History and Faith
by Richard D. Poll

Chapter 9.
God’s Human Spokesmen

A recent event illustrates some of the points I have tried to make in preceding essays. Previously, in my exploration of our changing church, I quoted from the October 1984 General Conference address of Elder Ronald E. Poelman, a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy. The language I quoted must have impressed others as well, because it appeared in the Salt Lake Tribune and Deseret News reports of the conference. It does not appear, however, in the November 1984 Ensign magazine, which contains the official proceedings of the conference. What appears instead is a substantially edited version which preserves about 80 percent of the original address, omits about 10 percent, and drastically revises about 10 percent.

Illustrative of the changes are the sentences which begin the talk and the section selected for highlighting in the Ensign. I will cite the original language first and then the revision: “Both the gospel of Jesus Christ and the church of Jesus Christ are true and divine. However, there is a distinction between them which is significant, and it is very important that this distinction be understood.” Now the revision: “Both the gospel of Jesus Christ and the church of Jesus Christ are true and divine, and there is an essential relationship between them that is significant and very important.”

Later in the unedited address is this language: “When we understand the difference between the Gospel and the Church and the appropriate function of each in our daily lives, we are much more likely to do the right things for the right reasons. Institutional discipline is replaced by self-discipline. Supervision is replaced by [p.108] righteous initiative and a sense of divine accountability.” Here is the revision: “When we see the harmony between the Gospel and the Church in our daily lives, we are much more likely to do the right things for the right reasons. We will exercise self-discipline and righteous initiative guided by Church leaders and a sense of divine accountability.” 1

Each of us will of course draw our own conclusions about how and why these changes were made. My understanding is that there is some communication among the General Authorities about the subjects to be addressed in conference but that the talks are not reviewed in advance. Editorial changes are not infrequently made in preparing talks for publication, and sometimes they are rather substantial. I do not know who or what brought about these particular changes or whether this is the first time that changes have been seen as so substantial as to warrant re-recording and re-videotaping an entire General Conference talk.

The points that bear on the tasks of the historian and on the subject at hand seem clear.

1. One of the LDS General Authorities delivered an address that he believed would be helpful to his audience. It was subsequently decided that the address in the form given should not be incorporated in the permanent record. The address was revised by its author, re-video-taped, and re-recorded so that the permanent print and electronic records would be consistent.

2. Historians of the future, perhaps a biographer of Elder Poelman, will either settle for the Ensign version without further inquiry or they will find that they have on their hands two versions and a problem.

It is the kind of problem which makes the historian’s work so fascinating and frustrating. His task, as I have previously noted, is to recover the past “as it actually happened.” He turns to the documents, his primary tools, and finds that all kinds of accidental and deliberate factors affect their reliability as witnesses. He is drawn almost inescapably to the conclusion that historical records are fallible because their authors are human. The makers and preservers of history are unable, or unwilling, to remember the past as it actually occurred. Some of the reasons for this have been explored earlier in these essays.

[p.109] I come now to the present topic, “God’s Human Spokesmen.” Because I will focus on the second word in that three-word title, let me clarify first where I stand on the other two words and the concept of prophecy.

1. I believe that God cares about and is accessible to us.
2. I believe that a prophet is a person blessed with special insight to interpret the will of God to humanity.
3. I believe that the test of a prophet is that prescribed by Jesus, “By their fruits ye shall know them.”
4. I believe that when Joseph Smith is judged by the many insightful and inspirational passages in his sermons and writings, he satisfies that test.
5. I believe that such teachings as those contained in the sections most recently added to the Doctrine and Covenants show that the prophetic gift remains in the church today.
6. I believe that God will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to his work.

I turn now to the word “human” in my title and to the caveat which has been expressed in preceding essays: I do not believe in the inerrancy of scriptures or the infallibility of prophets. The conviction preceded my professional training, but my work as a Mormon historian has reinforced it.

Here are two authorities, among many, who agree with me.

The first is James Madison, the primary author of the Constitution, a document described in LDS scripture as divinely inspired. He wrote: “When the Almighty himself condescends to address mankind in their own language, his meaning, luminous as it must be, is rendered dim and doubtful by the cloudy medium through which it is communicated.”2 Madison’s deism led him to emphasize the communication problem, but his “cloudy medium” recalls the apostle Paul’s observation that now we see as “through a glass darkly.”

The second authority is the late Elder Bruce R. McConkie: “Are All Prophetic Utterances True? Of course they are! This is what the Lord’s system of teaching is all about. Anything which his servants say when moved upon by the Holy Ghost is scripture.… But every word that a man who is a prophet speaks is not a prophetic utterance. Joseph Smith taught that a prophet is not always a prophet, only when he is acting as such. Men who wear the prophetic mantle are still men; they have their own views; and their understanding of gospel [p.110] truths is dependent upon the study and inspiration that is theirs.… We do not and in our present state of spiritual progression cannot comprehend all things.”3

The concept of scriptural inerrancy, as this fundamentalist Protestant notion is applied to Mormonism, is that the standard works are verbally inspired. They are more than the Word of God, they are the Words of God. The concept is implicit, though it may not always be intended, in the expression often used by someone reading from the scriptures: “Let’s see what the Lord says.” It is a comforting idea, reassuring the believer that certain words can be counted on because of where they are found.

From a historian’s point of view, several problems make the concept of the verbal infallibility of any writings—even the scriptures—untenable.

The first problem is that the words themselves were clearly selected and written by men and women. I include women with a nod to the Song of Deborah in the Old Testament. Their stylistic differences reflect human differences.

The introduction to the fifth volume (pp. xxxiv-xlvi) of Joseph Smith’s History of the Church (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1973) includes a long analysis by its editor, B. H. Roberts, establishing on stylistic grounds that the prophet was the author of the 132nd section of the Doctrine and Covenants. To establish the authenticity of other writings, the church historical department sponsored a study of Smith’s writing style. Here are excerpts from Elinore Partridge’s paper:

“It may be worthwhile … to share some of the insights which I have gained into Joseph Smith, the man, as the result of this stylistic study. In his writings one can see both the spiritual leader giving advice to his people with a definite sense of authority, and the humble, uncertain man needing comfort and reassurance. He shows courage and forebearance [sic], but he also sometimes complains that he is lonely and wishes to hear from family and friends.… He mixes eloquent idealism, concerned with spiritual welfare, with homely advice, designed to improve physical welfare, sometimes in the same sentence; for example he tells Emma: ‘I am happy to find that you are still in the faith of Christ and at Father Smith’s.’

“In examining the writings chronologically, I see little change in Joseph Smith’s style from the earliest to the latest manuscripts. [p.111] However, he becomes increasingly conscious of his calling, as can be seen by the greater authority of his statements and proclamations. Also, his illustrations and examples show increasing sophistication as he broadens his knowledge of history, theology, and nineteenth-century science.”

For reasons quite apart from the point under consideration, I like Partridge’s last paragraph: “In this close study of Joseph Smith’s language, the personal quality which most impressed me was the tremendous sense of joy and vitality.… In contrast to the dark visions of Calvinism and the dry, rational theology of Unitarianism, Joseph Smith’s pronouncements emphasize the wonder of existence and the love of humanity. Likewise, in contrast to the threats of wrath, judgment, and damnation, which one can find in the statements of some of the early church leaders, there is an undercurrent of understanding and compassion in those of Joseph Smith. Moments of discouragement and anger do occur; however, even at times when he laments the state of mankind, he tempers the observations with trust in God, love for his family, and hope for the future. The love of others, the pleasure in variety, and the joy in living which is apparent in the language of Joseph Smith gives us some real sense, I believe, of what he must have been like as a leader and a friend.”4

This fits pretty comfortably my image of the man who selected the words with which the revelations communicated through him were made available to our day and age.

In addition to the fact that the words of scripture were selected and written by people, there is clear evidence that the words have changed over time. Robert Matthews has analyzed the changes incorporated in the most recent editions of the standard works published by the church. Two illustrations from this comprehensive article will suffice here.

The Book of Mormon phrase “white and delightsome” has become “pure and delightsome.” It became “pure and delightsome” in the edition that Joseph Smith revised in 1840, then went back to “white and delightsome” in the next (1852) edition and continued so until 1981. In the meantime, some people even built a little ethno-theology on that language. My purpose here is not to evaluate the two phrases but simply to note that the language has changed—in this instance repeatedly.5

[p.112] Some of us remember when strange names appeared in certain sections of the Doctrine and Covenants, originally used to disguise the names of certain people, places, and concepts. Then the real names were added in parentheses. Now, in the new edition, the strange names are gone, except for a couple whose referents have not yet been identified. One may anticipate that a musty document will one day reveal these two. Then readers of subsequent editions of the Doctrine and Covenants will never know that the strange names were ever there.6

Another problem with the notion of verbal inerrancy is that the words change in meaning and value. Some of the historic sections of the Doctrine and Covenants are now about as relevant to the church as those sections in Leviticus which Elder Poelman used to illustrate the difference between institutional procedures and eternal principles.

An interesting example of the changing value of words is what has happened to Joseph Smith’s inspired revision of the Bible. I was taught years ago that it was not to be used because the prophet had not completed the project. Now it is quoted in the footnotes of the authorized edition of the Bible, used in correlated lessons, treated as a valuable commentary, and in many instances regarded as the correct rendition of the scripture.

The change in the status of the Joseph Smith revision has not, however, helped us with another inerrancy problem. Sometimes the words are inconsistent. Previously we only had to cope with two biblical versions of the Lord’s Prayer, Matthew’s and Luke’s. Now Joseph Smith’s translation has given us a third version, which does not follow either of the other two or the version found in the Book of Mormon (Matt. 6:9-13; Luke 11:1-5; JST Matt. 6:9-15; see also 3 Ne. 13:9-13).

The changes are not radical, but they are not trivial either. What the Savior gave as a model for prayer was presumably stated in a certain verbal formulation, which the writers of scripture subsequently recorded in different languages. If it were translated under divine control—as the dogma of inerrancy requires and our Eighth Article of Faith specifically denies—it ought to come out in a single version. I suspect that one may use any rendition of the Lord’s Prayer, including those in other versions than the LDS standard works, and whether it will be heard above the rooftop will be a function of the spirit rather than the words in which the prayer is uttered.7

[p.113] A final problem with scriptural inerrancy is that some of the words in Holy Writ are incredible. I will not labor this point because what is incredible for some people is quite credible, even faith-promoting, for others. But I did have occasion years ago to ask Elder Joseph Fielding Smith whether we should take the story of Eve’s creation literally. He just smiled and said, “Brother Poll, on that subject we need further light.” Since that we have received further light. President Spencer W. Kimball stated categorically that this language is to be treated as figurative.8

For one who approaches the scriptures as an historian, the prudent course is to seek the most accurate available version of the text, which usually means the one closest to the point of initial utterance or recording. In deciding what to do with the words, the historian is then in the same predicament as other believers, if he chooses to believe. He is likely to take recourse to the same scriptural help which others use—the language of Apostle Paul: “the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life” (2 Cor. 3:6).

Turning now to prophetic infallibility, I understand this concept to mean that certain individuals, at least in certain circumstances, are absolutely reliable sources of truth. It is not unlike the dogma of papal infallibility in Roman Catholicism, but it is less circumscribed in scope. For Catholics, a single individual, the pope, is infallible when he speaks ex cathedra in the sphere of faith and morals; such pronouncements are rare.

We Latter-day Saints sustain many men as prophets, seers, and revelators, although we credit the president of the church with more authority than the counselors and other apostles whom we also sustain as prophets. The infallibilitarians among us regard the counsel of these men as absolutely reliable, and their teachings as tantamount to the word of God. With regard to the president of the church, it has been suggested that this power is virtually without limits. This may be a natural by-product of the institutionalization and exaltation of the office of “The Prophet” which has occurred since about 1950.

In a sense it is also a by-product of a popular LDS concept of revelation. Everyone—even little children—may receive absolutely reliable knowledge through the exercise of faith as defined in Moroni 10:4 or D&C 9:8.

[p.114] One problem with any concept of absolutely reliable individuals or individual statements relates to the quotations read earlier. When is the divine message unaffected by the medium? James Madison answered “never.” Elder McConkie suggested that there could be such messages, but he did not specify objective criteria for identifying them.

Let me illustrate, again using musty documents, why historians are inclined to be skeptical of concepts of human infallibility. At the October 1843 conference in Nauvoo, Joseph Smith proposed to drop Sidney Rigdon as his counselor, but the conference refused. The vote was on a motion to sustain Rigdon. It was made by William Marks, whom we can dismiss because he later went wrong, but it was seconded by Hyrum Smith, Joseph’s other counselor (HC 6:47-49). Which of the prophet-brothers was inspired?

There were interminable disputes between Brigham Young and Orson Pratt about gospel doctrine. At least twice Young required Pratt to apologize and recant. They disputed, among other things, about two points. Young described Adam as the God of this world, which Pratt disputed. He spoke of God as progressing in knowledge, which Pratt also challenged. If one may judge by current trends in doctrinal interpretation, each of these great gospel witnesses was sometimes right and sometimes wrong. Have the terms “true prophet” and “false prophet” any relevance in evaluating discussions of doctrinal points upon which unambiguous institutional positions have not been defined?9

Recently I examined three interesting books—each an edition of Elder McConkie’s frequently cited Mormon Doctrine. The first came out in 1958 and was withdrawn from circulation after a committee of General Authorities found that it contained many questionable interpretations. The second, which came out in 1966, contains substantial revisions. However, it makes doctrinal statements concerning blacks and the priesthood which were invalidated by a revelation in 1978. The 1979 edition has a revised treatment of that section.10 I understand that when asked about his earlier statements, Elder McConkie frankly acknowledged, “I was wrong.” All of this suggests that Mormon Doctrine is a valuable but not infallible commentary. It should certainly be said in fairness to McConkie that he never claimed any edition of the work to be infallibly authoritative, although quite a few Mormons still seem so to regard it.

[p.115] Wilford Woodruff’s multi-volume journal, cited in earlier essays, affords other illustrations of my point. Woodruff is a fascinating individual. He kept an almost daily record for sixty years, and in it he focused on what he heard the prophets say. That he felt was his mission. Early in his career he was one of the scribes who helped write the official church history, and almost until the day of his death he kept a record of what he and his prophet-colleagues did and said. He is an excellent source, even though one encounters in his record many questions, problems, and changes which he lived through without apparent weakening of faith.

Here is what Elder Woodruff wrote on 23 August 1862, after walking on Temple Square with President Young and “Father Morley.” They had been talking about speeding construction so that people could take care of their endowments. Young made some not too complimentary remarks about the construction boss and then said, as Woodruff recalled: “If we do not Hurry with this I am afraid we shall not get it up untill we have to go back to Jackson County which I Expet will be in 7 years. I do not want to quite finish this Temple for there will not be any Temple finished untill the One is finished in Jackson County Missouri pointed out by Joseph Smith. Keep this a secret to yourselves lest some may be discouraged. Some things we should keep to ourselves.”11

An entire book could be written on the implications of that “musty document.” A possible explanation is to insist that Woodruff is not a reliable witness because President Young could not have made such a statement. Given Woodruff’s impressive credentials as a diarist, most of us probably find it easier to admit that, at least in this instance, the Mormon Moses was simply wrong.

The human dimensions of our twentieth century prophets are not hard to document. In his office journal, Elder Henry D. Moyle once recorded that he and Elder Harold B. Lee had been stopped outside Las Vegas while driving eighty miles an hour. He noted with just a touch of satisfaction that Lee was driving at the time. (There is some evidence that speeding was an occupational hazard, if not an occupational trait, of the General Authorities in the days when they drove long distances to ecclesiastical assignments.)

The mortal frailties of these prophet leaders go beyond quirky traits and episodic lapses which are likely to provoke chuckles when encountered in the documents. Elder Moyle, for example, had a quick [p.116] temper, and he took it with him into the Quorum of Twelve Apostles and the First Presidency. It caused him problems. Yet it was closely associated with the dogged determination and self-confidence which made him a mover and shaker. He made a lot of changes, some so profound that a man who is in a position to judge—because he has known them all personally—said to me a few years ago that except for the presidents, nobody in the twentieth century has had as much impact on the church as Henry Moyle. He was a three-dimensional man, capable of inspired insights as to what needed to be done. He was a mediocre preacher; oratory was not his gift. He was smart, and he could be ruthless. He was not a charismatic leader; he was a doer. He was one of God’s human spokesmen.

On the issue of prophetic infallibility, I will conclude with an account of what has been for my wife and me the most significant single religious experience in our lives.

A generation ago when I was a fledgling professor, a book appeared which created some stir on the BYU campus: Elder Joseph Fielding Smith’s Man, His Origin and Destiny (1954). The work takes a dogmatic anti-evolution position on the creation of the earth and man. It gave rise to a public meeting in which I, among others, criticized the book. This in turn resulted in an invitation from the author to visit with him at some convenient time.

My personal connection with Brother Smith was longstanding. He had performed the temple marriage for my father and mother, he had visited in our home in Texas, he had set me apart for the Danish mission when the German missions were closed in 1939, and he had performed the marriage ordinance for my wife Gene and me. It was a friendly relationship. The invitation was not a total surprise, therefore, and Gene and I decided to go in together.

When we arrived at 47 East South Temple a little early on 29 December 1954, it occurred to us to see if President David O. McKay might be available. We had heard from others that McKay was not entirely in agreement with Smith on this matter. As it worked out, President McKay had a little unscheduled time.

So it happened that Gene and I had what must certainly have been, in this century, an uncommon experience for lay members of the church. In back-to-back interviews, with no others present, we were able to spend a half hour with the president of the church, and [p.117] an hour and a half hour with the man next in line, the president of the Council of the Twelve Apostles.

Here are the notes which Gene and I prepared together within twenty-four hours after returning home:

Notes on a Conversation with President David O. McKay in his Office, 11:00 a.m., Wednesday, December 29, 1954, on the Subject of the Book: Man, His Origin and Destiny. Present: Dr. and Mrs. Richard D. Poll.

Question was raised concerning the obligation of Latter-day Saint teachers in the light of the book’s contents.

President McKay said that the book has created a problem. Being written by the President of the Quorum of the Twelve, it has implications which we can appreciate. The book has not been approved by the Church; we are authorized to quote him on that. The work represents the opinions of one man on the Scriptures. Brother Smith’s views have long been known. Striking the desk for emphasis, President McKay repeated that the book is not the authoritative position of the Church. He does not know how it came to be chosen as a text for the seminary and institute teachers last summer, but the choice was unfortunate.

Question was raised concerning the feeling of insecurity felt by many Latter-day Saint teachers.

President McKay said that we have nothing to fear. One man has been earmarked for excommunication, but he is still in the Church and is basically a good man. The President hopes there will be no open clash over the book because of what it would do to the Church as a whole. Nevertheless, we need lose no sleep over this matter, either for the present or the future.

President McKay mentioned Cressy Morrisoh’s Man Does not Stand Alone and Le Comte du Nuoy’s Human Destiny as examples of how scientists have dealt with the problem of man, nature, and God. In his opinion these are two of the outstanding books of this century. We do not know enough of the facts to take a definite position on evolution, but the concept is certainly not incompatible with faith. After all, the process of creation is going on continuously. He and Sister McKay saw it in the eruption of Mount Paricutin in Mexico, and the recent earthquake in Nevada produced one of the most spectacular manifestations of the creative process in recent times.

President McKay concluded by stating that Latter-day Saints accept the Scriptures, but that every man must interpret them for [p.118] himself. He repeated his advice that we lose no more sleep about this subject.

Two or three times during the conversation President McKay gave the impression that he would like to add something, and then checked himself. Gene and I left with the conviction that he was in complete sympathy with us.

Notes on a Conversation with President Joseph Fielding Smith in his Office, 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, December 19, 1954, on the Subject of the Book: Man, His Origin and Destiny. Present: Dr. and Mrs. Richard D. Poll.

President Smith began by remarking that he wondered if I knew what bad company I was in in the Mormon Seminar [a gathering of Mormon university professors and others]. He described Sterling McMurrin as the leader of the group and a man completely without a testimony. The bishop had planned to institute excommunication proceedings when President McKay had intervened, expressing a desire to talk to McMurrin first. President Smith did not know what the outcome might be.

My defense of the Seminar was based on the fact that many shades of opinion are represented in the group, and that its meetings are not devoted to theological matters but to reports and discussions on topics which are amenable to academic inquiry.

President Smith explained that he had long been concerned over the problem of evolutionist teaching and its effect on testimony, and that he had not published the book entirely on his own initiative. Two or three of the Apostles and two members of the First Council of Seventy had read the manuscript and urged him to publish it. While he did not state that it should be taken as an authoritative Church pronouncement, he declared that he would be happy to retreat from any position taken in the book which could be shown to be contrary to Scripture.

Question was raised concerning whether the Gospel requires a literal acceptance of the Scriptures. President Smith answered in the affirmative. Question was then raised concerning Eve and Adam’s rib. President Smith stated that so little information was available on this subject that he did not teach about it. Question was then raised concerning the adequacy of the Scriptural references, about three in all, upon which the doctrine depends that there was no death upon the earth before the fall; this is the doctrine which is chiefly at issue between the literalists and many geologists, biologists, and historians [p.119] in the Church. His reply was that these Scriptures are unequivocal, and sufficient for him.

President Smith read extensively from the Scriptures to demonstrate that the prophets had taught that the world was created, according to the Lord’s time, in seven thousand years; that it has a temporal history of seven thousand years; and that the millennium and the renewing of the earth as a celestial abode are imminent. The recent earthquakes were cited as evidence on this point. He pointed out from Scripture that all life existed spiritually before being placed on the earth, and repeatedly emphasized that God did not create death. Death is the consequence of the Fall, physically as well as spiritually, and for all forms of life as well as the children of Adam. This belief is held to be basic to an understanding of the Atonement of Christ, though President Smith acknowledged that there are those in the Church who apparently accept the Atonement without following the literalist explanation of creation and the Fall.

Asked if there has not been difference of opinion on this subject among the General Authorities since the early days of the Church, President Smith stated that that is possibly true. He is also aware that many prominent scientists of the Church, who have no desire to weaken the faith of members young or old, do not share his views; Henry Eyring had recently spent three hours pointing that out to him without, apparently, giving President Smith opportunity to state his own case.

Agreement was reached that teachers and leaders who seek deliberately to ridicule the Scriptures and undermine confidence in the Church are not entitled to approval or support. Agreement was also reached that scientists can be as dogmatic as other folks, and that scientists who are dogmatically anti-religious are not good scientists.

Questions were raised several times during the conversation about the large number of teachers in the Church who do not denounce or debunk, but who do not find it possible to accept all the doctrines which Brother Smith presents as fundamental. They very much desire to remain tentative in their opinions on these matters. President Smith expressed awareness of the size of the group, and remarked that some of them apparently regard him as without competence in the field of science. He assured that he did not think that they should be excommunicated or barred from teaching.

[p.120] The conversation concluded with our affirmation that we belong to the group in the Church who finds it difficult to accept all the Scriptures literally, but who are desirous of learning the truth and constructively serving the Church. In the university environment, we are persuaded that the quest for truth flourishes best when the area is rather narrowly defined within which absolute truth is regarded as already known. President Smith approved of the idea, but pointed out that insofar as he is concerned, where the Lord has spoken through the Scriptures, there is the truth.

The hour-and-a-half session ended on cordial terms. We left with the impression that President Smith was quite as concerned about justifying his own position as about criticizing ours. Since both sides are apparently on the defensive, we feel more optimistic about the possibility of “peaceful coexistence.”

What do we do in this circumstance? Do we go home and pray for a witness as to which of these men whom we have sustained as prophets, seers, and revelators is wrong? Or do we conclude—and this is what we have in fact concluded—that this is a subject on which the mind and will of the Lord is not yet definitively clear to his servants? He created the earth; he knows how he did it. He has not yet seen fit to tell us precisely when and how. This is to me an entirely tenable position—both as an historian and as a believing Latter-day Saint.

In this connection, I found a very helpful formulation in Linda King Newell’s and Valeen Tippetts Avery’s fine biography of Joseph Smith’s first wife, Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith (New York: Doubleday, 1984). Noting how many of Joseph Smith’s early disciples fell away, they suggest that “those followers who saw Joseph as a man with a prophetic calling generally remained faithful, while those who saw him only as a prophet and deified him almost invariably found themselves disillusioned” (p. 32).

In distinguishing between whether our prophet leaders are infallible and whether their counsel is dependable, one is not talking about the difference between 100 percent and zero, but between 100 percent and some slightly smaller percentage. It may well be no greater than the old Ivory Soap difference between 100 percent and 99 and 44/100 percent pure. But the implications of that difference, however small, are profound.

[p.121] The solution to the problem of fallibility, from the believer’s point of view, would seem to be the same with the living oracles as with the scriptures: Learn to live with the human elements which digging in the musty documents, like getting acquainted with the living prophets, will surely disclose. Cherish the pearls of great price which heaven has made available to us through these mortal channels.[p.123]


1. The excerpts are from an audiotape of the General Conference broadcast, 7 Oct. 1984, and from the Ensign 14 (Nov. 1984), 11:64-65.

2. Quoted in Alpheus T. Mason, “Free Government’s Balance Wheel,” Wilson Quarterly, Spring 1977, 97.

3. Letter to “Honest Truth Seekers,” 1 July 1980, 4, copy in my possession.

4. Elinore H. Partridge, “Characteristics of Joseph Smith’s Style and Notes on the Authorship of the Lectures on Faith,” Task Papers in LDS History, No. 14, Dec. 1976, 19-20.

5. Robert J. Matthews, “The New Publications of the Standard Works—1979, 1981,” Brigham Young University Studies 22 (Fall 1982), 4:398-99.

6. Ibid., 406, 408. The relevant D&C sections are 78, 82, 92, 96, 103, 104, and 105. A recent non-scriptural illustration of names disappearing down Orwell’s “memory hole” is the omission in the Deseret News 1987 Church Almanac of the names of former church patriarchs; previous editions included them in the biographical sketches of past and present General Authorities. This listing was restored in the 1989-90 almanac.

7. The current church reliance on the King James version of the Bible, like the endorsement of King James English as the language of prayer and the aversion to ritual candles, almost certainly owes more to President J. Reuben Clark’s scholarly preferences and his idiosyncratic views of appropriate worship than to LDS scriptures or doctrine.

8. Spencer W. Kimball, “Privileges and Responsibilities of Sisters,” Ensign 19 (Nov. 1979), 11:71.

9. Gary James Bergera, “The Orson Pratt-Brigham Young Controversies: Conflict within the Quorums, 1853 to 1868,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 13 (Summer 1980), 2:7-58.

10. Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1958), 129-31, 548; ibid. (1966), 527, 610; ibid. (1979), 526-28. Other evidence that Elder McConkie’s explanations of certain gospel-related subjects changed over the years may be found in these volumes.

11. Scott G. Kenney, ed., Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 9 vols. (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1984), 6:71.