By Luther Blackmon
The Latter Day Saints (more commonly known as Mormons) are striving with a zeal that is commendable to further their cause. Having lived in the west where they are stronger and their influence more pronounced I feel that it will be profitable to the readers of Truth Magazine to know something of their system of error.
Their preachers or “elders” go, in pairs, from house to house seeking opportunity to teach their doctrine. I find no fault with this. It is the “what” and not the “how” of their teaching that I wish to notice. “Mormonism” is a system of infidelity. I realize that this is a strong statement, but I am not excited nor in a fit of temper, and before you decide that I am altogether wrong I bid you hear me through.
If these preachers have called on you, they doubtless gave you the impression that they believe the Bible to be the Word of God. This is only partly true. If you have a copy of their articles of faith which they usually hand to those on whom they call, you will observe that one of their articles reads about like this: “We believe that the Bible is the Word of God WHERE CORRECTLY TRANSLATED. We also believe the Book of Mormon to be the Word of God.” The Bible is the Word of God conditionally. The Book of Mormon is the Word of God unconditionally, without qualification. Just to give you an idea of the attitude Latter Day Saints have toward the Bible I submit a quotation from Orsen Pratt, one of their apostles. They have living apostles you know. When one of the twelve dies he is replaced by another. Note the quotation: “Verses and even whole chapters have been added by unknown persons, and even we do not know the authors of some whole books; and we are not certain that all those which we do know were written by inspiration. Add all this imperfection to the uncertainty of the translation and who, in his right mind, could, for one moment, suppose the Bible in its present form to be a perfect guide. Who knows that even one verse of the whole Bible has escaped pollution, so as to convey the same sense now that it did in the original.” Orsen Pratt’s Works, page 218. Remember that this was written by an “apostle.” This is what they really think of the Bible. Don’t argue the Bible with a Mormon. He doesn’t believe the Bible. Make him defend his prophet Joseph Smith’ and Smith’s inspired scriptures, namely, The “Book of Mormon,” “Doctrine and Covenants,” and the “Pearl of Great Price.” Joseph Smith claimed that an angel appeared to him and told him where some plates were hidden upon which was written a revelation which he (Joseph) should translate. The translation is the “Book of Mormon.” As to the translation of the Book of Mormon I want to submit an interesting correspondence between my friend Geo. B. Curtis (now deceased) and Mr. Joseph Fielding Smith, a high ranking Mormon of Salt Lake City. This article from Brother Curtis is taken from “The Gospel Pilot” May 11, 1944. Read it.
THE BOOK OF MORMON AND
by Geo. B. Curtis
Mormonism must stand or fall by the Book of Mormon. The claimants for Mormonism say that an angel Moroni, presented a set of gold plates to Joseph Smith upon which were characters in reformed Egyptian. By the aid of two transparent stones, the Urim and the Thurnmin, Smith claimed to have translated the Egyptian characters into English. The three witnesses to the Book of Mormon, Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer and Martin Harris, testified that “an angel of God came down from heaven, and he brought and laid before our eyes, that we beheld and saw the plates.” It has always been a matter of mystery to me why the angel brought the plates down from heaven to show them while, according to Smith, these same plates were already in his possession with stern commands from the Lord to guard them carefully or “I should be cut off.” How did the angel manage to bring them from heaven while they were in New York is a matter I’d like for some well informed Mormon to make clear to me.
Just how these plates figured in the translation of the Book of Mormon is another matter that the highest ranking Mormons of today cannot explain and continue to support their witnesses. David Whitmer, one of the three witnesses, has this to say about the translation of the Book of Mormon: “Joseph Smith would put the seer stone into a hat, and put his face in the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light; and in the darkness the spiritual light would shine. A piece of something resembling parchment would appear, and on that appeared the writing. One character at a time would appear, and under it was the interpretation in English.” (Whitmer’s Address to All Believers. P. 12.) Let’s get the picture: (1) Joseph’s head in the hat, (2) All light excluded, (3) The seer stone in the hat, (4) The plates were not in the hat, ( 5 ) The plates could not have possibly been in sight of Smith, (6) The characters appeared upon what resembled parchment, ( 7 ) Hence, the Book of Mormon was not translated from the plates at all, but from “a piece of something resembling parchment.”
I presented this problem to the Mormon church at Salt Lake City a few weeks ago The answer coming from the “Office of Church History” is amusing in the extreme. But I shall let our correspondence tell the story. Letter No. 1:
“Box 421, Winslow, Arizona, September 13, 1943,
Church of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints.
Salt Lake City, Utah.
Gentlemen: I understand that the Book of Mormon was translated in part from the plates found by Joseph Smith and in part by the use of a stone in the hands of Smith. Will you please inform me just where the translation from the plates ended and the translation with the stone began? I shall appreciate this information very much. Sincerely.”
I received the following reply.
“Dear Sir: Answering your question in relation to the translation of the Book of Mormon, wherein you ask which part of the plates was translated by the stone in the hands of Joseph Smith, and which part from the plates, I will say that I think you have become somewhat confused. The entire book was translated from the plates, and the information from Joseph Smith is that he translated the Book of Mormon by the gift and power of God, through the use of the Urim and Thummin. Very sincerely, Joseph Fielding Smith.”
I wrote to the headquarters of the Utah church again under date of February 4, 1944 as follows.
“Church of Latter Day Saints,
Salt Lake City, Utah.
Gentlemen: Some weeks ago I wrote asking relative to the part of the Book of Mormon actually translated from the plates discovered by Joseph Smith. I received the answer that all the Book of Mormon was thus translated. Some few days ago I came into possession of Whitmer’s Address to All Believers. (1887) On page 12 of this booklet from one of the three witnesses I copy this statement: “I will now give you a description of the manner in which the Book of Mormon was translated. Joseph Smith would put the seer stone in the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light; and in the darkness the spiritual light would shine. A piece of something resembling parchment would appear, and on that appeared the writing. One character at a time would appear, and under it was the interpretation in English. Brother Joseph would read off the English to Oliver Cowdery, who was the principal scribe, and when it was written down and repeated to Brother Joseph to see if it was correct, then it would disappear, and another character with the interpretation woul appear. Thus the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift of God, and not by any power of man.” (Whitmer’s Address, 18S7, P. 12.)
If the above is true just how did the plates figure in any way in the translation? Was not Smith entirely cut off from the plates with his head in the hat and all light excluded? Does the translation in any way depend upon the plates? If so, how? Was the stone Smith used in the hat the Urim and Thummin? Were they not stones, instead of stone? Do Mormons generally accept Whitmer’s story as given above? If not, how do they credit his testimony as to the verity of the Book of Mormon? Yours in curiosity, Geo. B. Curtis.”
I received under date of February 7, 1944 the following reply:
“Dear Sir: In answer to your inquiry regarding the translation of the Book of Mormon, all I have to say is to repeat what was said before. The only authentic information we have regarding the translation of the Book of Mormon comes from Joseph Smith himself, and that is that he translated the plates through the Urim and Thummim and by the Gift of God. I call your attention to the fact that David Whitmer was never present during the time of the translation.
I do not accept his story regarding how it was done. I do accept fully his story that the angel appeared to him and his testimony as a witness of the Book of Mormon is verily true. You make the most of it. Very sincerely, Joseph Fielding Smith.”
I answered under date of February 9, 1944 thus:
“Dear Mr. Smith. Thanks for the information contained in your letter received today. There are some things, however, upon which I wish further information. You state that, ‘I call your attention to the fact that David Whitmer was never present during the time of the translation.’ Would you mind, Mr. Smith, giving me your authority for such a statement? Mr. Whitmer differs from you on that matter. Hear him: “I testify to the world that I am an eye witness to the translation of the greater part of the Book of Mormon. Part of it was translated in my father’s house in Fayette, Seneca County, N. Y. Farther on I give a description of the manner in which the book was translated.” (Whitmer’s Address, Page 11.)
Now let’s see what Mr. Whitmer has to say concerning the manner in which the Book of Mormon was translated. “Joseph would put the seer stone into the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light; and in the darkness the spiritual light would shine. A piece resembling parchment would appear, and on that appeared the writing . . . Thus the book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God, and not by any power of man.” (Whitmer’s Address, Page 12.)
Again you say, “1: do fully accept his story that the angel appeared to him and his testimony as a witness of the Book of Mormon is verily true.” Mr. Smith, why accept his testimony in the one point and reject an equally plain statement on the other?
Please do not think me over inquisitive in this matter. I want to know, I am not a Mormon, but I do not want to form any conclusion that is ungrounded. I think you will agree that here is a matter that needs reconciling. Curiously yours.”
Under date of February 15 I received the following:
“Dear Sir: Answering your question I may say, that there is no mistake and discrepancy needing attention. Very sincerely, Joseph Fielding Smith.”
My reply: (February 18, 1944.)
“Dear Mr. Smith: Your one sentence communication received this morning and appreciated. You state, “There is no mistake and no discrepancy needing attention.” Remember Mr. Smith, your claim to have the truth on the side of Mormonism. The complete fabric of Mormonism must stand or fall with the “Book of Mormon.” To that you will readily agree. Here is the situation: David Whitmer says that Smith placed his head in a hat in which there was a stone; the hat was drawn closely about his face so as to exclude all light; a piece resembling parchment would appear on the stone with the characters and their English translation beneath; the gold plates not in use at all.
Joseph Fielding Smith says that he believes the testimony of Mr. Whitmer when he testifies that the angel of the Lord displayed to him, Oliver Cowdery and Martin Harris the plates, but that Mr. Whitmer’s testimony is false when he says that Joseph Smith used a hat and a stone, not stones, in translating the Book of Mormon. Mr. Joseph Fielding Smith says that Mr. Whitmer “was never present during the translation.” Mr. Whitmer says, “I testify to the world that I am an eye witness to the translation of the greater part of the Book of Mormon.” (Whitmer’s Address, Page 11.) I think, Mr. Smith, that you will agree that there is a discrepancy between you and one of your “star witnesses.” Will you kindly favor a poor “Gentile” with a better explanation than you have hitherto given. Again, curiously, Geo. B. Curtis.”
And here the matter of the head, the hat, the stone, the plates, the parchment, the Urim and Thummin rests until Mr. Smith or some other Mormon clears the matter. Could any sane man accept such a chain of evidence?
Truth Magazine, VI: 1 pp.16-19