Problems with the Book of Mormon


Courtesy of Catholic Answers

In these "latter days," there are few people who haven't been visited at least once by Mormon missionaries.

At some point in your doorstep dialogue these earnest young men will entreat you to accept a copy of the Book of Mormon, read it, and pray about it, asking the Lord to "send the Holy Ghost to witness that it is true." Then, very solemnly, they'll "testify" to you that they know the Book of Mormon is true, that it's God's inspired word, that it contains the "fullness of the everlasting Gospel."

They'll assure you that if you read their text in a spirit of prayerful inquiry, you too will receive the testimony of the Holy Ghost. That testimony will convince you beyond doubt that the Book of Mormon is exactly what they claim it to be.

When you're given the Book of Mormon and asked to pray about it, it's important to realize why prayer is not a necessary ingredient in the process of determining whether this work is "of God." When you tell the missionaries you don't need to pray about the Book of Mormon, they'll think you're copping out, that you're afraid to learn the truth. Admittedly, you'll seem like a cad if you simply refuse and leave it at that. You have to provide them with a sensible rationale for refusing.

The devout Mormon believes this text is inspired because Joseph Smith said it is. He believes Smith had the authority to claim divine inspiration for the Book of Mormon because the Book of Mormon says Smith was a prophet and had such authority.

Keep in mind that the missionaries want you to have a feeling about the Book of Mormon after reading it. They'll testify to you that you'll receive the witness of the Holy Ghost in the form of a "burning in the bosom," a warm, fuzzy feeling, after reading and praying about it. This feeling is, for them, the clincher. It's the real proof that the Book of Mormon is inspired Scripture, and everything else follows from that conclusion.

How often have you felt strongly about something or someone, only to learn your feelings were misguided? Consider how often feelings change, even within the space of a single day, as they are affected by weather, lack of sleep, your surroundings, and a host of other factors. Feelings, although a part of our human make-up, can't be a yardstick in matters like this.

After all, some people get a good feeling after reading "Mein Kampf" or the "Communist Manifesto" or the Yellow Pages. They could pray about such a feeling, and they could take the lingering of the feeling as some kind of divine approbation, but no such feeling will prove the inspiration of Hitler's, Marx's, or Ma Bell's writings.

Let's take a closer look at the text the missionaries offer. At first glance the Book of Mormon appears to be biblical in heft and style. It's couched in tedious King James English and features color renderings of Mormon scenes.

Jesus Visited America?

Upon closer scrutiny, you'll notice pictures of Jesus in what appear to be biblical settings. At the front of the book, you'll find three impressive testimonies—one of which is by Church founder and first prophet Joseph Smith—attesting to the veracity and divine origin of the work.

The introduction tells you that the "Book of Mormon is a volume of holy scripture comparable to the Bible. It is a record of God's dealings with the ancient inhabitants of the Americas and contains, as does the Bible, the fullness of the everlasting Gospel." There it is again—the "fullness of the everlasting Gospel." Naturally, you ask yourself just what that phrase means.

According to the Mormon Church, authentic Christianity can't be found in any of the so called Christian churches—only, of course, in the Mormon Church.

Mormons teach that, after Jesus ascended into heaven, the apostles taught the true doctrines of Christ and administered his sacred ordinances (roughly the equivalent of Catholic sacraments). After the death of the apostles, their successors continued the work of the Gospel, but with declining success. Within a few generations, the great apostasy foretold in the Bible began in earnest.

The Mormon Church asserts that the Church Christ founded became increasingly corrupted by pagan ideas introduced by nefarious members (sound familiar?). Over a period of years the Church lost all relationship with the Church Christ established. Consequently, the keys of authority of the holy priesthood were withdrawn from the Earth, and no man any longer had authorization to act in God's name.

From that time onward there were no valid baptisms, no laying on of hands for the receipt of the Holy Ghost, no blessings of any kind, and no administration of sacred ordinances. Confusions and heretical doctrines increased and led to the plethora of Christian sects seen today.

Mormons run into no small difficulty in reconciling the apostasy theory with Christ's promise in Matthew 16:18: "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."

How could it be that Christ, who should have known better, would promise that his Church wouldn't be overcome if he knew full well a great apostasy would make short shrift of it? Was Christ lying? Obviously not. Was he mistaken? No. Did he miscalculate things? No again. Christ's divinity precluded any such things.

There's Only One Possibility

What are we left with then? Could it be that Mormons are mistaken in their interpretation of such a crucial passage? This would seem to be the only tenable conclusion. If there were no great apostasy, then there could have been no need for a restoration of religious authority on the Earth. There would be no "restored Gospel." The entire premise of the Mormon Church would be undercut.

The simple fact is that the only church with an unbroken historical line to apostolic days is the Catholic Church. Even many Protestants acknowledge this, though they are quick to point out the need for a Reformation in the sixteenth century. It can be demonstrated easily that early Church writers, such as Ignatius of Antioch, Eusebius, Clement of Rome, and Polycarp, had no conception of the Church in the Mormon context. They knew nothing of a great apostasy.

Nowhere in their writings can one find references to any of the peculiarly Mormon doctrines, such as baptism for the dead, plural marriage, the potential for men to become gods, celestial marriage, and temple ceremonies. If the Church of the apostolic age was the prototype of today's Mormon Church, it must have had all these beliefs and practices. But why is there no evidence of them in the early centuries, before the apostasy began?

Church History is Catholic

The fact is that there is no historical or archaeological indication of any kind that the early Church was other than the Catholic Church. When dealing with Mormon missionaries, remember that all the evidence is in favor of the claims of the Catholic Church. If you want to watch their sails go slack quickly, ask the missionaries to produce any historical proof to support their case. They can't do it because it isn't there.

The Book of Mormon itself suffers the same fate when it comes to its own historical support. In a word, there is none. The Book of Mormon is a tome detailing a vast pre- Columbian culture that supposedly existed for centuries on the North and South American land masses.

It goes into amazing specificity in describing the civilizations erected by the Nephites and the Lamanites, who, having fled in three installments from Palestine, built massive cities, farmed the land, produced works of art, and fought large-scale wars—which culminated in the utter destruction of the Nephites in A.D. 421.

The Latter Day Saints revere the Book of Mormon as the divinely-inspired record of those people and of Christ's appearance to them shortly after his Crucifixion in Jerusalem.

The awkward part for the Mormon Church is the total lack of historical and archaeological evidence to support the Book of Mormon. For example, after the cataclysmic last battle fought between the Nephites and Lamanites, there was no one left to clean up the mess. Hundreds of thousands of men and beasts perished in that battle, and the ground was strewn with weapons and armor.

Keep in mind that A.D. 421 is just yesterday in archaeological terms. It should be easy to locate and retrieve copious evidence of such a battle, and there hasn't been enough time for the weapons and armor to turn to dust. The Bible tells of similar battles that have been documented using archaeological methods and equipment much inferior to those used today, battles which took place long before A.D. 421.

The embarrassing truth—embarrassing for Mormons, that is—is that no scientist, Mormon or otherwise, has been able to find anything to substantiate that such a great battle took place.

"Lifting" from the King James Bible

There are other problems with the Book of Mormon. It has long been held by critics of Mormonism, for instance, that the Book of Mormon is nothing but a synthesis of earlier works written by other men, of the vivid imaginings of Joseph Smith, and of simple plagiarisms of the King James Bible.

Numerous studies designed to prove this assertion have been conducted over the years, even from the days of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, and the studies have seemed conclusive. The only Bible that Joseph Smith relied on was the King James Version. This translation was based on the "textus receptus," a good but imperfect edition of the Bible.

Scholars now know the "textus receptus" contains errors, which means the King James Version contains errors. The problem for Mormons is that these same errors show up in the Book of Mormon.

It seems reasonable to assume that since Smith was a prophet of God and was translating the Book of Mormon under divine inspiration, he would have known about the errors found in the King James Version and would have corrected them when passages from the King James Version appeared in the Book of Mormon. But the errors went in. The fact is that Smith simply incorporated large chunks of the King James Version into the work he was composing.

Now let's examine the concept of the "fullness of the everlasting Gospel." According to Webster, fullness is defined as "full, complete, plenary, containing all that is wanted, or needed, or possible."

According to a standard Mormon theological work, "Doctrines of Salvation," one finds this definition: "By fullness of the Gospel is meant all the ordinances and principles that pertain to the exaltation of the celestial kingdom" (vol. 1, p. 160). That's an official Mormon statement on the subject. But there's a problem.

If the Book of Mormon contains all the ordinances and principles that pertain to the Gospel, why don't Mormonism's esoteric doctrines show up in it? The doctrine that God is nothing more than an "exalted man with a body of flesh and bones" appears nowhere in the Book of Mormon.

Nor does the doctrine of Jesus Christ being the "spirit-brother" of Lucifer. Nor do the doctrines that men can become gods and that God the Father has a god above him, who has a god above him, ad infinitum.

The Book of Mormon is Anti-Mormon

These heterodox teachings, and many others like them, appear nowhere in the Book of Mormon. In fact, pivotal Mormon doctrines are flatly refuted by the Book of Mormon.

For instance, the most pointed refutation of the Mormon doctrine that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are actually three separate gods is found in Alma 11:28-31: "Now Zeezrom said: 'Is there more than one God?' and [Amulek] answered, 'No.' And Zeezrom said unto him again, 'How knowest thou these things? ' And he said 'An angel hath made them known unto me.'"

The Book of Mormon fails in three main areas. First, it lacks utterly historical or archaeological support, and there is an overwhelming body of empirical evidence that refutes it. Second, the Book of Mormon contains none of the key Mormon doctrines. This is important to note because the Latter-day Saints make such a ballyhoo about it containing the "fullness of the everlasting Gospel." (It would be more accurate to say it contains almost none of their everlasting Gospel at all.) Third, the Book of Mormon abounds in textual errors, factual errors, and outright plagiarisms from other works.

If you're asked by Mormon missionaries to point out examples of such errors, here are two you can use.

We read that Jesus "shall be born of Mary at Jerusalem, which is in the land of our forefathers" (Alma 6:10). But Jesus was born in Bethlehem, not Jerusalem.

If you mention this to a Mormon missionary, he might say Jerusalem and Bethlehem are only a few miles apart and that Alma could have been referring to the general area around Jerusalem. But Bethany is even closer to Jerusalem than is Bethlehem, yet the Gospels make frequent reference to Bethany.

Another problem: Scientists have demonstrated that honey bees were brought to the New World by Spanish explorers in the fifteenth century, but the Book of Mormon, in Ether 2:3, claims they were introduced around 2000 B.C.

The problem was that Joseph Smith wasn't a naturalist; he didn't know anything about bees and where they might be found (and when). He saw bees in America and threw them in the Book of Mormon as a little local color. He didn't realize he'd get stung by them.

Copyright Catholic Answers.