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Joseph Smith Papers, Conclusion

Though practically endless fodder exists for comment about the disparity between the historical texts published in the Joseph Smith Papers project and the LDS Historian’s Office commentaries and footnotes, I plan to make this last observation and leave the topic alone. Readers should be aware the Historian’s Office is blinded by an LDS tradition which they defend, even when it is contradicted by the documents they are publishing. Readers should make their own careful assessment of both the documents and the Historian Office’s running commentaries.

A number of people have already pointed out that the latest publication of the record of the Council of Fifty meeting does not support what is called in the LDS tradition “Joseph Smith’s last charge” to the twelve. Briefly the issue is this:

The twelve claim they were given a mantle by Joseph Smith that put them in control of all things LDS. This event purportedly happened 26 March 1844, because this is the only possible date that fits all the various claims about the event. The Historian’s Office editorializes about the 26 March 1844 meeting of the Council of Fifty:

A significant event likely occurred in this meeting, probably in the morning session, about which the minutes are silent but which council members discussed a year later in connection with a written summary prepared by Orson Hyde. Clayton’s brief note that JS spoke “on heavenly things and many other important subjects” likely marks what was later referred to as JS’s “last charge.” This may have been an extension of the charge relating the history, purpose, and rules of the council that was typically given to new members and that JS may have delivered in this meeting. The most complete recorded version of this charge was written down by Thomas Bullock in December 1846. (JS Papers Administrative Records, p. 63.)

Did you get that? An event “likely” happened “probably” in the morning, but the records do NOT mention it. But this missing information “likely marks” something (that later got manufactured to defend claims by the twelve) and “may have” happened even though nothing in the record supports the claim. Then 33 months later Thomas Bullock wrote the “most complete recorded version” of what may likely have possibly happened.

Checking Joseph’s journal, we get this report of the day on which the possible event may have happened:

Tuesday Ma[r]ch 26–1844 fr[o]m 9 to 12. in council from 2 to 5 P.M. in coun[c]il– [9 lines blank] warm some wet  (JS Papers Journals Vol. 3, pp. 208-209.

The Historian’s Office adds footnotes to the record in order to insert other retrospective accounts that put Joseph’s “last charge” (as it is called) into the footnotes. Presumably so the reader is reassured the LDS traditions are supported–just not by anything that Joseph Smith was connected with recorded contemporaneously.

This fuss to support the twelve’s claim to have the right to control all things LDS ignores an obvious problem. Even if one believes the retrospective accounts, and supposes that what “might probably” have happened, really did, it doesn’t amount to anything. Traditions not only blind the Historian’s Office, they defy common sense.

The “kingdom of God” is not the LDS Church and the LDS Church is not the “kingdom of God.” They are separate:

Joseph Smith stated that the “literal kingdom of God [that is, the Council of Fifty], and the church of God are two distinct things” as “the laws of the kingdom are not designed to affect our salvation hereafter.” (JS Papers Administrative Records, p. xxiii.)

So if Joseph rolled the “kingdom of God” off his shoulders and onto the twelve, it has nothing to do with the giving the twelve jurisdiction to assume complete autocratic control over the church. There was already a revelation in place (D&C 107) that confirmed the role of the twelve in the church to co-equality with the seventy, stake high councils, and gave them no jurisdiction within an organized stake. So the assertion that the charge allowed them expanded jurisdiction contrary to and in violation of, Section 107 is not justified when the “kingdom of God” and the church are two separate things. The “kingdom of God” is “not designed to affect our salvation” and therefore did not, indeed cannot, subjugate the church.

Further, even if you accept the charge given to the twelve, rolled to them the “kingdom of God,” they abandoned it.

The final meetings of the council were held in the mid-1880s. Thereafter the council’s records appear to have remained in the custody of the Office of the First Presidency. In 1922 church president Heber J. Grant reportedly entrusted Joseph Anderson, who served as secretary to Grant and the First Presidency, to safeguard the records. In 1932 Grant and Franklin S. Richards–the last two living members of the council–met together and read through some of the Council of Fifty records. The minutes were also accessed in the late twentieth century. In 2010 the First Presidency transferred the Nauvoo-era record to the Church History Library. (JS Papers Administrative Records, p. 6.)

Thus died the “kingdom of God” which, Joseph Smith probably may have charged the twelve to possess. They neglected the “kingdom of God” because they were preoccupied with acquiring complete, unfettered control to dictate over the church and hold at defiance any who dared to challenge them. They reign over the seventies and high councils with impunity. Their autocratic control holds the approximate 30% of those who remain nominally active in the church in complete submission. They have the “keys of the kingdom”–which kingdom has lapsed into complete oblivion. But they’ve parlayed that into dictatorship over the other organization, the church.

Ask yourself: Why would Joseph, knowing the “kingdom” and the “church” were entirely separate, choose to have himself anointed a “king and priest” in the Council of Fifty, and NOT in the church? There is something important to be found in the answer. An answer you will have to find for yourself because very few LDS know much about this. Unfortunately, they are too busy “not being led astray” by men who claim to probably have the “keys of the kingdom,” (at least most likely may have–probably from the morning of March 26, 1844).

Joseph Smith Papers 3

Volume 4 of the Documents put the Lecture First of the Lectures on Faith into an appendix in the back of the book. The Historian’s Office explains in the “Historical Introduction” the reason for putting it at the end in an appendix, rather than where it would belong chronologically as part of the main volume.

First, they question the authorship. Although they admit Joseph Smith edited and vouched for the Lectures, they note, “it seems likely that Sidney Rigdon had a large hand in composing the lectures.” (JS Papers Documents Vol. 4, p. 458.) They concede on the next page that “JS was apparently involved as well.” (Id., p. 459.)

Taking this point first, consider the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible. Joseph did not compose any of the original 66 books in the LDS/King James version of the Bible. Joseph edited and “corrected” the text.

John 6:44 in the KJV reads: “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.”

JST John 6:44 reads: “No man can come unto me, except he doeth the will of my Father who hath sent me draw him. And this is the will of him who hath sent me, that ye receive the Son; for the Father beareth record of him; and he who receiveth the testimony, and doeth the will of him who sent me, and I will raise up at the last day in the resurrection of the just.”

Since Joseph did not compose the original text of John, but merely edited it, should it or should it not be regarded as Joseph’s product. Would it be Joseph’s as soon as he approves an edit, no matter how much of the original is left?

The LDS Historian’s Office rejects this idea for Lectures on Faith, and explains:

Because JS’s role in producing the lectures cannot be clearly determined, the first lecture is presented as an appendix of the volume rather than as a featured text. (JS Papers Documents Vol. 4, pp. 459-460.)

The volume published after Volume 4 of the Documents is the first volume of the Administrative Records containing the minutes of the meetings of the council of 50. The LDS Historian’s Office takes a different approach in this volume of minutes than their treatment of Lecture First:

[T]he minutes are published as part of The Joseph Smith Papers even though much of the record covers events in the eighteen months following Smith’s death on 27 June 1844. This volume is divided into four parts that correspond with the council’s periods of activity. Part 1 contains a record of the meetings held on seventeen days from 10 March through 31 May 1844. Part 2 of this volume covers the meetings held on fifteen days from 4 February through 10 May 1845. The final two parts contain, respectively, the minutes for three meetings held in September and October 1845, and for two meetings held in January 1846. (JS Papers Administrative Records, p. xiii.)

Only the first part of this new volume has any connection with Joseph Smith at all. The first 204 pages are the only pages covering events prior to Joseph’s death. Pages 205 to 526 are entirely a product of others. Joseph Smith, who, being deceased, did not contribute to the meetings. Yet none of these four parts are put into an appendix, as Lecture First was done.

The disparate treatment forces the conclusion that by relegating Lecture First to an appendix and questioning the authorship, the Historian’s Office hopes to undermine confidence in Lectures on Faith and bolster the inappropriate administrative decision to delete them from LDS scripture in 1921 without approval by the body of the church. Likewise, by putting into the JS Papers project, meetings held after Joseph’s death which were presided over by Brigham Young, the Historian’s Office wishes to convey the impression of continuity and trustworthiness in the LDS institution following Joseph’s death. They want to convey the impression it was “business as usual” and nothing changed.

Nephi/Moroni Questions

In response to questions about the prior post concerning Nephi visiting Joseph Smith in September 1823 I add the following:

In the “Historical Introduction” written by the LDS Historian’s office for what is now D&C 14, they mention the first witness of the plates (other than Joseph Smith) was the mother of David and John Whitmer:

Whitmer later recounted that during their journey to Fayette, he, Cowdery, and JS briefly encountered a ‘pleasant, nice looking old man’ whom JS identified by revelation as a heavenly messenger transporting the plates. Whitmer also recalled that soon after their arrival in Fayette, his mother, Mary Mussleman Whitmer, was met ‘by the same old man, ‘who showed her the plates.’ (Joseph Smith Papers, Documents Vol. 1: July 1828-June1831, p. 67.)

This witness (Whitmer’s mother) knew the angel’s name as “Nephi” -just like Joseph Smith in his 1838, 1839, 1840 and 1842 writings. Her grandson wrote,“I have heard my grandmother [Mary Musselman Whitmer] say on several occasions that she was shown the plates of the Book of Mormon by a holy angel, whom she always called Brother Nephi.” (Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture, article titled Another Account of Mary Whitmer’s Viewing of the Golden Plates, found in Vol. 10; (2014), p. 37.)

In footnote 56 (JS Papers Histories Vol. 1, p. 223) the Historian’s Office also cites an article in the Elder’s Journal in July 1838 as a reason to rename “Nephi” to “Moroni.” However, this is a reference to an answer by Joseph of a specific question involving the source of the plates (and not the angel who appeared in September 1823). The question and answer are:

Question 4th. How, and where did you obtain the Book of Mormon?

Answer. Moroni, the person who deposited the plates, from whence the book of Mormon was translated, in a hill in Manchester, Ontario County, New York, being dead; and raised again therefrom, appeared unto me, and told me where they were; and gave me directions how to obtain them. (Elder’s Journal, July 1838, pp. 42-43.)

The plates were deposited by Moroni, not Nephi. The fact Moroni was involved in delivery of the plates does not mean it was him who appeared to Joseph in 1823. Since Moroni sealed the records to prevent their discovery by an unauthorized party (Moroni 10:2), the records could not come from their secure location without his (Moroni’s) consent to open the seal.

Of course Moroni should have been among the “many angels” involved between 1823 and 1827. But Joseph and Mary Mussleman Whitmer both testified it was “Nephi” who appeared at the beginning (1823) to her and to Joseph. Moroni consented to allowing Joseph possession of the plates–as was his right to do. And both Nephi and Moroni were required (the alpha and omega of the Nephite dispensation) to hand off their dispensation to Joseph–as explained in D&C 128:21.

Joseph Smith Papers 2

In the JSP Histories Vol. 1, the LDS Historian’s Office adds an “Historical Introduction” to drafts of history written between 1838 and 1841. In their introduction, they discuss copyist Howard Coray’s explanation of his clerical work in transcribing Draft 3. This version was based on Draft 2, which Joseph Smith “dictated” to Coray as he wrote down Draft 3. The Historian’s Office then acknowledges this:

If the statement was accurate in that sense, it suggests that JS read aloud from Draft 2 in the large manuscript volume, directing editorial changes as he read. (JS Papers Histories Vol. 1, pp. 200-201.)

In the Draft 2 that Joseph Smith read from, the following description is recorded about the visit of an angel to Joseph on September 21, 1823:

He called me by name and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me and that his name was Nephi. That God had a work for me to do, and that my (name) should be had for good and evil among all nations kindreds and tongues. (JS Papers Histories Vol. 1, p. 222.)

While reading the account, and making editorial changes to it as Coray wrote Draft 3, the account was rewritten as follows:

…calling me by name, (he) said. that he was a messenger. sent from the presence of God to me. and that his name was Nephi. —that he had a work for me to do that my name should be had for good and evil. among all nations. kindreds. & tongues — (JS Papers Histories Vol. 1, p. 223.)

It is noteworthy that the two versions are not identical. There was a close enough examination of the text of Draft 3 for Joseph to have made several changes to these sentences. Yet in both accounts the name of the angel who visited on September 21, 1823 remained “Nephi.”

Somehow the LDS church changed the name of the angel from “Nephi” to “Moroni” and it is the “Angel Moroni” who sits atop almost every LDS temple. The LDS Historian’s Office deals with this problem through a footnote:

A later redaction in an unidentified hand changed “Nephi” to “Moroni” and noted that the original attribution was to a “clerical error.” (JS Papers Histories Vol. 1, p. 223, footnote 56.)

That footnote uses Oliver Cowdery as a reliable source for changing the name to “Moroni” because of a letter he wrote in 1835. But Oliver Cowdery was not with Joseph in 1823-1827. The first time they met was April 5, 1829. (JS-H 1:66.) Oliver is not as reliable a source as Joseph, but the Historian’s Office uses him to justify the change of identity from “Nephi” to “Moroni.”

The same footnote acknowledges that during Joseph’s lifetime the identity of the angel was always Nephi:

The present history [Draft 2] is the earliest extant source to name Nephi as the messenger, and subsequent publications based on this history perpetuated the attribution during JS’s lifetime. (Id.)

Draft 2 was written in 1839, and appears to have been entirely based on a version dictated by Joseph in 1838. The 1838 manuscript has been lost and therefore Draft 2, made the next year, is the “earliest extant source” of the Joseph Smith History.

Taking these dates, we know Joseph identified the angel as “Nephi” in 1838, and remained consistent with that identification when it was recopied in 1839. Joseph reviewed and revised the account with Coray in 1840, and although he changed several things in the surrounding text, the identity of the angel was still “Nephi.” Subsequent publications approved or written by Joseph during his lifetime likewise identified the 1823 visitor as “Nephi.” (See Times and Seasons, 15 April 1842, 3:753-754; LDS Millennial Star, August 1842, 3:53-54.)

In 1842 Joseph became the editor of the Times and Seasons. He wrote an announcement in the March 1, 1842 edition which stated:

To Subscribers: This paper commences my editorial career, I alone stand responsible for it, and shall do for all papers having my signature henceforward. I am not responsible for the publication, or arrangement of the former paper; the matter did not come under my supervision. JOSEPH SMITH (Times and Seasons, Vol. 3, No. 9.)

This March 1, 1842 edition of the paper began the first publication of the Book of Abraham, and so it is one of the more available editions of the paper.

Three editions later, with Joseph as editor of the paper, the following account was printed:

He called me by name, and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me, and that his name was Nephi. That God had a work for me to do, and that my name should be had for good and evil, among all nations, kindreds, and tongues[.] (Times and Seasons, Vol. 3, No. 12, HISTORY OF JOSEPH SMITH (Continued.))

In the JS Papers Histories Vol. 1, the footnote quoted above acknowledges the change of name from “Nephi” to “Moroni” was done “later” and by “an unidentified hand.” It could have been put there anytime by anyone. But this insertion is important enough to the LDS tradition for the Historian’s Office to footnote and to explain the name “Nephi” was a “clerical error.”

Joseph used, approved, repeated and asserted that he alone would stand responsible for identifying the angel as “Nephi.” But an unknown hand is used by the Historian’s Office to relegate this name to a clerical error when it conflicts with LDS tradition.

The question of whether “Moroni” belongs at all in the LDS narrative can be answered by another document found in the same volume. Another recap of history was composed by Joseph Smith in 1842, and printed in the same edition of the Times and Seasons wherein he announced his role as the new editor. Joseph wrote a letter to John Wentworth, the editor of the Chicago Democrat. After the letter was written and sent, it was transcribed and published in the Times and Seasons. This required Joseph to have reviewed the letter at least twice by the time it was printed in the newspaper he edited.

The letter does not name the angel, but clarifies Joseph’s experience between 1823 (first visit) and 1827 (when the plates were given to him):

The angel appeared to me three times the same night and unfolded the same things. After having received many visits from the angels of God unfolding the majesty, and glory of the events that should transpire in the last days, on the morning of the 22d of September A.D. 1827, the angel of the Lord delivered the records into my hands. (JS Papers Histories Vol. 1, p. 495; also Times and Seasons, Vol. 3, No. 9, CHURCH HISTORY.)

Joseph was not visited by a singular angel, but “many visits” from “angels“–making it possible that although Nephi visited him first in 1823, others (which may have included Moroni) also visited him during those four years. Joseph’s mother, Lucy Mack Smith, recounted what Joseph learned from the “many angels” who visited:

During our evening conversations, Joseph would occasionally give us some of the most amusing recitals that could be imagined. He would describe the ancient inhabitants of this continent, their dress, mode of travelings, and the animals upon which they rode; their cities, their buildings, with every particular; their mode of warfare; and also their religious worship. This he would do with as much ease, seemingly, as if he had spent his whole life among them. (Lucy Mack Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and His Progenitors for Many Generations (Liverpool, S.W. Richards, 1853), 36-173.)

The PofGP version of the Joseph Smith History, verse 54, confirms that with each annual visit between 1823 and 1827 he met “the same messenger” (meaning Nephi). However, as the Wentworth Letter suggests, there were others who are not mentioned and are only alluded to have visited.

The visit of “diverse” angels is also mentioned in D&C 128:20-21. These various angels all declared “their dispensations”–a term that would refer to a beginning and ending of a gospel epoch or order.

The dispensation of Moses began with him and ended with John the Baptist. Both Moses and John the Baptist appeared to Christ, witnessed by Peter, James and John, on the Mount of Transfiguration. In Matthew 17:1-13, Moses is named and “Elias” is later clarified to identify John the Baptist. (Verse 13: “Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist.”)

In the JST Mark 9:2-4, the identities are explicitly Moses and John the Baptist: “2 And after six days Jesus taketh with him Peter, and James, and John, and leadeth them up into an high mountain apart by themselves: and he was transfigured before them. 3 And his raiment became shining, exceeding white as snow; so as no fuller on earth can white them. 4 And there appeared unto them Elias with Moses, or, in other words, John the Baptist and Moses: and they were talking with Jesus.” Joseph inserted into verse 4: “or in other words, John the Baptist and Moses.”

The men who began and finished the dispensation of Moses visited Christ on the Mount of Transfiguration and “declared their dispensation” to Him. It would be symmetrical for the Nephite dispensation which began with Nephi and ended with Moroni to likewise have the founder and finisher visit Joseph and “declare their dispensation” to him.

[Since Lehi was Nephi’s father some will quibble over identifying Nephi as the beginning. However, before departing from Jerusalem it was Nephi, not Lehi, who possessed the Sword of Laban, brass plates, and indicia of kingship. It was Nephi, not Lehi, who received the revelation giving instructions on how to build the boat for the trip to the promised land. It was Nephi who received the more fulsome revelation of the tree of life. It was Nephi who was shown the entire sweep of history in a revelation summarized in 1 Nephi chapters 11-14. Nephi prepared, and God preserved the Small Plates of Nephi as the foundational scripture of the Book of Mormon. Mormon did not abridge Nephi–we have his record in full. Therefore, it is more properly Nephi, not Lehi, who should be regarded as the founder of the Nephite dispensation.]

If Joseph identified the angel who visited him in September 1823 by the name “Nephi” throughout his life, using it in three drafts of his history, using it in the newspaper he edited, and not changing when given many opportunities to do so, the conclusion it was a “clerical error” that was corrected by “an unknown hand” is at best insufficient.

If “many angels” visited between 1823 to 1827, including Moroni, then leaving the name as “Nephi” does no harm, and more accurately attributes to Joseph Smith what Joseph Smith intended. No matter how the error was made, and despite an “unknown hand’s” change to “Moroni” the Joseph Smith Papers ought to respect Joseph Smith’s words above Oliver’s.

The obvious difficulty with this approach is that the tradition makes the “angel fly[ing] through the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach” (Rev. 14:6) now in gold leaf atop temples and identified as “Moroni” an embarrassing mistake. Tradition holds that this reference in the Book of Revelation was fulfilled by the first angel who visited on September 21, 1823. That would make it Nephi, even if later on an angelic Moroni was among the “many angels” visiting between 1823 and 1827.

Joseph’s account should not be undermined even if, when he tells his account and vouches for its truthfulness, he contradicts an LDS tradition.

Joseph Smith Papers

The Joseph Smith Papers are valuable and I am very grateful to the LDS Historian’s Office for publishing them. When they are released, I get them and read them cover to cover, like a novel. I have marked, added, cross-referenced, highlighted, and corrected mine.

It is perhaps an impossible task for the LDS Historian’s Office to view the historic documents outside of the LDS tradition. Their commentaries and footnotes are composed in the context of their traditions, and do not always give an accurate picture of the documents. Hence, the many additions I have added to my copy

I think the Historian’s Office is doing their best to be helpful, and I believe they are being as honest as they can be in their circumstances. But they weave into the actual historical documents an incorrect LDS narrative through the “General Introductions”, “Historical Introductions”, “Chronologies”, “Bibliographical Directories”, and footnotes. They are unable to allow the plain words of the documents to speak for themselves. Just one example taken from the volume 4 of the “Documents” illustrates the point:

In 1921, the highest authorities in the LDS church discarded Lectures on Faith without a vote of the church. Lectures had been adopted as a “law” for the church at a conference on August 17, 1835. In that conference, every division of priesthood voted quorum by quorum to adopt Lectures as scripture and a law, followed by a vote of the entire church – men, women and children doing likewise.

The actual events presents a troubling dilemma for the LDS institution. Rather than concede that deleting Lectures in 1921 was an error, they have offered various excuses for its deletion. In the Joseph Smith Papers treatment of this awkward matter, they offer the excuse that the original adoption of Lectures was defective. In this, they are unwilling to be accountable for what is a rebellious departure from a law binding on the institution.

The LDS Historian’s Office introduces the August 17, 1835 conference minutes by describing the Lectures as an improper deviation from what was authorized. They write:

The book that Cowdery presented differed from the one foreseen by the Kirtland high council. It did not contain excerpts from the Bible or the Book of Mormon, but instead had two sections, one of which was devoted to seven theological lectures that were prepared in the winter of 1834 and 1835 for the Elders School in Kirtland. The other section contained many of JS’s revelations, which constituted the “covenants and commandments of the Lord.” No extant record indicates when or why the committee decided to deviate from its original instructions, but the change had occurred by February 1835, when the committee composed the preface to the book. (JSP Documents Vol. 4, p. 383, italics in original.)

This is how the Historian’s Office undermines confidence in the Lectures. The assertion that “no extant record indicates…why the committee decided to deviate” and adopt Lectures is not true. The conference minutes that follow this Historian’s Office introduction explains the matter:

The presidency of the church approved the book, including Lectures, by adopting the following language:

The names of the Committee are as follows Joseph Smith Junior, Sidney Rigdon, Oliver Cowdery & Frederick G. Williams. This Committee having finished said Book according to the instructions given them, it was deemed necessary to call the general assembly of the Church to see whether the book be approved or not by the Authoroties of the church, that it may, if approved, become a law, unto the church, and a rule of faith and practice unto the same. (JSP Documents, Vol. 4, p. 386, all as in original.)

The presidency did not believe there was a “deviation,” but the book was “finished …according to the instructions given them.”

After Oliver Cowdery, William W. Phelps, John Whitmer, and John Smith testified the book (including Lectures) was true and from God, John Smith asked for a vote from several bodies. The vote was taken to approve the following proposition:

That they would receive the Book as the rule of their faith & practice, and put themselves under the guidance of the same and also that they were satisfied with the committee that were chosen to compile it, as having discharged their duty faithfully. (JSP Documents Vol. 4, p. 394.)

Further testimonies were given by Levi Jackman, the 12 apostles (whose written testimony was read to the conference affirming favorably both “the Book and the Committee who compiled it”), and Leonard Rich (speaking for the 70 Apostles). Leonard Rich referred specifically to Lectures:

…he had examined the Lectures and many of the Revelations contained in it, and was perfectly satisfied with the same, and further, that he knew that they were true by the testimony of the Holy Spirit of God given unto him; he then called for the Vote of as many of the 70 as were present, which was unanimously given in favor of the Good, and also that they were perfectly satisfied with the committee that compiled it. (JSP Documents Vol. 4, p. 394-395.)

Bishop Newel K. Whitney, Bishop of Kirtland, next testified that he had examined the Lectures and knew them to be true. When he presented it for a vote by his counselors, he asked for a vote affirming the following:

He then called for the Vote of his counsellors, which was given in favor of the Book and also of the Committee that compiled it as having discharged their duty faithfully. (JS Papers Documents Vol. 4, p. 395.)

After this, John Corrill testified of his “entire satisfaction with the labors of the Committee.” (Id.)

Elder John Gould said, “he had received the testimony of the Spirit in favor of them, and that he was well satisfied with the committee” (Id.) and asked for the vote of the Elders, which was given.

Then Priest Ira Ames spoke, testifying: “he was present in the general assembly which appointed the committee, And that he was well satisfied with the fruit of their labors.” (JS Papers Documents Vol. 4, pp. 395-396.) The priests then unanimously approved the volume.

Teacher Erastus Babbitt testified the volume came “from God” and that “he was well satisfied with the labors of the committee.” (Id.) The teachers then unanimously approved it.

The most obvious reason the LDS Historian’s Office is unable to find any “extant record [that] indicates when or why the committee decided to deviate from its original instructions” is because the committee DID NOT DEVIATE from the assignment given to them.

When the assignment was given, most, if not all of those who approved the Lectures and revelations on August 17, 1835, were present. THEY understood the assignment. One of the Kirtland high council who approved the completed volume including Lectures was Samuel Smith. (JSP Documents Vol. 4, p. 387.) He was the one who originally nominated the committee. (JSP Documents Vol. 2, p. 97; 2:137, Vol. 4, p. 175; 4:421.) If anyone should have detected a “deviation” from the committee’s assignment, it would have been the one who nominated them. Yet he testified “This committee having finished said Book according to the instructions given them.” (JSP Documents Vol. 4, p. 386, emphasis added.)

The very people who understood the original assignment, including members of the committee, testified the committee had “finished said Book according to the instructions given them.” All of those involved, including the entire body of the church who voted to adopt the Lectures as part of binding scripture and a law for them, saw no deviation. It did not “differ from the one foreseen by the Kirtland high council,” as the LDS Historian’s Office asserts. Those involved saw only the faithful performance of an assignment by the committee.

Because the LDS institution inexplicably dropped Lectures by a decision made by church leaders without any vote by the membership, there can be only one of two conclusions: 1. They were wrong (which the LDS Historian’s Office is loath to suggest by any historical document they publish). Or, 2. They were right (and so “Historical Introductions” and footnotes need to support their decision).

Like many other parts of the Joseph Smith Papers, this example shows how the editors intrude into the published documents to add their defense of the institution employing them. They no doubt are convinced the institution tells a correct story of history, and therefore they construe the records to support the institution, even when it requires them to contradict the documents. But tradition should not blind us, and to read the historical documents in the Joseph Smith Papers for content, is to see that the editors often construe them to conform to a story different than the one told by the historical record.

It would be interesting if someone were to write a comprehensive account of the contrast between the editors’ explanations and the actual documents of early Mormonism.

I am very grateful for the publication of the Joseph Smith Papers. They help us to see a truer story of early Mormon events while Joseph Smith was alive, in a way that has never been possible before.

False Traditions

Both the Book of Mormon and modern revelation warn that false traditions are dangerous. They are like chains, binding and blinding victims. Missionaries to the Lamanites taught the gospel and worked to overthrow the false traditions. When converted, these false ideas were discarded, “And as many as were convinced did lay down their weapons of war, and also their hatred and the tradition of their fathers.” (Hel. 5:51.)

Samuel the Lamanite explained in his warning sermon what had happened to the deceived and why. They had “dwindled in unbelief because of the traditions of their fathers.” (Hel. 15:15.)

Alma explained how the Lamanites had been deceived, “it is because of the traditions of their fathers that caused them to remain in their state of ignorance[.]” (Alma 9:16.) He promised that at some future time they would be freed from this captivity. “At some period of time they will be brought to believe in his word, and to know of the incorrectness of the traditions of their fathers[.]” (Alma 9:17.)

King Benjamin explained to his sons that the Lamanites were in a corrupt state because of the traditions they had been handed down, “even our fathers would have dwindled in unbelief, and we should have been like unto our brethren, the Lamanites, who know nothing concerning these things, or even do not believe them when they are taught them, because of the traditions of their fathers, which are not correct.” (Mosiah 1:5.)

Modern revelation warns about disobedience and false traditions. The “evil one” removes light and truth from a man’s soul through both. False traditions are as effective as disobedience in darkening the hearts, minds and souls of men. “And that wicked one cometh and taketh away light and truth, through disobedience, from the children of men, and because of the tradition of their fathers.” (D&C 93:39.)

When a false tradition is accepted as truth, it controls a man’s mind. He sees through the lens of the tradition. Hence the blinding effect. When the truth is taught, it conflicts with the tradition. The tradition controls, and the truth, presented in plainness, cannot be seen.

False traditions give people security, reassuring them they are in the right way. When it has been taught to them by parents and trusted adults while they are young, there is a great mental and emotional challenge to seeing things in a new light. Losing the tradition can mean being alienated from friends, family and community.

Because false traditions control men, and the gospel requires men to repent and forsake the false traditions, Jesus warned: “For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” (Matt. 10:35-37.) It is not easy to follow the Lord when it requires us to depart from comfortable traditions. But it is the only way to obtain salvation.

Joseph Smith explained, “Let us here observe, that a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation; for from the first existence of man, the faith necessary unto the enjoyment of life and salvation never could be obtained without the sacrifice of all earthly things.” (Lecture 6:7.)

Presidency’s Priorities

The equality between the first presidency and stake presidencies is apparent in a letter written August 4, 1835. It was written by “the Presidency of the church of Christ of latter-day saints” which was defined by the letter. Remember that Section 107 makes various groups equal in authority. A stake presidency therefore was regarded as part of the “Presidency of the church.” The letter begins:

“the Presidency of the church of Christ of latter-day saints consisting of the Presidents, Joseph Smith, Jr. Oliver Cowdery, Sidney Rigdon, Hyrum Smith, David Whitmer, John Whitmer, and William W. Phelps…” (JS Papers, Documents Vol. 4, pp. 373-374.)

The presidency had received a letter from Elder Marsh. The reaction to the letter was quite negative. Marsh praised the preaching of two of the twelve apostles, and the praise seemed offensive to the presidency. They wrote:

“We discover an error in Elder Marshe’s letter–He says, ‘To the able preaching of Elders W.E. McLellin & P.P. Pratt.’ We conclude that if it had been the preaching of the Lord, as it should have been, he would have had the honor, and not these men.” (Id., p. 377.)

As I read this passage it struck me how entirely appropriate it would be for all preaching to be measured by the degree to which it brings credit and honor on the Lord, rather than to men.


Part 3 of 3:

I continue to receive emails and comments suggesting it will be a necessity to organize a new church. That is not only a bad idea, it would be contrary to the objective of Zion. A formal institution becomes a creature of the law, subject to regulation by the state. In Massachusetts, the state attorney general has announced that she interprets non-discrimination laws, written to address public accommodations, to apply to churches if they are open to the public. This interpretation allows the state to compel churches to get on board with social causes championed by the state, even if they run contrary to the moral teachings of the church.

No law can reach a man’s beliefs. What a person believes and practices in the privacy of their own home is something the state will find almost impossible to curtail. They may try, but to accomplish it would destroy the entire government. Zion must conform to God’s plan, not man’s. Anything man can regulate, tax or outlaw can become the means used by overreaching government to corrupt.

There are those who are working to provide a way for people to donate to a temple fund. Because the state regulates solicitation of donations from the public, the women involved have needed and hired legal counsel (not me) to accomplish the modest goal of allowing people who choose to do so to donate money for a temple. These women have been working, meeting, planning and overcoming challenges for several months thus far, and are still not in a position to announce their project. This is only to raise funds.

The complexity of this single undertaking reaffirms what I have said previously: There is no need for a corporate organization or even an institution. Much more can be accomplished without it. Furthermore, any organization requires an individual or board to be at its head to control it. That is not only unwise, it will fail.

Zion is not Zion unless those who are there are of one heart, one mind and dwell in righteousness. (Moses 7:18.) Zion will be equal in earthly things in order to become equal in heavenly things. (D&C 78:5-6.) This will eventually require a place where there are no poor and everything is held in common. (Moses 7:18; also 3 Ne. 26:19; 4 Ne. 1:3.) This is voluntary, not compulsory. The property owned by individuals will be used for the common good. If one lacks, and another has abundance, the abundance of the one aids the one who lacks. Voluntarily–because it is in the heart of the individual to help others.

There are nearly insurmountable challenges in creating a community where the rudimentary elements of Zion can be lived. The equality required is not theoretical, but actual. It must be lived.

Every one of the institutions claiming Joseph Smith as their founder is stratified. Wealthy men preside and claim the right to be supported in their lifestyle while there are members living in grinding poverty. When Warren Jeffs was arrested for child sex abuse, he was driving a red Cadillac Escalade with $54,000 in cash in the vehicle. He presides over a relatively small sect. The largest Mormon sect employs presiding authorities many of whom own multiple residences valued in the millions. They are not to be envied, but pitied.

It is impossible to have the faith for salvation unless your religion requires the sacrifice of all things. (Lecture 6:7.) To accomplish this, the Nephites had ministers who received nothing for their preaching:

And when the priests left their labor to impart the word of God unto the people, the people also left their labors to hear the word of God. And when the priest had imparted unto them the word of God they all returned again diligently unto their labors; and the priest, not esteeming himself above his hearers, for the preacher was no better than the hearer, neither was the teacher any better than the learner; and thus they were all equal, and they did all labor, every man according to his strength.” (Alma 1:26.)

Learn from failures. Avoid the traps that have made all the institutions claiming Joseph as their founder part of the inventory of tools employed by the god of this world to chain mankind. Those churches are now only thorns, briers and noxious weeds to torment and afflict mankind. Inequality begets inequality.

Titles are not necessary. Being the fulfillment of prophecy, or possessing “keys” for honor and respect is not necessary.  No one of us should be greater than another. The only thing needed is the right to preach, teach, exhort and expound. If this is all there is then truth alone will matter–not who is stating it. Then, if a man has priesthood, he ought to employ it in the only way authorized:

No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile–” (D&C 121:41-42.)

If a man has something true to proclaim, let him persuade. If none are persuaded, let him be long-suffering and use gentleness and meekness to show by his example his unfeigned love. Such kindness is required of any man who would claim to follow Christ. The greatest sign of truth is when a man proclaims “pure knowledge” because it always greatly enlarges the soul of those who listen.

There is a new dispensation. Do not import the abuses that have become epidemic in the remains of the last dispensation. Joseph established equality; it has been destroyed. Do not mimic the gentiles who love to exercise authority over one another. They falsely regard their overlords as benefactors–something Christ roundly condemned. (Luke 22:24-27.)

I could obtain the right from God to organize a church, but I would not do it. Zion can only be established upon principles of equality. Zion will come in a single generation, (if they are righteous) and therefore does not need to be institutionalized. (JS-Matt. 1:34.) Dispensations do not gather strength over time. Historically they have succeeded or failed while Enoch was alive, or while Melchizedek was alive. When these true teachers are gone, the strength of their ministry atrophies and another restoration must follow. If they are penitent and willing to trust God, the last-days Zion will be achieved by a single generation.

This way is cumbersome and inefficient. But why do gentiles think it is preferable to trade godly equality for administrative efficiency? If the destiny is equality, then the journey must begin with that held paramount. We cannot pursue abusive and controlling means to achieve freedom and equality. The path taken, matters as much as the destination. Struggling with the inefficient and cumbersome tools of persuasion, love, patience and pure knowledge will require a lot of changes to be made voluntarily. That is of course the goal: Voluntarily changing hearts.

Authority And Abuse

Part 2 of 3:

When men get a little authority almost all will immediately begin to abuse their supposed right to control others. (D&C 121:39.) Assuming there is any right belonging to the priesthood, it can only be exercised by “persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; by kindness and pure knowledge[.]” (Id., v. 41-42.) If authority is abused because it is “the nature and disposition of almost all men” to do so (Id., v. 39) then a solution is to revoke the right to control. Revoke the right to preside. Revoke the right to lead. Once that is done then the only method a man has to function as a minister is by persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, love unfeigned and pure knowledge. There is no other method or means left for the minister. He is powerless to control, dominate, gratify pride, or obtain vain ambition. He can be ignored–unless his pure knowledge and persuasion attracts the heart and leads people closer to the Lord.

Joseph Smith’s dispensation denounced and destroyed the consolidation of power. He set in order a system that would have precluded any man from insisting he could control others. Two days prior to the revelation in D&C 107, Joseph Smith gave a discourse about fractured authority within the church. The discourse was reported in minutes kept by several different scribes, including one written by William McLellin and copied by Warren Cowdery into Minute Book 1.

If the pattern given by Joseph Smith were followed, there would be no “President of the Quorum of the Twelve.” Instead each member held no greater right than any other. Joseph “stated that it would be the duty of the twelve to appoint the oldest one of their number to preside in their councils, beginning at the oldest and so on until the youngest has presided and then beginning at the oldest again, &c.” (JS Papers, Documents Vol. 4, p. 301.) In other words, the right to preside rotated from the oldest to the youngest, then back again to the oldest. This rotation of the role to preside made all of them the presiding authority in turn.

The twelve were missionaries, whose administrative authority only existed outside organized stakes. Joseph explained, “the Twelve will have no right to go into Zion or any of its stakes and there undertake to regulate the affairs thereof where there is a standing High Council.” (Id.) When the twelve were outside the stakes, and among unorganized areas of the world, they had administrative authority there. However, it required a “quorum” of them (at least 7) to take administrative action. Joseph taught that “where there is not a quorum they will have to do business by the voice of the Church.” (Id., p. 302.) Meaning that any administrative action taken where the twelve did have jurisdiction could only be done if 7 were involved. If less than 7 of the twelve were present, then the administrative authority was in the “voice of the Church” and not in any presiding man or men. In any organized stake, the highest authority was the high council. The seventy were another body of missionaries who assisted the twelve. The members of the seventy were called by the “seven presidents of the first seventy” (Id.) and were independent from the twelve.

Joseph never moved any man from the twelve into the first presidency. Joseph did not call or ordain the twelve, they were chosen and ordained by the three witnesses. The twelve, in turn, did not have authority to call the seventy. Their members were called by the seven presidents belonging to that quorum.

This splintering of authority precluded any single man or small body of men from dominating and dictating to the church. Ultimate authority was vested in “the voice of the Church” who could revoke any man’s position or authority. This is similar to the Constitution which divided authority between co-equal branches of government. This form of government was designed to weaken power of any single branch so as to preclude any single man or group from gaining autocratic control. Freedom (or agency) is protected best by any system that prevents one man or group of men from controlling others. Unfortunately, in both the Federal Government and the various restoration churches, autocratic power has accumulated and the voice of the people has been subverted.

Two days after the March 1835 conference, D&C 107 was presented to the church. Like Joseph’s earlier explanation, authority was splintered among equal bodies with limited jurisdiction. The person with the duty to administer spiritual things, dispense spiritual blessings, have the heavens opened to them, and to enjoy the presence of God the Father and Jesus Christ was the president of the high priesthood, who belonged to a presidency. The presidency consisted of him and two counselors. (D&C 107:9-22.) These men were never part of the twelve during Joseph’s lifetime. The twelve were “equal in authority” with the first presidency. (Id., v. 24.) Although the twelve had no rights inside an organized stake, in the mission field they were equal to the first presidency (provided there was a quorum of 7 acting). The seventy were also “equal in authority” with the others. (Id., v. 25-26.) And the stake high councils were likewise “equal in authority” with the foregoing. (Id., v. 37.)

In this organization, the greatest authority was vested in “the voice of the Church.” But administratively, the authority was fragmented between co-equal bodies of a presidency, twelve, seventy (which could be unlimited in numbers) and high councils (which could also be unlimited in number). The discourse by Joseph and the follow-on administrative outline in Section 107 diffused the authority in that dispensation. It was not consolidated or amalgamated into the hands of any single man or men. It contemplated such divergent and potentially opposing bodies that it would be impossible to manage such an arrangement unless the person or persons who tried to control the direction of the body were to use persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, love unfeigned and pure knowledge.

There was one other office (it no longer exists) which was held by a single man. He held the office of “Priesthood and Patriarch” (D&C 124:91). The twelve eliminated that role in the 1970s and its last occupant died in April 2013.

The diffused authority died with Joseph, and the twelve assumed administrative control over the church. Their oldest member now gets the automatic right to own and control everything. The voice of the church is limited to saying “yes” at conferences. A “no” will not change decisions or the right of the twelve to control the church.

The essential division of authority, and its obvious inefficiencies, are easy to criticize. It clearly did not have an objective of making the church easy to control. The pattern was a behemoth that fractured the organization into such potentially competing parts that there is little surprise it did not last long in practice.

Trading diffused authority for consolidated control made the management of the Mormon religion efficient, effective and powerful. But it came at an astonishingly high price. The religion founded on revelation, angels and communing with God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ traded its spiritual core for earthly mammon. The world envies the bargain. Modern Mormon factions are all surprisingly wealthy–even the small fundamentalist groups. There are two great principles this history has proven. First, a body of believers who are equal are not easily governed. If the only tools to employ are persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, love unfeigned and pure knowledge, it will require the wisdom of God to keep believers together. As soon as they are allowed “to govern themselves” there will be ill-defined margins and straying believers in need of teaching, preaching, persuading and long-suffering. Second, it is easy to aggregate power, wealth, influence and authority if religion is used to control people. If one claims to speak for God and there is a population who accepts that claim, outrageous abuses can be perpetrated; and power, wealth, influence and authority can be retained.

From these two principles comes a conclusion that almost all men will choose the second principle over the first. (D&C 121:39.) Even if a man who would give his life to follow Christ were to found the organization, as soon as he is taken, the organization will remain behind. It will fall into the hands of other men. Dispensations are founded by Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Christ, Peter, and Joseph, but they quickly become the property of Pharaoh, the priests of Baal, Eli, Caiaphus, Annas, Constantine and Brigham Young. The pattern is so inevitable that it seems self-evident it would be foolish to repeat a failed pattern.

If Zion is to have people of one heart and one mind, who live in righteousness with one another (Moses 7:18) then however cumbersome, inefficient, difficult or daunting it may prove, only the first principle can be chosen. If it fails, then there is no residual institution to add another abusive tool for the god of this world to employ in deceiving and chaining men using another inherited false tradition.

The Law of Moses did not produce Zion. The New Testament Primitive Christian church did not produce Zion. Modeling after either of these, as the church established by Joseph Smith did, has likewise not produced Zion. Zion will be produced by a journey begun in equality, pursued by equals, with no man able to command another man’s actions. Persuasion, meekness, unfeigned love and pure knowledge are the only tools necessary for Zion.