Lesson 3: The Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon

Foundations of the Restoration Teacher Manual, 2015


Introduction

The Lord sent the angel Moroni to prepare Joseph Smith to receive and translate the Book of Mormon. Little is known about the actual translation process. Joseph Smith said that the Book of Mormon was translated “by the gift and power of God” (preface to the Book of Mormon, 1830 edition). In accordance with the law of witnesses (see 2 Corinthians 13:1), the Lord allowed several others to be witnesses of this ancient record. Their testimonies strengthen the credibility of the Book of Mormon for the entire world.

Background Reading

  • Neal A. Maxwell, “By the Gift and Power of God,” Ensign, Jan. 1997, 36–41.

  • “Book of Mormon Translation,” Gospel Topics, lds.org/topics.

  • “Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon and Restoration of the Priesthood,” chapter 5 in Church History in the Fulness of Times Student Manual, 2nd ed. (Church Educational System manual, 2003), 52–66.

Suggestions for Teaching

Joseph Smith—History 1:30–35, 42–54

Translated by the gift and power of God

Invite one or two volunteers to summarize for the class what they remember about the angel Moroni’s visit to young Joseph Smith on the night of September 21, 1823. As needed, share the following information:

“On the night of September 21, 1823, Joseph retired to his attic bedroom in his family’s log home in Palmyra, New York, but he stayed awake after the others in the room had gone to sleep, earnestly praying to know more about God’s purposes for him. …

“In answer to his prayer, Joseph saw a light appear in his room that grew brighter and brighter until the room was ‘lighter than at noonday.’ A heavenly messenger appeared at his bedside, standing in the air, wearing a robe of ‘exquisite whiteness.’ (Joseph Smith—History 1:30–31.) This messenger was Moroni, the last Nephite prophet, who centuries earlier had buried the plates upon which the Book of Mormon was written and who now held the keys pertaining to this sacred record (see D&C 27:5). He had been sent to tell Joseph that God had forgiven his sins and had a great work for him to do. As part of this work, Joseph was to go to a nearby hill, where a sacred record, written on gold plates, was deposited. … Joseph was to translate the record and bring it forth to the world.

“The next day, Joseph went to the hill where the Book of Mormon plates were buried. There he met Moroni and saw the plates, but was told that he would not receive them for four years. …

“… On September 22, 1827, [Joseph’s wife, Emma,] went with him to the hill and waited nearby while Moroni delivered the plates into the Prophet’s hands” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith [2007], 57–59).

Invite students to turn to the title page of the Book of Mormon and scan the first paragraph, looking for information about how this ancient record would come forth and be translated. After students have read, ask them to share what they found. (Students should identify the following truth: The Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God.)

Invite a student to read Joseph Smith—History 1:34–35 aloud. Ask the class to follow along and look for one way that the Lord helped Joseph Smith translate the Book of Mormon.

  • According to these verses, what is one way that the Lord assisted Joseph Smith in translating the ancient record? (The Lord provided the Urim and Thummim for the translation.)

Explain that another instrument Joseph Smith used while translating the Book of Mormon was a small oval stone, sometimes referred to as a “seer stone,” that he discovered several years before he obtained the gold plates (see “Book of Mormon Translation,” Gospel Topics, lds.org/topics). The historical account indicates that the Prophet sometimes used the Urim and Thummim and sometimes used the seer stone to translate.

Read the following statement aloud to help students understand that the Lord revealed the English translation of the Book of Mormon to the Prophet through the Urim and Thummim and the seer stone:

“When pressed for specifics about the process of translation, Joseph repeated on several occasions that it had been done ‘by the gift and power of God’ and once added, ‘It was not intended to tell the world all the particulars of the coming forth of the book of Mormon.’

“Nevertheless, the scribes and others who observed the translation left numerous accounts that give insight into the process. Some accounts indicate that Joseph studied the characters on the plates. Most of the accounts speak of Joseph’s use of the Urim and Thummim (either the interpreters or the seer stone), and many accounts refer to his use of a single stone. According to these accounts, Joseph placed either the interpreters or the seer stone in a hat, pressed his face into the hat to block out extraneous light, and read aloud the English words that appeared on the instrument. The process as described brings to mind a passage from the Book of Mormon that speaks of God preparing ‘a stone, which shall shine forth in darkness unto light’ [Alma 37: 23–24]” (“Book of Mormon Translation,” Gospel Topics, lds.org/topics).

Explain that the Lord’s help was also evident in the short amount of time in which Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon. Display the following statement by Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and invite a student to read it aloud:

Elder Russell M. Nelson

“Think of the short time Joseph took to translate the Book of Mormon. Working from April to June of 1828, Joseph translated the 116 pages that Martin Harris later lost. Joseph began translating again on Tuesday, April 7, 1829, with Oliver Cowdery as scribe. The manuscript was completed eighty-five days later, on June 30 of that year. Of course, not all of that time was spent working on the translation. … Conservatively estimated, this left sixty-five or fewer working days on which the prophet and his scribes translated this book, which contains 531 pages in its current edition. (See John W. Welch, Ensign, Jan. 1988, pp. 46–47.) That calculates to an average of eight pages per day. Consider this when you translate a book, or as you schedule your own reading of the Book of Mormon” (“A Treasured Testament,” Ensign, July 1993, 61–62).

  • What are some of the ways that the coming forth of the Book of Mormon occurred “by the gift and power of God”?

  • If we do not know all of the details surrounding the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, how can we know that this book is true? (We can receive a spiritual witness of the Book of Mormon without knowing all the details regarding its translation.)

  • What has helped you gain a testimony of the Book of Mormon?

Invite a student to read aloud the following statement by President Gordon B. Hinckley:

President Gordon B. Hinckley

“First came Moroni with the plates from which was translated the Book of Mormon. What a singular and remarkable thing this was. Joseph’s story of the gold plates was fantastic. It was hard to believe and easy to challenge. Could he have written it of his own capacity? It is here, my brothers and sisters, for everyone to see, to handle, to read. Every attempt to explain its origin, other than that which he gave, has fallen of its own weight. He was largely unschooled; and yet, in a very brief time, he brought forth the translation which in published form comes to more than 500 pages. …

“Through all of these years critics have tried to explain it. They have spoken against it. They have ridiculed it. But it has outlived them all, and its influence today is greater than at any time in its history” (“The Stone Cut Out of the Mountain,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2007, 85).

  • What could you say to help someone who is struggling to believe that the Book of Mormon is true?

Testify that the Book of Mormon came forth by the gift and power of God.

Doctrine and Covenants 17

The Testimonies of the Three Witnesses and the Eight Witnesses

Explain that while Joseph Smith was translating the Book of Mormon, he learned that the Lord would appoint others to be witnesses of the ancient record (see 2 Nephi 27:12–13; Ether 5:2–5). At that time, Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris each expressed a desire to be these special witnesses. Doctrine and Covenants 17 contains the Lord’s instructions to these men.

Invite several students to take turns reading aloud from Doctrine and Covenants 17:1–6. Ask the class to follow along looking for what the Lord instructed the witnesses to do after they saw the plates. After students share what they found, ask:

  • Why do you think these men needed to show faith like the prophets of old before the Lord would allow them to see the plates?

  • According to verses 3–5, what responsibility would these witnesses have after seeing the plates?

  • What responsibility do we have when the Lord manifests to us the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon? (Students should identify a principle similar to the following: After we obtain a witness of the truth, we have a responsibility to testify of it. [See also D&C 88:81.]) You might point out that this principle is also an example of a pattern we can find in the scriptures. “A pattern is a plan, model, or standard that can be used as a guide for repetitively doing or making something” [David A. Bednar, “A Reservoir of Living Water” (Brigham Young University fireside, Feb. 4, 2007), 5, speeches.byu.edu].)

  • How might testifying of the truth be a demonstration of our faith?

Invite a student to read aloud Joseph Smith’s account of his experience with the Three Witnesses:

“Martin Harris, David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery and myself, agreed to retire into the woods, and try to obtain, by fervent and humble prayer, the fulfillment of the promises. … [After] our second failure, Martin Harris proposed that he should withdraw himself from us, believing, as he expressed himself, that his presence was the cause of our not obtaining what we wished for. He accordingly withdrew from us, and we knelt down again, and had not been many minutes engaged in prayer, when … an angel [Moroni] stood before us. In his hands he held the plates. … He turned over the leaves one by one, so that we could see them, and discern the engravings thereon distinctly. … We heard a voice from out of the bright light above us, saying, ‘These plates have been revealed by the power of God, and they have been translated by the power of God. The translation of them which you have seen is correct, and I command you to bear record of what you now see and hear.’

“I now left David and Oliver, and went in pursuit of Martin Harris, whom I found at a considerable distance, fervently engaged in prayer. He soon told me, however, that he had not yet prevailed with the Lord, and earnestly requested me to join him in prayer, that he might also realize the same blessings which we had just received. We accordingly joined in prayer, and ultimately obtained our desires, for before we had yet finished, the same vision was opened to our view, at least it was again opened to me, and I once more beheld and heard the same things; whilst at the same moment, Martin Harris cried out, apparently in an ecstasy of joy, ‘’Tis enough; ’tis enough; mine eyes have beheld; mine eyes have beheld’” (in History of the Church, 1:54–55).

Joseph returned to the Whitmer home and said to his parents, “The Lord has caused the plates to be shown to three more besides me who have also seen an angel and will have to testify to the 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, … and it does rejoice my soul that I am not any longer to be entirely alone in the world” (in Lucy Mack Smith, History, 1844–1845, book 8, page 11, josephsmithpapers.org/paperSummarylucy-mack-smith-history-1844-1845).

  • Why do you think Joseph Smith rejoiced after this experience? (He was no longer alone as a witness of the plates and the heavenly messenger.)

Explain that eight additional witnesses also received the opportunity to see the plates.

Invite half of the class to read “The Testimony of Three Witnesses” and the other half to read “The Testimony of Eight Witnesses,” both of which can be found in the introductory pages of the Book of Mormon. Ask students to look for significant elements of the witnesses’ experiences. After sufficient time, invite students to share what they discovered.

  • How did the experience of the Three Witnesses differ from that of the Eight Witnesses? (The Three Witnesses heard the voice of God and saw an angel but did not handle the plates. The Eight Witnesses were shown the plates by Joseph Smith and were able to handle them. The Eight Witnesses had a more physical witness of the reality of the plates, while the Three Witnesses had a more spiritual experience.)

  • Why do you think having multiple witnesses was so important to the coming forth of the Book of Mormon?

Some students may not be aware that each of the Three Witnesses and some of the Eight Witnesses eventually left the Church. Invite a student to read aloud the following statement by Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:

Elder Dallin H. Oaks

“Measured against all … possible objections, the testimony of the Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon stands forth in great strength. … As is well known, because of disagreements or jealousies involving other leaders of the Church, each one of these three witnesses was excommunicated from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by about eight years after the publication of their testimony. … Yet to the end of their lives … not one of these witnesses deviated from his published testimony or said anything that cast any shadow on its truthfulness.

“Furthermore, their testimony stands uncontradicted by any other witnesses. Reject it one may, but how does one explain three men of good character uniting and persisting in this published testimony to the end of their lives in the face of great ridicule and other personal disadvantage? Like the Book of Mormon itself, there is no better explanation than is given in the testimony itself, the solemn statement of good and honest men who told what they saw” (“The Witness: Martin Harris,” Ensign, May 1999, 36).

  • How do you think the testimony of the Three Witnesses is strengthened by the fact that they never denied their witness, even after they were excommunicated from the Church? (Explain that Oliver Cowdery and Martin Harris were later rebaptized.)

Refer students back to Doctrine and Covenants 17:6, and emphasize that this verse contains the greatest possible witness of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. This verse contains the testimony of God Himself, sworn with an oath, that the Book of Mormon is true.

Ask students to imagine that their personal testimony of the Book of Mormon could be added to each copy of the Book of Mormon. Invite students to share what they would include in their witness or testimony.

Invite students to share their testimony of the Book of Mormon with someone before the next class.

Student Readings