“School of the Prophets,” Church History Topics
“School of the Prophets”
In December 1832, Joseph Smith received a revelation directing him to establish a school for the elders of the Church in Kirtland.1 Joseph Smith and his contemporaries used the term “school of the prophets” to describe this new school. This term was commonly used to describe the seminaries at Harvard and Yale as well as other schools at which clergy received training for their ministry.2 For some, the name called to mind the Old Testament “company of the prophets,” which gathered around such figures as Samuel, Elijah, and Elisha.3
Held each winter from 1833 to 1836, the School of the Prophets in Kirtland offered participants spiritual as well as secular education. It helped prepare them for missionary service and for a promised “endowment of power” when the Kirtland Temple was completed.4 The first session of the school opened on January 22, 1833, in an upper room of Newel K. Whitney’s store. While the school was intended primarily to prepare men for missions, women also attended the first meeting and participated in the spiritual outpouring, which included powerful manifestations of the Holy Ghost and speaking in tongues.5 As commanded by revelation, participants began meetings with a formal greeting, and new members were welcomed to the school by the ordinance of the washing of feet.6
The school offered both spiritual and secular instruction, encompassing such topics as history, current events, reading and writing, mathematics, language study, and doctrinal teaching. On February 27, 1833, Joseph Smith received the revelation known as the Word of Wisdom during a meeting of the School of the Prophets, prompted in part by questions Emma Smith had raised.7 The school resumed in the winter of 1834 under the title “school for the elders.”8 During the 1835 session, Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon taught classes based on the theological lectures that came to be known as the Lectures on Faith. In the 1836 session, the Saints hired Joshua Seixas, who had taught Lorenzo Snow at Oberlin College, to teach a course in Hebrew.9
The Church used the basic model of the Kirtland School of the Prophets in other times and places. When the first Kirtland School of the Prophets session concluded in April 1833, Parley P. Pratt convened a summer session in Missouri. In Utah, Brigham Young organized a School of the Prophets in 1867 in connection with the University of Deseret. Soon other Schools of the Prophets were organized throughout the territory. In addition to spiritual and secular learning, members participated in economic and civic planning as pioneer settlements tried to implement principles of the law of consecration. John Taylor, successor to Brigham Young, also convened a School of the Prophets both in Salt Lake City and in St. George from 1883 to 1884.10
After the late 19th century, the Church did not use the name “School of the Prophets” to describe its educational endeavors, but it remained committed to the revealed aims of the school and pursued them in various ways. The Church was instrumental in establishing schools and academies of higher learning throughout the American West and in many other areas. As secular education and training programs became more widely available, Church leaders encouraged the Saints to enroll and established programs to support Church members in their pursuit of education.11 To provide spiritual learning and training for local ministry and missionary service, the Church established seminaries, institutes of religion, missionary training centers, and other leadership training meetings and broadcasts. Each of these programs carries on, in its own way, the legacy of the Kirtland School of the Prophets.