Joseph Smith’s Response to Skepticism
Robert N. Hullinger

Chapter 11.
Records of Revelation

[p.153]Mr. R[igdon?]. with great show of good nature … spoke of the supernatural gifts with which he said Smith was endowed; He said he could translate from any language in which they were now extant, and could lay his finger on every interpolation in the sacred writings, adding, that he had proved him in all these things.
Painesville Telegraph, 15 Feb. 1831

In defense of God, Joseph Smith assailed the natural revelation of deism, which excluded the supernatural, and the static revelation of traditional Christianity contained in a closed canon. But to enable revealed religion to overcome natural religion, Smith supported the deistic attack on the Bible’s being complete and errorless. Rejection of the traditional view left him free to pursue special revelation specific to his own cause.

If revelation was only a phenomenon of the first century Christian church, if prophecy died with Jesus, deists pointed out, then God had changed his manner of relating to humanity. To avoid the force of that argument, Smith joined with critics in disparaging a book whose contents had been decided, as Thomas Paine saw it, by committee vote. Smith concurred with Ann Lee in urging continuing revelation as an effective counter to skepticism but went beyond the Shakers, providing a new scripture as well. Not only new visions, angelic ministration, and gifts of the Spirit were possible but also [p.154] new revealed scriptures. To defend the Bible’s status as revelation, the Book of Mormon demanded the same status.

The Book of Mormon clearly affirmed the importance of the Bible. But how could revelation be valid and useful when there were so many variant interpretations? Protestants worked to develop a proper hermeneutic;1 the Shakers’ solution was to seek modern revelation while retaining the Bible. Smith believed that the Bible had once been a clearly understood book, affirming Protestant tradition that originally biblical writings were without error. According to the Book of Mormon, the Bible first came forth “from the Jews in purity unto the Gentiles, according to the truth which is in God” (1 Ne. 13:25). Originally it contained the “plainness of the gospel of the Lord” and was “plain unto the understanding of the children of men” (vv. 24, 29).

But Smith also believed that there were two major defects in the biblical text which had been caused by accidental as well as deliberate corruption. References to sources consulted in writing biblical books (such as the Book of Jashar, noted in Joshua 10) but not included in the current canon indicated the canon’s incompleteness.2 Smith blamed the Roman Catholic church, the “great and abominable” church of 1 Nephi 13, for the loss of biblical books and for additional corruptions in the remaining text (1 Ne. 13:26). The missing portions are those “which were plain unto the children of men, according to the plainness which is in the Lamb of God” (v. 29). Herein was an explanation for seemingly impossible problems with the Bible.

Smith also provided further information about the “abominable church.” Satan, who was its head, decimated the Bible to pervert the “ways of the Lord” and to lead men astray (1 Ne. 13:27). He was successful: “Because of these things which are taken away out of the gospel of the Lamb, an exceeding great many do stumble, yea, insomuch that Satan hath great power over them” (v. 29). As a result gentiles are in an “awful state of blindness” and “stumble exceedingly” (vv. 32-34).

God’s solution to the incomplete and corrupt Bible was to supply through the Book of Mormon what was missing: “I will be merciful unto the Gentiles in that day, insomuch that I will bring forth unto them, in mine own power, much of my gospel, which shall be plain and precious, saith the Lamb” (1 Ne. 13:34). By making the text obvious in meaning, Smith would deny skeptics the argument that [p.155] the “unclear” words were unworthy of God and therefore could not be revelation.

The Book of Mormon preserved the authority of the Bible by affirming those portions which were essential and by clarifying those which had been corrupted. For example, the Book of Mormon affirmed that Genesis was authentic; that man was created in the image of God (Mosiah 7:27); that Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden, ate the forbidden fruit, and were expelled (Alma 42:2; 2 Ne. 2:18-19); that they were kept out of the garden by a flaming sword and cherubim so they could not eat and live forever (Alma 12:21). Evidence of the consequences of the Fall were found in Cain’s murder of Abel; of the Flood covering the earth (Hel. 6:27); and of God’s confusing the languages when he dispersed people from the Tower of Babel (Title Page; Omni 22; Mosiah 28:14; Hel. 6:28; Ether 1:3).

The Mormon record confirmed other important Old Testament events. Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek, a king over Salem (Alma 13:14-19). Abraham’s near sacrifice of Isaac,3 God’s covenants with Isaac and Jacob, and God’s identification as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob4 are all borne out. Isaac’s son, Jacob, is mentioned frequently.5 Joseph’s torn coat is mentioned (46:23), as well as his brothers’ selling him into bondage.6 Moses had a rod and spokesman (2 Ne. 3:17); he divided the waters of the Red Sea (Hel. 8:11; 1 Ne. 4:2; 17:26-27); and he received the Law at Mt. Sinai (Mosiah 12:33-36; 13:12-24).7 Support is found for the pillar of light leading the Israelites, the brazen serpent, the water from the rock, and the manna (1 Ne. 1:28-30, 41).8 To convince the gentiles, God’s command to destroy the Canaanites was corroborated (17:28-30),9 as was David and Solomon’s polygamy and keeping of concubines (Jacob 2:23-24), Zedekiah’s reign,10 the careers of Elijah, Jeremiah, and Malachi,11 and both the career and writings of Isaiah.12

The Book of Mormon confirmed important New Testament events as well: John the Baptist’s testimony about Jesus, Jesus’ baptism by John (1 Ne. 10:7-10; 11:27; 2 Ne. 31:4-8), Jesus’ choosing of John the Apostle, John’s writing of the last days (1 Ne. 14:20-27), and the fourth Gospel’s report of the misunderstanding that John the Apostle should tarry until Jesus comes again (3 Ne. 7:19). The Book of Mormon substantiated the events and significance of Jesus Christ’s life. Mary conceived a child by the Holy Ghost, gave birth, and yet remained a virgin (Alma 7:10; 1 Ne. 11:13-20). Jesus chose [p.156] twelve disciples, performed miracles, endured persecution, suffered, died by crucifixion, was buried, and rose from the dead on the third day.13 He preached his Sermon on the Mount again in America (3 Ne. 12-14). Through his ministry he fulfilled the Mosaic Law and ended the law of circumcision (Moro. 8:8; 3 Ne. 15:5-8).

The Book of Mormon also solved a variety of serious problems associated with the Bible in the nineteenth century. It added, omitted, changed, interpreted, or reinterpreted words and clauses of unclear or contradictory biblical passages in order to make them logically or doctrinally more acceptable.14 One miracle which seemed to contradict scientific knowledge involved Joshua telling the sun to stand still (Joshua 10:12-14). The Book of Mormon made the miracle more acceptable by up-dating the Ptolemaic assumptions of the biblical text: “Yea, and if he say unto the earth, move, it is moved; yea, if he say unto the earth, thou shalt go back, that it lengthen out the day for many hours, it is done; and thus according to his word, the earth goeth back, and it appeareth unto man that the sun standeth still; yea, and behold, this is so; for sure it is the earth that moveth, and not the sun” (Hel. 12:13-15).

In line with the intention to bring doctrinal peace to Christendom (D&C 10:44-63), the Book of Mormon clarified many issues of early nineteenth-century interest. In some cases the American scripture employed the weight of antiquity to endorse a doctrinal position; in others, it repudiated what was considered corrupt innovation. The doctrines thus clarified15 found no final or unique settlement in the Book of Mormon, however, as a majority of them were later modified and developed by Smith and succeeding Mormon church leaders. Two examples will indicate the nature of such doctrinal clarification.

The Book of Mormon adopts the early Unitarian view in treating the Trinity, that “Christ was the God, the Father of all things” (Mosiah 7:27), and later gave a theological interpretation: “And now Abinadi said unto them: I would that ye should understand that God himself shall come down among the children of men, and shall redeem his people. And because he dwelleth in flesh he shall be called the Son of God, and having subjected the flesh to the Father, being the Father and the Son—The Father, because he was conceived by the power of God; and the Son, because of the flesh; thus becoming the Father and the Son—And they are one God, yea, the very Eternal Father of heaven and earth” (15:14). Smith affirmed [p.157] this Unitarian position later in the dictation process: “Behold, I am Jesus Christ. I am the Father and the Son” (Ether 3:14).16 Later developments were to see this original Unitarian position develop into a kind of tritheism and finally into polytheism.17

One of the questions millennialists never settled was the number of resurrections. Revelation 20 speaks of two. Alma 40:4-21 stressed that whether “there shall be one time, or a second time, or a third time, that man shall come forth from the dead, it mattereth not; for God knoweth all these things; and it sufficeth me to know that this is the case—that there is a time appointed that all shall rise from the dead” (v. 5). Whenever resurrection comes, the important thing to notice is that there is an interval between death and resurrection spent in one or more intermediate states (vv. 20-21).

The Book of Mormon undercut criticisms of the Bible by denying traditional positions on biblical inspiration, thereby making for itself a necessary place alongside the Bible. Following the Reformation, Protestant churches supported the claim that the Bible was sole authority in matters of doctrine by appealing to biblical inspiration. Deists wondered how such inspiration could explain historical inaccuracies, contradictions, and errors in the biblical text. Smith sidestepped deistic objections and joined in protest against the orthodox position. The Nephite writers of the American scripture held that their records contained the word of God but not that every word was God’s word. They admitted the possibility of errors, but “if there be fault, it be the mistake of men” (Title Page; 1 Ne. 19:6).

The Book of Mormon thus proposed a different model of inspiration than those current at the time of its publication. No one in the first quarter of the nineteenth century would have expected the writers of God’s word to select their materials as the Nephite writers of the Book of Mormon did theirs. They wrote “according to my memory” (Ether 5:1), “according to the best of my memory” (Jacob 7:26), “according to our knowledge” (Morm. 8:1), “as seemeth me good” (Morm. 10:1), what they thought was “sacred” (1 Ne. 19:16) or “considered to be precious” (Jacob 1:2), and in Mormon’s case what his father had told him (Morm. 9:32). Book of Mormon authors altered records by abridging, omitting, or adding to their subjects. Jesus himself dictated a section of the records which had been omitted (3 Ne. 23). This open admission of an incomplete collection of records in the Book of Mormon struck hard at the idea of a closed canon.

[p.158] Nephi and Moroni even called attention to their literary incompetencies. Nephi admitted that his ability to write was overshadowed by his ability as a public speaker, “for when a man speaketh by the power of the Holy Ghost the power of the Holy Ghost carrieth it unto the hearts of the children of men” (2 Ne. 33:1). Resigned to the fact that many harden themselves against the Holy Ghost and “cast many things away which are written and esteem them as things of naught” (v. 2), Nephi still believed that his words would “be made strong unto his readers and lead them to Christ” (v. 4).

Similarly Moroni wrote from the material available to him only a few words “because of my weakness in writing” (Ether 12:40). Imperfections might be found in his records, but he knew of none, but explained that “if there be faults they be the faults of a man” (Morm. 8:12, 17). Compared to the overwhelming effect of the writings of Jared’s brother (no sample is supplied in the Book of Mormon), Moroni knew that his production was lackluster. What he had to write was so awe-inspiring “that we cannot write them; wherefore, when we write we behold our weakness, and stumble because of the placing of our words; and I fear lest the Gentiles shall mock at our words” (Ether 12:15).18 In prayer Moroni asked the Lord to let the gentiles read his words with charity and to accept the truth of his message however inept the phrasing and expression. His attitude, and that of Smith, is summed up in these words: “Condemn me not because of mine imperfection, neither my father, because of his imperfection, neither them who have written before him; but rather give thanks unto God that he hath made manifest unto you our imperfections, that ye may learn to be more wise than we have been” (Morm. 9:31).

Mormon exposed another route by which imperfections might have crept into the Book of Mormon. Any fault, he wrote, could be attributed to their using a form of Hebrew altered by contact with the Egyptian language. Had he been able to use pure Hebrew, no such problem would exist (Morm. 9:32-33).19

Thus the Book of Mormon admits that human weakness can affect the composition of scripture. At the very moment Christians generally were trying to fortify an apologetic of verbal or plenary inspiration for scriptures, Smith abandoned this defense. Thomas Paine had criticized changeable language and vulnerable manuscripts, but Smith turned this weakness into a strength. By deserting the traditional argument, Smith foiled such deist criticism and was [p.159] free to advocate a new basis for accepting the Bible as the word of God—and by implication the Book of Mormon as well.

Questions about the golden plates made Smith vulnerable, but he shifted attention from the plates to the translated manuscript. Martin Harris’s loss of the first manuscript was the immediate cause of the shift. If Smith’s enemies had stolen the manuscript, then comparison between the old translation and a new one might turn up differences. God revealed that he would still bring forth his record, even without the missing manuscript, but he gave Smith alternate plates to translate up to the point reached in the first attempt (D&C 3). The alternate plates contained essentially the same materials and formed what is now 1 and 2 Nephi.

Another impetus for shifting attention from the plates to the record came in Smith’s interchange with Oliver Cowdery, his scribe. The third time Cowdery asked for assurance that Smith really had the plates, God referred him back to that material already transcribed and to his previous sense of assurance. If Cowdery was satisfied that his spiritual manifestations were genuine, then he was commanded to “rely upon the things which are written: For in them are all things written concerning the foundation of my church, my gospel, and my rock” (D&C 18:34). The message was clear: when a spiritual witness is not enough, rely on the Book of Mormon in its English translation.

Perhaps the most pressing reason for shifting attention to the written record was Smith’s knowledge that every convert and skeptic would want to examine the plates. Pre-publication requests to see them were forestailed by having the plates revealed only to worthy men. After the three witnesses saw them the angel reclaimed the plates—thus eliminating the problem.20 This situation was anticipated and dealt with in advance. Moroni explained that he was the one “who hideth up this record unto the Lord; the plates thereof are of no worth.… But the record thereof is of great worth” (Morm. 8:14). With the plates declared unavailable for public viewing, attention is directed to the record in hand, the Book of Mormon.

Smith adapted a standard Protestant position in his explanation of the Book of Mormon. With no access to original biblical manuscripts, Protestants developed textual criticism to arrive at an authentic biblical text. Out of necessity and conviction, they held that if careful copies were made of original biblical writings and if these copies were reliably translated, then one possessed the word of God. [p.160] Smith applied this same reasoning to the Book of Mormon. God does not want people to value the plates themselves, for, as was the case with medieval relics, they could be exploited “to get gain” (Morm. 8:14). It is rather the message of the plates which must be valued and heeded. Smith had provided a reliable translation with the aid of the glasses and the Holy Ghost, and therefore there was no need for concern about the absence of the plates.

Focusing on the translation, Smith established a new foundation for the Book of Mormon. The only inspiration claimed for the Book of Mormon is that it was given to Smith by inspiration; to others, it is confirmed “by the ministering of angels” (D&C 20:10). The testimony of the three witnesses stated that an angel showed them the plates and that the voice of God declared “that they have been translated by the gift and power of God” (compare ibid.). The men could not read the plates and did not know if the translation was true or not.21 Rather their testimony dealt with Cowdery’s handwritten transcription of Joseph Smith’s dictation.

Personal revelation then is the basis for determining the reliability of any claim to revelation. Smith translated by inspiration, but he translated a book which had been edited, contained possible flaws, and possibly was incomplete. One can have the angel’s assurance that the translation is faithful to the original on the plates; one can have a “witness,” a “testimony,” by following Moroni’s advice to seekers of religious certitude (Moro. 10:3-5). Based on personal assurance or revelation, the Book of Mormon is placed beyond the power of deistic logic. The claim of the American scripture to be God’s revelation rests entirely with the readers’ desire to accept it as such.

The Book of Mormon may have been subject to certain imperfections. However, Smith made it clear that these were fundamentally different than problems associated with the Bible. In the Book of Mormon the Lord’s doctrine was given in “plainness, even as plain as word can be” (2 Ne. 32:7). Repentance and glad tidings alike were preached “in plain terms, that we may understand, that we cannot err” (Alma 13:22), simple enough that even children could understand (Mosiah 2:40).

When a Nephite prophet hurled denunciations, it was done “according to the plainness of the word of God” (Jacob 2:11), for only bluntness can save people from destruction (Enos 23; Alma 5:43). Lucidity in preaching might engender hostility; people in the Book of Mormon like those in the Bible kill prophets (14:2; Jacob [p.161] 4:14). But hostility in the Book of Mormon is always straightforward: they understand the message well.

As noted, in the Book of Mormon “plainness” was God’s style when prophesying (2 Ne. 32:2-3). The prophets prophesied “to the understanding of man; for the Spirit speaketh the truth and lieth not. Wherefore, it speaketh of things as they really are, and of things as they really will be; wherefore, these things are manifested unto us plainly for the salvation of our souls” (Jacob 4:13). For example, Nephi’s predictions were so plainly understood that “no man can err … man shall know of a surety, at the times when they shall come to pass” (2 Ne. 25:7, 20). Prophecy of this quality meant that people could not “misunderstand” the import of the prediction nor the indications of its fulfillment (v. 28).

Through such rhetorical devices the deists’ complaint was nullified that predictive prophecy was equivocal. Prophecy was distinct as to its intent and obvious as to its fulfillment. The mysteries of faith in the Book of Mormon are matters of information previously unknown but susceptible to human intellect. Paul’s estimate of God’s judgments as unsearchable and his ways inscrutable (Rom. 11:13) is not characteristic of mysteries of faith in the Book of Mormon, which contains no obscurity or paradox.

The Stick of Judah, therefore, needs the Stick of Joseph for its understanding and defense. If one rejects the Book of Mormon, one cannot defend the Bible against deism, skepticism, and unbelief. God told Ezekiel to join the stick of Judah with the stick of Joseph and “make them one stick” (Ez. 37:19). That was Smith’s task. He provided for believers two witnesses of Jesus Christ and evidence of God beyond the testimony of nature: the new stick of Joseph (the Book of Mormon) and the newly-defended stick of Judah (the Bible). The Book of Mormon depends on the Bible for its source material and the Bible depends on the Book of Mormon for its defense. Readers of the Book of Mormon, therefore, find themselves urged to accept as a sort of package God, the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the Latter-day Saint prophet Joseph Smith who had access to continuing revelation.

Notes:

1. A popular contemporary introduction to biblical study, Thomas Hartwell Horne’s An Introduction to the Critical Study and Knowledge of the [p.162]Holy Scriptures, 2 vols., 8th ed. (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1856), 1:543, contained in its 1834 preface: “VOLUME I, contains a CRITICAL INQUIRY into the Genuineness, Authenticity, uncorrupted Preservation and Inspiration of the Holy Scriptures, … Particularly a new branchof evidence for their credibility, which is furnished by coins, medals, inscriptions, and ancient structures. This is followed by a refutation of the very numerous objections which have been urged against the Scriptures in recent deistical publications.” Joseph Smith owned a four-volume edition of Horne at Kirtland, Ohio, in 1834. See Richard P. Howard, “Latter Day Saint Scriptures and the Doctrine of Propositional Revelation,” Courage 1 (June 1971): 214. Smith’s copy of Horne is in the archives of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Independence, Missouri.

2. Between 1826 and 1828 the issue of whether or not to include the Apocrypha with the canonical books was debated. The Wayne Sentinel, 3 Mar. 1826, carried an item on the question, noting that “the General Committee of the Bible Society, in London, have determined henceforward, wholly to exclude the apocrypha from their edition of the Sacred Scriptures.” Three months later the Sentinel printed an informative article explaining the origin and canonical status of the Apocrypha (2 June 1826). Two years later the notice appeared that “The American Bible Society have unanimously resolved, that no books continuing the apocrypha, shall hereafter be issued from their depository” (6 June 1828). The “lost” books, such as the Book of Jashar and other chronicles referred to in the Old Testament, were the subject of conjecture and conversation among Saints. Smith believed that the apostolic church had had some of them (Joseph Smith et al., History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints, 7 vols. [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1927], 1:132; hereafter HC).

3. 1 Ne. 15:18; 22:9; 2 Ne. 19:14; 3 Ne. 20:25, 27; Morm. 5:20; Ether 13:11.

4. Mosiah 7:19; 1 Ne. 17:40; Alma 5:24.

5. Alma 46:24; 1 Ne. 5:14; Ether 13:7.

6. Alma 10:3; 1 Ne. 5:14; 2 Ne. 3:4; 4:1.

7. Ether 12:11; 1 Ne. 4:15-16; 5:11; 2 Ne. 3:17; 25:30; 3 Ne. 15:4-8; 25:4.

8. B. H. Roberts, New Witnesses for God, 3 vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1926), 2:4748, applied this corroboration of the Pentateuch against the inroads of higher criticism.

9. Paine had stressed his outrage at the Bible for making God command wars of destruction. Smith developed a rationale for such commands in the episode of Nephi getting the brass plates from his uncle Laban (1 Ne. 4:1-8). The spirit told Nephi: “Slay him, for the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands; Behold the Lord slayeth the wicked to bring forth his righteous purposes. It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle in unbelief” (vv. 11-12). Nephi thought that his posterity could keep God’s commandments in the land of promise only if they had the commandments which were engraved on Laban’s brass plates. The parallel this provides to Israel entering the promised land to live in a covenant relationship with God is clear. Their wars of destruction wiped out the local population to enable the people of Israel to keep the law by eliminating possible sources of spiritual contamination. This was a widely-used explanation.

10. 1 Ne. 1:13; 10:3; 17:43; 20:14, 20; 2 Ne. 6:8-9; 25:10-11.

11. Hel. 8:20; 1 Ne. 5:13; 7:14; 3 Ne. 24:1; 25:5.

12. 1 Ne. 20-21; 2 Ne. 7-8; 12-24.

13. Mosiah 3:5-7; 1 Ne. 11:28-36; 12:9; 13:24, 26, 3941; 3 Ne. 17:7-8; 28:21-22; Mosiah 3:7.

14. 2 Ne. 12:1-2 corrects Isa. 2:24; 2 Ne. 23:11—Isa. 3:17; 2 Ne. 17:19—Isa. 8:19; 2 Ne. 29:3—Isa. 9:2; Mosiah 5:7, 14:10-13, 15:10-13—Isa. 53:10; 3 Ne. 12:6—Matt. 5:6; 3 Ne. 13:24-25—Matt. 6:25; 3 Ne. 13:30—Matt. 6:30; 3 Ne. 13:32—Matt. 6:32; 3 Ne. 13:34—Matt. 6:34; 3 Ne. 15:16-24—John 10:16; 3 Ne. 28:3-9, 12-15, D&C 7:6 (see 7:l-8)—John 21:21-23; Alma 21:37—Genesis 3:24. This is a partial list.

15. As Mario DePillis (“The Quest for Religious Authority and the Rise of Mormonism,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 1 [Spring 1966]: 79) pointed out, the famous quote from Alexander Campbell (Delusions: An Analysis of the Book of Mormon [Boston: n.p., 1832], 13) claiming that Smith had answered every current theological question is an overstatement. Ross Warner, “The Fulfillment of Book of Mormon Prophecies: A Study of Problems Relative to the Fulfillment of Selected Prophecies in the Book of Mormon, with Particular Reference to the Prophetic View from 1830 Onward,” M.A. thesis, Brigham Young University, 1961, 52, lists the doctrines which are clarified in the Book of Mormon: the nature and personality of God, the fall of humanity, the Atonement, free will, the nature of the gospel, faith, repentance, baptism, the work of the Holy Ghost, the Lord’s Supper, the Judgment, the Resurrection, and the reality of the devil. Warner cites proof texts for each. These doctrines may also be found in the index of modern editions of the Book of Mormon. Warner (45-49) also deals with Christ’s fulfillment of Mosaic law.

16. Later Mormons took the Book of Mormon position that Jesus Christ was both the Son and the Father and explained that since Christ is also the father of the spirits in this world (a teaching not in the Book of Mormon), he is therefore both the Father and the Son. Still another explanation later derived from the teaching that each exalted man will be a god on his own planet: The father of Christ appointed Christ to be God to the people on earth. He is the only God we know and the Father of all spirits on earth; therefore, he is the Father but still the Son.

17. That evolution is traced by George B. Arbaugh, “Evolution of [p.164]Mormon Doctrine,” Church History 9 (1940): 157-69. See also Smith’s redefinition of “eternal damnation” and “endless torment” in D&C 19 (given Mar. 1830). The interpretation is Universalistic.

18. See chap. 2, n22.

19. Inevitably Smith’s attitude that the Bible was full of errors came full circle. He had to concede the same possibility for the Book of Mormon, but it was translated by someone with the “gift of translation.” How could Mormons explain a phenomenon in the Book of Mormon which Smith had criticized in the Bible? They adapted an argument from Protestant apologetics: the many editorial changes have not altered the meaning of even one passage. See Hugh Nibley, Since Cumorah (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1967), 6.

But Nibley is wrong. A case in point is 1 Ne 11:18. After Smith dictated the manuscript of the Book of Mormon, Cowdery and others emended it for the press. This version is designed E MS (1829). The original manuscript, the E MS, and the 1830 edition all have “the virgin which thou seest, is the mother of God.” After 1830 the E MS was revised. The post-1830 revision and the 1837 edition have what appears in the present version: “the virgin whom thou seest, is the mother of the Son of God.” Similar changes were made to 1 Ne 11:21, 32, and 1 Ne. 13:40. Compare Richard P. Howard, Restoration Scriptures: A Study of Their Textual Development (Independence, MO: Herald Publishing House, 1969), 47-49, who notes that these changes correspond to Smith’s developing ideas of God as found in the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants in Smith’s “Lectures on Faith.”

20. Smith said, “When, according to arrangements, the messenger called for them, I delivered them up to him; and he has them in his charge until this day” (HC 1:19). A patriarchal blessing given to Newel K. Whitney, however, may indicate that the spectacles were still being used. The introduction to the blessing states that Joseph Smith, Jr., gave it “through the Urim and Thummim” on 7 October 1835 and that the blessing was written by Frederick G. Williams. It was “recorded by Oliver Cowdery, Jan. 22, 1836,” in the patriarchal blessing book of Joseph Smith, Sr., LDS church archives. See The Contributor 6 (Jan. 1885): 129. We know that Cowdery copied some blessings on this date, since he put down in his Sketch Book for that date, “Copied blessings.” Brigham Young University Studies 12 (Summer 1972): 419.

It has been argued that since Smith was dictating and not writing the Book of Mormon manuscript, mistakes are those of his scribes and not his own. That would be true for mistakes of spelling and punctuation. But theological alterations as extensive as these are not due to a scribe missing a word here and there.

James Lancaster’s suggestion that the designation “Urim and Thum[p.165]mim” was used for both the glasses and seerstone could account for this usage. See chap. 2.

21. John Whitmer, one of the Eight Witnesses, said just this in his exchange with Theodore Turley in 1839 (HC 3:308).