Verse by Verse Commentary: 1 Nephi 1:3

And I know that the record which I make is true; and I make it with mine own hand; and I make it according to my knowledge.

What a powerful way to begin a record! Three verses in, Nephi is sharing his testimony of the truthfulness of the record. Testimony of this type is an interesting thing. It’s not a display of physical proofs or an argument of the pros and cons. It’s not a thesis, or a rousing “spirit week” call to excite the emotions. It’s not a defense, or even a detailed account of the intricacies of the finite specifics of an instance. It is, simply, a declaration of truth. 1)

Joseph Fielding Smith: “The Spirit of God speaking to the spirit of man has power to impart truth with greater effect and understanding than the truth can be imparted by personal contact even with heavenly beings. Through the Holy Ghost the truth is woven into the very fibre and sinews of the body so that it cannot be forgotten. 5″ Chapter 14: The Gift of the Holy Ghost–Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith, (2013), 181–90
Nephi could have began with any number of approaches to provide reassurance of the truthfulness of his record, but he knew the most powerful thing he could share would be his simple, honest testimony.

Much has been said by modern prophets about the spiritual definition of a testimony. Among other things, prophets have declared that the power of the Spirit can convey a message more powerfully to the heart than even a visitation from heavenly messengers. 2)

“The Spirit of God speaking to the spirit of man has power to impart truth with greater effect and understanding than the truth can be imparted by personal contact even with heavenly beings. Through the Holy Ghost the truth is woven into the very fibre and sinews of the body so that it cannot be forgotten.”Chapter 14: The Gift of the Holy Ghost–Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith, (2013), 181–90

Receiving and baring testimony can be a strong emotional experience, but testimony itself is not emotion. 3)

Richard G. Scott: “A testimony is fortified by spiritual impressions that confirm the validity of a teaching, of a righteous act. Often such guidance is accompanied by powerful emotions that bring tears to the eyes and make it difficult to speak. But a testimony is not emotion. It is the very essence of character woven from threads born of countless correct decisions. These choices are made with trusting faith in things that are believed and, at least initially, are not seen. A strong testimony gives peace, comfort, and assurance. It generates the conviction that as the teachings of the Savior are consistently obeyed, life will be beautiful, the future will be secure, and there will be capacity to overcome the challenges that cross our path. A testimony grows from understanding truth distilled from prayer and the pondering of scriptural doctrine. It is nurtured by living those truths with faith anchored in the secure confidence that the promised results will be obtained.” Richard G. Scott, October 2010 General Conference

Elder Dallin H. Oaks said, “A testimony of the gospel is a personal witness borne to our souls by the Holy Ghost that certain facts of eternal significance are true and that we know them to be true.” 4)

Testimony: by Dallin H. Oaks

A testimony of the gospel is a personal witness borne to our souls by the Holy Ghost that certain facts of eternal significance are true and that we know them to be true. Such facts include the nature of the Godhead and our relationship to its three members, the effectiveness of the Atonement, and the reality of the Restoration.

A testimony of the gospel is not a travelogue, a health log, or an expression of love for family members. It is not a sermon. President Kimball taught that the moment we begin preaching to others, our testimony is ended. 1

I.
Various questions arise as we hear others bear testimony or as we consider bearing testimony ourselves.

1. In a testimony meeting a member says, “I know that the Father and the Son appeared to the Prophet Joseph Smith.” A visitor wonders, “What does he mean when he says he knows that?”

2. A young man preparing for a mission wonders whether his testimony is strong enough that he can serve as a missionary.

3. A young person hears the testimony of a parent or teacher. How does such a testimony help a person who hears it?

II.
What do we mean when we testify and say that we know the gospel is true? Contrast that kind of knowledge with “I know it is cold outside” or “I know I love my wife.” These are three different kinds of knowledge, each learned in a different way. Knowledge of outside temperature can be verified by scientific proof. Knowledge that we love our spouse is personal and subjective. While not capable of scientific proof, it is still important. The idea that all important knowledge is based on scientific evidence is simply untrue.

While there are some “evidences” for gospel truths (for example, see Psalm 19:1; Helaman 8:24), scientific methods will not yield spiritual knowledge. This is what Jesus taught in response to Simon Peter’s testimony that He was the Christ: “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 16:17). The Apostle Paul explained this. In a letter to the Corinthian Saints, he said, “The things of God knoweth no man, but [by] the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 2:11; see also John 14:17).

In contrast, we know the things of man by the ways of man, but “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14).

The Book of Mormon teaches that God will manifest the truth of spiritual things unto us by the power of the Holy Ghost (see Moroni 10:4–5). In modern revelation God promises us that we will receive “knowledge” by His telling us in our mind and in our heart “by the Holy Ghost” (D&C 8:1–2).

One of the greatest things about our Heavenly Father’s plan for His children is that each of us can know the truth of that plan for ourselves. That revealed knowledge does not come from books, from scientific proof, or from intellectual pondering. As with the Apostle Peter, we can receive that knowledge directly from our Heavenly Father through the witness of the Holy Ghost.

When we know spiritual truths by spiritual means, we can be just as sure of that knowledge as scholars and scientists are of the different kinds of knowledge they have acquired by different methods.

The Prophet Joseph Smith provided a wonderful example of this. When he was persecuted for telling people about his vision, he likened his circumstance to the Apostle Paul, who was ridiculed and reviled as he made his defense before King Agrippa (see Acts 26). “But all this did not destroy the reality of his vision,” Joseph said. “He had seen a vision, he knew he had, and all the persecution under heaven could not make it otherwise. … So it was with me,” Joseph continued. “I had actually seen a light, and in the midst of that light I saw two Personages, and they did in reality speak to me. … I had seen a vision; I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it, neither dared I” (Joseph Smith—History 1:24–25).

III.
That was Joseph Smith’s testimony. What about ours? How can we come to know and testify that what he said was true? How does one gain what we call a testimony?

The first step in gaining any kind of knowledge is to really desire to know. In the case of spiritual knowledge, the next step is to ask God in sincere prayer. As we read in modern revelation, “If thou shalt ask, thou shalt receive revelation upon revelation, knowledge upon knowledge, that thou mayest know the mysteries and peaceable things—that which bringeth joy, that which bringeth life eternal” (D&C 42:61).

Here is what Alma wrote about what he did: “Behold, I have fasted and prayed many days that I might know these things of myself. And now I do know of myself that they are true; for the Lord God hath made them manifest unto me by his Holy Spirit” (Alma 5:46).

As we desire and seek, we should remember that acquiring a testimony is not a passive thing but a process in which we are expected to do something. Jesus taught, “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself” (John 7:17).

Another way to seek a testimony seems astonishing when compared with the methods of obtaining other knowledge. We gain or strengthen a testimony by bearing it. Someone even suggested that some testimonies are better gained on the feet bearing them than on the knees praying for them.

A personal testimony is fundamental to our faith. Consequently, the things we must do to acquire, strengthen, and retain a testimony are vital to our spiritual life. In addition to those already stated, we need to partake of the sacrament each week (see D&C 59:9) to qualify for the precious promise that we will “always have his Spirit to be with [us]” (D&C 20:77). Of course, that Spirit is the source of our testimonies.

IV.
Those who have a testimony of the restored gospel also have a duty to share it. The Book of Mormon teaches that we should “stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that [we] may be in” (Mosiah 18:9).

One of the most impressive teachings on the relationship between the gift of a testimony and the duty to bear it is in the 46th section of the Doctrine and Covenants. In describing different kinds of spiritual gifts, this revelation states:

“To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world.

“To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful” (vv. 13–14; see also John 20:29).

Those who have the gift to know have an obvious duty to bear their witness so that those who have the gift to believe on their words might also have eternal life.

There has never been a greater need for us to profess our faith, privately and publicly (see D&C 60:2). Though some profess atheism, there are many who are open to additional truths about God. To these sincere seekers, we need to affirm the existence of God the Eternal Father, the divine mission of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and the reality of the Restoration. We must be valiant in our testimony of Jesus. Each of us has many opportunities to proclaim our spiritual convictions to friends and neighbors, to fellow workers, and to casual acquaintances. We should use these opportunities to express our love for our Savior, our witness of His divine mission, and our determination to serve Him. 2 Our children should also hear us bear our testimonies frequently. We should also strengthen our children by encouraging them to define themselves by their growing testimonies, not just by their recognitions in scholarship, sports, or other school activities.

V.
We live in a time when some misrepresent the beliefs of those they call Mormons and even revile us because of them. When we encounter such misrepresentations, we have a duty to speak out to clarify our doctrine and what we believe. We should be the ones to state our beliefs rather than allowing others the final word in misrepresenting them. This calls for testimony, which can be expressed privately to an acquaintance or publicly in a small or large meeting. As we testify of the truth we know, we should faithfully follow the caution to speak “in mildness and in meekness” (D&C 38:41). We should never be overbearing, shrill, or reviling. As the Apostle Paul taught, we should speak the truth in love (see Ephesians 4:15). Anyone can disagree with our personal testimony, but no one can refute it.

VI.
In closing, I refer to the relationship between obedience and knowledge. Members who have a testimony and who act upon it under the direction of their Church leaders are sometimes accused of blind obedience.

Of course, we have leaders, and of course, we are subject to their decisions and directions in the operation of the Church and in the performance of needed priesthood ordinances. But when it comes to learning and knowing the truth of the gospel—our personal testimonies—we each have a direct relationship with God, our Eternal Father, and His Son, Jesus Christ, through the powerful witness of the Holy Ghost. This is what our critics fail to understand. It puzzles them that we can be united in following our leaders and yet independent in knowing for ourselves.

Perhaps the puzzle some feel can be explained by the reality that each of us has two different channels to God. We have a channel of governance through our prophet and other leaders. This channel, which has to do with doctrine, ordinances, and commandments, results in obedience. We also have a channel of personal testimony, which is direct to God. This has to do with His existence, our relationship to Him, and the truth of His restored gospel. This channel results in knowledge. These two channels are mutually reinforcing: knowledge encourages obedience (see Deuteronomy 5:27; Moses 5:11), and obedience enhances knowledge (see John 7:17; D&C 93:1).

We all act upon or give obedience to knowledge. Whether in science or religion, our obedience is not blind when we act upon knowledge suited to the subject of our action. A scientist receives and acts upon a trusted certification of the content or conditions of a particular experiment. In matters of religion, a believer’s source of knowledge is spiritual, but the principle is the same. In the case of Latter-day Saints, when the Holy Ghost gives our souls a witness of the truth of the restored gospel and the calling of a modern prophet, our choice to follow those teachings is not blind obedience.

In all of our testifying we must avoid arrogance and pride. We should remember the Book of Mormon rebuke to a people who had such pride in the greater things God had given them that they afflicted their neighbors (see Jacob 2:20). Jacob said this was “abominable unto him who created all flesh” because “the one being is as precious in his sight as the other” (Jacob 2:21). Later, Alma cautioned that “ye shall not esteem one flesh above another, or one man shall not think himself above another” (Mosiah 23:7).

I close with my testimony. I know that we have a Heavenly Father, whose plan brings us to earth and provides the conditions and destiny of our eternal journey. I know that we have a Savior, Jesus Christ, whose teachings define the plan and whose Atonement gives the assurance of immortality and the opportunity for eternal life. I know that the Father and the Son appeared to the Prophet Joseph Smith to restore the fulness of the gospel in these latter days. And I know that we are led today by a prophet, President Thomas S. Monson, who holds the keys to authorize priesthood holders to perform the ordinances prescribed for our progress toward eternal life. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Dallin H. Oaks, Testimony, General Conference, April 2008

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References

1.
  Joseph Fielding Smith: “The Spirit of God speaking to the spirit of man has power to impart truth with greater effect and understanding than the truth can be imparted by personal contact even with heavenly beings. Through the Holy Ghost the truth is woven into the very fibre and sinews of the body so that it cannot be forgotten. 5″ Chapter 14: The Gift of the Holy Ghost–Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith, (2013), 181–90
2.
  “The Spirit of God speaking to the spirit of man has power to impart truth with greater effect and understanding than the truth can be imparted by personal contact even with heavenly beings. Through the Holy Ghost the truth is woven into the very fibre and sinews of the body so that it cannot be forgotten.”Chapter 14: The Gift of the Holy Ghost–Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith, (2013), 181–90
3.
  Richard G. Scott: “A testimony is fortified by spiritual impressions that confirm the validity of a teaching, of a righteous act. Often such guidance is accompanied by powerful emotions that bring tears to the eyes and make it difficult to speak. But a testimony is not emotion. It is the very essence of character woven from threads born of countless correct decisions. These choices are made with trusting faith in things that are believed and, at least initially, are not seen. A strong testimony gives peace, comfort, and assurance. It generates the conviction that as the teachings of the Savior are consistently obeyed, life will be beautiful, the future will be secure, and there will be capacity to overcome the challenges that cross our path. A testimony grows from understanding truth distilled from prayer and the pondering of scriptural doctrine. It is nurtured by living those truths with faith anchored in the secure confidence that the promised results will be obtained.” Richard G. Scott, October 2010 General Conference
4.
  Testimony: by Dallin H. Oaks

A testimony of the gospel is a personal witness borne to our souls by the Holy Ghost that certain facts of eternal significance are true and that we know them to be true. Such facts include the nature of the Godhead and our relationship to its three members, the effectiveness of the Atonement, and the reality of the Restoration.

A testimony of the gospel is not a travelogue, a health log, or an expression of love for family members. It is not a sermon. President Kimball taught that the moment we begin preaching to others, our testimony is ended. 1

I.
Various questions arise as we hear others bear testimony or as we consider bearing testimony ourselves.

1. In a testimony meeting a member says, “I know that the Father and the Son appeared to the Prophet Joseph Smith.” A visitor wonders, “What does he mean when he says he knows that?”

2. A young man preparing for a mission wonders whether his testimony is strong enough that he can serve as a missionary.

3. A young person hears the testimony of a parent or teacher. How does such a testimony help a person who hears it?

II.
What do we mean when we testify and say that we know the gospel is true? Contrast that kind of knowledge with “I know it is cold outside” or “I know I love my wife.” These are three different kinds of knowledge, each learned in a different way. Knowledge of outside temperature can be verified by scientific proof. Knowledge that we love our spouse is personal and subjective. While not capable of scientific proof, it is still important. The idea that all important knowledge is based on scientific evidence is simply untrue.

While there are some “evidences” for gospel truths (for example, see Psalm 19:1; Helaman 8:24), scientific methods will not yield spiritual knowledge. This is what Jesus taught in response to Simon Peter’s testimony that He was the Christ: “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 16:17). The Apostle Paul explained this. In a letter to the Corinthian Saints, he said, “The things of God knoweth no man, but [by] the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 2:11; see also John 14:17).

In contrast, we know the things of man by the ways of man, but “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14).

The Book of Mormon teaches that God will manifest the truth of spiritual things unto us by the power of the Holy Ghost (see Moroni 10:4–5). In modern revelation God promises us that we will receive “knowledge” by His telling us in our mind and in our heart “by the Holy Ghost” (D&C 8:1–2).

One of the greatest things about our Heavenly Father’s plan for His children is that each of us can know the truth of that plan for ourselves. That revealed knowledge does not come from books, from scientific proof, or from intellectual pondering. As with the Apostle Peter, we can receive that knowledge directly from our Heavenly Father through the witness of the Holy Ghost.

When we know spiritual truths by spiritual means, we can be just as sure of that knowledge as scholars and scientists are of the different kinds of knowledge they have acquired by different methods.

The Prophet Joseph Smith provided a wonderful example of this. When he was persecuted for telling people about his vision, he likened his circumstance to the Apostle Paul, who was ridiculed and reviled as he made his defense before King Agrippa (see Acts 26). “But all this did not destroy the reality of his vision,” Joseph said. “He had seen a vision, he knew he had, and all the persecution under heaven could not make it otherwise. … So it was with me,” Joseph continued. “I had actually seen a light, and in the midst of that light I saw two Personages, and they did in reality speak to me. … I had seen a vision; I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it, neither dared I” (Joseph Smith—History 1:24–25).

III.
That was Joseph Smith’s testimony. What about ours? How can we come to know and testify that what he said was true? How does one gain what we call a testimony?

The first step in gaining any kind of knowledge is to really desire to know. In the case of spiritual knowledge, the next step is to ask God in sincere prayer. As we read in modern revelation, “If thou shalt ask, thou shalt receive revelation upon revelation, knowledge upon knowledge, that thou mayest know the mysteries and peaceable things—that which bringeth joy, that which bringeth life eternal” (D&C 42:61).

Here is what Alma wrote about what he did: “Behold, I have fasted and prayed many days that I might know these things of myself. And now I do know of myself that they are true; for the Lord God hath made them manifest unto me by his Holy Spirit” (Alma 5:46).

As we desire and seek, we should remember that acquiring a testimony is not a passive thing but a process in which we are expected to do something. Jesus taught, “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself” (John 7:17).

Another way to seek a testimony seems astonishing when compared with the methods of obtaining other knowledge. We gain or strengthen a testimony by bearing it. Someone even suggested that some testimonies are better gained on the feet bearing them than on the knees praying for them.

A personal testimony is fundamental to our faith. Consequently, the things we must do to acquire, strengthen, and retain a testimony are vital to our spiritual life. In addition to those already stated, we need to partake of the sacrament each week (see D&C 59:9) to qualify for the precious promise that we will “always have his Spirit to be with [us]” (D&C 20:77). Of course, that Spirit is the source of our testimonies.

IV.
Those who have a testimony of the restored gospel also have a duty to share it. The Book of Mormon teaches that we should “stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that [we] may be in” (Mosiah 18:9).

One of the most impressive teachings on the relationship between the gift of a testimony and the duty to bear it is in the 46th section of the Doctrine and Covenants. In describing different kinds of spiritual gifts, this revelation states:

“To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world.

“To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful” (vv. 13–14; see also John 20:29).

Those who have the gift to know have an obvious duty to bear their witness so that those who have the gift to believe on their words might also have eternal life.

There has never been a greater need for us to profess our faith, privately and publicly (see D&C 60:2). Though some profess atheism, there are many who are open to additional truths about God. To these sincere seekers, we need to affirm the existence of God the Eternal Father, the divine mission of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and the reality of the Restoration. We must be valiant in our testimony of Jesus. Each of us has many opportunities to proclaim our spiritual convictions to friends and neighbors, to fellow workers, and to casual acquaintances. We should use these opportunities to express our love for our Savior, our witness of His divine mission, and our determination to serve Him. 2 Our children should also hear us bear our testimonies frequently. We should also strengthen our children by encouraging them to define themselves by their growing testimonies, not just by their recognitions in scholarship, sports, or other school activities.

V.
We live in a time when some misrepresent the beliefs of those they call Mormons and even revile us because of them. When we encounter such misrepresentations, we have a duty to speak out to clarify our doctrine and what we believe. We should be the ones to state our beliefs rather than allowing others the final word in misrepresenting them. This calls for testimony, which can be expressed privately to an acquaintance or publicly in a small or large meeting. As we testify of the truth we know, we should faithfully follow the caution to speak “in mildness and in meekness” (D&C 38:41). We should never be overbearing, shrill, or reviling. As the Apostle Paul taught, we should speak the truth in love (see Ephesians 4:15). Anyone can disagree with our personal testimony, but no one can refute it.

VI.
In closing, I refer to the relationship between obedience and knowledge. Members who have a testimony and who act upon it under the direction of their Church leaders are sometimes accused of blind obedience.

Of course, we have leaders, and of course, we are subject to their decisions and directions in the operation of the Church and in the performance of needed priesthood ordinances. But when it comes to learning and knowing the truth of the gospel—our personal testimonies—we each have a direct relationship with God, our Eternal Father, and His Son, Jesus Christ, through the powerful witness of the Holy Ghost. This is what our critics fail to understand. It puzzles them that we can be united in following our leaders and yet independent in knowing for ourselves.

Perhaps the puzzle some feel can be explained by the reality that each of us has two different channels to God. We have a channel of governance through our prophet and other leaders. This channel, which has to do with doctrine, ordinances, and commandments, results in obedience. We also have a channel of personal testimony, which is direct to God. This has to do with His existence, our relationship to Him, and the truth of His restored gospel. This channel results in knowledge. These two channels are mutually reinforcing: knowledge encourages obedience (see Deuteronomy 5:27; Moses 5:11), and obedience enhances knowledge (see John 7:17; D&C 93:1).

We all act upon or give obedience to knowledge. Whether in science or religion, our obedience is not blind when we act upon knowledge suited to the subject of our action. A scientist receives and acts upon a trusted certification of the content or conditions of a particular experiment. In matters of religion, a believer’s source of knowledge is spiritual, but the principle is the same. In the case of Latter-day Saints, when the Holy Ghost gives our souls a witness of the truth of the restored gospel and the calling of a modern prophet, our choice to follow those teachings is not blind obedience.

In all of our testifying we must avoid arrogance and pride. We should remember the Book of Mormon rebuke to a people who had such pride in the greater things God had given them that they afflicted their neighbors (see Jacob 2:20). Jacob said this was “abominable unto him who created all flesh” because “the one being is as precious in his sight as the other” (Jacob 2:21). Later, Alma cautioned that “ye shall not esteem one flesh above another, or one man shall not think himself above another” (Mosiah 23:7).

I close with my testimony. I know that we have a Heavenly Father, whose plan brings us to earth and provides the conditions and destiny of our eternal journey. I know that we have a Savior, Jesus Christ, whose teachings define the plan and whose Atonement gives the assurance of immortality and the opportunity for eternal life. I know that the Father and the Son appeared to the Prophet Joseph Smith to restore the fulness of the gospel in these latter days. And I know that we are led today by a prophet, President Thomas S. Monson, who holds the keys to authorize priesthood holders to perform the ordinances prescribed for our progress toward eternal life. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Dallin H. Oaks, Testimony, General Conference, April 2008

Verse by Verse Commentary: 1 Nephi 1:2

Yea, I make a record in the language of my father, which consists of the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians.

I make a record

Nephi kept two records. The Book of Lehi, also known as the large plates of Nephi, were a record of the history of the people. They spelled out more detail about Lehi’s lineage, the specifics of their journey, and the succession of leadership. 1)

1 Nephi 6 1 And now I, Nephi, do not give the genealogy of my fathers in this part of my record; neither at any time shall I give it after upon these plates which I am writing; for it is given in the record which has been kept by my father; wherefore, I do not write it in this work. 2 For it sufficeth me to say that we are descendants of Joseph. 3 And it mattereth not to me that I am particular to give a full account of all the things of my father, for they cannot be written upon these plates, for I desire the room that I may write of the things of God. 4 For the fulness of mine intent is that I may persuade men to come unto the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, and be saved. 5 Wherefore, the things which are pleasing unto the world I do not write, but the things which are pleasing unto God and unto those who are not of the world. 6 Wherefore, I shall give commandment unto my seed, that they shall not occupy these plates with things which are not of worth unto the children of men.
Nephi created the second record after the Spirit prompted him to do so. 2)
1 Nephi 9 1 And all these things did my father see, and hear, and speak, as he dwelt in a tent, in the valley of Lemuel, and also a great many more things, which cannot be written upon these plates. 2 And now, as I have spoken concerning these plates, behold they are not the plates upon which I make a full account of the history of my people; for the plates upon which I make a full account of my people I have given the name of Nephi; wherefore, they are called the plates of Nephi, after mine own name; and these plates also are called the plates of Nephi. 3 Nevertheless, I have received a commandment of the Lord that I should make these plates, for the special purpose that there should be an account engraven of the ministry of my people. 4 Upon the other plates should be engraven an account of the reign of the kings, and the wars and contentions of my people; wherefore these plates are for the more part of the ministry; and the other plates are for the more part of the reign of the kings and the wars and contentions of my people. 5 Wherefore, the Lord hath commanded me to make these plates for a wise purpose in him, which purpose I know not. 6 But the Lord knoweth all things from the beginning; wherefore, he prepareth a way to accomplish all his works among the children of men; for behold, he hath all power unto the fulfilling of all his words. And thus it is. Amen.
This record included the books of 1 Nephi through Omni that we have today, called by them, the small plates of Nephi. 3)
1 Nephi 19:1-6 1 And it came to pass that the Lord commanded me, wherefore I did make plates of ore that I might engraven upon them the record of my people. And upon the plates which I made I did engraven the record of my father, and also our journeyings in the wilderness, and the prophecies of my father; and also many of mine own prophecies have I engraven upon them. 2 And I knew not at the time when I made them that I should be commanded of the Lord to make these plates; wherefore, the record of my father, and the genealogy of his fathers, and the more part of all our proceedings in the wilderness are engraven upon those first plates of which I have spoken; wherefore, the things which transpired before I made these plates are, of a truth, more particularly made mention upon the first plates. 3 And after I had made these plates by way of commandment, I, Nephi, received a commandment that the ministry and the prophecies, the more plain and precious parts of them, should be written upon these plates; and that the things which were written should be kept for the instruction of my people, who should possess the land, and also for other wise purposes, which purposes are known unto the Lord. 4 Wherefore, I, Nephi, did make a record upon the other plates, which gives an account, or which gives a greater account of the wars and contentions and destructions of my people. And this have I done, and commanded my people what they should do after I was gone; and that these plates should be handed down from one generation to another, or from one prophet to another, until further commandments of the Lord. 5 And an account of my making these plates shall be given hereafter; and then, behold, I proceed according to that which I have spoken; and this I do that the more sacred things may be kept for the knowledge of my people. 6 Nevertheless, I do not write anything upon plates save it be that I think it be sacred. And now, if I do err, even did they err of old; not that I would excuse myself because of other men, but because of the weakness which is in me, according to the flesh, I would excuse myself.
The small plates, the record we now have, was never intended as a detailed history. It was primarily for the purpose of recording spiritual things–the ministry of the people, and their dealings with God. At first it was passed on from prophet to prophet (as opposed to the large plates, which were passed down from king to king), but later it was passed from father to child, until finally one of Jacob’s descendants had no children and realized the record would do better in the hands of Nephite leaders, especially since the plates were full. Then, handed down through the Nephite record keepers, they were there among the many records Mormon sorted through to make his abridgment. After Mormon abridged the book of Lehi, he felt prompted to include the small plates in his abridgment 4)
THE WORDS OF MORMON CHAPTER 1 1 AND now I, Mormon, being about to deliver up the record which I have been making into the hands of my son Moroni, behold I have witnessed almost all the destruction of my people, the Nephites. 2 And it is many hundred years after the coming of Christ that I deliver these records into the hands of my son; and it supposeth me that he will witness the entire destruction of my people. But may God grant that he may survive them, that he may write somewhat concerning them, and somewhat concerning Christ, that perhaps some day it may profit them. 3 And now, I speak somewhat concerning that which I have written; for after I had made an abridgment from the plates of Nephi, down to the reign of this king Benjamin, of whom Amaleki spake, I searched among the records which had been delivered into my hands, and I found these plates, which contained this small account of the prophets, from Jacob down to the reign of this king Benjamin, and also many of the words of Nephi. 4 And the things which are upon these plates pleasing me, because of the prophecies of the coming of Christ; and my fathers knowing that many of them have been fulfilled; yea, and I also know that as many things as have been prophesied concerning us down to this day have been fulfilled, and as many as go beyond this day must surely come to pass— 5 Wherefore, I chose these things, to finish my record upon them, which remainder of my record I shall take from the plates of Nephi; and I cannot write the hundredth part of the things of my people. 6 But behold, I shall take these plates, which contain these prophesyings and revelations, and put them with the remainder of my record, for they are choice unto me; and I know they will be choice unto my brethren. 7 And I do this for a wise purpose; for thus it whispereth me, according to the workings of the Spirit of the Lord which is in me. And now, I do not know all things; but the Lord knoweth all things which are to come; wherefore, he worketh in me to do according to his will.
But instead of copying them onto his record, he bound the plates right into the record.

In the language of my father

Lehi’s spoken language was Hebrew, but he also knew Egyptian, and apparently wrote in that language. 5)

Orson Pratt: But we will pass along and come to the second colony, that the Lord brought out of Jerusalem, six hundred years before Christ. Did they bring any records with them? Had they the art of writing? Yes. When they lived among the Jews the art of writing was extensively known among the Jews. It was their art to write in the Egyptian language, as Nephi testifies on the first page of the Book of Mormon. “Therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days; yea, I make a record in the language of my father, which consists of the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians.” A language which their forefathers learned, while they dwelt in Egypt, and which they were familiar with, but probably lost it in some measure, but still retained a portion of it, and wrote their records in the same. Now if you will appeal to Biblical history you will find that the Israelites did write their records, in ancient times, upon metallic plates, and that these plates were connected together, with rings, passing through the leaves. Through the whole a stick was placed for carrying the record. This description we have given by those who have deeply studied concerning the Scriptures and the ancient doings of the Israelites. -Discourse by Elder Orson Pratt, delivered in the Tabernacle, Ogden, Sunday Morning, May 18, 1873, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 16, pg. 53-54
But calling this, “the language of my father,” may have been even more appropriate than we think. (Mind you, this is speculation, so take this with a grain of salt) Lehi may have come up with his own original written compact version of Hebrew and Egyptian based on elements of both languages. More on that in a moment.

Learning of the Jews

A good Hebrew education was important to Lehi and Nephi, 6)

G. Homer Durham: The learning of the Jews included effort to engrave on the minds and hearts of children Moses’ prophetic instructions from the book of Deuteronomy: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way.” (Deut. 6:5–7.) – G. Homer Durham, The Home as an Educational Institution, General Conference, April 1979
 and likely Nephi assumed that later generations would know at least the basics of what that involved. He’s giving us the context from which his record is being written. Understanding the “learning of the Jews” will help a lot in understanding the writings of Nephi, especially as he later shares the words of Isaiah and his prophecies of Jesus Christ 7)
Quentin L. Cook: The Book of Mormon is of seminal importance. There will, of course, always be those who underestimate the significance of or even disparage this sacred book. Some have used humor. Before I served a mission, a university professor quoted Mark Twain’s statement that if you took “And it came to pass” out of the Book of Mormon, it “would have been only a pamphlet.” A few months later, while I was serving a mission in London, England, a distinguished Oxford-educated teacher at London University, an Egyptian expert in Semitic languages, read the Book of Mormon, corresponded with President David O. McKay, and met with missionaries. He informed them he was convinced the Book of Mormon was indeed a translation of “the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians” for the periods described in the Book of Mormon. One example among many he used was the conjunctive phrase “And it came to pass,” which he said mirrored how he would translate phraseology used in ancient Semitic writings. The professor was informed that while his intellectual approach based on his profession had helped him, it was still essential to have a spiritual testimony. Through study and prayer he gained a spiritual witness and was baptized. So what one famous humorist saw as an object of ridicule, a scholar recognized as profound evidence of the truth of the Book of Mormon, which was confirmed to him by the Spirit. Quentin L. Cook, In Tune with the Music of Faith, General Conference, April 2012

Language of the Egyptians

It appears that Nephi had the advantage of a Hebrew and Egyptian education. 8)

Elder Levi Edgar Young: Just to read the first chapter of the Book of Mormon gives us a lesson in the meaning of education. To think that Nephi was educated in both the learning of the Egyptians and the Jews! Today few people realize what that learning was. Some scholars maintain that the learning of the Egyptians in ancient times has never been equaled. -Levi Edgar Young, Conference Report, April 1956, pp. 32-34
The Egyptians had a number of different kinds of characters, 9)
According to Smith and Sjodahl: Lehi had mastered the difficult Egyptian language, in addition to the learning of the Jews. This is noted as one of his great accomplishments. Of Moses, too, it was said that he was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians (Acts 7:22), which, of course, included the language of and their writing. The Egyptians had no less than three different kinds of characters. The oldest was the hieroglyphs. They had about a thousand of these, and some of these were pictures of the celestial bodies, human figures, limbs, animals, such as quadrupeds, birds, fishes, insects, reptiles, houses, furniture, tools, etc., all symbolic of some object, some quality or some action. The Hieratic characters were less elaborate, but still too numerous for practical purposes. The Demotic characters were the simplest. Clement of Alexandria is quoted as having said: “Those who are educated among the Egyptians learn first that mode of writing which is called epistolographic (demotic or common); secondly Hieratic, which the sacred scribers use, and lastly, the Hieroglyphic.” Those who had mastered the difficulties of the language of Egypt, spoken and written, could study the entire civilization of the country. And, be it remembered, the Egyptians excelled in architecture, in sculpture, painting, navigation, metallurgy. They knew how to work in gold, silver, copper, iron and lead. They had musical instruments and were skilled in the art of weaving and dyeing. They had a law code for which they claimed divine origin. They were great agriculturists and prosperous merchants. As for religion, they believed in One God—the only living Substance, “the only existence in heaven and on earth that is not begotten.” They further, believed in two divine Beings, whose unity was expressed in the name, “UAEN-UA,” which is said to mean, “One of One.” But they had, further, so great a number of gods that someone said it was easier to find a god in Egypt than a man. The principal gods were eight in number. Amun was the chief of these, and Maut or Mut was the mother of all. They had a priesthood and a number of consecrated women who assisted in the temple service. The presiding high priest was called Sam. They also had a system of “mysteries” into which only a few were initiated. They had altars and sacrifices, and above all, an elaborate ritual for the dead. One of their resurrection of the body and the appearance of man before the judgment seat of the gods, as understood in Egypt, are set forth. -Smith and Sjodahl, Commentary on the Book of Mormon, vol. 1, pg. 6-7
but as far as we know, Reformed Egyptian was not an official language. Mormon informs us that the Nephites used the term for a form of Egyptian that was altered by them for the purpose of keeping a record of the people. Some call reformed Egyptian an Egyptian shorthand (not fast-writing shorthand, but compact-writing shorthand). The way I picture it, it’s like writing English words using Hebrew characters in order to save space, and then heavily simplifying the Hebrew characters to save even more space. It was likely a skill Lehi learned and used in his interactions with Egypt before leaving Jerusalem. 10)
H. Donl Peterson: “We don’t know what Lehi’s occupation was, but since he was conversant in the Egyptian language and he seemed some-what familiar with the ways of the desert, it is logical to assume that he had some occupation or some previous experiences that utilized both skills.” -H. Donl Peterson, “Father Lehi,” in First Nephi, The Doctrinal Foundation, ed. Monte S. Nyman and Charles D. Tate Jr. (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1988), 55-66.
The challenge, of course, was that by the time the full record was complete, it was written in a language no one but the Nephites would understand. So why did they use it? As mentioned, it was to fit the most writing in a tiny space. It was known by the Nephite prophets that the Lord would use His own means for translation. 11)
Morm. 9:32–34 And now, behold, we have written this record according to our knowledge, in the characters which are called among us the reformed Egyptian, being handed down and altered by us, according to our manner of speech. And if our plates had been sufficiently large we should have written in Hebrew; but the Hebrew hath been altered by us also; and if we could have written in Hebrew, behold, ye would have had no imperfection in our record. But the Lord knoweth the things which we have written, and also that none other people knoweth our language; and because that none other people knoweth our language, therefore he hath prepared means for the interpretation thereof.
Basically, it didn’t matter what language the record was written in, because God could translate it. Joseph Smith was a powerful seer, and had no trouble doing so with the help of God. . . . . .

References

1.
  1 Nephi 6 1 And now I, Nephi, do not give the genealogy of my fathers in this part of my record; neither at any time shall I give it after upon these plates which I am writing; for it is given in the record which has been kept by my father; wherefore, I do not write it in this work. 2 For it sufficeth me to say that we are descendants of Joseph. 3 And it mattereth not to me that I am particular to give a full account of all the things of my father, for they cannot be written upon these plates, for I desire the room that I may write of the things of God. 4 For the fulness of mine intent is that I may persuade men to come unto the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, and be saved. 5 Wherefore, the things which are pleasing unto the world I do not write, but the things which are pleasing unto God and unto those who are not of the world. 6 Wherefore, I shall give commandment unto my seed, that they shall not occupy these plates with things which are not of worth unto the children of men.
2.
  1 Nephi 9 1 And all these things did my father see, and hear, and speak, as he dwelt in a tent, in the valley of Lemuel, and also a great many more things, which cannot be written upon these plates. 2 And now, as I have spoken concerning these plates, behold they are not the plates upon which I make a full account of the history of my people; for the plates upon which I make a full account of my people I have given the name of Nephi; wherefore, they are called the plates of Nephi, after mine own name; and these plates also are called the plates of Nephi. 3 Nevertheless, I have received a commandment of the Lord that I should make these plates, for the special purpose that there should be an account engraven of the ministry of my people. 4 Upon the other plates should be engraven an account of the reign of the kings, and the wars and contentions of my people; wherefore these plates are for the more part of the ministry; and the other plates are for the more part of the reign of the kings and the wars and contentions of my people. 5 Wherefore, the Lord hath commanded me to make these plates for a wise purpose in him, which purpose I know not. 6 But the Lord knoweth all things from the beginning; wherefore, he prepareth a way to accomplish all his works among the children of men; for behold, he hath all power unto the fulfilling of all his words. And thus it is. Amen.
3.
  1 Nephi 19:1-6 1 And it came to pass that the Lord commanded me, wherefore I did make plates of ore that I might engraven upon them the record of my people. And upon the plates which I made I did engraven the record of my father, and also our journeyings in the wilderness, and the prophecies of my father; and also many of mine own prophecies have I engraven upon them. 2 And I knew not at the time when I made them that I should be commanded of the Lord to make these plates; wherefore, the record of my father, and the genealogy of his fathers, and the more part of all our proceedings in the wilderness are engraven upon those first plates of which I have spoken; wherefore, the things which transpired before I made these plates are, of a truth, more particularly made mention upon the first plates. 3 And after I had made these plates by way of commandment, I, Nephi, received a commandment that the ministry and the prophecies, the more plain and precious parts of them, should be written upon these plates; and that the things which were written should be kept for the instruction of my people, who should possess the land, and also for other wise purposes, which purposes are known unto the Lord. 4 Wherefore, I, Nephi, did make a record upon the other plates, which gives an account, or which gives a greater account of the wars and contentions and destructions of my people. And this have I done, and commanded my people what they should do after I was gone; and that these plates should be handed down from one generation to another, or from one prophet to another, until further commandments of the Lord. 5 And an account of my making these plates shall be given hereafter; and then, behold, I proceed according to that which I have spoken; and this I do that the more sacred things may be kept for the knowledge of my people. 6 Nevertheless, I do not write anything upon plates save it be that I think it be sacred. And now, if I do err, even did they err of old; not that I would excuse myself because of other men, but because of the weakness which is in me, according to the flesh, I would excuse myself.
4.
  THE WORDS OF MORMON CHAPTER 1 1 AND now I, Mormon, being about to deliver up the record which I have been making into the hands of my son Moroni, behold I have witnessed almost all the destruction of my people, the Nephites. 2 And it is many hundred years after the coming of Christ that I deliver these records into the hands of my son; and it supposeth me that he will witness the entire destruction of my people. But may God grant that he may survive them, that he may write somewhat concerning them, and somewhat concerning Christ, that perhaps some day it may profit them. 3 And now, I speak somewhat concerning that which I have written; for after I had made an abridgment from the plates of Nephi, down to the reign of this king Benjamin, of whom Amaleki spake, I searched among the records which had been delivered into my hands, and I found these plates, which contained this small account of the prophets, from Jacob down to the reign of this king Benjamin, and also many of the words of Nephi. 4 And the things which are upon these plates pleasing me, because of the prophecies of the coming of Christ; and my fathers knowing that many of them have been fulfilled; yea, and I also know that as many things as have been prophesied concerning us down to this day have been fulfilled, and as many as go beyond this day must surely come to pass— 5 Wherefore, I chose these things, to finish my record upon them, which remainder of my record I shall take from the plates of Nephi; and I cannot write the hundredth part of the things of my people. 6 But behold, I shall take these plates, which contain these prophesyings and revelations, and put them with the remainder of my record, for they are choice unto me; and I know they will be choice unto my brethren. 7 And I do this for a wise purpose; for thus it whispereth me, according to the workings of the Spirit of the Lord which is in me. And now, I do not know all things; but the Lord knoweth all things which are to come; wherefore, he worketh in me to do according to his will.
5.
  Orson Pratt: But we will pass along and come to the second colony, that the Lord brought out of Jerusalem, six hundred years before Christ. Did they bring any records with them? Had they the art of writing? Yes. When they lived among the Jews the art of writing was extensively known among the Jews. It was their art to write in the Egyptian language, as Nephi testifies on the first page of the Book of Mormon. “Therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days; yea, I make a record in the language of my father, which consists of the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians.” A language which their forefathers learned, while they dwelt in Egypt, and which they were familiar with, but probably lost it in some measure, but still retained a portion of it, and wrote their records in the same. Now if you will appeal to Biblical history you will find that the Israelites did write their records, in ancient times, upon metallic plates, and that these plates were connected together, with rings, passing through the leaves. Through the whole a stick was placed for carrying the record. This description we have given by those who have deeply studied concerning the Scriptures and the ancient doings of the Israelites. -Discourse by Elder Orson Pratt, delivered in the Tabernacle, Ogden, Sunday Morning, May 18, 1873, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 16, pg. 53-54
6.
  G. Homer Durham: The learning of the Jews included effort to engrave on the minds and hearts of children Moses’ prophetic instructions from the book of Deuteronomy: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way.” (Deut. 6:5–7.) – G. Homer Durham, The Home as an Educational Institution, General Conference, April 1979
7.
  Quentin L. Cook: The Book of Mormon is of seminal importance. There will, of course, always be those who underestimate the significance of or even disparage this sacred book. Some have used humor. Before I served a mission, a university professor quoted Mark Twain’s statement that if you took “And it came to pass” out of the Book of Mormon, it “would have been only a pamphlet.” A few months later, while I was serving a mission in London, England, a distinguished Oxford-educated teacher at London University, an Egyptian expert in Semitic languages, read the Book of Mormon, corresponded with President David O. McKay, and met with missionaries. He informed them he was convinced the Book of Mormon was indeed a translation of “the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians” for the periods described in the Book of Mormon. One example among many he used was the conjunctive phrase “And it came to pass,” which he said mirrored how he would translate phraseology used in ancient Semitic writings. The professor was informed that while his intellectual approach based on his profession had helped him, it was still essential to have a spiritual testimony. Through study and prayer he gained a spiritual witness and was baptized. So what one famous humorist saw as an object of ridicule, a scholar recognized as profound evidence of the truth of the Book of Mormon, which was confirmed to him by the Spirit. Quentin L. Cook, In Tune with the Music of Faith, General Conference, April 2012
8.
  Elder Levi Edgar Young: Just to read the first chapter of the Book of Mormon gives us a lesson in the meaning of education. To think that Nephi was educated in both the learning of the Egyptians and the Jews! Today few people realize what that learning was. Some scholars maintain that the learning of the Egyptians in ancient times has never been equaled. -Levi Edgar Young, Conference Report, April 1956, pp. 32-34
9.
  According to Smith and Sjodahl: Lehi had mastered the difficult Egyptian language, in addition to the learning of the Jews. This is noted as one of his great accomplishments. Of Moses, too, it was said that he was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians (Acts 7:22), which, of course, included the language of and their writing. The Egyptians had no less than three different kinds of characters. The oldest was the hieroglyphs. They had about a thousand of these, and some of these were pictures of the celestial bodies, human figures, limbs, animals, such as quadrupeds, birds, fishes, insects, reptiles, houses, furniture, tools, etc., all symbolic of some object, some quality or some action. The Hieratic characters were less elaborate, but still too numerous for practical purposes. The Demotic characters were the simplest. Clement of Alexandria is quoted as having said: “Those who are educated among the Egyptians learn first that mode of writing which is called epistolographic (demotic or common); secondly Hieratic, which the sacred scribers use, and lastly, the Hieroglyphic.” Those who had mastered the difficulties of the language of Egypt, spoken and written, could study the entire civilization of the country. And, be it remembered, the Egyptians excelled in architecture, in sculpture, painting, navigation, metallurgy. They knew how to work in gold, silver, copper, iron and lead. They had musical instruments and were skilled in the art of weaving and dyeing. They had a law code for which they claimed divine origin. They were great agriculturists and prosperous merchants. As for religion, they believed in One God—the only living Substance, “the only existence in heaven and on earth that is not begotten.” They further, believed in two divine Beings, whose unity was expressed in the name, “UAEN-UA,” which is said to mean, “One of One.” But they had, further, so great a number of gods that someone said it was easier to find a god in Egypt than a man. The principal gods were eight in number. Amun was the chief of these, and Maut or Mut was the mother of all. They had a priesthood and a number of consecrated women who assisted in the temple service. The presiding high priest was called Sam. They also had a system of “mysteries” into which only a few were initiated. They had altars and sacrifices, and above all, an elaborate ritual for the dead. One of their resurrection of the body and the appearance of man before the judgment seat of the gods, as understood in Egypt, are set forth. -Smith and Sjodahl, Commentary on the Book of Mormon, vol. 1, pg. 6-7
10.
  H. Donl Peterson: “We don’t know what Lehi’s occupation was, but since he was conversant in the Egyptian language and he seemed some-what familiar with the ways of the desert, it is logical to assume that he had some occupation or some previous experiences that utilized both skills.” -H. Donl Peterson, “Father Lehi,” in First Nephi, The Doctrinal Foundation, ed. Monte S. Nyman and Charles D. Tate Jr. (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1988), 55-66.
11.
  Morm. 9:32–34 And now, behold, we have written this record according to our knowledge, in the characters which are called among us the reformed Egyptian, being handed down and altered by us, according to our manner of speech. And if our plates had been sufficiently large we should have written in Hebrew; but the Hebrew hath been altered by us also; and if we could have written in Hebrew, behold, ye would have had no imperfection in our record. But the Lord knoweth the things which we have written, and also that none other people knoweth our language; and because that none other people knoweth our language, therefore he hath prepared means for the interpretation thereof.

Verse by Verse Commentary: 1 Nephi 1:1

I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father; and having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days; yea, having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God, therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days.

I, Nephi

Who was Nephi, anyway? What do we know about him? We know he was an Israelite, and a descendent of Joseph, through Manasseh. 1)

Alma 10:3: And Aminadi was a descendant of Nephi, who was the son of Lehi, who came out of the land of Jerusalem, who was a descendant of Manasseh, who was the son of Joseph who was sold into Egypt by the hands of his brethren.
His name seems to be of Egyptian origin. 2)
Elder George Reynolds said of the name, Nephi, “It’s roots are Egyptian; meaning, good, excellent, benevolent… One of the names given to the god [Osiris], expressive of his attributes, was Nephi, or Dnephi, as Noph, in which form it appears in appears in Hosea, Isaiah and Jeremiah, its modern English name is Memphis.” Commentary on the Book of Mormon, vol. 1, Smith and Sjodahl, 1955, pg. 4

“Having been born of goodly parents,”

I like the culturally traditional definition of this word, which is basically, “good.” Lehi and Sariah were good parents. We know that from dozens of evidences throughout the books of Nephi. But is that what the word goodly really means?

Webster’s 1828 dictionary defines goodly different than this. 3)

Modern dictionaries define it differently as well. 4)

inigo1So what does it mean? The dictionaries point to a meaning around the idea of wealth, beauty, abundance, and having great quantity of something. Even so, sometimes the scriptures define words differently than the dictionaries. So how do the scriptures use the word goodly? I was a little surprised to discover that the scripture seem to support the idea of goodly meaning rich, abundant, wealthy, well-endowed, or nice looking.  5)

Matt 13:45 ¶ Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls:

Deut. 6:10 …the land which he sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give thee great and goodly cities, which thou buildedst not,

Deut. 8:12 Lest when thou hast eaten and art full, and hast built goodly houses, and dwelt therein;

Gen 27: 15 And Rebekah took goodly raiment of her eldest son Esau, which were with her in the house, and put them upon Jacob her younger son:

D&C 103:20 But I say unto you: Mine angels shall go up before you, and also my presence, and in time ye shall possess the goodly land…

D&C 103:24 And inasmuch as mine enemies come against you to drive you from my goodly land, which I have consecrated

Mosiah 18:7 And it came to pass after many days there were a goodly number gathered together at the place of Mormon, to hear the words of Alma. Yea, all were gathered together that believed on his word, to hear him. And he did teach them, and did preach unto them repentance, and redemption, and faith on the Lord.

And just to make sure we get an idea of how the word goodly might refer to a person (rather than a place, amount, or thing):

2 Samuel 23:21 And [Moses] slew an Egyptian, a goodly man: and the Egyptian had a spear in his hand; but he went down to him with a staff, and plucked the spear out of the Egyptian’s hand, and slew him with his own spear.

Genesis 39:5-6 And it came to pass from the time that he had made him overseer in his house, and over all that he had, that the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s asake; and the blessing of the Lord was upon all that he had in the house, and in the field. And he left all that he had in Joseph’s hand; and he knew not ought he had, save the bread which he did eat. And Joseph was a goodly person, and well favoured. [This is the closest use I can find to the cultural definition, good, though it seems even here to refer to Joseph's new abundance because of his position with Potiphar.]

1 Kings 1:5-6 5 ¶Then Adonijah the son of Haggith exalted himself, saying, I will be king: and he prepared him chariots and horsemen, and fifty men to run before him. And his father had not displeased him at any time in saying, Why hast thou done so? and he also was a very goodly man; and his mother bare him after Absalom.

There are a couple ways in which we may read “goodly” to mean, “good.” Joseph Smith described himself as being born of goodly parents. We know from several accounts that Joseph Sr. and Lucy Mack were not wealthy, but they were very good parents. If Joseph understood the word goodly to mean good, perhaps he would translate the scripture that way. I suppose this is unlikely, but just a thought.

Another way to read the verse to suggest that Nephi’s parents were abundant in learning, faith, and favor with the Lord.

“Therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father”

Nephi was a man full of knowledge of things spiritual, practical, physical–he was well taught and well studied. 6)

A. Theodore Tuttle said, “No doubt Nephi was taught the things of the Spirit—his writings reveal that. He probably was taught practical matters as well, for he was a very resourceful man. Today that son is fortunate whose father teaches him somewhat in all his learning.” A. Theodore Tuttle, Therefore I Was Taught, General Conference, October 1979
With parents who could provide a good education for their children, Nephi would have received the best available teaching from his parents, which would have included a great deal of study in the words of the prophets, the law of Moses, and the early history of the world. 7)
George Reynolds and Janne M. Sjodahl explain:

Hebrew learning, also called, ‘the learning of the Jews,’ consisted, at this time, chiefly in the knowledge of the Law [Torah], now known as the Pentateuch; the Prophets down to and including Isaiah and some books now no longer extant, some of which are mentioned in the Scriptures, as for instance, the Book of Nathan, [2 Chron. 2:29], the Book of Enoch [Jude 14], the Book of Memorial [Ex. 17:4], the Book of Jasher [Josh. 10:13], and the Book of Records [Ez. 4:15].

In the Law the Jews were taught the divine origin of the heavens and the earth, through acts of creation; the beginning of the human race, the “fall” and its consequences and the promise of redemption. They were taught the lesson of sin and destruction in the flood, but also the renewal of the covenants of God and the re-peopling of the earth by the descendants of Noah. They were further shown the beginning of the Hebrew people, their history and development, by which they became, notwithstanding human frailties and stubbornness, the foundation of the Messianic kingdom of God on earth. They were taught a moral law that surpasses anything ever conceived by man, and a civil law and ritualistic service, exactly suited to their conditions and calculated to educate them in righteousness and holiness.

This “learning of the Jews” was meant to be applied to every day affairs. It was to be their very life, and not only something to discuss. The Jew had to become familiar with the words of the Law. He was told: “Bind them for a sign upon the posts of thy hand”; “they shall be as frontlets between thy eyes,” “thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house” and on thy gates (Deut. 17:19).

The following quotations illustrate the importance which the Jews attach to the reading of the Law:

“Rabbi Chananya, the son of Teradyon, said, ‘That if two sit together and interchange no words of Torah, they are a meeting of scorners, concerning whom it is said, The godly man sitteth not in the seat of the scorners (Ps. 1:1); but if two sit together and interchange words of Torah, the divine Presence abides between them. … R. Simeon said, If three have eaten at a table and have spoken no words there of Torah, it is as if they had eaten of sacrifices to dead idols. … R. Chalafta, the son of Dosa, of the village of Chananya, said, When two persons sit together and occupy themselves with the Torah, the Sheschina (the glory of the Lord) abides among them.”

Other sacred books were called “Prophets.” Some of these were historical, as the Books of Samuel, the Kings, the Chronicles, etc. Others were didactic and prophetic. The Psalms, he Proverbs, the Song of Solomon and Ecclesiastes were known as “the Writings.”

Besides the written word, the Jews had a venerable tradition by means of which the historical background of the records was preserved, and opinions, rulings, judgments, judicial decisions, customs and important incidents were transmitted by word of mouth from one generation to another generation. The Levites, who had charge of the sacred buildings and the objects consecrated for the divine services, also were the educators of the people.

Sometime after the destruction of the temple by Titus and the dispersion of the people, the tradition was committed to writing. This literary composition is known as the “Mishna,” meaning “repetition.” Later, notes or commentaries were written on this text. These explanations are known as the “Gemara,” or “complement.” The Mishna and Gemara together constitute the Talmud (“instruction”), of which there are two versions: one composed at Jerusalem (about 390 A.D.), and one at Babylon (about 420 A.D.). The Talmud is by far the most important literary work of the adherents of the Mosaic faith, next after the inspired writings of the Old Testament.

As an illustration of the peculiar, deductive explanations of the Scriptures in the Talmud, the following may be referred to. In the Law (Deut. 27:5) it is forbidden to use iron tools in building an altar to the Lord. Why? Rabbi Johannan explains it thus. He says that iron signifies war and strife. The altar is atonement and peace. Therefore the two of them must not come together. “Thus we are taught the value of peace in the home, peace between city and city, nation and nation.” (Prof. Graetz, History of the Jews, Vol. 2, p. 329)

The following sentiments are illustrative of the philosophy of the Talmud:

“Love peace and pursue it at any cost.” … “Remember it is better to be persecuted than to persecute.” … “Be not prone to anger.” … “He who giveth alms in secret is greater than Moses himself.” … “It is better to utter a short prayer with devotion than a long one without fervor.” … “He who having but one piece of bread in his basket, and says, What shall I eat tomorrow? is a man of little faith.” (Farrar, The Life of Christ, p. 680.)

Curiously enough, some modern critics have belittled the Talmud, very much in the same spirit as that by certain readers of the Book of Mormon. They have found it “uncouth,” “unintelligible,” “tedious,” and “unprofitable.” But that only proves that the literary taste and fashions of the world have changed since the composition of these works. It proves nothing against the truths that may be contained in the Talmud, and nothing against the revelations in the Book of Mormon. Truth is truth, no matter how presented, and gold is gold, whether offered on a silver tray or wrapped in rags.

“Nephi could, of course, not be familiar with the Talmud, as known in modern times, but the essence of that volume is much older than the books containing it. It gives us an idea of “the learning of the Jews.”

Commentary on the Book of Mormon, vol. 1, Smith and Sjodahl, 1955, pg. 4-6

“Having seen many afflictions in the course of my days”

What afflictions would young Nephi have experienced at this point?

The answer is simple. Nephi didn’t write verse 1 until about 30 years after leaving Jerusalem. 8)

2 Nephi 5:28-31

28 And thirty years had passed away from the time we left Jerusalem.

29 And I, Nephi, had kept the records upon my plates, which I had made, of my people thus far.

30 And it came to pass that the Lord God said unto me: Make other plates; and thou shalt engraven many things upon them which are good in my sight, for the profit of thy people.

31 Wherefore, I, Nephi, to be obedient to the commandments of the Lord, went and made these plates upon which I have engraven these things.

and

1 Nephi 19:1-5

1 And it came to pass that the Lord commanded me, wherefore I did make plates of ore that I might engraven upon them the record of my people. And upon the plates which I made I did engraven the record of my father, and also our journeyings in the wilderness, and the prophecies of my father; and also many of mine own prophecies have I engraven upon them.

2 And I knew not at the time when I made them that I should be commanded of the Lord to make these plates; wherefore, the record of my father, and the genealogy of his fathers, and the more part of all our proceedings in the wilderness are engraven upon those first plates of which I have spoken; wherefore, the things which transpired before I made these plates are, of a truth, more particularly made mention upon the first plates.

3 And after I had made these plates by way of commandment, I, Nephi, received a commandment that the ministry and the prophecies, the more plain and precious parts of them, should be written upon these plates; and that the things which were written should be kept for the instruction of my people, who should possess the land, and also for other wise purposes, which purposes are known unto the Lord.

4 Wherefore, I, Nephi, did make a record upon the other plates, which gives an account, or which gives a greater account of the wars and contentions and destructions of my people. And this have I done, and commanded my people what they should do after I was gone; and that these plates should be handed down from one generation to another, or from one prophet to another, until further commandments of the Lord.

5 And an account of my making these plates shall be given hereafter; and then, behold, I proceed according to that which I have spoken; and this I do that the more sacred things may be kept for the knowledge of my people.

 Basically, he’ll expound on the “many afflictions” in the following chapters.

“being highly favored of the Lord”

What does it mean to be favored of the Lord? Isn’t that like saying the Lord has favorites?

Well, first off, let’s look at the definition of favored. These days, the word translates:

fa·vored
ˈfāvərd
adjective
adjective: favoured; adjective: favored
preferred or recommended.
“she was his favored candidate”
synonyms: preferred, favorite, recommended, chosen, choice
“the president’s favored candidate for chief of staff

This definition speaks of preference by means of comparison. But if you look in the 1828 Webster’s dictionary (the dictionary that represented common use language at the time Joseph translated the Book of Mormon), you’ll see a slightly different definition:

favored
FA’VORED, pp.
1. Countenanced; supported; aided; supplied with advantages; eased; spared.
2. a. Regarded with kindness; as a favored friend.
3. With well or ill prefixed, featured.
Well-favored is well-looking, having a good countenance or appearance, fleshy, plump, handsome.
Ill-favored is ill-looking, having an ugly appearance, lean. See Gen. 39. Gen 41. &c.
Well-favoredly, with a good appearance. Little used.
Ill-favoredly, with a bad appearance. Little used.

Notice there’s no element of comparison or preference. Nephi was loved by the Lord, supported, aided, regarded, and in good standing with Him. This use of the word favored seems consistent with other verses throughout the scriptures. 9)

Alma 20:28:
And it came to pass that Ammon and Lamoni proceeded on their journey towards the land of Middoni. And Lamoni found favor in the eyes of the king of the land; therefore the brethren of Ammon were brought forth out of prison

Moses 6:31
And when Enoch had heard these words, he bowed himself to the earth, before the Lord, and spake before the Lord, saying: Why is it that I have found favor in thy sight, and am but a lad, and all the people hate me; for I am slow of speech; wherefore am I thy servant?

Luke 1:28
28 And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.

Genesis 39:21
21 ¶But the Lord was with Joseph, and shewed him mercy, and gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison.

Another good explanation for this is in Nephi’s later explanation. The Lord favors those who keep his commandments, no matter their background.

1 Nephi 17:33-35

And now, do ye suppose that the children of this land, who were in the land of promise, who were driven out by our fathers, do ye suppose that they were righteous? Behold, I say unto you, Nay. Do ye suppose that our fathers would have been more choice than they if they had been righteous? I say unto you, Nay. Behold, the Lord esteemeth all flesh in one; he that is righteous is favored of God. But behold, this people had rejected every word of God, and they were ripe in iniquity; and the fulness of the wrath of God was upon them; and the Lord did curse the land against them, and bless it unto our fathers; yea, he did curse it against them unto their destruction, and he did bless it unto our fathers unto their obtaining power over it. 10)

This is also demonstrated by looking at it from the other side. If those who are favored turn away from the Lord, they lose the favor of the Lord.

Mosiah 1:13
13 Yea, and moreover I say unto you, that if this highly favored people of the Lord should fall into transgression, and become a wicked and an adulterous people, that the Lord will deliver them up, that thereby they become weak like unto their brethren; and he will no more preserve them by his matchless and marvelous power, as he has hitherto preserved our fathers.

having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God”

What mysteries of God did Nephi know?

Just as with the word goodly, we should recognized that there are three different definitions of the word, mysteries. The first is our modern cultural definition. If you mention “the mysteries” in church, people will think you mean those things that God hasn’t revealed, and that are not essential to our salvation. The stereotypical example is knowing the astronomical location of Kolob. We don’t know it, we don’t need to, and the prophets (as far as we know) have never revealed it.

The second definition would be the modern dictionary definition. 11)

A Google search for the definition shows:

mys·ter·y1
ˈmist(ə)rē/Submit
noun
plural noun: mysteries
1.
something that is difficult or impossible to understand or explain.
“the mysteries of outer space”
synonyms: puzzle, enigma, conundrum, riddle, secret, problem, unsolved problem More
the condition or quality of being secret, strange, or difficult to explain.
“much of her past is shrouded in mystery”
synonyms: secrecy, obscurity, uncertainty, mystique More
a person or thing whose identity or nature is puzzling or unknown.
““He’s a bit of a mystery,” said Nina”
2.
a novel, play, or movie dealing with a puzzling crime, especially a murder.
synonyms: thriller, murder mystery, detective story/novel, murder story, crime novel; More
3.
the secret rites of Greek and Roman pagan religion, or of any ancient or tribal religion, to which only initiates are admitted.
the practices, skills, or lore peculiar to a particular trade or activity and regarded as baffling to those without specialized knowledge.
“the mysteries of analytical psychology”
the Christian Eucharist.
4.
CHRISTIAN THEOLOGY
a religious belief based on divine revelation, especially one regarded as beyond human understanding.
“the mystery of Christ”
an incident in the life of Jesus or of a saint as a focus of devotion in the Roman Catholic Church, especially each of those commemorated during recitation of successive decades of the rosary.

There are several dictionary definitions, but essentially they are things unknown.

The third is the scriptural definition, and that’s what I’d like to focus on. With only a few exceptions, every reference to the word mystery point more or less to this definition: knowledge obtained through the Holy Ghost. Often, it refers to knowledge that can only be obtained by the power of the Holy Ghost. 12)

1 Corinthians 14:2

2 For he that speaketh in an tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries.

Matthew 13:11
11 He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.

Doctrine and Covenants 8:11
11 Ask that you may know the mysteries of God, and that you may translate and receive knowledge from all those ancient records which have been hid up, that are sacred; and according to your faith shall it be done unto you.

Doctrine and Covenants 84:19
19 And this greater priesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God.

Ephesians 3:3-6
3 How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words,
4 Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ)
5 Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit;
6 That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel:

Jacob 4:8
8 Behold, great and marvelous are the works of the Lord. How unsearchable are the depths of the mysteries of him; and it is impossible that man should find out all his ways. And no man knoweth of his ways save it be revealed unto him; wherefore, brethren, despise not the revelations of God.

Doctrine and Covenants 76:7
7 And to them will I reveal all mysteries, yea, all the hidden mysteries of my kingdom from days of old, and for ages to come, will I make known unto them the good pleasure of my will concerning all things pertaining to my kingdom.

Mark 4:11
11 And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables:

Alma 26:22
22 Yea, he that repenteth and exerciseth faith, and bringeth forth good works, and prayeth continually without ceasing—unto such it is given to know the mysteries of God; yea, unto such it shall be given to reveal things which never have been revealed; yea, and it shall be given unto such to bring thousands of souls to repentance, even as it has been given unto us to bring these our brethren to repentance.

Alma 12:9-11
9 And now Alma began to expound these things unto him, saying: It is given unto many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him.
10 And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full.
11 And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction. Now this is what is meant by the chains of hell.

Alma 40:3
3 Behold, he bringeth to pass the resurrection of the dead. But behold, my son, the resurrection is not yet. Now, I unfold unto you a mystery; nevertheless, there are many mysteries which are kept, that no one knoweth them save God himself. But I show unto you one thing which I have inquired diligently of God that I might know—that is concerning the resurrection.

D&C 6:7-11
7 Seek not for riches but for wisdom, and behold, the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto you, and then shall you be made rich. Behold, he that hath eternal life is rich.
8 Verily, verily, I say unto you, even as you desire of me so it shall be unto you; and if you desire, you shall be the means of doing much good in this generation.
9 Say nothing but repentance unto this generation; keep my commandments, and assist to bring forth my work, according to my commandments, and you shall be blessed.
10 Behold thou hast a gift, and blessed art thou because of thy gift. Remember it is sacred and cometh from above—
11 And if thou wilt inquire, thou shalt know mysteries which are great and marvelous; therefore thou shalt exercise thy gift, that thou mayest find out mysteries, that thou mayest bring many to the knowledge of the truth, yea, convince them of the error of their ways.

Doctrine and Covenants 19:8-12
8 Wherefore, I will explain unto you this mystery, for it is meet unto you to know even as mine apostles.
9 I speak unto you that are chosen in this thing, even as one, that you may enter into my rest.
10 For, behold, the mystery of godliness, how great is it! For, behold, I am endless, and the punishment which is given from my hand is endless punishment, for Endless is my name. Wherefore—
11 Eternal punishment is God’s punishment.
12 Endless punishment is God’s punishment.

Guide to the Scriptures
Mysteries of God are spiritual truths known only by revelation.

Nephi, as a righteous man and a prophet, would know much of the mysteries of God.

.

.

.

.

.

 

References

1.
  Alma 10:3: And Aminadi was a descendant of Nephi, who was the son of Lehi, who came out of the land of Jerusalem, who was a descendant of Manasseh, who was the son of Joseph who was sold into Egypt by the hands of his brethren.
2.
  Elder George Reynolds said of the name, Nephi, “It’s roots are Egyptian; meaning, good, excellent, benevolent… One of the names given to the god [Osiris], expressive of his attributes, was Nephi, or Dnephi, as Noph, in which form it appears in appears in Hosea, Isaiah and Jeremiah, its modern English name is Memphis.” Commentary on the Book of Mormon, vol. 1, Smith and Sjodahl, 1955, pg. 4
5.
  Matt 13:45 ¶ Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls:

Deut. 6:10 …the land which he sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give thee great and goodly cities, which thou buildedst not,

Deut. 8:12 Lest when thou hast eaten and art full, and hast built goodly houses, and dwelt therein;

Gen 27: 15 And Rebekah took goodly raiment of her eldest son Esau, which were with her in the house, and put them upon Jacob her younger son:

D&C 103:20 But I say unto you: Mine angels shall go up before you, and also my presence, and in time ye shall possess the goodly land…

D&C 103:24 And inasmuch as mine enemies come against you to drive you from my goodly land, which I have consecrated

Mosiah 18:7 And it came to pass after many days there were a goodly number gathered together at the place of Mormon, to hear the words of Alma. Yea, all were gathered together that believed on his word, to hear him. And he did teach them, and did preach unto them repentance, and redemption, and faith on the Lord.

And just to make sure we get an idea of how the word goodly might refer to a person (rather than a place, amount, or thing):

2 Samuel 23:21 And [Moses] slew an Egyptian, a goodly man: and the Egyptian had a spear in his hand; but he went down to him with a staff, and plucked the spear out of the Egyptian’s hand, and slew him with his own spear.

Genesis 39:5-6 And it came to pass from the time that he had made him overseer in his house, and over all that he had, that the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s asake; and the blessing of the Lord was upon all that he had in the house, and in the field. And he left all that he had in Joseph’s hand; and he knew not ought he had, save the bread which he did eat. And Joseph was a goodly person, and well favoured. [This is the closest use I can find to the cultural definition, good, though it seems even here to refer to Joseph's new abundance because of his position with Potiphar.]

1 Kings 1:5-6 5 ¶Then Adonijah the son of Haggith exalted himself, saying, I will be king: and he prepared him chariots and horsemen, and fifty men to run before him. And his father had not displeased him at any time in saying, Why hast thou done so? and he also was a very goodly man; and his mother bare him after Absalom.

6.
  A. Theodore Tuttle said, “No doubt Nephi was taught the things of the Spirit—his writings reveal that. He probably was taught practical matters as well, for he was a very resourceful man. Today that son is fortunate whose father teaches him somewhat in all his learning.” A. Theodore Tuttle, Therefore I Was Taught, General Conference, October 1979
7.
  George Reynolds and Janne M. Sjodahl explain:

Hebrew learning, also called, ‘the learning of the Jews,’ consisted, at this time, chiefly in the knowledge of the Law [Torah], now known as the Pentateuch; the Prophets down to and including Isaiah and some books now no longer extant, some of which are mentioned in the Scriptures, as for instance, the Book of Nathan, [2 Chron. 2:29], the Book of Enoch [Jude 14], the Book of Memorial [Ex. 17:4], the Book of Jasher [Josh. 10:13], and the Book of Records [Ez. 4:15].

In the Law the Jews were taught the divine origin of the heavens and the earth, through acts of creation; the beginning of the human race, the “fall” and its consequences and the promise of redemption. They were taught the lesson of sin and destruction in the flood, but also the renewal of the covenants of God and the re-peopling of the earth by the descendants of Noah. They were further shown the beginning of the Hebrew people, their history and development, by which they became, notwithstanding human frailties and stubbornness, the foundation of the Messianic kingdom of God on earth. They were taught a moral law that surpasses anything ever conceived by man, and a civil law and ritualistic service, exactly suited to their conditions and calculated to educate them in righteousness and holiness.

This “learning of the Jews” was meant to be applied to every day affairs. It was to be their very life, and not only something to discuss. The Jew had to become familiar with the words of the Law. He was told: “Bind them for a sign upon the posts of thy hand”; “they shall be as frontlets between thy eyes,” “thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house” and on thy gates (Deut. 17:19).

The following quotations illustrate the importance which the Jews attach to the reading of the Law:

“Rabbi Chananya, the son of Teradyon, said, ‘That if two sit together and interchange no words of Torah, they are a meeting of scorners, concerning whom it is said, The godly man sitteth not in the seat of the scorners (Ps. 1:1); but if two sit together and interchange words of Torah, the divine Presence abides between them. … R. Simeon said, If three have eaten at a table and have spoken no words there of Torah, it is as if they had eaten of sacrifices to dead idols. … R. Chalafta, the son of Dosa, of the village of Chananya, said, When two persons sit together and occupy themselves with the Torah, the Sheschina (the glory of the Lord) abides among them.”

Other sacred books were called “Prophets.” Some of these were historical, as the Books of Samuel, the Kings, the Chronicles, etc. Others were didactic and prophetic. The Psalms, he Proverbs, the Song of Solomon and Ecclesiastes were known as “the Writings.”

Besides the written word, the Jews had a venerable tradition by means of which the historical background of the records was preserved, and opinions, rulings, judgments, judicial decisions, customs and important incidents were transmitted by word of mouth from one generation to another generation. The Levites, who had charge of the sacred buildings and the objects consecrated for the divine services, also were the educators of the people.

Sometime after the destruction of the temple by Titus and the dispersion of the people, the tradition was committed to writing. This literary composition is known as the “Mishna,” meaning “repetition.” Later, notes or commentaries were written on this text. These explanations are known as the “Gemara,” or “complement.” The Mishna and Gemara together constitute the Talmud (“instruction”), of which there are two versions: one composed at Jerusalem (about 390 A.D.), and one at Babylon (about 420 A.D.). The Talmud is by far the most important literary work of the adherents of the Mosaic faith, next after the inspired writings of the Old Testament.

As an illustration of the peculiar, deductive explanations of the Scriptures in the Talmud, the following may be referred to. In the Law (Deut. 27:5) it is forbidden to use iron tools in building an altar to the Lord. Why? Rabbi Johannan explains it thus. He says that iron signifies war and strife. The altar is atonement and peace. Therefore the two of them must not come together. “Thus we are taught the value of peace in the home, peace between city and city, nation and nation.” (Prof. Graetz, History of the Jews, Vol. 2, p. 329)

The following sentiments are illustrative of the philosophy of the Talmud:

“Love peace and pursue it at any cost.” … “Remember it is better to be persecuted than to persecute.” … “Be not prone to anger.” … “He who giveth alms in secret is greater than Moses himself.” … “It is better to utter a short prayer with devotion than a long one without fervor.” … “He who having but one piece of bread in his basket, and says, What shall I eat tomorrow? is a man of little faith.” (Farrar, The Life of Christ, p. 680.)

Curiously enough, some modern critics have belittled the Talmud, very much in the same spirit as that by certain readers of the Book of Mormon. They have found it “uncouth,” “unintelligible,” “tedious,” and “unprofitable.” But that only proves that the literary taste and fashions of the world have changed since the composition of these works. It proves nothing against the truths that may be contained in the Talmud, and nothing against the revelations in the Book of Mormon. Truth is truth, no matter how presented, and gold is gold, whether offered on a silver tray or wrapped in rags.

“Nephi could, of course, not be familiar with the Talmud, as known in modern times, but the essence of that volume is much older than the books containing it. It gives us an idea of “the learning of the Jews.”

Commentary on the Book of Mormon, vol. 1, Smith and Sjodahl, 1955, pg. 4-6

8.
  2 Nephi 5:28-31

28 And thirty years had passed away from the time we left Jerusalem.

29 And I, Nephi, had kept the records upon my plates, which I had made, of my people thus far.

30 And it came to pass that the Lord God said unto me: Make other plates; and thou shalt engraven many things upon them which are good in my sight, for the profit of thy people.

31 Wherefore, I, Nephi, to be obedient to the commandments of the Lord, went and made these plates upon which I have engraven these things.

and

1 Nephi 19:1-5

1 And it came to pass that the Lord commanded me, wherefore I did make plates of ore that I might engraven upon them the record of my people. And upon the plates which I made I did engraven the record of my father, and also our journeyings in the wilderness, and the prophecies of my father; and also many of mine own prophecies have I engraven upon them.

2 And I knew not at the time when I made them that I should be commanded of the Lord to make these plates; wherefore, the record of my father, and the genealogy of his fathers, and the more part of all our proceedings in the wilderness are engraven upon those first plates of which I have spoken; wherefore, the things which transpired before I made these plates are, of a truth, more particularly made mention upon the first plates.

3 And after I had made these plates by way of commandment, I, Nephi, received a commandment that the ministry and the prophecies, the more plain and precious parts of them, should be written upon these plates; and that the things which were written should be kept for the instruction of my people, who should possess the land, and also for other wise purposes, which purposes are known unto the Lord.

4 Wherefore, I, Nephi, did make a record upon the other plates, which gives an account, or which gives a greater account of the wars and contentions and destructions of my people. And this have I done, and commanded my people what they should do after I was gone; and that these plates should be handed down from one generation to another, or from one prophet to another, until further commandments of the Lord.

5 And an account of my making these plates shall be given hereafter; and then, behold, I proceed according to that which I have spoken; and this I do that the more sacred things may be kept for the knowledge of my people.

9.
  Alma 20:28:
And it came to pass that Ammon and Lamoni proceeded on their journey towards the land of Middoni. And Lamoni found favor in the eyes of the king of the land; therefore the brethren of Ammon were brought forth out of prison

Moses 6:31
And when Enoch had heard these words, he bowed himself to the earth, before the Lord, and spake before the Lord, saying: Why is it that I have found favor in thy sight, and am but a lad, and all the people hate me; for I am slow of speech; wherefore am I thy servant?

Luke 1:28
28 And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.

Genesis 39:21
21 ¶But the Lord was with Joseph, and shewed him mercy, and gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison.

10.
  This is also demonstrated by looking at it from the other side. If those who are favored turn away from the Lord, they lose the favor of the Lord.

Mosiah 1:13
13 Yea, and moreover I say unto you, that if this highly favored people of the Lord should fall into transgression, and become a wicked and an adulterous people, that the Lord will deliver them up, that thereby they become weak like unto their brethren; and he will no more preserve them by his matchless and marvelous power, as he has hitherto preserved our fathers.

11.
  A Google search for the definition shows:

mys·ter·y1
ˈmist(ə)rē/Submit
noun
plural noun: mysteries
1.
something that is difficult or impossible to understand or explain.
“the mysteries of outer space”
synonyms: puzzle, enigma, conundrum, riddle, secret, problem, unsolved problem More
the condition or quality of being secret, strange, or difficult to explain.
“much of her past is shrouded in mystery”
synonyms: secrecy, obscurity, uncertainty, mystique More
a person or thing whose identity or nature is puzzling or unknown.
““He’s a bit of a mystery,” said Nina”
2.
a novel, play, or movie dealing with a puzzling crime, especially a murder.
synonyms: thriller, murder mystery, detective story/novel, murder story, crime novel; More
3.
the secret rites of Greek and Roman pagan religion, or of any ancient or tribal religion, to which only initiates are admitted.
the practices, skills, or lore peculiar to a particular trade or activity and regarded as baffling to those without specialized knowledge.
“the mysteries of analytical psychology”
the Christian Eucharist.
4.
CHRISTIAN THEOLOGY
a religious belief based on divine revelation, especially one regarded as beyond human understanding.
“the mystery of Christ”
an incident in the life of Jesus or of a saint as a focus of devotion in the Roman Catholic Church, especially each of those commemorated during recitation of successive decades of the rosary.

12.
  1 Corinthians 14:2

2 For he that speaketh in an tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries.

Matthew 13:11
11 He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.

Doctrine and Covenants 8:11
11 Ask that you may know the mysteries of God, and that you may translate and receive knowledge from all those ancient records which have been hid up, that are sacred; and according to your faith shall it be done unto you.

Doctrine and Covenants 84:19
19 And this greater priesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God.

Ephesians 3:3-6
3 How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words,
4 Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ)
5 Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit;
6 That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel:

Jacob 4:8
8 Behold, great and marvelous are the works of the Lord. How unsearchable are the depths of the mysteries of him; and it is impossible that man should find out all his ways. And no man knoweth of his ways save it be revealed unto him; wherefore, brethren, despise not the revelations of God.

Doctrine and Covenants 76:7
7 And to them will I reveal all mysteries, yea, all the hidden mysteries of my kingdom from days of old, and for ages to come, will I make known unto them the good pleasure of my will concerning all things pertaining to my kingdom.

Mark 4:11
11 And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables:

Alma 26:22
22 Yea, he that repenteth and exerciseth faith, and bringeth forth good works, and prayeth continually without ceasing—unto such it is given to know the mysteries of God; yea, unto such it shall be given to reveal things which never have been revealed; yea, and it shall be given unto such to bring thousands of souls to repentance, even as it has been given unto us to bring these our brethren to repentance.

Alma 12:9-11
9 And now Alma began to expound these things unto him, saying: It is given unto many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him.
10 And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full.
11 And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction. Now this is what is meant by the chains of hell.

Alma 40:3
3 Behold, he bringeth to pass the resurrection of the dead. But behold, my son, the resurrection is not yet. Now, I unfold unto you a mystery; nevertheless, there are many mysteries which are kept, that no one knoweth them save God himself. But I show unto you one thing which I have inquired diligently of God that I might know—that is concerning the resurrection.

D&C 6:7-11
7 Seek not for riches but for wisdom, and behold, the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto you, and then shall you be made rich. Behold, he that hath eternal life is rich.
8 Verily, verily, I say unto you, even as you desire of me so it shall be unto you; and if you desire, you shall be the means of doing much good in this generation.
9 Say nothing but repentance unto this generation; keep my commandments, and assist to bring forth my work, according to my commandments, and you shall be blessed.
10 Behold thou hast a gift, and blessed art thou because of thy gift. Remember it is sacred and cometh from above—
11 And if thou wilt inquire, thou shalt know mysteries which are great and marvelous; therefore thou shalt exercise thy gift, that thou mayest find out mysteries, that thou mayest bring many to the knowledge of the truth, yea, convince them of the error of their ways.

Doctrine and Covenants 19:8-12
8 Wherefore, I will explain unto you this mystery, for it is meet unto you to know even as mine apostles.
9 I speak unto you that are chosen in this thing, even as one, that you may enter into my rest.
10 For, behold, the mystery of godliness, how great is it! For, behold, I am endless, and the punishment which is given from my hand is endless punishment, for Endless is my name. Wherefore—
11 Eternal punishment is God’s punishment.
12 Endless punishment is God’s punishment.

Guide to the Scriptures
Mysteries of God are spiritual truths known only by revelation.

Verse by Verse Commentary: Testimony of the Eight Witnesses

Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, unto whom this work shall come: That Joseph Smith, Jun., the translator of this work, has shown unto us the plates of which hath been spoken, which have the appearance of gold; and as many of the leaves as the said Smith has translated we did handle with our hands; and we also saw the engravings thereon, all of which has the appearance of ancient work, and of curious workmanship. And this we bear record with words of soberness, that the said Smith has shown unto us, for we have seen and hefted, and know of a surety that the said Smith has got the plates of which we have spoken. And we give our names unto the world, to witness unto the world that which we have seen. And we lie not, God bearing witness of it.

Christian Whitmer

Jacob Whitmer

Peter Whitmer, Jun.

John Whitmer

Hiram Page

Joseph Smith, Sen.

Hyrum Smith

Samuel H. Smith

“the appearance of gold”

It’s true that we don’t know the exact composition of the plates, whether they were made of pure gold or whether they were mixed with other metals, such as copper, but from the accounts given, it seems likely to me that they were indeed at least partly made of genuine gold. 1)

Joseph Smith, describing the angel Moroni’s visit, said, “He said there was a book deposited, written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent, and the source from whence they sprang. He also said that the fulness of the everlasting Gospel was contained in it, as delivered by the Savior to the ancient inhabitants;” -Joseph Smith—History 1:34. On another occasion, Joseph Smith said, “These records were engraven on plates which had the appearance of gold, each plate was six inches wide and eight inches long, and not quite so thick as common tin. They were filled with engravings, in Egyptian characters, and bound together in a volume as the leaves of a book, with three rings running through the whole. The volume was something near six inches in thickness, a part of which was sealed” -History of the Church 4:537
Gold is one of the most versatile metals available. Gold would have been the easiest metal with which to make a book, and the most lasting substance as well. The following is a paragraph from a gold-jeweler’s website:

Gold is unique of all the world’s precious metals, only gold combines lustrous beauty, easy workability, rarity, and virtual indestructibility. Not even diamonds combine these four characteristics. Gold is so soft and malleable one ounce can be stretched into a wire and incredible 5 miles long, or hammered into a sheet so thin, it covers 100 square feet. It is so rare that only an estimated 102,000 tons have been taken from the earth during all of recorded history, as much as could be contained in a cube with 19-yard sides. More steel is poured in one hour than gold has been poured since the beginning of time. Since it does not rust, tarnish or corrode, gold virtually lasts forever. The coins found in sunken galleons centuries old are as bright and shiny as the day they were cast. 2)

“we did handle with our hands… and seen and hefted”

What did the plates look and feel like? Joseph Smith described the plates in these words: “These records were engraven on plates which had the appearance of gold. Each plate was six inches wide and eight inches long, and not quite so thick as common tin. They were filled with engravings, in Egyptian characters, and bound together in a volume as the leaves of a book, with three rings running through the whole. The volume was something near six inches in thickness, a part of which was sealed. The characters on the unsealed part were small, and beautifully engraved. The whole book exhibited many marks of antiquity in its construction and much skill in the art of engraving. With the records was found a curious instrument, which the ancients called “Urim and Thummim,” which consisted of two transparent stones set in the rims of a bow fastened to a breastplate. Through the medium of the Urim and Thummim I translated the record by the gift and power of God.” 3)

Martin Harris estimated the plates being between 40 and 60 pounds, and modern experts concur, estimating they would have been about 53 pounds. Michael De Groote of the Deseret News gives a fascinating description of the plates, suggesting that even if the book had been written in Hebrew, it probably could have fit on 40 plates, but with reformed Egyptian, the text was probably even more compact than that. Keeping in mind that 2/3 of the plates were sealed with a band, the plates were pretty hefty.

“we also saw the engravings thereon, all of which has the appearance of ancient work, and of curious workmanship”

When Joseph Smith copied the characters from the plates for Martis Harris, that copy was then copied by others. Since copies were later made of those copies, we can’t say for sure if the following image is from Joseph’s hand or from a copy of the ones from Joseph’s hand, but this image gives us a very basic idea of what the characters—the writing on the plates—probably looked like. 4)

Book of Mormon Characters

It’s also not known if the Book of Mormon was written entirely in Egyptian, or if it was written in Hebrew using Egyptian (Reformed Egyptian) characters. Either way, writing the way the Nephites did was a brilliant move.

Other Witnesses 

Though the three and eight witnesses were officially called to bare witness of the reality of the record, others saw, felt, or in some other way experienced the plates. For example, Emma regularly encountered the plates, though under a cloth cover, and described the experience. “The plates often lay on the table without any attempt at concealment, wrapped in a small linen tablecloth, 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, as one does sometimes thumb the edges of a book.” 5)

Account cited from “Last Testimony of Sister Emma,” Saints’ Herald, 1 Oct. 1879, p. 290; by Elder Russell M. Nelson, with spelling modernized.
Emma also had to move the plates in order to clean around them. 6)
Q.-Are you sure that he had the plates at the time you were writing for him? A.-The plates often lay on the table without any attempt at concealment, wrapped in a small linen tablecloth, 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, as one does sometimes thumb the edges of a book…. “Q-Could not [Joseph Smith] have dictated the Book of Mormon to you, Oliver Cowdery, and the others who wrote for him, after having first written it, or having first read it out of some book? “A.-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 so as to anyone else. “Q.-I should suppose that you would have uncovered the plates and examined them? “A.-I did not attempt to handle the plates, other than I have told you, nor uncover them to look at them. I was satisfied that it was the work of God, and therefore did not feel it to be necessary to do so. “Major Bidamon here suggested: Did Mr. Smith forbid your examining the plates? “A.-I do not think he did. I knew that he had them, and was not specially curious about them. I moved them from place to place on the table, as it was necessary in doing my work. Also: Q: “Do you believe that your husband, Joseph Smith died true to his profession?” A: “I believe he was everything he professed to be.” The Saints’ Herald, vol. 26, pp. 289, 290 [1 Oct 1879]
Mary Whitmer, mother to David Whitmer, was also shown the plates by Moroni. 7)
This incident is reported by David Whitmer: “Soon after our arrival home, I saw something which led me to the belief that the plates were placed or concealed in my father’s barn I frankly asked Joseph if my supposition was right, and he told me it was. Sometime after this, my mother was going to milk the cows, when she was met out near the yard by the same old man (judging by her description of him) who said to her, ‘You have been very faithful and diligent in your labors, but you are tried because of the increase of your toil, it is proper therefore that you should receive a witness that your faith may be strengthened!’  Thereupon he showed her the plates. My father and mother had a large family of their own, the addition to it therefore of Joseph, his wife Emma and Oliver very greatly increased the toil and anxiety of my mother. And although she had never complained she had sometimes felt that her labor was too much, or at least she was perhaps beginning to feel so. This circumstance, however, completely removed all such feelings, and nerved her up for her increased responsibilities.” Report of Elders Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith,” Millennial Star 40 (9 Dec 1878):772-73, 9 December 1878–or see the transcribed version
In addition to eye and “hand” witnesses to the plates, there were others who saw the plates in vision, such as  Lucy Harris 8)
Lucy Mack Smith gives the following account: “He (Martin Harris) said that he would see Joseph in the course of a few days. At this his wife exclaimed, “Yes, and I am coming to see him, too, and I will be there on Tuesday afternoon, and will stop over night.” Accordingly, when Tuesday afternoon arrived, Mrs. Harris made her appearance and as soon as she was well seated she began to importune my son relative to the truth of what he had said concerning the Record, declaring that if he really had any plates, she would see them, and that she was determined to help him publish them. He told her she was mistaken-that she could not see them, for he was not permitted to exhibit them to any one except those whom the Lord should appoint to testify of them. “And, in relation to assistance,” he observed, “I always prefer dealing with men, rather than their wives.” This highly displeased Mrs. Harris, for she considered herself altogether superior to her husband and she continued her importunities. She would say, “Now, Joseph, are you not telling me a lie? Can you look full in my eye and say before God that you have in reality found a Record, as you pretend?” To this Joseph replied, rather indifferently, “Why, yes, Mrs. Harris, I would as soon look you in the face and say so as not, if that will be any gratification to you.” Then said she, “Joseph, I will tell you what I will do, if I can get a witness that you speak the truth, I will believe all you say about the matter and I shall want to do something about the translation-I mean to help you any way.” This closed the evening’s conversation. The next morning, soon after she arose, she related a very remarkable dream which she said she had had during the night. It ran about as follows: She said that a personage appeared to her who told her that as she had disputed the servant of the Lord, and said his word was not to be believed, and had also asked him many improper questions, she had done that which was not right in the sight of God. After which he said to her, “Behold, here are the plates, look upon them and believe.” -Lucy Mack Smith, History of Joseph Smith by His Mother [Salt Lake City: Stevens & Wallis, Inc., 1945], 116-117.
, who unfortunately did not stay true to the prophet in his efforts to translate the book.

William Smith, Joseph’s brother, also got to feel the plates, and lift them while they were in a pillow case. He described them as being about 60 pounds, much heavier than stone or wood. He felt the leaves, and suggested that they were a mixture of gold and copper. 9)

“When the plates were brought in they were wrapped up in a tow frock. My father then put them into a pillow case. Father said, “What, Joseph, can we not see them?” “No. I was disobedient the first time, but I intend to be faithful this time. For I was forbidden to show them until they are translated, but you can feel them.” We handled them and could tell what they were. They were not quite as large as this Bible. Could tell whether they were round or square. Could raise the leaves this way (raising a few leaves of the Bible before him). One could easily tell that they were not a stone, hewn out to deceive, or even a block of wood. Being a mixture of gold and copper, they were much heavier than stone, and very much heavier than wood.”
When asked by a man in the congregation how much the plates weighed, he replied, “As near as I could tell, about 60 pounds.” The Saints’ Herald, Volume 31, 1844, page 643-644

William testified in his final weeks that he never doubted the call of his brother, Joseph. 10)

From The Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star, Vol. 56:
Before William Smith, brother of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, died he was visited by J. W. Peterson. That gentleman has written an account of the interview with father Smith, to Zion’s Ensign, a paper published at Independence, Missouri. It is written from Bradtville, Wisconsin, and is as follows: Brother Briggs and I visited him next day after he returned from St. Paul, it being about two weeks before his death. We found him able to be about the house and quite willing to talk. After passing the time of day, Brother Briggs and he spoke of former meetings and finally drifted on to the subject of Brother Smith’s early boyhood and his knowledge of the rise of the Church, Book of Mormon, etc.
Bro. Briggs then handed me a pencil and asked Bro. Smith if he ever saw the plates his brother had had, from which the Book of Mormon was translated.
He replied, “I did not see them uncovered, but I handled them and hefted [p.511] them while wrapped in a tow frock and judged them to have weighed about sixty pounds. I could tell they were plates of some kind and that they were fastened together by rings running through the back. Their size was as described in mother’s history.”
Bro. Briggs then asked, “Did any others of the family see them?”
“Yes,” said he; “Father and my brother Samuel saw them as I did while in the frock. So did Hyrum and others of the family.”
“Was this frock one that Joseph took with him especially to wrap the plates in?”
“No, it was his every day frock such as young men used to wear then.”
“Din’t [sic] you want to remove the cloth and see the bare plates?” said Bro. B[riggs].
“No,” he replied; “for father had just asked if he might not be permitted to do so, and Joseph, putting his hand on them said; “No, I am instructed not to show them to any one. If I do, I will transgress and lose them again.” Besides we did not care to have him break the commandment and suffer as he did before.”
“Did you not doubt Joseph’s testimony sometimes?” said Bro. Briggs.
“No,” was the reply. “We all had the most implicit confidence in what he said. He was a truthful boy. Father and mother believed him, why should not the children? I suppose if he had told crooked stories about other things we might have doubted his word about the plates, but Joseph was a truthful boy. That Father and mother believed his report and suffered persecution for that belief shows that he was truthful. No sir, we never doubted his word for one minute.”
The Testimony of William Smith, The Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star Vol. 56, pages 132-133

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.

.

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References

1.
  Joseph Smith, describing the angel Moroni’s visit, said, “He said there was a book deposited, written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent, and the source from whence they sprang. He also said that the fulness of the everlasting Gospel was contained in it, as delivered by the Savior to the ancient inhabitants;” -Joseph Smith—History 1:34. On another occasion, Joseph Smith said, “These records were engraven on plates which had the appearance of gold, each plate was six inches wide and eight inches long, and not quite so thick as common tin. They were filled with engravings, in Egyptian characters, and bound together in a volume as the leaves of a book, with three rings running through the whole. The volume was something near six inches in thickness, a part of which was sealed” -History of the Church 4:537
5.
  Account cited from “Last Testimony of Sister Emma,” Saints’ Herald, 1 Oct. 1879, p. 290; by Elder Russell M. Nelson, with spelling modernized.
6.
  Q.-Are you sure that he had the plates at the time you were writing for him? A.-The plates often lay on the table without any attempt at concealment, wrapped in a small linen tablecloth, 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, as one does sometimes thumb the edges of a book…. “Q-Could not [Joseph Smith] have dictated the Book of Mormon to you, Oliver Cowdery, and the others who wrote for him, after having first written it, or having first read it out of some book? “A.-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 so as to anyone else. “Q.-I should suppose that you would have uncovered the plates and examined them? “A.-I did not attempt to handle the plates, other than I have told you, nor uncover them to look at them. I was satisfied that it was the work of God, and therefore did not feel it to be necessary to do so. “Major Bidamon here suggested: Did Mr. Smith forbid your examining the plates? “A.-I do not think he did. I knew that he had them, and was not specially curious about them. I moved them from place to place on the table, as it was necessary in doing my work. Also: Q: “Do you believe that your husband, Joseph Smith died true to his profession?” A: “I believe he was everything he professed to be.” The Saints’ Herald, vol. 26, pp. 289, 290 [1 Oct 1879]
7.
  This incident is reported by David Whitmer: “Soon after our arrival home, I saw something which led me to the belief that the plates were placed or concealed in my father’s barn I frankly asked Joseph if my supposition was right, and he told me it was. Sometime after this, my mother was going to milk the cows, when she was met out near the yard by the same old man (judging by her description of him) who said to her, ‘You have been very faithful and diligent in your labors, but you are tried because of the increase of your toil, it is proper therefore that you should receive a witness that your faith may be strengthened!’  Thereupon he showed her the plates. My father and mother had a large family of their own, the addition to it therefore of Joseph, his wife Emma and Oliver very greatly increased the toil and anxiety of my mother. And although she had never complained she had sometimes felt that her labor was too much, or at least she was perhaps beginning to feel so. This circumstance, however, completely removed all such feelings, and nerved her up for her increased responsibilities.” Report of Elders Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith,” Millennial Star 40 (9 Dec 1878):772-73, 9 December 1878–or see the transcribed version
8.
  Lucy Mack Smith gives the following account: “He (Martin Harris) said that he would see Joseph in the course of a few days. At this his wife exclaimed, “Yes, and I am coming to see him, too, and I will be there on Tuesday afternoon, and will stop over night.” Accordingly, when Tuesday afternoon arrived, Mrs. Harris made her appearance and as soon as she was well seated she began to importune my son relative to the truth of what he had said concerning the Record, declaring that if he really had any plates, she would see them, and that she was determined to help him publish them. He told her she was mistaken-that she could not see them, for he was not permitted to exhibit them to any one except those whom the Lord should appoint to testify of them. “And, in relation to assistance,” he observed, “I always prefer dealing with men, rather than their wives.” This highly displeased Mrs. Harris, for she considered herself altogether superior to her husband and she continued her importunities. She would say, “Now, Joseph, are you not telling me a lie? Can you look full in my eye and say before God that you have in reality found a Record, as you pretend?” To this Joseph replied, rather indifferently, “Why, yes, Mrs. Harris, I would as soon look you in the face and say so as not, if that will be any gratification to you.” Then said she, “Joseph, I will tell you what I will do, if I can get a witness that you speak the truth, I will believe all you say about the matter and I shall want to do something about the translation-I mean to help you any way.” This closed the evening’s conversation. The next morning, soon after she arose, she related a very remarkable dream which she said she had had during the night. It ran about as follows: She said that a personage appeared to her who told her that as she had disputed the servant of the Lord, and said his word was not to be believed, and had also asked him many improper questions, she had done that which was not right in the sight of God. After which he said to her, “Behold, here are the plates, look upon them and believe.” -Lucy Mack Smith, History of Joseph Smith by His Mother [Salt Lake City: Stevens & Wallis, Inc., 1945], 116-117.
9.
  “When the plates were brought in they were wrapped up in a tow frock. My father then put them into a pillow case. Father said, “What, Joseph, can we not see them?” “No. I was disobedient the first time, but I intend to be faithful this time. For I was forbidden to show them until they are translated, but you can feel them.” We handled them and could tell what they were. They were not quite as large as this Bible. Could tell whether they were round or square. Could raise the leaves this way (raising a few leaves of the Bible before him). One could easily tell that they were not a stone, hewn out to deceive, or even a block of wood. Being a mixture of gold and copper, they were much heavier than stone, and very much heavier than wood.”
When asked by a man in the congregation how much the plates weighed, he replied, “As near as I could tell, about 60 pounds.” The Saints’ Herald, Volume 31, 1844, page 643-644
10.
  From The Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star, Vol. 56:
Before William Smith, brother of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, died he was visited by J. W. Peterson. That gentleman has written an account of the interview with father Smith, to Zion’s Ensign, a paper published at Independence, Missouri. It is written from Bradtville, Wisconsin, and is as follows: Brother Briggs and I visited him next day after he returned from St. Paul, it being about two weeks before his death. We found him able to be about the house and quite willing to talk. After passing the time of day, Brother Briggs and he spoke of former meetings and finally drifted on to the subject of Brother Smith’s early boyhood and his knowledge of the rise of the Church, Book of Mormon, etc.
Bro. Briggs then handed me a pencil and asked Bro. Smith if he ever saw the plates his brother had had, from which the Book of Mormon was translated.
He replied, “I did not see them uncovered, but I handled them and hefted [p.511] them while wrapped in a tow frock and judged them to have weighed about sixty pounds. I could tell they were plates of some kind and that they were fastened together by rings running through the back. Their size was as described in mother’s history.”
Bro. Briggs then asked, “Did any others of the family see them?”
“Yes,” said he; “Father and my brother Samuel saw them as I did while in the frock. So did Hyrum and others of the family.”
“Was this frock one that Joseph took with him especially to wrap the plates in?”
“No, it was his every day frock such as young men used to wear then.”
“Din’t [sic] you want to remove the cloth and see the bare plates?” said Bro. B[riggs].
“No,” he replied; “for father had just asked if he might not be permitted to do so, and Joseph, putting his hand on them said; “No, I am instructed not to show them to any one. If I do, I will transgress and lose them again.” Besides we did not care to have him break the commandment and suffer as he did before.”
“Did you not doubt Joseph’s testimony sometimes?” said Bro. Briggs.
“No,” was the reply. “We all had the most implicit confidence in what he said. He was a truthful boy. Father and mother believed him, why should not the children? I suppose if he had told crooked stories about other things we might have doubted his word about the plates, but Joseph was a truthful boy. That Father and mother believed his report and suffered persecution for that belief shows that he was truthful. No sir, we never doubted his word for one minute.”
The Testimony of William Smith, The Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star Vol. 56, pages 132-133

Verse by Verse Commentary: Testimony of the Three Witnesses

Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, unto whom this work shall come: That we, through the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, have seen the plates which contain this record, which is a record of the people of Nephi, and also of the Lamanites, their brethren, and also of the people of Jared, who came from the tower of which hath been spoken. And we also know that they have been translated by the gift and power of God, for his voice hath declared it unto us; wherefore we know of a surety that the work is true. And we also testify that we have seen the engravings which are upon the plates; and they have been shown unto us by the power of God, and not of man. And we declare with words of soberness, that an angel of God came down from heaven, and he brought and laid before our eyes, that we beheld and saw the plates, and the engravings thereon; and we know that it is by the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, that we beheld and bear record that these things are true. And it is marvelous in our eyes. Nevertheless, the voice of the Lord commanded us that we should bear record of it; wherefore, to be obedient unto the commandments of God, we bear testimony of these things. And we know that if we are faithful in Christ, we shall rid our garments of the blood of all men, and be found spotless before the judgment-seat of Christ, and shall dwell with him eternally in the heavens. And the honor be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, which is one God. Amen. Oliver Cowdery David Whitmer Martin Harris How can anyone read that testimony and not be moved by it? How can anyone read it and not at least read the material described? 1)

Legrand Richards said something very similar: “How could any lover of truth, any man or woman desiring to serve the Lord as he would like to be served, listen to such a testimony as that and not want to know more about it, and whether it is true or not?” LeGrand Richards, Conference Report, April 1967, pp. 18-23

“translated by the gift and power of God”

Though the exact method Joseph used to received the translation is not essential, it is interesting. And I think some aspects of it are rather informative. The Lord schooled Joseph Smith in his gift of seership long before giving him the plates. Likely he wanted Joseph ready for when that time came, since there would be little time once the work commenced. Though it is fairly commonly known that Joseph Smith had both the Urimm and Thummim, and also a seer stone, it’s not very well known how he obtained the seer stone, nor its incredible usefulness in day-to-day activities 2)

There is an interesting little anecdote recorded by Martin Harris of an event that took place while visiting Joseph: “I was at the house of his father in Manchester, two miles south of Palmyra village, and was picking my teeth with a pin while sitting on the bars. The pin caught in my teeth and dropped from my fingers into shavings and straw. I jumped from the bars and looked for it. Joseph and Northrop Sweet also did the same. We could not find it. I then took Joseph on surprise, and said to him–I said, ‘Take your stone.’ I had never seen it, and did not know that he had it with him. He had it in his pocket. He took it and placed it in his hat–the old white hat–and placed his face in his hat. I watched him closely to see that he did not look to one side; he reached out his hand beyond me on the right, and moved a little stick and there I saw the pin, which he picked up and gave to me. I know he did not look out of the hat until after he had picked up the pin.” Joel Tiffany, Tiffany’s Monthly (June 1859): 164;cited in Van Wagoner and Walker, 55.
. Actually, he had at least two seer stones that we know of. 3) In this process of using the stones, the Lord sometimes corrected Joseph in his use of the stones. In the end, Joseph found far more use in the stones for the Lord’s purposes, and many revelations and translations came with the help of the seer stones. It also appears that as Joseph became more familiar with the principle of revelation, and better acquainted with the Holy Ghost, the seer stones and Urim and Thummim became less useful to him. 4)
Orson Pratt records: “While this thought passed through the speaker’s mind, Joseph, as if he read his thoughts, looked up and explained that the Lord gave him the Urim and Thummim when he was inexperienced in the Spirit of inspiration. But now he had advanced so far that he understood the operations of that Spirit and did not need the assistance of that instrument.” Orson Pratt, “Discourse at Brigham City,” 27 June 1874, Ogden (Utah) Junction, cited in Orson Pratt, “Two Days´ Meeting at Brigham City,” Millennial Star 36 (11 August 1874), 498–499, Cited at Fairmormon.org. Another time, Zebedee Coltrin asked the prophet why he didn’t use the Urim and Thummim, and, in Zebedee’s words: “Joseph said that he had no further need of it and he had given it to the angel Moroni. He had the Melchizedek Priesthood and with that Priesthood he had the key to all knowledge and intelligence.” High Priests Record, Spanish Fork, Utah, September 1880, p. 128, LDS Archives, cited in van Wagoner and Walker, op-cit., p. 59
There are more detailed descriptions of the translation process given by Elder Russell M. Nelson in a talk given in general conference in 1993.

“the work is true.”

Bearing testimony of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon is the major purpose the three witnesses. But an even more important testimony of the Book of Mormon is your testimony. The testimony of each individual. In fact, the power of the book is so real that it is difficult for those who honestly read it with a sincere heart to deny its spiritual power. 5)

Jeffrey R. Holland: I testify that one cannot come to full faith in this latter-day work—and thereby find the fullest measure of peace and comfort in these, our times—until he or she embraces the divinity of the Book of Mormon and the Lord Jesus Christ, of whom it testifies. If anyone is foolish enough or misled enough to reject 531 pages of a heretofore unknown text teeming with literary and Semitic complexity without honestly attempting to account for the origin of those pages—especially without accounting for their powerful witness of Jesus Christ and the profound spiritual impact that witness has had on what is now tens of millions of readers—if that is the case, then such a person, elect or otherwise, has been deceived; and if he or she leaves this Church, it must be done by crawling over or under or around the Book of Mormon to make that exit. In that sense the book is what Christ Himself was said to be: ‘a stone of stumbling, … a rock of offence,’ a barrier in the path of one who wishes not to believe in this work. Witnesses, even witnesses who were for a time hostile to Joseph, testified to their death that they had seen an angel and had handled the plates. ‘They have been shown unto us by the power of God, and not of man,’ they declared. ‘Wherefore we know of a surety that the work is true.’” Jeffrey R. Holland, Safety for the Soul, General Conference, October 2009
Though the three witnesses all wavered, believing at different times that Joseph Smith had lost his position as prophet, they never faultered in their testimonies of the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon. Two of them even eventually came back to the church, but none even once denied the heavenly truth of the Book of Mormon. They dared not do it. They knew it was true. 6)
Henry B. Eyring: “Those you love can have more than the physical evidence given those witnesses by what they saw and heard. Those three witnesses had something more, something we all need. The Holy Ghost bore witness to their minds and hearts that what they saw and heard was true. The Spirit told them that the angel was from God and that the voice was that of the Lord Jesus Christ. That witness of the Spirit was given to them and many who were not there. It is a witness that can, if we qualify for the companionship of the Holy Ghost, be ours and stay with us forever. The Three Witnesses never denied their testimony of the Book of Mormon. They could not because they knew it was true. They made sacrifices and faced difficulties beyond what most people ever know. Oliver Cowdery gave the same testimony about the divine origin of the Book of Mormon as he lay dying. But in the times of trial, they wavered in their faith that Joseph was still God’s prophet and that the only way to come unto the Savior was through His restored Church. That they continued to affirm what they saw and heard in that marvelous experience, during long periods of estrangement from the Church and from Joseph, makes their testimony more powerful.” Henry B. Eyring, An Enduring Testmony of the Mission of the Prophet Joseph Smith, General Conference October 2003

Oliver Cowdery

Oliver was the chief scribe for the major part of the translation of the Book of Mormon, and even had the opportunity to do a little bit of translating himself. In 1838, he had a fallout with the prophet, but found great joy in returning much later. 7)

Elder Clifford E. Young (Assistant to the the Twelve) said: “I have always been impressed, as you have, in reading of Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer. It was through the instrumentality of Phineas Young that Oliver Cowdery came back into the Church. They were brothers-in-law, Phineas having married Oliver’s sister. Oliver Cowdery left the Church in 1838 and was cut off with David Whitmer. He drifted around and finally came back to Richmond, Missouri. Phineas Young wrote to Oliver pleading with him to come back to the Church. Oliver replied feelingly, that he had been wronged, that the brethren had misjudged his motives. Our people in Missouri had suffered persecution. They had lost their lands and in many instances their homes. One marvels as one reads about it that there was not more of a falling away, because that part of the Church was so far removed from the leaders of the Church, and it was easy for men to get off the track. Well, Oliver Cowdery felt that his motives had been questioned, and so he wrote to Phineas Young that he felt that the Saints would not receive him. Phineas replied that Oliver should come back into the Church, that he knew it was true and that this was where he belonged. In 1848, while a conference was being held in Council Bluffs, Oliver came to the conference, and in the course of one of the meetings he asked to speak, and you know the story. He proclaimed again his witness of the Book of Mormon and his faith in the Prophet Joseph. After the conference he appeared before the high council. “I do not ask to be restored to my former position,” he said. He had been the second elder in the Church. “All I ask is that I may come back into the Church, because I know it is true.” A vote was taken by the high council which had excommunicated him, and that was in the proper order, and it voted to receive him into the Church and he was subsequently baptized and ordained an elder. Preparations were made for him to come out to Utah, but before this could be accomplished he was taken seriously ill and passed away. But he passed away, as David Whitmer afterwards said, the happiest man he ever saw, because he was back in the Church where he belonged.” Clifford E. Young, Conference Report, April 1946, pp. 85-89

David Whitmer

Though David Whitmer never returned to the church, he stood staunchly by his testimony throughout his life. “Unto all nations, kindreds, tongues and people unto whom these presence shall come— “It having been represented by one John Murphy of Polo [Caldwell County], Missouri, that I had in a conversation with him last summer, denied my testimony as one of the three witnesses to the Book of Mormon— “To the end thereof, that he may understand me now if he did not then, and that the world may know the truth, I wish now, standing as it were, in the very sunset of life, and in the fear of God, once for all to make this public statement: “That I have never at any time, denied that testimony or any part thereof, which has so long since been published with that book, as one of the three witnesses. “Those who know me best, will know that I have always adhered to that testimony—And that no man may be misled or doubt my present views in regard to the same, I do now again affirm the truth of all my statements as then made and published. “He that hath an ear to hear, let him hear: It was no delusion. What is written is written, and he that readeth let him understand . . . “And if any man doubt should he not carefully and honestly read and understand the same before presuming to sit in judgment, and condemning the light which shineth in darkness, and showeth the way to eternal life, as pointed out by the hand of God? “In the Spirit of Christ who hath said follow thou me; for ‘I am the life, the light, and the way.’ I submit this statement to the world. God, in whom I trust being my judge, as to the sincerity of my motives and the faith and hope that is in me of eternal life. “My sincere desire is that the world may be benefited by the plain and simple statement of the truth. “And all the honor be to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, which is one God. Amen. David Whitmer, Sr.” While on a mission to the eastern states in 1878, Elders Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith ran into David Whitmer, who was at that time 73 years old. Delighted to run into one of the three witnesses of the Book of Mormon, the elders talked with him for some time. In that discussion, they asked David about the instance of receiving the witness of the plates and the angel. Elder Pratt asked him, “Do you remember what time you saw the plates?” David Whitmer: It was in June, 1829—the latter part of the month, and the eight witnesses saw them, I think, the next day or the day after. (i.e. one or two days after). Joseph showed them the plates himself, but the angel showed us (the three witnesses) the plates, as I suppose to fulfil the words of the book itself. Martin Harris was not with us at this time, he obtained a view of them afterwards, (the same day). Joseph, Oliver and myself were together when I saw them. We not only saw the plates of the Book of Mormon but also the brass plates, the plates of the Book of Ether, the plates containing the records of the wickedness and secret combinations of the people of the world down to the time of their being engraved, and many other plates. The fact is it was just as though Joseph, Oliver and I were sitting just here on a log, when we were overshadowed by a light, it was not like the light of the sun nor like that of a fire, but more glorious and beautiful. It extended away round us, I cannot tell how far, but in the midst of this light about as far off as he sits (pointing to John C. Whitmer sitting a few feet from him), there appeared as it were, a table with many records or plates upon it, besides the plates of the Book of Mormon, also the Sword of Laban, the directors—i.e., the ball which Lehi had, and the Interpreters. I saw them just as plain as I see this bed (striking the bed beside him with his hand), and I heard the voice of the Lord, as distinctly as I ever heard anything in my life, declaring that the records of the plates of the Book of Mormon were translated by the gift and power of God.” Elder O.P.—Did you see the Angel at this time? D.W.—Yes; he stood before us, our testimony as recorded in the Book of Mormon is strictly and absolutely true, just as it is there written. 8)

Martin Harris

Sometimes we give Martin Harris a bad rap, because he did turn against Joseph Smith for a time, and leave the church. And though he came back later, he never returned to the full stature and position from which he began. The best talk I’ve ever heard on Martin Harris was given by Elder Dallin H. Oaks, and I share that video here: I think we owe it to Martin to put more emphasis on the good that he did. And he did much! Martin was an incredible man. If you look at the first editions of the Book of Mormon, you’ll find in the preface an account of the 116 pages of lost manuscript known as the book of Lehi. 9)

Book of Mormon Preface (1830): “As many false reports have been circulated respecting the following work, and also many unlawful measures taken by evil designing persons to destroy me, and also the work, I would inform you that I translated, by the gift and power of God, and caused to be written, one hundred and sixteen pages, the which I took from the Book of Lehi, which was an account abridged from the plates of Lehi, by the hand of Mormon; which said account, some person or persons have stolen and kept from me, notwithstanding my utmost exertions to recover it again—and being commanded of the Lord that I should not translate the same over again, for Satan had put it into their hearts to tempt the Lord their God, by altering the words, that they did read contrary from that which I translated and caused to be written; and if I should bring forth the same words again, or, in other words, if I should translate the same over again, they would publish that which they had stolen, and Satan would stir up the hearts of this generation, that they might not receive this work: but behold, the Lord said unto me, I will not suffer that Satan shall accomplish his evil design in this thing: therefore thou shalt translate from the plates of Nephi, until ye come to that which ye have translated, which ye have retained; and behold ye shall publish it as the record of Nephi; and thus I will confound those who have altered my words. I will not suffer that they shall destroy my work; yea, I will shew unto them that my wisdom is greater than the cunning of the Devil. Wherefore, to be obedient unto the commandments of God, I have, through his grace and mercy, accomplished that which he hath commanded me respecting this thing. I would also inform you that the plates of which hath been spoken, were found in the township of Manchester, Ontario county, New-York.”
. . . . . .

References

1.
  Legrand Richards said something very similar: “How could any lover of truth, any man or woman desiring to serve the Lord as he would like to be served, listen to such a testimony as that and not want to know more about it, and whether it is true or not?” LeGrand Richards, Conference Report, April 1967, pp. 18-23
2.
  There is an interesting little anecdote recorded by Martin Harris of an event that took place while visiting Joseph: “I was at the house of his father in Manchester, two miles south of Palmyra village, and was picking my teeth with a pin while sitting on the bars. The pin caught in my teeth and dropped from my fingers into shavings and straw. I jumped from the bars and looked for it. Joseph and Northrop Sweet also did the same. We could not find it. I then took Joseph on surprise, and said to him–I said, ‘Take your stone.’ I had never seen it, and did not know that he had it with him. He had it in his pocket. He took it and placed it in his hat–the old white hat–and placed his face in his hat. I watched him closely to see that he did not look to one side; he reached out his hand beyond me on the right, and moved a little stick and there I saw the pin, which he picked up and gave to me. I know he did not look out of the hat until after he had picked up the pin.” Joel Tiffany, Tiffany’s Monthly (June 1859): 164;cited in Van Wagoner and Walker, 55.
4.
  Orson Pratt records: “While this thought passed through the speaker’s mind, Joseph, as if he read his thoughts, looked up and explained that the Lord gave him the Urim and Thummim when he was inexperienced in the Spirit of inspiration. But now he had advanced so far that he understood the operations of that Spirit and did not need the assistance of that instrument.” Orson Pratt, “Discourse at Brigham City,” 27 June 1874, Ogden (Utah) Junction, cited in Orson Pratt, “Two Days´ Meeting at Brigham City,” Millennial Star 36 (11 August 1874), 498–499, Cited at Fairmormon.org. Another time, Zebedee Coltrin asked the prophet why he didn’t use the Urim and Thummim, and, in Zebedee’s words: “Joseph said that he had no further need of it and he had given it to the angel Moroni. He had the Melchizedek Priesthood and with that Priesthood he had the key to all knowledge and intelligence.” High Priests Record, Spanish Fork, Utah, September 1880, p. 128, LDS Archives, cited in van Wagoner and Walker, op-cit., p. 59
5.
  Jeffrey R. Holland: I testify that one cannot come to full faith in this latter-day work—and thereby find the fullest measure of peace and comfort in these, our times—until he or she embraces the divinity of the Book of Mormon and the Lord Jesus Christ, of whom it testifies. If anyone is foolish enough or misled enough to reject 531 pages of a heretofore unknown text teeming with literary and Semitic complexity without honestly attempting to account for the origin of those pages—especially without accounting for their powerful witness of Jesus Christ and the profound spiritual impact that witness has had on what is now tens of millions of readers—if that is the case, then such a person, elect or otherwise, has been deceived; and if he or she leaves this Church, it must be done by crawling over or under or around the Book of Mormon to make that exit. In that sense the book is what Christ Himself was said to be: ‘a stone of stumbling, … a rock of offence,’ a barrier in the path of one who wishes not to believe in this work. Witnesses, even witnesses who were for a time hostile to Joseph, testified to their death that they had seen an angel and had handled the plates. ‘They have been shown unto us by the power of God, and not of man,’ they declared. ‘Wherefore we know of a surety that the work is true.’” Jeffrey R. Holland, Safety for the Soul, General Conference, October 2009
6.
  Henry B. Eyring: “Those you love can have more than the physical evidence given those witnesses by what they saw and heard. Those three witnesses had something more, something we all need. The Holy Ghost bore witness to their minds and hearts that what they saw and heard was true. The Spirit told them that the angel was from God and that the voice was that of the Lord Jesus Christ. That witness of the Spirit was given to them and many who were not there. It is a witness that can, if we qualify for the companionship of the Holy Ghost, be ours and stay with us forever. The Three Witnesses never denied their testimony of the Book of Mormon. They could not because they knew it was true. They made sacrifices and faced difficulties beyond what most people ever know. Oliver Cowdery gave the same testimony about the divine origin of the Book of Mormon as he lay dying. But in the times of trial, they wavered in their faith that Joseph was still God’s prophet and that the only way to come unto the Savior was through His restored Church. That they continued to affirm what they saw and heard in that marvelous experience, during long periods of estrangement from the Church and from Joseph, makes their testimony more powerful.” Henry B. Eyring, An Enduring Testmony of the Mission of the Prophet Joseph Smith, General Conference October 2003
7.
  Elder Clifford E. Young (Assistant to the the Twelve) said: “I have always been impressed, as you have, in reading of Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer. It was through the instrumentality of Phineas Young that Oliver Cowdery came back into the Church. They were brothers-in-law, Phineas having married Oliver’s sister. Oliver Cowdery left the Church in 1838 and was cut off with David Whitmer. He drifted around and finally came back to Richmond, Missouri. Phineas Young wrote to Oliver pleading with him to come back to the Church. Oliver replied feelingly, that he had been wronged, that the brethren had misjudged his motives. Our people in Missouri had suffered persecution. They had lost their lands and in many instances their homes. One marvels as one reads about it that there was not more of a falling away, because that part of the Church was so far removed from the leaders of the Church, and it was easy for men to get off the track. Well, Oliver Cowdery felt that his motives had been questioned, and so he wrote to Phineas Young that he felt that the Saints would not receive him. Phineas replied that Oliver should come back into the Church, that he knew it was true and that this was where he belonged. In 1848, while a conference was being held in Council Bluffs, Oliver came to the conference, and in the course of one of the meetings he asked to speak, and you know the story. He proclaimed again his witness of the Book of Mormon and his faith in the Prophet Joseph. After the conference he appeared before the high council. “I do not ask to be restored to my former position,” he said. He had been the second elder in the Church. “All I ask is that I may come back into the Church, because I know it is true.” A vote was taken by the high council which had excommunicated him, and that was in the proper order, and it voted to receive him into the Church and he was subsequently baptized and ordained an elder. Preparations were made for him to come out to Utah, but before this could be accomplished he was taken seriously ill and passed away. But he passed away, as David Whitmer afterwards said, the happiest man he ever saw, because he was back in the Church where he belonged.” Clifford E. Young, Conference Report, April 1946, pp. 85-89
9.
  Book of Mormon Preface (1830): “As many false reports have been circulated respecting the following work, and also many unlawful measures taken by evil designing persons to destroy me, and also the work, I would inform you that I translated, by the gift and power of God, and caused to be written, one hundred and sixteen pages, the which I took from the Book of Lehi, which was an account abridged from the plates of Lehi, by the hand of Mormon; which said account, some person or persons have stolen and kept from me, notwithstanding my utmost exertions to recover it again—and being commanded of the Lord that I should not translate the same over again, for Satan had put it into their hearts to tempt the Lord their God, by altering the words, that they did read contrary from that which I translated and caused to be written; and if I should bring forth the same words again, or, in other words, if I should translate the same over again, they would publish that which they had stolen, and Satan would stir up the hearts of this generation, that they might not receive this work: but behold, the Lord said unto me, I will not suffer that Satan shall accomplish his evil design in this thing: therefore thou shalt translate from the plates of Nephi, until ye come to that which ye have translated, which ye have retained; and behold ye shall publish it as the record of Nephi; and thus I will confound those who have altered my words. I will not suffer that they shall destroy my work; yea, I will shew unto them that my wisdom is greater than the cunning of the Devil. Wherefore, to be obedient unto the commandments of God, I have, through his grace and mercy, accomplished that which he hath commanded me respecting this thing. I would also inform you that the plates of which hath been spoken, were found in the township of Manchester, Ontario county, New-York.”