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The Book of Mormon as a Witness of the Old Testament

TitleThe Book of Mormon as a Witness of the Old Testament
Publication TypeMagazine Article
Year of Publication1986
AuthorsPearson, Glenn L.
Issue Number6
Date PublishedJune 1986
KeywordsAuthorship; Isaiah (Book); Jesus Christ; Law of Moses; Moses (Prophet); Pentateuch

As the world devalues the Bible more and more, the Book of Mormon becomes an even more valuable witness of the truthfulness of the Bible. Doctrines found in the Book of Mormon clarify and substantiate the Bible—the divinity of Christ, the purpose of the law of Moses, and the true authorship of the books of Moses (the Pentateuch) and Isaiah.


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The Book of Mormon As a Witness of the Old Testament

By Glenn L. Pearson

For some readers of the Bible, the work of certain critics may cast in doubt the Bible’s status as a divinely inspired record. How, they reason, can one accept the Bible as revelation if, as some critics say, it doesn’t tell the truth about theology (such as the nature of God and man) and history (such as the Fall, the Flood, the division of the continents, and the Exodus)? And if those things are not true, how true are the moral and ethical laws the Bible teaches?

As a result, many Christians today believe the Bible only so far as it does not dispute the consensus of the scientific community or the moral consensus of the masses.

Fortunately, the Book of Mormon is a powerful witness that the Bible is true. It substantiates and clarifies much of what is in the Old and the New Testament. In the prophet Mormon’s last farewell and testimony, he told the Lamanites that the Book of Mormon was written that they might believe the Bible. The gospel, he said, would be written in “this record” (the Book of Mormon), and “also in the record which shall come unto the Gentiles from the Jews” (the Bible). And, he continued, “this [the Nephite record] is written for the intent that ye may believe that [the Jewish record]; and if ye believe that ye will believe this also.” (Morm. 7:8–9.)

Let’s look at some ways the Book of Mormon comes to the Bible’s defense:

The Divinity of Christ

The entire Book of Mormon is a witness of the divinity of Jesus Christ. In the words of one Lutheran minister who became convinced it was true, “It is the most Christ-loving book I have ever read. There is not one word in it which would lead a person away from Christ or into evil.”

One purpose of the Book of Mormon, as stated on the title page, is to convince both “Jew and Gentile that JESUS is the CHRIST.” When the Book of Mormon was published, most Christians believed that Jesus was the Christ, even if they may not have fully understood what that meant. But more recently, many Christians do not believe that he was the divine Son of God. Only our Father in Heaven could have known that such a turnaround would occur and that the Book of Mormon would be a crucial witness of his Son.

Old Testament writers worshiped Jehovah and knew that Christ was to be the Savior. (See Isa. 43:11; Isa 45:15, 21; Isa. 49:26; Isa. 60:16; Hosea 13:4.) The Book of Mormon verifies that fact: “That I might more fully persuade [my brethren] to believe in the Lord their Redeemer,” said Nephi, “I did read unto them that which was written by the prophet Isaiah.” (1 Ne. 19:23.)

A later prophet named Nephi again declared that Old Testament prophets had testified of Christ: “Moses did not only testify of these things, but also all the holy prophets, from his days even to the days of Abraham.

“Yea, and behold, Abraham saw of his coming, and was filled with gladness and did rejoice.

“Yea, and behold I say unto you, that Abraham not only knew of these things, but there were many before the days of Abraham who were called by the order of God; yea, even after the order of his Son; and this that it should be shown unto the people, a great many thousand years before his coming, that even redemption should come unto them.” (Hel. 8:16–18.)

Purpose of the Law of Moses

Another reason for the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, according to its title page, is to teach the Jews “the covenants of the Lord.” The true meaning of the law of Moses and of the covenants made with Israel isn’t found in ceremony, feasts, and celebrations—unless one has an understanding of what these rituals are pointing to Book of Mormon prophets clarify the true meaning of the law of Moses and the covenants the Lord made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

According to the Book of Mormon, the faithful descendents of Lehi who lived before Christ understood that the law of Moses pointed to Christ and to his sacrifice:

“They did keep the law of Moses; for it was expedient that they should keep the law of Moses as yet, for it was not all fulfilled. But notwithstanding the law of Moses, they did look forward to the coming of Christ, considering that the law of Moses was a type of his coming, and believing that they must keep those outward performances until the time that he should be revealed unto them.

“Now they did not suppose that salvation came by the law of Moses; but the law of Moses did serve to strengthen their faith in Christ; and thus they did retain a hope through faith, unto eternal salvation, relying upon the spirit of prophecy, which spake of those things to come.” (Alma 25:15–16.)

“Behold, this is the whole meaning of the law, every whit pointing to that great and last sacrifice; and that great and last sacrifice will be the Son of God, yea, infinite and eternal.” (Alma 34:14.)

After Paul was converted, he became painfully aware that he had not understood the Old Testament. Like most Jews at the time, he had been “looking beyond the mark.” (Jacob 4:14.) Instead of using laws and rituals as a means to find Jesus, they had looked beyond Christ and had focused on the laws and rituals themselves.

Paul declared that Israel was afflicted by the Lord with a blindness of spirit that would persist until the time of the “fulness of the Gentiles” had arrived. (Rom. 11:25.) He quoted Isaiah, applying it to the Jews of his day: “The heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.” (Acts 28:27.)

When Paul was under house arrest in Rome, awaiting his trial, he called for the prominent Jews of the city to visit him. When they came, he “expounded and testified the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus, both out of the law of Moses, and out of the prophets, from morning till evening.” (Acts 28:23.) Paul thus indicated his understanding that without seeing Jesus everywhere in the Old Testament, there is no understanding of the Old Testament at all.

The Book of Mormon can serve as the Lord’s great opener of eyes and ears to an understanding of the Old Testament. And isn’t that what Isaiah said in his great prophecy of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon? After telling about the coming forth of the sealed book and its miraculous translation, he said, “In that day shall the deaf hear the words of the book, and the eyes of the blind shall see out of obscurity, and out of darkness.

“The meek also shall increase their joy in the Lord, and the poor among men shall rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.” (Isa. 29:18–19.)

“Myths,” Miracles, and Cataclysms

The theory of biological evolution has led many people to believe in social evolution as well. Some Bible scholars have encouraged this notion, saying that part of the social evolution was an evolution of religion from primitive concepts to modern, enlightened concepts. For instance, the idea of a God in human form (anthropomorphism) was considered primitive. A more enlightened concept of God, they reasoned, would make him a spirit god lacking substance and filling the immensity of space. Some critics cast doubt on the books of Moses by saying they are a compilation of myths from primitive peoples.

The Book of Mormon is a powerful witness of the historical reality of many events mentioned in the books of Moses. For example, it is clear from the writings of Book of Mormon prophets that Adam and Eve were, in fact, our first parents. It is also clear that they did not have a primitive religion they received and understood the gospel of Jesus Christ. (See, for example, 2 Ne. 2:19–26.)

While some critics question the universal effect of the Fall, the Book of Mormon establishes it: “If Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the garden of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they would have remained forever, and had no end.” (2 Ne. 2:22.)

Another example of a Bible story generally considered to be myth is the account of the confusion of tongues at the Tower of Babel. The Book of Mormon account of the Jaredites, however, exonerates the Genesis account. (See Ether 1:3, 33; Omni 1:22.)

As indicated on the title page of the Book of Mormon, one role of the Nephite record is to show the Israelites “what great things God hath done for their fathers.” Many today do not believe in the miracles of the Exodus in a literal sense. Book of Mormon prophets, on the other hand, testify of them.

In the Book of Mormon we learn that the waters of the Red Sea were indeed parted “hither and thither” and that the Israelites crossed “on dry ground.” (1 Ne. 4:2.) And Nephi gave his brothers a long account of many other miracles God performed for Moses and the Israelites, testifying of their reality. (See 1 Ne. 17:24–42.)

One of the most unusual accounts in the Bible is that of Joshua commanding the sun not to go down. (See Josh. 10:12–14.) This, too, is verified by the Book of Mormon. (See Hel. 12:14–15.) The context of the Helaman account apparently an editorial comment by Mormon makes it clear that the writer is not just passing on a superstition the Nephites had brought with them from the Old World. Instead, the writer is recounting miracles and physical phenomena to illustrate the power of God. He is describing a cosmology in which God intervenes and actively participates to bring about his purposes: Valleys become mountains, and mountains become valleys. Men are visited with famine, pestilence, and death. The very earth itself is shaken and moved from its course.

Mormon is not recounting superstitions. He is seriously describing God’s power. And this is the same Mormon who was told to put the “Small Plates” in the record for “a wise purpose” (W of M 1:7), and who was told not to include other things (see, for example, 3 Ne. 26:11).

The way we got the Book of Mormon eliminates the possibility of treating it as a record of legends handed down from primitive peoples. It was not discovered by archaeologists and translated by linguists. Instead, it came forth by the power of God through the instrumentality of prophets, angels, miracles, and divine instruments. It was designed and nursed through the ages by God. And when it had been translated, the voice of the Lord was heard by witnesses, saying that the book is true and the translation is correct. Its witness of the Old Testament must be taken seriously.

Authorship of the Books of Moses and Isaiah

Some critics question the authorship of the books of Moses by dating them much later than Moses’ time. Here again, the Book of Mormon verifies the traditional understanding that Moses was the author. According to Nephi’s writings, the brass plates—the “record of the Jews” and a “genealogy of my forefathers” (1 Ne. 3:3)—contained “the five books of Moses, which gave an account of the creation of the world, and also of Adam and Eve, who were our first parents.” (1 Ne. 5:11.) Since these books were included in the scriptures that he and his family had in their possession in 600 B.C., they were obviously written before that date.

Critics also question whether Isaiah was the author of the book that bears his name. One of the assumptions they make is that a prophet cannot foretell. Hence, since Isaiah named Cyrus as the future deliverer of the Jews from captivity (see Isa. 44:28; Isa. 45:1), critics assume that a later person, a “deutero,” or second, Isaiah—someone who lived after Cyrus—must have written this part of Isaiah in approximately 540 B.C. (See Encyclopedia Judaica, s .v. “Isaiah.”)

For some readers, this issue casts doubt on the integrity of the Bible and on its value as an inspired authority. But those who believe the Book of Mormon know that prophets can prophesy. Christ’s name was known centuries before his birth (see 2 Ne. 10:3), and so was his mother Mary’s (see Mosiah 3:8). Joseph Smith was identified by name some 3500 years before he was born. (See 2 Ne. 3:15.) If one understands the role of a prophet, it’s not hard to believe that a prophet could have identified Cyrus by name two hundred years before he was born.

The Nephite copy of the book of Isaiah came to America in 600 B.C., several decades before so-called Deutero-Isaiah supposedly lived and wrote. And it includes quotes from both the “first-Isaiah” chapters (Isa. 1–39) and the “second-Isaiah” chapters (Isa. 40–66), giving credit to Isaiah for all. Book of Mormon prophets and the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ refer to the prophet Isaiah many times—as a man who wrote (see 1 Ne. 15:20), who spoke judgments (see 2 Ne. 25:6), who saw the premortal Messiah (see 2 Ne. 11:2), and who testified of future events (see Hel. 8:18–20).

Other Biblical Questions

Careful students will discover a multitude of passages in the Book of Mormon that shed light on the Old Testament. Here is a sample of the kinds of things that can be found:

Q: What was the meaning of the brazen serpent on a staff raised up by Moses in the wilderness?

A: “Did [Moses] not bear record that the Son of God should come? And as he lifted up the brazen serpent in the wilderness, even so shall he be lifted up who should come.

“And as many as should look upon that serpent should live, even so as many as should look upon the Son of God with faith, having a contrite spirit, might live, even unto that life which is eternal.” (Hel. 8:14–15.)

Q: Why were the Cannanites deprived of the Promised Land?

A: “The Lord esteemeth all flesh in one; he that is righteous is favored of God. But behold, this people had rejected every word of God, and they were ripe in iniquity; and the fulness of the wrath of God was upon them; and the Lord did curse the land against them, and bless it unto our fathers; yea, he did curse it against them unto their destruction, and he did bless it unto our fathers unto their obtaining power over it.” (1 Ne. 17:35.)

Q: What light does the Book of Mormon shed on the meaning of the sealed book prophecy as contained in Isaiah 29:11–12? [Isa. 29:11–12]

A: The book refers to the Book of Mormon and to the sealed portion of the plates of Mormon. It shall come forth in the last days; witnesses shall testify “to the truth of the book and the things therein”; the Lord will “proceed to do a marvelous work among this people, yea, a marvelous work and a wonder.” (See 2 Ne. 27.)

Q: To whom did Isaiah refer when he said, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings” (Isa. 52:7)?

A: He was speaking of “all the holy prophets ever since the world began”; “those that are still publishing peace”; “those who shall hereafter publish peace, yea, from this time henceforth and forever”; and, to a much greater extent, “the founder of peace, yea, even the Lord, who has redeemed his people.” (See Mosiah 15:13–19.)

Q: Who are the seed of Jesus that Jehovah promised he would see (Isa. 53:10)?

A: “Whosoever has heard the words of the prophets, yea, all the holy prophets who have prophesied concerning the coming of the Lord—I say unto you, that all those who have hearkened unto their words, and believed that the Lord would redeem his people, and have looked forward to that day for a remission of their sins, I say unto you, that these are his seed, or they are the heirs of the kingdom of God.

“For these are they whose sins he has borne; these are they for whom he has died, to redeem them from their transgressions. And now, are they not his seed?

“Yea, and are not the prophets, every one that has opened his mouth to prophesy, that has not fallen into transgression, I mean all the holy prophets ever since the world began? I say unto you that they are his seed.” (Mosiah 15:11–13.)

Q: What are Jesus’ feelings about the prophet Isaiah and his writings?

A: The resurrected Savior told the Nephites: “A commandment I give unto you that ye search these things diligently; for great are the words of Isaiah.” (3 Ne. 23:1.)

There are many other examples of the Book of Mormon’s insights into the Old Testament. Many of these are noted in the footnotes of the LDS edition of the King James Bible.

The Book of Mormon another testament of Jesus Christ is an important witness of the Old Testament.

Glenn L. Pearson, a former professor of religion at Brigham Young University, is a temple worker and a member of the Murray (Utah) Twenty-eighth Ward.