You are here

Prophecies in the Bible about Joseph Smith

TitleProphecies in the Bible about Joseph Smith
Publication TypeMagazine Article
Year of Publication1989
AuthorsHorton, Jr., George A.
Issue Number1
Date PublishedJanuary 1989
KeywordsJoseph Smith Translation; Prophecy; Smith, Joseph, Jr.

Show Full Text

Prophecies in the Bible about Joseph Smith

By George A. Horton, Jr

I am sometimes asked if there is any evidence in the Bible that foretells the divine calling of the Prophet Joseph Smith. I usually reply that the only sure evidence of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s divine calling is a personal witness from the Holy Ghost. Still, there are many references to the Prophet in the Bible that confirm that testimony.

To undertake a meaningful search for such references, we need to keep in mind that the Lord knew many “plain and precious things” would be lost from the Bible (1 Ne. 13:28); therefore, he made provision to restore them. The Prophet Joseph Smith was “raised up” so that the Lord’s words could be “had again among the children of men—among as many as shall believe” (Moses 1:41). The Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible is a direct fulfillment of that prophecy. (See Bible Dictionary: s.v., Joseph Smith Translation.)

In the King James version of the Bible, for example, only a few individuals (other than Christ) are prophesied of by name. These include Isaac, son of Abraham (see Gen. 17:19); Josiah, a righteous king of Judah (see 1 Kgs. 13:2); Maher-shalal-hash-baz, Isaiah’s son (see Isa. 8:1–3); Cyrus, king of Persia (see Isa. 44:28); and John the Baptist (see Luke 1:13). If we search the Joseph Smith Translation, however, we can add to the list the names of Noah (see JST, Gen. 7:79), Moses (see JST, Gen. 50:29, 34), Aaron (see JST, Gen. 50:35)—and the seer who would arise in the “latter days” and would be called “Joseph … after the name of his father” (JST, Gen. 50:31–33). This seer—obviously Joseph Smith, Jr.—was prophesied of in the original records of Moses. (See 1 Ne. 5:11–14.) Lehi quoted it when he found it on the plates of brass. (See 2 Ne. 3:6–21.)

It should not be surprising to find the Prophet Joseph spoken of in the scriptures. After all, Joseph Smith was called, ordained, and given the keys to begin what Peter called “the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began” (Acts 3:21), and what Paul described as “the dispensation of the fulness of times,” in which God would “gather together in one all things in Christ” (Eph. 1:10).

It should not be surprising, either, that Joseph of Egypt, whose posterity was foreordained to take the gospel to all nations, would prophesy of his namesake who would become the great Prophet of the Restoration:

“Thus saith the Lord God of my fathers unto me [Joseph, son of Jacob], A choice seer will I raise up out of the fruit of thy loins. …

“And unto him will I give power to bring forth my word unto the seed of thy loins … to the convincing them of my word, which shall have already gone forth among them in the last days;

“Wherefore the fruit of thy loins shall write, and the fruit of the loins of Judah shall write; and that which shall be written … shall grow together unto the confounding of false doctrines, and laying down of contentions, and establishing peace among the fruit of thy loins, and bringing them to a knowledge of their fathers in the latter days; and also to the knowledge of my covenants, saith the Lord.

“And out of weakness shall he be made strong, in that day when my work shall go forth among all my people, which shall restore them, who are of the house of Israel, in the last days.

“And that seer will I bless, and they that seek to destroy him shall be confounded; for this promise I give unto you; for I will remember you from generation to generation; and his name shall be called Joseph, and it shall be after the name of his father; and he shall be like unto you; for the thing which the Lord shall bring forth by his hand shall bring my people unto salvation.” (JST, Gen. 50:27, 30–31, 33.)

Those who are familiar with the events of the Restoration can quickly recognize the fulfillment of these prophecies and promises in the person of Joseph Smith, Jr. In fulfilling them, Joseph Smith also helped fulfill the ancient covenant Christ made with Abraham. (See D&C 124:58; D&C 132:30–32; see also Gal. 3:27–29.)

Because many “plain and precious things” were lost from the Bible, it is probable that Ezekiel’s prophecy of the two “sticks” (see Ezek. 37:16–17) is but an echo of the patriarch Joseph’s earlier prophecy (see JST, Gen. 50:31). For more than a century, members of the Church have taught that these two “sticks” represent the Bible (the stick of Judah) and the Book of Mormon (the stick of Joseph or Ephraim). Recent research has revealed that the word stick refers to a wooden, folding writing tablet (see Ensign, Feb. 1987, pp. 4–13), although the Prophet Joseph interpreted what the sticks represented long before the discoveries of modern research. (See D&C 27:5.)

When we search the scriptures with an eye of faith, we can find many other references to the Prophet Joseph Smith. One of these is found in Isaiah 29. Though the King James Version of the chapter prophesies of Martin Harris’s visit to Professor Charles Anthon, the details are more explicit in the Joseph Smith Translation, where the Prophet Joseph is referred to as “the man who is not learned”:

“Behold, it shall come to pass, that the Lord God shall say unto him to whom he shall deliver the book, Take these words which are not sealed and deliver them to another, that he may show them unto the learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee.

“And the learned shall say, Bring hither the book and I will read them; and now because of the glory of the world, and to get gain will they say this, and not for the glory of God. And the man shall say, I cannot bring the book for it is sealed. Then shall the learned say, I cannot read it.

“Wherefore it shall come to pass, that the Lord God will deliver again the book and the words thereof to him that is not learned; and the man that is not learned shall say, I am not learned. Then shall the Lord God say unto him, The learned shall not read them, for they have rejected them, and I am able to do mine own work; wherefore thou shalt read the words which I shall give unto thee.” (JST, Isa. 29:20–22.)

Critics might argue that the Joseph Smith Translation contains references to Joseph Smith because he himself translated it. But even if we use only the King James Version, we can find references to the latter-day prophet and his connection with the restoration of the gospel. For example, in Isaiah 11:1 we read, “There shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots.” (Isa. 11:1.) Later in the same chapter, Isaiah places this prophecy in context, in an account of events leading up to the Second Coming:

“In that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious.

“And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant of his people. …

“And he shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.” (Isa. 11:10–12.)

Doctrine and Covenants 113 identifies the “Stem of Jesse” as the Lord Jesus Christ (D&C 113:1–2) and the “rod” as “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” (D&C 113:3–4). The “root of Jesse,” verses 5 and 6 tell us, is “a descendant of Jesse, as well as of Joseph, unto whom rightly belongs the priesthood, and the keys of the kingdom, for an ensign, and for the gathering of my people in the last days.” [D&C 113:5–6]

Undoubtedly, the terms rod and root, like the term Elias, can be used to designate different people in different situations. Since they are symbols, the terms can also be applied to the same person. It is possible, therefore, that Joseph Smith is both the “rod” and the “root.” Not only was he a descendant of Ephraim, of the house of Joseph, but he was probably a descendant of Jesse, King David’s father, as well. (See the Prophet’s patriarchal blessing as recorded in Archibald F. Bennett, Saviors on Mount Zion, Salt Lake City: Deseret Sunday School Union Board, 1950, p. 68; see also Hyrum L. Andrus, Doctrines of the Kingdom, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1973, pp. 533–40.)

How is that possible? Elder Joseph Fielding Smith explained that “it is reasonable … that we one and all have come through a mixed relationship, and that the blood of Ephraim … could be in the veins of many of us, likewise the blood of others of the twelve tribes of Israel, and that none of us had come through the ages with clear exclusive descent from father to son through any one of the tribes.” (Answers to Gospel Questions, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith, Jr., 5 vols., Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1960, 3:63–64.)

Joseph Smith fulfills this prophecy of the “root” in two ways. First, the Lord told Joseph that the priesthood rightly belonged to him by lineage. (See D&C 86:8–10; see also Joseph Fielding Smith, comp., The Life of Joseph F. Smith, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1969, p. 34.) Second, Joseph was given the “keys of the kingdom” by a succession of heavenly messengers. (See D&C 13:1; D&C 27:5; D&C 110:11–13, 16; D&C 128:20–21.)

With those keys, the Prophet Joseph Smith began the work of gathering the Lord’s elect, as he was commanded to do in Doctrine and Covenants 29:7. This gathering has been carried on by the Prophet Joseph’s successors, each of whom has held the same keys. [D&C 29:7]

Malachi also prophesied of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s role as the Lord’s “forerunner” in the latter days, when he recorded the Lord’s words:

“Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts.” (Mal. 3:1.)

Four hundred years later, the Apostle Matthew quoted this prophecy, applying it to John the Baptist, who “prepared the way” for the Savior’s first coming in the meridian of time. (See Matt. 11:10.) John the Baptist himself made it clear that he was such a “forerunner” of Christ at His first coming. (See John 1:23.) However, Malachi’s prophecy applies not only to the Lord’s first advent, but also to His second coming. In Malachi 3:2–3, we read:

“Who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap:

“And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness.” [Mal. 3:2–3]

None of the circumstances Malachi describes specifically applies only to the Lord’s first coming. In a sense, the everlasting covenant itself is the “messenger,” or “forerunner,” of Christ; in Doctrine and Covenants 45:9, the Lord states that “I have sent mine everlasting covenant into the world … to be a messenger before my face to prepare the way before me.” [D&C 45:9]

John the Baptist and Joseph Smith were both conveyors of that covenant. Joseph prepared the way for the Lord’s second coming by receiving the keys and powers of the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods and the “fulness of the gospel,” found in the Book of Mormon. (See D&C 20:9.) Through him the holy temple blessings and the saving ordinances of the gospel were restored. Through him, the kingdom of God was restored to the earth, with all the keys, rights, powers, and authority necessary for the salvation of men—never to be taken from the earth again. (See Dan. 2:44.)

Identifying Joseph Smith as the great prophet of the Restoration makes other biblical prophecies relating to his divine calling become clearer. One of these is found in Isaiah 40:3–5, where we read of “the voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

“Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain:

“And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.” [Isa. 40:3–5]

Here, “the voice of him that crieth” does not refer to John the Baptist in the meridian of time; the context of the chapter deals with happenings that will occur just prior to the Second Coming and the Millennium. Therefore, it is likely that Joseph Smith is “the voice of him that crieth.” Once this is recognized, it becomes easier to understand similar biblical passages, such as Jeremiah 30:21:

“Their nobles shall be of themselves, and their governor shall proceed from the midst of them; and I will cause him to draw near, and he shall approach unto me: for who is this that engaged his heart to approach unto me? saith the Lord.” [Jer. 30:21]

Who is this “governor” that will “draw near” the Lord and “approach unto” him? Jeremiah 30:17 tells us that he will come as Israel is returning from her long captivity: “I will restore health unto thee, and I will heal thee of thy wounds, saith the Lord; because they called thee an Outcast, saying, This is Zion, whom no man seeketh after.” [Jer. 30:17]

It is likely that health refers here to spiritual vigor. Healing probably refers to the healing powers of repentance and baptism. The verse also suggests a return to the covenant promises of Abraham. The “outcasts” are the scattered tribes of Israel (see Isa. 11:12), who have languished for centuries in spiritual bondage but who are now beginning to heed the call of Israel’s missionaries to return to the covenant.

Like many other biblical prophecies, this could have multiple fulfillments. As “governors,” both Ezra and Joseph Smith initiated that return to the promised covenant of old. (See D&C 84:33–34; D&C 110:12; D&C 132:31–32.)

Another biblical prophecy may refer to the Prophet Joseph Smith—John 1:19–25, where we read of the priests’ and Levites’ asking John the Baptist,

“Who art thou?

“And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ.

“And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias? And he saith, I am not. Art thou that prophet? And he answered, No.

“Then said they unto him, Who art thou? … What sayest thou of thyself?

“He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias. …

“And they asked him, and said unto him, Why baptizest thou then, if thou be not that Christ, nor Elias, neither that prophet?”

In the Joseph Smith Translation (John 1:22), John the Baptist’s response is somewhat different:

“They asked him, saying; How then art thou Elias? And he said, I am not that Elias who was to restore all things. And they asked him, saying, Art thou that prophet? And he answered, No.” (Italics added.)

The popular interpretation of this verse among Bible scholars is that the “prophet” referred to is Christ—the same “prophet” Moses prophesied of in Deuteronomy 18:15. (See The Bethany Parallel Commentary on the New Testament, Minneapolis, Minn.: Bethany House Publishers, 1983, p. 502.) However, in his answer, John makes it clear that neither he nor Christ is “that prophet.” We can understand these verses better if we keep in mind that Elias is a title that could refer to any number of “restorers” and that Christ, John the Baptist, and Joseph Smith all qualify. (See the Bible Dictionary, s.v., Elias.)

On 12 May 1844, just a few weeks before the death of Joseph Smith, the Prophet taught that he “was chosen [to be] … the last and greatest prophet to lay the foundation of God’s work of the seventh dispensation.” Then he pointed out that the Jews in the meridian of time, apparently aware of prophecies of a forerunner preparing the way of the Lord, “asked John the Baptist if he was Elias or Jesus or that great prophet that was to come.” (The Words of Joseph Smith, comp. and ed. Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, Provo: Brigham Young University Religious Studies Center, 1980, p. 370.) This statement, taken from the journal of George Laub, implies that Joseph taught that he himself was “that prophet” referred to in John 1:21 and 25.

It is reasonable, then, for us to conclude that Joseph Smith is most likely the prophet referred to in these verses. It was he who would “restore all things.” (John 1:22.)

Joseph Smith’s discussion of “that prophet” was part of a larger discussion of Matthew 24. In referring to verse 14—“This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come”—he explained that the witness would be preached through a man. [Matt. 24:14]

Samuel W. Richards, a close associate of Joseph in Nauvoo, wrote that on 12 May 1844 the Prophet Joseph taught from an old German Bible text that the “kingdom” must be “preached to a man who should be a witness to all people.” (See The Words of Joseph Smith, p. 371.) That same day, George Laub, another close associate, also recorded the Prophet as saying that the Lord would “send … another witness and he shall preach this gospel to all nations.” (Ibid., pp. 369–70.) Both Laub’s and Richards’s accounts seem to indicate that Joseph taught he was this witness “chosen for the last dispensation or Seventh Dispensation” (The Words of Joseph Smith, p. 370.) In another account of the same sermon, the Prophet said, “Every man who has a calling to minister to the inhabitants of the world was ordained to that very purpose in the Grand Council of heaven before this world was. I suppose that I was ordained to this very office.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1977, p. 365.)

Yet another biblical passage may refer to the Prophet Joseph Smith. In Revelation 14:6–7, the Apostle John wrote:

“I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people,

“Saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters.” [Rev. 14:6–7]

There is little doubt that John’s vision of “another angel fly[ing] in the midst of heaven” points to the latter days. But evidence suggests that this prophecy may refer not only to Moroni, the angel who revealed to Joseph Smith the sacred Nephite records, but also to other messengers—such as John the Baptist (see D&C 13:1); Peter, James, and John (see D&C 128:20); Moses, Elias, and Elijah (see D&C 110:11–16); Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, and “divers angels” (see D&C 128:21) who restored keys and priesthood authority. Each of these messengers helped restore the everlasting gospel to earth.

The Prophet Joseph Smith’s 12 May 1844 sermon links this prophecy with the preceding two and makes it clear that Joseph himself was “a special messenger, ordained, and prepared for that purpose in the last days.” (The Words of Joseph Smith, p. 367.)

More prophecies like these could be cited. (See Isa. 49:1–6; Isa. 52:13–15; Victor L. Ludlow, Isaiah: Prophet, Seer, and Poet, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1982, pp. 407–10, 438–40.) Nevertheless, the validity of the divine calling of Joseph Smith rests not on ancient scriptural records, but on the appearance of God the Father and His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ, to the young Prophet in the spring of 1820.

Following the First Vision, Joseph received keys, power, and authority from a succession of heaven-sent messengers, and those keys and that power and authority have been passed on to his successors. Under that direction, millions of members of the Church, in many nations, receive the blessings of the fulness of the gospel through the divine power of the holy priesthood.

The Lord told the Prophet Joseph Smith, “This generation shall have my word through you” (D&C 5:10), and “Thou shalt continue in calling upon God in my name, and writing the things which shall be given thee by the Comforter, and expounding all scriptures unto the church” (D&C 24:5). Through the Lord’s chosen seer we have received the Book of Mormon, some missing parts of the Bible, the book of Abraham, and hundreds of latter-day revelations, in addition to the power and authority to make binding covenants that lead to eternal life. Surely we should sing out:

Praise to the man who communed with Jehovah!

Jesus anointed that Prophet and Seer.

Blessed to open the last dispensation,

Kings shall extol him, and nations revere.

(Hymns, 1985, no. 27.)

Of that man, Elder Joseph Fielding Smith wrote, “If a person thinks the name of Joseph Smith ought to be found in the Bible spelled out in so many letters, he will search in vain.” (Answers to Gospel Questions, 3:6.) That is true; the Prophet Joseph’s name is not found—at least not in the King James Version. Nevertheless, if we search the scriptures with an eye of faith, we will discover that the Lord truly did foretell the coming of his great latter-day prophet, Joseph Smith.

George A. Horton, Jr., is associate director of the BYU Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies.