Question: Is the mention of "churches" early in the Book of Mormon anachronistic?

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Question: Is the mention of “churches” early in the Book of Mormon anachronistic?

Figure 1: Modern Latter-day Saints enjoying regular sacrament meeting.

Introduction to Criticism

Critics of the Book of Mormon allege that the early mentions of “churches” in the text are anachronistic.[1]

For example, Nephi prophecied of “the formation of a great [and abominable] church" in the last days.[2]

This article will seek to refute this criticism

Response to Criticism

The Use of “Qahal” and “Edah” in the Old Testament to Denote Religious Gatherings

The term “church” denotes any convocation or gathering of individuals, whether secular (as in 1 Nephi 4:26) or religious in nature. In the Hebrew Bible, there are two terms that denote an “assembly” or “congregation,” קהל (“qahal”;123 times) and עדה (“edah”; 149 times). The Septuagint translates these terms using words such as εκκλησια (“assembly” or “church”—the same term used in Matt 16:18); συναγωγη ("assembling"/"bringing together"); and the verb, εξεκκλησιαζω ("to summon to an assembly”).

Translation Issues

This may not fully resolve the issue of translation for everyone, since these nouns most often are translated as “assembly,” “gathering,” “multitude,” “company,” and so forth. This requires that we review Joseph Smith’s view of the translation of the Book of Mormon and more particularly of revelation received by any prophet in general. It required that God use his own language in order to communicate the book’s sacred message to others and to communicate it clearly in a way that would not engender more confusion than necessary.[3] Once we allow for Joseph’s most commonly used vernacular to be acceptable as part of the translation of the Book of Mormon, the criticism then vanishes.

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 “churches” is simply not one of them.[4]

Notes

  1. See, for example, 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. 1 Nephi 13:4
  3. Doctrine and Covenants 1:24.
  4. This article 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> (26 May 2020). FairMormon thanks Robert for his great research used in this article.