LDS History of the Church Vol. 4 (pp 571-81) includes an editorial Joseph Smith, Jr. submitted to the Times and Seasons newspaper. “Try the Spirits” was written in response to “occurrences that [had] transpired amongst” his congregation. In the article, Smith identifies a spiritual problem– that is, people wrongly believe God is behind every manifestation of power, but in fact the credit is very often due to an evil or deceiving spirit. He writes,
“there always did… seem to be a lack of intelligence pertaining to this subject. Spirits of all kinds have been manifested, in every age, and almost amongst all people… and all contend their spirits are of God…all nations have been deceived, imposed upon and injured through the mischievous effects of false spirits…”
Smith also offers the solution to this problem: it is only persons specifically chosen by God (i.e. apostles and prophets), including, of course, Joseph Smith himself, who are able to distinguish bad spirits from good ones “through the medium of the Priesthood.”
Ironically, the LDS Church began with Joseph’s own alleged spirit-visitation, a visitation which preceded any priesthood- “holding” on Joseph’s part. Thus, by his own standard, he could not have discerned whether or not the spirits visiting him were true and good, or false and evil. More than that, though, Joseph’s article reveals his understanding of the nature of priesthood. He writes:
“If Satan should appear as one in glory, who can tell his color, his signs, his appearance, his glory? …who can drag into daylight and develop the hidden mysteries of the false spirits… We answer that no man can do this without the Priesthood… for as ‘no man knows the things of God, but by the Spirit of God,’ so no man knows the spirit of the devil, and his power and influence, but by possessing intelligence which is more than human, and having unfolded through the medium of the Priesthood the mysterious operations of his devices…”
“…The Apostles in ancient times held the keys of this Priesthood… and consequently were enabled to unlock and unravel all things pertaining to… the future destiny of men, and the agency, power and influence of spirits; for they could control them at pleasure, bid them depart in the name of Jesus, and detect their mischievous and mysterious operations…”
“…Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and many other prophets possessed this power. Our Savior, the Apostles, and even the members of the Church were endowed with this gift…”
“…wicked spirits have their bounds, limits, and laws by which they are governed or controlled… it is very evident that they possess a power that none but those who have the Priesthood can control…”
Smith, the founder of the Mormon Church, believed that the priesthood is a power, and that it, among other things, enables a person to exercise control over evil spirits. Did Joseph Smith want this kind of power? Yes, he did. I recommend (among others) the free online book Joseph Smith’s New York Reputation Reexamined for a deeper understanding of these issues. (The book is about the testimonies and eyewitness accounts given by early neighbors of the Smith family, and a rebuttal of the later dismissal of these testimonies by LDS apologists. The appendix gives the neighbors’ affidavits.)
Did Joseph think that the priesthood spoken of in the Bible was the kind of power he needed? Indeed, he did, as you can determine by reading his editorial in full (click on link, and then search for “Try the Spirits”).
Of course, Joseph’s perception of the Biblical priesthood was far from correct. Priesthood in the Bible is not a POWER, but a word referring to the role, responsibilities, and requirements of a priest–a person whose job is to represent the people before God. Old Testament priests did not study up on the “bounds, limits, and laws” governing demons so “they could control them at pleasure.” On the other hand, before becoming a prophet Joseph Smith had made a name for himself attempting (and failing) to locate buried treasure with his peepstone. His failure, he claimed, was because of those pesky guarding ghosts….
Smith’s need and desire for power, together with his quest for biblical-backing, provides a fine example of eisegesis (i.e., imposing one’s own interpretation onto a biblical text). Joseph, in attempting to ascertain the role and nature of biblical priesthood, simply saw what he wished to see.
In conclusion, Smith describes one of the incidents that inspired his editorial. He writes:
“There have also been ministering angels in the Church which were of Satan appearing as an angel of light. A sister in the state of New York had a vision, who said it was told her that if she would go to a certain place in the woods, an angel would appear to her. She went at the appointed time, and saw a glorious personage descending, arrayed in white, with sandy colored hair; he commenced and told her to fear God, and said that her husband was called to do great things, but that he must not go more than one hundred miles from home, or he would not return; whereas God had called him [via Smith] to go to the ends of the earth, and he has since been more than one thousand miles from home, and is yet alive. Many true things were spoken by this personage, and many things that were false. How, it may be asked, was this known to be a bad angel? By the color of his hair; that is one of the signs that he can be known by and by his contradicting a former revelation.”
The “spirits” Joseph consulted as he built his church DID contradict former revelation; irony, again. The nature of God, the number of gods, the nature of Jesus, the nature of man, the place of Jesus’ atonement, the virginity of Mary, the role of and need for the priesthood, heaven and hell, just to name a few, are all Biblical revelations that have been contradicted in Joseph’s religion. Setting aside hair color, were the spirits Joseph dealt with true and good? Or false and evil? How do you know?
Mormonism’s Jesus is one of many gods. He is Lucifer’s spirit-brother, humankind’s spirit-brother, and the son of the god “Elohim.” He did not create all, he was not clearly virgin born, and he is not to be directly worshiped by people on this planet. Mormonism thus fails the test of 1 John 4:1-3. Joseph’s spirits, if they existed at all, were of the false and evil variety.