the Mormon Prophet. New York: Vintage Books, 1995.

  • “Nullification Crisis,” History.com, accessed May 24, 2023, https://www.history.com/topics/19th-century/nullification-crisis.

  • Quinn, D. Michael. The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power. Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books, 1994.

  • Shipps, Jan. Mormonism: The Story of a New Religious Tradition. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1985.

  • Ostling, Richard, and Joan K. Ostling. Mormon America: The Power and the Promise. San Francisco, CA: HarperCollins Publishers, 2007.

4. The Prophecy that David W. Patten would go on a Mission to the Eastern States
Revelation given through Joseph Smith the Prophet, at Far West, Missouri, April 11, 1838. Doctrine and Covenants 114:1-2:

"Verily thus saith the Lord: It is wisdom in my servant David W. Patten, that he settle up all his business as soon as he possibly can, and make a disposition of his merchandise, that he may perform a mission unto me next spring, in company with others, even twelve including himself, to testify of my name and bear glad tidings unto all the world. For verily thus saith the Lord, that inasmuch as there are those among you who deny my name, others shall be planted in their stead and receive their bishopric. Amen.”

Joseph Smith, D&C 114:1-2

Joseph Smith prophesied that David W. Patten would perform a mission the following spring, but Patten died before he was able to complete that mission. Therefore, the prophecy was not fulfilled as Joseph Smith had initially stated.

David W. Patten died on October 25, 1838, at the Battle of Crooked River during the Missouri Mormon War. He was leading a group of Latter-day Saint volunteers against a group of anti-Mormon militia when he was shot in the abdomen. So he never lived until next spring. This unconditional prophecy of Joseph Smith fails as well.