A friend of mine sent me this interesting question about the Book of Mormon last year, and I thought that I would share my response with you, my loyal readers.
Q: J. and I were wondering what the purpose for the Book of Mormon is. We understand the Doctrine and Covenants, but are a bit lost otherwise. Figured we would ask you.
A: A helpful way to look at it is to lose the artificial distinction between one piece of God's word and another. The Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price all consist of God's word given to his Prophets who in turn were authoritatively commissioned to teach His laws and institute His ordinances, and keep records of God's dealings with his people. While the prophets in the Book of Mormon happen to be different men than the prophets in the Bible and other books of scripture, that doesn't change the fact that they were called by and ordained through the power of the same God. It would be illogical to accept Isaiah, but reject Matthew, just because they came from different eras.
You have probably discovered that the Doctrine and Covenants contains many direct instructions and answers concerning the organization and administration of Christ's restored church, as well as clarifications of doctrines that had been lost for centuries. The Doctrine and Covenants is a very functional and practical book of scripture in its nature and structure. It's easy to see the immediate value that this piece of modern scripture would have for us. Knowing this, one might ask: Why then do we need a record of ancient Americans who (at first glance) seem to have very little in common with us? The Book of Mormon is necessary, and even crucial, for these four reasons:
1) The Book of Mormon is another witness of Christ: The Book of Mormon serves as a second witness of the divinity and reality of Jesus Christ and his mission here. It is the testimony of those people who believed in Christ before his coming, and of those who saw him when he came in resurrected glory to minister to the people on this continent. Like the Bible, The Book of Mormon "teaches true doctrine concerning the atonement-the foundation for the plan of Salvation" (Preach My Gospel, 105). It is therefore no accident that the Book of Mormon is subtitled "Another Testament of Jesus Christ."
2 Nephi 25:26 And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.
Jacob 4:4 For, for this intent have we written these things, that they may know that we knew of Christ, and we had a hope of his glory many hundred years before his coming; and not only we ourselves had a hope of his glory, but also all the holy prophets which were before us.
Mosiah 3:17 And moreover, I say unto you, that there shall be no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent.
3 Nephi 11:13-17 And it came to pass that the Lord spake unto them saying: Arise and come forth
3 Nephi 17:16-17 And after this manner do they bear record: The eye hath never seen, neither hath the ear heard, before, so great and marvelous things as we saw and heard Jesus speak unto the Father; And no tongue can speak, neither can there be written by any man, neither can the hearts of men conceive so great and marvelous things as we both saw and heard Jesus speak; and no one can conceive of the joy which filled our souls at the time we heard him pray for us unto the Father.
2) The Book of Mormon contains the fullness of the gospel: Why do we need another witness? Well, ask yourself...How many churches believe in the Bible? Out of those, what percentage of those churches agree upon the interpretation of the words contained in it? The Bible is God's word, and we depend upon the truths written in it, but if the Bible is the ultimate, definitive, exclusive and indisputable source of ALL truth concerning God and Christ, then why is there no uniform understanding of the doctrines contained therein? Each church and each preacher holds a different interpretation of the same text, and they often teach that others who view the text differently face eternal jeopardy for doing so. Arguments, condemnation, and even bloodshed have resulted over disagreements over Biblical law throughout the centuries. With only the Bible to guide them who was to say which interpretation was more correct than the others?
"About the only thing these contending religions had in common was, ironically, a belief in the Bible, but, as Joseph [Smith] wrote, “the teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question [regarding which church was true] by an appeal to the Bible.” Clearly the Bible, so frequently described at that time as “common ground,” was nothing of the kind—unfortunately it was a battleground." (Jeffrey R. Holland, "My Words...Never Cease," Ensign, May 2008)
It is also a fact that some of the plain and simple truths originally set forth in the writings of God's prophets and apostles have been lost or diluted through the vagaries of time and translation. Many of the changes to the texts in the Bible may have been accidental, or incidental to copying and translating, still others may have been deliberate. Either way the changes to, and omissions from, the Bible have caused much strife and confusion.
Another clear witness to the truths taught by Jesus Christ would certainly help many to come to God's truth, and bring peace, clarity and understanding to those who receive it (see 2 Nephi 3:12). Thus, there has never been a time when another witness has been more important and necessary. The Book of Mormon was hidden for centuries before it was brought forth and translated through direct revelation from God, therefore it can act as a second standard by which to judge the truth of the first, which makes it possible to avoid the problems of interpretation, translation, and tampering that plague the Bible when it is viewed alone. The Book of Mormon is therefore the perfect companion to the Bible, both as a confirmation, and as a clarification, of the truths contained within it. In this capacity, The Book of Mormon also fulfills the Lord's law of witnesses (see Deuteronomy 19:15; 2 Corinthians 13:1).
"A dictionary defines the noun witness as an “attestation of a fact or event: [a] testimony.” The term witness bears special significance when applied to the word of God. In the Bible we read this important declaration: “In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.” This assures God’s children that divine doctrines are confirmed by more than one scriptural witness.
The Bible and the Book of Mormon are both witnesses of Jesus Christ. They teach that He is the Son of God, that He lived an exemplary life, that He atoned for all mankind, that He died upon the cross and rose again as the resurrected Lord. They teach that He is the Savior of the world.
Scriptural witnesses authenticate each other. This concept was explained long ago when a prophet wrote that the Book of Mormon was “written for the intent that ye may believe [the Bible]; and if ye believe [the Bible] ye will believe [the Book of Mormon] also.” Each book refers to the other. Each book stands as evidence that God lives and speaks to His children by revelation to His prophets." (Russell M. Nelson, "Scriptural Witnesses," Ensign, Nov. 2007)
"Thus one of the great purposes of continuing revelation through living prophets is to declare to the world through additional witnesses that the Bible is true. “This is written,” an ancient prophet said, speaking of the Book of Mormon, “for the intent that ye may believe that,” speaking of the Bible. In one of the earliest revelations received by Joseph Smith, the Lord said, “Behold, I do not bring [the Book of Mormon forth] to destroy [the Bible] but to build it up.”" (Jeffrey R. Holland, "My Words...Never Cease," Ensign, May 2008)
2 Corinthians 13:1 This is the third time I am coming to you. In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.
2 Nephi 3:12 Wherefore, the fruit of thy loins shall write; and the fruit of the loins of Judah shall write; and that which shall be written by the fruit of thy loins, and also that which shall be written by the fruit of the loins of Judah, 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, saith the Lord.
D&C 20:8-12 And gave him [Joseph Smith] power from on high, by the means which were before prepared, 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; 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 are true, and 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. Amen.
D&C 42:12 And again, the elders, priests and teachers of this church shall teach the principles of my gospel, which are in the Bible and the Book of Mormon, in the which is the fulness of the gospel.
3) The Book of Mormon is the foundation of testimony: Jesus Christ taught us clearly in Matthew 7:15-20 that one might recognize a true prophet "by his fruits". Noah's fruit was the Ark, Moses' fruit was the Law, etc. The confusion over the Bible is only more evidence that we still need prophets and apostles who can state definitively "Thus sayeth The Lord...." Joseph Smith was the first true prophet to be called since the death of the original apostles centuries before. His fruit is The Book of Mormon itself. Anyone can read this book, in the right spirit, and gain a witness through prayer of the truth of it.
Moroni 10:3-5 Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in
This remarkable promise doesn't work if you aren't actually willing to read the book. God is not a wishing well-one cannot simply make idle requests of Him, that require no more effort than tossing in a coin, and actually expect an answer. If you wish to gain an assurance that the Book of Mormon is truly the word of God you must first demonstrate enough faith to to do the work that it takes to actually read it.
The Book of Mormon has great power to convert and enlighten men as they read it. As one reads the Book of Mormon, one's understanding and spirituality is increased and enlarged. This transformation prepares each of us to seek confirmation of the truth in the right spirit, and to recognize and appreciate the answer when it comes. Why does that matter? Once a person receives a confirming witness through the spirit that the Book of Mormon is the word of God, everything else falls into place. If the Book of Mormon is true, then Joseph Smith is a prophet. If Joseph Smith is a prophet, then the Church he restored is the true church of Jesus Christ. If all of those things are true, then it is another witness that Jesus of Nazareth truly was The Messiah. If that is true, then He truly did die for our sins, and rise again the third day. If that is true then there is a God in Heaven that cares for each of us his children deeply and personally. That is the reason that Joseph Smith called the Book of Mormon "the keystone of our religion"
2 Nephi 33:10-11 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; and they teach all men that they should do good. And if they are not the words of Christ, judge ye—for Christ will show unto you, with power and great glory, that they are his words, at the last day; and you and I shall stand face to face before his bar; and ye shall know that I have been commanded of him to write these things, notwithstanding my weakness.
4) The Book of Mormon Helps Answer Questions that Really Matter: While these first three purposes are among the more significant virtues of the Book of Mormon in a larger sense, on a more everyday level, the Book of Mormon is very important to us as individuals. It contains clear answers to what Pres. Ezra Taft Benson called "the great questions of the soul". The Book of Mormon will help you to develop the faith you need to have in order to accept and live the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Book of Mormon "leads us to Christ and answers our personal problems and those of the world" (Ezra Taft Benson, "Flooding the Earth with the Book of Mormon," Ensign, Nov. 1988, 5) by helping us to better understand the gospel and our relationship with the Savior.
"The gospel of Jesus Christ helps us answer both kinds of questions [the great spiritual questions as well as our every day personal concerns]. As we gain faith that the Book of Mormon is true, we can begin to answer questions about the purpose of life and the hope of eternal life. The Book of Mormon describes the plan of happiness, which gives meaning and perspective to life. Answers to questions such as [these] are clearly taught in the Book of Mormon....As we read the Book of Mormon with the guidance of the Spirit, it helps us answer personal questions. It teaches that prayer and revelation are the key to solving particular problems. It helps us have faith that God will answer our prayers." (Preach My Gospel, 107)
I acknowledge that these four virtues may only become obvious as one reads The Book of Mormon and begins to live the gospel of Jesus Christ, but I think that might be the whole point.
“Those who have read [the Book of Mormon] prayerfully, be they rich or poor, learned or unlearned, have grown under its power....Without reservation I promise you that if you will prayerfully read the Book of Mormon, regardless of how many times you previously have read it, there will come into your hearts . . . the Spirit of the Lord. There will come a strengthened resolution to walk in obedience to his commandments, and there will come a stronger testimony of the living reality of the Son of God” (Gordon B. Hinckley, “The Power of the Book of Mormon,” Ensign, June 1988, 6).