By way of introduction, my name is Earl Erskine and I’ve been an active member of the church for over 60 years. I’ve given everything the Lord has blessed me with to build up the church. I lost my parents when I was young but with others’ great sacrifice, I served a mission in Denmark. I married Carla Godwin in the Salt Lake Temple 42 years ago and I still have a current temple recommend. I’m not sure how long that’ll last after tonight. I’ve served in three Bishop bricks, taught gospel doctrine several times, served on a High Council, was a state missionary and served as a bishop for five years. I want to share with you my life-changing journey.
Do you remember in the fall of 2005 when President Hinckley challenged us to read the book of Mormon by year end? Well I finished early so I decided to read it again but this time from a copy of the original 1830 Book of Mormon and it’s in novel form. Immediately I noticed some differences with our current Book of Mormon. Please bear with me while I share just a few.
In first Nephi 11:18 it reads “Behold the Virgin which thou seest is the mother of God” It now reads “Behold the Virgin whom thou seest is the mother of the Son of God.” In verse 21 it reads “behold the lamb of God yea even the Eternal Father.” It now reads “behold the lamb of God yea even the son of the Eternal Father.” And finally in first Nephi 13:40 it reads “that the Lamb of God is the eternal father and the Saviour of the world.” It now reads “that the Lamb of God is the son of the Eternal Father and the savior of the world.” Look also at Mormons 7:7 for a change. Of course this was shocking since the church teaches the Book of Mormon was translated word-for-word by the power of God and is the most correct book. Why these changes? Did God make a mistake? As LDS we recognize these as significant changes but this original concept of God continues in our current Book of Mormon. In Mosiah 15:1-2 we read “and now Abinadi said unto them: I would that ye should understand that God himself shall come down and because he dwelleth in flesh he shall be called the Son of God”. And listen to this discussion between Zeezrom and Amulek in Alma chapter 11. “And Zeezrom said unto him: Thou seest there is a true and living God? Yea, there is a true and living God. Is there more than one God? No. How knowest thou these things? An angel hath made them known unto me. Now Zeezrom saith again unto Him: Is the son of God the very Eternal Father? Yea, he is the very eternal father of heaven and earth” Alma 11:38-40. Check out also the title page of the Book of Mormon Ether 3:14 and the three witnesses’ testimony.
Now I’m really confused about what Joseph believed. Then I thought “surely the first vision wherein Joseph said he saw the father and the son should answer these questions about his concept of God.” So I looked up the earliest versions of the first vision since the one in the Pearl of Great Price is dated 1838, well after the 1830 Book of Mormon. The earliest written account of the first vision I could find is dated 1832 and it’s in Joseph’s own handwriting. The church has this version in their archives and it states that only one person visited him and it doesn’t mention the Satan experience. This was incredible. I read the other versions of the first vision and believe it or not they’re all different. I find it impossible to believe that Joseph would not mention seeing God the Father and Jesus each and every time he recited the account. I don’t believe he forgot anything or that he was writing for different audiences or that he felt it was too sacred to share it precisely given all his other writings. So unbelievably the first vision didn’t help solve what Joseph believed about God either. By now I’ve mulled this over for a couple of years daring not to tell anyone including my wife. I continued to search for what else was written in the early church. I came across the lectures of Faith #5 taught by Joseph Smith about 1833, which were included in the Doctrine and Covenants until 1921. Now this will surprise you, it says “the father being a personage of spirit and the son who was in the bosom of the Father a personage of tabernacle and possessing the same mind with the father, which mind is the Holy Spirit and these three are one.” Notice it never says “one in purpose.” I couldn’t believe what I was reading. What did Joseph see in the sacred grove?
To add to this confusion, I next found this problem and coincidentally Sean used it a couple of weeks ago. Luke 10:22 now reads “and no man knoweth who the son is but the father, and who the father is but the son.” In the Joseph Smith’s translation about 1832, Joseph changed it to read “and no man knoweth that the son is the father and the father is the son.” You heard that right. Let me repeat. Joseph changed Luke 10:22 to read “and no man knoweth that the son is the father and the father is the son.” What a contradiction! Now I’m wondering if Joseph even had the 1820 vision. He was not consistent in his beliefs. In fact it sounds like he believed in the Christian God until into the 1830s. So now I’m officially miserable. I’m having trouble bearing my testimony in church. Words are catching in my throat. I know how God feels about hypocrites so instead of helping me, the first vision, the lectures of faith and Luke 22 raised even more questions. And I’m sure we’ve all had questions about one thing or another but we dismiss them with the church’s explanation or that it isn’t important to our salvation and we move on faithfully. But I had to keep searching. Then something totally unexpected slapped me square in the face.
Did you know that the original papyri used by Joseph Smith to translate the Book of Abraham, thought to be burned in the Chicago Fire of 1871, were found in 1967 in a museum in New York? The church now has these papyri and according to the February 1968 improvement era 43 years ago, there was “an unprecedented interest generated throughout the church by the recovery of eleven pieces of papyrus that were once the property of the Prophet Joseph Smith”. Of course, there was great anticipation. This would prove beyond any doubt that Joseph was a true prophet and translator. However it won’t surprise me if you’ve heard little or nothing about this amazing discovery. Why? Because the papyri have nothing to do with Abraham, nothing. Egyptologists agree that the text in fact similes are burial texts which would expect to find in a mummy and were written well after Abraham’s time. These findings were so unbelievable. On top of everything else, I was learning about Joseph. My life has been built on certain truths. Everything I looked at to defend the church had crumbled. Individually, these things may not seem like much and the church does have its explanations. But honestly, put them all together and think and pray about them. You may ask why you don’t just keep your little findings to yourself and go away quietly. Why do you have to make such a big deal about it and act like you’re so right and we’re all being misled? I’ve already mentioned how I gave my heart and soul to the church. I’ve raised four children in it. A couple of them and other family members and friends are now looking at me wondering why Satan is deceiving me and why I’m jeopardizing my eternal salvation.