Joseph Smith was the founding president and prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Joseph Smith was born 23 December 1805 in Sharon, Vermont. His family struggled financially in his childhood. In 1820, his family lived in Palmyra, New York, in what is sometimes called the “Burned Over District.” Religious revivals in the area caused much excitement and contention among the various churches. As a young teenager, Joseph frequented the discussions as often as he could, soon realizing that the churches differed so much in their teachings that he was unsure which to join. Over a period of several months of pondering, and with the Biblical guidance to “ask of God” for wisdom (James 1:5-6), Joseph brought his prayer to God.
In a forest grove on his family’s farm, Joseph prayed aloud for the first time in his life. He records that Satan attempted to stop him, binding his tongue and filling him with dread. Joseph felt that he was about to be destroyed, but calling on God for help, he was suddenly released from the attack. Joseph saw “a pillar of light” in which he saw God the Father and Jesus Christ. In this “First Vision,” Jesus told him to not join any church, because God was about to restore His ancient church anew through him (JS-H 1).
In later visions and revelations, angelic visitors revealed lost teachings and authority to Joseph.
The first of these was the angel Moroni, a deceased prophet of the ancient Americas. He prepared Joseph for 4 years, and then gave him the metal plates containing the Book of Mormon, which he translated into English by the gift and power of God.
In ensuing revelations, ancient prophets and apostles ordained Joseph to be a modern apostle and prophet of God. Peter, Moses, Elijah and others imparted their wisdom and authority to Joseph and to Joseph’s colleagues.
At the time he was translating the Book of Mormon, Joseph only had 3 years of formal education, yet through God’s power, was able to complete a 500-plus page manuscript in just over 60 working days.
From the moment others learned about the First Vision, Joseph was mocked and persecuted. With the translation of the Book of Mormon, the persecutions increased, as fortune hunters and virulent disbelievers continually sought to do him harm. Joseph Smith was arrested about 40 times, tarred and feathered, poisoned, and falsely imprisoned for several months (they finally allowed him to escape). He was finally martyred, along with his brother Hyrum, by a mob while they were held in Carthage Jail in Illinois.
Even with all the persecution, Joseph’s accomplishments were astounding:
- Officially organized on 6 April 1830 with 6 members, the Church had tens of thousands of converts at his death in July of 1844.
- He received hundreds of revelations, with some of them codified as LDS scriptures (Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, Pearl of Great Price).
- He performed an intense survey of the Bible and via revelation from God, added information on Adam, Enoch, Melchizedek, and Joseph. Many of these additions have since been corroborated in ancient texts (Dead Sea Scrolls, etc) discovered since Joseph Smith’s time.
- Joseph established a city, Nauvoo, Illinois. It was built on swamp land, but in 6 years had over 400 brick homes and rivaled Chicago in size. It had its own charter and one of the largest military legions in the country. The city had a playhouse, the beginnings of a university, and a temple of God.
- He sent missionaries to Europe and elsewhere, even amidst persecutions, such as the Mormons being forced from their homes in Missouri and other locations. Thousands of English converts were baptized in the first missionary efforts, where entire congregations were found awaiting the restored gospel.
- He built temples, special Houses of God. At the Kirtland Temple dedication in 1836, hundreds were present for a modern day Pentecost of speaking in tongues, prophecy, and angelic visitations (Doctrine and Covenants 109, 110).
- Among his teachings, he imparted concepts such as:
The Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are glorified, individual anthropomorphic beings, who are one united Godhead in a social Trinity (Doctrine and Covenants 130).
We had pre-mortal existence as literal spirit children of God (Doctrine and Covenants 88, 93).
The concept that God has several levels of glory/heaven for his children. This allows us to be saved by grace into heaven, and then faithful works allow us to become more Christ-like and eligible for even greater blessings of God in higher kingdoms of heaven (Doctrine and Covenants 76).
An expanded understanding of God’s priesthood authority and how He delegates that authority to mankind (Alma 13, Doctrine and Covenants 84, 107).
The democratic government and constitution of the United States were inspired, and the Founding Fathers were raised up the Lord for that purpose.
- A prophesy in 1831 foreseeing the US Civil War in 1860; world war that would have England seeking help from other nations; the fall of militant nations at the hand of their slaves (collapse of Soviet socialism); and global terrorism (Doctrine and Covenants 87)
- A health code (the Word of Wisdom), which has modern Mormons living an average of 10 years longer than other Americans (Doctrine and Covenants 89).
- Restoration of temples as the sacred House of the Lord, wherein sacred ordinances are performed to seal families together for eternity (Doctrine and Covenants 124, 128, 132).
- The concept that revelation, miracles, visions, prophets, apostles, and the power of God are still present on earth to prepare all people and things for the Second Coming of Christ (Moroni 7, 10, Doctrine and Covenants 1).
The Bible Foresees the Restoration
In the early days of the translating, one scribe, Martin Harris, took a copy of some characters and their translation to Professor Charles Anthon of Columbia University. The professor initially attested to the correctness of the translation, until he learned the metal plates came via angelic messenger. Insisting there were no angels today, he demanded to translate the plates himself. When Martin Harris explained the plates were sealed, Anthon responded, “I cannot read a sealed book.” Unknown to Anthon, he was fulfilling Isaiah’s prophesy. The unlearned man (Joseph Smith), though unlearned, would be the method by whom God would confound the wisdom of the world.
The book of Mormon truly is a “Marvelous Work and a Wonder,” even as Isaiah foresaw.
The restoration of the gospel was also predicted.
The apostle Peter taught that Jesus would not return for his 2nd Coming until after the “restitution of all things” which all the prophets had foreseen (Acts 3). John the apostle saw in the last days an angel would come preaching the everlasting gospel to the earth (Revelation 14:6). This angel would not be needed if a restoration of the everlasting gospel was unnecessary.
We testify that the “restitution of all things” has begun. The Lord, Jesus Christ, is preparing us for the 2nd Coming by calling the Prophet of the Restoration, Joseph Smith and all the prophets who have succeeded him. To learn more about Joseph Smith, go to www.prophetjosephsmith.org.