As I reflected upon the relationship between faith and scholarship, I have come to realize something I feel is crucial in regards to historicity of scripture: we should evaluate historicity as a matter of faith; not as a matter of scholarship. When examining whether or not the Book of Mormon, Book of Abraham, or Book of Moses contain any historical truth, we often overlook necessity of the fundamental principle of it: “it rests first upon faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.”[1] Satan moves scriptures wholly to a secular sphere because it invites skepticism. While many evidences exist in favor of the historicity of the Book of Mormon[2] and Book of Abraham[3], there exists much to explore and uncover. Indeed, we do not have a complete picture of any ancient civilization, especially not in the Americas. By transitioning the conversation about historicity into an entirely secular sphere, we do not encounter scriptures on the terms that they must be encountered upon.

Affirming historicity corroborates with Joseph Smith’s narrative about the ancient texts themselves and enables effective warrants upon which to build faith. It allows the reader to develop a cohesive philosophical system upon which to read the text. It takes the text on its own terms instead of dictating how the text be taken. Determining historical authenticity or probability of a text requires the believer to both study it out and exercise faith in Jesus Christ.

We identify scripture as sacred and inspired (by the Holy Spirit) literature[4], not merely historical records or fiction. A definition of scripture from scripture reads: “shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation.”[5] Historicity exists as a necessary element of scripture because God cannot will falsehoods so deviant from the historical narrative presented.[6] While imperfect men act as the vehicle for scripture from a perfect member of the Godhead, the power and inspiration of their words provide evidence of their possession of priesthood and prophetic authority and they must be historical to possess a power and demonstrate it. [7]

To claim that such texts lack historicity has larger theological ramifications than may appear obvious at first. If the Book of Mormon, Book of Abraham, and other texts lack historicity, then only the theological and moral concepts taught are true. If only these parts are true, then God could not have inspired portions of scripture where historical events are recounted. It requires the subordination of revelation and elevation of empiricism to create this claim. This in turn changes the parameters that the text demands we use to determine its authenticity.[8]

Scripture demands a spiritual witness because it reflects the means by which it was authored. Without that scriptural witness, then the scriptures exist merely as words woven together—deligitimizing any claim it might make to having theological authority to tell us why we’re here and moral authority to direct our thoughts and behaviors. Kent P. Jackson confronted the “inspired fiction” position after examining what Joseph Smith said about the Book of Mormon in public sermons, private conversations, and revelations contained in the Doctrine and Covenants as well as what the Book of Mormon claims about itself and concludes that “[t]he book’s repeated assertion of its historicity, the faithful testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith concerning it, and the voice of God speaking to us of it through the Doctrine and Covenants join with the spirit of personal revelation and testimony in bearing witness that the Book of Mormon is a genuine historical record of ancient origin.”[9]

To discount the witnesses that corroborate the physical nature of the gold plates as well as Joseph Smith’s repeated testimony of the historical authenticity of the book might as well be a repudiation of the entire Restoration because the way to test Joseph Smith’s word about the Restoration are his fruits: the scriptures he restored. By suggesting the historicity of scripture is irrelevant to one’s testimony, we miss the message and purpose of the Restoration.

Regarding the Book of Mormon, in the Testimony of Eight Witnesses, we read: “and we also saw the engravings thereon, all of which has the appearance of ancient work” and in the Testimony of Three Witnesses, we read: “a record of the people of Nephi, and also of the Lamanites, their brethren, and also of the people of Jared.” Beyond Joseph Smith, those who saw the plates and were involved in the translation process attest that it is an ancient record, delivered to the earth by the literal visitation of angels. To suggest otherwise dismantles the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ. When Joseph Smith claims that these texts—including the Pearl of Great Price and Book of Mormon–are of ancient origin, that means either they are ancient and Joseph restored the priesthood and gospel of Christ to the earth or they are not ancient and he did no such things.

The Book of Mormon is not merely folklore or mythology, constructed to lead others to becoming more moral individuals. It does not purport to be that. It describes itself as “an abridgment of the record of the people of Nephi, and also of the Lamanites…[convincing] the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations.”[10]  Affirming that the Book of Mormon isn’t historical would mean that Jesus did not show himself to the aforementioned peoples and, consequently, one cannot truly accept the Book of Mormon as a work of true scripture since it would not fulfill its stated purposes.

Perhaps when we speak about the historicity of these scriptures, we’re approaching them too much through a secular academic lens. We search for archaeological, linguistic, and historical corroboration for them—a noble effort that we need to continue to pursue – but I don’t believe that that alone is what should constitute a testimony of their historicity. I believe we have sufficient evidence to demonstrate their antiquity; but even if we did not, merely having evidence for the ancient nature of these records does not constitute an authentication of the text.

The knowledge of the historicity of the ancient texts that Joseph translated comes through a divine witness of the Holy Spirit.[11] Elder Jeffrey R. Holland declared that “[i]f anyone is foolish enough or misled enough to reject 531 pages of a heretofore unknown text teeming with literary and Semitic complexity without honestly attempting to account for the origin of those pages—especially without accounting for their powerful witness of Jesus Christ and the profound spiritual impact that witness has had on what is now tens of millions of readers—if that is the case, then such a person, elect, or otherwise, has been deceived.”[12] Inherent to Elder Holland’s excellent comments is the belief that these pages represent an ancient work. Without that belief, it is obvious that Elder Holland would conclude that the impact that these pages would have on individuals would be diminished or eliminated. Why stake someone’s membership in the Church on it if not of paramount importance? More importantly, however, is that Elder Holland makes the testimony of Jesus Christ and the spiritual witness of millions the most important evidence of The Book of Mormons’ truthfulness.

While we may quibble over how these texts might be historical and ancient, we must remember that we are first and foremost a religious people and not a group of historians engaging in a social club. Paraphrasing the Doctrine and Covenants, the historicity of these ancient texts is a matter of scholarship, but more importantly a matter of faith. It is a matter that is integral and foundational to a testimony of Jesus Christ. May we never separate faith from study (nor study from faith) in this matter nor any matter pertaining to the kingdom of God. By shifting the conversation to both a union of scholarship and faith, we better understand the purposes of the two individually.





[5] D&C 68:4

[6] Enos 1:6

[7] Deuteronomy 18:15-22

[8] Moroni 10:4


[10] “Title Page” to The Book of Mormon

[11] “Introduction” to The Book of Mormon


Hanna SeariacHanna Seariac is a MA student in Greek and Latin at Brigham Young University. She is writing a book on the history of the priesthood and another one that responds systematically to anti-LDS literature. She works as a research assistant on a biblical commentary and as a producer on a news show. She values Jesus Christ, family, friends, hiking, baking, and really good ice cream.

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