Joseph Smith—History 1:1–65

Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Teacher Resource Manual, (2001), 24–26


In 1838 Joseph Smith began work on his official history, which was published in the newspaper Times and Seasons in 1842 and later became part of the seven-volume History of the Church. Joseph Smith—History was extracted from this history and published as part of the Pearl of Great Price in 1851. The Pearl of Great Price was accepted by the Church as scripture in general conference in October 1880. (See the Introductory Note in the Pearl of Great Price.)

Some Important Gospel Principles to Look For

Note: Prayerfully study each assigned scripture block and consider the principles under this heading before preparing your lessons.

Additional Resources

  • Church History in the Fulness of Times: Religion 341–43, pp. 29–66.

  • Pearl of Great Price Student Manual: Religion 327, pp. 52–63.

Suggestions for Teaching

Note: Choose from the ideas under this heading, or use some of your own, as you prepare to teach the assigned scripture block.

Joseph Smith—History 1:1–65. Joseph Smith—History provides background information on the Prophet Joseph Smith.

(20–25 minutes)

Show students a journal, diary, or family history book and share with them a story from it. Ask:

  • How many of you keep a journal or personal history?

  • Why do we keep records of our life?

  • What blessings can come to those who keep journals or family histories?

Explain that the Pearl of Great Price contains one of the most important accounts of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s early experiences. Have students read Joseph Smith—History 1:1–2, and ask:

  • What year was this account begun?

  • According to these verses, why did Joseph Smith write this history?

Read Joseph Smith—History 1:3 and find information on Joseph Smith’s birthplace and his family’s move to New York. Share a few stories from his early life (see Church History in the Fulness of Times, pp. 19–26). Ask:

  • What evidence is there that the Lord guided the Smith family to New York?

  • What are some examples of ways the Lord protected the young Joseph?

Read the following statement about Asael Smith, Joseph Smith’s grandfather, as reported by the Prophet’s cousin, George A. Smith: “The old gentleman said that he always knew that God was going to raise up some branch of his family to be a great benefit to mankind” (in Richard Lloyd Anderson, Joseph Smith’s New England Heritage [1971], 112; see also History of the Church, 2:443).

Read Joseph Smith—History 1:4 and find how many children were in Joseph Smith’s family. Show students the chart “Children of Joseph Smith, Sr., and Lucy Mack Smith” in Church History in the Fulness of Times (p. 21). Note that while Joseph Smith was the third son in the family, he was the son selected to receive the name Joseph. Read 2 Nephi 3:14–15 and ask: What is important about Joseph Smith’s name? Read Joseph Smith—History 1:33 and ask: Who selected Joseph Smith to do the work of the Restoration?

Read Doctrine and Covenants 138:53–56 and ask what it teaches about Joseph Smith. Share the following statement by President Brigham Young:

“It was decreed in the counsels of eternity, long before the foundations of the earth were laid, that he, Joseph Smith, should be the man, in the last dispensation of this world, to bring forth the word of God to the people, and receive the fulness of the keys and power of the Priesthood of the Son of God. The Lord had his eyes upon him, and upon his father, and upon his father’s father, and upon their progenitors clear back to Abraham, and from Abraham to the flood, from the flood to Enoch, and from Enoch to Adam. He has watched that family and that blood as it has circulated from its fountain to the birth of that man” (Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. John A. Widtsoe [1941], 108).

Testify that the Lord raised up Joseph Smith to be the prophet of the Restoration.

Joseph Smith—History 1:5–26 (Scripture Mastery, Joseph Smith—History 1:15–20). God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph Smith and spoke with him.

(35–40 minutes)

Bring a phone book to class, and invite students to look up the denominations listed under the heading “Churches.” Have students list some of the churches in your community. (If you live in a place without many churches, you could ask the students to list churches or religions found in the world.) Read Joseph Smith—History 1:5–7 and ask:

  • How does the list of churches represent the problem Joseph was having?

  • Why do you think there are so many churches?

  • Read 1 Nephi 13:24–29. How does what is described in this prophecy add to the problem?

  • Why would these changes to the scriptures be confusing to someone seeking the truth?

Ask students if any of them have ever been confused about something that was very important to them. Ask: How did you resolve the confusion? Remind students that Joseph Smith was the age of many seminary students when he had his First Vision. Explain that while Joseph’s vision was unusual, the events that led to it are a pattern for all of us in receiving help and answers from God.

Have students read Joseph Smith—History 1:8–17 and make two lists: words and phrases that describe how Joseph felt and words and phrases that describe what Joseph did. When they finish, have them share what they found. Discuss how Joseph’s feelings and actions helped him overcome his confusion. Point out that Joseph recognized the problem and reflected on it (see vv. 8, 12), asked questions (see v. 10), studied the scriptures (see v. 11), acted on his promptings (see v. 13), and prayed (see v. 14).

Share the following statement by Elder David B. Haight, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve: “Revelation comes in response to our desire and seeking” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1992, 21; or Ensign, May 1992, 16).

Read verses 17–19 aloud to the class. Invite students to share what impresses them in these verses, and bear your testimony of the reality of the First Vision. Read or sing as a class “Joseph Smith’s First Prayer” (Hymns, no. 26). Share this testimony from President Ezra Taft Benson, who was then President of the Quorum of the Twelve:

“This message constitutes the heart and the foundation of the Church. If Joseph Smith’s testimony of seeing God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, is not true, then Mormonism represents a false system of belief. But if this vision was reality … then the Church of Jesus Christ was and is restored on earth again” (Come unto Christ [1983], 74).

In addition to instructing Joseph that he was to join none of the churches, the First Vision provided answers to other important doctrinal questions. Ask students to list some truths that were restored to the earth when the Father and the Son appeared to Joseph Smith. (For ideas, refer to “Some Important Gospel Principles to Look For” above [p. 24].)

Have students scan Joseph Smith—History 1:20–24 and find how Joseph was treated as a result of sharing his vision. Discuss the following questions:

  • Who was the source of Joseph’s opposition and persecution? (The adversary; see v. 20.)

  • How did some ministers treat him?

  • How do you think you would respond if others persecuted you for your beliefs or opposed your standards?

  • Why would it be wise to consider in advance what you might do?

Read verses 25–26 and ask: What can we learn from these verses about handling opposition from others?

Joseph Smith—History 1:27–54. The Book of Mormon contains the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ as delivered to ancient inhabitants of the Americas and is a central part of the Restoration.

(35–40 minutes)

Have students read Joseph Smith—History 1:3 and note Joseph Smith’s birthday. How old would he have been on September 21, 1823? (Three months short of eighteen years.) At that time, how long had it been since he had the First Vision? (see v. 14). Read verses 27–29 and discuss the following questions:

  • What did Joseph Smith say his life was like during these three years?

  • How did Joseph feel about what he had done?

  • What did he do as a result of these feelings?

  • What has the Lord promised us when we repent? (see Mosiah 26:30).

As a result of Joseph’s prayers, he received a visitation from the angel Moroni. Show students a picture of Moroni appearing to Joseph Smith (Gospel Art Picture Kit, no. 404), and ask:

  • What verses from Joseph Smith—History does this picture depict? (Verses 30–46.)

  • What do you imagine it would have been like to receive this visitation?

Explain that Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith five times during these 24 hours. Have students read verses 30–43 (first visit), 44–45 (second visit), 46 (third visit), 48–49 (fourth visit), and 51–53 (fifth visit). Ask:

  • What similarities were there in the messages Moroni gave during these five visits?

  • Why do you think Moroni appeared so many times to the Prophet Joseph Smith?

  • What was it about Moroni’s message that was so important?

Have a student read Revelation 14:6, and ask the class which angel they think John was referring to. Explain that this verse refers to Moroni and to other angels who restored priesthood powers and keys to the earth. Share the following statement by Elder Bruce R. McConkie, who was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve:

“Who restored the everlasting gospel? Was it one angel or many?

“It is traditional (and true!) to reply: ‘Moroni, son of Mormon, the now resurrected Nephite prophet, who holds the keys of ‘the stick of Ephraim’ (D&C 27:5). …

“… But other angels were yet to come—Moses, Elias, Elijah, Gabriel, Raphael, and ‘divers angels, … all declaring their dispensation, their rights, their keys, their honors, their majesty and glory, and the power of their priesthood; giving line upon line, precept upon precept; here a little, and there a little.’ (D&C 128:21.)

“Thus the angel Moroni brought the message, that is, the word; but other angels brought the keys and priesthood, the power” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [1966–73], 3:528–30).

Testify that Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith several times over the next four years to teach and instruct him. Moroni was the keeper of the gold plates (see Words of Mormon 1:1–2) and could offer instruction to prepare Joseph Smith to translate them.

Joseph Smith—History 1:53–62. Joseph Smith needed to be prepared spiritually before he could obtain the gold plates.

(15–20 minutes)

Share the following statement by Elder David B. Haight:

“The Aaronic Priesthood years are critical years of preparation. The Lord knew young men would need these valuable teen years to prepare for life—precious years with meaningful, never-to-be-forgotten spiritual experiences” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1991, 50; or Ensign, Nov. 1991, 36).

Invite students to summarize Elder Haight’s statement. Ask:

  • Why is it important that we have the opportunity to prepare before receiving important assignments from the Lord?

  • What preparations are you making so that you will be able to help in the Lord’s work?

Read Joseph Smith—History 1:53–54 and find how long it was after Moroni’s first visits that Joseph obtained the gold plates. Share several stories from Church History in the Fulness of Times that illustrate how the Lord prepared Joseph Smith to receive the gold plates (see pp. 39–45). Have students read Joseph Smith—History 1:55–59 and make a list of the events that occurred in Joseph’s life during this period. How could those experiences have helped prepare Joseph for his life’s mission?

Encourage students to keep journals and personal histories as a record of how the Lord helps them prepare for their own life’s mission.

Joseph Smith—History 1:60–65. Satan desires to destroy the souls of men and the work of God.

(10–15 minutes)

Tell students that Joseph Smith wrote that the gold plates were “six inches wide and eight inches long, and not quite so thick as common tin. … The volume was something near six inches in thickness, a part of which was sealed” (History of the Church, 4:537).

Read Joseph Smith—History 1:60–65. Share some of the accounts describing the efforts people made to take the gold plates away from Joseph (see Church History in the Fulness of Times, pp. 44–47). Discuss the following questions:

  • What factors do you think might have made it hard to protect the plates? (Answers might include their size, weight, and value.)

  • What means did Satan use to try to stop the coming forth of the Book of Mormon?

  • Read Isaiah 29:11–12. Do you believe these verses are describing the same events as Joseph Smith—History 1:63–65? Why?

  • What did Joseph Smith do to help ensure the gold plates would be protected and that his work of translating them would be completed?

  • In what ways can Joseph’s example help you resist temptation and do the work of the Lord?