On November 29, 1839, unbidden and unannounced, Joseph Smith Jr. walked into the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue to request an audience with President Martin Van Buren.1 Joseph had journeyed nearly a thousand miles to seek federal redress after failing in local and state courts to regain Mormon property in Missouri.2 Within minutes President Smith was escorted into President Van Buren’s office and within minutes was escorted out. Their brief conversation has become famous in Mormondom. It was a defining moment in Smith’s life and one that underscores the importance of pneumatology (the study of the Holy Spirit).3 A week later, Joseph reported to his brother Hyrum that after their interview, President Van Buren asked him how his church differed from other religions of the day. He simply replied: “We differed in mode of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands.” He explained to Van Buren that “all other considerations were contained in the gift of the Holy Ghost.”4 Joseph’s response to Van Buren calls for a serious analysis of Joseph Smith’s understanding of the Spirit compared to other nineteenth-century religions and their biblical interpretations.
While Joseph Smith’s thoughts on the Holy Ghost appear to fall within the mainstream of the enthusiastic outbursts of the Second Great Awakening (circa 1800–1840), a closer look shows that his restored doctrines made an abrupt and radical departure from the pneumatology of his day. Many historians5 interpret Joseph’s claim to revelation as a creative response to the cultural and religious stimulus of the “Burned-over District” in upstate New York (see table 1).6 But were Joseph’s ideas on the Holy Ghost entirely a product of his environment? Was his doctrine developed in reaction to his culture? Was his biblical interpretation of the Spirit consistent with that of the clerics of his day? Focused research suggests not. Up to this point, academic literature has not compared Joseph Smith’s pneumatology with that of his contemporaries.7
Table 1. Number of Religious Revivals in New England and New York between 1815 and 1818
|RI||CT||PA||NJ||Eastern NY||VT||MA||Burned-over District
or western NY
Source: Whitney Cross, The Burned-Over District: The Social and Intellectual History of Enthusiastic Religion in Western New York, 1800–1850 (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University, 1950), 11–12.
Nineteenth-century American ministers and theologians most frequently discussed the working of the Spirit in regard to the Trinity, revelation, and the depravity of man. Each subject deals with branches of pneumatology: the first two with the Spirit’s work of inspiration and regeneration, and the latter with the Spirit’s identity in the Godhead. Joseph added significantly to the discussion on these three and other subjects, but unfortunately, many miss the nuanced but crucial differences in Joseph’s views on the Holy Spirit and how these views can transform theology. I hope to partially fill this gap by a systematic, documented analysis of the dominant ideas on the Holy Spirit in antebellum America, against which to contrast Joseph’s teachings. First, I will juxtapose Joseph’s writings with statements from several representative sermons and writings from his contemporaries on the Holy Spirit’s role in the Trinity, a closed canon, gifts of the Spirit, and divine election. Then I will compare Joseph Smith’s teachings about the Holy Ghost with those found in the Bible, using analysis of numbers, names, and details.
Joseph Smith’s Pneumatology
Contrasted to Nineteenth-Century Preachers
Trinity versus the Godhead
The majority of American Christians in 1800 believed in the Trinity.8 They passionately defended their ideology of the Trinity from attacks by Deists and Unitarians. One of the most articulate guardians of the Trinity from 1822 to 1878 was the Reformed Christian Charles Hodge (1797–1878).9 He explained that the Spirit “is the same in substance and equal in power and glory . . . to the Father and Son.”10 For fifty-six years he elaborated on his belief in the Trinity from “the citadel of Reformed theology,” the Princeton Seminary.11 He clung to the creedal vocabulary: “When we consider the incomprehensible nature of the Godhead, the mysterious character of the doctrine of the Trinity, the exceeding complexity and difficulty of the problem, . . . [we must refer to] the Church creeds on the subject.”12 Whether or not a person read the creeds, by the early nineteenth century a creedal perspective was so ingrained into assumptions about Christianity that believers found a clear confirmation for the Trinity within the Bible.
Biblical purists like Alexander Campbell denounced the word “Trinity” as “unauthorized and Babylonish phraseology” because the word did not originate in the Bible.13 Yet his dislike was largely semantic, as we find Trinitarian doctrine in his second Article of Faith: “I believe in one God as manifested in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, who are therefore one in power, nature and volition.”14 Other theologians on the fringe of Christianity, like the Unitarian William Channing (1780–1842), went so far as to attack Trinitarian ideology and the divinity of Jesus,15 and Mother Ann Lee (1736–1784) questioned the gender of God. However, no one went so far into new territory to describe the Godhead as Joseph Smith did by the time he was in Nauvoo.16
The Prophet Joseph Smith strongly rejected the traditional philosophy of a Trinity: nowhere in his sermons, personal writings, or history did he mention the word or support its ideology.17 He never debated the traditional questions of filioque; he probably did not know of the debate over the mysterious character and source of the Trinity.18 His break from Trinitarian doctrine, if he ever held such a belief, began in his teens when his First Vision changed his view of the Godhead.19 He joined many other Christians in
believing that Jesus was the literal offspring of God the Father; but he alone taught that both the Father and Son were now resurrected, glorified, separate, and purified “Men of Holiness” with bodies of flesh and bones who were unified in purpose to exalt humanity (D&C 50:27; 130:22; 131:8; Moses 1:39; 6:57; 7:35).20 He then diverged even more dramatically from the mainstream by teaching that the Spirit will someday take on a body as Jesus did.21 According to the notes taken by his scribe, Joseph preached: “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.”22 Joseph’s followers, who shared his theology of eternal spirits, accepted this idea as a logical outgrowth of Joseph’s doctrine of eternal progression (D&C 88:15–16; 93:21–26).
Closed versus Open Canon
American Protestants held the Bible to be the most sacred document in the world and the centerpiece of their faith. Most viewed it as directly inspired from the Holy Spirit, the source of their authority and endowment of power. Many Christians at that time felt the words of the Bible were entirely God-given and “the only infallible rule of faith and practice.”23 Most Protestant preachers, like Charles Finney, turned to the Bible to separate truth from error.24 Biblical words became the resource for their preaching and the guide to their living. The Bible offered them a link to the covenant. It also provided the potential unity among the sects of Christianity. Campbell spoke for many when he guarded a closed canon: “The Bible alone speaks the words of inspiration. No other book, however high it has been lauded as a mighty work of genius, bears upon its pages the impression of the Mighty One. . . . No other book, ancient or modern, whatever its pretensions may be, hold such sway over the minds of men as the Inspired Volume.”25 In short, the Bible stood alone as the word of God.
Of all the points of contention that accompanied Joseph’s revelations in the 1830s, American Christians were most disturbed by his claim to open the scriptural canon.26 He insisted his revelations came independently from divine sources and should become new scripture, contradicting church ministers of his day.27 Religious Americans saw his threat of new scripture as endangering the Bible’s sanctity, authority, and inerrancy.28 On March 26, 1830—within a week of the Book of Mormon’s publication—the Rochester Daily Advertiser headline read “BLASPHEMY” and then described: “The Book of Mormon has been placed in our hands. A viler imposition was never practiced. It is an evidence of fraud, blasphemy, and credulity shocking both to Christians and moralists.”29 Then and now, Joseph Smith and his new scripture have been seen as merely one more fraud in a long string of fanaticism from the Burned-over District. However, Joseph simply did not follow suit—of the many Christians who started their own denominations in the nineteenth century, no one claimed their revelation to be new scripture more accurate than the Bible.30
Gifts of the Spirit versus Fruits of the Spirit
The Second Great Awakening was riddled with controversy over spiritual gifts. Some congregations denounced all extraordinary gifts of the Spirit, while others experimented with superlative spiritual manifestations at a new level—from healing and prophesying to screaming and barking.31 We find many examples of bizarre behaviors attributed to the Spirit from the period of the early 1800s. Renowned Methodist minister Peter Cartwright wrote:
A new exercise broke out among us, called the jerks, which was overwhelming in its effects upon the bodies and minds of the people. No matter whether they were saints or sinners, they would be taken under a warm song or sermon, and seized with a convulsive jerking all over, which they could not by any possibility avoid, and the more they resisted the more they jerked. If they would not strive against it and pray in good earnest, the jerking would usually abate. I have seen more than five hundred persons jerking at one time in my large congregations. . . . I always looked upon the jerks as a judgment sent from God, first, to bring sinners to repentance; and, secondly, to show professors that God could work with or without means . . . to the glory of his grace and the salvation of the world.32
In addition to those physical manifestations of the Spirit, the Second Great Awakening also boasted of rich visionary manifestations. Some share similarities with Joseph Smith’s visions, like Charles Finney (1792–1875)33 and Orestes Brownson (1803–1876),34 while others, like those fabricated by Lorenzo Dow (1777–1834), were clearly fraudulent. One sham included “Crazy Dow” hiring a trumpet player to hide in the branches of a tree and blow his horn on cue during a Vermont camp meeting to simulate an angelic call. The event appeared as a miracle to the congregation: “Amid howls of fear and screams for mercy the congregation went down.”35 Similar dubious claims of communication from the Spirit fill nineteenth-century religious histories.36 Historian Susan Juster documents over three hundred published sources of unorthodox prophets who circulated their visions in early America.37 Leigh Schmidt observed that “the gift of speaking in tongues” was another common manifestation that “received a burst of attention from the 1830s into the 1850s.”38 However, wary ministers labeled the charismatic or extraordinary gifts of the Spirit as unorthodox or satanic experimentation.39
To safeguard against the bizarre gifts of the Spirit, conservative Christians from that era encouraged the more temperate fruits of the Spirit.40 Even Charles Finney, the most influential revivalist in the nineteenth century, would not claim the charismatic gifts of the Spirit and questioned the literal nature of his own vision of Christ. Rather, he sought serene spiritual manifestations to bless his ministry: “The Lord overshadowed us continually with the cloud of his mercy. Gales of divine influence swept over us from year to year, producing abundantly the fruits of the Spirit—‘love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.’”41 The Methodists, famed as the fastest growing denomination in the eighteenth century,42 “stopped short in not claiming the gift of tongues, of prophecy, and of miracles.”43 Preachers from the Reformed traditions taught that expressing the “fruit of the Spirit” demonstrated who was God’s elect,44 but those who displayed the charismatic gifts of the Spirit were of the devil.45 The Baptists took exception to this Reformed doctrine later in the nineteenth century. By 1876, the North American Review attributed their growth to “a distinctive characteristic of the Baptists,” which was “the energy with which they extolled the gifts of the Spirit.”46 However, the Methodist spokesman, Cartwright, observed that Mormons were known as the miracle workers and associated the gifts of the Spirit with them—not the Baptists.47
In an attempt to restrain fabricated religious experiences, other American preachers educated in Enlightenment ideals emphasized the need for reason. They limited the use of the charismatic or extraordinary gifts (miracles, healing, tongues, and visions) to the biblical apostles.48 At the time of the First Great Awakening, the father of American theology, Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758), spoke against supernatural and miraculous claims.49 A century later, the same school of thought cautioned: “Modern prelates do not claim to possess any one of these [charismatic] gifts. Nor do they pretend to the credentials which authenticated the mission of the Apostles of Christ.”50 Alexander Campbell confined charismatic gifts of the Spirit and revelations to the biblical era: “The Holy Spirit was communicated by the Apostles’ hands; consequently, when the Apostles all died, these gifts were no longer conferred.”51
Most Christians agreed that the gifts of the Spirit evidenced to the New Testament Apostles’ sacred mission; the problem came when Joseph Smith asked them to use the same benchmark to measure his mission and authority:52 “We believe in the gift of the Holy Ghost being enjoyed now, as much as it was in the apostles’ days.”53 He did not share the same restraints on the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit.54 In 1831, shortly after moving to Kirtland, he received a revelation on the subject (D&C 46). From that time forward, the gifts of the Spirit became a favored topic. He bridged the two extremes, accepting the existence of miracles of biblical proportions in the modern day, yet instructing on their proper use and limitations.55
For example, on March 27, 1836, at the dedication of the Kirtland Temple, he “gave [the Saints] instructions in relation to the spirit of prophecy, and called upon the congregation to speak, and not to fear to prophesy. . . . Do not quench the Spirit, for the first one that opens his mouth shall receive the Spirit of prophecy.”56 On other occasions, he preached caution and warned of satanic deception: “Every Spirit or vision or Singing is not of God. The Devil is an orator, &c: he is powerful. . . . The gift of discerning spirits will be given to the presiding Elder, pray for him. that he may have this gift[.] Speak not in the Gift of tongues without understanding it, or without interpretation, The Devil can speak in Tongues.”57 His cousin and close companion, George A. Smith, remembered: “There was no point upon which the Prophet Joseph dwelt more than the discerning of Spirits.”58 Joseph straddled two camps by enthusiastically embracing the gifts of the Spirit but denouncing dramatic displays at revivals as false spirits. At the same time, he diverged from all camps by claiming apostolic authority in connection with these gifts.
Many joined in the fray by assailing the “diabolical Mormons,” who claimed to practice the gifts of the Spirit.59 Peter Cartwright (1785–1872) recollected a conversation held in Springfield, Illinois, where Joseph invited him to experience the gifts of the Spirit: “If you will go with me to Nauvoo, I will show you many living witnesses that will testify that they were, by the saints, cured of blindness, lameness, deafness, dumbness, and all the diseases that human flesh is heir to; and I will show you . . . that we have the gift of tongues, . . . and that the saints can drink any deadly poison and it will not hurt them.”60 Unfortunately, all we know about this conversation is from Cartwright’s perspective; Joseph did not document the meeting in any of his journals. Cartwright ended by denouncing him: “‘Yes,’ said I, ‘Uncle Joe; but my Bible tells me, ‘the bloody and deceitful man shall not live out half his days;’ and I expect the Lord will send the devil after you some of these days, and take you out of the way.’”61 As with others, Cartwright felt justified in exposing a false prophet. Whether this meeting occurred (his account bears some marks of accuracy as well as some of caricature), we know that Joseph encouraged the Saints to seek the gifts of the Spirit from the very first day the Church was organized.62
A close look at Joseph’s ideas on the gifts of the Spirit shows an expansive view by asserting apostolic priesthood authority, discerning between true and false gifts, and a commission to exercise all the gifts of the Spirit (see table 2).63 Joseph asked his fellow Americans to judge him from the New Testament model; most of them invoked a traditional interpretation of that same New Testament and judged him to be far outside the norm.
Table 2. Comparing Four Passages on Gifts of the Spirit
|1 Corinthians 12:1–11||Moroni 10:7–18||D&C 46:8–31||7th Article of Faith|
|Testify of Jesus||Know Jesus is the Son||Revelation|
|Believe others’ testimony|
|Faith||Faith||Faith to be healed|
|Healing||Healing||Faith to heal||Healings|
|Interpretation of Tongues||Interpretation of Tongues||Interpretation of Tongues||Interpretation of Tongues|
|Discerning of spirits||Discerning of spirits|
|Behold angels and ministering spirits||Visions|
|All the gifts|
Election versus Sealing by the Holy Spirit of Promise
The Westminster Confession established the Reformed Protestant definition of the Spirit’s “election” as predestination: “All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, He is pleased, in his appointed and accepted time, effectually to call, by his Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death . . . this effectual call is of God’s free and special grace alone, not from anything at all foreseen in man, who is altogether passive therein, until being quickened and renewed by the Holy Spirit.”64 Reformed Christians felt the doctrine of election supported God’s omnipotence by asserting that mortals “are absolutely dependent on a divine Person, who gives or withholds his influence as He will.”65 Rooted in the doctrine of the depravity of man as taught from the time of Augustine, and reemphasized by Calvin, election entailed that God—independent of human behavior—saves only certain mortals.66
America’s growing democratic values of self-initiation and egalitarianism, however, challenged this old-school theology to the degree that by the mid-eighteenth century, election was losing favor in the new country. Charles Finney denounced the doctrine of predisposed election as hindering Christians from actively searching for and receiving God’s blessings: “It is altogether voluntary, and therefore . . . the Spirit’s influences are those of teaching, persuading, convicting, and, of course, a moral influence . . . as opposed to physical.”67 Arminian theology also rejected the doctrine of election,68 and Methodists voted to allow all sinners the right to Jesus’s saving grace. Restorationists, like the Disciples of Christ, joined the Arminian camp, although they disagreed with the Methodists’ timing of the Spirit’s grace.69 Thus, the theological pendulum swung from one extreme to the other on the spectrum of the Spirit’s regeneration,70 from an unconditional grace to a nonbinding, influential grace.
Joseph Smith’s doctrine concerning election rested in the middle of this theological schism. Unlike those Calvinists who believed in an unconditional election, there was nothing very unconditional about Joseph’s perspective. Likewise, Joseph differed with Wesley and the Methodists, believing that one’s election depended upon entering into ordinances that are sealed by the Holy Spirit, as well as one’s choices.71 “The doctrin [of election] that the Prysbeterians & Methodist have quarreled so much about once in grace always in grace, or falling away from grace I will say a word about, they are both wrong, truth takes a road between them both. . . . The doctrin of the scriptures & the spirit of Elijah would show them both fals” [sic].72
Joseph became intrigued with the concept of the Holy Spirit of Promise sometime after receiving a revelation that described the righteous, “who overcome by faith, and are sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, which the Father sheds forth upon all those who are just and true” (D&C 76:53). Within the next decade, he received six other revelations that dealt with this unique doctrine, and he elaborated on it in at least six sermons.73 The Doctrine and Covenants describes the Holy Spirit of Promise as performing two levels of sealings—one temporary, the other permanent.74 Temporarily, it ratifies authorized ordinances performed on purified disciples, but the sealing can be removed if the recipients break their covenants. Latter-day Saints understand that the temporary seal of baptism or any other ordinance is binding on earth and in heaven only if they maintain a pure and repentant heart. Permanently, after one overcomes all the trials in life needed to prove willful obedience to God, the Holy Spirit of Promise ensures exaltation in the highest heaven.75 Joseph endorsed Philippians 2:12, that only when you worked “out your own salvation with fear and trembling” could the Holy Spirit seal God’s elect.76 Further, when Joseph spoke of “the Holy Spirit of Promise,” he often referred to a special Melchizedek Priesthood blessing that eternally sealed ordinances and covenants. In this sense, the Holy Spirit of Promise authoritatively guaranteed, or made sure, one’s calling and election.77 Even then, the binding power of the Spirit could be resisted by those who knowingly and openly rebelled against God:
According to the scriptures if a man has receive[d] the good word of God & tasted of the powers of the world to come if they shall fall away it is impossible to renew them again, seeing they have Crucified the son of God afresh & put him to an open – shame, so their [sic] is a possibility of falling away you could not be renewed again, & the power of Elijah Cannot seal against this sin, for this is a reserve made in the seals & power of the priesthood.78
Although Ephesians 1:13 cites the Holy Spirit of Promise, no one in antebellum America used the biblical phrase in quite the same way Joseph did.79 He expanded the doctrines of the Spirit and explored uncharted territory. Historians have often regarded Joseph as merely a product of his environment. After all, Joseph directly commented on Calvinist and Arminian theologies and used terminology from the King James Version, the same biblical vocabulary used by his peers. This man-of-his-times conclusion is problematic when delving deeper into the innovative ways Joseph defined biblical words and phrases—especially in pneumatological matters. Rather than categorizing Joseph Smith with his contemporaries of the nineteenth century, one best understands the prophet’s pneumatology when it is compared to the Bible.
Joseph Smith’s Teachings and Sacred Writings Compared with the Bible
Notwithstanding his unconventional ideas about the Spirit, Joseph Smith asserted that he taught in strict accord with the teachings of the Bible.80 In January 1836, when a visitor asked him how his teachings differed from other Christian denominations, Joseph answered: “We believe the Bible, and they do not.”81 He complained that other ministers construed the Bible through philosophical and traditional interpretations, not as the apostolic church intended.82 Yet Joseph never asserted that his doctrines or scripture were products of the Bible. Harmony and source are different things. Joseph maintained that the Spirit of the Lord taught him through his translations, personal revelations, and Bible study. This latter practice kept Joseph’s pneumatology in accord with biblical vocabulary while building on what the Bible offers through multiplying pneumatological concepts, terms, and details, as well as multiplying the sheer number of such occurrences in scripture.
Difference in Numbers
One way to examine the differences between the sacred writings that came through Joseph and the Bible is by simple word-counting. Even though the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants together are under half the size of the Bible (374,233 words compared to 790,868 KJV words), Joseph’s two texts have 217 more references to the Spirit. The total word ratio of pneumatological words is especially apparent in the Doctrine and Covenants, where it mentions the Spirit 63 percent or 1.6 times more often than in the New Testament, and seventeen times more often than in the Old Testament. The data in table 3 substantiates this prominence.83
Table 3. Word Ratio of Spirit, Holy Ghost, Comforter, and Baptism of Fire
|Total||Number of references per 1,000 words|
|Book of Mormon
|Book of Mormon, D&C
374,233 total words
|KJV New Testament
|KJV Old Testament
790,868 total words
Mormonism’s sacred texts cite the Spirit 3.5 times more often per one thousand words than the Bible. In the Old Testament, only half of the books include a reference to ruach as the Spirit of God (with Isaiah as the most prolific); in the New Testament, twenty-four of the twenty-nine books include either pneuma, parakleto, or theopneustos. Every book in the Book of Mormon and 77 of the 134 sections of the Doctrine and Covenants attributed as revelations to Joseph have references to the Spirit.
Difference in Names
In addition, the sacred writings to Joseph use a wider variety of descriptive names for the Spirit. In contrast to the Bible’s prevailing shorter references like Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit, the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants use longer titles that often convey additional doctrinal meaning. They demonstrate this most dramatically in three-to-five-word titles describing the Spirit (see table 4).
Table 4. Three-to-Five-Word Phrases Related to the Holy Spirit
|Titles or Descriptions||Old Testament||New Testament||Book of Mormon||Doctrine & Covenants|
|Baptism of (by) fire
Baptize(d) with fire
|Filled with the Spirit
Filled him with the Spirit
|Gift of the Holy Ghost||2||3||6|
|His Holy Spirit
Holy Spirit of God
|Holy Spirit of Promise||1||7|
|Power of the Holy Ghost||1||25||5|
|Spirit and in Truth||2||2|
|Spirit and my Word||1|
|Spirit and Power
Spirit and Power of God
|Spirit of Christ||2||2||1|
|Spirit of Glory||1|
|Spirit of God
Spirit of our God
Spirit of the living God
|Spirit of Grace||1||1|
|Spirit of His mouth||1|
|Spirit of His Son||1|
|Spirit of Holiness||1|
|Spirit of Jesus Christ||1||1|
|Spirit of the Lord
Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent
|Spirit of Prophecy
Spirit of Prophecy and Revelation
|Spirit of Revelation||9||2|
|Spirit of your Father||1|
|Spirit of Truth
Spirit of the Truth
|Sword of the Spirit||1|
|Voice of the Spirit||2||5|
The Book of Mormon uses these longer titles to identify the Spirit three times more often than the New or Old Testaments. The most common title, “Spirit of the Lord,” is found twenty-six times in the KJV Old Testament, five times in the KJV New Testament, and forty times in the Book of Mormon. When length of books and word ratio is taken into account, these numbers are even more significant—the Book of Mormon uses “Spirit of the Lord” 4.5 times more per one hundred words than the New Testament and 3.75 times more than the Old Testament. If this were a unique finding it would be less significant, but most comparisons in table 4 show a similar prominence in the Book of Mormon. Most of the phrases that define the Spirit in Joseph’s texts use biblical vocabulary, but a few titles are unique. These variations pointedly divulge the theological inclinations within texts of the Restoration.
Spirit of revelation. As a case in point, the nonbiblical phrase “the Spirit of revelation” refers to one of Joseph’s most beloved topics. The phrase is found nine times in the Book of Mormon and twice in the Doctrine and Covenants.84 The same phrase appears ten times in Joseph’s sermons and personal writings together with four more occurrences of the “spirit of prophecy and revelation.”85 Of all the workings of the Spirit, it seems revelation of divine messages was paramount for Joseph in his role as a prophet.
Voice of the Spirit. Another characteristic phrase that is unique to Joseph’s translations and revelations is “the voice of the Spirit.” Seven times in the Church’s sacred writings and nine times in the official History of the Church, divine inspiration is described as “the voice of the Spirit.”86 This phrase applies generally: “Every one that hearkeneth to the voice of the Spirit cometh unto God” (D&C 84:47); and applies specifically to Jospeh: “It shall be manifest unto my servant, by the voice of the Spirit, those that are chosen; and they shall be sanctified” (D&C 105:36). It may describe an audible voice at times, but it also identifies an inner communication: “Make proposals for peace unto those who have smitten you, according to the voice of the Spirit which is in you, and all things shall work together for your good” (D&C 105:40).87 Whereas other religions of his day often considered spiritual experiences as a mystical connection to the numinous workings of God, Joseph saw encounters with the Spirit more as a clear dialogic revelation, where specific answers were given in response to specific questions.
Spirit and power. Mormonism’s sacred writings emphatically associate the Spirit with power. They use the phrase “power of the Holy Ghost” thirty times, compared to a single appearance in the Bible.88 Correspondingly, 1 Nephi includes the unique expression “Spirit and power of God” to describe the strong interaction between God’s Spirit and his prophets: “That we may preserve unto them the words which have been spoken by the mouth of all the holy prophets, which have been delivered unto them by the Spirit and power of God, since the world began, even down unto this present time” (1 Ne. 3:20).
Even though “Spirit and power of God” is not a biblical expression, the Bible associates the “Spirit” or “Holy Ghost” with “power” ten times. Looking for the same pattern in the Book of Mormon, a book one-third the length of the Bible, we find fifty-seven connections.89 The Doctrine and Covenants continues with thirty-five uses (or twenty-six times the concentration in the Bible). To Joseph, the Holy Spirit represented power as the source of all “the words which have been spoken by the mouth of all the holy prophets, which have been delivered unto them by the Spirit and power of God, since the world began, even down unto this present time” (1 Ne. 3:20). Such numerical prominence is evidence of its theological importance to Joseph.
Spirit of prophecy. The majority of the titles for the Spirit, however, are biblical, such as “spirit of prophecy.” The Bible mentions this phrase once in Revelation 19:10, in contrast to eighteen occurrences in the Book of Mormon, two in the Doctrine and Covenants, and twenty-three in the History of the Church.90 Four of the latter occurred on January 1, 1843, when the Illinois State Legislature asked Joseph to define a prophet: “If any person should ask me if I were a prophet, I should not deny it, as that would give me the lie; for, according to John, the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy; therefore if I profess to be a witness or teacher, and have not the spirit of prophecy, which is the testimony of Jesus, I must be a false witness; but if I be a true teacher and witness, I must possess the spirit of prophecy, and that constitutes a prophet; and any man who . . . denies the spirit of prophecy, is a liar.”91 Joseph claimed the spirit of prophecy for himself and for anyone else who testified of Christ with the Spirit.
Filled with the Spirit. The Book of Mormon also favors the phrase “filled with the Spirit” with seven references, while the other books cite it only once each. In the Old Testament and the Doctrine and Covenants, it describes those chosen by God (Ex. 28:3; D&C 27:7), and in Ephesians it is juxtaposed with being drunk (Eph. 5:18). The Book of Mormon describes “filled with the Spirit,” when a recipient “began to prophesy” (1 Ne. 5:17; 2 Ne. 25:4) or “came forth . . . rejoicing” (Mosiah 18:14). Ammon, who was “filled with the Spirit of God, . . . perceived the thoughts of the king” (Alma 18:16). Elsewhere, the Spirit works so powerfully on those called to repent that they experience physical symptoms: “My father did speak . . . with power, being filled with the Spirit, until their frames did shake before him” (1 Ne. 2:14). An entire group received a simultaneous outpouring of the Spirit, described in 3 Nephi 20:9: “Behold, they were filled with the Spirit; and they did cry out with one voice, and gave glory to Jesus.”
This biblical phrase is reiterated four times in Joseph’s handwritten personal journal and five more times in his History of the Church.92 The first entry from 1836 offers a feel for the connection between gifts of the Spirit and being “filled with the Spirit”: “President Zebedee Coltrin, one of the Seven, saw a vision of the Lord’s host. And others were filled with the Spirit, and spake with tongues and prophesied. This was a time of rejoicing long to be remembered. Praise the Lord.”93
Spirit and Baptism. The Bible associates the Spirit with the baptism of fire only twice. Both are used by John the Baptist foretelling the Lord’s mission to “baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire” (Luke 3:16; Matt. 3:11). If we look for similar links between baptism and fire in Joseph’s two main books of revelation, we find a total of sixteen references.94 If we look for any connection of the Spirit to baptism, we find thirteen verses in the New Testament, twenty-five in the Book of Mormon, and fifteen in the Doctrine and Covenants (see table 5).95 Overall, numerically speaking, Joseph’s sacred writings not only have greater pneumatological emphasis than the Bible but also give emphasis to certain associations, such as the Spirit’s role in religious ordinances.
Table 5. Baptism Coupled with the Holy Spirit
|Book of Mormon||Doctrine and Covenants||New Testament|
|1 Ne. 11:27 Holy Ghost, baptized||D&C 19:31 Holy Ghost, baptism by fire||Matt. 3:11 Holy Ghost,
Baptize with fire (2X)
|2 Ne. 31:8 Holy Ghost, baptized||D&C 20:37 Spirit, baptize, baptism (2X)||Matt. 3:16 Spirit of God, baptized|
|2 Ne. 31:12 Holy Ghost, baptized||D&C 20:41 Holy Ghost, baptized, baptism of fire||Mark 1:8 Holy Ghost, baptize(d) (2X)|
|2 Ne. 31:13 Holy Ghost (2X), baptism (2X) of fire||D&C 20:73 Holy Ghost, baptism, baptize (2X)||Mark 1:10 Spirit, dove,|
|2 Ne. 31:14 Holy Ghost,
baptism (2X) of fire
|D&C 33:11 Holy Ghost,
baptized (2X), baptism of fire
|Luke 3:16 Holy Ghost,
baptized with fire (2X)
|2 Ne. 31:17 Holy Ghost, baptism||D&C 35:5 Holy Ghost, baptize||John 1:33 Holy Ghost, baptized, baptizeth, Spirit|
|Mosiah 18:10 Spirit, baptized||D&C 35:6 Holy Ghost, baptize||Acts 1:5 Holy Ghost, baptized (2X)|
|Mosiah 18:13 Spirit, baptize||D&C 39:6 Holy Ghost, baptism (2X) of fire, Comforter||Acts 2:38 Holy Ghost, baptized|
|Alma 7:14 Spirit, baptized||D&C 39:10 Spirit, baptized||Acts 8:16-17 Holy Ghost, baptized|
|Alma 8:10 Spirit, baptized||D&C 39:23 Holy Ghost, baptize||Acts 10:47 Holy Ghost, baptized|
|3 Ne. 9:20 Holy Ghost, baptized, baptize with fire||D&C 55:1 Spirit, baptized||Acts 11:16 Holy Ghost, baptized (2X)|
|3 Ne. 11:25 Holy Ghost, baptize||D&C 68:25 Holy Ghost, baptism||Acts 19:5-6 Holy Ghost, baptized|
|3 Ne. 11:27 Holy Ghost, baptize||D&C 84:27 Holy Ghost, baptism||1 Cor. 12:13 Spirit (2X), baptized|
|3 Ne. 12:1 Holy Ghost, baptize, baptize(d) (5X) with fire||D&C 84:64 Holy Ghost, baptized|
|3 Ne. 12:2 Holy Ghost, baptized with fire||D&C 84:74 Holy Ghost, baptized|
|3 Ne. 18:11 Spirit, baptized|
|3 Ne. 19:13 Holy Ghost (2X), baptized with fire|
|3 Ne. 26:17 Holy Ghost, baptize(d) (2X)|
|3 Ne. 27:20 Holy Ghost, baptized|
|3 Ne. 28:18 Holy Ghost, baptized|
|3 Ne. 30:2 Holy Ghost, baptized|
|4 Ne. 1:1 Holy Ghost, baptized|
|Morm. 7:10 Holy Ghost, baptized with fire|
|Ether 12:14 Holy Ghost, baptized with fire|
|Moro. 6:4 Holy Ghost, baptism|
Difference in Detail
More than numbers and names, the contents of Joseph’s writings show greater doctrinal detail of the Spirit’s work than the Bible discloses. Three examples are illustrative.96
Born Again. The first of Joseph’s revelations to mention the Spirit is dated March 1829 and came just before he began the intense process of translating the Book of Mormon. The historical context presents Martin Harris asking Joseph to pray for him. Joseph’s answer encouraged his friend to seek for the promises of God’s Spirit. His instruction resembles the Gospel of John, where Jesus explained the workings of the Spirit to Nicodemus. The Bible states that one must be born again, but the Doctrine and Covenants goes on to explain the role of the Spirit in the process of rebirth:
Behold, whosoever believeth on my words, them will I visit with the manifestation of my Spirit; and they shall be born of me, even of water and of the Spirit. (D&C 5:16)
Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. . . . Ye must be born again, . . . so is every one that is born of the Spirit. (John 3:5–8)
Even though both verses focus on the same promise of the Spirit, only one discloses that belief is the operative principle involved. For his own purposes, Jesus gives an abstruse explanation that leaves Nicodemus confused, whereas Joseph’s revelation helps the reader see the connection between applied faith in the words of God and a resultant manifestation of the Spirit.
Baptism of Fire and the Gift of the Holy Ghost. The baptism of fire is described in Matthew and Luke as a momentous gift that Jesus offers, but they do not explain why it is significant. When the Book of Mormon prophet Nephi discusses this topic in his final testimony, he answers that question: baptism by fire is a spiritual cleansing and allows worthy initiates to enjoy the presence of the Holy Spirit, including the manifestations of the gifts of the Spirit. Accordingly, the ordinance of baptism is a sign of obedience and one’s desire to take on “the name of Christ”—meaning that one fully embraces the gospel, repents, and covenants with God to act as a disciple of Christ. Nephi also explains that the agent of cleansing one from sin through the baptism of fire is the Holy Ghost itself. The two baptisms work together: after “repentance and baptism by water . . . then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost” (2 Ne. 31:17).
On April 6, 1830, at the organization of the Church of Christ, Joseph expanded his teachings on the gift of the Holy Ghost to include the condition that the gift can be administered only by a higher priesthood authority (see D&C 20:68). The key reagent for the baptism of fire is the apostolic authority, which he received through “the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost” from the Apostles Peter, James, and John.97 Joseph taught the imperative need for baptism both by water and fire in an extemporaneous sermon on July 9, 1843, in Nauvoo, Illinois:
So far we are agreed with other Christian denominations [as] they all preach faith and repentance. The gospel requires baptism by immersion for the remission of sins, which is the meaning of the word in the original language—namely, to bury or immerse. We ask the sects, Do you believe this? They answer, No. I believe in being converted. I believe in this tenaciously. So did the apostle Peter and the disciples of Jesus. But I further believe in the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands. Evidence by Peter’s preaching on the day of Pentecost, Acts 2:38. You might as well baptize a bag of sand as a man, if not done in view of the remission of sins and getting of the Holy Ghost. Baptism by water is but half a baptism, and is good for nothing without the other half—that is, the baptism of the Holy Ghost.98
Joseph defended the Bible on the subject of baptism and likewise used it as his support, such as with Peter’s words on the day of Pentecost: “Be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:38). Yet in many ways, Joseph clarified and even transcended the Bible, giving a fuller vision of pneumatology’s connection to baptism, authority, and sanctification.
Strait Gate. Joseph’s texts and the Bible both use the phrase “the strait gate.” This familiar imagery from the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 7:13–14; also in Luke 13:24, Ps. 24:7–10; 118:19–20; and Jer. 7:2) symbolizes the prescribed way to enter into the Lord’s presence. Distinct from the accounts in the Bible, 2 Nephi 31–32 includes the inspiration of the Spirit as a necessary guide to bring one through the strait gate and onto the narrow path:
The gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost. And then are ye in this strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life; yea, ye have entered in by the gate; ye have done according to the commandments of the Father and the Son; and ye have received the Holy Ghost, which witnesses of the Father and the Son, unto the fulfilling of the promise which he hath made, that if ye entered in by the way ye should receive. . . . Again I say unto you that if ye will enter in by the way, and receive the Holy Ghost, it will show unto you all things what ye should do. (2 Ne. 31:17–18; 32:5)
The passage from Nephi uses words similar to those found in the Gospels, but Nephi identifies the key position of the Holy Ghost as the member of the Godhead that cleanses, bears witness, and guides believers through “the gate” that leads to life.
Joseph Smith’s pneumatology is the only one of its kind during the Second Great Awakening. He charted a new course in the study of the Spirit, including alternate views on the nature of the Trinity and divine election, as well as a different definition of scripture and the scriptural canon. He taught of the history and future of the Holy Spirit as a personage, along with a broader pneumatological consideration concerning the premortal spirit existence of all humankind. He spoke of the history of those spirits who rebelled from God and who seek to deceive through counterfeit gifts and signs, as well as specific ways to discern and detect such false spirits. He tied apostolic keys to the practice of all the gifts of the Spirit, insisted on a higher priesthood performing the ordinance of laying on of hands to confer the gift of the Holy Ghost, and taught of a multifunctional Holy Spirit of Promise that sealed the righteous to exaltation. These doctrines did not arise from Joseph’s environment. Certainly his frontier mannerisms, work ethic, and religious curiosity developed from his society; but his unique perspective on the Holy Spirit indicates that his pneumatology was not a conglomeration from his upbringing or of contemporaries’ thinking. Joseph never viewed himself as building another Protestant church. In his own words, he claimed, “I never built upon any other man’s ground.”99 Joseph truly differed in his teachings on the gift of the Holy Ghost, just as he told President Martin Van Buren in 1839.