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It is commonly held in religion that the authenticity and authority of Scripture is highest in its original text, since human translators can introduce errors and misunderstandings not present originally.

However, in the case of the Book of Mormon, the translation is a bit unique given that:

  1. We don't have a copy of the original Reformed Egyptian
  2. Joseph Smith made his translation not by his own linguistic knowledge, but with divine aid and under direct instruction from an angel (who presumably is not subject to the ordinary flaws of human translators)

Given this, does the English text Book of Mormon have just as much authority as, say, the Greek text of Matthew's Gospel or the Hebrew text of Genesis? Or does Joseph Smith's translation have the same ordinary flaws we would expect from any translation of original Scripture?

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    The original gold plates were supposed to have been inscribed in "Reformed Egyptian" - a language that does not appear to be known by any linguist. Since Joseph Smith claims to have had divine help to translate this unknown language into English, then there can be no way to prove the authenticity of what Joseph Smith wrote down since the gold plates "disappeared" . Can you please provide us with more information and links to official LDS sources to back up your question? Please take our Tour to see what we look for in good questions: christianity.stackexchange.com/tour
    – Lesley
    May 27 at 16:35
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    Does this question/answer help? christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/67153/…
    – Lesley
    May 27 at 16:41
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    @HoldToTheRod I plead ignorance to text criticism issues related to the Book of Mormon. It's great you brought it up. I'll be interested to read their take on them vis a vis the current edition that they distribute among members. Being a mainstream Nicene believer of course I don't place any value on the Book of Mormon, but I appreciate LDS members I personally know who try to live out their faith by genuinely loving their neighbors (LDS and non-LDS alike). May 28 at 0:17
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    @HoldToTheRod I moved my original comment to Nigel's answer, since you in fact answered from LDS perspective (I misread it). +1 for this question, and +1 for your answer. May 28 at 3:29
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    @curiouslds your question needs to explicitly state whose authority it is talking about otherwise its confusing the people attempting to answer from their own perspectives.
    – Peter Turner
    May 29 at 14:14
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Does the English text Book of Mormon have just as much authority as, say, the Greek text of Matthew's Gospel ?


The New Testament part of the Holy Bible, that is to say the collection of volumes contained in, for example, the Authorised Version, from Matthew to Revelation, is compiled from thousands of manuscripts, either partial, fragmented or (rarely) complete ; also from many tens of thousands of Patristic Citations (Dean John Burgon collated over 96,000) ; also from Lectionary references, similar to the more modern 'Book of Common Prayer' ; and from the 'Versions' that is to say the translations of the apostles' words into Syriac, Coptic, Latin and other languages.

On the other hand, the Book of Mormon is from a single anecdotal source. I say 'anecdotal' as there is only verbal testimony of its existence and that restricted to less than a handful of witnesses.

Also, its method of translation is obscure, to say the least, and cannot be verified by any means.

I cannot see how there could be any comparison of 'authority' (as the OP puts it) between these two sources of information, that is to say the Greek Text of the books of the New Testament as attributed to eight authors (nine if one does not attribute Hebrews) in comparison to the English presentation of the Book of Mormon.

Purely on the consideration of the matter regarded solely on the basis of the science of textual criticism, the comparison of the Book of Mormon to the Holy Bible is, in my view, impossible, as there is insufficient evidence of the existence of the original of the former to form any substantial view of the validity of its English presentation.

The Book of Mormon can only be assessed on another basis than that of Textual Criticism. But that is the fundamental basis of the Greek Text from which we get the English Bible.

If the two documents are produced on totally incompatible methods of compilation I do not understand how their 'authority' can be 'compared'.

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    This is not answering the question. The OP is asking LDS church's stance on whether the lost Book of Mormon's original manuscript is more authoritative than the Joseph Smith's English translation of it just like how most denominations assign greater authority to the best surviving Greek manuscript more than the English translation. Non-LDS should not judge using non-LDS denomination own's doctrine of inerrancy, inspiration, authority, and even textual criticism practice. LDS has their own doctrines for that. May 28 at 3:27
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    When this question was originally posted it did not have the LDS tag. That has been added. On the basis of the original question I don't see that the OP is asking for the official LDS position. Or have I missed something here?
    – Lesley
    May 28 at 6:36
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    @Lesley To me, the only way to make this question makes sense and useful is to answer it within LDS doctrines. Non LDS doesn't even consider the Book of Mormon Scripture, how then would "authority" makes sense? Hence my earlier comment. I think we should let LDS members to intervene in this Q. (BTW I didn't vote down Nigel's answer.) May 28 at 11:54
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    I'm of the LDS faith and parts of this answer hold true but I'd have a slightly different interpretation of some of the points. I provided an LDS perspective answer below
    – depperm
    May 28 at 12:43
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    @Lesley, Grateful simply tagging LDS does not an LDS doctrine question make. The title, body of the question etc.. have to match. This should be closed as a Truth Question until the catch-22'ed ness of the question can be resolved.
    – Peter Turner
    May 29 at 14:10
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Does the English text Book of Mormon have just as much authority as, say, the Greek text of Matthew's Gospel or the Hebrew text of Genesis?

There is always some meaning lost in any translation from one language to another. Given this fact, I'd say it has the same amount of authority as English translation of Matthew (JST version). It is also the closest translation from the source and so also does have as much authority/authenticity possible for a translation, in that Joseph Smith did [the] interpretation thereof by the gift of God.1

1 The Book of Mormon: Title Page

2

First, the original text of what became known as “The Book of Mormon” was Reformed Egyptian hieroglyphics, plus Chaldaic, Assyriac and Arabic, inscribed on gold plates, Smith said, which had to be translated by him into English. Smith apparently kept them in a box about 8 inches by 8 inches, and 5 inches thick; a mass of gold that size would weigh about 250 pounds. However, the original text on those gold plates is not available to check, so nobody can say Smith’s translation is perfect or imperfect, even if anybody knew what “Reformed Egyptian” hieroglyphics were.

Second, the Latter Day Saints Article of Faith 1:8 states that, “We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.” This means that the LDSs do not consider the Bible to be as accurately translated as is their Book of Mormon, for they attach no such proviso to it as they do to the Bible. Joseph Smith’s own annotated version of the King James Bible shows how often he considered the Bible to have been badly (i.e. inauthentically) translated. His marginal notes show how he considered the Bible “should” have read. There are no such annotations alongside their Book of Mormon. Clearly, they consider it to be an authentic translation whereas they view the Bible to have suffered many mistranslations over the centuries.

So, when the question is asked, “Does the English text Book of Mormon have just as much authority as, say, the Greek text of Matthew's Gospel or the Hebrew text of Genesis?” I would respectfully suggest that the real question here is, “Given that the LDS view of the Bible is that it has not remained authentically translated from the original koine Greek or from the ancient Hebrew, do they view the Book of Mormon in English to be authentically translated and, therefore, superior in reliability to the scriptures of the Bible?” If, when push comes to shove, LDSs go by Joseph Smith’s annotated King James Version rather than it, then they view Smith’s Book of Mormon to be authentic, while they view the King James Version to be imperfect.

This is not meant to cause offense but to flag up the simple fact that the LDS does not view the Bible to have remained authentic scripture over the centuries (otherwise Joseph Smith would not have written his annotated version), whereas they view their Book of Mormon to be authentic scripture requiring no annotated corrections.

A problem with this is the fact that the English Book of Mormon has required several editions since it was first produced in 1830, indicating that the latest edition is deemed to be more accurate (i.e. authentic) than the first edition. The first translation of the Book of Mormon was published under the title "The Book of Mormon: Joseph Smith describes himself as the AUTHOR & PROPRIETOR of the book." However, in later translations this was quickly changed to read "Joseph Smith Jnr. TRANSLATOR". And the original golden plates were whisked away by an angel after Smith had finished with them. So, what is the textual manuscript evidence for the Book of Mormon? I quote:

“The Mormon church has the original handwritten copy of the Book of Mormon as made by the scribes as reportedly dictated by Joseph Smith. This handwritten copy is in the archives of the church and not available for us to study. All that is available to the critic is a photo reprint of the original printed edition of the Book of Mormon, 1830 edition. This is called, ‘Joseph Smith Begins His Works, Volume 1” printed by Wilford C. Wood of Bountiful, Utah.” [Available from Modern Microfilm, 1350 S. West Temple, Salt Lake City, UT 81501. These volumes are available today.]

“There have been several revisions of the original Book of Mormon. A number of revisions have been made down through the years of time resulting in our present Book of Mormon. An examination of the photo reprint of the original edition of the Book of Mormon as compared with our present edition shows that there have been over 4,000 changes made. This is between just two copies. The New Testament has about twenty significant textual problems. Between the early Book of Mormon and the present Book of Mormon, there have been over 4,000 textual problems. These problems are a part of the very fabric, the warp and the woof, of the text. These problems consist of poor grammar, poor English, mispronounced words, and historical and geographical errors that run throughout the text.” [A Comparison of the Bible and Book of Mormon From a Text Critical View, p8 of typed manuscript, by Dr. Charles Arthur Crane, Caldwell, Idaho 1982)

I submit these points as providing evidence that the LDS view their translated Book of Mormon as superior (in terms of authenticity) to that of the English translation of the King James Bible. I am not a member of the LDS religion but offer this evidence as worthy of consideration equally by LDS members as by those who prefer the English King James Version of the Bible (minus Joseph Smith’s annotations).

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    Thank you for your thoughtful assessment of this question from multiple viewpoints. May I offer 2 points of clarification? 1) The plates of gold would structurally have to have been an alloy, rather than pure gold. Those who held them estimated the weight at 50-60 lbs, suggesting a gold-copper alloy. May 28 at 18:15
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    2) Most of the original BoM manuscript (O) was destroyed by water in the 19th century -- the first copy that was made (P) is essentially fully extant, and it contains known copyist errors. Subsequent editions of the BoM have sought to correct the errors perpetuated by P. which was the source used for BoM printings in both the US & England in the 1830s. Like most of the 400,000 known New Testament variants, most of the variants from P (and its descendants) are not theologically material. There's a handy O vs. P summary here May 28 at 18:16
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    I'll also add that when Joseph Smith listed himself as the author and proprietor that was for copyright reasons not because he was the author, and it was changed later to reflect that. The printers manuscript is available for study.
    – depperm
    May 29 at 17:10
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    @depperm Noted as well, but I'm resisting temptation to detail the far more serious problems re. various editions of the BofM as mentioned by Dr. Crane, the "historical and geographical errors that run throughout the text.” It may be worth raising a specific question about that, to get to the nub of the problem, as a printer's manuscript proves nothing regarding the original text which is unavailable.
    – Anne
    May 29 at 18:01
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    can you add a source to that document as I cannot find it (my google fu seems to be lacking). This might be Dr Charles Crane who seems to be an anti-mormon. Considering the LDS stance on geography is [to] not take a position on the specific geographic locations of Book of Mormon events in the ancient Americas. Speculation on the geography of the Book of Mormon may mislead instead of enlighten; such a study can be a distraction from its divine purpose. source, citing a known critic of the LDS mentioning errors in geography seems to misrepresent LDS beliefs
    – depperm
    May 29 at 18:09
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Preface

I will offer the perspective of one who believes the Book of Mormon. Those who do not believe the Book of Mormon will disagree with most of what I say, and may even take offense at my comments. My intent is not to offend you, but to share my beliefs as they relate to the OP's question.


The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not teach a doctrine of scriptural inerrancy that is comparable to, say, the Chicago Statement on Biblical inerrancy.

The official doctrinal statement is:

We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God. (Articles of Faith 1:8)

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Translation

The Book of Mormon itself provides a direct answer to the question of authenticity -- Moroni described the future of the record he was burying as follows:

Written and sealed up, and hid up unto the Lord, that they might not be destroyed—To come forth by the gift and power of God unto the interpretation thereof—Sealed by the hand of Moroni, and hid up unto the Lord, to come forth in due time by way of the Gentile—The interpretation thereof by the gift of God (Title page of the Book of Mormon).

The Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon (including Oliver Cowdery, who served as scribe for most of the translation) bore the following testimony:

And we also know that they [the plates] have been translated by the gift and power of God, for his voice hath declared it unto us; (see here)

What made the original record authoritative? It was given by inspiration of God.

What made the translated record authoritative? Same thing.

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Inspiration

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints hold a somewhat different view of inspiration than is found elsewhere -- we believe God's words never cease (see Moses 1:4, Pearl of Great Price), and that He speaks as authoritatively today as He did in the past.

We believe that God works through small and simple things (see Alma 37:6-7) and can accomplish His works through the weak and simple things of the earth (see Doctrine & Covenants 1:23).

We do not hold that inspiration is a rare, inaccessible, or historically inerrant process, nor do we believe that the human element--the recipient--is removed from the equation. If a scriptural author miscounted the number of people present or made a mistake in arithmetic this does not annul the inspiration the person received while writing the record--it just means God got His work done through an imperfect person, and what they wrote was adequate for His purposes. If not so, why work through human efforts at all? Neither in the spoken nor written word is perfection necessary for revelation to be received & conveyed (Although the scriptures teach much about history this is not their fundamental purpose. They were given to teach doctrine. I am not the least bit concerned if occasionally they got a little of the history wrong).

Much of the time, the Holy Ghost impresses thoughts upon people's minds, and those faithful-yet-imperfect people put those thoughts into their own words. Is it possible that two people could receive the same inspiration and yet put it into slightly different words? Yes.

And yet, God is sufficiently powerful that He is capable of getting His work done through imperfect people.

My own experience with the process of receiving revelation is described here.

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Authority

Some reading the section above will be concerned that, if the Holy Ghost can reveal anything to any person, where is there any order or authority?

Latter-day Saints believe in the principle of stewardship, and that God reveals to people what is appropriate for their stewardship. E.g. a Bishop can receive revelation for his ward, a mother & father for their family, but only the Prophet can receive revelation for the world. We are counseled to be wary of false revelation, and that God will not reveal to one individual something that is contradictory to what He has revealed through His authorized spokesperson (see Doctrine & Covenants section 28).

One (of many) of the benefits to the structure given by God is that prophets, seers, and revelators provide guard rails against which we can check our own efforts to understand the truth, as we grow into the principle of revelation (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sustains The First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as prophets, seers, and revelators).

One way God's methods of revealing truth is described is that He uses 3 channels:

  • The Priesthood Channel (authorized representatives holding authority for their area of stewardship)
  • The Personal Channel (personal revelation through the Holy Ghost)
  • The Creation (God created a universe that obeys laws and gave us minds that can test and discover those laws)

The information available through each of these channels will be in harmony with that of the others, if we have understood it properly.

The ultimate authority then is not scripture, but God Himself. The scriptures are authoritative because they came from God.

NT Wright (not a Latter-day Saint) observed the following, which was quoted in General Conference by apostle Jeffrey R. Holland:

The risen Jesus, at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, does not say, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth is given to the books you are all going to write,’ but [rather] ‘All authority in heaven and on earth is given to me.’ (N. T. Wright, The Last Word: Beyond the Bible Wars to a New Understanding of the Authority of Scripture (2005), xi)

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Original language

Again, it is not my purpose to give offense, but rather to explain a principle on which I differ from others when it comes to the focus on the original language of scripture.

It has at times been suggested that a record cannot be truly inspired scripture if it is not preserved in its original language (I'll call this "the Premise"). I'll cite 4 of the reasons why I do not hold this view:

  1. It is nowhere taught in scripture

  2. It commits the historical fallacy of presentism -- even the books of the Bible have not all been available in the original languages since the date they were composed (see discussion by Tresmontant in The Hebrew Christ p. 24) -- so if we in the 21st century adopt this principle, we are assuming the Bible was written for us right now but not for people of several centuries ago. I emphatically disagree.

  3. We don't have 100% of the original Biblical texts as they were recorded in the autographs. This leads to the reductive argument called "the all or nothing trade-off" If inspiration is all or nothing, since we can only recreate ~99.5% of the original NT and for the OT the % is even lower, that would mean the Bible is not inspired. If we reject the all or nothing trade-off, we must conclude that only some portions of the autographs (the ones that survived) were inspired. To claim that all original texts of the Bible must be extant today because the texts were inspired is to argue in a circle. On either side of the all-or-nothing tradeoff we are left with a less-than-fully-inspired Bible. This difficulty is avoided if "the Premise" above not accepted.

  4. That God revealed a principle to one person in one language in no way abridges His ability to reveal it to another person in another language. Human words themselves are not "the truth", but rather a vehicle for conveying the truth.

To borrow an idea from Papias of Hieropolis:

For I imagined that what was to be got from books was not so profitable to me as what came from the living and abiding voice (see here)

To modify the idea slightly, the living and abiding voice of the Holy Ghost is most profitable for "doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness" (see 2 Timothy 3:16). The inestimable value of the scriptures is that they were given by revelation through the Holy Ghost through God's appointed servants, and the scriptures given by inspiration will best be understood by inspiration.

But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Cor. 2:14)

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Conclusion

To those who believe that God speaks as authoritatively today as He did in the past, truth from God is not limited to what was said at one time and place in the past.

Because the Book of Mormon was translated into English by the gift and power of God, it is as authoritative in English as it was in Reformed Egyptian.

My own personal conviction of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon comes not through my study of history or languages (though I find both very interesting), but in the manner in which Moroni taught: by the power of the Holy Ghost. Although that testimony is substantiated by many arguments developed by the wisdom of men, its foundation is and must always be revelation from God.


Disclaimer: my comments are the product of my own study and do not constitute official statements by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

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    @Hot Rod Interesting that you should invoke a disclaimer! So does that mean the sources you quoted are not reliable? Or better yet, how do I know they are reliable? How do you discern between the "spiritual" content of your "scripture" and the historical, factual claims upon which those "spiritual" truths are supposedly founded? For example, since "Alma" never existed, there is no reason to think that anything he said has any true "spiritual" validity, let alone he actually existed "historically." And a "burning in the bosom" is not evidence. Disclaimer! Not making fun of burning in the bosom
    – Mr. Bond
    May 27 at 22:12
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    @Mr.Bond please be respectful. You have poked fun at my faith but have not responded to any of my arguments. I include a disclaimer in all of my posts that discuss the views of my church, and in the dozens of theological videos on my channel, because I am not an authorized spokesperson for my church. I do not speak for all Latter-day Saints and my disclaimer is intended to be respectful of them. My thoughts on your other 2 questions are found in the video I cited in my post. May 27 at 22:32
  • @Mr.Bond I did not discuss burning in the bosom here or in the aforementioned video, that would be a lengthy discussion on its own. I happen to believe Alma was a real person for the same reasons that are discussed in this post. I will try to be respectful of your beliefs and would ask the same in return. May 27 at 22:35
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    @Hot Rod. No, I am not poking fun at your faith, that's the last thing I would do. I purposefully said, i.e disclaimer that I'm not making fun of you. I am well familiar with Lds teachings and even debated prominent Mormon leaders/apologist many years ago. One of them was a man named Van Hale, you can look him up.
    – Mr. Bond
    May 27 at 22:42
  • @Mr.Bond thanks, I sensed sarcasm when maybe none was there, appreciate your clarifying. BTW my username is "Hold To The Rod" rather than "Hot Rod" =) May 27 at 23:49

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