The Book of Mormon: Fact or Fiction?
Norman De Jong
Ah! The majestic music of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir! We love their music. We are almost ready to embrace them. We are almost ready to remove the Mormons from our list of cults and welcome them into the Christian camp.
But first, we ought to examine the issues. We ought to take this whole religious endeavor, with all its writings and moral trappings, before the throne of God. We need to be on guard, for there are many false prophets afoot and many religions that distort the truth of God.
On September 21, 1823, outside the village of Manchester, New York, Joseph Smith lay in his bed, praying, musing, and meditating. Allegedly, an angel named Moroni, the son of Mormon, appeared in his room in a bright light and instructed him to wait four years and then dig up, on the highest hill in the region, "a book deposited, written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent." He would also find "two stones in silver bows … fastened to a breastplate ... called the Urim and Thummin ... that God had prepared for the purpose of translating this book" (Book of Mormon, introduction, page 3).
These plates contained "the fullness of the everlasting gospel, as delivered by the Savior to the ancient inhabitants" of North America. These ancestors of the American Indians, called the Lamanites, supposedly were Israelites who had left Jerusalem in 600 B.C. and come to America. Their sacred record was sealed in A.D. 421 and hidden, to be brought forth in 1827 by Joseph Smith (Book of Mormon, "A Brief Explanation," page 6).
Smith was permitted, he says, to show the golden plates only to eleven men (most of whom were related to him or to his associate, David Whitmer). These men testified that the plates were real and were actually buried on that hillside. Joseph Smith, however, was the only one able to read and translate them, for he held the Urim and Thummin. His rendition of their contents was published in 1830. Smith asserted that his role in history had been prophesied by Joseph in Egypt. He also claimed that he was in the line of Moses and that he was commissioned by God to reveal the modern law and divine decrees to the "latter day saints," that is, the American Indians (Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 3:1, 4, 7, 9).
Joseph Smith and his followers were harassed and driven from place to place. Their weird religious views, and especially their practice of polygamy, were offensive to most Americans. Smith himself was killed by a mob, and his followers, led by Brigham Young, finally found peace in what later became the state of Utah. Their population grew rapidly, and they have spread their message around the globe. Today, they claim 5.8 million members in the U.S. and 12.9 million worldwide.
What is of concern to us here is their claim for the Book of Mormon. The opening line of its introduction will tell you, "The Book of Mormon is a volume of holy scripture comparable to the Bible." It contains the words of "many ancient prophets," which were "quoted and abridged by a prophet-historian named Mormon" and later enlarged by his son Moroni. It "puts forth the doctrines of the gospel, outlines the plan of salvation, and tells men what they must do to gain peace in this life and eternal salvation in the life to come." It is "the keystone to our religion."
As one reads through the Book of Mormon, one is struck by the way in which fictitious narrative passed off as historical fact (lacking any corroboration from history or archaeology) is interspersed with lengthy quotations from the biblical book of Isaiah. In 1 and 2 Nephi, there is much which is fanciful fabrication, clothed in theological garb. Then suddenly, in 2 Nephi 7 and 8, Isaiah is quoted extensivelyfrom the King James Version! After a collection of fanciful prophecies in 2 Nephi 9–12, chapters 12–24 quote verbatim from Isaiah 2–14. Just as abruptly, ancient Israel is then linked to Smith and to the "latter-day saints" in America. Where does fiction end and fact begin? What is original musing and what is blatant plagiarism?
Questions for Mormons
If we are to confront this religion, it is wise to be prepared with good questionspointed questions that get at their underlying assumptions. Here are some questions that we should all be asking:
1. If the Book of Mormon is "a companion to the Bible," do you encourage your members to read and study the Bible? Do your ministers ever preach from the Bible? Is the Bible a reliable source, or is it flawed in some way? Is the Book of Mormon superior to the Bible? What grounds do you offer for your answers?
2. If Mormon compiled and wrote the ancient records on the golden plates, does he take the place of Jehovah? Is he superior to the God of Israel? Why is he nowhere mentioned in the Bible, which is supposedly a "companion piece"? Is there anywhere in history, outside of Joseph Smith's dreams, where he is mentioned?
3. Isn't it contrary to the first commandment to set someone up in place of God? Isn't that precisely what God warned against? Have you considered the implications of God's own claims that he is a jealous God (Ex. 20:5; 34:14)? Do you fear him?
4. Why was God silent from 421 to 1823, when he suddenly revealed himself to Joseph Smith? Why did Moroni insist that the golden plates be kept hidden by Joseph Smith? What sense does it make to hide and disguise divine revelation? Would it not have been wiser to display these plates, if real, as much as possible, so as to satisfy questions of authenticity?
5. What is the key to the salvation of souls? Is it obedience to the rules and commands of Mormon? Are people saved by good works and obedience to the law, or by grace, as the Bible declares? What do you do with Ephesians 2:8–9?
6. What does the Book of Mormon do with the crucifixion of Jesus Christ? Why does the Book of Mormon give so little attention to that focal point of Christian theology? Christ's death and resurrection are absolutely essential to orthodox Christianity. Is it also for Mormons? Why not?
7.Is Joseph Smith guilty of plagiarism when he quotes numerous chapters from the book of Isaiah and then claims that they are some new revelation from God given only to him? Do the brief editorial statements ("Compare with Isaiah 2," etc.) deter charges of plagiarism or call attention to them?
8. The Bible tells us that it is a serious offense to God if we either add to his Word or take things away from it (Rev. 22:18–19; Deut. 4:2; 12:32). What gives Joseph Smith and his followers the right to ignore this command?
Joseph Smith and James Fennimore Cooper
There are numerous similarities between the writings of James Fennimore Cooper, the first popular American novelist, and the Book of Mormon. Cooper's first popular novel, The Spy, was published in New York in December, 1821; The Pioneers came out in February 1823. Both novels are set in the hills near Otsego, not far from Smith's hometown of Manchester. Approximately seven months later, on September 21, Joseph Smith's "vision" occurred.
Cooper's primary theme is that of the noble savage. He defends the righteousness and cultural superiority of the American Indians. Indian John, his first hero, is the last of his proud race, but is old and broken, having been corrupted by the white settlers. His more familiar hero is Natty Bumpo, an Indian of noble birth and noble purpose who resists the encroachment of white civilization and its evil tendencies. In a similar vein, the Book of Mormon purports to be a divine revelation to the latter-day saints of North America, who happen to be Indians descended from the mythical people called "the Lamanites."
Did Smith read The Spy? Did he share Cooper's hostility to the Puritans and their commitment to orthodox Christianity? Did he share Cooper's disdain for women and reduce them to the baby-producers necessary to a polygamist society? Are the "noble savages" of Cooper's novels the "latter-day saints" of Smith's vision? Such questions need to be asked. The similarities are too numerous to be mere coincidence.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, aka the Mormon Church or the LDS Church, is not willing to give first place to the Word of God. They have, in their estimation, a better, more complete, and more accurate account of what Jesus wants us to believe and how he wants us to live. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is really forced to play second fiddle to the prophet-priest Mormon. Mormon, like Mohammed in the Muslim religion, is superior to Jesus Christ.
In Mormonism, the Book of Mormon takes precedence over the Bible. Although the Book of Mormon contains numerous quotes from Scripture, they are highly selective and seem to support the vision that Joseph Smith wanted to embrace. The book, in summary, is fascinating fiction, interspersed with enough quotations from Holy Writ to give it the appearance of divine origin. But closer examination reveals highly speculative theology that takes extreme liberties with the truth and can only be described as a false religion.
The author is pastor of Fremont OPC, meeting in Fremont, Mich. Reprinted from New Horizons, June 2010.