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Doctrinal Matters: Mormonism

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Is the Book of Mormon from God?

by  Dave Miller, Ph.D.

How may a person distinguish between truth and error? Can a person know which religion is right? Must a person rely on subjective inner inclinations and feelings? Or is religious truth ascertainable and knowable based on objective assessment? Most religions (e.g., Buddhism and Hinduism) base their credibility on some mystical or transcendental experience. Even some “Christian” groups (e.g., Pentecostals, Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, et al.) claim that their credibility and authenticity may be established on the basis of the Holy Spirit Whom, they say, gives them their assurance. But when the Bible is examined, no such role is assigned to the Holy Spirit. Mystical religions have always existed, and have insisted that they were the recipients of leading and guidance from superior forces that are “better felt than told.” The God of the Bible, on the other hand, always offered evidence—proof—of the divine origin of the message before He expected people to believe (e.g., John 10:37-38; 20:30-31; 1 Thessalonians 5:21; 1 John 4:1; Deuteronomy 18:21-22).

The nature of truth is such that it does not depend upon subjective human experience for its veracity. Rather, God created human beings with minds that were designed to function rationally. We humans have the capability, if we maintain an honest heart free from bias, to consider and weigh evidence, and to draw correct conclusions. As Jesus said, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). The truthfulness of religious claims is verifiable on the basis of evidence and rational thought. Humans can reason logically, and distinguish between truth and falsehood.

NO ABSURDITIES OR CONTRADICTORY STATEMENTS?

The nature of truth is such that it does not contradict itself. After literally centuries of scrutiny by hostile skeptics and unbelieving critics, the Bible has been found to be completely consistent with the nature of truth, logic, and the laws of thought. On the other hand, uninspired documents cannot stand up to such scrutiny. The Book of Mormon is one such document. It lacks the marks of inspiration that characterize the Bible. In an official publication of the LDS (Latter-day Saints), 31 conditions are identified as necessary in order to produce an inspired book. Condition #9 says, “You must not make any absurd, impossible, or contradictory statements” (see “The Challenge...,” 1990, p. 1). This affirmation is a self-evident truth. Yet, the Book of Mormon is guilty of violating this very criterion.

In the first place, much of the King James Version of the Bible has been reproduced verbatim in the Book of Mormon—at least 25,000 words. For example, Mosiah 14 is a reproduction of Isaiah 53. 3 Nephi 13:1-23 is simply Matthew 6:1-23. Moroni 7:45 is copied from 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. Moroni 7:48 is 1 John 3:2. Moroni 10:8-17 is taken from 1 Corinthians 12:4-11. Alma 5:52 is Matthew 3:10. 2 Nephi 14:1-3 is Isaiah 4:1-3. The author of the Book of Mormon obviously had before him a copy of the King James Bible, and simply copied many sections directly from it. But this is only half of the problem on this point. The KJV is an uninspired translation of Hebrew and Greek manuscripts into the English language of the turn of the seventeenth century, completed in 1611. But God gave the Old Testament to the Israelites in their native language (Hebrew), and He gave the New Testament in the first century in the common language of that day (Greek).Question: why in the world would God give His Word to Joseph Smith in nineteenth-century America (1830), not in American English, but in the British language of seventeenth century England? The obvious answer to the question is that God would not do so. This absurdity is inconsistent with the nature of God.

The reproduction of so much of the KJV in the Book of Mormon raises four additional concerns. First, Mormons frequently attempt to establish the superiority of the Book of Mormon over the Bible by insisting that the Bible has been corrupted through the centuries in the process of translation (a contention similar to Islam’s defense of the Quran). But if the Bible has been so adversely affected, why does the Book of Mormon quote so much of the King James Version? Apparently, at least those portions of the Bible are to be considered accurate!

Second, all textual critics (those who study the original manuscript evidence that attests to the text of the New Testament) know that textual variants exist in the extant manuscript evidence. The vast majority of these discordant readings are resolved when all of the textual evidence is considered (e.g., Metzger, 1968, p. 185). If the Book of Mormon were inspired, not only would it refrain from incorporating the King James Version within its pages, it also would not include in those sections the manuscript errors that have crept into the text. Here was the perfect opportunity in 1830 for God to correct the mistakes that had accumulated during the previous 200 years (as well as the 1,500 years prior to the KJV). Instead, the mistakes were perpetuated!

For example, several textual variants occur in Matthew 6—a chapter that was reproduced in 3 Nephi 13. In Matthew 6:4, the Textus Receptus (the Greek text upon which the KJV was based) contained the words “himself” and “openly.” These insertions were perpetuated by the author of the Book of Mormon in 3 Nephi 13:4, as was the word “openly” in verses 8 and 16 of Matthew 6 (and 3 Nephi 13). Likewise, the Trinitarian ascription in 3 Nephi 13:13 and Matthew 6:13 in the KJV (“For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen”) is not supported by the earliest and most important manuscript witnesses to the text of the New Testament. Subsequent translations, including the ASV, omit the sentence altogether, or, in the case of the NASB, place it in brackets. The manuscript evidence simply does not support these additions as being in the original, inspired autograph authored by Matthew. Many additional instances of the same type of faux pas can be cited. The one who was responsible for producing the Book of Mormon in these cases unquestionably (1) relied on the KJV and (2) demonstrated his ignorance of textual criticism.

Third, in addition to errors that are due to textual variants, the KJV also made grammatical and stylistic errors that were naively copied by the Book of Mormon. For example, in Hebrew, singular masculine nouns are changed to plural by appending “im” (pronounced “eem”)—the equivalent of “s” or “es” in English. The Hebrew words “cherub” and “seraph” are singular nouns. The plural forms of these words are “cherubim” and “seraphim.” The KJV translators mistakenly added an “s” to these terms to denote a plural form (e.g., Genesis 3:24; Exodus 25:18,19,20,22; Isaiah 6:2,6; Hebrews 9:5). Alluding to cherubim, Clarke explained: “[T]o add an s to this when we introduce such words into English, is very improper; therefore the word should be written cherubim, not cherubims” (n.d., 1:56, italics in orig.; cf. Lewis, 1991, p. 59). Yet the original 1830 Book of Mormon reproduced the same mistake as the KJV in this regard (Alma 12:21; 42:2,3; 2 Nephi 16:2,6), though corrections were made in later editions. The unbiased observer is forced to conclude: God knows Hebrew; the author of the Book of Mormon obviously did not.

Another sample of stylistic error is the use of the expression “it came to pass.” This expression is a Semitism, or Hebraism, i.e., an idiomatic oddity or peculiarity of the Hebrew language that has no corresponding equivalent in English. Newer translations either drop it completely or render it with an approximate English equivalent like “it came about” or “it happened.” The KJV simply transferred the Semitism directly into English and, under its influence, has caused the expression to be naturalized into English religious usage. Nevertheless, it is not an idiom that is native to English. The Book of Mormon is literally inundated with the expression—as if the author was deliberately attempting to make his writing sound biblically or divinely authentic. In reality, he was unwittingly making it sound Semitic in seventeenth-century English! But God would not have communicated with Americans in 1830 through the convoluted pathway of Hebrew, to seventeenth-century British English, to nineteenth-century American English. Likewise, the peoples of the specific historical periods that the Book of Mormon claims to be depicting (e.g., the Nephites) would have had no earthly reason to have spoken in Hebrew themselves, nor to have their history reported in Hebrew phraseology and Semitic idiom. Apparently, later Mormon authorities, unable to completely eradicate this stylistic feature due to its extensive occurrence, were nevertheless so uncomfortable with the overuse of the phrase that they have deleted some of its occurrences when so many were used in close proximity with each other. For example, in Alma 14:7, the original Book of Mormon had three occurrences of “it came to pass”—in the same verse! Current editions have only one.

Fourth, in 3 Nephi 20:23-26, Jesus is represented as the speaker, and He applies to Himself the prophecy that Moses made in Deuteronomy 18:15,18-19. Yet, the author of the Book of Mormon unquestionably was relying on Acts 3:22-26, where Peter paraphrased the Deuteronomy passage, and then added his own comments. The Book of Mormon mistakenly has Jesus including Peter’s appended comments as if they were part of Moses’ words in Deuteronomy.

In addition to the absurdities and contradictions that exist within the Book of Mormon in its close reliance on the KJV, contradictions also exist within and between the Mormon scriptures themselves. Consider, for example, the serious contradiction in the promulgation of polygamy. The Book of Mormon condemns the practice of plural marriages in no uncertain terms:

But the word of God burdens me because of your grosser crimes. For behold, thus saith the Lord: This people begin to wax in iniquity; they understand not the scriptures, for they seek to excuse themselves in committing whoredoms, because of the things which were written concerning David, and Solomon his son. Behold, David and Solomon truly had many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable before me, saith the Lord.... Wherefore, I the Lord God will not suffer that this people shall do like unto them of old. Wherefore, my brethren, hear me, and hearken to the word of the Lord: For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none; For I, the Lord God, delight in the chastity of women. And whoredoms are an abomination before me; thus saith the Lord of Hosts (Jacob 2:23-24,26-28; cf., 1:15; Ether 10:5; Doctrine and Covenants 49:16).

These referenced verses from the Book of Mormon enjoin monogamy with uncompromising vigor. Yet the Doctrine and Covenants flatly contradicts the Book of Mormon on this point:

Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you my servant Joseph, that inasmuch as you have inquired of my hand to know and understand wherein I, the Lord, justified my servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as also Moses, David and Solomon, my servants, as touching the principle and doctrine of their having many wives and concubines—Behold, and lo, I am the Lord thy God, and will answer thee as touching this matter. Therefore, prepare thy heart to receive and obey the instructions which I am about to give unto you; for all those who have this law revealed unto them must obey the same. For behold, I reveal unto you a new and an everlasting covenant; and if ye abide not that covenant, then are ye damned; for no one can reject this covenant and be permitted to enter into my glory.... David also received many wives and concubines, and also Solomon and Moses my servants, as also many others of my servants, from the beginning of creation until this time; and in nothing did they sin save in those things which they received not of me. David’s wives and concubines were given unto him of me, by the hand of Nathan, my servant, and others of the prophets who had the keys of this power; and in none of these things did he sin against me save in the case of Uriah and his wife (132:1-4,38-39, emp. added).

Two serious contradictions are evident. First, the Book of Mormon clearly condemned plural marriage as one of the “grosser crimes” and “whoredom”—at least among the Nephites. It specifically singled out the plural marriages of David and Solomon, denouncing them as an “abomination.” Yet Doctrine and Covenants insisted that David and Solomon were completely justified, and committed no sin in having multiple wives and concubines. If the author of the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants (allegedly Joseph Smith) had worded it differently, saying that God enjoined plural marriages at one point in history, but chose not to enjoin the practice at another point in history, or if he had said plural marriages were to be practiced by some people early in history but not by others later in history, then no contradiction would exist. For example, God enjoined animal sacrifice in the Old Testament, and then forbade its use in the New Testament. But this is not what Joseph Smith did! He specifically identified the polygamy of David and Solomon, and then made the mistake of both approving and condemning it! This constitutes a flat contradiction. Two statements are contradictory when they cannot both be true (cf. McGarvey, 1974, 3:31). [NOTE: Yet another indication of Joseph Smith’s uninspired status was his allusion in the above quotation (Jacob 2:27) to a man being permitted only one wife, but “concubines he shall have none.” This reference betrays an ignorance of the use of biblical terminology. A “concubine” in antiquity was a wife—not a mistress (unmarried sexual partner)—despite popular misconception (cf. Victor P. Hamilton’s article, “pilegesh,” 1980, 2:724)].

Second, Doctrine and Covenants stated that the practice of plural marriage in this life is an everlasting covenant. The term “eternal” or “everlasting” as used in the Bible can sometimes be abbreviated to refer to a period of time of limited duration (e.g., Jonah 2:6). However, when additional terminology is employed that reinforces the primary meaning of “forever,” an abbreviated period is excluded. Terminology used in the Book of Mormon shows that “everlasting,” as applied to the covenant of plural marriage, was intended in its ordinary meaning of forever. Its application included one’s entire earthly sojourn, since the text says Solomon, Moses, and many others had practiced it “from the beginning of creation until this time.” Other references confirm this understanding: “both as well for time and for all eternity” (D&C 132:7); “in the world” (D&C 132:15); “on the earth” (D&C 132:46,48). Even Joseph Smith’s wife, Emma, was commanded to accept the additional wives given by God to her husband (D&C 132:52). Section 132 of Doctrine and Covenants claims to have been revealed to Joseph Smith in 1843. Yet 47 years later, on September 24, 1890, President Wilford Woodruff issued an official declaration on the matter:

We are not teaching polygamy or plural marriage, nor permitting any person to enter into its practice.... There is nothing in my teachings to the Church or in those of my associates, during the time specified, which can be reasonably construed to inculcate or encourage polygamy.... And I now publicly declare that my advice to the Latter-day Saints is to refrain from contracting any marriage forbidden by the law of the land” (“Official Declaration1” in Doctrine and Covenants, 1981, pp. 291-292).

In excerpts from three addresses that he delivered regarding this manifesto, Woodruff explained that if they continued to practice plural marriage, temples would be confiscated by the civil authorities, and the First Presidency and Twelve, and family heads, would be imprisoned. If, on the other hand, they ceased the practice, in order to abide by the law of the land, they would be able to continue the duties and ordinances of the church (including baptism for the dead). Question: Why would God refer to plural marriage as a perpetual practice that would bring damnation upon those who fail to practice it, and then call for Latter-day Saints to refrain from such marriages? God is timeless, and would have known ahead of time that the American government would reach a point at which it would call the Mormon practice of plural marriage to account. Therefore, He would not have enjoined the requirement as “everlasting” if He later intended to cease the practice. Nor would God have withdrawn one of His “everlasting commandments” simply because the law of the land by a pagan government made the commandment illegal and implemented persecution! When in all of human history has God ever bowed to civil government in its opposition to His will?

NO CHANGES?

Another legitimate affirmation listed in “The Challenge” is condition #10: “When you finish in 60 days, you must make no changes in the text. The first edition must stand forever” (p. 1, emp. added). “Houston, we have a problem.” Informed students of the Bible are well aware that no original autographs of the Bible are extant. We are completely dependent upon copies of copies of copies. Not so with the Book of Mormon. The original 1830 first printed edition of the Book of Mormon exists! In the words of Latter-day Saints President Wilford C. Wood in 1958: “I do testify that the uncut sheets of the complete First Edition of the Book of Mormon have been reproduced in its original unchanged condition; that this is a correct and perfect restoration of the First Edition of the Book of Mormon as received by the Prophet Joseph Smith and printed in Palmyra, New York in 1830” (prefatory material). Latter-day Saint authorities have repeatedly affirmed that the original Book of Mormon contained no errors. In 1883, a member of the First Council of the Seventy, George Reynolds, stated: “It was done by divine aid” (p. 71). Reynolds refers to the eyewitness account of Martin Harris—one of the scribes who participated with Joseph Smith in the translation of the Book of Mormon (p. 91). Joseph Smith claimed to have found gold plates that he translated into English using an instrument known as the “Urim and Thummim”—two white stones fastened together by a casing of silver, comparable to spectacles. Smith would hold the stones between himself and the gold plates. In 1881, the sixth president of the Mormon Church, Joseph F. Smith, explained the translation process (as reported by Oliver Huntington):

The Lord caused each word spelled as it is in the Book to appear on the stones in short sentences or words, and when Joseph had uttered the sentence or word before him and the scribe had written it properly, that sentence would disappear and another appear. And if there was a word wrongly written or even a letter incorrect the writing on the stones would remain there. Then Joseph would require the scribe to spell the reading of the last spoken and thus find the mistake and when corrected the sentence or word would disappear as usual (n.d., p. 168).

This procedure, that guaranteed complete accuracy of transcription, was further verified by David Whitmer. Whitmer, who continues to be listed in currently circulating copies of the Book of Mormon as one of the trio that constitute “The Testimony of the Three Witnesses,” described the process of translation in the following words:

I will now give you a description of the manner in which the Book of Mormon was translated. Joseph Smith would put the seer stone into a hat, and put his face in the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light; and in the darkness the spiritual light would shine. A piece of something resembling parchment would appear, and on that appeared the writing. One character at a time would appear, and under it was the interpretation in English. Brother Joseph would read off the English to Oliver Cowdery, who was his principal scribe, and when it was written down and repeated to Brother Joseph to see if it was correct, then it would disappear, and another character with the interpretation would appear. Thus the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God, and not by any power of man (Whitmer, 1887, emp. added).

In view of the specific procedures by which the gold plates were translated, the Book of Mormon ought to be perfect. Yet, when one compares the original Book of Mormon with a currently circulating edition, one observes that many changes have been made in the Book of Mormon since the original 1830 edition. This circumstance is completely unlike manmade translations of the Bible. All translators of the Bible are uninspired in their translating efforts. Joseph Smith, on the other hand, claimed to have been supernaturally guided in the process of translating the Book of Mormon, and preserved from making any errors. One official explanation as to why the original 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon was filled with grammatical mistakes and content blunders is—“printer’s errors.” This claim, of course, contradicts the above claim of President Wilford, who vouched for the authenticity of the existing 1830 edition and even included in his reproduction of it a “memorandum” by one of the original printer’s associates—John Gilbert. The memorandum recounts the care given to insuring accuracy in the printing of the manuscript that was brought to the printer by Hyrum Smith (Joseph’s brother), who, along with Martin Harris, supervised the project. Hence, the claim that “printer’s errors” are responsible for the errors in the original 1830 edition would be a suitable explanation if it fit the facts, but it simply cannot account for the types of mistakes contained in the Book of Mormonthe types of mistakes printers do not make.

Consider a few of the estimated 4,000+ grammatical mistakes that have been corrected in subsequent editions. The original 1830 Book of Mormon in Jacob 7:24 read, “but it all were vain.” Alma 48:25 read, “for the promise of the Lord were…” Alma 53:5 read, “it were easy to guard them.” 1 Nephi 5:11 read, “Adam and Eve, which was our first parents.” All of these errors have been corrected in more recent editions.

Consider also a few of the many changes that have been made that correct content mistakes. In Mosiah 21:28, “Benjamin” has been changed to “Mosiah” (since king Benjamin was already dead at this point in the narrative—Mosiah 6:4-5). In Alma 37:21, “directors” has been changed to “interpreters.” In 1 Nephi 13:32, “woundedness” has been changed to “state of blindness.” In Mosiah 27:29, “wrecked” has been changed to “racked.” In Alma 13:20 and 41:1, “arrest” has been changed to “wrest.” In Alma 17:13, “arriven” has been changed to “arrived.” The original 1830 title page listed Joseph Smith as “Author and Proprietor.” Now he is simply “translator.” In 1 Nephi 20:1, the phrase “or out of the waters of baptism” has been inserted. It was not in the original 1830 edition.

Printers occasionally transpose letters or garble a word or insert the same line twice or omit a word or two, perhaps a line here and there. But the above changes are not the kinds of errors that printers make.

An honest and humble appraisal of these discrepancies should create great concern in the heart of one who believes Mormon documents to be inspired. Many criticisms have been leveled against the Bible over the centuries, yet have been answered decisively. If the Book of Mormon were from God, it, too, could be defended and its divine authenticity substantiated. However, the lack of adequate explanations to clarify such problems compel the honest individual to conclude that the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants are not from God.

REFERENCES

Book of Mormon (1981 reprint), (Salt Lake City, UT: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints).

The Challenge the Book of Mormon Makes to the World (1990), (Euless, TX: Texas Fort Worth Mission).

Clarke, Adam (no date), Clarke’s Commentary: Genesis-Deuteronomy (New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury).

Doctrine and Covenants (1981 reprint), (Salt Lake City, UT: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints).

Hamilton, Victor P. (1980), “pilegesh,” Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason Archer Jr., and Bruce Waltke (Chicago, IL: Moody).

Huntington, Oliver B. (no date), Oliver Boardman Huntington Journals, 1842-1900 (Salt Lake City, UT: Utah State Historical Society).

Lewis, Jack P. (1991), The English Bible From KJV to NIV (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker), second edition.

McGarvey, J. W. (1974 reprint), Evidences of Christianity (Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate Company).

Metzger, Bruce M. (1968), The Text of the New Testament (New York, NY: Oxford University Press).

Reynolds, George (1883), The Myth of the “Manuscript Found,” (Salt Lake City, UT: Juvenile Instructor Office).

Whitmer, David (1887), An Address to All Believers in Christ, [On-line], URL: http://www.irr.org/mit/address1.html.

Wood, Wilford C. (1958), Joseph Smith Begins His Work (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret News Press).




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