I recently ended up in a conversation online about the Book of Mormon. The conversation began due to an article about several of the historical claims from the Book of Mormon being called into serious question. A skeptic made an interesting statement on this topic. Their argument was that yes the Book of Mormon’s story is ridiculous, but it’s no better than the Bible. The only reason, he claimed, that we’re able to debunk the Book of Mormon and not the Bible is that one is 2000 years old, the other is only 200.
But is that true? Is the only difference in our holy books their age? Is it simply a matter of time? Do we not scrutinize the Bible enough because so much information has been lost in 2000 years? We can quite confidently answer no to all these questions.
1. 2000 Years of Scrutiny
First, I think this skeptic is making a false assumption. They seemed to think that people have been lenient and willing to overlook issues with the Bible because of its age. The truth is quite the opposite. The New Testament in particular has received constant scrutiny since the very beginning. If anything, the Book of Mormon’s criticisms are still in their infancy by comparison. For 2000 years Christians have had to contend that the claims in the gospels are true while being pressured to say otherwise. It’s not like people only started arguing these points in the last couple hundred years. Right after Jesus was buried, the chief priests began to spread a story that the body was stolen. People were contesting the reliability of the accounts before they were even written on a page.
2. What’s the Difference Between the Two?
Regardless of false assumptions, is their any weight to their claim? Both the New Testament and the Book of Mormon are making objective claims. They give information that is either true or false, and not just up to personal belief or interpretation. Jesus either died and rose again or he didn’t. Paul either went to Rome or he didn’t. Joseph Smith either read the golden tablets through a “Seer Stone” or he didn’t. Lehi and other Jews either sailed to the Americas and populated them as Nephites and Lamanites, or they didn’t. These are claims that can be verified if we have the proper evidence.
But have they been verified? Is that even possible? The skeptic didn’t seem to think so, since he believed you can’t prove miracles from history. I can sympathize somewhat, since to me the idea of reading gold plates through a rock to learn about an ancient tribe of South American Jews sounds absurd. But for many the idea of God being born of a virgin, walking on water, and rising from the dead sound just as absurd. For the moment lets set aside any bias for or against God and the supernatural. What do the facts of history show?
New Testament History
Despite the 2000 years of scrutiny, the New Testament has held up astonishingly well. There are thousands upon thousands of early manuscripts, giving us a clear idea of what the text said. We have corroboration of many people and events found within the texts from both friendly and hostile accounts. We even have unintentional evidence, such as the research Richard Bauckham has done into the common names of people in that specific time and place. More specifically on the resurrection, just consider the minimal facts approach taken by the likes of Gary Habermas and Michael Licona. Not only do we have nothing conclusive to show that these events didn’t happen other than a bias against the supernatural, but we have positive evidence that these things did happen. The only question we are really left with is this. If the New Testament was presented with such extreme accuracy in everything else, is it possible it was also accurate in its description of miracles?
Book of Mormon History
The Book of Mormon cannot be nearly so confident. No Archaeological and Anthropological evidence has been found to show that there ever was a South American culture like the one claimed by Smith. Further, we have good reason to believe he had no real way of translating texts. While we, and nobody else for that matter, ever saw the gold tablets again, we do have other texts that Smith supposedly translated in the same way, such as the Book of Abraham. We have the original papyrus that the book was translated from, and it says nothing like what Smith wrote down.
So is it simply a matter of time? If the New Testament had been written in the 1800s and the Book of Mormon in the first century, would we still believe the way we do? Despite the 2000 years, we still have great evidence supporting the reliability of the New Testament, from multiple fields of study. We not only lack evidence to favor Joseph Smith’s work, but we have evidence actively working against it. 200 or 2000 years would not change that.
Discuss your thoughts for this post on our Facebook Group here.