Apologist v. Apologist: Was Joseph Smith a True Prophet?
In 2012 I published a book called, “A Biblical Defense of Mormonism”. Four years later I embraced Evangelical Christianity. So what enticed me, a Mormon apologist, to abandon my faith in the LDS church? This article is part of a recurring series, where I explain why, by refuting my past self.
In my book, “A Biblical Defense of Mormonism”, I tried to downplay the importance of Joseph Smith. I wrote:
“Joseph Smith’s story is a remarkable one. It’s one which Mormon missionaries never fail to teach their investigators. Furthermore, opponents of the Church never tire of attacking Joseph’s character, and members of the Church usually feel obligated to defend him. I think it’s a waste of time.
If I went to my mother’s house for her famous green bean casserole, I wouldn’t denounce her or her specialty if I found out she used canned, instead of fresh green beans. Similarly, Joseph Smith is just a technical detail of the broader picture. A mortal man who is dead was never our central message; God becoming man and rising from the dead is our central message, along with the fact that His bride, the Church, has been restored to her former glory. We’re talking about a wedding here! Heaven forbid one of the guests should get all the attention!
I’m not trying to minimize Joseph since he played an essential role in the restoration of the gospel. Salt is an essential ingredient in bread too, but many a loaf’s been ruined because too much salt was added.” (Michael Flournoy, “A Biblical Defense of Mormonism”, p. 53)
Looking back, I see a frightened young Mormon who suspected that Joseph was involved in distasteful activities, but suppressed the truth in unrighteousness. I tried to create a choke point by defining what was and what wasn’t important to the debate.
To put things in perspective, Joseph isn’t just a guest at the LDS wedding. He’s the best man. When the bride ran away last time, he’s the one who brought her back. He’s the reason the wedding is even happening.
In Mormonism, Christ wasn’t appealing enough to win the bride by Himself, much less keep her from divorcing Him. He required a wingman. And this is the worst kind of wingman there is, because not only are the bride’s eyes on the Groom, they constantly glance back at Joseph.
Jesus may have her hand, but Joseph has her heart.
I tried to shield Joseph from attack the same way a chess player tucks away his king. I pointed to other “weasels” in the Biblical narrative. There was Judas Iscariot, who Jesus handpicked as an apostle. There was Jonah who fled from his duty, and Aaron who built a molten calf for Israel to worship.
If these men could be called of God despite their sins, then God could use anyone. Arguments against the character of Joseph were irrelevant. In fact, it was preposterous to think someone had to be good to work for God.
Okay, Past Self, hold your horses. God can use evil men to accomplish his work, that’s a far cry from what the LDS Church teaches about Joseph. To them he is a prophet, and must be worthy not only to receive revelation from God, but to hold priesthood keys necessary for governing the Church.
Galatians 5:18-23 (ESV) makes it very clear that the works of the flesh are evil, but those who follow the Spirit will exemplify a holier set of traits. It reads:
But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
Simply stated, it’s erroneous to sweep Joseph’s traits under the rug and only look at The Book of Mormon as his fruit.
Jesus said, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.” (Matthew 7:15-18 ESV)
Notice what He didn’t say. Christ didn’t say to ignore a prophet’s misdeeds. He didn’t say to zone out when they speak heresy since they’re fallible men. And He certainly didn’t say it was wrong to criticize them even if the criticism is true. Rather, we are to call their works into question.
Granted, all believers are still sinners, and even Biblical prophets made mistakes. But if we look at the accusations against Joseph, we see a man who was anything but a saint.
He was charged with treason and conspiracy to murder a former governor. He was arrested 42 times. He was charged with banking fraud and destroying a press that criticized him. He sent men on missions and married their wives while they were away. He lied about his polygamy in public and in private to his wife Emma.
Latter-day Saints denounce these claims as anti-Mormon fabrications designed to ruin Joseph’s reputation. However, the sources for this evidence are all Mormon or Mormon friendly – up to and including Joseph Smith himself in “The History of the Church” (see https://byustudies.byu.edu/further-study/history-of-the-church/ ).
Since I didn’t argue for the character of Joseph in my pro-LDS book, it’s not my goal to argue against it here. I tried to argue that the First Vision itself was evidence of Joseph’s prophetic calling. I wrote:
“But what about 2 Corinthians 11:14 which says Satan is transformed into an angel of light? If the devil is capable of such trickery, how can we be sure Joseph wasn’t visited by Satan disguised as God? Everyone who’s served a mission has probably heard someone argue along these lines. However, the argument is Biblically unsound. In the New Testament when Jesus casts out demons, the Pharisees accuse him of casting out demons through Beelzebub, the prince of the devils. To this Christ replies, “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand: and if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself; how shall then his kingdom stand?’ (Matthew 12:25-26 KJV)
Joseph Smith said when he prayed he was first set upon by a dark force before being delivered by God. Since neither God nor Satan is divided, we are left with only two options: first, that God attacked Joseph, but was abolished by Satan, or second, that Smith’s account is true and he was delivered by God.” (Michael Flournoy, “A Biblical Defense of Mormonism”, p. 57)
This is a classic false dichotomy. This whole argument assumes that Joseph was telling the truth about what happened. It’s a cleverly constructed house that lacks a foundation.
The simplest explanation is the First Vision never happened. The whole event was fabricated. Joseph never saw God and was never called to restore Christianity from apostasy. In fact, Jesus promised the gates of hell would not prevail against the church (Matthew 16:18).
My Mormon self believed that the most important fruits to look at were The Book of Mormon and the restored gospel. In this series of articles I will examine these fruits and show that Joseph brought forth false scripture and a false god. To top it off, he produced a false gospel: one that required a restoration and was therefore perishable. These rotten fruits are the reason I went from defender of the LDS faith, to ex-Mormon Apologist.