Robert J. Matthews, “The Pearl of Great Price Encounters the Modern World—An Appraisal,” in The Pearl of Great Price: Revelations from God, ed. H. Donl Peterson and Charles D. Tate Jr. (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1989), 13–32.
Robert J. Matthews was a professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University when this was published.
I am pleased to participate in this seminar. I alone am responsible for what I say here. I cannot speak for the Church or for the University. My views are my own, but I believe them to be in harmony with the scriptures and with the Brethren. I only desire to be of service and to help myself and others understand more accurately what the Lord has revealed.
The Lord has told us that the purpose of scripture is for our instruction and that his Spirit will quicken all things:
And the Book of Mormon and the holy scriptures are given of me for your instruction; and the power of my Spirit quickeneth all things (D&C 33:16).
This was said before the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price were printed, but the principle is the same for them as for the other scriptures.
The Pearl of Great Price is like the other standard works of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in that it is a collection of divinely inspired revelatory material, and is a witness for Jesus Christ. It is different from the other standard works in that it is the most recent to be canonized and covers considerably more years in its content than any of the others. Yet it is by far the smallest of the four standard books of scripture.
The Pearl of Great Price was not an accidental or haphazard collection. Its contents were specifically selected by its compiler for their special contribution to religious and spiritual knowledge, and for the distinct and special information that would come to those persons who read the various portions. It is scripture.
The original compiler, Elder Franklin D. Richards, President of the British Mission and member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, explained in the preface to the first edition in 1851 what his motives were for compiling the Pearl of Great Price and why he included the particular items. He said that there were matters of doctrinal and historical importance revealed through the Prophet Joseph Smith in the early days of the Church that were basic and necessary to the faith of a Latter-day Saint, but which were not readily accessible to the new members of the Church in Great Britain, and since these items were so necessary to a correct understanding of the gospel, he wished to produce a pamphlet that would present these fundamentals to the members in the British Isles. He further said:
Altogether it is presumed, that true believers in the Divine mission of the Prophet JOSEPH SMITH will appreciate this little collection of precious truths as a Pearl of Great Price that will increase their ability to maintain and to defend the holy faith by becoming possessors of it . . . . It will commend itself to all careful students of the scriptures, as detailing many important facts which are therein only alluded to, or entirely unmentioned Jin the other scriptures].. .. The doctrines and ordinances thereof are 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.
Nor do we conceive it possible for any unprejudiced person to arise from a careful perusal of this work, without being deeply impressed with a sense of the Divine calling, and holy ordination, of the man by whom these revelations, translations, and narrations have been communicated to us. As impervious as the minds of men may be at present to these convictions, 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, and that under God he was the Prophet and founder of the dispensation of the fullness of times, in which will be gathered together into one all things which are in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth (Introduction to the 1851 edition).
We are indebted to Brother James R. Clark, of the BYU religion faculty until his retirement, for compiling the statistical figures showing the rapid increase of LDS Church members in Britain from 1845–1852. By 1851 there were 30,747 members in Britain and only 5,979 in Salt Lake City, and 11,000 in Utah Territory (197). These new converts in England did not have access to many of the great contributions of the Prophet Joseph Smith. It is very evident the Pearl of Great Price was needed so that the people would know what the gospel is.
The Pearl of Great Price in its current form is slightly reduced in content from the original, because Elder Richards had included materials that are now published in the Doctrine and Covenants, and there is no need for duplication. For example, all or parts of what we now call sections 20, 27, 77, 87, and 107 in the Doctrine and Covenants, and a poem called “Truth,” or “O Say What Is Truth” were all included in the early editions of the Pearl of Great Price. It now consists of the book of Moses, containing an excerpt from Joseph Smith’s divinely inspired translation of the Bible, written between June 1830 and February 1831; the book of Abraham, translated from some Egyptian papyri between 1835–1842; Joseph Smith’s translation of Matthew 24 done in 1831; an extract from Joseph Smith’s personal history written in 1838; and a statement of 13 Articles of Faith, written and published by the Prophet Joseph in 1842. The Pearl of Great Price was first a mission pamphlet, but it became a standard work in 1880.
In scope, the materials in the Pearl of Great Price deal with precise matters starting with the Grand Council in heaven before the world was made and going through various events such as the rebellion of Lucifer, the creation of the world, the fall of Adam, the life of Adam and early mankind; the ministry of Enoch, of Noah, of Abraham, and of Moses, and the teachings of Jesus about his second coming. Also included is an official pronouncement by the Prophet Joseph Smith about his first vision, the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, and the restoration of the Holy Priesthood to him by divine heavenly messengers; and lastly, an official statement of some basic doctrinal features of the Church, called the Articles of Faith.
The purpose of this chapter is to show that the information in the Pearl of Great Price is basic, fundamental, and official to the Church and to the faith of those who can or ought to be called Saints, and that in many instances its doctrinal and historical concepts, although they are in perfect harmony with the teachings in other standard works, sometimes collide with and run counter to popular secular and religious beliefs of the world. In other words, if one believes and accepts what is in the Pearl of Great Price, he probably cannot also consistently believe some of the other things that are quite generally known in the world around us today.
If one believes what is written in the Pearl of Great Price, he will believe in prophets, angels, visions, miracles, and in sacred spiritual events happening today as well as anciently. He will believe in God, in the Devil, and that each one of us has had a premortal, intelligent, active and individual spirit existence. He must also accept a literal fall of man, and a redemption from the fall of Adam and from individual sins through the atonement of Jesus Christ. He will believe in a universal flood in Noah’s day, a literal parting of the waters by Moses, and the translation of Enoch and his city. He will believe that the earliest man and his immediate family were intelligent, had a written and spoken language, and kept records from the beginning, from the creation, down to and including Abraham and Moses’ time. He will believe that God made a covenant with Abraham that is still in effect today, and that it has affected the life of everyone who reads this. He will believe that Jesus Christ is literally the Son of God, and that he shed his blood and died on the cross and was resurrected from the dead. He will also believe that this same Jesus, in company with God the Eternal Father, came to Joseph Smith in a vision in New York state in the spring of 1820. He will believe that Joseph Smith was given a Urim and Thummim and some gold plates of ancient date from which he translated the Book of Mormon by divine direction. He will believe that John the Baptist came personally and gave Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery the priesthood of Aaron by the laying on of his hands, and that this was later followed by a visit from Peter, James and John who gave these same two brethren the priesthood of Melchizedek. All of these points are taught in the Pearl of Great Price. They are the general, foundational things—the story of the origin of man, the fall of man, the redemption of man, and the restoration of the gospel in the latter days—and they are all taught in the Pearl of Great Price.
One of the great and plain doctrinal contributions in the Pearl of Great Price is the emphasis that the gospel of Jesus Christ, with all its ordinances, was known to Adam and was obeyed by him and the other ancient patriarchs. Every dispensation was a gospel dispensation. The book of Moses clearly delineates that Adam, Seth, Enos, Cainan, and so on down to Enoch, Methuselah, Lamech (father of Noah), Noah, and Moses, were all “preachers of righteousness” (6:23); they all believed in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and they all held the same holy priesthood that Jesus, the apostles, and we in the Church today possess (chapters 6 & 8). This concept is in harmony with the Bible, the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants, but it is more clearly taught in the Pearl of Great Price because it is given in detail and is shown extensively in the lives of each of these patriarchs, rather than in just a one-sentence statement saying it is so.
It has become customary when the Pearl of Great Price is mentioned for people to immediately think of mummies, of papyri, and of Egypt. Important as all that is, I hasten to note that the major importance of the Pearl of Great Price is found in what it says about Jesus Christ, and in its announcement of the first vision of Joseph Smith. Along side of those two things, all other things are of a lesser significance.
The Pearl of Great Price teaches the gospel of Jesus Christ! It is not just history—it is doctrine! I will note at least partially what the Pearl of Great Price says about Jesus, and illustrate how and in what manner it is a witness of him.
In the book of Moses, Jesus is identified as the Only Begotten, the Creator, the Son of God, the Messiah, and the Savior, etc. He is spoken of extensively in connection with Adam, Enoch, Noah and Moses. They all knew him and understood the way the atoning sacrifice would work. I will list a few references from Moses:
In Moses 1:6, God tells Moses ‘Thou art in the similitude of mine Only Begotten; and mine only Begotten is and shall be the Savior, for he is full of grace and truth. . . .”
In verse 17, Moses declares that he was commanded at the burning bush to “call upon God in the name of [the] Only Begotten.”
In verse 19, Satan claims that he, the devil, is the Only Begotten, and demands that Moses worship him.
In verse 21 and 22, Moses commands Satan in the name of the Only Begotten to depart, and Satan obeys.
In verses 32 and 33, the Only Begotten Son is declared again as being full of grace and truth and is identified as the Creator of worlds.
In Moses 2:1, the Only Begotten is again identified as the Creator. He is spoken of again in verses 26 and 27 in the creative process.
In Moses 3:18, the Only Begotten is again identified with the creation.
In Moses 4:2, the Only Begotten is declared to have been with God from the beginning. He is called the “Beloved Son, which was my Beloved and Chosen from the beginning.” His perfect obedience to the Father is also shown here when he said, “Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever.” The Only Begotten is mentioned two additional times in chapter 4 (vv. 3, 28).
These are but a few of the references to the Savior, but space will not permit noting all of the instances wherein the book of Moses mentions the work and personality of the Savior. I recently searched the book of Moses specifically looking for what is said about Jesus and for the names that were used concerning him. If my calculations are correct, the Savior is mentioned at least 68 times, and there are at least 17 different names for him.
Son of Man
Son of God
King of Zion
Rock of Heaven
In addition there are other titles, such as Man of Holiness, Man of Counsel, Endless and Eternal, and Lord God Almighty which in context are used for the Father, but could equally be applied to Jesus.
It is interesting to note how various parts of the scriptures favor different names for deity. We have just pointed out that Moses overwhelmingly favors Only Begotten. In 1 and 2 Nephi, the prominent term is “Holy One of Israel.” This is also Isaiah’s choice of a name for the Savior. The word “Lamb” receives considerable attention in the first three chapters of the gospel of John.
In Moses 5 we read of Adam’s being commanded of God to offer animal sacrifice. An angel comes and asks Adam why he is making sacrifices and then explains what the significance of the sacrifice is:
And he gave unto them commandments, that they should worship the Lord their God, and should offer the firstlings of their flocks, for an offering unto the Lord. And Adam was obedient unto the commandments of the Lord.
And after many days an angel of the Lord appeared unto Adam, saying: Why dost thou offer sacrifices unto the Lord? And Adam said unto him: I know not, save the Lord commanded me.
And then the angel spake, saying: This thing is a similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father, which is full of grace and truth.
Wherefore, thou shalt do all that thou doest in the name of the Son, and thou shalt repent and call upon God in the name of the Son forevermore.
And in that day the Holy Ghost fell upon Adam, which beareth record of the Father and the Son, saying: I am the Only Begotten of the Father from the beginning, henceforth and forever, that as thou hast fallen thou mayest be redeemed, and all mankind, even as many as will.
And in that day Adam blessed God and was filled, and began to prophesy concerning all the families of the earth, saying: Blessed be the name of God, for because of my transgression my eyes are opened, and in this life I shall have joy, and again in the flesh I shall see God.
And Eve, his wife, heard all these things and was glad, saying: Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient.
And Adam and Eve blessed the name of God, and they made all things known unto their sons and their daughters (5–12).
We cannot help but notice that the same doctrine was taught by Lehi in 2 Nephi 2:18–24. Adam and Eve could have had no children without the fall, and the fall also brought death, and because of the fall a Savior was needed—thus showing the relationship between the fall of Adam and the atonement of Jesus Christ.
Nowhere else in the Old Testament is the explanation given so directly that sacrifice was offered as a symbol of the Savior. Furthermore, no other translation of the Old Testament has animal sacrifice being a commandment from God to Adam. The book of Moses gives us a clearer understanding of Adam and the gospel than we get from any other source.
The book of Moses is an informative and detailed witness for the Lord Jesus Christ, and it explains why an atonement was necessary and how it works.
It would be too lengthy to quote the scripture in its entirety, but here are some excerpts from Moses 6:47–54:
And as Enoch spake forth the words of God, the people trembled, and could not stand in his presence.
And he said unto them: Because that Adam fell, we are; and by his fall came death; and we are made partakers of misery and woe.
Behold Satan hath come among the children of men, and tempteth them to worship him; and men have become carnal, sensual, and devilish, and are shut out from the presence of God.
But God hath made known unto our fathers that all men must repent.
And he called upon our father Adam by his own voice, saying: I am God; I made the world, and men before they were in the flesh.
And he also said unto him: If thou wilt turn unto me, and hearken unto my voice, and believe, and repent of all thy transgressions, and be baptized, even in water, in the name of mine Only Begotten Son, who is full of grace and truth, which is Jesus Christ, the only name which shall be given under heaven, whereby salvation shall come unto the children of men, ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, asking all things in his name, and whatsoever ye shall ask, it shall be given you.
And our father Adam spake unto the Lord, and said: Why is it that men must repent and be baptized in water? And the Lord said unto Adam: Behold I have forgiven thee thy transgression in the Garden of Eden.
Hence came the saying abroad among the people, that the Son of God hath atoned for original guilt, wherein the sins of the parents cannot be answered upon the heads of the children, for they are whole from the foundation of the world.
And let us hear again from Enoch as he relates what the Lord had said to Adam in Moses 6:57–62:
Wherefore teach it unto your children, that all men, everywhere, must repent, or they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God, for no unclean thing can dwell there, or dwell in his presence; for, in the language of Adam, Man of Holiness is his name, and the name of his Only Begotten is the Son of Man, even Jesus Christ, a righteous Judge, who shall come in the meridian of time.
Therefore, I give unto you a commandment, to teach these things freely unto your children, saying:
That by reason of transgression cometh the fall, which fall bringeth death, and inasmuch as ye were born into the world by water, and blood, and the spirit, which I have made, and so became of dust a living soul, even so ye must be born again into the kingdom of heaven, of water, and of the Spirit, and be cleansed by blood, even the blood of mine Only Begotten; that ye might be sanctified from all sin, and enjoy the words of eternal life in this world, and eternal life in the world to come, even immortal glory;
For by the water ye keep the commandment; by the Spirit ye are justified, and by the blood ye are sanctified;
Therefore it is given to abide in you; the record of heaven; the Comforter; the peaceable things of immortal glory; the truth of all things; that which quickeneth all things, which maketh alive all things; that which knoweth all things, and hath all power according to wisdom, mercy, truth, justice, and judgment.
And now, behold, I say unto you: This is the plan of salvation unto all men, through the blood of mine Only Begotten, who shall come in the meridian of time.
The plan of salvation is described and clarified by Enoch as follows. Note the emphasis on the blood of Jesus being shed, and also the crucifixion. Moses 7:45–47:
And it came to pass that Enoch looked; and from Noah, he beheld all the families of the earth; and he cried unto the Lord, saying: When shall the day of the Lord come? When shall the blood of the Righteous be shed, that all they that mourn may be sanctified and have eternal life?
And the Lord said: It shall be in the meridian of time, in the days of wickedness and vengeance.
And behold, Enoch saw the day of the coming of the Son of Man, even in the flesh; and his soul rejoiced, saying: The Righteous is lifted up, and the Lamb is slain from the foundation of the world; and through faith I am in the bosom of the Father, and behold, Zion is with me.
Moses 7:53, 55–56, 59:
And the Lord said: Blessed is he through whose seed Messiah shall come; for he saith—I am Messiah, the King of Zion, the Rock of Heaven, which is broad as eternity; whoso cometh in at the gate and climbeth up by me shall never fall; wherefore, blessed are they of whom I have spoken, for they shall come forth with songs of everlasting joy.
And the Lord said unto Enoch: Look, and he looked and beheld the son of Man lifted up on the cross, after the manner of men; And he heard a loud voice; and the heavens were veiled; and all the creations of God mourned; and the earth groaned; and the rocks were rent; and the saints arose, and were crowned at the right hand of the Son of Man, with crowns of glory;
And Enoch beheld the Son of man ascend up unto the Father; and he called unto the Lord, saying: Wilt thou not come again upon the earth? Forasmuch as thou art God, and I know thee, and thou hast sworn unto me, and commanded me that I should ask in the name of thine Only Begotten; thou hast made me, and given unto me a right to thy throne, and not of myself, but through thine own grace; wherefore, I ask thee if thou wilt not come again on the earth.
And here is a reference about the Lord’s second coming in the last days. Moses 7:61–62, 65–67:
And the day shall come that the earth shall rest, but before that day the heavens shall be darkened, and a veil of darkness shall cover the earth; and the heavens shall shake, and also the earth; and great tribulations shall be among the children of men, but my people will I preserve; And righteousness will I send down out of heaven; and truth will I send forth out of the earth, to bear testimony of mine Only Begotten; his resurrection from the dead; yea, and also the resurrection of all men; and righteousness and truth will I cause to sweep the earth as with a flood, to gather out mine elect from the four quarters of the earth, unto a place which I shall prepare, an Holy City, that my people may gird up their loins, and be looking forth for the time of my coming; for there shall be my tabernacle, and it shall be called Zion, a New Jerusalem.
And it came to pass that Enoch saw the day of the coming of the Son of Man, in the last days, to dwell on the earth in righteousness for the space of a thousand years; But before that day he saw great tribulations among the wicked; and he also saw the sea, that it was troubled, and men’s hearts failing them, looking forth with fear for the judgments of the Almighty God, which should come upon the wicked.
And the Lord showed Enoch all things, even unto the end of the world; and he saw the day of the righteous, the hour of their redemption, and received a fullness of joy. . . .
Note the foregoing allusion to the Book of Mormon (and perhaps also to the book of Abraham) in the above wherein righteousness is sent down from heaven, and truth is sent forth out of the earth. Please note also the line: “righteousness and truth will I cause to sweep the earth as with a flood.”
Comparing the power of righteousness and truth to a flood is significant. We have all seen roadways and fields, hillsides and lowlands that have been cut away by flood waters. A flood changes the landscape. In like manner, the force of the doctrines of the revealed gospel—coming from the Joseph Smith Translation, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price—shall cut away the banks of human reasoning. Great ruts and chasms and gullies will be cut right through the mountains of tradition and error that have enveloped the world. It will not be a gradual wearing away, but a mighty change in the way we look at things. If you believe the revelation in the Pearl of Great Price, your viewpoint of the world-order will change. Everything not founded upon the rock of revelation will crumble and be washed away. False doctrine will give way to the rushing waters of revealed truth and righteousness.
At the 1952 October General Conference, President Joseph Fielding Smith read the following statement which he had also made sometime before:
So far as the philosophy and wisdom of the world are concerned, they mean nothing unless they conform to the revealed word of God. Any doctrine, whether it comes in the name of religion, science, philosophy, or whatever it may be, if it is in conflict with the revealed word of the Lord, will fail. It may appear plausible. It may be put before you in language that appeals and which you may not be able to answer. It may appear to be established by evidence that you cannot controvert, but all you need to do is to abide your time. Time will level all things. You will find that every doctrine, every principle, no matter how universally believed, if it is not in accord with the divine word of the Lord to his servants, will perish. Nor is it necessary for us to try to stretch the word of the Lord in a vain attempt to make it conform to these theories and teachings. The word of the Lord shall not pass away unfulfilled, but these false doctrines and theories will all fail. Truth, and only truth, will remain when all else has perished. The Lord has said, “And truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come [D&C 93:24]” (60).
Now back to the topic of the book of Moses as a witness for the Savior. Noah also taught the gospel of Jesus Christ. He was a holy prophet with a testimony of Jesus, not merely a weather prophet. What did Noah teach? We quote from Moses 8:19, 23–24:
And the Lord ordained Noah after his own order, and commanded him that he should go forth and declare his Gospel unto the children of men, even as it was given unto Enoch.
And it came to pass that Noah continued his preaching unto the people, saying: Hearken, and give heed unto my words;
Believe and repent of your sins and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, even as our fathers, and ye shall receive the Holy Ghost, that ye may have all things made manifest; and if ye do not this, the floods will come in upon you; nevertheless they hearkened not.
Our present King James Bible and all other Bibles fail to mention that Noah taught the gospel. It was not rejecting Noah’s warning of a huge rainstorm that condemned the people in Noah’s day, but it was their rejection of the gospel of Jesus Christ and all that is meant by the gospel.
Now to another subject. The Pearl of Great Price offers some definite information about the origin of language and of written records. We read in Moses 6:4–6, and 8, that the immediate family of Adam, including his son Seth, kept a record which was called “a book of remembrance.”
And then began these men to call upon the name of the Lord, and the Lord blessed them;
And a book of remembrance was kept, in the which was recorded, in the language of Adam, for it was given unto as many as called upon God to write by the spirit of inspiration;
And by them their children were taught to read and write, having a language which was pure and undefiled. . . . and a genealogy was kept of the children of God.
Later, with Enoch, the seventh generation from Adam, the prophets were still keeping a record, and we read in Moses 6:45–46, (Enoch speaking):
And death hath come upon our fathers; nevertheless we know them, and cannot deny, and even the first of all we know, even Adam.
For a book of remembrance we have written among us, according to the pattern given by the finger of God; and it is given in our own language.
This record-keeping activity is confirmed by revelation in Doctrine and Covenants 107:53–57 which refers to a meeting held three years previous to Adam’s mortal death.
Three years previous to the death of Adam, he called Seth, Enos, Cainan, Mahalaleel, Jared, Enoch, and Methuselah, who were all high priests, with the residue of his posterity who were righteous, into the valley of Adam-ondi-Ahman, and there bestowed upon them his last blessing.
And the Lord appeared unto them, and they rose up and blessed Adam, and called him Michael, the prince, the archangel.
And the Lord administered comfort unto Adam, and said unto him: I have set thee to be at the head; a multitude of nations shall come of thee, and thou art a prince over them forever.
And Adam stood up in the midst of the congregation; and, not withstanding he was bowed down with age, being full of the Holy Ghost, predicted whatsoever should befall his posterity unto the latest generation.
These things were all written in the book of Enoch, and are to be testified of in due time.
We would assume from this that Enoch was probably the scribe and record keeper of that conference.
Further, confirmation of early writing and record keeping is given by Abraham, who says that he has in his possession written documents dating back to Adam’s time and to the creation. That goes back about 2000 years earlier than Abraham:
But I shall endeavor, hereafter, to delineate the chronology running back from myself to the beginning of the creation, for the records have come into my hands, which I hold unto this present time.
But the records of the fathers, even the patriarchs, concerning the right of Priesthood, the Lord my God preserved in mine own hands; therefore a knowledge of the beginning of the creation, and also of the planets, and of the stars, as they were made known unto the fathers, have I kept even unto this day, and I shall endeavor to write some of these things upon this record, for the benefit of my posterity that shall come after me (Abr. 1:28, 31).
These passages, from three different sources of latter-day scripture (Moses, Abraham, and the Doctrine and Covenants), affirm that the earliest patriarchs were intelligent men who spoke a complex language and wrote a complex record and did all of this through the inspiration of God.
This is a very different signal from the commonly proposed Bow-Wow theory for the origin of speech and the slow development of a written language that gradually progressed through the centuries.
So that I will not be misunderstood, I wish to say that the scriptures indicate these early scribes were inspired men who bore the priesthood of God. It is evident that not all of Adam’s descendants were thus gifted, and so while one segment of mankind was progressive and intelligent because of their faith and obedience to the gospel—and thus in possession of divine inspiration—other portions of the human family may have been retrogressing into a less intelligent and declining life style. Whatever one thinks about other things, it is inescapably clear that the Pearl of Great Price stipulates that the human race began its existence on this earth as intelligent, vocal, literate, faithful beings who were inspired with the wisdom and knowledge of heaven.
Some parts of the Pearl of Great Price have been greatly assailed by the world. The book of Abraham has been repeatedly criticized, and men of renown have energetically tried to discredit Joseph Smith’s translation of the papyri. This began soon after the first publication in 1842 and reached a high point in 1912. The book of Abraham has also undergone serious criticism in recent years by several lecturers throughout the U.S. The RLDS Church has officially repudiated it and excludes it from in its canon of accepted scriptures. They do not doubt that Joseph Smith produced it, but they question whether it is scripture and worthy of acceptance in a religious sense.
There is another extension or type of manifestation that is a little more sophisticated than outright rejection. I speak of a modern “accommodation” now taking place that seems to be growing in popularity among us. This approach consists of declaring that the contents of the book of Abraham are doctrinally and morally true, but not historically true. That is, the contents were revealed to Joseph Smith, and are therefore “true” in that sense, but they do not really reflect anything that Abraham himself ever knew or wrote. This position is not a complete rejection of the book of Abraham, but it is not a complete acceptance of it either. It seems to be an attempt to accommodate or to straddle the fence, to walk on both sides of it, and to accept the judgment of unbelieving scholars without having to reject the words of the Prophet Joseph Smith. My own feeling is that we do Joseph Smith and the process of revelation an injustice by even considering that position. It may be the empirical approach, but it is not the faithful approach.
Another part of the Pearl of Great Price that has been sorely and severely rejected is the account of Joseph Smith’s first vision, the only official account of that event in the standard works. As many know, the First Vision has been greatly criticized and rejected by various historians, religionists, and theologians ever since it was first published. Here again there are some who, not wishing to offend the popular notion and yet wishing to profess some level of acceptance of the Prophet’s words, attempt to take a middle ground, and thereby explain away the historicity, geography, and anthropomorphism of the First Vision. They affirm that they have a symbolic belief, but not a vital, vibrant, spirit-borne, soul-saving, genuine, and literal testimony of it.
The history of Joseph Smith presented in the Pearl of Great Price includes seven pages detailing the visits of the angel Moroni, the obtaining of the gold plates, and the subsequent translation of the Book of Mormon from those plates by the means of the Urim and Thummim. It also notes that strenuous and continued efforts were exerted, almost without let-up, to discredit Joseph Smith’s story and to prove the Book of Mormon false. These have continued ever since the Prophet first announced that he had the plates.
Other portions of the Pearl of Great Price have not been assailed so vigorously by the world. For example, the book of Moses, the 24th chapter of Matthew, and the Articles of Faith have not been so much openly assailed as simply ignored and neglected both by others and, unfortunately, often by us.
There is another dimension in which we sometimes fail to give the allegiance and credibility to the scriptures that they deserve. The thing I am referring to is apparent when the scriptures propose a concept that is different from the way the world views it—either in a historical, theoretical, or practical sense—and we casually say, “Well, no one knows the answer to this.” Sometimes people—intelligent people, well informed on other subjects—volunteer for the Lord that he has never spoken on this or that subject, when in reality there are rather plain statements in the scriptures about the subject. Because the scripture doesn’t agree with their personal point of view, they tend to say that the Lord has not spoken on it, or that the scripture is not to be taken seriously or literally on that point.
President J. Reuben Clark, Jr. tells of a legal trial wherein three witnesses testified that they had seen a certain act committed by the accused. Whereupon the accused responded that those three witnesses were of no importance, since he could produce twenty witnesses who had not seen him commit the act. This kind of reasoning is, of course, fallacious, but it is no worse than saying that the Lord has not spoken on a matter, when the scriptures contain clear, full statements on it.
This reminds me of an occasion when I and some other teachers were being tutored in Logan, Utah, by Elder Harold B. Lee, then of the Quorum of the Twelve. Elder Lee was asked whether the Church had ever officially taken a stand, or made an official pronouncement on a certain question. He replied, as I remember, with considerable enthusiasm in these words: “The Church may not have taken a public stand on this issue, but the Lord has,” and then he read from the scriptures, especially the latter-day scriptures, what the Lord had said on that particular matter. He told us that it is not necessary for the Church to take a special stand on things when the Lord had already spoken on the subject in the revelations. I think we do the Lord and the scriptures an injustice if we dismiss them with a sophisticated excuse that, “no one really knows,” or that “the Church has never taken a stand.” Furthermore, people do not always follow what the Church says, even when it has taken a public stand. However, when one is familiar with the scriptures he is more apt to follow the Brethren. I will quote an observation from President George Q. Cannon:
I have noticed . . . that where the people of God pay attention to the written word, and cherish and observe the written word, they are always better prepared to hear the oral instructions of the servants of God . . . they have greater interest in seeking to obtain instructions, than they have when they are careless about the written word of God (Conference Report, 1897, p. 38).
Since the Pearl of Great Price is latter-day revelation, it is certain to confront the philosophies and the “norms” or “standards” of the modern world. Yet, because it is the word of the Lord as interpreted by the living oracles, it should be our “norm” and our “standard.”
The great apostasy and loss of the priesthood 1800 years ago resulted not only in a loss of authority to perform ordinances in the Church, but also in a loss of truth pertaining to every phase of life on the earth. It has affected man’s thinking and reasoning in political, economic, educational and social fields as well. But the restoration is just as broad as the apostasy. Even though we have generally thought only of church organization in the restoration, the principles of the gospel, as contained in the scriptures, also apply to all phases and dimensions of human endeavor, including social, political, educational, and economic areas.
The gospel as restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith has been continued to the present day, and I have a spiritual witness that it is true.
Cannon, George Q. Conference Report. October session, n.p.: LDS Church, 1897, pp. 37–43.
Clark, James R. The Story of the Pearl of Great Price. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1955.
Pearl of Great Price. 1st ed. Liverpool: F.D. Richards, 1851.
Smith, Joseph Fielding. Conference Report. October session, n.p.: LDS Church, 1952, pp. 58–60.