Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Meaning and Purpose of the Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon is often presented, by both believers and unbelievers alike, as a "history" of a group of ancient Israelites who departed from Jerusalem about 600 B.C. and traveled by ship to their "promised land" in what eventually became known as "America."  As such, the Book of Mormon is frequently judged according to the extent to which the people, places, and events mentioned therein can be established as being authentically "historical."  There is nothing inherently wrong with this approach to establishing the "historicity" of the book, but I submit that it conflicts with the original intent of the work, as indicated by its putative authors.

            The Book of Mormon manifests many of the elements generally understood to constitute a "history," and yet I maintain that Mormon (and his son Moroni, who completed the book after the death of his father) did not mean for the book to be understood by its eventual readers as merely a history of their people, nor were they particularly interested in placing within its pages the kinds and quantity of information that future readers would be able to use to definitively establish its historicity.  To the contrary, their book manifests a purpose and intent far above and beyond the pedantic concerns of the historian, the archaeologist, and the anthropologist.

Had they been so concerned, it certainly appears that they had at their disposal the means sufficient to "prove" its historicity to future generations:

Helaman 3

13 And now there are many records kept of the proceedings of this people, by many of this people, which are particular and very large, concerning them.

14 But behold, a hundredth part of the proceedings of this people, yea, the account of the Lamanites and of the Nephites, and their wars, and contentions, and dissensions, and their preaching, and their prophecies, and their shipping and their building of ships, and their building of temples, and of synagogues and their sanctuaries, and their righteousness, and their wickedness, and their murders, and their robbings, and their plundering, and all manner of abominations and whoredoms, cannot be contained in this work.

15 But behold, there are many books and many records of every kind, and they have been kept chiefly by the Nephites.

16 And they have been handed down from one generation to another by the Nephites, even until they have fallen into transgression and have been murdered, plundered, and hunted, and driven forth, and slain, and scattered upon the face of the earth, and mixed with the Lamanites until they are no more called the Nephites, becoming wicked, and wild, and ferocious, yea, even becoming Lamanites.

Nevertheless, I believe that The Book of Mormon was very deliberately crafted by its authors as something far more profound and complex than any mere history.  They seemed to understand very well that "proving" the reality of their existence to future generations was irrelevant to their ultimate object.  Their intent, as described by Moroni and attached as a cover page to the work, is quite explicit:

… to show unto the remnant of the house of Israel what great things the Lord hath done for their fathers; and that they may know the covenants of the Lord, that they are not cast off forever—And also to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that JESUS is the CHRIST, the ETERNAL GOD, manifesting himself unto all nations

Or, in other words, God was intimately involved in the affairs of men anciently; He is also intimately involved in the affairs of men now.  He made covenants with men in ancient times and, in particular, the covenant made with Abraham is sure: Judah will inherit his portion; Ephraim and Manasseh theirs; the remainder of the tribes of Israel theirs.  In other words, there are, in fact, "promised lands."

It is no mistake that the words "JESUS CHRIST ETERNAL GOD" are deliberately rendered in all capital letters, giving emphasis to the true identity of Jesus of Nazareth—that He is the Messiah of the Jews; and the Eternal God of all mankind, who shall judge all men according the knowledge they have received.

This is the God of whom Mormon and Moroni bear witness.  He is not a parochial deity, to be known and worshiped by a relatively small tribe of nomadic Israelites, but rather the ETERNAL GOD; the Almighty God; the Ruler of Heaven and Earth, and Israel has been chosen to bear witness of him to all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people.  The Book of Mormon reveals him and the nature of his dealings with mankind, that all may be saved through faith on his name, which is Jesus Christ.

The simple fact, as conveyed by the Book of Mormon, is that Jesus of Nazareth is the God from whom all nations have received whatsoever truth they possess, even if they do not know it.  As Paul proclaimed to the Greeks in Athens: "Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you."  The Book of Mormon is written "to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile (in other words, everyone) that JESUS is the CHRIST, the ETERNAL GOD."

The Book of Mormon is not just a "history" of a relatively small group of Israelites.  It is a witness to all mankind of the identity and personality of God, the Eternal Father of us all.  And those who receive its witness are promised more, as Mormon himself made clear when completing his account of the visit of the resurrected Christ to his ancestors:

3 Nephi 26

6 And now there cannot be written in this book even a hundredth part of the things which Jesus did truly teach unto the people;

7 But behold the plates of Nephi do contain the more part of the things which he taught the people.

8 And these things have I written, which are a lesser part of the things which he taught the people; and I have written them to the intent that they may be brought again unto this people, from the Gentiles, according to the words which Jesus hath spoken.

9 And when they shall have received this, which is expedient that they should have first, to try their faith, and if it shall so be that they shall believe these things then shall the greater things be made manifest unto them.

10 And if it so be that they will not believe these things, then shall the greater things be withheld from them, unto their condemnation.

Since its initial publication in 1830, many have condemned the book for what they perceive as its flaws—things which, in their opinion, prove it cannot be true.  This is, in my judgment, a grave mistake on their part, for as Moroni warned:

… if there are faults they are the mistakes of men; wherefore, condemn not the things of God, that ye may be found spotless at the judgment-seat of Christ.

1 comment:

  1. The main purpose of the book of mormon is found in 3 nephi 21. Jesus himself gave the signs in this chapter. The Lamanites will recieve the book or mormon from the gentiles and know who they really are. A remnant from the house of israel(joseph). Then they will prepare and build the new jerusalem with the Gentiles assisting.