by Sharon Lindbloom
25 January 2021
January 2021 saw the launch of a new global youth-based magazine published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For the Strength of Youth is aimed at young members of the church, ages 11-18. One aspect of the publication is to “provide additional content that complements the church-supported, home-centered teachings of ‘Come, Follow Me,’” the church’s religious study curriculum.
The January 2021 issue of this magazine includes just such an article, titled “Joseph Smith—My Prophet.” Here the author, David A. Edwards, explains why he believes Joseph Smith was both a great and true prophet, and why others can form a personal bond with him as well.
The author calls out three of Joseph Smith’s attributes that Mr. Edwards believes have influenced his ability to “bear a bold witness” of the prophet: 1) Joseph Smith was bold in stating what he knew; 2) he was able to clearly explain things he had learned through revelation; 3) he had a good character and personality.
I want to look at the first two attributes in Mr. Edwards’ list which have to do with Joseph Smith’s teachings (as contrasted with the last point, which has to do with his character). The article supplies five quoted examples from Joseph’s preaching/teaching that support the claims of boldness and clear, understandable instruction. I was interested to find that, of the five examples provided, four of them are quotes that originate in Joseph Smith’s King Follett Discourse, and one (quoted from Doctrine and Covenants 93:29) is a doctrine also taught in that Discourse.
On the first point of teaching with boldness, Mr. Edwards writes,
“Though most people in the Christian world believed that man was created by God out of nothing, Joseph Smith confidently taught something different.”
Joseph Smith taught, “The soul—the mind of man—the immortal spirit. Where did it come from? All learned men and doctors of divinity say that God created it in the beginning; but it is not so: the very idea lessens man in my estimation. I do not believe the doctrine; I know better” (quoted from Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, 209; originally from the King Follett Discourse, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 352).
Joseph not only taught something different about the origin of mankind, he also taught something quite different about the origin of God Himself. Near the beginning of the King Follett Discourse, Joseph Smith said that he was going to “prove the world wrong by showing what God is” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 345). Mr. Edwards notes, “Joseph Smith learned many truths about the nature of God the Eternal Father. And in his teachings he explained the significance of these truths.” Three passages originally from the King Follett Discourse are quoted:
“If men do not comprehend the character of God, they do not comprehend themselves” (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, 40; originally from the King Follett Discourse, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 343).
“God Himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man” (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, 40; originally from the King Follett Discourse, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 345).
“God himself, finding he was in the midst of spirits and glory, because he was more intelligent, saw proper to institute laws whereby the rest could have a privilege to advance like himself” (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, 210; originally from the King Follett Discourse, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 354).
Mr. Edwards summed up: “Joseph Smith expressed something here that’s fundamental to Heavenly Father’s plan: Heavenly Father wants us to become like Him.” The beginning of this section of the article notes that Joseph Smith “learned many truths about the nature of God the Eternal Father” and ends by articulating the Mormon doctrine that God wants human beings to become Gods as well, just like Him. This is basically another way of stating the so-called Lorenzo Snow doctrinal couplet, which goes like this: “As man now is, God once was; as God now is, man may become.” This is standard LDS doctrine, although the teaching of the first half of the couplet is sometimes downplayed by Mormons.
In 1997 then-President of the church, Gordon B. Hinckley, caused a stir when he twice seemed to distance the LDS church from this doctrine. The first time in an interview with religion writer Don Lattin with the San Francisco Chronicle:
Don Lattin: There are some significant differences in your beliefs. For instance, don’t Mormons believe that God was once a man?
Gordon B. Hinckley: I wouldn’t say that. There was a little couplet coined, “As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become.’’ Now that’s more of a couplet than anything else. That gets into some pretty deep theology that we don’t know very much about. (Sunday, April 13, 1997)
The second time came 4 months later when President Hinckley was interviewed for an article in TIME magazine:
“On whether his Church still holds that God the Father was once a man, [President Hinckley] sounded uncertain, ‘I don’t know that we teach it. I don’t know that we emphasize it…I understand the philosophical background behind it, but I don’t know a lot about it, and I don’t think others know a lot about it.” (David Van Biema, “Kingdom Come,” August 4, 1997)
Whatever the situation in 1997, we do know that now, in 2021, according to the article in For the Strength of Youth, the LDS church does teach that Mormonism’s God the Eternal Father was once a man–like us. President Hinckley said that the church doesn’t know very much about the deep theology that makes up this doctrine. One question that remains unanswered for Mormons is whether the verbiage “like us” includes the idea that God the Father was once a sinner—like us. Latter-day Saints hold various opinions on this as the LDS church has not declared an official position.
Nevertheless, if we look at what Mr. Edwards called Joseph’s “plain and simple” teachings, for example those found in the King Follett Discourse, we can learn quite a bit. Joseph taught:
- The biblical teaching that God was God from all eternity is wrong – Joseph Smith refutes that idea (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 345)
- God was not always God, but came to be God (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 345)
- God the Father “was once a man like us” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 346)
- God the Father once lived on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ did (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 346)
- God the Father laid down His life and took it up again, just the same as Jesus Christ did later (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 346)
- God the Father was once a king and priest to His own God (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 346)
- God the Father, like all other Gods, learned how to be a God via progression from one small degree to another (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 346-347)
- God the Father worked out His kingdom with fear and trembling (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 347)
Joseph Smith provided a fair bit of information about the nature of God the Eternal Father relating to the time before He became a God. All the information he supplied sets Mormonism far apart from biblical Christianity because God revealed Himself quite differently in His Word. There we are told God is God from all eternity (Psalm 90:2). Hence, there was never a time when He was not God, setting all of Joseph Smith’s teachings about God’s life before godhood in opposition to biblical truth.
The God who reveals Himself in the Bible is the only true God (Isaiah 43:10-11). He is the first and the last (Isaiah 44:6). He is before all things, and all things were created by Him, all things “in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities”; He is the sustainer and unifying power of the universe (Colossians 1:16-17). This God does not fear and tremble, for He is “over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:6); there is nothing greater than Himself (Hebrews 6:13).
Joseph Smith was bold indeed when he contradicted this great God’s self-revelation, when he dared to refute what Almighty God proclaimed about Himself. The Bible calls this kind of prophet “evil.” God says we are to reject a so-called prophet that declares a different God; we are to “hold fast” to the one and only true God (Deuteronomy 13:1-5).
Joseph Smith is not my prophet. If he is your prophet, please consider the truths surrounding his claim to being a true prophet of God. Don’t merely marvel that he taught “what he knew” boldly and clearly. Consider what he taught – and how it all fits with what God said long before Joseph Smith ever came on the scene. Joseph taught something different. Therefore, each of us must now choose whether to trust in Joseph Smith as “my prophet,” or in the one and only everlasting King (see Jeremiah 10:10).
“As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
As Mr. Edwards notes, in the King Follett Discourse Joseph also taught about the second half of the Lorenzo Snow couplet, that human beings may themselves become Gods, a doctrine “fundamental to Heavenly Father’s plan.” If you would like to learn more about that, please see “The Unbiblical Heart of Mormonism is Alive and Well” at mrm.org. To see Sharon’s other news articles, click here.