Joseph Smith's education

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Articles about Joseph Smith

Was Joseph Smith illiterate?

The Church never taught that Joseph Smith was "illiterate." The official account of the First Vision refutes this, since it demonstrates that Joseph was fully capable of reading and understanding the Bible. The statement from the critics that Joseph's family "wasn't a family of illiterates" argues against a point that is never being made.

Here's what Joseph wrote in 1832 (original spelling retained):

I was born in the town of Charon [Sharon] in the State of vermont North America on the twenty third day of December AD 1805 of goodly Parents who spared no pains to instructing me in the christian religion at the age of about ten years my Father Joseph Smith Siegnior moved to Palmyra Ontario County in the State of New York and being in indigent circumstances were obliged to labour hard for the support of a large Family having nine chilldren and as it required the exertions of all that were able to render any assistance for the support of the Family therefore we were deprived of the bennifit of an education suffice it to say I was mearly instructid in reading and writing and the ground rules of Arithmatic which constuted my whole literary acquirements.[1]

Emma Smith, Joseph's wife, later stated:

Joseph Smith could neither write nor dictate a coherent and well-worded letter, let alone dictate a book like the Book of Mormon. And, though I was an active participant in the scenes that transpired, and was present during the translation of the plates, and had cognizance of things as they transpired, it is marvelous to me, 'a marvel and a wonder,' as much so as to anyone else.[2]

Question: Did B.H. Roberts state that it was possible for Joseph Smith to have come up with the Book of Mormon on his own?

B.H. Roberts was a believer in the divine origin of the Book of Mormon, and talked of young Joseph Smith as he sat up late detailing to the family the wonderful conversations he had with the angel

B.H. Roberts retained his belief that the Book of Mormon was of divine origin up until the end of his life. Yet, according to one critical website, B.H. Roberts "postulated that it was certainly possible for Joseph Smith to have come up with the Book of Mormon on his own." [3] Roberts, however, believed that Joseph had conversations with the Angel Moroni.

B.H. Roberts, in his critical study of the Book of Mormon, pointed out how future critics might make use of this.

The face of it is first established by the testimony of the mother who bore him, Lucy Smith. Speaking of the days immediately following the revelation making known the existence of the Book of Mormon to her son...Lucy Smith in her History of the Prophet Joseph Smith, recounts how in the evening of that day, the young prophet sat up late detailing to the family the wonderful conversations he had with the angel;[4]

Learn more about Joseph Smith: abilities
  • Brian C. Hales, "Joseph Smith's Education and Intellect as Described in Documentary Sources," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 59/1 (13 October 2023). [1–32] link
  • Jeff Lindsay, "The Great and Spacious Book of Mormon Arcade Game: More Curious Works from Book of Mormon Critics," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 23/8 (13 January 2017). [161–236] link
  • Robert A. Rees, "Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, and the American Renaissance: An Update," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 19/1 (26 February 2016). [1–16] link
  • "Joseph Smith's pre 1830 education," BH Roberts Foundation print-link.


  1. Joseph Smith Letterbook 1, pp. 1-6. Published in: Dean Jessee, Personal Writings of Joseph Smith. This text was copied from Wikisource. The editor notes that insertions are indicated like this and deletions are indicated like this. Text in blue is in Smith's own handwriting, the remainder in the handwriting of Frederick G. Williams. off-site
  2. Joseph Smith III, "Last Testimony of Sister Emma," Saints' Herald 26 (October 1, 1879): 289–90; and Joseph Smith III, "Last Testimony of Sister Emma," Saints' Advocate 2 (October 1879): 50–52.
  3. "Could Joseph Smith have written the Book of Mormon?",
  4. B. H. Roberts, Studies of the Book of Mormon, (Salt Lake City, UT; Signature Books, 1992), 243. Some online ministries quote Roberts' use of Lucy's quote as "evidence" that Roberts lost his testimony of the Book of Mormon. They completely ignore Roberts's statements on the same page that Joseph was describing the "wonderful conversations he had with the angel."