The Fall and Rise of Joseph Smith
January 19, 1841 – Joseph Smith receives Section 124 – church has lost the fulness of the priesthood (1834) will be rejected if they do not build the Nauvoo House
The Nauvoo House never even came close to being made, let alone completed.
March 1841 – Joseph Smith receives Section 125 – church no longer considered Saints
The Lord’s lack of recognition that the members of the church are Saints is why I believe the church was (already) rejected by this point. However, they are still given commandment to gather if they choose to keep the commandments. This is because the Lord will work a reformation among them before delivering them over to Satan. (BoC 4:5-6) During the rejection of the church, Joseph Smith completes his atonement offering. Yet even after his death, the members continued in disobedience and a reformation was never realized.
April 5, 1841 – Marries Louisa Beaman, beginning Nauvoo polygamy
In his 1838-recount of history, Joseph admitted to displaying the weakness of human nature. Before being visited by Moroni, he was praying for forgiveness of his “follies.” (JS-History 1:29) I believe Joseph was hinting—by his use of wording—that the weakness he inherited was that of lust. D&C 64:14-15 corroborates with 35:7 to suggest that the folly of the Gentiles—the sins of a crooked and perverse people—is connected with adultery. After the apostasy of the Gentiles in 1834, Joseph was susceptible to sin in a way he had not yet experienced. Christ had removed his name from the church—May 3, 1834—removing the fulness of the priesthood. Joseph became liable to commit adultery, not just experience lust, because he was then married. I expect the reason he was married previous to his ministry was to orchestrate Joseph’s opportunity to commit—or not commit—the sin of the Gentiles. Due to his relentless callings and never-ending flow of revelation, he was in constant communion with God. With the 1834 apostasy, this changed, and Joseph stopped abiding in the Lord and sinned with Fanny Alger. However, he was made clean in Section 110 as the Lord appeared in mercy to him at the Kirtland Temple. This enabled him to perform the atonement statute in Nauvoo as an unspotted lamb. I find it unlikely that Joseph began to commit adultery (again) as early as the recorded date of marriage for Louisa Beaman—although one piece of evidence does exist to suggest so. Instead, I find it most compelling to conclude this arrangement was originally a sealing in which there was no intention for sexual impropriety. I’ve theorized that the marriages in which no sexual relations occurred may have in fact been a blessing unto future generations who would be joined to Joseph Smith’s “house” in the which a special anointing was placed upon. (D&C 124:56-57) The marriages that can be absolutely determined as having been sexually motivated only seemed to have occurred between February to May of 1843. Benjamin Winchester speculated sexuality to have taken place in this time-span between Joseph and Louisa, and I feel this makes the most sense in the context of all subsequent plural marriages contracted by Joseph.
June 1, 1841 – Sidney Rigdon publicly pronounced as a prophet, though date of ordination not known
“We have to announce that Sidney Rigdon has been ordained a Prophet, Seer, and a Revelator.”
-Times and Seasons
D&C 43:3-4 tells us that no one will receive revelation or commandments except Joseph, unless he stops abiding in the Lord. If he does stop abiding in the Lord he will only have the power to appoint another to receive revelation in his stead. Although Joseph may have believed his brother Hyrum was to be his successor, Hyrum fell for polygamy even going so far as to command the High Council in 1843 to obey the revelation commanding polygamy. Sidney Rigdon was the true successor who could have given true revelations to the church. Upon entering into a sealing ritual with Louisa Beaman, Joseph could no longer receive revelation, which is why his revelation on polygamy was not a commandment to the church. In Section 127, Joseph ascribes himself only as a prophet and seer—with no mention of being a revelator. His attempt to provide a legitimate revelation in 1843 was futile.
July 1841 – Brigham Young returns from mission and is told to leave family no more
“Send my word abroad, and take especial care of your family.”
Although I in times past have believed this revelation to be a fabrication of Brigham to justify his lack of future missionary service, I now believe it to be authentic. Because the church no longer had authority to preach the gospel—having been rejected as a church of Christ—they were still called to bring a knowledge of the fulness of the gospel to the world. This is why Brigham is given the mandate to “send” the word, not preach and not publish. That Brigham began to publish new—or tamper with old—revelations is the sign that the generation was delivered over to Satan. This deliverance up to the enemy was destined to last four generations.
July 1841-February 1843 – Marries fourteen women wherein there is no evidence of sexuality
-Starting in 1842, these men engage in plural marriage: Theodore Turley, Brigham Young, Jonathan Holmes, Reynolds Cahoons, Heber C. Kimball, Willard Richards, Thomas Bullock, William D. Huntington
February-May 1843 – Marries six women all of which sexuality is said to have occurred
-Starting in March, these men engage in plural marriage: Lorenzo Dow Young, Orson Pratt, Joseph Bates Noble, Orson Hyde, James Bird
June-August 1843 – Parley Pratt, John Adams, William Felshaw, Amasa M. Lyman, Hyrum Smith
With the inclusion of Orson Hyde, the Pratt brothers, and Hyrum Smith, I conclude this to be a fulfillment of 2 Nephi 27:5…the eyes of the prophets and seers were covered due to the iniquity of the people.
August 12, 1843 – Revelation on plural marriage given to High Council
“Now, you that believe this revelation and go forth and obey the same shall be saved, and you that reject it shall be damned.”
September 20, 1843 – Marries Malissa Lot – last sexual partner of Joseph Smith
“Q. Were you married to my father?
A. Yes. …
Q. Was you a wife in very deed?
Q. Why was there no increase, say in your case?
A. Through no fault of either of us, lack of proper conditions on my part probably, or it might be in the wisdom of the Almighty that we should have none. The Prophet was martyred nine months after our marriage.”
October 5, 1843 – Joseph recorded by William Clayton saying:
“No man shall have but one wife.”
After having sexual relations with Malissa Lot, I assume Joseph repented thereafter and realized the wrongfulness of polygamy, accepting himself to have been deceived in the manner. This is why evidence supports a conspiracy that Joseph fought polygamy and was wrongfully accused of being involved with its inception. He did in fact fight against it, but this occurred most heavily after Malissa Lot, during the last nine months of his life.
November 2, 1843 – Marries Fanny Young, fifty-six-year-old sister to Brigham Young
–John Taylor, Edwin D. Woolley, Erastus Snow, John D. Lee, Ezra T. Benson (who eventually replaces non-polygamist John E. Page) become polygamists; William Smith said to have become polygamist during Joseph’s lifetime
This final sealing of Joseph Smith suggests that Joseph may have continued to believe in the truthfulness of sealing arrangements. Perhaps his marriage to Brigham’s older, widowed, sister, was an attempt to promulgate his concept of eternal families in the which there is no license to have conjugal relations with multiple women. It is by this time that the Law of Adoption has been introduced, and sealings between men occur obviously with no sexual motivation to do so. Although it cannot be determined if sealings are to ever be an ordinance of the fulness of times, I imagine Joseph began by this point to correct course and return back to what he believed his original intention was: to create bonds between families and enjoin the Saints as one people through sacred covenants. Although Joseph was guilty of committing adultery with other women as part of his atonement offering, he recognized by this point that he had made a terrible mistake with his revelation on polygamy. The high leaders of the church, having entered into polygamy, had not yet began having children through their plural sealings to women—except, perhaps, Heber C. Kimball. This set the scene for what would occur after the death of Joseph Smith: the Saints could either accept Sidney Rigdon who could receive revelation and sort out the matter of polygamy, or they could choose the Quorum of Twelve and be delivered over to Satan. By choosing the leadership of the Twelve, polygamy would explode into an ordinance of higher exaltation and the church would remain rejected.
Brigham Young – Bears polygamous children only after Joseph’s martyrdom
Willard Richards – Bears polygamous children only after Joseph’s martyrdom
Orson Pratt – Bears polygamous children only after Joseph’s martyrdom
Orson Hyde – Bears polygamous children only after Joseph’s martyrdom
Parely Pratt – Bears polygamous children only after Joseph’s martyrdom
Amasa Lyman – Bears polygamous children only after Joseph’s martyrdom
John Taylor – Bears polygamous children only after Joseph’s martyrdom
Ezra T. Benson – Bears polygamous children only after Joseph’s martyrdom
George A. Smith and Wilford Woodruff – Marry and bear polygamous children after martyrdom
Lyman Wight – Marries and bears polygamous children after martyrdom as a member of the Quorum but excommunicated in 1848
By not heeding God’s anointed servant, Sidney Rigdon, the Saints rulers—from Brigham to Lyman—are covered by God as were the seers, Joseph and Hyrum. For not hearkening to God’s voice, they are all moved out of their place in Nauvoo as warned (D&C 124:45) and have remain ungathered for four generations, receiving the judgment of God upon their heads. (D&C 124:50-53)
February 1, 1844 – Times and Season announcement:
“As we have lately been credibly informed, that an Elder of the Church of Jesus Christ, of Latter-day Saints, by the name of Hiram Brown, has been preaching Polygamy, and other false and corrupt doctrines, in the county of Lapeer, state of Michigan. This is to notify him and the Church in general, that he has been cut off from the church, for his iniquity; and he is further notified to appear at the Special Conference, on the 6th of April next, to make answer to these charges.”
-Signed by Joseph and Hyrum
May 12, 1844 –
“I had rather be a fallen true prophet, than a false prophet; when a man goes about prophesying and commands men to obey his teachings, he must be either a true or false prophet.”
Joseph Smith did not believe himself to be a false prophet because he did not command men to obey the plural marriage revelation he received, his brother Hyrum did. However, he realizes that he may have been a fallen true prophet.
May 21, 1844 –
“I do not want you to think that I am very righteous, for I am not. God judges men according to the use they make of the light which He gives them.”
In humility, Joseph accepts that he is not righteous. Considering the fact that he was given more light than any of they—to whom he was speaking—and committed a malignant sin against the wife of his youth, Joseph realizes that he is not as righteous as he wishes he could have been.
By this point, Joseph may have realized that his actions in Nauvoo were the result of the atonement statute he was called to participate in. I do not believe his May 21 statement was a reference to his Nauvoo actions, but to his sin of adultery committed in Kirtland with Fanny Alger.
May 26, 1844 –
“What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one. I am the same man, and as innocent as I was fourteen years ago. […] I am at all times willing to give up everything wrong, for I wish this people to have a virtuous leader.”
This is what Joseph attempted to do. He gave up the abounding and effortless opportunities to commit sin and stopped committing adultery. Although he lied and said he was innocent of the charges held against him, this may have been a genuine claim. Perhaps his repentance emboldened this, and he did feel innocent of his crimes by the point of this sermon.
June 1844 – Hyrum tells the Nauvoo City Council that the revelation he had read to them a year earlier, “had no reference to the present time”
It appear that Hyrum realized that he too had been deceived. Like Joseph a month earlier, it does appear that Hyrum is lying in this instance. They both probably (albeit wrongfully) believed that lying was the only way to undo the damage they had been instruments in doing. Or perhaps it wasn’t a lie…perhaps the original revelation—the one that William Law says Section 132 does not accurately represent—was a revelation that did in fact constitute the law of polygny that existed within the law of Moses and carnal commandments.
April 6, 1844 –
“I feel in closer communion with God and better standing with God than ever I felt before in my life.”
Around this time, William Marks recants: “Joseph, however, became convinced before his death that he had done wrong; for about three weeks before his death, I met him one morning in the street, and he said to me, “Brother Marks… We are a ruined people.” I asked, how so? He said: “This doctrine of polygamy, or Spiritual-wife system, that has been taught and practiced among us, will prove our destruction and overthrow. I have been deceived.”
April 7, 1844 – The King Follet Sermon
“I want your prayers and faith, the instruction of Almighty God, and the gift of the Holy Ghost, that I may set forth things that are true and easily comprehended and that will carry the testimony to your hearts. Pray that the Lord may strengthen my lungs and stay the winds.”
“I want you all to know God, to be familiar with him. And if I can bring you to him, all persecutions against me will cease.”
After studying all four accounts of the King Follet sermon, I have determined that Joseph did not teach false doctrine on this fateful day. I will not endeavor to explain what Joseph was trying to make clear. That Joseph’s words were misinterpreted to suggest God the Father had a God above him—or that God was once a fallible sinful man—is the result of an apostate people whose ears were not able to hear the truth. Joseph was not able to bring God to the people on April 7, 1844; and so persecutions against him did not cease. He fulfilled the atonement statute and died at Carthage Jail on June 27, 1844.
I believe that Joseph went to his death, truly having, “a conscience void of offence towards God.” (D&C 135:4)
His attempt to teach truth unto the people during his King Follet sermon is the perfect representation of his entire ministry. Everything Joseph did those fourteen years was either rejected or misinterpreted.
“You never knew my heart,” said Joseph, at the close of the Follet sermon. And he was right: those of that generation did not; and those who did at one point understand Joseph had their eyes covered by God due to the iniquity of the world.
But today stand a great many who do know Joseph’s heart.
We know he meant well—even if he did in fact make a serious mistake in Kirtland. We’ve studied God’s word and understand that Joseph’s life in Nauvoo does not actually represent the man himself. We know Joseph loved God and felt great sorrow for his sins, as we all have for our own.
I look forward to the day he ascends from spiritual prison with those he preached to therein—to be sanctified before all of the people. (D&C 115:19) We who wait and watch for these things have laid hold to every good thing, as Mormon directed us, and we are eternally grateful for the good things Joseph labored to bring us. The preparatory work he began in 1830 has not gone by in vain.
It proved to us that the holy scriptures are true; that God does inspire men and call them to work miracles among the children of men.
“When I am called at the trump of the ark-angel, and weighed in the balance, you will all know me then.”
The world has mocked the work of God’s great prophet for four generations. Those claiming to succeed him have only further defamed his accomplishments.
Although Joseph may have at one point been a fallen prophet, he was always a true prophet. He did not fail; the people did.
I have attempted to organize an accurate timeline of what may have occurred during his ministry in respect to the folly of adultery which came among the Saints. The LDS church was infiltrated by the sins warned against by God, yet there’s no telling what really happened. All we know is that the words of God revealed through Joseph Smith in The Book of Mormon and 1844-Doctrine and Covenants are the greatest source of light and evidence of God’s hand in the world since the ministry of the Twelve, who were with Jesus Christ in Jerusalem.
I apologize if I have in any way misrepresented Joseph or the events of the trajectory of the restored church. The historical record is a messy one, and should not be relied upon. An understanding of Joseph Smith can be deepened by examining all historical pieces of evidence—but really, we’ll never quite know the truthfulness of these documents. All we can do is believe God’s word and receive the manifestation of the Spirit.
“For now,” says Neil L. Anderson, “give Brother Joseph a break!”
Like him I know that “in a future day” we will have “one-hundred times more information” and this information will come “from our all-knowing Father in Heaven.”
Until that day, this is my best,