Joseph Smith translating the Book of Mormon

I love to read. I love fiction books, and I love non-fiction books. I read history books, psychology books, science and math books, science fiction books, management books, and a lot of programming books. Rarely, though, do I read a book more than once. But one book stands apart. I’ve read the Book of Mormon over 20 times. I’ve read the Portuguese edition multiple times and I’ve read a good chunk of the French edition. For me, the Book of Mormon is unlike any other book for three reasons.

  • First, the content of the book is powerful, and “a man [will] get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.”[1] The book contains the “the fulness of [the gospel]” of Jesus Christ, and is written in a way that is clear and, for the most part, easy to understand. The book was compiled around 400 AD by a prophet (named Mormon) who was simultaneously watching his people fight the war that would end in their total destruction. Mormon wrote the book with the hope and promise that it would be revealed in these modern times, and as a prophet of God, he was given the inspiration to know how to write a book for our times. As such, the Book or Mormon is especially powerful to the modern reader.
  • Second, the story told in the Book of Mormon is one of the best stories I’ve ever read. The story spans over 1,000 years and 2 (or maybe even 3) continents. There are incredible stories of politics, war, intrigue, deception, friendship, faith, dedication, and sacrifice. The story is rich and complex enough to be read again and again, without ever losing one’s interest.
  • Third, the back story of the Book of Mormon, the story of how the book was translated and published, is both amazing and, from a religious perspective, incredibly important. The Book of Mormon was translated from golden plates that were hidden in around 420 AD in a hill in upstate New York, by the prophet Moroni (Mormon’s son). That same Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith in 1823, showing him where the golden plates were buried, and instructions on how they were to be translated. Joseph Smith, with a third grade education, translated the ancient text on the golden plates using the Urim and Thummim in less than 60 working days, all the while managing to keep the plates hidden from the mobs who were determined to steal them from him. The plates were viewed by a total of 11 witnesses (other than Joseph Smith) before being retrieved by Moroni. The book was first published in 1830, printed in Palmyra at the Grandin Print Shop on an unusually large press for the size of the town, but one large enough to print the 5,000 copies Joseph Smith ordered. Joseph Smith’s well-to-do friend, Martin Harris, mortgaged his farm to pay for the first printing, after going to see Professor Charles Anthon with a copy of some of characters on the plates. Since then, over 150 million copies of the Book of Mormon have been printed and anyone can get a copy for free from

The Problem

I love the Book of Mormon, but there is, I admit, a problem with the things I’ve outlined above. It’s all a little hard to believe. Joseph Smith, an uneducated farm boy from an obscure town in upstate New York finds plates just miles away from his home, then claims to translate the content of the plates by prophetic power, using seer stones; yet the plates were retrieved by an angel, which means neither their existence nor the accuracy of the translation can be verified. The translated book tells the story of a family leaving Jerusalem in the time of Jeremiah, just years before Jerusalem was to be destroyed by the Babylonians. That family traveled the Arabian peninsula, passing through a place called Nahom, before reaching the sea, at which point they built a boat in which they sailed across the Indian and Pacific Oceans before landing somewhere in the Americas. Two great nations emerged, which were constantly at war with each other for over 1,000 years. Those who survived became some of the ancestors of the Native Americans. From a historical perspective, this is an amazing, intriguing, nearly impossible to believe story.

But that isn’t the problem. The problem is that the Book of Mormon indisputably, undeniably exists, and that none of the explanations of how it came into existence are easy to believe. There are many alternative explanations. Perhaps Joseph fabricated the entire story about angelic visitors and wrote the entire Book of Mormon himself. Perhaps he stole the stories from someone else. Perhaps someone else wrote the Book of Mormon and Joseph was just the face. Perhaps Joseph then convinced 11 friends and family members to lie about having seen the golden plates, with the compensation of being persecuted, ridiculed, driven from their homes, and, for some, even murdered. Indeed, Joseph Smith’s story may be difficult to believe, but the alternative explanations for the origin of the Book of Mormon are at least as difficult to believe. There is no logical explanation for the existence of the Book of Mormon. But one fact remains indisputable: the Book of Mormon does exist.

The Solution

Amazingly, the Book of Mormon itself contains the solution to the problem. In the last chapter of the Book of Mormon, the prophet Moroni, as he prepared to conceal the golden plates in the hill, gave us a promise. Moroni promises that, after reading the Book of Mormon, if we ask God, with the intent to act on the answer, God will “reveal the truth of it unto [us], by the power of the Holy Ghost.” Unfortunately, no appeal to logic, research, or empirical evidence can solve the problem. The book cannot be proved true or false by traditional scientific means. The Book of Mormon is a spiritual book, and the truth about its origin and its veracity can only be obtained by spiritual means. I have personally put this promise to the test, and have felt the witness of the power of the Holy Ghost. The Book of Mormon is true. Joseph Smith’s story is true. The story is amazing and wonderful now matter what, but it is so much more amazing because it is a true story.