Category: Joseph Smith Papers

Improper Assertion of Authority

Joseph Smith spoke at a conference in Philadelphia on January 13th, 1840. Included in his remarks was this recorded prohibition (he called it an “injunction”), the “traveling elders” were to be prevented from encroaching on local authorities.

The “traveling elders” were the twelve and seventy. They were missionaries. They had no right to interfere or encroach on the stakes or wards. The stakes were equal in authority with the twelve and first presidency. The minutes of the conference include these words from Joseph Smith:

“directed it should be entered on the minutes as the injunction of the Presidency that traveling Elders should be especially cautious of incroaching on the ground of stationed & presiding Elders and rather direct their efforts to breaking up and occupying new ground” JS Papers, Documents, Vol. 7: September 1839-January 1841, p. 115, spelling as in original.

Meaning that the twelve and seventy should occupy themselves with missionary work (breaking up and occupying new ground) and leave governing stakes to the “stationed and presiding” authorities who held the actual authority to govern.

An organization with divided and co-equal authorities cannot survive the ambition of conspiring men. And church members willingly surrender the right to govern to claimants, even when the claims are improper. The solution is to never establish anything other than equality. Even that presents challenges because impatience, haste, ambition and fear motivates even the best of people.

All or Nothing, 3

In the minutes of the morning meeting of 18 April 1844, an incomplete draft of the constitution for the “kingdom of God” was read. In the afternoon meeting of that day, the constitution was discussed. In the discussion, a remark was recorded about the relative importance of the church and kingdom: “He [Er. Lorenzo D. Wasson] considers that the kingdom is something more important than the church and is approximating nearer to God.” (JS Papers Administrative Records, p. 126.)

It is the “kingdom of God”– not a church — whose destiny is to destroy all other governments, kingdoms and institutions pretending to exercise authority over mankind. God’s kingdom will be welcome relief to the oppression mankind has suffered for thousands of years.

The fledgling “kingdom” did not acquire any clear definition in 1844. When anyone was inducted into the initial organization “the men took an oath to keep their proceedings secret.” (JS Papers Administrative Records, p. 40.) Very little information has been available about the “kingdom of God” until the publication of the minutes as part of the Joseph Smith Papers project.

Even though we now have minutes of the meetings, they are incomplete. As an example, Joseph Smith “gave much instructions on many subjects” in the 11 March 1844 meeting, but what was said is not included in the minutes. (JS Papers Administrative Records, p. 43.) In the same meeting, “the chairman [Joseph] continued his instructions”–again, without any detail of what was taught. (Id., p. 44.)

The LDS Historian’s Office describes the meeting of 13 March 1844 by stating the minutes “clearly fails to record most of the day’s council discussion.” (JS Papers Administrative Records, pp. 45-46.)

The view we have into the incipient “kingdom” is even more limited because it was decided by the participants that,

It was considered wisdom to burn the minutes in consequence of treachery and plots of designing men. (JS Papers Administrative Records, p. 50)

Records were burned. Many of the minutes that now survive are recreations made afterwards. Attempts at remembering some of what happened.

In the meeting of 19 March 1844, “The chairman [Joseph] continued his instructions on the order of the kingdom of God.” (JS Papers Administrative Records, p. 52.) We do not have what he instructed.

By the afternoon of 4 April 1844 the subject of “kingship” had been raised and discussed. Before anyone was considered a “king,” the minutes of 4 April record:

Er Alman [Almon] Babbit differed in some respects from some of the previous speakers. He explained his views on laws in general (i.e.) the laws of the land. He referred to the apostacy of the children of Israel in choosing a king. (JS Papers Administrative Records, p. 79.)

He was referring to the decision to replace a theocratic system, at the time presided over by Samuel, with a king–described in 1 Samuel chapter 8. When the prophet Samuel inquired of God he was told, “they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.” (1 Sam. 8:7.) The Book of Mormon anticipated the gentiles displacing the Nephite/Lamanite inheritance, and proclaims: “this land shall be a land of liberty unto the Gentiles, and there shall be no kings upon the land, who shall raise up unto the Gentiles.” (2 Ne. 10:11.)

Elder Babbit’s protest made sense and has scriptural support. In effect, he was saying the restoration of a “kingdom of God” by adopting a king would be like a return to the post-Samuel era of the Old Testament. That is generally considered a time of apostasy, as Babbit suggested.

Elder Babbit sent a letter on 10 April, explaining he would not be able to participate in the meeting scheduled for the next day. He expressed his confidence in the group, and said, “I will most cheerfully give my sanction to all measures which may receive your sanction.” (JS Papers Administrative Records, p. 86.)

Babbit’s protest may have led the Chairman Pro-Tem (Sidney Rigdon) to offer an observation about how the “kingdom of God” ought to be operated. Rigdon explained:

The design was to form a Theocracy according to the will of Heaven, planted without any intention to interfere with any government of the world. We wish to have nothing to do with them. We have no violence to offer to governments, no rights to infringe. The object is to live so far above their laws that they cannot interfere with us, unless by violence. (JS Papers Administrative Record, p. 88.)

Perhaps that would have satisfied Babbit, had he attended. Hyrum Smith spoke to the group and suggested they “have a greater work to do than Enoch had[.]” (JS Papers Administrative Record, pp. 93-94.)

In the meeting held 11 April Joseph Smith was sustained as a “prophet, priest and King” over the “kingdom of God” by members of the council.

It makes one wonder whether the Book of Mormon imperative (“this land shall be a land of liberty unto the Gentiles, and there shall be no kings upon the land, who shall raise up unto the Gentiles.”) was at least part of the reason Joseph would be slain two months later. One thing is certain: The “kingdom of God” did not begin to roll down the mountain in 1844. Nor has it broken in pieces any of the false governments oppressing mankind. The world has yet to see that put into motion by God’s almighty hand.

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.

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.

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.

Great or Malignant Sins

Joseph Smith’s 1838 history did not originally have these words:

“In making this confession, no one need suppose me guilty of any great or malignant sins. A disposition to commit such was never in my nature. But I was guilty of levity, and sometimes associated with jovial company, etc., not consistent with that character which ought to be maintained by one who was called of God as I had been.” (JS-H 1:28.)

Instead his original draft ended with this confession:

“I was left to all kinds of temptations, and mingling (with) all kinds of society I frequently (fell) into many foolish errors and displayed the weakness of youth and the corruption of human nature which I am sorry to say led me into divers temptations to the gratification of many appetites offensive in the sight of God.” (JS Papers, Histories Vol. 1: 1832-1844, p. 220.)

The history of Joseph Smith was first published in the Times and Seasons. This part of his history was printed in an installment on April 1, 1842. (Times and Seasons, Vol 3, p. 749.) The explanation that Joseph was not guilty of “any great or malignant sins” had not yet been added in April 1842.

The month following publication of this installment of Joseph’s history, on May 11, 1842, John C. Bennett was excommunicated from the church for adultery. Bennett did not go quietly, and therefore public notice of his excommunication was announced in print on June 15, 1842. Bennett got louder and more accusatory and on July 1, 1842 a full account of John C. Bennett’s misconduct was explained in the Times and Seasons.

Because Bennett began his public accusations against Joseph Smith in 1842, on December 2, 1842 a note was added to Joseph’s history. The LDS Historian’s Office explains the note clarified his sins “were of a minor nature.” (See, JS Papers, History, Vol. 1, p. 221, footnote 55.) The addition they describe is in Willard Richards’ handwriting, and reads as follows:

“In making this confession, no one need suppose  me guilty of any great or malignant sins: a disposition  to commit such was never in my nature; but I was guilty of Levity, & sometimes associated with jovial company &c, not  Consistent with that character which ought to be maintained  by one who was called of God as I had been; but this  will not seem very strange to any one who recollects  my youth & is acquainted with my native cheerly Temperament.” (Manuscript History, Note added December 2, 1842.)

The addition of this clarification appears to be directly in response to John C. Bennett’s adultery, the discovery by Joseph Smith of a “spiritual wife” system being practiced in Nauvoo, and the accusation that he was aware of, believed in, and practiced adulterous relationships. As Joseph Smith stated publicly months later in a meeting in Nauvoo:

“What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one. I am the same man, and as innocent as I was fourteen years ago; and I can prove them all perjurers.” (DHC 6:411, May 26, 1844.)

I had not noticed this timing until called to my attention this week. Joseph denied committing “any great or malignant sins” in response to scandal brought to Joseph’s attention through the John C. Bennett affair. Put into context it is clearer. His denial was related to the “spiritual wife” system of adulterous relationships practiced in Nauvoo which was being attributed to him.

Section 132

Any complex subject involving Mormon history, doctrine or practice is always part of a larger picture. If that larger picture is not part of the analysis, things can be confusing. It is impossible to lay out everything in a single comment. Might I remind you that I never make any attempt to tell everything I think, believe or know in a single post or book.

The discussion about Section 132 has provoked additional questions. Those questions, if answered, will lead to still more questions. In response to the current round of questions I’ve received I would add:

1. It is the LDS Church and “fundamentalists” who claim Section 132 authorizes their past and present practices. Therefore, they must accept it as is, intact, and deal with the issues raised for their practice by the very revelation they claim justifies their behavior. They can’t really begin to question or limit the language. For both of these the “one man at a time” issue is fundamental because it identifies who they must follow. The questions I posed to the polygamists about who authorized their current practice (as the “one”) remains the right question for them to sort out.

2. The meaning of “one man at a time on the earth” was interpreted by Brigham Young (and all subsequent believers in Section 132) to mean only one man can authorize plural marriages. The language is in the transcript as a parenthetical inside verse 7. This raises the question of whether it was there in the first place, or if it was there but located somewhere else in the transcript originally and was moved there, or if it was not there at all in the original. Looking at the surviving document won’t help (see point 6, below).

3. There is an idea that the term “one man at a time on the earth” is part of the earliest gospel. It has nothing to do with plural wives. It has to do with the original Holy Order after the Order of the Son of God, which has a single individual in each generation in the family structure. But that has nothing to do with the way Section 132 is generally interpreted or understood. In practical terms, the way Section 132 uses “one man at a time on the earth” should be interpreted as a unique elevation of a single individual elected by God to become the Holy Spirit of Promise. In most generations, the office of the Holy Spirit of Promise belongs to and is filled by God. Understanding of this subject did not survive Joseph’s martyrdom. Explaining it would only invite the deceivers to step forward and claim they are such an officeholder and are entitled to respect (and probably money and more sex partners given what we’ve seen from the fundamentalists).

4. I do think there was a revelation concerning plural wives. I think Section 132 is an altered text and probably not what was given to Joseph.

5. The practice of adoption (or what was sometimes called “man-to-man sealing”) appears to have been a very late development and was not preserved in a way that we can understand what Joseph was doing. Before that very late development, the idea of eternal “sealing” seems to have been confined to marriages. When Joseph organized family relationships, it seems to have been entirely by intermarriages at first. This allowed a family to be sealed to Joseph Smith by his marrying the daughters, then sealing parents, etc. together as an extended family unit. The record of Joseph’s “proposals” for marriages to some church leader’s daughters (if the accounts are reliable) seem to have been worded by Joseph with this idea in mind.

Marriage sealing would also allow a married couple to be sealed to Joseph by sealing the wife to Joseph, then the husband and wife together, and then sealing them all together as a single family unit. The idea this could be changed to a form of sealing by adoption of a man to another man as father/son seems to have been a very late development, poorly explained, and not preserved with an ordinance that survived Joseph’s death. This has left the topic to scholarly debate and speculation. Much of the confusion about what Joseph was doing in sealings of marriages, and confusion about “adoption” of men to men or what was called “man to man sealing” is because Joseph died before he clearly established the practice. It died with him. Perhaps that was in the wisdom of God to prevent abuse and pretensions by the people left behind in Nauvoo.

6. Since William Clayton wrote the original, and was still alive and close to Brigham Young when Section 132 was made public, it is possible the original was re-written by Clayton before its publication in 1852. The Joseph Smith Papers project may be of some help. But at this late date, given Charles Wandell’s diary, it is probably hopeless for us to untangle the questions from a search and examination of available records.

7. Until Passing the Heavenly Gift, everything I wrote was intended to leave the LDS Church claims unchallenged. I was an active member of the institution and felt inclined to sustain the organization’s claims. Everything in The Second Comforter, Nephi’s Isaiah, Eighteen Verses, Beloved Enos, Come, Let us Adore Him, Remembering the Covenant (5 Vols.), and Ten Parables was composed by me as a faithful and loyal Latter-day Saint. In Passing the Heavenly Gift, I asked questions and proposed another framework for the events of the restoration. In the book, the issues were explored as possibilities, missing or unmentioned historical evidence was set out, and the reader was left to choose for themselves what to conclude. After that book, I was excommunicated and no longer felt the need to defend or sustain the organization. The content of Essays: Three Degrees is compatible with traditional LDS beliefs, although the Brigham Young essay does not flatter President Young. It is not unfair to him, but would not please his fans. Now, however, what I write, say or teach is done without any need on my part to consider what, if any, effect it may have on the the church. The next book will address the foundational beginning of the restoration, its prophetic future, and what is still required.

The restoration is about to be completely compromised by the institutional LDS organization. If we do not establish another way to avoid the coming catastrophe, the restoration will utterly fail. The movement begun now will seem very prescient in a few years. In coming days many people will want a place to land as the LDS Church undergoes changes to retain their standing, favorable tax status, popularity and wealth. People need a place to fellowship where they can function and learn how to preserve the restoration in a place that will be a refuge for those fleeing an increasingly corrupt organization.

What has begun may seem small, unnecessary and even rebellious at present. It will not be long before it is viewed very differently.

The Search

The search for the truth is individual. Everyone must undertake if for themselves. One woman’s search is never the same as another’s. One man’s experiences will never be another’s. That does not mean there are never common elements. Mileposts along the way are common to almost all searches.

Where is the most valuable place to start the search? This question requires us to answer others. For example, was Joseph Smith divinely inspired to translate and publish the Book of Mormon? Were his revelations and translations of other records also divinely inspired?

Since I believe Joseph Smith was divinely inspired, the search for me begins there. It requires me to then proceed in these steps: First, find information about Joseph’s teachings, translations, discussions, revelations and beliefs from the most reliable sources. This is not as easy as it once seemed. The materials made available through The Joseph Smith Papers, for example, require some assumptions and conclusions to be revised, discarded, modified or perhaps even noticed for the first time. A great deal of information about Joseph’s life, his words, even his revelations has not been accurately transmitted across a mere two centuries. But this is the best and most recent place for the search to begin.

Second, Joseph’s paradigm must be adapted, modified and corrected by what the new view of Joseph Smith’s ministry reveals and recovers. This is not easy because traditions and presumptions are part of our internal thinking. We hold on to presumptions until forced to abandon them. Even if we think we can begin with a blank slate, we cannot. We do not know what we do not know, and therefore proceed blind to these defects. It requires us to be ever willing to admit we need and must accept correction. This is not easy, but it is necessary.

Third, we must live our lives in conformity with the truth as we understand it so that we gather light and truth from heaven. We cannot live hypocrisy and expect divine aid. We cannot abuse our neighbors and expect divine favor. We are helped by God as we are clean before Him. He (and we) know if we have clean hands and a pure heart.

Fourth, until we have done the work of the first three, there is no justified expectation to discover or have revealed to us something new. Revelation comes at the end of the search, not at the beginning. When, however, the revelation comes, we must be willing to accept it and then reconsider everything in the first three steps in light of what we have gained in the fourth. Even if we think we are living true to the light we had before, once we have more light we must reflect that in our lives. What we did, said, believed or thought before may no longer be consistent with what was just learned.

Likewise, the work of the second step (adaptation, modification and correction) may be wholly inadequate for what new truth has been gained.  And finally, the first step (source interpretation and understanding) may change because of the new light.

Every one of us is put through this same process. None of us are spared.

This leads to the question of how to integrate what has been gained in this process with other important information. The best example of a faithful search I can think of is Hugh Nibley. His relentless searching was always informed by the primacy of Joseph Smith and the restoration. He believed in the Book of Mormon even when the LDS Church and its leaders did not. This is discussed in Eighteen Verses. Brother Nibley was himself a restorationist who amplified our understanding of antiquity. However, Hugh Nibley died three years before a single volume of The Joseph Smith Papers was in print. He died five years before the five volumes of The Complete Discourses of Brigham Young were available in print. He never had an opportunity to see or read most of what Brigham Young said. He died before many of the journals of church leaders and apostles were made available. Brother Nibley’s work sought to harmonize the restoration with antiquity. He did a great work. But he lived and died without having at his disposal a great body of additional material now accessible to us. It begs the question of whether he would (or should) have reconsidered the content and meaning of the restoration and Joseph’s teachings if he learned new information by that process. From all that can be said about Hugh Nibley, it is apparent to me he would have rethought everything he learned if new revelation of the restoration suggested it ought to be done.

There was a prominent anti-Mormon radio preacher named “Dr. Walter Martin.” He had a radio call in show I listened to for years. He got most of what he said about Mormonism from dubious source material and he made bombastic claims that were unpersuasive to anyone who had read the widely available book A Marvelous Work and a Wonder, by LeGrand Richards–still a very good book. But Dr. Walter Martin had a constant refrain: “It is the first principle of Biblical hermeneutics that you interpret the old in light of the new.” Meaning, you understand the Old Testament by study of the New Testament. It is a sound principle. Of course, he violated this first principle when it came to the Book of Mormon and Joseph’s revelations. He discarded the new and judged it only by the old.

This is the one rule Dr. Walter Martin and I agree upon. I apply that across the board with all learning, study and meditation. To recover the past we do not begin the search there, but we begin the search with the latest revelation and attempt to recover truth as we measure it beside what we have received in our day from God.

If the search and accompanying conclusions into Joseph and the restoration are much different now than they were just a few years ago, and the intervening traditions and practices are clearly divergent from Joseph’s in just four generations, what does that tell us about caution for antiquity’s remaining documents? Even our understanding of New Testament times is only fragmentary. The historian Norman F. Cantor wrote about how little we really understand the middle ages in his book titled, Inventing the Middle Ages. He explains how traditions rather than proof inform much of our re-creation of the period in the relatively recent past. Going back another millennium to the New Testament is even more difficult. And the earliest ages are more challenging still.

The farther back we journey the more we need the restoration to guide, inform and set the framework for the search. This is why Joseph Smith was a necessary figure in this late date in history. We will not get far if we do not accept him as the indispensable milestone marker for the correct path that God would ask us to follow for the walk back to His presence.

I advocate study of the past, including Egypt. What I do not suggest is we measure Joseph Smith by beginning with the New Testament, Old Testament or Egypt. We work backward to test for truth. I think anyone who believes in the restoration would agree with that.

What does it all really mean?

There are some great comments on the previous posts. I’ve not wanted to interrupt what I was doing to address them. Before moving on to another set of scriptures relating to those questions and comments, here are a few responses:


To whom has the Book of Mormon been written?

What possible good would it be for a message to be written for an audience who would never read the Book of Mormon?

If the term “Gentiles” is sometimes quite broad (and it is in some contexts), does the message get addressed to all of them? Is the message tailored to those who would read the book?

If the warnings are read to apply only to non-LDS occupants of the land, then what do the warnings accomplish? Do they make us proud? Do they make us feel better than “them,” since only “they” are condemned and not us? What kind of a warning is it if the only ones being warned are those who will never read the book?

Does The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at least retain the power and authority to preach the Gospel and administer the rites of baptism, and laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost? When I prayed, as the missionaries were instructing me, I got an answer that led me to baptism. I believe that baptism to be authoritative and approved by the Lord. Does anyone think the church lacks the authority to baptize for the remission of sins? I do not. If, therefore, the church has that authority, does it not continue to occupy an important, even central role in the Lord’s work?

If you teach someone, and they want to “convert” and be baptized, would you not baptize them into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?

What is the mission field for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? Who is not included?

If all the world is the mission field for the church, what, then, becomes the mission field for the Church of the Firstborn?  [I do not hold that the Church of the Firstborn is a formal organization, existing here as a formal order.  I believe its members associate with others who are not of this world, and consequently the Church of the Firstborn is never in competition with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.]

Would members of the Church of the Firstborn not pay tithes to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? Would they not attend its meetings?  Would they not support its programs? Would they not use The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to assist them in raising their children? Would they not have their families baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? Even if they held authority given them directly from the Lord, would they not continue to be faithful members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? To uphold and respect the authorities who are given the duty to preside?

Until the Lord brings again Zion, where should we all join in fellowship?

Would members of the Church of the Firstborn ever envy those presiding in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? Ever challenge their right to preside? Did Christ ever try and displace Caiaphus? Did He not admonish us to follow His example?

Does The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints limit the amount of light you can acquire by your own heed and diligence? (D&C 130: 18-19.) Can any man prevent God from pouring out knowledge upon you if you will receive it in the proper way?  (D&C 121: 32-33.) Can any soul approach the Lord, see His face, and know that He is? (D&C 93: 1.)

Of what relevance is it if other Saints give no heed or are not willing to receive knowledge from the Lord? Should we belittle them? If not, what then is our responsibility toward them? (3 Ne. 12: 16.)

What does it mean to let a “light shine?”

Why, upon seeing that light, would someone “glorify your Father who is in heaven” rather than heap praise and attention upon you? What is it about the nature of the light which you are to shine that produces notice of the Father rather than notice of you?

David Christensen’s definition of “whoredoms” was interesting. Whether you take the meaning in 1830, or you take our modern sexual meaning, would it change the result of any analysis? One fellow who worked at the Church Office Building told me that approximately 60% of active adult male members of the church regularly view pornography.

Kisi also raised a question regarding Ishmael’s Ephriamite lineage. Orson Pratt, Franklin D. Richards and Erastus Snow all said Joseph Smith mentioned in passing that the lost 116 pages included a reference to Ishmael’s lineage and he was from Ephriam. Does this change anything? If so, how? What other outcome might then be possible? Would this potentially even further limit the Gentile involvement?

On the subject of Joseph’s statements contained in the Nauvoo era transcripts:  These were the very materials from which Joseph’s talks were reproduced. The Documentary History of the Church, by Joseph Smith, Jr., was compiled from these original materials. When The Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith was prepared, it was done using these materials.  The paper I wrote included the original source materials, not the derivative compilations.

As to the importance and reliability of these materials, first, those involved were the leading church fathers at the time. Thomas Bullock was the official scribe for Joseph Smith during the Nauvoo talks. His versions were kept at Joseph’s request and were official accounts.  Second, the Joseph Smith Papers project now underway through the Church Historian’s Office is attempting to make more of these original source materials available to the Saints. If they are not important, then the Church would not be investing millions of man-hours and dollars to bring the sources into the hands of the Saints.

It is not wise to dismiss as “mud” the very kinds of materials that give the best source for Joseph’s teachings. Indeed, D&C 130 is an amalgam of comments Joseph made in a talk given April 2, 1843 recorded by some of the very same scribes used in the paper I wrote.  I’m just using original materials, rather than derivative, second hand interpretations made years later by others who were not present (or living) when the statements were made by Joseph.


Well, enough of the aside – onward still….