Reading the Book of Mormon for the first time can be disconcerting. If you are familiar with history, the glaring anachronisms will cause you to chuckle. If you know much about the Bible narrative, you’ll find the advanced knowledge of Christ and Christian theology difficult to swallow. Horses, elephants, barley and other non-native livestock being in the Americas prior to the arrival of Lehi’s family, centuries before the time of Christ (let alone Columbus, millenia later) lead us to believe that this book is not an literal ancient record, and the teachings that have more in common with early 19th century North American revivalism coming out of the mouths of pre-Christian prophets confirm this opinion.
A few years ago I carried on an e-mail exchange with an active member of a sub-group that split off of the movement that Joseph Smith Jr. founded. One of this gentleman’s big arguments for his faith was that the Book of Mormon doesn’t teach that much that a modern Baptist or other conservative evangelical should consider objectionable. Polygamy and celestial marriage are nowhere found in the text. In fact, there is every indication that the “plain and precious truths” that it claims to restore are not the modern Mormon distinctives of temple ceremonies and the deification of faithful Mormon men, but rather were the doctrines of early 19th century popular Christianity with an unusual spin provided by Joseph Smith.
If you read the Book of Mormon and are fairly well read on the Bible, you will notice very early on that it does not read that much like the Bible. Oh, there is a “King James” quality to the language, and it is set in chapter and verse and looks as though it is supposed to be taken as Scripture, but the content is presented as the completely developed theology of Joseph Smith’s times. This being the case, I argue the following:
If the Bible says what most modern evangelicals say it does, then it should read more like the Book of Mormon. The fully developed doctrine of justification along with a sinners prayer and revivalistic atmosphere should be everywhere present. Joseph Smith thought so. That’s why he undertook to revise the Bible. Though he never completed the work, the Community of Christ has published and used for years what he did get “revised.” In it, Adam preaches about Christ and he, Eve and their children are baptized.
Talk about anachronisms!
What I’m saying is that the Bible cannot mean what most modern evangelical protestants say it does, because if it did it would look much different than it does. The difficulty is in approaching the text of Scripture trying to find what the original writers and readers would have understood, without our modern (or post-modern) theological baggage.