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Can You Know Something ‘By Revelation’ That Is Not True?

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Can You Know Something ‘By Revelation’ That Is Not True?

Joel B. Groat

Elder David A. Bednar, one of the current Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon or LDS Church), affirmed a well-known Mormon belief making this declaration at the close of his recent (April 2014) General Conference address to Mormons around the world:

Today is April 6. We know by revelation that today is the actual and accurate date of the Savior’s birth.”

Now the issue of the exact day when Jesus was born is not a significant one. Christians confess that Jesus was eternal God come in the flesh. We celebrate his birth into our space-time continuum because his life, death, and resurrection on our behalf allow us to be credited with his perfection as an unmerited gift of grace when we accept it by faith.  This in turn guarantees the love, forgiveness and acceptance of God the Father now and perfect eternal life in the hereafter.

Who to Believe?

The issue is that Elder Bednar’s statement puts Latter-day Saints into the uncomfortable position of deciding which Mormon teachers they should believe. On the one side you have LDS Apostle Bednar as well as other LDS prophets who have made similar statements and the revelation (D&C 20:1) they are trusting. On the other side you have a choir of dissenting voices (including General Authorities J. Reuben Clark, and Bruce R. McConkie) that disagree with that date for Jesus’ birth. For example, LDS Professor of Archaeology Dr. Jeffrey R. Chadwick examined extensive evidence related to the dating of Herod’s death and concluded the following at the end of his extensive article on the birth date of Jesus published in BYU Studies:

In the five-year period examined (5 bc to 1 bc), there is no year in which April 6 could have been the birth date of Jesus. This conclusion may disappoint some Latter-day Saints who have been conditioned to think of April 6 as the Savior’s birthday. (Dr. Jeffrey R. Chadwick, “Dating the Birth of Christ,” BYU Studies 49:4 [2010], 26)

So, while the LDS Church has never claimed infallibility for its leaders, the fact that Elder Bednar (like President Gordon B. Hinckley before him*) linked the knowledge of an April 6 date of Jesus’ birth to “revelation” raises some significant questions:

  • Does the claim to know something based on revelation trump all other sources of learning and knowledge including archaeology and historical records?
  • If the date of the Savior’s birth is known by revelation, what does it mean for past LDS prophets and apostles who disagree with the April 6 date?
  • Could Bednar really have known something that is not true ‘by revelation’?
  • Is the ‘revelation’ knowledge that led Bednar to this conclusion similar to the revelation that inspired previous LDS leaders to teach the Curse of Cain and that black skin was a result of bad choices made by blacks in a previous life? Remember, this teaching, linked in the past to revelation, has now been clearly disavowed by the LDS Church on it’s website.

Mormon belief: A troubling question that must be asked

In light of these issues raised by Bednar’s affirmation to “know” something based on revelation that is likely not even true, perhaps the most important question we could ask is:

How reliable is the Mormon testimony for the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith and the LDS Church since it is likewise based on a subjective revelation? What if the main paradigm for LDS “knowing” was false and unreliable?

If this issue related to Mormon belief concerns you, or you’ve ever questioned the LDS emphasis on a subjective testimony as the best way to know what is true and what is not, consider our article: Truth, Salvation and the Mormon Testimony: Does Having a Testimony Make it True? Or feel free to contact us directly with your questions using our Contact Us form.  Our goal at IRR is to help you find truth and keep faith.

*Discourses of President Gordon B. Hinckley, Volume 1: 1995–1999 [2005], 409, “While we now know through revelation the time of the Savior’s birth, we observe the 25th of December with the rest of the Christian world.”