Richard D. Draper, “The Remarkable Book of Moses,” Ensign, Feb 1997, 15
Given by revelation while the Church was in its infancy, this book restored precious knowledge long lost from scripture.
As early as June 1830, opposition to the newly organized Church had become a force to be reckoned with. Intolerant neighbors and outsiders harassed the members. At times bigotry erupted into mob rule.
Not unexpectedly, much of this malevolent force was directed toward the Prophet Joseph Smith. That June a mean-spirited constable arrested and verbally abused the Prophet for the better part of a day. The constable refused to allow Joseph to eat. It was not until that evening, after traveling 15 miles, that the lawman stopped at a tavern for refreshment. Even during the meal, he continued to torment the Prophet. According to Joseph Smith’s account, the constable gathered a number of men “who used every means to abuse, ridicule and insult me. They spit upon me, pointed their fingers at me, saying, ‘Prophesy, prophesy!’ and thus did they imitate those who crucified the Savior of mankind, not knowing what they did.” 1
However, the Lord continued to sustain his people and his prophet, and revelations poured from heaven. Joseph reported that “amid all the trials and tribulations we had to wade through, the Lord, who well knew our infantile and delicate situation, vouchsafed for us a supply of strength, and granted us ‘line upon line of knowledge—here a little and there a little,’ of which the following was a precious morsel.” 2 The Prophet then recorded the revelation that is now chapter 1 of the book of Moses but was at first called “the vision of Moses.”
It was under these circumstances that the Lord began the process leading to the creation of the book of Moses—a most remarkable book, one of the revelatory gems of the Restoration and a major component of the Pearl of Great Price.
The book is remarkable in the number of doctrinal insights peculiar to itself. One important insight comes from the way the book developed. Its coming forth confirms the Lord’s statement that he gives “unto the faithful line upon line, precept upon precept.” He does this for a reason: “I will try you and prove you herewith” (D&C 98:12). The Lord gives doctrine incrementally, testing his people and giving them more as they are willing and worthy to accept more. 3 So it was with the book of Moses, a compilation of revelations given between June 1830 and February 1831 as Joseph Smith worked on an inspired revision of the Bible known today as the Joseph Smith Translation.
“The Vision of Moses”
The first revelation in this series, “the vision of Moses,” may have simply accelerated Joseph Smith’s determination to make a plainer translation of the holy book. 4 He had learned from the visit of Moroni during the fall of 1824 that some passages could be rendered more clearly. 5 Then his work on the Book of Mormon taught him that the original Jewish text intended to be part of what we call the Bible had been deliberately corrupted, with many plain and precious parts removed. 6 The series of revelations he received in 1830 underscored the idea. For example, “the vision of Moses” contained information that was not in the Bible. Details flowed in further revelations that gave the Prophet even greater understanding about the Creation and, more important, about the Creator. 7
The account of Moses’ vision had earlier been removed by corrupt hands from the texts that became our present Bible. 8 The revelation given to Joseph Smith restored background information necessary to properly interpret the first five books of the Old Testament. It described the doctrinal understanding given to Moses through two revelations from God; the revelation also described an appearance by Satan.
The vision allowed Moses to experience, to a degree, the glory of God. The term glory, as used in the book of Moses, means more than mere radiance. It describes unimaginable power, capacity, and knowledge. Under its enabling influence, Moses saw and understood the history of the earth. Indeed, he “cast his eyes and beheld the earth, yea, even all of it; and there was not a particle of it which he did not behold, discerning it by the spirit of God.
“And he beheld also the inhabitants thereof, and there was not a soul which he beheld not; and he discerned them by the Spirit of God” (Moses 1:27–28).
So great was the extent of the vision that “Moses beheld the world and the ends thereof, and all the children of men which are, and which were created; of the same he greatly marveled and wondered” (Moses 1:8). In the power of that divine glory, Moses, like Enoch, the brother of Jared, and others, saw both the past history and future condition of the earth. 9
Other revelations followed, but Joseph Smith did not record what prompted them until December 1830. Then a journal entry explained: “Much conjecture and conversation frequently occurred among the Saints, concerning the books mentioned, and referred to, in various places in the Old and New Testaments, which were now nowhere to be found. The common remark was, ‘They are lost books;‘ but it seems the Apostolic Church had some of these writings, as Jude mentions or quotes the Prophecy of Enoch, the seventh from Adam. To the joy of the little flock, which in all, from Colesville to Canandaigua, New York, numbered about seventy members, did the Lord reveal the following doings of olden times, from the prophecy of Enoch.” 10 Next follows what is now the seventh chapter of the book of Moses.
This vision focuses on Enoch’s presidency in leading the people of God and establishing Zion. It records that “there were wars and bloodshed” among many of the people on earth, but “the Lord came and dwelt with his people, and they dwelt in righteousness.
“The fear of the Lord was upon all nations, so great was the glory of the Lord” (Moses 7:16–17).
It is of interest that during a period of horror and war, God’s people were secure because the Savior walked among them and his glory protected them.
Tutored by the Lord, Enoch received additional knowledge concerning the Savior’s work and ministry. In vision, the faithful ancient prophet saw the first coming of the Lord and his atoning sacrifice. The vision then swept to the last days, when Zion would again be established and the Savior again would walk among his Saints. He would come in “the days of wickedness and vengeance,” a time when “the heavens shall be darkened, and a veil of darkness shall cover the earth; and the heavens shall shake, and also the earth; and great tribulations shall be among the children of men, but my people will I preserve” (Moses 7:60, 61). To Enoch the Lord explained that he would preserve his people by gathering “mine elect from the four quarters of the earth, unto a place which I shall prepare, an Holy City,” even Zion (Moses 7:62). Once this holy place was established, Enoch’s Zion would be united with it: “Then shalt thou and all thy city meet them there, and we will receive them into our bosom” (Moses 7:63).
Publication and Canonization
When the Prophet Joseph Smith first released the whole series of Moses revelations to the Church in December 1830, he lumped them into two distinct documents. The first he titled “A Revelation given to the Elders of the Church of Christ on the first Book of Moses/Chapter First,” which now comprises Moses, chapters 2 through 4. The second he titled “Chapter 2nd—a Revelation Concerning Adam after he had been driven out of the garden of Eden.” 11 It began with our present chapter 7 and carried the history well beyond Adam to Noah, ending at what is now Moses 8:12.
The Prophet continued to ponder and work on the Moses revelations as time allowed over the next few years, and his work was published in various Church newspapers. However, the published excerpts were only segments of what would later become the book of Moses. The published book itself resulted from work done by Elder Orson Pratt of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1878. The First Presidency asked him to edit the 1851 edition of the Pearl of Great Price that had been published in England under the direction of Elder Franklin D. Richards, also of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. President Richards’s work contained only a part of what is now in the book of Moses. 12 Elder Pratt, having assisted Joseph Smith with some of his work on the portions printed decades earlier, pulled together all the revelations and called the whole “the Book of Moses.” 13 This work was first published in its entirety as part of the 1878 edition of the Pearl of Great Price.
During general conference in October 1880, the Saints accepted this remarkable book along with the rest of the Pearl of Great Price as one of the standard works of the Church. It is of note that the powerful doctrines contained in the book of Moses and the other books in the Pearl of Great Price were not canonized until the Lord had proved his Saints. When they showed themselves hungry for these precious morsels of his word, he inspired his prophets to make the Pearl of Great Price binding as scripture.
It is little wonder that the Saints loved this work. There was information in it they could get from no other source. It offers to all of Heavenly Father’s children insights on our mortal existence and on eternity that are found in no other body of scripture or religious teachings.
For example, from the Pearl of Great Price we learn how much Adam, Enoch, Moses, and other prophets knew and taught about God our Father and his Son, our Savior. We see that the Saints of this earth’s earliest era fully understood the doctrine of the Godhead and knew that the Son, Jesus Christ, would make an atonement for mankind. Many Latter-day Saints may not understand the significance of revelation showing that Adam had this knowledge. But nowhere in the Old Testament, as it stands today, do we find a stated connection between the law of sacrifice and the Atonement. It is not there because, as the Lord told Moses, certain individuals “shall esteem my words as naught and take many of them from the book which thou shalt write.” The Lord assured Moses, however, that he would remedy this problem, for “I will raise up another like unto thee; and they [the Lord’s words] shall be had again among the children of men—among as many as shall believe” (Moses 1:41).
In restoring some of these words, Joseph Smith recorded in the book of Moses how Adam received the law of sacrifice. Some time after expelling Adam and Eve from Eden, the Lord responded to their fervent prayers. He “gave unto them commandments, that they should worship the Lord their God, and should offer the firstlings of their flocks, for an offering” (Moses 5:5). The faithful couple did so. After many days, an angel appeared to Adam asking him if he understood the significance of what he was doing. Adam confessed, “I know not, save the Lord commanded me” (Moses 5:6). The angel then explained: “This thing is a similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father, which is full of grace and truth” (Moses 5:7).
Adam was instructed that he was to “repent and call upon God in the name of the Son forevermore” (Moses 5:8).
He responded to the Lord’s direction, and “the Holy Ghost fell upon Adam, which beareth record of Father and the Son, saying: I am the Only Begotten of the Father from the beginning, henceforth and forever, that as thou hast fallen thou mayest be redeemed, and all mankind, even as many as will” (Moses 5:9). Thus Adam learned that the redemption for all humankind would come only through the Son and that sacrifices were a type or shadow designed to reinforce that principle.
The War in Heaven
Another important insight peculiar to the book of Moses is the background it offers on the War in Heaven. The Lord explained to his prophet that Lucifer “came before me, saying—Behold, here am I, send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor” (Moses 4:1).
This passage clearly shows that Lucifer did not have a plan of his own. He admitted to the necessity of the three primary points in the Father’s plan. First, someone had to be sent. (The Greek word for sent is the root of our word apostle, the chief of whom, according to Paul, is the Savior; see Heb. 3:1.) Second, this “sent one” would be the son of God, and third, he would act as a redeemer.
Lucifer’s proposal actually acknowledges the validity of the Father’s plan of redemption (see Alma 12:32). Still, he wished to make three significant modifications: first, Lucifer would be the one sent; second, he would redeem everyone; and third, he would receive, for his services, the honor belonging to godhood. On the surface, these might not look harmful, but our Father could see exactly what Lucifer intended. In fact, in receiving the revelation, Moses was given to understand what the problems were with Lucifer’s proposal. First, it was an effort for a clear reversal of our Father’s decision, a desire to change our Father’s appointment of Jesus in the key role. Lucifer knew that the Father had chosen his son Jesus Christ to be the Savior and that Christ had accepted the task, saying, “Thy will be done, and the glory [the acknowledgment of who had directed it all] be thine forever” (Moses 4:2). Second, Lucifer desperately wanted something he referred to as God’s “honor,” but our Father knew this really translated to power. Thus to Moses he said that Lucifer desired “I should give unto him mine own power” (Moses 4:3). Power, including priesthood power and authority, not mere honor, was the goal Lucifer was pursuing. Third, Lucifer “sought to destroy the agency of man” (Moses 4:3). Joseph Smith taught that “the contention in heaven was—Jesus said there would be certain souls that would not be saved; and the devil said he could save them all, and laid his plans before the grand council, who gave their vote in favor of Jesus Christ.” 14 The only way Lucifer could save all was by getting rid of their free will. He was willing to destroy agency as the price for redemption, and he was willing to hold redemption hostage as the price for power.
Because of Lucifer’s subsequent rebellion, the Lord explained to Moses that “by the power of mine Only Begotten, I caused that he should be cast down” (Moses 4:3). The result was terrible to behold. Lucifer, the Son of the Morning, “became Satan, yea, even the devil, the father of all lies, to deceive and to blind men, and to lead them captive at his will, even as many as would not hearken unto my voice” (Moses 4:4). Power over others would be his, one way or another.
Indeed, the book of Moses goes on to show what motivated Satan to tempt Adam and Eve. It was his desire “to destroy the world” (Moses 4:6). He had plans for doing that, but he needed mortal assistance. Thus, Satan chose Cain, one of the sons of Adam and Eve who “loved Satan more than God” (Moses 5:13, 18). Satan well knew Cain and his qualities from the premortal existence.
To place Cain in his power, “Satan commanded him, saying: Make an offering unto the Lord” (Moses 5:18). Cain obeyed, not out of faith in Christ but with love for Satan. Though the Lord declined the sacrifice, he worked with Cain, warning him of the consequences of following the path he was on. But “Cain was wroth, and listened not any more to the voice of the Lord” (Moses 5:26). Satan had known this likely would happen, “and it pleased him” (Moses 5:21). He moved in, focusing on the hatred Cain had for his brother, promising to “deliver … Abel into thine hands” (Moses 5:29). How would Satan do this? By having Cain form a secret combination.
The book of Moses shows that Cain was not alone in the plot to murder his brother, for Satan insisted that he “swear thy brethren by their heads, and by the living God, that they tell it not” (Moses 5:29). It has been pointed out that what Satan taught Cain and his brethren was not only how to exchange a human soul for a flock of sheep but also how to turn life into property. Through similar secret combinations, Satan still seduces those who love him more than they love God. Great sins of immorality result when people crave things and use other people to obtain them, thus serving their own gratification before God and all else. Here stands exposed Satan’s secret means by which he seeks to destroy our Heavenly Father’s children.
Jesus Christ As Creator and Savior
In addition to giving extremely clear attention to the dark side of our mortal sojourn, the book of Moses also provides unique insights into the relationship between the Father and the Son and teaches us how the Savior is God the Creator. This very helpful information about our Lord and Exemplar, Jesus Christ, is not so plainly expressed in the Bible.
The Lord told Moses that “the heavens, they are many, and they cannot be numbered unto man; but they are numbered unto me, for they are mine” (Moses 1:37). The book of Moses later quotes Enoch, who gave insight into the number of God’s creations, saying, “were it possible that man could number the particles of the earth, yea, millions of earths like this, it would not be a beginning to the number of thy creations” (Moses 7:30). Any attempt to imagine their number boggles the mind.
Moses was taught by the Lord, who spoke in behalf of our Father, that “by the word of my power, have I created them, which is mine Only Begotten Son, who is full of grace and truth.
“And worlds without number have I created; and I also created them for mine own purpose; and by the Son I created them, which is mine Only Begotten” (Moses 1:32–33).
The book of Moses also discloses that the Savior has not ceased his creative work. “As one earth shall pass away, and the heavens thereof even so shall another come; and there is no end to my works, neither to my words” (Moses 1:38). Clearly the Father has placed the word of his power in the Son. The Savior brings the Father’s word to all of God’s creations and, thus, continues to work as “the Word” (see John 1:1–3; JST, John 1:1–18). Joseph Smith testified that “by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God” (D&C 76:24).
Perhaps one of the greatest insights from the book of Moses is the Lord’s explanation of why he does what he does for all of us. He declared: “For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). The statement is simple, direct, and yet profound. The work of God is focused not on creating planets or organizing solar systems but on exalting his children. It is this work that brings him glory and honor. Here the word glory, in addition to radiance or splendor, also may mean delight.
Of course, he does not seek renown in selfishness or pride, as if he were worried about his dignity and needed us to buoy it up. But his works induce reverence, awe, gratitude, and respect in others and encourage those whose hearts are profoundly touched to follow him, doing his will and becoming candidates for exaltation. Their praise of the Father adds to his glory or repute, in turn causing others to honor, reverence, and obey. These in turn may then pursue exaltation and bring our Father additional glory and joy. And thus it continues. As the Doctrine and Covenants declares, “his course is one eternal round” (D&C 3:2).
This remarkable book, given to us as line was added to line and precept to precept, bears powerful testimony that the Father works through the Son. It is a witness of his willingness to reveal eternal and historical truths to his children as they are ready to receive them. Above all, it is a book that bears ample testimony of the Father’s declaration that “there is no God beside me, and all things are present with me, for I know them all” (Moses 1:6). And his purpose in it all is the ultimate happiness and exaltation of his children.
[illustration] Illustrated by Wilson Ong
[illustration] Illustrated by Clark Kelley Price
[illustration] Illustrated by Keith Larson
[illustration] Illustrated by Robert T. Barrett
[illustration] Illustrated by Robert T. Barrett
4. The date on which the Prophet actually began his work of revising the Bible is unknown. He and Oliver Cowdery purchased the Bible used for the project on 8 October 1829. The revelation published as chapter 1 in the book of Moses was recorded in Oliver Cowdery’s handwriting with this simple title: “A revelation given to Joseph the Revelator June 1830.” (The original manuscript is located in the RLDS archives.) More than six months elapsed between the purchase of the Bible and the revelation. This left plenty of time for Joseph to begin the work. However, what dating there is on the manuscripts falls during or after June 1830. This suggests that the Prophet had not yet settled into the project until after the revelation came. For details, see Robert J. Matthews, “A Plainer Translation,” Joseph Smith’s Translation of the Bible: A History and Commentary (1975), 21–81; Daniel H. Ludlow, ed., Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 5 vols. (1992), 2:763–69.
5. See JS—H 1:36–39.
6. See 1 Ne. 13:20–29.
7. By summer 1830, the Prophet began making corrections to the text of the King James Version of the Bible in earnest. No known revelation exists in which the Lord told him to make a plainer translation, but it is evident from other sources that Joseph Smith was working under divine direction. See D&C 35:18, 20 (given 10 December 1830); D&C 37:1 (given sometime in December 1830); D&C 41:7 (given 4 February 1831).
8. See Moses 1:41.
11. These revelations were not yet published, but rather handwritten and circulated in that fashion. Though the revelation later called “The Vision of Enoch” (chapter 7 of the book of Moses) appears as a whole in the History of the Church, the manuscript shows that John Whitmer had acted as scribe for the new translation and had carried the work from Moses 5:43 down to 7:2. At that point the manuscript is dated 1 December 1830. Sidney Rigdon’s handwriting then records the rest of the material found in the book of Moses, beginning on 10 December.
It would appear that the work had progressed at least to Moses 8 by January 1831. (See “A Plainer Translation,” 28–29.) The dates on which various sections were completed are as follows: chapter 5:43–5:51 completed by 21 October 1830; chapter 5:52–6:18 completed by 30 November 1830; chapter 6:19–7:2a (a refers to the beginning of the verse) completed by 1 December 1830. All this was done in Fayette, New York, with John Whitmer acting as scribe. Further: chapter 7:2b–7:69 (b refers to the last part of the verse) was worked on during 10–31 December 1830, and chapter 8:1–30, 1 February to 8 March 1831, with Sidney Rigdon acting as scribe. For details, see Robert J. Matthews, “What Is the Book of Moses?” Studies in Scripture, Volume Two, The Pearl of Great Price (1985), 29.
12. The section called “The word of God to Moses” began at Moses 1:3 and continued to Moses 5:16a, picked up at Moses 5:19 and continued through verse 40, then jumped to Moses 8:13 and ran through verse 30. Portions of our present book of Moses not found in the original Pearl of Great Price are Moses 1:1–2; Moses 5:15b–Moses 5:18, 41–59; Moses 6:1–42; Moses 8:1–12.
13. For a full discussion, see H. Donl Peterson, The Pearl of Great Price: A History and Commentary (1987), 12–22, and Robert J. Matthews, “What Is the Book of Moses?” 30–36.