Balancing Scripture

I’ve often been interested in how scriptural books relate to each other. As Latter-day Saints, of course, we have multiple books of scripture in our canon: The Bible (which itself is a compilation of books); the Book of Mormon, a record of ancient prophets in the Americas; the Doctrine and Covenants, a collection of revelations from the modern era; and the Pearl of Great Price, which is rather a small miscellaneous assortment. How these connect, and the way they draw on each other and shed light on each other, drew my attention enough that I wrote my erstwhile thesis (and now book) on the Book of Mormon and its relationship with the Bible.

Sometimes, however, we can neglect particular parts of our canon. There’s a particularly powerful warning in the Doctrine and Covenants about the Saints neglecting the Book of Mormon:

And your minds in times past have been darkened because of unbelief, and because you have treated lightly the things you have received—

Which vanity and unbelief have brought the whole church under condemnation.

And this condemnation resteth upon the children of Zion, even all.

And they shall remain under this condemnation until they repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon and the former commandments which I have given them, not only to say, but to do according to that which I have written—

That they may bring forth fruit meet for their Father’s kingdom; otherwise there remaineth a scourge and judgment to be poured out upon the children of Zion.

(D&C 84:54-58)

This warning was notably reiterated by Ezra Taft Benson in his first conference address as President of the Church, a message he continued to repeat throughout his presidency. I think that now, looking back with the benefit of hindsight, one can see many blessings that have come from members heeding that warning and paying more attention to the Book of Mormon, including a greater understanding of Christ’s atonement and the role of his grace, topics about which the Book of Mormon teaches emphatically.

One can neglect the other books too, of course. One conclusion of my own work was that the Book of Mormon prophets saw all scripture as part of one vast, interdependent collection, and that to reject one part is to reject all, as seen in the warning in 2 Nephi 28:29-30:

Wo be unto him that shall say: We have received the word of God, and we need no more of the word of God, for we have enough!

For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have.

Indeed, I believe one can sometimes take a focus on the Book of Mormon too far, if it causes one to neglect completely the Bible, the Doctrine & Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price. To do this is hardly something the Book of Mormon writers would approve of, when one purpose in writing the work was “for the intent that ye may believe that [meaning the Bible]” (Mormon 7:9); nor would it be in keeping with Christ’s instruction to read Isaiah and the other prophets (3 Nephi 23:1, 5). It’s for that very reason – in response to comments that Latter-day Saints didn’t need to read the Old Testament – that I wrote a series of posts about why they should (including that it’d help them understand the Book of Mormon)!

Having said that, however, there does seem to be a particular focus on the Book of Mormon itself, enough to provoke a divine warning in revelation, not to mention the continuing focus by present day Apostles. And I have often pondered why that is the case. It was written with prophetic foresight for our day (Mormon 8:34-35), of course, and wasn’t read by the people of the time, but then again the revelations of the Doctrine and Covenants were actually written in our era. There is also the sense in which the Book of Mormon is described as “the keystone of our religion”: it simultaneously bears witness of past scripture, of the prophethood of Joseph Smith, and of the divine authority of the Church today (D&C 20:11). But if one has already received this witness, are there any other reasons to focus on the Book of Mormon in particular?

Two principle reasons suggest themselves to my mind (there are more, but these seem key).

Firstly, the Book of Mormon has a relentless focus on the most important and basic matters. It is noticeable, for instance, that in contrast to the rather loose and expansive way we tend to use the word doctrine (and slather that term on top of everything), in the Book of Mormon it is only used in two senses: doctrines, plural, always referring to false doctrines; and doctrine, singular, always referring to the “doctrine of Christ” or “the gospel”, a term used of the most basic core of the gospel. As seen, for instance, in 3 Nephi 27:13-20, the description of this gospel is succinct (just 8 verses there!), but covers the most important matters: the incarnation of Christ, redemption through his death and resurrection, our resurrection and final judgment and the basic principles of faith, repentance, baptism, and sanctification through the receipt of the Holy Ghost. Likewise, the basic themes announced on the title page – revelation, the restoration of Israel, and the messiah-hood and divinity of Christ – are emphasised again and again (including, as I discovered, in the Book of Mormon’s use of the Bible). The Book of Mormon aims like a laser at the things that matter most, while hardly talking at all about some things we tend to think are very important.

This may be seen as part and parcel of its mission to restore “plain and precious things” (1 Nephi 13:40), but I also wonder if it ends up going beyond that. It seems quite easy, from observation, that when people principally read other portions of scripture for them to not see the wood for the trees: that is, to end up focusing and losing perspective on principles that may be true, and may even be necessary, but which are an appendage to more basic things. Likewise, in such circumstances it seems easier for people to over-complicate the gospel, or get focused on overly-speculative matters. But if we are reading the Book of Mormon as well, perhaps its focus can help to keep us focused. By serving as a lens in our reading of other scripture, it may not only restore plain and precious things, but help us to see the plain and precious things in the other books too.

Secondly, there is a power beyond the text itself. I’ve had some powerful experiences with scripture, with a range of different passages, throughout the standard works. But when I look back over my life, I find that in general that it is those periods when I am reading the Book of Mormon regularly (rather than just the other books) that I am spiritually better. On an average basis, I find it has a more powerful devotional effect than almost any other passage, save perhaps for the Gospels (and perhaps even just the Gospel of John). When I am read the Book of Mormon over a prolonged period, I am closer to the Spirit, repent more readily, am more obedient, and find it easier to resist temptation.

Part of a reason this comes to mind is a feeling that I have a personal need to refocus a little. Most of my reading of scripture this year has been from other books, particularly the New Testament, and that’s certainly not bad (especially with Come Follow Me), but I have been reading less from the Book of Mormon this year than those immediately prior (especially compared to the thesis years). Everyone is probably in a different place on this front, and would need to judge for themselves where their balance currently is, but personally speaking I feel a need to re-balance in the direction of reading the Book of Mormon more consistently than I have recently. Because there’s a benefit that I feel that comes from it that extends beyond the words themselves.

There’s many things in the gospel, and our experience with God, that cannot be put into words. Indeed, I think that’s part of the key to the book of Job: Job’s questions aren’t answered in the book of Job, but he does learn something that puts him at peace, something he learns from seeing God (Job 42:3-6), something which cannot be put into words, but can only be learned the same way Job did. Likewise, in reading scripture I feel that there is something we can experience that is more than simply taking in the text on the page. There have been times in my life – I found quite often as a missionary, since I’d often have one in my hand – that I could feel the power within the Book of Mormon simply by holding it. That power comes from God, and I believe, and have felt, that when we read the book with a sincere heart and real intent that we receive not only the words that are written into our minds, but also receive that power into our souls. Christ himself taught that God’s word, and his word, has a sanctifying effect upon us (John 15:3, 17:17). And as President Benson said, quoting an earlier apostle:

“But there is another reason why we should read it,” President Romney continued. “By doing so we will fill and refresh our minds with the constant flow of that ‘water’ which Jesus said would be in us—‘a well of water springing up into everlasting life.’ (John 4:14.) We must obtain a continuing supply of this water if we are to resist evil and retain the blessings of being born again. …

“If we would avoid adopting the evils of the world, we must pursue a course which will daily feed our minds with and call them back to the things of the Spirit. I know of no better way to do this than by reading the Book of Mormon.”

 

2019 Re-issue

It’s been almost two years since I published my book, The Book of Mormon and its relationship with the Bible. Since that time I’ve become aware of a few niggling errors. None of these were major, but they were annoying, so I’ve taken the opportunity to fix these and republish the book in all formats. The new version is available as a PDF from this blog, in paperback and kindle versions on Amazon (and Amazon.co.uk et al), and in hardback form from Lulu (with expanded distribution for the latter available shortly). Once again, the prices are set at cost, or in the case of the Kindle version as low as I can get them (and any royalties from the latter, as little as they are, will be donated).

The errors are minor enough that if you already have a copy, I would not suggest replacing it. Aside from typos (of which there were not many, and the majority of which had already been fixed), the two most consequential differences are the following:

On p. 331  in chapter five (p. 333 in 2017 hardback & all 2019 editions, due to additional blank pages), 3 Nephi 21:21//Micah 5:15 is quoted as ‘And I will execute vengeance and fury upon them, even as upon the heathen, such as they have not heard.’ This has been corrected in the 2019 printings to ‘And I will execute vengeance <in anger> and fury upon them, even as upon the heathen, such as they have not heard.’ Micah 5:15 includes the phrase ‘in anger’ which is not found in 3 Nephi 21:21, and this is now properly indicated in triangular brackets.

On p. 406 in appendix one (p. 410 in hardback & 2019 editions), the word cities in verse 9 of 2 Nephi 15//Isaiah 5 should be in bold, as it is not found in the KJV. Again, this is now properly displayed.

One other superficial change is that the paperback’s cover has had to change! The original was produced via Createspace, but this has since merged with Kindle Direct Publishing. Unfortunately, their cover creation tools are incompatible, so the old cover was lost. Which is a shame, as I quite liked it, but hopefully the new one will be serviceable, and we learn by doing.

The Stealing of the Daughters of the Lamanites

As announced, here’s an article in PDF format, entitled ‘The Daughters of the Lamanites and the Daughters of Shiloh’. This is based on research that subsequently (mostly for reasons of space), never ended up in my book, and examines the possible connections between the story of the stealing of the daughters of the Lamanites, found in Mosiah 20, and that of the stealing of the daughters of Shiloh, found in Judges 21, and the possible meaning behind any deliberate connections.

The Daughters of the Lamanites and the Daughters of Shiloh

I’ve also created a new page – PDF Articles – for this and for future articles I release on this blog.

Upcoming articles

Just as a notice, I plan to release several Book of Mormon related articles via this blog in the coming months as downloadable PDFs. First shall be “The Daughters of Shiloh and the Daughters of the Lamanites”, which examines the possible relationship between the stories in Mosiah 20 and Judges 21. This is based on material that was originally intended for my thesis/book but omitted due to length. This will likely be followed by “The Book of Mormon and the ‘great man’ theory of history”, based on a presentation I gave at a conference several years ago now about how the Book of Mormon depicts historical cause and effect.

Following these, there are several posts on this blog – primarily those about Deuteronomy and the Book of Mormon – I plan to make available as PDF articles, possibly with some revision and expansion (I have several ideas in mind for showing the linkages between the two). The original posts will continue to remain available.

New Hardback Edition available!

Working via Lulu.com, I’ve managed to produce a hardback version of The Book of Mormon and its relationship with the Bible, for anyone wanting a studier edition. My proof arrived today:

I can definitely say I’m happy with how it came out. It’s sadly not sewn bound, although that’s probably a bit much to expect from POD and at this price point. The hardback itself is suitably sturdy, and the text has come out well. And it has a dust-jacket and gold-lettering and everything!:

Here it is in comparison with the paperback (which I guess could henceforth be called the economy edition):

Overall, I’m very happy with it. It is more expensive than the paperback (not to mention the kindle edition, or the free PDF), but once again it is available for as close to cost as I can get it. My primary concern, obviously, is that my work is available to be read and judged for itself, and so I’m happy for people to read it via the PDF or whatever format suits them best. Should anyone find its contents informative and of value, however, and want to read it in what I feel is its best and certainly most durable setting, the hardback is now available for sale via lulu.com and will be available via other distributors.

The hardback edition is available here.

The paperback and kindle editions are available via Amazon (including the US, Canadian and UK sites).

And of course the PDF is available via this blog.

New reduced US price on Amazon for “The Book of Mormon and its …”

My principal aims in releasing my book, The Book of Mormon and its relationship with the Bible, have been twofold: Firstly, to share what I believe are a number of original contributions to our understanding of the Book of Mormon, and how it uses and approaches the Bible, that are hopefully of interest to anyone who is interested in these books of scripture. Secondly, to seek vindication for the unfair and inadequate assessment my thesis received at the viva voce. I’ve not sought any financial gain from it (I’d think I’d be pretty silly if I’d had), and for this reason I’ve made the contents freely available as a PDF on this blog, and have sought to keep the price of the books as close to cost as possible.

Up until now, however, the US price has been kept higher due to the requirements of the expanded distribution channels I was using. Recently, however, I’ve been able to re-evaluate this, and have determined that these channels are not necessary at this time. This has allowed me to reduce the US list price of The Book of Mormon and its relationship with the Bible to one in line with the UK/EU prices, and so the book is now available from Amazon.com at a new reduced price of $11.99.

I also hope to announce shortly the availability of a hardback edition, again as close to cost as possible, for those wanting an extra-sturdy and durable edition.

The Complexity of the Book of Mormon

During the most recent General Conference, Elder Ted R. Callister (General Sunday School President) spoke about the Book of Mormon, and particularly about its complexity as evidence for its inspiration. All too often, however, I see assertions of the opposite, that almost anyone with some basic familiarity with the Bible or an open copy of the King James version could write it. I came across many such claims during the writing of my thesis, and just the other week found a similar statement in a “Concise Oxford Dictionary of Religions” I came across in a charity shop (namely that the book’s authenticity was doubted because of its “reminisces of the King James version”; I didn’t check at the time, but would be intrigued to know if the contributors had felt the need to make similar statements in regards to other faiths).

These statements typically take the form of sweeping generalizations, with little evidence because few of those making such comments seem to have taken the trouble to examine the book itself closely. In contrast, one very clear finding throughout my thesis was just how exceptionally complex the Book of Mormon’s use of biblical material actually was, far more complex than I’d suggest most actual readers pick up. Furthermore, again and again I found evidence that the authors of the Book of Mormon would have needed to be far more familiar with biblical material than the critics claimed. One example from Chapter 3:

Nephi then proceeds to place a condition upon the fulfilment of this covenant:

And I would, my brethren, that ye should know that all the kindreds of the earth cannot be blessed unless he shall make bare his arm in the eyes of the nations.

(1 Nephi 22:10)

At first glance this appears to be a simple assertion, a claim that this ‘marvelous work’ is to be accomplished by a display of divine power. However, what this misses is that the two halves of this verse are not connected simply by assertion, but by a chain of associated passages:

And I would, my brethren, that ye should know that all the kindreds of the earth cannot be blessed unless he shall make bare his arm in the eyes of the nations.

(1 Nephi 22:10)

Yea, and all the earth shall see the salvation of the Lord, saith the prophet; every nation, kindred, tongue and people shall be blessed.

(1 Nephi 19:17)

The Lord hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.

(Isaiah 52:10; bold, italicised, and underlined text marks linked passages.)

Thus the reference to the blessing of ‘all the kindreds of the earth’ not only refers to the just quoted covenant with Abraham, but also alludes to the second half of 1 Nephi 19:17, attributed as a quotation of the non-biblical prophet Zenos. In turn, the first clause of 1 Nephi 19:17, ‘and all the earth shall see the salvation of the Lord’, corresponds to the second part of Isaiah 52:10 (not quoted here, but quoted four times – twice explicitly – elsewhere in the Book of Mormon in Mosiah 12:24, Mosiah 15:31, 3 Nephi 16:20 and 20:35). Finally, returning to 1 Nephi 22:10, we find the first half of Isaiah 52:10 supplying the final phrase of the verse.[1] This is extremely unlikely to be coincidental; instead it appears that the various stages by which the author linked these phrases together in 1 Nephi 22:10 have been left out, leaving only the conclusion.

[1]     Grant Hardy appears to have noticed the same connection, see Hardy, Reader’s Edition, p. 58, footnotes f and g.

As I then point out a little further down:

As noted in chapter two, one particular suggestion has been offered to explain this connection: that Joseph Smith had access to a King James Bible in front of him to assist him. While such suggestions face difficulties from eyewitness statements to the dictation process, this idea has been advanced by both critics and believers in different forms.[1] Thus Wesley Walters, holding that Joseph Smith was the actual author, argues that Joseph Smith must have had ‘his KJV Bible open in front of him’, the only alternative being memorization.[2] Sidney Sperry, on the other hand, while regarding Joseph Smith as a translator, has also argued for the possibility that a Bible was used for help in translating when Joseph Smith came across passages that were recognisably from the Bible and when the KJV was considered adequate.[3]

Yet the above example, and others like it, of the Book of Mormon’s use of the Bible present such suggestions with substantial logical problems. While the idea of working directly from an ‘open’ Bible might suffice for explicit quotations, it is a less adequate explanation for the situation above in which phrases are interwoven into the text and associated by an unwritten chain in which the intervening steps are omitted.[4] Any author would need substantially more familiarity than Wesley Walters’ scenario appears to grant (that is ‘enough to scatter biblical phrases freely’).[5] Likewise any translator attempting to use the KJV as a mundane aid to fill the gaps of any translation would need extensive biblical awareness simply to find the chain of relevant texts. There are historical reasons such scriptural fluency on the part of Joseph Smith has not been assumed.[6] A range of historical and theological possibilities could be suggested that do not require Joseph Smith to have this biblical familiarity; the book itself claims to be interpreted ‘by the gift of God’ (title page). What is clear, however, is that an open Bible alone is insufficient to explain the evident familiarity with the biblical text and the close connection the Book of Mormon has with the KJV.

[1]     All eyewitness statements to the dictation process deny the presence of other texts. Welch, The Sermon at the Temple, p. 132; Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, p. 70; Givens, By the Hand of Mormon, pp. 30–32.

[2]     Walters, The Use of the Old Testament, p. 36.

[3]     Welch, The Sermon at the Temple, p. 135; Sperry, ‘The text of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon’, pp. 80–81.

[4]     Hardy, Understanding the Book of Mormon, pp. 67–68.

[5]     Walters, The Use of the Old Testament, p. 13.

[6]     For instance, Emma Smith’s report that at one point during the dictation of the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith expressed concern as to whether Jerusalem had walls. John W. Welch and Tim Rathbone, ‘Book of Mormon Translation by Joseph Smith’, Encyclopedia of Mormonism: The History, Scripture, Doctrine, and Procedure of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ed. by Daniel Ludlow (New York: Macmillan, 1992), p. 210; See also Barlow, Mormons and the Bible, p. 13.

Obviously, like Elder Callister, I’d attribute this complexity and familiarity with the biblical text not to Joseph Smith, or any other 19th century figure, but to far older figures and ultimately divine inspiration. However, what is clear are that repeated claims that the Book of Mormon simply copies the Bible, and that anyone with an open Bible could have written it, are simply not true.


More examples of this complexity, and much else, can be found in my book, The Book of Mormon and its relationship with the Bible, which is available as a free PDF from this site, or may be obtained in paperback or in kindle format (including from Amazon.com here and Amazon.co.uk here).

Kindle edition available

For those who wish to read it on mobile devices, a Kindle edition of The Book of Mormon and its relationship with the Bible is now available:The_Book_of_Mormon_a_Cover_for_Kindle

It’s now linked up with the paperback’s Amazon entries, so can be found on Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk and most other Amazon marketplaces.

In the print

Perhaps this is a feeling many authors have when meeting their work “in the flesh” for the first time, but part of me is honestly finding it a little hard to believe I had anything to do with this:

I have to say I’m very impressed with Createspace’s quality, and would certainly both use them again and recommend their services to others.

Once again, the book is available as a free PDF, or may be purchased as a paperback from Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com and various Amazon Europe pages.

Free e-book: The Book of Mormon and its relationship with the Bible

As readers of my blog may be aware, I’ve been engaged in a PhD examining the Book of Mormon and its relationship with the Bible. I submitted earlier this year (2017). However, to the great surprise of not only myself but also my supervisors, it was rejected with the instruction to rewrite it and resubmit for examination in 2019. I have significant cause to believe that this was an unfair and an inadequate assessment of my thesis, while the requested revisions would utterly change the character of the thesis and cannot be made in good faith, even if I could continue. Lacking other effective recourse, I have thus decided to release my work – with only very slight revisions – to a wider audience, and let the reader judge for themselves.

The book is available both for purchase as a paperback, and for free as a bookmarked PDF. The PDF version may be downloaded from the following link: The Book of Mormon and its relationship with the Bible. For those wanting a hard copy, the Paperback is available from Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com, and various European Amazon sites, and should hopefully be available from other channels soon.

From the book description:

The Book of Mormon is an influential and controversial book. It launched a religious movement, is believed by millions to be scripture, and is derided by others as fraudulent. Despite this (or perhaps as a result), the book’s contents have been subject to both academic neglect and popular myth.

This book challenges some of that neglect by examining the Book of Mormon through the lens of its relationship with the Bible: a work which the Book of Mormon openly quotes and expects to be read alongside, and the only text which everyone agrees is connected to the Book of Mormon.

Through close examination of the Book of Mormon text and biblical parallels, including three substantial case studies, this book addresses questions such as:

How and why does the Book of Mormon draw upon the Bible?
Why does the book quote parts of the Bible at great length?
Why do quotations often differ from their biblical counterparts?
How does the Book of Mormon suggest the Bible be read?

Also included in an appendix is a textual comparison of each explicit biblical quotation in the Book of Mormon with the KJV.

(I’ve also added this post as an extra page so it remains available).