Ancient Gifts for a New Dispensation
January 1993

“Ancient Gifts for a New Dispensation,” Ensign, Jan. 1993, 11

Exploring the Doctrine and Covenants

Ancient Gifts for a New Dispensation

The Prophet Joseph Smith restored major documents recorded by earlier prophets.

Through the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Lord has given to the world more sacred scripture than through any prophet from Adam to the present. When the modern revelations in the current standard works are added to the vast amount of ancient scriptures restored through Joseph Smith, Joseph has been instrumental in bringing us more holy writ than Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Matthew, John, Paul, Nephi, Mormon, and Moroni put together.

The accompanying chart lists sources of scripture that Joseph restored under the Lord’s direction. Each text contributes uniquely to our understanding of the gospel and the plan of salvation.

  1. These restorations began when Moroni delivered the Nephite records to the Prophet in 1827. Joseph subsequently published his translation of the gold plates as the Book of Mormon in late March 1830. As another witness of Jesus Christ, along with the writings of Judah, the Book of Mormon was given for the “confounding of false doctrines and laying down of contentions, and establishing peace … , and bringing [scattered Israel] to the knowledge of their fathers in the latter days, and also to the knowledge of my covenants, saith the Lord.” (2 Ne. 3:12.) The Book of Mormon plays a central role because of its clarity in setting forth the great fundamental doctrines of salvation. On spiritual matters, it is “the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.” (Book of Mormon, Introduction.)

  2. The Prophet’s next major restoration was his inspired translation of the Bible. To Moses, the Lord had said, “In a day when the children of men shall esteem my words as naught and take many of them from the book which thou [Moses] shalt write, behold, I will raise up another like unto thee; and they shall be had again among the children of men—among as many as shall believe.” (Moses 1:41.)

It is clear that Joseph Smith was raised up to do this work. The Lord instructed him to “translate” the Bible (D&C 35:20; D&C 45:60–61)—a task that occupied much of his time from June 1830 until 2 July 1833. When time was available, he reviewed the manuscript, and he continued correcting passages until his martyrdom in 1844. An outgrowth of this inspired work was the restoration of portions of ancient texts not then available to the world and numerous related revelations, many of which can now be found in the Doctrine and Covenants.

The Prophet Joseph Smith’s restorations are in harmony with a pattern set by ancient prophets. For example, Abraham quoted from the “records of the fathers” (Abr. 1:31), Moses quoted from the earlier patriarchs (see Moses 6:8), one writer of Israel’s history quoted from the currently missing parts of Jonah’s prophecy (2 Kgs. 14:23–25), and Israel’s prophets and poets quoted extensively from the law of Moses (see Ps. 78, Ps. 105, Ps. 106; Isa. 1:2–4, 10–15; Isa. 63:9–14; Jer. 7:21–26; Ezek. 18:4–32; Micah 6:8).

The New Testament writers quoted freely from the ancient prophets (see Bible Dictionary, “Quotations”), a pattern also followed in the Nephite records. (See 2 Ne. 3, 2 Ne. 7, 2 Ne. 8, 2 Ne. 12–24, 2 Ne. 27; Jacob 5; 3 Ne. 24–25; Moro. 7.)

A vivid example of prophets quoting earlier prophets is the allegory of the olive tree found in the Book of Mormon. At least four scriptural writers—Isaiah (Isa. 17:6), Nephi (1 Ne. 10:12), Jacob (Jacob 5:1ff), and Paul (Rom. 11:17–26)—refer to this allegory. As given in Jacob 5:1–3, an Old World prophet, Zenos, is the likely original source.

With Joseph Smith, much restoration was done without the advantage of having existing or complete documents in his possession—a practice that may also have applied to earlier prophets. (See also Jer. 36.) A case in point may be the restoration of “the record made on parchment by John” (History of the Church, 1:35–36) which now appears as Doctrine and Covenants section 7. [D&C 7]

Inasmuch as all the restorations of scripture have come by revelation, one must conclude that they are significant and that the Lord intended that believing Saints have access to them. No study of the Bible would be complete without a thorough familiarity with the information and doctrines contained in the Joseph Smith Translation—especially in the five books of Moses, Psalms, Isaiah, and the four Gospels of the New Testament. Under inspiration from the Lord, Joseph added to, corrected, or deleted more than 3,400 verses, with a significant part becoming our current book of Moses. All but a few verses of the latter were printed in the 1851 edition of the Pearl of Great Price and later canonized by vote of the Church in 1880 as part of the standard works. Moses 2:1–8:30 is taken from the Joseph Smith Translation (JST) of Genesis 1:1–8:18. Also Joseph Smith—Matthew in the Pearl of Great Price is Matthew 24 from the JST.

With the publication of the LDS Edition of the King James Version of the Bible, many of the major changes reflected in the JST became available to us in the footnotes and JST appendix. Significant restorations of scripture are noted in the accompanying list. Many of these restorations are a result of the Prophet’s inspired work on the Bible.

3. Added to the foregoing, we also have the writings of Abraham, translated between 1835 and 1842 after Joseph Smith and other brethren acquired two papyrus scrolls from Michael Chandler. A translation of a part revealed a flood of new information relating to covenants, premortality, foreordination, and the Creation.

The Lord has made it clear that all scripture bears witness of him and of the sacred, saving truths of his gospel. (See Alma 37:8–9; John 5:39.) Those who study these texts and conform their lives to the teachings of the scriptures are promised that according to their faith, they can look forward to even greater light and truth—“to the unfolding unto them [of] all my revelations, saith Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of the heavens and of the earth, and all things that in them are.” (Ether 4:7.)

Major Restorations by Joseph Smith of the Texts of Ancient Prophets

Scriptural Account

Date Restored

Present Source

Writings from the Book of the Generations of Adam, giving genealogy down to Enoch, as quoted by Moses

Nov. 1830

Pearl of Great Price (as in Moses 6:8–22; compare Gen. 5:1–20)

Writings of Enoch and subsequent record keepers

Mar. 1835

Doctrine and Covenants (book of Enoch as in D&C 107:41–57)

Writings of Jaredite prophets, as written by Moroni (account of their civilization and prophecies)

Mar. 1830

Book of Mormon (Ether)

Writings of Abraham on premortal life, the Creation, covenants, and ministry of Abraham


Pearl of Great Price (Abraham)

Writings of Moses on the Creation; the gospel from the beginning; the ministries of Adam, Enoch, Noah, Melchizedek, Abraham, and Moses; and prophecies of Jacob and Joseph

June 1830–Feb./Mar. 1833

JST (Old Testament—five books of Moses); Pearl of Great Price (Moses)

Writings of Zenos, a prophet of Israel

Mar. 1830

Book of Mormon (as in Jacob 5)

Writings of the prophets and record keepers of the lineage of Lehi

Mar. 1830

Book of Mormon

Writings of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John on the ministry of Christ and their prophetic messages

Apr. 1829–Feb. 1833

JST (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, 1 John, Revelation); D&C 7

Writings of Paul

Feb. 1832–Jan./Feb. 1833

JST (parts of Paul’s epistles)

Significant minor restorations affecting a variety of other prophetic writings, such as 1 Samuel, David (Psalms), Zenock, 1 Kings, 2 Chronicles, Jeremiah, Peter, and James

Feb.–July 1833

JST (Old Testament, New Testament); Book of Mormon

  • George A. Horton, Jr., emeritus professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University, serves as a district president at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah.

Painting by Robert T. Barrett

Old Testament Prophet, by Judith Mehr