(Note: If you couldn’t from Ryan T’s last comment and this brief post, three of us JIers are currently taking part in an intense seminar on the Pratt brothers’ writings. Therefore, you may see quite a bit on good ol’ Parley and Orson; be advised.)
In 1838, Parley Pratt printed a pamphlet in response to a series of anti-Mormon articles written by L. R. Sunderland in the newspaper, Zion’s Watchman. This pamphlet, specifically written in defense of the Church and reactionary against Sunderland’s accusations, offered some of the earliest formations of progressive Mormon theology. Continuing a common theme throughout his numerous writings, biblical interpretation, Parley Pratt attacked Sunderland’s accusation that the teachings in Joseph Smith’s revelations were “nonsense and blasphemy.” “This ‘nonsense and blasphemy,’ becomes good sense the moment it is found in the other Scriptures,” Pratt argued, hinting at his belief that Mormon theology was justified by a literal reading of the scriptures. Pratt goes on to reason that if the “ignoramus” were to actually read the bible, he would realize that the ancient scriptures taught the very things he was characterizing as Mormon nonsense. However, beyond just reinforcing Pratt’s common usage of Common Sense logic in scriptural interpretation, Pratt touches (briefly) on a significant Mormon doctrine that is often thought to not show up until the Nauvoo period.
The revelation in question was a portion that came from the “Olive Leaf”–know today as D&C 88. The verse: “And the Saints shall be filled with glory, and be EQUAL with Him” (emphasis in original). This idea—one of the earliest hints of deification—garners some explanation from Pratt. What he described as the “doctrine of equality,” Pratt offered defense for this idea from the Bible as well as the reasoning that God’s omnipotent power would result in nothing less than bringing perfection in all of his children. Further, he connects this possibility with another principle that would gain importance in Nauvoo: knowledge.
And again, the spirit should guide his saints into all truth, and if it does guide his saints into all truth, God is in possession of all truth, and no more; consequently, his saints will know what he knows; and it is an acknowledged principle, that “knowledge is power;” consequently, if they have the same knowledge that God has, they will have the same power.
This emphasis put on knowledge as a way of perfection is similar to Joseph Smith’s later teachings. For instance in April 1842, Smith taught that “A man is saved no faster than he gets knowledge,” similarly attaching knowledge to perfection. Concerning knowledge as an integral part of eternal increase, the Mormon Prophet taught in 1843, “knowledge is power & the man who has the most knowledge has the greatest power.”
Opposing ministers quickly understood the significance of Pratt’s claim. One critic, after referencing this very passage, wrote in 1841 that “the Mormon Church believe that they will have power to create worlds, and that those worlds will transgress the law given; consequently that they will become saviour’s to those worlds, and redeem them; and that never, until this is accomplished, will their glory be complete.” The fear of deification is potent in this response, and it shows that contemporary ministers were not overlooking the implications of LDS scripture and reasoning.
What’s significant about this passage–beyond it being a very early hint to later Mormon deification–is that it comes before any public statement from Joseph Smith concerning the idea (beyond the original revelation, of course). So the question has to be asked: is Parley getting this idea from Joseph Smith, or from his own interpretation of the revelations? Is it possible that Parley was the first to come up with the idea of eternal progression, or must every doctrinal revelation come from the Prophet?
Of late, we have been quick to point out possible points of influence from the outside, but could Joseph Smith also have been influenced in his scriptural interpretation (even of his own revelations) by those in his inner circle?
 The title of this pamphlet was also one of the most creative of all Mormon pamphleteering: Mormonism Unveiled: Zion’s Watchman Unmasked, and its Editor, Mr. L. R. Sunderland, Exposed: Truth Vindicated: the Devil Mad, and Priestcraft in Danger! With a title like that, you don’t need to read the actual pamphlet.
 Pratt, Mormonism Unveiled, 26.
 Pratt, Mormonism Unveiled, 27.
 Joseph Smith Sermon, 10 April 1842, recorded in Wilford Woodruff Journal, Words of Joseph Smith, 113-114.
 Joseph Smith Sermon, 17 May 1843, William Clayton Diary, Words of Joseph Smith, 202.
 O Bacheler, “Miscellaneous,” Christian Secretary (Dec 31, 1841): 4.