Saturday, October 1, 2016

Divinity of the Book of Mormon

This isn’t about trying to convince anyone to think the way I do, it’s just me explaining what I know and how I got there. In the Church, we often talk about the divinity of the Book of Mormon, but what does that really mean? When we say the book is divine, does that just mean it’s really good? I’ve heard people exclaim that a particular dessert is divine, but I doubt it’s the same.

To me, there are three aspects of the divinity of the Book of Mormon:
1.       Divine Purpose
2.       Divine Origin
3.       Divine Translation

If any one of these is removed, the other two don’t stand. So let’s look at each one.

Divine Purpose
Why do we have the Book of Mormon? The Title Page, which Joseph Smith translated with the plates, states that the book is:
·         Written to the Jew and Gentile (that covers everyone)
·         Written by commandment, “and also by the spirit of prophecy and of revelation”
·         To be interpreted “by the gift of God”
·         To convince Jew and Gentile (again, that’s everyone), “that Jesus is the Christ”

Mormon taught us that the record was written so we would believe the “record which shall come unto the Gentiles from the Jews” saying that if we believed that record, we would also believe this record (the Book of Mormon). Those who have come to love the Bible will recognize that same spirit in the Book of Mormon, as they are from the same divine source. Nephi also saw this in a vision, where “plain and precious” things had been lost or removed from the Bible over the years (1 Nephi 13:26) and that the coming forth of the Book of Mormon would “establish the truth of the [Bible]”.

Now we have the Bible and Book of Mormon to jointly testify that Jesus is the Christ.

Divine Origin
Through the prophet Lehi, we learn that Joseph in Egypt was taught about a branch of his seed that would be broken off and raised in righteousness (2 Nephi 3), and that this branch would keep a record that would one day “grow together” with the writings of the seed of Judah (the Bible). He was also taught about the coming forth of the Book of Mormon and translation by one who would be “called after me; and ... after the name of his father.” I wonder what went through Joseph Smith’s mind as he translated that passage and realised it was speaking about him.

The Lord was preparing for the Book of Mormon for hundreds of years before Lehi’s family ever left Jerusalem, and His hand can be seen as various writers added their commentary to the record.

Nephi mentioned a couple of times in his writings that he didn’t know why he was making a second set of records, other than “the Lord hath commanded me... for a wise purpose in him” (1 Nephi 9:5, 1 Nephi 19:2-3).  He also said that he wasn’t going to write anything on the plates “save it be that I think it be sacred” (1 Nephi 19:6).

Moroni knew the record he had compiled was not for his day, but for ours. “Behold, I speak unto you as if ye were present, and yet ye are not. But behold, Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing” (Mormon 8:35).

Divine Translation
Moroni said that after he hid the record, no one would be able to “bring it to light save it be given him of God” (Mormon 8:14).

Emma Smith, who often helped Joseph as a scribe during the translation process, described how Joseph would work. She said, “When he stopped for any purpose at any time he would, when he commenced again, begin where he left off without any hesitation, and one time while he was translating he stopped suddenly, pale as a sheet, and said, ‘Emma, did Jerusalem have walls around it?’ When I answered, ‘Yes,’ he replied, ‘Oh! [I didn’t know.] I was afraid I had been deceived.’ He had such a limited knowledge of history at that time that he did not even know that Jerusalem was surrounded by walls” (Edmund C. Briggs, “A Visit to Nauvoo in 1856,” Journal of History, Jan. 1916, p. 454).

As part of her final testimony to her son, she said Joseph “could neither write nor dictate a coherent and well-worded letter, let alone dictate a book like the Book of Mormon. And, though I was an active participant in the scenes that transpired, and was present during the translation of the plates, and had cognizance of things as they transpired, it is marvelous to me, "a marvel and a wonder," as much so as to anyone else...

“I am satisfied that no man could have dictated the writing of the manuscripts unless he was inspired; for, when acting as his scribe, your father would dictate to me hour after hour; and when returning after meals, or after interruptions, he could at once begin where he had left off, without either seeing the manuscript or having any portion of it read to him. This was a usual thing for him to do. It would have been improbable that a learned man could do this; and, for one so ignorant and unlearned as he was, it was simply impossible.” (Emma Smith - Last Testimony of Emma Smith 1879 Q&A between Emma and Joseph Smith III, The Saints' Herald 26 (Oct 1879))

To me, that is what it means to say “the book is divine”. It is divine because its purpose is to bring us closer to Christ. It is divine because God has guided the events surrounding it for centuries and foretold its coming. It is divine because it was translated by the gift and power of God. It is divine because I have received divine confirmation that it is true.

The last chapter in the book contains a promise, that “...when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost” (Moroni 10:3).

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