I started writing a new book several months ago, but I never finished. I thought I might ask my friends for some advice: Is this topic interesting to you? Should I finish this book? I’d love to know what you think. Here’s Chapter One:
A Second Witness of Christ, and Much More
I’ve had the privilege of teaching the Book of Mormon for nearly two decades. I’ve often begun my classes with the question – why do we need the Book of Mormon?
Some respond, “It is a second witness for Christ.” Yes it is! That is an important answer, practically lifted from the Title Page. The front cover also describes the book as “Another Testament of Jesus Christ.” Yet many people believe very strongly in Christ because they believe the Bible, as we do. “I don’t need another witness,” they might say, “I already believe in Christ.”
If the Book of Mormon is only a second witness for Christ, then it’s just the same stuff, different continent. But the Book of Mormon is more. The book expands, explains and clarifies. It also validates many Biblical stories and personalities, and defends the truthfulness of the Bible.
When I ask my students, “Okay, what then, specifically, does the Book of Mormon give us that is not already in the New Testament?” That’s when I get the blank stares. As an educator, I love blank stares – it means we have an opportunity to fill in the blanks!
If we’re going to flood the earth with the Book of Mormon, we ought to have a clear idea of what’s in it, and of why the Lord wanted us to have it. We ought to know that not only is it another Testament of Jesus Christ, but we ought to know how it expounds, expands and clarifies the gospel of Jesus Christ in wonderful ways.
Savior of the Whole World
The Book of Mormon is intensely Christ-centered. The Savior or one of his many names or titles are referenced every 1.7 verses (Ensign, July, 1978). In other words, on average, you can’t read two verses in the Book of Mormon without a mention of Christ. The major purposes of the Book of Mormon are explained on the Title Page:
- Show unto the remnant of the House of Israel what great things the Lord has done for their Fathers
- That they may know the covenants of the Lord, that they are not cast off forever
- To the convincing of Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations
In recent years, one of the phrases that has stood out to me, is “unto all nations.” If Jesus Christ really is the God of the whole earth, and he is, then we should not be surprised that he would manifest himself unto all nations. The Lord himself expands on the “unto all nations” idea with power:
Know ye not that there are more nations than one? Know ye not that I, the Lord your God, have created all men, and that I remember those who are upon the isles of the sea; and that I rule in the heavens above and in the earth beneath; and I bring forth my word unto the children of men, yea, even upon all the nations of the earth? (2 Nephi 29:7).
While the Christian world maintains that the canon of scriptures is closed, the Latter-day Saints are waiting for more. Who has the authority (or the audacity) to tell God to stop talking? To stop speaking to his children? Not only will more revelation come, but we cannot stop it.
As well might man stretch forth his puny arm to stop the Missouri river in its decreed course, or to turn it up stream, as to hinder the Almighty from pouring down knowledge from heaven upon the heads of the Latter-day Saints (D&C 121:33).
The very existence of the Book of Mormon is a testimony that God continues to communicate with his children.
Defender of the Bible
The Book of Mormon cannot, and does not replace the Bible. In fact, the Book of Mormon vigorously defends the importance and truthfulness of the Bible! The Bible and the Book of Mormon are not rivals. They are companion volumes which combine to testify of Christ.
Some of Mormon’s very last words to future generations testify of the Bible’s truthfulness:
Therefore repent, and be baptized in the name of Jesus, and lay hold upon the gospel of Christ, which shall be set before you, not only in this record but also in the record which shall come unto the Gentiles from the Jews [The Bible], which record shall come from the Gentiles unto you. For behold, this [The Book of Mormon] is written for the intent that ye may believe that [The Bible]; and if ye believe that [The Bible] ye will believe this [The Book of Mormon] also; and if ye believe this ye will know concerning your fathers, and also the marvelous works which were wrought by the power of God among them (Mormon 7:8-9).
Not only does the Book of Mormon defend the Bible, but the Lord chastises the world for their treatment of those who worked and sacrificed to bring the Bible to the world:
And what thank they the Jews for the Bible which they receive from them? Yea, what do the Gentiles mean? Do they remember the travails, and the labors, and the pains of the Jews, and their diligence unto me, in bringing forth salvation unto the Gentiles? O ye Gentiles, have ye remembered the Jews, mine ancient covenant people? Nay; but ye have cursed them, and have hated them, and have not sought to recover them. But behold, I will return all these things upon your own heads; for I the Lord have not forgotten my people. (2 Nephi 29:4-5)
The Book of Mormon fulfills what has been called the “Law of Witnesses,” (Deut 19:15, Matthew 18:16, John 8:12-19). The Bible and the Book of Mormon are dual witnesses of Christ.
Defender of Bible Stories
Some Christians doubt that there really was a garden of Eden, a tower of Babel, an ark built by Noah, and so forth, believing these accounts to be only allegorical. The Book of Mormon validates the Biblical account of Adam and Eve (2 Nephi 2), mentions Noah and the ark (Alma 10:22, Ether 6:7), the tower of Babel (Omni 1:22, Mosiah 28:17, Helaman 6:28, Ether 1:3), Melchizedek (Alma 13:14-17), and Moses and the brazen serpent. (Interestingly, the Book of Mormon adds one important detail to Moses’ story – it testifies that as Moses raised the brazen serpent, he explicitly bore testimony “that the Son of God should come” – a fascinating prophesy and foreshadowing of Christ that is not in the current Old Testament [see Helaman 8:14, Numbers 21:8-9]).
Defender of the Divinity of Christ
Just as there is a broad spectrum of belief in political matters, from liberal to conservative, there is also a broad spectrum of belief in Christian doctrine. In my graduate studies in Religious Education, I was surprised to learn that many Bible scholars are not necessarily Bible believers — and that some liberal Christians believe Jesus to be merely a great moral teacher, but not the divine Son of God. They also discount miracles and prophecy, and the authorship of many books within the Bible.
The late 1980s saw the introduction of the “Jesus Seminar,” a series of meetings of liberal Christians, scholars and ministers who concluded (among other things), that Jesus did not really deliver the Sermon on the Mount, did not speak about his flesh and blood at the last supper, did not predict his own death and resurrection, and never claimed to be the Son of God. In their deliberations, they threw out most of the book of John. The net effect was that Jesus’ teachings were little more than a collection of philosophical ideas with no power to save.
More recently, many books and articles speak of the search for the “historical Jesus” a phrase which usually implies an attempt to discount anything “supernatural,” such as miracles, or prophecies, ascribing them as later additions to the original text.
By contrast, the Book of Mormon declares Jesus Christ to be the divine Son of God on the Title Page and on practically every page thereafter! President Ezra Taft Benson commented:
“The first and most central theme of the Book of Mormon is that Jesus is the promised Messiah, our Lord and Redeemer. He came to redeem mankind from a lost and fallen condition brought about by Adam’s transgression. Nearly all Christian churches accepted this truth as fundamental to their faith when the Book of Mormon was published to the world in 1830. The fact that another book had come forth as a second witness to Christ’s divinity was regarded by many churches as being both superfluous and spurious. They said, We already have a Bible, why do we need another? (2 Ne. 29:3). But the nineteenth century was not the twentieth. Who but God and inspired prophets could have foreseen the need for an additional witness for the divinity of His Son? . . . Who but God and inspired prophets could have foreseen the day when ministers of prominent denominations would openly challenge the divinity of Jesus Christ?” – Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, Bookcraft 1988, 49-50.
No one was speaking of the “historical Jesus” back in 1830 when the Book of Mormon was published, but the prophets who compiled the book must have known that Jesus’ divinity, and the miracles he performed would one day be discounted or discarded.
Written for our Day
The Bible is like a journal for the House of Israel, a record of God’s dealings with the Old Testament prophets, and the New Testament apostle’s testimonies of Christ’s ministry. The New Testament wasn’t assembled until the 4th century, when the 27 books which comprise the New Testament were accepted as the canon of scripture. The Bible authors chronicled events in their day.
The Book of Mormon, on the other hand, was written specifically for our day by prophets who saw our day and tailored their messages just for us. President Ezra Taft Benson observed:
[The Book of Mormon] was written for our day. The Nephites never had the book, neither did the Lamanites of ancient times. It was meant for us. Mormon wrote near the end of the Nephite civilization. Under the inspiration of God, who sees all things from the beginning, he abridged centuries of records, choosing the stories, speeches, and events that would be most helpful to us. (Ezra Taft Benson, The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, 1988, 58.)
Modern readers of the Book of Mormon can’t help but notice the repeated messages against pride and immorality, and can readily see that the message is pointed to our modern world. Hugh Nibley once commented, “Whoa to the generation that understands this book!” (An Approach to the Book of Mormon, 119).
The Book of Mormon is not a rival, a replacement, or a revision of the Bible. It is a companion, a defender and a second witness of Jesus Christ, a testimony that God remembers his children in all nations, and that he has not stopped working in our behalf.