Question: Did Joseph Fielding Smith say that it was not reasonable for Joseph Smith to use a seer stone to translate the Book of Mormon?

Table of Contents

Question: Did Joseph Fielding Smith say that it was not reasonable for Joseph Smith to use a seer stone to translate the Book of Mormon?

Joseph Fielding Smith said "It hardly seems reasonable to suppose that the Prophet would substitute something evidently inferior under these circumstances"

Joseph Fielding Smith said the following:

While the statement has been made by some writers that the Prophet Joseph Smith used a seer stone part of the time in his translating of the record, and information points to the fact that he did have in his possession such a stone, yet there is no authentic statement in the history of the Church which states that the use of such a stone was made in that translation. The information is all hearsay, and personally, I do not believe that this stone was used for this purpose. The reason I give for this conclusion is found in the statement of the Lord to the Brother of Jared as recorded in Ether 3:22–24. These stones, the Urim and Thummim which were given to the Brother of Jared, were preserved for this very purpose of translating the record, both of the Jaredites and the Nephites. Then again the Prophet was impressed by Moroni with the fact that these stones were given for that very purpose. It hardly seems reasonable to suppose that the Prophet would substitute something evidently inferior under these circumstances. It may have been so, but it is so easy for a story of this kind to be circulated due to the fact that the Prophet did possess a seer stone, which he may have used for some other purposes. [1]

One critical website makes the claim: "So apparently even the 10th president of the Church thinks that using a stone to translate the Book of Mormon with 'hardly seems reasonable.'" [2] This is incorrect.

Joseph Fielding Smith did not say that it was not reasonable to use a stone to translate the Book of Mormon. After all, the Nephite interpreters were themselves comprised of two seer stones. Joseph Fielding Smith had no issue with that. What Joseph Fielding Smith thought was unreasonable was that Joseph Smith would use his own "inferior" seer stone instead of the Nephite interpreters.

Joseph Smith considered the Nephite interpreters a more powerful version of his own seer stone

When Joseph Smith first obtained the Nephite interpreters, he considered them a more powerful version of the stone that he already possessed. Joseph Knight recalled that Joseph appeared to be more excited about receiving the glasses than the gold plates themselves.[3] After Joseph returned from retrieving the plates, Joseph Knight recalled,

After breakfast Joseph called me in to the other room and he set his foot on the bed and leaned his head on his hand and says, “Well, I am disappointed.” “Well,” say I, “I am sorry.” “Well,” says he, “I am greatly disappointed. It is ten times better than I expected.” Then he went on to tell the length and width and thickness of the plates, and, said he, they appear to be gold. But he seemed to think more of the glasses or the Urim and Thummim than he did of the plates for, says he, “I can see anything. They are marvelous. Now they are written in characters and I want them translated.” [4]

In the beginning, Joseph believed that the stone itself possessed some special quality

Joseph's belief that the stone or the Nephite interpreters possessed some quality that made them special was apparent:

The idea that the Nephite interpreters were a more powerful version of Joseph’s seer stone is interesting, since it implies that there was something special about the stones themselves. It is more likely, however, that it was Joseph’s own perception that the stones were superior because these stones had been consecrated by God for the purpose of seeing things.

Joseph Fielding Smith did not believe that Joseph Smith would substitute an inferior seer stone for the Nephite interpreters, which were themselves stones

However, the idea that the Nephite interpreters were superior to a common “seer stone” was accepted by twentieth-century apostle and Church historian Joseph Fielding Smith. In response to accounts that indicated that Joseph may have used his own seer stone during the translation of the Book of Mormon, Elder Smith flatly stated that he did not believe this to be true, since the stone was inferior to the Nephite interpreters.[3] </blockquote>

Joseph Fielding Smith was entitled to his opinion, and he clearly stated that it was his opinion. He based this on scripture from the Book of Ether which indicated that the interpreters had been preserved for the purpose of translation. This is certainly a reasonable conclusion. However, statements made by Joseph Smith's contemporaries clearly indicate that the seer stone was used in the translation, and that by 1833 the title "Urim and Thummim" was later applied to the seer stone in addition to the Nephite interpreters.

Notes

  1. Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 3:225–26.
  2. "Translation of the Book of Mormon," MormonThink.com.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Roger Nicholson, "The Spectacles, the Stone, the Hat and the Book: A Twenty-first Century Believer's View of the Book of Mormon Translation," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 5 (2013) 121-190.
  4. “Joseph Knight Sr., Reminiscence, Circa 1835-1847,” in Early Mormon Documents, 4:15. Spelling has been modernized and formatted for readability. Original spelling and formatting is as follows: “After Brackfist Joseph Cald me in to the other Room and he set his foot on the Bed and leaned his head on his hand and says well I am Dissop[o]inted. well, say I[,] I am sorrey[.] Well, says he[,] I am grateley Dissop[o]inted, it is ten times Better then I expected. Then he went on to tell the length and width and thickness of the plates[,] and[,] said he[,] they appear to be Gold But he seamed to think more of the glasses or the urim and thummem then [than] he Did of the Plates for[,] says he[,] I can see any thing[.] They are Marvelus[.] Now they are written in Caracters and I want them translated[.]" Cited in Note 40 of Nicholson, "The Spectacles, the Stone".