Prophets in Mormonism/Part 33
|By: Marvin W. Cowan; ©2009|
|Joseph F. Smith, the sixth LDS Prophet, claimed he had a vision about the redemption of the dead on October 3, 1918. But his vision didn’t become LDS scripture until 1976 when LDS leaders added it to the Pearl of Great Price. So, for 58 years, from 1918 until 1976, it was just an interesting document by an LDS Prophet, but it was not scripture.|
Joseph F. Smith, the sixth LDS Prophet, claimed he had a vision about the redemption of the dead on October 3, 1918. He was quite ill at the time and died six weeks later. But his vision didn’t become LDS scripture until 1976 when LDS leaders added it to the Pearl of Great Price. In 1979 the LDS Church announced that his vision would become Section 138 in the Doctrine and Covenants the next time the Doctrine and Covenants was printed, which was in 1981. So, for 58 years, from 1918 until 1976, it was just an interesting document by an LDS Prophet, but it was not scripture. It became scripture when LDS leaders said it was scripture! Joseph Fielding Smith had been dead for 58 years, so he had nothing to do with making it Mormon scripture. Nothing in the document changed, so why did it become LDS scripture in 1976? If it was LDS scripture in 1976, why wasn’t it in 1918 when Smith said he received it?
In our last article we mentioned that Mormons were told to read the Doctrine and Covenants “from cover to cover” in 2009. In the January 2009 Ensign the LDS Sunday School General Presidency declared on page 47 that the Doctrine and Covenants is “a marvelous book of revelations that was written in our day and for our day.” But the newest revelation in the Doctrine and Covenants is Section 138 which Joseph Fielding Smith said he received in 1918! That was not written in our time! All of the other “revelations” in the Doctrine and Covenants were before 1918. Some might claim that Spencer Kimball’s 1978 statement allowing black men to have LDS Priesthood is later. It certainly is later, but it is not a revelation, it is only a statement about a revelation that Kimball said he had. But even if it is counted as a revelation, half of the people alive now weren’t alive in 1978, so it wasn’t given in “their day.”
In Doctrine and Covenants 138:1-10 Joseph F. Smith said he was pondering over 1 Peter 3:18-20 and 4:6. But, his Uncle Joseph Smith, Mormonism’s founder, had already given those texts an official Mormon interpretation, so his pondering wouldn’t change that. The Joseph Smith Translation (JST) of the Bible changed those verses to strengthen Smith’s interpretation. He said those verses teach that during the time between His crucifixion and resurrection, Christ went into the realm of the dead and preached the gospel to them. That was what Joseph F. Smith was pondering in Doctrine and Covenants 138:1-11. Then he said, “I saw the hosts of the dead, both small and great. And there were gathered together in one place an innumerable company of the spirits of the just who had been faithful to the testimony of Jesus while they lived in mortality” (vs.11-12). He went on to say, “And there He (Jesus) preached to them (the just) the everlasting gospel… but unto the wicked He did not go, and among the ungodly and the unrepentant who had defiled themselves while in the flesh, His voice was not raised” (verses 19-20).
But in Doctrine and Covenants 138:25-26 Joseph F. Smith said, “I marveled, for I understood that the Savior spent about three years in His ministry among the Jews and those of the house of Israel, endeavoring to teach them the everlasting gospel and call them unto repentance; and yet, notwithstanding His mighty works, and miracles, and proclamation of the truth, in great power and authority, there were few who hearkened to His voice, and rejoiced in His presence, and received salvation at His hands.” Smith said that Jesus spent about three years teaching the everlasting gospel during His earthly ministry in Israel, yet few harkened or received salvation at His hands.
Jesus’ three years of mortal ministry ended when He was crucified and died. According to Smith, while Jesus’ body was in the tomb, His spirit went to the spirit world where all people go when they die, and there He preached the everlasting gospel to an innumerable company of the just who had been faithful to the testimony of Jesus while they of lived in mortality. The spirits who had been faithful to the testimony of Jesus must have lived on earth during Jesus’ earthly ministry and died before His crucifixion since they were in the spirit world when Christ got there. But, if only a few received salvation during Jesus’ earthly ministry, how did they become an innumerable company in the spirit world who had been faithful to the testimony of Jesus while in mortality? Smith later mentioned some prominent Old Testament personalities in verses 38-48, but they did not live during Jesus’ earthly ministry and no biblical or historical record says that they were faithful to the testimony of Jesus while they lived in mortality, so Smith wasn’t talking about them in this context.
In Doctrine and Covenants 138, Joseph F. Smith said when Jesus went to the realm of the dead, He went only to the just that had been faithful to the testimony of Jesus on earth and to them He preached the everlasting gospel (verses 12-19). Why did Jesus preach the everlasting gospel to those who had already accepted it during mortality? Why do verses 20-21, 37 say that Jesus could not and did not go to the wicked, ungodly, unrepentant and rebellious in the spirit world? They certainly needed to hear His message more than those who had already accepted it! Jesus said in His earthly ministry, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Mark 2:17). So, why did Joseph F. Smith say Jesus did just the opposite in the spirit world?
More about Doctrine and Covenants 138 is found in the Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual, published by the LDS Church. We will conclude our study of Doctrine and Covenants 138 the next time.