Commentary on Doctrine & Covenants 5

/ Doctrine & Covenants 5 / Commentary

Find helpful commentary on the verses below to better understand the message of this revelation.

Verses 1-4

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)

In verses 1­–5, the Lord affirms Joseph as the first witness of the Book of Mormon. Joseph’s stewardship over the plates is emphasized. He likely suffered a crisis of confidence after the loss of the manuscript he translated along with Martin. There has been some speculation that the reason Martin chose to visit scholars such as Charles Anthon was not only to verify the reality of the characters on the plates but also to also seek scholarly expertise in translating the record (see Michael Hubbard MacKay, “Git Them Translated: Translating the Characters on the Gold Plates”). Here the Lord affirms that the translation of the Book of Mormon will not be a traditional translation in any sense but a revelatory process bestowed as a gift on Joseph Smith. Joseph himself affirmed the divine nature of this process, simply stating, “Through the medium of the Urim and Thummim I translated the record by the power of God” (“Church History,” 1 March 1842, 707). (Doctrine and Covenants Minute)

Verses 5-10

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)

The Lord’s words in verses 5–10 serve as an important follow-up to His earlier stern warning to Joseph that “because of transgression, if thou art not aware thou wilt fall” (D&C 3:9). This revelation, received almost a year after the loss of the first manuscript, affirms that Joseph is still the chosen prophet of this generation and that he would serve as one of the most important instruments in the Lord’s work to restore the fulness of the gospel to the earth in the latter days. The Lord tells Joseph that if he and other authorized servants called of God are rejected, those who ignore the message are in essence rejecting the Lord. In a later revelation the Lord teaches, “He that receiveth my servants receiveth me; and he that receiveth me receiveth my Father; and he that receiveth my Father receiveth my Father’s kingdom; therefore all that my Father hath shall be given unto him” (D&C 84:36–38). (Doctrine and Covenants Minute)

Verses 11-18

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)

This is the earliest intimation that there would be additional witnesses of the Book of Mormon. Later indications were given when Joseph translated Ether 5:3, in which Moroni instructs that “unto three shall they be shown by the power of God” and in Doctrine and Covenants 17, a revelation given to the three witnesses that lists the objects the Lord intended to show them in addition to the plates (D&C 17:1–2). Martin, along with Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer, is chosen as one of the three witnesses to the Book of Mormon. The instructions Moroni gives in Ether 5 also direct Joseph that “ye may be privileged that ye may show the plates unto those who shall assist to bring forth the work” (verse 3), eventually resulting in the call of eight additional witnesses of the Book of Mormon. These eight witnesses include many members of Joseph’s family, including his father, his brothers Hyrum and Samuel, and several members of the Whitmer family.


At the same time, Moroni’s instructions designate that the experience of the three witnesses shall come “by the power of God” (Ether 5:3). While the eight witnesses saw and handled the plates, the three witnesses saw the miraculous vision, beholding the angel and hearing the voice of the Father bear witness of the truthfulness of the book. Their testimony, sent forth with every copy of the Book of Mormon printed since 1830, stands as a powerful affirmation of the marvelous work of translation and the power of the gift given to Joseph Smith. Most importantly, the Lord here invites readers of the Book of Mormon to receive their own manifestation, promising that he will visit them “with the manifestation of my Spirit; and they shall be born of me” (D&C 5:16). (Doctrine and Covenants Minute)

Verses 19-22

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)

A serious pronouncement is given in verses 19–22 as the Lord compares the destructions of the last days to His predictions of the destruction of Jerusalem (Joseph Smith—Matthew 1:18–20). He also reinforces Joseph’s need to uphold the commandments, promising eternal life if he is faithful. In a moment of foreshadowing, the Lord tells Joseph he will receive his reward “even if you shall be slain” (verse 22). After the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, the Lord affirmed in a revelation to Brigham Young the link between the rejection and murder of the prophets and the coming calamities of the last days, saying, “Now cometh the day of their calamity, even the days of sorrow, like a woman that is taken in travail; and their sorrow shall be great unless they speedily repent, yea, very speedily. For they killed the prophets, and them that were sent unto them; and they have shed innocent blood, which crieth from the ground against them” (D&C 136:35–36). (Doctrine and Covenants Minute)

Verses 23-29

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)

To this point the Lord’s instructions concerning the lost manuscript were given entirely to Joseph; now the Lord speaks in revelation to Martin, whom he called a “wicked man” in an earlier revelation (D&C 3:12). While the Lord still recognizes Martin’s failings, He also makes a profound promise to him: Martin will be able to see the things he desired, which is most likely a reference to the plates. The Lord’s promise, which was conditional to Martin’s repentance, was fulfilled later when he was chosen as one of the three witnesses. The Lord’s stern tone here with Martin should be measured against the more tender attitude He takes toward him in a revelation given a few months later. There the Lord teaches Martin that repentance is crucial to alleviating suffering: “For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent; but if they would not repent they must suffer even as I” (D&C 19:16–17). (Doctrine and Covenants Minute)

Verses 30-35

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)

This revelation had a powerful effect on both Joseph and Martin. In the time immediately following its reception, Joseph appears to have overcome the crisis of confidence he suffered in the aftermath of the lost manuscript episode. With the arrival of Oliver Cowdery in early April 1829, Joseph commenced translation again, producing the entire Book of Mormon as we know it in the span of just a few months. The Lord’s words of affirmation in the revelation, along with Oliver’s arrival, spurred Joseph to stop hesitating and again dive fully into the translation.


It also appears that the Lord’s words in this revelation strengthened Martin’s witness of the work. Martin took up the Lord’s challenge to share his witness with the people around him. When Martin returned to Palmyra he was called to testify in a trial in which Lucy Harris accused Joseph of defrauding her husband. According to Lucy Mack Smith, Martin “testified with boldness and energy.” She wrote, “When he rose he raised his hand to Heaven and said I can swear that Joseph Smith never got one dollar from me since God made me.” Martin also told the accusers that if they continued “to resist the truth it one day be the means of damning your souls,” bringing a swift end to the trial (History, 1844–1845, bk. 8, 7, JSP). (Doctrine and Covenants Minute)