Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Theorists and the Scriptural Record of the Book of Mormon

As soon as the Book of Mormon was printed, people have been curious about the location of Lehi’s Land of Promise. Numerous people, some well-educated, some academicians, and also laymen, who feel they know things that nobody else knows, and expounded on the subject. They seem to believe they have special insight into the words engraved on the plates, and think the clear and simple words Mormon wrote and Joseph translated, do not really mean what their definitions tell us they mean.

Initially, soon after BYU started its first anthropology/archaeology department in 1946, the Mesoamerican theory of the Land of Promise took hold, and grew exponentially as professors in the new fields, under the direction of M. Wells Jakeman began teaching what they had been taught, that this singular location was indeed Lehi’s Land of Promise. Quickly, BYU began sponsoring digs and student work in that area. Soon after, tours began as so-called guides showed everyone who would pay for the trip, where they claimed the Book of Mormon lands were located.

Some of the theorists’ books on Book of Mormon geography


Many other theories followed, almost as fast as the presses could print them. Eventually, the theories began to center on North America, fist around the Great Lakes, and then within the Heartland. Over the past several years, thanks mostly to Rodney L. Meldrum who began his theorizing on the Book of Mormon location in 2003, and began in earnest with free lectures in 2007, pushed the North American model.  This theory, became the fastest growing idea connected to Land of Promise geography. It certainly attracted dogmatic believers.

Unfortunately, in so many cases, especially those surrounding the North American theories, the promoters and believers have strayed far from the scriptural record in making and supporting their claims, relying almost entirely on the supportive claims of early Church leaders who often gave their opinions as to where the Land of Promise was located.

In fact, Apostle Bruce R. McConkie stated: “Are all prophetic utterances true? Of course they are! This is what the Lord’s system of teaching is all about. Anything which his servants say when moved upon by the Holy Ghost is scripture. But every word that a man who is a prophet speaks is not a prophetic utterance. Joseph Smith taught that a prophet is not always a prophet, only when he is acting as such” (History of the Church, 5:265; see also Teachings, p. 278).

As Elder McConkie added, “Men who wear the prophetic mantle are still men; they have their own views; and their understanding of gospel truths is dependent upon the study and inspiration that is theirs. Some prophets—I say it respectfully—know more and have greater inspiration than others. Thus, if Brigham Young, who was one of the greatest of the prophets, said something about Adam which is out of harmony with what is in the Book of Moses and in section 78, it is the scripture that prevails.

The Standard Works: Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price


This is one of the reasons we call our scriptures The Standard Works. They are the standard of judgment and the measuring rod against which all doctrines and views are weighed, and it does not make one particle of difference whose views are involved. The scriptures always take precedence” (Finding Answers to Gospel Questions,” Letter dated 1 July 1980, Published in Teaching Seminary Preservice Readings, Religion, 2004, pp370,471,475).

In addition, Joseph Smith stated: “I told them I did not enjoy the right vouchsafed to every American citizen; that of free speech. When I venture to give my private opinion on any subject of importance my words are often garbled and their meaning twisted and then given out as the word of the Lord because they came from me” (LaFayette C. Lee, Notebook," LDS Church Archives, Salt Lake City, Utah; also in Remembering Joseph).

Along this line, Apostle D. Todd Christofferson stated: “Not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. It is commonly understood in the Church that a statement made by one leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, not meant to be official or binding for the whole Church” ("The Doctrine of Christ," Ensign, May 2012).
It should always be kept in mind that it is with divine inspiration that the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles counsel together to establish doctrine that is consistently proclaimed in official Church publications. This doctrine resides in the four “standard works” of scripture (the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price), along with official declarations and proclamations, and the Articles of Faith” (“Approaching Mormon Doctrine,” LDS Newsroom, 4 May 2007).

It was Harold B. Lee  (left) who said, “It is not to be thought that every word spoken by the General Authorities is inspired, or that they are moved upon by the Holy Ghost in everything they write. I don't care what his position is, if he writes something or speaks something that goes beyond anything that you can find in the standard Church works, unless that one be the prophet, seer, and revelator—you may immediately say, "Well, that is his own idea."

If he says something that contradicts what is found in the standard Church works, you may know by that same token that it is false, regardless of the position of the man who says it” (Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. John A. Widtsoe, Deseret Book, Salt Lake City, 1941 p. 135; Teachings of Harold B. Lee, pp540-541).
In an official Church statement in May, 2007, it reads: “Not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. A single statement made by a single leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, but is not meant to be officially binding for the whole Church”

Finally, B.H. Roberts, leader, historian, and politician, who published a popular six-volume history of the Church and also wrote Studies of the Book of Mormon, said: “Relative to these sermons [Journal of Discourses] I must tell you they represent the individual views of the speakers, and the Church is not responsible for their teachings. Our authorized Church works are the Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. In the Church very wide latitude is given to individual belief and opinion, each man being responsible for his views and not the Church; the Church is only responsible for that which it sanctions and approves through the formal actions of its councils. So it may be that errors will be found in the sermons of men, and that in their over zeal unwise expressions will escape them, for all of which the Church is not responsible.”

The point is, all people, including prophets, leaders, and members, are entitled to, and often give their own opinions about matters. That does not mean they are right or that they are wrong—it only means it is their opinion. To build a philosophy, hypothesis, or extensive theory on an opinion, especially when we have the scriptural record that is not an opinion but the world of God to rely on, is simply not wise.

Therefore, any theory based almost solely on what modern day (or this Dispensation) leaders have said, unless backed by official Church statements, simply do not have precedence over the scriptural record. As an example, when Mormon tells us the Land of Promise runs north and south, no academician, or even Church leader, who says the Land of Promise ran east and west can be correct because the scriptural record takes precedence. When Samuel the Lamanite said the Lord told him to say that there would be mountains rise in the Land of Promise “whose height is great,” and that before that the Land of Promise had mountains that would tumble into valleys as Nephi foresaw, the Land of Promise has to be a mountainous land before 3 Nephi, and a greater mountainous land after 3 Nephi whose mountains were of great height.

No historian, academician, Church leader or member can say otherwise, since the scriptural record takes precedence over anyone else—even a prophet unless he is speaking as a prophet according to Joseph Smith. Thus, the entire theory of the Heartland as well as the Great Lakes, is inconsistent with the scriptural record which continually describes mountains within the Land of Promise

Consequently, all of us should, as we do entirely in this blog, use only one dominant criteria in evaluating our own or anyone’s ideas about the Book of Mormon’s geographical setting and that is the scriptural record itself. While almost all writers talk about matching scripture, none seem to take the idea much past the theory stage and apply the actual scriptural descriptions to their specific ideas and models. Some writers will quote or reference a scripture in connection with a statement, but they know that very, very few people will look up a reference—unfortunately, when the reference is checked, more often than not the reference really has nothing to do with the statement, or only on a very peripheral manner, and often has a different meaning entirely (see the book Inaccuracies of Mesoamerican and Other Theories for an extensive example of such references).

Thus, we see that it is imperative that we rely on the scriptural record for verification of our own ideas, as well as those of another, no matter who that person is, unless he is speaking for the church.


  1. D&C 107:82 is an interesting verse: "And inasmuch as a President of the High Priesthood shall transgress..."

    How many General Conference discourses have you heard where they expounded this scripture and exposed the opinions that contradict it ?

  2. Well Del, that's about as straight forward as it gets. Thanks! Loved it.