“I Have a Question,” Ensign, Apr. 1989, 52–53
Richard Wadsworth, Gospel Essentials teacher and ward mission leader in the Brigham Young University Thirty-fifth Ward, BYU Ninth Stake. Several times during my mission in Brazil, critics of the Church asked me a similar question: “If Joseph Smith really was a prophet, why isn’t his name mentioned in the Bible?”
In response to that question, I said that the Lord doesn’t usually work that way. In the King James version of the Bible, for example, only a few individuals other than Christ are prophesied of by name. They include Isaac (see Gen. 17:19) and John the Baptist (see Luke 1:13). The Joseph Smith Translation adds the names of Noah (see JST, Gen. 7:79), Moses (see JST, Gen. 50:29, 34), Moses’ brother Aaron (see JST, Gen. 50:35), and the Prophet Joseph Smith (see JST, Gen. 50:27, 30–31, 33; Isa. 29:20–22).
George Horton has shown that several other scriptures in the King James Version of the Bible may refer to the Prophet Joseph Smith and his role in the Restoration. (See Ensign, Jan. 1989, pp. 20–25.) Similarly, Victor L. Ludlow maintains that Isaiah 49:1–6 [Isa. 49:1–6] and Isa. 52:13–15 refer to the Prophet Joseph Smith. (See Prophet, Seer, and Poet, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1982, pp. 407–10, 438–40.)
The scriptures tell us that, in our premortal existence, “there were many of the noble and great ones;
“And God saw these souls that they were good, and he stood in the midst of them, and he said: These I will make my rulers.” (Abr. 3:22–23.)
The Prophet Joseph Smith was among those who were foreordained to complete special missions. He himself taught that “every man who has a calling to minister to the inhabitants of the world was ordained to that very purpose in the Grand Council of heaven before this world was. I suppose that I was ordained to this very office.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1977, p. 365.) But is that mission prophesied of in the Book of Mormon? Yes! For example—
1. Lehi’s words to his son Joseph in 2 Nephi 3:5–15 contain a prophecy by Joseph who was sold into Egypt that the Lord would “raise up” a seer who would be named Joseph and whose father would also be named Joseph. [2 Ne. 3:5–15] Verse 9 of that chapter tells us that the latter-day prophet will be “great like unto Moses,” and verses 11 and 14–15 clearly identify this seer as Joseph Smith. [2 Ne. 3:9, 11, 14–15]
Further evidence that this prophecy refers to Joseph Smith can be found in Moses 1:41, which says that the Lord will “raise up another like unto [Moses]” in a day “when the children of men shall esteem [His] words as naught.”
2. The circumstances of Martin Harris’s trip to Dr. Charles Anthon in New York to show him an example of Joseph Smith’s translation of the plates is prophesied of not only in the Bible (see Isa. 29:11–12), but also in 2 Nephi 27:6–20. [2 Ne. 27:6–20]
3. In verse 21 of 2 Nephi 27, the Lord prophetically forbids Joseph to touch “the things which are sealed”—just as Moroni would later forbid him to do. [2 Ne. 27:21] (See George Q. Cannon, Life Of Joseph Smith the Prophet, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1986, p. 45.) Before ending his earthly ministry, Moroni himself wrote to the future translator of his record: “I have told you the things which I have sealed up; therefore touch them not in order that ye may translate; for that thing is forbidden you, except by and by it shall be wisdom in God.” (Ether 5:1.) He then prophesied of the Three Witnesses. (See Ether 5:2–3.) Here he seems to have written specifically to the Prophet Joseph, instructing him about what to do with the plates after he received them.
4. The Lord also commanded the brother of Jared to record his vision and seal it up for the benefit of future generations. It became a part of the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon. In addition to the records, the brother of Jared also received two stones as interpreters, which the Lord commanded him to seal up with the plates. (See Ether 3:22–28; see also Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2d ed., Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966, pp. 818–19.) Ether 3:28 doesn’t refer to the Prophet Joseph Smith directly, but it implies that the stones were sealed up for the benefit of a future seer. In time, Joseph received the stones with the plates so that he could translate the ancient records.
5. The role the Prophet Joseph Smith would play in the restoration of the gospel was also foreseen by Nephi, when he wrote that when the records should come forth they would be “of worth unto the children of men.” (2 Ne. 25:8.) Alma reiterates this thought in addressing his son Helaman. (See Alma 37:15–18.) His words are later echoed by the angel Moroni in JS—H 1:46.
6. In Mormon 8:15, we read that “none can have power to bring [the records] to light save it be given him of God.” [Morm. 8:15] In verse 16 of the same chapter, Moroni praises the future seer for the great work appointed unto him: “Blessed be he that shall bring this thing to light.” [Morm. 8:16]
7. In Mormon 8:25, we read that many of the righteous had seen and prophesied of our day—and had also prayed for the prophecy’s fulfillment through the restoration of the gospel. [Morm. 8:25] The prophet Enos was among those who prayed for its fulfillment and for the plates’ preservation. (See Enos 1:12–13.)
Through the prophet Isaiah, whose words were copied by Nephi from the brass plates, the Lord made it clear that He had heard such prayers: “In an acceptable time have I heard thee … ; and I will preserve thee, and give thee my servant for a covenant of the people.” (1 Ne. 21:8; italics added.) The covenant of the restoration was fulfilled through the modern servant, the Prophet Joseph Smith.
8. Like other prophets who preceded him, Joseph Smith suffered persecution at the hands of unbelievers. His testimony was sealed with his blood—just as many of his predecessors’ testimonies had been. (Indeed, in Hebrews 9:16–18, we read that, according to the Mosaic law, “where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator.”) [Heb. 9:16–18]
However, despite the persecution the Prophet Joseph Smith suffered, the Lord had promised that He would protect him until the Restoration was established. In 3 Nephi 21:10, the Lord says, “The life of my servant shall be in my hands.” [3 Ne. 21:10] This needed protection was granted until Joseph’s mission was complete.
9. There is yet another prophetic reference to the Prophet Joseph Smith in the Book of Mormon. Modern scripture confirms that the servant in the parable of the tame and wild olive tree who helps his master prepare for the final gathering (see Jacob 5:70) is, in fact, the Prophet Joseph Smith (see D&C 101:55; D&C 103:21).
In summary, the Book of Mormon refers on many occasions to the Prophet Joseph Smith and the work he was to perform. His mission was foreordained, and over the course of two thousand years, ancient American prophets anticipated the day when his work would bring their records to light.