Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints (for brevities sake termed Mormons in this series) claim the Book of Mormon is the inspired word of God: “The Book of Mormon is a volume of holy scripture comparable to the Bible” (Introduction to the 2003 edition). And the title page of this edition reads: “The Book of Mormon, another testament of Jesus Christ”.
Is this claim true? The question is a reasonable one and should be positively addressed by any making such claims for a book that, if truly of God, would greatly impact our lives.
Testing a holy book for validity
We believe the Bible is the word of God. But are we right?
Historical accuracy a necessity
During the past 200 years, a great number of scholarly skeptics have rigorously denied the divine inspiration of Scripture. They have claimed it was simply a humanly contrived book full of preposterous myths and designed by religious people trying to delude others into following their own ideas of morality. Initially this school of skeptics scoffed at people being literate in ancient times, at the burning up of Sodom and Gomorrah, at the escape from Egypt of a slave nation, at the walls of Jericho falling down, at the existence of a king David, at the extent of Israel’s kingdom under Solomon, at the titles of Roman authorities used in Acts, etc.
These skeptics were proven wrong, completely wrong, by archaeological finds that continue to be discovered. It was no doubt by the Divine hand that so many of the archaeological discoveries occurred in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s shortly after the skeptics produced their harshest criticisms.1 To this day the discoveries continue.2
No archaeological evidence for the Book of Mormon
To prove the Bible is historically accurate, does not prove that it is divinely inspired. But the archaeological confirmation of the accuracy of the Bible stands in stark contrast to the total lack of such evidence in regard to the Book of Mormon. As we covered in “Problems with Mormon Archaeology” (Tidings, November, 2012), this is a major embarrassment to those believing that the Book of Mormon is part of the word of God. The book claims to cover a period from about 600 B.C. to 400 A.D. and presents supposedly significant activity in the Americas with massive building projects being completed, yet not a single verifiable trace has ever been found of any of it.
Furthermore there is the problem of the golden plates. While in this series, we have said little about the golden plates from which the Book of Mormon is said to be translated,3 their absence is also a major barrier to our believing in the Book of Mormon. Their supposed discovery was less than 200 years ago (1827). In terms of books claiming divine inspiration, that is very current. To contend that the plates disappeared without a trace after they were supposedly translated and to contend that there were no drawings, clay impressions or even early lithographs of the plates renders virtually incomprehensible a belief in their reality.
Once again a stark contrast is seen to the Bible. There are fragments of New Testament manuscripts dating to c. 150 A.D. and of course the “Dead Sea Scrolls” provided copies of sections of the Old Testament dating to c. 70 B.C. There is no mystery about manuscripts of the Bible. Again, this does not prove that the Bible is the word of God but it certainly exposes the Book of Mormon as being shrouded in suspicions and doubt.
The key test — fulfilled prophecy
If a holy book is proven to be historically accurate (which cannot be said of the Book of Mormon but is true of the Bible), how are we supposed to know it is the inspired word of God? The fact it claims to be inspired is certainly not the proof we are looking for. There are several books which make this claim (e.g. the Koran) yet every one of these books which claim inspiration conflicts with the others, so only one can be right.
The Bible offers a test — we call it fulfilled prophecy.
“And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the LORD hath not spoken?’ When a prophet [or a book] speaketh in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him” (Deut 18:21-22).
Here is the challenge offered by the Bible. Accurately reveal the future, and we will know the book is inspired by God. Make a mistake in revealing the future and we will know the book is NOT the word of God.
The challenge is repeated in powerful terms by the prophet Isaiah: “Produce your cause, saith the LORD; bring forth your strong reasons, saith the King of Jacob. Let them [i.e. false prophets] bring them forth and shew us what shall happen: Let them shew the former things, what they be, that we may consider them, and know the latter end of them; or declare us things for to come. Shew the things that are to come hereafter, that we may know that ye are gods…” (Isa 41:21-23).
Isaiah goes on to indicate the Jewish people will play a significant part in this divine proof: “Ye are my witnesses, saith the LORD, and my servant whom I have chosen; that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he; before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me.” (Isa 43:10).
We are accordingly directed to test Biblical prophecies of the future to determine if the book is divinely inspired. And our attention is particularly drawn to prophecies regarding the Jewish people. In fact we might say that fulfilled prophecies concerning the Jewish people are God’s signature on Scripture. We can also say that if one of such prophecies is wrong, then the book
be trusted as being the word of God.
Here is where the Book of Mormon fails the vital test. As was noted in The Tidings, February, 2013, pgs. 79-80, the Book of Mormon predicts the Jewish people will return to Palestine in the latter days AFTER they have been converted to a true belief in God.
This is obviously INCORRECT. The Jews now living in Israel are less than 1% believers in Jesus as the Messiah. More than 40% are considered as secular, being agnostic or atheist.4 In fact, Zech 13:2-6 makes it abundantly clear that Jesus Christ must cleanse the land of false religions when he establishes himself as ruler of the land. Accordingly the Book of Mormon fails the vital test. It is thereby proven to be NOT the word of God.
Two proofs offered by the Book of Mormon
Try it, you’ll like it!
Alma urges the people of his day to believe and apply his teachings. If they do, he assures them they will like the results:
“Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves — It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me” (Alma 32:28 also 33:23 and 34:4).
In talking with Mormons today, the same reasoning is presented. When asked how we are to know the book is true, we are urged to believe the Book of Mormon and try it out. If we do, we’ll find it satisfying to the heart and mind.
The flaw in this approach is immediately evident — human beings become the ultimate judge of what is truth. There are all kinds of humanistic philosophies which if believed and practiced are satisfying to human beings. Since humans have a natural inclination to satisfy the flesh, or to mystify religion or to exalt rules over principles, having some “religion” seem “delicious” to us is no proof that the religion is the truth of God.
Letting human beings be the ultimate judge of what is truth goes straight against Scripture: “there is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Prov 14:12).
Upon careful examination, the tenets of Mormonism are found to be surprisingly satisfying to the human mind. The rules and regulations require an external religious rigor similar to humanly created religious structures – the traditions of the Pharisees being the classic Biblical example. It’s hierarchical structure and methods of control are duplicates of what one finds in humanly created societies and religions and even in successful business organizations.
“Try it you’ll like it” is thus seen to be no test of true religion.
Holy Spirit gifts
From the beginning of the Book of Mormon, dated about 592 B.C., to the end, dated about 400 A.D., the assertion is made that believers receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit upon true conversion. Here are some of the statements:
“And it came to pass after I, Nephi, having heard all the words of my father, concerning the things which he saw in a vision, and also the things which he spake by the power of the Holy Ghost…I, Nephi, was desirous also that I might see, and hear, and know of these things, by the power of the Holy Ghost, which is the gift of God unto all those who diligently seek him, as well in times of old as in the time that he should manifest himself unto the children of men.5 For he is the same yesterday, today, and forever…If it so be that they repent and come unto him.” (I Nephi 10:17-18 dated 592 B.C.).
“…yea, by following your Lord and your Savior down into the water, according to his word,6 behold, then shall ye receive the Holy Ghost; yea, then cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost; and then can ye speak with the tongue of angels…” (2 Nephi 31:13 545 B.C.).
“Yea, wo [sic] unto him that shall deny the revelations of the Lord, and that shall say the Lord no longer worketh by revelation, or by prophecy, or by gifts, or by tongues, or by healings, or by the power of the Holy Ghost!” (3 Nephi 29:6 A.D. 34). Note how serious it is put to deny the receipt of Holy Spirit gifts.
“And again I speak unto you who deny the revelations of God, and say that they are done away, that there are no revelations, nor prophecies, nor gifts, nor healing, nor speaking with tongues, and the interpretation of tongues; Behold I say unto you, he that denieth these things knoweth not the gospel of Christ; yea, he has not read the scriptures; if so, he does not understand them. For do we not read that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever…” (Mormon 9:7-9 A.D. 400).
The implications of this assertion are most interesting. Every true Mormon must have a Holy Spirit gift. When asked “What gift do you have?” some have said “The gift of speaking in a foreign language”. When asked to elaborate, consistently the person had experienced exactly what our own missionaries have found. They studied hard for several months and finally there was a “Eureka” moment when things clicked into place, especially when it came to the language of Scripture. This is a long way from what the apostles experienced on the day of Pentecost when, suddenly, “every man heard them speak in his own language. And they were all amazed…Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, etc.” (Acts 2:6-12). The gift of tongues is the ability to instantly speak in a language that is totally foreign to the believer; no Mormon could be found who had such an experience.
“What about the gift of healings?” Again examples were cited that are not more than those experienced by persons who have strong personalities and create powerful atmospheres.7 Examples cited have been tumors that recede over time, or psychosomatic ailments that are healed for a week but then come back. There are no instances of those born blind receiving sight (John 9:1), or those born lame instantly leaping in joy (Acts 3:2), or shriveled hands being instantly made whole (Mark 3:5), or leprosy being removed with a touch (Luke 5:13).
We would expect Joseph Smith to be one person who had a great endowment of Holy Spirit gifts. In fact if we computer-search the matter, we find a great deal of discussion about his “healings” and “prophecies”. What is interesting is that none of the “miracles” claimed for Smith are of the detailed, impossible to perform kind attributed to Christ and the apostles. Further the various “prophecies” are either incorrect or a reasonable estimation of current events (i.e. the civil war, the reaction to Mormons, etc.). There is nothing approaching the extraordinary prophecies in Scripture concerning the Jews — that they would be dispersed without a homeland (Deut 28:64-65), persecuted and reviled wherever they went (Deut 28:37), never cease to exist (Jer. 30:11) and eventually be re-gathered to their ancient home (Ezek 34:13; 38:8).
The practical evidence today is that the gifts of the Holy Spirit ceased with the first-century completion of the New Testament. The failure of Mormons to prove possession of such powers is a striking witness against the authenticity of the Book of Mormon.
One of the features of the Holy Scriptures is the claim that, so far as its revelation is concerned, there should be no additions and no deletions. In fact a severe curse is pronounced against any who would presume to “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” (Rev 22:18-19).
The message is clear: no changes or alterations are acceptable after the Revelation given near the end of the first century A.D.
However, the belief in present possession of the Holy Spirit gift of divine revelation, has led to adjustments and changes in what was supposedly revealed on the golden plates from which the Book of Mormon was claimed to be translated. Following are some examples.
One wife, no concubines
Jacob 2:27 reads: “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.”
Jacob 3:5 repeats the point: “…the Lamanites your brethren…have not forgotten the commandment of the Lord, which was given unto our father8-that they should have save it were one wife, and concubines they should have none.”
Where does the polygamy come from? It doesn’t come from the Book of Mormon because there is nowhere anything to contradict this very clear command to monogamy. Polygamy comes from the Doctrines and Covenants, which contains “Revelations Given to Joseph Smith, the Prophet, with some additions by his Successors in the Presidency of the Church”9. Section 132 verses 61 and 62
“And again, as pertaining to the law of the priesthood — if any man espouse a virgin, and desire to espouse another, and the first give her consent, and if he espouse the second…then he is justified…And if he have ten virgins given unto him by this law, he cannot commit adultery…”
What happened to the purported divine command of monogamy in the Book of Mormon? It is negated by this progressive revelation.10
When a Mormon was running for president of the United States, Mitt Romney, many were exposed to the dietary peculiarities of the Mormon religion. However, in reading the Book of Mormon, we find nothing said about abstinence from any food or drink. It speaks clearly that the Law of Moses ended with the death of Christ and drunkenness is forbidden, as in Scripture, but there is no ban on alcoholic beverages or those containing caffeine. Yet Mormons abstain from beverages containing either substance and from other food and drink items as well. Where are these guidelines coming from? They are based on Doctrine and Covenants, Section 89 which is said to be the Word of Wisdom given to Joseph Smith in 1833. This “revelation” contains several rather ambiguous statements regarding dietary matters. The ambiguity is such that additional guidance must have been “received” in order to apply Section 89.
The end result of the whole idea of progressive revelation is to minimize the value of previous divine revelations. Whatever they contain can be overridden by new elements of God’s will. In such a situation, where does the real power lie? In the hierarchy of the church which must determine which of the on-going revelations is the most important or valid.
Upon examination of the Book of Mormon, we find it thoroughly unattractive. It runs contrary to the Bible on many major teachings and it lacks any proof as being a revelation from God.
The unsubstantiated reporting of 1,000 years of history and the very obvious mistakes, as noted throughout this series, leave us dismayed as to its ability to be accepted by millions of people. Our only prayer can be that, since it does quote so much Scripture those who accept the teaching of the book will accept the rule of Christ when he returns. Even so come, Lord Jesus, to dispel the darkness that covers the mind of mankind.
Don Styles (Ann Arbor, MI)
1. See for example The Archaeology of Palestine, W.F. Albright, Pelican Books.
2. A Christadelphian couple, Bro. Leen and Sis. Kathleen Ritmeyer have done much work under the temple mount in Jerusalem and Bro. Leen is currently part of a team uncovering the ancient burned site of Sodom and Gomorrah.
3. See The Tidings, February, 2012, pg. 78.
4. Wikepedia on Israel.
5. This wording reflects the Trinitarian view that God will appear as Jesus.
6. Note the little “oops” here as this message is dated 550 B.C. years before Jesus was baptized.
7. Basically the same as seen on Pentecostal television.
8. The original Nephi who led his family out of Jerusalem and was father to the Lamanites and the Nephites.
9. Taken from the title page of the 1921 edition.
10. As a matter of interest, at the time of this “revelation” to Joseph Smith, he desired some women among his followers. Coincidence?