Translating the Book of Mormon and the Priesthood Restoration

One of the interesting facets of Mormon history is that a few key events are not exactly clear. An example is the Melchezedek Priesthood restoration. Ben at the Juvenile Instructor did a nice overview of the issues a few years back. The Millennial Star did a nice post discussing how Addison Everett’s account bears on all this. Basically though we don’t know for sure when it was restored. A common, perhaps dominant view, is that rather than being a single event it was a process.

I don’t claim to be an expert in all this. I’ve read the same books as most of you likely have.[1] What I’ve noticed in what I’ve read though is how little the Book of Mormon text plays into these discussions beyond Oliver Cowdery’s later mention that he and Joseph were translating 3 Nephi. That led them to seek baptism with authority. In turn that led the way to the Aaronic Priesthood restoration.

We can characterize the two main interpretations as the fraudulent model (which presumes Joseph Smith made the whole thing up) and the faithful model.[2] The fraudulent model, best represented by Dan Vogel, has the angels being a much latter addition to the development of priesthood.[3] What I want to suggest though is that the translation of the Book of Mormon provides a basis for Joseph thinking about such things in 1829 prior to the restoration of the Aaronic or claims for the Melchizedek Priesthoods.

Let me note that for the faithful view of history the fact Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon does not mean he was that familiar with it. Indeed a peculiar feature of early Mormonism is just how ignorant people often were of the narratives and doctrines in the Book of Mormon. That includes Joseph Smith. Since Joseph didn’t write the Book of Mormon this isn’t that surprising for the faithful model. For the fraudulent model things are a bit trickier since in some sense Joseph is responsible for the text and it thus represents his thinking at the time. Even if critics adopt a model where Joseph isn’t fully conscious of what he’s doing it still reflects his beliefs at the time. That is the Book of Mormon has to be taken seriously by critics as a reflection of Joseph’s mind on priesthood.

One problem we, as Mormons, have is that we tend to read contemporary practice back into earlier text. While there are some reasons to attempt that in terms of producing a systematic theology, often it’s misleading. There’s typically little reason to presume the authors had the same understanding we do. This distorts the texts and reduces theology from careful exegesis to mere proof texting. That said though the Book of Mormon has some interesting passages on priesthood.

We know that according to Oliver the reason Joseph and he sought priesthood and baptism was due to the translating process of the Book of Mormon. According to Oliver in his 1834 account of the reception of the Aaronic Priesthood this was from translating the section where Jesus appears to the Nephites in 3 Nephi. It is true, of course, that nothing in 3 Nephi talks of angelic bestowal of priesthood or really priesthood at all. (Although there is an ordination in 3 Nephi 18)

The most interesting section on priesthood in the Book of Mormon comes a month or two before 3 Nephi in Alma 13. Now many critics have noted similarities between Hebrews in the Bible and Alma’s discourse on priesthood to Zeezrom. It’s important to note the very important different point of each. Hebrews is about Jesus as the great last high priest. Alma 13 is about how “God ordained priests after his holy order…to teach these things unto the people.” (1) The emphasis is on a ritual that includes “a preparatory redemption.” (2) While it’s natural to read this as merely the High Priest of Leviticus 21 it can’t be since others “might have had as great a privilege as their brethren” (4) and “many were ordained and became high priests.” (10) This suggests many can have it at the same time, unlike the Aaronic High Priest.

Now we have to avoid reading our own practices into the chapter. Alma emphasizes two components to the priesthood. First there is a call “on account of their faith.” (4) Then there is an ordination (8) which makes them high priests. We should note that the common phrase “high priesthood” just doesn’t occur in the Bible even though “high priest” does. So there is a difference here.

This high priesthood is explicitly tied to Melchizedek even if the phrase “Melchizedek priesthood” isn’t use. Melchizedek himself is ordained to the priesthood (18).

While receiving the priesthood from angels isn’t clearly stated, it is very interesting that angels are an important part of the chapter. They are mentioned in several verses after Melchizedek section. “…the mouth of angels doth declare it…even to them that are scattered abroad upon the face of the earth wherefore they have come unto us.” (22) This visitation of angels to them is emphasized a great deal by Alma. While the point of the angels are “glad tidings” of the coming of Christ, this occurs in a chapter emphasizing priesthood and Melchizedek.

This isn’t the clear establishment of a need for angelic ordination. However the translation of the Book of Mormon would have made clear that ordination was necessary. It’s not clear that the figures in the Book of Mormon require angelic ordination since the holy order of Alma 13 appears to go back to Nephi. 2 Nephi 6 (most likely translated a month or so after 3 Nephi) says “I Jacob having been called of God and ordained after the manner of his holy order and having been consecrated by my brother Nephi…” (2) Note the strong comparison to Alma 13 with the call and ordination not to mention “holy order.”[4]

I think we can conclude at least a few things. First getting the priesthood is not, as we tend to think of it today, a simple process. There’s first a call and then a ritual of some sort. Second there is a priesthood which is a kind of order after Melchizedek and Christ. The angelic part is a bit trickier, although it may not be needed. That said the important context for Alma 13 involves angels. Alma’s companion with his encounter with Zeezrom is Amulek. But Amulek’s call comes from an angel. (Alma 10:7)

A common view among historians is to split up the priesthood restoration into two parts. I’d simply note that with the Zeezrom narrative in Alma 10-15 we have something very similar.[5] We have an angel giving a call and a priesthood with separate calls and ordination to an order tied to Melchizedek. While it’s not a slam dunk, it does suggest that these things were at least knowable by Joseph Smith in the summer of 1829. If one adopts the fraudulent model then Joseph Smith has come up with this as a model of priesthood by then. (Again in the faithful model Joseph might be clueless about all this, although there’s obviously evidence for his being aware of it)

The confusion over the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood, while not totally cleared up by these parts of the Book of Mormon is perhaps somewhat explained. We may well have separate calls and ordinations. It’s also worth noting that Alma 49 ties baptism to this holy order. “…the word of God which was declared…by all those who had been ordained by the holy order of God being baptized unto repentance and sent forth to preach…” (49:30)

To conclude I think that the clear understanding of the time was that there were separate calls and ordinations. This thinking is found in the later texts such as the JST for Genesis 14 (sometime between mid 1830 and 1831) where priesthood was “delivered unto men by the calling of his own voice…” This is also in Moses 6 (sometime at the end of 1830) “…he heard a voice out of heaven saying…thou art after the order of him who was without beginning of days or end of years, from all eternity to all eternity. Behold, thou art one in me, a son of God; and thus may all become my sons.”

As a final postscript, recognizing a certain desire for systematic theology, one might say that we have to distinguish not only between calls and ordinations but also keys. My sense, perhaps wrong, is that the most important thing Peter, James and John brought were keys. The theological development of priesthood continued well up into Nauvoo. Usually each expansion of theology came with associated angels giving extra keys even though the priesthood itself had already been given.

[1] Actually I’ll fully confess that the bloom of Mormon history the past decade corresponded to my being busier in my personal life than ever before. So I’m actually pretty far behind in my reading. Made worse by deciding to go ebook only for reading to cut down on the size of my library. This means many of you are undoubtedly better read on the subject than I am. So I really value your feedback here.

[2] Since this is a faithful blog, we’ll here be presuming some variation of the faithful interpretation to be correct. That’s not to dismiss those who disagree. Indeed part of this post is engaging with them. Just that I think most reading here feel they have spiritual experiences confirming the truth of the gospel. That in turn changes the way they look at the evidence. I should add that even for faithful views of history the evolution of Joseph’s understanding and a conception that doctrine was revealed “grace for grace” (D&C 93:13) a step at a time.

[3] It is quite clear that the narrative of Peter, James and John was later. As Vogel notes neither John Whitmer nor William McLellin heard of it until a few years later.

[4] The consecrated part is different but this is also in Alma where the leader, often the king and sometimes the prior high priest, consecrates priests and high priests. This setting them aside seems separate from their ordination to the priesthood. See for example Alma 4:4.

[5] The one exception might be that Amulek’s ordination isn’t made explicit. That’s true although one should note that Alma defends Amulek’s knowledge by saying “it is given unto many to know the mysteries of God” but they are given a strict command to not share it all. The clear implication is that Amulek’s words on God and resurrection in Alma 11 are part of this. Also note Amulek says in the prior chapter “I have seen much of his mysteries” (10:15). The emphasis in Alma 13 is about how the holy order is set up to teach and is how Alma defends his knowledge of the mysteries. While somewhat circumstantial the context suggests Amulek has entered into this order. Amulek’s teachings in Alma 11 thus may be tied to what Alma sees the order doing in Alma 14:16.

I should note that many of the ideas in this post, while in my mind for quite a few years, also developed out of a discussion at MDDB.

37 comments for “Translating the Book of Mormon and the Priesthood Restoration

  1. Jennifer
    February 23, 2017 at 8:41 pm

    If I understand correctly, you’re asking what in the Book of Mormon would have prompted Joseph and Oliver to seek ordination to the priesthood, and wondering if it was in Alma or 3 Nephi or 2 Nephi (translated later), is that right? Are you also asking if there was more than one priesthood restoration, as is traditionally taught in the church?
    I wonder if one of the books you’ve read is the same as what I’ve just read: John Welch’s chapter on the timing of the Book of Mormon translation in “Opening the Heavens,” which places the translation of 3 Nephi 11 about May 13, 1829, two days before the May 15 visit from John the Baptist. The chapter collects 206 documents–witness statements about the Book of Mormon translation. It’s a pretty impressive collection to read. I can imagine that Joseph and Oliver, as they read 3 Nephi 11, felt they had to ask how to get the authority to baptize. Jesus gave the disciples power to baptize, gave very specific instructions, and told them they needed to be baptized to be saved. Joseph and Oliver wanted to be saved and they read that they needed to be baptized, and so they asked.
    The chapter on restoration of the priesthood, by Brian Cannon, in “Opening the Heavens,” makes a case for a summer 1829 restoration of Melchizedek Priesthood. Moroni 2 and 3 have instructions that Joseph and Oliver would have sought to obey, and Joseph may have translated those chapters in late May/early June 1829, which might have been the time of a visit from Peter, James, and John.
    Did Peter, James, and John bestow “keys” or “priesthood” or “authority to perform ordinances” or “apostlehood”? You’re right that we don’t know what words they used and we can’t make theological conclusions.
    On the narrative of priesthood restoration not being known among church members, it’s all over the place that revelations told Joseph to keep things to himself, and with the local persecution, he had good reason to. I was reading today D&C 25, where Emma was told to “murmur not because of the things which thou hast not seen, for they are withheld from thee and from the world, which is wisdom in me in a time to come.” Maybe even Emma didn’t know about priesthood restoration for some time. The sharing of information was slow, to be sure.

  2. Johnson
    February 24, 2017 at 1:16 am

    As was mentioned in this post, I have also heard many times about how Joseph Smith didn’t preach much from the BOM and didn’t seem to have a very sophisticated understanding of the book. Is there an article or book that shows this is a systematic way? Or are there at least some good examples of things that Joseph said that were quite unsophisticated?

  3. February 24, 2017 at 8:17 am

    Nice to read an overview of your thoughts, Clark. I’d just like to comment that I typically find that JS does have a good understanding of the doctrine in the Book of Mormon, though my understanding of that comes from looking at contemporary revelations and the JST, so those who don’t believe JS had any influence on his revelations and translations won’t see eye to eye with me on that. My question is what evidence is there that JS didn’t understand the doctrine in the Book of Mormon? Most of his recorded sermons are from years later.

  4. Clark Goble
    February 24, 2017 at 11:06 am

    Jennifer (1), no I’m more or less taking for granted that the Aaronic Priesthood came about relative to the time of 3 Nephi 11. However many historians, especially those who think Joseph was fraudulent, tend to see the angelic part as a much later development. Vogel is the classic example in that paper I linked to. He notes for example that contemporary accounts, such as Lucy Mack Smith, don’t mention the angels even for the baptism. David Whitmer said no angel was mentioned until the mid 1830’s and William McLellin said he never heard Joseph mention John the Baptist or Peter James and John until a few years later.

    Also the Melchizedek restoration is much more vague so I’m noting that even in the Book of Mormon but also revelations soon after in the JST distinguish between call and ordination.

    My point is just that the Book of Mormon narratives connects angels and priesthood even though it’s more circumstantial. That is there’s no angelic ordination explicitly mentioned.

    Johnson (2), I don’t have a handy reference to that. I’ll see if I can’t find one later today. It does seem a common view although I don’t know how well supported it is. As Benjamin notes we don’t exactly have a lot of contemporary sermons recorded so there’s a certain element of argument from silence. In the later Nauvoo era when we do have far more texts the Book of Mormon just isn’t mentioned that often.

    My point is less about how faithful historians view this than it simply is that critical historian have to take these ideas as fully formed in Joseph’s mind.

    Benjamin (3) I’m not sure how to treat the JST in that regard or even other revelations in terms of Joseph’s understanding of the Book of Mormon. My inclination is to say that doesn’t indicate much since the terminology would already have been part of Joseph’s mind but not necessarily the content. (This is assuming a looser translation partially dependent upon the KJV – so while I think Alma 13 is quite influenced by the KJV of Hebrews content wise it’s different)

  5. R
    February 24, 2017 at 11:43 am

    Priesthood in early Mormonism is difficult to discuss because most of the accounts come from years later and are filled with anachronistic terms. William V. Smith has done excellent work on this, if you can wade through his rather dense Dialogue article on the topic. But the following points need to be acknowledged:

    1. The modern Mormon concept of priesthood (as a type of authority that you can give, receive, hold, or withhold) did not exist in 1829 or 1830 or even 1832. It developed slowly. Indeed, the word “priesthood” does not even appear in any early Church documents until a full 18 months after the Church organization (October 1831). “Priesthood” is mentioned in the Book or Mormon only eight times, all having to do with the office of high priest, and its meaning is similar to the biblical usage, namely, that priesthood is simply the condition of being a priest, just as parenthood refers to the condition of being a parent. Our current usage is unique in all the world, which is why most media accounts of the priesthood ban refer to the fact that “blacks could not be priests.” To say “blacks could not hold the priesthood” would not mean anything to most non-Mormons, because to them priesthood is not something you can hold. To them, it would be like saying, “I hold the motherhood,” a nonsensical statement.

    2. The terms Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthood were never used in 1829 or 1830. They came on the scene around 1835. In October 1831, the term “High Priest hood” appeared for the first time in the minutes of a meeting, but this referred simply to the office of high priest, not to what we now term the Melchizedek Priesthood. The two were not synonymous. In the early LDS Church, there were simply offices, not “priesthoods.” The evolution from offices to priesthoods took a while. Which brings into question what exactly John the Baptist and Peter, James, and John brought back. Most likely, and some early accounts support this, they simply ordained Joseph and Oliver priests and and high priests.

    3. “Priesthood” is not an important term in the Book of Mormon, although “authority” is, nor was it in the early Christian church. As mentioned above, in the Book of Mormon “priesthood” merely refers to the office of high priest, which wasn’t synonymous with what we have today. The high priest was the leader of the church either in its entirety or in a certain locale. Early church leaders in the Old World were not even identified as priests until later in the second century AD. From WVS’s fine BOAP series on priesthood in the New Testament: “But by the end of the 2nd century (ca. 200 CE) you see overseers (bishops) being called priests.” Before this, they were called what we translate as presbyters, elders, bishops, or overseers. Why? Because “priest” was a Jewish office, received by inheritance or lineage. And “priesthood” was simply the fact that you were a priest, not that you “held” some sort of intangible authority called “priesthood.”

    This is all a can of worms, and our long use of anachronistic terminology to describe early events merely clouds what really happened.

  6. February 24, 2017 at 12:32 pm

    I think that translating the Book of Mormon gave Joseph Smith his first exposure to many topics which would later be further revealed and developed in the months and years that followed. The priesthood is certainly one of those topics.

    Readers here might be interested in this KnoWhy, published today by Book of Mormon Central on the very subject of priesthood restoration and the translation of the Book of Mormon:

    I think you are right to point out Alma 13, but we also should not overlook Mosiah 18, and various references to authority, ordination, and angelic ministry scattered all throughout the narrative leading up to 3 Nephi 11.

    Then, in 3 Nephi 11:21, you have Christ—who was a heavenly being who had just descended in a pillar of light—giving “power that ye shall baptize.” With this, combined with Mosiah 18:13 and many other references in between, I think Oliver and Joseph would have understood that some kind of divinely sanctioned power or authority was needed to baptize.

    From there, “how do we get access to this authority, so we can be baptized?” becomes a natural question. Angelic ministration of this authority would also have seemed natural—how else would they get it? The Nephites received it from a heavenly being (Christ), so Oliver and Joseph may have fully anticipated they could too.

    So while the mention of “priesthood” may not show up 3 Nephi, the mention of baptism and the need for authority to perform that ordinance—and the obtaining that authority from a heavenly source—certainly was. And it was baptism that both Oliver and Joseph went to inquire about. Of course, as you point out, they were exposed to priesthood at other points in the translation, like Alma 13, and I imagine many of these stories were on their minds when they finally went into the woods to pray.

    Once they received Aaronic Priesthood by angelic ministry, seeking the priesthood after the order of Melchizedek mentioned in Alma 13 by this same process probably seemed natural.

  7. Q
    February 24, 2017 at 12:35 pm

    It is very plausible that Joseph Smith came up with the Book of Mormon and also didn’t have a strong grasp of the ideas in it. As a writer myself, I notice that I tend to forget ideas that I come up with the day after I write them. I also sometimes contradict myself and notice that my ideas sometimes change according to context. For instance, as a Democrat I tended to be more against the appeal to state rights as an excuse to interfere with the nationwide implementation of Obamacare. However, now that Trump is aggressively trying to deport illegal immigrants and crack down on sanctuary cities, I find myself appealing to states rights in order to interfere with his agenda.

    I don’t see how the so-called “fraudulent model” (a really poor choice for a name since it comes off as saying that the model itself if fraudulent) faces any problems when it comes the question of priesthood restoration. Joseph Smith could have very well come up with a narrative about priesthood restoration that doesn’t fully reflect contemporary practices AND that doesn’t reflect the narrative in the Book of Mormon. Slight differences in the claimed method of restoration with those written about in the Book of Mormon and contemporary manuals do not support your veiled attempt to produce some sort of evidence of the historicity of the Book of Mormon.

  8. February 24, 2017 at 12:36 pm
  9. February 24, 2017 at 1:45 pm

    Clark, setting aside our views on contemporary translations and documents, what evidence would you give for JS not understanding the doctrines in the BOM? I’ve heard this claimed before, but I can’t remember specific examples used to support it, nor can I think of any myself.

  10. Clark Goble
    February 24, 2017 at 2:18 pm

    R (5) The modern Mormon concept of priesthood (as a type of authority that you can give, receive, hold, or withhold) did not exist in 1829 or 1830 or even 1832.

    Yes, that’s part of what I’m arguing against with the Book of Mormon references. That is the concept of priesthood you give is part and parcel of the Book of Mormon. I just don’t think that position can be supported. It’s there in 1829. It may not have been emphasized but that’s a different position.

    R (5) “Priesthood” is mentioned in the Book or Mormon only eight times, all having to do with the office of high priest,

    Again I don’t think this is defensible. While reading “holy order” or “high priesthood” as related to high priest is possible I think it’s problematic for a variety of reasons not the least of which being there appear to be many people simultaneously in this order. Alma 13 circumstantially indicates that but Alma 43 makes it explicit. “…the holy order of God by which they were called.” It’s also in Alma 7 & 8 although not to the same degree of explicitness. That means it can’t be a single high priest nor that office.

    Now I do think we should read Alma 13 relative to Leviticus but there are several reasons (including from the text itself) to assume it means something slightly different. Again there are interesting textual reasons to think that the deuteronomist and priestly traditions both at the time of Lehi but especially during the post-exilic period different from Lehi. (That’s of course irrelevant for the fraudulent model — but even there my point about Alma 13 is that we don’t have a simple priest=priesthood connection)

    R (5) Our current usage is unique in all the world

    That’s demonstrably not true as a quick google of priesthood shows. (Think Catholicism) Anthropology frequently uses the notion as a background organization that determines who can or can’t be a priest. But that’s probably a semantic quibble tangental to the discussion.

    Now to the point about the particular phrase “hold the priesthood” that might be a more innovative linguistic tradition but largely beside the point to what I’m discussing. “Being in the priesthood” carries the same conceptual/organization schema even if it differs linguistically. So I think we need to clearly distinguish the linguistic issues from the social structural issues.

    R (5) The terms Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthood were never used in 1829 or 1830.

    True (as far as I can tell) but again that’s not really what is at issue. The linguistic use of D&C 107 is less of an issue as I think “order of Melchizedek” can be seen as synonymous. From a theological view even post-D&C 107 Mormonism don’t see it that phrase as essential since of course the priesthood predates Melchizedek.

    R (5) The evolution from offices to priesthoods took a while.

    Completely agree but again that’s not what is in question.

    R (5) “Priesthood” is not an important term in the Book of Mormon, although “authority” is

    Completely disagree on the basis of Alma 13 particularly verses 6-8. It just undermines this view entirely. Again as in verse 9 these are high priests, but they also distinguish between the high priest and being in this priesthood. It’s that structural component that matters.

    Now if the point is just that to be in the high priesthood of Alma 13 is different from from a priesthood abstracted from offices, I’d agree to a point. Alma 13 sees those who are in the high priesthood as high priests. But the key issue is that they aren’t the office of high priest that Alma held. There was only one high priest but many who were high priests of this order. So structurally that is significant.

    Mormons of course talk about priesthood abstracted from offices/callings. But my point is simply that this is being done in the Book of Mormon. The only difference is that it’s a tad confusing because both are called high priests. So one has to look at the structure in places where people are in the holy order but aren’t high priests (as opposed to priests and teachers). Again Alma 43:2 is a clear example of this where the sons of Alma are in the order. Alma 7:22 & 5:54 arguably also has the same structure although it’s not as explicit. It says “that ye may walk after the holy order of God after which ye have been received.” “your brethren…do walk after the holy order of God whereiwth they have been brought into this church having been sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” Compare the phraseology with Alma 13 as well. Also, as I mentioned in the OP you have to see why Alma is talking about the holy order to Zeezrom and how it relates to Amulek.

    I think a compelling reading is that the Church is this holy order. Those in the order are eschatological high priests because they have the high priesthoods but they aren’t high priests in terms of office. Indeed I think the text of the Book of Mormon demands that. I’d go so far as to argue that Alma 49:30 has the rite referred to in Alma 13:11 as baptism. Thus Nephite baptism is a unique type of mikveh. It’s thus likely tied to the pre-exilic view of priests induction to the priesthood by immersion in the mikveh. I’d go father and note the Yom Kippur tradition where the high priest entered the holy of holies by going through various services, each preceded by a mikveh washing/immersion. While somewhat irrelevant to the fraudulent view (since Joseph appears ignorant of the Jewish practice from what I can tell – although perhaps this would be an argument for such knowledge) this suggests that the Nephites rejected the centralization of the temple cult. Thus they were opposed to deuteronomist and priestly reforms that were going on even before the Babylonian capture. (We can see this by their burnt offerings in high places independent of the centralized temple cult which by the time of return from exile was the norm) So I suspect what we’re seeing is a view where the Yom Kippur action is available for all and the Nephite baptism is tied to this.

    While I don’t deny in the least the connection between Alma 13 and Hebrews again critics have to acknowledge that we have Joseph not focused on Christ as high priest but a larger holy order who are of that type. That in turn has structural significance for Joseph’s views of priesthood. At a minimum it means a distinction between order and office.

    R (5) Why? Because “priest” was a Jewish office, received by inheritance or lineage. And “priesthood” was simply the fact that you were a priest, not that you “held” some sort of intangible authority called “priesthood.”

    Right. But my point is that the Book of Mormon usage doesn’t parallel the NT usage. (Or at least the non-gnostic usage which can easily be established)

  11. Clark Goble
    February 24, 2017 at 2:24 pm

    Q (7) so-called “fraudulent model” (a really poor choice for a name since it comes off as saying that the model itself if fraudulent)

    I’m fine with alternative terms. But since the model depends upon Joseph making it all up as he went I can’t think of a better term. Maybe “fraud model” since that avoids the connotation that the model is fraudulent.

    Q (7) It is very plausible that Joseph Smith came up with the Book of Mormon and also didn’t have a strong grasp of the ideas in it. As a writer myself, I notice that I tend to forget ideas that I come up with the day after I write them.

    In this case though it’s a significant theological point that gets then referred to consistently throughout the text for the rest of the translation (the rest of Alma and then into 2 Nephi).

    Q (7) Joseph Smith could have very well come up with a narrative about priesthood restoration that doesn’t fully reflect contemporary practices AND that doesn’t reflect the narrative in the Book of Mormon.

    Well I’m all for keeping all defensible readings open. The question is what the evidence for each is. In this case we have Joseph acting on the basis of the Book of Mormon by all accounts at the time when we have discussion of priesthood and its rites along with angels. While the angel accounts are left out of contemporary accounts of what happened, the text translated (or in the fraud model developed) does have those elements. So if he’s acting out on the basis of what he’s thought up at the time he thinks it up (according to the fraud model) then we have to take seriously what he’s saying about it at the time. That’s why the text of the Book of Mormon and the early JST is so important. It’s what he’s saying theologically at the time he’s claiming to be doing what the texts say.

  12. Clark Goble
    February 24, 2017 at 2:32 pm

    Sorry for the length of replies — I just wanted to be clear in what was being argued. I think one problem with the debate (or at least what I’ve read of it) is that many concepts are being kept muddled and conflated. I think it’s important to keep linguistic from structural notions separate. I also think it’s important to keep clear belonging to an order from having an office (with duties). Finally I think it’s important to keep clear the issue of call from ordination and then the question of who did the ordination.

    nquinten5 (8) Yes I agree. 3 Nephi 11 was the final point where Joseph felt he needed baptism (and according to Lucy Mack Smith the stone actually gave a specific command although she may just be confusing that with a scriptural command) However baptism and priests/priesthood are mentioned so much prior to 3 Nephi (for most of Alma) that it’s hard to think he wasn’t aware of it. As you note Mosiah 18:18 in particular is pretty explicit. Mosiah 25 is as well.

    I’d add relative to the question of whether 3 Nephi 11 is just a verbal call in a vacuum that 3 Nephi 7:25 has Nephi ordaining people to the minister so they could baptize. (Just a couple of years before Christ appears) So that makes 3 Nephi 11 that much more interesting. Nephi already has the power to baptize. So what’s going on? Presumably it’s making explicit to the people the authority and the manner of the rite since there’s a lot of emphasis on disputations.

    Relative to the earlier comment I should note that the Nephites appear to have a separate high priest for each city-state. (See for example Alma 30:20) However that doesn’t account for all uses such as the afore mentioned sons of Alma.

  13. Clark Goble
    February 24, 2017 at 3:12 pm

    Benjaim (9) I was more just referring to the received view with those comments. I know there have been a few articles on Joseph Smith’s apparent paucity of knowledge. I’ve not yet had a chance to glance through my notes. (Most of my printed books are in storage right now so I can’t consult those – just eBooks and my notes) I suspect most of the view arises out of Joseph simply not quoting the Book of Mormon for doctrines. And barely even referring to its narratives. But if that’s the entire basis that confuses the source of an idea with the argument for an idea. i.e. it at best deals with the rhetorical use of the Book of Mormon. Further it’s biased towards Nauvoo when we simply have more records.

    As to how to verify or falsify the claim, that’s trickier. Ideally you’d want to find major doctrines in the Book of Mormon that Joseph gets wrong. I can’t think of any off the top of my head. Further Joseph appears to have explicitly followed the Book of Mormon in some places like our sacrament prayers. D&C 20 is just quoting verbatim Moroni. Of course portions of that were given in 1829 so that’s not surprising.

  14. February 24, 2017 at 6:43 pm

    I really enjoyed this post Clark.

  15. Q
    February 24, 2017 at 8:48 pm

    Just for comparative purposes, here are the passages from Alma 13 and Hebrews 7 juxtaposed. Different in content, yes. Verbiage? Well, clearly JS lifted passages from Hebrews.

    Hebrews 7:3 Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually.


    Alma 13:7 This high priesthood being after the order of his Son, which order was from the foundation of the world; or in other words, being without beginning of days or end of years, being prepared from eternity to all eternity, according to his foreknowledge of all things—

    Alma 13:8 Now they were ordained after this manner—being called with a holy calling, and ordained with a holy ordinance, and taking upon them the high priesthood of the holy order, which calling, and ordinance, and high priesthood, is without beginning or end—

    Alma 13:9 Thus they become high priests forever, after the order of the Son, the Only Begotten of the Father, who is without beginning of days or end of years, who is full of grace, equity, and truth. And thus it is. Amen.

    Hebrews 7:2 … and after that also King of Salem, which is, King of peace;


    Alma 13:18 But Melchizedek having exercised mighty faith, and received the office of the high priesthood according to the holy order of God, did preach repentance unto his people. And behold, they did repent; and Melchizedek did establish peace in the land in his days; therefore he was called the prince of peace, for he was the king of Salem; and he did reign under his father.

    Hebrews 7:1 For this Melchisedec, king of Salem, priest of the most high God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings, and blessed him;

    Hebrews 7:2 To whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all; first being by interpretation King of righteousness, and after that also King of Salem, which is, King of peace;


    Alma 13:15 And it was this same Melchizedek to whom Abraham paid tithes; yea, even our father Abraham paid tithes of one-tenth part of all he possessed.

  16. Clark Goble
    February 24, 2017 at 9:11 pm

    Q (15) I don’t think anyone disputes a textual relationship of the Book of Mormon translation on the KJV text. At least I don’t know of anyone. I’m not sure what that has to do with the topic at hand though. Hebrews relates to Christ as the great eschatological high priest utilizing a lot of Yom Kippur imagery and likely based on a common source text or at least tradition with the Melchezedek texts at Qumran. (The exact relationship between Hebrews and the Dead Sea Scrolls is controversial)

    That’s all beside the point since the whole point of Alma 13 isn’t Jesus as High Priest but a priesthood order everyone was admitted to. Whether the rituals referred to in Alma 13 are the high priestly Yom Kippur rituals of Lev 16 isn’t quite clear. As I said above I suspect our current text of Leviticus likely reflects post-exilic developments.

    If you are interested in the textual questions of this tradition I’d also suggest reading up on the connections with 1 Enoch 10 and the Apocalypse of Abraham as well.

  17. Q
    February 24, 2017 at 9:12 pm

    Oh, and here are other similarities between Alma 13 and the KJV NT.

    2 Timothy 1:9 – called by an holy calling
    Alma 13:3, 8 – called by a holy calling
    Alma 13:6 – called with this holy calling
    Alma 13:4 – called to this holy calling
    Alma 13:3 – thus this holy calling
    Alma 29:13 – God hath called me by a holy calling

    Romans 15:16 – being sanctified by the Holy Ghost
    Alma 13:12 – being sanctified by the Holy Ghost
    3 Nephi 27:20 – sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost

    Alma 13:13 – bring forth fruit meet for repentance
    Matthew 3:8 – Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance

    1 Peter 1:2 – according to the foreknowledge of God
    Alma 13:3 – according to the foreknowledge of God

  18. Q
    February 24, 2017 at 9:25 pm

    Well, in your OP you do point out that critics note similarities between Alma and the translation of the New Testament KJV text (to be more specific). Text that predated 600 BCE and theoretically could have been brought over by Lehi and fam is one thing, but text that had not yet been generated and only appears in the KJV NT? Raises eyebrows, doesn’t it?

    The point is that the issue at hand in the eyes of the critics is not necessarily the content (on which there is strong agreement that there is a difference) but the verbiage itself. It is extremely improbable that Alma (assuming he actually existed) expressed himself in that manner and with phrases that would be akin to what was supposedly translated in his native tongue. I have graded a fair number of college papers in my day and have used many plagiarism checkers. It is clear that Joseph Smith lifted the verbiage from the KJV NT in much of Alma 13 (and many other parts of the BOM). How exactly are believers to explain such verbatim or nearly verbatim passages from the NT appearing in Alma? That it was miraculous speech? That God revealed to Alma what Paul would write in an epistle a couple centuries later so that he could say the same things to his audience in the Americas? The fact that the BOM is replete with verbiage out of the NT, and all sorts of different parts of the NT, is quite enough to arouse suspicion.

  19. Q
    February 24, 2017 at 9:41 pm

    “I’d also suggest reading up on the connections with 1 Enoch 10 and the Apocalypse of Abraham”

    I’m not sure what this has to do with anything.

  20. Clark Goble
    February 24, 2017 at 11:01 pm

    Q again, no one disputes phraseology from the KJV was used in the Book of Mormon. What does that have to do with this thread? If you’re interested in the topic I suggest checking out Brant Gardner’s The Gift and Power: Translating the Book of Mormon. But please keep at lead a modicum of connection to the discussion. Non sequiturs might get deleted.

    In the forgery model everything Joseph did was a forgery. The point is though that you can’t simply look at similarities with the KJV but have to examine the differences. Again from the faithful model Joseph doesn’t have to understand the Book of Mormon text. But when there are significant persistent ideas that then get acted upon those pushing the forgery model can’t neglect the text of the Book of Mormon to the degree they have. And of course for the faithful model the nature of the text is quite significant in terms of what the structure is beyond the phraseology in a loose translation.

    As for 1 Enoch 10 and the Apocalypse of Abraham they cover a lot of the same materials as Hebrews. The debate then becomes what the literary dependence of those along with the Melchizedek text at Qumran are with Hebrews. The main view, from what I can tell, is that there was a pre-existing tradition of Melchizedek as high priest with Yom Kippur imagery. I bring that up simply because there are large school that see Hebrews as borrowing from prior traditions. That’s why I asked if you were interested in the textual tradition since you were posting textual parallels with Hebrews. I assumed you’d be interested in doing the same thing to that text. In particular Hebrews and the Apocalypse of Abraham both put the high priest in an eschatological context (unlike Alma 13 which sees a certain typology of a coming messiah but is more practical about an order). The Platonism of Hebrews (like 8:5) is also missing from Alma 13 although 13:2 has some similarities.

  21. Clark Goble
    February 24, 2017 at 11:46 pm

    Benjamin (9) I finally had a few moments to do some searching. The one article that came up in my notes was Grant Underwood’s “Book of Mormon Usage in Early LDS Theology” (I managed to find an online version) He finds that most of the references are to 3 Nephi with then a few other passages like 1 Ne 22. (Surprisingly one of the most quoted passages of the last few decades, 2 Nephi 2, doesn’t make the cut) Most of the passages used are either apologetics to explain archaeological findings or else are eschatological uses. Atonement passages is also prominent. What we’d consider theological concerns with famous passages like Alma 13, Mosiah 15, 2 Nephi 2 or the like are all missing.

    Of course that’s interesting since these are all theological treatise in various ways. If one is looking at the text as purely a 19th century forgery it’s odd that Joseph wouldn’t refer to his major theological writings.

    I found a few other references such as in Given’s By the Hand of Mormon or The Oxford Handbook of Mormonism but they are typically referencing Underwood. As I said I’ve not been as able to keep up on the latest scholarship since having kids. (Have to keep my priorities right) However I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s the source for the view and little has been done since 1984 when Underwood wrote it.

    The only related article is Gordon Irving’s “The Mormons and the Bible in the 1830s”. It’s not really doing anything that different though and is more just comparing relative use to early Mormon Bible use. It’s also much older from 1973.

    BTW – more related to the OP, I should have brought up when I mentioned 11QMelch at Qumran that there Melchizedek basically is an angel having the place Michael has in other Qumran writings. Most interesting 11QMelch doesn’t appear to reference Ps 110 or Gen 14. (A very big difference from Hebrews) That is it’s representing a different tradition. Melchizedek is a eschatological figure and even quotes Ps 82 only replacing Eloheim with Melchizedek. An interesting book on all this is “A Cloud of Witnesses: The Theology of Hebrews in its Ancient Contexts” (Alas no eBook and no reasonably priced paperback so you’re stuck getting it in interlibrary loan or reading what Google lets you)

  22. February 25, 2017 at 1:39 am

    Clark, thanks for doing some digging on that. I think that it’s odd that JS wouldn’t use the Book of Mormon more whether he was a fraud or a sincere believer. For the record, I do think he was sincere in his translation efforts, which begs the question, why wouldn’t he reference this massive translation given by God in his sermons? I think there are probably a lot of reasons. First, and most importantly, I find that JS’ theology developed over time, rendering past versions of theology less useful, less exciting, and less central to Mormonisms focus. The Book of Mormon remains a tool for missionary work throughout JS’s tenure, but theologically he moves right on to the next thing, the JST, the Book of Abraham, the temple ordinances, polygamy, theosis, etc. These texts and subjects expand and innovate doctrinally beyond the Book of Mormon. Second, JS constantly refers to the Bible, as it serves as a proof text for doctrine. So, not only does biblical phraseology get used in JS revelations and translations, but the biblical narratives and passages that are quoted and alluded to can be seen as the source of doctrinal developments. So while I think JS sincerely believed the BOM was what he said it was, I also see the bible as a source of inspiration for much of JS’s doctrinal innovations, and if the biblical passages and narratives were the seed of JS’ doctrinal thinking, it make sense that he would cite his original inspiration even while believing the BOM or others of his translations/revelations confirmed what he learned and developed from the Bible. Thirdly, the Bible was viewed as authoritative in the 19th century by most of those who would hear JS speak, so JS might have deferred to the Bible as the ultimate authority, despite its flaws he acknowledged.

  23. Clark Goble
    February 25, 2017 at 4:07 pm

    I think though that theologically there are all these gems that Joseph doesn’t seem to make us of or even care about. I’m not sure novelty explains that.

  24. February 25, 2017 at 4:37 pm

    I would need an example, because generally I find there are ways that each of the doctrines get put into practice or become part of the rhetoric, just not referenced through the BOM.

  25. Q
    February 25, 2017 at 5:34 pm

    Clark, what I wrote IS related to the OP: “Now many critics have noted similarities between Hebrews in the Bible and Alma’s discourse on priesthood to Zeezrom. It’s important to note the very important different point of each.” I simply pointed out what those are.

    As for differences vs. similarities, the differences don’t necessarily serve as solid evidence of authenticity, but the verbatim similarities with the KJV NT make JS’s claims about the BOM highly suspect. For Alma to have said verbatim things that Paul wrote centuries later on a completely different continent would have to be a special sort of miracle for it to be true. I simply don’t understand how different forgery models are neglecting the text of the Book of Mormon. If anything it seems like the faithful models are neglecting the verbatim passages from the KJV NT.

    On the Apocalypse of Abraham and Hebrews, a miracle is not needed for elements of the former to appear in the latter. The authors of the two texts lived in the same area and were of the same cultural background.

  26. Clark Goble
    February 25, 2017 at 5:44 pm

    Right but the OP took for granted there was a relationship. The question isn’t the similarity but the difference. Hebrews is eschatological and is about Jesus as final high priest whereas Alma 13 is about an order containing mortals that has a rite that looks forward to Jesus.

    The point isn’t which model is correct merely what data both models have to include. Which is why pointing out parallels is pointless unless it is pointing out something a model hasn’t incorporated. But the faithful model of the Book of Mormon already explicitly incorporates KJV quotations and paraphrases. One might disagree with the ways various submodels do this of course. But that’s not what this thread is about. Rather this is about whether BoM texts about priesthood are appropriately dealt with by each broad class of model.

    The issue of the Apocalypse and other such things is what traditions were around prior to the writing of Hebrews prior to the destruction of the temple. That’s important for the faithful model although not really for the forgery model except to the degree such elements were part and parcel of the esoteric folk tradition in early Mormonism.

  27. Z
    February 26, 2017 at 1:34 am

    Q I think you are missing the point. No one, critic or believer, denies the relation between the KJV and the Book of Mormon text. There are many plausible explanations for Joseph’s use of the KJV among faithful models, including my own or Brandt Gardner’s among them. You are undoubtedly aware of these models so your inquiry just seems to fail to address relevant views. In any event, your comments do not really address the OP so it appears you are just being a bit of troll. BTW very few of here would not be aware of the KJV phrases and comparisons to Hebrews, so it is really giving us what is assumed in the discussion and quite beside the point.

  28. Q
    February 26, 2017 at 7:48 pm

    “The point isn’t which model is correct merely what data both models have to include”

    And yet you write: “For the fraudulent model things are a bit trickier”

    You are subtly trying to make a case against the fraud model. But alas, the fraud model really isn’t much of a model, nor does it need to be. If the faithful model can’t be substantiated with lots of convincing evidence, the Book of Mormon is by default a forgery.

  29. Q
    February 26, 2017 at 8:06 pm

    z, please do share what your “plausible” explanation of KJV NT verbiage appearing verbatim in the BOM (particularly Alma 13) is (remember that appeals to miraculousness do not equal plausibility). As for Brant Gardner, I just glanced cursorily at his commentary and haven’t really found any explanation as to why Alma 13 (in particular, I have not read other parts of his commentary in depth) is laden with KJV NT verbiage, so I would welcome any elaboration you might have. He seems somewhat dismissive of the significance of such appearance. Here is what he has to say on page 1152 ( “Some of this language is echoed in Alma, but is referring to the priesthood, not to the person.” He echoes what Clark says, appearing not even to recognize why such might cause skepticism as to the authenticity of the BOM. He doesn’t address the issue head-on in any way. In fact, LDS apologists are quite divided about the question of Book of Mormon translation. Some, such as Royal Skousen, suggest that every word was revealed to him more or less perfectly. Others, such as Blake Ostler, surmise that the translation was rather loose and supplemented with Joseph Smith’s own ideas and guesses as to the meaning. The odd thing is that the apologists don’t appear to recognize this as a division among them, but it is nonetheless. Some apologists, such as Dan Peterson, advocate a loose translation when convenient and a word-for-word translation (i.e., his insistence on Hebraisms) when convenient.

    I acknowledge that my comment, although related, is a little tangential (a tangent that Clark and others kept responding to nonetheless). But I think that it is useful to the reader of the OP to know what the similarities are between Alma 13 and the KJV NT passages. I, like many readers of this blog, am well acquainted with the BOM and have read it many times. Still, I don’t have an eidetic memory and find it useful to see what the similarities are. The OP IS dismissing critics’ skepticism of similarities as trivial and beyond the point, so it would have been quite useful to point out the verbatim passages.

  30. Clark Goble
    February 27, 2017 at 10:35 am

    Benjamin (24) I think a good example are the first few verses of Mosiah 15. The typical reading in the faithful model is that it’s a prototype Jewish Merkabah styled text ala 3 Enoch. (A popular reading in the fraud model is that it’s modalism although that seems odd given later texts in the Book of Mormon) While there are obviously some loose connections between classic Merkabah texts of late antiquity and early medieval eras and Mormon endowments, those elements aren’t really present in Mosiah 15.

    Q (28) I’m pointing out problems in one part due to neglected data. I don’t think I’m doing what you suggest although it’s obviously a model I don’t accept.

    Q (29) If you’re interested in Brant Gardner’s theory on this it’s weird you’d turn to a book not addressing it. I gave the link to the book. You’re also conflating two issues: the nature of the text and the method of translation. (It’s a common error unfortunately) One could hold to Royal Skousen’s model of how the translation proceeded while still thinking it a loose translation based in part on information and patterns in Joseph’s mind.

    In any case, both models incorporate the obvious point that Joseph used KJV language in his translations and his revelation. So you have for instance a quote of Song of Solomon 6 in D&C 109:54 even though there’s no real connection between the two.

    The point really is the meaning of the text and not this loose manner of translation.

  31. JN
    February 27, 2017 at 11:49 am

    One aspect of 3 Nephi to consider is the quotation of Malachi in chapters 24 and 25. Joseph said when Moroni visited him, he quoted 25:5 as “Behold I will reveal unto you the Priesthood by the hand of Elijah…” Although that version does not show up in the BoM text, it’s possible that Joseph and Oliver discussed the Priesthood at this point. Oliver Cowdery also wrote (in Letter VIII) that Moroni told Joseph Smith that “When they (the plates) are interpreted, the Lord will give the holy priesthood to some, and they shall begin to proclaim this gospel and baptize by water…” So the concept of Priesthood was taught to Joseph even before he obtained the Fayette plates. It’s also possible that the first part of those plates, the Book of Lehi that was lost, mentioned Priesthood. However, the separate set of plates Joseph got in Harmony (the plates of Nephi, translated as 1 Nephi through Words of Mormon) never mention Priesthood.

  32. Clark Goble
    February 27, 2017 at 12:16 pm

    I agree although we should note both those letters and the account of Moroni are fairly late. So Vogel’s contention that they represent a much later development aren’t really affected by them.

  33. February 27, 2017 at 12:27 pm

    Clark, Mosiah 15 is the earliest dictated text by JS we have on the nature of the Son/Father (that I know of), so it’s not a surprise that it bears resemblance to religious theology that influenced 19th century thinking. However, with a closer look analysis we see that verse 3 specifies that Christ is the Father because he “is conceived by the power of God,” which leaves a large caveat for understanding the nature of God and Christ differently than mainstream Christianity. Obviously, the Book of Mormon is largely ambiguous on the nature of God and Christ, and JS’ later editing of it to better reflect his non-trinitarian views also mirrors the evolution of his first vision account, which the earliest version of does not specify the appearance of two beings, just Christ, similar to the Brother of Jared’s theophany in the Book of Mormon.

    Another approach to seeing Mosiah 15 as integrated in the evolution of Mormonism is to examine the early unpublished revelation on the pure language, which explicitly states that Son Ahman is the greatest part of Ahman, and is the first creation of Ahman. Being the first creation of Ahman and the greatest part of Ahman clearly mirrors Mosiah 15’s claim that Jesus is the Father because he was conceived by the power of God.

  34. Clark Goble
    February 27, 2017 at 4:02 pm

    I think that loose neoPlatonism in early Mormonism (and early America such as with the Transcendentalists like Emerson or Thoreau) is an important context for these early texts — roughly prior to the shift to materialism.

  35. Q
    February 28, 2017 at 7:05 pm

    To be honest, Clark, your OP doesn’t make any sense. What I can make out of it is that you think that the priesthood restoration was a process and that this somehow lends more support to the faithful model but would make the fraud model problematic (how it does so I have no idea). You’re kind of all over the place in the OP. Nonetheless it is quite clear that one of your main aims is to problematize the fraud model.

    “both models incorporate the obvious point that Joseph used KJV language”

    You’re not addressing the issue (I sense because it is an inconvenient one that you don’t actually have an answer for), which is that the Book of Mormon not only contains KJV language, but more specifically contains verbatim passages from the King James translation of the New Testament. It is highly improbable that the character of Alma (assuming he were historical) could have said that. It would have had to have been a huge miracle.

    “You’re also conflating two issues: the nature of the text and the method of translation”

    Again, what you mean here is absolutely unclear. A text claimed to be an actual translation of ancient peoples in the Americas before the New Testament was even written that contains verbatim passages from the New Testament lends far more credence to the fraud model than whatever in the world you are arguing about the priesthood restoration lending credence to the faithful model. I’m not conflating anything.

  36. Clark
    March 1, 2017 at 12:01 pm

    It’s a really simple argument. One major form of the fraud model is that the angelology of priesthood restoration was a latter reconceptuation. i.e. was made up around ’35. But this neglects Alma 13 among other places. Alma 13, if following the fraud model, represents his thought/knowledge. Alma 13 (and other passages) distinguish between the call to priesthood, the ordination to the priesthood, and rites associated with the priesthood. Thus in 1829 that reflects his view on Priesthood.

    To the other point, I pointed out books on the translation that deal with the KJV quotations. It’s off topic for this discussion. The answer is just that the text is a loose translation that quote the KJV to deal with similar conceptions. Again, perhaps not persuasive to you but it is a pretty widely discussed model.

    I don’t see this as arguing really for or against the fraud model. At best it’d adjust one element of it – the date when Joseph started claiming angelic ordination. I think the evidence is strong that this should be dated to 1829-30 after all despite not talking about it much.

  37. Raymond Takashi Swenson
    March 13, 2017 at 7:08 pm

    Being 67 years old, and growing up in the Church, including serving a mission in 1969-71, I can personally affirm that the Book of Mormon was used a lot less than the Bible in preaching, including in missionary work. Just before I left on my mission, I picked up a slim book titled “Book of Mormon: Key to Conversion” which laid out the argument that the best way to bring someone into the Church was to teach them out of the clear statements of the Book of Mormon, then point to the test offered in Moroni 10:3-5 for determining whether the Book, and the doctrines taught out of it, were true. The official “discussions” were still heavily centered on proof texts out the Bible. We would invite people to read the Book of Mormon, and point out Moroni 10:3-5 and reason, “If you learn that the Book of Mormon is true, then Joseph Smith was a prophet, and the Church is true.” But we did not teach doctrines out of the Book of Mormon, even though we were required to read it as part of our regular cycle of personal and group scripture study.

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