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Why don't you have the Gold Plates?
by John Walsh
Why did the angel take the Nephi Plates back to heaven? Do they not belong with man? Would not their existence prove once for all that Mormonism is truth? God allowed the Jews to carry the 10 commandments for several centuries in their original physical form, written by the finger of God Himself!
There are three principle reasons why the plates from which Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon were not left in the hands of the Church. First, if the Church retained possession of the plates, we could indeed show them and "prove once for all that Mormonism is truth". But by doing so, we would destroy the agency of man. People would no longer have the choice to believe or disbelieve. Our mortal lives are a testing ground to determine to what degree we will follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
Remember that the resurrected Jesus appeared only to his disciples and not to the world. If the Lord were simply interested in conversion, then why did he not appear first to Pilate, the Roman governor, and say: "Here I am; examine the wounds in my hands and feet and side. Did I not tell you that I was the Son of God and that I would rise again?"
Why did he not go to the assembled Sanhedrin and there appear before the Jewish high priest and that august body and say to them: "You scourged me, spat upon me, and delivered me to be crucified because I told you I would live again. Now see that what I said is come true!"
Why did the Lord hide his resurrected presence from the world? Why did Jesus show himself only to his true believers who then later testified of their experiences? For the exact same reason that the plates were shown only to a few witnesses who later testified of their experiences. The Lord's consistent pattern is to give a few believers first hand knowledge and then command them to share their witness to the world. The world then has the choice of believing or disbelieving their message with accountability to God for that choice.
Second, the plates contained a sealed portion which was not to be translated at that time. This sealed portion contained teachings that the world was not and is not yet ready to receive. Of this sealed portion it is written , "But the words which are sealed he shall not deliver, neither shall he deliver the book. For the book shall be sealed by the power of God, and the revelation which was sealed shall be kept in the book until the own due time of the Lord, that they may come forth; for behold, they reveal all things from the foundation of the world unto the end thereof." (2 Nephi 27:10) (emphasis added)
According to the Bible, the Lord does not teach us all things at once (Isaiah 28:13). Instead, he first teaches us the lesser things. As we grow in spirituality and demonstrate that we are able to accept the lesser things, then he gives us greater things. We are not ready for a revelation that reveals all things from the foundation of the world unto the end thereof.
Third, you should remember that the leaves were made out of gold and held a significant monetary value. Many people tried to steal the plates from Joseph Smith and he had to be on constant guard against theft. When the translation was completed and the plates were taken out of his care, that danger no longer existed.
For more information on this topic, I suggest you read the Prophet Joseph's own account of these events.
(See Gold Plates; The Book of Mormon home page; Response to Criticism home page; Accusatory Questions home page)
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