Sunday School Lesson 4

Lesson 4: Joseph Smith—History 1:27–65; Doctrine and Covenants 3; 5; 10; 17; 20:5–15;
and 84:54–62

Before reading the scriptures assigned for this lesson, I recommend that you read at least pages 5-10 of Our Heritage and, preferably, some of the fuller historical accounts of Joseph Smith and the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. That reading will help you understand better the context in which the revelations of these verses were given and the incidents referred to in them.

Joseph Smith History 1

Verse 28: What do you make of Joseph Smith’s observation that, as a boy, he “was guilty of levity, and sometimes associated with jovial company, etc., not consistent with that character which ought to be maintained by one who was called of God as I had been”? What kind of character do you think he felt was consistent with that character?

Verse 29: Joseph says that he often felt condemned for his weaknesses? By whom? If by God, do you think that his feelings were accurate or that he was feeling more guilt than he should have? How are this instance of prayer and that in the Sacred Grove similar? different?

Verses 30-32: Why do you think that Joseph gives us this much detail about Moroni’s appearance?

Verses 33-35: Notice the contrast in detail between these verses and the previous three. In these, he gives a summary rather than a quotation—summary rather than exact detail. What might account for that difference?

Verse 34: A significant number of Latter-day Saints today believe that the events of the Book of Mormon took place in Central America among a small group of people who were probably surrounded by others whom they do not mention, at least not directly. How that belief square with Moroni’s statement that the Book of Mormon is “an account of the former inhabitants of this
” (my italics)?

Verses 36-41: Why do you think that Moroni quoted so many scriptures? Why might they have been important to Joseph? Would he have understood their import at the time? Why or why not?

Verse 42: Why do you think Moroni enjoined Joseph to keep the plates and the Urim and Thummim hidden?

Verses 44-46: The only difference between the two revelations in these verses and the first one seems to be the additional and different warnings at the ends of these two. Why three revelations almost exactly alike on the same night (and then again the next day)?

Verses 47-49: Joseph Smith has had three visitations by an angel during the night, but in the morning he gets up and goes about work as usual. What does this say about his character? What does it suggest about how we should respond to our own spiritual experiences? Why do you think Moroni told Joseph to tell his father about the visions?

Verses 50-54: What was the purpose in having Joseph go to the hill and look at the plates but not retrieve them? Why wait four years but come back each year in the mean time? Verse 54 tells us that Moroni taught Joseph Smith about the Restoration on these visits. Do you think he received instruction otherwise, or was this only an annual event?

Verses 55-58: Why does Joseph include these details of his personal life?

Verse 59: How old was Joseph Smith when he received the plates?

Verses 60-62: Joseph tells us what his life was like during this time, but do you think his neighbors would have given a similar description? Do you think they saw him as someone persecuted? If not, why not? Why is Martin Harris’s intervention so remarkable?

Verses 63-65: For whom this test of Joseph’s work made, Joseph, Martin, or someone else? (See what we assume to be the transcript that Martin Harris took to Professor Anthon here.)

Verses 66-67: What do you think motivated Oliver Cowdery to seek Joseph Smith out? to become his scribe?

Doctrine and Covenants, Section 3

Verse 1: Why can’t the works of God come to naught? What does it mean that we cannot frustrate them? If we cannot, does that mean that what we do is inconsequential—that if we do not do it, it will get done anyway? If so, why isn’t it irrelevant whether we do them or not?

Verse 4: In what ways do we boast in our own strength? How do we set at naught the counsels of God? Is there a difference between boasting in our own strength and setting his counsels at naught? What do the scriptures mean when they speak of God’s vengeance? Does he “get even”? If he is our Father and loves as a father, how can he take vengeance on us?

Verse 6: Do the commandments and laws of God always run counter to the “persuasions of men”? What does that phrase mean?

Verse 7: How and when do we fear men more than God? How do we recognize when we are doing so?

Verse 8: Notice that the Lord doesn’t promise protection from the fiery darts of the adversary, but support against them. What’s the difference?

Verse 9: Why does he say “Thou art Joseph.” Joseph knows who he is, so why does the Lord remind him of his name?

Verse 10: Had Joseph lost his calling during the time of this sin? What might that tell us about our own callings?

Verse 12: “Wicked” is a strong adjective to use to describe Martin Harris. We would seldom use it to describe what someone who has been foolish has done. Why is it appropriate? What might that say about our own mistakes?

Verse 13: Does this verse give an answer to the question just above?

Verses 16-20: Compare this to the frontispiece of the Book of Mormon. How are they the same? What differences are there?

Section 5

How has Martin Harris changed since the revelation of Section 3? How has Joseph changed? (Consider Romans 8:28; and D&C 90;24, 98:3, 100:15, and 105:40 as you think about this section.) What purpose do the three witnesses to the Book of Mormon serve?

Verse 7: What does this verse say about the Book of Mormon and attempts to “prove” it?

Section 10

Verses 1-3: Is there a lesson for us in Joseph’s experience?

Verse 4: In concrete terms, what might this have meant to Joseph Smith? How does this advice make sense to us? How can we avoid letting it become an excuse for us?

Verses 5-9: Verse 6 says that Martin Harris sought to destroy Joseph Smith? Did he do so intentionally?

Verses 10-33: The substance of these verses is that those who have the pages intend to alter them so that they can “expose” Joseph Smith as a fraud. Therefore, Joseph ought not to translate them again. Why are these verses so repetitious?

Verses 34-37: How would you put the Lord’s advice in these verses in your own words? What is his explanation for why he told Joseph not to show the translation to the world?

Verses 38-45: How has the Lord outwitted Satan? What is the difference between the part that Joseph has already translated and that which he will now translate?

Verses 46-52: According to these verses, what decided the contents of the Book of Mormon? What did the Book of Mormon prophets pray for regarding “this land”? To what does “this land” refer?

Verses 53-55: Why does verse 54 say what it does? What problem, question, or possible misunderstanding does that verse answer? Does verse 55 teach that all members of the Church will enter the Celestial Kingdom? If not, why not?

Verse 56: Those who do not fear the Lord will be disturbed. In this context, what does fear of the Lord mean? Why should those people fear the Lord?

Verses 57-70: We have Christ’s testimony of who he is and what his work is. Do the things of which he testifies suggest things about which we, too, should bear testimony? Verse 63 tells us that Christ has revealed the Book of Mormon “that there may not be so much contention”
because Satan has created contention about Christ’s doctrines. Can you think of specific doctrinal contentions that the Book of Mormon settles What are we to make of the definition of the Lords’ church that we find in verses 67-68? Does this mean that some non-LDS are members of that church? If not, explain why not. Does it mean that all LDS are members of his church? If not, explain why not. Why does verse 70 conclude this revelation with an admonition to remember
the words the Lord?

Section 17

Verse 1: What does it mean that Oliver Cowdry, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris should rely on the Lord’s word? What has that to do with seeing the plates?

Verse 4: How will their testimony prevent Joseph from being destroyed?

Verse 7: When the Lord says the three witnesses have received the same power as Joseph, what does he mean? What about when he says they have received the same faith? The same gift?

Verse 8: What are the “last commandments” he is asking them to do? What does it mean to do rather than to keep a commandment?

Section 20:5-15

Verses 5-12: Notice that this is one long sentence. What’s this sentence as a whole about?

Verse 5: What does it mean to receive a remission of sin? How do we get entangled in the vanities of the world? What does “vanities of the world” mean?

Verse 6: Do we know to what angelic visitation this verse refers?

Verse 7: How can commandments inspire us?

Verse 8: We probably all know what “power from on high” means. And we all know what it means to translate the Book of Mormon. But what does it mean that Joseph was given power to translate “by the means which were before prepared”?

Verse 10: When this verse says the Book of Mormon was given by inspiration, is it referring to the inspiration the Lord gave the Book of Mormon prophets or to the inspiration he gave Joseph Smith? When the verse says the Book of Mormon “is confirmed to others by the ministering of angels,” of whom is it speaking? Who is it that declares the Book of Mormon to the world?

Verse 11: What proves to the world that the scriptures are true? Is this verse referring to the Book of Mormon? To Joseph’s experience with repentance? To the commandments which inspired him?

Verse 12: This verse tells us that something mentioned in the sentence (verses 5 through 12) shows the Lord is the same God yesterday, today, and forever. What shows us that?

Verse 13: The world will be judged by the great witnesses it has, witnesses which have been mentioned. Who are those witnesses? (Does the last phrase of the verse help us?) To what does “this work” refer? To the restoration of the Church? To the Book of Mormon? To the testimony of witnesses? To something else?

Verses 14-15: Those who receive it and work righteousness will receive a crown. Those who do not receive it will be condemned. What is it?

Section 84:54-62

Verses 54-57: Verse 54 says we can not believe or we can believe but take our beliefs lightly. If you were listening to this being said by Joseph, you would probably immediately take it to refer to the covenant already mentioned, rather than to what is to follow. How might we take the oath and covenant of the priesthood lightly?

Verses 55-56: These verses say the whole church is guilty of either vanity (literally “uselessness,” so taking our beliefs lightly) or unbelief. President Benson said that we are still under the condemnation pronounced in these verses. What must we do to remove the condemnation? (How is the Book of Mormon a covenant? To what does “the former commandments” refer in this context? What does it mean to not only say but do what has been written? Why does the Lord emphasize the written word?)

Verses 60-61: Notice something interesting about these verses: verse 61 says the assembled high priests are blessed because the Lord will forgive them and he forgives with a commandment. As used here, does with mean “by means of” or “at the same time as”? If the former, how can a commandment bring forgiveness? If the latter, what is the point of what the Lord says here? He could easily have said, “I forgive you and give you this commandment,” why did he say “with this commandment”?

Verses 62: The word therefore at the beginning of the verse indicates that it follows from something that has already been said. What might that be?

2 comments for “Sunday School Lesson 4

  1. Thank you! I was just called to primary, so this posting of yours every week will mean ten times as much to me.

  2. Thanks, by the way, Jim F. This week I asked the class about Joseph Smith praying vocally and they made some interesting connections between Joseph Smith praying vocally, their own experience, and the Lord’s statement later in JS-H about people having the form of godliness but denying the power thereof.

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