First Principles of the Gospel
In early Mormonism, the “first principles” were conceptualized as “faith, repentance, and baptism” — largely as a result of the Restoration Movement influence from which both Sidney Rigdon and Parley P. Pratt came, being formerly Campbellite ministers. Joseph Smith’s 1842 Wentworth Letter included the “first principles [ordinances] of the gospel” among Latter-day Saint beliefs. He accepted his converts’ characterization and used their terminology (see T&C 146). On June 27, 1839, Joseph Smith added that “the doctrines of the resurrection of the dead and the eternal judgment are necessary to preach among the first principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”1 “In this statement [he] emphasized that [these] doctrines…should be taught as part of the fundamental articles of faith by the missionaries. He repeatedly referred to and amplified this theme in discourses during the Nauvoo period.”2 In his final church conference in April 1844, Joseph Smith redefined the term “first principles of the gospel,” tying it to the progression of men into gods. When he redefined the “first principles about which so much hath been said,” he addressed members, not the unconverted and untaught. He wanted them to comprehend much more about the gospel and learn a new, higher ideal. Christ’s gospel includes attaining to the resurrection from the dead, becoming gods, and walking the same path as the Lord walked.3 These are the real first principles.4
1 TPJS, 149; see also WJS, 4; 17n1; JS, Discourse, Commerce, IL, between 26 June and 2 July 1839; in Willard Richards Pocket Companion, pp. 15–22; Willard Richards, Journals, CHL, JSP, https: //www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/discourse-between-circa-26-june-and-circa-2-july-1839-as-reported-by-willard-richards/3
2 WJS, 17n5.
3 WJS, 344–345; 350, 358; WWJ, 2:384.
4 Preserving the Restoration, 306–308.