Daniel, in the post “Do Mormons have more than one God“, asked why Joseph Smith said he did a better job than Paul and Jesus for keeping the church together.
Thanks for asking this question. First and foremost, this was not the belief, or attitude, or teaching of the prophet Joseph Smith. In fact, Joseph Smith said the following:
“Who, among all the Saints in these last days, can consider himself as good as our Lord? Who is perfect? Who is pure? Who is holy as He was? Are they to be found? He never transgressed or broke a commandment or law of heaven – no deceit was in His mouth, neither was guile found in His heart… Where is one like Christ? He cannot be found on earth.” (History of the Church, 2:23)
He later said: “None ever were perfect but Jesus; and why was He perfect? Because He was the Son of God, and had the fullness of the Spirit, and greater power than any man.” (Ibid 4:358)
So then, what’s all this about?
It’s about a statement that was taken out of context and is commonly proliferated in anti-Mormon literature for the intent to mislead.
So what did Joseph Smith say?
His quote “I am the only man that has been able to keep the whole church together… Neither Paul, John, Peter, nor Jesus ever did it.”
Taken as an independent sentence, one would think the Prophet was insinuating that he was better than even Jesus. But as we see from his quote above (and numerous others, along with his very life and teachings), this was not his belief.
So then what was the real context of the quote?
Joseph Smith was speaking tounge-in-cheek in a discourse and testimony against the dissenters at Nauvoo. He was speaking against the very people who had beaten, tarred, feathered, spit upon, and would ultimately kill him.
In so doing, he had just read Corinthians, chapter 11, in which the apostle Paul said “Would to God ye could bear with me a little in my folly: and indeed bear with me. I say again, Let no man think me a fool; if otherwise, yet as a fool receive me, that I may boast myself a little. That which I speak, I speak it not after the Lord, but as it were foolishly, in this confidence of boasting. Seeing that many glory after the flesh, I will glory also…. Are they ministers of Christ (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. In Damascus the governor under Aretas the king kept the city of the Damascenes with a garrison, desirous to apprehend me: And through a window in a basket was I let down by the wall, and escaped his hands.”
Understanding that this was Joseph’s introduction to the congregation puts his comments into perspective. Like Paul, he was asking the saints to “bear with him” in his “folly”, while he “boasted foolishly” about his “labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent”. His quoting of this passage was to provide the context that what he was about to say would not be “after the Lord, but as it were foolishly”, to “glory in the flesh”, as Paul had done. It was to mock the fools with foolishness, while making the point that no matter what they do to him, he would prevail.
So, as you see, Joseph’s attitude was not that he was in any way, shape, or form, better than our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who is perfect – the only perfect person to ever walk the earth.
But there’s a larger point to this. And that point, aptly illustrated here, is that the content composed by critics of the church cannot be trusted. It was built to mislead, that is the sole intent, and so they’ll go to any measure to do so, even when dishonest.
I’ve seen some of the most ridiculous claims propagated around the internet, and by congregational leaders. It’s one of the primary aims of this blog, to be one source to which people can turn to get answers to things they hear, such as this, hence the page “Ask a Mormon“.
For truly, Joseph Smith had more respect, understanding, admiration, and deep desire to worship Jesus Christ than I can ever comprehend. He was a prophet of God, called by the Lord Himself. As such, his testimony of the Lord was pure and powerful. You can read more about it at www.josephsmith.com.
P.S. Related posts: “Is ‘anti’ contrary to Christianity?” discussing the un-Christian nature of critics (or “anti’s”. Also, “Commercialized Religion” discussing the motivation behind such anti material.