“I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.” (History of the Church, 4:461.)
“The most correct of any book on earth” was a bold statement to make in Joseph Smith’s day, let alone in our day of sophisticated publication. The statement is still applicable, for the Lord has never rescinded it nor cast doubt upon it.
An analysis of the statement reveals important principles that are significant to readers of the Book of Mormon and especially to members of the Church. Its correctness must be attributed to the Lord’s hand operative in its translation, an event that was, as Isaiah described it, a “marvelous work and a wonder.” (Isa. 29:13–14.)
There is irrefutable evidence to show both the correctness of the translation and the Lord’s hand in it. The Three Witnesses, Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris, bore record that the voice of God declared unto them that the book had been translated by his power. Their testimony still appears at the front of each copy of the Book of Mormon. Furthermore, in a June 1829 revelation given to the three men through the Prophet, the Lord confirmed that Joseph had translated all that he had been commanded to do and that it was a true translation. (See D&C 17:6.)
However, “the most correct book” implies that it may not be absolutely correct, and in light of the Lord’s declaration, this may seem contradictory. But herein lies another significant principle: if there be any errors, they should not be attributed to the translation.
An example from the Book of Mormon itself supports this principle. The prophet Moroni concluded his father’s record by excusing the errors, if there were any, to the faults of men (see Morm. 8:17) and to the necessity of writing in what was termed reformed Egyptian rather than in Hebrew (see Morm. 9:32–33).
Therefore, the qualification on the absolute correctness of the Book of Mormon may be imposed because of language limitation.
A second example in the Book of Mormon of man’s inability to record the principles of the gospel perfectly is found in 3 Nephi 19:31–34 [3 Ne. 19:31–34]. Here the Savior’s prayer to the Father was described as being one that could not be spoken or written by man. Yet the prayer was heard and understood by the Nephites as their hearts were opened.
It seems logical, then, that the correctness of the Book of Mormon was not limited so much by the translation process as by the inadequacy of present languages.
Joseph Smith taught that the Savior would adapt his language to the capacity of a little child (see History of the Church, 3:383), and undoubtedly he had to adapt the language of the Book of Mormon to our linguistic capacity.
Until the time arrives when the Lord will restore a pure language to fill the earth with sacred knowledge, the Book of Mormon represents the gospel teachings in the most correct form available to man. Furthermore, the book acts as a catalyst in obtaining even greater understanding of the gospel. As a person studies the written text with “real intent,” the power of the Holy Ghost will manifest the truth of what he reads.
The Prophet Joseph’s declaration of the Book of Mormon as “the keystone of our religion” underlines its importance in uniting the Church. As the keystone holds the rest of the stones in place, so the Book of Mormon upholds the principles and ordinances of the gospel. Without the keystone, the structure would collapse. Support for this concept comes from the Prophet’s declaration that if the Book of Mormon and the revelations were taken away, our religion would cease to exist. (See History of the Church, 2:52.)
The uniqueness of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints rests upon several basic principles and ordinances that the world has long forsaken in whole or in part. These unique features are taught in the Bible, but through misinterpretation and misunderstanding they have been gradually deleted from the tenets of modern Christianity.
The most important principle, of course, is acceptance of Jesus Christ as the literal Son of God and the Savior of the world. To this principle, the Book of Mormon bears a second witness in dozens of instances. Its primary objective is to convince Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God. This correct second witness has become more and more valuable as the world has increasingly entertained various alternate opinions of Jesus. The Book of Mormon proclaims him to be more than a great teacher, or a great philosopher, or a great moral and ethical proclaimer. These opinions have replaced Isaiah’s prophetic designation of the Christ as “Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” (Isa. 9:6.) In making a substitution, splintered Christianity has assimilated fragments of philosophies and rituals that took the place of original Christian unity and the plan of salvation. For those with eyes to see and ears to hear, the Book of Mormon corrects the false doctrine and affirms the true.
The Book of Mormon also confirms that the Lord continues to direct his church through his chosen servants as he did in biblical times. In contrast, the modern world has ignored the biblical admonitions of “ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you” (John 15:16), and “no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God” (Heb. 5:4), and has substituted such practices as the priesthood of all believers and the callings of men of their own personal choosings. The restoration of the gospel has likewise restored the unifying practice of men being called of God, by prophecy.
The Book of Mormon also upholds the biblical teachings of ordinances for the salvation and exaltation of man, teachings that have been discounted by and often deleted from modern Christianity.
Man’s recognition of these teachings and his step-by-step growth and development are highlighted by the third part of the Prophet’s statement that “a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.”
Initially, the statement offers the Book of Mormon as the most correct book, challenging the nonmember and the unconverted member with its importance. Second, the keystone aspect appeals to the Church member as he views himself within the framework of the Church. The third step is to come closer to God by implementing the precepts within the “most correct book.”
The reader of the Book of Mormon must first recognize the precept or rule of action; second, he has to understand the precept; and third, he has to “abide” by it, or incorporate it into his life.
In recognizing the precepts, we find our task made much easier by the writers and abridgers of the Book of Mormon. Realizing that they were writing to a future generation, they were cognizant of the needs of our day and pointed out the saving principles that would meet those needs. Witness how Nephi prepares the reader for a principle to be gained from a particular incident with the introductory phrase, “I will show unto you” (1 Ne. 1:20), or “thus we see that” (1 Ne. 16:29).
There are, of course, many precepts that are not so salient but are nonetheless pointed out by the prophets in less obvious ways. As the reader becomes aware of these designating phrases, he can readily recognize dozens of precepts in his reading. After recognition comes the problem of true understanding of the principle, and this process moves the reading of the Book of Mormon from the mechanical into the intellectual and spiritual realm. This is accomplished as one attains, through prayer, the spirit of understanding. Moroni promises that when one prayerfully reads the Book of Mormon and ponders it in his heart, the Holy Ghost will manifest the truth of it and all truths unto him. (See Moro. 10:3–5.) While this promise generally is applied only to knowing whether or not the book itself is true, the full promise offers an unfolding of all truth.
As the reader progresses in his understanding, the real challenge yet remains for him to make that precept or principle a part of his life. This was emphasized by King Benjamin: “And now, if you believe all these things see that ye do them.” (Mosiah 4:10.) Teaching us what to do or how to do it is another function of the Holy Ghost. Nephi explained that if we will ask and receive of the Holy Ghost, he will show us what to do. (See 2 Ne. 32:4–5.)
There are several things that prevent the individual from incorporating new principles into his life, but to the sincere person who has come to an understanding of the steps already outlined, there are only two remaining hurdles: overcoming one’s previous way of life or habit and then obtaining confidence and courage.
The solutions to both problems come through continuing to read the Book of Mormon. As King Benjamin told his sons that they should continually have God’s commandments before their eyes (see Mosiah 1:5), so likewise we should have the precepts and principles of the Book of Mormon continually before our eyes. Continual exposure to the Book of Mormon precepts can help us change our lives for the better.
Courage may also be won by reading the “most correct book,” for within its pages are examples of others who gained courage and great strength. Lehi, for example, must have gained the courage to go on when he learned from the plates of brass that he was a descendant of Joseph, whom God had preserved in Egypt. (See 1 Ne. 5:14–17.) Such knowledge must have given him confidence to keep the Lord’s commandments. Nephi must also have received courage by knowing what the Lord had done for Moses. After citing to his doubting brothers Laman and Lemuel the mighty miracles performed by Moses, he asked them why the Lord could not instruct him how to build a ship. (See 1 Ne. 17:17–51.)
And we, too, can receive courage by realizing that the Lord is constant in his aid to those who believe in him and seek to live by his principles and do his work. What was accomplished by the people in biblical times and by those who migrated to this continent can be accomplished by us with God’s help.
In summary and in reality, one cannot receive the gospel of Jesus Christ and the blessings therefrom within his church without accepting the Book of Mormon. For the Church is not just a social institution but an organization to preach the gospel and administer the ordinances necessary for salvation. These ordinances are in both the Bible and the Book of Mormon, and in them man may find the keystone of true Christianity and the means by which he may come closer to God.