That We Stumble Not (Or Why the Book of Mormon) by David R. Van Fleet

Around 600 BC, the Spirit of the Lord explained to Nephi in a vision that, in days to come, the Gentiles would in no small measure stumble because of the omission of “the most plain and precious parts of the gospel of the Lamb.”(1) The time frame referred to in the vision appears to be in the period of the discovery of the Americas by Christopher Columbus, who was undoubtedly the man described in the vision.(2) The reference to the gospel was surely referring to the Holy Bible, to which Joseph Smith, Jr. made corrections and changed the name to The Holy Scriptures.  A review of the changes shows that, to the book of Genesis in particular, there were significant additions which show Adam and Eve had the fullness of the gospel in their day.  There is also the description of Enoch’s holy city, called Zion by the Lord because of the unity, righteousness, and concern for the poor that those people evidenced.

The Book of Mormon also provides insights that are key for the proper understanding of the gospel. This article describes some of the essential doctrines the Book of Mormon provides us.  In the Book of Doctrine and Covenants we read the following: “And again, the elders, priests, and teachers of this church shall teach the principles of my gospel which are in the Bible and The Book of Mormon, in which is the fullness of the gospel.”(3) I have often wondered what some of those principles are that the Book of Mormon provides us which the Bible does not.  In some cases, the Bible overlooks point of key interest, such as the exact methods and wordings of the baptismal and communion prayers.  Many of the books of the New Testament are letters or epistles addressing specific problems at the time; they were not written to provide comprehensive direction to  future generations.  Similarly, the gospels focused on the story of the life of Christ and not on practices followed in the Church Christ established.

In some cases, the New Testament Church had standard practices, but those practices were departed from for the sake of expediency.  For example, it was thought communion was necessary for salvation, therefore infants were baptized so they could partake of the Communion.  The Book of Mormon therefore functions in several ways to provide guidance:   It provides understanding on doctrinal points that the Bible does not address or fully explain.  It provides reinforcement of principles the Bible describes, but man has not followed faithfully.  It provides independence verification of persons, events, and places mentioned in the Bible.

The Christian religion is based on doctrine more than other religions.(4) First of all, salvation is directly tied to certain beliefs, specifically, to belief in Jesus Christ.  There are six principles of the gospel enumerated in Hebrews 6:1, 2.  Belief in these principles is important as well.  The Book of Mormon addresses al of these principles and adds to our understanding of them.  This basic set of beliefs and practices must be embraced; otherwise, a person is in error.  The New Testament and the Book of Mormon have many examples and prophecies about those who commit priestcrafts and teach heresies.  It may seem strange in our age of tolerance for this to be a cause for alarm, but the Scriptures teach that they should be a vital concern to us.  In our day, the motto is, “as long as they are sincere.”  However, 2 + 2 never equals 3.

The following are verses from the Book of Mormon with explanations that describe several of these points.

A Second Witness of Jesus Christ: “…to the convincing of the Hew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ…”(5) This is an example of the point above, that the Book of Mormon provides independent verification that Jesus is the Christ.  The Book of Mormon later goes on to also confirm there was a new star at the time of His birth and destruction at the time of His crucifixion.  It verifies the New Testament record regarding the doctrine he taught, for He taught the same doctrine in the Americas. In particular, the Sermon on the Mount is almost identical between 3 Nephi and Matthew.  Nephi explained the repetition provided by the Book of Mormon record to that of the Bible shows that God does not change.(6)

It could be argued the value of two witnesses of the same thing is more than double that of a single witness.  Patients sometimes seek a second opinion  before undergoing intensive surgeries.  Peer review is an accepted practice in the evaluation of scientific papers to ensure legitimacy.  That there are two ancient records of Jesus Christ is a powerful encouragement for belief in Him.

The Jews of Jesus’ day expected a Messiah who would provide political deliverance.  When He came and didn’t provide this deliverance, many rejected Him on the grounds He didn’t fulfill Old Testament prophecy.  Christians have argued He did fulfill references such as Psalms 22 and 69, and Isaiah 9, 42, and 53.  Some of that faith have countered these prophecies do not identify Him by name, and there is therefore no guarantee these prophecies applied to Him.  The Book of Mormon shifts the balance of belief in favor of Jesus of Nazareth.

Repentance: The Book of Mormon can be summarized as a series of cycles in the histories of three peoples that migrated to America from the Middle East. The people grew close to the Lord, and as a result, the Lord prospered them.  Their prosperity removed their incentive to remember Him until His judgments were poured out upon them in the form of wars, famines, or captivity.  This either caused them to repent or to be annihilated.  The Book of Mormon therefore enlarges our understanding of repentance.

Faith:  “Faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith, ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.”(7) Alma 16:138-173 is to the Book of Mormon what Hebrews 11 is to the Bible concerning faith.  The Book of Mormon exposition on faith adds much to our understanding of the principle.

Infant Baptism: “…wherefore little children are whole, for they are not capable of committing sin; wherefore the curse of Adam is taken from them in me, that it hath no power over them;…wherefore my beloved Son, I know that it is solemn mockery before God, that ye should baptize little children.”(8) As stated earlier, this practice began in the second century(9) with the best intentions.  However, the Book of Mormon not only says this practice is incorrect, it calls it solemn mockery.  The Scriptures teach “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”(10) No wise person would engage in such a practicein view of this warning.  This verse also suggests that those who engage in this practice are concerned about original sin, but that concern is unfounded because of the atonement of Christ.

True Baptism Transforms: Some denominations teach baptism is a “symbol only.”  The Apostle Paul taught in the sixty chapter of Romans that baptism transforms an individual.  However, this teaching is obviously minimized for those denominations concerned that baptism is a “work” and therefore not necessary for salvation.  The Book of Mormon also teaches baptism transforms a person and therefore reinforces Paul’s teaching.  Alma recalled the baptisms that took place in the waters of Mormon and the changes those people experienced.  He then asked his listeners, “Have ye spiritually been born of God?  Have ye received his image in your countenances?”(11)

Baptism by Immersion: “And now behold, these are the words which ye shall say, calling them by name, saying: Having authority given me of Jesus Christ, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen. And then shall ye immerse them in the water, and come forth again out of the water.”(12) The practice of sprinkling became equally accepted with baptism by immersion (or submersion to differentiate it from pouring) in 1311.(13) Undoubtedly there were those unable to be baptized by immersion, or there was not much water available, or it was an easier course.  However, scholars point out that baptism was by immersion in the First Century, and that it was an activity for those who were older (such as adults.)  All God asks is we follow a simple procedure in the path to eternal life; we are obligated to avoid shortcuts.  Shortcuts change the symbolism of the ordinance and its effectiveness.

Close (or Closed) Communion: “…ye shall not suffer any one knowingly, to partake of my flesh and blood unworthily, when ye shall minister it, for whoso eateth and drinketh my flesh and blood unworthily, eatest and drinketh damnation to his soul.”(14) The Bible is not specific about whether Communion should be open or close, that is, confined to members only.  The bible, at most, infers it was close.  However, Bible scholars confirm only members participated in their love feasts/agape meals which were celebrated in combination with the Lord’s Supper.  The Didache “purports to be an instruction based on sayings of the Lord and given by the Twelve Apostles to pagans who wished to become Christians.”(15) It says the following: “Let no one eat and drink of your Eucharist but those baptized in the name of the Lord.”(16) However, most people are unaware of the writings of those called the Apostolic Father,(17) and their writings are not accepted as scripture.  the Book of Mormon instruction is therefore essential.

The Word of God: “And…I beheld that the rod of iron, which my father had seen, was the word of God, which led to…the tree of life.”(18) This verse is taken from the account of Nephi’s vision, and confirms the importance of scripture and the prophetic word in the lives of the Saints.  His vision includes a number of important points about pride, the tree of life, and a prophecy of the latter days.

Salvation:  “And it is requisite with the justice of God, that men should be judged according to their works; and if their works were good in this life, and the desires of their hearts were good, that they should also, at the last day, be restored unto that which is good.”(19) The writers of the New Testament approached the gospel of salvation from differing viewpoints.  This continues to lead to confusion to this day in understanding the writings of Paul versus those of James, for example.  This subject is addressed by many of the writers of the Book of Mormon, and they provide much needed clarification.

Ordinances: Moroni chapters 2-6 describe the manner in which confirmation, ordination, and communion are to be administered, with instruction on baptism as well.  Had Moroni’s life not been extended longer than he expected, we would not have this valuable instruction.

Zion: “And blessed are they who shall seek to bring forth my Zion at that day, for they shall have the gift and the power of the Holy Ghost.”(20) In the days immediately following the ascension of Christ, the New Testament Church believed in a literal Kingdom of God on earth.  However, the Saints of that day expected the imminent return of Christ.  When He did not return as soon as they expected, the belief in a literal kingdom began to be replaced with belief in only a spiritual kingdom.  This reference to “Zion…at that day” refers to a literal Kingdom of God on earth at a future day and resurrects the original expectation.  The Book of Mormon also describes a golden age of the Nephites when they lived in a condition similar to those in the New Testament Church immediately following the ascension of Christ.  In both cases, the principles of the Kingdom were followed closely.  The Book of Mormon account adds valuable insight into the attitudes and actions of people living righteously.

1. 1 Nephi 3:183                                                   7. Alma 16:143                                             15. James A. Kleist, “Ancient Christian Writers,” p. 3

2. Chris D. Hartshorn, “A Commentary on           8. Moroni 8:9, 10                                           16. Didache, 9:5

    the Book of Mormon, p. 44                              9. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1252   17. Church leaders of the 2nd century AD

3. Doctrine and Covenants 42:5a                        10. Psalm 111:10                                           18. 1 Nephi 3:68

4. Bart D. Ehrman, “After the New Testament     11. Alma 3:4, 11, 27, 28                                 19. Alma 19:66

5. Book of Mormon Preface                                 12: 3 Nephi 5:25, 26                                       20. 1 Nephi 3:187

6. 2 Nephi 12:58-62                                             13. Hugo McChord, “Is Sprinkling Baptism?”

                                                                             14. 3 Nephi 8:60

Posted in