Joseph Smith was the first prophet and President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As a young teenager, he was visited by God and Jesus Christ. He dedicated the rest of his life to the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, and his legacy continues to influence the world for good.
Joseph Smith was born into a large Christian family in 1805. As a teenager, he wanted to know which of many competing churches to join. While studying the Bible, Joseph read a passage of scripture encouraging him to “ask of God” (James 1:5). He prayed and received a miraculous answer: God the Father and Jesus Christ appeared and taught him that none of the churches contained the full gospel.
From that time forward, Joseph dedicated his life to restoring the true gospel of Jesus Christ. Joseph received many revelations from the Lord that clarified eternal principles, such as the importance of baptism and temple covenants. He translated an ancient record, now canonized as scripture, called the Book of Mormon. The Lord also sent Apostles Peter, James, and John to restore the priesthood—the power and authority to act in the name of God.
All these steps were necessary for the official organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in April 1830. Joseph was called as the first in a line of prophets who continue to receive revelation from God for all His children. He served as prophet until his death at the hands of a mob in 1844.
More About the Prophet Joseph Smith
In the mid-1800s, Boston mayor and nationally known writer and publicist Josiah Quincy wrote: “At some future time the question may be asked, What great American has done more to mold the minds and destiny of his countrymen than any other man upon this continent? Absurd as it may seem to some, it is not improbable that the answer to this question will be, Joseph Smith, the Mormon prophet!”
Because his family could not afford the luxury of public education, Joseph received only three years of formal schooling. Along with his brothers and sisters, he was educated mainly at home from the family Bible.
Joseph’s friend Parley Pratt described him as being over 6 feet (183 centimeters) tall, “well built, strong and active; of a light complexion, light hair, blue eyes [and] very little beard.” With a “naturally cheery” disposition, Joseph enjoyed playing with children or wrestling and “pulling sticks” in contests of strength. One Latter-day Saint who visited Joseph in Kirtland, Ohio, wrote: “He didn’t appear exactly as I expected to see a Prophet of God. However … I found him to be a friendly, cheerful, pleasant, agreeable man. I could not help liking him.”
Joseph Smith married Emma Hale on 18 January 1827. During their 17-year marriage, they were parents to 11 children, two of whom were adopted.
The First Vision
Confused about religion during a time of revival in the state of New York where he lived in 1820, 14-year-old Joseph read a passage in the New Testament and went to the woods to pray. Joseph records that God and Jesus Christ appeared to him. “I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head,” he wrote, “above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me.”
Within that light, he saw two personages — one of whom spoke Joseph’s name, pointed to the other, and said, “This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!” Church members refer to this experience as the “First Vision.” It forever changed Joseph Smith and has become a central tenet of Latter-day Saint belief. It began the work of restoring the Church of Jesus Christ to the earth.
The Book of Mormon and The Church of Jesus Christ
Joseph Smith is perhaps best known for his translation of the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ believe that Joseph was led to a hill near Palmyra, New York, where he received an ancient record from an angel known as Moroni. The record, engraved on gold plates, gave the history of a people who lived on the American continent during the time of Christ. Joseph translated the plates in about 3 months, and the Book of Mormon was first published in New York in 1830.
In the years he led the new Church, Joseph organized an international missionary program and founded what is today one of the largest women’s organizations in the world. He oversaw the building of three cities and directed the construction of two temples — all the while facing intense persecution from local mobs, who eventually drove Church members from all three cities Joseph settled.
Candidacy for President of the United States
Because the Saints’ religious and civil rights as American citizens had been denied them despite numerous and repeated appeals to the federal government, Church leaders announced Joseph Smith’s candidacy for President of the United States in January 1844. By May, Joseph had been officially nominated by a Nauvoo, Illinois, convention. His political platform called for government intervention on behalf of religious and civil rights in the face of persecution. Ironically, Joseph and his brother were killed by a mob in June of that same year, cutting short Joseph’s run for political office.
His political platform called for government intervention on behalf of religious and civil rights in the face of persecution. Ironically, Joseph and his brother were killed by a mob in June of that same year, cutting short Joseph’s run for political office.
Joseph and his older brother Hyrum were shot to death on 27 June 1844 by a mob of 150 to 200 men. They had been imprisoned in an Illinois jail on false charges of riot and treason after surrendering themselves to the law. Joseph was 38; Hyrum was 44. On 28 June, the bodies of Joseph and Hyrum were prepared and laid out for the estimated 10,000 mourners to view, and on the following day were buried secretly to avoid further attacks or desecration by mobs.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints today numbers more than 14 million. Latter-day Saints revere Joseph Smith as a prophet, just as they revere biblical prophets such as Moses and Isaiah. (For more details see the Church Newsroom)