Is the Book of Mormon from God? The four million members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day-Saints (Mormons) claim that it is. They believe that Joseph Smith Jr. (1805-1844) was a prophet commissioned by God to translate the book from golden plates delivered to him by an angel. As such, the Book of Mormon is one of a relatively few number of books in the world that are considered Holy Scripture. The Bible teaches us to “Test all things; hold fast what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). The Book of Mormon claims to be inspired; when tested on this claim, does it pass or fail?
Since God is by definition all-knowing and all-powerful, we would expect a book from Him to be free from mistakes. Humans often err; God does not. When tested on this point, the Book of Mormon faces serious difficulties. It contains numerous errors that may be discussed under two categories.
First, when it was issued from the press in 1830, the book was riddled with thousands of grammatical mistakes. An occasional error of this kind might be attributed to the typesetter, but the grammar problems of the first edition were systematic in nature, indicating that its author simply lacked education. Note these few examples:
“And he beheld that they did contain the five Books of Moses, which gave an account of the creation of the world, and also of Adam and Eve, which was our first parents...” (p. 15).
“And thus ended the record of Alma, which was wrote upon the plates of Nephi” (p. 347; see also pp. 49,66,195, et al.).
“but behold, the Lamanites were exceeding fraid, insomuch that they would not hearken to the words of those dissenters” (p. 415; see also pp. 354,392).
“yea, if my days could have been in them days...” (p. 427).
“and behold, we have took of their wine, and brought with us” (p. 379).
“And when Moroni had said these words, 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, and crying with a loud voice...” (p. 351).
[NOTE: The above quotations from the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon are from the 1958 reprint issued by Mormon historian Wilford C. Wood under the title Joseph Smith Begins his Work: Volume 1. All emphases added.]
This challenge to the Book of Mormon might be met with the response that it was God’s will to employ the vocabulary of Joseph Smith since his lack of education is proof that he could not have composed the book without divine guidance. This response is problematic, since Mormon writers like historian Brigham H. Roberts have argued that the “plates have been revealed by the power of God, and they have been translated by the power of God. The translation of them is correct...” (1930, 1:54-55). Besides, the Mormon Church has carefully removed most of these imperfections in subsequent editions. If it was the will of God to employ Smith’s vocabulary in the original translation, by what authority was it changed? Did God make a mistake that men had to correct?
Second, the Book of Mormon contains many blunders of content. Some are merely oddities. For example, the Nephites are said to have used a compass about 550 B.C. (1 Nephi 18:12); but the instrument was not invented until ca. A.D. 1100. Another anomaly of this nature is the appearance of the French word adieu in Jacob 7:27. It strains credulity to believe that this is the correct English translation of a “reformed Egyptian” word written upon metal plates by a Hebrew living on American soil in 421 B.C. (which is the claim being made by Mormonism).
Other errors are more serious since they contradict the Bible. Notice these few examples:
Alma predicted in about 83 B.C. that Jesus would be born in Jerusalem (Alma 7:10). However, in keeping with Micah’s prophecy, Jesus was born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2; Luke 2:4).
Nephi called the Savior “Jesus Christ, the Son of God” almost 600 years before His birth (2 Nephi 25:19). This is curious since the angel told Mary: You “shall call his name Jesus” and he “shall be called the son of God” (Luke 1:31,35). Further, “Christ” is not a name; it is the Greek word that means “anointed”—corresponding to the Hebrew word “messiah.” Joseph Smith is asking us to believe that the correct English translation of a reformed Egyptian word is the Anglicized Greek word Christ. This is asking too much.
A century before the resurrection of Christ, some Nephites were praised for being “firm in the faith of Christ, even unto the end” (Alma 27:27). They even were called Christians (Alma 46:13-16). Related to this is the contention that the religion of Alma was called the “church of Christ” almost 200 years before Jesus built His church (Mosiah 18:17; cf. Matthew 16:18)! These teachings contradict the Bible which says, “the disciples were divinely called ‘Christians’ first at Antioch” (Acts 11:26, McCord). Besides, how could people living during the Mosaic Covenant be Christians and in the church of Christ (which implies their part in the New Covenant)? It was necessary for Christ to die before His Covenant could come into effect (Hebrews 9:11-17).
In about 600 B.C. the prophet Nephi is shown a vision of the virgin Mary. According to the 1830 edition she is called “the mother of God,” and her Son is called “the Eternal Father.” However, in the modern editions these statements read: “the mother of the Son of God” and “the Son of the Eternal Father” (1 Nephi 11:18,21). These “corrections” convey a different meaning from the original. Changes of this nature strongly contradict Mormon inspiration claims.
Any book that purports to be from God should be able to pass a test for accuracy. Since God does not make mistakes, no book from His hand will contain factual or doctrinal errors. Like all humans, Joseph Smith erred. Unfortunately, his assertion that the Book of Mormon was divinely translated implies that God is the author of its mistakes. That claim is self-contradictory.
Roberts, Brigham H. (1930) A Comprehensive History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret News).
FOR FURTHER READING
Brodie, Fawn M. (1976), No Man Knows My History (New York: Alfred A. Knopf).
Bromling, Brad T. (1992) “The Book of Ether—A Mormon Myth Examined,” Reasoning from Revelation, 4:21, November.
Crouch, Brodie (1968), The Myth of Mormon Inspiration (Shreveport, LA: Lambert).
Fraser, Gordon H. (1978), Joseph and the Golden Plates (Eugene OR: Industrial Litho).
Ropp, Harry L. (1977), The Mormon Papers (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity).
Tanner, Jerald and Sandra (1972), Mormonism—Shadow or Reality? (Salt Lake City, UT: Modern Microfilm Company).