Short Take: “The Most Correct Book”

The Book of Mormon’s title page suggests the book may contain “mistakes of men.” Joseph Smith called it “the most correct” book but didn’t call it perfect. Though written by God’s prophets and translated by God’s power, it actually cannot be perfect. Here’s why:

  • It is written in human language, which cannot fully describe divine things.
  • Human language constantly evolves. Many words don’t mean precisely what they meant two centuries ago.
  • The prophets could have written more perfectly in Hebrew, but had to use a simpler, more compact language to save space (Mormon 9:31-33).
  • The book is translated from language to language; in translation, any language pair poses challenges. Elsewhere, the Hebrew word describing Mary in Isaiah 7:14 could mean virgin or simply young woman. Other scripture says both apply, but what did Isaiah mean? Similarly, the Russian word for evil also means angry, so whichever English translation I choose limits the meaning more than the author did.
  • We see the prophets themselves still learning, filling in gaps in knowledge with their opinions (Alma 40:19-21) or clarifying earlier writings after further revelation (3 Nephi 28:36-40).

Knowing all this helps us understand why we need so many accounts of the same gospel, prepares us to discover new meaning in familiar verses, and helps us not to be shaken when we encounter human imperfections in sacred texts. In the end, salvation is in the Word, not the words. (See John 5:39.)

Author's Note
My neighbor and I are writing short columns for our monthly ward (congregation) newsletter. We focused on the Book of Mormon in 2013. This is one of my “short takes,” as previously published there.

Short Take: A Pattern in 1 Nephi 1

Here’s something in the first chapter of the Book of Mormon (1 Nephi 1) which is probably not a coincidence. Lehi’s experience parallels Joseph Smith’s.

In a time of great religious energy in Jerusalem (v. 4), Lehi goes to pray (v. 5). There comes a pillar of fire (v. 6), and he sees and hears much. He is physically exhausted by the experience (v. 7). Then he sees another vision, which includes the delivery of a book by a heavenly messenger (v. 11). The book is about God’s judgments on and the scattering of the House of Israel, and speaks plainly of the coming of a Messiah and the redemption of the world (vv. 13, 18-19).

Best of all, note that the book’s effects are the same as the Book of Mormon’s effects on us: “As he read, he was filled with the Spirit of the Lord” (v. 12). Lehi’s soul rejoices; his heart is full; he praises God (v. 14-15).

Author's Note
My neighbor and I are writing short columns for our monthly ward (congregation) newsletter. We focused on the Book of Mormon in 2013. Here’s one of my “short takes,” as previously published there. A slightly more detailed exposition of  Lehi’s and Joseph Smith’s parallel experiences is here.