“Lesson 14 Class Preparation Material: The Lord Reveals Additional Scripture,” Foundations of the Restoration Teacher Material (2019)
“Lesson 14 Class Preparation Material,” Foundations of the Restoration Teacher Material
To a newspaper editor in Chicago who asked about the beliefs of the Church of Jesus Christ, Joseph Smith declared: “We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God” (Articles of Faith 1:9).
This belief in continuing revelation through living prophets is a distinctive doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In addition to the Holy Bible, we learn essential truths from the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price, all of which we regard as scripture.
The Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible, in addition to clarifying many Bible passages, also restores many plain and precious truths that were lost through the ages.
The Prophet Joseph Smith wrote, “In these infant days of the Church, there was a great anxiety to obtain the word of the Lord upon every subject that in any way concerned our salvation” (History, 1838–1856 [Manuscript History of the Church], volume A-1, 146, josephsmithpapers.org). The Lord graciously and repeatedly responded to these yearnings through revelation.
The Church had been organized for just over 18 months when the Prophet proposed to a group of elders at a conference in Hiram, Ohio, that they compile and publish revelations that the Lord had given. Doing so would make the revelations available to all Church members and help in missionary work. Church members at this conference declared the revelations to be “worth … the riches of the whole Earth” (Minute Book 2, 18, josephsmithpapers.org). A short time later, the revelations were published in a volume called the Book of Commandments. Later, these and additional revelations were published as the Doctrine and Covenants.
The introduction to the Doctrine and Covenants helps us understand why a compilation of revelations is so valuable: “The messages, warnings, and exhortations are for the benefit of all mankind and contain an invitation to all people everywhere to hear the voice of the Lord Jesus Christ, speaking to them for their temporal well-being and their everlasting salvation” (introduction to the Doctrine and Covenants; see also Doctrine and Covenants 18:34–36).
During the conference of elders, Joseph received a revelation now recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 1. It was the Lord’s own preface to the revelations.
The Prophet Joseph Smith showed a great love for the Bible throughout his life. However, he was aware that there were problems with the text. He said:
I believe the Bible as it read when it came from the pen of the original writers. Ignorant translators, careless transcribers, or designing and corrupt priests have committed many errors. (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith , 207)
Beginning in the summer of 1830 Joseph Smith began an inspired translation of the Bible. He did not translate the Bible from one language to another, nor did he have an original biblical manuscript to work from. Instead, Joseph read and studied passages from the King James Version of the Bible and then made corrections and additions as inspired by the Holy Ghost.
Portions of the Prophet’s inspired revisions can be found in the footnotes and appendix of some editions of the Bible and in the Guide to the Scriptures (scriptures.ChurchofJesusChrist.org).
The Pearl of Great Price is a collection of inspired texts that clarifies and adds to our gospel understanding. The book of Moses is made up of excerpts from Joseph Smith’s translation of the first six chapters of Genesis in the Bible. Joseph Smith—Matthew is part of the Joseph Smith Translation of Matthew 23 and 24 found in the New Testament. Joseph Smith—History and the Articles of Faith are portions of Joseph’s testimony and declaration of beliefs.
The Pearl of Great Price also contains some of the writings of the patriarch Abraham. In the summer of 1835, a man named Michael Chandler arrived in Kirtland, Ohio, with four mummies and multiple scrolls of ancient papyrus discovered at Thebes, Egypt. The Prophet Joseph Smith examined the papyrus scrolls and after translating “some of the characters or hieroglyphics,” he declared that “one of the rolls contained the writings of Abraham, another the writings of Joseph of Egypt” (History, 1838–1856, volume B-1 [1 September 1834–2 November 1838], 596). With the help of Church members, the Prophet purchased the mummies, two papyrus scrolls, and a number of papyrus fragments. He translated a portion of Abraham’s writings by the gift and power of God and later published them first in the Church’s newspaper, the Times and Seasons, as the book of Abraham.
The book of Abraham is a book of scripture that recounts parts of this prophet’s early life in his own words. It tells of his desire to “be a greater follower of righteousness” (Abraham 1:2) and of the trust he put in the Lord, who miraculously saved him after his “fathers” had turned him over to be sacrificed by the priest of Pharaoh (see Abraham 1:5–7, 30). This book also teaches profound truths relating to the Abrahamic covenant, the premortal life, the eternal nature of spirits, foreordination, the Council in Heaven and the purpose of life, and the planning and creation of the earth. Most significantly, it testifies of Jesus Christ—His premortal greatness, His mercy and His power to deliver God’s children, and His central role in Heavenly Father’s plan.
The following topics address what we do and do not know about the coming forth of the book of Abraham.
The book of Abraham is remarkably consistent with what scholars have learned about the ancient world. Some of this knowledge had not yet been discovered or was not well known in Joseph Smith’s time. For example, it was once thought that Egyptians did not practice human sacrifice as described in the book of Abraham (see Abraham 1:8–15; “A Facsimile from the Book of Abraham,” No. 1). Recent historical findings now attest that they did and that it was directed against those who challenged Egyptian religious practices, like the daughters of Onitah referred to in Abraham 1:11 did.
Scholars have also found that sacrifices took place not only in Egypt but also in areas under Egyptian influence (see Abraham 1:1, 5–11). The book of Abraham refers to “the plain of Olishem” near the land of Ur and Haran (see Abraham 1:10). This place-name was unknown to anyone in Joseph Smith’s day. However, ancient texts discovered since then refer to a location named Ulishem near Haran that may align with the city mentioned in the book of Abraham. A number of ancient texts also refer to Abraham teaching the Egyptians using astronomy (see Abraham 3:1–15; “Facsimile,” No. 3). Other ancient documents recount Abraham’s vision of the Creation and describe a heavenly council where humankind’s creation was discussed and planned (see Abraham 3:23–25; 4:26–27). These consistencies are indications of the authenticity of the book of Abraham.
For more information, see also “Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham,” Gospel Topics, topics.ChurchofJesusChrist.org; Daniel C. Peterson, “News from Antiquity,” Ensign, Jan. 1994, 16–21; and Kerry Muhlestein, “Egyptian Papyri and the Book of Abraham: A Faithful, Egyptological Point of View,” in Robert L. Millet, ed., No Weapon Shall Prosper: New Light on Sensitive Issues (2011), rsc.byu.edu.
After Joseph Smith’s death, his family eventually sold the mummies and papyri. Most of the papyri were presumably destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. However, in 1967 the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York presented the Church with papyrus fragments once belonging to the Prophet Joseph Smith. These recovered fragments date to a few centuries before Christ, long after Abraham lived.
Critics have attempted to use the dating of the papyrus fragments to cast doubt on the authenticity of the book of Abraham. However, the papyrus fragments do not have to date to the time of Abraham for the book of Abraham to be authentic. Ancient texts were often passed down as copies or as copies of copies. For example, the oldest surviving manuscripts of books of the Bible date to centuries after they were originally written (see John Gee, A Guide to the Joseph Smith Papyri , 23–25, scholarsarchive.byu.edu; Kerry Muhlestein, “Egyptian Papyri and the Book of Abraham: Some Questions and Answers,” Religious Educator, vol. 11, no. 1 , 91–108).
Some individuals also criticize the book of Abraham because modern translations of the papyrus fragments, which contain ancient Egyptian funerary texts, do not match the text of the book of Abraham. There may be a few possible reasons for this.
One of the papyrus fragments includes a portion of the image that is now Facsimile 1 in the book of Abraham. Some have assumed that the text adjacent to this image must have been the source from which Joseph Smith translated the book of Abraham. However, it is common to find images in Egyptian papyri that are some distance from the text that describes them. Eyewitnesses described “a quantity of records, written on papyrus,” including “a long roll” or multiple “rolls” of papyrus (see John Gee, An Introduction to the Book of Abraham , 5). While translating, the Prophet Joseph Smith may have been working with sections of the papyri that were later destroyed. Thus, we do not know which sections of the papyri Joseph used in the translation process.
Others have suggested that perhaps the book of Abraham, or portions of it, did not come from a literal translation of the papyri. According to this view, Joseph’s study of the Egyptian hieroglyphs may have led to a revelation about key events and teachings in Abraham’s life, similar to the way the Prophet received the book of Moses while studying the Bible. Neither the Lord nor Joseph Smith explained the process of how the book of Abraham was translated.
The book of Abraham is a gift from God. As with all other scriptures, a belief in the truthfulness of the contents of the book of Abraham is primarily a matter of faith. A divine witness of its teachings through prayerful study and revelation from the Holy Ghost is the greatest evidence that it is true. President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, while serving in the First Presidency, testified: “There is one source of truth that is complete, correct, and incorruptible. That source is our infinitely wise and all-knowing Heavenly Father” (“What Is Truth?” [Brigham Young University devotional, Jan. 13, 2013], 5, speeches.byu.edu).