You are here

Mormon Scholars Testify: John W. Welch

TitleMormon Scholars Testify: John W. Welch
Publication TypeWeb Article
Year of Publication2011
AuthorsWelch, John W.
Access Date2 April 2018
Last Update DateFebruary 2011
PublisherMormon Scholars Testify
KeywordsBook of Mormon; Chiasmus; Classic; Education; Faith; Moroni's Promise; Scholarship; Study; Testimony

Show Full Text

John W. Welch

Over the years, I have had many opportunities to speak and publish about the Gospel of Jesus Christ and particularly about the Book of Mormon. In a variety of ways, every time I have written or talked about these subjects, I have borne my testimony that this work is good, that it is true, that it is what I want, that it is what I need, and that it is what this world has always needed and what it needs now more than ever. This I know in hundreds of ways, spiritual and intellectual, rationally and faithfully, academically and religiously, deductively and inductively, privately and publically, at home and abroad, in English or German, Greek or Latin, practically and theoretically, alone as well as in my family and community, in times of birth and on occasions of death, through the sacred and the secular, by thought and by deed, in word and in action, with analysis and synthesis, through fasting and feasting, in happiness or tears, with reinforcing ritual repetition as well as arresting original revelations, through study and faith, as a bishop and as a layman, by giving advice and receiving counsel, in salient moments of humility and submissiveness to God imbedded in years of hard work and tedious prospecting in the dusty corners of human life.

I trace my testimony a long way back in my life, part of which I describe in the autobiographical foreword and personal acknowledgements at the beginning of my book, The Legal Cases in the Book of Mormon (2008). I learned of the truth and goodness of the gospel when I was six years old getting my hands dirty alongside volunteer electricians and tile layers building an LDS chapel in the early 1950s in Southern California, when as a teenager I had a couple hours to read Hugh Nibley’s Lehi in the Desert basking in the warm sun and pure air of the High Sierra wilderness area near Mt. Whitney, when as one of a few Mormon kids in a very large Pasadena high school I prayed about the Book of Mormon at the invitation of my seminary teacher in my junior year, when I was riveted as a freshman at BYU by the spirit of the Prophet David O. McKay while watching him speak up close, when as a missionary in 1967 in Regensburg, Germany, I was awakened and led very early one morning to discover chiasmus in the Book of Mormon, and on many other occasions, for which I am profoundly grateful. Similar experiences have continued throughout my life, in marriage and child-raising, at Oxford and Duke, in numerous professional positions, personal associations, and religious callings. And on all of these grounds, I offer my testimony, in every way I know how, that the Bible and Book of Mormon, that the restoration of the priesthood and of the organization of the Church, that the plan of salvation and the atonement of Jesus Christ are eternally good and genuinely true in every meaningful way imaginable.

Rather than repeating here what I have said in bearing my testimony on many other occasions, let me invite you to read or listen to the following items, which are available free on the web.

In 1988, I gave a devotional speech at BYU entitled “Study, Faith, and the Book of Mormon.” I told of many experiences and gave several reasons how and why I know that the Book of Mormon “bears a true witness that Jesus is the Christ.” I concluded that speech by saying, “I testify that the Lord has given us a truly marvelous blessing in the form of the Book of Mormon. He and his servants, the prophets, have given much so we could have it. I pray the Lord will bless us all to love and to know him and this marvelous book, with all of our hearts and might, minds and strength, that we may thereby come to eternal life.” The full text is available at

Seven years later, in 1995, I was invited to deliver a plenary address at the Sperry Symposium at BYU, celebrating the one-hundredth birthday of Sidney B. Sperry. My topic was “The Power of Evidence in the Nurturing of Faith.” Here I explored the various ways in which reason and revelation work together, the various forms in which evidence may appear, and how evidence is powerfully related to the nurturing of faith. I concluded my testimony on that occasion with these thoughts: “As a young man and still today, I have always felt satisfied in my testimony of the Book of Mormon. At first, I believed that the book was true with little or no evidence of any kind at all. Never expecting to find great proofs or evidence for the book, I have been astonished by what the Lord has done. In all of this, I have not been disappointed but richly satisfied. It seems clear enough that the Lord does not intend for the Book of Mormon to be an open-and-shut case intellectually, either pro or con. If God had intended that, he could have left more concrete evidences one way or the other. Instead, it seems that the Lord has maintained a careful balance between requiring us to exercise faith and allowing us to find reasons that affirm the stated origins of this record. The choice is then entirely ours. Ultimately, evidences may not be that important, but then it is easy to say that the airplane or the parachute has become irrelevant after you are safely on the ground. We are blessed to have the Book of Mormon. It is the word of God. It would be ideal if all could accept it without suspicion and then, upon humble prayer, receive the witness of the Holy Ghost that it is true, but in this less than ideal world, it is good that so much evidence can bring us to believe and help us to nurture faith in this extraordinary book.” This presentation, now going into its third publication, is on line at

In 1996, Susan Easton Black assembled a collection of twenty-four testimonies of Latter-day Saint scholars and published them in a book entitled Expressions of Faith, the entire book being on the web site of the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship. My contribution, just one among these many, was entitled “Good and True,” and I am glad that readers can find it easily at There I again focus my attention on the Book of Mormon: “Like most people, I am grateful for good friends who give my life meaningful opportunities for happiness, companionship, love, compassion, appreciation, and a host of precious feelings and memories. I like to remember the adventure, travel, discovery, exploration, research, learning, challenge, emotion, excitement, and many other experiences that life has brought me. For all those same reasons, I am grateful for the Book of Mormon. I love and respect this book. It is a good and true friend. It has filled my life with purpose, perspective, ideas, values, happiness, adventure, challenges and many sacred experiences. Its truth and goodness are sufficiently evident to me in many ways. Yet, at the same time, I know that I glimpse only a part of its full and good news.”

I see the Book of Mormon as a true classic, whose truth is manifested in its spirituality, consistency, accuracy, coherency, complexity, antiquity, reality, subtlety, profundity, clarity and artistry. Likewise, I commend its goodness, which may be defined and felt in many ways: in its unflinching testimonies of Christ, its practical wisdom, its sensitive social conscience, its embracing dynamic universalism, its honest candor, fullness, idealism, and optimism.

By putting James 1:5 and Moroni 10:4 to the test, I have learned that it is one of the gifts of the Book of Mormon that a person can know that it is true and feel its goodness without yet knowing everything it contains. I also have learned that the Holy Ghost is not found at the end of a syllogism. For over forty years, I have worked almost continuously on various Book of Mormon research projects. Not far in the back of my mind during most of my studies in history, philosophy, classical languages, biblical and Near Eastern studies, and law, has always been the prospect of angles on Book of Mormon texts. For me, the results have been rewarding and stimulating, intellectually and spiritually. I have come to esteem the Book of Mormon as one of the intellectual wonders of the world and a key part of the miracle of the Restoration.

The Book of Mormon impresses me most as a profound source of knowledge and perspective. It teaches the gospel in doctrinal passages that are crystal clear and uncannily pertinent both to the minutiae of personal life and to the megatrends of world affairs. The Book of Mormon has taught me in quiet moments such things as the essential requirements of God’s plan of salvation, the errors of many tendencies in modern society, and the spiritual ills of contention and disputation. I find it quite remarkable that, on the myriad arguments written against the Book of Mormon, hardly any have been directed against its ethical positions or religious teachings. It offers all its readers—even its critics—the promise of mercy and comfort, if they will only come unto Christ and be reconciled with him, as he has asked.

An important part of my testimony is that I will see the Book of Mormon again some day at the judgment bar of God. My students always want to know in advance something about what is going to be on their final exams. Fortunately, the Lord has not left us in the dark on the most important final exam: “And I exhort you to remember these things; for the time speedily cometh that ye shall know that I lie not, for ye shall see me at the bar of God; and the Lord God will say unto you: Did I not declare my words unto you, which were written by this man?” (Moroni 10:27). And King Benjamin bore similar testimony that his words “shall stand as a bright testimony against this people at the judgment day” (Mosiah 3:24).

Finally, in 2003, I delivered another BYU Devotional, entitled “And with All Thy Mind,” in which I asked, “What does it mean to love God with our mind?” and how can we be sure that we are keeping the first and greatest commandment, to love God with all our hearts and minds. I answered these questions in many ways, testifying that God cares very much about his children, including what they think and how they use their minds. I spoke of personal experiences, for which I thank and praise God, when I have received his direct intervention and support. I testified then, as I do now, that I know the gospel and the Book of Mormon are true. This speech is available at

Dear reader, I close, as I have on all of these previous occasions, with my honest and forthright declaration of what I know and count to be true. I swear this to be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. In the name of Jesus Christ and through the power and influence of the Holy Ghost, I offer you my witness, based on all that I know to be good and true, that God and Christ are good and true, that the Bible and the Book of Mormon contain the word of God, and that God has sent heavenly ministers with power and with discernment to gather the wheat from among the tares, the truth from error, wherever it may be found among his children here on this earth. I gratefully thank the Lord for his goodness, and humbly pray that this report of the reasons for the hope that is in me may in some still, small way be worthy of your acceptance.


John W. Welch is Robert K. Thomas Professor of Law at the J. Reuben Clark Law School of Brigham Young University. He has also practiced law both in his native California and in Utah. In 1979, he established the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS), serving as its president until 1989 and as a member of its board of directors until 2005. Since 1991, he has also served as editor-in-chief of the University’s flagship journal, BYU Studies, and, in that capacity, has supervised numerous publications that have received awards from the Mormon History Association and the Western History Association.

Educated at Brigham Young University (B.A., history; M.A., classical languages), Professor Welch proceeded to study Greek philosophy as a Woodrow Wilson Fellow at Oxford University and then earned a J.D. from the law school of Duke University, where he was articles editor for the Duke Law Journal.

Professor Welch served on the editorial board of Macmillan’s Encyclopedia of Mormonism (1988-1992). Long interested in Jewish law, he was a member of the executive committees of the Jewish Law Section of the American Association of Law Schools (1993-1999) and of the Biblical Law Section of the Society of Biblical Literature (1999-2005), and has been the Biblical Law Abstractor for the Jewish Law Annual since 1992.

The author or co-author of many scores of important articles on the law, Mormon history, the Book of Mormon, the New Testament, and other subjects, he is also the author, editor, co-author, or co-editor of The Sermon on the Mount in the Light of the Temple (London: Ashgate, 2009); The Legal Cases in the Book of Mormon (Provo, Utah: Neal A. Maxwell Institute, 2008); with Larry E. Morris, Oliver Cowdery: Scribe, Elder, Witness (Provo, Utah: Neal A. Maxwell Institute, 2006); The Worlds of Joseph Smith: A Bicentennial Conference at the Library of Congress (Provo, Utah: BYU Press, 2006); Biblical Law Cumulative Bibliography (Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns; and Provo, Utah: BYU Press, 2006); with John F. Hall, Apostles and Bishops in Early Christianity, in the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book; Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2005); Opening the Heavens: Accounts of Divine Manifestations, 1820–1844 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book; Provo, Utah: BYU Press, 2005); with David and Jo Ann Seely, Glimpses of Lehi’s Jerusalem (Provo, Utah: FARMS; American Fork, Utah: Covenant Communications, 2004); with Stephen Fleming, Lectures on Religion and the Founding of the American Republic(Provo, Utah: BYU Press, 2003); with Donald W. Parry and Daniel C. Peterson, Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2002); A Latter-day Saint Compass: Readings from the Encyclopedia of Mormonism (Provo, Utah: BYU Press, 2002); with John F. Hall, Charting the New Testament (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2002); David Daube Bibliography, distributed in Denver, November 2001, at the national meeting of the Biblical Law Section of the Society for Biblical Literature and published on; editor for Ze’ev W. Falk, Hebrew Law in Biblical Times, 2d ed. (Provo, Utah: BYU Press; Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2001); An Epistle from the New Testament Apostles (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1999); Illuminating the Sermon at the Temple and Sermon on the Mount (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1999); with Daniel B. McKinlay, Chiasmus Bibliography (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1999); with J. Gregory Welch, Charting the Book of Mormon (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1999); with Melvin J. Thorne, Pressing Forward with the Book of Mormon (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1999); with Stephen D. Ricks, King Benjamin’s Speech: “That Ye May Learn Wisdom” (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1998); with Donald W. Parry, Isaiah in the Book of Mormon (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1998); with Doris R. Dant, The Book of Mormon Paintings of Minerva Teichert (Provo, Utah: BYU Studies; Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1997); editor for Gila Hurvitz, The Story of Masada, English edition (Jerusalem: Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Provo, Utah: BYU Studies, 1997); with John F. Hall, Masada and the World of the New Testament (Provo, Utah: BYU Studies, 1997); with James B. Allen, Coming to Zion (Provo, Utah: BYU Studies, 1997); with Jeannie Welch, The Doctrine and Covenants by Themes, 2d ed. (Provo, Utah: FARMS and BYU Studies, 1997); with Jan Shipps, The William E. McLellin Journals, 1831–1836 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press; Provo, Utah: BYU Studies, 1994); with Stephen D. Ricks, The Allegory of the Olive Tree (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book; Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1994); editor for B. H. Roberts, The Truth, The Way, The Life (Provo, Utah: BYU Studies, 1994); Reexploring the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book; Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1992); with Stephen D. Ricks and Donald W. Parry, A Bibliography on Temples of the Ancient Near East and Mediterranean World (Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 1991); A Biblical Law Bibliography(Lewiston, New York: Edwin Mellen Press, 1990); The Sermon at the Temple and the Sermon on the Mount (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book; Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1990); with Edwin Firmage and Bernard Weiss, Religion and Law: Biblical, Jewish & Islamic Perspectives (Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1990); Chiasmus in Antiquity (Hildesheim: Gerstenberg Verlag, 1981).

Professor Welch has been the co-director or director of several museum exhibits and conferences at BYU and beyond. He serves as the general editor of The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book; Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1985–) and was the producer and publisher of Selected Collections from the Archives of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 78 DVDs in 2 vols., directed by Richard E. Turley Jr. (Provo, Utah: BYU Press, 2002).

He is married to the former Jeannie Sutton, and they have four children and sixteen grandchildren. In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he was a missionary in southern Germany and has served as a counselor in a stake presidency and twice as a bishop.

Posted February 2011