Joseph Smith Translates the Gold Plates

    The Book of Mormon

    Introduction

    “These were the days never to be forgotten,” Oliver Cowdery said of his time as Joseph Smith’s scribe “under the sound of a voice dictated by the inspiration1 of heaven.”2 The translation of the ancient “record called ‘The Book of Mormon’”3 further enlarged Joseph’s understanding of how to receive revelation4 and established that “God does inspire men and call them to his holy work in this age and generation, as well as in generations of old.”5

    God gave Joseph Smith the gift and power to translate writings recorded centuries ago in a language of which Joseph had no knowledge. Recalled Joseph’s wife Emma, “No man could have dictated the writing of the manuscripts unless he was inspired.”6 Joseph translated the gold plates in less than three months.

    “Take away the Book of Mormon and the revelations,” Joseph taught, “and where is our religion? We have none.”7 In the Book of Mormon, the Lord said, “are all things written concerning the foundation of my church, my gospel, and my rock.”8

    Quotes

    Joseph Smith Quotes

    “I translated the Book of Mormon from hieroglyphics, the knowledge of which was lost to the world, in which wonderful event I stood alone, an unlearned youth, to combat the worldly wisdom and multiplied ignorance of eighteen centuries, with a new revelation, which (if they would receive the everlasting Gospel,) would open the eyes of more than eight hundred millions of people, and make ‘plain the old paths,’ wherein if a man walk in all the ordinances of God blameless, he shall inherit eternal life” (History of the Church, 6:74).

    “The Book of Mormon is a record of the forefathers of our western tribes of Indians; having been found through the ministration of an holy angel, and translated into our own language by the gift and power of God, after having been hid up in the earth for the last fourteen hundred years, containing the word of God which was delivered unto them” (History of the Church, 1:315).

    “The plea of many in this day is, that we have no right to receive revelations; but if we do not get revelations, we do not have the oracles [prophets] of God; and if they have not the oracles of God, they are not the people of God. . . . Jesus in His teaching says, ‘Upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.’ What rock? Revelation” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith (1976), 272, 274; paragraph divisions altered).

    Witnesses

    Oliver Cowdery, Witness to the Book of Mormon

    “I wrote, with my own pen, the entire Book of Mormon (save a few pages,) as it fell from the lips of the Prophet Joseph Smith, as he translated it by the gift and power of God, by the means of the Urim and Thummim, or, as it is called by that book, ‘holy Interpreters.’ I beheld with my eyes and handled with my hands the gold plates from which it was translated. I also saw with my eyes and handled with my hands the ‘holy interpreters.’ That book is true. . . . It contains . . . the everlasting gospel and came in fulfillment of the revelations of John where he says [that] he saw an angel come with the everlasting Gospel to preach to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people” (“Testimonies of Oliver Cowdery and Martin Harris,” Millennial Star, Aug. 20, 1859, 544).

    Emma Smith, Wife of the Prophet Joseph Smith

    “Joseph Smith could neither write nor dictate a coherent and well-worded letter; let alone dictating a book like the Book of Mormon. And, though I was an active participant in the scenes that transpired, and was present during the translation of the plates, and had cognizance of things as they transpired, it is marvelous to me, ‘a marvel and a wonder,’ as much so as to any one else” (Emma Smith, “Last Testimony of Sister Emma,” Saints' Herald, Oct. 1, 1879, 290).

    Questions

    Who besides Joseph Smith actually saw the gold plates?

    Moroni showed the plates to Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris (see “The Testimony of Three Witnesses,” Book of Mormon). Joseph showed the plates to Christian Whitmer, Hiram Page, Jacob Whitmer, Joseph Smith Sr., Peter Whitmer Jr., Hyrum Smith, John Whitmer, and Samuel H. Smith (see “The Testimony of Eight Witnesses,” Book of Mormon).

    How long did it take to translate the Book of Mormon?

    The work of translation proceeded haltingly through 1828. Joseph’s wife, Emma, and others served as scribes until the spring of 1829, when Oliver Cowdery took over, recording the bulk of the 275,000-word text from Joseph’s dictation, concluding near the end of June 1829, a period of about 60 to 90 days.

    What was the language of the ancient plates?

    According to the prophet Moroni, the record was written in “reformed Egyptian.” Moroni further explained that if the "plates had been sufficiently large we should have written in Hebrew; but the Hebrew hath been altered by us also; and if we could have written in Hebrew, behold, ye would have had no imperfection in our record. But the Lord knoweth the things which we have written, and also that none other people knoweth our language; . . . therefore he hath prepared means for the interpretation thereof” (Mormon 9:32–34).

    Readings

    Online Resources at ChurchofJesusChrist.org

    Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon and Restoration of the Priesthood”—Church History in the Fulness of Times Student Manual (Church Educational System manual, 2003), 52–66

    The Work of Translation”—in “Establishing the Foundations of the Church,” Our Heritage: A Brief History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (1996), 7–10

    The Plates Were Translated”—in “Joseph Smith: First President of the Church,” Presidents of the Church Student Manual (Church Educational System manual, 2004), 8

    Online Resources at BYU

    Joseph Knight’s Recollection of Early Mormon History”—Dean C. Jessee, BYU Studies, vol. 17, no. 1 (1976), 29–58

    Knight’s undated “Manuscript of the Early History of Joseph Smith,” written sometime after Knight left Missouri in 1833, which treats subjects such as the translating and printing of the Book of Mormon and the organization of the Church.