“Thou Shalt Read the Words Which I Shall Give Unto Thee”

Brant Gardner

Reference: These verses are based on Isaiah 29:11–12: “And the vision of all is become unto you as the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one that is learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I cannot; for it is sealed: And the book is delivered to him that is not learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I am not learned.”

Nephi’s shift in Isaiah’s context alters the historical sequence. According to Isaiah’s text, first the learned man will refuse to read the book, then the unlearned man will achieve that task. However, Joseph, the unlearned man, had begun the translation before Harris took the characters to Anthon. While Isaiah and Nephi are certainly similar, Nephi’s text describes events specific to the restoration.

Translation: It is possible that the close match between Nephi’s prophecy and the actual experience was influenced by the Harris/Anthon encounter, which occurred before Joseph Smith began translating the small plates of Nephi. Of course, Nephi could have foreseen the events in this detail; but it seems more likely to me, given the interactive nature of Joseph Smith’s translation (see 3 Nephi, Part 1: Context,Chapter 3, “Notes on the Translation Process), that he chose an English rendition for Nephi’s text that closely matched Harris’s experience.

The precision of the translation stands in contrast to Nephi’s other alterations of sequence, again suggesting that his vision provided the outline of future events and that Joseph Smith translated this particular incident in a remarkably precise way because the prophecy had so recently been fulfilled.

Second Witness: Analytical & Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 2