Jesus Christ in The Book of Mormon: Critics, Take Note:
The Book of Mormon was not written as a curiosity. It was written with a definite, and very important purpose, a purpose felt by the reader at every turn. From the title page, we read that it was written, [as companion to the Bible] “to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting Himself unto all nations.” This is its powerful testimony to our generation.
It was over fifty years ago that the Scottish clergyman and author, Dr. John Watson, wrote:
Were a parchment discovered in an Egyptian mound, six inches square, containing fifty words which were certainly spoken by Jesus, this utterance would count more than all the books which have been published since the first century (Life of the Master, p. 7).
The books which have been written about Christ and the great amount of fine scholarship which has been devoted to learning everything possible about His life and teachings, have given us much useful information. Compared, however, with the materials the scholars have had to work on, the amount of information in The Book of Mormon would make them seem penny-wise and pound-foolish. The Book of Mormon contains a large amount of information about Christ which has been practically overlooked by scholars, and even by the critics of The Book of Mormon. The visit of Jesus Christ to Ancient America shortly after His resurrection is usually passed over to consider the book from other points of view. Even that first serious critic, Alexander Campbell, objected because the discussion of Christ and Christian doctrines were too lucid and too early in world history to suit him.
The critic F. S. Spalding was to write, in summarizing part of the value of The Book of Mormon, if true: ”If The Book of Mormon is true, it is, next to the Bible, the most important book in the world. This fact has been appreciated by the members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints [nicknamed Mormons] and by them alone. If this book is what it claims to be it throws light upon matters of the first importance.
At the present time, when New Testament scholars, with better linguistic and historic equipment than ever before, are studying the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, the record of His appearance to the Nephites and the version of His teachings preserved by the Nephite scribes would be of great value.
A flood of light would be thrown upon the whole question of Church origins if the account of the Church in the new world, described in The Book of Mormon, were similar to that in the old.
The value of The Book of Mormon to the archaeologist would be equally great.
It is inexcusable that the book has never had the serious examination which its importance demands.
M. R. Werner observed:
This inclusion of Jesus Christ (in The Book of Mormon) in Mormonism, however ex post facto it may appear to us, was either a stroke of wisdom upon the part of the founder of the new religion, or else a convenient piece of revelation upon the part of God.
The book contains a beautiful account of the visit of Jesus Christ to America in the book of Third Nephi. This account has been esteemed of such value that the Mutual Improvement Associations of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints adopted Third Nephi as a book to be read by all members of its organizations as a reading course book in 1946-47. Excellent discussions of Third Nephi were prepared, for example that by Clarissa A. Beesley for the Special Interest Group and that by Dr. Lowell L. Bennion for the M Men and Gleaners. To these should be added the excellent summary with detailed references, A Guide to the Study of The Book of Mormon.
What does The Book of Mormon tell us about Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ? From one point of view we might consider the information which gives confirmation to the Biblical material, and that which supplements or is in addition to the Bible. Let us consider, first, however, what The Book of Mormon relates of Christ’s life in the flesh written before his advent upon the earth.
At the very beginning of the earliest account the brother of Jared the great prophet, saw the Savior, Jesus Christ, in his spiritual body and was told that Christ would appear in the flesh in the same form. Ether foresaw the days of Christ. (Ether 13:4) Later people led by the Prophet Lehi were blessed with a much clearer understanding of the mission and life of Christ than were the Jews of Palestine.
Lehi, ancient prophet in America, beheld Christ in a vision about 600 B.C. and said that many prophets had testified of Him. Nephi, his son, was given a prophetic outline of the Savior’s life. Jacob (Nephi’s brother) told that he and all the holy prophets before him had looked forward to the coming of Christ and he labored to bring people to Christ, as did also the first Nephi and King Benjamin, another Nephite leader (1 Ne. 1:9-11, 19; 10:4-5; 11:12-34; 19:10, Mosiah 3:15).
Christ was to be the prophet foretold by Moses and recorded in the records of The Book of Mormon peoples. Abinadi gave a long account. The Almas taught much about Christ prophetically. The knowledge of the coming life and mission of redemption of the Savior was clearly taught before His birth by The Book of Mormon prophets. All the prophets testified of Christ and were urged to look forward to His coming. As if in answer to Alexander Campbell’s objection to this early knowledge the Book of Mormon stated, “And this that it should be shown unto the people, a great many thousand years before His coming, that redemption should come even to them.” And Alma asked in 73 B.C.:
Is not a soul at this time as precious unto God as a soul will be at the time of his coming? Is it not as necessary that the plan of redemption should be made known unto this people as well as unto their children? Is it not as easy at this time for the Lord to send his angel to declare these glad tidings unto us as unto our children, or as after the time of his coming?
The Book of Mormon peoples were unique in that although they knew clearly of the coming of Christ and His atonement, yet because they were living under the unfulfilled covenant with Israel, they were observing the Mosaic law.
Yea, and they did keep the law of Moses; for it was expedient that they should keep the law of Moses as yet, for it was not all fulfilled. But notwithstanding the law of Moses, they did look forward to the coming of Christ, considering that the law of Moses was a type of his coming, and believing that they must keep these outward performances until the time that he should be revealed unto them. Now they did not suppose that salvation came by the law of Moses; but the law of Moses did serve to strengthen their faith in Christ; and thus they did retain a hope through faith, unto eternal salvation, relying upon the spirit of prophecy, which spake of those things to come.
As mentioned in Chapter 13, the signs of the birth and crucifixion of Christ were predicted particularly by Samuel the Lamanite prophet and occurred later as he had predicted.
It is interesting to note in passing that The Book of Mormon in giving the time of the crucifixion allows for the difference in longitude between Palestine and America. The early afternoon in Palestine would be early morning in America.
E. S. Brightman remarks:
Other sheep have I which are not of this fold.’ Yet the exact meaning of this beautiful verse is not entirely clear. Does it mean that there are non-Jewish Christians or does it mean that there are some who are not of the Christian fold who still belong to Christ?
This section from John 10:16 has been a puzzle for centuries. Christ explained to the Nephites 30 that this reference to the Nephites had not been explained in Palestine because of the unbelief of the people.
At the end of great destruction attending the crucifixion, Christ told the Nephites, in a voice from heaven, of the cities destroyed, and that He was Jesus Christ, the creator of the world, and that through Him redemption may be obtained. He told them that the Law of Moses was fulfilled, and that those who repent can obtain salvation. 31
Some time later God the Father, as in Palestine, introduced the Savior saying:
“Behold my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, in whom I have glorified my name-hear him.”
After which Christ appeared saying:
Behold, I am Jesus Christ, whom the prophets testified shall come into the world. I am the light and life of the world; and I have drunk out of that bitter cup which the Father hath given me, and have glorified the Father in taking upon me the sins of the world, in the which I have suffered the will of the Father in all things from the beginning 3 Ne. 27:3-12.
Then Christ had those present come and feel the marks of the crucifixion on His body, that the people would know for a surety that He was the one predicted by the prophets, 34 and that there was a life after death and a resurrection. The Book of Mormon has great historical value in its confirmation of the actuality of the resurrection.
Twelve disciples with a similar church organization in Palestine, were called and given power to baptize and teach (Luke 3:22). Detailed instructions were given by the Savior regarding the meaning and rites of baptism and the sacrament, removing the ambiguities in the New Testament account as we have it. He left a church organized to carry on His work after He left, and answered a question as to the proper name of the church.
For 200 years the Church of Christ flourished with universal righteousness, peace and prosperity with all things held in common.
Dr. James E. Talmage pointed out fifteen important points concerning Jesus Christ and His life and mission in the Bible, each of which is substantiated by The Book of Mormon account (Jesus the Christ, 727). These points are:
- Jesus Christ’s preexistence and antemortal Godship.
- His foreordination as the Redeemer and Savior of mankind.
- Predictions of Christ’s embodiment in the flesh as the Son of the Eternal Father and of mortal woman; and the fulfilment of these predictions in His birth as Mary’s child.
- The sending of a forerunner, John the Baptist, to prepare the way for the Lord’s public ministry.
- Christ’s earthly life, covering about a third of a century, characterized by beneficent service, by authoritative administration, and by unexceptional example.
- The establishment of His Church with duly ordained apostles, who, with other ministers invested with the Holy Priesthood, carried forward the work of salvation after the Lord’s departure.
- The specific and authentic enunciation of the fundamental principles and ordinances of the Gospel, by which the way of salvation has been opened to all, and without which none can abide in the Kingdom of Heaven, these comprising: (1) Faith in Jesus Christ as the Son and the Redeemer of the world; (2) Repentance of sin; (3) Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; (4) Bestowal of the Holy Ghost by the authoritative laying on of hands.
The Lord’s sacrificial and atoning death.
- The Savior’s actual resurrection, whereby His spirit was reunited with the crucified body and He became a glorified and immortalized Soul.
- Christ’s ministry as a Resurrected Being among men.
- His exaltation to the place He had won at the right hand of God the Eternal Father.
- The general apostasy of mankind from the Gospel of Christ, bringing about an era of spiritual darkness.
- The restoration of the Holy Priesthood in the latter days, by which the Gospel would be preached again in power and its ordinances administered for the salvation of men.
- The assurance of our Lord’s yet future return to earth, in glory and judgment, to inaugurate the predicted Millennium of peace and righteousness.
- The Savior’s eternal status as judge of both quick and dead, and the eventual victor over sin and death.
Two witnesses are better than one. Elder George Reynolds discovered that there are at least twenty-eight names and titles given to Jesus Christ in The Book of Mormon such as Messiah, Mediator, Redeemer, etc. He also found that twenty-one prophecies are found in The Book of Mormon dealing in plainness and detail with the events of Christ’s mortal existence, not including the quoted sections from Isaiah and the other Old Testament prophets.
It is fitting that Christ instituted His gospel and fulfilled the Mosaic law among the Nephites, otherwise He would have had His people in Palestine living the law of the gospel and in America a group still observing a fulfilled Mosaic law. The Book of Mormon clearly points out that Christ was the giver of the Mosaic law. Covenants between God and his people are referred to over 115 times in the Nephite records. He was the God of Israel, of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Christ is the Jehovah of the Old Testament and is concerned with all mankind; he is not simply a tribal god.
The atonement of Christ was well understood and throughout The Book of Mormon Christ is the only name by which salvation can be obtained. He was slain for the sins of the world. Lehi, Jacob, Amulek, and Moroni all taught it. Alma discussed the fall and atonement, and justice and mercy. It was known that the atonement was part of an eternal plan made before the world was created, and necessary since the fall of Adam. The atonement is infinite for all mankind, and becomes effective through faith and repentance and is effective for children and those who died without law.
The atonement is part of a plan of progression prepared before the foundations of the world were laid, which God has been endeavoring to teach to mankind throughout all human history. These ideas have been clear from the beginning. God gives “line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little, there a little” working in plainness, according to the language, where commandments are given there is a way prepared to obey them.
Since the Gospel plan is one of universal salvation (see also Chapter 2) in time and space, this means that those who lived before the birth of Christ, according to their worthiness were to also have the opportunity of knowing the fundamentals of the Gospel plan and living in accordance with them. The extent of Christ’s work and mission is seen is his statement to Nephi centuries before his mortal birth: “For my work is not yet finished; neither shall it be until the end of man, neither from that time henceforth and forever.” Though the amount of information about Christ and his mission increased with the writing of the Scriptures, the ideas and at times his Church have been present throughout the ages. The Book of Mormon is “Christian” throughout, the Bible in the Old Testament is vague in comparison in its present form. This contrasts strongly with the conventional Christian concept of the gradual development in time of the role of Christ. The Book of Mormon teaches this universal salvation very clearly. It is one of the concepts to which critics have reacted violently, but one which appeals to the logical mind in a spiritual view of the purpose of life and history of mankind.
When Christ gave instruction to the Nephites what would you expect He would say? He was substituting the law of the gospel for the law of Moses. The Beatitudes is the moral code which supplants the “eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” so the Beatitudes were given to the Nephites in a statement of simple principles and the ordinances to make them effective.
There are some interesting differences in the text as given by Matthew and as found in Third Nephi.
Matt. 5:3 reads: “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”
3 Ne. 12:3 reads: “Blessed are the poor in spirit who come unto me.”
In Matt. 5:22 we read in the Authorized Version of King James: “But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment.” In the parallel account in 3 Ne. 12:22 the phrase “without a cause” is omitted. This is of great interest because the best recent translations leave it out too, since it was apparently added by some writer. The Revised Standard Version of the New Testament (1946) omits the phrase and in a footnote says “Many ancient authorities insert without cause.” How could Joseph Smith know from the Authorized Version that it should be left out?
Matt. 5:29: “If thy right eye offend thee pluck it out, and cast it from thee; for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee.” The Book of Mormon reads instead (3 Ne. 12:29-30): “Behold I give unto you a commandment, that ye suffer none of these things to enter into your heart; for it is better that ye should deny yourselves of these things, wherein ye will take up your cross, than that ye should be cast into hell.”
Sometimes the argument is presented that Joseph Smith copied the material from the Bible. But not only does The Book of Mormon confirm the Bible, but the differences, some of which have been given in this chapter and in Chapter 6, have shown that the Book of Mormon has an important contribution to make to the Bible. More important there is a large amount of new material in addition to the Bible.
It is easy to understand why the Book of Mormon should be similar to the Biblical account. Oddly enough critics have seized on this as an apparent weakness of the Book of Mormon but the critics overlooked the differences, and the reasons for the differences, as well as their value. The complexities of these differences are so intricate that it would be beyond a man of Joseph Smith’s education to produce them. Hence they became another convincing proof of the book’s validity.
[Who would not want to read this and inquire in prayer if God has not sent us a second witness, a treasure trove of spiritual doctrine, through The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ?]
Excerpted from Franklin Harris: Book of Mormon: Message & Evidences