Some Unique Doctrinal Contributions of the Book of Moses
The Book of Moses contributes much to our understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In an article written by Robert J. Matthews in Studies in Scripture, Volume 2: The Pearl of Great Price (Salt Lake City: Randall Book, 1985, 40) we find the following summary of the most important of these:
1. The gospel of Jesus Christ, including baptism and other ordinances, was had from the beginning. The early patriarchs, beginning with Adam, worshipped Jesus and taught his gospel to their children and to the rest of mankind (see Moses 6:22-23; Moses 6:48-68). This fact is almost entirely lacking in all other translations of the Bible available today.
2. The Holy Ghost was operative among men from the beginning. Some persons have thought that the declaration in the New Testament (in John 7:39) that the Holy Ghost had not yet come is supposed to mean that the Holy Ghost had never been enjoyed by mankind on this earth until the day of Pentecost as recorded in Acts 2. However, the Book of Moses makes it very clear that the Holy Ghost was operative among people who had the gospel from the very beginning of man on this earth (see Moses 6:52-68; Moses 8:23-24). What then is the meaning of the statement in John 7:39 that the Holy Ghost had not yet come? Simply that the gift of the Holy Ghost had not yet been manifest in the New Testament dispensation.
3. There was a symbolic purpose to animal sacrifice. The symbolic nature of animal sacrifice is clearly portrayed in the Book of Moses, wherein it is specified that the sacrifice must be a firstling of the flock and that it was a similitude of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. This was revealed to Adam (Moses 5:4-9), and he was the first man on this earth to offer animal sacrifice in this manner and for this purpose. Although blood sacrifices are repeatedly spoken of in the Old Testament, there is in the Old Testament no explanation as to their specific purpose. Nor is there anything about Adam's offering a sacrifice. The Book of Moses offers great clarity and explanatory information on this important subject.
4. Moses 1 has special significance. The doctrinal importance of Moses 1 is known to almost all of us, and I will emphasize just two very significant aspects of it. We learn from this "vision" that the events recorded therein were originally experienced by Moses after the time of the "burning bush" but before he had parted the waters of the Red Sea (Moses 1:17; Moses 1:25-26), and also before he had written the book of Genesis (Moses 1:40-41). Many students of the Bible recognize that the book of Genesis is a sort of introduction or preface to the Old Testament. Genesis means "the beginning," and in the book of Genesis we have an account of several beginnings. For instance, we find an account of the beginning or creation of the physical earth, the beginning of man and animals on the earth, the beginning of sin upon the earth, the beginning of races and nations of men, the beginning of a covenant people, and the beginning of the house of Israel on the earth. All of these beginnings are introduced in the book of Genesis in order to establish a foundation and perspective for the remainder of the Old Testament. Thus, we may take the liberty to categorize Genesis as an introduction or preface to the Old Testament. In a similar manner it is apparent that even as Genesis is an introduction to the Old Testament, so likewise is the "visions of Moses" (Moses 1) an introduction or preface to the book of Genesis. It was experienced by Moses prior to his writing of Genesis and seems to have been given to prepare him for writing Genesis. For example, we read in the account of the "vision" that it was made known to Moses that God had created worlds without number, and that there were many inhabitants thereof. Furthermore, Moses was told that this creation was done by the deliberate action of the Almighty. After Moses had viewed with great precision the lands and the inhabitants of this earth, he was greatly moved-almost overwhelmed. Impressed with the magnitude of the creation, and with a somewhat philosophical turn of mind, Moses asked the Lord two searching questions: (1) "Why did you do it?" and (2) "How did you do it?" In our current Pearl of Great Price, the passage reads as follows: "Moses called upon God, saying: Tell me, I pray thee, why these things are so, and by what thou madest them?" (Moses 1:30). Those are two of the most fundamental questions of existence, and we must be impressed with the depth of Moses's perception and presence of mind even to think to ask such things.
In answer to Moses's first question as to the why of things, the Lord replied that he had made all these things because "this is my work and my glory-to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man" (Moses 1:39). In other words, building worlds and populating them with people is the kind of work that God does. And why does he do it? For the salvation and exaltation of his children. In answer to the second question as to the "how" of things, Moses was informed that all things were done by the power of the Only Begotten, but that only an account of the creation of this world would be given to Moses. In the subsequent explanation he was told of the six creative periods of the formation of the earth. Thus, the information in the early chapters of Genesis actually seems to have been given to Moses in answer to these two specific questions: "Why?" and "How?" Answers are always more meaningful to us if we know what the questions are. These two basic questions are not to be found today in our current text of Genesis, but fortunately they have been made available to us through the visions of Moses as revealed to Joseph Smith. We cannot overestimate the value of Moses 1 as an introduction to the book of Genesis. Nor should we forget that it was received by Joseph Smith as part of his translation of the Bible.
Other parallels between Genesis and the first chapter of Moses may also be drawn. Just as the vision of these things was first given to Moses in preparation for his writing of Genesis, so it seems that in the last days an account of the same vision was revealed to the prophet Joseph Smith in preparation for his translation and revision of Genesis. Another striking topic in Moses 1 is the interesting record of a face-to-face encounter that Moses had with Satan. Satan challenged Moses. The record states that Moses feared, and trembled, and saw the bitterness of hell. Satan advanced, rent (ranted) upon the ground, and cried with a loud voice! Moses was able to overcome Satan only by the strength he received through his faith in Jesus Christ. This is a dramatic episode that is entirely lost to the Bible text.
Moses 1:41 reads: "And in a day when the children of men shall esteem my words as naught and take many of them from the book which thou shalt write, behold, I will raise up another like unto thee; and they shall be had again among the children of men-among as many as shall believe." We are fortunate that the Lord has given to us-"to as many as believe"-a knowledge of these things that happened so long ago. These and many other items are of great interest and worth to us and bear a solemn witness that Joseph Smith was indeed a prophet of God, and they earmark the translation of the Bible as one of the greatest tangible evidences of the divine calling of Joseph Smith.