Mark E. Petersen, “More than a Farm Boy” New Era, Dec 2004, 33


Mark E. Petersen was called as an Apostle in 1944. He served in that calling for 40 years, until his death in 1984. Here he teaches that from a humble beginning, Joseph Smith became the mighty prophet of the Restoration.

I … testify to the divine calling of the Prophet Joseph Smith and … declare my faith in the miracle by which the Book of Mormon was translated and published.
Joseph Smith did more for the salvation of men in this world than anyone else who ever lived in it, with the sole exception of our Lord and Savior—our Redeemer, Jesus Christ, the divine Son of God.

Joseph was the instrument through whom the true Church and kingdom of God were again restored to earth. He brought forth the Book of Mormon, which he translated by the gift and power of God. He was the means of having it published in his own day on two continents. He sent the everlasting gospel, now restored, to the four quarters of the earth.

He received numerous revelations from the Lord, which have been published in the Doctrine and Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price, and our Church history. …

He lived great, and he died great, a martyr to the cause of Christ; and, like most of the Lord’s anointed in ancient times, he sealed his mission and his testimony with his life’s blood (see D&C 135:3).

He left a name and a fame that will never die, and as the years roll on and the Church continues taking the gospel to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, his name will be magnified even further, honored and blessed by the millions of faithful who come to know how truly great his calling was. He was foreordained in heaven to this mighty work in latter days. He fulfilled his mission with honor and inspiration, a beacon to all who follow him, giving glory always to God on high, for whom he labored.

But great as this mighty prophet was, he had but a humble beginning. He was raised as a farm boy, with little formal education. His home as a youth was in western New York, then on the frontier of the United States.

The family cleared trees in the forest to make their farm. They were a humble people. They knew poverty and hardship, but by diligent effort and the blessings of heaven they lived successful lives.

Isaiah’s Prophecy

The work of Joseph Smith was foretold by the prophet Isaiah, who spoke of [Joseph’s] humble beginning and his lack of early education. …

As he opens the subject in his 29th chapter, Isaiah describes a nation which would be destroyed suddenly, but which would speak in modern times, literally from the grave, by means of a book. …

We testify that Isaiah’s prophecy has been fulfilled and that the book is now available. It is the Book of Mormon. …

The Book of Mormon

On the 22nd day of September 1823, near Palmyra, New York, an angel of God revealed [the Book of Mormon’s] resting place to a 17-year-old boy named Joseph Smith, at this time as yet an unlearned, uneducated farm laborer, but now called of God to be His modern prophet.

The book was of metal having the appearance of gold. It consisted of metallic pages as thin as common tin. Each page measured about seven by eight inches [18 by 20 cm], and all were bound together at the back with metal rings which allowed the pages to be turned over easily. The book was about six inches [15 cm] thick. Each page was covered on both sides with ancient writing in small but beautifully engraved characters. The book lay in a stone box which had protected it from the elements for centuries. …

Many stone boxes have been found, especially in Mexico and Central America: Some are small, beautifully engraved, and contain jewelry; others are large enough for food storage. The use of stone boxes was common in ancient times.

By the Gift and Power of God

But let us consider … the actual translation of this record. Joseph Smith says he did it by the gift and power of God, through the use of the Urim and Thummim. As unlearned as he was at that time in his life, he could have done it in no other way. …

… Oliver Cowdery, his scribe, said the same thing, adding, “I wrote with my own pen the entire Book of Mormon (save a few pages) as it fell from the lips of the Prophet [Joseph Smith] as he translated it by the gift and power of God.” 1

Martin Harris, another assistant scribe, bore the same testimony. And Emma Smith, the beloved wife of the Prophet, who … assisted at times as a scribe, bore this testimony:

“I am satisfied that no man could have dictated the writing of the manuscripts unless he was inspired; for, when [I acted] as his scribe, [Joseph] would dictate to me hour after hour; and when returning after meals, or after interruptions, he would at once begin where he had left off, without either seeing the manuscript or having any portion of it read to him. … It would have been improbable that a learned man could do this; and, for one so … unlearned as he was, it was simply impossible.” 2

The Book of Mormon is a literary and a religious masterpiece and is far beyond even the fondest hopes or abilities of any farm boy. It is a modern revelation from end to end. It is God-given. …

The whole task of translation was a miracle. The book is “a marvellous work and a wonder,” as Isaiah said (Isa. 29:14). …

From cover to cover the Book of Mormon is a revelation, an inspired translation, the work of God and not of any man. From cover to cover it is true. …

So out of Joseph Smith’s humble beginning came this new volume of scripture, a new revelation from God, a second faithful witness to the divinity of the Savior of the world.


1. Reuben Miller Journals, 1848–49, Family and Church History Department Archives of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 21 Oct. 1848.

2. “Last Testimony of Sister Emma,” Saints’ Herald, 1 Oct. 1879, 290.