The Ancient Nature of the Gospel

Ancient Origins of the Gospel, Higher Criticism, and Relevance of the Restoration

The Book of Moses, which emerged from Joseph Smith’s larger effort of making an inspired revision of the Bible, was largely driven by revelation pertaining to the book of Genesis. In restoring ancient scripture, this divinely aided translation revealed additional information and insights about the biblical past beyond what the Bible’s current canonical text reveals. This chapter delves deeper into this concept of restoration and the ancient nature of the gospel. As observed in the previous chapters, Joseph Smith’s access to antiquity through translating ancient texts, along with their attendant revelations of the past, at times represented something of an inverted paradigm from that of some of his contemporary theologians, academics, clerics, and biblical scholars who took a heavily philosophical, philological, or patristic approach to scripture and sacred history and treated them as something primarily relevant to the past. The scriptures Joseph Smith translated were of ancient origin yet pertinent to the present and the eschatological future. Joseph Smith’s prophetic ability to transcend time by revealing scripture that brought figures from the past into the present and future constituted a remarkable prophetic gift. “Smith employed translation to resist spatial and temporal alienation,” Samuel Brown notes. “He made the ancients his contemporaries, directly accessible to his disciples.”[1]

As with other myths that have founded a sense of peoplehood, Smith’s narrative history of human and divine interaction was ultimately oriented to a future time that served as a basis for acting in the present. It provided a world of meaning by which his believing readers understood themselves existentially, including their future and not merely their past. Most fundamentally, Smith’s writings give his believing readers a different sense of what was and what will be and, as a consequence, give significance to and a sense of what is real in the present.[2]

In the study of ancient scripture, one is eventually and inevitably confronted with the issue of historicity: either the events depicted in the scriptures happened or they did not; either the people described therein, including prophets, were historical figures within their historical context or they were not; either the miracles depicted therein represent reality or they do not.[3] For Joseph and the Church, the scriptures were historical and the characters and events depicted in them forged a bond between past, present, and future. Joseph’s visions and revelations furnished the bridge over which the prophets and saints of the distant past could be “carried over”—translated—into Joseph’s and the Church’s present.

For Latter-day Saints, Moses and Elijah cannot be ahistorical characters or the literary inventions of later Yahwistic and Deuteronomistic writers. Such scenarios flatly invalidate the reality of those prophets’ mortal and postmortal prophetic ministries. On the other hand, the restoration that the Prophet Joseph Smith describes requires an actual Moses and an actual Elijah appearing to him and Oliver Cowdery in the Kirtland Temple on April 3, 1836. The validity of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the gathering of scattered Israel and the efficacy of temple sealing ordinances depend on the historical actuality of that sacred event and the attendant bestowal of priesthood keys in this dispensation, as Moses and Elijah had done in the New Testament dispensation (see Matthew 17).[4] The crucial roles of these ancient prophets in the latter-day restoration of priesthood keys accord with and require the reality of their ancient ministries and texts.[5]

We cannot escape the question of epistemology. Although the necessity of Moses’s and Elijah’s historicity may seem oversimplified—at least as we have framed it here—scholars sometimes complicate historical issues to such a degree that the effect is to sever the texts they study from their Sitz im Leben (“situation in life”). Some linguistic and historical-critical studies of biblical texts have contributed to an exodus away from belief in the Bible as having historical value and into a new, self-proclaimed promised land of skepticism.[6] When scripture avers the reality of certain persons, places, and events, how does one know they are not real or did not happen?[7] Much time and ink have been spent and spilled in historical, literary, source, intertextual, and linguistic studies in order to spot textual variations and inconsistencies, historical anomalies, contradictions, and improbabilities, and so on, leading to skepticism about the historicity of the Bible.[8] These studies are important, and it is good to be aware of the issues they raise. For example, the conclusions reached in numerous source-critical studies highlight a very important truth pertaining to this and the previous chapters: scriptural accounts can change and have changed over time.[9] Joseph Smith himself testified of this truth: “I believe the bible as it read when it came from the pen of the original writers.”[10] This is why the New Translation was such a crucial means by which the Lord restored what was, but no longer is currently, in certain biblical texts. Joseph Smith provided answers that scholarship ultimately will never be able to produce.

Theologies have shifted or have been readjusted or reinterpreted. Truth has been endlessly debated, confused, and lost, resulting in uncertainty about the original context and the state of received scriptural texts. Under such conditions, skepticism can overtake us in our reading of the Bible if we let it. After reading a book on the history of the Bible, President Gordon B. Hinckley concluded:

The Christian world accepts the Bible as the word of God. Most have no idea of how it came to us [including scholars, we would add]. I have just completed reading a newly published book by a renowned scholar. It is apparent from information which he gives that the various books of the Bible were brought together in what appears to have been an unsystematic fashion. In some cases, the writings were not produced until long after the events they describe. One is led to ask, “Is the Bible true? Is it really the word of God?” We reply that it is, insofar as it is translated correctly. The hand of the Lord was in its making.[11]

Of course, our purpose here is not to belittle the Bible or invalidate its reliability, nor is it to imply that pursuing scholarly inquiry into the composition and redaction of biblical texts is tantamount to building one’s personal foundation on sand; and it stands as a miracle that we have the Bible in its current state, given its long and complicated redaction history, for which we all should give thanks.[12] Nevertheless, pursuing knowledge in such matters requires academic and epistemic modesty in embracing and holding fast to conclusions reached, especially those that discredit the Restoration. To be sure, at some point in the pursuit of truth faith in God and his prophets is required to resolve questions that scholarship cannot answer, such as how things really were in ancient times. Such matters highlight the significance and relevance of a restoration of the ancient nature of the gospel.

Recovering the Past

The foregoing comments are intended to underscore how much is not known in the area of ancient studies. Our recognition of this uncertainty furnishes an opportunity to build faith in the certainty and relevance of the Restoration, just as Joseph Smith’s recognition of his uncertainty led him to prayer and a vision of God and Christ that would ultimately take the Restoration to a new level (see Joseph Smith—History 1:1–20).[13] In this way a recognition of uncertainty can heighten a collective appreciation of what the Restoration represents in terms of the recovery of ancient truths from biblical texts whose original contexts have become lost over the centuries—something that almost all scholarship, in one way or another, recognizes has happened.[14]

Parley P. Pratt made the following important observation regarding what is necessary to comprehend the Restoration: “We can never understand precisely what is meant by restoration, unless we understand what is lost or taken away.”[15] Joseph’s seeric recovery of sacred texts in their primitive purity—“things . . . which otherwise could not be known” (Mosiah 8:17)—answers questions that scholarship has been trying to answer for centuries. Arguably, the most compelling aspect of the restoration of the gospel is that God has orchestrated all of it, replacing the unknown with the known and allowing the Bible to speak as a text with clearer historical horizons—a background that has been so difficult to reconstruct given the current state of our secular scholarship.

In the main, Joseph Smith did not fix linguistic anomalies or historical incongruences in the Hebrew Bible. Rather, the Lord through him revealed significant details about the nature of the ancient theology that was formerly evident in the biblical texts and the prophetic figures and events portrayed within it but that are now presently obscured.[16] It should be remembered that Joseph Smith was ever true to the biblical text and that he “experienced revelation as an interpretive response to the text: not freely associated from, but bound by the ‘world of the text’ in front of him.”[17] As Joseph Smith translated ancient texts and received revelation pertinent to them, the past once again became the present.[18] Jeffrey Bradshaw illustrates this concept thus:

Though I have no quarrel with the idea that the Old Testament, as we have it, might have been compiled at a relatively late date from many sources of varying perspectives and levels of inspiration, I accept that its major figures were historical and that the sources may go back to authentic traditions (whether oral or written), associated with these figures as authorities. John Walton and D. Brent Sandy express their views of this process as follows: “Authority is not dependent on an original autograph or on an author writing a book. Recognition of authority is identifiable in the beliefs of a community of faith (of whom we are heirs) that God’s communications through authoritative figures and traditions have been captured and preserved through a long process of transmission and composition in the literature that has come to be accepted as canonical. That authority can be well represented in translation, though it can be undermined to the extent that interpretation (necessary for a translation to take place) misrepresents the authority.”[19]

The concept of scriptural authority articulated here helps us better appreciate the role that Joseph Smith would play in this restoration of the gospel. The narrator’s voice in the Book of Moses is a divinely authorized speaker recovered from the distant past. Often it is God himself speaking in the first person—other times it is Moses, a voice to which the Lord adds his own. God himself provides in the Book of Moses a lens through which we are to read Genesis 1–6.[20] It is a slightly different but related lens than the one source and redaction criticism employ, but it provides a consistent picture in view of the ancient characteristics and linguistic nuances of Genesis, something we discuss in later chapters. The antiquity of the everlasting gospel thus finds expression in the primeval histories and the experiences of Moses, Adam and Eve, Enoch, and Noah.

All of this bespeaks that the restoration of the gospel is relevant precisely because the gospel is ancient and eternal. Michael McKay summarizes this relevance as follows:

The Restoration of the gospel (priesthood, church, scripture, and so forth) by Joseph Smith in the 1830s has specific relevance to Latter-day Saints today. The Restoration initiated the end of a teleological journey through God’s plan that began with the Creation. Most importantly, Joseph Smith ushered in the last dispensation (the dispensation of the fulness of times) and the preparatory period preceding the Second Coming of Christ. . . . Like the origins of mankind in the Garden of Eden, the Restoration marks the establishment of new life, while also ushering in the Second Coming of Christ. The Book of Mormon emphasizes Joseph Smith’s Restoration in prophetic expressions, including panoptic visions that reveal the establishment of a church and the translation of the Book of Mormon. The prophet Nephi even recorded a vision of Joseph of Egypt in which he highlighted Joseph Smith and the Restoration. He saw “a seer” whom God would “raise up out of the fruit of [his] loins.” Mormon scripture describes the establishment of a church by Joseph Smith as a crowning event in God’s plan.[21]

The issue of historicity can quickly get complicated when we look exclusively at redaction history, but it becomes needlessly overcomplicated if we default to skepticism and redact historicity out of the scriptures. The results of source and redaction criticism will remain forever tentative. The revealed texts and revelations of the Restoration, and the statements Joseph Smith made about them, consistently affirm the truth and value of the scriptural corpus. Their historicity is essential. As Kent Jackson has stated regarding historicity in relation to the Book of Mormon:

Can the Book of Mormon indeed be “true,” in any sense, if it lies repeatedly, explicitly, and deliberately regarding its own historicity? Can Joseph Smith be viewed with any level of credibility if he repeatedly, explicitly, and deliberately lied concerning the historicity of the book? Can we have any degree of confidence in what are presented as the words of God in the Doctrine and Covenants if they repeatedly, explicitly, and deliberately lie by asserting the historicity of the Book of Mormon? If the Book of Mormon is not what it claims to be, what possible cause would anyone have to accept anything of the work of Joseph Smith and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints given the consistent assertions that the Book of Mormon is an ancient text that describes ancient events?[22]

This is what makes the revelations of God and the restoration of his church through the Prophet Joseph Smith so remarkable: the supernatural aspects of the Restoration happened—in the past and in the present, all in relation to the future! Whatever scholarship appears to reveal about the imperfection and inconsistency of ancient scripture is not tantamount to securing such as evidence of a fictitious God or a deceptive religion. Nor does it relegate the scriptures to fiction, characterize them as deceptions, or dismiss them as frauds. Whatever contemporary scholarship knows—or thinks it knows—pales in comparison to “all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and . . . [all] that He will yet reveal” (Articles of Faith 1:9). The Restoration returns us to a fulness of gospel truths as they were from the beginning.[23] As scholars ourselves who engage in the academic community, this is not a condemnation of scholarship—it is a glorification of the Restoration.

The Book of Moses

Given the ancient nature of the gospel, it should not be surprising that Moses 1 reflects ancient conceptions within its context.[24] Joseph Smith recorded the revelations he was receiving from the Lord, and they took him from present to past, an experience he hoped all would enjoy. “Indeed, no one engaged the ancient world quite the way Joseph Smith did,” David Holland writes. “He insisted on orienting his followers’ thoughts both forward and backward along the chronological continuum, allowing (by either choice or necessity) the peoples of other epochs to speak for themselves in bringing fuller understanding to moderns.”[25] This becomes crucially important for modern worship because

according to the JST, “the gospel was preached [unto Adam and Eve after their expulsion]; and a decree sent forth that it should be in the world until the end thereof; and thus it was.” In the JST, human cooperation is a necessary element in the performance of this decree. In Smith’s cosmology, human communication with the divine is not only a necessary constant, but its message is that humans must assume responsibility for the execution of God’s plan for human salvation.[26]

On one level, the Book of Moses is consistent with the ancient Near Eastern and biblical approach to creation, and yet on another level its vision of “worlds without number” (Moses 1:33) and “millions of earths like this” (7:30) ventures into conceptual territory that modern astronomy has only recently dared to approach. We witness the Book of Moses revelations restoring what had been revealed and known to ancient prophets, not what Joseph Smith or future modern religion hoped to impose on the biblical texts.

The Book of Moses also should not be reduced as a modern effort to Christianize the Old Testament text. The vision is far grander and much more sweeping than that. As Givens explains of God’s restoration through the Prophet Joseph Smith:

The grand project of restoration, then, relied upon a vision of apostasy as retreat and admixture, rather than absence. His task would involve not just innovation, or ex nihilo oracular pronouncements upon lost doctrines, but the salvaging, collecting, and assimilating of much that was mislaid, obscured, or neglected. . . . Smith believed that apostasy did involve the corruption beyond remedy of certain ordinances and covenants; and only the heavenly transmission of authority could recuperate those essentials.[27]

Every chapter of the Book of Moses holds great importance and introduces us to ancient patriarchs, prophets, covenants, and God’s efforts to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of his children (see Moses 1:39). Understanding the ancient nature of the gospel as it is presented in the Book of Moses, as well as in the Book of Mormon and the Old and New Testaments, is crucial to understanding how the Prophet Joseph Smith interacted with the text and how we can interact with it today.

An Ancient Gospel with Dispensational Developments

The notion of the gospel’s antiquity does not imply that all its nuances and peculiarities as witnessed in the Old Testament are reflected today in the modern church. Similarly, the New Testament describes an Old Testament worldview adapting to the revelations and doctrines presented within the dispensational developments of the Christian era. The two testaments are not unrelated but are presented as a developing theology driven and revealed by God, his Son, and prophetic, apostolic figures. Christ as the Messiah is not invented or artificially imposed on the New Testament; rather, he is explained as the fulfiller of the Old Testament, while key powers, doctrine, ordinances, and particulars of God’s kingdom are restored amid dispensational development. The old has not become obsolete but new (renewed). This is particularly evident in light of what we know about the complex formation of the Bible in relation to the authority and regularity with which New Testament authors cited prophets and teachings of the past in order to elucidate their present.[28] Thus, appreciating the antiquity of the gospel is not to view all the ordinances and religious structures as having been static through the ages.[29] Such is clearly not the case, and this is why we speak of gospel “dispensations.”[30] Nevertheless, the Book of Moses restores knowledge that God’s purposes have been the same through time and that his plan includes essential saving ordinances that transcend history.[31]

The canonical book of Genesis, as an introduction to the entire Old Testament corpus, is usually seen as consisting of a Primeval History, or prehistory (Genesis 1–11), and a series of patriarchal narratives (Genesis 12–50) that

have been linked together in order to express a certain theological perspective, intended to establish the background necessary for reading the rest of the Pentateuch and beyond. Essential to that perspective in Genesis is the careful identification of the national God of ancient Israel, Yahweh, with the Sovereign God of creation as well as the self-revealing, promise-giving, and covenant-making God of Israel’s ancestors. The God encountered in Genesis is therefore also the God of the plagues, the exodus from Egypt, the covenant, the law, the monarchy, the prophets, and the exile and restoration. Genesis is preparatory to a larger story.[32]

The revelations and ancient texts the Lord restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith support this idea that the God who was worshipped anciently in the Bible is the same God the Saints worship today. Throughout its chapters the Book of Moses informs us that ancient patriarchs participated in and shared salvific teachings and ordinances that centered on Christ as the Messiah.[33] The Book of Moses declares Jesus Christ[34] as the messianic figure (see, e.g., Moses 7:53) that is prominent in the Old Testament and takes us back beyond the Iron Age environment (in which so much of the Old Testament is situated, at least by page count) to a time and setting that antedate Moses, Abraham, and the patriarchs. The narrative of Genesis 1–11, which chronicles the epoch from the creation to the events at the great tower, is sometimes known as the Primeval History.[35] It and the subsequent account of the patriarchal age are foundational to the entire Old Testament, although the picture of what worship looked like in those earlier periods often lacks details and specific information concerning religious practice.[36] The relevance of the Book of Moses in supplying this information is simply and profoundly summarized by Kent Jackson as follows:

Perhaps the most singular contribution to Latter-day Saint theology is the remarkable assertion in Joseph Smith’s Genesis that the Christian gospel was known and believed from the beginning of human history. This is shown in the explicit depictions of Adam and Eve as Christians, as well as of Enoch, Noah, Melchizedek, Abraham, and Moses. Joseph Smith’s dramatic reinterpretation of Genesis thus makes it a thoroughly Christian book—another testament of Jesus Christ. It also places the religion he founded in the nineteenth century within a framework that spans the entire length of human history, making the message of Genesis and the message of the Restoration one and the same.[37]

Gospel Restored

In his preface to the 1851 edition of the Pearl of Great Price, Franklin D. Richards explained that a purpose of the volume was to demonstrate that the restored gospel, doctrine, and ordinances contained in the book were “the same as were revealed to Adam for his salvation after his expulsion from the garden, and the same that he handed down and caused to be taught to his generations after him, as the only means appointed of God by which the generations of men may regain his presence.”[38] “Clearly, Richards felt that the key to understanding Joseph Smith’s mission was not to perceive it as the contributing of a few missing pieces to the gospel puzzle or a redirection more in consonance with Holy Writ. On the contrary, by identifying the Restoration with the recuperation of an Adamic rather than merely Christian dispensation, Richards was signaling an entirely new understanding of Christian covenant theology.”[39] In other words, the covenant theology of the Book of Moses, like the Abrahamic covenant, embraces “all of the families of the earth” (compare Moses 5:10 with Genesis 12:3; 22:18; 28:14). The Book of Moses reveals that God’s doctrinal position on the salvation of the human family has not changed. Kerry Muhlestein writes:

Modern revelation and the teachings of modern prophets have stressed the essential unity of the restored gospel covenant with the covenant as it was revealed in past dispensations. . . . President Lorenzo Snow indicated that “Mormonism . . . proclaims itself as the original plan of salvation, instituted in the heavens before the world was, and revealed from God to man in different ages.. . . Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and other ancient worthies had this religion successively, in a series of dispensations.” . . .The Lord called Joseph precisely so “that mine everlasting covenant might be established” once again (Doctrine and Covenants 1:22). President Russell M. Nelson taught that “God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ . . . established once again the Abrahamic covenant, this time through the Prophet Joseph Smith.” On another occasion he said that “the Lord appeared in these latter days to renew that Abrahamic covenant. . . . With this renewal, we have received, as did they of old, the holy priesthood and the everlasting gospel.” Because Joseph Smith is said to have restored both the new and everlasting covenant and the Abrahamic covenant, and because both are associated with the everlasting gospel, this again strongly suggests that these are the same covenant.[40]

Explanations by the Prophet Joseph Smith flesh out a picture of the ancient nature of the gospel, its ordinances, and its central role in the ever-unfolding process of the Restoration.[41] He also touches on doctrines pertaining to the reception of the priesthood, keys, and preparations for temple worship and ordinances.[42] Examples of such explanations could be multiplied. We will cite only one found in a discourse reported by William Clayton and given sometime between June 26 and August 4, 1839. The Prophet explained the ancient nature of priesthood keys, beginning with Adam and leading to the period of the Restoration (revelations and themes that had been received and developed in connection with Moses 5:58–6:8 between June and December 1830):

He (Adam) is the head and was told to multiply. The keys were given to him;— he will have to give an account of his stewardship and they to him. The priesthood is everlasting. The Savior, Moses and Elias, gave the keys to Peter, James and John on the mount, when they were transfigured before him. The priesthood is everlasting without beginning of days or end of years, without Father, Mother, &c. If there is no change of ordinances, there is no change of priesthood. Whenever the ordinances of the Gospel are administered there is the priesthood. How have we come at priesthood in the last days— they come down in regular succession.[43]

On January 22, 1843, the Prophet Joseph Smith responded to doubts regarding the ancient origin of the gospel:

“Some say the kingdom of God was not set up on the earth until the day of Pentecost, and that John did not preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, but I say in the name of the Lord, that the kingdom of God was set up on the earth from the days of Adam to the present time, whenever there has been a righteous man on earth unto whom God revealed his word and gave power and authority to administer in his name: and where there is a priest of God, a minister who has power and authority from God to administer in the ordinances of the Gospel, and officiate in the Priesthood of God, there is the kingdom of God, and in consequence of rejecting the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Prophets whom God hath sent, the judgments of God have rested upon people, cities and nations in various ages of the world, which was the case with the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, which were destroyed for rejecting the Prophets.[44]

Almost nine years earlier the Prophet Joseph Smith had made similar remarks:

Perhaps, our friends will say, that the gospel and its ordinances were not known till the days of John the son of Zecharias, in the days of Herod the king of Judea. But we will here look at this point: For our own part, we cannot believe, that the ancients in all ages were so ignorant of the system of heaven as many suppose, since all that were ever saved, were saved through the power of this great plan of redemption, as much so before the coming of Christ as since.[45]

Joseph made this statement just seven months after completing the New Translation of the Bible, wherein he had received significant revelations and insights into the ancient order of the gospel, including those insights gained while translating the Book of Moses.

In a letter to John Wentworth in 1842, Joseph Smith continued to maintain that the Church was founded on the ancient order of the Savior’s gospel. He stated that it was a continuation of the ancient church attested in the Book of Mormon. It was also the same church the Lord had restored through him, for it contained the “same ordinances, gifts, powers, and blessing, as was enjoyed on the eastern continent, that the people were cut off in consequence of their transgressions, that the last of their prophets who existed among them was commanded to write an abridgement of their prophesies, history &c., and to hide it up in the earth, and that it should come forth and be united with the bible for the accomplishment of the purposes of God in the last days.”[46]

The Prophet Joseph Smith understood that the Restoration did not exclude all doctrine taught in other churches, but that it included all truth pertaining to God. Taking to heart John’s prophetic vision of the Church coming forth out of the wilderness with its theme of apostasy and restoration (see Revelation 12), Joseph, along with others of the day, believed that this time was at hand. Givens describes the similarity of Joseph’s views to the perspective articulated by some of his contemporaries: “William Coldwell wrote in 1831 that, according to promise, the church had not been ‘devoured; it was wounded and driven from the temple, but not slain. God himself prepared a refuge, and amidst that refuge . . . [protected] the Church in the wilderness.’ And now the era of its deliverance had begun.”[47] The Prophet Joseph Smith came to understand that the Restoration constituted a complex, multifaceted process of incorporating all truth into a whole and operationalizing it. Its manifold components would be continually fleshed out through the revelations given to Joseph. Givens further surmises:

Like his predecessors, Smith demonstrated an awareness that the ancient church was nourished, not abolished, and had in some sense persevered not disappeared. In this reading, many teachings and principles of the original church survived more or less intact, though clearly in retreat from the mainstream, underground, or on the peripheries of orthodoxy. And he did not understand this coming out of the wilderness as an abrupt event but, rather, as a gradual process of assimilation, differentiation, and development. . . . It is in this larger context that we need to take more seriously Smith’s words, “If the Presbyterians have any truth, embrace that. If the Baptists and Methodists have truth, embrace that too. Get all the good in the world if you want to come out a pure Mormon.” Elsewhere, he called it “the first and fundamental principle of our holy religion” to be free “to embrace all, and every item of truth, without limitation or without being circumscribed or prohibited by the creeds or superstitious notions of men, or by the dominations of one another”: “We don’t ask any people to throw away any good they have got we only ask them to Come and get more.”[48]

As discussed earlier, we do not mean to suggest or imply that ordinances or priesthood functions in the form of sacrifices and temple worship never changed through time; they did. The restoration of the temple and its ordinances reproduced ancient concepts, if it did not always replicate them.[49] In fact, through the revelations Joseph Smith would receive during his reception and translation of the Book of Moses, the Bible, and the Book of Abraham (as well as the numerous revelations now contained in the Doctrine and Covenants that often resulted from those projects), the Lord laid the groundwork for temple ordinances and point of Church administration that would be revealed more fully to the Prophet Joseph Smith before his death.[50] Regarding this restorative work, Joseph Smith said he had learned and set up the various aspects of Church administration as a result of revelations and instruction he had received from the Lord.[51] One striking revelation consisted of Joseph witnessing in vision the Apostle Peter administering in Jerusalem when he was setting up Church councils in that day.[52] The revelation came amid the inexperienced and sometimes improper conducting of Church business in the early restored Church by members who were still learning proper modes of administration:

Joseph Smith took responsibility for these shared shortcomings. “I have never set before any council in all the order in which a council ought to be conducted,” he said during a February 1834 council meeting, “which, perhaps, has deprived the Council of some, or many blessings.” He then attempted to “show the order of councils in ancient days as shown to him by vision.” The Prophet’s vision of a Jerusalem council presided over by the Apostle Peter and two counselors became a model for the organization of the first regular high council, which in turn was to serve as a model for other councils throughout the Church. Minutes showing some of the important features of the council—such as the right of an accused person to have half the council as advocates—were later canonized in Doctrine and Covenants 102.[53]

Additionally, when the Lord revealed principles about the law of consecration (Doctrine and Covenants 45:10–12, 64–67), according to Orson Pratt, the principles were connected with the revelations Joseph was receiving in the Book of Moses about the society of Enoch’s Zion, and that law was originally referred to as the “Law of Enoch.”[54]

Ancient Prophets as Later-Day Mentors

Joseph Smith’s early training—and hence his understanding of the ancient nature of the gospel—came within the framework of receiving instruction from ancient prophets and apostles and translating the texts these prophets had produced anciently. The resurrected angel Moroni had explained to Joseph Smith that their interactions over the course of four years (1823–1827) before Joseph received the Book of Mormon plates would help Joseph learn “how and in what manner” to conduct the kingdom (Joseph Smith—History 1:54). Important evidence suggests that Moroni was not the only ancient prophet to visit and instruct Joseph Smith. In his 1842 letter to John Wentworth, for example, Joseph wrote that he obtained the plates only “after having received many visits from the angels of God unfolding the majesty, and glory of the events that should transpire in the last days.”[55] In 1875 and 1879, Elder John Taylor recalled the following:

When Joseph Smith was raised up as a Prophet of God, Mormon, Moroni, Nephi and others of the ancient Prophets who formerly lived on this Continent . . . came to him and communicated to him certain principles pertaining to the Gospel of the Son of God [April 8, 1875].

The principles which he had, placed him in communication with . . . the ancient apostles and prophets; such men . . . as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Noah, Adam, Seth, Enoch, and . . . the apostles that lived on this continent as well as those who lived on the Asiatic continent. He seemed to be as familiar with these people as we are with one another. Why? Because he had to introduce a dispensation which was called the dispensation of the fulness of times, and it was known as such by the ancient servants of God [April 13, 1879].[56]

It is staggering to contemplate Joseph’s training during this time and just how he learned the ancient nature of the gospel that the Lord would incrementally restore through him. Orson Pratt taught in 1872 that Joseph was “ministered to by the angels of God, and received instruction concerning the work that was to be performed in the latter days.” In 1869 he stated that Joseph, “after having received from time to time, visits from these glorious personages, and talking with them, . . . was permitted to go and take [the] plates from the place of their deposit.”[57] George Q. Cannon taught that during this time of instruction Joseph “was visited constantly by angels. . . . He had vision after vision in order that his mind might be fully saturated with a knowledge of the things of God, and that he might comprehend the great and holy calling that God has bestowed upon him.”[58] The revelations and visions were clear, and this is why Joseph was willing to give his life for the work of the restored gospel: he recognized that the Restoration was much bigger than himself, and he understood that just because some contemporaries of his day may not have believed or embraced anything that hints of the supernatural in modern times, such beliefs did not negate the realities of his experiences any more than they can negate the testimony people can gain of Restoration truths.

Ancient Scripture and the Restoration[59]

Joseph wrote that during their visits, Moroni quoted “many other passages of scripture and offered many explanations which cannot be mentioned here” (Joseph Smith—History 1:41). The identity of these other passages might be given by Oliver Cowdery, who explained in a letter to W. W. Phelps that Moroni outlined the “blessings, promises and covenants to Israel, and the great manifestations of favor to the world, in the ushering in of the fulness of the gospel, to prepare the way for the second advent of the Messiah, when he comes in the glory of the Father with the holy angels.”[60] In three accounts, Oliver Cowdery referred to some thirty or more Old Testament passages that somehow related to what the angel Moroni told Joseph and that were about to be fulfilled through him.[61] These verses include valuable information about how Joseph was to proceed with setting up the Lord’s church in this dispensation. This information would receive further elaboration in Joseph’s various works of translation. These dealt with crucial issues such as priesthood, ordinances, gathering, temple work, and preparations for the Second Coming. Kent Jackson summarized the significance of these experiences and teachings in relation to the Restoration:

On the night of September 21–22, 1823, the angel Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith to begin the process of preparing him for his life’s mission. In addition to informing him about the Book of Mormon, Moroni quoted scripture after scripture to teach Joseph Smith about the work that God would soon undertake through him. . . . Moroni’s teaching of Joseph Smith from the Bible provided nothing less than a panoramic introduction to the dispensation of the fulness of times and the work of the Lord’s Saints in it. It is not insignificant that Moroni chose to teach Joseph Smith by citing, quoting, and commenting on the words of earlier prophets in scripture. Indeed, his doing so was part of the scriptural restoration, not only because he clarified and contextualized the words of biblical writers but also because he confirmed their truth.[62]

The process of instruction and revelation would continue through the reception of the Book of Moses. These teachings, along with what Joseph learned through his translation of the Bible, would have a tremendous impact on the development of the Church.

From additional accounts of Moroni’s visit with Joseph we learn of important details linking the Old Testament with the events of the Restoration and the revelations highlighting the ancient nature of the gospel. In his 1842 letter to John Wentworth, for example, Joseph alluded to God’s covenant with ancient Israel:

This messenger [Moroni] proclaimed himself to be an angel of God sent to bring the joyful tidings, that the covenant which God made with ancient Israel was at hand to be fulfilled, that the preparatory work for the second coming of the Messiah was speedily to commence; that the time was at hand for the gospel, in all its fulness to be preached in power, unto all nations that a people might be prepared for the millennial reign.[63]

Joseph was being thoroughly prepared through the instruction of ancient prophets sent as messengers during this period leading up to the reception of the plates. This schooling prepared him to organize and lead the Church. In no small measure, the entire Restoration was shaped by prophets and prophecies of the Old Testament.[64]

Approaches to the Book of Moses

“The building up of Zion is a cause that has interested the people of God in every age,” wrote the Prophet Joseph Smith. “It is a theme upon which prophets, priests and kings have dwelt with peculiar delight; they have looked forward with joyful anticipation to the day in which we live.”[65] As Joseph articulated this concept in the course of his conversations and experiences, he also learned why ancient prophets and peoples rejoiced. Moreover, he received the instruction and authority he would need to make all these prophecies come to pass. He further explained:

They have looked forward with joyful anticipation to the day in which we live; and fired with heavenly and joyful anticipations they have sung, and wrote, and prophecied of this our day; . . . we are the favored people that God has made choice of to bring about the Latter Day Glory; it is left for us to see, participate in, and help to roll forward the Latter Day Glory; “the dispensation of the fulness of times, when God will gather together all things that are in heaven, and all things that are upon the earth, even in one.”[66]

The truths he received were relevant to everyone everywhere. The Prophet went on to describe the interconnectedness of all dispensations and the gospel:

Heavenly Priesthood are not idle spectators; the Spirit of God will be showered down from above, it will dwell in our midst. The blessings of the Most High will rest upon our tabernacles, and our name will be handed down to future ages; our children will rise up and call us blessed; and generations yet unborn will dwell with peculiar delight upon the scenes that we have passed through, the privations that we have endured; the untiring zeal that we have manifested; the insurmountable difficulties that we have overcome in laying the foundation of a work that brought about the glory and blessings which they will realize; a work that God and Angels have contemplated with delight, for generations past; that fired the souls of the ancient Patriarchs and Prophets— a work that is destined to bring about the destruction of the powers of darkness, the renovation of the earth the glory of God, and the salvation of the human family.[67]

We can better appreciate the important role of the Joseph Smith Translation and the Book of Moses in establishing a framework for the restoration of the Church when we recognize that the writings found within the Book of Moses explain the function of the priesthood, ordinances, and covenants that constituted the plan of salvation from the days of Adam and that that operate in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints today. Again, we acknowledge the differences in modes of administration throughout various dispensations while emphasizing that “the work to [God’s] glory” (Moses 1:39, OT1), in principle, does not change.

The Prophet Joseph Smith declared, “It is necessary in the ushering in of the dispensation of the fulness of times; which dispensation is now beginning to usher in, that a whole, and complete, and perfect union, and welding together of dispensations, and keys, and powers, and glories should take place, and be revealed, from the days of Adam even to the present time.”[68] In the Book of Moses, Enoch more or less articulates the same idea in Moses 6:62: “This is the plan of salvation unto all men, through the blood of mine Only Begotten, who shall come in the meridian of time.” Enoch had just taught the concepts of sanctification and justification and the atonement of Jesus Christ (vv. 59–60). He concluded with the ordinances of baptism, receiving the Holy Ghost, and entering in to the “order of him who was without beginning of days or end of years, from all eternity to all eternity” (v. 67) and becoming God’s children (v. 68)—that is, receiving the fulness of the priesthood and its blessings. Although the look and form of administered ordinances and prescribed theology may have taken various shapes throughout time and in different dispensations, the underlying principles, doctrine, and general spiritual guidelines retain a consistency throughout the millennia. Through the restored truths found in the Book of Moses, as well as through the lens of the Restoration, we have a clear view of doctrines surrounding topics such as the Creation, the Fall, and the Atonement. We see the Church of Jesus Christ squarely founded and firmly situated on his gospel with its ancient foundation, and we begin to appreciate the true significance of the description accorded it as “restored”—not just restored from the dispensation of the meridian of time but restored from all dispensations.

These sacred writings, of which the Book of Moses constitutes a part, truly have earned the name “The Pearl of Great Price.” The original publication announcement of the Pearl of Great Price in 1851 reads:

This little work though not particularly adapted nor designed as a pioneer of our faith to unbelievers of present revelation, will be a source of much instruction and edification to many thousands of the Saints, who will by an acquaintance with its precious contents, be more abundantly qualified to set forth and defend the principles of our Holy Faith before all men. The Pearl of Great Price will recommend itself to all who appreciate the revelations of truth as hidden treasures of Everlasting Life.[69]

Approaching the Book of Moses and the Pearl of Great Price from this perspective helps us to prize the teachings and doctrines found therein as precious. We are better prepared to recognize that the revelations of truth truly are hidden treasures of everlasting life—or, in the language of Enoch, “the words of eternal life” (Moses 6:59). These revelations can become life changing as we witness the events through the eyes of ancient prophets who received divine guidance, direction, and revelation applicable to them and us. Brigham Young stated:

Do you read the scriptures, my brethren and sisters, as though you were writing them a thousand, two thousand, or five thousand years ago? Do you read them as though you stood in the place of the men who wrote them? If you do not feel thus, it is your privilege to do so, that you may be as familiar with the spirit and meaning of the written word of God as you are with your daily walk and conversation.[70]

Throughout the Restoration, with all the translations of ancient scripture and the revelations from God, Joseph Smith was indeed becoming “as familiar with the spirit and meaning of the written word of God” as with his daily life. What seems encouraging to the rest of us is that through diligent study, prayer, and the outpourings of the Holy Ghost, we too have an opportunity to attain to such a familiarity with the spirit and meaning of those revelations and scriptures that Brigham Young described. They can become the pearls that God intended them to be, and their value is accentuated by the means of their reception. In the last paragraph of the preface of the first edition of the Pearl of Great Price, Franklin D. Richards left his testimony of the “Divine calling, and holy ordination” of the Prophet Joseph Smith. He prophesied that the “day is not far distant when sinners, as well as Saints, will know that Joseph Smith was one of the greatest men that ever lived upon the earth.”[71] As one carefully reads the Book of Moses, its content produces a greater familiarity with the significance of the written word of God and the role it has played from the beginning of time. It produces feelings of awe and admiration toward the prophet through whom the Lord brought forth so much restored knowledge, including the knowledge of the eternal nature of the “work” that God has always been doing for the salvation of his children (see Moses 1:39), a work that is as “endless” as he is (Doctrine and Covenants 19:10). This ancient scripture reveals a powerful testimony of Christ that shines forth through the pen of Joseph and his scribes. From the Lord’s mouth to our ears, the ancient and everlasting gospel links us to the saints of the near and distant past, defines our present, and sets us on our course for the future. The following chapters will discuss the revelations of the Book of Moses in context and how they influenced the development of the Church in the Restoration.


[1] Brown, Joseph Smith’s Translation, 9.

[2] Flake, “Translating Time,” 525. The use of myth here does not indicate something unreal but describes reality within the realms of the supernatural.

[3] See Bushman, “Joseph Smith for the Twenty-First Century,” 156.

[4] For a brief overview of the keys committed on the Mount of Transfiguration, see Mouritsen, “Mount of Transfiguration,” 1:968–969; and “Transfiguration, Mount of,” Latter-day Saint Bible Dictionary.

[5] MacKay, “Event or Process?,” 73–101, discusses the extended process of the Restoration (versus an event-based approach) within the particular nuances and interconnectedness of priesthood authority, keys, power, offices, and ordinances restored by ancient prophets and apostles such as Moses, Elijah, Peter, James, John, and numerous other ancient authoritative biblical and prophetic figures from the past.

[6] See Seely, “Latter-day Saints and Historical Biblical Criticism,” 75–88.

[7] Writing on epistemological limits of enlightenment rationalism and the scientific method, Steven C. Harper notes that “these epistemologies are good at knowing proximate truths but fail when it comes to knowing ultimate meanings, or verifying the existence of God or whether he appeared to Joseph in a grove. . . . They are good at explaining how some things happen but incapable of explaining ultimately why they happen. They are powerless to verify or disprove Joseph Smith’s testimony of a heavenly vision. People who think in these ways alone can assume, as one scholar did, that ‘the revelation to Moses recorded in the OT [Old Testament] can hardly be taken literally as an event in which the Divine handed over or dictated to Moses Ten Commandments,’ but how does he know that? What is stated with such scholarly certainty as a foregone conclusion is nothing more than a personal opinion reflecting an assumption about what is possible.” Harper, Joseph Smith’s First Vision, 5–6. The scholarly opinion to which Harper had reference can be found in Davies, “Reflections on the Mormon ‘Canon,’”

[8] Almost all studies of these topics recognize an evolutionary redaction of biblical texts but are never able to find the beginning while all along forwarding theories that give rise to an expanded meaning of creation ex nihilo (pun on Genesis 1:1 intended). The results of such examinations range anywhere from minimalist (the opinion that almost nothing in the Bible is historical) to maximalist (the opinion that almost everything in the Bible is historical) interpretations, and everything in between.

[9] See Jackson, Restored Gospel and the Book of Genesis, 61–64.

[10] History, 1838–1856, volume E-1 [1 July 1843–30 April 1844], p. 1755, The Joseph Smith Papers.

[11] Hinckley, “Great Things Which God Has Revealed,” 81. For a few poplar books on the subject, see Friedman, Who Wrote the Bible?; Friedman, Hidden Book in the Bible; Van der Toorn, Scribal Culture; Walton and Sandy, Lost World of Scripture, 304; and Schniedewind, How the Bible Became a Book.

[12] See 2 Nephi 29:4.

[13] The Restoration does not imply that all things were lost nor that all things needed to be restored. The accelerated pace of the Restoration under Joseph Smith was built on the foundation of people of faith and religious reformers who for centuries were looking for and pursing truth in relation to God. This “greater appreciation for other religious traditions” in relation to the apostasy and Restoration has been expounded as follows: “In 1995, apostle Dallin H. Oaks preached in general conference: ‘We believe that most religious leaders and followers are sincere believers who love God and understand and serve him to the best of their abilities. We are indebted to the men and women who kept the light of faith and learning alive through the centuries to the present day. . . . We honor them as servants of God.’ In 2001, apostle M. Russell Ballard urged students at BYU–Hawaii that they ‘must never, ever, forget’ the legacy of the ‘heroic reformers of Christendom’ who ‘paid the tremendous price for all of us to walk in the light and truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ.’ These interfaith projects and sermons reveal a growing sense of inclusiveness among Mormons.” Wilcox, “Narrating Apostasy,” 107. See Oaks, “Apostasy and Restoration”; and M. Russell Ballard, “Price of Religious Freedom.”

“Apostle Dallin H. Oaks likewise affirmed that during the apostasy ‘men and women . . . kept the light of faith and learning alive.’ . . . McConkie too acknowledged that ‘many good and noble souls lived during the dark ages, . . . and they received guidance from th[e] Spirit.’” Dursteler, “Great Apostasy Narrative,” 43; compare Oaks, “Apostasy and Restoration”; and McConkie, New Witness for the Articles of Faith, 477. Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 1:174–75, honored Luther, Calvin, and Knox for their reforms that would lead to the restoration of the fulness of the gospel. For an overview of the contributions and respect paid to the Muslim prophet Muhammad in his pursuit of truth, see Toronto, “Latter-day Saint Perspective on Muhammad.”

[14] On reconciling the implications of redaction history and issues of authority regarding biblical texts, see Crawford, “Competing Histories,” 141–43. For an example of changed biblical contexts and interpretations in relation to restoration, see Frederick and Spencer, “Remnant or Replacement?,” 105–27.

[15] Pratt, Voice of Warning, 147.

[16] See Givens, “Rethinking Mormon Restoration,” 336–38.

[17] Flake, “Translating Time,” 507.

[18] “[Joseph] Smith’s engagement with time is complex and various, but he was first and foremost concerned with abolishing temporal boundaries. Time threatened to render individuals extinct and to separate them from multiple pasts both near and far. He sought to inhabit a comprehensive interweaving of time and challenged the notion that various epochs should stay segregated. Where Emerson saw himself as needing to be saved from the tyranny of the ancestors, Smith welcomed them into community. Smith’s primordialism was concerned with connection with the intervening generations rather than liberation from them. He spoke often about dispensations and was emphatic that he was the seer of ‘the dispensation of the fulness of times’ (his interpretation of Ephesians 1:10).” Brown, Joseph Smith’s Translation, 62.

[19] Bradshaw, “Sorting Out the Sources in Scripture,” 215–72, citing Walton and Sandy, Lost World of Scripture, 68–69.

[20] Of the complexities of the relationship between the Book of Moses and Genesis, Welch and Abhau, in “Priestly Interests of Moses the Levite,” explain, “It might even be easier on practical grounds to imagine that something like the Book of Moses existed before the Book of Genesis than to account for the complete array of interspersings of Levitical and priestly materials throughout the Book of Moses and to see that particular family of materials as accretions to the first six chapters of Genesis.”

[21] MacKay, “Introduction: Sacred Space and Fayette, New York,” in Sacred Space. “Early Latter-day Saint views of time reflected and disputed prevalent ideas about the nature of time and history. Latter-day Saint primordialism veered toward the entire disruption of time. In the final period of earth’s history, kicked off by Smith’s time-defying Book of Mormon, all dispensations would come together in sacred simultaneity.” Brown, Joseph Smith’s Translation, 18.

[22] Jackson, “Historicity of the Book of Mormon,” 137–38.

[23] “In his 1840 discourse on priesthood, [Joseph] Smith preached that the practices known ‘at any former period shall be had again’ in his current dispensation, the one that summarized and united all of history. He thought ‘all things pertaining to that dispensation should be conducted precisely in accordance with the preceding dispensations’ and called for every dispensation to be ‘gathered together in one.’” Brown, Joseph Smith’s Translation, 64. Consequently, the Restoration is not something that is over but is constantly underway. See Uchtdorf, “Are You Sleeping through the Restoration?,” 59. “As recently as October 2018, in an interview in Concepción, Chile, President Russell M. Nelson said, ‘We’re witnesses to a process of restoration. If you think the Church has been fully restored, you’re just seeing the beginning. There is much more to come.’” MacKay, “Event or Process?,” 75; compare President Nelson’s remarks in Nelson, “Insights of Global Ministry.”

[24] This is discussed in more detail in chapter 7.

[25] Holland, “American Visionaries,” 53.

[26] Flake, “Translating Time,” 52.

[27] Givens, “Rethinking Mormon Restoration,” 338.

[28] See Arnold, Genesis, 3–19; and Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 1–11, xxvii–xlv. “According to the common view, central (i.e., well-known) biblical persons, such as Moses, Joshua, Ezra, and others, were the primary authors of the OT books. They used historical records available to them to write of the past events in the Bible. For events in their own day, they relied on their own eyewitness observations. In most cases they simply wrote down accounts of events as they happened. . . . The OT thus took shape gradually and progressively as each successive event was recorded. Always, however, according to the common view, the process was controlled by a single, known author. . . . The lasting value of the traditional view has been its ‘holistic’ approach to the biblical texts. By viewing the biblical books as the works of individual authors, emphasis naturally focuses on the meaning of the work as a whole. Modern biblical scholarship, with its radically different view of authorship, moves in the other direction. In many scholarly studies of Genesis, the question of how the OT books were written has taken center stage. This has shifted attention away from seeing Genesis and the other OT books as ‘whole texts’ and viewing them merely as the bits and pieces of supposed, earlier documents that have only imperfectly survived in the final text.” Sailhamer, Genesis, 1461–75). The Book of Moses appears to fill in some of the missing gaps of what was and allows us to focus on those characteristics of religion rather than on what might be later human reflections on the word of God. That being said, we accept the Bible as the word of God, and it is a quintessential part of the Latter-day Saint canon.

[29] See Muhlestein, Sears, and, Shannon, “Gospel Covenants in History,” 21–40; and Hopkin, “Abrahamic Covenant and Biblical Covenant-Making.”

[30] See discussion in Muhlestein, “Everlasting Covenant in the Scriptures,” 41–71; Guide to the Scriptures, s.v. “Dispensation”; and Bible Dictionary, s.v. “Dispensations.” “[Joseph] Smith rejected standard dispensationalism. He understood dispensations as restorations of a fundamentally unchanging system that disappeared and reappeared through the millennia. That sense of the old made new again was precisely evoked by Smith’s choice of the term ‘new and everlasting covenant’ to describe the way his church would bring into being an ancient-modern dispensation. Each dispensation was guided by a prophet-seer, the sacerdotal parent of an epoch, who could integrate his charges into the great human family and deal with temporally specific problems like floods, Egyptian bondage, or modern economic change. After an apostasy (which happened distressingly often) a fundamentally identical system would be restored by another such seer. Smith’s call, then, had been to restoration. Parley Pratt’s influential Voice of Warning taught that under Smith’s prophetic leadership ‘the religion of ancient days’ was ‘returning to the earth in this enlightened age.’ An old-new dispensation had arrived.” Brown, Joseph Smith’s Translation, 62–63.

[31] See Seely, “Restoration as Covenant Renewal,” 311–36.

[32] Arnold, Genesis, 1. See also Brueggemann, Genesis, 11.

[33] The Primeval History is often distinguished for its differences with the so-called Mosaic dispensation in form and content. Although Exodus and subsequent biblical books take us into a period that introduces us to specific prescriptions, laws, and sacrifices, they look back to the early history of the Old Testament and the patriarchs as a lens through which to view the covenant between God and Israel. This view backward is even more pronounced when we engage the prophets, since Moses and Abraham become prominent figures through which the covenant is viewed. With regard to Genesis and its connecting of the theological ages, Bill Arnold stated the following:

The literary structure of Genesis has quite intentionally drawn a distinct line connecting the God of Israel’s ancestors and the God of creations through the use of genealogies. The Primeval History that concludes in Gen 11 makes a profound theological statement by equating Yahweh—the God of Israel—with the sovereign creator of the cosmos. The Pentateuch in general establishes continuity between the God of Sinai and the God of Moriah (Gen 22); that is, between the God of the Mosaic covenant and the God who established covenant with Abraham (Exod 2). The Lord, Yahweh of the exodus and of the Sinai covenant, is the very same Yahweh God who forged a relationship with Abraham (Exod 6:2–8). In a similar way, Gen 1–11 ties Israel’s ancestral covenant to the Creator of the universe. Yahweh is not simply the God of Jerusalem, nor of geographic Israel, nor is Yahweh only the God of the exodus plagues, nor of the Sinai desert. In a remarkable theological move that transcends most of ancient Near Eastern speculative thought, Yahweh of Israel, the God of the exodus and Sinai covenant as well as the God of the ancestral covenant, becomes also the sovereign Lord of all. The God of Sinai and Zion is thus also the God of Eden and Ararat. Arnold, Genesis, 123–24

Thus, regardless of how the majority of the Old Testament might appear to reveal less than all that the patriarchal period and its covenant present, reflections of it are prominent throughout the biblical corpus. See Muhlestein, Sears, and Shannon, “Gospel Covenants in History,” 21–40, for a theological discussion of these threads throughout scripture. In this vein the Book of Moses begins to reveal what was, which is not always reflective of what now is in the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible. “Behind the present shape of these [Old Testament] narratives lies a clear theological program. In nearly every section of the work, the author’s theological interest can be seen. His theological perspective might be summarized in two points: (1) the author draws a line connecting the God of the fathers and the God of the Abrahamic and Sinaitic covenants with the God who created the world; and (2) the author shows that the call of the patriarchs and the Sinaitic covenant have as their ultimate goal the reestablishment of God’s original purpose in creation. In a word, the biblical covenants are marked off as the way forward to a new covenant and a new creation.” Sailhamer, Genesis, 2222–26. Through the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Lord was once again revealing the purposes of his work and glory and how he was going to bring it to pass in the fulness of times.

[34] For the Old Testament as a witness of Christ, see Robert J. Matthews, “The Old Testament: A Voice from the Past and a Witness for the Lord Jesus Christ,” in Sperry Symposium Classics: The Old Testament, ed. Paul Y. Hoskisson (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2005), 35–47. “One of the most remarkable topics in Joseph Smith’s revision of the Bible is the emphasis given to Jesus Christ in Old Testament times. According to the revised account of Genesis, an angel from heaven taught Adam about the coming of Jesus Christ and explained to Adam that animal sacrifice was to be a type of symbol of the great atoning sacrifice that Jesus would accomplish. Furthermore, Adam was instructed to do all things in the name of the Son of God, and later Adam was baptized by immersion in the name of Jesus Christ.” Matthews, Joseph Smith’s Revision of the Bible, 35. Either these things happened or they did not. The revelations of God affirmed that they did, and the development of temple worship underlies them. See discussion in chapter 22 herein.

[35] Sometimes the terms myth and mythology are used to describe the Primeval History and ancient creation accounts. These terms do not denote something that is false; rather, they refer to a society’s way of reflecting worldviews of real events that are associated with beliefs and practices, often those relating to religious rituals and teachings. See Bandstra, Reading the Old Testament, 52. See also Walton, Lost World of Genesis One, 14; Flake, “Translating Time,” 500; and Fishbane, Biblical Myth and Rabbinic Mythmaking, 1–7.

[36] For example, scholars are often perplexed at how foundational the stories of creation and the Garden of Eden are in Genesis and yet they received relatively little attention throughout the rest of the Bible. An exception to the rule is the entire architectural layout of the tabernacle/temple and the themes portrayed in connection with it. Several studies link creation theology with the establishment and language of temple construction in the Torah. See discussion in chapter 22 herein.

[37] Jackson, “Joseph Smith Translating Genesis,” 28. Jackson, in “Joseph Smith’s Biblical Antiquity,” 180, states, “In Joseph Smith’s view of biblical antiquity, there was a fundamental difference between the worship of believers before the time of Moses and Israel’s religion thereafter. His belief in a Christian context for the stories of Genesis rewrites that book in a dramatic way, but his understanding of the law of Moses and its origins rewrites the rest of the Bible.”

[38] Smith Jr., “Preface,” Pearl of Great Price (1851).

[39] Givens and Hauglid, Pearl of Greatest Price, 5, adding “The very first sentence ever published from [Joseph] Smith’s biblical revision put the case baldly: ‘and it came to pass that Enoch continued his speech, saying: Behold, our father Adam taught these things, and many have believed and become the sons of God’ [see Moses 7:1].” Givens and Hauglid further conclude, “Christ’s covenant with his church has Old Testament, not New Testament, roots. Christianity begins before the Garden” (42). Kristian Heal, in “Patristic Writings,” 418, notes that Samuel Miller (an American professor of ecclesiastical history at Princeton Seminary from 1813 to1849), “like Joseph Smith, believed in the same organization that existed in the primitive church. The difference between the two was that Miller turned to patristic sources to defend his particular form of church government, while Joseph never did.” For Joseph, the revelations of the Lord literally took the gospel back to the beginning. “The gospel of Jesus Christ came with Christ in the meridian of time only because the gospel of Jesus Christ came from Christ in prior dispensations. He did not teach merely a new twist on a syncretic-Mediterranean tradition. His earthly ministry enacted what had been planned and anticipated ‘from before the foundations of the world’ . . . and from Adam down.”

Madsen, “Introductory Essay,” xvii.

[40] Muhlestein, Sears, and Shannon, “New and Everlasting,” 32–33.

[41] In the Prophet Joseph Smith’s Lectures on Faith, received while he was translating Genesis, “Lecture 2 recounts how an angel visited Adam and Eve and taught them the principle of sacrifice and its significance as a type of a Savior yet to come, the only begotten of the Father. Thus, the lecture continues, ‘the plan of redemption [was] revealed to man,’ and ‘from this we can see that the whole human family, in the early age of their existence, in all their different branches, had this knowledge.’” Givens and Hauglid, Pearl of Greatest Price, 10; see Lectures on Faith 2.33; Doctrine and Covenants 19.

[42] In a letter to the Saints in 1840, the Prophet spoke of the printing and dissemination of the word of God (including the New Translation) and the effects it would have on its readers: “Those who have tasted the benefit derived from a study of those works, will undoubtedly vie with each other in their zeal for sending them abroad throughout the world, that every son of Adam may enjoy the same privileges and rejoice in the same truths. Here then, beloved brethren is a work to engage in worthy of arch-angels; a work which will cast into the shade the things which have heretofore been accomplished; a work which kings and prophets and righteous men, in former ages have sought, expected, and earnestly desired to see, but died without the sight: and well, will it be for those who shall aid in carrying into effect the mighty operations of Jehovah.” Letter to Saints Scattered Abroad, September 1840, p. 179, The Joseph Smith Papers. See also Givens and Hauglid, Pearl of Greatest Price, 12.

[43] Discourse, between circa 26 June and circa 4 August 1839-A, as Reported by William Clayton, p. 14, The Joseph Smith Papers. David Seely summarizes this concept thus: “From modern revelation we learn that the Lord has administered His covenant to His children from the very beginning and that Adam was the first to accept the gospel of Jesus Christ and enter into the covenant through the ordinance of baptism (see Moses 6:62–67). The scriptures record the restoration, or renewal, of this same covenant at pivotal times in history, through Noah, Abraham, Moses, and in the meridian of time through Jesus Christ.” Seely, “Restoration as Covenant Renewal,” 312. See also discussion in MacKay, “Event or Process?,” 73–101.

[44] History, 1838–1856, volume D-1 [1 August 1842–1 July 1843], p. 4 [addenda, 22 January 1843, p. 1457], The Joseph Smith Papers.

[45] Letter to the Church, circa March 1834, p. 143, The Joseph Smith Papers.

[46] “Church History,” 1 March 1842, p. 706, The Joseph Smith Papers. See Underwood, “‘Same’ Organization,” 167–86.

[47] Givens, “Rethinking Mormon Restoration,” 336; compare Coldwell, “Europe in the Summer of 1831,” 380.

[48] Givens, “Rethinking Mormon Restoration,” 336–37; compare Ehat and Cook, Words of Joseph Smith, 234; Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, 420; and Wilford Woodruff Journal, January 22, 1843, in Cook and Ehat, Words of Joseph Smith, 155–59, and in Kenney, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 2:213–17.

[49] “The laws and ordinances described in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy are not internally consistent and include various redundancies and contradictions. Most biblical scholars understand this textual material to represent a development of teachings and practices that changed over time as Israel experienced new circumstances, perhaps over hundreds of years. While many people are accustomed to thinking of the ‘law of Moses’ as a single revelation that remained in force until its fulfillment in Christ, biblical and Book of Mormon evidence suggests that the law was continuously adapted to new religious, political, social, and economic circumstances.” Belnap, “Law of Moses,” 19–34; see Muhlestein, Sears, and Shannon, “New and Everlasting,” 37. With the origins of Mosaic teachings and practices rooted in the past, we may also note that “if we believe that revelation and understanding come ‘line-upon-line,’ then we can expect some unlikenesses with the past.” Underwood, “Communities of Discourse Approach,” 117. The restitution of all things that were underlies the restitution of all that that will be, not necessarily in terms of the exact replication of ancient sacrifices and rites that were previously performed, but in terms of the restoration of ancient truths or concepts that parallel or replace them according to any revelation given by the Lord.

[50] For biblical influences on the development of ordinances in the Restoration, see Underwood, “Joseph Smith and the King James Bible,” 215–33.

[51] Numerous sections of the Doctrine and Covenants deal with the Lord teaching the Prophet how to administer in the Church. See, e.g., sections 51, 70, 78, 83 (bishop’s storehouse); 84 (oath and covenant of the priesthood, baptism, New Jerusalem); 86 (priesthood blessings); 107, 121 (priesthood); 13, 19, 68, 138 (baptism); 124 (temple to be built, baptism for the dead, holy ordinances); 127, 128 (records for baptisms for the dead); 20, 27, 46, 59, 89 (sacrament); 41, 42, 46, 58, 64, 68, 72 (bishops); 86, 107 (patriarchs); 81, 91–92, 132 (priesthood keys and covenants); 31 (leadership in the Church); 20–23 (Church organization and duties of members). “When Joseph Smith lived, Christians largely agreed that believing people should be organized into churches. A great deal of energy went into forming little congregations along the frontier, constructing churches, and training ministers. Joseph was among the greatest of the organizers, a genius at developing ways to mobilize people for godly purposes. By revelation he established orders of the priesthood, organized stakes, set up conferences, formed the Relief Society, sent out missionaries, designed cities, outlined a new economic system, all as part of building the Kingdom. That impetus did not slow after his death. Brigham Young went on to develop the ward organization, establish auxiliaries, build and man temples, found schools, settle new communities, and organize united orders. The Kingdom did not dwell only in the hearts of individuals. The Kingdom consisted of elaborate institutions for accomplishing God’s work.” Bushman, “Joseph Smith in the Current Age,” 38–39. Several of these ecclesiastical matters were initially encountered during Joseph’s translation of ancient texts.

[52] Minutes, 17 February 1834, p. 30, The Joseph Smith Papers.

[53] Darowski and Goldberg, “Restoring the Ancient Order.”

[54] Orson Pratt, in Journal of Discourses, 16:156 (16 August 1873). See discussion in Givens and Hauglid, Pearl of Greatest Price, 58. Joseph Smith in his search for truth and forgiveness lamented that he could not see a religion around him that reflected what he saw in the Bible. “By searching the scriptures I found that mankind did not come unto the Lord but that they had apostatized from the true and living faith, and there was no society or denomination that was built upon the gospel of Jesus Christ as recorded in the New Testament.” History, circa Summer 1832, p. 2, The Joseph Smith Papers. Early revelations received by the Prophet fleshed out details of how this restoration of an ancient biblical practice was to be done. Sidney Rigdon had a split with his Campbellite leaders in part because he wanted a return to biblical religion. “Rigdon and Campbell both felt that ‘the restoration of the ancient gospel was . . . the initiatory movement’ that would precede the millennium. Campbell felt that with time, humans would be capable of effecting that restoration on their own. Rigdon was more emphatic about the Parousia’s imminence, and that the Lord himself would ‘prepare the way of his coming by raising up and inspiring apostles [and] prophets,’ and would ‘restore again to his Saints all the gifts of the church as in days of old.’” Givens and Hauglid, Pearl of Greatest Price, 62. Groups were living communally at the Isaac Morely home attempting to restore an ancient order of consecration, and the environment of the day bred feelings of a restoration of things of old such as a New Jerusalem. See Givens and Hauglid, Pearl of Greatest Price, 55–58.

[55] “Church History,” 1 March 1842, p. 707, The Joseph Smith Papers.

[56] John Taylor, in Journal of Discourses, 17:374; 21:94. “During that time Joseph met annually with Moroni at the Hill Cumorah to receive instructions in preparation for receiving the plates. Other Nephite prophets who had a vital interest in the coming forth of the Book of Mormon also played a significant role in Joseph’s preparation. Nephi, Alma, the twelve disciples chosen by the Savior in America, and Mormon all instructed Joseph. His education was intense during this period.” Church History in the Fulness of Times, 41. See George Q. Cannon, in Journal of Discourses, 13:47. According to Andrew Skinner, “We can document at least fifty-nine nonmortal or divine beings who appear to, or were seen by, Joseph Smith in vision.” Skinner, “Impact of the Doctrinal Restoration, 10. See Hatch, Visions, Manifestations, and Miracles, 129–31. “These included, among others, the Old Testament figures of Adam, Noah, Seth, Enos, Cainan, Mahalaleel, Jared, Enoch, Methuselah, Elias, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and Elijah. New Testament figures included John the Baptist, Peter, James, John, Paul, Stephen, Philip, Matthew, James the Lesser, Matthias, Andrew, Mark, Jude, Bartholomew, Thomas, Luke, Simon, Barnabas, and others of the Apostles—and, of course, Jesus Christ Himself.” Bradshaw, “Sorting Out the Sources in Scripture,” 221n19; see Hatch, Visions, Manifestations, and Miracles of the Restoration, 135–55. For additional accounts of divine manifestations to the Prophet, see Welch and Carlson, Opening the Heavens. “President John Taylor, the third President of the Church, explained: ‘Moses, Elijah, Elias and many of the leading characters mentioned in the Scriptures, who had operated in the various dispensations, came and conferred upon Joseph the various keys, powers, rights, privileges, and [permissions] which they enjoyed in their times. . . . Whatever of knowledge, of intelligence, of Priesthood, of powers, of revelations were conferred upon those men in the different ages, were again restored to the earth by the ministration and through the medium of those who held the holy Priesthood of God in the different dispensations in which they lived.’ President John Taylor also declared: ‘If you were to ask Joseph what sort of a looking man Adam was, he would tell you at once; he would tell you his size and appearance and all about him. You might have asked him what sort of men Peter, James and John were, and he could have told you. Why? Because he had seen them.’” Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “Everlasting Priesthood,” 103. See John Taylor, Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, April 18, 1882, 1.

[57] Orson Pratt, in Journal of Discourses, 15:185 (September 22, 1872); 13:66 (December 19, 1869).

[58] George Q. Cannon, in Journal of Discourses, 12:362. For additional statements concerning the heavenly beings who appeared to Joseph Smith, see Journal of Discourses, 13:47; 18:326; 20:174–75; 21:65; 21:161, 163; 23:48–49. Information in this footnote is adapted from Baugh, “Joseph Smith: Seer, Translator, Revelator, and Prophet,” 5n5. We thank Professor Baugh for providing us with these sources.

[59] In light of the restoration of ancient truths, the Prophet Joseph Smith appeared to view this restoration process through the lens of 1 Nephi 13:23–29, wherein the Lord explains to Nephi that many truths were “taken away from the gospel of the Lamb,” “many parts which are plain and most precious; and also, many covenants of the Lord have [been] taken away” (v. 26). For studies arguing that the Joseph Smith Translation restores original texts from the Bible, see Matthews, “Plainer Translation”; Faulring, Jackson, and Matthews, Joseph Smith’s New Translation of the Bible, 8–13; and Jackson, “Joseph Smith’s Biblical Antiquity,” 177. See also Moses 1:23, 41. On the other hand, Kevin Barney, in “Joseph Smith Translation and Ancient Texts of the Bible,” 85–102, suggests that while “it is unlikely (with very few exceptions) that the JST represents a literal restoration of material that stood in the original manuscripts of the Bible[,] . . . this does not mean that the JST cannot be regarded as an inspired translation” (p. 100). Thus, for Barney, the Joseph Smith Translation may constitute an inspired work, but it restores little (if anything) from antiquity in terms of text. Joseph Smith stated that “many important points, touching the Salvation of man, had been taken from the Bible, or lost before it was compiled.” History, 1838–1856, volume A-1 [23 December 1805–30 August 1834], p. 183, The Joseph Smith Papers. He also said, “From what we can draw from the scriptures relative to the teachings of heaven we are induced to think, that much instruction has been given to man since the beginning which we have not.” Letter to the Church, circa March 1834, p. 143, The Joseph Smith Papers. Scholars did not believe in Joseph’s revelations because they could not verify them by natural means; Joseph believed them because they had been revealed to him. For Joseph, God as the source was sufficient.

[60] Messenger and Advocate 1, no. 10 (July 1835): 156.

[61] These accounts are in the form of letters addressed to W. W. Phelps: “Letter IV. To W. W. Phelps, Esq.,” Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate 1, no. 5 (February 1835): 77–80; “Letter VI. To W. W. Phelps, Esq.” (1, no. 7, April 1835), 108–12; and “Letter VII. To W. W. Phelps, Esq.” (1, no. 10, July 1835), 156–59. For a list of these passages, see Jackson, From Apostasy to Restoration, 103–4, 114–15nn. 2–7; and Millet and Jackson, Studies in Scripture, 2:359–60. Joseph McConkie, in “Joseph Smith and the Poetic Writings,” 103–20, also includes Psalm 91:6 as a verse Moroni recited to Joseph. There is some uncertainty as to whether Oliver is directly citing Moroni or is using and supplying specific scriptural passages in efforts to explain the themes Moroni expounded upon to Joseph. See Jackson, “Appearance of Moroni to Joseph Smith,” 360. At times, Oliver used quotation marks in the accounts marking Moroni’s speech, but this is not a consistent convention, and it is difficult to tell if the commentary in these accounts constitutes Moroni’s actual words or Oliver’s summation of things. See Jackson, From Apostasy to Restoration, 114–15. In 1835 Joseph stated that Moroni “explained many of the prophecies,” and Oliver called his accounts “an outline of the conversation of the angel.” Jackson, From Apostasy to Restoration, 102–3.

[62] Jackson, “Scriptural Restoration,” 223.

[63] “Church History,” 1 March 1842, p. 707, The Joseph Smith Papers. According to this letter, Moroni also clarified that at least some of the Native Americans “were the literal descendants of Abraham,” an idea that helped establish the significance of the Book of Mormon in bringing to light “the knowledge of the covenants which [God] made with [their] fathers” (2 Nephi 3:7). References to the Abrahamic covenant are strewn throughout the Book of Mormon. According to his 1832 account of the First Vision, God had told Joseph that his purposes were “to bring to pass that which <hath>been spoken by the mouth of the prophets and Ap [ o ] stles behold and lo I come quickly as it [is] written of me in the cloud <clothed> in the glory of my Father and my soul was filled with love and for many days I could rejoice with great Joy and the Lord was with me.” History, circa Summer 1832, p. 3, The Joseph Smith Papers.

[64] Additionally, Craig C. Christensen, in “Choice Seer,” remarked that although Joseph may not have known it, what he learned about ordinances and Church organization about Christ’s ancient Church (such as baptism) while translating the Book of Mormon helped him restore that Church and organization in April 1830.

[65] History, 1838–1856, volume C-1 [2 November 1838–31 July 1842], p. 1327, The Joseph Smith Papers.

[66] History, 1838–1856, volume C-1 [2 November 1838–31 July 1842], p. 1327, The Joseph Smith Papers.

[67] History, 1838–1856, volume C-1 [2 November 1838–31 July 1842], p. 1328, The Joseph Smith Papers.

[68] Letter to the Church, 7 September 1842 [D&C 128], p. 6, The Joseph Smith Papers. “The Lord revealed His law to Joseph Smith. Many of those revealed and restored truths are found in the Pearl of Great Price. In 1831, the Prospectus of the Evening and Morning Star promised its readers that many ‘sacred records which have slept for ages’ would be published. In fulfillment of this promise, ‘extracts from The Prophecy of Enoch’ were published. Years later, in Nauvoo, the book of Abraham was printed in the Times and Seasons.” Elieson, Principles of the Pearl of Great Price, 3.

[69] The Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star 13 (July 15, 1851): 217.

[70] Brigham Young, in Journal of Discourses, 7:333 (October 8, 1859).

[71] The Pearl of Great Price. 1st ed. (Liverpool: R. James, South Castle Street, 1851), vi.