What the Mormons Believe About Joseph Smith
The Mormons believe Joseph Smith (1805-1844) is a prophet of God. His being appointed as a prophet and the writing of the Book of Mormon were prophesied in the Bible in Ezekiel 37:15-28. The stick of Judah and the stick of Joseph mentioned there describe the Bible and the Book of Mormon respectively, and the two will become one in God's hand. The "stick" is the wood ancient scrolls were wrapped around.
The Book of Mormon, which Smith wrote by his own hand, prophesied about Smith in 2 Nephi 3. The preface to the chapter reads, "Joseph in Egypt saw the Nephites in a vision—He prophesied of Joseph Smith, the latter-day seer; of Moses, who would deliver Israel; and of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. About 588-570 B.C."
What the Bible Says:
In the King James Bible, Ezekiel 37:16-17 reads like this: "Moreover, thou son of man, take thee one stick, and write upon it, For Judah, and for the children of Israel his companions: then take another stick, and write upon it, For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim and for all the house of Israel his companions: And join them one to another into one stick; and they shall become one in thine hand."
The "Joseph" in v.16 is clearly not Joseph Smith, but Joseph the father of Ephraim (Genesis 46:20) from whom would come the tribe of Ephraim (Joshua 14:4). In Ezekiel 37, Ephraim represents the northern kingdom and Judah the southern kingdom, which had been divided following Solomon's reign (the book of Hosea also refers to Israel, the northern kingdom, as Ephraim).
Ezekiel prophesied their rejoining. This had nothing to do with a Book of Mormon and the Bible. The word that appears in this passage for "stick" appears over a hundred times in the Old Testament, and it is always used to describe either a tree or wood (examples include Genesis 1:11, Exodus 31:5, Deuteronomy 28:36). Not one time is it used to describe a scroll. The analogy then is more like two branches grafted together by God's hand.
The Apostle John cautioned, "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world" (1 John 4:1). Joseph Smith's testimony is the utmost test of the Mormon faith. All of it is built on the teaching of Joseph Smith.
2) God the Father and God the Son personally appeared to Joseph Smith.
Joseph Smith claimed that at the age of 14, God the Father and God the Son appeared to him in a grove of trees near his parents' home in western New York. He wrote several accounts of what is called the First Vision which have been the subject of much criticism as there are inconsistencies in his own recollections.
According to the most famous account written in the Pearl of Great Price, Smith had grown frustrated with the church, naming Presbyterians, Baptists, and Methodists in particular. Following the advice of James 1:5, he asked God for wisdom, and two persons of God appeared to him. One person said of the other, "This is my beloved son. Hear him!"
Smith asked which church he should join. God told him to join none of them for their professors were corrupt and their creeds were an abomination in his sight. God again forbade Smith to join any church, then disappeared.
What the Bible Says:
According to John 1:18, "No one has ever seen God; the only God, Jesus Christ, who is at the Father's side, has made him known." God told Moses in Exodus 33:20, "You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live." (1)
So how is it that there are various accounts of people in the Bible seeing God, such as Abraham, Jacob, and Isaiah? Because Abraham and Jacob both saw God in the appearance of a man, and who they saw was a pre-incarnate Christ, not God the Father (Genesis 18:1-2, 32:24-30). What Isaiah saw was so startlingly glorious he feared for his life, and whom he saw was a pre-incarnate vision of the Son (Isaiah 6:1-7). Again, no one has seen God the Father.
Furthermore, it could be argued that Joseph Smith did not see God the Son either. In 1 Corinthians 15:5-8, the Apostle Paul gave a list of succession of those to whom Jesus appeared following his resurrection, including as many as five hundred brothers at one time (v.6). He said, "Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me."
Paul was the last to see Christ and be appointed as an apostle. Jesus's appearance to Paul was witnessed by the men who were with him (Acts 9:7) and his appointment as an apostle was verified by the other apostles (Acts 9:27, Galatians 2:9). There were no witnesses to Joseph Smith's claim that as a teenager he saw God.
No one will see Jesus again until his Second Coming, and it will be seen by the whole world. In Matthew 24:23-25, Jesus said, "Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is the Christ, or there; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Behold, I have told you before."
Joseph Smith did not see God the Father nor God the Son, nor has anyone else in this time who has claimed to have seen an appearance of God before their very eyes.
3) The Angel Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith and gave him the Book of Mormon.
The testimony of the prophet Joseph Smith is given at the beginning of the Book of Mormon. There it says that in 1823, again when Smith was still a teenager, the angel Moroni appeared to him with a message that God had a work for him to do. The two of them conversed all night through several appearances.
Moroni said that there was a book written on gold plates that gave an account of the former inhabitants of North America. With the plates were two seer stones in silver bows fastened to a breastplate. Those stones, called Urim and Thummim, Smith would use to translate the writing on the plates. He told Smith that the devil would try to tempt him to use the plates to get rich, but he must use the plates only for God's glory.
Smith found the location of the plates, but because he was under transgression, he couldn't take them with him. It was in the fourth year when he acquired the plates. Once the work of "translation" had concluded, Moroni took the plates back into his possession. They do not exist on earth today.
A printed copy of the Book of Mormon contains the names of eleven witnesses who claimed to have seen the plates. The Three Witnesses claimed that an angel showed them the plates and they heard the voice of God. All three witnesses eventually broke fellowship with Smith and were excommunicated from the church. The other Eight Witnesses were all from either the Smith or Whitmer families, and said they were shown the plates by Smith rather than an angel.
In the introduction, the Book of Mormon states, "The Book of Mormon is a volume of holy scripture comparable to the Bible." According to Joseph Smith, it was "the most correct of any Book on earth and the keystone of our religion and a man would get nearer to God by abiding its precepts than by any other Book." (2)
The Mormons believe that over the centuries the Bible became corrupted. According to the Articles of Faith, 1:8, "We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God." So the Book of Mormon is the most correct book on earth, but the Bible has been corrupted and we need help to understand it rightly.
It was prophesied by Nephi in 600 B.C. that the words of the Bible would be changed. "For behold, they have taken away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and most precious and also many covenants of the Lord have they taken away. And all this have they done that they might pervert the right ways of the Lord, that they might blind the eyes and harden the hearts of the children of men" (1 Nephi 13:26-27). (3)
It is through the Book of Mormon that the true church of Jesus Christ is realized, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. All other churches are following false teaching.
What the Bible Says:
Galatians 1:8-9 reads, "But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed" (emphasis added).
Colossians 2:18 reads, "Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind." Jude 1:8 says, "Likewise also these filthy dreamers defile the flesh, despise dominion, and speak evil of dignities."
Jesus said in Matthew 16:18 that on this rock he would build his church and the gates of hell would not prevail against it. The idea that the former church failed and a new church was actualized through the Book of Mormon and the teaching of Joseph Smith would go against Matthew 16:18.
4) Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon from Reformed Egyptian.
It is believed that the plates given to Joseph Smith by the angel Moroni were written in a language called Reformed Egyptian. According to Moroni 9:32, "And now, behold, we have written this record according to our knowledge, in the characters which are called among us the reformed Egyptian, being handed down and altered by us according to our manner of speech." (4)
In the Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith claims a copy of Reformed Egyptian characters was taken by Martin Harris to Charles Anthon, a professor at Columbia University. Anthon first claimed the translation was correct, and that the language was a mix of Egyptian, Chaldaic, Assyriac, and Arabic characters. He wrote a certificate authenticating the language, but upon finding out the book the characters originated from was given by an angel, he tore up the certificate (Joseph Smith—History 1:64-65). (5)
What the Bible Says:
In the book of Nehemiah, the Israelites had failed to keep the Law of God and had fallen into intermarrying with the pagan people God told them not to marry. Nehemiah 13:23-27 addressed how shameful it was that half the children spoke a pagan language rather than the language of Judah. They were cursed and beaten and made to take an oath, reminded that Solomon fell into sin when he married foreign women who worshiped false gods. They were then cleansed of everything foreign (v.30), which would have included their language.
The point is this: the Book of Mormon would not have been written in such a pagan language as Reformed Egyptian by one of God's prophets at that point in history. Egypt was not heralded by the Jewish people as some great nation, nor was their language learned and cherished, regardless as to whether or not it was "altered." The Egyptians persecuted, enslaved, and killed the Jews. Before the common Greek, the words of the prophets were written in only two languages: Hebrew and Aramaic, both Jewish languages.
And—this might seem a minor technicality, but there's a point—Smith could not have translated the Book of Mormon from Reformed Egyptian into English. He did not know Reformed Egyptian, so he did no translating. By his own accounts, the seer stones allowed him to read Reformed Egyptian in English. Smith would have transcribed the Book of Mormon, making a copy in English of what he read in English.
Throughout the Book of Mormon, there are multiple ways Smith displayed a lack of understanding regarding languages. For example, Alma, for whom the book of Alma is named, is a Hebrew name which means "Betrothed Virgin." It would not have been the name of a man. In 1 Nephi 2:5, Smith used the name Sam, an American name. Samuel is the Jewish name. In Jacob 7:27, Smith uses the word "Adieu," which is French, a language that did not exist in the 6th century B.C. when the book of Jacob was purportedly written. (6)
These discrepancies are significant enough to reveal the faults of a man. They would not have been errors made by one of God's messengers and especially not God himself.
5) Through prayer, God will reveal that the Book of Mormon is true.
Moroni 10:4-5 reads, "And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things."
In the Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith mentioned that he did not know which church was true, and prayed to God for wisdom according to James 1:5: "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him." He then claimed that God appeared to him and told him that all the churches were corrupt and an abomination to him.
This is why if you've ever had a Mormon missionary come to your door, they invite you to pray and ask God to reveal to you that the Book of Mormon is true.
What the Bible Says:
Unlike the Book of Mormon, the Bible does not invite the reader to have a religious experience in order to verify its truthfulness. The Bible says the heart is wicked and not to be trusted. Jeremiah 17:9 says, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?" Proverbs 28:26 says whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool.
Religious experiences are subjective, not objective truth. We are to test all things not by our experiences but with the word of God. The Bereans tested the words of Paul with the word of God to see if what he said was true (Acts 17:11).
Looking at the context, James 1:5-8 says, "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways."
Test Joseph Smith by those words: Did he not lack faith, and therefore expect something from God, was driven with the wind and tossed, double-minded and unstable in all his ways?
6) The Book of Mormon is another testament of Jesus Christ.
After 1981, printings of the Book of Mormon featured on its cover the subtitle, "Another Testament of Jesus Christ." The purpose of the book as stated on its title page is to convince "the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations."
It's written in mostly chronological order, detailing the events of the Jewish people in the Americas whose descendants became the Native American Indians. There are several appearances of Jesus hundreds of years before he was born in the Middle East.
Of central importance is his coming to the North American people, an event that happened shortly after his resurrection, but doesn't occur until 3 Nephi 11, almost at the end of the book. During his visit to the Americas, as he did in Palestine, Jesus performed many miracles, healing the sick, taught his gospel, issued his blessings, and called twelve disciples to build his church.
Though Mormons claim that both the Bible and the Book of Mormon are the words of God (Articles of Faith 1:8), the Book of Mormon itself does not claim to be inspired by God. Rather, it claims over and over to be written according to the knowledge of men.
The book of 1 Nephi opens, "And I know that the record which I make is true; and I make it with mine own hand; and I make it according to my knowledge." In chapter 19, he said that he wrote down what he thought to be sacred (v.6). In 2 Nephi 11:1, he wrote down only that which "sufficeth me." And in Jacob 7:26, the writer said that he wrote to the best of his knowledge.
What the Bible Says:
Anyone who has read and understands the Bible would ask why it's necessary to have another testament of Jesus Christ. In the introduction of his letter, Jude said that he was writing to contend for the faith "once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 1:3). Proverbs 30:6 says not to add to the word of God, "lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar."
Again in Matthew 24:23-27, Jesus warned that if anyone says, "Look, here is the Christ!" or "There he is!" not to believe it. For false christs and false prophets would perform great signs and wonders so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. If someone says, "Look, he is in the wilderness," do not go out. If they say, "Look, he is in the inner rooms," do not believe it.
Unlike the Book of Mormon, the Bible does not claim to be the knowledge of man but was inspired by God. Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work."
As it says in 1 Corinthians 2:13, "We impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual." And 2 Peter 1:20-21 says, "No prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit." Peter also said that they did not follow cleverly devised myths but were eyewitnesses to the majesty of God (2 Peter 1:16).
No historian has ever authenticated any of the events contained in the Book of Mormon. None of the North American cities mentioned in its pages have been discovered. No ancient writings have been found. There is no archaeological evidence at all. Its claims are unverifiable. To borrow Peter's phrasing, it is a cleverly devised myth. The Book of Mormon is, at best, historical fiction.
7) Joseph Smith taught he would become a God and take the place of God.
Joseph Smith said, "When I get my kingdom, I shall present it to my Father, so that he may obtain kingdom upon kingdom, and it will exalt him in glory. He will then take a higher exaltation, and I will take his place, and thereby become exalted myself" (King Follett Discourse, 1844). (7)
Boasting in himself, he preached, "I have more to boast of than ever any man had. I am the only man that has ever been able to keep a whole church together since the days of Adam. A large majority of the whole have stood by me. Neither Paul, John, Peter, nor Jesus ever did it. I boast that no man ever did such a work as I" (History of the Church, Vol. 6, pg 408-409).
Smith's successor, Brigham Young, said, "No man or woman in this dispensation will ever enter into the celestial kingdom of God without the consent of Joseph Smith… He reigns there as supreme being in his sphere, capacity, and calling as God does in heaven. Many will exclaim, 'Oh, that is very disagreeable! It is preposterous! We cannot bear the thought!' But it is true" (Journal of Discourses, vol 7, pg 289-291).
The Mormons believe that Joseph Smith was martyred for his devotion to the faith and preaching the gospel.
What the Bible Says:
When Smith famously boasted of himself, he was preaching from 2 Corinthians 11. There the Apostle Paul was "boasting" about what he'd been through as an apostle. This was not to give Smith or any other a license to boast, for Paul called his own boasting folly and madness. Rather, he was trying to convince the Corinthians to turn away from false apostles, or whom he sarcastically called "chiefest apostles" (or in some translations "super apostles") to whom he was not the least bit inferior (2 Corinthians 11:5).
In reading 2 Corinthians 11, it becomes clear that Joseph Smith did not accomplish more than the Apostle Paul. He wrote, "Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes saved one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once I was stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep" (v.23-25).
Paul went on to speak of his travels and perils, farther than Smith ever ventured or suffered. There is simply no comparison between the Apostle Paul and Joseph Smith. Paul said just as Eve was deceived in the garden, so they were being deceived by false teachers.
"For such are false apostles," he said, "deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works" (v.13-15).
The very passage Joseph Smith used to justify his boasting is the very passage that condemns his false teaching.
A man cannot ascend to become God. Isaiah 43:10 reads, "Before me there was no god formed, neither shall there be after me." And in Isaiah 45:5-6, "I am the Lord, and there is none else, there is no God beside me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me: That they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none beside me. I am the Lord, and there is none else."
One might also think of God's response to Job: "Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?" (Job 38:2)
Though the Mormons believe Joseph Smith, like Paul, was martyred for his faith, aggression against Smith was motivated by a variety of factors, including trying to marry other men's wives, destroying a newspaper, perjury, treason, and inciting a riot, and that was just in his last few weeks. The Apostle Paul was executed by Rome for preaching Christ as Lord instead of Caesar as Lord. At his trials, no one could find any false charge against him (Acts 26:32). (8)
8) It is necessary to believe in Joseph Smith as God's prophet to attain salvation.
Doctrine and Covenants 135:3 says, "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." Joseph Fielding Smith, the tenth president of the LDS church, said that there is "no salvation without accepting Joseph Smith. If Joseph Smith was verily a prophet, and if he told the truth, no man can reject that testimony without incurring the most dreadful consequences, for he cannot enter the kingdom of God" (Doctrines of Salvation, vol. 1, pg 190).
Brigham Young said that whoever "does not confess that God has sent Joseph Smith, and revealed the everlasting gospel to and through him, is of Antichrist, no matter whether it is found in a pulpit or on a throne, nor how much divinity it may profess, nor what it professes with regard to revealed religion and the account that is given of the Savior and his Father in the Bible" (Journal of Discourses, vol 8, pg 176-177).
To be sure that he didn't misspeak, Young said again, "He that confesseth not that Jesus has come in the flesh and sent Joseph Smith with the fullness of the gospel to this generation, is not of God, but is Antichrist" (Journal of Discourses, Vol 9, pg 312).
Referring to Young's teaching on Joseph Smith, former Mormon apostle George Q. Cannon said, "Joseph holds the keys." He added, "If we get our salvation, we shall have to pass by him; if we enter into our glory, it will be through the authority that he has received. We cannot get around him; we cannot get around President Young." If we get into heaven, it will be because they "permit us to pass by."
Regarding judgment, Cannon went on to say, "Joseph, then, stands at the head; and then every man in his place after him," including the true biblical apostles who are behind Joseph Smith. He added, "He will sit as a judge to judge those who have received or those who have rejected his testimony. He will stand as a swift witness before the judgment seat of God against this generation" (Journal of Discourses, Vol 23, pg 361).
In the Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi 21:8 reads, "Thus saith the Lord, In an acceptable time have I heard thee, O isles of the sea, and in a day of salvation have I helped thee; and I will preserve thee, and give thee my servant for a covenant of the people, to establish the earth, to cause to inherit the desolate heritages." The footnotes refer to 2 Nephi 3:11, which suggests that this servant for salvation is Joseph Smith.
What the Bible Says:
Isaiah 49:8 reads, "Thus saith the Lord, in an acceptable time have I heard thee, and in a day of salvation have I helped thee: and I will preserve thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, to establish the earth, to cause to inherit the desolate heritages." Look familiar? That's because 1 Nephi 21:8 is quoting Isaiah 49:8 but adding in the words "my servant" and then referring the reader to 2 Nephi 3:11 which mentions Joseph Smith.
This is the kind of slight-of-hand Smith would use to make it appear as if the Bible spoke of him. This is also the kind of thing that makes a Mormon believe the Bible is the word of God only "as it is translated correctly," while the Book of Mormon, Pearl of Great Price, and Doctrines and Covenants are perfect. Mormons judge the Bible based on the Mormon texts rather than judging the Mormon texts according to the Bible.
Deuteronomy 13:1-4 reads, "If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, 'Let us go after other gods,' which you have not known, 'and let us serve them,' you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to me."
But that prophet or dreamer of dreams, the passage goes on to say, shall be put to death. So it will be in judgment for any prophet who teaches falsely. Joseph Smith was not God's prophet. He taught people he would become a god and they would also become gods, encouraging them to chase after other gods. The Scriptures are clear: men like Joseph Smith are liars.
Jesus said that his sheep hear his voice, he goes before them, and they follow him. His sheep will not follow the voice of a stranger but will flee from him. All who try to enter the sheepfold another way, except through Jesus Christ, are thieves and robbers. "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly" (John 10:10).
Though Joseph Smith preached about God, it was a different god than the one of the Bible. Though Smith preached about Jesus Christ, it was a different Jesus than the one of the Bible. He spoke of salvation and right living, but they were not as the Bible talks of these things. That is what we will look at in the next sections.
The next four chapters include what the Mormons believe about God, Jesus Christ, Salvation, and Right-Living.
1) Previously in v.11, the Bible talks about God and Moses speaking face to face. But this is only a figure of speech to describe the closeness by which God and Moses spoke. Verse 20 clarifies Moses did not see God's face. See also Numbers 14:14.
2) Wilford Woodruff journal, November 28, 1841, Church History Library, Salt Lake City.
3) This is a necessary position to maintain the Mormon faith. With so many contradictions between the Bible and the Book of Mormon, they are only able to hold that the Book of Mormon is true by claiming that the Bible is interpreted falsely.
4) There is no scholarship outside the Mormon religion that acknowledges the existence of such a language. All presentations of Reformed Egyptian characters have been determined to be frauds, including the Anthon Transcript believed to have been written by either Joseph Smith or John Whitmer, one of the Eight Witnesses.
5) Upon hearing that his name was being used to authenticate Reformed Egyptian, Anthon wrote a letter in to Eber D. Howe, editor of the Painesville Telegraph in Painesville, OH, published in Howe's 1834 book Mormonism Unvailed. Anthon told him that the transcript he was presented with was a hoax containing characters from a hodgepodge of languages, inverted or turned on their sides, "anything else but 'Egyptian Hieroglyphics.'" He told Howe he had written him his full statement, "and must beg you, as a personal favor, to publish this letter immediately, should you find my name mentioned again by these wretched fanatics" (Mormonism Unvailed, pg 272).
6) Credit to Marian Bodine and the Creation Research Institute, Article ID: DM192, June 9, 2009.
7) Smith was talking about what Jesus observed his Father doing, and so he must do the same. But Smith was also talking about how he would do this also, as will all the children of God: "To inherit the same power, the same glory, and the same exaltation, until you arrive at the station of a God, and ascend the throne of eternal power, the same as those who have gone before."
8) The idea that Smith did more than Jesus needs no comment.