Book of Mormon/B.H. Roberts and "Studies of the Book of Mormon"

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B.H. Roberts' critical evaluation of Book of Mormon difficulties

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Question: Why did B.H. Roberts write Studies of the Book of Mormon?

B.H. Roberts wrote the material contained in Studies of the Book of Mormon to illustrate the positions that critics would take

Critics use B.H. Roberts' critical evaluation of Book of Mormon difficulties to support their arguments. B.H. Roberts wrote the material contained in Studies of the Book of Mormon to illustrate the positions that critics would take. He was playing "devil's advocate" for the purpose of inspiring Church leadership to work on a better defense (as critics typically point out, Roberts was a "LDS apologist"). For instance, regarding Lucy Mack Smith's description of Joseph giving "amusing recitals" of ancient Americans, Roberts presented the critical conclusion that "These evening recitals could come from no other source than the vivid, constructive imagination of Joseph Smith, a remarkable power which attended him through all his life. It was as strong and varied as Shakespeare's and no more to be accounted for than the English Bard's."

From Lucy Mack Smith's history:

"From this time forth, Joseph continued to receive instructions from the Lord, and we continued to get the children together every night evening, for the purpose of listening while he gave us a relation of the same. I presume our family presented an aspect as singular as any that ever lived upon the face of the earth-all seated in a circle, father, mother, sons and daughters, and giving the most profound attention to a boy, eighteen years of age, who had never read the Bible through in his life; he seemed much less inclined to the perusal of books than any of the rest of our children...


Question: Did B.H. Roberts state that it was possible for Joseph Smith to have come up with the Book of Mormon on his own?

B.H. Roberts was a believer in the divine origin of the Book of Mormon, and talked of young Joseph Smith as he sat up late detailing to the family the wonderful conversations he had with the angel

B.H. Roberts retained his belief that the Book of Mormon was of divine origin up until the end of his life. Yet, according to one critical website, B.H. Roberts "postulated that it was certainly possible for Joseph Smith to have come up with the Book of Mormon on his own." [1] Roberts, however, believed that Joseph had conversations with the Angel Moroni.

B.H. Roberts, in his critical study of the Book of Mormon, pointed out how future critics might make use of this.

The face of it is first established by the testimony of the mother who bore him, Lucy Smith. Speaking of the days immediately following the revelation making known the existence of the Book of Mormon to her son...Lucy Smith in her History of the Prophet Joseph Smith, recounts how in the evening of that day, the young prophet sat up late detailing to the family the wonderful conversations he had with the angel;[2]


Truman Madsen: "Among readers who came to the Book of Mormon with hard, skeptical assumptions, B.H. Roberts is notable"

Truman G. Madsen:

Among readers who came to the Book of Mormon with hard, skeptical assumptions, B.H. Roberts is notable. He was capacitated by temperament and equipped by study for penetrating analysis. Moreover, at many junctures of his life he had profound personal reasons and emotional and spiritual stresses which might have led a man of lesser integrity to discard wholesale his religious heritage. But on his other side was his capacity for constant, patient study. This he brought (for more than a half century) to the Book of Mormon as he did to his work in history, never letting go, never fully satisfied with what he had written or said, and never unwilling to consider afresh the latest spate of difficulties.[3]


Question: Did B.H. Roberts lose his faith in the Church and the Book of Mormon?

An excellent argument against the claim that B.H. Roberts abandoned the Book of Mormon can be found in his last book, which he considered his masterwork

Critics charge that the 'problems' with the Book of Mormon made Brigham H. Roberts (an early LDS apologist and member of the First Quorum of Seventy) lose his faith in the its historicity. The primary source upon which this criticism is based originates with Roberts' manuscripts detailing his critical study of the Book of Mormon, which was published under the title Studies of the Book of Mormon years after his death.

An excellent argument against the claim that B.H. Roberts abandoned the Book of Mormon can be found in his last book, which he considered his masterwork. [B. H. Roberts, The Truth, the Way, the Life: An Elementary Treatise on Theology, edited by John W. Welch (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Studies, 1994).] Given Roberts' clear respect for the Book of Mormon in this volume, there can be little doubt that he continued to believe in and treasure it.

Ironically for the critics, many of the issues which drew Elder Roberts' attention have now been solved as more information about the ancient world has become available. He expressed faith that this would be the case, and has been vindicated:

We who accept [the Book of Mormon] as a revelation from God have every reason to believe that it will endure every test; and the more thoroughly it is investigated, the greater shall be its ultimate triumph.[4]

Roberts was an able scholar, and he was not afraid to play 'devil's advocate' to strengthen the Church's defenses against its enemies

In a presentation on some potential Book of Mormon 'problems' prepared for the General Authorities, Roberts wrote a caution that subsequent critics have seen fit to ignore:

Let me say once and for all, so as to avoid what might otherwise call for repeated explanation, that what is herein set forth does not represent any conclusions of mine. This report [is] ... for the information of those who ought to know everything about it pro and con, as well that which has been produced against it as that which may be produced against it. I am taking the position that our faith is not only unshaken but unshakeable in the Book of Mormon, and therefore we can look without fear upon all that can be said against it.[5]

Roberts felt that faith in the Book of Mormon was a given, and so did not consider any 'negative' points to be of ultimate concern

Roberts felt that faith in the Book of Mormon was a given, and so did not consider any 'negative' points to be of ultimate concern, though he did seek for better answers than he then had. The critics have often published his list of of "parallels" between the Book of Mormon and Ethan Smith's View of the Hebrews, without informing modern readers that Roberts did not consider the problems insoluable, or a true threat to faith in the Book of Mormon. They also do not generally cite the numerous other statements in which, to the end of his life, he declared the Book of Mormon to be a divine record.

Roberts' studies also made him willing to modify previous conceptions, such as when he concluded that the Book of Mormon was not a history of the only immigrants to the New World.

In 1930, he enthused about the Book of Mormon a century after the Church's organization:

Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth, for God hath spoken. ... The Record of Joseph in the hands of Ephraim, the Book of Mormon, has been revealed and translated by the power of God, and supplies the world with a new witness for the Christ, and the truth and the fulness of the Gospel.[6]

Other witnesses by B.H. Roberts of truth of the Church and the Gospel

The book Discourses of B.H. Roberts of the First Council of the Seventy, compiled by Ben R. Roberts (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company 1948) contains the last seven discourses delivered by Elder Roberts: four in Salt Lake City, one in San Francisco (on the radio), and the last two at the World Fellowship of Faith in Chicago, in August-September 1933. He died three weeks after the last discourse. Roberts had returned from a lengthy illness, which made him realize how precious life is. He determined to leave his testimony, especially for the youth of the church.

From the first of these addresses:[7]

It has always been a matter of pride with me, in my more than fifty years of ministry in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, that it was no trivial thing which called this Church of the New Dispensation into existence. It was not founded upon the idea that men differed in relation to how baptism should be administered, whether by sprinkling or pouring, or immersion; or whether it was for the remission of sins, or because sins had been forgiven. I always rejoice that it had a broader foundation than whether the form of church government and administration should be Episcopal or Congregational, or the Presbyterian form of government; or any other minor [23] difference of theologians. It went to the heart of things, and astonished the world, and at the same time, of course, aroused its opposition.

When the Prophet of the New Dispensation asked God for wisdom, and which of the many churches about him he should join, he was told to join none of them, for they were all wrong; their creeds were false; they drew near to the Lord with their lips, but their hearts were far removed from him; they had a form of godliness but denied the power thereof; that the Christian world, especially, had, in fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy, transgressed the laws, changed the ordinances, and had broken the everlasting covenant (Isaiah 44), of which the blood of the Christ was the blood of that everlasting covenant. He promised the incoming of a New Dispensation of the Gospel of Christ, which would link together and unite all former dispensations, from Adam down to the present time, the great stream of events speeding on towards an immense ocean of truth in which it would be united with all truth. It was a world movement. To lay the foundations of a greater faith, it brought forth the American volume of scripture, the Book of Mormon. In time the authority of God, the holy priesthood was restored, the minor phase of it, through John the Baptist; and later Peter, James and John, who held the keys of the kingdom of heaven, bestowed upon them by the Christ, appeared to the Prophet Joseph and Oliver Cowdery, and the divine and supreme authority from God was conferred upon them. By this authority and under the power of it they organized the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, outlined its doctrines, and established it firmly in the earth.

That is how the New Dispensation began—not whether baptism should be by immersion, or for the forgiveness of sins. The rubbish of accumulated ages was swept aside, the rocks made bare, and the foundations relaid” (22-23).

Roberts then refers to a statement in David Whitmer, To All Believers in Christ, about the translation of the Book of Mormon being interrupted due to some problems between Joseph and Emma:

He [Joseph] took up the divine instrument, the Urim and Thummim, tried to translated but utterly failed. Things remained dark to his vision. David Whitmer tells how Joseph left the translating room and [26] went to the woodslot on the Whitmer farm, and there corrected himself, brought himself into a state of humiliation and of exaltation at the same time. He went back to the house, became reconciled to Emma, his wife, came up to the translating room, and again the visions were given and the translation went on. But he could translate only as he was in a state of exaltation of mind and in accord with the Spirit of God, which leads to the source of hidden treasures of knowledge” (25-6).

Roberts then refers to the Book of Moses in the Pearl of Great Price, which was revealed shortly after the Church was organized, in June 1830:

It goes further than we have come, this knowledge by faith. After the Prophet had translated the Book of Mormon he began to receive the revelations which today make up the Book of Moses, the translation of [27] which began to be published about six months after the Book of Mormon had been translated” (26-7).

I admire the achievements of the men of science and hold them in honor…. But what am I to think of the Prophet of God, who speaking a hundred years before him, and speaking by the knowledge that comes by faith, revealed the same truth—viz., that as one earth shall pass away, so shall another come, and there is no end to God’s work? This gives to the Church of the New Dispensation the right to voice her protest against a dying universe—its death blows to the immortality of man.

Oh, ye Elders of Israel, this is our mission, to withstand this theory of a dying universe and this destruction of the idea of the immortality and eternal life of man. We have this knowledge revealed of God, and it is for us to maintain the perpetuity of the universe and the immortal life of man. Such was the mission of the Christ, such is ours” (29).

I am one of the special witnesses of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, made so by the office I hold, and I want to begin a return to my ministry in this pulpit by exercising my duty as a special witness for the Lord Jesus Christ. Here it is: Jesus Christ is the very Son of God, the incarnation of all that is divine, the revelation of God to man, the Redeemer of the world; for as in Adam all die, so shall they in Christ be brought forth alive. Also Jesus is the Savior of individual man, through him and him alone comes repentance and [30] forgiveness of sins, through which the possibility of unity with God comes. As his witness I stand before you on this occasion to proclaim these truths concerning the Christ, not from scientific knowledge or book learning, but from the knowledge that comes by faith” (29-30)

Roberts' general conference addresses between January 1922 and his death in September 1933 evince no show of doubt in the authenticity of the Book of Mormon

Roberts gave his findings on criticisms of the Book of Mormon to top Church leaders in a series of meetings between January to May 1922. One way to test the possibility of his losing faith in the Book of Mormon is to look at his public discourses and the words he uses to describe the Book of Mormon after he presented these findings. Upon careful examination of the historical record, one finds that Elder Roberts presented no doubts in the authenticity and veracity of the Book of Mormon.[8]

  • In the October 1922 conference, Roberts discussed the prophetic promises of the Book of Mormon concerning the land of promise and Zion in the latter-days. “The Lord made certain promises in ancient times concerning the land of Zion—North and South America,” Roberts said in his address. “That is the information we get from our Book of Mormon.”
  • In the April 1923 conference, Roberts expounded on the title page of the Book of Mormon. “[N]otwithstanding all these testimonies of the New Testament scriptures,” said Roberts in his sermon, “God brings forth a new volume of scripture, the Book of Mormon, which we are learning to call the American scripture, the word of God to the ancient inhabitants of this land of America.”
  • Six months later, in the October 1923 conference, Roberts focused some of his remarks of the Book of Mormon. “The great outstanding thing in the Book of Mormon is the fact of the visit of the Redeemer to the inhabitants of this western world, and the message of life and salvation that he delivered here; the Church which he brought into existence, the divine authority which he established here in the western world.” As Roberts went on to explain, “This is what makes the Book of Mormon of so much importance—it is a new witness for God and Christ and the truth of the gospel. These things being true, makes the advent of the Book of Mormon into the world the greatest literary event of the world since the writing of the Decalogue by the finger of God, and bringing it forth by the great Prophet Moses; or the collection and the publication of the testimony in the New Testament that Jesus is the Christ.”
  • In the April 1924 conference, Roberts used the Book of Mormon to combat what he feared were the creeping influences of secular biblical scholarship. Referring to Nephi’s “very great visions concerning the life and the mission of the Christ, before he came in the flesh” (1 Nephi 11–15), Roberts named “the Book of Mormon, the record of the Nephite people, and the revelations of God in this new dispensation, clearly recognized in the Doctrine and Covenants, and also in the Pearl of Great Price” as “records [which] would establish the truth of the record of the Twelve Apostles of the Lamb of God” (that is, the New Testament).
  • In the October 1925 conference, Roberts delivered an address in which he focused on “three great utterances constitute the message of ‘Mormonism’ to the world” on the nature of God and humankind’s relationship with the divine. “The first comes from a fragment of the teachings of the prophet Moses, found not in musty tomb or ruined temple, but revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith before this Church of ours was six months old [Moses 1]. The second comes from a revelation from God to him, in the year 1833 [D&C 93]. The third contribution comes from our Book of Mormon, and is the contribution of sleeping nations once inhabiting the American continents, a message through their prophet leader to the modern world, and a contribution to the modern world for its enlightenment. How splendid all that is!” (This talk would go on to be republished in January 1926.7)
  • In the October 1926 conference, Roberts exulted over the recent purchasing of the David Whitmer farm. “I rejoice that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is gradually gathering into its control the sacred places where great historical events happened,” said Roberts at the time. In his remarks, which were republished later in the Improvement Era (see below), Roberts thrice referred to the Book of Mormon as a “translation” or having otherwise been “translated” by Joseph Smith, spoke at length on the importance of the Book of Mormon witnesses, and told of his experience interviewing David Whitmer in 1884.
  • In the April 1927 conference, Roberts reported on his missionary work in the eastern United States. In his report, Roberts spoke of his interactions with a Messianic Jew and stressed the importance of the Book of Mormon (which he called a “translation”) as a witness to the Jews that Jesus is the Christ (see below). He expounded on the doctrinal importance of the book’s title page, which, he reminded his audience, was “not [Joseph Smith’s] composition” but rather was “engraven on the title page of the gold plates.” Regretting that he had “taken more time than [he] should have done” with his lengthy sermon, Roberts nevertheless considered “these matters of sufficient importance to have entered upon the record of this conference. . . . I cannot but regard the opening that has come to us in the Eastern States to furnish material by which we may approach our cousin Judah with the message of the Book of Mormon, as an opening of the way by the inspiration and power of the Spirit of the Lord.
  • Later that same year, in the October 1927 conference, Roberts recalled “the pleasure” he took in “standing upon the summit of the Hill Cumorah in company with President [Heber J.] Grant.” He remarked, “Being there upon that height of land, which so splendidly commands a view of the whole surrounding country, I could not refrain from recalling the time when Moroni stood upon the crown of that hill with the evidence of the ruins of the civilization of his people about him.” Roberts continued, “And this warning, written in the Book of Ether, let me say, in closing, comes from the prophet of God who was also the historian of the great Jaredite nation, by abridging and translating their history into the Nephrite language. This warning comes, then, from the historian of one civilization that had perished about the Hill Cumorah; it came also from the same man who was a witness of the destruction of the civilization of his own people at the same place. I hold that he was competent to speak upon this question, and it is most fitting, and is one of the evidences of inspiration, in this Book, that one so competent to speak in warning should be chosen to be God’s mouthpiece in warning this great Gentile nation, holding dominion over the land in our day, to beware of their course lest they, too, forfeit their rights to the pride of place they occupy among the nations of the earth. For great as our nation is, it is not above the powers of destruction if it observes not the conditions upon which it may hold its position upon this land.”
  • In a lengthy April 1928 conference address, Roberts spoke on the important teachings preserved in the Book of Mormon; teachings that, according to Roberts, “would have been lost to the world but for the bringing forth of the Nephite scriptures, the American volume of scriptures.” This included, most importantly, “the testimony of the scriptures of the western continents—the Book of Mormon—in relation to the resurrection of Christ. What a wonderful testimony that book contains for the thing that is celebrated this day throughout Christendom, namely, the resurrection from the dead of our Lord the Christ!” In this same sermon Roberts also gave his endorsement Anthony W. Ivins’ comments on the Book of Mormon—calling them “a very important contribution, not only to this conference, but to the literature of the Church”—and recalled his youthful debates with a sectarian critic of the Church in which he, Roberts, defended the book.
  • In the October 1928 conference, Roberts expanded on “a number of the early revelations that were given in the Church about the time of its organization and the publication of the Book of Mormon,” including those which had been “given . . . to brethren who had rendered some assistance to the Prophet in bringing forth the Book of Mormon.”
  • In an April 1929 conference address (the same address, mind you, that Brigham D. Madsen claims somehow shows signs of Roberts backsliding on his faith in the Book of Mormon), Roberts provided commentary on the ninth Article of Faith, which stresses the importance of ongoing revelation in the Church of Jesus Christ. Within this specific context Roberts began his sermon, “One of the things that has greatly delighted me in this conference has been the prominence given to the Book of Mormon and to the importance of it as a means of acquainting the world with that system of truth for which we stand. But the passage from our articles of faith just repeated reminds me that the Book of Mormon is only one out of very many things that may aid us in this work of making God’s message known to the world.” Roberts then related how as a missionary in the South he worked with a confused investigator who did not know how to make up her mind about the Book of Mormon because she was being fed anti-Mormon literature by her local pastor. (A tale as old as time.) But, Roberts related, once she gained a testimony of the Doctrine and Covenants, she was able to make up her mind about the Book of Mormon being inspired. Roberts concluded his anecdote by affirming, “The Book of Doctrine and Covenants stands unquestioned as to its authorship, and I wish to express a belief that there is evidence of inspiration in it equal to that of the Book of Mormon.” Incidentally, Roberts also took the opportunity in this sermon to affirm the value and inspiration of the Pearl of Great Price. “If the world but had the Pearl of Great Price, and the knowledge it conveys, it would shed a penetrating light upon all the scriptures that our Christian friends acknowledge, and make known the truth of God.” Contrary to Madsen’s bizarre misreading of this sermon, Roberts made it clear that “[t]he Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price are prized by [the Latter-day Saints] above all other books.”
  • On the centennial anniversary of the founding of the Church, in the April 1930 conference, Roberts affirmed his testimony of the Restoration, in part, thus: “The Church of Jesus Christ has again, and for the last time, been set up and made the depository of God’s truth and the fulness of it and has been given the mission of proclaiming that truth and the fulness of it to every nation and kindred and tongue and people. . . . The Record of Joseph in the hands of Ephraim, the Book of Mormon, has been revealed and translated by the power of God, and supplies the world with a new witness for the Christ, and the truth and the fulness of the Gospel.”
  • In his final address delivered before his death in the April 1933 conference, Roberts referred to the Book of Mormon as “that precious volume of scripture” which spoke of “[the] word of the Lord from the Nephite race” that America was a choice land (quoting Ether 13:2). “This is recorded in the Book of Ether,” Roberts remarked, “which Moroni translated and added to the compilation made by his father.” Besides this, Roberts drew his listeners’ attention to “two great prophecies in the Book of Mormon,” namely: (1) “the witness which the Book of Mormon bears to the divinity of the Christ, affirming that he is the Son of God, . . . affirming that he is the Savior of the world, and . . . bearing witness to the truth of the Gospel”; and (2) “prophecies concerning the great Gentile nation that should rise and which would scatter the children of Israel upon the face of the land, and yet, afterwards, be touched by the spirit of pity and concern which would lead them to seek the preservation of the inhabitants of the land; that the seed of Joseph, so wonderfully gathered here and developed into a multitude of nations, should not be utterly destroyed, but should be preserved, and that, too, by this great nation that should be such an instrument in scattering them in the earth.” These, Roberts affirmed, makes the Book of Mormon a “new American witness for God” and “one of the most valuable books that has ever been preserved, even as holy scripture.”

Keep in mind that these are Roberts’ General Conference addresses and sermons that specifically touched on the Book of Mormon. In other talks that he delivered in the 1920s and early 1930s (such as his October 1929 and April 1932 addresses), Roberts also spoke glowingly of both current Church leadership and Heber J. Grant’s prophetic predecessors.

It is difficult to see these as the words of one who has lost his faith in the Church, the Book of Mormon, or Joseph Smith.

Roberts published other works that take as granted the historical authenticity of the Book of Mormon

Roberts published other works between the early 1900s to his death that take the historical authenticity of the Book of Mormon, the divine calling of Joseph Smith, and the truthfulness of the Church as a given. These works include:

  • New Witnesses for God
  • Outlines of Ecclesiastical History
  • The Truth, The Way, The Life
  • Comprehensive History of the Church
  • The "Falling Away"
  • Rasha–The Jew

To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here

Notes

  1. "Could Joseph Smith have written the Book of Mormon?", MormonThink.com
  2. B. H. Roberts, Studies of the Book of Mormon, (Salt Lake City, UT; Signature Books, 1992), 243. Some online ministries quote Roberts' use of Lucy's quote as "evidence" that Roberts lost his testimony of the Book of Mormon. They completely ignore Roberts's statements on the same page that Joseph was describing the "wonderful conversations he had with the angel."
  3. Truman G. Madsen, "B. H. Roberts and the Book of Mormon," Book of Mormon Authorship (1982).
  4. B. H. Roberts, "The Translation of the Book of Mormon," Improvement Era no. 9 (April 1906), 435–436.
  5. B. H. Roberts to the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve, March 1923. (See Studies of the Book of Mormon (1992), p. 58. On page 33, note 65, the editor of this work states that the date on this letter should be 1922 rather than 1923.)
  6. Brigham H. Roberts, Conference Report (April 1930), 47.
  7. B. H. Roberts, “Protest Against the Science-Thought of a ‘Dying Universe’ and no Immortality for Man: The Mission of the Church of the New Dispensation,” delivered SLC Tabernacle, Sunday, 23 January 1932; reproduced in Discourses of B.H. Roberts of the First Council of the Seventy, compiled by Ben E. Roberts (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company 1948), 11–30.
  8. FAIR thanks Stephen O. Smoot for his research on this topic. The following will be text taken entirely from Stephen O. Smoot, "B.H. Roberts and the Book of Mormon: Exhumation and Reburial," Ploni Almoni, August 11, 2020, https://www.plonialmonimormon.com/2020/08/b-h-roberts-and-the-book-of-mormon-exhumation-and-reburial.html.