Why has the wording of the endowment session changed when taught it would never change?

Why has the wording of the endowment session changed when taught it would never change?




On an anti Mormon site, I have just read the original wording for the Endowment which included all of the changes made. The writer also said that Joseph Smith had indicated that the Endowment would never be changed from its original form, as also stated by one of the Apostles.  Over the last 52 years I have noticed these changes take place and my only conclusion that I can come to is that the shorter versions now allow more endowments to take place in the temple.  Regards.





Hello Robert,

As I’m sure you gathered from your research, authors who open the Endowment to public inspection do not generally intend to build an individual’s faith in the Endowment as a saving ordinance–or in pretty much anything else, for that matter.

I am not aware of any quotation from Joseph Smith where he taught that the endowment liturgy as revealed in Kirtland, or in Nauvoo, could never be changed in any way.  What he did teach, was that

It was the design of the councils of heaven before the world was, that the principles and laws of the priesthood should be predicated upon the gathering of the people in every age of the world. Jesus did everything to gather the people, and they would not be gathered, and He therefore poured out curses upon them. Ordinances instituted in the heavens before the foundation of the world, in the priesthood, for the salvation of men, are not to be altered or changed. All must be saved on the same principles. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 308)

In other words:  The ordinances are eternal in nature and are not to be altered; and all people must receive those ordinances.  As Joseph explained in the same sermon:

If a man gets a fullness of the priesthood of God he has to get it in the same way that Jesus Christ obtained it, and that was by keeping all the commandments and obeying all the ordinances of the house of the Lord.

Now, there are a couple of things to bear in mind here.  The first thing to remember is that technically, the endowment is not “an” ordinance.  It is a series of ordinances, bound together with a significant amount of instruction.  The purpose of the instruction is to make the ordinances more meaningful, and that instruction can be (and indeed, has been) changed as often as necessary to make sure that the instruction does what it’s supposed to do; particularly as old symbols or teaching styles become so antiquated as to distract from the overall experience.  To insist that preserving the endowment requires preserving the verbatim text of the instruction, is rather like saying that the sacrament I took this past Sunday is somehow voided because the Sacrament Meeting talks I heard on that date aren’t carbon copies of the Sacrament Meeting talks being given last month, or last year, or a hundred years ago.

Second, we should consider what it really means to “alter” the ordinances.  This is particularly hairy in the case of the endowment.  Did you know that there was no written endowment text for over thirty-five years?  Until the St. George Temple was dedicated in 1877, endowment ceremonies were all done from memory–and, we may presume, were all slightly different from each other.  As the St. George temple neared completion Brigham Young worked with his secretary, L. John Nuttall, to commit the ceremony to paper for the first time.  During this process Brigham Young told how, back in 1842, after the presentation of some early endowment ceremonies, Joseph Smith turned to him and stated:

Brother Brigham, this is not arranged perfectly; however we have done the best we could under the circumstances in which we are placed. I wish you to take this matter in hand: organize and systematize all these ceremonies.  Diary of L. John Nuttall, February 7, 1877.

Historians tell us that even after the written text was developed, minor differences in the ceremony persisted from temple to temple until the early 20th century, when the First Presidency insisted that all temple presidents conform to the same written text.

This problem in finding a definitive text for a saving priesthood ordinance is not limited to endowment ceremonies.  Joseph Smith provided us with three different variants of the baptismal prayer (see D&C 20:73, compare 3 Ne 11:25 and Mosiah 18:13).  If there is some absolutely “perfect” script for an ordinance and that script must never be altered in any way, then does that mean that our baptisms are ineffectual?  Or Alma’s?  Or the ones done after Christ’s appearance to the Nephites?

I rather think not.  In 1840, Joseph Smith dictated a “Treatise on Priesthood”, which he had a scribe read at a church conference on October 5 of that year.  (It appears in in History of the Church 4:207-209, and parts of it are cited in Chapter 8 of the Teachings of the Presidents of the Church:  Joseph Smith.  You can also read the full text online at this link.)  It’s an interesting and important sermon, and I strongly recommend you take some time to digest it.  For our purposes, I will simply quote the following:

God will not acknowledge that which he has not called, ordained, and chosen. . . .


This then is the nature of the priesthood, every man holding the presidency of his dispensation and one man holding the presidency of them all even Adam, and Adam receiving his presidency and authority from Christ. . . The power, glory, and blessings of the priesthood could not continue with those who received ordination only as their righteousness continued, for Cain also being authorized to offer sacrifice but not offering it in righteousness, therefore he was cursed. It signifies then, that the ordinances must be kept in the very way God has appointed, otherwise their priesthood will prove a cursing instead of a blessing. If Cain had fulfilled the law of righteousness as did Enoch he could have walked with God all the days of his life and never failed of a blessing.

In other words:  For God to recognize a priesthood action, the required elements are authority and personal righteousness on the part of the priesthood holder.

Clearly, man does not have the right to unilaterally change the forms of the ordinances and ceremonies that God has established (see, for example, Isaiah 24:5).  We follow the current forms because we respect the divine authority of those whose responsibility it is to “preach the gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof” (5th Article of Faith).  However, we should not therefore conclude that God Himself lacks the power to change those forms in order to maximize their spiritual or symbolic benefit to the participants, so long as the Church attempts to ensure that those performing the ordinance are duly ordained and making a sincere effort to live righteously and so long as the substance of the ordinance is preserved.

What God will not do, is allow the ordinance to be changed to the point its core essence is no longer present.  For example, coming back to the ordinance of baptism:  While minor alterations to the baptismal prayer might be permissible, God would never authorize baptism’s degeneration to the point where its covenant aspect would be undermined or even denied (as is unfortunately the case in some Christian denominations today), or where Jesus Christ would be fundamentally written out of the rite (as is the case in a Jewish mikvot).

In contrast, the fundamental nature of the LDS endowment remains now, as it was in Joseph Smith’s day,

to receive all those ordinances in the House of the Lord, which are necessary for you, after you have departed this life, to enable you to walk back to the presence of the Father, passing the angels who stand as sentinels, being enabled to give them the key words, the signs and tokens, pertaining to the Holy Priesthood, and gain your eternal exaltation in spite of earth and hell.  (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 2:31)






Why was Oliver Cowdery chastened by the Lord?

Why was Oliver Cowdery chastened by the Lord?



Dear Gramps,

In D&C 8, the Lord gives Oliver Cowdery the power to translate the Gold Plates.  The Lord directs him four separate times in verses 1, 9, 10 and 11 to ask Him for the translation he needs.  In D&C 9, we find out that Oliver was perfectly obedient to these directions to ask, yet he failed and is chastened by the Lord because he did not “study it out in his mind”.  Why would the Lord tell him four times in section 8 to ask, and yet say nothing about studying it out in his mind?






The answer to your question is found in Section 9:

5 And, behold, it is because that you did not continue as you commenced, when you began to translate, that I have taken away this privilege from you.

Now it seems very likely that before Oliver Cowdery asked for permission, he did ponder it and study it.  When he asked, the Lord gave him the missing pieces; permission and instructions to ask in faith.

Apparently Oliver, like many of us focused on the new stuff and neglected the actions and behaviors that got him there in the first place.  This can be an all too common failing.

Of course God, being God, knew that this would happen, so why didn’t He intervene to correct it?  That is simply another form of the question of ‘Why does God not stop bad things from happening?’  We simply have to have faith that God knows what He is doing, and what He is doing is for the best.

That leaves us with speculation.  In this case I would speculate that God did not need Oliver to translate (Joseph was called for that), but he did need to teach Oliver how to receive answers from God.  Now, God is a master teacher, and I know that sometimes I learn the most from my failures, and not necessarily as much from my successes.  Maybe that is what Oliver needed in order to to learn?

Also Oliver was a School Master by trade who shouldn’t have needed to be advised that some measure of intellectual rigor would be necessary to undertake the work of translation. Hence the absence of any “study-it-out-in-your-mind” injunction in D&C 8.  It’s what I perceive to be a general, gentle tone of “you-should-have-known-better.” In D&C 9 it becomes clear that whatever process Oliver used lacked any real intellectual effort on his part.

I do know that because of Oliver’s request and struggles we have Doctrine and Covenants sections 8 and 9.  This allows all of us who read and ponder the words and instructions to also learn the lessons that God was teaching Oliver.  How many hundreds or thousands of people have also been taught because of these events?  While my thoughts are speculative, it is not really that hard for me to think of some very good reasons that God might have had to let this happen.

Anyway, for those interested, the Church has posted an article covering the events in question here.  You can read here.





Did church members own slaves?

Did church members own slaves?




I am not sure of dates but it seems that the church existed before slavery was fully abolished. Are there any instances known about where members had slaves?





Dear Liz,

Yes, the Church was established during the antebellum years (the years before the Civil War) and both Joseph Smith and Brigham Young lived during that period.   (Joseph Smith prophesied of the coming Civil War.  Doctrine and Covenants 87).

While the Church was established in New York and Illinois, there could not have been slaves, because these states were anti-slavery.  Thus many of the first members of the Church were from the North and tended to be anti-slavery. When the body of the Church moved to Missouri where the persecution they were suffering increased, it was in part because the pro-slavery Missiourians feared that the mostly anti-slavery Mormons would swing the vote.

When Joseph Smith ran for President of the United States, part of his platform was a plan to eliminate slavery. He suggested we “pay every man a reasonable price for his slaves out of the surplus revenue arising from the sale of public lands, and from the deduction of pay from members of Congress.”  Joseph Smith:  Campaign for President of the United States

Slavery was legal in Utah, due to the Compromise of 1850. When the Saints moved to the Utah territory, there were three slaves, Green Flake, Hark Lay and Oscar Crosby in the first pioneer company in 1847.  When slave owners converted to the church, some gave the slaves their freedom before migrating, or after arriving in Utah, others brought their slaves with them

One family freed their slaves, but because the woman was a widow, one of the slaves, “Faithful John” traveled across the plains with them to help the widow and her children make the trip.  Once they were arrived and established, he set out to return to the East to look for his wife (who was sold by his previous owner.)  However, the family later received word that he had died before reaching the East.

One family brought their slave, a woman named Biddy Mason.  She was born in Missouri and “belonged” to Robert Marion Smith.  When Smith and his family joined the church they took Mason with them to Utah.  She herded cattle, cooked, served as a midwife and tended her own children.  In 1851, Robert Smith got gold fever and went to California.  Apparently, he was unaware that California was a free state.  In 1856 Mason petitioned the court and was able to obtain freedom for herself and her daughters.  She went on to become a successful entrepreneur.

There likely were other slaves in Utah as well, but I believe this was the exception, and not the rule. It is notable that there were free black people who joined the Church as well.  Elijah Abel, the first black man to receive the Priesthood (from Joseph Smith) and Jane Manning James are two of our black pioneers.






Why was so much written down in the early days of the Mormon Church?

Why was so much written down in the early days of the Mormon Church?




Throughout my studies I feel like there was A LOT of doctrine, thoughts, life stories, and other things written down during the church’s early years. I know there was also a lot not written down. Did everyone back then just write so much? And how were they able to store and travel with so much written down? I feel like Joseph Smith has so many thoughts written down, he must have always had a pen and paper. It’s not like nowadays where we have computers and much easier ways to save information.





Dear Kristen,

I have served on boards, councils, presidencies, and other like organizations inside and outside of the Church. My experience tells me that generally the two most powerful people over such organizations are the president and the secretary. If the president doesn’t care if something is done, it usually doesn’t happen. If the secretary doesn’t record that something was done, it never did. We see this in the earliest articles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Priesthood ordination is an authorized ordinance, meaning it cannot be done without approval from the presiding officer. But even if all the approval and requirements are met, even if the person is ordained, as far as the Church is concerned there was no ordination if the record is missing (see D&C 20:63-64).

With the first members already thinking about bureaucratic record keeping, it comes as no surprise that the Lord bridled this practice and took the reins. The same day that the Church was organized, the Lord instructed that “there shall be a record kept among you” (D&C 21:1), and Joseph’s place in the Church and the Restoration would be duly noted. Initially, Oliver Cowdery took the initiative to record the minutes of meetings and take notes of various sermons but in time his work as Second Elder required that someone be brought on full time. Within a year of the previous revelation, John Whitmer served as the Prophet’s secretary and then was commanded to write the Church’s history even while it was in its infancy. His mandate was to “transcribe all things which shall be given” to Joseph, “keep the church record and history continually”, and “write these things” “by the Comforter” (D&C 47). Whitmer’s scribal work has proved invaluable, as he created what is known as Revelation Book 1, which was an official collection of the revelations Joseph received and served as a primary source for the Book of Commandments (the precursor to the Doctrine and Covenants). Later John left the Church, but Joseph recognized more than ever the importance of record keeping and surrounded himself with multiple recorders.

This record that the Lord commanded to be kept was not just of the Prophet but also included the Saints. “It is the duty of the Lord’s clerk, whom he has appointed, to keep a history, and a general church record of all things that transpire in Zion. … and also their manner of life, their faith, and works”. What’s more, not only is this a general history, but a very specific one of the business of Zion, getting personal and naming names:”and [also] of all those who consecrate properties, and receive inheritances legally from the bishop;… and also of the apostates who apostatize after receiving their inheritances” D&C 85:1-2). These records are being kept today in Zion’s stakes. Stake and ward histories are kept annually and make note of the life, faith, and works of the members. The local units also keep track of a member’s financial contributions and prepare a copy in time for tithing settlement. If you have not served in a leadership role, it might surprise you to see how often your name appears in the records of various organizations. The high priest group has records of whether or not you’ve been home taught. The Relief Society has records of whether or not you’ve been visiting teaching. Your name may appear in the Ward Council minutes if a coordinated Christian effort was needed in reaching out to you and your family. Your service is also sometimes recorded by faithful leaders trying to prevent burnout, or in trying to determine who can best magnify an assignment.

My intention in calling out these records is not to alarm you, but to draw attention to a few principles. First, the general Church leadership governs on the same principles as the local. So if the worldwide church needs a record of the goings-on of the members, that starts locally. Additionally, if the prophet is worthy of record for the faithful discharge of his duties, so is the visiting teacher. Second, I would call your attention to the glorious time you live in. John Whitmer kept a history of the Church in its first year. Depending on your age, you live in a period when the priesthood was extended to all worthy males; over 100 temples circle the earth; women and children pray in General Conference sessions; and the mission of the Church has been updated to reflect Zion themes and the priesthood keys revealed in the Kirtland Temple. The Restoration continues as God “reveal[s] many great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of God”! Third, these records have an even greater import when we see what else the Lord revealed to the Prophet.

Joseph seemed to take quite literally the Lord’s prayer that His “will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. If God commands, we obey. If God needs a righteous city and government for the Millennium, we better start building. And if we are to be judged out of the books which are written, well we better start writing so the judgment can be just. “The books spoken of” in such references “must be the books which contained the record of their works [including baptism], and refer to the records which are kept on the earth. … It may seem a very bold doctrine that we talk of — a power which records or binds on earth and binds in heaven. Nevertheless … whatsoever those men [with proper priesthood authority] did in authority, … and kept a proper and faithful record of the same, it became a law on earth and in heaven” (D&C 128:7, 9). These earthly records constitute what the Prophet referred to as The Book of the Law of the Lord, including the revelations, contributions, and faithfulness of the members. Elder McConkie describes this “book” (really a library!):

“Those records kept by the Church showing the names, genealogies, and faith and works of those to be remembered by the Lord in the day when eternal inheritances are bestowed upon the obedient are, taken collectively, called the Book of the Law of God. Such records contain both the Law of God and the names of those who keep that law. They are in effect a church book of remembrance. (D&C 85)” (Mormon Doctrine, 100).

So Joseph recognized, through revelation, the importance of keeping records and surrounded himself with scribes who recognized the importance of their callings. Today we have Church leaders and members who also recognize this principle and they strive to live up to the mandate in this historic time.



If Joseph Smith used a hat and a stone, why the need for the gold plates?

If Joseph Smith used a hat and a stone, why the need for the gold plates?


 If all Joseph Smith needed was a stone and his hat to write the Book of Mormon, why the need for gold plates for which a murder was committed?




Hello Poki,

I presume the “murder” to which you are referring is Nephi’s killing of Laban.  This killing was a part of Nephi’s efforts to obtain the brass plates, not the gold plates; and the worth of the brass plates to Lehi’s family and to his descendants (as well as the Mulekites) is well attested in scripture (see, e.g., Omni 1:14Mosiah 1:3-4Alma 37:1-10).

As to the question of why the actual plates were necessary if the seer stone (or the Urim and Thummim) rendered their presence unnecessary?  For one thing, the plates provided concrete evidence for eleven official witnesses–and a handful of unofficial ones–that the Book of Mormon recounted the stories of real people, places, and events.  For the world at large, of course, the plates obviously would never be made available as empirical proof of Joseph Smith’s claims–but the supporting testimony of multiple witnesses also made Smith’s claims especially worthy of extraordinary consideration in a world rife with, and generally skeptical of, individuals who claimed uncorroborated experiences with the Divine.

It may also be that the existence of gold plates sparked extra interest and attention in a region of upstate New York where treasure-seeking and “money digging” was already an established (and, among the educated classes, controversial) practice.

And finally, the efforts Joseph Smith had to make to actually obtain the plates–as well as his later struggles to safeguard them–were an opportunity for him to fine-tune his ability to obey, to listen to the Holy Spirit, and ultimately become the kind of prophet that God needed him to be.


How far is the  Sacred Grove to the Smith’s house?

How far is the Sacred Grove to the Smith’s house?



i just want to ask how far is the Sacred Grove to the Smith’s house?



Dear RR,

It’s been some years since I’ve been myself, so I looked it up (http://hillcumorah.org/sitemap.php). You’ll be pleased to know the sacred grove is just a short walk away from the Smith house (even by today’s standards)! The northern entrance to the Grove is about 100 feet away from the Welcome Center (where you’ll park). The Welcome center is 350 feet from the Frame Home (you’ll pass the log cabin on the way). About 200 feet from there is the southern entrance to the Sacred Grove.

I carry fond memories of the road trip my family took some years ago. We started in Palmyra, drove to Kirkland, headed over to Missouri, before doubling back to Nauvoo (my family already toured parts of Utah). I cannot recommend such a trip highly enough for a family or a couple. I enjoyed the preparation every bit as much as the trip itself. We chose to go during the pageant season (during the summer). It was hot and humid, compressed our schedule a bit, and was a bit more crowded than it would be otherwise; but we got to see some top-notch pageants on the Hill Cumorah and in Nauvoo.

Palmyra, New York

In Palmyra we visited the Sacred Grove (heeding the posts discouraging taking souvenirs) and spent some time in the temple nearby. We saw the kind of farm economy employed by the Smiths. We visited the cemetery where Alvin was buried, who was such a great influence on his younger brothers (and is memorialized in Joseph Smith’s vision of the Celestial Kingdom):

“He … called Hyrum to him and said, ‘Hyrum, I must die, and now I want to say a few things to you that you must remember. I have done all that I could do to make our dear parents comfortable. I now want you to go on and finish the house and take care of them in their old age and do not let them work hard anymore.’

… [T]o Joseph he said, ‘Joseph, I am going to die now. The distress which I suffer and the sensations that I have tell me my time is very short. I want you to be a good boy and do everything that lies in your power to obtain the record (the gold plates). Be faithful in receiving instruction and in keeping every commandment that is given you. Your brother Alvin must now leave you, but remember the example which he has set for you, and set a good example for the children that are younger than you. Always be kind to Father and Mother.'” (History of Joseph Smith by His Mother).

We also visited the Peter Whitmer Visitors Center which has a modern church built on the site, and a reconstructed log home that you can tour to get an idea of what it was like April 6, 1830, when the Church (soon to be The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) was officially organized. Be sure to ask your guide about “the fourth witness” – Mary Whitmer’s vision of Moroni and the plates.

In the evening we made it to the Hill Cumorah. There’s a visitors center there and a giant Angel Moroni. You can walk the grounds if you get there at the right time. It was closed to us because the hill was serving as stage, dressing room, and green room for the Hill Cumorah Pageant. Seating is on a first come, first served basis. But getting there early is nice, because the cast comes out in full costume and mingles with the audience before it starts.

I’m told the pageant has since been updated. When we went, it was presented like an old-time radio drama – with a narrator filling in the audience on what we’re viewing. It covers the Nephite/Lamanite history from the journey from Jerusalem (complete with a boat with sails and tempests) to the generational fighting to highlighted sermons to the destruction of the wicked (including volcanic blasts (!)) and the arrival of the resurrected Savior!

If you’re up for a drive, you can also drive down to Pennsylvania and see the memorial for the restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood on the banks of the Susquehanna River.

If you’re like myself, you’ll get a lot more out of this leg of the trip by reading The History of Joseph Smith by His Mother before going.

Kirtland, Ohio

In Kirtland, we enjoyed visiting the first temple completed in this dispensation. We even timed our visit such that we were able to attend an event in the building! The temple is owned by the Community of Christ, and as such, they have a different emphasis in doctrine. Although there has been a schism between our two churches, I highly encourage all visitors to be respectful, because 1) I didn’t much enjoy antagonistic persons trying to attack my religion at the Hill Cumorah; and 2) you’ll find the tour guides respond a lot more pleasantly.

In the temple, we saw the pulpits where Jesus, Moses, and Elijah appeared to Joseph Smith to accept the temple and confer priesthood keys. We read about the experience on the temple grounds afterwards. I’m told if you go in the off-season, you can get a more comprehensive tour. The Community of Christ has done an excellent job preserving historic records, and they wish to continue to do so with historic sites. As such, they limit the tourist traffic that comes through the temple. Worthy of note, the sign on the temple states it was built by the “Church of the Latter Day Saints” because the Church had not yet settled on the full name (as designated by revelation). My favorite question in the tour was “where were the mummies kept”, which was answered “in the basement”. If you don’t know why there were mummies in the basement, you should ask.

The other star attraction here is the Newell Whitney store. This was the first bishop’s storehouse, the prophet’s translation room, and the school of the prophets. If you go in the summer, the upstairs room where the school met will be sweltering. Still, try to pay attention with the Spirit as you listen to some of the sacred experiences witnessed there.

One hidden gem is the ashery, where you can hear about the saints economy (and get a great parable on the worth of souls). Another treasure that I enjoyed was visiting the grave of Thankful Pratt (what a name!).

“A few days previous to her death she had a vision in open day while sitting in her room. She was overwhelmed or immersed in a pillar of fire, which seemed to fill the whole room, as if it would consume it and all things therein; and the Spirit whispered to her mind, saying: ‘Thou art baptized with fire and the Holy Ghost.’ It also intimated to her that she should have the privilege of departing from this world of sorrow and pain, and of going to the Paradise of rest as soon as she had fulfilled the prophecy in relation to the promised son. This vision was repeated on the next day at the same hour, viz:– twelve o’clock. She was filled with joy and peace indescribable, and seemed changed in her whole nature from that time forth. She longed to be gone, and anticipated the time as a hireling counts the days of his servitude, or the prisoner the term of his imprisonment.

“Farewell, my dear Thankful, thou wife of my youth, and mother of my first born; the beginning of my strength–farewell. Yet a few more lingering years of sorrow, pain and toil, and I shall be with thee, and clasp thee to my bosom, and thou shalt sit down on my throne, as a queen and priestess unto thy lord, arrayed in white robes of dazzling splendor, and decked with precious stones and gold, while thy queen sisters shall minister before thee and bless thee, and thy sons and daughters innumerable shall call thee blessed, and hold thy name in everlasting remembrance.”

Later, when Parley was in Richmond Jail (and the Prophet was in Liberty), Thankful visited and comforted him. Parley prayed to know if he would ever be free again, and his wife came to him as an angel to deliver the Lord’s message (The Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt pg 164-5, 207-209, and 295-296).


Adam-ondi-Ahman was well worth the stop. Although it was once a settlement of the saints, today it is open fields and farmland. We walked a little ways and read exerpts from the scriptures, Joseph Smith, John Taylor, and Bruce R. McConkie about the history witnessed in this valley and the glorious events to unfold there. We read about Adam’s altar that survived to Joseph’s day. We pondered Adam’s role in God’s plan and the special keys he holds. Of course we sang the hymn sharing the same name. The next time I make such a trip, I would like to schedule more time here to walk the grounds and ponder. If it’s of interest, ask me about the quotes I brought with us, and I’ll post it for you to enjoy as well.

We did not spend nearly enough time at Independence for my liking (I vastly underestimated how much I would enjoy it (it’s such a depressing time in our history)). Most of the sites of interest are owned by other churches, and they keep banker hours (9-5 or thereabouts). So you’ll want to visit them before it’s too late in the day. The LDS visitor center is open later. Again, I must emphasize that if you are courteous to your guides, you’ll get a lot more out of your tours. I found the Community of Christ temple interesting, because it has functional elements inspired from Joseph’s early understandings of temples (it was to be more than an ordinance house, and would also serve as a place of learning and ministry and administration). I will also admit that some elements of it were saddening for me, simply because of some aspects of my testimony that I hold very dear.

The real gem of Missouri though was the replica of the Liberty Jail. The building looks something like a shrine (I laughingly referred to it as the “dome of the jail” when I first saw it). It’s unusual architecture for the Church, but very fitting when you hear about the circumstances the led the Prophet here and the suffering that made it sacred. Looking into the confines, you hear added pathos in the Prophet’s plea:

“O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place? How long shall thy hand be stayed, and thine eye, yea thy pure eye, behold from the eternal heavens the wrongs of thy people and of thy servants, and thine ear be penetrated with their cries? Yea, O Lord, how long shall they suffer these wrongs and unlawful oppressions, before thine heart shall be softened toward them, and thy bowels be moved with compassion toward them?

O Lord God Almighty, maker of heaven, earth, and seas, and of all things that in them are, and who controllest and subjectest the devil, and the dark and benighted dominion of Sheol—stretch forth thy hand; let thine eye pierce; let thy pavilion be taken up; let thy hiding place no longer be covered; let thine ear be inclined; let thine heart be softened, and thy bowels moved with compassion toward us. Let thine anger be kindled against our enemies; and, in the fury of thine heart, with thy sword avenge us of our wrongs. Remember thy suffering saints, O our God; and thy servants will rejoice in thy name forever.”

Here Joseph desperately sought God. And here he found Him! It is, in my heart, holy land.

The Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt is good reading to prepare for tihs visit.

Nauvoo, Illinois

One of the nice things about visiting Nauvoo during the pageant season is the little vignettes the actors perform. The actor playing Joseph delivered excerpts from the King Follett Discourse and the Sermon in the Grove. Elsewhere, the actresses playing Emma Smith, Eliza Snow, and Sarah Granger Kimball meet together and discuss the founding of the Relief Society. Brigham Young and the Twelve meet together before going off to preach the gospel overseas.

The pageant itself is also quite enjoyable, focusing on the efforts to build the temple, and ending with a quote from President Hinckley placing the Nauvoo and Salt Lake temples as bookends to our foundational history. And on the subject of theatricality, there are a few shows you can catch in the visitors’ center, including one that is the grandaddy of all roadshow skits.

The Nauvoo temple exterior is a faithful replication of the original (with the exception of a modern Moroni replacing the generic “angel of the restoration”). The inside also matches the original intent, as the floor plan is largely the same, except the one formerly unfinished floor has been properly finished with ordinance rooms for the endowment. I would consider my experience in this city incomplete without a visit to the temple. We were given some good advice, which I’ll pass on. We Mormons love to do the most important things first and then use the less-important things as filler. This means in Nauvoo, the temple is filled in the morning and relatively empty in the afternoon. We scheduled a nice relaxing afternoon session in the temple and spent the hottest part of the day inside. We also enjoyed taking a moment to sit by the Mississippi where the first baptisms for the dead were performed in this dispensation.

In Nauvoo you can see the mansion house that served as Joseph Smith’s campaign headquarters for his presidential bid. You’ll see the women’s garden, commemorating the organization of the Relief Society and the value righteous women bring us. You’ll come into the Seventy’s Hall which served as the original Missionary Training Center before there was even a Language Traininng Mission. It was intended to include something of a museum, carrying souvenirs from foreign lands brought back by missionaries and used in training missionaries about to leave. It serves as a museum today. You are sadly missing out if you do not take the opportunity to have your picture taken preaching a firey sermon at the pulpit. One other honorable mention is the smithy, where you can get your diamond ring. They just hand them out now, but you should ask your guide about the apocryphal story behind them.

We also really got a lot out of visiting the cleverly-named Red Brick Store. It is well advertised that the Female Relief Society was organized here (as Grams pointed out, the men can have their restorations in the woods or some cabins; but when it came time to restore a women’s organization, nothing short of a sturdy brick structure would do). In addition to that, the upper room was also used for city council meetings. So the fateful meeting where it was decided that The Expositor was a nuisance worthy of destruction would have been held in here as well. In addition, Masonic Lodge meetings were conducted in this same space. When the Endowment was revealed to Joseph Smith, they were presented here until enough of the Nauvoo Temple was completed.

Of course, Nauvoo also has the graves of Hyrum and Joseph Smith. which invariably leads us to Carthage where they were martyred. We really enjoyed reading up about Hyrum Smith and his relationship with Joseph and especially his position in the Church. The obituary John Taylor wrote was not just for Joseph, their prophet and mayor, but also for Hyrum, the Patriarch and Assistant President.

“Henceforward their names will be classed among the martyrs of religion; and the reader in every nation will be reminded that the Book of Mormon, and this book of Doctrine and Covenants of the church, cost the best blood of the nineteenth century … They lived for glory; they died for glory; and glory is their eternal reward. From age to age shall their names go down to posterity as gems for the sanctified.

“They were innocent of any crime, as they had often been proved before, and were only confined in jail by the conspiracy of traitors and wicked men; and their innocent blood on the floor of Carthage jail is a broad seal affixed to ‘Mormonism’ that cannot be rejected by any court on earth, and their innocent blood … is a witness to the truth of the everlasting gospel that all the world cannot impeach; and their innocent blood … is an ambassador for the religion of Jesus Christ, that will touch the hearts of honest men among all nations; and their innocent blood, with the innocent blood of all the martyrs under the altar that John saw, will cry unto the Lord of Hosts till he avenges that blood on the earth.”

Other historic sites

Another stop you may enjoy on a cross-country trip is the Kanesville Tabernacle. This is a replica of the tabernacle that was constructed specifically so the Latter-day Saints could hold a solemn assembly to once again form the First Presidency with Brigham Young at the head. Before going, I would recommend reading up on the succession crisis and the steps for forming the First Presidency today. I find it extremely faith-promoting as a contrast to how leadership is selected in the world.

A number of other sites deserve an honorable mention. Sites like Winter QuartersMartin’s Cove, and the Mormon Battalion. And can I really leave out Temple Square? Of course not.



How could  Eliza R. Snow have been an early leader in the church?

How could Eliza R. Snow have been an early leader in the church?




I was preparing a talk for church and read in a book called “Our Latter-Day Hymns” by Karen Lynn Davidson that Eliza R. Snow was married to the Prophet Joseph Smith while writing the hymn “Oh My Father”. That got me curious as I had previously thought that there was no confirmed plural wives of Joseph Smith Jr. and that even Emma had stated on her death bed that he was not a polygamist. So I got online and went to Wikipedia, looked up Eliza R. Snow and read some of her history. Then things got even more confusing. It says she married Joseph on June 29 1842 even writing fondly of Joseph “my beloved husband, the choice of my heart and the crown of my life, then later that year she started a petition trying to restore his virtue and denying that he was a polygamist. She even published a certificate denouncing polygamy and denying Joseph as its founder in October 1842. As we know later she married Brigham Young, as a plural wife or for time who knows. If it was for time wouldn’t that be against the whole argument of polygamy being to seal spouses so that they can qualify for the blessings of celestial kingdom? Eliza was one of the Relief Society presidents. Help me understand how a woman who obviously had inconsistencies could have been a leader in the church. Then there’s the whole Joseph Smith possibly being sealed to woman who were married to living men…I find this topic somewhat troubling because in my mind if the men and women who founded the church were living unworthily how could they have received inspiration from Heavenly Father. This is a very troubling topic for me and I can’t just ignore it.





Dear Kandace,

Most of my current thinking and support about Joseph Smith’s plural marriages comes from the three volume set by Brian C. Hales entitled Joseph Smith’s Polygamy Vol 1-3. I wanted to give credit up front for these ideas. All references in support of the ideas given here could be found therein.

First, let me address the thought of no confirmed plural wives of Joseph. I think, if I understand you correctly, that you have correctly concluded that this is not true. There is a great deal of evidence supporting the fact that Joseph had plural wives.

Emma did claim in later years that Joseph was not a polygamist.  We don’t know for sure what her motivations were. There are a variety of theories. But there is pretty solid evidence that she actually attended a few of Joseph’s plural weddings. There can be little doubt that she was very aware by the end of Joseph’s life.

When Eliza Snow produced a variety of means to “restore Joseph’s virtue” by way of petition and affidavit and the like, there was some pretty interesting stuff happening by way of the man John C. Bennett. Bennett came into the church and quickly worked his way up to become moderately close to Joseph and influential in the city. He actually became the mayor of Nauvoo. But he was not one of the faithful. We don’t know exactly where he got the idea, perhaps from rumors, but he started secretly introducing the idea of “spiritual wives” around the community. This concept was that a man could have spiritual wives that he was not married to in life, but he was free to have physical relations with them. In other words, it was an excuse for adultery. This led to all sorts of problems. John C. Bennett was eventually excommunicated for adultery, and he turned against Joseph and the church. He began to smear the prophet’s name with all sorts of accusations and publications.

The church went on the defense. Almost all of the literature produced at this time that seems to be anti-polygamy was a direct defense against John C. Bennett’s lies. It also needs to be taken into account that those who accepted plural marriage as God’s law would have believed it to be absolutely and completely virtuous. In short, Bennett claimed Joseph was an adulterer. Snow was defending Joseph.

Concerning Snow’s marriage to Brigham Young — almost all of Joseph’s plural wives (except the polyandrous ones) later married others who were ranking authorities in the church. This was Joseph’s desire. He wanted them taken care of. These marriages were generally time only, where they remained sealed to Joseph.

There is no “whole argument” that polygamy was to seal people to get to the Celestial kingdom. Polygamy is not a requirement for that. The only known purpose for polygamy is to build up seed unto the Lord. We can also presume that it was meant as a trial of faith.

Polygamy can be one of the most difficult things to understand from the perspective of our day. It is so culturally foreign to us, and often we cannot help but look at it through our 21st Century lens. Additionally, critics of Joseph Smith and the church like to approach polygamy with a pre-assumed motivation of lechery. They start from a position that Joseph Smith was sexually deviant, and all of their interpretations of events are informed by this opinion. If, however, one accepts that Joseph’s primary motivation was compliance with God’s will, then a different story emerges fairly easily.

For example, when we look at Joseph’s sealings to women who were married to other men, if we presume it a foregone conclusion that he had marital relations with these “wives” while they were also engaged in the same with their legal husbands, it can be confusing. That would make no sense from our understanding of morality, both culturally and religiously. However, if we look at the big picture there are different ways to look at it.

There is no concrete evidence of sexual relations between Joseph and his wives. Every evidence we have is by way of witness. First hand witnesses exist — meaning some of Joseph’s wives testified directly that they lived as man and wife in the truest sense of the word with him, as well as second hand witnesses — those who claimed Joseph had spent the night with one of his wives at their homes and the like. There are also third hand, hearsay type witnesses aplenty, but they are, obviously, less reliable.

What is interesting to note is that  there are no first or second hand witnesses of Joseph being involved physically with any of his wives that were married to other men except two – and those two have explanations that involve things like their legal husbands having run off and left them, and the like.

Obviously this doesn’t prove anything, but it does present a different story especially when coupled with a few other interesting things.

For example, perhaps you are familiar with the famous angel-with-a-sword story. If not, here’s a quick recap. An angel with a sword (perhaps flaming) appeared to Joseph and commanded him to live polygamy or he would be destroyed. The thing is, the third appearance of this angel (the time where he had the sword and threatened) was actually after Joseph had already married several polygamous wives? Seems odd, right? But not if we understand that the sealings that had taken place before that were to women already married to other men, with a good indication that they were only “eternity” sealings and not “time” marriages. It seems that perhaps Joseph, in struggling to comply with the principle, and in a potential effort to comply without hurting his wife Emma, may have joined into sealings with women who were married to other men in order to not have the need for physical relations with them, and in order to appease Emma’s difficulty with the concept.

As you can see, the story of polygamy is not a simple one. We want it all wrapped up and tied into a pretty little bow. But it is complex, and understanding it, even to the limited extent that we can, takes a great amount of learning and understanding. Even if we do the level of research that Brian C. Hales did for his books, we still do not have a complete picture. We have to fill in the blanks a bit. It really comes down to this. Joseph was either a prophet or he was not. He either did as he was commanded by God or he did not. If we believe he was a prophet and did as commanded then we can let the things go that we do not understand, trusting that someday we will. So it is with Eliza R. Snow. We cannot fully understand her. We don’t have the complete picture. We can surmise based on the information we do have, and we can interpret that information based on our belief concerning the truthfulness of the restored gospel. What we do know is that Eliza R. Snow remained a faithful member and stood strongly in support and defense of Joseph Smith throughout her life.

For more insight in it, read the article on lds.org, Plural Marriage and Families in Early Utah.


Why did Brigham Young teach the Adam-God Theory?

Why did Brigham Young teach the Adam-God Theory?



In a general conference talk on April 9th, 1852 he spoke of the Adam-God doctrine and said “let all who may hear these doctrines, pause before they make light of them, or treat them with indifference, for they will prove their salvation or damnation. ” We know the prophets will not lead the church astray. Why was this taught if it is not true?




Hi Matt,

We don’t know what Brigham Young meant. We don’t know how accurately everything was transcribed of what he said either. What we know is that what people think he meant by what was said is not true. We also know that, decidedly, the Adam-God doctrine did not lead the church astray.

See a previous response I gave concerning the Adam-God doctrine here.


Is John D. Lee eligible for the Celestial Kingdom?

Is John D. Lee eligible for the Celestial Kingdom?



As we know,  J.D. Lee was excommunicated and executed for his role in the Mountain Meadow Massacre. He was then posthumously reinstated in the 1960’s. Doesn’t that mean that he has been forgiven all his sins and eligible for the Celestial Kingdom?





The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not have, nor has it ever claimed to have, the power to forgive sins.  That belongs solely to the Lord Jesus Christ.  The scriptures are very clear that the Lord will forgive whom He will forgive, but we are required to forgive all men.  So forgiving sins belongs to the Lord, but forgiving all those who wrong us in some way belongs to us.  The Church can forgive those who transgress against it, just like all people can and should forgive those who hurt them.

For those readers unfamiliar with the Mountain Meadows Massacre the Church has addressed it officially here.

The Mountain Meadows Massacre was wrong and should never have happened.  But it did, and the Church has been dealing with the fallout ever since.  All those responsible will have to face God and account for their actions.

The Church also has a commandment to provide the ordinance work for everyone who has ever lived.  We can’t know if these people will accept it. We can’t know if they are worthy. We can’t know if the Lord has chosen to forgive them.  We can only provide the ordinances.

We do not know how the Lord views J.D. Lee.  We do know that his descendants, in doing their family history like they have been instructed to do, found that he needed to have work done and worked to make it happen.  The effort of the Lee family is very much parallel with what each of us has been asked to do.


Did Emma Hale Smith have a testimony of her own?

Did Emma Hale Smith have a testimony of her own?


Dear Gramps,

Do we have any record of the spiritual experiences that Emma Smith (wife of the prophet Joseph Smith) may have had? Any written record of her own personal testimony of the truth of this work? We know she was true and faithful to Joseph, and mostly supported him. But did she have her own testimony? Seems like she has gotten a bad rap by history because of all the difficulties she had.





You are absolutely correct.  Emma did seem to get a bad rap in history.  Most of that had to do with the decisions she made to remain in the east instead of following the Saints west.  However, that decision in no way is a reflection of the testimony that she had regarding her husband as a Prophet or in the restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Not a lot is found on the actual testimony of Emma Hale Smith.  I have been able to find a couple of articles that show and reflect the testimony she did have.

Prior to Joseph being taken to Carthage, Emma had requested a blessing from her husband.  Because time and opportunity wasn’t there, Joseph suggested that Emma write out a blessing and he would sign it upon his return.  The words she wrote do show a testimony that God does have a hand in all things and she wanted nothing more than to be able to acknowledge that.

Blessing that Emma wrote for herself

“First of all that I would crave as the richest of heaven’s blessings would be wisdom from my Heavenly Father bestowed daily, so that whatever I might do or say, I could not look back at the close of the day with regret, nor neglect the performance of any act that would bring a blessing. I desire the Spirit of God to know and understand myself, that I desire a fruitful, active mind, that I may be able to comprehend the designs of God, when revealed through his servants without doubting. I desire a spirit of discernment, which is one of the promised blessings of the Holy Ghost.

“I particularly desire wisdom to bring up all the children that are, or may be committed to my charge, in such a manner that they will be useful ornaments in the Kingdom of God, and in a coming day arise up and call me blessed.

“I desire prudence that I may not through ambition abuse my body and cause it to become prematurely old and care-worn, but that I may wear a cheerful countenance, live to perform all the work that I covenanted to perform in the spirit-world and be a blessing to all who may in any wise need aught at my hands.

“I desire with all my heart to honor and respect my husband as my head, ever to live in his confidence and by acting in unison with him retain the place which God has given me by his side, and I ask my Heavenly Father that through humility, I may be enabled to overcome that curse which was pronounced upon the daughters of Eve. I desire to see that I may rejoice with them in the blessings which God has in store for all who are willing to be obedient to his requirements. Finally, I desire that whatever may be my lot through life I may be enabled to acknowledge the hand of God in all things.”

Unfortunately, Joseph was never able to sign that blessing but we can see such strength in  Emma’s words and perhaps a premonition of the things that were going to be coming to pass.

Emma’s testimony of the book of Mormon and the restoration

In the Relief Society Minutes of March 1844 Emma said this:

“If he [Joseph Smith] was a prophet, which he is, … ,”

Later when speaking to Parley P. Pratt in Nauvoo she had this to say:

“I believe he [Joseph] was everything he professed to be.”

In an interview with her sons a few months before she died, Emma did bear her testimony to them:

“My belief is that the Book of Mormon is of divine authenticity. I have not the slightest doubt of it. … Though I was an active participant in the scenes that transpired, and was present during the translation of the plates … and had cognizance of things as they transpired, it is marvelous to me, ‘a marvel and a wonder,’ as much as to anyone else.” Describing her experience, she said: “The plates often lay on the table without any attempt at concealment, wrapped in a small linen tablecloth which I had given him [Joseph] to fold them in. I once felt the plates as they lay on the table, tracing their outline and shape. They seemed to be pliable like thick paper, and would rustle with a metallic sound when the edges were moved by the thumb, as one does sometimes thumb the edges of a book.” She also testified, “I know Mormonism to be the truth; and believe the church to have been established by divine direction.”

Whatever decisions she made after her beloved Joseph died, she never lost her testimony of the church and the divine restoration of it.


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