Joseph Smith Biography

Joseph Smith Biography

The following are excerpts from “Joseph Smith and Mormonism”

Jan Shipps

The complete essay can be found in Makers of Christian Theology in America.

Joseph Smith, Jr., the founder of Mormonism, was born in 1805 into a poor and religiously unconventional Vermont family in which the father was inclined toward deism and the mother was a Christian Primitivist. The chief sources of family income were agriculture and trading. Because making a living in New England by these means became increasingly difficult in the early nineteenth century, the Smiths moved to western New York while Joseph, Jr. was still a child. There, working at whatever came to hand to earn hard cash while also farming land that was purchased on credit, the parents and their seven children (Joseph was the third son) attempted to build up a family competency in the area around Palmyra. As a result of chicanery, the Smiths lost their farm, but they continued to live there and work the property as tenants until 1831…

From the time they arrived in New York through the 1820s, Joseph, Jr. worked with his father and brothers in the fields. They also worked together in other capacities. Since Joseph Smith, Sr. had enough interest in the occult to give the family a reputation for scrying, this could well have been a decisive factor in what happened during the younger Joseph’s teen-age years. Indeed, it seems entirely likely that the father encouraged his namesake in the use of a “seer stone,” a sort of psychic geiger counter which helped him locate lost objects. In addition, surviving historical sources provide hints that the elder Joseph Smith was not displeased when his son’s success as an adept led to his being employed in a search for buried treasure. On at least one occasion, the son was engaged as the leader of a company that dug (unsuccessfully, as it turned out) for gold which the company’s organizer believed had been buried in the region by its earlier residents.

That his parents’ concern about religion was transmitted to Joseph, Jr. is evidenced by the fact that when he was only fourteen he informed family members that he had learned the true church was not then on the earth. At the time he seems not to have made it clear to them that this information was imparted in a vision during which God and Jesus appeared to him as he prayed in a grove close to the Smith home. On the other hand, he said he gave an account of this experience to a Methodist minister. While the cleric apparently regarded what Joseph told him as little more than a youngster’s delusions, events of the next few years would reveal that the adolescent Smith was preternaturally mature.

In an autobiographical account of his life published in 1838, Joseph Smith described this first vision as a manifestation which distanced him from traditional Trinitarian Christianity. The sight of God and Jesus convinced him that the two personages could not be considered part of a single entity. This personal history, which testifies to the rapidity of Smith’s move into maturity as a religious figure, then recounted the spiritual events of his early adulthood. Later canonized by believers, it tells of an angel, identified as Moroni, who appeared to the future prophet in a night vision in 1823 and informed him that God had a work for him to do.

During this same spiritual episode, the angel told Smith that an antique rendering of the history of former inhabitants of the western hemisphere was buried in a hill near his family’s farm. Moroni said this historical record was inscribed on thin golden plates and that it not only explained where this archaic assemblage had come from, but also disclosed the “fulness of the everlasting Gospel” as it had been “delivered by the Savior to the ancient inhabitants.”

Smith said he unearthed the stone box that held the records on the following day. With the plates, he found a device the angel called the Urim and Thummin, an instrument which was to be used in translating the plates. The eighteen-year old could not undertake this task immediately because he was required to undergo a four-year period of purification before he was allowed to take possession of the plates. By the time he was twenty-five, however, Joseph Smith had dictated a full translation of this strange metal document to Oliver Cowdery and other scribes.

Some observers said he translated using the instrument found with the plates; others said he used his seer stone. While surviving accounts do not always make a distinction between these two vehicles of interpretation, the result was a text which explained itself as an abridgement and redaction of an ancient history recorded by a prophet whose name had been Mormon…

Even as he was seeing to the coming forth and publication of this extraordinary chronicle, whose content convinced many readers that it was a supplemental work of scripture, Smith was reestablishing direct communication between divinity and humanity by becoming a prophet. Speaking for God, he announced that the ancient priesthood was restored and through its offices those who sincerely repented could be baptized into the restored Church of Jesus Christ, the only true church on the face of the earth. As prophet and president of this primitivist body, Smith would go on to lead what his followers understood as the “Restoration,” a remarkable religious movement that over the years has developed into a tradition of considerable significance in the overall panoply of world religions.

Deriding his “gold bible,” early detractors started calling the prophet’s followers “Mormonites,” but Smith embraced this derisive term, referring to his adherents as Mormons and to the movement as Mormonism. Revealing their close identification with Christians of the apostolic era who were called Saints and, at the same time, signalling their expectation that the end time was near, members of the restored church also called themselves “latter-day saints.” The institution they founded in 1830 was initially called the Church of Christ, but an 1838 revelation established its official name as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, effectively differentiating this ecclesiastical entity from all other Christian churches…

Joseph Smith, who was known as the Mormon prophet, or simply as “the Prophet,” led the movement from its beginnings until 1844 when his life was ended by an assassin’s bullet. The fact that he became a victim of a paramilitary firing squad whose members regarded him and the movement he headed as a threat to the social and political, as well as religious life of the state and nation is often recognized as an unmistakable testimony to the exceptional nature of Joseph Smith’s gift as a leader of men and women–a charismatic figure. The literary critic Harold Bloom and a few others have also acknowledged his “religious genius.” The significance of Smith’s theological contribution is rarely credited even though Mormonism’s experiential base is, and always has been, undergirded by a distinctive belief system which rests on a theology of extraordinary complexity.

The reason Smith has been overlooked as a theological figure is obvious. Unlike those versions of Christian theology that gradually came into being as several generations of scholarly clerics worked from scripture, creedal formulations, and historical experience to develop a systematic description of the faith, and even more unlike those theologies developed by thinkers who used the tools of philosophy, reason and logic, in their efforts to describe and understand Christianity, the theology of the Latter-day Saints was, in a sense, handed down. It was delivered through found scripture and the prophetic voice, and it derives almost entirely from the years of Joseph Smith’s religious leadership.

Despite the brevity of this period–it lasted only a dozen years or so–the LDS belief system was not revealed whole, complete, as it were, in every detail. As would be expected in light of the movement’s embrace of an open canon and continuing revelation, requisite counterparts to being led by one who has the ability to speak for God, Mormonism’s theology was introduced incrementally instead. While this historical reality does not mandate a chronological description of Joseph Smith’s contribution to Christian theology, surveying the sequential introduction of its doctrinal and theological strata opens the structural components of the LDS belief system to view. Such an approach consequently discloses and clarifies much about the unusual and in some instances unique aspects of Joseph Smith’s remarkable legacy. For that reason, the following precedes will emphasize the concept of layering. At the same time, it will stress the critical importance of Mormonism’s first prophet’s role in the creation of this certainly distinctive–in fact, unique–Christian tradition.

When Joseph Smith and his followers organized the church that would become known to the world as the Mormon Church, they said the true Church of Christ had been removed from the earth at the time of a “Great Apostasy” that occurred at the end of the apostolic era. Under divine authority, which rested on revelation to the prophet, it was now restored. To support the claim that theirs was the only legitimate Christian institution on the face of the earth, its members pointed to three distinctive bona fides: it was led by a one who was in regular communication with God and able to speak for Him; it had the ancient priesthood, recently restored through the prophetic agency of its leader; and, perhaps its greatest asset, the church had a supplementary scripture, an additional testament of Jesus Christ.

Combined with its strong millennialist bent–the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, in fact, was as significant in the church’s early years as a signal of the imminent opening of the millennium as it was as a text–this formidable set of claims had great appeal in the United States in the religiously unsettled situation that followed the separation of church and state and the demise of established state churches. A sound base for the Mormon movement as a millennialist form of primitivist Christianity was rapidly put into place after the church was established in 1830.

Individuals, portions of, and even whole families became members, and together with their prophet/president and his earliest followers, they turned what is best understood as the Apostolic Restoration into reality. Thus was Mormondom’s first theological layer put in place.

In the winter of 1831, the prophet and many members of the Smith family left New York and moved to Kirtland, Ohio, where a branch of the church was prospering under the leadership of a former Campbellite minister. Considerable numbers of Smith’s followers moved there as well. Other Saints moved to Independence in Jackson County, Missouri the following summer, choosing this area because it had been identified by revelation as the land of Zion, the future site of a temple and the place where the Second Coming would commence. Although many converts to the new movement did not relocate immediately, two distinct Mormon enclaves were created. This pattern of settlement came in response to several revelations which forecast the congregating of believers in “one place upon the face of this land” in preparation for the great day when heaven and earth shall pass away and all things will become new.

The prophet’s revelations about what became know as “the gathering” clearly reflect the Revelation of St. John. But when a literal gathering of Saints happened in the early 1830s, it turned Mormonism toward the Pentateuch as well as the New Testament. While concepts of Zion, Israel, a covenant people, priests, and temples are integral to the Book of Mormon and Smith’s pre-1830 revelations, what happened in post-1830 Mormonism constituted a pivotal move of the movement toward the Old Testament experience. The building of a temple, as distinguished from chapel or church, turned the hearts of these Christian children to their Hebraic fathers in a manner that gave Latter-day Saint communities a singularity that separated them from their Protestant neighbors. In Kirtland, also, the Saints started to make a clear distinction between the lesser (Aaronic, i.e. Levitical) and greater (Melchizedek) priesthoods, as the perception of priesthood as a privilege of lineage took hold in Mormon minds and Mormon culture. This was and is important from the standpoint of doctrine and church organization.

Of greater theological moment, Mormons shared with all Christianity the “new covenant” and its figurative conception of Gentiles being adopted into Israel. But as they gathered from the “earth’s four corners” during the 1830s, the Saints went through a transformative process that can best be described as turning the symbolic into the literal. The prophet’s father was ordained as Church Patriarch in 1833 and a practice was instituted in which he gave a patriarchal blessing–an essential part of which is a declaration of lineage–to each church member. As Father Smith’s ritualistic assertions of membership in the tribes of Ephraim, Mannaseh, Benjamin, et al were bestowed individually, a conception of group kinship through birthright membership in Abraham’s family was added to what being Mormon meant. Before much time passed, Saints started to believe that all who were not Mormon were Gentile…

In sum, the literal gathering, the actual building of a temple, the distinction between the two priesthoods, and the institution of patriarchy can be described as the Abrahamic Restoration. Comprising a second tier, this Hebraic overlay changed Mormon theology by adding to it, not by taking things away. That was made clear in the religious repercussions of the 1836 dedication of the Kirtland Temple.

This landmark occasion was such a spiritual feast for those in attendance that it is sometimes called Mormonism’s Pentecost. From a theological perspective, however, what happened on the Sunday following is of much more enduring importance to the faith. As recorded in Section 110 of the Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, on that day the veil was rent allowing the prophet and the church’s “First Elder,” Oliver Cowdery, to see Jesus standing in the temple. They heard him say that their sins and the sins of the people were forgiven. He accepted the temple; His name would ever be there; and in the temple’s sacred precincts He would manifest Himself to His people. When that vision closed, a second opened in which Moses and Elias committed to Smith and Cowdery the keys of the gathering of Israel and the gospel of Abraham. Then, in a final “great and glorious” manifestation, Elijah extended to them the keys to the dispensation of the last days, which he said were even then “at the doors.” This extraordinary supernatural event tied together Mormonism’s first two theological and doctrinal strata, creating a form of Hebraicized Christianity that held in tension the temple and the church.

Typical accounts of Mormonism during the 1830s are so totally centered on the experience of the Saints living in Mormon enclaves in Ohio and Missouri that the existence of Mormonism in the countryside gets lost. The prevailing picture of this period depicts a group caught up in the exhilaration of living in the presence of a prophet and the excitement of revelation rolling forth, even as members of the group lived through mistreatment and abuse from outsiders. But this experience was not universal because being Mormon in the first few years after the church was organized was not all of a piece. To Saints living in the countryside, membership in this particular Church of Christ differed from membership in other millennialist Christian churches mainly in the security afforded by the church’s restorationist truth claims, in the importance accorded the Book of Mormon as a tangible sign of the nearness of the end time, and in preaching that encouraged church members to gather to Zion so they would be there when Christ returned. Apart from emphasis on the impending opening of the millennium, the experience of ungathered members of the church in the early days was curiously prescient of Mormonism at the end of the twentieth century when residing in enclave communities would no longer be normative for Latter-day Saints.

At the same time, an examination of the LDS countryside experience supplies a clear picture of Mormonism in its original formulation by separating from the conventional picture the theological, doctrinal, and organizational enhancement that occurred in the gathering centers. The transformation of gathered members of the church into a people whose otherness became as manifest as that of Jews or enslaved Ethiopians provides observers of the development of Mormonism with the best evidence of the impact of positioning an overlay of Hebraicism over the earliest form of this movement. For those living through it, their progression toward otherness generated an intense level of hostility against the Saints. Within a year of the temple dedication, the prophet would be driven from Ohio. Many of his adherents followed him, first to Missouri, and when opposition there turned into war, back across the Mississippi River to Illinois. Initially welcomed to the state, threats of violence soon started to separate the Saints from the surrounding populace. Yet it was in Illinois where what can truly be considered a Mormon kingdom came into being for the first time.

Although ever under threat of imprisonment–once he spent several months in jail–the final decade of Smith’s life was spent in Missouri and in an Illinois town the Saints named Nauvoo. Much of importance occurred in the secular arena in both states, but theological developments in Nauvoo were of greater long range significance to the tradition. There, within what seemed to him the internally secure environment of an LDS kingdom where his authority was supreme, the prophet added a final layer to the stratified configuration of Mormon theology. Through additional found texts (the books of Moses and Abraham), a sermon preached at the funeral of King Follett, and a crucial new revelation (now Section 132 in the LDS Doctrine and Covenants), the prophet appended a set of esoteric tenets–tiered heavens, proxy baptisms, celestial marriage, eternal progression toward godhood–to LDS theology. As had revelations in Kirtland, these additions would again transform Mormonism. In particular, this final dogmatic overlay had critical implications for Mormon soteriology and worship practice. They located human life between pre- and post-existence states and placed the ordinances of the temple–most especially the Endowment (in and through which power from on high is bestowed on participating Saints) and celestial marriage at the very core of Mormonism. When unified with the merged gospels of Jesus Christ and Abraham, these tenets set forth a plan of salvation which entails the ceaseless persistence of personality and the eternal endurance of family units. Often called “the fulness of the Gospel,” the final additions that Joseph Smith introduced into Mormonism comprise what Latter-day Saints describe as the Restoration of All Things.

The prophet’s revelation concerning the patriarchal order of marriage (i.e., celestial marriage) contained stipulations whereby men living in the dispensation in which the revelation came forth could marry into plurality in the manner of Old Testament patriarchs. Although not publicly promulgated during Smith’s lifetime, this revelation was privately revealed to many leading Saints beginning in 1841. When they took the introduction of this new principle and acted on it with the same earnestness as they had acted on earlier revelations announced by the prophet, serious consequences followed. Because some of the Saints were starting to chafe under the palpable political, social, and economic ramifications of living under prophetic leadership in what the city’s inhabitants regarded as God’s kingdom, incipient internal opposition to Smith was already present in Nauvoo. The practice of plural (or celestial) marriage caused that opposition to break into the open and swell to such proportions that it exposed Nauvoo to external threat which neither the prophet nor the LDS community could avoid. With the apparent complicity of the Illinois governor, Smith was murdered by disguised local militia members in June, 1844. To avoid decimation at the hands of an organized mob, the Saints were forced to leave the area less than two years later.

Mormonism after the Death of Joseph Smith

Particular precursors anticipated the developments that, taken together, constitute Mormonism’s three distinct layers of theology and doctrine. First, in place before the organization of the church, the Book of Mormon and restoration of the priesthood provided a launching pad for the movement. Second, a hearty response to revelations calling for the gathering that would bring believers together to create a Latter-day Saint culture as well as religious organization came before and probably stimulated the Hebraicizing of Mormonism, of which the building of the first Mormon temple was a part. Third, the dedication of the Kirtland Temple and the subsequent literal (definitely not merely figurative) organization of the Kingdom of God were antecedent to the introduction of the esoteric doctrines that the Latter-day Saints refer to as the gospel’s “fulness.”

Taking the preludes to formation of the first layer and the introduction of the second and third into account and considering Mormon theology from a historically stratified perspective is helpful because it illuminates what often appears cryptic and enigmatic. In addition, this approach helps to make sense of the high rate of falling away that occurred during the prophet’s lifetime and explain the virtual atomization of the movement that occurred after his death. Even as many of the movement’s adherents, first in Kirtland and Missouri and later in Nauvoo, welcomed the revelation of new tenets, readily assimilating them into the faith, the addition of each new layer of theology and doctrine changed Mormonism in radical ways. General acceptance of the concept of continuing revelation notwithstanding, each time a new stratum of theology and doctrine was imposed on existing belief and practice, a substantial number of Smith’s followers were disturbed enough to leave. Those who rejected new dogma were generally branded as apostate (or worse). Yet persuasive evidence suggests that, in cases too numerous to count, the problem was that the ones who left were so thoroughly committed to the form of Mormonism to which they had been converted that they regarded the new revelations as false prophecy.

Some fell away when it became clear that there was more to Mormonism than the truth of the Book of Mormon and the restoration of the priesthood and the church. Others later rejected the form of Mormonism that existed after revelation made it clear that the restored church was a family church, one that included membership in the family of Abraham and, in addition, was led by an elect family (the Smiths).

In numerical terms, the greatest repudiation of new revelation may have come with the addition of the final theological and doctrinal layer which transformed the movement into what those who were faithful to the end of Joseph Smith’s life and beyond believed to be “the restoration of all things.” A major reason for defection at this point was the advent of the actual practice of plural marriage.

Despite their having been troubled by the various theological, doctrinal, and organizational additions and perhaps by the lengthening distance between themselves and other Christians, what happened to Joseph Smith’s followers after 1844 makes it obvious that many of them had only been kept within the fold by the prophet’s charismatic leadership. Following his death, the movement’s heterogeneity spawned many Mormonisms. Although most failed, all are significant because the combined histories of groups that trace their origins to Joseph Smith reveal common agreement about the Book of Mormon being ancient scripture. Their histories also indicate an impressive level of acceptance of the legitimacy of the claim of that the church organized in 1830 by Smith and his followers was truly the restored Church of Jesus Christ. The issues dividing them can usually be related to acceptance or rejection of restorations subsequent to the initial apostolic restoration. This is especially important is understanding what divided the two largest and best-known of the movement’s surviving institutional manifestations.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah has… million[s of] members. The Church of Jesus Christ (RLDS) headquartered in Independence, Missouri has far fewer, only a bit over 250,000 at last count. Despite the discrepancy in size, these two institutions are equally important to an adequate understanding of Mormon theology because they reflect the Mormonism that existed at separate stages of the movement’s theological, doctrinal, and organizational existence, Joseph Smith’s mother, his brother William, and his first wife Emma remained in the Midwest after the prophet’s murder. In 1860, as soon as Joseph Smith III was willing to take the lead, a substantial group of the prophet’s followers re-established the church. In doing so, they put forth the original claims of the restored Church of Christ, including the assertion that their leader, the eldest son of the first Mormon prophet, was also a prophet. From that point until 1996, the prophet/president of the “Reorganization,” as this group called itself, was always a direct descendent of Joseph Smith. Thus it was a family church in a literal sense. For many years, its members also held onto the concept of birthright membership in the family of Abraham. This situates the RLDS Church precisely at the center of Mormonism as it existed after its first two doctrinal and theological strata were in place. Its location there is affirmed by the fact that from its beginnings, the identity of this Latter Day Saint Church was framed in light of its downright repudiation of the theological additions that the prophet put in place in Nauvoo. This repudiation disavowed celestial marriage altogether; although Emma Smith knew better, members of the Reorganization believed that the practice had been initiated by Brigham Young. It also rejected the whole complex of dogma that derives from the idea of the restoration of ancient temple ordinances that make possible the immutability of the family unit and eternal progression toward godhood.

The Saints who followed Brigham Young west created the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. After they reached the Valley of the Great Sale Lake, they recreated Nauvoo Mormonism not simply in all its theological, doctrinal, and organizational fullness, but with its various elements on or very near the surface. In view of their geographical isolation, they were able to create a realm “in the tops of the mountains” that was politically and economically organized as the Kingdom of God. Plural marriage was not merely accepted there; it was celebrated as evidence of a new patriarchal order of the ages. While they did not repudiate Jackson County, Missouri as the site of Zion, for all practical purposes, the Latter-day Saints turned the intermountain west into Israel. Whereas its citizens regarded Brigham Young as a prophet, his major theological assertion–that Adam and God were one and the same has been pushed to the margins as theological speculation. Instead, Young’s turning Joseph Smith’s prophetic vision into reality is accounted his greatest religious achievement.

Young’s accomplishment went unappreciated by the nation’s political and economic leaders, who regarded it in secular terms. At the same time, the nation’s churches, viewing this western Zion in religious terms, condemned Mormons as heretics. What ensued as a consequence is that the U.S. Congress, representing the overwhelmingly non-Mormon portion of the population, moved slowly but deliberately to frustrate the LDS enterprise. The outcome was that, after almost fifty years of its being in the world, the Saints dismantled their earthly kingdom in order to save their cultural integrity. Then, in order to save their temples, and hence their distinctive form of Christianity, they relinquished the practice of plural marriage.

Although the implications of surrendering the literal kingdom and giving up working the plural marriage principle out in practice were not immediately clear, these moves gradually led to a transformation of Utah Mormonism, the most complex form of the faith. The esoterica introduced into the LDS belief system in Nauvoo has not been abandoned, but it is no longer open to view. Bundled into a set of sacred tenets, much as software programs are bundled into packages, this theological layer is now mainly discernible in the concept of the Saints as a “temple-going people.” Yet the removal from view of this crowning stratum of LDS belief did not turn Utah Mormonism into a movement somewhat comparable to the Reorganization, even in the eyes of those outside the faith.

The main reason for this is that the Saints held on to the concept of the gathering for a very long time. While church leaders announced that Zion is where the people of God are and started discouraging immigration of Saints to the area of the west known as the Mormon culture region in 1921, new converts continued to regard Utah and its environs as Zion, and continued to settle there. The western Mormon enclave lived on, and does so today. Now, however, the membership of the church has expanded so exponentially that gathering all the Latter-day Saints in the west would be impossible. One result of this growth is that living in LDS cultural enclaves is no longer the norm. Members of the church live all across the nation. But that is not all. More Saints now live outside than inside the United States. The practical effect of this shift is colossal, but so are its religious ramifications.

As members of the church flowed into Kirtland from all directions, their response to revelation made way for the creation of such a sense of special-ness that the Saints came to regard themselves as birthright members of Abraham’s family. New revelation has not suspended this concept. But as the church itself is moving out to the four corners of the earth with a newly universalized message made possible by a 1978 revelation that extended the privileges of the LDS priesthood to all worthy males, including African Americans, there are indications that figurative membership in Abraham’s family may once again be gaining as much importance as literal membership therein. And as more and more Saints are “adopted into Israel,” the LDS Church is reminding everyone–its own birthright members, new converts, and the world–of the importance of Christ, the Atonement, and its own rootedness in Mormonism’s bedrock, the Church of Christ. It is not renouncing its endowment of idiosyncrasy that being a temple-going people implies and it is in no way disavowing the peculiarity given to it by the revelations that turned the faith into a form of Hebraicized Christianity. But just as the Reorganization has been doing for generations, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is presenting itself first and foremost as Christ’s restored church.

Lest it appear that the wheel has come full circle, that the Saints are back where they started, neither the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints nor the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, nor any of the several sectarian Mormon institutions is precisely the same church that was organized by the Mormon prophet and his followers in 1830. The foundational elements of Mormonism (the Book of Mormon, priesthood restoration, and the restored church) have remained firmly in place across the tradition, but revelation received after 1830 wrought changes throughout. Adramatic recent example of this is a 1994 revelation to the sitting president of the RLDS Church. By designating as its new president a man who is not a direct descendant of Joseph Smith, this revelation severed the lineage link that historically signaled connection between the RLDS Church and Mormonism’s founding prophet. The result is likely to be as dramatic in the life of the Reorganization as the 1890 Manifesto was in the life of the LDS Church. But the RLDS Church may well weather the change for Saints of all stripes share a legacy of continuing revelation. Receipt of and the necessity of assimilating to new doctrinal tenets is a part of being Mormon.

When revelation alters faith, however, the results often generate dissent. In some instances, dissenters’ questioning of the legitimacy of new revelation leads to schism. Although it does not always do so, schism sometimes leads to the development of new forms of Mormonism. This is a process that started happening in Mormonism in the 1830s. It continues today as groups of Utah Saints refuse to believe that the 1890 Manifesto ending the practice of plural marriage was a revelation and as members of the Reorganization refuse to accept the 1985 revelation that extended priesthood ordination to women are creating new forms of Mormonism. Such organizational volatility is eloquent testimony both to the health of the tradition and the complexity of the theology which was revealed through the agency of Joseph Smith, the Mormon prophet.


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Edwards, Paul M., Our Legacy of Faith: A Brief History of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Independence, MO: Herald Publishing House, 1991.

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