Angelic Messengers

What did Joseph Smith teach about visitations from Heavenly Messengers? How is one to detect an angel from a devil? 

Joseph Smith

1 April 1842

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; he commenced and told her to fear God and said that her husband was called to do great things, but that he must not go more than one hundred miles from home or he would not return; whereas God had called him to go to the ends of the earth; and he has since been more than one thousand miles from home, and is yet alive. 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, and by his contradicting a former revelation.

[History, 1838–1856, volume C-1 [2 November 1838–31 July 1842]

Doctrine & Covenants 129

Instructions given by Joseph Smith the Prophet, at Nauvoo, Illinois, February 9, 1843, making known three grand keys by which the correct nature of ministering angels and spirits may be distinguished.

1–3, There are both resurrected and spirit bodies in heaven; 4–9, Keys are given whereby messengers from beyond the veil may be identified.


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 saying he has a message 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.

[Doctrine and Covenants Section 129]

How to spot
a bad angel

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There are five ways to tell if a heavenly messenger is of God or of the devil:

  • Ask to shake their hand, and they do and you feel it: They are of God
  • Ask to shake their hand, and they don't, but deliver their message: They are of God
  • Ask to shake their hand, they try, you can't feel it: They are of the devil
  • If they have sandy colored hair: They are of the devil
  • If they contradict a former revelation: They are of the devil

Evangelical Magazine 
& Gospel Advocate

6 June 1835

This story was published first in the Evangelical Magazine and Gospel Advocate on 6 June 1835. It was shortened and paraphrased in the Rochester Republican on June 15, 1835. It was also published in the New-York Mercury on June 25, 1835 and the Rockville Intelligencer on July 18, 1835.

"The Mormon Angel"

Soon after the notorious imposter, Jo. Smith, of golden Bible memory, reached “the promised land” in Ohio, with his deluded followers, and was getting along with such “swimming success” in making proselytes and baptising them in Grand River, near Painsville, (“though he himself baptised not, but his disciples” in the instance at least which we are about to relate,) word was given out that an angel would uniformly appear, dressed in white, standing in the edge of the water on the opposite side of the river whenever the baptismal rite was administered, to witness and approve the ordinance. To give the celestial messenger a more imposing appearance, and withal, not to dazzle the eye of weak mortals with too much glory for their feeble organs to behold, the rite was always very prudently administered in the night. The angel was uniformly seen as above described on such occasions. At length three young men of the place, resolved one night, when notice was given that baptism was to be administered and the angel was to appear, that they would see the ghost nearer at hand than across the river, ah! and feel him too, if tangible, and ascertain whether he were material or immaterial substance. Accordingly these ghost-daring mortals secreted themselves in the bushes on the side where the angel was to appear, opposite the baptismal administration. The ordinance proceeded, and behold! the angel was there, clothed in white, with a luminous appearance, the wonder and admiration of the Mormon host. Our triune guard now made a plunge—the angel sprung to elude their grasp— splash, splash goes the water—deeper and deeper plunge the pursued and the pursuers; till behold! they had him fast—it was surely material substance—in, in they went, deeper and deeper—clear up to the neck, chin, and eyes of the ghost, dragging him directly through the river to the place of the ceremony, crying out, “we’ve got your angel—his wings are wet and dripping.” And behold! on examination by the light, it was the veritable Jo. Smith himself, with a sheet wrapped around him and a dark lantern concealed underneath!

The above fact we had a few days since from the lips of one of the daring trio, by the name of S——, now at work in the Frankfort furnace, only a few miles from this city. We deemed it too good to be lost. Our readers have it as cheap as we had.

D. S.

[Evangelical Magazine and Gospel Advocate, 6 June 1835, The Mormon Angel]
 [Rockville Intelligencer, July 18, 1835]
[The article was also included in the church's Master List of "19th Century Publications about the Book of Mormon]

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