The Role of the Book of Mormon
What is the role of the Book of Mormon? Why is it (or why should it be) important to Latter-day Saints? This author recalls back to a time when he was sitting in on a discussion which a pair of missionaries was having with a casual investigator. The investigator seemed fairly uninterested. He had not been diligent in his assigned readings in the Book of Mormon. After discussion about his lack of motivation to do his reading, the investigator queried, “We already have the Bible, and this [referring to the Book of Mormon] seems like the same thing. What do we need this for?”
That’s a fair question. It is a question that every Latter-day Saint should ask themselves, and it is vital that they likewise find the answers to this pointed question. It may serve the readers well to ask themselves that same thing. As the roles of the Book of Mormon are discussed, contemplate why the Book is important or what we need it for. As the reader pours through this article, they are invited to consider this question in their minds: “What do we need the Book of Mormon for?”
Below is compiled a list of thirteen vital roles which the Book of Mormon fulfills. Readers will notice that for many of these roles the same could perhaps be said for the Bible, and so in these cases the Book of Mormon acts as a second witness to the Bible. However, many of the points below are more particular to the Book of Mormon. They are as follows:
1. The Book of Mormon demonstrates that God is real
The Book of Mormon is powerful evidence for the existence of God. Here we have a Book which has been written on gold plates, and revealed anew in the nineteenth century through the instrumentality of visions, angels, and miracles. It purports to give the history of ancient peoples and the teachings of ancient prophets who spoke with God or received revelation from him. This is not a normal Book. If it is true, then it is proof that God exists and is involved in and concerned about the life of each and every living soul.
The coming forth of the Book of Mormon was accompanied by many miraculous events that cannot easily be explained away. A classic example is the Testimony of Three Witnesses, which appears in the front of each copy of the Book. Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris all testified that “an angel of God came down from heaven, and he brought [the gold plates] and laid before our eyes, that we beheld and saw the plates, and the engravings thereon.” (Testimony of Three Witnesses). None of the Three Witnesses to this event ever recanted this testimony, even after all three had become personally disaffected with Joseph Smith (J.M. Sjodahl, Credibility of the Witnesses, Improvement Era, Sept. 1923). Consider also, for instance, the early Church figure Zera Pulsipher. Zera first heard about the Book of Mormon from the missionary Jared Carter. Upon hearing the message Zera said to the fellow people in the congregation, “we had been hearing strange things and if true they were of the utmost importance to us. If not true it was one of the greatest impositions.” But Zera really did want to know, and recalled, “I was determined to have that knowledge for myself…from that time I made it a matter of fervent prayer.” About seven days later while he was threshing in his barn with the doors shut,
All at once there seemed to be a ray of light from heaven which caused me to stop work for a short time, but soon
began it again. Then in a few minutes another light came over my head which caused me to look up. I thought I saw
the Angels with the Book of Mormon in their hands in the attitude of showing it to me and saying “this is the great
revelation of the last days in which all things spoken of by the prophets must be fulfilled.” The vision was so open
and so plain that I began to rejoice exceedingly so that I walked the length of my barn crying, “Glory Hallelujah to
the God and the Lamb forever.” (Journal of Zera Pulsipher).
From the very nature of the Book of Mormon, it makes claims both explicit and implicit as to the reality of God. Once we receive a testimony of the Book of Mormon, the fact of God’s existence is a settled issue for us.
2. The Book of Mormon testifies of Christ
The title page of the Book of Mormon indicates that its purpose is “to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that JESUS is the CHRIST, the ETERNAL GOD” (Title page of the Book of Mormon). The fact that Jesus Christ is central to the message of the Book of Mormon is obvious to anyone who takes the time to read it. Jacob taught, “my soul delighteth in proving unto my people that save Christ should come all men must perish. …there is a God, and he is Christ, and he cometh in the fulness of his own time” (2 Ne. 11:16). The prophet Alma taught in detail about the role and ministry of the Savior. He said,
And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might
be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him
death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that
his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor
his people according to their infirmities” (Alma 7:11-12)
Nephi wrote, “For according to the words of the prophets, the Messiah cometh in six hundred years from the time that my father left Jerusalem; and according to the words of the prophets, and also the word of the angel of God, his name shall be Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (2 Ne. 25:19, emphasis added). He further wrote, “And now, my beloved brethren, and also Jew, and all ye ends of the earth, hearken unto these words and believe in Christ; and if ye believe not in these words believe in Christ. And if ye shall believe in Christ ye will believe in these words, for they are the words of Christ, and he hath given them unto me” (2 Ne. 33:10). Likewise did all the prophets in the Book of Mormon repeat the good news of Christ. Furthermore, the Book finally culminates in the personal visitation of the Savior Jesus Christ to the Americas, in which he extensively taught to the people his doctrine. If the Book of Mormon is anything at all, it is Another Testament of Jesus Christ.
3. The Book of Mormon demonstrates that God still reveals his will through revelation
The Lord said in the Doctrine & Covenants that the Book of Mormon “contains a record of a fallen people…which was given by inspiration, and is confirmed to others by the ministering of angels, and is declared unto the world by them – proving to the world that…God does inspire men and call them to his holy work in this age and generation, as well as in generations of old; Thereby showing that he is the same God yesterday, today, and forever.” (D&C 20:9-12).
God said in the Old Testament, “For I am the LORD, I change not” (Mal. 3:6, emphasis added). If this statement were true, then one would expect God to keep calling prophets, and to keep revealing scripture to his children. The Book of Mormon is the modern assurance that God was truthful when he said that he changes not.
4. The Book of Mormon is evidence of the divine calling of Joseph Smith
In 1820 Joseph Smith the Prophet saw God and his Son Jesus Christ. Later he was visited by angel Moroni, then by Peter, James, and John; Later by Moses, Elias, and Elijah, as well as Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, and other heavenly beings (D&C 128:21). He received visions, commandments, and revelations. These things, standing on their own, are impressive. But the Book of Mormon stands as tangible and irrefutable evidence of the Prophet Joseph’s contact with the divine. The best historical research indicates that Joseph Smith completed the translation process in about 65-75 working days (Carlos E. Asay, In the Lord’s Service, p. 23). Yet he was largely unschooled and lived in rural nineteenth century New York State and Pennsylvania, which surely would afford little if any opportunity for appropriate reference material. Even in today’s world, with all the resources and research available today, it is highly doubtful that even the most educated person on the subject could produce a work that could parallel the Book of Mormon in scope, scale, consistency, and detail. The Book of Mormon’s intricacies and inner complexity are astonishingly consistent both with itself and the Bible. As Joseph F. Smith observed, “When [Joseph Smith] had finished translating the Book of Mormon he was still only a boy, yet in producing this book he developed historical facts, prophecies, revelations, predictions, testimonies and doctrines, precepts and principles that are beyond the power and wisdom of the learned world to duplicate or refute” (Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, p. 483). As Hugh Nibley said, “There is no point at all to the question: Who wrote the Book of Mormon? It would have been quite as impossible for the most learned man alive in 1830 to have written the book as it was for Joseph Smith” (Hugh Nibley, Of All Things! Classic Quotations from Hugh Nibley, p. 143).
Since the Book of Mormon establishes that Joseph Smith was a true Prophet, it follows very easily from that that the Church is also true, and that the President of the Church today is a true prophet as well. And so these things are established by domino effect, as it were, all beginning with the Book of Mormon – the key to conversion and the very keystone of our religion. It is interesting to note that of all the churches which make claim to the Prophetic legacy of Joseph Smith, only the Church based in Salt Lake City, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, stands up to the prophecy of Joseph Smith, which declares that “the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country” (The Wentworth Letter).
5. The Book of Mormon is the catalyst for the Gathering of Israel
The appearance of the Book of Mormon is the signal event which convenes the long-anticipated Gathering of Israel. In the Old Testament is found, over and over again, the promise from God that he will gather his covenant people, Israel, after being scattered in the world. God promises, “And I will bring you out from the people, and will gather you out of the countries wherein ye are scattered, with a mighty hand, and with a stretched out arm… I will accept you with your sweet savour, when I bring you out from the people, and gather you out of the countries wherein ye have been scattered” (Ezekiel 20:34, 41). It is one of the major themes of the Old Testament. The coming forth of the Book of Mormon commences this grand promise to mankind. The Book of Mormon certifies:
And now behold, I say unto you that when the Lord shall see fit, in his wisdom, that these sayings shall come unto
the Gentiles according to his word, then ye may know that the covenant which the Father hath made with the children
of Israel, concerning their restoration to the lands of their inheritance, is already beginning to be fulfilled. And
ye may know that the words of the Lord, which have been spoken by the holy prophets, shall all be fulfilled; and ye
need not say that the Lord delays his coming unto the children of Israel. And ye need not imagine in your hearts
that the words which have been spoken are vain, for behold, the Lord will remember his covenant which he hath made
unto his people of the house of Israel. And when ye shall see these sayings coming forth among you, then ye need not
any longer spurn at the doings of the Lord, for the sword of his justice is in his right hand; and behold, at that
day, if ye shall spurn at his doings he will cause that it shall soon overtake you. (3 Ne. 29:1-4).
When people join the Church, they are gathered in to the fold of God, or the House of Israel. Those who are not Israelite by literal lineage are adopted into the house of Israel at their baptism (Gal. 3:26-29). In addition to commencing the gathering of Israel, the Book of Mormon is also the main conversion tool to accomplish this. And of course even today missionaries use it as their primary thrust to introduce people to the Gospel.
6. The Book of Mormon prepares God’s people for the Second Coming
The Book of Mormon contains a pattern applicable for our time. It chronicles the beginning of a nation, the workings of God and also of Satan among those people, and finally culminates in the destruction of the wicked with the coming of Christ. The Book of Mormon is meant to prepare us for the Second Coming like no other book can. Regarding this truth, President Benson wrote,
The record of the Nephite history just prior to the Savior's visit reveals many parallels to our own day as we
anticipate the Savior's second coming. The Nephite civilization had reached great heights. They were prosperous and
industrious. They had built many cities with great highways connecting them. They engaged in shipping and trade.
They built temples and palaces. (Ezra Taft Benson, A Witness and A Warning, p. 37).
…in the Book of Mormon we find a pattern for preparing for the Second Coming. A major portion of the book centers on
the few decades just prior to Christ's coming to America. By careful study of that time period, we can determine why
some were destroyed in the terrible judgments that preceded His coming and what brought others to stand at the
temple in the land of Bountiful and thrust their hands into the wounds of His hands and feet. (Ezra Taft Benson, A
Witness and A Warning, p. 20).
7. The Book of Mormon testifies that the Bible is true
As noted earlier, Jesus proclaimed to Joseph Smith in a revelation that the Book of Mormon,
contains a record of a fallen people…Which was given by inspiration, and is confirmed to others by the ministering
of angels, and is declared unto the world by them— Proving to the world that the holy scriptures [meaning the Bible]
are true. (D&C 20:9-11).
Likewise the Book of Mormon testifies,
[that the Book of Mormon] came forth by the power of the Lamb, from the Gentiles unto them, unto the convincing of
the Gentiles and the remnant of the seed of my brethren, and also the Jews who were scattered upon all the face of
the earth, that the records of the prophets and of the twelve apostles of the Lamb [i.e. the Bible] are true. And
the angel spake unto me, saying: These last records, which thou hast seen among the Gentiles, shall establish the
truth of the first. (1 Ne. 13:39-40).
Likewise Nephi said, “Wherefore, my brethren, I would that ye should consider that the things which have been written upon the plates of brass are true” (1 Ne. 22:30). What things were written upon the plates of brass which Nephi was referring to? It was the Bible, inasmuch as it then existed. The Book of Mormon relates that the plates of brass “did contain the five books of Moses, which gave an account of the creation of the world, and also of Adam and Eve, who were our first parents; And also a record of the Jews from the beginning, even down to the commencement of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah” (1 Ne. 5:11-12). The Book of Mormon further indicates that “these plates of brass should go unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people” in a state that, though missing “many parts which are plain and most precious” (1 Ne. 13:26), is remarkably well intact, as Lehi prophesied, “these plates of brass should never perish; neither should they be dimmed any more by time” (1 Ne. 5:19). All the while the Book of Mormon has consciously assured us that, “the things which have been written upon the plates of brass are true” (1 Ne. 22:30, emphasis added). And so we have the Book of Mormon’s endorsement that the events of the Creation and the history of the Old Testament are true. The Book of Mormon also goes on to particularly corroborate many specific events of the Bible, such as Moses leading the Children of Israel out of Egypt (1 Ne. 17:23-25), the parting of the Red Sea by Moses (1 Ne. 17:26), the Tower of Babel episode of Biblical fame (Ether 1:33), the Flood of Noah (Ether 13:2; Alma 10:22), and the miracle in which “it appeareth unto man that the sun standeth still” for Joshua (Hel. 12:15; Josh. 10:12-14).
It is marvelous to have the assurance from the Book of Mormon that the Bible is true and accurate. In our day when many people scoff at the Bible, considering it to be an out-of-date irrelevance, full of foolish stories, the Book of Mormon gives us the ability to believe in it with confidence. All throughout the Book of Mormon, it corroborates both the teachings and the historical events within the Bible. Therefore, a person who believes in the Book of Mormon aught to be among the strongest of believers in the history and teachings of the Bible, just as it is presented in that book. Latter-day Saints are fortunate to have the unquestionable and definite assurance, because of the Book of Mormon’s endorsement, that the Bible is true and accurate.
8. The Book of Mormon clarifies teachings misunderstood in the Bible
The Book of Mormon declares that it “shall establish the truth of the first [the Bible]…and shall make known the plain and precious things which have been taken away from them” (1 Ne. 13:40, emphasis added), and that the Bible and the Book of Mormon “shall grow together, unto the confounding of false doctrines and laying down of contentions, and establishing peace among the fruit of thy loins, and bringing them to the knowledge of their fathers in the latter days, and also to the knowledge of my covenants” (2 Ne. 3:12).
Think of all the doctrines of the Bible which are presently debated and misunderstood in Christianity today: the status of children regarding baptism, the need for baptism in general, the Fall of Man and the purpose of our existence, the faith and works controversy, to mention only a few. The reason so many Christian churches exist is because people cannot agree on how to interpret the Bible. And yet all throughout its pages, the Book of Mormon interprets the Bible for us, having the effect of “confounding of false doctrines and laying down of contentions…and bringing them to the knowledge of their fathers in the latter days, and also to the knowledge of my covenants” (2 Ne. 3:12).
9. The Book of Mormon is introductory to more expanded Gospel themes
The Lord has said that “the Book of Mormon” contains “the fulness of my everlasting gospel” (D&C 27:5). What is meant by that? The Book of Mormon makes reference to such doctrines as exaltation to godhood, salvation of the dead in the spirit world, the pre-existence of man, and the offices of the priesthood, but it does not explain them fully. Instead, it says,
And when they shall have received this [the Book of Mormon], which is expedient that they should have first, to try
their faith, and if it shall so be that they shall believe these things then shall the greater things be made
manifest unto them. And if it so be that they will not believe these things, then shall the greater things be
withheld from them, unto their condemnation. (3 Ne. 26:9-10).
It is clear therefore, that when the Lord said that the Book of Mormon contains “the fulness of my everlasting gospel” (D&C 27:5) it means that the Book of Mormon contains the fullness of doctrine necessary to get on that path which leads to eternal life.
10. The Book of Mormon answers the great questions of life
All mankind are plagued with questions regarding their existence. Questions such as, “What is the purpose of life?”, “What happens when I die?”, and “Why does God allow suffering?” These and many other burning questions that lie deep in the heart of man are answered in the Book of Mormon, and many times with greater plainness and less ambiguity than one would find from the Bible.
11. The Book of Mormon exposes falsehoods
Throughout the Book of Mormon, in addition to teaching true doctrines, the Book denounces plainly many varieties of false doctrines. This is done most memorably with stories that the Book relates about various Antichrists and their specific false doctrines. The Book of Mormon identifies these falsehoods and brings them to light, so that there is no mistake, for a true student of the Book of Mormon, as to which sorts of doctrines they shall hear in the world are true or false. President Benson taught,
[W]e have not been using the Book of Mormon as we should. Our homes are not as strong unless we are using it to bring
our children to Christ. Our families may be corrupted by worldly trends and teachings unless we know how to use the
book to expose and combat the falsehoods in socialism, organic evolution, rationalism, humanism, and so forth. (Ezra
Taft Benson, A Witness and A Warning, p. 6).
12. The Book of Mormon is here to perfect the Saints
The Prophet 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 any other book” (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 4:461, emphasis added). It is no mystery, then, why we are counseled to read the Book of Mormon daily, and also to read it together as a family. President Benson said, “The Book of Mormon has not been, nor is it yet, the center of our personal study, family teaching, preaching, and missionary work. Of this we must repent” (Ezra Taft Benson, A Witness and A Warning, title page).
The Book of Mormon is ideal for perfecting the human family. In it is found a detailed study of the pride cycle of people long ago, detailing their triumphs and failures, and eventually it culminates in the people becoming of one heart and one mind (4 Nephi).
13. The Book of Mormon is here to save or damn
In relation to his impending judgment upon the world, God has said,
Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another, and the Lord hearkened and heard; and a book of
remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name. And they shall be
mine, saith the Lord of Hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them as a man spareth his own
son that serveth him. Then shall ye return and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that
serveth God and him that serveth him not. (3 Ne. 24:16-18; Malachi 3:16-18).
The Book of Mormon is like a great sifter. Those who embrace its message and follow its precepts will be received into the Kingdom of Our Father in Heaven. Those who reject it will receive a degree of damnation according to their works. The Lord is proving the faith of the inhabitants of this world, and he is using the Book of Mormon to do it. As Ezra Taft Benson noted, “The Book of Mormon is the great finder of the golden contact. It does not contain things which are ‘pleasing unto the world’ (1 Ne. 6:5), and so the worldly are not interested in it. It is a great sieve” (Ezra Taft Benson, “The Book of Mormon is the Word of God,” Ensign, May 1975).
Now it should be abundantly clear why we need the Book of Mormon and why it is important. There need not be any uncertainty about the matter now. There are at least thirteen vital roles fulfilled by the Book of Mormon, and with which it is particularly and especially qualified. The Book of Mormon stands apart from all other books. Its role is certainly not trivial, but absolutely paramount. As we read the Book and take it seriously, we will be preparing ourselves for an inheritance in God’s Kingdom.