Seer Stones and Prophetic Authority

Seer Stones and Prophetic Authority August 12, 2015

Last week, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints made national and international news by releasing photographs of a seer stone used by Joseph Smith during the coming forth of the Book of Mormon.

For some contemporary Latter-day Saints and for some outside critics of the church, the fact that Joseph Smith used a seer stone is controversial. Ironically, some of Joseph Smith’s earliest followers objected when he stopped using a seer stone.

Smith used several seer stones during his work on the Book of Mormon, and apparently also for some of his earliest revelations (between 1828 and 1833, Smith dictated scores of divine messages, most in the voice of Jesus Christ). See this summary, recently released by the LDS Church.

At a certain point, though, perhaps shortly after the Book of Mormon translation was complete in June 1829, Smith stopped using a stone as a conduit for his revelations. David Whitmer, who alongside his father and brothers was one of Smith’s earliest supporters, later concluded that once Smith set aside his seer stone, his subsequent revelations were “of the Devil.”[1]

In September 1830, church member Hiram Page (husband of David Whitmer’s sister) challenged Smith’s authority with a “roll of papers,” revelations he had received through a seer stone. Page’s claims raised the specter of prophetic chaos. What was the relationship between magical objects and prophetic authority? Did Smith need them? Did others with such artifacts receive valid revelations? Apparently Oliver Cowdery (Smith’s principal Book of Mormon scribe) and the Whitmers were pondering the validity of Page’s “papers.”

In response to the challenge, Smith dictated a revelation that clarified that “no one shall be appointed to Receive commandments & Revelations in this Church excepting my Servent Joseph.” Oliver Cowdery, Smith’s principal Book of Mormon scribe, had previously sought the ability to translate like Smith. This revelation added that Cowdery would serve as Aaron to God’s latter-day Moses but would himself “not write by way of Commandment.” Hiram Page received a harsher rebuke. The “things which he hath written from that Stone,” the Lord stated, “are not of me & … Satan deceiveth him.” Through this revelation, Smith affirmed that no objects were necessary as conduits for revelation and that his prophetic authority was unique.[2]

A church conference toward the end of September 1830 affirmed the recent revelation and affirmed Smith’s as “seer, a translator, a prophet, an apostle of Jesus Christ.” Newel Knight, an early convert, commented that “Brother Page, as well as the whole church who were present, renounced the said stone, and all things connected therewith, much to our mutual satisfaction and happiness.”[3]

It is interesting that as time passed, it became more difficult for some Latter-day Saints to accept that their founding prophet used a seer stone, both in search of buried treasures and as a conduit for revelation. In the early 1830s, some of Smith’s followers had been just as skeptical that he could receive revelations without a stone.

The September 1830 revelation and conference did not fully settle the issue of revelatory authority. A prophetess challenged Smith’s authority the next year with revelations of her own. Over the course of Mormon history, other would-be prophets have challenged  church leaders with claims of revelation. In the mid-1840s, James Strang mocked Brigham Young for his unwillingness to produce written revelations. In the 1850s, Lydia Farnsworth wrote Young that she had obtained a revelation that she should marry him. “When I wished to have any woman sealed to me,” Young responded in a letter, “I shall reveal the fact. I am not guided by revelations coming through any woman.” (Fourteen years later, Young – apparently no longer offended – did marry Farnsworth). Members and outsiders alike  sometimes wonder why contemporary Latter-day Saint leaders no longer bring forth the “word of the Lord” as did Joseph Smith and some of his successors. Prophetic authority – hard to define, hard to confine.

[1] Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ…(Richmond, Mo.: David Whitmer, 1887), 54.

[2] Revelation of September 1830 to Oliver Cowdery, D&C 28:2.

[3] Richard Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005, 120-121).

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  • rvs

    I enjoyed this post–thanks. On a related note, one of John Dee’s scrying stones is on display in the British Museum.

  • Joseph M

    Interesting discussion of the context of Seer Stones in the time.

  • ron_goodman

    How could anyone have a discussion about this with a straight face?

  • paul

    “The apparently physical nature of the UFOs creates such insoluble puzzles for even the best brains, and on the other hand has built up such an impressive legend, that one feels tempted to take them as a ninety-nine percent psychic product and subject them accordingly to the usual psychological interpretation. Should it be that an unknown physical phenomenon is the outward cause of the myth, this would detract nothing from the myth, for many myths have meteorological and other natural phenomena as accompanying causes which by no means explain them.”

    Jung, C G. Civilization in Transition. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1970.

  • David Tiffany

    “When I wished to have any woman sealed to me,” Young responded in a letter, “I shall reveal the fact.”

    And he did. He married numerous wives and had numerous children. And took care of none of them. He left them destitute, without food, having to fend for themselves. There was one day that he was walking down the road and saw a woman. He walked up to her and told her she looked familiar but he couldn’t place her. She told him she ought to look familiar, he had married her ten years prior.

    1 Timothy 5:8, “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”

    And people should be troubled about Joseph Smith using a seer stone. You have that combined with the Book of Mormon having no archaeological or historical evidence to support its claims, the Book of Abraham being “translated” from an Egyptian papyri having nothing to do with Abraham, Joseph Smith having no fulfilled prophecies which makes him a false prophet (perhaps that’s why Mormonism’s current “prophets” don’t speak anything: with today’s modern technology it would not be as easy to deceive people, as when Joseph Smith and Brigham Young said people lived on the moon, dressed like Quakers and lived to be about a thousand years old.)

    And the worst of it is that Mormonism’s gospel is built on this foundation. Mormonism’s gospel is different from the Gospel of Christ that the Apostle Paul preached. Mormonism’s gospel does not reconcile a person to God and therefore leads them to destruction.

  • paul

    You know, even as weird as Mormons are, they actually don’t sound this stupid: ” … and therefore leads them [Mormons] to destruction.”

    Exactly what kind of god would that be, David? And why, when they talk about Mormons, do so many Evangelicals sound like they don’t have a brain in their heads?

  • David Tiffany

    The Scriptures teach that we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God and that the wages of sin is death, eternal separation from God. Those who are separate from God will go to their destruction. That’s bad news.
    But the Good News (Gospel) is that the perfect Son of God went to the cross and paid the penalty that a just God demanded. And He will credit His perfection to the account of the person who asks Him to. That person will then be reconciled to God and no longer face judgement.
    But that’s the only way a person can be reconciled to God.
    Mormon’s, however, are trying to be reconciled to God a different way: by good works, keeping the commandments, making and keeping temple covenants. God will not accept this from them.
    I don’t consider Mormons stupid, but deceived, like I once was. Having been raised a 4th generation Mormon, I too was deceived. Now I’m reconciled to God, based only on what Jesus did on the cross.

  • paul

    Mormons also recognize & honor what “Jesus did on the cross.” To their vast credit, however, they believe He demands far more of humanity than simply recognizing this act. I have lots of problems with the LDS, but I’ll certainly go this far with them, that God prefers active righteousness to passive.

  • MormonForever

    Mormonism does none of what you have stated.

  • MormonForever

    God will absolutely accept my good works and be very please that I am keeping the commandments and keeping my Temple covenants. I am not deceived. I am following my Heavenly Father by doing these things and trying to live by Jesus Christ’s example.

  • BeaverTales

    I’m just sad and embarrassed that people haven’t become less stupid or more intolerant of lying (especially by their own team) ~200 years later.

    Maybe all the lies wouldn’t be so bad if ‘faith’ and unquestioning belief wasn’t considered essential to one’s own salvation to begin with.

  • Or maybe he was a con artist who’d already been convicted of such crimes who made the whole thing up?

  • David Hennessey

    Thank God for Mormonism, it was through Joseph Smith that I came to understand how and why religions arise and become international institutions with vast wealth based on pure human greed and lust. I got interested in the roots of “christianities” of various kinds and found shocking surprises about the Roman State religion, the evil of the Vatican through history and the poisonous pen of the Protestant “reformers” who inspired and supported Hitler’s Jewish extermination.

    Like Jesus said, beautiful on the surface but a rotting sepulcher at it’s heart. He tried to do away with the Jewish priesthood and introduce freedom of conscience but the Romans hired the false apostle Paul to unify all religions under the old order, the Babylonian, Egyptian, Jewish, Celtic, Apollonian priesthood restored under Roman control. They put on the vestments of the Sun God, still worship him on Sunday and celebrate his birth on the solstice of the Celtic “Hesus”, their new Apollo.

    The original message of Jesus, whatever his real name, is long gone and buried but the idea that each of us has the freedom to choose what our own relationship with God will be or even choosing no god is a human right that transcends priest, dogma or religion. The messiah only could address the Jewish priesthood and their stranglehold on religious thought through the necessity of animal sacrifice and impossible rules. He died to rend the curtain between the holy of holies and the common Jew, each person could talk directly to God and decide what God was telling them without the intervention of a priest or need of sacrifice. AS he said, he came only for the Jew, not the unbeliever, only for the sick, not the healthy…hmmm?
    Thanks to Mormonism, I knew what could happen and thanks to early Popes for revealing most of their duplicity and thanks to the “Wiz” for showing me what was behind the curtain and now I am free, thank God, or whoever.

    I dont care if there is a God, many gods or no gods, if they kill me, I die, if they like my way of thinking maybe I become a god, I hope not, the job sucks.

  • M.J.

    Wrong. Asking questions is the way to obtain answers, especially from God. Just because he has not answered you does not mean he has not answered others. You reveal your own status, not that of those who know.

  • M.J.

    Hound: Is there anything in your life that you are willing to die for?

  • M.J.

    Not one statement is true in this entire narrative. All that is said here was invented by enemies of the Church. You won’t get truth from the Church’s enemies. They want to keep you from the truth. Go to

  • LinCA

    Is there anything in your life that you are willing to die for?

    Right, because willing to die for a delusion must mean that it is true, correct? Of course that must mean that Islam is more correct than any form of Christianity as it seems Muslims are far more willing to die for their beliefs.

    Willingness to die for irrational beliefs is delusional.

  • BeaverTales

    How naive you are. Just don’t question the Elders. God doesn’t answer your questions, the Elders do. Just shut up and Keep believing that He always agrees with them….or end up in Outer Darkness some day.

    And they will happily excommunicate you for publicly asking the wrong questions, or you disagreeing with the answers they give. Your family will follow suit by shunning you. Just hope that God tells them when he changes his mind, like he did in 1978.

  • Thanks. I was blindsided by that one as it was completely from left field. Are there things I would die for? I like to think so. I like to think I would risk dying to save someone in danger. Maybe to stop a genocide or a horrible human rights abuse. None of that has anything to do with the historical facts surrounding Joseph Smith. I’d also like to think that I wouldn’t be so foolish as to defend ideas that were simply not true or attack people for presenting facts just because I didn’t like them.

  • So only the official version from the LDS church is correct and everyone else is the “enemy”? Do you have any idea how paranoid that sounds?

  • BillYeager

    In response to the challenge, Smith dictated a revelation that clarified that “no one shall be appointed to Receive commandments & Revelations in this Church excepting my Servant Joseph.

    Funny that, you know, how conveniently these ‘prophets’ are able to pull ‘divine’ statements out of their . . .hat . . . which apparently support their immediate need for clarification on a specific issue and for it to always, always, be ‘answered’ on the side of the ‘prophet’.

    Mo, of the big Middle-Eastern religion, had that happen to him many many times, too.

    It’s almost as if it were simply being made up to suit.

  • David Tiffany

    Read “Wife No. 19” by Ann Eliza Young, Brigham Young’s 19th wife. You’ll get some history about polygamy, blood atonement, etc.

  • David Tiffany

    Romans 3:20, “Therefore, no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.”

  • David Tiffany

    This is from the following link on

    “Scripture and discussion
    Have the young men read again Abraham 3:25.

    According to this scripture, why is earth life so important? (We are being tested to see if we will obey the Lord’s commandments.)

    If we obey the commandments, what will happen?

    Emphasize that this is the way we obtain our return ticket home to our Heavenly Father.”

    However, the Scriptures say this:

    Romans 3:20, “Therefore, no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.”

  • paul

    Basically, Bro Tiffany, you’ve substituted one kind of fanatical nonsense for another. That bible you’re quoting has been translated in & out of 5 different languages by an entire boatload of scribes for the better part of 1500 years – and you talk like it’s straight from the mouth of god. That’s a problem.

  • Guthrum

    Are we in for a huge event this fall ? Just look at these recent headlines: “Iran hit by meteorites+ serious damage”
    “Iran swelters under 165 degree heat !”
    “Dozens of earthquakes hit south”
    “Volcanic activity increasing”
    “Major volcanic eruptions in Japan, Equador”
    “California hit by drought, scorching fires, sirrocco winds !”
    “Meteor shower in August”
    “Unusual planetary movements !”
    “Solar storm imminent ?”
    “El Nino to be catastrophic !”
    “Animal attacks on increase: scientists puzzled” (animals gone wild)
    “Rare blue moon to be visible”

    And those are just the “natural” events ! Are these warnings ?

  • Ralph Spoilsport 11

    No, they’re natural events, like you said.

    First, Iran hit a 165 degree heat index, which is not the actual temperature but based on the temp. + dew point. It was 115 degrees with a dew point of 90. Saudi Arabia hit a heat index of 176 in 2003.

    The earth experiences millions of earthquakes every year, so a few dozen are nothing new, though there’s some reason to think fracking can trigger them.

    Likewise, volcanic activity is always increasing somewhere — and decreasing in other places. Earthquakes in Japan are as unusual as droughts in California.

    Meteor shower in August!!!!one!!!

    Yes, the most famous meteor shower, the Perseid Meteor Shower, happens EVERY August. It would be notable if they DIDN’T appear.

    Unusual planetary movements!!! Yeah, they orbit.

    Solar storm imminent ? Is that a yes or a no?

    El Nino to be catastrophic ! Yep, real climatologists can tell you why.

    Animal attacks on increase: scientists puzzled — compared to what?

    Rare blue moon to be visible — by far the stupidest entry in this stupid list. A “blue moon” is a second full moon within the same month. Yawn.

  • BillYeager

    You clearly believe your garage to be occupied by a dragon. But as Carl Sagan said, “Now, what’s the difference between an invisible, incorporeal, floating dragon who spits heatless fire and no dragon at all?”
    You look for ‘evidence’ that your god has answered your question and if you fail to find something suitable you can attribute to a ‘divine answer’ you simply imagine yourself a ‘justifiable’ reason why no answer is forthcoming.

    Still, I’m pretty sure you’re the kind of person who ‘sees’ answers from your god every time you look for them.

  • Guthrum

    Now I will list important prophetic events scheduled for this fall:
    The Pope comes to US, to give unprecedented talk at UN before the world leaders. Will he unveil plans for a new, united world religion ? Will he push for a new economic order ?
    The UN itself has an “global sustained growth” plan that will make the Agenda 21 look more like a plan for a lemonade stand. Countries that buy into this will be allowing the UN to control their economy, construction, energy, transportation, farming, and health ! Will the president sign onto this ? Or has he already ?
    The UN is set to recognize Palestine, a country ruled by terrorists !
    In October the IMF may announce a new global currency. Americans will wake up to find out that their money is worthless and must be exchanged. They might also be required to get a number to buy or sell anything ! This will create upheavals and instability. (See China market crashes – again !)
    In October the last of the four blood moon cycle occurs, at the same time as a major Jewish feast day ! In the past this has been accompanied by a major middle east event !
    In September, the Jewish Shemitah will come to the end of its seven year cycle. This has almost always been accompanied by economic upheavals and stock spirals !
    FEMA is building some sort of camps, converting closed WalMarts, and malls. For what ?

    If we get into December with no major natural catastrophes, middle east crises, or economic meltdowns, I will promise to stay away from prophetic sites, programs, books, and videos.
    Update – China hit by huge, unexplained blast, described as a mushroom type explosion.
    Plague outbreak in Yellowstone, camping areas closed and sealed off !
    Can it get any scarier ?

  • Guthrum

    I certainly appreciate your points that these events have occurred before. But all in the same year ? Seems highly unusual. It can’t just be a coincidence !
    And NASA, while not confirming a major event this fall, is not denying it.

  • Ralph Spoilsport 11

    They aren’t unusual at all.

  • Guthrum

    Take a look at this: just the other day Secretary of State Kerry said that there could be a currency reset for the world- the US dollar would no longer be the currency for the world ! This could be disatrous. Imagine waking up the next day and discovering that your money is practically worthless !
    Read the excellent best seller by Pastor Hagee: “The Four Blood Moons” (Something is about to change). Watch his videos about the Four Blood Moon cycle that we are in and what may take place this fall.
    No doubt about it: almost every major prophecy has been revealed. Things are coming together. We are in the final countdown !

  • We have no way of forcing other countries to use dollars and yes if they switched to another currency, especially for oil trading, it would affect our currency. That’s what he’s talking about.

  • Why would they bother deny something that’s not based on anything they can confirm? Every year or two there’s one of these apocalyptic predictions. Then nothing happens (remember 2012 and 1988 and so many others?) and they just move the predictions forward. But go ahead and stand by your conspiracy theory nonsense. I do expect a big public apology and admission that they are full of crap by Oct 1 though.

  • J. Inglis

    Hagee’s 4 blood moon theory has been widely and soundly debunked. Blood moons, even 4, are a not infrequent astronomical phenomenom.

  • Guthrum

    Yes, but it is very rare when each one last year and this year coincided with an important Jewish feast day.
    Again, I will completely lay off the prophetic sites, books, tv, and videos after December if: there are no major natural calamaties, mideast crises, economic crashes, invasions, attacks, or political upheavals.

    Breaking news today: Authorities puzzled by China explosion, huge mushroom cloud seen.

  • accelerator

    Mormonism does a lot of good. And can point to its wonderful people. All of which makes its truth claims that much more sad. People burned by Smith’s ribald propositions will be much less likely to believe essential New Testament claims. Once burned…, you know? That is the only real tragedy of Mormonism. And for that I can never forgive Smith. Regardless of his motivations, his gifts, or any genuine early supernatural encounters, it is clear he was also an incredible liar about sacred things. Book of Abraham, Inspired Version of the Bible, the D & C… Masonic Temple Ceremony ripoffs, Presidential Campaigns, failed banks, umpteen wives… What an ugly shame. You see good and noble people now trying to maintain his reputation…. Just a crime.

  • Justin Koetter

    Its time to wake up America! September is National Preparedness Month. Babylon the great will soon fall and three days of darkness will follow. Receive Jesus Christ into your heart to be protected from the wrath to come! Heaven and earth will be shaken and there will be chaos on the streets so please stay inside with your family tomorrow! Get into the ark before it’s too late because you DO NOT want to be left behind. Many will have to die for their faith but will still go to heaven as long as they DON’T take the mark of the beast mandated by Obama through the NWO. All the signs are here and the Palestinians received approval by the UN to raise the flag and divide Israel. God will bring judgment to this world by 9-13 and the rapture will occur on 9-15. God bless and please click share so your loved ones can have time to prepare!

    Here it is people! This masterfully done bible code video is proof that the bride is taken out of here on September 15th! This is when the last blast of the feast of trumpets will occur. Please watch this to the end so you will understand what the blessed hope is. Thank you Jesus, we cant wait to see you in your glory!

    This is Your Message From God. You Have A Decision To Make Today that Will Have An Eternal Impact…

    If you are a Christian please watch this video to prepare yourself for the blessed hope and may God keep you and your family safe…

  • Ssev Dor

    Joseph Smith did not lie about how he translated the Book of Mormon. He said he used the Urim and Thummim. The allegations about the use of a seer stone were untrue. The Mormon leadership missed the mark on this one. If the alleged prophets, seers and revelators of the Mormon Church truly had the seer gift, they could have used the gift to find the truth, but no Mormon leader has EVER been able to translate anything by the gift and power of God. The leadership has the same problem with the Three Nephites and John the Beloved. Had any of them, besides Joseph, met any of them, they could have learned the truth about many matters; but because they looked beyond the mark, they stumbled. Joseph never wanted a church or a Mormon apostleship. The Three Witnesses called the alleged Twelve, not Joseph. Joseph suffered the Mormon church to get started, again, because the people looked beyond the mark, and stumbled, because they desired to stumble. (See Jacob 4:14.)

    What did Joseph Smith know that would have got him killed by his brethren? “Brethren, if I were to tell you all I know of the kingdom of God, I do know that you would rise up and kill me. “What revelations could the Latter-Day Saints not bear? “If I was to show the Latter Day Saints all the revelations that the Lord has shown unto me, there is scarce a man that would stay with me, they could not bear it.” Who was Joseph and what did he know that would have caused his brethren to take his life? ““Would to God, brethren, I could tell you WHO I am! Would to God I could tell you WHAT I know! But you would call it blasphemy and want to take my life!” The Mormon Church and its leaders do not know the answers to these questions, which he addressed to THEM.