More Puzzling Subordination and Diminution of Book of Mormon Text in LDS General Conferences

David A. Bednar waving with a journal in his hand as he and his wife exit the Conference Center.

By Scott S. Mitchell

In most of the articles on this website, I have stressed the point that The Church of Jesus-Christ of Latter-day Saints (hereafter “LDS,” “Church” or “LDS church”) teaches myriad ideas which run contrary to the unambiguous teachings of the Book of Mormon.  Most LDS church members are surprised and/or upset by this assertion and skeptical of its accuracy.  But to prove its truth, I urge readers to ask themselves if, during the April 2020 LDS general conference, they noticed any point in any talk where a scripture was quoted by a general authority which was at odds with the version of the same scripture in the Book of Mormon.  It absolutely did happen, as we shall see.  If readers can’t identify any instance where this occurred, they’ve just demonstrated why I continue to stress this point.  Unless attention is drawn to those occasions when they occur, LDS church members are blind and deaf to them and assume they simply couldn’t occur.  The Church touts the Book of Mormon as its most error-free and important book of scripture, yet its text is repeatedly subordinated to patently inaccurate historical claims and doctrinal interpretations by church founder Joseph Smith.  This results in church members growing increasingly separated from their own supposed scriptural moorings.

Below is a recorded interview of a close friend of mind whom I’ll refer to using the pseudonym Steven Samuels.  Steve has requested anonymity to prevent Church members from learning of his relationship with me and blaming me for his decision not to be baptized into the LDS Church (discussed briefly later in this paragraph).  We have known each other a long time, but those who know him now are unlikely to know of our longtime friendship though they may know both of us.  Mr. Samuels is almost unique in that he’s someone who self-identifies as Christian, not LDS, but is an ardent student of, and believer in, the Book of Mormon.  He accepts that book’s record as authentic history and its teachings as divinely inspired.  He also accepts the Bible as the word of God, though he believes various parts of Old Testament historical accounts are inaccurate due to several types of ancient scribal errors or embellishments, some of which he thinks were innocent and others purposeful.  He believes all Old Testament prophecies, however. (You can probably see why I get along well with this friend.)  He doesn’t accept the LDS Church’s canonized Doctrine and Covenants or Pearl of Great Price as divinely inspired or reliable scripture, though he  has read the former, and the books of Moses and Abraham in the latter, and is well-versed in the doctrine from both of them.  He is not yet well read in LDS Church history, except that contained within the introductory pages of the Book of Mormon editions published by the LDS Church.  He intends to be baptized soon, but will not be baptized into, or become a recorded member of, any particular denomination, LDS or otherwise.  Ironically, he doesn’t seek membership in the LDS Church specifically because its teachings are too much at variance with the Bible and Book of Mormon.  Rather, he’ll be baptized into “the church of Christ,” as described in 3 Nephi 26:21, which he interprets as including all sincere Christians everywhere.  (Since his beliefs in this respect coincide with my own, he fears if Church members learn of his friendship with me, they’ll conclude he reached his decision because of my influence instead of through his own study and prayer.)  The person who will baptize him will speak the same words as mandated by the Savior in 3 Nephi 11:22-25 (which the LDS Church has perplexingly altered along with the wording of the sacramental prayers).  

To prepare for this interview, Steve watched or read every April 2020 general conference address to compare what was taught there with the teachings in the Bible or Book of Mormon.  (He’s done this several times before in his study of LDS Church teachings.)  When it was over he concluded there were too many discrepancies to discuss in a one-to-two hour interview.  So, the decision was made between us to only focus on the conference’s most salient and immediately noticeable conflict between a speaker’s quoted scripture and the Book of Mormon text of the same scripture.  The discrepancy was contained in a talk by Apostle David A. Bednar entitled “Let This House Be Built unto My Name” from the Sunday morning session.  This particular instance was chosen not just because it was so obvious, but also because it was decidedly consequential in terms of its effect on LDS doctrine, and Bednar fairly recently did the exact same thing in a previous conference address.  Regarding that, see Ignoring the Book of Mormon in General Conference Talks and LDS Instruction, elsewhere on this website.  Here’s the brief interview with Steven Samuels, which has been edited for the sake of brevity:

Q: So Steve, I understand you picked the talk by David A. Bednar to focus on. You’re going to talk about Bednar’s quotation of what Joseph Smith reported Moroni said when he first appeared to him.  Joseph said Moroni recited some famous verses from the Book of Malachi, correct?

SS:  Yes.  The words of Malachi, which Jesus quotes in 3 Nephi 25 verses 5 and 6 of the Book of Mormon, are famous throughout Christianity, and not just to Book of Mormon scholars.  They are literally the last words of the Old Testament.  Even Jesus’ apostles in Palestine, who weren’t really scriptorians, were very familiar with them before Jesus’ death.  In fact, Peter, James and John asked Jesus about Malachi’s famous words after they saw Moses and Elijah appear as translated beings and minister to Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. I almost have the words memorized myself.  So I’ll read what it says in Malachi 4, verses 5 and 6:

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.”

It reads the exact same way in 3rd Nephi 25:5-6 when Jesus quotes it to the Nephites. But it reads very differently in David A. Bednar’s talk.

Q:  And that’s what you and I talked about, right?  You were surprised to hear such a different version of this scripture being quoted, and you asked me where it came from?

SS:  Exactly.  I mean, from the context of Bednar’s talk, it’s obvious that the version he quoted came from some account that Joseph Smith wrote at some point.  But I wasn’t familiar with this account, and certainly didn’t expect anyone in Mormonism, whether it was Joseph Smith or anyone else, would claim an angel had a dramatically different version of a famous scripture than Jesus himself.

Q:  So why don’t you share the version Bednar quoted, and why it immediately caught your attention.

SS:  Okay, I’m reading from Bednar’s talk here. He’s talking about Moroni’s visit to Joseph Smith:

He instructed Joseph about the coming forth of the Book of Mormon.

And then Moroni quoted from the book of Malachi in the Old Testament, with a little variation in the language used in the King James Version:

‘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. …

‘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.’

Q:  And what jumped out at you from this quotation?

SS:  Well, first of all, Bednar says Joseph Smith wrote that that there was a “little” variation between what Moroni recited and the King James Version of Malachi in the Bible.  But the variation isn’t little, it’s huge, and it changes the meaning of the original completely.  To say Elijah would reveal to Israel the Priesthood makes no sense; Israel already had priests and priesthood.  Elijah himself was not a priest nor associated with priesthood.  LDS teachings about Elijah went on to become the whole basis for its temple sealing theology.  And when this Malachi prophecy about Elijah was fulfilled in the mission of John the Baptist, which Jesus taught that it was, nothing John did during his ministry had anything to do with priesthood.

The second error (or, what I considered an error, anyway) that jumped out at me was that Joseph Smith only said Moroni’s version was slightly different from the King James Version of the Bible.  But it’s also different from the Book of Mormon’s version of Malachi’s words, and it’s Christ’s own quotation of Malachi’s words.  So now the reader has to decide, did Jesus get this quote wrong, or did Moroni, or did Joseph Smith quote it differently than Moroni actually said it?  The difference is huge; it’s not a little minor thing.  It’s not a typo, or a variance of just a couple words.  It’s a completely different concept.

Q:  Were these the only surprises you experienced regarding David Bednar’s quotation of this scripture?

SS: No, not at all.  The next surprise was just as big as the first two.

Q:  So what else surprised you?

SS:  Well, it was what you explained to me, which I hadn’t been aware of.  I had asked you where Bednar was getting this account by Joseph Smith, and you’d told me it came from the LDS church’s official version of its own history, which is now canonized in your Pearl of Great Price.  But you said the earlier version of that history, which came out, what, seven years earlier?–

Q: Yes.  In 1835 in the Messenger and Advocate, which was a Church publication written by Oliver Cowdery while collaborating with Joseph Smith.

SS:  –Yeah, and it DIDN’T contain any claim that Moroni had even quoted any scripture from Malachi, let alone that he’d altered it so dramatically.  You read me the first history they wrote, and there’s no conflict in it with the Bible or Book of Mormon.  So that’s kind of shocking, frankly.

Q:  Okay, at this point, let me tell the reader where to read this.  The first version of church history, a project undertaken by Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, was contained within The Latter-day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate, published in Kirtland, Ohio, History, 1834-1836, Letter IV, February, 1835, pp.64-65, which can be accessed online at josephsmithpapers.org.  That was the first published version of the appearance of the angel to herald the coming forth of the Book of Mormon.  And Steve, I know why you’re saying you found all this shocking, but why don’t you explain it to the reader.

SS:  Well, for one thing, you’d think if you’re Joseph Smith and you’re writing official church history, you’d be careful about what you wrote.  You’d want it to be accurate, and you certainly wouldn’t want it to contradict the Bible, and even less, the Book of Mormon.  After all, you’re telling everyone that the Book of Mormon is the most correct book on earth and the fulness of  the gospel; you don’t want to discredit its version of scriptural passages.  And it’s going to be even worse if the contradiction is of famous verses that every well-read Protestant will be aware of.  It gets worse yet if the Book of Mormon shows you’re not just misquoting Malachi, you’re misquoting Jesus’ own version of Malachi.  And if that’s not bad enough, you’re contradicting your own prior published history in a major, major way.  Frankly, and no offense–

Q: None taken, as you know.

SS:  (Laughs) Yeah, I know.  But the discrepancy you’ve created makes your second, official version of Moroni’s visit appear fake in some respects, or at the very least, significantly embellished.  I’d assume that’s not an impression you’d want to create, but here, it’s pretty much unavoidable.

Q:  Steve, obviously you and I have talked about this quite a bit before this interview.  But for the benefit of the readers, tell us what conclusions you reached about how Joseph’s second version of Moroni’s visit could even exist.  What happened to cause this?

SS:  Well, I don’t know for sure, of course, but as I see it, since I accept the Book of Mormon as authentic history and believe its teachings, I have to accept Jesus’s version of Malachi’s words in the Book of Mormon as being correct.  Therefore the Bible and Book of Mormon are correct on this point, and the official LDS Church history regarding the angel’s visit is at least partially in error.  I don’t believe the angel really did quote Malachi at all to Joseph Smith, let alone change the wording of it so dramatically.  So, the explanation that makes the most sense is that Joseph Smith’s first version of the angel’s visit was probably pretty accurate in describing what really happened, but his second version was embellished to insert new “priesthood” theology into Mormonism.  When the story got embellished, two bad things happened.  Joseph Smith came up with new theology without any underlying scriptural support for it, and he forgot that Jesus had quoted these same verses from Malachi differently in the Book of Mormon.  I think if he would have remembered Jesus’s words from the Book of Mormon on this point, he wouldn’t have dared alter his prior version of Moroni’s words and created a new embellished version.

Q:  And, to be clear, this view you’ve just expressed, was it all your own thinking, or did you come up with it after talking with me about this stuff?

SS:  Well, both.  I myself have been studying LDS teachings for a long time now, and I noticed quite a while ago that they don’t square with the Book of Mormon and Bible on a whole lot of points.  It’s like the Book of Mormon gets published and a big deal is made out of it, but a few years later, a lot of it’s forgotten, somehow.  The Doctrine and Covenants teaches a whole new gospel. It’s really strange.  But what you showed me, which I wasn’t specifically aware of, was that Joseph Smith himself seemed to forget a lot of what was in the Book of Mormon, and he stopped talking about it in his public speeches after the Book of Mormon was published. I think you said you felt he dictated the Book of Mormon text from the interpreters, but he didn’t internalize what he was reading well enough to remember all it taught, right?

Q:  Right.

SS:  Yeah.  And that makes sense to me.  I don’t think he read it enough to remember it well.  And when you become aware of LDS doctrine today by listening to conference and taking the missionary discussions, and attending church, of course, you hear a lot of stuff that’s just, you know, out of harmony with the Book of Mormon.

I don’t think Joseph Smith understood the Bible real well at any point, either.  He didn’t even know Elijah and Elias were the same person.  So, when he was contradicting those two books with his own new pronouncements, he wasn’t aware of it.

Q:  Okay, I want to get to your reaction to David A. Bednar adopting Joseph’s Smith’s contradictory version of Malachi as opposed to Jesus’s version in the Book of Mormon.  What did you think of that?

SS:  Well, like I already said, it really surprised me.  I think he made the exact same error Joseph Smith made, except that he didn’t make up a new version of history like Joseph Smith did.  But the mistakes he DID duplicate, in my opinion, is he didn’t remember well enough what the Book of Mormon said when he quoted a contradictory version of Malachi.  He pretty much admitted this mistake without knowing it, because he said that Moroni’s version varied a little from the King James Version of the Bible, but omitted that it varied from the Book of Mormon as well.  I hope that’s what he did, anyway.  It would be worse if he knew the Book of Mormon contradicted his version and he just covered up that fact and left it out of his talk.  That would be intentional dishonesty.  I don’t think that happened, though.

Still, the bottom line is,  I’m sitting there watching your conference, and I’m saying to myself, ‘This is the second time I’ve noticed Bednar rely on Joseph Smith to give a version of scripture in a conference talk that differs from Jesus’s own words in the Book of Mormon.’  I think I’m more familiar with the Book of Mormon than one of your apostles.  It shouldn’t be guys like me drawing their attention to what the Book of Mormon says.  (Laughs)  Plus, you’ve told me David A. Bednar is a very intelligent man.  He’s got a Ph.D, and he’s been the president of a university.  It’s weird.

The other thing Bednar was careless about, as I see it, is he wasn’t aware enough of his own church history to know that the Joseph Smith account he was quoting was the second version describing Moroni’s visit, and that it was contradicted by the first one.  Of course, I didn’t know that, either, until you told me, but I’m not an LDS apostle.  The dramatically altered version he quoted became the whole scriptural basis for his talk about temple ordinances, too.  I’m assuming his talk would have been different if he’d been aware of these two big discrepancies.

Q:  So, do you feel Bednar quoted Joseph Smith’s account a little too confidently?

SS:  (Laughs) Yeah, that’s a good way to put it, I guess, since he’s speaking live and being televised all over the world.  Many of the conference addresses weren’t consistent with Bible or Book of Mormon teachings, but this was more obvious.  It was the second time in three and a half years for Bednar.  I do think church leaders need to be less confident in quoting Joseph Smith on everything, because otherwise, they’ll make the same mistakes he made.  And in the 21st century, people will get on the internet and discover they’re being taught unreliable doctrine or history.

Q:  Steve, thanks for sharing your perspectives.

SS:  You’re welcome.  My pleasure.

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