There are at least four LDS publications calling the angel in Joseph Smith’s bedroom vision account Nephi instead of Moroni. LDS apologists suggest that early Church editors may have copied an error from one source in which a typo was made. However, that would hardly diminish the glaring problem of having the name Nephi in all four of these major LDS publications:
• 1842 Times and Seasons
• 1842 Millennial Star
• 1851 The Pearl of Great Price (published in England)
• 1853 Lucy’s biography, Coray/Pratt
It clearly shows that Mormons from the top on down were mostly clueless during the 1830s, 40s, 50s, and beyond as to the name of the messenger / personage, angel of the Lord, or the “very large and tall man [who] appeared to him, dressed in an ancient suit of clothes…” Perhaps it is because none of the early accounts record a name.
Here is an example:
“I fell into transgressions and sinned in many things which brought a wound upon my soul and there were many things which transpired that cannot be writen and my Fathers family have suffered many persicutions and afflictions and it came to pass when I was seventeen years of age I called again upon the Lord and he shewed unto me a heavenly vision for behold an angel of the Lord came and stood before me and it was by night and he called me by name and he said the Lord had forgiven me my sins and he revealed unto me that in the Town of Manchester Ontario County N.Y. there was plates of gold upon which there was engravings which was engraven by Maroni & his fathers the servants of the living God in ancient days and deposited by th[e] commandments of God and kept by the power thereof and that I should go and get them and he revealed unto me many things concerning the inhabitents of of the earth which since have been revealed in commandments & revelations and it was on the 22d day of Sept. AD 182 1822 and thus he appeared unto me three times in one night and once on the next day and then I immediately went to the place and found where the plates was deposited as the angel of the Lord had commanded me and straightway made three attempts to get them and then being excedingly frightened I supposed it had been a dreem of Vision but when I considred I knew that it was not therefore I cried unto the Lord in the agony of my soul why can I not obtain them behold the angel appeared unto me again and said unto me you have not kept the commandments of the Lord which I gave unto you therefore you cannot now obtain them for the time is not yet fulfilled…” (Letterbook I, Joseph Smith Papers)
Notice that the vision is at night, and then an appearance the next day. Joseph is 17 years of age, the messenger is called “an angel of the Lord”, and, while this angel does speak of “Maroni [Moroni]”, he was clearly not referring to himself; nor is it mentioned that Moroni is the name of a personage watching over the plates.
Nephi or Moroni?
The Joseph Smith Papers / The Church Historian’s Press:
“… unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me and that his name was Nephi.” 18 (Joseph Smith Papers, History, circa June 1839–circa 1841 [Draft 2], Page 5)
18 A later redaction in an unidentified hand changed “Nephi” to “Moroni” and noted that the original attribution was a “clerical error.” Early sources often did not name the angelic visitor, but sources naming Moroni include Oliver Cowdery’s historical letter published in the April 1835 LDS Messenger and Advocate; an expanded version of a circa August 1830 revelation, as published in the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants; and a JS editorial published in the Elders’ Journal in July 1838.a The present history is the earliest extant source to name Nephi as the messenger, and subsequent publications based on this history perpetuated the attribution during JS’s lifetime. Joseph Smith Papers, Editorial Title History, circa June 1839–circa 1841 [Draft 2])
In July 1838, Smith wrote an article for the church periodical Elders’ Journal, in the form of questions and answers, that stated the following:
“Question 4th. How, and where did you obtain the book of Mormon?”Answer. Moroni, the person who deposited the plates, from whence the book of Mormon was translated, in a hill in Manchester, Ontario County, New York, as a resurrected being, appeared unto me, and told me where they were; and gave me directions how to obtain them.”
However, on May 2, 1838, a few months before Smith’s statement in Elders’ Journal, Smith began dictating a church history that included a detailed account of his visits from the angel. In this text, Smith identified the angel as “Nephi”, which is the name of the Book of Mormon’s first narrator. Smith’s 1838 identification as “Nephi” was left unchanged when the 1838 history was published in 1842 in Times and Seasons, which Smith edited himself, and in Millennial Star. In the latter, an editorial referred to the 1823 vision and praised “the glorious ministry and message of the angel Nephi”. After Smith’s death, the identification as “Nephi” was repeated when The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) published its first edition of the Pearl of Great Price. It was also repeated in 1853 when Smith’s mother Lucy Mack Smith published a history of her son. (Angel Moroni, Wikipedia)
For more information on the subject of Nephi or Moroni:
■ Moroni as a Treasure Guardian — Rich Kelsey
■ Joseph Smith and The Bleeding Ghost — Rich Kelsey