Criticism of Mormonism/Video/Search for the Truth DVD/The Translator

Table of Contents

Jesus Christ/Joseph Smith or Search for the Truth DVD


Joseph Smith's Character: The Translator

Claim: "The Book of Mormon was not translated from the golden plates. According to his scribes the plates were usually either hidden in the woods or covered by a cloth in the room during translation. However, Joseph Smith actually did his translating by looking into a magical peepstone placed into a hat."

Joseph Smith's translation method was not a typical one. Most conventional translations take place with the translator reading the source document and then rendering it in a second language. Joseph, however, translated "by the gift and power of God" (DC 135:3) — he did not know the language on the plates, so simply looking at the plates while attempting to translate them would not have done him any good. (Many LDS artists have portrayed the Prophet translating by staring intently at the open plates, but such depictions are incomplete and do not account for other processes that were involved during different periods of the translation.)

In the beginning of the translation process Joseph used the Urim and Thummim, and later a seerstone (what the video's producers pejoratively call a "magical peepstone"), to translate the record on the plates. We are not certain exactly how the seerstone worked, but it seems to have provided a means for him to focus and eliminate distractions so he could concentrate more fully on the translation given to him by the Holy Spirit.

There are several examples of biblical prophets using physical materials to divine God's will; Joseph Smith's experience fits in very well with theirs.

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Claim: "In 1826, four years before the publication of the Book of Mormon, Joseph was arrested and charged for using his peep stone method to deceive the elderly Josiah Stowell while attempting to locate buried treasure on his farm."

The video carefully avoids describing the nature and outcome of this legal proceeding. The producers apparently want the viewers to conclude that Joseph was found guilty in court.

In fact, the appearance before the judge was not a trial, it was a hearing. No verdict was rendered upon Joseph; he was simply charged for court costs and the case was not pursued further. Joseph was never convicted of any crime.

The video also does not tell its viewers that Josiah Stowell testified for Joseph as a defense witness at this hearing, and did not believe that Joseph had defrauded him at all. Stowell testified of Joseph's claims, "Do I believe it? No, it is not a matter of belief: I positively know it to be true." The charges were brought by Stowell's family members, who appear to have been worried that Josiah would accept Joseph's religious claims. Stowell himself joined the Church founded by Joseph and remained a faithful member to the day of his death.

Would the video's authors condemn Paul because he was brought before many courts because of religious persecution? (Acts 23:6.) Would they condemn Jesus Christ because he would brought before the highest court in Jerusalem and condemned to death?

(Note: the video also mentions the Stowell incident of 1826 in the polygamy section, and does not disclose the facts of the matter there either.)

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Claim: "Joseph Smith boasted the bold claim that the Book of Mormon was the most accurate book in existence. If this book was translated by the gift and power of God we must ask the question why have there been thousands of corrections to the Book of Mormon many of which were related to doctrinal and historical issues?"

Joseph Smith never said "the Book of Mormon [is] the most accurate book in existence." The video's producers are putting words in his mouth. He did say that "the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book." (History of the Church 4:461.) As the end of his quote clarifies, by "most correct" he meant in principle, teaching, and doctrine.

Contrary to what the video claims, the vast majority of modifications to the Book of Mormon text are minor corrections in spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Joseph Smith himself made a handful of significant modifications to clarify the meaning of the text, but these do not affect the authenticity of the Book of Mormon in any way.

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Claim: "The Bible tells us that 'All Scripture is given by inspiration of God.' (2 Timothy 3:16) and that 'Prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit' (2 Peter 1:21). In other words, God's Spirit directly inspired the prophets to write the scriptures. Biblical revelations never involved occult rituals or objects."

The two scriptures the video produces on revelation don't say anything, positive or negative, about the use of physical objects in the revelation process. In fact, there are numerous examples from the scriptures of objects being used to divine the will of God, including the Urim and Thummim (Numbers 27:21; 1 Samuel 28:6). By referring to this as "involv[ing] occult rituals and objects," the video's producers are trying to win the argument by limiting the process of God's revelation and placing a negative "spin" on how Joseph received it.

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Claim: "Initially, Joseph’s witnesses vouched for Joseph and the Golden Plates. But when pressed by the public, Joseph’s witnesses stated that they saw the golden plates through the eyes of faith and never physically saw or handled them."

This is a false claim.

There are numerous accounts of the witnesses physically seeing, hefting, turning pages, and feeling the engravings on the plates. Martin Harris said he saw them with a "Spiritual eye," but when questioned about it, he clarified his meaning and reaffirmed the physical nature of his seeing the plates. He stated it was as real as his seeing the hand in front of his face. He also complained about having to hold the plates on his lap for an hour and a half and they were heavy.

There were three witnesses that saw the plates, and other artifacts, while being visited by an angel. That was a spiritual experience, and it was couched in spiritual language, but they still saw the plates. In contrast, there were eight witnesses that saw, felt, lifted, inspected and turned the pages of the plates without any of the spiritual trappings. Still other witnesses, other than the official eleven, lifted, moved, felt and leafed through the pages of the plates.

The charge that the Book of Mormon witnesses never claimed to have seen physical plates or only saw them in vision is simply false, and a gross distortion of the historical record.

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Claim: "[Paul] wrote [in] Galatians chapter one [verse eight]...if somebody comes to you with any other gospel...even if I do it, another person, or an angel from heaven — just like Moroni — he says it is not a real gospel it's a false gospel; let that person be accursed." - Scott Gallatin (Pastor, Calvary Chapel)

Pastor Gallatin expects the viewer to assume that his version of the gospel is the true one, and that "Mormonism" is the "other gospel."

The Bible contains a test to enable us to test spirits "whether they are of God" (1 Jn 4:1]). John tells us:

Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God. (1 Jn 4:2-3.)

If Moroni or any of the other messengers who appeared to Joseph Smith failed this test we would know they were ministers of Satan. But they don't — they all testified in the strongest words possible that Jesus Christ did "come in the flesh," that he was the literal, physical Son of God who brought eternal life to all those who believe.

Pastor Gallatin ridicules the Book of Mormon for claiming to be "Another Testament of Jesus Christ," but he completely fails to explain how it is not exactly that.

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Claim: "The Kinderhook Plates which were found authentic and partially translated by Joseph Smith were a hoax."

Joseph Smith did not translate the Kinderhook plates. Claims by Nauvoo residents that he did translate them have been shown to be products of the "rumor mill." Even William Clayton's entry in his diary, which the video quotes at length and erroneously attributes to Joseph Smith, conflicts with other news sources.

In the height of disingenuousness, the video references Dr. Stanley Kimball's research on the plates, and even directly quotes the article he wrote about it for the Ensign, but it omits Dr. Kimball's conclusion:

The central issue in the whole question of Joseph Smith's involvement in the Kinderhook plate episode is that the expected "translation" did not appear. And this fact may well explain the characteristic that has made this hoax most interesting — that it was never carried to completion.
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So it is that in the 100-year battle of straw men and straw arguments, Joseph Smith needs no defense — he simply did not fall for the scheme.
—Stanley B. Kimball, "Kinderhook Plates Brought to Joseph Smith Appear to Be a Nineteenth-Century Hoax," Ensign, August 1981, pp. 66–74. off-site)

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