Problems in Early Mormon Texts 1

by LaMar Petersen

Copyright © 1998 by Freethinker Press. Used by permission.

Taken from LaMar Petersen, The Creation of the Book of Mormon: A Historical Inquiry (Salt Lake City: Freethinker Press, 1998), Appendix B, 141-64.

We discussed in the first chapter the evolution of the story of Joseph Smith's First Vision. In this appendix we will examine other texts in early LDS history that have been quietly altered. Consider the development of the concept of priesthood authority. In 1838 Joseph dictated the official narrative of the restoration of the Holy Priesthood, which had been lost to the earth since shortly after the advent of the Savior. The restoration was a double event: the first half being an ordination of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery by the resurrected John the Baptist with the bestowal of the Aaronic, or lesser, Priesthood on 15 May 1829,2 and the second being the conferring of the Melchizedek Priesthood with the gift of the Holy Ghost by Peter, James, and John sometime later. Historical research in early Mormon documents shows that the term "priesthood" was not used until 1831.3
The "full history of the rise of the church of the Latter

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1An earlier version of this appendix was separately published as LaMar Petersen, Problems in Mormon Text (Salt Lake City, 1957).

2D. Michael Quinn, "150 Years of Truth and Consequences about Mormon History," Sunstone 16 (February 1992):13, states that "in November 1910, Church President Joseph F. Smith told the Salt Lake Temple fast meeting that Elder Roberts doubted that Joseph Smith had actually received a priesthood restoration from John the Baptist."

3Prince, Power from on High, 11-12.


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Day Saints,"4 which was written by Oliver Cowdery in 1834, should surely contain the details of these miraculous events, but though there is indeed an ecstatic account of the ordination by an angel, other particulars are notably lacking. The angel is unidentified (if Joseph and Oliver then knew him to be John the Baptist they did not reveal it),5 there is no mention of two Priesthoods, Aaronic or Melchizedek, lesser or higher, no promise of the Holy Ghost, no visit of Peter, James, and John (which in 1834 should have been a matter of historical record for five years),6 no mention of the baptism and ordination of each other, and finally, a different wording of the angelic conferment. Oliver Cowdery's 1834 account was "the first time Mormons learned that a heavenly conferral of authority occurred before the church's organization."7
According to Oliver Cowdery's account in 1834, the angel said: "Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah I confer this priesthood and this authority, which shall remain upon earth, that the sons of Levi may yet offer an offering unto the Lord in righteousness!" (JS-H l:71n). In Joseph Smith's dictation in 1838, the angel said: "Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah, I confer the Priesthood of Aaron, which holds the keys of the ministering of angels, and of the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins, and this shall never be

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4Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate 1 (October 1834): 13.

5Cook, David Whitmer Interview's, 155, quoted David Whitmer's statement in 1885: "I never heard that an Angel had ordained Joseph and Oliver to the Aaronic priesthood until the year 1834 5, or 6--in Ohio. . . . I do not believe that John the Baptist ever ordained Joseph and Oliver as stated and believed by some, . . .

6The period of five years assumes the traditional date of May or June 1829 date for the visitation of Peter, James, and John. However, Bushman, Joseph Smith, 163, 240-41n55 suggests the summer of 1830, after the organization of the church.

7D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1994), 15.


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taken again from the earth, until the sons of Levi do offer again an offering unto the Lord in righteousness" (D&C 13). It will be noted that in the first there is no mention of Aaron, the keys, or baptism by immersion, and an entirely different meaning is conveyed in "that the sons of Levi may yet offer and offering" than in "until the sons of Levi do offer again an offering."8
It has been officially declared that the angel, in conferring the priesthood, set a perfect pattern for the elders of the church to follow, yet several problems here present themselves:
(1) John, who baptized Christ, and whose name bespeaks his mission, did not baptize either Joseph or Oliver. Although this fact is made quite clear in the 1842 account, Joseph added somewhat ambiguously: ". . . we were baptized and ordained under the hand of the messenger."9 This was slightly altered in modern editions to read: ". . . we were ordained under the hand of this messenger, and baptized" (JS-H 1:72).
(2) John conferred the priesthood on unbaptized men and, according to a third account, ordained them to the office of Priest which ordination they repeated upon each other. At no time since has it been the custom to ordain before baptizing, or to repeat the ordination.
(3) Joseph, unbaptized, baptized Oliver. This is a pattern not since observed.
(4) John, filled with the Holy Ghost from his mother's womb (D&C 84:27), could not impart the gift of the Holy Ghost to the two initiates; nevertheless, they too were filled with the Holy Ghost. A distinction is made between merely

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8The 1834 wording agrees more nearly with the Malachi quote in 3 Ne. 24:3 than does the 1838 wording. D&C 13 first appeared as LDS scripture in the 1876 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants. See Lyndon W. Cook, The Revelations of the Prophet Joseph Smith: A Historical and Biographical Commentary of the Doctrine and Covenants (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1985), 22-23.

9"History of Joseph Smith," Times and Seasons 3 (1 August 1842):666.


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having the Holy Ghost and having the gift of the Holy Ghost.
(5) It has often been asserted by church officials that at the time of John the Baptist's visit to restore the priesthood there was no one living on the earth with priesthood authority, yet in Mormon scripture the Lord promised John the Apostle who had asked to have power over death, "thou shalt tarry until I come in my glory" (D&C 7:3). He had likewise promised the three Nephite disciples "ye shall never taste of death; but ye shall live to behold all the doings of the Father unto the children of men, even until all things shall be fulfilled according to the will of the Father, when I shall come in my glory with the powers of heaven" (3 Ne. 28:7). The whereabouts of these four ordained mortals in 1829 has never been explained.
Three months before Joseph was murdered at Carthage, he gave other particulars of his first ordination:

I went into the woods to inquire of the Lord by prayer, His will concerning me, and I saw and angel, and he laid his hands upon my head, and ordained me to [be] a Priest after the order of Aaron, and to hold the keys of the Priesthood, which office was to preach and baptism for the remission of sins, and also to baptize. But I was informed that this office did not extend to the laying on of hands for the giving of the Holy Ghost.10
Two points here are of interest: (1) Oliver seems to be excluded from the experience, and (2) the angel bypassed the offices of Deacon and Teacher in ordaining Joseph a Priest. There is evidently some confusion here in semantics. Despite the two references to "office," historian Joseph Fielding Smith affirms, "Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, as the record shows, were not ordained to any office, but the Priesthood was

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10History of the Church, 6:249-50.


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conferred upon them."11
The important details that are missing from the "full history" of 1834 are likewise missing from the Book of Commandments in 1833. The student would expect to find all the particulars of the restoration in this first treasured set of revelations, the chronological order of which encompassed the bestowals of the two Priesthoods, but they are conspicuously absent. There is only one reference to an angelic visitation: "But after truly repenting, God ministered unto him by an holy angel . . . that he should translate a book" (Book of Commandments 24:7). The notable revelations on priesthood in the Doctrine and Covenants before referred to--Sections 2 and 13--are missing, and Chapter 28 gives no hint of the restoration which, if actual, had been known for four years. More than four hundred words were added to this revelation of September 1830 in Section 27 of the Doctrine and Covenants, the additions made to include the names of heavenly visitors and two separate ordinations. The Book of Commandments gives the duties of Elders, Priests, Teachers, and Deacons and refers to Joseph's apostolic calling, but there is no mention of Melchizedek Priesthood, High Priesthood, High Priests, nor High Councilors. These words were later inserted into the revelation on church organization and government given in 1830, making it appear that they were known at that date, but they do not appear in the original, Chapter 24 of the 1833 Book of Commandments. Similar interpolations were made in the revelations now known as Sections 42 and 68.
There seems to be no support for the historicity of the restoration of the priesthood in journals, diaries, letters, nor printed matter prior to October 1834. David Whitmer declared that the offices of Elder, Priest, and Teacher--parts of a single

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11Joseph Fielding Smith, Church History and Modern Revelation (Salt Lake City: The Council of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1953), 1:61.


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priesthood--were in evidence long before the formal organization of the church on 6 April 1830. This conflicts with Joseph's statement that he and Oliver ordained each other Elders on that historic day and that these ordinations were the first to be made to a definite office since the conferment by the angel, Whitmer contends that the only ordination Joseph received was that of Prophet, Seer, and Revelator and that the idea of dual priesthoods conferred by heavenly beings was not known in the early years of the church.12 This helps to explain the mystery in Joseph's annotation of the fourth conference of the church at Kirtland, 3 June 1831: "The authority of the Melchizedek Priesthood was manifested and conferred for the first time upon several of the Elders."13 Joseph's comment is in conflict with the later statement: "The office of an elder comes under the priesthood of Melchizedek" (D&C 107:7). It has been suggested that this refers to the ordination of the first High Priests and does not mean what it says, but another instance of the bestowal of Meichizedek Priesthood upon Elders is found in William Smith's account of the conference which followed at Orange, Ohio, 25 October 1831 "where Elders, Priests, Teachers, and Deacons received some general instructions from the leaders of the church concerning the priesthood of Melchisedec, to which they had not as yet been ordained."14 As these statements were written in retrospect they may not conclusively establish that the term "Melchizedek Priesthood" was in use at the specified dates. However, the apostate Ezra Booth referred to the order of Melchizedek in 1831.
Some have believed that the revelation to Cowdery and Whitmer in June 1829 when they were called "with that same calling with which he [Paul] was called" (D&C 18:9) is

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12See Whitmer, Address to All Believers, 32-35, 64.

13History of the Church, 1:175-76.

14W. Smith, William Smith on Mormonism, 19-20.


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evidence that they held the Meichizedek Priesthood at that time. If so, Whitmer's reply to a question from Joseph F. Smith and Orson Pratt in 1878 gives no clue. He was asked: "Can you tell the date of the restoration of the Apostleship by Peter, James, and John?" He replied: "I do not know, Joseph never told me. I can only tell you what I know: I will not testify to anything I do not know."15
A rude paragraph awaits the faithful who read the history of the church as viewed by Joseph Smith III, son of the Prophet. Referring to the visit of the three angels he wrote: "There is no historical evidence of such an event. Nor is there any evidence that Peter, James, and John were present, either when the instruction was given to ordain or when the ordination actually took place. . . . It is not safe then to write historically that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were ever ordained literally under the hands of Peter, James, and John."16 In a footnote to the story of the restoration of the High Priesthood B. H. Roberts wrote similarly: "There is no definite account of the event in the history of the Prophet Joseph, or, for matter of that, in any of our annals. . . ."17 This lack of historical proof will not alter belief in the divine commission. These matters are to be accepted by faith, not proven by chapter and verse. In Mormon belief authority to act in God's name comes not from an inner conviction of one's sonship with God but by the backward tracing of authority from one priest to another through the imposition of hands. It is a transfer of privilege, not an inalienable right.
A study of changes made in the revelations indicates that many things came by evolution rather than endowment. In the

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15Cook, David Whitmer Interviews, 25.

16Joseph Smith III and Heman C. Smith, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Lamoni, IA: Board of Publication of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 1897), 1:64-65.

17History of the Church, 1:40. Paragraphs believed to substantiate the priesthood restoration in D&C 18:9; 20:2, 3 ; 27:12; 128:20 are cited.


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1833 Book of Commandments the Lord said: "[Joseph] has a gift to translate the book, and I have commanded him that he shall pretend to no other gift, for I will grant him no other gift" (Book of Commandments 4:2). But a more expansive program is outlined for Joseph in the same revelation as it appeared two years later: "And you have a gift to translate the plates; and this is the first gift that I bestowed upon you; and I have commanded that you should pretend to no other gift until my purpose is fulfilled in this; for I will grant unto you no other gift until it is finished" (D&C 5:4).18 Even as Cowdery's "full history" omitted the story of the baptism so does the revelation of March 1829 in the Book of Commandments fail to indicate the importance of the rites of ordination soon to be initiated: "Whosoever believeth in my word, them will I visit with the manifestation of my Spirit, and they shall be born of me. . . ." (Book of Commandments 4:4). These words were affixed in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants: ". . . even of water and of the Spirit. And you must wait yet a little while, for ye are not yet ordained" (D&C 5:16-17).
Many improvements were made in the Lord's word. "The gift of working with the rod" (Book of Commandments 7:3) became "the gift of Aaron" (D&C 8:6). "Power to translate" (Book of Commandments 9:1) became "power given unto you to translate by the means of the Urim and Thummim" (D&C 10:1). "The Lord your God suffered death in the flesh" (Book of Commandments 15:13) became "the Lord your Redeemer suffered death in the flesh" (D&C 18:11). "Administer the flesh and blood of Christ" (Book of Commandments 24:32) became "administer bread and wine--the emblems of the flesh and blood of Christ" (D&C 20:40). "Neither the teachers nor deacons have authority to baptize nor administer the sacra--

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18Karl F. Best, "Changes in the Revelations, 1833-1835," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 25 (5pring 1992): 98, frankly stated that this change can either be considered "a clarification or a fraud."


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ment" (Book of Commandments 24:41) became "neither teachers nor deacons have authority to baptize, administer the sacrament, or lay on hands" (D&C 20:58). The words of encouragement to Emma, "And thou needest not fear, for thy husband shall support thee from the church" (Book of Commandments 26:8) became "And thou needest not fear, for thy husband shall support thee in the church" (D&C 25:9). "Behold, thou shalt consecrate all thy properties, that which thou hast unto me" (Book of Commandments 44:26) became "behold, thou wilt remember the poor, and consecrate of thy properties for their support" (D&C 42:30). "I will consecrate the riches of the Gentiles unto my people" (Book of Commandments 44:32) became "I will consecrate of the riches of those who embrace my gospel among the Gentiles unto the poor of my people" (D&C 42:39). "The calling of twelve disciples in these last days" (Book of Commandments 15 superscription) became "the calling of Twelve Apostles in these last days" (D&C 18 superscription).
In the transfer of the revelations from the Book of Commandments to the Doctrine and Covenants the alterations were matched by as many deletions, one of the least explicable being the removal of Christ's prophetic words of March 1829: "I will establish my church, like unto the church which was taught by my disciples in the days of old" (Book of Commandments 4:5; cf. D&C 5).
The Book of Commandments was given the divine seal of approval in the first chapter:

Search these commandments, for they are true and faithful, and the prophesies and promises which are in them shall all be fulfilled. What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself, and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice, or by the voice of my servants, it is the same: For behold, and lo, the Lord is God, and the Spirit beareth record, and the record is true, and the truth abideth forever and ever: Amen (Book of Commandments 1:7).


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That the book was vouchsafed as the word of God is implicit in the statement of the First Presidency of the church, viz., Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon, and Frederick G. Williams, on 25 June 1833 as they noted four typographical errors:

We have found the following errors in the Commandments, as printed: fortieth chapter, tenth verse, third line, instead of "corruptable," put corrupted. Fourteenth verse of the same chapter, fifth line, instead of "respecter to persons," put respecter of persons. Twenty-first verse, second line of the same chapter, instead of "respecter to" put respecter of. Forty-fourth chapter twelfth verse, last line, instead of "hands," put heads.19

For connoisseurs of Mormonism the chore of locating extant copies of this rare little volume offers one of the more intriguing facets of Latter-day Saint history. Its worth as a collector's item, many thousands of dollars per copy, is enhanced by the controversy surrounding its genesis.
Shortly before he died at age eighty-three, David Whitmer wrote sadly:

Early in the spring of 1833, at Independence, Mo., the revelations were printed in the Book of Commandments. Many of the books were finished and distributed among the members of the church, and through some of the unwise brethren, the world got hold of some of them. From that time the ill-felling toward us began to increase; and in the summer of 1833 the mob came upon us, tore down the printing press, and drove the church out of Jackson county. . . . And when the Book of Commandments was printed, Joseph and the church received it as being printed correctly. This I know. In the winter of 1834 they saw that some of the revelations in the Book of Commandments had to be changed, because the heads of the church had gone too far, and had done things in which they had already gone ahead of some of the former revelations. So the book of

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19History of the Church, 1:364, with italics added to show the corrections.


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"Doctrine and Covenants" was printed in 1835, and some of the revelations changed and added to. By the providence of God I have one of the old Book of Commandments published in 1833. I will prove by a revelation in it, which was changed in the Doctrine and Covenants, a revelation that was given through the "stone" and is true--I will prove that God called Brother Joseph to translate the Book of Mormon only, and that he was not called to organize and establish the church any more than the rest of us Elders. That God commanded him that he should pretend to no other gift but to translate the Book of Mormon, that God would grant him no other gift.20

It is debatable whether the hundreds of changes which have been made in official church literature such as the Book of Mormon, The Evening and the Morning Star, the Book of Commandments, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the "History of Joseph Smith" help to clarify or confuse the study of Mormon history and dogma.
For example, the prime purpose of the Book of Mormon, according to its title page, is "to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God," yet additions to the original text of First Nephi declared Christ to be "the son of" the Eternal God (1 Ne. 11:18, 21, 32; 13:40). The obvious error on page 236 that Jesus is "the Son of the only begotten of the Father" was corrected to "the Son, the Only Begotten of the Father"(Alma 5:48), yet Christ's strange references to "mine Only Begotten Son" (D&C 29:42,46) are permitted to remain. Two independent alterations of the text from the name Benjamin to Mosiah (Mosiah 21:28; Ether 4:1) were made to eliminate an internal anachronism. The omission of phrases such as "and the land which was between the land of Zarahemla"(3 Ne. 3:23) and "according to the crime which he hath committed" (Mosiah 29:15) were probably accidental and have now been rectified. The term "directors" was changed to

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20Whitmer, Address to All Believers, 55-57, with emphasis in original.


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"interpreters"(Alma 37:21, 24) in an effort to clarify the reference to the translating stones. Other alterations from the first edition such as part of the Isaiah text in 2 Ne. 12:9 or the wording of the Lord's prayer in 3 Ne. 13:9-13 do little to enlighten, the original being more in accord with the Bible than the altered text.
Hundreds of grammatical errors, tautological expressions, and provincialisms have been eliminated. It is difficult to understand why such phrases as "state of awful woundedness" (1 Ne. 13:32), "diseases which was subsequent to man" (Alma 46:40), and "the numerority of their forces having slain a vast number" (Alma 56:10) were re-written but other phrases such as "I am consigned that these are my days" (Hel. 7:9), "he being stabbed by his brother by a garb of secrecy" (Hel. 9:6), and "they knew not whither they should steer the ship, insomuch that there arose a great storm" (1 Ne. 18:13) were left untouched. Improvements were made in "he that eatheth this bread, eatheth of my body to their soul" (3 Ne. 20:8), "they did not fight against God no more" (Alma 23:7), "the Devil is the preparator of it" (1 Ne. 15:35), and "that all might see the writing which he had wrote upon the rent" (Alma 46:19), but not in "they should observe to do all these things for to keep these commandments" (Mosiah 13:25), "retaining a remission of their sins" (Alma 4:14), "until we repair unto them the many murders" (Alma 27:8), "to bring about the bowels of mercy" (Alma 34:15), nor in "there can be no labor performed" (Alma 34:33). Repetitions and ambiguities were deleted from I Ne. 8:7; Alma 17:3; 29:4; 3 Ne. 10:4; and Morm. 9:34, but not from 1 Ne. 4:9; 1 Ne. 17:5,6; 2 Ne. 3:4-21; Jacob 5:65; Alma 5:6; 3 Ne. 10:4-6; nor Ether 2:17.
The rephrasing of the text of the revelations as originally printed in The Evening and the Morning Star and the Book of Commandments, plus the inclusion of material foreign to the original meaning, make it difficult for all but the persistent to understand the chronology of events. Except for the with-


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drawal of the controversial Lectures on Faith in 1921, the Doctrine and Covenants has undergone little revision since 1876, although a comparison of that edition with earlier ones reveals unique changes in the concepts of marriage and an increased need for priestly authority. One interesting addition, made sometime after the Manifesto of 1890, is the superscription of Section 132 in which plurality of wives is made an appendage to the new and everlasting covenant of marriage, rather than the covenant itself.
The reasons for certain changes in the "History of Joseph Smith" are understandable. Joseph was sometimes more forthright than his redactors would permit. It was more, sophisticated for Martin Harris to "urge" or "importune Joseph to seek information from the Lord than to "tease."21 It was more accurate to prophesy "Orson Hyde . . . may stand on earth and bring souls till Christ comes" than to insist: "Orson Hyde . . . shall stand on earth and bring souls till Christ comes."22 It was kinder to read that "prophesyings" were pronounced upon the enemies of Christ at the Kirtland Temple than "cursings."23 It would not do for a Prophet to cheer some tired brethren with "a couple of dollars with directions to replenish the bottle [of whisky] to stimulate them in the fatigues of their sleepless journey"; the offending clause had to be removed.24 Joseph's assertion that "Water, Fire, Truth, and God are all the same" emerged "water fire, truth, and God are all realities."25 The elimination of the last clause of Joseph's dire prophecy concerning the fate of the government rendered it less fearsome: "While discussing the petition to Congress, I prophesied, by virtue of the holy Priesthood vested in me, and

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21History of the Church, 1:21.

22History of the Church, 2:189, with italics added to show word change.

23History of the Church, 2:431.

24History of the Church, 5:450.

25History of the Church, 3:297.


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in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, that, if Congress will not hear out our petition and grant us protection, they shall be broken up as a government and God shall damn them, and there shall be nothing left of them--not even a grease spot!"26
Many of Joseph's entries that were eligible for emendation were left intact: imprecations, boasts, extravagant prophecies, personal piques, astrological and phrenological interpretations, and trivia. Despite these cankers Joseph emerges as a man of abundant energy and imagination, a man interested in people, in giving final answers to all perplexing theological questions, and in building the perfect society. Whether one accepts his visions as objective realities, subjective illusions, or only as fabrications, one cannot deny him his place as a vigorous and unique American: founder of a church, editor of a paper, reviser of the Bible, temple builder, banker, collector of Egyptian documents, proponent of adult education and westward expansion, city planner and councilman, merchant, land agent, mayor, lieutenant-general of the Nauvoo Legion, polygamist, Mason, and candidate for president of the United States. In Mormon belief these roles were all eclipsed by one far greater: vicegerent of God and intercessor with Christ and holy angels. The injunction reads: "For his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith" (D&C 21:5) and so Joseph's pronouncements could never be companion to the adage: "Truth is forever on the scaffold; wrong forever on the throne." His definitions of God and eschatology (i.e., the doctrines of death, judgment, heaven, and hell) were absolute and there could be no retraction or modification. His task of re-instituting Zion was formidable. This was to be the third and final attempt at establishing Christ's church upon the earth. If it were to stand forever and break all other kingdoms in pieces according to Daniel's prophecy, the historical record must be free of contradictions and obscuri-

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26History of the Church, 6:116 with italics added to show deleted words.


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ties--free of all but the lucid, the forthright, and the explicit. A scribe at his elbow and the church press at his side, these aids would help insure accuracy in the preservation of God's word.
One of the distinguishing features of Mormonism is its concept of an anthropomorphic God, a sentient being of body, parts, and passions. Having conversed with God in 1820, Joseph should have known him to be a physical entity distinct from the other two members of the Trinity, but the Book of Mormon ten years later described the triune God of the Christian world: the three-in-one personage sometimes known as the great Incomprehensible. Mormon wrote, "unto the Father, and unto the Son, and unto the Holy Ghost, which is one God" (Morm. 7:7).27 Abinadi said:

I would that ye should understand that God himself shall come down among the children of men, and shall redeem his people. And because he dwelleth in flesh he shall be called the Son of God, and having subjected the flesh to the will of the Father, being the Father and the Son--The Father, because he was conceived by the power of God; and the Son, because of the flesh; thus becoming the Father and Son--And they are one God, yea, the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth (Mosiah 15:1-4).

Zeezrom said:

Thou sayest there is a true and living God? And Amulek said: Yea, there is a true and living God. Now Zeezrom said: Is there more than one God? and he answered, No. . . . Now Zeezrom saith again unto him: Is the Son of God the very Eternal Father? And Amulek said unto him: Yea, he is the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth, and all things which in them are; he is the beginning and the end, the first and the last (Alma 11:26-29, 38, 39).

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27In promotion of either better grammar or plurality this was changed in the second edition to read, "which are one God."


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To the brother of Jared Christ said: "I am the Father and the Son . . . and man have I created after the body of my Spirit" (Ether 3:14,16). In contrast to the oneness in these expressions there are several instances in the Book of Mormon where Jesus prays to his Father. The unity, yet separateness, expressed in "that I may be in them as thou, Father, art in me, that we may be one," used by Mormon theologians as proof of the individuality of the Father and Son, is perplexing in relation to the verse which follows: "And when Jesus had spoken these words he came again unto his disciples; and behold they did pray steadfastly, without ceasing, unto him: and he did smile upon them again" (3 Ne. 19:30). The injunction to pray only to God in the name of Christ is disobeyed frequently throughout the Book of Mormon as Christ permits the Nephites to pray directly to him.
The three witnesses to the reality of the Golden Plates--Cowdery, Whitmer, and Harris--subjoined their testimony with, "And the honor be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, which is one God." This is interpreted today to mean "one in purpose" and not one in person, but this explanation is not harmonious with Cowdery's reference to the Trinity or Godhead as an "exalted personage" in the Messenger and Advocate.28 The first definitions of the Father and Son as separate personages appeared in Kirtland in the "Lectures on Faith," a set of seven theological essays comprising the first seventy-five pages of the Doctrine and Covenants. God was identified as a personage of spirit and Christ as a personage of tabernacle, the two possessing the same mind. This common mind was the Holy Spirit, not yet an individual personage. Question No. 3 of the catechism asked: "How many personages are there in the Godhead?" and the answer was "Two."
The incorporeal God of Kirtland became corporeal at

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28Oliver Cowdery, Letter to William Frye, Messenger and Advocate 2 (December 1835): 236.


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Nauvoo: "The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man's" (blood not included) and the Holy Ghost was advanced to the status of a personage (D&C 130:22).
Controversies inevitably ensued as to the character and identity of God. A half century later Wilford Woodruff, fourth president of the LDS Church, was to plead:

Cease troubling yourselves about who God is; who Adam is, who Christ is, who Jehovah is. For heaven's sake, let these things alone. . . . God is God. Christ is Christ. The Holy Ghost is the Holy Ghost. That should be enough for you and me to know. If we want to know any more, wait till we get where God is in person. I say this because we are troubled every little while with inquiries from Elders anxious to know who God is, who Christ is, and who Adam is. I say to the Elders of Israel, stop this."29

The numerous assertions throughout Mormon scripture that Christ is the Father, the creator of our spirits (2 Ne. 11:7; Mosiah 5:15; Alma 22:10; Ether 3:15, 16; D&C 29:34) led to an exposition by Apostle James E. Talmage, which was no doubt intended to be the definitive answer to the question of God's identity:

We claim scriptural authority for the assertion that Jesus Christ was and is God the Creator, the God who revealed Himself to Adam, Enoch, and all the antediluvial patriarchs and prophets down to Noah; the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the God of Israel as a united people, and the God of Ephraim and Judah after the disruption of the Hebrew nation; the God who made Himself known to the prophets from Moses to Malachi; the God of the Old Testament record; and the God of the Nephites. We affirm that Jesus Christ was and is Jehovah, the Eternal One.30

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29Latter-day Saints' Millennial Star 57 (6 June 1895): 355-56.

30James E. Talmage, Jesus the Christ: A Study of the Messiah and His Mission according to Holy Scriptures both Ancient and Modern (Salt Lake City: The Deseret News, 1915), 32.


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Despite the tone of finality, and possibly in response to continued speculation, the First Presidency of the church, together with the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, issued a doctrinal essay on 30 June 1916 in which they stressed that "Jesus Christ is not the Father of the spirits who have taken or yet shall take bodies upon this earth, for He is one of them."31 The dissertation might well have been extended to include a discussion of such antithetical passages as these:

Never have I showed myself unto man whom I have created {The Lord showing himself to the brother of Jared] (Ether 3:15).

And the Lord appeared unto them [Adam, Seth, Methuselah, et al.] (D&C 107:54).

And I [Enoch] saw the Lord and he stood before my face (Moses 7:4).

Thus I, Abraham, talked with the Lord, face to face, as one man talketh with another; and he told me of the works which his hands had made (Abr. 3:11).

No man hath seen God at any time (John 1:18).

And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of Godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh; For without this no man can see the face of God, even the Father, and live (D&C 84:21, 22).

It was on the morning of a beautiful, clear day, early in the spring of 1820. . . . I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name, and said, pointing to the other--This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him! [Joseph, without the ordinances or the priesthood in 1820, lived to tell that he had seen God] (JS-H 1:14,17).

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31~The Father and the Son," Improvement Era 19 (August 1916): 942.


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Other deific problems in Mormonism such as God's continual growth vs. his immutability, his oneness vs. his plurality, his geographical confinement near Kolob vs. his omnipresence, have enlivened many discussions in Mormon circles. Orson Pratt, who often discoursed on God's physical characteristics, once gave a definition which offered surprisingly little comfort to materialists:

When we speak of only one God, and state that He is eternal, without beginning or end, and that He is in all worlds at the same instant, let it be distinctly remembered, that we have no reference to any particular person or substance, but to truth dwelling in a vast variety of substances. Wherever you find a fulness of wisdom, knowledge, truth, goodness, love, and such like qualities, there you find God in all His glory, power, and majesty, therefore, if you worship these adorable perfections, you worship God.32

After reflecting at some length on the character of God one Mormon educator, something of an iconoclast, wrote: "It follows, therefore, from the very nature of things, that the honest man's conception of God is a progressively growing ideal. . . . Let no council of ecclesiastics presume to lay an embargo on his soul, by pronouncing once for all what God is or is not."33
The Book of Mormon, cornerstone of the faith, "the most correct book on earth," reveals God in varying attitudes toward his children. He encircles them about "eternally in the arms of his love" (2 Ne. 1:15). He commands the murder of the prostrate Laban(1 Ne. 4:18). He sends the Spirit of the Lord to Nephi to interpret his father's dream, part of which concerns the fountain of living water, a representation of the love

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32Orson Pratt, "The Pre-existence of Man," The Seer 1 (February 1853): 24.

33Nels L. Nelson, Scientific Aspects of Mormonism; or, Religion in Terms of Life (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1904), 20.


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of God which is a representation of awful hell prepared for the wicked(1 Ne. 8:13-32; 11:25; 12:16; 15:26-29). He forbids Adam and Eve to eat the fruit, but hopes they will: the entire plan of peopling the earth and redeeming man from the fall will be "frustrated" unless they disobey (2 Ne. 2:22, 23; Alma 12:26). He curses the hard of heart and their posterity with dark skins and blesses with whiteness those who unite with the righteous (2 Ne. 5:20-25; 3 Ne. 2:14-16). He directs the building of barges with holes in the top and holes in the bottom, guiding the barges, filled with people, animals, and supplies for 344 days as the waves toss them towards the promised land (Ether 2:16-25; 6:2-12). He takes vengeance upon the wicked by burning, drowning, and smothering the inhabitants of sixteen cities, calling to the survivors: "O ye that are spared because ye were more righteous than they, will ye not now return unto me, and repent of your sins, and be converted, that I may heal you?" (3 Ne. 9:1-13). He says much about whoredoms, fornications, adulteries, abominations, secret combinations, secret oaths, concubines, and plural wives--all of which he is against.
God speaks frequently of love, his bowels of mercy, and the resurrection, but not of the home, the family, children, laughter, music, nor kindness to animals. He speaks of repentance and baptism, but not of baptism for the dead, salvation by proxy, marriage for time and eternity, sealing ordinances to insure the celestial continuation of families, nor the Three Degrees of Glory. He watches in sorrow as the Jaredites, lacking the priesthood, flourish in an area adjacent to a narrow neck of land (defined as Central America by Joseph Smith and Mormon geographers), and annihilate themselves several centuries before Christ at the hill Ramah (located in what is now New York State). He bestows the priesthood upon a second group, the Nephites, and again watches in sorrow as history repeats itself: they flourish in Central America and annihilate themselves (nearly) at the same hill in


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New York (now known as Cumorah) a thousand years later.
God tolerates his foe, the Devil, who at times is an unwitting ally, as in the tempting of Eve: the Devil enacted the role requisite to the plan of life and salvation, thus preventing the scuttling of the divine program. Rejected from heaven because of his plan of redemption by coercion, Satan is the only one of the great interstellar authorities, save the Holy Ghost, who is bodiless. He has his own priesthood, and duties that often overlap those of God, the term "Destroyer" being applicable to either. In the early days of the church the ubiquitous man of sin was seen at conference, in the missions, and at the temple. He visited church leaders, once pulling Sidney Rigdon from his bed by the heels three times in one night.34 President John Taylor wrote: "But again, who is Satan? He is a being of God's own make, under his control, subject to his will, cast out of Heaven for rebellion";35 and at another time asked the moot question: "Why is it, in fact, that we should have a devil? Why did not the Lord kill him long ago? Because he could not do without him."36 Jedediah M. Grant, counselor to Brigham Young, asserted: "The Lord our God absolutely gave Lucifer a mission to this earth,"37 and President Young announced: 'You cannot get your endowment without the devil's being present."38 The Devil seems less active in the church today and it may be that Nephi's prophecy 2,500 years ago is being fulfilled: "The time speedily cometh that Satan shall have no more power over the hearts of the children of men" (1 Ne. 22:15). But even with waning power his existence

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34Rigdon's interesting encounter with the Devil was recorded in L. M. Smith, Biographical Sketches, 196, but has been deleted from modern editions of the book.

35John Taylor, The Government of God (Liverpool, England: S. W. Richards, 1852), 81.

36Journal of Discourses 23 (1883):336.

37Journal of Discourses 2 (1855):11.

33Journal of Discourses 3 (1856):50


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must be acknowledged, the Deseret News concluding:

The point is, he is real. Lucifer is as much a person as Christ himself. . . . We in this Church must believe as definitely that there is a Devil as that we believe there is a God.39

The controversial aspects of early Mormonism are many--and so are its achievements. The desert has blossomed, an empire of homes has arisen, a culture has been implanted. Benevolent, wealthy, and influential, the LDS Church is expanding constantly in membership and material assets. It has produced its quota of leaders in the arts and sciences, in education and in government. The notable work of the auxiliary organizations, the Primary, the Mutual Improvement Association, and the Relief Society, has won wide acclaim. As an ethical society it provides opportunity for social work, participation in music, sports, public speaking, dancing, and dramatics. Its study classes include civics, homemaking, and English literature. As in other faiths the church is the instrument for many to express the best in their lives. The church maintains a missionary force of thousands of workers and disseminates the gospel message in many varieties of the printed page. The investigator will find thousands of items open for his inspection at the LDS Church Archives in the Historical Department, 50 East North Temple, Salt Lake City, Utah. Perhaps one day all documents, including those now restricted, will be available to him, if not the original, then by means of microfilm or photocopy. That the broadest possible understanding be promoted, and history served, the contents of all church records should be open for evaluation.
A wellspring of Mormon belief is that the earth will one day be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory: the glory of peace under Christ, and the glory of universal brotherly love.

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39Editorial, Deseret News, Church News, 15 January 1955, 12.


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In this quest for ultimate justice it is hoped that the church will not overlook two immediacies: a more active participation in those organizations dedicated to the achievement of world peace, and the recognition of the equality of all peoples before God.
Serious consideration should be given Nephi's declaration that "all men are privileged the one like unto the other, and none are forbidden . . . and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile" (2 Ne. 26:28,33). The symbol of special privilege, which was exemplified by the only two black men who received the priesthood during Joseph Smith's lifetime (Elijah Abel and Walker Lewis),40 was finally demolished by Spencer W. Kimball's bold revelation in June 1978.41 However, it must be stated that there is still much to do in order to make the brotherhood of man not merely a hopeful phrase but in truth a demonstrable fact.
Mormonism embraces much that is wholesome and ennobling. Its thirteenth Article of Faith approaches in idealism the tenets of Robert G. Ingersoll, the Gentile philosopher, who said:

I belong to the Great Church that holds the world within its starlit aisles; that claims the great and good of

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40Jessie L. Embry, Black Saints in a White Church: Contemporary African American Mormons (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1994), 23.

41It was accepted by the membership of the LDS Church as a revelation at the September 1978 general conference. Actually, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles voted to give the priesthood to blacks in December 1969, with Kimball being one of those in the majority in favor of this action. However, Harold B. Lee was absent when the vote was taken, and when he returned a couple of days later, there was a new vote, rescinding the earlier decision. See Edwin B. Firmage, ed., An Abundant Life: The Memoirs of Hugh B. Brown (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1988), 142, and D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997), 14.


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every race and clime; that finds with joy the grain of gold in every creed, and floods with light and love the germs of good in every soul.42

The doctrine of that church professing Jesus Christ as founder must be broad enough to include the religion of reason, the creed of science:

To love justice, to long for the right, to love mercy, to pity the suffering, to assist the weak, to forget wrongs and remember benefits---to love the truth, to be sincere, to utter honest words, to love liberty, to wage relentless war against slavery in all its forms, to love wife and child and friend, to make a happy home, to love the beautiful in art, in nature, to cultivate the mind, to be familiar with the mighty thoughts that genius has expressed, the noble deeds of all the world, to cultivate courage and cheerfulness, to make others happy, to fill life with the splendor of generous acts, the warmth of loving words, to discard error, to destroy prejudice, to receive new truths with gladness, to cultivate hope, to see the calm beyond the storm, the dawn beyond the night, to do the best that can be done and then to be resigned--this is the religion of reason, the creed of science. This satisfies the brain and heart.43

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42Tryon Edwards, comp., The New Dictionary of Thoughts: A Cyclopedia of Quotations (New York: Standard Book Co., 1952), 82.

43The Works of Robert G. Ingersoll (New York: The Dresden Publishing Co., 1901), 4:290-91.


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