That the Lord would identify Joseph Smith as His chosen prophet of the latter days was foreseen by ancient prophets. In the premortal existence the Lord ordained this man of humble circumstances.1 He taught Joseph personally. He provided intense instruction. He directed his ancient prophets from past dispensations of His Church to teach and to confer the Lord’s priesthood upon the fledgling prophet. The Lord said, “I did call upon [Joseph Smith] by mine angels, my ministering servants, and by mine own voice out of the heavens.”2
As a young boy untainted by the ways of the world, Joseph Smith sought spiritual learning from on high. He preferred to get his spiritual education directly from the scriptures and the Lord rather than from ministers and churches of the day. He once told his mother, Lucy Mack Smith: “Mother, I do not wish to prevent your going to meeting, or any of the rest of the family’s; or your joining any church you please; but, do not ask me to join them. I can take my Bible, and go into the woods, and learn more in two hours, than you can learn at meeting in two years, if you should go all the time.”3
Two historians and authors who have written about Joseph Smith conclude, “His knowledge of the Bible and his biblical style of writing suggest that much of his early education came from that source.”4
Lucy said that Joseph was “much less inclined to the perusal of books than any of the rest of the children, but far more given to meditation and deep study.”5 As Joseph matured, he not only immersed himself more deeply in the Bible but also continually sought heavenly instruction. It seems this desire was a driving force throughout his short life of thirty-eight and a half years: “The best way to obtain truth and wisdom is not to ask it from books, but to go to God in prayer, and obtain divine teaching. . . .
“There is never a time when the spirit is too old to approach God.”6
The Lord provided Joseph with stellar secular training in Kirtland. He furnished Joseph with access to prominent men such as Sidney Rigdon, the renowned experienced minister; Orson Hyde, of superior intellect and master of languages in his later life; and Joshua Seixas, noted professor of Hebrew. The Kirtland period is marked by formal schooling, and Joseph was a star pupil. The Lord constantly challenged Joseph to gain education in Kirtland. He told him, “The glory of God is intelligence.”7 He directed Joseph to “study and learn, and become acquainted with all good books, and with languages, tongues and people.”8 In response, Joseph organized schools: the School of the Prophets, the School of the Elders, the School of Mine Apostles, the Hebrew School, and the Kirtland High School.
The ancient prophet Joseph of Egypt, son of Jacob, prophesied of Joseph Smith’s significance as a latter-day prophet. He identified Joseph by name.9 He then prophesied that the Lord would make a spokesman and a scribe for Joseph, who would supplement his deficiencies in speaking and writing: “A choice seer will I raise up. . . . And out of weakness he shall be made strong. . . . And the Lord said . . . I will make for him a spokesman. And I, behold, I will give unto him that he shall write the writing of [Joseph Smith].”10
In the Kirtland area the Lord raised up Sidney Rigdon, a man well-versed in the Bible and a renowned orator, who as directed by the Spirit and the Prophet would write and speak for Joseph.11 Early leaders and members of the Church were aware of Joseph’s weaknesses in language, education, and book learning. For example, in November 1831, a group of the Prophet’s closest confidants met in John Johnson’s home in Hiram, Ohio, and suggested that someone with better language skills be used to compose words of revelation.12 Before moving to Kirtland, Emma Smith, who perhaps knew Joseph’s weaknesses best, described his limited language abilities:
Joseph Smith . . . could neither write nor dictate a coherent and well-worded letter, let alone dictate a book like the Book of Mormon. . . .
. . . I am satisfied that no man could have dictated the writing of the manuscripts unless he was inspired; for, when acting as his scribe, [he] would dictate to me hour after hour; and when returning after meals, or after interruptions, he could at once begin where he had left off. . . . This was a usual thing for him to do. It would have been improbable that a learned man could do this; and, for one so ignorant and unlearned as he was, it was simply impossible.13
1. Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ed. B. H. Roberts, 7 vols., 2d ed. rev. (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1932–51), 6:364.
2. Doctrine & Covenants 136:37.
3. Lucy Mack Smith, History of Joseph Smith by His Mother, ed. Preston Nibley (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1958), 90.
4. Richard L. Bushman and Dean C. Jessee, “Joseph Smith: The Prophet,” in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, ed. Daniel H. Ludlow et al., 4 vols. (New York: Macmillan, 1992), 3:1333.
5. Smith, History of Joseph Smith, 82.
6. Minutes of general conference, October 2, 1841, in History of the Church, 4:425.
7. Doctrine & Covenants 93:36.
8. Doctrine & Covenants 90:15.
9. 2 Nephi 3:15.
10. 2 Nephi 3:7, 13, 18.
11. Doctrine & Covenants 35:20, 23; 100:9–11.
12. See Doctrine & Covenants 67:5.
13. “Last Testimony of Sister Emma,” Saints’ Herald 26 (October 1879): 290.