Pratt’s Doctrine of Equality Revisisted

By June 1, 2009

Yes, I’m “revisiting” the subject of a less than 24-hour-old post! In some ways I restate what Ben said, and the issues I deal with are discussed in both Ben’s post and the following comments, but I also ask some different, though similar, questions.

In Pratt’s reply to La Roy Sunderland’s series of articles on Mormonism, Pratt outlined what he labeled as the “doctrine of equality,” a teaching that many non-Mormons found blasphemous.[1] In Sunderland’s February 1838 editorial, “Mormonism,” under the heading, “The Writings of the Mormonites are Replete with Nonsense and Blasphemy,” he cited a sentence from a revelation Joseph Smith had dictated to Frederick G. Williams on December 27, 1832.[2] Sunderland may have come in contact with this revelation in Pratt’s Voice of Warning, in which Pratt included a large section of the revelation.[3] The quoted sentence explained that, “the saints shall be filled with [the Lamb of God’s] glory, and receive their inheritance and be made equal with him.”[4] Pratt, in responding to Sunderland, quoted the scripture, explained that Christ had taught the same doctrine, as evidenced in the New Testament, and outlined his doctrine of equality. [5]

In explicating the revelation, Pratt explained that God possessed all truth, and thus contained all knowledge, which made him the all-powerful God. According to Pratt, through the Spirit God’s followers could also obtain all truth, and become equal with God in knowledge and power. In this process, Pratt wrote, “the redeemed return to the fountain, and become part of the great all, from which they eminated. Hence the propriety of calling them ‘GODS, even the sons of God.’” Peter Crawley suggested that in describing this doctrine of equality, Pratt anticipated “the dramatic ideas outlined by Joseph Smith in the King Follett discourse.”[6] Though Pratt had based his doctrine of equality upon Smith’s revelation, and only in response to Sunderland, Pratt’s exegetical analysis seems to carry forward the 1832 statement, suggesting a number of possibilities with respect to the provenance of Pratt’s idea.

Possibly, Pratt heard Smith, or another Latter-day Saint, explicate this scripture and simply repeated what he had heard. Alternatively, Pratt may have independently interpreted the scripture in this way at some point before 1838, and his ideas may have influenced Smith’s subsequent teachings.[7] Perhaps, though, Sunderland’s citation of the scripture led Pratt to contemplate the revelation’s meaning, and then offer an interpretation. Likely, a combination of the above scenarios helped Pratt develop his “doctrine of equality,” but scholars should pay careful attention to the dialectic between anti-Mormons and Latter-day Saint leaders, and the latter’s succeeding shaping of Mormon thought.

[1] Parley P. Pratt, Mormonism unveiled: Zion’s Watchman unmasked, and its editor, Mr. L. R. Sunderland, exposed: truth vindicated: the Devil mad, and priestcraft in danger! By P. P. Pratt, minister of the gospel, 3d. ed. (New York: Published by O. Pratt & E. Fordham, 1838), 27. All quotes from Mormonism Unveiled can be found on page 27. Contemporaries of Pratt often used of the phrase, “doctrine of equality,” in reference to democracy, and only rarely did religious figures appropriate the phrase. The phrase, as Pratt used it, did not take hold within Mormon rhetoric.

[2] La Roy Sunderland, “Mormonism,” Zion’s Watchman (February 10, 1838).

[3] Parley P. Pratt, A voice of warning and instruction to all people, containing a declaration of the faith and doctrine of the Church of the Latter Day Saints, commonly Called Mormons. By P. P. Pratt, minister of the gospel. (New York: Printed by W. Sandford, 1837), 142-146, pertinent citation on page 145.

[4] Doctrine and Covenants (1835), 7:33; Doctrine and Covenants (1979), 88: 107. Sunderland again cited this scripture in his 1842 expose on Mormonism. La Roy Sunderland, Mormonism Exposed. In which is shown the monstrous imposture, the blasphemy, and the wicked tendency, of that enormous delusion, advocated by a professedly religious sect, calling themselves “Latter Day Saints.” (New York: Printed and Published at the Office of N. Y. Watchman, 1842), 35, 55.

[5] Specifically, Pratt noted Christ’s prayer for his disciples to become one with he and his Father, the reference to becoming joint heirs with Christ, and the scripture explaining that those who overcome will sit with Christ, as Christ overcame and sits with the Father.

[6] Peter Crawley, A Descriptive Bibliography of the Mormon Church, vol. 1 (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University, 1997), 78.

[7] In Voice of Warning, Pratt did not explain the revelation’s meaning, but the scripture is situated within a multi-page citation focused upon warning the wicked of immanent destruction. In a December 1841 editorial, O. Bacheler cited Pratt’s Voice of Warning as stating “that there must be equality” between the saints and God, but it seems he probably had also read Pratt’s Mormonism Unveiled. Bacheler preceded to note that “the Mormon Church believe that they will have power to create worlds, and that those worlds will transgress the law gives; 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; and then there will be ‘Lords many, and Gods many.’” O. Bacheler, “Miscellaneous,” Christian Secretary 4, no. 42 (Dec. 31, 1841), 4, in American Periodical Series [database online], UMI-Proquest (accessed on May 30, 2009).

Article filed under Miscellaneous


  1. Good thoughts, Jordan, and an appropriate follow-up to Ben’s thread. I’m kinda liking the PPP overload. Now if we can just work some OP in here …

    Comment by Christopher — June 2, 2009 @ 9:10 am

  2. You want Orson? Try this:

    Comment by SC Taysom — June 2, 2009 @ 11:17 am

  3. #2: Tch, tch, SC Taysom! Your Orson link hie-ed me into disappointing outer darkness for nearly half a minute (only satellite Internet being available here in the woods). You are hereby sentenced to a diet of un-refined matter for the next 24 hours.

    /s/ Morked

    Comment by Rick Grunder — June 2, 2009 @ 11:56 am

  4. mmmm. Unrefined matter.

    Comment by SC Taysom — June 2, 2009 @ 2:02 pm


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