By Marvin W. Cowan
Joseph Smith claimed he had a vision in 1820 when he was 14 years of age which led him to organize the Mormon Church ten years later (Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith History 1:14-19). He also said the angel Moroni began visiting him in 1823 and visited him once a year until 1827 when he began to translate the Book of Mormon. Following Smith’s example, many of his early followers also said they were visited by angels or had revelations. Smith soon realized that such claims could result in a loss of his authority. Fortunately for him, he received revelations that said he was the only one who could receive revelations for the LDS Church (Doctrine & Covenants 23:1-5; 28:2-3; 43:3-6). Smith also said on July 2, 1839 “An angel of God never has wings” (History of the Church vol. 3, p. 392). On April 1, 1842 Smith wrote an editorial in the LDS Times and Seasons saying, “There have also been ministering angels in the (LDS) Church which were of Satan appearing as an angel of light. A sister in the state of New York had a vision, who said it was told her that if she would go to a certain place in the woods, an angel would appear to her. She went at the appointed time, and saw a glorious personage descending, arrayed in white, with sandy colored hair…Many true things were spoken by this personage, and many things that were false. How, it may be asked, was this known to be a bad angel? By the color of his hair; that is one of the signs that he can be known by” (H. of the C. vol. 4, p. 581).
The Bible mentions Heavenly messengers or angels many times. Some angels appeared as men like those in Gen. 19, so they didn’t have wings. Sometimes angels can’t be seen while at other times they can, as in Numbers 22:21-35. The Angel Gabriel was able to “fly swiftly” in Daniel 9:21, but it doesn’t say he had wings. However, Cherubim are angelic beings with wings as Gen. 3:24 with Exodus 25:18-20 shows. Seraphim are also angelic beings with six wings according to Isaiah 6:2. So, Smith’s statement that “An angel of God never has wings” is not Biblical. Nor does the Bible teach that if an angel has “sandy colored hair” he is a “bad angel.”
On Feb. 9, 1843 Smith said, “A man came to me in Kirtland (OH), and told me he had seen an angel, and described his dress. I told him he had seen no angel, and there was no such dress in heaven. He grew mad, and went into the street and commanded fire to come down out of heaven and consume me. I laughed at him and said ‘you are one of Baal’s prophets’” (H. of the C. vol. 5, pp. 267-268). That same day Smith gave the instructions in D. & C. 129 which reveal the “Three grand keys by which the correct nature of ministering angels and spirits may be distinguished.” There are nine verses in D. & C. 129 which say, (1) “There are two kinds of beings in heaven, namely: Angels, who are resurrected personages, having bodies of flesh and bones—(2) For instance, Jesus said: Handle me and see, for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have. (3) Secondly: the spirits of just men made perfect, they who are not resurrected, but inherit the same glory. (4) When a messenger comes from God, offer him your hand and request him to shake hands with you. (5) If he be an angel he will do so, and you will feel his hand. (6) If he be the spirit of a just man made perfect he will come in his glory; for that is the only way he can appear—(7) Ask him to shake hands with you, but he will not move, because it is contrary to the order of heaven for a just man to deceive; but he will still deliver his message. (8) If it be the devil as an angel of light, when you ask him to shake hands he will offer you his hand, and you will not feel anything; you may therefore detect him. (9) These are three grand keys whereby you may know whether any administration is from God.”
Smith said in this LDS scripture that there are three kinds of heavenly messengers and you tell them apart by a handshake. If you feel his hand he is an angel. If you don’t feel his hand, it is the devil. The spirit of a just man made perfect will deliver his message, but won’t shake your hand. By Smith’s instructions anyone could claim to be a messenger from heaven and offer to shake hands to prove it. Or, someone could imitate “the spirit of a just man made perfect” by claiming to be a messenger from heaven and delivering his message without offering to shake hands. But it would be more difficult to imitate the devil by a handshake! There is no record of Joseph Smith giving the “Angel Moroni” the handshake test, so how do LDS know he was really an angel? Smith also claimed he was visited by John the Baptist, Peter, James and John, Elias, Elijah and others, yet there is no record of Smith giving the handshake test to any of them, so how can LDS be sure they were messengers of God and not the devil? But the Bible does not say to test a “heavenly messenger” by a handshake or by looking to see how he is dressed or if he has wings or sandy colored hair. I John 4:1 says “Try (or test) the spirits whether they are of God; because many false prophets are gone out into the world.” And the next two verses show that they are to be tested by what they believe and teach about Jesus Christ!