A Book That Transforms Lives

By Brent L. Top

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The Book of Mormon’s powerful, confirming witness of Jesus Christ and his mission opens the way for sincere seekers to embrace gospel truths.

When Jacob Hamblin first heard the restored gospel in 1842, he recalled it “so fired up my mind, that I at once determined to be baptized, and that too, if necessary, at the sacrifice of the friendship of my kindred and of every earthly tie.

“The evening after the Elder had preached I went in search of him, and found him quite late at night. I told him my purpose, and requested him to give me a ‘Mormon Bible.’ He handed me the Old and New Testament.

“I said, ‘I thought you had a new Bible.’ He then explained about the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, and handed me a copy of it.

“The impressions I received at the time cannot be forgotten. The spirit rested upon me and bore testimony of its truth, and I felt like opening my mouth and declaring it to be a revelation from God.

“On the 3rd of March, 1842, as soon as it was light in the morning, I started for a pool of water where I had arranged to meet with the Elder, to attend to the ordinance of baptism. On the way, the thought of the sacrifice I was making [by going against my family’s wishes] … caused my resolution to waver.

“As my pace slackened, some person appeared to come from above, who, I thought, was my grandfather. He seemed to say to me, ‘Go on, my son; your heart cannot conceive, neither has it entered into your mind to imagine the blessings that are in store for you, if you go on and continue in this work.’

“I lagged no more, but hurried to the pool, where I was baptized by Elder Lyman Stoddard” (in Stories from the Early Saints: Converted by the Book of Mormon, ed. Susan Easton Black [1992], 41–42).

What is it about this remarkable book, the Book of Mormon, that caused Jacob Hamblin and thousands of other early Saints to forsake comforts, possessions, reputations, and even friends and family to follow a young prophet? What is so remarkable about this book that it has profoundly transformed the lives of millions who have read it? Why does it continue to draw men and women from “every nation, kindred, tongue, and people” (Alma 37:4) to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?

Many books have influenced the course of history or inspired popular followings or movements, but their failings and limitations are eventually recognized and their influence is limited, sporadic, or temporary. In contrast, the Book of Mormon is today “flooding the earth” (see Ezra Taft Benson, “Flooding the Earth with the Book of Mormon,” Ensign, Nov. 1988, 67). In a magazine survey reported in the United States in 1991, for example, it was eighth on a list of books readers said had been most influential in their lives (“Our Best Books,” Parade, 29 Dec. 1991, 20). The number of those who bear witness of its truthfulness and alter their lives accordingly is multiplying exponentially across the world. “Like the mustard seed, [it] becomes the greatest of all herbs,” taught the Prophet Joseph Smith, the translator of this marvelous book. “And it is truth, and it has sprouted and come forth out of the earth, and righteousness begins to look down from heaven, and God is sending down His powers, gifts and angels, to lodge in the branches thereof” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith [1976], 98). What is the secret of its phenomenal worldwide recognition and acceptance and its enduring effects in the lives of countless individuals?

Undoubtedly there are myriad answers to this question, some of them personal to individual recipients of its soul-satisfying, eternal truth. Generally speaking, however, there are at least four aspects of this singular book that make it more remarkable than any other book on earth: its sacred origins and the manner of its coming forth; the profound depth, breadth, and clarity of its doctrines; its unassailable role as the keystone of our religion; and its clarion confirming witness that the Bible truly witnesses of the Atonement and Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Sacred Origins

The Book of Mormon is nothing less than a miracle of God upon the earth—“a marvelous work and a wonder”! (2 Ne. 25:17). There was nothing ordinary in its genesis. It was engraved upon golden plates by ancient prophets. It was divinely preserved in the earth until an angel from God gave the record to Joseph Smith, who translated its antiquated and obscure engravings by the gift and power of God and later confidently declared it to be “the most correct of any book on earth” (History of the Church, 4:461; see also introduction to the Book of Mormon). Some scoff at the Prophet Joseph’s account of ancient gold plates, heavenly messengers, and divinely aided translation, characterizing it as outrageous. Yet how else but with divine help could a barely literate, inexperienced young man in his early 20s translate such a record and have 5,000 copies of the first edition published, with most of the work occurring in the space of a few months?

Were the account of the origin of the Book of Mormon and the narrative of the book itself fabricated stories, they would surely have been disproved long ago. Yet the Book of Mormon withstands all attempts to disprove it or to lessen its inspiring effect on the people who gain a testimony of it. Why? Because it is true and the story of its remarkable origin is true.

The Lord did not, however, expect people to believe the words of Joseph Smith alone. The Lord himself bore witness of its divine origin and sent others to so testify as well (see D&C 20:8–13). Though the Three Witnesses of the Book of Mormon each left the Church at some point (two eventually returned), they nevertheless stood by their testimony that they had indeed been shown the gold plates by an angel of God and had heard the Lord’s voice out of heaven command them to bear witness of the truthfulness of the book. In fact, even while alienated from the Church, David Whitmer and Oliver Cowdery publicly issued further statements confirming their original declarations. Joseph Smith showed the plates to eight more men, who subsequently demonstrated varying levels of commitment to the Church yet never once denied their testimonies of the plates and the truthfulness of the book. Though Emma, the Prophet’s wife, became estranged from the Church after it moved west, she bore powerful testimony to the end of her life of the miraculous translation of the book and of its divine authenticity. Since that time, millions of others have borne witness of the book’s spiritual nature, which touches their lives, and of the assurance of the Holy Ghost that the unusual account of its origin is true.

Ongoing scholarly study of the Book of Mormon continues to reveal the book’s consistencies and bear witness of its veracity. No one on earth, regardless of how educated, has been able to produce such a remarkably intricate, consistent, and influential book. LDS scholar Hugh Nibley once proposed a test for any who would claim that the Book of Mormon is a fictional narrative born in the imagination of Joseph Smith. Focusing on the account of Lehi’s journey from Jerusalem through the Arabian desert to the shore of an ocean, as recorded in First Nephi, he suggests that the skeptic “sit down to write a history of life, let us say, in Tibet in the middle of the 11th century A.D. Let him construct his story wholly on the basis of what he happens to know right now about Tibet in the 11th century—that will fairly represent what was known about ancient Arabia in 1830, i.e., that there was such a place and that it was very mysterious and romantic.”

But, Dr. Nibley cautions, “there will be … obstacles, for in your chronicle of old Tibet we must insist that you scrupulously observe a number of annoying conditions: … you must never make any absurd, impossible or contradictory statement; … you must give out that your [narrative] is not fiction but true, nay, sacred history; … you must invite the ablest orientalists to examine the text with care, and strive diligently to see that your book gets into the hands of all those most eager and most competent to expose every flaw in it. The author of the Book of Mormon observes all these terrifying rules most scrupulously” (Lehi in the Desert, in Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, ed. John W. Welch, Darrell L. Matthews, Stephen R. Callister, 13 vols. (1986–94), 5:119).

And yet Emma Smith noted that at the time the Book of Mormon was translated, her young husband “could neither write nor dictate a coherent and well-worded letter; let alone dictating [composing] a book like the Book of Mormon” (as quoted in Joseph Smith III, “Last Testimony of Sister Emma,” The Saints’ Advocate, Oct. 1879, 51).

Every individual who seriously considers the Book of Mormon must confront the extraordinary account of its origins. No one has yet found a truthful or even sensible argument that could expose it as a fictional work of man. There simply is no other explanation—the Book of Mormon came from God.

Depth, Breadth, and Clarity

The Book of Mormon offers ample internal evidence of its divine origins. It is not only a wonder because of the consistency of its history, characters, and cultural details, but, more important, because of the brilliant light it sheds on basic doctrines of the gospel and the plan of salvation. Some of these “plain and precious” (1 Ne. 13:34) doctrines are missing or only superficially treated in the Bible. We would probably not even realize that they are superficially treated if it weren’t for the Book of Mormon. We would struggle on with the limited understanding, confusion, and uncertainty that sometimes beset those who rely only on the Bible for doctrine.

The Book of Mormon clearly and unmistakably proclaims again and again the fulness of the gospel—the saving power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ and of the fundamental principles and ordinances he taught that will enable every person who espouses them to return to the presence of God. A thoughtful reading of the book makes clear what is required to “come unto Christ, and be perfected in him” (Moro. 10:32). Yet it is much more than a gospel principles and practices manual. Within its pages, prophet after prophet testifies with profoundness of the Creation, the Fall, and the Atonement of Jesus Christ—“the three pillars of eternity,” as Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles called them (A New Witness for the Articles of Faith [1985], 81). These prophetic testimonies open to our view an eternal destiny described with more clarity than in the Bible.

Other important principles and ordinances of the gospel are clarified as well. The book’s teachings on faith, repentance, baptism, enduring to the end, the sacrament, the gift of the Holy Ghost, the plan of salvation, the universal resurrection, and the judgment of God are doctrinal diamonds.

Elder McConkie challenged those who would question the depth and breadth of the Book of Mormon’s doctrinal teachings:

“Let every person make a list of from one hundred to two hundred doctrinal subjects, making a conscious effort to cover the whole field of gospel knowledge. …

“Then write each subject on a blank piece of paper. Divide the paper into two columns; at the top of one, write ‘Book of Mormon,’ and at the top of the other, ‘Bible.’

“Then start with the first verse and phrase of the Book of Mormon, and continuing verse by verse and thought by thought, put the substance of each verse under its proper heading. Find the same doctrine in the Old and New Testaments, and place it in the parallel columns.

“Ponder the truths you learn, and it will not be long before you know that Lehi and Jacob excel Paul in teaching the Atonement; that Alma’s sermons on faith and on being born again surpass anything in the Bible; that Nephi makes a better exposition of the scattering and gathering of Israel than do Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel combined; that Mormon’s words about faith, hope, and charity have a clarity, a breadth, and a power of expression that even Paul did not attain; and so on and so on” (“What Think Ye of the Book of Mormon?” Ensign, Nov. 1983, 73).

Conversely, one might make a list of the doctrinal misunderstanding and shortness of sight that would plague us without the Book of Mormon. We need not look far to see the confusion over the path to salvation that has resulted in Christianity because many plain and precious truths of the gospel were lost from the Bible (see 1 Ne. 13:19–29). As one early convert to the Church testified: “The book of Mormon, is just what it was when it first came forth—a revelation from the Lord. The knowledge it contains is desirable; the doctrine it teaches is from the blessed Savior; its precepts are good; its principles righteous; its judgments just; its style simple, and its language plain: so that a way-faring man, though a fool, need not err therein” (William W. Phelps, “Letter No. 10,” Latter-day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate, Sept. 1835, 178).

“Keystone of Our Religion”

Today many people express admiration for the Church’s teachings and influence on its members, yet they are troubled over the Book of Mormon, feeling they could never believe in a book based on what they see as spurious claims of angels and gold plates. Nevertheless, the Prophet Joseph Smith testified that the Book of Mormon is not simply one aspect of our faith, but the very “keystone of our religion” (History of the Church, 4:461)—the stone that holds together and strengthens the overarching system of beliefs. The doctrines, teachings, and virtues of our faith rise and fall with that one book. If it is false, all else is false; a corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit (see Matt. 7:18). “Take away the Book of Mormon and the revelations, and where is our religion? We have none,” the Prophet Joseph Smith declared (History of the Church, 2:52). One could not logically embrace the ethics and Christian sociality and virtues of a church that is based on an outrageous lie and contrived doctrines.

After pronouncing the Book of Mormon the “keystone of our religion,” the Prophet Joseph confidently proclaimed that a person “would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book” (History of the Church, 4:461; emphasis added). Enemies understand that the doctrines and practices of the Saints are based upon this unique book. “This is why they go to such great lengths to try to disprove the Book of Mormon,” President Ezra Taft Benson explained, “for if it can be discredited, the Prophet Joseph Smith goes with it. So does our claim to priesthood keys, and revelation, and the restored Church. But in like manner, if the Book of Mormon be true—and millions have now testified that they have the witness of the Spirit that it is indeed true—then one must accept the claims of the Restoration and all that accompanies it” (A Witness and a Warning: A Modern-day Prophet Testifies of the Book of Mormon [1988], 19).

Indeed, this witness borne by the millions who have received it is another affirmation that the Book of Mormon is the keystone of our faith. The very strength and essence of the Church stems from individual, as well as institutional, testimony of that book. This testimony binds us together like the stonemason’s keystone, which can hold together an entire arch without cement or mortar. President Joseph Fielding Smith declared that “no member of this Church can stand approved in the presence of God who has not seriously and carefully read the Book of Mormon” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1961, 18). A very literal endowment of strength comes into one’s life simply by pondering what we read in the Book of Mormon. “There is a power in the book which will begin to flow into your lives the moment you begin a serious study of the book,” taught President Benson. “You will find greater power to resist temptation. You will find the power to avoid deception. You will find the power to stay on the strait and narrow path” (A Witness and a Warning, 21–22). Correspondingly, the more power the Book of Mormon infuses into the lives of the individual members of the Church, the greater power it suffuses into the Church as a whole. This is the ongoing miracle of that divine book. We can never outgrow it. It continues to define us as a people collectively and as followers of Christ individually.

Witness of the Bible and of Jesus Christ

The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ is perhaps more important now than ever before as atheists, scoffers, secularly oriented historians, and even Christian scholars and religionists attempt systematically to discredit the events of the Bible and dismantle the divinity of Christ. Some self-professed Bible scholars, for example, quibble with accounts of the Resurrection. “Of the dozens of recent books denying the resurrection stories, many are written by liberal scholars who think the time has come to replace the ‘cultic’ Jesus of Christian worship with the ‘real’ Jesus [of their] research. Theirs is not disinterested historical investigation but scholarship with a frankly missionary purpose: by reconstructing the life of Jesus they hope to show that belief in the bodily resurrection of Jesus is a burden to the Christian faith and deflects attention from his role as social reformer” (“Rethinking the Resurrection,” Newsweek, 8 Apr. 1996, 62).

Unfortunately, the skepticism of these so-called scholars seems also to plague much of the clergy and membership of mainline Christian denominations who profess a belief in the Bible; because of their doubts, many have made their religion more of a socio-ethical movement than a literal means to salvation. And even many conservative Christians—those who claim belief in the inerrancy and historicity of the Bible—are unsure. A survey conducted by an evangelical Christian organization, the Barna Research Group, found that “30 percent of ‘born again’ Christians do not believe that Jesus ‘came back to physical life after he was crucified’” (“Rethinking the Resurrection,” 62).

There seem to be precious few willing to declare the divinity of Jesus Christ and the authenticity of the biblical record with the absolute certainty and authority of Book of Mormon prophets. As one new convert found, belief in the Bible can be renewed and strengthened through study of the Book of Mormon: “For me the experience was exhilarating because I was able to bring my intellect to bear without reservation, and the book stood up to it. It is hard to express how exciting it was to be able to work with a religious document one could trust and be fed by. The previous model I had from the Bible was a group of embarrassed scholars and teachers trying to explain what was myth and what was symbolic truth in the Bible. I am and will remain eternally grateful to those people who wrote that record so that we might have the benefit of it. And as the Book of Mormon predicted, my confidence in it spread to a new confidence and trust in the Bible. Thus one book gave me two” (Dustin H. Heuston, in Converted to Christ through the Book of Mormon, ed. Eugene England [1989], 108).

How ironic it is that many uninformed critics speak of Latter-day Saints as non-Christian, often claiming as evidence this remarkable book! The Book of Mormon unquestionably praises our Savior and clearly sets him forth as what he is—literally “the Son of God, the Father of heaven and earth, the Creator of all things from the beginning” (Mosiah 3:8). He came to earth, miraculously born of a divine Father and a mortal mother. He not only taught those things attributed to him by the great writers of the Gospels in the Old World, but, as the Book of Mormon testifies, he taught many of them again in the New World. Not only did his great miracles and healings actually happen in the Holy Land, but many were repeated in the Americas. While hundreds witnessed his resurrected body in the Old World, thousands bore record of it on the American continent (see 3 Ne. 17:25).

Though many Christians today may be uncertain about who and what Jesus Christ really is, the Book of Mormon leaves not a shade of doubt that he has “ascended into heaven, having the bowels of mercy; being filled with compassion towards the children of men; standing betwixt them and justice; having broken the bands of death, taken upon himself their iniquity and their transgressions, having redeemed them, and satisfied the demands of justice” (Mosiah 15:9) if they will but repent and come unto him. This is the essential message and witness of the Book of Mormon—truly another testament of the divinity of Jesus Christ. The very title page declares that the Book of Mormon was written for the “convincing of the Jew and Gentile that JESUS is the CHRIST, the ETERNAL GOD, manifesting himself unto all nations.” The book’s pages are replete with expositions and explanations about the Savior’s merciful plan of salvation. Its pages are filled with testimonies and grateful declarations that he is indeed the Son of God—the only name and means under heaven “whereby salvation can come unto the children of men” (Mosiah 3:17). Those who are touched by these remarkable testimonies in the Book of Mormon can then add their witness to that of Nephi: “We talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ … , that our children may know to what source [we] may look for a remission of [our] sins” (2 Ne. 25:26).

There are many modern-day pioneers whose lives have been dramatically transformed by the power of this remarkable book and who are willing to sacrifice whatever is necessary to abide by its teachings. One such member, representative of thousands of others who could be cited, is Paull Hobom Shin. Because of the great example of an American soldier he met during the Korean War, the young Korean was doggedly determined to discover what made this Latter-day Saint military man so different from other American GIs he had encountered. The Korean youth suspected the difference had something to do with the Book of Mormon his soldier friend was always reading. The soldier had given him a copy—in English.

“Despite the fact that I could not read English,” Paull recalled, “I admired [the soldier] so much I determined to read the book at all costs. I took a quick ABC lesson from a fellow Korean, purchased an English-Korean dictionary, and started to read. I would read one word in the Book of Mormon, then I would refer to the dictionary for the meaning. I would write each word and its meaning down in a notebook. When I finished one sentence, I would try to translate the meaning with my own comprehension. At that time, we were not allowed light in the combat zone, so each night, even in the sweltering heat of the Korean summer, I would cover myself with a blanket to block out the light and read the Book of Mormon with a flashlight. It took me seven months to read the book once completely through.

“When I finished that first time, I did not really understand what I had read. Mostly I had only connected with the continual war stories. I asked [the soldier] how he had found the meaning of life in a book of unending war stories. He replied that perhaps I had missed the real point of the book and had better read it again! Because I could feel its importance to him, and I wanted to be like [him], during the next three years I read the book five times, trying to penetrate its depth with my limited language and life experience. Each time I read I understood at a different, deeper level. Finally, the fifth time, I caught the vision of Christ’s mission and His love for all people” (Converted to Christ through the Book of Mormon, 71).

The Book of Mormon is indeed a most remarkable volume because of its divine origin, its sacred and profound teachings, and its direct testimony of the Savior. But there is a power associated with the book that is greater than the sum of these things, a witness that leaves its mark indelibly on the souls of all who will read it and ask to know of its truth “with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ” (Moro. 10:4). That power is the witness of the Holy Ghost that the book is true. Throughout the world millions of Latter-day Saints have put the Book of Mormon to this test. Like modern pioneers, they boldly testify—along with the Prophet Joseph Smith, Jacob Hamblin, the Three Witnesses, and our modern prophets—of the truthfulness of this most remarkable book of books, the Book of Mormon.

Illustrated by Chris Hawkes

Left: Joseph Smith Receiving the Plates, by Kenneth Riley

The Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon: Oliver Cowdery (above, left), David Whitmer (above), Martin Harris (left). (Paintings by Lewis Ramsey.)

The Book of Mormon restores many “plain and precious” teachings whose loss was foreseen by Nephi. (Nephi Writing on the Gold Plates, by Paul Mann.)

A New Star, by Ronald Crosby

Christ Appearing in the Western Hemisphere, by Arnold Friberg

Illustrated by Chris Hawkes

Show References

  • Brent L. Top is associate dean of Religious Education at Brigham Young University.