The Book of Mormon, long a lynchpin of the Mormon faith, has both captivated and perplexed people all over the world. Many Latter-day Saints hold this work as the keystone to their entire worldview. In fact, former LDS President Ezra Taft Benson once said, "Just as the arch crumbles if the keystone is removed, so does all the Church stand or fall with the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon."
One of the central claims to the Book of Mormon's authority is that the work completes (rather than compliments) the doctrines of salvation as found in the Bible. The two are seen as separate works, but working in tandem to provide the gospel message to the world. If this is the case, if coherent truth about salvation may be found in both works, then we should expect to see many similarities between the two.
There are, however, substantial differences between the two which deserve our attention.
The Bible Is Translated While the Book of Mormon Was Transcribed
Differences begin in the very formation of the two works. In 1830, the founder of the LDS Church, Joseph Smith Jr., published the first edition of the Book of Mormon. After weeks of work, the book quietly stepped onto the stage of religious literature. The process of getter there, however, is quite extraodrinary.
Smith claimed to have a series of visions which revealed the location of golden plates. These plates, said to be ancient accounts of Native American–Jewish origin, were buried in a hill near to Smith's home. Having discovered them, he then began a process that many LDS scholars describe as translation.
While competing accounts of how Smith accomplished the task, they all stay within the same basic structure: using two seer stones, Smith watched as "reformed Egyptian" – a language yet to be discovered outside of this area – illuminated into English. Despite LDS scholars arguing for translation, this processes is more aptly described as transcription. Smith had no formal language training, but simply transcribed the miraculously illuminated English into English.
This process is substantially different from the process of Bible translation. Written in three (widely known) ancient languages, men and women who are formally trained painstakingly convert word after word from one language into English.
The Bible has undergone many translations by thousands of translators. The Book of Mormon has, ostensibly, undergone one transcription by one transcriber.
The Book of Mormon "Reintroduces" The Gospel to the World
The entire raison d'être of the Book of Mormon is the restoration of lost aspects of the gospel. From beginning to end, the work makes no sense if the gospel message of Jesus needs no reintroduction. In fact, the very origin of the Book of Mormon is surrounded by the urgency to restore the gospel.
In History of the Church Vol. I, after receiving a vision from two personages (we are meant to understand them as the Father and Son without their names being listed) Smith is visited by an angelic being by the name of Moroni. The angel informs Smith that the "fulness of the Gospel" was contained in the golden plates he was soon to discover.
The Bible, however, vehemently warns against such an angelic messenger. Paul warned that if, “we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.” – Galatians 1:8.
Paul warns that even if he preaches a gospel contrary to the one he himself preached, we should ignore it. Not to mention, Paul practically identifies Moroni by name when he says "we or an angel."
The Bible claims that the gospel preached by the apostles is the one and only gospel message to ever be preached. However, fundamental to the Book of Mormon's existence, Smith claims a "restored" gospel is found in a book made known to him by an angelic being.
The Book of Mormon Asks Its Reader to Pray About Its Truthfulness
If you've ever been visited by LDS missionaries, then you may have been asked to prayerfully consider whether the Book of Mormon was true. This invitation is usually drawn from the Book of Mormon itself.
"And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things." – Moroni 10:4–5
The Bible, however, makes no such claim. It does not feel the need to invoke a religious experience in order to persuade the reader of its authority or trustworthiness. In fact, quite the opposite is true. The Bible clearly indicates that the heart is not to be trusted in such matters.
"The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?" – Jeremiah 17:9
The Bible never challenges the reader to invoke religious experience to verify its trustworthiness. The Book of Mormon, however, clearly feels an additional witness is required aside from its own message.
Salvation Comes "After All We Can Do"
In Mormon thought, justification comes primarily by faith in Jesus Christ. Yet, there is an additional element to our justification – works. 2 Nephi 25:23 (Book of Mormon) sucinctly presents this idea, "For we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do." Were in not for the phrase after all we can do there would be no contention between the Book of Mormon and the Bible.
However, adding works to our justification is a wholly foreign concept to the Bible. Most notably, Paul adamantly argues, "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." – Ephesians 2:8–9
As far as justification is concerned, the Bible sees no room for the Book of Mormon's addition of after all we can do. We are saved by faith alone through grace alone – nothing more, nothing less.
Of course, one could argue that this is entirely up to one's personal interpretation, that religious experience can draw us to a truthful understanding of this verse. It should also be known that 2 Nephi was supposedly written 600BC, when the relationship between law and grace were still a mystery. Regardless, it seems the author's original intent was a radical departure from grace-based justification in order to introduce a form of obedience into salvation.
The Bible contends for justification by faith and grace alone. The Book of Mormon, however, seems to indicate an additional requirement for works to one's faith.
Why Theses Differences Matter
The differences between the Book of Mormon and the Bible are significant. The Book of Mormon neither compliments nor completes the Bible since the two do not cohere to a unified message, especially of the doctrine of salvation. For this reason, we must either reject the Bible as incomplete or the Book of Mormon as false.
This is why such differences matter. If the Book of Mormon is not a restoration of the gospel, then we must conclude that its message does damage to the gospel and must be rejected.
Kyle Beshears (@kylebeshears) is a pastor at the People of Mars Hill in Mobile, Alabama and blogs at Dear Ephesus on church issues and apologetics. He is the author of Robot Jesus and Three Other Jesuses You Never Knew. Too busy to read? Check out the podcast.
Editorial note: In the original post, readers may have been mislead into believing the transcription process took many years. The actual transcription of the golden plates occurred in a matter of weeks, whereas the entire process, from discovery of the plates in 1827 to publication of the work in 1830, took years. Thank you to Landon Burgener and DavidWBowen for kindly bringing this to my attention.