Thursday, December 15, 2016
Elder D. Todd Christofferson speaks of the Book of Mormon at the Library of Congress
(by Sarah Jane Weaver deseretnews.com 12-8-16)
The Book of Mormon brings peace and comfort, counsel and guidance, inspiration and encouragement to more than 15 million members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints worldwide, said Elder D. Todd Christofferson at the Library of Congress on Dec. 7.
“The Book of Mormon is invaluable to believers,” he said.
Speaking during the event — which recognized the inclusion of the Book of Mormon in the “America Reads” exhibit at the Library of Congress — Elder Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said that beyond its impact on American literature and culture, the Book of Mormon remains “the keystone” of the LDS faith.
Elder Christofferson said since its publication in 1830, the Book of Mormon has garnered much attention, good and bad, with no shortage of epithets.
“Most recently the Book of Mormon has been added to the list of ‘Books that Shaped America’ and listed fourth on the Library of Congress’s ‘America Reads’ list of most influential books in American history,” he said.
There have been many critics of the book, he explained.
Church members, he added, “believe the first-hand accounts given by Joseph Smith and other eyewitnesses: that the Book of Mormon was literally translated by Joseph Smith from ancient gold plates through the gift and power of God.”
Elder Christofferson said Joseph never explained the precise mechanics of translating of the Book of Mormon and gave only two public statements regarding the process. Most of what is known about the method of translation comes from accounts recorded by scribes and other eyewitnesses, he said. For Latter-day Saints, the translation of the Book of Mormon was a miracle.
“Joseph dictated the entire 250,000-word, 600-page manuscript in some 65 working days between April and June 1829. This was done in a single draft with very few strikeouts or corrections. It is an especially remarkable feat given Joseph’s educational background.”
Elder Christofferson said the Church owns most of the 28 percent of the surviving original manuscript of the Book of Mormon, pages of which are publicly displayed in the Church History Museum and the Church History Library in downtown Salt Lake City. There are even plans to publish high-resolution images of the fragments of the original manuscript.
After the translation of the Book of Mormon and before its printing, two groups were shown the golden plates at different times, he explained. The “Testimony of the Three Witnesses” and the “Testimony of the Eight Witnesses” have been printed in every edition of the Book of Mormon since 1830, he added.
“While all three of the Three Witnesses and five of the Eight Witnesses later left the LDS Church for a time, none of them ever denied their sworn statements about seeing the plates,” said Elder Christofferson.
Latter-day Saints look to the Book of Mormon as a companion to the Bible, equal in significance and authority, he said. “The book is written in language similar to the Bible and contains both traditional and unique Christian teachings. It references Jesus Christ 4,000 times by more than 100 different titles. … The pinnacle of the Book of Mormon, moreover, recounts the visit and ministry of Jesus Christ to the ancient American inhabitants shortly after His resurrection in the Old World.”
With so much focus on the Savior and His teachings throughout the Book of Mormon, Elder Christofferson said it is no wonder the LDS Church added the subtitle “Another Testament of Jesus Christ” in 1982.
“The Book of Mormon, in short, serves as a critical source of inspiration and guidance for Latter-day Saints with stories and messages applicable to contemporary life,” he said.
However, the Book of Mormon was severely misunderstood when it was first published. “Those critical of Joseph Smith were less concerned with the content of the Book of Mormon than what it represented. The Book of Mormon was seen as a departure from traditional Christianity at the time of publication.”
Elder Christofferson said the Book of Mormon “drove a wedge between the Latter-day Saints and the rest of Protestant America” that defended the Bible as the sole Word of God. From the beginning, those who believed in the Book of Mormon were persecuted.
Even today in the 21st Century, where religious freedom remains the ideal in America, Latter-day Saints still see some of this same sense of intolerance and hostility toward religion, said Elder Christofferson. “Like our pioneer ancestors, we, and other religious communities across the country, continue to receive our share of suspicion and resentment for our beliefs and practices. People are increasingly questioning the value of religion in public life, forgetting that some of our most fundamental moral values, like honesty, integrity, and love and respect for all people are promoted and passed on to the next generation in religious settings.
“Religion is not simply being marginalized; it is under attack.”
“Today, we fight for religious freedom and liberty through civil discourse,” said Elder Christofferson. “For our 19th century ancestors, however, it took a cross-country migration to the Salt Lake Valley beyond the national borders of America to find space and refuge to practice their religion freely.”
Elder Christofferson said it is a miracle to see that what began with 5,000 copies in a small print shop in Palmyra, New York, in 1830 has resulted in millions of copies available in multiple languages around the globe. “As of today, over 176 million copies of the Book of Mormon have been printed since 1830. To date, the Book of Mormon has been translated into 110 languages — 89 full translations with selections of the book in another 21 languages.”
The Book of Mormon has since been digitized and published on LDS.org as well as the Church's mobile applications, he said.
The Book of Mormon has left a lasting legacy on American popular culture, he said. Many critics and apologists “have moved away from debates about the authenticity of the Book of Mormon and have come to appreciate the text for its literary qualities,” he said.
On a personal note, Elder Christofferson said his study of the Book of Mormon has given him an enhanced appreciation of the Bible.
“My own witness of Jesus Christ is rooted in both the Book of Mormon and the Bible,” he said. “It is through an ongoing study of the Book of Mormon that my knowledge and understanding of the Savior continues to expand and deepen.”
Concluding, Elder Christofferson extended an invitation that the Church has put in the playbill for the Broadway musical “The Book of Mormon.”
“You’ve seen the play, now read the book. The book is always better.”