“When Ye Shall Receive These Things”

Brant Gardner

Moroni’s mention of “when ye shall receive these things” is a reminder that the Book of Mormon was unavailable for a certain period (v. 3). Therefore, if and when we have the opportunity to receive the Book of Mormon, Moroni spells out our responsibility toward the text. “I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true,” he instructs. By “these things,” he means the whole text. He phrases our responsibility in an interesting “negative” formulation. He doesn’t ask that we pray to see if they are true but rather to ask if they are not true. Why this unusual request? Moroni is testifying to something that he knows is true. That truth is so obvious that the only reason for asking is if his future reader does not yet know the truth. For Moroni, the only person who would ask would be one who did not yet know it was true.

In what sense is the Book of Mormon true? One definition of “true” is that it is the opposite of false. The Book of Mormon would therefore be true as long as it is not false. That definition is not satisfying, for it would allow us to concentrate on the wrong aspects of “true.”

We already know that Moroni does not consider “true” to mean “an absence of errors.” On the Title Page, Moroni announces: “And now, if there are faults they are the mistakes of men.” It is also doubtful that Moroni considered “true” to mean “historically accurate.” No doubt he assumed that it was, but that is not his point. We do find some historical errors of interpretation in Mormon’s writings, but they do not make the text false in the way that Moroni is indicating.

Here is his definition of “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.” This is the evidence for the truth that Moroni declares for the Book of Mormon. It is true in that it correctly portrays God’s purposes. It is true in the same sense that the gospel is true, that the principle of faith is true. Its truth is discernible by the Spirit and confirmable by the Spirit. For Moroni, the whole of the Book of Mormon could be determined to accurately reflect Mesoamerican archaeology and that would not constitute being true. The only way to know if it is true is to have the confirmation of the Holy Ghost, because, “by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.”

The Holy Ghost’s function is to be a testator and to confirm truth: “the Comforter… showeth all things, and teacheth the peaceable things of the kingdom” (D&C 39:6), and “the Comforter knoweth all things, and beareth record of the Father and of the Son” (D&C 42:17). Its power is that it can provide the witness of faith where there is no available proof. If faith is the “substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1), then it is the Holy Ghost that provides that substance and evidence. The Book of Mormon can be confirmed to be true even if there is never a single historical correlation between the text and dirt archaeology.

Does this mean that the more academic type of evidence and substance does not exist? No. Does it mean that we do not need to seek for it? Not exactly. There are many for whom such evidence is wholly unnecessary. There are those for whom all of the available correlations are insufficient to induce faith. Placing the Book of Mormon in a historical context is not to provide proof, but to provide depth. We do not believe it is true because it fits into the Mesoamerican milieu, but we can understand better the motivations and actions described in the text if we see it in that cultural milieu.

Second Witness: Analytical & Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 6