The purpose of an apologist is to help keep people in the faith by providing answers to questions and concerns. As a stake president I have had many come to me with doubts and questions and consider myself to be an expert in this area.
One thing I always tell my fellow apologists is that it is very important to support the teachings given by our prophets, seers and revelators and the standard works. Too often I see apologists these days departing from the truth in order to preach what the scriptures would call ‘another gospel’; and thus they pervert the very gospel of Christ that they are claiming to defend (see Galatians 1:6-7).
Let me give two common examples:
1. The first example is with the Book of Abraham. Right in our scriptures it explains the book as follows: “A Translation of some ancient Records that have fallen into our hands from the catacombs of
. The writings of Abraham while he was in Egypt , called the Book of Abraham, written by his own hand, upon papyrus. (See History of the Church, 2:235–36, 348–51.)” http://lds.org/scriptures/pgp/abr?lang=eng Egypt
Here we see in our scriptures that the writings on the papyrus were done by the hand of Abraham. Upon examination by professional non-Mormon Egyptologists, the papyri were found to bear no resemblance whatsoever to Joseph Smith's interpretation. They were found to be common Egyptian funerary texts, dating to about the first century BC.
Some members learning this are inclined in their weakness to question their faith. They may be tempted to conclude that Joseph Smith was a fraud and simply made up the interpretation. I even knew one person who left the church over this as he felt that church leaders who are fully aware of the conclusions of these non-Mormon Egyptologists kept this truth from him by continuing to teach that these really were the original writings of Abraham. I understand he has lowered himself to drinking coffee now and is quite bitter over the whole thing.
There are two approaches that apologists can take when this issue comes up. They can go against the account given by Joseph Smith (and that which is written in the scriptures) and tell people that these writings in fact had absolutely nothing to do with Abraham but that Joseph upon seeing the writings simply felt inspired by the Lord to write certain things about Abraham. This approach though simply proves to the doubter that the explanation of the book given in our scriptures is completely misleading.
The correct approach is to simply say that if Joseph Smith said that these were the original writings of Abraham written by his own hand and translated by the power of God and if that is what is written in our scriptures and taught to our members, then that is precisely what they are! We no longer have the gold plates of the Book of Mormon to verify if the translation is correct but we do have much of the papyrus from the Book of Abraham and from this we can know of a surety that Joseph was and is a prophet of God. Egyptologists (especially non-Mormon ones) do not have the spirit of the Lord to guide them and cannot know the true meaning of all things even if they can now read Egyptian.
2. In the Book of Mormon there are several references to horses. The land was full or horses according to 2 Nephi 12:7. We know that King Lamoni used to ride on chariots pulled by horses. However it is widely accepted in some circles that horses became extinct in the
Americas over 10,000 years ago and did not reappear there until the Spaniards brought them over from Europe.
A Church member encountering this view may doubt the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. Again there are two approaches that apologists can take. They can either defend the scriptures or they can change them. When I say change them I am referring to the meaning; so in this case they would change the definition of the word horse. Many apologists these days fall into the trap of changing scriptural meanings to try to make scriptures fit with what we now know about the world. They will say for example that the word horse used in the old world was associated with a somewhat similar looking animal in the new world called a Tapir. See below photo.
The problem with this approach is that tapirs wouldn’t be useful at pulling chariots. Expecting members to believe that the Nephites and Lamanites rode around on Tapirs is ridiculous. A much better approach is to tell the truth which is that the Book of Mormon is (as per the introduction) ‘the most correct book upon the face of the earth’ and one cannot assume that evidence for horses would be obvious from the current archaeological record. In this approach we are defending (not changing) the scriptures and members won’t think of us apologists as imbeciles.
Lovingly shared by the Stake President, even Bill Paternoster