Friday, April 3, 2020

Read afresh: prophetic clarity vs. academic confusion

Tomorrow is General Conference. President Nelson asked us to prepare. You may wish to begin your preparation by reading afresh Joseph Smith’s account of the First Vision as recorded in the Pearl of Great Price.... 

Never has it been more important to "read afresh" the teachings of the prophets. There is more truth in one page of scripture than in 1,000 pages of academic commentary and interpretation.

The scriptures and the prophets are clear and direct. Academic commentary is confusing and indirect.

When they "analyze" the words of the prophets, the academics provide a steady stream of "yes, but" "maybe, but" and "that's their opinion, but."

Set aside the teachings of the scholars for a while. Focus on the teachings of the prophets instead.
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The scriptures and the prophets consistently and persistently teach two key elements of the Restoration.

1. Joseph Smith was a prophet who told the truth about what he experienced.

2. The Book of Mormon is an authentic history of real people who had the gospel of Jesus Christ.

No one leaves the Church when they believe these two things.
No one joins the Church unless they believe these two things.

You might be thinking of an isolated exception. If so, think it through again.
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Millions of people have declined to accept the missionaries' invitation because they do not accept these two elements. Thousands of people have left the Church because they come to reject these two elements.

Why does this happen?

There are as many reasons as there are individuals; every individual is unique. But there are common themes.

People gain testimonies when they read and hear the teachings of the prophets. The Holy Ghost testifies to them, in all the different ways Moroni explained in Moroni 10.

People lose testimonies when they read and hear the teachings of scholars, academics, and critics who reject the plain teachings of the prophets.
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After General Conference, you will probably want to learn more about what the prophets have taught.

You might have to do a little work to find the teachings of the prophets on these topics. Start with the scriptures. Read original sources in the Joseph Smith Papers. Read reports of General Conference.

Read books written by prophets and published by the Church, such as Elder Talmage's Jesus the Christ and the Articles of Faith (but not the recent manuals that edit out key passages because of an academic agenda).

[If you want to read what the prophets have taught about Cumorah, I've assembled a list here:
http://www.lettervii.com/p/byu-packet-on-cumorah.html]
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As you read afresh the teachings of the scriptures and the prophets, you will be able to discern the difference between those teachings and the following theories of men that swirl through the Church today:

1. Joseph Smith didn't really translate the Nephite plates. He didn't even use them.
2. Joseph Smith didn't really use the Urim and Thummim that Moroni provided with the plates. Instead, he simply read words that appeared on a seer stone he found in a well.
3. Joseph Smith couldn't have translated the Book of Mormon because the language is from an unknown translator from the 1500s.
4. Joseph Smith didn't know anything about the ancient Nephites.
5. Joseph Smith learned about the Nephite civilization from scholars and travel books.
6. The real Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 is in southern Mexico, not in New York.
7. The Book of Mormon is a real history, but we know nothing about where any events took place.
8. The best way to teach the Book of Mormon is with a fantasy map based on an interpretation that repudiates the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah.
9. The Book of Mormon may not be an accurate translation because Joseph didn't know anything about Mayan culture.
10. The Book of Mormon teaches truth, but is not a real history. It's a work of 19th century fiction.
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Here's a thought exercise.

Read afresh the scriptures and the teachings of the prophets. Then read the anonymous Gospel Topics Essays. Those essays, in many cases, put more emphasis on the teachings of the scholars who wrote them than on the teachings of the prophets.

Read afresh what Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery wrote about translating the Book of Mormon with the Urim and Thummim. They were clear, direct, and consistent.

Now read what others claim about the translation, including the academic commentary covered at length in the Gospel Topics Essay (which doesn't quote or even cite much of what Joseph and Oliver taught). It is a mass of confusion.
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Keep in mind this distinction:

The scriptures and the prophets are clear and direct. Academic commentary is confusing and indirect.




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