Joseph Smith’s Role as a Seer

Highlights from an article by Richard E. Turley Jr., Robin S. Jensen, and Mark Ashurst-McGee.
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In Doctrine and Covenants 21:1, the Lord told Joseph Smith that he would be called a seer. The most visible sign that Joseph fulfilled that role is the Book of Mormon, which, as the Prophet repeatedly explained, was translated “by the gift and power of God.”

But what exactly is a seer? The Bible mentions seers who received spiritual manifestations by means of physical objects such as precious stones, rods, and even a staff with a brass serpent on it, now recognized as a symbol of the medical profession.

See what these scriptures say about seers: 1 Samuel 9:9, 11, 18–19; 2 Nephi 3:6–7, 11, 14; and Mosiah 8:13, 15–17.

In an article in the October 2015 Ensign, Richard E. Turley, Robin S. Jensen, and Mark Ashurst-McGee explain that people in 19th-century America were familiar with the word seer, and in upper New York, where Joseph Smith lived, the use of seer stones in locating lost or hidden objects was not uncommon. As Joseph began to translate the Book of Mormon, he used a number of instruments, including a seer stone, as well as the Urim and Thummin (two transparent stones set in a rim, similar to eyeglasses, that Moroni gave to him along with the golden plates).

As Joseph matured in understanding, he emphasized his visions and other spiritual experiences rather than dwelling on the means by which they were obtained. He explained that the Lord provided physical objects to help him when he was inexperienced but that as he learned to understand the operations of the Spirit, he no longer required such objects.

When the Book of Mormon translation was complete, Joseph returned the Urim and Thummim, along with the golden plates, to Moroni. Some of Joseph’s detractors focused on his early use of seer stones in an effort to destroy his reputation, but Joseph continued to teach that such objects, when prepared by God, are important and sacred gifts.

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