On 8 May 1838, JS prepared responses to a collection of questions he and other church leaders were asked approximately six months earlier while traveling from , Ohio, to , Missouri. The leaders had embarked on the trip in September 1837 in order to locate new gathering places for the and to organize church affairs in Far West. JS explained that on the journey, they held public meetings and were asked questions “daily and hourly . . . by all classes of people.” Upon his return, JS prepared a list of twenty questions—ranging from how the gold plates were discovered to whether the church practiced polygamy—and then published the list in the November 1837 issue of the Elders’ Journal, promising that the next issue would include answers to the queries. The next issue was not published until July 1838, after JS relocated from to and the periodical was reestablished in Far West.
JS’s journal entry for 8 May 1838 notes that he spent “the after part of the day, in answering the questions proposed.” He may have begun developing answers at the time the questions were asked in late 1837, perhaps in the public meetings the church leaders held in towns and villages in , , and along the way to . JS noted that the meetings “were tended with good success and generally allayed the prejudice and feeling of the people, as we judge from the treatment we received, being kindly and hospitably entertained.” Whatever the tone of JS’s initial oral responses to interested non-Mormons, he adopted a playful attitude in his written answers for the Latter-day Saint audience of the July 1838 issue of the Elders’ Journal. It is unknown whether JS or others continued working on the answers after 8 May 1838. Because the original document is apparently not extant, it remains unclear whether JS wrote the answers himself or relied on a scribe.
In the antebellum United States, many Americans believed that creeds, or statements of official denominational belief, constricted rather than illuminated interpretation of the Bible. JS employed anticreedal rhetoric in an 1835 letter to Latter-day Saintelders, arguing that creeds impeded true understanding of scripture. Around the time that JS prepared the answers featured here, he described in his history the confusion he experienced as a teenager because “the teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passage of Scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible.” JS recalled that after praying for guidance, he received a visitation from God the Father and Jesus Christ in 1820, during which Christ stated that the creeds of contemporary churches “were an abomination in his sight.” (Hatch, Democratization of American Christianity, 81, 169, 215; Letter to the Elders of the Church, 30 Nov.–1 Dec. 1835; JS History, vol. A-1, 2–3; see also Welch, “All Their Creeds Were an Abomination,” 228–249.)
Hatch, Nathan O. The Democratization of American Christianity. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989.
Welch, John W. “‘All Their Creeds Were an Abomination’: A Brief Look at Creeds as Part of the Apostasy.” In Prelude to the Restoration: From Apostasy to the Restored Church: The 33rd Annual Sidney B. Sperry Symposium, 228–249. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book; Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2004.