A Textual History of the KFD, Part I: Sources to the “History of Joseph Smith”

By: J. Stapley - June 03, 2008

Part II of the series is available here. EDITORIAL NOTE: This post contains links to various transcripts of the “King Follett Discourse” which I have prepared. I prepared them quickly, so it is best to check against the originals for any meaningful analysis.

Joseph Smith delivered the “King Follett Discourse” (KFD) on April 7, 1844. It was his last General Conference. Joseph had lost several close associates to apostasy and Navuoo was tense. Joseph defied his critics, and with the KFD, Joseph showed his hand, pledging as proof that he was not “a fallen prophet,” details of his ultimate theology. The critics had a field-day with the content and Joseph made his rebuttal on June 16, in what is commonly called the “Sermon in the Grove.” The KFD is perhaps the most famous of all Joseph’s sermons, but the text of the most common printings has followed and interesting and, at times, strained route. This post is the first of a two part series reviewing the history of this text.

Unlike the leaders of the Church in Utah, clerks, trained in short hand, were never available to record the sermons of Joseph Smith. Fortunately, several individuals habitually recorded notes and or longhand transcriptions of Joseph’s teachings. At the April 1844 conference, there were several:

Thomas Bullock
Bullock was the official scribe for the general conference. His record of Joseph Smith’s sermon, with the rest of the conference minutes are available in the “Church Historian’s Office General Church Minutes, 1839-1877,” LDS Archives. High quality digital images of the holograph record are available in Selected Collections from the Archives of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2 vols., DVD (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, [Dec. 2002], 1:18.

William Clayton
William Clayton was Joseph’s personal scribe. His diary accounts of Joseph Smith’s teachings are an invaluable resource and have even been used for the text of sections in the Doctrine and Covenants. Clayton’s journal is located in the LDS Archives and the Joseph Smith years are restricted from public access. In the late 1970’s Andrew Ehat was granted access to the restricted Clayton diaries and made transcript extracts of approximately 50% of this journal for use in his publishing and scholarly pursuits. (1) A copy of this transcript was stolen from a colleague’s office and given to the Tanners who published it. Lawsuits ensued. Ehat won, but the decision was overturned on appeal. (2) George Smith later edited these transcripts and included them in the widely cited, An Intimate Chronicle: The Journals of William Clayton (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1995). (3)

Willard Richards
Richards was Joseph’s secretary and as such wrote Joseph Smith’s journal. The holograph is located in the LDS Archives, which have been digitally reproduced in Selected Collections, 1:20. Scott Faulring edited the Joseph Smith journals (other than the entries in the “Book of the Law of the Lord”) and published them as An American Prophet’s Record: The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, Inc., 1987). Faulring’s edition was hugely important, however it was also frequently heavily and silently edited. Subsequently, Dean Jessee started a serial publication of the Papers of Joseph Smith. (4) The first volume included historical and autobiographical writings and the second comprised the Joseph Smith diaries to 1842. The 1843-44 diaries were to be included in volume three; however, for a number of reasons, not excluding internal politics within LDS Church administration, the volume was never published. The Joseph Smith Papers project took over, with expansive (but not hasty) glory, and we expect to see a volume covering this later period to appear approximately summer 2010.

Wilford Woodruff
Wilford Woodruff, an early apostle and prodigious journal keeper, frequently recorded Joseph Smith’s sermons. Woodruff’s journals, approximately 7,000 holograph pages, cover the years of 1833-1898. Woodruff stipulated that his journals stay in the possession of his family and that his history should eventually be published. In 1981, the Woodruff Family Association contracted with Signature Books to publish what is one of the most foundational extant Mormon historical sources. (5)

George Laub
George Laub was a Pennsylvania native who arrived in Nauvoo during the Spring of 1843. Eugene England edited one of his holograph journals (LDS Archives, MS 1983) for BYU Studies. (6) Laub included in his journal some Joseph Smith sermon transcripts. However, as Ehat and Cook note, there are some inconsistencies in his record:

Unquestionably, the date George Laub assigned to this transcript is incorrect. He did not arrive in Nauvoo until 9 May 1843, a month after the date given for the sermon (6 April 1843). Because he did not begin his journal until 1 January 1845, these notes of the Prophet’s “King Follett” sermon…were not transcribed into his journal until at least eight months after the [sermon was] delivered. This probably accounts for his error in dating this and the other sermons.

Of course, this leads to a question regarding the strict contemporaneousness of these notes. There are a number of evidences in this report, however, which suggest that it is based on contemporary notes. (For example, see the incidental note that Joseph Smith “referred to 6 chapter of Hebrews.”) Nevertheless, because the notes really are only a summary of the major points of the “King Follett” sermon, and because George Laub indicates that this account was from “memory,” the account included here is given without further annotation. (7)

Moreover, the source used by Ehat and Cook as well as England, was Reminiscences and Journal, 1845-1846, MS 1983, LDS Church Archives. This was a later edited and revised copy of the original journal, MS 9628, which was not available when they did their studies (though it is now available at the LDS Church History Library). It appears that the JS sermon material was added to MS 1983 in Utah at some point and is not included in MS 9628.

Source Redux
Typescripts of these five contemporaneous accounts are available to scholars. Ehat and Cook’s Words of Joseph Smith (see note 1) was the first and standard scholarly production of texts. Their 1980 and 1991 editions however, omitted the George Laub account. This was rectified in the 1996 digital edition. Ehat has worked to further revise and expand the volume and is expected to produce a third edition in 2008. Additionally, W. V. Smith at the online Book of Abraham Project has compiled the Parallel Joseph in which the various sources are arranged in columns according to their correspondence. The Parallel Joseph version of the KFD is available here. For some additional details about the holograph records, see the introduction to Stan Larsen’s 1978 amalgamated text. (8)

Published Accounts

Times and Seasons
In the months following the KFD, editors combined the Bullock and Clayton accounts and published them as No Author, “Conference Minutes,” Times and Seasons 5 (August 15, 1844): 612-617 (PDF Typescript). This version of the KFD was published in the Fall of 1844 in the Millennial Star. The transcript is 4,760 words and approximates about 30% of that actual sermon. (9)

“History of Joseph Smith”
Joseph Smith was killed before he and his scribes finished his history. In the subsequent decades, the folks in the Church Historians Office pulled sources from all over the place to compile the “Manuscript History of the Church.” This process is best described in Howard Searle’s dissertation (see note 9). Specifically, Searle has a nice section on the amalgamation of sources that uses the KFD as an example. (10) Basically, the Church historians took the T&S account of the KFD and beefed it up using the Woodruff and Richards accounts of the sermon. A marginal note in the “Manuscript History,” text of the discourse states, “Compiled from the four reports by Jonathan Grimshaw; carefully revised and compared by George A. Smith and Thomas Bullock, read in Council Sunday 18th Nov. 1855, and carefully revised by President Brigham Young.” (11) This was standard practice for the reconstruction of Joseph’s sermons. This textual expansion resulted in increasing the word count of the T&S version by approximately 50%. The “Manuscript History” was serialized in the Deseret News and the KFD was published as “History of Joseph Smith: April 1844,” Deseret News 7 (July 8, 1857): 137-138 (PDF typescript).

Using the wonders of technology, I have produced a textual comparison of the T&S version and the “History of Joseph Smith” version. In this comparison it is quite easy to see how the Church Historians retained the general structure of the T&S version, supplementing the form with additional materials.

Part II of this study will look at the most controversial period of the KFD history, and have lots of fun geekery.


  1. Most famously, Ehat worked with Lyndon Cook to produce the seminal Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of the Prophet Joseph (Provo, UH: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1980). This volume was reprinted by Grandin Book Company (Orem Ut, 1991) and the text was revised for a second edition, first computer edition in 1996. This digital version is available through various Mormon digital collections, including, Gospelink and LDS Library. However, the bulk of Ehat’s notes found their use in his very important unpublished masters thesis: “Joseph Smith’s Introduction of Temple Ordinances and the 1844 Mormon Succession Question” (MA thesis, Brigham Young University, 1982).
  2. 780 F.2d 876, Tenth Circuit – Andrew F. Ehat, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Jerald Tanner and Sandra Tanner, Modern Microfilm Company, Defendants-Appellants., US.FEDERAL.ca10.
  3. For more information on the publication history of Ehat’s transcript as well as a critical review of their content see, James B. Allen, “An intimate chronicle: the journals of William Clayton [Book review],” BYU Studies 35, no. 2 (1995), 165-175.
  4. Dean C. Jessee, ed., The Papers of Joseph Smith, 2 vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1989-1992).
  5. Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1833-1898, typescript, edited by Scott G. Kenney, 9 vols. (Midvale, Utah: Signature Books, 1983-85).
  6. Eugene England, “George Laub’s Nauvoo Journal,” BYU Studies 18, no. 2 (1978), 157-58.
  7. Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, eds., The Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of the Prophet Joseph, 2nd ed. rev., 1st computer ed., (1996), June 7 (2), 1844, note 124.
  8. Stan Larson, “The King Follett Discourse: A Newly Amalgamated Text,” BYU Studies 18, no. 2 (1977-78), 193-208.
  9. Howard Clair Searle, “Early Mormon Historiography: Writing the History of the Mormons, 1830-1858″ (Ph.D. Diss., University of California, Los Angeles, 1979), 277.
  10. Ibid., 275-283.
  11. Ibid., 282.


  1. Wow, this is amazingly handy J. Thanks!

    Comment by Steve Evans — 6/3/2008 @ 7:07 pm

  2. Very useful, J. I had to go through the basics of this when I did my article in Dialogue on Joseph’s emendation of Hebrew Genesis 1:1 from the KFD. It sure would have been handy if this post had been available to me at that time.

    Comment by Kevin Barney — 6/3/2008 @ 7:45 pm

  3. Thanks for this, J. A very useful resource, indeed.

    Comment by Christopher — 6/3/2008 @ 7:58 pm

  4. well done.

    Comment by smb — 6/3/2008 @ 8:11 pm

  5. Remarkably well-documented sermon.

    The real questions about the KFD are:

    1. Did Joseph really preach that we can become gods?

    2. Did Joseph preach that God was once an imperfect mortal man?

    From the text comparisons I’ve seen, it seems quite apparent that he did.

    The next question becomes: why wasn’t this canonized?

    Comment by Seth R. — 6/3/2008 @ 8:34 pm

  6. Thanks folks.

    Seth, I don’t believe there is evidence to support your claims. The KFD is quite explicit that God the Father was on earth like Jesus was, which isn’t exactly “an imperfect mortal man.” Further, and especially in light of the Sermon in the grove, what he meant by “gods” appears to be quite different than the Father.

    Why wasn’t it canonized? I don’t know if you have read through the source accounts, but I don’t think it is a good idea to canonize things with such documentation. There are a few (e.g., D&C 131, which probably shouldn’t be there), but I tend to think we should canonize things first hand (not second or third). You may be surprised to learn that, will be shown in Part II of this series, early twentieth-century Church leaders were so skeptical of the sermon that they tried to prevent its publication.

    Comment by J. Stapley — 6/3/2008 @ 9:15 pm

  7. J.

    I would disagree about the canonization. In my opinion, if it is agreed upon as God’s truth, it doesn’t have to be a first hand account. If that wetre the case, most of the Old Testament would be out as well as portions of the Gospels. Also, the Book of Mormon, from the Words of Mormon through Ether are secondary accounts filtered through Mormon.

    If it is truth, the church present it to be canonized regardless of its origins.

    Comment by G.J. — 6/3/2008 @ 9:57 pm

  8. Very nice; you never cease to amaze…

    Comment by Ben — 6/3/2008 @ 9:59 pm

  9. G.J., I tend to believe that the canonization of modern scripture should be a different process than accepting the Hebrew Bible (as one who isn’t averse to higher criticism), the NT and texts received through revelation (BoM). Otherwise, we should take the whole History of the Church as cannon, a step, in my opinion, which would be folly.

    Comment by J. Stapley — 6/3/2008 @ 10:05 pm

  10. Thanks, J.

    Comment by David G. — 6/3/2008 @ 10:40 pm

  11. J. Stapley,

    Problem is, I see evidence of Joseph pushing for these ideas and doctrines for a long time and getting a lot of resistance from the members.

    So, in a sense, I’d agree with you.

    The doctrines have not been canonized because the LDS Church, in it’s stiffneckedness, has refused to accept them. We receive not, because we ask not.

    We always hear about there being other books of scripture out there. But I think the contemporary LDS Church – as a body – has made it more than clear that it does not want them, would be uncomfortable with them, and feels content with the status quo it currently enjoys.

    Comment by Seth R. — 6/3/2008 @ 10:57 pm

  12. Problem is, I see evidence of Joseph pushing for these ideas and doctrines for a long time and getting a lot of resistance from the members.

    Huh. Well I would sure be interested to see you lay out your evidence for this perspective.

    Comment by J. Stapley — 6/3/2008 @ 11:04 pm

  13. Thanks for reminding me how awesome boap.org is…

    Comment by Matt W. — 6/4/2008 @ 7:44 am

  14. I’m aware of the KFD in only the most general terms (it is prehistoric, after all, having occurred before 24 July 1847) but keep hearing in the blogs about unspecified conflicts. Thanks for spelling it out so clearly; I’m eagerly watching for more.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — 6/4/2008 @ 8:15 am

  15. J: Did Laub arrive in ’43 or ’44? Your quote in the post seems to imply that he arrived in ’43 and that the KFD was given that same year. Am I reading it wrong?

    Comment by Ben — 6/4/2008 @ 9:23 am

  16. Ben, he arrived in 1843. The mix up is that he dated several of JS sermons incorrectly in his journal (e.g., he dated the KFD to April 6, 1843).

    Ardis, your comment made me smile. I am in a wonderful position – having Ardis on one side (after 1847) and Sam on the other (before 1847).

    Comment by J. Stapley — 6/4/2008 @ 9:51 am

  17. The KFD is quite explicit that God the Father was on earth like Jesus was, which isn

    Comment by Nick Literski — 6/4/2008 @ 10:02 am

  18. To my knowledge, this interpretation of Joseph

    Comment by Ben — 6/4/2008 @ 10:10 am

  19. Nick, please, reread the text and try not to back into it all the baggage of the Utah era. Seriously. There is no mystery there.

    To be frank, I was aware of this reading when I first started looking at the KFD in high school. Now granted, I am no old timer, but it was still well before Hinkley became the President. I’m fairly certain that McConkie was no fan of the interpretation either.

    I know that you have strong feelings about the changing perspectives within Mormonism, but let’s just take the sermon as it is.

    Comment by J. Stapley — 6/4/2008 @ 10:11 am

  20. Fascinating, J. I’m always impressed with your depth and breadth of church history. Thanks for sharing this work.

    Comment by kevinf — 6/4/2008 @ 1:41 pm

  21. In the context of a prophetic church calls for canonization of the KFD are quite peculiar. Is anyone contending that canonization would happen through any means other than an initiative by the current President of the Church? Given the complex textual history outlined here I think one could understand why a Church President might be hesitant to undertake such an initiative. Personally I don’t see how the KFD could be canonized without additional clarifying revelations to the current President of the Church. Any canonized version of these varying texts would of necessity then be edited by the current Church President in accordance with such additional revelation. Therefore parsing the texts is in a sense irrelevant to any potential canonization (although very worthwhile as a scholarly effort — kudos to J. Stapley for pulling together this fine summary).

    That said, I think we can appropriately adopt the following position:

    1) In view of the uncertainty about the exact meaning of the doctrines in the KFD (both because of having incomplete texts and lack of clarity as to the meaning of some of the ideas) and in view of how imortant the topics are which the KFD addresses (the nature and destiny of God, man, and the universe), we can express our desire that the current Church President seek further understanding on the KFD and its teachings, and

    2) we can pray that God will grant the current Church President such further understanding.

    Comment by JWL — 6/4/2008 @ 2:41 pm

  22. JWL, I think that your comments jibe quite well with the current Church. Pratt’s edition of the D&C, where we got a lot of the Nauvoo stuff added, happened a bit differently, but that was also a bit of a different age.

    Comment by J. Stapley — 6/4/2008 @ 3:00 pm

  23. To my knowledge, this interpretation of Joseph

    Comment by Clark — 6/4/2008 @ 6:09 pm

  24. To add, the big problem with the KFD as canon is the issue of children and the resurrection. Even the version in the TPJS had big notes on this as potentially being uninspired.

    Comment by Clark — 6/4/2008 @ 6:10 pm

  25. Thanks, J. This is very comprehensive. I can hardly wait for the next level of geekery, as this post already has high geek content.

    Comment by kris — 6/4/2008 @ 8:27 pm

  26. Clark, I do think child resurrection was a big thing (especially in the nineteenth-century), but it appears that other issues were the cause controversy in the twentieth (look for part two!).

    Comment by J. Stapley — 6/4/2008 @ 9:45 pm

  27. You’ve piqued my curiosity. I eagerly await the next section.

    Comment by Clark — 6/4/2008 @ 11:12 pm

  28. “The more distant exaltation becomes as a possibility for

    Comment by Thomas Parkin — 6/5/2008 @ 12:11 am

  29. As Lorenzo Snow puts it –

    Still, tis no phantom that we trace
    Man’s ultimatum in life’s race;
    This royal path has long been trod
    By righteous men, each now a God:

    Whether our God was sinful or sinless, he was a man!

    Eliza R. Snow –

    … your God, like you on earth, has been
    Subject to sorrow in a world of sin:
    Through long gradation he arose to be
    Cloth’d with the Godhead’s might and majesty.
    And what to him in his probative sphere,
    Whether a Bishop, Deacon, Priest, or Seer?
    Whate’er his offices and callings were,
    He magnified them with assiduous care:
    By his obedience he obtain’d the place
    Of God and Father of this human race.

    Note: the whole poem is actually about Adam, who many early Saints believed to be the same as God the Father, but thats another subject.

    Comment by Mahonri — 6/5/2008 @ 10:14 am

  30. Mahonri, what’s your point?

    Thomas, I’m fine with you believing however you want. Let’s just not make the KFD into something we just want it to be.

    Comment by J. Stapley — 6/5/2008 @ 10:22 am

  31. As I

    Comment by BHodges — 6/5/2008 @ 12:25 pm

  32. Exciting and valuable piece of scholarship. Thanks! I’m bookmarking this.

    Comment by snow white — 6/5/2008 @ 2:08 pm

  33. Stapley (#30) – I guess his point is he likes poetry.

    I hope you do a similar segment on the lecture in the grove since it’s been a matter of debate theologically of late. (I believe Blake has a chapter arguing against the literal reading of it in his latest book – I’m still awaiting my copy from Amazon though)

    Comment by Clark — 6/5/2008 @ 5:38 pm

  34. “Let

    Comment by Thomas Parkin — 6/5/2008 @ 5:41 pm

  35. Clark, I may do something with the Sermon in the Grove, unfortunately, there just isn’t as much to work with.

    Thomas, here are some of the sources:

    These are incomprehensible to some but are the first principle of the gospel-to know that we may converse with [God] as one man with another & that he was once as one of us and was on a planet as Jesus was in the flesh

    Comment by J. Stapley — 6/5/2008 @ 5:51 pm

  36. Yes, J. I’m not trying to be obtuse.

    The Clayton quotes in no way neccesitate the view that the Father lived as a Savior, or lived a sinless life, for the reasons already given. And the Laub quote stands alone, from what you’ve given me, as asserting that the Father ‘redeem(ed) a world’ – might this not have been a mishearing based on other things that were said? For instance, he may have been overstating the signficance of the ‘laying down life and taking it again’ as I think you are doing. Is that kind of language repeated in another source? I don’t see the Laub quote as more explicitly stating what Clayton reported, but as stating something else entirely. I don’t know – I’ll certainly grant that you are better informed on the text than me.


    I’m not trying to assert that your interpretaion is wrong or invalid, only not required. And is more suspect due to many years of understanding contrary to it, from more or less ‘authorized’ sources’, which you want to dismiss from the discussion, centering only on the text. If it is a definitive and canonized text, _maybe_ you can do that. Considering what it is, a confluence of sources based on a single hearing, I think you have to take very seriously the interpretations of those who knew Jospeh personally or were present that the time, or who would have been involved in all the discussion of the sermon that must have taken place. I’d love to hear antyhing from any of those people, however much later the discussion occured.

    I’m sure, in any case, getting the answer right is a matter of revelation, not interpretation – and I’m certainly not claiming any of that. (I will aim for that, and once I’ve got it, I’ll be silent as the tomb.) I’m only defending my own prefered reading. And, actually, I’m kind of having fun, as I don’t usually engage in this kind of thing 🙂


    Comment by Thomas Parkin — 6/5/2008 @ 6:25 pm

  37. I would just add that Brigham et al., agreed with the interpretation that the Father was previously a Savior.

    I do agree that it is fun though!

    Comment by J. Stapley — 6/5/2008 @ 6:27 pm

  38. Having just read through the PDF comparing different textual versions, I must say what struck me was the level of doctrinal agreement between all sources. I didn’t see a single major doctrinal theme of Joseph’s speech, no matter which version you are reading, that is contradicted by the other versions.

    Again, remarkably well-documented speech. I think it’s rather ridiculous how much we try to tiptoe around the speech and imply Joseph didn’t really mean what I think he pretty clearly did mean.

    Why are we so uncomfortable with this speech?

    Comment by Seth R. — 6/8/2008 @ 5:24 pm

  39. Seth, I’m not uncomfortable with this speech, though I must admit that I am uncomfortable with certain interpretations of the sermon. Some of why some leaders in the twentieth century were uncomfortable with it is outlined in part II.

    Comment by J. Stapley — 6/8/2008 @ 6:03 pm

  40. I just got finished with Part II. Interesting. I don’t really agree with those who tried to suppress the KFD. I think it’s pretty clear from Joseph Smith, as well as Brigham Young that there is some sense in which individual human identity is uncreated.

    Agreed that the KFD doesn’t get too specific on the topic.

    Comment by Seth R. — 6/8/2008 @ 6:34 pm

  41. Seth, as you note there is a remarkable correspondence between the accounts in certain places. That “God never had power to create the spirit of man” is one of those places. In contrast Brigham taught that individual identity was created and could be destroyed.

    Comment by J. Stapley — 6/8/2008 @ 7:30 pm

  42. From what I can see from just these posts, it’s a bit of a muddled situation without bright theological dividing lines and established ideological camps.

    Someone ought to do an in-depth write-up on the Mormon view of the soul and how it developed over time in Church history.

    Note: I haven’t checked out the external links in these two posts yet.

    Comment by Seth R. — 6/9/2008 @ 12:31 am

  43. Seth, if you are interested in the subject, you should check them (especially the post and comments on Brigham and spirit annihilation). There is a significant amount of documentation on the matter.

    Comment by J. Stapley — 6/9/2008 @ 10:43 am

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