by Brant Gardner
Section 10 is a new beginning for Joseph Smith. The loss of almost everything that had been translated created a crisis. Doctrine and Covenants 10:2 describes the aftermath of the loss: “And you also lost your gift at the same time, and your mind became darkened.” After what must have been a spiritual feast during the translation, the loss became much more that just the words that were written. The gift itself was lost. The ability to respond to the divine light was lost to darkness. Joseph lived under that weighty cloud for nearly three months.
Section 10 provides a declaration of forgiveness, and this part might have been received in the summer of 1829. With the ability to translate restored, Joseph and Oliver began translating. They started with the small amount of work that had been retained, and continued to the end of Moroni. The rest of section 10 deals with the problem of continuing the translation, of finding a new beginning for what they had translated of Mormon’s record.
Right after the Lord tells Joseph that he may translate again, he is offered sober advice for the remainder of the task, if not for the remainder of his life: “Do not run faster or labor more than you have strength and means provided to enable you to translate; but be diligent unto the end. Pray always, that you may come off conqueror; yea, that you may conquer Satan, and that you may escape the hands of the servants of Satan that do uphold his work” (D&C 10:4–5).
It is a very human response to forgiveness for a major failing that we attempt to atone for our previous action with accelerated action to make up for lost time. Thus, the Lord’s admonition can be for us as well as for Joseph. We too should take care to not run faster or labor more than we have strength. The Lord is patient. The Lord is understanding that our progress in life comes in hills and valleys. Repent we must, but the mercy and longsuffering of the Lord allows us to handle our tasks as we are able. We need not fault ourselves that we are not yet as perfect as we wish one day to become.
Section 10 begins with the forgiveness that allowed Joseph to resume translation but it also provided the answer to how the translation was to proceed. The 116 pages were lost, and the Lord declares them irretrievably lost. They were not so lost, however, that should Joseph attempt a retranslation of the plates for those lost pages, the cunning ones who had the manuscript would be able to compare the two and declare any difference as a reason to declare that Joseph were no prophet if he could not translate in exactly the same way. The Lord declares “they shall not accomplish their evil designs” (D&C 10: 31).
The solution gave us a new introduction to Mormon’s book, a new record that covered much of the same period but came from a different source. Therefore, the essential story was preserved without the fear that it would be compared to the lost pages and Joseph declared as false. Since the translation came from a different source, there was no reason to expect that the two should be the same.
That solution resolved the dilemma of how to provide the beginning of the story, but it also colors our understanding of the text. The first things we now read were not the first things that Mormon intended us to read. Instead of a retelling of the Nephite origin story from the perspective of one living almost a thousand years after the fact, we have the text that Nephi himself wrote at the beginning. Where Mormon had a theme that he pursued throughout his editorial process, that theme was not the one that motivated Nephi. Thus, we have the basic events, but an altered perspective. What Mormon thought was the right way to introduce his vision of the function of his record was also irrecoverably lost.
One concept illustrates how our perception of the Book of Mormon has changed with this new beginning. In the small plates we have a description of the Lamanites that permeated the small plates version of the Lamanite story: “But I, Jacob, shall not hereafter distinguish them by these names, but I shall call them Lamanites that seek to destroy the people of Nephi, and those who are friendly to Nephi I shall call Nephites, or the people of Nephi, according to the reigns of the kings” (Jacob 1:14). In the small plates, the Lamanites are irrevocably enemies. They are even the definition of an enemy, since Jacob tells us that he isn’t speaking of tribes, but of the relationship of the people of Nephi to all others who might stand against them. Thus, it is possible that there were Lamanites who had no connection to Laman. We only see Lamanites, but they are, again by definition, anyone who opposed the Nephites.
Mormon’s idea of Lamanites is slightly different. Although they continue to be enemies, Mormon considers apostate Nephites much greater enemies, and he considers Gadianton Robbers as the most destructive forces. In Mormon, the Lamanites are not only redeemable, but they are capable of exceeding righteousness upon conversion. Thus, Mormon makes sure to include the story of the Anti-Nephi-Lehi converts. Mormon extolls their faithfulness. In Mormon’s part of the text, the Lamanites could become so righteous after conversion that the Lord would even send a prophet, Samuel the Lamanite, to preach repentance to the Nephites. We expect no such thing based on the small plates.
By beginning our reading with Nephi’s text, we arrive at too firm a view of the Lamanites as the bad guys. It becomes too easy to extrapolate the early opinion of the Lamanites onto the rest of the text, and therefore miss the way that Mormon recasts them. Remember that Mormon is writing to future Lamanites. Mormon’s final words in Mormon 7 are all directed to the Lamanites and offers them the repentance that would lead them to the righteousness of those of their ancestors who also repented and believed.
Where Doctrine and Covenants section 10 laid out the way to both finish the translation and opened the door to the establishment of a church (D&C 10:53), section 11 lays down the framework for assembling those who would join with that church. Where section 10 was directed to Joseph, section 11 is directed to his older brother, Hyrum.
The essence of section 11 is a set of instructions for how the church was to grow. Missionary work was to begin, and the Lord declares that it will be successful (D&C 11:3). The section begins with a formulaic expression that is also seen in Doctrine and Covenants 4:4, 6:3, 12:3, 14:3, and 33:7, all which declare that “the field is white already to harvest.” It is the continued declaration that the world is ready to hear the message of the gospel as supported by the Book of Mormon.
Hyrum is told: “Seek not for riches but for wisdom” (D&C 11:7). It is unclear how Hyrum might have used missionary work to become rich, but he is cautioned to have a heavenly goal rather than such an earthly one. He is also told “thou hast a gift, or thou shalt have a gift if thou wilt desire of me in faith, with an honest heart” (D&C 11:10). The nature of that gift is not declared, but the context is one of obeying the commandments, one of which was to preach the gospel.
The nature of what was to be preached was simple, and perhaps to our modern understanding, too simple. He was to “Say nothing but repentance unto this generation” (D&C11:9). It seems almost too limiting. Of what should potential converts repent? Although perhaps not clear, it is an echo of what Christ declared when he visited the Nephites in Bountiful: “Now this is the commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day. Verily, verily, I say unto you, this is my gospel; and ye know the things that ye must do in my church; for the works which ye have seen me do that shall ye also do; for that which ye have seen me do even that shall ye do” (3 Nephi 27:20–21).
Repentance leads to baptism, and baptism is an ordinance of the priesthood, to be accomplished by those authorized to exercise that priesthood. Thus, the simple admonition to preach repentance inevitably leads to the desire for baptism, and therefore to accept that new convert into the church, a church that will “know the things that ye must do in my church.”
The next important message of section 11 deals with those who are called as missionaries, as Hyrum would be: “Behold, I command you that you need not suppose that you are called to preach until you are called. Wait a little longer, until you shall have my word, my rock, my church, and my gospel, that you may know of a surety my doctrine” (D&C 11:15–16). The first command is that missionaries are to wait until they are called. Of course, this does not preclude members being missionary minded, but it refers to those who are to spend full time efforts in missionary service. That is required of them, but not of all members.
Secondly, there is the admonition that one should study to obtain understanding of the word of God before preaching it. For Hyrum, it was to wait for the Book of Mormon to be published. For most of us, it is simply the requirement to be familiar with the gospel as taught in the scriptures, scriptures which include the Book of Mormon.
To what end do we proselyte? To what end do people repent and enter the church through baptism? The Lord declares: “But verily, verily, I say unto you, that as many as receive me, to them will I give power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on my name” (D&C 11:30).
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Brant A. Gardner holds a Masters in Anthropology from the State University of New York Albany, specializing in Mesoamerican Ethnohistory. He is the author of the six-volume Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, The Gift and Power: Translating the Book of Mormon, and Traditions of the Fathers: The Book of Mormon as History, all published by Greg Kofford Books.
He has contributed articles to the journal Estudios de Cultura Nahuatl and to the anthology Symbol and Meaning Beyond the Closed Community. He has presented several papers at the FairMormon Conference over the years, and contributed articles to the FARMS Review and Interpreter.