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Criticism of Mormonism/Online documents/"Questions and Answers" on Mormon Stories/Historicity of the Book of Mormon
|Translation of the Book of Mormon||
A FairMormon Analysis of: "Questions and Answers: What aspects of LDS Church teachings/doctrine do you still believe in, vs. not?", a work by author: John Dehlin
|Masonry and the temple|
- Response to claim: Anachronisms generally
- Response to claim: "the Book of Mormon’s mention of metals (e.g., steel)"
- Response to claim: "the Book of Mormon’s mention of....plants (e.g., wheat, barley)"
- Response to claim: "the Book of Mormon’s mention of....animals (e.g., horses, cattle, sheep, pigs)"
- Response to claim: "DNA evidence very clearly demonstrates that Native Americans descend from Asia"
- Response to claim: "It also makes no sense to me that Native Americans were Christians before Christ was even born"
- Response to claim: "the church claimed that the Book of Mormon was the most correct book on the face of the earth"
- Response to claim: "how many changes had been made to it (thousands)"
- Response to claim: "it failed to include anything about some of the most central LDS teachings"
Response to claim: Anachronisms generally
The author shows no evidence of considering what anachronisms can and cannot tell us about a document that claims to be a translation.
Jump to Subtopic:
- Elder D. Todd Christofferson: "The absence of evidence is not proof. Here’s one small example"
- Question: What is an anachronism, and what should be borne in mind when assessing the Book of Mormon (or any other text) for supposed "anachronisms"?
Response to claim: "the Book of Mormon’s mention of metals (e.g., steel)"
The author is exaggerating the number of difficulties. Steel is, in fact, the only metal which presents any real concerns. Other metals and metalurgy are much better attested than this implies. The author also ignores that "steel" may be a translational artifact, as discussed in the section on anachronisms generally.
Jump to Subtopic:
Response to claim: "the Book of Mormon’s mention of....plants (e.g., wheat, barley)"
Here again the author does not have his facts right. Pre-columbian barley is known in the New World. It is not an anachronism under any definition.
There is also an excellent candidate for wheat--amaranth.
The author also does not acknowledge that the Book of Mormon uses an Akkadian name for a grain with an odd name: sheum. If two supposed anachronisms proves the text to be false, do two unlikely hits (barley and sheum) prove it true?
Jump to Subtopic:
- Barley in the Book of Mormon
- Flax and linen in the Book of Mormon
- Neas in the Book of Mormon
- Sheum in the Book of Mormon
- Silk in the Book of Mormon
- Wheat in the Book of Mormon
- Wine and grapes in the Book of Mormon
Response to claim: "the Book of Mormon’s mention of....animals (e.g., horses, cattle, sheep, pigs)"
Yet again the author is ignorant of even the basics. For example, pigs (peccaries) are clearly present in the New World: this cannot be an anachronism by any standard. The author seems to simply have a vague idea about the types of problems critics have raised toward the Book of Mormon text, and he parrots them back without much consideration.
Jump to Subtopic:
- Criticisms related to animals mentioned in the Book of Mormon
- Horses in the Book of Mormon
- The ass or donkey in the Book of Mormon
- Bees in the Book of Mormon
- Cattle in the Book of Mormon
- Elephants in the Book of Mormon
- Sheep in the Book of Mormon
- Goats in the Book of Mormon
- Silk or Silkworms and the Book of Mormon
- Swine in the Book of Mormon
- Cureloms and Cumoms in the Book of Mormon
- Serpents in the Book of Mormon
Jump to Subtopic:
- Question: Is it possible that Joseph Smith simply added the Book of Ether to the Book of Mormon as an "afterthought" in order to explain the variety of animals in the New World?
Jump to Subtopic:
- Question: Why are horses considered an anachronism in the Book of Mormon?
- Question: What is the origin of the modern horse in the New World?
- Verses in the Book of Mormon that talk about "horses"
- Question:What role do horses not play in the Book of Mormon?
- Question: Have any ancient horse remains from the Nephite period been found in the New World?
- Question: Why don't potential pre-Columbian horse remains in the New World receive greater attention from scientists?
- Question: Could ancient Americans have expanded the definition of "horse" to include new meanings?
- "Pottery and other cultural materials were found in levels VII and above. But in some of those artifact-bearing strata there were horse bones, even in level II."
- Martin: "no theoretical reason why a herd of mastodons, horses, or ground sloths could not have survived in some small refuge until 8000 or even 4000 years ago"
- Grayson: "extinct North American mammals...losses began in Mexico and Alaska during the Pleistocene and ended in Florida perhaps as recently as 2000 years ago"
- Bernardino de Sahagun: "Fodder was provided the deer—horses—which the Spaniards rode"
- Sorenson: Horse bones in Yucatan "considered to be pre-Columbian on the basis of depth of burial and degree of mineralization"
- Question: Do Mormon apologists claim that the horse referred to in the Book of Mormon is actually a deer or tapir?
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- Question: Did the Jaredites bring swarms of bees across the ocean in their barges
- Padilla et al.: "The maya codex Tro-Cortesianus shows drawings of bees and parts of honey combs"
- Head: "The indigenous American bee is the melipona (a stingless bee). It produces only about one kilogram of honey per year"
- Ronan James Head, "A Brief Survey of Ancient Near Eastern Beekeeping"
Jump to Subtopic:
- Sorenson: "The Miami Indians, for example, were unfamiliar with the buffalo and simply called them 'wild cows'"
- Miller and Roper: "Bones of domesticated cattle...have been reported from different caves in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico"
- Pietro Martire d'Anghiera (1912): "the Spaniards noticed herds of deer similar to our herds of cattle"
Jump to Subtopic:
- Question: In what context are elephants mentioned in the Book of Mormon?
- Wikipedia: Mammoths "were members of the family Elephantidae"
- Johnson: "Probably it is safe to say that American Proboscidea have been extinct for a minimum of 3000 years"
- Miller and Roper: "This was long enough to bring them (mammoths) to the time of the Jaredites"
- Miller and Roper: "Evidence for the survival of the elephant can be found in Native American myths and traditions"
Jump to Subtopic:
- Miller and Roper: "there are sheep native to America. The most common type is the Mountain Sheep, Ovis canadensis"
- Wikipedia: Bighorn sheep "crossed to North America over the Bering land bridge"
- Interpreter Foundation Blog, "Animals in the Book of Mormon: Challenges and Perspectives"
Jump to Subtopic:
- Miller and Roper: "Evidence of goats associated with pre-Columbian man also comes from caves in Yucatan"
- Miller and Roper: "In post-biblical Jewish literature some Jewish writers distinguished between wild and domestic cattle such as goats"
Jump to Subtopic:
- Sorenson: Linen and silk textiles in ancient America
- Armitage: "It is suggested by de Ávila Blomberg that wild silk was used in Oaxaca in pre-Columbian times"
Jump to Subtopic:
- Question: Why would the Book of Mormon mention swine if they were living the Law of Moses?
- Miller and Roper: "two distinct species of peccary live in Mesoamerica....They were hunted and eaten as early as Olmec times"
- Sorenson: "There is an animal which they call chic, wonderfully active, as large as a small dog, with a snout like a sucking pig. The Indian women raise them"
Jump to Subtopic:
Jump to Subtopic:
- Question: Does the Book of Mormon accurately represent the behavior of serpents during a drought?
- John Tvedtnes, "Drought and Serpents"
Response to claim: "DNA evidence very clearly demonstrates that Native Americans descend from Asia"
(25 June 2014 revision): DNA evidence very clearly demonstrates that Native Americans descend from Asia
(27 June 2014 revision): my studies of the Book of Mormon (specifically around DNA and anachronistic concerns) have led me to conclude that the book is likely a work of 19th century fiction
Gospel Topics: "The Book of Mormon...does not claim that the peoples it describes were either the predominant or the exclusive inhabitants of the lands they occupied"
"Book of Mormon and DNA Studies," Gospel Topics on LDS.org:
The Book of Mormon provides little direct information about cultural contact between the peoples it describes and others who may have lived nearby. Consequently, most early Latter-day Saints assumed that Near Easterners or West Asians like Jared, Lehi, Mulek, and their companions were the first or the largest or even the only groups to settle the Americas. Building upon this assumption, critics insist that the Book of Mormon does not allow for the presence of other large populations in the Americas and that, therefore, Near Eastern DNA should be easily identifiable among modern native groups.
The Book of Mormon itself, however, does not claim that the peoples it describes were either the predominant or the exclusive inhabitants of the lands they occupied. In fact, cultural and demographic clues in its text hint at the presence of other groups.6 At the April 1929 general conference, President Anthony W. Ivins of the First Presidency cautioned: “We must be careful in the conclusions that we reach. The Book of Mormon … does not tell us that there was no one here before them [the peoples it describes]. It does not tell us that people did not come after.
Question: Does the Church claim that Native Americans were the exclusive descendants of Lehi or Mulek?
LDS leaders have expressed a variety of opinions regarding whether or not all Amerindians are literal descendants of Lehi
LDS leaders have expressed a variety of opinions regarding whether or not all Amerindians are literal descendants of Lehi. Population genetics indicate that Lehi can likely be counted among the ancestors of all native Americans—a position that the Church reinforced in the 2006 edition by changing the Book of Mormon introduction originally introduced in 1981 from "principal ancestors" to "among the ancestors." (see Book of Mormon Introduction on lds.org)
Many Church leaders, most notably Spencer W. Kimball, have made clear statements regarding the belief that Lehi was the exclusive ancestor of all native Americans. However, contrary to the claims of critics who attempt to use DNA evidence to discredit the Book of Mormon, many readers and leaders have also noted that those in Lehi's group were not the exclusive progenitors of the inhabitants of the American continents. When asked about the Church’s official position on this matter by a writer, a Church spokesman said:
- As to whether these were the first inhabitants…we don't have a position on that. Our scripture does not try to account for any other people who may have lived in the New World before, during or after the days of the Jaredites and the Nephites, and we don't have any official doctrine about who the descendants of the Nephites and the Jaredites are. Many Mormons believe that American Indians are descendants of the Lamanites [a division of the Nephites], but that's not in the scripture.
In addition, apostles and seventies have made many statements which differ from critics’ understanding of the matter, taught them in General Conference, and the Church has published such perspectives in their magazines, study guides, and manuals. The Church’s university has passed them on to their students for generations. The Church’s official spokespeople disclaim the interpretation which critics insist we must hold. Why must we? Well, because critics’ DNA theory “disproving” the Book of Mormon is in deep trouble otherwise.
Question: Why did the Church modify the introduction to the Book of Mormon from "principal ancestors" to "among the ancestors?"
The Church changed the wording to remove the assumption (inserted into the Book of Mormon in the 1920's) that all of the inhabitants of the Americas were exclusive descendants of Lehi
The Church made the change in wording to the introduction to the Book of Mormon to remove the assumption, which inserted into the Book of Mormon introduction in the 1920's and not part of the original text, that all of the inhabitants of the Americas were exclusive descendants of Lehi. This had been the generally held belief from the time that the Church was restored.
This change makes the Book of Mormon introduction compatible with current DNA evidence and acknowledges the fact that Lehi's group likely intermingled with the native inhabitants of the American continents based upon current knowledge of the DNA composition of the inhabitants of the New World. There is substantial scientific evidence of habitation in the Americas for thousands of years prior to Lehi's arrival.
If Lehi had any descendants among Amerindians, then after 2600 years all Amerindians would share Lehi as an ancestor. Even if (as is probable) the Lehite group was a small drop in a larger population 'ocean' of pre-Columbian inhabitants, Lehi would have been an ancestor of virtually all the modern-day Amerindians if any of his descendants married into the existing New World population.
Southerton (2008/2014): "It's true that if a small group (say 10 people) entered a massive population (say 1 million), that it would be hard to detect their mitochondrial or Y chromosome DNA"
Dr. Simon Southerton is one of the most outspoken critics of the Church with regard to DNA and the Book of Mormon:
(2008) In case anyone from FAIR is unclear I will repeat what I wrote four years ago…“IF A SMALL GROUP OF ISRAELITES ENTERED SUCH A MASSIVE NATIVE POPULATION (SEVERAL MILLIONS) IT WOULD BE VERY, VERY HARD TO DETECT THEIR GENES.” Now that FAIR has finally conceded that American Indian DNA is essentially all derived from Asia, I also agree with them that the debate should be about the theology. 
(2014) I made the original statement at a time when whole genome sequence analysis was a long way off. It's true that if a small group (say 10 people) entered a massive population (say 1 million), that it would be hard to detect their mitochondrial or Y chromosome DNA. Your odds would be roughly 1 in 100,000 (10 in 1 Million). But technology has moved very rapidly and whole genome studies are now almost routine. So, my original statement is no longer true. 
Dr. Southerton is confused if he thinks FairMormon experts on DNA have ever questioned that a considerable portion of Amerindian DNA comes from Asia. They do not have to "concede" anything--they have always held this view. However, Dr. Southerton is mistaken if he believes that "American Indian DNA is essentially all derived from Asia":
- a 2013 study states that as much as one-third of Native American DNA originated anciently in Europe or West Asia and was likely introduced into the gene pool before the earliest migration to the Americas.
Non LDS-writer Steve Olson (an expert in population genetics) wrote:
If anyone living today is descended from Jesus, so are most of us on the planet. That absurd-sounding statement is an inevitable consequence of the strange and marvelous workings of human ancestry...Say you go back 120 generations, to about the year 1000 B.C. According to the results presented in our Nature paper, your ancestors then included everyone in the world who has descendants living today... If Jesus had children (a big if, of course) and if those children had children so that Jesus' lineage survived, then Jesus is today the ancestor of almost everyone living on Earth. True, Jesus lived two rather than three millenniums ago, but a person's descendants spread quickly from well-connected parts of the world like the Middle East...In addition to Jesus...we're also all descended from Julius Caesar, from Nefertiti, from Confucius...and from any other historical figure who left behind lines of descendants and lived earlier than a few thousand years ago. Genetic tests can't prove this, partly because current tests look at just a small fraction of our DNA. But if we're descended from someone, we have at least a chance—even if it's a very small chance—of having their DNA in our cells...People may like to think that they're descended from some ancient group while other people are not. But human ancestry doesn't work that way, since we all share the same ancestors just a few millenniums ago.
Response to claim: "It also makes no sense to me that Native Americans were Christians before Christ was even born"
Given that the author is uncertain about the existence of God and the divinity of Jesus Christ, it is not surprising that he does not believe that Christ could be revealed prior to his birth. His personal incredulity, however, is not an argument. He is simply claiming, as a point of departure, that God cannot or would not or did not reveal Christ before his birth.
Question: Is it an anachronism that the Book of Mormon teaches that Christians existed before Christ’s birth?
The word "Christ" is the Greek word for the Hebrew word "Messiah"
The word "Christ" is the Greek word for the Hebrew word "Messiah". It is no more anachronistic for pre-Christian era Book of Mormon peoples to believe in a coming Messiah/Christ than it was for Old Testament prophets to believe in a coming Messiah/Christ.
15 And those who did belong to the church were faithful; yea, all those who were true believers in Christ took upon them, gladly, the name of Christ, or Christians as they were called, because of their belief in Christ who should come.
The English word "Christian" is not the word that was originally on the Nephite record
It should be remembered that the Book of Mormon is a translation of an ancient Nephite text. The English word "Christian" is not the word that was originally on the Nephite record, but is the English word that Joseph Smith used when translating the original Nephite word. The word "Christian" simply means "Christ-believer" in common use and in the Book of Mormon. We don't know what the original Nephite word was for "Christian", but it signified something like "Christ-believer." The word "Christ" is a Greek word that means the same thing as the Hebrew word "Messiah." The concept of a future Messiah was taught in ancient Israel, and anyone who believed those prophecies would have been a "Messiah-believer". Therefore, all pre-Christian era Israelites who believed in the coming Messiah/Christ were Christians in this sense. This is the sense we find in the Book of Mormon.
Lehi and his family left the Old World carrying with them the plates of brass that they obtained from Laban (1 Nephi 4). These plates contained "the prophecies of the holy prophets, from the beginning, even down to the commencement of the reign of Zedekiah; and also many prophecies which have been spoken by the mouth of Jeremiah." (1 Nephi 5:13). Therefore, the Nephites knew about the ancient prophecies of the future Messiah/Christ. Furthermore, the Book of Mormon records many more prophecies by New World prophets of the coming Messiah/Christ. All those who believed these prophecies were "Messiah-believers" or, equivalently, "Christ-believers." The English word that Joseph Smith used to convey this meaning was "Christian."
Response to claim: "the church claimed that the Book of Mormon was the most correct book on the face of the earth"
(25 June 2014 revision): the church claimed that the Book of Mormon was the most correct book on the face of the earth
Question: Why did Joseph Smith say that the Book of Mormon was the "most correct book"?
Joseph Smith: "I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth"
In the History of the Church, the following entry is recorded as having been made by Joseph Smith on November 28, 1841.
Sunday, 28.--I spent the day in the council with the Twelve Apostles at the house of President Young, conversing with them upon a variety of subjects. Brother Joseph Fielding was present, having been absent four years on a mission to England. I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.
Critics of the Church assert that the phrase "the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth" means that the Prophet Joseph Smith was declaring the Book of Mormon to be without error of any kind. Since each edition of the printed Book of Mormon since 1829 (including editions published during the life of Joseph Smith) has included changes of wording, spelling, or punctuation, critics declare Joseph Smith's statement to have been demonstrably false, thus proving that he was a false prophet.
Joseph Smith referred to the Book of Mormon as the "most correct book" because of the principles it teaches
When Joseph Smith referred to the Book of Mormon as the "most correct book" on earth, he was referring to the principles that it teaches, not the accuracy of its textual structure. Critics of the Book of Mormon have mistakenly interpreted "correct" to be synonymous with "perfect," and therefore expect the Book of Mormon to be without any errors in grammar, spelling, punctuation, clarity of phrasing, and other such ways.
But when Joseph Smith said the Book of Mormon was the "most correct of any book," he was referring to more than just wording, a fact made clear by the remainder of his statement: He said "a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book." When read in context, the Prophet's statement refers to the correctness of the principles it teaches. The Book of Mormon is the "most correct of any book" in that it contains the fulness of the gospel and presents it in a manner that is "plain and precious" (1 Nephi 13:35,40).
Question: Does the Book of Mormon contain mistakes?
Mormon said "And now if there be fault, it be the mistake of men"
It should first be noted that the Book of Mormon itself does not claim to be free of errors. As Mormon himself stated in the introduction to the Book of Mormon:
And now if there be fault, it be the mistake of men: wherefore condemn not the things of God, that ye may be found spotless at the judgment seat of Christ. (1830 Book of Mormon title page)
Moroni said "because of the imperfections which are in it"
Mormon's son Moroni also acknowledges that the record that has been created is imperfect:
And whoso receiveth this record, and shall not condemn it because of the imperfections which are in it, the same shall know of greater things than these. Behold, I am Moroni; and were it possible, I would make all things known unto you. Mormon 8:12
Question: Is any book of scripture perfect?
No book of scripture is "perfect"
Latter-day Saints do not subscribe to the conservative Protestant belief in scriptural inerrancy. We do not believe that any book of scripture is perfect or infallible. Brigham Young explained:
When God speaks to the people, he does it in a manner to suit their circumstances and capacities.... Should the Lord Almighty send an angel to re-write the Bible, it would in many places be very different from what it now is. And I will even venture to say that if the Book of Mormon were now to be re-written, in many instances it would materially differ from the present translation. According as people are willing to receive the things of God, so the heavens send forth their blessings.
So while the Book of Mormon has come down to us with fewer doctrinal errors and corruptions than the Bible, even it could be improved if we were ready to receive further light and knowledge.
Infelicities of language are also to be expected when produced by revelators with little education, said George A. Smith:
The Book of Mormon was denounced as ungrammatical. An argument was raised that if it had been translated by the gift and power of God it would have been strictly grammatical.... When the Lord reveals anything to men, he reveals it in a language that corresponds with their own. If you were to converse with an angel, and you used strictly grammatical language he would do the same. But if you used two negatives in a sentence the heavenly messenger would use language to correspond with your understanding.
Response to claim: "how many changes had been made to it (thousands)"
The vast majority of textual changes are related to grammar or spelling. Very few have any impact at all upon the meaning of the passages, and no doctrine is changed by them.
Question: Why were textual changes made to the Book of Mormon over the years after it was first published?
The few significant modifications were made by the Prophet Joseph Smith to clarify the meaning of the text, not to change it
The published text of the Book of Mormon has been corrected and edited through its various editions. Many of these changes were made by Joseph Smith himself. Why was this done?
The authenticity of the Book of Mormon is not affected by the modifications that have been made to its text because the vast majority of those modifications are minor corrections in spelling, punctuation, and grammar. The few significant modifications were made by the Prophet Joseph Smith to clarify the meaning of the text, not to change it. This was his right as translator of the book.
These changes have not been kept secret. A discussion of them can be found in the individual articles linked below, and in the references listed below, including papers in BYU Studies and the Ensign.
Joseph Smith taught "the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book." As the end of the preceding quote clarifies, by "most correct" this he meant in principle and teaching. The authors of the Book of Mormon themselves explained several times that their writing was imperfect, but that the teachings in the book were from God (1 Nephi 19:6; 2 Nephi 33:4; Mormon 8:17; Mormon 9:31-33; Ether 12:23-26).
There are over 100,000 insignificant changes that have been made to the Book of Mormon
If one counts every difference in every punctuation mark in every edition of the Book of Mormon, the result is well over 100,000 changes. The critical issue is not the number of changes that have been made to the text, but the nature of the changes.
Most changes are insignificant modifications to spelling, grammar, and punctuation, and are mainly due to the human failings of editors and publishers. For example, the word meet — meaning "appropriate" — as it appears in 1 Nephi 7:1, was spelled "mete" in the first edition of the Book of Mormon, published in 1830. (This is a common error made by scribes of dictated texts.) "Mete" means to distribute, but the context here is obvious, and so the spelling was corrected in later editions.
Some of these typographical errors do affect the meaning of a passage or present a new understanding of it, but not in a way that presents a challenge to the divinity of the Book of Mormon. One example is 1 Nephi 12:18, which in all printed editions reads "a great and a terrible gulf divideth them; yea, even the word of the justice of the Eternal God," while the manuscript reads "the sword of the justice of the Eternal God." In this instance, the typesetter accidentally dropped the s at the beginning of sword.
The current (2013) edition of the Book of Mormon has this notice printed at the bottom of the page opposite 1 Nephi, chapter 1:
Some minor errors in the text have been perpetuated in past editions of the Book of Mormon. This edition contains corrections that seem appropriate to bring the material into conformity with prepublication manuscripts and early editions edited by the Prophet Joseph Smith.
There are a few significant changes that have been made to the Book of Mormon
Changes that would affect the authenticity of the Book of Mormon are limited to:
- those that are substantive AND
- could possibly change the doctrine of the book OR
- could be used as evidence that the book was written by Joseph Smith.
There are surprisingly few meaningful changes to the Book of Mormon text, and all of them were made by Joseph Smith himself in editions published during his lifetime. These changes include:
- "the Son of" added to 1 Nephi 11:18; 1 Nephi 11:21, 1 Nephi 11:32, and 1 Nephi 13:40.
- "or out of the waters of baptism" added to 1 Nephi 20:1.
- "white" changed to "pure" in 2 Nephi 30:6.
- "Benjamin" changed to "Mosiah" in Mosiah 21:28 and Ether 4:1.
- "Words missing in Alma 32:30" Alma 32:30-31
The historical record shows that these changes were made to clarify the meaning of the text, not to alter it.
Many people in the church experience revelation that is to be dictated (such as a patriarch blessing). They will go back and alter their original dictation. This is done to clarify the initial premonitions received through the Spirit. The translation process for the Prophet Joseph may have occurred in a similar manner.
Response to claim: "it failed to include anything about some of the most central LDS teachings"
This claim demonstrates how little the author has experienced the core of LDS doctrine, which is centered wholly in Christ and his atonement (which he has elsewhere characterized as a nonsensical doctrine). Without the foundation which the Book of Mormon lays, the other LDS teachings to which he refers are meaningless. He also ignores how the Book of Mormon itself defines "the gospel": as simply the doctrine of Christ, faith in him, repentance, and the introductory ordinances.
It is also implausible that the author suddenly "discovered" this fact while doing intensive research into Church history. He claims to have been a seminary president and "scripture mastery" champion. Did he not realize until much, much later that baptism for the dead (for example) is not discussed in the Book of Mormon?
This illustrates a common pattern—a member develops doubts, and then later produces a standardized, stylized laundry list of supposed problems. But, prior to his doubts, this supposed issue was likely never an issue at all, even though he would have known about it. (Sociologists of religion call this an "apostasy narrative" or an "exit narrative." It justifies the doubter's decision to disengage with previous beliefs, but has been repeatedly shown to be an unreliable guide to what actually happened.)
These issues aside, there is also more about temple worship than the author seems to be aware of, which suggests he has not read the text carefully.
Question: What does it mean when it is said that the Book of Mormon contains the "fulness of the gospel?"
The Book of Mormon contains the fulness of the Gospel, for the purpose of convincing Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ
The Lord declared that he had given Joseph Smith "power from on high...to translate the Book of Mormon; which contains a record of a fallen people, and the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles and to the Jews also" (D&C 20:8-9; cf. D&C 27:5; D&C 42:12; D&C 135:3).
The Book of Mormon is correct in the doctrines and principles it teaches, but it does not claim to contain all truth. Its own self-described purpose is to "the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that JESUS is the CHRIST, the ETERNAL GOD, manifesting himself unto all nations" (title page), and that these teachings are "plain and precious" (1 Nephi 13:35,40; 1 Nephi 19:3). For the most part, the Book of Mormon does not concern itself with the deeper mysteries of God.
The book itself admits that it does not contain all the doctrines the Lord wants us to know. The prophet Mormon explained that he only recorded "the lesser part of the things which [Jesus] taught the people," for the intent that "when [the Book of Mormon reader] shall have received this...if it shall so be that they shall believe these things then shall the greater things be made manifest unto them" (3 Nephi 26:8-9; compare Alma 26:22).
What is the gospel?
In the Book of Mormon, Jesus Christ gave a specific definition of "the gospel":
Behold I have given unto you my gospel, and this is the gospel which I have given unto you—that I came into the world to do the will of my Father, because my Father sent me.
And my Father sent me that I might be lifted up upon the cross; and after that I had been lifted up upon the cross, that I might draw all men unto me, that as I have been lifted up by men even so should men be lifted up by the Father, to stand before me, to be judged of their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil—
And for this cause have I been lifted up; therefore, according to the power of the Father I will draw all men unto me, that they may be judged according to their works.
And it shall come to pass, that whoso repenteth and is baptized in my name shall be filled; and if he endureth to the end, behold, him will I hold guiltless before my Father at that day when I shall stand to judge the world.
And he that endureth not unto the end, the same is he that is also hewn down and cast into the fire, from whence they can no more return, because of the justice of the Father.
And this is the word which he hath given unto the children of men. And for this cause he fulfilleth the words which he hath given, and he lieth not, but fulfilleth all his words.
And no unclean thing can enter into his kingdom; therefore nothing entereth into his rest save it be those who have washed their garments in my blood, because of their faith, and the repentance of all their sins, and their faithfulness unto the end.
(3 Nephi 27:13-19, italics added.)
In this passage, Jesus defines "the gospel" as:
- Christ came into the world to do the Father's will.
- The Father sent Christ to be crucified.
- Because of Christ's atonement, all men will be judged by him according to their works (as opposed to not receiving a judgment at all and being cast out of God's presence by default; 2 Nephi 9:8-9).
- Those who repent and are baptized shall be filled (with the Holy Ghost, see 3 Nephi 12:6), and
- if they continue in faith by enduring to the end they will be justified (declared "not guilty") by Christ before the Father, but
- if they don't endure they will be subject to the justice of God and cast out of his presence.
- The Father's words will all be fulfilled.
- Because no unclean thing can enter the Father's heavenly kingdom, only those who rely in faith on the atonement of Christ, repent, and are faithful to the end can be saved.
This is "the gospel." The Book of Mormon teaches these concepts with a plainness and clarity unequaled by any other book. It has therefore been declared by the Lord to contain "the fulness of the gospel." The primary message of the gospel, the "good news" of Jesus Christ, is that he has atoned for our sins and prepared a way for us to come back into the presence of the Father. This is the message of the Book of Mormon, and it contains it in its fulness.
Question: How can the Book of Mormon contain the "fulness of the Gospel" if it does not speak of ordinances such as baptism for the dead or celestial marriage?
The Book of Mormon does not contain detailed descriptions of many religious topics and ordinances, such as eternal marriage or baptism for the dead
Is it possible that the Book of Mormon cannot contain "the fulness of the gospel" because it doesn't teach certain unique LDS doctrines, such as baptism for the dead, the Word of Wisdom, the three degrees of glory, celestial marriage, vicarious work for the dead, and the corporeal nature of God the Father?
There are many religious topics and doctrines which The Book of Mormon does not discuss in detail (e.g., the premortal existence—see Alma 13:), and some which are not even mentioned (e.g., the ordinance of baptism for the dead).
This is unsurprising, since the Book of Mormon's goal is to teach the "fulness of the gospel"—the doctrine of Christ.
Harold B. Lee: "our scoffers say, 'How can you say that the Book of Mormon has the fulness of the gospel when it doesn't speak of baptism for the dead?'"
Of this criticism, Harold B. Lee said:
Now, our scoffers say, "How can you say that the Book of Mormon has the fulness of the gospel when it doesn't speak of baptism for the dead?" Some of you may have asked that question.
What is the gospel as it is defined? Let me give you how the Lord defines the gospel, in these words: "And verily, verily, I say unto you, he that receiveth my gospel receiveth me; and he that receiveth not my gospel receiveth not me. And this is my gospel—repentance and baptism by water, and then cometh the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, even the Comforter, which showeth all things, and teacheth the peaceable things of the kingdom." (DC 39:5-6.)
Wherever you have a restoration of the gospel, where those fundamental ordinances and the power of the Holy Ghost are among men, there you have the power by which the Lord can reveal all things that pertain to the kingdom in detail, don't you see, including baptism for the dead, which He has done in our day. That is what the Prophet Joseph Smith meant when he was questioned, "How does your church differ from all the other churches?" and his answer was simple, "We are different from all the other churches because we have the Holy Ghost." (See History of the Church 4:42.) Therein we have the teachings of the fulness of those essentials in the Book of Mormon upon the foundations of which the kingdom of God is established.
BYU professor Noel Reynolds wrote:
The gospel of Jesus Christ is not synonymous with the plan of salvation (or plan of redemption), but is a key part thereof. Brigham Young stated that the 'Gospel of the Son of God that has been revealed is a plan or system of laws and ordinances, by strict obedience to which the people who inhabit this earth are assured that they may return again into the presence of the Father and the Son.' While the plan of salvation is what God and Christ have done for mortals in the creation, the fall, the atonement, the final judgment, and the salvation of the world, the gospel contains the instructions--the laws and ordinances--that enable human beings to make the atonement effective in their lives and thereby gain salvation.
- "Book of Mormon and DNA Studies," Gospel Topics on LDS.org (31 January 2014)
- Stewart Reid, LDS Public Relations Staff, quoted by William J. Bennetta in The Textbook Letter (March-April 1997), published by The Textbook League (P.O. Box 51, Sausalito, California 94966).
- Simon Southerton, "Finally, I agree with LDS scientists-apologists," posting to an ex-Mormon discussion board, Sept. 6, 2008. (emphasis in original)
- Simon Southerton, explaining his 2008 statement to FAIR, February 2014. Cited in updated Letter to a CES Director (2014).
- "Book of Mormon and DNA Studies," Gospel Topics Essays at lds.org (prepared beginning in 2013). The paper cited is Maanasa Raghavan et al., “Upper Palaeolithic Siberian Genome Reveals Dual Ancestry of Native Americans,” Nature 505 (20 November 2013): 87–91.
- Olson is co-author of a letter to Nature, in which he discusses these ideas in a more technical format. See Douglas L. T. Rohde, Steve Olson, and Joseph T. Chang, "Modelling the recent common ancestry of all living humans," 431 Nature (30 September 2004): 562–566. off-site Olson provides a "semi-technical" description of his findings here.
- Steve Olson, "Why We're All Jesus' Children," slate.com (15 March 2006). Last accessed 12 October 2006 (emphasis added). off-site
- Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 4:461. Volume 4 link
- Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 9:311. [13 July 1862]
- George A. Smith, Journal of Discourses 12:335. [15 November 1863]
- Wilford Woodruff, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 9 vols., ed., Scott G. Kenny (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1985), 2:139. ISBN 0941214133. Quoted in Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 4:461. Volume 4 link See also Joseph Smith, Jr., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected by Joseph Fielding Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976), 194. off-site
- Royal Skousen, "Changes In the Book of Mormon," 2002 FAIR Conference proceedings.
- Daniel K. Judd and Allen W. Stoddard, "Adding and Taking Away 'Without a Cause' in Matthew 5:22," in How the New Testament Came to Be, ed. Kent P. Jackson and Frank F. Judd Jr. (Provo and Salt Lake City: Religious Studies Center and Deseret Book, 2006),159-160.
- Said the author: "This idea that we have to punish someone else for a bunch of other people’s mistakes—that just bothers me. The fact that it is even necessary bothers me, and trying to do the math to make it all add up. . . . [P]unishing that guy over there for what I did doesn’t make sense at all." (John Larsen and Zilpa Larsen, “Episode 180: John Dehlin,” podcast interview by John Dehlin, 2 January 2012, 17:10–18:00). The Book of Mormon agrees with Dehlin and explicitly rejects this type of model without serious modification (Alma 34:11–12,14). Instead, the Book of Mormon moves us into another realm, one in which “infinite and eternal” sacrifice occurs, requiring “God himself” to vanquish death, sin, and suffering (Mosiah 3:28; Alma 7:11–13). Such complaints are an excellent illustration of how poor Dehlin's grasp of even the basics of LDS belief and doctrine is.
- On apostasy narratives generally, see The Politics of Religious Apostasy: The Role of Apostates in the Transformation of Religious Movements, edited by David G. Bromley (Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 1998), especially the articles David G. Bromley, “Sociological Perspectives on Apostasy: An Overview,”; James T. Richardson, “Apostates, Whistleblowers, Law, and Social Control,”; David G. Bromley, “The Social Construction of Contested Exit Roles: Defectors, Whistleblowers, and Apostates,"; Stuart A. Wright, “Exploring Factors That Shape the Apostate Role;" Eileen Barker, “Standing at the Cross-Roads: The Politics of Marginality in ‘Subversive Organizations’."
There are several LDS examples discussed in the same volume, Armand L. Mauss, “Apostasy and the Management of Spoiled Identity,” 51. For a discussion of these concepts in Mormonism specifically, see also Seth R. Payne, “Purposeful Strangers: A Study of the ex-Mormon Narrative,” working paper draft, Yale Divinity School, 15 October 2007, 2.
For an illustration of how Dehlin and his movement demonstrate the same phenomenon, see Gregory L. Smith, “Dubious Mormon Stories: A Twenty-First Century Construction of Exit Narratives,” 23 February 2013, especially pages 9, and 82–99.
- Harold B. Lee, Teachings of Harold B. Lee (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1996), 156. GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
- Noel B. Reynolds, "The Gospel of Jesus Christ as Taught by the Nephite Prophets," Brigham Young University Studies 31 no. 3 (Summer 1991), 33.