The Prophet Joseph Smith has long been recognized and honored for facilitating the work of the Restoration, but one of his exemplary qualities - his immense knowledge of the scriptures - may not have been fully appreciated until recently, according to Richard C. Galbraith, BYU professor of Family Sciences.
Research done by Brother Galbraith has identified and catalogued many of the thousands of scriptures used by the Prophet in his sermons, writings and personal letters.The researcher related the following quotation, which shows how the Prophet integrated scripture after scripture to support and enhance his teachings. The superscript notations are a guide to many of the scriptural passages referenced. Commenting on John 3:1-5, the Prophet explained:
"This strong and positive answer of Jesus, as to water baptism,1 settles the question: If God is the same yesterday, today and forever,2 it is no wonder He is so positive in the great declaration: He that believes and is baptized shall be saved, and he that believes not shall be damned!3 There was no other name given under heaven, nor no other ordinance admitted, whereby men could be saved:4 No wonder the Apostle said, being buried with him in baptism, ye shall rise from the dead!5 No wonder Paul had to arise and be baptized and wash away his sins.6 No wonder the angel told good old Cornelius that he must send for Peter to learn how to be saved.7 Peter could baptize, and angels could not, so long as there were legal officers in the flesh holding the keys of the kingdom,8 or the authority of the priesthood.9 There is one evidence still further on this point, and that is that Jesus himself when he appeared to Paul on his way to Damascus,10 did not inform him how he could be saved.11 He has set in the church first Apostles, and secondly prophets, for the work of the ministry, perfecting of the saints,12 etc.; and as the grand rule of heaven was that nothing should ever be done on earth without revealing the secret to his servants the prophets, agreeably to Amos 3:7, so Paul could not learn so much from the Lord relative to his duty in the common salvation13 of man, as he could from one of Christ's ambassadors14 called with the same heavenly calling15 of the Lord, and endowed with the same power from on high16 - so that what they loosed on earth should be loosed in heaven; and what they bound on earth should be bound in heaven.17 He, the Lord being a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek,18 and the anointed Son of God,19 from before the foundation of the world,20 and they the begotten sons of Jesus21 through the gospel, to teach all nations - and lo I am with you always to the end of the world22 - that is - by the other comforter which the world cannot receive23 - for ye are the witnesses24 - having the testimony of Jesus which is the spirit of prophecy.25 (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 264-265, italics added.)
Note that in this excerpt, Joseph Smith cites explicitly only one scriptural reference, Amos 3:7. However, other scriptural passages and fragments that he used become apparent when studied. Some of the scriptural references are alluded to directly by such phrases as "No wonder the Apostle said" and "the angel told good old Cornelius." Others are not so obvious: "a priest forever" and "common salvation."
This type of scriptural blending is found throughout the writings of Joseph Smith. Brother Galbraith's computer-aided search of Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith has identified several thousand distinct scriptural phrases or passages spoken by the Prophet. Joseph's scriptural citations come from almost every book of the Old Testament and New Testament, and from most books and sections of the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price.
As a result of his research, Brother Galbraith said he gained new insights into Joseph Smith and his profound knowledge of the scriptures.
"First, I was struck by the breadth of his scriptural knowledge," he reflected. "The Prophet seemed to be as comfortable with Malachi, Zechariah, Ether and Enoch as he was with Isaiah, John, Paul and Nephi. He had an uncommon familiarity with the ancient apostles and prophets. I think his brother, Hyrum, said it best: `Joseph has the spirit and power of all the prophets.' (History of the Church 6:346.)
"Second, the Prophet was so adept with the scriptures, one could easily miss one of his profound insights. For example, he changed without comment the words rewarded of to revealer to in Hebrews 11:6: `But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a revealer to them that diligently seek him.' A small change, perhaps, but what a great contribution to our understanding of prayer and the First Vision. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 170.)
"Third, Joseph Smith had an incredibly high rate of scriptural usage at the outset in 1830 and maintained this level throughout his life. As a child psychologist, I am used to studying improvement with age. The Prophet's use of scripture, however, does not follow the common pattern of low-to-high ability over time. He seemed to have been uniquely prepared for his prophetic charge of `expounding all scriptures unto the church' (D&C 24:5)."
President George Q. Cannon said of the Prophet: "He was visited constantly by angels; and the Son of God Himself condescended to come and minister unto him, the Father having also shown Himself unto him; and these various angels, the heads of dispensations, having also ministered unto him. Moroni, in the beginning, as you know, to prepare him for his mission, came and ministered and talked to him from time to time, and he had vision after vision in order that his mind might be fully saturated with a knowledge of the things of God, and that he might comprehend the great and holy calling that God had bestowed upon him. (Journal of Discourses, 23:362, italics added.)"
Brother Galbraith concluded by expressing his appreciation for Joseph's example of the importance of studying the scriptures. "I have an increased appreciation and respect for the Prophet Joseph Smith's example and admonition of personal scripture study. His own words on the subject are very powerful.
`Search the scriptures - search the revelations which we publish, and ask your Heavenly Father, in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, to manifest the truth unto you, and if you do it with an eye single to His glory, nothing doubting, He will answer you by the power of His Holy Spirit. You will then know for yourselves and not for another. You will not then be dependent on man for the knowledge of God; nor will there be any room for speculation. No; for when men receive their instruction from Him that made them, they know how He will save them. Then again we say: Search the scriptures, search the Prophets, and learn what portion of them belongs to you. (History of the Church 1:282.)' "
1 2 Ne. 31:13-14, 17; D&C 39:6; 128:12.
2 Heb. 13:8; 1 Ne. 10:18; 2 Ne. 2:4; Morm. 9:9; D&C 20:12.
3 Mark 16:16
4 Acts 4:12
5 Col. 2:12; Rom. 6:4-5
6 Acts 22:16
7 Acts 10:1-6.
8 Matt. 16:19; D&C 27:13.
9 D&C 84:21.
10 Acts. 9:3-6; 22:6-10.
11 Acts 16:30-33.
12 1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:12.
13 Jude 1:3.
14 2 Cor. 5:20.
15 Heb. 3:1.
16 Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8; D&C 38:32; 105:11.
17 Matt. 16:19; 18:18.
18 Ps. 110:4; Heb. 7:17.
19 Ps. 45:7; Isa. 61:1; Heb. 1:8-9.
20 1 Pet. 1:20.
21 Mosiah 5:7; D&C 76:24.
22 Matt. 28:19-20.
23 John 14:16-17; D&C 88:3.
24 Isa. 43:10; Luke 24:48; Acts 1:8; 2:32; 3:15.
25 Rev. 19:10.