Why Joseph Smith Could Be A Prophet
Joseph Smith translating and dictating the Book of Mormon
At least 13 million LDS believers consider Joseph Smith Jr. a prophet sent from God. When I first started to examine his claims to prophecy a couple of years ago, I couldn't stop but wonder how many of these people ever questioned his status as a prophet and how many grew up being taught this was a reality as certain as life itself. And when I say this I don't mean to be demeaning in anyway to anybody who was raised in an LDS family environment. After all, we are all raised by families with various biases and cultural preconceptions - whether they are religious or of other nature. What I mean though is we all ought, I think, to cast a critical eye on our beliefs from time to time and make sure they are right. It will at least make us feel better about it, and in some cases we may be surprised to find out we need to revise our beliefs.
To begin with, I noticed a few things that were in favor of Joseph Smith's claims to being a true prophet from God.
When you read his biography, it appears he started by sincerely looking for the truth. This seems to be a pre-requisite for most Biblical prophets, although in many cases we don't have a lot of early biographical information in the Bible.
He then stated he had a revelation from God through a vision where God the Father and Jesus Christ made it known to him that none of the Christian churches existent at the time were in possession of the full gospel truth, and that he was chosen to restore it and the priesthood. Again, not matter how uncommon or culturally surprising such manifestations may be in our Western civilization today, visions and revelations from God were a hallmark of prophetic activity. In fact, God spelled this explicitly in Numbers 12:6:
"When a prophet of the LORD is among you, I reveal myself to him in visions, I speak to him in dreams.".
So again, the fact that Joseph Smith Jr. lauched his prophetic career, so to speak, with a vision from God is very much in tune with the Biblical definition of a prophet.
Furthermore, Joseph Smith claimed he was directed to and translated the golden plates, and in the process came up with the first direct explanation of how God revealed himself to the pre-Columbian native American peoples and how they received the good news about Jesus Christ. Again, bringing new light, new discoveries or revelations from God is an important part of the work of the prophet:
"The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testifies to everything he saw, that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ." Rev. 1:1-2.
Joseph Smith also claimed, on various occasions, that he received messages directly from God:
"Behold, verily I say unto you, I have reserved those things which I have entrusted unto you, my servant Joseph, for a wise purpose in me, and it shall be made known unto future generations; But this generation shall have my word through you." D&C 5:10.
This seems to be in perfect harmony with what Bible prophets had to say about the source of their messages:
"Then the LORD reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, "Now, I have put my words in your mouth." Jer 1:9.
Finally, Joseph Smith initiated a movement that has grown from a handful of people to over 13.5 million in less than two centuries. One could certainly ask what better evidence of being a prophet that this?
As I said in the beginning, though, it is worthwhile to examine such an important issue like this with a critical eye, and not just accept it at face value.
The best way to find the answer to our question, i.e. whether Joseph Smith Jr. was a true prophet from God or not, is to first define what being a true prophet is, according to the Bible. We will then be able to use that standard and examine his work and claims in a much more objective way.