Joseph Smith described his own deep familiarity with scripture beginning at a young age. His familiarity with the Bible near the time of the Book of Mormon translation (1829–1830) is suggested by two letters he dictated to the Colesville Saints in 1830 which are full of Biblical allusion.
1832 journal account
Below are key phrases from Joseph Smiths earliest description of his youth, written in 1832. These phrases suggest a deep familiarity with both the Bible and the religious arguments of the day (not definitively, but at least by suggestion). They are followed by a straightforward interpretation and commentary on what such a phrase might mean regarding Joseph’s interests and abilities:
- “…Parents who spared no pains to instructing me in the christian religion” (well instructed in the Christian religion by parents)
- “…my mind become seriously imprest with regard to the all importent concerns for the wellfare of my immortal Soul…” (deeply interested in religious issues)
- “…led me to searching the scriptures…” (he not only read but searched the scriptures)
- “…thus applying myself to them [the scriptures]…” (not only reading but applying ideas in them)
- “…and my intimate acquaintance with those of differant denominations…” (on some non-trivial level he was interacting with those from, and hence ideas, from different denominations)
- “…led me to marvel excedingly for I discovered that they did not adorn their profession by a holy walk and Godly conversation agreeable to what I found contained in that sacred depository this was a grief to my Soul…” (he understood scripture well enough to decide that various religionists were acting contrary to them)
- “…from the age of twelve years to fifteen I pondered many things in my heart concerning the sittuation of the world of mankind the contentions and divisions the wickedness and abominations and the darkness which pervaded the minds of mankind my mind become excedingly distressed…” (he’s searching the scriptures and also pondering the differences [“contentions and divisions”] between denominations and interpreting their stances as “darkness” probably since they did not conform to his understanding of scripture. This wasn’t a mere pasttime, his mind became “exceedingly distressed” from this reflection)
- “…for I become convicted of my sins and by searching the scriptures I found that mankind did not come unto the Lord but that they had apostatised from the true and liveing faith and there was no society or denomination that built upon the gospel of Jesus Christ as recorded in the new testament and I felt to mourn for my own sins and for the sins of the world…” (his understanding of the Bible was deep enough to convict him of his fallenness and also that the various societies around him varied from the Bible)
The Colesville letters
BYU scholar Nicholas Frederick has documented the Biblical allusions found in Joseph Smith’s1 two Colesville letters. Regarding the first letter, Frederick noted:
… other than the very first sentence, every sentence contains at least one biblical quotation, allusion, or echo, with many of them containing more than one.
- The First Colesville Letter: Transcript and Biblical allusions
- The Second Colesville Letter: Transcript and Biblical allusions
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