Of all the talks I listened to at the last LDS General Conference (October 2011)- “The Book of Mormon a Book from God” by Tad R. Callister was the one I had the most problem with (see talk below). To say that the Book of Mormon was either written by God or Satan is the first ridiculous statement.
For example, what if Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon because he wanted to write a book that infused his own understanding of biblical beliefs through the use of another story written in a biblical style? Joseph might have thought that he could influence others for good by spreading this story. Perhaps he had good intentions. I liken it to a guy who is running for President. He thinks he has some really good ideas, and he thinks he has the answers and can change the world for the better, but he feels he must do some underhanded deception, etc. in order to get elected. He thinks it is the only way people will pay attention to him. He also wants to be put in a position of power and perhaps wealth at the same time. He feels that being deceptive is the only way he can bring about his idealistic goals.
Perhaps some of his ideas may really be good and affect many people for good, but because Joseph knew he hadn’t been honest he felt guilty and this eventually caught up to him, so he started to act out sexually (polygamy behind his wife’s back). This is a very typical behavior. So the initial deceptions may have been well-intentioned (in his mind) to bring about a book that will influence people for the good- and perhaps bring him money and power. So, by looking in the book and seeing that the book teaches good things does not make it true.
The Book of Mormon comes largely from the Bible. To see how the Book of Mormon copies the Bible compare the following yourself: Mathew 13:3-8 and Alma 32 28-43. Hebrews 3:7-13 and Alma 12 33-36. Hebrews 3: 15-18 and alma 12-37. The story of Alma the younger seems to draw from the New Testament story of the apostle Paul as a model. Hebrews 7: 1-4 and Alma 13:7, 15, 17-19. Compare Paul and Moroni’s writings on Faith, Hope and Charity. They are almost identical. Compare 1 Corinthians 12 and Moroni 10. The main outline of the Book of Mormon comes from the book “View of the Hebrews” which was a popular book at the time of Joseph Smith. None of the sources used to write the Book of Mormon were evil sources, so why expect the Book of Mormon to be purely evil? Can a story not be false and still have a moral message? What about all of the fairy tales – most have a moral message yet are not true stories. So to say that if it has a good moral than it is a true story from God doesn’t make any sense. Only stories that preach Satan or evil are false books? It doesn’t matter if the Book of Mormon doesn’t claim to be a moral treatise. That doesn’t mean anything. It only means what Joseph Smith wanted others to believe, so they would read it and take it seriously and look to him as the “prophet” it came through. There is a lot of motivation to do that. Do you think Joseph Smith was stupid enough to believe that a book would become popular and make him famous if he wrote a book about evil things?
Why can there not be a middle ground with the Book of Mormon? Why can’t someone read it and say- well I don’t believe that this stuff really happened in history, but there are some good moral messages here that I might be able to learn something from. Who cares if the author wasn’t truthful about where the story came from? That doesn’t mean the stories can’t have some merit. This general conference talk gave the impression that if you do not believe in the historicity of the Book of Mormon than you have to take the whole thing as evil – you have to believe that the good moral messages are really evil. You have to believe that good is bad. Deceptive people can write inspiring books. It is possible. Just like it was possible for Eliot Spitzer to fight the evil in New York City while simultaneously supporting it by visiting escort girls. People are not one-dimensional. They are not all bad or all good. Good people do bad things and bad people do good things. My young daughter is a good person, but she lies sometimes to get what she wants. Why can’t you say the same thing about Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon?
The Book of Mormon doesn’t teach anything new that isn’t already in the Bible. All new doctrine in the LDS church come from the Doctrine and Covenants and the First Vision (one of the versions). So to say that the Book of Mormon is essential so that everyone can interpret the Bible the same way is silly. The Book of Mormon doesn’t give much help in interpreting the Bible. Furthermore, the Mormon Church’s belief system has become just another interpretation of the Bible. It didn’t bring anyone together- it just made everyone even more divided.
Similarly it is not crazy for someone to say that Jesus was a good moral teacher, but they are unsure if he was the Son of God or if he really died for their sins. The reason given was that Jesus himself claimed to be the Savior, the Son of God, etc. and so if that isn’t true than nothing he said is true. However, the truth is that Jesus never said anything. The men who wrote the Gospels never actually knew Jesus (Mathew, Mark, Luke and John were not Jesus apostles- nor were they in the same class). These men were Greek scholars who 10-40 years after Jesus death wrote about him based on stories that had been passed down. Stories that may have been distorted, changed, magnified, etc. Back then people believed that mentally ill people were possessed by evil spirits but now we don’t believe that anymore – still the Bible contains these erroneous stories. So the point is that a person is not deciding whether or not they believe what Jesus said. They are deciding whether or not to believe what someone else said – someone who didn’t even know Jesus personally – about what Jesus said and did. Much of it is possibly true, but there is no way of knowing how much is true and there is no way of knowing if other people’s beliefs, distortions or agendas got put into the books. Furthermore, none of the Gospels were written at the same time, so all of the books after Mark used Mark as a reference for writing their stories.
Neither the Book of Mormon or the Bible has to been taken in black or white. That is a dangerous path because it destroys faith- as soon as anyone sees the weakness in either book (the inplausibility, the contradictions, the lack of archeological evidence, the lack of historical accuracy, etc. ) they will reject them both entirely instead of allowing people to keep the parts that inspire them to be better people and more tolerant of all levels of belief.
Years ago my great-great-grandfather picked up a copy of the Book of Mormon for the first time. He opened it to the center and read a few pages. He then declared, “That book was either written by God or the devil, and I am going to find out who wrote it.” He read it through twice in the next 10 days and then declared, “The devil could not have written it—it must be from God.”1
That is the genius of the Book of Mormon—there is no middle ground. It is either the word of God as professed, or it is a total fraud. This book does not merely claim to be a moral treatise or theological commentary or collection of insightful writings. It claims to be the word of God—every sentence, every verse, every page. Joseph Smith declared that an angel of God directed him to gold plates, which contained the writings of prophets in ancient America, and that he translated those plates by divine powers. If that story is true, then the Book of Mormon is holy scripture, just as it professes to be; if not, it is a sophisticated but, nonetheless, diabolical hoax.
C. S. Lewis spoke of a similar dilemma faced by someone who must choose whether to accept or reject the Savior’s divinity—where there is likewise no middle ground: “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. … You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. … But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”2
Likewise, we must make a simple choice with the Book of Mormon: it is either of God or the devil. There is no other option. For a moment I invite you to take a test that will help you determine the true nature of this book. Ask yourself if the following scriptures from the Book of Mormon draw you closer to God or to the devil:
“Feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do” (2 Nephi 32:3).
Or these words of a loving father to his sons: “And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation” (Helaman 5:12).
Or these words of a prophet: “Come unto Christ, and be perfected in him” (Moroni 10:32).
Could these statements from the Book of Mormon have possibly been authored by the evil one? After the Savior cast out certain devils, the Pharisees claimed that He did so “by Beelzebub the prince of the devils.” The Savior responded that such a conclusion was nonsensical: “Every kingdom,” He said, “divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every … house divided against itself shall not stand.” And then His compelling climax: “And if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself; how shall then his kingdom stand?” (Matthew 12:24–26; emphasis added).
If the foregoing scriptures from the Book of Mormon teach us to worship and love and serve the Savior (which they do), how can they be from the devil? If so, he would be divided against himself and thus be destroying his own kingdom, the very condition the Savior said could not exist. An honest, unbiased reading of the Book of Mormon will bring someone to the same conclusion as my great-great-grandfather, namely: “The devil could not have written it—it must be from God.”
But why is the Book of Mormon so essential if we already have the Bible to teach us about Jesus Christ? Have you ever wondered why there are so many Christian churches in the world today when they obtain their doctrines from essentially the same Bible? It is because they interpret the Bible differently. If they interpreted it the same, they would be the same church. This is not a condition the Lord desires, for the Apostle Paul declared that there is “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5). To help bring this oneness about, the Lord established a divine law of witnesses. Paul taught, “In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established” (2 Corinthians 13:1).
Excerpt from Elder Tad R. Callister’s October 2011 General Conference Address, The Book of Mormon—a Book from God. Elder Tad R. Callister is a Member Of The First Quorum of the Seventy of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. View Elder Tad R. Callister’s full address here.