Who was Joseph Smith?Joseph Smith was born in Sharon, Vermont in 1805. His father, Joseph Sr., was a farmer from Massachusetts and his mother, Lucy Smith, was from Connecticut. Although his mother had a Presbyterian background, Smith and his father rarely attended church. Struggling to provide for his family due to poor crops, Joseph Sr. moved the family to Palmyra, New York. While in Palmyra Joseph Sr. and his son became involved with magic and treasure seeking. In 1827, Joseph Smith married his first wife, Emma Hale. They adopted twins and had nine biological children, only five of which survived infancy.
As an adolescent, Smith became interested in religion and began searching for a church. He grew up during the Great Second Awakening in which many branches of the Protestant church experienced revival and reform. One day Joseph Smith went out into the woods and prayed for wisdom about which church he should join. According to Smith, he had a vision of God the Father and Jesus the Son of God. They told him that he should not attend any of the churches because they had strayed from God and that they had chosen him to lead a new church restoring true Christianity.
In 1823, Joseph Smith claimed he had another spiritual encounter with an angel named Moroni. He said the angel gave him the coordinates to a set of golden plates buried in Palmyra, New York. The plates were supposedly inscribed with Christian writings that were an addendum to the Bible and included the history of a group of Israelites in the western hemisphere. Smith said that Moroni gave him special glasses so that he could translate the symbols on the plates, which resembled Egyptian hieroglyphics. Smith used the glasses and a seer stone to translate the text and later published it as the Book of Mormon in 1830.
After his visions, Smith organized the Mormon church, more formally known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. He began preaching with authority as if he were God's mouthpiece. Joseph Smith's church gained thousands of followers in a short period of time. His followers called Smith a prophet and believed he was anointed by God. Smith wrote various books, including his teachings and doctrine for the new church that he said added to or overruled things from the Bible. In addition, he initiated practices such as polygamy and baptism of the dead. Joseph Smith encouraged his followers to build communities together, but they were often chased out of town due to their more radical beliefs and practices. While in Missouri things between the Mormon settlers and non-Mormons escalated into battle. The Mormons ended up surrendering and Smith was arrested and sentenced to execution. However, he escaped from jail and eventually resettled the majority of the Mormon community in Nauvoo, Illinois.
While in Nauvoo, Illinois, Smith expanded the Mormon Doctrine, planned the construction of the Nauvoo Temple, and established the priesthood. He also gained a lot of political power and sway over the community. An interesting fact is that he actually ran for president in 1844. That same year a local newspaper published an article denouncing Joseph Smith's authority and practices, particularly polygamy and polytheism. In response, Smith pulled some political strings to have the newspaper shut down. The community was angry with Smith's misuse of power and began rioting. Smith and his brother Hyrum were arrested for inciting a riot; the charge was later increased to treason. A mob stormed the jail and shot them both as they tried to escape their cell.
Some have described Joseph Smith as nothing more than a fanatical fraud. In fact, sixty-two residents of Palmyra, New York who knew Smith's family signed a statement that he was "entirely destitute of moral character and addicted to vicious habits." Others, of course, view Joseph Smith as a prophet. The Mormon church split into two main groups with the Reorganized Church of Latter-day Saints (RLDS) or Community of Christ remaining in Missouri and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) led by Brigham Young in Utah. Today, Smith's warped theology continues to deceive millions of people around the world into a false equation of faith plus works equals self-advancement and away from a repentance of sins and salvation in Jesus Christ alone.
What do Mormons believe? What is Mormonism?
How should Christians view the Book of Mormon?
Who was Brigham Young?
Are Mormons Christian? Do Mormons and Christians believe the same things?
How can I best witness to Mormons?
Truth about Religion