Friday, June 24, 2011

How Did Joesph View the Book of Mormon?

I don't think Joseph Smith understood the content of the Book of Mormon very well. Before anyone calls me a heretic for saying that, let me explain.

By not understanding it very well, I mean ONLY the actual content of the BofM. Much of what was taught back then about it was more generalities than specifics and doesn't really match the text very well - as it would have if he had studied it rigorously - or been like most authors and knew it inside and out. Ironically, his apparent lack of textual understanding of it is one of the things that leads me to accept that he translated it rather than having written it.

If we accept his general statements about visitations / visions, it seems to me that he learned some very basic, general things about it and the people it describes - but it doesn't appear he got an in-depth "tutorial" on it. In other words, it appears Moroni told him a few broad, sweeping things about the book and the people, but that most of the time they spent conversing each year was dedicated to other things he would need to know to magnify the overall calling God was giving him.

Personally, with what I've been able to glean about him and his personality, I just don't think he cared much about the Book of Mormon as a religious proof text - so he didn't study it intently to create / restore the core theology of Mormonism. I think that process was "other revelation" driven. I believe this for one major reason:

Frankly, most of the "heretical" doctrines of Mormonism aren't in the Book of Mormon and/or Pearl of Great Price. Many of the more "advanced" teachings are in the Doctrine & Covenants, but most of the truly unique concepts were taken from interpretations of the Bible - which is why, I think, Joseph once said that the main difference between Mormons and Protestants is that Mormons believe the Bible and Protestants don't.

I think he was MUCH more interested in re-establishing what he viewed as a pure Biblical theology than in using the Book of Mormon to do so - and I personally think that is pretty much indisputable. I think he saw the Book of Mormon as what some ancient prophets thought and taught, but I think he viewed its purpose MUCH more as a second witness of the Bible (as is stated explicitly in the book itself in at least two places) and a witness of his calling (as it was used in most early missionary work) than as a primary, doctrinal proof text.

I like that view, since I think it fits the book itself much better than using it to prove doctrine.


Anonymous said...

Yup.Always been a problem to me to have people make or break their testimony on it's veracity-and yet that seems to be what we are constantly challenging people to do.I've found over the years that in order to weather the challenges of experience and information,I need my testimony to be founded on foundational concepts,and a continual fund of personal revelation.

Glenn Thigpen said...

I think that Joseph's view of the Book of Mormon is pretty well summed up in his "most correct book" statement. Teachings from it may not seem to be emphasized, but it was the main tool of the missionaries (and probably still is) of the early church.
Joseph's life seemed to be overflowing with the continuing restoration activities and event of the Church and. So much went on both internally and externally, in such a short space of time. The Book of Mormon seems to have been overshadowed by those events. But I doubt that he ever stopped marveling over the events that led to its production and to that "marvelous word and a wonder."


Papa D said...

I agree, Glenn. I love the Book of Mormon for MANY reasons, and I am convinced Jospeh did, as well. I just don't think he and the early saints understood the "history" in it very well - because they weren't focused on studying it for that purpose.

Anonymous said...

I don't know what to think about your post...but, dang, you sure have got me thinking! Good for you.

Jared said...

Joseph Smith's view of the Book of Mormon:

It is the most correct book on earth.

The keystone of our religion.

A man or woman can get closer to God through the Book of Mormon than any other book (including the Bible, D&C, PGP).

LDS are under condemnation for not believing and using the Book of Mormon as they should.

President Benson said:

There are three ways in which the Book of Mormon is the keystone of our religion. It is the keystone in our witness of Christ. It is the keystone of our doctrine. It is the keystone of testimony.

I could add a lot more on this subject.

Richard Alger said...

Your post fits well with some of the comments Joseph said about the BoM. Like geography, Lamanites being Indians. And many more.

Maybe he had a very limited understanding of these kinds of issues. He was much more concerned with fulfilling what he felt the Lord wanted him to do.

Papa D said...

I agree with everything in your comment, Jared - and nothing in this post implies otherwise.

Rich, your summary is exactly how I see this - that Joseph wsa focused on his role as a prophet, seer, revelator, President, etc.