There are 8 thoughts on “Understanding How the Scriptures Came to Be”.

  1. Robert,
    I share your “word-for-word plenary dictation” paradigm re: Joseph as seer and translator.
    I’ll add one short thought re: your example of the “non-LDS journalist, Matthew S Davis.” He listened and wrote as a non-seer (as are we all), reporting on words of a true-seer. We (current) non-seers will never “come to a unity” (Eph. 4:13) re: the gift of seership Joseph enjoyed without first seeking and receiving our own, as a personal gift, to be used in one’s own stewardship.
    As perhaps sometime in our past we have received a gift from Father – of faith in the Savior, or of a witness of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon and this work, or any other gracious gift – so may we seek “with real intent” our own personal blessing and gift of seership.
    Then, might we not have a more adequate vocabulary to use in the discussions and forums such as this? One may eventually have his or her own “white stone,” a personal Urim and Thummin, or perhaps even a (limited edition – but un-limited use) ‘Seership Dictionary’!

  2. Exact words are often given/dictated/quoted:

    “for after this manner doth the Lord God work among the children of men. For the Lord God giveth light unto the understanding; for he speaketh unto men according to their language, unto their understanding.” (2 Nephi 31:3)

    “it is I that speak; behold, I am the light which shineth in darkness, and by my power I give these words unto thee.” (D&C 11:11)

    Instances in which a prophet had exact quoted words given to him along with the very words given:
    Matthew 3:17; Matthew 17:5;
    1 Nephi 2:1; 4:11-13; 2 Nephi 31:12; Enos 1:5,8,10,12,15,18; 3 Nephi 11:3-7
    D&C 76:3,130:13-15; 137:7
    Moses 6:27; Moses 7:48.
    (just some of many)

    “if you should bring forth the same words” (D&C 10:31) if retranslating the words in the text of the lost 116 pages.

    Elder McConkie describing the revealed words and sentences of the prayer that brought forth the 1978 revelation on the priesthood:
    “It was one of those occasions when the one who was mouth in the prayer, prayed by the power of the Spirit and was given expression and guided in the words that were used and the sentences that were said.”

    For exact words being given/heard/dictated/quoted, see also:

    I personally will not concede that Joseph Smith co-authored the Book of Mormon or D&C or BofA or BofM. As the above scriptures teach, he received the words (that God knew) and wrote them down as given him. I believe Pres. Nelson receives the very words he writes for his written revelations that have not been given to the church.
    Are there impressions or promptings that he receives that he clothes with his own selected words? Sure, but when God speaks/gives words, prophets write them down as given/quoted.

    • Dennis, Joseph Smith is considered a translator, not a co-author. Of course, the Early Modern English hypothesis suggests that someone else gave those very words to Joseph. In that case, that entity would be the co-author with the writers of the plates. Translator is the better term whichever position you prefer.

      • Brandt,
        I must digress, twice, at the start of my proposed Reply to you – it’s important:
        #1 (a useful point): “Prodicus on October 1, 2022 [published below] said [or half-jokingly asked]: “were [sic] Moroni or the Three Nephites eagerly following the work of Tyndale, the KJV companies, etc so they could make use of that in their record?”
        I absolutely loved the question, and, as referenced below, I wholeheartedly shout out my unflinching answer: “YES!!!”
        Now, digression #2 (a less important but still valid concern:) Why does the ‘Interpreter’ place the first (hence the oldest) – and often most sagacious, and ostensibly the most interested – commentor’s submission at the BOTTOM of the “Comments” page, and then pile each new one on top?
        IMO, the very first Commentor should have a place of honor, and be seen, constantly AT THE TOP of the page, with subsequent postings added below, in order, chronologically. This allows one to follow each thread to its end by simply scrolling down – instead of having to scroll up and down, and up and down, again and again, ad nauseum – thus permitting on to read each thread in its entirety, from the top down, as each is submitted and Replied to. (The end.)
        Now, good and patient Brandt, I’m sorry for the distractions. But you are so valuable and so available here right now; I felt I needed to add in those items. (But now, on to my Reply to your Reply to Dennis.)
        You said: “Of course, the Early Modern English hypothesis suggests that someone else gave those very words to Joseph. In that case, that entity would be the co-author with the writers of the plates.”
        IMO, the “someone else” who “gave those very words to Joseph” need not be – and very well could not be – “the co-author with the writers of the plates.” The “entity” (sing. or pl.) you mention did not make authorial additions to the plates, as far as we know, therefore could not have “co-author[ed]” anything with the original author/writers.
        In my view, however, he/He, she/She, or they/They conceivably could have been “co-author[s],” but with Joseph Smith, IF they (at least two, but possibly more) actually worked together to bring the Book of Mormon to fruition.
        The first party (the “someone else”/”entity” [and, perhaps, the actual keeper of the plates], with him or them possibly being bilingual in both the language of the plates AND English – EmodE or any of its iterations [up to and including 1829 English] – I believe I got that all in!) is the great ‘Unknown.’
        The second party, Joseph, was ostensibly monolingual, being a native speaker of 1829-English, and decidedly unschooled (during his youth). Joseph was, however, perfectly schooled (in his young-adulthood) during the 1820s and 1830s – and continuing hence. Part (or even all) of Joseph’s heavenly education could have come with aid from the very source(s) referenced here: Joseph experiencing heavenly gifts; seeing past, present, and future as one eternal now; feeling Godly love and sorrow for all of God’s children; see-ing and hearing celestial truths via heightened, heavenly communication; and discerning all “by the gift and power of God,” as he said.
        And all of these events, experiences, and realities (with other possibilities) were occurring to him while outwardly acting as the vocal spokesman in hundreds, or possibly thousands, of experiences, as “translator(s)” .
        But, wait a minute. Perhaps I’m acting hastily and assuming too much. I often show “Zeal Without Knowledge” (as pointed out by our beloved Hugh W. Nibley). In both your explanation to Dennis and my paradigm of “someone else” and/or another “entity,” the collective (assuming there was such) would still not be “co-author[s]” at all, of ANYTHING! He/she/they didn’t add anything, writer-wise, to what was already on the plates, therefore, as stated earlier, they would not be co-writer/authors.
        However, in my view, they – Joseph et al. (all of them) – would most assuredly be co-Seers, co-Translators, and co-Creators of the Book of Mormon.
        God bless those individuals – all of them, for surely God used many individuals and means to prepare His work – for their great efforts and sacrifices on our (and the world’s) behalf!
        And God bless all those still involved in the Book of Mormon’s 2,622 – and counting – year-long journey!
        I honor you all.

  3. Robert, if Skousen is right that Joseph Smith was given English Book of Mormon text word for word, that still doesn’t validate the “verbal dictation theory” for the origin of this Scripture.

    The prophets who wrote the Book of Mormon are quite clear about the fact that they’re writing on their own initiative, not by divine dictation, and though their work is inspired they are aware of their weakness in writing and the likelihood that their work contains some mistakes.

    (As a side note, the translation itself seems to show signs of human effort, even if not Joseph Smith’s, rather than omniscience. I came away from the first time I heard Skousen arguing for his theory thinking “there are interesting arguments for it, but if he were right, who _did_ English the record? were Moroni or the Three Nephites eagerly following the work of Tyndale, the KJV companies, etc so they could make use of that in translating their record?”)

    Eric, I like your comment, and I’ve appreciated what little I’ve read from Spackman and Enns. On JS “expressing as best he can what he experienced” I also think of Heschel. He suggests early in “The Prophets” that a major component of the divine revelation given to the literary prophets of the Hebrew Bible seems to have been _emotion_. They were able to really feel a some portion of what God feels— of His frustration and outrage at Israel’s idolatry and oppression of the poor, and of his deep longing to restore His people to righteousness and peace—and they labored to express what they felt.

    But the word choice in “the transmission is already _garbled_” feels like giving in to the idea that divine dictation would be best, we just have to settle for less. This isn’t how we should view revelation either. Human nature, human language and culture, &c are part of God’s plan, just as mortal bodies are. Revelation being ‘filtered through’ those, with all their limitations and imperfections, is a feature, not a bug, in the Plan of Salvation. The Word of God coming to us clothed “in our language, according to our understanding” is a wonder parallel to the Incarnation – “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.”

    JS’s cry for deliverance from a crooked, broken language is like Alma’s “O that I were an angel.” Though it’s a nice desire, Alma immediately recognizes that somehow his idea of the Gospel being spread by angels coming in power is inferior to God’s plan of uneven human transmission.

    One last thing, from George MacDonald, “The Knowing of the Son”:

    “We shall know one day just how near we come in the New Testament to the very words of the Lord. That we have them with a difference, I cannot doubt. For one thing I do not believe he spoke in Greek… God has not cared that we should anywhere have assurance of his very words; and that not merely, perhaps, because of the tendency in his children to word-worship, false logic, and corruption of the truth, but because he would not have them oppressed by words, seeing that words, being human, therefore but partially capable, could not absolutely express what the Lord meant, and that even he must depend for being understood upon the spirit of his disciple. Seeing it could not give life, the letter should not be throned with power to kill; it should be but the handmaid to open the door of the truth to the mind that was of the truth.”

  4. Authors like Ash, Ben Spackman and Pete Enns have helped me understand that revelation and prophecy is God’s thought and intent, expressed through human language, culture and experience. Thus the transmission is already garbled. Scripture is the inspired word of God, not the dictated words of God. When Joseph Smith tells us what he saw in vision in DC § 76, he’s expressing as best he can what he experienced; the prophet himself (whether in 1830 AD or 722 BC, or anywhere before, after or in between) is the first filter of scripture, and “as far as it is translated correctly” is far, far more involved than we typically think of. Joseph expressed his frustration at this reality in a letter to WW Phelps: “Oh Lord God, deliver us in thy due time from the little narrow prison, almost as it were totel [sic] darkness, of paper, pen, and ink and a crooked, broken, scattered, and imperfect language.”
    — Joseph Smith in a letter to WW Phelps, 27 Jan 1832

  5. In Roach’s phone call with Ash, Ash apparently rejected the idea that Joseph translated “like a human dictation machine.”

    In 2011, Robert L. Millett likewise said “When God chooses to speak through an individual, that person does not become a mindless ventriloquist, an earthly sound system through which the Almighty can voice himself. Rather the person becomes enlightened and filled with intelligence or truth.” I too used to reject the old word-for-word plenary dictation theory of the translation of the Book of Mormon (i.e., words coming directly from God, with no intermediate process).

    As it now turns out, however, through the thorough work of Royal Skousen and Stanford Carmack (much of it published in detail in this journal), the old plenary dictation theory was entirely correct: The Book of Mormon was dictated in a language already extinct long before Joseph Smith was born – in Early Modern English. As Skousen now says: “Joseph Smith was given the text word for word, including constructions and instances of non-English use of and that would not have been dictated if the text were wholly English in nature.” – Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text, 2nd ed. (Yale, 2022), xvii.

    Indeed, non-LDS journalist Matthew S. Davis supported that notion: He had listened to Joseph Smith’s 1840 Washington Discourse, concluding that “The Mormon Bible, he said, was communicated to him, direct from heaven. If there was such a thing on earth, as the author of it, then he (Smith) was the author; but the idea that he wished to impress was, that he had penned it as dictated by God.” – Davis was the Washington, D.C., correspondent for the New York Inquirer; Andrew Ehat & Lyndon Cook, eds., The Words of Joseph Smith, Religious Studies Monograph 6 (SLC: Bookcraft/Publisher’s Press, 1980), 34. B. H. Roberts, ed., History of the Church, IV:79.

    • Please see my (mistakenly-located) “independent” Comment above, with date of October 3, 2022.
      Originally, I submitted it as a respectful Reply to Smith’s September 30, 2022 post (located immediately above), which was meant to appear here.
      My apologies for any confusion.

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