Chapter 9: Witnesses of the Book of Mormon
Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith, (2013), 127–38
During 2014, LDS members will be studying the latest manual published by their church, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith. We will evaluate this book regularly, chapter by chapter, by showing interesting quotes and providing an Evangelical Christian take on this manual. The text that is underlined is from the manual, with our comments following.
“It seems to me that any member of this Church would never be satisfied until he or she had read the Book of Mormon time and time again and thoroughly considered it so that he or she could bear witness that it is in very deed a record with the inspiration of the Almighty upon it.”
According to Mormonism, reading and then praying about the Book of Mormon is the most important thing anybody could do. Using a verse from James (1:5) along with Moroni 10:4 from the Book of Mormon, missionaries tell potential converts that it is possible to know that Mormonism is true.
The Book of Mormon is a sacred record that contains the everlasting gospel and bears witness of Jesus Christ.
The Book of Mormon is the sacred history of the ancient inhabitants of the American continent, and contains the predictions of their prophets, the commandments of the Lord to them, and the history and destiny of those ancient peoples. It is the American volume of scripture, and is just as sacred and inspired as is the Bible, which contains the sacred records of the Hebrew race on the eastern hemisphere.
According to the Eighth Article of Faith that was composed by Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon should be more trustworthy than the Bible. After all, the Bible is said to be true “as far as it is translated correctly.” Since there may be errors in the Bible, and because the Book of Mormon has no similiar caveat attached to it, should this be considered to have more authority? While a Mormon generally wouldn’t come out and admit it, many Latter-day Saints really do have this belief. Often when we bring verses up in the Bible that disagree with the Latter-day Saint’s theology, we have been told it can’t be fully trusted.
For instance, consider this quote from the First Presidency:
“The Bible, as it has been transmitted over the centuries, has suffered the loss of many plain and precious parts” (Presidents Ezra Taft Benson, Gordon B. Hinckley, and Thomas Monson, “Letter Reaffirms Use of King James Version of Bible,” Church News, June 20, 1992, p. 3).
The First Presidency also explained how the Book of Mormon and the views of their leadership can help someone better understand the Bible:
“Many versions of the Bible are available today. Unfortunately, no original manuscripts of any portion of the Bible are available for comparison to determine the most accurate version. However, the Lord has revealed clearly the doctrines of the gospel in these latter days. The most reliable way to measure the accuracy of any biblical passage is not by comparing different texts, but by comparison with the Book of Mormon and modern-day revelations” (Presidents Ezra Taft Benson, Gordon B. Hinckley, and Thomas Monson, “Letter Reaffirms use of King James Version Bible,” Church News, June 20, 1992, p. 3).
At the same time, we are left to wonder why there are so many contradictions between the Bible and the Book of Mormon are so compatible.
The Nephite prophets in prayer earnestly sought that their writings should be preserved to come forth and to speak as from the dead, to bear witness to the remnant of Lehi, and also to Jew and Gentile, that God had revealed to them the fulness of the Gospel. Their anxiety was that in these last days men might be brought to repentance and faith in God through the testimony given many centuries before to these Nephite prophets. In fact, we learn from the Book of Mormon that this is the main object of the Book of Mormon, as stated in many of its passages. …
… The Lord made it very clear to the Nephite prophets that their history and prophecies would be preserved to come forth in the latter days as a witness for Jesus Christ and to establish among the people his Gospel. Nephi prophesied to the Gentiles and the Jews of our day and left for them his testimony in a most emphatic and telling manner. (2 Nephi 33.) Moroni did the same. (Moroni 10:24–34.)
Nephi, one of the earliest prophets of the Israelitish colony, predicted nearly six hundred years before the Christian era, that when the records containing the history of his people should be revealed from the dust, it would be in a day when the people would “deny the power of God, the Holy One of Israel,” and they would say: “Hearken unto us, and hear ye our precept; for behold there is no God today, for the Lord and the Redeemer hath done His work, and He hath given His power unto men.” [2 Nephi 28:5.] Again, many among them would say when presented with a new volume of scripture containing the history of the people of this western world: “A Bible! A Bible! We have got a Bible, and there cannot be any more Bible.” [2 Nephi 29:3.]
Second Nephi 29 is often used by Latter-day Saints to show how the Bible alone is not a “sufficient guide” for truth. Consider Apostle Orson Pratt’s assessment of the Bible:
“What shall we say then, concerning the Bible’s being a sufficient guide? Can we rely upon it in its present known corrupted state, as being a faithful record of God’s word? We all know that but a few of the inspired writings have descended to our times, which few quote the names of some twenty other books which are lost, and it is quite certain that there were many other inspired books that even the names have not reached us. What few have come down to our day, have been mutilated, changed and corrupted, in such a shameful manner that no two manuscripts agree. Verses and even whole chapters have been added by unknown persons; and even we do not know the authors of some whole books; and we are not certain that all those which we do know, were written by inspiration. Add all this imperfection to the uncertainly of the translation, and who, in his right mind, could, for one moment suppose the Bible in its present form to be a perfect guide? Who knows that even one verse of the Bible has escaped pollution, so as to convey the same sense now that it did in the original? Who knows how many important doctrines and ordinances necessary to salvation may be buried in oblivion in some of the lost books? Who knows that even the ordinances and doctrine that seem to be set forth in the present English Bible, are anything like the original? The Catholics and Protestants do not know, because tradition is too imperfect to give this knowledge. There can be no certainty as to the contents of the inspired writings until God shall inspire some one to re-write all those books over again, as he did Esdras in ancient times. There is no possible means of arriving at certainty in any other way. No reflecting man can deny the necessity of such a new revelation” (Divine Authenticity of Book of Mormon, No. 3 (December 1, 1850), “The Bible and tradition, without further revelation, an insufficient guide,” p. 47).
Another apostle, Bruce R. McConkie, wrote:
“As all informed persons know, the various versions of the Bible do not accurately record or perfectly preserve the words, thoughts, and intents of the original inspired authors” (Mormon Doctrine, 1966, p. 383).
He also said,
“The Book of Mormon is translated correctly because an unlearned man did it by the gift and power of God. It took him less than sixty translating days. The Bible abounds in errors and mistranslations, in spite of the fact that the most learned scholars and translators of the ages labored years on end over the manuscripts of antiquity to bring it forth” (“The Bible: A Sealed Book,” a BYU speech given to LDS Seminary and Institute teachers, August 1984).
Thus, Mormonism teaches we need the rest of the story to help us understand God’s truth. The Bible alone is considered inadequate to lead people to truth.
… This new volume of scripture was to be a witness, not only for Christ and to contain the everlasting Gospel, but was also to be a witness for the Jewish scriptures—the Bible; and these two records—according to the prophesying of Nephi, his father, and also Joseph, son of Israel—were to grow together bearing testimony of the everlasting gospel [see 2 Nephi 3:11–13; 29:10–14]. As such a witness these records stand today testifying of the truth to the condemnation of all who reject their teachings.
I know that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon by the gift and power of God, and that it has come forth “to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations.” [Title page of the Book of Mormon.]
When someone says that they “know” something, we must ask how they know. Let me provide seven quick reasons (with supporting articles found on our site) why I believe the Book of Mormon is not a scripture that ought to be treated as historical scripture:
- Archaeology is not a friend to the advocates of the historicity of the Book of Mormon. See http://www.mrm.org/bofm-archaeology and http://www.mrm.org/land-of-jerusalem
- DNA evidence shows that the people on the American continent could not have originated from Israel, as the LDS leadership maintained until the past decade. See http://www.mrm.org/dna
- Although some may insist that those outside the Mormon Church belief in the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, we know no serious scholarship that supports this unique LDS scripture’s history. See http://www.mrm.org/smithsonian
- Evidence presented by Mormons to support the Book of Mormon is weak. For example, http://www.mrm.org/beit-lehi and http://www.mrm.org/nhm
- The “gold plates” story involving the Book of Mormon falls apart. See http://www.mrm.org/book-of-mormon-plates-cri and http://www.mrm.org/eleven-witnesses as well as http://www.mrm.org/weight-of-plates
- Unique stories found in the Book of Mormon are impossible. See http://www.mrm.org/coriantumr-and-shiz and http://www.mrm.org/mahonri-moriancumr
- The Book of Mormon seems to be more a book of myths than authentic scripture like the Bible. See http://www.mrm.org/can-myth-be-scripture
In accordance with the law of witnesses, the Lord called special witnesses to testify of the Book of Mormon.
There is a law definitely stated in the scriptures governing testimony and the appointment of witnesses. This law the Lord has always followed in granting new revelation to the people.
All down through the ages this law [the law of witnesses] has been a fixed and definite one. If we had perfect records of all ages, we would find that whenever the Lord has established a dispensation, there has been more than one witness to testify for him. Paul in writing to the Corinthians said: “In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.” [2 Corinthians 13:1.]
In regard to the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, the Lord said that he would choose witnesses. There should be three special witnesses that should bear record to the world, and said he:
“And there is none other which shall view it, save it be a few according to the will of God, to bear testimony of his word unto the children of men; for the Lord God hath said that the words of the faithful should speak as if it were from the dead.
“Wherefore, the Lord God will proceed to bring forth the words of the book; and in the mouth of as many witnesses as seemeth him good will he establish his word; and wo be unto him that rejecteth the word of God!” (2 Ne. 27:13–14.)10
An angel showed the gold plates to Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer, two of the Three Witnesses, with Joseph Smith present. The angel later showed the plates to Martin Harris, the third witness.
The three men called to serve as special witnesses of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon by the power of God, are Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris. … They were associated with Joseph Smith in the establishing of this marvelous work in this dispensation. …
Their testimony is that they received a visitation of an angel from the presence of the Lord, who laid before them the golden record from whence the Book of Mormon was translated and instructed them. They beheld the engravings upon the plates as the leaves were turned one by one before them, and the voice of God was heard by them declaring from the heavens that the translation was by the gift and power of God, and commanding them to bear record of it to all the world. These three witnesses, through adversity, persecution, and all the vicissitudes of life, always remained true to their testimony that they beheld the plates in the presence of an angel and heard the voice of God speaking to them from the heavens.
There were eight other witnesses who also beheld the plates, handled them, examined carefully the engravings upon them as they were shown them by Joseph Smith. Their testimony is also given to the world and appears in each issue of the Book of Mormon. All of these eight men remained true to this testimony until death.
These twelve witnesses [including Joseph Smith], four of whom beheld angels and had heavenly visions, and eight who beheld the record as it was shown to them by Joseph Smith, are all, it appears, that the Lord deemed necessary to establish the truth of the Book of Mormon, as he promised through Nephi that he would do. “And wo be unto him that rejecteth the word of God!” The testimonies of these men more than satisfy the law.
Joseph Smith showed the gold plates to the Eight Witnesses.
Joseph Smith … was alone in the first vision, alone when Moroni brought the message to him, alone when he received the plates; but after that he was not alone. The Lord called other witnesses. Grandmother Smith [Joseph Smith’s mother, Lucy Mack Smith] in her history says that the Prophet came home weeping for joy after the witnesses had beheld the plates under the direction of an angel of God, because, he said, “The load has been lifted and I am no longer alone.”
The testimonies of the “witnesses” is found at the beginning of every modern edition of the Book of Mormon and are divided into two groups: The Testimony of the Three Witnesses and The Testimony of the Eight Witnesses. The three witnesses were Oliver Cowdery, Martin Harris, and David Whitmer. mong the eight witnesses were Joseph Smith’s father and two brothers, Hyrum and Samuel. Also included were four of David Whitmer’s brothers, Christian, Jacob, Peter, and John. The eighth witness was Hiram Page, a brother-in-law to the aforementioned Whitmer brothers, as was Oliver Cowdery.
In their testimony, Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Harris state,
We have seen the engravings which are upon the plates; and they have been shown unto us by the power of God, and not of man. And we declare with words of soberness, that an angel of God came down from heaven, and he brought and laid before our eyes, that we beheld and saw the plates, and the engravings thereon.
At first this sounds quite impressive; however, further details about this angelic encounter give a different perspective. While Smith was translating the plates, he discovered that “three special witnesses were to be provided by the Lord, to whom He would grant that they should see the plates from which this work (the Book of Mormon) should be translated.” (History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1:52)
Doctrine and Covenants 17:1 tells of a revelation allegedly given in June 1829, Cowdery, Whitmer, and Harris were commanded, “Behold, I say unto you, that you must rely upon my word, which if you do with full purpose of heart, you shall have a view of the plates.” The three were told they would be allowed to see other historical artifacts mentioned in the Book of Mormon, such as the Sword of Laban and the Urim and Thummim. According to Doctrine and Covenants 17:2 they were told, “It is by your faith that you shall obtain a view of them.”
One could assume that this faith condition was something like a loyalty test. In other words, God chose these three because they trusted Smith and believed the plates existed. However, it becomes readily apparent that all three would have to exercise faith in order to see the plates at all. It seems odd that faith was necessary to see plates that Mormons believe were tangible and physical. This event did not take place in the room where Smith was supposedly translating the plates; instead, it happened in the woods, where Smith and the three men tried “to obtain, by fervent and humble prayer” the fulfillment of that revelation. (But again, why was something like prayer needed in order to see a tangible object purportedly in the possession of Joseph Smith?)
When praying did not result in a “manifestation of divine favor,” Martin Harris excused himself, thinking he was the hindrance. Once he left, the remaining three men prayed again; it was then that they beheld an angel standing before them holding the plates. After this experience, Smith went to find Harris, who was a “considerable distance” away. The two men prayed and the “same vision” was opened to their view. (Ibid., 1:52–55.)
To better understand this story, it is important to grasp the cultural environment of Smith and his appointed witnesses. Folk magic and treasure digging were very common, and the Smith family, including young Joseph, was no exception to the rule. In a paper presented at a meeting of the Mormon History Association, LDS historian Ronald W. Walker noted,
From Greek, Semite, and even earlier times, men and women had spoken of troves hidden in caves or elsewhere in the bowels of the earth, of guardian spirits who sought to preserve or protect them, and of specially gifted seers, who by using their divining rods and revelatory stones, could find the treasure (Walker 1984). Such ideas clearly were current in the folk culture of upstate New York at the time. James Fenimore Cooper, who had spent his youth at the Susquehanna River’s headwaters, found “such superstition was frequent in the new settlements” (1899, 415). The Palmyra Reflector located the practice even closer to Harris’s neighborhood. “Men and women without distinction of age or sex became marvellous[ly] wise in the occult sciences,” the newspaper reported. “Many dreamed, and others saw visions disclosing to them, deep in the bowels of the earth, rich and shining treasures” (1 Feb. 1831, 92–93; Cooper 1899, 415). Harris himself was not immune to such beliefs. In addition to crediting the Palmyra diggers with actual discoveries, he accepted the reality of seers, seer stones, and the gift of “second sight,” which allowed its possessor to “see” beyond the limitations of time and space. (Ronald W. Walker, “Martin Harris: Mormonism’s Early Convert,” Dialogue: AJournal of Mormon Thought, winter 1986, 38.)
Second sight has been described as the ability to see things that are not perceived by the five senses. A person who claims to possess second sight can see, in vision form, things that cannot normally be seen. Walker’s description needs to be considered carefully since Joseph Smith’s handpicked witnesses were all influenced by the folk magic of their day. Historian D. Michael Quinn writes,
The Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon were likewise involved in folk magic. Oliver Cowdery was a rodsman before his 1829 meeting with Smith, who soon announced a revelation authorizing Cowdery to continue the revelatory use of his “rod of nature.” David Whitmer revered Smith’s use of a seer stone and may have possessed one of his own. Whitmer authorized a later spokesman for his own religious organization to obtain revelations through a stone. Martin Harris endorsed Smith’s use of a seer stone for divination and treasure-seeking. Before and after the discovery of the gold plates, Harris himself participated in treasure-digging and identified the Smith brothers Joseph and Hyrum as co-participants. Of the remaining Eight Witnesses, Jacob Whitmer (b. 1800) had a seer stone which his descendants preserved. His brother-in-law Hiram Page (b.1800) definitely had a stone of his own that he used for revelations. Christian, John, and Peter Whitmer Jr. were included in their pastor’s accusation of magic belief. (Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, 240.)
The ability of the eight witnesses to actually see physical plates is also clouded in contradiction. Mormon historian Marvin S. Hill noted that
“William Smith said his father never saw the plates except under a frock. And Stephen Burnett quotes Martin Harris that ‘the eight witnesses never saw them & hesitated to sign that instrument [their testimony published in the Book of Mormon] for that reason, but were persuaded to do it.’ Yet John Whitmer told Wilhelm Poulson of Ovid, Idaho, in 1878 that he saw the plates when they were not covered, and he turned the leaves.” (Marvin S. Hill, “Brodie Revisited: A Reappraisal,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, winter 1972, 84.)
Hill states that Hiram Page gave only a “veiled reference” to what he saw, explaining that Page did not clearly “say he saw the plates but that angels confirmed him in his faith.” (Ibid.) Hill seems to express his own frustrations when he writes,
Despite Page’s inconsistencies, it is difficult to know what to make of Harris’ affirmation that the eight saw no plates in the face of John Whitmer’s testimony. The original testimony of these eight men in the Book of Mormon reads somewhat ambiguously, not making clear whether they handled the plates or the “leaves” of the translated manuscript. Thus there are some puzzling aspects to the testimonies of the witnesses. If Burnett’s statement is given credence it would appear that Joseph Smith extorted a deceptive testimony from the eight witnesses. But why should John Whitmer and Hiram Page adhere to Mormonism and the Book of Mormon so long if they only gave their testimony reluctantly? It may be that like the three witnesses they expressed a genuine religious conviction. The particulars may not have seemed as important as the ultimate truth of the work. (Ibid., 84–85.)
When details of the “witnesses” are examined, they end up not providing a solid case to support this sacred scripture. Every Latter-day Saint should understand that these men lend more doubt than credibility to a book whose historicity is required for every Latter-day Saint.
For more information on this topic, see here.
The Three Witnesses remained faithful to their testimonies of the Book of Mormon.
All three [special] witnesses became estranged and left the Church. Oliver Cowdery and Martin Harris came back humbly seeking membership in the Church and both died in full fellowship. David Whitmer remained out of the Church; however, all three of these men remained faithful to the testimony they gave to the world which is found in each copy of the Book of Mormon.
This is a testimony of David Whitmer, given in Richmond, Missouri, March 19, 1881—copied from the original document, which was published in the Richmond Conservator on that date.
“Unto all nations, kindreds, tongues and people unto whom these presence shall come—
“It having been represented by one John Murphy of Polo [Caldwell County], Missouri, that I had in a conversation with him last summer, denied my testimony as one of the three witnesses to the Book of Mormon—
“To the end thereof, that he may understand me now if he did not then, and that the world may know the truth, I wish now, standing as it were, in the very sunset of life, and in the fear of God, once for all to make this public statement:
“That I have never at any time, denied that testimony or any part thereof, which has so long since been published with that book, as one of the three witnesses.
“Those who know me best, will know that I have always adhered to that testimony—And that no man may be misled or doubt my present views in regard to the same, I do now again affirm the truth of all my statements as then made and published.”
Now let me say something about Martin Harris. … While continuing true to his testimony of the Book of Mormon he was for many years disgruntled with the Church. But some time after the saints came to Utah some of our good brethren went after him, found him and warmed him up, and brought him back. He came out here [to Utah], was re-baptized, and lived here for a number of years, bearing witness of his testimony among the settlements. He died here and was buried [in Clarkston, Utah].
Now we come to Oliver Cowdery. What about Oliver Cowdery, the most important of the three, who was with Joseph Smith so many times at the appearing of angels and the restoration of keys? What about him? He left the Church and became extremely bitter, but never denied the testimony. Some people have said he did, but he did not. Always he was true to that testimony. …
… After the saints were driven from Nauvoo and were out on the plains and everything looked the darkest (Sidney Rigdon said they had gone to their destruction and there was no hope for them, and the newspapers said they could not survive!), under those conditions, Oliver Cowdery … asked to come back to the Church. … He was received back, and was preparing to take a mission to Great Britain when he was taken ill and died. He died at the home of David Whitmer, bearing testimony to the truth.
In the front of every edition of the Book of Mormon are statements from eleven men who testify of the authenticity of the gold plates Joseph Smith claimed to have received from the angel Moroni. These eleven men are placed into two groups, the “Three Witnesses,” composed of Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris, and “Eight Witnesses,” composed of Christian Whitmer, Jacob Whitmer, Peter Whitmer, Jr., John Whitmer, Hiram Page, Joseph Smith, Sr., Hyrum Smith, and Samuel Smith. All of these eight men were from two families. Hiram Page was Peter Whitmer’s son-in-law, having married his daughter Catherine Whitmer. Together these eleven men, we are told, were hand-picked by God to “see” the plates that are the source for the Book of Mormon.
In the July 18, 2013 edition of the Deseret News, BYU professor and Mormon apologist Daniel C. Peterson argues that a twelfth person, Mary Whitmer, also saw the plates. In his piece titled “Defending the Faith: Mary Whitmer, 12th Witness to the Book of Mormon,” he wrote:
“Most Latter-day Saints are aware of the testimonies of the Three Witnesses and the Eight Witnesses to the Book of Mormon. But these 11 men, impressive as they are, were not the only people besides Joseph Smith who had direct encounters with the gold plates. David Whitmer, for example, one of the Three Witnesses, related that his mother, Mary Musselman Whitmer, also saw the plates, quite independently of anybody else and under the most matter-of-fact circumstances.”
Peterson relies on a second-hand report from Mary’s son David as support for his conclusion. David said his mother was visited by a mysterious “old man” in their barn who showed her the plates. Peterson also recounts another second-hand piece of evidence by Mary Whitmer’s grandson, John C. Whitmer, who said:
She met a stranger carrying something on his back that looked like a knapsack. At first she was a little afraid of him, but when he spoke to her in a kind, friendly tone and began to explain to her the nature of the work which was going on in her house (that is, the translation of the Book of Mormon), she was filled with unexpressible (sic) joy and satisfaction. He then untied his knapsack and showed her a bundle of plates, which in size and appearance corresponded with the description subsequently given by the witnesses to the Book of Mormon. This strange person turned the leaves of the book of plates over, leaf after leaf, and also showed her the engravings upon them; after which he told her to be patient and faithful in bearing her burden a little longer, promising that if she would do so, she should be blessed; and her reward would be sure, if she proved faithful to the end. The personage then suddenly vanished with the plates, and where he went, she could not tell.
If we are to believe Mary Whitmer did see physical plates rather than just see them in a vision, why was she given this privilege when the eleven others had to settle for a visionary experience? If she really saw tangible plates, it would seem that her “testimony” is of much more value than what we receive from the eleven “witnesses.” Yet her story is admittedly obscure and unknown, even among many Latter-day Saints.
Could it not be possible, having heard this amazing account of the plates from her close family members, that Mary Whitmer merely recreated her own tale with similar details? If she is, in fact, describing nothing more than a vision, then we still have no proof that Smith’s plates were real. In other words, her story, like that of the eleven, means virtually nothing.
In addition, it seems strange that, if these Book of Mormon “witnesses” really were ethical and men on whose testimonies we could bank on, why did they all leave the Mormon Church (as admitted by Joseph Fielding Smith)? Say what you want, but this certainly doesn’t bode well for Mormonism as its taught in Salt Lake City. Even if the Book of Mormon is true, maybe one of the many LDS splinter is doing a better job proclaiming its message. Proving the Book of Mormon to be a reliable scripture does not necessarily mean the LDS Church is a true church.
For more information on this topic, see these two blogs by Sharon Lindbloom:
Each member of the Church can be a witness of the Book of Mormon.
These are not all the witnesses who can speak of the divine mission of Joseph Smith, or of the truth of the Book of Mormon. The promise is made in the Book of Mormon that all who desire to know whether it is true and contains the word of the Lord may know that it is true if they will ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, for he will reveal it to them by the power of the Holy Ghost [see Moroni 10:3–5]. There are hundreds of thousands who have put this promise to the test and can in all sincerity say that they have received that knowledge.
I am just as firmly convinced that this Book of Mormon from which I have read is the word of God and was revealed, as Joseph Smith declared it was revealed, as I am that I stand here looking into your faces. Every soul on the face of the earth who has intelligence enough to understand may know that truth. How can he know it? All he has to do is to follow the formula that was given by the Lord himself when he declared to the Jews that they who would do the will of his Father should know of the doctrine, whether it was of God or whether he spoke of himself [see John 7:17]. My witness to all the world is that this book is true. …
I know that the testimony of these [three] witnesses recorded in each copy of the Book of Mormon is true, that they stood in the presence of an angel of God who declared unto them that the record as it was translated was correct, that their testimony that God spoke to them from the heavens calling upon them to bear witness of that fact is true, and there is not a soul who cannot receive that testimony if he desires to receive it, by reading this book prayerfully and faithfully, with a desire to know the truth as Moroni has declared by revelation. He shall know the truth regarding the restoration of this scripture given to the ancient inhabitants of this continent.
It seems to me that any member of this Church would never be satisfied until he or she had read the Book of Mormon time and time again, and thoroughly considered it so that he or she could bear witness that … No member of this Church can stand approved in the presence of God who has not seriously and carefully read the Book of Mormon.
When you read the Book of Mormon you know you are reading the truth. Why? Because God directed men to write events as they occurred and He gave them the wisdom and inspiration to do this. Thus records were written by men who believed in God. These records never fell into the hands of apostates; but the historians wrote and spoke as they were moved upon by the Holy Ghost, and we know that what they wrote is true because the Lord has put His stamp of approval upon it [see D&C 17:6].
As we continue to read the Book of Mormon sincerely and prayerfully, it endears itself to us more and more.
All who have sincerely read the Book of Mormon have been impressed with the inspired contents of its pages. … There is an inspiration and feeling of peaceful joy and satisfaction which accompany the sincere and prayerful reading of this book.
“There is an inspiration and feeling of peaceful joy and satisfaction which accompany the sincere and prayerful reading of this book.”
As I read [the Book of Mormon] I am impressed more and more with its sacredness, with the message which it contains in defense of the mission of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the gospel which has been restored in the dispensation of the fulness of times for the salvation of souls. This record endears itself to me more and more day by day as I see unfolded the fulfillment of prophecies uttered by these prophets who now speak from the dead, and from the dust to the nations of the earth, crying unto them repentance, and calling upon them to believe in Christ.
Latter-day Saints generally believe their ability to discern doctrinal truth comes through a “personal testimony,” which is also known as a “burning in the bosom.” Seventy Hugh Pinnock stated,
When people read the Book of Mormon, praying sincerely about its content and Moroni’s promise, they will know it is true and the Spirit will move them to seek membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the church that Joseph Smith was commanded by God to organization. (“Being a Missionary Church,” Ensign, August 1996, pp. 42-43))
This “knowledge” can be obtained by reading the Book of Mormon and praying about its message. There are several passages Mormons reference, but most prominent is James 1:5 in the New Testament. This was a pivotal verse for Joseph Smith who claimed that he prayed to God for wisdom when he was fourteen years old. James 1:5 says, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” The official First Vision account says that Smith’s prayer was answered in 1820 as he knelt in the woods near his upstate New York home.
Located in the last chapter of the Book of Mormon, Moroni 10:4 also is regularly referenced by Mormon missionaries. It says,
And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.
An investigator is told that, through prayer, God will help a person understand that Mormonism really is true. Doctrine and Covenants 9:8 reads,
But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.
Even when confronted with information that is contrary to their belief system, many Mormons remain firm in their faith by clinging to their subjective feelings. Tad R. Callister, a member of the Presidency of the Seventy, told this story at the end of a general conference address:
Some years ago I attended one of our worship services in Toronto,Canada. A 14-year-old girl was the speaker. She said that she had been discussing religion with one of her friends at school. Her friend said to her, “What religion do you belong to?” She replied, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormons.” Her friend replied, “I know that church, and I know it’s not true.” “How do you know?” came the reply. “Because,” said her friend, “I have researched it.” “Have you read the Book of Mormon?” “No,” came the answer. “I haven’t.” Then this sweet young girl responded, “Then you haven’t researched my church, because I have read every page of the Book of Mormon and I know it’s true.” (“The Book of Mormon—A Book from God,” Ensign, November 2011, 76)
Notice how the Mormon girl’s subjective feeling outweighed her friend’s research. Did the Mormon girl in this story ask her friend to see what she found? Callister doesn’t say. The conclusion is that it is somehow heroic to allow feelings to take precedence over investigation.
While it is important to be respectful to our Latter-day Saint friends and not minimize their experiences, we need to point out that the rules have been rigged since the prayer’s request really has but one answer. After all, the investigator who declines the invitation to pray may be accused of not believing in prayer. On the other hand, those who agree to pray but don’t receive the “right” answer will probably be thought of as not having a sincere heart, real intent, or adequate faith. In response to the question “Shouldn’t Moroni’s promise always work” with someone who “has not received a testimony of its truthfulness?”
Daniel Ludlow, the director of LDS Church Correlation Review, confirms this suspicion:
God cannot and does not lie, and his promises made through his prophets are sure. Therefore, any person who claims to have followed the various requirements but says he has not gained a testimony should check to see which step he has not followed faithfully or completely:
1. He should read and ponder the Book of Mormon—all of it.
2. He should remember the methods God has used in working with the peoples of both the Book of Mormon and the Bible—and ponder these things in his heart.
3. He should put himself in a frame of mind where he would be willing to accept (receive) all of “these things”—the Book of Mormon, the Bible, and the way God works with men.
4. “With a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ,” he should ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Jesus Christ “if these things are not true.”
5. He should be able to recognize the promptings and feelings which will be evidences to him of the truth of “these things” (including the Book of Mormon) as they are made manifest unto him “by the power of the Holy Ghost.” (“I Have a Question,” Ensign, March 1986.),
There is a psychological edge that the Mormon missionaries have when someone agrees to their challenge. After all, the investigator may eventually get the “right” answer in an attempt to please the missionaries, close family members, or friends who have come to the same conclusion. In the end, one’s good feelings may win the day, even if the object of the prayer is false.
It should be noted that Joseph Smith disregarded the immediate context of James 1:5, which speaks of gaining wisdom, not knowledge. Wisdom is the proper application of knowledge. In this verse James tells his Christian audience to ask God for wisdom when they are undergoing trials and temptations, not for testing various truth claims. (See James 1:3–4, 12–15 to understand the context.)
First John 4:1 tells believers to “try [test] the spirits.” Why? Because many false prophets have gone out into the world. The Bereans in Acts 17:11 were considered noble because they “searched the scriptures daily” and tested Paul’s words against what God had already revealed. In other words, Christians are to test all truth claims with the Bible, not with subjective experiences, even if that experience involves a supernatural “vision.”
When a Mormon friend brings up Moroni 10:4 in a conversation, you might ask your acquaintance whether his or her feelings have always been accurate. At one time or another, all of us have been fooled by our feelings, no matter how sincere we might have been. For example, Mormons believe that marriage is not only for life but also for eternity. Should it be assumed that the many Mormon couples who are divorced did not pray about their relationships beforehand? Surely knowing information about another person that could have exposed potential behavior problems—such as drug addiction, sex addiction, pornography issues, inward apathy to God, or repressed anger—would have helped with making a more informed decision. Yet how many Mormons must have “felt” God’s approval in relationships that were tragically doomed from the beginning?
The Bible makes it very clear that subjective feelings can be deceptive. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” Proverbs 14:12 warns, “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death,” while Proverbs 28:26 adds that only fools trust in their heart. Because everyone is a fallen and sinful creature, it is possible to be swayed by emotions and desires. To believe something is true merely because one feels it to be true is no guarantee of truth. Jesus commanded His followers in Mark 12:30 to love God “with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.”
Paul explained in 2 Timothy 2:15 that the believer must make the effort to study in order to correctly understand truth. In the next chapter (3:16–17), he added that all Scripture given by inspiration of God is “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” so that the man or woman of God might be competent and equipped to do good works. Christians are commanded in 1 Thessalonians 5:21 to “prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” While it is true that faith does involve believing things that can’t be proven, it is foolishness to believe something that has already been disproven. If the Bible disproves a spiritual truth claim, it must be rejected.
If praying about the Book of Mormon is the means for finding truth, shouldn’t this test also apply to other religious books? It is curious how very few Mormons have taken the time and effort to read (and pray about) the scriptures of other religions. Using the rationale that people should pray about Mormonism’s scripture, why shouldn’t every religion’s scriptures—such as the Qu’ran (Islam), the Vedas and the Bhagavad Gita (Hinduism), and the Tripitaka (Buddhism)—also be read and contemplated through prayer? How can the Mormon know the accuracy of Mormonism until he or she personally tests all religions in this way?
Though we should most certainly use prayer to guide us in our search for truth, it should not be the only litmus test. Hopefully, prayer will lead us to the information we need in order to make an informed and proper decision.