The Kirtland School of the Prophets

Taught from on high.

The call to Organize a School

D&C 88
    71 And let those whom they have warned in their traveling call on the Lord, and ponder the warning in their hearts which they have received, for a little season.
   72 Behold, and lo, I will take care of your flocks, and will raise up elders and send unto them.
   73 Behold, I will hasten my work in its time.
   74 And I give unto you, who are the first laborers in this last kingdom, a commandment that you assemble yourselves together, and organize yourselves, and prepare yourselves, and sanctify yourselves; yea, purify your hearts, and cleanse your hands and your feet before me, that I may make you clean;
   75 That I may testify unto your Father, and your God, and my God, that you are clean from the blood of this wicked generation; that I may fulfil this promise, this great and last promise, which I have made unto you, when I will.
   76 Also, I give unto you a commandment that ye shall continue in prayer and fasting from this time forth.
   77 And I give unto you a commandment that you shall teach one another the doctrine of the kingdom.
   78 Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand;

   117 Therefore, verily I say unto you, my friends, call your solemn assembly, as I have commanded you.
   118 And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.
   119 Organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing; and establish a house, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God;

D&C 90
   12 And now, verily I say unto you, I give unto you a commandment that you continue in the ministry and presidency.
   13 And when you have finished the translation of the prophets, you shall from thenceforth preside over the affairs of the church and the school;
   14 And from time to time, as shall be manifested by the Comforter, receive revelations to unfold the mysteries of the kingdom;
   15 And set in order the churches, and study and learn, and become acquainted with all good books, and with languages, tongues, and people.
   16 And this shall be your business and mission in all your lives, to preside in council, and set in order all the affairs of this church and kingdom.
   17 Be not ashamed, neither confounded; but be admonished in all your high-mindedness and pride, for it bringeth a snare upon your souls.


The curriculum to be taught--
  • 79 Of things both in heaven and in the earth,
  • and under the earth;
  • things which have been,
  • things which are,
  • things which must shortly come to pass;
  • things which are at home,
  • things which are abroad;
  • the wars and the perplexities of the nations,
  • and the judgments which are on the land;
  • and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms--

The Purpose of this Education
  • D&C 88
    •    80That ye may be prepared in all things when I shall send you again to magnify the calling whereunto I have called you, and the mission with which I have commissioned you.
          81 Behold, I sent you out to testify and warn the people, and it becometh every man who hath been warned to warn his neighbor.


Robert J. Matthews (BYU) said of this process:

 “The School of the Prophets called for a mix of hard intellectual effort and inspiration from the Holy Ghost, and characterized a very particular kind of educational process.”  ("The Olive Leaf (D&C 88)."  In R. L Millet,. & K. P Jackson (Eds.), Studies in scripture: Volume one, The Doctrine and Covenants,  (pp. 340-357).  Sandy, UT: Randall, 1984)

Orson Pratt (1878), who participated in all sessions of the School of the Prophets, explained :

What does [the Holy Ghost] do for the education of the children of men?  Far more than our academies do.  Our children have, by hard study, year after year, to acquire their learning in these human institutions; hard thinking is necessary, reasoning, gaining little by little, and it frequently requires many years of close application to become what is termed a learned man--a man that understands the sciences, that has worked his way through the various departments of mathematics, and perhaps geology, and mineralogy, and all the sciences, such as are usually taught in universities.  But the man filled with the Holy Ghost has got the advantage of students who graduate at our universities.  Why?  Because he can learn more in ten minutes, in regard to many things, than another, not so favored, can in all his life.  Indeed, he can learn some things by the operations of the Holy Ghost, which no natural man or woman could learn, however gifted they may be.  You may inquire where they could learn these things?  I answer, by the revelations of the Holy Ghost, which brings to light many things that are past, and shows things that are in the future.  The Lord is just as able to show one of his pupils, who will take the necessary steps to be taught, what will take place a year, or ten years, or a hundred, or a thousand or more years hence, as the principals in our universities are to teach persons concerning things present.  God is not confined to the present, or to things immediately concerning his pupils, or those who may enter into the university he has prepared, but he opens the past and future to the minds of men, just as Jesus promised his disciples, when he was about to leave them.  “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of Truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth; and he will show you things to come” [John 16:13].  (Journal of Discources, 19:284)

School of the Propehts Commences

Joseph Smith:  "On the 23rd of January [1833], we again assembled in conference [they had met the previous day]; when, after much speaking, singing praying, and praising God, all in tongues, we proceeded to the washing of feet (according to the practice recorded in the 13th chapter of John's Gospel), as commanded of the Lord.   Each Elder washed his own feet first, after which I girded myself with a towel and washed the feet of all of them, wiping them with the towel with which I was girded.  Among the number, my father presented himself, but before I washed his feet, I asked of him a father=s blessing, which he granted by laying his hands upon my head, in the name of Jesus Christ, and declaring that I should continue in the Priest=s office until Christ comes.  At the close of the scene, Brother Frederick G. Williams, being moved upon by the Holy Ghost, washed my feet in token of his fixed determination to be with me in suffering, or in journeying, in life or in death, and to be continually on my right hand: in which I accepted him in the name of the Lord."

Following the ordinance of the washing of the feet, Joseph Smith “pronounced them all clean from the blood of this generation.”  The account then reads: “Having continued all day in fasting, and prayer, and ordinances, we closed by partaking of the Lord’s supper.  I blessed the bread and wine in the name of the Lord, when we all ate and drank, and were filled; then we sang a hymn, and the meeting adjourned.” (History of the Church, 1980, Vol. 1, pp. 323-324)

The School Room in the Newel K. Whitney Store

The Daily Routine: 

The first session of the School of the Prophets continued from 23 January into April.  Little is known of the details of the daily classes.  Two interviews with Zebedee Coltrin who participated in the first session of the School of the Prophets, give us our only real look into the daily activities of the School.  In an interview held 3 October 1883, the following was reported: 

"The salutation, as written in the Doctrine and Covenants was carried out at that time, and at every meeting, and the washing of feet was attended to, the Sacrament was also administered at times when Joseph appointed, after the ancient order; that is, warm bread to break easy was provided, and broken into pieces as large as my fist and each person had a glass of wine and sat and ate the bread and drank the wine; and Joseph said that was the way that Jesus and his disciples partook of the break [bread] and wine; and this was the order of the church anciently, and until the church went into darkness.  Every time we were called together to attend any business, we came together in the morning about sunrise, fasting and partook of the Sacrament each time; and before going to school we washed ourselves and put on clean linen." (Salt Lake School of the Prophets Minute Book 1883, p. 38)

In an interview held on 10 October 1883, Coltrin stated:

Elder Orson Hyde was the teacher and saluted the brethren with uplifted hands, and they also answered with uplifted hands. Spoke of the administration of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.  The brethren always went fasting; they went in the morning, remained until about four o’clock in the afternoon, when each had a glass of wine and piece of bread, after the ancient pattern.  Joseph was the president and appointed Elder Orson Hyde teacher, as the school was not only revelations and doctrine, but also for learning English grammar, etc.  The teacher saluted the brethren (one or more) as they came in.  This salutation was given every morning when they met. Brother Sidney Rigdon lectured on grammar sometimes. (Salt Lake School of the Prophets Minute Book 1883, p. 44)

Zebedee Coltrin stated in this interview:

Once Joseph gave notice to the school for all to get up before sunrise, then wash temselves and put on clean clothing and be at the school by sunrise, as it would be a day of revelation and vision.  They opened with prayer.  Joseph then gave instructions to prepare their minds.  He told them to kneel and pray with uplifted hands. (p. 44) 

While engaged in silent prayer, kneeling, with hands uplifted each one praying in silence, no one whispered above his breath, a personage walked through the room from from East to west, and Joseph asked if we saw him.  I saw him and suppose the others did, and Joseph answered that is Jesus, the Son of God, our elder brother.  Afterward Joseph told us to resume our former position in prayer, which we did.  Another person came through; He was surrounded as with a flame of fire.  He [Bro Coltrin] experienced a sensation that it might destroy the tabernacles as it was of consuming fire of great brightness.  The Prophet Joseph said this was the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  I saw Him.

When asked about the kind of clothing the Father has on, Bro Coltin said; I did not discover His clothing for He was surrounded as with a flame of fire, which was so brilliant that I could not discover anything else but His person.  I saw His hands, His legs, his feet, his eyes, nose, mouth, head and body in the shape and form of a perfect man.  He sat in a chair as a man would sit in a chair, but This appearance was so grand and overwhelming that it seems I should melt down in His presence, and the sensation was so powerful that it thrilled through my whole system and I felt it in the marow of my bones.  The Prophet Joseph said:  Brethren[,] now you are preapred to be the apostles of Jesus Christ, for you have seen both the Father and the Son, and know that They exist and that They are two separate Personages.

This appearance occured about two or three weeks after the opening of the school.  (p. 38-39)

The Kirtland Temple and Printing House

The first session of the School of the Propehts ended in April 1833.  It was intended that the school expand in numbers.  A major concerns facing the expanding educational efforts was to have a place large enough to meet increased enrollments. 

The revelation recorded in D&C 88 commanded the construction of such a house.  On 23 March 1833, a council was convened to appoint a committee to purchase land in Kirtland where the Temple was to be built (see History of the Church, 1980, Vol. 1, p. 334). 

After the land was purchased, a city plat was surveyed.  Further revelations gave the “manner” and “pattern” of construction and design of the Temple. 

D&C 95

8 Yea, verily I say unto you, I gave unto you a commandment that you should build a house, in the which house I design to endow those whom I have chosen with power from on high;

11 Verily I say unto you, it is my will that you should build a house. If you keep my commandments you shall have power to build it.

12 If you keep not my commandments, the love of the Father shall not continue with you, therefore you shall walk in darkness.

13 Now here is wisdom, and the mind of the Lord--let the house be built, not after the manner of the world, for I give not unto you that ye shall live after the manner of the world;

14 Therefore, let it be built after the manner which I shall show unto three of you, whom ye shall appoint and ordain unto this power.

15 And the size thereof shall be fifty and five feet in width, and let it be sixty-five feet in length, in the inner court thereof.

16 And let the lower part of the inner court be dedicated unto me for your sacrament offering, and for your preaching, and your fasting, and your praying, and the offering up of your most holy desires unto me, saith your Lord.

17 And let the higher part of the inner court be dedicated unto me for the school of mine apostles, saith Son Ahman; or, in other words, Alphus; or, in other words, Omegus; even Jesus Christ your Lord. Amen.

From these it was obvious that the Temple was not to be an ordinary school house.

Kirtland Temple Side Sectional View
Kirtland Temple Third Floor Plans
Kirtland Temple Top Floor

The school house was to be a sacred edifice with the title, “House of the Lord.”   That is, it would be a temple!! Befitting such a title, the building would be more exquisite and costly, taking more time than a simple school house.  On 1 June, a circular was sent to the various branches of the Church explaining the urgency of the construction of the Temple:

And unless we fulfil this command, viz: establish an house, and prepare all things necessary whereby the elders may gather into a school, called the School of the Prophets, and receive that instruction which the Lord designs they should receive, we may all despair of obtaining the great blessing that God has promised to the faithful of the Church of Christ; therefore it is as important, as our salvation, that we obey this above-mentioned command, as well as all the commandments of the Lord.

The circular asked for financial donations that not only would help pay for the construction of the building but also to “aid the Elders to attend this school”:
   We have met in conference, and agreed to form a subscription, and circulate it through the churches.  The conference also appointed Hyrum Smith, Reynolds Cahoon, and Jared Carter, a committee to superintend this business, viz; that of circulating subscriptions to establish a fund to build a house, and to aid the Elders to attend this school. (History of the Church, 1980, Vol.1, p.350)

With financial donations coming in, construction of the Temple began in July of 1833.   It was evident, however, that the building would take some time to complete.

Joseph Smith and the other leaders had to grapple with the question of where to house the School while the Temple was being built.  In the fall of 1833, a council of the leaders was held concerning “the subject of building.”  In a letter to the members of the Church in Missouri dated October 10, Frederick G. Williams reported:
It was decided by the council that we should discontinue the building of the Temple during the winter, for want of materials; and to prepare and get all things in readiness to recommence it early in the spring. It was also agreed that we should set the hands immediately to erect a house for the printing office, which is to be thirty by thirty-eight feet on the ground; the first story to be occupied for the School of the Prophets this winter, and the upper story for the printing press.  (History of the Church, 1980, Vol. 1, p. 418)

1834-35 Session of School of Prophets

During this time period, the School of the Prophets divided in two schools: 

  • A school for scular learning
  • Elder's School for theological learning.  It was in this school that the Lectures of Faith was first used.

1835-36 Session of School of the Prophets

From the fall of 1835 through the summer of 1837, the School of the Prophets in Kirtland expanded in remarkable ways.  The two preceding seasons intensified the growing hunger for education among the leaders and missionaries of the Church.  In fact, the craving for learning became contagious among many if not most adult members of the Church.  John Corrill, who had been appointed a Church historian in 1838 (History of the Church, Vol.3, p.13), recalled: “They had been previously commanded to seek learning and study the best books, and get a knowledge of countries, kingdoms, languages, etc., which inspired them with an extravagant thirst after knowledge”.

Returning missionaries were eager to be taught the doctrines of the restored Church as well as to improve their minds in secular ways.  As more and more members were craving opportunities for education, further schools were established to meet their growing wants and needs.  There were further sessions of the Elder’s School.  A Hebrew school was established.  Further, a variety of evening schools were offered.  The combined curricula offered during this time period included theology, English grammar, writing, reading, common arithmetic, mathematics, geography, history, debating, singing and foreign languages including Hebrew, Latin, and Greek.