Saturday, February 27, 2021

February 22-28: D&C 18-19

This lesson focuses on the concept that "the worth of souls is great." 

Notice how the verse begins:

Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God;

(Doctrine and Covenants 18:10)

One way to understand this is emphasis; i.e., the Lord emphasized to Joseph, Oliver and David that the worth of souls is great.

Another interpretation is that the Lord was reminding Joseph of something he already knew, or had read previously. I like this interpretation because it shows the Lord interacting with Joseph, similar to the way he interacted with Oliver when he reminded him of a previous experience.

22 Verily, verily, I say unto you, if you desire a further witness, cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart, that you might know concerning the truth of these things.

23 Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God?

(Doctrine and Covenants 6:22–23)

This interpretation also shows us how the Lord works with our individual "mental language bank," meaning the words and concepts we learn. As we "treasure up" the things we learn, the Lord can draw on them in the future.

85 Neither take ye thought beforehand what ye shall say; but treasure up in your minds continually the words of life, and it shall be given you in the very hour that portion that shall be meted unto every man.

(Doctrine and Covenants 84:85)

I think this verse explains how Joseph translated the plates. From a young age, Joseph "treasured up" the scriptures and writings of Christian authors, and the Lord "meted" those words through the translation. That's the gist of my book, Infinite Goodness, which will be released in March 2021.

The phrase "worth of souls" is unique in all the scriptures to D&C 18:10. In fact, the word "worth" doesn't appear at all in the New Testament and appears disproportionately more in the Book of Mormon. Here are the statistics from WordCruncher:

This raises the topic of intertextuality, which we discussed in this week's podcast. Because we used a lot of PowerPoint slides, I'm providing a link to a version of the PowerPoint for your reference here.

Intertextuality points to Joseph as the translator and it's an exciting new approach to understanding the Book of Mormon as the fulfillment of Christian hopes and aspirations for centuries.

We'll discuss this more in upcoming podcasts and blog posts.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

February 15-21: D&C 14-17

This week's lesson covers revelations given to David, John and Peter Whitmer, Jr., as well as the revelation to the Three Witnesses. We'll discuss those below.

First, though, the lesson mentions the move from Harmony to Fayette. In the section of the manual shown below, the manual says "Oliver reached out to" David Whitmer because he felt that Harmony was no longer safe.

Maybe Oliver felt that way, but Lucy Mack Smith says Joseph received a revelation through the Urim and Thummim to contact David Whitmer. 

I find it astonishing that the manual (as well as the Saints book and other references) omit this critical part of the history. It's inexplicable to me because the lesson quotes from Lucy Mack Smith's history several times.

One explanation could be that Lucy describes Joseph applying the Urim and Thummim to his eyes and looking on the plates. This directly contradicts the currently popular claim that Joseph used a seer stone in the hat (SITH) to translate instead of the Urim and Thummim. We have faithful LDS historians who claim Joseph didn't use the Urim and Thummim, didn't use the plates, and didn't really translate anything, but merely read words that appeared on the stone. 

Whether that narrative, or some other unknown motivation, prompted the lesson manual to omit Lucy's account, I can't tell. But it is an important part of Church history so I include it below.

Here is an image from the manual.

Here is what Lucy reported.

In the mean time Joseph was 150 miles distant and knew naught of the matter except an intimation that was given through the urim and thumim for as he one morning applied them to his eyes to look upon the record instead of the words of the book being given him he was commanded to write a letter to one David Whitmore [Whitmer] 

this man Joseph had never seen but he was instructed to say him that he must come with his team immediately in order to convey Joseph and his Oliver [Cowdery] back to his house which was 135 miles that they might remain with him there untill the translation should be completed for that an evil designing people were seeking to take away Joseph’s life in order to prevent the work of God from going forth among the world 

This was accordingly done and the letter received and Mr Whitmore showed it to his Father mother sisters and brothers and asked their advice as to what it would be best for him to do 

This is a completely different narrative from the one we read in the manual and the Saints book. Instead of Oliver Cowdery taking the initiative out of fear for safety, the Lord warned Joseph through the Urim and Thummim that people were plotting to kill Joseph. 

And instead of reading words off a stone in a hat, Joseph was looking on the plates with the Urim and Thummim, just as he and Oliver (and the scriptures) claimed all along.

Sections 14, 15 and 16 are revelations for individuals comparable, in a way, to our patriarchal blessings. These sections are generic enough to apply to each of us, yet they are specific in terms of what we should all be doing.

4 Yea, whosoever will thrust in his sickle and reap, the same is called of God.
5 Therefore, if you will ask of me you shall receive; if you will knock it shall be opened unto you.
6 Seek to bring forth and establish my Zion. Keep my commandments in all things.
(Doctrine and Covenants 14:4–6)

Latter-day Saints could revolutionize the world if we each sought "to bring forth an establish my Zion." Everyone in the world seeks for Zion, but they don't know where to find it. Most don't even have the idea that a Zion society is possible. I'm not sure many Latter-day Saints think that, actually. 

The October 2020 General Conference discussed aspects of Zion that we haven't heard in a long time. I've blogged about that on my Zion blog:


Section 17 is intriguing.

1 Behold, I say unto you, that you must rely upon my word, which if you do with full purpose of heart, you shall have a view of the plates, and also of the breastplate, the sword of Laban, the Urim and Thummim, which were given to the brother of Jared upon the mount, when he talked with the Lord face to face, and the miraculous directors which were given to Lehi while in the wilderness, on the borders of the Red Sea.
2 And it is by your faith that you shall obtain a view of them, even by that faith which was had by the prophets of old.
3 And after that you have obtained faith, and have seen them with your eyes, you shall testify of them, by the power of God;
(Doctrine and Covenants 17:1–3)

Here, the Lord commands the Three Witnesses to testify of "them," presumably referring to the artifacts listed in verse one. However, the Testimony of the Three Witnesses mentions only the plates. 

Why is that?

Lucy's account, which she describes with detail and indicia of reliability and credibility, mentions only the plates.

The next morning after breakfast was over we repaired to the setting room and after attending the morning service Joseph approached  with a solemnity which thrills through my veins to this day whenever it comes to my recollection. 

 said he you have got to humble yourself before your God this day and obtain if possible a forgiveness of your sins and if you will do this it is his will that you and  and  should look upon the plates, 

soon after this these four left and went into a grove a short distance from the house— here they continued in earnest supplication to God untill he permitted an angel from his presence to bear to them a message declaring the truth of the pretensions which Joseph made with regard to the plates which were at the same time shown to them by the angel

They returned to the house it was betweeen 3 & 4 o’clock 

 &  and  were sitting in a bedroom I sat on the bedside when Joseph came in he threw himself down beside me !— !— said he you do not know how happy I am 

The Lord has caused the plates to be shown to 3 more besides me who have also seen an angel and will have to testify to the thuth [truth] of what I have said for they know for themselves that I do not go about to deceive the people and I do feel as though I was relieved of a dreadful burden which was almost too much for me to endure, but they will now have to bear a part and it does rejoice my soul that I am not any longer to be entirely alone in the world. 

Much later (after Lucy dictated her history), at different times and places, the Three Witnesses testified in various ways that they had seen these other artifacts. Oliver saw them when he and Joseph entered the depository of Nephite records in the Hill Cumorah in New York. David claimed these objects were laid on a table when they saw the plates in Fayette. Martin Harris was more vague, but made at least one statement to the same effect.

It's possible that all three witnesses saw all the artifacts listed in verse 1 at the same time they saw the plates, but that doesn't explain why they violated the commandment to testify about those things or why Lucy didn't mention them, why Joseph didn't mention them to her, etc.

Maybe Joseph and the witnesses didn't mention the other artifacts because they wanted to deter treasure hunters, but the plates alone were plenty of incentive for the "adventurers from Rochester" who sought the plates. 

Another possibility is that these men saw the artifacts on another occasion, together or separately, maybe after they signed the Testimony of Three Witnesses. That would explain the absence of the artifacts from the official testimony and Lucy's failure to mention them. 

The original version of this revelation is not extant. We know that some of the revelations were changed after they were initially recorded, so it's possible this one was, too. Maybe the original revelation mentioned only the plates, with those listed after "and also" added later after their additional experiences.

With current information, we cannot tell what happened or when. Multiple working hypotheses remain possible. 

The end. 

Sunday, February 14, 2021

February 8-14: D&C 11-13

This week's lesson uses the revelation to Joseph Knight Sr. (D&C 12) as an example of how we all have opportunities and responsibilities "to bring forth and establish the cause of Zion" (D&C 12:6.  

The lesson poses these questions: What does it mean to you “to bring forth and establish the cause of Zion”? (verse 6). How do the principles and attributes in verses 7–9 help you do this?

One way to bring forth Zion is to talk about it and live its principles. That's why I have the "how to Zion" blog, here:


The phrase "cause of Zion" appears only four times in the scriptures, all in the D&C. 

D&C 6:6, directed to Oliver Cowdery.

D&C 11:6, directed to Hyrum Smith.

D&C 12:6, directed to Joseph Knight Sr.

D&C 21:7, describing Joseph Smith "For thus saith the Lord God: Him have I inspired to move the cause of Zion in mighty power for good, and his diligence I know, and his prayers I have heard."

We can ask, what is the "cause of Zion" in this context? 

The phrase "cause of Zion" suggests the cause of the Restoration. D&C 6, 11 and 12 were given before the Book of Mormon was completely translated. D&C 21 was given on April 6, 1830, in connection with the organization of the Church.

Earlier Christian writers had used the phrase. For example, the phrase "cause of Zion" appears three times in a sermon given by Samuel West, the pastor of the church in Dartmouth, the largest town near Joseph's early home in Vermont. The sermon was published in Boston in 1778, and presumably people in the area of Dartmouth would have been familiar with it. 

After quoting Isaiah 66:9, West wrote, "i. e. As I have so wonderfully brought forth a people to maintain the cause of Zion against her enemies, can you think that I will stay my hand, and not continue to raise up persons to defend her, till her deliverance is compleated [sic].... 

I will now close this Appendix, by asking whether the 66 th chap. of Isaiah, may not be illustrated by compairing it with the 4 th chapter of Micah, the first five verses of which are evidently a prophecy of the glorious state of the Church of Christ in the latter days, in the 6 th verse it is added, in that day i. e. at the time when God shall be about to establish the glorious state of the church..."*

In this sense, Christians everywhere can view Oliver, Hyrum, Joseph Knight, and Joseph Smith as among those persons raised up to defend Zion.


As the lesson manual explains, Joseph Knight Sr. and his wife were helpful supporters of Joseph Smith's translation work. Here's a link for more information:

We visited his house a few years ago and I took a drone photo of the Knight home next to the Susquehanna River. Upstream, and across the river, is the home of Josiah Stowell, the man who hired Joseph and his father to work in the area of Harmony, Pennsylvania. 

They boarded at the home of Isaac Hale, which is how Joseph met Emma Hale. 

The Joseph Knight and Josiah Stowell homes have been purchased by Latter-day Saints who make the sites available for visits (subject to COVID restrictions).
These sites are about 20 miles upstream from Harmony, which is now called the Priesthood Restoration site on most maps. (The village of Harmony is no longer in existence. The location of the Hale home is now in Oakland Township. If you search for Harmony, PA, on a map, it will take you to a different Harmony north of Pittsburgh. There are actually three townships in Pennsylvania named "Harmony," each in a separate county, so it can be confusing.)

A barn across the road from the Joseph Knight home was the site of the original Colesville branch. Hyrum Smith presided there for five months beginning in October 1830.

These are fascinating places to visit. We're very grateful to the faithful Latter-day Saints who have preserved these historic sites.


The lesson also mentions D&C 13:1 with some helpful references. But as far as I could tell, none of those references discuss the last part of the verse which has generated multiple interpretations: "this shall never be taken again from the earth, until the sons of Levi do offer again an offering unto the Lord in righteousness."

One I heard just this week is the claim that literal Levite priests must offer an animal sacrifice in Jerusalem to fulfill this verse. This is apparently based on Doctrines of Salvation, Vol 3, p. 96, which says, "Sacrifice by the shedding of blood was instituted in the days of Adam and of necessity will have to be restored." 

Maybe so.

Another interpretation comes from the askgramps site.

Finally, the words of John the Baptist leave us with an enticing question. What does he mean when he says the priesthood will not be taken from the earth until the sons of Levi offer an offering in righteousness? We immediately think of Aaronic Priesthood offerings in John’s time, which would have involved animal sacrifices. We wonder, will the Aaronic Priesthood eventually be taken from the earth? If animal sacrifice ended with the shedding of the Savior’s blood which it symbolized, what will the offering be?

In the Bible, the sons of Levi included Moses and his brother, Aaron.  D&C 84:31 and 34 tell us that the modern sons of Levi are those who hold the Melchizedek and Aaronic Priesthoods. What is the offering they will offer? Joseph Smith answers this question in D&C 128:24,

 … [A]nd he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness. Let us, therefore, as a church and a people, and as Latter-day Saints, offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness; and let us present in his holy temple, when it is finished, a book containing the records of our dead, which shall be worthy of all acceptation.

The vast genealogical work of the Church, under the direction of the Priesthood, is the book containing the records of our dead, to be presented to the Lord as an offering when He returns. If this work was not underway when He returns, the earth would be smitten with a curse (See Malachi 4:6). This work will continue throughout the Millennium, thus the work of the Aaronic Priesthood will continue right up until the end of the thousand years, when its mission will be fulfilled as a preparatory priesthood and a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ (D&C 84:26,Galatians 3:24).

There are probably additional interpretations you can find (or come up with), but the verse refers to a time when the Aaronic priesthood will be taken from the earth. That implies it will be superseded, presumably by a more universal Melchizedek priesthood. 

* I have a copy of this sermon if anyone would like it. Just email me at with "Samuel West sermon" in the subject line.

Full Reference: An anniversary sermon, preached at Plymouth, December 22 d, 1777. In grateful memory of the first landing of our pious New-England ancesters [sic] in that place, A.D. 1620. / By Samuel West, A.M. Pastor of the church in Dartmouth. ; [Eight lines of Scripture texts]
West, Samuel, 1731–1807.
79, [1] p. ; 20 cm. (4 to)
Printed, by Draper and Folsom, at their printing-office, at the corner of Winter-Street.,
Boston: :

Saturday, February 6, 2021

February 1-7: D&C 10-11


Section 10 is an amazing revelation. It teaches us about the power of repentance and forgiveness, the patience of the Lord, the reality of the adversary, our inability to judge people, and lots more. 

In this post I'll focus on what the section tells us about the translation.

This section refers to the "plates of Nephi" five times. 

Key point 1: These passages make no sense if Joseph wasn't using the plates to translate. If he was merely reading words that appeared on the stone in the hat (SITH), he wouldn't know or care what was in the stack of plates he obtained from Moroni's stone box in the hill Cumorah.

38 And now, verily I say unto you, that an account of those things that you have written, which have gone out of your hands, is engraven upon the plates of Nephi;

39 Yea, and you remember it was said in those writings that a more particular account was given of these things upon the plates of Nephi.

40 And now, because the account which is engraven upon the plates of Nephi is more particular concerning the things which, in my wisdom, I would bring to the knowledge of the people in this account—

41 Therefore, you shall translate the engravings which are on the plates of Nephi, down even till you come to the reign of king Benjamin, or until you come to that which you have translated, which you have retained;

45 Behold, there are many things engraven upon the plates of Nephi which do throw greater views upon my gospel; therefore, it is wisdom in me that you should translate this first part of the engravings of Nephi, and send forth in this work.

(Doctrine and Covenants 10:41-5)

Key point 2: Notice the references to the engravings on the plates (bolded above). The Lord specifically commanded Joseph to "translate the engravings." He did not say or imply that the translation would appear on a stone so Joseph could simply read it out loud. 

In the context of Section 10, SITH is preposterous. 

Not only did the Lord tell Joseph to "translate the engraving," but he got even more specific. He told him to translate "this first part of the engravings of Nephi." What part was that? It was "down even till you come to the reign of King Benjamin." 

This passage shows us that Joseph had discretion in what parts of the plates to translate. If he was merely reading words off a stone, the Lord would not need to tell him what part of the plates to translate.

Key point 3: We can tell from Section 10 that Joseph did not yet have the plates of Nephi. The Title Page, which was on the last leaf of the plates he originally got from Moroni, listed the contents: the abridged record of the Nephites, the abridged record of the Jaredites, and Moroni's writings that sealed the record. No original plates of Nephi were included. 

Verse 45 makes the distinction clear. The Lord told Joseph to translate the engravings of Nephi--Nephi's original writings, which were not in the abridged plates--and "send forth in this work."

What does "this work" refer to?

The translation of the abridged plates.

Recall Section 9, which also distinguished between "this record" (the abridged plates) and "other records," which turned out to be the plates of Nephi:

1 Behold, I say unto you, my son, that 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)

Key point 4: How did Joseph get the plates of Nephi? The Lord told Joseph and Oliver to translate the plates of Nephi, but they didn't have those plates in Harmony. Instead, they translated the plates of Nephi in Fayette at the Whitmer home. 

Before leaving Harmony, Joseph gave the abridged plates to a divine messenger. On the way to Fayette, Joseph, Oliver and David Whitmer encountered the messenger on the road, who told them he was going to Cumorah. Joseph explained that this was one of the Three Nephites and he had the abridged plates. It makes perfect sense for the messenger to take the abridged plates back to the repository in Cumorah because Joseph had translated them all. From the repository, the messenger picked up the plates of Nephi and brought them to Fayette. 

It's simple, really.

And an awesome confirmation that Joseph actually translated ancient plates.

There are three common issues that arise from Section 10.

First, let's think about the warning that evil men would change the wording of the original translation of the book of Lehi (the 116 pages). I don't think there is any implication that they would modify the words on the 116 pages themselves. That would be obvious to anyone. Instead, the evil men would simply publish the changed version and say it was what Joseph translated. That would be plenty of "evidence" to support the bias against Joseph Smith.

Second, because Joseph was translating the engravings, he would not likely re-translate word-for-word. To expect him to do so would be unreasonable. Everyone knows, both now and back in 1828, that the Bible itself is subject to multiple translations. If Joseph had produced another translation that was similar to, but not identical to, the original one, that would be evidence that he actually translated. If he had produced another manuscript identical to the original 116 pages, that would be evidence that he was reading the words from a particular source. Therefore, the changes made by the evil men would have to be more substantive than just a few wording changes.

Third, one of the theological issues raised by the loss of the 116 pages is whether Martin Harris had free agency to take the plates. One traditional understanding of the events is that the Lord knew Martin would lose the 116 pages so He had Nephi prepare the "small plates" as a backup. 

Years ago I was in a discussion about free agency vs predestination vs foreknowledge. I won't take the time to discuss all of that here, except to say that some people thought we had free agency, but others cited the traditional interpretation of D&C 10 to show that God knows far in advance what we'll do and therefore takes measures to offset our future actions. That sounds a lot like predestination; i.e., that Martin Harris was predestined to lose the plates.

There is another interpretation of D&C 10 and the lost 116 pages that does not require predestination (or the euphemism of foreknowledge). 

Surely it was foreseeable that Joseph and/or his scribes could lose part of the translation. Therefore, there had to be a backup. 

The original plates that Mormon abridged were available in the repository. Theoretically, no matter what Joseph or his scribes lost, the original records were always available. If Martin had lost, say, King Benjamin's sermon, the messenger could have gone into the repository to get the original version of that sermon and then bring those plates to Joseph.

But the point of the abridgment was to condense those records. To replace the Book of Lehi would involve re-abridging the records, a task that would be essentially impossible for Joseph within any reasonable time frame.

We can see in D&C 10 that the plates of Nephi (the "small plates") was not a duplicate of the Book of Lehi. It was different content because of Nephi's different emphasis. 

We only have 1 Nephi through Words of Mormon because Martin Harris lost the 116 pages. Had he lost, say, Alma, we undoubtedly would have discovered that the Lord had prepared a separate backup for what was lost. 

Apart from the historical details, Section 10 shows us how forgiving the Lord is. Even though Martin Harris lost the 116 pages, he was allowed to serve as a scribe again. He was even allowed to be one of the Three Witnesses.  

This teaches us that there is hope for all of us, despite our weaknesses and mistakes.