Chapter Ten

The Book of Mormon

"I’m confused and need your guidance. I’m 29 years old, a wife and a mother…. My confusion comes from three of my bosses who are Mormons…. They are kind and helpful and seem so loving.
"I believe in Jesus. I know He died for my sins. I know there is only one God. So why am I being drawn into a tangled web of confusion by these people?
"Believe me, I need help!
"Am I slowly being brainwashed? Can these good people at work be devils in disguise?
"Please help me! Please write or call me soon."—Debbie

 

Dean Helland, who is now a Christian missionary to Chile, was raised in an offbeat Mormon sect (more than a hundred different splinter groups exist in the world of Mormonism). His family moved among the various Mormon communions, including the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Finally, his father, convinced that all the Mormon expressions were impure, moved Dean and the family to Arizona to "take the Book of Mormon to the Lamanites."

Dean’s dad would take the family to a different Christian church each Sunday. Sometime during the service he would stand up and tell the congregation they needed the Book of Mormon if they were to be saved.

As a young man, Dean was convinced the Book of Mormon was true. He "had testimony of it." He challenged Christians to: "Show me one place where the Book of Mormon contradicts the Bible and I will lay down the Book of Mormon." He said no Christian ever accepted the challenge!

Dean was so certain that God was leading him to write a book in defense of the Book of Mormon that he began a minute comparison of the Book of Mormon and the Bible to prove that the Book of Mormon restored the sense of the Bible, the "plain and precious parts of the gospel" destroyed by the Catholic Church (as the Book of Mormon teaches in I Nephi 13: 24-40).

As Dean compared passages from Isaiah with their parallel in the Book of Mormon, he said, "I came across a verse that made my heart leap." He had discovered a place where the Book of Mormon clearly made sense out of an obscure verse of Isaiah.

The verse was Isaiah 2:9 (KJV), equivalent to II Nephi 12:9 (Utah version Book of Mormon). Here are the two verses side by side.

Bible

And the mean man boweth down, and the great man humbleth himself: therefore forgive them not.

 

Book of Mormon

And the mean man boweth not down, and the great man humbleth himself not, therefore, forgive him not.

 

 

What Dean saw was that the Book of Mormon corrected the sense of the Bible. Joseph Smith straightened out the Book of Isaiah. If mean men don’t bow down or great men don’t humble themselves, in the interests of justice, they should not be forgiven.

Dean left the verse elated. He returned to it a few days later to re-study it, "to savor the success of my discovery."

But this time, he saw the verses in context. He discovered that Isaiah was not talking about men who will not bow down to God; on the contrary, he was talking about men who do bow down to idols! God is saying, in this passage, "both small and great men are bowing down to idols and I won’t forgive them for it."

Dean said, "It hit me like a bolt of lightning. Joseph Smith made a common mistake: he failed to read in context. He ‘corrected’ the Bible, assuming he knew better than the Holy Spirit. It was obvious that the Bible was the correct text, and the Book of Mormon was wrong."

Dean’s story illustrates a principle and underscores the reason I like to talk about the Book of Mormon with my Mormon contacts. The principle is that the Book of Mormon is one thing in Mormonism that can be approached objectively.

It normally is not approached objectively, but subjectively, by Mormons. That is, Mormon proselytes are told to read the Book of Mormon, pray about it, and get a "feeling" about it. Many unwary people have approached the book looking for a spiritual experience and have found one! But truth in not an experience, no matter how sublime. On the other hand, people have spiritual experiences with tarot cards, ouija boards, the Koran, and Eastern mysticism of various forms.

Mormon leaders often speak about "a burning in the bosom." This expression is taken from Doctrine and Covenants, Section 9, verses 8-9, which is a prophecy given through Joseph Smith to Oliver Cowdery during the "translating" of the Book of Mormon. Oliver is told that the translation process works this way:

You must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore you shall feel that it is right.

When Mormon missionaries are teaching those who investigate Mormonism, they ask them to read the Book of Mormon and then pray about whether or not it is from God. They "bear their testimonies" that they have read the book and that they "know by the power of the Holy Ghost" that it is true. Then they have the investigator read Moroni 10:4 and seek their own "feeling":

And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if you shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.

And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things (Moroni 10:4, 5.)

This is a particularly insidious proposal. It sounds so spiritual. Here is a person who is seeking God. He is told that if he follows this formula that he will have a "spiritual experience."

The problem is twofold. First, God is not into burning-bosom formulas. He has not said in Scripture that He will give you a burning in the bosom to tell you if something is true. Hearing from God is a rather fine spiritual process. As a counselor and pastor I find that young Christians have difficulty hearing from God. It takes time, it takes confirmation from Scripture, it takes godly counsel from proven brothers and sisters to know God’s will.

But the Mormon missionaries say it is a "spiritual experience." And one that a novice can have with absolute confidence that he will not hear a counterfeit voice. This is terribly dangerous counsel. And it is exactly how Joseph Smith got into trouble in the first place.

These subjective ideas form the foundation for the Mormon experience. But if one allows himself to equate "experience" with truth, he isolates himself from reason and from Scripture.

The second problem is that contained within the Book of Mormon are passages plagiarized from the Bible. Whole chapters, indeed, whole sections are copied. These passages are, in fact, Scripture. They are true. That means packaged within the fraudulent Book of Mormon are sections of genuine Scripture. So, the question becomes, "What is the person investigating Mormonism praying about when he asks for a ‘testimony’ as to the validity of the Book of Mormon?" Is he praying about the parts that are true? Or is he praying about the whole thing?

Of the "burning in the bosom," Ed Decker, former Mormon and founder of "Saints Alive!", says he remembers his chest actually feeling about ten degrees hotter than the rest of his body when he prayed about the Book of Mormon. But he goes on to say that he has also had a burning in his bosom from pizza. And from a crush he had on Suzy Smith!

Religious truth cannot be documented by "spiritual experience" because the dark side to spiritual power is capable of appearing as light. As Paul says:

False apostles, deceitful workmen [are] masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).

Joseph Smith said an angel appeared to him to guide him to the Book of Mormon. That may be true. That is, he may have had an experience with a spirit being. Personally, I think he did. But I think the power Joseph contacted was evil. I think he spoke with demons. We know he was heavily involved with the occult (see Chapter Three). So it’s reasonable to expect he would have contact from the spirit world. But God warned us against occult experimentation because Satan is a liar.

Joseph should have checked the message of the angel against the gospel of Christ: "But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!" (Galatians 1:8).

We don’t judge truth by demonstrations of spiritual pyrotechnics:

The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie (2 Thessalonians 2:9-11).

Mormons base their faith in the fact that Joseph Smith received the Book of Mormon from God. The Book of Mormon is central to the Mormon’s faith. A young Latter-day Saint told me he could give up Joseph Smith and remain a Mormon; he could, if necessary, abandon Mormon theology; his faith could even stand the thought of current Mormon leaders going wrong. But, he said, "If I ever found out that the Book of Mormon were not given by God, I could not remain a Mormon."

I believe the Book of Mormon invites objective study.

I believe it is a tangible handle by which we can grasp the deception of Mormonism.

And most important, I think it is relatively easy to demonstrate that the Book of Mormon cannot be what the Mormon Church has said it is.

The Book of Mormon may indeed be "the key to conversion." Honest Mormons – when they find the Book of Mormon to be full of inconsistencies and errors – may turn from Mormonism

Joseph’s Story

Joseph Smith claimed that God had appeared to him in a vision and told him to restore the True Church. Joseph was then to wait until he received further instruction.

That instruction came when he began receiving late-night visits from a spirit calling himself "Moroni," who claimed to have been a soldier of the white-skinned Nephites, former inhabitants of the North American continent.

The Nephites, Moroni supposedly said, were descendants of a Jew named Lehi, who left Jerusalem with his family to escape the destruction of Jerusalem about 600 B. C. Under the direction of God, this family constructed small covered boats and sailed to the New World, landing in South or Central America.

Some of the descendants of Lehi, Nephites, warred against the unrighteous descendants, Lamanites, and were driven eastward across North America to western New York where Moroni buried gold plates containing the records of his people.

Now Moroni said that God had directed him to return to the earth and deliver the plates to Joseph, who would be enabled to translate and publish them as the Book of Mormon. (After publication, the plates were conveniently taken back into heaven.)

Two affidavits were bound into the front of the Book of Mormon when it was published in 1830: The Testimony of the Eight Witnesses and the Testimony of the Three Witnesses. Both these documents swore to the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. (Mormon apologists seldom mention that all Three Witnesses and all of the Eight Witnesses – except the Smiths – fell out with Joseph Smith and left the Church. One of the witnesses, Martin Harris, later rejoined the Church.)

Exposing the Book of Mormon

Sadly, the fact is that the Book of Mormon is a fraud – there never were any gold plates. Millions have been taken in by Joseph’s deception. Our job is to rescue all we can from the deception. There are several ways the Book of Mormon can be demonstrated to be of human, not divine origin.

First, the changes in the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon was said to have been translated "by the gift and power of God" and is "the most perfect of any book on the face of the earth." But, the fact that it has been changed some 4,000 times in the last 150 years demonstrates it is of human, not divine, origin.

Second, the theology of the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon was given to restore "plain and precious things" lost from the Bible. But the theology of the Book of Mormon does not support much of the theology of Mormonism. In fact the Book of Mormon actually opposes at times the theology of the Mormon Church. If Mormonism does not teach the Book of Mormon, then either the Book of Mormon is wrong or the church itself is apostate.

Third, the archaeology of the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon supposedly is "a history of the ancient inhabitants of this continent." But the sciences of geography, archaeology, and anthropology demonstrate the Book of Mormon cannot be a record of pre-Columbian American peoples.

In spite of all the testimony of good, faithful Mormons, and in spite of the fact that I, myself, for ten years believed the Book of Mormon to have been given by God, I must say that anyone who will look at the book objectively (instead of subjectively) can see it is a fabrication!

I agree with the conclusions of the Rev. M. T. Lamb, who wrote The Golden Bible published in 1887. Lamb said:

After a very careful study of the book, a conscientious and painstaking examination of all the evidences… for and against it… [I] am compelled to believe: that no such people as are described in the Book of Mormon ever lived upon this continent; that no such records were ever engraved upon golden plates…; that no such men as Mormon or Moroni… ever existed in this country; that Jesus Christ never appeared upon this continent in person, or had a people here before its discovery by Columbus… [that] the book is… a… fabrication without any foundation in fact – that had its origin, simply and solely, in the brain or brains of men in our own day, without any help from God or from an angel from God (pages 11-12).

Problems and Changes in the Text of the Book of Mormon

Joseph and his friends who acted as scribes in translating the Book of Mormon were poorly educated. They couldn’t spell and their grammar was bad. Although Joseph claimed to translate by the "gift and power of God," the result was very human as evidenced by these examples:

…These our dearly beloved brethren, who have so dearly beloved us (Alma 26:9: 1830 edition, p. 296).

…Yea, if my days could have been in them days… But, behold, I am consigned that these are my days (Helaman 7:8-9; 1830 edition, p.427).

… And they having been waxed strong in battle, that they might not be destroyed (Alma 9:22; 1830 edition, p. 247).

… Even until we had arrived to the land of Middoni (Alma 20:30; 1830 edition, p. 282).

The only passages spelled correctly and correct grammatically, are the chapters of Isaiah Joseph lifted whole out of the King James Bible. The King James passages are, in fact, verbatim, proving that Joseph did not translate them from reformed Egyptian hieroglyphics as he claimed. Joseph so faithfully plagiarized the King James passages that he even included the italicized words in the text – the transitional words the King James translators added for clarity, but which were not in the Hebrew text.

Some of the sentences Joseph constructed were nearly four hundred words long, rambling, nearly incomprehensible repetitions of meaningless verbiage. In contrast, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount includes eighteen complete, meaningful sentences in the first three hundred and forty words. The most complex sentence in the New Testament does not reach 100 words and is clear and readable. Compare the clarity and beauty of the Bible with these sentences from the early Book of Mormon:

… And thus we see that they buried their weapons of peace, or they buried their weapons of war, for peace (Alma 24:19; 1830 edition, p. 292).

… They being shielded from the more vital parts of the body, or the more vital parts of the body being shielded from the strokes of the Lamanites (Alma 43:38; 1830 edition, p 343).

… There were no robbers, nor murderers, neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of ites; but they were one, the children of Christ (IV Nephi 1:17; 1830 edition, p.515).

… Now immediately when the Judge had been murdered; he being stabbed by his brother by a garb of secrecy; and he fled, and the servants ran and told the people (Helaman 9:6; 1830 edition, p. 431).

… He went forth among the people, waving the rent of his garment in the air, that all might see the writing which he had wrote upon the rent. (This one was fixed up in recent editions as Alma 46:12-19; 1830 edition, p. 351).

Many ludicrous passages remain unchanged in the Book of Mormon. For example, the book of Jacob ends with a French word:

I make an end of my writing upon these plates, which writing has been small; and to the reader I bid farewell, hoping that many of my brethren may read my words. Brethren, adieu.

Adieu? How could a French word be translated from Reformed Egyptian into English? And why?

My favorite of all the scenes in the Book of Mormon closes the book of Ether (not, of course, so named for its effect on the reader, although Mark Twain referred to the Book of Mormon as "chloroform in print." He also said that if you took all of the "and it came to pass" phrases, there would be nothing left to come to pass!).

Ether ends with a scene in which Coriantumr kills a man by the name of Shiz by "smiting off his head." Ether 15:31 says that after his head was smitten off, Shiz rose up on his hands and struggled for breath and died. Now, how can a body, separated from its head, rise up on its hands and struggle for breath? This sounds more like a line from the Mikado than from Holy Writ!

The Church has corrected many of the glaring errors of the book in subsequent editions over the past 150 years and many of the 4000 changes in Joseph’s original are in this category. Not all of theses changes were simply grammatical, however, and cannot be blamed on "typos." (As B. H. Roberts, prominent Mormon historian, says, "The first edition of the Book of Mormon is singularly free from typographical errors." Rather, he says, the errors in the Book of Mormon are "constitutional in nature.") (1)

Some of the changes involve important doctrinal changes, reflecting evolving Mormon doctrine. They are attempts to "fix" the Book of Mormon so it would fit in with new Mormon doctrine. For example, Joseph’s concept of the nature of God underwent radical revision between 1830 and his death in 1844. Smith’s early, unformed theology, as it appears in the Book of Mormon, is a patchwork exposing an immature concept of the nature of God that appears to be a form of Unitarianism.

If you were forced to nail down the Book of Mormon theology about God, you might choose to call it Modalism (one God who appears sometimes as the Father, sometimes as the Son, as in Mosiah 15:1-4). The doctrine of the Holy Spirit in the Book of Mormon – as it remains in the Mormon Church today – is particularly unclear. (See Appendix A: "The Book of Mormon and the Nature of God.")

One thing is certain, however. The Book of Mormon is not polytheistic. There is not even a hint that men may become gods!

As Joseph Smith’s theology evolved he began to explain the Persons of the Godhead as "separate and distinct personages." Soon he was tri-theistic – he had three separate gods. Eventually in spite of the Book of Mormon he became a full-blown polytheist.

As his theology changed, the 1830 Book of Mormon theology became obsolete and needed to be changed. Some of the Trinitarian-sounding passages come from a vision given to a man named Nephi in the Book of Mormon. In the original they say: "The virgin is the mother of God; the Lamb of God is the Eternal Father; and the Everlasting God was judged by the world." They have been changed by adding the words "the Son of" in appropriate places to change the meaning of the text (quoted below from the 1830 edition):

Behold, the virgin whom thou seest, is the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh (I Nephi 11:18, p. 24).

And an angel said to me, "Behold, the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father!" (I Nephi 11:21, p. 25).

The Son of the Everlasting God was judged of the world; and I saw and bear record (I Nephi 11:32, p. 25).

These last records … shall make known to all kindreds, tongues, and people, that the Lamb of God is the Son of the Eternal Father, and the Savior (I Nephi 13:40, p. 32).

Jerald and Sandra Tanner in their work, 3,913 Changes in the Book of Mormon document specific changes. Not only has the Book of Mormon been changed, but so has the book Doctrine and Covenants. In fact, it has been changed more than the Book of Mormon. The process of change continues to this day. After the 1978 "revelation" that blacks could hold the priesthood, II Nephi 30:6 in the Book of Mormon was changed. It used to say that Lamanites (the supposed dark-skinned forerunners of the American Indians) became "white and delightsome" when they accepted the Mormon gospel. But after the priesthood revelation, the text was changed to say they became "pure and delightsome." (I can remember hearing Mormon leaders say when American Indians joined the Church their skin slowly got lighter.)

Even though the Book of Mormon has been changed thousands of times, it remains clearly unpolytheistic while the Church doctrine is clearly polytheistic. Therefore, the central theology of the Book of Mormon is in direct opposition to the theology of the Church.

 

The Fall of the Book of Mormon

As attention continues to focus on the Book of Mormon, its viability as a historical document flags. Brigham Young University anthropologists and archaeologists are challenging the historicity of the book. For example, BYU Professor of Anthropology Ray T. Matheny calls the constant reference in the Book of Mormon to iron implements "a king-sized problem":

The Book of Mormon talks about ferrous and non-ferrous metallurgical industries. A ferrous industry is a whole system of doing something. It’s just not an esoteric process that a few people are involved in, but ferrous industry … means mining iron ores and then processing these ores and casting [them] into irons…. This is a process that’s very complicated … it also calls for cultural backup to allow such an activity to take place…. In my recent reading of the Book of Mormon, I find that iron and steel are mentioned in sufficient context to suggest that there was a ferrous industry here…. (2)

But Matheny says archaeology proves that there was no iron mining in the Western Hemisphere in the pre-Columbian times. And there is no room for making a mistake about it:

You can’t refine ore without leaving a bloom of some kind or … impurities that blossom out and float to the top of the ore… and also the flux of limestone or whatever is used to flux the material…. [This] blooms off into silicas and indestructible new rock forms. In other words, when you have a ferroused metallurgical industry, you have these evidences of the detritus that is left over. You also have the fuels, you have the furnaces, you have whatever technologies that were there performing these tasks; they leave solid evidences. And they are indestructible things…. No evidence has been found in the new world for a ferrous metallurgical industry dating to pre-Columbian times. And so this is a king-sized problem, it seems to me, for the so-called Book of Mormon archeology. This evidence is absent. (3)

The Book of Mormon not only mentions iron, but steel and machinery and scimitars and breastplates and metal engraving (which calls for hardened steel-tipped tools to chase metal). It speaks of gold and silver coinage – no Western-style coins have ever been found from pre-Columbian America.

The Book of Mormon mentions shipbuilding, sailing, the use of magnetic compass, wheeled vehicles (drawn by horses), tent manufacture, and linen manufacture. Archaeologists unanimously agree that none of these activities took place in the New World before the arrival of the Spanish colonizers. The Book of Mormon also describes non-Western agricultural like wheat and barley, flax and vineyards (and wine presses). These are giant archaeological problems. So is the description of domestic animals such as dogs, cows, goats, sheep, horses, asses, oxen, swine, and elephants. In addition the Book of Mormon uses attending cultural backup words like: pasture, chariot, stable, horned cattle, fowl, lamb, and fatlings.

Matheny concludes that the Book of Mormon terminologies and language are "nineteenth-century literary concepts and cultural experiences one would expect Joseph Smith and his colleagues to experience." In other words, this Brigham Young University professor thinks Joseph Smith made up the Book of Mormon.

Another BYU Professor, John L. Sorenson, an anthropologist, says the American Indians clearly did not descend from Hebrews; the languages of the New World do not have a Hebrew root; and the physical and biological characteristics of the American Indians are not Semitic. (The American Indians are, with no challenge, Mongoloid, not Caucasian. No amount of breeding will produce Mongoloids from Caucasians.)

Sorenson also says there is no way the geography spoken of in the Book of Mormon could have stretched thousands of miles from South America to New York – as the Book of Mormon states. "It could not have been longer than seven hundred miles," Sorenson says. Latter-day Saints, according to Sorenson, are going to have to revise their concept of truth about the Book of Mormon.

A Mormon Giant Who Lost Confidence in the Book of Mormon

Brigham H. Roberts was a Mormon General Authority, historian, and apologist who wrote the six-volume Mormon history, Comprehensive History of the Church. Nearly all Mormons are familiar with and respect Roberts. But most of them do not know of his battle to maintain belief in the Book of Mormon. A battle that he lost.

Toward the end of his life Roberts reexamined the Book of Mormon and concluded that it was not of divine origin. He decided Joseph Smith could have, and probably had, plagiarized the ideas and much of the material from existing works and from his own imagination. I have set forth the details of Robert’s fall from faith in Appendix B at the back of this book.

 

The Spalding Theory

One of the persistent theories is that Joseph Smith plagiarized the Book of Mormon from a "romantic novel" written by a Congregational minister prior to 1812. (I have appended the basics of this theory in Appendix C.) Solomon Spalding supposedly wrote two such stories: a short one, now on display at Oberlin College, and a larger one, now lost.

One version of the Spalding Theory is that Sidney Rigdon, a Baptist/Campbellite preacher of some disrepute and an early Mormon leader, stole the Spalding manuscript from a print shop and conspired with Smith to "bring it forth." (4)

Another obvious source document for the Book of Mormon is Ethan Smith’s View of the Hebrews.

However the Book of Mormon came to be, I believe it is a most fertile field of study for those who would lead Latter-day Saints to Christ. Here we can grapple with real inconsistencies – not shadows of the past – both internal and external to the text.

If we can get Latter-day Saints to look at the history of the Book of Mormon, and to examine its text in the light of the Bible, we are on our way to winning them.

 

  1. Defense of the Faith, B. H. Roberts, p. 280-281, reprinted in Francis W. Kirkham, A New Witness for Christ in America, Vol. 1, pp. 200-201.
  2. Ray T. Matheny, Speech at Sunstone Symposium 6, "Book of Mormon Archaeology," Aug. 25, 1984.
  3. Matheny.
  4. See Who Really Wrote the Book of Mormon?, Wayne L. Cowdrey, Howard A. Davis and Donald R. Scales, Vision House, Santa Ana, 1977.