Doctrine and Covenants 3: The Prophet Learns an Important Lesson

Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Student Study Guide, (2005), 17–18


Martin Harris lost the manuscript of the first 116 pages that the Prophet Joseph Smith translated from the gold plates.Doctrine and Covenants 3, along withDoctrine and Covenants 10, are revelations the Prophet Joseph received because of that loss. In section 3 the Lord taught Joseph Smith what he did wrong and important truths related to his calling as a prophet. Imagine how the Prophet felt as he received this revelation.

Understanding the Scriptures

Doctrine and Covenants 3

Custody(section heading)Care and possession 
Scribe(section heading)A person who writes what another speaks 
Naught(vv. 1, 4, 7, 13)Nothing 
Dictates(v. 4)Promptings 
Carnal(v. 4)Fleshly, earthly 

Doctrine and Covenants 3:12—Why Did the Lord Call Martin Harris a “Wicked Man”?

Martin Harris

While Martin Harris wrote down the Prophet Joseph Smith’s translation of the Book of Mormon, he begged Joseph to ask the Lord to allow him to take the translated pages to show his wife and others who evidently thought Martin was being deceived. The Prophet Joseph explained what happened: “I did inquire, and the answer was that he must not. However, he was not satisfied with this answer, and desired that I should inquire again. I did so, and the answer was as before. Still he could not be contented, but insisted that I should inquire once more. After much solicitation I again inquired of the Lord, and permission was granted him to have the writings on certain conditions; which were, that he show them only to his brother, Preserved Harris, his own wife, his father and his mother, and a Mrs. Cobb, a sister to his wife. In accordance with this last answer, I required of him that he should bind himself in a covenant to me in a most solemn manner that he would not do otherwise than had been directed. He did so. He bound himself as I required of him, took the writings, and went his way. Notwithstanding, however, the great restrictions which he had been laid under, and the solemnity of the covenant which he had made with me, he did show them to others, and by stratagem they got them away from him, and they never have been recovered unto this day” (History of the Church,1:21).

For more information on Martin Harris, see “People and Terms in the Doctrine and Covenants” (p. 231).

Doctrine and Covenants 3:14—What “Privileges” Did the Prophet Joseph Smith Lose for a Time?

After the 116 pages of manuscript were stolen, Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith and took away the plates and the Urim and Thummim, but promised Joseph that if he repented for not following the Lord’s counsel, he would be allowed to continue the translation (seeChurch History in the Fulness of Times[Religion 341–43 student manual, 2nd ed., 2000], pp. 48–49).

Studying the Scriptures

Do two of the following activities (A–C) as you studyDoctrine and Covenants 3.

Activity A iconLook for the Lesson

The Prophet Joseph Smith was very upset by the loss of the 116 pages. Review Doctrine and Covenants 3:1–8 and write what those verses reveal the Lord wanted the Prophet to learn from the experience. Justify your answer with words and phrases from the verses.

Activity B iconChoices and Consequences

Martin Harris had been a great help to the young prophet, and Joseph Smith naturally wanted to be of help to him. Divide a page in your notebook into three columns and, from your reading of Doctrine and Covenants 3:1–15, make the following lists:

  1. 1.

    In the first column, list what the Lord said the Prophet Joseph Smith did wrong in trying to please Martin Harris and what the consequences of those choices would be.

  2. 2.

    In the second column, list what the Lord said the Prophet Joseph should have done or should do and what the blessings would have been and would be if he obeyed.

  3. 3.

    In the third column, list some of the choices young people make today that are similar to the mistakes Joseph Smith made (see especiallyvv. 4, 6–7) and explain what the consequences of those choices are today. Explain how life can be better for us if we follow the Lord’s counsel in verse 8.

Activity C iconFind the Lord’s Purposes

InDoctrine and Covenants 3:19–20the Lord told why the Book of Mormon plates were preserved. List the reasons you find there and explain what has happened since this revelation was given in 1828 to accomplish those purposes.