Chapter OnePart I:Introduction
I. Historical Background
A. Joseph Smith, Jr. (1805-44): Founder
1. Smith's Family Background (1805-20)
a. Smith was born to Joseph and Lucy Smith on December 23, 1805, in Sharon, Vermont.
b. Smith was the fourth child of nine who survived.
c. In 1817, the Smith family settled on a farm in Palmyra, New York.
d. Smith's parents were inactive Protestants.
(1) Joseph and Lucy Smith blended superstitious folklore and occult
dabbling into the home life.
(2) His mother, two brothers, and a sister later joined the
Presbyterian Church in Palmyra, New York.
2. Early Religious Visions and Experiences (1820-27)
a. Vision of the Father and Jesus Christ (1820).
(1) In the Spring of 1820, when Smith was fourteen years old, he
claimed that a revival broke out in the Presbyterian, Baptist, and Methodist churches of Palmyra.
(2) Smith was not willing to join in the excitement, but questioned
which, if any, church was true.
(3) After reading James 1:5, which says that God will give wisdom
to those who ask, Smith claimed that he went to the woods to
pray and there received a vision of God the Father and Jesus
(4) When Smith asked them which church to join, he was told, "Join none of them, for they were all wrong," and that "all
their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors
were all corrupt."
b. Moroni and the Golden Plates (1823-27)
(1) Smith claimed that an angel named Moroni appeared to him
on September 21, 1823.
(2) Moroni said he was a former inhabitant of America who, shortly before his death, buried some golden plates which
recorded the history of his people and the fullness of the
(3) Moroni said Smith would translate the "Reformed Egyptian
hieroglyphics" on these golden plates, using special stones
called the Urim and Thummim (The Book of Mormon is
Smith's alleged translation of the golden plates although he
knew no language other than English).
(4) The following day, as Smith was working in a field, Moroni appeared
to him again and took him to a hill called Cumorah, where he showed Smith the golden plates and the Urim and
Thummim. Moroni forbade Smith to remove the plates, due
to his age (seventeen), and commanded him to return to that
same place annually for four years.
(5) On September 22, 1827, Moroni gave Smith permission to dig
up the golden plates, along with the Urim and Thummim, and
to begin to translate them.
3. Attempts to Authenticate the Book of Mormon
a. Dr. Charles Anthon
(1) Martin Harris, Smith's neighbor, was to sell his farm to subsidize
the cost of printing the Book of Mormon.
(2) Smith copied some of the Reformed Egyptian characters on a
piece of paper for Mr. Harris, who then took the paper to
Dr. Charles Anthon, the esteemed linguist and professor at
Columbia College in New York.
(3) According to Joseph Smith, Dr. Anthon confirmed the authenticity
of the characters and translation until Mr. Harris told
him that they came from an angel, whereupon Anthon destroyed
(4) Anthon later wrote a testimony that contradicts Smith's account, saying that Harris did indeed present him with the
transcription, but that Anthon declared the characters to be
perfectly nonsensical and anything but "Egyptian hieroglyphics."
b. "Witnesses" to the Plates
(1) Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris claimed
that, while in the company of Smith (June 1829), the angel
Moroni appeared to them and was holding the golden plates.
(2) Shortly afterward, eight others allegedly received a special
manifestation of the angel and the plates while accompanied by
4. The Priesthood Conferred (1829)
a. The Aaronic Priesthood
(1) Joseph Smith claimed to restore Christianity to the earth.
(2) One of Smith's first acts of restoration was to reinstate the
authoratative priesthood. In May 1829, while he and Oliver
Cowdery were praying in a forest near Bainbridge, Pennsylvania, John the Baptist allegedly appeared to them and
conferred the Aaronic priesthood upon them.
(3) Mormons claim that the Aaronic priesthood gives them the authority
to baptize and assist in sacramental service.
b. The Melchizedek Priesthood
(1) Again in May 1829, Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith were
praying in the woods when, they claimed, Peter, James, and
John appeared to them and conferred the Melchizedekian
priesthood upon them.
(2) Mormons claim that the Melchizedekian priesthood gives
them the authority to govern the church and to practice the
"laying on of hands" to impart the "gift of the Holy Ghost."
5. Translation and Publication of the Book of Mormon (1830)
a. Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon with the aid of his
seer stone. The Urim and Thummin were not used; he instead
used an egg-shaped, chocolate-colored seer stone.
b. Smith reportedly sat behind a curtain and read the translated text
to various scribes, including his wife, Emma, and Book of Mormon
witnesses, Martin Harris and Oliver Cowdery.
c. The Book of Mormon was published in March 1830.
6. The Mormon Church (1830)
a. Smith officially founded the Mormon Church as The Church of
Christ on April 6, 1830, in Fayette, New York.
b. After two name changes they settled on the Church of Jesus Christ
of Latter-day Saints in 1838.
7. Smith's "Translation" of the Bible (1831)
a. Joseph Smith began to "translate" the King James Version of the
Bible in 1831, without referring to Hebrew or Greek manuscripts.
b. Smith claimed that he used "the gift and power of God" to translate
the Bible. In other words, his "translation" was based on supposed
8. Continuing Revelations (1833-44)
a. Smith continued to receive revelations and published them as The
Book of Commandments in 1833.
b. This was enlarged and later published as the Doctrine and
Covenants in 1835. Additional revelations were added through the
c. Some of Smith's revelations were gathered post-mortem and published
as The Pearl of Great Price (1851).
9. Smith's "Martyrdom" (1844)
a. Joseph Smith had established several strongholds for early
Mormonism, including Kirtland, Ohio, Independence, Missouri, and Nauvoo, Illinois.
b. Joseph Smith (who was mayor of Nauvoo), Smith's brother Hyrum, and fourteen Mormon leaders were being held in Carthage, Illinois, on charges of rioting, after ordering an opposing newspaper office
(1) They ordered the destruction to retaliate against the paper for
its criticism of the Mormons.
(2) An additional charge of treason was leveled against the men.
c. An angry mob stormed the jail where Joseph and Hyrum Smith
were being held.
d. The Smiths were armed with a smuggled six-shooter and single-shot
pistol, but were outgunned by the mob.
e. Joseph and Hyrum Smith died in the gun battle on June 27, 1844.
B. Brigham Young (1801-77): Successor to Joseph Smith
1. Young's Achievements
a. Young was known as a powerful leader who held the Mormons
together amidst much hardship.
b. Young held equal esteem as Smith in the eyes of Mormons.
c. Mormons esteem Young as a prophet, frontiersman, pioneer, colonizer (directing the establishment of 400 colonies), Indian
liaison, business entrepreneur, industrialist, territorial governor, and arts enthusiast.
(1) He founded Brigham Young Academy (now BYU).
(2) He was husband of 53 wives and father to 57 children.
2. The Move to Utah
a. In August 1844, Young officially replaced Smith as prophet.
b. Young began making plans to follow the Oregon Trail and to move
the 12,000 Latter-day Saints westward.
c. Young, along with a select band of pioneers, arrived at the Great
Salt Lake Valley in July 1847.
(1) The Mormons virtually carved an empire out of this barren
(2) The California gold rush and the opening of the transcontinental
railroad greatly increased the value of their property.
d. Brigham Young ruled over the Utah Territory until his death in
C. Succession of Prophets After Brigham Young (1877-Present)
1. There have been fifteen prophets of the Mormon Church since its beginning.
The fifteenth is Gordon B. Hinckley.
2. The prophet usually enters his office after serving as the head of the
quorum of the twelve Mormon apostles.
3. Some of the noteworthy accomplishments of successive prophets are:
a. Wilford Woodruff (1807-98)
(1) Woodruff was the fourth prophet of the Mormon Church
(2) Woodruff banned plural marriage and saw the Utah Territory
become a state in 1896.
b. Joseph F. Smith (1838-1918)
(1) Smith was the sixth prophet of the Mormon Church (1901-18).
(2) Even though he was convicted of living in polygamy in 1906, Smith is responsible for improving the image of the Mormon
Church in America.
(3) Smith was the first to formalize Mormon theology, later published
as Gospel Doctrine.
c. Joseph Fielding Smith (1876-1972)
(1) Smith was the tenth prophet of the Mormon Church (1970-72).
(2) Smith is the first prophet to be classified as a theologian by
(3) He finished most of his writings while he was an apostle, but
during his presidency he reaffirmed their content as authoritative: "What I have taught in the past, I would teach and write
d. Spencer W. Kimball (1895-1985)
(1) Kimball was the twelfth prophet of the Mormon Church
(2) Kimball renovated Mormon Church government and had all
four Mormon scriptures revised.
(3) He opened sixteen temples and had eleven others in the making.
(4) Kimball offered the priesthood to the formerly banned black
(5) Kimball doubled the missionary efforts and brought over
2,250,000 new members into the church.
e. Ezra Taft Benson (1899-1994)
(1) Benson was the thirteenth prophet of the Mormon Church
(1985 - 1994).
(2) Benson's contribution was his emphasis on the Book of Mormon: he launched a campaign for its worldwide distribution.
f. Gordon B. Hinckley (1910- )
(1) Hinckley became the fifteenth prophet of the Mormon Church
in April 1995.
(2) Hinckley had served as the spokesman for the presidency
when former prophets Kimball and Benson were incapcitated.
D. Turning Points in Mormon History
1. Early Growth of Mormonism Under Sidney Rigdon and Parley Pratt
a. Kirtland, Ohio, had an established work of the Disciples of Christ
movement, with Sidney Ridgon and Parley Pratt as preachers.
b. Pratt converted to Mormonism in 1830 while visiting Newark, New York, and returned to Ohio and preached Mormonism among
c. Rigdon's church members were baptized into Mormonism (130
over a period of a few months) with no apparent protest by Rigdon, who was baptized a Mormon in December of 1830.
d. Some skeptical Disciples protested that Rigdon was aligned with
Smith all along, and recalled how many of Rigdon's sermons laid
the groundwork for the large conversion to Mormonism.
e. This sudden growth made Mormonism a visible entity.
2. The Mormon War (1838)
a. The so-called Mormon War took place in Missouri.
b. Mobs in Missouri had harassed Mormon settlers.
(1) On July 4, 1838, Sidney Rigdon delivered the "Salt Sermon" to
Mormons, taken from Matthew 5:13.
(2) Rigdon called for a "war of extermination" against any harassing
mobs "till the last drop of their blood is spilled."
c. The Mormons formed a band of "destroying angels" called the
Danites, whose job was to seek revenge; fights and a gun battle
broke out in August and October with men killed on both sides.
d. This explosive situation consummated in a massacre-style attack by
200 troops upon 30 Mormons at the home of Jacob Haun.
Seventeen Mormons were killed, including one child.
3. Joseph Smith's Political Activities
a. Joseph Smith entered the political arena and served as mayor of
Nauvoo, Illinois, which had become the largest city on the Mississippi
b. He eventually organized a militia, heading it as General Joseph
c. In 1844 Smith made his bid to run for President of the United
States, with Sidney Rigdon as his running mate.
d. Smith's political movement met with opposition, and resulted in
4. The Utah War (1857)
a. This war became a standoff between President James Buchanan
and Utah Territorial Governor Brigham Young. Buchanan insisted
upon appointing "Gentile" judges and officials to wrestle the Utah
Territory away from Mormon leaders.