Investigating the Evidence for Mormonism In Six Steps

J. Warner Wallace has written a good, long article entitled Investigating the Evidence for Mormonism In Six Steps. Here’s my outline of the article:

  1. Joseph Smith could have been motivated by lust, greed, and the pursuit of power.
  2. Joseph Smith was born and lived during the Second Great Awakening (1790-1845). This period of religious revival also coincided with the rise of a number of unorthodox Christian sects in addition to Mormonism. The culture of the time was fascinated with Native Americans and some suggested that Native Americans were descendants of ancient Hebrews. People in Palmyra, NY, where Smith was raised, were interested in digging for treasures.
  3. Joseph Smith was a treasure digger and used a seer stone to divine where treasure was buried. In 1826, when Smith was allegedly being visited by angels prior to the writing of the Book of Mormon, Smith was charged with fraud by Josiah Stowel after Stowel lost confidence in Smith’s abilities.
  4. Joseph Smith said he translated the golden plates in producing the Book of Mormon. No one, other than Smith, ever claimed to have seen these plates with their natural eyes (this claim from J. Warner Wallace does not appear to be accurate). Smith did not need the plates present to translate them. Rather he placed a seer stone in a hat and then placed his face in the hat. He would then receive a translation and someone would write it down for him. It should be noted that this process was similar to the process he used to divine where treasure was buried. One time Lucy Harris was given 116 pages of manuscripts to alleviate her fears that the translation was not authentic. She lost these pages. Instead of re-translating this text, Joseph Smith said he was replacing the text with a different account of the same events.
  5. The Book of Mormon contains a number of oddities and errors:
    • It contains language reminiscent of the KJV instead of the English spoken in Smith’s time.
    • It contains parallels with a book called View of the Hebrews (1823) by Ethan Smith (no relation to Joseph Smith), which argued that some Native Americans were descendants of ancient Hebrews.
    • It contains lengthy quotations from the KJV as if the KJV were the original language of Scripture. The Book of Mormon also has chapter divisions in the same places they are found in the KJV quotations.
    • It preserves some translation errors made in the KJV instead of correcting them.
    • It preserves text that is in the KJV but that we now know was not in the biblical autographs.
    • It contains anachronisms: paraphrases of Jesus before his earthly life, NT paraphrases of OT passages before the NT was written, quotes from the NT before it was written, Old World plants and animals in the New World in pre-Columbian times, and weapons and other technology or innovations that the Native Americans did not have.
    • It contains no archaeological verifiable information.
  6. Joseph Smith claimed to translate the Book of Abraham into what is now called the Pearl of Great Price. Unlike the golden plates, the Book of Mormon papyri has been looked at by others. It has been determined that Smith did not accurately translate the papyrus.
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8 thoughts on “Investigating the Evidence for Mormonism In Six Steps

  1. Although there are many problems with your summary–(as well as your source), item #4 is most problematic. Eleven men (in addition to Joseph Smith) left their witnesses that they had seen the gold plates: 3 claimed it was visionary and 8 claimed it was in the light of day and that they handled the plates and examined them to their hearts’ content. Your source claims that the 8 witnesses were something Joseph Smith “eventually” decided he needed; but the first edition of the Book of Mormon and every subsequent edition contains their signed statements. Those statements aren’t easily dismissed by saying someone else claimed something for them.

    Mr. Wallace dismissed them by noting several were relatives and friends; and some eventually apostatized from Mormonism. I seem to recall a few relatives and friends among the early apostles and one prominent one who became a traitor. What would be relevant was if after leaving Mormonism they recanted. But, it isn’t relevant because all eleven affirmed to their deaths that what the said they saw, they actually saw.

  2. Thanks for your comment Alma. I have updated my outline to note that J. Warner Wallace appears to be wrong about the eight witnesses.

    I think #5 and #6 are the most problematic for Mormonism, however. Do you have any corrections to Wallace’s analysis on those points?

  3. Kudos to you for revising your comment.

    Several of the observations in #5 require more time to adequately cover. While they appear on the surface to be problematic to the Book of Mormon, a detailed study shows them to not be so; and occasionally shows them to be consistent with what would be present in an authentic document. I’ll try to be as brief as possible: I have also tried to embed some formatting. Forgive me if it doesn’t work.

    Language reminiscent of the KJV rather than the language of the day:

    Two prominent translations of the Bible followed Joseph Smith’s book: Lancelot Breton’s 1851 translation of the Septuagint (LXX); and Noah Webster’s 1833 Bible. Both of those retained the KJV language rather than that of frontier America. These educated authors apparently saw a benefit to providing scripture in Elizabethan English. No one complains about their productions using archaic English.

    It contains parallels with Ethan Smith’s View of the Hebrews:

    I have read both and I personally believe that is a ludicrous claim. Look at the table of contents from VotH (or, conversely, read the whole book) at this site: http://www.thechristianidentityforum.net/downloads/View-America.pdf. Anyone familiar with both works can immediately see that the claimed parallels are so vague and tangential that it’s hardly worth consideration. Ethan Smith believed the American Indians were descendants of the 10 tribes; and that is the premise of his book. The Book of Mormon claims the 10 tribes where *not* in America. Ethan Smith’s work is a treatise while the Book of Mormon is a narrative. I urge anybody who thinks they’re related to read both.

    It contains lengthy quotations from the KJV as if the KJV were the original language of Scripture.

    Actually, the Book of Mormon explicitly states that it is a translation from an Egyptian script. Parenthetically, the New Testament includes quotations from the LXX. Does it follow that these NT quotations suggest that the original language of Scripture was koine Greek? I suggest that the New Testament authors’ reliance on the LXX is the same reason Joseph Smith relied on the KJV.

    The Book of Mormon also has chapter divisions in the same places they are found in the KJV quotations.

    The corresponding chapter divisions weren’t in the first several editions of the Book of Mormon and were added in 1876 (46 years later). Quotations from the Bible share chapter divisions because readers are encouraged to compare the two.

    It preserves some translation errors made in the KJV instead of correcting them. It preserves text that is in the KJV but that we now know was not in the biblical autographs.

    I have put these two criticisms together because they’re both answered by similar circumstances in the New Testament. The inspired New Testament authors often quoted the Greek Old Testament—even when it was a faulty copy. Even an angel from heaven cites a flawed version of the second Psalm in Revelation 2:27. If an angel from heaven can use a flawed translation, why can’t Joseph Smith?

    It contains anachronisms.

    The premise of the Book of Mormon is that Jesus Christ is the God of Israel, the personage who gave the law to Moses; and that the gospel of Jesus Christ is eternal—not unique or limited to Palestine from 30-33 A.D. The doctrine Paul taught was not Paul’s but Christ’s; and Christ taught that same doctrine before his mortal ministry as during it. Does God’s command, “Thou shalt love they neighbor as thyself” make the New Testament anachronistic because it appears in Leviticus 19:18 before Christ said it in Matthew 19:19?

    Old World plants and animals in the New World in pre-Columbian times,

    When Roman explorers came across hippos in Africa, they named them “horses.” ( Greek potamos=river; and hippos=horse). People give familiar names to unfamiliar plants and animals. That’s why people in America today think we have buffalo. Buffalo are a different species than bison; but it’s the way emigrants refer to existing flora and fauna. Orson Scott Card, a science fiction author, wrote a lengthy essay about this. While it won’t make as much sense to people unfamiliar with the Book of Mormon, it is worth the read: http://www.nauvoo.com/library/card-bookofmormon.html

    It contains no archaeological verifiable information.

    The Book of Mormon is supposed to be accepted on faith: You can’t expect to have faith in something you can prove: “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Jesus didn’t appear to all the people; but rather to selected witnesses. Paul preached. Some accepted him and were saved while others said, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.”

    #6 –Joseph Smith claimed to translate the Book of Abraham…”

    Joseph Smith always used scribes who wrote what Joseph Smith dictated. The scribe who wrote the Book of Abraham, claimed that Joseph Smith dictated it by inspiration from heaven, not that it was the product of the Egyptian papyri. An explanation of the circumstances surrounding the BoA would be too lengthy for this format; but there is much more than meets the eye in this subject.

  4. Thanks again for commenting. I’m no expert on Mormon origins so I’ll let much of your comment stand uncontested.

    When Roman explorers came across hippos in Africa, they named them “horses.” ( Greek potamos=river; and hippos=horse).

    It is interesting to note that they were called “river horses” and not simply “horses”. We might expect the Book of Mormon to do something similar.

    The Book of Mormon is supposed to be accepted on faith: You can’t expect to have faith in something you can prove

    I see faith as trust in God, not believing something about God without evidence. Archaeology gives me reasons to believe the Bible is historically accurate. If I have reason to believe that God has been faithful in the past then I have reason to have faith in him, i.e., to trust him, regarding the future.

  5. Archaeology demonstrates the historicity of biblical places like Jerusalem and Nazareth; but it doesn’t give you reason to believe in its miracles or inspiration–any more than the existence of Medina and Mecca give you reason to believe in the inspiration of the Quran. I submit that evidence plays no role in faith because there is no evidence at all of the resurrection.

  6. The problem is that we have no testimony to the events described in the Book of Mormon. This means we have no reason to believe it is an accurate historical record. This differentiates it from the Bible, and not for the better.

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