What are the best evidences to support the authenticity of the Book of Mormon?
January 1987

“What are the best evidences to support the authenticity of the Book of Mormon?” Ensign, Jan. 1987, 53–55

What are the best evidences to support the authenticity of the Book of Mormon?

Ellis T. Rasmussen, professor emeritus of Religious Education at Brigham Young University. The best support for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon is the testimony of the Holy Spirit. In fact, the Lord has exhorted us to seek that kind of witness not only of the entire Book of Mormon, but also of its parts. When Moroni, the last author in the Book of Mormon, gave the promise of spiritual confirmation, he spoke especially of particulars:

“When ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.

“And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.” (Moro. 10:4–5; italics added.)

The essence of the witness of the Holy Ghost is the witness of the book itself. Great concepts impressively written bear within them a witness of validity and divine origin more convincing than any clues that external evidences can provide, however helpful they may be. Such is the case with the Book of Mormon.

Attempts to prove or disprove the book’s authenticity by focusing on Joseph Smith’s description of how he obtained the gold plates, or on anthropological and archaeological evidence, though interesting, can be only marginally successful. Reconstructing history is difficult at best. The evidence is always incomplete—a clay inscription and a bit of pottery here, or a journal entry and a newspaper account there—so any picture that researchers develop will be, by nature, fragmentary. That picture will change as new information becomes available.

In contrast to the indecisive nature of external evidence, the Lord has provided a way to obtain decisive support for the book’s authenticity—“the Spirit of truth … will guide [us] into all truth.” (John 16:13.) This search is of necessity an individual matter. No matter how many millions have found the gospel and the scriptures true, and no matter how many people have joyfully lived the commandments, each new candidate must gain his own testimony. The Spirit’s witness comes only after individual effort and sincere seeking.

God the Father has set up a system of witnesses for the Book of Mormon. The book openly claims that it is the word of God. Joseph Smith and eleven other witnesses also testified of the book. The Bible itself serves as a witness of the Book of Mormon, and to this is added the witness of the Father himself through the Holy Ghost.

Furthermore, the individual parts of the ancient record—the doctrines, teachings, prophecies, and narratives—carry within them a spirit of authenticity. For me, this internal evidence has been, next to the witness of the Holy Spirit, the most convincing. From the many in the book, I’ve chosen seven key concepts that I feel are especially moving:

The intent of the Book of Mormon authors is to bring us to Christ. Nephi, the young prophetic author of the first books in the record, stated this clearly:

“The fulness of mine intent is that I may persuade men to come unto the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, and be saved.” (1 Ne. 6:4; see also 2 Ne. 26:33.)

Moroni, the last person mentioned in the record, writes, “Again I would exhort you that ye would come unto Christ. … Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness.” (Moro. 10:30, 32.)

Without a single exception, every prophet between the two teaches us about Christ in some way, and nearly every page of the book contains some reference to him. The overriding intention of the book fits fully the intention of authentic scripture.

Nephi teaches that the condescension of God—the gift of the Savior’s ministry and the saving sacrifice of the Atonement—demonstrates God’s love. In one revelation, an angel asked Nephi, “Knowest thou the condescension of God?” (1 Ne. 11:16.) One meaning of the word—patronizing someone—has a negative connotation, but the other meaning is quite positive: “to waive dignity or superiority voluntarily and assume equality with an inferior.” (Random House Dictionary of the English Language, 1971 unabridged edition.)

To the angel’s question, Nephi replied that he knew that God loved his children but that he didn’t know the meaning of all things. He had just been shown in vision the town of Nazareth, and in it he had seen a beautiful virgin. After the angel’s question, Nephi saw her again with a baby in her arms.

The angel identified the baby as the Lamb of God, the Son of the Eternal Father, equating the gift of Jesus with the love of God. Then the angel declared, “Look and behold the condescension of God!” and Nephi saw the Redeemer of the world teaching the gospel and offering himself as a sacrifice. (See 1 Ne. 11:17–33.)

Eight chapters later, Nephi wrote again of Jesus’ sacrifice:

“The world, because of their iniquity, shall judge him to be a thing of naught; wherefore they scourge him, and he suffereth it. Yea, they spit upon him, and he suffereth it, because of his loving kindness and his long-suffering towards the children of men. …

“[He] yieldeth himself, according to the words of the angel, as a man, into the hands of wicked men, to be lifted up, according to the words of Zenock, and to be crucified, according to the words of Neum, and to be buried in a sepulchre, according to the words of Zenos.” (1 Ne. 19:9–10.)

This is a moving statement of divine condescension, of how God lovingly came to earth and accepted persecution, crucifixion, and suffering so great he bled from every pore. The concept of God’s condescension, unique to the Book of Mormon, is a powerful witness of the truth of the Book of Mormon.

The Book of Mormon identifies the roles of “the Holy Messiah.” The Old Testament prophets spoke often of a divinely appointed future king, of a Davidic branch with great power, and of a suffering servant who would save Israel. Despite the many Messianic prophecies, the use of different titles for the Messiah has caused confusion over who the Messiah was to be and what he was to do.

The Book of Mormon, however, is explicit about the name of the deliverer—Messiah and Christ are synonymous terms—and his work. Lehi, for example, taught his son Jacob that “redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah.” He went on to talk of the Messiah’s grace and truth, his sacrifice and mercy, and his intercession for all. (See 2 Ne. 2:6–10.)

In addition to this teaching, other Book of Mormon prophets discuss why Christ’s sacrifice had to be infinite in its outreach (see 2 Ne. 9:7; 2 Ne. 25:16); how man would always be subject to the devil—carnal, sensual, and devilish—without the Atonement (see 2 Ne. 9:8–9; Mosiah 16:3; Alma 42:9–10); and what relationship the Mosaic law has to the Atonement (see Mosiah 3:15).

These teachings clarify the role of the Messiah, and their insights bear within them the stamp of divine authenticity.

The Book of Mormon views the Bible as a great religious heritage from the Jews. The band of Lehi that fled Jerusalem took with them a copy of the Law and the Prophets of brass plates. So valuable was the record that they risked their lives to obtain it. Even 450 years after the time of Lehi, King Benjamin spoke of the importance of these plates:

“I would that ye should remember that were it not for these plates, which contain these records and these commandments, we must have suffered in ignorance, even at the present time, not knowing the mysteries of God.” (Mosiah 1:3.)

Nephi also saw in vision the effect the Bible would have in the future. He saw that the Bible would “go forth from the Jews in purity unto the Gentiles, according to the truth which is in God” and that his peoples’ record and the Bible would verify each other and become established as one. (1 Ne. 13:25, 40–41.)

At a later time, Nephi prophesied that most would not acknowledge or thank the Jews for their record:

“What thank they the Jews for the Bible which they receive from them? … Do they remember the travails, and the labors, and the pains of the Jews, and their diligence unto me, in bringing forth salvation unto the Gentiles?

“O ye Gentiles, have ye remembered the Jews, mine ancient covenant people? Nay; but ye have cursed them, and have hated them, and have not sought to recover them.” (2 Ne. 29:4–5.)

These are but a few samples from the Book of Mormon on the worth of the Bible, a theme whose validity rings true and which can easily be tested.

The Book of Mormon prophesies of its role as a companion witness with the Bible. When the Book of Mormon was first published in 1830, it boldly declared on its title page that its purpose was “the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations.” Many felt then that the claim was presumptuous, yet the millions of readers who have since believed in Christ because of the Book of Mormon have proved that the purpose was valid.

The role of the Book of Mormon as a companion witness of Christ was explained to Nephi by an angel. Nephi learned that the scriptures of his descendants would “come forth unto the Gentiles, by the gift and power of the Lamb. …

“And the words of the Lamb shall be made known in the records of [Nephi’s] seed, as well as in the records of the twelve apostles of the Lamb; wherefore they both shall be established in one.” (1 Ne. 13:35, 41.)

The Book of Mormon performs a complementary role with the Bible, declaring that the “whole meaning of the law of Moses” is to point our souls to Christ, our divine Redeemer. (See Alma 34:13–14.)

In our day, when billions of people do not know the gospel of the Lamb of God, and when many doubt the Bible and the divinity of Jesus, a second witness of the Savior is sorely needed so mankind can know the truth and obtain the blessings of the gospel. This witness is provided by the Book of Mormon and serves as one more mark of its truth and authenticity.

The Book of Mormon is full of valuable warnings and admonitions about the last days. Oftentimes the warnings are detailed and clearer than those in the Bible. One example is a warning in 2 Nephi 27, [2 Ne. 27] the Book of Mormon rendering of Isaiah 29. [Isa. 29] Many readers of Isaiah 29 have difficulty understanding who is being warned and what the warning is. Nephi’s account, however, is a clear warning to the people who fight against Zion—the people of the Lord in the last days. It follows a chiastic realignment of phrasing:

a “In the last days … all the nations of the Gentiles and also the Jews … will be drunken with iniquity and all manner of abominations.

b “They shall be visited of the Lord of Hosts” with great catastrophes.

c “All nations that fight against Zion … shall be as a dream of a night vision; … even as unto a hungry man which dreameth, and behold he eateth but he awaketh and his soul is empty.

c1 “Or like unto a thirsty man which dreameth, and behold he drinketh but he awaketh and behold he is faint … ; yea, even so shall … the nations be that fight against Mount Zion.

b1 “All ye that doeth iniquity, stay yourselves and wonder, for ye shall cry out, and cry [apparently because of the catastrophes].

a1 “Ye shall be drunken but not with wine, ye shall stagger but not with strong drink.” (2 Ne. 27:1–4.)

Through study and prayer, a critical reader may test such statements of warning and admonition. In this area of scripture, too, the Book of Mormon bears witness that it is valid, valuable, realistic, and authentic.

The authors of the Book of Mormon are deeply concerned with the welfare of individual souls. The word soul in the Book of Mormon most frequently denotes the eternal self. Worship centers in the soul, and the devil seeks to cheat the souls of men. If one yields to the devil but later repents, it is the soul that is racked with torment until repentance takes place. When communication comes from heaven, it pierces the very souls of men and women.

In his farewell address, Nephi urges his people to adopt a way of life that will be good for the welfare of their souls: “I say unto you that ye must pray always, and not faint; that ye must not perform any thing unto the Lord save in the first place ye shall pray unto the Father in the name of Christ, that he will consecrate thy performance unto thee, that thy performance may be for the welfare of thy soul.” (2 Ne. 32:9; italics added.)

These seven points are only a brief sampling of the internal evidences that the Book of Mormon is true and authentic scripture. But the real burden of proof of its authenticity lies with each reader. In each instance of doctrine, in each narrative passage, in each great character of the Book of Mormon, the Lord has challenged us to ask the Father in the name of Christ whether these things are true, and he will manifest the truth unto us by the power of the Holy Ghost.