Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Revisiting the School of the Prophets and the Revelation that Established it – Part II

Continuing from the previous post, regarding who wrote the lessons delivered in the School of the Prophets. We concluded the last post on the meeting held in the translation room of the Kirtland Temple on the same day following the receiving of Section 88 of the D&C. 
    A further revelation was received in which the Keys to Administer the School were given in D&C 90:6-8).
This should impart to all an understanding that whatever ended up being taught in the School of the Prophets was basically the result of the Lord’s direction and Joseph Smith’s organization and creation of the school and its curriculum, enlisting the help of his counselors, Sidney Rigdon and Frederick G. Williams, as well as certain others.
    It is always important to understand fully the workings of the Priesthood and that it is not something that underlings usurp from time to time, i.e., act without direction from higher authority. The Prophet directs the affairs of the First Presidency; the First Presidency directs the affairs of the Quorum of the Twelve; The Twelve direct the affairs of the Church in general; a Stake President for his stake, and a Bishop for his Ward.
    For Noel Beldon Reynolds, a political science professor at BYU, to claim that Sidney Rigdon wrote the Lessons pertaining to the School of the Prophets, as stated by the reader, suggests that he did so without direction and completely on his own, is without merit. Such is simply not the way the Church has ever acted and does not act today. The fact that Reynolds uses a writing expert to evaluate the written words of the Lessons and claim they were all written by Sidney Rigdon does not address the reality of who created the information in the first place.
    After all, Joseph Smith rarely wrote matters himself, using numerous scribes and secretaries over his life to write down his dictations and directions, including his correspondence, experiences and history. He used such people as Frederick G. Williams, a counselor in his initial First Presidency, he also used his wife, Emma, to scribe for his translation, etc. According to Nick Newman, in Scribes recorded Prophet’s words, from the Church History Library, “Joseph Smith was not an accomplished writer. As [he] transitioned into his role as Prophet of God, capable men served as his personal scribes, assistants and secretaries until at the time of his death, he had amassed an entire office staff. In his collection of 10 journals alone, which consist of 1,500 pages, a mere 35—or 2 percent—are in the Prophet's own handwriting.” 
    Alex Baugh, professor of church history and doctrine at BYU added, “In Joseph Smith's day, for men of prominence—and in his capacity as president of the church—it was absolutely vital that he had the proper individuals under him who could take accurate notes, dictation and make transcriptions…it was almost impossible for Joseph to keep his own personal record. He needed help." And Robin Jensen, co-editor of the Joseph Smith Papers Revelations series, says “the need for record keeping and scripture drove the Prophet to choose the scribes he did.”
    Mark Ashurst-McGee, co-editor of the JSP's Journals series, added: “According to the Joseph Smith Papers: Journals, Vol. 1, Joseph wrote in a journal for nine days, then not again for 10 months…He understands the importance of record keeping, feels strongly about it, and understands its part of the mission of the church, but he doesn't love it…And that's why he starts getting scribes to help him. He's so busy. And (having scribes) builds up more and more in the history of the early church, so that by the time he dies, he has an office staff."
    In addition, according to the scholars that have spent much of their time pouring over Joseph Smith’s life and his history in the early church, each appointed scribe had unique talents that fit their callings—each made contribution that was well-suited to that person's abilities. As Baugh said: "The Lord got the right scribe at the right time."
    An example of the Lord’s involvement in the picking of Joseph’s scribes is pointed out in the incident of Martin Harris, a financially well-to-do farmer, who helped the Prophet with the translation of the Large Plates encompassing the first 116 translated pages of the Book of Mormon. As Newman point out; “He used his education in scribing duties and his farm to subsidize the printing of the book.” When Harris lost those first 116 pages, the Lord told Joseph to wait a while until He could provide another scribe: “Stop and stand still until I command thee, and I will provide means whereby thou mayest accomplish the thing which I have commanded thee" (D&C 5:34). And according to his mother, Lucy Mac Smith, Joseph responded to the revelation, saying: “I trust his promise will be verified” (Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet and His Progenitors for Many Generations, S.W. Richards, Liverpool, England, 1853, p126).
    As Church History then points out: following Martin Harris came Oliver Cowdery on April 5, 1829, a well-educated 22-year-old school teacher arriving in Harmony after the school term ended.
    Then came the 27-year old German farmer John Whitmer from Fayette, about thirty miles southeast of Palmyra, who helped move Joseph and Oliver to the Whitmer home in Fayette, and offered the assistance of one of his brothers, 26-year old John as a scribe, who assisted in the remainder of the work, and later became one of the Eight Witnesses.
    When the Church was organized the following year, on April 6, 1830, the Lord instructed Joseph Smith, “There Shall a Record be kept among you”(D&C 21:1), and  To Oliver Cowdery was appointed the first Church historian (Howard C. Searle, “Historians, Church,” in Daniel H. Ludlow, ed., Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 5 vols., Macmillan, New York, 1992), 2:589).
    According to John Whitmer’s history (1831-1834 p22), regarding the fact that Joseph’s revelations formed a significant part of the historical record, wrote that during the early days of the Church, “the Lord blessed his disciples greatly, and he gave Revelation after Revelation, which contained doctrine, instructions, and prophecies.”
    We should note that in July 1830, Joseph Smith “began to arrange and copy the revelations that he had received thus far,” with Whitmer acting as scribe (Lyndon W. Cook, The Revelations of the Prophet Joseph Smith: A Historical and Biographical Commentary of the Doctrine and Covenants, Deseret Book, Salt Lake City, 1985, pp37–38).
    Following Whitmer came Sidney Rigdon, the Campbellite preacher-turned-counselor to the Prophet, who was one of Joseph Smith’s closest friends and advisers, one of the Church’s most persuasive orators in the first decade, and counselor in the First Presidency from 1832 to 1844. He knew the Bible so well, that in 1830 he was called to scribe for the Prophet on his "new translation" of the Bible then under way.
    Frederick G. Williams was the primary scribe for the Kirtland Revelation Book, the second revelation book, what is today called the Doctrine and Covenants. In the summer of 1833, Sidney Rigdon and Frederick G. Williams were formally set apart as counselors to Joseph Smith in the First Presidency. Sidney had already been called as a counselor to Joseph a year earlier, before there was a First Presidency.
(See the next post, “Revisiting the School of the Prophets and the Revelation that Established it – Part III,” regarding who wrote the lessons in the School of the Prophets)

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