How Do You Reconcile the Mormon Eyewitnesses?

Dear Lenny,

I enjoyed your article.

How would you answer the following line of reasoning? The Mormons were able, in the span of a few years, to develop false stories about angels, miracles, divine books, etc. complete with friendly witnesses and in spite of also contending with "others less well disposed." These stories are believed by millions today. We, of course, can live in an age of incredible documentation. It is rather easy to investigate Mormonism (as have many since its beginnings) and discover its changes and inconsistencies. However, if Mormonism had been started 2000 years ago and had become the religion of an empire, separating fact from fiction about its early years would be considerably more difficult. . . . ETC.


Hi and thanks for writing!

On the surface, the circumstances of the New Testament and the Book of Mormon seem similar, but there are important differences we must note between the two texts as well as their origins. First the similarities:

  • Both the New Testament and the Book of Mormon were claiming to be the new revelation of a widely held belief system prominent in the culture of their origin at the time of their writing.
  • Both had the effect on their adherents of changing the way that system of beliefs was understood and practiced at that time.
  • Both came under attack and criticism from the mainline religious cultures of their time.

As you note, the Book of Mormon was originally published fairly recently, in 1830. The Gospel accounts, however, are nearly two-thousand years old and we no longer have any of the original hand-written autographs. This is really not a problem, though, for we have such a wealth of manuscript evidence that we can reconstruct the originals with an accuracy of near perfection. (For more on this, please see my page "Is the Bible REALLY from God?"

We must now look at the differences between the New Testament accounts and the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon states it is the work of one man, Joseph Smith. Smith recorded that he alone supposedly translated lost plates which give an account of the history of ancient North America and was the author of subsequent works (Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price). However, the New Testament was written by at least nine different people in the language common to their time. These documents were almost immediately distributed to an already existing body of believers who could check their accounts against what they had already been taught as well as each other's works. Peter specifically demonstrates this when he mentions Paul's writings and equates them as Scripture, thus validating those teachings (ref. 2 Peter 3:15-16). Because there were various writers writing at about the same time, the chance for disagreement or contradiction increases dramatically, especially if the authors were creating fictional accounts.

Not only was there a check system in place for the various New Testament books, but more importantly, the events the New Testament chronicles were contemporary history for the reader. The Book of Mormon comments on happenings that occurred from 1400 to 4000 years ago. At the time of writing, there was no good way of validating those claims. The modern science of archaeology was in its infancy, and no one ever saw the supposed plated from which the translation was taken. (Indeed, the Testimony of Three Witnesses is more than a bit suspect, for each of them later claimed to only have seen them "with a spiritual eye"; that it was a vision, or denied their testimony altogether.). Remember, skeptics and critics of the Christianity were abundant, and they would very passionately do anything to try and discredit these claims of the apostles. As I had previously pointed out, though, the apostles would repeatedly use the well-known facts of the events of their days to verify the truthfulness of their claims (ref Acts 2:22; Luke 1:2, 2 Pet. 1:16). Please also see "Is Eyewitness Evidence Reliable?"

Other reasons we do not hold the Book of Mormon as true are many and varied. In addition to the changes and corrections that have marked the book's history, there are many contradictions between the teachings of the Book of Mormon and the Bible, as well as inconsistencies between the other LDS standard works. There are scientific errors (not the least of which is the basis that marks the book: the Native American peoples were descendants of a Semitic people who left Israel in approximately 600 BC. Anthropologists and geneticists are united in the finding that Native Americans are descended from a Mongoloid, or Far Eastern race, not a Mediterranean one.)

A belief system speculating on ancient occurrences or truths which cannot be verified is much easier to "sell" than people talking about actual events from the time that they lived. This fact should be evident even today where mystics claim to have "special knowledge" or channel beings from the distant past. Many of the cults we read about in the papers claim just such knowledge. Christianity, though, has at its basis a claim from history that Christ rose from the dead. It is an assertion made immediately after the event happened and should have died quickly if it would have been proven false. Paul, while writing to the Corinthian Church said "If Christ be not raised, your faith is in vain!" (1 Cor. 15:17) Those are pretty heavy words considering the fragility of Christianity as a movement at that time.

I hope this discussion has been helpful. Let me know if there is anything more we should cover, and I pray that God will reveal Himself to you as you continue to seek Him.

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