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CES Letter Summary

Todd Noall

Todd Noall

Source Expert

Todd Noall is an author and religious scholar at Mormonism Explained with a focus on the history and theology of religion.

Fact Checked by Kevin Prince

Kevin Prince

Source Expert

Kevin Prince serves as the Source Authority at Mormonism Explained. Mr. Prince is a religious scholar as well as a technology industry CEO and entrepreneur.

Updated July 3, 2024

The CES Letter contains thirteen arguments against Mormonism. The topics addressed by the CES Letter are: the Book of Mormon, Book of Mormon translation, the first vision, the Book of Abraham, polygamy and polyandry, prophets, the Kinderhook Plates and translator claims, testimony and spiritual witness, priesthood restoration, witnesses, temples and freemasonry, science, and others concerns (which includes censorship, church finances, anti-intellectualism). 

The CES Letter is a 135-page document authored by Jeremy Runnells, which raises numerous challenges to the doctrines and historical claims of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also called the Mormon or LDS Church). 

The first section scrutinizes the Book of Mormon, questioning its authenticity and the methods used in its translation. It challenges the historical and archaeological evidence supporting the Book of Mormon’s narrative, suggesting inconsistencies and anachronisms. Additionally, the letter critiques the accounts of the first vision, arguing that the three accounts offer conflicting versions of Joseph Smith’s initial divine encounter.

Another significant portion of the CES Letter focuses on the Book of Abraham. It critiques the translation process and the origins of the papyri, which modern Egyptologists have identified as common funerary texts rather than the writings of the biblical Abraham. This section questions the credibility of Joseph Smith’s claims of divine translation.

Polygamy and polyandry are also addressed. The CES Letter summary highlights the practice of plural marriage instituted by Joseph Smith, including instances where he married women who were already married to other men (polyandry). It discusses the ethical and moral concerns surrounding these practices and their impact on the church.

The letter also examines the role and reliability of LDS prophets, citing instances where their predictions or teachings changed. It includes an analysis of the Kinderhook Plates incident, where Joseph Smith’s suggested translation of the fraudulent plates casts doubt on his prophetic abilities.

The reliability of personal testimony and spiritual witnesses are scrutinized. The subjective nature of personal spiritual experiences, according to the CES Letter is not a good basis for faith. The CES Letter challenges the validity of these testimonies as evidence for the truth claims of the LDS Church.

Another critical area of focus is the restoration of the priesthood. The letter questions the historical accounts of the priesthood’s restoration and the legitimacy of the authority claimed by the LDS Church.

The Letter also questions the reliability and credibility of the individuals who claimed to have seen the golden plates, which Smith claimed to have translated as the Book of Mormon. The CES Letter argues that their testimonies are inconsistent and, at times, motivated by personal or social pressures.

The relationship between LDS temples and freemasonry is noted and the CES Letter suggests that many temple rituals were directly borrowed from Masonic practices, raising questions about their originality and divine origin.

Scientific concerns, particularly regarding creation and the origin of Native American peoples, are questioned by the CES Letter. The letter argues that DNA evidence contradicts the book’s narrative about the ancestry of these populations.

Other concerns covered in the CES Letter summary include issues like censorship within the church, lack of financial transparency, and a perceived anti-intellectual stance that discourages critical thinking and questioning of church doctrines.

Despite its detailed criticisms, the CES Letter has been criticized for frequently repeating arguments, taking quotes out of context, and making false claims. Critics argue that the letter presents a one-sided view that neglects counter-evidence, historical analysis, and the perspectives of faithful Latter-day Saints.