Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship

Studies in the Bible and Antiquity


Biblical studies, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, religious scholarship


According to the non-Mormon historian Jan Shipps, “the mystery of Mormonism cannot be solved until we solve the mystery of Joseph Smith.”1 Stated more casually, this is called the “prophet puzzle,” and it is sometimes suggested that Latter-day Saints will understand themselves only to the degree that they understand Joseph Smith. The classic definition of the role played by Joseph Smith was contributed by LDS leader B. H. Roberts in the late nineteenth century: “What was Joseph Smith’s mission? It was the mission of Joseph Smith, under God’s direction, to establish the Church of Christ and the Kingdom of God upon the earth; and to the accomplishment of this work he devoted the whole energy of his life and was faithful until the end.”2 What Roberts meant by this is that Smith restored organizations, roles, priesthoods, sacraments, and so forth that had been previously present among God’s people in all ages. Smith was particularly clear that Jesus had established this church in his own period. To the extent that information about this part of the Christian past is preserved, it is to be found particularly in the New Testament.