Martyrdom of Joseph Smith
Martyrdom: the act of extreme suffering; torment.
Martyr: a person who willingly suffers death rather than renounces his or her religion. One who makes great sacrifices or suffers much in order to further a belief, cause or principle.
The definitions of martyr and martyrdom above will serve as the foundation of what we’re looking at today for this subject matter. The Mormon Church has emphatically defended their position that Joseph Smith fulfilled the requirements of martyrdom. I thought it’d behoove us to look at how people in history have indeed become martyrs for the Lord and compare those alongside the case of Joseph Smith.
One of the best examples of martyrs can be found in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. The link is below. This is a must read for anyone who wants to know what happened in the early church at the time of Christ’s death up until the sixteenth century. Indeed, we are indebted to John Foxe for his relentless pursuit of truth. Today we’ll be looking at just the first four persecutions that began under Nero in 67 AD to Antonius in 162 AD.
The First Persecution, Under Nero, A.D. 67
“This was the occasion of the first persecution…he (Nero) had some sewed up in skins of wild beasts, and then worried by dogs until they expired; and others dressed in shirts made stiff with wax, fixed to axletrees, and set on fire in his gardens, in order to illuminate them. This persecution was general throughout the whole Roman Empire; but it rather increased than diminished the spirit of Christianity. In the course of it, St. Paul and St. Peter were martyred.
To their names may be added, Erastus, chamberlain of Corinth; Aristarchus, the Macedonian, and Trophimus, an Ephesians, converted by St. Paul, and fellow-laborer with him, Joseph, commonly called Barsabas, and Ananias, bishop of Damascus; each of the Seventy.”
The Second Persecution, Under Domitian, A.D. 81
“The emperor Domitian, who was naturally inclined to cruelty, first slew his brother, and then raised the second persecution against the Christians. In his rage he put to death some of the Roman senators, some through malice; and others to confiscate their estates. He then commanded all the lineage of David be put to death.
Among the numerous martyrs that suffered during this persecution was Simeon, bishop of Jerusalem, who was crucified; and St. John, who was boiled in oil, and afterward banished to Patmos…Timothy was the celebrated disciple of St. Paul, and bishop of Ephesus, where he zealously governed the Church until A.D. 97. At this period, as the pagans were about to celebrate a feast called Catagogion, Timothy, meeting the procession, severely reproved them for their ridiculous idolatry, which so exasperated the people that they fell upon him with their clubs, and beat him in so dreadful a manner that he expired of the bruises two days later.”
The Third Persecution, Under Trajan, A.D. 108
“In this persecution suffered the blessed martyr, Ignatius, who is held in famous reverence among very many. This Ignatius was appointed to the bishopric of Antioch next after Peter in succession. Some do say, that he, being sent from Syria to Rome, because he professed Christ, was given to the wild beasts to be devoured…he strengthened and confirmed the churches through all the cities as he went, both with his exhortations and preaching of the Word of God…And even when he was sentenced to be thrown to the beasts, such as the burning desire that he had to suffer, that he spake, what time he heard the lions roaring, saying: “I am the wheat of Christ: I am going to be ground with the teeth of wild beasts, that I may be found pure bread.””
The Fourth Persecution, Under Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, A.D. 162
“Polycarp, the venerable bishop of Smyrna, hearing that persons were seeking for him, escaped, but was discovered by a child…He was, however, carried before the proconsul, condemned, and burnt in the market place.
The proconsul then urged him, saying, “Swear, and I will release thee–reproach Christ.”
Polycarp answered, “Eighty and six years have I served him, and he never once wronged me; how then shall I blaspheme my King, Who hath saved me?”…
Januarius, the eldest, was scourged, and pressed to death with weights; Felix and Philip, the two next had their brains dashed out with clubs; Silvanus, the fourth, was murdered by being thrown from a precipice; and the three younger sons, Alexander, Vitalis, and Martial, were beheaded. The mother was beheaded with the same sword as the three latter.
Justin, the celebrated philosopher, fell a martyr in this persecution…The second apology of Justin, upon certain severities, gave Crescens the cynic an opportunity of prejudicing the emperor against the writer of it; upon which Justin, and six of his companions, were apprehended. Being commanded to sacrifice to the pagan idols, they refused, and were condemned to be scourged, and then beheaded; which sentence was executed with all imaginable severity.
Several were beheaded for refusing to sacrifice to the image of Jupiter; in particular Concordus, a deacon of the city of Spolito.”
In 300 AD North Africa and Asia Minor held the majority of the Christian population and by that time 410,000 people had become martyrs for the Lord. (1) Now we have a small, but hopefully useful perspective of what’s taken place within the body of Christ just in the first three hundred years of Christianity. As you can see, many suffered gruesome deaths for the cause of Christ without lashing out to save their own lives. With that in mind, let’s move on to the case of Joseph Smith.
Joseph Smith – June 1844
From the previous examples we saw Christians were arrested and tortured mercilessly unless they denounced Jesus Christ as their God. After they were tortured and still refused to denounce Jesus as their God, they suffered the death of a martyr. They willingly went to their grave. That means they didn’t fight back.
In the early evening of June 27, 1844, Joseph and Hyrum Smith, along with John Taylor and Willard Richards (2) sat in the upper floor of the Carthage jail. Smith had been charged with several crimes. The events leading up to this situation is as follows:
Three main criticisms of Smith had been published in Nauvoo Expositor on June 7, 1844. They were polygamy, exaltation & false prophecy.
Smith was mayor of Nauvoo, Lt. Gen. of the Legion of Nauvoo, Pres. of Nauvoo city council & Prophet of the Church. Nauvoo City Council declared the destruction of newspaper for June 10, 1844.
The four men were charged with riot by Illinois Governor Ford and issued a warrant for their arrest with a guarantee of safety.
June 25, 1844 Joseph & Hyrum Smith arrested and incarcerated in Carthage Jail.
Additional charges of treason are levied against Smith for declaring martial law. This is a capital offense.
Guns were smuggled into jail by Elder Cyrus H. Wheelock and given to Smith brothers just hours before the arrival of the mob.
Jailor at Carthage takes a sudden leave of absence with family.
Mob approaches Carthage jail, gets into gunfight with Joseph & Hyrum.
Hyrum is shot and killed.
Joseph manages to shoot & kill two people
Joseph is shot and then jumps from the window where he was shot again while crying out the Masonic distress call “O Lord, My God!” (Some accounts state Joseph Smith cried out the entire Masonic distress call: “Oh Lord, My God, is there no help for the widow’s son?” The Times and Seasons 5:585 states the former. John D. Lee reports that Smith did indeed cry out the distress signal by using the term “O Lord, My God” stating Joseph never prayed this way so it couldn’t have been a prayer. See Confessions of John D. Lee)
The following two quotes serve as examples of what members of the Church think about the death of Joseph Smith. As you can see, they have tried to exploit the true meaning of the word “martyr” and have perpetuated the lie down through the years.
Shed his blood for truth?
Joseph Smith, the Prophet, the Man, pg. xxxiv; “For the truths that will be taught here, he gave his life. For the testimonies that will be spoken here, he shed his blood. I like these words spoken by one who admired and loved him.” – Dedication remarks by Gordon B. Hinckley
“Martyrdom” of Joseph
Gospel Kingdom, pg. 360; “He, however, instantly arose, and with a firm, quick step, and a determined expression of countenance, approached the door, and pulling the six-shooter left by Brother Wheelock from his pocket, opened the door slightly, and snapped the pistol six successive times. Only three of the barrels, however, were discharged. I afterwards understood that two or three were wounded by these discharges, two of whom, I am informed, died.”– John Taylor (Third prophet of the Church.)
So we must ask the obvious questions here.
What was he charged with when incarcerated at the jail in Carthage, Illinois?
Was he incarcerated for the defense of Christ or was it because of a crime committed?
How did Joseph Smith give his life for the testimonies of the Mormon Church?
Did Smith’s death pay for your sins or give you eternal life with Jesus?
Did he spill his blood willingly to promote the faith of Mormonism?
Or as history loudly proclaims, did Joseph Smith die in a shootout at the Carthage Jail while trying to save his own life?
What did the “martyrdom” of Joseph Smith do for the Mormon people?
As always, we pray the Mormon people will objectively evaluate these facts and answer the questions honestly. Jesus told us in John 8:32;
“And ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”
Allow Jesus to do that for you my friend.
With Love in Christ;
1 Cor. 1:18
2. Willard Richards was an apostle and the first cousin of Brigham Young.