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Several times in recent weeks the suggestion has been made on the site that all of the teachings and scriptures unique to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are dependent on one source - Joseph Smith - and that had he not existed (or not made the choices he did), none of these teachings, principles, or scriptures would exist.

The claim that these teachings come from a single individual is given as a reason to challenge their authenticity.

This suggestion is regularly met with corrective comments - it would be helpful to have a post on the site to reference which addresses the matter specifically.

How do Latter-day Saints respond to this claim?

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Logic

The claim that these teachings would not have existed were it not for Joseph Smith is a textbook example of the logical fallacy known as begging the question.

The claim assumes at the outset that a) Joseph Smith was not a prophet communicating authoritative revelation from God. Absent this assumption, there remains the possibility that b) these teachings really were revealed by God, who could have revealed them to someone other than Joseph Smith had Joseph Smith been unwilling.

If we assume either a or b as a premise, any conclusion that these teachings do/don't come from God is but a case of circular reasoning. The introduction to the Book of Mormon lays out a different order of operations in coming to know the truth of the restored gospel:

Those who gain this divine witness from the Holy Spirit [a testimony of the Book of Mormon] will also come to know by the same power that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world, that Joseph Smith is His revelator and prophet in these last days, and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Lord’s kingdom once again established on the earth, preparatory to the Second Coming of the Messiah.

Latter-day Saints are called upon to trust Joseph Smith's prophetic teachings because of the witness of the Holy Ghost, not because of the a priori assumption that the teachings are true.

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Historical literacy

For sake of clarity, I will refer to the following as the Texts of the Restoration1:

Although Joseph Smith contributed more to the canon of scripture than anyone else in modern times, he did not author all of the texts of the Restoration.

The men who would become Joseph Smith's first 5 successors (Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, Lorenzo Snow, and Joseph F. Smith), his later successor Spencer W. Kimball, as well as David Whitmer and Oliver Cowdery, all authored portions of the Doctrine & Covenants.

Oliver Cowdery also authored a fraction of the Pearl of Great Price.

A few examples, including historical context, can be found here, here, and here.

Thus, as a matter of objective historical fact, it is incorrect to state that Joseph Smith exclusively produced all of the texts of the Restoration.

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Comparison to other scriptural writings

In some cases there are scriptural teachings that we have today only through the record of a single author, but it does not therefore follow that such teachings are untrue. We find this repeatedly in the Bible:

  • More than 90% of the Gospel of John is unique to the Gospel of John, including some of the most theologically deep teachings of Jesus' ministry
  • All 4 Gospels (even Mark!) contain material not found in any of the other 3.
  • The book of Revelation is highly unique compared to the rest of the New Testament
  • "thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church" is a statement recorded only by Matthew. This does not mean Matthew's record is untrue.
  • Large portions of the Reformers theological arguments derive from teachings recorded by Paul. It does not follow that Paul's record is untrue because there are cases where the same statement was not made by Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, James, Peter, or Jude.
  • A whole host of Isaiah's prophecies are unique to him 2

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Ongoing Revelation

We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God. (Articles of Faith 1:9)

Latter-day Saints believe that God did not stop speaking when Joseph Smith died any more than He stopped speaking when Moses left this earth. Several examples of teachings/actions of modern prophets, subsequent to Joseph Smith, are reviewed in this post on the site.

Latter-day Saints believe in ongoing revelation and a living prophet who is as much an authorized representative of God as was Moses. Latter-day Saints are not expected to blindly trust in their leaders, but are asked to gain their own divine witness of the truth of the principles taught in the church. Millions attest that they have done so.

My own thoughts on coming to know truth for oneself are described in the latter half of this video.



Disclaimer - these thoughts are products of my own study and do not constitute official statements by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints



1 - "Texts of the Restoration" is not an official term -- I simply use it as a concise descriptor for all 3 volumes together

2 - What a shame it would be if someone listening to Handel's Messiah tried to shout down the choir as heretics, because the prophecy in Isaiah 9 comes to us through the writings of a single person =)

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This answer builds on Hold To The Rod's answer. It is true that it is begging the question to insinuate that Joseph Smith was not actually receiving revelations from God or restoring previously known truths and hence was "solely" responsible for restored truths.

However, in order to appreciate why many of the unique teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints do not "depend solely" on Joseph Smith, even with revelation from God, we need to understand the nature of the term "Restoration". Joseph Smith is often referred to in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the prophet of the Restoration, or in other words, that both the Church and Gospel of Jesus Christ were restored through him.

As outlined in this answer, "Restoration" does not mean "to bring to light completely new, never-seen-before things". It means to bring again what was before. There are in fact numerous Biblical references to concepts, doctrines and practices which are simply lacking either explanation or acceptance among modern mainstream Christians, and many passages that are even referenced within the Bible are simply missing. Numerous Biblical passages even prophesy the then-future restoration of things the Lord revealed anciently, but that were lost through apostasy.

Ignoring the role of the Restoration in this question might hazard assuming something truly incredible, for example that Joseph Smith was able to go back in time and plant hundreds of evidences of restored doctrine in the Scriptures, just so that he could make himself to be a prophet thousands of years later by restoring and explaining what no one else could. But this argument begs for a greater miracle than God calling him to be a prophet and the prophet through whom many of these deteriorated truths would be restored.

One need not take a fatalistic or Calvinist view of the subject, either. If Joseph Smith had not been faithful or had failed in his role, the Lord told him that He would appoint another in his stead. There are also additional prophets of the last days, in unbroken succession from Joseph Smith. Therefore it is incorrect to assert that any teachings deemed by others to be "unique" to the restored Church of Jesus Christ "depend solely on Joseph Smith". There have been hundreds of additional witnesses to these truths as well.

It is absolutely correct to say that to suppose that Joseph Smith was the only way anyone ever knew or could have known these doctrines is begging the question by precluding the very truth of the restoration, presupposing it to be false. Nonetheless, a man by his name (Joseph) was prophesied to play this significant role as a restorer, and Joseph Smith stepped up and fulfilled this role as he was appointed by the Lord.

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  • Nice link the Special Witnesses of Christ, and good answer. +1 Jan 12 at 21:31

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