The Curious Case of Ether 5

Ether 5 has always been a curious chapter to me. The “you” in verse 1 appears to be Joseph Smith:

And now I, Moroni, have written the words which were commanded me, according to my memory; and I have told you the things which I have sealed up; therefore touch them not in order that ye may translate; for that thing is forbidden you, except by and by it shall be wisdom in God.  And behold, ye may be privileged that ye may show the plates unto those who shall assist to bring forth this work (the Book of Mormon itself); And unto three shall they be shown by the power of God; wherefore they shall know of a surety that these things are true. And in the mouth of three witnesses shall these things be established; and the testimony of three, and this work (The Book of Mormon), in the which shall be shown forth the power of God and also his word, of which the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost bear record—and all this shall stand as a testimony against the world at the last day. And if it so be that they repent and come unto the Father in the name of Jesus, they shall be received into the kingdom of God. And now, if I have no authority for these things, judge ye; for ye shall know that I have authority when ye shall see me, and we shall stand before God at the last day. Amen.”

If Joseph Smith is the “you” in verse 1, would that make this chapter a contemporaneous document inserted in between Ether 4 and 6?  I find that possibility compelling. If it’s not Joseph Smith, then we’ve opened ourselves up to even more compelling possibilities. Whatever the case, it seems like Ether 5 is a witness that Moroni did, indeed, have some discussions with Joseph Smith before or during the translation process.  It also swings the “Angel Moroni/Angel Nephi” debate in favor of Moroni.  (Some members of post-LDS groups posit that the Angel Moroni is, in fact, the Angel Nephi. See FAIR’s write up for a summary of the debate.)

We also see beautiful symmetry between Ether 5 passage and 1 Nephi 14 and the role of the Book of Mormon among the Gentile Mormons:

“And it shall come to pass, that if the Gentiles (Mormons) shall hearken unto the Lamb of God in that day that he shall manifest himself unto them in word, and also in power, in very deed, unto the taking away of their stumbling blocks…”  (1 Nephi 14:1)

The opening sentence of 5 appears to reference chapters 1-4.  I think a better translation might read “I wrote the things which were commanded me according to my memory and I told about the things I sealed up,” anchoring those actions in the remote past rather that opening the possibility that they were done closer to Joseph Smith’s day. 

If we remove chapter 5 and connect the end of 4, which are the words of Christ, with the beginning of 6, it seems to work,

(4:18)Therefore, repent all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me, and believe in my gospel, and be baptized in my name; for he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned; and signs shall follow them that believe in my name.  And blessed is he that is found faithful unto my name at the last day, for he shall be lifted up to dwell in the kingdom prepared for him from the foundation of the world. And behold it is I that hath spoken it. Amen.  (6)  And now I, Moroni, proceed to give the record of Jared and his brother (which weaves through 1-4). For it came to pass after the Lord had prepared the stones which the brother of Jared had carried up into the mount, the brother of Jared came down out of the mount, and he did put forth the stones into the vessels which were prepared, one in each end thereof; and behold, they did give light unto the vessels…

The other interesting part is Moroni’s appeal to authority at the end of chapter 5 that mirrors his appeal in Moroni 10:

And I exhort you to remember these things; for the time speedily cometh that ye shall know that I lie not, for ye shall see me at the bar of God; and the Lord God will say unto you: Did I not declare my words unto you, which were written by this man, like as one crying from the dead, yea, even as one speaking out of the dust?”  (Could this be a direct reference to Ether 5?)

 I find it unlikely that Joseph Smith would include this aside (Ether 5) in the narrative if he were writing The Book of Mormon from his imagination. (I don’t believe he did). If there’s anything I’ve learned in the last few years, it’s that these things we call “scriptures” are a very human construct.  The Hebrew Bible and Christian New Testament were most certainly edited, added to and taken from over the course of history. It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that there are later insertions into the Book of Mormon text. This shouldn’t alarm or concern anyone. It’s perfectly acceptable to recognize the hand of man in the divine.

CONCLUSION*

Ether 5 is a document written by Moroni contemporaneously with Joseph’s translation of the Book of Mormon and inserted into the text as a witness that Moroni did, in fact, appear to Joseph Smith and relayed to him  

*As always, I reserve the right to change my mind if and when new information becomes available.

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