During 2016, LDS members will be studying the latest manual published by their church, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Howard W. Hunter We will evaluate this book regularly, chapter by chapter, by showing interesting quotes and providing an Evangelical Christian take on this manual. The text that is boldfaced is from the manual, with our comments following.
Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Howard W. Hunter, 2015
“I bear solemn testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith as the Lord’s anointed servant in these the latter days.”
The topic featured in every single “Teachings of Presidents of the Church” concerns Joseph Smith. Multiple chapters on Smith appear in the books dedicated to other presidents. Interestingly enough, this chapter precedes the chapter on Jesus, which is also found in ever manual.
From the Life of Howard W. Hunter
Nancy Nowell, who was one of Howard W. Hunter’s paternal great-great-grandmothers, moved to Lapeer, Michigan, in the mid-1830s. In 1842 a missionary of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints came to Lapeer from Nauvoo, Illinois. Nancy listened to his message, prayed about it, and received a testimony that he was teaching the truth. She went to Nauvoo to learn more about the Church, and in her journal she made this record of her experience:
“I went to hear the Mormon preacher [Joseph Smith] with great caution, hoping not to be deceived. His subject was the second coming of Christ. I had a testimony that he spoke the truth, and that Joseph Smith was a true prophet, called and ordained of God to do a great work, because he had brought forth the truth as it was taught by Jesus Christ. I asked to be baptized.”
One must ask how Hunter’s grandmother came to her conclusion. She said she “hoped” that she would not be deceived, yet she “had a testimony that he was teaching the truth.” This produces a number of questions:
- What exactly did her testimony tell her?
- How did she get this testimony?
- Is it based on a feeling she had?
- Shouldn’t truth be determined based on how it corresponds to reality, specifically the reality as described in the Bible?
Unfortunately, too many Mormons today have a testimony in Joseph Smith and the leadership of the Mormon Church when the teachings of these men contradicts what God’s Word truly says. Too many want to have their ears tickled, as 2 Timothy 4:3 says.
Like his great-great-grandmother Nancy Nowell, Howard W. Hunter had a sure testimony of Joseph Smith’s prophetic mission. Three weeks after becoming President of the Church, he traveled to Nauvoo to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith. In a meeting held at the Nauvoo Temple site, President Hunter said:
“The responsibility I feel for the work the Prophet Joseph inaugurated fills me with a determination to do all I can in the time and season allotted to me. Surely Joseph was faithful and true to his time and season! … I bear solemn testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith as the Lord’s anointed servant in these the latter days. To his testimony of the divinity and reality of Jesus Christ I add my own.”
In fact, a person must have a testimony of Joseph Smith if he or she hopes to attain eternal life. Thirteenth President Ezra Taft Benson said,
Joseph Smith has done more for the salvation of men in this world than any man who ever lived in it, except the Master (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p. 132).
Tenth President Joseph Fielding Smith wrote,
NO SALVATION WITHOUT ACCEPTING JOSEPH SMITH. If Joseph Smith was verily a prophet, and if he told the truth when he said that he stood in the presence of angels sent from the Lord, and obtained keys of authority, and the commandment to organize the Church of Jesus Christ once again on the earth, then this knowledge is of the most vital importance to the entire world. No man can reject that testimony without incurring the most dreadful consequences, for he cannot enter the kingdom of god. It is, therefore the duty of every man to investigate that he may weigh this matter carefully and know the truth (Doctrines of Salvation 1:189-190. Italics in original).
Brigham Young even claimed that a person needed the “certificate” of Smith in order to get to the celestial kingdom:
Joseph Smith holds the keys of this last dispensation, and is now engaged behind the vail in the great work of the last days. . . no man or woman in this dispensation will ever enter into the celestial kingdom of God without the consent of Joseph Smith. From the day that the Priesthood was taken from the earth to the winding-up scene of all things, every man and woman must have the certificate of Joseph Smith, junior, as a passport to their entrance into the mansion where God and Christ are—I with you and you with me. I cannot go there without his consent. He holds the keys of that kingdom for the last dispensation—the keys to rule in the spirit-world; and he rules there triumphantly, for he gained full power and a glorious victory over the power of Satan while he was yet in the flesh, and was a martyr to his religion and to the name of Christ, which gives him a most perfect victory in the spirit-world. He reigns there as supreme a being in his sphere, capacity, and calling, as God does in heaven. Many will exclaim- “Oh, that is very disagreeable! It is preposterous! We cannot bear the thought!” But it is true (October 9, 1859, Journal of Discourses 7:289).
Part of this quote was cited in the 1984 church manual Search These Commandments ( p. 133), though a good section of the original was omitted. To say a person cannot enter heaven without anyone’s approval (outside of Christ) is blasphemous to the Christian believer.
Later that day, in a meeting held beside the Carthage Jail, President Hunter testified, “Joseph Smith, who gave his life at this place, was the instrument the Lord used to restore the fulness of His gospel and the authority of His priesthood.”
Consider some of the things that have been said about Smith by the leadership:
Where shall we go to find another man who has accomplished a one-thousandth part of the good that Joseph Smith accomplished? (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, p. 18).
Joseph Smith’s last great act here upon the earth was one of selflessness. He crossed the room, most likely “thinking that it would save the lives of his brethren in the room if he could get out, . . . and sprang into the window when two balls pierced him from the door, and one entered his right breast from without.” He gave his life; Willard Richards and John Taylor were spared. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” The Prophet Joseph Smith taught us love—by example” (Thomas S. Monson, “The Prophet Joseph Smith: Teacher by Example,” Ensign (Conference Edition), November 2005, p. 69. Ellipses and bold in original).
I testify that Joseph Smith was an honest and virtuous man, . . . (Apostle Neil Andersen, “Joseph Smith,” Ensign (Conference Edition), November 2014, p. 31).
But what was Joseph Smith really like? Describing Smith’s temperament and behavior, Richard S. Van Wagoner wrote:
His backwoods savoir-faire sometimes impressed visitors whom he lavished with food, wine, and tall tales, but his frequent misuse of Latin, Hebrew, and German were plainly pedantic. His relish for competition in sports, matched by his ambition in commerce and politics, was not what people Joseph Smith expected from a divine. Nor could Smith resist the flourishes of military dress and parade, or dramatic staging of ritual and ceremony of all kinds. Embracing friends and lashing out verbally and physically at enemies, he was no Buddah [sic]. But perhaps the most scandalous manifestation of Smith’s lust for manly achievement was his inclination toward extra-marital romantic liaisons, which he believed were licensed by the Old Testament and countenanced by God’s modern revelation (Sidney Rigdon: A Portrait of Religious Excess (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1994), 290–91).
The idea that he was killed (“martyred”) is quite false. I have dealt with that topic at length here.
“Joseph Smith was not only a great man, but he was an inspired servant of the Lord, a prophet of God.”
Teachings of Howard W. Hunter
God the Father and Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph Smith to initiate the Restoration.
Many times the gospel [has] been given to the world through the prophets, and each time [it has been] lost because of disobedience. In the year 1820 the silence was broken, and the Lord again appeared to a prophet. This prophet, Joseph Smith, could testify of his own positive knowledge that God lives, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, a Resurrected Being, separate and distinct from the Father. He did not testify as to what he believed or what he or others thought or conjectured, but of what he knew. This knowledge came to him because God the Father and the Son appeared to him in person and spoke to him.
How does a Latter-day Saint know that there was even a “First Vision”? That “God the Father and the Son appeared to him in person and spoke to him.” Every faithful Mormon is supposed to have a testimony about this supposed historical event, but they are left trusting Joseph Smith.
In a nutshell, there are two important issues that have to be ignored in order to accept Smith’s testimony:
- There was no Christian revival in 1820, as Smith claimed there was. The facts clearly show that this revival did not take place in that New York area until 1824.
- There are multiple accounts of the First Vision, all of them contradictory. The official version was not written down until the 1840s, or two decades removed from when the event was supposed to have happened. If this was really a historical event, why isn’t there any documentation about this event any earlier than this?
If you would like to read more on this topic, click on any of these articles:
The First Vision of Joseph
- Do the First Vision Accounts Coincide?
- The First Vision Account: Response to the LDS.org Essay
- First Vision: Fact or Fiction?
- Which First Vision Account Should we Believe?
- The First Vision’s Slow Entrance
- “The Sweet Dream of a Pure Minded Boy” (Blog)
God … revealed himself [to Joseph Smith] as a personal being. Furthermore, the Father and the Son demonstrated the undeniable truth that they are separate and distinct personages. Indeed, the relationship of the Father and the Son was reaffirmed by the divine introduction to the boy prophet, “This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!” [Joseph Smith—History 1:17].
It’s interesting how Hunter’s chapter doesn’t include what God supposedly told Joseph Smith when he asked which church he ought to join in verse 19:
I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.”
In other words, Smith claimed that God told him that the teachings of the Christian churches were wrong. Many Mormons get offended when Christians point out the differences between Mormonism and Christianity, yet who fired the first shot? Granted, if Smith is correct and God really did speak to him, then certainly all Christians are living in apostasy and ought to repent. Yet if Smith made up the First Vision story and created a doctrine that was the “commandment of men,” then Mormons everywhere ought to abandon ship.
When men heard that young Joseph Smith was claiming God had manifested Himself to the boy, they mocked him and turned away from him, just as in the Christian era wise and able men in Athens turned away from a singular man ministering in their midst.
If the First Vision did not take place in 1820, then the “young Smith” could not have been “mocked” by those who “turned away from him.” This discrepancy in the dating is hugely important.
Yet the fact remains that Paul, in that earlier experience, was the only man in that great city of learning who knew that a person may pass through the portals of death and live. He was the only man in Athens who could clearly delineate the difference between the formality of idolatry and the heartfelt worship of the only true and living God. [See Acts 17:19–20, 22–23.]
Paul had the scripture (Old Testament) as well as the words of Jesus to back him up. Joseph Smith created a God that differed completely from the Bible and even the Book of Mormon. Consider:
We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity. I will refute that idea, and take away the veil, so that you may see. These are incomprehensible ideas to some, but they are simple. It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the Character of God, and to know that we may converse with him as one man converses with another, and that he was once a man like us; yea, that God the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself did, and I will show it from the Bible (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 345-346. Italics in original. See also Gospel Principles, 1997, p. 305).
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” (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 345. Italics in original. See also Achieving a Celestial Marriage, p. 129).
This contradicts the Bible. Psalm 90:2 says that God is from everlasting to everlasting. Isaiah 43:10 says there is no God before or after God. Isaiah 44:6,8 says that God knows of no other gods. And Isaiah 46:9 quotes God as saying that “I am God, and there is not like me.” Even the Book of Mormon contradicts Smith’s words! Moroni 8:18 says, “For I know that God is not a partial God, neither a changeable being; but he is unchangeable from all eternity to all eternity.” (For more on this, visit here and here.
Smith’s words are nothing more than blasphemous.
Those who rejected the Savior when he came to earth with the declaration that he was the Son of God said of him: “Is not this the carpenter’s son?” (Matthew 13:55.) When Joseph announced that he had seen a vision and had seen the Father and the Son, the query came to the minds and lips of the neighbors, the ministers, and the townspeople: “Is not this the farmer’s son?” Christ was persecuted and put to death, but time has been his vindicator. As with the carpenter’s son, so it has been with the farmer’s son.
Honestly, to compare Smith with Jesus is ludicrous. Yet Smith himself claimed that he was better than Christ when he said,
I have more to boast of than ever any man had. I am the only man that has ever been able to keep a whole church together since the days of Adam. A large majority of the whole have stood by me. Neither Paul, John, Peter, nor Jesus ever did it. I boast that no man ever did such a work as I (May 26, 1844, History of the Church 6:408-409).
If you are a Latter-day Saint, I encourage you to look the quote up in the History of the Church, even in its context. And ask yourself, should Joseph Smith—“the farmer’s son”—be compared with Jesus, the “carpenter’s son”?
Joseph Smith was not only a great man, but he was an inspired servant of the Lord, a prophet of God. His greatness consists in one thing—the truthfulness of his declaration that he saw the Father and the Son and that he responded to the reality of that divine revelation. …
Fifteenth President Gordon B. Hinckley declared at general conference talks how important this First Vision account was. He said:
I would like to say that this cause is either true or false. Either this is the kingdom of God, or it is a sham and a delusion. Either Joseph talked with the Father and the Son, or he did not. If he did not, we are engaged in blasphemy (Conference Reports, October 1961, p. 116).
Nothing on which we base our doctrine, nothing we teach, nothing we live by is of greater importance than this initial declaration. I submit that if Joseph Smith talked with God the Father and His Beloved Son, then all else of which he spoke is true. This is the hinge on which turns the gate that leads to the path of salvation and eternal life (“What are people asking about us?” Ensign (Conference Edition), November. 1998, p. 71. See also Church History In The Fulness Of Times Student Manual, (2003), p. 29).
Our whole strength rests on the validity of that vision. It either occurred or it did not occur. If it did not, then this work is a fraud… upon that unique and wonderful experience stands the validity of this church (“The Marvelous Foundation of our Faith,” Ensign (Conference Edition), November 2002, p. 80. Ellipsis mine).
Later in this chapter, Hunter is quoted as saying the exact same thing:
I am grateful for my membership in the Church, and my testimony of its divinity hinges upon the simple story of the lad under the trees kneeling and receiving heavenly visitors—not one God, but two separate individual personages, the Father and the Son, revealing again to the earth the personages of the Godhead. My faith and testimony hinges upon this simple story, for if it is not true, Mormonism falls. If it is true—and I bear witness that it is—it’s one of the greatest single events in all history.
I agree. Either the First Vision did take place or it did not. If it did not, then Mormonism is “engaged in blasphemy,” according to the president’s own words. I encourage the Latter-day Saint to do his or her homework on this topic. Read Wesley Walter’s research on the revival that took place in 1824, not 1820. Ask yourself why God and Jesus would supposedly appear with no witnesses. Why would God appear to Smith when nobody can see the Father and live? (Exodus 33:20).
I testify … that the Father and the Son did appear to the Prophet Joseph Smith to initiate this great rolling forth of the latter-day work in our time.
Hunter and all Latter-day Saints can “testify” all day long, but if the historical event never took place, their testimonies are invalidated.
I testify that the boy prophet, who in so many ways remains the central miracle … of this church’s experience, is living proof that, within God’s hands and under the direction of the Savior of the world, weak and simple things should come forth and break down the mighty and strong ones.
Mormonism is centered around Joseph Smith. If Smith is found to be lacking, then the entire religion falls. With that said, could we spend a few minutes talking about his character? Smith’s polygamous practices are even documented in a church history manual:
His first recorded plural marriage in Nauvoo was to Louisa Beaman; it was performed by Bishop Joseph B. Noble on 5 April 1841. During the next three years Joseph took additional plural wives in accordance with the Lord’s commands. As members of the Council of the Twelve Apostles returned from their missions to the British Isles in 1841, Joseph Smith taught them one by one the doctrine of plurality of wives, and each experienced some difficulty in understanding and accepting this doctrine. . . . After their initial hesitancy and frustration, Brigham Young and others of the Twelve received individual confirmations from the Holy Spirit and accepted the new doctrine of plural marriage. They knew that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God in all things. At first the practice was kept secret and was very limited. Rumors began to circulate about authorities of the Church having additional wives, which greatly distorted the truth and contributed to increased persecution from apostates and outsiders. Part of the difficulty, of course, was the natural aversion Americans held against “polygamy.” This new system appeared to threaten the strongly entrenched tradition of monogamy and the solidarity of the family structure. Later, in Utah, the Saints openly practiced “the principle,” but never without persecution (Church History in the Fulness of Times Student Manual, 256).
According to LDS Church historian Marlin K. Jensen, who served as a Seventy, Joseph Smith was both polygamous and polyandrous. In a Q&A session in Stockholm, Sweden, he explained,
Polygamy is when a man has multiple wives. Polyandry is when a man marries another man’s wife. Joseph Smith did both (Recorded September 28, 2010. See “A fiery 2010 fireside in Stockholm, Sweden”).
Assistant LDS Church historian Richard E. Turley, Jr. agreed, adding, “Did Joseph Smith practice plural marriage? Yes. Many church members don’t know it but the answer is yes. Did Joseph Smith practice polyandry? The answer is yes.” A Mormon who knows about Smith’s polygamy may say this is common knowledge, but notice how Turley said “many church members don’t know it.” Our experience proves Turley’s conclusion correct.
While most Mormons seem to be aware that Brigham Young was a practicing polygamist, many have no idea that Smith was one as well. Even if they do know this fact, they may not have heard that one-third of Smith’s thirty-three plural wives were teenagers when they were married to Smith. According to Todd Compton,
Eleven (33 percent) were 14 to 20 years old when they married him. Nine wives (27 percent) were twenty-one to thirty years old. Eight wives (24 percent) were in Smith’s own peer group, ages thirty-one to forty. In the group aged forty to fifty, there is a substantial drop of two wives, or 6 percent, and three (9 percent) in the group fifty-one to sixty. The teenage representation is the largest, though the twenty-year and thirty-year-groups are comparable, which contradicts the Mormon folk-wisdom that sees the beginnings of polygamy as an attempt to care for older, unattached women (In Sacred Loneliness, 11).
Smith did not limit his secret marriages to single women, as one-third of his wives were already married to other men. Compton explains:
A common misconception concerning Joseph Smith’s polyandry is that he participated in only one or two such unusual unions. In fact, fully one-third of his plural wives, eleven of them, were married civilly to other men when he married them. If one superimposes a chronological perspective, one sees that of Smith’s first twelve wives, nine were polyandrous. . . . none of these women divorced their “first husbands” while Smith was alive and all of them continued to live with their civil spouses while married to Smith (Ibid., 15, 16. For a list of Smith’s wives and more information, see “Joseph Smith and Polygamy“).
Some might argue that these relationships were strictly platonic. Compton disagrees:
Because Reorganized Latter-Day Saints claimed that Joseph Smith was not really married polygamously in the full (i.e., sexual) sense of the term, Utah Mormons (including Smith’s wives) affirmed repeatedly that he had physical sexual relations with them—despite the Victorian conventions in nineteenth century American culture which ordinarily would have prevented any mention of sexuality. . . . Some, like Emma Smith, conclude that Joseph’s marriages were for eternity only, not for time (thus without earthly sexuality). But many of Joseph’s wives affirmed that they were married to him for eternity and time, with sexuality included (Ibid., 12, 14; italics in original).
Compton concluded that though it is possible that Joseph had some marriages in which there were no sexual relations, there is not explicit or convincing evidence for this (except, perhaps, in the cases of the older wives, judging from later Mormon polygamy). And in a significant number of marriages, there is evidence for sexual relations (Ibid., 15).
While there is no DNA evidence to prove that Smith had children with these plural wives, “persistent oral and family traditions insist that Joseph fathered children by at least four of his plural wives” (Newell and Avery, Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith, 98). Most of Smith’s wives remained quiet about their relationship with the Mormon prophet, and Newell and Avery add that these women “refused either to confirm or deny whether they had given birth to his children” (99). Regardless, Jacob 2:30 provides what appears to be the only legitimate reason in the Book of Mormon for the allowance of polygamy: to “raise up seed” (or have children). As a Gospel Topics essay (“Race and the Priesthood”) explains,
Latter-day Saints do not understand all of God’s purposes for instituting, through His prophets, the practice of plural marriage during the 19th century. The Book of Mormon identifies one reason for God to command it: to increase the number of children born in the gospel covenant in order to “raise up seed unto [the Lord]” (Jacob 2:30). Plural marriage did result in the birth of large numbers of children within faithful Latter-day Saint homes (“Plural Marriage and Families in Early Utah”).
Yet if Smith had several dozen wives whom he married in order to produce more children, then why aren’t these offspring known? And why would he marry other men’s wives who already had husbands to father children by them? Regardless, it is difficult to justify Smith’s behavior of marrying other men’s wives. Leviticus 20:10 declares that an adulterous act was punishable by death: “And the man that committeth adultery with another man’s wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.” Besides teenagers and women who were married to living husbands, Smith married a mother and her daughter (Patty Bartlett [Sessions] and Sylvia Porter Sessions Lyons) as well as pairs of sisters (Huntington, Partridge, and Lawrence). This certainly seems in conflict with Leviticus 18:17–18 and 20:14.
Smith also targeted the young daughters of two of his closest associates. For instance, he attempted to make nineteen-year-old Nancy Rigdon one of his secret plural wives but was soundly rebuffed by her. When her father, Sidney, heard of the incident, he confronted Smith. Van Wagoner noted that Smith at first denied the story but recanted when Nancy failed to back off from her accusation. Shortly thereafter Smith had a letter sent to Nancy justifying his proposal when he said, “That which is wrong under one circumstance, may be, and often is, right under another” (Van Wagoner, Sidney Rigdon, 295–96).
In May 1843 the 37-year-old prophet of Mormonism convinced 14-year-old Helen Mar Kimball to be sealed to him as his plural wife. The daughter of Heber C. Kimball stated how Smith promised that if she would “take this step,” it would ensure the eternal salvation and exaltation of her father’s household and kindred. Helen was led to believe that the relationship was more of a spiritual nature and claimed she would have never gone through with it had she known otherwise (Ibid., 293–94).
Emma, Joseph’s wife, was never in favor of polygamy. For instance, when Joseph’s brother Hyrum took the revelation on plural marriage to Emma in the summer of 1843 to get her approval, he returned with his head down, saying, “I have never received a more severe talking to in my life. Emma is very bitter and full of resentment and anger,” he said (Newell and Avery, Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith, 152).
They also write, “Emma would eventually know about some of Joseph’s plural wives, her knowledge of seven can be documented conclusively, and some evidence hints that she may have known of others” (Ibid., 98). However, Emma was deceived by her husband on a number of occasions, and when she found out that certain women—including some of her best friends—were married to her husband, she became angry and even defiant. For instance, “when the full realization of the relationship between her friend Eliza [Snow] and her husband Joseph came to her, Emma was stunned. . . . Although no contemporary account of the incident between Emma and Eliza remains extant, evidence leads to the conclusion that some sort of physical confrontation occurred between the two women” (Ibid., 134).
History shows that Emma disdained plural marriage. After Joseph was killed in 1844, she denied to her dying day that her husband had ever married other women. When Joseph finally convinced his wife to accept plural marriage in May 1843, Emma told him that she would allow him to marry other women as long as she got to choose the new brides. As reported by Newell and Avery:
Emma chose the two sets of sisters then living in her house, Emily and Eliza Partridge and Sarah and Maria Lawrence. Joseph had finally converted Emma to plural marriage, but not so fully that he dared tell her he had married the Partridge sisters two months earlier. Emily said that “to save family trouble Brother Joseph thought it best to have another ceremony performed. . . . [Emma] had her feelings, and so we thought there was no use in saying anything about it so long as she had chosen us herself” (Ibid., 143; ellipses in original).
The authors added that it didn’t take long before “Emma began to talk as firmly and urgently to Joseph about abandoning plural marriage as he had formerly talked to her about accepting it.” And even if it had been commanded by God, “she opposed the doctrine” and even “threatened divorce” (Ibid., 145, 158). The fact that Emma married a nonmember after the death of Joseph tends to prove that she did not believe plural marriage (or marriage at all) had anything to do with true salvation, as was taught in the LDS Church.
While many Mormons remain naïve about the polygamous ways of their church’s founding prophet, how could a modern Mormon in good conscience revere someone who lied to his wife about his affairs with other women and secretly married women already married to his friends (often without their knowledge)? Any man who is willing to deceive his wife and his friends is certainly capable of lying to others.
Speaking at a general conference, Apostle M. Russell Ballard stated that one of the characteristics of a false prophet was someone who attempted “to change the God-given and scripturally based doctrines that protect the sanctity of marriage, the divine nature of the family, and the essential doctrine of personal morality” (Ensign (November 1999): 64). Ballard said such false prophets tend to redefine morality to justify, among other things, adultery and fornication. On such issues Mormons tend to turn a blind eye to Smith’s egregious behavior. Why don’t the standards given by Ballard apply to Joseph Smith?
I return to Apostle Neil L. Andersen’s quote at the 2014 general conference that I quoted earlier. Remember, he had said, “I testify that Joseph Smith was an honest and virtuous man, . . .” (“Joseph Smith,” Ensign (Conference Edition), November 2014, p. 31). Really? If you are a Latter-day Saint, is this really the man you want to emulate?
For more information on this topic, consider the following podcasts:
- Was Joseph Smith a Braggart? Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 September 30-October 2, 2014
- What if Thomas S. Monson were more like Joseph Smith? December 9, 2011 (Series of articles)
- The 1820 Revival November 22, 2011
Joseph Smith was a prophet, seer, and revelator.
The coming of the Prophet Joseph into the world was the fulfillment of a prophecy uttered many centuries ago by Joseph who was sold into Egypt:
“A seer shall the Lord my God raise up, who shall be a choice seer unto the fruit of my loins. … And his name shall be called after me; and it shall be after the name of his father” (2 Nephi 3:6, 15).
Joseph Smith, Jr., was called after the name of Joseph of old who was carried captive into Egypt, and also after the name of his father, Joseph Smith, Sr., thus fulfilling this prophecy. He is known as the Prophet Joseph Smith and is called “Joseph the Seer.” He is often referred to as “prophet, seer, and revelator.”
Joseph Smith added this “prophecy” into Genesis 50 in his “Inspired” Version of the Bible. Are we really supposed to trust a “prophecy” that was “translated” after the fact? With no manuscript evidence to ascertain this Book of Mormon passage or Genesis 50, why should anyone believe these words came from God?
The terms “Prophet” and “Seer” and “Revelator” are often used interchangeably and are thought by many to be one and the same thing. They are not the same, however, and these three terms have separate and distinct meanings.
[Elder] John A. Widtsoe defines a prophet as a teacher—one who expounds truth. He teaches truth as revealed by the Lord to man, and under inspiration explains it to the understanding of the people. The word “prophet” is often used to designate one who receives revelation and direction from the Lord. Many have thought that a prophet is essentially a foreteller of future events and happenings, but this is only one of the many functions of a prophet. He is a spokesman for the Lord.
A seer is one who sees. This does not mean that he sees through his natural eyes but rather through spiritual eyes. The seeric gift is a supernatural endowment. Joseph was like unto Moses, the ancient seer, and Moses saw God face to face, but he explains how he saw him in these words:
“But now mine own eyes have beheld God; but not my natural, but my spiritual eyes, for my natural eyes could not have beheld; for I should have withered and died in his presence; but his glory was upon me; and I beheld his face, for I was transfigured before him” (Moses 1:11).
We should not suppose that to see spiritually is not to see literally. Such vision is not fancy or imagination. The object is actually beheld but not with the natural eyes. Each of us has spiritual eyes which are the counterpart of our natural eyes. We were first created spiritually and then our bodies were created as the covering of our spirit. We are told that in our first estate we walked by sight. This was through the vision of our spiritual eyes because we had not yet been given bodies with natural eyes. All men have spiritual sight but are not always privileged to use such sight unless quickened by the Spirit of the Lord. …
Many Latter-day Saints are not familiar with the evidence that Joseph Smith used a magic rock and his “seeric gift” to translate the Book of Mormon. To read about these topics, I encourage you to look here:
Praise to the man who communed with Jehovah.
When we sing of Joseph Smith, “Praise to the Man” (Hymns, 1985, no. 27), we remember so many praiseworthy things about him.
In Christianity, we have a number of hymns. Some of my favorites include “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” “How Great Thou Art!” and “Jesus Paid it All.” I can’t remember any hymn that was written about Peter, Paul, or another human except Jesus Himself. In Mormonism, though, there is a song called “Praise to the Man.” I know I have been punting on many issues to other articles on our website, but instead of making this into a 200-page article, allow me to do it again. Check out this article by Bill McKeever titled “Praise to the Man” along with a YouTube video.
We praise him for his capacity to commune not only with Jehovah but also with other personages of heaven. So many visited, gave keys, and tutored that “choice seer” raised up in the latter days (2 Ne. 3:6–7). When Father Smith blessed young Joseph in 1834, he declared that ancient Joseph in Egypt saw this latter-day seer. Ancient Joseph wept when he realized how the work of the Prophet Joseph would bless the earlier Joseph’s numerous posterity.
While these words may touch a Latter-day Saint, it is mind-numbing to me. Joseph the Patriarch and Moses never predicted the coming of Joseph Smith. This is completely made up in the mind of Joseph Smith and following LDS leaders. Instead of being someone to be admired, Joseph Smith’s false view of God and his adulterous ways ought to be shunned just as Latter-day Saints do with FLDS leader Warren Jeffs. In fact, Jeffs has much more in common with Smith than does Jesus!
We praise Joseph Smith, too, for his diligence and capacity to translate and to receive hundreds of pages of revealed scripture. He was the revealing conduit. Through him, it has been estimated, more marvelous pages of scripture passed than through any other human in history.
None of this “scripture” can be proven. The Book of Mormon lacks historical or archaeological evidence. (For many articles on this topic, go here.) The Doctrine and Covenants changes its ideas over the years it was written, even the very essence of who God is. And the Book of Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price has been proven to be a fraud. (See the 1-hour DVD documentary on this issue.) This is not items that ought to be praiseworthy.
We praise Joseph not only for his capacity to endure but to “endure it well” (D&C 121:8). Early on, as a boy, there was the painful operation on his leg—without which surgery he could not have made the later arduous Zion’s Camp march from Ohio to Missouri. During the march Joseph “walked most of the time and had a full proportion of blistered, bloody, and sore feet” [Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, 287]. Likewise, we praise him and Emma for enduring the sorrowful loss of six of their natural and adopted children to early death. Parents who have lost even one child are filled with empathy. We praise Joseph for the capacity to endure persecution, including the long and severe deprivations in Liberty Jail. To so many, everything then seemed hopeless. Yet the Lord of heaven reassured imprisoned Joseph that “the ends of the earth shall inquire after thy name” (D&C 122:1).
Yes, there were many sad events in Smith’s life, including those that were self-caused in Kirtland, Independence, and Nauvoo. Should the fact that someone had difficult times mean that somehow this authenticates his false teachings? If not, why even bring this up?
We live in a day where there is increased inquiry about Joseph Smith and the restored gospel.
Ahh, and perhaps this is why so many people end up leaving the LDS Church. An article printed on 2/14/16 in the Salt Lake Tribune described some of the historical issues that have caused many to doubt Mormonism:
Mormonism has had its doubters and dropouts since its founding nearly two centuries ago, but today’s crisis of faith among Information Age believers somehow seems new.
Modern. Multifaceted. Unexpected. Unusually troubling. Vast.
It is affecting Latter-day Saints of all types, young and old, lifers and converts, women and men, scholars, students and scientists, stay-at-home parents and careerists. Their numbers appear staggering as many wrestle with questions of prophetic fallibility, historic revisionism, polygamy, the origins of the faith’s signature scripture, the Book of Mormon, past racism and violence, women’s roles in a male-led hierarchy and where gays fit in the culture and the creed. (“New era of doubt in Mormonism,” 2/14/16, p. A1).
In a poll done by the newspaper with Mormons and their “faith crises,” the biggest trigger for the 1700 respondents for causing their doubts was Joseph Smith, including his plural marriages to the wives of other husbands, the different accounts of the First Vision, his character, and issues involving the translation of LDS scripture. If you’d like to read the article, I encourage you to do so.
Joseph has long since fulfilled his wish that he might hold “an even weight in the balance with” the ancients [Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, 230]. We can now sing of how Joseph Pl
I, for one, am flabbergasted that anyone that anyone would “sing of how” Smith can even hold a candle to the prophets of Bible times. If you are a Latter-day Saint, shouldn’t this type of language alarm you?
We praise Joseph for enduring bitter and repeated betrayals and disappointments. Thus, he went to Carthage “like a lamb to the slaughter,” “calm as a summer’s morning,” and “void of offense towards … all men” (D&C 135:4). He did not go to Carthage bitterly. He did not go to Carthage complainingly. What a marvelous capacity to endure well!
What isn’t said is that Smith originally intended to run away from that Carthage Jail situation before he was convinced by a letter from Emma telling him to return and face the music. Was Smith really a martyr? Once again, consider this article that I wrote for the Christian Research Journal.
Joseph knew which way he faced. It was toward the Savior Jesus Christ to whom he listened ever since our Heavenly Father first instructed young Joseph, saying, “This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!” [Joseph Smith—History 1:17].
Smith did not “face” “toward the Savior Jesus Christ.” Smith said more about himself than he ever said about Jesus. I remind you of a quote given by Smith:
I have more to boast of than ever any man had. I am the only man that has ever been able to keep a whole church together since the days of Adam. A large majority of the whole have stood by me. Neither Paul, John, Peter, nor Jesus ever did it. I boast that no man ever did such a work as I (May 26, 1844, History of the Church 6:408-409).
Such a quote could not have been given by someone who is supposedly looking to face Jesus Christ.
The life and mission of the Prophet Joseph Smith help us turn to the paths that lead to eternal life.
Following Joseph will not lead anyone to eternal life. In fact, believing in a false Jesus and a false God will only lead someone to hell.
I am grateful for this man, for his teachings, for his revelations, for what he has left for us, for it was through him that the gospel was restored to the earth. I think there is no more beautiful story in all of history than the simple, sweet story of the lad who went into the woods near his home, kneeling in prayer and receiving heavenly visitors.
The only problem is that the First Vision account has many problems, including the fact that there was no Christian revival at that time (as reported by Smith), multiple testimonies (9) over the 20-year period following the supposed vision, no additional testimonies except Joseph Smith’s word that he saw the Father and Jesus, and how the official version was not written down until the 1840s. In a court of law, the veracity of the First Vision story would be thrown out of the courtroom. Flowery language and sappy remembrances do not make something true.
Now we look into his life and into his works. Many have pried into them to find the mystery of it all behind the written word, but there is no mystery. … There was a simple faith, the faith of a young boy who was to be trained in the things that pertained to God. And as time went by, this young man, without scholarly achievements and without education, was educated by the Lord for the things which should come.
Joseph Smith may not have had the educational achievements, that is true, but this doesn’t take away from his creative abilities. There have been many others who have misled people in recent years, including Jim Jones, David Koresh, and Marshall Applewhite. Their lack of scholarly achievements did not take away the fact that they misled many people.
Now we have been given intelligence and a mind. We only need to train and cultivate it as the Lord instructed Joseph and have a simple faith as he had and be willing to follow simple instructions. When we do so and follow the path that [the Lord] would have us follow and learn the lessons that He would have us learn, we find that our lives are purged of all things which are contrary to the purposes of God, and so it was with Joseph. He came to be a man nearer perfection, for he had cleansed his soul and his mind and lived close to the Lord and could talk with Him and hear Him speak the things which he has left for us through his revelations. Through his spiritual eyes he has been able to see that which has passed and that which lies ahead, and we have had proof of the truthfulness of that which he has seen. …
Smith’s “spiritual eyes” have provided teaching and doctrines in complete contradiction of the Bible. This is proof that Joseph Smith is who Jesus was speaking about in Matthew 7:
15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.
It is my prayer [that] as we commemorate this great prophet and reflect upon his life, that we have gratitude in our hearts for the things which have come into our lives by reason of his seership and his revelation to us—a choice seer, raised up by the Lord to guide us in these latter days, that we might turn our footsteps back to those paths which will lead us to exaltation and eternal life.
We must make a choice. As for me, I reject Joseph Smith because his teachings are wrong. His paths lead to hell, not eternal life.