There are a variety of sources from which the teachings of the Prophet
Joseph Smith are drawn, including the History of the Church. The
following material is provided to help you understand these sources.
Sources of the Prophet's Teachings
The teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith included in this book are
drawn from the following types of sources.
Sermons. This book quotes extensively from the discourses given by the
Prophet Joseph Smith. The way in which these sermons were recorded is
very different from the way sermons were recorded for later Presidents
of the Church. Church Presidents who came after Joseph Smith used
scribes to record in shorthand their addresses to Church members. When
electronic recording devices, such as tape recorders and motion
picture film, became available, these were used to record the precise
words delivered by Church leaders.
During the lifetime of Joseph Smith, however, shorthand was not in
widespread use. Therefore, the sermons he delivered were recorded
imprecisely in longhand, generally by scribes, Church leaders, and
other Church members. Almost all of Joseph Smith's addresses were
given extemporaneously, without prepared texts, so the notes taken by
those who listened to him constitute the only record of the
discourses. While some lengthy reports of his addresses exist, most
are summarizations of the messages delivered by the Prophet.
Unfortunately, there is no record for many of the discourses given by
Joseph Smith. Of the more than 250 sermons he is known to have
delivered, reports or notes taken by scribes or others cover only
about 50 of the sermons given.
Articles. Some of the Prophet's teachings in this book are drawn from
articles that Joseph Smith designed for publication in Church
periodicals, including the Evening and Morning Star, Latter Day
Saints' Messenger and Advocate, Elders' Journal, and Times and
Seasons.1 Joseph Smith wrote or dictated some material for
publication. Also, he frequently directed a scribe, another member of
the First Presidency, or another trusted individual to write an
article regarding specific matters he wished addressed. The Prophet
would then endorse the text, having approved it as representing his
thinking, and publish it under his name. For example, this book quotes
from several editorials published in the Times and Seasons in 1842.
During an eight-month period of that year, from February to October,
Joseph Smith served as the editor of this periodical and frequently
published articles signed "Ed." Though others helped to write many of
these articles, the Prophet approved them and published them in his
Letters. This book quotes from many letters written or dictated by
Joseph Smith. This book also quotes from letters approved and signed
by Joseph Smith that were partially or completely prepared by others
under his direction.
Journals. The Prophet's journals are a rich source of his teachings.
Though his journals are extensive, he actually wrote in them himself
infrequently. Instead, he directed that his journals be kept by
scribes, under his supervision, allowing him to focus on the pressing
responsibilities of his calling. Just prior to his martyrdom he
stated, "For the last three years I have a record of all my acts and
proceedings, for I have kept several good, faithful, and efficient
clerks in constant employ: they have accompanied me everywhere, and
carefully kept my history, and they have written down what I have
done, where I have been, and what I have said."2 The Prophet's scribes
recorded journal entries in third person and in first person, as if
Joseph Smith himself were writing.
Remembrances of others. This book quotes from the recollections of
those who heard the Prophet speak and later recorded his words in
their journals and other writings. After the Prophet's death, Church
leaders and historians made great efforts to collect and preserve such
writings and to record previously unwritten recollections about the
Prophet. Such sources have been used only when the person actually
heard the words that he or she recorded.
Scriptures. This book quotes from Joseph Smith's teachings and
writings that were later canonized as scripture in the Doctrine and
Covenants and Pearl of Great Price. Such canonized writings include
instructions he gave on doctrinal subjects, visions he recorded, and
letters and other documents he wrote. This book quotes from these
canonized teachings and writings when they provide insight into
doctrines presented in this book.
History of the Church
Many of the Prophet Joseph Smith's sermons and writings included in
this book are quoted from the History of The Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-day Saints, which is referred to in this book as the History of
the Church.3 The first six volumes of the History of the Church
present the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
from its beginnings until the death of Joseph Smith. This history
primarily describes events and experiences connected with the life and
ministry of Joseph Smith. It is one of the most important sources of
historical information about the Prophet's life and teachings and
about the development of the early Church.
Joseph Smith began preparing the history that ultimately became the
History of the Church in the spring of 1838 to counter false reports
being published in newspapers and elsewhere. The completion of his
history was a subject of great concern to him. In 1843 he said, "There
are but few subjects that I have felt a greater anxiety about than my
history, which has been a very difficult task."4
The History of the Church is based on the Prophet's recollections,
journals, and other personal records. It presents a daily narrative of
the Prophet's activities and significant events in Church history. It
also includes reports of the Prophet's discourses, copies of
revelations he received, articles from Church periodicals, minutes of
conferences, and other documents.
Joseph Smith remained involved in preparing and reviewing his history
until his death. However, he directed that most of the work be done by
others, under his supervision. Reasons for this include his lifelong
preference for speaking or dictating his thoughts, rather than writing
them down, and the constant demands of his ministry. The Prophet's
history for July 5, 1839, records, "I was dictating history, I say
dictating, for I seldom use the pen myself."5
By June 1844 the history was written through August 5, 1838. In
Carthage Jail, shortly before he died, the Prophet charged Elder
Willard Richards, his chief scribe at that time, to continue the plan
of compiling the history.6 Elder Richards and other men who had been
close to the Prophet continued the history as directed until Elder
Richards's death in 1854. Then the work of compiling the history was
done or directed primarily by Elder George A. Smith, a cousin and
close friend of the Prophet, who was ordained an Apostle in 1839 and
became Church Historian in 1854. Many others who worked in the Church
Historian's Office also assisted with the compilation.
One important task of the compilers of the History of the Church was
editing and preparing original documents for inclusion in the history.
Their work involved making light editorial revisions to almost all
original documents included in the History of the Church. The
compilers corrected misspelled words and standardized punctuation,
capitalization, and grammar. Additionally, in some cases, the
compilers of the history made other changes to original documents.
These changes can be divided into three categories:
1. Combining accounts. Many of Joseph Smith's discourses were recorded
by more than one observer. In some instances, the compilers of the
History of the Church combined two or more accounts of the same
discourse into a single version.
2. Changing accounts from third person to first person. Many accounts
of the Prophet's teachings and activities were recorded in third
person. These accounts were written primarily by his scribes, but some
accounts were taken from the writings of others who knew the Prophet
and from newspaper articles. As the compilers of the History of the
Church worked, they wrote the history in the first person, as if the
Prophet were writing. This required that some third-person accounts be
changed into first-person accounts.
3. Adding or changing words or phrases. Many of the original notes
taken of the Prophet's sermons are brief, incomplete, and
disconnected. In some of these instances, Church historians
reconstructed the Prophet's sermons based on the available records,
drawing also upon their memories and experiences with the Prophet.
This work sometimes involved adding or changing words or phrases to
fill in gaps and clarify meaning.
All of the compiling and writing of the History of the Church was done
under apostolic supervision and review. The history was read to
members of the First Presidency, including President Brigham Young,
and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, some of whom had been
intimately acquainted with the Prophet and had heard the original
addresses. These leaders approved the manuscript for publication as
the history of the Church for the period of time it covers.
In August 1856 the history was completed through the time of Joseph
Smith's death. The history was published in serial form in Church
periodicals in the 19th century as the "History of Joseph Smith."7
Later, the history was edited by Elder B. H. Roberts, a member of the
Presidency of the Seventy, and was published between 1902 and 1912 in
six volumes. It was titled History of The Church of Jesus Christ of
The men who compiled the history attested to the accuracy of the work.
Elder George A. Smith said: "The greatest care has been taken to
convey the ideas in the Prophet's style as near as possible; and in no
case has the sentiment been varied that I know of, as I heard the most
of his discourses myself, was on the most intimate terms with him,
have retained a most vivid recollection of his teachings, and was well
acquainted with his principles and motives."8
Elder George A. Smith and Elder Wilford Woodruff declared: "The
History of Joseph Smith is now before the world, and we are satisfied
that a history more correct in its details than this, was never
published. To have it strictly correct, the greatest possible pains
have been taken by the historians and clerks engaged in the work. They
were eye and ear witnesses of nearly all the transactions recorded in
this history, most of which were reported as they transpired, and,
where they were not personally present, they have had access to those
who were. Moreover, since the death of the Prophet Joseph, the History
has been carefully revised under the strict inspection of President
Brigham Young, and approved of by him.
"We, therefore, hereby bear our testimony to all the world, unto whom
these words shall come, that the History of Joseph Smith is true, and
is one of the most authentic histories ever written."9
In this book, the Prophet Joseph Smith's discourses and writings are
quoted from the History of the Church unless the original discourse or
writing was not included in it. When this book quotes from the History
of the Church, the endnotes include information about the original
discourse or writing, including the names of those who recorded the
Prophet's sermons. The endnotes also indicate when the compilers of
the History of the Church drew upon their memories and experiences
with Joseph Smith to change words or add words or phrases to the
original report. Such additions or changes are noted only when they
affect the meaning of the quotation. Minor editing changes are not
The book titled Joseph Smith--History, as recorded in the Pearl of
Great Price, is an excerpt from the first five chapters of the first
volume of the History of the Church.
1. The Evening and Morning Star was published in Independence,
Missouri, from 1832 to 1833, and in Kirtland, Ohio, from 1833 to 1834.
The Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate was published in
Kirtland from 1834 to 1837. The Elders' Journal was published in
Kirtland in 1837, and in Far West, Missouri, in 1838. The Times and
Seasons was published in Nauvoo, Illinois, from 1839 to 1846.
2. History of the Church, 6:409; from a discourse given by Joseph
Smith on May 26, 1844, in Nauvoo, Illinois; reported by Thomas
3. The History of the Church has been referred to as the Documentary
History of the Church.
4. History of the Church, 6:66; from "History of the Church"
(manuscript), book E-1, p. 1768, Church Archives, The Church of Jesus
Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah.
5. History of the Church, 4:1; from "History of the Church"
(manuscript), book C-1, p. 963, Church Archives.
6. See letter from George A. Smith to Wilford Woodruff, Apr. 21, 1856,
Salt Lake City, Utah; in Historical Record Book, 1843-74, p. 219,
7. The "History of Joseph Smith" was published in the Times and
Seasons from Mar. 15, 1842, to Feb. 15, 1846. It was continued in the
Deseret News from Nov. 15, 1851, to Jan. 20, 1858. It was reprinted in
the Millennial Star from June 1842 to May 1845; and from Apr. 15,
1852, to May 2, 1863.
8. Letter from George A. Smith to Wilford Woodruff, Apr. 21, 1856,
Salt Lake City, Utah; in Historical Record Book, 1843-74, p. 218,
9. George A. Smith and Wilford Woodruff, Deseret News, Jan. 20, 1858,
p. 363; paragraph divisions altered.