School of the Prophets

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Mormon School of Prophets
Photo by Welden Andersen © Intellectual Reserve
The School of the Prophets (also called the "school of the elders" or "school for the Prophets") was a select group of early Latter-day Saint leaders who began meeting on January 23, 1833, in Kirtland, Ohio, under the direction of the prophet Joseph Smith for both theological and secular learning. It provided a setting for spiritual experiences and in-depth discussions of gospel principles. A series of seven lectures presented at the school were published as Lectures on Faith. Another branch of this school existed under the direction of Parley P. Pratt in Independence, Missouri, for a short while.
The Prophet organized the School of the Prophets to train priesthood holders for their work in the ministry and to prepare them to preach the gospel. The school was held in a second-floor room in the Newel K. Whitney store, where the Prophet lived. About 25 brethren attended, some traveling hundreds of miles for the privilege of studying the gospel in a room no larger than 11 by 14 feet. Many of these men would later become Apostles, Seventies, and other Church leaders. Though the Prophet and the other brethren occasionally studied language, they focused primarily on learning the doctrines of the gospel, diligently pursuing their studies from early morning until late afternoon. This school lasted for four months.[1]
Treasures of spiritual knowledge were poured out upon the brethren attending the School of the Prophets, and they made great advances in their understanding of the gospel. At the meeting of the school held on March 18, 1833, Sidney Rigdon and Frederick G. Williams were set apart as the Prophet’s counselors in the First Presidency. Afterward, the Prophet “exhorted the brethren to faithfulness and diligence in keeping the commandments of God, and gave much instruction for the benefit of the Saints, with a promise that the pure in heart should see a heavenly vision; and after remaining a short time in secret prayer, the promise was verified; for many present had the eyes of their understanding opened by the Spirit of God, so as to behold many things. … Many of the brethren saw a heavenly vision of the Savior, and concourses of angels, and many other things. [2] The Prophet explained, “Great joy and satisfaction continually beamed in the countenances of the School of the Prophets, and the Saints, on account of the things revealed, and our progress in the knowledge of God.”[3]
This event is corroborated by John Murdock, missionary companion of Zebedee Coltrin at the time and also present at the meeting: “In one of these meetings the prophet told us if we could humble ourselves before God, and exercise strong faith, we should see the face of the Lord. And about midday the visions of my mind were opened, and the eyes of my understanding were enlightened, and I saw the form of a man, most lovely, the visage of his face was sound and fair as the sun. His hair a bright silver grey, curled in most majestic form, His eyes a keen penetrating blue, and the skin of his neck a most beautiful white and he was covered from the neck to the feet with a loose garment, pure white, whiter than any garment I have ever before seen. His countenance was most penetrating, and yet most lovely. And while I was endeavoring to comprehend the whole personage from head to feet it slipped from me, and the vision was closed up. But it left on my mind the impression of love, for months, that I never felt before to that degree.” [4]

“Over [the] kitchen was situated the room in which the Prophet received revelations and in which he instructed his brethren at the School of the Prophets. When they assembled together in this room after breakfast, the first thing they did was to light their pipes, and, while smoking, talk about the great things of the kingdom, and spit all over the room, and as soon as the pipe was out of their mouths a large chew of tobacco would then be taken. Often when the Prophet entered the room to give the school instructions he would find himself in a cloud of tobacco smoke. This, and the complaints of his wife at having to clean so filthy a floor, made the Prophet think upon the matter, and he inquired of the Lord relating to the conduct of the Elders in using tobacco, and the revelation known as the Word of Wisdom was the result of his inquiry.” [5]

Brother Zebedee Coltrin adds the following information to this story: “When the Word of Wisdom (Doctrine and Covenants 89) was first presented by the Prophet Joseph … there were twenty out of the twenty-one who used tobacco and they all immediately threw their tobacco and pipes into the fire.” [6]

Brigham Young began several Schools of the Prophets during his tenure as Church president, beginning in 1868 in Salt Lake City, Utah, and spreading to Provo, Logan, Brigham City, Spanish Fork, Nephi, Ephraim, American Fork, and Ogden. His successor, John Taylor, also organized such schools in Salt Lake City and St. George in 1883.

After the late 19th century, the Church did not use the name “School of the Prophets” to describe its educational endeavors, but it remained committed to the revealed aims of the school and pursued them in various ways. The Church was instrumental in establishing schools and academies of higher learning throughout the American West and in many other areas. As secular education and training programs became more widely available, Church leaders encouraged the Saints to enroll and established programs to support Church members in their pursuit of education. To provide spiritual learning and training for local ministry and missionary service, the [[Church Educational System|Church] established seminaries, institutes of religion, missionary training centers, and other leadership training meetings and broadcasts. Each of these programs carries on, in its own way, the legacy of the Kirtland School of the Prophets.[1]
  1. “Chapter 22: Gaining Knowledge of Eternal Truths,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, (2007),261–270
  2. History of the Church, 1:334–35; from the minutes of a meeting of the School of the Prophets held on Mar. 18, 1833, in Kirtland, Ohio; reported by Frederick G. Williams.
  3. History of the Church, 1:334; from “History of the Church” (manuscript), book A-1, p. 281, Church Archives, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah.
  4. John Murdock Journal, typescript, Brigham Young University archives, p. 13.
  5. Brigham Young, in Journal of Discourses, 12:158.
  6. Minutes, Salt Lake City School of Prophets, 3 Oct. 1883, p. 56.