May 9, 2023

Martin Harris Tests Joseph Smith

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Martin Harris was one of the first people to believe Joseph Smith, outside of Joseph Smiths own family. Martin was a neighbor, a family friend in Palmyra, New York, at the infant stages of the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Martin Harris was a truth seeker and supported Joseph through many hard times in his life. Martin was a spiritual man, educated, wealthy and also skeptical person. His skepticism is relatable to many, he was truly seeking truth, and was surrounded by naysayers. Martin Harris believed Joseph Smith’s accounts of God, angels and the Book of Mormon, but also worried that he was being lied and deceived.

Martin was quite a bit older than Joseph, and had a good name for himself in the community. It would have been a great comfort to Joseph knowing that someone older, of great status in the community, believed him. There was a lot of persecution surrounding Joseph Smith from a very early age, and Martin’s trust in Joseph would have been of great relief.

Martin Harris’s Questions

Even though Martin had a front row seat to amazing experiences, he still had questions. He still worried that he was being tricked, so he set up a couple test for Joseph. Here are a couple from personal reading:

1. Martin Harris served as a scribe in the translating of The Book of Mormon. During the translating process Martin asked Joseph if he would take a copy of the symbols Joseph was translating and bring them to the East to seek validation the Joseph was truly translating and ancient book.

Martin stopped at a couple different places, to have the characters of the Book of Mormon analyzed but the most common story was from Professor Charles Anthon of Columbia College in New York. Martin showed the writings to Professor Anthon, and the Professor said

“He pronounced the translation correct, more so than any he had ever seen, and wrote a note certifying that the characters were true.”

“Scriptures Central”put out a great YouTube video on what we know about the visit from Martin Harris to Charles Anthon:

One of the biggest takeaways from this story is the conviction of Martin Harris. After he spoke with Professor Charles Anthon he was convinced. He had the answers he was looking for and acted accordingly, supporting the Work of Salvation. Martin Harris donated his time, money and conviction to the work of the Lord. It does not matter what account Professor Anthon gives of the occasion, only what it did for Martin Harris!

Here is a Church History synopsis of the account with Charles Anthon:

2. Joseph Smith used a “seer stone” to help him with the translation of The Book of Mormon. This stone would was a guide to Joseph and he was not able to translate without it. There was a lot of skepticism during the translation of The Book of Mormon and Martin Harris fell into that. One day during translating Joseph Smith, Martin Harris switched out the seer stone. Martin wanted to see if it the direction Joseph was using really came from the stone, or if he was making things up as they went along.

Here is Martins story:

“Martin Harris related an instance that occurred during the time that he wrote that portion of the translation of the Book of Mormon, which he was favored to write direct from the mouth of the Prophet Joseph Smith. He said that the Prophet possessed a seer stone, by which he was enabled to translate as well as from the Urim and Thummim, and for convenience he then used the seer stone. Martin explained the translation as follows: By aid of the seer stone, sentences would appear and were read by the prophet and written by Martin, and when finished he would say, 'Written,' and if correctly written, that sentence would disappear and another appear in its place, but if not written correctly it remained until corrected, so that the translation was just as it was engraven on the plates, precisely in the language then used.

"Martin said, after continued translation they would become weary and would go down to the river and exercise by throwing stones out on the river, etc. While so doing on one occasion, Martin found a stone very much resembling the one used for translating, and on resuming their labor of translation, Martin put in place the stone that he had found. He said that the Prophet remained silent unusually and intently gazing in darkness, no traces of the usual sentences appearing. Much, surprised, Joseph exclaimed, 'Martin! What is the matter? All is as dark as Egypt.' Martin's countenance betrayed him, and the prophet asked Martin why he had done so. Martin said to stop the mouths of fools, who had told him that the Prophet had learned those sentences and was merely repeating them."

3. The last example of Martin testing Joseph was when Martin asked to take the 116 pages they had worked on translating home. Martin asked Joseph to ask the Lord, and Joseph received the answer that he should not give the manuscript to Martin. Martin was not okay with that response and asked Joseph to ask the Lord again, he did and still got the same answer. We know what happened the third time Joseph asked, Martin was given permission and he lost the manuscript forever.

Truth Seekers

Martin Harris was a did amazing things helping with the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He was invited to be a part of some of the most important experiences of the Restoration. Martin Harris is like anyone who questions, anyone who wants to know the truth, and he acted accordingly. One of the best books on questions for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is “Seekers Wanted” by Anthony Sweat. The Lord wants us to be seekers, He wants us to learn for ourselves and like Martin Harris he wants us to learn from His teachings.

Martin Harris’s example of questioning, acting, learning, humbling himself and continuing on the path Heavenly Father has is a great teaching example.

More Blog Posts:

Get to know Martin Harris

Emma Smith Interview on the Authenticity of The Book of Mormon


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