Thursday, March 21, 2019

Brigham Young or William Marks? The Twelve or the High Council? A Rebuttal to D. Michael Quinn on Prophetic Succession, Part 1

This blog has long worn out, its regular posters busy with real life.  However, I still am an active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and still love to study the gospel.  In my time away from here, I have certainly grown and matured in my worldview, including my take on the gospel.

I have had a particular fascination with other groups within the Latter-day Saint tradition, particularly those stemming from the 1844 Succession Crisis and the following two to three decades.  For years, my favorite of these groups was the Strangite Church; James J. Strang was an interesting and charismatic individual, and he had accrued a large following during his time.  I had wanted to write a rebuttal at some point on this blog, proving that his claims were false and that many of his doctrines did not line up with what Joseph Smith taught.  My intention was never to be hostile, but rather to simply provide a potent counterargument to the different Strangite websites I saw on the Internet.

Sadly, I never completed this goal, and I doubt I ever will.  Fortunately, I have found one blogger who has addressed the topic, though not as comprehensively as I had originally intended.  Nevertheless, he accomplished what I never did, and I appreciate his post:

For a time, the thought of attempting to rebut the claims of the Strangites or any other organization had passed from my mind.  After all, few take these alternative claims seriously or threaten the testimonies of the members of the Utah church.  However, there is one claim I have long yearned to argue, and one that has gained steam in recent years.  This was a claim that was most effectively postulated in 1994 by D. Michael Quinn in his seminal Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power.  Though still an active member of the LDS Church at the time, Quinn’s scholarship had led him to conclude that the highest body in the Church following the dissolution of the First Presidency was the High Council of Zion, which, in the year 1844, was located in Nauvoo.  The Nauvoo Stake President/President of the Nauvoo High Council, as head of this body, had the strongest claim to succeed Joseph Smith as leader of the Church.  The man who held this position at the time of the Prophet’s death was William Marks, a loyal, influential, and important man in church history and hierarchy.

In 1853, Jason W. Briggs, one of the founders of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, labeled the succession of Brigham Young and the Twelve as a coup d’etat. More recently, a gentleman by the name of Bill Reel, bearing the online handle of Radio Free Mormon, reused that phrase in a two-part podcast series.  Obviously a reader of Mormon Hierarchy, he makes the same argument as Quinn did.  His podcasts portray the ascension of the Twelve to Church leadership as a matter of political intrigue.  Now, while this makes for a scandalous and sordid historical drama, such hyperbole does not truly represent the events that transpired.  While that which followed the death of the Prophet Joseph were truly unusual, events were far more mundane than Reel’s and Briggs’ characterizations.

Another individual who has latched onto Quinn’s train of thought, using it to argue against current Church leadership, is Denver Snuffer.  It is immediately apparent that Snuffer and his adherents follow Quinn’s line of reasoning to a tee, and with it (and various other arguments), he has successfully led many away by telling us that we no longer belong to a church led by revelation.

            Brothers Reel and Snuffer have provided a few additional elements to their arguments, primarily in the form of catastrophizing existing claims.  Nevertheless, while these minor additions hold up to little scrutiny, the ultimate argument that requires attention is the most powerful, and it is this primary argument that I will attempt to counter: the alternative succession option of William Marks as put forth by D. Michael Quinn.


Quinn makes several points that diminish the status of the Twelve in 1844 and elevate the High Council and other claimants to the presidency:

1)      In Doctrine & Covenants 107 (canonized in its present form in 1835), with supplemental, non-canonical clarification, the Twelve are deemed the “traveling high council,” with jurisdiction strictly outside the established stakes of Zion.  The High Council at Nauvoo was equal generally and superior at Church headquarters. Brigham and the Twelve did not appeal to D&C 107 because they knew it actually invalidated their claim to the presidency.  Subsequent statements and revelations never granted the Twelve greater authority than the Presiding High Council.

2)      In 1836, the Twelve were acknowledged as “Prophets and Seers and special witnesses to all the nations of the earth” by Joseph Smith.  However, this was the only time they were given such a title in Smith’s lifetime, and this applied only to their jurisdiction outside the organized stakes. The Twelve modified the History of the Church to state that they were “Prophets, Seers, and Revelators,” while the counselors in the First Presidency were only “Prophets and Seers.”

3)      In 1836, the order of anointing quorums and priesthood leaders at the Kirtland Temple, the Twelve Apostles were anointed sixth, indicating a low rank in the pecking order.  Meanwhile, the Kirtland High Council was anointed fourth.

4)      An unpublished January 12, 1838 revelation makes it impossible for the Twelve to organize a stake. When Thomas B. Marsh and, later, Brigham Young acted to reorganize the Far West in 1838, Missouri Stake, it was in their role as members of the stake presidency and not as apostles.

5)      D&C 124, revelation given on January 19, 1841, states that the Twelve “hold the keys to open up the authority of my kingdom upon the four corners of the earth, and after that to send my word to every creature” is just a reiteration of previously stated limitations outside the stakes.  Meanwhile, the central High Council is termed the “cornerstone of Zion.”

6)      Upon the death of Joseph Smith, in the setting of the Anointed Quorum, on 4 July, 1844, the Anointed Quorum nearly appointed William Marks as Church president. William Marks had seniority over all the Twelve due to his prior entrance to the Anointed Quorum.

7)      According to James Monroe’s diary entry on 24 April, 1845, Emma Smith asserted that Joseph Smith had blessed William Marks to succeed him.

8)      Brigham and the Twelve had William Marks dropped from the High Council and the Stake Presidency.

9)      Brigham Young depopulated the Seventy to remove their challenge.  He also ordained seventies of greater than 400 men so they would come directly under the control of the Twelve.

With these points in mind, I will attempt to rebut Bro. Quinn at each turn and deconstruct the argument of William Marks’s superior claim once and for all.  While many of Quinn’s claims are elegant and potent, I believe that the scriptures and historical context both will reveal that the Twelve Apostles were the right men to lead the Church following the death of the Prophet Joseph Smith.  If time allows, I may address other claims made by Reel and Snuffer, but these are all secondary to my goal.

This rebuttal will require at least two posts (perhaps more), this being the first.  I cannot promise a timeline for my follow-up(s), but rest assured, I will address each of these points and will complete my argument.


D&C 107 deals in large measure with various aspects of the priesthood.  In particular, it cites the relationship between the various high quorums.  Though it has been cited numerous times before, I am compelled to quote D&C 107:21-24 once again, as it establishes an equal standing among the First Presidency and the Twelve.

21. Of necessity there are presidents, or presiding officers growing out of, or appointed of or from among those who are ordained to the several offices in these two priesthoods.
22. Of the Melchizedek Priesthood, three Presiding High Priests, chosen by the body, appointed and ordained to that office, and upheld by the confidence, faith, and prayer of the church, form a quorum of the Presidency of the Church.
23. The twelve traveling councilors are called to be the Twelve Apostles, or special witnesses of the name of Christ in all the world—thus differing from other officers in the church in the duties of their calling.
24. And they form a quorum, equal in authority and power to the three presidents previously mentioned.

In the same vein, the Quorum of the Seventy is identified as an equal quorum in 107:25-27.

25. The Seventy are also called to preach the gospel, and to be especial witnesses unto the Gentiles and in all the world—thus differing from other officers in the church in the duties of their calling.
26. And they form a quorum, equal in authority to that of the Twelve special witnesses or Apostles just named.
27. And every decision made by either of these quorums must be by the unanimous voice of the same; that is, every member in each quorum must be agreed to its decisions, in order to make their decisions of the same power or validity one with the other—

            However, Quinn points out that the equality is not limited to these quorums, as is so often noted by Brighamite advocates.  It is in verses 36-37 where Quinn’s argument gains steam.

36 The standing high councils, at the stakes of Zion, form a quorum equal in authority in the affairs of the church, in all their decisions, to the quorum of the presidency, or to the traveling high council.
37 The high council in Zion form a quorum equal in authority in the affairs of the church, in all their decisions, to the councils of the Twelve at the stakes of Zion.

            According to Quinn’s interpretation of verses 36 and 37, the various high councils are jointly equal to the other aforementioned quorums, and that the high council in Zion alone is equal specifically to the Quorum of the Apostles as well.  “By revelation, this high council had a position equal to that of the Quorum of the Twelve in the church generally and superior to the Twelve at the headquarters stake.”  He also quotes Emma Smith’s advocacy for William Marks as the more appropriate successor.

“Whereas it is the business of the first Presidency, more particularly to govern the Church at Zion,” wrote Emma, “and the members abroad have a right to appeal to that quorum from the decisions of the Twelve. Now as the Twelve have no power with regard to the government of the Church in the Stakes of Zion, but the High Council have all power, so it follows that on removal of the first President, the office would devolve upon the President of the High Council in Zion, as the first President always resides there, and that is the proper place for the quorum of which he is the head; thus there would be no schism or jarring. But the Twelve would attend to their duties in the world and not meddle with the government of the church at home[,] and the High Council in Zion and the first Presidency would attend to their business in the same place …. Mr Rigdon is not the proper successor of President Smith, being only his counselor, but Elder Marks should be the individual as he was not only his councillor at the time of his death, but also President of the High Council.”

According to Quinn, the intent of the revelation was to establish the Twelve Apostles as the presiding high council outside of the established stakes of Zion, while the High Council of Zion was the presiding high council within the stakes of Zion.  Both organizations were coequals with different jurisdiction.  When Joseph Smith stated in 1836, “I next proceeded to explain the subject of the duty of the twelve; and their authority which is next to the present [First] Presidency,” he was not placing the Twelve above all remaining priesthood bodies.  Quinn argues that numerous leading councils reported directly to him, including the presiding high council.  “[T]he Quorum of the Twelve was only one of several quorums which ‘stood next to’ the First Presidency. No officer or quorum stood between the First Presidency and the Presiding Patriarch. None stood between the First Presidency and the high council at church headquarters,” and this particular relationship continued to exist up till his martyrdom. “At church headquarters before June 1844, no quorum or echelon of authority separated the First Presidency from the high council’s jurisdiction over Mormons.”

            Unfortunately, in spite of his assertions, it is pretty clear that even at the publication of the first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants in 1835, there was indeed at least some ranking of quorums.  The question is, how did the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and the Presiding High Council relate to each other and the First Presidency?

            Quinn represents the relationship between the First Presidency, the Twelve, and High Council visually like this:

An Alternative Interpretation for the Standing High Council’s “Equality”

Quinn’s point is strong but not ironclad, and there are alternative interpretations when explored further.  First, let us explore how subtle wording and capitalization in verses 14 and 15 (different versification) could slightly alter their interpretation.  Let us look again at the verses on the position of the High Council.  This time, we will consider how it was presented in the 1835 edition of the Doctrine & Covenants, as shown on the Joseph Smith Papers (

14 The standing high councils, at the stakes of Zion, form a quorum equal in authority, in the affairs of the church, in all their decisions, to the quorum of the presidency, or to the travelling high council.
15 The high council in Zion, forms a quorum equal in authority, in the affairs of the church, in all their decisions, to the councils of the twelve at the stakes of Zion.

            Please note that the word twelve is not capitalized, while in the modern edition, it is.  From this edition, it is evident that all high councils functioning together form a quorum equal to the presiding quorums.  However, the high council in Zion clearly has precedence above all others. 

“The central high council had equal authority with both the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles,” Quinn asserts.  However, perhaps the revelation does not actually directly equate the Presiding High Council with the First Presidency or Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.  Verse 15 states that all stake high councils are equivalent to both the presidency and “traveling high council,” the term most frequently used to describe the Twelve Apostles in this revelation.  Meanwhile, the presiding high council is equated to the councils (plural!) of the twelve (lower case), not explicitly the traveling high council, and not mentioning the First presidency, and “at the stakes of Zion.”  While modern editions capitalize the word Twelve, it seems quite possible that the intended interpretation was that the High Council in Zion is equated directly with the (lower case) “councils of twelve at the stakes of Zion,” meaning it alone is equal with the combined high councils of the subordinate stakes.

I am not alone in this interpretation.  The Ensign ( addressed this question in 1982. “Thus, this high council, and any other stake high council of twelve members referred to as ‘councils of the Twelve at the stakes of Zion,’ was to be of equal standing to each other.”

This interpretation may be wrong, but I feel it is worth considering.  The message may have been intended to be: the First Presidency = the Quorum of Twelve Apostles; the combined high councils = the First Presidency and the Quorum of Twelve Apostles; the Presiding High Council = the combined high councils.  Ultimately, the final conclusion is the same: the Presiding High Council and the Twelve are coequals.  However, as mentioned before, there remains an order of supremacy and preeminence.  Placement and wording of these verses suggest that the Presiding High Council may not be coequal with the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

Are the Coequal Quorums Truly Coequal?

            The establishment of equality amongst these quorums is admittedly a source of confusion.  This equality has been misconstrued to create a horizontal structure, particularly by the aforementioned Bill Reel, who believed that Joseph Smith intended for all these councils to coexist at the same rank with different roles.  It becomes necessary to clarify that between these “equal” councils remained a vertical hierarchy, according to D&C 107.

33 The Twelve are a Traveling Presiding High Council, to officiate in the name of the Lord, under the direction of the Presidency of the Church, agreeable to the institution of heaven; to build up the church, and regulate all the affairs of the same in all nations, first unto the Gentiles and secondly unto the Jews.
34 The Seventy are to act in the name of the Lord, under the direction of the Twelve or the traveling high council, in building up the church and regulating all the affairs of the same in all nations, first unto the Gentiles and then to the Jews— (emphasis added).
            One is forced to accept that this equality is significant, but so is the necessity that one act under the direction of another.

Section 107 Not the Final Word on Upper Council Organization

To further the point, I must make clear that one simply cannot rely on D&C 107 alone to make an argument for succession.  Neither did Quinn believe that alone one could do so, whether for the Twelve or for the Nauvoo High Council.  “If written revelation alone governed the post-martyrdom situation, then the Quorum of the Twelve had authority only over scattered branches of the church.”  While his argument primarily favors Marks’s position, he does acknowledge elsewhere in his book that both parties would likely have to share power.  “As president of the Nauvoo high council, [William Marks] had the potential of presiding over all organized stakes of the church in the absence of a First Presidency. However, Marks certainly had no authority over the non-stake branches scattered throughout the United States and Britain. They were the Twelve’s responsibility. According to a strict interpretation of the priesthood revelation, governance of the entire church after Smith’s death required joint-rule by two co-equals: William Marks and Brigham Young.”

Bear in mind that revelation is and has always been an ongoing process.  Of all the sections in the Doctrine and Covenants, 107 is the most complex in its evolution.  I cite from an article entitled “How the Revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants Were Received and Compiled” from the January 1985 edition of the Ensign (

“Probably the most complex combination of revelations occurs in section 107. Verse 59 to the first part of verse 69, and verses 71, 72, 74, 75, 78–87, 89, 91–92, 99 and 100 were received as a complete revelation in November 1831. The last part of verse 69, and verses 70, 73, 76, 77 and 88 were received sometime between November 1831 and March 1835. These verses contain material about the duties of bishops and about bishops being literal descendants of Aaron. (Section 68, which was also received in November 1831, did not have any references to bishops being literal descendants of Aaron. Verses 16–21 of that section, which contain such information, are, therefore, later additions.) Section 107:90 and 93–98 is about the vision of the seventy that the Prophet Joseph Smith received sometime between November 1831 and 8 February 1835, when he mentioned to Brigham and Joseph Young that he had had such a vision. (History of the Church, 2:180–82.) Section 107:53–55 is part of a blessing Joseph Smith bestowed on his father on 18 December 1833. The rest of section 107 seems to be original material received on 28 March 1835, when the Quorum of the Twelve requested this revelation. Thus, section 107 contains portions of at least five different revelations.”

My point to this is that the revelations Joseph received were not immediately perfect.  Joseph received his revelations line upon line, precept on precept.  Often, people presume that Joseph wrote the words he heard directly from On High as if by the mouth of God.  What they fail to recognize is that Joseph Smith had to ponder and gradually come to an understanding of what God’s intent for him was.  Revelations changed a great deal over time.  Though the 1835 canonization is what we read in our scriptures, it was clearly not God’s last word on the subject.  Doctrines and practices changed drastically in the lifetime of the Prophet.  Section 107 is, in fact, the best example of the evolution of doctrine and understanding, both in its canonized form, as well as in its datedness.  For this reason, we should consider Joseph Smith’s subsequent statements, even if not canonized, for further clarification.

When Does the Presiding High Council Preside?

As an example of its lack of finality, let us look at the organization of the Presiding High Council throughout Joseph’s lifetime.  The previously mentioned 1982 Ensign article discusses this context.

“In 1835 when Doctrine and Covenants section 107 was revealed there were two high councils, one in Ohio and the other in Missouri....Since it was the only high council in the Church when it was organized (February 1834), the Kirtland high council was presided over by the First Presidency and had general jurisdiction throughout the Church. This placed the high council in a unique position. (See D&C 102:9–10.)….

“In the next verse (37) [D&C 107:37], the Lord refers to the high council in Missouri (Zion), which did not have the First Presidency as presiding officers, as being ‘equal in authority in the affairs of the church, in all their decisions, to the councils of the Twelve at the stakes of Zion.’ Thus, this high council, and any other stake high council of twelve members referred to as ‘councils of the Twelve at the stakes of Zion,’ was to be of equal standing to each other.”

In an Improvement Era article from 1955, the following was related:

“The first high council in the Church in this dispensation was organized in Kirtland, Ohio, February 17, 1834. This high council was in some particulars different from the high councils in stakes of Zion as they are constituted today. While all that is written in that revelation (D&C 102) in relation to [Church disciplinary councils] still applies today, it should be remembered that the First Presidency of the Church constituted the presidency of that high council. … This council had wide jurisdiction and was not confined to the borders of a stake.”

This is supported by verses 3 and 9 of section 102:

3 Joseph Smith, Jun., Sidney Rigdon and Frederick G. Williams [who comprised the First Presidency] were acknowledged presidents by the voice of the council…
9 The president of the church, who is also the president of the [high] council, is appointed by revelation, and acknowledged in his administration by the voice of the church.

            On October 5, 1839, Joseph Smith established the high council and stake presidency of the Nauvoo Stake.  Instead of presiding over either directly, however, he called and the Church sustained William Marks as president of the stake and high council. One must seriously consider the question: did this stake high council outrank the Twelve without the president of the Church at its head?

Supplemental Information Required to Clarify Section 107

As has been shown, using D&C 107 alone, one could theoretically conclude that the Twelve outranked the Standing High Council of Zion, though the wording is absolutely not clear.  It is only with clarifying commentary that Quinn can even draw his more definitive conclusions.  “The president then stated that the Twelve will have no right to go into Zion or any of its stakes and there undertake to regulate the affairs thereof where there is a standing High Council. But it is their duty to go abroad and regulate all matters relative to the different branches of the Church….No standing high council has authority to go into the churches abroad and regulate the matters thereof, for this belongs to the Twelve. No High Council will ever be established only in Zion or one of its Stakes” (Kirtland Council Minutes, 27 February 1835).

            If this were Joseph Smith’s final word on the matter, then I might be inclined to agree with D. Michael Quinn.  However, later public statements were highly enlightening, making for a very conclusive order of the presiding quorums.

A Change in the Order of Church Government

At an August special conference in 1841, the relationship between the First Presidency and the Twelve changed drastically.  Brigham Young, who knew that this conference had been called to establish a new relationship, asserted that the desire of the Twelve was not to aspire to new authority.  The following is from the September edition of Times and Seasons, which publicized the record of the August conference:

“At a Special Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, held in the City of Nauvoo— August 16. 1841. Elder Brigham Young was unanimously appointed to preside over the Conference….The object of the Conference was then presented by the President, who stated that President Joseph Smith (who was then absent on account of the death of his child) had called a special conference to transact certain items of business necessary to be done previous to the October Conference, such as to select men of experience to send forth into the vineyard, take measures to assist Emigrants who may arrive at the places of gathering, and prevent impositions being practised upon them by unprincipled speculators, &c, and he [President Brigham Young] hoped that no one could view him and his brethren, as aspiring because they had come forward to take part in the proceedings before them; for he could assure the brethren, that nothing could be further from his wishes and [those] of his Quorum, than to interfere with Church affairs at Zion and her stakes, for he had been in the vineyard so long, he had become attached to foreign missions, and nothing could induce him to retire therefrom, and attend the affairs of the Church at home but a sense of duty, the requirements of heaven or the revelations of God, to which he would always submit, be the consequence what it might; and the brethren of his Quorum responded. Amen” (Times and Seasons, volume 2, 1 September 1841: 521–22, punctuation, capitalization, and spelling standardized, emphasis mine).

Quinn shared most of this quote, but claimed that “Young was simply restating the limits imposed on the Twelve earlier.”  Nevertheless, if the full context is read, it seems clear that Brigham was aware of the purpose of the conference and the additional responsibilities about to be laid on the Twelve, and was seeking to allay any fears that he intended any usurpation or impropriety.  The Prophet Joseph arrived a short time later to the conference to fully explain the context of Brigham’s speech by declaring his intentions for the Twelve: to establish: a new relationship and structure in Church government.  First, I quote from the Times and Seasons published record:

“President Joseph Smith now arriving proceeded to state to the conference at considerable length, the object of their present meeting, and in addition to what President Young had stated in the morning, said that the time had come when the Twelve should be called upon to stand in their place next to the first presidency, and attend to the settling of emigrants and the business of the church at the stakes, and assist to bear off the kingdom victorious to the nations; and as they had been faithful and had borne the burden in the heat of the day that it was right that they should have an opportunity of providing something for themselves and families, and at the same time relieve him so that he might attend to the business of translating” (Times and Seasons, volume 2, 1 September 1841: 521–22, punctuation, capitalization, and spelling standardized, emphasis mine).

These notes already reveal an amazing shift in focus.  Even Quinn describes this as a “breach” in the wall of jurisdiction.  Quinn, T. Edgar Lyon, Ronald K. Esplin, and others have described the growth of the Twelve’s expanding power, almost to the point where there is no doubt as to who the second-ranking quorum would be.  However, Quinn stops short of granting the Twelve local authority until after Joseph’ martyrdom.

Perhaps Quinn does not recognize the significance of the above quote.  Please recall the point we discussed earlier regarding Joseph’s 1836 statement and how all the highest quorums were “next to” the First Presidency.  But in this 1841 statement, it could be no clearer that this is not a restatement of the past relationship between the First Presidency and the Twelve.  If the Twelve already stood “next to” the First Presidency alongside the other senior quorums, then the 1841 statement obviously must be revealing a new, elevated relationship.  One might easily surmise from this statement that the relationship is now, in fact, a hierarchical designation, where the Twelve are above all except the First Presidency.

In spite of recognizing this advancement in the Twelve’s status, Quinn did not come to the conclusion that they were next in the line of succession.  At the martyrdom, he states, “According to the 1835 revelation, which was still in force, there was no clear hierarchical distinction among the quorums these men represented.”  Though the Times and Seasons article indicates that this is not correct, the handwritten minutes of the same 1841 conference are even more elucidating than the published record.  Note the differences in the following quote:

“President Smith (who had been absent in consequence of the death of his child during the former part of the day) on his arrival then addressed the conference on the object of calling a conference at this time and, in addition to what had been stated by President Young, said that the Twelve should be authorized to assist in managing the affairs of the Kingdom in this place, which he said was the duties of their office &c.  Motioned, seconded, and carried that the quorum of the Twelve be authorized to act in accordance with the instructions given by President Joseph Smith in regulating and superintending the affairs of the Church.” (Minutes, 16 August 1841, General Minutes Collection, punctuation and capitalization standardized, emphasis mine;

            The intention of this statement could not be clearer.  Following this bestowal of increased authority, the Twelve issued an epistle in the Millennial Star to the British membership of the Church explaining their new role.

“Since our arrival in this place [Nauvoo] there has been oue [one] special and one general conference of the church, and the twelve have been called to tarry at home for a season, and stand in their lot next to the first Presidency and assist in counciling [counseling] the brethren and in the settling of emigrants &c., and the first great object before us, and the saints generally, is to help forward the completion of the Temple and the Nauvoo House; buildings which are now in progress according to the revelations, and which must be completed to secure the salvation of the church in the last days, for God requires of his saints to build him a house wherein his servants may be instructed, and endued with power from on high, to prepare them to go forth among the nations, and proclaim the fullness of the gospel for the last time, and bind up the law and seal up the testimony, leaving this generation without excuse, and the earth prepared for the judgments, which will follow. In this house all the ordinances will be made manifest, and many things will be shown forth, which have been hid from generation to generation” (emphasis mine).

Here, the Twelve acknowledged and declared their additional local responsibilities.  Following this, they received duties over the official Nauvoo periodical, the Times and Season.  Several were appointed by Joseph Smith to the city council, took on more local financial responsibilities, and even ecclesiastical responsibilities, calling missionaries in Nauvoo.  Ultimately, they also became the recipients of the sacred and secret temple ordinances and practices instituted by the Prophet, and the primary guardians of the secret practice of polygamy.

Regardless of what was stated in D&C 107, it is clear that by the time the Prophet had died, his intentions for the Twelve’s role and jurisdiction had expanded to the point that they were truly the presiding quorum under the First Presidency, even over the Nauvoo High Council.


            To me, the first section is so conclusive that the other points are not nearly as important to address.  Nevertheless, they inject doubt into the minds of Quinn’s readers, and so I shall endeavor to address these smaller points.

In March of 1836, the Twelve were designated “Prophets and Seers and special witnesses to all the nations of the earth” by the Prophet at the Kirtland Temple dedication.  Quinn minimizes this in three ways: first, by claiming that this designation only applied to their missionary jurisdiction; second, by pointing out that there is no record of them being sustained as such again during the lifetime of Joseph Smith; third, by pointing out that the official history of the church adds the word “Revelators,” indicating a false inflation of their authority over the counselors to the President, who are merely described as prophets and seers.

            To his first and second points, claiming the Twelve are only prophets and seers while functioning outside of the Stakes is disingenuous.  While their calling was specifically to the ministry throughout the world, their designation as prophets and seers is no trite designation, nor does it necessarily only apply to the mission field.  Throughout Joseph’s lifetime, the Presiding High Council did not receive this designation, whether inside or outside the Stakes, nor did any other quorum aside from the Presiding Patriarch and the members of the First Presidency.

            To his third point, Quinn erodes at his readers’ confidence in Joseph Smith’s appellation of this term to the Twelve by pointing out how it was changed when published in the History of the Church, published between 1902 and 1912 under the editing of the Elder B.H. Roberts.  Misquoting Joseph Smith’s diary from 1836 during the Kirtland Temple dedication, “I then called upon the quorums and congregation of Saints to acknowledge the Twelve Apostles, who were present, as Prophets, Seers, Revelators, and special witnesses to all the nations of the earth, holding the keys of the kingdom, to unlock it, or cause it to be done, among them, and uphold them by their prayers, which they assented to by rising.”  Quinn then contrasts this with the portrayal of the counselors in the First Presidency only termed “prophets and seers” previously in the same passage.  In so doing, he emphasizes the reaffirmation of the Twelve of their superiority over Sidney Rigdon, painting this as a subtle

Joseph Smith’s original journal entry, which the March 1836 edition of the Messenger and Advocate followed, only defined the apostles as prophets and seers.  “I then made a short address and called upon the several quorums, and all the congregation of saints to acknowledge the Presidency as Prophets and Seers, and uphold them by their prayers, they all covenanted to do so by rising; I then called upon the quorums and congregation of saints to acknowledge the Apostles who were present as Prophets and Seers and special witnesses to all the nations of the earth, holding the keys of the kingdom, to unlock it or cause it to be done among  them; and uphold them by their prayers, which they assented to by rising.”

While Quinn asserts that “[t]his subtly implies that the Twelve had higher status than Smith’s counselors who were also designated as ‘Prophets and Seers’ at the 1836 meeting,” and that “[t]his textual change reflects the 1844 succession conflict of the apostles with first counselor Sidney Rigdon,” it appears that this was not the intent at all.  The original journal entry, Messenger and Advocate, and the much later History of the Church, all term even Joseph himself as a “mere” “Prophet and Seer,” without the Revelator title attached.  This took place only a short time prior to the sustaining of the apostles and the presidency as a whole.  “After closing his discourse he called upon the several quorums, commencing with the Presidency, to manifest, by rising, their willingness to acknowledge me as a Prophet and Seer, and uphold me as such, by their prayers of faith. All the quorums, in turn, cheerfully complied with this request. He then called upon all the congregation of Saints, also, to give their assent by rising on their feet, which they did unanimously.”

The Apostles never claimed superiority to Joseph Smith, and therefore Quinn’s conclusion appears dubious.  What seems more likely is that B.H. Roberts was indeed attempting to show the high status of the Twelve, but never at the expense of another “prophet and seer.”  This seems more likely to be an oversight.


            To illustrate Quinn’s perception of the low ranking of the Twelve, he points to their anointing in the Kirtland Temple in 1836.  The order of the anointing of the quorums was as follows.

            “On this occasion the pre-eminent church officer was Presiding Patriarch Joseph Smith, Sr., who received his anointing first from the prophet, then from each other member of the First Presidency. Second, the Presiding Patriarch anointed each member of the First Presidency, “according to their age.” Third, the Presiding Patriarch anointed the regional bishops of Kirtland and Zion (Missouri) with their counselors. Fourth, the First Presidency’s assistant counselor Hyrum Smith anointed the president of Kirtland’s high council, which showed the supremacy of the stake high council at church headquarters. Fifth, and by contrast, the president of the high council at Zion (Missouri) was anointed by a non-general authority, David Whitmer, who was president over the Missouri settlements. Sixth, the First Presidency anointed only one apostle, the Twelve’s president Thomas B. Marsh. Marsh then anointed the other apostles, and Smith spoke prophetic words to each one but did not anoint them. Seventh, the apostles then anointed the presidency of the seventy. Eighth, and last, Don Carlos Smith was anointed as president of the high priest’s quorum.”

            Quinn interpreted this as an order of prominence or ranking, but there is little reason to believe that such is so.  If this were the case, then bishops, the presiding officers of the Aaronic Priesthood, would rank just below the First Presidency and ahead of the presiding High Council, which was comprised of high priests in the higher Melchizedek Priesthood.

To further strain the credibility of Quinn’s argument, the members of the First Presidency themselves were anointed by age instead of rank.  The assistant counselor to the First Presidency, Hyrum Smith, anointed only the president of the Presiding High Council (John Smith, Hyrum’s and Joseph’s paternal uncle); Joseph, who directly presided over this council, did not.  Unstated by Quinn is that John Smith then anointed the remainder of his quorum alone.  The entire First Presidency anointed Thomas B. Marsh, the president of the Twelve, who then anointed the remaining members of his quorum (Edward Partridge Journal, January 21, 1836).  It seems to me that this event was not so much an expression of seniority, but rather an opportunity to give various presidents a role in anointing his brethren.

            Quinn also fails to mention that, during the sustaining of the priesthood officers on the same occasion, the order was different: the President; the First Presidency; the Apostles; the Presidency of the Seventy; the High Council of Kirtland; the Bishoprics of Kirtland; the High Council of Zion (Missouri); the Presidency of the Elders Quorum; and the presidencies of the Priests, Teachers, and Deacons Quorums.  Nowhere was the Presiding Patriarch sustained.

Now let us return to canonized scripture if we are to consider the order of mention as indicative of rank.  In 1842, Joseph Smith dictated section 124 of the Doctrine and Covenants.  In verses 124 through 139, there, the order of the priesthood quorums is given.  First, the verses note the Presiding Patriarch, then the President of the Church, followed by his Counselors.  After this come the Twelve, the Presiding High Council, the President of the High Priests Quorum followed by his counselors, then the President of the Elders Quorum and counselors, and finally, the Presidency of the Seventy.  According to this section, the Twelve outranked everyone but the Patriarch and First Presidency, most notably above the Presiding Standing High Council.

It seems foolish to attempt to divine the intended rank of the quorums based solely on the order of their anointing (and not their sustaining).  When attempting to discuss 1836 rankings in relation to the 1844 Succession Crisis, it would be especially futile.

In part 2, I intend to discuss the remaining points of Quinn's argument.  I may, whether in part 2 or even in a follow-up post, address some of the arguments unique to Bill Reel and others.