Who Wrote the Book of Mormon?

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The Book of Mormon came to us in its current form through the work of a lot of different people both ancient and modern. Much of the work anciently was done by a prophet named Mormon, hence the title that we use for the book – The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ. He served as abridger and editor of sacred and secular records that had been kept by prophets and other individuals over the years. As inspired, he selected passages that told of the history of some peoples in the Americas but more importantly, taught the gospel of Jesus Christ. He did all this while watching the end of his civilization – most of his people had either been killed in wars or had turned from following the statutes of God and joined with their enemies. Mormon would eventually be killed in battle, leaving his son Moroni to have charge over the sacred records and to finish the Book of Mormon. Moroni did this, burying the book in a stone box in the ground of what would later be upstate New York.

The plates Moroni buried in the ground were made of gold, which does not corrode or corrupt. Words were engraven onto the plates with great difficulty (see Jacob 4:1) so words were chosen judiciously not just because of the difficulty of engraving but also because of limited space; more importantly, words were chosen so as to help those who read the book draw nearer to Christ.

What we have as the current start of the Book of Mormon was not, in fact, the start of the book. There originally were 116 additional manuscript pages that were abridged by Mormon but these translated pages were lost when Martin Harris, who was helping Joseph Smith with the translation of the Book of Mormon, had convinced Joseph to let him take the manuscript home (so that he could show his wife, who was upset at the work Martin was doing with Joseph). These lost pages likely would have had some sort of introductory commentary by Mormon as well as a more secular history of the people of Nephi:

And now, I speak somewhat concerning that which I have written; for after I had made an abridgment from the plates of Nephi, down to the reign of this king Benjamin, of whom Amaleki spake, I searched among the records which had been delivered into my hands, and I found these plates, which contained this small account of the prophets, from Jacob down to the reign of this king Benjamin, and also many of the words of Nephi. (Words of Mormon 1:3).

Mormon made all his abridgments and then discovered the “small plates of Nephi” that included some history but were mainly focused on sacred things (particularly on Jesus Christ).

And now I, Nephi, do not give the genealogy of my fathers in this part of my record; neither at any time shall I give it after upon these plates which I am writing; for it is given in the record which has been kept by my father; wherefore, I do not write it in this work. For it sufficeth me to say that we are descendants of Joseph. And it mattereth not to me that I am particular to give a full account of all the things of my father, for they cannot be written upon these plates, for I desire the room that I may write of the things of God. For the fulness of mine intent is that I may persuade men to come unto the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, and be saved. Wherefore, the things which are pleasing unto the world I do not write, but the things which are pleasing unto God and unto those who are not of the world. Wherefore, I shall give commandment unto my seed, that they shall not occupy these plates with things which are not of worth unto the children of men. (1 Nephi 6).

Moroni wrote his abridgments of the scriptural and historical records on gold plates bound together into a single unit; to the scriptures he edited, he added the unabridged small plates of Nephi. We do not know if the physical dimensions of the small plates of Nephi were the same as the plates Mormon made – it is possible but I’d be surprised if all the plates were the same size. Nephi’s plates were small though not necessarily because of their physical dimensions, they were small because there were not many of them and there was not room to write anything but the most important things of the Lord (the fact that so much of the words of Isaiah were included tells you something of the worth of the words of Isaiah – priceless).

As we put all this together, we see that Nephi thus wrote most of the first part of the Book of Mormon. As I just wrote, Nephi quotes extensively from Isaiah so many of his words are included. Nephi’s younger brother Jacob is the next author. In addition to what he writes, he quotes extensively from a prophet named Zenos. Jacob then passes the plates on to his son Enos, who writes a few words. His son Jarom next has the plates; he writes a little less than his father (there is not much room left on the plates and not much to add to what was previously written). Jarom gives the plates to his son Omni who writes what become three verses. Omni passes the plates to his son Amaron who then, after writing a little, gives them to his brother Chemish. Chemish gives them to his son Abinadom who then gives them to his son Amaleki. Amaleki fills up the rest of the small plates and then gives them to Benjamin, a righteous king and prophet.

So the lineage of the small plates of Nephi is thus [(b) = brother; (s) = son]: Nephi –> Jacob (b) –> Enos (s) –> Jarom (s) –> Omni (s) –> Amaron (s) –> Chemish (b) –> Abinadom (s) –> Amaleki (s) –> Benjamin (relationship unclear). That is seven, maybe eight generations right there – many hundreds of years. Each of those men wrote a portion of the Book of Mormon, albeit to varying degrees. That timeframe from Nephi to Benjamin was also covered by the other records Mormon abridged, which translation became lost.

That something is missing is obvious when we get to the Words of Mormon and read: “And now I, Mormon, being about to deliver up the record which I have been making into the hands of my son Moroni, behold I have witnessed almost all the destruction of my people, the Nephites.” (Words of Mormon 1:1). That’s an abrupt change of topic, something that sounds like it is act 2 of a play. From this we can assume that Mormon spent some time introducing the Book of Mormon and his work earlier (in the now lost portion of the book). He also likely had added his commentary throughout that portion of the plates, as he does throughout the rest of the Book of Mormon.

The rest of the Book of Mormon was mainly written by Mormon (who lived around 300-400 AD) with a few words by his son Moroni (who buried the gold plates around the year 421 AD). Mormon quotes extensively from various prophets and later, quotes directly from the Savior when He visits the Americas, but Mormon’s quoting and commentary are interwoven, often with little differentiation between commentary and quote. The book of Ether, which is near the end of the Book of Mormon is a transcription of a translation (done by Mosiah, father of king Benjamin) of records of a group of people called the Jaredites. They lived long before the Nephites, traveling to the Americas thousands of years BC (likely crossing over into the Americas via a northern route, such as from what is now {north}east Asia). Their civilization lasted through many wars for over a thousand years until the last of them was discovered by another group of people who had left Jerusalem shortly after Lehi’s family did (the Mulekites). These people had struggled through wars and loss of cultural and spiritual heritage. When their people was discovered, they were taught the language of the Nephites and joined together (both groups were of the house of Israel). Through this joining, the record of the Jaredites entered the possession of the Nephites:

And it came to pass that the people of Zarahemla, and of Mosiah, did unite together; and Mosiah was appointed to be their king. And it came to pass in the days of Mosiah, there was a large stone brought unto him with engravings on it; and he did interpret the engravings by the gift and power of God. And they gave an account of one Coriantumr, and the slain of his people. And Coriantumr was discovered by the people of Zarahemla; and he dwelt with them for the space of nine moons. It also spake a few words concerning his fathers. And his first parents came out from the tower, at the time the Lord confounded the language of the people; and the severity of the Lord fell upon them according to his judgments, which are just; and their bones lay scattered in the land northward. (Omni 1:19-22).

There, now we’ve covered most of those who wrote what is now the Book of Mormon (Mormon, Nephi, Jacob, and Moroni are the four largest contributors). Because Mormon did most of the organizational and editorial work, the book is named in honor of him. He compiled a remarkable book that was not written for his people – they were almost all dead – it was written for the purpose of coming forth in these days to teach people of Jesus Christ and to add to the witness of the Bible of the truthfulness of Christ’s mission.

Mormons and Baptisms for the Dead

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Much has been made recently in the news about how some names of Holocaust victims were submitted to the temple work system of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Church released a press release about the matter. In the release the Church stated,

“The Church keeps its word and is absolutely firm in its commitment to not accept the names of Holocaust victims for proxy baptism.

It takes a good deal of deception and manipulation to get an improper submission through the safeguards we have put in place.

While no system is foolproof in preventing the handful of individuals who are determined to falsify submissions, we are committed to taking action against individual abusers by suspending the submitter’s access privileges. We will also consider whether other Church disciplinary action should be taken.

It is distressing when an individual willfully violates the Church’s policy and something that should be understood to be an offering based on love and respect becomes a source of contention.”

In the 1990s the Church made it a rule that the names of Holocaust victims could not be submitted to the temple for proxy ordinances to be performed for them. This was in response to Jewish leaders who found the practice offensive. The only condition under which the names could be submitted is if a direct descendent submits them her or himself. So since the mid 1990s, it has been against church policy for church members to submit Holocaust victim names. The Church has safeguards in place and it takes”willful violation” and “a good deal of deception and manipulation” to get around those safeguards. The Church does not look kindly upon those breaking the rules in this matter.

I’m going to offer my perspective on the matter of proxy baptisms (and other ordinances) for those who have died. Some outside the Church find the work offensive, others do not care either way (without any statistical evidence I’d guess that most people do not care about baptisms for the dead). There are varying reasons for taking offense at the actions but I will only cover the doctrine of baptisms for the dead.

First, proxy ordinances for the deceased is not a new creation of the LDS Church. It is Biblical (“Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?” 1 Cor. 15:29) but the LDS Church does not rely completely on written scripture, we believe in modern day revelation with living prophets who speak God’s words, just as prophets did anciently. Living prophets have also taught of the importance of proxy work for the deceased (e.g., this talk by an apostle of Jesus Christ).

Why is this work important? We believe that in order for people to return to live with God again, they must receive certain necessary ordinances, including baptism and confirmation. Baptisms in the LDS Church occur when individuals are at least 8 years old, when they are old enough to choose for themselves (particularly choosing right from wrong) and start to understand the baptism. We believe that all people must receive this ordinance. So what happens to all those who died without the opportunity? Are they forever damned? No! God provides a way for them to have that work done on their behalf. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can attend LDS temples and do this work on behalf of those who have died. Proxy work is not a new concept – ancient Jews believed and practiced it (the law of Moses includes many proxy ordinances) and ancient Christians did as well. Jesus Christ offered the greatest of all proxy work – that of the Atonement for all humankind. He did what we could not do for ourselves – overcome sin and death. In a like manner but on a much lesser scale, we have the opportunity to help those who cannot  perform this work themselves – those who are dead.

To truly understand LDS baptisms for the dead, it is necessary to understand LDS theology regarding the purpose of life, what happens after we die, and our relationship to God. That’s more than I can cover in this post but suffice it to say that a portion of what people might find offensive about these baptisms for the dead is based upon misinformation about the purpose of the work. I’m not saying that people are only offended because they misunderstand, I’m saying that there is a lot of contextual doctrine that needs to be understood before the reason and goals of these proxy ordinances for the dead can be understood.

We believe that when people die, they enter a period of rest and learning and yes, even suffering. Some people will suffer for the wrongs they did, others will just have to learn more, and still others will be involved in teaching those who need more knowledge to continue to progress. What is important though is that agency – the ability to choose right from wrong – is never taken away. After we die, we are still the same people, just without physical bodies at the time and with a little more knowledge than we had while mortal on earth. Once a baptism is performed for someone who is dead, it does not make them Mormon or even Christian. If that person accepts the work then they can become part of God’s Kingdom but again, the choice is never made for him or her – it is an individual’s responsibility to accept or reject Christ.

So let’s say that Ms. Jane Brown died in 1854 at the age of 16. Her physical body was buried and her spirit went to the Spirit World (which is here on earth) to be with family members and friends. Jane was never baptized in The Church of Jesus Christ by one holding God’s Priesthood; she had been baptized as a child but it was not done with God’s authority (that does not mean it was meaningless, just not valid – that’s a big distinction). We believe that God’s priesthood – the authority and power to act in His name and perform the necessary ordinances and rituals – is found only within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Down the road, one of her relatives (let’s say a great-great-great niece) is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and wants to offer her the same opportunities that she has; so, she performs work in an LDS Temple for and on behalf of Jane.

The work is done – baptism, confirmation, sealing to parents (assuming their work was done as well) – but it is up to Jane to accept it or not. Those who are deceased are never forced to accept the work performed on behalf of them. If they do accept the work, they will have done what is necessary – exercised faith in Jesus Christ and repented. This is not much different than how it works in this life. The gospel of Jesus Christ is inclusive, not exclusive. Christ beckons all to come unto Him. He does not want to save just those who lived in times or places where His gospel was taught, He wants to save all who accept that salvation. Baptism (in life or by proxy in death) by those with God’s authority is an essential step in returning to God again. This is why baptisms for the dead are performed – to offer all the opportunity to return to live with God again.

There are more reasons for baptism for the dead. There is a lot more I could write. I’m not trying to justify the practice to those who are offended, I’m simply offering theological background to the practice. We Mormons view it as a great act of love to perform this ordinance for others; it goes beyond that as well, we view it as something that has to be done. It is ideally done for our own ancestors but we are asked to help perform the work for others. When people submit names to the temple to have work performed for them, those submitted names should be those of their ancestors, generally not random people to whom they are unrelated. At some point in the future, baptisms will have to be performed for everyone who ever lived on earth but much of this work probably will not be done until the Millennium, a time when Christ has returned to earth to rule and reign.

A lot of the problems come from misinformation and misunderstandings by people on both sides of the issue (i.e., within the church and without the church). Both sides would do well to have increased communication and information about each other’s concerns and practices.

For Our Day

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As I go through and read the Book of Mormon, I try to keep in mind that it is a book that was written for us in our day. Everything selected for inclusion by Mormon and his son Moroni was selected to help strengthen and teach us in our day. That is one reason why it is such a remarkable book.

Mormon lived during the collapse of his civilization. He lived about 350 A.D. in the Americas. Mormon was the leader of a small group of people called the Nephites. At this point in their history, most Nephites had become wicked and many had either been killed or had defected to their enemies, the Lamanites. During this time of fighting, leading armies in battle and trying to salvage whomever of his people that he could, Mormon was also involved in editing the records – sacred and secular – of his people. He transcribed the sacred history of his people onto plates made out of gold, a laborious task made difficult by the difficulty of writing on gold plates. Gold was important to use though because it does not corrode; gold plates would last the 1500 years until they were needed to help bring light to a dark world.

As his civilization collapsed, Mormon edited the scriptures he had been given stewardship over into a single volume. He chose words carefully and only included things that the Lord revealed unto him to include. Everything was chosen to bless the lives of those who would read it in the future. The Book of Mormon really was written for us; only Mormon and Moroni (and possibly a select few others at the time) ever had access to the plates. Only Joseph Smith and a few others in his day ever had access to the plates (there were about 15 individuals who saw the gold plates). What was important was not the composition of the plates but the words inscribed upon those plates; the message was what was more than worth its weight in gold.

As I read, I try to think about why the particular scripture verses were included. Why was the precious space on the precious plates used for those particular scriptures and that particular message? What can I learn and what can the world learn from from the Book of Mormon?

There is an LDS Seminary song that fits well with this post. Click here to listen to the song (right click {or command click on a Mac} to download). There is also piano / vocal sheet music of the song available (.pdf format).

Reflections on Churches

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The other day I was driving through town (I live in the southern United States where churches are particularly abundant). I paid attention to the names of different churches I passed. There were “Living Water” churches, “Missionary” churches, “Blessings” churches, “Miracles” churches, “Community” churches, “Family” churches, “Covenant” churches, and “Grace” churches (in addition to Catholic, Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, and more). The three that really stuck out to me were a “Temple” church, a “Church of the Apostle”, and a “Church of Prophecy”.

I thought that it was interesting that the churches would reference temples, apostles, and prophets (implied from “prophecy”) in their names yet have none of those in their churches. I know the Catholic Church claims apostolic authority (papal lineage through Peter) but this particular “Apostle” church was not Catholic. The churches might have been founded in recognition of the significance of the temple and apostles (I’ll combine prophets and apostles) but they were founded without either apostles or temples (see also Ezek. 37:26), which are vital parts of Christ’s Church.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a restoration of Christ’s church with both apostles and temples. We claim authority from Jesus Christ, given to Joseph Smith and passed on to subsequent prophets and apostles (just as Elijah’s authority passed on to Elisha). We make much of covenants as well in the LDS Church. We believe in grace, family, miracles, blessings, missionary work, and Christ as the source of living water. The LDS Church encompasses all truth; we accept all good and all truth, regardless the source (“We are after the truth. We commenced searching for it, and we are constantly in search of it, and so fast as we find any true principle revealed by any man, by God, or by holy angels, we embrace it and make it part of our religious creed.” Pres. John Taylor). However, necessary covenants and ordinances are only performed through proper authority (see also: Priesthood).

The Churches are most likely doing good (I qualify that statement because there are some churches that spread hate and evil) but they are lacking the authority that was restored to Joseph Smith. It is through this authority that we have apostles, prophets, and temples in the LDS Church.

New Mormon.org Beta Site

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The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is continuing its expansion into social networking and the social web with its beta of its new Mormon.org website. Members of the Church are able to create profiles that allow them to share their testimonies and personal experiences with those who visit the website. These profiles will start to go live later this year. Here is a sample profile from the website (click on the image to enlarge it):

I think it is great the Church is trying to personalize its websites. After all, mormon.org specifically is designed for people who are not members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints so it is part of the missionary work of the Church. Missionary work is always more effective when general members are involved rather than just full-time missionaries. Soon people who are not members of the LDS Church as well as those who are will be able to connect with each other through these profiles. Those who have profiles are able to link to their Facebook profiles or Twitter accounts or personal (non-business) blogs if they wish to share these links. The purpose of these new profiles is to demystify the Church by allowing normal people to share their testimonies of the Savior and of His restored Gospel.

I think it is great that the Church remains current with the times and engages new technology in ways to share the gospel and expand the habitations and tents of Zion (see Isaiah 54:2).