Criticism of Mormonism/Books/Passing the Heavenly Gift/The Saints sinned and Joseph gave his life

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Response to Passing the Heavenly Gift

A FairMormon Analysis of: 'Passing the Heavenly Gift', a work by author: Denver C. Snuffer

Is it true that the Saints sinned in Missouri and Joseph offered his life to give them another chance?[1]

Snuffer discusses the difficulties in Missouri between the Saints and their neighbors, declaring “Our pride wants us to be the innocent victims of unrighteous and wicked outsiders. But the events are not so one-sided” (98). Snuffer may know some who wish to see it that way, but he cannot charge such views to the Church. B.H. Robert’s introduction to the official History of the Church contains a lengthy discussion of the various causes of the difficulties in Missouri, and among these he cites “the unwisdom of the Saints.”[2] Roberts dates the Saints’ errors to at least November 1831,[3] and says that

it is very clear that the reason why the Saints were prevailed against by their enemies and driven from the center place of Zion, was because of their failure to live up to the high requirements made of them by the Lord. In subsequent efforts to redeem Zion, by attempting to return the exiles to Jackson county, the Saints in all parts of the land again failed to respond with sufficient promptness and fulness to the requirements of the Lord.[4]

Roberts goes on to describe the events of 1838—including Sidney Rigdon’s “salt sermon”—as “untimely, extreme, and unwise.”[5] Snuffer caricaturizes how generations of Latter-day Saints have seen these events, even in the official history. But, he also ignores the clear implication of D&C 123—that the majority of Saints were more sinned against than sinners.

At any rate, Snuffer claims that because of the Saints’ sins in Missouri, Joseph “apparently offered his life in exchange for another chance. The Lord accepted both his acknowledgement [of sin] and his offer” (100–101). A look at the footnote reveals that this claim is not as sturdy as the main text would lead us to believe: “What was offered is not explained either in the revelation or by Joseph Smith” (101 n. 120). But, despite this lack of evidence, Snuffer declares that “[s]ubsequent events…make it clear what Joseph offered for this additional chance to complete the restoration and have the saints receive the fullness of the priesthood. He offered, and ultimately forfeited, his life” (101 n. 120). This is a strange claim. PTHG admits that there is no evidence in the revelations or in Joseph Smith’s statements—and, as we have seen, Snuffer is exceedingly resourceful in finding dubious textual 'evidence' to defend his theories. He claims that “subsequent events” make this reading obvious, but he does not cite any of this data, or demonstrate how it proves his case. He merely asserts it in a footnote. If Joseph made such an offer, why do none of his sermons in Nauvoo describe it? Why does he not explain these matters to the Saints so they understand the stakes? The text itself says merely:

“VERILY, thus saith the Lord unto you, my servant Joseph Smith, I am well pleased with your offering and acknowledgments, which you have made; for unto this end have I raised you up, that I might show forth my wisdom through the weak things of the earth. Your prayers are acceptable before me; and in answer to them I say unto you, that you are now called immediately to make a solemn proclamation of my gospel….” (D&C 124:1–2)

The answer to Joseph’s offering and prayers is that he is to proclaim the gospel. The solemn proclamation calls for the gentiles to bring financial aid and religious observance to Zion. There were many other offerings and acknowledgements made by Joseph besides Snuffer’s dubious claim about him offering his life for the Saints’ sins—Joseph’s letters from Liberty Jail, for example, instruct the Saints that they must set out the names of those who persecuted them, together with the costs (D&C 123:1–16). This is “a duty which we owe to God,” and the Saints ought to “waste and wear out [their] lives in bringing to light all the hidden things of darkness” (v. 7, 13). When they have done “all things that lie in [their] power,” then they may “stand still…to see the salvation of God” (v. 17). It is at least as likely that these efforts have been accepted, so Joseph may now call on the world to either help them or suffer God's intervention. This off-the-cuff reading is at least as likely as PTHG’s, with more textual evidence.

Such speculation and tale spinning is great sport, but it simply isn't history.


  1. Portions of this wiki response are based upon Gregory L. Smith, "Passing Up The Heavenly Gift Part 1 Part 2," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 7 (2103), 181–341. The text here may have been expanded, reworded, or corrected given the nature of a wiki project. References in brackets like this: (xx) refer to page numbers in Denver C. Snuffer, Jr., Passing the Heavenly Gift (Salt Lake City: Mill Creek Press, 2011).
  2. History of the Church 3:xxii.
  3. History of the Church 3:xxiii.
  4. History of the Church 3:xxxix.
  5. History of the Church 3:xliv.