Noel B. Reynolds had been teaching political science at BYU for 20 years when a group approached him and asked him to review a book designed to promote Lectures on Faith.
"I read the book and especially the historical section, which gives the background on the Lectures on Faith and the reasons why they thought Joseph Smith wrote the lectures and was almost stunned to see how thin that evidence was," Reynolds says in an interview with LDS Perspectives.
The topic of who wrote the originally canonized but currently uncanonized book consisting of seven lectures on the doctrine and theology of the Church interested Reynolds greatly for the next 10–15 years, but he could never find any concrete evidence as to who he thought the author was.
Then, in 2004, Reynolds says he found his "smoking gun" evidence that Joseph Smith was not the author of the Lectures on Faith—Sidney Rigdon was.
After finding 18 months worth of essays Rigdon had published in Church newspapers about the same topics found in Lectures on Faith, Reynolds asked an author who knew nothing about his hypothesis and asked him to compare Rigdon's essays, Lectures on Faith, and some writings from Joseph Smith. Reynolds told this man, who was a writer and perceptive to different writing styles, to come back to him after 30 days and tell him which writings he thought were written by a different author and why.
"He came back. He said, 'That’s easy. These two piles of paper were written by the same person.' I said, 'Okay. Why?' He said, 'There’s some very distinctive rhetorical phrasings that just keep showing up in both of them,'" Reynolds says.
Reynolds and this author then took a list of these distinct phrases and used a computer to find out how many times they occurred in Rigdon's essays and the Lectures on Faith.
"Those phrasings recurred hundreds of times in Sidney’s essays, almost 200 times in the lectures," Reynolds says. "Not one of them ever occurred in anything written by Joseph Smith that we considered, very clearly linking the two. In fact, the per thousand words occurrence of these things was double in the Lectures on Faith what it was in Sidney’s own essays."
Reynolds wrote a paper on his findings, which was published in the Journal of Mormon History in 2005. And although others have asserted that Joseph Smith was not the sole author of the Lectures on Faith or that many people other than Joseph Smith contributed to writing the book, Reynolds says there's evidence to suggest that Rigdon was the book's author.
For instance, Reynolds's asserts there is no proof Joseph Smith ever even looked at the lectures, the only statement that he did so was made by a secretary trying to fill 18 months worth of missing daily records from Joseph Smith's life, with no first-hand accounts of Joseph Smith actually looking at the lectures or writing them.
"The second thing we can look at is did Joseph use the lectures, did he claim them, did he quote them, did he teach from them, did he ever repeat these teachings? The answer to that is no, not once," Reynolds says.
Though the author for Lectures on Faith remains to be known on the book cover as Joseph Smith, Reynolds holds to the evidence he has brought forward that it may, in fact, be Rigdon.
However, Reynolds says what he hopes people take away from his studies is to be careful and pay close attention to what the prophets and leaders of the Church are saying.
"I think we need to keep our noses in the Book of Mormon and in the revelations of Joseph Smith and not look for other things to expand or elevate our understanding of the gospel," he says.
For the full interview, visit LDS Perspectives.
Lead image from Mormon Newsroom
Did you know that the Lectures on Faith were published in the forepart of the Doctrine and Covenants in all editions from 1835 until 1921? President Joseph Fielding Smith said: “These lectures are of great value and should be studied. . . I consider them to be of extreme value in the study of the gospel of Jesus Christ,” Bruce R. McConkie has classified the lectures as “some of the best lesson material ever prepared on the Godhead; on the character, perfections, and attributes of God; on faith, miracles, and sacrifice. They can be studied with great profit by all scholars.”