Why Trust the Apostles over Muhammad or Joseph Smith?

In response to Monday’s post, Jon Anthony wroted:

If you take the Apostles’ experiences of a Risen Christ as the starting point, then, I admit, the case for the Resurrection is very, very strong. But I’m not so sure Ludemann’s confidence is well founded at all.

I mean, its based off the idea that the Apostles wouldn’t have endured persecution for something they knew to be false. But doesn’t this prove too much? Because these same people, for the most part, claim that the Golden Plates of Mormonism were just made up. 

And if it is true that people willing to endure persecution are such solid witnesses to their claims to have eyewitnessed truth, then what about the claims of the witnesses of these Golden Plates in Mormonism? Even if the plates were a forgery and the witnesses were tricked, what motivation would Joseph Smith have had for carrying on his claims in the face of persecution? If he had none, but did it anyway, why couldn’t the Apostles have done the same? If they could have, then there is no reason to have confidence that the apostles had such experiences. 

I’m not saying the resurrection is ridiculous, only that it isn’t proved, not even close, by this stuff.

This is a fair question.  When we say that the Apostles had no motive, other than the truth of the Resurrection, to undergo persecution and death, how would this not equally apply to the early Mormonism (LDS) — or, for that matter, Muslims?  I suggest that there are two critical distinctions.

(1) Joseph Smith and Muhammad had Much More to Gain by Lying

A fair reading of the religious texts, and the histories, of Christianity, LDS, and Islam shows that folks like Joseph Smith had substantially more to gain than folks like the Apostle Thomas. In LDS, Islam, and a whole lot of other systems, the “Prophet” is afforded special privileges. Given that, the beneficiaries of these systems have a vested interest in defending them, even if there are associated risks. Lets look at all three:

A. Christianity
In the case of Christianity, it’s true that the Apostles have a position of authority in the Church, sure, but there are no special privileges. They don’t get to take more wives, etc., etc. In fact, as 1 Timothy 3 makes clear, church leaders are held to a higher standard than everyone else.  If you were making up a fraudulent religious system, this seems like the least sensible thing to do.

Additionally, look at the emphasis.  Almost all of it is upon Christ, who never writes a word.  It’d be much more suspicious if Jesus had written a bunch of stuff about how He was God and had risen from the dead. That’s not what happened. Eyewitnesses recounted it, instead.  Of the Twelve Apostles, the vast majority of them left behind no writings at all.  Of those who wrote, many of them were bit actors in their own telling.  For example, how central are St. Mark or St. Luke or even the Apostle Jude?  St. Paul, the most prolific New Testament writer, has to constantly defend his own legitimacy, since he wasn’t one of Jesus’ first Disciples, by his own admission.

Of all the early Christians, Paul is closest to the “Prophet” model, in that he received a revelation directly of God, and derived his authority from that. But he’s the further thing from self-aggrandizing.  Here’s how he describes himself in 1 Corinthians 15:3-9

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures; that He was buried; that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures; that He appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. After that, He appeared to more than five hundred brothers at once, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. After that He appeared to James, then to all the Apostles.  

Last of all, as to one born abnormally, He appeared to me. For I am the least of the Apostles, not fit to be called an Apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.

Remember that, as a Jew, Paul had been a rising star. He studied under one of the greatest Rabbis in Jewish history, and was already well established as a young man.  He sacrificed all of that for … what?  The lifelong shame of having to say, “I was wrong — I made a name for myself attacking you Christians, and you were the ones who were right all along,” coupled with the fact he underwent repeated arrest, whippings, eventually was beheaded.

B. The “Latter-Day Saints” (Mormons)
Let me give you a few examples from the LDS.  First, appended to the Pearl of Great Price, there’s an entire book just about Joseph Smith and his family. There’s nothing similar in the New Testament — the Apostles talk about Christ and the Church, and bring in their life experiences only to prove their points.  Second, one of the books Joseph Smith “found” contains a prophesy in which Joseph (son of Jacob) talks about the great seer who’s going to come in the future named Joseph (2 Nephi 3:6-25).  It’s obviously a reference to Joseph Smith himself — he’s written himself into the story, even though we see nothing about Joseph Smith in any of the Old or New Testament.  When there’s a dispute between some of the early LDS, Joseph Smith receives another revelation that he’s right and they’re wrong, and that he’s the boss of the guys he’s feuding with (see D&C 30:7)  So LDS is much more aggrandizing of Joseph Smith than the New Testament is of the Apostles. Just read the Gospels and see with what esteem their discipleship of Christ is treated. On nearly every page, you see the Twelve making some embarrassing mistake or other. That, on its own, is evidence that Joseph Smith had much more motive to lie (and to stick with that lie, even under pressure).  Beyond this, Joseph Smith also became President of the Church and Mayor of Nauvoo. He was the final secular and religious authority.

But there’s more. Doctrines and Covenants continually praises Joseph Smith, and D&C 132 permitted Joseph Smith to take extra “wives,” and threatened Emma Smith (his actual wife) with damnation if she tried to stop him. That is, “God” threatened her by name.  So, by presenting himself as Prophet, Joseph Smith now can have as many women as he wants, and is considered the second (only to Jesus) greatest man in history. There are all kinds of motives to keep up the charade there.  The same can be said of the other men who were involved in promoting the LDS church.  I’m not in any position to say who were duped and who were devious, but giving that all men were allowed to cheat on their wives, again, the motive is there. They wouldn’t exactly be the first men in history to create an elaborate cover story to hide the fact that they want to run around town with other women.

C. Islam
Likewise, look at the Qu’ran, in which huge chunks are Allah devoting praise upon Muhammad, and giving him special privileges.  Like Joseph Smith, he gets the privilege of infinite wives:

50. O Prophet! We have made lawful to thee thy wives to whom thou hast paid their dowers; and those whom thy right hand possesses out of the prisoners of war whom Allah has assigned to thee; and daughters of thy paternal uncles and aunts, and daughters of thy maternal uncles and aunts, who migrated (from Makka) with thee; and any believing woman who dedicates her soul to the Prophet if the Prophet wishes to wed her;- this only for thee, and not for the Believers (at large); We know what We have appointed for them as to their wives and the captives whom their right hands possess;- in order that there should be no difficulty for thee. And Allah is Oft- Forgiving, Most Merciful.

(Qu’ran 33:50).   Same thing as before. If you’re the “prophet” and founder of the religion, you get ladies.  Like Joseph Smith, Muhammad suffered from some marital problems (the curse of multiple wives, it seems).  So “Allah” intervened again:

1. O Prophet (you who are the greatest representative of Prophethood)! Why do you forbid (yourself) what God has made lawful to you, seeking to please your wives. And God is All-Forgiving, All-Compassionate.  

2. God has already decreed for you (O believers) on the breaking of your oaths (to do what is not just and right, and the expiation thereof). God is your Guardian, and He is the All-Knowing, the All-Wise. 

(Qu’ran 66:1-2).  Muhammad really has to have his arm twisted into getting the privilege to have a bunch of wives, and the privilege to be able to make oaths and then renounce them. After this, by the way, there’s a prophesy that if these women don’t submit to him, they’ll all go to hell and he’ll get better wives.

(2) Joseph Smith and Muhammad Had Much Less to Lose

The key to the idea Jon’s addressing is this.  People won’t undergo torture and death for no reason.  And in the case of the Apostles, it’s hard to surmise a plausible reason other than “they truly believed” as a motive for their willingness to suffer and die. After all, they almost run to martyrdom.  Compare this with Muhammad, who was never martyred, and Joseph Smith, who was martyred by surprise.

In Joseph Smith’s case, he had started the Nauvoo Legion, a militia of 5000 men. Ultimately, he was arrested for this, and other forms of treason. He’d originally planned to flee the state, but his followers convinced him to turn himself in (for which he denounced them).  He then declared himself like a lamb going to the slaughter, which would have been much more impressive if he hadn’t been planning on running away.  At this point, it was far from certain that the jury would even return a guilty verdict.  Nevertheless, Joseph Smith had at least two backup plans.  First, he had someone smuggle a gun to him in prison. And second, he planned on the Nauvoo Legion breaking him out of jail (again, how this is compatible with “lamb to the slaughter” is a bit beyond me).  Instead of the Legion, an anti-LDS mob showed up.  Joseph Smith shot two of them before being gunned down himself, as this Mormon apologetics website concedes.

Muhammad also lived by the sword, but much more successfully, managing to escape his enemies and die of illness.  Now, I’m not claiming that the mere fact that both “Prophets” moonlighted as killers automatically discredits them (although it’s definitely a black mark).  But I am suggesting that they weren’t simply turning themselves peacefully over for martyrdom, the way that the Apostles did. In other words, in neither case is there any real evidence that these men were up for dying for their faith.  And thus, no particular evidence that they believed their faiths.


LDS made Joseph Smith. Islam made Muhammad. Both went from being obscure figures to superstars within their own lifetimes.  They reaped the rewards of fame, glory, and an unlimited supply of adoring women. On the other hand, St. Paul was already a superstar within Rabbinical Judaism, a student of one of the most famous rabbis of all time, and he renounced his sole claim to glory to join what was viewed as a blasphemous and heretical sect. Then, he willingly went to his death, getting beheaded.

It’s quite plausible to see why Joseph Smith might be willing to shoot his way out of jail to get back to the women and glory, or why Muhammad the emperor-prophet would be more than willing to slay those who got in his way. It’s pretty unclear to me why the Apostles – again, with nothing to win and everything to lose by lying – would let themselves be tortured and killed by the Romans.

So the idea, then, is not that people will never suffer for a lie.  Rather, it’s that people will never suffer for a lie for no reason.  People are, on the whole, pretty sane. If they have to go through a little persecution to keep the adoring following and the countless women, they might think it’s worth it. I think the evidence permits one to think that this is exactly what happened with the early Mormon and Muslim leadership (not that you have to think this, but that it’s pretty plausible). I don’t see how a similar case can be made for orthodox Christianity, without distorting the historical record quite a bit.

UPDATE: In the comments section, Robert Ritchie adds two rather significant details I hadn’t known:

  1. Eight of the eleven alleged witnesses would eventually leave the Mormon church or be excommunicated (although some returned).  This includes all three of the first three witnesses, and the four Whitmers.  Put another way, all of the “witnesses” who weren’t close relatives to Joseph Smith left or were forced out of Smith’s church.
  2. It’s not entirely clear that the “witnesses” to the Mormon Golden Plates claimed to have witnessed the plates in an objective sense. Martin Harris and David Whitmer, two of the original three witnesses, described the plates at various points as having been a spiritual, not physical, event. That is, they weren’t actually claiming to be eyewitnesses, but to have had trances and visions.
In researching what’d he said, I found a few other interesting details:
  1. After the first three witnesses “saw” the golden plates, Joseph Smith had a “revelation” that no one else would see them. (D&C 5:11-14).  After this, Joseph Smith claimed that eight other people saw them. 
  2. Martin Harris, one of the first three, denied that the last eight had actually seen the plates.  So the witnesses’ stories are irreconcilably contradictory, and contrary to the alleged Mormon Scriptures themselves. 
  3. Additionally, in this period, a number of the alleged witnesses attempted to use their status of witnesses to acquire positions of power.  Most notably, David Whitmer claimed that just as he’d seen the golden plates, he also had a vision that he was to leave the Mormon church and start his own church. Mormons believe Whitmer’s first “vision” but claim the second one was a delusion or a hoax.Whitmer, and four other members of his family (all alleged witnesses to the golden plates) were excommunicated.
So there was plenty of motive to lie, little collaboration between witnesses, and outright allegations that the others were lying.  But even if everyone was telling the truth, it’s not clear that they initially claimed to be describing an actual eyewitness account, instead of a mystical experience.

UPDATE 2: If you’re interested, here are the eleven witnesses, starting with the first “Three Witnesses,” the only ones initially recognized by Mormonism:

  1. Oliver Cowdery, former “Assistant President of the Church,” excommunicated for some time after a leadership struggle against Joseph Smith. May have denied the authenticity of the visions during this period, based upon an LDS poem asking if the Book of Mormon was not His Word simply “because denied, by Oliver?” Despite apparently joining Mormonism, he had a Methodist funeral.
  2. Martin Harris, left Mormonism.  After Joseph’s death, Harris became a Strangite, Whitmerite, Gladdenite, Williamite, and possibly a Shaker, before returning to Mormonism again.
  3. David Whitmer, excommunicated. Tried to start his own church because he was a “witness,” and claimed additional messages from God (messages universally rejected by LDS Mormons).
  4. Christian Whitmer, excommunicated.
  5. Jacob Whitmer, excommunicated.
  6. Peter Whitmer, Jr., excommunicated.
  7. John Whitmer, excommunicated.
  8. Hiram Page, left the church.
  9. Joseph Smith, Sr., Joseph’s father. Served as the first “Presiding Patriarch” until his death, and was a Master Freemason.
  10. Hyrum Smith, Joseph’s brother. Served as the second “Presiding Patriarch” (after his dad) and second “Assistant President of the Church” (after Cowdery was excommunicated). Died before Joseph.
  11. Samuel Smith, Joseph’s brother. Was on the High Council. Died shortly after Joseph and Hyrum. According to William Smith (another Smith brother), he was poisoned by Brigham Young to stop him from becoming the new LDS President.


  1. Great points, on the money once again.

    Also, Jon emphasized the importance of the 11 witnesses to the Golden Plates. But there is no evidence that these people ever witnessed the plates in an objective sense. Rather, they seemed to claim a subjective vision of the plates. As Mormon historian Marvin Hill notes:

    “there is a possibility that the three witnesses saw the plates in vision only, for Stephen Burnett in a letter written in 1838, a few weeks after the event, described Martin Harris’ testimony to this effect: ‘When I came to hear Martin Harris state in public that he never saw the plates with his natural eyes only in vision or imagination, neither Oliver nor David . . . the last pedestal gave way, in my view our foundations.’” And there seems to be similar testimony from the later 8. http://mrm.org/eleven-witnesses

    Moreover, at least 6 of the 11 witnesses left the Church at some point, which makes me question their confidence in the vision. Of course, neither of those points means that this is necessarily a hoax, but it gives us another reason to think this isn’t on the same plane as the Resurrection accounts, as even a Mormon apologist would admit, I think.

  2. That poor woman. I found the full quote you’re referring to, and it’s just as depressing as one would imagine. Sahih Muslim, Book 8: 3453,
    “‘A’isha (Allah be pleased with her) reported: I felt jealous of the women who offered themselves to Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) and said: Then when Allah, the Exalted and Glorious, revealed this:” You may defer any one of them you wish, and take to yourself any you wish; and if you desire any you have set aside (no sin is chargeable to you)” (xxxiii. 51), I (‘A’isha.) said: It seems to me that your Lord hastens to satisfy your desire.”

  3. Joe, You say that Mormonism made Joseph a prophet and that Islam made Muhammad a prophet, with all the fame and glory that such a role entails, and so they had reason to lie and, thus, are less credible than Paul. Obviously, Joseph was not competing with or in contradiction to Paul, However, Christianity made Jesus Christ a god and the son of God, which necessarily involves fame and glory infinitely greater than that of a prophet. Therefore, by your logic, Jesus Christ is infinitely less credible than Joseph or Mohammad.

    Oh yes. You mentioned women as well. Well, some people think that Jesus was married.

    William E. Phipps, Was Jesus Married? The Distortion of Sexuality in the Christian Tradition (1986)(Phipps is a non-LDS professor of religion and philosophy.)

    Ogden Kraut, Jesus Was Married (2003)(Kraut is LDS.)

    http://www.jesusdynasty.com/blog/2007/05/01/was-jesus-married/ (non-LDS)

    http://www.lightplanet.com/mormons/basic/christ/jesus_married.html (LDS)

    Although some 19th Century leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints expressed the opinion that Jesus was married, the Church has no position, one way or the other, as to whether Jesus was married, and members of the Church are free to make up their own minds:

    Similarly, while some 19th Century leaders of the Church expressed the opinion that Jesus had more than one wife, the Church has no position on that either, and members of the Church are free to make up their own minds about that as well:

    For those people, such as myself, who believe that Jesus was married and, in particular, for those, such as myself, who believe that Jesus had multiple wives, your argument that Joseph and Muhammad had the attention of women, would be vastly stronger if applied to Jesus Christ.

    While I no nothing of Muhammad, I do know that Joseph was a prophet of God, the Prophet of the Restoration, and that Jesus is the Christ. Murdock

  4. Joe
    Your argument that Joseph was not prepared to face martyrdom, and therefore is not credible, includes four erroneous statements: (1) Joseph was “martyred by surprise”. When Joseph rode to Carthage, Joseph might or might not have believed that he was going to face certain death, but he absolutely had to know that he was going into hideous danger and that there was a very substantial risk of death. Moreover, he did so after having reached safety in Iowa. (2) Joseph was “planning to run away”. There is no evidence that Joseph had any plan to first surrender and then run away. Furthermore, Joseph could not possibly have had any confidence in being able to run away, whenever he chose, once he was incarcerated. Moreover, it would have made no sense to surrender in the first place, if his objective was escape. He had previously reached safety and was completely free to avoid arrest indefinitely. (3) He “had someone smuggle a gun to him”. Someone did give a pistol to Joseph in the Carthage jail. However, that was not something Joseph had arranged prior to his surrender. Moreover, having one pistol would not have given Joseph the belief that he could stand off hundreds of armed Illinois militiamen or “mobbers”. (4) He “planned on the Nauvoo Legion breaking him out of jail”. My recollection is that Fawn Brodie cooked up this conjecture. There is no evidence in support of it. Moreover, Joseph could have had the Legion fight, to the death, to prevent his capture in the first place. So, it would have made no sense for Joseph to surrender and then have the Legion break him out of jail. Also, on his ride to Carthage, Joseph stopped to sign an order for the Legion to surrender all of their state-issued weapons, including their only two cannon, which is not consistent with a plan to have the Legion battle the Illinois militia to break him out of jail. (5) Joseph “moonlighted as a killer”. Joseph and his three companions were attacked by 100 to 200 men armed with muskets. They tried to hold shut the door. A shot was fired through the door and killed Hyrum. At that point, with Hyrum killed, and with the door forced open, Joseph fired a six-round pistol. The pistol misfired three times and fired three times. Three attackers were wounded. Joseph was shot many times and killed. His body was desecrated, outside, with further gunfire. Joseph Taylor was shot four times but survived. Willard Richards was pinned behind the door, unseen, and was not harmed. So, actually, Joseph never killed anyone, although he tried to. More importantly, Joseph fired only after Hyrum had been shot and killed and he did so in self-defense and in the defense of his companions. (As an aside, Joseph’s organization of the Legion was not “treason”. The Legion was authorized by the Illinois legislature and, as mentioned above, had been armed in part by the State government. Joseph and Hyrum were sought for having instigated the Nauvoo City Council to order the destruction of the printing press of the Nauvoo Expositor newspaper.)
    How could Joseph have been a “martyr” if he died in a gunfight? If Joseph had not voluntarily and knowingly subjected himself to hideous danger by riding to Carthage (unarmed), when he had already outdistanced danger, there would never have been any gunfight. More importantly, let us remember that this was no martyr of the ancient Near East, Medieval Europe, etc. Just as he was an American prophet, Joseph was an American martyr, and, when American martyrs go down, they go down fighting.

  5. The following is excerpted from Truman G. Madsen’s biography of Joseph:
    If we can understand what was inside of him in love for his brethren, we will understand why his soul was wounded to the core when men came across the river at Montrose [Iowa] and accused him of cowardice-said that, despite his words about standing up for them, now that trouble had come he was the first one to run. 59 That’s when he replied, “If my life is of no value to my friends it is of none to myself.” That was when the resolve was made to return. He had had light in his decision to leave-“It is clear to my mind what to do.” 60 We can certainly say that the death of the Prophet was brought on by his enemies. Perhaps we must also say that it was brought on by some of his friends.
    After all that the Saints had received from Joseph, there were some who at that stage could not believe him when he said, “All they want is Hyrum and myself . . . . They will come here and search for us. Let them search; they will not harm you . . . not even a hair of your head. We will cross the river tonight, and go away to the West.” 61 But the pot was boiling. Reports were coming in every hour telling of increasing numbers of men who had come from Missouri to join the Illinois mobs; the mobs that were being gathered, the cannons they had available, the threats they were making. 62 In the midst of that flood of evidence, Joseph’s statement, “You will be safe,” could not be believed. More than a hundred, Vilate Kimball wrote, had left Nauvoo. Seeing them go, the Prophet said, “Look at the cowards.” Now he himself was called a coward. 63 And against the light, he came back. “The light he had was toward the mountains.” 64
    Porter Rockwell, when asked what he thought should be done, replied to the Prophet in a nineteenth-century phrase-“As you make your bed, I will lie with you.” Said Joseph, “Hyrum, you are the oldest, what shall we do?” Hyrum answered, “Let us go back and give ourselves up.” The Prophet, probably thinking of the governor’s stern, uncompromising letter, said, “If you go back I will go with you, but we shall be butchered.” “No, no,” said Hyrum, “let us go back and put our trust in God, and we shall not be harmed.” 65
    John Murdock, who watched them row back across the river that day, later said that he felt something in the air; that there was something threatening about this situation. 66 Hyrum’s son, Joseph, felt it, and could never quite speak of it for the rest of his life without weeping. Mercy R. Thompson, watching from a chamber window, felt “sorrowful forebodings.” 67 The two men’s wives, Emma Smith and Mary Fielding Smith, were not quite so much concerned, because so often their husbands had come back from threatening circumstances, and they, of course, did all they could to soothe them. The Prophet would later write a letter to Emma from the jail. It said in part: “It is the duty of all men to protect their lives and the lives of the household, whenever necessity requires.” He wrote, “Should the last extreme arrive,” then didn’t finish the sentence. 68

  6. Having recrossed the river to Nauvoo that last Sunday, June 23, Joseph sent a letter to the governor in Carthage promising to be there the next day. To meet the governor’s deadline they would have to leave very early-a 6:00 a.m. departure at the latest, and they had had no sleep for two nights.
    * * * * *
    After the two brothers [Joseph and Hyrum] returned to surrender state arms as ordered by the governor, Leonora Taylor was in the Smith home [.] . . . [Joseph] said, “Well, if they don’t hang me I don’t care how they kill me.” 69
    * * * * *
    The Prophet’s statement also tells us that he hadn’t yet been made to know exactly how he would die. There had been threats, one of them published in the newspaper, that his enemies would, as the letter said, “make catfish meat of him.” 70 How ruthless some of these men were! They did it with slaves. They encouraged black men to run away from their masters, and they would sell them and pocket the money; then have them run away again, and sell them and pocket the money. They would tell the slave that after the third time, when, as they said, he was “hot,” they would share the money and he would be free. Instead of that they killed him, and cut him up and threw him in the Mississippi. That was making catfish meat of a man. 71
    There was also the problem of a reward offered by the Missourians. They had placed a price on his head-they would pay a thousand dollars for his delivery, as with John the Baptist, on a platter. 72
    So he did not know how he would end his life, but he did not relish-who among us would have?-the thought of hanging.
    * * * * *
    Mary Ellen Kimball overheard the Prophet say, as the group stopped to ask for a drink of water on the way to Carthage that morning, “Brother Rosenkranz, if I never see you again, or if I never come back, remember that I love you.” She felt that to her soul, and fled and wept on her bed. 75
    * * * * *
    When they were several miles out from Nauvoo he [Joseph] instructed-and that’s the only way he could get them to do so-that many who had ridden that far with him turn around and go back. John Butler recorded: “We were all willing to live or die with them. Brother Joseph spoke to us all and told us that he was like a lamb led to the slaughter. He also spoke to Brother Hyrum and wished him to return home with us. We begged him to let us stay with him and die with him, if necessary, but he said, no, we were to return to our home, and Brother Hyrum said that he would stay with Brother Joseph. For my part, I felt that something great was going to transpire. He blessed us and told us to go. We bade them farewell, and started. We had twenty miles to ride, and we went the whole distance without uttering one word. All were dumb and still, and all felt the Spirit, as I did myself. I cannot express my feelings at that time, for they overpowered me.” He added, “As I turned and as we rode away I felt as I suppose the ancient disciples of Christ felt when he said, ‘I must be crucified.'” 78
    And then the third expression. They stopped at the Fellows’ farm after being met by a menacing group on horseback from Carthage, and Joseph went in and countersigned Governor Ford’s order for the surrender of all state arms in possession of the Nauvoo Legion. “I am not afraid to die,” he said. 79 In the jail the day before his death he said to his brethren: “I have had a good deal of anxiety about my safety since I left Nauvoo, which I never had before when I was under arrest. I could not help those feelings, and they have depressed me.” 80
    The above is excerpted from Truman G. Madsen, “The Last Months and Martyrdom” in Joseph Smith the Prophet (Salt Lake City: Deseret Books, 1978).
    Professor Madsen on Wikipedia:
    : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Truman_G._Madsen

  7. I am not going to begin to pretend that I can fully counter your points, my dear friend Joe, but here’s just a quick few I thought of. I’ll try to keep it organized. But first I just a have a couple of minor complaints about the way you refer to my religion. 1st: We prefer to be members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints or LDS. Mormon was a great man in the Book of Mormon, but we belong to Christ church not Mormon’s. I’m not deeply offended or anything. It’s just a very nice courtesy. 2nd: In the last paragraph of the original post, there is a separation of “early Mormon” and “Christianity” which seems to indicate that LDS are not Christians. LDS follow the teachings of Christ and would be Christians. I see why the distinction was made and I could just be nick-picking, but I thought I should say something. So… On with some counter points….

    Under 1B)
    1.)Joseph Smith History-
    a.) While it’s listed with the Pearl of Great Price, it isn’t really considered to be part of the PGP.
    b.) It’s the personal testimony of Joseph Smith which important to show how he was chosen. We know that the Holy Ghost will witness to our heart when we read/hear testimony of the Truth. The purpose is to strengthen others and to have personal account.
    c.)What about the testimony of Paul to Saul? Maybe even the Doubting Thomas?

    2.)Prophesy of Joseph Smith 2Nephi
    a.) How do you interpret Ezekiel 37:15-20? Stick would be a book and Joseph to be Joseph Smith. The prophesy of Joseph Smith translating the Book of Mormon to be another testament of Christ, not to replace the books (OT and NT) we currently had.

    3.)Infallible JS vs. the embarrassingly fallible apostles.
    a.)D&C 3: Shows the JS repeatedly going to Lord and begging him to let Oliver Cowdery take the manuscript to his wife. Eventually the Lord allows with a stipulation that Oliver is only allowed to show his wife, which doesn’t happen, and result JS was chastise, forbidden to retranslate it, and we don’t have the book of Lehi as a result.

    4.)Secular and Religious leader
    a.) Does the Pope fulfill both roles in the Vatican?

    5.) D&C 132 – “All men allowed to cheat”
    a.) If all men are allowed to do it, is it really a privilege? Yes I understand that if JS hadn’t restored the gospel then there would be no one to issue that decree, but once he establishes he can have all the wives he wants (which being married and have talk to other married men, I’m not so sure is a fabulous as you make it out to be 😉 ), why wouldn’t he just step down as leader and have some one else be the leader? He would already have the fame, the glory, the ladies, and a whole heck of lot less persecution.

    All in all. When you paint The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints as a cult, it seems hard to fathom that Joseph Smith didn’t do it for glory, fame, and ladies. Joseph Smith was 14 when he had the first vision and died at 38. He was ridiculed and criticized. He was chased from state to state by mobs who were threatening his family and the newly restored gospel of Jesus Christ. As the prophet, he was responsible for the safety and well being of the members. He watched his brother die in front of him because of their leadership in the gospel. That doesn’t sound much like glory to me.

  8. The following is from John A. Widtsoe’s biography of Joseph:
    Towards the evening of June 22 he called his brother Hyrum Smith. They with the ever faithful Elder Willard Richards clambered into a small boat and Orrin Porter Rockwell rowed them across the Mississippi to Montrose, Iowa. There at last they would be free for a time from their enemies; and also on the way to the West. Safe on the Iowa side of the river, he began to plan for their westward journey. His blood ran warm again. He would yet lead his people to a safe and permanent abiding place.
    Then, on the next morning, June 28, men came from the Nauvoo, Illinois, side. They brought letters and messages from supposed friends and one from his wife, Emma, all urging him to return. He was needed in Nauvoo, they said. In the current gossip he was running away from them to save his own skin; he was a coward! So the gossip said.
    This stung him to the quick. He had never yet failed his people. Joseph Smith had courage. He was a fearless man. He knew that if he should be destroyed the Lord would find another. The kingdom had been set up for the last time. With sorrow but with courage in his voice he ordered the return. He added, “If my life is of no value to my friends, it is of none to me.” 1
    * * * * *
    Joseph knew that the charges would have to be dismissed, but he also knew that the trial was but a part of the plan of his enemies to destroy him. But his friends had prevailed with him until he had promised to face the trial. He therefore decided to meet another trial, such as he had met nearly fifty times before, always with acquittal as judgment.
    On June 24, Joseph and Hyrum and his party left Nauvoo for Carthage, the seat of the court. He declared on the journey:
    I am going like a lamb to the slaughter, but I am calm as a summers morning; I have a conscience void of offense towards God, and toward all men. I shall die innocent, and it shall yet be said of me-he was murdered in cold blood. 5
    They were first installed in the Hamilton House, then on June 26, in Carthage Jail. 6
    On June 27, in the late afternoon, the mob of supposedly orderly men broke into the jail. In the ensuing melee, Joseph and his brother Hyrum were killed and John Taylor severely wounded.
    * * * * *
    Thus, a great life was ended-two, indeed. The details are well-known. [From the accounts of Joseph Taylor, who was shot four times, and Willard Richards who, remarkably, was unscathed.] The inherent courage of Joseph Smith was shown by his return from Iowa. He knew that by returning, he was taking his life in his hands, but did so fearlessly. His work on earth was finished. He sealed his testimony with his blood as did his great Exemplar, his real Leader, Jesus the Christ.
    Excerpted from John A. Widtsoe, “Chapter 52: The Courage to Face Martyrdom” in Joseph Smith: Seeker after Truth; Prophet of God (Salt Lake City:
    Elder Widtsoe on Wikipedia:


  9. Murdock,

    I’ll respond to you ASAP, but it might be tomorrow. There’s a lot to chew over here!


    (1) I switched one of the posts to read “LDS” instead of “Mormon,” and have begun to do the same here, but I’m starting to second-guess this. Isn’t LDS specific to just the Brigham Young lineage? Since I’m from Jackson County and have been to the “Temple lot,” I’m dimly aware that there are numerous smaller squabbling sects. Does “LDS” capture these, or only the major one? I’m fine switching the terms out unless in doing so, I’m no longer talking about the Community of Christ (RLDS), Church of Christ Temple Lot, Independent RLDS, etc.

    Also, given that the LDS church owns “Mormon.org” and there are numerous LDS apologetics websites like “Mormon FAIR,” etc., does the term still have a pejorative connotation?

    (1a) Thanks. I switched it to “appended” to better capture the ambiguity.
    (1b-c) “Saul to Paul” and Doubting Thomas are accounts of the work of God. Both are accounts of the men doing horrible things against God, and God showing incredible mercy nonetheless. Neither of the accounts show the men to have somehow merited their Apostleship or salvation. I think that this is something of a difference.

    (2) Ezekiel 37:15-20 refers to the reunification of Israel in Christ, not of the canon of Scripture. MRM uses other examples from the Bible to show that this word means “sticks,” not “Books.”  Now, obviously, you could say that it was a metaphor for books. But I think there’s a much more likely interpretation. At the time, Ezekiel is speaking to a divided Israel. Ten tribes are in the House of Joseph (Ephraim), and two are in the House of Judah. He’s saying that all Israel will be united, “and they will all have one shepherd” (Ez. 37:24), and a New and Everlasting Covenant (Ez. 37:26).  Jesus fulfills both of these prophesies.  Look at John 10:14-16 and Luke 22:20, in which Jesus applies both of these to Himself.

    (3) From a non-LDS standpoint, the lost 116 pages are very suspicious. The events are exactly what we would expect if he was making this up. He has 116 pages of writing. They’re lost, and he’s unable to reproduce them. If he attempted to do them exactly the same again, and the 116 pages are later recovered, he’d be exposed as a fraud. So he declares that there are going to be new writings instead. In this view, D&C 3 is a convenient way for Joseph Smith to not have to produce the lost pages again. Which, if he were truly a prophet, he could have.

    In contrast, these events don’t fit neatly with the idea of the Book of Mormon being revelation from God. The idea that God punishes everyone by preventing us from having important Scriptures, but then rewards us with new and different Scriptures instead, is sort of strange. It’s also not in keeping with the Scriptural depiction of God. Just look at the Old Testament. We have almost an identical situation: God’s revelation is destroyed due to the sinfulness of man. Specifically, Moses destroys the Ten Commandments because he’s mad about the people worshiping the golden calf (Ex. 32:19). So what happens? God reveals the same Commandments again. And there’s a reason for this: every Scripture is God-breathed, and vitally important for us (2 Tim 3:16-17). He wants us to have Scripture.


    1. I don’t think Mormons argue that Joseph Smith’s history proves that he “merited [his] Apostleship or salvation.” Quite the opposite.

      The Book of Mormon argues that God wants us to have lots of scriptures, even more than the LDS have today – but sometimes holds back because people either won’t accept them or will alter them, and have done so in the past. (Interestingly, Mormons believe that the sets of tablets brought down by Moses from the mount WERE different!)

  10. (4) Touché! The pope technically is secular ruler of the world’s tiniest country. If Catholics believed in Jesus simply because the pope said so, that’d be problematic. As it is, we trust the pope because we trust the Apostles, and the Apostles tell us that Jesus established a Church with Peter as the head (Mt. 16:17-19), that Peter went to Rome (1 Peter 5:13), and that the Apostles have successors (Acts 1:20; Acts 1:25). Obviously, there are more ways of showing it than that (you can find much on the subject on this blog and elsewhere), but it’s emphatically not simply “the Pope says so.”

    (5) All LDS men. If the Book of Mormon were false, a lot of men would be in hot water, namely, all of those with multiple wives.

    How are you defining “cult”? I’m hesitant to apply that label, because I think it’s more name-calling than helpful. Like all non-Mormons, I think the Book of Mormon is not Scripture and that Joseph Smith wasn’t really a prophet. You think the Catholic Church isn’t the Church Christ established, and that the pope isn’t the legitimate successor to Peter and earthly head of that Church. I think we can say that the other person is mistaken without hinting that they’re “brainwashed.”

    Yours in Christ,


  11. Joe
    With respect to Joseph Smith, you write: “People are, on the whole, pretty sane. If they have to go through a little persecution to keep the adoring following and the countless women, they might think it’s worth it.” The problem with your analysis and conclusion is that, at least with respect to the “countless women” of plural marriage, the chronology does not work. Plural marriage first occurred during the Nauvoo Period. With the exception of his ultimate martyrdom, the worst persecutions endured by Joseph substantially preceded the Nauvoo Period. Thus, unless Joseph could foresee with confidence his future, which would confirm his status as prophet and so rebut conclusively your argument, he did not have worldly incentives to endure persecution at the time he was actually being persecuted. Here are some of the salient events and dates:
    First Vision – Spring 1820
    Moroni’s 1st appearance – September 1823
    Translates Book of Mormon – April-June 1829
    Organizes Church – April 6, 1830
    Beaten, tarred, feathered and nearly castrated in Ohio – March 1832
    Sentenced to death in Missouri, but order for execution disobeyed – November 1, 1838
    Imprisoned in Liberty Jail, Missouri – December 1838 until escape of April 16, 1838
    Nauvoo Charter – December 16, 1840
    First plural marriage – April 5, 1841
    Killed – June 27, 1844


  12. Murdock, to your first points:

    (1) “Martyred by surprise”: Joseph Smith was promised protection by the Governor and the Carthage Greys. Even Madsen’s account shows Joseph deferring to Hyrum, who didn’t think that they’d be harmed.
    (2) Planning to run away: Madsen (who you cite) reports that Smith had begun to flee, but was dissuaded by his followers, leading to his remark, “If my life is of no value to my friends it is of none to myself.” So he was (a) initially running, and (b) embittered that the others called him a coward for it. When he finally did consent to go back, it was because Hyrum (the oldest) said to, a decision rooted in Hyrum’s belief that they’d be safe. That’s what I was referring to. Left to his own devices, Joseph wanted to run away.
    (3) Smuggled a gun: Even if it’s true that someone else smuggled it in for him without being asked, he still accepted it, and would later use it. It’s a stark contrast from Christ’s refusal to defend Himself in the Garden, and His refusal to even let Peter defend Him.
    (4) Nauvoo Legion – It certainly seems plausible that the massive private army he commanded would try to spring him. Even without their state-issued weapons, they were truly a force to be reckoned with, as the battles after Smith’s death attest.
    (5) “Moonlighted as a killer”: That may be true — I understand that there’s some confusion over whether he successfully killed anyone, due to conflicting initial reports. But it looks like you’re probably right. I’ll fix that part. Still, you’re acknowledging that he died while at least attempting to kill people. My point applies as much to attempting as successfully killing others. It’s not the behavior of a lamb lead to the slaughter. As to your aside, Joseph and Hyrum Smith were arrested for treason, at least according to the Encyclopedia Brittanica.

    (6) As to Joseph being an “American Martyr,” fighting to the death, I think that there are much better examples of actual American martyrs. St. Isaac Jogues is a great one. He ministered to the Huron and Algonquian Indians. He was captured by the Mohawks, and they cut off several of his fingers. While their slave, Jogues did his best to teach the Mohawks Christianity. After his release, he asked permission to go back to the Mohawks as a missionary (which was granted). Shortly after his return, the Mohawks stripped him naked, cut him with knives and beat him. Eventually, they tomahawked him to death, and decapitated him. His life and death both served as a witness to Christ, and a number of Mohawks (as well as Hurons and Algonquians) converted as a result. My point is that he willingly submitted himself to death in order to try to better minister to those who treated him as an enemy. He did so without complaint or hesitation, much less armed resistance.


  13. (7) To your most recent comment, the note on D&C 132 suggests that on the issue of plural marriage, “Although the revelation was recorded in 1843, it is evident from the historical records that the doctrines and principles involved in this revelation had been known by the Prophet since 1831.” That solves the chronology problem you raise quite neatly.

    But prior to becoming his wives, there are allegations that many of these women were his concubines. His affair with Fanny Alger is said to have dated back to at least 1833, and it was in response to this that the “Chapter of Rules for Marriage among the Saints” was promulgated in 1835, affirming that the LDS church believed in monogamy. Of course, if the church’s preface to D&C 132 is correct, the Chapter of Rules was made when the prophet was aware it was false.

    My point is that before he officially became a bigamist, he appears (even by Oliver Cowdery’s testimony) to have been an adulterer. Even giving him the benefit of the doubt on this one, it seems undeniable that he had numerous fawning women. And they adored him because he was “the Prophet.” My point was that this gave him something personal to fight for even if he didn’t believe in the revelations himself.

    Again, if you compare everything we’ve said here to Muhammad, I think you’ll see a very similar picture painted. You’ve suggested it’s unlikely he would have done this unless he was a prophet. Do you think the same of Muhammad?


  14. Joe,

    I am a Catholic and agree with a lot of what you say here. However, I do have a question/issue. I understand that Muhammad had multiple wives and lived like a king in some ways, but he still risked his life in several battles with the pagans of his tribe. Why would he do this if he knew he was lying???

  15. True, but I could gain a lot by fighting people too, but I still don’t want to die or want to face death just for earthly pleasure.

    1. You’re basically just asking why anybody wants to lead a country and conquer places – you could just as soon question Atilla the Hun’s legitimacy. Sure, YOU might not do it, but many people certainly would, and have.

  16. Let’s just cut to the chase.
    Hey LDS people, here’s the first and final question that will define your eternal glory or suffering.
    Q: Is Jesus a created or uncreated being?
    Take some time, it’s a REALLY important question.

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