A Problem with the Book of Mormon

So as I mentioned last night, my wife and I were paid a visit by some Mormon missionaries. We had a nice little chat and they are coming back in a few days. They left me a copy of the Book of Mormon (BoM). I read the BoM a few years ago but I feel like a refresher, so I will be reading through it over the next few days.

One of the things that I remember stuck out like a sore thumb about the BoM when I read it a few years ago was how the BoM portrayed God’s revelation to man in an inconsistent manner as to that in the Old Testament. What I mean is that nowhere in the OT do you find God or an angel telling a prophet the entire plan of redemption to man. However, in the BoM the entire gospel message was revealed to Nephi (in approx. 600 BC?). Nephi was told that the Messiah would come in about 600 years; that he would be baptized, at which time the Holy Spirit would descend upon him; that he would have 12 Apostles; that he would die for the sins of the world; that he would die by crucifixion; and that he would be dead for three days (see, e.g., 1 Nep 11:27-29, 32-33). To me, such a clear and unambiguous revelation of Jesus is simply incongruous with how the OT revealed God’s plan. Because, for starters, the OT just simply doesn’t get even remotely that specific (e.g. that the Messiah would be baptized, have 12 apostles, be crucified, etc). Not to mention that the only real way the coming Messiah is seen in the OT is through types and shadows and haggadic interpretations; not direct messages conveyed from an angel to a prophet.

Anyway, if any LDS folk are reading this then please feel free to leave your thoughts on this. I will probably post some more thoughts on the BoM when I am finished reading it in a few days, and will definitely post concerning how our next meeting with the Mormon missionaries goes. I hope they will be regularly visiting because I just love talking to people of other religious convictions.

7 responses

  1. I feel that it is somewhat presumptuous to respond to your blog but this entry was shared on a forum I frequent and I am a Mormon so I feel somewhat qualified to respond to your question (if you’re uncomfortable with a stranger posting here I’m ok with you deleting this post and we can pretend that it never happened). After the angel reveals the nature of the Messiah’s mission to Nephi he gives him a lesson in future history. In 1st Nephi 13 the angel explains that the record of the Jews contains many “plain and precious truths” (13:24-25) which you have identified as pertaining to the earthly mission of Jesus Christ. The angel warns Nephi that when the gentiles obtain the record of the Jews there will be inevitable errors in translation as well as direct omissions and manipulations which will be made by a great and abominable church. Members of the LDS Church have identified Catholicism as this great and abominable church but the Church’s leaders have steadfastly denied this and made efforts to get retractions of any such claims. The angel explains that this church will omit many of these plain and precious truths (26-28) and that, consequently, many will stumble because these truths will be lost (34). Mormons make connections to this section of the Book of Mormon and passages in the Bible like Amos 8:11-12. To answer your question in a different and more specific way, Mormons believe in a pattern of continued revelation wherein men like Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and even Jesus Christ received truths from our Heavenly Father along with a commission to share this message with their peers. We also believe that the bulk of what they taught was lost to age and apostasy. Enoch, for example, was clearly an important figure to early Christians but gets maybe three verses in the Bible. Mormons believe that God continued this pattern of revelation on the American continent and that prophets recorded it and hid it before their society was consumed by wickedness and idolatry. We believe that, unlike the Bible, this record (the Book of Mormon) was translated once by Joseph Smith and that, if true, it is a unique ‘proof’ that he was what he claimed he was. We believe that Joseph Smith continued in this train of prophetic revelation and that in his modern successor, Thomas S. Monson, is a prophet in the same sense that those men were prophets. I hope this clarifies you confusion (which I totally get, btw).

    • In regards to Dr. Wonderbrooks’ response I have a question. I honestly think it unlikely that you will check the comment section of this article again but if you should or if another Mormon happens across my comment, I welcome any insight. I would also mention that I do not mean to denigrate your faith or religion, and I heartily apologize if that appears to be my intent. Another disclaimer I feel I should offer is that it is four in the morning for me and I should be asleep. I may, therefore, ramble. I apologize, but I do have a point, I think. You said, sir, “After the angel reveals the nature of the Messiah’s mission to Nephi he gives him a lesson in future history.” ‘Future history,’ as I take your meaning, being prophecies and what not.

      My question is this: Do you believe in free will? I do not ask to cast aspersion upon your faith, and many theologians have tried to reconcile the apparent discrepancies involved with an omniscient deity and the concept of free will. I confess I may be nitpicking or belaboring your choice of words but ‘future history,’ to me, implies that free will does not enter the equation at all. The Butterfly Effect, both the concept and terrible Ashton Kutcher(sp?) movie, claim that the smallest change has far-reaching consequences. This future history, then, could be averted if free will happens to do something unexpected, as it is wont to do. Should that happen, the entire prophecy would basically be worthless. If the ‘future history’ takes free will into account, however, then free will seems to take on a much weaker meaning.

      The next logical step, in my opinion, is that those who are saved and those who are condemned are set before they are even born. If, then, such decisions are already in place the entire Judgment with a capital ‘J’ seems rather arbitrary. It is, after all, decided before you are born. You are incapable of changing the outcome and the outcome itself is decided using a measure you may not understand and cannot alter. I feel like I am trailing off without making a point, but again, I am very tired. If any of this makes sense to you, Dr. Wonderbrook(or another with a similar view) I would greatly appreciate your thoughts on this matter.

      Thank you for your time,
      Clifford

      • I think that can be rather succinctly explained as this. God knows all future possibilities and every possible twist and turn that every action could cause the future to result in. Knowing and seeing all this, he encourages his children to make the decisions that will lead them to joy and exaltation. Sadly, we often do not heed his counsel. It is true that he knows the outcome from the beginning, but that in no way hampers our freedom of choice. In the end we will be held accountable for the decisions we make based on the understanding we possessed when we made them, and all will be treated equally before God.

        He often gave prophecies, especially those that stood as a warning, which were not fulfilled, were not fully fulfilled, or were fulfilled at a later time, because the people heeded his counsel and changed their ways as he admonished them to do. This shows the very real affect of our agency on the outcome of future events.

        Where we are born will ultimately have no relevance in the judgement because it is factored out in the way that God holds us accountable. God sees the heart and judges all men according to the choices they made with the understanding they had. When you do something that you know is wrong and you get that clenched feeling in your chest, you can tell right away that unless repented of completely, that will be one of those things you will have to stand accountable for. What cultural norms and societal standards and the availability of gospel truths that are available to each and every person in whatever place they may be will make up the basis of their understanding of right and wrong, and thus, the basis on which they will be judged. In the judgement our harshest critic will most likely be ourselves, as our Father in Heaven will seek every possible way to give us the benefit of the doubt (albeit he has no doubts, but will not judge us on things we “would have done” but didn’t get the chance to) and assume the best of us. Furthermore, Christ will be our advocate with the father because he paid the price of our sins that he might offer us repentance. Those that will not repent and change their ways are those who shall be required to pay the penalty for their sins.

        One last point because this may come up because of what I have said. All will still be required to embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ and receive the ordinances of salvation pertaining to it from authorized ministers, even if they had not the opportunity in this life. This is the reason that the gospel is preached to the dead who are in spiritual prison, and why baptisms and other ordinances are performed in their behalf, so that should they repent in the hereafter, they may accept these saving ordinances and receive salvation, even though they had not a mortal body at the time. (see 1 Peter 3:19; 1 Corinthians 15:29)

      • In retrospect “future history” is probably not a great way to describe prophecy. Could we say potential history instead? Except in the case of Christ and his mission maybe future history is the best way to describe it. I don’t know.

        I believe in free will. I think God made the Earth (or, I don’t know, applied natural laws so that the earth was made) and sends us to it so that we can exercise free will outside his presence. Its like a parent sending a kid to college so the kid can see how hard it is to be responsible for their own care and upkeep. The kid comes back and hopefully is wiser and more mature for their time away. Sometimes kids make terrible decisions and need to be “rescued” by parents. Do you follow the metaphor? I hope it is not too terrible or inane. The parents don’t interfere directly but they remain, waiting on the sideline – ready to help when the kid calls home, if the kid calls home. They know their child – they know what he/she needs and how they might succeed or fail. They hope. They wait. I have a cousin who is LDS. He is a social worker and a therapist. He talks about God as the ultimate parent – a being who creates situations and opportunities for his children so they can make choices that will help them grown and develop according to their needs and their faults. He talks about how God enables success. As a teacher I like that idea. I can’t choose for my students but I can structure every aspect of my time with them so that they can succeed if they choose to succeed. They remain accountable for their actions but they absolutely can do what needs doing if they want to and I am there to help but, I won’t do it for them.

        I don’t know if God knows the future. I don’t know what it means when Joseph Smith says (in the LDS Doctrine and Covenants) that that “[God] comprehendeth all things, and all things are before him, and all things are round about him; and he is above all things, and in all things, and is through all things, and is round about all things; and all things are by him, and of him.” If I carry on through this metaphor’s extensions then I believe that, as parent, God watches us and is aware of our character. Does this mean he knows how we will choose before we choose or does he just have a really, really good idea? I’m not sure. My parents know my siblings and I better than anyone else. But they were recently been very surprised by the actions of a member of my family – we all were because those actions were so uncharacteristic of how she had behaved before. However, we can look back now knowing what we know and see that there were signs and indications that this was coming that simply we ignored the signs. I think God watches how our character develops and he sweats the small stuff real close. I don’t know if that answers your question.

        For myself, and returning to your question specifically, I will repeat; I believe in free will. I don’t believe in predestination towards sin or righteousness. I think that is a fallacious doctrine that removes accountability from human beings. God informs us and we make choices. The Book of Mormon makes some fascinating theological implications along this line of thought. A prophet named Alma talks about an idea he has that God could act in a way that would cause him to stop being God. To shine light on this, we can read in the Bible in Luke 22, where Christ asks his father “earnestly” if there is another way to redeem mankind. He is willing to go through with what his father asks but the very fact that he can negotiate with him implies that Christ could walk away from his mission at any time. Abraham does something similar. God tells him that he is going to destroy Sodom and Gomorroah. Abraham asks God to spare the cities. God listens to him. They go back and forth about it. In the end the righteous are warned to leave the city and God destroys it.

        In any case, as free will applies to mere mortals (such as myself), I am positive that many, many of God’s children limit their options for ‘future’ or ‘potential’ happiness (or sadness) by the choices they make or omit. God opens doors and we shut them. But our choices don’t tie God’s hands. They just change our options and he opens other doors. He continues to work with us to create opportunities for us to choose. This ties into a larger idea of Mormon theology – we believe that human beings are co-eternal with God. We lived before this life and we will continue to live afterwards. Mortality is part of the probation but only one part. We believe that our existence consists of multiple probationary experiences. At each stage we learn more and have more opportunities to grow. And God is the architect. Does that make sense?
        I think it is interesting to think about aggregates and history. Did World War 2 have to occur? I don’t think God ordains his children to wickedness. We just make terrible decisions when we are together. Christ says that he will gather us like a hen gathers its chicks. I like that idea.

  2. Adding to what was said by Conrad Wonderbrook, it should be noted that the Bible itself bears witness to missing prophecies of Christ’s coming Matthew 2:23 references a prophecy being fulfilled that Christ would be called a Nazarene, yet this prophecy is nowhere to be found in the Bible. The Book of Mormon often references prophecies from the Old Testament that they had available via the brass plates obtained from Laban. In it, the most common prophets quoted as prophesying of Christ are Isaiah, Zenos, and Zenock. Two of which are most notably not in our current Old Testament, which may explain the missing “Nazarene” reference. And Isaiah 53 is most probably the most detailed Old Testament prophecy of Christ and his ministry still contained in our Bible.

    Also I would like to bring to mind the context of the scriptures themselves. It makes sense that God could reveal more details of Christ’s coming to the Nephites than to the Jews because the Jews had to recognize Christ for who he was because of his teachings and deeds and open their hearts to him, and not just blindly follow him because of their dogmatic adherence to the scriptures. (A hypocrisy which Christ most often rebuked them for.) Giving the Jews details like that he would have 12 apostles would probably have put Christ into a society where doing so would be blasphemous, and a crime punishable by death because it is the same as declaring oneself as the Messiah.

    Also concerning the “great and abominable church” reference made by Conrad above. I feel that his rebuttal against Catholic identification is sorely lacking. The great and abominable church has been clearly identified in LDS doctrine as pertaining to the collective whole of individual apostasy in the hearts of men within and without all religions on the earth. There are men, who in their hearts belong to the church of the devil, within every creed and sect on earth, even the Mormon faith. There were many horrible and wicked men in the dark ages within the early Christian and Catholic churches who caused many of the plain and precious parts of the scriptures to be lost. This may have cause some to unwittingly assign blame to the Catholic church, but that is their mistake and is absolutely refuted by the doctrine taught by the LDS church even as early as Joseph Smith himself. (See Doctrine and Covenants 18:20 and compare with 1 Nephi 14:10. How can a missionary contend with no church but the church of the devil, if there are only two churches, and one is God’s? It cannot be that all churches outside of Mormonism are of the devil either, because they are told to contend with none of the churches where they are being sent, save those who belong to the devil, and clearly these were churches not of the Mormon faith where they were going.)

    As a final note I would also like to mention that God gives revelation based on the degree to which people are prepared to receive it. The righteous will have more light given to them, while from the wicked shall be taken even that which they had – parable of the talents. I hope that this helps clear up why there is such a stark difference in the depth of information revealed to the people in the Book of Mormon over what is currently available in our Bible after its multiple translations, revisions, and abridgements that have occurred over the past 2000 years.

  3. Thanks for all the responses!

    The angel explains that this church will omit many of these plain and precious truths (26-28) and that, consequently, many will stumble because these truths will be lost (34). Mormons make connections to this section of the Book of Mormon and passages in the Bible like Amos 8:11-12. To answer your question in a different and more specific way, Mormons believe in a pattern of continued revelation wherein men like Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and even Jesus Christ received truths from our Heavenly Father along with a commission to share this message with their peers. We also believe that the bulk of what they taught was lost to age and apostasy.

    Thanks for the explanation. I suspected that might be the sort of angle a LDS member would take regarding the issue I raised.

    • One thing you might find very interesting about the “missing truths” from the Bible is this compilation of Bible books that are not in our Bible, but are specifically made mention therein. I was blown away the first time I saw this because I had never before realized just how much was missing. If there are this many books missing which are mentioned in the Bible, how many more might there be that aren’t? I find this is very useful information, especially when there are so many out there criticizing the Mormons for believing the Bible is “incomplete” or “imperfect.”

      A nice compilation is listed here alongside the Bible verses that reference them: http://www.icwseminary.org/lostbooks.htm

      P.S. This is not an LDS website, as seen by the crosses in the background, so we are not the only Christians that acknowledge this.

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