Are there real golden plates and did God and Jesus appear to Joseph?
“The idea that we must be neutral and argue quite as much in favor of the adversary as we do in favor of righteousness is neither reasonable nor safe,” stated President Boyd K. Packer. “In the Church we are not neutral. We are one-sided. There is a war going on, and we are engaged in it. It is the war between good and evil, and we are belligerents defending the good. We are therefore obliged to give preference to and protect all that is represented in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and we have made covenants to do it.”
The war in heaven (the pre-mortal existence), the great war of words and philosophies where a third of the hosts of heaven were lost to the adversary, continues among us today.
I saw this BYU-published (Mormon Studies Review) 2014 interview that Spencer Fluhman of the Neal A. Maxwell Institute at BYU conducted with Ann Taves, a non-Latter-day Saint religious studies scholar. In answer to an inquiry, she replied: “But your question, I think, alludes to the work I’ve been doing on early Mormonism and the contentious issue of the materiality of the golden plates, which is what I’ve been lecturing on in various venues. The golden plates take us straight into one of the most interesting challenges: taking the whole range of evidence and views on contentious claims into account and making our way through them as scholars in as transparent a fashion as possible. . . . I’m sure it helps that I am setting up the ‘puzzle’ of the golden plates with a claim that each ‘side’ holds dear—that is, that Joseph Smith was not a deceiver or deluded and that there were no ancient golden plates” (emphasis added).
This friendly non-Latter-day Saints’ views, that impugn the existence of the gold plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated, are here found in a tithe-subsidized BYU publication, that is not supposed to be supporting the enemy in the war, but to be unapologetically defending the truth with no question about what really exists.
In contrast, we have this statement, given in General Conference, from President James E. Faust:
As a young Aaronic Priesthood boy, I received a firsthand confirmation of the remarkable testimony of the Three Witnesses concerning the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. My stake president was President Henry D. Moyle, and his father was James H. Moyle. In the summertime Brother James H. Moyle would visit his family, and he would worship with us in our little ward in the southeast of the Salt Lake Valley.
One Sunday, Brother James H. Moyle shared with us a singular experience. As a young man he went to the University of Michigan to study law. As he was finishing his studies, his father told him that David Whitmer, one of the witnesses of the Book of Mormon, was still alive. The father suggested to his son that he stop on his way back to Salt Lake City to visit with David Whitmer face-to-face. Brother Moyle’s purpose was to ask him about his testimony concerning the golden plates and the Book of Mormon.
During that visit, Brother Moyle said to David Whitmer: “Sir, you are an old man, and I’m a young man. I have been studying about witnesses and testimonies. Please tell me the truth concerning your testimony as one of the witnesses of the Book of Mormon.” David Whitmer then told this young man: “Yes, I held the golden plates in my hands, and they were shown to us by an angel. My testimony concerning the Book of Mormon is true.” David Whitmer was out of the Church, but he never denied his testimony of the angel’s visitation, of handling the golden plates, or of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. Hearing with my own ears this remarkable experience directly from Brother Moyle’s lips had a powerful, confirming effect upon my growing testimony. Having heard it, I felt it was binding upon me.
(Personally, as I read President Faust’s testimony, I received a witness that what he said was true, that David Whitmer did actually hold real gold plates in his hands and hear the voice of an angel; that David’s witness and James Faust’s witness were both true.)
So on the one hand, we have BYU publishing the views of worldly academics that deny the existence of the gold plates, and on the other hand we have the testimony of an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ bearing witness that the Spirit of the Lord gave him “a powerful, confirming effect” and that “it was binding” on him. (After my own witness gained from reading his, I feel the same way.) We must ask ourselves—whose side of this war are the people at the Neal A. Maxwell Institute—that published the rot—on? If just one Latter-day Saint questions their testimony of the Book of Mormon because BYU is publishing the views of the detractors, such is a wholly preventable tragedy. “I want to say in all seriousness that there is a limit to the patience of the Lord with respect to those who are under covenant to bless and protect His Church and kingdom upon the earth but do not do it” taught Elder Packer.
Others, like Brian Hauglid (also of NAMI), deny that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Abraham papyrus, and have concluded he cobbled some stuff together another way (something beyond the scope of this post.)
Then I see the most recent number of BYU Studies Quarterly, edited by Steven Harper, that contains the proceedings of an academic conference, “held at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, to commemorate the two hundredth anniversary of Joseph Smith’s First Vision.” I notice that at least two, and probably more, of the presenters, were not Latter-day Saints and do not believe that Joseph Smith was visited by God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ in the Spring of 1820. Yet their unbelieving views (though perhaps almost friendly in an academic way) are published by BYU.
One of the presenters (Ann Taves again) filled her presentation with the views of anti-Mormon writers, that she gave full credibility to, writers whose mission in life is to damage or destroy Joseph Smith’s prophetic calling and teachings. Taves questions many details from Joseph Smith’s history, and makes it plain that she really doesn’t buy Joseph’s testimony of this great theophany. Richard Mouw, an evangelical Protestant scholar, also presents a paper that while friendly in some ways, ultimately denies the factual event of the First Vision.
BYU Studies Quarterly, which is subsidized by tithing and carries the name of BYU, and in the past has been a beacon of light and truth to its readers, is here publishing the wholesale conclusions of nonbelievers, without refutation. True, some of the other presenters were Latter-day Saints, but their papers do not specifically offset the opposing views of the others.
I understand the desire for (supposedly) faithful Latter-day Saint scholars to be part of the conversation, and therefore influence it for good—but that doesn’t mean BYU must publish the contrary views. All BYUSQ needed to do was leave out the presentations that don’t support the history and teachings of the Church—which is one reason why BYU exists. The old story of Brigham Young’s counsel to Karl G. Maeser is particularly applicable here, that “even the mathematical tables should not be taught without the Spirit of God.” (How can you question the existence of gold plates or the first vision by the Spirit of God?)
Now BYU has an influential publication with views in it that are diametrically opposed to the truth as given in the Proclamation on the Restoration. The problems continue: in January, that same BYUSQ journal will publish views opposed to the First Presidency’s 1909 doctrinal statement “The Origin of Man”—according to BYU biologists our bodies are the descendants of animals—not descended from resurrected Heavenly Parents.
Some time ago I read a book promotion interview on “reddit” done by Terry Givens, also of NAMI. He was asked many questions by potential customers. In almost every case where he had an opportunity to quote scripture or the prophets, he instead quoted from the philosophers of the world; men who knew nothing of spiritual things. When asked if faithful Latter-day Saints could one day become like God, he equivocated and said he didn’t know instead of bearing witness of the teachings of the scriptures and modern prophets of the true doctrine.
What we are seeing are subtle attacks on truth by the adversary, using either knowing or naively complicit (alleged) scholars working for BYU. The devil is active behind the scenes, pushing to work his influence into scholarly discourse. President Marion G. Romney warned against such capitulation and testified of the truth:
Latter-day Saints know that there is a God. With like certainty, they know that Satan lives, that he is a powerful personage of spirit, the archenemy of God, of man, and of righteousness. The reality of the existence of both God and the devil is conclusively established by the scriptures and by human experience. . . .
We know that to qualify us to prevail against Satan and his wicked hosts, we have been given the gospel of Jesus Christ. We know that the Spirit of Christ and the power of his priesthood are ample shields to the power of Satan. We know that there is available to each of us the gift of the Holy Ghost—the power of revelation which embraces the gift of discernment by which we may unerringly detect the devil and the counterfeits he is so successfully foisting upon this gullible generation. Our course is clear and certain. It is to strictly obey the commandments of the Lord, as they are recorded in the scriptures and as they are being given by the living prophets. . . .
I know that God lives. Through my own experiences I have come to know of his Spirit and his power. I know also that Satan lives. I have detected his spirit and felt of his power—not to the extent as did the Prophet Joseph, but in like experience. (Emphasis added.)
President Ezra Taft Benson also gave warning; warnings that are ignored by these BYU academics today:
In the Book of Mormon the prophet Nephi exclaims: "O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever. I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh; for I know that cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of flesh. Yea, cursed is he that putteth his trust in man or maketh flesh his arm." (2 Ne. 4:34.)
Prophesying of our day, Nephi said, ". . . they have all gone astray save it be a few, who are the humble followers of Christ; nevertheless, they are led, that in many instances they do err because they are taught by the precepts of men." (2 Ne. 28:14.)
Yes, it is the precepts of men versus the principles of God. The more we follow the word of God, the less we are deceived, while those who follow the wisdom of men are deceived the most.
Increasingly the Latter-day Saints must choose between the reasoning of men and the revelations of God. This is a crucial choice, for we have those within the Church today who, with their worldly wisdom, are leading some of our members astray. President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., warned that "the ravening wolves are amongst us from our own membership and they, more than any others, are clothed in sheep's clothing, because they wear the habiliments of the Priesthood. ... We should be careful of them." (The Improvement Era, May 1949, p. 268.)
Sadly, and shamefully, we must be careful of who we read and listen to at BYU, for some few of these people are marginalizing true doctrine, and others are aiding and abetting the enemy of all righteousness, giving him aid and comfort where President Brigham Young would have had him spanked and thrown out by his heals.
Speaking of his enthusiasm for the growth of so-called “Mormon Studies,” BYU professor Thomas Wayment wrote: “Historically, the conversation about the Book of Mormon has been defined by extreme viewpoints, with defenders and detractors aligned in ways that permit little room for productive conversations to develop and with little hope of finding common ground. . . . Old battle lines could have emerged, believers could have found themselves staking their claims against the assaults of academics.”
Have Wayment and Harper and Givens and Hauglid and Fluhman not read the prophets, or at least Brother Packer’s counsel? Do they not know that the devil uses such naivete as a way to sneak opposing views and false doctrine into symposiums and conferences and journals and books? Again, if even one Latter-day Saint loses their testimony because of the unbelieving content in these BYU publications, it is a terrible tragedy that need not have been.
God and the devil drew the old battle lines and Michael, the archangel, will one day overthrow the devil, but until then Satan seeks to increase his influence any way he can, and academia is one of them. President Packer said that all faithful church members who keep their covenants are at war, belligerents in defense of the truth. But so many of these BYU academics don’t seem to catch on to the fact that they are doing the devil’s bidding by publishing his views. Far better today to learn the gospel from the prophets and apostles than from BYU academics; those enabling and supporting the unbelievers and detractors—or anyone, even themselves—who don’t know or believe that there really are gold plates and that the Father and the Son really did appear to Joseph Smith.
The fact is that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is founded on events and occurrences that the university academies of the world will never accept since they are profoundly supernatural, and most church members just don’t give a fig, as President Lorenzo Snow would put it, what scholars and academics think about it. Unless it damages testimonies. Some people, sadly, are foolish enough to let the vastly imperfect scholarship and precepts of men overcome their witness from the Spirit of God, of what is true.