Sunday, October 23, 2022

President Harold B. Lee Testifies about Revelation in Book of Mormon Translation

by Dennis B. Horne

             In late 1973, only two months before he passed away, President Harold B. Lee visited Rick’s College (now BYU-Idaho), where he attended a luncheon and then gave the college devotional address. As President of Rick’s at that time, Henry B. Eyring was present with President Lee and described the events in his journal. These journal notations ended up in his biography, where they portray an unusually intense spiritual outpouring among those present.

            At the luncheon, held in President Lee’s honor, President Eyring recorded that “President Lee began to speak. . . . He spoke with power, emotion, and informality that I cannot recreate on this page. He spoke of his own calling, saying, ‘If you think Satan doesn’t try to tempt the prophet, you’re wrong. I’m his prime target on earth.’”[1] This event foreshadowed the spiritual intensity of the coming devotional, held immediately afterward.

            Later that evening President Eyring recorded a few memories of what President Lee said during his address, wherein the Prophet of God spoke as the Prophet of God. He remembered President Lee prophesying that the United States of America would never fall, and also that he recognized that there was an unusually strong feeling of the Spirit present during his remarks.

            Although President Eyring did not note the fact in his journal, President Lee took occasion in this devotional address to speak of the power of the Holy Spirit that can be present in “translation” in the Restored Church of Jesus Christ. He discussed this miracle in some detail, in  regards to both of his recent general conference talks and to translation of the Book of Mormon (and by association, the Book of Abraham). President Lee’s statements leave no room for equivocation or doubt.

            There is no printed version of President Lee’s address available, so the below constitutes a partial transcript; or, one can simply listen to the audio version, with comment about Book of Mormon translation starting at about 44:40. President Lee said:


Let me tell you something in a way of a testimony now. We've wondered how the prophet Joseph Smith was able to translate. Here he was an unschooled boy, and to translate from unknown hieroglyphics or an unknown language into English, language. Scientists scoff at it—how ridiculous can you be to claim such a thing? But we had something happen at the last conference that I want to tell you about to indicate something. That will give you a key to how the Lord can open the mind of a man and give him spiritual understanding beyond what his natural self could. We had eleven translators or interpreters that were down in the basement of the tabernacle, translating in eleven different languages. One of these brethren was translating for the Swedish brethren. And here, for most of the talks they had the script so that they could study it. And they would as the speakers spoke in English, they would repeat it for the benefit of those that were listening. But when this man who was translating from Swedish, from my English into his Swedish, at the priesthood meeting where he had no script. I was talking from an extemporaneous standpoint in my closing address. He said something happened, and I want you to hear, he said:


The whole conference was a spiritual experience, but at the general priesthood meeting, I had an experience which I've never had before. I knew that there were some Swedish brethren attending the conference who had never been here before and perhaps would never come again. Therefore, I had a great desire that they receive everything that the prophet had to deliver. Not having a script, I commended myself into the hands of the Lord. And as you began to speak, I was startled by the fact that I knew one or two words and even three ahead of the time before you would say them. At first I was so startled that I did not dare to pronounce them as they were given. Usually, I closed my eyes and listen, and then interpret as I heard the speakers delivered. But this time I was prompted to look at your face on the television screen. 

In this very unusual situation, I looked at you and began to translate the words as they came. But to my amazement, I did not receive just the words in my mind, but with my inner eyes, I saw them emanating from the vicinity of the temple of your head and coming toward me. I did not see them actually as written on something. And yet I saw them and how they were spelled and experienced the power of the spirit as I received them. One of the things that made it even more dramatic was that when a complex sentence was about to be delivered, I received more words so that I could reconstruct the grammar into good Swedish and delivered it at the very moment you pronounced the words. Never have I experienced a great force with which the interpreted message was flowing as I did at that time. The same experience happened during your closing remarks on Sunday afternoon, except that I did not see the words coming to me.

I have talked with the Swedish members in attendance, who have expressed an awesome amazement of what they experienced. They said they heard the interpretation and understood the interpreted message was delivered at the same moment as you delivered the words in English, but the interpretation was all that they heard. That the message came directly from you to them, they have all expressed that their attendance at the conference was a fantastic experience, never to be forgotten.


Latter-day Saints don't you think for a moment that the Lord doesn't have means of communicating with us and sending us messages that are beyond our understanding, even to translate an unknown language into our understandable language. He did it with the prophet Joseph. He did it with King Mosiah. He's done it with others. He'll do it today as we have need. I have no doubt.


These descriptions of translation by the power of God give us further insight into how God can operate with His servants; His instruments. Whatever God could do with a general conference translator, he can do more with His prophets, seers, and revelators like Brother Joseph and King Mosiah. We need not concern ourselves with the various man-made theories that float around. As President Gordon B. Hinckley put it, “I am happy that my faith has not been shaken by the writings of critics who never seem to recognize that knowledge of things divine comes by the power of the Spirit and not of the wisdom of men.”

President Lee then went on to speak of revelation for himself and for the Church, also bearing witness and testimony of the powerful Spirit then present during the devotional, and sharing what “an unseen speaker” said to a man about to apostatize:


My whole soul pleads that I may so live that if the Lord has any communication that He would wish me to receive for my beloved people [the Church], that I could be a pure vessel through which that message could come. I don’t ask for anything; I don’t want anything more than the Lord is willing to send. I trust that I may live worthily so that I won’t be a lame vessel. Or a broken reed that the Lord can’t use at the times when He wants to communicate with His people.

I know that this is the Church and Kingdom of God, you Latter-day Saints. I know it with every fiber of my being. I have been polished, yes, . . . I thank the Lord and I understand more of what the apostle Paul meant when he said of the Master, “Though he were a son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered. And thus being made perfect he became the author of salvation for all who would believe on him” (see Hebrews 5:8-9). Whatever may be necessary, that I might be more refined; to purge out all that may be in me or that I have done that didn’t please the Lord. I would hope that I would stand ready to receive; to please God that I wouldn’t fail or flinch in a time of trial or testing.

I bear witness that these things are true. You hold fast to the iron rod, which is the gospel of Jesus Christ and the power of salvation. “Stick with the old ship,” as a father who was just about to apostatize was told by an unseen speaker. Stick with the old ship, it will see you safely through. You may think it is out of date. It is out of date, thank goodness, as compared with some of these modernistic things of permissiveness. But before you depart from those plain simple doctrines of the gospel of Jesus Christ, you had better make sure that you know the direction you are going, and listen to those who preside in authority over you. So I bear you that witness and leave you my testimony.

There is a wonderful Spirit here today. There is something unusual about this [Spirit] today. I don’t know what it is. Maybe it is one of those occasions when we could feel and hear and see remarkable things happen. You brought with you a tremendous spirit and I can feel it.[2]


            President Lee closed his address with a prayer for those in attendance. It was a spiritual feast that they would not soon forget, President Eyring among them. Along these lines, we might benefit from another experience shared by President Eyring, this time as a young boy attending a District Conference.

            He wrote: “But then I remember hearing something—a man's voice from the pulpit. I turned around and looked. I still remember that the speaker was at a rostrum set on wooden risers. There was a tall window behind him. He was the priesthood visitor. I don't know who he was, but he was tall and bald, and he seemed very old to me. He must have been talking about the Savior or the Prophet Joseph, or both, because that was all I remember hearing much about in those days. But as he spoke, I knew that what he said came from God and that it was true, and it burned in my heart. That was before scholars told me how hard it was to know. I just knew with certainty—I knew it was true.”[3]


[1] Devotional given 26 October 1973; as quoted and with background info in Robert I. Eaton and Henry J. Eyring, I Will Lead You Along: The Life of Henry B. Eyring (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2013), 257 (256-58).

[2] President Harold B. Lee untitled Rick’s College Devotional Address; Excerpts transcribed from the second half; 26 October 1973; no official printed version available.; accessed 3/2022.

[3] Eaton and Eyring, I Will Lead You Along: The Life of Henry B. Eyring, 35; also quoted in Henry B. Eyring, To Draw Closer to God: A Collection of Discourses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1997), 5.

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