Monday, December 22, 2014

Closer to God Than Any Other Book

Despite the many times we have answered questions regarding the statement by Joseph Smith that the Book of Mormon was the most correct book, we continue to receive comments and questions regarding it. Consequently, we are taking this time to expand on our previous statements in hopes to finally give this critique a rest.
When Joseph Smith said, “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,” it was a bold, and often misunderstood statement. While the statement is still applicable, for the Lord has never rescinded it, the world in general has little concept of its meaning, and even members misunderstand the depth of its implications.
    There is no question that an examination of the statement reveals important principles that are significant to readers of the Book of Mormon and especially to members of the Church. The correctness of the work can only be attributed to the Lord’s hand in its translation, an event that Isaiah aptly described as a “marvelous work and a wonder” (Isaiah 29:14).
    While non-members and critics often use this statement by Joseph Smith to point out that there were and are errors in the work, they miss the point that there is irrefutable evidence to show both the correctness of the translation and the Lord’s hand in it. Detractors and denigrators of the work concern themselves with misspellings and grammar, but the Lord concerns himself with content and meaning.
The Three Witnesses, Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris, bore record that the voice of God declared unto them that the book had been translated by his power—their testimony still appears at the front of each copy of the Book of Mormon. In addition, they were assured by revelation that Joseph had translated all that he had been commanded to do and that it was a true translation (D&C 17:6).
    Having said this, we should still look at the statement “the most correct book,” which implies that it may not be absolutely correct, though this may seem contradictory in light of the Lord’s declaration. This leads us to a greater understanding of the statement, by realizing that if there be any errors, they should not be attributed to the translation. Moroni himself said as much when he wrote to excusing the errors, if there be any, to the faults of men (Mormon 8:17), and to the necessity of writing in an unfamiliar language, called "reformed Egyptian," rather than in their native Hebrew (Mormon 9:32-33). Thus, the qualifying comment on absolute correctness was imposed because of language limitations.
    An interesting example of this is found regarding the Lord’s prayer to the Father, which was described as being one that could not be spoken or written by man. It is interesting that the disciple Nephi chose to say: “And tongue cannot speak the words which he prayed, neither can be written by man the words which he prayed” (3 Nephi 19:32). Yet, the prayer was heard and understood by the Nephites because “their hearts were open and they did understand in their hearts the words which he prayed” (3 Nephi 19:33).
    This suggests that the correctness of the Book of Mormon was not limited so much by the translation process as by the inadequacy of present languages.
    Joseph Smith taught that the Savior would adapt his language to the capacity of a little child (History of the Church, 3:383), and Elder Gérald Caussé suggested that the Lord “adapts to our level of understanding” (October General Conference 2008), and John Taylor added, “It is true intelligence for a man to take a subject that is mysterious and great in itself and to unfold and simplify it so that a child can understand it” (“Discourse,” Deseret News, Sept. 30, 1857, p238). It seems obvious that the Lord, from time to time, has to adapt the language of the Book of Mormon to our linguistic capacity.
    According to Monte Nyman, associate dean of religious eduction at BYU, evidently, “until the time arrives when the Lord will restore a pure language to fill the earth with sacred knowledge, the Book of Mormon represents the gospel teachings in the most correct form available to man.”
A keystone is the wedge-shaped stone piece at the apex of an arch, which is the final piece placed during construction and locks all the stones into position, allowing the arch to bear weight. The term “keystone” is used figuratively to refer to a central element of a larger structure (such as a theory or an organization) that locks the other elements in place and allows the whole to be self-supporting. It is the “key,” and without it, the structure would collapse
    The Prophet Joseph’s declaration of the Book of Mormon as “the keystone of our religion” underlines its importance in uniting the Church. As the keystone holds the rest of the stones in place, so the Book of Mormon upholds the principles and ordinances of the gospel. Without the keystone, the structure would collapse. Support for this concept comes from the Prophet’s declaration that if the Book of Mormon and the revelations were taken away, our religion would cease to exist. (History of the Church, 2:52)
    The uniqueness of the Church rests upon several basic principles and ordinances that the world has long forsaken in whole or in part. These unique features are taught in the Bible, but through misinterpretation and misunderstanding they have been gradually deleted from the tenets of modern Christianity. The most important principle, of course, is acceptance of Jesus Christ as the literal Son of God and the Savior of the world.
    To this principle, the Book of Mormon bears a second witness in dozens of instances. Its primary objective is to convince Jew and Gentile alike that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God. Isaiah prophetically proclaimed that Christ was the “Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). However, the world has replaced that understanding with lesser designations: a great teacher, a  philosopher, an eminent moral and ethical asserter. To this principle, the Book of Mormon bears a second witness in numerous instances. This correct second witness has become more and more valuable as the world has increasingly entertained various alternate and lesser opinions of the Savior.
The Book of Mormon also confirms that the Lord continues to direct his church through his chosen servants as he did in biblical times. In contrast, the modern world has ignored the biblical admonitions of “ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you” (John 15:16), and “no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God” (Hebrews 5:4), and has substituted such practices as the priesthood of all believers and the callings of men of their own personal choosings.
    The restoration of the gospel has likewise restored the unifying practice of men being called of God, by prophecy, and upholds the biblical teachings of ordinances for the salvation and exaltation of man, teachings that have been discounted by and often deleted from, modern Christianity. Man’s recognition of these teachings and his step-by-step growth and development are highlighted by the third part of the Prophet Joseph’s statement that “a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.”
    Initially, the statement offers the Book of Mormon as the most correct book, challenging the nonmember and the unconverted member with its importance. Second, the keystone aspect appeals to the Church member as he views himself within the framework of the Church. The third step is to come closer to God by implementing the precepts within the “most correct book.”
    Therefore, the reader of the Book of Mormon must first recognize the precept or rule of action; second, he has to understand the precept; and third, he has to “abide” by it, or incorporate it into his life. In recognizing the precepts, we find our task made much easier by the writers and abridgers of the Book of Mormon. Realizing that they were writing to a future generation, they were cognizant of the needs of our day and pointed out the saving principles that would meet those needs.
See how Nephi prepares the reader for a principle to be gained from a particular incident with the introductory phrase, “I will show unto you” (1 Nephi 1:20), or “thus we see that” (1 Nephi 16:29). Jacob and Moroni likewise use introductory phrases such as “behold, my brethren” (Jacob 4:13), and “now, we can behold” (Ether 2:9).
    As the reader progresses in his understanding, the real challenge yet remains for him to make that precept or principle a part of his life. This was emphasized by King Benjamin: “And now, if you believe all these things see that ye do them” (Mosiah 4:10). Nephi explained that if we will ask and receive of the Holy Ghost, he will show us what to do (2 Nephi 32:4-5).
    Obviously, then, one cannot receive the gospel of Jesus Christ and the blessings therefrom within his church without accepting the Book of Mormon. For the Church is not just a social institution but an organization to preach the gospel and administer the ordinances necessary for salvation. These ordinances are in both the Bible and the Book of Mormon, and in them man may find the keystone of true Christianity and the means by which he may come closer to God.
    Thus, the Prophet Joseph said, “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."

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