Does the Bible contain prophecies about Joseph Smith?
By John Divito
For many evangelical Christians, the answer to the above question will be a swift "No!" In fact, some would think that this idea is ludicrous! However, many members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) believe that Smith is foretold in the Bible. How is such a claim substantiated? There are two primary types of biblical evidence provided.
The Inspired Version
The first kind of support given for this thesis is from the Inspired Version of the Bible, also known as the Joseph Smith Translation (JST). In it, Joseph Smith desired to restore many of the "plain and precious things taken away from the book, which is the book of the Lamb of God." (1 Nephi 13:28)
Therefore, the clearest example given of biblical prophecy regarding Joseph Smith from the JST is Genesis 50:30-33:
And again, a seer will I raise up out of the fruit of thy loins, and unto him will I give power to bring forth my word unto the seed of thy loins; and not to the bringing forth of my word only, saith the Lord, but to the convincing them of my word, which shall have already gone forth among them in the last days; Wherefore the fruit of thy loins shall write, and the fruit of the loins of Judah shall write; and that which shall be written by the fruit of thy loins, and also that which shall be written by the fruit of the loins of Judah, shall grow together unto the confounding of false doctrines, and laying down of contentions, and establishing peace among the fruit of thy loins, and bringing them to a knowledge of their fathers in the latter days; and also to the knowledge of my covenants, saith the Lord. And out of weakness shall he be made strong, in that day when my work shall go forth among all my people, which shall restore them, who are of the house of Israel, in the last days. And that seer will I bless, and they that seek to destroy him shall be confounded; for this promise I give unto you; for I will remember you from generation to generation; and his name shall be called Joseph, and it shall be after the name of his father; and he shall be like unto you; for the thing which the Lord shall bring forth by his hand shall bring my people unto salvation.
In this text, a future seer is promised who will be called Joseph, a name shared by his father (Joseph Smith was named after his father). Could this be a clear link between a prophecy in the Bible and Joseph Smith? Upon looking closer at the evidence, this could hardly be the case. The fact of the matter is that there is absolutely no indication that this text was originally included in the biblical book of Genesis. Not a single Hebrew document exists to support Smith's alteration of the Book of Genesis. It seems that beginning with verse 24, Joseph Smith inserted his own text. His content continues through the first part of verse 36, where he finishes through verse 38 with modified verses from the King James Version (vv. 24-26 in the KJV).
Therefore, the only way one could believe this passage was originally in the Bible and foretold the coming of Joseph Smith is if the person previously believed that Smith was a true prophet. The passage in Genesis 50 could not possibly verify Smith as a prophet because the validity of the text itself depends upon his prophetic role. To argue otherwise would be a logical fallacy. As a result, this text cannot be submitted as evidence for Joseph Smith fulfilling prophecy in the Bible.
The Coming Elijah
The second type of evidence given is the Old Testament texts foretelling a future messenger of God. One example is Malachi 3:1-3, which says,
"Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the LORD, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts. But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner's fire, and like fullers' soap: And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the LORD an offering in righteousness."
Another example is Isaiah 40:3-5, which also speaks of a future messenger: "The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it."
Of course, both of these are applied in the New Testament to John the Baptist. In Matthew 11:9-15, Jesus asks,
But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet. For this is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. And if ye will receive it, this is Elias [Elijah], which was for to come. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.
Thus, according to Jesus, John the Baptist is the fulfillment of the messenger referred to in Malachi 3, which is Elijah. Jesus also makes this same connection in Matthew 17:10-13: "And his disciples asked him, saying, Why then say the scribes that Elias must first come. And Jesus answered and said unto them, Elias truly shall first come, and restore all things. But I say unto you, That Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them. Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist."
Earlier in the same book, Matthew wrote, "In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias [Isaiah], saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight." (Matthew 3:1-3) This points to John's fulfillment of the coming messenger in Isaiah 40. John the Baptist identified himself in this way: "I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias." (John 1:23) There can be no doubt as to John the Baptist being the fulfillment of these Old Testament prophecies.
But what does all of this have to do with Joseph Smith? While not denying John the Baptist as a fulfillment of these prophecies, many Mormons claim that John is not the only fulfillment. When writing of Malachi 3, George A. Horton Jr. says, "However, Malachi's prophecy applies not only to the Lord's first advent, but also to His second coming" ("Prophecies in the Bible about Joseph Smith," Ensign, Jan. 1989, p.23). When dealing with the Isaiah 40 passage, Horton goes on to say, "Here, ‘the voice of him that crieth' does not refer to John the Baptist in the meridian of time; the context of the chapter deals with happenings that will occur just prior to the Second Coming and the Millennium. Therefore, it is likely that Joseph Smith is ‘the voice of him that crieth'" (p.23). For these reasons, there is a future prophet in the spirit of Elijah besides John the Baptist also referred to in the Bible. Horton concludes that this prophet is Joseph Smith.
Or is he? An individual should not be so quick to simplistically split Old Testament prophecies between Christ's two comings. As biblical scholar Craig Blomberg points out, "The messianic era, the millennial kingdom, and eventually the new heavens and the new earth often blend together in characteristic prophetic shortening" (The New American Commentary, Broadman Press, 1992, 22:75). Therefore, Christ's two advents are often seen as one in the Old Testament. As a result, many evangelicals see John the Baptist as the only fulfillment of Elijah.
The question comes down to how one interprets Matthew 17:11. As mentioned before, the disciples ask about a statement that the scribes have made about Elijah. Jesus begins his response with, "Elias truly shall first come, and restore all things." How is this to be understood? Does this mean that there is yet another Elijah to come? New Testament scholar R.V.G. Tasker says, "The words of Jesus in verse 11 are best understood as a recognition by Him that what the disciples have said is a true statement of what the scribes are teaching. They are not an indication that He agrees with it. On the contrary, in verse 12 He implies that the scribal tradition is wrong. He accepts of course the teaching of Malachi that another Elijah would come as God's messenger sent to prepare the way for the Messiah (see Mal. iii. 1), but He insists that this second Elijah has in fact already come" (The Gospel According to St. Matthew, Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1961, pp.165-166). If this understanding is correct, then there will be no future Elijah. This would automatically disprove LDS members' assertion that Joseph Smith is the future fulfillment of the prophet.
However, as Leon Morris, another biblical scholar, points out: "A less likely view is that we may understand the words to mean that Jesus accepts this as a fair statement of what the scribes taught. However, John did not in fact restore all things; that was still future" (The Gospel According to Matthew (Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1992, p.443). So, we see that some evangelicals do in fact believe in a future manifestation of Elijah. Nevertheless, even if this interpretation were valid, these prophecies still could not apply to Joseph Smith because he does not meet the requirements of a true Old Testament prophet. According to Deuteronomy 18:22, God's prophets will always prophesy the truth--they will be 100% accurate. But this standard cannot be applied to Smith. There are numerous prophecies he gave that did not come true.
In addition to failing this biblical test, Deuteronomy 13:1-3 also speaks against Joseph Smith. This passage warns of a false prophet who seems to be true but speaks for a false god--a god other than the One revealed in Scripture. Since Joseph Smith did not believe in or teach the biblical concept of God, he once again demonstrates that he is not a true prophet of God. As a result, Smith could not be another fulfillment of Elijah the Prophet.
In summary, nowhere in the Bible is Joseph Smith prophesied as a future prophet of God. Despite the evidence that Mormons may give, an examination of the biblical texts leads to their proofs being easily refuted. Whether it is the addition in Genesis 50 of the JST or the Old Testament prophecies regarding the coming of Elijah, nowhere has God revealed Joseph Smith in the Bible.