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RS/MP Lesson 47: “‘Praise to the Man’: Latter-day Prophets Bear Witness of the Prophet Joseph Smith” (Joseph Smith Manual)

Posted by joespencer on November 21, 2009

The last lesson in the manual, particularly because it records the words of everyone but Joseph Smith, more or less speaks for itself. It is worth saying, though, that it functions as a kind of compendium of all the major “uses” to which we put Joseph Smith as Latter-day Saints, from “Joseph the foreordained” (section one of the “Testimonies” half of the lesson) through “the Joseph Smith of the First Vision” (section two) and “Joseph Smith the structurally incapable of having done what he did” (section three) and “Joseph the prophetically unique” (section four) to “Joseph Smith as a global figure of importance” (section five). Because I’m not particularly keen on finishing off this whole series of lesson notes (two years!) with a critical reflection on our own reception of Joseph Smith, I’ll end instead with my own testimony, for whatever it’s worth.

Joseph Smith fascinates and bewilders me. I find his writings and his teachings infinitely fascinating, immensely instructive, and theologically rich. I love his life, and especially his own, always-changing interpretation of his own experiences. I am enthralled by the translations and revelations he left us—even the non-canonical works like the (original manuscripts of the) New Translation, etc. I am particularly moved by his expansive “Nauvoo theology,” by its implicit and explicit angelology, doctrine of keys, notion of deification, way of conceiving of the divine council, implications in terms of the unique role of Adam, and so on. I feel a kinship with Joseph in terms of his love of learning, his bewitchment by ancient languages, his willingness to venture into the unexplored. And I find myself wishing that I could have walked with him and Zion’s Camp to Missouri, that I could have strolled through New York City with him during his first visit there, that I could have sat in the crowds in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., after he had escaped from prison, that I could have listened to him preach in the Kirtland Temple, that I could have pulled sticks with him in Nauvoo, that I could have sat at table with him in Zion, that I could have wept with him over the difficulties polygamy introduced into the otherwise happy climate of Nauvoo, that I could have laid by his side in prison, and so on and so on.

I love Joseph Smith. And I love what he’s left us. I believe without reserve that he held and holds the keys of the last dispensation, that his teachings were and are true, that the scriptures he left us should be our bread and our butter every day. I hope and give myself to the hope that his visions and revelations and teachings will yet revolutionized the whole world as he hoped they would. And I want, in whatever charity God grants me, to see absolutely everyone have a chance to learn of Joseph’s works and teachings, of the keys and revelations he received.

The work, I believe, is true.

17 Responses to “RS/MP Lesson 47: “‘Praise to the Man’: Latter-day Prophets Bear Witness of the Prophet Joseph Smith” (Joseph Smith Manual)”

  1. RobF said

    Amen and Amen!

  2. chelsea said

    THANKYOU! I am teaching this lesson in RS on Sunday. I’m not an experienced teacher, and I don’t think this lesson is meant for beginners. At least I’ve been having a tough time with it. I wasn’t sure what to focus on.
    Now I am.
    I have a strong testimony of Joseph Smith – that he was an instrument in God’s hands in restoring this church in our day. This is what I’ll share with the women in my ward. And I’ll encourage them to share their testimonies. We can read and discuss the testimonies the subsequent prophets bore.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts! You are a very eloquent writer.

  3. […] reception of Joseph Smith, I’ll end instead with my own testimony, for whatever it’s worth. Read the rest of this entry » at feastuponthewordblog.org Leave a Comment No Comments Yet so far Leave a comment RSS feed […]

  4. Jenn said

    Joe–You have inspired me for 2 years on learning the words of Joseph Smith. I appreciate your advice and wisdom immensely. You were even so kind as to send your lessons on the Bible. The last lesson I taught was Lesson 45–the harshest of all his teachings. After studying the lesson and investigating your interpretations, and validating every word you said, I was reprimanded by the first counselor in my Relief Society, under the direction of the President. Saying that my interpretation, which was essentially Joseph’s words, was too harsh–Joe–I basically read the entire last 2 pages. That next time, I am NOT to teach, but to strictly read the lesson word for word. I am having a very difficult time with this. To me teaching, is teaching, not simply reading—taking meaning from phrases, words, and interpreting them for application. Now, I’m being told I can no longer teach specifics. I am only to read the lesson, word for word–no elaboration. If this happened to you, how would you respond? I don’t know what direction to take at this point. Now, my next lesson is on Lesson 47–next Sunday–and I have feelings of resentment. I’m tempted to download the audio version of the lesson, put pictures to it and put the DVD in for all to see, bear my testimony and be done. The entire length of the audio is approximately 30 minutes. OR option 2–teach particular parts, then bear testimonies. I need your advice one final time. Thanks again!

    • joespencer said

      Hey Jenn,

      I’ll see if this comment works—Wordpress is giving me trouble this morning.

      I’ve experienced this same sort of thing in various manifestations, only one of them being a limit from above on what I was allowed to teach (and that limit lasted only a couple of weeks). Much more frequently, it has been a question of leaders expressing their concern that, while they have no problem with what was taught, they are concerned that others will. Most often, it is expressed something like this: “I don’t worry about the most mature and experienced members of the ward, but I worry about the youth or weaker members being affected negatively.” The irony, I’ve found, is that it usually turns out that the youth and “weaker” members are the most inspired or encouraged by it.

      I think there is a natural tendency on the part of leaders to be concerned that anything more than slight nudges might affect anyone not completely “solid” in the gospel. Unfortunately, this tendency too often slides into a kind of self-congratulation: there’s no need to worry about me, but there is good reason to worry about them.

      I both understand this and feel very nervous about it. But regardless of why it’s there, I think it is important to recognize that the attitude exists and isn’t likely to go away. It must be accepted, I think, as a fact, and as one of the conditions under which we teach in the church. Hence, I think I have two pieces of advice for you, one reparative, the other preventative.

      Reparative: It might be worth talking to a few sisters in the relief society to see if any of them was particularly struck by this lesson, to see if it has had any particularly positive effects. If so, you might ask one or two sisters to say something to the relief society president. I would be careful not to have them say anything about your being “restricted” in your teaching, nor about letting you teach your normal way. I would invite them just to let the relief society president know that they are really glad you were called and that that particular lesson did a lot of good for them. To get an outside word about the productivity of the kind of thing you taught might get the president thinking, wondering about the wisdom of her decision. This would be greatly reinforced if you do whatever she asks, and in the most productive way possible. If she sees that you aren’t trying to rock the boat, and she hears good things from the sisters about what she understood to be your rocking of the boat, she might begin to question her previous interpretation of the situation.

      The bottom line: encourage trust. When it comes to teaching in the church, we have to have trust from our leaders above all else. Do whatever you can to restore trust, making it clear that you are more concerned to further the work as the relief society president sees it than to be right. It is better to be one than to be right. (For this reason, I would suggest waiting on talking to the bishop about things. That sort of thing usually tends to create sides of a debate, rather than to encourage trust. Be honest and be on the same side.)

      Preventative: In the future, I think there is much that you can do to prevent such distrust occurring. My wife and I are relatively new to our ward in Provo (we moved into it in late August). Because I’ve taught seminary, I rather quickly get singled out to do things like speak at youth firesides and the like, and so I was asked to give the youth fireside at the end of November. Though I’ve very much come to like the bishop in our few months here, I didn’t know how he might respond to my kind of teaching, and the fireside was to be at his house. The topic given was “giving,” and I thought I would discuss Moroni 7:6-10, taking up the question of the impossibility of the gift in the fallen world. The topic was heavily philosophical, and it depended heavily on a rather unorthodox reading of the passage. I had to decide how to get that work done without jeopardizing the bishop’s trust.

      So here’s what I did: We read the passage (“Wherefore, if a man being evil giveth a gift, he doeth it grudgingly”), and I pointed out that punctuation was not included in the translation—that we could punctuate the passage however we wanted. I had the kids then turn to 3 Nephi 14, where a similar phrasing appears but with commas before and after “being evil” (“if ye, being evil, know how to give good gifts,” etc.). I then asked the group what difference it would make if we inserted similar commas into the passage in Moroni 7. I was driving at an interpretation that would not usually fly with LDS crowds, but I wanted them to come to it on their own.

      I could not have been more pleased with the result. After a few moments of silence, the bishop said: “With the commas, it would seem that Mormon is saying that all human beings are evil and, so, cannot give good gifts.” That was what I had come to, but I didn’t want to assert it on my own. The bishop gave it, and so I ran with it: “Let’s play around with that possibility for a bit, though we ought to recognize that there are other, perhaps ultimately more correct ways of reading it.” From there we were able to talk about the relationship between the fall and grace, etc.

      I was still, nonetheless, a bit nervous about the bishop’s thoughts on it all. At the end of the fireside, though, he gave a little spiel to the youth about how this is the way they ought to study, looking at every word and even every punctuation mark. I was quite relieved.

      The moral of the story, I think, is that we can drive trust by allowing our students to come up with the most radical, the harshest, the most unorthodox readings. We present the text as it is; we provide some details of background or context; we emphasize this or that word; we point out important details of punctuation or grammar; and then we ask the students to interpret the text, given all those helpful details. And, if they are reading carefully, and if we ask our questions carefully, I think they will do all the hard, “dangerous” work for us.

      The next step, of course, is always to be tentative, even when the students bring out the really productive answers: “That is an interesting reading. If we play around a bit with that idea, what does it imply?” It is hard to lose trust when we take this kind of a route, and yet the very same ideas are expressed, heard, and hopefully taken seriously by our students.

      Anyway, this has turned into something of a sermon. And it’s made me think I ought to put up a whole post on this next week sometime. But again, the bottom line: trust is everything in teaching in the Church. If we lose trust, we cannot do a whole lot of good, because we won’t be given the opportunity to teach. If we keep that trust, we will have opportunity after opportunity to teach and so to do good.

      Does this help?

      • Jenn said

        Joe–as always–you are very wise. Thank you so much!! I will take the advice and proceed from there. I would love more teaching tips such as this–because the inquiry method rather than me being the all knowing is better. Also, I do appreciate the advice on trust—we are all on the same side. I would love more teaching tips as well–this helps develop trust as your personal experience showed. You are so right–teaching is 100% trust. I will try some techniques and let you know how things are going. They have never said anything like this to me before–it’s all been wonderful–so I’m not sure if it was the lesson or me–or both. SO, we’ll see how things go. Either way–I am appreciative of this experience because it forced me to learn more about myself that otherwise I wouldn’t have learned. Also, it sure does humble a person. I’ll keep in touch. Thanks again–Joe!

      • joespencer said


        I’m glad this helps. And I will start writing posts again on the how of teaching, and not just the what. Having had so much on my plate in constructing lesson notes for the past two years, I’ve done little of the about teaching kind of thing. But because the lesson notes for the next two years of RS/MP are going to be shared among several people, I should be able to get back to discussions of the how of teaching. I’m glad your question has forced me to return to that.

  5. Karen said

    Here are some (uninspired) thoughts, Jenn.. I know your question wasn’t addressed to me but I read your comment and had some thoughts.

    That’s a hard place to be in. I imagine if it were me, I would of course pray a lot, but probably I would go to the Bishop and explain the situation. If it were me, and I were being told just to read it word for word, I would ask why I even had the calling – why do we need a person to teach, then? I suppose either they trust someone to teach or they don’t… and if they are not trusting you (valid reasons or invalid reasons) then they ought to teach you how to teach, not just tell you “don’t teach, just read.” I guess you could go and ask them for more training, that would be a humble road to go and just see what happens. But if you feel like you can’t do what you were called to do, I would definitely talk to them again and be honest or talk to the bishop. Good luck! That is a very tricky spot to be in.

    Also, a lot of good can happen from reading one paragraph and then asking specific questions about that paragraph… Although, it sounds like you said you did “basically read the entire last 2 pages” last time.. so I’m not sure what else they want!

    Perhaps they didn’t read the lesson a head of time. Perhaps they had concerns about certain people reacting poorly, but didn’t tell you about individual concerns but just decided to stop you all together. Hopefully it will blow over soon. Sorry you’re having troubles! Good luck!

    • Jenn said

      Karen–Thank you so much for the advice! I would any that I can get. I think I will have to approach the bishop. It’s funny because sisters take notes, call me and thank me, plan FHE lessons based on what is learned in class–and all I’m teaching is directly from the manual–no other source– and basically what I’ve learned from Joe. I asked if anyone had complained–no one. Not one person—except the President. I respect her position, so that’s where my inner struggle came into play. I had my husband give me a blessing. I love Joseph and I love these lessons. My testimony has grown so much. My admiration of Joseph has increased beyond measure. I love this gospel. Again I appreciate your advice!

  6. Robert C. said

    Jenn, it sounds like the presidency feels that your interpretation was too harsh, and that is the reason they’re asking you to just read. I would think that if you work hard to identify why they have their concern, and you show them that you recognize this concern and are willing to show them that you will do things to address their concern (e.g., by not teaching so harshly), then they would likely let you teach again (under the condition of not being so harsh). Now, if after thoughtful consideration and prayer, you simply feel that you need to stick to your guns, interpreting and teaching “harshly,” then I think other measures would indeed be called for (like Karen says, talking to the bishop about this, or resigning from your calling, or something). However, I think that charity requires that you give it some time and serious thought, to really take seriously the presidency’s concerns. Perhaps they have information about where other sisters are coming from that makes less harsh teaching truly more prudent in this case.

  7. Tami said

    Ugh … yes, the lesson is self-explanatory, but geez! I don’t like whole lessons of nothing but quotes — this is the second one I’ve had! I was hoping you’d cut me more slack and give me a whole lesson outline, Joe. So disappointing :) Ha ha, I am completely kidding of course. Just wanted to thank you for all your help through this manual! I know I will make it through this last lesson :)

  8. RuthS said

    Jen: Since I have been in your situation I would like to offer one more suggestion. Give the Relief Society President what she said she wanted only more so. I have seen this work rather well in many settings. By that I mean. Take the text with you to the lectern and lay it open I front of you. Then beginning at some specified place in the room begin by asking a specific person to read the first paragraph and then have each person after her read a paragraph until you reach the end of the lesson. When you reach the end of the lesson ask the suggested questions and take one or two answers depending on how much time you have. This will leave no room for complaint as there will be no outside materials in use.

    Joe: I have a couple of questions about the example you give under earning trust. They are a bit off the subject so I hope you won’t mind. After the discussion on what would happen to the meaning if the Moroni passage were punctuated like the 3 Nephi passage did you ask why and how they ended up being punctuated differently? Did you compare the context of the two passages independent of each other? Did you ask how punctuating the 3 Nephi passage the same way as the Moroni passage might impact its meaning?

    It seems to me that without playing with other possibilities the youth will not have learned how to interpret the scriptures on their own. They will believe that proof texting is interpreting when it is not.

    • joespencer said


      No worries about being off the subject. :)

      I did some of what you mention, but not all: we addressed your first and second questions, but not the third (because we were drawing on the strength of the Third Nephi text in order to shake up the Moroni text, not doing extensive comparative work).

      I entirely agree with your point about ensuring that the youth don’t learn to believe that proof texting is interpreting. Indeed, I could not agree more. I wasn’t particularly concerned about that happening in this circumstance, though, because we were using the Third Nephi text not to tell how the text ought to be read, but to shake up the automatic interpretation to see what other possibilities might be at work in the text. We took the several possibilities introduced by various punctuations of the text and asked questions about which would make the most sense of the passage on its own terms. Because, of course, the mere proliferation of possibilities isn’t interpretation either; it is only the first step, the initial shaking up that opens the way to speculative work (where “speculative” is used in the positive sense).

      Hmmm. Re-reading that, I wonder how clear I’ve been. Make sense?

  9. […] commentary on each chapter studied in Priesthood quorum and Relief Society. They recently wrote their testimony of Joseph Smith, of which I can relate. I here share it: Joseph Smith fascinates and bewilders me. I find his […]

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