The Mission of Moroni

By Carl T. Cox

. . . I will drink of the fruit of the vine . . . with Moroni, whom I have sent unto you to reveal the Book of Mormon, containing the fullness of my everlasting gospel, to who I have committed the keys of the record of the stick of Ephraim;      D&C 27:5

Moroni has a special place in the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He was intimately involved in the major production of the restoration, the Book of Mormon. I think we can safely assume that his assignment was to oversee the writing of that volume into English, and to ensure that it was published for the world to see. Let us follow his preparation and execution of this duty.

Ancient beginnings

Moroni was the son of Mormon, who was the last leader/general of the Nephites, and watched their total defeat. Mormon also abridged the Book of Mormon and compiled the plates in accordance with the commandments of God. He foresaw the end of his people, and turned the abridged plates over to his son, Moroni. (Mormon 6:6) Moroni was obedient to the commandments of his father, and wrote about writing the record on the plates, including comments about the language they used. (Mormon 9:31-32) He made sure we knew he was following the commands of God in his care of the sacred record. (Ether 4:5)

After the Nephites were destroyed, Moroni continued to wander, avoiding the Lamanites, and writing some more in the Book of Mormon. He finally hid the plates according to sacred directions, and we hear no more from him until Joseph Smith talked to God.

Moroni and Joseph

On September 21, 1823, Moroni visited Joseph Smith after Joseph had retired to bed. Moroni informed Joseph that a book was deposited nearby. He described the plates and the interpreters, then quoted appropriate scripture from the Bible. Some of the quotes were different from the way they were recorded in the King James Version of the Bible. Joseph’s account of these visits can be found in JS-H, in the Pearl of Great Price.

Joseph’s mother, Lucy Mack Smith, recorded her recollection of Joseph’s life in a book, History of Joseph Smith, and much information of this period of Joseph’s life is taken from her book.

In the 4 years between seeing the plates in 1823, and obtaining them in 1827, Joseph was taught by Moroni, and he grew older and got married. Moroni evidently gave Joseph more information than Joseph recorded. His mother related, p82:

“From this time forth, Joseph continued to receive instructions from the Lord, and we continued to get the children together every evening for the purpose of listening while he gave us a relation of the same.”

P86       “During our evening conversations, Joseph would occasionally give us some of the most amusing recitals that could be imagined. He would describe the ancient inhabitants of this continent, their dress, mode of traveling, and the animals upon which they rode; their cities, their buildings, with every particular; their mode of warfare; and also their religious worship. This he would do with as much ease, seemingly, as if he had spent his whole life among them.”

September 22, 1824. Joseph expected to get the plates, but after removing them from the box he set them down to examine the stone box better. When he looked for the plates again, they were gone, and Moroni took that occasion to teach him more about exact obedience to the commandments he was given. He ensured that they were back in the box, but was not allowed to get them at this time.

Winter 1827, shortly after Joseph and Emma were married:

Lucy p100-101        ‘[Joseph] did not get home till the night was far spent. On coming in he threw himself into a chair, apparently much exhausted. My husband did not observe his appearance and immediately exclaimed, “Joseph, why are you so late? Has anything happened to you? We have been much distressed about you these three hours.” As Joseph made no answer he continued his interrogations, . . .

Presently [Joseph] smiled and said in a calm tone, “I have taken the severest chastisement that I have ever had in my life.” . . .

“ . . . it was the angel of the Lord. As I passed by the hill of Cumorah, where the plates are, the angel met me and said that I had not been engaged enough in the work of the Lord; that the time had come for the record to be brought forth; and that I must be up and doing and set myself about the things which God had commanded me to do. But, father, give yourself no uneasiness concerning the reprimand which I have received, for I now know the course that I am to pursue, so all will be well.”

It was also made known to him at this interview that he should make another effort to obtain the plates, on the twenty-second of the following September, but this he did not mention to us at that time.’

Joseph gets the plates

Finally on September 22, 1827, he was given the plates. He also obtained the Nephite interpreters, later called the Urim & Thummim after the biblical objects. However, those who have studied the biblical Urim and Thummim indicate that there was really no similarity between the two. He carried the interpreters with him, as his mother says, p107:

“Joseph kept the Urim and Thummim constantly about his person, by use of which he could in a moment tell whether the plates were in any danger.”

Joseph was enabled to keep the plates secure, and the interpreters were very valuable in this regard.

Lucy 110 “When Joseph first got the plates, the angel of the Lord stood by and said:

‘Now you have got the Record into your own hands, and you are but a man, therefore you will have to be watchful and faithful to your trust, or you will be overpowered by wicked men; for they will lay every plan and scheme that is possible to get it away from you, and if you do not take heed continually, they will succeed. While it was in my hands, I could keep it, and no man had power to take it away! But now I give it up to you. Beware, and look well to your ways, and you shall have power to retain it, until the time for it to be translated.’

That of which I spoke, which Joseph termed a key, was indeed, nothing more nor less than the Urim and Thummim, and it was by this that the angel showed him many things which he saw in vision; by which also he could ascertain, at any time, the approach of danger, either to himself or the record, and on account of which he always kept the Urim and Thummim about his person.”

Lucy 107 “[Joseph] looked in the Urim and Thummim and saw that the Record was as yet safe;”

Translation of the Book of Mormon

Joseph moved to Harmony, Pennsylvania, and Martin Harris was scribe for him from April to June, 1828. After Martin lost the 116 pages of the translation, the angel had Joseph give up the Urim and Thummim to him, but promised their return on September 22, conditioned upon Joseph’s faithfulness. That was done, and Emma became the scribe for Joseph most of the time until Oliver Cowdery came to be the scribe.

Joseph and Oliver moved to the Whitmer residence Late May, 1829 (David Whitmer stated that it was late May or early June that Joseph came to David’s house.)

Lucy history p147 Joseph and Oliver were in Pennsylvania:

“Near this time, as Joseph was translating by means of the Urim and Thummim, he received instead of the words of the Book, a commandment to write a letter to a man by the name of David Whitmer, who lived in Waterloo, requesting him to come immediately with his team, and convey himself and Oliver to his own residence, as an evil-designing people were seeking to take away his (Joseph’s) life . . . .”

David W had to harrow his wheat then spread plaster. He harrowed two days work in one, then found that 3 men had spread the plaster for him, so he recognized divine handiwork, and went immediately in response to Joseph’s letter.

David Whitmer helped to move Joseph & Oliver to the Whitmer home

(Told by David Whitmer)

The incidents of seeming superhuman aid given to David Whitmer as related by himself are as follows: The request of Oliver and the Prophet to come and remove them from Harmony, where they were threatened with mob violence, to the home of his father, found David in the midst of his spring work. He had some twenty acres of land to plow and concluded to do that and then go. "I got up one morning to go to work as usual," he says, "and on going to the field, found that between five and seven acres of my land had been plowed under during the night. I don't know who did it; but it was done just as I would have done it myself, and the plow was left standing in the furrow. This enabled me to start sooner."

Nor was this the only assistance of like character given to him. While harrowing in a field of wheat before starting on his journey he found to his surprise that he had accomplished more in a few hours than was usual to do in two or three days. The day following this circumstance he went out to spread plaster over a field, according to the custom of the farmers in that locality, when, to his surprise, he found the work had been done, and well done. David Whitmer's sister, who lived near the field, told him that three strangers had appeared in the field the day before and spread the plaster (lime) with remarkable skill. She at the time presumed that they were men whom David had hired to do the work.

Joseph was enabled to follow the journey of David Whitmer all the way from Fayette to Harmony by revelation. In preparing for the journey to Fayette,

“Joseph . . . inquired of the Lord to know in what manner he should carry the plates. The answer was, that he should commit them into the hands of an angel, for safety, and after arriving at Mr. Whitmers the angel would meet him in the garden and deliver them up again into his hands.“ Lucy, p149-50

Moroni took the plates to Cumorah

"When I was returning to Fayette, with Joseph and Oliver," David says again, "all of us riding in the wagon, Oliver and I on an old fashioned, wooden spring seat, and Joseph behind us, when traveling along in a clear, open place, a very pleasant, nice looking old man suddenly appeared by the side of our wagon and saluted us with, 'Good morning; it is very warm;' at the same time wiping his face or forehead with his hand. We returned the salutation, and by a sign from Joseph, I invited him to ride if he was going our way. But he said very pleasantly, 'No, I am going to Cumorah.' This name was somewhat new to me, and I did not know what 'Cumorah' meant. We all gazed at him and at each other, and as I looked round inquiringly of Joseph, the old man instantly disappeared, so that I did not see him again. * * * It was the messenger who had the plates, who had taken them from Joseph just prior to our starting from Harmony."

B. H. Roberts, A Comprehensive History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6 vols. [Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1930], 1: 127.)

A similar version of the story is found in Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses, p 30, from Edward Stevenson Journal, December 23, 1877.

Mary Whitmer shown the plates

David Whitmer says that soon after the installment of Joseph, his wife, and Oliver Cowdery in the Whitmer household, he saw something which led him to believe that the plates were concealed in his father's barn, and frankly asked the Prophet if it were so. Joseph replied that it was. "Some time after this," David adds: "My mother was going to milk the cows, when she was met out near the yard by the same old man [meaning the one who had saluted his party on the way from Harmony; at least, David Whitmer judged him to be the same, doubtless from his mother's description of him], who said to her: 'You have been very faithful and diligent in your labors, but you are tired because of the increase of your toil; it is proper, therefore, that you should receive a witness, that your faith may be strengthened.' Thereupon he showed her the plates. My father and mother had a large family of their own, the addition to it, therefore, of Joseph, his wife Emma, and Oliver, very greatly increased the toil and anxiety of my mother. And although she had never complained she had sometimes felt that her labor was too much, or, at least, she was perhaps beginning to feel so. This circumstance, however, completely removed all such feelings, and nerved her up for her increased responsibilities."

Orson Pratt & Joseph F Smith to John Taylor, Deseret News, Nov 16, 1878, (cited in Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses, Deseret Book, 1981)

(Also found in Edward Stevenson, Journal, Dec 23, 1877)

B. H. Roberts, A Comprehensive History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6 vols. [Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1930], 1: 127.)

This same experience with Mother Whitmer and the plates is a part of my family history. Elvira Pamela Mills Cox heard the story before she was married. Christian Whitmer, one of the Book of Mormon witnesses and the eldest son of Peter Whitmer, had married Anna Schott in 1825. They must have lived in close proximity to Peter Whitmer while the Book of Mormon was being translated. When Christian died in Clay County, Missouri in 1835, Anna was left a widow. Sylvanus Hulet married the widowed Anna, and also had care of his orphaned niece, Elvira Mills. The experience of Mother Whitmer would have been known by family members, and Elvira was an interested teenager at that time. This is the way the story appears in our family history:

Grandma stopped telling a story of Mother Whitmer ‘till 1900, when B. H. Roberts printed it in his History of the Church. Then she said, “I’m so glad I can tell it again.”

David Whitmer had invited Joseph and Oliver to live in his father’s home while translating the Book of Mormon. When Oliver’s hand and Joseph’s eyes grew tired they went to the woods for a rest. There they often skated rocks on a pond.

Mother Whitmer, with five grown sons and a husband to care for, besides visitors, often grew tired. She thought they might just as well carry her a bucket of water or chop a bit of wood as to skate rocks on a pond. She was about to order them out of her home.

One morning, just at daybreak, she came out of her cow stable with two buckets of milk in her hands, when a short, heavy-set, gray-haired man carrying a package met her and said,

“My name is Moroni. You have become pretty tired with all the extra work you have to do. The Lord has given me permission to show you this record:” turning the golden leaves one by one!

As found in Cox Bulletin II, 1958, Elvira Pamela Mills, written by Orville Cox Day.

The 3 witnesses were shown the gold plates by an angel, and a few days later

where the family were in the habit of offering up their secret devotions to God. They went to this place, because it had been revealed to Joseph that the plates would be carried thither by one of the ancient Nephites. Here it was, that those eight witnesses, whose names are recorded in the Book of Mormon, looked upon them and handled them.” Lucy, p154

“After these witnesses returned to the house, the angel again made his appearance to Joseph, at which time Joseph delivered up the plates into the angel’s hands.” Lucy p155

Moroni was involved in safeguarding the plates, in instructing Joseph about them and apparently also telling him about the ancient inhabitants of this country. He also showed them to the three witnesses, and to Mother Whitmer, and was seen by David Whitmer and others while Moroni was taking the plates to Cumorah as related above. But the main project for Moroni was getting the plates translated and printed. Let us examine the process of translation very carefully.

Contents    |    Part II

Made 25 Dec 2006