Joseph Smith, Jr.
Joseph Smith, Jr. (1805-1844) was the first president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Members of the Church call him a prophet because, according to the traditional role of prophets recorded in the Old and New Testaments in the Bible, he relied on revelation from God for teaching the people, and not on his own wisdom or learning.
The Prophet Joseph Smith is one of the most charismatic and influential religious figures in American history. He acquired many followers throughout his life, but also many opponents because his teachings were not welcomed by most people in the existing Christian community. For many of them, the doctrines he taught were nothing more than blasphemy and contrary to their interpretation of the Bible. In the beginning, the main sticking point was Joseph's Smith's claim to revelation, which most Christians believed had ceased upon the death of Jesus Christ's apostles.
History of Joseph Smith
Joseph Smith's ancestors were ordinary New England farm people who emigrated from England to America in the seventeenth century and settled in Massachusetts. He was born on 23 December 1805, in Sharon, Vermont. He was the son of Joseph and Lucy Mack Smith. In his youth, Joseph was largely deprived of formal education, but he was instructed in reading, writing, and the basic rules of arithmetic. His mother reported that he was often given to meditation and deep study.
The Smiths moved several times in less than twenty years. When Joseph was eleven, his family moved to Palmyra, New York, where Joseph lived almost all of his later childhood. This area was known as the "burned-over district," because it was given to frequent and fervent religious excitement. Various Christian sects sponsored tent meetings and revivals, and they competed vigorously for converts.
In 1820, at the age of fourteen, Joseph was deeply perplexed about which church he should join, and the conflicting preaching of many religious ministers increased his uncertainty. Members of his immediate family were drawn to the Methodist and Presbyterian Churches. Joseph was determined to know which of the many religions was right. After reading a passage in the Bible in the book of James, instructing any who lacked wisdom to "ask of God" (James 1:5), Joseph decided to turn directly to God for guidance.
Early one morning in the spring of 1820, Joseph went to a secluded wood to ask God which church he should follow. As he was praying, as he recounted later, God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, appeared to him. This experience is called the First Vision in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and considered a pivotal event in the history of humankind, second only to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The importance of the event hinges on its definition as the beginning of the restoration of Christ's true gospel on earth, which was lost upon the death of the original apostles.
Later, in 1823, Joseph Smith said he was also visited by an angel named Moroni, who told him of an ancient record containing God's dealings with the former inhabitants of the American continent. He was shown the forest location of the record's hiding place by the angel. However, he was also told that he should wait another four years before being able to obtain the record and that until then he should return each year to the same place to receive further instructions. In 1827, Joseph was finally able to retrieve the record, which was inscribed on golden plates. Shortly after obtaining these golden plates, he began translating its words by the "gift of God."
The result of his translating efforts became known as the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ, which was published in March of 1830. Following the publication of the Book of Mormon, on 6 April 1830, the prophet finally organized the Church and became its first president.
While working in Harmony, Pennsylvania, in 1825, Joseph Smith met Emma Hale. On 18 January 1827, Joseph and Emma were married. Together they had eleven children (including two who were adopted), only five of whom lived past infancy. Joseph deeply loved his family, and his personal writings are filled with concerns and prayers for their welfare.
Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon
That there was an ancient record hidden in a hill nearby, was revealed to Joseph Smith in his late teens by the Angel Moroni, an Israelite prophet who dwelled in the Americas. He first saw the Gold Plates in 1823, but he was not allowed to extract them from the stone box where they lay. He returned to the location every year for several years, receiving instruction from Moroni, and purging himself of any thought of using the ancient record to get gain. When he finally returned to retrieve the plates for translation, his wife, Emma, was with him.
With the gold plates were found the Urim and Thummim, seer stones used anciently in Israel, and with a single seer stone. Joseph began translation using seer stones but soon was able to continue without them, as he essentially became a vessel for the Holy Ghost. Emma Hale Smith wrote the following:
- "In writing for your father I frequently wrote day after day, often sitting at the table close by him, he sitting with his face buried in his hat, with the stone in it, and dictating hour and hour with nothing between us."
There are many such accounts. Or as Richard Turley and William Slaughter explain in their 2011 How We Got the Book of Mormon (published by Deseret Book): "Several people . . . said he looked into the interpreters or another seer stone, blocking out external light, such as by placing the interpreters in his hat and putting his face down into it."
For some reason, detractors and those antagonistic toward the Church and its members find these actions so pitiable, that they use them to defame the prophet and mock the Church. Yet, if people would review their own behaviors, they will perhaps call to memory times they tried to block out the light, and if they had had a hat, would surely have used it.
Many detractors of Joseph Smith and the restored gospel of Jesus Christ have commented on the later changes made to the Book of Mormon, but the book was not received and translated into chapters and verses, but often unpunctuated paragraphs. Joseph had only three years of formal education, and his wife, Emma Hale Smith, said he could barely construct a written sentence in English. Yet, because of tutelage from on high, he became a scholar.
Joseph himself made most of the changes to the Book of Mormon, in order to make it readable. The non–Latter-day Saint printer helped with chapters and verses. The changes make no difference in meaning. Later changes by the general authorities of the Church actually reverted the text back to older versions.
For evidence that the Book of Mormon is true, go to the following online books:
- Noel B. Reynolds, Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited: The Evidence for Ancient Origins (Provo: FARMS, 1997), with chapters on the translation of the Book of Mormon, chiasmus, wordprints, Lehi’s journey through Arabia, and a Mesoamerican historical context. Many of these articles were written by the preeminent researcher in the field.
- John W. Welch, Donald W. Parry, and Daniel C. Peterson, eds., Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon (Provo: FARMS, 2002), which summarizes the main arguments and findings of Book of Mormon research since Hugh Nibley.
- The online version of To All the World: The Book of Mormon Articles from the Encyclopedia of Mormonism edited by S. Kent Brown, Daniel H. Ludlow, and John W. Welch. This volume, produced by BYU scholars, offers 130 concise and authoritative articles on the major characters, themes, and issues from the Book of Mormon.
On 27 June 1844, while in Carthage Jail, Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were killed by a mob consisting of men with blackened faces. (See Carthage Jail). After the Prophet's death, John Taylor, an eyewitness to the martyrdom, wrote the following:
Joseph Smith, the Prophet and Seer of the Lord, has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it
During his short life, the Prophet Joseph established cities, produced volumes of scriptures, and sent missionaries throughout the world. He was involved in the construction of temples, served as mayor of Nauvoo, and was even a candidate for the presidency of the United States.
He has been described by men not of his faith as the most influential religious leader in American history. He was definitely a controversial figure who attracted persecution because he challenged established creeds.
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints do not worship the Prophet Joseph, but they do revere him as the instrument by which the Gospel of Jesus Christ was restored to the earth.
Quotes from Joseph Smith
- "When we reflect upon the holiness and perfections of our great Master, who has opened a way whereby we may come unto him, even by the sacrifice of himself, our hearts melt within us for his condescension. And when we reflect also, that he has called us to be perfect in all things, that we may be prepared to meet him in peace when he comes in his glory with all the holy angels, we feel to exhort our brethren with boldness, to be humble and prayerful, to walk indeed as children of the light and of the day, that they may have grace to withstand every temptation, and to overcome every evil in the worthy name of our Lord Jesus Christ. For be assured, brethren, that the day is truly near when the Master of the house will rise up and shut the door, and none but such as have on a wedding garment will be permitted to enjoy a seat at the marriage supper! (See Matthew 22:1–14.)”
- Letter from Joseph Smith and high priests to the brethren in Geneseo, New York, Nov. 23, 1833, Kirtland, Ohio, Church Archives.
- "We take the sacred writings into our hands, and admit that they were given by direct inspiration for the good of man. We believe that God condescended to speak from the heavens and declare His will concerning the human family, to give them just and holy laws, to regulate their conduct, and guide them in a direct way, that in due time He might take them to Himself, and make them joint heirs with His Son."
- History of the Church, 2:11, 14; punctuation modernized; from “The Elders of the Church in Kirtland, to Their Brethren Abroad,” Jan. 22, 1834, published in Evening and Morning Star, Feb. 1834, p. 136; Mar. 1834, p. 142.
- "The Standard of Truth has been erected; no unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing; persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny may defame, but the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done."
- History of the Church, 4:540; from a letter from Joseph Smith written at the request of John Wentworth and George Barstow, Nauvoo, Illinois, published in Times and Seasons, Mar. 1, 1842, p. 709.
See also Prophecies of Joseph Smith.
Joseph Smith's Name "Had for Good and Evil"
On April 8, 2020, the Church News published an article by Elder Tad R. Callister, an emeritus General Authority Seventy and former Sunday School general president, which elucidates Moroni's prophecy to Joseph Smith.
- This year we celebrate the bicentennial of the First Vision. It was the signal event that launched the Kingdom of God in this dispensation. Every time something profound is about to occur in God’s Kingdom, Satan and his nefarious forces are present in their goal line stand. It occurred at the birth of the Savior with the slaying of the innocents. It occurred when the Savior commenced his mission and was confronted with the three temptations.
- And it occurred again during the time of the Atonement — there was the betrayal, the denunciation, the mock trial and the final barb: “If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross” (Matthew 27:40).
- And so it would be with Joseph Smith before the advent of the First Vision. Satan would be there in all his diabolic opposition. At all costs, Satan knew he must stop this young boy from proceeding to carry out his destined work. No doubt Satan knew Joseph in the premortal existence; he knew he was a spiritual redwood; and he knew he was destined to be a disturber in his kingdom.
- It was the spring of 1820. Joseph, in his 15th year, was pondering James 1:5. One can almost envision Satan wringing his hands, “perspiring” as he watched this boy with intensity read this scripture again and again. In Joseph’s own words he said: “Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart. I reflected on it again and again” (JS History 1:12).
- The next morning, on a beautiful spring day, Joseph was about to enter the Sacred Grove, but he would not be alone. As he knelt in prayer, he heard the rustling of leaves and footsteps. There was the thickening of his tongue so he could not speak, and the overpowering gloom of darkness to which he almost succumbed, but finally a glorious light dispelled that cloud of darkness and he saw God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. That transcendent vision changed all history. That heavenly manifestation ushered in the Restoration.
- Is it any wonder that three years later when the angel Moroni appeared to Joseph in his bedroom, he should make this astounding prophecy: “That [Joseph’s] name should be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues” (JS History 1:33). That was a remarkable prophecy to make of a teenage farm boy, who had no more than the equivalent of a third-grade education and who lived in the backwoods of New York, yet every word of it would be vindicated.
- On July 20, 1844 (one month after the Prophet’s death), the New York Tribune, no doubt unaware of Moroni’s prophecy, made this stunning observation: “[Joseph Smith] was a remarkable man, and has left the impress of his genius upon the age … and his name will be remembered, for good or evil, when the names of half the ephemeral Statesmen of the age will be forgotten.”
- What an unwitting, but remarkable confirmation from a gentile paper of Moroni’s prophecy!
- The Doctrine and Covenants gives us this insight as to who would know Joseph’s name for evil, and who would know his name for good:
- “The ends of the earth shall inquire after thy name, and fools shall have thee in derision [those who will know his name for evil], and hell shall rage against thee;
- “While the pure in heart, and the wise, and the noble, and the virtuous [those who will know his name for good], shall seek counsel, and authority, and blessings constantly from under thy hand” (Doctrine and Covenants 122:1-2).
- The scriptures testify that Joseph “has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it” (Doctrine and Covenants 135:3). Accordingly, we can testify without excuse, without apology, and without embarrassment that Joseph Smith did see God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ in the Sacred Grove on that spring day in 1820 and that he was God’s anointed prophet for the Restoration.
- His name is known for good and evil throughout the world exactly as Moroni prophesied. May we be among the wise and noble and virtuous who honor and praise the name of Joseph Smith for good.
- See Church News, "‘Millions shall know Brother Joseph’: Elder LeGrand R. Curtis Jr. explains how," by Elder LeGrand R. Curtis Jr., Church Historian and Recorder
- See also Deseret News, "Joseph Smith’s name ‘had for good and evil among all nations’," by Daniel Peterson
Images of Joseph Smith
For a discussion on the possible accurate images of Joseph Smith, see Images of Joseph Smith and "Does an image of Joseph Smith exist? What one descendant found in a forgotten family heirloom".
Joseph Smith was succeeded as President of the Church by Brigham Young.
- For more information see, Martyrdom of Joseph Smith
- On to Next Church Prophet
- Joseph Smith - Home
- Joseph Smith Daguerreotype
- Joseph Smith—History 1 (JS-H 1)
- Fufilled Prophecies of Joseph Smith
- Joseph Smith - Lightplanet
- Joseph Smith Jr. - Wikiquote
- The Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith
- Joseph Smith - Grampa Bill's General Authority Pages
- Joseph Smith: Prophet, Revelator, Human; Interview with Richard Lyman Bushman
- Video lecture: Accusations against Joseph Smith addressed
- Joseph Smith's First Vision Accounts
- FAIR: The Legal Trials of Joseph Smith
- Joseph Smith Papers: Joseph Smith Pedigree Chart
- LDS Daily: 10 Rare Facts about the Prophet Joseph Smith
- Prophets of the Restoration