Elder Holland BBC Interview
CES Letter Core Question
Is “I don’t know and I don’t understand but it’s the word of God” really the best answer that a “prophet, seer, and revelator” can come up with to such a profound problem and stumbling block that is driving many members out of the Church?
The CES Letter forgets that Joseph Smith “translated” several documents, but none were in the traditional sense of translation. They were translated “by the gift and power of God.” Elder Holland did not profess to know how that process occurs, nor should he be expected to know.
When Sweeney pressed Elder Holland on the matter of the translation of the Book of Abraham, Elder Holland responded, "[W]hat got translated got translated into the word of God; the vehicle for that I do not understand." What does this statement reveal? First, notice carefully that Elder Holland calls the Book of Abraham a "translation." He also calls it the "word of God." So Elder Holland, it appears, both accepts the Book of Abraham as an authentic "translation" and as inspired scripture.
Notice that Elder Holland simply remarks that he doesn't know the mechanism ("vehicle") of the translation of the Book of Abraham. In other words, he doesn't know precisely how the translation was performed. This is different from how Runnells and others have characterized Elder Holland's remarks.
Due to some apparent heavy editing of the original footage, it is impossible to know precisely what, if anything, Elder Holland said in addition by way of clarification. Saying he didn’t know was not obfuscating in some way about the Church's position.
Latter-day Saint prophets and apostles do not claim infallibility or omniscience. The author of The CES Letter is, apparently, seeking for some kind of definitive, authoritative (and presumably divinely revealed) answer that will settle the issue permanently. This expectation is misplaced, however, since the Lord himself revealed that answers do not always come automatically to all of our questions.
The author of The CES Letter expects something that the Church, in its scriptures, officially disavows: instant, absolutely definitive answers to every question. For this reason, the Lord commanded to seek knowledge by academic as well as revelatory means (D&C 88:78–80, 118).