Of late, I have followed a rather heated discussion between scholars in different camps concerning the authenticity of scripture. I am not a scholar (nor ever desired to be one) but I have strong feelings about the arguments and feel it is important to speak for the ‘common man’ in this instance. I apologize to those of you who feel I am not common but that is how I view my place in this discussion.
Amongst the two groups alluded to above, one camp purports that scripture must be looked at from a scholarly/historical position and proof must be found to authenticate the different books, stories, and individuals of scripture in the Standard Works. They don’t necessarily reject the teachings of the scriptures, nor do they always suggest that the figures in the stories are fictional, but they are also not opposed to such assumptions.
A fellow (whom I admire as a teacher and friend) recently wrote a piece asking if Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were real people or just creations by ancient scribes designed to teach principles of truth or corroborate genetic/family connections. Others have boldly questioned the reality of other biblical characters like Job, Judas, and even Jesus, simply because they cannot find sufficient historical or documentary data to corroborate their existence.
In my mind (remember, I am not a scholar and don’t think like they do), looking at scripture from solely an historical view places doubt in the minds of those who need the help of what is written in scripture for their eternal benefit.
For instance, to suggest that Abraham was not a real man and his experience with Isaac on Mount Moriah was a fictional tale (recorded for some other reason) undermines faith that God can interact with His children on a very personal level.
Suggesting that Joseph, son of Jacob/Israel, did not exist in history simply because no one has found anything to suggest he ever resided or ruled in Egypt, is tantamount to removing the doctrine of faith from the Christian religion.
Historical analysis of scripture is interesting, exciting sometimes, and can offer help in understanding the context of certain experiences which resulted in revelations from or experiences with God. But knowing the history of a particular event is not essential to developing faith in a God who loves His children. Nor is it required to find comfort and peace in the doctrines (primarily the Atonement) of Christ.
We live in a world that seems to think that everything that can be discovered HAS been discovered. Yet we keep finding new things. And someone has to eat their words and start from scratch with their theories.
If the true location of the birthplace of Abraham cannot be identified, does that mean Abraham never existed? How will scholars feel when they find some long-lost scroll or clay pot that definitively places Abraham in the Land of Ur, just as the scriptures teach?
Now what thing will they say could never be possible?
It is, as Paul taught, men who “are ever learning and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth” – that require proof of everything before they can believe.
Bringing this to a Latter-day Saint perspective, it has become very popular with some (LDS and otherwise) to wonder if The Book of Mormon is what it claims to be.
The contention is that, while The Book of Mormon teaches godly principles and helps readers come to Christ, its origins begin in the 19th century with the work and mind of Joseph Smith.
Some will confess that Joseph was inspired and had a miraculous experience in the production and printing of The Book of Mormon. But they cannot accept, until proven historically, that there was a real person named Lehi – or Nephi – or Mormon – or any other character in the book.
In effect, the claim of these scholars is that the story Joseph told was out of his imagination (inspired or not). And, despite many of these scholars recognizing and accepting that the work Joseph did was important and useful for learning of Christ, their belief is that it was nothing more than the imaginings of a young man who had strong desires to be involved in the religious excitement of his day.
How, then, does an individual come to know whether any scripture – The Book of Mormon, The Bible, The Koran, or whatever else one might want to read – is the work of God.
There is only one way!
It is to ask God and then listen for the answer He will provide.
There may never be a discovery in archaeology that confirms the existence of the City of Sodom or the miracle that occurred when Moses and Israel crossed the Red Sea.
It is unlikely that archaeologists will find a stone in the Yucatan that is inscribed with the name of Nephi or any other ancient American prophet.
Those who want physical, tangible proof will always be disappointed!!
And I believe that is on purpose.
In my own personal experience, God is not very free with miraculous specifics when it comes to inviting His children to believe in His work. His method is generally done in subtle and quiet ways that require our faith in what He is doing.
But the end result is more lasting than if a stack of gold plates were set on a desk for viewing.
When Moroni was completing the record we now call The Book of Mormon, he inscribed on those precious plates the following:
Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things… that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things. (Moroni 10:3-5)
I am confident that Mormon was a real person who wrote on sacred plates of metal for a people he knew would live in our day.
I am sure that Nephi, Lehi, Alma, Amulek, and many others were men of God, who tried to teach the doctrine of Christ to a people who were difficult to reach (sort of like our world).
I have no doubt that Joseph Smith received plates with the appearance of gold from a holy angel named Moroni (the same Moroni who gave the above promise) which he translated and published as The Book of Mormon.
I am certain that this book, which is available to all the world, will bring a person closer to Christ and His magnificent Atonement than any other book that exists on the earth at this time.
All this and I have not one physical shred of proof that would be accepted by any scholar.
As Joseph Smith told his mother:
I have learned for myself…