When it comes to the origin of the Book of Mormon, there are two possibilities: either Joseph Smith translated it or he wrote it — and either way would have taken a miracle. Learn three reasons behind why.
As Elder Mark E. Petersen observed, “The Book of Mormon is a literary and a religious masterpiece, and is far beyond even the fondest hopes or abilities of any farm boy” (“It Was a Miracle!” Ensign, November 1977, 11).
From its discovery to its translation and publication, the coming forth of the Book of Mormon was simply miraculous—and the book itself continues to be a miracle in the lives of people all over the world. Here are three reasons why the Book of Mormon is such a miraculous work.
Reason 1: There Have Been So Few Changes to the Text
For years critics have pointed out the 3,913 “changes” made to the first edition of the Book of Mormon. Their implication is that the book could not be true because corrections needed to be made. But, compared to other translated works, the fact that the Book of Mormon was translated in such a short time period and required so few changes is a miracle.
Any complex manuscript will need some corrections. For example, the Bible has undergone major revisions over the years. Speaking of the King James Version, Daniel B. Wallace, a professor of New Testament Studies noted that the Bible “has undergone three revisions, incorporating more than 100,000 changes” (“Choosing a Bible Translation,” christianity.com).
Joseph Smith was an uneducated 23-year-old farm boy when he verbally dictated the Book of Mormon manuscript. It became a 588-page, Christ-centered book filled with thousands of original phrases, brilliant doctrinal speeches, and unique names.
When the Book of Mormon manuscript was completed, it was basically one long paragraph with very little punctuation. The young man responsible for typesetting and punctuating the first edition was John H. Gilbert, an employee of publisher E.B. Grandin not affiliated with the Church.
Joseph Smith did not have the advantage of skilled editors and was forced to depend on scribes and a typesetter to get the spelling, punctuation, and grammar right. In fact, a majority of the 3,913 “mistakes” counted by critics in the Book of Mormon are for minor changes, like punctuation. That the original Book of Mormon manuscript needed so few changes, even with its length and complexity, provides compelling evidence that it is of divine origin.
Reason 2: The Book of Mormon Is Too Complex to be a Work of Fiction
The Book of Mormon is a very complex and inspiring work. And yet, many critics claim it is a work of fiction written by Joseph Smith.
One internet critic paints Joseph Smith as an ignorant fraud and then says, “The Book of Mormon is no more complex than many other works of fiction, such as J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.” He failed to point out that it took Tolkien, an internationally renowned Oxford English professor, 12 years to write his classic book. It is believed that this brilliant professor knew up to 30 different languages in various degrees. He also associated daily with other renowned fantasy writers, one of which was his good friend C.S. Lewis. Perhaps no one was better prepared to write The Lord of the Rings than Tolkien. Despite his experience, at the time he finished his book, Tolkien said: “There were some frightful mistakes in grammar, which from a Professor of English Language and Lit are rather shocking” (Dennis Gerolt, “Now Read On,” BBC Radio 4, January, 1971).
Joseph Smith, on the other hand, grew up on a farm and had little formal education and no professional writers to give him insight and advice. He was only 24 years old when the Book of Mormon was published, and the entire manuscript was produced in approximately 63 working days. To make the feat even more daunting, he dictated the entire manuscript verbally with no notes in front of him.
Imagine a young farm boy who never played basketball going one-on-one against an NBA superstar. Isn’t that somewhat similar to comparing Joseph Smith with Tolkien? How inconceivable would it be to think that the farm boy could actually win the game! Both The Lord of the Rings and the Book of Mormon have over 150,000,000 copies in print. There is no doubt that Tolkien’s classic is a magnificent work of fantasy. But how many young single adults leave behind school, family, friends, and jobs to share the message of The Lord of the Rings for 18 to 24 months?
If Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon, he should be considered one of the great fiction writers of all time. If he translated it, he should be considered a great prophet. It is interesting that he receives no credit for being either from the world. But, the overwhelming evidence points to the fact that Joseph Smith could not have possibly written this remarkable book, which means he is a true prophet inspired by our Heavenly Father.
Reason 3: Joseph Smith Is Known for Good and Evil
When Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith on September 21, 1823, he prophesied that Joseph’s name “should be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues” (Joseph Smith---History 1:33.) Throughout history, people who have risen to international fame or power are usually associated with good or evil, not good and evil. Those known for evil have, in most cases, committed horrific crimes against humanity. Those known for good have often accomplished remarkable acts of service, overcome tremendous obstacles, taught life-changing principles, or left behind invaluable inventions to bless mankind.
What horrific crimes did Joseph Smith commit to be viewed as evil? Perhaps his “crime” was similar to that of William Tyndale, who infuriated both the religious and political authorities of his day by translating the Bible into English. Because of his actions, Tyndale was condemned as a heretic and executed.
Joseph Smith, like Tyndale, also translated into English an ancient religious record that boldly testifies of Jesus Christ. Many political and religious leaders of his day also considered this heresy. As a result, they vehemently spoke against his character and his work, they unjustly persecuted him personally and legally, and some ultimately took his freedom and his life, fulfilling Moroni’s prophecy.
On the other side, Emmeline B. Wells, who knew him well, said: “He [Joseph Smith] was beyond my comprehension. The power of God rested upon him to such a degree that on many occasions he seemed transfigured. His expression was mild and almost childlike in repose; and when addressing the people, who loved him it seemed to adoration, the glory of his countenance was beyond description” ("Joseph Smith, the Prophet," Young Woman's Journal, Dec. 1905, 556). Today millions of individuals worldwide honor the good name of Joseph Smith while untold others revile it, just as Moroni prophesied would happen.
The Book of Mormon is a modern day miracle that provides compelling testimony that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of the world. It is a book filled with evidence that convinces those willing to search its pages with real intent that it is true.