Why wasn't the Missouri temple ever built in Joseph Smith's generation? (D&C 84:1-5)

Church of Christ (Temple Lot), Independence MO
Church of Christ (Temple Lot), Independence MO
LDS sometimes point to Jesus' statement that "[t]his generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled" (Matthew 24:34), and claim that "these things" ("the abomination of desolation" (vs. 15), "sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light" (vs. 29), etc.) certainly have not happened yet. So if Jesus or the record of what He said could be wrong, then why should it bother us if what Smith said was wrong? Or if Jesus and His record were not wrong, then why not hold that the term "generation" refers to an incredibly long period of time? The problem with this, though, is that LDS are freely assuming that the Matthew passage is speaking of the generation then living in the first century. But the context is quite clear what Jesus referred to, viz., those living in the "great tribulation" after which will bring about His second coming (vss. 21, 29-30). Thus, when Jesus used the second-person pronoun ("you"), it should not be limited to its immediate audience. The pronoun may extend to the whole Church throughout the ages, and the particular generation living at the end of those ages would be the one that will not pass away until all these things are fulfilled under God's sovereignty and timing.

Other LDS claim that Jesus' correct use of the term "generation" is precisely what is going on in this D&C 84 passage. In his article D&C Use of 'Generation,' Christian R. Juardo claims that the temple will be built "quickly, in the space of a single generation." So the temple will be built in the generation in which it will be built. The problem with this interpretation is that the D&C passage doesn't make any reference to any particular distant generation other than "this" present one. The only indication that this passage may allow for some future generation to build the temple is the fact that the temple has not been built yet.

But regardless of whether LDS want to insist on an idiosyncratic definition of the term "generation"--one that refers to some incredibly long period of time (recall that Smith gave this revelation in 1832)--or one that may designate some future generation, it is really irrelevant given D&C 124:45-55. Here God supposedly made excuses for the poor Saints that were persecuted by their more powerful enemies. Since they were too big for the Saints (and apparently for even God Himself), the latter were let off the hook from building this temple in Missouri. This certainly does not sound like the all-powerful God of the Bible who has no trouble enforcing His agenda over the will of His enemies. (God getting Pharaoh to eventually let His people go obviously comes to mind.)

In his article Did Joseph Smith Falsely Prophesy Of a Temple In Independence?, Stephen R. Gibson goes through some incredible gymnastics to save Joseph Smith from the obvious. He first claims that a generation can actually be a dispensation or era, but fails to provide any evidence for such an idiosyncratic definition. So for Gibson, the semantics in 84:4-5 regarding the term "generation" provides us no more information than "God promises to get this done sometime within this dispensation or era." As a result, Gibson claimed that the Saints in the 1830s were off the hook when the Lord spoke in 124:45-55, but that the Saints at some future time would still build the temple in Jackson county, Missouri. Then amazingly Gibson claims that the "house" of 84:5 is different from the "temple" of 84:3-4. He claims that verses 5ff. find their fulfillment in the temple and priesthood in general and the Kirtland, Ohio temple in particular, which was dedicated in 1836. So in Gibson's mind, Smith is actually substantiated as a true prophet.

This interpretation not only fractures the immediate context, it also overlooks the preposition "For" that begins verse 5 and serves to connect it with verse 4. It also overlooks the chapter description given for verses 1-5 at the beginning of the section, and it overlooks the fact that 124:45-55 describes the failed temple in Jackson county, Missouri as "a house."

Now even if all this is not persuasive, Gibson claims that there should not be a problem here when we have biblical prophets who also said things that later God changed His mind about. Gibson uses two examples of biblical prophets telling people they would die at particular times--Isaiah to Hezekiah, and Jonah to the Ninevites. The problem with Gibson's examples is that these cases are not truly analogous to what plainly appears to be the wicked thwarting the will of God in the D&C prophecy. Given God's loving, merciful, and forgiving character, it is always presupposed that the bad news a prophet may bring may in fact be avoided by truly humble supplication. God has already said that if He has already pronounced evil upon a nation, and yet it repents, then God will repent of the evil originally intended (Jeremiah 18:8-10).

This is certainly how the Ninevites took Jonah's pronouncement (Jonah 3:4-10). God's intention was clearly understood. A parent may yell upstairs at his or her rowdy children, who are supposed to be sleeping, "By the time I get up there, you're all going to get spanked!" The parent arrives upstairs, but the children are completely silent. If the parent were a good parent, we would expect him or her to relent of the intended punishment, because we all know what the more fundamental intention is without it even being spoken. And this is why we don't regard the parent as a liar.

A similar situation may be extended to the Hezekiah situation. A parent may intend putting his or her child to bed really early so the parent may watch a certain TV program. The parent tells the child that it will be going to bed at time t. Sometimes the child does not care, but this time it just wants to play with the parent. It ends up melting the heart of the parent, so that the parent is no longer interested in the TV program. Is the parent a liar for now keeping the child up later to play with it? In a conflicting moral situation where one has a duty to uphold one's promise as well as a duty to treat the child more importantly than oneself, the latter duty is weightier and should be upheld. Good parents do this all the time. They delight to be humbly entreated, and they delight to bless their children.

If God simply prophesies that some rock will move at time t, this remains fairly uncontroversial. But things get rather complicated when dealing with God's knowledge of future contingent events based on the genuinely free choices of other agents. Since God is omniscient, He knows from eternity what genuinely free choices He and everyone else will make in every possible situation. This is why when the Bible speaks of God "repenting," it is taken as figurative as His "feathers" (Psalm 91:4). "God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent" (Numbers 23:19). God knows from eternity that when He declares at time t1 to do p at time t2, He may be using this instance as the means to get an individual to humbly entreat Him to not do p at time t2. Furthermore, He knows from eternity that when He complies with the individual's supplication it will appear that He has in fact changed His mind.

R. M. Sivulka

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