Church History Lesson 04 (JSH 27–65; D&C 3;5;10;17;20;84)
January 16-22


The Saints had “power to lay the foundation” of the Church only after the Book of Mormon was translated (D&C 1:29–30).

President Ezra Taft Benson said, “A . . . powerful testimony to the importance of the Book of Mormon is to note where the Lord placed its coming forth in the timetable of the unfolding Restoration. The only thing that preceded it was the First Vision. . . . The coming forth of the Book of Mormon preceded the restoration of the priesthood. It was published just a few days before the Church was organized. The Saints were given the Book of Mormon to read before they were given the revelations outlining such great doctrines as the three degrees of glory, celestial marriage, or work for the dead. It came before priesthood quorums and Church organization. Doesn’t this tell us something about how the Lord views this sacred work?”1

The Savior gave His own witnesses concerning the Book of Mormon:  “It is true (D&C 17:5–6).” It was given by inspiration, proves to the world that the scriptures are true, and proves that God does inspire men (D&C 20:8–15).  Along with the Bible it puts down contention and brings people to a knowledge of the Lord’s covenants (2 Nephi 3:12).


Joseph Was Not Yet Ready to Begin Translating

When Joseph Smith was first shown the gold plates, he was not prepared to receive and translate them. The Lord prepared Joseph to receive and translate the plates over the next four years (JS-History 42–47, 51–54).

What Joseph had to learn before he could receive the plates:

—    The need to be strictly obedient to the Lord’s commandments

—    The sacredness of the ancient record

—    The power of Satan, who would attempt to destroy both Joseph and the record

—    The future destiny of the work to which Joseph had been called

Important Family Developments

—    Joseph’s brother Alvin died, leaving the family in financial difficulty (JS-History 55–56).

—    Joseph met Emma while working in Harmony, Pennsylvania (JS-History 57–58).

—    They eloped and were married in New York on January 18, 1827.

—    Rejected by Emma’s parents, they move to Palmyra & live with the Smiths


Joseph Receives the Plates

The Angel Moroni told the Prophet in 1823 that great persecution would come: “When it is known that the Lord has shown you these things, the workers of iniquity will seek your overthrow: they will circulate falsehoods to destroy your reputation, and also will seek to take your life.”2

—    On September 22, 1827, Joseph returned to Cumorah for the fourth time and received the plates.

—    Emma accompanied him to the Hill and sat praying for his safety while he retrieved them.

The Angel Moroni said again when he delivered the plates to Joseph: “You are but a man, therefore you will have to be watchful and faithful to your trust, or you will be overpowered by wicked men; for they will lay every plan and scheme that is possible to get it away from you, and if you do not take heed continually, they will succeed.”3

Leaving the Hill Cumorah, Joseph temporarily hid the plates in an old log. Later, while transferring them to his home, he was attacked several times. This quickly taught Joseph why Moroni had given him the warning concerning the safety of the plates (JS-History 60–61).  The harassment and persecution in Palmyra became very severe.

Translating Begins in Harmony, Pennsylvania

—    Persecution forced Joseph to move to Harmony, Pennsylvania, the home of his in-laws, the Hales.

—    Martin Harris, a prominent resident of Palmyra, was one of the first to believe in Joseph Smith’s work.

—    He gave Joseph fifty dollars to assist him in moving to Harmony, Pennsylvania.

—    It was there in the temporary peace of Harmony that the translation began.

—    Emma apparently acted as the first scribe, but because of her many duties very little was translated.

—    She became pregnant with their first child during that time.

Persecution soon arose in Harmony.  Isaac Hale heard that Joseph had the plates with him and demanded to see them.  When Joseph refused his demand, he refused to let them stay. Joseph purchased a modest home and farm from him nearby.  Joseph worked on his farm to support his family and translation work was very slow.  He learned how to use the Urim and Thummim to translate and managed to copy and translate a few characters.

Martin Harris and the Anthon Transcript

—    Sometime between December 1827 and February 1828, Martin Harris received a vision affirming the divinity of Joseph’s work.

—    Martin had received much criticism from his wife, family and neighbors for his support of Joseph Smith.

—    He desired scientific “proof” of Joseph’s work to convince them—a weakness that persisted in his life.

—    In February 1828, he traveled to Harmony to obtain a copy of the ancient characters & their translation.

—    He took them east to show them to a “learned man” who could verify their authenticity & accuracy.

—    Eventually, he actually showed them to two learned men:

•     The first, Professor Charles Anthon unwittingly fulfilled an ancient prophecy made by Isaiah (Isaiah 29:11; 2 Nephi 27:15) (JS-History 62–65).

•    The second, Professor Samuel Mitchell, who also verified their authenticity.


The Lost Manuscript

Martin’s Valuable Assistance:

—    Convinced of their authenticity, Martin prepared to come to Harmony to help with translating.

—    His wife insisted on coming with him, but stirred up so much prejudice toward Joseph that Martin had to take her home before the work could begin.

—    For 2 months—April 12th to June 14th—Martin was Joseph’s scribe as he translated 116 pages.

—    Those pages were 13 x 17 inches in size, the equivalent of 300 pages of 8 ½ x 11 inch paper.

—    Their work covered the writings and events of the prophet Lehi on the large plates of Mormon.

Martin’s Great Weakness and Pride:

—    Martin was convinced that if he could show his family their work, they would believe him.

—    He asked the Prophet for permission from the Lord for him to do so.

—    Joseph asked twice, and both times the answer was “no.”

—    Unsatisfied with the answer he insisted that Joseph ask again.

Joseph’s Fear of Offending Martin Harris:

—    Joseph was young and had very few friends—especially friends with Martin Harris’ reputation.

—    He was worried about offending his prominent friend and about losing his valuable support

—    He foolishly pestered the Lord a third time and was told he could do it, though it wasn’t wise.

—    Martin made a solemn covenant that he would show them only to give people—his wife, her sister, his mother and father, and his brother—and would write to Joseph regularly.

—    Martin hurried off to Palmyra, where he violated his covenant in order to “test” the Lord.

Tragedy Strikes Joseph’s Young Family:

—    The following day, Emma prematurely delivered their first child—who died the same day.

—    They named the child Alvin—after Joseph’s beloved deceased older brother.

—    Emma nearly died herself from complications of the childbirth.

—    Joseph sat up with her night after night until she was out of danger and began to mend.

Joseph Goes to Palmyra:

—    Martin Harris had not written to him as promised.

—    Emma eventually convinced him to go Palmyra to investigate what had happened.

—    When he got there he discovered, to his horror, that the manuscript had been lost.

Moroni Withdraws the Record

Joseph was in deep anguish and self-condemnation for allowing the record out of his possession. He returned to Harmony in July of 1828, and went to the Lord in prayerful sorrow. Moroni appeared, demanded the Urim and Thummim and condemned him for his serious offense.

The Angel Moroni said on that occasion: “If you are very humble and penitent, it may be you will receive them [the Urim and Thummim] again; if so, it will be on the 22nd of next September.”4

A few days later, Moroni appeared again to Joseph and gave him the Urim and Thummim long enough for him to receive a revelation from the Lord—what is now recorded as D&C 3.

“The Purposes of God Cannot Be Frustrated”

The works of God cannot be frustrated—he knows the end from the beginning (D&C 3:1–3).

This should give us absolute confidence in his promises to us. Elder Neal A. Maxwell said, “What we mortals encounter as the unforeseen, God has already seen.”5

The Lord told Nephi to keep two parallel records: a secular history on the “large plates,” and the religious or spiritual history on the “small plates” (1 Nephi 9:2–6; Words of Mormon 6–7). Neither Nephi nor Mormon knew why, but they believed that God had a valid purpose.

The Lord chastened Joseph for fearing man (Martin’s opinion of him) more than God (D&C 3:4–8). Verse 5 refers in part to Joseph Smith’s first interview with Moroni and the cautions and promises made to him (JS-H 33–54, 59).

The Lord reminds Joseph that even though he was called to a great work, it was quite possible for him to fall—and he would unless he learned to be obedient (D&C 3:9–15). “Thy director” (v. 15) probably refers to his mentor Moroni as well as to the Lord.

The Lord’s work will go forward—with or without Joseph—and his promises to the seed of Lehi will all be fulfilled (D&C 3:16–20).

Moroni then took back the Urim and Thummim—and the plates—leaving Joseph to think about what he had done for the next two months.

The Designs of Evil Men

Though his disobedience caused him to lose his calling temporarily, it was later restored to him (D&C 10:1–3).

The Lord’s advice to Joseph (and us) on how to fulfill our callings (D&C 10:4–5):

—    Do all things with reason—don’t over-do things or go beyond your strength.

—    But be diligent—keeping at it until the assignment is finished.

—    Pray always, recognizing that we need the Lord’s help to succeed.

—    Joseph was not to “make up for lost time,” but proceed with wisdom & order.

—    Joseph heeded this advice and did not return immediately to translating

—    He farmed his land and provided for his family for a while.

God explained the conspiracy his enemies had to try to destroy him (D&C 10:6–14).

Testing God is Evil:  Evil men try to “tempt” (test) God—set up tests to see if he will respond as they wish (D&C 10:15–21). Martin Harris was guilty of this—always seeking to have the Lord verify the truth of things by means of Martin’s choosing.

Proving God is Appropriate: The Lord invites us, however, to “prove” him—keep his  commandments and reap the rewards of doing so (e.g., tithing).

The Lord instructed the Prophet not to retranslate the first 116 pages of material but to translate Nephi’s second set of records instead (D&C 10:40–45).

The Lord said He will save truly converted members of his Church; only the wicked need fear (D&C 10:53–56).

Some purposes of the Book of Mormon (D&C 10:57–70).

—    It shows that the Lord has other “sheep” and that they are of Israel (v. 60).

—    It shows the marvelous works the Book of Mormon peoples did in his name (v. 61).

—    It will bring to light true doctrine (v. 62).

—    It will help stop the contention over doctrine that characterizes Christianity (v. 63).

—    It foretells the gathering of Israel to the true Church in the last days (v. 65).

—    It helps establish the doctrine of Christ (v. 67–68).


Joseph’s Father Visits Him in Harmony

Worried about their son, Joseph parents came to visit him in February of 1829. Knowing prophetically that they were coming, Joseph went out to meet them. Joseph’s father wanted to know what he could do to help his son. Joseph inquired of the Lord and received this revelation.

A Great and Marvelous Work Is Predicted (D&C 4:1–7).

—    Serve him with all your heart, might, mind and strength (v. 2).

—    “If ye have desires to serve God ye are called to the work” (v. 3).

—    “The field is white already to harvest” (thousands were ready around the world) (v. 4).

—    Essential attributes and attitudes when engaged in the service of God (v. 6).

Important Developments While Translating

—    Oliver Cowdery arrived and helped Joseph to translate the record.

—    The Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods were restored.

—    The gifts of the Spirit were manifested—healings, tongues, and more.

—    Converts were made and persecutions intensified.

—    To escape persecution in Harmony, they moved to the Whitmer home in Fayette, New York.

The Miracle of Translation

—    Joseph and Oliver labored “with little cessation” on the translation throughout April.

—    They completed the translation of the entire Book of Mormon in about 65 working days.

—    In that short time, they completed the amazing task of translating 500 printed pages

—    That amounts to about 10 pages per working day.

Oliver Cowdery said, “These were days never to be forgotten—to sit under the sound of a voice dictated by the inspiration of heaven, awakened the utmost gratitude of this bosom! Day after day I continued, uninterrupted, to write from his mouth, as he translated with the Urim and Thummim, or as the Nephites would have said, ‘Interpreters,’ the history or record called ‘The Book of Mormon.’”6

“I wrote with my own pen, the entire Book of Mormon (save a few pages) as it fell from the lips of the Prophet Joseph Smith, as he translated it by the gift and power of God, by means of the Urim and Thummim, or, as it is called by the book, “holy interpreters”. . . .  The book is true. Sidney Rigdon did not write it; Mr. Spaulding did not write it; I wrote it myself as it fell from the lips of the Prophet.”7


The Time Line of its Printing

To protect the sacred manuscript, Oliver was instructed to make a copy of the entire thing.

—    10 July 1829:    Oliver began preparing this “printers manuscript.”

—    18 Aug 1829:    A contract was made with the Grandin Print Shop to print 5,000 copies.

—    Grandin at first refused to participate but miraculously changed his mind

—    Martin Harris mortgaged his farm to guarantee the $3,000 needed for the job

—    His wife considered this the “last straw” and divorced him.

—    24 Aug 1829:    The first 24 pages of the manuscript were delivered; typesetting began.

—    26 Mar 1830:    The first copies of the Book of Mormon were completed 6 months later.

—    6 April 1830:    Eleven days later, the Church was organized at Fayette, New York.


The Prophet Joseph Smith said to the Twelve Apostles on 28 November 1841: “I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion and a man would get nearer to God: by abiding by its precepts than by any other book.”8

President Ezra Taft Benson said: “Do eternal consequences rest upon our response to this book? Yes, either to our blessing or our condemnation. Every Latter-day Saint should make the study of this book a lifetime pursuit. Otherwise he is placing his soul in jeopardy and neglecting that which could give spiritual and intellectual unity to his whole life. There is a difference between a convert who is built on the rock of Christ through the Book of Mormon and stays hold of that iron rod, and one who is not.”9

In September 1832 the Prophet Joseph Smith received a revelation that said “the whole church [was] under condemnation” for neglecting the Book of Mormon. President Ezra Taft Benson said, “If the early Saints were rebuked for treating the Book of Mormon lightly, are we under any less condemnation if we do the same?”10 “The Lord is not pleased with us in the manner of attention we’re giving the Book of Mormon, a new witness for Christ. We need it in our homes, we need it in our families. It was written for us today.”11

“There is a power in the book which will begin to flow into your lives the moment you begin a serious study of the book. You will find greater power to resist temptation. You will find the power to avoid deception. You will find the power to stay on the strait and narrow path. The scriptures are called ‘the words of life’ (D&C 84:85), and nowhere is that more true than it is of the Book of Mormon. When you begin to hunger and thirst after those words, you will find life in greater and greater abundance. . . . [You will also enjoy] increased love and harmony in the home, greater respect between parent and child, [and] increased spirituality and righteousness. These promises are not idle promises, but exactly what the Prophet Joseph Smith meant when he said the Book of Mormon will help us draw nearer to God.”12


1.  In Conference Report, Oct. 1986, 3; or Ensign, Nov. 1986, 4.

2.  Oliver Cowdery, in Latter-day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate, Oct. 1835, 199.

3.  Lucy Mack Smith, History of Joseph Smith, ed. Preston Nibley [1958], 110.

4.  History of Joseph Smith, 134.

5.  Ensign, Nov. 1987, 31.

6.  Messenger and Advocate, Vol. 1 (October 1834), 14–16.

7.  Quoted in Elder Joseph Fielding Smith, The Restoration of All Things, 114.

8.  History of the Church, 4:461.

9.  In Conference Report, Apr. 1975, 96–97.

10.  In Conference Report, Oct. 1986, 4; or Ensign, Nov. 1986, 4–5.

11.  Church News, 9 Nov. 1986, 10.

12.  In Conference Report, Oct. 1986, 6; or Ensign, Nov. 1986, 7.

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