The Book of Mormon is something worth noting at Christmas time: It’s a second witness for Jesus Christ. It begins, on its title page, by declaring that it comes forth “to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations.” The magnificent chiasm of Alma 36 is literally centered on Christ.
The most important event it records is the appearance of the resurrected Christ in America, an event that’s impossible unless Christ is divine and truly resurrected. It concludes with an invitation to “come unto Christ, and be perfected in him” (Moroni 10:32), and it testifies that “there is no other way nor means whereby man can be saved, only through the atoning blood of Jesus Christ" (Helaman 5:9).
Moreover, it’s a second witness to the essential truth of the New Testament gospels.
Book of Mormon authors knew in advance that Jesus would come to earth and take a physical body (and they knew the approximate time of his coming). Several saw him before his mortal advent. They knew his name-title, “Jesus Christ.”
They knew the name of his mother and that she would be a virgin. They knew the place of his birth.
They foresaw his baptism, including its location, and other specific details of the ministry of John the Baptist. They knew that he would call 12 apostles to assist in his ministry. King Benjamin prophesied of his many miracles.
The Book of Mormon confirms the authenticity of many of the sayings ascribed to Jesus in the gospels, and the unity of the Sermon on the Mount.
Its prophets expected his suffering in the garden of Gethsemane and his atoning death by crucifixion, knowing also of the three days of darkness that would follow. They understood the sacrifices of the law of Moses as foreshadowing his death. They predicted his resurrection. (For scriptural references, see “Jesus Christ: Ministry of Jesus Christ” at eom.byu.edu.)
But is the Book of Mormon true? I cite two testimonies:
“There was,” Joseph Smith’s younger brother William recalled in 1875, 30 years after his alienation from the church, “not a single member of the family of sufficient age to know right from wrong but what had implicit confidence in the statements made by my brother Joseph concerning his vision and the knowledge he thereby obtained concerning the plates. Father and mother believed him; why should not the children? I suppose if he had told crooked stories about other things, we might have doubted his word about the plates, but Joseph was a truthful boy. That father and mother believed his report and suffered persecution for that belief shows that he was truthful” (“Joseph Smith's First Vision,” by Milton V. Backman Jr. (Salt Lake City, 1980).
Writing in December 1839 of his sufferings in Missouri’s infamous Liberty Jail, Hyrum Smith, Joseph’s older brother and one of the Eight Witnesses to the Book of Mormon, testified that “I had been abused and thrust into a dungeon, and confined for months on account of my faith and the testimony of Jesus Christ. However, I thank God that I felt a determination to die, rather than deny the things which my eyes had seen, which my hands had handled, and which I had borne testimony to ; and I can assure my beloved brethren that I was enabled to bear as strong a testimony, when nothing but death presented itself, as ever I did in my life” (see “Stories from the Early Saints,” by Susan Easton Black (Salt Lake City, 1992).
Four and a half years later, Hyrum Smith did seal his testimony with his blood. The Greek word “martyr” means “witness.”
In modern times, amid abundant historical documentation, the Lord has given us a book that “contains the record of a fallen people, and the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles and to the Jews also; which was given by inspiration, and is confirmed to others by the ministering of angels, and is declared unto the world by them — proving to the world that the holy scriptures are true” (Doctrine and Covenants 20:8-12).
These are glad tidings at Christmas.
Daniel Peterson teaches Arabic studies, founded BYU’s Middle Eastern Texts Initiative, directs MormonScholarsTestify.org, chairs mormoninterpreter.com, blogs daily at patheos.com/blogs/danpeterson, and speaks only for himself.