Ignoring the Book of Mormon in General Conference Talks and LDS Instruction

In his October 2016 LDS General Conference address “If Ye Had Known Me,” Church apostle David E. Bednar began his address by citing to an example in the scriptures wherein Joseph Smith had supposedly corrected erroneous language in the King James Version (hereafter “KJV”) of the Bible.  The scripture Bednar accepted as mistranslated was Matthew 7:21-23, which we find near the end of the Sermon on the Mount:

Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.

Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?

And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

Bednar commented:  “Our understanding of this episode is enlarged as we reflect upon an inspired revision to the text. Significantly, the Lord’s phrase reported in the King James Version of the Bible, ‘I never knew you,’ was changed in the Joseph Smith Translation to ‘Ye never knew me.'” Bednar then went on to partially base his talk on the verse that Joseph Smith had reworded in his “inspired” revision–Matthew 7:23.

The problem with Brother Bednar’s assumption that Joseph Smith’s revision was inspired, and that the King James Version of this scripture was in error and not inspired, is that the Book of Mormon version of this same scripture agrees with the King James Version, and disagrees with Joseph Smith’s revision.  The same Sermon on the Mount that Jesus delivered to the Jews was also delivered almost word-for-word to the Nephites.  It is found in 3 Nephi 12-14.  The counterpart of the King James Version verse that Joseph Smith saw fit to modify is 3 Nephi 14:23.  Its wording is identical to Matthew 7:23 in the KJV; the phrase in question reads “I never knew you,” not “Ye never knew me.”

One should remember that Joseph Smith himself taught that the Book of Mormon is “the most correct book of any book on earth” and “the keystone of our religion” (see Introduction page of LDS edition of the Book of Mormon).  It should also be remembered that while Joseph believed the Bible to contain translation errors, the Book of Mormon was taught to not contain any. The LDS Church’s 8th Article of Faith declares:  “We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.”

We at LAMP also believe, and strongly argue, that the quoted words of Jesus Christ as found in the Book of Mormon are not erroneously quoted.  This necessarily means, then, that Joseph Smith’s rendering of Matthew 7:21-23 was wrong.  David E. Bednar was also wrong to declare said rendering an “inspired revision.”

We hypothesize that both Joseph Smith and David E. Bednar either forgot, or were never aware in the first place, that the Book of Mormon’s record of what Jesus said corroborated the KJV’s account.  Had they been aware of this fact, it seems unlikely they would have discredited the authoritativeness of the Book of Mormon in telling us what Jesus taught.  But is this the first time this  kind of thing has happened, where KJV biblical language has been revised by Joseph Smith, even though the exact same wording appears in the Book of Mormon as it appears in the KJV?  Unfortunately, no.

In Joseph Smith’s 1842 version of his own personal history, which the Mormon church eventually canonized and included in the Pearl of Great Price, he quoted the words of a famous scripture in Malachi which he claims the angel Moroni recited when he first visited him.  Joseph asserted:

After telling me these things, he commenced quoting the prophecies of the Old Testament. He first quoted part of the third chapter of Malachi; and he quoted also the fourth or last chapter of the same prophecy, though with a little variation from the way it reads in our Bibles. Instead of quoting the first verse as it reads in our books, he quoted it thus:

For behold, the day cometh that shall burn as an oven, and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly shall burn as stubble; for they that come shall burn them, saith the Lord of Hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.

And again, he quoted the fifth verse thus: Behold, I will reveal unto you the Priesthood, by the hand of Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.

He also quoted the next verse differently: And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers. If it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming.

(Emphasis added in boldface to highlight portions which differ from the Book of Mormon version; see Joseph Smith–History 1:36-39.)

What is striking about Joseph’s quotation of Moroni’s quotation, is that it differs so greatly, not only from his previous published account of the same event, but from the words of Christ quoting the exact same scripture in the Book of Mormon!  From 3 Nephi 25, this is the version of these passages which Jesus said God the Father spoke to Malachi:

 1 For behold, the day cometh that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble; and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of Hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch . . .

5 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord;

6 And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.

We thus see from the above that Joseph Smith added words to the Malachi scripture that Jesus himself did not include while quoting it.  Jesus said nothing to the Nephites about “the Priesthood” being restored through Elijah or anyone else.  Nor did he say that a coming generation would themselves burn up the wicked, or use the phrases “promises made to the fathers” or refer to the earth being “utterly wasted at his coming.”

Moreover, earlier, when Joseph completed his own Inspired Version of the Bible, which is now called  the Joseph Smith Translation (JST), he did not modify the biblical wording of Malachi in any way.  He left it untouched, though he heavily revised other books in the Bible before and after it.  Thus, later, in 1842, when Joseph related the words Moroni supposedly spoke to him during his first 1823 appearance, Moroni’s purported quotation of the Malachi scripture was in conflict with the Book of Mormon and the JST versions.  We at LAMP do not consider the JST to be inspired at all, but almost all active Mormons do, as evidenced by David Bednar’s and countless other citations to it in general conference talks and lesson materials printed by the LDS Church.  For these people, this evidence should, at the very least trigger some thought as to whether the JST is wrong, or Joseph Smith’s history is embellished by adding words the angel never spoke.  They can’t both be right.

These significant additions of words to scriptures by Joseph force the question:  Which is the more trustworthy account, Mormon’s quotation of Jesus’ words to the Nephites, as contained within the Book of Mormon, or Joseph Smith’s 1842 account of what Moroni said to him nineteen years earlier in 1823?

In our opinion, this is an easy question to answer.  The Book of Mormon is reliable on the  proper reading of Malachi, as quoted by Jesus, and Joseph Smith is not.

This conclusion is supported by another significant fact: In the 1835 Messenger and Advocate, a publication in which Oliver Cowdery, in collaboration with Joseph Smith, wrote the first published version of  the early events in LDS Church history, the quoted words from Moroni, during his first visit to Joseph Smith, contained no reference to the Priesthood being revealed, much less it being revealed through Elijah.  In fact, the name of the angel who appeared on that occasion to herald the coming forth of the Book of Mormon was not even named,  and no quotation whatsoever from Malachi was included in the account of the words he spoke.  Throughout his account, Oliver repeatedly refers to the fact that he is relating the experience as told to him by Joseph Smith.  See Messenger and Advocate, vol. 1, No. 5, February 1835, pp. 77-80, accessible online at archive.org and on multiple websites.

It therefore seems clear that Joseph Smith was not above embellishing prior historical accounts, even if they were his own published words he was embellishing, nor above claiming more scriptural understanding and revelation than he had actually received.  Given what he always taught about Book of Mormon correctness, it appears he forgot that the biblical scriptures he was rewording were also found in the Book of Mormon and not in error.

Mormons have a hard time accepting this fact, but Joseph Smith was not particularly knowledgeable about the Book of Mormon.  After its publication in 1830, Joseph turned his attention to biblical exegesis, and sought to establish himself as a scriptural authority who could correct erroneous passages.  He very seldom preached sermons based on Book of Mormon teachings after that time, and often showed less familiarity with the book’s content than other, more careful peers.  We have referred to this tendency Joseph demonstrated to represent his own erroneous ideas as revelations from God elsewhere on this website.  In many instances, Joseph taught things that were flatly contradicted by the Book of Mormon, such as justifications for polygamy, the baptism of little children, the priesthood of Melchizedek, the definition of the Church of Christ, and even the very essentials of Jesus’ basic gospel and the requirements for eternal life, to name a few.

Unfortunately, Joseph’s legacy of overlooking or forgetting Book of Mormon teachings on a broad spectrum of subjects has continued to influence successive church leaders up through our present time.  It was on display during the April 2018 general conference, especially during the Saturday evening general priesthood session.  In that session, Church President Russell M. Nelson announced the combining of the high priests’ and elders’ quorums into one quorum containing both priesthood offices.  Because of this purportedly monumental change, much emphasis was placed on outlining and distinguishing Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthood keys, duties, quorums, authorities, powers and definitions, especially in the talks by Douglas D. Holmes, Dallin H. Oaks, and Nelson.  The scriptural bases for these concepts came exclusively from the Doctrine and Covenants.  The Book of Mormon was cited only to highlight the importance of the “ministering of angels” (a supposed “priesthood key” of the Aaronic Priesthood), or to show that Jacob and Joseph took their callings as teachers and priests very seriously in the sixth century B.C.  Of course, no effort was made to explain that the Book of Mormon says nothing about the Aaronic Priesthood, or that neither the office of high priest nor the idea of a “Melchizedek Priesthood” continued to exist after Jesus organized his church among the Nephites.  

And that’s the problem, as we see it.  Despite the wording of scriptures in the Book of Mormon, and the fact that it goes into some detail about how the church was organized by Jesus, and how it was run, and which offices were held within it, the book’s content is completely ignored when it comes up against some contrary teaching by Joseph Smith.  To an outside observer, or to an observant inside observer, the Book of Mormon appears to be anything but the keystone of Mormonism.  The book teaches the non-necessity of baptism for those who died without the law, so Joseph institutes baptisms for the dead.  The book mandates the use of wine in the sacrament, and forbids alteration of this practice, so Joseph substitutes water for wine. The book contemplates Jesus as the last high priest after the order of Melchizedek, and the Lord himself discontinued the existence of high priests in his church, so Joseph creates an elaborate hierarchy of high priests in the Mormon church, all the while claiming personal revelation.  And on, and on, and on.  Repeatedly, since 1830, the Book of Mormon has been relegated to second-class status, either ignored or forgotten in the wake of Joseph Smith’s many doctrinal and historical inventions.

Hence the creation of this website.

3 thoughts on “Ignoring the Book of Mormon in General Conference Talks and LDS Instruction

  1. There are many things here to agree with. Joseph rarely, if ever, spoke of the Book of Mormon. A very odd thing. I agree on priesthood, baptism of children, etc.

    One thing that struck me while reading the Book of Mormon was the repeated idea that God will grant us according to our desires — either unto salvation or damnation. The two most prominent are Jacob 4:14 and the first several verses of Alma 29. I think what happened is that God gave a perfect blueprint for what He wanted to happen, but as He does, he leaves it to man to follow or not to follow.

    We have no extant documents mentioning priesthood until after the arrival of Sidney Rigdon in winter 1830. No original documents mention priesthood of any kind. It was Rigdon who introduced the idea of priesthood into the church and got Joseph to inquire. Joseph was still a young man in 1830 – 25 years old. I think he was anxious to please people. I think he had good motives. But he was very young and inexperienced.

    David Whitmer addressed this his pamphlet, An Address to All Believers in Christ. Joseph or Hyrum or Sidney would get an idea, pray about it, and get the answer just as they had dreamed it up–“according to the desires of their hearts.”

    As far as Nauvoo-period doctrinal innovations (baptisms for the dead, endowment, etc), I think there are two problems: the first was neglecting the Book of Mormon. God said back in 1829 if they didn’t give heed to his commandments he would deliver them up to Satan. (Book of Commandments, Ch. 4). But there was also a serious revision of history orchestrated by Brigham Young, Willard Richard and George A. Smith. D&C 132, King Follett and the reported discourse on “Plurality of Gods,” all bear Brigham Young’s stylistic fingerprints (word choice, sentence structure, etc.) and theological views.

    Take, for example, the valedictories of three documents:

    D&C 136: “So no more at present. Amen and Amen.”
    King Follett: “I add no more, God bless you all. Amen.”
    D&C 132: “Let this suffice for the present, I am Alpha and Omega, Amen.”

    D&C 136 is an obvious forged revelation. There are two major tells in it. So we can use 136, which was produced by Brigham Young, to spot similarities in other documents. There isn’t a single Joseph Smith document (aside from the JST) that was not subject to revision after his death.

    Ultimately, God told us that that he brought the Book of Mormon forth when he did for a “wise purpose,” which would be “known to future generations.” The LDS church has long since abandoned the BOM. They claim it as founding scripture, but don’t actually believe in it, so whatever reformation happens will likely happen outside the constraints of LDS, inc.

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    • It appears we pretty much see eye to eye on these points, Matt. Thanks for your comment. I think your observation that God allows us to go awry, if we seek to do so, is very important in understanding Church history. He may go to great lengths to give us the marvelous BoM, but if we seek to ignore it or override it with new, misguided teachings, he will let us.

      I do have a little bit different opinion than yours regarding what happened in 1830, however. While I concur Joseph was young, inexperienced and eager to please, I believe he was also motivated by the ungodly desire to preserve his stature and prestige among early church converts and BoM believers. Though he no longer possessed the interpreters, he didn’t want to go back to being an unemployed laborer sitting in the congregation, possessing no more spiritual gifts than the next person. He wanted to remain the person running the show, the one through whom new truths were revealed, the one who was considered the most well-informed and inspired of all. He wanted to PRESIDE; to impress people, not just please them. And he wanted to be financially supported in his efforts so he wouldn’t have to go back to farming or other menial pursuits to support himself. So, to maintain his current stature, he became willing to reveal new ideas to the Church that weren’t really revelations from God at all. They were merely Joseph’s limited understandings of doctrines, and of scriptural interpretations; his hypotheses. But he taught them as revelations. And yes, he took many of his cues from Rigdon and others whom he considered authoritative or knowledgeable. For this reason I guess I disagree somewhat with your use of the word “sincere” to describe Joseph in late 1830 and thereafter. If he was sincere, he was sincere in wanting to exalt himself before others. But proclaiming something to be revelation when you know God didn’t actually speak those words to you can’t really qualify as sincere, in my book.

      I agree that Brigham Young might have been responsible for re-writing key portions of D&C sections. I assume that he did that on several occasions. It’s hard to prove what he forged when original handwritten manuscripts are missing. To alter Joseph’s writings to conform to his personal preferences certainly wouldn’t have violated any scruples possessed by Brigham; he wasn’t above revising history secretly. However, we also have to acknowledge that a huge amount of damage was done by Joseph before Brigham got a chance to further pollute the scriptures. By the end of 1835 or early 1836, Joseph had already relegated the BoM to second-class status at best, and created a whole new scripturally-baseless theology which continues to afflict the LDS Church to this day.

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      • That very well may be. Unfortunately, all the principle actors are long dead and many of the historical records have been altered. We’ll never know what truly happened. I choose to believe he had good motives, misguided (and wrong) though they may have been. Though I don’t rule out the possibility of pride and ambition. There are just too many things that extended far above and beyond the scope of his calling. (Now we have the Snuffer people fully embracing the erroneous Nauvoo-era doctrines. Yikes!)

        The church has elevated to Joseph Smith to semi-deity. That, too, is a huge mistake. I cringe every time I hear, “The Prophet Joseph Smith taught…,” because it’s inevitably followed by something contradictory to the BOM.

        Joseph Smith remains an enigma to me. On the one hand, he got so much right. On the other hand, he got so much so very wrong. He seems to have abandoned the Book of Mormon immediately after publishing it.

        God, knowing all things, was surely aware that all of this would happen. It would be nice to know and understand the wisdom…

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