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Review of Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Ezra Taft Benson, Chapter 7: Joseph Smith, an Instrument in the Hands of the Lord

Chapter 7: Joseph Smith, an Instrument in the Hands of the Lord

Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Ezra Taft Benson, (2014), 102–13

During 2015, LDS members will be studying the latest manual published by their church, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Ezra Taft Benson. 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 underlined is from the manual, with our comments following.

“Joseph Smith, the latter-day Prophet, was an instrument in the hands of the Lord in opening a new gospel dispensation, the last and greatest of all gospel dispensations.”

President Benson continued to find opportunities throughout his life to share his witness of Joseph Smith’s calling. For example, when he was serving as United States secretary of agriculture, a radio station invited him to choose a favorite scripture passage to be read over the air, and he chose a portion of Joseph Smith—History in the Pearl of Great Price.

Above all, he regularly bore a firm and powerful testimony to his fellow Saints. “Joseph Smith was a prophet of the Living God,” he declared, “one of the greatest prophets that has ever lived upon the earth. He was the instrument in God’s hand in ushering in a great gospel dispensation, the greatest ever, and the last of all in preparation for the second coming of the Master.”

I am not surprised that Joseph Smith is the focus on an entire chapter in Ezra Taft Benson’s manual. In fact, Mormonism’s founder has been the focus of more chapters in the series featuring LDS presidents since 1998 than any other topic or leader. According to Mormonism, a denial of Smith and his legacy means the whole religion falls apart.

Consider what important LDS leaders have said:

“I honor and revere the name of Joseph Smith. I delight to hear it; I love it. I love his doctrine” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, p. 345).

“The whole foundation of this Church rests firmly upon the inspiration of the living God through Joseph Smith the Prophet” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Heber J. Grant, p. 16).

“Many of the benefits and blessings that have come to me have come through that man who gave his life for the gospel of Jesus Christ. There have been some who have belittled him, but I would like to say that those who have done so will be forgotten and their remains will go back to mother earth, if they have not already gone, and the odor of their infamy will never die, while the glory and honor and majesty and courage and fidelity manifested by the Prophet Joseph Smith will attach to his name forever” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: George Albert Smith, p. 34).

“No one else, but Joseph Smith, has ever made the claim that this restoration and setting up of the kingdom (i.e. Church of Jesus Christ) has ever been revealed. Joseph Smith has proclaimed to the world that power, keys, and authority were bestowed upon him. No one else has arisen to make such a claim; yet, this was revealed preparatory to these momentous and final restorations” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Selections from Answers to Gospel Questions: A Course of Study for the Melchizedek Priesthood Quorum 1972-73, p. 338).

“We must accept the divine mission of the Prophet Joseph Smith as the instrumentality through which the restoration of the gospel and the organization of the Church of Jesus Christ was accomplished. Each member of the Church, to be prepared for the millennial reign, must receive a testimony, each for himself, of the divinity of the work established by Joseph Smith” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Harold B. Lee, p. 71).

“Joseph knew, as no other soul living, these absolutes: He knew that God lives, that He is a [glorified] person with flesh and bones and personality, like us or we like Him, in His image. He knew that the long-heralded trinity of three Gods in one was a myth, a deception. He knew that the Father and the Son were two distinct beings with form, voices, and . . . personalities. He knew that the gospel was not on the earth, for by the Deities he had learned it, and the true Church was absent from the earth, for the God of heaven and earth had so informed him” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball, p. 230. Ellipses in original).

“An acquaintance said to me one day: ‘I admire your church very much. I think I could accept everything about it—except Joseph Smith.’ To which I responded: ‘That statement is a contradiction. If you accept the revelation, you must accept the revelator” (President Gordon B. Hinckley, “Joseph Smith, Jr.: Prophet of God, Mighty Servant,” Ensign, December 2005, p. 2).

“How grateful we are to Joseph for his worthiness to witness what he did for us. How grateful we should be that we are allowed to stand by Joseph with our own actions and testimonies of the Father and the Son” (Seventy Emeritus Cecil O. Samuelson, “Stand by my Servant Joseph,” Ensign, February 2013, p. 39).

These quotes will serve as a background to this topic.

Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson

Joseph Smith’s First Vision was the greatest event in this world since the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

As a young man, Joseph Smith was a seeker after truth. Confusion among existing churches led him to inquire of God which of them was true. In answer to that prayer, he asserted that a pillar of brilliant light appeared. These are his words:

“When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!” (JS—H 1:17.)

Joseph asked the second personage, who was Jesus Christ, which one of the Christian sects was correct. He was told that he must not join any of them, that none were correct.

When God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ come to earth, as they did in 1820 when they appeared to the young boy prophet, Joseph Smith, it is not something that concerns only a handful of people. It is a message and a revelation intended for all of our Father’s children living upon the face of the earth. It was the greatest event that has ever happened in this world since the resurrection of the Master. Sometimes I think we are so close to it that we don’t fully appreciate its significance and importance and the magnitude of it.

A church manual explains,

“For your testimony of the restored gospel to be complete, it must include a testimony of Joseph Smith’s divine mission. The truthfulness of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints rests on the truthfulness of the First Vision and the other revelations the Lord gave to the Prophet Joseph” (True to the Faith, 2004, p. 90).

If this event plays such a major role in Mormonism’s history, why is there no mention of this “First Vision” story in the early years of the church among the writings of LDS leaders or members, including Joseph Smith himself? Mormon historian James B. Allen concedes that the First Vision narrative, as understood by modern LDS members, is suspiciously absent for much of Mormonism’s early history. He wrote,

According to Joseph Smith, he told the story of the vision immediately after it happened in the early spring of 1820. As a result, he said, he received immediate criticism in the community. There is little if any evidence, however, that by the early 1830’s Joseph Smith was telling the story in public. At least if he were telling it, no one seemed to consider it important enough to have recorded it at the time, and no one was criticizing him for it. Not even in his own history did Joseph Smith mention being criticized in this period fortelling the story of the first vision. The interest, rather, was in the Book of Mormon and the various angelic visitations connected with its origin (“The Significance of Joseph Smith’s ‘First Vision’ in Mormon Thought,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, autumn 1966, p. 30).

Allen continued to say “that none of the available contemporary writings about Joseph Smith in the 1830s, none of the publications of the Church in that decade, and no contemporary journal or correspondence yet discovered mentions the story of the first vision is convincing evidence that at best it received only limited circulation in those early days” (pages 30-31). If the First Vision story was actually being circulated, Smith’s detractors would have found this to be a lightning rod for criticism. Yet Allen stated that “the earliest anti-Mormon literature attacked the Book of Mormon and the character of Joseph Smith but never mentioned the first Vision” (p. 31).

Smith’s critics included Alexander Campbell, E. D. Howe, Ezra Booth, John Corrill, and J. B. Turner. Allen went on to say,

“Not until 1843, when the New York Spectator printed a reporter’s account of an interview with Joseph Smith, did a non-Mormon source publish any reference to the story of the first vision. In 1844 I. Daniel Rupp published An Original History of the Religious Denominations at Present Existing in the United States, and this work contained an account of the vision provided by Joseph Smith himself. It seems probable; however, that as far as non-Mormons were concerned there was little, if any, awareness of it in the 1830’s.”

Allen says that it was not until 1842 that a detailed account of the First Vision was printed in a Mormon publication. “The Times and Seasons began publication in 1839, but, as indicated above, the story of the vision was not told in its pages until 1842. From all this it would appear that the general church membership did not receive information about the first vision until the 1840’s and that the story certainly did not hold the prominent place in Mormon thought that it does today” (p. 32). The 1842 report of the First Vision can be found in Times and Seasons, April 1, 1842, 3:743.

As an explanation for why this story is missing, Allen suggests that Smith may have felt “experiences such as these should be kept from the general public because of their extremely sacred nature” (p. 34).  If so, should it be assumed that everyone who allegedly knew of this story had the will to set aside its evangelistic capabilities when speaking to a skeptical prospective convert? Is this even remotely reasonable when it is understood how Smith’s encounter has profound importance in bolstering Mormonism’s current view of the Godhead? Consider also that such “sacredness” didn’t seem to prohibit the LDS Church from eventually using this narrative as a missionary tool.

This missing portion of early Mormon history may explain why several LDS General Authorities have given conflicting views regarding the First Vision. Note these examples:

• Brigham Young (1801–1877): “The Lord did not come with the armies of heaven . . . But He did send His angel to this same obscure person, Joseph Smith jun., . . . and informed him that he should not join any of the religious sects of the day, for they were all wrong” (Journal of Discourses, 2:171).

• John Taylor (1808–1887): “How did this state of things called Mormonism originate? We read that an angel came down and revealed himself to Joseph Smith and manifested unto him in vision the true position of the world in a religious point of view . . . None of them was right, just as it was when the Prophet Joseph asked the angel which of the sects was right that he might join it. The answer was that none of them are right. What, none of them? No”(Ibid., 10:127; 20:167).

• George A. Smith (1817–1875): “Joseph Smith had attended these meetings, and when this result was reached he saw clearly that something was wrong. He had read the Bible and had found that passage in James which says ‘If any of you lack wisdom let him ask of God that giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not,’ and taking this literally, he went humbly before the Lord and inquired of Him, and the Lord answered his prayer, and revealed to Joseph, by the ministration of angels, the true condition of the religious world. When the holy angel appeared, Joseph inquired which of all these denominations was right and which he should join, and was told they were all wrong,—they had all gone astray, transgressed the laws, changed the ordinances and broken the everlasting covenant, and that the Lord was about to restore the priesthood and establish His Church, which would be the only true and living Church on the face of the whole earth” (Ibid., 12:334).

Joseph Smith himself recorded a conflicting view in his 1832 diary when he claimed he saw only “the Lord” in the “16th year of my age.” Instead of being told by two personages that all the churches were wrong, in this account he claimed to have already known that the churches “had apostatized from the true and living faith and there was no society or denomination that built upon the Gospel of Jesus Christ as recorded in the new testament” (Joseph Smith’s 1832–34 Diary, 5).

Keep in mind that there were no other witnesses to this event. In essence, in order to accept this account, one must put complete faith and trust in Joseph Smith and him alone.

Even if it had been possible for Smith to see God, Doctrine and Covenants 84:21–22 explains that the priesthood would have been needed in order for Smith to see Him. It reads,

“And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh; For without this no man can see the face of God, even the Father, and live.”

Melvin J. Petersen, who taught church history and doctrine at Brigham Young University, acknowledged that Smith had no such priesthood in 1820, the year he claimed to have seen God. However, he pointed to John 1:18 of the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible to support the idea that Smith saw God, which reads, “No man hath seen God at any time, except he hath bourne record of the Son” (A Sure Foundation, 79).

In noting this dilemma, Brigham Young University professor Charles R. Harrell stated,

“Explanations about how Joseph could have seen God before being ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood or having received its ordinances have been varied. Early Mormon brethren who confronted this issue concluded that Joseph did hold the priesthood having, in some sense, brought it with him from the preexistence.”

Harrell went on to say, “According to Joseph Fielding Smith, since the priesthood wasn’t yet on the earth, young Joseph was exempt from this requirement” (Harrell, “This Is My Doctrine,” 146 n. 65).

The first vision of the Prophet Joseph Smith is bedrock theology to the Church.

The most evident truth that emerged from the Prophet’s experience in 1820 was the reality of God’s existence and the fact that Jesus Christ was indeed resurrected. He saw them as separate, distinct, glorified Personages who spoke to him as one man speaks to another.

I am humbly grateful for the knowledge that I have that God the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ, as glorified beings have again come to this earth in our day, in this dispensation; that they did in very deed appear unto the boy prophet. … This was the most glorious manifestation of God the Father and the Son of which we have record.

If the First Vision never happened and Joseph Smith later conjured up the notion in an attempt to give his story some credibility, it creates a major problem because it calls into question his calling as a prophet and his integrity as a whole. As Gordon B. Hinckley stated in a 1961 general conference message,

“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, 116).

Therefore, the Latter-day Saint needs to refrain from accepting the story based merely on faith and take a closer look at the history of Smith’s crucial claim.

For more on the First Vision, check out these Viewpoint on Mormonism podcasts:

First Vision Accounts (Gospel Topics Essay)  Part 1  Part 2  Part 3  Part 4  Part 5  Part 6  Part 7  Part 8  Part 9 Part 10  June 2-13, 2014   (Article 1)  (Article 2)  (Article 3)

The First Vision and the Resurrection (Rob Bowman)  April 22, 2014  (Article 1)  (Article 2)  (Article 3)

First Vision November 23, 2011  (Article 1)  (Article 2)  (Article 3)

Consistent with New Testament prophecy, Joseph Smith received new revelation and angelic visitations.

It is generally understood that the faith of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints rests on the claim that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God, and also that he declared the coming forth of the Book of Mormon was the result of angelic visitations to him between the years 1823 and 1827.

Upon learning of this claim, some people contend that it seems preposterous that angels would visit the earth in this modern era.

No, what really is preposterous is that a man (Moroni) who supposedly lived in the fifth century AD could come back as an angel. What biblical precedence is there for this? In fact, nowhere does the Bible say it is possible for once-living humans to return in angelic form.

The Bible contains testimony that God directed the affairs of His church on earth for over four thousand years by revelation and, when necessary, by heavenly ministrations.

What does it mean, “heavenly ministrations”? And again, if Moroni had once been human, an explanation must be provided to show how he was able to return in angelic form.

In describing conditions of the last days incident to the second coming of Jesus Christ, John prophesied in the New Testament that before the Savior’s return, the world would receive a warning that the hour of God’s judgment was near. That warning would come by an angel from heaven declaring an “everlasting gospel.” Hear his words:

“I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people,

“Saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters.” (Rev. 14:6–7.)

If one accepts the testimony of John the Revelator, new revelation and a visitation by a heavenly messenger to earth should be expected.

Our solemn testimony is that this angelic messenger appeared to the Prophet Joseph Smith in the early nineteenth century. This announcement that an angel from God appeared to a prophet in our times is entirely consistent with the prophecies of the New Testament and should therefore command the interest of every earnest seeker after truth.

On the evening of 21 September 1823, an angel appeared to the Prophet Joseph Smith. The angel’s name was Moroni. He was the last of a long line of ancient prophets of two great civilizations who lived … on the American Continent centuries ago. Moroni came to Joseph Smith in fulfillment of prophecy.

This interpretation by the former Mormon prophet is nothing more than eisegesis, or reading into the passage. Consider, for instance, the preceding verses in this passage:

  • 144,000 saints standing with the Lamb (Jesus) on Mount Zion (verse 1)
  • A new song sung by only the 144,000 (verse 3)
  • These beings had kept their virginity (verse 4) and had never lied (verse 5)

Then, in verse 6, the eternal gospel is announced by the angel to the inhabitants of earth. While Mormons believe that the angel Moroni (a former human) delivered gold plates to Smith, when did this angelic being ever announce the “eternal gospel” to “every nation (ethnos), tribe, language, and people”? Originally written in a language nobody knew (supposedly Reformed Egyptian), the Book of Mormon was said to be translated by Smith into King James-style English. However, the Book of Mormon still has not been translated into every language almost two centuries later…far from it.  And when did Moroni ever proclaim anything to anyone other than Smith? Thus, how can verse 6 even be considered fulfilled? In verse 7, it says the “hour of His judgment has come.” Did Jesus judge the earth in the 1820s? If this is referring to a future event, then verse 6 should not be interpreted as having already occurred.

Noticeably, Benson stopped quoting at verse 7 and didn’t continue with verse 8, which talks about a “second angel” who spoke about “Babylon the Great” that would fall and make all nations drink the wine of sexual immorality, bringing wrath.

In verse 9, John mentions a mark of the beast put on people’s foreheads and hands. If verses 6 and 7 refer to events that have already happened (the introduction of the Book of Mormon to the earth), then the Mormon is obligated to explain these additional symbolic references and how they too were fulfilled.

Instead of referring to Moroni and any other event from the past, there is no doubt that Revelation 14 is talking about events in the future. It is unfair to pull a verse (or two) out of context and make it say something it was never intended to say.

The Book of Mormon is the most singular evidence of Joseph Smith’s calling as a prophet.

The most singular evidence in support of Joseph Smith’s claim to being a spokesman for Almighty God was the publication of a scriptural record, the Book of Mormon.

The Book of Mormon is a record of the ancient inhabitants of the American continent and records the visit and ministry of Jesus Christ to the people on this continent following His ascension at Jerusalem. The major purpose of the record is to convince a later generation that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. The Book of Mormon, therefore, constitutes an additional witness, along with the Bible, to the divinity of Jesus Christ.

If the Book of Mormon is not a historical book because the events it records never happened, shouldn’t a Mormon want to know? Because there is no archaeological or historical evidence to support the book, there are different theories where the Book of Mormon actually took place. The Book of Mormon lands are probably most commonly believed to be in the Central American area. This theory has not been without its critics, including Joseph Fielding Smith, who wrote:

Within recent years there has arisen among certain students of the Book of Mormon a theory to the effect that within the period covered by the Book of Mormon, the Nephites and Lamanites were confined almost entirely within the borders of the territory comprising Central America and the southern portion of Mexico—the isthmus of Tehauntepec probably being the “narrow neck” of land spoken of in the Book of Mormon rather than the isthmus of Panama. . . . In the face of this evidence coming from the Prophet Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and David Whitmer, we cannot say that the Nephites and Lamanites did not possess the territory of the United States and that the Hill Cumorah is in Central America. Neither can we say that the great struggle which resulted in the destruction of the Nephites took place in Central America (Doctrines of Salvation, 3:232, 239–40. Ellipsis mine, italics his).

Smith also said:

It must be conceded that this description fits perfectly the land of Cumorah in New York, as it has been known since the visitation of Moroni to the Prophet Joseph Smith, for the hill is in the proximity of the Great Lakes and also in the land of many rivers and fountains. Moreover, the Prophet Joseph Smith himself is on record, definitely declaring the present hill called Cumorah to be the exact hill spoken of in the Book of Mormon. . . . It is difficult for a reasonable person to believe that such men as Oliver Cowdery, Brigham Young, Parley P. Pratt, Orson Pratt, David Whitmer, and many others, could speak frequently of the Spot where the Prophet Joseph Smith obtained the plates as the Hill Cumorah, and not be corrected by the Prophet, if that were not the fact. That they did speak of this hill in the days of the Prophet in this definite manner is an established record of history. (Ibid., 3:233–34. Ellipsis ours, italics his.)

Apostle James Talmage also placed the Nephite people in North America when he wrote:

At that time North America was inhabited by two great peoples, the Nephites and the Lamanites, each named after an early leader, and both originally of one family stock. Except for brief periods of comparative peace the two nations lived in a state of hostility due to Lamanite aggression (The Vitality of Mormonism, 199).

Benson insisted that not only did the alleged Nephites live in the area of the United States, but that Adam and the Jaredites lived there as well.

Consider how very fortunate we are to be living in this land of America. The destiny of this country was forged long before the earth was even created. . . . This was the place of three former civilizations: that of Adam, that of the Jaredites, and that of the Nephites (Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, 587–88).

Despite the above comments, many modern LDS scholars have since abandoned the idea that the Book of Mormon lands include areas of North America. In doing so they have claimed that such leaders as those above were misinformed. In a personal letter to Bill McKeever on June 11, 1992, Dr. John Sorenson stated that Joseph Fielding Smith “misread relevant historical documents.” While it is certainly possible that Smith could have done so, we must bear in mind that he held the position of a trusted LDS Church historian for nearly half a century. Yet a message from the First Presidency in 1930 stated:

Jesus Christ, referring to the time when he would manifest himself in the latter days, declared that whereas he manifested himself to his own people in the meridian of time and they rejected him, in the latter days he would come first to the Gentiles, and then to the house of Israel. He says: “And behold, this people (the Nephites) will I establish in this land, (America) and it shall be a new Jerusalem.” (Messages of the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (1833–1951), 6 vols., ed. James R. Clark, 5:285).

In a declaration made by the First Presidency on May 1, 1911 and printed in the Deseret News a few days later, President Joseph F. Smith and his counselors Anthon Lund and John Henry Smith stated that it was Moroni himself who claimed to have “ministered to a people called Nephites, a branch of the house of Israel, formerly inhabiting this land” (Ibid., 4:232, emphasis mine). Conflicting information of this sort must certainly be confusing to the Latter-day Saint, especially since there is, for example, an LDS Church marker located north of Gallatin, Missouri, stating how a Nephite altar once existed near the place Joseph Smith called Adam-ondi-Ahman. If the Nephites were relegated to an area in Central America, how did one of their altars appear as far north as the state of Missouri?

While most LDS scholars would feel that there is historical and scientific value in the Book of Mormon, we have found no scientist or historian outside the Mormon faith who would support such a notion. On August 25, 1984, John Carlson addressed a Sunstone Symposium in Salt Lake City where he noted,

“The Book of Mormon itself has not made a significant contribution to New World archaeology. Ask any New World archaeologist.” When asked on June 16, 1999 if he had changed this position, he said, “No, I have not changed my opinion and would stand by what I said.”

Carlson, who now serves as the director for the Center for Archaeoastronomy at the University of Maryland, did note that “interest in the Book of Mormon by believers has stimulated interest in the ancient Americas and promoted archaeological research.” While he stated that much of this research is good and unbiased, “there are also plenty of examples of highly biased research designed to support the Book of Mormon” (E-mail to Bill McKeever, 16 June 1999).

Michael D. Coe, a non-Mormon professor emeritus of anthropology at Yale University, is an expert in the early history of Mesoamerica. Among Coe’s works are Mexico and The Maya, both published by Thames and Hudson. He wrote a paper in 1973 that discussed the lack of historical evidence in the Book of Mormon. Said Coe:

Mormon archaeologists over the years have almost unanimously accepted the Book of Mormon as an accurate, historical account of the New World peoples between about 2000 BC and AD 421. They believe that Smith could translate hieroglyphs, whether “Reformed Egyptian” or ancient American. . . . Let me now state uncategorically that as far as I know there is not one professionally trained archaeologist, who is not a Mormon, who sees any scientific justification for believing the foregoing to be true, and I would like to state that there are quite a few Mormon archaeologists who join this group. . . . The bare facts of the matter are that nothing, absolutely nothing, has ever shown up in any New World excavation which would suggest to a dispassionate observer that the Book of Mormon, as claimed by Joseph Smith, is a historical document relating to the history of the early migrants to our hemisphere (“Mormons and Archaeology: An Outside View,” Dialogue 8 (summer 1973): 41, 42, 46).

With a hint of sarcasm, Coe concluded with these suggestions:

Forget the so-far fruitless quest for the Jaredites, Nephites, Mulekites, and the lands of Zarahemla and Bountiful: there is no more chance of finding them than of discovering the ruins of the bottomless pit described in the book of Revelations. . . . Continue the praiseworthy excavations in Mexico, remembering that little or nothing pertaining to the Book of Mormon will ever result from them (Ibid., 48).

Despite the fact that many experts in the field of anthropology concur with Coe’s 1973 assessment, some Mormons have tried to set it aside by claiming that his comments are outdated. Did new evidence cause him to change his position since 1973? Bill wrote Coe in 1993 to see if he still believed twenty years later what he had written in 1973. He responded:

I haven’t changed my views about the Book of Mormon since my 1973 article. I have seen no archaeological evidence before or since that date which would convince me that it is anything but a fanciful creation by an unusually gifted individual living in upstate New York in the early 19th century (Personal letter addressed to Bill McKeever, 17 August 1993).

Mormon apologist L. Ara Norwood claims that the analysis by Coe (and any other non-LDS scholar, for that matter) should be rejected because he is not Mormon. He wrote:

So we have a non-Latter-day Saint archaeologist who does not believe in the supernatural claims of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon due to the lack of “scientific evidence”? Is that significant? If a non-Latter-day Saint individual were to come to believe in the supernatural/spiritual claims of the Book of Mormon, would not that person then in all likelihood join the Latter-day Saint church? (Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, 5:329).

Pointing out recent LDS research, including Mormon scholar John Sorenson’s 1985 book An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, Norwood notes in a footnote that “it is interesting to note that Coe’s essay appeared twelve years before Sorenson’s book was published” (330). However, as shown above, Coe (and other non-LDS scholars) still rejects scientific backing for the Book of Mormon. Norwood seems to miss the point. Coe is not basing his conclusion on the spiritual significance of the Book of Mormon but on the lack of historical significance.

Something else to consider is that the LDS Church has a history of being very sensitive about its scholars disseminating information that is anything less than “faith promoting.” In the world of Mormonism, image plays a major role, and many scholars have been disciplined for exposing information that can be damaging to that image.

Mormon archaeologists may argue that they just need more time to discover pertinent artifacts that will help to validate the Book of Mormon. However, biblical archaeologists have not had much of a head start over their Mormon counterparts. According to Jack Meinhart, an associate editor of the magazine Biblical Archaeology Review, archaeology as a science is not much more than a century old. The golden ages of biblical archaeology occurred between the 1920s and World War II and the decades of the 1960s and 1970s. Certainly people found things in the biblical lands before then, but interpreting what they were and extracting legitimate information has come more recently.

Truly serious research in the biblical lands has been going on only since the nineteenth century, and the vast majority of what we know today wasn’t discovered until the twentieth century. And despite all of the evidence that has been uncovered, some have estimated that 90 percent of the evidence in the biblical lands is still buried in the sands. The technology of this age will help scientists understand more in a quicker time. According to the article “From Camels to Computers” in Biblical Archaeology Review, “Until very recently, our tools have been modest worker’s implements: trowels, picks, levels and buckets. Supplementing these now are a whole array of high-tech machines that are swiftly changing the way we excavate” (vol. 21, no. 4 [July/August 1995]: 45). Until Book of Mormon evidence moves beyond the realm of faith, it can be rightly classified as a myth, legend, or story without any basis in historical fact.

Joseph Smith obtained this ancient record from a heavenly messenger, just as John prophesied.

And, as shown above, Smith took John’s words from Revelation 14 out of context.

This angel appeared to him and revealed the location of ancient records which were inscribed on metallic plates and buried in a stone vault. In due time, the young prophet was given the plates and the means by which they were translated. The book was then published to the world as canonized scripture.

Also, in harmony with the testimony of John, the book contains “the everlasting gospel.” It is now preached by our missionaries to the world.

We invite you to test the validity of our witness about the origin of the Book of Mormon. You can do this by reading it and asking our Heavenly Father if these things are true. I promise you, if you are sincere, you will receive a confirmation of the truthfulness by the Holy Ghost. Millions, with soberness and sincerity, testify they know it is from God.

One of the most common approaches Mormon missionaries may take with prospective new converts involves opening the Book of Mormon to Moroni 10:4. It reads,

And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.

One church manual explains, “In order to know that the Book of Mormon is true, a person must read, ponder, and pray about it. The honest seeker of truth will soon come to feel that the Book of Mormon is the word of God.” (Preach My Gospel: A Guide to Missionary Service, 38). Another manual says,

“A sincere reader may not immediately gain a testimony when reading the Book of Mormon. Further, some people may not recognize the testimony that is growing as they study and pray over this tremendous text. But the promise of Moroni will come” (Book of Mormon Student Manual Religion 121-122, 8).

Yet there are problems with this test. First of all, it is skewed. A person who “prays” but doesn’t get the same answer as the missionary or other Latter-day Saints is viewed as not getting it correct. Perhaps a “sincere heart” was not in place. Or maybe “real intent” or a “faith in Christ” were missing. Regardless, a person who does not get the answer encouraged by the Mormons is needing to do better. Jeremiah 17:9 says a feeling one has can be disastrously wrong because “the heart is deceitfully wicked.” Praying about a religious book, especially if it is fictional and not historical, is hardly an objective test.

Another problem is that the Book of Mormon is just one of four LDS scriptures. Why should it be prayed over while neglecting the other three? For that matter, should we pray about the Qur’an to see if Islam is true? Where does praying about a religion’s scripture stop? If praying over a book is a way to determine truth, then why have many Mormons never even thought about limiting themselves to praying about just one scripture?

While Christians believe in prayer, they don’t believe approaching communication with God in such a cavalier manner. We are not commanded to pray about whether or not it is moral to steal a neighbor’s car and generally we understand that God’s Word can direct us toward truth. This is why 1 Thessalonians 5:21 tells believers to “test everything.” The Bereans were considered to be more righteous than the Thessalonians in Acts 17:11 because they searched the scriptures (Old Testament) to see if what Paul taught lined up. While the missionaries may want potential converts to obtain a subjective feeling that the Book of Mormon (and ultimately, Mormonism) is true, they should instead request their audience to read the Bible for itself—not in light of “modern-day revelation”—and see if what Mormonism teaches is consistent with the special revelation we have been given.

For more information on this topic, we invite the reader to see chapter 27 (“Doesn’t James 1:5 say we should pray for wisdom? Why won’t you pray about the truth claims of Mormonism?”) in our book Answering Mormons’ Questions (Kregel, 2013).

If the Book of Mormon is true, then Jesus is the Christ, Joseph Smith was His prophet, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is true, and it is being led today by a prophet receiving revelation.

If the Book of Mormon is true, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the LDS Church that is based in Salt Lake City, Utah is the one true church. Perhaps the Community of Christ based in Independence, MO had it right after all. Or even Warren Jeffs of the FLDS fame. There are a number of groups that claim the Book of Mormon for themselves. Yes, the LDS Church contains the largest following of Smith’s followers. However, it is a rush to judgment to say, if the Book of Mormon is somehow true, that Mormonism’s prophet really is receiving revelation.

God reestablished His kingdom on the earth through the Prophet Joseph Smith.

Christian denominations the world over have prayed for centuries for the kingdom of God to come [see Matthew 6:10]. We earnestly and publicly declare: that day is now here!

The prayer of a boy fourteen years of age, in the Sacred Grove, opened a new gospel dispensation.

God has again established his kingdom on the earth in fulfillment of prophecy. …

… Joseph Smith was called of God to reestablish that kingdom—The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I testify that he accomplished this work, that he laid the foundations and that he committed to the Church the keys and powers to continue the great Latter-day work, which he began under the direction of Almighty God.

To Joseph Smith appeared other beings, including John the Baptist and Peter, James, and John, who ordained him with authority to act in the name of God (see JS—H 1:68–72; D&C 27:5–13). The church and kingdom of God was restored in these latter days, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with all the gifts, rights, powers, doctrines, officers, and blessings of the former-day Church. (See D&C 65; 115:3–4.)

The Prophet Joseph was commanded to go forth as an instrument in the hands of God and organize the Church, to publish to the world as an added testimony to the divinity of Jesus Christ, the Book of Mormon which was taken from the sacred records. …

This restoration of the gospel, the bringing back of light and truth, is intended for the benefit and blessing of all God’s children. And so, humbly and gratefully, our missionaries go out into the world to proclaim that there has been an apostasy from the truth, but that through the goodness of God the heavens have again been opened and the gospel revealed unto man through Joseph Smith, the Prophet.

Much faith is required to hold Joseph Smith in the high regard many Mormons do. After all, he was the only one who supposedly saw God the Father and Jesus at the “First Vision.” He was the only one to see Moroni. He was the only one to see the Book of Mormon plates with his own eyes (the witnesses saw this through “vision”). He translated texts, including the Bible and the Book of Abraham, with no one looking over his shoulder. And we certainly have no ancient texts that could be used in support of his translations. Smith wrote dozens of sections of scripture, all said to be inspired by God and revealing God’s plans and teachings. Yet so much of what he taught contradicted the Bible.

The evidence in support of Smith is scant to nonexistent. In essence, a Mormon must provide full allegiance to this man based on faith, despite how the evidence contradicts his claims. With so many questions, I would never be able to give someone like Smith a blank check.

Joseph Smith was loyal and true even unto death.

Simultaneous with the early development of the Church was a spirit of opposition and persecution. Wherever the tiny “mustard seed” was planted, attempts were made to frustrate its growth.

The fourteen-year-old boy stood true against the world. God knew his son when he was chosen. He knew he would be loyal and true even to death.

Some treated [Joseph Smith’s] testimony with great contempt and began to incite false stories and persecution against him. The young prophet, like the Apostle Paul of old, would not recant his testimony, but defended his claim in these words:

“I had seen a vision; I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it, neither dared I do it; at least I knew that by so doing I would offend God, and come under condemnation.” (JS—H 1:25.)

Joseph Smith the Prophet went willingly to his death. He sealed his testimony with his life—his own blood. On that fateful day in Nauvoo, Illinois, as he looked back upon his city and people whom he loved, on his way to Carthage Jail and his martyrdom, he declared: “This is the loveliest place and the best people under the heavens; little do they know the trials that await them” [History of the Church, 6:554].

Later the Prophet said feelingly, but calmly and courageously, “I am going like a lamb to the slaughter, but I am as calm as a summer’s morning. I have a conscience void of offense toward God and toward all men. If they take my life I shall die an innocent man, and my blood shall cry from the ground for vengeance, and it shall be said of me, ‘He was murdered in cold blood’” [History of the Church, 6:555].21

Thus did the Prophet Joseph Smith climax his earth life and fulfill the mortal part of his divinely appointed mission. This mortal mission, he made clear, was not to end until fully completed. Like the mission of the Savior, “a lamb slain before the foundation of the world” [see Revelation 13:8], Joseph was truly foreordained to his great mission.

According to a church manual,

D&C 132:49–50. Exaltation Assured to Joseph Smith. The Prophet Joseph Smith received the promise of eternal life—he had his calling and election made sure. God will extend the same promise to all of his children if they will obey him. Verse 49 explains why the Prophet Joseph received this promise. He was willing to lay all he had on the altar. He was hunted and persecuted, sued in courts of law, torn from family and loved ones, and all because he had testified that the heavens were not closed and that God speaks to His children. The Prophet Joseph is an example in this dispensation of how children of God should act. (See Notes and Commentary on D&C 131:5.)” (Doctrines and Covenants Student Manual Religion 324 and 325, p. 334. Bold in original).

President George Albert Smith declared, “To my mind one of the strongest testimonies of the divinity of the life of our Savior is the testimony of Joseph Smith who laid down his life as a witness of the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: George Albert Smith, p. 27). This, I believe, is not a valid assessment, as I described in an article I wrote for the Christian Research Journal a few years ago. Go here.

Joseph Smith stands today as the head of this last and greatest of all gospel dispensations.

I know that Joseph Smith, although slain as a martyr to the truth, still lives and that as head of this dispensation—the greatest of all gospel dispensations—he will continue so to stand throughout the eternities to come.

The message of Joseph Smith—the message of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the message of Mormonism—is the most important message in this world. And Joseph Smith the Prophet, who lives today, continues to have an important part in its direction here on earth.

To get a vision of the magnitude of the Prophet’s earthly mission we must view it in the light of eternity. He was among “the noble and great ones” whom Abraham described as follows:

“Now the Lord had shown unto me, Abraham, the intelligences that were organized before the world was; and among all these there were many of the noble and great ones;

“And God saw these souls that they were good, and he stood in the midst of them, and he said: These I will make my rulers; for he stood among those that were spirits, and he saw that they were good; and he said unto me: Abraham, thou art one of them; thou wast chosen before thou wast born.” (Abraham 3:22–23.)

So it was with Joseph Smith. He too was there. He too sat in council with the noble and great ones. Occupying a prominent place of honor and distinction, he unquestionably helped in the planning and execution of the great work of the Lord to “bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man,” the salvation of all our Father’s children [see Moses 1:39]. His mission had had, and was to have, impact on all who had come to earth, all who then dwelt on earth, and the millions yet unborn.

The Prophet Joseph Smith made this eternal fact clear in these words: “Every man who has a calling to minister to the inhabitants of the world was ordained to that very purpose in the grand council of heaven before this world was. I suppose that I was ordained to this very office in that grand council. It is the testimony that I want that I am God’s servant, and this people His people” [see History of the Church, 6:364]. …

The greatest activity in this world or in the world to come is directly related to the work and mission of Joseph Smith—man of destiny, prophet of God. That work is the salvation and eternal life of man. For that great purpose this earth was created, prophets of God are called, heavenly messengers are sent forth, and on sacred and important occasions even God, the Father of us all, condescends to come to earth and to introduce his beloved Son.

The Prophet Joseph Smith was not only “one of the noble and great ones,” but he gave and continues to give attention to important matters here on the earth even today from the realms above. For in the eyes of the Lord, the God of this world under the Father, it is all one great eternal program in which the Prophet Joseph plays an important role, all through the eternal priesthood and authority of God.

I testify to you that Joseph Smith was and is a prophet of God, one of the truly great prophets of all time, a man of destiny, a man of character, a man of courage, a man of deep spirituality, a God-like prophet of the Lord, a truly noble and great one of all time.

Earlier I had provided a number of quotes from LDS leaders explaining the importance of Joseph Smith. Here are a few more:

“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).

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 o!: 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).

Newell and Avery 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, she was deceived by Smith 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: “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:

Yes, Joseph Smith, the latter-day Prophet, was an instrument in the hands of the Lord in opening a new gospel dispensation, the last and greatest of all gospel dispensations.

Based on what I have written in this review, I politely but firmly disagree with this lofty assessment.



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