Criticism of Mormonism/Books/An Insider's View of Mormon Origins/Chapter 4

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Response to claims made in "Chapter 4: Evangelical Protestantism in the Book of Mormon"

A FairMormon Analysis of: An Insider's View of Mormon Origins, a work by author: Grant Palmer
Claim Evaluation
An Insider's View of Mormon Origins
Chart insider chapter 4.jpg

Response to claims made in An Insider's View of Mormon Origins, "Chapter 4: Evangelical Protestantism in the Book of Mormon"

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Response to claim: 95-96, n1-2 - The author claims that elements from Joseph Smith's own life form the basis for a portion of the Book of Mormon

The author(s) of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins make(s) the following claim:

The author claims that elements from Joseph Smith's own life form the basis for a portion of the Book of Mormon.

(Author's sources:
  • Alexander Campbell, Delusions: An Analysis of the Book of Mormon, 19.
  • Jason Whitman, "The Book of Mormon," The Unitarian, 1 Jan. 1834,44,47-49.)

FairMormon Response

Question: What authorship theories are proposed by non-believers to account for the authorship of the Book of Mormon?

There are a wide variety of theories proposed to account for the Book of Mormon, none of which provide any concrete proof

Non-believers produce a variety of theories to explain the existence of the Book of Mormon. A number of different authorship theories have been proposed since the book was first published in 1830. One critic of the Church even goes so far as to suggest that the Church encourages challenging the authorship of the Book of Mormon.

Ever since it was first published in 1830, numerous secular and non-secular theories have been proposed to account for the existence of the Book of Mormon. Initially, it was assumed that the book was the product of Joseph Smith’s own creative mind—a book not worthy of attention since it could not possibly contain anything of value. As critics began to actually read the book however, it became apparent that the depth and complexity of the writing did not fit well with the proposal that Joseph Smith, Jr. as the book’s sole author. This gave rise to the theory that Joseph Smith had an educated accomplice in his effort to create the book. The accomplices most often proposed are typically Sidney Rigdon and Oliver Cowdery.

Some secular authorship theories also postulate that Joseph Smith plagiarized sources that may have been available to him during the time that he was producing the Book of Mormon. The most commonly referenced potential sources include an unpublished manuscript by Solomon Spalding, a published work called View of the Hebrews, and the King James Bible.

Had anyone other than Joseph Smith "authored" the Book of Mormon, it surely would have come out by now: the person that is able to move millions can make millions. Breaking this story to the world would truly be the religious story of the century. The fact that no one has come forward is due simply to the fact that there is no one else: any other explanation, besides that given by Joseph Smith simply doesn't hold any water. Anyone who has read the Book of Mormon knows that if Joseph Smith or anyone else had written the Book of Mormon 'from whole cloth' would be infinitely more miraculous than the account given by Joseph Smith.

Authorship theory categories

Non-secular authorship theories (those involving some sort of “spiritual” element) usually fall into one of the following categories:

  • Joseph Smith’s own story that he received the plates from an angel and translated them by “the power of God,” but that the work thus produced is simply inspirational fiction.
  • Joseph Smith created the book through “non-divine” inspiration.
  • Joseph Smith wrote the book without any knowledge of what he was writing through a process called “automatic” or “spirit” writing. Closely related to this theory is that Joseph wrote the book during fits of Epilesy.

Book of Mormon secular authorship theories usually fall into one of the following categories:

  • Joseph Smith wrote the book on his own, without assistance and with full knowledge that he was writing a work of fiction. It is sometimes postulated that Joseph wrote the book by drawing upon his own life’s experiences.
  • Joseph Smith wrote the book on his own by plagiarizing works that were available to him. Examples of this are the Spalding manuscript theory, the View of the Hebrews theory, and The Golden Pot theory.
  • An associate of Joseph Smith (Sidney Rigdon or Oliver Cowdery) wrote the book, either alone or in a group, and then allowed Joseph to take the credit.
  • Some combination of theories involving associates and plagiarism together. An example of this is the Spalding-Rigdon theory.

Critics of the Book of Mormon do not agree on a prevailing theory

The critics themselves have never come to an agreement on which theory holds the most promise. For example, Fawn Brodie discounted the Spalding-Rigdon theory in favor of the View of the Hebrews theory. Various authorship theories have fallen into or out of favor as new evidence has come to light. The Spalding-Rigdon theory, first introduced by E. D. Howe in his anti-Mormon book Mormonism Unvailed, was quite popular until the later discovery of a Spalding manuscript which bore little resemblance to the Book of Mormon narrative. The View of the Hebrews theory became popular with the publishing of B. H. Roberts’ critical examination of the Book of Mormon titled Studies of the Book of Mormon. The best argument against View of the Hebrews being the source for the Book of Mormon is the text of View of the Hebrews itself. Because the book was not widely available for many years, Brigham Young University re-published it in order to make it available to those who wished to make this comparison for themselves.

All new theories that are proposed tend to combine elements of various older theories in an ever evolving attempt to pin down, in secular terms, the precise origin of the Book of Mormon.


Response to claim: 96 - The author believes that one would not expect to find "camp meeting" elements among ancient Americans

The author(s) of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins make(s) the following claim:

The author believes that one would not expect to find "camp meeting" elements among ancient Americans.

(Author's sources: Author’s opinion.)

FairMormon Response

Question: Why would "camp meeting" elements appear in the story of King Benjamin's temple speech in the Book of Mormon?

The same elements that the critics consider 19th century attributes in the Book of Mormon are also evidences of ancient Israelite origin

Terryl Givens notes,

[A]lthough the content of the Alma conversion story suggests to some the influence of contemporary conditions, the account as narrated in the Book of Mormon exhibits a complex structure of inverted parallelism or chiasmus that has been persuasively connected to ancient Old World forms....The same story, in other words, is invoked as telling evidence of both nineteenth-century composition and authentically ancient origins. [Blake] Ostler sees an example of such divergent readings in King Benjamin's great temple speech (Mos 2-6), that incorporates elements common to Methodist camp meetings, but at least as convincing are more than a dozen formal elements of Israelite covenant renewal festivals contained in the speech.[1]


Response to claim: 97, n6 - King Benjamin's farewell speech parallels that of Methodist leader Bishop M'Kendree

The author(s) of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins make(s) the following claim:

King Benjamin's farewell speech parallels that of Methodist leader Bishop M'Kendree.

(Author's sources:
  • Rev. Z. Paddock, Memoir of Rev. Benjamin G. Paddock ,177-81
  • "Genesee Conference," Methodist Magazine 9 (Aug. 1826): 313
  • George Peck, Early Methodism within the Bounds of the Old Genesee Conference from 1788 to 1828, 509.
  • Mosiah 2:1
  • Mosiah 5-7:
  • Mosiah 28-30:)

FairMormon Response

Question: Was Bishop M'Kendree, a Methodist revivalist preacher, the model for King Benjamin in the Book of Mormon?

The parallels between the Methodist camp meeting at which M'Kendree appeared and King Benjamin's speech are general, sometimes manufactured, and likely coincidental

It is claimed by some who believe that Joseph Smith fabricated the Book of Mormon on his own, that Bishop M'Kendree—a Methodist revivalist preacher in Joseph Smith's era—was the model for "King Benjamin" in the Book of Mormon. An account by from Benjamin Paddock is usually cited in support of this claim. M'Kendree appeared at a Methodist camp meeting that was held one mile from Palmyra, New York, on 7 June 1826.

The parallels between the Methodist camp meeting and King Benjamin's speech are general, sometimes manufactured, and likely coincidental.

  • There is no evidence that Joseph Smith was even in the area in which the conference occurred.
  • The critics confuse and combine different events and do not accurately report those events.
  • The critics misreport the events in ways that seem calculated to make them seem more like the Book of Mormon than they were.
  • The matter for which the conference was talked about had nothing to do with the matter which the critics try to make the source for the Book of Mormon.

As with many of Grant Palmer's comparisons, once one takes the time to look at the comparison that he makes, and the actual sources he uses, one finds that the argument is not as compelling as Palmer believes it to be. This is not to say that there aren't some parallels, but let us first look at matters which Palmer must address before we can give much weight to his claim.

Historical background of the Methodist Camp meeting and M'Kendree's participation in it

Here is the historical background from Palmer:

Protestant concepts appear to abound in his discourses and experiences. For example, a Methodist camp meeting was held one mile from Palmyra, New York, on 7 June 1826 - a pivotal time in Joseph's life. Preparations for a camp meeting included leasing and consecrating the ground. Thus the "ground within the circle of the tents is considered sacred to the worship of God, and is our chapel." The Methodists referred to these "consecrated grounds" as their "House of God" or temple. The Palmyra camp meeting reportedly attracted over 10,000 people. Families came from all parts of the 100-mile conference district and pitched their tents facing the raised "stand" where the preachers were seated, including one named Benjamin G. Paddock (fig. 20). This large crowd heard the "valedictory" or farewell speech of their beloved "Bishop M'Kendree [who] made his appearance among us for the last time." He was the Methodist leader who "had presided" over the area for many years. The people had such reverence for this "sainted" man "that all were melted, and ... awed in his presence." In his emaciated and "feeble" condition, he spoke of his love for the people and then delivered a powerful message that covered "the whole process of personal salvation." Tremendous unity prevailed among the crowd, and "nearly every unconverted person on the ground" committed oneself to Christ. At the close of the meeting, the blessings and newly appointed "Stations of the Preachers" were made for the Ontario district.[2]

We can see where he wants to put emphasis for our easy comparison. Palmer's primary source is the memoir of this Benjamin G. Paddock. This book is available on-line.

It is unlikely that Joseph would have made the trip back to Palmyra to attend this event

The material cited by Palmer is on pages 177–181. A complete copy of this text is available in the wiki here (so that readers can examine it easily in its original context). Palmer actually seems far more concerned about making his parallels than he is about accuracy. Perhaps he believed that using an obscure source would allow him to be a little loose with the details. Here are three major problems with this particular little bit of text written by Palmer:

  1. While Joseph Smith's home is in Palmyra in June of 1826, Joseph himself is boarding with his future Father-in-law Isaac Hales, in Harmony Pennsylvania in 1826. It seems unlikely that Joseph would have made the trip back to Palmyra to attend this event.
  2. Can be seen from reading the full text, there are two concurrent events: The first is a Conference (an annual Conference for this religious group, much like LDS General Conference). For that event, there is a stage set up, the leading preachers are up on the stage, and some of them speak. The second is the camp meeting, which is associated with this first event. The camp meeting was held at the same time as the Conference, but it wasn't the same thing—and as Benjamin Paddock's memoir relates, "A great camp-meeting was held in connection with it. The ground was only about a mile from the village, so that members of the Conference not immediately and specially employed could take part in its services. At that early day, and previously, meetings of the kind were not unfrequently held in the neighborhood of our Annual Conferences; but the present one was exceptionally large." In other words, there was a camp that was often set up near the conference, and those who weren't tied up with the conference itself would go and preach to the crowd at the camp-meeting. The reason why this is interesting is that the camp meeting wasn't the reason why Bishop M'Kendree was there. And there isn't any indication that Bishop M'Kendree attended the camp meeting.
  3. Palmer says that Bishop M'Kendree gives a farewell speech. The reports are conflicted. Paddock tells us (referring to the Conference) that: "He was too feeble to preside, and occupied the chair only once or twice, and then only for a few minutes at a time. Still, however, at the urgent request of Bishop Hedding and leading members of the Conference, he signed the Journals at the close of the session as one of its presiding officers. Brethren were anxious to secure at least his signature as a memorial of his visit." So, here, it isn't mentioned as a farewell speech, although he does get up once or twice it notes.

The other account comes from George Peck's 1860 book Early Methodism within the bounds of the old Genesee Conference from 1788 to 1828: or the first forty years of Wesleyan evangelism in northern Pennsylvania, central and western New York, and Canada on pages 509-510:

1826. The conference met at Palmyra, 7th of June. Bishops M'Kendree and Hedding were present.

This session of the conference is noticeable as the one in which Bishop M'Kendree made his appearance among us for the last time. He was at the first session and signed the journal. He had presided at the sessions up to the year 1816, inclusive, since which he had not paid us a visit. He came to take leave. He opened the first session, made an instructive address in the the form of an exposition upon the lesson read from the Scriptures, and finally gave us his valedictory. In the journal for Monday it is recorded that

Bishop M'Kendree delivered a very appropriate address to the members of this conference, which he supposed to be his valedictory." It did not prove to be, as he supposed, his valedictory! He appeared in the conference on the last day of the session, as the following record shows:

Bishop M'Kendree having addressed the conference on the importance of missionary exertions and Sunday schools, therefore,

Resolved, That this conference heartily concur in the sentiments expressed by the bishops, and pledge themselves to use their influence to promote the cause of missions and of Sunday schools throughout their respective circuits and stations."

So where does all of the stuff in Palmer's book come from about this farewell speech about "the whole process of personal salvation"?

So where does all of the stuff in Palmer come from about this farewell speech about "the whole process of personal salvation"? Well, that comes from Paddock's description of the camp meeting (not the conference) when on the Sabbath, five of the participants at the conference gave sermons at the camp meeting:

But the Sabbath was the great day of the feast. Beginning in the morning at eight o'clock, five sermons were preached before the services closed in the evning. Bishop Hedding and Dr. Bangs took the two appointments nearest the meridian of the day, and preached with even more than their ordinary freedom and power. At about five in the afternoon the stand was assigned to the Rev. Glezen Fillmore, then in the vigor of mature manhood, now - for he still lives, a blessing to the Church and the world - trembling on the extreme verge of time. The sermon was in his best stule - more carefully prepared and more effectively delivered than were his discourses generally. The latter part of it contemplated the whole process of personal salvation, from its incipiency to its consummation in the world of light."

So, according to the sources, it's not this Bishop M'Kendree who speaks on personal salvation, It is a Reverend Glezen Fillmore

So, it's not this Bishop M'Kendree who speaks on personal salvation, it's not even Benjamin Paddock (who it seems never addressed either the conference or the camp meeting - having only been in the ministry for two years at this point). It is a Reverend Glezen Fillmore, who wasn't feeble or old, but rather was in the prime of his life according to Paddock (he was actually 37 years old at the time), and he was preaching in Rochester in 1826 when he came to the conference.

Nowhere in either account is this man (Bishop M'Kendree) delivering a sermon on personal salvation

On top of all of this, Paddock describes an event at the conference which he calls remarkable:

The sermon was in his best style - more carefully prepared and more effectively delivered than were his discourses generally. The latter part of it contemplated the whole process of personal salvation, from its incipiency to its consummation in the world of light. Having traced the track of the believer, all along from the dawn of spiritual life till he had entered the land of Beulah, and was about to plume himself for his flight to the celestial city, the speaker paused as if struggling with irrepressible emotion, and, looking upward, exclaimed, "O God, hold thy servant together while for a moment he looks through the gates ajar into the New Jerusalem!"

To describe the effect would be quite impossible. A tide of emotion swept over the congregation that seemed to carry all before it. I was seated near Bishop Hedding, who, from fatigue, was reclining upon a bed under and a little to the rear of the stand. It had been noticed before that he was much affected by the sermon; but when the sentence given above was uttered, the tears almost literally spurted from his eyes, and his noble form shook as if under the resistless control of a galvanic battery. The Rev. Goodwin Stoddard exhorted, and invited seekers within the circle of prayer in front of the stand. Hundreds came forward; some said nearly every unconverted person on the ground. In the spring of 1828, when I was pastor in Rochester, the delegates from New England, on their way to the General Conference in Pittsburgh, called and spent the Sabbath with me. Almost the first thing they said after we met was, "Where is that brother that wanted God to hold him together while he looked into heaven a moment?" It seems that the good Bishop had reported the sermon in more circles than one, for others from the east made a similar inquiry.

This is the event for which this Conference with its camp-meeting was best remembered. So, nowhere in either account is this man (Bishop M'Kendree) delivering a sermon on personal salvation. His role in the community has been overstated by Palmer (he hasn't attended the previous seven conference between 1816 and 1826). Yes there are some similarities that can be drawn—but these are nothing but coincidental. Palmer is misrepresenting his sources to make the parallels seem much stronger (trying to make the platform stage of the conference resemble King Benjamin's tower, for example).

And, finally, this would have been more interesting if Joseph Smith had likely been present. But he probably wasn't, and what he would have heard about the conference might have been the remarkable event that Paddock refers to that was talked about for quite some time.


Response to claim: 99-100, n7 - The story of King Benjamin’s sermon is similar to a Methodist camp meeting

The author(s) of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins make(s) the following claim:

The story of King Benjamin’s sermon is similar to a Methodist camp meeting.

(Author's sources: Mark D. Thomas, "Revival Language in the Book of Mormon," Sunstone 8 (May-June 1983): 20.)

FairMormon Response

Question: Why would "camp meeting" elements appear in the story of King Benjamin's temple speech in the Book of Mormon?

The same elements that the critics consider 19th century attributes in the Book of Mormon are also evidences of ancient Israelite origin

Terryl Givens notes,

[A]lthough the content of the Alma conversion story suggests to some the influence of contemporary conditions, the account as narrated in the Book of Mormon exhibits a complex structure of inverted parallelism or chiasmus that has been persuasively connected to ancient Old World forms....The same story, in other words, is invoked as telling evidence of both nineteenth-century composition and authentically ancient origins. [Blake] Ostler sees an example of such divergent readings in King Benjamin's great temple speech (Mos 2-6), that incorporates elements common to Methodist camp meetings, but at least as convincing are more than a dozen formal elements of Israelite covenant renewal festivals contained in the speech.[3]


Old world patterns of kingship in Mosiah 1-6

Stephen D. Ricks,

The first six chapters of Mosiah are remarkable in several ways....They also give us a picture of how Mosiah succeeded his father, Benjamin, to the Nephite throne. Many features of the ceremony that was involved reflect the traditions of ancient Israelite culture. First is the significance of the office of king. Second is the coronation ceremony for the new king. The details of this ceremony have parallels in Israel and other ancient Near Eastern societies and even in other parts of the world. Finally, the order of events reported in these chapters reflects the "treaty-covenant" pattern well known in ancient Israel and the ancient Near East. [4]

Response to claim: 110 - Joseph Smith was an “exhorter” at evening meetings

The author(s) of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins make(s) the following claim:

Joseph Smith was an “exhorter” at evening meetings.

(Author's sources: Previously referenced in the chapter.)

FairMormon Response

Question: Did Joseph Smith join the Methodists as an "exhorter" years after being told not to join another church during the First Vision?

Joseph was not a "licensed exhorter" for the Methodists, but instead participated in a "juvenile debating club"

Although the Palmyra Register does not specify the location of the Methodist camp meeting in 1820, we do have evidence that meetings were indeed occurring on Vienna Road. John Matzko cites Orsamus Turner,

At some point between 1821 and 1829, Smith served as “a very passable exhorter” at Methodist camp meetings “away down in the woods, on the Vienna Road.”[5]

It should be noted that Matzko's assertion that this occurred "between 1821 and 1829" is not supported by the source, since Turner never specifies the timeframe during which Joseph acted as an "exhorter." Despite the fact that Turner is a hostile source , the full quote does contain some important additional information,

But Joseph had a little ambition, and some very laudable aspirations; the mother's intellect occasionally shone out in him feebly, especially when he used to help us to solve some portentous questions of moral or political ethics, in our juvenile debating club, which we moved down to the old red school-house on Durfee street, to get rid of the annoyance of critics that used to drop in upon us in the village; amid, subsequently, after catching a spark of Methodism in the camp-meeting, away down in the woods, on the Vienna road, he was a very passable exhorter in evening meetings.[6]

Joseph could not have been a "licensed exhorter" without being a member of the Methodist Church

This quote presents critics with a dilemma (as can be seen in the Wikipedia article "First Vision"). Critics wish to demonstrate the Joseph was associated with the Methodists after being instructed during the First Vision not to join any church. They attempt to do this by minimizing the mention of a "debate club" and instead imply that Joseph was a formal "exhorter" in Methodist meetings. It is noteworthy, however, that even critic Dan Vogel states that Joseph "could not have been a licensed exhorter since membership was a prerequisite."[7]

This is consistent with Joseph Smith's own history, in which he stated that he became "partial to the Methodist sect" and that he "felt some desire to be united with them"

Joseph Smith:

During this time of great excitement my mind was called up to serious reflection and great uneasiness; but though my feelings were deep and often poignant, still I kept myself aloof from all these parties, though I attended their several meetings as often as occasion would permit. In process of time my mind became somewhat partial to the Methodist sect, and I felt some desire to be united with them; but so great were the confusion and strife among the different denominations, that it was impossible for a person young as I was, and so unacquainted with men and things, to come to any certain conclusion who was right and who was wrong.[8]


Response to claim: 114, n32 - The Book of Mormon includes hundreds of popular phrases from frontier preaching

The author(s) of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins make(s) the following claim:

The Book of Mormon includes hundreds of popular phrases from frontier preaching.

(Author's sources: The author provides the following equivalents: Alma 5:15=1 Cor. 15:53; 5:24=Matt. 8:11; 5:42=Rom. 6:23; 5:48= John 1:14,29; 5:50=Matt. 3:2; 5:52=Matt. 3:10; 5:54=Matt. 3:8; 5:57=2 Cor. 6:17.)

FairMormon Response

Response to claim: 120 - The Book of Mormon teaches that all men are evil as a result of the Fall

The author(s) of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins make(s) the following claim:

The Book of Mormon teaches that all men are evil as a result of the Fall.

(Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

Question: What to Latter-day Saints believe regarding the concept of "original sin"?

Latter-day Saints believe that "original sin" as commonly understood in many branches of western Christianity was not a doctrine taught by the Bible, Jesus, or the apostles

The Second Article of Faith states that "We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression." There is a form of "original sin" in LDS theology, but it is a matter that has been resolved through the atonement of Christ:

And our father Adam spake unto the Lord, and said: Why is it that men must repent and be baptized in water? And the Lord said unto Adam: Behold I have forgiven thee thy transgression in the Garden of Eden. Hence came the saying abroad among the people, that the Son of God hath atoned for original guilt, wherein the sins of the parents cannot be answered upon the heads of the children, for they are whole from the foundation of the world. (Moses 6:53-54, emphasis added.)

Thus, LDS theology explicitly rejects the idea that Adam's "original sin" results in a condemnation of the entire human race. Efforts to insist that all of humanity is thereby tainted, all desires are corrupted, or all infants are damned without baptism are untrue. Because of temptation and the instinctive desires of physical bodies, human beings wrestle with the desire to sin (Matthew 26:41; Mosiah 3:19), but Adam's actions in the Garden of Eden have no bearing on this.

As Wilford Woodruff taught:

What is called the original sin was atoned for through the death of Christ irrespective of any action on the part of man; also man's individual sin was atoned for by the same sacrifice, but on condition of his obedience to the Gospel plan of salvation when proclaimed in his hearing.” [9]

Concluded Elaine Pagels:

Astonishingly, Augustine’s radical views prevailed, eclipsing for future generations of Western Christians the consensus of the first three centuries of Christian tradition. [10]

Original sin is the innovation. It is a post-biblical novelty without scriptural support.

Given that the doctrine is explicitly repudiated by modern revelation, the Saints feel no need to accept it.

Clearly, any effort to exclude the Church from Christendom because they reject original sin must also exclude several hundred million Eastern Orthodox and Anabaptists. Clearly, such a standard would be nonsensical.


Question: Is original sin a biblical doctrine?

Many authors have noted that the modern doctrine of "original sin" is at variance with much of both the Old and New Testament

James Barr wrote:

Our ideas about the origin of evil have an effect on our ideas about humanity and its potentialities and limitations in the present-day world” (59-60)...

For the traditional Christian conception of the origins of evil, the dominant passages are in St. Paul [Rom 5.12; 5.18; I Cor 15.21-22, 47, 49]….

The most noticeable thing about them is the stress they throw upon the disobedience of Adam…. Its effect was instant and completely catastrophic. There is no matter of degree or development. The slightest sin was total and universal in its effect: sin, it seems, completely, and not partially, altered man’s relation to God…. Later theologians worked out, on this basis, the doctrine of original sin” (60-1).

“All this has been the familiar and traditional Christian position. It is so familiar, so deeply implanted in our traditions, that it comes as something of a surprise to realize that it is after all a rather rare emphasis within the New Testament itself; and, in particular, it is an emphasis that seems to be lacking from the teaching of Jesus himself….

There is no doctrine of original sin to be found in Jesus’ teaching…. And, if it is not in Jesus’ teaching, it is equally absent from many other parts of the New Testament…. It is intrinsically Pauline” (61-2).

“Nowhere in the entire Hebrew Bible is the disobedience of Adam and Eve cited as explanation for sin or evil in the world. This reference…simply does not occur…. The Old Testament, far from taking the universal sinfulness of man as an obvious and ineluctable fact, seems rather, taken as a whole, to insist upon the possibility of avoiding sin” (67).

“The main Jewish tradition, as we know it since the Middle Ages, has refused to accept any sort of doctrine of original sin…. Moral problems are serious choices for the Jew, and they are serious choices because one has freedom to sin or not to sin. There is indeed the idea of the two yesers, formations or inclinations, the good and the bad, both of which are implanted in man and between which he has to choose…. Adam, like the other men of the first beginnings, was often regarded with admiration: he was a very great man. As Ben Sira put it, looking back over the worthies of the Bible who should be remembered: ‘Shem and Seth were honored among men but Adam is above every living being in the creation’ [Ecclesiasticus 49.16]” ;(68). “all this then raises the serious question: was St. Paul really at all right in his understanding the story of Adam and Eve as the cataclysmic entrance of sin and death?” (69). [11]

A better question may be, is the understanding of St. Paul adopted by the western Christian tradition actually correct? Where did this reading of Paul come from? Why would "Paul's" conception of original sin vary so profoundly from both the Jewish and New Testament tradition?

Interestingly, it all starts with one man, well after the death of Jesus and the apostles—Augustine of Hippo.


Question: What is the origin of the doctrine of original sin?

There is no evidence that the doctrine existed before Augustine

One non-LDS author observed:

The idea of ‘original sin’ has been so commonly identified with traditional Christianity that the rejection of the one has seemed to imply a rejection of the other. It is supposedly an unquestioned assumption of Christian soteriology. In truth, the teaching that all...men are guilty of Adam’s sin, that each person must pay the penalty for, as Augustine declared (De corrept. et grat., 28), is really the product of his legalistic and Neo-platonic imagination. No scholarly work, whether treating the Scriptures or the Fathers, has demonstrated…that the idea of ‘original sin’ belongs to ‘the faith once delivered to the saints’ (Jude 3) or ever existed before Augustine. The same may be said for his theories of Grace and Predestination which accompany it, all of which are the result of his ‘Neo-platonic world-view’ [quoting G. Nygren, ‘The Augustinian Conception of Grace,’ Studia Patristica 2 (1955): 260]. Many of his contemporaries opposed him [and] … were scandalized by his lack of traditionalism—and not without justification” (39). [12]

We learn, then, that:

  • there is no evidence that the doctrine existed before Augustine
  • Augustine's view drew on his legal training, and his background in Greek Neo-Platonism.
  • there was great opposition to Augustine's views, because his concept of "original sin" was not the traditional Christian teaching, but a drastic novelty.
  • Augustine's novel view of original sin led to alteration in other doctrine, such as his ideas on Grace and Predestination.

Augustine's mistranslation

Part of Augustine's error can be explained by the fact that he did not read or speak Greek. He was forced, then, to rely on Latin translations of both the scriptures and the writings of other early Christians.

As Azkoul goes on to observe:

The moralist problem concerning the transmission of guilt and death to the descendants of Adam which preoccupied Augustine made a traditional reading of the verse [Romans 5:12] impossible. He not only abused it, but the entire witness of St. Paul with its Hebraic background. Unfortunately, the Bishop of Hippo [i.e., Augustine] did not know Greek and depended on the Latin translation of the New Testament. It was Ambrosiaster who provided, perhaps unwittingly, with Romans 5.12 as a proof-text” (42). The Latin text was rendered: ‘Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world and death by sin, so death passed upon all men, for all have sinned.’ The correct translation from the Greek reads: ‘Wherefore, as by one man sin entered the world and through sin death; on account of death all have sinned’ (42-3). Neither Origen [whom Augustine read: CD xi. 23] or Ambrosiaster gave voice to the doctrine of ‘original sin.’…. Quite simply, then, Augustine strayed from the truth, the Apostolic Tradition, and any attempt to justify his innovations by an appeal to some questionable principle of historical interpretation—‘doctrinal development’—will not help“. [13]

On the need for infant baptism

Of the consequences of Augustine's mistake, Stephen Duffy writes:

“his [Augustine’s] interpretation [of Romans 5.12], mistaken as it was, and deriving from the erroneous Old Latin version, would play a crucial role in the development of the later doctrine of original sin.” Ambrosiaster, the name given to an anonymous late fourth century commentator on the writings of Paul “does not seem [to think that] we are punished for Adam’s sin, but for our own: ‘…We are not made guilty by the fact of birth, but by evil deeds’ [On Romans 5.12-14; Questions on the Old and New Testaments 21f]” (63)...

“While granting that the tragic fall-out from Adam’s sin has contaminated all, Greek Christianity negates any transmission of guilt from Adam to his posterity. And the Eastern anthropology is in general more optimistic than that of the West. The two Gregories [Nyssa and Nazianzus] and Chrysostom maintain that the newborn are free from sin and so they are unperturbed about children dying without baptism….

Gregory of Nyssa, e.g., asserts that sin is congenital and that even Christ’s humanity was prone to sin [hamartetiken]” (63). Didymus the blind (ca. 313-398), last head of the famous catechetical school of Alexandria, speaks of the sin of Adam in virtue of which all are under sin, which is transmitted, it seems, by the sexual union of their parents. This involuntary, hereditary sin calls for purification not punishment [On 2 Corinthians 4.17 and Against the Manichaeans 8]” (64). “All this falls short of the classical Augustinian doctrine of original sin but key elements of that doctrine were already taking shape, especially in the West” (64). [14]

LDS readers see this as clear evidence of the apostasy impacting Christian doctrine—the loss of the apostles led Augustine and others to try to resolve difficult issues. Augustine was influenced by his culture, his practice of law, and his philosophical neo-platonism. These led him and others to gradually alter Christian doctrine, and yet these alterations would snowball. Augustine's adoption of original sin led, logically, to the need to baptize infants—an idea totally at variance with earlier Christian practice and doctrine.

Effect on ideas of grace and predestination

One error (Augustine's view of original sin) led to other alterations to Christian doctrine, which previous generations would have found incomprehensible:

According to Augustine, ‘original sin’ precluded any human cooperation with the divine Grace…. The human will is powerless to choose the good by virtue of the evil inherited from Adam. Unable to choose, he must be drawn irresistibly to God by grace. Original sin and predestination are both innovations without support in the Tradition of the Church. [15]

Azkoul then translates from G.F. Wiggers, Versuch einer pragmatischen Darstellung des Augustinisimus und Pelagianismus (Hamburg 1821: 448):

“In reference to predestination the Fathers before Augustine were entirely at variance with him and in agreement with Pelagius…. No ecclesiastical author had ever yet explained the Epistle to the Romans (e.g., Rom. 5.12) as Augustine had…. It was only by a doubtful inference, too, that he appealed to Cyprian, Ambrose, Gregory of Nazianzus, etc….’” [16]


Question: Is the concept of "original sin" part of all Christian theology?

Original sin is not part of all Christian theology

Many western Christians assume that "original sin" is a core part of Christian theology. While this may be true for theologies descended from Augustine's innovation, it is not true of Christianity as a whole.

For example, the Eastern Orthodox have quite a different view:

“In the Eastern patristic tradition …this experience is different from the Western, more legalistic, post-Augustinian, medieval conception of ‘original sin’ which makes every human guilty of the sin committed by Adam in paradise” (471). In the Eastern tradition “salvation is not only a liberation from death and sin; it is also the restoration of the original human destiny, which consists in being the ‘image of God’…. Humanity finds its ultimate destiny in communion with God, that is, in theosis, or deification” (472). [17]

And:

“The East did not accept Augustine’s notion of original sin and saw its consequence not as guilt but as mortality. Guilt is only acquitted through the personal exercise of the free will, through personal sin” (356). [18]

Other denominations also rejected Augustine's alteration to the doctrine. This author is a Mennonite theologian:

“Anabaptists insisted that Jesus’ atonement had canceled Original Sin’s guilt and restored children everywhere to an initial state of grace. Infant baptism, then, was no longer needed to wash away this sin. Anabaptists thus viewed humankind not as a massa perditionis but as initially graced” (86). [19]


Response to claim: 121-122, n48 - Joseph is claimed to have evolved his view of the Godhead over time

The author(s) of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins make(s) the following claim:

Joseph is claimed to have evolved his view of the Godhead over time.

(Author's sources:
  • 2 Nephi 31:21
  • Wilford C. Wood, Joseph Smith Begins His Work: Book of Mormon 1830 First Edition, 1:25-26,32; d. 1 Ne. 11:16, 18,21,32; 13:40, 1981 ed.)

FairMormon Response

Question: Did Joseph Smith begin his prophetic career with a "trinitarian" idea of God?

Joseph and the early Saints were not trinitarian, and understood God's embodiment and the identity of the Father and Son as separate beings very early on

This doctrine is apparent in the Book of Mormon, and in the earliest friendly and non-friendly accounts of such matters from the Saints.

Such texts demonstrate that the supposed 'evidence' for Joseph altering his story later is only in the eyes of critical beholders. For example, Joseph's 1832 First Vision account focuses on the remission of his sins. However, critics who wish to claim that in 1832 Joseph had only a vaguely "trinitarian" idea of God (and so would see the Father and the Son as only one being) have missed vital evidence which must be considered.[20]

Martin Harris remembered rejecting the ideas of creedal Trinitarianism prior to meeting Joseph

Martin dictated an account of his early spiritual search:

"52 years ago I was Inspired of the Lord & Tought of the Spirit that I should not Join Eny Church although I Was anxiousley Sought for by meny of the Secatirans[.] I Was taught I could not Walk togther unless agreed[.] What can you not be agreed in [is] in the Trinity because I can not find it in my Bible[.] find it for me & I am Ready to Receive it. 3 Persons in one god[.] one Personage I can not concede for this is Antichrist for Where is the Father & Son[?] I have more proof to Prove 9 Persons in the Trinity then you have 3[.]...other sects the Epicopalians also tired me[.] they say 3 Persons in one god Without Body Parts or Passions[.] I Told them such A god I would not be afraid of: I could not Please or offend him[.] [I] Would not be afraid to fight A Duel With such A god.[21]

It would be very strange for Martin to feel so strongly on this point, only to embrace Joseph's teachings if Joseph taught creedal trinitarianism.

1829 - In the Book of Mormon one [Christ] followed by twelve others descends from God to speak with Lehi--thus, Jesus and the Father are here both separate

The Book of Mormon also begins (1 Nephi 1:8-10) with Lehi's vision of God on his throne. One [Christ] followed by twelve others descends from God to speak with Lehi--thus, Jesus and the Father are here both separate, and the role of Christ in giving instructions to the prophet while the Father looks on and approves is followed, just as it was in Joseph's First Vision. Here too, Lehi is described as praying to "the Lord," and yet has a vision of both God the Father and Christ.

1830 - Book of Moses: "And I have a work for thee, Moses, my son; and thou art in the similitude of mine Only Begotten"

Between June and October 1830, Joseph had dictated his revision (the "Joseph Smith Translation") to Genesis.[22] The first chapter of Moses was dictated in June 1830 (about a month after the Church's reorganization), and began:

2 And [Moses] saw God face to face, and he talked with him, and the glory of God was upon Moses; therefore Moses could endure his presence.

3 And God spake unto Moses, saying: Behold, I am the Lord God Almighty, and Endless is my name; for I am without beginning of days or end of years; and is not this endless?

4 And, behold, thou art my son; wherefore look, and I will show thee the workmanship of mine hands; but not all, for my works are without end, and also my words, for they never cease.

5 Wherefore, no man can behold all my works, except he behold all my glory; and no man can behold all my glory, and afterwards remain in the flesh on the earth.

6 And I have a work for thee, Moses, my son; and thou art in the similitude of mine Only Begotten; and mine Only Begotten is and shall be the Savior, for he is full of grace and truth; but there is no God beside me, and all things are present with me, for I know them all (Moses 1:2-6)

Here already, God distinguishes himself from the Only Begotten, Moses sees and speaks with God face to face, and says that Moses was created "in the similitude of mine Only Begotten."

Joseph's rendered Genesis 1:26 as:

And I, God, said unto mine Only Begotten, which was with me from the beginning, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and it was so....And I, God, created man in mine own image, in the image of mine Only Begotten created I him; male and female created I them. (Moses 2:26-27.)

There can be no doubt that Joseph understood "in mine own image" to refer to a physical likeness, rather than merely a moral or intellectual one. The JST of Genesis 5:1-2 reads

In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him; in the image of his own body, male and female, created he them (Moses 6:8-9, emphasis added)

Thus, by 1830 Joseph was clearly teaching a separation of the Father and Son, and insisting that both had some type of physical form which could be copied in the creation of humanity.

Joseph's mother, Lucy Mack Smith, also noted that other Christian denominations took issue with the new Church because of its teachings about God, noting that in 1830:

the different denominations are very much opposed to us.... The Methodists also come, and they rage, for they worship a God without body or parts, and they know that our faith comes in contact with this principle.[23]

1831 - Joseph "saw the heavens opened, and the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of the Father"

Anti-Mormon writers in 1831 noted that Joseph claimed to have received "a commission from God"; and the Mormons claimed that Joseph "had seen God frequently and personally."[24] That Joseph's enemies knew he claimed to have "seen God," indicates that the doctrine of an embodied God that could be seen was well-known early on.

John Whitmer would also write in 1831 of a vision enjoyed by Joseph in which Joseph saw Christ as separate from the Father, for he "saw the heavens opened, and the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of the Father making intercession for his brethren, the Saints." (emphasis added) [25] Of this same experience, Levi Hancock wrote:

Joseph Smith then stepped out onto the floor and said, 'I now see God, and Jesus Christ at his right hand, let them kill me, I should not feel death as I am now.' (emphasis added) [26]

1832 - In the 1832 account of the First Vision, Jesus announces to Joseph that he will come "clothed in the glory of my Father"

One should first note that in the 1832 account of the First Vision, Jesus announces to Joseph that he will come "clothed in the glory of my Father." The Book of Mormon (translated three years earlier in 1829) also contains numerous passages which teach a physical separation and embodiment (even if only in spirit bodies, which are clearly not immaterial, but have shape, position, and form) of the members of the Godhead. (See: 3 Nephi 11:, 1 Nephi 11:1-11, Ether 3:14-18.)

Furthermore, Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon were to receive a revelation of the three degrees of glory in the same year as Joseph's 1832 account was written; it clearly teaches a physical separation of the Father and Son, bearing witness of seeing both. (See D&C 76:14,20–24.)[27]

1832–1833 - "Joseph answered that this was Jesus, the Son of God, our elder brother"

Two of Joseph's close associates reported their own visions of God in the winter of 1832–1833. Both are decidedly not in the trinitarian mold.

Zebedee Coltrin:

Joseph having given instructions, and while engaged in silent prayer, kneeling...a personage walked through the room from East to west, and Joseph asked if we saw him. I saw him and suppose the others did, and Joseph answered that this was Jesus, the Son of God, our elder brother. Afterward Joseph told us to resume our former position in prayer, which we did. Another person came through; He was surrounded as with a flame of fire. [I] experienced a sensation that it might destroy the tabernacle as it was of consuming fire of great brightness. The Prophet Joseph said this was the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. I saw him....

He was surrounded as with a flame of fire, which was so brilliant that I could not discover anything else but his person. I saw his hands, his legs, his feet, his eyes, nose, mouth, head and body in the shape and form of a perfect man. He sat in a chair as a man would sit in a chair, but This appearance was so grand and overwhelming that it seemed that I should melt down in His presence, and the sensation was so powerful that it thrilled through my whole system and I felt it in the marrow of my bones. The Prophet Joseph said: "Brethren, now you are prepared to be the apostles of Jesus Christ, for you have seen both the Father and the Son and know that They exist and that They are two separate personages.[28]

John Murdock:

During the winter that I boarded with[Bro[ther] Joseph... we had a number of prayer meetings, in the Prophet’s chamber.... In one of those meetings the Prophet told us if we could humble ourselves before God, and exersise [sic] strong faith, we should see the face of the Lord. And about midday the visions of my mind were opened, and the eyes of my understanding were enlightened, and I saw the form of a man, most lovely, the visage of his face was sound and fair as the sun. His hair a bright silver grey, curled in a most majestic form, His eyes a keen penetrating blue, and the skin of his neck a most beautiful white and he was covered from the neck to the feet with a loose garment, pure white, whiter than any garment I had ever before seen. His countenance was the most penetrating, and yet most lovely. And while I was endeavoring to comprehend the whole personage from head to feet it slipped from me, and the vision was closed up. But it left on my mind the impression of love, for months, that I never felt before to that degree.[29]

1834–1835 - Lectures on Faith: "There are two personages who constitute the great, matchless, governing, and supreme power over all things"

In the School of the Prophets, the brethren were taught that

"There are two personages who constitute the great, matchless, governing, and supreme power over all things, by whom all things were created and made, that are created and made. . . . They are the Father and the Son--the Father being a personage of spirit, glory, and power, possessing all perfection and fulness, the Son, who was in the bosom of the Father, a personage of tabernacle. (Lecture 5:1–2)

Here, the separateness of the Father and Son continues to be made clear.

1836 - "They believe that the true God is a material being, composed of body and parts"

A skeptical news article noted:

They believe that the true God is a material being, composed of body and parts; and that when the Creator formed Adam in his own image, he made him about the size and shape of God himself....[30]

Evidence that is absent

In addition to all the non-trinitarian evidence above, as Milton Backman has noted, there is a great deal of evidence that we should find, but don't. For example, no one has "located a publication (such as an article appearing in a church periodical or statement from a missionary pamphlet) written by an active Latter-day Saint prior to the martyrdom of the Prophet that defends the traditional or popular creedal concept of the Trinity. . . ." Moreover, there are no references in critical writings of the 1830s (including statements by apostates) that Joseph Smith introduced in the mid-thirties the doctrine of separateness of the Father and Son.[31]


Response to claim: 124 - The Book of Mormon contains no information about temple ordinances, exaltation or baptism for the dead because "Joseph Smith had not yet embraced these teachings"

The author(s) of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins make(s) the following claim:

The Book of Mormon contains no information about temple ordinances, exaltation or baptism for the dead because "Joseph Smith had not yet embraced these teachings" and this reflects "the limitations of his 1820s understanding."

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

The author is basing his statement upon the assumption that Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon. The principles of the Gospel were revealed to Joseph "line upon line."



Question: What does it mean when it is said that the Book of Mormon contains the "fulness of the gospel?"

The Book of Mormon contains the fulness of the Gospel, for the purpose of convincing Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ

The Lord declared that he had given Joseph Smith "power from on high...to translate the Book of Mormon; which contains a record of a fallen people, and the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles and to the Jews also" (D&C 20:8-9; cf. D&C 27:5; D&C 42:12; D&C 135:3).

The Book of Mormon is correct in the doctrines and principles it teaches, but it does not claim to contain all truth. Its own self-described purpose is to "the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that JESUS is the CHRIST, the ETERNAL GOD, manifesting himself unto all nations" (title page), and that these teachings are "plain and precious" (1 Nephi 13:35,40; 1 Nephi 19:3). For the most part, the Book of Mormon does not concern itself with the deeper mysteries of God.

The book itself admits that it does not contain all the doctrines the Lord wants us to know. The prophet Mormon explained that he only recorded "the lesser part of the things which [Jesus] taught the people," for the intent that "when [the Book of Mormon reader] shall have received this...if it shall so be that they shall believe these things then shall the greater things be made manifest unto them" (3 Nephi 26:8-9; compare Alma 26:22).

What is the gospel?

In the Book of Mormon, Jesus Christ gave a specific definition of "the gospel":

Behold I have given unto you my gospel, and this is the gospel which I have given unto you—that I came into the world to do the will of my Father, because my Father sent me.

And my Father sent me that I might be lifted up upon the cross; and after that I had been lifted up upon the cross, that I might draw all men unto me, that as I have been lifted up by men even so should men be lifted up by the Father, to stand before me, to be judged of their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil—

And for this cause have I been lifted up; therefore, according to the power of the Father I will draw all men unto me, that they may be judged according to their works.

And it shall come to pass, that whoso repenteth and is baptized in my name shall be filled; and if he endureth to the end, behold, him will I hold guiltless before my Father at that day when I shall stand to judge the world.

And he that endureth not unto the end, the same is he that is also hewn down and cast into the fire, from whence they can no more return, because of the justice of the Father.

And this is the word which he hath given unto the children of men. And for this cause he fulfilleth the words which he hath given, and he lieth not, but fulfilleth all his words.

And no unclean thing can enter into his kingdom; therefore nothing entereth into his rest save it be those who have washed their garments in my blood, because of their faith, and the repentance of all their sins, and their faithfulness unto the end.

(3 Nephi 27:13-19, italics added.)

In this passage, Jesus defines "the gospel" as:

  1. Christ came into the world to do the Father's will.
  2. The Father sent Christ to be crucified.
  3. Because of Christ's atonement, all men will be judged by him according to their works (as opposed to not receiving a judgment at all and being cast out of God's presence by default; 2 Nephi 9:8-9).
  4. Those who repent and are baptized shall be filled (with the Holy Ghost, see 3 Nephi 12:6), and
  5. if they continue in faith by enduring to the end they will be justified (declared "not guilty") by Christ before the Father, but
  6. if they don't endure they will be subject to the justice of God and cast out of his presence.
  7. The Father's words will all be fulfilled.
  8. Because no unclean thing can enter the Father's heavenly kingdom, only those who rely in faith on the atonement of Christ, repent, and are faithful to the end can be saved.

This is "the gospel." The Book of Mormon teaches these concepts with a plainness and clarity unequaled by any other book. It has therefore been declared by the Lord to contain "the fulness of the gospel." The primary message of the gospel, the "good news" of Jesus Christ, is that he has atoned for our sins and prepared a way for us to come back into the presence of the Father. This is the message of the Book of Mormon, and it contains it in its fulness.


Question: How can the Book of Mormon contain the "fulness of the Gospel" if it does not speak of ordinances such as baptism for the dead or celestial marriage?

The Book of Mormon does not contain detailed descriptions of many religious topics and ordinances, such as eternal marriage or baptism for the dead

Is it possible that the Book of Mormon cannot contain "the fulness of the gospel" because it doesn't teach certain unique LDS doctrines, such as baptism for the dead, the Word of Wisdom, the three degrees of glory, celestial marriage, vicarious work for the dead, and the corporeal nature of God the Father?

There are many religious topics and doctrines which The Book of Mormon does not discuss in detail (e.g., the premortal existence—see Alma 13:), and some which are not even mentioned (e.g., the ordinance of baptism for the dead).

This is unsurprising, since the Book of Mormon's goal is to teach the "fulness of the gospel"—the doctrine of Christ.

Harold B. Lee: "our scoffers say, 'How can you say that the Book of Mormon has the fulness of the gospel when it doesn't speak of baptism for the dead?'"

Of this criticism, Harold B. Lee said:

Now, our scoffers say, "How can you say that the Book of Mormon has the fulness of the gospel when it doesn't speak of baptism for the dead?" Some of you may have asked that question.

What is the gospel as it is defined? Let me give you how the Lord defines the gospel, in these words: "And verily, verily, I say unto you, he that receiveth my gospel receiveth me; and he that receiveth not my gospel receiveth not me. And this is my gospel—repentance and baptism by water, and then cometh the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, even the Comforter, which showeth all things, and teacheth the peaceable things of the kingdom." (DC 39:5-6.)

Wherever you have a restoration of the gospel, where those fundamental ordinances and the power of the Holy Ghost are among men, there you have the power by which the Lord can reveal all things that pertain to the kingdom in detail, don't you see, including baptism for the dead, which He has done in our day. That is what the Prophet Joseph Smith meant when he was questioned, "How does your church differ from all the other churches?" and his answer was simple, "We are different from all the other churches because we have the Holy Ghost." (See History of the Church 4:42.) Therein we have the teachings of the fulness of those essentials in the Book of Mormon upon the foundations of which the kingdom of God is established.[32]

BYU professor Noel Reynolds wrote:

The gospel of Jesus Christ is not synonymous with the plan of salvation (or plan of redemption), but is a key part thereof. Brigham Young stated that the 'Gospel of the Son of God that has been revealed is a plan or system of laws and ordinances, by strict obedience to which the people who inhabit this earth are assured that they may return again into the presence of the Father and the Son.' While the plan of salvation is what God and Christ have done for mortals in the creation, the fall, the atonement, the final judgment, and the salvation of the world, the gospel contains the instructions--the laws and ordinances--that enable human beings to make the atonement effective in their lives and thereby gain salvation.[33]


Response to claim: 124, n53 - Brigham Young said, "If the Book of Mormon were now to be re-written, in many instances it would materially differ from the present translation"

The author(s) of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins make(s) the following claim:

Brigham Young said, "If the Book of Mormon were now to be re-written, in many instances it would materially differ from the present translation." The author presumes that “Young may have had in mind the book's uncomplimentary view of man” since Brigham had recently said that men "naturally love and admire righteousness, justice and truth more than they do evil. ... The natural man is of God."

(Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

Response to claim: 129-130, n64-66 - B.H. Roberts concluded that Joseph Smith created the anti-Christs Sherem, Nehor and Korihor

The author(s) of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins make(s) the following claim:

B.H. Roberts concluded that Joseph Smith created the anti-Christs Sherem, Nehor and Korihor.

(Author's sources: B.H. Roberts, Brigham D. Madsen (ed.), Studies of the Book of Mormon (Signature Books, 1992), 270-271 ( Index of claims ))

FairMormon Response

Question: Did B.H. Roberts lose his faith in the Church and the Book of Mormon?

An excellent argument against the claim that B.H. Roberts abandoned the Book of Mormon can be found in his last book, which he considered his masterwork

Critics charge that the 'problems' with the Book of Mormon made Brigham H. Roberts (an early LDS apologist and member of the First Quorum of Seventy) lose his faith in the its historicity. The primary source upon which this criticism is based originates with Roberts' manuscripts detailing his critical study of the Book of Mormon, which was published under the title Studies of the Book of Mormon years after his death.

An excellent argument against the claim that B.H. Roberts abandoned the Book of Mormon can be found in his last book, which he considered his masterwork. [B. H. Roberts, The Truth, the Way, the Life: An Elementary Treatise on Theology, edited by John W. Welch (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Studies, 1994).] Given Roberts' clear respect for the Book of Mormon in this volume, there can be little doubt that he continued to believe in and treasure it.

Ironically for the critics, many of the issues which drew Elder Roberts' attention have now been solved as more information about the ancient world has become available. He expressed faith that this would be the case, and has been vindicated:

We who accept [the Book of Mormon] as a revelation from God have every reason to believe that it will endure every test; and the more thoroughly it is investigated, the greater shall be its ultimate triumph.[34]

Roberts was an able scholar, and he was not afraid to play 'devil's advocate' to strengthen the Church's defenses against its enemies

In a presentation on some potential Book of Mormon 'problems' prepared for the General Authorities, Roberts wrote a caution that subsequent critics have seen fit to ignore:

Let me say once and for all, so as to avoid what might otherwise call for repeated explanation, that what is herein set forth does not represent any conclusions of mine. This report [is] ... for the information of those who ought to know everything about it pro and con, as well that which has been produced against it as that which may be produced against it. I am taking the position that our faith is not only unshaken but unshakeable in the Book of Mormon, and therefore we can look without fear upon all that can be said against it.[35]

Roberts felt that faith in the Book of Mormon was a given, and so did not consider any 'negative' points to be of ultimate concern

Roberts felt that faith in the Book of Mormon was a given, and so did not consider any 'negative' points to be of ultimate concern, though he did seek for better answers than he then had. The critics have often published his list of of "parallels" between the Book of Mormon and Ethan Smith's View of the Hebrews, without informing modern readers that Roberts did not consider the problems insoluable, or a true threat to faith in the Book of Mormon. They also do not generally cite the numerous other statements in which, to the end of his life, he declared the Book of Mormon to be a divine record.

Roberts' studies also made him willing to modify previous conceptions, such as when he concluded that the Book of Mormon was not a history of the only immigrants to the New World.

In 1930, he enthused about the Book of Mormon a century after the Church's organization:

Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth, for God hath spoken. ... The Record of Joseph in the hands of Ephraim, the Book of Mormon, has been revealed and translated by the power of God, and supplies the world with a new witness for the Christ, and the truth and the fulness of the Gospel.[36]

Other witnesses by B.H. Roberts of truth of the Church and the Gospel

The book Discourses of B.H. Roberts of the First Council of the Seventy, compiled by Ben R. Roberts (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company 1948) contains the last seven discourses delivered by Elder Roberts: four in Salt Lake City, one in San Francisco (on the radio), and the last two at the World Fellowship of Faith in Chicago, in August-September 1933. He died three weeks after the last discourse. Roberts had returned from a lengthy illness, which made him realize how precious life is. He determined to leave his testimony, especially for the youth of the church.

From the first of these addresses:[37]

It has always been a matter of pride with me, in my more than fifty years of ministry in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, that it was no trivial thing which called this Church of the New Dispensation into existence. It was not founded upon the idea that men differed in relation to how baptism should be administered, whether by sprinkling or pouring, or immersion; or whether it was for the remission of sins, or because sins had been forgiven. I always rejoice that it had a broader foundation than whether the form of church government and administration should be Episcopal or Congregational, or the Presbyterian form of government; or any other minor [23] difference of theologians. It went to the heart of things, and astonished the world, and at the same time, of course, aroused its opposition.

When the Prophet of the New Dispensation asked God for wisdom, and which of the many churches about him he should join, he was told to join none of them, for they were all wrong; their creeds were false; they drew near to the Lord with their lips, but their hearts were far removed from him; they had a form of godliness but denied the power thereof; that the Christian world, especially, had, in fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy, transgressed the laws, changed the ordinances, and had broken the everlasting covenant (Isaiah 44), of which the blood of the Christ was the blood of that everlasting covenant. He promised the incoming of a New Dispensation of the Gospel of Christ, which would link together and unite all former dispensations, from Adam down to the present time, the great stream of events speeding on towards an immense ocean of truth in which it would be united with all truth. It was a world movement. To lay the foundations of a greater faith, it brought forth the American volume of scripture, the Book of Mormon. In time the authority of God, the holy priesthood was restored, the minor phase of it, through John the Baptist; and later Peter, James and John, who held the keys of the kingdom of heaven, bestowed upon them by the Christ, appeared to the Prophet Joseph and Oliver Cowdery, and the divine and supreme authority from God was conferred upon them. By this authority and under the power of it they organized the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, outlined its doctrines, and established it firmly in the earth.

That is how the New Dispensation began—not whether baptism should be by immersion, or for the forgiveness of sins. The rubbish of accumulated ages was swept aside, the rocks made bare, and the foundations relaid” (22-23).

Roberts then refers to a statement in David Whitmer, To All Believers in Christ, about the translation of the Book of Mormon being interrupted due to some problems between Joseph and Emma:

He [Joseph] took up the divine instrument, the Urim and Thummim, tried to translated but utterly failed. Things remained dark to his vision. David Whitmer tells how Joseph left the translating room and [26] went to the woodslot on the Whitmer farm, and there corrected himself, brought himself into a state of humiliation and of exaltation at the same time. He went back to the house, became reconciled to Emma, his wife, came up to the translating room, and again the visions were given and the translation went on. But he could translate only as he was in a state of exaltation of mind and in accord with the Spirit of God, which leads to the source of hidden treasures of knowledge” (25-6).

Roberts then refers to the Book of Moses in the Pearl of Great Price, which was revealed shortly after the Church was organized, in June 1830:

It goes further than we have come, this knowledge by faith. After the Prophet had translated the Book of Mormon he began to receive the revelations which today make up the Book of Moses, the translation of [27] which began to be published about six months after the Book of Mormon had been translated” (26-7).

I admire the achievements of the men of science and hold them in honor…. But what am I to think of the Prophet of God, who speaking a hundred years before him, and speaking by the knowledge that comes by faith, revealed the same truth—viz., that as one earth shall pass away, so shall another come, and there is no end to God’s work? This gives to the Church of the New Dispensation the right to voice her protest against a dying universe—its death blows to the immortality of man.

Oh, ye Elders of Israel, this is our mission, to withstand this theory of a dying universe and this destruction of the idea of the immortality and eternal life of man. We have this knowledge revealed of God, and it is for us to maintain the perpetuity of the universe and the immortal life of man. Such was the mission of the Christ, such is ours” (29).

I am one of the special witnesses of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, made so by the office I hold, and I want to begin a return to my ministry in this pulpit by exercising my duty as a special witness for the Lord Jesus Christ. Here it is: Jesus Christ is the very Son of God, the incarnation of all that is divine, the revelation of God to man, the Redeemer of the world; for as in Adam all die, so shall they in Christ be brought forth alive. Also Jesus is the Savior of individual man, through him and him alone comes repentance and [30] forgiveness of sins, through which the possibility of unity with God comes. As his witness I stand before you on this occasion to proclaim these truths concerning the Christ, not from scientific knowledge or book learning, but from the knowledge that comes by faith” (29-30)

It is difficult to see these as the words of one who has lost his faith in the Church, the Book of Mormon, or Joseph Smith.


Response to claim: 131 - many people believe in the truthfulness of their own religion because of similar confirming experiences

The author(s) of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins make(s) the following claim:

The author claims that many people believe in the truthfulness of their own religion because of similar confirming experiences, and that edifying feelings are not sufficient to determine truth.

(Author's sources: No source provided.)

FairMormon Response

Question: Do all other religions confirm their beliefs through spiritual witness?

Not all religions claim that the truth of their beliefs are confirmed through a spiritual witness

It should be noted that not all religions claim that the truth of their beliefs are confirmed through a spiritual witness. In fact, a fair number of Evangelical Christians have spent a great deal of time trying to prove to the Mormons that a spiritual witness should NOT be relied on to establish truth. Most major religions and sects rely on claims of authority (the Pope in Catholicism and the Bible in Protestantism) or simply tradition and majority and obviousness (Islam, Hinduism, etc.).

Latter-day Saints accept that God and God's Spirit will witness Truth whatever its source. (D&C 109:7) As a member of the Church we are encouraged to find truth in many places. Nowhere in our beliefs do we claim that there is no truth in other religions.

Some other religions do rely on a spiritual confirmation of true principles

DC 109:7:

And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom, seek learning even by study and also by faith;

Westminster Confession of Faith 1.5, reads in part as follows:

“’our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority [of the scriptures], is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.’”

John Calvin wrote:

“’We must regard the authority of Scripture as higher than human reasons, factors or conjectures. This is because we base that authority on the inner witness borne by the Holy Spirit,’” Institutes, 1539 edition. The doctrine, particularly stressed by Calvinism, that the Holy Spirit provides an ‘internal witness’ to the authority of Scripture…..”

Pope Gregory the Great (d. 604), according to Robert Markus, taught that:

“The scriptures contain what the reader finds in them; and the reader’s mind is shaped by his inner disposition: ‘unless the readers’ minds extend to the heights, the divine words lie low, as it were, uncomprehended…. It often happens that a scriptural text is felt to be heavenly, if one is kindled by the grace of contemplation to rise to heavenly things. And then we recognize the wonderful and ineffable power of the sacred text, when the reader’s mind is permeated with heavenly love…. For according to the direction that the reader’s spirit takes, so the sacred text rises with him…’”

Pope John Paul II stated the following, regarding the possibility of the Holy Spirit inspiring non-Catholics:

“Every quest of the human spirit for truth and goodness, and in the last analysis for God, is inspired by the Holy Spirit….. At their origins we often find founders who, with the help of God’s Spirit, achieved a deeper religious experience…. In every authentic religious experience, the most characteristic expression is prayer…. We can hold that ‘every authentic prayer is called forth by the Holy Spirit, who is mysteriously present in the heart of every person’”.


Question: How can you know if your answer to prayer, your personal revelation, is true?

If you want to know the truth of your own personal revelation, then you must test it

How can you know if your answer to prayer - your personal revelation is true? This is not like political advertising, calculated to convince us of half truths. This is not about competing narratives where only one can be really true, while the rest must be false. If you want to know the truth of your own personal revelation, then you must test it. If you feel the promptings of the spirit to do something, then do it, and see what happens. Alma, in the Book of Mormon, suggests that we treat it like a seed, and make an experiment out of it. But debating its validity in a sort of theoretical way, won't ever provide you with that answer.

Joseph Smith talks of "pure intelligence" flowing into you:

A person may profit by noticing the first intimation of the spirit of revelation; for instance, when you feel pure intelligence flowing into you, it may give you sudden strokes of ideas, so that by noticing it, you may find it fulfilled the same day or soon; (i.e.) those things that were presented unto your minds by the Spirit of God,will come to pass; and thus by learning the Spirit of God and understanding it, you may grow into the principle of revelation, until you become perfect in Christ Jesus.[38]

However, as Boyd K. Packer points out, revelation does not "flow without effort" on the part of the person desiring it.

To one who thought that revelation would flow without effort, the Lord said:

“You have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.

“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.” [39]

This burning in the bosom is not purely a physical sensation. It is more like a warm light shining within your being.

Describing the promptings from the Holy Ghost to one who has not had them is very difficult. Such promptings are personal and strictly private![40]

Each individual's personal revelation is different

Latter-day Saints don't believe that differences in personal revelation between different individuals means that those others who pray and receive different messages than we do are wrong and not really receiving answers to their prayers. What it means is that they are receiving personal answers to their prayers from a loving Heavenly Father, and we are receiving personal answers to ours. Personal revelation is this wonderful thing precisely because it creates these differences. Some may have "spectacular" experiences, while others may experience revelation only through a still, small voice.

Boyd K. Packer:

We do not seek for spectacular experiences. President Spencer W. Kimball spoke of the many who "have no ear for spiritual messages … when they come in common dress. … Expecting the spectacular, one may not be fully alerted to the constant flow of revealed communication."[41]

A revelation given to the whole Church is limited by the whole Church

A revelation given to the whole Church is limited by the whole Church. Joseph Smith said that "It is contrary to the economy of God for any member of the Church, or any one, to receive instruction for those in authority, higher than themselves.[42]

On the other hand, the revelation we receive comes to us individually, personally, and from our unique perspective helps us to refocus on that distant absolute truth that are slowly working towards. It isn't about "getting it right now" so much as it is about making it more right so that we become better people. And in the end, it is the light that God gives us (individually and collectively) that becomes the ruler that we are measured with. And this of course gives us great hope that we (individually) can be saved despite all the strange notions and ideas we have both believed and sometimes abandoned over the years.

Just because someone else receives a different message than you did doesn't mean that either you or they are wrong

And of course, just because someone else receives a different message doesn't mean that you (or they) are wrong. We are all working towards that perfection even if the roads we take start from different places and have different turns and twists. The idea that revelation to all individuals about a specific topic should always be the same really stems more from a Protestant view of religion, with its inerrant view of texts.


Question: Do Mormons believe that other religions can be inspired by God?

Latter-day Saints believe that the good in every religion is inspired of God

Latter-day Saints believe that other religions have portions of the truth. We acknowledge that the good in every religion is inspired of God. Moroni 7:13 states:

But behold, that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God.

Latter-day Saints do not claim that a spiritual manifestation to another Mormon is evidence for the truthfulness of the church, nor are we impressed with someone's claim to a spiritual witness in favor of another church. The LDS message is that each person must receive the witness for himself and that only that person can judge the truth of what he has experienced.


Joseph Smith (1843): "I am just as ready to die in defending the rights of a Presbyterian, a Baptist, or a good man of any other denomination"

Joseph Smith, in 1843:

The Saints can testify whether I am willing to lay down my life for my brethren. If it has been demonstrated that I have been willing to die for a ‘Mormon.’ I am bold to declare before Heaven that I am just as ready to die in defending the rights of a Presbyterian, a Baptist, or a good man of any other denomination; for the same principle which would trample upon the rights of the Latter-day Saints would trample upon the rights of the Roman Catholics, or of any other denomination who may be unpopular and too weak to defend themselves.” [43]


Preach My Gospel: "many other nations and cultures have been blessed by those who were given that portion that God 'seeth fit that they should have'"

"Lesson 1: The Message of the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ," Preach My Gospel: A Guide to Missionary Service:

Just as the Christian world was blessed by the courage and vision of the reformers, many other nations and cultures have been blessed by those who were given that portion that God "seeth fit that they should have” (Alma 29:8). Teachings of other religious leaders have helped many people become more civil and ethical.

Buddha (Gotama): Born in 563 B.C. of a Hindu chieftain in Nepal. Concerned with the suffering he saw around him. Fled from his father’s luxurious palace, renounced the world, and lived in poverty. Seeking enlightenment, he discovered what he called the “path of deliverance.” Claimed to reach Nirvana, a state of oblivion to care, pain, or external reality. Became a teacher for a community of monks.

Confucius: Born in 551 B.C. Orphaned as a child. China’s first professional teacher. China’s greatest moral and social thinker. Said little about spiritual beings or divine powers. Believed that heaven had entrusted him with a sacred mission as champion of the good and true.

Mohammed: Born in 570 A.D. in Mecca. Orphaned in childhood. Lived a life of poverty. Gained reputation as a trusted peacemaker. Married at age 25. In 610 prayed and meditated on Mount Hira. Said the angel Gabriel appeared to him and delivered a message from Allah (God). Claimed to receive communication from God through Gabriel from 620 to 632. These communications, which he recited to his disciples, were later written in the Koran, the sacred book of Islam.[44]


Response to claim: 132, n68-69 - it is possible to feel "the spirit" even when listening to a hoax, such as Paul H. Dunn's war stories

The author(s) of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins make(s) the following claim:

The author claims that it is possible to feel "the spirit" even when listening to a hoax, such as Paul H. Dunn's war stories.

(Author's sources:
  • Frank H. Jonas, "The Story of a Political Hoax," in Institute of Government, vol. 8 (Salt Lake City: University of Utah, 1966): 1-97.
  • "Arizona Paper Alleges Many Stories Were Exaggerated," Deseret News, 16 Feb. 1991, 5; and "Elder Dunn Offers Apology for Errors, Admits Censure," ibid., 27 Oct. 1991, 1.)

FairMormon Response

Question: Who was Paul H. Dunn and what happened to him?

Elder Paul H. Dunn was a very popular speaker who told many faith-promoting stories about his days playing baseball and his service in World War II

Elder Paul H. Dunn was a very popular speaker during the 1970's and 1980's who told many faith-promoting stories about his days playing baseball and his service in World War II. Many people were inspired by his stories, and he was in much demand as a speaker. It was eventually discovered that Elder Dunn had exaggerated and conflated elements of his stories. He was given emeritus status as a General Authority on October 1, 1989.


Question: Many who listened to Elder Dunn's stories felt the spirit. Why would one feel the spirit upon hearing a story that was fabricated? Doesn't this confirm a lie?

Simply receiving a warm feeling about a speech or article is not enough to call it revelation or a confirmation of the spirit

Simply receiving a warm feeling about a speech or article is not enough to call it revelation or a confirmation of the spirit. One would need to properly study the issue, get an idea of what is correct, then ask for confirmation. The witness has to be consistent with other revelation and can be compared with others witness of similar events. In the case of Elder Dunn's stories, we felt good when we heard them. Boyd Packer pointed out that feelings and “spiritual” events can come from three sources: 1) your own feelings, 2) Satan, or 3) the Holy Ghost. You must use methods to properly confirm which is occurring in a particular event.


Question: Why did Elder Dunn exaggerate elements of these stories?

Elder Dunn responded to this issue himself

Regarding Elder Dunn's stories: he was human, just like the rest of us. He can speak for himself on this issue: "Elder Dunn Offers Apology for Errors, Admits Censure", Deseret News, Oct. 27 1991.

In an open letter to LDS Church members, Elder Paul H. Dunn apologized Saturday for not having "always been accurate" in telling his popular war and baseball stories, and he acknowledged being disciplined for it by church authorities.

Elder Dunn, an emeritus member of the First Quorum of Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, asked the church's First Presidency and Council of the Twelve for the opportunity to send an open letter to church members. The letter was published in Saturday's issue of the Church News."I confess that I have not always been accurate in my public talks and writings," Elder Dunn wrote. "Furthermore, I have indulged in other activities inconsistent with the high and sacred office which I have held.

"For all of these I feel a deep sense of remorse, and ask forgiveness of any whom I may have offended."

A former Army private and minor-league baseball player, Elder Dunn told riveting accounts of his war and baseball experiences that made him one of the most popular speakers in the church. According to the Associated Press, he was author or co-author of 28 books and is featured on 23 inspirational tapes. He served in the presidency of the First Quorum of the Seventy from 1976 to 1980.

In 1989, Elder Dunn was placed on emeritus status for "reasons of age and health," the church said. In February 1991, the Arizona Republic reported that Elder Dunn had made up or combined elements of many of his war and baseball stories.

In his open letter, Elder Dunn, 67, said general authorities of the church have conducted in-depth investigations of charges that he had engaged in activities unbecoming of a church member.

"They have weighed the evidence," he said. "They have censured me and placed a heavy penalty upon me.

"I accept their censure and the imposed penalty, and pledge to conduct my life in such a way as to merit their confidence and full fellowship."

Church spokesman Don LeFevre said Saturday that the nature of the penalty is "an internal matter, and we don't discuss such matters" publicly.

Elder Dunn has an unlisted phone number and could not be reached for comment. He concluded his letter by pleading for the understanding of church members and assured them of his "determination so to live as to bring added respect to the cause I deeply love, and honor to the Lord who is my Redeemer."


Response to claim: 132-133, n71 - the LDS church claims exclusive receipt of the Holy Ghost as a gift

The author(s) of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins make(s) the following claim:

The author claims that the LDS church claims exclusive receipt of the Holy Ghost as a gift.

(Author's sources: George Gallop Jr., "Forty-Three Percent of Americans Admit to Spiritual Experiences," Salt Lake Tribune, 15 May 1985,1-2.)

FairMormon Response

Question: Do Latter-day Saints discount the spiritual witnesses that members of other religions may receive?

Latter-day Saints should never deny the spiritual experiences of those who belong to other religions

It would indeed be arrogant for a Latter-day Saint to deny the spiritual experiences of those who belong to other religions. We should never try to tear down what someone believes. We should, however, present the Gospel in its fullness and encourage those who are so inclined to accept it.

Gordon B. Hinckley talks of some of the comments left at Temple Square by visitors: [45]

  • From a Protestant from New Jersey: “I have often heard the word Mormon and associated it with a fanatic religious group. I couldn’t have been more wrong!”
  • From a Congregationalist from Massachusetts: “I have always felt that religion should be a joy, and you certainly show it!”
  • From a Christian from Maine: “This is beautiful; it is the first time in my life I have wondered if my religion is the right one.”
  • From a Catholic from Pennsylvania: “I envy your way of life.”
  • A Presbyterian from Canada: “God is in this place; we see him everywhere.”
  • A Christian from Germany: “I enjoyed myself very much here. I cannot believe such a place exists that offers so much and asks for no money.”


Response to claim: 133 - "This Spirit of love gives peace, comfort, prompts, and enhances belief in God, but abundant evidence also demonstrates that it is an unreliable means of proving truth"

The author(s) of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins make(s) the following claim:

 Author's quote: I assert that the Holy Ghost does exist, that it does speak to human beings. This Spirit of love gives peace, comfort, prompts, and enhances belief in God, but abundant evidence also demonstrates that it is an unreliable means of proving truth.

(Author's sources: Author’s opinion.)

FairMormon Response

Question: Is a "burning in the bosom" simply a subjective, emotion-based, unreliable way to practice self-deception?

It is a fundamental misunderstanding or misstatement to say that the Latter-day Saint revelatory experience is exclusively or primarily “emotional”

It is claimed by some that the Latter-day Saint appeal to "revelation" or a "burning in the bosom" is subjective, emotion-based, and thus ineffective, unreliable and susceptible to self-deception.

It is a fundamental misunderstanding or misstatement to say that the LDS revelatory experience is exclusively or primarily “emotional.” The united witness of mind and heart is key in LDS doctrine. Even the body is involved in many instances, hence the use of language exactly like “burning in the bosom.” The LDS concept of human experience is not one where we are carved up into separate, rigid compartments labeled emotional, intellectual, and physical. The LDS approach to human experience is holistic and involves all of our faculties operating simultaneously and inextricably. According to LDS scripture, “the spirit and the body are the soul of man.” D&C 88:15 We are greater than the mere sum of our inner and outer parts. Ordinarily, it’s not possible, nor is it desirable, to reject and shut down any one of our faculties. All of them combine to provide useful and valid ways of coming to know ourselves, the world, and God. All are involved in true spiritual experience.

A Latter-day Saint “spiritual” experience has intellectual content as well as emotional elements of peace or joy

Accordingly, a Latter-day Saint “spiritual” experience has intellectual content as well as emotional elements of peace or joy. In the early days of the Church, Oliver Cowdery received the following revelation through Joseph Smith:

Verily, verily, I say unto you, if you desire a further witness, cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart, that you might know concerning the truth of these things. Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God? (D&C 6:22–23).

Notice the information is spoken to the “mind,” and the feeling of peace accompanies the intellectual gift. Further, the solution for later doubts or concerns is not reliance on “a feeling” alone but an admonition to recall specific information communicated earlier.

This matches the revelatory pattern later explained to Oliver Cowdery when he attempted to participate in the translation process of the Book of Mormon:

Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me. 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. But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong… (D&C 9:7–9).

Again, the united witness of intellect and heart are essential. If either does not agree, then revelation has not yet confirmed the matter under consideration. Anyone who relies exclusively on any one faculty – either feeling or reasoning or physical sensation – does not properly understand the LDS approach to spiritual witnesses.

Talk of “feelings” does not mean simply experiencing an “emotion”

To be sure, many Church members will talk about how they “felt” when they prayed or had other experiences with God. However, it is to fundamentally misunderstand these experiences to assume (as critics often do) that talk of “feeling” means simply—or only, or primarily— experiencing an “emotion.” What's lacking from these descriptions is vocabulary. The problem with them is more semantic than it is substantial. The LDS member is stymied, in a sense, because there is no good, available word for what happens during a spiritual experience. These experiences are ineffable. By definition, they defy description. Since few of us have the poetic and metaphorical powers of prophets like Isaiah and John, we are left to try our best to convey what we've experienced in words laden with secular connotations which critics can misinterpret if they so choose.

LDS scholar,Hugh Nibley, hazarded a guess at what this process of willful misinterpretation might look like:

He cannot conceive how anyone could possibly acquire knowledge by any method other than his. He cannot believe that any man has experienced anything which he has not experienced. . . . ‘I have never seen a vision,' says the [skeptic], ‘therefore, Joseph Smith never had one. I have seen dreams [or had emotionally moving experiences], therefore, I will allow him that.'”[46]

Early Christians experienced similar feelings to a "burning in the bosom"

Justin Martyr wrote in his book Dialogue with Trypho, of his conversion that he was a philosopher until he met an old man who introduced him to the Hebrew Prophets when “a flame enkindled his heart” and he found “this philosophy (Christianity) alone to be sure and profitable.” [47]

The Shepard of Hermas, which was once considered scripture, reads “There are two angels with a man-one of righteousness, and the other of iniquity...The angel of righteousness is gentle and modest, meek and peaceful. When he ascends into your heart, he speaks to you of righteousness, purity, chastity, contentment, and every other righteous deed and glorious virtue. When all of these things come into your heart, know that the angel of righteousness is with you” [48]


Dr. Wendy Ulrich (2005): "How do the goosebumps and tearfulness I experience when someone speaks in a testimony meeting differ from the goosebumps and tearfulness I experience when the 4:00 parade begins at Disneyland?"

Dr. Wendy Ulrich (a licensed psychologist with over 25 years of experience):

People from many religious traditions have “spiritual” experiences–feelings, insights, premonitions, and encounters which they are left to their own conclusions to decipher. It is not unusual for people to conclude from such experiences that God is their God, that He is nearby, or that something associated with that experience is God’s will. Often in the Church we encourage people to look for such feelings and experiences as evidence of God’s hand, or of the truthfulness of the Church’s message. Yet people from many religious backgrounds can have such experiences. How do the goosebumps and tearfulness I experience when someone speaks in a testimony meeting differ from the goosebumps and tearfulness I experience when the 4:00 parade begins at Disneyland? Critics may conclude that there is no real difference, that feelings are not trustworthy or related to the spirit, and that Church members are being misled by missionaries who teach them that such experiences are the Holy Ghost testifying to them of truth. I have seen this argument used to discredit “spiritual” experiences as nothing more than subjectively produced emotions with no supernatural significance. In many cases I might agree. Because I feel certain emotions in response to a film–even a Church film–may say more about the credibility of the actors’ performance or the director’s talent than the presence of God or the historical accuracy of the message, for example.[49] —(Click here to continue)


Response to claim: 133 - "Nor does the Spirit, which testifies of the Book of Mormon, confirm the historical reality of the book"

The author(s) of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins make(s) the following claim:

 Author's quote: Nor does the Spirit, which testifies of the Book of Mormon, confirm the historical reality of the book.

(Author's sources: Author’s opinion)

FairMormon Response

Question: What is Moroni's promise?

The Book of Mormon provides a means of determining the truthfulness of the book

The Book of Mormon provides a means of determining the truthfulness of the book Moroni 10:3-5:

Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.

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.

And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.

Moroni's promise claims that we can know the truthfulness of the gospel by praying about it with sincere intent

Moroni's promise claims that we can know the truthfulness of the gospel by praying about it with sincere intent (Moroni 10:3-5). However, some claim that praying about the Book of Mormon is not an objective standard for determining if the book is true or not, and should therefore not be trusted. It is also sometimes asserted that many people have read and prayed about the Book of Mormon or the Church and have either received no answer, or an answer from God that it is false.

A knowledge of the truth of the Book of Mormon or of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not something that is casually obtained

A knowledge of the truth of the Book of Mormon or of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not something that is casually obtained. It is not enough to simply "ask God" without putting forth some effort. The Lord requires that we be sincere and that we actually study the contents of the book in order to know of its truthfulness. As Moroni says, we must have "real intent" while "having faith in Christ." Those that read the Book of Mormon solely for the purpose of finding flaws in order to tear it down do not have "real intent" to know of its veracity. We are taught that feelings alone are not enough, and that we should confirm them.


Question: Is prayer the only element required in the determination of truth?

Prayer is one element in determining truth

Non-Mormons often claim that the Bible is the only true "yardstick" for determining truth. Ironically, the Bible refutes this, and clearly shows that the Holy Spirit, or the Spirit of Truth will lead us to all truth (John 14:26, John 15:26, 1 Jn 5:6). By claiming the Bible as the only source of truth, non-LDS are in fact minimizing the power of prayer and the role of the Holy Ghost.

The LDS believe that the most significant verse of scripture, the scripture which has had the greatest impact on the history of the world is found in James 1:5–6:

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. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. (James 1:5-6)

This verse led a young man, Joseph Smith to follow that counsel–to offer a humble prayer of faith, being willing to accept the answer, no matter how difficult to accept that answer might be. That prayer led to the beginning of the restoration of the gospel.

There are elements in addition to prayer that are required in order to determine truth

Through Joseph Smith, the Lord has revealed other keys to prayer. One is that we are to "study it out" in our minds, then go before the Lord and ask for confirmation that our decision is correct. We are then instructed that if our decision is correct, we will feel the fruits of the Spirit, and if incorrect, we will have a "stupor of thought". Thus, serious seekers of truth cannot fully claim they have studied the Book of Mormon until they have read it in its entirety. The LDS encourage critical analysis of the Book of Mormon, specifically by prayerfully asking if anyone could have fabricated the book. Everyone who asks himself that question with every page will find, somewhere between the first page and the last, that the answer is 'no'–that the Book of Mormon is true. The Book of Mormon is convincing evidence of the restoration of the gospel through Joseph Smith.


Preach My Gospel: "As you pray for inspiration, you should also confirm your feelings...Certainly the Spirit of the Lord can bring strong emotional feelings, including tears, but that outward manifestation ought not to be confused with the presence of the Spirit itself"

"How Do I Recognize and Understand the Spirit?," Preach My Gospel: A Guide to Missionary Service:

As you pray for inspiration, you should also confirm your feelings. For example, compare your decisions with the scriptures and the teachings of the living prophets. Be certain that the feelings are consistent with the assignment you have; for example, you will not receive revelation to tell a local bishop how he should perform in his calling. Discuss your decisions and conclusions with your companion, your district leader, or your mission president when appropriate.

President Howard W. Hunter offered this counsel: “Let me offer a word of caution. … I think if we are not careful … , we may begin to try to counterfeit the true influence of the Spirit of the Lord by unworthy and manipulative means. I get concerned when it appears that strong emotion or free-flowing tears are equated with the presence of the Spirit. Certainly the Spirit of the Lord can bring strong emotional feelings, including tears, but that outward manifestation ought not to be confused with the presence of the Spirit itself” (The Teachings of Howard W. Hunter, 184). The Spirit of the Lord always edifies.[50]


Question: What about those who pray and don't receive a confirmation the Book of Mormon is true?

There is more required than simply praying in order to receive a confirmation of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon

Moroni's gives us the requirements that need to be fulfilled in order to obtain a confirmation:

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. (Moroni 10:4)

It is not enough to simply ask: One must exercise faith in Jesus Christ and demonstrate a sincere effort to understand what is contained in the Book of Mormon. It is useful to recall Oliver Cowdery's experience when he attempted to translate,

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. (DC 9:8)


Notes

  1. Terryl Givens, By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture that Launched a New World Religion, 173.
  2. Grant H. Palmer, An Insider's View of Mormon Origins (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002) 96-97. ( Index of claims )
  3. Terryl Givens, By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture that Launched a New World Religion, 173.
  4. Stephen D. Ricks, "King, Coronation, and Covenant in Mosiah 1–6," in Rediscovering the Book of Mormon, edited by John L. Sorenson and Melvin J. Thorne (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Co.; Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1991), Chapter 19.
  5. John Matzko, "The Encounter of the Young Joseph Smith with Presbyterianism," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 40 no. 3 (Fall 2007), 78 note 2, citing Orsamus Turner, History of the Pioneer Settlement of Phelps and Gorham's Purchase, and Morris' Reserve (Rochester, N.Y.: William Alling, 1851), 214, in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 3:50...
  6. Orsamus Turner (1801-1855) "Origin of the Mormon Imposture," Littell's Living Age Vol. XXX, No. 380 (August 1851): 429.
  7. Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 3:50, n. 15.
  8. Joseph Smith - History 1:8.
  9. Wilford Woodruff, "Fulfillment of Ancient Prophesy," in Brian H. Stuy (editor), Collected Discourses: Delivered by Wilford Woodruff, his two counselors, the twelve apostles, and others, 1868–1898, 5 vols., (Woodland Hills, Utah: B.H.S. Publishing, 1987–1989), 1:344. [Discourse given on Sept 1, 1889.]
  10. Elaine Pagels, “The Politics of Paradise: Augustine’s exegesis of Genesis 1-3 versus that of John Chrysostom,” Harvard Theological Review 78 (1985): 68.
  11. James Barr, “The Authority of Scripture. The Book of Genesis and the Origin of Evil in Jewish and Christian Tradition,” in Christian Authority: Essays in Honor of Henry Chadwick, ed. G.R. Evans (Oxford, 1988), 59-75. Italics added; citations from pages as indicated.
  12. Michael Azkoul, “Peccatum Originale: The Pelagian Controversy,” Patristic and Byzantine Review 3 (1984): 39.
  13. Azkoul, 43.
  14. Stephen J. Duffy, The Dynamics of Grace: Perspectives in Theological Anthropology (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1993), 62-63.
  15. Azkoul, 40.
  16. Azkoul, 51, note 5.
  17. John Meyendorff, “Theosis in the Eastern Christian Tradition,” in Christian Spirituality III: Post Reformation and Modern, edited by Louis Dupre and Don Saliers, (New York, 1989), 470-476.
  18. Paul Meyendorff, “Liturgy and Spirituality I: Eastern Liturgical Theology”, in Christian Spirituality I: Origins, ed. B. McGinn and J. Meyendorff, New York 1985: 350-363.
  19. Thomas Finger, “Anabaptism and Eastern Orthodoxy: Some Unexpected Similarities,’ Journal of Ecumenical Studies 31 (1994): 67-91.
  20. David L. Paulsen, "The Doctrine of Divine Embodiment: Restoration, Judeo-Christian, and Philosophical Perspectives," Brigham Young University Studies 35 no. 4 (1995–96), 6–94. (Key source)
  21. "Testimony of Martin Harris Written by my hand from teh Moth of Martin Harris," dictated to Edward Stevenson 4 September 1870, Edward Stevenson Collection, Miscellaneous Papers, LDS Church Archives; cited by Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 2:331.
  22. Kent P. Jackson, Robert J. Matthews, and Scott H. Faulring (editors), Joseph Smith's New Translation Of The Bible: Original Manuscripts (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 2004), 82.
  23. Lucy Mack Smith, The History of Joseph Smith By His Mother Lucy Mack Smith, edited by Preston Nibley, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1956), 161. AISN B000FH6N04.
  24. The Reflector (Palmyra, New York) (14 February 1832): 102.
  25. F. Mark McKiernan, An Early Latter-day Saint History: The Book of John Whitmer (Independence, MO.: Herald Publishing House 1980), 67, punctuation corrected; cited in Robert L. Millet, "Joseph Smith and Modern Mormonism: Orthodoxy, Neoorthodoxy, Tension, and Tradition," Brigham Young University Studies 29 no. 3 (Summer 1989), 49–68.
  26. As cited in Millet, "Joseph Smith and Modern Mormonism," footnote 12.
  27. The current D&C 76 vision was first published in Evening and Morning Star, Independence, Missouri, July 1832.
  28. 3 October 1883, Salt Lake School of the Prophets Minute Book 1883 (Palm Desert, California: ULC Press, 1981), 39; cited in Paulsen, 34.
  29. "An Abridged Record of the Life of John Murdock Taken From His Journal by Himself," (typescript) Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, 13; cited in Paulsen, 35.
  30. Truman Coe, “Mormonism,” Cincinnati Journal and Western Luminary (25 August 1836). Reprinted from Ohio Observer, circa August 1836. off-site See Milton V. Backman, Jr., "Truman Coe’s 1836 Description of Mormonism," Brigham Young University Studies 17 no. 3 (Spring 1977), 347-55. See also Vogel, Early Mormon Documents 1:47.
  31. Milton V. Backman, Jr., "Joseph Smith's First Vision: Cornerstone of a Latter-day Faith," in To Be Learned is Good, If ..., ed. Robert L. Millet (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1987).; cited in Millet, "Joseph Smith and Modern Mormonism," 59.
  32. Harold B. Lee, Teachings of Harold B. Lee (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1996), 156. GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  33. Noel B. Reynolds, "The Gospel of Jesus Christ as Taught by the Nephite Prophets," Brigham Young University Studies 31 no. 3 (Summer 1991), 33.
  34. B. H. Roberts, "The Translation of the Book of Mormon," Improvement Era no. 9 (April 1906), 435–436.
  35. B. H. Roberts to the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve, March 1923. (See Studies of the Book of Mormon (1992), p. 58. On page 33, note 65, the editor of this work states that the date on this letter should be 1922 rather than 1923.)
  36. Brigham H. Roberts, Conference Report (April 1930), 47.
  37. B. H. Roberts, “Protest Against the Science-Thought of a ‘Dying Universe’ and no Immortality for Man: The Mission of the Church of the New Dispensation,” delivered SLC Tabernacle, Sunday, 23 January 1932; reproduced in Discourses of B.H. Roberts of the First Council of the Seventy, compiled by Ben E. Roberts (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company 1948), 11–30.
  38. Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith," 151.
  39. D&C 9:7–8
  40. Boyd K. Packer, "Personal Revelation: The Gift, the Test, and the Promise," Ensign (November 1994).
  41. Boyd K. Packer, "Personal Revelation: The Gift, the Test, and the Promise," Ensign (November 1994).
  42. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith (1976), 21.
  43. Joseph Smith, in 1843, History of the Church, 5:498.
  44. "Lesson 1: The Message of the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ," Preach My Gospel: A Guide to Missionary Service (2004) 46
  45. "An Ensign to the Nations," October 1989 General Conference
  46. Hugh W. Nibley, The World and the Prophets, 3rd edition, (Vol. 3 of Collected Works of Hugh Nibley), edited by John W. Welch, Gary P. Gillum, and Don E. Norton (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company; Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1987), 31.
  47. Dialogue with Trypho 8, Ante-Nicene Fathers 1:198
  48. Shepard of Hermas, Ante-Nicene Fathers 2:24
  49. Dr. Wendy Ulrich, "'Believest thou…?': Faith, Cognitive Dissonance, and the Psychology of Religious Experience," Proceedings of the 2005 FAIR Conference (2005).
  50. "How Do I Recognize and Understand the Spirit?," Preach My Gospel: A Guide to Missionary Service (2004)