Among the Principal Ancestors”: Unpricipled Objections to a Change in the Book of Mormon’s Introduction

As reported in the Salt Lake Tribune, a change is planned for the introduction to the Book of Mormon. When the current introduction was penned in 1981 under Bruce R. McConkie’s direction or by him personally, it reflected the popular view that the Book of Mormon was about the origins of Native Americans across the whole hemisphere, and that the ancient Lamanites were “the primary ancestors” of modern Native Americans. The updated version will add one word that makes the introduction a more accurate statement of what the text itself says, or doesn’t say. That word is among: now the Lamanites “are among the ancestors of the American Indians.” Bravo!

This word corrects that 1981 assumption – actually an old assumption dating to the earliest days of the Church – about the scope of the text. It is not a correction of any doctrine or principle taught in the Book of Mormon itself. But as I expected, critics are ranting over the “shifty” nature of the Church, claiming that this is a scandalous cover-up or admission of error in the Book of Mormon. Please!

Yes, the Book of Mormon gives important information about some of the ancestors of Native Americans. It is written for them and for us Gentiles (well, I’m 1/512 Mohawk, and proud of it). But it does not rule out the possibility of other ancient migrations to the Americas. Lehi and his family may have been a tiny drop in the bucket of the ancient gene pool in the Americas when they arrived, and there are hints about others being present in the land in the text itself. If there were millions elsewhere on the continent when Lehi arrived, his DNA could have spread all over the continent now, albeit dilutely, making most Native Americans genetic “remnants” of the ancient Lamanites, with very little chance that his Y chromosome or Sariahs mitochondrial DNA still exists anywhere since they require a pure paternal or maternal line, respectively.

I’m proud of a Church that can recognize the limitations of men, past and present, and take advantage of advances in knowledge. Just as we took advantage of advances in scholarship about the original text of the Book of Mormon to correct a number of printers errors and copying errors that crept into the text over the years, resulting in the magnificent 1981 edition, I’m pleased that improved understanding has allowed old but possibly sloppy assumptions to be revisited and substantially improved through the use of the word “among” to more accurately reflect what the text actually requires. This change in the introduction should be applauded.

Such critics rarely recognize how much their own religious views and scriptural texts and interpretations thereof have been edited and updated – not always for the better – through the influence of scholars and editors over the years. Compare the 1611 King James Bible to current versions, for starters. Most of those changes represent real progress, not scandalous cover-ups by shifty Christians. (Things get more complex if you compare the modern doctrines and creeds pertaining to the Trinity with the views of the earliest Christians about the nature of God, so let’s not go there.)

Long before DNA evidence came onto the scene, several significant LDS voices, from general authorities to professors, were pointing out that the text does not support the common view of a hemispheric geography, nor does it purport to describe all ancient migrations to this continent. Such voices have understood that migrations from other sources not described in the text may have occurred. Indeed, it is possible that the Lamanites may have represented a very small part of the peoples of ancient America – one that would not be expected to leave a readily detectable fingerprint of “Jewish DNA” (as if there were such a thing, and as if we had any idea what it would be like in 600 BC). The critics who use modern DNA evidence to attack the Book of Mormon do not rely on a careful reading of the text itself, but direct their attacks to popular but possibly inaccurate inaccurate assumptions about what the text said. The correction in the introduction should help Latter-day Saints be more accurate in understanding and interpreting the text. This is a small step that may help Latter-day Saints become more sophisticated in understanding the Book of Mormon text, and in understanding the assumptions used in the DNA-based attacks on the Book of Mormon.

Contrary to the allegations of our critics, the understanding that the Book of Mormon is about people who were “among” the principal ancestors of the Native Americans is not a revisionist innovation devised as damage control in light of DNA evidence. In fact, it goes back many years, as I show in the following addendum, adapted from a portion of my page on DNA and the Book of Mormon.


Addendum: “Others in the Land”: Not a New Position!

While Bruce R. McConkie apparently believed that Hebraic ancestry was highly significant among Native Americans, he also recognized that they shared non-Hebraic ancestry, according to his personal views offered in Mormon Doctrine (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1973, p. 33):

The American Indians . . . as Columbus found them also had other blood than that of Israel in their veins. It is possible that isolated remnants of the Jaredites may have lived through the period of destruction in which millions of their fellows perished. It is quite apparent that groups of orientals found their way over the Bering Strait and gradually moved southward to mix with the Indian peoples. We have records of a colony of Scandinavians attempting to set up a settlement in America some 500 years before Columbus. There are archeological indications that an unspecified number of groups of people probably found their way from the old to the new world in pre-Columbian times. Out of all these groups would have come the American Indians as they were discovered in the 15th century.

There may have been other significant groups also “led by the hand of the Lord” into the Americas, before and after Lehi’s time. Given what we know from the Book of Mormon and from science, it can be reasonably understood to allow for many others in the hemisphere, which was still sparsely populated such that there was space and security for the righteous in their lands of possessions, if they would serve God.

Critics charge that the “others were here, too” view of the Book of Mormon and the limited geography view of most LDS scholars are desperate reversals of official LDS positions that have been made in an attempt to deal with recent scientific evidence about the Americas. While many LDS people have incorrectly assumed and taught that the Book of Mormon describes events across the entire hemisphere, there was never any official position on these issues, and plenty of room for other views, and for other migrations. And such views were being taught and understood by significant figures in the Church. For example, in 1929 Anthony W. Ivins of the First Presidency told Latter-day Saints:

We must be careful in the conclusions that we reach. The Book of Mormon teaches the history of three distinct peoples, or two peoples and three different colonies of people, who came from the old world to this continent. It does not tell us that there was no one here before them. It does not tell us that people did not come after. And so if discoveries are made which suggest differences in race origins, it can very easily be accounted for, and reasonably, for we do believe that other people came to this continent.

Two years earlier, LDS scholar Janne Sjodahl wrote that “students should be cautioned against the error of supposing that all the American Indians are the descendants of Lehi, Mulek, and their companions.” He said it was “not improbable that America has received other immigrants from Asia and other parts of the globe.” Back in 1952, still long before the DNA controversy arose, Hugh Nibley wrote about Joseph Smith’s apparent endorsement of migrations to the New World other than those of the Book of Mormon:

Long after the Book of Mormon appeared Joseph Smith quoted with approval from the pulpit reports of certain Toltec legends which would make it appear that those people had come originally from the Near East in the time of Moses [see Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 267]; whether such a migration ever took place or not, it is significant that the Prophet was not reluctant to recognize the possibility of other migrations than those mentioned in the Book of Mormon.

The argument of silence bears some weight in considering the possibility of “other sheep.” When the Jaredites journey into a land “where there never had man been,” [Ether 2:5, referring to a portion of their journey in the Old World] our history finds the fact worthy of note, even though the part was only passing through. Now there is a great deal said in the Book of Mormon about the past and future of the promised land, but never is it described as an empty land. The descendents of Lehi were never the only people on the continent, and the Jaredites never claimed to be.”

(Hugh Nibley, The World of the Jaredites, originally published 1952, in The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, Vol.5 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1988), p. 250.)

The above passage was also printed in an article by Hugh Nibley, “The World of the Jaredites,” in the May 1952 issue of the official Church periodical, The Improvement Era. Nibley’s work was more than just the random thoughts of an isolated scholar: his views were given extremely high visibility by the Church through publication in the official Church magazine. That does not mean that Nibley’s views were endorsed by the First Presidency or given any kind of official status, but it devastates the absurd argument that the Church has always taught that all Native Americans are descended solely from Jews.

Further, in 1967, Nibley stated that “the Book of Mormon . . . presents no obstacles to the arrival of whatever other bands may have occupied the hemisphere without its knowledge” (Nibley, Since Cumorah, 1967, p. 249; pp. 218-219 in the 2nd edition).

In the Dec. 1975 Ensign publication of the Church, Lane Johnson, Assistant Editor, prepared a short article entitled “Who and Where Are the Lamanites?” (p. 15). In this article, he explains that the term “Lamanite” initially referred to the descendants of Laman, but shortly afterwards took on a broader term in which “the name Lamanite referred to a religious/political faction whose distinguishing feature was its opposition to the church. (See Jacob 1:13-14.)” He continues:

Lineage became an increasingly minor factor, and later there are many examples of Lamanites becoming Nephites and Nephites becoming Lamanites.

For nearly 200 years after the coming of Christ to the Americas, there were no Lamanites “nor any manner of -ites; but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God.” (4 Ne. 1:17.) Soon, however, a part of the people fell away and took upon them the name of Lamanites; “therefore there began to be Lamanites again in the land.” (4 Ne. 1:20.) Clearly, Lamanite in this case again refers to the state of righteousness of a political/religious group, presumably a composite of the descendants of many of the original colonists in the New World. The Lamanites of this definition survived beyond the close of the Book of Mormon record, and it is these people from whom the Lamanites of today descended. That is to say, they are the descendants of Lehi, Ishmael, and Zoram (see D&C 3:17-18); they are the descendants of Mulek and the others of his colony (see Hel. 6:10; Omni 1:14, 15); and they may also be descended from other groups of whom we have no record. Certainly they have mixed with many other lineages at the far reaches of their dispersal in the Americas and most of the islands of the Pacific since the time when Moroni bade them farewell in A.D. 421.(emphasis mine)

In 1960s, the First Presidency allowed the Church to publish a widely distributed pamphlet, “These Are The Mormons,” by Richard L. Evans, reprinted from The Christian Herald (Nov. 1960), which made this statement about Book of Mormon peoples:

As the Bible is to ancient Israel, so the Book of Mormon is to ancient America. It is part of a sacred and secular record of prophets and people who were among the ancestors of the American “Indians,” and covers principally the period from about 600 B.C. to 421 A.D. These peoples were of Asiatic origin, of the House of Israel, and brought with them certain Old Testament texts. [emphasis mine]

Book of Mormon peoples were not said to be the sole ancestors, but were among the ancestors of the American Indians, leaving open the possibility of other ancestors as well.

When John Sorenson of BYU published his paper in 1992 about others being on the continent, he argued convincingly that it is:

. . . inescapable that there were substantial populations in the “promised land” throughout the period of the Nephite record, and probably in the Jaredite era also. The status and origin of these peoples is never made clear because the writers never set out to do any such thing; they had other purposes. Yet we cannot understand the demographic or cultural history of Lehi’s literal descendants without taking into account those other groups, too. (Sorenson,”When Lehi’s Party Arrived in the Land, Did They Find Others There?J. Book of Mormon Studies, 1(1): 1-34, Spring 1992)

Now, years later, as we clarify McConkie’s statement with a term the Church had already used in 1960, “among,” some critics would have others believe that the Book of Mormon requires that all Indians descend solely from Jewish founders, that this was an official, inflexible teaching of the Church, and that we are now retreating. Steps toward accuracy and clarification are not a sign of weakness, but of intelligence and wisdom. Sorry if that bothers you – or takes some wind out of your anti-Mormon sails. The Book of Mormon, properly understood, stands firm and is not invalidated by modern science. Our assumptions may need updating, but the text remains an authentic ancient and scriptural record.

For more information on the limited geography of the Book of Mormon being appreciated by LDS scholars and leaders decades ago, see the article “Unanswered Mormon Scholars” by Matthew Roper (1997, pp. 122-132). See also “The Historicity of the Book of Mormon” by Elder Dallin H. Oaks. Matthew Roper has also published an excellent article, “Nephi’s Neighbors: Book of Mormon Peoples and Pre-Columbian Populations.”

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Author: Jeff Lindsay

70 thoughts on “Among the Principal Ancestors”: Unpricipled Objections to a Change in the Book of Mormon’s Introduction

  1. This is a very positive aspect of the Mormon Church, an ability to look at itself critically and then move forward with changes.

    This really is no different than how science works, if newly discovered data does not fit in a currently working theory than the theory is remodeled so that it functions with the data.

    And yea, I can already hear the anti-mormon crowd ranting about this one……-sigh-

    SB

  2. This is not just a “1981 assumption.” It was taught by Joseph Smith himself. For example, from the Wentworth letter:

    I was also informed [by the angel] concerning the aboriginal inhabitants of this country and shown who they were, and from whence they came; a brief sketch of their origin, progress, civilization, laws, governments, of their righteousness and iniquity, and the blessings of God being finally withdrawn from them as a people….In this important and interesting book the history of ancient America is unfolded, from its first settlement by a colony that came from the Tower of Babel, at the confusion of languages to the beginning of the fifth century of the Christian Era. We are informed by these records that America in ancient times has been inhabited by two distinct races of people. The first were called Jaredites, and came directly from the Tower of Babel. The second race came directly from the city of Jerusalem, about six hundred years before Christ. They were principally Israelites, of the descendants of Joseph. The Jaredites were destroyed about the time that the Israelites came from Jerusalem, who succeeded them in the inheritance of the country. The principal nation of the second race fell in battle towards the close of the fourth century. The remnant are the Indians that now inhabit this country.

  3. I have come to believe that the names Lamanite and Nephite were eventually used to describe whether a person was a member of the Church of Christ or against it just like how the Bible uses Jews and Gentiles to describe the people of the Bible. If a Lamanite joined the Church he became a Nephite and vice versa. There were three different families, Lehi’s, Ishmael’s and the people of Mulek which could have a mix of different types of people. They all came from Israel but from different groups. I see the Nephites and Lamanites like the Jews and Arabs. From the Bible the Jewish and Arab nations descended from Abraham. How could a single family of 12 sons become so dominant in the world with millions of Jews and Arabs? Why can’t this happen with the Lamanites and Nephites? There may have been other groups of people here but these two groups for whatever reason became the dominant people during the time of the Book of Mormon and continues today with the Native Americans.

  4. Yes, it was an old assumption. I clarified the 1981 comment. But Joseph did not teach that the Book of Mormon covered a hemispheric geography, or that there we no other major migrations to the Americas.

    Joseph was open to the possibility of other migrations, as discussed in the addendum to the original posting.

  5. The church seems to be changing often. Look at all of the “inspired” programs and initiatives that change with the times. Note the changes in the Temple as the Church moves away from Masonic traditions.

    Change is good to meet todays knowledge and needs.

  6. Thanks for the post Jeff. When I read the BoM I understood the Lamanites to be those who fought against the church. It wouldn’t be a hard stretch to say that the American Indians were all descendants of Lamanites in the sense of belief.

    Peter

  7. Anon:

    It looks like you’re telling God how to run his business and that you’re making serious assumption that you even KNOW how the revelatory process would/should work. Given that you’re an apparent expert on God’s business, do tell…explain to us how modern revelation SHOULD work…

  8. NM, care to clarify? I’m not sure how tweaking a publisher’s comment in an introduction represents any form of revelation. There is no claim to revelation regarding the introduction, the chapter headings, the footnotes, the index, the choice of font, the color of the cover, the selection of paintings and their description, etc., in the Church’s publications of the Book of Mormon or the Bible.

    But let me ask you a question. Perhaps you are in the camp that denies the need for and possibility of continuing revelation from God. Is that correct? I’m not asking whether you agree that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the authorized vehicle through which continuing prophetic/apostolic revelation can come, but whether you think it is possible – or is the canon completely closed and the heavens sealed with no chance of further divine prophecy and revelation?

  9. Good point, Russell. Many of our critics do seem to know how God should do things.

    It’s a related problem with atheism. The primary reason God doesn’t exist in the minds of some is that things don’t happen the way they like – in other words, God is not wise enough to do things their way. This presumes, of course, that they are the standard for Ultimate Intelligence. If they would step back and explore alternate paradigms, they might recognize that they might have an incomplete view of the big picture.

  10. Russell, not every decision that Church leaders make regarding policy (and dogma) involves revelation. God allows us, including His leaders, to make mistakes. The Church does not espouse a doctrine of infallibility.

  11. D&C 28:8 And now, behold, I say unto you that you shall go unto the Lamanites and preach my gospel unto them; and inasmuch as they receive thy teachings thou shalt cause my church to be established among them; and thou shalt have revelations, but write them not by way of commandment.

    -God’s direction to Joseph seemed to be clear on who the Lamanites were.

  12. Anon:

    Absolutely…my comments have been completely misunderstood. Indeed, in my sparring with the critics, I sometimes find myself in a position to where I know more “shockers” than they do. Indeed, the very idea of infallibility itself more disturbing to me than our current doctrine.

    I maintain that we sustain the “policymakers,” not the policies necessarily. Have there been programs that didn’t work so well? Sure…but they certain served a purpose and they certainly did not lead us from our path to the kingdom. Merely bumps in the road, I would suppose…

  13. Jeff,

    You should know enough about me by now, to know when I jest. The emoticon at the bottom was quite a give-away.

    To be honest, I don’t really know enough about who these Lamanites were to give you anything of worth. Your post (and maybe it was the way you wrote it) made me giggle; especially when you said, “Bravo!”. I don’t know, maybe it’s true: simple things please simple minds =)

    But please know that what I said was in jest.

    So, with your question, “Perhaps you are in the camp that denies the need for and possibility of continuing revelation from God. Is that correct? I’m not asking whether you agree that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the authorized vehicle through which continuing prophetic/apostolic revelation can come, but whether you think it is possible – or is the canon completely closed and the heavens sealed with no chance of further divine prophecy and revelation?”

    So my answer is a VERY WARY ‘yes’ (I do think there are on-going revelations) and a VERY STRONG ‘no’ (in the way that you as LDS might think about this issue).

    This on-going revelation should ALWAYS be in line with what God has revealed Himself through His Word. If there are ANY seeming contradiction with what God has already revealed, then I REJECT it. It’s healthier to reject something when you know it doesn’t match up with what the Bible says – otherwise you might start believing all sorts of crazy pantheistic ideas about the character of God =P (again, please know that this is said in a playful tongue in cheek kind of way).

    I DO tend to be VERY WARY of ANY on-going revelation, even when it comes from respectable church leaders that I admire. Again, I need to re-iterate that any revelation CANNOT and SHOULD NOT contradict what God has already revealed in His word. And again I will press this point further: otherwise – you get Mohammads in the world – as he firmly believed that the revelation he received came from God, saying that the ‘Son of God’ He sent wasn’t really who He said He was, but was merely a prophet. =)

    What on earth happened there?!?!

    Plus, the kind of revelation that we Evangelicals mights speak of, are the kind of revelations that are PERSONAL. i.e. person x might phone her friend to tell her of how, through her bereavement, God has shown Himself to be steadfast. So, in this revelation: God was shown, through a VERY REAL EXPERIENCE that God is steadfast, that He is faithful etc. Do you see what I mean?

    They might be revelations to us as human beings (because we have obvious limitations), but such ‘revelations’ were probably already in the Bible in the first place! Do you see the point that I am trying to drive forward? Please say yes. =)

    And just to add, you said, “Many of our critics do seem to know how God should do things.”

    Please don’t say things like this. It sounds awfully spin-doctor-ish. Of course your critics seem to know how God should do things – IN THE SAME WAY THAT YOU ALSO KNOW HOW GOD SHOULD DO THINGS =D

    And, yes. There are many things that we do not know about God. The information that we know now is incalculably minuscule compared to what we will know about Him when we finally meet our Creator =)…

  14. Bill:

    Again, glad to see that understand the mind and will of the Lord better than any of us…indeed, even the Lord himself (since there have been repeated statements on how we have no doctrine on BOM and the corollary of the identity of the Lamanites).

    That said, I think this verse fits in nicely with Christ’s identification of “this land” with the remnant of Jacob. Spiritual adoption was at play here, so in a sense, I believe that these “Lamanites” were called such because they were adopted under the family of Lehi. If you notice in the beginning chpts. of the BOM, the family of Lehi was receiving everything that Abraham did–they were essentially renewing the Abrahamic covenant. It would logically follow then that their seed would also be as the sands of the sea…ie, the populations of the Americas Were these Lamanites of the literal house of Israel? Perhaps, but it’s just as likely that they were not.

    I find this to be the most plausible answer; there are others, but none that satisfies.

  15. NM,

    Man, I like you, but it is sort of a downer when you constrain the acts and workings of God into the Bible. If God is limitless why limit him to the Bible. You’ve just closed what he can tell you into a finite amount of space. This goes for all the “Bible is the only word of God” people.

    What are you going to achieve by compacting God into about 2000 pages?

    Peter

  16. Peter,

    I like you too =) I think you’re great.

    I agree whole-heartedly with you: we do limit God. We limit Him firstly by not knowing who He is as revealed in His Word. Secondly, we limit Him by not appropriating what we know about Him through what we study =) There’s an excellent sermon that I’ve been listening to (again by Mr. Piper, entitled ‘Pastoral Thoughts on the Doctrine of Election’). In this particular sermon, Mr. Piper explores this very doctrine – that from the foundation of the world, God chose a people for His good pleasure. So that such a chosen might come to enjoy Him in their worship, through their conversation with others, through the WORK they do in response to His calling etc. Anyway, the point that Mr. Piper continues to drive is that such doctrines (which are rooted in Scripture =P) are there to drive to live RADICAL Christian lives =D Such SCRIPTURES should make us really appreciate just how BIG God is, and His sheer supremacy in EVERYTHING! So, when Paul asked his rhetorical question in Romans 8, “Who can lay anything to the charge of God’s elect?”, the answer, of course, is a resounding NO! No-one can do anything that God does not permit to those who are His chosen! =D Do you know what this single verse in the Bible make me want to do? It makes me want to live RADICALLY! How fantastic is that! To be in full knowledge that to LIVE IS CHRIST and TO DIE IS GAIN, is something that I am assured in – and drives me to go and WORK! =D Isn’t that WONDERFUL?! I so want for you to know what I am saying! =)

    So, yes: I do agree with you that we do limit God.

    And to re-iterate: 1) We are limited by not knowing His revealed Word and 2) and we are limited by not appropriating what we do know in His Word. And to drive this point even further, WE CAN’T (in our own strength) do any of the above two points! We simply need to look up, accept that we cannot do it, and let God do it in us and through us =)

    Unfortunately the (small) aspect for which I disagree is your comment when you said, “What are you going to achieve by compacting God into about 2000 pages?”

    These 2000 pages contain the most precious things that are worth A LIFE TIME to learn about for us to know who He is, what He has done and what we can do to know Him… =)

  17. It seems like a lot of fuss going around over “among.” Sounds a lot like in Isaiah 29:21 about making “a man [or Church] an offender for a word.”

  18. Those 2000 pages, while being of great worth, were not written for our time. This makes it hard to understand and outdated.

    Your first point is a personal failing. There is more revealed word then just the Bible. This is proven by the Bible itself. We know that a lot of the writings that would have constituted the Bible are not contained in the Bible. What we have left is the Bible as we know it. This tells us straight away that we are missing things. So, the biggest Christian religion in the world is based off the incomplete word of God. Anything reformed from the incomplete word of God is going to be… incomplete. Therefore a restoration has to take place to fill in the gaps that are missing. This is why we need more revealed word of God, such as the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants.

    While I agree with you, about studying the scriptures for a life time, I would remind you not to discount the solid facts that can be gained just by reading the New Testament all the way through. In fact this shouldn’t take you a life time. You will find within details on how the Lord set up his church, you will find continuing revelation to the Apostles, all this and more points to only one church on the Earth.

  19. Relying on an ancient artifact as our only source of knowledge about God is sort of like rejecting anything written after Philosophia Naturalis Principia Mathematica for scientific knowledge – unless of course God is dead, or never existed in the first place.

    Anyone can know with absolute certainty that Joseph Smith was called of God to be a latter-day prophet. But that knowledge comes not through intellectual banter, but by a private and personal spiritual journey wherein one seeks to know directly from the God.

  20. What interests me is how Jeff has put a positive spin on this word ‘among’, whilst other people who are struggling (Zelph over at skepticmormon dot blogspot dot com) with their Mormon faith has put a somewhat negative slant on this this same word. Interesting…

    It seems we have two extreme perspectives. Who to believe, who to believe. Maybe it isn’t a case of believing one or the other, but just to consider it as a statement that just is.

    Why have the powers that be changed the wording now? Why didn’t they make ammendments earlier? Is it the case that such people actually believe that ALL Native Americans are descendents of the Lamanites? Anyway, I’m sure my questions are pedestrian compared to the questions already being asked…

  21. So, “God allows his leaders to make mistakes.” That’s convenient. When did God say this? Do not respond with a quotation from a church leader though, since it could be a mistake.

    Remember the memory hole from 1984 …

  22. Ultimately it doesn’t matter if you believe us. Each person is responsible for their own salvation, as much as I wish I could convince the world that there is a God and His Son did die to bring us back to Him.
    Can someone point me to the scripture that says prophets are infallible? Oh wait, they are just men. I think in this instance we do need to remember that. They are JUST men 😉

  23. Let’s see, prophets who made mistakes. Off the top of my head:

    – Moses
    – Jonah
    – Peter
    – Lehi
    – Joseph Smith/Martin Harris
    – Joseph Smith or Brigham Young – one of them was wrong about blacks and the priesthood

  24. You are missing the logical fallacy here. It doesn’t matter if there is a scripture saying that prophets make mistakes. If that scripture was written by a prophet, then it could have been a mistake, in which case it is suspect. Doh! If it wasn’t written or conceived by a prophet, then it’s not scripture. Darn logic!

    Maybe they should be removed like Laban for standing in the way of correct belief.

  25. Anon@1:22
    Do not respond with a quotation from a church leader though, since it could be a mistake.

    Hence…personal revelation. Ultimately, a testimony of the brethren is not attainable from the brethren. It’s an unprovable, largely unempirical assumption that is only accessible through a personal testimony of Christ.

    That said, once a person understands that this is the true faith, then deductions, inductions, questions, answers, can come more clearly? What does it mean to be a prophet and seer? You know it really does mean something, but precisely what? It’s up for grabs…as J. Reuben Clark mentioned (I quote him believing that he was inspired…again, the unprovable assumption at work) that the only way he could tell that the brethren were moved upon by the Holy Ghost was when HE was moved upon by the HOly Ghost. Furthermore, as Elder Oaks quotes St. Hillaly…scripture is not what is read but what is understood.

    Of course, I speak largely of the abstract doctrines…incidentally, these are the most important and ironically, the most personal. Facts, dates, and golden plates are all verifiable…and should be held up to the light of academic scrutiny.

  26. Aah. But now you’ve admitted the likelihood that personal revelation may contradict the statements of the prophets. This messy little can of worms has led to people being excommunicated. Plus, those prophets (who are not allowed to lead the church astray) have said in one way or another that personal revelation will not be out of harmony with their teachings.

  27. A couple things:

    “What does it mean to be a prophet and seer? You know it really does mean something, but precisely what? It’s up for grabs…”

    Wow. If this was the commonly held view of prophets, testimony meetings would sound quite different. If ‘I know so and so is a true prophet, seer etc.’ I surely know what a prophet is. Leaving this definition “up for grabs” makes testimonies weak and meaningless. It only serves to make a ‘prophet’s’ authenticity more defensible by making his role vague. It can’t be precisely defined lest its claimants be found wanting.

    A prophet could be anything, say anything, true or false and still be a prophet – whatever that nebulous thing means, that I know with ever fiber of my being the current one is.

    Secondly: Peter said…

    “Ultimately it doesn’t matter if you believe us.”

    Really? Given that (i) the worth of souls is great in the sight of God, and (ii) The eternal destiny of my soul depends on me believing your message, so much so that angels will rejoice in heaven if I accept it, then it seems extremely callous to say it doesn’t matter if I believe you or not. Mayhaps it was a Freudian slip – it really doesn’t matter at all.

  28. Did we get a little off topic here? I thought we were talking about who the Lamanites are and where they came from. How many different versions of the Bible is there? King James, New International, Revised Standard, etc. And critics complain that the Church adds a word or two to improve our understanding of the Book of Mormon. As far as I know, the basic information in the Book of Mormon has not changed since it was first introduced outside of grammatical errors. And we are only talking about the introduction to the Book of Mormon not the Book itself. Lighten up, people. Everyone has their own views on religion and spirituality.

  29. I find this topic highly germane to the post…what the change means has tremendous ramifications for our view of modern revelation.

    Anon:

    Yet again, a LOT of simplification here…there’s FAR more nuance than you are comprehending. In any case, I’m quoting from the “prophets” themselves, so I am firmly convinced (as have been my previous ward leaders) of doctrinal orthodoxy. The problem is that “orthodoxy” as commonly seen is quite unorthodox indeed–at least when one examines the multiplicity of views re: the nature of revelation from the prophets themselves. Harold B. Lee said that if ANYONE said something beyond what the scriptures claimed (exempting the prophet alone), that view could be dismissed as opinion, even well-thought out opinion. And if ANYONE (the prophet included) contradicted the scriptures, then it could meet the same fate.

    You see, certain claims of prophets past (normally before the advent of televised conference outside Utah–in 1980) HAVE been found wanting. Ezra Taft Benson vs. Hugh B. Brown on civil rights is an excellent example…they disagreed vigorously on the stance the church should take toward the African Americans (the former even taking subtle steps of his own to speak out in favor of civil rights).

    Revelation, therefore, must be viewed as a COLLECTIVE process where the brethren congenially clash on issues, pray, seek the Spirit. JOseph said that by proving opposites, the truth is made manifest. Therefore, when we hear one apostle speak, it is not enough to just hear

    “A prophet could be anything, say anything, true or false and still be a prophet -“

    Might I offer an alternative explanation? In the faith as we have it, we do not individually sustain each single apostle as a prophet…but sustain the quorum of the twelve as an entity. Truth comes to us not from a monolithic entity but from a cacophony of voices…when they unite, it’s a miracle on the order of the Constitutional Convention. When such events occur, THAT, my friend, is doctrine and binding on the church.

    Otherwise, each talk must be individually absorbed, checked against the scriptures. Of course, the apostles will never say something wrong enough to “lead us astray.” Everything they say is essentially correct, but as Elder Nelson has remarked, general authorities teach general principles. Therefore, a person might conceivably hear a talk condemning work on the Sabbath but continue to work on the Sabbath in good conscience (if he were a medical health professional, police officer, etc.). It is in finding the exceptions where this process of checking and balance is so very important.

    I would encourage to do a more thorough search on the meaning of prophecy and revelation in the faith…and because of collective revelation, just finding some “get back in line” quotes will not do. You need the Hugh B. Browns alongside the Ezra taft benson.

  30. To Anonymous @ 10:18am – When we knock on a door and someone doesn’t want to listen to us or they don’t believe us, do we keep knocking until they listen or do we move on to bring the message to someone else? Will the Lord condemn me because someone won’t listen? No. He’ll be happy because I was faithful and right around the corner there is someone waiting to listen.
    It has never been about you believing us. It is about trusting in God and listening to His voice.
    Every soul is worth the same amount and while the loss will be lamented there are plenty of precious ones around.

  31. As to the topic of our critics on changes to the Book of Mormon one just need to take a close look at the work of scholars and archeologist on the bible verses the research.
    On the New and Old Testament.
    The reason these great truths (those found in the Bible) are no longer the focus of the modern church is best captured in the words of A. Powell Davies: “Biblical scholars”, he writes, ”were not disturbed by what they found in the Dead Sea Scrolls because they had known all along that the origin of Christianity was not what was commonly supposed to have been” (quoted by Millar Burrows in More Light on the Dead Sea Scrolls). What Davies was referring to was the fact that the Church of Constantine so altered the focus of the teachings of the New Covenant, that what we call Christianity today has its doctrinal legacy of birth in the fourth century, and has little in common with the religion that the Son of God revealed to man at the beginning of our Common Era.
    The Bible like the Book of Mormon was written form one group perspective. The Bible leaves us with the impression that the Israelites drove the Canites out of the country, however, there is now archeological evidence that support the idea they were intermingled more than the Bible explains.
    The fact is that with all that is known of Egyptian history from this time (since scholars can now read the records the ancient Egyptians with the ease of a modern newspaper), and the fact that the history of Egypt in this period is well documented, there is no evidence from the records of Egypt itself that the events of Exodus ever occurred, either archaeologically or documentarily in the manner in which the Bible describes the events. It is quite clear from the archaeological record, as well, that there never was a “wandering in the desert for 40 years,” either. Extensive archaeological surveys of the Sinai desert have never shown any encampments dating from the time of the Exodus, either before, during or after the time of the Ramsean pharoahs. Archeological evidence support the idea Canaanite god Yahweh is being transformed by a culturally similar people of the land of Judah. Yahweh, in his transformation from a pagan Canaanite god to the god of the Jews, becomes a cruel and vindictive god .Yet Elohim in the north continues to be a much more subtle god, who directs the affairs of men by revelation of the voice, hidden from the view of mere mortals.
    I point this out not to discredit the bible but show how new discoveries brings changes to the way we view the scriptures. I am sure the new discoveries and changes in our thinking are not over for the Bible or the Book of Mormon, so stay tune.

  32. In order to help me justify the many problems with the Book of Mormon, I interpret the terms used by Joseph Smith, as the Native Americans being the people in the Book of Mormon in the most liberal and expansive use possible. The word “among” is more all encompassing and fits better what we know from science. Remember that people of the Maya traded from Central America, North to Ohio and as far as South America.
    When Lehites, Jaredites and Mulikites arrived in the Americas they were met by the Maya or other indigenous people. They quickly were adsorbed into the indigenous population and became unrecognizable from the local population with in a few years. Remember they were sent here to preach the gospel and set up God’s kingdom not dominate the area or leave behind DNA or archeological proof that they were here. When Lehi arrived in Mesoamerica they were quickly absorbed into the indigenous population because of their small population numbers.
    Laban and Lemuel may have been from another mother even another mother and father of African/Asian decent. Nephi, Sam, and Joseph could have been a mix of Jewish/Asian decent. The rest of the group could have been a mix of Jew/Asian decent. When Laban and Lemuel split off from the others this could account for the dark skin as well as the lack of Jewish DNA found. This could also account for the bad feelings between the brothers by not being allow to have the priesthood, leadership roles and coming from two different parents. Their group were absorbed into the Mayan population within two generations.
    If Laman and Lemuel came from another mother even another mother and father of African/Asian decent and the Jardites came from African/Asian decent this to would account for the Olmec stone heads appearing to look African/Asian but no longer appear to be found in the Mayan population of today. (Books on Africans and the Olmec are on the internet.) Again the African influence could have remained in the kings role and the Asian influence could have been in the priestly role. The African influence could have been killed off in wars described in the BofM.
    The Jardites governmental rules and the priestly Asian people were absorbed into the Mayan people that were here when they arrived. Nephi’s group were lost into the Mayan population within 3 to 4 generations or may have been segregated by being in leadership, royalty and hierarchal standing in society an intermarrying within their own tight group. This would keep the Jewish DNA in a very small group until it died or killed off. Many marriages were arranged with other royalty for political reasons in the Mayan culture. Such relationships would keep it a tight knit group at the top. Within one generation the term Nephite and Laminite became a cultural or political term not a racial term. The Nephites would be ruler families as heads of states and were they were the target of assassination then hunted to extinction. Also the Mayan history follows this same pattern of arranged marriages and killing of the kings families and leaders of city states when the cities were captured. Capture the kings family, kill them then set up your own kings family.
    The BofM record was kept by a small select secret priestly group (of Mayans) that were rigorously trained in middle eastern language, culture, history, thought and were directed to follow strict rules to record and compile the BofM scriptures in middle eastern thought. They lived the rest of their lives as Mayans but recorded in the middle eastern traditions. Some of the middle eastern culture may have made it into the Mayan culture but would be hard to detect today. I think we should not look for Jewish Nephites but, 99% Mayan and maybe 1% middle eastern influence. This is the only way I am able to justify many of the problems that the BofM has with us trying to place the middle eastern culture in Mesoamerica.
    If a Mayan historian of the BofM time was ask to record it’s history with no middle eastern training, the book would read very Mayan in style. (One example is the story that a group of Central American people migrated to Mesoamerica inside or on the back of 8 turtles. Not very helpful to people seeking the truth of the gospel or correct history, but might be fully understood by a Mayan historian of their time. The 8 turtles could have been the Jardites barges.) The reason for such strict middle eastern record keeping was to keep it encoded so no one could tamper with the scriptures and it would have the same feel and spirit as the Bible when presented to us. Many cultures down through time have recorded scriptures and other important documents in code to keep others from knowing the contents and to keep other people from altering them. Also the high priests were the only ones with access to the scriptures and secret writings. The common people most likely could not read or write and have scriptures. All of the above are just my personal thoughts on these subjects but would follow a pattern of many cultures.

    I am glad that the church changes from the top down, it worries me when members try or want the church to change the way they think it should. The speed and the way the world is changing is going to bring enough changes into the church and some will not be welcomed and will be harmful.
    As to the topic of changes of the bible or how chirisdom has interped the bible I look to some non-Mormon statements:
    The reason these great truths (those found in the Bible) are no longer the focus of the modern church is best captured in the words of A. Powell Davies: “Biblical scholars”, he writes, ”were not disturbed by what they found in the Dead Sea Scrolls because they had known all along that the origin of Christianity was not what was commonly supposed to have been” (quoted by Millar Burrows in More Light on the Dead Sea Scrolls). What Davies was referring to was the fact that the Church of Constantine so altered the focus of the teachings of the New Covenant, that what we call Christianity today has its doctrinal legacy of birth in the fourth century, and has little in common with the religion that the Son of God revealed to man at the beginning of our Common Era.
    The Bible like the Book of Mormon was written form one group perspective. The Bible leaves us with the impression that the Israelites drove the Canites out of the country, however, there is now archeologal evidence that support the idea they were intermingled more than the Bible explains.

  33. I would be cautious about making links between the Mayans and Book of Mormon peoples. There were many different peoples in Mesoamerica anciently. The Mayans are most well known, perhaps, but there were about 20 different tribes living in what is now Mexico City when the Spaniard showed up, with a variety of languages and cultures. And there were many more peoples across Mesoamerica during the reign of the Mayans.