Joseph Smith—History
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“Joseph Smith—HIstory,” The Pearl of Great Price Student Manual (2017)

“Joseph Smith—HIstory,” The Pearl of Great Price Student Manual

Joseph Smith—History

What Is Joseph Smith—History?

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Joseph Smith Praying in the Grove

Joseph Smith—History tells of the Prophet’s experiences from his early years through May 1829. It was extracted by Elder Franklin D. Richards, who was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, from a much longer history the Prophet Joseph Smith began in 1838. The extract was first published in England in 1851 as part of the first Pearl of Great Price pamphlet (see the introduction to the Pearl of Great Price).

Joseph Smith—History contains an account of the First Vision, the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, and the restoration of the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods. The excerpts come from the first five chapters of what eventually became the seven-volume History of the Church (see Joseph Smith—History 1:1–44). Joseph Smith—History became scripture in 1880 when the Pearl of Great Price was canonized as one of the standard works of the Church.

Who Wrote Joseph Smith—History?

Smith, Joseph. Memorabilia

Joseph Smith‘s handwriting

The account in the Pearl of Great Price was not the first attempt to record the Prophet’s early experiences. In April 1830 he received a revelation from the Lord requiring that a record or history be kept (see D&C 21:1). However, his efforts were hindered by lawsuits, imprisonments, poverty, and mobs. Oliver Cowdery “served as Church Recorder from April 1830 to March 1831 and again from September 1835 to 1837. He wrote a history of the Church covering the period from ‘the time of the finding of the plates up to June 12th, 1831’” (Dean C. Jessee, “The Writing of Joseph Smith’s History,” Brigham Young University Studies, summer 1971, 442). In March 1831, John Whitmer was appointed to “write and keep a regular history, and assist you, my servant Joseph, in transcribing all things which shall be given you” (D&C 47:1). John Whitmer’s brief written history was lost for many years, but is now available. Oliver Cowdery also wrote eight letters about Joseph Smith’s early visions, which were published in the Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate in 1834–35.

Joseph Smith commenced work on a history between July and November 1832. It began with the words “A History of the life of Joseph Smith Jr., an account of his marvelous experience and of all the mighty acts which he doeth in the name of Jesus Christ the son of the living God of whom he beareth record and also an account of the rise of the church of Christ” (Dean C. Jessee, “The Early Accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision,” Brigham Young University Studies, spring 1969, 278).

Various clerks and historians began three more historical accounts between 1834 and 1836. In the difficult years of 1837 and 1838, Joseph Smith and the First Presidency worked on the history of the Church, sometimes taking a grammar lesson before the writing sessions. Finally, in June 1839, the Prophet undertook the work again. Materials from the previous efforts were assimilated into a new history, which eventually was published in the Times and Seasons beginning March 1, 1842. Elder Franklin D. Richards published extracts from that 1842 history in 1851, and they are now called Joseph Smith—History.

Some Fundamental Messages of Joseph Smith—History

[First Vision]
  • The reality of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ as the Savior of the world. Joseph Smith left the Sacred Grove with a personal knowledge of the reality of our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. He knew that Jesus Christ is the Son of God; that because of the mercy and grace of His Atonement his sins were forgiven; that Heavenly Father was pleased with His Son, the Savior; and that he was to listen to and obey the words of the Savior.

  • There was an apostasy and loss of the true Church from the earth. Joseph was told to join none of the churches, “for they were all wrong” (Joseph Smith—History 1:19). Such a statement makes it clear that the gospel and church established by the Savior during His mortal ministry had been lost and that “none of them was acknowledged of God as His Church and kingdom” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith [2007], 438).

  • Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. Joseph wrote that the angel Moroni told him that “God had a work for me to do” (Joseph Smith—History 1:33). Every event in the Restoration of the gospel through the Prophet Joseph Smith chronicles the fact that God had spoken again to man through a prophet.

  • The Book of Mormon is the word of God. The events surrounding the coming forth of the Book of Mormon testify of its divinity, and its message not only testifies of Christ, but is a catalyst for greater revelation from God and for the gathering of scattered Israel into the church and kingdom of God.

  • The Church of Jesus Christ has been restored to earth in the latter days. Joseph was promised that the fulness of the gospel would be made known to him (see Teachings: Joseph Smith, 438). The translation of the Book of Mormon and the restoration of the priesthood laid the foundation for the reestablishment of the church and kingdom of God on earth.