Three Irrefutable Reasons
Why Joseph Smith Was a Fraud
By Nathan Jones
What is the goal of a Christian cult? Cults expert James Bjornstad identified the goal as: “The goal of religious counterfeits is deception, presenting a likeness to the original while at the same time maintaining differences.”1 He added that these religious counterfeiters claim to be genuine Christians while at the same time repurposing yet redefining biblical doctrines involving God, Jesus, and salvation. In doing so, they take “great pains to mimic every detail in copying… doing everything possible to reduce the chances of detection and increase the chances of acceptance.”2
One of the most notorious and successful of these religious counterfeiters was Joseph Smith Jr. (1805-1844), founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS), better known as the Mormons. With nearly eight million followers today, the LDS Church continues to grow at an exponential rate, even some 180 years after Smith’s death.
But, the cult of Mormonism stands precariously like a house of cards, easily collapsed by three simple arguments. These three arguments will be examined in the light of equipping Christians to help rescue the lost Mormon from their cultic beliefs and eventual eternal death in Hell.
Reason 1: The Character of Joseph Smith
The LDS Church made the following admission based on their founder’s own personal testimony of being a divinely appointed prophet of God:
By nearly three million persons in many lands, Joseph Smith is today held in remembrance as a Prophet of God. The virtues and achievements of his followers stand as a monument to his divine calling. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has its foundation in the revelations he received, the sacred truths he taught, and the authority of the priesthood restored through him.3
Within this foundational LDS statement lies what cults expert Robert A. Morey calls Mormonism’s “Achilles’ heel,” stating that “the authority of the Mormon priesthood and the validity of their doctrines rest totally on Joseph Smith’s claim to be an inspired prophet of God.”4 It could then be argued that Mormonism either stands as a legitimate expression of Christianity or falls into being labeled as a cult based on Smith’s own claim of being a true prophet of God.
That means then that should Joseph Smith have ever pronounced any prophecy that turned out to be false or never having been fulfilled, he would end up violating Moses’ litmus test for determining whether a message had been truly spoken by the Lord or not. As the Scriptures reveal: “If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him” (Deuteronomy 18:21-22 NKJV).
Since the foundation of all LDS beliefs rests on the prophetic claims made by Mormonism’s founder, then Morey advises that Christians adopt the two-pronged apologetics strategy of listing Smith’s failed prophecies as well as highlighting his highly immoral character, and in doing so, will best sway those seduced by Mormonism into renouncing both Joseph Smith as a false prophet and Mormonism as a false expression of Christianity.5
In other words, remove Joseph Smith from the religious equation and what remains is a total reliance on Jesus Christ alone through faith alone. Mormonism’s own Articles of Faith admits to as much stating, “If his [Smith’s] claims to divine appointment be false, forming as they do the foundation of the Church… the superstructure cannot be stable.”6 The superstructure will now be shown to indeed be very unstable.
Smith’s False Prophecies
Cold Case Christianity author J. Warner Wallace provides just a few of the many failed prophecies made by Joseph Smith proving that he did indeed fail Moses’ test for discerning a true prophet of God.7
1. Joseph Smith made open-dated prophecies, such as when he predicted in 1835 that, “The coming of the Lord, which was nigh — even fifty-six years should wind up the scene” (History of the Church, Vol. 2, 182).
2. He made a number of self-fulfilling prophecies, such as when he claimed the Lord instructed him not to translate any more until he had arrived in Ohio. (D&C 37:1).
3. Smith made conditional prophecies, such as when he stated that if the people of Ohio repented they would not be severely judged by the Lord (D&C 40:16-18).
4. Smith even went as far as to make close-dated, unconditional prophecies, such as when in 1832 he prophesied that a LDS temple would be built in Independence, Missouri within his generation. Almost 200 years later and no Temple has ever been built, especially during Smith’s generation, forcing the LDS leadership to admit this prophecy has never come true. (D&C Section 84).
5. Smith also made a number of fanciful prophecies, such as when in 1837 he proclaimed that the Lord had told him that the moon was inhabited by men and women who looked like the people of earth and that they lived up to a 1,000 years old, stood nearly six feet tall, and dressed uniformly like Quakers.
Smith’s Immoral Character
The second of Morey’s two-pronged strategy for eroding the Mormon foundation rests on describing the many historically documented examples of Joseph Smith’s immoral character. His lifestyle of debauchery proves Smith was the polar opposite of a biblical man who lived in total faith in the Trinitarian God of the Bible and in holiness and obedience to sound biblical doctrine.
Joseph’s Smith’s own testimony demonstrates that the man was a serial liar. He claimed at the ripe age of 15 to have been visited by “two glorious personages surrounded with a brilliant light which eclipsed the sun at noonday,” whom he identified as “the Father and the Son,” and they supposedly taught him to despise Christian creeds and denominations as abominations and to teach that the Bible had been corrupted and in need of restoration.8
Smith some three years later next claimed that an angel named Moroni directed him to find golden plates hidden in a hill called Cumorah near the village of Manchester, New York, along with the Jewish high priest’s Urim and Thummin stones by which he could look through and so translate the plates from ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics into English.9 These plates, ironically enough, “happened” to reside right near his own home.
Once Smith had finished “translating” these golden plates, he then claimed that John the Baptist had appeared to him in order to ordain him into the Aaronic priesthood.10 In listening to and obeying the “serpent who deceived Eve” who was “masquerading as an angel of light,” Smith’s mind had been corrupted, and so he abandoned the simplicity that is in Christ, and having received a different spirit and Gospel, became a “false apostle and deceitful worker” (2 Corinthians 11:3-4,13-14 NKJV).
Once Joseph Smith officially founded Mormonism on April 6, 1830, and began amassing followers who had been disenfranchised with traditional Christianity, Smith as their leader began behaving more like a gang member than a man of God. When anyone spoke out against his false teachings, Smith would strike out with a vengeance. For example, in one historic account, Smith had hired two Mormons to kill a man who was outspoken against his teachings.11
In another historic account, Smith claimed he had a vision from God which told him that “the redemption of Zion must needs come by power,” and so formed an army of 200 men to march on Independence, Missouri, where he was summarily routed, and backtracking, then claimed that God had changed his mind about the attack.12 Smith’s army, called the Danites, was described as “a band of murderers whose vile misdeeds were later written in blood on the blackest pages of the history of Mormonism;” and because of their treasonous actions Missouri Governor Lilburn W. Boggs ordered a General Clark to treat the Mormons as enemies and that they “must be exterminated or driven from the state, if necessary, for the public good” for “their outrages are beyond description.”13 Porter Rockwell, chief of the Danites, was “a powerful man physically, with a mind of narrow perceptions, intense convictions, and utterly depraved motives,” known to “cut throats without compunction,” so much so that records from the time reveal that Rockwell was charged with close to one-hundred cold-blooded murders.14
Smith had also claimed “divine revelation” to justify his acts of polygamy. He amassed his own collection of some 33 known wives, maybe even more, with some as young as 14 years old.15 This lurid behavior led the town of Kirtland, Ohio to tar and feather Joseph Smith and his friend, Sidney Rigdon.16 Smith’s successor, Brigham Young, even went as far as blasphemously claiming, “Jesus Christ was a polygamist, Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus, were his plural wives, and Mary Magdalene was another.”17 Polygamy and pedophilia defined Smith’s behavior towards women and his contempt for God’s moral law.
Wherever Smith and his followers went they sowed discord and violence, even among themselves, eventually being forced out of Ohio, then Missouri, and finally settling in Illinois. Once there, Smith ordered his followers to burn down the Nauvoo Expositor newspaper for publishing the horrors of Mormon rule and practice.18 This act of arson led to Joseph Smith’s arrest. An angry mob stormed the jail where he was being held and shot Smith and his brother Hyrum in a gunfight. For all his supposed divine appointment, Smith died like the criminal that he was on June 27, 1844. And, for all his proclamations of being a divinely appointed prophet of God, Joseph Smith proved to be a lying, thieving, violent, sexually immoral miscreant who clearly did not live a life as the Apostle Paul preached, “worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:10 NKJV).
Reason 2: Witnesses for Joseph Smith
While it is a simple task to prove that Joseph Smith was a false prophet who lacked any godly moral character, if Smith alone had been the only one to have laid eyes on the golden plates, then the combination of these two faults should dissuade any Mormon from continuing to remain in the cult. Alas, Smith proved to be a highly devious individual who was keen enough to claim that three witnesses — Oliver Cowdery, Martin Harris, and David Whitmer — could testify that the plates had indeed existed while Smith kept them out of sight during translation.19 Nobody else could have viewed the plates, for Smith conveniently announced that the angel Moroni had returned to recover the plates and deliver them up to Heaven.
These witnesses own wretched moral character makes their testimony completely dismissible. Both Whitmer and Cowdery were later charged by their fellow Mormons as thieves and counterfeiters, and Harris eventually admitted that he never had really laid eyes on the plates but instead gazed upon them through his “eyes of faith.”20 Once the supposed plates were translated and became the Book of Mormon, later revisions went so far as to declare eight witnesses, even if Smith himself had only claimed three witnesses.
Reason 3: Mormon Scriptures
Joseph Smith claimed that the golden plates the angel Moroni had led him to discover, along with the Urim and Thummin stones used to translate the Egyptian hieroglyphics inscribed on the golden plates, were the very words written by a man named Mormon who was a descendent of a Jewish exilic pilgrim to the New World named Lehi. Mormon supposedly wrote:
“I am Mormon and a pure descendant of Lehi… and behold I am called Mormon, being called after the land of Mormon… behold I am a disciple of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. I have been called of him to declare his word among his people, that they might have everlasting life.21
Smith and his “heavenly helper” Oliver Cowdery, a former school teacher, proceeded to “translate” the Book of Mormon and finally published it in March of 1830. Besides the fact that Smith’s origin story was outrageous in the extreme and the character named Lehi totally unsubstantiated by the Holy Bible, almost immediately after the Book of Mormon had been published charges of plagiarism had been leveled against Smith. He was accused of stealing his ideas from a novel written a few years earlier by a minister named Solomon Spaulding. Though the Spaulding manuscript was eventually recovered in the Library at Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio, and similarities found were insufficient to warrant the charge of plagiarism, cults expert James H. Snowdon studied both documents and notes that Joseph Smith had indeed taken large portions of Spaulding’s novel when concocting the Book of Mormon.22
Not only did Joseph Smith swipe Spaulding’s material in order to write his Book of Mormon, but he also copied verbatim portions of the Authorized Version of the Bible, known as the King James Version, literary style and all. One can find these entirely copied chapters taken from the King James: II Nephi 12 from Isaiah 2, II Nephi 13 from Isaiah 3, II Nephi 14 from Isaiah 4, II Nephi 16 from Isaiah 6, III Nephi 12-14 slightly altered from Matthew 5, and Moroni 10 from I Corinthians 12:1-11. Smith attempted to make his text to sound more biblical by imitating seventeenth-century King James English, even though Mormon supposedly left his message on golden plates hundreds of years before the King James translation had ever been commissioned.
Smith also added modern-day references to technologies that just did not exist in biblical times, such as the steel Laban used to make a sword (I Nephi 4:9) and a compass (Acts 28:13). Such a blatant forgery has led theologian Robert F. Boyd to conclude: “The Book of Mormon has utterly failed to make any valuable contribution to the cause of the true religion. It is difficult to escape the conclusion that the book is a cunningly devised fable.”23
Smith’s assertion that he needed translation stones in order to translate the Book of Mormon proved a crafty cover for the fact that he possessed no knowledge of either the Hebrew or Egyptian languages, though that lack of knowledge never stopped him from claiming this or that word were Hebrew words, leading one cults expert to comment, “Prophet Smith seems to have had a fancy for inventing learned etymologies which were for the most part utterly fictitious.”24
For example, when the Mormons had to resettle yet again, this time in Illinois, Smith bought the little town of Commerce and renamed in Nauvoo, which he incorrectly indicated was the Hebrew word for “beautiful place.” Even the word “Mormon,” Smith asserted, derived from the Egyptian word “mon” for “good,” added to the English word “more,” together became “Mormon,” or “more good” (though in the Greek “Mormon” is actually the word for “baboon”!).25
Besides the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith would later go on to pen the books The Pearl of Great Price and Doctrines and Covenants (D&C), as well as releasing his own version of the Bible because as the Mormon “Articles of Faith” claims, “We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly,” thereby supposedly restoring the “real gospel” of Jesus Christ. Smith also ran across an original Egyptian papyrus which he “translated” into the supposedly lost Book of Abraham. Reputable Egyptologists much later in 1967 properly translated the rediscovered papyrus and exposed both Smith’s translation as a fabrication and claim to be able to read ancient Egyptian as a total fraud.26
Long after Joseph Smith had died and others took up his leadership mantle, such as Brigham Young, the leading apostles of the LDS Church continued to claim new revelations and make over 3,000 revisions to Joseph Smith’s writings. This shady behavior led famed theologian Walter Martin to exclaim in exasperation:
Present day Mormon doctrine, so complex and bizarre, evolved (or mutated) from basic Christian principles during its first fifty years because of the declarations of its “living prophets.” These declarations were at odds with each other with sufficient frequency to cause confusion among the church’s membership, but most Mormons’ faith remained intact nonetheless.27
Martin went on to describe what has been “woven into the crazy quilt of Mormon theology are distinctive doctrines which have been introduced, taught, and afterward discarded and denied.”28 Such discarded doctrinal teachings from LDS leaders include the Adam-God doctrine which teaches that Adam returned to the earth to become the literal father of Jesus, and the Blood Atonement doctrine which makes the heretical claim that Jesus Christ’s blood only atoned for some sins so that a person needed to literally be executed in order to atone for the remainder of their sins.
Even the doctrine of eternal punishment espoused in the Book of Mormon has over subsequent revelations endorsed what cult historians have described as “a theology of nearly universal salvation.”29 If Mormons see the need to continue to rewrite or discard revelations supposedly revealed by the very mouth-piece of God, then they would be engaging in actual heresy against their own Mormon religion, not just traditional Christianity.
It takes little effort to disprove Joseph Smith’s claim to being a divinely called prophet of God. First, Smith fails Moses’ test of a true prophet due to his many failed prophecies, and his own ungodly and immoral character would cause even the most ardent hedonist to blush.
Second, the three witnesses to the quintessential event underlying all of the LDS religion — the translation of the golden plates into the Book of Mormon — were even denounced by their own fellow Mormons.
And, third, the Mormon scriptures have long been proven to be plagiarized frauds.
By these three arguments alone, the Mormon believer should begin to express serious doubts as to the truth of their religion. Any of these arguments should, as Bjornstad advises, stop the lost Mormon “from walking blindly down the steps leading away from God.”30
Failing in this, though, Christians may proceed with a plethora of other topics available that fairly easily disprove Smith’s claims. These topics include challenging that all Christians churches are abominations to God, or the need for a restored Old Testament priesthood, or the unsubstantiated claim that God is merely an exalted man, or that Jesus was begotten as the spirit brother of Lucifer, or that humans preexisted and will one day attain godhood over their own planets, or the unbiblical requirements of a works-based salvation, or even Mormonism’s near-universalistic teaching of an afterlife made up of three kingdoms of glory (celestial, terrestrial, telestial). By using any of these arguments against the validity of Mormonism as an authentic expression of Christianity, the religious counterfeit who is Joseph Smith is unmasked as the fraud that he was.
Evangelical Christians must remember, though, to reach out to Smith’s followers in love and armed with the sword of the Word and these arguments against Mormonism being a valid expression of Christianity. For, if they do not, souls will be lost to eternal separation from God in a place of torment.
1. James Bjornstad, Counterfeits at Your Door (Glendale, CA: G/L Publications, 1979), 10.
2. Ibid. 8.
3. “Joseph Smith’s Testimony,” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/1972/01/joseph-smiths-testimony.
4. Robert A. Morey, How to Answer a Mormon (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1983), 13.
5. Morey, 116.
6. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “Articles of Faith,” 7-8.
7. J. Warner Wallace, “Can We Trust the Prophecies of Joseph Smith?,” Cold Case Christianity, https://coldcasechristianity.com/writings/can-we-trust-the-prophecies-of-joseph-smith/.
8. Letter of Joseph Smith to John Wentworth, “Times and Seasons,” Vol. Ill, 706-707.
9. Charles Α. Shook, Cumorah Revisited (Cincinnati, OH: Standard Publishing Co., 1910), 22.
11. Robert Frederick Boyd, “Bible and Modern Religions, Pt 4: Mormonism.” Interpretation 10, no. 4 (October 1956): 432. http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=rfh&AN=ATLA0000648437 &site=ehost-live.
12. Ibid. 433.
13. C. Kelly and H. Birney, Holy Murder (New York: Minton, Balch & Co., 1934), 31.
15. Ron Rhodes, The Challenge of the Cults and New Religions (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), 57.
16. Boyd. 432.
17. Jan Karel Van Baalen, The Chaos of the Cults (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1938), 118.
18. Boyd. 435.
19. Charles W. Ferguson, The Confusion of Tongues (New York: Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc., 1928), 371.
21. Book of Mormon, III Nephi, V.
22. James H. Snowden, The Truth About Mormonism (New York, NY: George H. Doran Co., 1926), 91.
23. Boyd. 439.
24. Boyd. 435.
25. Boyd, 437.
26. Tim Martin, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” Watchman Fellowship, https://www.watchman.org/profiles/pdf/ldsprofile.pdf.
27. Walter Martin, Walter Martin’s Cults Reference Bible (Santa Anna, CA: Vision House Publishers, 1981), 45.
28. Martin, 49.
29. Clyde D. Ford, “The Book of Mormon, the Early Nineteenth-Century Debates over Universalism, and the Development of the Novel Mormon Doctrines of Ultimate Rewards and Punishments.” Dialogue 47, no. 1 (Spr 2014): 1.
30. Bjornstad, 8.