The edition of the Book of Mormon in our home library was dated 1950. When we called a local office of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints to double check a few things, we were told we really should be using an updated version and were subsequently sent an edition dated 2003. In that edition the following note appears: “About this edition: Some minor errors in the text have been perpetuated in past editions of the Book of Mormon. This edition contains corrections that seem appropriate to bring the material into conformity with prepublication manuscripts and early editions edited by the Prophet Joseph Smith.” We were interested to note that obvious mistakes in the earlier edition were not corrected.
Furthermore, throughout the Book of Mormon, there are extensive quotations of sections of Isaiah and frequent paraphrases of other Scripture. Clearly the writer had ready access to the King James Version. There is thus no excuse for mistakes in respect to facts made plain in Scripture.
And we were further intrigued by words in the “Introduction” attributed to Joseph Smith: “I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth…” To a reader familiar with the Biblical record, such an assertion makes the problems noted below seem all the more mystifying as the inaccuracies are so obvious to the Bible reader.
We need to remember as well that the Book of Mormon supposedly comes from the same source as the Bible: the mind of God. We are therefore fully justified in expecting total compatibility in regard to facts, attitudes, priorities and standards between the Bible and the Book of Mormon.
Where Jesus was born
In the Book of Mormon we read: “…And the Son of God cometh upon the face of the earth. And behold, he shall be born of Mary, at Jerusalem which is the land of our forefathers…” (Alma 7:9-10).
It clearly says, “Jerusalem” and not “Bethlehem”!
When we first read the passage, we felt there must be something in the context to modify the mistake. But, no, there is not. Then we looked for something later in the Book of Mormon which countered the error, but there is nothing.
How such an error could have been made in the first place is remarkable. Having it perpetuated through several editions is rather unbelievable. True, Bethlehem is only a few miles south of Jerusalem, but there is distinct countryside between the two cities and Bethlehem is never considered part of greater Jerusalem in Scripture. And the Biblical prophets make a distinct point that: “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth to me who shall be ruler in Israel” (Micah 5:2).
The location of Bethlehem receives significant emphasis in Matthew’s account: “Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king…And when he [Herod] had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. And they said unto him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judaea…’ ” (Matt 2:1,4,5). Later we read, Herod “slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof…” (v. 16).
Bethlehem, not Jerusalem, is the place clearly identified in Scripture. What a curious error to make and then leave uncorrected through several editions especially when there is no theological reason to make the mistake.
Jesus’ attitude to healing the sick
One of the striking features of our Lord’s ministry is that he rarely accentuated his ability to heal the sick. He could have healed every blind person, every lame, every leprous, every disabled person in all the land and could have fed everyone who was hungry. But he did not. In fact, it’s evident he tried to distract attention from his ability to perform miracles by appealing to the healed not to spread what had been done for them: Upon healing a leper he said, “See thou tell no man”; after healing two blind men he requested, Later “great multitudes followed him, and he healed them all; and charged them that they should not make him known” (Matt 8:4; 9:30; 12:16).
After his first public miracle of healing in Capernaum, word rapidly spread in the immediate area so “at even, when the sun did set, they brought unto him all that were diseased…and he healed many”. But the next day, rising early “he departed into a solitary place…and [the apostles] followed after him. And when they had found him they said unto him, ‘All men seek for thee.’ And he said unto them, ‘Let us go into the next towns that I may preach there also: for therefore came I forth’ ” (Mark 1:32-38). While word had spread and many more were seeking to be healed, the Lord’s priority was preaching the gospel which could result in eternal life, which was more important than the curing of temporal problems. He did not want to be known as a healer of physical infirmities, but he wanted to be known as the teacher of the one way to be healed from sin and death.
In accord with this priority, the Lord never issued a call for all the ill, blind, lame, etc. people to come to him for healing. Contrast this Biblical information with 3 Nephi 17 where Jesus is portrayed as saying: “Have ye any that are sick among you? Bring them hither…and I will heal them, for I have compassion upon you…” (3 Nephi 17:7 — note, the author of 3 Nephi is a distant descendant of the author of 1 Nephi but is also named “Nephi”). Of course Jesus had compassion on the sick in Israel, but the perceptive Bible reader is immediately alerted by the contrast between the Jesus of the Bible and the Jesus of the Book of Mormon.
This same place in 3 Nephi goes on to quote Jesus saying, “For I perceive that ye desire that I should show unto you what I have done unto your brethren at Jerusalem…” (v.8). There are only two miracles of healing recorded in Scripture as happening at Jerusalem: the infirm man at the pool of Bethesda (John 5) and the man born blind (John 9). It would have made sense for Jesus to allude to healings done in Galilee or Decapolis or even Perea, but not Jerusalem. It may be a minor mistake to reference Jerusalem in this regard but it is a significant indication that the Book of Mormon is not the product of divine revelation but is a creation of Joseph Smith.
Three hours of darkness mistaken for three days
The gospel writers are clear that the darkness which occurred during the crucifixion lasted three hours: “And it was about the sixth hour, and there was a darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour” (Luke 23:44; Matt 27:45; Mark 15:33). In contrast, the Book of Mormon consistently mistakes this three hours for three
The first reference is in I Nephi 19:10: “[the Christ] will be lifted up, according to the words of Zenock, and to be crucified, according to the words of Neum, and to be buried in a sepulcher, according to the words of Zenos, which he spake concerning the three days of darkness, which should be a sign given of his death…”. I Nephi is dated about 575 B.C. Several hundred years later (6 B.C.) a similar prophecy is attributed to “Samuel, the Lamanite” (Helaman 14:1) where he says that at the time of the crucifixion “darkness should cover the face of the whole earth for the space of three days” (Hel 14:27 see v. 17 on to confirm the context is of the death of Christ).
By 32-34 A.D. the book claims “the people began to look with great earnestness for the sign which had been given by the prophet Samuel, the Lamanite, yea, for the time that there should be darkness for the space of three days over the face of the land…and it came to pass that there was thick darkness upon all the face of the land…that it did last for the space of three days that there was no light seen…” (3 Nephi 8:3,20,23 A.D. 32).
No correction is made of this obvious mistake. It simply stands as a signal to the Bible student that something is wrong with the Book of Mormon.
Knowledge of the death and resurrection of Christ
In the foregoing quote from 1 Nephi 19, specific clear reference is made to the crucifixion of Christ in writings said to be about 575 B.C. Such specific, unambiguous, impossible not to understand statements about the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ are made throughout the book: “they shall scourge him, and shall crucify him. And he shall rise the third day from the dead…” (Mosiah 3:9-10, B.C. 124); “Now those priests who did go forth among the people did preach…holding forth the coming of the Son of God, his sufferings and death, and also the resurrection of the dead” (Alma 16:18-20, B.C. 78); “and there began to be men inspired from heaven and sent forth, standing among the people in all the land, preaching and testifying boldly…the resurrection of Christ; and they did testify boldly of his death and sufferings” (3 Nephi 6:20, A.D. 29-30).
These stark pronouncements would without doubt have made impossible what actually happened. In spite of the Lord’s own clear message, even his closest followers did not believe he would die. The women had seen the empty tomb as had Peter and John, but still they didn’t believe. Thomas refused to believe until he actually put his fingers in Christ’s hands and side.
The disciples should have known. The Lord sternly rebukes them: “O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken” (Luke 24:25). Yes there were many Old Testament prophecies about the death of Christ. After the fact, they were understood by the apostles, but before the fact, none of these prophecies approach the explicit language found in the Book of Mormon. That book is so explicit about the death and resurrection of Christ it surely could not have been missed by anyone.
Furthermore, the apostle Paul states that none of the authorities had any idea that the crucifixion was an integral part of God’s plan for the Messiah: “none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1Cor 2:8).
The Book of Mormon’s explicit prophecies about the death and resurrection of Christ form another of the mistakes which should not have been contained in plates supposedly originating from the same source as the Bible — the mind of God. In this case, they prove the book does not contain translations of legitimate prophecies. Rather this mistake leads to the inescapable conclusion the book is the product of Joseph Smith’s creative and imaginative mind.
Gentiles as fellow-heirs of the promises
In Ephesians 3:5-6 the apostle Paul makes a rather remarkable statement: “Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the spirit”.
To us, in our day, it is patently obvious that non-Jews (Gentiles) are fully welcome to become heirs to the promises and enter into the body of Christ. But the apostle tells us the inclusion of Gentiles as fellow heirs of the promises to be included in the same body as the Jews was not understood by believers until the middle part of the first century A.D. He says that is because God had not revealed it until that time.
From the beginning of Israel’s existence as a nation, it was certainly clear that Gentiles could be incorporated into the nation of Israel: Rahab was a Caananites, Caleb a Kenite, Ruth a Moabitess, Uriah a Hittite, David’s mighty men included an Ammonite and some of his most loyal troupes were Philistines (Josh 2:1; Josh 14:6; Ruth 1:4; II Sam 23:37,39; 15:18, etc.) . And prophecies of the Messianic age clearly speak of all the Gentiles being included under Messiah’s rule (Psa 2:8; 72:8; Isa 2:2-4; Rom 11 etc.). What was not understood, however, because God had not revealed it to them, was the fact that during the ecclesial age (from the resurrection of Christ until his return to set up the kingdom), Gentiles would be on a totally equal footing with the Jews.
However, the Book of Mormon makes the mistake of having the inclusion of the Gentiles revealed to Lehi in 592 B.C.: “And after they [the Jews] had slain the Messiah, who should come, and after he had been slain he should rise from the dead, and should make himself manifest, by the Holy Ghost, unto the Gentiles” (1 Nephi 10:11, B.C. 529). Nephi goes on to underscore the point by saying: “And after the house of Israel should be scattered they should be gathered together again; or, in fine [sic.], after the Gentiles had received the fullness of the Gospel…” (v.14). This is the very point which the apostle Paul writes “was not made known” until the first century century A.D. — 650 years later.
Joseph Smith seems oblivious to the words of Paul as he frequently emphasizes a full revelation of the gospel to the Gentiles centuries before it was known that Gentiles would be fellow heirs with the Jews: “after the Messiah shall be manifested in body unto the children of men, then shall the fullness of the gospel of the Messiah come unto the Gentiles…” “For behold, I say unto you that as many of the Gentiles as will repent are the covenant people of the Lord” (1 Nephi 15:13; 2 Nephi 30:2, B.C. 545). Take careful note that this fact would not be revealed for another 600 years.
It’s easy for us to miss the mistake because believing Gentiles are now in truth fellow heirs of the covenants of promise. The mistake is that this development was not made fully known until revealed to the apostles well into the first century A.D. This is another mistake supporting the conclusion that the Book of Mormon is not divinely inspired but is a creation of Joseph Smith.
Curious mistakes about the development of Christianity
The Scripture is clear that “the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch” (Acts 11:26 about A.D. 40). A hundred years before this term was used, Alma records that the faithful were diligently working “that they might maintain that which was called by their enemies the cause of Christians” (Alma 48:10 B.C. 72). Joseph Smith is having the term “Christian” used well before any were known by that name and well before the Christ was born.
As a paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 11 the following words are attributed to Christ: “And now behold, this is the commandment which I give unto you, that ye shall not suffer any one knowingly to partake of my flesh and blood unworthily, when ye shall minister it; for whoso eateth and drinketh my flesh and blood unworthily eateth and drinketh damnation to his soul; therefore if ye know that a man is unworthy to eat and drink of my flesh and blood ye shall forbid him” (3 Nephi 18:28-29). The point is clear: the person presiding over the bread and wine is to decide who is worthy to partake. This is in sharp contrast to Scripture which says: “let a man examine himself…if we would judge ourselves” (1Cor 11:28, 31). The examination is to be done of ourselves by ourselves not by someone else as the Book of Mormon mistakenly teaches.
Lord willing, in the course of this series, the great theological errors contained in the Book of Mormon will be considered. This article points out lesser teachings of the book which are incompatible with Biblical facts and constitute major misrepresentations both of the mind of Christ and the revelations which God has provided. In our view, no Bible student could read the Book of Mormon and conclude it was coming from the same source as the Bible — the mind of God.
Don Styles (Ann Arbor, MI)