Is the Book of Mormon reliable?
The Book of Mormon is the keystone to the Latter-day Saints as the following quotation shows:
Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon are at the very heart of the Lord Jesus Christ’s latter-day work. Joseph Smith and his work were known prophetically in the Bible and in the Book of Mormon . . . As the Book of Mormon operates as the “keystone of our religion” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p.194), so the process of translation was the keystone of the Prophet’s education . . . The Book of Mormon was central to Joseph Smith’s understanding of the doctrines of the gospel and of his role in the Restoration. – Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon, James E. Faust, Ensign, January 1996, pp.2-4.
Mormons have three basic sets of Scriptures, The Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants and The Pearl of Great Price. They do also use the King James version of the Bible but where it disagrees with the Book of Mormon, they accept the latter; their eighth Article of Faith reads:
We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God. [Emphasis in italics added].
Some will argue that they do accept the KJV but they still call the Book of Mormon, “Another Testament of Jesus Christ”, and believe it to be more reliable than the Bible. This position, however, leads them to contradict themselves, as we see from the following:
The Book of Mormon establishes the truthfulness of the Bible. (See 1 Nephi 13:40.) It is evidence ‘to the world that the holy scriptures are true.’ (D&C 20:11.) – Church News, 3 February 1996, p.14.
The Book of Mormon took just over a year in all to translate from the golden plates. Most of the work, however, was completed in the last three months, when Oliver Cowdrey was helping Joseph. Before this, Joseph had two other helpers, Emma, his wife and Martin Harris.
There are many theories about the writing of the Book of Mormon. Devout Mormons will ask the question of just how Joseph Smith could have written the book without divine help? Non-believers will talk about stolen manuscripts that became the basis of the story and the tales that his mother relates Joseph used to spin to keep them enthralled. Maybe this is part of the explanation. Certainly it contains some 27,000 words from the King James Version of the Bible and so using other manuscripts would not be out of the question.
However, there could well have been divine, or rather supernatural, help too, but from which source? Smith himself admitted using a peep stone, a type of crystal-ball, to try to find buried treasure. David Whitmer, who was closely involved with the work of producing the Book of Mormon, and Joseph’s wife, Emma, both confirmed that Joseph used a peep stone in a hat to accomplish the translation. However, any ‘divine’ help, through the peep stone, would not come from God, because He condemns the use of such things. The supernatural power would therefore come from the only other source of supernatural power – the realm of the fallen angel Lucifer.
Whichever way the Book of Mormon was translated, the Latter-day Saints claim to have placed 76 million copies since it was first published in 1830.
The Book of Mormon is the story of a Hebrew prophet, Lehi, whom the Lord ordered to flee from Jerusalem. He left with his family around 600 BC and they found their way to a new land that is today known as America. Later the descendants of two of Lehi’s sons, the Nephites and the Lamanites fought each other. The Lamanites had departed from the Lord but the Nephites remained faithful and had kept a detailed history of their dealings. Mormon, one of the last remaining Nephites wrote an account of their history on the golden plates and gave them into the hands of his son Moroni. Moroni buried them in the Hill Cumorah, near Palmyra, New York around AD 438, to prevent them from falling into the hands of the Lamanites. He was hiding from the Lamanites at the time and expected to be killed soon after he had buried the plates.
Such detailed history should be borne out by archaeology, etc., but unfortunately for the Mormons little evidence can be mustered in support of the Book or Mormon. However, we need to move beyond the history and deal with the spiritual message too.
Twice in Doctrine and Covenants [20:8,9 & 27:5] we read that the “fullness of the gospel” is found within the Book of Mormon. Thus, Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price could expand on the Book of Mormon but not add anything. However, some of their major doctrines are not found within the Book of Mormon and some are even contradicted by it.
The Book of Mormon has undergone nearly 4,000 changes since the first ‘inspired’ edition, over 160 years ago. Examples include 1 Nephi 11:18, where Mary is called the Mother of God instead of the Mother of the Son of God. 1 Nephi 11:21; and 13:40 where the Lamb of God is called the Eternal Father instead of the Son of the Eternal Father. Surely, such a group cannot represent the truthful unchanging God.
Contrast this with the reliable record of the Bible, proved true by documents dating back some 2,500 years. The Bible is also shown to be reliable by the recovery of items mentioned in the Scriptures, for example towns, coins, etc. This is not true in the Book of Mormon.
The Mormon will often tell you that the Book of Mormon is recorded in the Bible. They will turn you to Ezekiel 37:15-20 and say that the Book of Mormon is one of the rods blended together; the other rod being the Bible. However, this is an interpretation because the Bible clearly shows that they are rods not books. Also these verses give the clear Biblical interpretation that these sticks represent the two parts of Israel that will be reunited. Just where then does the Mormon interpretation come from?
Alma 11:4-19 mentions eight different coins – not one example of any of them has ever been discovered. Ether 9:18,19 mentions several animals, but no evidence has ever been found of them being alive in that place at that time. In addition, the cureloms and cumoms have never been discovered anywhere at any time. The Mormons will believe that the Book of Mormon is the most accurate book in the world. At the same time, they will claim that the Bible lacks authority because parts of it are not translated correctly.
There are many early manuscripts of the Bible (1) and scholars can translate them today from the original Hebrew or Greek. The result is no different in meaning to what we have in our English version today. Ask, “can we compare the original manuscripts of the Book of Mormon in the same way?” We of course cannot, but even if we could, would it be possible for scholars to translate them? No, because they were written in ‘Reformed Egyptian,’ a language that does not even exist.
The church’s idea of the priesthood also needs investigation. The church believes that they alone have authority to fulfil certain ceremonies in the church, because to them alone has been restored the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods. However what does the Book of Hebrews say about these priesthoods?
7:11 The Aaronic priesthood passed away because it ‘lacked’, and the ‘better’ Melchizedek priesthood replaced it. We do not need to restore that which is lacking.
7:3 & 5:6 The Melchizedek priesthood never passed away and so how can it be restored?
There is indeed no authority in these priesthoods for the Mormon church.
Finally, read the first paragraph to the Introduction in the Book of Mormon. It tells you that the Bible contains the fullness of the everlasting Gospel. If the Bible contains the complete and total Gospel that never passes away, why do we need anything else?
(1) For information on the oldest Biblical manuscripts see here