Book of Mormon Copyright Revelation

CES Letter Core Question

How are we supposed to know what revelations are from God, from the devil, or from the heart of man if even the Prophet Joseph Smith couldn’t tell?

Joseph Smith received a revelation, through the peep stone in his hat, to send Hiram Page and Oliver Cowdery to Toronto, Canada for the sole purpose of selling the copyright of the Book of Mormon, which is another concern in itself (why would God command to sell the copyright to His word?). The mission failed and the prophet was asked why his revelation was wrong.

Joseph decided to inquire of the Lord regarding the question. Book of Mormon witness David Whitmer testified:

...and behold the following revelation came through the stone: ‘Some revelations are of God; and some revelations are of man: and some revelations are of the devil.’ So we see that the revelation to go to Toronto and sell the copy-right was not of God, but was of the devil or of the heart of man.

How are we supposed to know what revelations are from God, from the devil, or from the heart of man if even the Prophet Joseph Smith couldn’t tell?

Elder Boyd K. Packer said the following:

Be ever on guard lest you be deceived by inspiration from an unworthy source. You can be given false spiritual messages. There are counterfeit spirits just as there are counterfeit angels. (See Moro. 7:17.) Be careful lest you be deceived, for the devil may come disguised as an angel of light.
The spiritual part of us and the emotional part of us are so closely linked that is possible to mistake an emotional impulse for something spiritual. We occasionally find people who receive what they assume to be spiritual promptings from God, when those promptings are either centered in the emotions or are from the adversary.
— THE CANDLE OF THE LORD, ENSIGN, JANUARY 1983

What kind of a method is this if Heavenly Father allows Satan to interfere with our direct line of communication to Him? Sincerely asking for and seeking answers?

Are we now expected to not only figure out when a prophet is speaking as a prophet and not as a man while also trying to figure out whether our answers to prayer are from God, from the devil, or from ourselves?


CES Letter, Page 76-77

Apparently the author of The CES Letter was working from old information.

Newly published copies of the actual revelation state that the copyright would be sold only "if the people harden not their hearts against the enticings of my spirit." It was clearly conditional—Joseph Smith's revelation was not wrong as The CES Letter alleges.

David Whitmer claimed that Joseph Smith received a revelation that prophesied that Oliver Cowdery and Hiram Page would be able to see the copyright to the Book of Mormon. The effort failed and Whitmer recorded that Joseph said the revelation had not come from God.

David Whitmer was not a participant in the trip to Canada and was highly biased when he wrote the accusation.

Documents published in 2009 by the Joseph Smith Papers project demonstrate David Whitmer was in error. The portion of the revelation discussing the sale of the copyright states:

I grant unto my servent a privelige  that he may sell <a copyright> through you speaking after the manner of  men for the four Provinces if the People harden not their hearts  against the enticeings of my spirit & my word for Behold it  lieth in themselves to their condemnation & or to their salvation. Click here

The sale of the copyright was clearly conditional upon the willingness of the people to “harden not their hearts against the enticeings of my spirit & my word.” It was not a false revelation; nor was it “wrong.”

The revelation was given through the urim and thumim, which The CES Letter refers to as a “peep stone.”


Additional Resources:

FairMormon on the attempt to sell the copyright in Canada

“Historical Introduction” from Joseph Smith Papers project