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.

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).

Philosophical Arguments and the Existence of God

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I have a different post (different from my usual ones) that I’d like some reader feedback on (should you care to respond). I’d particularly like any critiques of my reasoning with this post. However, there is some background you need first. Read this post first to provide the context of my comments: Everyday Philosophy: Epistemological Realism vs. Epistemological Idealism.

On a different site that tends to be populated by rationalist commenters, a discussion of the existence of God occurred; I didn’t hesitate to jump in. Most of the comments were, of course, opposed to the existence of God. In response to someone I wrote the following:

[Two people not being able to have a fully rational discussion about God without both having experienced Him] might appear circular but it certainly is not solipsistic [which the commenter accused me of being]. I am a materialist [actually a monist but I’ll use the word materialist for ease of understanding even though philosophers would be horrified at my inaccuracy]; I believe that the external world exists and can be known (that’s one reason I’m a scientist). [As a side note, Mormons tend to be even stronger materialists [again, this is using “materialism” differently than what is typical] than many other people because we know that spirit is also matter, just finer than what we experience in this world. Matter matters because that’s what there is!] I also was not making an argument [in a formal logic sense with my previous comment, which is not included here because it is not relevant to this post], I was merely setting up the philosophical structure upon which a rational discussion of the existence or non-existence of God might be built.

In any case, let’s substitute pink unicorns [instead of God – the person to whom I was replying wanted to discount my statement because if you put in something fanciful like pink unicorns or fairies, on the surface, by comments then appear to be ludicrous. What I want to show is that my comments are completely rational even with something like pink unicorns put in instead of God].

Person X says, “I have seen a pink unicorn.” Can person Y, who has not seen a pink unicorn, say, “Pink unicorns do not exist”? Yes, person Y can say that but how does person Y know that? Has he omnipresently and omnisciently checked the entire universe and thus ruled out the existence of pink unicorns? No, he has not.

Now let’s say that person Z enters the picture. Person Z says, “I have seen a pink unicorn.” Person X says, “That’s great! The pink unicorn I saw looked like such and such.” Person Z says, “The pink unicorn I saw did not look like that.” Person X replies, “Oh, maybe you saw a different one or maybe you did not really see one.” Person Y chimes in, “You both were hallucinating.” Person Z states, “Maybe, but it was very convincing.” So who’s right now? Person X or person Z? Maybe they are both right or maybe they are both wrong. How can they figure it out? They could try and see the pink unicorn again. If their experiences keep not being congruent then maybe someone is wrong or maybe they really are seeing different unicorns. What if person Z had seen the pink unicorn and it matched what person X saw? Then both person X and person Z can talk about their experiences with each other in a way that persons X and Z cannot with person Y. This is because person Y, having not seen a pink unicorn, does not have the personal experience that is necessary for a fully effective discussion with those who have seen pink unicorns.

So who is right? Is the person who has not seen a pink unicorn right? Do pink unicorns not exist? Maybe but maybe not. Are the two people who have seen (or at least claimed to have seen) pink unicorns right? Maybe, maybe not.

Let’s say that there are now 80 billion people who have not seen a pink unicorn and 1 person who has (or, at least claimed to have seen one). Who is right? Are the 80 billion who have not seen correct? Maybe, maybe not. Is the 1 person wrong? Maybe, maybe not. Can the 1 person have a fully rational discussion with any of the 80 billion who have not seen a pink unicorn? Probably not. Does that make the 1 person irrational? Not necessarily.

I know that’s a lot of non-commital language but that’s the nature of empiricism (used in the broader, experimental sense and not necessarily in the sensory-based sense).

Now, what if the 80 billion people say to the 1 who saw a pink unicorn (again, at least claimed to see), “OK, we’re willing to believe you if you can prove its existence.” The 1 replies, “Good, here is how you do it. Go to the Ural Mountains, hike to the top of Mount Narodnaya, spin around 3.5 times, and you will see a pink unicorn.” Most of the 80 billion say, “You are crazy” and don’t do it. Some say, “Ok, we’ll try it” and then go and do it. They all come back and say, “We have seen a pink unicorn. The 1 was correct.” The rest of the 80 billion say, “There are no pink unicorns. We have done scientific experiments here and never have seen evidence of pink unicorns.” Those who have seen say, “You’re not doing the correct experiments; the 1 told you the process by which you can verify the truth of his claim but what you’ve been doing will not work. This does not mean that his claim is not true, it’s just that some of the methods you are trying are not suited to the question. A discussion of your claims of the non-existence – or, even if you want to remain agnostic about the matter – of pink unicorns and our claims of their existence, at least the existence of one of them, can really never be rational and fully productive until you try.”

That example might be severely flawed (there are some flaws: I could have expanded and added in that the pink unicorn might be invisible so you can’t see it, you have to experience it in other ways; that would lead on to another discussion about the nature of knowing, which is too long for now – philosophers have been debating this for 1000s of years). It might even seem completely fanciful, but I find this an extremely helpful argument [the one explained in the post I linked to at the beginning of this post] because it lays a groundwork of reproducibility. I claim X. I came to know X by doing Y. What does an experimentalist do? The experimentalist goes, “Ok, if I do Y, I can verify whether or not X is true.” So what if the experimentalist does Y and doesn’t find X? Does that rule out X? No, it doesn’t. Does it mean there is less evidence for X? Possibly, but it depends on if the experimentalist did Y correctly and if the experimentalist is honest. It’s also assuming that X is determined by Y, which is not the case when we are talking about God, which does not make a fully rational, experimental approach to this type of knowledge entirely possible. Not finding X does not make X false. Does finding X over and over make it true? Not necessarily but it’s easier to believe something based on X rather than base a categorical negative based on “not X”.

In another post, with someone continuing to ask for my evidence of the existence of God [while at the same time denying that I have any evidence], I responded:

What evidence would it take to convince you? Is there anything I could ever say on [here] that would convince you?

If you are anything like me then the answers to those questions are: Personal experience; no. Personally, I don’t find philosophical arguments for the existence of God helpful (yes, some are clever and thought-provoking but so is science and so are many other things). All are flawed in some manner – including the one I just proposed above. I like real evidence. However, the evidence I have cannot be conveyed to you, it’s based on a hypothesis you have to be willing to test yourself. Would it be nice to email you evidence? Yes, but unfortunately that’s not how it works (I know some of the counter arguments, which I’ve heard a number of times: yes, really convenient, isn’t it? It’s certainly a nice “out” from providing evidence, huh?). Does that mean that I have no evidence, as you say? Not at all. You cannot say I have no evidence just as I can’t say anything about you [I had no idea who the random person I was having an online discourse with actually is].

Could I send you evidence that I love my wife or children? No: pictures or lists of deeds or even their testimonies under sworn oath of “Yes, he loves us” will not work. I might tell them I love them or I might do things for them that they interpret as motivated by love but I could simply be misleading them. So where is the evidence of my love? Is it tied completely to my actions and words? Some people argue that but I find that insufficient because I know that people can be dishonest and that what they do is not always what they believe. I also find it problematic to completely operationalize things like emotions, which love is. Observable and measurable behavior is great (and important evidence) and it certainly supports the idea of my love but it’s not the entire picture; it’s necessary but not sufficient. But I do love my wife and kids. You don’t have to believe me but you also might not believe me even if I could produce evidence of it.

Furthering this discussion is useless [that’s not entirely true but it’s pretty close to the truth]. I would not believe the way I do without personal experience that verifies the truth of it. This is not knowledge I can convey to you but you could know for yourself whether what I know (or, believe I know) is true or whether I’m simply delusional, dishonest, or just misguided (or maybe all three). The scientific method will not work in this case (although some of the philosophical foundations of it apply); in order for you to find out whether or not I really am delusional you have to be willing to try a different method (one that involves faith, prayer, and a lot of work) but one with real results.

I’m not dodging your request for evidence; I just cannot transfer it to you. What I can do is tell you more about how you can verify what I claim I have as evidence yourself by having it yourself. That’s much better than me telling you. Yes, I could provide examples of some of what adds to my evidence but what is the real, strongest evidence is internal and no amount of other evidence that I can provide would work.

I think this is a fairer answer than you’d get from many other people because there’s no “trust me”; it’s all, “You can know for yourself”, you just have to be willing to do the experiments yourself.

So how do other people come to this same knowledge? Here is one other comment I made about the process.

Here is part of the method: “Yea, there are many who do say: If thou wilt show unto us a sign from heaven, then we shall know of a surety; then we shall believe. Now I ask, is this faith? Behold, I say unto you, Nay… Now, as I said concerning faith—that it was not a perfect knowledge—even so it is with my words. Ye cannot know of their surety at first, unto perfection, any more than faith is a perfect knowledge. But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words. Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me. Now behold, would not this increase your faith? I say unto you, Yea; nevertheless it hath not grown up to a perfect knowledge. But behold, as the seed swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, then you must needs say that the seed is good; for behold it swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow. And now, behold, will not this strengthen your faith? Yea, it will strengthen your faith: for ye will say I know that this is a good seed; for behold it sprouteth and beginneth to grow.” (Book of Mormon, Alma 32).

I’ve done that and have that experience. First you have to want to believe. Then you need to act on that belief. You have to have faith first if you want to know. As part of this process you also need to read the scriptures, which include the Bible and the Book of Mormon, and do this:

“Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts. And 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. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.” (Book of Mormon, Moroni 10:3-5).

The method thus far is want to believe. Act on that belief, read the scriptures (including the Book of Mormon), remember the mercies of Jesus Christ, really think about them, then pray to God in the name of Christ with a sincere heart, real intent, with faith in Christ. Then you will feel the Holy Ghost (Spirit) and know that what you have read and what you are doing are true.

It’s simple but you have to be willing to do it just like that. That’s the method, or at least a portion of it. If it came across as preachy, that’s the way it is. I’ve done all that and have the evidence provided by God’s Spirit that it’s true. I’ve seen other things, miracles if you will, but [this site] really is not the forum for sharing those experiences. I’ve seen this process change people’s lives, all for the better. You might counter, so can therapy or X or Y or Z but just because those can result in positive changes doesn’t mean personal experiences with God are not real.

There are other experiments that can be done but the process I wrote is the start and then you can go from there. You might ask, where’s the knowledge – that all seems like belief. That’s the start. Our traditional sensory experience is not sufficient for knowledge. Jesus walked and talked with people, people saw Him perform miracles, people heard Him say He was the Son of God but they did not believe him. Some did but most didn’t. Hard, sensory evidence is never enough without the feelings and thoughts and witness of God’s Spirit (the Holy Ghost). That is the primary evidence; sensory evidence (which is real too) is secondary. I know people of other religions and faiths would tell you different ways that led to their beliefs/knowledge and many claim that because I am a Mormon that I’m delusional but we’re not apologetic for our teachings. That’s the way it is. Yes, it’s audacious and bold but it’s not something that you or anyone else has to take my word for. I outlined a method by which you can verify the veracity of my words. You can take it or leave it; most leave it. But there it is.

Okay, without having all the background to my comments (but with the background from The Eternal Universe post), where are the flaws?  Sorry, that’s not meant as a challenge (i.e., “try and find flaws if you can!”), I just haven’t had the opportunity to really think this through all the way and I’d like to hone my approach to the issue.

Primary Sources

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In research it is generally thought that turning to primary sources is ideal, when possible. This means that we should read what people actually said or wrote instead of reading it through the interpretive lenses of other researchers or writers. This is not always possible, especially if the primary sources are in languages you cannot read, but it is best to go back to the original source as often as possible. What happens when you don’t? Untruths and misconceptions can develop and grow.

For example, in genealogical research, you always want to go to the primary sources if possible (also, read this post). FamilySearch.org and Ancestry.com are not primary sources. If you don’t go to the primary sources, you really aren’t doing research, you are just compiling information together that might or might not be true. Start with the online databases but then try and verify everything in there by seeking out the primary sources.

As another example, there is a widespread belief that a majority of people in the Middle Ages believed that the earth was flat. This is merely a myth. Yes, there were some people who believed that but it was not widespread. Historians in the 1800s and early 1900s created the myth, which myth then spiraled out of control until it was taught as historical truth. The problem is that people trusted secondary and tertiary and other sources without actually going back to verify if what they read or heard was in fact true.

The same thing is true for discovering what people believe. Ask them. Don’t assume that you know what they believe. I’ve had a number of experiences where people have tried to tell me that my religious beliefs were different than what they really are. “You believe this and this.” “No I don’t.” “You don’t know what you’re talking about.” I don’t mind people telling me what I believe if it actually matches what I believe (e.g., “You believe that there is a Celestial Kingdom.” “Yes, I do.”). Of course, there are a lot of people who do not know what their churches’ doctrines are but that simply adds to my argument that people do not generally check primary sources. Sometimes they don’t even check secondary sources and simply remain in ignorance. A number of Christian churches spend Sunday School time studying the doctrines of other churches. I have yet to hear a good explanation of why they do this (especially in light of a general lack of knowledge of the Bible and other components of Christianity among most church goers). I’d like to be optimistic and state that the doctrines of the LDS Church are always correctly portrayed but I know that is not the case. If the pastors of these churches really wanted to increase the knowledge of members of the congregation, the pastor would encourage them to talk with members of the other churches and read their literature (e.g., The Book of Mormon, mormon.org, Gospel Principles, the Koran, the Watchtower). In other words, instead of learning about other religions people should learn from other religions. That is honesty in inquiry. This is the same standard that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints need to hold. If we don’t want people telling us what we believe, we shouldn’t tell them what they believe.

What primary sources do we have in the gospel? The answer might vary based on what you consider primary. I know some Christians believe the Bible to be a primary source. I’d disagree. The Bible is a collection of smaller books that weren’t even books until relatively recently. It is a translation of a copy of a copy (etc.) of the original document. In some cases it is a translation of a translation. I’m not saying the Bible is incorrect, I’m just pointing out that using a strict definition of primary source means that the Bible is not a primary source. What about the Book of Mormon? This is closer to a primary source than the Bible is. The Book of Mormon as we have it consists of two main parts: the first part was written by Nephi and his near righteous descendants; the second part is Mormon’s abridgment of many other writings with some additions by his son Moroni. So Mormon put most of the book together and Moroni finished it up and buried it. Moroni placed it in the ground with a dedicatory prayer of protection. Then about 1400 years later, Joseph Smith was guided to where the Book of Mormon was buried. It was then translated directly into English by the power of God. Thus, the Book of Mormon isn’t strictly a primary source either. It’s awfully close though.

I’m going to argue that the Doctrine and Covenants is not even a primary source, although it is as good as primary sources get in this life. So just what is a primary source? There is only one Ultimate Source for truth and knowledge. God is the giver of all Truth. If we want to know the truth of anything, we pray and ask Him (see Moroni 10:3-5). This goes for anything that we read in the scriptures or that we hear or read from the living prophet(s) – it can be verified by praying. That is how we check the primary source in the gospel. Now, I’m not saying that we try to supersede the scriptures or living prophets, but we need to do our own research and seek out the one true Primary Source. This can only happen as we ask sincerely with an honest heart. I’ve met at least one person who said they didn’t believe the Book of Mormon because they had prayed to ask if it was true and God told them it was false. Unfortunately, they were mistaken in their answer, assuming they had prayed about the Book of Mormon. I can also unequivocally state that this particular person did not ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, and with faith in Christ (see Moroni 10:4). It was like this person had performed a research literature search, found the article she wanted (e.g., a physics article), read a completely different article (e.g., an anthropology article), and then stated that she didn’t believe the physics article because of what she learned from the anthropology article. We need to read the scriptures, heed the living prophets, and pray to Heavenly Father that His Spirit might guide us and teach us Truth. As we seek the Primary Source of Truth, we will be blessed.

The Importance of Family and the Spirit of Elijah

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My father wrote a beautiful post about one of the great benefits of doing family history work. I’ll quote about half of his post:

“Slowly my heart turned to my ancestors…. The more I investigated, the more there was to investigate. Sometimes I would just sit and feel almost crushed by the weight of all those dead people. They began talking to me. How could I go on with all those lives? All those days of work and all the sorrow and tears? How can you keep on going when your son, your namesake, is crushed by the wheel of a wagon crossing the plains? How do you live through the loss of your twenty-two year old son, electrocuted by a power line? How do you live on when your mother dies and you are only eight years old? How do you live in a place with little water, when the wind blows 350 days a year and the temperatures in the winter are 20 degrees below zero? How do you go on when your home is burned by a mob and you are beaten over the head until senseless? How can you live in Boston with no job and no income and no food and watch your children starve? How do you live when you look out from your tiny ship after crossing the ocean and see a whole empty continent and face a winter of starvation? How do you keep from being crushed by all those dead peoples’ lives?

“Genealogy is not a pastime. Genealogy is not a hobby. Genealogy is not even a discipline. It is not technology. It is not a software program or backing up files. It is the hopes, fears and lives of your ancestors. It is life. It is who you are when everything else is lost and gone. At the end of your life, you have only your memories and your family. Truly said, what is it worth to gain the whole world if you lose your soul? Your family is your soul.”

The scripture my father quoted at the end comes from the New Testament. The Savior said, “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt. 16:26). If our family is our soul, do we sell that in our pursuits of other things? Do we neglect the roots and branches of our family trees? Do we give up what matters most for what might matter at the moment? Are we gaining fleeting things by ignoring what really lasts?

One of Shakespeare’s characters contemplated,

“What win I, if I gain the thing I seek?
A dream, a breath, a froth of fleeting joy.
Who buys a minute’s mirth to wail a week?
Or sells eternity to get a toy?
For one sweet grape who will the vine destroy?
Or what fond beggar, but to touch the crown,
Would with the sceptre straight be strucken down?”

By neglecting our ancestors, particularly their temple work, we are neglecting the vine and selling, or at least delaying, eternity.

In 1977 Truman G. Madsen gave a devotional talk entitled Elijah’s Mission at Brigham Young University [link to all of his recorded talks at BYU]. He notes that the first (temporally) section of the Doctrine and Covenants is Section 2, which is something that Moroni told Joseph Smith when he visited on Sep. 21, 1823. He said,

“Behold, I will reveal unto you the Priesthood, by the hand of Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers. If it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming.”

Elijah’s mission, Elijah’s spirit and keys, are partially related to genealogy. If the hearts of the fathers and children do not turn towards each other and the promises (covenants) made, the “whole earth would be utterly wasted at [Christ’s] coming.” So just how important is genealogy (implying also temple work)? Well, it saves the earth so it probably could not be any more important.

Truman Madsen said a lot of things pertaining to this subject in his talk [note: this is a partial transcript I did because I’m not aware of a transcribed version of this talk]:

“He [Elijah] somehow bridges some gap, some alienation, some separation that has occurred in the human family. No subject preoccupied the Prophet Joseph Smith more than this. And in his late years he spoke at least 8 times, pleading with the Saints to ponder and pray over this principle. And for example, he gave us some insight. We ordinarily say, ‘Well, Elijah did something pertaining to the dead or work for the dead.’ A half truth. In the first place, no one is really dead. Those who are in the spirit world are, we are taught by the prophets, more alive than some of us. Elder Melvin J. Ballard used to say that they have every feeling intensified spiritually. And as for their being dead and gone. No, they are not gone either for the prophets teach us that the spirit world is not in some remote galaxy, it is here, it is near. And as the Prophet [Joseph Smith] put it, speaking of their feelings for us – those who are bound to us somehow by the anxieties of their fore-bearing; he said, their bowels yearn over us. He said, they are not merely idle spectators in the last days. He said, enveloped in flaming fire, they are not far from us. They know our thoughts, motions – one account says emotions – and feelings and are often pained therewith – and he could have added, rejoiced therewith. When the scriptures say all eternity is pained, that is I take it a metaphor for their pain. When it says that the heavens weep in joy – the same.

“So Elijah does have something to do with them [our ancestors] but the Prophet [Joseph Smith] taught he [Elijah] also has something to do with us and with the living. And there is this strange phrase that had he not come, then the whole earth would be cursed, or, in another version, the earth would be utterly wasted at Christ’s coming. Wasted I take it means at least two things. It would be in a sense, a waste, if this earth created by our Father and His Son as the dwelling place of their family turned out to be a house barren. Not a home, not a place of genuine familial love. And in that sense it would have been a waste to have created it. But secondly, it would literally be the case were there not a family welded and united and full of love for Christ, it would be the case that all mankind would be laid waste at His coming, unable to endure His presence. But thank God for the restoration of the power to prepare such a family! And that conferral came through Elijah.

“The Prophet [Joseph Smith] said, speaking of this, ‘How will God come to the rescue of this generation?’ And answers, He will send Elijah. Well that generation may have been a difficult one, this generation in which you and I live is in some ways a worse one….

“Elijah had a revelatory function. There is a spirit that is somehow emanating through him and his work and ministry, which has reached out far beyond the pales of this Church. Turning hearts and not just heads. And one account says that it was his function to reveal to us the covenants made by our fathers and the covenants made by us with our fathers, again pointing to something that happened prior to mortality….

“Elijah has been patient through millennia to bring earth and heaven back together, to tie to together the old and the new worlds, to take the estranged and the alienated and the embittered and somehow transform their hearts and to prepare all of the family who will to be a family, welded indissolubly in order to greet the Christ.

“The Prophet [Joseph Smith] said on an occasion to the Relief Society that he grieved that there was so little union of feeling among them – and they were marvelous! And he went on to say, by union of feeling we obtain power with the heavens. When on the other hand he introduced the ordinance of the washing of the feet among the brethren, he taught them that this ordinance, a sacred one, was essential to the union of feeling and affection among them – that their faith might be strong.

“Now we needn’t dwell on the point that the family in our culture is coming unglued and there are those that recommend it and who hold that the great wave of the future – a better future – is to totally abandon the notion of unit families….

“We’re in a real world and the alienation, the pain, the hostility, the torment, the trauma, even of Latter-day Saint homes is a long distance from Elijah who said he would turn the hearts toward and not away. Is there hope? I’m here to testify there is….

“It may be difficult to forgive your enemies but it’s even more so to forgive your loved ones who have sometimes manifested hate and you [have manifested hate], in response. It is harder to forgive your loved ones because you care about them and you have to go on living with them or struggling to and they can go on hurting you over the years and decades and it’s a little hard. But your hearts will never turn to your fathers in the way this spirit of which we have been testifying motivates you to do unless you forgive.

“See, you’ve inherited all kinds of things. There is a standard procedure for students with bad report cards – they can go home and say, ‘Look Mom’ or ‘Look Dad, which do you think it is? Heredity or environment?’…You willingly chose to come into the world, likely in this time and this circumstance and you may have had some choice as to your parentage and to your posterity….

“As you look back at the seventy men, and that’s what it would take – only 70 men – to get you back to Abraham, you might recognize that you have inherited the blood of generations. And blood might not be a correct word scientifically but it stands in the scriptures for seed, which is specifically the heredity, the inheritance of tendencies, and all of you have them. And so you have the blood of this generation, which Section 88 says you must become clean from – that’s a strong prepositional ending. Clean, from the blood of this generation. If so, you must be clean from the blood of every generation because it is compounded and cumulated into now and that includes the blood of some degeneration.

You do have problems that you can blame on them and if you forgive that and choose to stand close to the Lord in the process of purifying your life, that will affect your whole family – in both directions. You are not alone. There is no way you can gain solitary and neutral ground. You are in it – in involvement [with your family]. And this I take it one of the profound meanings of that long, laborious allegory in the Book of Mormon – Jacob’s allegory of the tame and wild tree….

“If you take a tame [olive] branch and graft it into a wild tree – in due time, if it is strong enough, it will heal and regenerate to the very roots. You will then have been an instrument in the sanctification, even of your fore-bearers. Do you believe it? Does that ever sober you in moments where you suppose that either no one cares for you or whether they care or not, your life makes no difference? To be that kind of branch and achieve that kind of transformation backward and forward is the greatest achievement of this world! But to do it one must be great, one must be linked, bound to the Lord Jesus Christ. He must be mighty! Why he must be something like a savior and that is exactly what the Prophet Joseph Smith said you are – saviors on Mount Zion. And how are you to be saviors on Mount Zion, he asked once in a discourse, and he answered – and I’m paraphrasing – by going, first building, and going into the temples of the Lord. And in your own propria persona – in your own first person presence – to go through for and in behalf of loved ones – all of the ordinances, and he [Joseph Smith] names them all – and says by the way, that Elijah’s keys apply to all ordinances, not just the final one; sealing all of them, culminating in that final linkage that binds for time and for eternity. Saviors, redeemers of your families….

The sacrifice I suggest that the sons of Levi and the daughters of Levi are to offer in the end, is the willingness to give yourself in the cause of saviorhood and to care more about family and the preservation and intensification of family than you care about anything else in this world! And that has costs. Some things have to be given up; some things have to be postponed – and the focus is sacrifice.

“I have to say, honestly, that I find that I believe that it is painful. I have to say that I believe that there are many among us who are easily pulled in other directions, and I have to say that I consider that tragedy. I occasionally hear housewives say that’s what they are – mere housewives. ‘What have you done in the past 20 years?’ ‘Oh, nothing. Ah, I just fed my family three meals a day and more or less kept them together.’ ‘Is that all?’ Pres. Lorenzo Snow said with power on an occasion, ‘If a woman did nothing more than that [faithfully take care of her home and family], she would be exalted in the Celestial Kingdom.’ If she didn’t do one other thing! Our generation is making attractive every other thing but. And that is not the gospel of Jesus Christ. So I plead with you, be forgiving and be sacrificial….

“It is our privilege and calling in our own limited way, to become redemptors of not just the human race but the human family – ours and His. It is impossible to love Him truly and not love what is His – and the Lord God assigned Him all of us. And it is not possible for you to really love yourself unless you love what is truly you, and that is whole house of Israel in which you belong….”

There is a lot there. Family is important, it is all that really matters in the end. Genealogy and family history work are part of Elijah’s mission. It is not just about building up databases of names; this work is about providing necessary ordinances to those who are waiting. It is about linking generation to generation and hearts to hearts. Our ancestors lived lives of joy and sorrow, they were people both good and bad. They can be, through their faith and ours and through the sealing power of the Priesthood, which keys Elijah bestowed upon Joseph Smith, forever ours.