Archive for the ‘Eschatology’ Category

by Fred W. Anson
Introduction
The conference on Mormonism was in full swing and the speaker had the roomful of Evangelicals in the palm of his eloquent hand hanging on every word. His main thesis? “False prophecy is like murder. It only takes one time to make a false prophet.” And so he went on and on and on, one failed Joseph Smith prophecy after another, and always ending with this repetitive point, which was thrown out like a mantra that the crowd itself began repeating: “False prophecy is like murder. It only takes one time to make a false prophet.” Does anyone see a problem here?

I did. After the conference, I sent the speaker this email:

‘”False prophecy is like murder. It only takes one time to make a false prophet.” (Speaker’s Name)

So what does that say about Chuck Smith, Hal Lindsey, and other well-known “Soothsayers of the Second Advent”? We can’t apply one standard to cults and another one to Evangelicals. The plumb line is the plumb line.

And if we let Chuck Smith and Hal Lindsay off the hook using the, “Well, they were just speculating or talking out loud not REALLY prophesying!” Then how are we any different than cultists?

I got no response.

Standards Are Standards
The problem here isn’t so much a weak argument as a double standard. For those who don’t know, the speaker’s argument was based on the biblical test for a False Prophet which can be found in Deuteronomy 18:17-22 (NKJV):

And the Lord said to me: ‘What they have spoken is good. I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him. And it shall be that whoever will not hear My words, which He speaks in My name, I will require it of him. 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.’ And if you say in your heart, ‘How shall we know the word which the Lord has not spoken?’— 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.

And there is no denying that Joseph Smith fulfilled the requirement for a false prophet based on this criteria is there? Here’s a partial list of his failed prophecies from the neutral source Wikipedia:1

Zion in this generation: Zion and its temple will be built at Independence, Missouri, “in this generation”. (September 22 or 23, 1832, see D&C 84:2-5)

Zion built here: Promise that if the Saints are obedient in building a temple in Independence, Missouri, then the City of Zion will prosper and become glorious, and that Zion cannot “be moved” out of its place. (August 2, 1833, see D&C 97:15-20)

Missouri victory: Speaking through Smith, God says regarding Missouri: “I will fight your battles … the destroyer I have sent forth to destroy and lay waste mine enemies; and not many years hence they shall not be left to pollute mine heritage, and to blaspheme my name upon the lands which I have consecrated for the gathering together of my saints”. (June 22, 1834, see D&C 105:13-15)

Stated plainly, and Mormon apologetic spin aside, none of these prophecies were fulfilled. In 1838, due to losing the Mormon War in Missouri, Joseph Smith and the period Latter-day Saints were expelled from Missouri by Executive Order of the State Governor sealing the unfulfilled fate of all three prophesies.

And I could keep going, I’ve only given you three failed prophecies from the Missouri period of Early Mormon History that are canonized in Mormon scripture (Doctrine & Covenants). If I were to go to the Church published “History of the Church” (1856) or “Comprehensive History of the Church” (1930) the list gets even longer.

There is simply no question that if the standard is, “False prophecy is like murder. It only takes one time to make a false prophet” Joseph Smith is indeed guilty.

Joseph Smith

Standards Aren’t Standard If They’re Applied Unequally
But if we apply that standard equally and as stated on the Evangelical side of the divide then we need to add a few names to the list of False Prophets. Let’s start with these:

Hal Lindsey
Hal Lindsey is a well-known Christian teacher who’s probably best known for his books on eschatology (the study of the end times). Hal Lindsey has given several prophetic predictions that failed to come to pass. This is probably his most famous:

A generation in the Bible is something like 40 years. If this is a correct deduction, then within 40 years or so of 1948, all these things could take place. Many scholars who have studied Bible prophecy all their lives believe that this is so. … The most important sign in Matthew has to be the restoration of the Jews to the land in the rebirth of Israel. Even the figure of speech ‘fig tree’ has been a historic symbol of national Israel. When the Jewish people, after nearly 2,000 years of exile, under relentless persecution, became a nation again on 14 May 1948 the ‘fig tree’ put forth its first leaves. Jesus said that this would indicate that He was ‘at the door,’ ready to return. Then He said, ‘Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place’ (Matt. 24:34, NASB). What generation? Obviously, in context, the generation that would see the signs-chief among them the rebirth of Israel.2

Taking away 7-years for the “Great Tribulation” Hal Lindsey made an implied prediction that the rapture would take place in 1981, that is, seven years prior to the modern state of Israel’s 40th anniversary. Well, 1981 came and went and nothing happened. And 1988 (40-years from 1948) came and went and nothing happened.

Prophecy failed.

Hal Lindsey in banner art from his “The Hal Lindsey Report” website.

Chuck Smith
Following in Hal Lindsey’s wake, the late Chuck Smith (1927-2013) also predicted a 1981 rapture in several of his books. Here are scans of those predictions from those books:

From “Future Survival” (1978)

Page 17.

Page 20.

Page 21.

Page 49.

From “Snatched Away” (1976 and 1980 editions)

Page 45.

Page 23.

From “End Times” (1978):

Page 35.

Clearly, none of this came to pass.

Chuck Smith.

Harold Camping
From Wikipedia:

American Christian radio host Harold Camping stated that the Rapture and Judgment Day would take place on May 21, 2011, and that the end of the world would take place five months later on October 21, 2011. The Rapture, in a specific tradition of premillennial theology, is the taking up into heaven of God’s elect people.

Camping, who was then president of the Family Radio Christian network, claimed the Bible as his source and said May 21 would be the date of the Rapture and the day of judgment “beyond the shadow of a doubt”. Camping suggested that it would occur at 6 pm local time, with the Rapture sweeping the globe time zone by time zone, while some of his supporters claimed that around 200 million people (approximately 3% of the world’s population) would be ‘raptured’. Camping had previously claimed that the Rapture would occur in September 1994…

Following the failure of the prediction, media attention shifted to the response from Camping and his followers. On May 23, Camping stated that May 21 had been a “spiritual” day of judgment and that the physical Rapture would occur on October 21, 2011, simultaneously with the destruction of the universe by God. However, on October 16, Camping admitted to an interviewer that he did not know when the end would come, and made no public comment after October 21 passed without his predicted apocalypse.3

Harold Camping meets a supporter before his prophecy failed.

If it’s good for the goose …
So again, if we are to apply the “False prophecy is like murder. It only takes one time to make a false prophet” standard equally, then Joseph Smith, Hal Lindsey, Chuck Smith, and Harold Camping are all, without question False Prophets, aren’t they? And oh, by the way, I can keep going – there are many other Evangelicals who have also made failed prophetic predictions.

So how’s that double standard working for ya Evangelical Christian? But before you answer, please note that I’ve already heard all of the following in the past in response to this evidence, so I’ll spare us both some time here . . .

Apologetic: “They didn’t claim to be a prophet like Joseph Smith did!”
Response: How is allegedly inspired preaching and teaching not acting as God’s oracle – that is, acting in a prophetic role? Further, can you show me where in the Deuteronomy 18 where it says, “But if they meet this criterion but don’t claim to actually be a prophet, it’s cool – you can let it slide!”

Further, I was alive when all of these failed Evangelical prophecies were given and I will tell you plainly that the Evangelicals that I knew who bought into them certainly treated them like they were a prophetic word from the Lord. That’s why some of those same Christians left the faith when the predictions of Hal Lindsey and Chuck Smith failed to come to pass, becoming disillusioned not only by their failed prophet but by what they perceived as their prophet’s “failed” Bible as well. Further, since many Christians consider the rapture a more essential doctrine than the Trinity and use eschatology as their core theological integration point, such arguments tend to fall flat given the weight that many give these matters in their daily Christian lives. So, I’m sorry, but this apologetic may sound good in concept but it simply doesn’t stand up to real-world scrutiny.

Apologetic: “They were just giving their opinion.”
Response: No, problem. Then Joseph Smith was just giving his. That is, in fact, a common Mormon Apologist response to this argument. So if we accept this apologetic for the guys in our tribe, then we should accept it for Joseph Smith too, right? That was easy.

Apologetic: “These men were remorseful and repented, Joseph Smith never was and never did.”
Response: Well it is true that Camping showed remorse and repented.4 However, Lindsey never has and Chuck Smith never did.5 Further, since the standard is, “False prophecy is like murder. It only takes one time to make a false prophet” should we start letting remorseful, repentant murders out of jail? If you’re going to set the standard that high and make it that absolute then you need to be consistent, you can’t “fudge” when it’s someone from your own tribe whose head is in the noose.

Apologetic: “They were speaking as a man, not as a prophet.”
Response: Seriously? Did an Evangelical Christian really just say that? (And yes, they have – many, many times as a matter of fact.) Are we Evangelicals, Mormons now? That’s the standard Mormon apologetic against the Deuteronomy 18 test when it’s applied to Joseph Smith, friends! After all, isn’t this really just a more succinct way of saying, “They didn’t claim to be a prophet like Joseph Smith did”?

And this is what I’ve found so interesting whenever I expose this weak argument to those in my own tribe: All of a sudden Evangelicals start using exactly the same arguments for our guys that Mormons use for Joseph Smith and their guys. Double standard anyone? Hypocrisy anyone? Beam in eye anyone?

And, yes, I realize that this point I have probably stepped on quite a few Evangelical toes. However, sore toes aside, I would suggest that there is a better way to apply this standard, that maintains the integrity of the Deuteronomy 18 test, while simultaneously vindicating Lindsey, Chuck Smith, and Harold Camping as the true but flawed and misguided Christian brethren that they are, and that condemns Joseph Smith as the False brother and Prophet that he is. Please keep reading.

“We’re not quite dead yet!”

The Stronger Argument
Here’s an interesting thing: For a group of people that constantly criticize Mormons for their chronically bad hermeneutics, we Evangelicals have been guilty of bad exegesis of the Deuteronomy 18 False Prophet test by cherry picking it and quoting it out of context. Please consider the passage in its full and complete context:

“When you come into the land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominations of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or one who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For all who do these things are an abomination to the Lord, and because of these abominations the Lord your God drives them out from before you. You shall be blameless before the Lord your God. For these nations which you will dispossess listened to soothsayers and diviners; but as for you, the Lord your God has not appointed such for you.

“The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear, according to all you desired of the Lord your God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God, nor let me see this great fire anymore, lest I die.’

“And the Lord said to me: ‘What they have spoken is good. I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him. And it shall be that whoever will not hear My words, which He speaks in My name, I will require it of him. 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.’ And if you say in your heart, ‘How shall we know the word which the Lord has not spoken?’— 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.
— Deuteronomy 18:9-22 (NKJV)

So the first thing that we see when the “test” is presented in context, that there are, in reality, three criteria for a False Prophet in the passage, not just one:

  1. The true prophet won’t speak to God’s people in the name other gods in order to get them to follow those gods. 
    (who speaks in the name of other gods”
  2. The true prophet won’t use divination. 
    (“… these nations which you will dispossess listened to soothsayers and diviners; but as for you, the Lord your God has not appointed such for you”) 
  3. The true prophet’s predictions of future events will come to pass.
    (“…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.”)

The Messianic clause in Deuteronomy 18 – verse 15 to be precise.

As former Dallas Theological Seminary, now Charismatic Christian Leader and Teacher Jack Deere, explains:

Deuteronomy 18:15-22 is frequently understood as referring to a succession of the prophets from Moses onward who would never make a mistake in their predictions. Several contextual factors militate against this interpretation. First, Moses did not say that God would raise up a line of prophets, but rather a prophet (v. 15). Second, Moses claimed that this future prophet would be like me (v. 15). Moses was not simply a prophet who foretold the future. He was the theocratic founder of Israel’s religion and the mediator of the Old Covenant. The qualifying phrase “like me” leads us to expect someone who is also a covenant mediator. Third, the epilogue to Deuteronomy, chapter 34, which was written in the time of Joshua or later, specifically states:

Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, who did all those miraculous signs and wonders the LORD sent him to do in Egypt—to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel (Deut. 34:10-12).

This means that not even Joshua was on a par with Moses, even though God promised to be with him as he was with Moses (Josh. 1:5). The significance of Deuteronomy 34:10-12, according to Patrick Miller, is that “one can hardly see 18:15-22 in terms of a continuing line of prophets through Israel’s history. The only way to resolve the tension between chapters 18 and 34 is to project into the future the announcement that God will raise up a prophet…” (Deuteronomy [Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990], 156-57; author’s emphasis). Fourth, this was how the passage was interpreted in Judaism (see Peter C. Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976], 263, n.20). Fifth, in the New Testament both the Jews and the apostles understood this passage to refer not to a line of prophets, but to the Messiah (John 1:21, 25; 6:14; 7:40; Acts 3:22-26). Thus the context and later biblical interpretation favor the messianic interpretation of Deuteronomy 18:15.

If that is the case, then the false prophets mentioned in 18:20-22 may not be prophets who simply make a mistake, but rather pretenders to the place of Moses or to the messianic role. At any rate, Craigie cautions us against an inflexible application of 18:20-22. He writes,

‘It would probably be wrong to take these criteria as rules to be applied rigidly every time a prophet opened his mouth. When a prophet announced God’s coming judgment and called for repentance, it would clearly be pointless to wait first to see if the judgment actually came to pass, and then to repent (too late!). Rather the criteria represent the means by which a prophet gained his reputation as a true prophet and spokesman of the Lord. Over the course of a prophet’s ministry, in matters important and less significant, the character of a prophet as a true spokesman of God would begin to emerge clearly. And equally, false prophets would be discredited and then dealt with under the law.’ (Deuteronomy, 263)

Furthermore, there is no evidence in Israel’s history that they ever put to death a prophet for a simple mistake in a prophetic utterance. For example, when David implied to Nathan that he wanted to build a temple for the Lord, Nathan said to him, “Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the LORD is with you” (2 Sam. 7:3). But Nathan was wrong and later that night had to be corrected by the Lord (2 Sam. 7:4ff.). If someone pedantically objects that Nathan did not preface his first prophecy with “Thus says the LORD…,” it should be noted that Nathan did speak in the name of the Lord, for he said, “the LORD is with you.” Besides, would David have spoken to the prophet simply to obtain the prophet’s human opinion? Why did people consult prophets in the Old Testament if not to receive a word from God? Nathan gave a wrong word, but he was not put to death. A wrong word was not automatically classified as a presumptuous word or a word in the name of false gods (Deut. 18:20-22).6

Question: Did Hal Lindsey, Chuck Smith, Harold Camping, and Joseph Smith give predictions of future events that failed to come to pass?
Answer: Yes.

Question: Did Hal Lindsey, Chuck Smith and Harold Camping engage in divination in bringing forth their prophecies?
Answer:
No.

Question: Did Joseph Smith engage in divination in bringing forth his prophecies?
Answer:
Yes. In some cases, he used the same Seer Stone technique that he used in “translating” the Book of Mormon and portions of the Book of Abraham. That technique is called “scrying” and it is a form of divination:  

Scrying (also known by various names such as “seeing” or “peeping”) is the practice of looking into a suitable medium in the hope of detecting significant messages or visions. The objective might be personal guidance, prophecy, revelation, or inspiration, but down the ages, scrying in various forms also has been a prominent means of divination …
(“Scrying”, Wikipedia website) 

Question: Did Hal Lindsey, Chuck Smith, and Harold Camping speak in the name of other gods in order to get God’s people to follow them? 
Answer: No.

Question: Did Joseph Smith speak in the name of other gods in order to get God’s people to follow them?
Answer:
Yes. And the way that he did this was quite clever and subtle: First, he redefined who and what God was and then he spoke in the name of this newly revealed god. And not only that, as he was speaking in the name of this new god, he actually bragged about doing so:

Joseph Smith delivering The King Follett Discourse on April 7, 1844 at Spring General Conference.

‘I will prove that the world is wrong, by showing what God is. I am going to inquire after God; for I want you all to know Him, and to be familiar with Him; and if I am bringing you to a knowledge of Him, all persecutions against me ought to cease. You will then know that I am His servant; for I speak as one having authority.

I will go back to the beginning before the world was, to show what kind of a being God is. What sort of a being was God in the beginning? Open your ears and hear, all ye ends of the earth, for I am going to prove it to you by the Bible, and to tell you the designs of God in relation to the human race, and why He interferes with the affairs of man.

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.’
(“The King Follett Sermon”, Ensign, April 1971, italics added for emphasis)

Friends, that is a very different god than the God who revealed Himself to the Children of Israel during the Exodus, the God who said of Himself just a few chapters earlier:

“Then you came near and stood at the foot of the mountain, and the mountain burned with fire to the midst of heaven, with darkness, cloud, and thick darkness. And the Lord spoke to you out of the midst of the fire. You heard the sound of the words, but saw no form; you only heard a voice. So He declared to you His covenant which He commanded you to perform, the Ten Commandments; and He wrote them on two tablets of stone. And the Lord commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and judgments, that you might observe them in the land which you cross over to possess.

“Take careful heed to yourselves, for you saw no form when the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, lest you act corruptly and make for yourselves a carved image in the form of any figure: the likeness of male or female…
— Deuteronomy 4:11-16 NKJV (italics and bolding added for emphasis) 

Not to mention the God, who Christ, echoing this passage, clearly said in John 4:24 (NKJV) is spirit, not a man: “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” That’s the God of Hal Lindsey, Chuck Smith, and Harold Camping, not the false god and exalted man of Joseph Smith.

Summary and Conclusion
Yes, there is a False Prophet here, but it’s not Hal Lindsey, Chuck Smith or Harold Camping. Was there poor judgment on their part? Yes. Bad hermeneutics? Definitely. False Teachers? Yes, I think that a case can be made for that if you want to. But False Prophets, no. They simply do not meet all three Deuteronomy 18 False Prophet tests.

Joseph Smith, on the other hand, meets all three of the Deuteronomy 18 test criteria, and is, therefore, clearly a False Prophet. There is just no question about it given the historical body of evidence. And that can be determined by fairly applying the total and complete test for a False Prophet in the text rather than cherry picking from just one part of it.

LateGreatPlanetEarthMoviePoster

The movie poster for the 1979 movie that was based on Hal Lindsey’s best selling book.

NOTES
1 Wikipedia, “List of prophecies of Joseph Smith” (retrieved 2017-08-30)
2 Hal Lindsey, “The Late Great Planet Earth” (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1970): pp.53-54.
3 Wikipedia, “2011 end times prediction”
4 As noted on Wikipedia, “In March 2012 Camping “humbly acknowledged” that he had been mistaken, that his attempt to predict a date was “sinful,” and that his critics had been right in pointing to the scriptural text “of that day and hour knoweth no man”. He then said he was searching the Bible “even more fervently… not to find dates, but to be more faithful in our understanding.”‘
(Wikipedia, “2011 end times prediction”, retrieved 2017-09-10)
5 In fact, both Hal Lindsey and Chuck Smith were strident and assertive in their defense that while naming dates is probably not a good idea, they had, really, done nothing wrong and just moved on.

In the case of Lindsey, as Charisma magazine notes:

In early 1977, when Hal Lindsey was asked by a journalist from Christianity Today what he would do if he was wrong about his end-time predictions, he responded with the following,

There is a split second’s difference between a hero and a bum. I didn’t ask to be a hero, but I guess I have become one in the Christian community. So I accept it. But if I am wrong about this, I guess I’ll become a bum.”

Though undeniably wrong about his end-time predictions over the last 46 years, Lindsey still hasn’t referred to himself as a “bum.” It’s not necessary for this to happen, yet a simple apology might be nice.
(J.D. King, “Learning From Failed End-Time Predictions”, retrieved 2017-09-10) 

And Chuck Smith, a few years later in the late Bill Alnor’s book, “Soothsayers of the Second Advent”, blamed his failed predictions on Hal Lindsay. Here’s what he said:

Page 41.

Page 42.

Endnote citation for the source for the above Chuck Smith quotations.

In fact, both continued to spin up apocalyptic scenarios that hinted at particular events happening based on current events, which never did. Yes, Joseph Smith had several failed prophecies, but, if we’re going to be honest, we have to also admit, so did these members of our tribe.
6 Jack Deere, “Surprised by the Voice of God: How God Speaks Today Through Prophecies, Dreams, and Visions” (p. 359). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

Bibliography and Additional Resources
Wikipedia, “Unfulfilled Christian religious predictions”
Wikipedia, “Predictions and claims for the Second Coming of Christ”
Calvary Chapel Wiki, “Chuck Smith taught Jesus would return in 1981”
Rabbi Stanley Chester, Mosaic Ministries, “Hal Lindsey: False Prophet!”
J.D. King, “Learning From Failed End-Time Predictions”
Gary DeMar, “Before Harold Camping, there Were Hal Lindsey and Chuck Smith”

Foolish? Yes. Damnable? No.

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