Official LDS Magazine Provides a Detailed Account of the Translation of the Book of Mormon

Joseph-Smith-Translation-Hat

Image credit: From Darkness unto Light Joseph Smith’s Translation and Publication of the Book of Mormon by Michael Hubbard MacKay and Gerrit J. Dirkmaat

In recent decades, some members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have developed an oversimplified understanding of the process by which Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon. Some have placed undue emphasis on artistic renditions of Joseph Smith translating from the golden plates that have been included in official church lesson materials.

When they discover that the process wasn’t as they had thought; that Joseph Smith translated large portions of the Book of Mormon through a seer stone without looking directly at the plates, often with the seer stone placed into a hat for convenience to block out the light, some people have struggled with sudden doubt about the church.

Often the doubts are rooted less in the details of the process itself and more in the fact that they didn’t know about the details even though they have been active members of the church for a long time. Expectations are a powerful part of our experience, and when our expectations are violated it can be a struggle, even if those expectations were based on innocent, albeit faulty assumptions.

Even though the more complex details of the process have long been available through additional study, and have even been mentioned in the past by Elder Russel M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles during the church’s General Conference [Correction: in an 1993 article published in the church’s Ensign magazine], the church has generally chosen to focus its instruction on devotional and doctrinal topics that have more day-to-day application in the lives of its members.

Those who are antagonistic toward the church have learned to take advantage of the situation by suggesting that the reason long-time members have not heard about these details is because the church is embarrassed by them and trying to hide them. Even though that idea is false, it introduces a critical framework, or lens, for interpreting facts that undermines faith which, unfortunately, some members of the church have adopted uncritically.

Many months ago the church published a detailed article on its official website on the process of the translation of the Book of Mormon :

https://www.lds.org/topics/book-of-mormon-translation

Even though the article attracted some blog buzz and media attention at the time of its publication, there are still many members of the church who are unaware of the details. And anti-Mormon and dissident groups are still using it as a wedge.

However, the church is working to help make more members of the church familiar with the details of the translation process. The upcoming October edition of church’s official Ensign magazine, to which many members of the church subscribe, will include a detailed article on the translation process written by Richard E. Turley Jr., Robin S. Jensen, and Mark Ashurst-McGee of the church’s history department.

The church has release the article early on the internet and you can read it right now here:

https://www.lds.org/ensign/2015/10/joseph-the-seer

The article also includes photos of the seer stone Joseph Smith likely used in the translation of the Book of Mormon, which has long been in the possession of the church but has not been previously photographed.

seer-stone-joseph-smith-ensign-liahona-october-2015_1512979_inl

Photograph of Joseph Smith’s Seer Stone by Welden C. Andersen and Richard E. Turley Jr.

I am very hopeful that these efforts by the church will short-circuit the game of “gotcha” that critics have been exploiting to undermine faith by empowering our good members with information and undermining the narrative spun by critics.

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2 Responses to Official LDS Magazine Provides a Detailed Account of the Translation of the Book of Mormon

  1. The funny thing is that as some of those assumption type expectations become shattered for me, the more my faith is increased. Knowledge and truth bring light. The light that comes through the Holy Ghost to testify of truth. Example: I have always pictured the seer stone as a clear stone – much like those created by the brother of Jared. I thought that because I have often – though I know it’s inaccurate – associated the seer stone with the mental image I have of a Urim and Thummim. But that’s not what Joseph used. He used a seer stone. So, while seeing this image was at first a jolt to me, in the after thoughts, it simply adds to my understanding and increases my faith. I never NEEDED to see the seer stone to believe it exists, but seeing it, is rather amazing – even though at the surface level, it looks like just any old stone. It is so much more. But that knowledge comes not with the natural eyes, but eyes single to His glory and open to understanding through the power of God, by way of the Spirit.

    Thank you for – as always – encouraging a deep look at things that need to be critically studied and learned. I appreciate how well you handle that need for critical thinking without fostering feelings of becoming a critic that seeks not with faith, but rather with doubt to prove. Thank you.

  2. While I have heard President Eyring and others quote the David Whitmer statement, I have never heard anyone endorse it as completely accurate. Instead it is used to confirm that contemporaries of Joseph Smith considered the work to be a miracle. The David Whitmer statement comes from “An Address to All Belivers in Christ,” written nearly 50 years after the death of Joseph Smith. Details can get mixed over that length of time and perhaps he was mixing memories of on use of the stone with the translation process. Until such a time as the Church makes an official pronouncement that it was used directly in the translation, I will go with Elder Nelsen’s statement, also in the 1993 article, “The details of this miraculous method of translation are still not fully known.” Such insights as we can glean about the process are of little value compared to the testimony of the Spirit of the truth of the work.

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