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RS/MP Lesson 6: “The Mission of John the Baptist” (Joseph Smith Manual)

Posted by joespencer on March 9, 2008

This lesson is so interesting, but it almost seems as if it cannot ever quite get to the point. In one sense, I suppose one feels, while working through the material, that there is never an answer to the almost ridiculously demanding question “So what?” But more profoundly, it seems right to say that the materials here seem to be gathered about a mystery or a secret. That is, the teachings here function something like a veil: they draw attention to something by covering it up, or cover something up by drawing attention to it. Of course, in at least one sense, the veiled “secret” is not secret at all: it is obvious that what is never presented in the lesson (how could it be?) but what fundamentally underpins its power is the actual event of John’s visitation to Joseph and Oliver. That experience itself, irrevocably past, grounds all of these teachings, in fact gives them their meaning, and the absence of that event in the reader’s/teacher’s/student’s experience (even in the Nauvoo era when Joseph was delivering these sermons) makes the words sound rather hollow. But does that mean that this lesson is only so many shattered fragments of truth?

It is certainly of some significance that all of Joseph’s teachings in this chapter come from the Nauvoo era… in fact, from 1843-44. It is often pointed out by demythologizers and enemies of the Church that Joseph had nothing whatsoever to say about the visit of John the Baptist (or of Peter, James, and John subsequently) until 1835. This fact is usually introduced in order to suggest either that Joseph only made up the stories of the visits later on to provide himself retroactively with an authorizing priesthood (enemies of the Church… and sometimes demythologizers), or that Joseph thought such angelic visits and authorizations were relatively unimportant until he began to face serious dissension and was constructing an institutional hierarchy during the construction of the Kirtland temple (the more sympathetic demythologizers). But another possibility entirely remains almost unexplored: could Joseph have felt himself obliged for one reason or another to keep the visits secret? Might he have been, perhaps, under covenant not to say anything about the visits, at least for a time, if not indefinitely? This deserves a bit of explanation.

When Joseph and Oliver began at last to talk about John the Baptist and Peter, James, and John, interesting details began to emerge, but only in fragments, here and there. By piecing a number of these together, something of an interesting story begins to appear. The story of the Baptist’s visit is perhaps already well enough known, but it must be noted that what John left them with, first and foremost, was the “keys of the ministering of angels,” a phrase that members of the Church almost completely ignore (and when they do give it any attention, there is a clear sense of bafflement about their words). In context, this gift makes perfect sense: John told Joseph and Oliver that they were to be visited by other messengers who would give them further light and knowledge, and they would have to know how to recognize them as such, that is, as true messengers. Is there reason to think that the “keys of the ministering of angels” consists in part in certain keys (the word is thus employed in D&C 129, interestingly) for detecting true and false messengers? A few details perhaps bear this out.

D&C 128:20, combined with Oliver’s description of the visit of Peter, James, and John (and with a few of Joseph’s words, reported second hand later in Utah), provides an interesting picture. At some point after the visit of the Baptist, Joseph and Oliver found themselves fleeing from a mob during the whole of one night. In the middle of the night, while they were passing more or less by the same place where the Baptist had visited them and bestowed on them the keys of the Aaronic priesthood, Oliver finally gave up, threw himself down on the ground, and cried out “Oh God! How long shall we put up with this?” At that moment, an angel appeared and began to teach them. And then another angel appeared and claimed that the first angel was an imposter: this latter declared himself to be Adam or Michael, and he cast the first angel—the devil, appearing as an angel of light—out of their presence. He then introduced to them Peter, James, and John, who there and then bestowed on them the keys of the Melchizedek priesthood. That is, he introduced to them true messengers, who could lead them in the way of life and salvation. It would seem it was necessary for Adam to come and help them, because they did not fully understand the keys they had received from John the Baptist, and so they needed a bit of help detecting true messengers from false.

This story is so interesting because, as anyone who has been endowed will immediately recognize, it is curiously parallel to the temple experience. I think one can therefore suggest that something more happened during those two visits (from the Baptist and then from Peter, James, and John) than Joseph and Oliver have ever told us: it seems reasonable to me to suggest that Joseph and Oliver received what we now call the endowment during those two visits. And that would explain, I think, why Joseph and Oliver had so little to say about those visits until 1835, at the very earliest: they were under covenant not to disclose certain things they had been given or taught during those experiences, and so they kept the events entirely secret. In 1835, the Lord had begun to employ the terms “Melchizedek priesthood” and “Aaronic priesthood” in revelations to the Church (He had never done so previously), and this may have given Joseph and Oliver the confidence that it was okay to talk about those events in a rather roundabout way—though there were still details and aspects of the events that had to be kept rather quiet: they remained under covenant regarding certain things.

D&C 124 bears this out, I think, in a helpful way. There, Hyrum is called to take his father’s place as patriarch to the Church, and he is simultaneously told to take Oliver’s place (since Oliver had left the Church during the unfortunate Missouri experiences). But the wording for this latter replacement is curious: “That he may act in concert also with my servant Joseph; and that he shall receive counsel from my servant Joseph, who shall show unto him the keys whereby he may ask and receive, and be crowned with the same blessing, and glory, and honor, and priesthood, and gifts of the priesthood, that once were put upon him that was my servant Oliver Cowdery” (verse 95). What Oliver had, and what Joseph was now to give to Hyrum in his place, was “the keys whereby he may ask and receive,” a phrase Joseph often employed in Nauvoo discourses to explain what was bestowed on the faithful in the endowment. It seems clear to me that Joseph and Oliver had received what we now call the endowment, and that Joseph gave it to Hyrum according to the commandment of D&C 124.

This reading of D&C 124 is helpful in another way, I might add. The revelation comes from January of 1841. If the wording is justifiably read as I have read it, then there seems to be little reason to claim that Joseph borrowed the endowment from Masonic rituals, since it was not until early in 1842 that he became a mason. In fact, the connection with Hyrum here perhaps explains much. Hyrum had been a mason for a number of years by the time of the revelation: if Joseph now gave him the endowment, Hyrum might well have responded to Joseph, “Um. Joseph… There’s something you ought to know about masonry, but it’s something I can’t tell you since I’m under oath.” Later the same year, then, Joseph gets involved in moving a masonic lodge into Nauvoo, and during the following Spring, he becomes a master mason. His delay in giving the endowment to others (a short while after getting involved with the masons himself) may suggest that he was doing a bit of background research before he started handing things out. At any rate, there seems to be good reason to reread the entirety of the Nauvoo experience… and with the humble admission that perhaps Joseph wasn’t lying about what he was doing…

All of this history is not here superfluous, by the way. What I want to establish, through all of this, is that the teachings contained in this chapter are not ultimately as hollow for the reader/teacher/student as it might at first appear: the event that grounds the teachings in the lesson is not irrevocably past after all, but rather is something every Latter-day Saint can experience in the temple. In other words, this lesson’s teachings are only hollow if we disconnect them from the temple, from one’s own experience with the keys of the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthood. Though it might seem strange to think that Joseph and Oliver were already involved in what we too hastily call the “Nauvoo theology” before the translation of the Book of Mormon was complete, I think there is good reason for us to recognize that while the outward appearance of the Church may have changed a great deal during Joseph’s ministry, the core of the Kingdom never did. Really, it seems best to understand the “history” of the Church during Joseph’s life to be the story of the several attempts on Joseph’s part to bring that Kingdom out of obscurity without compromising the sacred nature of what he had been given from the very beginning.

All that said, perhaps the teachings in this lesson can at last be approached. Because I’ve spent so much space and time just laying out these basics of approach, however, I will be a bit short in making actual comments.

The Teachings of Joseph Smith

Only four sermons are quoted in the teachings section of the lesson, one of them rather briefly. It is the second of these sermons, the one that makes up the bulk of the second section (entitled “There must be legal administrators in the kingdom of God”), that must be begun with. Not only is it the earliest of the three major sermons, but the one preceding it in the lesson (the one quoted at length in the section entitled “John the Baptist fulfilled the important missions of preparing the way before the Savior and baptizing Him”) was given exactly a week after it and answers questions that were raised in response to it.

In this second sermon, then, Joseph takes up the theme of the kingdom of God. In Nauvoo, of course, this was a weighted phrase: it had reference to the ordinances of the temple, to the theology often called the “Nauvoo theology” (that of gods, eternal marriage, plural marriage, etc.), and to some organizational developments that were kept relatively secret at the time (the council of fifty, for example). Joseph’s main claim in this sermon, one he defends quite strenuously, is that the kingdom of God was on earth when John the Baptist came. Note: his claim is not that it was on the earth because Jesus was already around, but that John had the kingdom already. This is an interesting claim, and it has to be interpreted carefully because it would seem that Joseph contradicts himself at several points in his teaching, if one does not read the details right.

The overall point seems to be that John’s task was to set up the kingdom but as yet without the king. His task was to baptize “subjects” so that there was the structure entirely in place, though the King was yet to come. This is vital: “It is evident the kingdom of God was on the earth, and John prepared subjects for the kingdom, by preaching the Gospel to them and baptizing them, and he prepared the way before the Savior, or came as a forerunner, and prepared subjects for the preaching of Christ; and Christ preached through Jerusalem on the same ground where John had preached…. John … preached the same Gospel and baptism that Jesus and the apostles preached after him.” Jesus and the apostles (the original sermon, without ellipses, is helpful here as well) had to preach where John had preached because he had already set up the kingdom, and their task was simply to lay the capstone one what he had already put in place. They were not to go beyond the boundaries laid out by John until the endowment was given during Pentecost, which was an ordinance preparing them to build the kingdom in both stages (Aaronic/John and Melchizedek/Jesus) in one go.

This explains why the questions were raised that Joseph answers in the first section of the teachings: How was John the greatest, then, if he was just preparing a people like any of us is doing? And how was the least in the kingdom greater than he? The text being probed comes from Luke 7:28, and its meaning is actually rather straightforward (left out of this teaching is Joseph’s statement in the original notes: “Some so blind they wont see. I dont expect I can work miracles enough to open”): John is the greatest of the prophets because he stands right on the limit of what precedes the actual (or fulfilled) kingdom; but the least in the actual kingdom is greater still. The point, in a word, is that John stood right on the threshold. Joseph makes this point in a threefold way: John prepared the people for Jesus in the flesh, he baptized Jesus, and he brought the Law of Moses to its fulfillment. The point is thus rather straightforward. He then makes the curious suggestion that it is Christ who is the least in the kingdom…

The final section in the lesson is drawn from a still later sermon, Joseph’s remarkable sermon on Elias, Elijah, and Messiah. It is too much perhaps to deal with here in any meaningful way. (It should be noted that Joseph makes an explicit acknolwedgement of the Elias/Elijah equation in the sermon… not as printed in the lesson, but in the original form which it is drawn… and this fact should be recognized: Joseph explicitly says that he has to give his testimony—speak of the key-receiving events of his own experience, this time in the Kirtland temple—in order to offer a rather odd and ultimately radical reading of the ancient texts. In other words, Joseph knows and acknowledges that his reading of Elias/Elijah is at odds with the text as it stands, but he nonetheless presses forward in light of his own experiences.) At the very least, this can be said: John was an Elias because he set up the structure that Jesus would fulfill; as such he was, so to speak, the full embodiment of the Law of Moses, to which Christ was the spirit.

Much more, of course, remains to be said. But I hope this has provided something of a framework for interpreting the lesson: one can only make sense of these teachings by seeing John’s visit as part of an endowment, and precisely thus as preparatory.

A final word: Oliver draws, in the short passage quoted in the introductory material at the beginning of the lesson, on the language of the Book of Abraham: “Oliver Cowdery recalled, ‘to know how we might obtain the blessings of baptism and of the Holy Spirit, according to the order of God, and we diligently sought for the right of the fathers and the authority of the holy priesthood, and the power to administer in the same.'” Might we do the same!

37 Responses to “RS/MP Lesson 6: “The Mission of John the Baptist” (Joseph Smith Manual)”

  1. robf said

    Thanks Joe. We’ve been dancing around for awhile with this whole reconstruction of the early visits of John, Adam, and Peter, James, and John. Can you remind me again of the lines of evidence we have for these reconstructions? Especially the part about Adam introducing Peter, James, and John.

  2. joespencer said

    I would have to do some real serious manuscript work to make the case in any detail, Rob. Perhaps I’ll end up doing that at some point. For now, it is a rather difficult issue, since the link between Adam’s appearance and Peter, James, and John’s appearance is often severed by faithful saints. The reason: there seems to be good evidence that the appearance of the devil and then of Adam happened during June of 1830 (a few months after the organization of the Church); the connection between the two events would therefore confirm that the Melchizedek priesthood was not restored until after the organization of the Church; and that simply can’t be (so goes the argument)… so the two events must not be connected.

    Unfortunately for my own case, I don’t know of any particular manuscript that connects the two events explicitly except for D&C 128:20. There are manuscripts that tie the ordination to the flight from the mob, and there are manuscripts that tie the devil’s being cast out to the flight from the mob, but no one text spells out all the details. But I think a very strong case can be made. Perhaps the two must-read secondary treatments of these issues, for now, are Bushman’s Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism and Quinn’s The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power. BYU Studies published a brief engagement with the latter in 1995 or 1996.

    Yes, it is clear that I will at some point have to work all the details out from the manuscript sources themselves and make the argument. In the meanwhile…

  3. joespencer said

    In other words: that Adam introduced Peter, James, and John to them is a reconstructive assumption, a way of reading the connection between the two events (“This [Adam’s casting out the devil] was the occasion of the ordination” being taken as implying “Adam then introduced to them true messengers”…).

  4. Tim said

    Why are you making some of this history up, if you can’t prove it? You are assuming things and putting them out there as fact. Weird, you have way to much time on your hands.

  5. David Farnsworth said

    Very interesting speculations. I think that tieing the John the Baptist (and Peter, James, and John) visitations to the Temple Endowment is very astute.

    I am teaching this lesson in HP later today, and trying to makes sense of the “least in the Kingdom of Heaven” interpretation by Joseph Smith.

  6. worm said

    Thanks for the interesting interpretation. I’d love to see a version of this with more specific references. For example, where to find Oliver Cowdery’s account of the chase through the woods and the two angels.

  7. Cherylem said

    Today a friend in my ward sent me the following information. Comments anyone?

    1. From New Testament Seminary Student Manual: 1987, Unit One, Week 2, page #17,
    Zacharias – The prophet Joseph Smith taught: “When Herod’s edict went forth to destroy the young children, John was about 6 months older than Jesus, and came under this hellish edict, and Zacharias caused him mother to take him into the mountains, where he was raised on locust and wild honey. When his father refused to disclose his hiding place, and being the officiating high priest at the Temple that year, was slain by Herod’s order, between the porch and the altar, as Jesus said.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1938], p. 261) Matthew 23:35

    From New Testament Seminary Student Study Guide: 1999, Lesson #3, page #11
    “The prophet Joseph Smith taught that when Herod had the children aged two and younger in the land killed (see Matt 2:16-18), John’s mother hid him in the wilderness, and John’s father was killed because he would not tell where John was hidden.” (See Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith [1976], p. 261; see also Matt 23:35.

    2. From Answer to Gospel Questions, Joseph Fielding Smith, Vol V, page #2.
    “Zacharias did not have certain Authority: The Lord was pleased not to reveal the name of the angel who ministered to John. The reason Zacharias could not ordain John is because of the fact that John received certain keys of authority which his father Zacharias did not possess. Therefore this special authority had to be conferred by this heavenly messenger, who was duly authorized and sent to confer it. John’s ordination was not merely the bestowal of the Aaronic Priesthood, which his father held, but also the conferring of certain essential powers peculiar to the time among which was the authority to overthrow the kingdom of the Jews and “to make straight the way of the Lord.” Moreover, it was to prepare the Jews and other Israelites for the coming of the Son of God. This great authority required a special ordination beyond the delegated power that had been given to Zacharias or any other priest who went before him, so the angel of the Lord was sent to John in his childhood to confer it.”

    3. From Doctrines of Salvation, Joseph Fielding Smith, Vol 3, page 86-89
    John’s Priesthood Levites held the Aaronic Priesthood: The Aaronic Priesthood is divided into the Aaronic and the Levitical, yet it is but one priesthood. This is merely a matter of designating certain duties within the priesthood. The sons of Aaron, who presided in the Aaronic order, were spoken of as holding the Aaronic Priesthood; and the sons of Levi, who were not sons of Aaron, were spoken of as the Levites. They held the Aaronic Priesthood but served under, or in a lesser capacity, than the sons of Aaron.

    The authority of the priesthood was manifest in the days of the Savior’s coming. By virtue of the priesthood held by Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, the angel appeared to him.

    “Why John was Chosen to Restore Aaronic Order: There are several very significant matters connected with the conferring of the Aaronic Priesthood upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, which may briefly be discussed:
    1. The reason John the Baptist was sent from the heavens to confer the Priesthood of Aaron is that there was no one among mortals with the keys of that authority. Had there been, then there would have been no necessity for a restoration of this authority, and John would not have been sent.
    2. It was John the Baptist who held the presidency of this priesthood in the days of his ministry as the forerunner of Jesus Christ. As a Levite, and his authority coming to him by divine right of descent, he was the rightful presiding priest of the Aaronic order in Israel. This authority came to him by lineage, and the Lord has made it known that John “was baptized while he was yet in his childhood and was ordained by the angel of God at the time he was eight days old unto this power, to overthrow the kingdom of the Jews, and to make straight the way of the Lord before the face of his people, to prepare them for the coming of the Lord, in whose hands is given all power.” (D&C 84:28)

    Had the Church of God been in existence with the Jews in that day, instead of the Jews being in a dreadful state of apostasy, then John the Baptist would have taken his proper place as the presiding priest of the Aaronic order. But they recognized him not and failed to understand his authority, even as they failed to comprehend the authority of our Lord. The authority of John was that which was conferred upon Aaron and which came down by right of lineage to Eleazar and his posterity after him; (Ex 28:1, 40-43; 29:4-9; Num 3:1-4) but the Jews failed to recognize John and rejected him. By right of his authority John laid the foundation for the overthrow of their kingdom, or power, which was based on a false foundation. Had they accepted John then also would they have accepted Christ, the Lord, their rightful King and the great High Priest of their salvation.”

  8. Robert C. said

    Very interesting, Joe. I esp. like how you point out the confusion and discomfort that usually goes along with the phrase “keys of the ministering of angels” which is, I think, a great “stumper question” to begin your post with (and the lesson, if you’re teaching it). I think this nicely undermines Tim’s concern above about being too speculative—if no one else can interpret the phrase in anything like a satisfying way, aren’t we called to speculate? How is interpreting and studying not speculation? And if all study is, ultimately, speculation, then surely the kind of obviously-researched and obviously-thought-long-and-hard-about work you’re doing is infinitely better than a dismissive attitude posing as something like faithfulness (sorry, Tim, but I’ve heard the “speculation” line used too many times as an excuse not to work and study, so it sort of gets me riled up!).

  9. Jim F. said

    Cherylm: Ok, I’ll bite:

    1. I had always understood the decree to kill the children under two to apply only to the village of Bethlehem and its surroundings (Matthew 2:16), not to all of Israel. Unless John was living in or close to Bethlehem, I don’t think he would have been in danger.

    Apparently Joseph Smith taught that Zacharias was the officiating high priest, presumably basing that on Luke’s account. However, Luke’s account only says that Zacharias was chosen to offer incense before the veil of the temple, something done twice every day, but not by the high priest. It doesn’t tell us that he was chosen to enter the Holy of Holies, something done only once a year by the high priest. Since Joseph doesn’t seem to claim revelation as his source, I assume he was simply mistaken about Zacharias being chosen to perform the duties of the high priest.

    2. That John the Baptist was designated to restore the Aaronic Priesthood suggests that he plays a special role in regard to that priesthood. So his ordination may have required something that Zacharias couldn’t have done. However, this seems to me to amount to reasonable speculation more than anything else.

    3. The distinction Joseph Fielding Smith makes between the Aaronic and the Levitical priesthoods seems to me not to be a difference. Is there a textual basis for what he says?

    Until we get to “the Jews failed to recognize John and rejected him,” I have little difficulty. However, I don’t think that describes the Jews of Jerusalem in Christ’s day. For one thing, many Jews came to John for baptism. For another, the “Jews” of Jerusalem were not a unified group of which it could be reasonably said “that group rejected Jesus.” Some did. Some didn’t. Some didn’t know much about him.

  10. cherylem said

    I obviously have problems with this whole scenario also. But how does one disagree with the TPJS, especially with members of the church, and more specifically and especially, with members one respects and genuinely cares for?

  11. cherylem said

    And . . . sorry for the hijack.

  12. Jim F. said


    I wish there were an easy answer to your question (and I, too, apologize to Joe for the threadjack), but if there is, I’ve not found it. As you also believe, my relations to my fellow Saints are more important than the intellectual beliefs that I hold, so I have to find a way to hold my beliefs that doesn’t damage my relations to the Saints. Sometimes that means just keeping my mouth shut. There are worse things than believing that Zacharias was designated to serve as the high priest. Sometimes it means saying, “Yes, but what about this?” and proposing an alternative. I really ought not to allow those I love to engage in anti-Semitism without showing them an alternative. Of course, the second of these can be done in a variety of ways depending on whom I am speaking to.

    I doubt that I am saying anything that you don’t already know well, so I doubt that this is very much help. The problem is that, perhaps arrogantly, I don’t think there is another answer.

  13. joespencer said


    I’ll deal only with your #1 here, and I’d like to deal with it on a textual level.

    TPJS was compiled by Joseph Fielding Smith, and, to be honest, not very well by today’s standards. He did not distinguish between sources he used, nor did he provide textual notes to mark the hands of the editors of Joseph’s words, but he simply inserted anything that might be attributed to Joseph Smith into a single, undifferentiated volume. The result is less than satisfactory today.

    This quotation is a perfect example of why this methodology is unfortunate. The teaching comes from Times and Seasons, the Church’s newspaper in Nauvoo. It comes from an article without an attributed author, hence generally assumed to have been penned by the editor. Since Joseph was the editor of the paper at the time (September 1842 it was published, and Joseph had assumed editorship in April of the same year), Joseph Fielding Smith simply assumed that it was Joseph’s work and so quoted from it in TPJS.

    However, I think there is good evidence that it is not Joseph’s work. The style of argumentation is very different from that of Joseph; the word choice is also quite different from Joseph’s usual style; and the article makes reference to Joseph Smith in the third person (and not in the way that Joseph sometimes did). It seems quite likely to me that the article did not originate with Joseph, though he may have edited it.

    Of course, what if Joseph really did author the article? Am I to understand that fidelity to the Church means that I must consider this statement from the article as historically infallible—“Thomas, one of the twelve, was run through with a lance, on the coast of Coromandel, in the East Indies”? Such an approach to newspaper rhetoric, speculatively reconstructed martyrdoms used to flesh out an argument, and editorial complexities seems a bit odd to me.

  14. cherylem said

    Thanks! I was just getting ready to post this link:


  15. cherylem said

    Thanks for your comments. You are so dependably kind and even-handed – I actually have come to depend on you for this trait. You make me feel like I am home.

  16. joespencer said

    That’s a good link, Cheryl. Two points might be added to the discussion there.

    First, one person mentioned the New Mormon Studies CD-ROM as a good source for finding original documentation for statements attributed to Joseph. I actually have to disagree. I’ve found that the LDS Gospel Library 2006 is a much better resource, primarily because it has Ehat & Cook’s Words of Joseph Smith. I have both programs and use them both extensively, but I’ve found that they are good for very different reasons, and I think that LDS Gospel Library is better in this case.

    Second, mention is made there of the Joseph Smith Papers project, or rather, a question is raised about whether it will pay attention to things edited by Joseph Smith. With the major developments of that project that have been announced over the past few weeks, that can be affirmatively answered now: one can trust that all these problems of attribution to the Prophet Joseph are going to be treated responsibly in the JSP project, and items edited by Joseph are to be included (the “document” series “will publish in chronological order all Joseph Smith correspondence, revelations, reports of discourses, and other documents (notices, notes, editorials) for which Joseph Smith is author or assumed author”). I highly recommend taking a look at the site for the project: this is without question the most important thing that has ever happened in Mormon historiography. The site: http://josephsmithpapers.net/Default.htm.

  17. cherylem said

    And that looks like a spectacular project, Joe.

  18. Amy said


    I am teaching the next lesson on the Holy Ghost in a few weeks. I was reading it today, and it just so happens to start it off with the account of John the Baptist appearing to Joseph and Oliver. Perhaps they were just using this lesson to build up to the next? Maybe they felt like John the Baptist’s appearance would take the entire lesson to discuss and share that they decided to make it into it’s own chapter. I don’t know. Thanks for your insights. It’s nice to read everyone’s comments, too.

  19. joespencer said

    Thanks, Amy. I see the manual working chronologically through the Prophet’s life, drawing on Joseph’s experiences in order to raise doctrinal questions. The theme of the Holy Ghost, I take it, is drawn from the outpouring Joseph describes in his history at the time of baptism (that is, at the time of John’s visit). Interesting timing, at any rate, and it deserves careful thought.

  20. Barb said

    This is a 1st time comment for me. I have found all of the discussion to be very interesting and thought provoking. What I am not finding is a simple way to present the material we have been asked to present in such a way that it will contribute to 1) The spirit of the Sabbath Day 2) Helping the sisters/brethren be modivated to live the gospel better for having spent their time in class. Basically, I am more confused than ever! Help!

  21. Linda said

    This is also a 1st time comment for me.I have to agree with what Barb said. The material is to complex for me and is never organized is a clear manner. When I teach,I usually end up with about 15 to 20 min to each. Not much time to get into much depth on a serious subject. I also teach the last hour which means most sisters have checked out by then. I am looking for ideas on how to keep it interesting and send the sisters home with a short spiritual thought that they can remember… Any ideas out there…I often also feel confused and feel I need help.

  22. joespencer said

    Barb and Linda, very good questions. I hope it is clear that my own notes are not really notes for a lesson—they are the thoughts that have occurred to me while reading through the material.

    Of course, as I understand teaching—and I have been called wrong often enough on this point—one studies and studies and studies and studies and then goes into the classroom without any kind of determined plan, allowing the Spirit to pick and choose among all the details studied (and the details, of course, not studied). (This is, by the way, a model I found best formulated in Elder Gene R. Cook’s book, Teaching by the Spirit.) I don’t, by this comment, mean to suggest that everyone must teach that way; I just mean to explain why it is that my lesson notes here look the way they do.

    But I think you’ve both raised some interesting questions. If you are interested, I can make them into a separate post to try to generate some discussion.

  23. Jim F. said

    Barb and Linda: Some of those who post at this site post materials that would be used for one lesson. More often, however, we post materials that are about the assigned material. Since the material assigned is always much more than one could use in one lesson, our comments and thoughts about that material will be even more than a person could use.

    However, I suggest that you think about teaching as I usually do: Read through the material that piques your interest, making notes as you do. Then choose a few things, perhaps one or two, that seem to you could be the center of a lesson. Finally, create your lesson around those few ideas.

  24. Robert C. said

    Following up on Barb and Linda’s comments, I’d be very interested to hear tips on how to engage sisters. When I teach Sunday school, although I often have several sisters get involved, I consistently have more participation from the brothers, and this is something I’d like to learn how to remedy (at least my belief is that it is something I should work on remedying…).

  25. robf said

    Robert, just a thought…how about keeping a tally on the chalkboard for comments/questions by Men v. Women?

  26. Barb said

    Wow! I love the responses and attention to my questions. It makes me feel more positive in the way I am approaching my calling as a teacher and specifically this lesson! I have actually come to an approach which I feel will work for me. Perhaps others can find it helpful. In general I do approach my lessons as joespencer suggests. The lessons that are taught with the spirit are always the most succesful, particularly when I realize the hour went by with very little attention to what I prepared and yet it stayed on topic. This lesson is so technical however (as you pointed out) that I have just felt really illiterate about the whole thing I suppose. So, I studied and answered the questions you posed, and by the end I came up with a plan.

    I love the quote from Reed Smoot (US Senator) ” I would rather be a deacon in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints than be president of the United States” I think his quote puts the importance of this lesson in perspective.

    Starting with an intro from the manual repeating Olivers words that “Our souls were drawn out in mighty prayer” etc…indicating that John the Baptist answered this humble plea and then indicating that we will learn together the how, why, when and where to this. I plan to pose 7 specific questions (close to yours) to the sisters who will be split into 7 study groups. Give them half the lesson time to come to conclusions together with the help of supplemental materials I will provide (i.e. The Mortal Messiah, Gods Greatest Gift, New Testament Commentary, Encyclopedia of Mormonism,Mormon Doctrine, Lesson Manual, Scriptures)and then use the other half of the time for each group to present their conclusions. Planning to end the lesson focusing on 2 take-aways regarding 1) Legal Administrator= Proper Authority=One True Church and 2) the lesson of Humility as discussed by Pres. Monson on the LDS Living website under this lesson. Thanks so much for your direction!
    Oh, and to RobertC….men respond better to factual questions, women respond better to questions regarding the application of those facts

  27. robf said

    Barb, do you really need to pull in all those “supplemental materials”? Any way to help the class answer the questions directly from the scriptures?

  28. Barb said

    Very good point, I’m thinking on it.

  29. […] Gift of the Holy Ghost” (Joseph Smith Manual)joespencer on Submit a questionBarb on RS/MP Lesson 6: “The Mission of John the Baptist” (Joseph Smith Manual)Ryan on Submit a questionrobf on RS/MP Lesson 6: “The Mission of John the Baptist” […]

  30. Hello. I think you are eactly thinking like Sukrat. I really loved the post.


    Just curious as to where olivers account of the fleeing the mob and the ensuing visit by peter james and john can be found??

  32. joespencer said

    Joseph, I’ll have to dig it up soon. Remind me if I forget (for the moment, I’m staying in a motel waiting for power to be restored to our home!).


    Joe…any luck finding there reference for this even with oliver and joseph??

  34. joespencer said

    That’s funny. Just last night I was thinking about something related to this and suddenly I thought: “My goodness! I was supposed to have been looking up information on that Oliver and Joseph question for someone on the Feast Blog!”

    My apologies, then: I’ve not yet done it. I will begin taking it up tomorrow morning, and then I’ll post what I find here.

  35. joespencer said

    Mssr. Toronto,

    Digging around, I’ve only been able to find one primary source that connects the flight from the mob directly with the appearance of Peter, James, and John. And it can be found in Hyrum Andrus’s compilation They Knew the Prophet. I quote:

    Hyrum L. Andrus and Helen Mae Andrus, comps., They Knew the Prophet, p.14-15
    In a conversation I heard between Joseph and Hyrum Smith, Oliver Cowdery was spoken of. Joseph said, “Poor boy!”
    He then said that at Colesville, New York, in 1829, he and Oliver were under arrest on a charge of deceiving the people. When they were at the justice’s house for trial in the evening, all were waiting for Mr. Reid, Joseph’s lawyer. While waiting, the justice asked Joseph some questions, among which was this: “What was the first miracle Jesus performed?”
    Joseph replied, “He made this world, and what followed we are not told.”
    Mr. Reid came in and said he wanted to speak to his clients in private and that the law allowed him that privilege, he believed. The judge pointed to a door to a room in the back part of the house and told them to step in there. As soon as they got into the room, the lawyer said there was a mob outside in front of the house. “If they get hold of you they will perhaps do you bodily injury; and I think the best way for you to get out of this is to get right out there,” pointing to the window and hoisting it.
    They got into the woods in going a few rods from the house. It was night and they traveled through brush and water and mud, fell over logs, etc., until Oliver was exhausted. Then Joseph helped him along through the mud and water, almost carrying him.
    They traveled all night, and just at the break of day Oliver gave out entirely and exclaimed, “Oh, Lord! Brother Joseph, how long have we got to endure this thing?”
    They sat down on a log to rest, and Joseph said that at that very time Peter, James and John came to them and ordained them to the apostleship.
    They had sixteen or seventeen miles to go to get back to Mr. Hale’s, his father-in-law’s, but Oliver did not complain any more of fatigue.
    (Letter of Addison Everett to Oliver B. Huntington, February 17, 1881, Young Woman’s Journal, II (November, 1890), pp. 76-77.)

    That’s the only primary source that marks a direct connection. The experience has to be fleshed out a bit by reference to a number of other texts and resources to get the whole story. But this makes the direct connection you asked about. Here is a quick bibliographical list of other places to look to make all the connections:

    Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 1:40, 43-44, 97.
    Dean Jessee, Paper of Joseph Smith, 1:231.
    Scott Faulring, An American Prophet’s Record, 3-4.
    George Watt, Journal of Discourses, 10:303, 23:183.
    Richard Bushman, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism, 163, 240-241.
    Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy, 18.
    The Messenger and Advocate, Oct 1834, p. 15.
    D&C 24; 26; 27:8, 12; 128:20

    I hope this helps.


    thanks…Ive been digging around and come on most of those references…My only question is its seems as tho the date in the qoute from andrus says 1829..but we know pretty well it cannot be until 1830..Bushman in rolling stone disucess the court case..2 different cases in 2 days and then fleeing overnight back to harmony..as taking place shortly after the organization of the church…JS and OC returned to colesville a month -2 months afterwards to carry ot several baptisms and immediatley after were served by the constable and hauled away..Im curious your thoughts on the timing…I beleive its commonly excepted that it happenend sometime between june 10th and aug 1830..when the dc27 was given which was the first official mention of the event by the prophet or the lord for that matter….The intriguing thing about it is that the prophet had ordained several men to be elders before the organization of the church and apparently before the restoration of the melquididec priesthood…likewise..neither prophet nor any other man was ordaine a high priest until the summer 1831 at the conference…where the prophet was ordained by lyman wright as a high priest…curious about your thoughts..

  37. joespencer said

    I personally assume that it happened, as you say, between June and August of 1830—though there have been many (rather desperate) arguments made for an 1829 date, precisely for the reasons you mention.

    But then I don’t see any real problem with the Peter, James, and John visit having come after the organization of the Church and the first ordinations to the office of elder. There is no word of revelation assigning the office of elder to the “higher priesthood” in any way until 1832 (D&C 84), and no official assignment of the office to the “Melchizedek Priesthood” until 1835 (D&C 107). Indeed, there seems to have been little concern, in the earliest days of the Church, that the offices be associated with anything like “priesthood.” They were understood, it seems, to be offices simply of the restored Church of Christ. It was only with the 1830-1835 era that the question of priesthood arose.

    The problems begin, I think, not when we raise the possibility that there were redefinitions of the offices and their relationship to the priesthood, but when we raise the possibility that Joseph Smith was lying to us when he said that these events took place. I trust the events happened as and when Joseph describes them as happening, and so I’m not at all concerned that the authority of the priesthood has not been restored; how all the details work out is for us to figure out and enjoy.

    So, the chronology, as I see it:

    – May 1829, Oliver and Joseph are visited by John the Baptist
    – April 1830, The Church is organized with deacons, teachers, priests, and elders
    – July (or so) 1830, Oliver and Joseph are visited by Peter, James, and John
    – June 1831, The first version of the endowment and hence the first ordinations to the high priesthood
    – September 1832, The first revelation describing a lower and a higher priesthood, along with assignments to these two priesthoods of the various offices of the Church, is given
    – March 1835, The first revelation assigning the names of “Aaronic” and “Melchizedek” to the two priesthoods is received
    – April 1836, Further messengers appear to Joseph and Oliver in the Kirtland Temple

    And so on.

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