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The Nature of Prophets and Prophecy: A Rebuttal

    By Ben Rast

    Contender Ministries

    August 13, 2004

 A new Christian who recently came out of Mormonism sent me a link to the FAIR article, The Nature of Prophets and Prophecy, by John A. Tvedtnes.  An analysis of this article shows it to be shallow and without merit.  In the article, Mr. Tvedtnes states some things that are true and aren’t disputed by Christians.  However, he implies that we do dispute those things, which isn’t accurate.  For instance: the conditional nature of some prophecies, allowing for a different outcome if people repent.  For Mr. Tvedtnes to suggest that this is news to Christians would be like me saying, “Contrary to what Mormons may believe, there is such a thing as sin.”  Such a comment is disingenuous, and leaves the reader to make faulty conclusions of others’ beliefs. 


Mr. Tvedtnes includes some things in the second paragraph that are irrelevant to the topic (in my opinion), but I want to address them anyways.  He states, “The typical critic makes light of the admonition of LDS missionaries that people should pray to know from God whether Joseph Smith was a true prophet. This, they insist, is not the ‘biblical’ method of determining the truth. If this were true, however, the promise of James 1:5 is false…”  We don’t “make light” of this admonition – we reject it – and it in no way renders James 1:5 false.  James 1:5 tells us to pray for wisdom if we lack it.  It is not meant to imply that we should pray about acceptance of people who teach unbiblical doctrines.  Doing so is putting God to the test, and setting oneself up to receive a false wonder or sign.  Satan can present false signs, and this is a biblical fact.  The author also snidely says, “Ironically, those who preach against praying for divine confirmation of truth often believe that one must pray and confess the name of Jesus in order to receive a witness that one has been ‘saved.’”  No, we don’t pray to receive a witness.  He obviously doesn’t understand Biblical Christian teaching.  The sinner’s prayer is a prayer for forgiveness and an invitation to Jesus to become Lord of our life.  It has nothing to do with praying for a sign. 


The article goes on to state the Bible’s test for a prophet (Deuteronomy 18:20-22).  I have no disagreement with this, and will include it here also.  This is from the NIV, but you can compare it to the KJV and see they say the same thing:

But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded him to say, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death. You may say to yourselves, "How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the LORD?"  If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him.

Tvedtnes says, “The Deuteronomy passage does not say that a man is a false prophet because his prophecy failed, only that the failed prophecy is false. This being the case, it is incorrect to conclude, as most critics do, that one false prophecy (even if some true prophecies are given) makes Joseph Smith a false prophet.”  First, this position fails Scripturally.  The last sentence says, “Do not be afraid of him.”  The Hebrew word for “afraid” here is guwr, which means, “to fear, be afraid, or stand in awe of.”  This is the same word used elsewhere in the context of “fear the Lord.”  Obviously, in that context, the fear is one of respect and awe.  If we are not to be in fearful (respectful) awe of such a prophet, then he is no one we need to give ear to.  He is NOT a prophet of God.  Moreover, this allegation fails logically.  If a person uttered a false prophecy, then how are we to trust ANY prophecy that comes from his mouth?  How can we rely on one prophecy, if another prophecy of his has been proven false?  Talk about a roll of the dice!


When speaking of the rejection and stoning of prophets cited by Jesus in Matthew 23:37, Tvedtnes writes, “These men were undoubtedly stoned because, in the judgment of their contemporaries, they were false prophets.”  The passage does not state such, so this is conjecture by the author.  Furthermore, the Bible does tell of legitimate prophets who were rejected, but the reasons for the rejection can be easily seen as not valid.  Does Mr. Tvedtnes really thing Christians are so intellectually lame as to not learn from Scripture?  When we say that Joseph Smith is not a true prophet of God, it’s for good reason – not because he said things we just don’t like. 


Mr. Tvedtnes then quotes Joseph Fielding Smith as saying:

When prophets write and speak on the principles of the gospel, they should have the guidance of the Spirit. If they do, then all that they say will be in harmony with the revealed word. If they are in harmony then we know that they have not spoken presumptuously. Should a man speak or write, and what he says is in conflict with the standards which are accepted, with the revelations the Lord has given, then we may reject what he has said, no matter who he is. ( Doctrines of Salvation 1:187)

I agree with this statement by Smith.  If this were applied with intellectual honesty, then we should reject Joseph Smith’s revelation on plurality of wives, as this is in conflict with the Bible (and also with the Book of Mormon).  According to Joseph Fielding Smith’s own statement, Joseph Smith Jr. was a false prophet.


Tvedtnes then goes into discussion on conditional prophecy, as we mentioned at the beginning.  He discusses some of the conditional prophecies at the Bible which, when taken out of context of their conditional nature, appear to be false.  Of course, these are not false prophecies, and the author didn’t claim them to be.  I must, however, correct an error or two of his.  He mentions Ezekiel’s prophecy against the city of Tyre, and incorrectly states that Nebuchadnezzar never took the city.  He doesn’t mention the part of the prophecy that stated that Tyre’s ruins would be thrown into the sea.  There was a two-part fulfillment of this prophecy.  After a long war, Nebuchadnezzar took mainland Tyre, with her residents fleeing to the nearby island.  The ruins remained until Alexander the Great came along.  In order to conquer the island, he threw the ruins into the water to create a bridge of debris to cross.  By the time Nebuchadnezzar finally took Tyre, however, there weren’t many riches left to plunder.  He then turned to Egypt, conquering the Egyptian army.  As prophesied, Egypt was restored after forty years.  Also according to prophecy, they never ruled over another country again.  In spite of a few attempts to conquer Israel in the 1900’s, Egypt could never defeat this tiny little nation.  And regarding the destruction of Babylon listed in Isaiah 13, most Bible scholars agree that this is an end times prophecy.  Babylon, the county seat of Antichrist, will be totally destroyed, never to be inhabited again during the millennial Kingdom. 


When speaking of the timing of prophecy fulfillment, Tvedtnes mentions Jesus’ use of “this generation” when we writes, “As for Jesus' statement that these events would happen during his generation, Joseph Smith handled the problem by saying that Jesus was referring to the ‘generation’ in which the signs would begin (Joseph Smith-Matthew 1:34). Those who reject Joseph as a ‘false prophet’ are left with the quandary of either believing Jesus to have falsely prophesied or of accepting at least one teaching from Joseph Smith.”  Jesus was indeed speaking of the generation in which the signs would begin.  However, acknowledging that does not put me in a quandary any more than believing the earth is round would put me in quandary simply because Joseph Smith believed the same thing.  I believe Joseph Smith was a false prophet, but that doesn’t mean he’s incapable of being right about things.  The view that Jesus was referring to a latter generation has been widely held for some time. 


Mr. Tvedtnes then says, “But, from another point of view, we know that there are people who were alive in Jesus day (and also in Joseph's) who have not died, namely, the Apostle John (John 21:20-24; D&C 7) and the three Nephite disciples (3 Nephi 28:4-9).”  Okay, I’m sure you can guess what I’ll say about the three Nephite disciples – I submit that these fictional characters didn’t exist.  And with regards to John, the LDS belief that he still “tarries” is mistaken.  In John 21:22, Jesus said of John, "If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me."  The next verse, however, says, “Because of this, the rumor spread among the brothers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, ‘If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?’” [emphasis added] History records that John was eventually freed from prison on the Island of Patmos (where he wrote the Book of Revelation) and died of natural causes at Ephesus around AD 100. 


Tvedtnes mentions something very important.  He quotes President Harold B. Lee in a European area conference:

If anyone, regardless of his position in the Church, were to advance a doctrine that is not substantiated by the standard Church works, meaning the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price, you may know that his statement is merely his private opinion. The only one authorized to bring forth any new doctrine is the President of the Church, who, when he does, will declare it as revelation from God, and it will be so accepted by the Council of the Twelve and sustained by the body of the Church. And if any man speak a doctrine which contradicts what is in the standard Church works, you may know by that same token that it is false and you are not bound to accept it as truth. [emphasis added]

The last line is something with which I’m in complete agreement (though realize that I have a different definition of “standard Church works, mine being the Bible only).  D&C 132 lists a prophecy by Joseph Smith, recorded July 12, 1843.  The introduction says, “Although the revelation was recorded in 1843, it is evident from the historical records that the doctrines and principles involved in this revelation had been known by the Prophet since 1831.”  These dates come into play here in just a second.  Let’s move on to the actual prophecy.  Verses 1-4 state, “VERILY, thus saith the Lord unto you my servant Joseph, that inasmuch as you have inquired of my hand to know and understand wherein I, the Lord, justified my servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as also Moses, David and Solomon, my servants, as touching the principle and doctrine of their having many wives and concubines — Behold, and lo, I am the Lord thy God, and will answer thee as touching this matter.  Therefore, prepare thy heart to receive and obey the instructions which I am about to give unto you; for all those who have this law revealed unto them must obey the same.  For behold, I reveal unto you a new and an everlasting covenant; and if ye abide not that covenant, then are ye damned; for no one can reject this covenant and be permitted to enter into my glory.”  According to this revelation/prophecy by Joseph Smith, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, and Solomon were “justified” by God for touching the “principle and doctrine” of having many wives and concubines.  Yet the Book of Mormon states otherwise.  In Jacob 2:24, it says, “Behold, David and Solomon truly had many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable before me, saith the Lord.”  Jacob 1:15 says, “And now it came to pass that the people of Nephi, under the reign of the second king, began to grow hard in their hearts, and indulge themselves somewhat in wicked practices, such as like unto David of old desiring many wives and concubines, and also Solomon, his son.”  So in 1834 (or 1831), Joseph Smith claims the Lord told him that He justified David and Solomon for practicing the “doctrine” of having many wives and concubines.  Yet the Book of Mormon, published in 1830, says that this practice was “abominable” and a “wicked practice.”  And what of the Bible?  While the Bible presents the historical fact that certain men had many wives and concubines, this was not an instruction from God.  Instead, in 2 Timothy chapter 3, we read that elders and deacons must be “the husband of but one wife.”  Therefore, by President Lee’s own words, Joseph Smith is a false prophet.  His words (attributed to the Lord) in 1834/31 contradict two “standard Church works” – the Book of Mormon and the Bible.  Moreover, this was to be an everlasting covenant.  Anyone who rejects this could not be permitted to enter in to the glory of God, according to D&C 132:4.  Yet in 1890, President Wilford Woodruff did away with the everlasting covenant of plural marriage, as explained in Manifesto 1. 


After posting President Lee’s comment, Tvedtnes engages in quite a bit of diversion.  For instance, he states that the fact that Joseph Smith was not sinless does not disqualify him as a prophet.  This is diversionary, as nobody is claiming that Joseph Smith was a false prophet simply because he wasn’t sinless.  He also says “A few critics have claimed that Joseph Smith cannot be a true prophet because of the many enemies he made and because he spent time in prison.”  I don’t know what “few critics” the author is referring to, as this again is not an argument most people make.  He’s going into this as a diversion from the real issue.  He also takes on those who point out that Joseph Smith shot some members of the mob as they stormed the Carthage jail.  He says, “Do the critics really expect that the prophet should meekly sit down with his hands up, waiting for some 200 men to burst into the room and riddle him, his beloved brother, and two of his closest friends with bullets? Does the fact that he fought for his life make him less a prophet?”  I don’t know any “critics” who raise this issue in relation to Joseph Smith’s status as a prophet.  This is only brought up because for a long time the LDS Church drew a parallel between the death of Smith and the death of Jesus by saying that Smith was “led like a lamb to the slaughter.”  This is disingenuous, as lambs don’t fire back.  Jesus WAS led like a lamb to the slaughter.  Joseph Smith fought back.  I don’t fault him for that, but let’s not pretend he just sat there.  Once again, this is a diversionary tactic by the author.  One of the diversionary tactics I find most outrageous is the following: “Was Joseph Smith's order to destroy the Nauvoo Expositor press, so readily condemned by critics, really much different from the disturbance Jesus caused in the temple when he made a whip and attacked the stock merchants and money-changers, overthrowing their tables (John 2:13-16)?”  Umm… let me think about this… YES!!!  Jesus didn’t cause a disturbance in the temple because the merchants were saying bad things about Him.  He caused a disturbance because the merchants were defiling the Temple of God!!  Joseph Smith and the Nauvoo council ordered the destruction of the press because they were getting bad press.  Yes, I see a big difference.  This is not only a diversionary tactic, but I see it as blasphemous and outrageous! 


The author tries to address the issue of contradictory revelations by saying the following:

Joseph Smith has often been criticized on the grounds that his revelations contradict those of the Bible. Most of the contradictions are more pretended than real, and result from the inability of the critics to accept any revelation subsequent to the writing of the books of the Bible. Some of Joseph's revelations, however, contain ideas not clearly delineated in the Bible or foreign to it. We have, for example, the idea of eternal marriage or of baptism for the dead, for both of which there are only hints in the Bible but much evidence in other early Christian literature.

Eternal marriage is refuted in the Bible.  This is a hard pill for some Mormons to swallow.  I know that in Heaven, my wife and I won’t be married.  However, there is nothing to stop us from being best of friends and hanging out together in Heaven.  THIS sounds wonderful to me.  It sounds better to Jennifer than the LDS doctrine that I would be a god and she would be my wife.  Not only is it blasphemous, but also naďve.  The Church teaches that plurality of wives will be reinstated in the Celestial Kingdom, so she’d simply be one of many wives I take in the hereafter.  Thank God that doctrine is false and heretical.  Also, baptism for the dead, though mentioned by Paul, is not espoused by Paul.  He was addressing people who had wrong ideas and wrong doctrine on the resurrection of the dead.  When he spoke of baptism for the dead, he said it was a practice “they” engaged in.  If it were true doctrine, wouldn’t the pronoun be “we” or “I”?  No, Paul distanced himself from that practice.  I imagine the author knows his argument here is weak.  He also tries to compare Joseph Smith’s false prophecies and revelations with New Testament revelations that present a different view than Old Testament revelations.  What he mentions are natural consequences of having entered the Age of Grace under Jesus Christ.  The New Covenant of Grace replaced the Old Covenant of the Law.  Mr. Tvedtnes would have us believe that Joseph presented a Newer New Covenant.  If so, it’s not from God. 


I have two last points to address.  One has to deal with the author’s treatment of the Civil War Prophecy.  I’ll get to that in just a bit.  First, let me address a paragraph the author should have just not written: “Can we risk our eternal salvation on the Bible, which reports that the sun and the moon stood still for Joshua (Joshua 10:12-14), when we know that this…is a scientific impossibility? One might object that what the Bible describes is the standing still of the earth, rather than of the heavenly bodies (which is precisely the way the Book of Mormon puts it in Helaman 12:13-15).[sic] But the point is that the author of Joshua held an incorrect belief concerning the movement of celestial bodies, even if that does not invalidate the basic story he tells.”  The author apparently believes that God MUST, at ALL TIMES, but subject to the laws of nature that He created.  He believes that God is incapable of transcending His creation.  This notion renders God natural, rather than supernatural.  The God of the Bible is greater than His creation, and has throughout history transcended natural laws to create events that defy a naturalistic explanation.  These are called miracles. 


Finally, let’s look at Smith’s prophecy on war (D&C 87).  Tvedtnes states that this prophecy was fulfilled by the American Civil War.  However, while he tries to acknowledge some important historical facts, he fails.  Let’s look at the facts.  On July 14, 1832 (more than five months before the date of Smith's prophecy), Congress passed a tariff act that South Carolina declared null and void. Because tensions were high, President Andrew Jackson put the U.S. army on alert and the United States expected war in 1832! The LDS Evening and Morning Star and many other U.S. newspapers reported that information before Smith's prophecy!  So anyone who might have read Joseph Smith's prophecy at that time would not have been enthralled by a prediction of war beginning in South Carolina -- everyone was expecting that.  However, things calmed down.  Perhaps that's why, even though D. & C. 87 is dated December 25, 1832, it did not appear in the 1833 Book of Commandments or in any edition of the D. & C. or other LDS scripture until after the Civil War began! It was printed in the 1851 Pearl of Great Price in England and in The Seer by Orson Pratt in 1854, but neither of those were considered then as scripture.  And in the 1850's, the rumors of war between the North and South were already starting, so that was probably why Pratt published it then.  The point is, the prediction of war beginning in South Carolina was something anyone would have made in 1832.  Reviving this in the 1850’s was reactionary to renewed rumors of civil war.  At the time it was given, most people would have read it and said, “Well, duh!”


Addressing verses 2 and 3, it says, "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."  Now, the south DID call upon Great Britain for help, but Great Britain did not get involved, nor did they call upon other nations to defend themselves.  If one reads this with intellectual honesty as opposed to blind faith, it’s easy to see that Joseph Smith establishes the South Carolina rebellion as the causal factor in war being poured out upon all nations.  This simply did not happen, and given the wording of the prophecy, it can in no way be construed as something that can still come to pass.  This prophecy doesn't say, "and someday down the road, war will be poured out on all nations for reasons other than the South Carolina rebellion," but that's the way Mr. Tvedtnes wants you to interpret it.  World War I did not start because of the South Carolina rebellion, and its roots did not begin there.  Any effort to link the South Carolina rebellion or the American Civil War with any war that has happened since is simply illogical.  D&C 87 was not a divine insight.  Rather, it was a false prophecy.  Whether you use the prophecy test listed in Deuteronomy 18:20-22, or the test cited by President Lee, Joseph Smith fails both tests.  He was a false prophet.  It is incumbent upon Christians to reach Mormons with the true gospel of Jesus Christ.  It’s time to bring them into a saving and joyous relationship with Jesus Christ.


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