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Q: Do you still believe the Book of Mormon is inspired given how it was translated?

In reply to a video I published on how to respond to those who claim to have had supernatural experiences in LDS temples, someone wrote:

"Insightful video.  Do you still believe the BoM is inspired after knowing it was translated by automatic writing using a well known method of occultic divination?  The early restoration folks also became violently possessed as did Mohammad, Siddhartha Buddah, etc..upon their encounters.  I investigated Mormonism for a few years exhaustively and it just couldn't stand any scrutiny whatsoever.

I'd be interested to hear any epistemic reasons there are for that belief."

Here is my reply:

To someone who believes the Bible:

The means of translation

The commenter above referred to the purported means of translation of the Book of Mormon. While he used strange phrasing, it seems he doesn't dispute that Joseph Smith dictated the Book of Mormon. He refers to the process as a potential problem.

Do you also have a problem with Joseph of Egypt looking into a cup to see things God wanted to show him? Because that's in the Bible. What about the countless priests who used a stone Moses gave to them to produce yes or no decisions to questions put to them by the kings of Israel?

The use of objects to facilitate revelation is foreign to modern religion, but not ancient religion. Given the abundance of divine power then and its relative absence today, modern Christianity probably lacks the credentials to criticize the ancients.

Why should anyone be surprised if someone claiming the same office as ancient prophets would occupy similar means of communicating with God? How can this be something that qualifies for out of hand dismissal of the possibility?

The means Joseph used to translate the book matter far less to me than the content of what was produced. If anything, I would presume that any reasonable person would find that the more "automatic" the process (Joseph Smith read letters off of an object), the more obviously supernatural it was. The only questions that remain are: 1) what is the value of the book's contents, and 2) which side did it come from.

The value of the contents

The template Jesus provided for faith was not "Study everything out and using reason alone, you will know the truth of all things." He repeatedly said that greater things could not be directly assessed, but only sequentially assessed. The pattern he provided was that, at least with the most valuable ideas, there would be sufficient reasons given to experiment upon something by doing it, and that only by doing it would you know whether it was efficacious. (See John 7:17, but there is a long chain of verses that support my summary here that I'm happy to delve into upon request).

Using the Lord's provided pattern of seeking truth, the value of the book's contents can only be asserted by those who have lived what it says. I only know two people--and I am one of them--who can say that they have done so. To say this, one would have to attest that they never act differently than they believe Jesus would in their place. Both of us find tremendous value in the Book of Mormon. I won't speak for him, but I could give you a very long list of specific ideas from it that, when lived, will result in the best possible path in life. I can say the same about the Bible, which I treasure equally.

Which side it came from

As for which side it came from, the commenter said "The early restoration folks also became violently possessed as did Mohammad, Siddhartha Buddah, etc..upon their encounters."

Some responded to the sudden changes they saw in the disciples in Pentecost as a miracle, others as the effects of drinking too much:

12 And they were all amazed, and were in doubt, saying one to another, What meaneth this?
13 Others mocking said, These men are full of new wine. (Acts 2)

How would you know if someone's spiritual experiences indicate the worth of their professed beliefs or not?

Does the existence of bad people who profess a belief indicate that the belief is bad?

It would seem so, since Jesus taught that a tree is known of its fruit. However, it is clear that he did not mean that the existence of lackluster followers made the person (or idea) that was followed bad. After all, he was followed by many people who were actuated by the devil. Judas, whose rebellion the gospels indicate began long before the last supper (for example, in his thieving from the money he kept for the group), nevertheless followed and professed belief in Jesus for years. There were many other examples, such as the dodgy woman he told to stop praising him, or the devils who did the same. We can conclude that the adversary definitely uses the profession of faith in lackluster people to hinder others from considering what actually has far greater value than they make use of.

One should not judge the potential value of something by those who use it the least. If you judged the value of painting by what a neophyte produces on his first attempt at the canvas, you are going to throw away the works of the masters along with it. It is no secret that not just some but the vast majority of the followers of Joseph Smith did not adhere to the religion he preached. This is also true of Jesus. While thousands followed him in his ministry, only about 120 remained at Pentecost (see Acts 1:15), and he only appeared to about 500 after his resurrection (see Luke 22 or Acts 1). If you were to judge Christianity by the thousands who followed him with their feet but not their hearts then, or the millions who do so today, you will set aside a tremendous treasure. 

There are some 17 million LDS people on the books, but I don't know any (no, not one) who actually lives what Joseph Smith taught. I know of several who were excommunicated from that church for doing precisely that, including myself. I was booted specifically because I wrote a book called "Teaching for Doctrines the Commandments of Men" where I compared several central traditions in modern Mormonism to the teachings of Joseph Smith and the scriptures.


Typically, a person will lead with their strongest arguments. I don't know if the commenter above did this. Perhaps he has stronger arguments that were not shared. But the ones given are insufficient to justify his current position.

I can't justify the time to make this argument from an extra-scriptural perspective, but I'm happy to do so if someone gives me more reasons to.