Posted By Eric Ethington-Boden on August 19, 2016
The 4th lesson in the Mormon’s Gospel Doctrine manual (Book of Mormon edition) covers 1 Nephi 12-14, Nephi’s supposed vision of the future of his family’s descendants in America, and some present day events.
1 Nephi 12. Nephi sees in vision his descendants and the descendants of his brothers. He sees them war against each other and sees the wicked destroyed before the visit of the Savior. He sees them live righteously for a time following the visit of the Savior but then fall away into wickedness.
Before getting into the specifics of what this chapter says, I would be remiss to not point out that there’s nothing remarkable about a book correctly “prophesying” about what is going to happen later in the book, given that we don’t actually have any evidence that the Book of Mormon wasn’t just written by Joseph Smith and his fellow founders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
To actually be convincing as a prophecy, the claim needs to meet certain requirements (courtesy of Iron Chariots):
- A prophecy must be written before the events it predicts
This may seem obvious, but it is necessary. A passage like “And I saw two armies arrayed, and the northern army destroyed the southern one” might be a simple eyewitness report of a battle. But if it were discovered years after the event, it might be mistaken for a prophecy.Similarly, the prophecy must not be altered after the fact. In the example above, a later editor might take World War II to be the fulfillment of the prophecy, and might alter the prophecy to read “And I saw Russian and German armies arrayed, and the Russian army conquered Germany”. Since this second version was written after the events that it purports to predict, it cannot be considered a prophecy.
- The prediction must be both falsifiable and verifiable
If a prophecy claims that world peace will be brought by someone, but then, when it does not occur, one can come back and make the claim that it never said it would happen in this world, it is unfalsifiable since there is no way, if a “next world” does not exist, to demonstrate that fact. An unverifiable prophecy would be one such as “Building X will be holy, and will represent the promise that a given war will never happen again”. There is no observation that can be made either with human senses or scientific instruments that can demonstrate that. It is unverifiable.
- The prophesied events must actually occur
Again, this requirement may seem too trivial to mention, but if the predicted events never occur, then the prophecy fails.If the prophecy does not impose any time constraints on the prediction, then believers can, of course, claim that the prophecy has not yet been fulfilled.
- The prophecy must not be overly vague
If a prediction is vague enough, then any number of events can match it. A prophecy like “Two powers shall strive, and an empire shall fall” could mean any number of things: two countries going to war, and one of them being defeated; or two countries going to war and destroying a third country; or even two supermarket chains competing for customers, and one of them going out of business.If the prophecy is vague, and can apply to various situations, it becomes difficult or impossible to tell which one, if any, the prophet had in mind. This is to the prophet’s advantage, since it becomes difficult to discredit him.
Personally, I would add one further criteria: that the fulfillment of a prophecy must happen independent of the prophecy itself. For example, if someone were to prophesy on national television that a couple by the name of John and Sally will visit 10 specific places around the globe in the next month, every couple named John and Sally who want the prophesy to come true will go visit those 10 places. To be even considered, the fulfillment of the prophecy would need to be from a John and Sally who did not know of the prophecy. (My hypothetical violates the requirement of being overly vague, you would need to be more specific than just “John and Sally,” but hopefully it illustrates the point.
And it came to pass that I beheld many generations pass away, after the manner of wars and contentions in the land; and I beheld many cities, yea, even that I did not number them.
Many generations pass away, wars and contentions: Not exactly a prophecy, this has been true for virtually every single generation that has ever lived. ‘I beheld many cities:’ Interestingly, none of these cities have ever been verified to have existed. The consensus among most LDS apologists is that the majority of the events in the Book of Mormon took place in Guatemala and southern Mexico, however the only Mesoamerican population in that area with actual cities is the Mayans. Unfortunately, the Mayan civilization predates the Book of Mormon’s timetable (beginning around roughly 600 BC) by over a thousand years. Additionally, the Mayans did not speak the “reformed Egyptian” the Book of Mormon claims Nephi is writing in (and for good reason, there’s no evidence the language ever even existed), nor does their written history align in anyway with the stories in the Book of Mormon (individual and cities’ names, events, etc.).
And it came to pass that I saw a mist of darkness on the face of the land of promise; and I saw lightnings, and I heard thunderings, and earthquakes, and all manner of tumultuous noises; and I saw the earth and the rocks, that they rent; and I saw mountains tumbling into pieces; and I saw the plains of the earth, that they were broken up; and I saw many cities that they were sunk; and I saw many that they were burned with fire; and I saw many that did tumble to the earth, because of the quaking thereof.
There were earthquakes and thunderstorms. This is a clear violation of the requirement for prophecy not to be too vague.
And a great and a terrible gulf divideth them; yea, even the word of the justice of the Eternal God, and the Messiah who is the Lamb of God, of whom the Holy Ghost beareth record, from the beginning of the world until this time, and from this time henceforth and forever. (emphasis added)
Interestingly, in the original 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon, the emphasized words read “…and Jesus Christ, which is the Lamb of God…” Presumably, after it was first published Joseph Smith or another of the church’s founders noticed that the original text was in violation of 2 Nephi 10:3, which claims to be the first time Jesus’ name is revealed to the Nephites. (There have been other changes to the Book of Mormon, which Joseph Smith claimed was “the most correct” book on Earth since its original publication, one of the more interesting are the five changes that changed trinitarian references to god—the more common belief that god, jesus, and the holy ghost are the same person—into the current Mormon nontrinitarian doctrine that the three are wholly separate beings.)
And it came to pass that I beheld, after they had dwindled in unbelief they became a dark, and loathsome, and a filthy people, full of idleness and all manner of abominations.
Another example of the rampant racism throughout the Book of Mormon. Even if you accept some LDS apologists’ arguments that “dark” actually refers somehow to a person’s “spiritual countenance,” the verse is still applying the racist generalizations of filthy, idle, loathsome, and abomination-prone to the Native Americans. (One note on that apologist claim of the meaning of “dark:” this would seem to be little better than a post hoc rationalization. This is another good example of why a book, subject to translations and changing colloquial usage of words, is one of the worst possible vehicles for a god’s teachings.)
1 Nephi 13. Nephi sees in vision the formation of the great and abominable church, the colonization of the Americas, the Apostasy, and the Restoration of the gospel in the last days.
While growing up in the LDS Church in Utah during the 80s, I distinctly remember being taught that the “great and abominable church” was the Catholic Church. Several current and former members I’ve spoken with recall the same teaching. However, the Gospel Doctrine manual now stresses to teachers that they must “[e]mphasize that the great and abominable church is a symbol of apostasy in all its forms. It is a representation of all false doctrine, false worship, and irreligious attitudes. It does not represent any specific church in the world today.”
And it came to pass that I looked and beheld many waters; and they divided the Gentiles from the seed of my brethren. And it came to pass that the angel said unto me: Behold the wrath of God is upon the seed of thy brethren. And I looked and beheld a man among the Gentiles, who was separated from the seed of my brethren by the many waters; and I beheld the Spirit of God, that it came down and wrought upon the man; and he went forth upon the many waters, even unto the seed of my brethren, who were in the promised land. And it came to pass that I beheld the Spirit of God, that it wrought upon other Gentiles; and they went forth out of captivity, upon the many waters. And it came to pass that I beheld many multitudes of the Gentiles upon the land of promise; and I beheld the wrath of God, that it was upon the seed of my brethren; and they were scattered before the Gentiles and were smitten. And I beheld the Spirit of the Lord, that it was upon the Gentiles, and they did prosper and obtain the land for their inheritance; and I beheld that they were white, and exceedingly fair and beautiful, like unto my people before they were slain.
Here we have the Book of Mormon “prophesying” about the coming of the Europeans to the Americas, starting with Christopher Columbus and then later the English pilgrims. It should be strongly noted here that the book’s god is endorsing the rape, murder, and horrific acts perpetrated against the Native Americans by the White colonialists, calling it the “wrath of God” against them. However, the Mormon Church claims that it does not believe in Original Sin (see the second Article of Faith), so it is confusing that the Native Americans (hundreds of years after the final battle between the Nephites and the Lamanites, when god’s church and his teachings disappeared from the Americas) are facing god’s wrath for something their great great great great great (etc.) grandparents supposedly did. This is easily one of the most racist claims within Mormon doctrine, the idea that the “white, and exceedingly fair and beautiful” Europeans were somehow justified in committing acts of genocide and the the other atrocities justly labeled as perhaps the greatest evils ever perpetrated on this continent.
13:20-42. Nephi sees the bible being carried and taught in the Americas, referred to as the book that “proceedeth out of the mouth of a Jew.” These verses are fascinating, in that they acknowledge that the bible as we know it today does not reflect what the original looked like. In verse 26, it says that after the bible has proceeded unto the Gentiles from the Jews, “thou seest the formation of a great and abominable church, which is most abominable above all other churches; for behold, they have taken away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and most precious; and also many covenants of the Lord have they taken away.” First, this would seem to be an explicit endorsement of the ‘great and abominable church’ church being the Catholic Church, as it was the rise of the Catholics as the proto-orthodoxy (as coined by historian Bart Ehrman in his excellent book Lost Christianities) in the early A.D. centuries who decided which of the estimated dozens of gospels and other books would be included in the canon of the bible. The Book of Mormon does say which of the rejected gospels and apocryphals should have been included (the Apocalypse of Peter is fun, although it does support a docetic Christology. The Infancy Gospel of Thomas is more amusing, recounting the tales of Jesus as a child – when he was quite the prankster, bringing to life clay birds, cursing a friend to death for pushing him and then blinding the friend’s parents when they complained to Joseph and Mary).
And the angel spake unto me, saying: These last records, which thou hast seen among the Gentiles, shall establish the truth of the first, which are of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, and shall make known the plain and precious things which have been taken away from them; and shall make known to all kindreds, tongues, and people, that the Lamb of God is the Son of the Eternal Father, and the Savior of the world; and that all men must come unto him, or they cannot be saved. (emphasis added)
Another trinitarian-related change from the original version of the Book of Mormon. In the 1830 edition, it read “…the Lamb of God is the Eternal Father…”
1 Nephi 14. Nephi sees in vision the blessings promised to the Gentiles who remain faithful, the cursing that will come to the Gentiles who do not remain faithful, and the ultimate victory of the Church of the Lamb of God over the great and abominable church.
1 Nephi 14 is an incredibly vague chapter. But the basic idea is that everyone who repents and believes in the Mormon Church will prosper and be saved, while anyone who believes in the great and abominable church, the “whore of all the earth,” is doomed. It’s interesting, Nephi hasn’t been shy about getting really specific in his prophecies during certain time periods. Seeing Columbus, the founding of America, the “smiting” of the Native Americans, and the coming forth of the Book of Mormon – all of that was told in surprising detail. However, after the Book of Mormon is brought forth and the LDS Church is established, the prophecy starts getting extremely vague again, only mentioning that the members of the church will be relatively few compared to the rest of the world, and that there will be “wars and rumors of wars” all over the world (has there been a single time in all of history when that wasn’t the case?). It’s almost as if the author of the book had an understanding of history up until the 1830s, but not of anything afterwards. Verse 28 does, however, provide the explanation for this, with Nephi explaining that he was “forbidden” from writing the other things he did see.
But, before Nephi finishes out the chapter, he does manage to say that the angel told him that it was the apostle John who will write the Book of Revelations (somewhere around 700 years in the future). However, we now know that the “John” who wrote the Book of Revelations (sometime around the end of the 1st Century to the beginning of the 2nd Century) almost certainly was not the apostle John who supposedly accompanied Jesus, but either a different John or even a pseudonym.
Manual’s conclusion to lesson 4:
Explain that Nephi’s vision provides an overview of much that has occurred and will yet occur in the history of the earth. It also shows us that we must choose between only two options: following Jesus Christ or working against Him and thus following Satan. Remind class members that the blessings promised in 1 Nephi 14 are available to all of us if we choose to follow Jesus Christ.
Unfortunately, 1 Nephi 12-14 provides little in the way of reliable prophecy or even good morals. Prophecy that is fulfilled in the same book, without any reasonable evidence that the author is not the same throughout, isn’t prophecy at all. And the fact that the specifics of the prophecy come to a screeching halt once the history catches up with 1830 when the Book of Mormon was first published, should leave readers skeptical (to say the least).
But beyond that, the idea that the rape and murder of the Native American peoples by White colonialist Europeans was sanctioned by a god is just barbaric and disgusting. If there is a god, and that god is accurately portrayed in the Book of Mormon, not only is that god unworthy of worship, but it should be shunned as a monster.