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Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Strong Reasons Against the Book of Mormon

On December 1, 1831, the Prophet Joseph Smith received the following revelation, now recorded as D&C 71:8-9:

"Wherefore, confound your enemies; call upon them to meet you in both public and in private; and inasmuch as ye are faithful, their shame shall be made manifest. Wherefore, let them bring their strong reasons against the Lord."

Both the Latter-day Saints and their critics have seemingly taken this admonition to heart. Not only have the Latter-day Saints passionately defended their faith since before the actual founding of the restored Church of Jesus Christ, but their critics have produced a long stream of "strong reasons" against the faith of the Saints.

One such website[1] offers a few of these "Reasons to Reject the Book of Mormon". As usual, the comments and points made in the article shall be in red while mine rejoinder shall be in black.

But before I launch into my investigation, the sage words of Hugh Nibley from his classic essay How to Write and Anti-Mormon Book, should be considered very carefully:

Rule 17: In place of evidence use Rhetoric

When one is making grave criminal charges, either directly or by broad implication as all anti-Mormon writers do, questions of evidence can be very bothersome unless one has the wisdom and foresight to avoid all such questions...the public prefers rhetoric to evidence. [2]

With that in mind, let us proceed.

1. There is no room for the Book of Mormon because the Bible itself claims to be all-sufficient, complete and incorruptible and our judge on the last day.

This aptly describes the fundamentalist Protestant view of sola scriptura, or the sufficiency of scripture for salvation and guiding the Church. However, this view is flawed in several ways. For one thing, it circularly argues that the Bible itself is able to interpret itself. In other words, because the Bible says that it is "all-sufficient and complete" - which, of course, the Bible never claims - that this is enough to preclude any other need for modern scripture.

Common proof texts that Evangelicals like to use to bolster this claim comes from 2 Timothy 3:5-17 and Revelation 22:18-19. Furthermore, Evangelical critics of the Church of Jesus Christ often like to cite these scriptures as proof that there can be no more addition to the scriptures. However, as has been demonstrated time and time again, this view is both myopic and ignorant of the nature of biblical textual transmission and criticism[3].

2. The Book of Mormon contradicts the Bible.

It would be most appreciated if the author would point out where exactly the Book of Mormon contradicts the Bible.

3. The Book of Mormon makes many scientifically false statements.

I can't help but wonder just exactly how the author can claim this about the Book of Mormon and then conveniently ignore the fact that secular scholars and scientists have long been pointing out that the Bible suffers from "scientifically false" claims. It is simply a double standard.

4. Absolutely none of the specific historical content has been verified through Archaeological finds.

That's news to the researchers at the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, who, among others, have documented a wide range of many ancient findings that support the historical claims of the Book of Mormon[4]. Furthermore, the author, who makes it abundantly clear on his/her webpage that he/she espouses a view of biblical inerrancy, should be careful when making this claim. If one is going to live by the sword of archaeology, then one is going to die by the sword of archaeology. Many biblical scholars have been contesting the historicity of the Old Testament and there is still a rather large debate on that point[5].

5. We do not have the Gold Nephi Plates for the world to examine.

Nor do we have the original manuscripts of the books of the Bible for the world to examine. The oldest manuscripts of some of the books of the Bible date decades and even centuries after the books were supposedly written, which has forced some scholars to question the veracity of the biblical texts.

Furthermore, as Hugh Nibley pointed out in 1957:

Critics of the Book of Mormon often remark sarcastically that it is a great pity that the golden plates have disappeared, since they would very conveniently prove Joseph Smith's story. They would do nothing of the sort. The presence of the plates would only prove that there were plates, no more: it would not prove that Nephites wrote them, or that an angel brought them, or that they had been translated by the gift and power of God; and we can be sure that scholars would quarrel about the writing on them for generations without coming to any agreement, exactly as they did about the writings of Homer and parts of the Bible. The possession of the plates would have a very disruptive effect, and it would prove virtually nothing. On the other hand, a far more impressive claim is put forth when the whole work is given to the world in what is claimed to be a divinely inspired translation—in such a text any cause or pretext for disagreement and speculation about the text is reduced to an absolute minimum: it is a text which all the world can read and understand, and is a far more miraculous object than any gold plates would be.[6]

Once again, the author of the article has deployed another double standard that has backfired.

6. Although the original 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon was alleged to be inspired in its English translation, there have been thousands of changes, corrections, additions and deletions. Most Mormons have never seen the original 1830 "inspired" edition and would be shocked if they did.

Just like the Bible, right? While it is true that there have been many changes in the Book of Mormon - something that I covered in my response to Matt Slick - there have also been thousands of changes in the Bible. How the author can criticize the Book of Mormon for textual changes and still hold to a view of biblical inerrancy is simply amazing to me.

It is also interesting how the author knows that most Mormons would be "shocked" if they saw the changes in the Book of Mormon. Perhapse he graduated with a degree from the Fawn M. Brodie Institute of Psychology and can therefore read the minds of "most" Mormons. Or perhaps he is simply using an irresponsible hyperbolic straw man attack on the Latter-day Saints. I personally vouch for the latter.

7. Although they claims direct guidence by God, the Mormon church is among the most divided Church in the world with more than 89 sects who will not cooperate with each other.

 As opposed to the 33,000+ Protestant denominations who all claim "direct guidance from God"[7]? If anyone has to worry about division amongst their sect of Christianity, it is the fundamentalist Protestant author of this article.

8. The Doctrine and Covenants is very different depending upon which sect you are talking to.

If the differentiation of canon is a proof against a religious tradition, then the Judeo-Christian tradition would be in hot water. After all, Catholics include the Apocrypha in their canon, while Protestants do not. And Jews only have the Old Testament and reject the New Testament. And what about the early Gnostic scriptures not included in the present canon?

9. The three witnesses of the B of M were all excommunicated by the Mormon Church and were of less than ideal character.

This is a red herring. While it is true that the Three Witnesses (Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdry and Daivd Whitmer) were excommunicated after a falling out with Joseph Smith during the Kirtland apostasy of the mid 1830's, the website never bothers to tell you that two of them, Oliver Cowdry and Martin Harris, were re-baptized back into the Church and all three of the witnesses NEVER denied their testimony in the Book of Mormon and that they had seen the plates.

Furthermore, the claim of the website that the witnesses were of "less than ideal character" cannot be substantiated by the historical record. Richard L. Anderson has written extensively on the witnesses of the Book of Mormon and has convincingly documented that the three witnesses not only were of high moral character and integrity, but that their testimonies in the Book of Mormon not only never changed but are also trustworthy[8].

In short, this sad list of "reasons to reject the Book of Mormon" is anything but. The author frequently deploys double standards and other logical fallacies and ignores contemporary LDS scholarship on the Book of Mormon. If this is all that the critics can muster, then the Latter-day Saints can rejoice in their faith on the Book of Mormon as an ancient record written by Prophets who testify of the divinity of Jesus Christ.

In short, the critics are going to need stronger reasons than these in order to impugn the Book of Mormon as another testimony of Jesus Christ.

**Notes**

[1]: Because this website has links that shows temple ordinances, I will not post the link here.

[2]: Hugh Nibley in How to Write and Anti-Mormon Book reprinted in Tinkling Cymbals and Sounding Brass: The Art of Telling Tales about Joseph Smith and Brigham Young (FARMS, 1991) pg. 495. In a similar vein, John Taylor, writing in 1842 in the Church newspaper, theTimes and Season (Sept. 15, 1842), wrote that "facts are stubborn things" when it comes to critics of the Church having to deal with the evidence for the Book of Mormon.

[3]: For Latter-day Saint perspectives on the issue of "adding to the Bible" see this set of linksfrom the Foundation of Apologetic Information and Research as well as the work of James at the blog named Lehi's Library. During the 2008 Spring General Conference, Elder Jeffry R. Holland of the Quorum of the 12 Apostles delivered a talk worth reading entitled "My Words... Never Cease" in which he addressed the issue of an open vs. closed canon.

[4]: For a quick overview of these evidences, see Echos and Evidences of the Book of Mormon(link here) and Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited: The Evidence for Ancient Origins (linkhere). Another excellent resource on this is Brant Gardner's recent Book of Mormon commentary Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon(Greg Kofford Books, 2007).

[5]: For an overview of this position, see Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman in The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts (Touchstone, 2001). It must be said that, despite what some Evangelical anti-Mormons might think, I do not bring up these objections to the Bible because I do not accept it as the Word of God or because I am "attacking" the Bible. Instead, I bring up these issues in order to demonstrate the Evangelical anti-Mormon double standard when it comes to evaluating the historicity of the Book of Mormon when compared to the Bible.

[6]: Hugh Nibley in An Approach to the Book of Mormon (link here for the specific excerpt from the book).

[7]: The World Christian Encyclopedia ed. David B. Barrett, George T. Kurian, Todd M. Johnson (Oxford University Press, 2001) Vol. I Pg. 16

[8]: Richard L. Anderson Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Deseret Book, 1981).