The Seer Stone, Faith, and Miracles

Church-Releases-Original-Book-of-Mormon-Manuscript-and-Seer-Stone-Photo--600x357The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released a 1,000 page, two-volume book containing the Printer’s Manuscript of the Book of Mormon. In conjunction with the release of the printer’s manuscript project, the Church posted an article about seership, seer stones, and their roles in translation and revelation. The article is scheduled to be published in print in the Church’s October 2015 issue of the Ensign magazine.

According to Trent Toon, at the Deseret News:

“Images of the seer stone will be placed at the new priesthood restoration site that is being completed in Harmony, Pennsylvania, and will be dedicated Sept. 19 by President Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Elder Snow said. Images of the seer stone will also be available in the Church History Museum, which is being renovated and will be opened a week before general conference in October.”

Since that time, many people have either been excited to see the pictures of the stone or have been critical of the Church for keeping this part of the history hidden for nearly 200 years. I’ve heard one person express interest and love for the Church, because as he put it, “I am a very visual person.” Another person, said in disbelief, “I’ve never found a magic stone.” Many others have talked about how the Church has kept this as a secret part of its history.

The Seer Stone and the Urim and Thummin used by Joseph Smith are different things with similar functions. Joseph Smith received an Urim and Thummin that were buried by Moroni with the golden plates, the Sword of Laban and some other Nephite artifacts. The scriptures teach that the Urim and Thummin buried with the plates are the same that the Lord prepared for the Brother of Jared on the mount (Ether 4:5). It’s reported that Joseph Smith found the seer stone while digging a well in upstate New York. Elder B.H. Roberts recorded:

“The Seer Stone referred to here was a chocolate-colored, somewhat egg-shaped stone which the prophet found while digging a well in company with his brother Hryum, for a Mr. Clark Chase, near Palmyra, New York. It possessed the qualities of Urim and Thummim, since by means of it…Joseph was able to translate the characters engraven on the plates.” (Roberts, B.H. Comprehensive History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Volume 1: 129)

One more account by Martin Harris offers more clarification about the Seer Stone versus the Urim and Thummin.

“The Prophet Joseph Smith…possessed a seer stone by which he was enabled to translate, as well as from the Urim and Thummim, and for convenience he then used the seer stone…The seer stone differed in appearance entirely from the Urim and Thummim that was obtained with the plates (which was two clear stones set in two rims, very much resembling spectacles)…After continued translation, we would become weary, and would go down to the river and exercise by throwing stones out on the river, etc. While so doing on one occasion, I found a stone very much resembling the one used for translating, and on resuming our labor of translation, I put in place the stone that I had found…The Prophet remained silent, unusually and intently gazing in darkness…Much surprised, Joseph exclaimed, ‘Martin! What is the matter? All is as dark as Egypt!’ My countenance betrayed me, and the Prophet asked me why I had done so. I said, to stop the mouths of fools, who had told me that the Prophet had learned those sentences and was merely repeating them…” (See Backman, Milton V., Eyewitness Accounts of the Restoration. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1983, pp. 84-85 (emphasis added). See primary source: Edward Stevenson, “Incidents in the Life of Martin Harris,” MS 44 (February 6, 1882): 86-87.)

In this article, I would like to address two myths. The first myth is that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has kept the notion of seer stones and urim and thumins secret. The second myth is that the seer stone is fake because the Lord does not need to use an object to perform His work.

The Myth that the Church Has Kept Seer Stones Secret

In his book, Doctrines of Salvation, Vol III, page 225, Joseph Fielding Smith wrote:

“We have been taught since the days of the Prophet that the Urim and Thummim were returned with the plates to the angel. We have no record of the Prophet having the Urim and Thummim after the organization of the Church. Statements of translations by the Urim and Thummim after that date are evidently errors. The statement has been made that the Urim and Thummim was on the altar in the Manti Temple when that building was dedicated. The Urim and Thummim so spoken of, however, was the seer stone which was in the possession of the Prophet Joseph Smith in early days. This seer stone is currently in the possession of the Church.” (Doctrines of Salvation 3:225). For more on this, see here.” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954–56) 3: 225.)

This book is still in print today and can be purchased through and Deseret Book. Anyone interested in reading could have found out that the Church possesses a seer stone, but that the urim and thumin were returned to Moroni with the gold plates. However, Joseph Fielding Smith has not been the only one to mention either seer stones or the translation device called the Urim and Thummin.

angel-moroni-gives-plates-to-joseph-82829-galleryIn the Joseph Smith History published after the Book of Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price, found in the standard works of the Church, Joseph Smith wrote:

“By this timely aid was I enabled to reach the place of my destination in Pennsylvania; and immediately after my arrival there I commenced copying the characters off the plates. I copied a considerable number of them, and by means of the Urim and Thummim I translated some of them, which I did between the time I arrived at the house of my wife’s father, in the month of December, and the February following.” (JSH 1:62)

Yet that is not the only record we have of seer stones and translation devices. The Doctrine and Covenants mentions the Urim and Thummin as a translation device used by Joseph Smith to translate The Book of Mormon and given to the Brother of Jared while in the mountain three distinct times.

“Now, behold, I say unto you, that because you delivered up those writings which you had power given unto you to translate by the means of the Urim and Thummim, into the hands of a wicked man, you have lost them.” (D&C 10:1)

“Behold, I say unto you, that you must rely upon my word, which if you do with full purpose of heart, you shall have a view of the plates, and also of the breastplate, the sword of Laban, the Urim and Thummim, which were given to the brother of Jared upon the mount, when he talked with the Lord face to face, and the miraculous directors which were given to Lehi while in the wilderness, on the borders of the Red Sea.” (D&C 17:1)

“9 This earth, in its sanctified and immortal state, will be made like unto crystal and will be a Urim and Thummim to the inhabitants who dwell thereon, whereby all things pertaining to an inferior kingdom, or all kingdoms of a lower order, will be manifest to those who dwell on it; and this earth will be Christ’s.

10 Then the white stone mentioned in Revelation 2:17, will become a Urim and Thummim to each individual who receives one, whereby things pertaining to a higher order of kingdoms will be made known;

11 And a white stone is given to each of those who come into the celestial kingdom, whereon is a new name written, which no man knoweth save he that receiveth it. The new name is the key word.” (D&C 130:9-11)

The use of Urim and Thummin is mentioned in the Old Testament seven times.

moses-gives-aaron-priesthood-39465-galleryExodus 28:30 and Leviticus 8:8 mention that the Urim and Thummin are part of the breast plate worn by Aaron in the tabernacle, and as a tool for judgment.

Exodus 28:30 says, “And thou shalt put in the breastplate of judgment the Urim and the Thummim; and they shall be upon Aaron’s heart, when he goeth in before the Lord: and Aaron shall bear the judgment of the children of Israel upon his heart before the Lord continually.”

Numbers 27:21 says that the Priest Eleazar should use the Urim for counsel and judgment before the Lord.

Deuteronomy 33:8 informs us that the Urim and Thummin were given to the tribe of Levi “to be with thy holy one”.

In 1 Samuel 28:6 we learn that the Lord would not speak to Saul even through the Urim, “And when Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord answered him not, neither by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets.”

And Ezra 2:63 and Nehemiah 7:65 repeat the same verse, “And the Tirshatha said unto them, that they should not eat of the most holy things, till there stood up a priest with Urim and with Thummim.”

The New Testament mentions the use of a seer stone in Revelations 2:17.

In Abraham 3:1 in the Pearl of Great Price we learn that Abraham had use of an Urim and Thummin.

In The Book of Mormon, we are given a lot more detail about the Urim and Thummin and seer stones. In Mosiah 8:13 we learn that King Mosiah has interpreters and would be able to translate the 24 plates found in the ruins of the Jaredites, and it also discusses the meaning of seer. It says, “Whosoever is commanded to look in them, the same is called seer.”

Mosiah 28:14-16 teaches us the purpose of the Urim and Thummin:

 “14 Now these things were prepared from the beginning, and were handed down from generation to generation, for the purpose of interpreting languages;

15 And they have been kept and preserved by the hand of the Lord, that he should discover to every creature who should possess the land the iniquities and abominations of his people;

16 And whosoever has these things is called seer, after the manner of old times.”

In Mosiah 28:20 and Alma 37:21 we learn that the ”interpreters” are passed down from one generation to another so that they may be preserved and be used for future generations who will need them to interpret dead languages and know the works of ancient people.

brother-of-jared-seeing-finger-of-lord-39668-galleryEther 3:21-23 and Ether 4: 4-5 teaches that the interpreters were first given to the Brother of Jared after he was commanded to write what was taught to him in the mount when he saw the Lord. These records were sealed and written in a language that the Lord confounded. Moroni was then commanded to seal the records and the interpreters along with the rest of the golden plates. These are the interpreters Joseph Smith called the Urim and Thummin and used to translate the portion of the records that became The Book of Mormon.

The Church has never hidden any of this. From the beginning, Joseph Smith talked about translating through the use of the Urim and Thummin. The history written by Joseph’s own hand gives the history of the exact Urim and Thummin that Joseph used. We know that Joseph Smith had the Urim and Thummin that was given to the Brother of Jared by the Lord. The use of an Urim and Thummin and seer stones have been taught about in scripture beginning with the Old Testament. We know that the tribe of Levi was specifically given charge over the Urim and Thummin in the time of Moses. From newer scriptures we know that Abraham, the Jaredites, and the Nephites had use of an Urim and Thummin. The use of sacred stones has been openly taught since Biblical times. If one wants to know that Joseph Smith used stones to translate The Book of Mormon, one only needs to read his history found in our standard works.

The Myth that Lord Does Not Use Objects to Perform His Work



The notion that one would need stones to translate records or to see what the Lord would have one see is not that unusual when taken in the context of scripture. The scriptures contain numerous examples where a prophet uses an element of the Earth to perform the work of God. Moses used a staff to part the Red Sea (Exodus 14:16). Aaron’s staff turned into a snake to convince Pharaoh to let the Israelites go (Exodus 7:10). Moses smote a rock for water to come out when the Israelites were thirsty (Exodus 17:6). The Israelites had to look upon a bronze serpent to be healed from poisonous snake bites (Numbers 21:9). The Philistines became sick after they stole the Ark of the Covenant and remained so until they returned it (1 Samuel 5). Naaman was healed from leprosy by washing in the Jordan River seven times (2 Kings 5). The apostle John speaks about an Angel coming and stirring up the waters of Bethesda to heal the people who entered in (John 5:2-9). Christ spat in the mud and made clay to heal a blind man (John 9:6). The Brother of Jared was given 16 glowing stones to give light unto his people while crossing the ocean (Ether 6:2-3).  Lehi was given the Liahona to guide his family to the Promised Land (1 Nephi 16:10). The use of sacred alters to perform the ordinances of the Lord has been used since the days of Adam. Latter-day Saints could not receive their endowments or be sealed to their family members without an altar.

Like the Children of Israel in the days of Moses, we have been given many miracles both for our comfort and for the purpose of furthering the work of the Lord. We have the use of many miraculous things all built from the elements of the earth. We have cars, airplanes, satellites, radios, TV, the internet all used by the servants of the Lord as a means of communication to further His work. The knowledge of these things did not come forth until the fullness of the gospel was restored. We also have our very own manna. We have hot running water at the turn of a knob, we have electric light; we have farming technology that produces surpluses of food like never before in the history of mankind; we have modern medication and modern machines that “magically” heal our bodies. All of this knowledge has been given through inspiration to those who seek it.

miracle-of-gulls-dowding-209677-galleryYet that is not all. In the latter days the Mormon pioneers were fed on a flock of quail when they were cold and starving. The Saints’ crops in Utah were saved from locusts because the Lord sent seagulls. Many people are miraculously healed every day through faith, and the use of the priesthood. When we could not get my eight-year-old son to a doctor during a severe asthma attack, he was healed by anointing oil through the power of the priesthood, and even after six years, his asthma has never returned. When our modern technological miracles fail, the Lord still gives us His power through our faith both for our comfort and to further His work.

Have you ever read the Bible and wondered how the children of Israel could see so many miracles day after day and still struggle with their faith? We have the same thing today. The Lord parted the Red Sea so that the Israelites could establish the priesthood and worship God. The Lord sends missionaries across oceans in airplanes so that all the world can have the priesthood and worship God. The Lord had Moses smite a rock so that they would not be thirsty. The Lord has provided us with the knowledge of pipes and water pressure as well as provided us with the wealth needed so that we might not be thirsty. It was the faith of Moses that parted the Red Sea. It’s the faith of the Latter-Day Prophets and Saints that have brought about the modern machines that fulfill the prophecy to spread the gospel to all of the world.

In General Conference, we have been told that we are living beneath our privileges (President Dieter F. Uchdorf, Your Potential, Your Privilege, Apr. 2011). Faith and the priesthood have power beyond our imaginations. Remember, with faith Enoch had control over the elements to move mountains and change the course of rivers (Moses 7:13), the Brother of Jared moved Mount Zerin (Ether 12:30), and it was by faith that Peter walked on water to go to the Savior (Matthew 14:29). All of that manifests that the power of God over the elements is ours through faith. It will be faith that the sealed portion of The Book of Mormon, the writings of the Brother of Jared, will come forth to the children of men, and it will be translated through the stones that were prepared by the Lord and given to the Brother of Jared in the mount.

The Church has not hidden sacred knowledge. God has not ceased to do miracles among the children of men, nor has God ceased to use the elements of the earth to further His work. If we want to have the knowledge of God and understand the workings of the Lord, then we need to exercise our faith, ask, seek, knock, truly believe, and it will be given unto us (Matthew 7:7).


Update: Joseph Fielding McConkie and Craig Ostler wrote an article refuting statements made by David Whitmer about the translation of the Book of Mormon. Their arguments are compelling and I am inclined to believe that they are correct. Please read their complete article here.

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Diane Robertson

Diane Robertson

Diane Robertson is just a plain old ordinary person with nothing terribly special about her. She's a homeschooling mother blessed with 11 kids, Diane spends most days in yoga pants taking care of her children, teaching, cooking, and cleaning while never actually doing yoga. Motherhood has helped Diane develop a passion for protecting the family and children. She blogs about political family issues at and journals about her family at
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About Diane Robertson

Diane Robertson is just a plain old ordinary person with nothing terribly special about her. She's a homeschooling mother blessed with 11 kids, Diane spends most days in yoga pants taking care of her children, teaching, cooking, and cleaning while never actually doing yoga. Motherhood has helped Diane develop a passion for protecting the family and children. She blogs about political family issues at and journals about her family at

10 thoughts on “The Seer Stone, Faith, and Miracles

  1. Angela

    This was such a great read. I especially liked that you tied in the miracles and faith required of days long past. Are we all that much different from the children of Israel sometimes? This is why I love the scriptures and history. They repeat themselves and while the stories are different, the concepts are so similar throughout generations. While the world may look at this as unusual, I look at it as miraculous. And I know that miracles still happen even in our day.

  2. Jay Santos

    The use of a seer stone doesn’t bother me (and hasn’t since I learned about it in seminary back in the 1990s…I’m dating myself) as much as the fact that Joseph generally used the seer stone in a hat to translate and didn’t even look at the plates most of the time. I wish this article would have discussed more about that method of translation using the top hat, which while it wasn’t being held secret by the church certainly wasn’t published broadly in any manual or artwork (although it does have 2 mentions in the Ensign a while ago). Regardless of whether he used seer stones or the U&T, the Book of Mormon is what it is, scripture.

    1. John Robertson

      Follow the link at the end of the updated article. I posted its contents as a comment as a convenience, because I know many people don’t like following links, so if you want, look at the comment instead. It is nothing more than excerpts from Joseph Fielding McConkie and Craig Ostler, followed by an excerpt from B.H. Roberts quite thoroughly debunking the idea that Joseph Smith translated the plates in the way that David Whitmer described. Among other things, David Whitmer’s account (which appears to be the root of the idea that it was done by looking at the seerstone in a hat) contradicts Joseph Smith’s own statements about it, as well as the scriptures.

  3. John Robertson

    Whoa! My wife wrote this article assuming the description of translation using a hat was correct. But Joseph Fielding McConkie and Craig Ostler make a very strong case that that description is completely bogus. It contradicts Joseph Smith’s own description. It actually would mean the gold plates weren’t even used for the translation. Here are their words I think sound very worth consideration
    The testimony of David Whitmer, which is laid forth below, clearly contradicts the principles established by the Lord in this revelation [D&C 9]. It is also at odds with the testimonies of both Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery. In our judgment, Mr. Whitmer is not a reliable source on this matter. We are entirely respectful of and grateful for the testimony to which he appended his name as one of the three witnesses of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon and its divine origin. That, however, does not make him a competent witness to the process of translation. We too, like countless others, are competent witnesses of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. Our knowledge of how it was translated, however, is limited to that which has come through the channels ordained by the Lord for that purpose. As to David Whitmer’s explanation, it should be remembered that he never looked into the Urim and Thummim nor translated anything. His testimony of how the Book of Mormon was translated is hearsay.
    Spanning a period of twenty years (1869-1888), some seventy recorded testimonies about the coming forth of the Book of Mormon claim David Whitmer as their source. Though there are a number of inconsistencies in these accounts, David Whitmer was repeatedly reported to have said that after the loss of the 116 pages, the Lord took both the plates and the Urim and Thummim from the Prophet, never to be returned. In their stead, David Whitmer maintained, the Prophet used an oval-shaped, chocolate-colored seer stone slightly larger than an egg. Thus, everything we have in the Book of Mormon, according to Mr. Whitmer, was translated by placing the chocolate-colored stone in a hat into which Joseph would bury his head so as to close out the light. While doing so he could see “an oblong piece of parchment, on which the hieroglyphics would appear,” and below the ancient writing, the translation would be given in English. Joseph would then read this to Oliver Cowdery, who in turn would write it. If he did so correctly, the characters and the interpretation would disappear and be replaced by other characters with their interpretation (Cook, David Whitmer Interviews, 115, 157-58).
    Such an explanation is, in our judgment, simply fiction created for the purpose of demeaning Joseph Smith and to undermine the validity of the revelations he received after translating the Book of Mormon. We invite the reader to consider the following:
    First, for more than fifty years David Whitmer forthrightly rejected Joseph Smith, declaring him to be a fallen prophet. Though he never denied his testimony of the Book of Mormon, he rejected virtually everything else associated with the ministry of Joseph Smith and the restoration of the gospel. His rejection included both the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods, which were restored during the time the Book of Mormon was being translated and, of course, the revelations which would eventually constitute the Doctrine and Covenants.
    Second, according to David Whitmer’s account of how the Book of Mormon was translated, Joseph Smith was the instrument of transmission, while translation rested solely with the Lord. This is simply a reflection of the notion of divine dictation, which holds that every word of scripture comes from God himself. If David Whitmer’s account is to be accepted, revelation also includes spelling and punctuation. This notion is at odds with the explanation found in Doctrine and Covenants 8 and 9, which details how revelation comes. In this respect, Richard Anderson observed that Whitmer “after decades of reflection outside of the Church, concluded that no modification could possibly be made in any revelation. This highly rigid view of these revelations matched his highly rigid view of the origin of the Book of Mormon” (“By the Gift and Power of God,” 84). By contrast Brigham Young observed, “Should the Lord Almighty send an angel to re-write the Bible, it would in many places be very different from what it now is. And I will even venture to say that if the Book of Mormon were now to be re-written, in many instances it would materially differ from the present translation” (Journal of Discourses, 9:311).
    David Whitmer repeatedly said that if a word was misspelled, the translator would not be able to go on until it had been corrected. This hardly allows for the 3,913 changes that have been made between the first edition of the Book of Mormon and the edition presently in use.
    Third, if the process of translation was simply a matter of reading from a seer stone in a hat, surely Oliver Cowdery could do that as well, if not better, than Joseph Smith. After all, Oliver was a schoolteacher. How then do we account for Oliver’s inability to translate? Further, regarding the use of a hat in translation, Joseph’s brother William Smith explained that the Prophet used the Urim and Thummim attached to the breastplate by a rod that held the seer stones set in the rims of a bow before his eyes. “The instrument caused a strain on Joseph’s eyes, and he sometimes resorted to covering his eyes with a hat to exclude the light in part” (Smith, Rod of Iron 1, 3 [February 1924]: 7).
    Fourth, Joseph Smith repeatedly testified to having both the plates and the Urim and Thummim returned to him. He further testified that he translated from the plates by the use of the Urim and Thummim.
    Fifth, David Whitmer gave inconsistent accounts of the instrument used to translate. Thomas Wood Smith, in a published response about an interview he had with David Whitmer, who told him that Joseph Smith used the Urim and Thummim in translating the Book of Mormon, wrote, “When I first read Mr. Traughber’s paper in the Herald of November 15th, I thought that I would not notice his attack at all, as I supposed that I was believed by the Church to be fair and truthful in my statements of other men’s views, when I have occasion to use them, and I shall make this reply only: That unless my interview with David Whitmer in January, 1876, was only a dream, or that I failed to understand plain English, I believed then, and since, and now, that he said that Joseph possessed, and used the Urim and Thummim in the translation of the inscriptions referred to, and I remember of being much pleased with that statement, as I had heard of the ‘Seer stone’ being used. And unless I dreamed the interview, or very soon after failed to recollect the occasion, he described the form and size of the said Urim and Thummim. The nearest approach to a retraction of my testimony as given . . . publicly in many places from the stand from January, 1876, till now, is, that unless I altogether misunderstood ‘Father Whitmer’ on this point, he said the translation was done by the aid of the Urim and Thummim. If he says he did not intend to convey such an impression to my mind, then I say I regret that I misunderstood him, and unintentionally have misrepresented him. But that I understood him as represented by me frequently I still affirm” (as cited in Cook, David Whitmer Interviews, 56).
    Finally, the testimony of David Whitmer simply does not accord with the divine pattern. If Joseph Smith translated everything that is now in the Book of Mormon without using the gold plates, we are left to wonder why the plates were necessary in the first place. It will be remembered that possession of the plates placed the Smith family in considerable danger, causing them a host of difficulties. If the plates were not part of the translation process, this would not have been the case. It also leaves us wondering why the Lord directed the writers of the Book of Mormon to make a duplicate record of the plates of Lehi. This provision–which compensated for the loss of the 116 pages would have served no purpose either. Further, we would be left to wonder why it was necessary for Moroni to instruct Joseph each year for four years before he was entrusted with the plates. We would also wonder why it was so important for Moroni to show the plates to the three witnesses, including David Whitmer. And why did the Lord have the Prophet show the plates to the eight witnesses? Why all this flap and fuss if the Prophet didn’t really have the plates and if they were not used in the process of translation? What David Whitmer is asking us to believe is that the Lord had Moroni seal up the plates and the means by which they were to be translated hundreds of years before they would come into Joseph Smith’s possession and then decided to have the Prophet use a seer stone found while digging a well so that none of these things would be necessary after all. Is this, we would ask, really a credible explanation of the way the heavens operate?

    When asked how the labor of translation was accomplished, the Prophet declined to answer, saying, “It was not intended to tell the world all the particulars of the coming forth of the book of Mormon” (Cannon and Cook, Far West Record, 23). Surely we do not look to the world or the understanding of the world for an answer. We would expect to find that understanding only as we come to understand in greater measure the operations of the Spirit of revelation. (Revelations of the Restoration, p. 89-98)

    B.H. Roberts (Presidency of the Seventy and Church Historian)

    [The following was written in defense of a “new theory” proposed in the Senior Manual of the Improvement Era concerning the translation process of the Book of Mormon based on D&C 8 and 9 rather than on the statements of David Whitmer and Martin Harris.]

    “Through the medium of Urim and Thummim I translated the record by the gift and power of God;” (Wentworth’s letter, Millennial Star, vol. 9, page 118)….
    The foregoing quotation from the prophet is all he has said with reference to the manner of the translation, and we could wish that all other persons, necessarily less informed upon the subject than the prophet himself, had been content to leave the matter where he left it. In this, however, they did not follow his wise example; but must needs undertake to describe the manner of the translation; and from such description has arisen the idea that the Urim and Thummim did all, in the work of the translation, the prophet, nothing; execept to read to his amanuensis what he saw reflected in the seer-stone or Urim and Thummim, which the instruments, and not the prophet, had translated. The men responsible for those statements, on which said theory rests, are David Whitmer and Martin Harris. The former says:

    A piece of something resembling parchment did appear, (i.e., in Urim and Thummim), and on that appeared the writing, one character at a time would appear, and under it was the translation in English. Brother Joseph would read off the English to Brother Oliver Cowdery, who was his principal scribe, and then it was written down and repeated to Brother Joseph to see if it was correct; then it would disappear and another character with the translation would appear. Thus the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God, and not by any power of man. (Address to all Believers in Christ, by David Whitmer, page 12.)
    We have no statement at first hand from Martin Harris at all, only the statement of another, Edward Stevenson, as to what he heard Martin Harris say was the manner of translation. This was as follows:
    By aid of the seer stone, sentences would appear, and were read by the prophet, and written by Martin, and when finished he would say “written,” and if correctly written that sentence would disappear, and another appear in its place; but if not written correctly, it remained until corrected so that the translation was just as it was engraven on the plates precisely in the language then used. (Millennial Star, vol. 24, page 86-87 [Deseret News Dec. 28, 1881])
    These statements have led to the assumption of the theory, I repeat, that the Urim and Thummim did the translating, not Joseph the Seer. Accordingly, it is held that the translation was a mechanical, arbitrary, transliteration; a word for word bringing over from the Nephite language into the English language, a literal interpretation of the record. The prophet, therefore, it is urged, was in no way responsible for the language of the translation, it was not his, but the divine instrument’s, and if there are errors of grammar, or faults of diction, (modern words for which in the nature of things there could be no exact equivalents in an ancient language) New England localisms, modern phrases from the English translation of Hebrew scripture, and other sources—all these must have been in the original Nephite record, say the advocates of this theory, and are arbitrarily brought over into the English language….
    From this data the following argument proceeds: It is impossible that the alleged translation, whether by divine or human media, could be a word-for-word bringing over from the Nephite language into the English; and if the translation is not such a word-for-word bringing over affair, then it cannot be claimed that the Nephite original is responsible for verbal inaccuracies and grammatical errors. If the Book of Mormon is a real translation instead of a word-for-word bringing over from one language into another, and it is insisted that the divine instrument, Urim and Thummim, did all, and the prophet nothing—at least nothing more than to read off the translation made by Urim and Thummim—then the divine instrument is responsible for such errors in grammar and diction as occur. But this is to assign responsibility for errors in language to a divine instrumentality, which amounts to assigning such errors to God. But that is unthinkable, not to say blasphemous. Also, if it be contended that the language of the Book of Mormon, word for word, and letter for letter, was given to the prophet by direct inspiration of God, acting upon his mind, then again God is made responsible for the language errors in the Book of Mormon—a thing unthinkable.
    Rather than ascribe these errors to Deity, either through direct or indirect means, men will reject the claims of the Book of Mormon; and, since the verbal errors in the Book of Mormon are such as one ignorant of the English language would make, the temptation is strong, in the minds of those not yet converted to its truth, to assign to the Book of Mormon an altogether human origin.
    In the presence of these considerations, it is but natural to ask, “Is there no way by which such a conclusion may be avoided?” Most assuredly. Set aside the theory based upon the statements made by David Whitmer and Martin Harris, (mark you, I say the theory based on these statements, not necessarily the statements themselves) and accept the more reasonable theory based upon what the Lord has said upon the subject, in sections 8 and 9 of the Doctrine and Covenants, where [the Lord described] how Oliver Cowdery might translate by means of Urim and Thummim….
    Moreover, the theory that the interpreters did the translating, not the seer aided by them, is in conflict with the Lord’s description of translation by means of Urim and Thummim; and if old conceptions respecting the part performed by Urim and Thummim are in conflict with God’s description of translation, then the sooner we are rid of such conceptions the better….
    There remains, however, the statement of Whitmer and Harris, and it is claimed that the Manual theory of translation cannot be harmonized with what they have said. If that were true, and the Manual theory is more in harmony with what God has said upon the subject than what they have said, then all the worse for their theory—”yea, let God be true but every man a liar!” And, by the way, in passing, I want to ask those who stand up so stoutly for the vindication of what Messrs. Whitmer and Harris have chanced to say on the subject of translation—What about the Lord’s description of the same thing in the Doctrine and Covenants? Are they not interested in vindicating that description? I care very little, comparatively, for what Messrs. Whitmer and Harris have said about the subject. I care everything for what the Lord has said about it. Whence did the two witnesses in question obtain such knowledge as they had about the manner of translation? Undoubtedly, from the Prophet Joseph; for they claim no revelation from the Lord upon the subject. And this knowledge they did not announce until in the later years of their lives; nothing was said about it, by them, until long after the death of the Prophet. They doubtless have given their recollection of what the Prophet had told them about the manner of translating; but experience and observation both teach us that there may be a wide difference between what is really said to men, and their recollection of it—their impressions about it; especially when that recollection or impression is not formulated into written statement until long years afterwards.
    At the same time, it is proper to say … that there is no necessary conflict between the statements of these two Witnesses and the Manual theory of translation. They say the Nephite characters, to be translated, appeared in Urim and Thummim. We say that may be true, or the Prophet may have looked through the interpreters—since they were transparent stones—and thus have seen the characters. They say the interpretation appeared in English, under the Nephite characters in Urim and Thummim: we say, if so, then that interpretation, after being wrought out in the Prophet’s mind, was reflected into Urim and Thummim and held visible there until written. The English interpretation was a reflex from the Prophet’s mind. All this is possible, and is not in conflict with what either the Prophet or Oliver Cowdery said upon the subject; nor in conflict with the Lord’s description of translation. But to insist that the translation of the Book of Mormon was an arbitrary piece of mechanical work, wrought out by transparent stones rather than in the inspired mind of the Prophet, is in conflict with the Lord’s description of translation, and all the reasonable conclusions that may be drawn from the known facts in the case….
    I wish Messrs. Whitmer and Harris, and those who have worked out theories based upon their statements, had left the whole matter where the Prophet Joseph left it; but this they failed to do. Then opponents took up the question, and insisted that the theory of translation, hitherto commonly accepted, requires us to charge all the faults in diction and errors in grammar, to the Lord; and also urge that we have no right, under this theory of translation, to change a single word of the translation, and some Latter-day Saints take the same view….
    It is not a question involving merely the wisdom or unwisdom of setting up a “theory” of the manner in which the translation of the Book of Mormon was accomplished. A “theory” already existed, based upon the statements of Messrs. Whitmer and Harris, which, as generally understood, was untenable. This had to be corrected; and the truth, so far as possible, ascertained and expounded. It was not the desire to create a new theory respecting the translation of the Book of Mormon that prompted the writer of the Manual to advance such explanations as are there made. Indeed, the theory set forth in the Manual did not origiate with him. The difficulties involved in the hitherto commonly accepted theory of translation have long been recognized by Book of Mormon students; and often have been the subject of conversation between this writer and Elder George Reynolds, President Anthon H. Lund, members of the Manual committee, and others; and this writer by no means regards himself as the originator of what is sometimes called the new theory of the Book of Mormon translation. (from Improvement Era, April 1906, Vol. IX, No. 6, p. 426-436)

    1. faithful LDS

      So you’re saying that an article published in the Ensign–an article read and approved by the 1st Presidency and which should be viewed as modern scripture–is wrong? I’m surprised. With all the confusion out in the world I come to this website for true gospel principals. I’m not used to seeing such anti-Mormonism like this here. Maybe I should stick with and Foxnews.

      1. John Robertson

        Of course the ensign can be wrong, and of course can be wrong. They aren’t the scriptures, and they aren’t the Prophet. Ezra Taft Benson stated in his 1969 conference address “Not only are there apostates within our midst, but there are also apostate doctrines that are sometimes taught in our classes and from our pulpits and that appear in our publications. And these apostate precepts of men cause our people to stumble.”

        That is why we are told to study our scriptures daily, and it is why we have stuck with the pretty much the same basic scriptures for 150 years, while the ensign typically stays around for a month. It is because they are not made of the same stuff. One is the fountainhead of truth, the other is, well, just a church publication whose current issue will likely be as forgotten in 50 years as “The instructor”, a church periodical until 45 years ago, is today.

      2. Diane Robertson Post author

        As a Latter-day Saints I feel like I should be constantly looking for truth and not just stopping with the one Ensign article or a national news statement. I found new information that I thought was both clarifying and worth considering as an alternative point of view, so I added it to the article so that other people may ponder it too.

        Personally, I am inclined to believe Joseph Fielding McConkie as he has given scriptural proofs for his statements and because while David Whitmer never denied the Book of Mormon, he left the Church early in it’s history and was a constant critic of Joseph Smith once he left.

        In a recent article that I wrote titled, “6 Ways to Avoid Spiritual Deception”, I said:

        “Not Everything Written is Truth. Many members of the Church have struggled with historical documents that suggest Joseph Smith was not virtuous. It should be no surprise that those who hated Joseph Smith twisted the truth about the prophet to make him look like a fraud or an evil man. Just because something was written during the time period does not make it true. If the history of Christ written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, was instead written by Judas Iscariot or the Pharisees who sought His life, we would have a very different telling of the story. Trust that “By their fruits ye shall know them” (Matt 7:20). Also trust what today’s prophets and apostles have said about Joseph Smith. Remember we have sustained these men as prophets, seers, and revelators. We can completely trust what they have taught about Joseph Smith, just as we can completely trust what they have taught about the Savior. Recently, Elder Neil L. Andersen testified that:
        Joseph Smith was an honest and virtuous man, a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ. God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, did appear to him. He did translate The Book of Mormon by the gift and power of God (Elder Neil. L. Andersen, Joseph Smith, Oct. 2014).”

        And I believe it. If we were to take the information from David Whitmer and the information from Joseph Smith, and stand with what the modern prophets have told us about Joseph Smith then the bottom article would then be the one we should take our information from.

  4. Ben Britton

    These arguments are soooo dated guys! Emma Smith, Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdery, William Smith and others all talk about the hat and seer stone in the translation process. The church is owning its history so dig deeper before you claim apostasy.

    1. John Robertson

      So dated? That is an interesting argument when it comes to finding truth. My favorite statements of truth are a far older than 200 years.

      I’ll tell you something that isn’t dated. (1) I find that when I stand by the Prophet Joseph Smith then I always turn out to be right. You cited several people who knew Joseph, and I cited Joseph Smith, who did the actual translation, and I will continue to stand by his own words on the matter. Why would anyone not?

      As far as the church “owning” its history, the church always has. But it has owned its reall history, not its history as seen through the eyes of apostates and enemies. What is new is that within among many members there has been a popularization of going to Joseph’s enemies to get a “bigger picture” of what happened. Here I will stand by what D Todd Christofferson wisely pointed out in conference. He said that going to Joseph’s enemies to learn about him is like going to Judas to learn about Jesus Christ.

      And there is one other matter. I think it is actually the most important one. It is the matter of spiritual sensitivity. If you read compare the version you stand behind and then compare than with the words of B. H. Roberts and Joseph Fielding McConkie and Craig Ostler, you will notice that one tastes good, and the other tastes mildly disgusting. Joseph Smith said that he could taste the principles of eternal life, and so can we, and you just have to read the two and the one is as clearly right as the dawning day, and the other is like the shuttering dusk and back alley streetways. Even if we didn’t have Joseph’s own words, one is true, and pleasing to the Holy Ghost, the other is uncomfortable and doesn’t feel like the temple and sacrament.

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