This is a Test: Joseph Smith and Deuteronomy 13

Joshua and MosesIt had been a long forty years of wandering in the wilderness. God’s people Israel were finally nearing their Promised Land. Moses’ life was drawing to a close and the people were about to enter a new way of life under the untried leadership of Joshua. They needed to be prepared for what lay ahead. So God, in His loving mercy, commanded Moses to give His people important instructions regarding their continued faithfulness once they found themselves on the other side of the Jordan River. These instructions today are found in the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy.

This biblical book makes known many important truths God delivered to Israel through Moses. However, for the purposes of this article we shall look at only two.

In Deuteronomy 6:4 God gave His people a concise confession of their faith: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one!” This passage speaks of the uniqueness of the LORD (Yahweh) and asserts that He alone is God (Elohim). This strong monotheistic confession was a call for God’s people to stay true to Him as they lived among polytheistic pagans, for He instructed: “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:5)

But God recognized the temptations the pagan worshipers would bring to the children of Israel. Therefore, He warned His people to have nothing to do with idolatry. In Deuteronomy 13:1-3 God said,

“If there arises among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams, and he gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes to pass, of which he spoke to you, saying ‘Let us go after other gods’–which you have not known–‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams, for the LORD your God is testing you to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.”

The words from the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4) were echoed here as God prepared His people for the temptations brought by false prophets. The Israelites were not to be deceived by miraculous signs or fulfilled prophecy; these things were not the standard by which to ultimately judge the dreamer of dreams. Instead, a theological analysis was to be applied: Who was the God the prophet advanced? Was He the one God the people had always known? Or was he a new and different god?

This was a test.

God said He allowed false prophets and temptations toward idolatry in order to test His people, that it would be shown whether they truly loved Him. Those who did were to respond in this way: “You shall walk after the LORD your God and fear Him, and keep His commandments and obey His voice; you shall serve Him and hold fast to Him” (Deuteronomy 13:4-5; emphasis added). God demanded total fidelity and would accept nothing less.

Let’s fast forward to April 6th, 1844.

On a hill overlooking the Mississippi River thousands of people sat listening to their prophet, Joseph Smith, Jr., deliver a sermon at the General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Due to its content being prompted by the death of a Mormon man named King Follett, this address would later be known as the King Follett Discourse.* The Prophet’s stated purpose for this particular sermon was to teach the congregation to “understand and be fully acquainted with the mind, purposes, and decrees of the great Eloheim,” that is, God the Father. After assuring his listeners that he would speak only as inspired by the Holy Spirit, Joseph Smith launched into a theologically jam-packed sermon on the nature of God.

joseph-smithJoseph said,

“…it is necessary that we should understand the character and being of God, and how he came to be so; for I am going to tell you how God came to be God. We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity, I will refute that idea, and will take away and do away the vail, so that you may see.”

Hold it.

What was Joseph Smith saying? His listeners had “imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity.” Why would they have believed such a thing? Perhaps they had read it in the Bible. Psalm 90:2 says, “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever You had formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.”

Joseph continued his teaching:

“These are incomprehensible ideas to some; but they are simple. It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the character of God…he was once a man like us; yea, that God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth the same as Jesus Christ himself did…”

Was this the God Joseph Smith’s audience had always known? No, for this prophet said he would refute their long-held ideas about God.

The Prophet further explained:

“Here then is eternal life–to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all Gods have done before you,–namely, by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one…”

What’s this? Our God is one of many? He used to be a man but learned to be a God by going from one small degree to another? How does this compare with the revelation of God in the Bible–the God we have always known?

Isaiah 44:6: “Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel,…I am the First and I am the Last; besides Me there is no God.”

Malachi 3:6: “For I am the LORD, I do not change…”

How about the true confession of faith given by God in Deuteronomy: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one!”

Continuing his teaching, Joseph Smith asserted:

“In the beginning, the head of the Gods called a council of the Gods; and they came together and concocted a plan to create the world and people it. When we begin to learn in this way, we begin to learn the only true God and what kind of being we have got to worship.”

We now know what kind of being Joseph Smith encouraged us to worship, but what has God previously revealed? “Do not fear, nor be afraid; have I not told you from that time, and declared it? You are my witnesses. Is there a God besides Me? Indeed, there is no other Rock; I know not one.” (Isaiah 44:8)

In his King Follett Discourse, Joseph Smith did exactly what God warned against in Deuteronomy 13. He essentially said, “Let us go after other gods–which you have not known–and let us serve them.”

What should have been the response of the audience to this heretical teaching? God commanded: “…you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams…”

Unfortunately, most of Joseph Smith’s followers in 1844 did listen to the words of that prophet. Joseph praised them, saying,

“This is good doctrine. It tastes good. I can taste the principles of eternal life, and so can you. They are given to me by the revelations of Jesus Christ; and I know that when I tell you these words of eternal life as they are given to me, you taste them, and I know you believe them.”

God allowed Joseph Smith to speak those words for a purpose; and He continues to allow false prophets a voice today, “…for the LORD your God is testing you to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.”

It is a great responsibility Almighty God has placed upon us, to know Him, the only true God, and love Him with all our hearts. But He has not left us helpless and floundering, to be tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine. He has provided the means for us to spot false prophets and false doctrine, and commands us to use the tools He has given us.

False prophets test the depth of our love for God, but Deuteronomy also gives us a test to measure those claiming to come in the name of the LORD. In the case of Joseph Smith and his King Follett Discourse, the answer is clear. The fruit of this prophet is heresy.

May all who truly love God respond as He has commanded: “You shall walk after the LORD your God and fear Him, and keep His commandments and obey His voice; you shall serve Him and hold fast to Him.”


* All quotes from the King Follett Discourse can be found in any of the following sources where the text is fully recorded: History of the Church 6:320-317; Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 342-362; Journal of Discourses 6:1-11; Millennial Star 23:245-280.

This article originally appeared in A Word in Season, Fall 2000.

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 Authority and Doctrine, Early Mormonism, General Conference, God the Father, Joseph Smith, King Follett Discourse, LDS Church, Mormon History, Mormon Leaders, Nature of God, Nature of Man, Nauvoo, Prophets and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to This is a Test: Joseph Smith and Deuteronomy 13

  1. falcon says:

    Great article Sharon.
    One of my favorite topics, the doctrine of the nature of God. Let me short-circuit any LDS who might show-up here claiming that they are monotheists because they believe in one god “of this world”. That dog just won’t hunt. I would challenge an LDS to go and find an orthodox Jew and explain to him what the LDS and FLDS believe regarding the nature of God. Then ask if the Jew agrees with this? News flash to the LDS. Don’t bother. The orthodox Jew will think you’re nuts. And see, that’s why LDS believe this nonsense. They believe that they are special and super spiritual because they believe in a convoluted doctrine regarding the nature of God. It’s because it’s so off-the-wall that they conclude that it must be true. Process that thought if you can but it’s the way cultists think.
    The early Christian converts were Jews. What was the defining characteristic of the Jews when comparing them to neighboring peoples? It was that the Jews were monotheists believing in one God not one god among many gods-pantheism.
    So, these early converts asked, who is Jesus? He’s more than an anointed man. He’s not a created being like some sort of super angel. Who is Jesus? Recently I’ve been scouring the NT asking myself that question as if I were a first century believer. When the Scriptures are read with a very critical eye focusing on that one question and asking what the writers were saying it becomes clear.
    Mormons like to point to the Council of Nicaea as the place where the gospel was lost. Yet upon questioning, it’s clear that these Mormons have no clue what the Council was all about, what the question was that was being asked and what the out-come of the discussion was.
    Here it is: Is Jesus of like substance or of the same substance with the Father? It gets to the idea of whether or not Jesus was created by the Father or if He was begotten, came from the Father. That Jesus was with/in the Father from all eternity.
    Why is this important? It’s the whole ball game quite frankly. John said it all: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” I just had a burning in the bosom typing that.
    So if a Mormon really wants to test whether or not Joseph Smith was a true prophet with a restored gospel and revelation, they need to take the time and study carefully what the Scriptures say about the nature of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. If Smith is not consistent with the Scriptures he’s a false prophet, which he was.

  2. makeitshine says:

    Mormons claim to fame is that they have a living prophet. Mormons living prophet is basically an elected official, that the people are just supposed to accept as prophet assuming God put him in that position.

    Their claim that Christianity has no prophets couldn’t be farther from the truth though. The new testament Church has had prophets from the beginning at pentecost up to this very day. The Truth received by the illumined at pentecost is always the same truth, It’s the revelation of uncreated Glory of Christ himself to the human heart.

    True prophets are only those who have experienced this illumination. They are not occultists, spiritualists, mentalists, scryers. Those people are operating at a mere psychic level. They appear to be able to do “magic” show miracles and signs and wonders etc but they have no life in them, they are in cohorts with demonic forces, who present themselves as angelic beings without being aware.

    Nothing can be added to this revelation and words cannot describe it. The scriptures can only point us to it.

    What is this one revealed Truth?

    Father John Romanides describes it in “The sickness of Religion” here –

    “All who have reached glorification testify to the fact that “it is impossible to express God and even more impossible to conceive Him” because they know by their experience that there is no similarity whatsoever between the created and the uncreated.

    Falcon – you are right, those who teach that the trinity was some later invention, or speculation about God which came later is so far from truth. All you have to do is READ the works of the successors of the apostles, those within the tradition to see the claim is completly false. It was the un-illumined who fell into heresy, and it is the same today with heretics.

    Here is a great testimony from an early Christian, of the existence of current Christian theology (not to mentions its actually in the book of John itself, this just expands on the teaching)

    Athenagoras – a Christian philosopher year 133-190.
    In his apology he attacks the silliness of paganism –

    …………..”That we are not atheists, therefore, seeing that we acknowledge one God, uncreated, eternal, invisible, impassible, incomprehensible, illimitable, who is apprehended by the understanding only and the reason, who is encompassed by light, and beauty, and spirit, and power ineffable, by whom the universe has been created through His Logos, and set in order, and is kept in being…………

    But the Son of God is the Logos of the Father, in idea and in operation; for after the pattern of Him and by Him were all things made, the Father and the Son being one. And, the Son being in the Father and the Father in the Son, in oneness and power of spirit, the understanding and reason (νους και λογος) of the Father is the Son of God.

    But if, in your surpassing intelligence, it occurs to you to inquire what is meant by the Son, I will state briefly that He is the first product of the Father, not as having been brought into existence (for from the beginning, God, who is the eternal mind had the Logos in Himself, being from eternity instinct with Logos); but inasmuch as He came forth to be the idea and energizing power of all material things, which lay like a nature without attributes, and an inactive earth, the grosser particles being mixed up with the lighter.

    The prophetic Spirit also agrees with our statements. “The Lord,” it says, “made me, the beginning of His ways to His works.” The Holy Spirit Himself also, which operates in the prophets, we assert to be an effluence of God, flowing from Him, and returning back again like a beam of the sun. Who, then, would not be astonished to hear men who speak of God the Father, and of God the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and who declare both their power in union and their distinction in order, called atheists?

    Nor is our teaching in what relates to the divine nature confined to these points; but we recognise also a multitude of angels and ministers, whom God the Maker and Framer of the world distributed and appointed to their several posts by His Logos, to occupy themselves about the elements, and the heavens, and the world, and the things in it, and the goodly ordering of them all.”……………………..

  3. falcon says:

    Think about this little tid bit in your post: “…..the Father and the Son being one. And, the Son being in the Father and the Father in the Son….”
    OK hopefully I’m not teaching heresy here. You can judge.
    The Father is eternal. Jesus is eternal. Jesus was in God. He is the Word/Logic of God. One of the Church Fathers described this like a word or thought within us.
    Tertullian explains what Logos is:
    “Observe, then, that when you are silently conversing with yourself, this very process is carried on within you by your reason, which meets you wit a word at every movement of your thought…Whatever you think, there is a word…You must speak it in your mind…”
    “Thus, in a certain sense, the word is a second person within you, through which in thinking you utter speech…The word is itself a different thing from yourself……..”

    I’m going to link to a website that provides some very interesting information. It’s called “Christian History for Every Man”.

  4. makeitshine says:

    Falcon, you said-

    “Here it is: Is Jesus of like substance or of the same substance with the Father? It gets to the idea of whether or not Jesus was created by the Father or if He was begotten, came from the Father. That Jesus was with/in the Father from all eternity.”

    – I want to point one thing out, not a correction, but just so you don’t confuse the Mormons.

    In the Mormon mind Jesus is a pre-existent human spirit being who incarnated into a flesh body. The wording of your phrase might confuse them so its good to explain that there was no MAN (human spirit) Jesus before the incarnation. There was only the Word of God /divine son/second person of the trinity who BECAME man. ( the definition of Person is a whole other subject, but just dont think of the divine person of the Word as an individual)

  5. makeitshine says:

    I don’t understand mormon metaphysics.

    Some of Mormonisms teachings are more in line with Christian Metaphysics than their own system of Gods, like this one:

    Christianity: – The divine energies are “within everything and outside everything.” All creation is the manifestation of God’s energies. Vladimir Lossky says in the Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church: “These divine rays penetrate the whole created universe and are the cause of its existence.” The uncreated Light and the knowledge of God in….”illuminates every man that cometh into this world.”

    Yes – makes perfect sense, the ONE God eternal creates everything through his Divine Word and Spirit by his energies. He is God, everything else is created and participates in God.


    Mormonism: The Light of Christ is the divine energy, power, or influence that proceeds from God through Christ and gives life and light to all things…….The Light of Christ “proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space.” It is “the light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed” (D&C 88:12-13;

    Hey this sounds really cool and mystical and even scientific! Wait…..that do you mean by God? are you talking about the Exhalted man who lives near Kolob? And who do you mean by Christ? The spirit son of that Guy from Kolob? I assume both of these guys are also made of this Light then right, as is the world they inhabit?

    It’s God-ception! A God within a world within a God within a World……
    Mormonisms is not and has never been consistent even within itself.

  6. historybuff says:

    Makeitshine —

    Funny you should mention Kolob. The LDS concept of God (and Gods) is one of the more remarkable doctrines of the Church and one they don’t talk about much. For good reason. According to Joseph Smith and his successors, all these Gods live on or near the planet “Kolob”, which Joseph Smith describes through the voice of the Prophet Abraham:

    “2. And I saw the stars, that they were very great, and that one of them was nearest unto the throne of God; and there were many great ones which were near unto it;
    3 And the Lord said unto me: These are the governing ones; and the name of the great one is Kolob, because it is near unto me, for I am the Lord thy God: I have set this one to govern all those which belong to the same order as that upon which thou standest.
    4 And the Lord said unto me, by the Urim and Thummim, that Kolob was after the manner of the Lord, according to its times and seasons in the revolutions thereof; that one revolution was a day unto the Lord, after his manner of reckoning, it being one thousand years according to the time appointed unto that whereon thou standest. This is the reckoning of the Lord’s time, according to the reckoning of Kolob.” Book of Abraham, chapter 3, v. 2-4

    Kolob is right next to the planet Oliblish and more distant from the planet Jah-oh-eh – naturally. He goes on. And on. Basically, all the Gods live on or near Kolob, which is somewhere near the center of our universe. Some of this is – again, remarkably – described in the Book of Abraham’s Facsimile No. 2.

    This of course came as news to professional astronomers. And to Egyptian scholars. However, if you really want a glimpse into the mind of Joseph Smith, check out Figure 7 in Facsimile 2. It’s upside down in the facsimile so you’ll have to look carefully. Joseph Smith describes it as –

    “Represents God sitting upon his throne, revealing through the heavens the grand Key-words of the Priesthood; as, also, the sign of the Holy Ghost unto Abraham, in the form of a dove.”

    Now, remember: this is in canonized DS scripture. If you look carefully at “God sitting upon his throne”, you’ll see that Joseph Smith has characterized Elohim as having an erect phallus. Some of the less charitable among us might consider that blasphemy. Is it any wonder that Smith also thought polygamy with young girls was the divine order of heaven?

    If you want to watch a Mormon go pale, tell him you don’t understand Figure 7 and ask him to explain it to you.

  7. falcon says:

    To tell you the truth, I don’t think your average run-of-the-mill Mormon gives much thought to who God is. They just cruise through their LDS life doing their LDS activities and feel emotionally and socially connected to a community that defines their lives. They do what they are told and believe what they are told to believe. In their minds they belong to the one true church headed by a living prophet and therefore they are mega-special.
    We’ve had Mormons show-up here claiming that the LDS god is the same God as orthodox Christianity. They insist that the LDS Jesus is the same as Christianity. We’ve also had those who tell me, in particular, that I don’t know what I’m talking about when it comes to Mormonism. When faced with the information that is provided along with documentation, they quickly give their testimony and disappear.
    So we’re dealing with two levels of information. One level is the nature of God and the gospel revealed in the Bible. The second level is the history of Mormonism and what has been hiding in plain sight from them. It’s too bad that former Mormons who learn the history of Mormonism end-up losing any and all faith in God.

  8. historybuff says:

    Amen, Falcon. Too many of them just don’t care. I wonder how they plan to explain that to God.

    Revelations 3: 15

  9. historybuff says:

    There are several areas in Utah that are referred to as “Happy Valley” (Provo and Bountiful come immediately to mind), where there seem to be a prodigious number of LDS who don’t really know anything about their Church and don’t seem to care. They won’t even follow the instructions of their prophets:

    “Take up the Bible, compare the religion of the Latter-day Saints with it, and see if it will stand the test.” (Discourses of Brigham Young, selected and arranged by John A. Widtsoe, 1978, page 126)

    Instead, they just smile and attend church meetings, even bear their testimonies that Joseph Smith was a prophet, and happily ignore anything substantive about their Church. As Solomon might have described them, they just “skip around like young unicorns.” Psalms 29:6 One can only hope that someday they will develop the desire to think for themselves.

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