Peter, the Sublime

El Greco – Saint Peter in Tears

As we read the New Testament in 2019, I came to love the voice of Paul and his disciples. There was a joy and confident grace in the many epistles that follow the gospels and Acts.

Then I hit Peter. Gone was the learned Greek grace of Paul. The difference was so great that I commented on my disappointment to my husband.

“Well, Joseph Smith said that the epistles of Peter were the most sublime in scripture,” he replied

Seriously? Obedient, I continued reading. And I took in 2 Peter 2.

“When did Joseph say Peter was subblime? Exactly!” I demanded. Because 2 Peter 2 sounds a lot like what I assert was going on in Nauvoo in the 1840s, speaking of:

“them that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, and despise government. Presumptuous are they, selfwilled…. Having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin; beguiling unstable souls….”

2 Peter 2:10, 14

Since my husband didn’t much care where he’d heard about Joseph’s comment (or when Joseph had uttered this praise for Peter), I did the googling. And I was right – this wasn’t a statement from a Joseph who was studying the Bible in the early 1830s. This statement came from Joseph in May 1843. In 1843 Joseph (in my view) had lived through just over a year of ministry aimed at eradicating gross sexual error from converts to the restored gospel.

Joseph preached to the people about 2 Peter 1, then tossed off his comment about the epistles of Peter being the most sublime in scripture. You know those who belong to the Church when it comes to prophets, they would have gone home and made a point of reading all the rest of the chapters attributed to Peter.

And there they would have seen Peter’s excoriation of those who teach and practice sexual sin, of those who despise the efforts of Church leaders to teach correct principles. The faithful, such as William Clayton, would have gotten the message, loud and clear, in a manner more powerful than any sermon Joseph could have delivered of himself.

In the entry reporting Joseph’s sermon on 2 Peter 1 was another note, of dozens of Saints in the east who had been excommunicated. I haven’t done the detailed research on that rash of ecclesiastical actions. But I suspect these individuals had been pulled into the errors taught by Bennett and his strikers. Certainly this would match what Connell O’Donovan explains about the goings-on in the East, gross errors that unfortunately involved at least one prominent Black member of the Church (See Volume II of the Persistence of Polygamy, pp.48-86).

Whatever the past was, it was just one thing (multifaceted though that might be). I look forward to the day when we know as we are known, when all the truths and secrets of that past are laid out before our eyes. In that day I expect we will be willing and able to forgive almost anything, so long as those who erred repented and returned to God.

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About Meg Stout

Meg Stout has been an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ (of Latter-day Saints) for decades. She lives in the DC area with her husband, Bryan, and several daughters. She is an engineer by vocation and a writer by avocation. Meg is the author of Reluctant Polygamist, laying out the possibility that Joseph taught the acceptability of plural marriage but that Emma was right to assert she had been Joseph's only true wife.