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Elder Tad R. Callister

By December 11, 2019
Tad R. Callister was serving in the Presidency of the Seventy and as a member of the Second Quorum of the Seventy when he was called as Sunday School general president. He was released on April 6, 2019. He has served in a number of Church callings including full-time missionary in the Eastern Atlantic States Mission, bishop, stake president, regional representative, mission president, and Area Seventy.

Quotes


I do believe that the Book of Mormon, combined with the Spirit, is the greatest witness we have of the truthfulness of the Church.  Accordingly, at some point the critics must answer the question—how did the Book of Mormon come forth?  Was it man-made as claimed by them or God-inspired as claimed by us?  

The initial argument of the critics in this respect was that Joseph Smith could not have written the Book of Mormon— it was just too comprehensive and complex.  This was based on the premise that Joseph was only 23 years of age at the time; that he was unlearned and uneducated and thus incapable of writing it.  Therefore, someone far more intelligent and skilled than he must have done so.   

One of the proposed candidates was Sidney Rigdon.  After all, he was a minister, a theologian and an orator— certainly a likely prospect.  In order to understand the supreme irony of this argument, however, one needs to remember that the Book of Mormon was published in March of 1830, the Church was organized in April of 1830, and then in October of 1830 (6 months later)  Parley P. Pratt preached the gospel for the first time—to whom of all people—Sidney Rigdon (his former minister) and bears testimony to him of the Book of Mormon.  In other words, Sidney was converted by the very book he was supposed to have written.  Nancy Rigdon Ellis, the daughter of Sidney, and age seven at the time, was a witness of this event.  She would later write, “I saw them hand [my father] the book,” meaning the Book of Mormon, “and I am as positive as can be that he never saw it before.  He read it and examined it for about an hour and then threw it down and said he did not believe a word in it.”  Of course, he later did believe it and joined the Church. 

This is but one of the multiple historical evidences we have that Sidney Rigdon never came in contact with the Book of Mormon until after it was published.  Accordingly, this argument carries little weight today. 

Another candidate who supposedly wrote the Book of Mormon was Oliver Cowdery.  After all he was well-educated, a schoolteacher, and later an attorney.  The critics must have forgotten, however, that he was the self-admitted scribe to Joseph Smith. He said, “I wrote, with my own pen, the entire Book of Mormon (save a few pages) as it fell from the lips of the Prophet Joseph Smith, as he translated it by the gift and power of God. . . . That book is true.”  In addition, he was true to his testimony as one of the three witnesses to the very end, that he saw the angel and the gold plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated by Joseph Smith, not himself.   

With the certain demise of the foregoing arguments, a new argument arose. Joseph Smith allegedly copied the Book of Mormon from the Solomon Spaulding Manuscript, an unpublished account written by a minister named Solomon Spaulding in the year 1812.  It is a fictional account of ancient Romans sailing for England who were blown off course and landed in North America. The easy response to this argument of plagiarism was to just compare the two books and decide for yourself.  But ever-so conveniently, the critics claimed the manuscript was lost and therefore no comparison could take place.  In the year 1884, however, the manuscript was found in the historical papers of Eber Howe, one of the critics who had previously claimed the manuscript had been lost.  L. L. Rice and James Fairchild (then president of Oberlin College), knowing of the plagiarism argument, compared the manuscript with the Book of Mormon and wrote: “[We] compared it with the Book of Mormon, and could detect no resemblance between the two, in general or in detail.”  Thus, another explanation for the coming forth of the Book of Mormon was discredited. 

The next argument was even more bizarre.  It was that Joseph Smith suffered from a mental disorder which somehow endowed him with the skills to write the Book of Mormon.  Harry Beardsley, a Chicago journalist wrote, “The Book of Mormon is a product of . . . a mind characterized by the symptoms of the most prevalent of mental diseases of adolescence – dementia praecox [sometimes referred to as schizophrenia].” The problem with that argument is that there exists no credible evidence that Joseph Smith had a mental disorder, and even if he had, no evidence that such a disorder magically bestows upon an untrained writer such as Joseph, the ability to suddenly become a skilled writer.   

So, let’s now discuss the current and real argument being made by the critics, namely, that Joseph Smith was a creative genius who read numerous books and copied ideas and stories from them, such as View of the Hebrews and The Late War Between the United States and Great Britain.  This of course, is a total flip-flop, a 180-degree reversal from the original argument that Joseph Smith was incapable, too ignorant to write such a book.  Now, all of a sudden, Joseph is a skilled, creative writer with genius intellect.  Why the flip-flop?  Because all the previous explanations for a man-made book had miserably failed.  What then are the counter arguments to this current assertion by the critics? 

First, is there a single reference—just one, in Joseph’s journals or letters, or from Emma, or from any independent source suggesting that he might have read or had conversations concerning any of these books or historical sources or visited any of the libraries where these books were supposedly located, before translating the Book of Mormon?  No.  None that I’m aware of. 

Is there any record that Joseph had any of these books or related notes present when he translated the Book of Mormon?  No.  In fact, Emma Smith was asked in an interview if Joseph read from any books or notes while dictating.  She replied, “He had neither manuscript nor book to read from . . . . If he had had anything of the kind, he could not have concealed it from me.” 

Is there any evidence that Joseph was a good writer at age 23 and thus could be the author of the Book of Mormon?  No.  To the contrary, Emma Smith, his wife, noted: “Joseph Smith [as a young man] could neither write nor dictate a coherent and well-worded letter, let alone dictate a book like the Book of Mormon.”  This is staggering when you think about it—to claim that Joseph Smith, who could not write a coherent letter, wrote the Book of Mormon with all of its historical complexity and profound doctrinal insights, in a single dictation draft in approximately 65 working days with no notes in front of him and only minor changes—mostly grammatical.   

When I finished my book entitled “A Case for the Book of Mormon,” my secretary unexpectedly asked me, “Do you know how many drafts you had?”  I replied, “No.”  To which she responded, “72. You had 72 drafts.” I thought, “Wow.  It took me two concentrated years of writing, and many previous years of thinking and collecting ideas, with multitudinous notes in front of me, to write a book less than half the length of the Book of Mormon and far less meaningful, and 72 drafts to do so.”  It reminds me of the statement of Hank Smith: “Someone with an experience is never at the mercy of someone with an opinion.”  Accordingly, no one can ever convince me that Joseph Smith at age 23, trying to eke out a living on the edge of the frontier, with essentially nothing but primitive writing skills and no notes in front of him, wrote this historical and doctrinal masterpiece in a single draft in 65 days, let alone in any time frame.  It is beyond rational belief. 

These are but a few responses to the critics that the Book of Mormon was not man-made.  What positive evidence do we have that it was divinely inspired?  In other words, lets switch from defense to offense.  If the critic wants to be credible, he must not only have the privilege of asking questions but the responsibility of answering them.   

 

First Evidence: Archaeology  

While I believe this is a lesser evidence, it is nonetheless an evidence.  Suppose for a moment I told you that I had a magnificent iPhone 11 when I was your age.  You would no doubt shake your head and say —that’s impossible Brother Callister because they didn’t have iPhones back in those ancient days.  My claim is what we call an anachronism—something out of date, out of place, out of context. 

Well, for decades critics have been looking for anachronisms in the Book of Mormon that would prove it a fraud, but with the passage of time their allegations, one by one, have backfired—only providing greater evidence of the book’s truthfulness.     

What then are some of those alleged anachronisms as it pertains to archaeology and what is the truth? 

 

Alleged Anachronism #1: The Existence of Metal Plates   

For years the world laughed at the idea of gold plates as a medium for record keeping.  It was a favorite target of detractors.  Everyone knew that ancient civilizations recorded their histories on papyrus or parchments, certainly not metal plates.  Then, discoveries of ancient metal plates began to unfold, and the critics’ myth was shattered.  The plates of Emperor Darius I of Persia (written about 518 B.C.), composed of gold and silver, were found in 1933 by a German archaeologist.  They were written during the same timeframe as the Book of Mormon and stored in a similar stone-type box.i  Since then, numerous metal plates containing ancient writings have been discovered. This once-seeming anachronism has now become a witness of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. 

 

Alleged Anachronism #2: Cement in Ancient America 

For many years, critics argued that an anachronism was to be found in the Book of Mormon because of its references to the use of cement by the ancient inhabitants of America.   

Archaeologists were certain that cement was not invented in the Americas until years after the recorded history of the Book of Mormon.  One critic (a Christian minister) summarized the claim as follows: “There is zero archaeological evidence that any kind of cement existed in the Americas prior to modern times.”ii  But the truth, as it always does, surfaced, and the day of reckoning came.  President Heber J. Grant told of being ridiculed by a peer because he believed in the Book of Mormon which spoke of an ancient people who built houses of cement.  Listen to President Grant’s response as he recounted that experience at a General Conference of the Church: 

“That [criticism] does not affect my faith one particle.  I read the Book of Mormon prayerfully and supplicated God for a testimony in my heart and soul of the divinity of it, and I have accepted it and believe it with all my heart.  I also said to [my friend], ‘If my children do not find cement houses, I expect that my grandchildren will.’”  He then said,  “Now, since that time houses made of cement and massive structures of the same material have been uncovered [in the Americas]”iii  He then made mention of his counselor who had visited the ancient site at Teotihuacan, Mexico, and had seen the cement mortar of the pyramids and cement drainpipes, which my wife and I have also seen.  Another seeming crisis had become one more confirmation of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. 

 

Alleged Anachronism #3: Barley in Pre-Columbian America 

Barley is referred to in the Book of Mormon on multiple occasions.  But for years, the critics were ruthless in their attack against this Book of Mormon claim.  One such critic alleged that “barley never grew in the New World before the white man brought it here!”  

Doctor John Lund tells of the student working on his Ph.D. in horticulture who came to him in the 70’s and explained that he couldn’t believe in the Church anymore because he had learned in his academic studies that domesticated barley didn’t exist in Book of Mormon times.  Accordingly, he left the Church. 

Then the shoe dropped.  The year 1983 came—a nightmare for the critics.  Barley was discovered in Hohokam Indian archaeological sites in Arizona, other southern U.S. states and Mexico.  These Indians were believed to have existed between about 300 BC and AD 1450, thus overlapping with Book of Mormon times, but predating any European migrations to the Americas.  Thus, another striking clock myth was disposed of.     

If only this Ph.D. student had patiently endured a few more years, his dilemma would have resolved itself.  It reminds us of the truth—don’t lose faith in the many things you know because of a few things you don’t know. 

 

Alleged Anachronism #4: Names, Places and Events Not Yet Confirmed 

With the demise of the foregoing arguments, the current critics claim there are many items referred to in the Book of Mormon which have not yet been discovered with certainty in archaeological excavations, and that all these references must of necessity be anachronisms.  One such critic wrote: “Anachronisms: horses, cattle, oxen, sheep, swine, goats, elephants, wheels, chariots, wheat, silk, steel, and iron did not exist in pre-Columbian America during Book of Mormon times.  Why are these things mentioned in the Book of Mormon as being made available in the Americas between 2200 BC – AD 421?”iv  What the critics have failed to mention, however—a monumental omission—is that archaeology scholars have opined that only 2% or less—probably much less of ancient America ruins have been excavated.  

George Stuart, a leading Maya scholar who worked for National Geographic for almost 40 years, made the following revealing comment: “And we hardly know anything, really, about the Maya [believed to have existed during a portion of Book of Mormon times].  You know, there’s almost 6,000 archaeological sites, and we’ve dug at forty of them.”v  That is less than 1% and only partial diggings.

Suppose for a moment, I were to tell you that a man surveyed 2% of the geography of the United States (represented by the circle on the screen) and then he made the unequivocal assertion that there are no large lakes in the U.S., no everglades, no mountains above 10,000 feet, no redwood forests, no volcanos, and no gold mines because in his 2% survey he did not see any such things.  You would likely respond: how foolhardy to categorically state there were no such things when 98% of the U.S. had never even been seen by him.”  Likewise, how foolhardy to unequivocally claim there were no horses, cattle, steel and Nephite names in Book of Mormon lands and times when at least 98% of archaeological remains in ancient America have not yet been unearthed.   

Suffice it to say, time and science are great allies of the Book of Mormon—in fact, they are best friends.   

 

Second Evidence: Bible Prophecies  

A number of years ago, someone asked me, “If the Book of Mormon is such a critical witness of the Savior, why isn’t the Book of Mormon prophesied of by name in the Bible?” 

I responded, “Do you believe Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world?  “Of course,” he replied.  I then said, “Can you find the name of Jesus Christ prophesied of in the Old Testament?"

He replied, in essence, “Well, the Old Testament does not mention Jesus Christ by name—I admit that—but it does prophesy of Him in such a way that any reasonable person should know that it’s referring to Jesus Christ.” 

I thought, “Thank you very much.”  I then responded: “And so it is with the Book of Mormon.  The Bible prophesies of its coming forth and its purpose, not by name, but by events and descriptions that are sufficiently clear and precise that honest seekers of the truth who are familiar with the Book of Mormon can discern their fulfillment.”  What, then, are some of these prophecies?  

The Bible prophecies that a branch of Joseph (referring among others to Lehi and his family) would inherit a promised and precious land (meaning the Americas), that Joseph’s descendants would have a numerous posterity, [the Nephite-Lamanite civilizations] that they would speak from the dust, [referring to the gold plates buried in the earth containing their history], that this book would be given to one who is unlearned (meaning Joseph Smith), that this book would open the eyes of the blind and the ears of the deaf, as it is currently doing, that Christ would personally visit His sheep in another fold than Jerusalem, which he did in the Americas, and that together with the Bible, these two books would be one in God’s hand.  These are all descriptions of the Book of Mormon, its people and their promised land as found in the Bible. 

 

Third Evidence: The Book’s Divine Eloquence   

The Book of Mormon speaks with a divine language and eloquence that rings of divinity.  It invites us to ponder its phrases, to highlight them or place them on a mirror or refrigerator door.  These are truly messages with a heartbeat—messages that live and breathe and inspire.  The Book of Mormon is filled with such golden nuggets, scores of them—each a divine masterpiece in its own right.  

On the screen are some inspired masterpieces from the Book of Mormon that answer questions of the soul and give direction in life.  

“Men are, that they might have joy” (2 Nephi 2:25).  What a beautiful and succinct statement on the purpose of life. 

“Feast upon the words of Christ; for behold the words of Christ will tell you all things that ye should do” (2 Nephi 32:3).    

I imagine that if we took the time today, we could list scores of such phrases that have had meaning in our lives.  I think most of us would be happy if in a lifetime we were to have two or three memorable phrases that truly resonated with and touched our family and friends.  The burning question then becomes: “How did Joseph Smith at age 23, who lacked formal education and could not write a coherent letter as attested to by his wife, produce this remarkable list of memorable phrases and sage counsel in approximately 65 working days?  The answer—he didn’t; the Lord did. 

 

Fourth Evidence: The Divine Doctrine 

For me, this is the greatest evidence of the truth of the Book of Mormon, separate and apart from the Spirit.   

At some point the honest searcher of truth must ask, “where did Joseph get the deep and expansive doctrine found in the Book of Mormon, much of which is contrary to or clarifies the religious beliefs of his time?”  For example, where did he get the stunning sermon on faith in Alma 32 (where he compares faith to a seed), or Jacob’s sermon on the allegory of the olive tree?  When I read this, I have to map it out to understand it.  Does anyone honestly believe that Joseph just dictated this complex allegory off the top of his head?  But most remarkable are the insights the Book of Mormon gives us into the Atonement of Jesus Christ—not only clarifications to Bible passages, but completely new understandings of this supernal doctrine.  It uses the phrase “infinite Atonement” (not found in the Bible) to help us know that the Savior’s Atonement is not only prospective, but retroactive in time; that Christ’s powers are not only redemptive, in that he redeemed us from death and sin, but they are also enabling in that he has the power to succor us in our afflictions, and transform our weaknesses and imperfections into godlike strengths.  In other words, He can not only cleanse us, but perfect us.  These are all majestic truths not clearly found in the Bible.

How then, did this inexperienced, uneducated young man so clearly articulate these profound doctrinal truths?  Why hadn’t some theological geniuses in the 1,800 years following Christ’s ministry done so?  Because it was not brilliance, but revelation that was the source of these teachings. 

 

Fifth Evidence: The Testimony of the Eleven Witnesses 

When I grew up, I was aware of six or seven statements by the eleven witnesses confirming the truth of what they saw and heard.  Little did I know that history has preserved about 200 such statements, which in totality comprise a formidable witness of the Book of Mormon.   

For the sake of time, I cite but one such statement by David Whitmer, one of the three witnesses.  After he learned that it had been reported in two encyclopedias that he had denied his testimony of the Book of Mormon, he responded with this unequivocal correction: 

“It is recorded in the American Cyclopedia and the Encyclopedia Britannica, that I, David Whitmer, have denied my testimony as one of the Three Witnesses to the divinity of the Book of Mormon, and that the two other witnesses, Oliver Cowdery and Martin Harris, denied their testimony to that book.  I will say once more to all mankind, that I have never at any time denied that testimony or any part thereof.  I also testify to the world, that neither Oliver Cowdery nor Martin Harris ever at any time denied their testimony.  They both died affirming the truth of the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon.”vi   

The testimonies of the eleven witnesses—often borne under the most difficult of circumstances, even under threat of life and reputation—are compelling, even irrefutable evidence of the divine origin of the Book of Mormon. 

 

Sixth Evidence: The Witness of the Spirit 

As wonderful as the foregoing evidences are, there is none more certain or sure than that of the Spirit.  It is the witness of all witnesses—the evidence of all evidences.  Moroni confirmed this truth: 

“And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true, and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost."  Hopefully, we will never underestimate the power of that promise. 

President Boyd K. Packer once told of “two frivolous girls clattering through a great museum and then flippantly remarking as they left the building that it hadn’t impressed them much.  One of the doorkeepers standing by commented to them, "Young ladies, this museum is not on trial here today.  Its quality cannot be contested.  You are the ones who are on trial.”vii  

And so it is with the Book of Mormon—it is not on trial—its divinity cannot be contested by the honest in heart.  It is we who are on trial to see if we will read it with a sincere heart and real intent to discover its truth.  

I add my witness to that of many others—that the Book of Mormon is of divine origin—that it is God’s crowning witness of the divinity of Jesus Christ, the prophetic calling of Joseph Smith and the absolute truth of this Church.  In the name of Jesus Christ, amen. 

 

[1] Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, 278-88.

[2] John L. Smith, “What about those Gold Plates?” The Utah Evangel, September 1986, 8. 

[3] Grant, in Conference Report, April 1929, 129.

[4] Runnels, Letter to CES director at www.cesletter.com, emphasis added. 

[5] www.youtube.com/watch?V=JNP224ZUJWA - August 22, 2011. (Emphasis added)

[6] David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ by a Witness to the Divine

Authenticity of the Book of Mormon (David Whitmer: Redmond, Virginia, 1887 (emphasis added). The critics believe that this quotation of David should be tempered by the following statement which he made in the same address: “If you believe my testimony to the Book of Mormon; if you believe that God spoke to us three witnesses by his own voice, then I tell you that on June 1833, God spoke to me again by his own voice from the heavens and told me to ‘separate myself from among the Latter-day Saints,” (p. 27). One response to this is that David had the Spirit when he saw the angel and gold plates but lost the Spirit and his ability to recognize it when he made this later observation, which was made at a time when he had been excommunicated from the Church.  For further corroboration of this, see the observation of James H. Moyle, as set out in the context of the book and referenced as footnote 36.

[7] Packer, Teach Ye Diligently, 177

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