Examining the claims of Jonathan Neville and the Heartland movement

Friday, August 23, 2019

A modern apostle repudiates the teachings of the prophets!

Elder Quinten L. Cook, General Conference, April 2017
Jonathan Neville has recently published a series of blog posts that explicitly reject the historical claim that Joseph Smith ever used a seer stone to translate the Book of Mormon. (These blog posts are, apparently, a prelude to a book that he plans to publish on the translation of the Book of Mormon.)

Neville claims that the idea that Joseph Smith used a seer stone, which he placed into a hat, in the translation process was a fabrication created by the 1834 anti-Mormon book Mormonism Unvailed and repeated by early Mormon apostate William McLellin. He rejects the testimonies of participants and eyewitnesses to the translation process—including Martin Harris, David Whitmer, and Emma Smith—as being confused by Joseph’s use of a stone “to demonstrate how the translation worked,” while he actually only translated with the Urim and Thummim (also called the Nephite Interpreters).

Neville goes even further to claim that Church historians, teachers, and employees who have written recent histories, magazine articles, and curriculum published by the Church have “embraced the old, discredited peep stone narrative over the accounts [of the translation process] by Joseph and Oliver” and “created a false historical narrative present to justify their interpretation.”

(Notice how, without a shred of awareness of his own hypocrisy, Neville refers to Joseph’s seer stone by the anti-Mormon pejorative “peep stone”?)

All of this, Neville argues, illegitimately “overrides the teachings of the prophets,” as he understands them. Neville alone stands against the tide by proclaiming these heretical teachings to be false and a betrayal of the testimonies of the Prophet Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery.

But I’m curious to know how Neville explains this statement from Elder Quinten L. Cook, whom I’m fairly certain he sustains as a “prophet, seer, and revelator”:
I recently viewed a first edition of the Book of Mormon. Joseph Smith completed the translation when he was 23 years old. We know something of the process and instruments he used in that translation. In that first 1830 printing, Joseph included a short preface and simply and clearly declared it was translated “by the gift and power of God.” What about the aids to translation—the Urim and Thummim, the seer stones? Were they essential, or were they like the training wheels on a bicycle until Joseph could exercise the faith necessary to receive more direct revelation? Just as repetition and consistent effort are required to gain physical or mental capacity, the same is true in spiritual matters.

(Quentin L. Cook, “Foundations of Faith,” April 2017 General Conference; emphasis added)
Has Elder Cook “embraced the old, discredited peep stone narrative” and accepted the “false historical narrative” of the “peep stone”? Has Elder Cook “overridden the teachings of the prophets”? Is Elder Cook falling into error and siding with discredited anti-Mormon sources?

Furthermore, how does Neville explain the teaching by modern apostles Russell M. Nelson (in 1992) and Neal A. Maxwell (in 1997) that Joseph used a seer stone to translate the Book of Mormon? Was Elder Maxwell led down the path into error? Has President Russell M. Nelson, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, bought into the “false historical narrative”?

This is why I’m entirely serious when I claim that Jonathan Neville prefers the teachings of dead prophets over living prophets. He is doing exactly what then-Elder Dallin H. Oaks warned the students at BYU about in 1992:
A desire to follow a prophet is surely a great and appropriate strength, but even this has its potentially dangerous manifestations. I have heard of more than one group who are so intent on following the words of a dead prophet that they have rejected the teachings and counsel of the living ones.… Following the prophet is a great strength, but it needs to be consistent and current lest it lead to the spiritual downfall that comes from rejecting continuous revelation. Under that principle, the most important difference between dead prophets and living ones is that those who are dead are not here to receive and declare the Lord’s latest words to his people. If they were, there would be no differences among the messages of the prophets.

(emphasis added)
Jonathan Neville’s teachings result in confusion and, ultimately, rejection of the words of those whom the Lord has called to lead the Saints today. They should be renounced by all members of the Church.

—Peter Pan


  1. I believe Elder Cook was referring to the seer stones that were necessary in using the urim and thummim as described by Joseph Smith. Elder Cook din not say "seer stone".

  2. I'm afraid your comment makes no sense. The urim and the thummim were the names of the stones in the breastplate that Moroni gave to Joseph Smith. They were Nephite seer stones, separate from the personal seer stones Joseph Smith had.

  3. President Nelson said, “How the translation was accomplished is not fully known because the Prophet deliberately said little about that sacred task. Yet we do have a few precious insights. God prepared sacred objects to assist Joseph with the translation. Interpreters were buried with the golden plates. Joseph used the interpreters, and other seer stones that the Lord provided, in the translation process. Such instruments were used by prophets throughout scriptural history to translate texts and receive divine communications.” (See: https://missionary.lds.org/content/dam/mportal/mission-presidents/pdfs/snmp/2016/The-Book-of-Mormon-A-Miraculous-Miracle-President-Nelson-2016-SNMP.pdf)

    So, maybe President Nelson is also repudiating the prophets . . .

  4. Those who saw the interpreters or urim and thummim described them as a clear pair of stones bound together with a metal rim. I cannot find any reference where Joseph Smith says he used anything but the urim and thummim and translated by the power of God.

    1. Plutarch,

      Outside of the 1838 history that's in our Pearl of Great Price, Joseph didn't say much about the translation process. His use of his seer stone to translate comes from multiple eyewitnesses to the translation process, including Martin Harris, Emma Smith, and David Whitmer (all of whose testimonies Neville has tried to disparage).

      Please read this article from the October 2015 issue of the Ensign:


  5. When I read what Joseph Smith wrote, I see absolutely no reason for all the controversy over how he translated the plates. At the beginning of his history he states very clearly "I have been induced to write this history, to disabuse the public mind, and put all inquirers after truth in possession of the facts, as they have transpired, in relation both to myself and the Church, so far as I have such facts in my possession. In this history I shall present the various events in relation to this Church, in truth and righteousness, as they have transpired, or as they at present exist, being now [1838] the eighth year since the organization of the said Church."

    Later in verse 35 of his history he says "Also, that there were two stones in silver bows—and these stones, fastened to a breastplate, constituted what is called the Urim and Thummim—deposited with the plates; and the possession and use of these stones were what constituted “seers” in ancient or former times; and that God had prepared them for the purpose of translating the book.

    Verse 62: By this timely aid was I enabled to reach the place of my destination in Pennsylvania; and immediately after my arrival there I commenced copying the characters off the plates. I copied a considerable number of them, and by means of the Urim and Thummim I translated some of them, which I did between the time I arrived at the house of my wife’s father, in the month of December, and the February following.

    In verse 75 "Oliver Cowdery describes these events thus: “These were days never to be forgotten—to sit under the sound of a voice dictated by the inspiration of heaven, awakened the utmost gratitude of this bosom! Day after day I continued, uninterrupted, to write from his mouth, as he translated with the Urim and Thummim, or, as the Nephites would have said, ‘Interpreters,’ the history or record called ‘The Book of Mormon.’"

    This is Joseph's account. This is what he wrote to present the facts so that the truth might be known. This is scripture. I choose this over all that has been said and written by others.

    1. You are, of course, welcome to that interpretation. It simplifies the narrative by discarding all eyewitness testimony that contradicts your preferred version of the events, and therefore confirms your bias.

      Certainly Joseph did use the Nephite interpreters (which were later called “Urim and Thummim”) in the translation process. From multiple eyewitnesses (including Martin Harris, who was Joseph’s scribe for the translation of the 116 lost pages) we learn that Joseph also used his seer stone for ease and convenience, as the Nephite interpreters were difficult to work with.

      Cherry-picking sources—even important sources, like Joseph Smith’s 1838 history—is a poor way to do history. This is why I reject the version of Church history preached by Heartlanders: It insists on a narrow, fundamentalist view and rejects new light and understanding. It pits prophets against prophets, eyewitnesses against eyewitnesses, instead of seeking a holistic approach that accounts for as much of the evidence as possible.


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