Defending The Book Of Mormon;
Apologist and Non-Apologist Approaches
(A Discussion of Doc & Cov 123)
by V. Garth Norman
23 May 1969
Regarding the persecutions heaped upon the Saints in the early days of the
Church, the Prophet Joseph Smith wrote in March 1839 while a prisoner in jail at Liberty,
And again, we would suggest for your consideration the propriety of
all the saints gathering up a knowledge of all the facts . . . . And perhaps a committee
can be appointed to find out these things, and to take statements and affidavits; and also
to "ether up the libelous publications that are afloat; and all that are in the
magazines, and in the encyclopedias, and all the libelous histories that are published,
and are writing, and by whom, . . . (D&C 123:1-5)
Joseph had two objectives in mind: 1) to present the anti Mormon
writings and acts to the heads of government, and 2) to "publish [them] to all the
world" (vs. 6). Although the collection of anti Mormon data was obviously the
big initial task, I question that its mere collection and presentation to the public and
government officials was adequate for the full realization of the far reaching purposes
that the Prophet had in mind (discussed below).
Was there not more involved than a mere collection of anti Mormon
data, and might there not be a continuous challenge still applicable today? I submit
that it could not be fully realized without also establishing and proving the truth with
historical data. The collection of data regarding the persecutions became historical
evidence, and its analytical exposure in printed form became part of what I shall
hereafter refer to as a "Document of Witnesses" which was a means of obtaining
redress and diverting further persecution and perpetration of falsehoods (discussed
Was it not one of Joseph Smith's purposes to prove that which anti
Mormon writers attacked, by exposing their devious falsehoods and accusations? And
what is the most singular thing which has brought Mormonism under the most severe and
persistent attack, but the "Golden Bible" -- the Book
of Mormon? It is a fact that since its first exposure in 1829, over one
thousand anti Book of Mormon publications have been
authored. Their challenges have been met and none have held up under careful
examination (See Francis W. Kirkham, A New Witness for Christ in
America, 2 vols. Salt Lake City 1942, 51). But the anti Book of Mormon effort though less severe goes on. The
Saints were charged to put down falsehoods perpetrated by anti Mormon literary knaves
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and other persecutors. And regarding the Book of Mormon, how
can this be accomplished without also establishing and proving the truth of it with
historical data. I submit that Joseph Smith's charge is still binding upon us today,
for how can anti Book of Mormon claims be exposed as
false without establishing its truthfulness and proving its actual historicity?
But, did Joseph Smith really intend to prove the Book of Mormon in this manner and was he ever involved in such
an effort? The answer is an emphatic "Yes"! Three years after this
inspired declaration, as editor of the Times and Seasons, Joseph Smith printed
extracts from Stevens' published accounts of exploration and discovery of ancient ruins in
Central America. At the conclusion of those extracts he made such statements as:
"the forgoing extract has been offered to assist the Saints in establishing the Book of Mormon as a revelation from God;" "It affords
us great pleasure to have the world assist us to so much proof that oven the most [in]
credulous cannot doubt;" "light cleaves to light, facts are supported by facts,
the truth injures no one;" "It will be as it ever has been, the world will prove
Joseph Smith a true prophet by circumstantial evidence, in experiments, as they did Moses
and Elijah." (Times and Seasons 1842 Vol. III[, p. 922]) And so we see
that the "Document of Witnesses" can include "establishing the Book of Mormon as a revelation from God;" as we shall see
for the purpose of silencing all anti Book of Mormon
knaves and dispelling the blindness and persecution that they engender.
PURPOSES of a "DOCUMENT OF WITNESSES"
A Condemning Witness to the Wicked
Returning to the hundred and twenty-third section of the Doctrine and Covenants regarding the publication of a
"Document of Witnesses" to the "heads of government" and "to all
the world" we read that this is to be done,
as the last effort which is enjoined on us by our Heavenly Father,
before we can fully and completely claim that promise which shall call him forth from his
hiding place; and also that the whole nation may be left without excuse before he can send
forth the power of his mighty arm. It is an imperative duty that we owe to God, to angels,
with whom we shall be brought to stand with whom we shall be brought to stand ....
God is to intervene for the injustices perpetrated upon the Saints
by pouring out his judgments upon the wicked, but not until the nation should be given a
documented published witness of these injustices against truth in order that "the
whole nation may be left without excuse".
The anti Mormon movement was severe in Joseph Smith's day:
It is an iron yoke, it is a strong band; they are the very
handcuffs, and chains, and shackles, and fetters of hell. Therefore it is an
imperative duty that we owe, not only to our own wives and children,
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(who have been made to bow down with grief, sorrow, and care, under
the most damning hand of murder, tyranny, and oppression), but to the widows and
fatherless, whose husbands and fathers have been murdered under its iron hand . . . . (vs.
8_9; parenthesis vs. 7 insert)
Exposing anti Mormon falsehoods and proving the truth is a means of
establishing justice. It is also a means of preventing or at least lessening the
intensity of future persecution. If we should neglect keeping abreast with arising
falsehoods and submerging them in witnesses of the truth, the Saints may again face
persecution and bloodshed, and our wives and children be caused to suffer.
A Saving Witness to the Honest in Heart
Another purpose in establishing this irrefutable witness is an aid
to future conversions through lifting the clouds of darkness and prejudice:
And also it is an imperative duty that we owe to all the rising
generation, and to all the pure in heart--For there are many yet on the earth among all
sects, parties, and denominations, who are blinded by the subtle craftiness of men,
whereby they lie in wait to deceive, and who are only kept from the truth because they
know not where to find it--
These witnesses are a great boon to the missionary effort.
Its Great Importance; A Warning and Admonition to the Saints
In verse thirteen the Prophet, referring to the work of the
latter-day restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, makes a sobering observation that it
is possible "that we should waste and wear out our lives in bringing to light
all the hidden things of darkness, wherein we know them; and they are truly 'manifest from
heaven," if the research work of the "Document of Witnesses" to establish
the truth and silence oppressive and tyrannical opposition should be neglected. He
goes on to say,
These should then be attended to with great earnestness. Let
no man count them as small things; for there is much which lieth in futurity, pertaining
to the saints, which depends upon these things. You know brethren, that a very large
ship is benefited very much be a very small helm in the time of a storm, by being kept
workways with the wind and the waves. Therefore, dearly beloved brethren, let us
cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the
utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed. (vs. 14-17)
The Prophet recognized the far reaching consequences of this
"Document of Witnesses" to the future of the Church when it would be like a
small helm keeping the large ship of Zion "workways with the wind and the waves"
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The serious consequences to the conversion of the honest in heart if
this work is neglected is apparent. Also, the latter-day prophecies and scriptures
are clear regarding the great trials and persecutions that the Saints will yet face before
Zion is established. The storm will be great but the "Document of
Witnesses" if strong will be able to steer the ship safely through the storm.
This rudder will repel the pressure from waves of opposition and they will not have
power to crush the ship of Zion or wash its faithful passengers overboard. The
witnesses will be so clear and irrefutable that the opposition, though it may refuse to
accept the truth, will not be able to deny it; and many will fear to oppose it least be
found fighting against God and in so doing be destroyed.
As in Joseph Smith's day, God will not destroy the wicked and pour
out his judgments upon the people of this nation until they are left without excuse, in
that they openly deny established truth and are left to fight against God. As in
Joseph Smith's day our "Document of Witnesses" must be adequate for the time;
"as the last effort which is enjoined on us by our Heavenly Father"; "it is
an imperative duty that we owe to God, to angels, with whom we shall be brought to stand,
and also to ourselves, to our wives and children" (cf. vs. 6_7).
"Therefore, dearly beloved brethren, let us cheerfully do all things that
lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the
salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed" (vs. 17).
In summary, we as Church members have an "imperative duty that
we owe to God" and "angels" as well as ourselves and families (and will be
held accountable at the day of judgment) to "cheerfully do all things that lie in
our power" in establishing a Document of Witnesses, appropriately through a
"committee" effort, and "publish to all the world" with the following
objectives in mind:
1. Disprove anti-Mormon claims in part through "establishing
the Book of Mormon as a revelation from God."
2. Prove Joseph Smith a Prophet of God through circumstantial
3. Establish justice in order to condemn the wicked and leave them
without excuse before destructions.
4. Bolster the missionary effort by dispelling the mists of darkness
so that many of the honest in heart blinded to the truth by anti-Mormon knaves will be
able to see the truth and embrace it.
5. Qualify for intervention of God by leaving the wicked without
excuse when they may again persecute the Saints.
6. Strengthen the position of the Church so that it cannot be
destroyed by opposition.