The Book of Mormon: Keystone

February 5, 2008
By

A few months ago I decided to try an experiment as part of my Sunday School lesson in Gospel Principles. This was a fairly advanced Gospel Principles group that had no new converts at the time. I came into class and issued the following challenge to the class.

Challenge: You need to write a book that will introduce the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world in very plain and straight forward teachings. It must not be ambiguous like the Bible. You must accomplish all of the following:

  • It must teach everything you need to know to enter the Celestial kingdom. It will not teach about Exaltation. That’s the advanced book coming later.
  • It must clarify every doctrine that has been confused or debated over the ages.
  • You may – indeed should – quote from the Bible. Make sure you included all the most significant passages that would be “required reading” for those interested in receiving salvation.
  • It should show that the coming of Christ was long predicted and was the plan from the foundation of the world.

I asked the class for ideas what what they would put into this book. They started out suggesting the basics: faith, repentance, and baptism. Tithing came up later as did priesthood authority. As we got more imaginitive the class added in prophecies about the Savior’s coming and a copy of the Sermon on the Mount to our imaginary book. Soon I had a full chalk board with suggestions about what would go into the book. It was then that I whipped out a handout that I have replicated in full below:

The Book of Mormon: Keystone

An Introductory Text on Salvation through Christ

Doctrines of Salvation (i.e. entering the Celestial Kingdom)

Steps to salvation – 2 Nephi 31Faith / Faith in Jesus Christ – Ether 12:6, Moroni 7:38

How to obtain faith in Christ – Alma 32

Repentance – Alma 5:51, Mosiah 3:12

Baptism – Moroni 6:1-3

Gift of the Holy Ghost – 2 Nephi 31:13-14, Moroni 6:4

Covenant relationship with God – Mosiah 5:5

Need to endure to the end – 2 Nephi 31:16

Keep the commandments – Alma 38:1

Gifts of the Spirit – Moroni 10:9-18

Agency – 2 Nephi 2:27-29

Apostasy – 1 Nephi 22:23Tithing – 3 Nephi 24 (Malachi 3)

Need for continuing revelation / modern prophets – Moroni 9:7-20, 1 Nephi 22:2, 3 Nephi 29:6

Church attendance – Moroni 6:5-6

Divinity of Jesus Christ – Mosiah 15:1-5

Need for Atonement of Jesus Christ – Alma 34:1-17, 2 Nephi 9:6-26

Justice and Mercy of God – Alma 41:1-3 (Justice), Mosiah 13:14, Mosiah 15:9 (Mercy and Justice)

Fasting – Omni 1:26, Helaman 3:35, 4 Nephi 1:12

Prayer – Alma 33:1-11, Alma 34:17-27, Enos

Purpose of Life – Alma 12:24

Scriptures – 2 Nephi 4:15

Clarifications of Ambiguous Bible Doctrines

The necessity of Baptism – 2 Nephi 31:5, 17, 3 Nephi 11:33-34

No infant baptism – Moroni 8

Importance of “priesthood” authority – Alma 6:1, 8, Alma 13, 2 Nephi 6:2

Baptism only by authority – 3 Nephi 11:21

Baptism is by immersion – 3 Nephi 11:26

Baptism is how you accept Christ – Moroni 6:3

No true Baptism without Holy Ghost – Moroni 6:4

Purpose of the Law of Moses – Mosiah 13:27-33

Priesthood received by laying on of hands – Alma 6:1

In what sense do we never merit salvation? – Mosiah 2:21-25

Name of the Church – 3 Nephi 27:3-8

Bible is not sole word of God – 2 Nephi 29:3-10

Need for Gift of Holy Ghost to Salvation – 2 Nephi 31:17

Relationship of Faith and Works (No salvation without real commitment) – Alma 7:24, Alma 12:30, Ether 12:4, Mosiah 3:12, Mosiah 4:6

Salvation is by Christ’s merit, not ours, but this does not imply no commitment - 2 Nephi 31:19-20, Alma 22:14, Helaman 14:13, Moroni 6:4

No faith without miracles – Alma 37:41, Ether 12:12, Moroni 7:37

Reality of physical resurrection – Alma 11:42-45, Alma 40:23

Called and chosen – Alma 13:4, 1 Nephi 17:33-38, Alma 31, 1 Nephi 1:20

Predestination vs. Foreordination – Alma 13 (see v. 3)

Why there is evil / why it’s allowed – Alma 14:11

Mercy is not arbitrary – Mosiah 13:14

No death bed repentance – Alma 34:32-37

Necessity of the fall of Adam – 2 Nephi 2 (see v. 25)

Life after death – Alma 40

Required Reading from the Bible

  1. Sermon on the Mount – 3 Nephi 12-14
  2. Charity – Alma 7:45-47
  3. Ten Commandments – Mosiah 12-13
  4. John the Baptist baptizes Christ – 1 Nephi 10
  5. Tithing – Malachi 3
  6. Second Coming – Malachi 4

Most important Prophecies from Old Testament

  1. The best prophecies of the coming of Christ – Isaiah – Mosiah 14 (Isaiah 53) and others in Isaiah
  2. Gathering of Israel – 2 Nephi 8 (Isaiah 51), 2 Nephi 12 (Isaiah 2), 1 Nephi 21 (Isaiah 49)
  3. Millennium – 2 Nephi 21 (Isaiah 11)

Conclusions

The experiment went better than I expected. We only had one item suggested by a class member that wasn’t in the Book of Mormon, and that was the idea that God the Father has a body and is physically separate from Jesus. Other class members felt that was actually an “advanced” doctrine and not required for salvation, so we took it off before I had to show my handout.

The Book of Mormon truly is an amazing book. There is more to come on this topic.

  • http://www.mormonmatters.org Clay Whipkey

    “It must teach everything you need to know to enter the Celestial kingdom. It will not teach about Exaltation.”

    Was this a mistake? Isn’t entering the Celestial Kingdom the same thing as Exaltation? I’m not trying to nitpick, I am just curious if that is a doctrinal idea of yours. I’ve always understood Celestial Kingdom to be where the exalted dwell, which would be a separate thing from salvation from sin.

    Aside from that tangent, nice post. You do a good job of pointing out the strong points of the Book of Mormon. I do find it interesting that you posed the question as writing a book to accomplish a purpose, as opposed to something like asking God to dictate a book to accomplish a purpose. I’m not implying there’s anything Freudian going on with you, so please, non one take it that way. What I want to get at do you feel that a person can be unsure and even unconcerned about the historicity of the BoM, and yet still appreciate and receive the full value that you lay out in your post? I personally don’t see why the book needs to be a historical document in order for it accomplish the purpose you describe, but what do you think about that?

    (FAIR recently stated: “Can’t the faithful LDS view the Book of Mormon as other Christians view the Bible — inspirational stories and myths, which may not be literally true? The answer to that question is no.”)

  • http://bookofmormononline.net KC Kern

    Clay, Bruce R. McConkie’s take on it was that “baptism is the gate to the Celestial Kingdom, Celestial Marriage is the gate to an exaltation in the highest heaven within the Celestial World.” (Mormon Doctrine p 118). I think this is eluding to the scripture in D&C 131 “In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees; And in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this order of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage]; And if he does not, he cannot obtain it.”

    So it seems one can get into the Celestial kingdom without all the elements we associate with “exaltation”. The exalted are indeed in the celestial realm, but not necessarily vice versa.

  • Bruce Nielson

    >>> Isn’t entering the Celestial Kingdom the same thing as Exaltation?

    Clay, no, they are different. Exaltation refers to the highest degree within the Celestial Kingdom where you become a god. See D&C 131:1 for a description of the sub degrees. Specifically Mormons use “Exaltation” to mean the highest possible reward. According to D&C 132 all lower degrees are only angels, not gods. See D&C 132:17 for a specific reference. John Dehlin challenged me on this once on the phone. He thought Celestial Kingdom = Exaltation too. But this is not the way D&C 132:17 uses those terms. See also D&C 132:22 for where the doctrine comes from that only exalted beings (“gods”) can create new life. These teachings are all scriptural.

    D&C 131
    1 In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees;
    2 And in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this order of the priesthood [meaning the new and deverlasting covenant of marriage];
    3 And if he does not, he cannot obtain it.

    D&C 132:17 For these angels did not abide my law; therefore, they cannot be enlarged, but remain separately and singly, without exaltation, in their saved condition, to all eternity; and from henceforth are not gods, but are angels of God forever and ever.

    D&C 132:22 For strait is the gate, and narrow the way that leadeth unto the exaltation and continuation of the lives, and few there be that find it, because ye receive me not in the world neither do ye know me.

    You also asked me about seeing value in the Book of Mormon but not believing it is historical. That is not a yes or no answer. I plan to do a post about this in the future to try to address my views on that. But I have already, in the past, written to you that I don’t necessarily believe one loses salvation because one believes the Book of Mormon is not historical. However, I don’t necessarily think that’s a non-issue for other reasons.

    Oh, KC Kern just said exactly what I said above. Two or three witnesses, right? ;)

  • Kevin Christensen

    Very interesting. Although the question of whether the Book of Mormon teaches exhaltation, for me, was settled by Jack Welch many years ago, when he observed all sorts of temple things happening in 3 Nephi. See his Illuminating the Sermon at the Temple and the Sermon on the Mount, or for example, my “Paradigms Reggained.”

    Kevin Christensen
    Pittsburgh, PA

  • Bruce Nielson

    Kevin,

    Stay tuned. I was getting there. :) (well, actually, I wasn’t going to mention that specific example you used.) I’ve read Jack’s stuff and it’s good. Who’d have thought the Sermon on the Mount was actually a temple prep class? :) I am not trying to offer a definitive way to look at the Book of Mormon, just one possible view of parts of it. The Book of Mormon is more complex than being any one thing.

  • http://www.mormonmatters.org Clay Whipkey

    Interesting stuff guys. I have never heard that view in church, but I also haven’t heard anyone directly teach against it.

  • John Nilsson

    Bruce,

    I agree that the Book of Mormon sets out to convince readers of very many and important doctrinal matters. I love the way it focuses me on Jesus Christ again and again, more than any other book on this planet except the New Testament. I have one quibble with an absolute term you use, and I don’t want this to become a firestorm, in fact, the point I want to make may actually support what you are trying to say.

    When you write: “It must clarify every doctrine that has been confused or debated over the ages” I have to step back and say I respectfully disagree. There are 1800 years of Christian history which the Book of Mormon refuses to engage at all. Two examples: Early Christians disagreed, often violently, leading to armed clashes etc. about how Christ’s divine and human natures are exactly related to each other. The Book of Mormon doesn’t touch this topic with a ten-foot pole. North African Christians also began to feel that a certain degree of personal morality was required of priests to ensure the efficacy of the sacraments. This led to a direct challenge to the spiritual and temporal authority of at least the Western Christian church. Again, the Book of Mormon does not address these issues at all. Very contentious, bloody, schism-producing doctrinal earthquakes.

    What do we see addressed by the Book of Mormon? If we believe it was written for our day, the doctrinal controversies which we would expect to find in the northeastern American atmosphere of the 1820s and 1830s. Richard Bushman and others have cataloged these concerns: infant baptism, the name of the church, proofs of the existence of God, the relationship of republics to monarchies (and church and state), the nature of the resurrection, the spiritual origins of the American Indians, etc. To Mormons raised in the faith these are no longer salient points. To new members they may very well be. Are these challenges to faith? Perhaps. Insurmountable? Obviously not.

  • Bruce Nielson

    >>> It must clarify every doctrine that has been confused or debated over the ages

    John, you are right. I overstated it. However, bear in mind it was a hand out for a Sunday school class. I suppose you could say that there was an implied “that Mormons care about” on there. I knew when I wrote this that my audience would never have heard of Christology and would not bring it up.

    But you are right that the Book of Mormon only addresses certain debated points.

    For example, it is my view that infant baptism is more important to Mormons than the dual nature of Christ, which we don’t know about, or care about. (I suppose we do think it’s wrong, however. But we don’t lose any sleep over it.)

    I think the items the Book of Mormon really seems to concentrate on are those controversies that affect how one might view God’s nature (i.e. his Godly traits: love, justice, mercy, etc.)

  • http://bmo-web.com Benjamin Orchard

    Re #7. John, I would disagree with a few points. On the duality of Christ the BOM is silent, but the personal morality of priests may actually be covered (if I’m reading this right, since I’m not directly familiar with the debate you’re referring to). There’s an interesting case where (Ammon I think) a preist refuses to perform baptisms because he claims he is unworthy. Not that he had not been ordained, but that he was ordained. It’s an interesting case, and while it doesn’t nail the doctrine completely, it does lend support to the idea that those who are concerned about their own actions should refrain from performing ordinances. Of course, there’s also the case of a whole group being rebaptized, but that’s a bit more complex. Sorry for the lack of references.

    Good article, though. I think it addresses a few very strong points. I do feel the need to rain on the parade just a touch, though, and suggest that more than a few people probably noticed what was going on and were guiding the points to coincide with what they knew to be in the Book of Mormon. I know that I would have. It would be interesting to attempt this with a non-LDS population and see how it goes.

  • Bruce Nielson

    >>> I do feel the need to rain on the parade just a touch, though, and suggest that more than a few people probably noticed what was going on and were guiding the points to coincide with what they knew to be in the Book of Mormon

    Dang it! You just spoiled my whole day! :P

  • David

    It must teach everything you need to know to enter the Celestial kingdom. It will not teach about Exaltation. That’s the advanced book coming later.

    Those are pretty dubious distinctions since the Book of Mormon doesn’t say a thing about the Celestial Kingdom, at least the way it is taught in the current church. Indeed if you just read the Book of Mormon you come away with the much more standard heaven/hell division.

    It must clarify every doctrine that has been confused or debated over the ages.

    As stated earlier, that’s way over the top.

    You may – indeed should – quote from the Bible. Make sure you included all the most significant passages that would be “required reading” for those interested in receiving salvation.

    Why should you quote from the Bible? Especially if you lived in a time and place where significant portions of the quoted material would not be available? This is a purely logical critique of your point, not a doctrinal critique.

    It should show that the coming of Christ was long predicted and was the plan from the foundation of the world.

    Long predicted, yes. Plan from the foundation of the world? No, that’s a doctrine most clearly taught in the Book of Moses, not in the Book of Mormon.

    It must not be ambiguous like the Bible.

    The “lack of ambiguity” in the Book of Mormon is largely due to following a received interpretation of the Book of Mormon and not so much with the Book of Mormon’s lack of ambiguity. Look, I am not saying that it is highly ambiguous, but then again neither is the Bible. Yet, the Bible has been interpreted in many ways. This is because there are many accepted hermeneutical approaches to the Bible, while in the LDS church there really only is a single hermeneutical approach that is acceptable (mostly literal, keep in line with current prophetic teaching etc.). The “lack of ambiguity” is a product of external factors being imposed on the interpretation, while the “ambiguity” of the Bible is because those external factors exist to a much lesser degree.

    I suppose you could say that there was an implied “that Mormons care about” on there.

    You have it backwards, Mormons care about these issues because they are in the Book of Mormon, they aren’t there because we care about them. You are confusing the consequent with the antecedent.

    For example, it is my view that infant baptism is more important to Mormons than the dual nature of Christ, which we don’t know about, or care about.

    That’s just plain silly. We care more about a practice than about the nature of the Deity we worship?

  • Bruce Nielson

    >>> To Mormons raised in the faith these are no longer salient points. To new members they may very well be.

    I have a friend that read the Book of Mormon for the first time never having believed anything at all. He was a drug addict who’s life had fallen apart.

    Years later now, as a fully active member of the Church, he says he goes through his old original BoM copy and is amazed at what he found meaningful back then. He tells me that his underlining was all items no one would scripture chase today. It was just the basics he was after at that time and so he found meaning where lifers do not.

    The Book of Mormon meant something completely different to him that it did to me. It meant something different to him back then than it even does to him today.

    It was his story that got me thinking about how the Book of Mormon can be viewed in different ways, all meaningful. The idea of the Book of Mormon as an introductory text on Jesus was an interesting idea that I pursued for a while and culminated in this handout I used in my lesson. But I don’t mean to suggest it is the only way or most correct way to view the Book of Mormon.

  • Peter Brown

    For those that want a temple lesson from the Book of Mormon, try King Benjamin’s sermon. It’s full of convent-making, taking upon new names, including the Name of Christ personally. Maybe this is old hat to most of you, but I find it an intriguing carat of gnostic gold in the often pedestrian salvation doctines in the Book of Mormon.

  • edict or edit

    If it were all only that simple. It is if you’re preaching to the choir, and you were. Others might see a different conclusion, that it would not require a “fairly advanced” class but a fairly naive and arrogant one to declare the BoM is so concise and amazing. This exercise exemplifies 2 words – speciousness and sophism.

    The BoM has a lot of interesting food for thought in it. So does the bible and any other text written claiming to define why we are here and where we are going. Creating a revised and expanded edition doesn’t make either one right or wrong. It does make one a sharp and creative editor though. Likely people said the same thing about the stories in the bible which expanded upon and borrowed from the mythos which preceded it.

  • Bruce Nielson

    >>> It does make one a sharp and creative editor though

    We’ll start with that then.

  • Doug G.

    Bruce,

    If you’re saying that the BoM has inspirational parts in it, then I agree with your sentiment that it has value for many people. If the bible and the BoM were the only books of inspirational scripture out there then your point to your gospel principles class may have merit. I’m certainly note saying I could write such a book but I believe history has produced many inspirational texts for the major religions of the world.

    As I’m sure you’re aware, the prophet Mohammad wrote what is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful poetic books of scripture ever written. The Muslims claim it was written by an uneducated young man. Neither you nor I believe this book to be God speaking to man which proves my point. This isn’t the only such book in existence either; the Buddhists have scripture as well and let’s not forget the writings of that Chinese guy…

    I’m not trying to undermine the BoM, I just believe people should take it for what it’s supposed to be, a second testament of Christ. Trying to prove its truthfulness by advancing the argument that no one could have written such a deep and complicated book of scripture lends credence to all the other seemly impossible books of scripture out there…

  • Bruce Nielson

    Hey Doug G,

    If you can show me anything I’ve said in this post that attempts to prove the Book of Mormon true, I owe you lunch! :)

    I never made any such point and it was simply others reading into me their own preconceived notions that produced that idea. The actual post I made could be read in many possible ways, as Clay so correctly points out.

    Not that I don’t believe the Book of Mormon to be true, but that was besides the point for this post.

  • Doug G.

    Bruce,

    “If you can show me anything I’ve said in this post that attempts to prove the Book of Mormon true, I owe you lunch!”

    Point taken… For my thinking, the BoM introduced me to a whole new way of viewing inspirational. I have found many inspirational stories in the book and as I stated before, I believe many people derive value from those stories. After doing a fair amount of research I’ve concluded that inspirational has no bearing on historical, kind-of-like Christ’s parables not needing to be actually true to teach certain principles.

    Just my two cents worth…

  • Pingback: The Book of Mormon: Paving the Way for the Doctrine & Covenants at Mormon Matters

  • Pingback: “The Whole Church is Under Condemnation”: The Talk that Changed the Church at Mormon Matters

  • Pingback: The Book of Mormon: Do you Regularly Study Inspired Fiction? at Mormon Matters