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In its inaugural meeting the day the Church was organized, Joseph Smith was sustained by members of the Church as a “Prophet, Seer, Revelator and Translator.” [1] Because the Book of Mormon had been translated earlier and published just the week before, many naturally assume that his being sustained as a “translator” had something to do with the Book of Mormon, but incredibly, the Prophet Joseph would spend the next fifteen years of his life receiving new scriptures by revelation, translating ancient records, and restoring scriptures from every previous gospel dispensation. He testified that translating scripture was in fact “a branch of his calling.” [2]

Speaking of Joseph’s role in translating scriptures, the Savior declared that our generation would receive the word of the Lord through Joseph, not by or from him. [3] The writing of scripture, let alone the restoration of scripture, was simply beyond Joseph’s native abilities. (Emma’s letter: -Joseph Smith could neither write nor dictate a coherent and well-worded letter; let alone dictating a book like the Book of Mormon. And, though I was an active participant in the scenes that transpired, and was present during the translation of the plates, and had cognizance of things as they transpired, it is marvelous to me, ‘a marvel and a wonder,’ as much so as to anyone else. [4]

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But the Lord would work through him to restore everything from earlier Gospel dispensations that was necessary for this Dispensation of the Fulness of all Times. The magnitude of Joseph’s work is breathtaking. As Elder LeGrand P. Richards noted, “The Prophet Joseph Smith brought us the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price, and many other writings. As far as our records show, he has given us more revealed truth than any prophet who has ever lived upon the face of the earth. And the Lord said: And not to the bringing forth my word only, … but to the convincing them of my word, which shall have already gone forth among them.’ [5] What did he mean by that? That in the midst of these hundreds of churches of men-the result of men’s interpretations of the scriptures because they can’t agree, and these churches keep multiplying-that the Lord would give to this new prophet the ability to comprehend the scriptures that had already been sent forth among them.” [6]

The Book of Mormon

The obvious evidence of Joseph’s gift to translate is the Book of Mormon (originally engraved on metal plates in reformed Egyptian hieroglyphs). The year Moroni delivered these plates to Joseph, ancient Egyptian was a dead language to the world. The Rosetta Stone had only recently been discovered in Egypt, but it took French scholars seven years to decode the Egyptian hieroglyphs on it. [7] While they were working to translate one page from Egyptian, the Prophet Joseph translated and produced an entire book over 500 pages long. They took over twenty years to confidently translate one page, but Joseph zipped through his translation in only two months. Elder Maxwell commented on this marvelous work and wonder, pointing out that Joseph translated the Book of Mormon faster than most of us read it:

“One marvel is the very rapidity with which Joseph was translating–at an estimated average rate of seven to ten of our printed pages per day! [8] The total working time was about 65-75 working days. [9]

“One able LDS translator in Japan, while surrounded by reference books, language dictionaries, and with translator colleagues available, if needed, recently indicated that he considers an output of one careful, final page a day to be productive. And he is re-translating from earlier Japanese to modern Japanese!

“Over 50 able English scholars labored for seven years, using previous translations, to produce the precious King James Bible, thus averaging about one precious page per day!” [10]

“Second, from what we know, rarely would Joseph go back, review, or revise what he had already translated…The Prophet’s dictating flowed, resulting just as the compositor, John H. Gilbert, remembered with no paragraphing….The process not only flowed, but it flowed at a very rapid rate under the gift and power of God.

If one were manufacturing, he would constantly need to cross-check himself, to edit, and to revise for consistency. Had the Prophet thus dictated and revised extensively, there would have been more evidence of it. Thus whatever the details of process, we are discussing an astonishing process!

“Furthermore, Emma Smith said of the inspired process, After meals, or after interruptions, [Joseph] would at once begin where he had left off, without either seeing the manuscript or having any portion of it read to him.’ [11] Usually, one who has been dictating and has been interrupted, must resume by inquiring Now, where were we?’ Not so with the Prophet!” [12]

josephThe discovery and publishing of the Book of Mormon was a translating miracle. The Savior said that this would be the great sign that the latter-day gathering of Israel has begun. [13] Enoch prophesied that it would not just come forth, but it would eventually sweep the earth, like a flood. [14] And, as President George Q. Cannon of the First Presidency declared in 1881, its future will yet be great:

“Today there is probably no greater stumbling block in the way of the people regarding this Latter-day work than this record. Everything has been done that could be done to blind the eyes and darken the understanding of the children of men concerning the Book of Mormon. Every conceivable falsehood, almost, has been put into circulation concerning the origin of that work, and the inhabitants of the earth have been led to believe that it is one of the greatest impostures that was ever palmed upon mankind. And the name “Mormon” has been applied in consequence of this, in derision to us because of our belief in that work. . . .

“Beliefs change and misrepresentation and falsehood fade away as time passes on and truth is received and accepted; and the day will yet come–and it is not far distant . . . when this Book of Mormon and all connected with it will be received and accepted, that is, all the truth, as the truth of the living God, for the reason that it is true, and that God himself is its author. For that reason, and for that reason alone, the time will come–and as I have said, it is not far distant, though it may seem very presumptuous to make such a statement–when this record will be accepted, as the Bible is now accepted, as a book of divine origin, and that it has been revealed through the ministrations and agency of holy angels. [15]

Other Records

Almost immediately following the organization of the Church, the Lord commanded Joseph Smith to begin an inspired revision of the King James Bible. He spent three years going through every book in the Bible. Many important scriptural gems were restored as a direct result of the Joseph Smith Translation.


In November and December of 1830, Joseph received a revelation of what God had revealed to Enoch concerning Adam and Eve. In it he learned that Adam and Eve were forgiven for their transgression in the Garden of Eden [16], that the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the plan of salvation were revealed to Adam and Eve, and that they were baptized. They taught the Gospel to their children and kept a book of remembrance in which they wrote by the spirit of inspiration. They also taught their children how to read and write in a language that was pure and undefiled, and kept genealogical records. [17]

Near the end of his life, Adam was commanded to call the righteous members of his posterity to the valley of Adam-ondi-Ahman and bless them. The Savior appeared in that meeting and Adam “stood up in the midst of the congregation; and notwithstanding he was bowed down with age, being full of the Holy Ghost, predicted whatsoever should befall his posterity unto the latest generation.” [18] As prophesied by the Old Testament Prophet Daniel, Adam will one day preside at another similar meeting in the same valley, prior to the Second Coming, where the Savior will appear and the Sacrament will be served. [19]

All these things about Adam and Eve were “written in the book of Enoch, and are to be testified of in due time.” [20] Elder Neal A. Maxwell cited this prophetic promise and said: “This startling and informing revelation came, by the way, in the midst of verses otherwise concerned with chronologies, genealogies, and duties. Let others, if they choose, make jokes about our first parents, Adam and Eve, or regard them as mere myths. As a result of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s revelations, we are blessed to know much more about things as they really were, are, and will be’! [21] Latter-day Saints expectantly await the book of Enoch as being among the many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God” that God “will yet reveal.'[22] As Professor Robert Matthews has observed, through Joseph Smith we received eighteen times as much as is in the Bible concerning Enoch. Without the Restoration, we would not even know there was a City of Enoch!” [23]

 

In the JST we learn that the gospel of Jesus Christ continued unabated through successive dispensations of time. The JST provides much new information about the lives and gospel teachings of the early Patriarchs. The world, for example, knows very little about the two great patriarchs Enoch and Melchizedek. The KJV contains only nine verses about Enoch, but through the JST, Joseph received over 250 new verses about Enoch and sixteen additional verses describing Melchizedek’s life and ministry. [24]

 

In the JST we learn that Enoch:

  • was called of the Lord and anointed as a seer [25]
  • converted an entire city from their wickedness, and that in the process of time they were all translated and taken into heaven and will return at the Second Coming with Jesus Christ where we will meet them [26]
  • foresaw the restoration of the gospel and the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, which together, would go forth across the earth and sweep it like a flood to gather the elect into the covenant [27]

In the JST and other scriptures restored by the Prophet Joseph Smith, we learn that Melchizedek:

  • Was a great high priest, why Abraham paid tithes to him, and why the priesthood was named after him [28]
  • And that his people were translated and taken into heaven after the flood (just as Enoch’s people had been before the flood) [29]

It’s interesting that none of this information can be found in any Bible manuscripts, but almost all of it has been discovered in extra-biblical records which were discovered and translated after the death of Joseph Smith. [30]

 

Besides all that’s been mentioned to this point, the Prophet Joseph was also privileged to restore revelations:

  • about Noah’s ministry, his family, his 120 year mission to save the world and what he taught, and more detailed information about the flood [31]
  • about the Patriarch Abraham’s life and teachings [32]
  • about prophecies uttered by Joseph of Egypt [33]
  • about the call, visions and the writings of Moses [34]
  • about a private conversation recorded by John the Revelator which he had with the Savior [35]
  • about the conversation Jesus Christ had with Peter, James, John and Andrew about the destruction of the temple to occur in their day, and the Second Coming in the latter days [36]
  • about John the Baptist’s testimony, recorded by John the Revelator, which the Lord promised we would one day receive [37]
  • about hundreds of other doctrinal and historical insights restored in the 3410 verses Joseph Smith was inspired to revise throughout the Old and New Testaments.

Joseph Smith’s role as a Restorer and Translator of scripture is simply unparalleled by any other scholar. These restored scriptures are a valuable resource for doctrinal understanding and clarity. They stand as a witness of the Restoration and a witness of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s divine calling. [38]

Restoring these ancient texts served as a valuable learning experience for the Prophet Joseph Smith and introduced him to all the former Patriarchs and Prophets. The work of translating ancient records was the very method used by the Lord to restore “all things,” including plain and precious truths and covenants that have been lost. [39] The scriptures revealed through Joseph also restore confidence in the Bible, and provide the world with a very strong testimony of the Savior’s divinity, both of which are sorely needed in the modern world.

We have reason to celebrate Joseph Smith’s role as a translator, and as King Mosiah once testified, it is an incredible blessing to be living in a day and at a time when a living prophet can receive and produce scripture. The gift of seership exceeds all other gifts and Joseph Smith, a Seer and Translator, “becometh a great benefit to his fellow beings.” [40]


UPDATE: 

For those interested, here’s a quick response to those who quibble with whether or not Joseph Smith was a translator:

The word translation has several meanings. (1) the process of translating words or text from one language into another; (2) the conversion of something from one form or medium into another; or (3) To transfer (transmit) from one place or condition to another.


In Greek, the word literally means to “hand over.”

 

Whether Joseph Smith saw a word inscribed on a plate and had the English equivalent revealed to him, or whether God literally dictated word-for-word the text of the Book of Mormon-either way, he translated (from one language to another). It makes no difference whether the language was Mormon’s version of reformed Egyptian, or the divine language of God revealed by God Himself-either way, Joseph was the mediator, the translator, and by the gift and power of God, the Prophet Joseph translated the record into English..  It’s interesting that in the Preface of the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon, the Prophet Joseph Smith designated himself (six times) as the translator of the text.

 

On one occasion, Hyrum asked Joseph to describe the method he used to translate the Book of Mormon. Joseph declined. In the Encyclopedia of Mormonism (Book of Mormon, Translation of) we read: “By its own terms, the Book of Mormon is a translation of an ancient book; yet Joseph Smith knew no ancient languages at the time he dictated this text to his scribes. He and several of his close associates testified that the translation was accomplished by the gift and power of God’ (HC1:315; see also D&C 1:29;20:8). Little is known about the translation process itself. Few details can be gleaned from comments made by Joseph’s scribes and close associates. Only Joseph Smith knew the actual process, and he declined to describe it in public. At a Church conference in 1831, Hyrum Smith invited the Prophet to explain more fully how the Book of Mormon came forth. Joseph Smith responded that it was not intended to tell the world all the particulars of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon; and…it was not expedient for him to relate these things’ (HC 1:220).

The clearest statement Joseph made about who actually gave him the translation of the text was given in Washington D.C. in 1840. Joseph said that the Book of Mormon was “communicated to him, direct from heaven. If there was such a thing on earth, as the author of it, then he was the author of it; but the idea that he wished to impress was that he penned it as dictated by God.” (The Words of Joseph Smith, ed. Ehat and Cook, p. xx.)


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Notes

[1] D&C 21:1.

[2] History of the Church, 1:238.

[3] See D&C 5:10.

[4] Emma Smith interview, The Saints’ Herald, vol. 26, pp. 289, 290 (1 Oct 1879).

[5] 2 Nephi 3:11.

[6] LeGrand Richards, “Call of the Prophets,” Ensign, May 1981, 31.

[7] Wikipedia: Rosetta Stone. “The Rosetta Stone is an ancient Egyptian granodiorite stele inscribed with a decree issued at Memphis in 196 BC on behalf of King Ptolemy V. The decree appears in three scripts: the upper text is Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, the middle portion Demotic script, and the lowest Ancient Greek. Because it presents essentially the same text in all three scripts (with some minor differences among them), it provided the key to the modern understanding of Egyptian hieroglyphs….Study of the decree was already under way as the first full translation of the Greek text appeared in 1803. It was 20 years, however, before the transliteration of the Egyptian scripts was announced by Jean-Franois Champollion in Paris in 1822; it took longer still before scholars were able to read Ancient Egyptian inscriptions and literature confidently.”

[8] Ensign, January 1988: 46-47.

[9] John Welch, editor, Reexploring the Book of Mormon, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1992, 3-4.

[10] Insights: An Ancient Window, F.A.R.M.S. Newsletter, Feb. 1986, p. 1.

[11] “A Last Testimony of Sister Emma,” Saints’ Herald, 1 Oct 1879, 26:290.

[12] Typescript of video presentation, “The Gift and Power of God,” produced 8 June 1993 for the 1994-95 CES Book of Mormon Course of Study.

[13] 3 Ne. 21:1-7.

[14] Moses 7:62.

[15] From George Q. Cannon, 18 September, 1881, in Journal of Discourses 22:252.

[16] Moses 5:10-12 and 6:51-53.

[17] See Moses 6.

[18] D&C 107:53-57.

[19] D&C 116; Daniel 7:13-14; Matthew 26:26-29; D&C 27.

[20] D&C 107:57.

[21] See Jacob 4:13 and D&C 93:24.

[22] Articles of Faith 1:9.

[23] Elder Neal A. Maxwell, “A Choice Seer,” BYU Speeches, 30 March 1986.

[24] See JST Appendix, Gen 14:25-40.

[25] Moses 6:26-36.

[26] Moses 7:63-64.

[27] Moses 6:25-7:69.

[28] See JST Gen 14; Alma 13; D&C 107.

[29] JST Genesis 14.

[30] See, for example, the Ensign articles “The Return of the Book of Enoch,” by Dr. Hugh W. Nibley, beginning in October 1975; or see them all compiled in his book Enoch the Prophet, Deseret Book, 1986.

[31] See Moses 8.

[32] See the Book of Abraham.

[33] See 2 Nephi 3 and JST Genesis 50.

[34] Moses 1-5.

[35] See D&C 7.

[36] See Joseph Smith-Matthew.

[37] See D&C 93:6-18.

[38] See articles about the Joseph Smith Translation in The Encyclopedia of Mormonism, vol. 2; and in the LDS Bible Dictionary, p. 717. Both were written by Dr. Robert J. Matthews, who at the time was the world’s expert on the JST.

[39] See 1 Nephi 13.

[40] See Mosiah 8:16-18.