Lesson 1: Title Page, Introduction, and Testimonies of the Three and Eight Witnesses

Book of Mormon Seminary Teacher Manual, 2017


Introduction

As you teach the Book of Mormon, you will help students discover truths that will bring them closer to God. From the beginning of the book, it is clear that the writers of the Book of Mormon intended it to testify that Jesus is the Christ. As students prayerfully study the Book of Mormon, they will gain a greater testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ and of the Restoration of His Church in the latter days.

Suggestions for Teaching

Title page

Before class, write the following statements on the board:

I know the Book of Mormon is true.

I believe the Book of Mormon is true.

I assume the Book of Mormon is true.

I don’t know if the Book of Mormon is true.

Read the statements on the board aloud, and ask students to silently consider which statement most closely represents their thoughts and feelings concerning the Book of Mormon.

Invite students to ponder during the lesson today why it is crucial for each of us to receive a testimony that the Book of Mormon is true.

Invite students to turn to the title page of the Book of Mormon. This page begins with the words “The Book of Mormon, an account written by the hand of Mormon upon plates taken from the plates of Nephi.” Point out that the Prophet Joseph Smith explained that this page is a literal translation of the words Moroni wrote on the final leaf of the golden plates (see History of the Church, 1:71).

Invite one student to read aloud the first paragraph of the title page of the Book of Mormon, and invite another to read the second. Ask the class to follow along, looking for phrases that state the purposes of the Book of Mormon. (You may want to point out that these purposes are expressed as what the Book of Mormon will “show unto” those who read it.)

  • What are the purposes of the Book of Mormon?

As students mention the purpose of convincing “the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ,” write the following truth on the board: The Book of Mormon was written to convince all people that Jesus is the Christ.

  • What do you think it means to know that Jesus is the Christ?

Explain that the word Christ is a title and is the Greek equivalent of the word Messiah, which means “the anointed.” In the premortal existence, Jesus was anointed or chosen by Heavenly Father to be our Savior (see Guide to the Scriptures, “Messiah,” scriptures.lds.org; see also Bible Dictionary, “Anointed One”).

To help students appreciate the primary purpose of the Book of Mormon, ask a student to read aloud the following statement by President Ezra Taft Benson (1899–1994):

President Ezra Taft Benson

“The honest seeker after truth can gain the testimony that Jesus is the Christ as he prayerfully ponders the inspired words of the Book of Mormon.

“Over one-half of all the verses in the Book of Mormon refer to our Lord. Some form of Christ’s name is mentioned more frequently per verse in the Book of Mormon than even in the New Testament.

“He is given over one hundred different names in the Book of Mormon. Those names have a particular significance in describing His divine nature” (Ezra Taft Benson, “Come unto Christ,” Ensign, Nov. 1987, 83).

Invite students to turn to any chapter in the Book of Mormon and see if they can locate names or titles that refer to Jesus Christ. Ask students to report a name or title they discovered and explain what it can teach us about Jesus Christ. Share your testimony that the Book of Mormon is a witness that Jesus is the Christ, the Savior of all mankind.

Introduction to the Book of Mormon and testimonies of the Three and Eight Witnesses

Draw on the board a picture of an arch (see the accompanying illustration), or make a model of an arch from wood or other materials.

Point to the central stone at the top of the arch and ask:

  • What is this stone called? (The keystone.)

  • What purpose does a keystone serve?

Explain that when an arch is constructed, the two sides are built up with external supports to hold them upright. The space at the top of the arch is carefully measured, and the keystone is cut to fit it exactly. When the keystone is put in place, the arch can stand without supports.

  • What happens to the arch if the keystone is removed? (If you are using a model, demonstrate by removing the keystone. Then rebuild the arch.)

Ask a student to read aloud the statement by the Prophet Joseph Smith in the introduction to the Book of Mormon (see paragraph six). Invite the class to look for what Joseph Smith compared to a keystone. Invite students to consider marking the statement in their scriptures.

  • According to the Prophet Joseph Smith, what is the keystone of our religion?

On the keystone of your arch, write or attach a label that says The Book of Mormon.

  • How would you explain why the Book of Mormon is the keystone of our religion?

Invite a student to read aloud the following statement by President Ezra Taft Benson (1899–1994):

President Ezra Taft Benson

“There are three ways in which the Book of Mormon is the keystone of our religion. It is the keystone in our witness of Christ. It is the keystone of our doctrine. It is the keystone of testimony. …

“… Just as the arch crumbles if the keystone is removed, so does all the Church stand or fall with the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. The enemies of the Church understand this clearly. This is why they go to such great lengths to try to disprove the Book of Mormon, for if it can be discredited, the Prophet Joseph Smith goes with it. So does our claim to priesthood keys, and revelation, and the restored Church. But in like manner, if the Book of Mormon be true … then one must accept the claims of the Restoration and all that accompanies it” (Ezra Taft Benson, “The Book of Mormon—Keystone of Our Religion,” Ensign or Liahona, Oct. 2011, 54, 55).

  • If the Book of Mormon is true, what other aspects of the restored gospel must also be true?

Consider adding labels to the other stones of the arch such as divinity of Jesus Christ, the Prophet Joseph Smith, continuing revelation, priesthood keys, the restored Church of Jesus Christ, priesthood ordinances, knowledge of the plan of salvation, and eternal families.

  • In your own words, how would you summarize the importance of receiving a testimony of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon? (After students respond, write the following principle on the board: If we know the Book of Mormon is true, then we will also know that Jesus is the Christ, that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Lord’s kingdom on the earth today. You may want to point out that this principle is expressed in paragraph nine of the introduction to the Book of Mormon.)

Explain that in addition to Joseph Smith, the Lord appointed others to testify of the Book of Mormon. Invite half of the class to silently read The Testimony of Three Witnesses, and invite the other half to silently read The Testimony of Eight Witnesses. Ask the students to look for what these witnesses saw, heard, or touched. You may want to invite students to consider marking what they find.

  • What did the Three Witnesses see and hear? (They saw an angel holding the plates and heard the voice of God.)

  • What did the Eight Witnesses see and touch? (They saw and handled the plates in an ordinary manner.)

  • Why do you think the Lord might have provided these two different kinds of experiences for these witnesses of the Book of Mormon? (If critics of the Church accused the Three Witnesses of imagining their vision, that would not explain the ordinary experience the Eight Witnesses had with the plates. On the other hand, if critics accused Joseph Smith of simply forging the golden plates to deceive the Eight Witnesses, that would not explain the divine manifestations the Three Witnesses experienced.)

Explain that although we may not have the opportunity to see or touch the plates, we can know for ourselves that the Book of Mormon is true.

Invite a student to read Moroni 10:3–5 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for how we can know the Book of Mormon is true.

  • According to Moroni, how can we know that the Book of Mormon is true? (Help students identify the following principle: As we read, ponder, and pray about the Book of Mormon, the Holy Ghost will witness that it is true.)

video iconTo help students understand and feel the importance of knowing that the Book of Mormon is true, consider showing the Mormon Messages video “Testimony of the Book of Mormon” (4:39), in which Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles testifies of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. This video is available on LDS.org.

Downloads
Downloads: Small Medium Large

Invite several students to share their testimonies and feelings about the Book of Mormon. You may also want to share your testimony of the Book of Mormon and how you received this testimony.

Point out that some students may feel they do not yet know that the Book of Mormon is true. Assure them that they can receive a testimony of the Book of Mormon through the power of the Holy Ghost. Invite all your students to seek to increase their testimony of the Book of Mormon by reading it daily and prayerfully pondering and applying its teachings.

Commentary and Background Information

Title page

The following definitions may be helpful when studying the title page of the Book of Mormon:

House of Israel refers to descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Abraham’s grandson Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel, had twelve sons. Their posterity became known as the twelve tribes of Israel. As the posterity of Abraham, the house of Israel was also the Lord’s covenant people. Today, the house of Israel includes those who make covenants with the Lord and keep His commandments. “The name Israel is therefore variously used to denote (1) the man Jacob, (2) the literal descendants of Jacob, and (3) the true believers in Christ, regardless of their lineage or geographical location” (Bible Dictionary, “Israel”).

Jews originally referred to anyone from the tribe of Judah (one of the twelve tribes of Israel). It has come to mean anyone from the kingdom of Judah (in Old Testament times, the southern part of the divided kingdom of Israel), even if they are not from the tribe of Judah. It also refers to “people who practice the religion, life-styles, and traditions of Judaism but may or may not be Jewish by birth” (Guide to the Scriptures, “Jews,” scriptures.lds.org).

Gentiles means “the nations.” It refers to (1) those who are not of the house of Israel, (2) those who do not believe in the God of Israel or who do not have the gospel, regardless of their lineage, and (3) people who are not from or do not live in the land of Judah. For example, pilgrims and colonists are called Gentiles in 1 Nephi 13:3–13. Those who brought forth the Book of Mormon are called Gentiles in 1 Nephi 13:34. The Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price were also brought forth by Gentiles (see 1 Nephi 13:39).

An abridgment is a shortened version of something.

A remnant is a remaining part. On the title page of the Book of Mormon, the phrase “the remnant of the House of Israel” refers to the people of scattered Israel and their posterity. As Moroni brought his record to a close and sealed up the golden plates to come forth in the latter days, he was particularly concerned about the surviving Lamanites and their descendants, who his father had said were a “remnant of the house of Israel” (Mormon 7:1). Moroni looked forward to a day when the Lamanites would once again know and embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ (see Moroni 1:4).

Introduction. Modern-day descendants of Lamanites

The Lamanites are among the ancestors of the American Indians. However, the Book of Mormon does not claim that all American Indians are descendants of Lamanites. President Anthony W. Ivins (1852–1934) of the First Presidency stated:

President Anthony W. Ivins

“We must be careful in the conclusions that we reach. The Book of Mormon teaches the history of three distinct peoples … who came from the old world to this continent. It does not tell us that there was no one here before them. It does not tell us that people did not come after. And so if discoveries are made which suggest differences in race origins, it can very easily be accounted for, and reasonably, for we do believe that other people came to this continent” (Anthony W. Ivins, in Conference Report, Apr. 1929, 15).

Testimony of Three Witnesses. “Translated by the gift and power of God”

Elder Neal A. Maxwell (1926–2004) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles acknowledged that while the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God, we do not know the details of the translation process:

Elder Neal A. Maxwell

“Many who read the Book of Mormon understandably desire to know more about its coming forth, including the actual process of translation. This was certainly so with faithful and loyal Hyrum Smith. Upon inquiring, Hyrum was told by the Prophet Joseph that ‘it was not intended to tell the world all the particulars of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon’ and that ‘it was not expedient for him to relate these things’ (History of the Church, 1:220). Thus what we do know about the actual coming forth of the Book of Mormon is adequate, but it is not comprehensive. …

“The Prophet Joseph alone knew the full process, and he was deliberately reluctant to describe details. We take passing notice of the words of David Whitmer, Joseph Knight, and Martin Harris, who were observers, not translators. David Whitmer indicated that as the Prophet used the divine instrumentalities provided to help him, ‘the hieroglyphics would appear, and also the translation in the English language … in bright luminous letters.’ Then Joseph would read the words to Oliver (quoted in James H. Hart, “About the Book of Mormon,” Deseret Evening News, 25 Mar. 1884, 2). Martin Harris related of the seer stone: ‘Sentences would appear and were read by the Prophet and written by Martin’ (quoted in Edward Stevenson, “One of the Three Witnesses: Incidents in the Life of Martin Harris,” Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star, 6 Feb. 1882, 86–87). Joseph Knight made similar observations (see Dean Jessee, “Joseph Knight’s Recollection of Early Mormon History,” BYU Studies 17 [Autumn 1976]: 35).

“Oliver Cowdery is reported to have testified in court that the Urim and Thummim enabled Joseph ‘to read in English, the reformed Egyptian characters, which were engraved on the plates’ (“Mormonites,” Evangelical Magazine and Gospel Advocate, 9 Apr. 1831). If these reports are accurate, they suggest a process indicative of God’s having given Joseph ‘sight and power to translate’ (D&C 3:12). …

“The revelatory process apparently did not require the Prophet to become expert in the ancient language. The constancy of revelation was more crucial than the constant presence of opened plates, which, by instruction, were to be kept from the view of unauthorized eyes anyway.

“While the use of divine instrumentalities might also account for the rapid rate of translation, the Prophet sometimes may have used a less mechanical procedure. We simply do not know the details. …

“Whatever the details of the process, it required Joseph’s intense, personal efforts along with the aid of the revelatory instruments. The process may have varied as Joseph’s capabilities grew, involving the Urim and Thummim but perhaps with less reliance upon such instrumentalities in the Prophet’s later work of translation. Elder Orson Pratt of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said Joseph Smith told him that he used the Urim and Thummim when he was inexperienced at translation but that later he did not need it, which was the case in Joseph’s translation of many verses of the Bible (see Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star, 11 Aug. 1874, 498–99)” (Neal A. Maxwell, “By the Gift and Power of God,” Ensign, Jan. 1997, 39).

For more information about the process of translating the Book of Mormon, see “Book of Mormon Translation,” Gospel Topics, topics.lds.org; see also Richard E. Turley Jr., Robin S. Jensen, and Mark Ashurst-McGee, “Joseph the Seer,” Ensign, Oct. 2015, 49–54.