Joseph Smith translated the entire Book of Mormon without the type of education people would expect from a great writer or theologian. BYU religion professor and Education Week speaker Anthony Sweat said the Prophet had a great capacity for scholarship and learned line upon line from the Lord.
Sweat said the Prophet learned things line by line and some things were not made clear to him until later on.
“Sometimes we draw this false assumption that Joseph Smith knew everything from beginning to end, but when we look at the history it becomes very clear that Joseph was getting things little by little,” he said.
Learning this brought Sweat comfort growing up. When he was in the Missionary Training Center, his companion was talking about how Christ came to the Americas.
“I said, ‘When did Christ come to America?’ Those words came out of my mouth on my mission!” he said.
He learned more about the gospel on his mission and related this experience to how easy it is to reflect on the past and say, “How could they not have known?”
He said people do the same with Joseph Smith. Sweat said people often ask, “What did Joseph learn about in the Sacred Grove,” instead of the more telling, “What did he not learn about in the Sacred Grove?'”
God handed Joseph Smith a one-point plan instead of a 20-point plan, he said. “Where in any of the accounts did God tell him, ‘You are going to be a prophet,'” he asked. “He didn’t say a word to him about priesthood keys, priesthood offices. No mention of the Book of Mormon in the Sacred Grove.” Sweat said Joseph Smith had to learn about these things later on, little by little, point by point.
The Prophet began learning about the concept of Zion when reading Ether 13:3-6. His understanding progressed to the point that he learned exactly which city Zion would be in through a revelation recorded in D&C 57:1-3. Sweat said when early church leaders gathered to learn at the School of Prophets, the goal was “not to hold a school just to learn secular things, but to sanctify a group of people to learn how to come into God’s presence.”
Revelations would lead to more learning and progress in the church. “Joseph said on multiple occasions that he had finished his work, only to have a new idea or concept revealed to him,” Sweat said. “It all slowly developed from the Book of Mormon, to organizing a church, to translating the Bible, to the concept of Zion, to the gathering, to consecration, to endowment, to priesthood keys and organization, to temple, to sealing, to exaltations.”
Sweat said the early Latter-day Saints deserve some patience if they didn’t understand every point of doctrine, because it is easy to look back and question how they could not have known something that is clear only in hindsight. That’s the process of learning line upon line, as the Prophet did, he said.
“The Restoration is not complete, brothers and sisters. The Restoration will continue to happen. The Lord will continue to reveal new and different things as we come to understand them,” Sweat said.