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Who Was Joseph Smith, the Founder of the Mormon Church?

By Mormon.org

The founder of the Mormon Church was Joseph Smith. Although Smith was the first president, or prophet, of the Mormon Church, Mormons consider Jesus to be the head of the Church—which is officially named The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Who Was Joseph Smith?

Joseph Smith Jr. was born on December 23, 1805. His parents were Joseph Smith Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith. He was the fifth of 11 children, although only 9 of the 11 children survived past childhood.

Joseph was born in Sharon, Vermont. He and his family moved to Palmyra, New York, when he was 11 years old. A few years later the Smith family moved again, this time to nearby Manchester, New York.

Joseph’s family was a poor farming family, and Joseph attended school for only three years. During the rest of his childhood, he was educated at home along with his siblings. The family’s main source of education was reading and being taught from the Bible.

On January 18, 1827, Joseph married Emma Hale in South Bainbridge, New York. The couple were married for 17 years before Joseph was murdered. During their marriage, they added 11 children to their family. Their first three biological children died when they were only a few hours old. The couple then adopted twins, one of whom died before he was a year old. Emma had six more biological sons after that; four survived infancy. Joseph never met his youngest son because the child was born five months after his father died.

How Did Joseph Smith Find Christ’s Church?

During Joseph’s youth, the state of New York was experiencing a time of religious revival. Numerous churches preached different doctrines. Although Joseph was young, he had questions. He didn’t want to belong to just any church, and the conflicting teachings he heard confused him. Joseph had a strong desire to know which church was true.

To try and find an answer to his question, the 14-year-old Joseph turned to the Bible, where he read James 1:5: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.”

After reading this New Testament verse, Joseph knew he needed to ask God which church was the true church, so one day he went out into the woods near his house and prayed.

Joseph Smith and the First Vision

In solitary and sincere prayer, Joseph asked God which church he should join. During that prayer, God and Jesus appeared to the young man in the woods. Jesus told Joseph not to join any of the current churches because many Christian doctrines in each had become corrupted. This visit is referred to by Mormon Church members as the First Vision.

Joseph wrote down his account of the First Vision and told people what he had witnessed. Many outside his family mocked, ridiculed, and reviled him. But Joseph never denied what he had heard and seen.

Three years later, an angel appeared to Joseph, explaining some biblical prophecies that were about to be fulfilled. 

Joseph Smith and the Mormon Church

As part of the fulfillment of these prophecies, the angel told Joseph of an ancient scriptural record, which Joseph later translated. This record is titled the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ. In his role as prophet, Joseph Smith also received instruction and authority to organize and restore Christ’s Church on the earth today. Although the official name when it was founded was The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the nickname “Mormon Church” stems from that book of scripture Joseph translated.

Through Joseph, God also restored the priesthood to the earth, and He called modern Apostles and other Church leaders.

As persecution increased for Joseph and others who joined Christ’s Church, Joseph led the Mormons from New York to the Midwest to seek safety. He there oversaw the building of the first Mormon temple, in Kirtland, Ohio. Later arrested without lawful cause, Joseph Smith was shot while held in the Carthage, Illinois, jail. He was martyred alongside his brother Hyrum Smith on June 27, 1844.

After Joseph Smith died, Brigham Young became the next prophet of the Mormon Church. This prophetic authority from God continues today through living prophets and apostles.