Wednesday, October 18, 2017

"Prophets Before Adam"

JS' journal, on April 28, 1844, Hyrum Smith preached a sermon I wish I could have heard. Here are JS' notes on the sermon in full:
According to
"My brother Hyrum Smith preached at the stand in the morning, and among other things said the time will shortly come, that when one man makes another an offender for a word, he shall be cut off from the church of Jesus Christ. There were prophets before Adam, and Joseph has the spirit and power of all the Prophets" (emphasis mine).
Frankly, I'm not sure what Hyrum may have been referring to. The closest related aspect of early Mormonism that I can think of is Peter, James, and John's physical interactions with Adam in the Endowment, which suggest they are physical beings, at least according to JS' teachings on discerning spirits and angels (see D&C 129), which he taught both before and after the Nauvoo endowment was administered.

In fact JS, speaking at the organization of the Relief Society in April of 1842, said "that the keys of the kingdom are about to be given to them, that they may be able to detect every thing false," and he repeated this sentiment in May. "I preached in the grove on the keys of the Kingdom, Charity &c The keys are certain signs and words by which false spirits and personages may be detected from true, which cannot be revealed to the Elders till the Temple is completed." When thinking of "certain signs and words" as tools to tell "false spirits and personages" from "true," and when comparing the endowment to D&C 129, which, as I stated earlier, was taught multiple times both before and after the endowment was administered, it should be concluded that JS likely perceived Peter, James, and John as physical beings during their interactions with Adam.

Hyrum's statement about prophets before Adam also could be seen as loosely related to JS' teaching in 1843. According to George Laub, JS taught, "Now the history of Josephus in Speaking of angels came down and took themselves wives of the daughters of men, See Geneses 6 Chapter 1-2, verses. These ware resurrected Bodies, Violated the Celestial laws." Maybe Hyrum's pre-Adam prophets were these "resurrected bodies."

Perhaps JS' alleged belief in reincarnation or Heber C. Kimball's multiple mortal probations could provide more context. What is for sure is that the environment in which things like Kimball's multiple mortal probations and Young's Adam-God theory could flourish existed in Nauvoo, and Hyrum's sermon is one more piece of evidence for it.

To Be Baptised or Not To Be Baptised?

In recent posts I've reviewed some of the 1835 changes in the D&C that demonstrate that baptism, authority and formal church organization were not part of JS' revelations up through early 1829 (see here and here). These observations are largely based on Michael Quinn's Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power. Quinn uses D&C 10:67-68 (May, 1829) to support his claim that baptism was not necessary in Mormonism up through early 1829 (pp. 5-6). The passage reads:
67 Behold, this is my doctrine—whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church.
68 Whosoever declareth more or less than this, the same is not of me, but is against me; therefore he is not of my church.
According to Quinn's reading, baptism would fit into the "more than this" category and was not required. This also aligns with 1835 additions an earlier revelation that add in and backdate the divine mandate for baptism (again, see here).

After reading this, I realized that there is a close relationship between these verses and 3 Nephi 11:
33 And whoso believeth in me, and is baptized, the same shall be saved; and they are they who shall inherit the kingdom of God.
34 And whoso believeth not in me, and is not baptized, shall be damned.
38 And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and be baptized in my name, and become as a little child, or ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.
39 Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and whoso buildeth upon this buildeth upon my rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them.
40 And whoso shall declare more or less than this, and establish it for my doctrine, the same cometh of evil, and is not built upon my rock; but he buildeth upon a sandy foundation, and the gates of hell stand open to receive such when the floods come and the winds beat upon them.
These verses, from this vantage point, look like an expansion of the verses from D&C 10. There is shared terminology and some shared ordering of said terminology (borrowing a couple of Nick Frederick's criteria for evaluating intertextuality), only 3 Nephi 11 adds baptism, perhaps so that it can't be listed in the "more than this" category.

Given that 3 Nephi 11 was translated sometime before May 15th, and the apparent dependence of the passages from 3 Nephi 11 on those in D&C 10, it appears that JS received D&C closely prior to 3 Nephi 11. It's even possible that D&C 10 inspired conversation/discussion/debate the necessity of baptism, which then inspired the text of 3 Nephi 11. What we know for sure is that 3 Nephi is what clarified to JS and Cowdery the need for baptism and authority. Oliver Cowdery informs us that it is the Savior's "directions given to the Nephites" on "the precise manner in which men should build up His Church" were the inspiration for JS' and Cowdery's observation that "none had authority from God to administer the ordinances of the Gospel" and their desire for the "commandment to be given ‘Arise and be baptized.’"

I believe there is a relevant series of events here: D&C 10 received, 3rd Nephi 11 expands and clarifies what is not included in "more than this", authority and baptism become integral to early Mormonism, JS and Cowdery are baptized, and JS adds baptism, authority, and rhetoric about church to the early revelations.

Joseph Smith had "No Other Gift"?

Compare Book of Commandments 4:2 to D&C 5:4 (see Quinn's discussion in Origins of Power, pp. 9-11)
  • The original 1829 text says of Joseph Smith, "he has a gift to translate the book, and I have commanded him that he shall pretend to no other gift, for I will grant him no other gift."
  • The 1835 version was edited to read, "And you have a gift to translate the plates; and this is the first gift that I bestowed upon you, and I have commanded that you should pretend to no other gift until my purpose is fulfilled in this; for I will grant unto you no other gift until it is finished."
  • Quinn points out that the original revelation fit well in the early 1829 setting where no institutional church for Smith to lead was on the horizon, but as things changed, the above edit became necessary to not contradict the later development of Joseph's role as the prophet and leader of a formal church. See this post for corroborating evidence.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Changes to Joseph Smith's Revelations

I'm reading D. Michael Quinn's The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power, which I highly recommend for its clear depiction of the evolution of authority in early Mormonism and especially for its inclusion of many surprising and interesting details. Some of those details consist of changes to JS' revelations, some of which I was aware of and others not.

Just for funsies, I thought I'd document some of the changes to JS' revelations in some detail. Eventually, I'll put all of the changes into one document, but for now I'll just post them as I have time.

BofC = Book of Commandments

D&C = Doctrine and Covenants
Changes in D&C occur in the first 1835 edition unless stated otherwise. Sections and verses are given from the modern edition of D&C.

P. # = page number of discussion in D. Michael Quinn's The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power.

The following changes stem from the fact that in early 1829 and earlier the original revelations reflected a non-institutional group of believers being born of God without the need of baptism or priestly office or authority.
Compare BofC ch. 4 (March 1829) and D&C 5:6, 14, 16, and 17, p. 6.
    • Verse 6 is an addition, which reads, "For hereafter you shall be ordained and go forth and deliver my words unto the children of men." This is significant because the importance of priestly office/authority had not yet been established or developed in March 1829, so this addition attempts to backdate the concept. 
    • Verse 14 adds, "in this the beginning of the rising up and the coming forth of my church out of the wilderness—clear as the moon, and fair as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners." This change is significant, because it wasn't even clear in March 1829 that JS would be starting an institutional church. Instead, as Quinn points out, there was the idea of a non-institutional church, simply those who repented and believed, ideas outlined by a revelation in the summer of 1828 (See D&C 10:40, 46, 52, 56, and 67-68. Also see Origins, pp. 5-6). This change created a narrative supporting an earlier divine appointment of an institutional church.
    • (This is one I found.) After stating that believers would be born of God, verse 16 adds, "even of water and of the Spirit." In march 1829, baptism was not requisite for believers (see 1828 revelation D&C 10:67-68 and Origins, pp. 5-6). The change backdated the concept baptism in baptism.
    • Verse 17 is an addition in the form of instructions, which reads, "And you must wait yet a little while, for ye are not yet ordained." Again, backdating priestly office/authority.
    • (I originally heard this one in a presentation by Dan Vogel.) The D&C omits the following from the original revelation: "And thus, if the people of this generation harden not their hearts, I will work a reformation among them, and ... I will establish my church, like unto the church which was taught by my disciples in the days of old." The 1829 revelation linked the concept of church with a reformation, which was definitely more suggestive the original idea of a non-institutional church than a brand new church born of a restoration.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Roots of the Temple Endowment in 1829

This is a quick and bumpy ride, so if you feel like things aren't quite fitting together, hold on tight and keep reading. The most important point here is the evolution of the ideas about keys, and how early links between Peter, James, and John and keys eventually materialized in the Nauvoo endowment.

In investigating the evolving narrative of the priesthood the restoration I learned that though the names of John the Baptist, and Peter, James, and John in relation to priesthood restoration didn't appear in print until 1835, there were some interesting precursors. One of the significant ones is the 1832 history which talks about the reception of the "holy priesthood" by the ministering of angels, and the reception of the "high priesthood' (no specific angels mentioned) and conferral of the "keys of the kingdom." The 1835 texts specifically link the conferral of the keys of the kingdom with Peter, James, and John, and an 1829 revelation linked Peter, James, and John with the "keys of this ministry," which was ministering unto those who would be heirs of salvation.

 Later in Nauvoo JS describes giving keys to the sisters of the Relief Society. The relevant portion of JS' comments from April 1842 read, "the keys of the kingdom are about to be given to them, that they may be able to detect everything false--as well as to the elders." JS made similar comments a month later. The History of the Church reads, "I preached in the grove on the keys of the Kingdom, Charity &c The keys are certain signs and words by which false spirits and personages may be detected from true, which cannot be revealed to the Elders till the Temple is completed."

For those who know, JS is clearly referencing the Nauvoo endowment, which would be given to a number of saints before JS' death. A more exciting insight, going back to the background I laid out above, is that JS correlates "the keys of the kingdom," a phrase used in both comments, and the ability to "detect false spirits and personages from true" or the ability to "detect everything false." This creates a phrasal link all the way back to 1832 and 1835's "keys of the kingdom," associated with the reception of the high priesthood (1832 and 1835) and a visit from Peter, James, and John (1835 only). This also creates a link between the personages of Peter, James and John and their "keys of this ministry" (1829) or "keys of the kingdom" (1835) and Joseph's Nauvoo endowment. I don't know that JS concieved of these keys in the same way across these time periods (I'm actually kind of certain he didn't, considering the "keys of the kingdom" were first associated with the apostleship, so it seems like the keys get repurposed in Nauvoo), but it's pretty cool to see some roots for the endowment stretching back to 1835, 32, and 29.

Joseph Smith's Kingly Birthright

One possible interpretation of D&C 86:8-10 is that Joseph Smith had the priesthood through birthright (see below for some complications*).
8 Therefore, thus saith the Lord unto you, with whom the priesthood hath continued through the lineage of your fathers--
9 For ye are lawful heirs, according to the flesh, and have been hid from the world with Christ in God--
10 Therefore your life and the priesthood have remained, and must needs remain through you and your lineage until the restoration of all things spoken by the mouths of all the holy prophets since the world began. 
An early hint of JS' beliefs about his lineage come from 2 Ne 3, which teaches that JS is a descendant of Joseph (11th son of Israel), and though the lineage of Ephraim is one of leadership, it's not apparent that there is a lineal priesthood associated with it like there is for the Levites or the sons of Aaron.

However, a Smith family lineal priesthood authority is actually well attested. JS established the position of Patriarch of the church, which originally was something akin to second in command, as a lineal position given to the eldest in a direct line from Joseph Smith Sr. This clear example of a lineal priesthood eventually disappeared when the position of church Patriarch was not filled after Eldred Smith.

The position of Patriarch to the church is only half of the story. D&C 113 states, "What is the rod spoken of in the first verse of the 11th chapter of Isaiah, that should come of the Stem of Jesse? Behold, thus saith the Lord: It is a servant in the hands of Christ, who is partly a descendant of Jesse as well as of Ephraim, or of the house of Joseph, on whom there is laid much power." It is common in Mormon thought to believe these verses apply to Joseph Smith, and that seems to be a correct assumption. The line of Jesse refers to the kingly line of David, and significantly, JS prophesied "the throne and kingdom of David is to be taken from him and given to another by the name of David in the last days, raised up out of his lineage," which apparently referred to one of JS' offspring. He made this clear when he prophesied that his unborn son, David, would be a "church president and king over Israel" (see D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power, p. 644 April–May 1844).

In Mormon theology, a King in the kingdom of Israel is a priesthood position. Notably, JS himself was ordained as a King in this sense in the Council of Fifty, also known in revelation as the "The Kingdom of God and His Laws with the Keys and Power thereof, and Judgment in the Hands of His Servants, Ahman Christ." According to Nauvoo theology the priesthood role of King was the ultimate leader of the Church, and according to contemporary accounts, Hyrum Smith was to fill JS' shoes should he die. All of this together gives a pretty clear answer to the lineal priesthood possibly hinted in D&C 86. The Smith family was a royal family in Israel destined to lead the restoration.

*Notes on D&C 86:
Section 86 generally and these specific verses address a plural audience, an important fact that I missed when I first wrote this.

Looking into the plural aspect of the revelation has already turned up some interesting information, but before I launch into that, I'd just like to point out that the most significant idea of this post, that Joseph Smith believed himself to be of the lineage of Jesse/David and that his unborn son would be the new King David leading the church (and probably the world or something like that), is true whether D&C 86 is referring specifically to Joseph or not. In terms of the plural address in D&C 86, some pertinent information about audience is found in the source document in Revelation Book 2 on the JSP website. A note, original to the document, at the end of the revelation reads:

Kirtland December 6th. A[D] 1932 given by Joseph the seer and writen by Sidney the scribe an[d] Councellor, & Transcribed by Frederick assistent scribe and counceller

Frederick William's transcription occurred sometime in January or February of 1833 according to the JSP source note, which means the only two names specifically tied to this revelation's reception are Joseph and Sidney. Essentially, there is an argument to be made that the plural address of this revelation is specifically to Joseph Smith Jr. and Sidney Rigdon. If true, this could be seen as a follow up to an event earlier in 1832 in which Sidney Rigdon preached that the keys of the kingdom had been taken from the church, after which JS corrected him. This was no small matter apparently, and JS prophecied that Rigdon would be afflicted by Satan. Some weeks later Rigdon was spiritually attacked while laying in bed, and then still later Rigdon was reordained by JS, who was satisfied with Rigdon's repentance. From start to finish, this all apparently happened in July of 1832. Whatever Rigdon's doubts about the keys may have been, would have been nullified by a right to priesthood if they "were lawful heirs according to the flesh."

Though, I don't know of any specific priesthood authority assigned to Rigdon's lineage, I still think this 1832 revelation could be an early indication that there was a lineal priesthood in the Smith family, which would be made explicit and irrefutable later on with the establishment of the lineal position of Patriarch to the Church. 

Looking at JSP website also I came across this interesting 1835 tie-in from D&C 107:

39 It is the duty of the Twelve, in all large branches of the church, to ordain evangelical ministers, as they shall be designated unto them by revelation—
40 The order of this priesthood was confirmed to be handed down from father to son, and rightly belongs to the literal descendants of the chosen seed, to whom the promises were made.

 This ties patriarchal order of priesthood to "literal descendants of the chosen seed," obviously the Smith family if we judge by the office of presiding patriarch.

Anyways, the plural address of D&C 86 definitely muddies the waters. Either way, the lineal priesthood position of presiding patriarch emerges in the Smith family, and the most interesting piece stands independently of D&C 86, which is that Joseph appeared to have believed that his priesthood office of King was tied to a lineage traced back to King David, and that JS' son David would someday fill that role.

The Spiritual Worth of an Ahistorical Book of Mormon

I’ve had many spiritual experiences with the Book of Mormon, but as I studied the book deeply over the past few years I came to the conclusion that it is not a literal history. Many hours of searching, reading, and learning went into this process, and I maintained a relationship with God throughout this time. I won’t be addressing the specific reasons for the transition in this post. Instead, I would like to describe my belief that the Book of Mormon is scripture, despite my conclusion about its claims to historicity

For me, scripture takes principles of spirituality, morality, etc. and encapsulates them in narrative or in various types of revelation (e.g. vision, first person word of God). As countless students of the Book of Mormon can attest and as Joseph Smith claimed, the book does a fantastic job of describing how one can seek and achieve a relationship with God. The traditional view is that it does this well because it contains the writings of literal ancient Nephite prophets, and this view is in line with Joseph Smith’s testimony and the book’s text. However, some readers, like myself, have come to the conclusion that the book is not historical, yet still hold to the spiritual principles espoused therein. As those principles still bring me closer to God, the book functions as scripture for me even though I have broken from the traditional view.

The following are a few examples of spiritual truths I find communicated clearly by the Book of Mormon:

·       Depend on God/Christ for inner strength in changing yourself and overcoming problems of all kinds.
·       Seek revelation through study, prayer, and pondering.
·       Be courageous in the face of opposition.
·       Choose the right. :)

These principles are not dependent on historicity. For example, I can have spiritual experiences following the principles outlined by Nephi’s example and exhortations whether he was an actual person or not, and I do.

Having experienced a worldview-rending faith transition, I came out on the other side with a more flexible faith. I had to deliteralize my beliefs in many areas in order to make sense of everything I had learned, and one of the results was the paradox of accepting a book as scripture despite not believing its claims to historicity.

Joseph Smith and Multiple Mortal Probations

What follows is a thesis on the controversial doctrine from the 19th century referred to as multiple mortal probations, which fell out of favor along with Adam-God. This thesis explains a bunch of odd data points and suggests a straightforward explanation for the origin of Adam-God. The sources are quoted from and the "Multiple Mortal Probations: LDS Related Quotes" document found at

In the Nauvoo period, Joseph Smith began believed in and secretly taught something akin to reincarnation. Michael Quinn documented it as follows:
"By the time of his death in 1844, Joseph Smith had also reversed his prior rejection of the Cabala's doctrine of "transmigration of the souls."  Two of the women Smith secretly married as plural wives in the 1840s said that he privately affirmed reincarnation. Apostle Lorenzo Snow said that "his sister, the late Eliza R. Snow Smith, was a firm believer in the principle of reincarnation and that she claimed to have received it from Joseph the Prophet, her husband." Prescendia Huntington Buell (later Kimball) also affirmed her belief in "plural probations," referring to a statement "in confirmation" by her polyandrous husband Joseph Smiths. In the 1840s their polygamous relationship to the Mormon prophet was as secret as his conversion to reincarnation."
These secret teachings coincided with teachings by Joseph that either explicity stated or implied that previously resurrected beings, essentially from a prior earth, could interact with mortals on this earth. Perhaps the clearest example of this is a statement recorded by Nauvoo saint, George Laub. He wrote that Joseph stated, "Now the history of Josephus in Speaking of angels came down and took themselves wives of the daughters of men, See Geneses 6 Chapter 1-2, verses. These ware resurrected Bodies, Violated the Celestial laws."

More significantly, JS' King Follett Sermon suggests that, after the resurrection, each heir to Godhood will eventually serve as a Christ in a mortal probation. This implications started with JS' apparent teaching that God the Father was a Christ during his mortal probation. This is a straight forward interpretation of the standard collated version of the sermon most often circulated, but it's made even clearer by George Laub journal summary. He wrote, "...Jesus Christ spoke in this manner; I do as my Father before me did. Well what did the Father do? Why he went and took a body and went to redeem a world in the flesh and had power to lay down his life and to take it up again."

Another George Laub journal entry on JS' Sermon In the Grove seems to confirm that this is how Laub understood it. He recorded, "But the holy ghost is yet a Spiritual body and waiting to take to himself a body as the Savior did or as god did or the gods before them took bodies for the Saviour Says the work that my father did do i also & those are the works he took himself a body & then laid down his life that he might take it up again." However, Laub didn't only understand that the Holy Ghost would serve as a Christ (more on that later), but he also implied that JS' King Follet Sermon taught that all who achieved Godhood would pass through the same. Laub wrote, "For we are to go from glory to glory and as one is raised to a higher, so the next under him may take his degree and so to take the exaltation through the regular channel. When we get to where Jesus is, he will be just as far ahead of us again in exaltation." The standard version of the sermon can be easily interpreted in this fashion. Here is the relevant portion:
"...they shall be heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ. What is it? to inherit the same glory, the same power and the same exaltation, until you ascend the throne of eternal power the same as those who are gone before. What did Jesus do? why I do the things I saw my Father do when worlds came rolling into existence. I saw my Father work out his kingdom with fear and trembling, and I must do the same; and when I get my kingdom I shall present it to my Father, so that he obtains kingdom upon kingdom, and it will exalt his glory, so that Jesus treads in his tracks to inherit what God did before; it is plain beyond disputation, and you thus learn some of the first principles of the gospel, about which so much hath been said. When you climb a ladder, you must begin at the bottom and go on until you learn the last principle; it will be a great while before you have learned the last. It is not all to be comprehended in this world; it is a great thing to learn salvation beyond the grave."
Apparently, Laub wasn't the only who understood the King Follett Sermon this way. In January of 1846, just over a year and a half after the death of JS, Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball ordained each other to act as a savior. They also vicariously ordained Joseph and Hyrum to do the same. Following is the summary of the January 1846 Nauvoo Temple Record from the Multiple Mortal Probations document:
"Brigham Young laid hands on Heber C. Kimball and "Ordained him to the Godhead, and that he would act as the Savior to a world or worlds." This was part of a long prayer. Promised wives, seed without number, be full partaker with Abraham, Isaac., and Jacob. The Godhead was a different blessing from Godhood. (Some received only Godhood.) Heber C. Kimball then did the same to Brigham Young, i.e., ordained him to The Godhead. They in turn did it by proxy for Joseph and Hyrum Smith. Other saints (W.W. Phelps) were blessed to act in Trinities (or Presidencies of worlds)."
Given George Laub's explicit summary of the King Follett sermon and the short time between JS' death and these ordinations performed in the Nauvoo period, it seems very likely that the doctrine underlying the ordinations originated with JS. This teaching was perhaps even canonized as, "This is eternal lives—to know the only wise and true God, and Jesus Christ, whom he hath sent. I am he. Receive ye, therefore, my law" (D&C 132:24, see vs. 22-25). However, the teaching was probably only explicitly taught to a select few. For example, in 1860, Orson Pratt wrote, "I heard brother Young say that Jesus had a body offlesh and bones, before he came (to earth and) he was born of the Virgin Mary, it was so contrary to every revelation given." Orson Pratt apparently wasn't in on it or hadn't understood it as others had.

JS also gave more info about this path to exaltation, which is that the Holy Ghost, the third member in the Godhead, was going to serve as a Christ. Besides the Laub's record of JS' comment on the Holy Ghost in his summary of the Sermon on the Grove, there is an additional JS comment recorded by Franklin D. Richards in August, 1843, not that long before the King Follett Sermon. Richards wrote, "Joseph also said that the Holy Ghost is now in a state of Probation which if he should perform in righteousness he may pass through the same or a similar course of things that the Son has."
From the above we can imply that JS believed that all Gods had served as Christs, that all heirs of the Celestial kingdom would serve as Christs as part of their progression from exaltation to exaltation, and that the Holy Ghost would also serve as a Christ. Here is where my thesis becomes a bit more speculative. It's my guess that JS believed that heirs of the Celestial Kingdom would not only serve as Christs, but first they would serve as Holy Ghosts. As is common knowledge, the trio of beings who participate in the creation in the temple are Michael, Jehovah, and Elohim, and these possibly represent JS' conception of the Godhead. JS taught many times that Michael stood next to Christ in authority, and he also taught that Elohim was the head of the Gods (i.e. The Father). With this possible equivalency between Micheal and the Holy Ghost in mind and JS' probable belief that all were to serve as Holy Ghosts prior to being Christs, JS likely believed the Nauvoo endowment was a representation of one stage of what each heir of the celestial kingdom was to pass through in their climb up the ladder of exaltation. Adam-God can then be seen as based on JS' teachings and the endowment, with a simple fundamental misunderstanding on the identity of Micheal in the Godhead. Considering the modern Mormon understanding of the titles Jehovah and Elohim didn't develop until long after Brigham Young, it is understandable that he could have developed his own interpretation of Micheal, Jehovah and Elohim. In fact, he attributed his identification of Michael as God the Father to JS' commentary on Daniel and JS' equivalence of Adam, Michael, and the Ancient of Days. The apparent supremacy in Daniel of the Ancient of Days to the "one like unto the Son of Man," who JS interpreted as Christ, makes Brigham's Adam-God doctrine even more understandable.

Some additional evidence:
  • D&C 132:22-25, which dates from the Nauvoo period, can easily be interpreted as some form of reincarnation or multiple mortal probations: "For strait is the gate, and narrow the way that leadeth unto the exaltation and continuation of the lives, and few there be that find it, because ye receive me not in the world neither do ye know. But if ye receive me in the world, then shall ye know me, and shall receive your exaltation; that where I am ye shall be also. This is eternal lives—to know the only wise and true God, and Jesus Christ, whom he hath sent. I am he. Receive ye, therefore, my law. Broad is the gate, and wide the way that leadeth to the deaths; and many there are that go in thereat, because they receive me not, neither do they abide in my law." 
  • There are also very strong implications in the endowment (Peter, James, and John who physically interact with Adam) that resurrected or otherwise physical beings can shed their physical forms somehow and experience a mortal probation. This implication is emphasized by JS' teachings on identifying angels vs. evil spirits (found in D&C), which he taught on multiple occasions, maybe 5 or 6 times, before and after the Nauvoo endowment had been administered. This idea lines up nicely with JS' late teaching that the Sons of God who married the daughters of men in Genesis were resurrected beings who violated celestial laws, and, of course, it all lines up with JS' teachings about exaltation to exaltation in his comments about the Holy Ghost and God the Father in the King Follett Sermon, Sermon on the Grove, and other Nauvoo era comments.
  • Michael Quinn documents an influential relationship between JS and Alexander Neibaur, who was a convert from Jewish Cabala and who related reincarnation-like Cabala sourced ideas in a couple of Times and Seasons articles during the Nauvoo era.
  • An interesting account by Joseph Lee Robinson: "We also heard him (Joseph) say that God had revealed unto him that any man who ever committed adultery in either of his probations that that man could never be raised to the highest exaltation in the celestial glory and that he (Joseph) felt anxious with regard to himself and he inquired of the Lord and the Lord told him that he, Joseph, had never committed adultery (D&C 132:41). This saying of the Prophet astonished me very much. It opened up to me a very wide field of reflection. The idea that we had passed through probations prior to this and that we must have been married and given in marriage in those probations or there would be no propriety in making such an assertion and that there were several exaltations in the servants to the Gods. Be this as it may, this is what he said." (Journal of Joseph Lee Robinson,, pp. 40-41) Some people have argued that JS's phrase, "either probation," could refer to our mortal probation and preexistence (1st and 2nd estates), and frankly, this seems like a plausible understanding of the quote, which in that scenario it at least infers that spirits were married in the preexistence. However, obviously Robinson understood Joseph as referring to some version of multiple mortal probations, which makes us wonder if there was more than what Robinson reported or if he was piecing together other things he'd heard Joseph say. No matter, he understood JS to mean multiple mortal probations. The date of the quote is more or less appropriate for MMP also, being the fall of 1841.
  • Heber C. Kimball, who taught some version of multiple mortal probations at various times, claimed that JS, in the Nauvoo period, had declared Kimball's multiple mortal probation doctrine as true: "I frequently talk about the clay in the hands of the potter. The Lord said to Jeremiah, "I will show you a thing that I cannot tell you. Go down to the potter's house, and I will be there, but you shall not see me; and I will make that potter mar a vessel." Jeremiah went down to the potter's house, and the Lord showed him the very thing he had promised; for the potter undertook to make a vessel, and the clay marred in his hands, and he cut it off the wheel and threw it into the mill; "and now," says he, "take it out again and shape it into a ball, and turn it into a vessel of honour." He did that very thing, though it is not written. The Scriptures say that out of the same lump he made a vessel first unto dishonour, and then unto honour. I USED TO PREACH UPON THAT IN NAUVOO, AND JOSEPH SAID IT WAS THE TRUE INTERPRETATION. Now, Jeremiah was a man like brother Brigham, brother Heber, Amasa, and thousands of the servants of God that were valiant. There are thousands here that have never seen a potter's house. But if I was in one, I could take a lump of clay and show you; and perhaps, being out of practice, it would mar in my hands: then I would throw it back into the mill and grind it, and afterwards I would take it up again and make a vessel unto honour. And thus the Lord said to Jeremiah, "As you see that clay mar in the hands of the potter, so shall it be with the house of Israel. They shall go and be in prison till I bring them out and make them vessels unto honour." That is to be done in the latter days, when the Lord is to say to the dry bones, "Come forth," and so on. Go and read the Bible, and you will learn about it. It will be just so with thousands and tens of thousands who will embrace "Mormonism:" they will go back into the mill again, through disobedience." (Heber C. Kimball, JOURNAL OF DISCOURSES, 5:271f)

Non-Literal Gold Plates

Following is a list of evidence from the historical record that suggests there was likely something non-literal about the gold plates.
  • The eight witnesses are always used as a proof that the plates were literally what Joseph described, but Stephen Burnett wrote that Martin Harris, speaking of the eight witnesses and the plates, stated, " the eight witnesses never saw them & hesitated to sign that instrument for that reason, but were persuaded to do it." Warren Parrish's also heard Harris speak. He described part of Harris explanation, "Martin Harris, one of the subscribing witnesses, has come out at last, and says he never saw the plates, from which the book purports to have been translated, except in vision; and he further says that any man who says he has seen them in any other way is a liar, Joseph not excepted." Later Martin Harris said he regretting saying these things, but only did it because it had been "picked out of him." In other words, he regretted letting the cat out of the bag, but it was true. While these are disaffected sources, they, at the very least, represent one vein of serious thought about the eight witnesses that originated within early Mormonism.
  • Lucy Mack Smith says that JS first gave the plates to an "ancient Nephite," who then brought the plates for the 8 to view who were gathered in the family's favorite secluded prayer spot in the nearby woods. An ancient Nephite (aka resurrected being or otherwise preserved) adds a heavy spiritual element absent from their witness statement. 
  • John Whitmer, on of the 8 witnesses, at one point said "the plates were shown to me by a supernatural power," though at another time he described the viewing rather mundanely.
  • The plates behaved strangely. They alluded JS' earliest attempts to remove them. 
  • The plates weren't allowed to be commonly viewed. Contrast that with the Egyptian scrolls, which were put on display with JS pointing out the original writing by Abraham and Moses to visitors. The other artifacts with the plates were also under a strict no viewing policy, including the breastplate and interpreter stones. Strangely the plates and the Interpreters were handled under a cloth by various individuals. The can-touch but can't-view approach should be a red flag. Again, contrast all of this with the Egyptian artifacts which were all put in display, including scrolls and mummies. The inconsistency is odd. 
  • Josiah Stowell sees the corner of the plates accidentally as they are passed in through the window and says it looked like a "stone of greenish caste." This statement by Stowell should raise an eyebrow since the witnesses consistently described the plates as pure gold. 
  • A verse from D&C, 17:5, suggests that even Joseph had to be enabled by the power of God to see the plates: "And ye shall testify that you have seen them, even as my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., has seen them; for it is by my power that he has seen them, and it is because he had faith."
  • Accounts of the translation process most often have the plates either covered or missing from the scene entirely, with JS using his seer stone to access the translation.
The above opens up the possibility that those who saw the plates as an ancient artifact of pure gold, only did so in vision.