Saturday, January 30, 2021

January 25-31: D&C 6-9


This lesson includes important revelations and events that teach us how the Lord reveals truths to our minds and hearts.

The events revolve around Oliver Cowdery. 

As you read and discuss these sections, notice the interaction between Oliver, Joseph and the Lord. In Palmyra, the Lord spoke directly to Oliver, prompting him to go to Harmony, Pennsylvania. When he arrived there, the Lord gave him further revelation through Joseph Smith.

This pattern demonstrates the relationships between us and God, us and the Church, and God and the Church. Each relationship has a purpose.

As D&C 6 teaches, we have a direct relationship with Christ. 

Behold, thou knowest that thou hast inquired of me and I did enlighten thy mind; 

But the Lord also speaks to us through the prophets, as shown in the rest of these verses:

and now I tell thee these things that thou mayest know that thou hast been enlightened by the Spirit of truth; 
Yea, I tell thee, that thou mayest know that there is none else save God that knowest thy thoughts and the intents of thy heart. 
I tell thee these things as a witness unto thee—that the words or the work which thou hast been writing are true.

(Doctrine and Covenants 6:15-17)

Another important aspect of these sections involves the translation of the plates. Note this significant verse:

25 And, behold, I grant unto you a gift, if you desire of me, to translate, even as my servant Joseph.
26 Verily, verily, I say unto you, that there are records which contain much of my gospel, which have been kept back because of the wickedness of the people;
27 And now I command you, that if you have good desires—a desire to lay up treasures for yourself in heaven—then shall you assist in bringing to light, with your gift, those parts of my scriptures which have been hidden because of iniquity.

(Doctrine and Covenants 6:25–27)

Here, we see that Oliver had a gift to translate "even as" Joseph did. In section 8, the Lord elaborated at little more:

you receive a knowledge of whatsoever things you shall ask in faith, with an honest heart, believing that you shall receive a knowledge concerning the engravings of old records, which are ancient, which contain those parts of my scripture of which has been spoken by the manifestation of my Spirit.
2 Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart.

(Doctrine and Covenants 8:1–2)

This teaches us that Oliver would receive a knowledge of the engravings, which suggests learning the language on the plates. He would learn the language in his mind and in his heart, which "is the spirit of revelation." 

Key point #1: the Lord did not say or imply that Oliver would read English words that appeared on a seer stone.

Instead, Oliver would learn the language by revelation, using his mind and his heart. This parallels the later revelations that we should "seek learning, even by study and also by faith."
(Doctrine and Covenants 88:118)

In Section 9, after Oliver failed to translate, the Lord explained further, re-emphasizing that the translation required effort and involved by the mind and the heart. 

7 Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.
8 But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.
(Doctrine and Covenants 9:7–8)

What could Oliver study if not the "engravings" mentioned in Section 8?

Apparently, Oliver had thought the English words would be provided if he merely asked. That's the way the "sprout" or divining rod works (see below). That's the way the "stone in the hat" worked. 

But that's not how the translation took place. 

Joseph explained that after he got the plates, he studied the characters or engravings: "immediately after my arrival there [in Harmony] I commenced copying the characters off the plates. I copied a considerable number of them, and by means of the Urim and Thummim I translated some of them..."
(Joseph Smith—History 1:62)
Oliver had a "gift... to translate, even as my servant Joseph." He would have had to do as Joseph did; i.e., study the character on the plates. Instead, he thought he could translate by merely asking, which didn't work. This is another indication that no actual translation was accomplished by simply reading words that appeared on a stone.

Section 9 includes another important insight when the Lord told Oliver, "because you did not translate according to that which you desired of me, and did commence again to write for my servant, Joseph Smith, Jun., even so I would that ye should continue until you have finished this record, which I have entrusted unto him.
2 And then, behold, other records have I, that I will give unto you power that you may assist to translate."
(Doctrine and Covenants 9:1–2)

Here, the Lord discusses two separate records.

"This record" consists of the abridged plates that Joseph and Oliver were translating. These are the plates that Joseph obtained from Moroni's stone box on the Hill Cumorah.

"Other records" are not specified here, but were to come in the future. Oliver would "assist to translate" them.

As we'll see next week, these "other records" were the plates of Nephi that Joseph would receive in Fayette.

Key point #2: Joseph translated the abridged plates in Harmony, from the first plate (the Book of Lehi, which was on the 116 pages Martin Harris lost) to the last plate (the Title Page). Joseph returned those plates to the "messenger" (never identified as Moroni) before moving to Fayette. In Fayette, the messenger gave Joseph the plates of Nephi (which we call the "small plates") which Joseph translated in the Whitmer home. 

As indicated in D&C 9:2, Oliver did assist to translate the "other records" of the plates of Nephi, although there were other scribes in Fayette as well, including Emma and the Whitmer brothers John and Christian.

Note on Oliver's gift. In Section 8:6, the Lord recognized that Oliver had "another gift, which is the gift of Aaron." The first version of this revelation said this was the "gift of working with the sprout," referring to a divining rod.

A divining rod, or sprout, works by asking a question and holding the rod so it can point in a direction or bow down. Such rods are commonly used even today by farmers and wilderness workers to find water. Some use them to find other objects as well.

It is a completely different gift from the gift of translation. Neither Joseph nor Oliver could translate simply by asking--or by simply reading English words on a stone in a hat.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Jan 18-24: D&C 3-5


This lesson involves the well-known loss of the 116 pages. The manual makes several important points. I'll just mention a few things the manual doesn't address.

D&C 3:5 says, "Behold, you have been entrusted with these things, but how strict were your commandments; and remember also the promises which were made to you, if you did not transgress them."

This verse contains three important elements that we should carefully consider with respect to the translation of the Book of Mormon and other aspects of the Restoration.

1. What was Joseph entrusted with?

Moroni related the history of the "aborigines of this country" and "said this history was written and deposited not far from that place," meaning the Smith farm near Palmyra.  

Moroni told Joseph about the plates, and also "that there were two stones in silver bows—and these stones, fastened to a breastplate, constituted what is called the Urim and Thummim—deposited with the plates; and the possession and use of these stones were what constituted “seers” in ancient or former times; and that God had prepared them for the purpose of translating the book." (Joseph Smith—History 1:35)

2. What strict commandments was he given?

Moroni told Joseph he could not show the Nephite relics except under certain conditions. "Again, he told me, that when I got those plates of which he had spoken—for the time that they should be obtained was not yet fulfilled—I should not show them to any person; neither the breastplate with the Urim and Thummim; only to those to whom I should be commanded to show them; if I did I should be destroyed." (Joseph Smith—History 1:42)

This "strict" commandment created a dilemma for Joseph. People wanted to know how he was translating the plates, but he couldn't show them. We'll see how he resolved that dilemma in future lessons. 

Another strict commandment Joseph received was to do the work with an eye single to the glory of God. Oliver explained that, "On the subject of bringing to light the unsealed part of this record, it may be proper to say, that our brother was expressly informed, that it must be done with an eye single to the glory of God; if this consideration did not wholly characterize all his procedings in relation to it, the adversary of truth would overcome him, or at least prevent his making that proficiency in this glorious work which he otherwise would."

When Joseph went to get the plates, he was unable to because he allowed himself to think of the worldly value of the ancient Nephite relics. Moroni explained, "Those who kept the commandments of the Lord on this land, desired this at his hand, and through the prayer of faith obtained the promise, that if their descendants should transgress and fall away, that a record might be kept and in the last days come to their children. These things are sacred, and must be kept so, for the promise of the Lord concerning them must be fulfilled. No man can obtain them if his heart is impure, because the<​y​> contain that which is sacred; and besides, should they be entrusted in unholy hands the knowledge could not come to the world, because they cannot be interpreted by the learning of this generation; consequently, they would be considered of no worth, only as precious metal. Therefore, remember, that they are to be translated by the gift and power of God."  

3. What promises were made to him, if he did not transgress?

In Letter IV, Oliver quoted Moroni's promises to Joseph. "He has therefore chosen you as an instrument in his hand to bring to light that which shall perform his act, his strange act, and bring to pass a marvelous work and a wonder. Wherever the sound shall go it shall cause the ears of men to tingle, and wherever it shall be proclaimed, the pure in heart shall rejoice, while those who draw near to God with their mouths, and honor him with their lips, while their hearts are far from him, will seek its overthrow, and the destruction of those by whose hands it is carried. Therefore, marvle not if your name is made a derission, and had as a by-word among such, if you are the instrument in bringing it, by the gift of God, to the knowledge of the people.” 

Moroni also told Joseph that it would be his "privilege, if obedient to the commandments of the Lord, to obtain and translate the same by the means of the Urim and Thummim, which were deposited for that purpose with the record."

In the Wentworth letter, Joseph explained the promises Moroni made to him and how he fulfilled one of them. "I was informed that I was chosen to be an instrument in the hands of God to bring about some of his purposes in this glorious dispensation.... 

Through the medium of the Urim and Thummim I translated the record by the gift, and power of God."

Despite setbacks (the loss of the 116 pages) and serious obstacles including poverty, the death of his firstborn child, Emma's poor health, and the difficulty of protecting the plates, Joseph eventually accomplished the tasks he was given.

This is an important lesson for all of us. The events in our lives give us experience to enable us to accomplish the work the Lord has for us.

As Oliver explained, "You will remember that I said, two invisible powers were operating upon the mind of our brother while going to Cumorah. In this, then, I discover wisdom in the dealings of the Lord: it was impossible for any man to translate the book of Mormon by the gift of God, and endure the afflictions, and temptations, and devices of satan, without being overthrown unless he had been previously benefited with a certain round of experience: and had our brother obtained the record the first time, not knowing how to detect the works of darkness, he might have been deprived of the blessings of sending forth the word of truth to this generation."

The end.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Jan. 11-17: D&C 2; Joseph Smith—History 1:27–65


This lesson focuses on Moroni's visit as recounted in JS-H 1:27-65. JS-H has generated some confusion that we can resolve by considering earlier published accounts of Church history. The confusion involves (i) the identity of Moroni, (ii) the identity of the Lamanites, and (iii) the identity of Cumorah. I'll discuss these in the next section below.

JS-H is an edited version of the history that was originally published in the Times and Seasons as a series of articles titled "History of Joseph Smith." Moroni's visit was published on April 15, 1842 (Vol. III, No. 12, page 753). 

You can see this here:

and here:

To avoid confusion (discussed in the next section below), it is important to consider two aspects of JS-H.

(i) it is an edited version of the original History of Joseph Smith.

(ii) it discusses some things in more detail than previous accounts and other things in less detail than previous accounts.

Joseph's contemporaries were familiar with Moroni's visit because Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery had written an earlier, more detailed account that was originally published in Kirtland, Ohio, in 1834-5 and republished many times. I call this the "Joseph Smith/Oliver Cowdery History." Joseph Smith's brother, Don Carlos, published it as "Rise of the Church."

You can read the account of Moroni's visit from the Joseph Smith/Oliver Cowdery History in Joseph Smith's own history, here:

Joseph's brother Don Carlos republished it in the Times and Seasons on December 15, 1840 (Vol II, No. 4, p. 241), which you can see here:

It's useful to read both accounts together because that's how Joseph's contemporaries read them. 

Everyone who read "History of Joseph Smith" in the 1842 Times and Seasons was familiar with the Joseph Smith/Oliver Cowdery history that was published the year before.

For example, JS-H 1:41 says this:

He also quoted the second chapter of Joel, from the twenty-eighth verse to the last. He also said that this was not yet fulfilled, but was soon to be. And he further stated that the fulness of the Gentiles was soon to come in. He quoted many other passages of scripture, and offered many explanations which cannot be mentioned here.

Why couldn't Joseph relate those passages here?

There was no need for him to do so because he and Oliver had related the other passages of scripture, with explanations, in detail in the Joseph Smith/Oliver Cowdery History. I included a table that compiles the passages of scriptures quoted by Moroni as related in these two histories in my book Letter VII: Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery Explain the Hill Cumorah

On my LetterVII blog, I discussed some of the gaps in JS-H that were filled by the Joseph Smith/Oliver Cowdery History.

In that post, I pointed out that "Once we recognize that Moroni taught Joseph about all the scriptures Oliver included, other aspects of Church history become clearer. Church writers including Phelps, Parley P. Pratt, and Benjamin Winchester were well known for elaborating on the Old Testament passages, but the foundation of their interpretations came from Moroni, who taught these things to Joseph Smith before Joseph even obtained the plates."


JS-H has caused some confusion about 3 key points: the identity of Moroni, the identity of the Lamanites, and the identity of Cumorah.

(1) Identity of Moroni. As originally published in the Times and Seasons, the account claimed it was Nephi who first visited Joseph Smith:

Times and Seasons (April 1842)

Joseph Smith-History 1:33

He called me by name, and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me, and that his name was Nephi.

He called me by name, and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me, and that his name was Moroni.

Critics claim this discrepancy is evidence that Joseph Smith changed his story. They rely on the teachings of some LDS historians who insist that Joseph was the acting, hands-on editor of the Times and Seasons in 1842 who carefully reviewed and edited the newspaper. If that were the case, then the critics make a good point. Why would Joseph Smith intentionally claim it was Nephi who appeared to him?

In my view, Joseph was merely the nominal editor of the Times and Seasons (meaning he was editor in name only, just as he was listed as the printer). I don't think he had the time, interest, or even ability to edit (let alone write articles for) the newspaper. Instead, I think Joseph's brother William, who was editing the weekly newspaper called the Wasp from the same printing shop, was the main editor, probably with assistance from others (such as John Taylor and W.W. Phelps).

Although it is written in the first person, the History of Joseph Smith was compiled by Joseph's scribes from a variety of sources. I think there's a good reason why they wrote Nephi here, even though they were mistaken. I blogged about that here:

The critics overlook Oliver Cowdery's Letter VI, originally published in April 1835 in the Messenger and Advocate. This is understandable because modern LDS scholars and historians also "forget" these essays because some details they contain contradict modern theories about M2C and SITH. 

Nevertheless, Oliver quoted at length what the messenger told Joseph and then wrote, "I believe that the angel Moroni, whose words I have been rehearsing, w[h]o communicated the knowledge of the record of the Nephites, in this age, saw also, before he hid up the same unto the Lord, great and marvelous things, which were to transpire when the same should come forth."

You can read this in Joseph's history here:

Thanks to Oliver's 8 essays about Church history, we see that the original version of JS-H, as published in the 1842 Times and Seasons, was a clerical error.

(1) Identity of Lamanites. JS-H says "there was a book deposited, written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent." Oliver's Letter IV says Moroni "gave a history of the aborigines of this country.

In the Wentworth letter, Joseph wrote that "the remnant are the Indians that live in this country," a reprise of Letter IV.

People debate about the relative meanings of "continent" and "country," but as the Nephi/Moroni example above shows, we should use caution in focusing on word choice in JS-H. 

It's also interesting that Letter IV doesn't mention gold plates. There is another account in Joseph Smith, History, 1834-1836 that does mention "plates of gold." The table below compares the three versions. Notice that all three focus on the Urim and Thummim as the means of translation.

Joseph Smith-History 1:34-5

JS-History 1834-5, p. 121

(9 November 1835, visit with Joshua)

JS-History 1834-5, p. 64-5

(Letter IV, February 1835)

He said there was a book deposited, written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent, and the source from whence they sprang.

He also said that the fulness of the everlasting Gospel was contained in it, as delivered by the Savior to the ancient inhabitants;

Also, that there were two stones in silver bows—and these stones, fastened to a breastplate, constituted what is called the Urim and Thummim—deposited with the plates; and the possession and use of these stones were what constituted “seers” in ancient or former times; and that God had prepared them for the purpose of translating the book.


He told me also of a sacred record which was written on plates of gold. I saw in the vision the place where they were deposited. He said to me the Indians were the literal decendants of Abraham.


He also informed me that the Urim & Thummim was hid up with the record, and that God would give me power to translate it with the assistance of this instrument;

He then proceeded and gave a general account of the promises made to the fathers, and also gave a history of the aborigenes of this country, and said they were literal descendants of Abraham. He represented them as once being an enlightned and intelligent people, possessing a correct knowledge of the gospel, and the plan of restoration and redemption.


He said this history was written and deposited not far from that place, and that it was our brother’s privilege, if obedient to the commandments of the Lord, to obtain and translate the same by the means of the Urim and Thummim, which were deposited for that purpose with the record.

Notice that in Letter IV, Moroni told Joseph that the record was "written and deposited" not far from Joseph's home. That leads to the next source of confusion: Cumorah.

3. Identity of Cumorah. Those who advocate M2C (the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory) point out that JS-H does not refer to the hill by name. 

51 Convenient to the village of Manchester, Ontario county, New York, stands a hill of considerable size, and the most elevated of any in the neighborhood. On the west side of this hill, not far from the top, under a stone of considerable size, lay the plates, deposited in a stone box. 
(Joseph Smith—History 1:51)

Naturally, it would make no sense for Joseph's scribes to refer to the hill as "Cumorah" because non-members wouldn't know what that meant and members would already know the hill was Cumorah. 

In Letter IV, Moroni told Joseph that the record was "written and deposited not far from that place," meaning Joseph's home near Palmyra, New York. Usually we only hear that the record was deposited not far from Palmyra, but Moroni also said it was written not far from Palmyra. That means both he and his father, Mormon, resided in the area when they abridged the record.

This is an important detail that is corroborated in Letters VII and VIII. Those who read my blogs and books know all about this, but those not familiar with it can read a key excerpt from Letter VII here:

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Jan 4-10: Joseph Smith—History 1:1–26


This lesson focuses on Joseph Smith's first vision and the events leading up to it. Joseph's family was deeply religious. His parents had regular family prayer and scripture study, which led Joseph to wonder about the state of his own soul.

Unlike missionaries today, early missionaries did not focus much on the first vision. Instead, they preached from the Bible and the Book of Mormon. Historian Richard Bushman has pointed out that in the early 1800s, lots of people claimed to have visions, so Joseph's experience would not be all that unusual. That makes sense to me.

Another question that people ask is why Joseph and Oliver didn't include the first vision in the eight essays on Church history they wrote and published in 1834-5. The essays describe Joseph's concern about the welfare of his soul and his prayer, but instead of the first vision, they relate Moroni's first visit. From our perspective today, this would have been an ideal time for Joseph to set out the first vision. Why wait until 1838 to relate the vision in detail, and then delay the publication until the 1842 Times and Seasons?

Bushman's explanation could be one factor. Maybe in 1834-5, a vision of God was not so unusual. What set Joseph's experience apart from other spiritual experiences was the visit of a resurrected being who directed him to translate ancient records. Naturally, that would be the focus of the history.

Another explanation could be the law of witnesses. Joseph's first vision took place with him alone. Maybe he hesitated to relate that experience until he had a second witness, when someone could attest to a personal experience with Jesus Christ. That did not occur until April 3, 1836, when the Lord appeared to Joseph and Oliver together in the Kirtland temple, as described in D&C 110. (Prior to that, Joseph and Sidney Rigdon had shared a vision during which they saw and conversed with Christ (D&C 76), but that vision was described as less physical than the experience in the Kirtland temple, when they described the Lord standing on the pulpit and provided a detailed description of his appearance.)  

One aspect of the first vision the manual discusses is the existence of four separate accounts. Anyone who has described an experience in their lives more than once, especially over a period of years, knows that we don't relate experiences the same way every time. We always focus on one or another element, depending on the purpose of relating the experience, the audience, the brevity or detail involved, etc.

The lesson manual asks an intriguing question after referencing JS-H 1:6:

For, notwithstanding the great love which the converts to these different faiths expressed at the time of their conversion, and the great zeal manifested by the respective clergy, who were active in getting up and promoting this extraordinary scene of religious feeling, in order to have everybody converted, as they were pleased to call it, let them join what sect they pleased; yet when the converts began to file off, some to one party and some to another, it was seen that the seemingly good feelings of both the priests and the converts were more pretended than real; for a scene of great confusion and bad feeling ensued—priest contending against priest, and convert against convert; so that all their good feelings one for another, if they ever had any, were entirely lost in a strife of words and a contest about opinions.

(Joseph Smith—History 1:6)

The last part of this verse alludes to the New Testament:

3 If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness;
4 He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings,
5 Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.
6 But godliness with contentment is great gain.
(1 Timothy 6:3–6)

The question from the manual:

How can we handle disagreements without becoming contentious like the people described in this verse?

The contention Joseph described was between and among religious people who shared basic beliefs in Christianity, but who insisted that others agree with their particular interpretations and opinions.

We see this type of contention among apologists in the Church today. They seem obsessed with trying to get everyone else to agree with them.

An alternative approach is to present a variety of views, perspectives, interpretations and opinions, and allow people to make informed decisions about what to believe. That's the approach I favor.

Jonathan Edwards wrote about this problem when addressing those engaged in apologetics:

By this means the devil scatters the flock of Christ, and sets 'em one against another, and that with great heat of spirit, under a notion of zeal for God; and religion by degrees, degenerates into vain jangling; and during the strife, Satan leads both parties far out of the right way, driving each to great extremes, one on the right hand, and the other on the left, according as he finds they are most inclined, or most easily moved and swayed, till the right path in the middle, is almost wholly neglected.