Joseph Smith wasn’t arrogant or boastful?

In a Deseret News article titled “Defending the Faith: Joseph Smith wasn’t arrogant or boastful” (9/4/14), Mormon BYU Professor Daniel Peterson addressed a common criticism used against Joseph Smith:


“Some critics like to use a quotation attributed to Joseph Smith as a weapon against him:

“‘I have more to boast of,’ he’s reported to have said, ‘than ever any man had. I am the only man that has ever been able to keep a whole church together since the days of Adam. … Neither Paul, John, Peter nor Jesus ever did it. I boast that no man ever did such work as I. The followers of Jesus ran away from him; but the Latter-day Saints never ran away from me yet’ (“History of the Church,” 6:408-409).

“The comment seems arrogant, lacking the humility appropriate to a prophet or even an ordinary member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

Dr. Peterson brought up four points that he believes people should keep in mind when evaluating Joseph Smith’s statement:

  1. Context: “Joseph was applying a passage from the apostle Paul (2 Corinthians 11-12) to his own perilous situation. The idea of ‘boasting’ wasn’t Joseph’s; it was Paul’s.”
  2. Interpretation: “Joseph seems actually to be praising his followers’ faithfulness, not himself.”
  3. Transmission: “Joseph didn’t write the quotation; it was reconstructed after his death. Thus, it almost certainly doesn’t represent his precise words.”
  4. Joseph’s Character: “Joseph’s authenticated personal statements plainly reveal him to have been a humble and sincere man, struggling to do the will of God as he understood it — and this particular statement should be placed in the context of his overall life and behavior.”

Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson have explored all four points of Dr. Peterson’s approach in a three-part Viewpoint on Mormonism broadcast series that aired September 30, October 1, and October 2. Here on Mormon Coffee I want to look at just one point, that of context.

rembrandt-elderly-apostle-paulDr. Peterson attributes Joseph Smith’s idea to boast in his own accomplishments to the biblical apostle Paul. In 2 Corinthians 11, which Joseph read to the Mormon congregation before delivering his sermon, Paul engaged in reluctant boasting in order to compare his apostolic credentials with false apostles who were beguiling the Corinthian church with another Jesus, a different spirit, and a different gospel.

“Since many boast according to the flesh, I too will boast. For you gladly bear with fools, being wise yourselves! For you bear it if someone makes slaves of you, or devours you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or strikes you in the face. To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that! But whatever anyone else dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death.”
(2 Corinthians 11:18-23)

Paul went on to clarify:

“If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness…

“…a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 11:30, 12:7-10)

Finally, Paul explained that he was not boasting for his own reputation or glory, but for the good of the church and the glory of God:

“Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves to you? It is in the sight of God that we have been speaking in Christ, and all for your upbuilding, beloved.” (2 Corinthians 12:19)

According to Dr. Peterson, Joseph got the idea to boast from Paul’s exhortation when Paul called the Corinthian Christians to recognize and resist false apostles and their false teachings. If Joseph got the idea from Paul, he nevertheless did not apply his boasting in the same way. Compare Joseph sermon with Paul’s epistle.

Joseph ‘s discourse was his response to “the dissenters at Nauvoo.” These dissenters had accused Joseph of immoral and criminal conduct. So on that Sunday morning in May 1844, Joseph began with a declaration of the purpose of the remarks that would follow:

“My object is to let you know that I am right here on the spot where I intend to stay. I, like Paul, have been in perils, and oftener than anyone in this generation. CrowingRoosterAs Paul boasted, I have suffered more than Paul did. I should be like a fish out of water, if I were out of persecutions. Perhaps my brethren think it requires all this to keep me humble. The Lord has constituted me so curiously that I glory in persecution. I am not nearly so humble as if I were not persecuted. If oppression will make a wise man mad, much more a fool. If they want a beardless boy to whip all the world, I will get on the top of a mountain and crow like a rooster: I shall always beat them. When facts are proved, truth and innocence will prevail at last. My enemies are no philosophers: they think that when they have my spoke under, they will keep me down; but for the fools, I will hold on and fly over them.” (All quotes of Joseph Smith’s sermon are from History of the Church 6:408-412.)

Joseph continued.

“God is in the still small voice. In all these affidavits, indictments, it is all of the devil—all corruption. Come on! ye prosecutors! ye false swearers! All hell, boil over! Ye burning mountains, roll down your lava! for I will come out on the top at last. I have more to boast of than ever any man had. I am the only man that has ever been able to keep a whole church together since the days of Adam. A large majority of the whole have stood by me. Neither Paul, John, Peter, nor Jesus ever did it. I boast that no man ever did such a work as I. The followers of Jesus ran away from Him; but the Latter-day Saints never ran away from me yet. You know my daily walk and conversation. I am in the bosom of a virtuous and good people. How I do love to hear the wolves howl! When they can get rid of me, the devil will also go. 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; therefore my enemies cannot charge me with any day, time, or place, but what I have written testimony to prove my actions; and my enemies cannot prove anything against me.”

The remainder of Joseph’s preaching during this church service addressed specific individuals and specific accusations made against him, focusing on his innocence.

“I never arrested Mr. Simpson…I never made an affidavit…I did not swear to it…I never built on another man’s ground…I never told the old Catholic that he was a fallen true prophet…I had not been married scarcely five minutes, and made one proclamation of the Gospel, before it was reported that I had seven wives. I mean to live and proclaim the truth as long as I can…What a thing for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one. I am the same man, and as innocent as I was fourteen years ago; and I can prove them all perjurers.” [Note: A this time Joseph Smith had at least 30 wives.]

Finally, Joseph explained,

“I have said this to let my friends know that I am right.”

In his final remarks Joseph tells his congregation of his tenderness toward them and his desire that they have a “virtuous leader”; and then defends himself one last time as he insists that he has not taken their money unjustly.

Was Joseph’s boasting like the boasting of the apostle Paul?

In Paul’s epistle, Paul boasted reluctantly. He felt – and said – that in doing so he was speaking as a fool; but He did it for the sake of the Gospel and his beloved brothers and sisters in Christ. He explained that the only boasting he wanted to do was to boast in his weaknesses, because his weakness proclaimed the strength and glory of God.

Joseph Smith, on the other hand, was happy to “get on the top of a mountain and crow like a rooster” and proclaim, “I shall always beat them.” He taunted his critics and claimed that he gloried in persecution. He said that he had suffered more than the apostle Paul, and had more to boast of than Paul, John, or Peter — and even Jesus Himself. Joseph boasted for his own sake, to convince his friends that he was right.

I agree with Dr. Peterson — I think it is important to consider the context when evaluating Joseph Smith’s boasting. And doing so leads me to disagree with Dr. Peterson. At least in this case, Joseph Smith was indeed arrogant and boastful.

About Sharon Lindbloom

Sharon surrendered her life to the Lord Jesus Christ in 1979. Deeply passionate about Truth, Sharon loves serving as a full-time volunteer research associate with Mormonism Research Ministry. Sharon and her husband live in Minnesota.
This entry was posted in Joseph Smith, Mormon History, Nauvoo and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Joseph Smith wasn’t arrogant or boastful?

  1. falcon says:

    My first thought is that Joseph Smith was an expert at playing what we now call the “Mormon persecution card”. Any evaluation of Mormonism that isn’t totally flattering is said to be persecution. This is often linked to an ignorance among LDS sect members of their own religion’s history. How often have we heard the testimony of former Mormons include a detailed list of all of the things they hadn’t known about Mormonism; when found out shocked, disappointed and depressed them.
    With women it could be the revulsion of learning that Joseph Smith had at least 33 wives, a couple of them young adolescent girls.
    Yelling persecution gets the focus off of the charges, in Smith’s case, and turning it on his accusers. Was anything that William Law said about Joseph Smith untrue? And there was the rub for Smith. He was being found out in regards to his affairs with multiple women, several who were legally married to his church members.

    “By October 1843, William Law became aware that Joseph was indeed practicing polygamy. He didn’t agree with the doctrine, or its secret practice, and tried to get Joseph to abandon it. William, “with his arms around the neck of the Prophet…[and] tears streaming down his face…pleaded with him to withdraw the doctrine of plural marriage.” Joseph said he couldn’t, and released William from the First Presidency. Finally in late spring 1844, William resolved to take Joseph’s polygamy public. As polygamy was against the law, William filed a lawsuit against Joseph for living “in an open state of adultery” with Maria Lawrence. The following Sunday Joseph commented on William’s suit in his sermon, “Another indictment has been got up against me…What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one.” By this time, Joseph had married at least thirty-four women.”

  2. Mike R says:

    Joseph Smith’s life as a self serving religious leader was finally becoming more evident to the
    whole church body , hence his statements in the sermon above ( May 1844 ) .

  3. MJP says:

    Smith was horribly arrogant. If someone cannot see that, they are blind.

  4. falcon says:

    It’s a common tactic of cults to claim a threat from the outside. The whole point is to get the people fearful and to defend the leadership. Joseph Smith was having one major pity party. I suppose he figured if he was successful enough by whining there would be followers who would defend him.
    Just in terms of his arrogance, didn’t Smith get himself some sort of military get-up and parade around as a Lt. General in the Nauvoo Legion? Didn’t he plan to run for president of the United States?

  5. Mike R says:

    Joseph Smith claimed that for three years that he had clerks travel around with him to record
    all his acts and proceedings . Supposedly that would prove that those who had accused him of
    having more wives than Emma were lying about that behavior . But he had added more wives.
    His desire for more women caused him to alter the gospel truth about marriage , and his desire
    to become an Almighty God in the hereafter caused him to change his teachings about God .
    He drifted from the truth and into personal apostasy which eventually led his church into
    unrest and a community into strife . It contributed greatly to his untimely death .

  6. Brian says:

    Thank you for this interesting article, Sharon. I have read Paul’s second epistle to the Corinthians and remember the section in which Paul speaks of the false apostles, and their penchant for boasting. What follows is an alternately humorous, touching, and God-honoring passage in which Paul seeks to expose the false apostles by parodying their boastful ways.

    This passage in 2 Corinthians in some way parallels the opening of Paul’s personal testimony in Philippians 3, in which he speaks of the legalists who place such confidence in the flesh. Paul says that he takes no confidence in the flesh (himself), but if others think “they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more” (v. 4). He briefly lists credentials the legalists would be impressed by. And yet, “whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ” (v. 7). I would urge anyone interested in examining Paul’s testimony to read Philippians 3:1-11. What a testimony it is.

    So what was Paul’s boast? We discover it in Galatians 6:14. Paul’s boast was the Cross.

    In the passages Sharon cites in the volume containing the history of the LDS church, Joseph Smith speaks of prosecutors and false swearers. This may be in reference to the grand jury that had convened to consider Joseph’s behavior. The false swearers would be those who testified as witnesses before the grand jury, whom I believe included Joseph’s former first and second councilors. Interestingly, in this same address Joseph exclaimed, “I never had any fuss with these men until that Female Relief Society brought out that paper about adulterers and adulteresses.”

  7. falcon says:

    For other examples of Smith’s arrogance, we don’t have to look very far. The guy really thought he was multi-talented as seen with the Kiderhook Plates fiasco, the Book of Abraham and his “translation” of the KJV of the Bible.
    “The whole incident gives us a number of reasons to pause before accepting the prophetical calling of Joseph Smith and the validity of Mormonism. In a direct sense, it shows us that Smith was not a very discerning man. Apparently he was just as gullible as many of those who followed him…………Even if we could excuse Smith’s lack of discernment, it does not take away from the fact that Smith insisted he had the ability to “translate” the bogus pieces of metal. Whether Smith knowingly tried to deceive his followers or was deluded himself is of little consequence; certainly it shows he is not a man worthy of people’s trust.”

    “The Book Of Abraham is a book created by Joseph Smith. Joseph Smith purchased some papyrus that was found with an Egyptian mummy. Joseph claimed that the papyrus contained the Book of Abraham and thus created the “Pearl Of Great Price”. ”
    “Modern day Egyptologists have translated the Joseph Smith Papyrus Facsimiles, as well as other documents that did not make it into the facsimiles – but were part of the original collection of Papyri. Their conclusion: The documents are entirely different from what Joseph Smith said.”

    I won’t even go into the folly of Smith’s “translation” of the KJV of the Bible. However it does display an arrogance that’s breath taking. Basically what Smith did was simply change the Biblical text as he saw fit.

  8. Mike R says:

    Mormons claim that Joseph Smith restored the very same church , very same gospel , that
    Jesus had established 1700 years before , but which died off and became extinct because of
    a complete apostasy soon after the deaths of His apostles . What do we see when we examine
    the church organization and teachings which Joseph Smith introduced ? Are we safe to stick
    with the New Testament teaching describing the church and gospel , should we accept the
    church the religious organization that Joseph Smith introduced in 1830 to be one and the
    same church ?
    Starting with Joseph Smith’s behavior and teachings Mormonism can be evaluated .

    compare Joseph Smith with the New Testament church :

    – Joseph Smith had himself secretly annointed as King by a secret council ( ” Council of Fifty ” )
    – Joseph Smith created and commanded as Lt General one of the largest standing armies in the
    U.S. at the time .
    – Joseph Smith sought to become President of the U.S. — ( ruling the church /state together ? )
    – Joseph Smith believed he could become an Almighty God and rule as such in the hereafter .
    ( he changed his ” gospel doctrine ” about Our Creator to reduce Him to be only a rank and
    file man who had attained Godhood , the same attainment fallen man could one day attain ).

    taken together the above items will allow us to compare Joseph Smith with Paul in a
    important way . Did Jesus supervise Joseph Smith to restore the very same church Paul had
    served in ? I’m sticking with Paul for a very good reason , namely , the warning about men
    claiming to be prophets/ apostles representing Jesus who come on the scene in the latter days
    but who are not sent by Jesus . These individuals may mimic the claims of Jesus’ true church
    officers , so we are counseled to test them and compare their teachings with those of God’s
    true prophets / apostles in the scriptures . Joseph Smith and his successors in the church he
    created fail the test . 1 Jn 4:1 .

  9. falcon says:

    I have a New American Standard Bible that I’ve had since I got saved forty-two years ago. It’s full of highlights, underlines and notes I’ve written in the margins. Does anyone think that the thought has ever occurred to me that I should rewrite my Bible? The idea is to absurd to even consider. But that’s basically what Joseph Smith did. The guy was so full of himself that he decided that the Bible wasn’t really to his liking and needed a fix-up.
    Think about it. Smith undertook this task without any of the ancient manuscripts, a working knowledge of the languages, customs or idiomatic structure of those languages. He just started to write what he thought should be there. Is this an egomaniac or a fool. It could be that he was an egomaniac who was also a fool.
    Mormons like to say that the reason there is no Mormonism in the Bible is because of some nasty Catholic medieval monks who left it out. They will also say that the Bible was copied so many times that the text became corrupted. Now they just keep repeating this when the evidence is directly contradictory to their claims. But it does provide Mormons with a pretext for Smith creating a religion out of whole cloth and claiming it’s a “restoration”.
    But this was Smith’s game. The only thing that Smith needed was some uninformed and ignorant people who would buy the notion that (Smith) was a prophet.

  10. MJP says:

    “The guy was so full of himself that he decided that the Bible wasn’t really to his liking and needed a fix-up.”

    And he’s lauded for that today by Mormons.

  11. falcon says:

    I would say it takes some amount of arrogance to court and marrying at least thirty-three women. Think about that. I would say the guy had a Don Juan complex.

    “Don Juanism is a syndrome that occurs in males given to excessive preoccupation with sexual gratification or conquest and leading to persistently transient and sometimes exploitative relationships. In this case the woman is seen only as yet another object of sexual desire. Such a woman will literally cease to exist for “Don Juan” shortly after his sexual ambitions are fulfilled.”

    Let’s see, “……..persistently transient and sometimes exploitative relationships.” I would say that pretty much describes the hyper-sexualized false prophet. He got himself a free pass by exploiting his position as the Mormon prophet. He even told one woman that an angel with a sword appeared to him and threatened to kill him if he didn’t practice polygamy. Not a great line granted, but when you mix a distorted form of spirituality with lust, anything can work.
    This guy was more than arrogant. He was one sick puppy!

  12. grindael says:

    Interesting that Smith claims that he suffered more than Paul ever did. He was simply locked up in a jail for six or so months. Granted, it wasn’t the best of conditions, but can you imagine what Paul’s jail cell must have looked like? I think Brigham Young put it best when it comes to Mormon’s claiming they are so badly persecuted as Smith did,

    The accusation brought against the Latter-day Saints was that they tampered with the slaves in Missouri, with the design of setting them free, and because of this the people were driven, and the Lord suffered it. But I ask did the Latter-day Saints ever suffer in Missouri as the Missourians did in the late struggle? No, not a drop in a bucket compared with it. The Missourians have been driven from their houses and hung up, their property confiscated, their women and children murdered, and every conceivable evil has been heaped upon them. Did we ever suffer like that? In very few instances; and it is a shame for the Latter-day Saints ever to talk about suffering. ~Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses Vol. 13, p.148.

    Smith never really suffered, he ran from almost every encounter with the law. He was trapped in Missouri or he would have run there also. In those same speeches against his “dissenters” Smith also called for their murders,

    “I despise the man who will betray you with a kiss,” Smith added; “and I am determined to use up these men, if they will not stop their operation. … I will disgrace every man by publishing him on the house top, and who will not be still and mind his own business.” (Smith, History of the Church, 6:238, 239).

    To “use up” meant to have someone killed. Did Paul ever threaten to kill his enemies? Smith boasted about how he would do that, too, like a second “Muhammad”.

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