Chapter 16: The Power of the Book of Mormon

Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Gordon B. Hinckley, 2016

During 2017, LDS members will be studying the latest manual published by their church, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Gordon B. Hinckley. We will evaluate this book regularly, chapter by chapter, by showing interesting quotes and providing an Evangelical Christian take on this manual. The quotes from Hinckley are in bold, with my comments following. If you would like to see the church manual online, go here. Latter-day Saints study this material on the second and third Sundays of each month (thus, chapters 1-2 are January, chapter 3-4 are February, etc.)

“To a world wavering in its faith, the Book of Mormon is [a] powerful witness of the divinity of the Lord.”

From the Life of Gordon B. Hinckley

When Gordon B. Hinckley was a young man, he established a pattern for scripture study. “As a missionary, I read each evening before going to bed a few chapters of the Book of Mormon,” he said, “and there came into my heart a conviction which has never left: that this is the word of God, restored to the earth by the power of the Almighty, translated by the gift and power of God to the convincing of the Jew and the Gentile that Jesus is the Christ.”

For all of the chapters that have been written in the church manuals dedicated to the presidents of the church since 1998, one common topic covers the Book of Mormon.

For example,

  • Joseph Smith, chapter 4, “The Book of Mormon: Keystone of our Religion”
  • Joseph Fielding Smith, chapter 9, “Witnesses of the Book of Mormon”
  • Ezra Taft Benson, chapter 9, “The Book of Mormon–Keystone of our Religion”
  • Ezra Taft Benson, chapter 10, “Flooding the Earth and Our Lives with the Book of Mormon”

Although there have been a half-dozen general chapters dedicated to the “scriptures,” not once has there been a chapter dedicated solely to the Bible. When Hinckley says “that this is the word of God,” it shows how much allegiance he gives to this book. It’s the reason why I believe so many Mormons are biblically illiterate. Mormons are instructed to focus much more energy on this scripture than they do the Bible.

His knowledge and testimony of the Book of Mormon influenced many people after his mission, when he worked as an employee of the Church’s Radio, Publicity, and Mission Literature Committee. He received an assignment to write scripts for a radio series titled A New Witness for Christ. The series brought Book of Mormon passages to life for radio listeners. At the time, he commented to an associate: “I have always thought that we will do our best work when we get people interested in the Book of Mormon to the point where they will read it. It is then that the Spirit can bear witness of its divinity.”

Not only just “read it” but “pray about it.” Moroni 10:4 is used to show how praying about this book is what can provide understanding that it is true. Unfortunately, the facts speak differently.

Throughout his ministry, President Hinckley emphasized the importance of the Book of Mormon. In August 2005, as President of the Church, he challenged Latter-day Saints to read the entire book before the end of the year. He later reported: “It is amazing how many met that challenge. Everyone who did so was blessed for his or her effort. As they became immersed in this added witness of our Redeemer, their hearts were quickened and their spirits touched.”

Again, I have never heard of a campaign like this where the Bible was the focus. Why not? If only Mormons read and understood their Bibles better, perhaps more would see that Mormonism’s doctrines cannot be found in the pages of this very special book.

 “The evidence for [the Book of Mormon’s] truth and validity lies within the covers of the book itself. The test of its truth lies in reading it.”

Let’s consider what Hinckley has said here and see if this book is able to pass the test.

Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley

Hand in hand with the Bible, the Book of Mormon testifies of Jesus Christ.

It was said of old, it was said by the Savior, that in the mouths of two or more witnesses shall all things be established.

Hinckley refers back to the Book of Mormon witnesses, which is something many Mormons do when trying to support the Book of Mormon’s historicity.  An introductory page found in every copy of the Book of Mormon lists the two combined testimonies made by eleven men who belonged to five families: Cowdery, Whitmer, Harris, Page, and Smith. Their testimonies are said to verify the story. Without the witness of these men, Smith’s word alone is all there is to show how this translation was real.

As far as the eight men who signed a short statement called “The Testimony of the Eight Witnesses,” four belonged to the Whitmer family and three were from Joseph Smith’s immediate family (his father and two brothers). The eighth person was Hiram Page, who was married to a Whitmer. While eight witnesses may sound like a strong testimonial support to Smith’s story, only three families are represented. Besides Smith’s own family, the other witnesses were close friends of the LDS prophet.

Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris were three of Smith’s most trusted men who signed “The Testimony of the Three Witnesses,” another statement testifying to the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. Many Mormons do not realize the dubious background of these men.

Former LDS historian D. Michael Quinn wrote that folk magic and seer stone divination were quite popular among the Book of Mormon witnesses:

The Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon were also involved in folk magic. Oliver Cowdery was a rodsman before he met Smith in 1829 and was soon authorized by divine revelation to continue the revelatory use of his “rod of nature.” David Whitmer revered Smith’s use of a seer stone, may have possessed one of his own, and authorized a later spokesman for his own religious organization to obtain revelations through a stone. Martin Harris endorsed Smith’s use of a seer stone for divination and treasure seeking, and participated in treasure digging himself after the discovery of the gold plates. Of the remaining Eight Witnesses, John Whitmer possessed a seer stone which his descendants preserved, his brothers Christian, Jacob, and Peter were included in their pastor’s accusation of magic belief, and Hiram Page, their brother-in-law, had a stone for revelations (Early Mormonism and the Magic World View (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1987), 194.

In 1838 Cowdery was excommunicated from the Mormon Church after he accused Smith of adultery, lying, and teaching false doctrines. The Mormon founder classified Cowdery as one who was “too mean to mention.” Cowdery charged Smith with having an affair with a woman named Fanny Alger. After his excommunication, Cowdery was accused of a number of crimes, including “denying the faith,” “persecuting the brethren,” “urging on vexatious lawsuits,” “falsely insinuating [Joseph Smith] was guilty of adultery,” and dishonesty (Andrew Jenson, Latter-day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia: A Compilation of Biographical Sketches of Prominent Men and Women in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: A. Jensen History, 1901–36), s.v. “Cowdery, Oliver,” 1:246). Cowdery later joined the Methodist church, a Christian denomination that adheres to the early church creeds and therefore had been condemned by God Joseph Smith—History, 1:19 (PoGP). See also 1 Nephi 14:10 (BOM) and D&C 1:30. He is said to have returned to the LDS Church in 1848 and died two years later at the young age of forty-three.

David Whitmer claimed that none of the three witnesses ever denied the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. However, Whitmer did believe Joseph Smith was a fallen prophet when he wrote:

Many of the Latter Day Saints believe that it was impossible for Brother Joseph to have fallen. I will give you some evidence upon this matter which I suppose you will certainly accept, showing that Brother Joseph belonged to the class of men who could fall into error and blindness. From the following you will see that Brother Joseph belonged to the weakest class—the class that were very liable to fall. . . . All of you who believe the revelations of Joseph Smith as if they were from the mouth of God. You should have acknowledged belief in the errors of Joseph Smith, and not tried to hide them when there is so much evidence that he did go into error and blindness. . . . I am doing God’s will in bringing the truth to light concerning the errors of Brother Joseph. They will see that it is necessary, as he is the man who introduced many doctrines of error into the Church of Christ; and his errors must be made manifest and the truth brought to light, in order that all Latter Day Saints shall cease to put their trust in this man, believing his doctrines as if they were from the mouth of God (Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ, 36, 39).

Whitmer—whom Smith called a “dumb ass” and “mean man,” saying “Satan deceiveth [Whitmer]”—believed Joseph Smith intentionally changed the very revelations that God had supposedly given him (An Address to All Believers in the Book of Mormon (Richmond, MO: David Whitmer, 1887), 56–62). Believing that God told him to leave the Mormon faith, Whitmer walked away and never returned. He wrote:

If you believe my testimony to the Book of Mormon; if you believe that God spake to us three witnesses by his own voice, then I tell you that in June, 1838, God spake to me again by his own voice from the heavens, and told me to “separate myself from among the Latter Day Saints, for as they sought to do unto me, so should it be done unto them” (Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ, 27).

Toward the end of his life, Whitmer joined an offshoot of Mormonism called the Church of Christ, a group that accepted the Book of Mormon. Meanwhile, Martin Harris more than once upset the Mormon founder, for which Smith retaliated by twice referring to him as a “wicked man” in Mormon scripture (D&C 3:12–13; 10:6–7). It was for these sins that Harris was supposedly commanded in D&C 19:20 by Christ Himself to repent. Harris expressed his worship to God in unique ways. Regarding this, Smith said:

Martin Harris having boasted to the brethren that he could handle snakes with perfect safety, while fooling with a black snake with his bare feet, he received a bite on his left foot. The fact was communicated to me, and I took occasion to reprove him, and exhort the brethren never to trifle with the promises of God (History of the Church, 2:95).

Harris left the Mormon movement and joined several other groups, among them the Shakers and the Strangites. While Harris eventually returned to the LDS Church, he apparently never found peace. He told one early Mormon writer that he “never believed that the Brighamite branch of the Mormon church, nor the Josephite church, was right, because in his opinion, God had rejected them.” As to why he went to the LDS temple in Salt Lake City, he apparently was curious to discover “what was going on in there” (Anthony Metcalf, Ten Years before the Mast (Malad City, ID: Research Publications, 1888), as quoted in Francis W. Kirkham, A New Witness for Christ in America (Salt Lake City: Utah Printing Company, 1960), 2:348–49).  Regarding their testimony to the Book of Mormon, each of these three “witnesses” had questionable qualifications since, as Joseph Smith said, they all fell into error (History of the Church, 3:16–20). They were gullible, and their credibility was stained with cases of counterfeiting, dowsing, false prophecies, money digging, and lying.

As the Bible is the testament of the Old World, the Book of Mormon is the testament of the New. They go hand in hand in declaration of Jesus as the Son of the Father.

In Mormonism, the Bible is subject to criticism. It’s the Book of Mormon that is placed on a pedestal, not the Bible. Joseph Smith said, “I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book” (Joseph Fielding Smith, ed., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 194). Joseph Smith History 1:34 (PoGP) says the Book of Mormon is the “fulness of the everlasting gospel.”

Getting nearer to God has been associated in Mormonism with eternal life, which is also called exaltation or godhood. According to the church manual Gospel Principles:

These are some of the blessings given to exalted people: 1. They will live eternally in the presence of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ (see D&C 76:62). 2. They will become gods (see D&C 132:20–23). 3. They will be united eternally with their righteous family members and will be able to have eternal increase. 4. They will receive a fulness of joy. 5. They will have everything that our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ have—all power, glory, dominion, and knowledge (see D&C 132:19–20) (47).

“Specific ordinances” that must be “received to be exalted” include:

  1. We must be baptized.
  2. We must receive the laying on of hands to be confirmed a member of the Church of Jesus Christ and to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
  3. Brethren must receive the Melchizedek priesthood and magnify their callings in the priesthood.
  4. We must receive the temple endowments.
  5. We must be married for eternity, either in this life or in the next.

In addition to receiving the required ordinances, the Lord commands all of us to:

  1. Love God and our neighbors.
  2. Keep the commandments.
  3. Repent of our wrongdoings.
  4. Search out our kindred dead and receive the saving ordinances of the gospel for them.
  5. Attend our Church meetings as regularly as possible so we can renew our baptismal covenants by partaking of the covenants.
  6. Love our family members and strengthen them in the ways of the Lord.
  7. Have family and individual prayers every day.
  8. Teach the gospel to others by word and example.
  9. Study the scriptures.
  10. Listen to and obey the inspired words of the prophets of the Lord.

Numerous requirements not mentioned at all in the Book of Mormon must be met. In addition, the Book of Mormon does not discuss other important LDS doctrines, including:

  • The Mormon Church organization, on which its leaders place so much emphasis
  • The Melchizedek priesthood order
  • The Aaronic priesthood order
  • A plurality of gods
  • God is an exalted man
  • The potential for humans to attain godhood
  • Three degrees of glory
  • Preexistence
  • Eternal progression
  • Heavenly Mother
  • Temporary hell

In all actuality, there is no evidence to suggest that the Nephites mentioned in the Book of Mormon believed or practiced much of what modern-day Mormons believe and practice today. Charles Harrell notes,

It is noteworthy that the doctrines expressed in the Book of Mormon tend to bear closer similarity to those found in early nineteenth-century Protestantism than to those in later Mormonism (“This Is My Doctrine,” 20).  

The Book of Mormon … testifies of Him who was born in Bethlehem of Judea and who died on the hill of Calvary. To a world wavering in its faith, the Book of Mormon is another and powerful witness of the divinity of the Lord. Its very preface, written by a prophet who walked the Americas a millennium and a half ago, categorically states that it was written “to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations.”

There is nothing we could do of greater importance than to have fortified in our individual lives an unshakable conviction that Jesus is the Christ. … And, my brothers and sisters, that is the purpose of the coming forth of this remarkable and wonderful book.

I am amazed at everything Hinckley credits with the Book of Mormon. For one, there is no verse in the Book of Mormon that suggests Jesus was born in the tiny town of Bethlehem. Instead, Alma 7:10 says this:

And behold, he shall be born of Mary, at Jerusalem which is the land of our forefathers, she being a virgin, a precious and chosen vessel, who shall be overshadowed and conceive by the power of the Holy Ghost, and bring forth a son, yea, even the Son of God.

LDS apologists will complain and say that “at Jerusalem” and “land of our forefathers” suggests that Jerusalem is like a county and Bethlehem is within its jurisdiction. While Bethlehem lies just five or six miles away from Jerusalem, the Bible never describes Jerusalem as a “county.” It is a city, just like Bethlehem. It would seem natural that perhaps Jesus would have been born in Jerusalem because it was such an important city. But the Bible singularly prophesied that Bethlehem would be the place, according to Micah 5:2. For more, you can go here.

My purpose isn’t to debate this issue, but I do take offense that Hinckley even uses the name of Bethlehem in his writing as something the Book of Mormon mentions. As far as I know, Bethlehem is never mentioned, not even once. So why bring it up?

Hinckley also brings up the “hill of Calvary.” This suggests the cross and Jesus’ death on the cross. Yet Mormonism doesn’t emphasize Calvary but rather Gethsemane. My friend Bill McKeever wrote an excellent article on this topic that I will refer you to for further reference; it’s titled “Calvary or Gethsemane: The Atonement According to Mormonism.”

In this section, he makes reference to “Moroni,” whom he believes is a prophet that walked on this continent. Yet what evidence is there that there was ever a “Moroni,” whether a Nephite who lived 1500+ years ago or an angel who returned to give Joseph Smith gold plates of writing?

There are too many historical problems with the Book of Mormon for it to be considered an accurate portrayal of what really happened. If the Book of Mormon depicts real people who lived in real places and participated in real events, surely there should be at least an archaeological trace. With so many people who supposedly lived on the American continent, artifacts should abound. As President Spencer W. Kimball wrote,

The Lamanite population of the Americas, at the greatest number, must have run into many millions, for in certain periods of Book of Mormon history, wars continued almost unabated and the soil was covered with the bodies of the slain (Faith Precedes the Miracle (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1978), 345).

In Ether 15:2 in the Book of Mormon, the Jaredites alone had “two millions of mighty men, and also their wives and their children.” Meanwhile, a student manual explains:

Some students of the Book of Mormon are interested in geographical, textual, or archaeological evidences of the book’s ancient origin. While these are often fascinating and helpful, it must be remembered that these kinds of discoveries do not constitute the substance and truth of the Book of Mormon. President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910–2008) counseled against relying solely on these discoveries for our testimony of the Book of Mormon (Book of Mormon Student Manual, 9).

If the Book of Mormon is not a historical book because the events it records never happened, shouldn’t a Mormon want to know? Because there is no archaeological or historical evidence to support the scripture, there is controversy within Mormon circles as to where the Book of Mormon story actually took place. These lands are probably most commonly believed to be somewhere in Central America.

Those holding to a North American setting for the Book of Mormon, known today as the Heartland model, would certainly disagree with this conclusion. President Joseph Fielding Smith wrote:

Within recent years there has arisen among certain students of the Book of Mormon a theory to the elect that within the period covered by the Book of Mormon, the Nephites and Lamanites were confined almost entirely within the borders of the territory comprising Central America and the southern portion of Mexico—the isthmus of Tehauntepec probably being the “narrow neck” of land spoken of in the Book of Mormon rather than the isthmus of Panama. . . . In the face of this evidence coming from the Prophet Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and David Whitmer, we cannot say that the Nephites and Lamanites did not possess the territory of the United States and that the Hill Cumorah is in Central America. Neither can we say that the great struggle which resulted in the destruction of the Nephites took place in Central America (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 3:232, 239–40).

Smith also said:

It must be conceded that this description fits perfectly the land of Cumorah in New York, as it has been known since the visitation of Moroni to the Prophet Joseph Smith, for the hill is in the proximity of the Great Lakes and also in the land of many rivers and fountains. Moreover, the Prophet Joseph Smith himself is on record, definitely declaring the present hill called Cumorah to be the exact hill spoken of in the Book of Mormon. . . . It is difficult for a reasonable person to believe that such men as Oliver Cowdery, Brigham Young, Parley P. Pratt, Orson Pratt, David Whitmer, and many others, could speak frequently of the Spot where the Prophet Joseph Smith obtained the plates as the Hill Cumorah, and not be corrected by the Prophet, if that were not the fact. That they did speak of this hill in the days of the Prophet in this definite manner is an established record of history (Ibid., 3:233–34;).

Apostle James Talmage also placed the Nephite people in North America when he wrote:

At that time North America was inhabited by two great peoples, the Nephites and the Lamanites, each named after an early leader, and both originally of one family stock. Except for brief periods of comparative peace the two nations lived in a state of hostility due to Lamanite aggression (James E. Talmage, The Vitality of Mormonism (Boston: Gorham Press, 1919), 199).

President Ezra Taft Benson insisted that not only did the alleged Nephites live in the area of the United States, but that Adam and the Jaredites lived there as well.

Consider how very fortunate we are to be living in this land of America. The destiny of this country was forged long before the earth was even created. . . . This was the place of three former civilizations: that of Adam, that of the Jaredites, and that of the Nephites (Benson, Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, 587–88).

Despite the above comments, many modern LDS scholars have since abandoned the idea that the Book of Mormon lands include areas of North America. In doing so they have claimed that such leaders as those above were misinformed. In a personal letter to Bill McKeever on June 11, 1992, LDS apologist John Sorenson stated that Joseph Fielding Smith “misread relevant historical documents.” While it is certainly possible that Smith could have done so, we must bear in mind that he held the position of a trusted LDS Church historian for nearly half a century, and he later became Mormonism’s tenth president.

A message from the First Presidency in 1930 stated:

Jesus Christ, referring to the time when he would manifest himself in the latter days, declared that whereas he manifested himself to his own people in the meridian of time and they rejected him, in the latter days he would come first to the Gentiles, and then to the house of Israel. He says: “And behold, this people (the Nephites) will I establish in this land, (America) and it shall be a new Jerusalem.” (James R. Clark, ed., Messages of the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (1833–1951), 6 vols., 5:285).

In a declaration made by the First Presidency on May 1, 1911, and printed in the Deseret News a few days later, President Joseph F. Smith and his counselors Anthon Lund and John Henry Smith stated that it was Moroni himself who claimed to have “ministered to a people called Nephites, a branch of the house of Israel, formerly inhabiting this land” (Ibid., 4:232).

Conflicting information of this sort must certainly be confusing to the average Latter-day Saint, especially since there is, for example, an LDS Church marker located north of Gallatin, Missouri, stating how a Nephite altar once existed near the place Joseph Smith called Adam-ondi-Ahman. If the Nephites were relegated to an area in Central America, how did one of their altars appear as far north as the state of Missouri?

While most LDS scholars would feel that there is historical and scientific value in the Book of Mormon, we have found no scientist or historian outside the Mormon faith who would support such a notion. On August 25, 1984, John Carlson addressed a Sunstone Symposium in Salt Lake City where he noted, “The Book of Mormon itself has not made a significant contribution to New World archaeology. Ask any New World archaeologist.” When asked on June 16, 1999 if he had changed this position, he said, “No, I have not changed my opinion and would stand by what I said.”

Carlson, a pre-Colombian Mesoamerican scholar, did note that “interest in the Book of Mormon by believers has stimulated interest in the ancient Americas and promoted archaeological research.” While he stated that much of this research is good and unbiased, “there are also plenty of examples of highly biased research designed to support the Book of Mormon” (John Carlson, e-mail to Bill McKeever, June 16, 1999)

Michael D. Coe, a non-Mormon professor emeritus of anthropology at Yale University, is an expert in the early history of Mesoamerica. He wrote a paper in 1973 that discussed the lack of historical evidence in the Book of Mormon. Said Coe:

Mormon archaeologists over the years have almost unanimously accepted the Book of Mormon as an accurate, historical account of the New World peoples between about 2000 BC and AD 421. They believe that Smith could translate hieroglyphs, whether “Reformed Egyptian” or ancient American. . . . Let me now state uncategorically that as far as I know there is not one professionally trained archaeologist, who is not a Mormon, who sees any scientific justification for believing the foregoing to be true, and I would like to state that there are quite a few Mormon archaeologists who join this group. . . . The bare facts of the matter are that nothing, absolutely nothing, has ever shown up in any New World excavation which would suggest to a dispassionate observer that the Book of Mormon, as claimed by Joseph Smith, is a historical document relating to the history of the early migrants to our hemisphere (Michael D. Coe, “Mormons and Archaeology: An Outside View,” Dialogue 8 (summer 1973): 41, 42, 46).

With a hint of sarcasm, Coe concluded with these suggestions:

Forget the so-far fruitless quest for the Jaredites, Nephites, Mulekites, and the lands of Zarahemla and Bountiful: there is no more chance of finding them than of discovering the ruins of the bottomless pit described in the book of Revelations. . . . Continue the praiseworthy excavations in Mexico, remembering that little or nothing pertaining to the Book of Mormon will ever result from them (Ibid., 48).

Bill McKeever wrote Coe in 1993 to see if he still believed twenty years later what he had written in 1973. He responded:

I haven’t changed my views about the Book of Mormon since my 1973 article. I have seen no archaeological evidence before or since that date which would convince me that it is anything but a fanciful creation by an unusually gifted individual living in upstate New York in the early 19th century (Michael Coe, personal letter to Bill McKeever, August 17, 1993).

In a PBS television documentary broadcast in 2007, Coe reiterated his view when he said,

In the case of the Book of Mormon, you’ve got a much bigger problem. You really do. We have another part of the world where the archaeology is really very well-known now; we know a lot about people like the Maya and their predecessors. So to try to find unlikely evidence in an unlikely spot, you’ve got a problem. And of course none of the finds that biblical archaeologists are rightly proud about, no finds on that level have ever come up for Mormon archaeologists, which makes it a big problem (Michael Coe, May 16, 2006, interview transcript, PBS Frontline/American Experience).

Mormon apologist L. Ara Norwood claims that the analysis by Coe (and any other non-LDS scholar, for that matter) should be rejected because he is not Mormon. He writes:

So here is a non-Latter-day Saint archaeologist who does not believe in the supernatural claims of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon due to the lack of “scientific evidence”? Is that significant? If a non-Latter-day Saint individual were to come to believe in the supernatural/spiritual claims of the Book of Mormon, would not that person then in all likelihood join the Latter-day Saint church? (L. Ara Norwood, Review of Books on the Book of Mormon (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1989–97), 5:329). Norwood seems to miss the point. Coe is not basing his conclusion on the spiritual significance of the Book of Mormon but on the lack of historical significance.

Consider how many discoveries have helped archaeologists ascertain places, names, and events found in the Bible. To name a few, an ossuary (bone box) found in Jerusalem provides evidence for the existence of the high priest Caiaphas, an inscription from Caesarea proves the Roman procurator Pontius Pilate was a real person, and the Tel Dan inscription supports the very existence of King David. For Herod the Great, extensive excavations performed in Caesarea, Herodium, Jericho, and Masada lend credence to the idea that this man was a master builder who indeed built the Second Temple. If you are interested, check out the videos I have shot of Joel Kramer at a variety of sites throughout the Holy Land by clicking here.

In addition, discoveries in cities such as Ephesus (Turkey), Corinth (Greece), and Rome (Italy) provide a clearer picture of Paul’s missionary journeys and his epistles. Please don’t mistake what I’m saying. Archaeology cannot replace faith by proving the Virgin Birth, the resurrection of Christ, and the existence of heaven. At the same time, archaeological discoveries provide reasons to believe the Bible is the historical book it claims to be and is not filled with mythology.

When the Book of Mormon is considered, there is nothing that can be positively identified to support the names, places, and events written by ancient Americans. Someone may think that biblical archaeologists have had a head start and that, eventually, evidence for the Book of Mormon will be uncovered. While biblical archaeology in the Holy Land and Turkey has taken place for several hundred years, serious work really didn’t begin until the 1920s. Until Book of Mormon evidence moves beyond the realm of faith, it can be rightly classified as a myth, legend, or story without any basis in historical fact.

By the power of the Holy Ghost, we can receive a witness of the divine origin of the Book of Mormon.

I have read the Book of Mormon, which [Joseph Smith] translated by the gift and power of God. By the power of the Holy Ghost I have received a testimony and a witness of the divine origin of this sacred record.

Its origin is miraculous; when the story of that origin is first told to one unfamiliar with it, it is almost unbelievable. But the book is here to be felt and handled and read. No one can dispute its presence. All efforts to account for its origin, other than the account given by Joseph Smith, have been shown to lack substance.

Hinckley brings it up, so let’s go ahead and talk about the translation of the Book of Mormon. Mormons are told this scripture was translated by the “power of the Holy Ghost.” But was it?

First of all, I find it amazing that many church-commissioned paintings depict Joseph Smith looking directly at the gold plates during the translation process. Testimony from his contemporaries provides another picture as to how the “Reformed Egyptian” language was translated into English. Seventy B. H. Roberts explained that Joseph Smith had in his possession a “chocolate-colored, somewhat egg-shaped stone which the Prophet . . . was able to translate the characters engraven on the plates.”(Comprehensive History of the Church, 1:12). David Whitmer, one of the “three witnesses” whose name is found in every edition of the Book of Mormon, described the method in which Joseph Smith translated the plates into English:

I will now give you a description of the manner in which the Book of Mormon was translated. Joseph Smith would put the seer stone into a hat, and put his face in the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light; and in the darkness the spiritual light would shine. A piece of something resembling parchment would appear, and on that appeared the writing. One character at a time would appear, and under it was the interpretation in English.

Brother Joseph would read off the English to Oliver Cowdery, who was his principle scribe, and when it was written down and repeated to Brother Joseph to see if it was correct, then it would disappear, and another character with the interpretation would appear. Thus the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God, and not by any power of man (David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ (Richmond, MO: David Whitmer, 1887), 12. This story is quoted and confirmed by LDS Apostle Russell M. Nelson in Ensign (July 1993): 62).

Martin Harris, also one of the three witnesses mentioned in the Book of Mormon, gave a similar account:

By aid of the Seer Stone, sentences would appear and were read by the Prophet and written by Martin, and when finished he would say “written”; and if correctly written, the sentence would disappear and another appear in its place; but if not written correctly it remained until corrected, so that the translation was just as it was engraven on the plates, precisely in the language then used (B. H. Roberts, comp., Comprehensive History of the Church, 1:129).

According to the January 2013 Ensign magazine:

After using this early in his “translation” history, Smith supposedly stopped using the stones. Gerrit Dirkmaat, a member of the church’s history department, reported, “Records indicate that soon after the founding of the Church in 1830, the Prophet stopped using the seer stones as a regular means of receiving revelations after inquiring of the Lord without employing an external instrument” (Ensign (January 2013): 46).

While this explanation may comfort some members who are uncomfortable with Smith translating a sacred work by means of folk magic, it does not negate the fact that Smith did use this method for a period of time. Although Mormon history explains the translation of the Book of Mormon taking place with a Urim and Thummim, this painting found in a Salt Lake City visitor’s center gives the mistaken impression that Joseph Smith looked directly at the gold plates and gave an oral translation to Oliver Cowdery, who then wrote the words down. A person can believe whatever he or she wants, but you would be a fool is believe that Smith translated the plates by running his fingers over the writing. Even the LDS Church has refuted such as idea in its Gospel Topics essay. For more, check these out:

 Part 1   Part 2   Part 3   Part 4   Part 5   Part 6  Part 7  Part 8

The evidence for its truth, for its validity in a world that is prone to demand evidence, lies not in archaeology or anthropology, though these may be helpful to some. It lies not in word research or historical analysis, though these may be confirmatory. The evidence for its truth and validity lies within the covers of the book itself. The test of its truth lies in reading it. It is a book of God. Reasonable people may sincerely question its origin; but those who have read it prayerfully have come to know by a power beyond their natural senses that it is true, that it contains the word of God, that it outlines saving truths of the everlasting gospel, that it “[came] forth by the gift and power of God … to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ.”

[Moroni] wrote his last testament in the book which carries his name and which concludes the Nephite record. He wrote as one with a certain knowledge that his record would eventually come to light. …

In the final chapter of his own composition he bore testimony of the record of his people and categorically promised that those who would read it could know by the power of the Holy Ghost of its truth [see Moroni 10:3–5].

No other book contains such a promise. If Moroni had written nothing else, this promise in his concluding testimony would mark him forever as an eloquent witness of eternal truth. For, said he, “by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things” (Moroni 10:5).

In Mormonism, praying about the Book of Mormon is crucial. One of the most common approaches Mormon missionaries may take with prospective new converts involves opening the Book of Mormon to Moroni 10:4. It reads,

And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost

A missionary resource explains,

In order to know that the Book of Mormon is true, a person must read, ponder, and pray about it. The honest seeker of truth will soon come to feel that the Book of Mormon is the word of God” (Preach My Gospel: A Guide to Missionary Service (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2004), 38).

Another church manual says,

A sincere reader may not immediately gain a testimony when reading the Book of Mormon. Further, some people may not recognize the testimony that is growing as they study and pray over this tremendous text. But the promise of Moroni will come (Book of Mormon Student Manual, 8).

Yet there are problems with this challenge. First of all, the test is skewed. A person who “prays” but doesn’t get the same answer as the missionary is viewed as not getting it correct. If prayer is the correct means of testing the book’s authenticity, why is a negative outcome immediately rejected as a plausible response? Though the Mormons may not say so, it is likely that they would question whether or not such a person had a “sincere heart” or “real intent.” It could also imply that the person lacked a necessary “faith in Christ.” However, Jeremiah 17:9 says a feeling that one has can be disastrously wrong because “the heart is desperately wicked.” Praying about a religious book, especially if it is fictional and not historical, is hardly an objective test.

If the Book of Mormon is just one of four LDS scriptures, why should it be prayed over and not the other three scriptures? For that matter, why shouldn’t a seeker after truth pray about the Qu’ran (Islam), the Vedas (Hinduism), or the Tripitaka (Buddhism)? Where does praying about a particular religion’s scripture stop? If praying about a book is a way to determine truth, then why have many Mormons never even thought about expanding their prayers to more than just one religion’s scripture?

While Christians believe in prayer, they don’t believe it is appropriate to approach communication with God in such a cavalier manner. First Thessalonians 5:21 tells believers to “test everything.” The Bereans were considered to be more righteous than the Thessalonians in Acts 17:11 because they searched the Scriptures (Old Testament) to see if what Paul taught was consistent. While the Mormon missionaries may want potential converts to obtain a subjective feeling that the Book of Mormon (and ultimately, Mormonism) is true, they should instead request their audience to read the Bible for itself—not in light of “modern-day revelation”—and see if what Mormonism teaches is consistent with the special revelation already given.

A testimony of the Book of Mormon leads to a conviction of other truths.

Each time we encourage others to read the Book of Mormon, we do them a favor. If they read it prayerfully and with a sincere desire to know the truth, they will know by the power of the Holy Ghost that the book is true.

From that knowledge there will flow a conviction of the truth of many other things. For if the Book of Mormon is true, then God lives. Testimony upon testimony runs through its pages of the solemn fact that our Father is real, that he is personal, that he loves his children and seeks their happiness.

If the Book of Mormon is true, then Jesus is the Son of God, the Only Begotten of the Father in the flesh, born of Mary, “a virgin, most beautiful … above all other virgins” (see 1 Ne. 11:13–21), for the book so testifies in a description unexcelled in all literature.

If the Book of Mormon is true, then Jesus is verily our Redeemer, the Savior of the world. …

If the Book of Mormon is true, Joseph Smith was a Prophet of God, for he was the instrument in the hands of God in bringing to light this testimony of the divinity of our Lord.

If this book is true, [the President of the Church] is a prophet, for he holds all of the keys, gifts, powers, and authority held by the Prophet Joseph, who brought forth this latter-day work.

If the Book of Mormon is true, the Church is true, for the same authority under which this sacred record came to light is present and manifest among us today. It is a restoration of the Church set up by the Savior in Palestine. It is a restoration of the Church set up by the Savior when he visited [the American] continent as set forth in this sacred record.

If the Book of Mormon is true, the Bible is true. The Bible is the Testament of the Old World; the Book of Mormon is the Testament of the New. One is the record of Judah; the other is the record of Joseph, and they have come together in the hand of the Lord in fulfillment of the prophecy of Ezekiel. (See Ezek. 37:19.) Together they declare the Kingship of the Redeemer of the world and the reality of his kingdom.

Perhaps Hinckley thinks that he is making a great case for the Book of Mormon. But he is not. Perhaps it could be simplified in this “if” statement:

“If the Book is not true, then Mormonism is a false religion and ought to be avoided at all costs. Period.”

The Book of Mormon offers teachings that can help us find solutions to the problems of today’s society.

[The Book of Mormon] narrative is a chronicle of nations long since gone.

Or, perhaps, nations that have never existed.

The Book of Mormon has the power to change our lives and our perspective.

In August 1830, as a lay preacher, Parley Parker Pratt was traveling from Ohio to eastern New York. At Newark, along the Erie Canal, he left the boat and walked ten miles [16 kilometers] into the country, where he met a Baptist deacon by the name of Hamlin, who told him “of a book, a STRANGE BOOK, a VERY STRANGE BOOK! … This book, he said, purported to have been originally written on plates either of gold or brass, by a branch of the tribes of Israel; and to have been discovered and translated by a young man near Palmyra, in the State of New York, by the aid of visions, or the ministry of angels. I inquired of him how or where the book was to be obtained. He promised me the perusal of it, at his house the next day. … Next morning I called at his house, where, for the first time, my eyes beheld the ‘BOOK OF MORMON’—that book of books … which was the principal means, in the hands of God, of directing the entire course of my future life.

Today … it is more widely read than at any time in its history. … Its appeal is as timeless as truth, as universal as mankind.

[The Book of Mormon] has touched for good the lives of millions who have prayerfully read it and pondered its language.

Here’s the thing. People can have testimonies about a book like the Book of Mormon. But a personal testimony does not authenticate the history of the book. In addition, many others have read the book—as I have—and not had a testimony. It sounds like a book with biblical-sounding stories that just has the stench of a rotten fish in Denmark. To have entire chapters of the Bible recited in its text almost word for word. Really? To have no archaeological evidence to show how even one characters in the Book of Mormon really existed. Seriously? There is too much going against the Book of Mormon for it to be accepted as a legitimate scripture by the truth-seeking individual who doesn’t want to believe something just because it feels good.

To read other reviews of the Gordon B. Hinckley manual, click here.