Celebrate the Birthday of the King Follett Sermon with a New Book from BCC Press

One hundred and seventy nine years ago, on April 7, 1844, Joseph Smith delivered a sermon to commemorate the death of King Follett, a close friend of his who died a month earlier in a construction accident. Smith spoke for two and a half hours to an audience of around 20,000 people. No exact transcription of the discourse remains, but several extensive reports, mixing quotation, paraphrase, and commentary, survived.

The King Follett Sermon was notable for its striking doctrines, some of which have become core Mormon beliefs. Smith presented humanity and deity as the same kind of being, with the differences between them as different stages of development. Like God, human intelligences have no beginning and no end. And like human beings, God passed through a mortal phase. Years later, Lorenzo Snow would sum up the great doctrinal innovations of the King Follett Sermon with a couplet that has become as well known to Latter-day Saints as any scriptural text: “As man is now, God once was; as God is now, man may be.”

But, of course, it was never this tidy. The ideas in the King Follet Sermon circulated well before they were articulated on that day, and the meaning of the sermon within Mormonism evolved over time. Yet there has never been a complete biography of this famous discourse—one that explains its history, its textual development, and its reception over almost 200 years.

Until now.

BCC Press is proud to prepsent William V. Smith’s epic biography of the King Follett Sermon. Smith, a long-time BCC blogger and one-time professor of mathematics at the BYU, has spent decades studying this sermon, its textual variants, and its various intersections with Latter-day Saint communities, both official and unofficial. He has combined all of this research into an extremely well-organized, compulsively readable, and impressively exhaustive tome. It really doesn’t matter who you are; you need to read this book.

And because we know you are going to love it, we are going to give you, absolutely free, two of the very best bits in the book: Smith’s list of the 23 textual sources for the sermon that he uses as the basis of his analysis and his timeline of the delivery and the reception of the King Follett Sermon from 1844 through 2013.


  1. Antonio Parr says:

    With respect, I take exception to the assertion that the King Follet discourse establishes “core beliefs” of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints While I know that there are Latter-Day Saints who look to this sermon for doctrinal guidance, it has never been canonized and its more exotic theological statements – which appear to be inconsistent with the teachings of the Book of Mormon – are not in any way part of the Church’s temple recommend interview (which may be as close to a test for doctrinal orthodoxy as we get). The new book may be of historical interest, but I don’t share in the enthusiasm of those of my co-religionists who try to limit God to a being not worthy of praise or worship. Soli Deo gloria.

  2. Jacob H. says:

    Bravo to all involved! Wonderful work

  3. I totally share in the enthusiasm of my co-religionists for the King Follett discourse, the sermon that (IMHO) finally and convincingly explains why God is a being worthy of all praise and worship in the first place! If some people don’t enjoy it, that’s totally fine, and I respect their reasons, and I’m sure they have good explanations for their stance; but I for one look forward to checking this book out.

  4. Antonio Parr says:

    JB – I will purchase and read the book because it is of historical interest to me. It also appears that the author is committed to academic excellence, which always adds to my reading enjoyment.

    But to your point about praise and worship, I have not met many (if any) Latter-Day Saint psalmists, nor do our meetings typically include expressions of adoration for God. In my opinion, we lose something truly grand when we eschew praise as a form of worship, and that loss, I believe, comes from the belief of some (many?) members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints that God hasn’t always been God, and, therefore, is not particularly worthy of our worship.

    As a devoted and grateful and very active Latter-Day Saint, I place greater trust in the numerous scriptural references that speak to the uniqueness of God than I do the King Follet discourse that describes him as a relatively common being. (One could argue that the King Follet discourse advocates a form of cosmic Darwinism, where there is no supreme being nor first mover, but merely an eternal law of evolution to which we owe no gratitude.)

    For what it is worth, the sense of awe and wonder and worship that is the natural byproduct of perceiving God as the very source of life and light and love is uniquely edifying. I would wish such feelings for all of my beloved Saints.

  5. Bryan S says:

    Antonio, you expressed something that I’ve felt for a while, but haven’t put words to. If God hasn’t always been God, did he just “evolve” first? Could it have been otherwise? Etc. I would love more LDS theology on that subject.

    That said, I’m definitely looking forward to the book, especially for the reception history! I know very little of the how this address has been received over time, and I’m interested to see how different church members and leaders have reacted to it over time.

  6. Was there a Queen Follet discourse?

    (I’m sorry…..)

  7. Roger Hansen says:

    I look forward to reading this book. Thx for publishing it.

    If the Church gives up on the KFd, they will lose me for good. McConkie tried to bury it, but hopefully failed. I hope the book doesn’t destroy my thoughts about the funeral speech. The KGD fits in nicely with belief in Process Theology and eternal progression (assuming there’s an afterlife).

  8. purchased! Very exciting to see this finally published!

  9. Antonio, to make it clear:
    Our Father is the God of this world; making that familiar phrase all the more ironic by the one who appropriates it. He came from another world where he had his own mortal probation, was exalted with his wife, jointly created spirit children and continued that process here. He’s one with his own Father and invites us to be one with him through his son. There’s obviously more to it all, heavenly mother, only begotten, lucifer, war in heaven, the fall, etc, but that’s the short story of it. I’m assuming you’re aware of all of this, I’m just putting it into a comment so I and others can see what it is you disagree with about it.

    God is worthy of adoration and worship; by which the most faithful way to do that is emulation-in his own words (DC93), and sincere fear and trembling at approaching and contemplating his glory and mercy.

    The primary reason for the intensity of that emotion is not only because he brought infinite life and beauty literally out of a chaotic hellscape of a universe that’s so antithetical to anything resembling life it almost seems fictional, but he stood by and allowed his only begotten son in the flesh to bear the burdens and the weaknesses of that creation and the sins of all that creation, so that it might continue to have life into eternity.

    I tremble to contemplate the restraint and weight of allowing and watching your child to bear those burdens, which in many cases were the result of shortsighted self-serving choices of his other children. That’s truly worthy of worship, and indeed trembling at the thought of.

    If your don’t grasp the weight of that emotion, consider watching your own child being crucified, knowing you could stop it, but knowing that pattern was necessary to continue so that your son could claim full ownership and redemption of all. Anything less, might spare the pain, but also reduce the salvific glory of all the potential life & creation that could be saved.

    Look at your child or grandchild and imagine the best way forward is for them to step into Christ’s shoes and literally did what he did. Tell me that’s not worthy of falling on your face in awe, weeping your tears straight into the dust wave declaring that Being to be so transcendingly above all else that you tremble at the thought.

    That’s who our Father is. Take all you know of creation, glory, and love and whatever else adds beauty worthy of adoration and worship to it, and then add that dimension to it and tell me it’s somehow less? No, I can’t fathom it. And then remind yourself, that you are a son (or daughter) and there never was a father without first being a son and what that portends in at least potential possibility for you. Not only that, but also everyone else who ever lived and will live on this earth! How can that be less? It’s so mind boggly more that most would suggest such a thing could never be possible. The shere scope of the degree and number of eternal lives would make the universe indeed feel small; except we know it’s expanding infinitely and it’s numbers of potential creations and worlds are more than we fathom, so we reduce the infinite to nonsense and dismiss it from thought.

    But the works of God continue. There is no end to beauty, there is no end to (his) race. Show me what’s more worthy of glory and worship than that.

  10. Antonio Parr,

    I’ve always enjoyed reading your comments–and I usually agree with what you have to say. Just a little quibble with your most recent comment:

    Aside from what sute has so eloquently said about the reasons why we have great reason to give praise and glory to God–I think there’s also the element of emulation being the highest form of adoration–as per Neal A. Maxwell.

    Personally, I have great difficulty privately expressing my love and praise to God when I know that he can see how poorly I’m doing at following him. I do a little better at expressing those kinds of feelings when others are around–but more as a matter of conveying testimony than anything else. Even so, I’m stung at times by the reality that what the Living God prefers above and beyond our vocal praise is Christlike thoughts and actions.

    That said, I agree that there is certainly a time and a place for praise as a form of worship. Even so, if the Latter-day Saints are going to err in how they worship I’d rather it be on the side of quiet emulation than vocal adoration.

  11. I wish we did more praise in our meetings. A lot of my “church career” has been dedicated to promoting praise through music, and I speak about praise (with or without music) regularly. Feelings grow when they are expressed, so more praise would help us obey the first and great commandment more fully.

    All that said, if there’s less praise in our meetings than I think ought to be, that has far less (I’d suggest nothing) to do with our theology than it does with when and where the Church was born and “grew up.” In particular, a low church tradition and a culture descended from Northern Europe that isn’t great about expressing feelings in general. I hope that will change over time as the Church as an institution learns from the cultures of the places where it is growing the fastest. But the change I’m looking for will come with things like the new hymnbook, not rejecting the King Follett Sermon. Reading it makes me want to praise God more than ever.

  12. Antonio Parr says:

    Sute – Thank you for taking the time to share your views of diety. I understand that many (and perhaps a majority) of my fellow Latter-Day Saints would agree with you. Nevertheless, the concepts presented in your first paragraph are not only missing from the Standard Works of the Church, they are actually contrary to what is found in those Standard Works.

    The concept of God having once been a man who was/is subservient to another God (the way that we are subservient to our Father in Heaven) was not taught by Moses or Isaiah or Peter or Paul or other Biblical heroes of the faith, nor was it taught by Nephi or King Benjamin or Mormon or other heroes of the faith in the Book of Mormon. Most importantly, it was not taught by Jesus during His mortal ministry or in the account of His visit to the Nephites. Thus, the very author and finisher of our faith, in whom there is no shadow of turning, did not introduce the concept of an anthropomorphic, limited God to those who came to Him seeking the path to eternal life. If He didn’t, why should we?

    When Moroni writes that “God is unchangeable from all eternity to all eternity”, I believe him, and I am not interested in supplanting this doctrine with Joseph’s teaching at King Follet’s funeral. I perceive God to be the eternal God of creation, and, for me, that means all creation. No limits. None.

    As to obedience being the highest form of worship, I agree. But emulation and adoration are not mutually exclusive. It is possible to be equally devoted to obedience and adoration/praise, and, I would argue, the one helps us with the other, i.e., praise helps us obey, and obedience, if done for the right reason, makes us want to praise the God who invites us into community with Him.

  13. Sute, you have definitely added to the scriptural picture, more care may be needed here.

    Many will remember President Hinckley’s caution around the theme that God was once like us. When asked the question, “Is this the teaching of the church today, that God the Father was once a man like we are?”, he replied, “I don’t know that we teach it. I don’t know that we emphasize it… I understand the philosophical background behind it, but I don’t know a lot about it, and I don’t think others know a lot about it.”

    Note also how the well known couplet was clipped in GC address Oct 1994.
    “… the whole design of the gospel is to lead us onward and upward to greater achievement, even, eventually, to godhood. This great possibility was enunciated by the Prophet Joseph Smith in the King Follet sermon (see Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 342–62; and emphasized by President Lorenzo Snow. It is this grand and incomparable concept: As God now is, man may become! (See The Teachings of Lorenzo Snow, comp. Clyde J. Williams, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1984, p. 1.)

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