1. Why were there several different accounts of Joseph Smith's First vision?
2. The doctrine of "blood atonement"
3. Sins which can be atoned for only by the shedding ones own blood.
4. Why didn't Joseph Smith keep the Word of Wisdom?
5. Why do the Mormons revere Joseph Smith as a martyr?
6. No religious revivals in 1820.
7. Jesus' named left out of Church name.
Note: Many critics' questions relate to quotations from the Journal of Discourses(J. of D.), which was a sixteen-page semimonthly subscription publication privately printed in Liverpool, England, in 1854-1886. It included articles written by twelve different authors who recorded the speeches, mostly in shorthand, as they were delivered from the pulpit. It has never served in the past as a source for official Church teachings or scripture. It reflects the personal feelings, opinions, and speculations of the writers and/or speakers of the time. Because of modern revelation and because of "line-upon-line, precept-upon-precept" progression, we now have information on some of the subjects that was not yet known when the Journal of Discourses was published.
Though the First Presidency endorsed the publication of the Journal there was no endorsement as to the accuracy or reliability of the contents. There were occasions when the accuracy was questionable. The accounts were not always cleared by the speakers because of problems of time and distance.
It was not an official Church publication nor has it ever been a source for official Church doctrine.
1. Why were there several different contradictory accounts of Joseph Smith's First vision before the official one published in 1838?
A: The several variations in the accounts would seem to suggest that, in relating his story to various
individuals at various times, Joseph Smith emphasized different aspects of it and that his listeners were each
impressed with different things. This, of course, is to be expected, for the same thing happens in the re-telling of
any story. The only way to keep it from changing is to write it only once and then insist that it be read exactly that
way each time it is to be repeated. Such an effort at censorship would obviously be unrealistic. Joseph apparently
told his story several times before he released it for publication. People who heard it were obviously impressed with
different details and perhaps even embellished it a little with their own literary devices as they retold or recorded it.
A careful comparison will show that there is no more "contradiction" among the accounts than one will find in comparing the four descriptions of the life of Jesus found in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. In each case, different aspects of the events were emphasized or highlighted according to the needs of the intended audience at the time of the writing. Similarly in Acts 9,22,&26 we find three different accounts of Saul's "first vision", with discrepancies as to who fell down and whether those with Saul saw the light or heard the voice, etc. Yet both Saul's and Joseph's visions did take place.
2. Why does Apostle Bruce R. McConkie deny that the doctrine of "blood atonement" was once taught in Utah? (see Mormon Doctrine, page 92. Compare Journal of Discourses, Vol. 3, page 247; Vol. 4, pages 219, 220).
A: Bruce R. McConkie denied that the doctrine was taught to the early saints as something that should be practiced in Utah. If you read the entire article in Mormon Doctrine you will find that he did agree that the concept was mentioned in some statements by leaders of the church when they were talking about it in regards to people of past dispensations who practiced it.
For example, Brigham Young taught that in a complete theocracy the Lord could require the voluntary shedding of a murderer's blood presumably by capital punishment as part of the process of Atonement for such grievous sin. This was referred to as "blood Atonement." Since such a theocracy has not been operative in modern times, the practical effect of the idea was its use as a rhetorical device to heighten the awareness of Latter-day Saints of the seriousness of murder and other major sins. This view is not a doctrine of the Church and has never been practiced by the Church at any time.
Early anti-Mormon writers charged that under Brigham Young the Church practiced "blood Atonement," by which they meant Church-instigated violence directed at dissenters, enemies, and strangers. This claim distorted the whole idea of blood atonement which was based on voluntary submission by an offender—into a supposed justification of involuntary punishment. Occasional isolated acts of violence that occurred in areas where Latter-day Saints lived were typical of that period in the history of the American West, but they were not instances of Church-sanctioned blood Atonement.
(See Note above on the J. of D.)
3. The Bible says, "The blood of Jesus Christ . . . cleanseth from all sin." Why did Brigham Young say that there are some sins which can be atoned for only by the shedding ones own blood? (see J. of D., Vol. 3, page 247; Vol. 4, pages 49, 53, 54).
A: (See question 2 above and Note above on the J. of D.)
4. Why didn't Joseph Smith keep the Word of Wisdom? Why did he drink beer? (see Millennial Star, Vol, 23, page 720).
A: When the revelation was first received, it was not a commandment, and many of the saints, as in the days of Jesus, drank liquor on occasion. The first words of D&C 89 read: "To be sent by greeting, not by commandment or constraint, but by revelation..."
During the early years of the church the revelation was taken as simply a recommendation for moderation in taking in the things listed. President Joseph F. Smith later taught that the Lord did not insist on strict compliance in the early years in order to allow a generation addicted to noxious substances some years to discard bad habits.
Many truths are revealed in stages or degrees. Brigham Young said:
"I do not even believe that there is a single revelation, among the many God has given to the Church, that is perfect in its fulness. The revelations of God contain correct doctrine and principle, so far as they go; but it is impossible for the poor, weak, low, groveling, sinful inhabitants of the earth to receive a revelation from the Almighty in all its perfections. He has to speak to us in a manner to meet the extent of our capacities."
(Brigham Young, "The Kingdom of God," Journal of Discourses, reported by G.D. Watt 8 July 1855, Vol. 2 (London: Latter-Day Saint's Book Depot, 1855), 314.)
The path leading to the present position on the Word of Wisdom began with the Presidency of Joseph F. Smith (1901-1918) and culminated in the administration of Heber J. Grant (1918-1945), who, more than any other Church leader, preached strict compliance.
5. Why do the Mormons revere Joseph Smith as a martyr when the fact is that he died in a gun battle in which he fired a number of shots.
A. The dictionary describes martyrdom as "the suffering of death on account of adherence to a cause and especially to one's religious faith." This describes perfectly the circumstances surrounding the death of Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum. To simply say that they "died in a gun battle" is exagerating the facts beyond reason.
In 1844 Anti-Mormons and Mormon defectors had established a newspaper called the Nauvoo Expositor. The first and only issue of the paper vilified Joseph Smith and invited mob action against the Saints. Consequently, Joseph Smith and the city council legally ordered the destruction of the paper as a public nuisance. Joseph Smith's enemies countered the destruction of the press with criminal charges against him for inciting a riot. Although exonerated from these charges in Nauvoo by a non-Mormon justice, Illinois governor Thomas Ford apparently sided with the opposition and ordered the Church leaders to stand trial on the same charges in Carthage. Joseph and Hyrum voluntarily turned themselves into the authorities even though they knew what would happen to them.
Despite promises of protection and a fair trial by Governor Ford, the Carthage Jail was overrun by a mob of between one hundred and two hundred armed men. On the way to Carthage jail Joseph said to the company that was with him:
"I am going like a lamb to the slaughter, but I am calm as a summer's morning. I have a conscience void of offense toward God and toward all men. If they take my life I shall die an innocent man, and my blood shall cry from the ground for vengeance, and it shall be said of me 'He was murdered in cold blood!' "
Joseph and Hyrum were put in jail without any legal charges brought against them. Their murders were committed by an angry mob whose soul intent was to try and destroy the church by eliminating its leaders. Just because Joseph Smith tried to instinctively defend himself and his friends at the moment it happened, makes him no less a martyr than anyone else who sacrifices their life for any other cause or religious belief. Consider the words of John Taylor who was wounded during the attack:
...I found Brother Hyrum Smith and Dr. Richards already leaning against it[the door]. They
both pressed against the door with their shoulders to prevent its being
opened, as the lock and latch were comparatively useless. While in this
position, the mob, who had come upstairs and tried to open the door,
probably thought it was locked and fired a ball through the keyhole. At
this Dr. Richards and Brother Hyrum leaped back from the door, with their
faces towards it. Almost instantly another ball passed through the panel of
the door, and struck Brother Hyrum on the left side of the nose, entering
his face and head. At the same instant, another ball from outside entered
his back, passing through his body and striking his watch. Immediately, when the ball struck him, he fell flat on his back, crying as he fell, "I am a dead man!" He never moved afterwards.
I shall never forget the deep feeling of sympathy and regard manifested in
the countenance of Brother Joseph as he drew nigh to Hyrum, and, leaning
over him, exclaimed, "Oh! my poor, dear brother Hyrum!" He, however,
instantly arose, and with a firm, quick step, and a determined expression
of countenance, approached the door, and pulling the six-shooter left by
Brother Wheelock from his pocket, opened the door slightly, and snapped the
pistol six successive times. Only three of the barrels, however, were
discharged... Every moment the crowd at the door became more dense, as they were
unquestionably pressed on by those in the rear ascending the stairs, until
the whole entrance at the door was literally crowded with muskets and
rifles, which, with the swearing, shouting, and demoniacal expressions of
those outside the door and on the stairs, and the firing of the guns,
mingled with their horrid oaths and execrations, made it look like
pandemonium let loose, and was, indeed, a fit representation of the horrid
deed in which they were engaged..."
Joseph was then shot as he attempted to jump out the second story window. After he fell to the ground the mob, wanting to make sure he was dead, propped him up against the well and fired several more shots into his body.
6. How do Mormons explain the fact that the religious history of the locale where Smith lived in 1820 shows that there was no trace of a religious revival there at the time as Smith claimed? There were revivals in 1817 and 1824, but none in 1820.
A. There were revival meetings in the area close to that time which met the needs of the account by Joseph Smith.
There was a great revival period in Palmyra after Joseph and his family arrived in 1818. He states in his history that, "in the second year after our removal to Manchester, there was in the place where we lived an unusual excitement on the subject of religion." This would be sometime during the year 1819. According to historians:
"Joseph Smith, Jr., began to be concerned about religion "at about
the age of twelve years." That would have been in late 1817 and
early 1818, when the after-affects of the revival of 1816 and
1817 were still felt in Palmyra. A few years later, in July, 1819, the
Methodists of the Genesee Conference met for a week in Vienna
(later Phelps), a village thirteen miles southeast of the Smith
farm on the road to Geneva. About 110 ministers from a region
stretching 500 miles from Detroit to the Catskills and from
Canada to Pennsylvania met under the direction of Bishop R. R.
Robert to receive instruction and set policy. If we are to judge
from the experience at other conferences, the ministers preached
between sessions to people who gathered from many miles around.
It was a significant year for religion in the entire district. (Bushman 1984, 53)
The Palmyra Register recorded that the Methodists had a religious camp meeting in 1820.(Palmyra Register July 28, 1820). Since they did not have a chapel they would meet in the woods on Vienna road.(Turner, History of the Pioneer Settlement, 212-213)
7. Why do the Mormons argue the importance of the use of the name "Jesus Christ" as part of the name of the True Church, when the LDS church went four years (1834-1838) without Jesus' name in the official title?
A. A rose by any other name would still smell as sweet. Lately the Church has been trying to place more emphasis on the "Jesus Christ" part of the name to let everyone know that we truely consider ourselves Christian in a world where many believe we are not.
To be more correct and complete, the Church had been known as The Church of Christ from 1830 to 1834 (D&C 20:1); The Church of the Latter Day Saints in 1834; and The Church of Christ of Latter Day Saints from 1836 to 1838. So for about two years (1834 to 1836) the name did not mention Jesus. However, the name of the Church was not really made official (at least in God's eyes) until 1838 when God Himself let us know what it should be. The name The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was given by the Lord in revelation to Joseph Smith on April 26, 1838 (D&C 115:4).