Joseph Smith’s “David Doctrine” and King Follett I.

As a preacher, Joseph Smith could be adventurous in his interpretations of scripture. In many cases, these interpretations have been impressed on the spiritual engrams of Mormonism.

But in his “first” King Follett funeral sermon Joseph does a very curious thing: he exchanges homiletic objects.

The language reported by Wilford Woodruff:

A murderer; for instance one that sheds innocent Blood Cannot have forgiveness, David sought repentance at the hand of God Carefully with tears, but he could ownly get it through Hell, he got a promise that his soul should not be left in Hell, Although David was a King he never did obtain the spirit & power of Elijah & the fulness of the Priesthood, & the priesthood that he received & the throne & kingdom of David is to be taken from him & given to another by the name of David in the last days, raised up out of his linage[1]

“David sought repentance carefully with tears” comes from Heb. 12:17, but that passage does not actually refer to David. It is a homily on Esau’s predicament. “but he could ownly get it through Hell, he got a promise that his soul should not be left in Hell” – this passage from Acts (an interpretation of a Psalms pericope) applies not to David, but to Christ (at least in the NT).

In pointing out this thing, we should note that this David doctrine was not a fly-by-night idea for Joseph.[2] At least some parts of it.
Perhaps the epitome of Joseph’s teaching on David is found in his May 16, 1841 sermon:

Even David, must wait for those times of refreshing, before he can come forth and his sins be blotted out; for Peter speaking of him says, “David hath not yet ascended into Heaven, for his sepulchre is with us to this day:” his remains were then in the tomb. Now we read that many bodies of the saints arose, at Christ’s resurrection, probably all the saints, but it seems that David did not. Why? because he had been a murderer.

If the ministers of religion had a proper understanding of the doctrine of eternal judgment, they would not be found attending the man who had forfeited his life to the injured laws of his country by shedding innocent blood; for such characters cannot be forgiven, until they have paid the last farthing. The prayers of all the ministers in the world could never close the gates of hell against a Murderer.

A constellation of ideas, linking a large number of Joseph’s sermons, are related to these passages. The March 10 sermon (KFD1) draws a number of those ideas together, though the reports are rather brief in doing so.

The condition of murderers was a prominent boundary point in Mormon doctrine for Joseph. It defined an extreme in salvation, and he thought it important enough to hammer it home quite a number of times. Try typing “murder” or “eternal judgment” into the Parallel Joseph search function to see some of these.

An important question is, Why? Why the exchange of persons, why the emphasis on murder? [We should note that Joseph is referring to innocent victims. Not *perfectly* innocent obviously. Uh oh.]


[1] The idea of a new (or resuscitated) David is suggested by a number OT passages and appears in both Jewish and Christian literature as well as Mormon literature on the end times. The idea that David was *permanently* consigned to hell was not an unusual Protestant position either. JS’s idea is different on that point.

[2] Compare D&C 132:38-39; also 19. The notion that the sealing power was not impervious to sinful acts seems part of the point.

8 Responses to Joseph Smith’s “David Doctrine” and King Follett I.

  1. Niklas says:

    I slightly disagree with you. I admit that the Bible isn’t clear with that, Samuel only says to David that his wives will be given to somebody else and makes no reference to David going trough Hell. But at the same time many of the Psalms shows that David indeed sought repentance. In Acts Psalm 16:10
    “For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.”
    is interpreted to talk about Christ – He is the Holy One. But when read in its context I think David does talk of himself too. If this means that he needs to suffer in hell because of his sin, or that we all are delivered from death is up to everyone decise. But when I read Old Testament I get the feeling that David at least understood that he had made a horrible sin and sought repentance.

  2. W. V. Smith says:

    Niklas, I do believe that David understood the gravity of his acts. My only argument is that Joseph took NT passages which explicitly applied to someone else and applied them to David. He made no claim that the NT text actually *did* apply to David insitu. Hence the curiosity.

  3. Niklas says:

    Yes, he did take NT passages, but the Act passage – wich is quote from Psalms – do apply to David too. Well, at least the first part of it. And the idea of the other passage does apply to David even though the original use in NT was different. What I am saying is that I don’t think JS changed persons, but simply used biblical language. That’s my opinion.
    And, yes, the question reminds, why the emphasis on murder?

  4. J. Stapley says:

    It seems to me that this is part of JS’s response to antinomianism. Even the temple liturgy could not repel certain grievous acts.

  5. W. V. Smith says:

    So, I think we can agree that
    (1) JS took NT passages that in their NT context are applied to people other than David.
    (2) JS used the language of those passages in his discussion of David, deliberately.

    The question of whether this was somehow legitimate of course, is quite different. I think the picture JS paints of David’s situation is in fact legitimate in a number of ways in the general context of his sermon and others like it. It’s not my purpose to argue for or against JS’s act. But, you may ask, I think, what he meant by doing this (see (1) and (2)). I’m not sure that is answered by the text, not to mention his eschatological David, who I think fits very much into his Elias/Elijah mythos-how much of this lies at the feet of Alexander Neibaur?

  6. Jared* says:

    This seems similar to what Peter Enns calls “Apostolic Hermeneutics” in his book Inspiration and Incarnation. He shows several examples where New Testament apostles were less than scrupulous in how they used and applied the Old Testament.

    I’m also reminded of Elder Neal A. Maxwell, who had a tendency to pepper his prose with scriptural phrases, whose context didn’t necessarily match his use of them.

  7. W. V. Smith says:

    Excellent call, Jared*.

  8. Tod Robbins says:

    But boy howdy how I loved the turn-of-phrase del Elder Maxwell!

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