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Gospel Topics Essay: Book of Mormon Translation

Gospel Topics Essay: Book of Mormon Translation

By Eric Johnson

To see an introduction to the Gospel Topics essays, click here.

The entire essay is printed below, underlined, with my commentary included throughout. Because I will try to be short and to the point as much as possible,  a number of sites (many from MRM) to support my disagreement are included. I encourage interested readers to consider these sources. 

To hear an 8-part Viewpoint on Mormonism podcast series n this essay that aired in October 2015: Part 1   Part 2   Part 3   Part 4   Part 5  Part 6  Part 7  Part 8

Book of Mormon Translation

Joseph Smith said that the Book of Mormon was “the most correct of any Book on earth & the keystone of our religion & a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts than by any other Book.” The Book of Mormon came into the world through a series of miraculous events. Much can be known about the coming forth of the English text of the Book of Mormon through a careful study of statements made by Joseph Smith, his scribes, and others closely associated with the translation of the Book of Mormon.

If the Book of Mormon truly is “the most correct of any Book on earth & the keystone” of this religion, then I wonder where does this unique LDS scripture talk about

  • Temple work?
  • Baptism for entrance into the celestial kingdom?
  • The very existence of a “celestial/terrestrial/telestial” kingdom(s)?
  • Tithing?
  • God having once been a man?
  • God having a body of flesh and bones?
  • Needing the Aaronic or Melchizedek priesthoods?
  • Baptism for the dead being an important work?

Honestly, if a person had just the Book of Mormon and nothing else to go by, how likely would it be that this person could have the same beliefs as Latter-day Saints do today?

“By the Gift and Power of God”

Joseph Smith reported that on the evening of September 21, 1823, while he prayed in the upper room of his parents’ small log home in Palmyra, New York, an angel who called himself Moroni appeared and told Joseph that “God had a work for [you] to do.” He informed Joseph that “there was a book deposited, written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent, and the source from whence they sprang.” The book could be found in a hill not far from the Smith family farm. This was no ordinary history, for it contained “the fullness of the everlasting Gospel as delivered by the Savior.”

When Smith references “the fullness of the everlasting gospel,” tenth President Joseph Fielding Smith wrote:

THE GOSPEL NEVER CHANGES. This work is based upon fundamental principles that do not change. They must not, they cannot change, because they are eternal…FULNESS OF THE GOSPEL. By fulness of the gospel is meant all the ordinances and principles that pertain to the exaltation in the celestial kingdom” (Doctrines of Salvation 1:159-160).

As mentioned above, the gospel according to the Book of Mormon is not the same as the gospel of Mormonism today! Yet Joseph Fielding Smith said the “fulness of the gospel” means “all the ordinances and principles that pertain to the exaltation in the celestial kingdom.”

Let’s consider the official Book of Mormon story for a moment. The way it goes, the one calling himself Moroni came as an angel of light and caused the bedroom to be lit. Joseph slept in the same room with his siblings. Are we really supposed to believe that nobody else woke up? After all, the bright light and the amount of talking (a conversation as reported by Smith would have taken at least several minutes) would have certainly awakened the others. None of the siblings ever report that they were awakened by Smith talking to an angel. A police detective would be very suspicious of such a story, especially since this information didn’t come to light until years later.

We must also wonder how these gold plates were conveniently deposited in a hill not far from the Smith home. How did these plates get there? BYU scholars are almost 100% sure that the events of the Book of Mormon did not take place in the North American continent. Instead, they say, a better candidate is Central America. If that’s the case, then how did Moroni lug two hundred pound plates thousands of miles? It sounds very suspicious to the neutral observer who lacks a presupposition that Mormonism is true.

The angel charged Joseph Smith to translate the book from the ancient language in which it was written. The young man, however, had very little formal education and was incapable of writing a book on his own, let alone translating an ancient book written from an unknown language, known in the Book of Mormon as “reformed Egyptian.”

Joseph’s wife Emma insisted that, at the time of translation, Joseph “could neither write nor dictate a coherent and well-worded letter, let alone dictat[e] a book like the Book of Mormon.”

Joseph may not have had a strict formal education, but he was no rube. He was actually quite prolific in his writing and was anything but “uneducated.” He also had excellent penmanship. One source explains:

Joseph Smith did have limited formal education and that’s often heralded as ‘proof’ that he could not have written the BOM. However most people do not know that Joseph’s father, Joseph Smith, Sr., was a school teacher during the off season. Joseph’s brother, Hyrum, worked as a school teacher during the off season also. One of his sisters may have also been a teacher at some point in her life. This wasn’t a family of illiterates. Education was important to the Smith family, and although Joseph may have only had limited formal education in a typical classroom, his parents undoubtedly schooled him at home. Also Joseph was going to high school when he was 20 years old in Harmony PA with the Stowell children.

Joseph was able to read and ponder scriptures. His parents were literate. He had access to books and newspapers. He even held a position as “exhorter” at a local church. Joseph’s mother wrote that they did not neglect the education of their children.

In the early 1800s few children were able to have a full education. Most children in rural America worked on farms and often had much of their education done at home. As Joseph Smith Sr. was an actual school teacher at various times in his life, he would be quite capable of teaching general education to his children, including Joseph. Joseph’s mother, Lucy Smith, would undoubtedly help as well. Even Abraham Lincoln had a very limited formal education, and Benjamin Franklin had only one year of formal education.”

Notice that Emma said that Smith  “could neither write nor dictate a coherent and well-worded letter, let alone dictat[e] a book like the Book of Mormon.” Is this true? Consider the following letter written by Smith to Oliver Cowdery on October 22, 1829, half a year before Smith published the Book of Mormon.:

Respected sir I would in form you that I  arrived at home on sunday morning the 4th. after  having a prosperous journy, and found all well  the people are all friendly to <us> except a few who  are in opposition to evry thing unless it is some thing that is exactly like themselves and two  of our most formadable persacutors are now  under censure and are cited to a tryal trial in  the church for crimes which if true are  worse than all the Gold Book business. we do not  rejoice in the affliction of our enimies but  we shall be glad to have truth prevail[.] there  begins to be a great call for our books in this country the minds of the people are very  much excited when they find that there is a  copy right obtained and that there is really  books about to be printed I have bought a  horse of Mr. [Josiah] Stowell and want some one to  come after it as soon as convenient Mr Stowell  has a prospect of getting five or six hundred dol lars he does not know certain that he can get  it but he is a going to try and if he can get the  money he wants to pay it in immediately  for books we want to hear from you and  know how you prosper in the good work, give  our best respects to Father & Mother and all our  brothers and Sisters to Mr. [Martin] Harris and all  the company concerned tell them that our  prayers are put up daily for them that they  may be prospered in evry, good word and work  and that they may be preserved from sin here and and from the consequen[c]e of sin here after and now dear brother be faithful in the discharge  of evry duty looking for the reward of the righteous  and now may God of his infinite mercy keep an<d> pre serve us spotless untill his coming and receive us all to rest with him in  eternal repose through the attonement of Christ our Lord Amen
Joseph Smith Jr

According to the editors of the Joseph Smith papers, this letter was indeed written by Smith:

JS wrote this letter from Harmony, Pennsylvania, to Oliver Cowdery, who was overseeing the printing of the Book of Mormon in Palmyra, New York. Four months earlier, on 11 June 1829, JS had obtained a copyright for the book, and after he and Martin Harris negotiated with local printers, Harris mortgaged his farm on 25 August to cover the cost of printing.

Granted, the letter is not perfect in its grammar or structure. (Neither was the original Book of Mormon, for that matter.) Still, this is not the work of a rube, an unintelligent farm boy. Consider some of the words that were used: “prosperous,” “opposition,” “affliction,” “prevail,” “obtained,” “convenient,” “prospered,” “preserved,” “discharge,” and “infinite.” That he is able to used such vocabulary–yes, even spelling them correctly–is not the mark of an unintelligent person.

While there are certainly spelling errors, many people misspelled words. The fist dictionary by Webster was not printed until 1828, just a year before Smith wrote this letter. Most likely this would not have been a tool Smith would have possessed. Even when is misspells “tryal,” he is conscious to cross it out and write “trial” after that. Besides this correction, Smith made other corrections by adding letters or words above the line. In addition, the fine penmanship is definitely Smith’s. Still, a Mormon still might argue that perhaps this letter could have been dictated. However, remember that Emma said that this same Joseph wouldn’t have been smart enough to have dictated the Book of Mormon. If so, how did he dictate this letter? All signs, therefore, point to Smith having intelligence beyond his formal education.

The Mormon leadership wants the public to think that it would have been impossible for Joseph Smith to have translated the Book of Mormon. For one, they suggest Smith compiled the Book of Mormon in less than three months. Yet this really isn’t true, as it actually went over a period of more than a year, and who is to say Smith hadn’t been working on his story for years after his supposed first encounter with the plates in 1823. Next, consider the large portions of the Bible that were “cribbed” (i.e. plagiarized) from the King James Version of the Bible, with the inclusion of the KJV’s unique errors. As far as creativity, this trait does not require an education. Many uneducated folks are creative. Coming up with a story as Smith did is not out of the realm of possibility. (If you want to talk about amazing, how about J.R.R. Tolkien–author of The Lord of the Rings–who not only wrote amazing prose but was the creator of a new language!) Why couldn’t this creative “farm boy” who had a reputation for “tall tales” have had the ability to creative the Book of Mormon narrative?

Joseph received the plates in September 1827

According to the story told by Joseph’s mother, Smith was able to take the plates (about a third of a cubit foot) that were apparently made of gold and carry them through the woods (off the beaten path), fighting off attackers. If gold weighs 600 pounds per cubit foot, then these plates must have checked in about 200 pounds. Nobody could have performed the feat as Joseph supposedly did.

I encourage you to look closer at this subject, for if the story is in error, what else could be wrong?

Gold Plates

For some You Tube videos on the topic, consider:

and the following spring, in Harmony, Pennsylvania, began translating them in earnest, with Emma and his friend Martin Harris serving as his main scribes. The resulting English transcription, known as the Book of Lehi and referred to by Joseph Smith as written on 116 pages, was subsequently lost or stolen. As a result, Joseph Smith was rebuked by the Lord and lost the ability to translate for a short time.

Harris supposed lost (or his wife stole) the 116 pages mentioned here. If that’s the case, why didn’t God just have Joseph redo the work for posterity’s sake? According to Smith’s “revelation” from D&C 10, he was told not to retranslate these pages. This is quite convenient, as Smith knew that if the original pages were found and compared with his retranslation, he would have been found to be a fraud. If Smith really had the tools to translate the gold plates, it shouldn’t have been difficult to reproduce the pages. It seems curious that God wanted Smith to originally translate these 116 pages and then decided to leave this portion of the plates untranslated. They seemed important. Perhaps God should have given Smith a revelation as to who stole them and where these pages could be found. Wouldn’t that have proven he was truly a prophet of God?

Joseph began translating again in 1829, and almost all of the present Book of Mormon text was translated during a three-month period between April and June of that year. His chief scribe during these months was Oliver Cowdery, a schoolteacher from Vermont who learned about the Book of Mormon while boarding with Joseph’s parents in Palmyra. Called by God in a vision, Cowdery traveled to Harmony to meet Joseph Smith and investigate further. Of his experience as scribe, Cowdery wrote, “These were days never to be forgotten—to sit under the sound of a voice dictated by the inspiration of heaven.”

The manuscript that Joseph Smith dictated to Oliver Cowdery and others is known today as the original manuscript, about 28 percent of which still survives. This manuscript corroborates Joseph Smith’s statements that the manuscript was written within a short time frame and that it was dictated from another language. For example, it includes errors that suggest the scribe heard words incorrectly rather than misread words copied from another manuscript. In addition, some grammatical constructions that are more characteristic of Near Eastern languages than English appear in the original manuscript, suggesting that the base language of the translation was not English.

Unlike most dictated drafts, the original manuscript was considered by Joseph Smith to be, in substance, a final product. To assist in the publication of the book, Oliver Cowdery made a handwritten copy of the original manuscript. This copy is known today as the printer’s manuscript. Because Joseph Smith did not call for punctuation, such as periods, commas, or question marks as he dictated, such marks are not in the original manuscript. The typesetter later inserted punctuation marks when he prepared the text for the printer. With the exceptions of punctuation, formatting, other elements of typesetting, and minor adjustments required to correct copying and scribal errors, the dictation copy became the text of the first printed edition of the book.

The  idea that there were errors should be of great concern to every Latter-day Saint. After all, this essay says that only 28 percent of the original manuscript survives. How is it possible that errors could have crept in? After all, according to Seventy/Church Historian B.H. Roberts, each sentence of the Book of Mormon would not disappear during the translation process unless it was correctly written down! He wrote:

By aid of the Seer Stone, sentences would appear and were read by the Prophet and written by Martin, and when finished he would say “written,” and if correctly written, that sentence would disappear and another appear in its place, but if not written correctly it remained until corrected, so that the translation was just as it was engraven on the plates, precisely in the language then used (B. H. Roberts, New Witnesses for God 2:109. Quoting Martin Harris from his statement to Edward Stevenson, Millennial Star 24:86-87).

Citing Book of Mormon witness David Whitmer, Roberts further explained:

David Whitmer, another of the Three Witnesses, is more specific on this subject. After describing the means the prophet employed to exclude the light from the “Seer Stone,” he says: “In the darkness the Spiritual light would shine. A piece of something resembling parchment would appear, and on that appeared the writing. One character at a time would appear, and under it was the interpretation in English. Brother Joseph would read off the English to Oliver Cowdery, who was his principal scribe, and when it was written down and repeated to Brother Joseph to see if it was correct, then it would disappear, and another character with the interpretation would appear. Thus the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God and not by any power of man” (Defense of The Faith and The Saints 1:163).

So how could Cowdery have “heard words incorrectly”? Was God involved in the translation process? Or wasn’t he? And if Mormonism has Article 8 (memorized by every Mormon, it says the “Bible is true only as far as it is translated correctly”), why doesn’t the Book of Mormon come with a similar asterisk?

Translation Instruments

Many accounts in the Bible show that God transmitted revelations to His prophets in a variety of ways. Elijah learned that God spoke not to him through the wind or fire or earthquake but through a “still small voice.” Paul and other early apostles sometimes communicated with angels and, on occasion, with the Lord Jesus Christ. At other times, revelation came in the form of dreams or visions, such as the revelation to Peter to preach the gospel to the Gentiles, or through sacred objects like the Urim and Thummim.

Several things ought to be made clear. It is true that those who wrote scripture were inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16). This wasn’t an example of automatic writing, whereby God would have taken the author’s hand with the pen and wrote down His words. Rather, the writer—inspired by God—wrote using his own personality and style.

Elijah heard from God but never wrote or translated any scripture, so this example is not a direct parallel with Smith and the Book of Mormon. Paul did have visions and even spoke to Jesus, which he related in 2 Corinthians. Yet he too didn’t write down or translate scripture using any such method as practiced by Smith. Yes, Peter did have a vision in Acts 9, which was recorded in scripture. But again, Peter did not translate any scripture. The examples cited in this essay cannot be equally compared with the methods used by Smith.

Joseph Smith stands out among God’s prophets, because he was called to render into his own language an entire volume of scripture amounting to more than 500 printed pages, containing doctrine that would deepen and expand the theological understanding of millions of people. For this monumental task, God prepared additional, practical help in the form of physical instruments.

No other prophet or apostle described in the Bible ever translated scripture. They wrote scripture.  The question is, was Smith able to “render into his own language” from what was supposedly written down? Unfortunately, the plates were said to be taken back, so we don’t have the original to work with. Unlike the New Testament, we don’t have a variety of copies from which we can operate as well. We are left having to trust Joseph Smith that there really were gold plates and that he had the ability to translate them. There have been about 4,000 changes from the 1830 edition to the 1981 edition. Yes, most of these changes involved grammatical errors, but not all of them do. I recommend reading this chapter from the Tanners for more information on this topic.

Joseph Smith and his scribes wrote of two instruments used in translating the Book of Mormon. According to witnesses of the translation, when Joseph looked into the instruments, the words of scripture appeared in English. One instrument, called in the Book of Mormon the “interpreters,” is better known to Latter-day Saints today as the “Urim and Thummim.” Joseph found the interpreters buried in the hill with the plates. Those who saw the interpreters described them as a clear pair of stones bound together with a metal rim. The Book of Mormon referred to this instrument, together with its breastplate, as a device “kept and preserved by the hand of the Lord” and “handed down from generation to generation, for the purpose of interpreting languages.”

The other instrument, which Joseph Smith discovered in the ground years before he retrieved the gold plates, was a small oval stone, or “seer stone.” As a young man during the 1820s, Joseph Smith, like others in his day, used a seer stone to look for lost objects and buried treasure. As Joseph grew to understand his prophetic calling, he learned that he could use this stone for the higher purpose of translating scripture.

Smith was known for using the occultic practices of his day to look for lost objects and buried treasure. This is confirmed in the September 2015 Ensign. Referencing Josiah Stowell, who had hired Joseph Smith:

Stowell was a prominent resident of South Bainbridge, New York, and for a man of his standing to be searching for buried treasure was not at all unusual, since it was common folk practice at the time. By 1825, young Joseph had a reputation in Manchester and Palmyra for his activities as a treasure seer, or someone who used a seer stone to locate gold or other valuable objects buried in the earth. Thus, it was no surprise that Stowell specifically sought out Joseph’s services. (“Joseph Smith in Harmony,” September 2015, p. 52)

Apparently for convenience, Joseph often translated with the single seer stone rather than the two stones bound together to form the interpreters. These two instruments—the interpreters and the seer stone—were apparently interchangeable and worked in much the same way such that, in the course of time, Joseph Smith and his associates often used the term “Urim and Thummim” to refer to the single stone as well as the interpreters.

If Smith had been provided a set of “interpreters” to help him translate the Book of Mormon, why was there even a need to utilize a seer (magic) stone that had been used previously to search for buried treasure? It would seem that the Urim and Thummim–if Smith really did have them–should have been plenty sufficient. Why would God care about any “convenience” for Smith? If God knows all things and He knew Smith would later have a magic rock that could help in the translation, why even include the Urim and Thummin?

In ancient times, Israelite priests used the Urim and Thummim to assist in receiving divine communications. Although commentators differ on the nature of the instrument, several ancient sources state that the instrument involved stones that lit up or were divinely illumined. Latter-day Saints later understood the term “Urim and Thummim” to refer exclusively to the interpreters. Joseph Smith and others, however, seem to have understood the term more as a descriptive category of instruments for obtaining divine revelations and less as the name of a specific instrument.

There were a few occasions when the Urim and Thummim were used by the high priest…but never for the translation of scripture. According to this Gospel Topics essay, though, this is how these stones were used by Smith. This is apples and oranges. It would be like using a compass today to help make a cake or a protractor to help determine how fast a car is going. While a compass and protractor had specific purposes in their day, GPS and calculators are now used for determining locations and angles. It would be faulty to use a compass and protractor today in ways they were never designed or intended. According to the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ISBE), the Urim and Thummim were created as “a means of revelation used by the high priest in giving Yahweh’s answer to inquiries” and were stored in the high priest’s breastpiece (4:957).

While there is a vague reference to the Urim and Thummim in Ezra 2:63 (though there is no indication that the Urim and Thummim were being used in this reference with nobody having the credentials to use these instruments), the use of the Urim and Thummim seemed to have ceased by the time of David (around 1000 BC) when the use of counselors and prophets began to become more popular. According to the ISBE article:

Present opinion tends to favor the view that this oracular means was not utilized after the time of David; there is no certain evidence of it use after this period. . . . when King Abijah extolled the prerogatives of the Aaronide priesthood (2 Ch. 13:10-12), he did not mention this means (which Dt. 33:8 had placed first). Finally, the advice of prophets was sought when one would have expected consultation of the Urim and Thummim had they still been used.

The ISBE essay then makes an interesting point:

The basic reason for their demise seems to have been that God was weaning His people away from a physical means of revelation to a greater dependence on His word as written or as spoken by the prophets. Thus the prophets grew in importance at the expense of the high priest in answering inquiries with divine revelation. This meant that the easy certainty offered by a mechanical aid for revelation (such as the Urim and Thummim in whatever manner they may have functioned) gave way to the more difficult application of the norms of true and false prophecy (Dt 13:1-4 [MT 2-5]; 18:20-22). This development demanded greater spiritual discernment; consequently the priestly duty of teaching the will of God (Dt. 33:10) received an even greater stress than before.

Theories abound about how the high priest was able to garner the answers from the stones. Still, we must admit that very little is known about the exact process. As the New Illustrated Bible Dictionary puts it, “No one knows the exact nature of the Urim and Thummim or precisely how they were used.” One thing we can know is that they were used to receive God’s will but never for translating scripture from one language to another.

Some people have balked at this claim of physical instruments used in the divine translation process, but such aids to facilitate the communication of God’s power and inspiration are consistent with accounts in scripture. In addition to the Urim and Thummim, the Bible mentions other physical instruments used to access God’s power: the rod of Aaron, a brass serpent, holy anointing oils, the Ark of the Covenant, and even dirt from the ground mixed with saliva to heal the eyes of a blind man.

As mentioned above, the Urim and Thummim were not typically consulted after the time of Saul (David and beyond) for determining the will of God. What also needs to be pointed out is that Smith apparently didn’t use the seer stone or the Urim and Thummim later in his translation career. For example, there is no evidence that he used these devices with the Book of Abraham. If either of these tools had power to translate, we have to ask why he didn’t use what was available to him. Finally, it should be noted that what is mentioned above comes from the Old Testament except for dirt and spit used by Jesus to heal a blind man. How do any of these examples have anything to do with “translation”?

The Mechanics of Translation

In the preface to the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith wrote: “I would inform you that I translated [the book], by the gift and power of God.” When pressed for specifics about the process of translation, Joseph repeated on several occasions that it had been done “by the gift and power of God” and once added, “It was not intended to tell the world all the particulars of the coming forth of the book of Mormon.”

Certainly the Mormon Church doesn’t mind giving more particulars through means of this Gospel Topics essay and the August 2015 revealing of the seer stone.

Nevertheless, the scribes and others who observed the translation left numerous accounts that give insight into the process. Some accounts indicate that Joseph studied the characters on the plates. Most of the accounts speak of Joseph’s use of the Urim and Thummim (either the interpreters or the seer stone), and many accounts refer to his use of a single stone. According to these accounts, Joseph placed either the interpreters or the seer stone in a hat,

This is interesting, something we have never heard before. While we have heard of the seer stone and the hat, nowhere have we ever heard of Smith putting the Urim and Thummim into a hat. These were supposedly spectacles, so how could they have been useful in a hat?

pressed his face into the hat to block out extraneous light, and read aloud the English words that appeared on the instrument. The process as described brings to mind a passage from the Book of Mormon that speaks of God preparing “a stone, which shall shine forth in darkness unto light.”

Imagine a grown adult putting a magic rock into a hat and then looking into that hat to decipher a “translation.” If the plates were written in a language (supposedly “Reformed Egyptian”), and if translations are made by deciphering the meaning from the one language into another, then why didn’t God just provide Smith with the ability to understand the language instead of having his prophet play such silly games–utilizing the folk magic of his day–and open himself up to such criticism in the years to come? No translator of the English Bible, for example, resorted to such measures. Why would God intend for this young man to use his favorite peep stone to create an English translation from an ancient language? Since the LDS Church still has the seer stone, as they have proven, why doesn’t the prophet put the stone in a hat and derive the translation of foreign editions of the Book of Mormon?

None of this makes any sense.

The scribes who assisted with the translation unquestionably believed that Joseph translated by divine power. Joseph’s wife Emma explained that she “frequently wrote day after day” at a small table in their house in Harmony, Pennsylvania. She described Joseph “sitting with his face buried in his hat, with the stone in it, and dictating hour after hour with nothing between us.” According to Emma, the plates “often lay on the table without any attempt at concealment, wrapped in a small linen table cloth.”
According to this admission, Smith didn’t even utilize the plates in his translation. If the “gold plates” just laid there with a table cloth on it, then why did they need to be discovered in the first place? And why does church art not give this impression? For example, consider the February 2001 Ensign magazine cover (right). Where has the church ever published in current manuals or magazines a picture of Smith looking at a rock in a hat? Instead, we get a portrayal of Smith reading the translation off the gold plates, a process the church admits didn’t take place.

When asked if Joseph had dictated from the Bible or from a manuscript he had prepared earlier, Emma flatly denied those possibilities: “He had neither manuscript nor book to read from.” Emma told her son Joseph Smith III, “The Book of Mormon is of divine authenticity—I have not the slightest doubt of it. I am satisfied that no man could have dictated the writing of the manuscripts unless he was inspired; for, when acting as his scribe, your father would dictate to me for 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.”

Emma Smith worked on the book of Lehi, part of the 116 pages that Martin Harris later lost. Thus, none of her scribal work was used in the Book of Mormon we have today. With no account of his translation dictated to her that is extant today, her testimony to the translation of the Book of Mormon is invalidated. We must also remember the Emma is the same woman who denied to her dying day that Joseph Smith practiced plural marriage when she knew he had at least a half dozen additional wives. Should she be considered a witness who ought to be trusted? It appears Emma’s credibility is entirely suspect.

In addition if Smith really did have the ability to have complete paragraphs directly from the King James Version of the Bible–including italicized words–without having access to the Bible or other papers, then this really would have been a divine act of God! As the Tanners write:

The B. of M. sounds Biblical because some 27,000 words are copied, often verbatim, from the King James Version of the Bible. II Nephi chapters 12-24 are copied from Isaiah 2-14, III Nephi 24-25 are copied from Malachi 3-4, and I Nephi 20-21 are copied from Isaiah 48-49 except for a few additions in the B. of M. Even the italicized words are copied from the KJV Bible! The italicized words were not in the original text, but were supplied by the KJV translators to give a better, smoother reading in English. Since the King James Bible was completed in 1611 A.D., and the B. of M. was published in 1830, it is obvious which one copied the other.

Another scribe, Martin Harris sat across the table from Joseph Smith and wrote down the words Joseph dictated. Harris later related that as Joseph used the seer stone to translate, sentences appeared. Joseph read those sentences aloud, and after penning the words, Harris would say, “Written.” An associate who interviewed Harris recorded him saying that Joseph “possessed a seer stone, by which he was enabled to translate as well as from the Urim and Thummim, and for convenience he then used the seer stone.”

The principal scribe, Oliver Cowdery, testified under oath in 1831 that Joseph Smith “found with the plates, from which he translated his book, two transparent stones, resembling glass, set in silver bows. That by looking through these, he was able to read in English, the reformed Egyptian characters, which were engraven on the plates.” In the fall of 1830, Cowdery visited Union Village, Ohio, and spoke about the translation of the Book of Mormon. Soon thereafter, a village resident reported that the translation was accomplished by means of “two transparent stones in the form of spectacles thro which the translator looked on the engraving.”

No such method of translation was ever utilized in previous biblical translation, whether in biblical or postbiblical days. Hence, Smith’s method—if true—is entirely unique and without precedence.


Joseph Smith consistently testified that he translated the Book of Mormon by the “gift and power of God.”

There’s the key words: Joseph Smith “testified.” Really, it becomes his word that must be accepted. As with all of Mormonism, this religion requires complete faith in the founder.

His scribes shared that testimony. The angel who brought news of an ancient record on metal plates buried in a hillside and the divine instruments prepared especially for Joseph Smith to translate were all part of what Joseph and his scribes viewed as the miracle of translation. When he sat down in 1832 to write his own history for the first time, he began by promising to include “an account of his marvelous experience.” The translation of the Book of Mormon was truly marvelous.

There are so many problems with the Book of Mormon, from the actual story to the archaeology to how it was eventually “translated.” Check out 10 reasons why the Book of Mormon is rejected as scripture by Christians

The truth of the Book of Mormon and its divine source can be known today. God invites each of us to read the book, remember the mercies of the Lord and ponder them in our hearts, “and ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true.” God promises that “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.”

As is very typical, Moroni 10:4 is used to emotionally appeal to the audience. (Check out this article that describes why this is not a good strategy.)  Personally, I don’t have enough faith to accept the Book of Mormon as scripture from God.

Consider these other articles on the topic of the Book of Mormon:


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