The Book of Mormon: Man-Made or God-Given? | Tad R. Callister


It is good to be with you today. I love BYU.
It is where I attended school, where I met my wonderful wife, and where all six of our
children have attended. The title of my talk today is “The Book
of Mormon: Man-Made or God-Given?” Because the Book of Mormon is “the keystone of our
religion,” as described by Joseph Smith, the Church rises or falls on the truth of
it. As a result, if the Book of Mormon can be
proved to be man-made, then the Church is man-made. On the other hand, if its origin
is God-given, then Joseph Smith was a prophet, and if he was a prophet, then The Church of
Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is true. It is that simple. Once we have a foundational testimony of the
Book of Mormon, then any question or challenge we confront in life, however difficult it
may seem, can be approached with faith, not doubt. Why? Because the keystone of our religion—the
Book of Mormon and its witness of Jesus Christ—has also become the keystone of our testimony,
which keystone holds our testimony securely in place. Thus the Book of Mormon has become the focal
point of attack by many of our critics: disprove the Book of Mormon and you disprove the Church
and undermine testimonies. But this is no easy task—in fact, it is
impossible, because the Book of Mormon is true. Eleven witnesses, in addition to Joseph
Smith, saw the gold plates, millions of believers have testified of its truthfulness, and the
book is readily available for examination. Critics must either dismiss the Book of Mormon
with a sheepish shrug or produce a viable alternative to Joseph Smith’s account; namely,
that he translated it by the gift and power of God. What then are those alternative arguments
presented by our critics for the origin of the Book of Mormon, and what is the truth? Argument 1: Joseph Smith, Alleged to Be an
Ignorant Man, Wrote the Book of Mormon In 1831 a clergyman named Alexander Campbell
proposed that Joseph Smith wrote rather than translated the Book of Mormon: There never was a book more evidently written
by one set of fingers, nor more certainly conceived in one cranium . . . , than this
. . . book. . . . I cannot doubt for a single moment that [Joseph Smith] is the sole
author and proprietor of it. Campbell also declared that “[Joseph was]
as ignorant and as impudent a knave as ever wrote a book.” But this assertion that Joseph
Smith, who was “ignorant” and lacked education, could write such a work as the Book of Mormon
seemed so preposterous to other contemporary critics that they readily dismissed it. Even
Campbell himself, who proposed this theory, later abandoned it in favor of another alternative. So the early theories about the origin of
the Book of Mormon started to focus on the premise that Joseph Smith, an unlearned man,
was simply incapable of writing such a complex book. After all, he was but twenty-three years
of age, a simple plowboy from western New York, and he had little formal education.
Consequently the early critics concluded there must be some other explanation for the origin
of the Book of Mormon than the unlikely possibility that Joseph wrote it. Argument 2: Someone Else Wrote It
Accordingly, some critics proposed the theory that Joseph Smith conspired with someone who
had the education, intelligence, and skills to write the Book of Mormon. One candidate
for its authorship was Oliver Cowdery. After all, he was a schoolteacher, a scribe, and
later a lawyer. But a major problem arose for the critics: Oliver never claimed to have
written any portion of the book; in fact, he testified to the contrary: I wrote, with my own pen, the entire Book
of Mormon (save a few pages) as it fell from the lips of the Prophet Joseph Smith, as
he translated it by the gift and power of God. . . . That book is true. Even though Oliver was excommunicated from
the Church and it was some years before he returned, he remained true at all times to
his testimony, even on his deathbed. As a result, this argument receives little acceptance
today. Another candidate for authorship of the Book
of Mormon was Sidney Rigdon. He was a Protestant minister and theologian. The supreme irony
of this argument, however, is that he was converted by the very book he was supposed
to have written. Parley P. Pratt, a former member of Rigdon’s congregation, introduced
him to the Book of Mormon in October 1830—about six months after the Book of Mormon had already
been published. Do we have any witnesses that this is how Sidney Rigdon was converted? We
do. In fact, the historical evidence is compelling. First, Sidney Rigdon’s daughter, Nancy Rigdon
Ellis, was eight years old when Parley P. Pratt and Oliver Cowdery presented her father
with a copy of the Book of Mormon in their home. She said that she recalled the event
because of the conflict that arose: I saw them hand [my father] the book, and
I am as positive as can be that he never saw it before. He read it and examined it for
about an hour and then threw it down and said he did not believe a word in it. Later, however, he did accept the Book of
Mormon, joined the Church, and became one of its leaders. Second, Sidney Rigdon’s son John spoke to
his father as he lay on his deathbed: “[Father], you owe it to me and to your family to tell
[the truth about the Book of Mormon].” In other words, this is the day of reckoning;
be totally honest before you go to the judgment bar. The son then recounted his father’s response:
“My father looked at me a moment, raised his hand above his head and slowly said, with
tears glistening in his eyes: ‘My son, I can swear before high heaven that what I have
told you about the origin of that book is true.’” After this tender moment, the son said, “I
believed him.” Later, John joined the Church, and thus another
argument fell by the wayside. Argument 3: The Book of Mormon Was Plagiarized
from Other Books Other critics offered a different line of
attack; namely, that Joseph Smith plagiarized the Book of Mormon (at least its historical
content) from other existing books. One such theory alleged that Joseph Smith copied from
the Solomon Spaulding manuscript—an unpublished manuscript written about 1812 by a man named
Solomon Spaulding, who had once been a Protestant minister. It is a fictional account of ancient
Romans who were sailing for England but were blown off course and landed in North America.
When the critics were asked to produce the manuscript for comparison with the Book of
Mormon, they conveniently claimed it was lost. However, with the passage of time, the manuscript
was found in 1884 by a Mr. L. L. Rice. He found the alleged smoking gun in the personal
historical papers of one of the very critics who had claimed the manuscript was lost. Knowing
of its alleged connection to the Book of Mormon, Mr. Rice, Mr. James Fairchild, and others
(none of whom were members of the LDS Church), reviewed it and concluded, “[We] compared
it with the Book of Mormon and could detect no resemblance between the two, in general
or in detail.” When I was in my twenties, I saw a notice
from the Church History Department that stated that a copy of the Solomon Spaulding manuscript
could be purchased for a dollar. I ordered a copy and likewise found no meaningful relationship
whatsoever between the two books. With the demise of this argument, critics
alleged that the supposed source for the Book of Mormon was another book titled View of
the Hebrews, written by Ethan Smith in 1823. This book was an attempt to prove that the
Native Americans were descendants of the lost ten tribes of Israel. In essence, the critics
claimed that this was the historical basis for the Book of Mormon. There is a simple test to determine if the
Book of Mormon was copied from View of the Hebrews: simply compare the two books and
decide for yourself. With complete academic honesty, B. H. Roberts, one of the leading
scholars of the Church, listed some possible parallels between the two books, but he then
reached this conclusion: “I am taking the position that our faith is not only unshaken
but unshakable in the Book of Mormon, and therefore we can look without fear upon all
that can be said against it.” Shortly before his death, Roberts ­further declared, “Ethan
Smith played no part in the formation of the Book of Mormon.” I too have read View of the Hebrews and the
Book of Mormon. Suffice it to say, these two books have totally different objectives and
writing styles. For example, the Book of Mormon’s principal focus is to testify of Jesus Christ
and His doctrine. Accordingly, the historical setting is not the focus, but it is rather
the background music that gives context and emphasis to the doctrine. The principal focus,
however, for View of the Hebrews is to historically connect the Native Americans to the ancient
Hebrews. In addition, View of the Hebrews is a series of independent quotes and purported
evidences to prove its theory. On the other hand, the Book of Mormon is a cohesive narrative—a
story of families and prophets who struggled to live God’s word. The purpose and style
of these two books is most disparate. Any honest reader can determine that for himself. Argument 4: Joseph Suffered from a Mental
Illness Those who advanced this argument alleged that
such mental disorders bestowed upon Joseph Smith additional powers and skills that enabled
him to write what he could not otherwise have written on his own. In 1931 Harry M. Beardsley wrote, “The
Book of Mormon is a product of . . . a mind characterized by the symptoms of the most
prevalent of mental diseases of adolescence—dementia praecox,” sometimes referred to as schizophrenia. There are fatal defects, however, with such
an argument. First, there is no credible evidence that Joseph had any form of mental illness.
Second, there is no substantiating evidence that such physical or mental conditions magically
bestow upon an untrained writer, such as Joseph Smith, the ability to instantly become a skilled
writer. And third, the book is not characteristic of the mentally ill. Even Fawn M. Brodie,
an avid critic of Joseph Smith, acknowledged this latter fact: Recent critics who insist that Joseph Smith
suffered from delusions have ignored in the Book of Mormon contrary evidence difficult
to override. Its very coherence belies their claims. . . . . . . Its structure shows elaborate design,
its narrative is spun coherently, and it demonstrates throughout a unity of purpose. As you would expect, these arguments that
Joseph Smith suffered from a mental illness never got much traction. Argument 5: Joseph Smith Was a Creative Genius
Who, Shaped by His Environment, Wrote the Book of Mormon
This argument has become a principal one used by many if not most critics today. It is a
180-degree turnabout from the premise of earlier critics; namely, that Joseph was illiterate,
ignorant, and incapable of writing such a work on his own. In fact, we have come full
circle, back to the same argument originally made by Alexander Campbell in 1831, except
that now Joseph Smith is considered brilliant rather than ignorant. Fawn Brodie, perhaps the chief proponent of
this argument, opined that Joseph Smith, the unschooled farm boy, was a creative genius
who, fashioned by his environment and the influence of local history books and resources,
personally wrote the Book of Mormon. Remarkably, Fawn Brodie wrote: Never having written a line of fiction, [Joseph
Smith] laid out for himself a task that would have given the most experienced novelist pause.
But possibly because of this very inexperience he plunged into the story. When one contemplates that assertion, it is
nothing short of mind-boggling. Was it this same inexperience that helped him create hundreds
of names, weave them into the most complex set of events, and then thread them together
in a harmonious story resplendent with profound doctrinal insights? By her very acknowledgment
of Joseph’s inexperience, she has magnified the improbability of Joseph writing this monumental
work on his own. Nonetheless, others have bought into this
­argument—lock, stock, and barrel. Why? Because they have nowhere else to go except
to admit that Joseph translated the Book of Mormon by the gift and power of God—a place
they desperately do not want to go. These latter critics have added one more ingredient
to the mix. Joseph Smith, they said, besides being a genius, was suffering from narcissistic
personality disorder or dissociative disorder or depression. Here we are back again to the
mental disorder theories that proved so ineffective in the past. In order to account for the history of the
Book of Mormon, these critics claim that Joseph must have read or been conversant with a staggering
number of books or ideas related to them. In fact, one author has suggested that Joseph
may have read or gleaned information from more than thirty books in nearby libraries
in order to gather necessary information about the early Americans. The claim is then made
that these books—or discussions of the same in newspapers or conversations—became the
basis for the historical narrative in the Book of Mormon. How might one counter this argument? Here
is a list of questions that an honest seeker of truth might raise: Is there a single reference—just one—in
Joseph’s journals or written correspondence suggesting he might have read or had conversations
concerning any of these historical sources before translating the Book of Mormon? No. Is there any evidence he visited the libraries
where these books were supposedly located? No. Did Emma Smith, who was married to him, ever
comment that he referred to any of these books before the Book of Mormon was translated?
No. Is there any record that he had any of these
books present when he translated the Book of Mormon? No. How many nos does it take to expose the critics’
arguments as pure speculation—nothing more than sand castles that come crashing down
when the first waves of honest questions appear on the scene. Do the critics expect us to believe that Joseph
searched out and studied all these resources on Native American life; inhaled the related
conversations on the topic; winnowed out the irrelevant; organized the remainder into an
intricate story involving hundreds of characters, numerous locations, and detailed war strategies;
and then dictated it with perfect recollection, without any notes whatsoever—no outline,
no three-by-five cards, nothing—a fact acknowledged even among the critics? And during it all,
no one remembered him going to these libraries, bringing any such books home, having any conversations
concerning this research, or making any diary entries to the same. Where, I ask you, is
the hard evidence? Even if Joseph had obtained historical facts
from local libraries or community conversations—for which there is no substantiating evidence—the
real issue still remains: Where did he get the deep and expansive doctrine taught in
the Book of Mormon—much of which is contrary to the religious beliefs of his time? For
example, contemporary Christianity taught that the Fall was a negative, not a positive,
step forward, as taught in the Book of Mormon. Likewise, contrary to contemporary beliefs,
the Book of Mormon refers to a premortal existence in Alma 13 and to a postmortal spirit world
in Alma 40. Where did Joseph Smith get these profound doctrinal truths that were in fact
contrary to the prevailing doctrinal teachings of his time? Where did he get the stunning
sermon on faith in Alma 32? Or one of the greatest sermons ever recorded in all scripture
on the Savior’s Atonement as delivered by King Benjamin? Or the allegory of the olive
tree with all its complexity and doctrinal richness? When I read that allegory, I have
to map it out to follow its intricacies. Are we supposed to believe that Joseph Smith just
dictated these sermons off the top of his head with no notes whatsoever? The doctrinal truths taught in the Book of
Mormon are overwhelming evidence of its divine authenticity. Nephi prophesied that in our
day an exceeding great many would stumble in finding the truth. Why? “Because of the
many plain and precious things which have been taken out of the [Bible].” Here are but
two examples of plain and precious doctrinal truths that were clarified or restored in
the Book of Mormon: 1. Baptism. Much of the Christian world debates
whether or not baptism is essential for salvation; they stumble over this issue. Let me read
just one of many scriptures on this subject from the Book of Mormon: “[God] commandeth
all men that they must repent, and be baptized in his name, . . . or they cannot be saved
in the kingdom of God.” Should there be any debate about the necessity of baptism after
that scripture? The Book of Mormon makes clear that which is unclear to much of the Christian
world. The majority of the Christian world embraces
sprinkling and pouring as legitimate modes of baptism. The Savior Himself addressed this
issue in the Book of Mormon: “Then shall ye immerse them in the water, and come forth
again out of the water.” What is ambiguous for many is crystal clear in the Book of Mormon.
Must one be baptized by authority, or is sincerity sufficient? Do we make covenants at the time
of baptism, and, if so, what are those covenants? Should infants be baptized? Again and again the Book of Mormon comes to
the rescue, giving answers and restoring many plain and precious truths about baptism that
were distorted or lost during the Apostasy. How did Joseph Smith know all these answers
when the rest of the Christian world was so confused? Because he received them by revelation
from God as he translated the Book of Mormon. 2. What about Christ’s Atonement—the central
doctrine of all Christianity? The clarity and expansiveness of this doctrine as taught
in the Book of Mormon is beyond honest dispute. The Old and New Testaments have some scattered
doctrinal gems on the Atonement (which we greatly appreciate and benefit from), but
the Book of Mormon has numerous sermons—entire master­pieces—on the subject. For example: 2 Nephi 2 is a mind-expanding sermon
on the relationship between the Fall and Christ’s Atonement. While the rest of the Christian
world believes that the Fall was a step backward in man’s progress, Lehi taught us the truth—that
the Fall coupled with the Atonement is a giant step forward. 2 Nephi 9:7 introduces for the first time
the phrase “an infinite atonement,” revealing the expansiveness, scope, and depth of Christ’s
saving power. Mosiah 2–5 is King Benjamin’s sermon.
It gives insights about the depth of Christ’s suffering, the retroactive as well as prospective
nature of Christ’s Atonement, and the power of the Atonement to remove our guilt as well
as our sins. Alma 7 explains that the Savior suffered
not only for our sins but also for our “pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind.” 3 Nephi 11 is the most powerful witness
we have of the resurrected Lord, as 2,500 believers, consisting of men, women, and children
came forth and “thrust their hands into his side,” felt “the prints of the nails
in his hands and in his feet,” and “did know of a surety and did bear record” that
He was the Son of God. Who can read that account and not feel the witness of the Spirit testifying
of its truthfulness? The Bible teaches us that, through the
Atone­ment, Christ can make us clean; the Book of Mormon teaches us that, through the
Atonement, Christ can also make us perfect. Does anyone honestly believe that Joseph Smith
somehow invented these profound doctrines with their compelling powers of reason, their
mind-expanding insights, and their language, which is divinely eloquent? If these doctrines
were the product of Joseph’s creative mind, one might ask, “Were there no other creative
geniuses in the 1,800 years following Christ’s ministry who could produce similar doctrines?” The argument that Joseph Smith wrote the Book
of Mormon is simply counter to the realities of life. It is one thing to have creative
ideas; it is quite another to put them into a complex but coherent and harmonious whole,
inundated with majestic doctrinal truths and all done in a single draft in less than ninety
days. Joseph Smith’s wife, Emma, the person who knew him better than any other, confirmed
this conclusion: “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.” In response to critics’ arguments as to
the origin of the Book of Mormon, Hugh Nibley published the following parable: A young man once long ago claimed he had found
a large diamond in his field as he was ploughing. He put the stone on display to the public
free of charge, and everyone took sides. A psychologist showed, by citing some famous
case studies, that the young man was suffering from a well-known form of delusion. An historian
showed that other men have also claimed to have found diamonds in fields and been deceived.
A geologist proved that there were no diamonds in the area but only quartz. . . . When
asked to inspect the stone itself, the geologist declined with a weary, tolerant smile and
a kindly shake of the head. . . . A sociologist showed that only three out of 177 florists’
assistants in four major cities believed the stone was genuine. A clergyman wrote a book
to show that it was not the young man but someone else who had found the stone. Finally an indigent jeweler . . . pointed
out that since the stone was still available for examination the answer to the question
of whether it was a diamond or not had absolutely nothing to do with who found it, or whether
the finder was honest or sane, or who believed him, or whether he would know a diamond from
a brick . . . , but was to be answered simply and solely by putting the stone to
certain well-known tests for diamonds. Experts on diamonds were called in. Some of them declared
it genuine. The others made nervous jokes about it and declared that they could not
very well jeopardize their dignity and reputations by appearing to take the thing too seriously.
To hide the bad impression thus made, someone came out with the theory that the stone was
really a synthetic diamond, very skilfully made, but a fake just the same. The objection
to this is that the production of a good synthetic diamond [in that day and age] would have been
an even more remarkable feat than the finding of a real one. To suggest that Joseph Smith, a farm boy with
little formal education, produced a synthetic work of God in 1829 that has baffled the brightest
of critics for almost two centuries would be a more remarkable feat than the simple
fact that he obtained the gold plates from an angel of God and translated them by the
gift and power of God. What other evidence do we have that the Book
of Mormon was a God-given translation and not a man-made creation? There are many evidences,
but for the sake of time I refer to but one, because it is personal to me. Emma Smith gave
the following testimony, as reported by her son Joseph Smith III: My belief is that the Book of Mormon is of
divine authenticity—I have not the slightest doubt of it. I am satisfied that no man could
have dictated the writing of the manuscripts unless he was inspired; for, when acting as
his scribe, your father would dictate to me hour after hour; and when returning after
meals, or after interruptions, he would at once begin where he had left off, without
either seeing the manuscript or having any portion of it read to him. This was a usual
thing for him to do. It would have been improbable that a learned man could do this; and, for
one so ignorant and unlearned as he was, it was simply impossible. This may seem insignificant to some, but to
me it is astounding. For thirty-four years, as a lawyer, I regularly dictated to my secretary.
As I did so, I was often interrupted by a phone call or a question. After such interruptions
I would invariably ask my secretary, “Where was I?” But Joseph was not dictating or writing a
new work; he was receiving revelation by the power of God and therefore did not need to
ask, “Where was I?” When all is said and done, Joseph Smith’s
explanation of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon is the only viable option on the
table. Why? Because it is as true as true can be. If I were to ask my good Christian friends
how they unquestionably know the Bible is the word of God, I do not believe they would
cite archaeological discoveries or linguistic connections with ancient Hebrew or Greek as
their prime evidence; rather, they would make reference to the Spirit. It always comes
back to the Spirit. The Spirit that helps me know the Bible is true is the very same
Spirit that helps me know the Book of Mormon is true. The Spirit is the decisive, determining factor—not
archaeology, not linguistics, not DNA, and certainly not the theories of man. The Spirit
is the only witness that is sure and certain and infallible. As a boy of about fifteen or sixteen, I was
reading the story of the 2,000 sons of Helaman. I marveled at their bravery and the Lord’s
protecting hand. Then a voice came to my mind: “That story is true.” Since then, other
confirmations have come. Why is it so important for you individually
to gain a testimony of the Book of Mormon? Because if you do, it will become your personal
iron rod. The mists of darkness may come and the unanswered questions may arise, but through
it all you will have your iron rod to cling to—to keep you on the straight and narrow
path that leads to eternal life. The Lord has promised that if we pray “with
a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth
of it unto [us], by the power of the Holy Ghost.” If we want the truth that badly, if
we are willing to pay that price and be unrelenting in that quest, the answer will eventually
come. By that promised power of the Holy Ghost I
bear my personal witness that the Book of Mormon is God-given and that it is all it
claims to be—a pure and powerful witness of Jesus Christ, His divinity, and His doctrine.
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

11 Comments

  1. What a beautiful massage I testified that tha Book of Mormon its the word of GOD And SCHURE LY was TRANSLATE FROM JOSEPH SMITH True the HOLY GOUST

  2. Love that we are invited to know for ourselves by studying it. It is great to have critics as it helps keep us honest in always actively confirming truth by seeking ourselves instead of relying on people who we dont know or know there logic. Bit like Korihor who was so popular because people were too lazy to work it out themselves. Good skill to have when knowing what is true.

  3. Well researched, well spoken, and doctrine well taught. The Spirit was easy to feel while listening. Those who have ears, let them hear.

  4. I know the Book of Mormon is true. I know it without doubt. I will spend the rest of my life bearing testimony of it. Thank you for this beautiful testimony Elder Callister. The spirit pierced my soul. This book is true.

  5. It would be interesting to hear Dr. Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Seminary, refute Mr. Callister's speech.

  6. Josephs dad farmed in the summer months and taught school in the winter months so Joseph had schooling, both in the classroom as well as by his dad in their home, as did his siblings

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