In reading through the Book of Mormon, we noted a number of doctrinal areas where the teaching seemed to be correct according to Scripture. For example: baptism by immersion of believing, committed people; the necessity of a godly, moral way of life and the fulfillment of the Law of Moses in Christ.
However, when we tried to develop what we had thought were “correct” teachings, we found the major orthodox doctrines — immortality of the soul, the triune god and the supernatural devil — invariably intruded themselves. The only places where we can read an entire teaching and affirm it as Biblical is where whole sections of Scripture are being copied from the KJV and incorporated into the Book of Mormon.
3 Nephi 11 is reportedly citing the instruction of Christ upon his visit to North America in 34 A.D. There Christ is quoted as commanding the necessity of baptism upon belief and repentance and baptism is defined as immersion in water:
v. 33 “And whoso believeth in me, and is baptized, the same shall be saved…(v.34) And who believeth not in me, and is not baptized, shall be damned…(v. 37) And again I say unto you, ye must repent and become as a little child, and be baptized in my name, or ye can in nowise receive these things.”
This immediately catches our eye as being sound teaching on the necessity of baptism after belief and repentance. We are further impressed by the definition of baptism as being immersion in water: “And then shall ye immerse them in the water, and come forth again out of the water” (3 Nephi 11:26). If that is all there was, we would say the book has it right. But when we read the whole context, (3 Nephi 11:24-27) which includes the baptismal formula, we find prominent inclusion of the trinity as was noted in the article on “God and Jesus” (Tidings, March-April, 2013, pg. 135).
We recall that the formula given is: “And now behold, these are the words which ye shall say, calling them by name, saying: Having authority given me of Jesus Christ, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen…And after this manner shall ye baptize in my name; for behold, verily I say unto you, that the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost are one; and I am in the Father, and the Father in me, and the Father and I are one.”
If the instruction had stopped with the phrasing, “in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” we could say this was coming out of Matt 28:19 and is acceptable. But when Nephi’s record goes on to repeat the formula in Trinitarian terms, we know that the false doctrine of the trinity has intruded itself into the teaching regarding baptism.1
In this passage from 3 Nephi, we also note the indication that a person needed to be especially authorized to perform immersions. Such an idea is directly countermanded by the New Testament comments regarding the fact that Christ was not baptizing, but his disciples were (John 4:2) and Paul declaring he baptized few of the Corinthians (1Cor 1:14-16). The Scriptural precedent is that there is no special authority required to validly baptize another person. The idea presented in 3 Nephi is an invention of the Book of Mormon.
Moroni is the other section of the Book of Mormon which has extensive comments regarding baptism. When he records: “And none were received unto baptism save they took upon them the name of Christ, having a determination to serve him to the end” (Moroni 6:3), we react that: “he has got it right, this requires a mature person who understands and believes the word and is committed to Christ’s commands” .
Chapter 8 of that book seems to confirm that Moroni’s ideas are correct: “And the first fruits of repentance is baptism; and baptism cometh by faith unto the fulfilling of the commandments and the fulfilling of the commandments bringeth remission of sins…” (Moroni 8:25).
Moroni’s tress on the error of infant baptism is also correct. In chapter 8 Mormon, father of Moroni, laments: “he that saith that little children need baptism denieth the mercies of Christ” (Moroni 8:20). This is a clear rejection of infant sprinkling. And we may well react: “Good! He’s correct.”
Yet that phrase, “denieth the mercies of Christ”, causes us to read the whole context. When we do, we find the belief in the immortality of the soul has completely corrupted the teaching on baptism. Since little children are not able to have intelligent belief and repentance, and since baptism is a necessity for salvation, something must happen to a child’s alleged immortal soul if he/she should die before an age of understanding. Either “these must have gone to an endless hell” (Moroni 8:13) or “all little children are alive in Christ and also all they that are without the law. For the power of redemption cometh on all them that have no law…” (v.22). Rather than eternal torment, the choice taken in the Book of Mormon is universal salvation for all who die as children or who die in ignorance of the commands of God (see article #3 in this series, Tidings, Jan., 2013 pg. 26-27).
Considerations such as this reinforce our conviction that the first principles of truth must be understood and commonly believed to prevent a multitude of false teachings from intruding into the ecclesia of Christ.
Since the Book of Mormon includes 26 chapters of the Bible and paraphrases many other Scriptures (e.g. the ten commandments 2 Nephi 26:32; 1Cor. 13 on “charity” in Moroni 7:45-46), we would expect its teaching on right attitudes and behavior to be correct. Yet, even in this matter, when we read through sections of generally sound admonition the major false teachings keep cropping up. Here are some examples:
Mosiah 4:4-18 contains an excellent exhortation from king Benjamin. Yet integrated in it is the immortality of the soul and a fallen angel devil: “…(A person must) continue in the faith even unto the end of his life, I mean the life of the mortal body” (v. 6). This is good in opposition to the teaching of “once saved always saved”, but because of his belief that the person’s soul keeps living after death, he qualifies the life he’s talking about as that period during which the soul inhabits this mortal body.
In verse 14, the so-called supernatural fallen angel devil comes up: “ye will not suffer your children to…quarrel with another, and serve the devil, who is the master of sin, or who is the evil spirit which hath been spoken of by our fathers, he being an enemy to all righteousness.” In this case, it seems like he goes out of his way to teach the personal devil.
contains a commendable exhortation to humility and true commitment and then spoils it with:
“And may the Lord bless you, and keep your garments spotless, that ye may at last be brought to sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the holy prophets who have been ever since the world began…”
So the Book of Mormon teaches that immortal souls are immortal, they are pre-existent to their having a bodily life. Here is a hint of the idea that is developed by later “revelation” which becomes a feature of Mormon theology: no end and no beginning to the soul.
2 Nephi 26:30
contains a fine encouragement to true love: “the Lord God hath given a commandment that all men should have charity, which charity is love. And except they should have charity they were nothing.” However, the ‘Lord God’ is earlier (v. 24) defined as “[the one who] loveth the world, even that he layeth down his own life that he may draw all men unto him”. This is the very confusion we elaborated in article # 5 of this series (Tidings March-April, 2013, pg. 136). According to the Book of Mormon Jesus is God the Father who died for our sins and then rose to life. Of course, how God could die, and who was God while God was dead, and who raised God from the dead are all quandaries left in the mists of theological mysteries.
At first reading,
2 Nephi 27
seems an exception to the foregoing examples. Here is sound condemnation of wicked behavior with no intrusion of false doctrine. But as we read along we begin to notice some familiar phrasing. No wonder! It is a copy of Isaiah 29 with a few inconsequential emendations. What is annoying is that there is no attribution to Isaiah, but the text is written as being the words of Nephi. This, by the way, is not uncommon in the Book of Mormon and would normally be considered a shameful act of plagiarism.
The law of Moses fulfilled in Christ
In Mosiah 13:27-28, we find an expansive comment on the law said to be by Abinadi the prophet:
“And now ye have said that salvation cometh by the law of Moses. I say unto you that it is expedient that ye should keep the law of Moses as yet [dated 148 B.C]; but I say unto you, that the time shall come when it shall no longer be expedient to keep the law of Moses. And moreover, I say unto you, that salvation doth not come by the law alone; and were it not for the atonement, which God himself shall make for the sins and iniquities of his people, that they must unavoidably perish, notwithstanding the law of Moses”.
This teaching could almost come from a Christadelphian work if it were not for “the atonement, which God himself shall make.” From an earlier study (#5 pg. 136 ) we know what is in mind: the crucifixion of God himself.
Similar teaching is found in 3 Nephi 9:17-20 (dated as 34 A.D.) purporting to report the words of Christ in North America, “in me is the law of Moses fulfilled…and ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit”. And again in 3 Nephi at 15:8: “the law which was given unto Moses hath an end in me.”
In both chapters 9 and 15, however, the Christ who fulfilled the law introduces himself in purely trinitarian terms: “I am Jesus Christ the Son of God. I created the heavens and the earth and all things that in them are, I was with the Father from the beginning” (3 Nephi 9:15). It is evident Nephi is not speaking of the spiritual creation, but that of Genesis. “Behold, I am he that gave the law, and I am he who covenanted with my people Israel; therefore the law in me is fulfilled” (3 Nephi 15:5). Here the Book of Mormon has Christ giving the law on Sinai 1,500 years before the Lord Jesus was born. Belief in the trinity again intrudes itself.
Our original intent was to point out some fundamental teachings which are correctly stated in the Book of Mormon. As we have seen, there are some phrases which sound good when taken out of context. But such orthodox teachings as the immortality of the soul, the trinity and the fallen angel devil are so fundamental that they pervade the entire book. The result is the only places which have extended sections of right teaching are those sections taken directly from the Bible.
Next Lord willing: progressive revelation, the spirit and spirit gifts
Don Styles (Ann Arbor, MI)
1. As noted in the March-April article, using the formula of Matt 28:19 has to it a very Trinitarian ring. This, of course, was not the case when used in the first century as the Trinity had not yet been developed as an apostate doctrine. But in our circumstances we should probably use the formula, “in the name of Jesus Christ” as was frequently used by the apostles — e.g. Acts 8:16; 10:48; 19:5,etc.