Articles of Faith
Author: Whittaker, David J.
In 1842, in response to a specific request from John Wentworth (editor of the Chicago Democrat ), Joseph Smith sent a succinct overview of his own religious experiences and the History of the Church over which he presided (see Wentworth Letter). At the end of the historical sketch, he appended a list summarizing the "faith of the Latter-day Saints." Later titled "Articles of Faith," these thirteen items were first published in the Nauvoo Times and Seasons in March 1842 and were later included in the 1851 British Mission pamphlet The Pearl of Great Price, compiled by Elder Franklin D. Richards. That pamphlet was revised in 1878 and again in 1880. In 1880, a general conference of the Church voted to add the Pearl of Great Price to the standard works of the Church, thus including the thirteen articles. The Articles of Faith do not constitute a summation of all LDS beliefs, and they are not a creed in the traditional Christian sense, but they do provide a useful authoritative summary of fundamental LDS scriptures and beliefs.
The articles begin with an affirmative declaration that the Godhead is composed of three personages: the Father, his Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost (cf. Acts 7:55-56; 2 Cor. 13:14; 2 Ne. 31:21; JS-H 1:17).
The second item focuses attention on the beginning of mortal history and affirms that human beings have moral agency and therefore accountability for their own acts: "Men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam's transgression" (cf. Deut. 24:16; 2 Ne. 2:27).
The third article directs attention to the centrality of the Atonement of Christ and how mankind benefits in relationship to it: "Through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel" (Mosiah 3:7-12; D&C 138:4).
The fourth article spells out the foundational principles and ordinances: faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism by immersion for the remission of sins, and the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost (cf. Acts 8:14-19; Heb. 6:1-2; 3 Ne. 11:32-37).
The next two articles address issues of authority and organization: A man must be called of God, confirmed by divine inspiration and by the laying on of hands by those in authority, in order to preach the gospel and administer its ordinances (cf. 1 Tim. 4:14; D&C 42:11); further, the Church is essentially "the same organization that existed in the Primitive Church, namely, apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, Evangelists, and so forth" (cf. Eph. 4:11).
The seventh item affirms the LDS belief in the gifts of the spirit, specifically naming several: the gift of tongues, prophecy, revelation, visions, healing, and the interpretation of tongues (cf. 1 Cor. 12:10; D&C 46:10-26).
The place of sacred scripture is addressed in the eighth article: Latter-day Saints "believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly"; they also "believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God" (cf. Ezek. 37:16; John 10:16; 2 Tim. 3:16).
The ninth article states that the restored gospel is not bound up in a closed set of books, but rather declares the principle of continuing revelation, and therefore an open canon. Latter-day Saints affirm belief in all past and present revelation, and they look forward to many future revelations (cf. Amos 3:7; D&C 76:7).
Article ten summarizes four great events of the last days: the literal gathering of Israel and the restoration of the Ten Tribes; the building of Zion, the New Jerusalem, in the Western Hemisphere; Christ's personal reign on earth; and the eventual renewal of the earth itself, when it will receive its paradisiacal glory, the state of purity it had before the Fall of Adam (see 3 Ne. 21-22).
The eleventh article declares the LDS belief in freedom of worship and of conscience for both themselves and all others. It states: "We claim the privilege of worshipping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may." And the twelfth article states the political stance of the Latter-day Saints as law-abiding citizens (D&C 134; see Politics: Political Teachings; Tolerance).
The final declaration provides a broad perspective for life and an invitation to the LDS approach to life: "We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul-We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things" (cf. 1 Cor. 13:7; Philip. 4:8).
The Wentworth Letter was not the first attempt to summarize basic LDS beliefs. Earlier lists, some of which may have influenced the Wentworth listing, had appeared prior to 1842. As early as June 1829, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were committing to paper the "Articles and Covenants" of the soon-to-be-organized Church. Later known as Doctrine and Covenants Section 20,this text enumerates a number of basic beliefs, including the existence of God; the creation and fall of man; the centrality of Jesus Christ; the fundamental ordinances of the gospel, including baptism; and the basic duties of members (20:17-36). This document, the first accepted by a Church conference vote, was not an exhaustive listing of all beliefs but rather a basic charter for the infant organization, rooted in the Bible and the Book of Mormon.
In the first issue of the LDS Messenger and Advocate (Oct. 1834), published in Kirtland, Ohio, Oliver Cowdery enumerated eight "principles," all of which had their parallel in section 20.
Other early lists that summarized the leading principles of Latter-day Saint beliefs prior to the Wentworth Letter include one prepared by Joseph Young for publication by John Hayward in The Religious Creeds and Statistics of Every Christian Denomination in the United States (Boston, 1836, pp. 139-40). In five paragraphs, he outlined the doctrines of (1) the Godhead and Atonement of Jesus Christ; (2) the first principles and ordinances of the gospel performed by apostolic authority as in the ancient Church of Christ; (3) the gathering of lost Israel and the restoration of spiritual gifts to her; (4) the Second Coming of Christ; and (5) the resurrection and judgment of all mankind.
Another list of eighteen "principles and doctrines" was included by Parley P. Pratt in the introduction to his Late Persecution of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (New York, 1840, pp. iii-xiii). For example, "The first principle of Theology as held by this Church, is Faith in God the eternal Father, and in his Son Jesus Christ, who verily was crucified for the sins of the world and in the Holy Ghost who bears record of them" (pp. iii-iv). Many phrases in Pratt's list are similar to those in the Wentworth Letter.
Orson Pratt offers an expansive and eloquent "sketch of the faith and doctrine" of the Church in his Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions (Edinburgh, 1840, pp. 24-31). The order in which it presents its themes in nineteen paragraphs (many of which begin, "We believe that ") is nearly identical to that of the thirteen points of the Wentworth Letter. Orson Pratt's explanations include biblical references and personal testimony of the truth and divine origins of these teachings.
Orson Hyde published in German a History of the Church that included a chapter of sixteen articles (actually essays) on such topics as the Godhead, the use of scripture, faith, repentance, baptism, confirmation, Sacrament of bread and wine, confession of sins and Church discipline, children, revelations, lay priesthood, baptism for the dead, prayer, holidays, washing of the feet, and patriarchal blessings (A Cry from the Wilderness [Frankfurt, 1842]).
Even after the Wentworth Letter was published in March 1842, many other lists of LDS beliefs continued to appear for the next generation. In April 1849, James H. Flanigan included a list of fourteen statements in a pamphlet published in England, and this list was quoted and sometimes modified in various publications throughout the nineteenth century. For example, it was quoted in Charles MacKay's popular book The Mormons; or the Latter-day Saints (London, 1851, pp. 46-47). This list follows the Wentworth Letter almost verbatim, adding such points as "the Lord's supper" to Article 4; including "wisdom, charity, [and] brotherly love" among the gifts of the spirit in Article 7; and inserting a fourteenth article regarding the literal resurrection of the body. Other lists (usually composed by missionaries) were published in various parts of the world throughout this era.
The canonization of the Wentworth Letter as part of the Pearl of Great Price in 1880 reflected and assured its undisputed priority. And when James E. Talmage was asked by the First Presidency in 1891 to prepare a work on theology for use as a textbook in Church schools, it was to these Articles of Faith that he turned for the outline of his volume. First published in 1899 and still in use today, Talmage's Articles of Faith greatly elaborate on the themes of Joseph Smith's Wentworth list. In twenty-four chapters, Talmage provides extensive commentary and scriptural references regarding each of the concepts mentioned in the thirteen articles, plus sections on the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper and resurrection (as in Flanigan's listing), and finally a section on practical religion (benevolence, tithes and offerings, consecration, social order within the Church, eternal marriage, sanctity of the body, and keeping the Sabbath day holy).
As early as the 1850s, LDS missionaries printed broadsides that contained the Articles of Faith. In time, these missionary placards were reduced to wallet size and are still used by missionaries throughout the world. In the primary classes of the Church, children memorize the Articles of Faith as a requirement for graduation at age twelve, and adults have also been encouraged to learn and use them for personal study and in missionary work.
Although not a formal creed, the Articles of Faith are a marvelously abridged summary (less than 400 words) of the basic beliefs of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. While there have been many variations published since Joseph Smith's day, a central core of beliefs stated in all these articles comes from the earliest years of the Restoration-a fact that testifies both to its internal consistency and its constancy.
Lyon, T. Edgar. "Origin and Purpose of the Articles of Faith." Instructor 87 (Aug.-Oct. 1952):230-31, 264-65, 275, 298-99, 319.
McConkie, Bruce R. A New Witness for the Articles of Faith. Salt Lake City, 1985.
Sondrup, Steven P. "On Confessing Faith: Thoughts on the Language of the Articles of Faith." In Literature of Belief, ed. N. Lambert, pp. 197-215. Provo, Utah, 1981.
Talmage, James E. AF. Salt Lake City, 1899.
Welch, John W. "[Joseph Smith and Paul] Co-Authors of the Articles of Faith?" Instructor 114 (Nov. 1969):422-26.
Whittaker, David J. "The "Articles of Faith' in Early Mormon Literature and Thought." In New Views of Mormon History, A Collection of Essays in Honor of Leonard J. Arrington, ed. D. Bitton and M. Beecher, pp. 63-92. Salt Lake City, 1987.
DAVID J. WHITTAKER