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Gospel Topics Chapter 3 Duffy Part 3

Viewpoint on Mormonism / Bill McKeever
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April 27, 2021 9:37 pm

Gospel Topics Chapter 3 Duffy Part 3

Viewpoint on Mormonism / Bill McKeever

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April 27, 2021 9:37 pm

We continue the review of The LDS Gospel Topics Series published in 2020 by Signature Books, as we look this week at chapter 4 written by John-Charles Duffy titled The “Book of Mormon Translation” Essay in Historical Context. We hope you are enjoying this series of cutting edge issues.

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Mormonism 101, a book by Mormonism Research Ministries, Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson, has helped many who want to understand what separates Mormonism from the Christian faith. In 1979, Mormonism Research Ministry has been dedicated to equipping the body of Christ with answers regarding the Christian faith in a manner that expresses gentleness and respect. And now, your host for today's Viewpoint on Mormonism. Welcome to this edition of Viewpoint on Mormonism.

I'm your host, Bill McKeever, founder and director of Mormonism Research Ministry, and with me today is Eric Johnson, my colleague at MRM. We continue looking at chapter four in the book, the LDS Gospel Topics series, A Scholarly Engagement. The chapter is titled The Book of Mormon Translation Essay in Historical Context, written by John Charles Duffy. We've been going through this book, examining the chapters within it that critique the Gospel Topics essays that were produced by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and posted incrementally between 2013 and 2015. One of them had to do with how the Book of Mormon was translated, and that's the chapter that we've been looking at this week. We're going to get into a paragraph now, Eric, on page 99, where I think John Charles Duffy really shows his genius because he notices something in this essay that I don't think a lot of other people would have noticed unless they knew of the controversy among LDS scholars as to how the Book of Mormon really came forth. He's going to describe what he thinks this essay is supporting as opposed to what a lot of the scholars he feels now support.

And in doing so, he's going to show a huge controversy. And like I said, I don't think most members of the LDS church even know about these struggles that their scholars have when it comes to various aspects of their own history. So much of this probably wouldn't have been of any concern to them, but the fact that Duffy brings this out, I would hope that would get a Mormon who ventures to read this chapter to sit back and go, hmm, never thought of that before.

But what does he say on page 99? For forthrightly addressing problematic historical information that might instead have been swept under the rug, the Gospel Topics essay may seem progressive. In a larger picture, however, the essay is significant not because it is progressive, but because it is markedly conservative even by LDS standards. Although it is certainly unsurprising that the Gospel Topics essay reaffirms the LDS church's long-standing position that the Book of Mormon was miraculously translated from golden plates, it was not inevitable that the Gospel Topics essay would assert the particular scenario it did for how the Book of Mormon was translated, namely, that Smith read the English translation from the interpretive instruments. Let me stop you there, because in yesterday's show, we cited Russell M. Nelson, the 17th president of the LDS church, in an article titled A Treasured Testament. This was published in Ensign, July 1993, where he quotes David Whitmer's account that Whitmer included in his booklet, An Address to All Believers in Christ, that was published in 1887. By Nelson citing Whitmer, and Nelson at that time being an apostle in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, certainly gives credence to what Whitmer said. You can't just blow it off if you have an apostle citing this in the Ensign magazine.

That becomes pretty important to most members of the LDS church. And what it shows is that if Whitmer's account of reading characters off of the seer stone to a scribe, and then the scribe reading what was said to him back to Joseph Smith, and the set of characters on the stone not going to the next set of characters unless it was read back correctly, tends to show that Smith was in fact reading the English translation, as Duffy says, from the interpretive instruments. That, I think, is why David Whitmer felt that this was translated by the gift and power of God, and not by any power of man. By Smith merely reading the translation off the stone, he's not involved in it.

He's merely reading what he sees. Duffy notices this, but not only did Duffy notice that, but another LDS General Authority, B.H. Roberts, noticed that, and this is where we start to see that controversy among the scholars in the church when it comes to how the Book of Mormon was translated.

But let's go on in that paragraph on page 99. By the time the Gospel Topics essay was written, LDS intellectuals who still believe that the Book of Mormon was an ancient record had developed at least three different scenarios for how the English text might have been produced. How many members of the LDS church do you think knows that?

Very few. I doubt if very many at all know that the scholars had come to three different conclusions as to how the Book of Mormon was translated. And I have to be honest, Bill, I mean, I'm in this ministry, and I did not really know all that Duffy has put in here.

So it is a very good essay. It's a little hard to read if you can't follow it, but what we're doing here, I think, is helping us to understand that not everybody agrees within the scholarship, or even within, as we just pointed out, the General Authorities themselves. When you're pointing to what we read yesterday regarding Joseph Fielding Smith, the tenth president, he didn't feel that the seer stone was used at all in the translation. Well, Russell M. Nelson didn't have a problem with that, because he actually vindicated what David Whitmer said in his booklet, Unaddressed to All Believers in Christ. And these are things that maybe some on the outside may not know, for instance, that the Book of Mormon lands, are they here in the North American region?

Are they down in Central America? There's a huge controversy over that as well. It doesn't get talked about, especially at General Conference.

They're not going to bring up these kinds of issues. But Duffy goes on and says, The Gospel Topics essay adopts the most conservative of these scenarios, quote-unquote conservative, both in the sense that this scenario corresponds to how Smith's earliest followers understood the Book of Mormon's production, and in terms of the authority that this scenario attributes to the English text produced by Smith. Through the Gospel Topics essay, some especially conservative and anonymous LDS intellectuals have marshaled the authority of an official church publication to promote a very strong conception of the Book of Mormon.

In promoting this view, the Gospel Topics essay sidelines more liberal alternatives that had been championed earlier in the 20th century, and at times in other official church publications. Now, let's recap that, because again, I don't know if a lot of people realize what this essay did, and I think Duffy's absolutely correct. When you read the essay, it does seem to support the idea that Joseph Smith read the translation, and so he's not really a part of it. What Duffy is bringing out, folks, is that scholars were starting to have other opinions about this, so they had to come up with some other theories. They had to come up with ways of protecting the integrity of the Book of Mormon, while at the same time addressing what they saw were problems in the Book of Mormon. Now, would most Latter-day Saint members even think that there's problems in the Book of Mormon? No, because they've been told it was translated by the gift and power of God, and they take that statement and they run with it because it's been repeated so many times. But Duffy calls this a theological coup.

What does he say about that? The theological coup may be more easily recognized as such when the Gospel Topics essay is placed in a longer intellectual history. The story begins in the first decade of the 20th century when LDS Church authority B.H. Roberts introduced what I call a composed translation scenario as rival to a traditional read translation scenario. Over the course of the 20th century, the composed translation scenario was advocated in church publications and enjoyed widespread support among LDS intellectuals, even intellectuals who could be classed as theologically conservative given their belief in the Book of Mormon's antiquity. The intellectual landscape shifted dramatically, however, in the 1980s and 90s when a wave of challenges to Book of Mormon historicity within the LDS intellectual community prompted both a conservative backlash and the appearance of a new, more liberal translation theory, the expansion scenario, as an attempt at a mediating position. On the conservative side, some LDS scholars associated with farms revised a read translation scenario, which they maintained was superior not only to the new, fiercely contested expansion scenario, but also to the by-then time-honored composed translation scenario.

Their position won out in the Gospel Topics essay. Duffy realizes, and I think he's correct, from where he's coming from, he is correct that this really was a theological coup for those who held more to this understanding that Smith merely read the translation off of the seer stone, or read it through the spectacles, the Urim and Thummim, whatever instrument you want to use in this case. That had to upset a lot of their scholars, because as I mentioned, a lot of their scholars, B. H. Roberts being one of them, saw problems in the Book of Mormon, serious enough that he couldn't go along with this kind of a theory, and so he comes up with some other alternatives.

So we have what's called the composed translation scenario and the expansion scenario, but we also have one more scenario that we're going to be talking about more in tomorrow's show, but I think it needs to be said again. On the conservative side, some LDS scholars associated with farms, that's the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, now known as the Neil Maxwell Institute, revived this read translation scenario, which they maintained was superior not only to the few fiercely contested expansion scenario, but also to the by-then time-honored composed translation scenario. And this statement is telling their position won out in the Gospel Topics essay.

Now, what does that mean for us? It means that what the Book of Mormon says is supposed to be what it actually said on the plates. If Smith was reading it off the stone or through the Urim and Thummim, the spectacles buried with the plates, then I would say David Whitmer was absolutely correct.

It's all the power of God and not by any power of man. Bill, you had mentioned yesterday about how the names of those who wrote the essays were not used. I think that was probably pretty smart of the LDS church, because once you put somebody's name to it and you know their position, you're going to have a lot of angry people maybe aiming their ire at that person, but also at the church, and I'm sure there are enough scholars who are already upset with the way that they laid out the way that the Book of Mormon was translated. It would have caused probably more of a controversy by naming these people. In other words, you're saying that by naming the people behind these essays, they start to cause a division in the camp. It's kind of like when it comes to where were the Book of Mormon lands that you mentioned earlier?

Is it in North America, the heartland model, or is it in Central America, the limited geography theory? But whoever the people were, the LDS church has said, this is the way we're going to go. And I think that's what becomes important when we're challenging our LDS friends on this subject. Another Viewpoint on Mormonism. and your gifts are tax deductible. Not only that, they are greatly appreciated. Thank you for your support of this ministry.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-11-24 17:49:55 / 2023-11-24 17:54:46 / 5

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