Question: Did Joseph Smith prophesy that he couldn't be killed within 5 years of August 1843?


Question: Did Joseph Smith prophesy that he couldn't be killed within 5 years of August 1843?

It would appear that the letter written by Sarah Scott on 22 July 1844 is a blending of separate and distinct pieces of information and they have been assembled in order to support her view that Joseph Smith was a false prophet

It is claimed that Joseph Smith prophesied in August 1843 "that he could not be killed within five years from that time". Since he was killed less than one year later, some claim that his statement counts as a false prophecy and that he should be considered a false prophet.

It would appear that the letter written by Sarah Scott on 22 July 1844 is a blending of separate and distinct pieces of information and they have been assembled—whether consciously or subconsciously—in order to support her view that Joseph Smith was a false prophet.

It is important to consider the content of the original document in analyzing this claim. It reads as follows:

Joseph also prophesied on the stand a year ago last conference that he could not be killed within five years from that time; that they could not kill him till the Temple would be completed, for that he had received an unconditional promise from the Almighty concerning his days, and he set Earth and Hell at defiance; and then said, putting his hand on his head, they never could kill this Child. But now that he is killed some of the Church say that he said: unless he gave himself up. My husband was there at the time and says there was no conditions whatever, and many others testify to the same thing.

The first thing that should be understood about this document is that the author and her husband "were influenced by William Law to leave the Church in 1844" - close to the time when the document was composed

The first thing that should be understood about this document is that the author and her husband "were influenced by William Law to leave the Church in 1844" - close to the time when the document was composed (BYU Studies, vol. 20, no.2, Winter 1980, 218, ftnt.). The writer's viewpoint is, therefore, not unbiased. Secondly, this letter does not put forward an eyewitness account of what was said by Joseph Smith. The letter writer cites someone else (her husband) who was an eyewitness and so the information is being relayed second-hand. The third thing that should be noted is that this information is being relayed about 11 months after the Prophet made his verbal statement, so the memory of the person who provided the information needs to be taken into consideration (the letter writer is also not clear with regard to dating information - the sentence above should read: "a year ago [before] last conference"). The underlined portion of the letter accurately reflects what Joseph Smith said on 27 August 1843 (see Words of Joseph Smith).

The next thing to notice is that the 'five-year prophecy' is being superimposed where it doesn't belong

The next thing to notice is that the 'five-year prophecy' is being superimposed where it doesn't belong. On 12 January 1838 the Prophet met in council at his father’s house in Kirtland, Ohio. During a discussion about the dire circumstances caused by apostates and mobs – and in anticipation of his leaving for Missouri - Joseph Smith said: “One thing, brethren is certain, I shall see you again, let what will happen, for I have a promise of life five years, and they cannot kill me until that time is expired” (Lucy Mack Smith History, chapter 46). Five years would expire by January 1843 and it is interesting that on 22 January 1843 the Prophet said: "I understand my mission and business. God Almighty is my shield and what can man do [see D&C 122:9] if God is my friend? I shall not be sacrificed until my time comes, then I shall be offered freely" (Words of Joseph Smith).

The idea of an "unconditional promise" with respect to the Prophet's "days" on the earth also appears to be a misapplication of information

The idea of an "unconditional promise" with respect to the Prophet's "days" on the earth also appears to be a misapplication of information. While the Prophet was languishing inside Missouri's Liberty Jail the Lord informed him in March 1839: "Thy days are known, and thy years shall not be numbered less" (D&C 122:9). These words were openly published in Nauvoo in 1840 (Times and Seasons, vol. 1, no. 8 June 1840, 133) and so it is quite inexcusable for Sarah Scott to have taken them out of context four years later.

Sarah Scott's claim that Joseph Smith said on 27 August 1843 that nobody could kill him "till the Temple would be completed" is not supported by the notes of the discourse taken by Willard Richards, Franklin D. Richards, and William Clayton (see Words of Joseph Smith). It needs to be pointed out that at least three months prior to the composition of Scott's letter the Prophet had told a group of Saints, "There is something going to happen; I don't know what it is, but the Lord bids me to hasten and give you your endowment before the Temple is finished" (Times and Seasons, vol. 5, no. 17, 15 September 1844, 651). Indeed, in 1839 Joseph Smith had prophesied his own death before the age of 40 - which would have been on 23 December 1845 (see HC, 7:212; JD, 1:364).

This letter also discounts the idea that Joseph said he could not be killed unless he gave himself up

This letter also discounts the idea (testified to by some unidentified Church members) that Joseph said he could not be killed unless he gave himself up. Scott's husband was present at the 27 August 1843 meeting and did not hear any such thing. And it does not appear - from the notes that were taken - that this was said by the Prophet at this time. However, on 31 August 1842 Joseph Smith told a gathering of Relief Society sisters "that great exertions had been made on the part of [the Church's] enemies, but they had not accomplished their purpose - God had enabled him to keep out of their hands. . . . the Lord Almighty had preserv'd him . . . . He said he expected th[at] heavenly Father had decreed that the Missourians shall not get him - if they do, it will be because he does not keep out of the way" (Words of Joseph Smith).

To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here

Notes