Doctrine and Covenants Study
Joseph Smith’s Revelations, Doctrine and Covenants 17

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“Doctrine and Covenants 17,” Joseph Smith’s Revelations: A Doctrine and Covenants Study Companion from the Joseph Smith Papers (2020)

“Doctrine and Covenants 17,” Joseph Smith’s Revelations: A Doctrine and Covenants Study Companion from the Joseph Smith Papers

Doctrine and Covenants 17

Revelation, June 1829–E

Source Note

Revelation, Fayette Township, Seneca Co., NY, to Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris, [June 1829]. Featured version copied [not before 25 Nov. 1834] in Revelation Book 2, pp. 119–120; handwriting of Frederick G. Williams; Revelations Collection, CHL. Includes redactions. For more information, see the source note for Revelation Book 2 on the Joseph Smith Papers website.

Historical Introduction

After both a passage in the Book of Mormon and a JS revelation promised that three witnesses would testify of the gold plates, Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris requested that they be given the opportunity. In response, JS dictated this revelation in Fayette, New York, in June 1829. The text of the revelation implies that it was dictated after the translation was finished.1 JS later said that it was “not many days” after the revelation was given, that he, Cowdery, Whitmer, and Harris “agreed to retire into the woods, and try to obtain by fervent and humble prayer, the fulfilment of the promises given in this revelation; that they should have a view of the pl[a]t[es].”2

According to JS’s history, the “heavenly messenger” who delivered the plates to him in 1827 had commanded him not to show them to anyone.3 By March 1829, Emma Smith, Martin Harris, Reuben Hale, and possibly others had served as scribes for JS as he dictated the translation, yet none of them had seen the plates.4 That same month Harris, whose wife strongly objected to his involvement with JS, traveled to Harmony, Pennsylvania, to obtain, in the words of a revelation, “a witness that my Servant Joseph hath got the things which he hath testified that he hath got.” That same revelation, which JS dictated after Harris’s arrival in Harmony, spoke of “a covenant with me [God] that he [JS] should not show them except I Command him,” but also promised that three people would see the plates by God’s power and thereafter testify to the world of their existence. Harris was then informed that if he was sufficiently humble he would be one of the three witnesses.5

Oliver Cowdery also had reason to hope that he might be one of the promised witnesses. In April 1829, he became JS’s primary scribe and recorded almost all of the Book of Mormon manuscript produced after Harris’s loss of the “Book of Lehi,”6 so he was familiar with the passage prophesying that three persons would see and stand as witnesses of the plates. About this same time JS dictated a revelation for Cowdery declaring that “in the mouth of two or three witnesses, shall every word be established” and that God’s words would “be established by the testimony which shall be given.” The revelation commanded Cowdery to “assist to bring forth my work,” language similar to that in the Book of Mormon passage that envisioned the book’s future translator showing the plates to three witnesses who would testify of them “by the power of God” and “assist to bring forth this work.”7

In late May or early June, David Whitmer helped JS and Cowdery move to Fayette, New York, where they could more securely finish the translation. Whitmer was an important supporter of the translation effort from that time forward. Though he did not become a witness of the plates for weeks, he reported years later that soon after their arrival, his mother was shown the plates by a heavenly messenger.8 Shortly after Whitmer was baptized in early June, JS dictated a revelation for him that again echoed the Book of Mormon passage about witnesses, calling Whitmer “to assist” in bringing forth the fulness of the gospel. He was also told that he might “stand as a witness of the things of which you shall both hear and see.”9

In late June, JS translated another Book of Mormon passage that stated that three witnesses would testify “to the truth of the book, and the things therein.”10 JS recalled that Cowdery, Whitmer, and Harris “became so very solicitous, and teazed me so much, that at length I complied and through the Urim and Thummim I obtained of the Lord for them” the revelation featured here.11 The text informed the three men that they would see the plates if they relied on the word of God “with full purpose of heart” and that they would testify they had seen them by the power of God.12

A Revelation to Oliver [Cowdery] David [Whitmer] and Martin [Harris] given Fayett sineca co [Fayette, Seneca County] New York given previous to them having a view of the plates &c.13

[1]Behold I say unto you that you must rely upon my word which if you do with full purpose of heart14 you shall have a view of the plate and also the brestplate15 the sword <of Laban the> Urim, and Thumim of Laban16 the Urim and Thumim17 <which was> given to the brother of Jared upon the mount when he talked with the Lord face to face18 and the marveelus directors which was given to Lehi while in the wilderness on the borders of the red sea19 [2]and it is by your faith that you shall obtain a view of them20 even by that faith which was had by the prophets of old [3]and after that you have obtained faith and have seen them with your eyes you shall testify of them by the power of God [4]and this you shall do that my servant Joseph Smith Jr may not be distroyed21 that I may bring about my rightous purposes unto the children of men in this work [5]and ye shall testify that ye have seen them even as my servant Joseph Smith jr has seen them for it is by my power that he has seen them and it is because he had faith [6]and he has translated them even that part which I have commanded him22 and as your Lord and your God liveth it is true [7]wherefore you have received the same power and the same faith and the same gift like unto him [8]and if ye do these last commandments of mine [p. 119] which I have given you the gates of hell shall not prevail against you23 for my grace is sufficient for you24 and ye shall be lifted up at the Last day25 [9]and I Jesus Christ your Lord and your God have spoken it unto you that I might bring about my righteous purposes unto the children of men Amen—— [3/4 page blank] [p. 120]