A personal response from Jarron.
Near the conclusion of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount He said, “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves” (Matthew 7:15). Then, as if to answer the unasked question of how one may discern between true and false prophets, He gave the following metaphor:
“Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them” (Matthew 7:16-20).
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints claim that the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ is a fruit of Joseph Smith the prophet and that he translated the book from gold-alloy plates. But the Book of Mormon isn’t the only fruit of Joseph Smith. Other fruits include latter-day prophets and apostles that teach us what God would have us know in our day, the authority to preside and administer in sacred ordinances (the priesthood), and knowledge of the eternal nature of families. The success of the Church, the clean-living of its members, and the presence of all the gifts of the spirit are also fruits.
However, the Book of Mormon is not just one of the fruits of Joseph Smith, but it is the keystone, or “supporting element” of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (James E. Faust, “The Keystone of Our Religion,” Ensign, Jan 2004, 2–6). Hence, we use the Book of Mormon as the standard to see whether or not it proves
“to the world that the holy scriptures are true, and that God does inspire men and call them to his holy work in this age and generation, as well as in generations of old; Thereby showing that he is the same God yesterday, today, and forever” (Doctrine and Covenants 20:11-12).
Members of the Church therefore claim that since good fruit cannot come from an evil tree, by reading, pondering, and praying about the veracity of the Book of Mormon a person will come to know that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God.
But what about the gold plates? Doesn’t the fact that the Church does not have possession of the plates prove that the entire Joseph Smith story is a hoax?
Well, that’s a good question, and we need more information in order to accurately answer.
When Joseph Smith had finished the work God wanted him to do with the gold plates, including the translation of the Book of Mormon, the angel Moroni visited Joseph Smith. Joseph said about the occasion, “I delivered [the gold plates] up to him; and he has them in his charge” (History of the Church 1:18-19).
Yet Smith was not the only one who had seen the gold plates. He was eventually commanded to show them to three witnesses: Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris. These men saw the plates, an angel, and heard the voice of God command them to testify of what they had seen. They did so. Here is an excerpt of The Testimony of Three Witnesses:
“And we declare with words of soberness, that an angel of God came down from heaven, and he brought and laid before our eyes, that we beheld and saw the plates, and the engravings thereon; and we know that it is by the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, that we beheld and bear record that these things are true. And it is marvelous in our eyes. Nevertheless, the voice of the Lord commanded us that we should bear record of it; wherefore, to be obedient unto the commandments of God, we bear testimony of these things.”
But it doesn’t end there. Joseph Smith was also commanded to show the gold plates to eight others, who were, like the three witnesses, commanded to bear testimony. These eight witnesses did not see an angel or hear the voice of God. Here is their testimony:
“Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, unto whom this work shall come: That Joseph Smith, Jun., the translator of this work, has shown unto us the plates of which hath been spoken, which have the appearance of gold; and as many of the leaves as the said Smith has translated we did handle with our hands; and we also saw the engravings thereon, all of which has the appearance of ancient work, and of curious workmanship. And this we bear record with words of soberness, that the said Smith has shown unto us, for we have seen and hefted, and know of a surety that the said Smith has got the plates of which we have spoken. And we give our names unto the world, to witness unto the world that which we have seen. And we lie not, God bearing witness of it.” (The Testimony of Eight Witnesses.)
The years went by and many of the witnesses struggled with persecutions, temptations, and financial challenges. Eventually, all of the three and half of the eight witnesses left the Church. Some of those who left eventually came back and were rebaptized into the Church; others never returned. But none of the eleven witnesses ever denied that they had seen the plates and that Joseph Smith had translated them by the gift and power of God. Even those who apostatized from the Church reiterated their witness later in their lives.
No, we don’t have the gold plates. But whether or not we have the plates is beside the point. Religion is not the same thing as science. Science requires physical evidence. Science, as useful as it is, must have tangible evidence. Yet any Christian knows that the reality of God is not based on tangible evidence, something that can be touched or seen or tasted. I know that there is a God, but I have not heard or seen or touched Him with my physical senses. As the Apostle Paul stated, “[F]aith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Faith in Jesus Christ is the first principle of the gospel. Seeing is not necessarily believing, and in fact, the Lord said, “[B]lessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed” (John 20:29). The absence of the golden plates is a test of our faith.
Well, now we’re back to where we’ve started: that the veracity of a prophet can be discerned by the fruits of that prophet, and physical evidence is not necessarily required. Just as we don’t need the Ark of the Covenant to know that the Old Testament is true, and just as we don’t need the actual nails that were hammered into Christ’s hands and feet or the Roman spear that was thrust into His side to know that He died on the cross for the sins of the world, we don’t need the golden plates to know that the Book of Mormon is a second witness to the Holy Bible that “Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God” (Book of Mormon, Title Page).
I have not seen the golden plates or felt the engravings thereon; I have not seen an angel or heard the voice of God declare to me that the translation is correct and that Joseph Smith is a prophet; but have felt the undeniable power of the Holy Ghost witness to me that the Book of Mormon is indeed true. I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, because good fruit cannot come from a corrupt tree.
It is my prayer that the sincere seeker of truth will receive the strength to “hope for things which are not seen, which are true” (Alma 32:21) because many times in our lives we “receive no witness until after the trial of [our] faith” (Ether 12:6).