Institute
Lesson 4: Doctrine and Covenants 5; 17
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“Lesson 4: Doctrine and Covenants 5; 17,” Doctrine and Covenants Teacher Manual (2017)

“Lesson 4,” Doctrine and Covenants Teacher Manual

Lesson 4

Doctrine and Covenants 5; 17

Introduction and Timeline

Several months after Martin Harris lost the 116 pages of the Book of Mormon manuscript, he desired further proof of the reality of the golden plates. His wife was speaking out against the Prophet Joseph Smith, accusing him of defrauding her husband and others with his claims of having the ancient record. In March 1829, Martin returned to Harmony, Pennsylvania, to ask if he could see the plates. Joseph learned through the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 5 that the Lord would call three witnesses who would view the plates and testify of them to the world. The Lord promised Martin that if he humbled himself, he would be allowed to view the plates.

In June 1829, as recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 17, the Lord said that Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris could view the plates and other sacred items according to their faith. After gaining their witness of the plates, they were to “testify of them, by the power of God” (D&C 17:3).

Early 1829

The translation of the Book of Mormon plates proceeded slowly.

March 1829

Martin Harris requested to see the plates; Doctrine and Covenants 5 was received.

April–May 1829

Oliver Cowdery assisted as scribe as Joseph Smith translated the plates.

June 1829

Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery moved to Fayette, New York.

June 1829

Doctrine and Covenants 17 was received.

June 1829

Moroni visited Joseph Smith and the Three Witnesses and showed them the plates.

About July 1, 1829

Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery completed the translation of the Book of Mormon.

Suggestions for Teaching

Doctrine and Covenants 5:1–22

The Lord will bring forth His word in the last days through the Prophet Joseph Smith, and three witnesses will testify of it

Write the following phrase on the board: Seeing is believing.

  • What are some ways that people might apply this phrase to matters of faith and religion?

Ask students to think about how they would respond to someone who says that he or she can’t believe in God or in the Book of Mormon without physical proof. As students study Doctrine and Covenants 5 today, invite them to look for truths that will help them know how they could respond to someone who says that he or she can’t believe without physical proof.

Tell students that in March 1829, Martin Harris traveled from Palmyra, New York, to visit the Prophet Joseph Smith in Harmony, Pennsylvania. Approximately eight months had passed since Martin had lost the 116 manuscript pages, and Martin and Joseph had not seen each other since that time. Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 5:1–3 aloud, and ask the class to follow along, looking for what Martin Harris desired from Joseph Smith and how the Lord told the Prophet to respond to Martin’s request.

  • What did Martin desire and what did the Lord tell the Prophet to say in response to Martin’s request?

  • Given Martin’s request, what did he apparently feel was the best method for obtaining a witness of the truthfulness of Joseph’s claims?

Point out that people in our day also say that if they had physical evidence, they would believe that the Book of Mormon is true. Invite a student to read aloud the following statement by President Joseph Fielding Smith (1876–1972):

Smith, Joseph Fielding (1876-1972)

“Frequently when [people] … hear the story of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, they ask if the plates are in some museum where they may be seen. Some of them with some scientific training, [suggest] that if the scholars could see and examine the plates and learn to read them, they would then bear witness to the truth of the Book of Mormon and the veracity of Joseph Smith, and the whole world would then be converted” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Church History and Modern Revelation [1953], 1:40).

Invite a few students to take turns reading Doctrine and Covenants 5:4–10 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for why the Lord told Joseph Smith not to display the plates before the world.

  • What reasons did the Lord give for commanding Joseph Smith not to display the plates before the world? (If people did not believe the Lord’s words revealed through Joseph Smith, they still would not believe even if they saw the plates [see D&C 5:7]; the Lord kept the plates from the world “for a wise purpose” [see D&C 5:9].)

  • What do the Lord’s words to Joseph in these verses teach us about the phrase written on the board (“Seeing is believing”)?

Write the following question on the board under “Seeing is believing”: How can I gain or deepen my witness of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon?

Invite students to find at least two answers to this question as they continue to study the Lord’s words to Joseph and Martin.

Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 5:11–15 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for one way the Lord said He would help the world know of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon.

  • According to verse 11, what did the Lord say He would do to help the world believe Joseph Smith’s testimony of the Book of Mormon? (After students respond, write the following truth on the board: The testimony of Joseph Smith and of the Three Witnesses will stand as evidence of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon.)

  • According to verses 12–13, how would the Three Witnesses gain their witness of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon?

  • How would the testimony of the Three Witnesses differ from the testimony that others would receive?

  • How can the testimony and witnesses of others, including that of the Prophet Joseph Smith and that of the Three Witnesses, strengthen your own witness of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon?

Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 5:16 aloud, and ask the class to follow along, looking for a principle that the Lord taught regarding how we can gain a witness of the truth. (If students need help understanding this verse, you might suggest that they cross-reference verse 16 with Ether 4:11.)

  • What did the Lord say He would do for those who believe His words? (After students respond, write the following principle on the board: If we believe God’s words, He will give us a witness of their truthfulness through His Spirit.

To help students better understand this principle, invite a student to read aloud the following statement by Bishop Glenn L. Pace (1940–2017), formerly a member of the Presiding Bishopric:

Pace, Glenn L.

“There is no other way to gain a testimony but through the witness of the Holy Ghost. You can rely on nothing else. … We have numerous scriptural examples of how pointless a physical manifestation can be without the accompanying receipt of the witness of the Holy Ghost. Conversion comes not by physical manifestations from heaven” (Glenn L. Pace, “The Elusive Balance,” New Era, Mar. 1989, 49).

  • Why do you think the Lord confirms His words through the Spirit and not merely through physical evidence?

Invite students to think about a time when the Lord manifested the truthfulness of His words to them through His Spirit. Ask a few willing students to share their experiences with the class.

Summarize Doctrine and Covenants 5:17–22 by explaining that the Lord told Joseph Smith that the testimony of the Three Witnesses would go forth to the world and bring condemnation upon those who harden their hearts against it. The Lord also explained that a scourge would be poured out upon the people of the earth if they would not repent.

Doctrine and Covenants 5:23–35

The Lord tells Martin Harris that he could be one of the Three Witnesses if he repents

Invite students to think again about a time when the Lord manifested the truthfulness of His words to them through His Spirit. Ask them to write down on a piece of paper what they did to help prepare themselves to receive that manifestation.

Invite students to read Doctrine and Covenants 5:23–25 silently, looking for what the Lord told Martin Harris he needed to do in order to gain a witness of the plates.

  • What similarities exist between the list you made and what the Lord told Martin Harris in these verses?

  • Based on what the Lord told Martin Harris in verse 24, what principle can we learn about gaining a witness of the truth for ourselves? (After students respond, write the following principle on the board: If we humble ourselves and ask God in prayer with faith and a sincere heart, we will receive a witness of the truth.)

  • What does it mean to pray with humility, faith, and sincerity?

  • When have you prayed with humility, faith, and sincerity? What made this prayer different from other prayers you have heard or offered?

Encourage students to pray with humility, faith, and sincerity in order to gain or strengthen their witness of the truth.

Summarize Doctrine and Covenants 5:26–35 by explaining that the Lord told Martin Harris that unless he acknowledged his wrongdoings before the Lord and kept the commandments, he would not have the privilege of seeing the plates. The Lord also told Joseph Smith to stop translating for a season. The Lord promised to send Joseph help to accomplish the translation.

Doctrine and Covenants 17:1–9

The Lord commands the Three Witnesses to testify of the plates

Explain that in April 1829, the Lord sent Oliver Cowdery to assist Joseph Smith in translating the Book of Mormon. By June 1829, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were nearing the completion of the translation while living at the home of Peter Whitmer Sr. in Fayette, New York.

Invite a student to read aloud the section heading for Doctrine and Covenants 17. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what led to this revelation. Invite students to report what they discover.

Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 17:1–2 aloud, and ask the class to follow along, looking for what the Three Witnesses needed to do in order to see the plates and what additional items the Lord promised to show them.

  • What did the Three Witnesses need to do in order to see the plates?

  • Besides the plates, what other items did the Lord promise to show them?

Invite students to read Doctrine and Covenants 17:3–6 silently, looking for the responsibility the Three Witnesses would have after seeing the plates.

  • According to verse 3, what did the Lord expect of Oliver, David, and Martin after they were shown the plates?

  • Based on what the Lord told the Three Witnesses in verse 3, what is our responsibility after we receive a witness of the truth? (Students should identify a principle similar to the following: After we obtain a witness of the truth, we have a responsibility to testify of it.)

  • Why do you think the Lord would require us to testify of the truth after we have gained a witness of it?

  • When have you been grateful that you shared your witness of the truth with someone else?

  • How has your life been blessed by others who have shared and testified of the truth after gaining their witness?

Explain that shortly after this revelation was received, Joseph Smith, Martin Harris, David Whitmer, and Oliver Cowdery retired to the woods near the Whitmer home in Fayette, New York, to pray that they might receive the promised witness. In answer to their prayer, they saw an angel holding the plates, and they heard God’s voice declaring that the Book of Mormon was translated “by the gift and power of God” (“The Testimony of Three Witnesses,” Book of Mormon). In obedience to the Lord’s command, “The Testimony of Three Witnesses” has been published in every copy of the Book of Mormon since its first publication.

Invite students to think about what truths they could testify of. Encourage them to commit to share their witness of the truth with others.