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Gospel Topics Chapter 3 Duffy Part 4

Viewpoint on Mormonism / Bill McKeever
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April 28, 2021 9:38 pm

Gospel Topics Chapter 3 Duffy Part 4

Viewpoint on Mormonism / Bill McKeever

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April 28, 2021 9:38 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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In their own words, a collection of Mormon quotations compiled by Mormonism Research Ministries' Bill McKeever is a valuable resource when wanting to know what Mormon leaders have said on a given topic.

Pick up your copy at the Utah Lighthouse Bookstore or In 1979, Mormonism Research Ministries 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. Chapter 4 in the book, the LDS Gospel Topics Series, a scholarly engagement. This chapter deals with how the Book of Mormon was translated, and that is one of the Gospel Topics essays that the LDS Church produced in late 2013.

The author of this chapter is John Charles Duffy. And Eric, I really think that where we are at in this chapter is probably part of the genius of this whole chapter, and that is Duffy is showing that there were controversies among the LDS scholars, as well as some inconsistencies with how the LDS leadership handled this topic of how the Book of Mormon was translated. And we've shown that in the 20th century, Joseph Fielding Smith, the 10th president of the church, did not believe that Joseph Smith used a seer stone at all in bringing forth the Book of Mormon. But then we find also that Russell M. Nelson, the 17th president of the church, did agree with David Whitmer's account, David Whitmer being one of the witnesses to the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, whose testimony is found in every edition of the Book of Mormon. But that Nelson held more to this idea that Joseph Smith read the characters off of the seer stone to the scribe, the scribe read the characters back, and when they were correct, they would go on to the next set of characters. That idea, though it was quite popular among many members of the LDS church, did not sit very well with some of the more intellectuals and scholars in the LDS church, and there was also a general authority by the name of B.H.

Roberts that we've mentioned in this series as well that had problems with that. But in order to understand what this manual theory was all about, let me read what's at the bottom of page 100 under the subtitle, The Manual Theory Controversy, 1903-1906, a Composed Translation vs. a Read Translation. As the 20th century opened, Duffy says, the LDS community was being transformed. The LDS were transitioning out of the polygamous period of their history into a phase of selective assimilation into the American cultural mainstream. Teachings and practices of the 19th century were being reassessed and in some cases revised or abandoned, as when church leaders quietly retreated from Brigham Young's Adam-God doctrine or when they revised temple endowment ceremonies during the 1920s.

A small but growing number of LDS young people were traveling outside the Mormon cultural region to receive college educations and were bringing modern ideas back with them. For instance, about organic evolution and biblical criticism, it was in this context that the church's governing First Presidency authorized publication of a then innovative and, as it proved, controversial theory about the Book of Mormon's translation, quite different from the scenario espoused in the Gospel Topics essay a century later. It continues, the theory in question was dubbed the Manual Theory because it appeared in a lesson manual distributed by the LDS Church's Young Men's Organization for the years 1903-1904.

The manual's author was B.H. Roberts, a mid-ranking General Authority, one of the seven presidents of 70, an assistant church historian. Much like the Gospel Topics essay, Roberts drew on 19th century witnesses to affirm that Smith had translated the Book of Mormon with the aid of two different interpretive instruments, the Urim and Thummim and a seer stone, but that was not the innovative or controversial part of Roberts' theory.

In 1903, the seer stone was still familiar to LDS readers. What was innovative was that Roberts rejected what he called the popular understanding among the Latter Day Saints of how Smith had used the interpretive instruments. The popular understanding was that Smith looked into the Urim and Thummim, or the seer stone, and saw an English translation which he then dictated word for word to his scribe. As Roberts described pejoratively this scenario, "...the instruments did all, while he who used them did nothing but look and repeat mechanically what he saw there reflected." Instead, Roberts argued for a scenario in which Smith looked at the ancient characters through the instruments, "...bending every power of his mind to know the meaning thereof," and then received mental impressions which he had to render into, "...such language as he could command in such phraseology as he was master of." Well let me ask you, Eric, if that's really the way it happened, what does that say about the statement given by David Whitmer and cited by Russell M. Nelson in 1993? It would seem that it's undermining that account, because remember, the last part of that statement that Russell M. Nelson read was, "...thus the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God, and not by any power of man."

Does that sound like the description we're reading here when it comes to B.H. Roberts' understanding? It sounds like it's very much the power of man that is involved in what we have in today's Book of Mormon.

So you can understand why this could cause some confusion among members of the Church. They've always known a certain way that the Book of Mormon came about. They were familiar, no doubt, with what David Whitmer said. As even Duffy admits, that idea was still around in the early 20th century, but now B.H. Roberts, he comes up with this new idea, what's known as the manual theory, and now we're finding a whole different understanding that's being used. And when it says, " Roberts described pejoratively this scenario, the instruments did all, while he who used them did nothing but look and repeat mechanically what he saw there reflected." Now Bill, that would seem to be the way that the LDS Church membership has understood it over, I would say, the past hundred years, that Joseph Smith did see and repeated it word for word exactly the way he saw it, but according to Roberts, there was more to it than that.

In an earlier show, we were talking about B.H. Roberts and what Duffy calls the composed translation scenario. On page 102, Duffy is going to explain what that really means. In the popular scenario, Smith read an English translation that appeared to him and the interpreters. In Roberts' new scenario, Smith composed the translation based on mental impressions he received from God. In Roberts' scenario, the language of the English translation originated with Smith, not with the interpreters. That distinction was crucial for Roberts because it explained, "...the faulty English..." that peppered the original edition of the Book of Mormon. It also accounted, Roberts argued, "...for the sameness of phraseology and literary style which runs through the whole volume..." even though the Book of Mormon supposedly contains writings by multiple ancient authors. In other words, Roberts' aim was apologetic. He urged the LDS to abandon the idea of a read translation in favor of a composed translation in order to answer challenges to the Book of Mormon's authenticity.

Why would a revealed text contain faulty grammar? Why does the supposedly multi-authored book have only one authorial voice? Roberts' answer?

Because the language of the translation was Smith's own, not a divine dictation. It's amazing how B.H. Roberts sees all this. And even though the church had been quite content to go along with this read translation because he's reading it off of the seer stone or through the spectacles, nobody seems to catch this until B.H. Roberts comes about, it seems, and starts recognizing, hey, the way we've always understood it, we need to check that again, because there's people out there that are reading this Book of Mormon, and they're reading it more with a critical eye, not a faithful reading as you might think most Latter-day Saints are using, and they're starting to see problems.

And I think B.H. Roberts recognized the problems as well, and I think Duffy's absolutely correct when he says that Roberts was wondering why would a revealed text contain faulty grammar. If he's reading the text off of a seer stone, and he's saying what he sees on the stone, and reading it to the scribe, and the scribe has to read it back, and it only changes when it's correct, wouldn't that include the faulty grammar? Now, I personally, even though I'm critical of the Book of Mormon, I don't know if I would go quite that far and to go into punctuation and things like that. I might just give him a pass on that, but I do have a problem when we find a comparison between a modern translation of the Book of Mormon and an 1830 translation. We see words that are inserted and phrases that are changed. Well, you might not have a problem with that, Bill, but as we cited from Russell M. Nelson when he cited David Whitmer's An Address to All Believers in Christ, this is what Whitmer said. One character at a time would appear, and under it was the interpretation in English. Bill, to me, it sounds like it's character by character. So it would seem, if he was getting it directly from God, that there shouldn't have been any mistake.

So I think what B.H. Roberts sees the problem, and he has to come up with something different than what Whitmer was saying. And isn't it interesting when we are talking with some Latter-day Saints, they always want to point out how the Bible was not transmitted accurately down through the years. But many Latter-day Saints tend to think that what they're reading now is what was in the 1830 edition. I've had many conversations with Latter-day Saints who are not aware of all the significant differences between a modern translation and an 1830 edition when it first came out. The Book of Mormon, then, is not a translation in the traditional sense of the word. Because even today, the LDS artwork has Joseph Smith translating by looking into the hat, and the plates on the table are covered up.

So they're not even available to him. So it really is a miraculous translation, if that's what you want to call it. But it's not a real translation that he's taking the actual words that were written on the plates.

It's a trust that God is giving him what those words are, because he can't see it on the plates if they're covered up. And it brings up this statement at the bottom of page 102, where John Charles Duffy says, The main challenge to Robert's scenario was that it contradicted accounts of the translation process left by 19th century witnesses, especially David Whitmer and Martin Harris, familiar to LDS readers as two of the three witnesses who attested that an angel had shown them the golden plates. According to these accounts, Duffy says, when Smith looked into the interpreters, he saw an English translation which would disappear once Smith had read the translation aloud and the scribe attested that it had been correctly recorded. Whitmer's account claimed, even more specifically, that the English translation of each character appeared to Smith directly beneath that character, one character at a time.

So you could see why B.H. Robert's account is going to rub a lot of people the wrong way. Thank you for listening. If you would like more information regarding Mormonism Research Ministry, we encourage you to visit our website at, where you can request our free newsletter, Mormonism Researched. We hope you will join us again as we look at another viewpoint on Mormonism.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-11-24 09:35:44 / 2023-11-24 09:40:49 / 5

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