Monday, April 21, 2014

Why I Believe: Evidence Fifteen: Joseph Smith And The Return Of Elijah

101 Reasons Why I Believe Joseph Smith Was A Prophet

Evidence Fifteen: 
Joseph Smith And The Return Of Elijah© 

On the 23 of September 1823 the ancient American prophet Moroni appeared to the seventeen-year-old Joseph Smith. This marvelous angel came three times that night and again the next morning–each time repeating the same instructions. Among those, the Prophet later recorded these words:
...he commenced quoting the prophecies of the Old Testament.  He first quoted part of the third chapter of Malachi; and he quoted also the fourth or last chapter of the same prophecy, though with a little variation from the way it reads in our Bibles. Instead of quoting the first verse as it reads in our books, he quoted it thus: For behold, the day cometh that shall burn as an oven, and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly shall burn as stubble; for they that come shall burn them, saith the Lord of Hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. And again, he quoted the fifth verse thus: Behold, I will reveal unto you the Priesthood, by the hand of Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. He also quoted the next verse differently: And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers. If it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming. (1)
It has always impressed me that Joseph was so sharp that he knew that Moroni had changed these verses.  I am equally impressed with the significance of the changes. Is it possible that one of the reasons for Moroni appearing four times was to give the young lad time to mentally process what he was being told and to then answer questions which he may have, thus the repetitions were not just to ingrain the information deeply in his mind but to actually teach him what the instructions meant? Is it possible that Moroni actually pointed out to Joseph the differences between what was in the KJV and what he was reciting? To me the answer to these questions is a definite “yes”. I think that is a reasonable assumption and we have some evidence that this is the case which I will discuss in another blog. At any rate, Joseph Smith had a mind quick enough to pick up important details, a mind retentive enough to remember the exact wording of Moroni and to reproduce it in writing.  Both are impressive clues about the quality of the mind of Joseph Smith. But I have another purpose in bringing this passage before you.

Now that we have these prophecies, we are faced with only two choices. Either this event transpired as Joseph Smith said it did, or he made it up for some purpose. Under the latter option one must ask, What purpose?  If he made it up, the purpose could be sincere but misguided or more likely at least to our opponents it must be purposely fraudulent. One could argue that he was planning to do something with this passage to deceive the religious world. What would that plan be? Most importantly, what nefarious purpose could lay hidden in a prophecy about the coming of Elijah to reveal the priesthood and turn the hearts of the fathers and the children to each other? Why would he change the last verse quoted from saying the earth would be smitten with a curse to saying it would be “utterly wasted” at the coming of the Lord? What skulduggery lies inside such a change or in these doctrines? Those who believe Joseph Smith was a fraud must come up with reasonable answers to such questions. But they have other equally difficult matters to explain.

I suggest that the evidence points in the direction of the first option and this is another piece of evidence that adds to my conviction that he was a prophet of God. Most churches of his day and ours had no idea about what this closing prophecy of the Old Testament meant or how or when it would be fulfilled. The Jews believed it and a manifestation of this belief showed up in various ways such as leaving an empty chair at Passover for the coming of Elijah. (Incidentally, he did come on Passover in 1836, but not to the Jews! I wonder if Joseph Smith knew about the Jewish tradition or that that day was Passover in 1836?)  Most religions who accept the Old Testament have been content to passively wait for the Lord to send Elijah, “before the great and terrible day of the Lord.” There does not seem to be any great anticipation of this event because they are mutually confused as to why he would come. The passage as it stands in the Bible today is very obscure to most people. For Latter-day Saints the issue is much clearer due to the changes Moroni introduced and subsequent revelations given to Joseph Smith. Indeed, this prophecy was the foundation of the church’s doctrine of the salvation of the dead. These are topics for another time.

If Joseph Smith planned this, presumably he planned to include a fulfillment of this prophecy of the coming of Elijah, the restoration of the priesthood and the turning of the hearts. How could he bring about such a fulfillment by his own designs? Since he did not know how long he might live it seems that the temptation would be to get the fulfillment underway as quickly as possible. But no. The fulfillment did not come until thirteen years later on 3 April 1836.(2) It was apparently unanticipated by Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery and there is no evidence of which I am aware that either did anything between 1823 and 1836 in writing or action to further foreshadow this event. This revelation, though recorded, was not published nor included in the collection of his revelations known as the Doctrine and Covenants in his lifetime.(3) 

There is an even more difficult matter to explain in the alleged scheme. That is, how did Joseph Smith get Oliver Cowdery to see the same visions found in D&C 110, which records the fulfillment of the coming of Elijah, which he saw? In accordance with the ancient law of witnesses there were two witnesses to the appearance of Elijah. But how does one, who may be pretending or intentionally deceiving others, how does that one get someone else to go along with the plan? Assuming that it could be done, how does one then keep that co-conspirator in line the rest of his life? Especially if, as was the case with Oliver Cowdery, the two men had a serious falling out and Cowdery was excommunicated.  Wouldn’t that be the perfect reason and time for Cowdery to come forward and say, “Well, now, let me tell you how we went about making up a wonderful story about a series of visions of Jesus, Moses, Elias, and Elijah appearing in the Kirtland Temple in the Spring of 1836 following the dedication of the building.”  Where is such a statement? It does not exist. So far as I know Oliver Cowdery never retracted a single statement or disputed a single fact about any of his spiritual experiences with Joseph Smith. How could Joseph have pulled that off if he concocted this whole thing?

And that is not the end of it.  Joseph Fielding Smith, long involved in leadership in the family history (genealogical) efforts of the Church, has on several occasions pointed out that it was not until after 1836 that we see important movements in the creation of personal data records and compilations of family histories, which to him were evidence that the hearts of children and ancestors were turning toward each other. Here are two quotations from his April 1948 General Conference address as examples:
I have a little information here that I think is important, and this coming of Elijah is one of the vital things in the history of this world. It is vital to me and to you and to every other soul upon the face of the earth. Before the days of the coming of Elijah in 1836, there was no endeavor of any import to search the records of the dead. What was done, here and there, was usually where some estate was involved. The people were not turning their hearts to their dead fathers. They were not searching the records. They were not compiling them. There were no organizations or societies on the face of the earth, as far as I can learn, gathering records of the dead, before the year 1836. In 1837, however, one year later, Great Britain passed laws providing for and compelling the preservation of records of the dead. In the year 1844, the New England Historical and Genealogical Society was organized in Boston, and I think this was the first organization of the kind in the world. In 1869, the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society in the city of New York was organized. Then followed rapidly other societies up and down the Atlantic coast of the United States, from Maine to Georgia. Then these organizations began to spread inland, and this spirit took hold of the people in other parts. I have visited some of these societies in various parts of the United States, and they have extended now from the east to the Pacific Ocean. In Great Britain, genealogical societies have been organized in practically every county in that land and in Scotland. These records have been kept and filed also in other countries in Europe, the countries from which the Latter-day Saints have come. The spirit has taken hold of the people, not only in the Church, but also of many who are not of the Church, and they, too, are searching the records, and compiling them, of the dead.(4)
The second:
Now here is something which I think is interesting. In 1935, Mr. T. B. Thompson published A Catalogue of British Family Histories. It included the titles and years of publication of some two thousand seventy-one families and was supposed to be a complete list of all such published records up to that date. Here are his figures from the date of the invention of printing:
From 1450 to 1600, were published 2 family histories.
From 1600 to 1700, were published 18 family histories.
From 1700 to 1800, were published 72 family histories. 
From 1800 to 1836, when Elijah came, were published 100 family histories. 
From 1837 to 1935, were published 1,879 family histories.(5)
To me this is compelling evidence that something remarkable began regarding family history in America and the UK after Elijah's return.  Here I am compelled to ask a question.   If Joseph Smith made up the story about Moroni stressing the Malachi prophecies about the return of Elijah, and if at age seventeen he somehow began constructing a complex theology of which these prophecies would become an integral part, and if he somehow persuaded Oliver Cowdery to join him in lying to the world about a vision of the appearance of Elijah in the Spring of 1836 and never deny it though he would later be excommunicated; how in the world was he able to so influence things such that today's family history movement makes genealogy one of the most prevalent hobbies in the world and genealogy sites among the most popular on the Internet?  How could he have insured that after his death and the destruction of the Nauvoo Temple and the expulsion of the Saints from Illinois that they would come to the Rocky Mountains and build four temples in Utah, to be followed up by nine more by the first half of the Twentieth Century, or that before the end of the first quarter of the Twenty-first Century there would be more than 140 operating temples--all devoted to giving some eternal substance to family relationships? As I say, all of this suggests that indeed many hearts of children and fathers are turning toward each other?  How did Joseph Smith do that?  He predicted it by bringing us Moroni's version of Malachi, but he didn't do it.  The "spirit of Elijah" did!  Joseph Smith has the most uncanny way of helping us recognize the fulfillment in our day of the most remarkable prophecies to come out of the ancient world and out of his own experiences with the Lord. He excels at answering religious questions such as, Why was Elijah to return before the Second Coming of Jesus Christ?(6)

[Addendum 5 May 2014]
Last evening I read a talk by Elder David B. Haight given in General Conference in October 1990, in which he made some points similar to those above.  For the record, he said that several truths attested to the coming of Elijah.  They are:
First, no one else has claimed that the prophecy regarding Elijah’s coming in the last days has been fulfilled.
Second, the testimony of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery stands unassailable–they could not turn the hearts of the children to the fathers except by the power sent by God.
Third, neither did they have the power to persuade millions of people to turn their attention to their deceased fathers.  Remarkable indeed is the fact that organized efforts to gather genealogical information began after Elijah came in 1836.  In America, the New England Historical and Genealogical Society was organized in 1844, and the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society in 1869, for the purpose of gathering genealogy.  What is known as the “Spirit of Elijah” has influenced nonmembers as well as members of the Church in this viatal activity.  The microfilming of thousands of records is continuing on a large scale throughout the world.(7)
Thank God for Joseph Smith.

Lets think together again, soon.


1. JS-H 1:36-39, emphasis in the original.

2. See D&C 110, especially verses 13-16.

3. See Trever R. Anderson, “Doctrine and Covenants Section 110: From Vision to Canonization,” MRE thesis, Brigham Young University, 2010, for the fascinating history of the recording and publication of this revelation.

4. Joseph Fielding Smith, Conference Report, April 1948, p., 133.  An interesting expansion on this question, with somewhat of a corrective showing the creation of records among the Chinese and Korean clans from about A.D 1000; the 24th session of the Council of Trent, held in November 1563, which required that parish registers be kept of marriages and baptisms through the Catholic world along with confirmation of some of President Smith’s observations about genealogical societies etc., is in Jimmy B. Parker, “I Have A Question?” Ensign, (January 1977), pp. 72-73.  Others have made the same point as President Smith, for example: Matthias F. Cowley, Cowley's Talks on Doctrine, (Chicago: Northern States Mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1905), pp. 131-135; George F. Richards, “Genealogy and Temple Work,” Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine, 13 (July 1922), p. 102;  Mark E. Petersen, “Why Mormons Build Temples,” Ensign, 2 (January 1972), pp. 49, 52-53, 55.

5. Joseph Fielding Smith, Conference Report, April 1948, p., 135.  In Mormonism the agency accredited for this spiritual influence on people is designated “the spirit of Elijah,” which is another term for the Holy Ghost.  For just two examples among many statements about the “spirit of Elijah” as the moving force of genealogical research worldwide see, Gordon B. Hinckley, “A Century of Family History Service,” Ensign, (March 1995), p. 62; and Boyd K. Packer, The Holy Temple, (Salt Lake City, Bookcraft, 1986), p. 210.  For the explanation that the spirit of Elijah is the Holy Ghost see, Russell M. Nelson, Conference Report, April 1998, p. 46, n. 9.

Many believe the ongoing development of computer and related technology is inspired by the Lord and is part of the fulfillment of this prophecy to facilitate the work of the redemption of the dead and the linking of families through the sealing powers.  See, Howard W. Hunter and Boyd K. Packer, That They May Be Redeemed, (Salt Lake City: Corporation of the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1977); David B. Haight, Conference Report, April 1993, p. 31;  D. Todd Christofferson, “Family History: A Conversation with Elder D. Todd Christofferson,” Religious Educator 6, no. 2 (2005): 1-2; and S. Michael Wilcox, House of Glory, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1995), p. 117, for a family tradition that Brigham Young predicted such help.

6.  I will leave the many statements which Joseph Smith made about the purpose and importance of Elijah’s return and the doctrine they contain for another blog, but collectively they also add to the evidence presented here.

7. David B. Haight, “Temples and the Work Therein.” Ensign 20 (November 1990): 60. 

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