The Articles of Faith
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updated 07/28/15
In 1842, in response to a specific request from John Wentworth (editor of the Chicago Democrat), Joseph Smith sent a succinct overview of his own religious experiences and the History of the Church over which he presided (the Wentworth Letter). At the end of the historical sketch, he appended a list summarizing the 'faith of the Latter-day Saints.' Later titled 'Articles of Faith,' these thirteen items were first published in the Nauvoo Times and Seasons in March 1842 and were later included in the 1851 British Mission pamphlet The Pearl of Great Price, compiled by Elder Franklin D. Richards. That pamphlet was revised in 1878 and again in 1880. In 1880, a general conference of the Church voted to add the Pearl of Great Price to the standard works of the Church, thus including the thirteen articles. The Articles of Faith do not constitute a summation of all LDS beliefs, and they are not a creed in the traditional Christian sense, but they do provide a useful authoritative summary of fundamental LDS scriptures and beliefs.

The Wentworth Letter was not the first attempt to summarize basic LDS beliefs. Earlier lists, some of which may have influenced the Wentworth listing, had appeared prior to 1842. As early as June 1829, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were committing to paper the 'Articles and Covenants' of the soon-to-be-organized Church. Later known as Doctrine and Covenants Section 20, this text enumerates a number of basic beliefs, including the existence of God; the creation and fall of man; the centrality of Jesus Christ; the fundamental ordinances of the gospel, including baptism; and the basic duties of members. This document, the first accepted by a Church conference vote, was not an exhaustive listing of all beliefs but rather a basic charter for the infant organization, rooted in the Bible and the Book of Mormon.

The canonization of the Wentworth Letter as part of the Pearl of Great Price in 1880 reflected and assured its undisputed priority. And when James E. Talmage was asked by the First Presidency in 1891 to prepare a work on theology for use as a textbook in Church schools, it was to these Articles of Faith that he turned for the outline of his volume. First published in 1899 and still in use today, Talmage's Articles of Faith greatly elaborate on the themes of Joseph Smith's Wentworth list. In twenty-four chapters, Talmage provides extensive commentary and scriptural references regarding each of the concepts mentioned in the thirteen articles, plus sections on the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper and resurrection (as in Flanigan's listing), and finally a section on practical religion (benevolence, tithes and offerings, consecration, social order within the Church, eternal marriage, sanctity of the body, and keeping the Sabbath day holy).

As early as the 1850s, LDS missionaries printed broadsides that contained the Articles of Faith. In time, these missionary placards were reduced to wallet size and are still used by missionaries throughout the world. In the primary classes of the Church, children memorize the Articles of Faith as a requirement for graduation at age twelve, and adults have also been encouraged to learn and use them for personal study and in missionary work.

Although not a formal creed, the Articles of Faith are a marvelously abridged summary (less than 400 words) of the basic beliefs of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. While there have been many variations published since Joseph Smith's day, a central core of beliefs stated in all these articles comes from the earliest years of the Restoration - a fact that testifies both to its internal consistency and its constancy.