Bruce R. McConkie, “The Doctrinal Restoration,” in The Joseph Smith Translation: The Restoration of Plain and Precious Truths, ed. Monte S. Nyman and Robert L. Millet (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1985), 1–22.
The Doctrinal Restoration
Elder Bruce R. McConkie
Elder Bruce R. McConkie, a member of the Council of the Twelve of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, passed away on April 19, 1985, shortly before the publication of this book.
May I say in all sincerity that I am both please and honored to meet and counsel with the cream of the teaching crop of the Church.
Here at Brigham Young University we have assembled gospel teachers of scholastic renown and spiritual insight. It is their privilege to be the model teachers of the Church; to be a leavening influence upon all others who teach the words of eternal life; to be lights and guides and patterns for all of the teachers in the earthly kingdom.
May I remind you of the high status of those who teach the gospel by the power of the Spirit. As Paul expressed it, “God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues” (1 Corinthians 12:28).
Note the order of propriety. In the true Church apostles are first; they hold the keys of the kingdom, receive revelation for the Church, and regulate all of its affairs in all the world as they are guided by the power of the Holy Ghost. President Spencer W. Kimball presides over the Church today because he is the senior apostle of God on earth.
Next to the apostles stand the prophets, every prophet ministering in his own place and sphere. The gift of prophecy is the gift of testimony, for, as the angel said to John, “the testimony of Jesus Christ is the spirit of prophecy” (Revelation 19:10).
And it is this gift of prophecy, this gift of testimony, this gift of knowing “by the Holy Ghost . . . that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world” (D&C 46:13)—it is this gift of personal revelation that is the rock foundation upon which the Church is built.
Upon this rock—the rock of personal revelation—the Lord builds his Church. Without it there would be no Church, no kingdom of God on earth, no gospel light in the souls of men. Manifestly, in the true Church, it is next in importance to the very apostolic keys and powers.
After apostles and prophets come teachers. Every teacher is expected to be a prophet and to know for himself of the truth and divinity of the work. Indeed, in the true sense, a teacher is greater than a prophet, for a teacher not only has the testimony of Jesus himself, but bears that testimony by teaching the gospel.
What is the teacher’s divine commission? It is “to preach the word of truth by the Comforter, in the Spirit of truth.” And if he teaches in “some other way”—meaning by the power of the intellect rather than the power of the Spirit—even though his words are true they are “not of God” (D&C 50:17–18). Such is the language of the revelation.
Hence in “the law of the Church”—speaking as though from the burning fires of Sinai—the Lord commands: “The . . . teachers of this church shall [it is mandatory!] teach the principles of my gospel, which are in the Bible and the Book of Mormon, in the which is the fulness of the gospel. . . . And . . . these shall be their teachings, as they shall be directed by the Spirit.”
Then, with the fires of testimony burning in the hearts of the teachers, and the thunders of Sinai prepared to carry their message to the ends of the earth, the Lord issues this decree—call it the law of the teacher, if you will—”And the Spirit shall be given unto you by the prayer of faith; and if ye receive not the Spirit ye shall not teach.”
Thus saith the Lord: “Receive my Spirit and be enlightened thereby; and unless this is the case—Thou shalt not teach my gospel.
“And all this ye shall observe to do as I have commanded concerning your teaching, unless the fulness of my scriptures is given.” At that time they had only the imperfect King James Version of the Bible and the near-perfect Book of Mormon. These were their only scriptural sources for the principles of the gospel.
When the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible—included in this revelation under the designation “fulness of my scriptures”—came forth, then teachers were to use it and the various additional direct revelations. This, then, is a command to teach the changes and additions now found in the so-called Inspired Version.
“And as ye shall lift up your voices by the Comforter,” the Lord says to his teachers, “ye shall speak and prophecy as seemeth me good” (D&C 42:12–16).
This, then, is what is expected of us as teachers. We are to teach the restored gospel, the restored truths, the restored doctrines of salvation. And it is of this doctrinal restoration—the revealing anew of the great reservoir of eternal truth—that I shall speak.
Peter, the senior apostle of God on earth in the meridian of time, is the source of the greatest pronouncements ever made about the restoration of all things, the restoration which was destined to occur in the last days. He and John, on their own motion and by virtue of their own faith, healed a man lame from his mother’s womb.
It was a dramatic occasion of great renown. The crippled alms-seeker was commanded in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth to rise up and walk. “Immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength.” He arose; he walked; he leaped; he praised God and showed himself to the assembled hosts in the temple. They were amazed; they marveled; and, greatly wondering, they surged together in Solomon’s porch, where Jesus had often taught, to see and learn what great thing had happened in Israel.
Peter had his congregation. It was as when his Master had opened the eyes of the man born blind in order to gain a congregation to whom he could declare himself as the Good Shepherd, the Lord Jehovah, the promised Messiah who would give his life for the sheep.
Peter’s message was that, though they had “killed the Prince of life,” God had raised him from the dead, and that his was the only “name under heaven given among men,” whereby they could be saved.
But, because their hands dripped with the innocent blood of the sinless Son of God, Peter held out to them, not a hope of immediate salvation, but of some merited reward in a future day of judgment.
“Repent ye therefore , and be converted,” he said; that is, believe my witness even though you are not yet ready for baptism; and, God willing, perhaps “your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord.”
That is: After you have paid the penalty for your sins, there may be some hope for you in the millennial day when the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory; there may be some hope in that great day of refreshing and regeneration when there will be a new heaven and a new earth whereon dwelleth righteousness.
That is: There may be some hope for you when the Lord “shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you,” when the Son of Man shall come in his glory to rule among the sons of men.
And of this very Jesus, who came once and was by you rejected, know this: Him “the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began” (Acts 3:1–21).
In other words: Christ must abide in heaven, he cannot dwell again on earth until the age of restoration, the age that ushers in the millennial day. And in that age of restoration, known as the times of restitution, the Lord will restore all that has been spoken by every prophet in every age, from Adam to that paradisiacal day.
This holy word does not say the Lord will restore all things before the Second Coming; it says all things will restored in the age of restoration, which age or period or era or time will begin shortly before the return of the Lord Jesus in all the glory of his Father’s kingdom.
That this age of restoration will continue during the Millennium is seen from these revealed words: “When the Lord shall come, he shall reveal all things—things which have passed, and hidden things which no man knew, things of the earth, by which it was made, and the purpose and the end thereof—things most precious, things that are above, and things that are beneath, things that are in the earth, and upon the earth, and in heaven” (D&C 101:32–34).
This age of restoration is the one spoken of by Paul in these words: “In the dispensation of the fulness of times” God shall “gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him” (Ephesians 1:10).
What are all the things which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began? And how and in what way will the Lord restore them?
Clearly in the times of restitution—which had their beginning in the spring of 1820, when Elohim the Father and Jehovah the Son stood personally in the Sacred Grove, and will continue on into the millennial era, when the returning Christ will reveal all things—clearly in this age of restoration, the promised giving anew of what was known and had anciently will have two aspects.
For one thing the Lord will restore all things, both temporally and spiritually, as they once were. All of the holy prophets, in one degree or another, knew of the promised restoration. All of the prophets knew that Christ would come in the meridian of time to work out the infinite and eternal atonement, and that he would come again to the deliver his Saints and reign personally among them on a renewed earth.
We know these things and they knew them. How could any people have the truths of salvation without a knowledge of the Atonement and without a knowledge of the eventual triumph of truth?
This earth will return to its Edenic state. As we sing in one of the W. W. Phelps hymns:
This earth was once a garden place,
With all her glories common,
And men did live a holy race,
And worship Jesus face to face,
And as our tenth articles of faith testifies: “We believe . . . that the earth will be renewed and receive [again!] its paradisiacal glory.” Truly, there will be a new heaven and a new earth—a millennial earth, like unto the Edenic earth—whereon dwelleth righteousness.
In that day—it is part of the restoration of all things—the Lord “shall command the great deep, and it shall be driven back into the north countries, and the islands shall become one land; And the land of Jerusalem and the land of Zion shall be turned back into their own place, and the earth shall be like it was in the days before it was divided” (D&C 133:23–24).
In that day Enoch’s city—the City of Zion, the perfect pattern for the millennial Zion—will return.
We read that Enoch walked with God,
Above the power of Mammon,
While Zion spread herself abroad,
And Saints and angels sing aloud,
Her land was good and greatly blest,
Beyond all Israel’s Canaan,
Her fame was known from east to west,
Her peace was great, and pure the rest
And thanks be to God, all this shall come again in this age of renewal, of refreshment, of restoration.
Hosanna to such days to come,
The Saviour’s second coming,
When all the earth in glorious bloom
Affords the Saints a holy home,
(Hymns, no. 389)
In the day of restoration the bodies of men will be renewed, freed from disease, and be akin to what they were in the primeval day. Once men lived for nearly a thousand years; soon they will begin to live to the age of a tree.
In the day of restoration the two kingdoms of Israel shall become one. As a united people they shall dwell upon the mountains of Israel, in the land of Palestine. They shall build up the ancient cities and reclaim the wasted land, which shall then blossom as the rose as springs of water burst forth from the dry and arid desert.
In that day of restoration the earthly Church and kingdom of God is to be set up among men. Apostles and prophets, holding priesthood and power and keys, are again to roam the earth teaching and testifying of the risen Lord. Gifts and miracles as of old are to be manifest. The blind will see, the deaf hear, and the spirits of men, having departed this life, will be called back to reanimate corpses that would otherwise rot away in graves dug by men.
All these things and ten thousand others are destined to be restored in this glorious age of restoration. All this is or should be well known among us. But these is something that underlies it all; something that is the bedrock upon which it is built; something without which none of these glorious things could occur; something that we either overlook or take for granted.
That something is the doctrinal restoration. It is the restoration of the principles of the gospel. It is the restoration of the truths of salvation. It is the restoration of that knowledge without which men could not have faith like the ancients and thus prepare themselves to receive and be participants in the other restored events of which we speak.
Unless and until men believe the doctrines of the Restoration, they can never—never, never, never—worlds without end, prepare themselves to abide the day of our Lord’s return; to dwell with Enoch and his fellows in the returning Zion; to stand with the elect of Israel in building up their ancient homeland; to perform miracles; to glory in the gifts of the Spirit; and to find full fellowship with the Saints of that God who has bought us with his blood.
It is a knowledge of the truth—restored to us so we can gain faith like the ancients—that will enable us to receive the promised blessings.
Until the doctrine of the Abrahamic covenant was restored, who would have even imagined that celestial marriage is the gate to eternal life?
If the doctrine setting forth the nature and kind of being God is had not been restored we would be worshipping cows or crocodiles or cedar posts or unknown spirit essences—all to no avail.
As members of the kingdom—possessing the gift of the Holy Ghost, having the canonized word, receiving guidance from those called and endowed from on high—it is surely our privilege to receive and understand the doctrines of salvation as they are being restored to us in this great day of restoration.
And as teachers, it is surely our privilege to persuade others to gain like knowledge so they will be inheritors of like blessings with us and with our forbears.
Having all these things in mind; believing that God is no respecter of persons; and knowing that a soul is just as precious in our day as it was in the days of Enoch and Elijah—let us turn our attention to the doctrinal restoration.
How and in what way is the Lord in process or restoring the ancient word, the word that perfected Enoch and his people, the word that will prepare us for fellowship with them when they return?
Let us try, if we may, to put ourselves in the position of devout Christians in the day appointed for the beginning of the doctrinal restoration. To begin with, none of us would have any idea whatever that there is to be a doctrinal restoration. Having the Bible, we would think it contains all things necessary for salvation, and it would never enter our minds that any ancient people knew anywhere near as much as we think we know.
A doctrinal restoration! Why, the very thought is almost blasphemous! So we would think. Can we improve upon what Jesus and Paul taught? Surely there would not be more than a score in each legion of our self-styled and self-appointed Christian community who would be open-minded enough to believe that an unchangeable God who spoke anciently, and is the same yesterday, today, and forever, might speak again.
Why, if such an unthinkable thing should happen, it might well destroy the whole body of our Christianity, based as it is on the mystical traditions of our fathers.
And yet, thoughtful persons among us—remember we are placing ourselves in the position of Christians generally who knew nothing of the promised age of restoration—thoughtful persons among us would know that something may be amiss.
Yes, we would have the Holy Bible. But what is the Bible? Most of our priests and ministers have told us it is a book of scripture, a perfect book, one containing verbal revelation, which men must believe to be saved.
As we know, it is a collection of various books, poems, and letters, supposedly written by inspired men. But can we be sure, at this late date, that any of the books were even written by those to whom they are attributed?
How is it, we wonder, that the postapostolic fathers each had their own differing lists of canonical books?
What persons or councils, we wonder, had the inspiration to approve favored writings, classify some as apocryphal or pseudepigraphic, and discard others entirely?
Where, we wonder, are the various lost books, such as the Book of Gad the Seer—all mentioned with approval in the Bible itself?
Some of us might even think—
Isn’t it a little strange that there is no book of Adam or Enoch or Noah; no book of Andrew, Philip, or Nathanael?
Can it be that the books in our present Bible are there more by historical accident than by divine design?
And then as we know there is the matter of the accuracy and purity of the text. There is no such thing as an original manuscript. The best we have are documents that are copies of copies of copies through long generations of time, each preserving and adding to the errors of its predecessors.
One study by biblical scholars counted more than thirty thousand textual differences in extant manuscripts covering a small portion of the Bible. They postulated that if such a study were enlarged to include the whole Bible, the textual variations would number in the hundreds of thousands.
Added to all of this there is the matter of translation. Who is able to carry from one culture and language to another all of the idioms and shades of meaning found in the parent setting?
What biblical version shall we accept—the Douay, or King James, or one of the ever-changing Lutheran versions?
In all of this we would not have even mentioned the greatest of all the biblical shortcomings. This we shall do shortly. But for the present we simply ask:
How would we know the Bible is true? If it is true, is it complete and perfect as it should be? And if it is not, how, and by whom, and in what manner will it be perfected and made whole?
Now, if we were in the position I have here postulated and had been wise enough to know there was to be a restoration of all things, I think we would have looked for that restoration to come to pass through the perfection and enlargement of the Bible.
And as a matter of fact the Lord had this very thing in mind. But it was not to take place until after a foundation had been laid.
It was his design and purpose to bring forth the Book of Mormon as a new and added witness of the Lord Jesus Christ. Then he would endow his prophets with keys and power and give them direct revelation as to how and in what manner his earthly kingdom should be established anew among men.
After this—as a crowning achievement—he would begin the perfection of the Bible, a work destined to be greater and have more significance than any of us have yet realized.
The Book of Mormon teaches and testifies of Christ and recites in plainness and purity the true doctrines of the gospel. Nowhere else do we receive such profound insights into the Atonement, into faith and repentance, baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost, miracles and the gifts of the Spirit, the place of Israel in the eternal scheme of things, and a host of other doctrines.
The Book of Mormon restores many truths lost from the Bible or found in it only in a partial and perverted way. It contains within its covers the proof of its own divinity. All who read, ponder, and pray—in faith—are promised that they shall know by the power of the Holy Ghost that the Book of Mormon is the mind and will and voice of the Lord, to all men everywhere, from this day onward as long as the earth shall stand.
But the Book of Mormon does something more. It announces that the Bible is true. It came forth not alone “to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations,” as Moroni wrote on the title page.
It also came forth “proving to the world that the holy scriptures,” meaning the Bible, “are true, and that God does inspire men and call them to his holy work in this age and generation, as well as in generations of old” (D&C 20:11).
What future would there be in restoring and perfecting the Bible unless it is a true book? And with all due respect to the scholars of the world, to the ministers of Christendom, to professing believers everywhere—how can any of them really know the Bible is true? Intellectual approaches reach as many conclusions as there are people involved.
And how could God do better in proving the Bible to be true than to bring forth a new and parallel and conforming volume of scripture; establish by personal revelation that the new scripture is true; and then use it as the standard that proves and testifies to the truth of the biblical word?
But the Book of Mormon does more than prove the Bible is true. It also is the irrefutable witness that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God; that the Lord calls and inspires men today as he did anciently; that living prophets receive revelation in our day and time.
Thus, knowing the Bible is true, and knowing there are prophets on earth who receive revelation, the stage is set for the restoration—by revelation!—of the Bible. It is now possible to bring the Book of Books back to its original state of purity and plainness.
Thus, the doctrinal restoration is destined to come to pass, first, through the Book of Mormon, second, by direct revelation—a re-revelation—of the doctrines known anciently, and third, by the restoration, by revelation, of the Bible, which in spite of its faults has been the most stabilizing force on earth since the day it came into being.
As we consider these three ways and means of doctrinal restoration—the Book of Mormon, so far translated only in part; the direct revelations given to Joseph Smith and others, particularly those in the Doctrine and Covenants; and the just begun and eventually to be completed restoration of the Bible—as we consider them we should be aware of the insidious and devil-directed attack upon them.
Let me speak plainly. Satan hates and spurns the scriptures. The less scripture there is, and the more it is twisted and perverted, the greater is the rejoicing in the courts of hell.
There has never been a book—not even the Book of Mormon—that has been so maligned and cursed and abused as the Bible.
There is not much the world can do about the Book of Mormon. It is here and it is what it is. It cannot be modified or changed. Men have no choice but to believe or disbelieve it. If they disbelieve they can talk about Solomon Spaulding or any other figments of their imaginations that suit their fancies of the moment.
But with the Book of Mormon remains secure, unchanged and unchangeable, a firm and steady witness of Christ and his doctrine. The Book of Mormon has been, is now, and will forever remain secure in the hands of the servants of the Lord, for which we are immeasurably grateful.
But the Bible it was not and is not so. It is now in the hands of intellectuals and unbelievers and ministers whose delight it is to twist and pervert its doctrines and to spiritualize away the plain meanings of all its important parts. And it once was in the sole and exclusive care and custody of an abominable organization, founded by the devil himself, likened prophetically unto a great whore, whose great aim and purpose was to destroy the souls of men in the name of religion.
In these hands it ceased to be the book it once was. Originally “it contained the fulness of the gospel of the Lord.” It was sent forth “from the Jews in purity unto the Gentiles, according to the truth which is in God.”
Then it came into the hands of “that great and abominable church, which is most abominable above all other churches.” They took “away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and most precious; and also many covenants of the Lord.”
“And all this have they done that they might pervert the right ways of the Lord, that they might blind the eyes and harden the hearts of the children of men.”
Then the Bible—with many “plain and precious things . . . taken away”—went forth to the nations of the earth. And, as Nephi said, “because of the many plain and precious things which have been taken out of the book, which were plain unto the understanding of the children of men, according to the plainness which is in the Lamb of God—because of these things which are taken away out of the gospel of the Lamb, an exceedingly great many do stumble, yea, insomuch that Satan hath great power over them” (1 Nephi 13:24–29).
Special mention is made of the book of Revelation as written by John. When he wrote the truths that are in it, and when they went forth to the world, they “were plain and pure, and most precious and easy to the understanding of all men” (1 Nephi 14:23). Today, as these writings now are, “all men,” save those filled with the spirit of prophecy, stumble over John’s apocalyptic words.
During the Dark Ages—during the Black Millennium, if you will—even the Bible that now is was kept from the people. Many is the martyr who suffered death by fire for reading or possessing biblical manuscripts. The translation and publication of the scriptural word was opposed with the satanic fury in that day.
For the present, the devil has lost that round. Today he centers his powers on denying the authenticity of the scriptures and using them to prove such false doctrines as that God is a Spirit or that we are saved by grace alone without works.
This, then, is where we as Latter-day Saints stand. We all believe the Book of Mormon and rejoice in its teachings. Our stand is in sharp contrast to that of the Reorganized Church. I am told they have a position paper which says the Book of Mormon is simply a recapitulation by Joseph Smith, in story form, of the dominant doctrines of the sectarian world in his day. But in any event we believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.
As to latter-day revelation, as found in the Doctrine and Covenants and in the Pearl of Great Price, we have no problem. Since the Book of Mormon is true, it follows that Joseph Smith was a prophet, and hence it is easy to believe his revelations.
Where the Bible is concerned, things get a little sticky. Or course we believe it—always specifying the King James Version—but there is the reservation about parts not being translated correctly. And in some minds there seems to be a nagging uncertainty about the so-called Inspired Version. After all, some say, the Prophet did not finish his work, and how can we be sure what he did finish is correct?
May I be pardoned if I say that negative attitudes and feelings about the Joseph Smith Translation are simply part of the devil’s program to keep the word of truth from the children of men.
Of course the revealed changes made by Joseph Smith are true—as much so as anything in the Book of Mormon or the Doctrine and Covenants.
Of course we have adequate and authentic original sources showing the changes—as much so as are the sources for the Book of Mormon or the revelations.
Of course we should use the Joseph Smith Translation in our study and teaching. Since when do any of us have the right to place bounds on the Almighty and say we will believe these revelations but not those?
I think much of the prejudice of the past was based on a lack of understanding and has faded away since we have published our new Church edition of the King James Version with its repeated references to the Joseph Smith Translation.
Would it be amiss if we made a brief overview of what the Joseph Smith Translation now is and what it will one day be?
As to its present state—it contains various additions, deletions, and emendations to the King James Version. But most importantly it contains the book of Moses and the twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew as published in the Pearl of Great Price.
These portions have been formally canonized by us, which should establish that any changes made by the Prophet are true and should be used. Does anyone think that the pure revelation found in Genesis 14 about Melchizedek or in Genesis 50 about the Nephites and Joseph Smith and the latter days is any less a revelation than Moses 1? Does anyone think the first chapter of John’s Gospel is of any less worth than the twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew’s?
True, the Joseph Smith Translation, though completed to the point that the early Brethren were going to publish it at one time has not been completed in the full and true sense. But for that matter neither has the Book of Mormon. I am as anxious to read and study what is in the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon as I am to give the same attention to those parts of the Bible yet to be revealed.
I am clear in my mind that the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon will not come forth until the Millennium. The same thing is undoubtedly true of the fulness of the Bible, though some additions could well be made before that time.
Of what will the Bible consist when it is perfected?
Surely it will contain the writings of Adam and Enoch and Noah; of Melchizedek and Isaac and Jacob; and certainly Abraham wrote much more than the Prophet found on the Egyptian papyrus. The book of Abraham in our Pearl of Great Price is obviously a restored biblical record.
Does anyone think we have all of the words of Isaiah or Jeremiah or Malachi? And are there not prophets and apostles without number, whose names we do not even know, who have recorded their teachings and testimonies?
The perfected Bible of the future will surely include all that was on the brass plates of Laban. Indeed, Lehi prophesied “that these plates of brass should go forth unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people who were of his seed. Wherefore, he said that these plates of brass should never perish; neither should they be dimmed any more by time” (1 Nephi 5:18–19).
More than five hundred years later Alma testified that they should “be kept and preserved by the hand of the Lord until they should go forth unto every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, that they shall know of the mysteries contained thereon” (Alma 37:4–5).
Someday the Lord will raise up a prophet, who will also be a seer and a translator, to whom he will give the brass plates that they may be translated for the benefit and blessing of those in all nations.
Would God that the work might commence at least in our day, though in fact we have no such hope. Why should the Lord give us what is on the brass plates or in the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon when we do not ever treasure up and live by what he has already given us?
The Bible that went forth to the gentile nations in the early days of the Christian are, according to the angelic word to Nephi, “contains the covenants of the Lord, which he hath made unto the house of Israel; and it also containeth many of the prophecies of the holy prophets; and it is a record like unto the engravings which are upon the plates of brass, save there are not so many” (1 Nephi 13:23).
Thereafter the many plain and precious parts were taken away by the servants in the house of the great church which is not the Lord’s Church.
Thus our present Bible contains only a fraction of the holy word that once was compiled with and included in it as the acceptable word of the Lord.
From various Book of Mormon references we gain a glimpse of what is on the brass plates.
They contain record of the Jews down to the days of Zedekiah, including the genealogies of the people and the prophecies of the holy prophets, among which are the words of Isaiah and portions of Jeremiah.
They contain the, in their perfect form, the law of Moses, and the five books of Moses—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
They contain the writings of Joseph who was sold into Egypt, than which few have been greater, and on them is found the mysteries of God and the commandments he has given the children of men.
They contain the books of holy scripture of which the world does not dream, including the writings of Zenock, Neum, and Zenos.
But what interests us more than the books included on the brass plates is the tone and tenor and general approach to the gospel and to salvation that they set forth. They are gospel oriented and speak of Christ and the various Christian concepts which the world falsely assumes to have originated with Jesus and the early apostles.
For instance, Zenock taught that “the God of our fathers, who were led out of Egypt, out of bondage, and also were preserved in the wilderness by him, yea, the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, yieldeth himself, according the words of the angel, as a man, into the hands of wicked men, to be lifted up, according to the words Zenock” (1 Nephi 19:10).
Indeed, it was Zenock who wrote of the visit of the Lord God to Israel after his resurrection; of the joy and salvation that would come to the righteous among them; of the fires, and tempests, and earthquakes that would occur in the Americas; of the scourging and crucifying of the God of Israel by those in Jerusalem; of the scattering of the Jews among all nations; and of their gathering again in the last days “from the four quarters of the earth” (1 Nephi 19:11–17).
I do not think I overstate the matter when I say that next to Isaiah himself—who is the prototype, pattern, and model for all the prophets—there was not a greater prophet in all Israel than Zenos. And our knowledge of his inspired writings is limited to the quotations and paraphrasing summaries found in the Book of Mormon.
Our understanding of the prophetic word will be greatly expanded if we know how one prophet quotes another, usually without acknowledging his source.
Either Isaiah or Micah copied the prophetic words of the other relative to the mountain of the Lord’s house being established in the last days with all nations flowing thereto. Their ministries overlapped, but we assume that the lesser Micah copied from the greater Isaiah and then appended some words of his own about the Millennial Era.
Some unnamed Old Testament prophet, who obviously was Zenos, as the Book of Mormon testifies, spoke of the day when the wicked would be destroyed as stubble; when the righteous would be “led up as calves to the stall” ; when Christ should “rise from the dead, with healing in his wings”; and when the Holy One of Israel would reign on the earth.
Malachi, who lived more than two hundred years after Nephi, uses these very expressions in his prophetic writings. Can we do other than conclude that both Nephi and Malachi had before them the writings of Zenos?
Both Paul and Mormon expounded with great inspiration about faith, hope, and charity, in many verses using the same words and phrases. If there is any difference between them it is that Mormon expounds the doctrines more perfectly and persuasively than does Paul.
It does not take much insight to know that Mormon and Paul both had before them the writings of some Old Testament prophet on the same subjects.
It is perfectly clear that John the Beloved is copying, in the first chapter of the Gospel of John, words written by John the Baptist, a practice with which we have no fault to find.
Once the Lord has revealed his doctrine in precise language to a chosen prophet, there is no reason why he should inspire another prophet to choose the same words in presenting the same doctrine on a subsequent occasion. It is much easier and simpler to quote that which has already been given in perfection. We are all commanded—including the prophets among us—to search the scriptures and thereby learn what other prophets have presented.
The Lord did not reveal anew to Nephi what Isaiah had written. Rather, Nephi was commanded to quote Isaiah’s words as they were found on the brass plates. Then he was free to expound them as the Spirit directed.
Everyone is entitled to receive the same revelations and view the same visions. God is no respecter of persons. But if any of us saw the vision of the degrees of glory, there would be no reason for us to write it anew in the words of Joseph Smith. It has already been recorded in the way the Lord designed; and if we were wont to quote it in the book of scripture we were writing, we would do it in the language of the originating prophet.
As a sidelight to our present discussion, it is clearly evident that the Jews in Jesus’ day had more Old Testament scriptures than we have.
Jesus reminded the Jews that Abraham saw the day of the coming of the Son of Man, which fact is not in the Old Testament, but has now been restored in Genesis 15.
Jude quoted from the book of Enoch, which book has not yet been restored to us.
Paul has much to say about Melchizedek and the holy priesthood which remained hidden until put again in Genesis 14.
Bur let us return to our subject—“The Doctrinal Restoration”—and draw some proper conclusions.
1. Question: What is being restored in this dispensation of the fulness of times?
Answer: We are in the process of receiving all that God has spoken by the mouths of all his holy prophets since the world began. Only a small portion has come to us so far; we do not, as yet, begin to know what the ancients knew.
That which has come to us anew breaks the shackles of the past and opens up entirely new vistas to us. It is all Christ-centered, gospel-centered, priesthood-centered, church-centered. It lets us know that all of the ancient Saints had the same gospel, the same hope in Christ, the same holy priesthood, the same celestial marriage, the same church, the same apostolic power, the same gifts of the Spirit, the same system of salvation that we have.
Except for a few things relative to salvation for the dead, we have not yet received one syllable of scripture, one trace of truth, one gospel verity, one saving power, that was not had anciently.
The time is yet future—it will be millennial—when the Lord reveals to us those things which have been hidden from the foundation of the earth and which have never as yet been given to man.
2. Question: How and in what way is the new knowledge being restored?
Answer: By revelation. Our doctrine is not handed down, in the sectarian sense; it is revealed. It is revealed directly as in the case of the Doctrine and Covenants; or by the process of translation, as in the case of the Book of Mormon; or by the process of perfecting ancient scriptures, as in the case of the Joseph Smith Translation.
This generation—the generation that shall be until the coming of the Son of Man—is to have the Lord’s word through Joseph Smith, and to some degree through his successors.
3. Question: What are the vehicles of the Restoration?
Answer: First, the Book of Mormon, which was translated by the gift and power of God; second, the Doctrine and Covenants, whose contents are revealed, coupled with such inspired utterances as the King Follett Sermon; and, third, the so-called Translations, which include the book of Abraham, the book of Moses (itself part of the Inspired Version), and the whole Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible.
None of these vehicles have given us their full load. We have only about a third of the Book of Mormon; the field of revelation is without bounds or limits; and the Bible restoration has scarcely been commenced.
4. Question: When will we receive more of the mind and will of the Lord, and when will the great doctrinal restoration be completed?
We have a revealed answer as to when we shall receive the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon. What we have so far received is to test our faith. When we repent of all our iniquity and become clean before the Lord, and when we exercise faith in him like unto the brother of Jared, then the sealed portion of the ancient word will be translated and read from the housetops.
The same is certainly true of the brass plates and the lost portions of the Bible. What we have received so far is to test our faith. Why should the Lord give us more of the biblical word if we are indifferent to what he has already revealed? Does anyone think the Lord should give us the words of Zenos when we are ignoring the words of Isaiah?
There are revelations without end that are available to the faithful at any time they are prepared to receive them.
As a matter of practical reality, however, the great doctrinal restoration is to be millennial. Of that day Nephi said: Then “the earth shall be full of knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. Wherefore, the things of all nations shall be made known; yea, all things shall be made known unto the children of men. There is nothing which is secret save it shall be revealed; there is no work of darkness save it shall be made manifest in the light; and there is nothing which is sealed upon the earth save it shall be loosed. Wherefore, all things which have been revealed unto the children of men shall at that day be revealed; and Satan shall have power over the hearts of the children of men no more, for a long time” (2 Nephi 30:15–18).
5. Perhaps these are some of the final great questions we should ask: Is the restored word true? Is it the mind and will and voice of the Lord? Does the Joseph Smith Translation, as it now stands and without more, have divine approval, and should we use it?
By way of answer let us ask: Is the Book of Mormon true and should we use it? We all know it is true, even though there is more of it to come.
Is the divine word in the Doctrine and Covenants true? Of course, even though new revelations lie ahead.
Is the book of Abraham true? Yes, but it is not complete; it stops almost midair. Would that the Prophet had gone on in his translation or revelation, as the case may be.
Yes, the Inspired Version is inspired. Yes, the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible is holy scripture. In one sense of the word, it is the crowning part of the doctrinal restoration. At least it sets the pattern and marks the way as to how the doctrinal rivers of the past shall yet flow into the ocean of the present, as shall surely be in the fulness of times.
Having so testified, may I leave you with these words to ponder:
Thus saith our God: “Thou fool, that shall say: A Bible, we have got a Bible, and we need no more Bible? Have ye obtained a Bible save it were by the Jews?
Is it a perfect Bible? Or have many of its plain and precious parts been lost? Does it set forth the covenants and doctrines of the Lord as they were revealed to his ancient covenant people?
“Wherefore murmur ye, because that ye shall receive more of my word?” saith the Lord.
Now, my attempt, in these somewhat rambling remarks, has been to place the Joseph Smith Translation of God’s Holy Word in its proper relationship to the great doctrinal restoration.
In the very nature of things this includes the evidence, proof, and witness, that one of the great contributions—perhaps the greatest contribution—of this inspired work is to open the doors of our understanding to the marvelous reality that Christ and his gospel, with all its gifts, powers, and graces, has been had among men, in divers dispensations, from the days of Adam to this present hour.
I have not dwelt upon specifics but have chosen rather to unveil the whole broad panorama. Many of you have greater expertise than I do where these specifics are concerned. My good friend Robert Matthews is of course the world authority on the Joseph Smith Translation.
But I am pleased to say in closing that this inspired work by the great Prophet of the Restoration is one of the great evidences of his divine calling.
One of the reasons we know he was the mighty Prophet of the Restoration is the inspired translation and revision of the Holy Bible.
God grant us the wisdom to walk in the light of that great beacon of understanding that he lighted for our benefit and blessing. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.