Joseph Smith and the Savior’s Parable of the Talents

During the days of the Prophet Joseph Smith, it was common for converts that did not have parents that had been or were in the gospel to be sealed to other faithful members – often apostles.

Benjamin F. Johnson was one such member. He was sealed as a son to the Prophet Joseph Smith, was one of his secretaries, and became extremely close to the prophet. He was a good friend and as such became part of semi-secret organizations, such as the Council of Fifty. Joseph also trusted Benjamin with some of the more controversial doctrines of the gospel, such as celestial marriage.

Joseph Smith wrote down very little of his teachings himself. A vast majority of what we know of the prophet’s teachings were written down by scribes like Benjamin. One of those teachings is the deeper meaning of the Savior’s parable of the talents as found in Matthew chapter 25:

14 For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods.

15 And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey.

16 Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents.

17 And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two.

18 But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord’s money.

19 After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them.

20 And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more.

21 His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.

22 He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them.

23 His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.

24 Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed:

25 And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine.

26 His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed:

27 Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury.

28 Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents.

29 For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.

30 And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

To assume the Lord was fixated on teaching the saints about financial investments is self evidently ridiculous, as is the idea that the Lord will take away from the poor that which they already have. The interpretation that this is about proper management of any temporal thing we may be blessed with is also clearly shallow or surface level at best.

Joseph first introduced Benjamin to the doctrine of plural marriage on April 3 or 4, 1843. After learning about plural marriage, Benjamin said that he felt amazed but did not understand it. In order to help Benjamin understand the doctrine, Joseph said that he (Joseph) would “today preach a sermon to you that none but you will understand.”

“The text of his sermon was our use of the ‘one, five and ten talents,’ and as God had now commanded plural marriage, and was exaltation and dominion of the saints depended upon the number of their righteous posterity, from him who was then but with one talent, it would be taken and given him that had ten.” (Benjamin F. Johnson letter to George S. Gibbs, 1903)

Here, the prophet taught that the parable was relating to the Saint’s practice of plural marriage and that the “talents” were a priesthood holder’s family. If he did not improve upon the “talents” given to him, they would be given to others who had magnified their priesthood and kept their covenants. Benjamin, however, was not the only person that was taught this by the prophet. Wilford Woodruff records:

L[orenzo] Snow said that Joseph Smith said that the parable that Jesus spoke of that the man who had one talent and hid it in the earth was the man who had but one wife and would not take another, would have her taken from him and given to one who had more. – Wilford Woodruff Journal, October 14, 1882

This idea was apparently taught to Brigham Young as well. He expounded upon it as follows:

Now, where a man in this Church says, “I don’t want but one wife, I will live my religion with one,” he will perhaps be saved in the celestial kingdom; but when he gets there he will not find himself in possession of any wife at all. He has had a talent that he has hid up. He will come forward and say, “Here is that which thou gavest me, I have not wasted it, and here is the one talent,” and he will not enjoy it, but it will be taken and given to those who have improved the talents they received, and he will find himself without any wife, and he will remain single forever and ever. But if the woman is determined not to enter into a plural-marriage, that woman when she comes forth will have the privilege of living in single blessedness through all eternity. – Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 16:166

When we have been given a commandment, and we fail to obey, the Lord will take from us what we have and give it to others. Our eternal salvation depends upon our following of the Lord’s commandments.


2 thoughts on “Joseph Smith and the Savior’s Parable of the Talents”

  1. In my Patriarical blessing I was given only one talent “to expound the scriptures’. I have been unfaithful in doing this.

    Who are the Money Changers?

    Now at 70 years old and considered by most in my ward a visionary man and a little strange. My testimonies and talks are a little above normal basic doctrine. A good friend, an emeritis elder (seventy) blessed me requesting me to avoid the mysteries and gave me a very special gift of the Mormon Doctrine signed by Elder McKonkie. I gave it to his son Elder Brian Russel as a present after the death of his father Gardner Russel.

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