Question: Does the belief that the experience had visionary qualities contradict the claim that the plates were real?

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Question: Does the belief that the experience had visionary qualities contradict the claim that the plates were real?

For Joseph, the Witnesses, and the Saints, "spiritual" does not imply something other or less than "material" or "literal"; it means something additional.

Does “visionary” mean “imaginary?” The critics who resort to this tactic to discredit the witnesses are often secularists—as such, they consider any talk of the spiritual as delusion or imagination. Yet, their understanding of such terms does not match how Martin and the other witnesses meant them.

Consider: on separate occasions Harris also claimed that prior to his witnessing the plates he held them (while covered) “on his knee for an hour and a half”[1] and that they weighed approximately fifty pounds.[2] It seems unlikely– from his physical descriptions as well as his other testimonies and the testimonies of the other two witnesses—that he meant to imply that the entire experience was merely in his mind.

A second account claims that the two witnesses' accounts differed, but makes it clear that both Harris and Whitmer had at some point physically handled and examined the plates:

Whitmar’s [sic] description of the Book of Mormon, differs entirely from that given by Harris; both of whom it would seem have been of late permitted, not only to see and handle it, but to examine its contents. Whitmar relates that he was led by Smith into an open field, on his father’s farm near Waterloo, when they found the book lying on the ground; Smith took it up and requested him to examine it, which he did for the space of half an hour or more, when he returned it to Smith, who placed it in its former position, alledging that the book was in the custody of another, intimating that some Divine agent would have it in safe keeping.[3]

Critics are again accustomed to seeing "spiritual" as either implying something totally "Other" from physical, tangible reality, or as something delusional. But, Joseph Smith and his contemporaries in the Church did not understand things in such a way. As Joseph was to later write:

There is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes; 8 We cannot see it; but when our bodies are purified we shall see that it is all matter.(DC 131:7-8.)


  1. Millennial Star (15 September 1853).; quoted in George Reynolds and Janne Sjodahl, Commentary on the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1959), 4:436. AISN B000ESAPTO. GL direct link
  2. Tiffany’s Monthly 5/2 (New York: Joel Tiffany, 1859), 166.
  3. “Gold Bible, No. 6,” The Reflector (Palmyra, New York) 2, no. 16 (19 March 1831), 126–27. off-site