(Note to reader: The following is an excerpt of a letter sent by M.S. Brothers to seven apostles of the LDS church in early 2015. No response was ever received.)
Acknowledging the actual extent of Joseph Smith’s fallibility allows us to consider some of his more important historical and/or doctrinal claims in a different light. For example, on the subject of Elijah, anyone who today accepts all of Joseph’s claims on face value must aver that Elijah the prophet appeared to him and Oliver Cowdery in the Kirtland temple in 1836 (see D&C 110:13-16), even though Oliver Cowdery wrote an exhaustive eight-page summary of the Kirtland temple events in the March, 1836 Messenger and Advocate, pages 274-81, but never mentioned this experience. (His account also failed to corroborate Joseph Smith’s claim recorded in D&C 110: 1-12 that Jesus, Moses and Elias had appeared and spoken to the two men during the same Kirtland temple events.)
In addition to the above, the LDS apologist must also defend the following propositions:
–That the purpose of Elijah’s coming was to restore the “priesthood keys” of the “dispensation” of turning the hearts (the Bible and Book of Mormon use the word “heart” instead of the word “hearts” found in the Doctrine and Covenants) of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers. This is to be believed even though none of the many references to Elijah in the Bible, and the one in the Book of Mormon, including the words of Jesus himself, mention him possessing any such priesthood keys, or the priesthood itself. The Bible and Book of Mormon nowhere teach, nor even hint, that prophets necessarily possess priesthood. (Ironically, Elijah’s holding of the Melchizedek priesthood is even contradicted by D&C 84: 25-28, which states that the Holy Priesthood was taken out of Israel’s midst with the departure of Moses. Since Elijah lived many hundreds of years after Moses, he couldn’t have possessed this priesthood if D&C 84 is accepted as reliable.
Second, that the aforementioned prophecy regarding Elijah didn’t refer to the coming of John the Baptist as a forerunner to Christ 2000 years ago, despite the fact that the angel Gabriel, and Jesus himself, straightforwardly taught that the mission of John the Baptist was the fulfillment of this prophecy. Malachi 3: 1-3, 4: 5-6; Matthew 17: 10-12; Luke 1: 13-17, 7: 24-27; see also Mark 9: 11-13. At no time did Gabriel or Jesus indicate that these prophecies would be fulfilled by a momentary appearance of Elijah to one man 1,800 years later.
Third, that Elijah only “held the keys” to this grand work, but that Joseph Smith and his followers were to do the actual work of said turning of hearts, instead of Elijah doing it himself, even though the Bible and Book of Mormon said the Elijah figure himself would do the work. See Malachi 4: 5-6; III Nephi 25: 5-6.
Fourth, that Elijah and Elias were two different people, and that Joseph Smith was visited by both of them on the same day in the Kirtland temple, see D&C 27: 6-9; 110: 12-15, even though no one in the history of the entire Christian and Jewish worlds, including Jesus, is known to have taught that these were separate individuals until Joseph Smith referred to them separately. No biblical writer or speaker ever mentioned a man named Elias when they weren’t speaking about Elijah. In fact, every New Testament mention of “Elias” turning the heart of the fathers to the children and the heart of the children to the fathers refers to prophecies about Elijah quoted from the 3rd and 4th chapters of Malachi. That’s why Jesus’ comment regarding the miracle “Elias” performed with the woman in Serepta and her cruse of oil was the same story as Elijah in Zarephath, the only difference being the New Testament quote from Jesus replaces Hebrew names with Greek ones. See scriptures quoted in preceding paragraph, as well as First Kings 17: 1-24 and Luke 4: 25-26.
As shown below, Joseph Smith demonstrated that he never figured out that the New Testament changed names such as Elijah and Isaiah to the Greek names Elias and Esaias, respectively; or that Jeremy was a New Testament form of Jeremiah. To him, each name referred to a separate man. The Old Testament doesn’t mention any person by the name of Elias, but Joseph Smith claims an Old Testament Elias appeared in person and “committed the dispensation of the gospel of Abraham…”(D&C 110: 12). In D&C 84: 9-13, two men with Greek/New Testament names of Jeremy and Esaias are listed along with other men with Hebrew names, and are referred to as living in the time of Abraham. The problem is that in Abraham’s time, almost 2000 years before Christ, the Greek/New Testament names Elias, Esaias and Jeremy didn’t even exist. In fact, neither Greece as a nation nor the New-Testament-era Greek language existed then. But Joseph Smith, an unlearned man, didn’t know this. The evidence is very strong that, despite the divine assistance he’d received earlier through the Urim and Thummim and seer stone in bringing forth the Book of Mormon, his linguistic misunderstanding when he no longer possessed these divine instruments led to outwardly impressive non-revelations being represented as divine.
The following questions are therefore justified: Before our church built its entire doctrinal structure of “redeeming the dead” through genealogy work and temple ordinances on the claimed coming of Elijah to the Kirtland temple, should not our former church leaders have studied and fully discussed the issues above? Shouldn’t someone have spoken up and quoted Gabriel’s and Jesus’ already-clear words about the Elijah prophecy? Shouldn’t someone have dared to say to Joseph, “Brother Smith, I think you’re interpreting the Bible incorrectly there. According to Jesus, the Elijah prophecy was fulfilled with John the Baptist’s mission.”
Moreover, shouldn’t someone have mentioned that Joseph Smith had already quoted God to the effect that redeeming the dead was unnecessary, because God would judge all those who’d gone unbaptized during mortality on the desire of their hearts? See D&C 137: 5-9. Joseph’s brother Alvin had never been baptized, nor had anyone been baptized for him, but he was already dwelling in “the celestial kingdom of God” according to this LDS scripture.
Full discussion of the Elijah issue would also have revealed that Joseph Smith’s teachings in D&C 137 provided a view similar to that found in Moroni 8: 22-23 concerning the non-necessity for “work for the dead”:
22 For behold that all little children are alive in Christ, and also all they that are without the law. For the power of redemption cometh on all them that have no law; wherefore, he that is not condemned, or he that is under no condemnation, cannot repent; and unto such baptism availeth nothing—
23 But it is mockery before God, denying the mercies of Christ, and the power of his Holy Spirit, and putting trust in dead works.
Given the staggering amount of Mormon teachings, labors and money directed at “redeeming the dead”, it seems fair to say that the failure of early church members to scrutinize Joseph Smith’s understanding and teachings on such seemingly small matters as the meaning of the Elijah prophecy in Malachi eventually led, unfortunately, to breathtakingly dramatic departures from sound gospel doctrine.