LDS Discussions Blog
About That Joseph Smith Video (October 29, 2019)
On October 25th, 2019, the LDS church released a new video on Joseph Smith, which is part of their series of "now you know" videos that attempt to use simple graphics to portray their history in a slightly more open manner than before Google made information so easily accessible. If you have not seen it, the church published it on YouTube and you can view it here.
It's a short video and we're not going to spend a ton of time here rehashing it, but I want to point out some of the ways that it feels like the church is still dodging and skirting difficult issues. This video feels much more dishonest than the previous videos we have covered (seer stone video and the Word of Wisdom video), and we'll highlight the reasons we feel that way as we go.
Below I am going to have the text of the video with some comments about why the church is still being misleading about the works of Joseph Smith even in the year 2019 when the information is so readily available. If you have not read our annotated essays, I highly recommend them as they provide so much more information than this blog post on the specific issues.
Before I start with the video, I want to note the definition of honesty that the church has declared in its own Gospel Principals Manual (lesson 31):
"Complete honesty is necessary for our salvation. President Brigham Young said, “If we accept salvation on the terms it is offered to us, we have got to be honest in every thought, in our reflections, in our meditations, in our private circles, in our deals, in our declarations, and in every act of our lives” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young , 293).”
Satan would have us believe it is all right to lie. He says, “Yea, lie a little; … there is no harm in this” (2 Nephi 28:8). Satan encourages us to justify our lies to ourselves. Honest people will recognize Satan’s temptations and will speak the whole truth, even if it seems to be to their disadvantage.
There are many other forms of lying. When we speak untruths, we are guilty of lying. We can also intentionally deceive others by a gesture or a look, by silence, or by telling only part of the truth. Whenever we lead people in any way to believe something that is not true, we are not being honest."
From the video:
"Who was Joseph Smith? He is most well known as the first prophet and president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Latter-day Saints believe that God called Joseph Smith to restore the fullness of His gospel to the earth.
Let's start at the beginning. Joseph was born on December 23rd, 1805. He was the fifth of eleven children born to Joseph Smith Senior and Lucy Mack Smith. They were a close knit family of farmers who struggled to make a living. They were often forced to move throughout the northeastern United States in order to support themselves.
Eventually, the family settled in upstate New York. The Smith family were devout Christians. They read the Bible as a family and attended several churches in the area, searching for one that fit their beliefs."
There's really nothing here that I care to get into without getting into the weeds a bit, but I want to put the full text in here to give full context. It is important to note the video's statement that the Smith family regularly studied the Bible, because we know that Joseph Smith knew the Bible as well as anyone and it plays heavily into the reliance on the Bible for the Book of Mormon. Back to the video:
"Yet Joseph was confused by the conflicting teachings. Joseph loved the Bible in the teachings of Jesus, but he was confused by the conflicting opinions of the various churches. One day, while studying the Bible, Joseph read a verse in the New Testament that said, "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God."
After careful reflection, Joseph decided to do as the scripture directed: he would ask God which church he should join. On a spring morning in 1820 Joseph went to a grove of trees near his family's farm to pray. Joseph knelt and prayed. Joseph said that as he prayed, "I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me. When the light rested upon me, I saw two personages whose brightness and glory defy all description standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other, This is my beloved son. Hear him."
Joseph asked the Lord which church he should join. The Lord instructed him not to join any of them. That experience, which came to be known as the First Vision, set in motion what the Apostle Peter referred to as the restitution of all things that Jesus Christ would call Joseph to restore His true church to the earth.
Joseph would go on to learn that Christ's true church, the one with his authority that he founded during his time on earth, had been lost from the Earth after the martyrdom of the original church's leaders."
The video is making the very clear declaration that there is only one First Vision account, and that it happened exactly as the 1838 version from Joseph Smith claims. We recently wrote an overview of First Vision accounts which covers why it could not have occurred in 1820, and we also have our annotated LDS essay of the First Vision, which details the problems with the statement the church makes in this video.
In other words, the church is violating their own standard of honesty here by not speaking "the whole truth, even if it seems to be to their disadvantage." There were multiple First Vision accounts that contradict each other in very significant ways, it was written long after the event was claimed to have happened (18 years in this particular account), and the details around 1820 make clear it could not have happened then.
Back to the video:
"Three years after the First Vision, an angel visited Joseph and instructed him to unearth an ancient record hidden in a nearby hill, which Joseph translated by the power of God. This ancient record was the Book of Mormon, another testament of Jesus Christ. The Book of Mormon contains an account of God's dealings with the ancient inhabitants of the Americas, and Latter-day Saints believe it is scripture, another witness of Jesus Christ."
This is a huge area of dishonesty for the video. In the time between the claimed First Vision and translation of the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith used a stone in a hat to hunt for buried treasure for profit. If the church wants to give a video about the origins of Joseph Smith, omitting this information goes against their own statement of honesty.
More problematic is that the church once again uses imagery in the video that is flat out false. To translate the Book of Mormon that we have today (excluding the 116 pages where it's more unclear how he translated), Joseph Smith would put his head fully in a hat and read words off the same stone he used for treasure digging. The gold plates were often not even in the room, which we cover in our annotated Book of Mormon LDS translation essay.
Yet here is the imagery the church uses for the translation:
The church wants to normalize Joseph Smith's practice in a faith promoting way, but in 2019 it is really easy to show how they are being willfully dishonest. To again quote their own definition of honesty, "Whenever we lead people in any way to believe something that is not true, we are not being honest."
But it doesn't end there as the next section makes the same unquestionable declaration for an event that did not happen. From the video:
"Along with the Bible, the Lord also sent Peter, James and John to restore his priesthood that is the authority to act in the name of God. Joseph Smith also received revelations from the Lord that taught and clarified eternal principles, such as the importance of baptism, the need for temples where we make sacred covenants with God, and that marriage performed by the restored priesthood can last eternally, not just until the end of our mortal life."
The restoration of the priesthood is a topic that is central to the church, but it simply did not happen as Joseph Smith claimed. In fact, there was no mention of Peter, James, and John until 1834 - five years after it supposedly happened.
We cover this in great detail on our priesthood restoration timeline, but the evidence is clear that the story evolved over time as Joseph Smith worked to create a history that consolidated his authority in the church. In fact, Joseph was not even ordained to the Melchizedek priesthood until 1831, two years after this event was supposed to have occurred, and that is a matter of record in the church's own documentation.
This is, again, an attempt by the church to continue with a story that the evidence simply debunks. To quote the church's own definition of honesty yet again: "Honest people will recognize Satan’s temptations and will speak the whole truth, even if it seems to be to their disadvantage."
One last point about this section before we move on: The church mentions here that the Lord revealed to Joseph that "marriage performed by the restored priesthood can last eternally, not just until the end of our mortal life," but completely avoid mentioning that Joseph Smith introduced polygamy. I know that polygamy is not at all faith promoting in 2019, but it was a huge part of Joseph Smith's impact and legacy as a religious leader.
Shouldn't the church mention that Joseph Smith had over thirty wives and had sex with at least a dozen women while he claimed to be their spiritual leader? The video begins with "Who is Joseph Smith," yet it doesn't mention that he created D&C 132 to implement polygamy, married other men's wives, and even married two fourteen year old girls. It seems like something that would be worth mentioning, and yet the church once again breaks their own definition of honesty to keep members from hearing the totality of Joseph Smith's impact as a religious figure.
We will leave polygamy at that, but please read our annotated Gospel Topics essay on polygamy for so much more detail, and then you will understand why the church is still trying to hide what Joseph Smith did even in the year 2019.
And the last section of the video:
"On April 6th, 1830 the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was officially organized, and Joseph Smith was sustained as the first elder and leader of the church.
So who was Joseph Smith? Latter-day Saints believe the Lord worked through Joseph Smith, calling him as a prophet to reestablish the true Church of Jesus Christ on the earth. Latter-day Saints call this the restoration. As part of the restoration, Joseph Smith received revelation from God, bringing back lost eternal truth by the gift and power of God.
He translated ancient scriptures and clarified the meaning of existing scripture, too. He also received the priesthood; God's authority to act in His name. Joseph Smith accomplished all of this while facing great persecution throughout his life. Indeed, from the time of the first vision to his death at the hands of an angry mob when he was 38, Joseph faced great opposition because of his message.
Nevertheless, he never ceased to testify that Jesus Christ was the savior of the world and that His true church had been restored to the earth. Joseph Smith was the first in a line of modern day prophets who have likewise received revelation and guidance from God for all His children. Even today, as in ancient times, the Lord's modern day prophets teach us of Him and guide His church on the earth.
Joseph Smith's life and the restoration show us how much God loves us. He wants us to know the truth, and He wants us to know Him. Now you know."
We have detailed the main points above, so at this point we'll summarize our thoughts just as the video does.
Joseph Smith did establish the church and did claim revelation from God. The problem is that Joseph Smith also made testable claims to his ability as a prophet, and over time they have been proven false.
The Book of Abraham (which the video quickly flashes when talking about scripture) was claimed by Joseph Smith to be a translation of papyrus, but we now know Joseph got the translations completely wrong. For example, one image of facsimile two Joseph claims is "God sitting upon his throne," but is really the Egyptian god Min sitting with an erect penis. You can read our annotated essay of the Book of Abraham for more information, but the Book of Abraham is all you need to know about Joseph Smith's claims as a prophet.
Joseph Smith claimed that God revealed to him that the Native Americans were the Lamanites, both through the Book of Mormon as well as specific revelations. DNA has since shown that Native Americans came from Asia and not Israel, dismantling the very reason for the Book of Mormon in the first place. Again, we cover this in great detail on our Book of Mormon DNA studies annotated essay.
We could go on and on here talking about Joseph's problems with the Book of Mormon translation including using Deutero-Isaiah material that was written after Lehi left, anachronisms in the Book or Mormon, or his failed prophecies throughout his life, but the point is that Joseph Smith has been proven a false prophet more than enough to know that this church can not possibly be true
I have no doubt that the church history department has good intentions here with these videos, and that they want to create material for members who have questions so they do not get off the boat. The problem is that they are breaking their own standard of honesty, which would fail them in a temple recommend interview if they were being honest with their bishop.
This is a shorter post than our other video posts, mostly because we've covered these problems so often. But that's why this video is so damning - it is the year 2019 and the church continues to whitewash and outright lie about its history. I do not know how much the top leaders know about the true history of the church, but I do know that the church history department is aware that this video presents events that simply did not happen as stated, but they are valuing obedience from members over giving them the full story and letting them choose for themselves.
If the church was true, they would be telling their members at every General Conference to study their history. They would be screaming to all converts to take their history for a test drive, because they have nothing to hide. But instead this church continues to paint a picture that is not accurate while demonizing those who leave the church and even those who have doubts. As we mentioned in our post about Elder Corbridge's devotional, there is nothing the church fears more than its members taking a look under the hood.
Because the truth is that no matter how shiny you make the church look in these videos (or the new Saints book), when you actually follow their own documentation and footnotes, you see very quickly that the church can not be true because it would defy everything that we have learned whether it's genetics, linguistics, migration studies, Egyptian studies, Biblical scholarship, or just common sense when it comes to reading stories in the Book of Mormon that could not possibly have happened.
We've mentioned on many other posts how difficult it is to take in this new information, and we understand how painful it is to process. Please email us anytime at email@example.com if you would like more resources to learn about these issues or if you are looking for people that you can safely talk to as you continue your faith journey.