“A Crooked, Broken, Scattered and Imperfect Language”: Dealing with the Limitations of Revelation to Mortals

One of the valuable contributions from the scholarship in the Joseph Smith Papers (see JosephSmithPapers.org) is an enhanced understanding of the revelatory process that we have before us in the papers of Joseph Smith. Some Latter-day Saints might be surprised to find that their imagined views of revelation are challenged. Much of what was revealed through Joseph Smith did not come as complete and perfect dictation from God, but often required revisions. It’s a reminder of the limitations of revelation to mortals, in which God comes down to our level and works with mortals in their language, with their limitations in understanding. What mortals put into writing can be incomplete or even inaccurate on several levels, requiring subsequent correction or revised interpretation in the future. As Joseph Smith once put it, “Oh Lord God, deliver us from this prison, almost as it were, of paper, pen and ink, and of a crooked, broken, scattered and imperfect language” (letter to William W. Phelps, Nov. 27, 1832).

This quote was used recently in a MormonTimes article, “Scribes Recorded Prophet’s ‘Crooked, Broken Language.'” This discusses Joseph’s reluctance to write and his reliance on scribes. Here’s an excerpt:

Mark Ashurst-McGee, coeditor of the JSP’s Journals series, added that the Prophet understood the need for record keeping, but fully understood the limitations of his meager childhood education.

Nothing illustrates that better than a letter written on Nov. 27, 1832, to William W. Phelps, the church printer in Missouri. In it, the Prophet writes, “Oh Lord God, deliver us from this prison, almost as it were, of paper, pen and ink, and of a crooked, broken, scattered and imperfect language.”

“That’s great writing,” Ashurst-McGee said. “But at the same time he’s writing well, he’s saying, ‘I hate this’.”

According to the Joseph Smith Papers: Journals, Vol. 1, Joseph wrote in a journal for nine days, then not again for 10 months.

“He understands the importance of record keeping, feels strongly about it, and understands its part of the mission of the church, but he doesn’t love it,” Ashurst-McGee said. “And that’s why he starts getting scribes to help him. He’s so busy. And (having scribes) builds up more and more in the history of the early church, so that by the time he dies, he has an office staff.”

Joseph’s discomfort in writing fits the LDS view on the origins of the Book of Mormon, where Joseph was the overwhelmed translator, not a dazzlingly brilliant author. Further, the abundance of records showing the process in which scripture was born, including the original and printer’s manuscripts of the Book of Mormon and the manuscripts behind the Doctrine and Covenants, show that Joseph Smith was not in the business of covering up his tracks as part of a massive fraud. We can see the details of the translation process for the Book of Mormon and the details of the processes for later revelations. Now massive efforts are underway to help make all of this more visible for the world through the Joseph Smith Papers project. We’ll have much to learn and many assumptions to update as we digest all the information. It’s part of a healthy journey in world where we can never fully escape from the limitations of a “crooked, broken, scattered and imperfect language.”

Update, July 12, 2010: We agree with Moses in Deut. 4:2 and with John in Rev. 22:18-19 that no man should add to or subtract from the text given to us by prophets of God. But God can speak and add all He wants, working through His mortal servants the prophets, and thus Moses and other prophets kept on writing as God kept on revealing or as sacred history kept on being recorded.

Were the words of Moses and the other prophets of the Bible complete and inerrant when first penned? Was there never any revision or need for later correction?

While we do not have ANY of the original texts that led to the Bible, and do not have the luxury of looking over the Isaiah papers or Moses papers, for example, to see how they recorded and prepared their documents, we do have a few hints suggesting that revisions may have occurred. For example, consider the writings of Jeremiah as recorded by Jeremiah’s scribe, Baruch. See Jeremiah 36, where we learn that Baruch wrote all the words from Jeremiah that were recorded in a book (vss. 4, 17, 18) Unfortunately, King Jehoiakim of Judah burned the book that contained the words of Jeremiah (vss. 21-25). The Lord commanded Jeremiah to prepare his document again, writing “all the former words that were in the first roll” (vs. 28). In verse 32, Jeremiah then commanded his scribe, Baruch, to write on another roll the words of Jeremiah, “and there were added besides unto them many like words.” Many like words added? This doesn’t sound like original dictation straight from the mouth of God, perfectly preserved and unchangeable. Prophets speak or dictate by inspiration, but there can be later changes and additions.

A few years ago Robert Boylan kindly sent me further information on this topic:

You might also like to know that Jeremiah 36:32 is not the only example of prophets revising their prior revelations. Moses revised the Decalogue (Ten Commandments), as seen when one examines Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. In addition, Isaiah 36-39 is a revision of 2 Kings 18:13 – 20:19, and Jeremiah 52 is a revision of 2 Kings 24-25. Joseph Smith’s actions, contra critics … are entirely consistent with the actions of Biblical Prophets.

As I understand it, scripture is inherently affected by human limitations. These limitations arise in receiving divine knowledge in the first place, then putting that knowledge into writing, followed by the tasks of preserving the text, translating the text, and publishing the text. Human limitations become especially severe when it comes to interpreting the text. Opportunities for error exist at every step. The original authors or even subsequent prophets may have occasional needs to revise or clarify what once was penned. None of this should shock us.

Some think of scripture as spoken directly by God with every letter and nuance perfectly captured. The conceit behind the easily refuted Bible Code, in which secret messages from God can be found by formatting the Torah into various grids and looking for secret word-puzzle messages, goes beyond that and envisions a Hebrew text that has preserved every letter since the beginning. This idealistic view is easily shattered. We work with texts that may have had many limitations from the beginning, and that were often imperfectly preserved over the centuries, resulting in many competing variants, occasional gaps or lacunae, and some obvious difficulties. It’s just one more reason why we need ongoing revelation to guide us. We rely on written revelation and faithful latter-day Saints turn to it daily and use it to gain guidance and revelation for our lives, but we should be emotionally prepared to occasionally recognize that past assumptions and knowledge may need to be updated, and that some things we think we have drawn from scripture may be imperfect and incomplete, in need of revision. Whether it’s the age of the earth, the geographical extent of the Flood, the details of the Creation, the value of pi (implicitly 3.0 in 1 Kings 7:23: “ten cubits from the one brim to the other: it was round all about, . . . and a line of thirty cubits did compass it round about”), the settling of the Americas, or all many of historical and doctrinal issues, we must always understand that our knowledge may be more limited than we think, partly because revelation comes though human tools struggling with imperfect language and imperfect understanding in the first place, not to mention all the other challenges that can arise in going from the pen of the author to printed translations much later.

Author: Jeff Lindsay

91 thoughts on ““A Crooked, Broken, Scattered and Imperfect Language”: Dealing with the Limitations of Revelation to Mortals

  1. Something I find really annoying, but also a bit humorous, about Mormon apologetics is how everything is interpreted as positive. For example, most intelligent people would take the fact that Joseph had to edit his revelations as a sign that they were contrived. After all, think about it. If he had made them up himself, we would have most definitely done revisions, correct? So, the events fit perfectly with a non-divine hypothesis. Nevertheless, apologists find a way to twist the events so that they are somehow faith-affirming.

    The biggest problem with this is that it provides no way to examine a religious event scientifically or intellectually. If I present a scientific theory, say evolution, I can (and must) provide ways in which this theory can be disproven. Then, as subsequent evidence starts pouring in, we can examine the nature of said evidence based upon my invalidation criteria. If we find evidence that runs contrary to my theory, then we can safely dismiss the theory.

    Unfortunately, religion plays by a completely different set of rules. When religion puts for a theory, there is no invalidation criteria ever provided. In fact, even worse, every outcome can be seen as validation of the theory. In other words, no matter what happens, the evidence can be twisted to point to God and a divine source.

    For example, let's say that I pray for safety before leaving on a trip. Now let's say I come close to an accident. If I narrowly miss the accident, then I praise God, claiming that I was saved by divine intervention. Now imagine I don't miss the accident. I speak of how grateful I am that God saved me from dying. Now imagine I die in the accident. My family bares their testimony about how I returned safely back to God in heaven. You see? No possible outcome invalidates the original theory. With religion, all roads lead to Rome, regardless of whether they actually do or not.

  2. Haha, yea. I was blessed with the opportunity to watch an Apostle visit one of the local wards, and his response to someone asking "why don't women have the priesthood?" was: "they don't need it." He put a very positive spin on it after the laughter subsided (not in reaction, of course) by saying they're so pure that they don't need it.

    I'm too universalist to worry if a Mormon is going to hell, so I really appreciate the beautiful spots of rhetoric I hear every now and then.

    There are some areas in Mormonism where critical evaluation make a difference, however. Like textual criticism with the bible, the scholarship points toward a much different view than the raging fundamentalists who typically bash Mormons for scriptural misapplication (you know, saved by faith and etc., yet they don't understand or just flat out reject the scholarship pointing towards a more liberal view of the idea that the Bible is more so a collection of people inspired by God rather than "God breathed" itself). The Book of Abraham is becoming the subject where, now that we know we have the original text (see my post in "All lies? The Book of Abraham" at the bottom), we can tell that anything but a liberal approach to this Mormon scripture is incorrect. I believe the current (liberal) thinking is that Smith had no idea what he was doing at all, but the shapes inspired him to write actual scripture.

    Charisma led his followers to believe it was actually the text of Abraham, and it wouldn't surprise me if a few other "revelations" were really just his imagination.

    Take polygamy for example. If you actively disagreed with it, you were kicked out of the church and had your own printing press destroyed! Now that's a bit of a generalization, but Smith was The Man. Who dare defy him, and if they dare, who won in the end? (evidence points to Smith winning, if this dare was ever taken on)

    In regards to the post, I hope this kind of thinking eventually perpetuates through the church. It would be nice if there was an "NIV" version of the Book of Mormon. I've picked the BoM up again (trying to finish it finally), and due to my rejection of it as scripture, the wordiness of it all does not appeal to me. My skeptical mind tells me that this is what happens when someone is orating a text to a scribe and is making things up on the go, and the flip side of me is wondering if "and it came to pass" is a Hebraism.

  3. I think Michael Bailey makes a great point. Religious people do interpret everything that happens to them in such a way that they can preserve their belief in God. This is the same thing as burying your talent in the sand to keep it safe. "My little bit of faith in God is so precious, I need to hide it away and not allow it to be subjected to any potentially destructive influences." I'd rather test my faith against the harsh realities of mortality. Maybe then it might actually grow.

    Bookslinger, it is called faith, but if that is the case, then we religious people need to stay out of the "proof" business.

  4. Who's in the "proof" business?

    I'm not. And Br. Lindsay has often gone to great pains explaining that he's not either.

    It's a gross mischaracterization of people such as MPB who comment on this blog when they accuse Jeff of trying to "prove" the LDS gospel.

    I don't think other serious LDS apologists are trying to prove anything either.

    I think Jeff explained it well when he called it creating "room for faith" or emphasizing that there is plenty of evidence of _plausibility_.

    Plausibility is a good word, and I think it very appropriate.

    The nay-sayers like to claim that the LDS version of things _can't_ be true. As I see it, the goal of apologists is not to prove the LDS version of things, but to illustrate that the facts show it is _plausible_.

    Those who see label Jeff's (or other apologists') efforts at illustrating plausible as attempts of proving something are either being dishonest, or are failing to comprehend his theses (that's the plural of thesis).

  5. Nicely said, Bookslinger.

    In reality, *everyone* chooses what to believe. It is not possible to "prove" any belief system based on logic and physical evidence alone (including the athiest faith). Even rejecting spirituality altogether is a faith-based position because spiritual things cannot be "proved" away. There can be explanations offered to imply plausibility of a position, but nothing can ultimately be proved.

    It's the classical logical fallacy of Korihor in Alma chapter 30, where he makes the claim that "Behold, ye cannot know of things which ye do not see" (v. 15) and then contradicts himself by asserting that God is "a being who never has been seen or known, who never was nor ever will be" (v. 28). After all these years, the logic of the non-beleiver hasn't advanced past this obvious fallacy. Proving the non-existence of something is much harder than proving its existence, and thus the non-believer is backed up to a wall of faith just as big as the believer.

    The bottom line is that someone who wants to believe a certain way always has the option of closing their eyes to all evidence (physical and spiritual) and cannot be swayed. Ultimate truth can *only* be discerned spiritually (and I know, the truth of that statement falls on deaf ears from those who don't want to believe it).

  6. And a thought on the actual topic of this post: I appreciate that quote from the Joseph Smith letter. It reminds me of Moroni's similar lamentation in Ether 12:23-24:

    "Lord, the Gentiles will mock at these things, because of our weakness in writing; for Lord thou hast made us mighty in word by faith, but thou hast not made us mighty in writing; for thou hast made all this people that they could speak much, because of the Holy Ghost which thou hast given them; And thou hast made us that we could write but little, because of the awkwardness of our hands."

    I would guess that anyone who is trying to describe or express something truly great (such as the gospel of Jesus Christ) can relate just a little. I know that sometimes when I attempt to put things that are most precious to me into words, they come out rather jumbled and unorderly. I believe that's more of a reflection of the weakness of the thinker, than the thoughts themselves.

  7. Lucky matt: I think anyone who has experienced personal spritual-based revelation, regardless of their religious affiliation, would recognize the truth in Joseph Smith's words.

    Granted, God _does_ have the ability to deliver a message to a human in a word-for-word verbatim manner in whatever earthly language He wants (after all, He's all-knowing and all-powerfull).

    And He's powerful enough to make such a word-by-word message perfectly clear to the human recipient. But the vast majority of the time, communication from God to man is in the form of feelings, hints, whisperings, that we call "promptings" and "impressions." And it is usually only with humility, faith, and devotion to righteousness does a human then progressively develop the ability to more clearly understand those messages of "feeling."

    Joseph Smith even called them "strokes of ideas."

  8. Bookslinger, I may misunderstand you, but it sounds like you think we disagree. I believe we are in complete agreement. I probably didn't express myself clearly (this crooked, broken language of ours), so let me try again:

    Spiritual things cannot ever be "proven" using only logic and physical evidence. Spiritual things can only be proven through a spiritual sense–through the feelings the Holy Ghost brings. God can send messages to a person, plain as day, and he will not notice or understand them without the confirming witness and understanding given by the Holy Ghost.

    1 Corinthians 2:13-14: "Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned."

    Thus, someone whose heart is hardened against the Spirit can never be persuaded to believe in spiritual truths using logic, reason, or physical evidence. It just won't work. They have chosen not to believe, and they are putting their faith in their non-belief, because they cannot "prove" the falsehood of spiritual things using logic and natural evidence, any more than we can "prove" the truth of spiritual things using the same.

    I remember an experience from my mission where a preacher from another church was arguing with me about the validity of the Book of Mormon, mocking my testimony that was based on a sure witness of the Spirit, and not physical evidence. I asked him how he knew Jesus Christ was the savior, if not from the Spirit. His reply? "Because the tomb was empty." That was his "evidence." His response showed what to me seemed an astonishing lack of understanding for a "spiritual leader." I tried to explain to him that all the stories in the Bible could have been made up. Being old and widely believed doesn't equate to being true. The only way to discern truth is through the Spirit.

    So my point is simply agreeing with your earlier point: religious apologetics (using logic and natural evidence) can only show that there is a "plausible" case for the truth of spiritual things; to a reasonable, open-minded person it can effectively shoot down those who, like Korihor, claim to "know" that spiritual things are false. The honest person who exclusively relies on his own brain and physical senses must admit that he either doesn't know the truth or falsehood of spiritual things (an agnostic view), or they are choosing to believe one way or the other. The only *real* proof of spiritual things comes from the Holy Ghost, and in no other way.

  9. I've always enjoyed Brigham Young and Joseph Smith's discussions on this point, about how weak and imperfect language was and how it was a struggle to fit revelation into human language and the inaccuracy that resulted.

  10. Lucky M,

    I didn't (and don't) think we disagree either. I was just restating some points. I'm sorry for creating any impression of opposition to what you said.

  11. Jeff,

    I think you make a good argument for why there was and is no need for a restoration. God chose to work through a fallen humanity when He gave us the biblical text. The Bible is indeed inerrant regarding salvation history, which means that any and everything we need to know about our relationship with God and the road to redemption can be found within its pages. What I struggle to understand is that you use your argument to defend the BOM but not to uphold the Bible. It leaves me scratching my head…


    I have to disagree with your comment: "But the vast majority of the time, communication from God to man is in the form of feelings, hints, whisperings, that we call "promptings" and "impressions." The reality is that the vast majority of the time God speaks to us through His word, which is found in the Biblical text. To assert that "feelings, hints, whisperings" are the norm is not to understand how God communicates. You see, one cannot forget that there are false spirits leading good people to hell by giving them impressions and such. That's why it's vital that one test any impressions and such against the Bible. It is the measuring stick. The problem I have is the emphasis on "personal" revelation over God's Word. When mildly questioned, it is clear to see that the teachings of JS contradict the Bible or are founded on principles not found in the Bible (such as the teaching that God merely organized matter that somehow predated Him as opposed to creating everything, including matter itself). If I were to get a feeling or impression that such a doctrine was true, an appeal to the Bible would straighten me out right away.

    Taking Jeff's post as a springboard, I again ask how can one deny the validity and authority of God's revealed Word in the Bible? Again, I am scratching my head…

    The argument Jeff presents is solid. The problem I find is in its application which, to me, seems to be applied only when talking about the writings of JS.

    AN ASIDE FOR JEFF: My daughter will be attending a NON-BLOCK school next year. Thanks for pointing me in the right direction. I really appreciate it.


  12. Bookslinger: our conversation is a good example of how the written word can be so easily misinterpreted. The same phenomenon has been discussed about e-mail communication: how the missing "tone" of comments in writing can cause confusion about the intentions of the writer. So yes, we are in complete agreement.

    Jackg: Not sure how you are interpreting Jeff's post to "not uphold the Bible." On the contrary, he is holding up the Bible as the accepted standard, showing how Joseph Smith's revelations are like those in the Bible.

    And this may be a little off topic, but since you brought it up, will you please show me where in the Bible it says that everything God needs to say to His children here on earth is contained within the Bible, and that He will never say any more?

    On the contrary, the Bible looks forward to future prophets receiving revelation, and has close to 2 dozen references to other scripture that was around at the time the Bible was being written (over thousands of years) but is not contained in the Bible in it's current state (see Lost Books). Remember, the Bible wasn't delivered to man as a complete, perfect package. The currently accepted canon was compiled over hundreds of years, amidst controversy about what should be included, left out, what was scripture, what wasn't, etc., by people who were not prophets and did not have authority to speak the will of God regarding His word (for example, read the section in Wikipedia's article about the canonization of the Book of Revelation.)

    The Bible that we have is a miracle and a precious gem. It's testimony of the Savior especially is priceless. But it certainly never claims to be all that God ever said or will say throught he medium of prophets or scripture.

  13. re id: who won in the end? (evidence points to Smith winning, if this dare was ever taken on)…

    Interesting question. I'd say that in many ways, at least looking at where things stand right now, Smith lost bigtime. Or at best one can say, Maybe he won, maybe he lost; it's complicated, and we can't really know for sure.

    First, of course, there's the fact that Smith was murdered. Second, though he remains the titular founder of the "religions of Joseph Smith," most of those religions have taken pains to distance themselves from Smith's most distinctive and controversial doctrines. E.g., both the LDS Church and the Community of Christ (the two largest of Smith's legacies) have distanced themselves from notions like the Israelite origins of Native America (and dark skin as a "curse"), the Kolob-centered cosmos, the idea that Abraham et al are now full-fledged Gods in a polytheistic universe…. and of course have also repudiated polygamy. (True, one of Smith's other legacies, the FLDS Church, continues to honor this most distinctively Smithian doctrine, but is widely reviled by the culture at large.)

    The LDS Church has grown tremendously since Smith's death, but one can't cite that as evidence that "Smith won" for the simple reason that one can't be sure that Smith himself would have preferred the LDS over, say, the FLDS (widely reviled and still being persecuted) or the Strangites (barely hanging on). Maybe Smith would have been happy at all with what the LDS Church has become.

    The one sense in which Smith did ultimately "win" is that he started something big and important. But did he "win" in the sense that what he started has grown into what he wanted? Hard to say.

  14. Lucky Matt,

    The reason I wrote what I did is that Mormons argue that the Bible is insufficient because of evil and wicked men taking out precious doctrines from it. Jeff's well-written post applies the reality of God working through a fallen humanity prone to errors to defend the writings of JS, but does not apply it to the biblical text. The reason I say this is because if one actually applied the principles Jeff is espousing to the biblical text, then one can't help but argue that the Bible is inerrant regarding salvation history. I hope this answers your question.

    Regarding your challenge to show you where in the Bible it says that God won't speak to could be considered a trap since we all know that such a statement cannot be found in the Bible. I could challenge you to show me where it says the BOM would be brought into the world because the Bible doesn't have what we need to understand God and salvation. You couldn't show me that verse, either. The Bible is complete regarding what we need to know about God, us, and our relationship with Him, which is that we are fallen and separated from Him, doomed to eternal separation from Him, and cannot come into His Holy Presence on our own merits, which is why He sent Jesus Christ into the world to die for our sins. That's the gospel message. Anything more is not biblical but the product of men and false teachings.

    I stated that God generally speaks to us through His Word, which is good enough. We are too fallen to think that our antennae are so accurate that we don't misinterpret what God would be saying to us through emotions and feelings. But, His Word is right there plain as day to guide us, to give us hope, and reveal His love for us.

    Yes, God speaks to us. He reveals things to us through human beings. What I don't believe is that He spoke through JS to teach the world things that are not congruent with the biblical text. You think such teachings are in alignment with the Bible. So, I challenge you to show me where in the Bible it teaches that God lived on an earth as we do, and that there are other gods beside Him. You see, we can dance that dance all night long, but it doesn't really settle anything. I still maintain that the Bible is not authoritative for the LDS Church, which means that it is not the absolute measuring stick, but that other writings and feelings are. That's all.


  15. jackg, we have no disagreement that scripture trumps personal revelation–like you said, the canon is the measuring stick to judge all things against. If a person feels "inspired" with ideas that are not in harmony with scripture, he had better reconsider.

    I also agree that the writings in the Bible are inspired, true, and authoritative. No disagreement there.

    And yes, the challenge for you to show me where the Bible says there won't be additional scripture outside the Bible was a trap of sorts–a request that I knew you could not deliver on because, as you admit, it is *not* a Biblical teaching. Therefore, by applying your own criteria, you must reject it.

    The Bible clearly indicates the existence of additional scripture outside itself. The Book of Mormon is part of that extra-Biblical scripture, as are the other revelations of ancient and modern-day prophets.

  16. thank you for your reply, anonymous.

    What I meant by winning probably wasn't clear enough when I wrote my post, though I always love to think along those lines (as in, would Jesus shake the church up if He returned? I think so. Smith? He'd be in for a culture shock, as would anybody coming from his time).

    Anyways, my definition of winning was more important than "did Smith give way to a successful church?" Rather, it was a very specific win–winning the argument. Is polygamy a God-breathed doctrine? Is the Book of Abraham written by Abraham himself? Are Lamanites Native Americans?

    Does nobody recall that Smith received the knowledge about Indians in the BoM through an angel? (I'll pull out the quote later if anyone would like a confirmation).

    Yet regardless of where Smith got this idea from, let us note the absolute conformity to this idea! There was no question among the First Presidency that the Lamanites were Indians. This belief was propagated by Smith, and no one questioned it.




    We can become gods?


    Smith could've told everyone that some random dead body was an ancient warrior from the Book of Mormon times, and they would've believed him! LGT apologists would've disagreed, of course, but there was no disagreement on what Smith "felt" from the Spirit/preached among his people at the time.

    Those who did disagree defected, were highly ridiculed, and now we have the famous compartmentalization line: "he's hate-filled, never had a real testimony, and obviously anti-Mormon."

    Absolute, undeniable win for Joseph Smith.

    That's why, although I should be too universalist to care, that I put a lot of emphasis on Smith's handling of polygamy. He took advantage of a lot of people and got away with it, which is very apparent in the way he coaxed teenage girls' parents into allowing him to marry their young daughter by promising them eternal life.

    If someone can't see through that, then how is a body of Latter-Day Saint Apostles supposed to tell the difference between speculation and scripture? If someone wholeheartedly believes Smith when he says that Indians are descendants of the Lamanites, like the entire First Presidency did back in his time, how can we trust them to know "revelation" from "lie"?

  17. As for the conversation going on among jackg, luckymatt, and bookslinger, I'd like to ask a question about the reliability of feeling for revelation.

    Has there ever been an answer you received through prayer that ended up being wrong once compared to, say, history or the bible?
    I was reading the replies to a blog post one day on this other site, and someone came in bashing people for believing Smith secretly practiced polygamy. He said he knew because the Spirit told him so, and that we should check out FAIR and FARMS (which made me wonder if he was actually some anti-mormon trying to have fun).

    Still, I can't help but wonder how you judge the worthiness of the answers you receive through prayer, and if there have been any contradicting answers, how you uphold the integrity of this method.

    I'd also like to comment on this quote from earlier: "Ultimate truth can *only* be discerned spiritually (and I know, the truth of that statement falls on deaf ears from those who don't want to believe it)."

    What about spiritual truths that have physical implications? For example: We know that, since Jesus died on the cross, that there must have been an execution method involving crosses back in His time–and there were, whereas the complete absence of that method, alongside contradicting evidence that, say, the universal practice was to throw people off a cliff, would be reason to doubt that He died on the cross. If this was supposed to be taken literally because of spiritual discernment, then what of spiritual discernment being the *ultimate* truth?

    Bookslinger made a case for LDS apologists only making Mormonism to be plausible, but they're doing so in the face of very contradicting evidence that, if factual, is proof that Mormonism is false. And factual is an attainable thing, believe it or not. I'm actually more prone to believe the facts against the church because I had a very genuine spiritual encounter through prayer that told me the Book of Mormon and LDS church are false.

  18. Re "id": I'll qualify my statement about ultimate truth: ultimate *spiritual* truth can only be discerned spiritually. But to me, spiritual truths–such as whether there is a God, what He is like, the origin, purpose, and destiny of man, the divinity of Jesus Christ, the validity of prophetic callings and the truthfulness of their words, etc–are the ones that matter most, by far.

    Other truths such as "grass is green," or "gravity is real," or "Hitler waged a war" certainly don't require a spiritual manifestation to know. But this conversation is about spiritual things and that's what I meant by my statement.

    Someone rejecting spiritual evidence will never come to know the truth of spiritual things. Take the birth of Jesus. By all logic and reason, *by far* the most reasonable conclusion is that Mary had an illegitimate child and she and Joseph made up a wild story about angels and a divine conception to the attempt to cover it up. And the shepherds who saw the child in the stable and reported angelic visits were certainly accomplices to the fraud or deluded. You will never convince a skeptic otherwise, and indeed, out of a nation of skeptics came a mob who worked for the crucifixion of Jesus.

    The only way to know that the "wild stories" about his miraculous conception and birth are true (and they are true) is through a manifestation of the Holy Ghost. There are plenty of practicing Christians today who reject these types of supernatural occurances and believe Jesus was simply a normal man with a great social message. These same Christians reject the Spirit of God. These spiritual things will, as Paul says, always sound like "foolishness" to the natural man. It's just the way things are.

    And as for people getting false spiritual answers, that also happens. Satan and his minions try to confuse us at every turn and can put all sorts of crazy ideas in people's heads. I have no doubt that people get confused all the time by mistaking false spirits for the Holy Spirit. That's one reason why the scriptural canon is so essential, and is the bedrock of our faith, and helps us discern between the two. Prophets are (usually) better at receiving communication from God than the rest of us. It goes with the calling and flows from the way they live their lives. Therefore, their words can help us discern truth from error. I have no doubt that some of those who believed Mary's "wild story" about Jesus' conception took comfort in the prophecies such as Isaiah's, "Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son…."

    But having a supporting scripture is not enough–the personal witness of the Holy Ghost that the scripture applied to *this instance* of their life's experience (aka personal revelation) would have been essential to sort out truth from fraud. It's the same story with every controversial religious figure: Jesus, Moses, Joshua, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, John the Baptist, Peter, Paul, and yes, Joseph Smith and his successors in the latter days.

  19. Lucky Matt,

    I guess we will always disagree on the writings of JS. So, it's kind of pointless to reiterate the same arguments we have already done on previous posts. We both know where the other stands. Have a blessed day!


  20. thanks for your reply, luckymatt.

    I figured you meant more spiritual things such as "is there a God?" and so on. I was just thinking more along the lines of "if the Book of Mormon is true and is to be taken as a literal, historical record, there wouldn't be so much evidence against it." If I didn't receive the No in my prayer, I wouldn't be able to take the book literally (like Dan Vogel? Is that the Mormon apologist who doesn't take the BoM literally?).

    As for spiritual discernment and getting answers from Satan, how can anything at all in the Mormon religion be taken seriously if this is true? The BoM prayer is rendered a 50/50 shot, same with the truthfulness of the church (at least, 50/50 based on spiritual evidence). Furthermore, I could prove to anyone that there were major times when Joseph Smith had no idea what he was talking about (the Book of Abraham, Lamanites as Indian ancestors, BoM geography, and how his followers blindly believed every word of it or else they went through apostasy), and so, out of sake of someone else's personal comfort, am I supposed to disregard the evidence proving my spiritual experience and instead accept the complete lack of evidence and entirely speculative plausibility that comes with the answer I didn't receive spiritually?

  21. Joseph was an imperfect man trying to deliver inprecisely delivered revelation. What we got is a book full of grammatical errors, inadequate wording, and limited communication. If you search hard enough you'll find the divine. For me the greatest divine nugget in the Book of Mormon is the clarification of what is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, best summarized in 2 Nephi 31:10-21 and futher expounded upon in Doctrine and Covenants 20:17-29 and 76:40-42,50-53. When I say I believe the Gospel is true I am testifying to the truthfulness of those verses.

    The imprecise delivery of revelation that gave us the Bible gave us a book full of grammatical errors, inadequate wording, and limited communication. The divine Gospel nuggets found in the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants are in there too. Unfortunately the corrective process of continued revelation was interrupted for a time and the patina of human intellect sans divine assistance tarnished the brilliance of the Bible gems.

  22. Patrick,
    Hey, I just read the end of 2nd Nephi not too long ago.

    I don't mean to agitate you, but I feel like I could write a whole lot of nonsense, throw my version of the Gospel of Christ in it, and call it another testimony to Christ's divinity.

    It's a nice divine nugget for sure, but it could very easily have been borrowed from some 19th century Methodist priest and whatever influence he had on Smith's theology.

  23. Patrick,

    I have to step in and say that I don't see where your comments have any grounding in biblical truth. When you start off by admitting JS was an imperfect man and that "If you search hard enough you'll find the divine" made me immediately think that the Bible reveals its divine nature the moment one reads it. When I think of the BOM and other literary comparisons, I think about Victor Hugo's Les Miserables. One can certainly find divine gems throughout that writing, but it doesn't make it scripture. So, even if one could argue that you can find divine gems in the BOM, it doesn't make it scripture.