Church History Lesson 04 (D&C 3–5)
Translating Begins in Harmony, Pennsylvania
After Joseph had received the plates, the harassment and persecution in Palmyra became very severe, forcing Joseph and Emma to move to Harmony, Pennsylvania, the home of his in-laws, the Hales. Some of the anger that existed at the time of their marriage had subsided, and the Hales consented to have them return.
Martin Harris, a prominent resident of Palmyra, was one of the first to believe in Joseph Smith’s work. He gave Joseph fifty dollars to assist him in moving to Harmony, Pennsylvania. It was there in the temporary peace of Harmony that the translation began. Persecution soon arose in Harmony. Isaac Hale heard that Joseph had the plates with him and demanded to see them. When Joseph refused his demand, he refused to let them stay.
Joseph purchased a modest home and farm from him nearby across the road, which bordered on the back of the property with the Susquehanna River. Joseph worked on his farm to support his family and translation work was very slow. He learned how to use the Urim and Thummim to translate and managed to copy and translate a few characters. It was there, in that home, that Emma acted as Joseph’s first scribe, but because of his and her many duties very little was able to be translated. She became pregnant with their first child during that time.
In 1879, Emma bore solemn witness of the plates and their miraculous translation:
I know Mormonism to be the truth; and believe the church to have been established by divine direction. I have complete faith in it. In writing for your father I frequently wrote day after day, often sitting at the table close by him, he sitting . . . and dictating hour after hour with nothing between us. . . . He had neither manuscript or book to read from . . . If he had anything of the kind he could not have concealed it from me. . . .
Joseph Smith could neither write nor dictate a coherent and well-worded letter; let alone dictating a book like the Book of Mormon. And, though I was an active participant in the scenes that transpired, and was present during the translation of the plates, and had cognizance of things as they transpired, it is marvelous to me, ‘a marvel and a wonder,’ as much as to anyone else . . .
My belief is that the Book of Mormon is of divine authenticity—I have not the slightest doubt of it. I am satisfied that no man could have dictated the writing of the manuscripts unless he was inspired; for, when acting as your scribe, your father would dictate to me hour after hour; and when returning after meals, or after interruptions, he would at once begin where he had left off, without either seeing the manuscript or having any portion of it read to him. This was a usual thing for him to do. It would have been improbable that a learned man could do this, and, for one so ignorant and unlearned as he was, it was simply impossible.”
The plates often lay on the table without any attempt at concealment, wrapped in a small linen table cloth, which I had given him to fold them in. I once felt of the plates, as they thus lay on the table, tracing their outline and shape. They seemed to be pliable like thick paper, and would rustle with a metallic sound when the edges were moved by the thumb.”1
Martin Harris and the Anthon Transcript
Sometime between December 1827 and February 1828, Martin Harris received a vision affirming the divinity of Joseph’s work. Martin had received much criticism from his wife, family, and neighbors for his support of Joseph Smith. He desired scientific “proof” of Joseph’s work to convince them—a weakness that persisted in his life.
In February 1828, he traveled to Harmony to obtain a copy of the ancient characters and their translation. He took them east to show them to a “learned man” who could verify their authenticity and accuracy. Eventually, he actually showed them to two learned men.
The first learned man, Professor Charles Anthon unwittingly fulfilled an ancient prophecy made by Isaiah. He recognized the characters as being of ancient origin and claimed he could translate them, though he certainly could not—the world was years from the time when the Rosetta stone provided a way to translate ancient Egyptian characters. Probably for his own academic career’s sake he sought to obtain the record, and when Martin Harris told him he could not have it because the record was “sealed,” he made his famous and prophecy-fulfilling statement that “I cannot read a sealed book” (Isaiah 29:11; 2 Nephi 27:15) and promptly tore up the certificate of authenticity he had given to Martin. Martin then took the characters to a second learned man, Professor Samuel Mitchell, who also verified their authenticity as ancient characters.
Hard Lessons about Strict Obedience—The Lost Manuscript
Martin’s assistance, both financially and as a scribe was very valuable to Joseph Smith. Convinced of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon plates after his visit with learned men, Martin prepared to come to Harmony to help with translating. His wife insisted on coming with him, but she stirred up so much prejudice toward Joseph that Martin had to take her home before the work could begin.
For the next two months—April 12 to June 14, 1828—Martin was Joseph’s scribe as he translated 116 pages. Those pages were 13 x 17 inches in size, the equivalent of 300 pages of 8 ½ x 11 inch paper. Their work covered the writings and events of the prophet Lehi on the large plates of Mormon.
Martin’s great weakness was pride. He was convinced that if he could show his family their work, they would believe him. He asked the Prophet for permission from the Lord for him to show his family the manuscript. At Martin’s insistence, Joseph asked twice, and both times the answer was “no.” Unsatisfied with the answer he insisted that Joseph ask again.
Joseph was afraid of offending Martin Harris, who had befriended him and supported him with both his money and his time. Joseph was young and had very few friends—especially friends with Martin Harris’ reputation. He was worried about offending his prominent friend and about losing his valuable support. He foolishly pestered the Lord a third time and was told he could do it, though it wasn’t wise.
Martin made a solemn covenant that he would show them only to give people—his wife, her sister, his mother and father, and his brother — and would write to Joseph regularly. Martin then hurried off to Palmyra, where he violated his covenant in order to “test” the Lord. He wanted to see if Joseph would translate the record precisely the same a second time, which he no doubt believed that he would but he wanted scientific proof for his wife and family.
Tragedy struck Joseph’s young family during this time. The following day, Emma prematurely delivered their first child—who died the same day. They named the child Alvin—after Joseph’s beloved deceased older brother. The grave of this first-born child still lies today in the cemetery not too far east of the site of Joseph and Emma’s home. Emma nearly died herself from complications of childbirth. Joseph sat up with her night after night until she was out of danger and began to mend.
MORONI WITHDRAWS THE RECORD
Meanwhile, Martin Harris had not written to Joseph as promised. Emma eventually convinced him to go Palmyra to investigate what had happened. When he got there he discovered, to his horror, that the manuscript had been lost. Joseph fell into deep anguish and self-condemnation for allowing the record out of his possession. Lucy Mack Smith said:
“I besought him not to mourn so, for perhaps the Lord would forgive him, after a short season of humiliation and repentance. But what could I do to comfort him, when he saw all the family in the same situation of mind as himself; for sobs and groans, and the most bitter lamentations filled the house. However, Joseph was more distressed than the rest, as he better understood the consequences of disobedience. And he continued pacing back and forth, meantime weeping and grieving, until about sunset, when, by persuasion, he took a little nourishment. The next morning, he set out for home. We parted with heavy hearts, for it now appeared that all which we had so fondly anticipated, and which had been the source of so much secret gratification, had in a moment fled, and fled forever.”2
Joseph returned to Harmony in July of 1828 and went to the Lord in prayerful sorrow. Moroni appeared, demanded the Urim and Thummin, and condemned him for his serious offense. He offered some hope, however, with a promise: “If you are very humble and penitent, it may be you will receive them [the Urim and Thummin] again; if so, it will be on the 22nd of next September.”3
“The Purposes of God Cannot Be Frustrated” (D&C 3)
A few days later, in July 1828, Moroni appeared again to Joseph and gave him the Urim and Thummin long enough for him to receive a revelation from the Lord—which is now recorded as D&C 3. This revelation is a thorough scolding of the Prophet for his foolishness and a warning that if he did not learn to be obedient he might lose his sacred calling. I believe it to be one evidence of the truth of Joseph’s testimony because an egotistical fraud would never have published such a stern condemnation of himself and his weaknesses.
In D&C 3, the Lord reminded Joseph that the works of God cannot be frustrated (v. 1). God knows the end from the beginning because “his course is one eternal round” (v. 2). This means that all things, past, present, and future are continually before Him. As Neal A. Maxwell said, “What we mortals encounter as the unforeseen, God has already seen.”4 We cannot comprehend how this is done because all things in this mortal life have a beginning and an end. But we may rest assured that God knows and comprehends everything, and “it is not the work of God that is frustrated, but the work of men” (v. 3). This should give us absolute confidence in his promises to us.
The Lord will not permit His prophet to lead us astray. While scolding the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Lord said, “although a man may have many revelations, and have power to do many mighty works, yet if he boasts in his own strength, and sets at naught the counsels of God, and follows after the dictates of his own will and carnal desires, he must fall and incur the vengeance of a just God upon him.” The Lord makes a very important assurance in this verse—that if his chosen prophet should stray from the truth and attempt to lead the people of God astray, He will not permit it. He will remove such a prophet before this can destroy His work. We can, therefore, have absolute confidence that we will never go astray so long as we follow the Lord’s Prophet.
L. Tom Perry said: “I pray that all the members of the Church will recognize that there is safety when we follow the prophet and strictly heed his voice.”5 J. Reuben Clark, Jr. said: “You will never make a mistake by following the instructions and the counsel of him who stands at the head as God’s mouthpiece on earth.”6 Ezra Taft Benson said: “Keep your eye on the Prophet, for the Lord will never permit his Prophet to lead this Church astray. Let us live close to the Spirit, so we can test all counsel.”7 And Joseph Fielding Smith said: “I think there is one thing which we should have exceedingly clear in our minds. Neither the President of the Church, nor the First Presidency, nor the united voice of the First Presidency and the Twelve will ever lead the Saints astray or send forth counsel to the world that is contrary to the mind and will of the Lord.”8
In the next verses in D&C 3, the Lord chastened Joseph for fearing man (Martin’s opinion of him) more than God. The Lord had entrusted Joseph with the plates and other sacred things and given him strict commandments concerning them (v. 5). This refers in part to Joseph Smith’s first interview with Moroni and the cautions and promises made to him at that time (JS-History 1:33–54, 59). And yet, because of his youth and inexperience he had too often “transgressed the commandments and the laws of God” (v. 6). Because of the “persuasions of men” he had “feared man more than God” (vv. 6–7). Because of this, Joseph had “set at naught the counsels of God, and despise[d] his words” (v. 7). If he had been more faithful and trusting in the Lord “he would have extended his arm and supported you against all the fiery darts of the adversary; and he would have been with you in every time of trouble” (v. 8). Like all of us, Joseph needed to learn to trust the Lord and His promises, no matter how difficult the situation.
The Lord said, “Behold, thou art Joseph, and thou wast chosen to do the work of the Lord, but because of transgression, if thou art not aware thou wilt fall” (v. 9). He reminded Joseph that He is merciful and that if he would repent “thou art still chosen, and art again called to the work” (v. 10). But if not, “thou shalt be delivered up and become as other men, and have no more gift” (v. 11). The Prophet took this counsel to heart. He said to the Saints in Kirtland, “I declare unto you the warning which the Lord has commanded me to declare unto this generation, remembering that the eyes of my Maker are upon me, and that to Him I am accountable for every word I say.”9 And he counseled the Saints at Nauvoo that “Whatever God requires is right, no matter what it is, although we may not see the reason thereof till long after the events transpire.”10
At the close of this revelation, Moroni then took back the Urim and Thummin—and the plates—leaving Joseph to think about what he had done for the next two months.
The Designs of Evil Men
The sections of the Doctrine and Covenants are not inserted chronologically. If we look at the headings for D&C 3, D&C 4, and D&C 10, we note the following:
— D&C 3 was given in July 1828.
— D&C 10 was given in September of 1828, though this fact was missed in versions of the D&C prior to 1921.
— D&C 4, a revelation to Joseph Smith, Sr., came after D&C 10 in February 1829.
— D&C 5–9 were all given in April and May of 1829.
We can conclude, therefore, that the next revelation Joseph Smith received after the scolding he received in D&C 3 was the revelation contained in D&C 10.
In D&C 10, the plates and his prophetic calling are restored to Joseph Smith. This revelation was given in September 1828 after what must have been a long and difficult summer for Joseph and Emma. The Lord reminded Joseph that “because you delivered up those writings which you had power given unto you to translate by the means of the Urim and Thummim, into the hands of a wicked man, you have lost them” (v. 1). “And you also lost your gift at the same time, and your mind became darkened” (v. 2). But now, these gifts were “restored unto you again; therefore see that you are faithful and continue on unto the finishing of the remainder of the work of translation as you have begun” (v. 3).
It would have been tempting for Joseph to work overtime now to make up for lost time. It had been one year since he received the plates at the Hill Cumorah, and at this point he had nothing to show for it. All of his work was stolen and lost. But the Lord gave him wise counsel on how to proceed:
— Be diligent—keeping at it until the assignment is finished (v. 4), but . . .
— Do all things with reason—don’t over-do things or go beyond your strength (v. 4).
— Pray always, recognizing that we need the Lord’s help to succeed (v. 5).
Joseph was not to “make up for lost time,” but proceed with wisdom and order. Joseph heeded this advice and did not return immediately to translating. He farmed his land and provided for his family for a while.
How Was the 116-page Manuscript Lost?
In the Lord’s eyes, “enemies,” including Martin Harris—”the man in whom you have trusted” (v. 6) had sought to destroy the Lord’s work. Martin’s wickedness consisted of “tak[ing] away the things wherewith you have been entrusted” and seeking “to destroy your gift” (v. 7). And once they were in Martin’s hands, other “wicked men have taken them from you” (v. 8). The net effect was that Joseph had “delivered . . . up . . . that which was sacred, unto wickedness” (v. 9).
God revealed the conspiracy of Joseph’s enemies to try to destroy him.
“Satan hath put it into their hearts to alter the words which you have caused to be written, or which you have translated, which have gone out of your hands” (v. 10). Because of these alterations, they now “read contrary from that which you translated and caused to be written” (v. 11). This Satan-inspired conspiracy sought to trap Joseph by comparing their altered manuscript with whatever he re-translated, and then saying that “they have caught you in the words which you have pretended to translate” (v. 13). But God will not permit this conspiracy to succeed (v. 14). He had planned for this eventuality more than 2,000 years earlier in the days of the prophet Nephi by having him keep a second record of events on the smaller plates of Nephi.
The Lord instructed the Prophet not to retranslate the first 116 pages of the manuscript, but to translate Nephi’s second set of records instead. These small plates of Nephi contained “things which, in my wisdom, I would bring to the knowledge of the people” they would suit the Lord’s purposes equally well (v. 40). As a matter of fact, “there are many things engraven upon the plates of Nephi which do throw greater views upon my gospel” than what Joseph had previously translated (v. 45). That is because these small plates contained a more sacred or spiritual record as opposed to the more temporal historical record to be found on the large plates (Jacob 1:2–4).
When Joseph Smith originally began translating with Martin Harris in 1828, he evidently started with the Book of Lehi from Mormon’s abridgment of the large plates of Nephi (see heading to D&C 10). There is some indication from the historical record that when Joseph and Oliver began their translation activities one year later in April 1829, they translated the remainder of the large plates (from Mosiah to Moroni ) first, then translated the small plates from 1 Nephi to Words of Mormon to replace the lost 116 pages. Thus, by the time these replacement pages from the small plates were translated (June 1829), it had been nearly a year since the original 116 pages had been lost (July 1828).
One evidence of this is the fact that five weeks after they started, 15 May 1829, they were on 3 Nephi and the Savior’s sermon on baptism to the Nephites. Not until arriving at the Whitmer residence in Fayette did Joseph translate the small plates of Nephi, which contain 1 Nephi through the Words of Mormon. We draw this conclusion from the fact that in the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon, John Whitmer’s work as a scribe in Fayette, New York, only dealt with material from the small plates.
The Miracle of Translation
In the spring of 1829, Oliver Cowdery came to be Joseph’s scribe, and in June they moved to the Whitmer farm in Fayette, New York to finish the translation.
There in the peaceful environment of the Whitmer farm in Fayette, New York, Joseph and Oliver completed the translation of the Book of Mormon. The dates of their beginning in Harmony, Pennsylvania, and of their finishing in Fayette, New York are a matter of public record. All told, they accomplished their work of translating about 500 printed pages in about 65 working days. That amounts to about 10 pages per working day.
Oliver Cowdery said: “These were days never to be forgotten—to sit under the sound of a voice dictated by the inspiration of heaven, awakened the utmost gratitude of this bosom! Day after day I continued, uninterrupted, to write from his mouth, as he translated with the Urim and Thummin, or as the Nephites would have said, ‘Interpreters,’ the history or record called ‘The Book of Mormon.’”11
Oliver also said: “I wrote with my own pen, the entire Book of Mormon (save a few pages) as it fell from the lips of the Prophet Joseph Smith, as he translated it by the gift and power of God, by means of the Urim and Thummim, or, as it is called by the book, “holy interpreters”. . . . The book is true. Sidney Rigdon did not write it; Mr. Spaulding did not write it; I wrote it myself as it fell from the lips of the Prophet.”12
Instructions to Joseph Smith, Sr. (D&C 4)
Joseph Smith Sr. was the first person to believe the story of the Prophet. He encouraged his son to continue faithful to the teachings of the angel. He was filled with the testimony of the truth, and was always anxious to share it with others. He was almost 60 when he made the tedious journey to carry the gospel to his father, mother & family.
In February 1829, he came to his son and asked to know by revelation the will of the Lord. This section of the Doctrine and Covenants is the result of that humble inquiry.
Soon after this revelation was given, he became one of the eight witnesses to the Book of Mormon. He became the first Patriarch to the Church on December 18, 1833. He became an assistant counselor in the First Presidency in 1837. He died in Nauvoo in 1840.
Joseph Fielding Smith said: “This revelation is very short, only seven verses, but it contains sufficient counsel and instruction for a life-time study. No one has yet mastered it. . . . It is a revelation to each member of the Church, especially to all who hold the Priesthood. Perhaps there is no other revelation in all our scriptures that embodies greater instruction pertaining to the manner of qualification of members of the Church for the service of God, and in such condensed form than this revelation. It is as broad, as high and as deep as eternity. No elder of the Church is qualified to teach in the Church, or carry the message of Salvation to the world, until he has absorbed, in part at least, this heaven-sent instruction.”13
● D&C 4:1–3 An invitation to participate in the latter-day work.
— v. 1 The “marvelous work” was the restoration of the gospel for the last time.
— v. 2 The Lord requires those who serve in His kingdom to serve with all our heart, might, mind, and strength—total dedication to the Lord’s service.
Heart — Our deepest feelings of the soul
Might — Our entire physical effort
Mind — Our thoughts
Strength — All of our physical and spiritual power
● D&C 4:4 He that “harvests” with his might brings salvation to himself.
— D&C 6:3 He is to continue to reap until the end—the Second Coming
— D&C 11:3 He will receive everlasting salvation in the kingdom of God
— D&C 75:5 He will be crowned with honor, glory, immortality, and eternal life
● D&C 4:5–7 Qualifications needed to do the work of the Lord.
“This Generation Shall Have My Word Through You” (D&C 5)
The following March (1829), Joseph Smith received a revelation from the Lord concerning the 116 lost manuscript pages of the Book of Mormon.
The Lord reminds Joseph that the “works a purposes of God cannot be frustrated, neither can they come to naught” (v. 1). He warns Joseph that if he “sets at naught the counsels of God” and “follows the dictates of his own will” he will “fall and incur he vengeance of a just God upon him” (v. 4). “Behold, thou are Joseph, and thou wast chosen to do the work of the Lord, but because of transgression, if thou art not aware thou wilt fall” (v. 9). Nevertheless, if he will repent, “thou art still chosen, and art again called to the work” (v. 10). But if not, “thou shalt be delivered up and become as other men, and have no more gift” (v. 11).
The Purpose of the Book of Mormon
The purpose of the Book of Mormon is “that the promises of the Lord might be fulfilled, which he made to his people; and that the Lamanites might come to the knowledge of their fathers, and that they might know the promises of the Lord, and . . . believe the gospel and rely upon the merits of Jesus Christ, and be glorified through faith in his name” (vv. 19–20). The Lord had promised Nephi, Jacob, Mormon, and Moroni that he would not forget their posterity in the last days. And now the Lord is fulfilling that promise through the coming forth of the Book of Mormon.
1. Joseph Smith III, “Last Testimony of Sister Emma,” Saints’ Advocate, 2 [Oct. 1879], 51.
2. Lucy Mack Smith, History of Joseph Smith, 129.
3. History of Joseph Smith, 134.
4. Ensign, Nov. 1987, 31
5. Living with Enthusiasm, , 124.
6. In Conference Report, Oct. 1945, 166.
7. In Conference Report, Oct. 1966, 123.
8. “Eternal Keys and the Right to Preside,” Ensign, July 1972, 88.
9. Letter to N.E. Seaton, Esq., Kirtland, January 4th, 1833, in James R. Clark, comp., Messages of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6 vols. [1965–75], 1:312-316.
10. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith , 256.
11. Messenger and Advocate, 1 (October 1834), 14–16.
12. Quoted in Joseph Fielding Smith, The Restoration of All Things, , 114.
13. Church History and Modern Revelation, 1:33.