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What Is the Book of Mormon?

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What Is the Book of Mormon?

An Introduction to the Book of Mormon, Part 1
Robert M. Bowman Jr.

There are many questions about the Book of Mormon. In order to engage these questions properly, one must have a basic understanding of the facts concerning the Book of Mormon. This introductory series of articles provide an orientation to the study of the Book of Mormon. In this first article we will explain briefly what the Book of Mormon is and why it is such a significant aspect of the Mormon religion.

The Book of Mormon is one of the four “standard works” of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which views it as a scriptural record translated by founder Joseph Smith Jr. from gold plates engraved by prophets in the ancient New World. When Joseph formally founded the LDS Church on April 6, 1830, eleven days after publishing the Book of Mormon, he stated that it contained “the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles and to the Jews also” (Doctrine & Covenants [D&C] 20:9).

In 1841 Joseph stated, “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” (quoted in the modern “Introduction” to the Book of Mormon). That this statement implies some greater reliability for the Book of Mormon than for the Bible is confirmed in the LDS scriptural text Articles of Faith, composed by Joseph Smith in 1843. It affirms, “We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God” (Art. 8). This last statement reflects the LDS belief that the Bible suffered substantial corruption, especially loss of important teachings it originally contained, through centuries of copying and translating, but that the Book of Mormon, being a divinely inspired translation, does not suffer from such deficiencies.

In 2010 the number of copies of the Book of Mormon in print reached 150 million, including complete versions in 82 languages.

The Book of Mormon plays a primary role in Mormon evangelistic efforts. LDS missionaries encourage prospects to read the Book of Mormon and pray to receive a spiritual witness or testimony that it is the word of God (based on a statement toward the end of the Book of Mormon in Moroni 10:4-5). The LDS Church has often run television commercials offering to give away free copies. Because the Book of Mormon’s doctrines differ only in comparatively subtle ways from those of orthodox Christianity, people with Christian backgrounds are more likely to obtain a positive impression of Mormonism based on the Book of Mormon than if they were introduced first to Joseph Smith’s later doctrinal innovations. Once a person accepts the Book of Mormon as the word of God, however, it is a small step to accepting Joseph Smith as God’s prophet and the LDS Church as God’s only true and living church on the earth.

The other articles in this series cover the following subjects (you may click on any of the titles to go straight to that article):

Part 2: The Contents of the Book of Mormon

Part 3: The Modern Discovery, Translation, and Editions of the Book of Mormon

Part 4: Sources and Composition of the Book of Mormon

Part 5: The Theology of the Book of Mormon

Part 6: Book of Mormon Apologetics: How Mormons Defend the Book of Mormon

Part 7: Basic Bibliography on the Book of Mormon