Sunday School General President Tad R. Callister gave a talk in the October 2017 General Conference titled “God’s Compelling Witness: The Book of Mormon”. In this talk, he takes an interesting “well what if this” or “what if that” approach to disprove the adversaries claims about the Book of Mormon being a figment of Joseph Smith’s imagination that he wrote and we use so frequently in our church today. “The Book of Mormon is not only the keystone of our religion, but it can also become the keystone of our testimonies so that when trials or unanswered questions confront us, it can hold our testimonies securely in place.” The Book of Mormon, in any case, sits on the scales of truth with the critics’ arguments and outweighs them. Why is this? Because if the Book of Mormon is true, then Joseph Smith was a true prophet and this is the restored Church of Jesus Christ, regardless of any historical or other arguments that are contrary. For this reason among many others, the adversary is determined on disproving the Book of Mormon, but the obstacles are insurmountable because of the truth that the book holds.
First, there must be an explanation for how Joseph Smith, a 23-year-old farm boy with very little education, created a book with hundreds of unique names and places, some unpronounceable, and give very detailed explanations of stories and events. The critics propose that he was a creative genius and relied upon hundreds of books and other content to create a historical record of the Book of Mormon. But on the contrary, there is not a solitary witness that claims to have ever seen Joseph with any of these resources before the translation began. Even if true, it is extremely insufficient to explain the Book of Mormon’s existence. You would have to answer the question: how did Joseph read all of these alleged resources, cut out the irrelevant (keep in mind, all of this never left his brain), keep the intricate facts straight down to the person, place, location and when it happened, and recall it perfectly by memory? Because Joseph had no notes when translating. His wife Emma recalled, “He had neither manuscript nor book to read from. … If he had had anything of the kind he could not have concealed it from me.”
So how did Joseph dictate a 500-plus page book without any notes? To do so, he could not have been just a creative genius but also have a photographic memory beyond anything that we know, even today. So even if all of this was true, why had attention never been called to his remarkable talent? However, this is not all. These arguments only account for the historical content within the book. The real issue remains: “…how did Joseph produce a book that radiates with the Spirit, and where did he get such profound doctrine, much of which clarifies or contradicts the Christian beliefs of his time?” For example, the Book of Mormon teaches that the Fall of Adam was a positive step forward, contrary to Christian belief. It reveals the covenants made at baptism, covenants that are not addressed in the Bible. “In addition, one might ask: where did Joseph get the powerful insight that because of Christ’s Atonement, He can not only cleanse us but also perfect us? Where did he get the stunning sermon on faith in Alma 32? Or King Benjamin’s sermon on the Savior’s Atonement, perhaps the most remarkable sermon on this subject in all scripture? Or the allegory of the olive tree with all its complexity and doctrinal richness? When I read this allegory, I have to map it out to follow its intricacies. Are we now supposed to believe that Joseph Smith just dictated these sermons off the top of his head with no notes whatsoever?” Contrary to all of these conclusions, God’s fingerprints are everywhere in, on and around the Book of Mormon, as seen by its majestic doctrinal truths, particularly its masterful sermons on the Atonement of Jesus Christ. If Joseph were not a prophet, then in order to account for all doctrinal insight that it contains, critics would have to make the argument that he was also a theological genius. However, despite this case, one might question: why was Joseph the only one in the 1,800 years following Christ’s ministry to produce something like this? The answer is because it was revelation, not brilliance, that was the source of this book.
Even still, suppose Joseph was a creative and theological genius with a photographic memory. Simply those talents alone do not contribute to him being a skilled writer. To explain it, critics would have to say that he was not only a creative and theological genius with a photographic memory, but also a naturally gifted writer. Otherwise, how could he intertwine multitudes of names, places and events harmoniously without any inconsistencies? How did he write “detailed war strategies, compose eloquent sermons, and coin phrases that are highlighted, memorized, quoted, and placed on refrigerator doors by millions of people, phrases such as, “When ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God” (Mosiah 2:17) or “Men are, that they might have joy” (2 Nephi 2:25). These are messages with a heartbeat—messages that live and breathe and inspire. To suggest that Joseph Smith at age 23 possessed the skills necessary to write this monumental work in a single draft in approximately 65 working days is simply counter to the realties of life.” Emma Smith confirmed these impossibilities: “Joseph Smith [as a young man] could neither write nor dictate a coherent and well-worded letter; let alone dictat[e] a book like the Book of Mormon.”
And finally, even if someone accepts all the previous arguments, dubious as they may be, the critics are still faced with another looming impediment. Joseph claimed the Book of Mormon was written on golden plates. This claim received unrelenting criticism in his day. Back then, “everyone” know that ancient histories were written on papyrus or parchment, until years later, when metal plates were discovered with historical writings on them. In addition, the claims that the use of cement, as described within the Book of Mormon, were beyond technical expertise of these early Americans—until cement structures were found within ancient America. How can critics account for these and similar unlikely discoveries? Joseph would have had to be a very, very lucky guesser. Somehow, though, against all existing scientific and academic knowledge, he guessed right when everyone else was wrong.
When all is said and done, one might wonder how someone could believe all these alleged factors and forces that combined in such a way to allow Joseph to write the Book of Mormon to foster a satanic hoax. How does this make sense? In direct opposition to these assertions, this book has inspired millions to reject Satan and to live more Christlike lives. “While someone might choose to believe the critics’ line of reasoning, it is, for me, an intellectual and spiritual dead end. To believe such, I would have to accept one unproved assumption after another.” In addition, you would have to deny and disregard every one of the 11 witnesses, even though each remained true to his testimony to the very end; reject the divine doctrine the fills this book with is supernal truths; ignore the fact that multitudes have come closer to God by reading this book. Above all, you would have to deny the confirming whispers of the Holy Ghost. This would be contrary to everything I know to be true.
Tad R. Callister tells of a friend of his that left the Church of a time. “He recently wrote to me of his return: “Initially, I wanted the Book of Mormon to be proven to me historically, geographically, linguistically, and culturally. But when I changed my focus to what it teaches about the gospel of Jesus Christ and His saving mission, I began to gain a testimony of its truthfulness. One day while reading the Book of Mormon in my room, I paused, knelt down, and gave a heartfelt prayer and felt resoundingly that Heavenly Father whispered to my spirit that the Church and the Book of Mormon were definitely true. My three-and-a-half-year period of re-investigating the Church led me back wholeheartedly and convincingly to its truthfulness. If one will take the time to humbly read and ponder the Book of Mormon, as did my friend, and give ear to the sweet fruits of the Spirit, then he or she will eventually receive the desired witness.”
The Book of Mormon is one of God’s priceless gifts to us. It is both a sword and a shield—it sends the word of God into battle and serves as an arch defender of the truth. As Saints, we have not only the privilege of defending the Book of Mormon but also take the opportunity to take the offense—to preach with power its divine doctrine and bear testimony of its crowning witness of Jesus Christ.