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Church marks 200th anniversary of Joseph Smith, Moroni’s visit and the gold plates

The gospel Restoration started on Sept. 21, 1823, when a heavenly messenger appeared to Joseph Smith and said: ‘My name is Moroni. Let’s get to work,’ paraphrases Church historian and recorder

Three years after his first humble prayer was answered in the Sacred Grove, Joseph Smith uttered another pivotal prayer the evening of Sept. 21, 1823.

The 17-year-old sought forgiveness and understanding of his place before God.

A painting by Tom Lovell, “Moroni Appears to Joseph Smith in His Room,” depicts what happened on the night of Sept. 21, 1823.
A painting by Tom Lovell, “Moroni Appears to Joseph Smith in His Room,” depicts what happened on the night of Sept. 21, 1823. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

“I betook myself to prayer and supplication to the Almighty God for forgiveness of all my sins and follies, and also for a manifestation to me, that I might know of my state and standing before him; for I had full confidence in obtaining a divine manifestation, as I had previously had one,” he wrote (Joseph Smith—History 1:29).

As he prayed, a light and heavenly being appeared in his room.

“He called me by name, and said unto me that he was a messenger from the presence of God, and that his name was Moroni,” Joseph wrote (Joseph Smith—History 1:33), and “God had a work for me to do.”

It was the first of four visits Moroni made to Joseph during the night and early the next day. In Moroni’s repeated messages during those four visits, Moroni revealed the nearby location of an ancient record written on gold plates — the Book of Mormon — and he quoted scripture about the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ and gathering of Israel.

This year, Sept. 21-22, 2023, commemorates 200 years since that historic event, which marks the beginning of the Restoration, said Elder Kyle S. McKay, a General Authority Seventy and Church historian and recorder for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“If you were to ask Joseph in his day when was the beginning of the rise of the Church of Jesus Christ in these latter days, he probably would not have pointed to the First Vision. That was the beginning of the redemption of Joseph,” Elder McKay said. “The beginning of the redemption or Restoration of the Church and the gospel happened on Sept. 21, 1823, when Moroni shows up and says: ‘Joseph, I’m a messenger sent from the presence of God. My name is Moroni. Let’s get to work.’”

In many ways, this is the moment when the Restoration becomes public, said Keith A. Erekson, director of research and outreach with the Church History Department.

“Joseph had had his experience that we now call the First Vision, but that was largely a private thing,” Erekson said. “But at this moment, it is going to become a very big deal in the Smith family.”

Elder McKay and Erekson reflected on the anniversary of Moroni’s visits with Joseph Smith and subsequent events during a recent interview with the Church News at the Church History Museum.

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Elder Kyle S. McKay and Keith A. Erekson discuss the 200th anniversary of Joseph Smith’s visit with Moroni on Sept. 21, 1823.
Elder Kyle S. McKay, General Authority Seventy and Church historian and recorder, left, and Keith A. Erekson, director of research and outreach with the Church History Department, discuss the 200th anniversary of Moroni’s Sept. 21, 1823, visits with Joseph Smith, during an Aug. 22 interview in the Church History Museum in downtown Salt Lake City. | Jon Ryan Jensen, Church News

Moroni’s 4 visits to Joseph Smith

The first three visits took place during the course of the night. When the third one concluded, Joseph was surprised to see the sun rising. He attempted to go to work but was exhausted. His father sent Joseph home to rest. On his way home his strength failed him and he passed out.

He awoke to a fourth appearance from Moroni, who repeated the same message and instructed Joseph to tell his father about all that had transpired, which he did. His father believed him and encouraged him to do as the angel instructed. Joseph went to the Hill Cumorah and found the gold plates and other items in the stone box, but Moroni, appearing again, forbade him to obtain them.

The following day, after rest and a full day of work, Joseph told his entire family all that happened, and they believed him.

The Smith family was a believing, close-knit and unified family, Elder McKay said, but they also had a spiritual confirmation of the truthfulness of these events.

“It makes the most sense to believe that as they listened to their brother, their son, tell of his experience, they had a confirmation and they knew it was true,” he said. “And so they followed in faith.”

What did Joseph Smith learn in his visits with Moroni?

In his multiple visits, Moroni told Joseph about the record written on gold plates before quoting Old Testament prophecies from the writings of Malachi, Isaiah and Joel regarding the Restoration (see Joseph Smith—History 1:27-54).

“Moroni tells him about this record because the record will begin the whole thing, but the Restoration itself is what Moroni focuses on,” Elder McKay said. “He begins with this amazing prophecy from Malachi about the prophet Elijah and the sealing keys, the sealing power that will come forth because of his visit. I like to say the keys of the priesthood restored by Elijah were promised in Palmyra, New York, restored in Kirtland, Ohio, and turned in Nauvoo, Illinois.”

Joseph learned the record, which he later translated and published as the Book of Mormon, would be the main tool for gathering Israel.

An 1830 first edition copy of the Book of Mormon.
An 1830 first-edition copy of the Book of Mormon is shown on Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2023, in the Church History Museum in downtown Salt Lake City. | Jon Ryan Jensen, Church News

“A great part of what Moroni talked to Joseph about was the gathering of Israel, the Restoration of not only the gospel, but of God’s covenant people. And the Book of Mormon, this record that I’m telling you about, is the preeminent tool for that gathering,” Elder McKay said.

The Book of Mormon opens the Restoration for the earth but also provides individuals the opportunity to learn truth personally and develop a lifelong relationship with God.

“Two hundred years later, it’s hard to overstate the significance of the Book of Mormon,” Erekson said. “It laid the foundation and begins the work. In many millions of cases, it is the first encounter that converts to the restored gospel have as they talk to missionaries. ... The book itself is an invitation, not to stay within the covers of the book, but for the reader to go to God and ask for more.”

The first 5,000 copies of the Book of Mormon were printed in 1830. As of October 2020, the Church had published 192 million copies of the Book of Mormon in 112 languages.

Impact on the Smith family

News of Joseph’s heavenly visitations drew attention from some in the community who were interested in the things of God while others were more interested in treasure.

“There begins to be a competition between the spiritual value of this work and the financial gain to be had,” Erekson said. “It also increases Joseph’s notoriety as a seer, somebody who can find things and see things that others cannot see.”

Joseph and his family endured the extra attention for the next four years as he met annually with Moroni, was married to Emma, sought employment and continued to live his life.

Elder Kyle S. McKay and Keith A. Erekson discuss the 200th anniversary of Joseph Smith’s visit with Moroni on Sept. 21, 1823.
Left, Elder Kyle S. McKay, a General Authority Seventy and Church historian and recorder, and right, Keith A. Erekson, director of research and outreach with the Church History Department, discuss the 200th anniversary of Joseph Smith’s visit with Moroni on Sept. 21, 1823, during an interview on Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2023, in the Church History Museum in downtown Salt Lake City. The E.B. Grandin press is also pictured. | Jon Ryan Jensen, Church News

Personal learnings

One of the personal insights Erekson has gained from studying the events of Sept. 21, 1823, is how little Joseph knew in the beginning and how his understanding unfolded over time.

“I have this kind of humble awe about Joseph getting these really simple instructions,” he said.

In the First Vision, Joseph is told to not join a church, just wait.

Then his instruction from Moroni is ‘you need to be worthy to accept this record,’ which takes years. Then he receives the record and is instructed to translate it.

Elder Kyle S. McKay holds a copy of an 1830 first edition Book of Mormon while sitting next to Keith A. Erekson.
Left, Elder Kyle S. McKay, a General Authority Seventy and Church historian and recorder, holds a copy of an 1830 first edition Book of Mormon while sitting next to Keith A. Erekson, director of research and outreach with the Church History Department. The two were discussing the 200th anniversary of Joseph Smith’s visit with Moroni on Sept. 21, 1823, during an interview on Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2023, in the Church History Museum in downtown Salt Lake City. | Jon Ryan Jensen, Church News

“In all of these moments, he does not know he is supposed to organize the Church yet,” Erekson said. “We just see him humbly taking that one prompting, that one instruction, from the Lord and doing it. Then the Lord can say, ‘OK, here is something else.’ I see a great lesson there in the simple instructions we receive.”

Elder McKay said Joseph’s life, including the Sacred Grove and Moroni experiences, are examples of daily repentance.

“It is a pattern in which Joseph recognizes a need to repent and be forgiven,” he said.

Both Elder McKay and Erekson were impressed when considering Joseph Smith’s age at the time he was called to perform these significant tasks.

“One thing I like about Joseph in this moment is how young he is,” Erekson said. “Today, in the 21st century, we often underestimate what God can do through young people. We think, ‘Oh, you are not old enough for that important calling.’ We see this first generation of both Joseph and his scribes, the witnesses and early Church members, are people in their 20s and 30s, and they are at the forefront of something huge.”

“It’s remarkable,” Elder McKay added. “They were full of energy, faith and belief. God raised them up and prepared them for this. ... That same capacity and expectation is part of God’s plan now for young people in the Church. ... He can take anyone who is willing and use them for a great and glorious purpose.”

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