Changes to the Book of Mormon

So many people have written about this subject that yet another post hardly seems necessary. I have written about the Book of Mormon at least five times previously, but have not addressed the issue that seems to bother some about the changes to The Book of Mormon. I can understand if this is not an issue with you, because it never has been with me either.

From lds.org: "Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon by the gift and power of God. During the process of dictating, transcribing, copying, typesetting, and printing, some human errors were made. Soon after the first printing of the Book of Mormon, in 1830, readers began finding typographical, spelling, and other mistakes.

"The Prophet Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery made over 1,000 corrections for the second edition (1837). For the third edition (1840), Joseph Smith made further corrections after careful prophetic review, comparing the original manuscript with the printed text." In other words, the changes made were typographical, spelling, grammatical, and yes, a few doctrinal clarifications.

Summary of changes

In 1879, with the blessing of the First Presidency, Elder Orson Pratt of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles produced an edition with more chapter divisions and with versification that has continued in all subsequent editions. He also added footnotes and made some changes in spelling and grammar. This was mainly a formatting change to make it easier to read with verses.

The 1920 edition corrected a few errors made in previous editions. It was formatted in double-column pages, with chapter headings, chronological data, revised footnote references, a pronouncing guide, and an index. Punctuation and capitalization were also revised. This is the issue that I used as a youth. I still have several well-worn and used annotated copies I cherish.

The current 1981 edition includes extensive cross references, footnotes, and other study aids. This is the edition I have used to teach seminary and gospel doctrine classes. I love the cross reference, topical guide and dictionary. It adds so much to my scripture study. I have used it to prepare talks for High Council assignments and spiritual thoughts in Bishopric meetings.

The most correct book

Joseph Smith declared that “the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, . . . and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than any other book” (History of the Church, 4:461). Understanding his usage of this phrase has been troublesome to many. He did not mean that the book was error free, but that it conformed to truth and set things right.

There are many excellent articles that help to understand the changes. Robert J. Matthews, Dean of Religious Education at BYU, offered this one in the Ensign that is probably the best. George Horton, an associate professor of ancient scripture at BYU shared one equally useful. Another article provides a brief history of the work completed to publish the current edition.

As always, Jeff Lindsay has done an excellent job in explaining the changes. If you Google "Book of Mormon changes" you will find a bunch of negative commentary on the changes. One of the more recent changes has been to add a word to the introduction of the Book of Mormon. The Lamanites are now considered to be "among" the primary ancestors of the American Indians.

DNA and the Book of Mormon

In late 2002, Ph.D. candidate Thomas Murphy published a paper entitled, "Lamanite Genesis, Genealogy, and Genetics." In it, he presented DNA evidence that the ancestors of the American Indians are from Asia and not from Israel. Although a member of the church, Mr. Murphy admitted that he had not attended church in over ten years. Is that important? I think so.

You can find references to much material in the LDS Newsroom on the subject. Jeff Lindsay has written a masterful and lengthy essay, FAIR has a large number of resources available, as does FARMS. If you can't find anything refuting the allegations that DNA evidence of the American Indians "destroys" the Book of Mormon then you simply haven't looked hard enough.

Some people get so worked up about the DNA problem that they lose their faith and leave the Church. One such individual is Simon Southerton who was a bishop in Australia and a molecular biologist. He published a book on the subject, "Losing a Lost Tribe: Native Americans, DNA, and the Mormon Church." He was later excommunicated but not for publishing his book.

Summary and conclusion

I love the Book of Mormon. I always have. I stopped counting how many times I have read it many years ago. I think I am always reading it and use it almost everyday in my gospel studies. It is a wonderful book. It is scripture. It fills my life with understanding of the doctrine of Christ. Every time I read from its pages I am filled with a greater appreciation for the book.

I do not pretend to be an expert on DNA or the historical evidences of the Book of Mormon. I only know how I feel when I read it, when I teach from it and when I bear testimony of it. The changes in the Book of Mormon over the years do not bother me. I focus on the content and the doctrine contained in the book. Joseph was right. It is the most correct book of God's truth.

Someday I hope to meet Joseph Smith and thank him for the marvelous works that he did in the name of Jesus Christ. One of those works is the Book of Mormon. I also hope to meet Moroni, Mormon, Nephi, Lehi, Alma, Abinadi and all the other Book of Mormon prophets. They were real characters who lived in the ancient Americas and were not just figments of Joseph's imagination.

Comments

lds9999 said…
I enjoyed your post. I remember when I was in high school and one of my teachers challenged me about the changes in the Book of Mormon in front of the entire class. At that time, I didn't know about the changes, so it gave me the opportunity to study up on it and resolve it in my own mind. Like you, the issue has never bothered me.

On the DNA issue, I second the recommendation about Jeff Lindsay's article. It is a masterpiece.
S.Faux said…
As usual, you get right to the heart of the issue.
Clean Cut said…
I loved your final testimony of the Book of Mormon. I get so dang excited every time I read it because of all the implications of the book--it's powerful, it's persuasive (persuading me to have greater faith in Christ that is) , it's full of enriching doctrine, wisdom, hope, and truth, and it brings me closer to Christ. I feel this EVERY time I read it. I've felt the Spirit so many times through reading the Book of Mormon that I feel my faith is now unshakable in it--and then of course that means that Joseph really was called of God and that this work is true. No matter what other things might come my way, I will always remember my witness of the Book of Mormon and the feelings I get when I read it, quote from it, teach from it, and share it.
Jim said…
While there are many substantive changes to the book, it is a moot point as the LDS doctrine and practices are unaffected by the book. The primary doctrines of the church are not reflected in the book to any degree; e.g., celestial marriage, tithing, baptism for the dead, temple work, etc. In fact, the book is definitely against baptism for the dead (see Alma 34:31-35 and expecially Mor 8:22-23), calling it mockery before God.

The substantive changes referred to are regarding "who is God," which is where the LDS and Christian churches part ways. For example, 1 Nephi 11:18, 11:32, 13:40, and where Jesus is the Father (Mosiah 7:27, Ether 3:14, Mosiah 15:1-4, Alma 11:26-29, 2 Nephi 19:6.

In fact, the modern LDS church has redefined or countered the written word of the BM in many places, replacing it with apparently a change in God's revelation to man. Here's a couple, but there are at least 20:

One God (Alma 11:27-29, 44, II Nephi 31:21, Mormon 7:7 and III Nephi 11:27
Many Gods (D&C 121:32, 132:18-20, 37)

God dwells in the heart (Alma 34:36)
God doesn't dwell in the heart (D&C 130:3)

Good luck.
Tim Malone said…
Thank you Jim, for the opportunity to review scriptures with you and spend a few delightful moments refreshing myself with some of the doctrines that are unique to the LDS faith. I very much appreciate the points you have made and offer the following commentary on those points:

You are correct that Celestial marriage, tithing, baptism for the dead and temple work are not identified in the revealed portion of the Book of Mormon that we have. Perhaps they are in the sealed portion. No matter. That’s the beauty of our revealed religion. So much of the doctrines and practices unique to Latter-day Saints came through revelations to the prophet Joseph Smith.

Jim, I think you’ve confused baptism for the dead with child baptism. A careful reading of the eighth chapter of Moroni reveals that it is completely about the mockery of baptizing little children before they reach the age of accountability because they cannot sin until then. There is nothing in that chapter about baptism of the dead that I could find. The same applies to Alma.

Alma 34:31-35 is about repentance and not procrastinating our efforts to prepare to meet God. This life is the time for men to prepare to meet God. One of the labors we are to perform in this life is to repent. Alma is warning the people to not put off that work, because it is work indeed. It is easier to train our spirits in mortality then it is in the spirit world before we are resurrected.

You cite three scriptures that demonstrate where we you say that we part ways with Christian churches. I’m not seeing any conflict in these scriptures unless Christians don’t believe that Jesus was the Son of God. He taught that Himself over and over in his ministry upon the earth.

1 Ne 11:18 – The mother of the Son of God, referring to Mary
1 Ne 11:32 – The Lamb of God slain for the sins of the world
1 Ne 13:40 – The Lamb of God is the son of the Eternal Father

You also cite several scriptures where Jesus is identified as the Father. It might be helpful if you were to read my essay on God the Father and God the Son, which addresses this doctrine.

Mosiah 7:27 – Christ is the creator of all things, thus the Father of all things created
Ether 3:14 – Jesus is the Father of those who believe in his name and are redeemed

Mosiah 15:1-4 – The Son of God is subject to the will of the Father. Every seminary student in high school has this discussion and understanding of how Christ was conceived by the Father. I would be happy to elaborate on this passage in a separate essay if you are interested.

Alma 11:26-29 – Alma answers Zeezrom’s questions about God. There is one God to whom we pray, God the Father, as Alma teaches clearly. The Son of God is identified in later verses.

2 Ne 19:6 – This is the same verse as Isaiah 9:6 – For unto us a child is born. I’m not sure why you are pointing out that this verse is problematic. Do you not accept the Old Testament?

Alma 11:27-29, 44 – We pray to one God. We are judged by Jesus Christ the Son of God.
2 Ne 31:21 – The Father, Son and Holy Ghost are one God in purpose and always will be.
Mormon 7:7 – Repeats the doctrine of the unity of the Godhead in purpose as in 2 Ne 31:21
3 Ne 11:27 – We are baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost

D&C 121:32 – The Council of the Eternal God of all other gods before this world was
D&C 132:18-20, 37 – Then shall they be gods. Yep, we believe that we can become gods.

You point out an assumed contradiction between Alma 34:36 and D&C 130:3. Alma 34:36 is referring to the spirit of the Lord. It would be ridiculous to suppose that God Himself dwells in our hearts. D&C 130:3 makes it very clear that such a belief is an old sectarian notion.

Understanding the doctrines of the restored gospel is not a matter of luck, but of prayerful study and determined effort to conform to God’s will as revealed through his modern prophets.

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