Criticism of Mormonism/Online documents/Letter to a CES Director/Testimony & Spiritual Witness Concerns & Questions

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Response to "Letter to a CES Director: Testimony & Spiritual Witness Concerns & Questions"

A FairMormon Analysis of: Letter to a CES Director, a work by author: Jeremy Runnells
Chart CES Letter testimony.png

Response to section "Testimony/Spiritual Witness Concerns & Questions"

Summary: The author asks the question, "Why is this Spirit so unreliable and inconsistent? How can I trust such an inconsistent and contradictory Source for knowing that Mormonism is worth betting my life, time, money, heart, mind, and obedience to?" This section touches on themes of epistemology. We recommend that the reader read here before proceeding with this section to gain an understanding of epistemology.

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Response to claim: "Every major religion has members who claim the same thing: God or God’s spirit bore witness to them"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

Every major religion has members who claim the same thing: God or God’s spirit bore witness to them that their religion, prophet/pope/leaders, book(s), and teachings are true.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

This is not a characteristic of "every major religion".

Jump to Detail:

Logical Fallacy: Composition—The author assumes that something is true of the whole from the fact that it is true of some part of the whole.

In this case the author asserts that because Mormonism has members who claim that God or God's spirit bore witness to them, that all religions have members who claim that God or God's spirit bore witness to them.

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 alone (the Pope in Catholicism and the Bible in Protestantism) or simply tradition and majority and obviousness (Islam, Hinduism, etc.). Latter-day Saints establish truth by following the Law of Witnesses (see Matthew 18: 16; 2 Corinthians 13:1), claiming unique authority (Hebrews 5:6; Alma 13:14-19; D&C 1:30), and receiving the witness of the Holy Ghost which we believe can give us a testimony of anything related to the Gospel should we desire it. (see John 14:26; Moroni 10:3-5).

Latter-day Saints accept that God and God's Spirit will witness truth whatever its source. 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. In fact, our scriptures actively affirm that there is truth in other religions and that God has been the one to inspire them.

Most religions have differing understandings of the Spirit or a spirit which is why it plays lesser roles in other traditions (and which might affect their religious experiences). Religions differ primarily in understanding the spirit as dynamic (Playing active roles such as confirming truth through phenomenon. This occurs generally in only Christian traditions. Thus this would naturally exclude any religion that doesn’t accept the New Testament as scripture) or as animistic (something that lives in all things and gives them life). See Holy Spirit on Wikipedia for a discussion of the differences. [1] Mormonism stands as one of the only religions under Christianity that understand it and utilize it in any sort of dynamic way (the many people who convert and compliment the church for encouraging them to seek their own answers through prayer are evidence of this) and with a totally unique pneumatology.

Some Christ-based religions incorporate or have attempted to incorporate the Spirit into their theology in some form

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 (d. 2005) 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’”.

It may be worth noting that these statements from John Paul II and Gregory the Great would be official Catholic doctrine, but not binding per se. Mainstream Catholics by and large, as mentioned before, rely on tradition and a claim to authority and don't emphasize teaching akin to this.

John Calvin, founder of the protestant sect of Calvinism, 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…..”

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.’”

Many protestant theologians have abandoned such appeals for academic exegesis and hermeneutics. The larger issue here is that the theologians of the diverse protestant denominations (including Calvinism), have to believe that scripture is formally sufficient, self-authenticating, and self-attesting and this creates problems. LDS apologist and Biblical scholar Robert Boylan elaborates:

Often, in a desperate attempt to support the doctrine of sola scriptura some Protestant apologists will argue that all a Christian needs is the Holy Spirit, not an authoritative Church and/or additional Scripture such as those that Latter-day Saints accept (i.e., Book of Mormon; Doctrine and Covenants; Pearl of Great Price). Of course, this would mean that the Holy Spirit is schizophrenic, guiding Protestants who embrace sola scriptura to radically divergent views on central, not merely “minor” issues, such as baptismal regeneration which affects salvation itself(!)

See "A Self-Attesting, Self-Authenticating, Formally Sufficient Scripture?" in this article

This was one of the very reasons that the Book of Mormon came forth, to settle the discord. As taught in Preach My Gospel:

As you use the Book of Mormon and the Bible as companion volumes of scripture, they will overcome contention and correct false doctrine (see 2 Nephi 3:12). The Bible teaches the following about the law of witnesses: “In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established” (2 Corinthians 13:). In harmony with this law, both the Book of Mormon and the Bible testify of Jesus Christ.[2]

Latter-day Saint Offshoots

For Latter-day Saint Offshoots we respond by giving the indications that Brigham Young was the true successor of Joseph Smith. See this article for our response to that.



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 believe that religion is instituted of God (D&C 134:4).

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

Preach My Gospel: A Guide to Missionary Service, (2004)
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.

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2 Nephi 29:11-13

11 For I command all men, both in the east and in the west, and in the north, and in the south, and in the islands of the sea, that they shall write the words which I speak unto them; for out of the books which shall be written I will judge the world, every man according to their works, according to that which is written.

12 For behold, I shall speak unto the Jews and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto the Nephites and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto the other tribes of the house of Israel, which I have led away, and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto all nations of the earth and they shall write it.

13 And it shall come to pass that the Jews shall have the words of the Nephites, and the Nephites shall have the words of the Jews; and the Nephites and the Jews shall have the words of the lost tribes of Israel; and the lost tribes of Israel shall have the words of the Nephites and the Jews.

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.


Question: How do Latter-day Saints respond to arguments from diversity against the use of spiritual experiences in their epistemology?

Review of the Criticism

As a part of their epistemology, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe that commitment and/or belief may be established by spiritual experience. This experience is known as having an experience with the Holy Ghost or "Holy Spirit" (Moroni 10:3-5).

Primarily Secularist critics of the Church and other Christian critics of the Church have charged that this mode of receiving knowledge is challenged by the existence of competing religious claims or spiritual experiences had by those adherents of other faiths. If they are to receive spiritual experiences motivating them to believe in the validity of their sacred texts, religious structures, and so forth, what makes the Latter-day Saint claim to knowledge unique? What is the basis for claiming that one "knows" that the Book of Mormon is from God?

This argument is simply the version of the Argument from Inconsistent Revelations against the claims of religious truth (AKA the "avoiding the wrong hell problem") that is applied to Latter-day Saint beliefs. This problem in philosophy of religion is one with which all religions must deal.[3]

This article examines that charge in depth. First, those parts of Latter-day Saint pneumatology relating to epistemology will be set forth as a groundwork for more comprehensible and responsible discussion and then a more detailed discussion.

Basis of Response

When any critic shows the experiences of other people in other religions, they are not simply showing you the experiences but trying to get you to process those experiences through a certain framework. That framework is usually that spiritual experience is unreliable, probably comes from naturalistic sources, and/or that they aren't unique and thus can't lead one into truth.

How does one respond? To respond and to respond adequately, we have to provide a comprehensive, coherent, theologically whole framework that can observe, absorb, and understand spiritual experience. If we can do that, then the argument essentially becomes nil since we have a framework through which we can faithfully, charitably, and comfortably view the experience of people in other religions.

Moroni's Counsel for Discerning Good from Evil - A Framework Through Which to See Spiritual Experience

What is that framework and how is it developed? The prophet Moroni had very interesting words to say on this subject. Moroni 7:12-25

12 Wherefore, all things which are good cometh of God; and that which is evil cometh of the devil; for the devil is an enemy unto God, and fighteth against him continually, and inviteth and enticeth to sin, and to do that which is evil continually.


13 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.

14 Wherefore, take heed, my beloved brethren, that ye do not judge that which is evil to be of God, or that which is good and of God to be of the devil.

15 For behold, my brethren, it is given unto you to judge, that ye may know good from evil; and the way to judge is as plain, that ye may know with a perfect knowledge, as the daylight is from the dark night.

16 For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.

17 But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him.

18 And now, my brethren, seeing that ye know the light by which ye may judge, which light is the light of Christ, see that ye do not judge wrongfully; for with that same judgment which ye judge ye shall also be judged.

19 Wherefore, I beseech of you, brethren, that ye should search diligently in the light of Christ that ye may know good from evil; and if ye will lay hold upon every good thing, and condemn it not, ye certainly will be a child of Christ.

20 And now, my brethren, how is it possible that ye can lay hold upon every good thing?

21 And now I come to that faith, of which I said I would speak; and I will tell you the way whereby ye may lay hold on every good thing.

22 For behold, God knowing all things, being from everlasting to everlasting, behold, he sent angels to minister unto the children of men, to make manifest concerning the coming of Christ; and in Christ there should come every good thing.

23 And God also declared unto prophets, by his own mouth, that Christ should come.

24 And behold, there were divers ways that he did manifest things unto the children of men, which were good; and all things which are good cometh of Christ; otherwise men were fallen, and there could no good thing come unto them.

25 Wherefore, by the ministering of angels, and by every word which proceeded forth out of the mouth of God, men began to exercise faith in Christ; and thus by faith, they did lay hold upon every good thing; and thus it was until the coming of Christ.[4]

Thus according to Moroni, if we can develop a theology that understands spiritual experience through the revelation that prophets have given to us, then we can comfortably understand what God's will is and choose to understand it that way (2 Nephi 2:27-28; Joshua 24:15).

The Immediate Problem of Circularity

There is immediately a problem with Moroni's argument that needs to be dealt with. If we are to have a framework that we believe to be revealed by God, and God is yet empirically unverifiable, and the Spirit through which we reveals to the prophets is yet empirically unidentifiable, then isn't it simply circular reasoning to claim that the framework comes from God? This has been dealt with elsewhere on the FairMormon wiki.

Theological Point of Departure

We should now lay the basis for the theological framework through which Latter-day Saints might see spiritual experience outside of the faith.

The Latter-day Saint Conception of God, the Devil, the Holy Ghost, False Spirits, Good Angels, Bad Angels, and Light

Latter-day Saint theology teaches that there is a spectrum of light (understood to be synonymous with "truth" by faithful adherents) that one can receive in this life that comes from God. This light is known in Latter-day Saint vernacular as “The Light of Christ” (Moroni 7:16[5]; D&C 84:46). When one receives more of God’s truth, one receives more Light (D&C 50:24; D&C 84:45). When one rejects Light, is persuaded towards rejecting the truth that one has already received, or one deliberately chooses to remain without the Light that God has revealed, one stays away or moves away from Light.[6] This is seen as sinful. The Holy Ghost and many righteous angels are seen as those beings that move God’s children further and further into the Light (2 Nephi 32: 2-3; D&C 84:47). The Holy Ghost works through the Light of Christ—which is believed to be given to all people before they enter mortality (Moroni 7:16; D&C 84:45-46). The Light of Christ is understood to give a spiritual energy and life to all things (D&C 88: 11-13). Since it gives this life to all things, it follows that the Holy Ghost, working through this Light, can work on our spirit and/or our body in order to produce phenomena which are connected to both heart and mind (D&C 8:2). The Holy Ghost works in unity with God's purposes. Satan, false angels, and many false spirits are seen as those beings that move God’s children further and further into the darkness (Moroni 7:17;D&C 50:2-3). As one receives more Light, one is more receptive to receiving additional Light and is seen as more sensitive to the Holy Ghost and the truth that God has revealed through prophets. As one moves away from the Light, they are less and less able to perceive Light. If a person has gained Light but subsequently loses it through sin or being persuaded by a false spirit to accept darkness, it is difficult to regain it. It can become progressively more difficult to regain the Light once lost depending on how much Light receives and how much they give up when moving into the darkness (Alma 24:30; Alma 47:36).The amount of Light one has and the ability to perceive it can ultimately be diminished entirely (1 Nephi 17:45;Jacob 6:8). As Elder David A. Bednar, an apostle in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has taught:

As we yield to that influence, to do good and become good, then the Light of Christ increases within us. As we disobey, Light is decreased and can ultimately be diminished within us.[7]

Thus these spirits are acting on both our body and our spirit, connected together intimately (called the “soul” in Latter-day Saint theology), to persuade us to accept, reject, or stay indifferent to Light and truth. When these spirits act on us, they produce physically felt sensations. Latter-day Saints believe that all human beings have the ability to perceive that which is of God from that which is of the devil (Moroni 7:14) through the same power given by the Light of Christ. It is generally believed that what God has revealed to prophets is good and will inspire one to love God and serve him (Moroni 7:20-25; Joseph Smith – Matthew 1:37).

The Priesthood

Latter-day Saints claim to hold special authority from God that authorizes them to perform special ordinances in his name. This is called the "priesthood". Latter-day Saints believe that this priesthood authorizes prophets to reveal God's covenant truth so that Latter-day Saints remain at the most bright end of the spectrum. Latter-day Saints believe that this priesthood existed primitively in the organization of believers that Christ established.[8] That priesthood power was restored through Joseph Smith in our day. That priesthood power is believed to have been passed down in an uninterrupted line of prophet successors of Joseph Smith to the current President of the Church. This succession has come through detailed instructions given in the official scriptures revealed to Joseph Smith. Since this priesthood has given them the covenant truth of God through prophets, Latter-day Saints believe that the truths espoused in the Church today constitute the fulness of truth and Light one can receive in this life (Doctrine and Covenants 123:12-13).

Experiences Seen as Positive in Latter-day Saint Scripture

With all this established as groundwork, a more comprehensible and thus responsible discussion of the theology can take place. The next step in our discussion is to outline those experiences that move someone further towards the Light in Latter-day Saint theology. There seems to be four such experiences that Latter-day Saint scripture positively envisions people having.

A Softening of Heart to the idea of God, Christ, the Gospel, or Religion in General.

Alma 16:16-17 states that:

16And there was no inequality among them; the Lord did pour out his Spirit on all the face of the land to prepare the minds of the children of men, or to prepare their hearts to receive the word which should be taught among them at the time of his coming —

17 That they might not be hardened against eh word, that they might not be unbelieving, and go on to destruction, but that they might receive the word with joy, and as a branch be grafted into the true vine, that they might enter into the rest of the Lord their God.

The first experience that the scriptures envision as positive is a softening of heart to the idea of God, Christ, the Gospel, or religion in general. Notice how this scripture does not connect any truth claim from the Restored Gospel to the experience. It seems as though the experience of the Spirit is one that all people should feel at some point and, in a remarkable way, that experience doesn't have to be explicitly tied to a proposition from Latter-day Saint doctrine. People need to experience this softening of heart. It is imaginable that these experiences can come from anything that is good (Articles of Faith 1:13; Moroni 7:12). This softening of heart is preliminary to receiving a full conversion to God, Christ, and/or the Restoration.

Some people may be able to recognize that this experience comes from God and others--not. Some may feel stirrings of the Spirit trying to soften their heart or convert them to God, Christ, and/or the restoration but not recognize it as such. Such is a testament to the Book of Mormon's assessment that we the ability to judge spiritual impressions that is apart from the impressions themselves (Moroni 7:14). Consider a case from the Book of Mormon (3 Nephi 9:20)

20 And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost, even as the Lamanites, because of their faith in me at the time of their conversion, were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not.

Or this case of a convert from Mexico recounted in Preach My Gospel (Chapter 9):

As a child, I was never taught to read the Bible. I went to church on Sundays, but I contributed nothing and felt nothing in return. I was disillusioned. … I searched for … God—wanting to know if He even existed. I thirsted to know Him and His words. But I could not seem to find what I sought.


There were moments when I felt close to quenching my thirst. When I held my first child, a daughter, in my arms for the first time, I had a feeling that God really did exist. Many years later, when her sister was born, I experienced the same feeling. … Most of the time, however, an inexplicable tiredness weighed upon my soul. I was spiritually thirsty and could find no place to drink.

In April 1994 I was living in the city of Monterrey, Mexico, earning a living as a taxi driver. One day it rained for hours, sending water cascading down the mountainsides. After driving around in the rain for hours, I found myself in a little town about eight kilometers (five miles) from Monterrey. It was about … nearly time to go home. Suddenly I saw two young men on foot. They were wearing dark trousers and white shirts, and they looked drenched from head to foot. When I approached them, I opened the door of the taxi and called, “Get in! I’m going to Monterrey.”

The taller one … replied, “We don’t have any money.”

“No charge,” I replied.

They quickly got into the taxi.

As I drove, we talked. They asked if they could share a message about Jesus Christ with me. I agreed and gave them my address.

When I got home, I woke my wife and told her about the two young men. “What a coincidence,” I said. “One is Mexican and the other is American, and they are both named Elder.”

“Elder means missionary,” my wife answered, knowing just a little about the Church.

From deep within me, I felt something stir. These young men had left a feeling of exquisite wonder in my heart. I felt that I was close to finding the water that would quench my thirst, that it was within reach.[9]

Notice how the man felt “something” stir in his heart but that he couldn’t identify it as the Spirit. Many people are having these experiences but aren’t able to identify it as God working with them and don’t have the framework provided by revelation in order to recognize it.

A Conversion to God

The next type of experience envisioned as positive is conversion to God. The Book of Mormon teaches that anything that inviteth and enticeth one to love God and to serve him is of him (Moroni 7:13). The Doctrine and Covenants similarly teaches that when one feels the Spirit, they are coming unto God (Doctrine and Covenants 84:47).

This experience may come because God needs someone to serve him, even if it isn’t in his Church. Elder Orson Whitney stated:

“Perhaps the Lord needs such men on the outside of His Church to help it along. They are among its auxiliaries, and can do more good for the cause where the Lord has placed them, than anywhere else. … Hence, some are drawn into the fold and receive a testimony of the truth; while others remain unconverted … the beauties and glories of the gospel being veiled temporarily from their view, for a wise purpose. The Lord will open their eyes in His own due time. God is using more than one people for the accomplishment of His great and marvelous work. The Latter-day Saints cannot do it all. It is too vast, too arduous for any one people. … We have no quarrel with the Gentiles. They are our partners in a certain sense.” [10]

Even the Lord seems to be okay with this as portrayed in Luke 9:49-50. Certain men were casting out devils in the name of Jesus even though they didn’t follow Jesus:

49 And John answered and said, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name; and we forbad him, because he followeth not with us.

50 And Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us.

However people can also be converted to certain principles of truth found in other Churches. Latter-day Saint scripture and even the Bible affirm the presence of beauty, truth, and goodness in other churches (Amos 9:7;[11]; Jonah 1; Matthew 3:9; Luke 3:8[12] Alma 29:6-8; D&C 134:4; Articles of Faith 1:13; 2 Nephi 29:11).

Preach My Gospel, the Church's official manual for missionaries, states the following:

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

Preach My Gospel: A Guide to Missionary Service, (2004)
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.

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Along with the scripture from Alma 29:6, we might include 2 Nephi 29:11-12 that may be interpreted to mean that God has inspired the texts of many religions:

11 For I command all men, both in the east and in the west, and in the north, and in the south, and in the islands of the sea, that they shall write the words which I speak unto them; for out of the books which shall be written I will judge the world, every man according to their works, according to that which is written.
12 For behold, I shall speak unto the Jews and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto the Nephites and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto the other tribes of the house of Israel, which I have led away, and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto all nations of the earth and they shall write it.

13 And it shall come to pass that the Jews shall have the words of the Nephites, and the Nephites shall have the words of the Jews; and the Nephites and the Jews shall have the words of the lost tribes of Israel; and the lost tribes of Israel shall have the words of the Nephites and the Jews.[13]

Thus, there are those that may be converted to God and not necessarily through The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in this life. That's okay, as doctrine tells us that all will have the opportunity to hear and accept the Gospel whether in this life or the next (Doctrine and Covenants 137).

A Conversion to Christ

The next experience is the experience that converts a person to Christ. The Book of Mormon teaches that all things that invite a person to come unto Christ are from the Spirit of Christ (Moroni 7:16)[14]This conversion can come through other Christian religions or the Lord's Church.

By adopting the framework that has been established up to this point in the article for understanding religious experience, we adopt “religious inclusivism” where we seek to understand the spiritual experiences of religious persons outside of our faith in light of the Plan of Salvation without adopting “religious exclusivism” nor “religious pluralism”. It softens the load that we have to explain and additionally can show us, perhaps in a new and enlightening way, the love God has for all his children and how he seeks to include everyone of them in the Plan.

Latter-day Saint philosopher and theologian Blake T. Ostler expressed similar sentiments along with a few cautions:

Now we may be called into question if somebody has a vision, for instance, of the Virgin Mary; because I don't believe that the LDS believe that the Virgin Mary puts in many appearances. However I suggest that we look beyond what divides us and look to "inclusivism," and that is, "What is it that they learned? What does their religious experience teach them?" Because God will adapt his message to any culture, and any means that He can, to increase the light of a person (see Alma 29:8). So I suggest that by adopting "religious inclusivism" we minimize the challenge from "religious pluralism."[15]

Conversion to the Restored Gospel

The last type of experience that Latter-day Saints envision (hopefully for as many of God’s children as possible) is that of being converted to the Restored Gospel. In the Book of Mormon, the prophet Moroni teaches that one may come to learn of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon by reading the book, pondering its message in our minds, and praying about the book with a sincere heart, real intent, and having faith in Jesus Christ:

3 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.
4 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.
5 And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.

Praying about the Book of Mormon thus brings one a testimony or conviction of the Church since the Book of Mormon encompasses several propositions relating to the truthfulness of the Church including God being sovereign over the whole earth (1 Nephi 11:6), God creating the earth (2 Nephi 2:13), God having a body of flesh and bone (3 Nephi 28:10; D&C 93:33-35), the prophecy from the Book of Mormon of Joseph Smith being the one to bring it forth implying his prophethood and calling from God (2 Nephi 3:14-15),[16]and the existence of the priesthood and its necessity in knowing how to find salvation in Christ through ordinances (Alma 13). Thus when one "knows" that the Book of Mormon is true, one "knows" that Joseph Smith is a prophet since he claimed to translate the Book of Mormon by the gift and power of God. If Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, this strongly implies that God exists. If God exists and he called Joseph Smith to translate the Book of Mormon, then it follows that the priesthood is real since the Book of Mormon is true and that that priesthood is on the earth today. That priesthood (the power and authority to act in God's name with his authorization) is claimed to reside only in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

All of these experiences should show that the Latter-day Saint approach to spiritual experience is inclusive. It should be remembered, however, that the use of spiritual experience to establish the basis for commitment or belief is not a mode of epistemology used/favored by all or even most religions. Thus its doubtful that they are accessing the Spirit at all as a major means of converting to any doctrine.

Experiences Envisioned as Negative in Latter-day Saint Scripture

Now, the preceding outlines positive spiritual experiences. The scriptures and the experience of Latter-day Saints have demonstrated that there are times when the experience (or claimed experience) isn’t supposed to be understood positively:

Intentionally Lying About the Reality of an Experience

Some people intentionally lie to try and hurt member testimonies. There are those that claim that a spiritual experience has taken place (when it really hasn’t) that proves to them the falsehood of the Book of Mormon or who propose other scenarios that supposedly defeat Latter-day Saint epistemology. These people are who the Latter-day Saint scriptures might describe as those that "pervert" the Gospel. (Alma 30:60)

Experiences Caused by the Devil

Some experiences are caused by the devil, see for example (Alma 30:53). Anything that entices us to worship him or to do evil is of him (Moroni 7:17). Latter-day Saint scripture contains procedure from discerning the Devil as an Angel of Light from a true angel (Doctrine and Covenants 129:8).

Experiences Caused by False Spirits

Some experiences are caused by false spirits. D&C 50 was revealed for discerning spirits with D&C 50: 31-33 being the way to (following the counsel given in 1 John 4:1-2) test the spirits (See also D&C 52:15-19)

  • When an experience caused by the devil or false spirits occur and it invites someone to do evil then it must be rejected.
Consider what Joseph Smith told Brigham Young:
Tell the brethren to be humble and faithful and be sure to keep the Spirit of the Lord, that it will lead them aright. Be careful and not turn away the still, small voice; it will teach them what to do and where to go; it will yield the fruits of the kingdom. Tell the brethren to keep their heart open to conviction, so that when the Holy Ghost comes to them their hearts will be ready to receive it. They can tell the Spirit of the Lord from all other spirits—it will whisper peace and joy to their souls; it will take malice, hatred, strife and all evil from their hearts, and their whole desire will be to do good.[17]

Being Persuaded By False Christs

Some are envisioned as having been deceived by false Christs. There have been many people that have claimed to be Jesus Christ returned in the flesh such as A.J. Miller. Some have had spiritual experiences that draw them towards these false Christs. Some claim to be the risen Savior but violate some of the counsel that he gave to his followers to know how he would come. There are many scriptures that can help us to discern between the true Christ and False Christs (Matt 24: 5, 24-28; Mark 13:22-29[18]; D&C 45:36-44; 52:15-19).

Being Persuaded by False Prophets

Some are envisioned as having been deceived by false prophets. These include people of Latter-day Saint breakoffs and others that don't look to proper authority to receive revelation. The scriptures give us many warnings of false prophets and ways to discern them.

Being Mistaken About the Reality of a Claimed Spiritual Revelation

It may be that there is no real spiritual stimulus that is "confirming truth" for people. Since we believe that the body and spirit are intricately connected (D&C 88:15) it is not surprising that a thought, warm feeling or heart tremor can be over-interpreted as coming from a spiritual stimulus. This is what the scriptures might call having "foolish imaginations of the heart" (Helaman 16:22; 3 Nephi 2:2; Moses 8:22).

Concerning conflating emotion and thoughts with the spirit, President Howard W. Hunter said:

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.[19]

We will all eventually remain among a final resting point along the spectrum of Light (as described above) at judgement day. We're promised that the light can continue to grow until the perfect day (D&C 50:24). As we seek the light, we are promised it (Matthew 7:7)

What about Nephi who was commanded to kill even when forbidden too? (Exodus 20:13)

The spiritual experience that Nephi received was not invalid in his days.

Nephi's killing of Laban


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.” [20]


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.[21]


Response to claim: "Let's play a game! Try to match Atheism and these 8 religions to the following 21 quotes."

The author(s) of Debunking FAIR's Debunking, June 2014 make(s) the following claim:

Let’s play a game! Try to match Atheism and these 8 religions to the following 21 quotes. The answer key is below the last quote:
  • Atheist
  • Buddhist
  • Catholic
  • Hindu
  • Islam
  • Mormon
  • New Age
  • Protestant
  • Universal Unitarian

“I felt a burning in my heart, and a great burden seemed to have left me.”

“But what can I say? How can I describe an experience so profound and so beautiful? Shall I say that it was the most blessed experience of my life? Shall I say that [God] touched my heart and gave me a feeling of peace I had not known before? Shall I describe the tears that flowed freely from my eyes, affirming my...faith, as I...beg[ed] [God's] blessings for myself and for those I love?”

“The sense I had of divine things, would often of a sudden kindle up, as it were, a sweet burning in my heart; an ardor of soul, that I know not how to express.”

“As I read these books in a...bookstore,...I felt a burning in my heart that I should come and investigate.”

“[Even as a child], [w]ithout understanding much about the complex [doctrine]...he was attracted to [church]. There he often felt a strong feeling of peace flowing through his body.”

“I was praying...when I felt a burning shaft of...love come through my head and into my heart.”

“I truly [sic] wanted to know [the truth]. After a few weeks, I stumbled onto [texts] which… answered my questions in a way that I had not heard of before. I read everything...and I even tried the experiment of asking [God] for...his divine love. After about 6 weeks, I felt a burning in my chest and a sensation that was unlike anything I had ever felt. It was pure happiness and peace. I knew then that [God] had sent His love to me.”

“A feeling of peace and certitude would tell me when I had found the answers and often after people would help me by pointing in the right direction.”

“We gave up a lot of things. What did I get in return? I received a feeling of peace, hope and security. I no longer lay awake at night worrying. I stopped cussing. I became much more honest in all aspects of my life. [God] has changed my heart and my life. My husband’s heart is changing also. We pray all the time and really feel [God’s] presence in our marriage. My perspective has changed. My view of life has changed about what is truly important.”

“Many women described a feeling of euphoria after they committed to following [God]...One woman described a feeling of peace; she said: ‘It is like you are born again and you can start all over again, free from sin.’”

“A feeling of peace seemed to flow into me with a sense of togetherness...I felt very peaceful from inside and also felt [warmth]...”

“I felt a burning sensation in my heart.”

“That inner light, that we all have or had at some time in our existence, was nearly burnt out for me. But in the [church]...I found a feeling of peace, inner solitude and quietness that I’d also found in reading the [text] and pondering over its meaning and trying to practice what it tells us.”

“For the first time I not only felt accountable for my past sins but I had to fight back tears. I knew that I had let down [God] [and] my family...However, I also knew I was forgiven! [It] gave me a feeling of peace that I have never felt it in my whole life. I felt like I had a huge weight lifted off of me and that I was finally home and free...I felt like a new person.”

“Every time I am there [at the church building], a feeling of peace overcomes me.”

“Every time I was with the [church members], I felt this warm feeling, a feeling of peace and for the first time in my life since my church-going days, I wanted to follow [God]...”

“About 10 years ago, when Jenny and I decided to start a family, we began looking for a spiritual community for our kids. During my first service at [the church]...I was hooked. I recall the feeling of peace that I felt when I was attending [services].”

“The power of [God] came into me then. I had this warm and overwhelming feeling of peace and security. It’s hard to explain. I had to...stop myself from falling backward.”

“[The religious leader] looked into my eyes deeply for a moment, and I experienced a feeling of peace and love unlike anything I had ever experienced before.”

“[After praying,] [i]mmediately I was flooded with a deep feeling of peace, comfort, and hope.”

“I recently spent an afternoon on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee, atop the mount where Jesus is believed to have preached his most famous sermon...As I sat and gazed upon the surrounding hills gently sloping to an inland sea, a feeling of peace came over me. It soon grew to a blissful stillness that silenced my thoughts. In an instant, the sense of being a separate self—an “I” or a “me”—vanished...The experience lasted just a few moments, but returned many times as I gazed out over the land where Jesus is believed to have walked, gathered his apostles, and worked many of his miracles.”



Author's sources: "How Can We Find Truth? Part 4" <http://www.theamateurthinker.com/2011/02/how-can-we-find-truth-part-4/>

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The author links to an article by "The Amateur Thinker" and the list of "spiritual experiences" that people have felt. At this moment[22] the sources for these experiences are missing. The video makes interesting claims. It focuses specifically on the argument from diversity against the use of spiritual experiences in Latter-day Saint epistemology and argues for a "pragmatic approach" which includes evaluating evidence first and then seeking spiritual experiences. It sounds awfully like D&C 9:7-9. Regarding the list specifically, it is interesting that none of these experiences deny God but help people to come unto him. The Atheist was the one converting to religion (D&C 84:46-47). The video also claims that people feel what is called the "elevation emotion" when claiming to feel the Spirit. We've already discussed experiences of those in other religions. The elevation emotion will be discussed.

Jump to Detail:

Question: Is the Latter-day Saint conception of testimony from the Holy Ghost threatened by neuroscience or psychology?

A Review of the Criticism

As a part of their epistemology, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe that commitment and/or belief may be established by spiritual experience. This experience is known as having an experience with the Holy Ghost or "Holy Spirit" (Moroni 10:3-5).

Secularist critics of the Church charge that these experiences may be the result of something else and raise a number of naturalistic explanations, stemming from neurological and/or psychological study, that supposedly account for the experiences and eliminate the possibility of them being caused by outside influence. Among these are the Backfire Effect (Compare "Belief Perserverance")[23], Cognitive Dissonance[24], Confirmation Bias[25], the Elevation Emotion[26] , and the Illusory Truth Effect.[27] Comparisons are also drawn between the feelings associated with the Latter-day Saint understanding of the Spirit and the effects of the God Helmet.[28]

Honest and faithful Latter-day Saints frequently ask themselves: "What if the Spirit is just coming from me?"

This article will review each of the proposed explanations for different events in Latter-day Saint epistemology associated with the Holy Spirit and seek to reconcile such claims within the epistemic framework provided by the official scriptures. To begin, the Latter-day Saint theological conception of spiritual experience will be introduced and then a discussion of these items of interest will follow.

The Latter-day Saint Conception of the Soul

Latter-day Saints believe that the body and spirit are connected as one in a form of substance monism.[29] This union between body and spirit is denominated the soul (D&C 88:15). The body is a separate entity from the spirit, as the spirit can live independently of the body (Ether 3:16); yet when the spirit and body are connected, they are intimately and intricately intertwined and can act upon one another.[30] Thus, whenever we do something with our bodies, it affects our spirits. Whenever something occurs in our spirit, it can affect our bodies. It may be said that, at times (perhaps when the Spirit moves upon us), they can react to each other.

All spiritual entities/personages are known to be material instead of immaterial (D&C 131:7). Thus, we can feel the affect of spiritual personages and forces in/on material objects such as our bodies and/or the spirits that are connected to them.

The Latter-day Saint Conception of God, the Devil, the Holy Ghost, False Spirits, Good Angels, Bad Angels, and Light

Latter-day Saint theology teaches that there is a spectrum of light (understood to be synonymous with "truth" by faithful adherents) that one can receive in this life that comes from God. This light is known in Latter-day Saint vernacular as “The Light of Christ.” All people are given the Light of Christ as their spirits connect with their bodies sometime at birth (Moroni 7:16[31]; D&C 84:46). When one receives more of God’s truth, one receives more Light (D&C 50:24; D&C 84:45). When one rejects Light, is persuaded towards rejecting the truth that one has already received, or one deliberately chooses to remain without the Light that God has revealed, one stays away or moves away from Light.[32] This is seen as sinful.

The Holy Ghost and many righteous angels are seen as those beings that move God’s children further and further into the Light (2 Nephi 32: 2-3; D&C 84:47). The Holy Ghost works through the Light of Christ—which is believed to be given to all people before they enter mortality (Moroni 7:16; D&C 84:45-46). The Light of Christ is understood to give a spiritual energy and life to all things (D&C 88: 11-13). Since it gives this life to all things, it follows that the Holy Ghost, working through this Light, can work on our spirit and/or our body in order to produce phenomena which are connected to both heart and mind (D&C 8:2). The Holy Ghost works in unity with God's purposes.

Satan, false angels, and many false spirits are seen as those beings that move God’s children further and further into the darkness (Moroni 7:17;D&C 50:2-3).

Latter-day Saints claim to have the fullness of light that one can receive in this life, thus being on the (say) far right of the spectrum (D&C 123:11-17). The darkest part of the spectrum is perhaps the intentional disobedience of all of God’s commandments and worshiping Satan.

As one receives more Light, one is more receptive to receiving additional Light and is seen as more sensitive to the Holy Ghost and the truth that God has revealed through prophets. As one moves away from the Light, they are less and less able to perceive Light. If a person has gained Light but subsequently loses it through sin or being persuaded by a false spirit to accept darkness, it is difficult to regain it. It can become progressively more difficult to regain the Light once lost depending on how much Light one receives and how much they give up when moving into the darkness (Alma 24:30; Alma 47:36).The amount of Light one has and the ability to perceive it can ultimately be diminished entirely (1 Nephi 17:45;Jacob 6:8). As Elder David A. Bednar, an apostle in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has taught:

As we yield to that influence, to do good and become good, then the Light of Christ increases within us. As we disobey, Light is decreased and can ultimately be diminished within us.[33]

Thus these spirits are acting on both our body and our spirit, connected together intimately (called the “soul” in Latter-day Saint theology), to persuade us to accept, reject, or stay indifferent to Light and truth. When these spirits act on us, they produce physically felt sensations. Latter-day Saints believe that all human beings have the ability to perceive that which is of God from that which is of the devil (Moroni 7:14) through the same power given by the Light of Christ. It is generally believed that what God has revealed to prophets is good and will inspire one to love God and serve him (Moroni 7:20-25; Joseph Smith – Matthew 1:37).

A Review of The Different Neurological Phenomena

With the Latter-day Saint conception of spiritual experience and its purpose laid as a groundwork, a more responsible and comprehensible discussion of the criticism is now possible. The different neurological/psychological phenomena can be viewed from within this framework. It is believed by the author that the study of these phenomena does not diminish the Latter-day Saint conception of the Spirit or testimony (conviction of truth) in anyway, but rather that it informs, enlightens, and even strengthens it (D&C 88:77-79).

The general premise of this examination is to demonstrate that—since Latter-day Saints commit themselves to their form of substance monism, their form of materialism (D&C 131:7), and a corporeal (meaning "with body"), anthropomorphic God—that no scientific study will be able to demonstrate nor falsify the validity of the use of spiritual experiences in Latter-day Saint epistemology. It may be said that each of the supposed psychological/neurological phenomena may occur through a causal chain of events begun by spiritual impetus provided by God (who would know how the human body could react to spiritual stimuli being a man) and/or the Holy Spirit or Satan and/or false spirits whether they desire or don't desire, through their own powers of self-determination, to act on humans. This could be neither demonstrated nor falsified since spirit matter, according to Latter-day Saint doctrine, can’t be seen unless one has refined spiritual sight (D&C 131:7-8). Alternatively, the body may undergo a particular condition which may be manifested in our spirits; or the spirit may experience something that is manifested in our bodies.[34]

What follows is an introduction to each of the claims and a very brief exploration of them through the lense of this epistemic framework provided by Latter-day Saint scripture.

The Backfire Effect (Compare "Belief Perseverance")

The Backfire Effect “describe[s] how some individuals when confronted with evidence that conflicts with their beliefs come to hold their original position even more strongly.”[35] This is used to explain why Latter-day Saints frequently report feeling a stronger conviction of the truth even after reviewing critical literature.

The Backfire Effect, like the Elevation Emotion, hasn’t had a stable understanding of its physiological profile established and experiments have failed to replicate the same findings that the researchers who first introduced the idea of the Backfire Effect first produced.[36]

The Backfire Effect is contrasted with "Belief Perserverance" which is merely the ability to maintain a belief (without that belief being strengthened necessarily) even in the face of solid disconfirming evidence. Belief Perseverance is a well-established psychological phenomenon and is manifested in all people no matter what the belief being contradicted. For Latter-day Saints, this might be something that involves the simple and natural function of our brains with no additional spiritual impetus behind it. But there may be additional ways to view this.

When concerning information arises for Latter-day Saints, there are generally three reactions to it: 1) The information is rejected as invalid and thus disregarded in consideration of conviction and testimony, 2) The information is regarded as valid but the framework through which they gathered data is reformulated to accommodate the new data, or 3) The information is regarded as valid and the framework is not adjusted thus causing diminished or sometimes even lost faith.

Sometimes the first approach is used and may even be valid. The Apostle Paul wrote to "...judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God." (1 Corinthians 4:5). This conviction may come from the Spirit which tells them to remain patient for the time being while more data comes to light. Adherents with this conviction will simply need to make sure that they have received revelation on the matter and that that revelation is consistent with their scriptures and the teachings of the prophets and apostles of the tradition. Latter-day Saints believe in continuing revelation (Articles of Faith 1:9) and that more is yet to be revealed by God to the world through revelation and science (Doctrine and Covenants 88:77-79; Doctrine and Covenants 101:32-33).

However there may be times when new information is unlikely to come forth and Latter-day Saints will need to form a more stable set of epistemological axioms that will accommodate the new information. In other words, they will need to reform their expectations for the data in a more informed way so that their testimony can return to normal or become stronger.

Thus, there's no one universal approach to this and Latter-day Saints should simply seek to accomplish what they discern is best for the circumstances that obtain.

_____________

When Latter-day Saints report a stronger conviction of the truth after reviewing critical literature, it is, more often than not, the result of enduring study and prayer which they have used to search for answers to the questions of critics. It is not simply the result of wishful thinking or willful ignorance. To suggest otherwise seems ironically ignorant. Surely this may be the case with some. But the vast majority of Latter-day Saints take their scripture and history seriously since (in contrast to creedal Christianity and other religions) their theology is tied to their history. Diligent efforts have been and are made by the Church to provide helpful resources to members so they can learn their history including controversial topics within a framework suited to their learning, emotional, cultural, and practical needs. FairMormon and other Latter-day Saint academic organizations such as the Interpreter Foundation, Book of Mormon Central, Pearl of Great Price Central, The Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, the BYU Religious Studies Center, and BYU Studies exist as entities in part to attempt to push back rationally on those who might believe that solid disconfirming evidence is available for the beliefs of Latter-day Saints.

Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive Dissonance is commonly understood as the discomfort that one feels when one encounters new information that contradicts a currently-held belief.

Cognitive Dissonance occurs in all people whenever they encounter information that contradicts their currently held belief. Though critics take this argument a little further when speaking about Latter-day Saints. Critics aver that when Latter-day Saints witness another person doing something that goes against what they believe God has commanded, that what they may describe as the Spirit telling them that such thing is wrong may instead be simply cognitive dissonance. Similarly, it is also used to explain how a Latter-day Saint might feel uncomfortable in the presence of critics when the critics share information that is supposedly “damaging” to the faith of the member they’re interacting with. Thus when Latter-day Saints report that the Spirit does not want them to be in a particular situation (such as being publicly confronted by critics and/or critical information), critics assert that adherents are simply under the influence of this effect.

Cognitive dissonance is certainly something that occurs within the brain, which is obviously part of our bodies. However, given the Latter-day Saint conception of the soul this doesn't negate the possibility of dissonance being caused by a spiritual source. Latter-day Saints will generally report additional discomfort that is manifested on a deep, spiritual level when they encounter situations such as this. Latter-day Saint doctrine holds that the Spirit can press thoughts on our minds (D&C 128:1), that it can recognize and correct sin (John 16:8), and that it can constrain someone to do something or restrain them from doing it (1 Nephi 7:15; 2 Nephi 28:1; 32:7; Alma 14:11; Mormon 3:16; Ether 12:2). The Holy Spirit may provide the idea that one adheres to and thus an individual may experience dissonance as a result of not wanting to give up what is believed to be a revealed proposition from God and/or the Spirit may simply cause the dissonance partially or fully. Alternatively, their may be no influence from the Holy Spirit and instead, Latter-day Saints may simply be experiencing deeply held stress manifested in both body and spirit. Or perhaps some other combination of the preceding. Latter-day Saints will simply have to experience such dissonance for themselves, pay very close attention to their experience, and then take proactive steps to resolve the dissonance in a way consistent with their beliefs by study and/or faith (D&C 88:118).

Confirmation Bias

Confirmation Bias is understood as the tendency that all people have to seek for, learn, and recall information in a way that confirms their already-held beliefs.

There are several ways that critics apply criticism based on this information.

  • The most common way that critics use this information is by arguing that when Latter-day Saints pray, they are only seeking to confirm their already held beliefs about how their prayers should be answered. Thus spiritual experience is argued to be deterministic i.e. if you pray hard enough about something hoping for one answer, you’ll get it.

This criticism has a few weaknesses:

  1. Spiritual experience often doesn’t confirm what Latter-day Saints want. Many Latter-day Saints report that, as part of their individual religious experience, that they're given a distinct “no” to the prayers that they wish to receive a “yes” for or where they're simply given a contrary answer to a particular piece of inspiration they wish to receive from the Spirit.
  2. The criticism assumes that all knowledge for Latter-day Saints comes from their immediately sensed experience i.e. what they pray about is first observed with their natural senses such as sight and sense of hearing and then brought to deity in prayer. While that is at the very least partially true (D&C 9:7-9), there are other times where Latter-day Saints claim to receive knowledge that they wouldn’t otherwise have. This often comes during priesthood blessings but can also come as warnings of immediate danger, sudden impressions to go help someone, etc.
  3. Spiritual experience has often seen to not be able to be produced at will. This is the reason that many Latter-day Saints have gone through faith crisis because, for whatever reason, they have felt like God stopped answering their prayers. Consider the experience of famous Latter-day Saint musician Michael McClean and how he resolved such a predicament.
  • Some critics assert that Latter-day Saints are too quick to interpret new events in light of their current beliefs. For instance consider what one website (run for former Latter-day Saints by former Latter-day Saints) created as a meme in part to mock Latter-day Saint tendencies to interpret a situation as miraculous:
Confirmation bias screenshot.png


The implied argument is that it is circular reasoning under philosophically empirical standards to assert that God miraculously caused that the temple in Houston not be flooded. This same argument is applied to Latter-day Saints and other religious persons anytime they assert that God has had some miraculous influence in their lives at "x" point in time i.e. "Well, can you prove that it was God who did that? Then why should I believe it?"

It is true that it is circular reasoning to assert that a higher power is behind anything and/or everything that may be claimed and/or perceived to be a miracle. But Latter-day Saints and other religious people might apply the Argument from Fallacy and counter by saying, "Well, how can you prove that it wasn't God?" It might also be pointed out that every belief system has some inherit circularity in it (See Wikipedia, "Turtles All the Way Down"). Latter-day Saints are not surprised to find circularity in their beliefs and don't expect an empirically pristine epistemological nexus to the divine. Agency, or the power of self-determination and choosing to follow God or not in this life, is central to Latter-day Saint theology (Moses 4:1-4; Abraham 3:21-25). If God were to prove himself as the one behind a proposed miracle, wouldn't this diminish the need for one to choose to have faith in God (2 Nephi 2:27-28)? This is not to assert that there cannot therefore be any rational basis for Latter-day Saint and other religious belief. Scholars and apologists have been making a well-reasoned case for the veracity of Latter-day Saint scripture for quite some time.[37] This is only to say that not everything must be empirically provable in Latter-day Saint epistemology. As observed elsewhere on this website, knowing in Latter-day Saint epistemology is found at some confluence of reason, revelation, and faith (with a stress on revelation). The author of Hebrews in the Holy Bible taught that "faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." (Hebrews 11:1)

In short and at the very least, it must be said that that vast majority of claims that base their criticism in confirmation bias do not begin to take into full account the intricate ways in which Latter-day Saints would understand their own experience. Thus this creates a strawman.

The Elevation Emotion

The Elevation Emotion is a sensation that researchers have been investigating since (it seems) the year 2000. Jonathan Haidt—American social psychologist, author, and Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University's Stern School of Business— seems to be the first to work on this with his interest in human transcendence.[38] It is defined as the:

emotion elicited by witnessing virtuous acts of remarkable moral goodness[39]

The nature of the emotion is described as:

a distinct feeling of warmth and expansion that is accompanied by appreciation and affection for the individual whose exceptional conduct is being observed.[40]

Critics claim that since this is so close to the “burning in the bosom” that Latter-day Saints describe, that this is a plausible naturalistic explanation for what Latter-day Saints and other religious persons might be feeling, with their bodies producing this emotion whenever something good and virtuous is witnessed.

However, Elevation hasn’t had a stable physiological profile established for it. Researchers have yet to understand exactly what the body does that supposedly will produce the warmth and expansion. That said, video clips shown to test subjects during experimentation may suggest that situations that induce Elevation decrease vagal parasympathetic impact on the heart.[41] Thus perhaps it may be said that the Spirit simply acts on these areas of the body and/or the spirit matter that makes up the rest of the soul that are connected to these parts of the body to produce the sensation.

Alternatively, those that have felt Elevation have reported that they sense a "warm tingling sensation in their chest". The sensation produced by elevation may simply be the Holy Spirit’s physical effect manifested on/in the chest and/or the spirit matter that makes up the rest of the soul that are connected to the chest to produce the sensation.

Elevation is said to be made manifest upon someone’s witnessing of “acts of remarkable moral goodness". In the Book of Mormon we learn that when one is in the service of their fellowmen, that one is in the service of God (Mosiah 2:17). Could this sensation be considered as God confirming the truth of this and motivating an individual to continue to seek out opportunities for altruism?

The God Helmet

In 1990, researchers Michael Persinger and Stanley Koren produced a helmet to study creativity, effects of mild, electrical stimulation to the temporal lobes of the brain, and religious experience.[42] This helmet, when worn, reportedly produced the sensation of a "presence" with experimental participants. This gained widespread public attention and was nicknamed "The God Helmet." Some have asked the natural question, "If the feelings associated with the Spirit by Latter-day Saints can be reported from people who wear a helmet that can produce the sensation through electrical stimulation, what does this say about the reality of a spiritual entity that causes them?"

First noted is that the experimental results from Persinger and Koren have failed to replicate in a reliable way.[43] Some scholars have used the same helmet and generated no feelings in participants.[44] Others have used the same helmet and not turned it on and yet achieved the same report of "presence".[45] Some scholars have used fake helmets instead of the original “God helmet" that have produced the same feelings in test subjects.[46]Today it is generally felt by researchers that personality differences in participants ultimately determined if one felt this "presence" or not. The experiments showed that religious people were generally those that reported a "presence" while atheists and skeptics generally did not report such a feeling.

A few more notes regarding spiritual experience in relation to this:

  1. Some may be tempted to claim that since the religious people were the ones that were most open to feeling something and perhaps wanted to experience a presence, that this may be evidence of a deterministic nature of spiritual experience i.e. if you want a spiritual experience, you can will it to pass. This is contradicted by the lived experience of Latter-day Saints as has already been pointed out. It may be that one is able determine whether they are willing or not to experience the Holy Spirit whether in a more passive way (such as feeling at peace while taking the Sacrament) or in a more dynamic, personally revelatory way (2 Nephi 33:1-2) but they won't be able to force the Holy Spirit to interact with them in that dynamic way. Conversely, they may be able to will false spirits to interact with them if invited.[47]
  2. The Latter-day Saint understanding of the soul should yet again be remembered. It would not be surprising to see that some manipulation of the brain or body could produce experiences that could be described as religious. This particular experiment doesn’t seem to be a reliable way to claim that, but it is at least possible that something like this device that is perhaps more efficacious could be produced in the future. Latter-day Saints should not be afraid of such study because, again, the theology welcomes scientific disciplines to help them be better instructed in it (D&C 88:77-79).

The ability even to reproduce the sensations reported by Latter-day Saints through electrical or other mechanical manipulation would yield effectively no reason to abandon the possibility of a spiritual entity being able to produce those same sensations. It would simply mean that there are both spiritual and mechanical means by which a reaction might be able to be produced. Again, spiritual matter cannot be verified as real except by those—according to Latter-day Saint scripture—that have refined spiritual sight (see above). The fact that a naturalistic means of producing "spiritual" sensations exists does not negate the possibility of a spiritual impetus beginning the same chain of causal events that provide the same sensation. It is unlikely, in the author's view, that such will be produced in the future given the uniqueness of the experience. The experience is by its nature indescribable except to those that have actually experienced it and the thought of the experience being reproduced by such means indeed appears outlandish to faithful adherents of the tradition.

What's more, Latter-day Saints would be quick to point out that spiritual impressions are not simply feelings or sensations. They are phenomena that are linked to both sensations in the heart and propositions within the mind (see again Doctrine and Covenants 8:2 Doctrine and Covenants 8:2). Latter-day Saint Philosopher Blake T. Ostler, basing his argument in the Kantian distinction and conceptualization of noumena and phenomena, made these statements as an elucidation of the concept of personal spiritual revelation in Latter-day Saint theology:

Now I ask again, can humans really know anything? Does the experience come from God, or do we merely interpret it to be experienced as coming from God? I’m going to deal with the strongest arguments that I know.

The first argument is “The Argument from Interpretive Framework Inherent in all Human Experience,” and these are the premises. The first premise: all human experience involves interpretation, and I guarantee you that it does; that’s true. Two, the interpretation of the experience of burning in the bosom as coming from God is something we do as humans. And three, the interpretation is therefore a human contribution to the experience and all that we really know is that we have had an experience, that we experienced it as coming from God in the experiencing of it, and we cannot know more than that.

Well, is that a good argument? It is in a sense, but the argument proves too much. Maybe at this point it makes some sense to talk about and show the kind of interpretations to human experience we have – maybe we ought to see the “dots.” I want you to stare at the black cross in the middle and watch what happens. {pause} Has it disappeared yet? If you still see the purple dots on the outside, raise your hand. Have they disappeared for anybody? Keep looking. Has the ball turned red for anybody? Green. It should turn green actually, yeah. Well, for a person who is color blind like me, it’s red; all right.

Our minds add the experience of seeing a green ball and they take away the dots because they become irrelevant to our experience. You see, there’s really more there than we’re experiencing. We filter out of our experience literally 90% to 98% of all of the sense data that come into us. We don’t even bring it to consciousness. And so, what I am showing you is that our experience is in fact interpreted, at least when it comes through our senses. So is it the case that all we are really doing when we have a spiritual experience is interpreting it as coming from God, and it’s simply up for grabs as to whether the interpretation is true or not?

I suggest that there would be no possibility of new experiences that break out of the framework of existing paradigms and world-views or our prior interpretations if all experience were necessarily limited to our pre-interpretive framework of interpretation. Yet that is precisely what a conversion experience is–it reorients one’s entire view of the world and changes and alters the interpretive framework. Thus, it must be in some sense logically and experientially prior to interpretive experience.

You can turn the overhead projector off now, people are much more interested in that then they are in me. {laughter} Oh, maybe we ought to see “rabbit/duck,” just because anybody who has studied Ludwig Wittgenstein has to see this. You probably already have, actually. In a large way, the way that we see the world is up to us. What do you see? Do you see a duck? How many see a duck? How many see a rabbit? Okay, who is right? In fact, you can change at will, once you have learned how to see it, you can change at will the way you see this figure. And in a large way, the way that we can choose to see our experience is precisely like this. We can choose to organize our experience to see it in different ways. I suggest that in the experiencing of religious experience, this is often what is happening; we’re choosing to see different things and experience different things because of our pre-interpretive framework.

But I’m suggesting that that’s not all there is to experience, there’s more to experience than mere interpretation, and this argument isn’t any good unless all of our experience is simply interpretation. As I said, the spiritual experience must in some sense be logically and experientially prior to our interpretive experience because it reorients our experience. It gives us a new way of seeing. Moreover, if the experience rearranges and replaces the framework so that it is the framework or categories, then it is not interpreted experience, but interpretive, and the bases for all further experience as such.

Now this argument also assumes that the entirety of what is experienced is interpretive. But there is more than interpretation that gives content to our experience, and the experience of the burning in the heart and the inspiration as coming from God is, in fact, good reason to believe that it does in fact, come from God; because that’s how we experience it.

If all we ever did were to regurgitate our prior categories of thought or fixed framework of beliefs, then there could never be anything novel or creatively new things. No new scientific theories could emerge, new inventions would be impossible and new revelations could never happen because all we would do is regurgitate what we already know. But that’s not the way human life is, so I suggest that the argument isn’t valid.[48]

Ostler's argument makes a lot of sense in light of scriptures such as Doctrine and Covenants 8:2 in which God is said to speak to both our mind and our heart. If the Spirit can speak to both at the same time, then the experience of the Spirit likely must be a noumenon. If it is a noumenon, then being able to reproduce a phenomenon does nothing to hurt the Latter-day Saint conception of the Holy Ghost, given that the essential natures of both are fundamentally different.

In sum, the God Helmet wasn't what it claimed to be, its unlikely that something will be produced like it in the future, and even if something could potentially be produced, it wouldn't come close to capturing the experience of Latter-day Saints. Thus a responsible treatment of the relation between the God Helmet and the Latter-day Saint understanding of the Spirit would do well to acknowledge that the religious experience is, at the very best, more complex and more nuanced than some would be interested in exploring and, at the very worst, a gross misrepresentation of the sacral epistemic praxis of the tradition.

Illusory Truth Effect

The Illusory Truth Effect is understood as the effect on people’s rationality as they are exposed to the same data set. It has been observed since 1977 that if a person is repeatedly exposed to the same information over and over, that they will begin to believe that information no matter how irrational.[49] As one is exposed to the information repeatedly, they increase in something called processing fluency which is known as “the relative ease with which one processes information.” Criticism is applied to Latter-day Saints, based in this knowledge, in a couple of ways:

  • Some critics claim that Latter-day Saints only believe what they believe because they have grown up with it and the information they have learned has simply become “second nature” as it were.
  • Some critics point to certain statements from General Authorities from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and criticize them for the manner in which they suggest a testimony might be obtained.
For instance, the now late Elder Boyd K. Packer, another apostle of the Church, once wrote:
It is not unusual to have a missionary say, “How can I bear testimony until I get one? How can I testify that God lives, that Jesus is the Christ, and that the gospel is true? If I do not have such a testimony, would that not be dishonest?” Oh, if I could teach you this one principle. A testimony is to be found in the bearing of it! Somewhere in your quest for spiritual knowledge, there is that “leap of faith,” as the philosophers call it. It is the moment when you have gone to the edge of the light and stepped into the darkness to discover that the way is lighted ahead for just a footstep or two. “The spirit of man,” is as the scripture says, indeed “is the candle of the Lord.” (Prov. 20:27.)[50]
Another apostle, Elder Dallin H. Oaks, has expressed similar sentiments about the obtainment of a testimony before.[51] Elder Gary E. Stevenson, another apostle, has reiterated those sentiments in print.[52]
Critics have also taken issue with a statement by Elder Neil L. Andersen, another apostle, who has counseled those seeking conviction of the truthfulness of Joseph Smith's claims to
[c]onsider recording the testimony of Joseph Smith in your own voice, listening to it regularly, and sharing it with friends. Listening to the Prophet’s testimony in your own voice will help bring the witness you seek.[53]
In the critics' point of view, these General Authorities are encouraging people to simply think and pray about the Church being true until they finally believe that it is.
  • Finally, Latter-day Saints are known to encourage those within their circle of influence including family and other loved ones to seek a testimony of the Gospel by the Spirit. Since the Spirit is so central to conversion in Latter-day Saint theology, it makes sense that faithful Latter-day Saints will try their best to explicate how one can obtain a testimony and invite people frequently and sincerely to try the same process out for themselves to gain that testimony. The problem is that many people have sought a testimony for many years through spiritual experience and have not received a witness. Thus, with every time that Latter-day Saints invite someone to convert, the criticism supposedly becomes more and more valid as duped individuals seek repeatedly from that invitation to accept and convert to the Church.

The criticism has a few weaknesses.

  • The first is the double standard applied by critics. This criticism assumes that critics are not under the same effect and/or that the only direction that one should or can travel in their understanding after having been made aware of supposedly more truthful information is away from the Gospel.
  • The second weakness is that it doesn’t adequately account for the many Latter-day Saints who used sincere truth-seeking processes to arrive at their conversion. It neglects those that converted to the Gospel even when they were critics to it before. It neglects the many Latter-day Saints who remained as serious students of the Gospel for a long time before converting after they felt their converting experience from the Holy Ghost. It portrays ordinary Latter-day Saints as mindless automatons that simply followed peer-pressure or cultural mores to gain their testimony. It does not capture the lived experience of millions of members.
  • The third weakness of the argument is that it is often used in overly reductionist ways and doesn’t account for the deeply personal, spiritual, and intimate experiences that Latter-day Saints have as they build/have built their testimonies of the Gospel. It reduces the experiences' sacredness to mere biological processes when it is almost never described as such by Latter-day Saints and never can be under the Latter-day Saint understanding of the soul as described above. Indeed, Latter-day Saints are generally apt to say when something is the result of simply wishful thinking or a more special impression. Latter-day Saints understand that some need to be invited to pray about the Gospel more than once and follow the instructions in Moroni 10:3-5 closely. Namely, to first ponder the mercies of God, pray with real intent (meaning that one intends on acting on the answer), with faith in Christ, believing that God can reveal the truth of the Book of Mormon to any and all of God’s children. But Latter-day Saints also know that a testimony of the Gospel sometimes needs to be built over time (Alma 32: 27-43)—that the Light can grow brighter and brighter until the perfect day as people continue in it (D&C 50:24). The Spirit could be a converter to a person's heart and mind over time and with enduring effort. Thus instead of proving or disproving the reality of this Spirit, it could be that we're just speaking from the lenses of two or more different epistemological lenses—Latter-day Saints from their own brand of religious materialism and critics from a naturalistic lens or at least an exclusivist religious lens that denies religious experience as a valid means of knowing truth and/or would seek to diminish the significance of the experiences and the credibility of those that claimed them.

That said, Latter-day Saints may need to be reminded that not all people will receive a testimony of the Gospel through the Holy Ghost. Some people can have the spiritual gift to believe on other people’s words who claim to have received the Spirit so that they can inherit eternal life (D&C 46:13-14). Others don’t have faith and will simply need to continue to seek learning by study and faith (D&C 88:118). It is even possible for Latter-day Saints to believe that some won’t need to covert to the faith in this life (See D&C 137:7-8; Luke 9:49-50; Matthew 7:14; 1 Nephi 8:20 (19-24); 3 Nephi 27:33; D&C 22:4 (1-4); 43:7). They may be converted to the faith in the next. Elder Orson F. Whitney, another apostle of the Church active at the beginning of the 20th century, stated the following:

Perhaps the Lord needs such men on the outside of His Church to help it along. They are among its auxiliaries, and can do more good for the cause where the Lord has placed them, than anywhere else. … Hence, some are drawn into the fold and receive a testimony of the truth; while others remain unconverted … the beauties and glories of the gospel being veiled temporarily from their view, for a wise purpose. The Lord will open their eyes in His own due time. God is using more than one people for the accomplishment of His great and marvelous work. The Latter-day Saints cannot do it all. It is too vast, too arduous for any one people. … We have no quarrel with the Gentiles. They are our partners in a certain sense.[54]

If anything, it may be said that this criticism is valid for teaching Latter-day Saints that they should indeed prove all things and hold fast to that which is good (1 Thess 5:21). However, this criticism doesn’t seem to have any sort of deep impact on Latter-day Saint conceptions of finding Light, obtaining testimony, or feeling the Spirit.

Conclusion

We see that the Latter-day Saint conception of testimony and/or spiritual experience does not have to be affected by knowledge of these things. We have used official teachings from Church leaders and the official scriptures to dispel the misunderstandings of the use of spiritual experiences in Latter-day Saint epistemology and demonstrated that there are meaningful ways to view this information without discounting the sacred experiences that Latter-day Saints have rationally sought after and hold at the center of their noetic structure.

Some may have objections to the way that the author decided to view the interaction of the above-mentioned propositions from Latter-day Saint pneumatology in relation to these matters. Readers are encouraged to study the issue out for themselves with the Latter-day Saint conceptions of the soul, Holy Spirit, Light of Christ, angels (both good and bad), false spirits, the Devil, and God in mind and develop their own thinking relative to this subject. This will certainly become a topic of intense theological discussion for Latter-day Saint theologians and philosophers as the Church moves into its third century of existence and it will be important to have many perspectives to count on for elucidation of these important matters.[55] This is meant to act as perhaps a base for that discussion moving forward. The larger point to be made is that the claims made by critics of the Church in regard to the conception of the Holy Spirit do not affect Latter-day Saint epistemology in any negative way given the unique base of doctrinal propositions Latter-day Saints espouse with regard to the nature of the soul, the various and distinct spiritual entities that are claimed to exist, and the functions that those entities play in bringing us further from or closer to God.


Response to claim: "it would likewise be arrogant of a Latter-day Saint to deny their spiritual experiences and testimonies of the truthfulness of their own religion"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

it would likewise be arrogant of a Latter-day Saint to deny their spiritual experiences and testimonies of the truthfulness of their own religion... Only .2% of the world’s population are members of God’s true Church. This is God’s model and standard of efficiency?

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

Latter-day Saints are not taught to deny the spiritual experiences of others. We are taught to understand them in certain ways, however. The Gospel teaches us that not everyone will be a member of the Church in this life but that is okay.

Jump to Detail:

Question: How do Latter-day Saints respond to arguments from diversity against the use of spiritual experiences in their epistemology?

Review of the Criticism

As a part of their epistemology, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe that commitment and/or belief may be established by spiritual experience. This experience is known as having an experience with the Holy Ghost or "Holy Spirit" (Moroni 10:3-5).

Primarily Secularist critics of the Church and other Christian critics of the Church have charged that this mode of receiving knowledge is challenged by the existence of competing religious claims or spiritual experiences had by those adherents of other faiths. If they are to receive spiritual experiences motivating them to believe in the validity of their sacred texts, religious structures, and so forth, what makes the Latter-day Saint claim to knowledge unique? What is the basis for claiming that one "knows" that the Book of Mormon is from God?

This argument is simply the version of the Argument from Inconsistent Revelations against the claims of religious truth (AKA the "avoiding the wrong hell problem") that is applied to Latter-day Saint beliefs. This problem in philosophy of religion is one with which all religions must deal.[56]

This article examines that charge in depth. First, those parts of Latter-day Saint pneumatology relating to epistemology will be set forth as a groundwork for more comprehensible and responsible discussion and then a more detailed discussion.

Basis of Response

When any critic shows the experiences of other people in other religions, they are not simply showing you the experiences but trying to get you to process those experiences through a certain framework. That framework is usually that spiritual experience is unreliable, probably comes from naturalistic sources, and/or that they aren't unique and thus can't lead one into truth.

How does one respond? To respond and to respond adequately, we have to provide a comprehensive, coherent, theologically whole framework that can observe, absorb, and understand spiritual experience. If we can do that, then the argument essentially becomes nil since we have a framework through which we can faithfully, charitably, and comfortably view the experience of people in other religions.

Moroni's Counsel for Discerning Good from Evil - A Framework Through Which to See Spiritual Experience

What is that framework and how is it developed? The prophet Moroni had very interesting words to say on this subject. Moroni 7:12-25

12 Wherefore, all things which are good cometh of God; and that which is evil cometh of the devil; for the devil is an enemy unto God, and fighteth against him continually, and inviteth and enticeth to sin, and to do that which is evil continually.


13 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.

14 Wherefore, take heed, my beloved brethren, that ye do not judge that which is evil to be of God, or that which is good and of God to be of the devil.

15 For behold, my brethren, it is given unto you to judge, that ye may know good from evil; and the way to judge is as plain, that ye may know with a perfect knowledge, as the daylight is from the dark night.

16 For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.

17 But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him.

18 And now, my brethren, seeing that ye know the light by which ye may judge, which light is the light of Christ, see that ye do not judge wrongfully; for with that same judgment which ye judge ye shall also be judged.

19 Wherefore, I beseech of you, brethren, that ye should search diligently in the light of Christ that ye may know good from evil; and if ye will lay hold upon every good thing, and condemn it not, ye certainly will be a child of Christ.

20 And now, my brethren, how is it possible that ye can lay hold upon every good thing?

21 And now I come to that faith, of which I said I would speak; and I will tell you the way whereby ye may lay hold on every good thing.

22 For behold, God knowing all things, being from everlasting to everlasting, behold, he sent angels to minister unto the children of men, to make manifest concerning the coming of Christ; and in Christ there should come every good thing.

23 And God also declared unto prophets, by his own mouth, that Christ should come.

24 And behold, there were divers ways that he did manifest things unto the children of men, which were good; and all things which are good cometh of Christ; otherwise men were fallen, and there could no good thing come unto them.

25 Wherefore, by the ministering of angels, and by every word which proceeded forth out of the mouth of God, men began to exercise faith in Christ; and thus by faith, they did lay hold upon every good thing; and thus it was until the coming of Christ.[57]

Thus according to Moroni, if we can develop a theology that understands spiritual experience through the revelation that prophets have given to us, then we can comfortably understand what God's will is and choose to understand it that way (2 Nephi 2:27-28; Joshua 24:15).

The Immediate Problem of Circularity

There is immediately a problem with Moroni's argument that needs to be dealt with. If we are to have a framework that we believe to be revealed by God, and God is yet empirically unverifiable, and the Spirit through which we reveals to the prophets is yet empirically unidentifiable, then isn't it simply circular reasoning to claim that the framework comes from God? This has been dealt with elsewhere on the FairMormon wiki.

Theological Point of Departure

We should now lay the basis for the theological framework through which Latter-day Saints might see spiritual experience outside of the faith.

The Latter-day Saint Conception of God, the Devil, the Holy Ghost, False Spirits, Good Angels, Bad Angels, and Light

Latter-day Saint theology teaches that there is a spectrum of light (understood to be synonymous with "truth" by faithful adherents) that one can receive in this life that comes from God. This light is known in Latter-day Saint vernacular as “The Light of Christ” (Moroni 7:16[58]; D&C 84:46). When one receives more of God’s truth, one receives more Light (D&C 50:24; D&C 84:45). When one rejects Light, is persuaded towards rejecting the truth that one has already received, or one deliberately chooses to remain without the Light that God has revealed, one stays away or moves away from Light.[59] This is seen as sinful. The Holy Ghost and many righteous angels are seen as those beings that move God’s children further and further into the Light (2 Nephi 32: 2-3; D&C 84:47). The Holy Ghost works through the Light of Christ—which is believed to be given to all people before they enter mortality (Moroni 7:16; D&C 84:45-46). The Light of Christ is understood to give a spiritual energy and life to all things (D&C 88: 11-13). Since it gives this life to all things, it follows that the Holy Ghost, working through this Light, can work on our spirit and/or our body in order to produce phenomena which are connected to both heart and mind (D&C 8:2). The Holy Ghost works in unity with God's purposes. Satan, false angels, and many false spirits are seen as those beings that move God’s children further and further into the darkness (Moroni 7:17;D&C 50:2-3). As one receives more Light, one is more receptive to receiving additional Light and is seen as more sensitive to the Holy Ghost and the truth that God has revealed through prophets. As one moves away from the Light, they are less and less able to perceive Light. If a person has gained Light but subsequently loses it through sin or being persuaded by a false spirit to accept darkness, it is difficult to regain it. It can become progressively more difficult to regain the Light once lost depending on how much Light receives and how much they give up when moving into the darkness (Alma 24:30; Alma 47:36).The amount of Light one has and the ability to perceive it can ultimately be diminished entirely (1 Nephi 17:45;Jacob 6:8). As Elder David A. Bednar, an apostle in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has taught:

As we yield to that influence, to do good and become good, then the Light of Christ increases within us. As we disobey, Light is decreased and can ultimately be diminished within us.[60]

Thus these spirits are acting on both our body and our spirit, connected together intimately (called the “soul” in Latter-day Saint theology), to persuade us to accept, reject, or stay indifferent to Light and truth. When these spirits act on us, they produce physically felt sensations. Latter-day Saints believe that all human beings have the ability to perceive that which is of God from that which is of the devil (Moroni 7:14) through the same power given by the Light of Christ. It is generally believed that what God has revealed to prophets is good and will inspire one to love God and serve him (Moroni 7:20-25; Joseph Smith – Matthew 1:37).

The Priesthood

Latter-day Saints claim to hold special authority from God that authorizes them to perform special ordinances in his name. This is called the "priesthood". Latter-day Saints believe that this priesthood authorizes prophets to reveal God's covenant truth so that Latter-day Saints remain at the most bright end of the spectrum. Latter-day Saints believe that this priesthood existed primitively in the organization of believers that Christ established.[61] That priesthood power was restored through Joseph Smith in our day. That priesthood power is believed to have been passed down in an uninterrupted line of prophet successors of Joseph Smith to the current President of the Church. This succession has come through detailed instructions given in the official scriptures revealed to Joseph Smith. Since this priesthood has given them the covenant truth of God through prophets, Latter-day Saints believe that the truths espoused in the Church today constitute the fulness of truth and Light one can receive in this life (Doctrine and Covenants 123:12-13).

Experiences Seen as Positive in Latter-day Saint Scripture

With all this established as groundwork, a more comprehensible and thus responsible discussion of the theology can take place. The next step in our discussion is to outline those experiences that move someone further towards the Light in Latter-day Saint theology. There seems to be four such experiences that Latter-day Saint scripture positively envisions people having.

A Softening of Heart to the idea of God, Christ, the Gospel, or Religion in General.

Alma 16:16-17 states that:

16And there was no inequality among them; the Lord did pour out his Spirit on all the face of the land to prepare the minds of the children of men, or to prepare their hearts to receive the word which should be taught among them at the time of his coming —

17 That they might not be hardened against eh word, that they might not be unbelieving, and go on to destruction, but that they might receive the word with joy, and as a branch be grafted into the true vine, that they might enter into the rest of the Lord their God.

The first experience that the scriptures envision as positive is a softening of heart to the idea of God, Christ, the Gospel, or religion in general. Notice how this scripture does not connect any truth claim from the Restored Gospel to the experience. It seems as though the experience of the Spirit is one that all people should feel at some point and, in a remarkable way, that experience doesn't have to be explicitly tied to a proposition from Latter-day Saint doctrine. People need to experience this softening of heart. It is imaginable that these experiences can come from anything that is good (Articles of Faith 1:13; Moroni 7:12). This softening of heart is preliminary to receiving a full conversion to God, Christ, and/or the Restoration.

Some people may be able to recognize that this experience comes from God and others--not. Some may feel stirrings of the Spirit trying to soften their heart or convert them to God, Christ, and/or the restoration but not recognize it as such. Such is a testament to the Book of Mormon's assessment that we the ability to judge spiritual impressions that is apart from the impressions themselves (Moroni 7:14). Consider a case from the Book of Mormon (3 Nephi 9:20)

20 And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost, even as the Lamanites, because of their faith in me at the time of their conversion, were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not.

Or this case of a convert from Mexico recounted in Preach My Gospel (Chapter 9):

As a child, I was never taught to read the Bible. I went to church on Sundays, but I contributed nothing and felt nothing in return. I was disillusioned. … I searched for … God—wanting to know if He even existed. I thirsted to know Him and His words. But I could not seem to find what I sought.


There were moments when I felt close to quenching my thirst. When I held my first child, a daughter, in my arms for the first time, I had a feeling that God really did exist. Many years later, when her sister was born, I experienced the same feeling. … Most of the time, however, an inexplicable tiredness weighed upon my soul. I was spiritually thirsty and could find no place to drink.

In April 1994 I was living in the city of Monterrey, Mexico, earning a living as a taxi driver. One day it rained for hours, sending water cascading down the mountainsides. After driving around in the rain for hours, I found myself in a little town about eight kilometers (five miles) from Monterrey. It was about … nearly time to go home. Suddenly I saw two young men on foot. They were wearing dark trousers and white shirts, and they looked drenched from head to foot. When I approached them, I opened the door of the taxi and called, “Get in! I’m going to Monterrey.”

The taller one … replied, “We don’t have any money.”

“No charge,” I replied.

They quickly got into the taxi.

As I drove, we talked. They asked if they could share a message about Jesus Christ with me. I agreed and gave them my address.

When I got home, I woke my wife and told her about the two young men. “What a coincidence,” I said. “One is Mexican and the other is American, and they are both named Elder.”

“Elder means missionary,” my wife answered, knowing just a little about the Church.

From deep within me, I felt something stir. These young men had left a feeling of exquisite wonder in my heart. I felt that I was close to finding the water that would quench my thirst, that it was within reach.[62]

Notice how the man felt “something” stir in his heart but that he couldn’t identify it as the Spirit. Many people are having these experiences but aren’t able to identify it as God working with them and don’t have the framework provided by revelation in order to recognize it.

A Conversion to God

The next type of experience envisioned as positive is conversion to God. The Book of Mormon teaches that anything that inviteth and enticeth one to love God and to serve him is of him (Moroni 7:13). The Doctrine and Covenants similarly teaches that when one feels the Spirit, they are coming unto God (Doctrine and Covenants 84:47).

This experience may come because God needs someone to serve him, even if it isn’t in his Church. Elder Orson Whitney stated:

“Perhaps the Lord needs such men on the outside of His Church to help it along. They are among its auxiliaries, and can do more good for the cause where the Lord has placed them, than anywhere else. … Hence, some are drawn into the fold and receive a testimony of the truth; while others remain unconverted … the beauties and glories of the gospel being veiled temporarily from their view, for a wise purpose. The Lord will open their eyes in His own due time. God is using more than one people for the accomplishment of His great and marvelous work. The Latter-day Saints cannot do it all. It is too vast, too arduous for any one people. … We have no quarrel with the Gentiles. They are our partners in a certain sense.” [63]

Even the Lord seems to be okay with this as portrayed in Luke 9:49-50. Certain men were casting out devils in the name of Jesus even though they didn’t follow Jesus:

49 And John answered and said, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name; and we forbad him, because he followeth not with us.

50 And Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us.

However people can also be converted to certain principles of truth found in other Churches. Latter-day Saint scripture and even the Bible affirm the presence of beauty, truth, and goodness in other churches (Amos 9:7;[64]; Jonah 1; Matthew 3:9; Luke 3:8[65] Alma 29:6-8; D&C 134:4; Articles of Faith 1:13; 2 Nephi 29:11).

Preach My Gospel, the Church's official manual for missionaries, states the following:

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

Preach My Gospel: A Guide to Missionary Service, (2004)
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.

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Along with the scripture from Alma 29:6, we might include 2 Nephi 29:11-12 that may be interpreted to mean that God has inspired the texts of many religions:

11 For I command all men, both in the east and in the west, and in the north, and in the south, and in the islands of the sea, that they shall write the words which I speak unto them; for out of the books which shall be written I will judge the world, every man according to their works, according to that which is written.
12 For behold, I shall speak unto the Jews and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto the Nephites and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto the other tribes of the house of Israel, which I have led away, and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto all nations of the earth and they shall write it.

13 And it shall come to pass that the Jews shall have the words of the Nephites, and the Nephites shall have the words of the Jews; and the Nephites and the Jews shall have the words of the lost tribes of Israel; and the lost tribes of Israel shall have the words of the Nephites and the Jews.[66]

Thus, there are those that may be converted to God and not necessarily through The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in this life. That's okay, as doctrine tells us that all will have the opportunity to hear and accept the Gospel whether in this life or the next (Doctrine and Covenants 137).

A Conversion to Christ

The next experience is the experience that converts a person to Christ. The Book of Mormon teaches that all things that invite a person to come unto Christ are from the Spirit of Christ (Moroni 7:16)[67]This conversion can come through other Christian religions or the Lord's Church.

By adopting the framework that has been established up to this point in the article for understanding religious experience, we adopt “religious inclusivism” where we seek to understand the spiritual experiences of religious persons outside of our faith in light of the Plan of Salvation without adopting “religious exclusivism” nor “religious pluralism”. It softens the load that we have to explain and additionally can show us, perhaps in a new and enlightening way, the love God has for all his children and how he seeks to include everyone of them in the Plan.

Latter-day Saint philosopher and theologian Blake T. Ostler expressed similar sentiments along with a few cautions:

Now we may be called into question if somebody has a vision, for instance, of the Virgin Mary; because I don't believe that the LDS believe that the Virgin Mary puts in many appearances. However I suggest that we look beyond what divides us and look to "inclusivism," and that is, "What is it that they learned? What does their religious experience teach them?" Because God will adapt his message to any culture, and any means that He can, to increase the light of a person (see Alma 29:8). So I suggest that by adopting "religious inclusivism" we minimize the challenge from "religious pluralism."[68]

Conversion to the Restored Gospel

The last type of experience that Latter-day Saints envision (hopefully for as many of God’s children as possible) is that of being converted to the Restored Gospel. In the Book of Mormon, the prophet Moroni teaches that one may come to learn of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon by reading the book, pondering its message in our minds, and praying about the book with a sincere heart, real intent, and having faith in Jesus Christ:

3 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.
4 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.
5 And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.

Praying about the Book of Mormon thus brings one a testimony or conviction of the Church since the Book of Mormon encompasses several propositions relating to the truthfulness of the Church including God being sovereign over the whole earth (1 Nephi 11:6), God creating the earth (2 Nephi 2:13), God having a body of flesh and bone (3 Nephi 28:10; D&C 93:33-35), the prophecy from the Book of Mormon of Joseph Smith being the one to bring it forth implying his prophethood and calling from God (2 Nephi 3:14-15),[69]and the existence of the priesthood and its necessity in knowing how to find salvation in Christ through ordinances (Alma 13). Thus when one "knows" that the Book of Mormon is true, one "knows" that Joseph Smith is a prophet since he claimed to translate the Book of Mormon by the gift and power of God. If Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, this strongly implies that God exists. If God exists and he called Joseph Smith to translate the Book of Mormon, then it follows that the priesthood is real since the Book of Mormon is true and that that priesthood is on the earth today. That priesthood (the power and authority to act in God's name with his authorization) is claimed to reside only in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

All of these experiences should show that the Latter-day Saint approach to spiritual experience is inclusive. It should be remembered, however, that the use of spiritual experience to establish the basis for commitment or belief is not a mode of epistemology used/favored by all or even most religions. Thus its doubtful that they are accessing the Spirit at all as a major means of converting to any doctrine.

Experiences Envisioned as Negative in Latter-day Saint Scripture

Now, the preceding outlines positive spiritual experiences. The scriptures and the experience of Latter-day Saints have demonstrated that there are times when the experience (or claimed experience) isn’t supposed to be understood positively:

Intentionally Lying About the Reality of an Experience

Some people intentionally lie to try and hurt member testimonies. There are those that claim that a spiritual experience has taken place (when it really hasn’t) that proves to them the falsehood of the Book of Mormon or who propose other scenarios that supposedly defeat Latter-day Saint epistemology. These people are who the Latter-day Saint scriptures might describe as those that "pervert" the Gospel. (Alma 30:60)

Experiences Caused by the Devil

Some experiences are caused by the devil, see for example (Alma 30:53). Anything that entices us to worship him or to do evil is of him (Moroni 7:17). Latter-day Saint scripture contains procedure from discerning the Devil as an Angel of Light from a true angel (Doctrine and Covenants 129:8).

Experiences Caused by False Spirits

Some experiences are caused by false spirits. D&C 50 was revealed for discerning spirits with D&C 50: 31-33 being the way to (following the counsel given in 1 John 4:1-2) test the spirits (See also D&C 52:15-19)

  • When an experience caused by the devil or false spirits occur and it invites someone to do evil then it must be rejected.
Consider what Joseph Smith told Brigham Young:
Tell the brethren to be humble and faithful and be sure to keep the Spirit of the Lord, that it will lead them aright. Be careful and not turn away the still, small voice; it will teach them what to do and where to go; it will yield the fruits of the kingdom. Tell the brethren to keep their heart open to conviction, so that when the Holy Ghost comes to them their hearts will be ready to receive it. They can tell the Spirit of the Lord from all other spirits—it will whisper peace and joy to their souls; it will take malice, hatred, strife and all evil from their hearts, and their whole desire will be to do good.[70]

Being Persuaded By False Christs

Some are envisioned as having been deceived by false Christs. There have been many people that have claimed to be Jesus Christ returned in the flesh such as A.J. Miller. Some have had spiritual experiences that draw them towards these false Christs. Some claim to be the risen Savior but violate some of the counsel that he gave to his followers to know how he would come. There are many scriptures that can help us to discern between the true Christ and False Christs (Matt 24: 5, 24-28; Mark 13:22-29[71]; D&C 45:36-44; 52:15-19).

Being Persuaded by False Prophets

Some are envisioned as having been deceived by false prophets. These include people of Latter-day Saint breakoffs and others that don't look to proper authority to receive revelation. The scriptures give us many warnings of false prophets and ways to discern them.

Being Mistaken About the Reality of a Claimed Spiritual Revelation

It may be that there is no real spiritual stimulus that is "confirming truth" for people. Since we believe that the body and spirit are intricately connected (D&C 88:15) it is not surprising that a thought, warm feeling or heart tremor can be over-interpreted as coming from a spiritual stimulus. This is what the scriptures might call having "foolish imaginations of the heart" (Helaman 16:22; 3 Nephi 2:2; Moses 8:22).

Concerning conflating emotion and thoughts with the spirit, President Howard W. Hunter said:

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.[72]

We will all eventually remain among a final resting point along the spectrum of Light (as described above) at judgement day. We're promised that the light can continue to grow until the perfect day (D&C 50:24). As we seek the light, we are promised it (Matthew 7:7)

What about Nephi who was commanded to kill even when forbidden too? (Exodus 20:13)

The spiritual experience that Nephi received was not invalid in his days.

Nephi's killing of Laban


Question: Why would the true church of Jesus Christ be comprised of only a small percentage of the population of the Earth?

Christ specifically mentioned to His followers that they were the "salt of the earth"

No matter how many member of the Church there may be at any time in history, it appears that being the smaller number among a larger population has long been the problem of the Gospel. This may be why Christ specifically mentioned to His followers that they were the "salt of the earth." To modern English speakers, that idiom is used to mean good, average people, but that wasn't what Christ meant. He was speaking to very few who believed him. Those who believed were to do for the earth what salt does to a pot of stew or soup. A little seasoning nevertheless plays an important part.

Luke 13:20-21:

And again he said, Wherefore unto shall I liken the kingdom of God? It is like leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.

Christ never answered the specific question of why there were so few believers, but he did tell those few believers that they played an important role and that few would find his true path to salvation (Matthew 7:14; 1 Nephi 8:20 (19-24); 3 Nephi 27: 33; D&C 22:4 (1-4); 43:7)

An angel showed Nephi a vision of the last days and the Church numbers were described as few in comparison to the rest of the world

In 1 Nephi 14:12, an angel shows Nephi a vision of the last days and the Church numbers were described as few in comparison to the rest of the world.There's no reason to believe that Latter-day Saints will ever outnumber the largest religions based on this vision. Remember that when the gospel is finally preached in all the world, the Second Coming will occur and the end of the current condition will follow. Latter-day Saints believe that all mankind will have an opportunity to hear the Gospel but that most of the population of the Earth will hear it in the Spirit World. Those who had no opportunity to hear it in mortality will have that opportunity then. When you consider the small minority of the earth's population throughout all of history that even knew about Jesus Christ, it should not surprise us that many in our day will not hear about Him either. Latter-day Saints believe that God is just and is concerned about all of His children. He will see to it that all mankind are taught and judged justly.

Many of the goals of the Plan of Salvation are achieved even without being a member of the Church

Among the most important "purposes of life" according to the Plan of Salvation are the following:

  • Receiving a physical body.
  • Experiencing trials, pain, and other challenges, and having the opportunity to try to overcome them.
  • Experiencing joy and happiness.
  • Developing Christlike attributes.

Developing Christ-like attributes is vital to our eternal happiness and development, and living a mortal life accelerates us along that path. All of these experiences are perfectly and regularly attainable without being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In fact, they are perfectly attainable without even being a Christian. For some, they are even attainable without believing in God.

That being said, there are tangible and extremely advantageous benefits to being a member of the LDS Church, and more specifically of knowing and understanding why we are here. Those advantages, though, are not necessary for a successful experience in mortality. The saving ordinances and covenants we make through proper priesthood authority accelerate and magnify our purposes for being here, and eventually they will be available to all people whether in mortality or post-mortality. In the meantime, billions of people are here living out the plan of salvation with a bit of ignorance about it, but happily and successfully nonetheless.


Response to claim: "If God’s method to revealing truth is through feelings, it’s a pretty ineffective method"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

If God’s method to revealing truth is through feelings, it’s a pretty ineffective method.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

The Gospel does not teach that one should make decisions regarding the truth of something simply through "feelings". Moroni tells us to ponder (Moroni 10:3-5). Oliver Cowdery gave us studying it out in our mind and then asking (D&C 9:7-9)

Jump to Detail:

Question: What is the best way to define Latter-day Saint epistemology?

Latter-day Saints take no uniform approach to epistemology. Belief is found at a confluence of reason and revelation

There are several schools of epistemology—each defining the best and most important sources of knowledge. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has no uniform position on defining epistemology—only to understand that it is the result of reason and revelation. Latter-day Saints highly value the proposition of a good education and the primacy of reason. But they also seek to understand things by faith. Several scriptures in the Latter-day Saint canon affirm the primacy of reason and of learning through the Spirit--used interchangeably with "faith"--because there are times where one needs to strengthen the other:

10 But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.

11 For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.

3 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.

4 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.

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

Noted is how this short passage begins by emphasizing a moment of pondering and reflection before seeking revelation.

2 Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart.
7 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.

8 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.

9 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; therefore, you cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me.
40 For intelligence cleaveth unto intelligence; wisdom receiveth wisdom; truth embraceth truth; virtue loveth virtue; light cleaveth unto light; mercy hath compassion on mercy and claimeth her own; justice continueth its course and claimeth its own; judgment goeth before the face of him who sitteth upon the throne and governeth and executeth all things.

77 And I give unto you a commandment that you shall teach one another the doctrine of the kingdom.

78 Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand;

79 Of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms—

Noted in this passage is its instruction to seek learning from all disciplines so that we can be better instructed in how to think about and live out our faith. Thus, we gain revelation from a prophet, but understanding how God communicated to that prophet, understanding what the intention is behind certain scriptures, and finding the blessings from following commandments comes largely from our own independent research and reason. We attempt to approach the scriptures contextually and holistically to understand their full significance and our role in God's plan.

118 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.

Noted here is that secular learning and devotional learning are commanded for increasing the faith of those who struggle

36 The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth

18 Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection.

19 And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come.

Our form of epistemology does stress the importance of the Spirit more frequently than we do reason and that is because of a general perception of the fleetingness of reason, scholarship, and science in a certain regard. Obtaining and listening to the spirit is central to conversion to the Church since we are given the opportunity to seek answers from God himself. An assurance from the Spirit is used as a means of coping with uncertainties that we might have at various times of our development in the Church and our convictions. This assurance gives us the belief that, like the apostle Paul stated, that the Lord will "bring to light the hidden things of darkness" so that one day every one may have a praise of God (1 Cor 4:5).This should not, however, be understood to mean that Latter-day Saint testimonies rely solely on feelings. Spiritual understanding for Latter-day Saints is arrived at the confluence of reason and revelation, with a stress on revelation.

Reason is obviously only an intellectual exercise (primarily of the mind), while revelation is an effort that requires all of our faculties

We can obtain knowledge and truth through many sources. But one reason we stress the importance of revelation is that it appeals to our whole body for verification. It involves “our faculties” (Alma 32: 27). Latter-day Saint doctrine also affirms that the body and spirit make the soul (D&C 88:15).[73] Thus, spiritual experiences and coming to spiritual understanding for Latter-day Saints involve much more than simply good feelings as some have criticized us for, but for seeking to “study [something] out in our mind” and then asking for confirmation of it (D&C 9:7-9). We also teach that when the Spirit does touch our souls, that it is an experience that should feed both mind and heart (D&C 8:2). There are times when we have to rely solely upon revelation given to us in our hearts (1 Nephi 4:6), there are other times when we need both revelation and reason (D&C 8:2), and there are other times when we simply need to do something based only upon reason and what we know is good (D&C 58:26-29).

Response to claim: "Even prophets are often wrong."

The author(s) of Debunking FAIR's Debunking (June 2014) make(s) the following claim:

Even prophets are often wrong. Brigham Young, for example, taught now-repudiated doctrines of racism, Adam-God, and Blood-Atonement. Moreover, prophets and scriptures sometimes conflict with one another. Not only do Prophets sometimes conflict with scripture, they conflict with each other. Yesterday’s doctrine is today’s false doctrine and yesterday’s prophet is today’s heretic, remember? Pointing to prophets and scriptures as a standard of “confirming” your feelings again not only does not answer the question, it creates more questions than answers.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

Yes, prophets are fallible. There are times when they have taught now repudiated concepts, but it doesn't follow that it therefore makes spiritual epistemology unreliable. What would make bring it more into question were if the prophet claimed direct revelation for some concept but then the evidence didn't support such a concept. The reason we have scriptures is so we can test the prophet's word since they are the "standard works". The author makes a broad claim about the scriptures without supporting evidence. The best way to test such an assertion is to read the scriptures holistically which we have tools for.

Jump to Detail:

Question: If prophets are fallible, does this make spiritual epistemology unreliable?

Only when the prophet specifically claims revelation do we need to humble ourselves to it.

Some critics have claimed that, if prophets can be lead awry with their own biases and prejudices, then spiritual epistemology is unreliable.

The argument is useless when recognized that Latter-day Saints only need to bow to a prophet's revelation when he specifically claims that he has received revelation. We can also tell if a revelation is truly from God if it is canonized. Bruce R. McConkie taught:

With all their inspiration and greatness, prophets are yet mortal men with imperfections common to mankind in general. They have their opinions and prejudices and are left to work out their own problems without inspiration in many instances. Joseph Smith recorded that he “visited with a brother and sister from Michigan, who thought that ‘a prophet is always a prophet’; but I told them that a prophet was a prophet only when he was acting as such.” (Teachings, p. 278.) Thus the opinions and views even of prophets may contain error unless those opinions and views are inspired by the Spirit. Inspired statements are scripture and should be accepted as such. (D. & C. 68:4.) Since “the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets” (1 Cor. 14:32), whatever is announced by the presiding brethren as counsel for the Church will be the voice of inspiration. But the truth or error of any uninspired utterance of an individual will have to be judged by the standard works and the spirit of discernment and inspiration that is in those who actually enjoy the gift of the Holy Ghost.[74] Whether that happened or not, it illustrates a principle: that the Lord can move upon His people but they may speak on occasions their own opinions.[75]

Harold B. Lee was equally emphatic:

It is not to be thought that every word spoken by the General Authorities is inspired, or that they are moved upon by the Holy Ghost in everything they speak and write. Now you keep that in mind. I don’t care what his position is, if he writes something or speaks something that goes beyond anything that you can find in the standard works, unless that one be the prophet, seer, and revelator––please note that one exception––you may immediately say, “Well, that is his own idea!” And if he says something that contradicts what is found in the standard works (I think that is why we call them “standard”––it is the standard measure of all that men teach), you may know by that same token that it is false; regardless of the position of the man who says it.[76]

See here for more quotes regarding revelation.

Where the Critics Focus when Making this Argument

Some critics have applied this argument to different parts of Latter-day Saint discourse which we might need to address.

Adam-God Theory

Regarding Adam-God one of the most important things to know about is it’s actual status in Brigham’s mind and how he viewed his “revelation”. Matthew Brown wrote:

First of all, the question will be posed: ‘How did Brother Brigham compare himself, as a revelator, with his predecessor?’ There are two quotations that are of interest here. The second President of the LDS Church said, “I wish to ask every member of this whole community if they ever heard [me] profess to be a Prophet, Seer, and Revelator as Joseph Smith was. [I] professed to be an apostle of Jesus Christ.”[77] In the second quote Brigham Young says that he “did not receive [revelations] through the Urim and Thummim as Joseph [Smith] did.”[78] Hence, it can be ascertained that, at least in one sense, Brigham Young did not receive communications from heaven in the same direct manner that Joseph Smith did. And it is relevant to mention here that Brigham Young did, in fact, own a seerstone that was once utilized by Joseph Smith. Next, there is this lengthy quote from President Young which is well worth considering in its entirety. He rhetorically asked himself,
"Well, Brother Brigham, . . . . have you had revelations?” Yes, I have them all the time. I live constantly by the principle of revelation. . . . I have never received one particle of intelligence [except] by revelation, no matter whether [my] father or mother revealed it, or my sister, or [my] neighbor. No person receives knowledge [except] upon the principle of revelation, that is, by having something revealed to them. “Do you [Brother Brigham] have the revelations of the Lord Jesus Christ?” I will leave that for others to judge. If the Lord requires anything of this people, and speaks through me, I will tell them of it; but if He does not, still we all live by the principle of revelation. Who reveals? Everybody around us; we learn [from] each other. I have something which you have not, and you have something which I have not. I reveal what I have to you, and you reveal what you have to me. I believe that we are revelators to each other.[79]
Interestingly, there is some evidence that the ‘revelation’ claims for Adam–God ideology did not originate with Brigham Young, but rather with his close friend and associate Heber C. Kimball. There is one well-documented instance where Brother Kimball claimed that some of the concepts connected with the Adam–God Theory were revealed to him.[80] There are also two other statements that need to be taken into careful consideration. The first comes from Thomas Stenhouse’s book. It reads: “Brother Heber had considerable pride in relating to his intimate friends that he was the source of Brigham’s revelation on the ‘Adam deity.’”[81] Since Mr. Stenhouse was an apostate from Mormonism at the time he wrote this, some people might tend to discount his assertion. But the second statement seems to lend credence to it. This one comes from Elder Orson Pratt. He said that the notion of “Adam being our Father and our God . . .[was] advanced by Bro[ther] Kimball in the stand [or at the pulpit], and afterwards approved by Bro[ther] Brigham.”[82][83]

Brown then elaborates on the other most crucial point of the Adam-God History:

The records of the past indicate that Brigham Young’s teachings on Adam were met with steady opposition throughout the 1850s, 60s, and 70s; they were not automatically accepted by the general Church populace. Brother Young even complained on occasion about the amount of non-acceptance that was taking place. But the negative reaction seems to have caused the Church President to have a reaction of his own; one which, in the end, was beneficial to historians: he got more precise in describing the character of his Adam–God teachings. This is probably the most important point that can be made with regard to this intriguing, complex, and somewhat perplexing subject. When Brigham Young first introduced the public to his Adam–God teachings in April of 1852 he claimed that they would prove a person’s “salvation or damnation.”[84]Just two and a half years later his rhetoric changed dramatically. In General Conference, once again, he gave an Adam–God talk but this time he said, “I propose to speak upon a subject that does not immediately concern yours or my welfare. . . . I do not pretend to say that the items of doctrine and ideas I shall advance are necessary for the people to know, or that they should give themselves any trouble about them whatever.” After specifying that “these are my views with regard to the gods, and eternities” and saying, “I will tell you what I think about it” he used a very significant term—thirteen times. He said, “I will tell you what I reckon.” His exact words were: “I will tell you what I think about it, and as the [Southerners] say, ‘I reckon.’ And as the Yankees say, ‘I guess’; but I will tell you what I reckon.”[85] It should be pointed out here that Brigham Young was a northern Yankee from New York state—not a Southerner. He may have deliberately chosen to employ the term ‘reckon’ instead of ‘guess.’ And what did Brigham Young admit that he was guessing about in this sermon? The very elements of the Adam–God Theory that are the most problematic. Here is what he said: ● “I reckon that Father Adam was a resurrected being, with his wives.”[86] ● “I reckon our spirits and all the spirits of the human family were begotten by Adam, and born of Eve.”[87] ● “I reckon that Adam . . . himself planted [the Garden of Eden].”[88].

The bottom line is that the core principles of the Adam–God Theory were simply Brigham Young guessing or reckoning.[89][90]

Pre-1978 Racial Theories

Regarding racial teachings, there are several statements from the Brethren regarding their views on race and the restrictions. After a review of documents [91], there are none that claim an explicit revelatory origin for ideas. The strongest statements come from Brigham Young, the 1947 First Presidency, and the Lowry Nelson Letters[92]. It seems as though the teaching became more entrenched with the passage of time and authorities simply followed tradition. Nothing in the Latter-day Saint canon suggests that the theories were officially binding on the Saints.

Mark Hofmann Episode

Blood Atonement

Some charge that Blood Atonement was claimed to have come from revelation. The statement in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism is perhaps the most instructive on the subject:

The doctrines of the Church affirm that the Atonement wrought by the shedding of the blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is efficacious for the sins of all who believe, repent, are baptized by one having authority, and receive the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands. However, if a person thereafter commits a grievous sin such as the shedding of innocent blood, the Savior's sacrifice alone will not absolve the person of the consequences of the sin. Only by voluntarily submitting to whatever penalty the Lord may require can that person benefit from the Atonement of Christ.

Several early Church leaders, most notably Brigham Young, taught that in a complete theocracy the Lord could require the voluntary shedding of a murderer's blood-presumably by capital punishment-as part of the process of Atonement for such grievous sin. This was referred to as "blood Atonement." Since such a theocracy has not been operative in modern times, the practical effect of the idea was its use as a rhetorical device to heighten the awareness of Latter-day Saints of the seriousness of murder and other major sins. This view is not a doctrine of the Church and has never been practiced by the Church at any time.

Early anti-Mormon writers charged that under Brigham Young the Church practiced "blood Atonement," by which they meant Church-instigated violence directed at dissenters, enemies, and strangers. This claim distorted the whole idea of blood atonement-which was based on voluntary submission by an offender-into a supposed justification of involuntary punishment. Occasional isolated acts of violence that occurred in areas where Latter-day Saints lived were typical of that period in the history of the American West, but they were not instances of Church-sanctioned blood Atonement.[93]

Evolution

Some critics charge that the Church has claimed to denounce evolution officially and have claimed to have done that by revelation. There are two places that they are usually attracted to when making this claim. The first is a 1910 statement about the subject from the First Presidency. The pertinent part of the statement reads thus:

It is held by some that Adam was not the first man upon this earth, and that the original human being was a development from lower orders of the animal creation. These, however, are the theories of men. The word of the Lord declares that Adam was "the first man of all men" (Moses 1:34), and we are therefore in duty bound to regard him as the primal parent of our race.[94]

This statement is generally correct. Evolution is a theory of man. Adam was also the first spirit child of our Heavenly Father making him the "first man" he is therefore the primal parent of our race. But some charge that this is an official pronouncement against evolution. The statement can be read as such. But take a look at a statement released by the same presidency only a year later.

Diversity of opinion does not necessitate intolerance of spirit, nor should it embitter or set rational beings against each other. The Christ taught kindness, patience, and charity.

Our religion is not hostile to real science. That which is demonstrated, we accept with joy; but vain philosophy, human theory and mere speculations of men, we do not accept nor do we adopt anything contrary to divine revelation or to good common sense. But everything that tends to right conduct, that harmonizes with sound morality and increases faith in Deity, finds favor with us no matter where it may be found.[95]

They are correct. Our religion embraces real science (D&C 88:77-79) and we shouldn't accept anything that goes against divine revelation. The Church is neutral in regards to evolution and has been officially for sometime while some have been staunchly against it and others in favor of it. For those looking for a way to reconcile evolution with Latter-day Saint scripture, see here for an off-hand disquisition and reconciliation of the most pertinent texts.


Question: How do Mormons understand prophetic revelation?

Among the most pressing questions a Latter-day Saint can answer is that of the nature of divine revelation. Critical attacks on revelation demand that we develop a robust understanding of the nature of the Divine Disclosure and how it has come to us. Without a solid understanding of the nature of revelation, criticism will appear to threat or even undermine virtually everything we believe in given the centrality of the doctrine of revelation in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This article answers that question. To reduce circularity, it is always wisest to start with what the prophets actually say about revelation. Thus, this article will be centered on the scriptures and the statements of living prophets and apostles.

First, who is God?

It is important to first answer the question of who Latter-day Saints believe God to be since the nature of God influences all understanding of revelation. Revelation is the tool that he has given us to describe him best, his nature, and his law, even though at times his purposes and ways of working with his children can be inscrutable. To Latter-day Saints, he is also literally our Father in Heaven with a body of flesh and bone. He is of the same species that we are and because of this is able to communicate with us in a way that we understand through our own human processes. Since he is a man he knows how to communicate with humans. If we weren't of the same species, would it be possible to communicate with us? We understand him to work with us like a father—catering to our needs as he teaches us how to come closer to him. He works beyond "the veil". In other words, he is separated from us for a time and a purpose. He must now communicate his will to us, through agents known as "prophets", to the end of accomplishing that purpose. This knowledge of who God is frames the way we understand all revelation.

Revelation comes through a variety of means or methods.

As expressed in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism:

TYPES OF REVELATION. A dispensation of the gospel of Jesus Christ is a series of personal revelations from God. These revelations may be direct manifestations from God, as in the following typical cases:

1. theophanies (seeing God face-to-face), as in the first vision of the Prophet Joseph Smith, which came at the beginning of the present dispensation (JS-H 1:15-20)

2. revealed knowledge from the Father that Jesus is "the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matt. 16:13-17; see also Spirit of Prophecy)

3. visitations of angelic persons, such as the appearance of the angel Moroni to Joseph Smith (JS-H 1:30-32)

4. revelations through the Urim and Thummim, by which means Joseph Smith translated the book of mormon

5. open visions, as when Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon were shown the kingdoms of the hereafter (see Doctrine and Covenants: Section 76)

6. physically hearing the voice of God, as is recorded in 3 Nephi 11

7. receiving the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit, as in the experience of Elijah (1 Kgs. 19);

8. receiving the gifts of the spirit (D&C 46)

9. having a burning in the bosom as an indication of the will of God, as in the explanation given to Oliver Cowdery (D&C 9:8)

10. dreams (1 Ne. 8:2-32)

11. manifestations of the Light of Christ, by which all men know good from evil (Alma 12:31-32; D&C 84:46-48).

Such direct manifestations of the mind and will of God are known as gifts and are contrasted with signs. Gifts always have a spiritual component, even when they have a physical aspect. Signs are physical manifestations of the power of God and are a form of revelation from God, though they may be counterfeited and misinterpreted. Signs may show that God is at work, but spiritual gifts are required to know how one should respond.[96]

Revelation is received, interpreted, transmitted, and recalled through human systems and processes

Revelation is inextricably tied to the human processes we all possess as children of God— most especially our aural, visual ( these perhaps more in the case of visions), sensory (in the case of peace, burning in the bosom, etc.), and cognitive systems and processes (perhaps more in the case of spiritual promptings, dreams, etc.). Since God, angels, and man are of the same species (3 Nephi 28:10; Moses 6:9), the Spirit of Revelation is given by the power of the Holy Ghost (Alma 5:46; Moroni 10:8, 13-14, 17-18), the Holy Ghost works through the Light of Christ (Doctrine and Covenants 84:45-53), the Light of Christ gives light and life to all things (Alma 28:14; Doctrine and Covenants 88:7-12), and our souls are composed of our spirit and our physical body intimately intertwined (D&C 88:15), it seems theologically unavoidable to say that revelation will come through these systems and processes. Thus, revelation will be received, interpreted, transmitted, and even recalled (e.g. The First Vision) through those systems and processes.

Revelation is given in a particular historical context.

No revelation occurs in a vacuum. That is, no revelation is given to a prophet without a historical context, and by the same token a particular set of needs, concerns, and pressing events on the prophet leading his people at any given time. This context is either described by the text (as with the Bible, Book of Mormon, and Pearl of Great Price) or by historical research (as it is generally in the Doctrine and Covenants). This historical context is crucial to understand since the authority of a particular revelation may have only been necessary during the historical context in question. Perhaps this is what is the Lord meant in D&C 46:15 when he states that he "[suits] his mercies according to the conditions of the children of men." This is why we can have doctrines that are revealed yet not ideal (i.e. something to be updated later) such as the legal systems of the Old Testament.

Since every revelation has a historical context and a particular language with which it is expressed , it becomes expedient for us to familiarize ourselves with the culture and language in which that revelation was produced (a specific injunction for which is found in D&C 88:77-79).

Revelation is also accommodated to the particular needs and immediate concerns of the agent receiving it as discussed before. As such the Lord has worked through diverse means to bring about particular outcomes. This means that some things that have been revealed have only been provisional or implemented in case of contingency (see below under "What can change through revelation?" for a fuller discussion of this). This does not mean that prophets cannot overcome their historical circumstances through revelation in at least some regards. They logically have to in order to provide us soteriological or eschatological knowledge. But the point is that even that revelation comes in a historical context.

As the Lord states in Doctrine and Covenants 56:4 —

"Wherefore I, the Lord, command and revoke, as it seemeth me good...".

Latter-day Saint doctrine states that it is a spiritual gift to understand the "diversity of operations" of the Lord D&C 46:16

Revelation is couched in the language and expression of the agent receiving it.

Every revelation is couched within the language of the agent receiving it which is why we have Hebrew influence in the Old Testament, Hebrew and Egyptian influence in the Book of Mormon, and Jacobean, 19th century English in the Doctrine and Covenants (2 Nephi 31:3).

Revelation is also accommodated to language

Because revelation is trying to describe a perfect being with fallen language, revelation is also accommodated to that language and expression of the agent receiving it. For instance, we learn that God is a jealous God (Exodus 20:5), yet how can he be jealous and perfect? The Doctrine and Covenants tells us to strip ourselves from jealousies (D&C 67:10).

This isn't to say that either scripture is "more correct" in how they portray God—only that they are expressing the character, will, and acts of a perfect being through imperfect language so that we can approach an understanding of him.

The Doctrine and Covenants itself announces that:

Behold, I am God and have spoken it; these commandments are of me, and were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding.DC 1:24

There is no one perfect way to express revelation

Brigham Young (who authored one of the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants—DC 136:) described the process in similar terms:

I do not even believe that there is a single revelation, among the many God has given to the Church, that is perfect in its fullness. The revelations of God contain correct doctrine and principle, so far as they go; but it is impossible for the poor, weak, low, grovelling, sinful inhabitants of the earth to receive a revelation from the Almighty in all its perfections. He has to speak to us in a manner to meet the extent of our capacities...

The laws that the Lord has given are not fully perfect, because the people could not receive them in their perfect fullness; but they can receive a little here and a little there, a little today and a little to-morrow, a little more next week, and a little more in advance of that next year, if they make a wise improvement upon every little they receive... [97]

And, there were even times when others besides Joseph were assigned to collaborate in writing the revelations—clear evidence that there was not "only one true" way of expressing a revelation. (See DC 124:12-16.)

Revelation is sometimes given "from the top, down."

Revelation is sometimes given "from the top, down." God reveals things suddenly, out of the blue, indepedent of our own cognition. These things generally overcome our present knowledge to give us knowledge about the future, eschatology, soteriology, or knowledge about individuals that we wouldn’t otherwise have. He gives us gifts, he reveals sacred information through prayers or blessings, he gives miracles. This may properly be referred to as "top-down revelation" where the Lord is placing the agent receiving the revelation in the mental state that he/or she needs to be to accomplish a particular task. This type of revelation is most sacred to Latter-day Saints. It increases our confidence that revelation is not "all in our heads" so to speak.

If revelation like this didn't exist, nothing would be "revealed" in any traditional sense and could easily be construed as self-delusion or deception. It would make it so that no law could be given that could then be subsequently subverted with claims that revelation is simply men following the dictates of their own bias. It would undermine any type of authority from revelation which we need for crucial practices and doctrines such as commandments, obedience, and repentance.

Revelation is sometimes a matter of going "from the bottom, up".

Often revelation does require that we first study something out in our mind (D&C 9:8). As President Russell M. Nelson has recently stated

. . .I know that good inspiration is based upon good information. . .[98]

Once we have studied an issue out in our mind, it is then up to the spirit to decide which will be the best for the future. Sometimes it will confirm what we have studied out and sometimes it will cause a "stupor of thought" (D&C 9:9)

Some more "progressive members" of the Church and other critics take "bottom-up revelation" to be something different. Usually it is thought that if one places enough public pressure on the Church that it will change it's doctrines. This should not be expected or practiced (see below under "common necessity, not common demand").

All revelation is wisdom that is largely independent of the agent receiving it.

All revelation, whether more "bottom, up" or "top, down" is wisdom that is largely independent of the agent receiving it. This simply means that God is primarily the one who chooses the symbols that revelation attaches itself to not the prophet. Were it not so, nothing would be "revealed" in any coherent sense and rather be closer to a concoction of bias and self-delusion that can change with any wind of opposition. We have prophets for the opposite reason — to not be swayed with every wind of doctrine and to come to a unity of faith (Ephesians 4:11-15). This does not mean that revelation doesn't have a human component to it — that it isn't couched in human language and expression, that it can't have tensions, updates, etc. Only that, in the moment of revelation, if that revelation is faithfully received, interpreted, and recorded, that it should be authoritative for our lives.

The authority/success of recorded revelation differs between books of scripture

How successful revelation is depends entirely on the agent who receives it and how willing they are to receive, interpret, and record/transmit that revelation as faithfully as possible. Such is why the Book of Mormon so strongly emphasizes the need to keep good records of God's dealings with his children. Joseph Smith wrote to the Saints that:

9 It may seem to some to be a very bold doctrine that we talk of—a power which records or binds on earth and binds in heaven. Nevertheless, in all ages of the world, whenever the Lord has given a dispensation of the priesthood to any man by actual revelation, or any set of men, this power has always been given. Hence, whatsoever those men did in authority, in the name of the Lord, and did it truly and faithfully, and kept a proper and faithful record of the same, it became a law on earth and in heaven, and could not be annulled, according to the decrees of the great Jehovah. This is a faithful saying. Who can hear it?

Thus, how authoritatively the Bible reads may be read differently than how, say, the Doctrine and Covenants reads — where the former relies primarily on oral tradition, memory, and preserved written records to do history that approaches the original revelation and the latter relies primarily on Joseph Smith simply dictating the words that he feels impressed to dictate and having a scribe record it in real-time. This does not mean that the Doctrine and Covenants constitutes "fax-from-God" revelation (i.e. infallibilism), but simply that it is read more authoritatively than the Bible. One will readily see, however, that the emendations to the Doctrine and Covenants do not change the core integrity/idea of the first revelation. If they do, then they remove knowledge that wouldn't be relevant to future Latter-day Saints.

Revelation is given to prophets "line upon line; precept upon precept"

"Line upon line" has two features:

  1. It reveals core truths over time directly to the prophet.
  2. It makes small addenda to a few previous revelations without threatening the core integrity of the first revelation—immediately suggesting its sometimes corrective nature—and the original revelation being an accommodation to the first people receiving it. This is perhaps what the Lord meant to express in D&C 46:15 when he states that he "[suits] his mercies according to the conditions of the children of men."

An example of this is found in Doctrine and Covenants 19. It states:

6 Nevertheless, it is not written that there shall be no end to this torment, but it is written endless torment.


7 Again, it is written eternal damnation; wherefore it is more express than other scriptures, that it might work upon the hearts of the children of men, altogether for my glory.

[. . .]

10 For, behold, the mystery of godliness, how great is it! For, behold, I am endless, and the punishment which is given from my hand is endless punishment, for Endless is my name. Wherefore

11 Eternal punishment is God's punishment.

12 Endless punishment is God's punishment.

What can change through revelation?

It becomes the question of some from time to time how we can know what is subject to change and what is not subject to change. To answer this question we should look at it theologically. We should ask ourselves and think logically about what God might want to reveal line upon line and "change" in our theology.

Things that Can Change Day to Day

As it regards hamartiological matters (theology dealing with sin and the nature of sin), these things can change from day to day. The things that God sees as pleasing and not pleasing can change how they like. The Lord tells us this in Doctrine and Covenants 56:4:

4 Wherefore I, the Lord, command and revoke, as it seemeth me good; and all this to be answered upon the heads of the rebellious, saith the Lord.

Things That Could Change From Day to Day But Don't for a Reason

Ecclesiological matters (pertaining to Church organization) would logically be subject to change only when there is a particular need to change Church government. In Old Testament times there was a prophet and the immigrating people-nation of Israel. Under Christ, 12 apostles (or "disciples" depending on which Gospel you read) carried authority to preach the Gospel and administer the ordinances pertaining to that Gospel and 70 men were called to fulfill a similar call. In modern times, the early restored Church under Joseph Smith started from something slightly different from that and progressed to what was present in the ancient Church quickly. Today, having a First Presidency, Quorum of Twelve Apostles, Seventies, Teachers, Priests, Deacons, Bishops, and so forth acts as an identifier for those seeking the Lord's Church. Additionally, having a wide variety of offices ensures that the needs of a global church are met. Thus, it is unlikely that such offices will change. With a growing populace of members, it is more likely that more men and women will need to be called to provide leadership in those positions without the types of positions changing.

Ordinances necessary for salvation could also change dramatically in amount necessary, type performed, presentation of such ordinances, and so forth. These don't change as they act as effective identifiers for people to find the Lord's Church.

Things That Are (or should be) Revealed in a Linear, Upward Process and Become More Static with Time.

Soteriological matters (that relating to doctrine of afterlife and salvation) come line upon line, precept upon precept, and are crystallized with each subsequent revelation regarding them. The Lord has revealed one reason why we might not know everything about the afterlife right now. As Doctrine and Covenants 19:7 tells us, somethings are revealed as they are to "work upon the hearts of the children of men". Thus, the degree to which we understand the afterlife is contingent upon what will motivate us to repent and what we are prepared to receive. Here we don't have room for contradiction but much more room for adding to a proposition and developing it gradually to a crystallized view of the afterlife. Soteriology as it stands today in the Restored Church is fairly developed with only a few more questions such as progression between kingdoms of glory.

Eschatological matters (relating to understanding of the end of times) really don't have room for contradictory understandings. The Lord has motivation to reveal more relating to eschatology as we progress closer and closer to eschatological times so that we are prepared for them. This is the general pattern followed by the scriptures and will likely continue.

Theogony (or the doctrine of the origin of God) may develop slightly. The only real question remaining is that of the infinite regress of Gods.

Things That have No Reason to be Revealed More than Once or to Have an Ongoing, Crystallizing Understanding

Matters pertaining to cosmology, mariology (theology relating to the character and nature of Mary, mother of Jesus), anthropology (the nature of man in relation to God), angelology (theology regarding angels), christology (theology relating to the character and nature of Jesus Christ), demonology (theology relating to the character and nature of demons), pneumatology (theology relating to the character and nature of the Holy Ghost), the nature of the Godhead and so forth have little room for changing in understanding since they all pertain to the study of essential characteristics or behavior that is independent of all other individuals.

Along with the above, missiology (theology relating to the purpose and manner of performing missionary work) and epistemology (the study of knowledge, its limits, and how it is characterized) in the Latter-day Saint tradition have no reason to change in understanding.

Generally speaking, we should be approaching a static ideal as we get closer to judgement day.

A lot of revelation comes simply by treasuring up the words of God in our minds and having the spirit witness to us in the moment of need what to do or say

We are commanded to treasure up the words of God in our minds. He promises us that they will tell us all things we might do or say in the moment of need (see 2 Nephi 32:3 and D&C 84:85). He promises also that as we study issues out in our mind and ask for confirmation that he will give it (D&C 9:7-9)

Sometimes we are required to actively seek a revelation to receive it

As taught in the Doctrine and Covenants "And inasmuch as they sought wisdom they might be instructed." (D&C 1:26) We must all be active in our search for revelation on any given matter. God does intervene frequently however. The best way to understand under what circumstances is to read the scriptures and the [[Question: If every President of the Church is a prophet, seer, and revelator, why have so few revelations after Joseph Smith been added to the Doctrine and Covenants?|words of the prophets themselves] and judge the matter for ourselves. It does seem that God is revealing new knowledge on a very frequent basis from reading their words.

Many times, we do not need the Lord to command us in action— especially when what we are going to do or are doing is a good thing

Doctrine and Covenants 58:27

27 Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness;

Some things weren't meant to be made known in this life

States the Apostle Paul: "For now we see through a glass darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known." (1 Cor 13:12).

Elder David A. Bednar compares this pattern of light to walking through fog on a sunny day (and also reveals other patterns of light), where we have just enough light to press into the darkness but not so much as to know exactly where we are going. Eventually, as the Doctrine of Covenants teaches, all will be revealed at the second coming (Doctrine and Covenants 101:32-34)--the light will grow brighter and brighter until the perfect day (Doctrine and Covenants 50:24).

Revelation comes because of common necessity and not common demand.

Revelation always comes at a time of common necessity and not common demand. We may demand that a particular thing bend to our political view or whim, however that is not how the Lord operates. As Alma teaches:

21 And if there was no law given, if men sinned what could justice do, or mercy either, for they would have no claim upon the creature?

Some believe that if they put enough pressure on the Church that it will change its doctrines regarding things which do not conform to their particular political agenda. If such people actually wanted to build a Zion of "one heart and one mind" (Moses 7:18; Doctrine and Covenants 38:27) they would not seek to build strife in the kingdom and seek more compromise, more patience, and deeper study. They would not seek to subvert authority to follow the God of their own image (Doctrine and Covenants 1:16).

There are good examples of such "bottom-up revelation". However, they usually take the form of new policies and practices that come without any revelation. Such is easily fit into the definition of "being anxiously engaged in a good cause and doing things of our own free will" (Doctrine and Covenants 58:27-28).

We act in doctrine (D&C 101:78). We accept the light we have received now and receive whatever additional future light is given with gladness. If one does not act in accordance to the commandments of God, such is sin.


Question: How can one best read and understand the scriptures?

First, we should understand the nature of revelation

The scriptures won't be understood if we don't understand the nature of revelation. This is addressed here.

To best understand the scriptures, you must read them in context

When trying to understand the scriptures and interpret them correctly, one must read them from the perspective of the people who wrote them. Many LDS prophets and apostles have spoken about reading passages in context. Statements may be found here. Additionally, the scriptures themselves indicate the danger of wresting their meaning including 2 Peter 3:16 Alma 13:20, Alma 41:1 , and D&C 10:63

Brigham Young stated:

Do you read the Scriptures, my brethren and sisters, as though you were writing them a thousand, two thousand, or five thousand years ago? Do you read them as though you stood in the place of the men who wrote them? If you do not feel thus, it is your privilege to do so, that you may be as familiar with the spirit and meaning of the written word of God as you are with your daily walk and conversation, or as you are with your workmen or with your households. You may understand what the Prophets understood and thought—what they designed and planned to bring forth to their brethren for their good.” Journal of Discourses 7: 333

There are four types of context that should be established while reading any given scripture

1. Genre

The Bible in particular contains different “genres” of scripture as it is understood by scholars. This includes historical narratives such as Exodus, Joshua, Kings, Samuel, and so forth, poetry as in the Book of Psalms or Proverbs, Prophetic books such as Isaiah, Obadiah, Jeremiah, etc.

2. Historical

We know that there is no revelation that exists without a historical context given to it. The historical context includes a time that something is written and by the same token the authorship. The scriptures are mostly written in the third person which may suggest that an author is either reminiscing about an event from the past, that he/she may be using different sources like a historian to reconstruct elements from the past, or perhaps that he/she is constructing an etiology to describe different phenomena present in the world.

Sometimes, the authors and prophets of the scriptures will use phrases that they know are familiar to their immediate audience but which fly over our heads when reading scripture. The confusion is brought out because we don’t know what they are referring to.

LDS Scholar Ben Spackman elaborates:

Things go without being said. And this is because, again, the authors and preachers in the Old Testament were talking to contemporaries. If I get up in sacrament meeting and I say ‘You know I went to Paris last summer by plane—by the way a plane is a kind of conveyance that travels at great speed through the air and Paris is the capital city of a country in Europe which is far east of here…’ I don’t bother explaining what I assume you already know. The Old Testament authors assumed that their contemporaries understood these things. So when you get into Isaiah and it is just full, I mean, he is name dropping and place dropping and talking about stuff, he assumes everyone understands that because he’s talking to contemporaries. And we’re not contemporaries so we don’t. One example, there’s the phrase ‘From Dan to Beersheba’ that shows up sometimes in the Old Testament. Beersheba was the southernmost border of Israel and Dan the northernmost. So saying ‘Dan to Beersheba’ is kind of like saying ‘coast to coast’ ‘from New York to L.A.’. But unless you can place those on a map, you don’t understand the significance that lies behind that phrase. So there is a knowledge gap between us and the Old Testament that we need to fill.”[99]

3. Textual

The utterances in the scriptures are full of thought units that are many times logically connected with many verses. Any verse should be read within the context of the verses preceding and succeeding it. This will help us to better understand what an author or prophet is saying.

4. Linguistic

Since the Old Testament was written in Hebrew and Aramaic and the New Testament in Greek, we need to understand the meaning of the words used to write scripture in order to properly catch their meaning. Additionally, when reading the KJV, there are many words that have changed meaning over time. Words are diachronic. That is, they can change meaning with time. An example of this is the word “virtue” in the Bible

In Ruth 3:11 we read “And now, my daughter, fear not; I will do to thee all that thou requires: for all the city of my people doth know that thou art a virtuous woman.”

And in Proverbs 31:10 we read:

“Who can find a virtuous woman? For her price is far above rubies. “

With these verses we might easily conclude that the King James translators were referring to virtue as we understand it today which would be to be of a clean mind and heart as it came to chastity. However, a confusing case arises in the New Testament

Luke 6:19 reads “And the whole multitude sought to touch him: for there went virtue out of him, and healed them all.”

So, virtue left Jesus’ body after a woman touched him? Or is our definition of virtue perhaps different than that of the King James translators? The definition was closer to power than chaste thinking as we would understand it today.

As we understand both the underlying Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek term and the English term translated into our King James Version, the better we will be able to understand the scriptures as the ancients understood them, per Brigham Young’s and many others' council.

To understand all of these contextual matters, many Latter-day Saints have found use in using scriptural commentaries and study bibles such as the Harper Collins Study Bible, the Oxford Annotated Study Bible, and the Jewish Study Bible. These study bibles contain essays at the beginning of each book to help explain authorship, historical place in canon, historical context in which the book was written, and literary value before allowing the reader to move forward with their study. The bibles also contain explanatory footnotes which allow the reader to see how an author is alluding to other passages of scripture and how one can best understand such phenomena. For Latter-day Saint scripture, members have enjoyed reading similar analytical commentaries such as Brant Gardner's Second Witness for the Book of Mormon or the Church's new volume on the Doctrine and Covenants "Revelations in Context" available on lds.org

Scripture must be read holistically. Both to understand what we need to defend and to understand all that the Lord wants us to understand about any given topic.

If we are to understand scripture, then it must be taken in stride with other revelation on the topic. For example, to understand creation we should both read the creation accounts contained in scripture and understand that the Lord has not revealed all things pertaining to creation but will reveal them at his coming (D&C 101:32-34). This will help us to not get caught in too much doctrinal unraveling in the future. This caution is demonstrated in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism:

Latter-day Saints recognize Bible scholarship and intellectual study of the biblical text. Joseph Smith and his associates studied Greek and Hebrew and taught that religious knowledge is to be obtained by study as well as by faith (D&C 88:118). However, Latter-day Saints prefer to use Bible scholarship rather than be driven or controlled by it."[100]

Reading scripture holistically also helps us to understand everything that the Lord wants us to understand on a given topic. Such is why we have tools such as the Topical Guide, Index, and Guide to the Scriptures to help us do that. One can also use concordances of the scriptures which were designed for the very purpose of evaluating scripture holistically. Such exist for the Bible (e.g. Strong's Concordance) and for Latter-day Saint scripture (Eldin Ricks' Concordance). Some tools can help us read a book of scripture both contextually and holistically at the same time. That was the design for scriptural dictionaries such as Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, Dennis Largey's Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price Reference Companions which can be found for purchase online.

Scripture, if making a scientific claim, should be weighed with science

Our theology is not threatened by science. It welcomes it. If we have properly contextualized and interpreted scripture and if the scripture is making a scientific claim, we should weigh that with science to be more perfectly instructed in that doctrine, principle, or theory. D&C 88:77-79 reads

77 And I give unto you a commandment that you shall teach one another the doctrine of the kingdom.
78 Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand;

79 Of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are. Things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms

Science can, should, and does support revelation on many particulars. We should welcome its voice to our spiritual reasoning when determining what God is trying to reveal to us or what he may reveal to us. This isn’t to say that current science will always agree with revelation nor that revelation will eventually change to fit the demands of the scientific community, but that revelation and science should not fight against each other nor be compartmentalized in our understanding of truth. Science will generally reveal the physical laws of God, while revelation will generally reveal God’s spiritual laws.


Question: How can one view contradictions in Scripture in a faithful way?

Latter-day Saints do not believe in the doctrine of Scriptural Inerrancy where the scriptures have to be completely historically accurate, contain no theological tensions, and have no contradiction. That said, Latter-day Saints tend to hold the scriptures with a high degree of authority. How can such be the case? We don’t believe that Scripture is inerrant, yet we also don’t want others to believe that we seek to create a God after our own image (Doctrine and Covenants 1:16) or that we believe that truth cannot be found in Scripture. It may become the responsibility of Latter-day Saints from time to time to defend the high authority of scripture and thus a hermeneutic for understanding how Latter-day Saints view contradictions/tensions may be in order. This article will suggest a few ways to view contradictions that don’t hold to Scriptural Inerrancy but still wish to use the scriptures to paint an accurate picture of God and the truth that he has revealed through prophets. It will distinguish different types of contradiction/tension and suggest ways to interpret them.

Historical Contradictions and Omissions

The first type of contradiction to deal with is historical contradictions. Historical contradictions are those in which information which is supposed to be historical is told in different chronological order or certain details about historical events differ in what are often claimed to be irreconcilable, non-harmonizable ways. Scripture contains some historical contradictions. A few examples:

  • The Death of Judas. Did he die by hanging (Matthew 27:5)? Or did he fall headlong and have his bowels gush out (Acts 1:18)? Academic attempts to harmonize these two passages ceased at least as early as the late nineteenth century. Scholars today generally see both accounts as irreconcilably contradictory[101].
  • Jesus Calming The Sea. In Gospel accounts differ in the succession of events when Jesus calms the storm at sea. In the Matthean account, the Lord chastises his apostles for not having enough faith and then calms the storm whereas in the Markan and Lucan accounts he calms the storm and then chastises his apostles. The Johannine account doesn’t even mention the story[102].
  • The name of Moses’ Mountain. The Pentateuch differs in its naming of the mountain from which Moses received the Ten Commandments. In some instances it is “Horeb” (Exodus 3:1; 17:6; 33:6; Deuteronomy 1:2; 4:10) and in others it is “Sinai” (Exodus 19:1-2, 11, 18, 20, 23; 34:2,4,29,32; Numbers 3:1,4,14). This is one of the reasons that scholars see the Pentateuch as the composition of multiple authors/redactors.
  • The Gospels differ in their timing of the crucifixion of the Savior. Was it during Passover? Before Passover? Or after Passover? Scholars believe that the difference is ultimately irreconcilable, and one simply must choose which account to believe. Generally, Mark is favored since it is considered the earliest to be authored[103].

So, how can one view such contradictions? A few questions to ask oneself that may provide solutions:

1. Full Reconciliation. There may not be any contradiction after all. Such an example might be the claim that there is a contradiction in the Bible as to what time Jesus was crucified[104].

2. Pluralistic Reconciliation. Could the presence of two differing accounts simply be giving more information to the story? Take for instance the presence of one angel at the tomb after the resurrection of Jesus (Mark 16:5) vs. two angels (Luke 24:4). Does the omission of the second angel in the Markan account mean there wasn’t a second angel? Not necessarily. We could just be receiving further information about the event or there could be a legitimate contradiction in the story. In the case of a legitimate contradiction, could we be satisfied knowing that at least an angel appeared at the tomb?

3. Nuanced Reconciation. Two writers may have remembered the same core event with some differing details.

4. Essentialist Reconciliation. The presence of contradiction in the way a historical event is related do not necessarily undermine the essential historicity of such an event. One may simply focus on the reality of the essence of the event being described rather than the presence of contradictions in the relation of the event or the ahistoricity of one event described. In the case of Judas' death, does it really matter how he died? Or, if we feel more conservative, does it matter that one account may have misremembered exactly how he died? The Bible can generally be trusted on historical grounds for a lot of it’s text[105] as can the Book of Mormon[106]. However, if a text did not mean to be historical, describe its historical events in literal, exact ways, or if the author simply couldn't remember what why should this matter? This should inform our theology (D&C 88:77-79).

The presence of historical contradictions should not come as a surprise. Such is why scripture such as the Book of Mormon so strongly emphasizes the importance of preserving records to accurately show exactly how God has reached out to his children. Ultimately one should seek the best scholarly perspectives on the matters and proceed with care as one informs herself. We should seek for as much accuracy as possible in our approach to scripture. As Elder John Widtsoe stated, the scriptures must be read intelligently.[107]

Theological Tensions/Contradictions

Theological contradictions would be the presence of differing views about God, Jesus, or other theological issues written within scripture. As an example, it has long been noted by scholars that the Markan account of Jesus portrays Jesus as more human, lowly, and mortal than, say, the Johannine account which portrays Jesus as divine from the antemortal realm to the end of his life. Scholars generally believe that the Markan account holds what they view as a “low Christology” and the Johannine account as a “high Christology”.

Other potential tensions might include:

  • How can we not perform our alms in public (Matthew 6:1) but also let our light shine before the world (Matthew 5:16)?
  • How can we set childish things aside (1 Corinthians 13:11) and become as a child (Matthew 18:3)?

Now let’s look at possible solutions:

1. Full Reconciliation. There may be no contradiction at all. We may have simply misunderstood the two or more scriptures.

2. Nuanced Reconciliation. One potential reconciliation is to see two or more scriptures as forming a general core that one can adhere to with a modified periphery of belief surrounding that core. Using the Aristotelian idea of the whole being greater than the sum of parts (i.e.synergy), perhaps the differing theological views can be combined to see a more holistic view of a concept and how important it is. As an example, a nuanced view would be "All strawberry ice cream is good, but Dreyer's strawberry ice cream is best." In the case of the Christologies, Latter-day Saint New Testament scholar Julie M. Smith has suggested that the Markan Christology is a “full Christology” instead of a “low Christology”, pointing out how Mark still sees Jesus as the God of the Old Testament and other elements of Jesus' divinity while also acknowledging other parts that make him more human[108].

2a. Updating - "Development". Latter-day Saints believe that revelation comes line upon line (Isaiah 28:10; 2 Nephi 28: 20; Doctrine and Covenants 98:12; 128:21). In this case, could the later theological view simply be a development of the first proposition? For instance, 3 Nephi 11:25 and Doctrine and Covenants 20:73 word the baptismal prayer slightly differently. Could this reflect a slightly different emphasis for a more meaningful and instructive experience? For more information, see under “What can change through revelation?” in our article addressing how Latter-day Saints view the nature of revelation.

3. Pluralistic Reconciliation. Another potential reconciliation would be to hold a pluralisitc view. An example would be "Both strawberry and chocolate ice cream are equally good." Sometimes, two different scripture writers will be saying two completely different things but perhaps we can develop a reconciliation where we hold both views in equal plane saying "sometimes X but sometimes, not X". To be sure, one should not attempt to say that the two writers are saying the same thing (such would be an inaccurate and/or disingenuous way of reflecting what appears in Scripture) but that they are stressing two entirely different things that can subsequently be placed into a fuller conceptual picture [109]. As the Prophet Joseph Smith said: "By proving contraries, truth is made manifest."[110].

3a. Updating - Addition. Latter-day Saints believe that revelation comes line upon line (Isaiah 28:10; 2 Nephi 28: 20; Doctrine and Covenants 98:12; 128:21). In this case, could the later theological view be simply an addition to the first proposition or set of propositions? For instance, Doctrine and Covenants 46 lists additional gifts of the Spirit not listed in Moroni 10. For more information, see under “What can change through revelation?” in our article addressing how Latter-day Saints view the nature of revelation.

4. Exclusive Reconciliation. Perhaps there really is one view that is supposed to be the correct one and the writer of a second scripture is just wrong. This could happen in two ways:

  • One writer could have misremembered or misinterpreted the view that was already established by revelation. As a potential way to reconcile these situations, consider one case from the Bible. The different sources of the Documentary Hypothesis differ in their view of God. Some insist in a more anthropomorphic God (one that is human and can be seen) and others insist on one that can’t be seen (see linked article for a chart with examples). The Book of Moses depicts God as anthropomorphic, corporeal, and passable. It thus resolves disagreement in the sources by restoring knowledge that perhaps did not have a faithful record kept for it (D&C 128:9). As another potential reconciliation, one might seek for which source was written earlier. Perhaps an earlier dated source would be more likely to remember and/or interpret the first proposition correctly.
  • One writer could have deliberately misrepresented what the view established by revelation actually was— perhaps for rhetorical purpose or perhaps even for sinful purpose.

As an example of this, consider the words of Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf regarding a scripture from Solomon:

The ancient King Solomon was one of the most outwardly successful human beings in history[111] He seemed to have everything—money, power, adoration, honor. But after decades of self-indulgence and luxury, how did King Solomon sum up his life?

“All is vanity,”[112] he said.

This man, who had it all, ended up disillusioned, pessimistic, and unhappy, despite everything he had going for him.[113]

[. . .]

Solomon was wrong, my dear brothers and sisters—life is not “vanity.” To the contrary, it can be full of purpose, meaning, and peace.

The healing hands of Jesus Christ reach out to all who seek Him. I have come to know without a doubt that believing and loving God and striving to follow Christ can change our hearts,[114] soften our pain, and fill our souls with “exceedingly great joy.”[115][116]

One will notice that Elder Uchtdorf 1)declared Solomon wrong, 2) used scriptures to establish what he believed was the correct view and indeed he uses many that contradict Solomon's view. But another important element of this is that he didn't state that Solomon was wrong for expressing the view or that the scripture wasn't inspired. Rather, he used Solomon's downtrodden state to illustrate an important principle of life. Perhaps other exclusivist reconciliations can adopt this same approach where we see that God allows for even "wrong" views to be used for a wise purpose — to provide us an opportunity to learn from negative example.

  • Since line upon line revelation exists for Latter-day Saints, one view, established by revelation, could be superseded by another through revelation. This is especially true for hamartiological matters (D&C 56:4).

In the end we must seek out the best evidence and adjust our assumptions and views accordingly (D&C 88:77-79). It is hoped that examples from the first two bullet points don't exist across the scriptural record as much as the last bullet point or as much as opportunities for nuanced, pluralistic, or full reconciliations as we do want to preserve the integrity of prophets and revelation as much as possible.

Addressing Some of the Contradictions From Above

In the case of alms, Daniel C. Peterson offers some commentary (responding to critics of Latter-day Saint humanitarian efforts):

Some of them love to quote this passage, from the very teachings of Jesus that most of them otherwise reject:

Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly. (Matthew 6:1-4)

It’s a handy weapon, I suppose.

But they seem to have forgotten this passage, also from Matthew, just a few verses earlier:

Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16)

How to reconcile the two passages?

I think the point is that our goodness, if we can muster it, ought not to be a matter of personal boasting, nor of seeking status in the eyes of mortal humans, but should, rather, serve as a means of drawing attention to God, his Kingdom, and his Gospel. People looking on should be motivated to say, “I want to be a part of that,” not “My, my, that Max Mustermann is a remarkably admirable fellow.”

And that, I think, is how The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is trying to act. It’s thoroughly scriptural.[117]

In the case of leaving childish things aside but also becoming as a little child, it seems that Paul meant to chastise those people that wouldn't show Charity to others. Thus, he wishes that we could become more mature in our treatment of others. In the Savior's case, he highlights a child's ability to believe, to be submissive, and to be obedient. In this way, we have to become as Children to be saved[118].

In sum, as we listen to scripture and accept it on its own terms, it seems that we can still emerge with truth that God wants us to know to achieve salvation and exaltation.


Response to claim: "Joseph Smith received a revelation, through the peep stone in his hat, to send Hiram Page and Oliver Cowdery to Toronto, Canada for the sole purpose of selling the copyright of the Book of Mormon"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

Joseph Smith received a revelation, through the peep stone in his hat, to send Hiram Page and Oliver Cowdery to Toronto, Canada for the sole purpose of selling the copyright of the Book of Mormon. . . . The mission failed and the prophet was asked why his revelation was wrong.Joseph decided to inquire of the Lord regarding the question. The following is a quote from Book of Mormon witness David Whitmer’s testimony:“…and behold the following revelation came through the stone: ‘Some revelations are of God; and some revelations are of man: and some revelations are of the devil.’ So we see that the revelation to go to Toronto and sell the copy-right was not of God, but was of the devil or of the heart of man.” – David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ, p.3. How are we supposed to know what revelations are from God, from the devil, or from the heart of man if even the Prophet Joseph Smith couldn’t tell? What kind of a god and method is this if Heavenly Father allows Satan to interfere with our direct line of communication to Him?

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

The account by Whitmer (who did not go on the trip) does not correlate with the accounts by those who actually went.

Jump to Detail:

Question: After receiving the revelation to attempt to sell the Book of Mormon copyright in Canada, did Joseph Smith later claim that the revelation was false?

David Whitmer, years after he left the Church, claimed that Joseph said that the revelation did not come from God

David Whitmer claimed that Joseph Smith received a revelation and prophesied that Oliver Cowdery and Hiram Page should go to Canada where they would find a man willing to buy the copyright to the Book of Mormon. When they failed to sell the copyright, Whitmer states that Joseph admitted that the revelation had not come from God.

David Whitmer was not a participant in the trip to Canada

The primary evidence supporting the negative aspects of the Canadian Mission story comes from David Whitmer, who was not a participant in the event, and who had left the church many years before. With the discovery of the Hiram Page letter of 1848 showing that the actual participants involved in the trip felt that Joseph Smith delivered an accurate revelation of what would transpire on the Mission, and in fact even found the event uplifting rather than negative, it is evident that no individual contemporary to the event felt that this represented a false prophecy by Joseph Smith. What we do see is excellent evidence in fulfillment of the teachings of Deuteronomy 12 and 18 that Joseph Smith was perceived as a true prophet of God by those involved in the Mission to Canada in early 1830.


Question: Are there any eyewitness accounts of the events that resulted in the trip to Canada to sell the Book of Mormon copyright?

Joseph Smith decided this could be an opportunity to relieve some of the financial pressure associated with publishing the Book of Mormon

Joseph Smith had been told there were people in Canada willing to buy the copyrights to useful books. Due to the dire financial position of the Church, he decided this could be an opportunity to relieve some of the financial pressure associated with publishing the Book of Mormon. Four men went to Canada.

Joseph Smith received a revelation directing them to go to Kingston, Canada, with some conditions placed upon their success

Before leaving, Joseph Smith received a revelation directing them to go to Kingston, Canada, with some conditions placed upon their success.

...it Pleaseth me that Oliver Cowderey Joseph Knight Hyram Pagee & Josiah Stowel shall do my work in this thing yea even in securing the Copyright & they shall do it with an eye single to my Glory that it may be the means of bringing souls unto me Salvation through mine only Be{t\gotten} Behold I am God I have spoken it & it is expedient in me Wherefor I say unto you that ye shall go to Kingston seeking me continually through mine only Be{t\gotten} & if ye do this ye shall have my spirit to go with you & ye shall have an addition of all things which is expedient in me. amen & I grant unto my servent a privelige that he may sell a copyright through you speaking after the manner of men for the four Provinces if the People harden not their hearts against the enticeings of my spirit & my word for Behold it lieth in themselves to their condemnation &{\or} th{er\eir} salvation.

Revelation book 1 p. 15 1.jpg

The text of the actual revelation was recently discovered and published in The Joseph Smith Papers

The text of the revelation was published in the The Joseph Smith Papers: The Revelations and Translations Series. According to Marlin K. Jensen, Church Historian and Recorder,

Another interesting development from work on the Revelations and Translations Series has been the identification of a previously unpublished revelation on securing a copyright for the Book of Mormon in Canada. David Whitmer, after he left the Church, recalled that the revelation promised success in selling the copyright, but upon return of the men charged with the duty, Joseph Smith and others were disappointed by what seemed like failure. Historians have relied upon statements of David Whitmer, Hiram Page, and William McLellin for decades but have not had the actual text of the revelation. Revelation Book 1 will provide that.

Although we still do not know the whole story, particularly Joseph Smith’s own view of the situation, we do know that calling the divine communication a “failed revelation” is not warranted. The Lord’s directive clearly conditions the successful sale of the copyright on the worthiness of those seeking to make the sale as well as on the spiritual receptivity of the potential purchasers. [119]

Hiram Page, one of the participants, stated he for the first time understood how some revelations given to people were not necessarily for their direct benefit

Hiram Page, who was one of the individuals sent to Canada, laid out the event in a letter in 1848.[120] Page wrote that the revelation Joseph Smith received conditioned success upon whether those individuals in Canada capable of buying the Book of Mormon copyright would have their hearts softened. When unable to sell the copyright, the four men returned to Palmyra. Hiram Page stated he for the first time understood how some revelations given to people were not necessarily for their direct benefit—in fact, Hiram Page believed that the revelation was actually fulfilled.


Question: How did the erroneous story of the attempt to sell the Book of Mormon copyright develop over time?

Hiram Page’s 1848 account of the Canadian Mission trip was sent to William McLellin

Hiram Page’s 1848 account of the Canadian Mission trip was sent to William McLellin. Because it was private correspondence, its existence and details were unknown until the 1930’s, when the letter was donated to the RLDS Church’s archives as part of a larger collection of McLellin materials.[121] The content of the letter was not broadly known until after the document was stolen in 1985, but a copy of the original was donated by a private collector around the year 2000 who had made a copy prior to the theft of the original.

In 1872 William McLellin wrote about the journey to Canada

In 1872 William McLellin wrote about the journey to Canada.[122] He had no first hand knowledge of the event, as he did not join the Church until 1831. He apparently got the description of the event from Martin Harris, who was likewise not there and had no first hand knowledge. From the published account, McLellin ignores Hiram Page’s 1848 letter, and asserts that all involved in the Canadian Mission viewed it as a complete failure. Since all involved were dead, and the only known account by one of the participants, who obviously viewed it as a success, was in McLellin's possession, he apparently did not worry about being corrected.

In about 1881 J.L. Traughber wrote a letter to a German correspondent, who published it in 1886, retelling McLellin’s second or third hand knowledge of the event

In 1881 or shortly thereafter a man by the name of J.L. Traughber wrote a letter to a German correspondent, who published it in 1886, retelling McLellin’s second or third hand knowledge of the event.[123]

In 1886, David Whitmer mentions the trip to sell the copyright for the first time

Beginning in 1886, David Whitmer reports for the first time of the Canadian Mission.[124] Initially Whitmer reports the event in the third person, but by the time of his 1887 pamphlet An Address to All Believers in Christ, 57 years after the event occurred, he reports to having been a first hand witness, and Joseph Smith having given a false prophecy. Whitmer states,

Joseph looked into the hat in which he placed the stone, and received a revelation that some of the brethren should go to Toronto, Canada, and that they would sell the copyright of the Book of Mormon. Hiram Page and Oliver Cowdery went to Toronto on this mission, but they failed entirely to sell the copyright, returning without any money. Joseph was at my father's house when they returned. I was there also, and am an eye witness to these facts. Jacob Whitmer and John Whitmer were also present when Hiram Page and Oliver Cowdery returned from Canada.

Well, we were all in great trouble; and we asked Joseph how it was that he had received a revelation from the Lord for some brethren to go to Toronto and sell the copyright, and the brethren had utterly failed in their undertaking. Joseph did not know how it was, so he enquired of the Lord about it, and behold the following revelation came through the stone: "Some revelations are of God: some revelations are of men: and some revelations are of the devil." So we see that the revelation to go to Toronto and sell the copyright was not of God, but was of the devil or of the heart of man.[125]

Whitmer was looking for evidence to support his conclusion that Joseph Smith was a fallen prophet

One must remember that not only was Whitmer looking for evidence to support his conclusion that Joseph Smith was a fallen prophet, but he also wrote with no fear of contradiction, as all the witnesses to the event were dead.


Question: How does David Whitmer's account of the attempt to sell the Book of Mormon copyright compare to those of the eyewitnesses?

Whitmer's account is at variance in several ways with Hiram Page’s account

Whitmer's account is at variance in several ways with Hiram Page’s account. Whitmer gets the destination city in Canada wrong (he says Toronto, the other accounts, and the revelation itself, say Kingston) and he did not correctly identify all of the participants (he identified Hiram Page and Oliver Cowdery, while Page noted Joseph Knight and Josiah Stowell). Note that the text of the revelation itself finally clears up the issue of exactly who the revelation was directed to,

...it Pleaseth me that Oliver Cowderey Joseph Knight Hyram Pagee & Josiah Stowel shall do my work in this thing...

Page, an eyewitness, makes no mention at disappointment in Joseph Smith, nor is there any mention of a "false prophecy"

Page also makes no mention or even a hint at disappointment in Joseph Smith, nor is there an accusation that the trip was based upon a "false prophecy," so naturally no subsequent "revelation" is noted by Page explaining the mission’s failure.

In Whitmer’s 1887 account we learn for the first time of the supposed post-mission revelation where Joseph Smith is told that some revelations are from God, some from devils, some from men. This account is in all likelihood a fabrication. Unlike his consistent, life-long statements concerning the witness of the Gold Plates, this account, which is probably a second-hand retelling of events 57 years after their occurrence, suddenly appears and is wrong on several of the documentable facts, as well as being inconsistent with the first-hand testimony of Hiram Page, given 40 years earlier than Whitmer and by comparison much closer to the actual event.


Question: How did Latter-day Saint scholars respond to the attempt to sell the Book of Mormon copyright prior to Page's letter coming to light?

B.H. Roberts expressed doubt as to the accuracy of the story, and suggested that David Whitmer may not have recalled all of the details correctly

The letter from 1848 by Hiram Page was not publically available until the 20th Century. As a result, various LDS responses to the accounts by Whitmer and McLellin of necessity must explain why the apparent anomalous revelation does not make Joseph Smith a fallen prophet. Such was the case when B.H. Roberts expressed doubt as to the accuracy of the story, and suggested that David Whitmer may not have recalled all of the details correctly, yet went on to address the claim anyway. Roberts concluded:

Does that circumstance vitiate his claim as a prophet? No; the fact remains that despite this circumstance there exists a long list of events to be dealt with which will establish the fact of divine inspiration operating upon the mind of this man Joseph Smith. The wisdom frequently displayed, the knowledge revealed, the predicted events and the fulfilment thereof, are explicable upon no other theory than of divine inspiration giving guidance to him. [126]

As it happens, the passage of time and the uncovering of additional information has vindicated that confidence.


Response to claim: "I saw a testimony as more than just spiritual experiences and feelings. I saw that we had evidence and logic on our side based on the correlated narrative I was fed by the Church about its origins."

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

I saw a testimony as more than just spiritual experiences and feelings. I saw that we had evidence and logic on our side based on the correlated narrative I was fed by the Church about its origins.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The mention of the "correlated narrative" is a reference to popular ex-Mormon complaints about the correlated curriculum. A testimony is more than just spiritual experiences and feelings - the author neglects to mention other important elements in Latter-day Saint epistemology. Logic and reason are important elements along with a spiritual witness.

Jump to Detail:

Question: What is the best way to define Latter-day Saint epistemology?

Latter-day Saints take no uniform approach to epistemology. Belief is found at a confluence of reason and revelation

There are several schools of epistemology—each defining the best and most important sources of knowledge. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has no uniform position on defining epistemology—only to understand that it is the result of reason and revelation. Latter-day Saints highly value the proposition of a good education and the primacy of reason. But they also seek to understand things by faith. Several scriptures in the Latter-day Saint canon affirm the primacy of reason and of learning through the Spirit--used interchangeably with "faith"--because there are times where one needs to strengthen the other:

10 But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.

11 For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.

3 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.

4 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.

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

Noted is how this short passage begins by emphasizing a moment of pondering and reflection before seeking revelation.

2 Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart.
7 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.

8 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.

9 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; therefore, you cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me.
40 For intelligence cleaveth unto intelligence; wisdom receiveth wisdom; truth embraceth truth; virtue loveth virtue; light cleaveth unto light; mercy hath compassion on mercy and claimeth her own; justice continueth its course and claimeth its own; judgment goeth before the face of him who sitteth upon the throne and governeth and executeth all things.

77 And I give unto you a commandment that you shall teach one another the doctrine of the kingdom.

78 Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand;

79 Of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms—

Noted in this passage is its instruction to seek learning from all disciplines so that we can be better instructed in how to think about and live out our faith. Thus, we gain revelation from a prophet, but understanding how God communicated to that prophet, understanding what the intention is behind certain scriptures, and finding the blessings from following commandments comes largely from our own independent research and reason. We attempt to approach the scriptures contextually and holistically to understand their full significance and our role in God's plan.

118 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.

Noted here is that secular learning and devotional learning are commanded for increasing the faith of those who struggle

36 The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth

18 Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection.

19 And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come.

Our form of epistemology does stress the importance of the Spirit more frequently than we do reason and that is because of a general perception of the fleetingness of reason, scholarship, and science in a certain regard. Obtaining and listening to the spirit is central to conversion to the Church since we are given the opportunity to seek answers from God himself. An assurance from the Spirit is used as a means of coping with uncertainties that we might have at various times of our development in the Church and our convictions. This assurance gives us the belief that, like the apostle Paul stated, that the Lord will "bring to light the hidden things of darkness" so that one day every one may have a praise of God (1 Cor 4:5).This should not, however, be understood to mean that Latter-day Saint testimonies rely solely on feelings. Spiritual understanding for Latter-day Saints is arrived at the confluence of reason and revelation, with a stress on revelation.

Reason is obviously only an intellectual exercise (primarily of the mind), while revelation is an effort that requires all of our faculties

We can obtain knowledge and truth through many sources. But one reason we stress the importance of revelation is that it appeals to our whole body for verification. It involves “our faculties” (Alma 32: 27). Latter-day Saint doctrine also affirms that the body and spirit make the soul (D&C 88:15).[127] Thus, spiritual experiences and coming to spiritual understanding for Latter-day Saints involve much more than simply good feelings as some have criticized us for, but for seeking to “study [something] out in our mind” and then asking for confirmation of it (D&C 9:7-9). We also teach that when the Spirit does touch our souls, that it is an experience that should feed both mind and heart (D&C 8:2). There are times when we have to rely solely upon revelation given to us in our hearts (1 Nephi 4:6), there are other times when we need both revelation and reason (D&C 8:2), and there are other times when we simply need to do something based only upon reason and what we know is good (D&C 58:26-29).


Response to claim: "What about the members who felt the Spirit from Dunn’s fabricated and false stories?"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

[Paul H.] Dunn was a General Authority of the Church for many years. He was a very popular speaker who told incredible faith-promoting war and baseball stories. Many times Dunn shared these stories in the presence of the prophet, apostles, and seventies. Stories like how God protected him as enemy machine-gun bullets ripped away his clothing, gear, and helmet without ever touching his skin and how he was preserved by the Lord. Members of the Church shared how they really felt the Spirit as they listened to Dunn’s testimony and stories. Unfortunately, Dunn was later caught lying about all his war and baseball stories and was forced to apologize to the members. He became the first General Authority to gain “emeritus” status and was removed from public Church life. What about the members who felt the Spirit from Dunn’s fabricated and false stories? What does this say about the Spirit and what the Spirit really is?"

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

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

Jump to Detail:

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?

No documented evidence has appeared that faithful members received some sort of spiritual confirmation that the stories taught were true.

Many critics have argued that the Spirit was confirming a lie during these times. Similar criticism is applied to a situation with Elder Jeffrey R. Holland in 2017.[128]The first point that should be made is that no documented evidence has appeared of a faithful member receiving some spiritual confirmation that these stories from Dunn were true. There are several testimonies from former members of such that they say happened while they were faithful members [129], but nothing from members of the Church today or faithful members of the time.

We do have one case that has been claimed as an example of faithful members receiving a spiritual witness of one of Elder Dunn's claimed false/exaggerated stories. Elder Dunn gave a talk at the October 1976 General Conference of the Church entitled "Follow It!". In the talk, Elder Dunn, as a means of illustrating a point of being an upstanding Latter-day Saint and for standing what's right, shared a story of a young man named Jimmy Daniels who, before a baseball playoff game for the state championship at Dunn's high school, was caught with a nicotine stain on his finger and Elder Dunn was made his replacement. At the conclusion of the Conference, Elder Kimball stated that:

Beloved brothers and sisters, I will say just a brief word at the conclusion of this marvelous conference.
There has been a generous outpouring from the Lord to all of the speakers who have addressed us. We have been greatly stirred by our famous and beloved Tabernacle Choir as they, too, have used their rich talents to bless us with heavenly symphonies. And we are deeply grateful to the other groups of singers: they have enriched our services and made them pleasing to us and to the Lord. And to all others who have contributed we are deeply grateful.
[. . .]
The sermons from the Brethren have developed almost every theme and subject, and they have been rich and full of meat. We have been greatly pleased with all of their contributions.

The New Era published an adaptation of the talk given by Elder Dunn called "The Game of Life". A missionary serving in the England Leeds Mission wrote:

Busstop
I just finished reading the October New Era, and I especially liked “The Game of Life” by Elder Paul H. Dunn. Whenever my companion and I finish reading a New Era, we leave it on a bus, hoping that someone will pick it up and read it and someday join the Church.
Elder Harold Beckstead
England Leeds Mission

However, as author Lynn Packer pointed out in Sunstone Magazine:

There is no Jimmy Daniels listed on the baseball roster [at Dunn’s HS]. Perhaps Dunn was using a pseudonym for Daniels without disclosing it. That hardly matters, because no one on the team was in a playoff game: Hollywood High finished next to last in 1941 and third in 1942.[130]

So, did anyone receive a spiritual confirmation that this fabricated story was true? We might say the following:

  1. Elder Dunn, along with providing a pseudonym for the young man, may have misremembered the exact game in the playoffs they were playing for. Recall from the quote from Lynn Packer that Hollywood High (Dunn's high school) finished third in 1942, Elder Dunn's senior year. Also recall that Dunn is remembering this story 34 years after it supposedly took place. This story may have more truth to it than we realize.
  2. President Kimball does not specifically mention Elder Dunn's talk in his remarks. His talk came at the conclusion of a conference with 30+ talks to summarize and with the task of closing the conference in a reverent, dignified, and cordial manner. The outpouring may have indeed been great, but there's virtually nothing that can tell us more about Elder Dunn's stories and the Church's overall reaction to them.
  3. The missionary does not mention feeling the Spirit saying that the story that Elder Dunn shared was true. He only says that he liked "The Game of Life" from that issue of the New Era in particular. He further says that whenever he and his companion finish reading a New Era (thus referring to multiple issues), they leave it on the bus for someone to find, read, and hopefully convert to the Church. Additionally, there is a lot of other material in the adaptation of the talk, given in the New Era, that the missionary may have felt inspired by and which he felt other people could be inspired by as well.

Thus this example doesn't work for establishing the validity of the criticism. There's nothing substantial to move forward the discussion with.

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

Latter-day Saints understand that a testimony of the Gospel is not based, as one reviewer humorously put it, on "grandpa stories".[131] Latter-day Saints base their testimony on a dynamic influence of the Holy Ghost as sought for by revelation. This revelatory experience that is sought out comes from study and prayer (D&C 9:7-9) through the use of all our faculties (D&C 88:15; Alma 32:27).

This dynamic influence is contrasted with a more passive influence, where one feels the Spirit while in the presence of good things. This is how the vast majority of Latter-day Saints view (or would view) such feelings towards Elder Dunn today. We are to seek after all virtuous, lovely, of good report, or praiseworthy things (Articles of Faith 1:13) because all good things come from God (Moroni 7:12) and they can inspire us to serve him (Moroni 7:13). We may also simply be feeling the Spirit that is promised to always be with us as we live up to our baptismal covenants (Moroni 4:3; 5:2). That doesn't mean, however, that we have received some sort of dynamic, revelatory witness of the truthfulness of these "grandpa stories". Since our bodies and spirits are connected (D&C 88:15), it is easy to see why a warm feeling or a heart murmur may be over-interpreted as spiritual stimuli. Moroni tells us that we have the ability to judge that which is of God and that which is not of God (Moroni 7:14; See also D&C 8:2). The key to discernment is simply to pay close attention to both our mind and heart (D&C 8:2) and "prove all things and hold fast to that which is good" (1 Thess 5:21; See also JS-Matthew 1:37; Moroni 7:20-25) by studying something out in our mind sincerely and meaningfully and seeking revelation through the dynamic influence of the Holy Ghost for confirmation of the validity of any given proposition (D&C 9:7-9).


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: "a testimony is to be found in the bearing of it"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

[Boyd K. Packer said] "How can I bear testimony until I get one? How can I testify that God lives, that Jesus is the Christ, and that the gospel is true? If I do not have such a testimony, would that not be dishonest?’ Oh, if I could teach you this one principle: a testimony is to be found in the bearing of it!" – Boyd K. Packer, The Quest for Spiritual Knowledge.

How is this honest? How is this ethical? What kind of advice are these Apostles giving when they’re telling you that if you don’t have a testimony, bear one anyway? How is this not lying? There’s a difference between saying you know something and you believe something. What about members and investigators who are on the other side listening to your 'testimony'? How are they supposed to know whether you actually do have a testimony of Mormonism or if you’re just following Packer and Oaks’ advice and you’re lying your way into one?

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

Elder Packer is talking about having faith, not about "lying your way" into having a testimony.

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Question: Did Elder Boyd K. Packer suggest that we should "lie our way" into obtaining a testimony?

Elder Packer said "a testimony is to be found in the bearing of it"

Elder Boyd K. Packer spoke of how to gain a testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ:

How can I bear testimony until I get one? How can I testify that God lives, that Jesus is the Christ, and that the gospel is true? If I do not have such a testimony, would that not be dishonest?’ Oh, if I could teach you this one principle: a testimony is to be found in the bearing of it![132]

Critics of the Church claim that Elder Packer is advising that Church members claim to know the truth of the gospel even before they actually do, and that this is simply "lying their way" into gaining a testimony.

Elder Packer is talking about having faith, which one must exercise before receiving a witness

Elder Packer is not suggesting that a person much "lie their way" into having a testimony. Elder Packer is talking about having faith.

Hebrews 11:1:

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

One exercises faith before one has the evidence to prove it. Elder Packer is simply restating the scriptural definition of "faith" in terms of "testimony."

When one exercises faith, results follow which strengthen that faith

When one exercises faith, results follow which strengthen that faith, but one has to take that first "leap of faith." One does not take a "leap of faith," unless they already have a seed of faith to begin with. Elder Packer is not suggesting that you should be "lying your way into" having a testimony. Attempting to "lie" your way into having a testimony would be ineffective: your testimony would not grow, and you would become increasingly frustrated.

Elder Packer makes this clear by addressing this particular concern:

It is not unusual to have a missionary say, “How can I bear testimony until I get one? How can I testify that God lives, that Jesus is the Christ, and that the gospel is true? If I do not have such a testimony, would that not be dishonest?”

Oh, if I could teach you this one principle: a testimony is to be found in the bearing of it!

Somewhere in your quest for spiritual knowledge, there is that “leap of faith,” as the philosophers call it. It is the moment when you have gone to the edge of the light and stepped into the darkness to discover that the way is lighted ahead for just a footstep or two. “The spirit of man is,” as the scripture says, indeed “the candle of the Lord” (Proverbs 20:27).

It is one thing to receive a witness from what you have read or what another has said; and that is a necessary beginning. It is quite another to have the Spirit confirm to you in your bosom that what you have testified is true. Can you not see that it will be supplied as you share it? As you give that which you have, there is a replacement, with increase!

To speak out is the test of your faith.[132]


Response to claim: "how can they be sure of the reliability of this same exact process in telling them that Mormonism is true?"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

There are many members who share their testimonies that the Spirit told them that they were to marry this person or go to this school or move to this location or start up this business or invest in this investment. They rely on this Spirit in making critical life decisions. When the decision turns out to be not only incorrect but disastrous, the fault lies on the individual and never on the Spirit. The individual didn’t have the discernment or it was the individual’s hormones talking or it was the individual’s greed that was talking or the individual wasn’t worthy at the time. This poses a profound flaw and dilemma: if individuals can be so convinced that they’re being led by the Spirit but yet be so wrong about what the Spirit tells them, how can they be sure of the reliability of this same exact process in telling them that Mormonism is true?

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

There are a number of things to consider when faced with the type of situation that the author describes besides those claimed. Confirmation of the spirit requires sincere questioning and study before receiving a witness. The most important thing to remember is how this process has provided blessings and even miracles in our lives. We shouldn't discount the process when we're meant to be tested and when we've already seen blessings of this same process in our lives. Our testimony of the Book of Mormon and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not something that is casually obtained. It requires sincere study, prayer, and nourishing our testimony through both intellectual and spiritual means throughout our entire lives.

Jump to Detail:

Question: Why might someone not be able to see their spiritual impressions come to successful, obvious, and/or beautiful fruition?

There are a variety of ways to view these situations

It is sometimes wondered how one might respond to a situation in which an impression to do or believe something doesn’t come to fruition—whether that be in an immediate, obvious, or good way. This article will offer a number of things to consider when in this type of a situation. They are not things we have to constantly be worrying about when trying to receive inspiration nor are they set possibilities. These are simply a number of things to consider when faced with this type of a situation.

Consider that the impression is brought to fruition without you immediately recognizing the benefit

  • The first thing we can always consider is that the impression has brought fruit but that it won’t be immediately obvious to us how those experiences benefit us or the life of someone else right now or in the future.
  • Many faithful members have reconciled such situations by seeing that the Lord may have simply wanted them to follow the impression so that he knows that you are faithful enough to at the very least follow through with the impressions he wants them to have.
  • Just as the Lord has given his will for the entire human family "line upon line", could it be that the Lord accommodates revelation to our particular understanding until a later time when he's ready to give us further knowledge about something? Could it be that we are not ready for some knowledge in particular but that the Lord intends to reveal something to us later when we are more mature and able to receive it?

These things should be considered.

Dallin H. Oaks: "[A person may have] a strong desire to be led by the Spirit of the Lord but . . . unwisely extends that desire to the point of wanting to be led in all things."

Dallin H. Oaks teaches that we can be led by false revelation if we extend our desire to pray about unnecessary things:

[A person may have] a strong desire to be led by the Spirit of the Lord but . . . unwisely extends that desire to the point of wanting to be led in all things. A desire to be led by the Lord is a strength, but it needs to be accompanied by an understanding that our Heavenly Father leaves many decisions for our personal choices. Personal decision making is one of the sources of the growth we are meant to experience in mortality. Persons who try to shift all decision making to the Lord and plead for revelation in every choice will soon find circumstances in which they pray for guidance and don't receive it. For example, this is likely to occur in those numerous circumstances in which the choices are trivial or either choice is acceptable. We should study things out in our minds, using the reasoning powers our Creator has placed within us. Then we should pray for guidance and act upon it if we receive it. If we do not receive guidance, we should act upon our best judgment. Persons who persist in seeking revelatory guidance on subjects on which the Lord has not chosen to direct us may concoct an answer out of their own fantasy or bias, or they may even receive an answer through the medium of "false revelation"[133]

One might want to consider how Mormon theology views “bad things” happening to good people

It may be useful to see how Mormon theology views bad things happening to good people. Perhaps these situations might be viewed as “bad things” since we don’t see the fruit of our effort. In Latter-day Saint theology, a bad thing may happen because:

  1. It brings about a greater good as when Joseph was sold into Egypt. Sometimes the greater good is not immediately forthcoming or obvious to us. Sometimes the effect that we have on people or on ourselves after following an impression can be enough to help strengthen their relationship with God or come closer to finding meaning through the restored Gospel.
  2. To chasten the disobedient because of his love for them as taught in Helaman 15. We have to be faithful to receive blessings. When we are humble we are more likely to turn to him.
  3. An Abrahamic test of faith. The prophet Joseph Smith is canonized saying “ But nevertheless, deep water is what I am wont to swim in. It all has become second nature to me, and I feel like Paul, to glory in tribulation;” (D&C 127:2) Obviously the Lord isn’t going to spare us any test of faith in life (D&C 136.31). He will actively test it to prepare us for greater things. Trying to learn how to receive and follow inspiration and trust in God is not an exception.

Sometimes people receive impressions, but aren’t able to interpret them correctly

It is important to know that:

A) It is possible to confuse emotion for a spiritual impression. Given that we believe that the body and spirit are intimately and intricately connected (D&C 88:15), it is not suprising how a warm feeling or heart murmur may be over-interpreted as coming from a spiritual stimulus. We should take time when trying to receive inspiration to ponder what we are feeling and seek to counsel long with the Lord if wanting to receive an answer to prayer.

B) Some people do receive an impression, but don’t interpret them correctly. Oftentimes we are receiving inspiration from the Spirit to confirm a thought but perhaps we aren’t still enough to capture its still small voice and we may get distracted from what it is trying to communicate to us.

It is important to be still and focus so that we can carefully discern what exactly the spirit is prompting us to do and/or believe. Oftentimes we haven’t studied an issue out in our minds thoroughly as is often required of us when trying to seek inspiration. When we don’t, we may not get what we’re looking for (D&C 9:7-9).

Revelation takes time to master. We should understand how the Spirit functions and continue to test our knowledge. Eventually we are promised to see fruits for our efforts—even miracles

Revelation takes time to master. The best we can do is understand how the Spirit works by reading the scriptures and following the impression we receive as best as we can discern them. We are promised that as we are humble, the Lord will lead us by the hand and give us answers to our prayers (D&C 112:10) and that signs will follow the believers (D&C 63.9)

A key to understanding when something is authentic is its effect on you. It should feel like it didn’t come from you or was willed by you or as Joseph Smith says, like “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.


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 always flow without effort (although sometimes the revelation is spontaneous), 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.” 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!

D&C 50:24

The fruit of our impressions will become clearer to us as we continue in God. As expressed in D&C 50:24:

24 That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day.

As we remain humble, patient, and allow things to play out, God will allow us to understand what he means to teach us. As we grow into the principle of revelation, we will be better prepared to understand the Lord’s design and method for shaping our lives.


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.


Response to claim: "I felt the Spirit watching 'Saving Private Ryan' and the 'Schindler’s List'. Both R-rated and horribly violent movies. I also felt the Spirit watching 'Forrest Gump' and the 'Lion King'."

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

I felt the Spirit watching 'Saving Private Ryan' and the 'Schindler’s List'. Both R-rated and horribly violent movies. I also felt the Spirit watching 'Forrest Gump' and the 'Lion King'.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The author has his own definition of "feeling the spirit." The most important thing here is to pay attention to both our heart and our mind when determining what the Spirit communicates (D&C 8:2)

Jump to Detail:

Question: Can a person "feel the spirit" while watching movies?

The Spirit testifies of all true principles, regardless of the source

Why would I "feel the spirit" when watching fictional movies? Some of these movies are even violent and R-rated, such as Saving Private Ryan and Schindler's List.

The Spirit testifies of all truth. The Spirit can testify of true principles taught or portrayed in fiction as well as in real life such as the importance of sacrifice, the importance of family, or of humility. For example, why would one feel so compelled by the story of Les Miserables? After all, the movie portrays prostitutes, thieves, and blasphemers. However, the message is of the importance of mercy over justice, of self-sacrifice, and of forgiveness. Why wouldn't the Holy Ghost tell us these are true principles? The same can be said of many movies, including animated films such as The Lion King.

The movies Saving Private Ryan and Schindler's List are very accurate and profound dramas that depict certain important historical events: In this case, the D-day invasion and the Holocaust. They are, out of necessity, R-rated and violent movies, nevertheless they are still deeply moving and, at their most beautiful moments, can move our hearts and minds to God as they teach simple but profound truths. We are moved by these portrayals because we empathize with the sacrifice and suffering of those depicted. Just because we seek "confirmation of the spirit" in religious matters in order to receive confirmation of their truthfulness does not require us to be "dead in feeling" to the rest of life.

Simply receiving a warm feeling about a movie or other fictional work is not enough to call it revelation or a confirmation of the spirit

Latter-day Saints understand that a testimony of the Gospel is not based on feel-good movies. Latter-day Saints base their testimony on a dynamic influence of the Holy Ghost as sought for by revelation. This revelatory experience that is sought out comes from study and prayer (D&C 9:7-9) through the use of all our faculties (D&C 88:15; Alma 32:27).

This dynamic influence is contrasted with a more passive influence, where one feels the Spirit (usually in the form of peace) while in the presence of good things. This is how the vast majority of Latter-day Saints view (or would view) feelings towards movies. We are to seek after all virtuous, lovely, of good report, or praiseworthy things (Articles of Faith 1:13) because all good things come from God (Moroni 7:12) and they can inspire us to serve him (Moroni 7:13). We may also simply be feeling the Spirit that is promised to always be with us as we live up to our baptismal covenants (Moroni 4:3; 5:2). That doesn't mean, however, that we have received some sort of dynamic, "revelatory witness of the truthfulness" of these works. Since our bodies and spirits are connected (D&C 88:15), it is easy to see why a warm feeling or a heart murmur may be over-interpreted as coming from a spiritual stimulus. Moroni tells us that we have the ability to judge that which is of God and that which is not of God (Moroni 7:14; See also D&C 8:2). The key to discernment is simply to pay close attention to both our mind and heart (D&C 8:2) and "prove all things and hold fast to that which is good" (1 Thess 5:21; See also JS-Matthew 1:37; Moroni 7:20-25).


Response to claim: "Why did I feel the Spirit as I listened to the stories of apostates sharing how they discovered for themselves that Mormonism is not true?"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

Why did I feel the Spirit as I listened to the stories of apostates sharing how they discovered for themselves that Mormonism is not true?

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The author has his own definition of "feeling the spirit."

Jump to Detail:

Question: Can someone feel the spirit when listening to stories of apostasy?

The Spirit only testifies of things that come from God, and should not be confused with emotion

One critic of the Church, who believes that the "spirit" is simply an emotional manifestation, poses the question: "Why did I feel the Spirit as I listened to the stories of apostates sharing how they discovered for themselves that Mormonism is not true?" [134]

The Spirit does not confirm apostasy. This is simply an attempt to diminish the experience of those who have truly had the Spirit testify of Christ.

A more accurate way to phrase this would be: "Why did I feel good as I listened to the stories of apostates sharing how they discovered for themselves that Mormonism is not true?" After all, ex-Mormons have already concluded that the "Spirit" is unreliable and inconsistent. The likely answer, of course, is that the stories that the ex-Mormon is hearing support for the conclusion that they have already formed.

Alternative Interpretations

Moroni tells us that we have the ability to discern what comes from God and what doesn't even after receiving certain impressions (Moroni 7:14; See also D&C 8:2). Let's look at alternative interpretations of the experience:

  • The experience may be one of feeling the love of Christ for the members. Isn't such possible? Feeling the love of God for people who have gone through a loss of faith 2 Ne. 26:30? Such is possible and even desirable. The only objection then to the author of this criticism would be the deliberate reinterpretation and use of that experience to hurt member testimonies and cause confusion.
  • There may not have been a true spiritual experience "confirming truth". Since we believe that the body and spirit are intricately connected (D&C 88:15) it is not surprising that a thought, warm feeling or heart tremor can be over-interpreted as coming from a spiritual stimulus. This is what the scriptures might call having "foolish imaginations of the heart" (Hel. 16:22; 3 Ne. 2:2; Moses 8:22).
Concerning conflating emotion and thoughts with the spirit, President Howard W. Hunter said:
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.[135]
  • There may have been no spiritual impression or anything resembling it at all and this may be an intentional lie to try and hurt member's testimonies. This might be an example of "perverting" the Gospel (Alma 30:60).
  • The experience may be caused by the devil, see for example (Alma 30:53). Anything that entices us to worship him or to do evil is of him (Moroni 7:17)
  • The experience may have been caused by false spirits. D&C 50 was revealed for discerning spirits with D&C 50: 31-33 being the way to (following the counsel given in 1 John 4:1-2) test the spirits (See also D&C 52:15-19)
Consider what Joseph Smith told Brigham Young:
Tell the brethren to be humble and faithful and be sure to keep the Spirit of the Lord, that it will lead them aright. Be careful and not turn away the still, small voice; it will teach them what to do and where to go; it will yield the fruits of the kingdom. Tell the brethren to keep their heart open to conviction, so that when the Holy Ghost comes to them their hearts will be ready to receive it. They can tell the Spirit of the Lord from all other spirits—it will whisper peace and joy to their souls; it will take malice, hatred, strife and all evil from their hearts, and their whole desire will be to do good.[136]


"Recognizing the Voice of the Spirit" (Podcast): "How can I come to know that spiritual experience is not just a product of chemical processes in the brain?"

"FAIR Questions 2: Recognizing the Voice of the Spirit":

How do I find a way to not only discern the Spirit from emotion, but how can I become convinced that the Spirit is actually real? How can I come to know that spiritual experience is not just a product of chemical processes in the brain? I mean, I’ve prayed about the truth of the Book of Mormon and the gospel and I have gotten answers to my prayers, but how can I come to know whether or not this is from God, and not just either a part of my subconscious or a delusion.[137] —(Click here to continue)


Response to claim: "This thought-provoking video raises some profound questions and challenges to the Latter-day Saint concept of "testimony" and receiving a witness from the Holy Ghost..."

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (March 2015 revision) make(s) the following claim:

This thought-provoking video raises some profound questions and challenges to the Latter-day Saint concept of "testimony" and receiving a witness from the Holy Ghost or Spirit as being a unique, reliable, and trustworthy source to discerning truth and reality:

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The author uses a video that basically summarizes his claims regarding the Spirit. The video includes several clips of people describing spiritual experiences. One includes a young man's brother who prayed about The Book of Hagoth from the Mentinah Archives and claims to have received a confirmatory witness of its truth. The video also includes an unverified recording--supposedly from a member of the FLDS church who claims she received a witness from the Holy Ghost that polygamy was a true principle and that that church was true. Since the recording is only vocal and not visual, the provenance remains slightly dubious. It includes members of Islam who state their confidence in Islam and one woman in particular of her impactful witness from God. It also includes a woman from the Heaven's Gate cult who expresses deep feelings about her being a part of it. In regards to the boy, there may be danger in this but there may also be truth. In regards to the recording, perhaps something regarding the Succession crisis may help (see also Cassandra Hedelius' commentary on Latter-day Saint offshoots here).We have already provided responses that explain the experiences of people in other religions. In regards to the woman from Heaven's Gate, the nature of the experience may be in doubt.

Jump to Detail:

Question: Can a person receive a spiritual witness about any book?

The scriptures are clear that there is a choice involved as to which power we bring ourselves under during this life.

Primarily secularist critics of The Church of Jesus Chist posit that a person can receive a witness about anything if they pray hard enough to receive the answer they want. Prayer is, as they posit, an entirely deterministic epistemic practice and spiritual epistemology is simply based in confirmation bias. It is sad to hear of cases like this since the person doing this is abandoning a unique proposition in order to squander the precious gift of spiritual witness. When we have received a testimony or when we have become aware of the proposition of receiving a spiritual witness, it is our choice to accept that testimony/proposition and to move forward with it. Heavenly Father isn’t going to stop us if we are really trying to disprove ourselves of the validity of the experience. As the dying Lehi taught his sons:

2 Nephi 2: 27-28

27 Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.

28 And now, my sons, I would that ye should look to the great Mediator, and hearken unto his great commandments; and be faithful unto his words, and choose eternal life, according to the will of his Holy Spirit;

According to this scripture, there is a choice involved even after we have received the Holy Spirit and had it testified to us of the truthfulness of something. We have our agency, now is our time to continue in light until the perfect day (D&C 50:24).

If we are to pray about other books, we may be opening ourselves up to the influence of false spirits.

1 John 4:1 gives us this council

Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits, whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye that the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God

Additionally, Doctrine and Covenants 50:31 states the following:

31 Wherefore, it shall come to pass, that if you behold a spirit manifested that you cannot understand and you receive not that spirit, ye shall ask of the Father in the name of Jesus; and if he give not unto you that spirit, then you may know that it is not of God.

It is therefore dangerous to do this to ourselves as we may simply allow ourselves to be deceived. This information from the scriptures should hopefully inform our decision making process and allow us to broaden our understanding of how the Spirit works. We should be careful to simply understand how LDS pneumatology works and then trust in what the Lord has given us in faith.

Personal revelation may come while reading a book.

The dynamic influence of the holy ghost, as where we are receiving revelation, is both a revelation or inspiration brought to the mind combined with a discernible outside influence on the soul (D&C 8:2). Why can’t we receive revelation confirming a true principle while reading a book? To pray about a book to “confirm its truthfulness” is to meddle with what shouldn’t be meddled with. It is demanding signs and wasting the sacred gift of agency. To gain inspiration and encouragement from one to continue a long the path of discipleship and find renewed meaning through them is part of a normal spiritual interaction with all things that are good in the world. We are encouraged to seek after all good things (A of F 1: 13) because as Moroni 7 tells us, all good things come from God.

We also do believe that other books will be inspired by a god and will come from all quarters of the earth (2 Nephi 29:11; Alma 29:8). But one should wait for prophetic guidance as to what these books might be and who the inspiration of the Lord might have touched in order to bring these prophesied books to our understanding. There is no one else besides the prophet who can determine what this prophesy from Nephi might mean for the Church as a whole.

There are evidences against the deterministic claim

Latter-day Saints and other individuals wrestling with the question should remember the evidences against this posited determinism from critics by remembering “top-down” revelation. This is distinguished from “bottom-up” revelation. “Bottom-up”revelation is where the individual has to bring him or herself in tune with the will of God before receiving revelation by making themselves worthy, studying something out in their mind, and then asking God for inspiration with real intent. Top-down revelation is where God brings us in tune. This happens with promptings of eminent danger, “no” answers to prayer when we want a yes, other miraculous knowledge we would not otherwise have were it not for the Spirit’s influence.


Question: What do the Mentinah Papers or the Nemenhah People have to do with the Mormons?

To put it simply, absolutely nothing. Any connections are only in the minds of the people responsible for publishing these papers

What do the Mentinah Papers or the Nemenhah People have to do with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?

As genuine records from a people connected to the Nephites, the papers cannot be taken seriously. In addition to the numerous points in which they are not consistent with the Book of Mormon, there are theological or procedural problems. If there were to be such scripture revealed at this time, it would come through the proper channels of priesthood authority. It would come from the current Prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, not from obscure individuals who claim support from unnamed apostles.

The Mentinah Papers claim to be a history of a people called the Nemenhah. They claim to be translations of papers found in the mountains around Manti, Utah (Sanpete County) in the 1800s. They claim that they have been translated by wise men speaking languages descended from the languages at the time of the Book of Mormon. The papers have never been made publicly available, but the translations have been published both on the internet and in book form.

They claim to have taken the papers to Brigham Young who indicated that he would be unable to help them translate the papers into modern English. Since that time, their proponents claim that they have spoken to other apostles of the Church (whom they decline to name) who have encouraged them.

There has been a development in the story of those that have the papers in their possession. They initially did not identify the location of the people and their story, but now say that the main location of the Nemenhah people was in the area of Sanpete County, Utah. They have organized an American Indian church based on the teachings of the Mentihah papers.

The story purports to tell of the descendants of Hagoth, and others who traveled north from the Nephite lands, from the Book of Mormon. The story seems to take some of the "loose ends" found in the Book of Mormon and tell what is not present in the Book of Mormon. For example, Moroni is described as joining the Nemenhah after the great battles that destroyed his people in about AD 400. He joins with the body of believers and becomes a great leader among them. It tells of Corianton, son of Alma, who left the Nephite lands with his wife, Isabel, and established a great and righteous city in the northeastern part of the land. Although the narration contains much original ideas and stories they all seem to be off shoots of the Book of Mormon story. It describes great conferences held among the people of the north and the people of the Pacific Islands.

There are doctrinal issues that are presented in the Mentinah narrative. For example, the Everlasting Covenant is described as the Gods trying to organize the world for the benefit of their spiritual children. But they cannot seem to get it quite right. Then some beings representing what we think of as the Holy Ghost come and give the Gods corrections to what they were doing. Hence the “New” and everlasting covenant. If it were not for this multitude of beings coming and making this correction, all of creation would have failed in its purposes.

The narrative describes a form of temple worship that is to be practiced in sweat lodges. It then prophesies that when the people once again turn to sweat lodges for their temple worship it will be a sign that the Church is in apostasy. Naturally, this sort of worship is now taking place among the newly established church that they are promoting.

There are other doctrinal issues as well.

There are some good things written in the narrative, such as good counsel about the relationship between a husband and wife. The Mentinah Papers promote a cooperative life, but do it in a manner that is not consistent with proper principles as understood by the Church.


Question: Did Brigham promise that Joseph Smith III would eventually take over the Church?

Brigham was referring to being "ready to receive" any of Joseph's children into the Church

The Wikipedia article "Joseph Smith, Jr." makes this rather interesting assertion:

Indeed, as late as 1860, Brigham Young assured the bulk of Smith's followers that young Joseph would eventually take his father's place. (Journal of Discourses, 8:69.)

The source provided does not support the assertion that Brigham stated that "young Joseph would eventually take his father's place." Brigham said,

What of Joseph Smith's family? What of his boys? I have prayed from the beginning for sister Emma and for the whole family. There is not a man in this Church that has entertained better feelings towards them. Joseph said to me, "God will take care of my children when I am taken." They are in the hands of God, and when they make their appearance before this people, full of his power, there are none but what will say—"Amen! we are ready to receive you."

The brethren testify that brother Brigham is brother Joseph's legal successor. You never heard me say so. I say that I am a good hand to keep the dogs and wolves out of the flock. I do not care a groat who rises up. I do not think anything about being Joseph's successor. (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 8:69.)

Brigham's comment "we are ready to receive you" applied to all of Joseph's children, not just Joseph Smith III.

Mark Hofmann forged a document known as the The Joseph Smith III blessing, which falsely represented itself as a father’s blessing given by the Prophet Joseph Smith on 17 January 1844 to his son, Joseph Smith III, to the effect that this son was his appointed successor. (See Ensign, May 1981.) off-site


Question: What indications were there that Brigham Young would be Joseph Smith's successor?

Statements indicating that Brigham would be Joseph's successor

Below are statements from contemporaries that indicate Brigham's place as rightful successor to Joseph Smith. In addition to these, one should see the 100+ statements that John Welch has compiled in Opening the Heavens that indicate Brigham's rightful place as successor to Joseph Smith.

Benjamin Franklin Johnson

“Of Brigham Young as President of the Church, I will again bear this as a faithful testimony that I do know and bear record that upon the head of Brigham Young as chief, with the Apostleship in full, was by the voice of the Prophet Joseph in my hearing, laid the full responsibility of bearing of[f] the kingdom of God to all the world . . . . [When Brigham Young first met Joseph Smith and spoke in tongues in the Adamic languaue the Prophet] at that time, made the prediction upon the head of Brigham Young that ‘at some period he would become the leader of the Church, and that there would be one danger to beset him, and that would be his love of wealth.’ These things were told to me by [Lyman R.] Sherman [i.e., Johnson’s brother-in-law] at near the time of their occurrence” (E. Dale LeBaron, Benjamin Franklin Johnson: Friend to the Prophets [Provo, Utah: Grandin Book Co., 1997], 232, 233).

Brigham Young

“I can say of a truth that Joseph told me not three months before he was killed, and I did not seek the information he gave me—we were talking upon counseling, governing and controlling—that ‘if I am moved out of the way, you are the only man living on this earth who can counsel and direct the affairs of the kingdom of God on the earth’” ("Remarks by President Brigham Young at the Semi Annual Conference, Great Salt Lake City, Oct. 8, 1866," LDS Church Archives, Salt Lake City, Utah. Spelling, punctuation, and grammar modernized).

William Nelson

“I have heard the Prophet speak in public on many occasions. In one meeting I heard him say, ‘I will give you a key that will never rust. If you will stay with the majority of the Twelve Apostles, and the records of the Church, you will never be led astray’” (Young Woman’s Journal, December 1906, 542–43).

Oliver Cowdery

“There was no salvation but in the valley and through the priesthood there.” (Letter, Phineas Young to Brigham Young, April 25, 1850, Brigham Young Collection, LDS Church Archives, Salt Lake City, Utah.

Martin Harris

"Brigham is governor" (----------).

Mosiah Hancock

"When the Prophet had his hand upon my father's head, I said to myself, 'I trust that I will be as true to young Joseph, the Prophet's son, as my father is to his father.' Afterwards at home, I told my father of my thoughts, and he said, 'No, Mosiah, for God has shown to Brother Joseph that his son, Joseph, will be the means of drawing many people away from this Church after him. Brother Joseph gave us to understand that it was our duty to follow the Twelve. The majority of this people will be right" (Amy E. Baird, Victoria H. Jackson, and Laura L. Wassell, comp., "Autobiography of Mosiah Hancock (1834-1865)," typescript copy, BYU Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Provo, Utah, 27-29.

Joseph Smith

“where I am not, there is no First Presidency over the Twelve” [TPJS, 106]. (ftnt. #23): Some recent historians have asserted that this statement is not found in the original minutes of the 1836 meeting. Even so, the insertion in the Joseph Smith history in the 1850s can still be accepted as valid, for the compilers of that history, Wilford Woodruff and George A. Smith, were contemporaries of the Prophet and “were eye and ear witnesses of nearly all the transactions recorded . . . , and, where they were not personally present, they have had access to those who were” (quoted in Dean C. Jessee, “The Writing of Joseph Smith’s History,” BYU Studies 11 (Summer 1971): 473). President Brigham Young understood this concept, as have all other Church Presidents who have authoritatively used this statement as a key principle in succession to the presidency. (Brent L. Top and Lawrence R. Flake, Ensign, August 1996)

Further Reading

  • D. Michael Quinn has done excellent work on the succession Crisis through BYU Studies which can be found here.
  • Also see this video from LDS Truth Claims that explains all criticisms in detail and points to additional sources for learning.
  • Video from Brian Jensen of the Church History Department



Question: What are the standards for prophetic succession in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?

Requirements from the Doctrine and Covenants

Many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and other interested parties have wondered what the standards for succession were set in the early days of the Church under the direction of the Prophet Joseph Smith. These standards are important to defend as the perceived legitimacy of the Church can be threatened by offshoot sects of Mormonism or other Mormon Gnostics if the standards are misunderstood.

Standards for authority and/or stewardship in the Church include:

  1. No one receives commandments or revelations on behalf of the entire Church except the prophet (D&C 28:2-5).
  2. Others can have the authority to declare the commandments and revelations (from the Prophet) with power, and to speak and teach by way of commandment, but when writing should couch it as wisdom instead of commandment (D&C 28:2-5).
  3. If the prophet goes astray, to the extent of losing his authority to receive revelations and commandments for the Church, he would still have the ability to appoint his successor. This was very early in the church, before the full organization of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, so we would assume the procedure would change somewhat later. But the principle remains that a fallen church leader does not vacate the church’s authority to perpetuate inspired leadership (D&C 43:2-7). This invalidates any claims to an angel being the one to have to ordain someone outside of the Church in order to continue.
  4. Authority to preach and organize the church comes through ordination by someone with authority. Additionally, that ordination must be known by the church to have been ordained in the Church through those priesthood channels (D&C 42:11).
  5. Anyone ordained of the Lord will “come in at the gate’’–that is, will be easily recognizable as an authorized messenger, and not have to gain influence by courting popularity and gradual coalition-building etc. There’s a reason we keep pictures of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve in church buildings, so that there’s no confusion about who our leaders are. We can’t be deceived by pretenders (D&C 43:2-7). Coming in at the gate entails that one will receive all ordinances pertaining to salvation including baptism, confirmation/reception of Holy Spirit, initiatory, endowment, and sealing. As worthy men are ordained to apostleship, they will receive keys (different keys will given to different officers [D&C 123:23]) including:
  1. Keys of Sealing (D&C 132:7)
  2. Keys of the Gathering of Israel (D&C 110:11)
  3. Keys of the Dispensation of the Gospel of Abraham (D&C 110:12)
  4. Keys of the Powers of the Holy Priesthood (D&C 128:11)
  5. Keys of the Kingdom (D&C 81:2)

Other keys are mentioned in the scriptures:

Many types of keys are mentioned in the scriptures of the Church (see MD, pp. 409-13). Jesus Christ holds all the keys. Joseph Smith received the keys pertaining to the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ (D&C 6:25-28;28:7;35:18), and through him the First Presidency holds the "keys of the kingdom," including the sealing ordinances (D&C 81:1-2;90:1-6;110:16;128:20;132:19).

Specific mention of certain keys and those who hold them include the following: The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles exercises the keys "to open the door by the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ" in all the world (D&C 107:35;112:16;124:128). Adam holds "the keys of salvation under the counsel and direction of the Holy One," and "the keys of the universe" (D&C 78:16; TPJS, p. 157); Moses, "the keys of the gathering of Israel" (D&C 110:11); Elias, the keys to bring to pass "the restoration of all things" (D&C 27:6); and Elijah, "the keys of the power of turning the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to the fathers" (D&C 27:9). Holders of the Melchizedek Priesthood are said to have "the keys of the Church," "the key of knowledge," and "the keys of all the spiritual blessings of the church" (D&C 42:69;84:19;107:18), while belonging to the Aaronic Priesthood are "the keys of the ministering of angels, and of the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins" (D&C 13:1;84:26). All these stewardships will eventually be delivered back into the hands of Jesus Christ (TPJS, p. 157).[138]

Now as it regards succession, it is important to reiterate what Doctrine and Covenants states on the matter (D&C 107:22-24):

22 Of the Melchizedek Priesthood, three Presiding High Priests, chosen by the body, appointed and ordained to that office, and upheld by the confidence, faith, and prayer of the church, form a quorum of the Presidency of the Church.
23 The twelve traveling councilors are called to be the Twelve Apostles, or special witnesses of the name of Christ in all the world—thus differing from other officers in the church in the duties of their calling.
24 And they form a quorum, equal in authority and power to the three presidents previously mentioned.

We learn a couple of important things about succession:

  1. Three high priests of the Melchizedek Priesthood form the First Presidency. With the death of one, it logically follows that the Quorum is unorganized.
  2. With the dissolution of the First Presidency, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve is to take over since they are "equal in power and authority" to the First Presidency.

When the president of the Church dies, the apostles are left in a state called "apostolic interregnum". This was explained by Elder Gary E. Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:

The period of time between the death of a prophet and the reorganization of the First Presidency is referred to as an “apostolic interregnum.” During this period, the Quorum of the Twelve, under the leadership of the quorum president, jointly holds the keys to administer the leadership of the Church. President Joseph F. Smith taught, “There is always a head in the Church, and if the Presidency of the Church are removed by death or other cause, then the next head of the Church is the Twelve Apostles, until a presidency is again organized.”[139]


The most recent interregnum period began when President Monson passed away on January 2 and ended 12 days later on Sunday, January 14. On that Sabbath morning, the Quorum of the Twelve met in the upper room of the Salt Lake Temple in a spirit of fasting and prayer, under the presiding direction of President Russell M. Nelson, the senior Apostle and President of the Quorum of the Twelve.

In this sacred and memorable meeting, following a well-established precedent in unity and unanimity, the Brethren were seated by seniority in a semicircle of 13 chairs and raised their hands first to sustain the organization of a First Presidency and then to sustain President Russell Marion Nelson as President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This sustaining was followed by the Quorum of the Twelve gathering in a circle and placing hands upon the head of President Nelson to ordain and set him apart, with the next most-senior Apostle acting as voice.

President Nelson then named his counselors, President Dallin Harris Oaks, President Henry Bennion Eyring, with President Oaks as the President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and President Melvin Russell Ballard as the Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Following similar sustaining votes, each of these Brethren was set apart to his respective office by President Nelson. This was a deeply sacred experience, with an outpouring of the Spirit. I offer to you my absolute witness that the will of the Lord, for which we fervently prayed, was powerfully manifest in the activities and events of that day.

With the ordination of President Nelson and the reorganization of the First Presidency, the apostolic interregnum ended, and the newly constituted First Presidency began to operate without, remarkably, even one second of interruption in governing the Lord’s kingdom on the earth.

This morning, this divine process is culminated in accordance with scriptural mandate outlined in the Doctrine and Covenants: “For all things must be done in order, and by common consent in the church, by the prayer of faith,”[140] and “three Presiding High Priests, … upheld by the confidence, faith, and prayer of the church, form a quorum of the Presidency of the Church.”[141][142]

These requirements have been met and this pattern kept in an uninterrupted chain from the Prophet Joseph Smith to the current President of the Church, President Russell M. Nelson.


Question: How do Latter-day Saints respond to arguments from diversity against the use of spiritual experiences in their epistemology?

Review of the Criticism

As a part of their epistemology, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe that commitment and/or belief may be established by spiritual experience. This experience is known as having an experience with the Holy Ghost or "Holy Spirit" (Moroni 10:3-5).

Primarily Secularist critics of the Church and other Christian critics of the Church have charged that this mode of receiving knowledge is challenged by the existence of competing religious claims or spiritual experiences had by those adherents of other faiths. If they are to receive spiritual experiences motivating them to believe in the validity of their sacred texts, religious structures, and so forth, what makes the Latter-day Saint claim to knowledge unique? What is the basis for claiming that one "knows" that the Book of Mormon is from God?

This argument is simply the version of the Argument from Inconsistent Revelations against the claims of religious truth (AKA the "avoiding the wrong hell problem") that is applied to Latter-day Saint beliefs. This problem in philosophy of religion is one with which all religions must deal.[143]

This article examines that charge in depth. First, those parts of Latter-day Saint pneumatology relating to epistemology will be set forth as a groundwork for more comprehensible and responsible discussion and then a more detailed discussion.

Basis of Response

When any critic shows the experiences of other people in other religions, they are not simply showing you the experiences but trying to get you to process those experiences through a certain framework. That framework is usually that spiritual experience is unreliable, probably comes from naturalistic sources, and/or that they aren't unique and thus can't lead one into truth.

How does one respond? To respond and to respond adequately, we have to provide a comprehensive, coherent, theologically whole framework that can observe, absorb, and understand spiritual experience. If we can do that, then the argument essentially becomes nil since we have a framework through which we can faithfully, charitably, and comfortably view the experience of people in other religions.

Moroni's Counsel for Discerning Good from Evil - A Framework Through Which to See Spiritual Experience

What is that framework and how is it developed? The prophet Moroni had very interesting words to say on this subject. Moroni 7:12-25

12 Wherefore, all things which are good cometh of God; and that which is evil cometh of the devil; for the devil is an enemy unto God, and fighteth against him continually, and inviteth and enticeth to sin, and to do that which is evil continually.


13 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.

14 Wherefore, take heed, my beloved brethren, that ye do not judge that which is evil to be of God, or that which is good and of God to be of the devil.

15 For behold, my brethren, it is given unto you to judge, that ye may know good from evil; and the way to judge is as plain, that ye may know with a perfect knowledge, as the daylight is from the dark night.

16 For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.

17 But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him.

18 And now, my brethren, seeing that ye know the light by which ye may judge, which light is the light of Christ, see that ye do not judge wrongfully; for with that same judgment which ye judge ye shall also be judged.

19 Wherefore, I beseech of you, brethren, that ye should search diligently in the light of Christ that ye may know good from evil; and if ye will lay hold upon every good thing, and condemn it not, ye certainly will be a child of Christ.

20 And now, my brethren, how is it possible that ye can lay hold upon every good thing?

21 And now I come to that faith, of which I said I would speak; and I will tell you the way whereby ye may lay hold on every good thing.

22 For behold, God knowing all things, being from everlasting to everlasting, behold, he sent angels to minister unto the children of men, to make manifest concerning the coming of Christ; and in Christ there should come every good thing.

23 And God also declared unto prophets, by his own mouth, that Christ should come.

24 And behold, there were divers ways that he did manifest things unto the children of men, which were good; and all things which are good cometh of Christ; otherwise men were fallen, and there could no good thing come unto them.

25 Wherefore, by the ministering of angels, and by every word which proceeded forth out of the mouth of God, men began to exercise faith in Christ; and thus by faith, they did lay hold upon every good thing; and thus it was until the coming of Christ.[144]

Thus according to Moroni, if we can develop a theology that understands spiritual experience through the revelation that prophets have given to us, then we can comfortably understand what God's will is and choose to understand it that way (2 Nephi 2:27-28; Joshua 24:15).

The Immediate Problem of Circularity

There is immediately a problem with Moroni's argument that needs to be dealt with. If we are to have a framework that we believe to be revealed by God, and God is yet empirically unverifiable, and the Spirit through which we reveals to the prophets is yet empirically unidentifiable, then isn't it simply circular reasoning to claim that the framework comes from God? This has been dealt with elsewhere on the FairMormon wiki.

Theological Point of Departure

We should now lay the basis for the theological framework through which Latter-day Saints might see spiritual experience outside of the faith.

The Latter-day Saint Conception of God, the Devil, the Holy Ghost, False Spirits, Good Angels, Bad Angels, and Light

Latter-day Saint theology teaches that there is a spectrum of light (understood to be synonymous with "truth" by faithful adherents) that one can receive in this life that comes from God. This light is known in Latter-day Saint vernacular as “The Light of Christ” (Moroni 7:16[145]; D&C 84:46). When one receives more of God’s truth, one receives more Light (D&C 50:24; D&C 84:45). When one rejects Light, is persuaded towards rejecting the truth that one has already received, or one deliberately chooses to remain without the Light that God has revealed, one stays away or moves away from Light.[146] This is seen as sinful. The Holy Ghost and many righteous angels are seen as those beings that move God’s children further and further into the Light (2 Nephi 32: 2-3; D&C 84:47). The Holy Ghost works through the Light of Christ—which is believed to be given to all people before they enter mortality (Moroni 7:16; D&C 84:45-46). The Light of Christ is understood to give a spiritual energy and life to all things (D&C 88: 11-13). Since it gives this life to all things, it follows that the Holy Ghost, working through this Light, can work on our spirit and/or our body in order to produce phenomena which are connected to both heart and mind (D&C 8:2). The Holy Ghost works in unity with God's purposes. Satan, false angels, and many false spirits are seen as those beings that move God’s children further and further into the darkness (Moroni 7:17;D&C 50:2-3). As one receives more Light, one is more receptive to receiving additional Light and is seen as more sensitive to the Holy Ghost and the truth that God has revealed through prophets. As one moves away from the Light, they are less and less able to perceive Light. If a person has gained Light but subsequently loses it through sin or being persuaded by a false spirit to accept darkness, it is difficult to regain it. It can become progressively more difficult to regain the Light once lost depending on how much Light receives and how much they give up when moving into the darkness (Alma 24:30; Alma 47:36).The amount of Light one has and the ability to perceive it can ultimately be diminished entirely (1 Nephi 17:45;Jacob 6:8). As Elder David A. Bednar, an apostle in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has taught:

As we yield to that influence, to do good and become good, then the Light of Christ increases within us. As we disobey, Light is decreased and can ultimately be diminished within us.[147]

Thus these spirits are acting on both our body and our spirit, connected together intimately (called the “soul” in Latter-day Saint theology), to persuade us to accept, reject, or stay indifferent to Light and truth. When these spirits act on us, they produce physically felt sensations. Latter-day Saints believe that all human beings have the ability to perceive that which is of God from that which is of the devil (Moroni 7:14) through the same power given by the Light of Christ. It is generally believed that what God has revealed to prophets is good and will inspire one to love God and serve him (Moroni 7:20-25; Joseph Smith – Matthew 1:37).

The Priesthood

Latter-day Saints claim to hold special authority from God that authorizes them to perform special ordinances in his name. This is called the "priesthood". Latter-day Saints believe that this priesthood authorizes prophets to reveal God's covenant truth so that Latter-day Saints remain at the most bright end of the spectrum. Latter-day Saints believe that this priesthood existed primitively in the organization of believers that Christ established.[148] That priesthood power was restored through Joseph Smith in our day. That priesthood power is believed to have been passed down in an uninterrupted line of prophet successors of Joseph Smith to the current President of the Church. This succession has come through detailed instructions given in the official scriptures revealed to Joseph Smith. Since this priesthood has given them the covenant truth of God through prophets, Latter-day Saints believe that the truths espoused in the Church today constitute the fulness of truth and Light one can receive in this life (Doctrine and Covenants 123:12-13).

Experiences Seen as Positive in Latter-day Saint Scripture

With all this established as groundwork, a more comprehensible and thus responsible discussion of the theology can take place. The next step in our discussion is to outline those experiences that move someone further towards the Light in Latter-day Saint theology. There seems to be four such experiences that Latter-day Saint scripture positively envisions people having.

A Softening of Heart to the idea of God, Christ, the Gospel, or Religion in General.

Alma 16:16-17 states that:

16And there was no inequality among them; the Lord did pour out his Spirit on all the face of the land to prepare the minds of the children of men, or to prepare their hearts to receive the word which should be taught among them at the time of his coming —

17 That they might not be hardened against eh word, that they might not be unbelieving, and go on to destruction, but that they might receive the word with joy, and as a branch be grafted into the true vine, that they might enter into the rest of the Lord their God.

The first experience that the scriptures envision as positive is a softening of heart to the idea of God, Christ, the Gospel, or religion in general. Notice how this scripture does not connect any truth claim from the Restored Gospel to the experience. It seems as though the experience of the Spirit is one that all people should feel at some point and, in a remarkable way, that experience doesn't have to be explicitly tied to a proposition from Latter-day Saint doctrine. People need to experience this softening of heart. It is imaginable that these experiences can come from anything that is good (Articles of Faith 1:13; Moroni 7:12). This softening of heart is preliminary to receiving a full conversion to God, Christ, and/or the Restoration.

Some people may be able to recognize that this experience comes from God and others--not. Some may feel stirrings of the Spirit trying to soften their heart or convert them to God, Christ, and/or the restoration but not recognize it as such. Such is a testament to the Book of Mormon's assessment that we the ability to judge spiritual impressions that is apart from the impressions themselves (Moroni 7:14). Consider a case from the Book of Mormon (3 Nephi 9:20)

20 And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost, even as the Lamanites, because of their faith in me at the time of their conversion, were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not.

Or this case of a convert from Mexico recounted in Preach My Gospel (Chapter 9):

As a child, I was never taught to read the Bible. I went to church on Sundays, but I contributed nothing and felt nothing in return. I was disillusioned. … I searched for … God—wanting to know if He even existed. I thirsted to know Him and His words. But I could not seem to find what I sought.


There were moments when I felt close to quenching my thirst. When I held my first child, a daughter, in my arms for the first time, I had a feeling that God really did exist. Many years later, when her sister was born, I experienced the same feeling. … Most of the time, however, an inexplicable tiredness weighed upon my soul. I was spiritually thirsty and could find no place to drink.

In April 1994 I was living in the city of Monterrey, Mexico, earning a living as a taxi driver. One day it rained for hours, sending water cascading down the mountainsides. After driving around in the rain for hours, I found myself in a little town about eight kilometers (five miles) from Monterrey. It was about … nearly time to go home. Suddenly I saw two young men on foot. They were wearing dark trousers and white shirts, and they looked drenched from head to foot. When I approached them, I opened the door of the taxi and called, “Get in! I’m going to Monterrey.”

The taller one … replied, “We don’t have any money.”

“No charge,” I replied.

They quickly got into the taxi.

As I drove, we talked. They asked if they could share a message about Jesus Christ with me. I agreed and gave them my address.

When I got home, I woke my wife and told her about the two young men. “What a coincidence,” I said. “One is Mexican and the other is American, and they are both named Elder.”

“Elder means missionary,” my wife answered, knowing just a little about the Church.

From deep within me, I felt something stir. These young men had left a feeling of exquisite wonder in my heart. I felt that I was close to finding the water that would quench my thirst, that it was within reach.[149]

Notice how the man felt “something” stir in his heart but that he couldn’t identify it as the Spirit. Many people are having these experiences but aren’t able to identify it as God working with them and don’t have the framework provided by revelation in order to recognize it.

A Conversion to God

The next type of experience envisioned as positive is conversion to God. The Book of Mormon teaches that anything that inviteth and enticeth one to love God and to serve him is of him (Moroni 7:13). The Doctrine and Covenants similarly teaches that when one feels the Spirit, they are coming unto God (Doctrine and Covenants 84:47).

This experience may come because God needs someone to serve him, even if it isn’t in his Church. Elder Orson Whitney stated:

“Perhaps the Lord needs such men on the outside of His Church to help it along. They are among its auxiliaries, and can do more good for the cause where the Lord has placed them, than anywhere else. … Hence, some are drawn into the fold and receive a testimony of the truth; while others remain unconverted … the beauties and glories of the gospel being veiled temporarily from their view, for a wise purpose. The Lord will open their eyes in His own due time. God is using more than one people for the accomplishment of His great and marvelous work. The Latter-day Saints cannot do it all. It is too vast, too arduous for any one people. … We have no quarrel with the Gentiles. They are our partners in a certain sense.” [150]

Even the Lord seems to be okay with this as portrayed in Luke 9:49-50. Certain men were casting out devils in the name of Jesus even though they didn’t follow Jesus:

49 And John answered and said, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name; and we forbad him, because he followeth not with us.

50 And Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us.

However people can also be converted to certain principles of truth found in other Churches. Latter-day Saint scripture and even the Bible affirm the presence of beauty, truth, and goodness in other churches (Amos 9:7;[151]; Jonah 1; Matthew 3:9; Luke 3:8[152] Alma 29:6-8; D&C 134:4; Articles of Faith 1:13; 2 Nephi 29:11).

Preach My Gospel, the Church's official manual for missionaries, states the following:

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

Preach My Gospel: A Guide to Missionary Service, (2004)
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.

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Along with the scripture from Alma 29:6, we might include 2 Nephi 29:11-12 that may be interpreted to mean that God has inspired the texts of many religions:

11 For I command all men, both in the east and in the west, and in the north, and in the south, and in the islands of the sea, that they shall write the words which I speak unto them; for out of the books which shall be written I will judge the world, every man according to their works, according to that which is written.
12 For behold, I shall speak unto the Jews and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto the Nephites and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto the other tribes of the house of Israel, which I have led away, and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto all nations of the earth and they shall write it.

13 And it shall come to pass that the Jews shall have the words of the Nephites, and the Nephites shall have the words of the Jews; and the Nephites and the Jews shall have the words of the lost tribes of Israel; and the lost tribes of Israel shall have the words of the Nephites and the Jews.[153]

Thus, there are those that may be converted to God and not necessarily through The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in this life. That's okay, as doctrine tells us that all will have the opportunity to hear and accept the Gospel whether in this life or the next (Doctrine and Covenants 137).

A Conversion to Christ

The next experience is the experience that converts a person to Christ. The Book of Mormon teaches that all things that invite a person to come unto Christ are from the Spirit of Christ (Moroni 7:16)[154]This conversion can come through other Christian religions or the Lord's Church.

By adopting the framework that has been established up to this point in the article for understanding religious experience, we adopt “religious inclusivism” where we seek to understand the spiritual experiences of religious persons outside of our faith in light of the Plan of Salvation without adopting “religious exclusivism” nor “religious pluralism”. It softens the load that we have to explain and additionally can show us, perhaps in a new and enlightening way, the love God has for all his children and how he seeks to include everyone of them in the Plan.

Latter-day Saint philosopher and theologian Blake T. Ostler expressed similar sentiments along with a few cautions:

Now we may be called into question if somebody has a vision, for instance, of the Virgin Mary; because I don't believe that the LDS believe that the Virgin Mary puts in many appearances. However I suggest that we look beyond what divides us and look to "inclusivism," and that is, "What is it that they learned? What does their religious experience teach them?" Because God will adapt his message to any culture, and any means that He can, to increase the light of a person (see Alma 29:8). So I suggest that by adopting "religious inclusivism" we minimize the challenge from "religious pluralism."[155]

Conversion to the Restored Gospel

The last type of experience that Latter-day Saints envision (hopefully for as many of God’s children as possible) is that of being converted to the Restored Gospel. In the Book of Mormon, the prophet Moroni teaches that one may come to learn of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon by reading the book, pondering its message in our minds, and praying about the book with a sincere heart, real intent, and having faith in Jesus Christ:

3 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.
4 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.
5 And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.

Praying about the Book of Mormon thus brings one a testimony or conviction of the Church since the Book of Mormon encompasses several propositions relating to the truthfulness of the Church including God being sovereign over the whole earth (1 Nephi 11:6), God creating the earth (2 Nephi 2:13), God having a body of flesh and bone (3 Nephi 28:10; D&C 93:33-35), the prophecy from the Book of Mormon of Joseph Smith being the one to bring it forth implying his prophethood and calling from God (2 Nephi 3:14-15),[156]and the existence of the priesthood and its necessity in knowing how to find salvation in Christ through ordinances (Alma 13). Thus when one "knows" that the Book of Mormon is true, one "knows" that Joseph Smith is a prophet since he claimed to translate the Book of Mormon by the gift and power of God. If Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, this strongly implies that God exists. If God exists and he called Joseph Smith to translate the Book of Mormon, then it follows that the priesthood is real since the Book of Mormon is true and that that priesthood is on the earth today. That priesthood (the power and authority to act in God's name with his authorization) is claimed to reside only in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

All of these experiences should show that the Latter-day Saint approach to spiritual experience is inclusive. It should be remembered, however, that the use of spiritual experience to establish the basis for commitment or belief is not a mode of epistemology used/favored by all or even most religions. Thus its doubtful that they are accessing the Spirit at all as a major means of converting to any doctrine.

Experiences Envisioned as Negative in Latter-day Saint Scripture

Now, the preceding outlines positive spiritual experiences. The scriptures and the experience of Latter-day Saints have demonstrated that there are times when the experience (or claimed experience) isn’t supposed to be understood positively:

Intentionally Lying About the Reality of an Experience

Some people intentionally lie to try and hurt member testimonies. There are those that claim that a spiritual experience has taken place (when it really hasn’t) that proves to them the falsehood of the Book of Mormon or who propose other scenarios that supposedly defeat Latter-day Saint epistemology. These people are who the Latter-day Saint scriptures might describe as those that "pervert" the Gospel. (Alma 30:60)

Experiences Caused by the Devil

Some experiences are caused by the devil, see for example (Alma 30:53). Anything that entices us to worship him or to do evil is of him (Moroni 7:17). Latter-day Saint scripture contains procedure from discerning the Devil as an Angel of Light from a true angel (Doctrine and Covenants 129:8).

Experiences Caused by False Spirits

Some experiences are caused by false spirits. D&C 50 was revealed for discerning spirits with D&C 50: 31-33 being the way to (following the counsel given in 1 John 4:1-2) test the spirits (See also D&C 52:15-19)

  • When an experience caused by the devil or false spirits occur and it invites someone to do evil then it must be rejected.
Consider what Joseph Smith told Brigham Young:
Tell the brethren to be humble and faithful and be sure to keep the Spirit of the Lord, that it will lead them aright. Be careful and not turn away the still, small voice; it will teach them what to do and where to go; it will yield the fruits of the kingdom. Tell the brethren to keep their heart open to conviction, so that when the Holy Ghost comes to them their hearts will be ready to receive it. They can tell the Spirit of the Lord from all other spirits—it will whisper peace and joy to their souls; it will take malice, hatred, strife and all evil from their hearts, and their whole desire will be to do good.[157]

Being Persuaded By False Christs

Some are envisioned as having been deceived by false Christs. There have been many people that have claimed to be Jesus Christ returned in the flesh such as A.J. Miller. Some have had spiritual experiences that draw them towards these false Christs. Some claim to be the risen Savior but violate some of the counsel that he gave to his followers to know how he would come. There are many scriptures that can help us to discern between the true Christ and False Christs (Matt 24: 5, 24-28; Mark 13:22-29[158]; D&C 45:36-44; 52:15-19).

Being Persuaded by False Prophets

Some are envisioned as having been deceived by false prophets. These include people of Latter-day Saint breakoffs and others that don't look to proper authority to receive revelation. The scriptures give us many warnings of false prophets and ways to discern them.

Being Mistaken About the Reality of a Claimed Spiritual Revelation

It may be that there is no real spiritual stimulus that is "confirming truth" for people. Since we believe that the body and spirit are intricately connected (D&C 88:15) it is not surprising that a thought, warm feeling or heart tremor can be over-interpreted as coming from a spiritual stimulus. This is what the scriptures might call having "foolish imaginations of the heart" (Helaman 16:22; 3 Nephi 2:2; Moses 8:22).

Concerning conflating emotion and thoughts with the spirit, President Howard W. Hunter said:

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.[159]

We will all eventually remain among a final resting point along the spectrum of Light (as described above) at judgement day. We're promised that the light can continue to grow until the perfect day (D&C 50:24). As we seek the light, we are promised it (Matthew 7:7)

What about Nephi who was commanded to kill even when forbidden too? (Exodus 20:13)

The spiritual experience that Nephi received was not invalid in his days.

Nephi's killing of Laban

Notes

  1. See “Holy Spirit” https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holy_Spirit
  2. Preach My Gospel, Chapter 5 "The Book of Mormon and the Bible Support Each Other"
  3. This argument stated in Grant H. Palmer, An Insider's View of Mormon Origins, (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002), 131-133. Palmer cites William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience, (New York: New American Library, 1958), 362-66, 387-88. Palmer writes: "American psychologist William James in his classic work, The Varieties of Religious Experience, studied hundreds of people including religious founders, who claimed to receive inspiration from the Spirit, from revelation, visions of angels, and from face to face appearances of God...He concluded that while their experiences and feelings were real to them, they could not be a valid source for determining truth because their claims were doctrinally incompatible." For a good introduction to James' work from a Latter-day Saint perspective see M. Gerald Bradford, "William James on Religion and God: An Introduction to The Varieties of Religious Experience," Revelation, Reason, and Faith: Essays in Honor of Truman G. Madsen eds. Donald W. Parry, Daniel C. Peterson, and Stephen D. Ricks (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2014). Palmer also claimed that "[d]espite the church's claim to exclusive recept of the Holy Ghost as a gift, a 1985 Gallop Poll reveals that over 40 percent of adults in America claim the same variety of spiritual feelings and experiences enjoyed by Latter-day Saints. Their most common denominator is not religious affiliation but the conviction that 'religion is very important in their lives.'" Palmer cites George Gallop Jr., "Forty-Three Percent of Americans Admit to Spiritual Experiences," Salt Lake Tribune (15 May 1985): 1-2.
  4. Interesting to note in this passage is Moroni's emphasis of non-subjective revelation giving this to prophets i.e. "he sent angels to minister unto the children of men. God declared unto prophets, "by his own mouth" that Christ should come.He is responding to those that might claim that all revelation was simply subjective to him and other prophets.
  5. Here the term used is “Spirit of Christ”. It is understood that this is synonymous with “Light of Christ”. See Alan L. Wilkins, “The Light of Christ,” Book of Mormon Reference Companion ed. Dennis L. Largey (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 2012), 521.
  6. See “Darkness, Spiritual in the Scripture Index on churchofjesuschrist.org
  7. Elder David A. Bednar, “Patterns of Light: The Light of Christ,” <https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/inspiration/latter-day-saints-channel/watch/series/mormon-messages/patterns-of-light-the-light-of-christ-1?lang=eng> (Accessed October 5, 2019).
  8. For a discussion of evidence of this claim, see Robert S. Boylan, After the Order of the Son of God: The Biblical and Historical Evidence for Latter-day Saint Theology of the Priesthood, (Charleston, SC: CreateSpace, 2018).
  9. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, "Preach My Gospel: A Guide to Missionary Service - Chapter 4: How Do I Find People to Teach?" (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2004) <https://www.lds.org/manual/preach-my-gospel-a-guide-to-missionary-service/how-do-i-find-people-to-teach?lang=eng>
  10. Elder Orson F. Whitney, Conference Report (April 1928): 59. This was cited in Elder Ezra Taft Benson, "Civic Standards for Faithful Saints," General Conference (April 1972). He offered Thomas L. Kane and Alexander Doniphan as examples of people who would pray about the Book of Mormon but not be converted in this life.
  11. In every scriptural commentary consulted, it is averred by scholars that this verse affirms the inspiration of God in other groups of people besides his covenant people.
  12. These four are affirmed to mean that God inspires other nations and people with light in James D.G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), 44.
  13. There is some caution to be taken in approaching the question of which books and even what particularly in those books may be inspired, though the general principle of religious inclusivism still holds and helps us to understand religious experience outside of our faith in a positive light.
  14. Some may argue here that the experiences that convert a person to Christ and God are one but the Book of Mormon separates the clauses with verse 15 and “For behold, my brethren…”. The beginning of verse 15 starts a new clause in which a different type of experience is described—one that brings a person to Christ
  15. Blake T. Ostler, "Spiritual Experiences as the Basis for Belief and Commitment," FAIR Conference 2007.
  16. Brant Gardner has brought up some valid issues about the specificity of this prophecy (especially the inclusion of the name of the prophet being the same as Joseph of Egypt) in translation of the plate text at this point of the Book of Mormon—attributing it to Joseph Smith. The verses surrounding v. 15 are enough however to establish that Lehi is looking towards the future and that he has a specific person in mind. There does not seem to be any other viable fulfillment of this prophecy than the translation of the Book of Mormon through the Prophet Joseph Smith. This gives us the proposition ready to be verified by revelation that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God. See Brant Gardner, Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, 6 vols. (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2007), 2:55-9.
  17. Quoted in Juvenile Instructor, 19 July 1873: 114.
  18. Some may claim that the Gospels aren't historically reliable enough to count these scriptures from Jesus as reliable epistemological axioms. For demonstration of the Gospels as reliable see Craig Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the New Testament: Countering Challenges to Evangelical Christian Belief, (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2016); Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006); Most recently and persuasively, see Craig S. Keener, Christobiography: Memory, History, and the Reliability of the Gospels, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2019).
  19. Clyde J. Williams, ed., The Teachings of Howard W. Hunter (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1997), 184.
  20. Joseph Smith, in 1843, History of the Church, 5:498.
  21. "Lesson 1: The Message of the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ," Preach My Gospel: A Guide to Missionary Service (2004) 46
  22. This response was written 25 February 2019
  23. Bill Reel, "Cognitive Dissidents: 004: The Backfire Effect," <https://mormondiscussionpodcast.org/2017/09/premium-cognitive-dissidents-004-backfire-effect/> (Accessed July 21, 2019).
  24. Bob McCue, “Van Hale’s ‘Mormon Miscellaneous’ Radio Talk Show,” Version 3. September 20, 2004.
  25. Bill Reel, “Cognitive Dissidents: 002: Confirmation Bias,” <https://mormondiscussionpodcast.org/2017/08/premium-cognitive-dissidents-002-confirmation-bias/>. (Accessed October 9, 2019).
  26. James K. Rogers, "How Can We Find Truth? Part 4," <http://www.theamateurthinker.com/2011/02/how-can-we-find-truth-part-4/> (Accessed July 21, 2019).
  27. Stuff You Missed in Sunday School, "Illusory Truth Effect," <https://www.missedinsunday.com/memes/other/illusory-truth-effect/> (Accessed July 21, 2019).
  28. Samantha Shelley, "Let's Talk about ‘The Spirit’," <https://zelphontheshelf.com/lets-talk-about-the-spirit/> (Accessed July 21, 2019).
  29. Wikipedia, "Monism - Latter-day Saint view (Mormonism)," <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monism#Latter-day_Saint_view_(Mormonism)> (Accessed November 22, 2019).
  30. This is exactly the view that biblical scholars recognize as being advocated in the Bible. Donald R. Potts, "Body," in Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible ed., David Noel Freedman (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000),194; Henry L. Carrigan, Jr., "Soul," Ibid., 1245; Alice Ogden Bellisb, "Spirit," Ibid., 1248. This is also the same understanding advocated in the Book of Mormon. Dennis A. Wright, “Soul,” in Book of Mormon Reference Companion ed., Dennis L. Largey (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2003), 734; Noel B. Reynolds, "The Language of the Spirit in the Book of Mormon," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 33 (2019): 187-222 (193). The Doctrine and Covenants accords with this understanding. See Larry Evans Dahl, “Soul,” in Doctrine and Covenants Reference Companion eds., Dennis L. Largey and Larry E. Dahl (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2012), 619. There is nothing in the Pearl of Great Price that contradicts this understanding. See Andrew C. Skinner, "Spirit(s)," in Pearl of Great Price Reference Companion ed., Dennis L. Largey (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2017), 280-1; Dennis L. Largey, “Soul,” Ibid., 279-8. This understanding makes it so that the noumenon/phenomenon distinction disappears in Latter-day Saint theology. See Blake T. Ostler, "Ep71-Knowledge is Being (Pt 1) - Vol 5," <http://www.exploringmormonthought.com/2019/01/topics-discussed-a.html> (Accessed October 16, 2019).
  31. Here the term used is “Spirit of Christ”. It is understood that this is synonymous with “Light of Christ”. See Alan L. Wilkins, “The Light of Christ,” in Book of Mormon Reference Companion ed., Dennis L. Largey, 521.
  32. See “Darkness, Spiritual in the Scripture Index on churchofjesuschrist.org
  33. Elder David A. Bednar, “Patterns of Light: The Light of Christ,” <https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/inspiration/latter-day-saints-channel/watch/series/mormon-messages/patterns-of-light-the-light-of-christ-1?lang=eng> (Accessed October 5, 2019).
  34. As a potential example of the latter, consider the work done by scientists at the University of Utah that showed that the reward centers of the brain lit up when Latter-day Saints reported feeling the Spirit: Michael A. Ferguson, Jared A. Nielsen, Jace B. King, Li Dai, Danielle M. Giangrasso, Rachel Holman, Julie R. Korenberg & Jeffrey S. Anderson "Reward, salience, and attentional networks are activated by religious experience in devout Mormons," Social Neuroscience, 13-1 (2018): 104-116, DOI: 10.1080/17470919.2016.1257437. Other research appears to have built upon these conclusions to provide more solid neural correlates for spiritual experiences. Lisa Miller, Iris M Balodis, Clayton H McClintock, Jiansong Xu, Cheryl M Lacadie, Rajita Sinha, Marc N Potenza, "Neural Correlates of Personalized Spiritual Experiences," Cerebral Cortex 29-6 (2019): 2331-2338; Brick Johnstone, Daniel Cohen, "Universal Neuropsychological Model of Spiritual Transcendence," Neuroscience, Selflessness, and Spiritual Experience, 131-143 (2019).
  35. Robert Todd Caroll, “Backfire Effect,” <http://www.skepdic.com/backfireeffect.html> (Accessed October 7, 2019).
  36. Eileen Dombrowski, “Facts matter after all: rejecting the ‘backfire effect’,” <https://educationblog.oup.com/theory-of-knowledge/facts-matter-after-all-rejecting-the-backfire-effect> (Accessed October 7, 2019).
  37. Representative scholarship can be found in Brant A. Gardner, Traditions of the Fathers: The Book of Mormon as History, (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2015); Brant A. Gardner, Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, 6 vols. (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2007); John L. Sorenson, Mormon’s Codex, (Provo and Salt Lake City: BYU Religious Studies Center and Deseret Book, 2013); John Welch et al., Knowing Why: 137 Evidences that the Book of Mormon is True, (American Fork, UT: Covenant Communications, 2017); Noel B. Reynolds ed., Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited: The Evidence for Ancient Origins, (Provo: FARMS, 1997). For evidence of the Book of Abraham, see here. For scholarship on the Book of Moses see Jeffrey M. Bradshaw, In God's Image and Likeness, (Salt Lake City: Eborn Books, 2009); Jeffrey Bradshaw and David Larsen, In God's Image and Likeness Vol 2: Enoch, Noah, and the Tower of Babel, (Salt Lake City: Eborn Publishing, 2014).
  38. Jonathan Haidt, "The Positive Emotion of Elevation," Prevention & Treatment 3-1 (March 2000)
  39. Karl Aquino, Brent McFerran, Marjorie Laven, "Moral identity and the experience of moral elevation in response to acts of uncommon goodness," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 100-4 (April 2011): 703–718.
  40. Ibid.
  41. Jennifer Silvers; Jonathan Haidt, "Moral Elevation Can Induce Nursing," Emotion. 8-2 (2008): 291–295, DOI:10.1037/1528-3542.8.2.291.
  42. Michael Persinger and Stanley Koren, "Enhancement of Temporal Lobe-Related Experiences During Brief Exposures to MilliGauss Intensity Extremely Low Frequency Magnetic Fields," Journal of Bioelectricity. 9-1 (1990): 33–54.
  43. Roxanne Khamsi, "Electrical brainstorms busted as source of ghosts," Nature (December 2004) doi:10.1038/news041206-10.
  44. C.C. French et al., "The 'Haunt' project: An attempt to build a 'haunted' room by manipulating complex electromagnetic fields and infrasound," Cortex. 45-5 (2009): 619–629. doi:10.1016/j.cortex.2007.10.011.
  45. M. Van Elk, "An EEG study on the effects of induced spiritual experiences on somatosensory processing and sensory suppression," Journal for the Cognitive Science of Religion, 2-2 (2014): 121
  46. Christine Simmonds-Moore et al., “Exceptional Experiences Following Exposure to a Sham “God Helmet”: Evidence for Placebo, Individual Difference, and Time of Day Influences,” Sage Journals 39-1 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1177/0276236617749185.
  47. This has been the argument in response to other arguments against the Spirit; responses for which can be found elsewhere on this site.
  48. Blake T. Ostler, "Spiritual Experiences as the Basis for Commitment and Belief," FAIR Conference 2007 (Accessed September 19, 2019).
  49. Lynn Hasher, David Goldstien, and Thomas Toppino, "Frequency and the conference of referential validity," Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior. 16-1 (1977): 107–112. doi:10.1016/S0022-5371(77)80012-1.
  50. Elder Boyd K. Packer, "The Candle of the Lord," Ensign (January 1983).
  51. Elder Dallin H. Oaks, “Testimony,” General Conference (April 2008). “We gain or strengthen a testimony by bearing it. Someone even suggested that some testimonies are better gained on the feet bearing them than on the knees praying for them.”
  52. Elder Gary E. Stevenson, "Testimony: Sharing in Word and Deed," New Era (March 2019).
  53. Elder Neil L. Andersen, "Joseph Smith," General Conference (October 2014). Quoted in Jeremy T. Runnells, CES Letter: My Search for Answers to my Mormon Doubts, (American Fork, UT: CES Letter Foundation, 2017), 78. <https://cesletter.org/CES-Letter.pdf>.
  54. Elder Orson F. Whitney, Conference Report (April 1928): 59. This was cited in Elder Ezra Taft Benson, "Civic Standards for Faithful Saints," General Conference (April 1972). He offered Thomas L. Kane and Alexander Doniphan as examples of people who would pray about the Book of Mormon but not be converted in this life.
  55. Nathan B. Oman, “Welding Another Link in Wonder’s Chain: The Task of Latter-day Saint Intellectuals in the Church’s Third Century,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 32 (2019): 141–60.
  56. This argument stated in Grant H. Palmer, An Insider's View of Mormon Origins, (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002), 131-133. Palmer cites William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience, (New York: New American Library, 1958), 362-66, 387-88. Palmer writes: "American psychologist William James in his classic work, The Varieties of Religious Experience, studied hundreds of people including religious founders, who claimed to receive inspiration from the Spirit, from revelation, visions of angels, and from face to face appearances of God...He concluded that while their experiences and feelings were real to them, they could not be a valid source for determining truth because their claims were doctrinally incompatible." For a good introduction to James' work from a Latter-day Saint perspective see M. Gerald Bradford, "William James on Religion and God: An Introduction to The Varieties of Religious Experience," Revelation, Reason, and Faith: Essays in Honor of Truman G. Madsen eds. Donald W. Parry, Daniel C. Peterson, and Stephen D. Ricks (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2014). Palmer also claimed that "[d]espite the church's claim to exclusive recept of the Holy Ghost as a gift, a 1985 Gallop Poll reveals that over 40 percent of adults in America claim the same variety of spiritual feelings and experiences enjoyed by Latter-day Saints. Their most common denominator is not religious affiliation but the conviction that 'religion is very important in their lives.'" Palmer cites George Gallop Jr., "Forty-Three Percent of Americans Admit to Spiritual Experiences," Salt Lake Tribune (15 May 1985): 1-2.
  57. Interesting to note in this passage is Moroni's emphasis of non-subjective revelation giving this to prophets i.e. "he sent angels to minister unto the children of men. God declared unto prophets, "by his own mouth" that Christ should come.He is responding to those that might claim that all revelation was simply subjective to him and other prophets.
  58. Here the term used is “Spirit of Christ”. It is understood that this is synonymous with “Light of Christ”. See Alan L. Wilkins, “The Light of Christ,” Book of Mormon Reference Companion ed. Dennis L. Largey (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 2012), 521.
  59. See “Darkness, Spiritual in the Scripture Index on churchofjesuschrist.org
  60. Elder David A. Bednar, “Patterns of Light: The Light of Christ,” <https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/inspiration/latter-day-saints-channel/watch/series/mormon-messages/patterns-of-light-the-light-of-christ-1?lang=eng> (Accessed October 5, 2019).
  61. For a discussion of evidence of this claim, see Robert S. Boylan, After the Order of the Son of God: The Biblical and Historical Evidence for Latter-day Saint Theology of the Priesthood, (Charleston, SC: CreateSpace, 2018).
  62. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, "Preach My Gospel: A Guide to Missionary Service - Chapter 4: How Do I Find People to Teach?" (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2004) <https://www.lds.org/manual/preach-my-gospel-a-guide-to-missionary-service/how-do-i-find-people-to-teach?lang=eng>
  63. Elder Orson F. Whitney, Conference Report (April 1928): 59. This was cited in Elder Ezra Taft Benson, "Civic Standards for Faithful Saints," General Conference (April 1972). He offered Thomas L. Kane and Alexander Doniphan as examples of people who would pray about the Book of Mormon but not be converted in this life.
  64. In every scriptural commentary consulted, it is averred by scholars that this verse affirms the inspiration of God in other groups of people besides his covenant people.
  65. These four are affirmed to mean that God inspires other nations and people with light in James D.G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), 44.
  66. There is some caution to be taken in approaching the question of which books and even what particularly in those books may be inspired, though the general principle of religious inclusivism still holds and helps us to understand religious experience outside of our faith in a positive light.
  67. Some may argue here that the experiences that convert a person to Christ and God are one but the Book of Mormon separates the clauses with verse 15 and “For behold, my brethren…”. The beginning of verse 15 starts a new clause in which a different type of experience is described—one that brings a person to Christ
  68. Blake T. Ostler, "Spiritual Experiences as the Basis for Belief and Commitment," FAIR Conference 2007.
  69. Brant Gardner has brought up some valid issues about the specificity of this prophecy (especially the inclusion of the name of the prophet being the same as Joseph of Egypt) in translation of the plate text at this point of the Book of Mormon—attributing it to Joseph Smith. The verses surrounding v. 15 are enough however to establish that Lehi is looking towards the future and that he has a specific person in mind. There does not seem to be any other viable fulfillment of this prophecy than the translation of the Book of Mormon through the Prophet Joseph Smith. This gives us the proposition ready to be verified by revelation that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God. See Brant Gardner, Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, 6 vols. (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2007), 2:55-9.
  70. Quoted in Juvenile Instructor, 19 July 1873: 114.
  71. Some may claim that the Gospels aren't historically reliable enough to count these scriptures from Jesus as reliable epistemological axioms. For demonstration of the Gospels as reliable see Craig Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the New Testament: Countering Challenges to Evangelical Christian Belief, (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2016); Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006); Most recently and persuasively, see Craig S. Keener, Christobiography: Memory, History, and the Reliability of the Gospels, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2019).
  72. Clyde J. Williams, ed., The Teachings of Howard W. Hunter (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1997), 184.
  73. This is essentially the view that biblical scholars recognize as being advocated in the Bible. Donald R. Potts, "Body" in Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible ed., David Noel Freedman (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000) 194; Henry L. Carrigan, Jr., "Soul" Ibid., 1245; Alice Ogden Bellisb, "Spirit" Ibid., 1248.
  74. Bruce R. McConkie, “Prophets,” in Mormon Doctrine, 2nd edition, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, Inc., 1966), 608.
  75. Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 542.
  76. Harold B. Lee, “The Place of the Living Prophet, Seer, and Revelator,” Address to Seminary and Institute of Religion Faculty, BYU, 8 July 1964; see Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 541.
  77. JD, 6:319, President Brigham Young, 7 April 1852, general conference address, Salt Lake City, Utah, Tabernacle.
  78. Salt Lake School of the Prophets Minute Book, 9 June 1873, LDS Church Archives, Salt Lake City, Utah.
  79. JD, 3:209, President Brigham Young, 17 February 1856, discourse delivered in the Salt Lake City, Utah, Tabernacle.
  80. “The Lord told me that Adam was my father and that he was the God and father of all the inhabitants of this earth” (Memorandum, 30 April 1862, cited in Stanley B. Kimball, ed., On the Potter’s Wheel: The Diaries of Heber C. Kimball [Salt Lake City: Signature Books and Smith Research Associates, 1987], 176, n. 3). There is a reported instance of Heber C. Kimball supposedly writing something similar in another manuscript but since this information was relayed by J. Golden Kimball (Heber’s son) to another person it is a third-hand account.
  81. Thomas B. H. Stenhouse, The Rocky Mountain Saints (London: Ward, Lock, and Tyler, 1874), 561 n. 2. If Heber C. Kimball was indeed the person who introduced the Adam–God idea to President Brigham Young and (as evidenced in the previous endnote) claimed divine revelation for that knowledge then there was, at the very least, a violation of the order whereby revelation is ordained to be received for the Church. Institutional revelations are never vouchsafed to a counselor in the First Presidency when the President has the capacity to receive them. Only the President of the LDS Church receives revelation for the entire institution. As Joseph Fielding Smith taught, “There is but one [person] at a time who holds the keys and the right to receive revelation for the Church, and that man is the President of the Church. . . .[W]henever [the Lord] has a revelation or commandment to give to His people . . . it will come through the presiding officer of the Church” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1999], 1:283–84).
  82. 5 April 1860, meeting of the Twelve at the Church Historian’s Office, Salt Lake City, Utah, cited in Gary J. Bergera, Conflict in the Quorum: Orson Pratt, Brigham Young, Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002), 194. There does not appear to be any rebuttal of this statement from Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, or anyone else. On 23 September 1860 Orson Pratt stated with reference to ideas about godhood, “I do not believe as Brother Brigham and Brother Kimball do in some points of doctrine and they do not wish me to acknowledge to a thing that I do not believe” (Kenney, ed., Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 5:507, Salt Lake City, Utah, Historian’s Office).
  83. Matthew Brown "Brigham Young's Teachings on Adam" <https://www.fairmormon.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/2009_Brigham_Youngs_Teachings_On_Adam.pdf> (accessed 13 March 2019)
  84. The “salvation or damnation” statement may simply be Brigham Young’s rephrased expression of the ideology found in John 17:3 (a scripture he often connected with his Adam– God teachings)—“And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God.”
  85. Campbell, The Essential Brigham Young, 86, 87, 97.
  86. Ibid., 97. As a member of the First Presidency Charles W. Penrose responded in print, in a Church periodical, to the following question: “Do you believe that Adam had more wives than one, either in this world or in the spiritual world?” His answer was, “We do not know of any wife of Adam excepting Mother Eve” (Improvement Era, vol. 15, no. 11, September 1912, 1042).
  87. 75. Campbell, The Essential Brigham Young, 97.
  88. Ibid. This statement matches another one found in the same discourse: “Adam planted the Garden of Eden” (ibid., 98). This is in conflict with information found in the Bible (see Gen. 2:8), the Book of Moses (see Moses 3:8), and the Book of Abraham (see Abraham 5:8) which state that it was God(s)—not specifically ‘Adam’—who “planted” the garden.
  89. 77. Statements by Brigham Young indicating that certain Adam–God Theory principles only represented his personal opinion: 24 July 1853 – “I believe the Father came down from heaven, as the apostles said He did, and begat the Savior of the world, for He is the only-begotten of the Father, which could not be if the Father did not actually beget Him in person. . . . I believe the Father came down in His 24 tabernacle and begat Jesus Christ. . . . I believe He has a tabernacle, and begat Jesus Christ . . . because the Bible expressly declares it. . . . I believe the Father begat the Son” (JD, 1:238, emphasis added, President Brigham Young, 24 July 1853, Salt Lake City, Utah, Tabernacle). 23 October 1853 – “You believe Adam was made of the dust of this earth. This I do not believe, though it is supposed that it is so written in the Bible; but it is not, to my understanding” (JD, 2:6, emphasis added, President Brigham Young, 23 October 1853, Salt Lake City, Utah, Tabernacle). 8 October 1854 – “I propose to speak upon a subject that does not immediately concern yours or my welfare. . . . I will tell you what I believe . . . I do not pretend to say that the items of doctrine, and ideas I shall advance are necessary for the people to know, or that they should give themselves any trouble about them whatever . . . . These are my views with regard to the gods, and eternities . . . . I will tell you what I think about it, and as the [Southerners] say, ‘I reckon,’ and as the Yankees say, ‘I guess’; but I will tell you what I reckon. I reckon . . . . I reckon . . . . I reckon it. And I reckon . . . . and I reckon . . . . I reckon . . . . I reckon . . . . I reckon . . . . I reckon . . . . I reckon . . . . tell you what I reckon” (Campbell, The Essential Brigham Young, 86, 87, 90, 97, 98, 99, 100). 25 April 1855 – “apparently I understand . . . . It appears to me I understand . . . who [Jesus Christ] came from . . . . this is for you to believe or disbelieve as you please, for if I were to [express my thoughts] I have no doubt but there would be many that would say, ‘Perhaps it is so and perhaps it is not’ . . . . If I should undertake to tell the people what I believe in my heart and what seemeth to me (I do not say it is so) but what seemeth to me to be eternal truth, how would they know unless they had the spirit of revelation to say to them whether it was a truth or an untruth? . . . . I do not design to go into any mysteries or to take up worldly sciences [such as the ‘science of theology’ – see p. 3] to any great extent but suppose I were to take up a few of them, I should be like the rest of you: tell what I know according to what I understand and believe. And then if I am wrong I should be glad if God or some man upon the earth would correct me and set me right and tell me what it is and how it is. . . . communicate to you my ideas upon the subject. . . . as I understand pertaining to Him with whom we have to do . . . . I will tell you what I think . . . . It is a subject I am aware that does not appear so clear to our understandings at present as we could wish it . . . it is [a subject] that should not trouble us at all. . . . I tell you this as my belief about that personage who is called the Ancient of Days . . . . I do not tell it because that I wish it to be established in the minds of others . . . . To my mind and to my feelings those matters are all plain” (Elden J. Watson, comp., Brigham Young Addresses, unpublished collection, vol. 3, 1855– 1859, volume compiled in 1980, sermons individually paginated, information found on pp. 3, 4, 5 – this was an address to the Deseret Theological Institute in Salt Lake City, Utah). 8 February 1857 – “I understand in part, see in part, and know and am acquainted with [my Father] in part . . . . That is my opinion about it, and my opinion to me is just as good as yours is to you” (JD, 4:218, President Brigham Young, 8 February 1857, Salt Lake City, Utah, Tabernacle). 7 October 1857 – “I believe our God to be so near to us as Father Adam . . . . those are ideas which do not concern us at present” (JD, 5:331–32, President Brigham Young, 7 October 1857, Salt Lake City, Utah, Bowery). 25 9 October 1859 – “Adam and Eve are the parents of all pertaining to the flesh, and I would not say that they are not also the parents of our spirits” (JD, 7:290, President Brigham Young, 9 October 1859, Salt Lake City, Utah, Tabernacle).
  90. Ibid.
  91. Found in Russell Stevenson, "For the Cause of Rightousness" (Salt Lake City, UT: Greg Kofford Books, 2014)
  92. Transcripts will be posted at a later time. This line written 19 March 2019. The Lowry Nelson letters do contain strongly affirmative language regarding the restrictions yet these were simply relying on statements from Brigham Young and others that weren't official pronouncements and did not claim to come from direct revelation or scripture.
  93. Lowell M. Snow "Blood Atonement" in Encyclopedia of Mormonism (New York, NY: MacMillan Publishing, 1992) off-site
  94. Improvement Era 13 (Nov 1909) :75–81
  95. "Words in Season from the First Presidency," Deseret Evening News (17 December 1910), part 1: 3.
  96. Chauncey R. Riddle, "Revelation" in Encyclopedia of Mormonism (ed.) Daniel H. Ludlow (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1992 and 2007)
  97. Brigham Young, "The Kingdom Of God," (8 July 1855) Journal of Discourses 2:314.
  98. Russell M. Nelson, "Revelation for the Church, Revelation for Our Lives" General Conference, April 2018
  99. Spackman, T. Ben "Using Context to Unlock the Old Testament Library" Sperry Symposium 2017 [1]
  100. Robinson, Stephen R. "Biblical Scholarship." Encyclopedia of Mormonism. New York City: Macmillan Publishing Company, 2007. Online.
  101. Kevin Barney, “The Joseph Smith Translation and Ancient Texts of the Bible” in Dan Vogel, ed. The Word of God: Essays on Mormon Scripture (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1990) 152-53.
  102. Thomas M. Mumford, “Horizontal Harmony of the Four Gospels in Parallel Columns” (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976) 48.
  103. See Julie M. Smith, “New Testament Commentary: The Gospel According to Mark” (Provo: BYU Studies, 2019) for commentary on both issues.
  104. See Justin Taylor, "What Hour Was Jesus Crucified?" <https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justin-taylor/hour-jesus-crucified-resolving-apparent-bible-contradiction/> (accessed 21 August 2019)
  105. Craig Blomberg, “The Historical Reliability of the New Testament: Countering Challenges to Evangelical Christian Belief” (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2016); K.H. Kitchen, “On the Reliability of the Old Testament” (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 2006); Richard Bauckham, “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony” (Grand Rapids: Eerdman’s Publishing, 2006); Crossway, “ESV Archaeology Study Bible” (Carol Stream: Crossway, 2018); Craig S. Keener, "Christobiography: Memory, History, and the Reliability of the Gospels" (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2019).
  106. John Sorenson, “Mormon’s Codex” (Provo and Salt Lake: Deseret Book and BYU Religious Studies Center, 2013); Brant Gardner, “Traditions of the Fathers: The Book of Mormon as History” (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2015); Brant Gardner, “Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon” 6 vols. (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2007).
  107. Elder John A. Widtsoe, "Evidences and Reconciliations" (ed.) G. Homer Durham (Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft, 1960) 128.
  108. Julie M. Smith, “New Testament Commentary”.
  109. For an excellent work putting this in practice from a Latter-day Saint perspective, see Julie M. Smith (ed.), “As Iron Sharpens Iron: Listening to the Various Voices of Scripture” (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2016).
  110. History of the Church, 6:428.
  111. An msn.com poll listed Solomon as the fifth richest person to ever live. “According to the Bible, King Solomon ruled from 970 BC to 931 BC, and during this time he is said to have received 25 tons of gold for each of the 39 years of his reign, which would be worth billions of dollars in 2016. Along with impossible riches amassed from taxation and trade, the biblical ruler’s personal fortune could have surpassed $2 trillion in today’s money” (“The 20 Richest People of All Time,” Apr. 25, 2017, msn.com).
  112. See Ecclesiastes 1:1–2.
  113. See Ecclesiastes 2:17.
  114. See Ezekiel 36:26; Jeremiah 24:7.
  115. 1 Nephi 8:12.
  116. Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, "Believe, Love, Do" General Conference, Oct 2018 off-site
  117. Daniel C. Peterson, "A note regarding complaints about LDS humanitarian efforts" <https://www.patheos.com/blogs/danpeterson/2019/07/a-note-regarding-complaints-about-lds-humanitarian-efforts.html> Patheos 14 July 2019 (accessed 18 August 2019).
  118. While these passages aren't contradictory per se, they have been used only to demonstrate the point of the author. It is possible that less mature critics could use this as an example of real tension.
  119. Marlin K. Jensen, “The Joseph Smith Papers: The Manuscript Revelation Books,” Ensign (July 2009) off-site
  120. Letter to William McLellin, February 2, 1848, as cited in Dan Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, Vol. 5, pages 257-9.
  121. Ibid., page 257
  122. William McLellin to Joseph Smith III, September 8, 1872. See Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, Vol. 5, page 328.
  123. John L. Traughber correspondence, which appears to date from 1881. Dan Vogel’s editor comments in “Early Mormon Documents”, Vol. 5, page 333, explain his assumption this was written to James T. Cobb. See page 334 for relevant statements concerning the Mission to Canada.
  124. David Whitmer Interview with Omaha (NE) Herald, Oct. 10, 1886, as quoted by Dan Vogel in Early Mormon Documents, Vol. 5, pages 174-181. See page 180 for relevant material.
  125. David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ by a Witness to the Divine Authenticity of The Book of Mormon (David Whitmer: Richmond, Virginia, 1887).
  126. Brigham H. Roberts, Comprehensive History of the Church (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1965), 1:165. GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  127. This is essentially the view that biblical scholars recognize as being advocated in the Bible. Donald R. Potts, "Body" in Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible ed., David Noel Freedman (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000) 194; Henry L. Carrigan, Jr., "Soul" Ibid., 1245; Alice Ogden Bellisb, "Spirit" Ibid., 1248.
  128. Critic Grant Palmer applied very similar criticism to the World War II stories of Utah Congressman Dogulas R. Stringfellow. Palmer writes: "As one example, many people, including myself, felt this confirming spirit when we heard the World War II stories of Utah Congressman Douglas R. Stringfellow. Stringfellow's experiences were later revealed to be a complete hoax [Frank H. Jonas, "The Story of a Political Hoax," in Institute of Government, vol. 8 (Salt Lake City: University of Utah, 1966): 1-97.] I was about fourteen years old when I heard him speak, and it was a truly inspiring experience. After Stringfellow concluded, I remember that the leader conducting the meeting said, "If you have never felt the Spirit before, it was here today in abundance." He was right. I felt it strongly, as did many others." See Grant H. Palmer, An Insider's View of Mormon Origins (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002), 131-2. Similar responses could be given to that argument in this article. It is possible that Palmer could be deliberately reinterpreting a true experience or fabricating one out of wholecloth from real stories of hoaxes.
  129. One former member of the Church gathered several of these claims that can be found online at https://github.com/faenrandir/a_careful_examination/tree/master/documents/spiritual_experiences-testimony-holy_ghost/paul_h_dunn_felt_spirit if one truly wishes to see a few.
  130. Lynn Packer, “Paul H. Dunn Fields of Dreams,” Sunstone Magazine (September 1991).
  131. Conflict of Justice, "Why Did Mormons ‘Feel The Spirit’ From Paul H. Dunn’s Made-Up Stories?" <http://www.conflictofjustice.com/mormons-feel-spirit-paul-h-dunns-stories/> (Accessed 5 October 2019).
  132. 132.0 132.1 Boyd K. Packer, "The Candle of the Lord", Ensign (Jan. 1983) off-site).
  133. Dallin H. Oaks, "Our Strengths Can Become Our Downfall," Ensign (Oct. 1994), 13–14.
  134. Jeremy Runnells, Letter to a CES Director (2013)
  135. Clyde J. Williams, ed., The Teachings of Howard W. Hunter (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1997), 184.
  136. (quoted in Juvenile Instructor, 19 July 1873, 114)
  137. "FAIR Questions 2: Recognizing the Voice of the Spirit," FairMormon Blog (28 August 2011).
  138. Alan K. Parrish, "Keys of the Priesthood" in Encyclopedia of Mormonism 6 vols. ed. Daniel Ludlow (New York: MacMillian, 1992 and 2007) off-site
  139. Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith (1998), 223.
  140. Doctrine and Covenants 28:13.
  141. Doctrine and Covenants 107:22.
  142. Elder Gary E. Stevenson, "The Heart of the Prophet" General Conference, April 2018 off-site
  143. This argument stated in Grant H. Palmer, An Insider's View of Mormon Origins, (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002), 131-133. Palmer cites William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience, (New York: New American Library, 1958), 362-66, 387-88. Palmer writes: "American psychologist William James in his classic work, The Varieties of Religious Experience, studied hundreds of people including religious founders, who claimed to receive inspiration from the Spirit, from revelation, visions of angels, and from face to face appearances of God...He concluded that while their experiences and feelings were real to them, they could not be a valid source for determining truth because their claims were doctrinally incompatible." For a good introduction to James' work from a Latter-day Saint perspective see M. Gerald Bradford, "William James on Religion and God: An Introduction to The Varieties of Religious Experience," Revelation, Reason, and Faith: Essays in Honor of Truman G. Madsen eds. Donald W. Parry, Daniel C. Peterson, and Stephen D. Ricks (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2014). Palmer also claimed that "[d]espite the church's claim to exclusive recept of the Holy Ghost as a gift, a 1985 Gallop Poll reveals that over 40 percent of adults in America claim the same variety of spiritual feelings and experiences enjoyed by Latter-day Saints. Their most common denominator is not religious affiliation but the conviction that 'religion is very important in their lives.'" Palmer cites George Gallop Jr., "Forty-Three Percent of Americans Admit to Spiritual Experiences," Salt Lake Tribune (15 May 1985): 1-2.
  144. Interesting to note in this passage is Moroni's emphasis of non-subjective revelation giving this to prophets i.e. "he sent angels to minister unto the children of men. God declared unto prophets, "by his own mouth" that Christ should come.He is responding to those that might claim that all revelation was simply subjective to him and other prophets.
  145. Here the term used is “Spirit of Christ”. It is understood that this is synonymous with “Light of Christ”. See Alan L. Wilkins, “The Light of Christ,” Book of Mormon Reference Companion ed. Dennis L. Largey (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 2012), 521.
  146. See “Darkness, Spiritual in the Scripture Index on churchofjesuschrist.org
  147. Elder David A. Bednar, “Patterns of Light: The Light of Christ,” <https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/inspiration/latter-day-saints-channel/watch/series/mormon-messages/patterns-of-light-the-light-of-christ-1?lang=eng> (Accessed October 5, 2019).
  148. For a discussion of evidence of this claim, see Robert S. Boylan, After the Order of the Son of God: The Biblical and Historical Evidence for Latter-day Saint Theology of the Priesthood, (Charleston, SC: CreateSpace, 2018).
  149. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, "Preach My Gospel: A Guide to Missionary Service - Chapter 4: How Do I Find People to Teach?" (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2004) <https://www.lds.org/manual/preach-my-gospel-a-guide-to-missionary-service/how-do-i-find-people-to-teach?lang=eng>
  150. Elder Orson F. Whitney, Conference Report (April 1928): 59. This was cited in Elder Ezra Taft Benson, "Civic Standards for Faithful Saints," General Conference (April 1972). He offered Thomas L. Kane and Alexander Doniphan as examples of people who would pray about the Book of Mormon but not be converted in this life.
  151. In every scriptural commentary consulted, it is averred by scholars that this verse affirms the inspiration of God in other groups of people besides his covenant people.
  152. These four are affirmed to mean that God inspires other nations and people with light in James D.G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), 44.
  153. There is some caution to be taken in approaching the question of which books and even what particularly in those books may be inspired, though the general principle of religious inclusivism still holds and helps us to understand religious experience outside of our faith in a positive light.
  154. Some may argue here that the experiences that convert a person to Christ and God are one but the Book of Mormon separates the clauses with verse 15 and “For behold, my brethren…”. The beginning of verse 15 starts a new clause in which a different type of experience is described—one that brings a person to Christ
  155. Blake T. Ostler, "Spiritual Experiences as the Basis for Belief and Commitment," FAIR Conference 2007.
  156. Brant Gardner has brought up some valid issues about the specificity of this prophecy (especially the inclusion of the name of the prophet being the same as Joseph of Egypt) in translation of the plate text at this point of the Book of Mormon—attributing it to Joseph Smith. The verses surrounding v. 15 are enough however to establish that Lehi is looking towards the future and that he has a specific person in mind. There does not seem to be any other viable fulfillment of this prophecy than the translation of the Book of Mormon through the Prophet Joseph Smith. This gives us the proposition ready to be verified by revelation that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God. See Brant Gardner, Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, 6 vols. (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2007), 2:55-9.
  157. Quoted in Juvenile Instructor, 19 July 1873: 114.
  158. Some may claim that the Gospels aren't historically reliable enough to count these scriptures from Jesus as reliable epistemological axioms. For demonstration of the Gospels as reliable see Craig Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the New Testament: Countering Challenges to Evangelical Christian Belief, (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2016); Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006); Most recently and persuasively, see Craig S. Keener, Christobiography: Memory, History, and the Reliability of the Gospels, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2019).
  159. Clyde J. Williams, ed., The Teachings of Howard W. Hunter (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1997), 184.