Book of Mormon/Early reactions to

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Early reactions to the Book of Mormon

Summary: The Book of Mormon was met by a storm of criticism from early critics. This page archives examples of these early responses.

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Question: Does the fact that the Bible states that nothing should be "added to" or "taken away" from the book mean that the Book of Mormon is false?

Those who claim this misuse Revelation, misunderstand the process by which the Bible canon was formed, and must ignore other, earlier scriptures to maintain their position

Some Christians claim that the Book of Mormon cannot be true because nothing should be "added to" or "taken away from" the Holy Bible. However, those who claim this misuse Revelation, misunderstand the process by which the Bible canon was formed, and must ignore other, earlier scriptures to maintain their position. Their use of this argument is a form of begging the question whereby they presume at the outset that the Book of Mormon and other scriptures are not the Word of God, which is precisely the point under debate. In its proper context, the passage in Revelation actually supports the teachings of the Book of Mormon that many plain and precious things would be taken away from the Bible. It also shows clearly the need for another book of scripture like the Book of Mormon to restore those lost and sacred teachings. If the Book of Mormon and other modern scriptures are the work of uninspired men or the arm of flesh, then of course one ought not to trust them. If, however, they are indeed the word of the Lord to prophets, then all who desire to be saved ought to carefully heed them.

The verse often cited (as by Martin, above) is Revelation 22:18-19:

For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.

The book of Revelation was written prior to some of the other biblical books

Some claim that this verse states that the Bible is complete, and no other scripture exists or will be forthcoming.

However, the critics ignore that:

  • The book of Revelation was written prior to some of the other biblical books, and prior the Bible being assembled into a collection of texts. Therefore, this verse can only apply to the Book of Revelation, and not the Bible as a whole (some of which was unwritten and none of which was yet assembled together into 'the Bible'). While the traditional date of the book of Revelation is A.D. 95 or 96 (primarily based on a statement by Irenaeus), many scholars now date it as early as A.D. 68 or 69. The Gospel of John is generally dated A.D. 95-100. (For more information on the dating of Revelation, see Thomas B. Slater's Biblica article).
  • The New Testament is made up of first the four Gospels and then second the epistles of the apostles. Since the book of Revelation is neither a gospel nor an epistle, it was placed at the end of the canon in its own category. Therefore, John cannot have intended the last few sentences of Revelation to apply to the entire Bible, since he was not writing a 'final chapter' for the New Testament and since the Bible would not be completed and canonized for some centuries later.
  • Other scriptures (such as Deuteronomy 4:2, Deuteronomy 12:32, and Proverbs 30:6) likewise forbid additions; were the critics' arguments to be self-consistent, they would have to then discard everything in the New Testament and much of the Old, since these verses predate "other scripture" added by God through later prophets.
  • Further evidence that Rev. 22:19 is not referring to the entire bible when it reads "words of the book of this prophecy" is found if one reads Revelation 1:3,11:

Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand...Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, What thou seest, write in a book, and send [it] unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea.

It is self evident that the book referred to at the very beginning of Revelation is the same book being referred to at the very end of Revelation

Everything that John saw and heard in between these two statements are the contents of that book.

Even if the passage in Revelation meant that no man could add to scripture; it does not forbid that God may, through a prophet, add to the Word of God. If this were not possible, then the Bible could never have come into existence.

Noted Biblical scholar Bart Ehrman wrote:

The very real danger that [New Testament] texts could be modified at will, by scribes who did not approve of their wording, is evident in other ways as well. We need always to remember that the copyists of the early Christian writings were reproducing their texts in a world in which there were not only no printing presses or publishing houses but also no such thing as copyright law. How could authors guarantee that their texts were not modified once put into circulation? The short answer is that they could not. That explains why authors would sometimes call curses down on any copyists who modified their texts without permission. We find this kind of imprecation already in one early Christian writing that made it into the New Testament, the book of Revelation, whose author, near the end of his text, utters a dire warning [quotes Revelation 22:18–19].

This is not a threat that the reader has to accept or believe everything written in this book of prophecy, as it is sometimes interpreted; rather, it is a typical threat to copyists of the book, that they are not to add to or remove any of its words. Similar imprecations can be found scattered throughout the range of early Christian writings.[1]

The Book of Mormon prophet Nephi saw the same things that John the Beloved saw, but was not authorized to write them

This threat was a real threat in John's eyes. Unfortunately, it appears that the threat went unheeded. The Book of Mormon prophet Nephi saw the same things that John the Beloved saw, but was not authorized to write them (1 Nephi 14:21-25). He made this interesting prophesy.

Wherefore, thou seest that after the book [the Bible] hath gone forth through the hands of the great and abominable church, that there are many plain and precious things taken away from the book, which is the book of the Lamb of God (1 Nephi 13:28).

Nephi is later promised that the Lord would send forth other books such as the Book of Mormon to restore those precious and plain things that were taken away.

These last records [The Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, etc], which thou hast seen among the Gentiles, shall establish the truth of the first [The Bible], which are of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, and shall make known the plain and previous things which have been taken away from them... (1 Nephi 13:40)

The ancient Book of Mormon prophet Nephi understood how critics would respond to the Book of Mormon. His answer for the critics is this:

Yea, wo be unto him that hearkeneth unto the precepts of men, and denieth the power of God, and the gift of the Holy Ghost! Yea, wo be unto him that saith: We have received, and we need no more! And in fine, wo unto all those who tremble, and are angry because of the truth of God! For behold, he that is built upon the rock receiveth it with gladness; and he that is built upon a sandy foundation trembleth lest he shall fall. Wo be unto him that shall say: We have received the word of God, and we need no more of the word of God, for we have enough! For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have. Cursed is he that putteth his trust in man, or maketh flesh his arm, or shall hearken unto the precepts of men, save their precepts shall be given by the power of the Holy Ghost. (2 Nephi 28:26-31)


Question: Could the Book of Mormon be a clumsy, amateurish forgery?

The obvious complexity, textual depth, and beauty of the Book of Mormon has led most modern critics to abandon the claim that it is simply a clumsy or amateurish pastiche

Early critics of Mormonism charged that even a cursory examination reveals the Book of Mormon to be a clumsy, amateurish forgery.

The obvious complexity, textual depth, and beauty of the Book of Mormon has led most modern critics to abandon the claim that it is simply a clumsy or amateurish pastiche. This has led later critics to insist that Joseph was either much more gifted than his contemporaries believed him to be, or to attribute the Book of Mormon to another author altogether.


Question: Why do some critics think that Sidney Rigdon was the author of the Book of Mormon?

The theory that Sidney Rigdon was the author of the Book of Mormon was only advanced when it became apparent that Joseph Smith was incapable of having written it

Initial reaction to the Book of Mormon attributed the authorship to Joseph Smith himself, and reviewers were quick to criticize the book's problems of style, and simply declared it an obvious, amateurish forgery.

It seems to have soon become clear, however, that Joseph truly was incapable of writing such a book. As a result, Sidney Rigdon, an experienced minister, was soon blamed for the book, with Joseph as a willing fellow-con:

[1 September 1831] ...the money diggers of Ontario county, by the suggestions of the Ex-Preacher from Ohio [i.e., Rigdon], thought of turning their digging concern into a religious plot, and thereby have a better chance of working upon the credulity and ignorance of their associates and the neighborhood. Money and a good living might be got in this way....

There is no doubt but the ex-parson from Ohio is the author of the book which was recently printed and published in Palmyra, and passes for the new Bible. It is full of strange narratives—in the style of the scriptures, and bearing on its face the marks of some ingenuity, and familiar acquaintance with the Bible. It is probable that Joe Smith is well acquainted with the trick, but Harris the farmer and the recent coverts, are true believers....

They were called translations, but in fact and in truth they are believed to be the work of the Ex-Preacher from Ohio, who stood in the back ground and put forward Joe to father the new bible and the new faith.[2]

Sidney's involvement would later be added to the Spalding theory, though this theory poses major historical problems which have led even most present-day critics to likewise abandon it.


Question: Were the Isaiah passages in the Book of Mormon simply plagiarized from the King James Bible?

Nephi and Jacob generally make it clear when they are quoting from Isaiah

If a Christian is making an accusation of plagiarism, then they are, by the same logic, indicting the Bible which they share with us. Close examination of the Old Testament reveals many passages which are copied nearly word for word including grammatical errors. Micah, who lived hundreds of years after Isaiah, copies word for word in Micah 4:1-3 from Isaiah's prophecy in Isaiah 2:2-4 without once giving him credit.[3] We also find the genealogy from Genesis 5:10-11,36 repeated in 1 Chronicles, much of the history in Samuel and Kings is repeated in Chronicles, and Isaiah 36:2 through Isaiah 38:5 is the same as 2 Kings 18:17 through 2 Kings 20:6.

Although Old Testament scripture was often quoted by Old and New Testament writers without giving credit, Nephi and Jacob generally make it clear when they are quoting from Isaiah. Indeed, much of 2 Nephi may be seen as an Isaiah commentary. Of course, Nephi and Jacob do not specify chapter and verse, because these are modern additions to the text (as Joseph Smith somehow knew). It is ironic that critics of the Book of Mormon find fault with its "plagiarism," even though its authors typically mention their sources, while they do not condemn the Bible's authors when they do not.

Finally, it is obvious that the use of King James language for passages shared by the Bible and the Book of Mormon allows the Book of Mormon to highlight those areas in which the Book of Mormon's original texts were genuinely different from the textual tradition of the Old World which gave us the Holy Bible.

A closer look at these duplicate Isaiah texts actually provides us an additional witness of the Book of Mormon's authenticity

Some question the presence of verses from Isaiah in the Book of Mormon, and assert that many Book of Mormon verses were copied from the King James Bible, which in their view, makes the Book of Mormon a fraud. While this might appear to be true to the casual Book of Mormon reader, a closer look at these duplicate texts actually provides us an additional witness of the Book of Mormon's authenticity.[4]

The 21 chapters of Isaiah which are quoted (Chapters 2-14, 29, and 48-54) either partially or completely, represent about one-third of the book of Isaiah, but less than two and one-half percent of the total Book of Mormon. We also find that more than half of all verses quoted from Isaiah (234 of 433) differ from the King James version available to Joseph Smith.[5] The Book of Mormon apparently follows the King James (Masoretic) text when it conveys the original meaning.

We often find differences in Book of Mormon Isaiah texts where modern texts disagree.[6] One verse (2 Nephi 12:16), is not only different but adds a completely new phrase: "And upon all the ships of the sea." This non-King James addition agrees with the Greek (Septuagint) version of the Bible, which was first translated into English in 1808 by Charles Thomson. [7] Such a translation was "rare for its time."[8]

The chapters of Isaiah actually quoted in the Book of Mormon (chapters 2-14 and 48-54) are those which would have been the most likely to have existed in Lehi's day

It is also significant that the chapters of Isaiah actually quoted in the Book of Mormon (chapters 2-14 and 48-54) are those which modern scholars widely agree correspond closely to the original Isaiah collection and therefore would have been the most likely to have existed in Lehi's day.[9] Could Joseph Smith have known this? If Joseph or anyone else actually tried to plagiarize the Book of Mormon, critics have failed to show the source of the remaining 93% (when all similar texts are removed). A 100% non-biblical book of scripture wouldn't have been much more difficult to produce.


Question: What is the Spalding Theory of Book of Mormon authorship?

One of the earliest theories of Book of Mormon authorship was that Joseph plagiarized the unpublished manuscript of a novel written by the Reverend Solomon Spalding

Since the Book of Mormon was first published, many have been unwilling to accept Joseph Smith's account of how it was produced. It's easy to dismiss Joseph's story of angels, gold plates, and a miraculous interpretation process; it's much harder to come up with an alternative explanation that accounts for the complexity and consistency of the Book of Mormon, as well as the historical details of its production.

Many critics, unwilling to credit the uneducated, backwater farm boy Joseph Smith as the Book of Mormon's author, have looked to possible sources from which he could have plagiarized. One of the earliest theories was that Joseph plagiarized the unpublished manuscript of a novel written by the Reverend Solomon Spalding (1761–1816).

Spalding was a lapsed Calvinist clergyman and author of an epic tale of the ancient Native American "Mound Builders." The theory postulates that Spalding wrote his manuscript in biblical phraseology and read it to many of his friends. He subsequently took the manuscript to Pittsburg, where it fell into the hands of a Mr. Patterson, in whose office Sidney Rigdon worked, and that through Sidney Rigdon it came into the possession of Joseph Smith and was made the basis of the Book of Mormon.

It is claimed by some that Joseph Smith either plagiarized or relied upon a manuscript by Solomon Spaulding to write the Book of Mormon. There is a small group who hold to the theory that the production of the Book of Mormon was a conspiracy involving Sidney Rigdon, Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery and others. These individuals search for links between Spalding and Rigdon. Joseph Smith is assumed to have been Rigdon's pawn.

Initial critics of the Book of Mormon tended to take one of two stances—either:

  1. The Book of Mormon was a clumsy, obvious forgery upon which no intelligent person would waste time; and/or
  2. Joseph Smith was the Book of Mormon's obvious author.

Ironically, with the appearance of the Spalding theory, critics quickly began to claim that Joseph Smith could not have written the Book of Mormon, and attributed the Book of Mormon's writing to Spalding and (usually) Sidney Rigdon.

It is interesting to note the after-the-fact admission from critics that prior to the Spalding theory, the Book of Mormon was difficult to account for. Unfortunately for the modern critic, the collapse of the Spalding theory means that they are likewise ill-placed to attribute the Book of Mormon's text to Joseph Smith.

There are three major problems with this theory

  1. The historical record indicates that Sidney Rigdon first learned of the Book of Mormon from Parley P. Pratt and his missionary companions in November 1830, and that Rigdon did not meet Joseph Smith until December of that same year. All of this was long after the Book of Mormon was translated and published. Critics can only marshal circumstantial evidence of a conspiracy in which Rigdon met Joseph much earlier, then later pretended to be converted to Mormonism.
  2. The purported Spalding manuscript was not brought forward for analysis because no one knew where it was, or if it even existed. In 1884 an authentic Solomon Spalding manuscript titled "Manuscript Story—Conneaut Creek" was recovered by Lewis L. Rice in Honolulu, Hawaii and taken to the Oberlin College Library in Ohio. The unfinished story bore hardly any resemblance to the Book of Mormon.[10]:10 The text was published by the RLDS Church in 1885 under the title "Manuscript Found." The LDS Church also published the text. (See "Further Reading," link, for links to online texts).
  3. Claims that Spalding wrote a second manuscript is easily discredited by the fact that the published Spalding manuscript clearly shows that it was not finished, even after Spalding moved away from many of the people who claimed to have heard him read from the later story.[11]


Notes

  1. Bart D. Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why (HarperSanFrancisco, [2005] 2007), 54–55. ISBN 0060859512. ISBN 0060738170.
  2. “Mormon Religion—Clerical Ambition—Western New York—The Mormonites Gone to Ohio,” Morning Courier and New-York Enquirer (New York City, New York) 7, no. 1331 (1 September 1831). off-site
  3. See A. Melvin McDonald, Day of Defense (Sounds of Zion Inc., 2004[1986]), 49. ISBN 188647253X.
  4. See Michael Hickenbotham, Answering Challenging Mormon Questions: Replies to 130 Queries by Friends and Critics of the LDS Church (Horizon Publishers & Distributors, 1995) (now published by Cedar Fort Publisher: Springville, UT, 2004),193–196. ISBN 0882905368. ISBN 0882907786. ISBN 0882907786. (Key source)
  5. See Book of Mormon note to 2 Nephi 12:2
  6. See also Kirk Holland Vestal and Arthur Wallace, The Firm Foundation of Mormonism (Los Angeles, CA: The L. L. Company, 1981), 70–72. ISBN 0937892068.
  7. The implications of this change represent a more complicated textual history than previously thought. See discussion in Dana M. Pike and David R. Seely, "'Upon All the Ships of the Sea, and Upon All the Ships of Tarshish': Revisiting 2 Nephi 12:16 and Isaiah 2:16," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 14/2 (2005): 12–25. off-site wiki For earlier discussions, see Gilbert W. Scharffs, The Truth about ‘The God Makers’ (Salt Lake City, Utah: Publishers Press, 1989; republished by Bookcraft, 1994), 172. Full text FairMormon link ISBN 088494963X.; see also Milton R. Hunter and Thomas Stuart Ferguson, Ancient America and the Book of Mormon (Kolob Book Company, 1964),100–102.; Hugh W. Nibley, Since Cumorah, 2nd edition, (Vol. 7 of the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley), edited by John W. Welch, (Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Company ; Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1988),129–143. ISBN 0875791395.
  8. "Thomson's Translation," Wikipedia (accessed 11 Feb 2015) off-site
  9. Hugh W. Nibley, Since Cumorah, 2nd edition, (Vol. 7 of the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley), edited by John W. Welch, (Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Company ; Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1988),142–143. ISBN 0875791395.
  10. Matthew Roper, "The Mythical "Manuscript Found" (Review of: Who Really Wrote the Book of Mormon? The Spalding Enigma)," FARMS Review 17/2 (2005): 7–140. off-site,
  11. The Spalding Theory Debunked off-site