Introduction to The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ
What is the Book of Mormon? Another Bible? An assault on the Bible? An evil fraud by an uneducated farm boy out to make a buck in the early 1800s? Few books have been the topic of so much discussion by those with so little knowledge of its contents. Many who have read and studied the Book of Mormon recognize it as a powerful witness of Jesus Christ, a witness that stands next to the Bible as divine scripture from the ancient world.
This page is the effort of one Latter-day Saint, Jeff Lindsay, to explain what the Book of Mormon is and to show why it is truly worth reading. This page is solely my responsibility and has not been endorsed by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
"In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established" - 2 Corinthians 13:1
A careful examination of this book can overwhelm the reader who relishes uncertainty, for little of that is left. It provides a powerful independent witness of the reality of Jesus Christ and his divine mission. It restores beautiful truths about the Gospel of Jesus Christ which have been obscured for centuries by the teachings of men. It proves that the heavens are not sealed. And it indirectly confirms that the translator of this monumental ancient record, Joseph Smith, Jr., was in fact a prophet of the living God.
It is a volume of scripture relating God's dealings long ago with some people in the Americas, in much the same way that the Bible is a record of God's dealing with some people in one region of the Old World. We have the Bible as a witness of Christ. The Book of Mormon is a second witness, confirming the validity of Biblical doctrine and verifying the divinity of Christ through the inspired words of other sheep in Christ's fold (see John 10:16).
The Book of Mormon is a complex book covering a variety of historical, religious, political, and military events in a variety of ancient communities. Much of the Book of Mormon deals with descendants of a man named Lehi, a 6th century B.C. prophet who lived in the Jerusalem area but was warned by the Lord to flee the area with his family and several other people. They would eventually be guided on a dangerous journey to the New World where a small civilization would be founded. The sacred history kept by his descendants covers a span of 600 B.C. to 400 A.D.
|The Book of Mormon is another witness of Christ.|
The title page of the Book of Mormon, written by its final author, Moroni, near 400 A.D., said that the purposes of the book were:
For me, the primary purpose of the book is to bring souls to Christ. It is a powerful witness of Jesus Christ and wonderfully centered on Him.
The Book of Mormon was written by ancient prophets, just as the Bible was written by prophets and apostles of Christ. The writing was done by the spirit of revelation and prophecy. Many authors had contributed directly or were quoted in the final abridgment of ancient records compiled by the prophet, historian, and military leader Mormon near 400 A.D. As a result, there are a variety of distinct literary styles in the Book of Mormon, ranging from classical Hebrew poetical components in the writings of Nephi, Benjamin (quoted by his son in the Book of Mosiah), and Alma (who provides us with one of the most majestic examples ever of the ancient Semitic poetical form, chiasmus, in Alma 36), to the terse, direct prose of reluctant military men such as Mormon and Moroni.
Joseph Smith, a young farm boy in backwoods New York, translated the Book of Mormon from ancient gold plates in a brief time, about 65 man-days maximum, an average of over 8 single-spaced pages per day. The translation was done through the gift and power of God. Was this monumental task an act of forgery? That's what many assume - but even a brief but honest examination of the text leads to one conclusion: the forgery hypothesis cannot explain the Book of Mormon. (For example, look at the Book of Mormon Evidences page.)
Mormon was one of the last prophets to write in the Book of Mormon. His task was to compile and abridge the many sacred writings from his people and from another more ancient civilization to prepare the set of records that would be preserved for a future time as a second witness of Christ and as a vital tool in the restoration of the fullness of the Gospel. Because he was the abridger and primary editor of the record, the book is named after him. He wrote the record on gold plates. His successor, Moroni, son of Mormon, added some final comments and ultimately buried the plates (apparently after 421 A.D.) in a place (a hill in New York state - far from the central American setting of the Book of Mormon) where they would later be revealed to Joseph Smith in 1827.
The angel Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith in 1823 and told him that there was an ancient record of some of the inhabitants of the Americas that had been preserved on golden plates. The plates had been buried in a hill not far from the home of young Joseph. He was instructed to go to the hill, and was told that he would be permitted to obtain the plates after a four-year period. After he received the plates late in 1827, it was still some time before he could begin the work of translation. The translation was then carried out through the gift and power of God, as described below. The Book was published in 1830.
For a discussion on recently discovered ancient evidence for Book of Mormon authenticity, see the Book of Mormon Evidences page.
The golden plates were engraved with a compact writing system with ties to ancient Egyptian writing. The early writers of the Book of Mormon spoke Hebrew, and the primary spoken and written language of subsequent generations was largely derived from Hebrew. However, the final writers and abridgers of the Book of Mormon used "reformed Egyptian" for inscribing text onto gold plates. This appears to have been a case of using one writing system (a compact script derived from Egyptian) to convey or transliterate the words of another language. The reformed Egyptian writing system apparently had been passed on from the knowledge of Egyptian shared by Lehi and his son Nephi, the first writers of the original Book of Mormon text.
Young Joseph Smith relied on the power of God to translate the unknown language on the gold plates, producing text at a pace of about 8 and sometimes 10 full pages per day, a pace exceeding that of modern professional translators who often produce about one or two final pages per day. (For comparison, the King James Bible was translated by a team of about 50 scholars over a 7-year period at a rate of about 1 page per day. That team had abundant resources at their disposal, including prior translations.) This phenomenal outpouring of text occurred under trying circumstances under which Joseph faced persecution and many hardships associated with caring for a family. Though we do not know many details on how Joseph's translation was accomplished, Joseph and several of the witnesses who saw him translate make reference to a divine tool called the Urim and Thummim that he had received from the angel to assist in the translation process. The Urim and Thummim is mentioned several times but not explained in the Bible (Ex. 28:30; Lev. 8:8; Num. 27:21; Deut. 33:8; 1 Sam. 28:6; Ezra 2:63; Nehemiah 7:65), but apparently is a divine tool which allows "seers" (those who see) to see special things with the power of God (Mosiah 8:13; see also 1 Sam. 28:6). Some of these witnesses said that Joseph looked into the instrument and could see translated words or sentences (e.g., by placing the devices in a hat and looking at them while blocking out the daylight). One recorded revelation to Joseph made mention of him having "sight and power to translate" (Doctrine and Covenants 3:12). According to Orson Pratt, an early Apostle of the Church, Joseph said that he had used the Urim and Thummim to translate when he was inexperienced at translation, but with time it was no longer necessary (Millennial Star, Aug. 11, 1874, pp. 498-499). He also used a "seer stone" that was not part of the Urim and Thummim. During at least part of the translation process, some witnesses saw him obtaining the translation by placing the seerstone in a hat to block external light and looking at it in the hat to somehow see or perceive the translation. Clearly, the translation was not done by ordinary intellectual processes. However, it was not an automatic or easy task, but required faith, mental effort and concentration (Doctrine and Covenants 9:5,7). Just how Joseph did it and what he experience are not known. For a good review of what witnesses said about the translation process, see "The Spectacles, the Stone, the Hat, and the Book: A Twenty-first Century Believer's View of the Book of Mormon Translation" by Roger Nicholson, 2013, on The Mormon Interpreter.
We do know that Joseph sat with the plates and verbally gave the translation to scribes. Oliver Cowdery was the primary scribe who wrote down the translation for most of the text, but others also participated. For example, Joseph's wife, Emma Smith, served as a scribe briefly. She said, "After meals, or after interruptions, [Joseph] would at once begin where he had left off, without either seeing the manuscript or having any portion of it read to him" ("Last Testimony of Sister Emma," Saints' Herald, Oct. 1, 1879, p. 290). Again, this is much unlike traditional translation processes, where frequent review and revision is necessary during the translation. (Critics charge that many changes were made after the initial printing - but these were minor changes, typically correcting printer's error, spelling, punctuation, and grammar, as discussed in detail on my page about Changes in the Book of Mormon). As Joseph dictated, the scribes wrote his words in a steady stream, without divisions into paragraphs and verses. The ancient text also lacked punctuation, which had to be added to the English manuscript.
None of the scribes or witnesses to the translation process ever indicated that Joseph used any other books or written materials to help him translate (Neal Maxwell, Ensign, Jan. 1997, p. 40). Emma said, "He had neither manuscript nor book to read from, [and] if he had anything of the kind he could not have concealed it from me" ("Last Testimony of Sister Emma," pp. 289-290). There is no evidence that Joseph used a copy of the Bible to assist in preparing the Book of Mormon, even though some parts of the Bible (such as several chapters of Isaiah) are quoted. The translation definitely employs the language of the King James Bible, but even passages that appear to be quoted from the Bible show many subtle differences, suggesting that more than simple copying was involved. Even if Joseph had used a Bible to help with some passages, that does little to explain the majority of the Book of Mormon, which is unique and full of remarkable and inspiring stories and discourse, as well as examples of ancient literary devices. As to common charges that the Book of Mormon was plagiarized, please see my page on Plagiarism and the Book of Mormon.
The Book of Mormon was not written by Joseph Smith. It was written by ancient prophets of God, and Joseph only served to translate the text and bring it into publication. His scribes and witnesses who saw the plates did not deny what they had seen and witnessed, in spite of other problems some had with the Church or with Joseph. Oliver Cowdery left the Church for a time, but humbly returned. To the day that he died, he affirmed the divinity of the book. He testified that he had written all but a few pages of the book "as it fell from the lips of the prophet" (Journal of Reuben Miller, Oct. 1848, LDS Archives, as cited by Maxwell). A related article by Dr. Ricks, "The Translation and Publication of the Book of Mormon," is also available online.
After Joseph completed the translation of the gold plates, the angel Moroni showed the plates to three other men, Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris. They bore solemn testimony of what they experienced - testimony which was never retracted and often affirmed, even after sore persecution and even in spite of subsequent personal apostasy from the Church:
Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, unto whom this work shall come: That we, through the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, have seen the plates which contain this record, which is a record of the people of Nephi, and also of the Lamanites, their brethren, and also of the people of Jared, who came from the tower of which hath been spoken. And we also know that they have been translated by the gift and power of God, for his voice hath declared it unto us; wherefore we know of a surety that the work is true. And we also testify that we have seen the engravings which are upon the plates; and they have been shown unto us by the power of God, and not of man. And we declare with words of soberness, that an angel of God came down from heaven, and he brought and laid before our eyes, that we beheld and saw the plates, and the engravings thereon; and we know that it is by the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, that we beheld and bear record that these things are true. And it is marvelous in our eyes. Nevertheless, the voice of the Lord commanded us that we should bear record of it; wherefore, to be obedient unto the commandments of God, we bear testimony of these things. And we know that if we are faithful in Christ, we shall rid our garments of the blood of all men, and be found spotless before the judgment-seat of Christ, and shall dwell with him eternally in the heavens. And the honor be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, which is one God. Amen.OLIVER COWDERY
Besides the three witnesses, nine other people either participated as scribes or observed the translation process, including Emma Smith, Elizabeth Ann Whitmer Cowdery, William Smith, Lucy Mack Smith, Michael Morse, Sarah Hellor Conrad, Isaac Hale, Reuben Hale, and Joseph Knight Sr. (see Neal A. Maxwell, "By the Gift and Power of God," Ensign, Jan. 1997, pp. 36-41). However, it is possible that some of these may not have seen the plates directly.
Other men of character were also shown the plates by Joseph Smith himself. Here is the testimony of a group of 8 witnesses, a testimony which was never retracted:
Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, unto whom this work shall come: That Joseph Smith, Jun., the translator of this work, has shown unto us the plates of which hath been spoken, which have the appearance of gold; and as many of the leaves as the said Smith has translated we did handle with our hands; and we also saw the engravings thereon, all of which has the appearance of ancient work, and of curious workmanship. And this we bear record with words of soberness, that the said Smith has shown unto us, for we have seen and hefted, and know of a surety that the said Smith has got the plates of which we have spoken. And we give our names unto the world, to witness unto the world that which we have seen. And we lie not, God bearing witness of it.CHRISTIAN WHITMER
PETER WHITMER, JUN.
JOSEPH SMITH, SEN.
SAMUEL H. SMITH
These men never denied their testimony of the Book of Mormon, even though some left the Church and would have had ample reason and opportunity to expose a fraud, if it had been one. A detailed review of their story and the significance of their testimony is offered by Richard L. Anderson in his article, Book of Mormon Witnesses. Meticulous historical scholarship refutes deceptive anti-Mormon claims: these eyewitnesses did not deny their testimonies of the Book of Mormon.
Additional information is offered by Matthew Roper in the online article, "Comments on the Book of Mormon Witnesses: A Response to Jerald and Sandra Tanner." Roper's report clears up some misconceptions and misrepresentations concerning the Book of Mormon witnesses. See also Mike Ash's article on "The Three Witnesses" and his rebuttals of anti-Mormon charges concerning Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris.
The Book of Mormon is a second witness for the message of the Bible, that Jesus Christ is the Messiah and our Savior. The message is consistent with the Bible, while clarifying some things that are unclear - such as whether or not infants need baptism, and what happens to us between our death and resurrection. Further, many sections in the Book of Mormon resemble Bible passages because many direct quotes are used. Just as much of the New Testament consists of citations from the Old, so the Book of Mormon writers regularly cite the ancient Hebrew scriptures. Lehi and the group that left Jerusalem in 600 B.C. carried with them a set of brass plates that contained many Old Testament writings, such as those of Moses and Isaiah, as well as some writings that have since been lost. These scriptures - especially Isaiah - are heavily quoted. Finally, when Christ ministered to the Book of Mormon peoples after his resurrection and ascension, he taught again much of the Sermon on the Mount and quoted an important passage from Malachi that the Book of Mormon people did not have. In short, there is a strong interrelationship between the two books. Together, though, they serve as independent witnesses for the divinity of Christ.
The Bible testifies of the Book of Mormon, in my opinion. For example, in Ezekiel 37:15-17, Ezekiel prophesied about the joining of two "sticks" (using the term from the King James Version) from different parts of the House Israel, one from the tribe of Judah and one from the tribe of Ephraim (from Joseph). These "sticks" refer (in our opinion) to two volumes of scripture. The Hebrew word used in Ezekiel 37 is not the usual word for stick, but is "etz", which means a wooden tablet. The wooden tablet, based on modern archaeological data, may refer to a writing tablet on which a layer of wax was coated for writing with a stylus. These tablets appear to have been a major medium of writing in the ancient world, though few survived because wood rots (interestingly, Agatha Christie's husband found one such tablet, with wax still intact, preserved in the bottom of an ancient well, as I recall). The tablets were like individual leaves of a book that could be bound together to make a book (or smaller books could be joined to make larger ones). Based on the Hebrew and based on what we now know about the use of "etz" as a writing medium, Ezek. 37:15-17 makes sense as a prophecy of two volumes of scripture that would be united in the last days. These volumes are the Bible (from the tribe of Judah) and the Book of Mormon (from the tribe of Joseph, for the founders of the Nephite people who came out of Jerusalem were descendants of Joseph).
Given that background, here is the New English Bible translation (no LDS members were involved in the NEB translation!) of Ezekiel 37:15-20:
These were the words of the Lord to me: Man, take one leaf of a wooden tablet and write on it, 'Judah and his associates of Israel.' Then take another leaf and write on it, 'Joseph, the leaf of Ephraim and all his associates of Israel.' Now bring the two together to form one tablet; they will be a folding tablet in your hand. When your fellow-countrymen ask you to tell them what you mean by this, say to them, These are the words of the Lord God: I am taking the leaf of Joseph, which belongs to Ephraim and his associates of Israel, and joining it to the leaf of Judah. Thus I shall make them one tablet, and they shall be one in my hand. The leaves on which you write shall be visible in your hand for all to see.
The text continues with a prophecy of the gathering of the tribes of Israel from all over the earth into a single people following God, living in a covenant relationship with God, with His sanctuary in their midst. We see the gathering of ancient scripture - that of Judah and Joseph - as part of the process for the gathering of Israel, which occurs by the preaching of the Gospel and the restoration of the covenants of God with His people. Those who are baptized into the Church are brought into the House of Israel. To those not descended from the tribes of Israel, it is by adoption. But the work of the Church is that of gathering people into the everlasting covenant of Christ, the Holy One of Israel. And the Book of Mormon is an important part of that process, intended to show the scattered remnants of Israel who they are, to teach them of the covenants that God has made with His people, and to convince them (and all that will hear) that Jesus is the Christ, the Promised Messiah.
Christ also referred to other sheep in John 10:16 to whom he would also minister - they would hear his voice and become converted. This does not refer to the nations of the "gentiles" - people not of the House of Israel - for they would hear the Gospel through the mouths of Christ's servants, not from him directly, for he was sent only "to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matt. 15:24).
Another relevant passage is Isaiah 29, which I see as containing parallel prophecies about Israel near the time of Isaiah and the gathering of Israel in the last days. Several items in this chapter appear to refer to details of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. This chapter talks of a time of apostasy when prophecy would cease (v. 10, also v. 13), followed by a revelation containing a "vision of all" that would be in "a book that is sealed." Several details in verses 11 and 12 correlate well with the history of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon (with Prof. Charles Anthon as the learned man and Joseph Smith as the unlearned man). I see the book being involved in the process of restoration, the "marvelous work and a wonder" (vs. 13 and 14), for "the words of the book" would bring truth to the ears and eyes of those who had been deaf and blind (spiritually) (v.18, see also v.24). This book from a lost and destroyed civilization would "whisper out of the dust" (v. 4) to future generations. In my view, the Book of Mormon and the Restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ was anticipated by Isaiah in chapter 29. Other interpretations are possible - as is always the case.
As for "opposing" scriptures, I consider Rev. 22:18-19 ("don't add or subtract") below.
Accounts of three major migrations from the Old World to the New World are provided in the Book of Mormon. Most of the text consists of records maintained by the Nephite people, which descended from a group that left Jerusalem in 600 B.C. That group, consisting of the family of Lehi and others, split into two rival groups which became known as the Nephites (descended from Nephi) and the Lamanites (descended from Laman, eldest son of Lehi). These groups seem to have gained strength and numbers by incorporating (possibly conquering?) other diverse peoples in the area, as anthropologist John Sorenson ably documents in his article, "When Lehi's Party Arrived in the Land, Did They Find Others There?," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, 1(1): 1-34 (1992), The Neal A. Maxwell Institute, Provo, Utah.
In the Book of Ether, a condensed account is offered of the ancient Jaredites, a people which escaped the dramatic changes occurring at the time of the tower of Babel. They were led by the Lord to construct unique, sealed vessels (with provisions for ventilation and miraculous provisions for lighting) in which they traversed the Atlantic to the New World, establishing a civilization that could correspond with or be tied to the Olmecs (based on the stimulating analysis of Dr. John Sorenson in his monumental book, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, Deseret Book Comp., S.L.C., UT, 1985. This civilization showed marked differences in culture and government compared to the Nephites and Lamanites, though they suffered similar destruction in the end. The story is a stunning tragedy of man's rejection of God.
Another migration to the New World occurred around 588 B.C. when some survivors of the Babylonian invasion of Jerusalem (including Mulek, of royal blood) fled to the New World (details are not provided - the journey may have been made with the help of Phoenician sailors). The Mulekites had been on their own for several generations when the Nephites joined forces with them.
It's complicated, because the Book of Mormon is a complex book. It begins in Jerusalem in 600 B.C. and is followed by a trek trough the Arabian Peninsula (this part of the book has some of the most interesting evidences in favor of authenticity, by the way), and then we have a migration to somewhere in the New World, with additional travel and spreading of a group of people called the Nephites. But there's a small part of the book called the Book of Ether than begins somewhere else in the Old World and describes a very ancient migration to another portion of the New World. When we talk about "where" the Book of Mormon happened, though, we usually refer to the New World setting for the major parts of the book involving the Nephites and another group, often enemies of the Nephites, called the Lamanites.
Unlike the Bible, where we have continuous occupation of certain regions with no question about the ancient names of many key sites like Jerusalem, in the New World, we rarely know the ancient names of places. Key archaeological sites are often known only by recent Spanish names like San Lorenzo. Part of the problem was the eradication of written records by the Spaniards, coupled with the eradication of large population groups from the diseases brought by Europe, in addition to war and other catastrophes, leave us with many settlements that were depopulated or otherwise severed from knowledge of ancient names. Plus we begin with a Book of Mormon text from one of those lost peoples whose locations in the New World we don't know directly from the text. And then we have the fact that New World archaeology is still in its infancy, with numerous key sites still being largely unexcavated, unlike the much more mature explorations we have in biblical settings. All this poses difficulties in understanding the "whereabouts" of the Book of Mormon.
Of course, if the Book of Mormon is a fraud, something Joseph just made up to fool people, then we are dealing with a non-existence people and a geography that probably won't make any sense. But for those of us who see the Book of Mormon as something much more, it is interesting that the geography issue has become much more interesting over time. Serious students of the Book of Mormon are increasingly finding that Mesoamerica--the land around southern Mexico and Guatemala--is a plausible setting for the Book of Mormon based on numerous considerations. Progress is being made as the amazingly self-consistent geography of the Book of Mormon is laid out in the New World, and now specific sites, rivers, and valleys are being proposed as plausible settings for various Book of Mormon places.
There are competing theories, though. Early Latter-day Saints might have assumed the Book of Mormon spanned North and South America. More recently, Latter-day Saints have proposed various parts of the United States as the setting for most Book of Mormon events such as the Great Lakes area, the Midwest, or even Florida. Others have proposed Baja California in Mexico and some have proposed Peru. But in my opinion, the growing consensus among LDS scholars is that Mesoamerica is the only reasonable place to consider for the Book of Mormon, and is actually beginning to be an excellent candidate.
A major advance in appreciating Mesoamerica as the primary New World setting for the Book of Mormon came in the publication of John Sorenson's book, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1985) and also in David Palmer's In Search of Cumorah (Springville, Utah: Horizon Publishers, 1981). Mesoamerica fits the general setting required for the Book of Mormon in many ways. It offers an ancient tradition of written language, the existence of ancient temple building, many of the elements of civilization described in the Book of Mormon, patterns of warfare consistent with the Book of Mormon, and even the presence of volcanism and other factors that fit the Book of Mormon. This is still an early area, though, with many questions unanswered. If you're looking for "proof," you'll be disappointed, and I think it has to be that way given the miraculous nature of the Book of Mormon and the Lord's desire for us to have faith and not rely on the force of absolute proof to compel us to believe in Christ. But for those who are willing to exercise faith, the growing evidences for the plausibility of the Book of Mormon help answer questions, expand appreciation of the text, and strengthen growing conviction. For proofs, though, you'll have to stick with mathematics.
If you're interested in Book of Mormon geography and some of the debates "about the whereabouts," here are some resources:
The Book of Mormon people had a marvelous understanding of the role of Christ as Savior. Before His mortal ministry, many Book of Mormon people (or at least the more spiritually oriented ones) understood that the sacrifices of the law of Moses were a symbol of the Messiah would be crucified. Prophets taught that the plan of salvation for humankind was only possible through the Atonement of Christ, in which the demands of justice were satisfied by the infinite sacrifice of the pure and holy Messiah, thus bringing about mercy. This plan of redemption brought about forgiveness of sins to those who repent and accept Christ, following Him.
The highlight of the Book of Mormon is the ministry of the Resurrected Christ to the Book of Mormon peoples - Nephites and Lamanites. (Chapter 11 of Third Nephi begins the account of the ministry of Christ to the Lamanites and Nephites.) He brought His Gospel in its fullness to these people, taught them the Sermon on the Mount, blessed their children, gave authority to chosen disciples to baptize and administer the sacrament, organized His Church, and ushered a fallen society into a golden era of 200 years of peace.
The Book of Mormon, after the Bible, is a second witness for Jesus Christ. It can greatly strengthen faith in Christ and enhance our understanding of how He is the Christ, the Redeemer, and the Messiah. It confirms Biblical truth and corrects many errant teachings of men (e.g., it clearly explains why baptism is not necessary for little children and that baptism must be done by immersion by authorized servants of Christ).
The prophets who wrote and compiled the Book of Mormon saw our day and wrote it for our benefit. In many ways, it is like reading tomorrow's headlines today. Its history and stories offer many parallels to the modern era, in spite of the ancient setting. It is a prophetic book of great value that teaches us to come unto Christ and be reconciled to God.
By reading it sincerely and asking the Lord in prayer if it is true. Near the end of the Book of Mormon, the final writer, Moroni, said that if the sincere reader would ponder the things in the book and ask God in the name of Christ if it is true, that God would manifest the truth of it through the power of the Holy Ghost (Moroni 10:3-5). Read, ponder, and pray - find out for yourself. Certainly the power of the mind must be used - that's what is meant by ponder. Compare it to the Bible, ask yourself if any man could have written what is in the book, and think about what the writings really mean. Then pray, seeking understanding through the power of God.
No man has authority to add or subtract from the word of God, as Moses taught in Deuteronomy 4:2:
"Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it...."
and as John wrote concerning the Book of Revelation in Rev. 22:18,19:
"For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book:
"And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book."
In those verses, John, who is in exile on the Isle of Patmos, is obviously referring to the text before him - the Book of Revelation and its prophecies, its descriptions of plagues, its discussion of the holy city, etc. - and urges no one to change what he has written. The Bible as a collection of canonized books did not exist when he wrote those lines. In fact, several non-LDS authorities believe that Revelation was not the last book of the Bible to be written, but may have preceded other writings of John himself by a couple of years. Nevertheless, what John wrote is true: no man should change what God has spoken. However, God has the authority to speak what and when He wants. God spoke to other prophets after Moses (the injunction against men adding to the word in Deut. 4:2 not being applicable to the case of God adding to His words), and many of their divinely commissioned writings have been preserved in the Bible. (Further insights into the actual meaning of Rev. 22:18-19 are offered in a post at Millennial Star.)
Among the many chosen prophets to whom God spoke anciently, there were some in the New World, in Central America, who were descendants from the House of Israel and who knew of the long-prophesied ministry of the Messiah that would occur in Israel. The Book of Mormon is a record written by such prophets in the New World, covering (with one more ancient exception) a time span of 600 B.C. to 400 A.D.
The Book of Mormon, like the Bible, contains a record of God's dealings with a part of the House of Israel. It contains prophecies of Christ and also reveals how Christ, after his resurrection and ascension into heaven, later ministered to those who had waited for him in the New World. The Book of Mormon was anciently abridged by a prophet named Mormon and was engraved on gold plates, to preserve the sacred writing for a future time. Joseph Smith received the divine commission to translate the gold plates through the power of God. The translation was published in 1830 as a volume of scripture, a sacred record.
If he were a fraud, the Book of Mormon would be a ridiculous forgery, a silly 500-page witness to the stupidity of the unlearned Joseph Smith. The Book of Mormon is offered as the most tangible and easiest test of the mission of Joseph Smith: he was either a forger and a con-man of the worst degree, or a prophet of God. The Church has no foundation at all if the Book of Mormon is anything other than an authentic ancient document and the word of God. So how does the Church and its membership view the Book of Mormon after 165 years of critical examination? Do we apologize for it, speak of it as metaphorical, ignore it as an embarrassment? No. More boldly than ever, we invite the world to put it to the test - to examine it, to dig into it, to treat it seriously. We solemnly proclaim that it is the word of God, that it can and should be held up for meticulous inspection - linguistically, historically, culturally, theologically, anthropologically, etc., but most importantly, through the power of prayer and inspiration from God as the ultimate test of its veracity. It is because of my personal knowledge that the Book of Mormon is true that I am a member of this Church. If that book is true, then so is the Bible, then so was the claimed restoration of the Gospel through Joseph Smith, then so is the principle of restored priesthood authority and of modern, living prophets. The Book of Mormon is the keystone of our religion.
Yes, and we should praise God for it. But didn't God say that we should live by every word that proceeds from His mouth (Matt.4:4, Deut. 8:3)? If He has spoken more - and yet speaks more - that He wants us to know, should we not receive it with gratitude rather than stopping our ears? Hear the prophetic words of the Lord given to Nephi, near 570 B.C. (2 Nephi 29):
"...my words shall hiss forth unto the ends of the earth, for a standard unto my people, which are of the house of Israel;
3 And because my words shall hiss forth--many of the Gentiles shall say: A Bible! A Bible! We have got a Bible, and there cannot be any more Bible....
8 Wherefore murmur ye, because that ye shall receive more of my word? Know ye not that the testimony of two nations is a witness unto you that I am God, that I remember one nation like unto another? Wherefore, I speak the same words unto one nation like unto another. And when the two nations shall run together the testimony of the two nations shall run together also.
9 And I do this that I may prove unto many that I am the same yesterday, today, and forever; and that I speak forth my words according to mine own pleasure. And because that I have spoken one word ye need not suppose that I cannot speak another; for my work is not yet finished; neither shall it be until the end of man, neither from that time henceforth and forever.
10 Wherefore, because that ye have a Bible ye need not suppose that it contains all my words; neither need ye suppose that I have not caused more to be written.
11 For I command all men, both in the east and in the west, and in the north, and in the south, and in the islands of the sea, that they shall write the words which I speak unto them; for out of the books which shall be written I will judge the world, every man according to their works, according to that which is written.
Over the past 150 years, numerous objections have been raised to the Book of Mormon. The objections have claimed to find contradictions in the book, in the story of its origin, archaeological findings that refute the book, Biblical teachings that refute it, etc., etc. After 150 years of such attacks, the Book of Mormon frankly stands on more solid ground than ever. The tide has turned as many former "flaws" (like the place Bountiful on the coast of the Arabian Peninsula or the mention of cement in the Book of Mormon) have become strong evidence for authenticity in light of new discoveries. Some of these cases are treated on my page of Evidences for the Book of Mormon.
Some of the most common objections are answered on my LDS FAQ page about apparent Book of Mormon problems. These objections include those about the weight of the plates, the use of the word "adieu," metals, the supposed problem of DNA and the Lamanites, and many more. I also have a separate page that answers common objections involving plants and animals in the Book of Mormon. Still another page treats accusations of plagiarism. Another page discusses common questions about archaeology and Book of Mormon evidence and a related page offers a fairly detailed response to the Smithsonian Institution's Statement on the Book of Mormon, a statement in serious need of scholarly revision. And be sure to look at my analysis of the DNA issue. Another resource I offer is a compilation of evidentiary issues called Book of Mormon Nuggets. None of these will change the minds of hardened critics, but I honestly have found that there are good answers to most common questions. There are also good reasons not to reject the Book of Mormon in cases where we don't yet have the answers. Intellectually, I find the book to be authentic. Spiritually, I have found it to contain the words and teachings of Christ, the Savior and the Son of the Living God. To me, it is a convincing and powerful book that brings people to Christ, acting as a second witness with the Bible.
See LDS Scriptures Online if you'd like to start reading now. The complete text of the Book of Mormon, the Bible, and other LDS scriptures are available online at this site. But if you really want to read the Book of Mormon, get your own free copy by calling 1-877-537-0003 or order a free copy at Mormon.org.
If the Book of Mormon were just a pathetic fraud from an ignorant farm boy in 1820, one would expect that the more we learn about the ancient world, the easier it would be to expose the silliness of the fraud. Yet after nearly two centuries, the case for Book of Mormon plausibility has become increasingly strong. Elements that were once viewed as ridiculous, like the journey across Arabia with implausible places like Bountiful and the River Laman, have in recent years become areas of strength as remarkable candidates for those very places have been found.
Simply surveying recent publications at MormonInterpreter.com or FAIRMormon.org shows a growing body of new finds related to the ancient nature of the Book of Mormon text. Here are some examples:
Gospel Principles - a book published by the Church to teach basics of LDS belief and practice, available free online at the LDS Web site.
The Mormon Interpreter--a scholarly resource with topics related to LDS scriptures, beliefs, and the Restoration.
The Arabian Bountiful Discovered? Evidence for Nephi's Bountiful by Warren P. Aston. This is related to chapter one of the remarkable book, In the Footsteps of Lehi by Warren P. Aston and Michael K. Aston (Deseret Book Comp., Salt Lake City, UT, 1994). This confirmed ancient location and place name matches the Book of Mormon text quite well. How could Joseph Smith have fabricated the account about Nahom and the journey in the Arabian peninsula described in First Nephi? The evidence for the place Bountiful, once mocked by the critics as an impossibility, is most impressive. This is a topic the critics will wisely ignore. I have pleaded with them to offer any plausible explanation for Joseph's direct hits in describing an ancient journey through the Arabian peninsula. They remain silent or whine about the spelling of Nahom in the Book of Mormon versus "Nehem" or "Nehmm" in modern maps showing the ancient burial place Nahom (of course, with the vowels in Semitic languages being rather fluid, the root NHM can yield Nahom, Nehem, Nihm, and so forth).
Evidences of the Book of Mormon - a fascinating discussion by Daniel C. Peterson.
Book of Mormon Authorship: New Evidences of Ancient Origins, edited by Noel B. Reynolds (Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1982). Contains essays on many topics such as chiasmus, wordprint analysis, etc. One good example is Eugene England, "Through the Arabian Desert to a Bountiful Land: Could Joseph Smith Have Known the Way?," pp. 143-156.
Reexploring the Book of Mormon, edited by John Welch, Deseret Book Comp., Salt Lake City, UT, 1992. Short and powerful summaries of new research over the past decade or so on the Book of Mormon.
Rediscovering the Book of Mormon, edited by John L. Sorenson and Melvin J. Thorne, Deseret Book Comp., Salt Lake City, UT, 1991. Twenty-three chapters by various authors exploring different aspects of the Book of Mormon, including the topics of language, especially chiasmus and Hebraisms; society, politics, and war; original authors and their sources; and unifying themes.
See the FARMS report, "Horses in the Book of Mormon."
For more information, see my list of LDS Resources, which includes a list of my pages and abundant external Web resources.
Book of Mormon Central, a scholarly resource examining numerous Book of Mormon issues.
The Interpreter - a primary source now for ongoing scholarship to defend the faith and provide insights into the LDS scriptures and other LDS issues.
Neal A. Maxwell Institute at BYU - a resource with vast treasures of archived scholarly publications on the LDS scriptures and other topics, and an ongoing resource for Mormon studies.
"Frequently Asked Questions About Latter-day Saint Beliefs".
My own unauthorized answers - so beware! Book of Mormon topics include:
My Turn: Tough Questions for Anti-Mormons - A few questions of my own for the critics. We Mormons don't have to merely be on the defensive all the time.
"Book of Mormon Names Attested in Ancient Hebrew Inscriptions" by John A. Tvedtnes, John Gee, and Matthew Roper.
1837 Book of Mormon, part of the Joseph Smith Papers Project. Now you can view this version online.
Elden Watson's Book of Mormon Translation Timeline - a valuable tool for better understanding the translation of the Book of Mormon and its relation to LDS history. This includes a discussion of the reasons for understanding that the small plates of Nephi with the books of 1 Nephi through Omni were translated at the end of the Book of Mormon translation process, not right after the 116 pages were lost. The "Small Plates Last Theory" is useful in understanding several details of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, though it's an advanced topic and probably of no interest to people just beginning to explore the Book of Mormon.
Latter-day Saint Christianity: Ten Basic Issues - an excellent online booklet that deals with some common questions and controversies about Latter-day Saint beliefs. These issues include "Are Latter-day Saints Christian?" and "Does God speak to his children in ways other than through the Bible?"
Joseph Smith's New York Reputation Reexamined by Richard L. Anderson (FARMS Review of Books, Vol. 3, No. 1, 1991, pp. 52-80).
Censoring the Joseph Smith Story by Hugh Nibley.
Louis Midgley's review of Fawn Brodie's famous anti-Mormon book, No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith, the Mormon Prophet (from FARMS Review of Books, Volume 8, No. 2, 1996, pp. 147-230). Her imagination runs too wild in her book which seeks to force the history of Joseph Smith into agreement with her preconceived notions. Also see Hugh Nibley's early response to Brodie, "No Ma'am, That's Not History.
Brant Gardner's BOM Commentary - now archived, but a tremendous resource of scholarship on the Book of Mormon, verse by verse.
Questionable Book of Mormon Geography Taught by the FIRM Foundation and Ron Meldrum - a devastating and detailed review by Gregory Smith of theories placing the Book of Mormon setting within the territory of the United States. Doesn't work. Look to Mesoamerica instead.