Sunday, February 27, 2011

"Moroni's promise" was not about the Book of Mormon

Perhaps the most commonly cited passage of the Book of the Mormon is the three verses near the end of the book commonly referred to as "Moroni's Promise." From the tenth chapter of Moroni it reads:

3 Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.
4 And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you 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.
5 And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.
Traditionally, these verses are read as request by the book's final editor, Moroni, to pray about the Book of Mormon as a whole--to ask if the Book of Mormon "is true." However, if we look at the context of these words from Moroni we can see that, contrary to tradition, Moroni is not asking readers to pray about the 529 printed pages that preceded these verses (the whole Book of Mormon), but is actually asking the reader to specifically pray about the 2 pages that  follow his request (specifically verses 8 through 26).



The final chapter of the Book of Mormon contains a final plea from Moroni following Moroni's inclusion of two letters from his father Mormon. The chapter begins:
1 Now I, Moroni, write somewhat as seemeth me good; and I write unto my brethren, the Lamanites; and I would that they should know that more than four hundred and twenty years have passed away since the sign was given of the coming of Christ.
2 And I seal up these records, after I have spoken a few words by way of exhortation unto you.
Moroni begins by declaring that he has some important final words that he is about to write and then moves into the next two verses where he is asking readers to pray about the words he is about to give. Here are the verses again without Moroni's tangents:
Now I, Moroni, write somewhat as seemeth me good; and I write unto my brethren, the Lamanites. . . .And I seal up these records, after I have spoken a few words by way of exhortation unto you. 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.
 So what are the words that Moroni wants the readers to pray about? A preface to what he is primarily concerned about can be found in these verses. Moroni asks that while reading his final words people "remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things" and that God "worketh by power, according to the faith of the children of men, the same today and tomorrow, and forever." In other words, Moroni wants to remember two things as they are reading his final words: that God has worked miracles in the past, and that God does not change.

After his preface, Moroni then jumps into his final sermon (using language from Paul's first letter to the Corinthians). His first sentence sums up the bulk of his final words: "Deny not the gifts of God" (vs. 8). Moroni's final concern, his final words, are a plea to modern day readers that they do not deny that miraculous gifts--the gifts of the spirit--are still alive with true believers in Christ. After exhorting readers to not deny the gifts of the spirit that come from "the same God who worketh all in all" (vs. 8), Moroni then gives a summary of the gifts (vss. 9-18), a reminder that those gifts "cometh of Christ" (vs. 18), and then repeats what he wants the readers to remember: "that [God] is the same yesterday, today and forever, and that all these gifts . . . never will be done away" (vs. 19).

Moroni then offers some words about faith, hope, and charity (vss. 20-23; a paraphrasing of his earlier use of Paul in chapter 7), and then, again, warns about a day when "the gifts of God shall be done away among you . . . because of unbelief" (vs 24), warning that those who "do these things away . . . [shall] die in their sins, and  . . . cannot be saved in the kingdom of God" (vs. 26).

He then finishes off his exhortation on gifts with how he began: a call to "remember these things . . . which were written by this man [Moroni]" (vs. 27), with a reminder that "God shall show unto you that that which I have written is true" (vs 29). He then gives one last call to "lay hold upon every good gift" (vs. 30).

Here are the verses again with just the bare parts of his message. Notice how the call to pray about the truthfulness of his words act as bookends containing his sermon on gifts:
1 Now I, Moroni, write somewhat as seemeth me good; and I write unto my brethren, the Lamanites;
2 And I seal up these records, after I have spoken a few words by way of exhortation unto you.
3-4 Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, . . . 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.
5 And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.
7 . . . Deny not the power of God; for he worketh by power, according to the faith of the children of men, the same today and tomorrow, and forever.
8-18 (Sermon on gifts)
19. . . Remember that he is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and that all these gifts of which I have spoken, which are spiritual, never will be done away, even as long as the world shall stand, only according to the unbelief of the children of men.
20-23 (comments on faith)
24-26 . . . If the day cometh that the power and gifts of God shall be done away among you, it shall be because of unbelief. . . . And wo unto them who shall do these things away and die, for they die in their sins, and they cannot be saved in the kingdom of God; and I speak it according to the words of Christ; and I lie not.
27 Remember these things; for the time speedily cometh that ye shall know that I lie not, for ye shall see me at the bar of God; and the Lord God will say unto you: Did I not declare my words unto you, which were written by this man, like as one crying from the dead, yea, even as one speaking out of the dust?
29 And God shall show unto you, that that which I have written is true.
30 And again I would exhort you that ye would come unto Christ, and lay hold upon every good gift, and touch not the evil gift, nor the unclean thing.
Allow me close by adding that this post is not to say that a person cannot pray about the truth of the Book of Mormon (whatever that means), but only that this is not what Moroni was asking readers to do. I am merely pointing out that rather than asking readers to pray about the Book of Mormon, Moroni was actually asking readers to pray about the reality of the gifts of the spirit--which were commonly denied in the 19th century (or even in the 21st century).

3 comments:

  1. That's a really intriguing insight.

    I've always thought the phrasing was interesting, despite what the subject might be. Either way, the direction from Moroni is to ask if what is presented is not true - with the assumption being trust that if it's not true, God will warn you not to be lead astray. To me, it appears to be promising a spiritual confirmation of the material's lack of truth if that is what ends up being the case.

    Not exactly pro-active for getting a positive testimony - it's actually a statement of confidence that what he's telling you is legit.

    Again, it doesn't mean the current practice doesn't have validity, just that it's simply not exactly presenting Moroni's Promise in the form as it stands in the text.

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  2. This is an intriguing, exciting, and quite plausible interpretation of "Moroni's Promise." I've actually started a thread at MDDB using your post as a spring board for discussion. Come by and see what feedback you get (and provide some of your own).

    Thanks again for providing a different perspective.

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  3. I'll have to look for it. I've been permanently banned from that board so I won't be able to add anything there.

    ReplyDelete

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