According to the LDS history web site, on this day (September 22nd) in 1827 Joseph Smith “received the golden plates from the angel Moroni on the hill where they were buried.” Eyewitnesses reported that Joseph took the gold plates home and began translating them with the help of a seer stone — that is, a stone Joseph placed in a hat and gazed at. When English words appeared on the stone, Joseph recited them to a scribe — and the Book of Mormon was born. (see David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ, page 12; see also A Comprehensive History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 1:129)
But years before the gold plates were discovered Joseph Smith used that same seer stone to find buried treasure for people who paid him for the service. In 1826 Joseph was brought before a justice to answer the charge that he was an imposter and was bilking people out of their money. (see Marquardt and Walters, Inventing Mormonism, pages 63-77) During the court proceedings Josiah Stowell, a man who had employed Joseph to find buried treasure, gave testimony.
I came across an interesting recounting of Mr. Stowell’s testimony written by Abram W. Benton, a non-Mormon who lived in the area where the pre-trial took place. Mr. Benton’s account was written in 1831 as a letter to the editors of the Evangelical Magazine and Gospel Advocate. The account is reprinted in Dan Vogel’s Early Mormon Documents, volume 4:
Josiah Stowell, a Mormonite, being sworn, testified that he positively knew that said Smith never lied to, or deceived him, and did not believe he ever tried to deceive anybody else. The following questions were then asked him, to which he made the replies annexed.Did Smith ever tell you there was money hid in a certain place which he mentioned? Yes. Did he tell you, you could find it by digging? Yes. Did you dig? Yes. Did you find any money? No. Did he not lie to you then, and deceive you? No! the money was there, but we did not get quite to it! How do you know it was there? Smith said it was! (pages 97-98)
Mr. Stowell’s gullibility and circular reasoning is easy to see in his testimony. When I read it, it made me laugh. But the fact that many Mormons use this same sort of circular reasoning in determining spiritual truth is no laughing matter.
Early LDS Apostle Anthon H. Lund said,
Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. His teachings prove that what he taught was divinely inspired. (Conference Report 1899, October 13)
What did Mr. Lund mean? We can rephrase his statement like this:
Joseph Smith’s teachings were divinely inspired; therefore, he was a prophet of God. And because he was a prophet of God, we know his teachings were divinely inspired.
Does this sound a bit like Josiah Stowell?
In the April 2005 General Conference of the LDS Church we find these statements:
- We do not have to defend the Prophet Joseph Smith. The Book of Mormon defends him for us. (Boyd K. Packer, Ensign 5/2005, page 9)
- [The Book of Mormon] is a tangible thing that can be handled, that can be read, that can be tested. It carries within its covers a promise of its divine origin. (Gordon B. Hinckley, Ensign 5/2005, page 82)
- And upon the validity and truth of [Joseph’s First] vision rests the validity of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (Gordon B. Hinckley, Ensign 5/2005, page 81)
So Joseph Smith produced the Book of Mormon; and the Book of Mormon says of itself that it is divinely inspired; and we can believe that it is divinely inspired because Joseph Smith, who produced the Book of Mormon, had an encounter with God the Father and Jesus Christ; and we know Joseph had this encounter because he said so and a true prophet of God would not lie; and we know he’s a true prophet of God because he produced the Book of Mormon; and the Book of Mormon says it’s divinely inspired; and since the Book of Mormon is divinely inspired Joseph must be a true prophet because a false prophet could not produce a truly divine book; after all, God appeared to Joseph in the woods and called him to be a prophet…
I get dizzy thinking about it.
If you are a praying person, please pray with me for all those lost in “spiritual” circular reasoning, that God would grant them eyes to see and a reasoning mind to understand.