Book of Mormon/Anachronisms/Doctrinal Concepts

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Alleged Doctrinal Anachronisms in The Book of Mormon

Summary: Some have claimed that certain doctrinal concepts are too foreign to the worldview of the Book of Mormon's claimed host population that they may be anachronistic. These articles examine these claims from an apologetic perspective.

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Question: Is the concept of baptism in the Book of Mormon anachronistic?

Figure 1. Latter-day Saint father baptizes son. Courtesy of LDS Blogs.

Introduction to Criticism

It is claimed by critics of the Book of Mormon that it's mention of "baptism" early in the text is anachronistic.[1]

The necessary linguistic, theological, and historical background to refute this claim can be found by appeal to the Hebrew Bible and the work of scholar Brant Gardner.



Response to Criticism

Uses of "Rachats" and "Tabal"

The concept of immersion is part-and-parcel of the Hebrew Bible; for example, the Hebrew verb meaning “to wash” רחץ (rachats) appears 74 times in 73 verses in the Old Testament--often having the meaning of a full immersion of either a person or an object.[2]

Another Hebrew verb,טבל (tabal), appears 16 times in the Old Testament--having the meaning of "to dip" or "to immerse;" all part-and-parcel of "baptism."[3]

The Septuagint translates טבל using the Greek verb meaning “to baptize”-- βαπτιζω. This verb (and correlative translation in the Septuagint) occurs in 2 Kings 5:14 and Isaiah 21:4, in the proto-canonical texts, and Judith 12:7 and Sirach 34:25 in the Apocrypha.

Figure 2. Basketball star Dwyane Wade attends the baptism of friend Calyann Barnett-Watson as she became a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Courtesy of ldsdaily.com

Historical and Theological Context

Though, this only gets us the word "baptism." It does not get us the proper intellectual context in which baptism might emerge. Latter-day Saint scholar Brant Gardner provided this context in his 6 volume commentary on the Book of Mormon, Second Witness.[4] Scholar Jonathan Lawrence has a book-length treatment on ritual bathing in the Hebrew Bible.[5]

Conclusion

Critics have long sought to demonstrate that certain anachronisms are damning for the Book of Mormon’s historicity. In this case, persuasive evidence can be marshaled to suggest that the mention of “baptism” is simply not one of them.[6]

Notes

  1. For examples from the text of the Book of Mormon, see 2 Nephi 31: 13, 14, 17; Mosiah 18:21; Mosiah 21:35. For criticism, see William J. Whalen, The Latter-day Saints in the Modern World (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1967), 45: "Other words which the Nephites could hardly have known are baptize, church, gospel, barges, etc."
  2. Exodus 2:5; 1 Kings 22:38.
  3. Genesis 37:31; Numbers 19:18; 2 Kings 5:14; Job 9:31.
  4. Brant A. Gardner, Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, 6 vols. (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2007), 2:433–36.
  5. Jonathan Lawrence, Washing in Water: Trajectories of Ritual Bathing in the Hebrew Bible and Second Temple Literature (Atlanta, GA: Society of Biblical Literature, 2006).
  6. This article largely follows the approach taken in Robert S. Boylan, "Responding to William Whalen on Alleged Anachronisms in the Book of Mormon," <https://scripturalmormonism.blogspot.com/2018/05/responding-to-william-whalen-on-alleged.html?fbclid=IwAR0X9WCXwkORzeRoRhzihqHCi4TlRSrVVJKDLXDQwSZ62VhKSarS8zs1ulM> (9 June 2020). FairMormon thanks Robert for his great research used in this article.