Most people - Mormons and non-Mormons alike - assume that the Mormon religion is based on its holy book, the Book of Mormon and that by reading that book one can learn what Mormonism is all about. Mormon missionaries usually try to get prospective converts ("investigators") to read it as soon as possible, implying that by doing so the investigator will get an accurate idea of Mormonism.
Although the publication of the Book of Mormon in 1830 was the impetus for the founding of the Mormon church (the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), Mormonism is not rooted doctrinally in the Book of Mormon. It is used primarily for faith-inspiring stories, not for doctrine, even though God (through Joseph Smith) declared that it contains "the fulness of the Gospel" (D&C 20:9). Its doctrinal content is quite representative of wide-spread Christian beliefs in Joseph Smith's day. Many of its doctrines are now ignored or have been abandoned by the church, and many other doctrines have been adopted, as the following summary shows:
Abbreviations UsedD&C - Doctrine and Covenants
DoS - Doctrines of Salvation, by Joseph Fielding Smith (3 volumes)
JoD - Journal of Discourses (26 volumes)
MD - Mormon Doctrine, 2d edition, by Mormon Apostle Bruce R. McConkie
TJS - Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith
Citations under "Book of Mormon" are to its various books
Citations to works linked above can be checked at those links.
Mormon Doctrine Book of Mormon Heaven consists of three levels or "glories"; evil people go to the lowest, "hell" (D&C 76:81-90), the glory of which "surpasses all understanding. Only Mormon apostates do not go to heaven, but to "outer darkness" (D&C 76:31-39) Only two possible fates after death: heaven or hell. Levels or degrees of heaven are not mentioned. Jesus and God the Father are separate beings. (D&C 130:22) Jesus and God the Father are the same. (Mosiah 3:8, 15:1-5, Ether 4:7, 12) God has a body of flesh and bones. (D&C 130:22) God is a spirit. (Alma 18:26-28) God was once a man like us, and progressed to godhood. (TJS 342-345) God does not change and has never changed. (Mormon 9:9, Moroni 8:18) There are many gods. (TJS 370-373) There is only one God. (Alma 11:28-30) We can become gods ourselves. (D&C 76:58, 132:20, TJS 342-345) No mention of this idea. We lived with God in a spirit world (a "premortal existence") before being born into this life. (D&C 49:17, 93:23-29, 138:55-56) No mention of this idea. God is the literal father of our spirits, conceived by him and our "Mother in Heaven" (MD 516) No mention of this idea. Mary conceived Jesus by natural means, namely, God the Father impregnated her. (MD 546-47, JoD 1:50-51, 8:115, 11:268) Mary conceived Jesus "by the power of the Holy Ghost" (Alma 7:10), by being "carried away in the spirit" (1 Nephi 11:15-19) Those who do not accept the gospel in this life will have the opportunity to do so after death, and can receive baptism by proxy (D&C 127, 128) Salvation must be attained in this life; after one dies it is too late (Alma 34:34, 2 Nephi 9:38, Mosiah 2:36-39). No mention of baptism for the dead. David and Solomon did nothing wrong by having many wives. (D&C 132:38-39) The polygamy of David and Solomon was "abominable" to the Lord (Jacob 2:24) Priesthood divided into an upper (" after the order of Melchizedek") and lower ("Aaronic") priesthood No distinction between "priests" and "high priests"; priesthood is "after the order of [the Son of] God" (Alma 4:20, 13:1-12). No mention of "Aaronic" priesthood. Salvation in the highest heaven ("exaltation") requires undergoing the "endowment" initiation ceremony in a temple, the details of which are kept strictly secret. The participants are required to take numerous oaths, which are also secret. Details "Secret combinations" requiring secret oaths are condemned. (Mormon 8:27, 40, 2 Nephi 26:22, Helaman 6:22, and many others.) No mention of any such ritual as part of the gospel. No mention of "exaltation" or "endowment." Exaltation requires marriage in a Mormon temple. (D&C 131:1-4) No mention of this doctrine. "Celestial marriage" lasts for time and all eternity. (DoS 2:58 ff) No mention of this doctrine. The "first resurrection" is only for the righteous. (D&C 76:64. 63:18) The "first resurrection" is for all who died before Christ's resurrection, righteous and unrighteous alike (Mosiah 15:24, Alma 40:16-17) The "idea that the Father and the Son dwell in a man's heart" is false. (D&C 130:31; verse 22 says that it is the Holy Ghost that "dwell[s] in us") "The Lord" dwells in the hearts of the righteous. (Alma 34:36) The Lord's Supper ("the sacrament") consists of bread and water. The Lord's Supper should consist of bread and wine. (3 Nephi 18:1-9, Moroni 5) Only the priest blessing the sacrament kneels. The priest is to kneel with the church while blessing the sacrament. (Moroni 4:2; see also D&C 20:76) Use of alcohol, coffee, tea ("hot drinks") or tobacco is forbidden. (D&C 89) No such commandment. Church is governed by the three men of the "First Presidency," higher in authority than the Quorum of Twelve. Jesus placed twelve disciples over the church he founded in America. (3 Nephi 12, passim) No "first presidency" mentioned. Except for Joseph Smith, all prophets are promoted to that office by those above them in rank, and by seniority. They work their way up to the top. Prophets are called directly by God. The church is trying to befriend people of other religions with the message "All churches have some truth"; "The church has always extended a hand of friendship and fellowship to those of other faiths, and will continue to do so." There are two churches only: the true church and the "church of the devil," "the whore of Babylon" (1 Nephi 14:10-12). A church which seeks to become "popular in the eyes of the world" is of the devil. (1 Nephi 22:23) Since 1978 the church claims that it is not racist, that all races are equal and that the color of a person's skin has no religious significance. A dark skin is a curse from God, a punishment for one's unrighteousness (or the unrighteousness of one's ancestors). A dark skin can become light through righteousness. (1 Nephi 12:23, 2 Nephi 5:21, Alma 3:6, Mormon 5:15, Jacob 3:8-9, 3 Nephi 2:15) The church teaches that faith, repentance, baptism are the "first principles" of the gospel, but that in order to obtain the highest degree of heaven, much more is required (obedience, tithes, endowment, etc.) Christ says that the gospel is faith, repentance, baptism ONLY. Any teaching beyond that will lead to hell. (3 Nephi 11:31-40)
ConclusionMany Mormons have never read the Book of Mormon from cover to cover, and are perhaps unaware at how the doctrines of their church differ so drastically from the teachings of their own basic scripture, which - according to their eighth "Article of Faith" - they believe to be the word of God.
When confronted with these fundamental differences (and even contradictions) their first line of defense is to claim that the Mormon church is a church of "continuing revelation" (ninth Article of Faith), that being the purpose of a living prophet. This overlooks the fact that the Book of Mormon was said by God to contain the "fulness" of the Gospel. Some Mormon apologists claim that "fulness" does not mean "complete," but rather "fundamentals," or "basics," and that the Book of Mormon does contain the "first principles" of faith, repentance, baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost. This argument fails when seeing the meaning of "fulness" as used in other Mormon scriptures, where it does, indeed, mean "complete," "nothing lacking," "nothing left out."
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Original: August 1, 2005
Latest revision: August 10, 2019
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© 2005, 2019 Richard Packham Permission granted to reproduce for non-commercial purposes, provided text is not changed and this copyright notice is included
"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."
- Joseph Smith, History of the Church 4:461 (November 28, 1841)