Joseph Smith—History contains excerpts from Joseph Smith’s official testimony and history of the Church. He prepared it in 1838, and it was published in the Church publication Times and Seasons in Nauvoo, Illinois. Joseph Smith’s official testimony and history of the Church is found in History of the Church, volumes 1–6 (see the Introductory Note of the Pearl of Great Price).
The fundamental messages of Joseph Smith—History are that God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ have appeared again to mankind; that there was an Apostasy of the true Church; that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God; that the Book of Mormon is the word of God; and that the Church of Jesus Christ has been restored to the earth (see Joseph Smith—History 1:17–19, 25, 33–34, 72–73; see also D&C 20:1–11; 128:19–21).
Any person who sincerely studies, ponders, and prays about the truthfulness of the accounts given by the Prophet Joseph Smith may know by the power of the Holy Ghost that they are true (see 2 Nephi 32:3–5; Alma 5:45–47; Moroni 10:3–5).
Have students read Doctrine and Covenants 21:1 and find what the Prophet Joseph Smith was commanded to do. Discuss possible reasons why the Lord would want Joseph to keep a record. Read the paragraph about Joseph Smith—History in the Introductory Note of the Pearl of Great Price. (If available, show students one or more volumes of History of the Church and invite students to look through them.) Review with students the material under “What Is Joseph Smith—History?” and “Who Wrote Joseph Smith—History?” in the student manual (pp. 52–53).
Have students read the five italicized summary statements that are found throughout Joseph Smith—History and list the major events that are described in the text. Write the following five statements on the board:
Ask students: If any one of these statements were false, how would that affect the other statements, and why? Invite students to consider the following quotation from President Ezra Taft Benson, and then explain the relationship between a testimony of the Book of Mormon and a testimony of Joseph Smith’s other work.
“All the Church stand[s] or fall[s] with the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. The enemies of the Church understand this clearly. This is why they go to such great lengths to try to disprove the Book of Mormon, for if it can be discredited, the Prophet Joseph Smith goes with it. So does our claim to priesthood keys, and revelation, and the restored Church. But in like manner, if the Book of Mormon be true—and millions have now testified that they have the witness of the Spirit that it is indeed true—then one must accept the claims of the Restoration and all that accompanies it” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1986, 5; or Ensign, Nov. 1986, 6).
Bear your testimony of the truth of the events described in Joseph Smith—History, and invite students to share their thoughts and feelings.
Satan circulates false reports through “evil-disposed and designing” people to distort the true nature of the Church and its inspired leaders (Joseph Smith—History 1:1–2; see also Helaman 16:22; 3 Nephi 1:22; D&C 10:22–27, 28; Moses 4:4).
Events leading up to the First Vision help explain the Apostasy and the loss of the true Church of Jesus Christ from the earth (see Joseph Smith—History 1:5–10; see also 2 Thessalonians 2:1–3; 2 Timothy 3:1–5; 2 Peter 2:1–2; 1 Nephi 13:23–29; D&C 1:15–16).
Have students read Helaman 16:22; 3 Nephi 1:22; Doctrine and Covenants 10:22–27; and Moses 4:4 and list what Satan does to try to keep people from the truth. Next, have students read Joseph Smith—History 1:1–2 and tell Joseph’s reasons for writing this history. You could also read with students the material under “Joseph Smith—History 1:1. What Were the ‘Many Reports … by Evil-Disposed and Designing Persons’?” in the student manual (pp. 53–54). Discuss ways students can help “disabuse the public mind” and “put all inquirers after truth in possession of the facts” (v. 1).
Ask students why the information in Joseph Smith—History 1:3–4 is important and helpful to know. Have students look at the maps at the end of the Doctrine and Covenants to find and mark the places where the Smith family lived. You may want to review with students some of the stories about Joseph Smith’s family and his early life under “Joseph Smith—History 1:3. What Was Joseph Smith’s Early Life Like?” and “Joseph Smith—History 1:4. Joseph Smith’s Family” in the student manual (pp. 54–55). Discuss ways that Joseph’s personality and character were influenced by his family and his circumstances. Ask students if they would have liked being in Joseph Smith’s family, and why.
Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Video presentation 19, “Joseph Smith—Prophet of the Restoration” (21:30), can be used to introduce Joseph Smith to students taking the Pearl of Great Price course.
Before reading Joseph Smith—History 1:5–20, have students list the events that they can remember from the story of the First Vision, in the order the events occurred. Have students share their lists, and then quickly review Joseph Smith—History 1:5–20 to see how well the students knew this important story. Invite students to tell about times they have told the story of the First Vision to people who are not members of the Church.
Ask students who have lived with family members who belong to other religious faiths to tell what it is like. Give students a telephone book and have them look up and list the names of several churches in your area. Ask students what they would say if somebody asked them why there are so many different churches. Ask: How would you respond to those who say that all churches are about the same, or that all churches are true and can lead us to heaven? Have students review Joseph Smith—History 1:5–7 and 1 Nephi 13:23–29 and tell how the subject of Nephi’s prophecy contributed to the religious climate described by Joseph Smith.
Have students read Joseph Smith—History 1:8–10. Ask if any of them have ever had such experiences or feelings. Tell students that Joseph’s struggles are similar to the struggles many of us go through (see 1 Nephi 1:4–6; 2:16; Enos 1:2–4; Alma 22:15–18). Ask: What gospel principles did you learn from such experiences?
God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph Smith. They are separate, distinct, glorified beings with bodies of flesh and bones (see Joseph Smith—History 1:17; see also Acts 7:55–56; D&C 76:20–23; 130:22).
God and Satan both know who we are and the roles we can play in the establishment of the kingdom of God. Satan uses whatever means he can to try to thwart us from attaining our divine destiny (see Joseph Smith—History 1:20; see also 2 Thessalonians 2:3–10; Moses 7:26).
Invite students to mark Joseph Smith’s questions in Joseph Smith—History 1:10. Ask: What did Joseph do in verses 11–16 to get answers to his questions? Ask students how they could apply in their own lives what Joseph Smith did.
Have students make two lists from Joseph Smith—History 1:11–17: (1) ways the Lord helped Joseph receive answers to his questions, and (2) things Satan did to try to hinder Joseph. Ask students to explain how the power of Satan was overcome. Share this quotation from President Wilford Woodruff: “There are two powers on the earth and in the midst of the inhabitants of the earth—the power of God and the power of the devil. … Whenever the Lord set His hand to perform any work, those powers [of the devil] labored to overthrow it” (in Brian H. Stuy, ed., Collected Discourses Delivered by President Wilford Woodruff, His Two Counselors, the Twelve Apostles, and Others, 5 vols. [1987–92], 5:198). Ask: Why is the combination of our righteous choices and the power of God always greater than the power of Satan? (see D&C 3:1; 10:43; 29:36–38; Moses 1:12–22). Testify of the truth of the appearance of the Father and the Son to the boy Joseph.
Ask students to list the truths we learn from Joseph Smith—History 1:14–20 (see also James E. Faust, in Conference Report, Apr. 1984, 92–93; or Ensign, May 1984, 68; see also Carlos E. Asay, in Conference Report, Apr. 1990, 80–81; or Ensign, May 1990,63–64). (Answers might include that Satan is a real being who seeks to stop the work of God; God appears to man; man is made in the literal image of God; Jesus is a personage, separate and distinct from Heavenly Father; there was an apostasy of the Church that Jesus Christ established during His mortal ministry; the true Church was not on the earth in 1820; the Lord keeps the promise found in James 1:5; direct revelation from the heavens has not ceased.) Read or sing “Joseph Smith’s First Prayer” (Hymns, no. 26). Discuss the meaning of the following statement by Elder Robert L. Simpson, who was then an Assistant to the Twelve Apostles: “[The First Vision is] the most significant singular event in the world since the resurrection of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The First Vision is the very foundation of this Church, and it is my conviction that each member of this Church performs his duty in direct ratio to his personal testimony and faith in the First Vision” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1973, 102; or Ensign, Jan. 1974, 87). Invite students who would like to share what they thought and felt when they first heard about the First Vision to do so. Invite students who have had the opportunity to teach investigators about the First Vision to share their experiences.
Read or sing “The Morning Breaks” (Hymns, no. 1), and then invite students to ponder how their lives have been influenced by this singular event.
Write God, Satan, and Joseph Smith on the board. Read to students the last part of Joseph Smith—History 1:20, which begins “It seems as though …” and ask who of these three people knew who Joseph Smith really was and why he was here on earth. How did Joseph Smith know that Satan knew his destiny? Replace Joseph Smith with You on the board, and discuss the following statement by Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles: “There is great protection when you know who you are, why you are here, and where you are going. Let your unique identity shape each decision you make on the path toward your eternal destiny” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1990, 97; or Ensign, Nov. 1990, 75).
Satan uses ridicule, false doctrine, lies, and prejudice to persecute the humble followers of God (see Joseph Smith—History 1:21–25; see also Isaiah 32:6–7; 1 Timothy 4:1–2; 3 Nephi 1:6, 22; D&C 109:29–30).
True followers of God will remain faithful to Him, no matter how intense persecution becomes or how long it lasts (see Joseph Smith—History 1:24, 27; see also Daniel 3:13–18; Acts 5:40–42; 12:1–11; 16:19–25; 26:19–23; Mosiah 17:5–20; Alma 20:28–30; D&C 121:7–8; 122:5–7).
The Lord teaches His people “line upon line.” We should remain faithful to the direction we receive from the Lord until He gives us further instructions (see Joseph Smith—History 1:26–27; see also 2 Nephi 28:30; D&C 42:61).
Ask students who they would want to tell if they had an unusual spiritual experience, and why. Who did Joseph Smith tell about his vision? (see Joseph Smith—History 1:20). Read the following to students: “Eventually [Joseph] confided his theophany [vision of God] to other family members. His brother William affirmed, ‘We all had the most implicit confidence in what he said. He was a truthful boy. Father and Mother believed him, why should not the children?’ [in J. W. Peterson, “Another Testimony, Statement of William Smith, Concerning Joseph the Prophet,” Deseret Evening News, 20 Jan. 1894, p. 11]” (in Church History in the Fulness of Times [Religion 341–43 student manual, 1993], 34). Have students read Joseph Smith—History 1:21 and find another person Joseph told. Tell students that Joseph naively believed that the minister would welcome his great news from heaven. Have students read and ponder the last sentence of verse 23. Discuss guidelines students should follow in sharing their spiritual experiences with others. The following statement by Elder Boyd K. Packer, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, may be helpful: “I have come to believe also that it is not wise to continually talk of unusual spiritual experiences. They are to be guarded with care and shared only when the Spirit itself prompts you to use them to the blessing of others” (“The Candle of the Lord,” Ensign, Jan. 1983, 53; see also Matthew 7:6; D&C 6:12; 10:37; 41:6).
Have students search Joseph Smith—History 1:22–23, 27 for who else eventually heard about Joseph’s vision, and how. According to these verses, what did these people do to Joseph? (Answers might include that they stirred up prejudice, inflicted great persecution, excited the public mind against him, and so forth.) Discuss other times that Satan used these tools to persecute the righteous and deceive the people (see Matthew 9:32–34; 26:57–68; 28:9–15; Acts 16:16–24; 1 Nephi 17:17–22; Alma 1:16–20; 12:1–6; Helaman 16:13–23; 3 Nephi 6:10–15; D&C 71 section heading). Discuss the following statement by Elder Marvin J. Ashton of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles: “Neither the Apostle Paul nor Joseph Smith wavered, though they faced severe trials. … In our present day there are many who are sowing seeds of dissension and discord. With half truths and slander, they are endeavoring to lead members of the Church of Jesus Christ into apostasy” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1983, 89; or Ensign, Nov. 1983,63). Discuss how we can recognize and overcome these negative influences today.
Referring to Joseph Smith—History 1:25, President Gordon B. Hinckley, then a member of the First Presidency, commented:
“There is no lack of certitude in that statement. For Joseph Smith that experience was as real as the warmth of the sun at noonday. …
“It is that kind of certitude that has moved this Church forward in the face of persecution, ridicule, sacrifice of fortune, the leaving of loved ones to travel to distant lands to carry the gospel message. That conviction motivates today as it has done from the beginning of this work. Faith in the hearts of millions that this cause is true, that God is our Eternal Father, and that Jesus is the Christ, must ever be the great motivating force in our lives” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1981, 6–7; or Ensign, Nov. 1981, 7).
Discuss the character traits required to remain faithful to God in the face of opposition. Ask: How did Joseph Smith demonstrate these traits in his life?
Have students read Genesis 39:9; Revelation 2:14–15, 20–23; and Doctrine and Covenants 59:21 looking for what offends God. Ask: In Joseph Smith—History 1:25, what did Joseph Smith say would have been offensive to God? Elder Marvin J. Ashton said: “Joseph Smith placed commitment ahead of life itself. From the time of his first vision until his martyrdom, he was a victim of bitter persecution, reviling, and ridicule, but never did he falter” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1983, 89; or Ensign, Nov. 1983, 62). Encourage students to strive to live each day with a conscience free of offense toward God (see Matthew 13:20–21; Acts 24:16; D&C 135:4).
Have students read Joseph Smith—History 1:25–26 and list the truths that Joseph Smith said he learned from his experience. Compare what Joseph learned to what he was confused about or did not know before his vision. Ask: What are some important aspects of the gospel of Jesus Christ that Joseph would learn about later? Why did the Lord not reveal all those truths to Joseph during the First Vision? (see 2 Nephi 28:30; Alma 12:9).
We are all weak and imperfect, so we all need to constantly strive to improve (see Joseph Smith—History 1:28–29; see also1 John 1:8–9; 2 Nephi 4:17–19; Alma 7:15–16; Helaman 12:1; Ether 12:27; D&C 62:1).
The prophet Moroni, the last writer in the Book of Mormon, appeared as a glorified, resurrected being to Joseph Smith. He told Joseph about a book buried in a hill near the Smith farm, written on gold plates and containing the fulness of the gospel (see Joseph Smith—History 1:30–35; see also Revelation 14:6; Mormon 8:1, 4, 12–14; Moroni 1:1–4; 10:34; D&C 20:6–10; 27:5; 128:20).
The coming forth of the Book of Mormon continued the latter-day work of the Restoration spoken of by numerous Old Testament, New Testament, and Book of Mormon prophets (see Joseph Smith—History 1:36–41, 45; see also Ezekiel 37:15–23; Acts 3:19–21; 3 Nephi 21:1–11, 28; Mormon 8:14–16; Ether 4:17).
The visitations of Moroni to the Prophet Joseph Smith are an example of how the Lord instructs those He calls to serve Him. Regular, repeated, inspired instruction and interviews regarding how to fulfill our callings are an important part of conducting the affairs of the kingdom of God. For almost all of us instructions come through authorized servants rather than from divine manifestations, but it is the same as divine messengers speaking to us (see Joseph Smith—History 1:33–54; see also D&C 1:38; 33:16; 38:23; 88:78; 107:85–89).
Our only motive for Church service should be to build the kingdom of God; otherwise, the work we do will not prosper (see Joseph Smith—History 1:46; see also Proverbs 16:3; Moroni 7:6–7; D&C 4:2, 4–5; 88:67–68).
We should share our spiritual experiences with righteous parents, who can help and encourage us to do what is right (see Joseph Smith—History 1:49–50).
Ask students what commanded their time and attention during their teenage years. Read Joseph Smith—History 1:27–29 and discuss the habits Joseph Smith said he “fell into” during these years. How did Joseph Smith feel about these years? Read the following statement by Elder James E. Faust, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:
“While Joseph sought perfection, he did not claim perfection. If he were intending to fabricate a great falsehood or wanted to perpetrate a fraud or practice deceit, would he have been so truthful about his own humanness? His complete candor in admitting human frailties and in declaring the loving discipline of God offers powerful proof of his honesty and probity [uprightness]. His statements stand on more solid footing because they were declarations against human nature and admissions against self-interest” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1981, 107; or Ensign, Nov. 1981, 77).
Invite students to mark the phrase “no one need suppose me guilty of any great or malignant sins” (Joseph Smith—History 1:28). Point out what a great blessing it is to be able to describe one’s life in this way. Discuss why our younger years can be so challenging and how we can stay close to Heavenly Father during this time (see Alma 37:35–37; 53:20–21).
Compare what certain scribes and Pharisees asked of the Lord in Matthew 12:38–39 to what Joseph Smith asked for in Joseph Smith—History 1:29. Have students use Doctrine and Covenants 63:8–12 to explain why Joseph received his manifestation, while others, such as the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 12, did not. You may want to have students study other examples of people who asked for and received manifestations from the Lord (see Judges 6:11–24; 2 Kings 20:8–11; Mark 9:20–27; Helaman 11:1–5; Ether 3:6–16). Make sure students understand the importance of asking in faith and of accepting the will of the Lord when asking for any kind of inspiration or divine manifestation.
Invite students to imagine that they have been assigned to teach someone to do a task that is difficult and complex, such as building a house or performing surgery. Invite several volunteers to tell what steps they would follow to accomplish this training responsibility. Tell students that the angel Moroni had such an assignment with young Joseph Smith. Have students search Joseph Smith—History 1:30–54 and list what Moroni did to teach Joseph. (For example, Moroni called Joseph by name and introduced himself, see v. 33; he briefly explained what was to be done, see v. 34; he gave Joseph insights into the importance of his work, see vv. 36–41; he gave clear and specific instructions, see v. 42; he repeated his instructions to Joseph several times, adding new insights each time, see vv. 44–45; and so forth.)
Show students pictures of temples that have a statue of the angel Moroni on top, and invite them to tell what they know about Moroni’s mortal and postmortal life. You may want to review with students Mormon 8:1–7; Moroni 1:1–4; 9:20–22, 25–26; 10:1–2; Doctrine and Covenants 27:5; and Joseph Smith—History 1:33, discussing what we learn about Moroni from these verses. List and discuss what Moroni taught Joseph Smith regarding the Book of Mormon and its translation in Joseph Smith—History 1:34–35.
Review with students Joseph Smith—History 1:36–41. Divide the class into five groups and assign each group to study and report what one of the following scripture blocks from the Bible teaches: Isaiah 11:1–16; Joel 2:28–32; Malachi 3:1–6; 4:1–6; Acts 3:19–21. Have each group explain the main points of their assigned scripture block and how those verses apply to the mission of the Prophet Joseph Smith and the latter-day work. Ask: What do all of these scriptures have in common? (Answers might include that they are all prophecies of the last days, soon to be fulfilled; they all predict the Restoration of the gospel; and they all speak of Christ.)
Ask: How does Satan tempt people? Why do people sometimes give in to temptation? Read Joseph Smith—History 1:42, 46 and share this quotation from Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:
“When the young prophet first went to Cumorah, in 1823, the angel refused to give him the plates containing the Book of Mormon, saying it was not yet time (Joseph Smith—History 1:53). During the four years he had to wait before receiving the plates, young Joseph struggled with his motives. In 1832 he looked back on this period and wrote:
“‘I had been tempted of the advisary and saught the Plates to obtain riches and kept not the commandment that I should have an eye single to the glory of God therefore I was chastened and saught diligently to obtain the plates and obtained them not until I was twenty one years of age’ (D. Jessee, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, p. 7).
“In this revealing account we find the Lord seeing into the heart of the young prophet, chastening him for his improper motives in respect to the plates, giving him time to repent and mature, and eventually forgiving him and allowing him to go forward with the performance of his mission” (Pure in Heart , 16).
Discuss how our motives can help us resist Satan’s temptations. Invite students to read Joseph Smith—History 1:49–54 and tell how they think Moroni helped Joseph examine and refine his motives for obtaining the gold plates (see also the commentaries for Joseph Smith—History 1:50–53 and Joseph Smith—History 1:54 in the student manual,pp. 60–61).
Read Joseph Smith—History 1:49–50 and tell students that the history written by Lucy Mack Smith (Joseph’s mother) states: “The messenger whom he had seen the night before came to him again and said, ‘Why did you not tell your father what I told you?’ Joseph said he was afraid his father would not believe him. ‘He will believe every word you say to him,’ said the angel” (The Revised and Enhanced History of Joseph Smith by His Mother, ed. Scot Facer Proctor and Maurine Jensen Proctor , 108). Ask students why they think it was important for Joseph’s father to know about this experience. Invite students to tell how sharing experiences with their parents has helped them in their lives.
Ask students to give examples of areas of their lives that require proper “timing.” (Answers might include dating, missions, marriage, and so forth.) Discuss why the timing of things is so important. What can go wrong when one’s timing is “off”? Read Joseph Smith—History 1:53 and apply these principles of timing to Joseph’s circumstances. What blessings can we receive by doing things in the Lord’s proper time and way, rather than our own? (see Jacob 4:8–10; D&C 98:1–2; 112:10; 121:41–42). Share with students an experience from your life when you were blessed by following the Lord’s timing instead of your own.
An important part of Joseph Smith’s preparation to do the work of the Lord was meeting and marrying Emma Hale (see Joseph Smith—History 1:55–58; see also 1 Corinthians 11:11; Ephesians 5:31; D&C 42:22; 131:1–2).
The gold plates were protected from the enemies of God by the efforts of Joseph Smith and the wisdom of the Lord. Joseph returned the plates to the angel Moroni when his work with them was completed (see Joseph Smith—History 1:59–61; see also Jacob 1:3; Enos 1:15–16; Alma 37:4, 14; Mormon 5:12; 8:14–16; D&C 42:56).
The Lord can provide timely and generous assistance in the midst of our afflictions (see Joseph Smith—History 1:61–62, 66–67, 75; see also Psalm 46:1; 2 Corinthians 1:3–4; Hebrews 4:16; 1 Nephi 1:20; 17:3, 13–14; D&C 84:87–88; 112:19).
Some of the events surrounding the coming forth of the Book of Mormon were prophesied by Isaiah and fulfilled by Martin Harris and others (see Joseph Smith—History 1:62–65; see also Isaiah 29:4–24; 2 Nephi 26:14–19; 27:4–35).
Book of Mormon Video presentation 1, “For Our Day” (11:38), can be used to teach the coming forth of the Book of Mormon and the influence this sacred book has had in the lives of Latter-day Saint youth around the world (see Book of Mormon Video Guide for teaching suggestions).
Have students list the major events of their lives in the past four years. Tell students that in Joseph Smith—History 1:55–58 Joseph tells us about four major events in his life. Have students identify the four events. (The death of his brother, Alvin; his job doing manual labor; the experience of digging for a silver mine; and his marriage to Emma Hale.) Discuss how each event may have prepared Joseph to receive the plates and complete his life’s mission. (For example, you may want to ask: How might the experience of courting and marrying Emma have helped Joseph in his preparation?)
Read to students the story in the commentary for Joseph Smith—History 1:59–60 in the student manual (p. 62). Then have students read the warnings that Moroni gave Joseph in Joseph Smith—History 1:42, 59. Ask students how they think Joseph felt when he received the warning in verse 59. What promise did Moroni give Joseph?
Discuss how Joseph received, preserved, and began to translate the plates in the midst of persecution and harassment. Invite students to report in their own words what the Lord and others did to help Joseph accomplish his work, according to Joseph Smith—History 1:62, 66–67.
John the Baptist restored the Aaronic Priesthood to the earth, conferring it upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, who then baptized and ordained each other (see Joseph Smith—History 1:68–72; see also Hebrews 5:4; D&C 13 section heading; 13:1; 27:8; 84:18, 26–28).
The Holy Ghost enables prophets to prophesy of things to come and can help us understand the meaning and intention of the scriptures (see Joseph Smith—History 1:73–74; see also Genesis 40:8; Numbers 11:25; Daniel 2:28; Luke 1:67; 2 Peter 1:20–21; 1 Nephi 22:2; D&C 107:56).
The testimony of Oliver Cowdery at the end of Joseph Smith—History is a second witness from a man who was involved in many of the early events of Church history. Oliver’s testimony helps establish the truthfulness of the account of the Prophet Joseph Smith (see Joseph Smith—History endnote; see also Matthew 18:16; 2 Nephi 11:3; Ether 5:4; D&C 6:20–28; 17:1–9; 18:1–5; 24:10–12; 28:1).
Read to students the following description of the translation of the Book of Mormon (you may also want to refer to the commentary for Joseph Smith—History 1:67 in the student manual, p. 64):
“When Joseph Smith began translating in 1827, he evidently started with the book of Lehi from Mormon’s abridgment of the large plates of Nephi (see heading to D&C 10). After the loss of the 116 pages of manuscript, Joseph apparently started with the book of Mosiah, also found on the large plates. He had just begun the book of Mosiah when Oliver Cowdery was sent to him in early April of 1829. Five weeks later, 15 May 1829, they were on 3 Nephi and the Savior’s sermon on baptism to the Nephites. Not until arriving at the Whitmer residence in Fayette did Joseph translate the small plates of Nephi, which contain 1 Nephi through the Words of Mormon. The Prophet was commanded to translate the small plates to replace the 116 lost pages (see D&C 10:43–45)” (in Church History in the Fulness of Times, 59).
Invite students to read what the Lord said about the work of translating the Book of Mormon in Doctrine and Covenants 1:29; 3:12; 17:6; 20:8, and what other witnesses said about it in “The Testimony of Three Witnesses” and “The Testimony of Eight Witnesses” in the front of the Book of Mormon. Testify of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon and invite students to share their testimonies of it.
Ask students who they think are some of the greatest prophets of all time, and why. Then have students read Joseph Smith—History 1:68, 72 and list what they learn about this “messenger.” To learn more about John the Baptist and to help students understand why he was chosen to restore the Aaronic Priesthood, briefly review Luke 1:5–25, 57–66; 3:1–20 and Doctrine and Covenants 84:26–28(see also Bible Dictionary, “John the Baptist”). Read what the Savior said about John the Baptist in Matthew 11:11 and ask students why they think John the Baptist should be on their lists of the greatest prophets.
List and discuss what we learn about the Aaronic Priesthood in Joseph Smith—History 1:68–72. (Answers might include the keys that belong to the Aaronic Priesthood, the power that does not belong to the Aaronic Priesthood, the direction the Aaronic Priesthood functions under, and so forth.) Ask students who hold the Aaronic Priesthood to raise their hands. (If any who hold the Melchizedek Priesthood do not raise their hands, ask them why they did not; and if any Melchizedek Priesthood holders do raise their hands, ask them why. Remind students that all those who hold the Melchizedek Priesthood also have authority to function in the Aaronic Priesthood.)
Have students find and mark what Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were able to do because of the Holy Ghost. Ask students if Joseph and Oliver were members of the Church yet. (They were not, because the Church was not yet organized.) Had they received the gift of the Holy Ghost? (They had not, because it is only given by Melchizedek Priesthood holders when confirming people as members of the Church.) Help students understand the difference between receiving the influence of the Holy Ghost and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost (see also Bible Dictionary, “Holy Ghost”).
Invite each student to imagine the following: You have just been in a traffic accident. It was clearly not your fault, but the driver of the other car is blaming you. The policeman does not know who to believe. How can the policeman learn the truth? Now imagine that a witness steps forward and establishes the truthfulness of your description of the accident. How would you feel toward that witness? Tell students that the endnote that follows Joseph Smith—History is an additional witness to the early events of Church history from someone who was there. Invite students to read this testimony of Oliver Cowdery (or you may want to read it together as a class). Have students search for and share information from Oliver’s account that is not contained in Joseph Smith—History. Discuss how Oliver felt about these experiences. Invite students to tell what impresses them most in Oliver’s account, and why.